Ty had dinner with his mother and Richter in the briefing room. He was beyond exhausted, having slept only a few hours the previous night and a few hours on the plane. None of it had been restful sleep. He sensed that both of his parents were tired as well. He had thought that spending the day together might lessen the tension between them. He was wrong. The exhaustion seemed to bring it back to the surface, like a body that had been thrown out to sea but kept washing up on shore.
On the whole, Ty was glad when the marine came to show them to their sleeping quarters. There was no mention of leaving the building, and in the back of his mind, Ty wondered if they could leave without permission. Adding to that fear was the fact that the sleeping accommodation the marine led Ty to was very much like a prison cell. It was a small, windowless room that had probably been a basement office at some point. There was a narrow double bed pushed along the wall with sheets so thin they looked nearly translucent against the cheap mattress. Folded at the end of the bed lay a dark-brown blanket that was rough to the touch. Ty felt like it could have been a prop on an Old West television show. It was all clearly military issue, and old.
There was a sink and a cheap vanity on one wall and a desk next to it with a rolling chair. In the corner stood a giant water jug with a round metal dispenser full of small clear cups.
When the door closed and he was alone, Ty lay on the bed and closed his eyes, letting the fatigue wash over him. The last time he had lain down to sleep had been in Geneva, at his apartment, which was now gone. That felt like a lifetime ago.
Since then, he had reconnected with his father and brother and was close to seeing the culmination of his life’s work. It was like a lifetime of experiences had been crammed into a single day.
Against his will, his mind drifted back to Penny. He wondered if she was as safe as he was (if he was, in fact, safe, that is).
That and other questions ran through his mind like a freight train he couldn’t stop, the thoughts driving sleep away. He wondered what the code was that Bishop had mentioned, the code that might activate the quantum radio. More than that, he wondered what the device did. Could it be dangerous? Had he inadvertently discovered the means to end the human race?
Other questions dogged him. Who were the other two genomic matches? How were the four people connected? Logic dictated that they were. It was all a big puzzle, but Ty had no idea what the big picture was.
A knock at the door—three sharp raps—made him sit up, the exhaustion swatted away like a swarm of flies.
“Come in,” he said, voice scratchy.
From the tone of the knocking, he expected a marine to enter. Instead, Richter stepped inside and swung the door closed.
“Am I interrupting?”
Ty smiled and looked around the spartan room. “Interrupting what?”
“Your thoughts.” Richter sat in the chair at the desk and rolled it closer. “I’ve often thought that was the most important thing a person can do when they’re alone.”
Ty studied the man who had given him life, marveling at how alike they were and yet how little he knew about him. “Yeah. Me too, actually.”
“I suspect I know what you’re thinking.” “And what’s that?”
“Right now, you’re likely thinking about Penny. Her safety. And the other, as yet unidentified genomes. How they fit in. But most of all, you are entertaining a dangerous type of thought.”
Ty studied the older man, surprised at the words. “Doubt,” Richter said.
Before Ty could react, Richter stood and turned away. “You’re starting to doubt whether what you found is indeed a beneficial discovery, whether it might, in fact, be the means to our end. In short, you’re doubting whether the device should be built at all.”
Ty stared, awestruck. It was like the man was some sort of supernatural being with the power to read minds, as if he had taken an X-ray of Ty’s
thoughts and read it as casually as someone might browse the Sunday morning paper over coffee.
Ty asked the obvious question: “Haven’t you wondered the same thing?” “No.”
“Because there is no use in it. The device will be created. By us, or by others.”
“How do you know?”
“I know it because I believe it is the shape of history, just as discovering the atom was humanity’s destiny. The discovery of organized quantum data is no different.”
After a pause, Richter went on. “The question is, who will harness its power first? Take the atom, for example. Its potential was long theorized. And then, in the 1940s, that breakthrough was needed—to end a war. Back then, the world’s superpowers were racing to develop the atom bomb. Now we are in a similar race—to develop a quantum radio. Just like then, the outcome will change the balance of power on Earth. Imagine if our side hadn’t invented the bomb first.”
Ty was a bit surprised by Richter’s words. “Our side?”
Richter cocked his head. “Our side indeed. The side of people who want to see peace in the world, good overcome evil, kindness conquer hate. That is always a side, and it transcends nationality and everything else for that matter.”
A silence stretched out.
Ty didn’t know if it was the fatigue relaxing his guard or sheer curiosity, but he asked a question that he had wondered about his entire life: “Did your father fight in the war?”
Ty knew nothing about his grandfather, though it wasn’t for lack of looking for answers. His internet searches for Gerhard Richter’s family history had turned up very little—and nothing about the man’s father.
“I believe so.”
Ty studied Richter, waiting for an explanation, but the man’s face was a mask. “You don’t know?”
“Not for certain.”
“He didn’t talk about it?” “We’ve never spoken.”
For a brief moment, Ty saw himself in his father. And then, he wondered how anyone who had gone through what he had—growing up without a father present—could do that to their own child.
“You never knew him?” Ty asked.
“No. I grew up wondering about him. Searching for answers. A very painful endeavor. The only thing worse, I later discovered, was knowing that your own sons and daughter were wondering about you and not being able to do anything about it.”
A million questions flashed through Ty’s mind.
