Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Sixteen

Let's just say that it's much worse than she suspected...

Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Fifteen, click here.

This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.



They emerged into a long hallway, narrow and gloomily lit by caged blue lamps at infrequent intervals. The stale air bit with a strange subterranean chill. Captain James went first, followed by an apprehensive Anna. The stifled quiet and dim light unnerved her, and despite being able to see at least well enough to walk she still found herself feeling her way along.

They came to a door at the other end of the hall, which Captain James unlocked with a swipe of his badge and again he proffered a hand to Anna. She stepped through without enthusiasm and he followed. The new chamber proved to be a bit more welcome. The walls and ceiling merged together overhead into one big barrel-like shape, and Anna realized that they were standing in what looked to be a section of old subway tunnel. When she asked James about it he confirmed her suspicions.

“Yes, these were subway tunnels, built before they dug some of the newer ones under the Potomac River. I believe this used to be an underground power substation for the trains.” He beckoned her down another hall leading to a smaller room with two doors facing each other from opposite sides. Anna squinted through the vague lighting and saw that the door on the left read “Subterranean Prison Command Central,” and the one on the right read “SubVersion Complex.”

Captain James motioned to both doors. “Prison Command Central is my side of things, and I also handle general security matters down here. But you claim that you came down to see Neville.”

Anna nodded with more confidence than she felt. “As long as he is the administrator of the SubVersion Complex, then yes.”

Captain James stood and regarded her for a long moment before speaking again. Anna saw a strange look in his eyes and it filled her with an inexplicable dread. He touched her arm. “Perhaps you would like to rethink your choice?”

The touch was meant as a gesture of concern but Anna reflexively jumped away from it. “Of course not,” she replied bluntly. “I have business with Neville and it's important, I am not simply going to walk away.” She frowned at him. “Why?”

Captain James dropped his hand. “I don't doubt that whatever business you have down here is important, Miss McLean, seeing as not many people even know we exist. How you know is beyond me. However, I have to warn you about Neville. He is . . . ah . . . “

Anna stared at him, afraid of what the answer might be and irritated at all the half-answers. “He is . . . what?”

“Unstable,” James replied at length, “to put it politely. I don't trust him. Neither should you.”

Anna cocked her head at him with an attempt at a smile. “I work with a slightly unstable scientist upstairs, that shouldn't be a problem. Is Neville dangerous? Are you suggesting I need an armed escort?”

James shook his head. “It's not what I'm afraid he'd do to you, Miss McLean. It's what I'm afraid he'll show you. He has a certain . . . relish for his work.

“Ah,” Anna said in an attempt to sound positive, but her soul had begun to shrink inside her with apprehension. She almost considered turning around and heading back upstairs but the thought of never finding out what she wanted to know killed that impulse. She motioned to the SubVersion Complex door. “I understand if you might be concerned, but this is something that I must do. So, if you please.”

James gave her a resigned shrug and she could feel the worry in his expression. “As you wish.” He stepped closer to the door and tapped the intercom button next to it. “Margaret? Tell Neville that he has a visitor, a Miss Annalise McLean.” Anna heard the buzz and click of an electronic lock opening. Captain James leaned over and pushed the door open for her.

Anna stepped through into a lobby area, a room that could have been more hospitable had it been painted in a more cheerful color. However, industrial taupe was the decorative choice and it lent an oppressive air to an already oppressive place. Captain James remained outside; he looked her long and hard in the eye before wordlessly shutting the door.

It took five long minutes for Neville to appear. Margaret, the middle-aged receptionist at the desk across the room proved to be no decent company in the meantime, preferring to ignore Anna and sulk behind her omni-monitor viewing some unknown content. All Anna could see of her over the screen was her graying hair and a pair of suspicious beady eyes that glanced over every so often.

Finally the far door swung open and a tall man entered, sweeping in with an uneven gait and white coat flowing behind him. He had a surprisingly youthful, handsome face, a shock of blonde hair that floated around his head in a golden cloud, and piercing blue eyes that immediately engaged her from across the room.

He wore a wide easy smile and he approached her with a hand outstretched in greeting. “Good to meet you at last, Miss McLean! I've heard so much about you from our colleagues at HomoGen but it is a pleasure to see you in the flesh.” The voice that emerged surprised Anna with its strong British accent, but she realized that with a name like Neville Sanders she should have known better. She shook his clammy hand in a bit of a daze.

“It's good to meet you too, Mr. Sanders, but I have to be honest and say that I have no recollection of you from HomoGen. No one there ever spoke of you.”

Neville released her hand. “Ah, well, they wouldn't have spoken about me to you. Proper policy and whatnot, they are sticklers about that sort of thing.” He played with his lab coat with an odd nervousness. “But of course your business at HomoGen has always been intimately connected with my work. Shall we proceed?”

Anna was taken aback. “My business connected with you?”

“Of course!” he replied cheerfully. “Why else would HomoGen send me the cream of their crop?”

Thoroughly confused, Anna shook her head. “What cream of who's crop?”

Neville looked at her. “Did HomoGen not send you?”

“No, I don't even work with HomoGen anymore, I am with Central Admin now.”

“Ah.” Neville shrugged. “Well . . . I had felt for sure that they had sent you for some purpose or another, considering our especial relationship. Why HomoGen would send a computer programmer to us instead of a biotech scientist was beyond me, but I have to say they didn't tell me programmers came with such fantastic bodies.” He eyed her up and down. “But no matter! What was your purpose here then, if not for a tour or other such thing?”

Anna was too perturbed to register offense at his leering. “You keep saying HomoGen has a special relationship with this place and with you, but I must insist that I had never heard of you or this place until very recently. How are you connected?”

A look of genuine shock crossed Neville's face. “How are we connected?” he repeated incredulously. “Why, this is where your SubVersions are housed!”

“What do you mean?” Anna asked, her confusion giving way to alarm.

“Your SubVersions . . . “ He frowned at her. “Surely you know what a SubVersion is?”

With growing fear Anna shook her head. “I've never heard of a SubVersion before.”

“There are Versions, and then there are SubVersions,” he explained. “The Versions go out into the world, into families and homes and training centers and such. The SubVersions come here.”

“But HomoGen doesn't make anything called a SubVersion,” Anna insisted in a frantic tone.

“Are you so sure?” Neville asked ominously. “You say that with such assurance, and yet you had never heard of me or this place until recently. What else mightn't you know?”

“But I don't understand, what is a SubVersion?”

Neville locked his fingers behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. “As I said, there are Versions and then there are SubVersions. Women come in, they donate their eggs and the men come in and donate the sperm. HomoGen does the matching and processing and fertilizing and incubating and voila! You have a perfect little Version, ready to go to a new home just like a regular child. But for every one Version HomoGen makes, they get between two and eight other fertilized eggs that grow as well. Just part of the process. We call them SubVersions. Those never go to any customer anywhere, instead they come here.” He gestured around him. “A SubVersion is not part of a regular HomoGen order, it's merely a by-product of sorts. HomoGen figured 'Why waste it when we can use it?' So they all get shipped here.”

Anna felt sick to her stomach. “And . . what do you do with them here?” she croaked.

Neville suddenly chuckled. “You act shocked!” he said mirthfully. “No, Miss McLean, let me assure you that the SubVersions are a product, pure and simple. A product we have been able to do fantastic things with, but a product all the same.”

“If they are merely a product, then why hide them down here?” Anna whispered fearfully. “What do you have to hide?”

Neville turned on his heel and swung open the door he had entered from. “Because most people are less understanding than us few. We simply have the stomach to do what must be done.” He gestured with his head. “In you go?”

Anna automatically complied and Neville followed. Anna's insides immediately convulsed as her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light and her nose acclimated to a strange mix of clinical antiseptic and filth. They were walking down a long hallway with thick glass doors down each side. As she looked into the blandly lit cells behind the glass doors Anna realized that there was a person inside each one. Some wandered about inside their cells, others lay curled up in the corners; almost all of them exuded a resigned and lifeless air. Most of the subjects were men but Anna saw a fair number of women as well, and in one of the cells she was shocked to see several children all sitting in a group.

