Editor's note: This is the first chapter of Artifact, by Shane Lindemoen
The only sound in the room was a pen scratching last minute amendments into my notes. When the yellow light above the airlock turned green, clearing me for safe entry, I took a deep breath and unfolded the flex–phone. “This is Lance.”
“Hey,” she said. “We ready?”
The clock above the door read 7:26. The room was one level below ground, and the only light came from a small window eight feet above the floor. Through that window, I could see the bottom tendrils of a weeping–willow pull with the air. Beneath a cloudless sky, each blade of grass rested lucent under the low morning sun.
“Yeah,” I said. “I think so.”
“Alright, then.” She smiled from the other end. “Good luck.”
In the Gray Room, I kept rereading my papers. Every mark reminded me of what was at stake, and I meant to leverage that window of error with a list of mnemonics. I was on a precipice – hungry, and lusting for self–actualization. I made adjustments in the margins, and the sterilized pen slipped as the papers bent around my knee. From somewhere, an echo of metal reverberated against the cinder walls, somehow through the first airlock. I looked up from my papers as it retreated to whichever corner of the facility it had come.
Nothing from the outside world was allowed past this point, so I slipped my papers back into their plastic sleeve – the pages in my hand were pressed together with beads of distilled water and my thumbs. My chest rose and fell with unrestrained breath that came slow and deep. As I set the sleeve beside me, slipped the corner of it under my thigh, my ears sucked pressure as the outer–room equalized. After rinsing my gloved hands a final time, I stepped into the air–shower and blasted away any remaining dust particles.
Just before the inner airlock closed, I registered the sound of bending metal again. I initially thought the sound was coming from the rotational platform, but it was silent – I stretched my neck to keep calm.
A woman with dark hair spilling out of her scrub cap stood alone in the dark gloom of the observation tank. Motionless and impassive at first, her visor glittered in the flickering glow of deskscreens. Then her fingers moved through the holographic interface with the purposeful care of a surgeon. The Clean Room inside the M–vault’s interior had no windows other than the thick polycarbonate glass that separated the observation tank from the Roller; though it was early morning, pitch colored shadows gathered around her. A stone object hovering within fluctuating polarities a few meters away consumed her focus.
The artifact was suspended inside an array of powerful magnets that were fixed to an apparatus no larger than a dinner plate, which we called the Roller – this device allowed us to manipulate the artifact’s spin with precise, split–second accuracy.
I interlaced my fingers and tightened the latex. “How are we looking?”
“Beautiful,” she gave me a thumbs up, smiling. “Very beautiful. Let’s just hope it’s in a conversational mood.” She switched an image relay to the wall opposite the Roller, showing me an enlarged FLIR of the Martian artifact. “Roller is up, light sensors are up, and scopes are up – good to go, whenever you’re ready.”
The M–normal vault was a quiet, reverent place – wise, with curved edges and meticulous spacing. Most of the instruments were sleek and black, with soft red and green diodes glowing into pockets of glare. I approached the dais and activated the holographic interface – dimensions of iridescent blue, green and purple readout polarized images onto every wall of the Clean Room’s interior. Everything hummed with purpose and meaning. The explosion proof interior wasn’t designed for aesthetics, but the burst of colorful imaging brought the place to life – while it had to be large enough to accommodate the different kinds of instrumentation, there wasn’t much more to the open space other than site–specific maintenance equipment, a single–pass air conditioning system and some environmental controls that were located inside the observation tank, which were adjusted to a comfortable sixty seven degrees. The interior was constructed of thick permasteel blocks of concrete coated with a vinyl finish, but the walls behind the platform and below the observation tank were plated with paramagnetic aluminum to protect the researchers while minimizing interference with the Roller. When it was up and running, the Mars–Normal vault was a very beautiful place, but also a serious one.
“Let’s see it,” I spoke into my mic, bringing up the Roller console. I stepped onto the platform, catching my breath. To concentrate on the task at hand, I forced myself not to think about what the artifact represented. Seeing the compelling evidence of other intelligent life in this universe made my fingers tremble. I reminded myself that in order to do what was needed, I had to see the object for what it was, and not for what it meant. I breathed, slowing my pulse, and only then did I allow myself to look at the alien stone floating inside the Roller.
