The Search for Sam, Page 6Pittacus Lore
I walk the tunnel alone, heading back to the hub.
I’m too tired to even consider sneaking off and snooping around the other tunnels: I’d definitely blow my cover.
“Arsis, you flaming moron!”
Arsis! The idiot assistant technician in the labs. Advancing my secret agenda was the last thing on my mind until I heard that name.
“Sorry, Doctor. ”
I round the corner to see an open doorway leading into one of the laboratories. Inside the gleaming white lab, an incredibly tall and spindly doctor has a young guard backed up against a wall, prodding him with an angry index finger.
“These samples were supposed to be refrigerated at subzero temperatures. You put them in the regular freezer. ”
“Sorry, sir. ” The boy is docile, subservient, nothing like the sullen brat I’d imagined from his IM transcripts.
The doctor commands him sternly. “Revial the samples from our remaining cultures, and get it right this time. You asked to be trusted with more important work; now show that you can do it properly. ”
“Yes, Doctor. ” Arsis scrambles off to redo his work.
I stand gaping at Dr. Zakos, at his massive laboratory. This is the man who might be able to save my only friend.
He catches me looking.
He glares at me. I either have to turn around and walk away, or think of something fast.
“Doctor Zakos?” I say, deciding to wing it.
“Yes?” He looks puzzled.
I step forward into the lab.
“I’m Adamus Sutekh. Son of General Sutekh. ”
He looks at me, evidently suspicious.
“I wanted to meet you,” I go on, “because my father has spoken so highly of your work. ”
My ruse pays off: I watch Dr. Zakos flush with pride. Even Mogadorians have their vanity. An exploitable weakness.
“I’m glad the General is satisfied,” says the doctor, giving a little involuntary bow.
“I was actually a subject in your predecessor’s experiments,” I continue. “The work he did with the first fallen member of the Garde … the memory transfer …”
“Ah, of course. ” He shakes his head. “Dr. Anu’s work was a deplorable failure. I’m certain the mind-transfer technology I have been developing since is much improved, if I could ever get clearance to actually use it. ”
I’m confused. Zakos keeps talking, looking at me with much more interest now. I struggle to maintain a neutral expression. “You’re saying the procedure could be done more successfully now?”
He nods. “That’s my theory. ”
“How is that possible? I thought the procedure needed to be done soon after a subject’s death. ”
He cocks his head curiously and ignores my question. “Where have you been since the experiment?”
“In Africa,” I tell him. I don’t want to get into too much detail about my activities since I was last with the Mogadorians. But the doctor seems to accept my answer without question.
“And did you suffer any … side effects due to the procedure you underwent?”
I’m tempted to be sarcastic. Only that little coma. But I hold back. “Nothing other than those that you already know about. ”
The wheels seem to be turning in his head as he looks me up and down.
“It’s a possibility,” he muses, almost as if to himself. “The neural pathways of the Garde have been dormant far too long to attempt the transfer again with a new host. But with the original subject, from the original experiment—”
I can’t help interjecting. “What are you talking about? What Garde? You can’t mean her. ”
Dr. Zakos just grins and struts over to the laboratory’s wall, which is covered with ten or so off-white square tiles. He places his hand over a small steel control panel next to the wall and performs an elegant sequence of hand gestures across the panel’s surface. With a sudden and jarring hydraulic whoosh, one of the tiles slides out of the wall, opening like a drawer, spewing cryogenic vapors.
It’s like a mortuary slab.
He stares down proudly at what’s lying on it.
“Have a look,” he says.
I step deeper into the lab, peering over the edge of the tile.
“Perfectly preserved. ”
I can’t believe my eyes. She doesn’t even look dead: she looks like she’s sleeping.
My best friend in the world.
One keeps me up half the night, bombarding me with questions I can’t answer: about Doctor Zakos’s experiments, about what he meant when he said he could successfully download the entirety of One’s memories, about what it meant that her body had been so thoroughly well preserved.
“Well, you’re still dead,” I say.
“Uh? A little tact, please,” she says, laughing.
I’m in bed. She’s sitting on the floor in the corner of my bedroom.
“Sorry,” I say. I’m a bit rattled. Seeing her in the flesh like that, a corpse on a cold steel slab, has upset me more than I’d like her to know. She’s been my constant companion for years now, but the sight of her body brought home to me how tenuous her current existence is.
“Did you notice?” asks One, jumping right back into her excited speculation. “There were at least ten tiles on that wall. Remember what that Arsis kid said in those chats? About humans being dredged for intel? You think they’re being kept preserved on those slabs too?”
I marvel at One’s mind. She wasn’t even present until I finished reading Arsis’s IM transcripts, and she was definitely gone when I was in Zakos’s lab.
