Luke’s legs were weak and rubbery. He couldn’t remember how he’d gotten into the temple he was being escorted through. His guide, a monk in an orange robe, kept turning back to motion Luke to follow. He had been waiting when Luke woke, but a language barrier prevented him from answering any of Luke’s questions. Yet he smiled and urged Luke on.
The monk stopped at a pair of doors and turned to Luke, smiling as he motioned toward it.
“Go in here?” Luke asked, pointing at the door.
The monk nodded, motioning again with a smile. He slid one door back and motioned Luke inside.
Luke went in, stopping at the door. The first thing he saw was the technology, something he hadn’t expected after all the oil lamps and candles he’d passed. There was a black tube along the top of the wall that emitted a blue light under it – it was holographic projector designed by Q.E.D. There were flat-screen terminal monitors on either end of the room with input control gel trays below them.
The second thing he noticed were the six people staring at him. They sat on the couches around the room and he couldn’t tell if they were bored or angry, or both.
“Do… Any of you speak English?” Luke asked.
“No. We speak hamster,” Anna shot back.
“Don’t mind Anna. She has cabin fever,” a man said as he stood. He was a tall Navajo. “You’re Luke?”
He nodded and shook the hand that that was offered.
“I’m Harley. I was Navy Seals, Special Ops before all this happened.”
“Detective Anna Cortez. Santa Clara Homicide,” Luca said with a slight wave. “That’s Doctor Sabra Vespera.” She motioned at the woman balled up at the end of a couch. “She doesn’t talk much and Ray won’t tell us what kind of a doctor she is.”
An olive-skinned Indian man nodded when Luke looked at him. “Joachim Yardam. I’m Santa Clara Vice and I am going to press charges against Ray for kidnapping and false imprisonment.”
Luke was beginning to think this Ray was an asshole.
“He’s all hot air,” someone scoffed.
Luke looked at the speaker, an older man with graying hair. Had he met him a month earlier, he would have thought he was a ball of nerves like Anna had, but he was much calmer now. Instead Luke thought the man resembled an actor he saw on a rerun of a 1980’s television show. “Leverett Prescott, Santa Clara fire department. We were told you’re a scientist.”
“I’m a doctor,” someone else said.
Luke turned his head to follow the voice and stared at the man sitting there. The man smiled. Luke’s memories returned in a flood. He remembered the man had watched him be murdered.
“I’m Phan,” he continued. “We met when you woke up a couple days ago, before your body had acclimated. I have to say, of everyone, you’ve recovered more quick—”
“You watched me get shot,” Luke accused him. He felt betrayed by the person that was coming across as a friend. “You’re with that man Mark’s working with, aren’t you?
“I wasn’t there, pal,” Phan said. “But you did—”
Ray walked in. “Oh good. Everyone’s here. Now we can—”
“I saw you. You were… Glowing.”
Ray put his hand on Luke’s shoulder. “Luke, if you have a seat, we can—”
Luke slapped Ray’s hand away. “Don’t touch me.”
“What you saw was your memory and somehow Phan got in it,” Harley explained.
“That’s not what I remember.”
Ray walked over to a tray and put his hand in it. “Initiate secure linkup. Authorization bad doctor.”
“He wasn’t there, Luke,” Anna told him.
A holograph of BRINDA appeared behind Luke. No one paid attention since their focus was on Luke and Phan’s argument.
“Don’t tell me he wasn’t there! I saw him. He was there when I was lying on the rock dying!”
“Phan wasn’t there, Luke,” Harley said, standing up beside Phan
Standing beside each other Luke and Harley’s difference in height, and strength, was obvious. Luke was an average built, five-foot seven, whereas Harley was just over six-foot four and all muscle. But the size difference didn’t intimidate Luke; he was confused, angry, scared – the perfect storm of irrational infused abandonment.
“This is some kind of trick and I’m not falling for it. I—”
“It is not a trick, Luke,” a familiar voice said.
He spun around, staring at BRINDA’s face on the holograph. Ray stood nearby wearing a stupid, satisfied grin.
“And now, answers, people,” Ray said, motioning up to BRINDA. “She has most of those.”
