Confined Freedom

“Reynolds, Ethan,” a guard called through a speaker.

Ethan approached the counter to receive his personal items taken at the time of his incarceration.

“Sign here.”

He signed the hologram that emitted before him and a container lowered onto the counter. It was a high-security prison. He couldn’t even see who was on the other side of the dark-tinted everglass. If there was anyone. He wouldn’t be surprised if it were run remotely or if this whole interaction was automated. All he knew was it was an actual person. No droids allowed in this prison except the semi-sentient variety that were deemed just sentient enough not to be destroyed. He opened the container and reviewed the items inside: a handful of silver coins, a holosphere he quickly pocketed, and a small comm unit he took and inserted into his ear.

It felt weird after not wearing it for the past decade, but he knew he would get used to it by the end of the day. The cold faded from the unit as it siphoned his body heat and a voice chimed in his ear. Unable to retrieve messages at this time.

“Figures,” he said. He gathered the coins and dropped them in his jacket pocket. The container closed and shot back up the wall after he grabbed the last item. A handle popped out from the wall in front of him.

“Grip the handle, please.” The voice called through the speaker.

“Definitely automated,” Ethan sighed and gripped the handle. As soon as he did, two mechanical arms popped out from each side of the handle and fastened a bracelet on his wrist. The handle quickly retreated.

“Thank you for you stay Mr. Reynolds. You are free to go,” the voice said before a door behind him slid open.

“Hey,” Ethan called, “What is this?”

His words died against he walls and the only response given was the repetition that he was free to go. He left through the door and found himself in a small room with only a chair to furnish it. He sat down and strapped in. The door closed and a green light flickered. Inertia forced him further into his seat and one minute later the door opened again to the view of the prison he’d just left.

It was built inside the center of a large asteroid. Ethan stepped out of the pod that had transported him to one of the small asteroids connected to the prison by a zero-gravity, single unit elevator. Sixteen such elevators webbed from the central asteroid and each one connected to a smaller asteroid making the entire complex look like a model of a mutated virus ready to infect the universe. The elevators were the only way in or out of the prison. They were designed to be easily broken, shooting any contents into the void of space should anyone somehow gain access without permission.

Ethan stared as the entire facility slowly rotating through the dense field of rock that shielded and contained it. He was free and there was only one place he wanted to go. If it still existed.

“Mr. Reynolds,” a voice called.

Ethan turned to see a thin, well-groomed man in an outdated business suit not meant for travel. This was a man who was overconfident he would never be in danger, which made him even more out of place than he already seemed.

“Mr. Reynolds,” the man continued after he had Ethan’s attention, “I am here on behalf of Mr. Dwyer to present you with an opportunity to settle your debt.”

“Debt?”

“Please. Follow me.” The outdated suit spun on one heel and briskly entered a personal transport larger than most public shuttles.

Ethan surveyed the small landing pad. It was vacant with the exception of the personal transport and a station to summon a public transport if needed. He didn’t like the feeling that began to settle into the pit of his stomach. The man had mentioned a debt. He’d settled his debt only hours earlier and it had cost him a decade of his life. He looked at the station, the transport, and the band on his wrist.

The inside of the private transport was elaborately decorated. What normally would have held six dozen passengers was a common room surrounded by five suites. The suit was seated on a lounger patiently waiting for him. Ethan sat opposite him feeling like a dung beetle on the newly fabricated cushions.

“Six years ago they decided time served was enough to recondition the criminals of this sector, but the citizens didn’t believe they should pay for this reconditioning. Therefore, each inmate is given the bracelet you now wear as a symbol of the debt you owe.”

Ethan rubbed at the band on his wrist as if to understand the concept as much as to suppress the anger building up inside that the freedom he thought he’d just reacquired was still at risk.

“You currently owe eight million gead. Mr. Dwyer is offering you an opportunity to settle this debt now instead of working many years in whatever job you can find to repay the money so you can finally leave this sector behind you.”

