THE HEIST OF IRON MOUNTAIN (Amara Quest Series)

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CHAPTER 14

Derek kept on checking his time piece as he waited in the Chairman’s office; his office is tastefully furnished with expensive Arabic woven patterns and arts used to decorate the huge office.

The office also has its own share of state of the art hi-tech equipment’s and devices; a humanoid ASIMO robotic office assistant gifted to the chairman by Honda company, the bullet-proof glass that surrounded the office could be switched from transparent to opaque at the touch of a button and many other niceties that bore the G.S. Tech globe designed logo.

His boss is a collector who loved old artifacts and one look around would convince one about it; rare scrolls and papyri earned a section of his medium sized bookshelf located on the left side of his orthopedic chair, he always says that ancient wisdom is the backbone of our intelligence.

Some of the paintings in his office had signatures that dated as far back as the 10th century; Mr. Ahmed Mohammed Hasher Aliyy is one of the most intelligent and hi-tech specialist and futurist on the face of the planet and his talents were put to good use with the establishment of the G.S. Tech Corp, the corporation employs only the best and experienced specialists, engineers and scientists that could be found which is why it has remained one of the most successful advanced technology company.

With state of the art facilities and research laboratories, the big corporation had made giant strides in the research and application of nanotechnology, holographic technology, brain wave technology, advanced artificial intelligence robotics, weaponry and to some extent – scientific research.

A wide holographic transparent television was suspended from the ceiling over the mahogany desk, it could be viewed from both sides so it practically had nothing behind it, just a thin frame that surrounded the glass and it was showing the morning news; a female reporter was talking in front of a kind of facility that had lots of security personnel moving about in the background but the volume of the T.V. set was muted so he couldn’t hear what she was saying but the text below the screen read;

“COULD THIS BE THE BIGGEST HEIST IN HISTORY? ‘IRON MOUNTAIN’ ROBBED FOR THE FIRST TIME”

Derek’s phone beeped twice and he pulled it out, he opened the blackberry hub and tapped on the notification; he sighed unconsciously, it was a notification from Evernote – a notepad and reminder app where you can type and save notes, voice notes and snapshots for future use – the app must have discovered that he didn’t know that it even existed and decided to poke him.

He was bored as the TV was not speaking out and decided to tap on the record icon on the app,

“What can I say, okay? My name is Derek and right now my leave was just cut short, not a good thin…”

“We all know that, Mr. Derek,” his boss said and emerged in his electronic wheelchair that makes use of signals from his brain to function, it was like a moving office that popped out of a sci-fi movie; special devices on the two armrests could project his computer interface right in front of him or he could decide that the hologram would look like a tablet pc that would rest on his laps and he doesn’t even touch the floating interface, the computer just operated with his brain waves and that was exactly what he was doing as Derek turned back in surprise and stood up.

“With all due respect sir, it’s nothing,”

“There is no problem at all Mr. Derek, please do have a seat,” as Mr. Ahmed Mohammed got behind his desk, Derek couldn’t make out how it happened but what he was sure of was that the wheelchair deposited the middle-aged Saudi in the office chair.

He is dressed in the traditional long white Kandura robe with a red and white headscarf known as the Ghutrah draped over his head and a black band secured tightly around the Ghutrah.

“I hope you had a nice trip?” he asked Derek. Mr. Ahmed’s face is always expressionless and it makes it difficult to know what he’s thinking and his grey eyes were always peering intently. He was rubbing his thick black moustache while observing Derek.

“Yeah, it was nice. I came as soon as I could,” Derek crossed his hands and reclined back on the chair trying his best to appear as relaxed as possible, the unplanned meeting had made him look like a high school bully in the principal’s office.

“As you must have observed, I don’t usually tell my employees how good or important they are to the progress of this company but I must say that you have done a very good job, Mr. Derek,”

Derek took a moment to process the introduction and it sounded much to him like an introduction to a firing speech – was he going to get fired? As far as he could remember, he didn’t do anything to deserve it so he decided to play cool.

“I appreciate your compliment, sir,” he said half-heartedly.

“I was thinking of letting you in on something very important, it’s so important that you have to sign an NDA. Get me that file,” he pointed to the white cushion at a corner of the office and Derek made to stand,

“Not you Mr. Derek,” he apologized, the humanoid robot’s eyes lit up and it walked majestically to the cushion, picked up the file delicately and handed it over to the CEO before returning back to its position on one corner.

