Authors: Jack Soren
No one longs to live more than someone growing old.
Tomorrow is never what it's supposed to be.
strangest kidnap and recovery mission Hoyt Randall had ever accepted.
Hoyt peered through the binoculars down at the cookie-Âcutter industrial plaza, a place that looked like it had been designed by an architect with a Lego obsession. Five businesses resided within the repetitive tan stucco frontages, accented by a burgundy sawtooth pattern and identical bushes in front of smoked glass doors. The lights in the empty parking lot provided just enough illumination to discourage amateur thieves but not enough to dissuade a professional. Nothing moved. All was still.
Dressed all in black and wearing latex gloves, Hoyt fingered some notes into his forearm-Âmounted computing device before he put the binoculars away and pulled a black balaclava down over his face. He double-Âtimed it down the hill, coming to rest behind the sign that said “Crystasis Foundation.”
Arlo Perez, the man who'd hired Hoyt to retrieve his daughter, said Crystasis specialized in freezing the recently dead. Hoyt had heard of cryonics, of course, and most Âpeople knew the stories of Ted Williams and Walt Disney supposedly having their heads frozen after death so they could be thawed out in the future.
Hoyt found it all creepy as hell. Personally, he couldn't think of anything worse than waking up in a world where all of your friends and loved ones had been dead for a hundred years. Or worse, waking up inside a robotic body.
Linda Perez, Arlo's daughter, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a year ago. The prognosis gave her a year to live, at best, with the final few months holding incredible pain and suffering. Six months ago, Linda committed suicide. Or, more to the point, a team from Crystasis had assisted her in their facility. Immediately after death, the team prepared her body and froze her, with the goal of waking her sometime in the future when her condition could be treated. Her parents, who had been vehemently against the procedure, wanted her back. They had plans for her body more in line with their religious tenets than the tiny hope of more life in the future. Hoyt was pretty sure he believed that. He also believed Mr. Perez was interested in the $200,000 that Linda had stolen from him to give to Crystasis.
He checked the area one last time, then jogged across the parking lot continuing around the back of the plaza. Hoyt bypassed the alarm system, then picked the lock on a serÂvice door. Inside, Hoyt let his eyes adjust to the minimal lighting before checking the floor plan on his forearm device. The entranceway was unmonitored, but his notes said there was video surveillance. He eased up to the corner and took out a small mirror on a telescoping metal antenna. He extended it and had a look around the corner. His notes were right; there were video cameras mounted high on the wall, but he could also see that the network cable wasn't connected to the unit. Hoyt figured the unit was under repair, and he'd just lucked out. He moved to the next roomâÂthe video surveillance there was disconnected as well. Now cooking inside his mask, Hoyt pulled it off and wiped his eyes before stuffing it into his waistband. A few corridor turns laterâÂeach with another disconnected video cameraâÂhe arrived at his target, two large metal doors which gleamed even in the low light.
Hoyt pushed through the doors and felt like he'd walked into a science fiction movie. The room, about the size of a small basketball court, had a dozen large, shiny, chrome tanks lining its perimeter. A weird hiss and hum throbbed from the ten-Âfoot-Âtall cylinders.
“Jee-Âzus.” Checking his forearm computer for the serial number he was looking for, he walked down the line and found a match near the back on one of the shiny cylinders. LindaâÂor what used to be LindaâÂwas inside.
“And how the hell do I get you out of there?” Hoyt said, rapping his knuckles on the cylinder. A solid
sounded. The pressure gauges on the outside of the tank, along with the cabling and tubing, were far more complicated than expected. The temperature gauge read -Â320 F.
Then Hoyt noticed an extra device on the canister. And the cylinder next to it. And the one next to that. Unlike the cryonic hardware, these he recognized from experienceâÂmagnetic, timed charges. And with the amount of C-Â4 packed inside each, someone was trying to put this place on the moon. The red digits on each device were synchronized and counting down.
8 .Â .Â . 7 .Â .Â . 6Â .Â .Â .
Hoyt turned and ran. He was only ten feet away when the rockets launched. The blast wave slammed him through the doors, metal shards from the destroyed canisters slicing him to ribbons before what was left of his body slapped into the far cinder-Âblock wall with a wet crunch.
stopped him from going to his death.
Death was a necessary part of life. Stopping someone from dying would be the greatest irony for her.