“You’re saying I’m restricted to this sector until this debt, which I owe because of my forced incarceration, is repaid?”

“Correct.”

“And you think this bracelet can prevent me from simply disappearing?”

“Many have tried, Mr. Reynolds, and they all end up right back in their cell. Losing more time while adding to their debt. Mr. Dwyer knows very well how skilled you are at disappearing, which is why he is offering you this opportunity to wipe away your debt with one job.”

Ethan stood and wandered to the view port. He looked at the prison that filled it then pulled the holosphere from his pocket and pinched it between his fingers. An image filled the air before him. A woman holding a baby. They were both smiling as the woman strolled through the verdant landscape of their homeworld. His homeworld. A planet Ethan hadn’t seen in nearly fifteen years.

He pocketed the sphere and turned his back on the prison beyond the view port. “What’s this job?”

Lemniscate

“Are you sure?” Remiel asked.

The old woman before him nodded.

“Place your hand here,” he continued. She followed his order and placed her hand on the smooth tablet he held before her. Then he ushered her to the door behind him. The door closed with a thud that echoed through the great room. It was all white. Even the lone table and two chairs. There were no windows or lights. The whiteness of the walls, floor, and ceiling seemed to reflect each other in a way that illuminated every inch of every surface. No shadows existed anywhere.

He sat down to find another dossier had replaced the last. He rested the tablet on the table then picked up the file and flicked through its contents reviewing the information inside. The information that would allow him to pass judgement on his next guest.

When he was satisfied he had seen enough to make an accurate decision, he dropped the dossier onto the table and rose. The human named Francis Nguyen arrived through the door in front of him. A hint of confusion was visible on the small man’s face as he strode across the large room. Each footfall echoed within the chamber and Remiel made an adjustment that softened the noise. Then, as he approached Mr. Nguyen, he reduced his own size to be identical to his guests by shrinking a few inches and thinning himself.

“Mr. Nguyen,” Remiel greeted his guest and showed him to the lone table. Mr. Nguyen bowed graciously before taking his seat. Remiel took his own seat before formally beginning the conversation. Mr. Nguyen had been composed, so far, which was an excellent sign.

“Do you know where you are Francis?”

“I do,” Mr. Nguyen said, briefly taking in more of the modest room. “It is good to see you again, Mr. Remiel, though I do not seem to recall the last or first time we met.”

Remiel smiled. “That is to be expected. I am familiar because we have met on multiple occasions.” Remiel himself did not know this until a moment ago when he reviewed the dossier and regained his memories of the previous Francis Nguyen, who had been called Lindsay Williamson. She had been eighty-two years old, whereas Francis was thirty-eight.

“Can you remind me why I am here?” Mr. Nguyen asked.

“Your time has ended, for now, in the land of the living.”

“Ah, I see, and I am here for my final judgement.”

“Not yet, Mr. Nguyen. You have lived just over two hundred years across five lives. You have a few more to experience before the final judgement is given.”

“I will go back then?”

“Not as you are currently.”

Mr. Nguyen’s eyes narrowed and he turned his head ever so slightly.

“What do you remember of your previous lives?” Remiel asked.

“Nothing.”

“That is because you cannot take your memories with you. You must start again. A clean slate. No prior experiences and under new circumstances. You have done this several times already. Only when you have lived your three hundred and thirty-three years will you be ready to receive your final judgment.”

Mr. Nguyen nodded. “Yes, I’m beginning to remember, but please forgive me. Why so many years?”

“One life is too short to accurately pass judgement on a soul. Multiple lives are required to collect the necessary information to make a proper assessment.”

“Then I have no choice but to accept?”

“There is always a choice.” Remiel picked up the tablet and rose from his chair. Mr. Nguyen stood as well. They walked a few paces before Remiel turned to face Mr. Nguyen and present the tablet.