But the last cage on the left brought her up completely short. Inside crouched a man, or at least what was once a man. Something looked wrong with his face but Anna could not tell quite what it was. He crouched next to the side wall, bent over the prone form of what appeared to be a small boy. As Anna pressed up against the glass to see him better, the man perked up and turned his head quickly in her direction. She gasped when she saw blood draining from the man's teeth and down his jaw and neck. The man visibly panted with an opened mouth and extended tongue, and when he had stared at Anna with wide soulless eyes for a long minute he suddenly lunged for her.

Anna screamed and backed away, just as the man crashed headlong into the other side of the glass and fell away bruised and whimpering. She cowered against the opposite side of the hallway for a full minute, the blood pounding in her temples hard. Neville stood chuckling, however. “He really frightened you, didn't he?” he remarked, grimly pleasant. In response to a terrified look from Anna, though, he decided to explain. “He could smell you, even through the glass.”

“Smell me?” Anna asked blankly.

“This particular SubVersion was checked out to a biotech firm on the other side of D.C. They specialized in DNA sequence splicing and they needed a subject for an experiment they were conducting on combining the DNA of bloodhounds with that of humans. Well, this fellow was the subject of that experiment.” Neville sighed wistfully. “But it would seem the project was only partially successful. The subject's sense of smell and hearing increased a thousand-fold but he began developing rabies-like symptoms for no apparent reason, so they sent him back here for observation. He's been an interesting one so far. Likes to kill for the sake of killing.”

Anna nodded incredulously at the explanation. Her mind roiled in an agony of guilty repugnance as she watched the feral dog-man slink back to his previous position. Versions are people, Anna. Real people. Mr. Vicker's words echoed in her mind like a faraway bell, plaintive but insistent. She wanted to shut them out, wanted to squash away the raw emotion of seeing her life's work slobbering and growling in front of her in that cage. But it was impossible. Maybe they are truly human, and then again, maybe they're not. That had been her response, and it now sounded weak and stupid.

Neville turned to her with a quizzical look on his face. “To be honest, I don't remember you ever telling me why you were actually here. I assumed you merely wanted to tour the proverbial pet shop, but you never answered that question. Was there something specific you needed to know?”

It took several seconds for Anna to remember that he was still standing there, and still more to recall that she was indeed down there on a particular errand. She marshaled what was left of her courage and pulled out Daniel's paper with the numbers scrawled on it. “I- I need to find this serial number,” she stuttered, handing the paper to him. He took it from her and his eyebrows suddenly shot straight up.

“Wow,” he whistled, “you are in luck! I am intimately familiar with both of these subjects. One of these, the first number, is no longer here. Checked out for a long-term project with a neurologist upstairs. Sweet little thing, her. But the other number is still here. She's packed away in cold storage, but we can take a little stroll in that direction if that suits your fancy.”

Anna nodded without a sound and followed Neville through the next two sets of doors into a huge high ceilinged rectangular room lit entirely with the blue caged lamps. The temperature dropped precipitously as they entered and with a start Anna realized she could see her breath smoking in front of her. She gazed around and then upward in combined awe and trepidation. All four walls were intersected with grid lines and, after a moment's observation, she saw that it resembled a giant morgue, and each grid square was the front panel of a closed human-sized drawer. Another man in a lab coat and overcoat worked nearby and nodded to them as they entered.

Neville didn't even have to look twice at the number on the paper; he handed it back to Anna, made a beeline across the room to a drawer at waist-height marked SVC5403-1F, and pressed his thumb to the scanner next to the number. The drawer emitted a faint clunk and Neville grabbed the handle and pulled hard. The drawer appeared heavy but it slid out of the wall smoothly enough. Inside was a closed coffin-shaped black container, similar to Sonya's box in all respects except for its larger size.

“Here you are,” Neville remarked, unlatching the box and shoving the lid open. Anna peered over the edge and felt the familiar pang of horrified sadness as she saw the prostrate body of the young woman inside. The woman was even more beautiful in the flesh than in her picture; the resemblance between mother and daughter also resonated much more strongly now that Anna had observed both.

She turned to Neville but barely knew what to ask. He needed no prompting, however, and immediately began talking.

“Now this one has always been a special specimen to me,” he noted with a weird fondness in his tone. “She's one of our oldest SubVersions, and has definitely been here just about the longest. A long-term companion of mine, of a sort. She's been checked out more often for experimentation than any other SubVersion we have.” He reached out and caressed one of the woman's cheeks and sighed. “My little angel. Never raised a fuss about her time here until that man showed up.”

“What man?” Anna asked, already knowing the answer.

“Daniel Marcus, that bloody fool. He fancied himself in love with the poor creature and got her pregnant. Normally we would have terminated such an unauthorized pregnancy but the decision came down from the top to keep it for observation. Then as luck would have it, Dr. Konrath Jarrod needed a child for a project of his so we permanently moved the child out of here. Mama stayed put though.” He gently touched the woman's face again. “It's amazing how human she looks, is it not? Beautiful, just beautiful . . . Anyways, after all that the order came to freeze her like the others. She had been relatively free to move around before that. Too bad she's been through so many freeze and thaw cycles.”

“Why?” Anna's questions were automatic, unthinking, as she stared in gathering horror at the frozen woman in the box. Neville sighed again.

“Just like a piece of beef in your freezer at home,” he explained. “Freeze and thaw it too many times and eventually it's worthless.”

Shocked, Anna turned to face him. “You mean she's dead?”

“Oh, no, not dead. Not yet, anyways. But at this point it would take quite a bit of work to bring her back from her most current freeze. She'd probably still be comatose for weeks before the revival procedure was complete.” He shook his head. “Too bad. She's been here for more than twenty years and I still haven't gotten my fill of her. I normally don't take liberties with my SubVersions but she was simply too special for me not to take a shag.”

In that moment Anna felt the urge to strike him but all she could do was gape open-mouthed at his flippancy. Neville didn't even seem to notice her anger but instead gestured to the other man standing nearby. “Jeremiah, it's time to say goodbye to my little angel.”

The other man approached. “Really? How many freeze/thaw cycles has it been for this one?”

“Twenty-two. And you know what that means.”

The man shook his head. “I'll be back.” He exited the cold storage room for a few moments, then returned with a gurney-like trolley which he wheeled up to the open drawer. Neville clicked a latch on the front of the drawer and it dropped down, allowing the black box to slide forward out of the drawer onto the gurney. After detaching a mass of cables and piping from the box the man closed it and wheeled the woman away.

“Wait, where are they going?” Anna asked, her anxiety growing.

“You needn't bother to watch this part, really, Miss McLean,” Neville dissembled quickly.

Anna watched as Jeremiah and the black box headed for a wide set of double doors to their left, then turned an incredulous eye on Neville. “I'm not letting that box out of my sight. Where are they going?

For the first time Neville appeared genuinely uneasy. “Miss McLean, out of all the things I could show you down here, I'm sure you don't want to see this. Let's go back, I have some other fantastic projects to demonstrate-”

Anna grabbed him by the arm and wrenched him towards her. She was rapidly beginning to panic as she watched the woman in the box disappear through the double doors. “I don't give a shit about what you want to demonstrate to me, I want to know where he's taking her and what you are planning on doing with her. So show me now!”

“Miss McLean, really, there's no reason for violence-”

“Damn you, show me! I want to see it, I want to see everything!” Anna immediately regretted the request but she was not about to take it back.

Neville threw up his hands. “Fine! If you insist. If you must, you must.” They traversed the space to the double doors and Neville hesitated until Anna threw him a furious glance. He sighed. “But don't tell me I didn't give you a word of warning.”

