Bzrk, p.12
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       Bzrk, p.12

         Part #1 of BZRK series by Michael Grant
 
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  What a strange way to be following in Alex’s footsteps.

  Would his brother notice when Noah missed his scheduled visit? Would some part of him guess where Noah had gone? Would he be proud? Or would he yank on his chains and shriek a mad warning about the nano and Bug Man and BZRK?

  At some point jet lag reached for him and dragged him down hard and fast and he fell asleep.

  Plath, pacing her room, did not.

  Could they read her thoughts? She tended to believe they could not. But that didn’t mean they weren’t watching her pace.

  If they were reading her thoughts like a Facebook page, these would be the status updates:

  I am completely alone. I feel scared, also liberated.

  Renfield is an asshole.

  Ophelia and Renfield are playing Good Cop/Bad Cop to gain my trust.

  I chose “Plath” for myself so they chose “Keats” for the boy with the blue eyes. That was deliberate: they want us to be a team.

  My arm hurts like hell, can I get an Advil or six?

  What next?

  Across town, in the Tulip, Charles and Benjamin Armstrong used very old-fashioned tools to organize their thoughts: 3 × 5 cards.

  Coordination, fine motor skills—and gross motor skills, too, for that matter—had always been difficult for them. Each had an eye. But a single eye does not allow for depth perception.

  Each had an arm. But writing sometimes requires two arms, one to hold the paper in place.

  The Twins had struggled to master writing. Keyboards and pads were easier. But Charles and Benjamin valued the pain of overcoming difficulty. Life had always been hard for them. Anything physical had been difficult and sometimes humiliating. On the day many years earlier when the seventeen-year-old Twins had smothered their grandfather with a pillow, they’d had great difficulty coordinating the action.

  Old Arthur Armstrong had raised the boys on a diet of paranoia and reckless self-indulgence. They had loved him in a way, and he had been proud of them.

  He had asked them to end his pain-wracked life, and they had agreed, but only on condition that they immediately inherit Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation.

  Arthur had beamed with pride. He had raised them right: if they were to kill him then, by God, they had a right to demand a payment.

  Still, when the time had come, it had been hard to manage. The old man was near death, but still some panicky instinct drove his body to spend its last energy struggling. And with two uncoordinated hands, it wasn’t easy to hold the pillow down long enough, hard enough, to complete the suffocation.

  The cards now before them bore carefully handwritten notes in felt-tip block letters:

  POTUS

  PM OF U.K.

  PM OF JAPAN

  CHANCELLOR OF GERMANY

  PRESIDENT OF CHINA

  PM OF INDIA

  It would be a global strike. The six most powerful political leaders on Earth. Taken together they ruled half the human population. Three-quarters of the world’s wealth. Virtually all of the world’s technology.

  An argument could be made for including Russia, France, and South Korea. Indeed those three cards were set aside for future use.

  “Ambitious,” Charles said.

  “Too ambitious?” Benjamin asked.

  “Burnofsky made good arguments for a more incremental approach,” Charles said. “And with McLure dead maybe he is right. BZRK will be crippled without access to McLure money and facilities. Perhaps we have more time.”

  Twin monitors moved on robotic arms, keyed to their movement. Each monitor had its own camera, and each camera focused on one side of that too-broad face. It allowed them to see each other’s face, to speak not just beside each other, but to each other—eye to eye to eye.

  The surface of the desk was a touch screen with identical menus to left and right. From here they could call up cameras everywhere. The fifty-ninth floor, where the twitchers worked. The twelve floors of laboratories, the testing facilities on the twentieth and twenty-first, the business offices on the lower floors, the model gift shop at ground level, the subterranean garage, the dedicated elevators that serviced the Tulip.

  They could also call up sight and sound from the main offices of Nexus Humanus in Hollywood, and the satellite offices in Washington, London, Berlin, Moscow, Buenos Aires, and just blocks away in Manhattan.

  And, too, they could see the hundreds of Armstrong Fancy Gift shops in airports and train stations and on tourist streets around much of the world.

  And they could watch the homes of key employees, see who came to visit, observe their families, watch as they fought or showered or cooked dinner or made love.

  Their empire came to them through a thousand hidden cameras, a system for them and for them alone. Charles and Benjamin Armstrong, who could not go out into the world, watched unseen and unsuspected.

  But for now they watched each other. Watching his twin’s eye, Benjamin could see that Charles was not very serious, that he was playing devil’s advocate. Benjamin smiled tolerantly.

  “The longer we wait, the greater the chance of discovery,” Benjamin said, walking back through their decision making. Reiterating. Like it was a liturgy. It was reassuring. “We’ve had several close calls.”

  “At any moment the technology might be discovered,” Charles agreed.

