BEGIN HAMMERDOWN PROTOCOL, it says, followed by a series of numbers and letters.

Julian checks the authentication in the mammoth reference they keep in the safe.  The techs all watch him, silent, the lights in the ceiling wheeling in slow, glaring circles.

Finally, he rises.  “It’s real,” he whispers, but it carries through the whole auditorium.

“Jesus Christ,” someone says.

There’s a bit of scramble as they sort out who has which key.  A few people step out to call their families.  Nobody cries; Jensen starts telling jokes.

Julian lifts the cover of the red button, and his vision blurs.


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