He pushed open the doors and let them swing wide.

The blast of noise and heat caught Anna completely by surprise and she stood blinking in the scorching breeze, her hair thrashing her face and her eyes tearing up. She put up a hand to shield herself and glanced over at Neville with fear and uncertainty. He gave her a look that Anna could not fathom; madness, maybe? Or was it terror?

“You said you wanted to see everything,” he muttered, just loud enough for her to hear over the din. “Your words, not mine.” His unnerving smile reappeared, albeit not as broad as before, and he waved her in. Anna reluctantly complied and they stepped through the doors together.

The new chamber arched up and over them in a tremendous half-barrel, dimly lit by widely-spaced rows of yellow lights affixed to each curved roof support. To the left, emerging at an angle from a rectangular hole in the floor rose an enclosed conveyor reminiscent of a strip mining machine. Its long frame carved a stark black shadow into the air and terminated near the ceiling high above. The whole assembly angled over an enormous hopper that began at the floor and spread its gradually widening neck towards the conveyor's terminus.

Because of their low angle Anna could not see into the hopper, but she realized that it was creating both the noise and the heat. The ceiling above flickered with a reddish-orange glow and the tremendous machine ground out its cacophony as if in some dreadful agony.

“Follow me,” Neville shouted over the noise, pointing towards a metal stairway that led to the top of a maintenance gantry to their right. They began to climb the steps, and the entire time they did so Anna's eyes were glued to the hopper. She began to feel more sick with every step she took, and when they had surmounted the last stair and reached the top of the gantry her stomach had turned to mush. From the top of the platform she could finally see down into the mouth of the machine.

It stretched at least twenty feet wide at the top, a gaping metal maw with a flaming interior. The bottom of the machine glowed brightly but the fire seemed to breathe from deep within, and more than that she could not see at the moment. She had never believed in hell before, but feeling the heated wind rise up from the mechanical beast and seeing the glow of fierce flames inside reminded her of nothing so awful as hell. The picture that had terrified her so badly in her childhood came vividly to mind again, the two men walking through the flaming underworld as the bodies of the damned burned all around them.

She looked back down from her high perch and saw Jeremiah and another worker standing down near the base of the conveyor structure. They had the lid of the black box open, and after several seconds of squinting Anna realized with a fright that they were struggling to remove the limp body of the woman inside.

“What are they doing?” she exclaimed. Neville glanced over, then smiled his grim, insane smile.

“Doing their job.” He folded his arms and his tone took on a fatalistic air. “Since you really wanted to see it all, then you're in luck. This happens to be disposal day and that means you get to watch.”

Without ceremony Jeremiah and his helper inserted the woman into an opening in the side of the conveyor. Anna would have shouted to them to stop but the words died in her throat in a dry squawk. With a sickening flop the petite form of the woman fell into the dark and disappeared. Neville shook his head.

“Such a beautiful specimen,” he remarked pleasantly. “Ah, well, all good things . . . “ He put two fingers in the air and signaled to the men down below. Jeremiah nodded back, shut the door in the conveyor, and tapped in a command on a control panel. Motors sputtered, wheels ground, and the conveyor assembly began to roar to life.

Anna, violently agitated, turned to Neville and tried to form a question but her powers of speech had failed her. He leaned closer to her, trying to hear. She tried again. “What are they doing? What is that machine?” she rasped, her mind closing to the truth that was dawning on her with horrible clarity. He turned away from her and fixed his eyes on the conveyor's peak, face expectant and hands clutching the handrail.

“That machine is where we will all go,” he intoned. “It is where everyone in this city goes who is not wanted.” He raised his face up. “Where the SubVersions go when they are finished with their usefulness, where the elderly from the geriatric homes go. An author of old once wrote that if you have a problem without a solution, the solution is to burn the problem.” He turned to Anna, and when he smiled his teeth gleamed orange in the wretched light. “Watch the problem burn, Miss McLean. Watch them burn.”

Something emerged from the top of the conveyor. Long hair at first, then the inert body of the woman Daniel had loved appeared. The machine dispassionately ejected the body headfirst into the air, and Anna could not tear her eyes away as the woman plunged through the void towards the fire below. She saw Neville out of the corner of her eye blow a kiss to the victim as she fell; then with a awful suddenness the woman struck the side of hopper and Anna heard the dull crack of smashing skull. The body slid down the inside of the hopper, trailing blood behind it as it vanished into the fire. A roar erupted from the machine and flames swirled up to meet their prey, engulfing the hopper in yellow fire. Then when Anna's unbelieving eyes were drawn upwards again she realized it was only the beginning.

From the mouth of the conveyor a stream of something began to pour out, a lumpy brownish choked flow that at first Anna could not discern. She blinked in the heat and looked again, and the individual forms of human bodies became visible in the stream. Aged, broken bodies, men and women, gaping dead eyes and slender naked limbs. In a massive tangle the stream of corpses poured out, crashing unceremoniously into the hopper below. Bones smashed, congealed blood flowed down the stained metal, and the fire thundered its enormous all-consuming din.

A powerful nausea rolled over Anna in a wave that she could not hope to control. She could look no longer. She wrenched her way past Neville and ran for a door at the end of the scaffold. Opening it and stumbling into a hallway on the other side, she collapsed onto the floor and vomited hard.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Fifteen

Pandora's box has opened. Prepare for the big reveal...
Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Fourteen, click here.

This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.



A dark, brooding bank of storm clouds chased Anna to work the next day, spattering her windshield with sporadic rainfall that would not decide whether or not to turn into a real storm. Rumbling thunder accompanied it at intervals, echoing through the car and her bones. A sense of foreboding hung suspended in the air like a dark haze, and if Anna's nerves and stomach had not already been affected negatively enough already, the presence of Terry in the parking garage as she pulled in alerted her that something was up.

She parked her car and climbed out slowly, her dress lashed by the wind and the leaves that were sucked in through the garage entrance. Terry leaned with arms folded against a pillar near the elevator, her face an expressionless mask and her demeanor taut. As Anna approached, the older woman pushed herself up, took Anna's upper arm, and guided her to the pillar. “I need to talk you,” she grunted.

Anna jumped, taken aback. “Why, what's wrong?”

Terry's suddenly furtive behavior was jarring. “You just received your first complaint this morning before you arrived.”

Anna stared at her. “Complaint? Who complained? And why?”

“Dr. Jarrod. He came raging into my office about half an hour ago claiming that you were trying to ruin his experiment.”

“How in the world would I have done that?” Anna replied, stunned.

“He told me that you opened up his reactive computer.”

Anna felt her breakfast churn hard, and she clenched her fists. Of course the door sensor on the box would have recorded her opening the lid and closing it again. One of the cardinal rules of computer systems: everything has an activity log. She had been wretchedly distracted yesterday, though, and had not remembered to do something about the log. As she looked Terry in the face she knew it would be futile to dissemble about it, so she straightened up defensively. “I did open the computer yesterday, what of it?”

“Why in the world would you do that?”

”Are you going to discipline me for it somehow?” Anna shot back.

Terry cocked her head at Anna. “I had no intention of doing anything of the kind.”

“No?” Now Anna was genuinely confused.

“No, I was more interested in why you would do something like that. What on earth compelled you to open up at random the multi-year project of a world famous scientist? You normally have a much healthier respect for high technology, especially the work of others.” She leaned closer to Anna. “What was in the box that induced you to open it against what should have been all of your better judgment?”

Anna shrank back. “Why do you need to know? And why tell me all of this down here?”

Terry frowned. “There are too many cameras and bugs upstairs and I wanted to give you my unadulterated advice. My job description is to take care of you here until you are fit to do that yourself, after you have learned the ropes and are comfortable with how we work. Opening Dr. Jarrod's computer is not the way to help me with that goal.”

Anna realized her mistake and winced. “It won't happen again, I can promise you that.”