“When you place your hand on this, it will absorb all of your memories. Then you will pass through the door behind me to begin your next life. The choice you have in this moment is where you will be born and how long your life will last. You cannot choose who your parents will be or how you will be born or any aspect of how your life beyond where it begins and how long you will live. You will have no control over how your life will end and no memory of the length you had chosen. You will be born into the world you just left. Nothing will have changed. You currently have 129 years to live before we meet for the last time. Knowing this, make your choice.”

Then, as if from a particle of dust in the spotless room, a miniature earth grew into existence above the tablet until its surface could be seen in detail. Mr. Nguyen examined the moon slowly circling the planet and was tempted to pluck it out of orbit and look at it closer, but he quickly returned his gaze to the world before him. He remembered everything he could about what the world was like. After a few moments he made his decision. Niue. A small island in the Pacific Ocean. He loved the water and hoped to have a simple, yet enjoyable life there.

“Seventy-two years.”

“Are you sure?” Remiel asked.

Mr. Nguyen nodded.

“Place your hand here,” Remiel continued.

Mr. Nguyen followed the instructions and placed his hand on the tablet. Every memory within him transferred to the tablet. As did Remiel’s memories, through his own hand placed on the underside of the tablet, until both of their collective memories had been extracted.

When Mr. Nguyen removed his hand. Remiel looked up at him and smiled. Then he guided his guest to the door behind him and ushered him through. The door closed and Remiel returned to the table and placed the tablet on its surface. All memories of his previous guest were gone. A new dossier was sitting on the table. He sat down and flicked through the pages absorbing the memories of his next guest. Remembering each time they met and the lives this one had lived. Once he felt prepared, he placed the information back on table and rose to greet his new visitor as she walked through the door.

The Pendulum Clock

Val slipped through the open window. The security in this high-rise was lacking compared to many others she had visited. Perhaps the guards on the main floor were meant to create a sense of safety. Only a fool would think harm could or would come from one source. Luckily, tonight she was hunting a fool, but nonetheless she found it all alarmingly simple.

There were no cameras within the apartment. All the lavish furnishings and open rooms were left untouched. Spotless. No eyes viewed the precious artworks on the walls except the owner, and then only when he spared a moment to look. They were each worth over a million dollars. Priceless to some, mere tomes on the shelves in a lawyer’s office to others. Trophies. Benjamin Gally was a man who came to money easily through donation, inheritance, and bribery. He was a public figure who cared little for the public, which was why Val made him her next target.

She strolled through the parlor and prepared her catch before locating the controls on the far left wall. She scrolled through the library and found a tune she thought fitting to the scene. Miss Murder blew through the open room as Val hid carefully above the control unit. Benjamin Gally rushed into the room. He surveyed it briefly before walking to the controls and shutting it off.

“Hello,” he called to the emptiness. He was still in his perfectly tailored suit and tie, sans jacket. He pulled out his phone and Val whipped it out of his hand with the heel of her foot. In one swift motion, she laced the ribbon around his feet and hit the reel. He was lifted into the center of the room. His head swung only a foot from the polished granite.

Val stood, composed herself, and switched the music back on and dimmed it so a proper conversation could be had between them. She tied his hands behind his back. He was still too shocked to resist properly.

“Who are you?” he screamed.

“They always want to know who I am before they ask why I’m here. It’s rather annoying.” She circled around and sat down on the cold granite so she could look into his upended face. “I have no qualms about giving a dead man my name.”

“Do you know who I am?” he snarled.

“Of course I do,” she replied calmly, “You are Benjamin Gally. Founder of Handiman. Son of Christopher Gally. Inheritor of sixty million dollars and thief of five-hundred and seventy more. No wife. No children, at least claimed that is. No next of kin. That’s why I’m here.”

“What?” Confusion flickered across his face. “I’ve stolen nothing.”