“Did you say an NDA, sir?” Derek asked, cocking his head and trying to remember where he had heard that,

“Yes Mr. Derek, a Non-Disclosure Agreement because what I’m about to show you is very important and should be kept a secret, not even your fiancé can know about this,” he said and opened the thick file, swiping through the pages.

At least, firing him was off the books, Derek thought and relaxed a bit.

“I would miss smooth touch of pages if this anti-paper law pulls through,” the CEO said.

Derek minimized the Evernote app and he mistakenly tapped on the video camera app, it started recording before he minimized it and Googled ‘anti-paper law’;

Tree and green life conservation movements and some futurists were already making a lot of waves with the ‘Human Revolution’ madness – Anti-paper law? Derek scoffed, they should equally ban the use of tissue paper, it’s what happens when more than half of the world populace believes that science and nature is becoming conflicting and it’s either one or the other; it sounded so dumb to him.

“Contained in this file is everything about a nearly forgotten scientist called Luigi Galvani,” he shifted the file across the smooth mahogany table to Derek.

“You might be wrong, sir. He’s still very much remembered by some, me for one,”

“Who still talks about frog legs moving up and down with tit-bits of electricity at this point in time when people like Elon Musk are finally giving people a once in a lifetime opportunity to vacation on Mars?”

Derek stifled a chuckled, “Sir I’ll be glad to learn about what the important information is all about but I cannot sign anything without my lawyer, sorry,” he said apologetically but the CEO’s feature was unwavering as he continued flipping the pages.

“Then I won’t let you in on the details yet till then, I just want to be sure that it’s not my fault that you are unaware,” he paused a bit before continuing, “you know, there’s been a speculation that Luigi Galvani and a few other scientists stumbled upon a discovery that is very vital to extending human life and I am this close to finally laying hands on whatever it was. Within the past few months, we’ve made serious progress with laboratory subjects and succeeded in carrying out experiments on live subjects while equally harnessing all the energy we can from them, you’ll soon see for yourself,”

Derek began going through the file; it contained photocopies of Luigi’s work and contemporary researches on the advancement of the human brain through artificial inducement.

“I must add that this is purely a top secret research and only a select few are aware of it because of the moral and ethical issues a bunch of ignorant groups are propagating,” the CEO continued.

Derek looked up,

“I don’t want to sound cynical sir but I was thinking we don’t do full scale scientific research, sir?” he asked.

Derek knew that when Mr. Ahmed set his mind on something, he could go to any length to make sure he got what he wanted; he just had to hope this was a normal scientific experiment because right now, it didn’t sound like it was an ordinary one.

“Well, we do now. You may not understand the reason why I made sure it is top secret until Dr. Richmond shows you around. That’s your cue, come in doc!” he stretched his hands towards the door and it opened. Derek turned around.

The huge white tufts of hair that covered the doctor’s scalp and moustache gave him the kind of look those villainous scientists in movies do have, and he grinned; Derek could imagine the faintest hint of deceit on his face but he brushed it off – here’s another product of Mr. Ahmed’s in-depth scout all over the world for geniuses and he ought to be nice enough to meet his fellow genius. He thought and smiled back at the scientist who was fully dressed in a white lab coat.

Derek stood up and they shook hands,

“Derek Oscar,”

“Dr. Richmond, I’ve heard so much about you Mr. Derek,”

“My pleasure, I do hope they are nice things,”

“Be rest assured,” the scientist said and winked.

“I don’t need to start listing the qualifications and achievements of Dr Richmond and his team, you can look him up on Wikipedia or whatever wiki-wisdom you need to know about him but you would work with him and supervise most of the research that is, if you sign the agreement,” he passed Derek the agreement.

A lot of thoughts ran through his head; it was a lot to take in but he knew this was his only chance of getting in on the shady business of the corporation.

“Of course,” he went through the agreement and signed the dotted line and passed it back to the CEO.

“You would meet me at the scientific research facility later on, Dr Richmond would brief you on the way there,” Mr. Ahmed said with a wave of his hands. He drove out through the glass door of his office on the electronic wheelchair.

