In a small bedroom, Kato paced back and forth. In his mind’s eye, he replayed every second of the meeting with his wife and son. To him, every moment with them was precious. The way the boy had looked at him was like a painkiller for the wounds deep inside of Kato. He needed that every now and then, just to go on.
In Joan’s eyes, Kato thought he had seen the glimmer of a chance for them. A small chance. But one he would take.
The next thing that occupied his mind was the things his captors (or hosts) had taken from him—his laptop, and with it, his working manuscript of The March of Humanity.
Kato had never been comfortable being idle. He liked to work. The March had occupied him during those lulls on deployments, times like right now when he had nothing to do.
But was that true? Was there truly nothing he could do right now? No.
There was something he could do. Something important.
He opened the door and peered out into the large room that held a maze of empty office cubicles. Near his doorway, there was a rectangular folding table where four uniformed marines sat playing cards. Texas hold ’em, by the looks of it.
All four rose at the sight of him, hands moving to their holsters, eyes boring into him.
“Hold it right there, sir,” the closest said.
Kato held up his hands. “Relax. Just stretching my legs.”
One of the marines, a sergeant, said, “Sir, you’ll have to stretch them in that room.”
“Sergeant, with all due respect, if I stay in that room, my next stop is a psych ward. The only thing in that little cell is the past, and it won’t quit
running through my mind.” Kato nodded to the cards splayed on the table. “Can I join you guys?” He shrugged. “I just want something to distract me for a few minutes.”
One of the marines cut his eyes at the sergeant. Kato shrugged. “Look, you’re four to my one.”
The sergeant stared at him, hand still on his holster.
“Tell you what,” Kato said. “I’m right-handed. I can play cards with my left, so you can tie one arm behind my back.”
The sergeant sighed. “Briggs, stand by the elevator. Shoot ’im if he even breaks wind.”
The marine private seemed disappointed at being excluded from the game but retreated to the elevator as Kato took a seat at the table and watched a lance corporal gather the cards and begin shuffling.
“Where you guys from?” Kato asked, beginning his true objective: gathering intelligence that might lead to an escape plan, in case he needed it. It was always better to have an escape plan and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Two thousand miles away, in a private jet flying over the Atlantic, Nora gazed out the window at the clouds and the sun, wondering what was waiting on her at the end of the flight. She had tried and failed to sleep. She was too nervous.
She had been told only one thing: that she was being flown to Washington, DC.
Nora had wanted to call her mother, to arrange to see her, but they had taken her phone. She counted that as a bad sign.
In downtown Nashville, Maria stopped on the sidewalk outside a small café. A sign in the window read HELP WANTED.
She pushed the glass door open, ringing the chime and drawing a few glances from the patrons having brunch.
“Table for one?” the chipper hostess asked, already clutching a menu to her chest.
“No.” Maria tilted her head toward the sign in the window. “I’d like to apply.”
Ten minutes later, she was sitting at an empty table in the back of the restaurant, just off the doors to the kitchen, filling out a job application.
When she was halfway down the page, the café’s owner exited the kitchen and plopped down across from her. He was a heavyset man with big bags under his eyes. Even with the air conditioning and fans whirring overhead, sweat was pouring off of him.
“You have a car?” he asked, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and mopping it across his brow.
“No.” Before he could say anything, she added, “But I can walk here.” “Where d’you live?”
“Over on Lafayette.” “In an apartment?”
“Something like that.”
He narrowed his eyes, then scanned the form, no doubt noticing that she had left the address fields blank. He pointed a chubby finger at the page. “Why don’t you note your address there—just in case we ever need to mail your check.”
Maria exhaled and wrote the only address she had and watched in her peripheral vision as recognition dawned on the man. He was familiar with the shelter. They probably got a few applicants from there each month.
She set the pen down. “Am I wasting my time here?”
He didn’t meet her gaze as he reached a meaty hand out and pulled the uncompleted form across the table. “I think that’s all we need. Thanks for coming in, now.”