Measuring fifteen centimeters on each side, the Martian artifact was essentially a square block of ancient, finely cut regolith similar to sandstone. I took in the breathtaking artistry of its surface – delicate lines and virgules etched between an arrangement of circles that covered each side. What those markings meant, I couldn’t imagine. It appeared to be a standard, fossilized piece of Earth’s prehistory, but inside this fossil was the most complex system of nanocircuitry that I had ever seen, that comprised larger components which continued functioning far below the four nanometer threshold – and it seemed to be counting down like a clock. There was a rhythm that pulsed through the center of it, which pumped like the beating of a heart – and the pulse was gradually leveling out. With the current it was drawing, we couldn’t understand how the outflow of electrons didn’t cause the artifact to short–circuit. Many of us worried that it could have been a fusion bomb or something – there was entirely too much mass packed into the cube for it to be regarded safely. But it was old for the kind of technology it was packing – impossibly old. I was told that when they measured the radioactive decay of its magnesium and carbon, the artifact dated no younger than three hundred million years – which placed its construction around the time insects were making their first appearances on Earth.
“New landscapes, eh Lance?” The woman’s voice carried softly through my earbud, bringing the world back into focus. I looked back at her grinning through the glass. She was paraphrasing an inscription above the lab’s entrance:
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but seeing with new eyes.
It was a misquote, we knew, but it became another way of wishing each other luck.
I smiled back, taking another deep breath. When the M–vault finally pressurized, the artifact started slowly rotating. “Okay, let’s find that light again – bring it to zero five, if you would.”
“Roger that.” There was a flurry of hand movement in the observation tank, “rips to point zero five.”
The artifact commenced rotation. I double-checked the readout on the wall, making sure everything was okay – the Roller tumbled the artifact into an intentional spin at point zero five revolutions per second. “So far, so good – let’s bring it to one, see what happens.”
“Rips to point one,” she said, moving another image to the wall on my right. A deep green illuminated her visor. Her voice thrummed with excitement. “That was fast – you seeing this?”
I glanced at the holographic set of wavelengths on the wall – there was a tiny, almost imperceptible variation in one of the carrier waves – and then the stone itself started to hum. “Hmm. That’s gotta be it – bring it to two, make it move a little.”
“Bringing rips to point two,” She breathed, “but I got a temperature spike, jumped from nineteen Celsius to thirty seven point seven.”
I checked the image behind the Roller again, noticing the readout elevating from soft blue to yellow. “That’s – that’s perfect. Means we’re getting somewhere. See if you can bring it to two five.”
“If it gets any hotter, I’m killing this round–”
“It’s just clearing its throat – bring it to two five, please.”
The woman pulled her eyes away from the artifact, its hum building like a centrifuge coming to life. “Rips to point two five – listen to that modulation!”
I saw another temperature spike – from thirty-seven to fifty four – and then the spectrometer picked up a sudden burst of ultraviolet light blinking across the artifact’s surface. “You found it.” I felt myself smiling, “I got point two five radians per second – double check that for me?”
“Checking.” There was another flurry of hand movement. “Confirmed, point two five radians per second.” She said, “but that’s way too hot, Lance.”
“Let’s follow it for a moment–”
“Lance, it’s too hot…”
I reached for the console and hesitated. I knew this was a time for caution. I’ve always subscribed to the ethic that science was a patient way of viewing the world. One of observation and objectivism – of removing your wants and desires from the equation. But slow, categorical thinking only got people so far. I remembered rationalizing that discovery was forever that process of risk – that the method of uncovering truth was simply a progression of movements between demonstrable certainty and a coin toss. And from a single coin toss to that unforeseeable place where names went to be remembered forever.
Ignoring her, I pulled up the console’s light sensor and entered point two five radians per second. The Roller adjusted the artifact’s rotation to follow the strip of ultraviolet light flashing over its surface. The images on the wall blushed to a deep red, indicating that the artifact’s temperature had risen sharply from fifty-four Celsius to one hundred and twenty six.
“I’m killing it,” the woman said through static. I saw what looked like St. Elmo’s fire flicker over the observation tank, and then she paused, shaken. “What the hell was that?”
“Okay,” I said. “Let’s – let’s back up a bit–”
There was another spike to one fifty four, and I heard the woman hiss into the mic. “Roller console just died on me–”
I looked back at the observation tank, feeling pulsating waves of heat coming from the artifact. “I’ve got a master alarm,” she yelled. “You have to slow it down on your end, Lance. I’m having problems up here.”