She clocks my amazed look. “What?” she says. “You already know your mind’s an open book to me. Just because I’m gone when stuff happens doesn’t mean I can’t see it once I come back. ”
And without skipping a beat, she returns to her obsession. “Anyhow, if I’ve been so well preserved, that means we can probably jack into each other again somehow and kick-start my memories inside you. I mean, I know I’m pretty, but I don’t think Dr. Zakos has been preserving me for my looks. He must’ve been doing it to keep the stuff inside my brain, like, fresh. ” She nods, pleased with her reasoning. “We need to get back into that lab. ”
I look away from her. “One, what I need is to get some sleep. ” It’s the middle of the night, and I have to be at the media facility in four hours.
One is silent.
“If I screw up at work, I’m as good as dead. And if I’m dead, you’re dead, and this whole lab plan will be moot anyway. Okay?”
I turn back to One. But she’s gone.
It occurs to me that I’ll never know when one of her disappearances is her last. One day she’ll blink out, just like this, and I’ll wait for her to reappear … but she won’t.
For all I know I just saw her for the last time.
I force my face deep into my pillow and try to sleep.
I arrive at my console the next morning groggy and bleary-eyed, dreading the next twelve hours. I take my seat next to Serkova and dive into the data stream.
Despite my fuzzy head, I pull a decent rank after my first hour. But with exhaustion creeping up on me, I can feel my productivity beginning to slip. By the fifteen-minute mark of the next hour, I know I’m headed back to the bottom of the pack.
So I come up with a little trick.
For every five or so sources I legitimately review, I automatically throw another one in the Discard directory. I know my provisional accuracy percentage will take a hit, but from what I can tell it carries a relatively low weight on overall ranking compared to Discard and Investigate totals.
Using this technique I’ve climbed all the way to number six by the next hourly rankings, with seventy-three Discards and seventeen Investigates. My provisional accuracy is 73 percent, lower than the hour before but not bad enough to raise any red flags.
I can f
eel Serkova sneering at me. I don’t bother to hide my smile.
I pass the day like this, racing against Serkova. Giving up on finding time for research, I use the task in front of me to distract myself from everything: from One’s perilous condition, from Zakos’s strange work in the lab, from my hateful father, from what the work I’m doing even means. My only goal is to get ahead of Serkova in at least one hourly ranking.
My last rank of the day is number two. Right ahead of Serkova at three.
“Better luck tomorrow, Serkova,” I say, wearing a bright, fake-friendly smile.
He curses me and heads out of the lab.
After work, I head upstairs to my room to wash up before dinner. My mother told me Kelly’s skipping dinner again for her afterschool program in the Nursery. Yeah, right. I know the real reason: she doesn’t want to share a table with me.
But not even that can get me down: beating Serkova, even just the once, was too big a victory. I find myself racing up the stairs to my room, three steps at a time.
I open the door to my room, hoping to find One. I can’t wait to crow to her about kicking Serkova’s ass. When I enter, I see her feet peeking out from behind the corner of the bed.
I step closer.
She’s flat on her back on the carpet. Mouth and eyes open. She looks glazed, and her skin is doing that milky flickering thing that it did back under the baobab tree. Only much, much worse.
“What happened?” I crouch beside her on the floor. She’s silent. “One?”
After a moment’s silence, she speaks. “Nothing. ” Her lips barely move and her voice is raspy. “It’s just that each time it’s darker than the last time. It hurts more, it’s more … obliterating. ” Her eyes swim around in her head, searching for me.
Her gaze finally finds mine. “It’s like, what’s blacker than black, you know?”
“Yeah,” I say.
But I don’t know. She’s going through something I have no experience with. She’s going through the End.
I hear my mother call me for dinner.
I turn back to One. “I’m going to stay with you. ”
She shakes her head, almost imperceptibly.
“No,” she says. “You should go. ” Her eyes drift back to the ceiling as she lies there, flickering in and out of view.
Heartbroken, I leave.
My father joins my mother and me for dinner. He barely speaks, except to ask my mother for seconds—he has a true warrior’s appetite—and to give us an update on Ivan. “His superior officer says Ivan is doing excellent work. Says he has the makings of a general, himself. ”
“That’s wonderful,” says my mother, beaming approvingly. “Does he know the good news about Adamus?”
My father and I exchange a quick, uneasy glance.
The General wipes his mouth with a napkin. “No. ”
“Why not?” she says, looking back and forth between the two of us. “I think he’d be happy to hear his brother is alive. ”
“Adamus is not Ivanick’s brother,” my father says, silencing her.
Technically that’s true—I’m their biological son and Ivanick was adopted, raised by my parents—but I catch the General’s subtext. Saying I am not Ivanick’s brother is my father’s way of saying that I am unworthy of being honored that way, that I am less their son than even Ivan. My father steps into the kitchen, leaving me and my mother alone in awkward silence.