“I didn’t think you would choose to wake her so early,” the voice on the other end said.
Jordan was startled.
It was not who she was expecting. For one thing, the voice was a man.
“Who is this?” Jordan asked, as she glanced over to Mikki, who pressed her lips together.
“A friend,” the voice said. “At least…an ally.”
The voice said nothing. Or maybe he hesitated. Jordan put a hand against her other ear, in case she missed anything, even though the mostly dark room was silent.
“Hers,” the voice said.
Jordan glanced over to Mikki again, and then her gaze shifted to Mikki’s right, where stood the largest object in the room, the centerpiece…maybe the masterpiece. A unique suspension chamber in which lay the sleeping body of Sabrina Fabron, a woman that Jordan—and most of the world—had thought was long-dead.
Jordan then glanced around the room, the basement room that was part of the secret underground laboratory beneath the abandoned factory that was once owned by Sabrina’s mother, Alectrona Fabron, the famed pioneer of organ preservation technology.
It seemed Alectrona had figured out how to preserve more than just organs.
“What’s your name, friend?” Jordan asked. She kept her tone as neutral as possible, a thing she still often struggled with in her line of work. Then again, she would think, whenever her emotions insisted on asserting themselves, when is a human being ever truly neutral about anything?
“The process is automatic,” the voice said. “And your authorization—and that of your friend’s—will stand unless she revokes it. You don’t have to stay for the whole seven-point-seven hours.”
“A fake name would be fine,” Jordan said. “I just need something to call you.”
“No need,” said the voice. “I’ll call you.”
The line disconnected with a beep.
Jordan put her phone away.
“Did your story just become more interesting, or more frightening?” Mikki asked.
Lights within the strange suspension chamber flickered in orange and green, as gears whirred within in. Mikki jerked and stepped away from the chamber.
Jordan sighed. “He said we don’t have to stay here. We can come back, when it’s closer to the time she wakes up.”
Jordan shrugged and tapped the pocket containing her phone. “Mister Caller?”
Mister Caller—whoever he was—was not who Jordan had expected would be calling her after all those months that she had been investigating the factory, the crowning achievement of the once-prosperous company known as Fabronical. The voice she had been expecting was Alectrona Fabron herself.
Jordan wasn’t the first person—or even the first journalist—to become obsessed with the mystery of the defunct Fabronical factory, which closed when she was still in school. She had gotten far in her research. She had dug up a lot of people who were surprised she’d made the connection between them and the factory, because no one else—no journalist, no investigators, no federal or international agents—had ever come knocking. But there was no way a mere journalist on their own would have found their way to the underground laboratory. Not without help. The factory wasn’t as abandoned and unguarded as it appeared to be.
Jordan relayed to Mikki the little she had learned from the voice on the phone.
“I’m going to stay and take a look around,” Jordan said. “Maybe turn a few more lights on first. If you don’t mind going for some pizza…” She pulled her car keys from her pocket. “If you’re able to get back in and down here without any feral dogs or armored guards getting in your way, then we’ll know that Mister Caller was telling the truth.”
“You want me to leave you here alone?”
Jordan pointed to the ceilings. “It’s starting to get dark. There will probably be a lot more ‘tourists’ coming by. They’ll keep me company.”
Mikki crossed her arms. One hand was still holding the file she’d been looking at when Jordan’s phone started ringing. “What if I want to look around?”
Jordan grinned. “Still hoping to find some hybrid organs lying around? A human butt with a scorpion stinger coming out of it?”
Mikki’s scrunched up her face. “Gross, not out of the butt. Out of the tailbone, of course.”
Jordan smiled, but she couldn’t help releasing another sigh.
“Are these nervous jokes? Are we laughing so we don’t cry?”
Another panel of lights activated, this time at the base of the suspension chamber. Mikki, who’d jumped again, made an “o” with her mouthed and exhaled slowly.
“Okay, maybe I should go for a pizza run.”
Jordan had noted another change in the suspension chamber, not quite so flashy as the flashing blue lights at the base.
The countdown timer for Sabrina Fabron’s awakening had just changed.
“An hour and fifteen minutes,” Mikki said. “Wait, and this wasn’t here before. These letters. A-R-P.” She walked over to the desk where she’d been sifting through whatever hard copy records had been left in the room. “I think I saw—yep—here it is. Unless I’m wrong, the letters stand for ‘Accelerated Revival Protocol.’ Seems to fit what we’re observing.”
“I’m still going to call an ambulance for her,” Jordan said. “I’ll stay right here and if that counter speeds up again, I’ll make the call.”
