This book is intended for a more mature audience, so be advised.
╗ TWELVE ╚
There had been no time to cry out in pain, no time to do anything other than simply collapse to her knees as her attacker held her securely from behind. The intruder's grunted warning into Anna's ear was entirely unnecessary; her brain was shocked and frozen in time and she felt she would have done anything he wanted had he merely expressed the desire.
The man behind her wasted no time. “Good. Get up.” He hauled her firmly to her feet, still pinning her twisted arm behind her back. She complied without a thought or a sound, and watched through a dazed semi-consciousness as he snatched her gun from the floor with his free hand. They both made their awkward way to her living room and the man pushed her to a sitting position on the sofa.
“You will sit quietly and listen, and I will talk,” he said as he flicked on the table lamp and began to strip her gun down to its component parts. She watched with growing concern as frame, slide, barrel, magazine, and spring came apart, and he pitched each piece unceremoniously to various corners of the room. The speed and efficiency of the act startled her, and she became even more alarmed when he did not pitch the barrel but instead kept it in his hand.
She had recovered enough to look at his face and was shocked to realize that it was the same man that had picked her up off the ground at the doctor's office. He stood even taller than she remembered, dressed entirely in black combat gear with his own firearm strapped firmly to his waist and various gear clipped to his belt. She had not seen his eyes at their first encounter due to his sunglasses, but now they were plainly visible: gray, piercing eyes glowing with a hunted fierceness, frightening in their intensity and danger.
Pain suddenly began to rage through her arm and her knees, and she moaned as they began to stab and ache. “You hurt me,” she mumbled almost incoherently.
The man didn't even glance up. “You'll live,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. “We have more important things to talk about. You are going to do something for me.” He pulled open a pocket on his harness and began to fish inside it for something. “You have top security access at Central Admin and you are going to use it.”
Anna's brain began roiling with obvious questions. “How did you get into my house?” she stammered, disregarding his request. “I set my alarm, I locked the door . . . “
The man did not respond until he had found what was in his pocket, a small scrap of paper with writing scrawled on one side. “I used an access card, same as you would have when you get home at night.”
“But- but I didn't give you my access card!” she blurted out stupidly. “And you didn't steal it, I still have it.”
“I stole it after a fashion,” the man replied. “One doesn't have to take an access card to make it work. I copied it.”
“When?” Anna asked, bewildered.
“At the doctor's office. I was close to you long enough to copy it wirelessly. You really ought to secure your house better against intrusion if you don't want things like your code slicer stolen.”
Panic quickly rose into Anna's throat and threatened to suffocate her. How in the world did her know about her code slicer? How in the world was he standing right here right now? How in the world . . . Then an insane thought took shape in her muddled head. “Who are you?” she whispered, although she was almost certain she already knew the answer. Her suspicions were confirmed when he looked her dead in the eyes and spoke again.
“I am Daniel Marcus, and I know you already know that name. I'm not sure what you've been told about me and who I am, but I am really not in the mood for correcting back story that they may have gotten wrong.” He grasped one of her wrists and planted the crumpled paper he held into her own palm. “I need you to research these for me.”
Anna blinked incredulously at him for several moments before her eyes fell to the paper in her hand. She unfolded it and stared, then held it closer and stared longer with growing confusion. Its only contents were two sets of letters and numbers: SVC1001-1FX and SVC5403-1F. She looked back up at Daniel. “I have no idea what this is.”
“Each one is a serial number in your database,” Daniel replied.
Anna shook her head. “That doesn't help me at all,” she faltered. “I don't even know which database to begin looking in. How am I supposed to look them up when I don't know that?”
Daniel smiled at her, a cold and precarious expression. “Do you think I'm that stupid? In your orientation did Central Admin not cover the “Search All” option from the main screen on your desk computer?”
Anna gritted her teeth, her consternation rapidly growing. “Uh, they did . . . “
“Then use the damn system to do what it was built to do.”
In desperation Anna tried again. “What are these numbers even for? What do they mean?”
Daniel leaned against the nearest wall whilst keeping his eyes firmly affixed to his victim. Anna could hear his breathing become more labored, with sadness or anger she couldn't tell but she guessed some great emotional storm raged inside the man. Finally he crossed his arms and drew breath.
“The SVC stands for 'SubVersion Complex,' the middle numerals are the lot number, and the F stands for Female.” Daniel struggled with the words. “The 1 before it signifies that the female in question has no twin.”
Anna could hardly believe what she was hearing. In fact, it sounded so silly, especially coming out of such a serious man's mouth that despite her discomfiture she could barely contain a hysterical laugh. “Subversion Complex? As in, the Subversion Complex of urban legend? You cannot be serious! You are either a conspiracy theorist of the highest order or you are insane!”
Daniel lunged away from the wall and dropped to his knees in front of her so quickly that she nearly shrieked. She pulled her feet up onto the sofa and shielded her face from his eyes, which now burned only inches from her own. He had his hands on both sides of her, balled into fists and grinding into the cushions while his face floated so close to her own that she could feel the heat of his quiet fury. “I am neither, Anna” he growled, his voice shaking. “Some have speculated about the SubVersion Complex, others have fought to find out if it exists. It does indeed exist, and I know because I have seen a part of it. So do not ever give me grief over conspiracy theories and urban legends ever again. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
Anna's hands and breathing shook as she nodded desperately. The immediacy of his tone had somehow managed to obliterate her doubt, at least for the moment. Daniel remained uncomfortably close to her, though, and appeared to have little intention of moving any time soon.