“You’ve stolen plenty, or had it handed to you without question. No favor worth a hundred and twenty mil can be honest or easy. It doesn’t matter now. That money gets a second chance at helping people once you’re gone. In this state, the money of those who die without a will goes to the Board of Education. Maybe it can fund a library for all the intercity kids so desperately wanting an opportunity to grow up without finding themselves on the other side of the law.”

“Let me go and I’ll build that library. Twenty million. I’ll invest it into my property on fifth avenue.”

She pushed him so his face swung by her she spoke. “That’s the thing. You could have been philanthropic and built such a place. Helped thousands of people, but you only think of it now. When your life is on the line and you’ve lost the control you grew drunk upon. It wasn’t even your idea. And you have the audacity to limit the project cost to a measly twenty mil? You’ve probably spent more on hookers.”

“One hundred million then.”

“You don’t get it do you?” She pulled out a knife and watched it register in his eyes as his swinging slowed. “It’s too late for you. The only good you can do for this world now is to die.”

She pushed him again so he swung higher, then held the knife out in front of her. With each pass, she edged the blade forward until it nicked his scalp. Blood began dripping as he continued to swing like a pendulum in the room. Painting the glossy floor with a steady stream of life. The granite stripping the heat of each drop.

“You’ll bleed out in about forty minutes like this, maybe less,” she said, “The blood flows freely along the skull, and gravity will speed things along.”

“Who are you?” he repeated.

“Again with the who. Like it will make any difference to your situation now.”

“I have friends-”

“Yes, and they are on my list too. Don’t worry.”

“They’ll hunt you.”

“They’ll try, but they won’t find me. They won’t even try until they themselves are scared. Even then they won’t look. They will bolster defenses which will only make my work more interesting. It won’t slow me down. I promise.” She cleaned the small shade of blood from her knife and hid it away. “Besides, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue where to look.”

His face remained bright red as blood continued to drip freely from his scalp and through his soaked, matted hair. His features began to show the amount of blood he lost. The eyes attempting to drift backward. The mouth growing slack. His speech grew slurred.

“You….won’t….change any….thing…..you can….can’t hide….forever.”

“You’re right there Benjamin. All your buddies have had similar predictions.”

His eyes flashed a gleam of focus at the mention of his friends.

“Yeah, that’s right. Your missing friends. Carlton Dieson. Harold Bennington. I’ve made their acquaintance. Not much to them to be honest. Just anger and bitterness as they drifted into the ether. Leaving their spoiled bodies behind. Their money helped fund the much-needed public transportation renovations, but Governor Harris decided to keep a few million of those public funds for himself. It seems my list only continues to grow.”

She realized she had let her thoughts wander. Looking back at the man in front of her, swinging gently, making circle patterns in the blood pooling together at her feet, she realized he was dead. They never ask why, she thought as she stood up and surveyed her work. The music made its way back into her senses and the room seemed vacant. She was very much alone and she felt the loneliness creep within her.

Before it could grab hold, she disappeared back into the world she loved. She began dreaming of what would be done with the hundreds of millions Benjamin Gally just left behind for the public to better itself. The body that was Benjamin Gally hung in the high-rise apartment. The blood dripped, slowly spreading across the unforgiving granite, until the dripping slowed to a crawl and stopped completely.

The Worth of One Life

She tightened the restraints and checked them three times. The man struggled futilely as she stood and looked at him, bound to the straight-back wooden chair. A wad of cloth muffled any words he attempted to shout at her. Haley once thought she was incapable of murder, of snuffing out the life of any creature, but she found it grew easier with each sacrifice.

She pulled the wad of cloth from the man’s mouth and began unraveling it.

“Let me go you stupid bitch,” he screamed. The building was empty. She made sure of that so no one would hear him scream. She chuckled at him.

“Why would I do that?” she asked. “You can’t say you don’t deserve this.” She took the length of cloth and wrapped it from under his chin to the top of his head. She dug a wooden cylinder out of her bag. It was intricately carved. A knob carved with the likeness of a face protruded half-way down the cylinder. She placed the knob in the man’s mouth to once again stifle his words, then she tightened the cloth until he could no longer move his jaw.