  “We know the FBI had possession of a nanobot. What if we had not managed to retrieve it?”

  “And we know that MI5 is actively investigating.”

  “There have been repeated efforts by Anonymous to penetrate our AFGC networks as well as Nexus Humanus,” Benjamin said.

  “Oh, yes, the hackers are after us.”

  “The FBI is thwarted for now. But MI5 persists.”

  “Indications of Mossad interest.”

  “An attempt by Swedish intelligence to penetrate Nexus.”

  “Too many eyes are turning toward us, brother.”

  That image troubled both men. They watched: they were not themselves watched.

  “BZRK is weakened by McLure’s death, but not defeated,” Benjamin cautioned.

  “Fuck BZRK,” Charles snapped.

  “Fanatics.”

  “A death cult.”

  There followed a long silence, during which both men looked down at the cards, and the third eye wandered lazily. Beneath the cards the table screen showed a lab worker entering data.

  “Time is short.”

  “The time is now.”

  “If we are to succeed, brother.”

  Another long silence.

  “Six targets,” Benjamin said with a deep sigh. When he sighed, it stretched the flesh between their heads, slightly distorting Charles’s mouth. “Four men, two women, all surrounded and watched. Each requires a fully resourced team, a main twitcher, a relief twitcher, housekeeping, security … a minimum of ten people per team. And each is a potential target; each presents the possibility of discovery.”

  Charles sighed. “Bug Man. Kim. One-Up. Alfredo. Dietrich.” Pursed lips. “Burnofsky. Six at the top level.”

  “Average age, what, seventeen, if you leave out Burnofsky?”

  “Twitchers,” Charles said, and made a snorting sound. “Young and arrogant, intelligent, and unstable by definition.”

  “Twenty-two more at the second level. Seventy-one at third level.”

  “Risky and useless respectively, for this kind of work.”

  They looked down, all three eyes now, at the cards.

  Benjamin placed his finger on the one that read “Chancellor of Germany.” And pushed it to the side. “He’s likely to lose in the next election. A waste of resources.”

  “Five, then,” Charles agreed. “U.S., China, Japan, India, and the U.K.”

  “Five.”

  “Not later, but now.”

  “Now,” Benjamin agreed with finality.

  Their dog, a beagle, came trotting across the polished wood floor and rubbed against Benjamin’s leg. Charles took a treat from a
jar on the desk and dropped it into the animal’s mouth.

  “There you go, Maisie,” Charles cooed. “Good girl.”

  “That dog of yours,” Benjamin muttered. “Why does she always rub against me?”

  They went then to take their shower but were interrupted by news, brought to them by their body servant, Hardy, who was an old man with a wonderful ability to resist flinching when he looked at his two charges.

  Hardy handed them a pad, open to a message. They read it as Hardy helped them out of their tailor-made clothing with the unusual zippers and openings.

  “The trap,” Benjamin said.

  “The Vincent flytrap,” Charles said, and that bon mot gave them both a hearty laugh.

  (ARTIFACT)

  To: Vincent

  From: Lear

  Proceed to equip Plath and Keats.

  Note: The UN General Assembly attack must be stopped. No one’s life or sense of morality is more important than that goal.

  Follow orders, Vincent. It will be your salvation.

  (ARTIFACT)

  To: C and B Armstrong

  From: AmericaStrong, a division of Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation

  Status: EYES ONLY ENCRYPT Read and safe-delete

  A recent Wikipedia edit included information prejudicial to our interests (see paragraph #3 below). That paragraph has now been deleted and was online for only twelve minutes. We suspect source material from KSI, Swedish Intelligence.

  Project MKULTRA

  From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  “MKULTRA” redirects here. For other uses, see MKULTRA (disambiguation).

  Project MKULTRA, or MK-ULTRA, was the code name for a covert, illegal CIA human research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence. This official U.S. government program began in the early 1950s, continuing at least through the late 1960s, and it used U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects. [1][2][3][4]

  The published evidence indicates that Project MKULTRA involved the use of many methodologies to manipulate individual mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, sensory deprivation, isolation, and verbal and sexual abuse.

  Recent evidence suggests that MK-ULTRA also experimented with early versions of nanotechnology. When those efforts were frustrated by congressional budget cuts, the research was handed off to the Armstrong Fancy Gifts Corporation and their weapons research division. All records of AFGC’s involvement have been expunged. A number of individuals involved have died under suspicious circumstances.

  THIRTEEN

  A knock.

  Sadie—she hadn’t begun to think of herself as Plath, not yet—said, “Who is it?”

  “Vincent.”

  Vincent. Sadie hadn’t seen him since he appeared suddenly in her bathroom. He looked the same. Twentysomething going on a thousand.

