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