John gone, p.8
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       John Gone, p.8

           Michael Kayatta
 

  Chapter 7

  24 HOURS EARLIER:

  Dr. Robert Castler stood next to his large, rounded thirty-story window and gazed out to the clouds forming and breaking in the sky beyond his office. He noted the ratio of cumulonimbus to nimbostratus hovering above the building and carefully predicted the afternoon’s weather. He scowled at the low-hanging, thick clouds that obscured his view of the mid and upper-level formations, and tried to shoo them past with a frustrated wave. They refused to obey him.

  One of these days, cirrus kelvin-helmholtz. Wouldn’t that be a sight! he thought. Cloud analyzation was one of the doctor’s less strenuous hobbies, though he had little time to practice it. Castler had little time to peer into the sky at all, as his work took him so often underground.

  An extremely pressing matter had been brought to his attention earlier that morning, and to ensure proper resolution, he would, as usual, be required to offer it his immediate and personal attention. He sighed loudly and looked back toward the zebrawood desk at the center of his elegant, Spartan office. It was always like this when something called him to the surface, his beautiful window teasing him, that elusive sky expanding beyond it, no time to spend enjoying it.

  “Tell me that you’re sure,” he’d told the man who’d called his phone at four o’clock that morning. Though Castler had already been awake, he didn’t like being disturbed in the quiet hours of dawn, nor at any time on his personal line.

  “Once more. I want to hear you say it one more time so that I can hold you personally responsible if you misread the data. We don’t hear anything in thirty years, and you’re telling me that such an arbitrary day as today is when the silence breaks?”

  Castler had listened as the man on the other end of the line repeated his analysis of the data in a nervous, wavering voice. “Pack up your office Mr. Carroll,” Castler had answered, “because once I get there, you’re moving out. A promotion to an office one floor up if you’re right about this and fired without severance if you wasted my time. I’ll be there this afternoon.” He’d arrived by helicopter two hours later.

  Castler sat in the black leather chair behind his desk and spun the seat away from the window behind him. He had no more time for distractions today, not even minor ones. Not with this news, he thought, and certainly not with the Advocates on their way to his office. He exhaled his stress and flattened the collar of his white polo shirt before depressing a small blue button on the corner of his desk.

  “Yes, Dr. Castler?” a woman’s voice answered quickly through a speaker housed somewhere in the surface of his workstation.

  “How long?” he demanded.

  “They’re headed through security now, sir.”

  “Buzz Franklin if they don’t get through in the next minute. We all have things to do, and there’s no point wasting my time or theirs with a lengthy check. They aren’t going to do anything ... untoward.”

  “Yes, sir,” the woman’s voice responded.

  Castler cracked the small bones in his hands and mentally prepped himself for the meet. He knew that pulling these men from his tool belt was a necessity, but that didn’t make him any more comfortable in having to deal with them face-to-face. Those unlucky few who were aware of the Advocates knew them to be ruthless men, made dogged and untiring. They were necessarily vicious, sharply efficient, and the progeny of a program that Castler himself had established over thirty-five years ago.

  At first, there had been twenty of them, but over time most had been destroyed on assignment or by company orders when Castler deemed the act necessary. Two now remained from the original twenty, and both had survived solely on the merits of their abilities and fealty. Castler owned them but, like any good lion tamer, understood the boundaries of their relationship and the mélange of dangers that always accompanied working with beasts.

  The voice buzzed from his desk. “Dr. Castler?”

  “Yes?”

  “They’re here.”

  “Send them through.”

  “Yes, sir.”

  A moment later, a loud click sounded from the entry. An automatic mechanism quietly whirred to life and Castler’s office door slid smoothly upward into the ceiling above. Two similar men dressed in grey suits and thin black gloves stepped through the opening.