“And who’s that? Your girlfriend?” Anna asked.
“No. This is—”
“What does BRINDA have to do with this?” Luke demanded. “Has she been hacked?”
“Hacked?” Phan asked. “BRINDA is a computer? Why didn’t you tell me that a year ago?”
“You’ve been here for a year?” Sabra murmured.
“Yeah. I woke up here with just him and those monks out here.” Phan wagged his hand at Ray. “He said I had to help wake up the people who were going to save the world.”
“He’s told us all that.” Anna looked up at Ray. “Guess he needed to tell us something to ease his guilty conscience.”
“I showed all of you the doors and I never said you couldn’t leave. I just told you what would happen if you did.”
“You told us that your partner would explain everything when the last person arrived. Him.” Anna pointed at Luke. “And if some computer is this partner, I’ve been sitting around waiting for answers for nothing because it makes you, Ray, a fucking lunatic!”
Luke looked at her, Ray, BRINDA, back to Ray. “You planned my death?”
“Oh. No, no, no. I – we – didn’t, but someone did,” Ray answered.
“Are you saying we were all murdered?” Anna asked.
“Except for Phan, presumably all of your deaths were planned by, or link back to, Q.E.D.”
“Q.E.D. murdered us?” Anna rose to her feet.
BRINDA spoke up. “Detective Anna Lucia Cortez.” Where paintings had been they flickered to life to show screens of data. “You died the fourteenth of August while investigating the murder of Q.E.D. chairman Gallagher Emory. Your death was recorded en route to Mercy Hospital. Your family was told you suffered extensive disfiguration to the face and upper torso and they chose to cremate you. But instead, you were transported to Q.E.D. on the sixteenth of August and inserted into my memory banks to be used as a storage unit.”
All of Anna’s toughness melted. She fumbled to find the arm of a chair as her knees gave out and fell onto it.
“Humans can’t be used for storing data,” Sabrina softly argued.
“On the contrary, Doctor Sabra, they can,” BRINDA told her. “Ray discovered the means to do this, and all of you – except Luke, perhaps – had been designated for such use when your deceased body was interned into my system. Knowing that each of you were an integral part of preventing the extermination of humanity, I overrode this designation.”
Silence hung in the room for several minutes because they were all even more confused. None of them even cared about the off comment about Luke, because there was a much larger, confusing, take away. Each of them had been taught, or had learned firsthand, that humans died and it was rare that they came back to life. Even then, it had to happen within minutes, or the person was dead forever.
Anna shook her head, refusing to believe any of this.
“No. You,” she shook a finger at Ray. “You made all this up, you sick bastard. I never died, none of us did. I’m—”
“He did not,” BRINDA said. “Ray and I discovered a way to bring a human back to life, but only once. It has taken us several attempts for a successful revival and extraction; that being Doctor Phan Junge.”
“Doesn’t that mean we’re, like, zombies?” Harley asked.
“By definition, a zombie is a soulless entity with little or no brain function. You seven have higher brain function and as far as I can tell you have revived with your souls intact.”
Harley let out a strange laugh – something of disbelief and slight humor.
“Who told you to revive us? Specifically, us?” Anna asked.
Around them, the screens changed. They first showed a picture of a woman, and then documents for her began appearing while BRINDA answered.
“Desiree Jocasta. With her we discovered that there are limitations to our reactivation technique. Her body is severely damaged and unable to be wholly rejuvenated; however, Desiree has the ability of premonition. It is through her premonitions that we selected whom to revive.”
“About those abilities,” Phan said. “I can sometimes see things like I’m a walking MRI. Harley walks through walls, Anna had put her hand through a five-foot concrete block, and Luke makes places appear in places they shouldn’t be. Who knows what Joachim, Leverett, or Sabra will start doing. Humans can’t do things like this. So how did we all end up like this?”
“When your DNA was recoded to bring you back to life, new neural paths had to be constructed. They have crossed into areas of the brain that are normally inactive, and apparently where psychic abilities are dormant in all humans.”
When your DNA is recoded to bring you back to life, and new neural paths are constructed, the procedure somehow activates these unique abilities. I theorize these abilities are innate and may present themselves naturally through normal evolution, although likely only seen by your future descendants.”