Once the explosions subsided, and flames began to lick out of the windows broken from the blast, she stepped from the shadows dressed not unlike the late Hoyt, save for the bright red hair that peeked out from her black hoodie. She hurried to the front of the building, pulling a can of orange spray paint from her pack and shaking it in her gloved hand, the sound like a rattlesnake's warning. When she was doneâÂsirens just starting to sound in the distanceâÂshe tossed the can aside, took out her phone, and dialed.
“It's done,” she said in Japanese. “Moving on to the next.”
She put her phone away as she ran back into the bushes. She wheeled her black Ducati motorcycle out of its hiding place. Straddling it, she lowered her hood and shook her flaming hair free before pulling on her gleaming black helmet. She revved the motorcycle's engine a few times and sped off into the night. Behind her, the flames illuminated what she had written:
North Pacific Ocean
, head of the Dead Lights Project, edged out farther along the massive ship's railing. He wanted to get as far from the door leading back inside as possible, at least far enough to ensure he was out of earshot, but he knew he only had so much time before they came looking for him. Staring into the night sky, he pressed his cell phone against his ear and waited for a voice to come back on the line and break the silence. The ocean spray was cold and felt good on his face. It had been a long time since he'd been topside. He licked salty drips from his mouth and looked down into the black ocean forty feet below him, not at the surface but past it, at something far below.
He was on the line with the UK's Secret Intelligence SerÂviceâÂknown to insiders as the SIS, but better known to the world as MI6. He'd already told his storyâÂor as much of it as he was willing to tell without guaranteesâÂthree times. Everyone he spoke to had started off apathetic, but either his story or the angst in his voice managed to convince them he was on the level, and they'd tell him to hold before passing him up the chain. Small successes, yes, but each new voice asked him to tell the story from the beginning again. He didn't have time for this. If the old woman, or worse, that black limey bastard heard him revealing their secrets to a government agency, things would get real hairy, real fast.
“Come on, come on,” he urged.
“Something I can help you with, Dr. Norris?” A British accent not unlike Norris's own said from behind him. He spun around, hiding his phone behind him like a child caught with a cookie.
“Just .Â .Â . just getting some air. You know, it can get kind of stuffy down there,” Norris said, proud of his quick thinking. He slipped the phone into his back pocket.
The man was dressed impeccably in a three-Âpiece suit and trench coat, the collar pulled up against the ocean mist, his dark-Âskinned face almost invisible. Norris didn't know his name and didn't want to. He had seen the man with the old woman on several occasions, and there was just something about his bearing, his presence, that made Norris's colon tighten up. The man lit a cigarette, momentarily illuminating his features. Norris thought his expression was one ofâÂbemusement.
“Sure, darling,” the man said. He eyed Norris quietly as he took a long drag from his cigarette before sending a wide plume of smoke into the world. After what seemed like minutes: “Well, don't dawdle. You wouldn't want to miss your ride.” Without waiting for an answer, the man flicked his cigarette into the black water before turning and walking silently away.
When the man had disappeared around the corner, Norris exhaled, turned back to the railing, and took the phone out of his pocket. He saw that in hiding it, he'd inadvertently hung up. He had to start all over again.
“Damn iâÂ” Before Norris could finish cursing, a hand gripped his throat from behind as another stripped the phone from him. He fought for breath, but the assailant pinned him against the railing.
“Who are we calling, darling?” the man said.
“Just .Â .Â . just some friends on the mainland. NobodyâÂ”
The man had hit the redial button and put it on speakerphone. “
SIS. How may I direct your call?
“MI6, Dr. Norris? Now why would you do that?” the man hissed into his ear.
“It .Â .Â . it's too dangerous,” Norris said.
He was trying to convince the man that he was talking about the project and what it could mean for the general public, but if he'd really cared about any of that, he never would have signed on to the project in the first place. No, what Dr. Norris was really worried about was what would happen to him now that his work was complete. Norris had lost touch with half his team already after they went ashore and never came back, and he was scared he was next. Or worse, they'd start doing to him what they were doing to Dr. Reese, someone who had been stupid enough to fail the old woman.
“Well, darling, I guess you should have thought of that before you took all that lovely money.”
The knife blade shoved up through his neck only hurt for a moment, then Norris felt nothing even though he was still fully aware. Suddenly, he was flying, the spray blinding his unblinking eyes. He hit the water like a sack of dirt, the slap echoing across the waves. Panic spiked through him, but not for long. Soon his thoughts were as black as the water. And then they were gone.