“You are looking for two females, and I need to know the status and location of both of them as soon as is practicable for you to get the info to me.”
“You keep saying females,” Anna asked, still cringing away from him. “Female what?”
“Female humans, Anna. Try to keep up.”
“Female humans? But what- what is the Subversion Complex?” Anna persisted. Her confusion grew ever stronger, and even her memories of the urban legends failed her in the details. The Subversion Complex had always appeared in the conspiracy theories as some horrific underground prison, or something of that sort, a subterranean labyrinth that housed some awful secret. However, there had never been any proof of it, and most of the public, including her, disbelieved and even laughed at the notion.
And now Daniel Marcus claimed he had been there.
Daniel tore himself away from the sofa and stood again, and Anna could immediately tell she was not going to get much more from him. His eyes still fixed on her face, he breathed unevenly and worked his jaw. “You will perform the “Search All” function, or whatever function you can find to do the trick, and you will find out the status of these two females for me. It would be an understatement to say that they are dear to me; they are my life. You will do this for me, and you will report back with your findings.”
One of Anna's conversations with Dr. Jarrod flashed back into her mind and she remembered he had said Daniel had gotten tangled up with some woman at Central Admin. Perhaps this was her. She looked up at Daniel and all of a sudden she realized she despised this man, as fearsome as he was. Central Admin and the Secretary carried enough weight between them to squash one man like Daniel. She couldn't recall what had made him seem attractive to her before.
She stared at him with all the defiance she could muster and crossed her arms across her chest. “And what happens if I refuse to do all of this? I could report you, show the Party Secretary the numbers on your list, have you hunted down like the criminal you are. What is to stop me? Are you going to kill me?”
For the second time a smile split Daniel's face. “No, I am not going to kill you. But I'll gladly let you hang yourself if that's your fancy.”
Anna's blood ran cold. “What do you mean?”
“I have two ways of ensuring that you will get this done for me. The first is the highly incriminating data package that my compatriots have ready to drop on your comfortable little life if you choose to ignore me. It has just about every kind of damning evidence we could invent linking you with the Verité group, and believe you me, I am not afraid to use all of it against you if you betray me.”
Anna began to shake again. Along with the abject fear pulsing through her veins, her body had begun to crash after all that wine and she found it increasingly difficult to concentrate properly. “And the other way?” she croaked.
“The other way is this.” From the same pocket that the paper had emerged from now came another object, this one small and round and shiny. Daniel held it up so that she was sure to see. Anna realized with horror that it was her borrowed code slicer, the slicer that was supposed to be nestled comfortably inside her safe upstairs. Her stomach fell away completely.
“How did you get that?” she gasped.
Daniel looked askance at her. “You have a biometric lock on that safe, Anna, and your fingerprints are all over this house. Don't insult me.” He held it just out of her reach. “As I understand, this slicer needs to go back to HomoGen pretty soon. A couple weeks, perhaps? And then they will begin to demand it of you. I hope you are privy to the fact that this device is worth more than your entire property, and that you'd have to invent a fine excuse to explain its disappearance. So I will be taking this with me until I hear back from you.”
“Wait wait wait!” Anna stammered breathlessly. “Please don't, if I lose that I lose everything! And how am I supposed to get in touch with you anyways? I don't know how, you're liable to disappear and never come back!”
Daniel pulled a small commex handset from his belt and tossed it onto the sofa next to her. “You will use this,” he said. “I know you are a computer tech and that your first thought will be to hack this device and discover my location, but rest assured we've already taken that into consideration. If you take it apart it will signal me and then destroy itself. If you attempt to bring it into Central Admin the guards will scan your vehicle and yourself and they will find it. If you tamper with the code inside at all it will alert me. So don't try anything, it would only be a waste of both of our time.”
He looked at her one last time. “I don't want to do this, I wish there was another way, but there is no other way I know of. Play along and everything will be fine. Don't play along, and I and my allies will rain hellfire down on you.”
“Yes, if again you had not already guessed. They are Verité, and so am I.” He turned to leave, then paused briefly by the entrance to the kitchen. He held up his hand, and Anna saw the barrel of her gun shining between his fingers. “You know, it would take a professional only a couple seconds to reassemble this weapon under ideal circumstances. Your weapon is a bit more . . . scattered. I'll tell you what, since you fancy yourself handy with a gun, I will give you this-” he indicated the barrel “-and we will see how quickly you can reassemble and get off a shot at me. Farewell.”
With that, he tossed her the barrel and disappeared into the kitchen. Anna immediately dove for the floor and scrabbled for the remaining pieces of her firearm, snapping and clicking it all back together as quickly as her training allowed. When it was finally assembled again she raced through the kitchen to the back door, but she already knew it was a lost cause. Daniel Marcus was gone, and she was trapped.
She stumbled back into the living room overwhelmed with exhaustion and anger and fear. After stripping the magazine from her gun she threw them both onto the coffee table, then threw herself onto the sofa and began to cry. Her body trembled with wrenching violent sobs for a long time before she drifted fitfully off to sleep.