“What if it doesn’t go through? We’re getting signal down here now, but what if your new best friend decides to turn off the power or block the signal?”
“Then we go back up.”
“What if he locks us down here?” Mikki’s eyes suddenly widened. She glanced at the door to the room.
“That’s why I wanted you to go. So if anything happens to me, you can get help.”
“And who would I get to help?”
Jordan creased her brows. “Fair point.” So many urban legends swirled around the ruined factory—ghostly torsos floating down halls, stray dogs with a hint of sentience in their glowing eyes, and all the stories about what really happened in that “industrial accident” that shut the whole factory down for good.
If Mikki emerged from it claiming her friend was trapped in a secret underground laboratory that she couldn’t prove was there, and that was hidden so well that the keenest investigators in the world hadn’t found it, the local cops would just think she was pranking them.
“Mister Caller told me the process would take over seven hours—the exact time it said on that counter before it changed.”
“You think he was trying to get us away from here so we wouldn’t be around when she woke?”
Jordan narrowed her eyes. “Could be. He did know that we had activated the chamber. But I don’t—I don’t think so. I don’t think he knew it would kick into this…ARP mode.”
Mikki glanced at the suspension chamber. “What does it mean?”
“Maybe it means I’m about to get another phone call.”
“Okay, so let’s do this. First, let’s not split up. Let’s walk back-to-back pretty much, as we search the other rooms for weapons.”
“And a wheelchair.” I pointed to the sleeping Sabrina.
“Sure, that too.”
“Is it me,” Mikki said, almost in a whisper as they sat before the chamber in two thinly padded folding chairs, “or does she look…translucent?”
Jordan didn’t want to take her eyes off the countdown timer. Less than a minute remained. She allowed her gaze to slide over to the still form of Sabrina Fabron.
They had quickly found a wheelchair, folding chairs, blankets, and an unopened box of disposable scalpels (or as Mikki called them, “weapons”). Finding nothing beyond expired laboratory supplies in the other rooms, they spent most of the last hour watching over Sabrina. Mikki flipped through more of the documentation she’d found in that room. But there wasn’t much of substance. Reports and review papers. She didn’t find any protocols, schematics for the chamber’s construction, a manual for its use, laboratory notebooks written by hand, nothing that she would have expected to find in a research laboratory.
When the countdown reached zero, Jordan felt a flutter in her gut. Mikki had a bottle of unopened water at the ready. They had looked for straws or cups, but there didn’t seem to be a break room down there in the basement lab. They had unfolded the slightly rusty wheelchair and rolled it right up to the other side of the chamber.
Jordan suddenly sat up. “Oh shoot!”
Mikki leaned toward the chamber. “What is it?”
“I forgot to call the ambulance for her,” she said, just as the chamber began emitting a hissing sound.
“It’s equilibrating the air in the chamber with the ambient air in the room,” Mikki said, glancing at one of the chamber’s readouts.
The chamber next emitted a calm but firm mid-tone beep, and the clear cover slid open.
Jordan and Mikki both stood up.
Jordan held the blanket. Mikki held the water bottle.
A bitter but not-unpleasant smell filled the room. It reminded Jordan of coffee, but slightly smoky.
There was already a blanket lying over Sabrina Fabron, at her waist. She blinked a few times as she propped herself on her elbows and made a sound that was like a moan. She cleared her throat. She looked up at Jordan and Mikki, who had decided they would need to put her at ease and let her know they were there to help.
Jordan would do the speaking. She opened her mouth and took a breath.
“Thank you for waking me,” Sabrina said. Her voice did not croak or squeak. It didn’t sound groggy or heavy. She pushed off from her elbows and sat up, stretching forward. “Assuming my family is still rich,” she said, exercising her neck, “neither of you will ever have to work again.”
Jordan quickly introduced herself and Mikki, and apologized for not having an ambulance ready. She pulled out her phone to call for one.
Sabrina held out a hand. “Wait, let me…I’d like to get oriented first. How many years had it been?” She looked at Jordan’s phone. “How far have we come?”
“You haven’t missed much actually,” Mikki said. “Except for season three of ‘The Last Honest Vampire.’ But I don’t want to say more. Spoilers.”
Sabrina pulled her legs out of the chamber and twisted around. She let her feet dangle. She wiggled her ankles. “Vampire. That’s what I am isn’t it? I’ve been lying in my coffin, draining energy.” She sighed and eyed the wheelchair. For the first time, she looked at Jordan and Mikki and smiled. Then she glanced around the room. “So dark.”
