Previous: Chapter Three
Ana watched the glowing tail lights of the Lexus disappear around the corner, leaving her in darkness. She wanted to chase after it and bring Ethne back. She had begged her to stay, but her friend was stubborn and once she got an idea into her head, she wouldn’t let it go. So Ana stood and shivered and felt helpless. Michael was gone, and now Ethne.
On the edge of her consciousness, she sensed someone approaching from behind. The footfalls were unusually quiet. Whoever it was, they didn’t want her to know they were there. She held her breath until the mind signature drew close and then smiled in relief.
‘Will I ever be able to sneak up on you?’
Ana turned to find Jack standing in a pool of torchlight. He smiled ruefully, his dark hair falling into his eyes and ever-present satchel slung across his broad shoulders. A tumble of images poured from his mind before she could block them. An abandoned office building, a sharp pain to the right shoulder, running in the dark, stalking through rooms and the terror of a man found cowering in the basement.
Jack looked at her sharply. He knew she was reading his mind. ‘You promised you wouldn’t do that.’
‘I know, but it leaks out and I’m tired. What did you do to him?’
‘Who?’ Jack led the way up the path to his front door and waited for Ana to follow. Her mind felt hopelessly tangled and the tears she had been holding back were gathering. It wouldn’t take much for the dam to burst. Jack slipped his arm around her waist as he opened the door, and she began to cry.
‘They took Mickey,’ she sobbed.
Once inside, Jack held her while she wept and black shadows filled the house with omens. When she had finished crying, Jack listened while she told him all that she had seen that day. He wandered the living room and lit the candles clustered on every surface.
‘This changes everything,’ he said, dropping the matches onto the coffee table. ‘Genome comparison is one thing, but experimentation? What are ARK planning?’
‘I don’t know, Jack, I’m not all seeing.’
He took her hand and kissed her fingers, trying to tease a smile with charm and distraction, but she was too tired to be bought so easily. She sighed and closed her eyes, wishing she could turn back time. If only they could have met earlier, before the storm, in another life.
‘There was another body,’ she said. ‘In the street. Hidden under the rubbish.’
She shrugged. ‘He looked clean under the rags. I don’t know what killed him.’
‘That’s what I was doing,’ said Jack. ‘Not killing people. Don’t look at me like that, babes. Found a witness who said he’d seen a body being dumped. Poor guy was terrified, thought I’d come for him. Is that what you saw in my head?’
She squeezed his hand in apology.
Jack continued. ‘I was working down my list of empty buildings bought by ARK. Really thought I’d found something this time, but it was just another squat. The witness said he saw two ARK Security guys with the body of a woman in the back of a van. They stripped her, dressed her in old clothes and dumped her in a skip.’
‘That explains the body I found,’ said Ana. ‘Clean, hair neat, no dirt under the nails, and not starving.’
‘Nothing obvious, but he had the same puncture wounds on his arm as the others.’
Jack nodded. ‘There’s something else. The witness knew her, the women in the skip. It looks like the others were dressed to look homeless, but she actually was. Just like the guy up at Craster. That’s why I scared the witness so bad. He saw ARK take her months ago and thought they’d come back for more.’
‘Why her? Was she just unlucky?’
‘This is interesting,’ he said. ‘She was special. That’s what he said. Everyone thought so.’ He flipped open his notebook and consulted it. ‘She was made homeless by the storm but said she’d never been happier. She was always smiling, always kind. Took care of everyone in the squat. Sound familiar?’
‘So she was a nice person. What does that prove? That ARK isn’t fussy about who it picks on.’
‘Ana. Think about it. ARK are extremely fussy. She said the sun had cured her back problems and even sleeping rough hadn’t brought the pain back. I’d put good money on this woman being like you. She had the mutation.’
Ana thought for a moment. ‘It makes sense. ARK are doing experiments on us. They’ve got Michael and now they want me. How many of us d’you think there are?’