Terry leaned in even closer. “Is there something I need to know, Anna?” she asked with true concern in her voice. “What was in the box?”

“It's classified,” Anna said flatly, knowing it was a cop-out. Terry bristled.

“You may not know or care how this all affects you, Anna, but I do and I know that you are sampling some very hot water that you may just want to stay out of. I am telling you this for your own good.”

It was Anna's turn to bristle, although she knew she had very little right to be angry. “I am doing what I need to do in order to complete the task I was set to do. That's why I am here, and that's why I did what I did.” She flattered herself that she was not really lying; Daniel was the one that set her on this task. It was a thought that briefly inflamed her ire against him again and made her realize just how possibly dangerous of a task he had set her on. She grew even more defensive. “The box contains what it was always meant to contain, which is the central core of the reactive computer. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Now I'm lying.

Terry's jaw moved back and forth angrily but she said nothing. Anna decided to press on. “I will explain the details to Dr. Jarrod and be done with it. He's an excitable man but not an unreasonable one.” With that, and without waiting for a reply, she turned on her heel and stalked towards the elevator. Once it had carried her up to her floor she hesitated, then decided to head for her office again instead of Lab A1A. Dr. Jarrod could wait.

Once there, she again pulled the paper from its hiding place in her shirt and unfolded it to reveal the numbers Daniel had written. She typed in the second of the two serial numbers into the “Search All” function and hit Enter. The familiar message popped up again: “Top Secret Security Clearance Required.” Anna pulled out her badge and slapped it against the scanner under the desk without even looking. A chime, and the computer once again recognized her and asked whether she wished to proceed. Then all of a sudden she froze, staring at the screen and consumed by indecision.

If she proceeded she could never go back, could never un-know what she might discover. Her first discovery turned out bad enough; she had no clue what the next might bring. Abruptly she realized she was no longer doing this research for Daniel's sake, or because of his threats or warnings. She was running these numbers for herself, because she needed to know for her own sake. But did she really need to know?

I do need to know. I need to know what is going on, I need to know what I will be governing should I become Party Secretary. I need to know who Central Admin is. But it was the memory of that childish face from last night that reminded her that she was already too far in to turn back.

She selected “Yes.” The computer chewed on the number for what seemed an eternity, then finally spat out a file onto the screen. Anna leaned in, her heart beginning to pound. The file looked similar to Sonya's: a collection of vital statistics running for pages and pages, except this file ran for many more pages than Sonya's. At the top of the data readout was a picture, and as Anna stared at it she surmised that her hunch had been correct. The image was of a woman, a very young beautiful woman with pale skin, long brown hair, and piercing brown eyes. The eyes were the picture of sadness and resignation, and the mouth, like Sonya's, was drawn in a taut line. The longer Anna looked, the more alike the woman and Sonya became in her mind. The eyes staring out at her were the same as the little girl's.

Anna gazed for a long time at the picture, and something deep in her soul began to bubble up. She wasn't sure what it meant but she did know she wanted to meet this woman. To maybe somehow bring her cheer, to tell her that her daughter was alive, and that Anna had spoken to her. From the picture it looked for all the world like the mother had had no say in where her daughter had ended up. Anna felt her face turn hot with outrage and she began to peruse the file with renewed interest. The middle section of the data ran in a monotonous string for pages and pages but Anna was not interested in that part. She skimmed towards the end and was eventually rewarded with something intriguing.

The “Notes” sections on all the other pages had remained blank for the most part, besides the occasional stray comment or odd observation. Near the end of the file, however, the notes sections transformed into a veritable diary of eventful happenings, and Anna examined them with growing interest and alarm. One note in particular caught her eye; it read, “Estimated date of unauthorized sexual activity between subject and D.M., will use to backdate pregnancy. Monitor for any continued contact.”

So Daniel Marcus was Sonya's father. No wonder he wanted to know where Sonya and the woman were so badly. Anna's heart melted unexpectedly for him and for his pain; she could forgive some of his cruel behavior to her for that. But a question persisted in her mind that she could not shake, something she needed an understandable answer to before she would be willing to absolve Daniel of all blame. What was the SubVersion Complex for, and why were both mother and daughter held there? If it was indeed a prison, then there had to be a reason they had been locked up.

She scrolled to the end of the file and saw a final grouping of data points, followed by a note that read, “Subject put back into cold storage until further notice.” Above that was a box labeled “Subject Location,” and it read “Drawer 1049.”

Cold storage? Drawer? Anna's skin crawled and she sat back in her chair, as if physical space between her and the eerie file on her omni-monitor could save her from its disturbing power. A dangerous idea began to form in her mind, and as she erased her search history she resolved to dig all the way down to the bottom of what was going on. Never mind that Daniel had not requested anything further than status and location information; she would follow her morbid curiosity down whatever path it took her.

She typed “SubVersion Complex” into the search bar and, when the expected message appeared reminding her that she was looking for top secret content, she swiped her badge again and cleared her way through the security barrier. A home page titled “The SubVersion Complex, Washington D.C.” appeared, and on the bottom it read “Central Admin, Level 3.”

She blinked and read it again. Central Admin, Level 3. The Complex sat three levels below the ground, practically right under her feet. Breathing harder, she selected past the home page and into the administrative directory. Only two names came up, and the top line read Administrator - Neville Sanders with his number beside it. Below him was a Captain Ander James, listed as head of subterranean security.

If her ID badge had let her in to see this, then surely she was allowed to go see the Complex for herself. That was how her reasoning worked anyways. She gathered her courage, closed out of her computer, and headed for Terry's office.

Terry sat brooding at her desk when Anna tapped on the door with a knuckle. The blonde woman looked up and her expression changed from dark to darker. Anna cringed when she remembered she had breezed past Terry earlier, but oddly enough Terry's anger did not seem directed at her.

Anna pushed the glass door open and inched into the sterile office. “Terry? I have a question.”

Terry seemed cautious when she heard the strange tone in Anna's voice. She folded her arms and pushed back in her chair, eying her charge with a severe look. “Yes?”

Anna licked her lips nervously but she took a deep breath, crushed her apprehension into submission, and continued. “You told me that my ID would unlock whatever was relevant to my work. Whatever was relevant. That was correct, yes?”

The question hung in the air like a thunderhead, and Terry looked like nothing other than someone waiting for the inevitable lightning to strike. She stiffened and sat very straight. “That was correct.” She stared hard at Anna. “Why?”

“Because I've found something that is relevant to my work, and that my ID badge unlocks, and I would like to be taken to see it.”

For the first time since meeting her Anna saw a spark of fear in Terry's eyes. The woman's face turned very white and she swallowed. “And what is this something, may I ask?” she inquired guardedly.

“I want to visit Level 3.”

Terry's face grew even more pale. She stared forward without blinking; her only movement was the quickening rise and fall of her chest while breathing. At length she leaned forward against her desk and put her fingers together under her chin. She rapidly typed something into her computer, then muttered loud enough for Anna to hear, “You are allowed in Level 3 . . . ” She glanced back up. “Anna, you were brought into all of this to be a fully-informed member of our group. If you feel that you must do this, and since you have been granted the clearance, then you must follow your own judgment. And if you do visit Level 3, I would suggest that you take a good hard look at everything you can.”

The last part sounded oddly like a command. Surprised that the answer was so compliant to her request, Anna nodded and turned to go but Terry was not finished. “You can't simply waltz down to Level 3, the regular elevator commands won't take you. Even though you have clearance you will need an escort.” She tapped a button on her desk. “Give me Captain Ander James' office, please.”

A man's voice crackled back from the speaker in the desk. “Hi, Officer Garnham, this is Captain James. “

“Captain,” Terry said, “I have a woman here that needs an escort down to Level 3.”

There was a long pause and Anna heard only breathing on the other end. Then the voice returned. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, she is sure.”

“And who is this that I am taking down?” the voice continued reluctantly.

“Miss Annalise McLean, our newest member.”