I checked the artifact a final time, making sure that the Roller was still working. “Alright, calm down – let’s work our way through it. Is this an instrumentation problem, or are we looking at an actual power surplus–”
“I’m locked out,” she said, struggling to keep calm. “I’m locked out, Lance.”
The Roller console in front of me suddenly dropped from view, and the deep red holograms disappeared. I was in darkness, too shocked to move. When the flare of synapse cleared my vision, I detected a soft blue light. I followed it, now the only visual anchor in the room, and my heart sank – the light was coming from the artifact.
I tried firing everything back up again, but nothing. I was locked out as well. The heat increased until I could feel beads of sweat roll down my back.
When the stone artifact reached point two five revolutions per second, something appeared in my peripheral vision – a darkening of a lighter spot on the wall. That was precisely when the hum changed. I could feel the floor beneath my feet begin to vibrate, and when I looked back at the observation tank, it was empty – the woman was gone.
Backing away from the platform, I could see the wall behind the artifact bulge, as if it were losing viscosity. Undulating waves of heat sucked the PPE suit against my body, and when I turned toward the airlock to run, the humming grew louder. The pitch increased until my visor cracked, and then everything went dark.
When awareness finally came back, I remembered only brief moments. Everything seemed to move like a series of snapshots. The earliest thing I can remember, and the shortest, was being loaded into an ambulance. At the time, I couldn’t really understand what was happening. My protection suit peeled away from a substantial burn on my chest, and I bled precious oxygen faster than the EMTs could replace it. I vaguely remember going over the Parkland formula, trying desperately between fleeting moments of awareness to factor my weight with the amount of fluids they were giving me – it became very important for me to know how much of my body had been burned. The paramedics worried that I had inhaled some of the flame, as they pried my mouth open and inspected my bronchial. That’s the last image I had before they started pumping me full of pain meds and monitoring my airway.
The next thing I can remember is being transported from the emergency area to a private room reserved for more stable patients, and the woman from the observation tank coming to visit. She brought a pink stuffed animal and a card, and when she allowed herself to look at what was left of me, she would wring the stuffed animal as if she were sacrificing it to the gods. She visited intermittently, but I couldn’t remember her name. I desperately wanted someone to explain what happened, but my questions remained unanswered. Whenever I asked the woman about the accident, she would stare vacantly at some distant point through the window and change the subject. She eventually left and didn’t come back.
The final thing I remember was a man – and when he wasn’t sitting at the foot of my bed, he paced the room talking quietly into his flex–phone. He was instantly familiar, but at the same time completely unrecognizable. There was something about the smile lines around his eyes that begged familiarity, and the fact that he was around my age should have made me feel less anxious, but it didn’t.
“Rest up, killer.” The man said, forcing a smile, “We need your butt back in the lab as soon as possible.”
“What happened?” My words slurred through the pain–meds.
“Something amazing.” He cracked open a bottle of water and filled my plastic cup, “But don’t worry about that now. Get plenty of sleep, and we’ll fill you in on the details when you get back.”
The man patted me gently on the leg and rose to leave. “We have some of our people posted outside, should you need anything.”
He studied me from the doorway, waiting for the fog to clear my eyes. “Lance,” he said seriously. “If anyone you don’t recognize tries wheeling you out of here, get the guard’s attention – no matter how official they seem, alright?”
He smiled again and turned to leave.
“Wait,” I said suddenly. “What’s your name?”
The man stopped and stared at me for a few moments.
“Joseph,” he said finally. “My name is Joseph. Now get some sleep, pal. And remember what I told you.”
The last bit shook me. Not only were there men outside of my room, but the possibility at least existed that someone could have tried taking me away. It was a strange thought, lying in my hospital bed, mentally stumbling through the thick fog of my half reality, unable to differentiate between those I could trust and those I couldn’t. If what Joseph warned me about actually happened, I honestly didn’t know what I would do – I couldn’t recognize anybody.
The first thing I forgot was how to measure the passage of time. Night was when it was dark outside. Day was when there was light. I was sustained with a feeding tube connected to a valve above my collarbone, which reduced solid waste, so I wasn’t even able to measure time by how often I used the bathroom. I had no way of knowing how long I had been there, and every square centimeter of my body ached. When I could finally open my eyes, reality seeped into focus.