‘We have five bodies, so far.’ He ticked them off on his fingers. ‘The two I found before Christmas, yours and the one up at Craster, makes four, plus the woman. All injected multiple times. And two of the men were shot.’
Jack was a freelance journalist for an online news site called ARK EYE. The wall surrounding the fireplace was covered with articles and photographs detailing his research into the mergers and dealings of the ARK consortium, as well as the storm and its effects.
Ana crossed the room so she could scan the information.
It had started a year ago. The first solar storm had hardly deserved the title and everybody had enjoyed the lightshow. It had looked pretty but it had also loaded the magnetosphere with plasma, creating the perfect conditions for the mother of all geomagnetic storms when the next flare hit.
The superstorm had arrived in June. It breached the atmosphere and dumped tons of protons and cosmic rays on the defenceless earth. An X-class fireball travelling a thousand miles a second, burning up satellites and taking out power networks. Thankfully, the UK was protected by its cobweb of short transmission lines, so the power had been back on within weeks.
Ana had met Jack two months later. She was helping people made homeless in the aftermath of the storm. He was looking for stories and found her. Ana had been impressed by his articles on Phanes BioTech and the DNA research, and was able to provide more information using her new special skills. Together, they had built a case against the biotechnology firm.
A week after they met, she had joined Jack on a trip to photograph the river. The Tyne had taken to bursting its banks on a regular basis and he was measuring the inexorable rise of the waters. They sat in his battered silver Astra in the abandoned shipyard at Swan Hunter and waited for the rain to stop pummelling the car. The cranes at Jarrow across the river seemed to droop under the relentless downpour, like giant fossilised skeletons of alien insects overcome by the hostile British climate.
Over a shared thermos of tea, Ana told Jack how her life had changed since the sun had erupted. He called it her Storm Story. Like many others, her family was struggling. Her stepfather had lost his job when Speedy Jet went into administration. Unable to find another job, Patrick Wilson ended up on a Work Farm mucking out cowsheds. He was depressed and angry and desperate for money and driving her mother up the wall with frustration.
Meanwhile, Ana was learning to cope with hearing every thought that passed through her parent’s heads. The experience had been enlightening, and not in a good way. Her mother was thinking of having an affair and Patrick was finding it hard to accept Ana’s powers.
Whenever Ana entered a room he was in, her stepfather would suddenly find a reason to go somewhere else. At first, she thought he was scared, so did her best to be as normal as possible when she was at home. She trained herself to block others’ thoughts and tried not to answer questions before they had been asked.
But then she had discovered the truth. Patrick was spying on her and giving the information to Phanes BioTech. It wasn’t fear that was driving them apart; it was guilt.
Jack was silent for a long time before reaching across to top up her tea. ‘I’m sorry, Ana. It hurts the most when it’s someone you love.’
She glanced at him and caught a flash of pain on his face. ‘Sounds like bitter experience.’
‘Bitter?’ He smiled at her with an impish twinkle, and Ana suddenly realised how much the car windows had steamed up. ‘Bittersweet, perhaps.’
She didn’t want to read it in his mind. She wanted to hear it from his lips. ‘What happened?’
‘It was long before the storm, when I had a proper job. Worked at one of the majors, don’t ask which one, I’d rather not get into it.’
Ana caught the name as he thought it, but kept it to herself. She smiled her encouragement and he continued.
‘Anyway, I uncovered a story about the contract awarded to ReSource to mine in the Arctic Alaska Basin, a newly discovered natural gas field off the coast of Siberia. The government said they’d won the contract through tendering, the usual process, blah, blah. But they didn’t. I found a source at the MoD who was willing to go on record with evidence that a secret unit was sent out to Siberia to seize the land.’
‘They just took it?’
‘Yep,’ said Jack. ‘We were ready to print. It was my big break, it was going to be front page, massive feature with further revelations to come. You know the routine.’ He gazed across the wasteland towards the river and ran a hand over his face. ‘My dad got wind of it. He knew my source and revealed his identity. The paper spiked the story and I was fired.’