Richter spoke before he could ask the first. “I believe my father was a Russian army officer. I don’t know much more. The time in which I was conceived was, to put it simply, chaotic. Records were destroyed. Secrets were a way of life.”
“Did you—” Ty began, his mind grasping about for the right question, but Richter cut him off.
The man held out a thick manila folder and said, “Speaking of records, here is the file on Tanaka.”
Ty took it and set it on the bed, ignoring it. “Your father—”
“Is lost to the sands of time, I’m afraid,” Richter said, tone flat. “There’s nothing more to say on that matter, Tyson. But there is something I need to tell you about the file. Please look at it. Scan the pages.”
Ty shook his head and picked the file up off the bed and flipped it open, mentally trying to find a way to steer the conversation back to Richter’s past. He glanced at the photo of Tanaka, who looked to be slightly older than Ty. He had a scar that ran from his nose to his chin and eyes that somehow seemed both kind and hard.
He turned the pages, which were filled with long black boxes over the text.
“It’s been redacted. Half of it’s blacked out.” “Much of his work is classified.”
“They want us to work on this project but don’t want to share information?”
“It’s their way. I don’t really blame them. There’s likely little reason for us to know many of the details in that file.”
“You know about that. Withholding information.” “I know about necessity.”
Ty continued flipping through the pages, fatigue and annoyance growing inside him.
Richter sat back in the chair. “Are you sure you’ve never come into contact with him?”
“Not that I know of. Certainly not in person. Maybe online or something.” Ty set the file on the bed. “You didn’t come here to give me this. One of the marines could have.”
“I have other news. Which I thought you would… which I felt you would not want to hear from a stranger.”
Ty snorted. Twenty-four hours ago, this man—his father—had been a stranger to him. What he was now, Ty wasn’t sure. But he was pretty sure he knew what the news was. “The DNA tests are back,” Ty said.
“Penny?” Ty asked, feeling the nervousness grow in his stomach. “She isn’t a match for any of the four.”
“And what about me?”
“You are indeed a match. Thomas is not.”
For a moment, Ty tried to reflect on how he felt about the news. He didn’t know if it was the exhaustion or simply how odd the situation was, but he couldn’t quite wrap his head around it. Some… entity had broadcast his genome… but from where—or when—and why?
It was incredible.
He was one of the four. He was at the center of this.
Until that moment, he hadn’t realized the truth: he wanted it to be his genome that was being broadcast. He wanted to be in the middle of whatever was about to happen. Even if it was dangerous. He sensed that on the other side was something remarkable, something worth risking everything for.
“What happens to Tom now?” he asked quietly. “For now, he’ll stay here.”
“Why? They don’t need him. He’s not a match.” “You are correct. On both points.”
“They’re keeping him as a hostage, aren’t they? To control us. Me, you, and Mom. He’s leverage against us.”
Richter’s silence was all the confirmation Ty needed.
“So, we are prisoners here.”
“Every person exists within confines of some kind. Only some realize it.” Richter studied Ty. “Your problem is simple: perspective.”
“You sound like Mom. To her, it’s all about your attitude.”
“Attitude and perspective are two sides of the same coin. Your mother’s advice is wise. My point is this: it does not do to dwell on that which you do not have. You find strength—and freedom—in what you have.”
“I have nothing.”
“You have a bad attitude and the wrong perspective. Sleep may remedy both. And provide an opportunity.”
“Opportunity for what?”
“What have you wanted ever since the day Thomas arrived at prison?” “His freedom,” Ty said almost automatically.
“And now you’re a prisoner of sorts. But if you study the situation, you might find that fate has given you the means to the end you’ve long sought. It’s just a matter of perspective.”
Ty was about to ask what that meant when Richter rose from the cheap chair and walked to the door. He paused there and turned to Ty. When he spoke again, his voice was soothing and rhythmic, as if he were almost singing the words he was saying, as though reciting a hymn from memory.
It was the same tone Richter had used that morning, when he told Ty what the quantum broadcast was, the makeup of the file and genomes, when he had given him the means to stake his place on the team.
“Think about what I’ve said. And study the file on Tanaka.” Richter nodded at the folder. “It can tell you more than you think. Consider what it is: a collection of reports, assessments, and performance reviews. But it is far more. It is the sum of a life. If you connect the dots, if you see through the pages, if you study it hard enough, you’ll see the most important thing of all. The shape of a life. It’s more than what a person did here on Earth. It’s what they leave behind. I’m not talking about buildings or trinkets that will wilt in the sands of time. I’m referring to the only thing that really matters: people. To me, the sum of a life is how they’ve impacted the people around them and the strangers they’ve never met. Did they make us better? Did they leave the next generation better off? When I read the lieutenant’s file, that’s what I see—a person trying to create a better world. A person who has paid a high price in that pursuit.”
Richter stared at Ty, eyes burning. “I believe Tanaka would love to turn the page on his past—to see a way out. He’s thirty-seven. There’s still time for him, but it’s running out. Maybe that’s what this is all about. Time will tell.”
Richter gripped the door handle. “Sleep well, Tyson. And study the file.
Backward and forward.”
When the door closed, Ty looked at the file. He was almost certain that in the words his father had just spoken, there was a code, a deeper meaning he was meant to find. And it was somewhere in that file.