“The factory hasn’t been in operation since the accident,” Jordan said.
“Accident? Tell me everything.”
Mikki held out the water bottle. “Maybe we should just make sure you’re physically okay first, and then we’ll be happy to get you up to speed.”
Sabrina smiled again. Her eyes glinted in the colors of the lights that lit her chamber. “Physically okay.” She hopped out of the chamber. Jordan and Mikki took a step back to give her room. “This may be the first time in a long time that I am physically…okay.”
“Then the cure worked? That fast?” Jordan explained as briefly and succinctly as she could how she and Mikki had come to find the suspension chamber, and how they had come there bearing the cure for a disease that no longer existed.
Sabrina smiled again at the news that the systemic metabolic disease she’d developed was no longer even rare, but altogether extinct.
“Well, now it’s truly extinct,” she said, flexing her fingers and her bare toes. She shivered. “It’s cold.”
Jordan surged forth with the blanket, but Sabrina held out a hand again. “I haven’t felt cold in a long time.”
Jordan suddenly didn’t want to tell the woman before her the truth. Sabrina Fabron probably expected that only five years had passed, or maybe seven or eight at the most. The cure had still been experimental when Sabrina went into the suspension chamber. Without the chamber, Sabrina would have died before the cure was ready for human trials. Sure enough, the cure worked so well that in a mere five years, it was ready. That’s when Sabrina should have woken. But something went wrong.
“I’m sorry, but I’m still investigating that accident,” Jordan said. “It was probably around the time that they were going to wake you. I think—but it’s just a guess—that maybe something went wrong and it led to that accident. And then maybe your mother shuttered the factory to keep you suspended until you could be safely woken.”
Sabrina crossed her arms, then closed her eyes and breathed in, as if she were indulging in the sensation. “But you two came in here, stuck a thing in a slot, and it all went on automatic and woke me without so much as a blown fuse.”
She had a point, and Jordan had realized that point in the back of her mind.
Jordan had been led there by someone, maybe Mister Caller, to be the one who found Sabrina and woke her up. She just didn’t know who and why.
Sabrina Fabron glanced between Jordan and Mikki. She pointed between them. “Are you two sisters? Lovers? Friends?”
Sabrina nodded. “And are you true to each other?”
“One of us more than the other,” Jordan said, looking at Mikki.
“I had a friend once,” Sabrina said. She fixed her gaze on Mikki. “My mother didn’t like him, but you know how it is when you’re young. Your friend understands you. Your mother doesn’t. She couldn’t tell me why she didn’t like him. She never did manage to bring me to her side.” She uncrossed her arms. “I got there on my own.”
Without looking, Sabrina reached out with her left hand and turned a dial on the suspension chamber. The chamber’s cover slid back into place.
“You’re sorry you don’t have the answers for me about what’s happened to my mother’s factory, her company. But it’s me who will give you answers.” She reached out toward Mikki, who frowned in confusion, until she seemed to realize she was still holding that bottle of water. She handed it to Sabrina, who opened the bottle and took a small swig.
Sabrina Fabron had all the expected reactions when she was first diagnosed. One of those reactions was a focused drive to find—not a cure—but a way for her body to fight her illness and any others she might encounter, without causing collateral metabolic damage.
She sought out the help of unconventional partners, including one that Jordan had already met, in a manner of speaking.
Mister Caller, as it turned out, was part of an agency that once partnered with Alectrona Fabron to help her and her colleagues monitor any strange anomalies with the organ preservation project, anomalies that Sabrina only referred to as “parascientific.”
The man helped Sabrina to learn of rare cases that the public didn’t hear about. Like a small group of people who spontaneously developed a new organ system that regenerated wounded tissue instead of healing it with scar tissue.
Sabrina didn’t have time to be cautious and careful and incremental. She sought to go beyond organ preservation or fabrication. She aimed for organ enhancement, and even the invention of new organs.
“Biology is so fragile, isn’t it?” Sabrina said. “So, messy. But synthetics are so limited and rigid. So what’s the solution? The alternative?”
“Alien tissue,” Mikki suggested.
Sabrina smiled. “No, but I like the way you think, Mikki, is it? What’s your field of expertise?”
“Oh, I don’t have one really.” Mikki shrugged. Jordan had to bite her tongue. She wanted to rattle off Mikki’s qualifications and accolades. But Mikki despised that kind of thing.
“Well, whoever you’re working for now, I hope I can convince you to abandon ship and come work for me. Fabronical is about to experience a comeback.”
Jordan blinked. “So…are we talking a press conference?”
