Authors: Douglas E. Richards
This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogues are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas E. Richards
Author’s E-mail address: [email protected]
All rights reserved. With the exception of excerpts for review purposes, no part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system.
Printed in the United States of America
Douglas E. Richards is the
New York Times
bestselling author of
, and its sequel,
. He has also written five middle grade/young adult novels widely acclaimed for their appeal to boys, girls, and adults alike. In 2010, in recognition of his work, he was selected to be a "special guest" at San Diego Comic-Con International, along with such icons as Stan Lee, Ray Bradbury, and Rick Riordan. Douglas has a master’s degree in molecular biology (aka “genetic engineering”), was a biotechnology executive for many years, and has authored a wide variety of popular science pieces for
Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Earth and Sky
, and many others. Douglas currently
lives in San Diego, California, with his wife, two children, and two dogs.
To my insanely talented sister, Pamela Richards Saeks, for her undying encouragement, support, and assistance, which have all meant the world to me.
Kira Miller approached the bulky contraption in the center of an isolated lab in the nuclear physics complex and couldn’t help but smile. It was about the size of a small car and looked like a Rube Goldberg device constructed by a plumber, or an abstract sculpture that had escaped from a museum of modern art.
But it was neither of these things.
Instead, it was the holy grail of energy production. A cold fusion reactor. A generator that would basically run on water and produce clean energy at a fraction of the current cost. Something that would revolutionize the world if it could be perfected. And if they
David Desh, standing beside Kira, extended his right arm toward one section of the device and ran his hand along several of its many surfaces. Desh was technically Kira’s husband, although they only had a small wedding with a few friends in attendance, and no marriage certificate had ever been filed. In the eyes of the United States they were not husband and wife. On the other hand, in the eyes of the United States they were also both dead, buried in separate cemeteries, and long since decayed, so this wasn’t surprising.
It was well after hours and Kira, Desh, and their friend and close colleague, Ross Metzger, were alone in the expansive facility—one with a state-of-the-art electronic security system set to ensure they remained that way. The company,
Advanced Physics International
, had been purchased from its founder a year earlier by a broker, keeping the deep-pocketed financiers behind the transaction anonymous. Ross Metzger had been installed as CEO, and he immediately hired a president to run day-to-day operations while he worked on projects of his own.
Metzger walked over and stood by the reactor he had built in what was essentially his private lab. A lab designed to lock up tighter than Fort Knox when he wasn’t inside with just a scan of his thumbprint.
“This version is putting out about two percent more power than I’m putting in,” he explained. “Which isn’t enough to get excited about, by itself. But it proves the concept. And my smarter half is convinced he can improve this a hundred fold.”
“Congratulations,” said Kira warmly, leaning over and giving him a hug and then a peck on the cheek.
“Thanks,” said Metzger. “But we have your therapy to thank.” He grinned sheepishly. “Let’s face it, I don’t have a clue how it works.
how to improve it.”
Kira Miller was a genetic engineer who had developed a gene therapy treatment that for short periods of time could dramatically increase human intelligence. Metzger had only gotten as far as he did because of it.
Like the rest of them, only eighteen months earlier Ross Metzger had lived a far different life. He had been a special operations major, an officer and pilot with a keen technical mind who was well schooled in aeronautics and avionics. He enjoyed math and electrical engineering in the same way that others enjoyed chess, and he had continued to learn exotic mathematics, electronics, and even cutting edge robotics as a hobby.
Now he was completely off the grid and on the core council of a team with grander capabilities and ambitions than any group in history. But a team woefully short of physicists.
So when Kira had learned of his hobby, she had pressed him into service, and he had spent months reading everything he could about nuclear physics, quantum mechanics, and chemistry. He had spent hour after endless hour carefully reading texts that were largely incomprehensible to him, knowing that during the short periods in which he was enhanced his soaring mind would find the memory traces of these thousands of pages of complex reading and grasp it all, and much more, in mere minutes. While nothing could take the place of an enhanced world-class physicist who had spent a lifetime acquiring knowledge of the field, Kira had been convinced that for a very focused problem like cold fusion, Metzger’s aptitudes and background, combined with the mother of all cram sessions, could work. The proof that she was right was now an unsightly jumble of hardware in front of them.
Metzger suggested the group adjourn to a nearby conference room so Desh could fill him in on the new facilities they were building, which were nearing completion. Before accompanying the two men, Kira took one last look at the reactor and ran her hand along some of its surfaces as had her husband. Doing so would never have occurred to her if not for him, but perhaps his boyish impulse to experience things tactilely really did allow him to better appreciate the essence of the device more fully. And if Metzger could improve it the way he thought he could—or at least the way his alter ego, with an IQ amped to the stratosphere, thought he could—this would be historic stuff.
Or maybe not
. Kira couldn’t help but caution herself. Whether it would be released or not was still unclear.