  The man on the left was the tallest of the pair by an inch. His dark hair was cut short, its two halves pushing upward toward the center of his scalp to form a one-inch point at their meeting. His eyes wandered across Castler’s office in a melancholic gaze, drenched in apathy and boredom. His partner wore his blond hair much longer. It draped down effortlessly to meet his level, squared shoulders. Both men nodded slightly upon sight of the doctor.

  “Gentlemen, welcome. Over here, please,” Castler instructed. The Advocates moved in toward his desk without speaking. The blond-haired man removed a handkerchief from his coat pocket and coughed into it violently for a few moments.

  Castler patiently waited for the man to finish before speaking further. “I’ve lost something, and I‘d like you two to get it back,” he explained.

  “Stolen?” the dark-haired man asked absently.

  “You could say that,” Castler answered, leaning back in his chair. “It’s property of the company. It’s been lost for years now, but has recently ... reappeared.”

  Castler canted right and effortlessly typed in the six-digit combination to the filing cabinet under his desk. He removed the file that rested flat atop the others and placed it on his desk. After dislodging the elastic band on its front, he opened the top cover.

  “This is the Diaspora, an infiltration device we developed in the 1970s.” Castler sighed. “Something that could have changed everything if given the chance.” He spun the folder around toward the Advocates and landed his left pointer finger onto the schematic that was paper-clipped to the topmost sheet. “But, maybe it still can.”

  The men leaned in and examined the image. The schematic showed what looked to be an ordinary wristwatch with a section of its face magnified on the bottom right corner. An endless number of carefully penned technical notes covered the sketch, written in a language understood only by those with an extensive background in the sciences.

  “The Diaspora is a transporter,” Castler explained. “It has the ability to instantaneously take its user anywhere. Anywhere at all. It’s perfect for military operations, assassinations, theft, or any number of things.”

  “Why don’t you just have its creator replicate it?” the dark-haired man interrupted. “I know you don’t usually discard your assets.”

  “True,” Castler responded honestly, “however, I don’t believe that to be a viable option. It’s been a learning experience for us, working this way, and the methods by which we handled these things in the sixties never really panned out as we’d hoped. To extract an asset, you have to securely evacuate an entire facility. And that operation comes with its own miasma of delays and headaches.” Castler rolled his eyes upward and scrunched his eyebrows together as if the mere mention of the procedure pained him.

  “When we have gone through the mess of extracting them in the past, we found it extremely difficult to achieve anything. You can coerce a man to do lots of things, reveal lots of things, but intensive scientific development?” He chuckled. “I’m afraid not. Even if we were to go through the process, who knows where it would take us now, so long after the fact. No. That’s a last resort that will more than likely never be undertaken.”

  The dark-haired man nodded, satisfied with the explanation. Castler wasn’t normally in the habit of explaining himself or his policies to employees, but Advocates were a special case. Between their discretion, loyalty, and the fact that they could be permanently eliminated with a signature, Castler considered the risk of disclosure to lie somewhere between low and non-existent. And men always performed better when they understood the “why.” That was something else Castler had learned since the sixties.

  “Where do we start?” the dark-
haired man asked. The blond-haired man coughed into his handkerchief. It was less violent than before, but lasted for twice as long. The other men didn’t acknowledge it. Once he finished, Castler reached back into the cabinet beneath his desk and removed two small boxes. He placed them in front of the Advocates.

  “We think the Diaspora is malfunctioning,” Castler explained. “The data we’ve pulled is difficult to understand. Currently, we don’t have the ability to track the device’s real-time location, except for a brief moment during the reentry phase. All of that to say that we can only see where the thief is going once they’ve gotten there.”

  “It’s going to be difficult to catch up with your thief if they can travel anywhere like you say,” the dark-haired man pointed out.

  Castler gestured to the boxes he’d placed on the desk. “Go ahead.”

  Each of the men took a box and opened its top flap, revealing identical wristwatches strikingly similar to the device they’d seen pictured in the file’s schematic moments before.