He shrugged. ‘The usual cover-up. Shoot the messenger.’
‘No, I mean, why did your dad reveal your source? Was he implicated?’
‘Not at all,’ said Jack. ‘But his employer was.’
‘Did he know what would happen to you?’
Jack nodded. ‘He never liked me being a journalist. I was the biggest disappointment of his life.’
Ana slipped her hand into his. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be,’ he said. ‘If I hadn’t lost my job, I wouldn’t have started ARK EYE and I wouldn’t have met you.’
In the dim candlelight, Ana rubbed her eyes. Exhaustion was creeping up on her, but she couldn’t rest. Not yet. She scanned the articles covering the wall and sighed. She had to find where they had taken Michael.
Before the storm, Phanes BioTech had amassed the ultimate biobank. It carried the DNA of every person on the planet, except remote tribes far from civilisation. Every school, hospital, surgery, and aid agency had been used to collect the data under the guise of a mass vaccination programme; and if you wanted a passport or driving licence, or needed to claim welfare, your biometrics were required.
The company had started by identifying disease markers in the human genome, running massive comparative studies and cross-referencing billions of DNA samples. Concerned about how the data was being used, Jack had persuaded one of their geneticists to talk, provided he didn’t publish specifics about the research. Thomas Lethe had proved to be quite forthcoming. He gave Jack valuable insights into genetics and how the database worked.
Then came the storm and the well of Lethe’s knowledge dried up. They knew he worked at the Phanes laboratory; they just didn’t know where it was.
Jack joined her to stare at the wall of words and images. ‘They’ve obviously taken Michael to their lab for tests.’
Ana shuddered. ‘He’s not a guinea pig.’
‘He’ll have to give informed consent-’
‘They didn’t ask for his consent before dragging him away. It wasn’t like he had a choice, Jack. He was trying to protect me. And now they’ve got Ethne too.’
‘Ethne’s fine,’ he said, distractedly. ‘They can’t get to her in Greenland.’
‘ReSource is part of ARK. You know that. They have her.’
Jack looked at her sharply. He was trying to understand the connection between mineral extraction in Greenland and genetic research, and failing. She couldn’t see it either, but it was there, somewhere.
‘You need to call him again,’ she said. ‘Just try. One more time.’
Jack picked up his phone. ‘Don’t get your hopes up.’ He dialled and waited. ‘He probably won’t even pick…Oh, Professor Lethe, hey. How are you? We’ve not spoken for a while. Busy?’
Ana stepped closer and opened her mind so she could hear Lethe clearly.
‘Jack Dexter,’ said Lethe, warily. ‘Still on this, are you?’
‘You know me. I’m like the Terminator. So. How are things?’
‘What do you want, Jack?’
‘All right,’ continued Jack. ‘Let’s try something else. I know about the Deviants and the mutation.’
‘And the experiments.’
‘What do you know, Jack? Specifically.’
Ana whispered, ‘Michael said his film is about evolution.’
‘The human race is evolving,’ said Jack, improvising, ‘and you’re doing experiments on this new mutation. So you need people. You can’t do it all in a test tube. You need to find out, for instance, what happens if the Deviant gene spreads.’
‘It can’t spread.’
‘Is that so?’ Jack glanced at Ana. She frowned and shook her head.
‘If we’re evolving,’ continued Jack, ‘then it has to spread. The gene must be passed on-’
‘Deviants can’t breed with normal humans,’ said Thomas quickly. ‘Only with-’
Ana heard the rest of the sentence play out in Lethe’s mind before he bit back the words. Deviants could only breed with each other.
‘Ask him about the homeless people,’ she whispered.
‘One more thing,’ said Jack. ‘I’ve been tracking deaths among the homeless. Somebody is killing them, injecting them with something. The police are overwhelmed with all the other crap they have to deal with, and who cares about a few homeless people, right? What can you tell me about it?’