I recognized immediately that I was in a hospital – the room decor was for long term patient occupancy, with walls of institutional beige and comfortable furniture for visitors. There was a wall–screen above my bed, which was basically a hard padded mattress with wire–and–plastic straps tucked under the sheets, and on either side were cold cylindrical rails of collapsible stainless steel. There was another wall–screen by the door, next to a laser stylus used for cleaning. I could also see natural light coming from the large window to my right, and the shadow of the pink stuffed animal sitting on the sill, stretching across the floor and my bed. Beside the bed, there was a console with a screen connected to an IV stand with a few bags of morphine solution.
It was hard at first to accept that I had in fact survived whatever happened in the Clean Room.
It was a foggy realization but a serious one, because I knew then that I probably should have died. The shock was powerful enough – some kind of electrical nimiety that lit me up like a flash–bulb. But the voice in my head kept repeating, you survived. You survived. You survived, until I allowed myself to trust it.
The room was warm and dim. Chemicals pricked my sinuses, and the sound of air–conditioning pulled me out of the warm depth of half–forgotten dreams. I lay on my side breathing slowly, contorted and stiff, and my head pulsated like milk spilling from a jug. Thinking came slow as everything blurred out of focus, and all endeavors to put together exactly what went wrong inflated my headache beyond reason. I remembered my visor cracking and–
–Nothing. The concussion. I found that shapes eluded my train of thought, until reality pulled back like a hangman’s rope. I fought with consciousness, desperately holding that clouded space before the darkness could take me again. Sitting up didn’t feel right, so I tried rolling onto my back. But I couldn’t move. I tried again, and nothing.
I was frozen in a rictus, unable to blink – unable to will my body into action. Paralyzed.
Panicking, my mind raced to a ventilation duct that spilled the sound of boiling water into the room. As the vent hummed, something else was building behind the walls – a distant sound of super–heated alloy cooling too fast, faint but getting close. And then, like a switch, the physics in the room suddenly changed. There was a wooden thok, and my muscles instantly relaxed.
I rolled over the guard-rails and sprawled onto the warm linoleum. I stayed there for a minute sucking air, naked except for a thin hospital gown that was open in the back – the IV and feeding tube pulled like a stitch. I got to my feet and peeled the tape off of my genitals, then gently removed the catheter. There was a slight resonance of pain in my chest, like healed sunburn, but it was fading fast. I picked up my IV stand and cautiously walked out of the room, my legs trembling through the atrophy.
I felt my unease grow while moving into the hallway, noting that the entire hospital looked as if it had been recently abandoned. Papers were strewn across the floor. Vacant wheelchairs were carelessly pushed into corners, and there was a maintenance cart spilling rolls of toilet–paper down the hall. A stretcher propped open an elevator as it endlessly tried closing itself. Distant blue sunlight from the adjacent rooms cast the deserted hospital into a milieu of dark shadows.
“Hello?” My vocal cords burned from lack of use. To my right, the hallway ended at a darker room with a single florescent bulb blinking itself asleep. To my left, the corridor forked in opposite directions. “Is anybody there…?”
And out of the darkness, “In here, Lance.”
I spun around, tracking the voice through the opposite hallway.
A woman said, “You’re alive.” The voice drifted through the hall, leading to the room with the blinking light. “Come in here, please.”
I dragged my stand along, moving carefully toward the half opened door. I wasn’t able to distinguish individual shapes inside that unsettling strobe, because everything seemed to melt together into a crawling veil of fog. After a moment’s hesitation, I continued forward.
“It’s okay,” she breathed. “I won’t bite.”
“Where are you?”
I moved toward the door just as the light finally went out for good. Her breath released slowly, as if she were letting go a deep pull of air. “Don’t be afraid.”
I slid into the darkness, and the door closed behind me.
A musical hum drifted from somewhere beyond a hospital bed that I could barely see, and I realized that the woman was laughing under her breath. I wasn’t certain at first, but then her voice separated from the mechanical ambience until it was loud and constant, until it was finally cruel and vehement. I backed away from the sound, feeling the sharp sting of adrenaline.
Ripping the intravenous drip out of my vein and shoving the pole toward the voice, I turned to run, but the door handle was missing. Metal folded behind the walls again, only this time the sound formed a crescendo, unbearable and endless. I collapsed against the door and pressed my ears, biting against the cramp that rose up the back of my neck. After a few moments of paralyzing noise, there was another wooden thok, and everything faded like the final note of a song.