“Trust me, you won’t understand a thing until we get to the research facility underground,” Dr Richmond said running his fingers through his white hair,

“It’s underground?” Derek asked, he was wrapping his fingers around the fact that G.S. Tech has a secret scientific research laboratory within that he was not aware of before this next fact was dropped – who knows what other things he was unaware of. His suspicion alarms were blaring loudly,

‘Then they possibly are hiding a lot from you, don’t you think?’ Chidimma’s voice resounded in his ears.

“You should know this whole facility more than I do, come on Mr. Derek we have a long ride down,” he pressed a button on a small-sized remote he had in his lab coat pocket and walked behind the CEO’s desk. Beside the closet in the office, an elevator bell dinged and the aged man pressed a button and got in, Derek followed suit and the door closed shut.

Derek could only fold his hands behind his back and marvel at the breathtaking complexity and layout of the underground facility; he pulled out his Blackberry and launched the video camera again;

“No pictures,” Dr. Richmond cautioned,

“Oh,” Derek said and put away the phone; he had more reason to forget about taking pictures when he caught glimpse of a couple of guards numbering about seven, armed to the teeth and with semi-automatic guns; they were standing at strategic places around the laboratory like club bouncers; most of them eyed him suspiciously and he wondered why a scientific laboratory needed such tough looking armed guards.

A couple of laboratory scientists were moving around the huge laboratory in white lab coats, some were hunched over complicated sets of computers in various workspaces with a miniature shelf stacked up with various specimens and solutions. They had to pass through an air-tight sterilization chamber before getting into the laboratory,

“These are the workspaces or pods as we prefer to call it of the 30 scientists, handpicked by the chairman and myself from all over the world,” Dr. Richmond said as he noticed him looking around curiously.

“Oh, they look really cool,” they walked through the aisle created by the research pods on either side; he tried to say ‘Hi’ to some of the scientists but they were so fixed on what they were doing like the circumnavigation of the earth planet depended on it.

Ahead of them loomed a huge opaque glass door. Derek tried to make out what lay beyond it but he couldn’t;

Dr. Richmond kept on checking his watch as they walked closer to the door; it seemed to house the main section of the facility. His phone rang and he excused himself and went aside to a corner to answer the call.

Derek is very suspicious of Dr. Richmond and tried his best to make out something from the hushed telephone conversation that he is having with his back turned to him; he could only make out tidbits of words like – schedule, blacklist and promise. The rest of the conversation was filled with the scientist nodding ‘yes’ and ‘okay sir’.

He soon terminated the call and Derek shrugged his shoulders and regained composure; all the while, looking around the huge facility.

“Hey!” the voice came from nowhere and they both turned to meet an elegant young looking lady walk up to them. Derek sized her up as she came closer; she looked like a model plucked out of some fashion magazine and is on a white lab coat with all the buttons opened up to reveal the black blouse and jeans she was wearing inside complete with white Nike sneakers. Her hands were in the pockets of the lab coat,

“Meet Doris, my partner,” Dr. Richmond said as soon as she got to them.

“Dad, you didn’t even let me know before you ran off. I’ve been looking for you all over the place,” she hugged him and stepped back to look him over like he had been kidnapped and was just released.

“I’m still alive, Doris,” Dr. Richmond said nonchalantly and adjusted his coat.

“Excuse me, she’s your daughter?” Derek asked,

“I’m not surprised he didn’t tell you, 90% of those working here don’t know that too, you should just count yourself lucky. I’m Doris, neurological research and advancement,” she proffered a hand and Derek grabbed it firmly.

“Derek Oscar, Chief Supervising Officer and Chief of the Research and Development department, nice to meet you and welcome to G.S. Tech,” he said as formally as he could and adjusted his tie awkwardly.

“I should be the one welcoming you; it’s my space after all. Anyway, I’m impressed; you look too young to be bearing all of that title,”

“I’m flattered, even though I should be saying that to you; after all you’re the one who’s a young female scientist here,” Derek said and she smirked.

“That’s my cue to go mind my business, take him round the facility. I’ll catch up with you guys later,” Dr Richmond said and took his leave.

Derek felt a bit relaxed talking to Doris; Dr Richmond was acting like he was hiding something very big from him.

“Care for some water?” Doris asked as soon as they got into a big laboratory containing different types of animals encased in rectangular transparent tanks that contained their respective habitats and tagged as specimens. He observed that he had never seen most of the strange animals,

“No thanks,” he replied, he continued checking out the tanks arranged neatly in shelves; he was both surprised and marveled at the same time at the by-products of genetically modified animals. He had previously thought that such things existed only in sci-fi movies and novels, but here he was looking at a live animal that looked much like a miniature dragon.