Sabrina frowned and shook her head. “I only ever wanted to do the science, even before I got sick. I never wanted to run the company. That was my mom’s thing. But I also didn’t want to leave my mother’s legacy in the hands of someone who wouldn’t care about it.”
“Last I heard, she’s still alive,” Jordan said. “But living out of the country. I haven’t been able to get a hold of her. But now that you’re awake…”
“She left me the company when she retired,” Sabrina said, peering at Mikki. “Wishful thinking that I would be cured, live, and take over. How would you like to have it, Mikki? The factory in particular.” She tilted her head toward Jordan. “And if your friend remains true, she can have exclusive access to whatever you grant her access to.”
“There’s a lot of competition in the organ fabrication market these days,” Mikki said. “Also, as incredibly generous as your offer is, assuming you’re not experiencing some kind of post-suspension delirium, I don’t want to be in charge of a factory either. I like pipetting stuff and giving presentations at conferences. That’s my thing. Well, when I’m not going along with a friend to look around an abandoned factory.” She looked at Jordan and for some reason had an endearingly sheepish expression on her face.
“If you claim to be so careful with your mother’s legacy,” Jordan said, “why entrust it to the first person you meet when you come out of stasis?”
“Because I’ve learned to be an excellent judge of character. I trust the person who sent you here. And having spent all of five minutes with you, I trust you, Mikki. And your friend seems decent enough. As for the factory’s function, organ fabrication is conventional now, isn’t it? We need to think outside of the box, ladies.”
“What’s outside of the box?” Mikki asked.
Sabrina peered at her. “What if your heart was more than just a pump? Your lungs more than just a bellows?”
“You said you would fill in some gaps in my story,” Jordan interrupted.
“So I did…” The gleam in her faded.
Sabrina had mentioned a friend, a close friend with whom she shared all her ideas, her stray thoughts, not just about life, but about her work. A friend her mother did not like. A false friend who sought to turn her against her mother, who stole all of Sabrina’s patents just before she went into stasis.
Sabrina had prompted Jordan to tell her what had happened, because she wanted to know how much of the truth had been preserved, and how much had been erased.
Sabrina did wake according to plan. She was cured. After the accident in the factory, after the factory was shuttered, she woke in a dark and secret underground laboratory for the first time. She learned about the accident. She learned that her mother and factory were facing ruin. It was all because of her old friend.
And for a second time, Sabrina was driven. She performed a procedure on herself to enhance her organs. That suspension chamber was Sabrina’s invention. She had allowed her mother to adapt it to put her in stasis. But after she was cured, Sabrina restored the chamber’s original functions. She would suffer no messy and bloody surgery. Her method would work at the sub-atomic level.
Sabrina’s aim had been to emerge triumphant, and demonstrate Fabronical’s extraordinary advancement, so she could restore her mother’s name and her own, and go farther, make their name synonymous with miracles.
But the procedure would take a long time, several years perhaps. In that time, Sabrina’s old friend-turned-enemy ensured that Fabronical and the woman who founded it were utterly and irrevocably ruined.
“But here’s the good news,” Sabrina said. She smiled. “The procedure worked. My heart can conduct electricity, but keep it isolated from my nervous system, so as not to fry my brain. It’s not as delicate as it once was, but there’s only so much the brain can do with itself.” She held up her hand and a visible charge passed between her thumb and middle finger. “And my lungs are so efficient at pulling oxygen out of the air and pushing carbon dioxide out that I can breathe freely in atmospheres where humans typically can’t, like very high altitudes. Oh, and I can hold my breath for hours underwater.”
“How could you know that?” Jordan asked.
“The chamber…” Mikki looked at the readouts. “It’s airtight.” Her gaze dropped to the ground, to all the tubes and cables that ran to and from the suspension chamber to the walls of the room and beyond. “You filled it with water, and tested yourself. An automatic program? Or was someone running manual tests?”
“Agree to take over the factory, and I’ll tell you all.”
“Don’t be jealous, Jordie. You can’t be the reckless one all the time.”
“There’s one disadvantage,” Sabrina said. She reached behind herself and patted the suspension chamber. “Remember what I said about being a vampire? My mother found clever ways to hide it, but this thing consumes a lot of power. But I can no longer live without it. I will have to…sleep in there for a certain period of time every now and then.”
“We should get it hooked up to solar panels or something then,” Mikki said.
“No, that’s far too inefficient, unless…”
Mikki nodded. “Not my field exactly, but I’m pretty sure there have been some significant advances since the last time you were awake.”