“Ah,” Captain James replied noncommittally. “Will she be visiting my side or Neville's?”

Terry looked askance at Anna, and Anna again felt the rising bile of panic in her throat at a question she did not quite know the answer to. She willed herself to remain calm, though, and remembered that Neville Sanders had been listed as the administrator of the Complex, so he seemed to present the logical choice.

“Neville's side,” she croaked .

Terry frowned but didn't ask Anna any questions. “Miss McLean says that she wishes to see Neville's side of things.”

“I'll be up in two minutes. Meet me at Elevator 2. Captain James out.”

The two women exited Terry's office and rounded the bend to the elevator lobby. Right on time, the doors of Elevator 2 hushed open and a man stepped out. He stood only an inch or two taller than Anna, with hair cropped short and a brawny frame clad not in the uniform of the security personnel upstairs but in regular military fatigues. He attempted a smile and held out his hand. “Captain Ander James, at your service. And you are Miss McLean?”

Anna shook his hand. “Yes, I am. You can just call me Anna. You are my escort?”

“Indeed, at least for a very short while,” the man replied. “I will have to hand you off to someone else once we are downstairs.” His manner was one of restraint, of cordial charm that hid below a veneer of military professionalism. He nodded to Terry. “I can take her from here, Miss Garnham, thanks.”

Terry nodded back. “Please take care of her,” she said. “And Anna?”

Anna turned to her and waited, but Terry never continued. Instead she avoided Anna's gaze, stood silently for a long moment, then turned on her heel and walked away without another word. Both Anna and Captain James were left to stare after her with some awkwardness.

Captain James turned to Anna with raised eyebrows. “You never know sometimes with that woman,” he remarked in an attempt to break the tension. Anna smiled and shook her head.

“I know what you mean,” she said knowingly.

“And please just call me James. My friends all do. Or at least, most of my friends. We can leave the 'Captain' off for now.” He motioned to the elevator with his hand. “After you.” They both stepped into the elevator and the doors slid shut. James pulled a key out of his pocket, inserted it into a special lock on the elevator wall, then pressed buttons 1 and 2 simultaneously. With a jolt the elevator began to move.

James turned back to Anna. “So . . . what sort of errand would take you down to Level 3 for the first time? I can't imagine what sort of business anyone from your department would have down here.”

Anna swallowed hard. “It has something to do with a project I am working on,” she said cryptically. “Neville Sanders will be helping me.”

James stared straight ahead with a grim face. “And have you ever met Neville Sanders?”

“No, why?”

“You may want to be careful, is all.”

Anna felt her skin prickle. “What's wrong with him? Anything?”

James scratched the back of his head with one hand; his fingernails made raspy scraping sounds against his stubble. He licked his lips and tried to smile again, but failed. “It may not be my place to say so, but Neville is . . . “ he trailed off as he thought. Anna waited anxiously for the answer, but it was not to be. The elevator doors opened again and James shook himself. “Here we are.”

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Next to Final Cover Art!

Here is the "next to final" artwork for The SubVersion Complex. Comment below and let me know what you think!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Fourteen

What's in the black box?? Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Thirteen, click here. And stay tuned for the next three chapters or so, in which much of the big terrible secret is revealed.

This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.



For the next hour Anna's spirit raged inside her as she waited in agony for the reactive computer to finish the scan. As the doctor had waved and left she was struck by the terrifying realization that she would be alone in the room with the computer.

Left alone with that . . . thing.

Thing, girl, monstrous creature, whatever it was. If indeed that was what was in the box, but Anna somehow had no doubt in her mind that the box did contain what she feared it did. There was no other place for the girl to hide in the lab, unless . . . she was in more than one piece. Anna shuddered at the thought and desperately thrust that possibility out of her mind. She would go with her first assumption for now.

There was nothing to do but wait for the scan to complete. Anna found she couldn't get comfortable in any position, whether sitting or standing or pacing around. The whole awful concept burned in her mind like nothing ever had before. At one point she turned toward the computer and the desperate thought occurred to her that she could pop the box open and confirm her suspicions once and for all, but she recoiled just as quickly and decided against it.

Her mind churned for answers but none came. Only questions bubbled to the surface. The most immediate one of course was whether Dr. Jarrod knew what he was working on. Had someone else built the reactive computer or had he been intimately involved in its construction? How much did he know? Perhaps he knew quite well what he was doing.

She felt her stomach growing sick again at the thought of the girl. What had they done to her? Why had they done it? What parent in their right mind would allow such a thing to happen to their child? Did she have any parents? And worst of all, why had she been trapped inside the SubVersion Complex for what looked like years before being shipped here to be used as part of an experiment? Which led back to her original question . . .

What was the SubVersion Complex?

She shuddered again and put it out of her head for the moment. There were bigger and more immediate problems at hand. She turned to the main display on the computer and with a shock realized that the scan had completed. The scan is completed. Theoretically that means that I can talk to the brain inside. The brain inside . . .

She stared at the display for a long time without moving. The brain wave pattern readout undulated in regular patterns like it always had, but now next to it there blinked an input window. Anna realized that the algorithm was working and that the computer sat ready to finally do what it had been designed to do. She fell into the chair in front of the keyboard but still hesitated. Equal parts curiosity and revulsion mixed inside her as she considered trying it out.

With a sudden burst of either desperation or confidence she typed the opening command. The electronic side of the computer would be running standard QX code, but if the algorithm was indeed working it would translate whatever code she typed into the appropriate brain wave impulses on the other side. Once the opening command was typed in she struck Enter.

The brain wave pattern immediately contorted and stuttered, and Anna recoiled as she began to see the patterns speed up and pulsate. She looked back to her input display and her heart raced. Underneath it was a window labeled “Output” and text began to fill it in. It was one sentence long.

'Please stop you're hurting me.'

Anna froze. Could it even be possible? Or was it a trick of the code? She went back to her input window and typed 'I don't want to hurt you.' Perhaps it was not real.

A pause, then more text appeared. 'It makes my head hurt make it stop.'

Anna's heart pounded. She was talking to the girl in the box. In a fevered daze she typed 'Who are you?' She waited for a moment, and sure enough more text appeared.

'I'm Sonya and I'm trapped get me out I want to get out where's my mommy I want my mommy.'

The girl had a mother. Her name was Sonya. And she was in pain. Suddenly the humanity of the girl inside the computer struck Anna in a wave and she sat back in her chair, stunned. Her eyes filled with tears; she almost didn't know why. She reached for the keyboard again. 'I don't know where your mother is, I'm so sorry.'

A long silent moment passed before anything appeared again on the screen. Then a short burst of text: 'Please get me out it's so dark I'm scared.'

A tear ran down Anna's check and fell onto the keyboard. She sat motionless, unsure of what to tell this poor creature. Her hands trembled with an emotion she could barely understand, a surge of protectiveness and a feeling bordering on attachment. She was about to type again when the output window filled with more text.

'What's your name?'

For some reason the question caught her completely off-guard. She bit her lip, then typed 'My name is Anna.' Then she added, 'I wish I could get you out of there, I wish I could find your mommy for you.' She had never really spoken to or interacted with many children before so she felt suddenly awkward speaking to one even through the stilted interface of the computer.

No response appeared on the screen. Anna waited for what seemed an age but still no answer. Fearful that somehow she was losing her subject's attention, she wracked her brain for something to say. Then something occurred to her, but she found herself wincing as she typed it: 'I lost my mommy too.'

Sure enough a reply was not long in coming. 'Oh do you have the same mommy as me?'

Anna found herself smiling grimly at the suggestion, and another tear trickled to the end of her nose. She realized that she liked this girl. She began to type again when another message from Sonya appeared. 'I like your name Anna it's pretty.'

Anna stopped typing her own message and sat still, listening to herself breathe and the computer hum. The situation was surreal. The biggest dream of her life, the reactive computer, sat in front of her and all she could do with it was have a conversation with the brain inside. The mind inside. The entire experience was completely unlike what she had ever fantasized about it.