“Does that mean my id is going to start putting holes in concrete too?”
“Unlikely she will, Detective Cortez,” BRINDA replied. “It could be several generations and far down your grandchildren’s evolutionary line before your current abilities will reveal themselves. In fact, I doubt that your daughter will see it in her own great-grandchildren.”
“So, because of our unique DNA coding that’s given us different abilities?” Phan asked.
“Yes, I believe genetics has much to do with this, but as of yet conclusive evidence has not surfaced to support this hypothesis. The differences showed up after each of you were recoded and brought back online.”
“We are not computers,” Luke snapped. “We can’t be recoded and we can’t be brought back online after we die.”
“Yes. You can be.” Ray told him with a smile. He became more animated and excited as he spoke. “BRINDA and I stumbled on this by accident – although Desiree says we were destined to find it. If BRINDA recodes specific genes in specific chromosomes with binary, the DNA sequences respond by increasing the natural regeneration of your body increases fivefold. This creates a cascade effect, reanimating a human’s entire body. It’s absolutely amazing!”
“Humans normally regenerate?” Leverett asked.
“Yes,” Phan answered. “When you get a cut or you break a bone and it heals, that’s regeneration.” He looked back at BRINDA “Are you saying we’re immortal?”
“Each of you can die again,” BRINDA answered with a matter-of-fact tone. “In fact, it has already happened with the two we revived before Desiree. The people I revived were killed during their escape. When we have attempted a second recoding, the subject lived for minutes, sometimes an hour, but struggled in pain and eventually died. As yet, I have been unable to counteract this human flaw.”
“So we’re just your damned flawed science experiments?” Anna bitterly snapped.
“Incorrect, Detective Cortez. You are humanities best chance of surviving extinction and the only ones we can dismantle Quantum Electronics and Devices.”
Silence followed BRINDA’s response. The seven looked at each other, not sure how to respond to this.
“You… You want us to take down Q.E.D?” Harley asked. “Why?”
“The Q.E.D. board has become focused on military contracts and creating mass weapons of destruction. The board will use their global influence to propagate wars in order to ensure the company’s continued revenue without regard to humanities welfare. If left unchecked and undeterred, they will cause the extinction of humanity. Desiree foresaw the seven of you preventing this from happening; the balance of the scales, so to speak.”
Sabra closed her eyes, squeezing out tears. “I have a husband, and a baby, and… I can’t help you. I can’t do this. And I don’t believe you or anything you’ve said since I woke up.”
“I’m with her,” Anna said. “You are nuts. I mean, if I was dead and brought back to life, the last thing I would do with my second life is try taking down one of the largest companies in the world based on the word of some crack pot and his talking computer.” Anna stood up. “I’m going home to my kid and my house and my very real life.”
Anna headed for the door. Sabra was right behind her.
“You will always be welcome back here,” BRINDA said, and then added softer, “If you make it back alive.”
The women stopped at the door. Anna looked at BRINDA, who had her face turned toward her as if she were watching them. Anna walked out, followed by Sabra, Harley, Joachim, and Leverett followed them.
“What now?” Luke asked.
“We wait,” BRINDA answered. “Terminating connection.” Her face vanished and the screens turned back to paintings.
“How do I get out of here, Ray?” Luke asked.
“This way,” Ray said.
P.J sat alone, unsure what his second life now held.
Sabra’s legs ached. She had never realized how many hills there were in Santa Clara. Her thoughts kept going over everything that had happened since she opened her eyes in the temple. There had been a Chinese man in orange robes in a room lit by dozens of candles. She had screamed and begged for Ray to take her home. He kept saying she was safer in the temple, but not why.
The memories before the temple came back suddenly and she stopped in the middle of the road.
The evening news was on television. She wore her wedding ring and a necklace, and nothing else. She planned to surprise her husband with a night of sex. She was daydreaming of being with him when she heard a board creak and turned her head. She stared up the barrel of a gun at a masked man.
“Stand up,” came a deep voice from behind the mask.