Very slowly, I opened my eyes to a landscape that had changed – and I somehow found myself back inside the Clean Room at the labs. Still in my hospital gown, I rubbed the bloody crook of my elbow where the IV pulled free. I looked into the observation tank, but it was empty. The woman was gone. It was hard at first to grasp why everything seemed wrong. There wasn’t any light in the room, for example, when it should have been as bright as day. The observation tank was dark as well, save for the stark line of glowing wall–screens.
There suddenly came a hum from the examination platform, and when I turned my head to look, the artifact rose out of the darkness. I watched as the platform spun, noticing again a darkening spot on the wall. Everything melted and bulged like before, like a giant bubble in a tar pit. The artifact thrummed with intense blue light, like the pulsating heat of a jet engine. The sound grew, and I wiped a dark liquid away from my nose. My ears bled a tight line along my jaw before dripping onto the floor. The hum grew more sonorous until I couldn’t hear anything except a scream. It was my scream, and that sudden truth scared me more than anything. When the concussion finally stopped, everything once again went dark.
–Sometime later, I was well enough to move around. I really didn’t feel any pain – more like the ghost of pain – like the faint memory of a bad burn, or a broken limb. I stepped out of the wheelchair, moving away from the hospital entrance, glad to be under the power of my own legs again. The strange weight of the gauze on my chest snagged the shirt above my beltline. I stood for a moment, blinking into the sunlight. Joseph gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder and nodded for me to follow. While he was wheeling me out, he wanted to know how I was feeling. I didn’t know what to tell him.
I remembered indistinct tremors of the experiment, but then I would recoil. I figured the memories were still too raw to deal with. My problem was that not only couldn’t I remember anything before the hospital, but I was afraid to say anything about it. Whatever work I was into, I got the impression that the inconvenience of my recent memory loss would have upset a lot of people. I was hoping that things would have come back to me by then, but they hadn’t.
We met up with a heavily built man that I didn’t recognize. Once we were inside the car, Joseph said, “You remember Patrick, Chief of Security Operations for the Mars Project.”
“Hey,” I said, inclining my head.
Patrick shifted his muscled frame inside the passenger seat, stealing worried glances from me.
“You remember Patrick, right?”
I had no clue who Patrick was. “Of course.”
Every now and then Joseph would ask me something a bit more on point, as if he were panning the streambed of my memory, but he primarily wanted to know if I told anyone what we were attempting in the lab that day.
“I – I don’t remember.” I said softly, closing my eyes.
Joseph nodded. “I understand if things are a bit foggy–”
“Is anyone going to explain what happened?”
Joseph shifted uncomfortably in his seat and adjusted the rearview mirror. “Well, we’ll get to that.”
I glanced at Patrick, who was tapping at his flex–phone. “Alright.”
A flash of long black hair pulled suddenly, as an afterthought, “was the woman hurt?”
“The woman?” Joseph asked, “You mean Alice?”
“Yeah, Alice – is she okay?”
“A little pissed,” he trailed off. “But she’s fine.”
“Good,” I looked back and forth between the two men, wondering when they were going to arrive at the point. “Nobody knows why this thing blew?”
“Well,” He shook his head. “Things have gotten a bit more complicated.”
“In what way?”
Joseph glanced at Patrick, who shook his head slightly. I sat back, feeling a slow gathering of dread – my instincts were pinging the entire spectrum of threat indicators. “What about my papers?”
“The notes I brought with me into the Gray Room, just before the accident.”
“The papers,” Joseph said thinly, thinking it over. “I’m not sure. We have people still working on it – that’s sort of why Patrick is here–”
“We’re wasting time.” Patrick finally spoke.
“Lance,” Joseph cleared his throat. “Something happened with the artifact, and that algorithm you had? We need it. It’s been humming since the accident, the same as when we found it.”
I shook my head and tried massaging the cloudiness away. Perhaps I could mine some sort of sensible sequence of events from the bits and pieces that I did remember. I tried grasping that chain of memory but it pulled back, keeping itself out of reach. I couldn’t dam the wellspring of anxiety building inside me, until it eventually spilled over and I found myself breaking into a sweat.
This was about the Martian artifact.
I remembered the hum – like a rhythm of soft percussion. It must have been some mathematical sequence, because it endlessly repeated itself, as if it were stuck in some sort of infinite feedback loop.
“Lance,” Joseph said. “Do you remember how you got it to light up?”
I glanced at Patrick, who was still staring at his phone. “Give me a break, guys.” I sighed, trying to convince myself that the looming cloud of malice was simply my imagination, “A large percentage of my chest is still smoldering, here…”
“Time has become sort of an issue.” Patrick said, rolling up his phone and tucking it into his breast pocket.