She typed 'I've always liked my name. I like yours too.'

An idea occurred to her, and she leaned to one side so she could see the black box a little better. The lid was secured to the rest of the box with hinges on the long side and a trio of latches on the other. However, there were also screws pinning the lid closed all around its perimeter, securing it shut.

What would happen if I opened the box?

She knew she had roundly rejected doing so earlier, but now that she was certain of what was inside, somehow it didn't seem half as crazy. Except she had no idea of Sonya's condition, how she was hooked up to the computer, what sort of physical state she was in. Anna sat undecided for what felt like an eternity, her fear and her morbid curiosity battling for dominance.

She glanced at the monitor and saw another message from Sonya. 'My head hurts Anna make it stop.'

That settled things in Anna's mind. Without another contrary thought she hopped off the chair and pulled the rolling toolbox over to the computer. Selecting the appropriate torque driver, she gingerly pushed aside the masses of cabling and tubing that snaked to and from the black box and began working on the first screw. They were tightly secured and Anna had some trouble, but ten minutes and two sore hands later she had removed every last one. She snapped the wing latches open first, then reached for the main one, but again stopped in fear.

Why was she doing this? Suddenly every instinct in her body insisted that she stop, that she walk away. That she tell Adam what was going on, perhaps, so he could fix it all. Or perhaps that she should just finish the transfer protocol project and forget that this entire thing happened. Forget that she knew about Sonya, let the whole thing drop from her mind.

And it was then, while she crouched next to the black box absorbed in these thoughts, that she heard a sound that she would never forget. It was a sound that completely banished all thoughts of abandonment and betrayal from her head, quelling any desire in her to run from something that she knew she could never un-know.

From deep inside the box's dim interior came a sigh; the sorrowful, fitful sigh of a child who has cried for hours and has no tears left to cry.

Steeling herself for the worst, Anna flipped the final latch and let it fall open, then took the lid in both hands and slowly lifted it up. It creaked a loud creak, the noise of rarely used and never oiled hinges. Anna's spirit sank as it occurred to her that this box probably was not meant to be opened for a long, long time. She pushed the top all the way open and looked inside. Initially she saw nothing but a strange paper-like substance inside, very much like opening a gift wrapped in tissue paper. She guessed it was some sort of insulating substance meant to protect the subject inside and she reached in and spread the paper apart. Even with all of the time her mind had had to accommodate itself to such a disturbing idea, Anna found herself unprepared for what she saw next.

Lying on her back in the bed of insulating paper was the limp body of a little girl, her slender arms straight against her sides and her spindly legs sticking straight forward. She was dressed in a flimsy piece of clothing that resembled a hospital gown in that it only covered the front, and it was shifted around almost as if the girl had moved quite a bit since being put into the box. But it was her face and head that caused Anna to feel horribly queasy yet again. The girl had no hair to speak of on the top of her head; rather, in an obscene parody of long hair, from her scalp there sprouted innumerable slender probes that connected to wiring which flowed out of one end of the box and into the computer. The skin of her scalp had actually been peeled away in some spots where larger probes had been inserted.

The girl's face looked similar to her picture in her file, except this face was even more sunken and tortured. She wore a sort of blindfold or eye protection of some sort, and thrust into her nose was a long thin oxygen tube. Embedded into her abdomen were two other tubes, one for food and one for waste presumably, and in her arm was stuck an IV. All of the girl's skin shone a pasty white, and tattooed into her upper arm was the number SVC1001-1FX.

Anna gaped at the miserable form in the box for several long minutes, her soul devoid of any feeling other than absolute revulsion and fierce sadness. However, instead of willing herself to go numb, to feel nothing this time, she dared to fully savor the depth of her grief as she looked at Sonya. There was a grave injustice at work here and Anna could not help but feel herself moved to sorrow.

Then she heard the sound again, and clearly saw Sonya's chest rise briefly and fall in a long unconscious and broken sigh. A single tear trickled out from underneath the blindfold and disappeared into the paper below the little girl as she grimaced faintly. Anna saw the tear, the sigh, the pitiful condition of the helpless subject in front of her and in that moment something snapped. Whether it was the repellant combination of human and machine or the sudden thought that the girl had a strange beauty about her, she was never sure. Whatever it was, tears surged into Anna's eyes; she leaned on the side of the box and wept, and as she did so she put out a hand and touched the girl's face softly, feeling the surprising cold of Sonya's skin. The unconscious form of the little girl did not noticeably respond to her touch though, and Anna wept more.

As she sobbed a notion crossed her mind and grew stronger the longer she looked at the black box and its occupant. Who was this little girl to Daniel? A friend? That seemed unlikely, considering he didn't project an air of approachability especially to a small child. Or was the girl his daughter? Anna stared into the child's face and tried to recall Daniel's face for comparison, but the trauma of the girl's ordeal made it difficult to tell if there was a resemblance.

Then she remembered that she still had the other number to look up, and in a lucid flash she surmised that the other serial number must belong to Sonya's mother, since Daniel had described both of them with such animated language. The girl must be his daughter then. The question still remained as to what both mother and daughter were doing in the SubVersion Complex in the first place, but that was for a later time. Anna quickly closed the box again, replaced the screws, and attempted to rearrange everything as close to its original position as possible.

After looking out the window and seeing the sun dipped low in the sky, she decided that she would pursue the second serial number in the morning, when she was fresh from a real sleep and not a long nap on the couch in her clothes. She turned to take one last look at the computer monitor and her pulse quickened at what she saw.

In the Output window new words had appeared: 'I heard you crying did you touch my face please make it stop hurting Anna please don't leave.'

The words ripped Anna's heart out. She winced as she deleted the log and closed out of the Input and Output windows, not wanting to have to explain to this child that she needed to leave and get some rest. Besides, she remained divided as to what to do about the entire situation. There was no way to just take the girl out; it was not something Anna could do on her own anyways. Neither was there an easy way to convince Dr. Jarrod to stop his experiment. He would never stop, she was convinced. Nor could she simply let the whole matter drop, she just couldn't.

The entire drive back home was dominated by the image of that girl's face floating in Anna's consciousness, the horrible probes and needles protruding from the unfortunate creature's head, the plaintive sigh. The emotions of the day threatened to overwhelm her as she guided her car back home, and she wiped away more than one tear as she pulled back down her street. Her hands still shook on the steering wheel.

As she passed his house she noticed that Mr. Vickers had his downstairs lights turned on, and as she pulled into her driveway she looked over curiously to see what might be going on inside. The blinds blocked the windows of the kitchen but she could see through the other window that Mr. Vickers stood near the front door, speaking with very animated gestures to someone out of sight. As Anna looked closer at Mr. Vickers she could see that fierce anger burned in his face. She had never seen him look so angry; in fact she had never seen him really angry at all, ever.

Another strange thing in the course of a very strange day. She ran into her house, shut and locked the door carefully this time and set the alarm, and retired to her room. A deep cloud of gloom settled on her as she undressed and fell into bed, and her indecision smoldered inside making her heart burn. She didn't know what to do.

The second serial number was the only thing she could latch onto for comfort. She would find out who and what it was and then figure out what to do next.


Monday, May 12, 2014

New Colors!

We are trying out a new color scheme that is hopefully easier to read. Some of my readers were having a problem with eye strain trying to read white text on a black background, so I reversed it. Hopefully it is easier to read now!

Stay tuned, new chapter coming soon! (this week at some point)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The SubVersion Complex, Chapter Thirteen

Finally! We get a peek behind some of the secrets that surround Central Admin and Anna's new position. Here is the next chapter of The SubVersion Complex. Hope you all enjoy! If you missed Chapter Twelve, click here. And stay tuned for the next three chapters or so, in which much of the big terrible secret is revealed.

This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.