She obeyed, aware of fact she was completely vulnerable in her nudity. He walked up to her and ran his hand over her breast. She started to step back but he grabbed her neck, yanking her forward.
“Undo my pants.”
She didn’t. He grabbed a handful of hair and yanked hard, bringing her to tears. He jammed the barrel of the gun under her chin.
“Undo my pants, bitch!” he ordered.
“Pull them off.”
She did, taking one leg at a time off, leaving his erect penis exposed. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him, wrapping his arm around her. He backed her against the wall, pulled up her leg, and slipped into her. She tried to squirm away and he punched her. She hit the floor and he followed. He didn’t have the gun, but she didn’t see where he’d put it. He raped her, beat her, strangled her, and then brought her back so he could do it over and over again. Finally he got up and left her lying on the floor crying. She could hear him nearby as he dressed but didn’t move.
She heard something click and looked up. She was staring up the barrel of the gun again.
“Please. Please don’t…” There was a flash of light, a loud bang, and then…
Sabra looked around her. She was alone on the street, shaking from the violent memory. What if the attacker was hiding somewhere nearby?
Ray and his computer had to be wrong. Her last memory wouldn’t be of being raped and the sound of a gun firing if she had died. She’d remember pain and that memory didn’t exist.
Sabra came around a corner and saw the gates at the end of her driveway. They had never looked so inviting. She stopped at the side gate and pulled open the keypad cover. She rested her fingers on the keys until she felt the small bump on the five and tapped in the code. There was a soft acceptance beep and the gate unlocked. She closed the cover and pushed open the gate. Another thirty feet and she’d be safe in her home.
She walked up the long drive to the massive house. The front door was locked. She walked around to the servant entrance and picked up a rock from the decorative rocks next to the door. She slid the cover from the rock’s bottom and shook the spare key into her hand. It dropped into her palm without a sound, but the cold metal was a welcomed feeling. She closed her hand tight around it for a moment and then used it to let herself in. She made sure to put it back. Her husband got very upset with her when she did things incorrectly and took it out on the hired help.
She entered the kitchen and found the light switch by the door. Light revealed the large room. She loved this room, even if she had never cooked in it. She’d picked out everything while her husband was making his way up the ladder at his legal firm. It was finished the day he began working at Q.E.D. legal team.
Sabra walked to the sink and ran the water until it was cold. She drank four glasses of the icy water. She turned off the lights and headed upstairs to her baby’s room. She wanted to watch her daughter sleep before she curled up next to her husband’s warm body. Tomorrow she would tell him what happened to her and let him handle it as he always did.
At the top of the stairs, she passed two guest rooms, their bedroom door, and entered the fourth room. A box sitting in the middle of the room almost tripped her. She reached out and felt around her. There was another box. What were boxes doing in the baby’s room?
She turned, finding the wall light switch. She flicked it on and what it revealed shook her. Everything in the room had been packed. The disassembled crib rested against the wall. Her daughter was gone. She let out a cry of panic.
Sabra spun and ran into their bedroom, snapping on the light by the door as she passed it. She found her husband, Idi, just getting out of bed, his hand curled around the robe he always draped at the foot of the bed. Behind him, a bright blond Caucasian woman sat up, looking startled. Sabra didn’t know what to do with everything she was finding. Her home, her sanctuary, had turned into a place of one horrific nightmare after another.
“Idi… Where is Hafsa?” she asked.
Idi stared at her. Focusing on him, she realized that even with the dark skin of his Swahili heritage he had paled several shades. His brown eyes were so wide there was an abnormal amount of white showing. His hands were shaking, but his legs were bent as if he were about to run straight through Sabra.
“Idi, where is Hafsa?” she demanded.
“Ha… Ha… Hafsa… She… She’s dead. You’re dead. You’re both dead. This is a nightmare.”
The blonde-haired woman crawled across the bed, rising up on her knees behind Idi.
“Then we’re both having it,” the woman said. “I thought you killed her, Idi. Is that damned baby alive too?”
Sabra’s breath stole away for the second time that night. What? What had the woman said?
Idi moved away from her, moving toward the walk-in closet.
“You… You were the one that raped me?” Sabra asked him.