  The blond-haired man lifted his watch from its box. As he dangled it in front of him, Bob leaned and looked for himself. He’d seen it before, but still found himself marveling in silence at the intricate wires that crisscrossed behind the watch’s hands. The sterile stillness of their web entranced and disturbed, like a jungle predator frozen before its prey, still and cautious, striking at any moment.

  “These watches are set to activate upon detection of the Diaspora’s Q-frequency,” Castler explained. “When our thief moves again, they’ll automatically take both of you there as quickly as our system can relay the data. It should drop you roughly within one hundred meters or so. We don’t know where you’ll drop in exactly, so not being seen may be difficult. Go in hot, no witnesses. Alright? No one who sees you breathes.”

  “Its Q-frequency?” the dark-haired man asked.

  “Don’t force me to bore you with the science,” Castler answered, allowing the change of subject. “I neither have the patience nor the time to give a lecture on Schrödinger’s Cat just now.”

  “So you have replicated it already,” the dark-haired man remarked, checking the size of the watch’s band against his wrist.

  “Only just,” Castler responded through a frown. “The truth of the matter is that we had the methodology of quantum displacement understood by the late sixties. The power required to actually make it work is immense, and certain types of energy outputs are more efficient for the task than others. Users themselves have the ability to power the device you two will be hunting. The body’s energy is clean, renewable, and efficient, but damned difficult to wield and funnel. That’s what we don’t have.”

  Castler stood from his chair and assumed a professor’s posture. “We had a working model at some point, but the man who designed it rigged the device to malfunction after only one use. We’re still not sure why. And that, gentlemen, is why I still require its brother, this rogue device. We need to reverse engineer it, discover its methodology. Until then, what we have is unfinished, practically useless from a feasibility standpoint.”

  The dark-haired man put his watch back into its box. “So, these don’t actually work, then?”

  “They work, they work,” Castler said, covering a sigh and turning back toward his window. “They currently operate on something we’ve devised these past few years. Development is calling them “Sand Dollars” for their size and shape. You both have one seated beneath the face of those devices. The power contained in each Dollar is enough to power a third-world country for a year.” Castler turned back toward the men. He found them inspecting the watches in their hands more closely.

  “This method of powering the device is, of course, not sustainable,” he continued. “It’s the cost, you see. I’d tell you the how much each of those batteries buried in there are costing me, but I’m afraid I might actually tear up if I heard it out loud. I’d write it down for you, but I worry my pen would run out of ink before finishing the last zero. Do you understand?”

  The Advocates nodded.

  “How, uh, resilient are these?” the dark-haired man asked as he turned the device in his hands.

  Castler’s stark expression morphed to a quick smirk as he sat back down at his desk. “You want to know if you can get them dirty,” he said.

  “Yes,” the Advocate answered plainly, “or wear them underwater, or get them caught in a fire. Would the vibrations of machine gun fire dislodge their circuits?”

  “We’ve done our best to encase the device in the strongest shell possible,” Castler replied. “We’ve tested them in multiple circumstances; water and vibrations shouldn’t be an issue. As far as anything else, let’s just hope there’re no issues.”

  The dark-haired man nodded. The blond-haired man coughed.

  “Oh, that reminds me,” Castler added. “Just one last thing before I forget. You’re going to need to take this thief alive. It’s not that I want her for torturing or anything so ghastly as that; it’s simply that the device can’t be removed without a special instrument calibrated to the biometric signature of its power source. In this case, its wearer. I’m concerned that if she dies before a proper removal then I’ll lose the ability to get the signature and reconfigure the device for someone else.”

  “Killing the thief disables the device?” the dark-haired man asked.

  “The truth is that I don’t know what I’m talking about,” Castler admitted. “When it comes to the technology behind the Diaspora, we’re shooting in the dark. All I’m interested in is the device. Just try to take her alive. It’s the safest way to ensure functionality.”

  “Her?” the dark-haired man asked. “So you know who has it? A woman?”

  “I have my suspicions,” Castler answered.

  The blond-haired man coughed into his handkerchief.

 
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