“I would say I’m sorry about this,” she said, “but to be honest, I’m not. The world is better off without trash like you.” She pulled out a knife and shoved it into the man’s chest. She stared into his eyes as he glared at her first with hatred, then pain, then fear. Blood dripped to the floor, but she continued to stare until the light faded from his eyes. The cylinder rattled as he died.

She wiped the blood from her blade, cut the cloth, and withdrew the soul-catcher from the man’s mouth. Counting tonight, it had rattled 98 times. One more and I can finally bring him back, she thought.

She grabbed the canister of gasoline and doused the body then sprinkled the room. She pulled out her lighter, lit a cigarette, and inhaled deeply. Danny was the reason she quit, and she promised to quit again when she had him back, but she could not fight the overwhelming need to have one after each of her kills. They were all terrible people. That was the only way she could convince herself to even do it. She would only collect the souls of those who deserved an expedited trip to hell.

Haley looked at the body in front of him. She’d already forgotten his name. She found him through the sex offender registry. He had received a light sentence for a heinous act, and she took it upon herself to remedy that fact because it would serve her purpose and relieve the world of a terrible person. Before her crusade, she would have simply been saddened and sick upon hearing what he had done. Now she had strength.

She took one more draw and exhaled. A flick of her finger sent the glow of the cigarette tumbling through the air. The room ignited upon its landing and Haley watched from the doorway as the flames engulfed the room. Then she left for home. The knife and soul-catcher safely secure in her coat pockets.

The next day she perused the local paper for news of any recent crimes. She was really looking for suspected persons she could use as her last sacrifice. She was so near the end she felt impatient but knew she had to be careful. Her exploits were not going unnoticed.

One article mentioned her nightly activities as a cleansing fire across the city. She smiled at the phrase, but could not shrug the fear that her victims have been tied together. The police were surely investigating the killings. They could potentially have leads. She hadn’t seen anything, but they may purposely be keeping the search quiet. She had to be careful. It would all be worthless if she were incarcerated before she could finish. It would almost be worse if she were caught after she succeeded.

She scanned the paper until she found a lead. A man had been accused of several hate crimes over the course of the last few years, but he had never served a second for the damage or fear he caused his neighbors. He even fired gunshots at their house. They moved after he was released a third time without any real consequence. He would be her last sacrifice. Her impatience won out. After tonight, she would set this all behind her and live the life she was meant to have.


The soul-catcher rattled. Before she could remove it from the dead man’s mouth, the spirit within it emerged. A darkness hovered behind the body. The spirit’s form was darker than the shadows cast in the moonlight. The green flames of its eyes emerged within the pale-white skull.

“You are but one of few to have accomplished this task,” it spoke. The raspy voice echoes around the room as if it did not belong to the form in front of her.

“Give him to me,” she said.

“Ah, but you have not yet finished what you have started,” the voice circled her.

“What do you mean?”

“What is the worth of one soul?”

“You said yourself ninety-nine souls could be traded to bring one back from the dead.”

“I did, but collecting ninety-nine souls was merely the beginning. The final requirement now falls before you. The worth of one soul is not quantifiable by numbers. A sacrifice is required by those who would reverse death.”

“What are you saying?” Haley could feel tears welling in her eyes. All of that work. All of those people. The things she had done. She could not believe it was all for nothing.

“One more soul is required to bring your son back. The soul that has tied his to this world. Yours.” The black shroud moved and lifted the soul-catcher from the dead man’s mouth. The knife floated from the man’s chest. Both items were brought before her. A green flame swallowed both items. The blood from the blade evaporated within the flame.

“Do what must be done,” the voice echoed.

Haley grabbed the soul-catcher. The green flames died away at her touch. She slowly inserted the knob of the cylinder into her mouth. She gripped the handle of the blade and held it above her chest. Tears danced across her cheeks and she couldn’t stop shaking.