Sabra put her hands over her stomach as the urge to vomit hit her. If that was Idi, she realized she didn’t know him anymore. He’d never been violent with her, but that night he had come close to killing her with his bare hands.
She didn’t see the woman reach for the phone. She didn’t care about her. She could only see her husband, the one person in the world she had expected to protect her and their child at all costs.
Her voice was weak as questions tumbled from her trembling lips. “You were the one who raped me? And you killed me? And our daughter?”
“I… I…” Idi stammered silent words.
In a flash, rage replaced her fear. This man should die!
Sabra bellowed, “Why would you do this, Idi? And Hafsa… She was a baby! I was your wife! Why, Idi?”
His hand reached out, fumbling for the closet door.
“There’s an intruder in our house,” the woman began. “She looks like…”
Sabra looked at the woman, meeting eyes with her. She didn’t notice Idi grab the handle and dash into the closet. The light came on and things flew around inside.
The blonde-haired woman continued describing Sabra to the phone. “She looks like… My fiancée’s dead wife. But she’s dead. I can’t explain this.”
Sabra heard a familiar click and turned her head. She stared at the gun Idi aimed at her. Her father had given it to him as part of her dowry. The etchings on the handle and barrel were native to their homeland.
And she remembered the exact moment she’d last seen this gun.
Sabra lay where her attacker had thrown her. She heard a click and lifted her head, staring at the gun. Not the barrel, not the opening that held death, but the etchings on it.
It took two seconds to think, ‘That’s my father’s gun. He has my father’s gun.’ She began begging, “Please. Please don’t…”
And then the white flash, an explosion, and blackness…
“How did you kill Hafsa?” Sabra asked.
Idi’s hand began trembling. His finger itched the trigger. Why was he hesitating? He hadn’t hesitated the first time. Had he been drunk then? Had he taken drugs? Was seeing his dead wife alive too much of a shock? Sabra didn’t care.
“What did you do to my baby? Is she really dead?”
He started crying. He shook his head. The phone slammed down and Sabra looked at the woman.
“I killed her,” she hissed, climbing off the bed to her feet. “She was retarded. She was a blemish on his career just like you!”
Sabra shook her head. “She was a gift.”
“She had Down’s Syndrome! She was going to be a stupid retard that would always hold him back! The police are coming. Whatever you want, you aren’t getting away with it.”
Sabra heard the explosion of the gun firing and her focus returned to the gun, but things were very different this time. Yes, there was the white flash like before, but the bullet spiraling toward her slowed to the speed of a snail.
She looked at the nameless murderer of her baby. She saw the woman’s mouth moving in slow motion. Her voice was slow and drawn out, the words barely sensible. Sabra could see every drop of spittle expelled on even the slightest movement of her lips.
Sabra looked at her husband’s terrified face. The mask of fear hadn’t left it. Drops of sweat beaded on his face and rolled centimeter by centimeter down it.
Reality hit Sabra.
Ray and the computer hadn’t lied. She had died. Her husband had raped and murdered her. Her innocent little girl was missing or dead. In that instant Sabra found a level of vengeance the like she had never felt – she would find her daughter, and then her husband and this blonde woman would suffer until she killed them. No one would ever take away her life, her child, or her dreams again.
Sabra reached out, plucking the bullet from the air. It was very hot in her hand, but it didn’t burn her. She stared at it, losing her focus, and time sped back to normal.
“…ill her, Idi!” the woman screamed.
The room was silent. Idi and the woman knew that Sabra should be dead, but instead, she stood in the door, holding the bullet meant to kill her between her fingers.
Sabra let the bullet dropped to the floor. Idi and the woman’s eyes followed it, fixed on it. The carpet muffled it as it danced a couple times before settling.
“I am coming back, Idi,” Sabra told them, “and I will kill you both.”
They looked up at the empty space Sabra had filled.
“I shot at her and she caught the bullet. Was she even real?” Idi whispered.
“Never mind that!” the woman snapped at him. “We’ll tell the police there was an intruder but she ran away when she saw your gun.”
“I am paying for what I’ve done. I will die for what I’ve done,” Idi muttered.