“Just, let me get back to the lab.” I took a deep breath and laid my head back, ready to let the gentle rumbling of the highway rock me to sleep. “If I were following some sort of operation, there’ll be a copy of it lying around somewhere.”
Patrick turned around to face me. “A copy?” He looked at Joseph. “Is he serious?”
Joseph’s eyes lost all semblance of kindness, and Patrick stared at me, unblinking.
“I mean,” I said. “Relax, there has to be one.”
Patrick looked at Joseph a final time. “You told me this would work,” He said. “Joseph, you said this was going to work.”
“Lance,” Patrick turned to face me again. “There were to be no copies of that procedure. You know this.”
I blinked a few times, trying to figure out if we were all on the same page, suspecting that we weren’t even in the same book. “What…?”
Patrick arched his eyebrow.
“You’re telling me,” I said slowly, leaning forward. “That we were dicking around with some encrypted alien device, and we didn’t bother documenting how much of the algorithm we figured out? Nothing written down?” I frowned. “What if something happened to me?” I looked at both men, seriously regretting the direction this conversation had taken us. “And what about the woman – uh, Alice? Wasn’t she monitoring a bank of holographic screens just before the thing blew?”
Patrick reached into the small of his back and pulled out a silver handgun.
“Jesus, Patrick,” said Joseph. “What are you doing?”
“Keep driving.” He pulled the hammer and pointed the gun at my head.
What little understandings I made since the hospital seemed to fall away. I couldn’t put anything back together. My whole world spiraled down the barrel of Patrick’s gun, and I froze. “Wait,” I said. “Wait a second…”
“Are you telling me that you have backups somewhere? Of the algorithm?” Patrick asked.
“Put the goddamn gun away,” Joseph yelled.
“Shut up. What’s he talking about with Alice? She knows the cypher text?”
“Wait, wait, wait – wait a second,” I said. “I don’t have any copies.”
Joseph accelerated. The world outside of the car melted into a collage of relative objects, and the only constants in the backdrop were the shadows of trees as they flickered before the sun.
“Where is it?” Patrick demanded, “Where is the copy?”
“I don’t know. I – I don’t know what I’m talking about–”
“Then why would you say that? Why would you lie to me?”
“Christ, Patrick – I’m screwed up. I’m – I don’t know what I’m talking about–”
“For fuck’s sake,” Joseph said. “Just tell him–”
“There’s nothing – I swear, nothing.”
Joseph practically stood on the gas pedal, and I could see a lake fast approaching ahead of us. Car horns wailed as we sped by and trees whipped together like the blades of a helicopter.
“Listen, you either have a copy of the event sequence, or you know it.” Patrick said, “And if it’s neither, then you’re useless to us. You said that Alice might know the procedure? Is that – Lance, pay attention – is that right? Alice knows it?”
“I don’t know.” I said, “I – I’m sorry, I don’t know.”
The lake disappeared below a hill, and then it rose again before us, fast. Joseph kept nervously glancing at Patrick, making sure that he hadn’t noticed. I reached for my seat belt.
“Hey, hey, hey,” Patrick pressed the gun against my head. “Don’t do that. Keep your hands up.”
“Shut up.” Patrick said through his teeth, “Which is it? You either have a copy of the algorithm, or you have it memorized. Which one? And let me tell you something, there better be documented chain of custody for every single copy out there–”
“I have it memorized,” I said.
The lake enveloped the entire windshield, save for a slight margin of beach. The car lurched forward, and we all momentarily lifted out of our seats. Patrick still hadn’t realized what was happening.
“Lance,” Patrick said. “You’re very special to us – you know that, right?” He gritted his teeth and stabbed the gun into my forehead. “We have to protect that valuable head of yours–”
“If I’m so special,” I clenched my eyes shut. “Then why are you pointing a gun at my head?”
Patrick suddenly looked confused. Like he was suddenly roused from a very deep sleep – like he couldn’t believe what he was about to do. He pulled the gun away from my forehead and stared at his hand as if it were a dead insect.
“Last warning,” Joseph said. “Put the gun down.”
Patrick turned around just as we reached the dock. Realizing what was about to happen, he furiously swung the gun toward Joseph and pulled the trigger. Joseph’s brains went through the side window, but it was too late.
We hit the dock at ninety miles per hour, and after a moment of sailing through the open air, the car crashed into the lake –