Kira Miller had written the book on the science of unintended consequences. She had found a way to double the span of human life only to find upon further analysis that releasing this discovery to the world would end in disaster. That such a profound increase in human longevity would cause devastating overpopulation, economic collapse, and the inevitable self-destruction of the human race. Now she insisted that the implications of even the most breathtaking discoveries be analyzed, ad nausem, before releasing them into the wild.
Energy this cheap and abundant would power homes, businesses, cars, and factories. It would drive an unprecedented explosion of growth in world economies, changing the face of civilization overnight. But would it be
revolutionary? Would the tectonic shift it would cause be
dramatic and disruptive? And what would oil based economies—often in the world’s most volatile regions and in the hands of the most ruthless regimes—do when the rug was pulled out from under them and their ocean of money was about to run dry? Go to war? Unleash weapons of mass destruction?
Assuming the device was perfected, the final analysis would be done by the core council when their minds were amplified, but even so these questions would be brutally difficult to answer.
Kira quickly caught up to her husband and Ross Metzger, who led them from his lab, past the recessed thumbprint scanner just outside the door, and into a short hall. Just beyond this was another lab, about half a football field in length, with a high ceiling. It was packed with monitors, lasers, and exotic physics equipment of every kind. Even so, it was so spacious and well laid out that it was anything but crowded.
Just past the lab they arrived at one of the company’s four conference rooms. Black, high-back swivel chairs surrounded a long conference table whose cherry wood veneer was so polished it had become reflective. They settled in and began a lively discussion.
Twenty minutes later they were interrupted by a grinding sound coming from Ross Metzger’s pocket. He glanced down suspiciously and pulled out his vibrating phone. “Sorry,” he said. “Wasn’t expecting any messages.” He tapped the screen a few times with his index finger and frowned.
Desh raised his eyebrows. “Problem?”
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” he replied. “But I should check it out anyway. Wait here. I’ll be back in five minutes.” He walked to the door, but turned back before he exited. “Five minutes,” he repeated with a sly grin. “Don’t let me catch the two of you in any compromising positions when I return.”
Desh smiled back. “Come on Major, give us
credit. We’re not hormone gushing high school kids,” he said in mock indignation. “I think we can manage to keep our hands off of each other for
.” He stared at Kira lecherously and raised his eyebrows. “On the other hand, since you brought it up and all . . .”
Metzger shook his head and exited, making a show of leaving the conference room door open as he did so.
Desh pulled Kira up from her chair and gathered her in his arms. “I’ve always liked the way Ross thinks,” he said, and then brushed his lips gently against hers. She responded by moving even closer and kissing him with a tender, unhurried passion. Thirty seconds later their lips parted and they opened their eyes.
And they were blind
Their faces were almost touching, but they couldn’t see each other at all.
The entire facility had become an impenetrable cave
Desh carefully extricated himself from the embrace, and as he did so the backup generator on premises took over and the lights snapped on with a loud
—and then back off, plunging them once again into absolute darkness.
Kira surged to a heightened level of alertness. A power outage could have been accidental, but one followed immediately by an outage of the backup generator
had to be
“We’ve got trouble,” whispered Desh unnecessarily. He reached out clumsily until he found Kira’s hand and took it in his.
Kira fished in her pocket with her other hand until she felt the metal LED penlight attached to her key ring. It was a red cylinder about the size of a double-A battery. Small but surprisingly powerful. She unclipped it from the ring, turned it on, and pressed it into Desh’s free hand. He shielded the light in his palm so that it provided just enough illumination for them to find the open door, and peered cautiously into the hall.
Kira jumped as a burst of gunfire filled the air, coming from the direction of Metzger’s lab. The all pervading darkness amplified her startle reflex and her heart accelerated wildly.
Desh had seen considerable action in the special forces and the gunfire threw his mind and body into a heightened state of alertness that few could match. He swept the tiny penlight in an arc through the lab until he discovered the base of a bulky, high-energy laser. Without power it was nothing more than a large paperweight—but it could still serve as a fortified hiding place. He rushed to it, almost dragging Kira behind him in his haste. “Wait here,” he whispered. “I’ll be back soon.”
“I’m coming with you,” she whispered back. “You know I can fend for myself.”
“I know you can. But wait here anyway,” he replied firmly, rushing off in the direction of the gunfire with the penlight as he did so, leaving Kira once again in total darkness and with no way to follow.
She crouched low behind the heavy steel base of the laser and strained her hearing to its limits. She was tempted to activate her cell phone for the light it would give off, but knew this would only serve to give her position away.
, she thought angrily. They had become too complacent. Too sure they were completely off the grid and that their hacking skills were too accomplished for them to ever be discovered. Too sure that their breakthrough advances in electronics and optics, which they used to transmit false images to street cameras and otherwise hide their existence, were foolproof.