“I would assume that you guys were trying to create a dragon?” Derek asked, he could sense the female scientist watching him from behind as he traced unseen patterns on the cold glass.

“My father is so fascinated by evolution and has what you would call a weird view on that, most of these animals are real baby prehistoric animals most especially the ones that existed during the cretaceous era; dinosaurs, gorgosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Pachyrhinosaurus, stegosaurus – you name them. Even though he doesn’t let me in on most of his projects, I’ve once seen his diary by chance,” she paused.

Derek looked at her encouragingly; his curiosity was eating him up and he made no effort to hide it.

“I think he’s trying to do the same thing to human beings,” she said it like she was discussing a pancake recipe.

“Sorry I didn’t really get you. Do the same what?” the more he tried to understand where all these were leading to, the more confused he is becoming.

“Come with me let me show you something,” she said and led him to a steel door at the far end of the laboratory.

She swiped her keycard and the door slid open. Derek looked in to make sure it was safe before he stepped in after her; the whole room was surrounded with monitors and other sophisticated apparatus’ but what caught his attention was an oversized opaque glass tank similar to the one’s in the laboratory but divided into about ten different sections. He could see that some kind of animal was inside but he couldn’t get a clear view.

“Dr. Richmond believes we could initiate our own evolution; if he could back-track the genes of prehistoric animals then that of humans would be no different, we could be enhanced and better than we already are,” she said impassively and walked to one of the monitors, it was a live CCTV footage but Derek couldn’t see exactly what it was showing.

The realization hit him squarely, he could now understand a bit of what it was all about. His curious instincts were in over-drive; he walked closer to the glass tank.

Different sizes of metallic hoses numbering about twelve ran around the air-tight opaque glass tank and a few of them were directed inside the tank.

The air had a strange earthy smell, unlike the rest of the underground facility that smelt of a mixture of antiseptics and the air-conditioned environment. Doris had put on a pair of glasses and was jotting down something on a notepad while observing the monitor at intervals; Derek moved closer to have a better view – he stopped in his tracks.

“Excuse me, is that not a baby?” his suspicion kept on rising, something illegal is going on in the corporation and he’s about to get involved in it.

A lot of things were going on in his mind and he remembered that Isaac Walsh guy on the television, he just might be right. On various monitors, he could see helpless month-old babies lying helplessly with curious-looking apparatus’ and tubes surrounding them.

The closest screen was showing a foggy live coverage of a baby with its head covered with some kind of glass-metal helmet filled with some kind of liquid.

“Not entirely,” Doris said, she kept on taking notes.

“Jesus Christ,” Derek whispered as he observed that most of them had odd looking features probably from genetic modification; he could see some kind of fishlike fin at the place where a hand was supposed to be.

Another monitor was showing another baby without legs, at a closer look, he observed that the legs were growing at a fast rate but it would eventually dissolve after a robotic arm injects some kind of liquid into the two legs – “CELL REGENERATION” hit his head and he said it involuntarily.

“We would have used clones Mr. Derek, but we might not get the effective results we need,” she turned to face him.

“I just can’t understand all these, can you all stop being shady and someone just explain to me what the hell is going on in G.S. Tech Corporation or…” his voice trailed off.

“Or you call the cops?” she chuckled and used her palm to cover her mouth; she dropped the notepad and walked up to him.

Derek is just a few inches taller than her; she pulled down his head and said some unintelligible things into his ear. He felt her slipping something into his pocket and when he tried to check what it was, she stopped him and slowly let go.

“They’re coming for you,” she finally whispered.

“Who’s coming for me? Did I do something wrong?” Derek asked. Doris showed him her phone;

“I don’t know how but right now, you’re the most wanted criminal and you happen to be in this facility,” she said and folded her hands.

Derek searched her face for a faint sign that she was joking,

“Dr. Doris, you must be kidding me right?” he said cocking his head to one side.

Doris scoffed, ”Just call me Doris and I’m not kidding, the UAE police and Special Forces would be here any moment from now,” she typed in something in her phone.