The soul-catcher bounced against the concrete floor. The blade soon followed. Haley fell to her knees. “How can I be certain you can bring him back,” she called.

A laugh grew louder around the room. “What do you think I have been doing while you toiled away in this…..mortal plane?” The shadow beneath the skull pulled back to reveal an incorporeal image of her three-year-old son.

“Danny,” she yelled.

“He does not have the ability to hear you in this form. Complete the task and he will take your place in this world.”

The blade and soul-catcher once again were encased in green flame. She picked them up and readied herself. The image of her son gave her the resolve to finish what she had started.

A rattle sounded in the room followed by hollow laughter on the wind. Outside, the cries of a child filled the air.

Phase 3

Madie’s heart jolted but she remained still, frozen in the bare metal chair next to the man in the bed. The man she had brought back from death.

“Your name is not Adam Robert Monteller?” she asked.

He closed his eyes and rest his head on the pillow. “I can’t remember,” he said, “but I don’t think so. How did I get here? What happened?”

“You were in a car accident. Do you remember anything prior waking up here?” For some reason she felt the need to be careful with her words. She technically had not lied to him and decided she would try her best not to.

“Nothing.” He opened his eyes and stared into hers. She lost herself in the blue depths of those eyes, then caught herself and readjusted in her seat.

“You were found dead at the scene, but with emergency surgery we were able to bring you back. You may have suffered some neurological damage during the time your brain wasn’t receiving oxygen. We will be monitoring you during your recovery, but we believe you will regain your memories in time. If you need anything, just press this button,” she handed him the button connected to the side of the bed. It was programmed to a pager she would now keep on her at all times. Not that she planned on straying too far from her work.

“Get some rest. I’ll be by to check on you soon.” She left the makeshift clean room and went upstairs. A burning desire to shoot the coroner from whom she’d bought the body filled her entirely and she bit the meat of her thumb to keep from screaming. It wasn’t as if she could return the dumbass and demand further information. She’d risked enough just getting the body.

What she needed was time to think. She grabbed her keys and carefully locked the two deadbolts before walking to the corner coffee shop.


It didn’t matter if the man she reanimated was Adam Robert Monteller or not. The file she was given didn’t provide anything but a basis on which to judge if the final solution was needed. What really mattered was that she had successfully brought him back. He had been dead, and she had brought him back.

This was a success in its own right. Even if Adam, or whoever he was, wouldn’t survive beyond the week, her researched proved fruitful. She could replicate it if needed. If the file was wrong and this man had relatives who expected to see a body, then she would pack up what she could and destroy any evidence of her work.

She finished her coffee, paid, and left. The pager buzzed and she checked it. He was needing something and she had been gone long enough. She’d made up her mind after she first questioned him.

She bought a paper before returning to the house. A missing dead man would make the news and she would prefer to know if the authorities were searching for him, or if the coroner confessed to his dealings.


Madie entered the clean room and began checking the man’s vitals.

“I thought a nurse would come by and do that for you,” he said as she moved to check the readout of the EEG machine.

“Sorry for the delay, I was with another patient. What did you need?”

“I was wasn’t sure if I would need a new one of those.” He pointed toward the IV bag.

“You won’t,” she said, “now that you can eat and drink on your own.” She removed the needle from his arm and bandaged it.

“Oh, I guess that makes sense.”

“Are you in any pain?”

“I feel sore, all over, but it’s not terribly painful.”

“The surgery you went through was extremely invasive and taxing on your body. You will be in a lot of pain if we don’t maintain your medication.” She handed him two morphine tablets and a glass of water. He took them without question and handed the empty glass back to her. She opened the refrigerated drawer and withdrew the final solution. The dark red-purple contents could have been mistaken for blood. She pushed the solution into the port of the dialysis machine.

The man soon lost consciousness. She unhooked him from the dialysis machine. The last thing she needed was for her synaptic repair solution to be filtered out before it could work. If he truly wasn’t who she thought he was, she would need to know sooner than later.