Ana could hear another voice speaking to Lethe, urging him to end the call. The voice sounded familiar. It was one of the men who had taken Michael.
‘Of course,’ continued Jack, ‘we both know they’re not homeless. The way I see it-’
‘You’ve got nothing.’
The line went dead.
* * *
Thomas Lethe switched off his phone, holding it so tight his knuckles turned white with the effort. He glanced at the man sleeping in the bed. It wouldn’t be long before they got ahead of him, and then he would be redundant. All his years of work and research, for what? So he could be superseded by a kid who had never read a single book on genetics in his life.
Behind him, someone aggressively jangled the keys, and he turned away from the bed.
Robson watched him impatiently, his solid bulk filling the doorway. ‘He’ll be out of it till morning.’
Thomas nodded. There was a commotion in the stairwell and an imperious voice demanded entry to the room. The lawyer had arrived. There was something about the man that enraged Thomas. He wasn’t a violent man by nature, but Christian Gregori triggered something primitive in his soul, and it twitched into life whenever he spent more than five minutes in his company.
Gregori had an army of underlings to do his bidding and yet he always came himself. He was ARK’s lawyer, overseeing all seven companies, and couldn’t possibly be everywhere at once, and yet he seemed to manage it with ease. Thomas saw too much of him at any rate. One glimpse of the perfect suit and the immaculate blond hair was enough to push his blood pressure up a couple of points.
Then there was his smile. Thomas shuddered. God protect me from that man’s smile, he thought.
‘Excuse me,’ said a supercilious voice from the stairwell. Robson moved aside and Gregori squeezed past him into the room. ‘Most kind.’
The lawyer approached the bed and gazed at the sleeping man with the intensity of a hungry lion. For one awful moment, Thomas thought he might actually climb into the bed. He cleared his throat and Gregori snapped out of his strange trance.
‘I can’t wait to meet him either,’ said Thomas, uneasily.
Gregori turned to look at him. ‘I have arranged for an increased security presence, and tranquilliser guns will be issued to all security personnel.’
‘Isn’t that overkill? I mean, there’s only one of him.’
‘And I suggest you lock him in,’ said Gregori, making for the door.
Thomas followed the lawyer into the stairwell. ‘He’s not a prisoner. Our guests stay here voluntarily.’
Gregori trotted down the spiral staircase, his footsteps echoing around the stone walls. ‘Mr Okeke did not arrive voluntarily. How do you think he will react when he awakes?’
Thomas followed the lawyer down the stairs, frowning at the bulletproof gold helmet of hair. ‘He wants people to understand what’s happening. I assume that’s why he made the film.’
Gregori stopped and Thomas almost walked into him. The lawyer turned, moved up a step and fixed him with his ice blue eyes, standing close enough to kiss.
‘You’re an intelligent man, Lethe. Don’t disappoint me now.’
Thomas fought the urge to step back. ‘Once I’ve explained the research and shown him what we’re doing here, I’m sure he’ll-’
‘He’ll what?’ Gregori smiled.
Thomas felt a sudden attack of vertigo and looked away quickly.
The lawyer continued down the stairs. ‘Cooperate?’
They reached the bottom of the stairwell and the lawyer stopped again. ‘You’ve seen his films, professor?’
‘Then you know of what Mr Okeke is capable.’
‘You look tired Thomas. Are you getting enough rest?’
How could he rest? Thomas was convinced he would never sleep again. He dragged his fingers through his unkempt hair, willing the day to be over. He couldn’t remember the last time he had shaved or had a proper shower. He took a deep breath and tried to summon the strength to argue with the lawyer. The rising wail of a sob caught him off guard. He coughed and pulled himself together enough to look Gregori in the eye.
Gregori smiled. ‘Lock the door, Tom.’
Thomas stared at the floor. The damnable lawyer always got his own way. He sighed and nodded his assent.
Next: Chapter Five
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