Something vibrated in Derek’s pockets and he groped in his left pocket before pulling out a small phone not bigger than a chocolate bar but absolutely more complicated than his blackberry; he was sure that he didn’t put it there – It has to be the object that the model-turned-female scientist put in his pocket.

He glanced up at her but her face gave nothing away and he glanced at the message on the screen of the handset:

“6th POD. EMERGENCY ELEVATOR TO THE LEFT @ HALLWAY LEADING TO THE RESTROOM. GO NOW!!!”

He looked up from the phone and his gaze travelled to a CCTV camera behind him which Dr. Doris had been looking at and he slowly looked back at her.

“I think I need to use the restroom,” Derek heard himself saying.

“Take the hallway by the 6th Pod, I’ll just run some diagnostics on the specimens before you come back. Not something you’d like to watch,” she added with a sly grin and went back to what she was doing.

Derek soon found “POD 6” boldly written above a closed pod door and it had another closed door adjacent it, he quickly pulled the door handle but led-lights around the handle blinked red. Then it dawned on him that all the doors in the facility made use of a keycard,

“Damn it,” he said. He could already hear heavy footsteps coming from the hall way, he had to think fast or he’ll get ready to face one of the heavy-set armed guards he saw earlier. The handset vibrated in his pocket again – he had forgotten the miniature device already. He pulled it out and at the same time he felt something metallic in his pocket,

“God, it’s a keycard,” he heaved a sigh of relief and quickly slid it beside the door and scampered in before the door automatically locked itself. The hallway was dark and soon lit up as he kept on half-running. He checked the message;

“AVOID THE CAMERA’S. ELEVATOR CODE: 08766TG. SELECT SERVICE ELEVATOR ON PROMPT”

‘What the hell is going on?’ his head screamed, but he couldn’t think straight right now. All he needed to get out of the fucked up facility.

Up ahead was a single door with a tag “Restroom” above it, when he got to it he discovered an adjacent door, he slid the keycard but the door didn’t budge – a small panel with numeric pad came out. Derek rummaged for the phone, his hands were shaking and the keycard fell on the marble floor.

Immediately after typing in the code, he selected ‘SERVICE ELEVATOR’ and hit the enter button. A rumbling sound later, the metallic door slid open and he snuggled in; all the while looking around nervously to make sure there was no CCTV camera.

“Oh shit! I forgot the keycard, I just hope I won’t need it anymore,” he muttered and stepped out of the elevator into a similar hallway which lit up as he stepped into it. It still beats his imagination that after close to ten years of working at G.S. Tech Corp. he didn’t know any these existed.

He heard some noise at the restroom and he stealthily peeked in through the glass door; a fat female janitor was cleaning the different stalls, he sneaked in as soon as she got into another stall and waited for her beside the door.

‘Poor lady’ he thought, he would apologize later when he gets himself sorted out.

The thought still surprised him – how could he possibly be wanted for something he didn’t do, he’d been in Nigeria for the past two days and had only just arrived in Dubai, what possibly could he have done. It sounded a bit funny to him; if there should be any wanted person, then it should be all the company execs aware of what is going on in that basement called a laboratory.

The miniature handset, his precious Blackberry Passport, his gold wrist watch and a Montblac pen – a gift from Imogen, the daughter of the Nigerian president happen to be the only weapons he had. After weighing the options, he removed his wrist watch and held his Blackberry on the other hand and as soon as the whistling fat lady turned around, she was met with a blow on both sides of her head and she dropped dizzily on the floor.

“Sorry,” Derek said and shrugged himself out of his coat and unknotted his neck tie, he also rolled up the sleeves of his shirt. He found a keycard in the lady’s pocket and thanked his stars, he also found some chocolate bars and bubble gum which he put back inside the janitor’s uniform before undressing her and putting on the oversized blue overalls. He looked like a clown but he cared less; after depositing her at the farthest stall and stashing away his suit in the big waste-bin he found at a corner, he grabbed his neck tie and headed for the door.

Loud police siren could be heard from the outside of the facility and Derek’s adrenaline was in overdrive.

“Shit just got real to me,” he muttered. The screen of the Blackberry was getting blurry from the blow and it’s flight mode was activated, all efforts to reactivate it proved futile but he managed to open the map of the facility; the only way of getting out without getting caught would be getting on one of the corporation’s delivery van. He located the parking area and headed for it as fast as possible while dragging the poor lady’s vacuum cleaner with him.

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