He stirred awake and the restraints pulled taught. He looked at them, then up at Madie sitting in the chair at the computer station.

“Hey,” he said quietly. She remained fixated at on the screen in front of her. “Hey,” he called louder. This time he caught her attention and she looked over. “Where am I?”

“Good morning,” she said despite the hour, “How are you feeling?”

“Not too bad…for a dead man.”

She raised her brow at that. “So you remember?” She wasn’t terribly surprised at this. An hour after he had fallen asleep, the EEG readout became sporadic and only returned to a steady, normal pace after about thirty minutes.

“Yeah. I guess I can’t complain about feeling anything at this point. What happened? Where am I?”

“First I need you to answer a few of my questions.” She grabbed a clipboard from the desk and rolled over next to the bed. “What’s your name?”

“Tim Waldrop.”

“Last thing you remember?”

“Driving down 59.”

“And after that?”

“Waking up here.”

“Profession?”

“Army Engineer. MVD.”

“Commanding Officer?”

“Sergeant Houston.”

“Last contact?”

“Where am I? I’ve answered enough without knowing what’s going on.”

“How you answer next will determine if you get to walk out of here. Last contact with your commanding officer?”

He looked at her sternly. His face slowly relaxed and he answered, “Four days ago. I was leaving the base when I wrecked.”

Madie pulled the gun from its holster at her lower back and pressed it against his temple. He struggled against his restraints.

“Why?” he asked.

She looked directly into his eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said and pulled the trigger.


Within minutes she had wiped the computer, packed what she could, and destroyed everything else before setting fire to the house. She was on the edge of town when two black SUVs skid to a halt in front of her. Teams of armed men surrounded her and tall man stepped out of the second vehicle.

“Madeline,” he said, “What’s the hurry?”

“Pierce,” she said curtly.

“General Pierce. No need for informality here. Though I can’t return the favor as you no longer are associated with this outfit.”

“How did you find me?”

“Simple really. A trail of missing cadavers is not uncommon unless you know what to look for. They’ve already quelled the fire in Necaise. Poor Waldrop would still be alive, or could be again with your help, if you hadn’t painted the walls with his brain.”

“Who’s Waldrop?”

Pierce smirked. “Come now, you wouldn’t have gone through such measures if you hadn’t been successful. It’s time you returned now that you have successfully performed the procedure.”

“I’m not going with you.” She pulled out her cell phone but one of the armed men quickly confiscated it.

“Madeline, you know you don’t have a choice in this matter. There’s no need to struggle. We already have a lab and a new patient waiting for you in Puerto Rico. We will be there in a few hours.”

General Pierce returned to the car. A gun prodded her toward the open door and she quietly followed the instruction and got in. The door shut and they were on their way.

“So what changed?”

“You. Actually. Once you went rogue, we followed your trail finding improvements along the way. You going off on your own actually proved exactly what was needed to convince the higher-ups that this project had legs. Of course, bringing you back in was the main contingent of the project moving forward.” He smiled at her. “You’ll have everything you ever wanted in Puerto Rico. A whole team. Any resource you want. They’ve gone all in, especially after I reported about what we found in the last hour.”

“Tell me. Was Waldrop a set up?”

“Nothing ever escapes you does it. Yes. Waldrop was planted. Not easy. Sergeant Houston didn’t know of course, but the incompetent coroner was paid and since removed.”

Madie sat in the back of the SUV, certain there was at least one if not two barrels pointed at her the entire way to the airport. Her mind was running scenarios. Weighing pros and cons. Determining whether to play along or plan her escape. An entire lab would be nice and would expedite the process. Resources were hard to acquire on her own, but she didn’t know what they planned to do with her solutions though she had an idea. It sat like mercury in her stomach. Heavy. Slowly killing her. If she stayed and finished her work through Pierce, she would have to abandon her humanity, and that was a cost she wasn’t sure she could pay.