With a gasp and a start Anna surged awake from a powerful nightmare and came bolt upright. Her eyes burned, her back ached, and her brain throbbed. She blinked groggily in what felt like the most intense light she had ever seen. As the murk in her head began to disperse she noticed that it was morning, birds were chirping and sunlight was streaming through the windows.

Her thoughts began to race as she carefully put both feet on the floor. Daniel, the gun, the blackmail attempt; had it all actually happened or had her half-drunk neurons invented a memorable fiction? She then found herself looking at the living room windows, and after glancing down, she confirmed that she had indeed slept on the sofa all night in her work clothes. The whole episode from last night heaved back into her memory and she put her head in her hands. As she did so she found that her right elbow and wrist hurt like mad, the same arm Daniel had wrenched behind her back.

It had been real, and she was still trapped.

If she had been less tired she might have begun to cry again but she found her eyes were bone dry. Nothing would have come out of them even if she had wanted to. She willed herself to stand and stumbled to the bathroom. She flicked on the lamps above the mirror and looked at herself. She was shocked to see just how badly she looked. Her makeup and mascara had smeared everywhere, her hair had all been pushed to one side, and there was a crease across her cheek from the sofa pillow. She sighed in numb resignation and looked at her watch.

It read twenty 'till ten. Anna froze, looked at it again. Then she swore, grabbed her commex from her purse, and raced upstairs while furiously tapping out a message to Terry saying that she would be very late for work. In a flash she had showered, changed, perfumed and was about to race out the door when she spotted something on the floor in the living room.

It was a scrap of crumpled paper. She picked it up and again saw the numbers that Daniel had scrawled there in pen. He was clever, putting the number on paper and not somewhere digital. A piece of paper could make it through Central Admin's security without a problem, provided it was stuffed into a good hiding place. Seeing the numbers again caused some of the panic to return though, and it was only with a good deal of effort that she kept her breathing normal and her hands from shaking. She pushed the paper into her blouse and ran out the door.

She rode in an enervated daze on autodrive all the way to the Central Admin complex, mulling over what Daniel had tasked her to do. She was not sure exactly how she was going to do what he wanted; she wasn't even sure that what he was looking for was real, let alone able to be discovered. She cursed and stared blankly out the window as the car slipped quietly into D.C. and found its own way into the underground parking garage.

Even as she rode the elevator to her floor she had not decided what to do with the numbers. Daniel had suggested using the “Search All” function from her desk computer but she was not quite as sanguine as he that it would be that simple. She briefly considered turning the numbers in to the Secretary, throwing herself on his understanding and hoping for the best, but the specter of being firebombed by Verité's hackers reared its head and she put it out of mind. Central Admin was paranoid, probably too paranoid for mercy or understanding.

It was two numbers, simple enough. Daniel only said he wanted to know the status of the two females and that was it. Nothing more. She suddenly had a thought: once the threat of blackmail had been lifted, she could tell Adam then and explain what happened. The only problem with that, though, was that Anna had gotten the suspicion from Daniel's attitude last night that he had a mole in Central Admin. How else could he have known about her conversations with Dr. Jarrod, about her code slicer, and all the other various tidbits he knew about her?

Deep in the midst of these musings she was startled when she collided headlong into someone and almost toppled over. She shook off her distraction and saw the rumpled shape of Dr. Jarrod, his glasses askew on his nose and his coat twisted. She was also surprised to find herself in the hallway near Terry Garnham's office.

“I am so sorry, Doctor!” she stammered. “I didn't see you coming.”

“Perfectly all right, Miss McLean, perfectly all right!” he replied, beaming despite the collision. He straightened his coat and glasses and beckoned to her. “I was about to ask Officer Garnham myself if you were coming in today, but here you are! Come, you really must follow me to my lab. You were summoned to the Secretary's office last night so I worked mostly by myself, and I had a bit of a breakthrough!”

“That's good,” Anna replied absently. She remembered why she had wandered to this part of the building in the first place, to give Terry the best possible excuse she could think of for being late. She began to edge past the doctor but he blocked her with his stocky frame and smiled.

“You are not ecstatic at this news?” he asked with a chuckle. “You, Annalise McLean, the one who has salivated for this chance for years, and you are not even interested in hearing more about it?”

Anna tried to smile back. “I'm so sorry, Doctor, I had a bad night and I'm late and I need to report in with Officer Garnham before I really do anything today. Please let me go by?”

Dr. Jarrod reluctantly stood to the side and waved her on. “By all means, go, yes, but hurry to my lab as soon as you can allow. I used the algorithm you suggested earlier this week and I am already getting results. You should be excited!”

“I am, and I'll be there soon, just give me a bit.”

The short man shrugged. “Very well. You know where to find me.” He turned and disappeared around the corner.

Anna steeled herself and approached Terry's office. It hadn't even been a full work week yet and she was late. She saw Terry sitting at her desk and with a rap on the glass door, let herself in.

Terry immediately stood as Anna entered. “I got your message. There is no need for an explanation. The Secretary himself told me you had a bit of heavy news last night and might need the next day or so to sort it out.”

Anna blinked in surprise, then felt her stomach convulse at the irony of the situation. Heavy news indeed. Just not the kind that Adam or Terry think. She smiled weakly at Terry and turned to leave, but she heard her orientation officer ask with some concern, “Are you all right, Anna?”

“Yes,” Anna replied in her most convincing tone, turning back. “Why wouldn't I be?”

Terry bit the inside of her cheek and Anna could tell she was holding something back. Then the blonde woman shrugged and sat back down. “You just looked like you hadn't gotten any sleep, that's all.”

“Oh.” Anna could think of nothing more to say so she exited Terry's office and rushed down the hall to the office that had been set aside for her. It was more of an afterthought, since she would be spending so much time in the lab with Dr. Jarrod, but it was a serviceable office space. She sat down at the desk, woke the computer up, and after furtively glancing around she pulled the paper from her blouse and spread it out on the desk.

The numbers stared back at her, suddenly ominous. She was unsure of what they really meant, or what females they could refer to, but she was determined to see if the search function would find them. She picked the top number to research first, and typed 'SVC1001-1FX' into the “Search All” bar on the computer screen. After a moment of hesitation, she struck the Enter key and waited.

The computer dispassionately ran the number through the database, taking longer than Anna had expected it would. Then an error message popped up, which read “Top Secret Security Clearance Required.” Her stomach sank, and she entered and ran the number again. Again, the same result. What to do next? The computer waited patiently while Anna tapped her nails on the desk and pondered the problem. Then a thought occurred to her and, pulling her chair back from the desk, she looked underneath.

She smiled when she found it: the ID badge scanner screwed to the bottom of her desk. Terry had shown her how to swipe her ID and to use it as an access key. Terry had also made it clear that her badge would unlock any restricted access point that was relevant to her job, and Adam had said he wanted her as his replacement. Perhaps, just perhaps, she had been granted higher security clearance than she thought?

It was worth a try. Anna pulled out her badge, held it up to the scanner, and swiped.

The computer chimed and Anna looked up in surprise. Next to the error message was a new dialog box that read “Security Access recognized for Annalise Leslie McLean. Do you wish to proceed?” Underneath, there was a box for Yes and a box for No. She was floored that it actually worked, but there was little time to celebrate. With bated breath she selected Yes.

In a flash the screen changed, and a header bar stretched across the top. The text in the header was big, bold, and unmistakable: The SubVersion Complex Central Secure Database. Anna breathed hard with fear and wonder; whatever it was, Daniel was telling the truth. It did exist.

Now, as she saw the header bar with the text inside it, she began to wonder at the name. She had assumed it was the word “subversion,” a surefire conspiracy theorist term if she had ever heard one before for crackpots who railed against the government. But looking at it now it seemed awfully similar to HomoGen's “Versions.” The only problem was she had never heard of a “SubVersion” before. Her puzzlement increased, and soon she was doubting whether they had any connection at all. The only other thing she knew that used “sub versions” were computer files, and she felt fairly certain it was not that.