  The boy with the blue eyes, Keats, was with him. Keats looked like he’d just been roused from bed. Of course, she probably did, too, considering that she had just been roused from bed.

  Renfield was a few feet back in the shadows. He had struck an arms-akimbo pose, like a soldier on guard. She saw the wariness with which he looked at Vincent. Vincent didn’t seem to do anything to cause this reaction, he wasn’t angry or domineering. He was quiet and self-contained and looked a little sad in his dark raincoat. But Sadie had to admit that she felt a bit of Vincent-awe herself: she remembered the blade of his pen.

  It was night outside. She had slept the sleep of exhaustion, all through the day.

  “Things are moving a bit quicker than we’d like,” Vincent said. “Usually there would be time to teach you. Prepare you. But we have an opportunity tonight.”

  Why was it absolutely impossible for Sadie even to imagine saying no to him?

  Her eyes widened. Had they done something to her? In her brain?

  As if he’d read her mind Vincent said, “Both of you are alone. Keats: Renfield retrieved his biots while you were asleep. And Ophelia’s are back with her, Plath.”

  Plath.

  “How do I know that?” Sadie demanded.

  Renfield looked about ready to say something but stopped himself and took half a step back.

  Vincent said, “Listen to me, Plath. You, too, Keats.”

  He knew her real name. But he wasn’t using it. She had a feeling he would never slip and call her Sadie. Might not even think it.

  Plath. It took some thinking about.

  “I need you both to trust me,” Vincent said. “I don’t mean that I’d like you to trust me. I mean that I need you to trust me. For that reason, I will never lie to you. If you were ever to catch me in a lie, you would never fully trust me again. So I will never lie.”

  Sadie glanced at Keats. His suspicion was an echo of her own. “Okay, then,” she said. “What are we doing?”

  “We are going to make your biots.”

  Her breath caught. “Now?”

  Renfield led the way. Not the way they had come into the building, not through that alley, but down a steep, narrow set of steps, and then a broader set of steps, and then through a door, and a room that was obviously the dry-storage space of a restaurant. Cans of chili sauce. Big plastic tubs of mayonnaise. Pickles. Ketchup. A surprisingly tall stack of boxes of canned soup. Canned sodas and bottled water.

  Sadie smelled grease, vinegar, and urine.

  Renfield opened a second door, and they stepped out into a dark and regrettably fragrant hallway with a door labeled men and another ladies and at the open end of the hallway a side view of a lunch counter.

  The restaurant was narrow. New York narrow. Smeared mirrors and a six-inch-wide counter on one side, five stools with cracked plastic seats on the other, a low counter decorated with chrome napkin dispensers and stained plastic menus. Behind the counter a mess of mismatched refrigeration units, a grill, a drinks cooler, and to top it all off a cash register covered with age-curled clippings of cartoons from newspapers and magazines.

  A very old man with white whiskers sat hunched in a too-large jacket eating a grilled cheese sandwich. The only employee was a guy who might be in his late twenties, with a Middle Eastern complexion, sleepy eyes, and an apron. He was scraping the grill.

  He did not look up though the four of them appeared as if by magic from the direction of the restrooms.

  “This is the only time we’ll ever travel together like this,” Vincent said when they stepped out onto the cold, windy street.

  They walked two blocks in silence to a hotel with a cab stand. The taxi ride took ten minutes—there was a lot of road repair on Sixth Avenue.

  Vincent had the cab drop them two blocks from where Sadie suspected they were going. The McLure Industries downtown building. The headquarters, in theory at least, though the main campus was over in Jersey.

  “They’ll recognize me,” she said tersely to Vincent. “And there are cameras.”

  Vincent nodded approvingly. “Good thinking. But you don’t need to worry.” They stopped on the street across from McLure Industries. The lobby was dimmed, but Sadie could clearly see two security men at the desk, even at this hour.

  They crossed, passed by the lobby door, and went around the corner to the loading-dock gate. Vincent pulled out his phone and thumbed in a code. Peeking over his shoulder Sadie saw grainy security-camera footage of the loading dock. The view shifted. And again. He had access to McLure security.

  Then Vincent sent a second message. The steel door began clanking up. As soon as it was head high, Vincent led them inside and the door lowered again.

  The loading-dock area was clear and as cold as the outside.

  Sadie spotted a security camera overhead. The red light was off. Vincent sent a significant look to Renfield, who nodded tersely. For a heart-stopping moment Sadie thought Renfield was carrying a gun. But then he smirked and held up a Taser for her to see.

  “Don’t worry, it shouldn’t be necessary,” Vincent said. “I’ve been he
re many times. But there is no video of me, and no one but …” He hesitated. “No one but one man has seen me here. Just the one man whom I dealt with. Unfortunately that man is no longer with us. But I still need to get to a certain facility.”

 
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