In the conference room in the DARPA building, Bishop opened a folder and slid a printed sheet across the table to Ty. It contained twelve designs that, at first glance, Ty thought were modified astrology symbols.
“Do you recognize these?” Bishop asked.
Ty studied the symbols. Colonel Travis, DARPA’s White House liaison, stood behind Bishop, staring at the page as if it were a foreign language, which Ty believed it was, in a sense.
“These twelve symbols are on the quantum radio, aren’t they?” “Yes,” Bishop replied.
Ty nodded. “They tune it somehow?”
“We believe so. Do you know how to arrange them? What sequence to enter them in?”
Beside him at the conference table, neither Ty’s mother nor father said a word. If either recognized the symbols, they clearly didn’t want to say anything here.
A few days ago, Ty would have readily replied with the simple truth: he didn’t recognize the symbols. They looked like star constellations to him, but he knew the DARPA teams would have checked that already. If they were constellations, they wouldn’t be asking him. They were asking him for one reason—they were out of ideas. And that was an opportunity.
Ty glanced at his mother, then his father, who was watching him with an expression that didn’t betray a shred of information. But somehow, Ty knew what the man was thinking. It was as though thirty years of time together had been packed into the last thirty hours. They had a rapport now.
In his mind, Ty replayed the conversation with his father the night before: “What have you wanted ever since the day Thomas arrived at prison?” “His freedom.”
“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.”
Ty picked up the page and studied the symbols, feigning mild recognition. “If you want my help, you have to help me.”
“Help you do what?” Bishop asked.
Ty let the page fall back to the table. “I want a full presidential pardon for my brother.”
Bishop’s eyebrows bunched together. “What?” “You heard me.”
“We don’t have time for this.” “I agree. Please hurry.”
Bishop held up his hands. “Look, this is not Let’s Make a Deal. You’re going to help us. And besides that, I think you want to, Ty.”
“I do. And I will. After I get that signed pardon.” “Forget it. You’re not in charge here.”
Ty leaned forward. “Are you sure?” Bishop snorted.
Ty shrugged, trying to seem confident. “The thing is, Sandy, the Origin Project needs me more than it needs you. Think about what will happen if you don’t start getting results. I’m guessing the device is close to completion?”
Bishop’s silence confirmed that for Ty. “How long before it’s operational? Tomorrow morning?”
Bishop stared at him.
“Late tonight?” Ty paused, seeing confirmation on Bishop’s face. “So, tonight. And you still don’t know how to operate it.” Ty pointed at the page. “You need a code to operate it—a sequence of these symbols to enter, which you don’t have, leaving you with the most important device in human history and no way to use it. What happens then? I’m not cooperating. But they can’t get rid of me. It’s my genome being broadcast. They can, however, get rid of you.” Ty cut his eyes to Richter. “Who’s in charge really becomes a matter of perspective, doesn’t it?”
Bishop shook his head slowly, seething.
“I want that pardon,” Ty said. “And that’s not all. I want to talk to Tanaka. And Nora, the moment she arrives. Specifically, I want to be the first person to talk to her. She’s likely going to be unnerved by all of this, and seeing a friendly face will help her. It’s what I would want. And lastly, I want to see the whole picture—the full schematics for that device. And I want to see it right now.”
Ty saw a small smile form at the edges of his father’s mouth.
Bishop exhaled and twisted back to look at Colonel Travis, who held a leather portfolio at his side. Bishop pointed at it. “Okay. Show him.”
Travis took out several pages and slid them across the conference table.
Ty picked up the top page and, for the first time, saw the quantum radio he had discovered. It was round, with twelve symbols around the perimeter and an open center, like a medallion someone might wear around their neck. At the bottom of the design was a hole for a chain to slip through.
Emotions flooded through Ty. Curiosity. Pride in his accomplishment. And lastly, fear about what the small device might mean for the future of the world.