The computer started to think again, and soon began throwing up a whole slew of data that flashed by so quickly that Anna had trouble deciphering it. She scrolled back to the top of the data report and was startled to see a small picture. Grimacing at her from the page was the image of a child, probably six or seven years old, with a shaven head and prominent facial features. Although Anna knew it was a female from what Daniel had told her, it would have been difficult to tell just by looking at the picture whether it was a boy or a girl. The girl's sunken eyes exuded sadness and the tight line of her mouth only added to the disturbing effect. Anna stared for several seconds in a sort of fascinated unease at the face, then slowly began to comb through the text of the data. It gave things like running stats of height, weight, body temperature, and hundreds of other data points that stretched for pages and pages.

Finally, near the end, Anna found something interesting. The section featured the title “Subject Transfer History” and gave a short list of what looked like differing locations. At the end was printed a small note, which simply read “Specimen transferred out. New serial created, see below.” Below was a new number.

Anna was mystified and troubled. The data only made some sense to her; of the rest of it she felt like she probably didn't want to make sense. Her curiosity begged to know who this little girl was, but it looked like for now she would have to be content with where the girl was located. As far as Anna could tell the girl had been listed for only a short while under the number Daniel had provided. According to the note at the end of the page the serial number had changed, and the database read that the space once occupied by serial number SVC1001-1FX now sat vacant.

If the complex was secret, as indeed it seemed to be, then it would have its own numbering system so that whatever got moved out of it would take on a new digital identity and leave the old safely behind. The question was where was the girl moved to? She typed the new serial number into the search bar and was rewarded with a few results. However, as she weeded through them she realized that she was looking at an incomplete list of transfer locations. The last one only showed the tag “In Transit,” and that was it. No end location, no terminus of any kind.

Frustrated that she had come this far only to hit a dead end, Anna backtracked and selected the last known location of that serial number. To her surprise the computer claimed that the last entity to have control over this particular girl was FPSO, the Federal Population Services Office. The puzzle only became more mystifying at every turn. She sat for a moment, unsure of what to do next, until an idea came to mind. If she called up FPSO she might get some answers.

After finding their number in the Central Admin directory, Anna dialed the FPSO front desk on her commex and waited. It took only two rings before she heard a pleasant feminine voice say, “Hello, this is FPSO.”

Hi,” Anna replied awkwardly, “My name is Annalise McLean from Central Admin and I need some information from you.”

“With pleasure! Is this a secured request or an unsecured request?”

Anna paused, and panicked momentarily. They were asking if the information request was classified or not. Was it? The original serial number was, without a doubt. But the new one? Anna decided to take a chance. “It should be categorized as an unsecured request, since it's just a simple transfer order that occurred in your department.”

“Sure, hold on one second . . . “ The woman on the other end was only gone for a few moments. “All right, do you have a number I can track the order with?”

Anna read her the new serial number and sat with bated breath for the reply. A full minute passed before the woman's voice came back on again. She sounded confused.

“Miss McLean? That number doesn't seem to even exist in our system. Either it was erased somehow or that order number never came through here. Are you sure it was correct?”

Anna tapped her fingernails harder on the desk in frustration. “Is there no paper record, perhaps? Do items that go through there have a paper traveler that goes with them?”

“They do,” the woman's voice replied, “But it might be buried in a stack somewhere by now.”

Anna sighed and was about to give up when, on impulse she blurted out, “Can you see if maybe someone there can find it? It's important for a project I am working on right now.”

The first sign of any irritation on the other end of the line came through in the form of a long breath. “We can try, although it might take a while. Give me the date the order was supposedly made and your number so we can call you back if we find something.”

Anna gave her the date and number and hung up, ever more mystified and confused. She shut the database down on her computer and pushed the crumpled paper back into the safety of her shirt, then made her way down to Lab A1A. As she pushed the door open she saw Dr. Jarrod bent excitedly over his reactive computer, occasionally straightening up to pace about but always coming back to the same pose. When he heard Anna's footsteps he turned and smiled his big toothy smile at her.

“Ah, you are here at last!” he exclaimed. “At least you haven't missed all of the excitement.”

“That's good,” Anna replied, managing a small grin. She dropped her purse off to one side and bent over the computer with him. New code flashed by on the myriad displays and Dr. Jarrod happily tapped away on the keyboard, even whistling while he did so. When he was satisfied he stepped back and looked at Anna.

“I can't believe I hadn't seen it before, Anna. For the longest time I had thought one couldn't employ a Bates-Bigley equation set on a human brain wave but it turns out your suggestion to use it was the correct one. With a little bit of adaptation I managed to change the algorithm for this particular brain wave pattern. It compensates perfectly for the brain's protective mechanisms and pins the proverbial fly to the table, so to speak. I can't thank you enough.”

Anna smiled a real smile this time and felt glad that she was one of the few people that could understand even half of what he had just said. “So do we have a time frame of when we'll be able to see this transfer protocol in action?”

Dr. Jarrod shrugged. “It could be as early as this afternoon, or as late as next week, who knows? But I am confident that it will be sooner rather than later.” He handed Anna a tablet. “Help me write the rest of this code? The computer needs to run the full scan of the brain wave pattern before we can even begin to input data into the brain itself.”

“How long will that take?” Anna asked.

“Probably a couple hours.”


It took much longer than a couple of hours for the brain scan to complete. Anna and the doctor worked on everything else they could think of in the meantime waiting for it, but it seemed like it would never finish. The doctor's optimism didn't appear to wane much under the pressure of waiting, but his energy levels definitely did. He was moving quite a bit slower by the time four o'clock rolled around and he found himself continually yawning. Anna on the other hand grew more and more tense as the hours passed, consumed with thoughts of Daniel and his hacker buddies, and why FPSO was taking so long to find her info for her.

At four fifty-five her commex rang and Anna jumped to get it. The familiar woman's voice crackled from the speaker. “Miss McLean?”

“Yes, it's me. Did you find what I was looking for?” Anna asked breathlessly.

The woman on the other end didn't sound half so pleasant now, but her answer made Anna's heart leap. “We did find it, actually, buried in a box with a hundred other order slips. You got lucky, we were just about to shred that entire lot.”

Anna's heart thumped hard. “So what does it say? Does it give the final transfer location of the serial number?”

“It does, right here at the bottom.” There was the scratching sound of paper being unfolded. “Ah, here we go. It says the last transfer location was . . . Laboratory A1A in Central Admin. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Anna mumbled a “no thank you” and ended the call. A cold sweat broke out over her entire body and as she put the commex back into her purse the skin of her scalp began to crawl. So the transfer order ended up here, in this very room, she thought. The eerie conclusion clicked in her mind. That means that the little girl in the picture is somewhere in this room right now. She glanced around the lab in a futile attempt to divine where the girl might be, but nothing immediately presented itself. It was only when her eye fell on Dr. Jarrod that a horrible thought came into her mind.

In front of him, buried in its network of cables and paraphernalia was the heart of the reactive computer, the coffin-like black box that Anna had fleetingly thought earlier could comfortably house a small child.

No, it couldn't be . . .

The notion disturbed her so badly that it was an effort to remain outwardly calm. She walked over to where the doctor was standing and stood next to him, attempting to appear as nonchalant as possible. It didn't matter much though. The doctor yawned one last time and grabbed his coat from a nearby workbench.

“I have officially had enough for one day. That's what I get for going sleepless last night.” He chuckled and patted Anna's arm. “You're younger and hardier than I, Anna. Would you be able to stay and make sure that the brain wave sequencer finishes correctly, if indeed it finishes tonight at all? It looks like it shouldn't take more than hour, I hope.”

Anna nodded as casually as she could and Dr. Jarrod thanked her and turned on his heel towards the door. At the door he gave Anna a little wave and disappeared, leaving her all alone in the room.