“And you don’t want to do a press conference to announce that you’re not dead, at least?” Jordan asked.
“Oh no, I’d prefer to stay ‘dead’ for now, maybe for good.”
“Then…how will your company make a comeback, if you don’t show the proof of your newest, best invention?”
Sabrina glanced at Mikki. “I’m sure the bright new leader in my company will help figure that out.”
“You were translucent,” Mikki muttered. “If not matter…energy?”
Sabrina grinned. “The skin is an organ. Did you know that?”
Mikki nodded. Jordan shook her head.
“We take it for granted, but even ordinary skin is quite extraordinary.”
Jordan turned her head to the side and peered at Sabrina. “And…what can your skin do?”
Half the room was cast in darkness. Sabrina Fabron just stepped aside from the suspension chamber. She stepped back into a shadow with a bow, and she… vanished.
Jordan heard a click and whir. The walls around the room seemed to blink awake. They were covered in screens that lit up and showed images of the factory and the grounds. Jordan realized what the images were. Surveillance footage. They spotted a couple on the second floor making out and shuffling toward one of the small office rooms. Around the corner, a guard dog approached, and headed their way.
On another screen, a few kids passed through one of the permanent holes in the perimeter fence, carrying fast food bags, and skateboards. They headed to the front lobby, which had a lot of stylish, curving ramps for them to try their skills against.
These were the kinds of harmless “tourists” that Jordan had mentioned that were allowed to roam about the factory and grounds, so long as they didn’t get too close to the basement.
Every corner of the room was lit now.
Sabrina was nowhere to be seen, either in the room, or on any of the surveillance feeds.
Jordan’s phone began to ring. She looked at it. “Private” was calling again.
“Is she there?” the voice on the other end asked.
Jordan glanced over at Mikki, who was now standing in front of a compact console that had slid out of the one of the walls. She was typing and swiping away. If there had been any passwords or authorizations needed, they didn’t seem to apply to her.
“Mister Caller, I’m going to put you on speaker,” Jordan said. “So you can talk to the person in charge.”
She walked over to Mikki.
“To whom am I speaking?” Mister Caller asked.
“Michaela King, but I prefer Mikki.”
There was a pause.
“Mikki, nice to meet you. I’m Garrison Takita. I prefer Gary. If you’re in the basement lab, you can look up who I am. But I need to know where Sabrina Fabron is now. I don’t hear her. Please tell me she’s standing next to you.”
“She just now vanished into the shadows, and I mean that literally,” Jordan said.
Mister Caller, also known as Gary, sighed. “I believe you.”
“What’s the problem, Gary?” Mikki said, bringing up the files on…Agent Gary Takita.
“The problem is I’m afraid she’s going after the person who betrayed her, ruined her mother, and profited off her inventions.”
“The guy who used to be her friend?” Jordan frowned. “She didn’t give us a name.”
“I know it.”
“Why are you just calling now?” Jordan asked.
“That chamber lets Sabrina control the factory from inside it. She was blocking my calls, which worried me. But now I’m worried that she lifted the block. I had you wake her because he found out she’s still alive, and he’s been looking for her. I couldn’t get anywhere near the factory myself. But I needed her to use her administrative access to activate higher levels of security. It can only be done onsite.”
Mikki started pulling up schematics of the suspension chamber and the factory’s security measures. On another screen, she brought up a whole drive that looked like it contained Sabrina Fabron’s research. “She said she needs to come back to the factory and back to the chamber. She said she needs it to keep her alive. Is that true?”
“It is. But I’m afraid she’s not planning on coming back to the factory.”
“Is she looking to kill this guy?” Jordan asked. Her stomach gave another flutter.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Agent Takita said. “And he’s got serious security.”
“She must have known that you would go after her, and that we would help you,” Jordan said. “Maybe that means she wants us to stop her.”
“Or she wants us to get there just after she’s done what she wants to do.”
“Then maybe she just wants to gather evidence or get a recorded confession?”
“I don’t think those things matter to her anymore. Did her procedure work? Were her enhancements stable outside of the chamber?”
“They seemed to be,” Mikki said.
“Then that’s probably why she believes she can get past his security by herself.”
“She seemed so calm,” Jordan said, shaking her head.
“I’m heading over to—“
“You won’t get there in time,” Mikki said. She had pulled up information on Sabrina Fabron’s old friend. His present whereabouts.
“We’re closer,” Jordan said, peering over Mikki’s shoulder. “Maybe I’m the one who’s supposed to leave the basement after all.”
“Neither of you needs to be involved anymore,” Agent Takita said. “Let me—“
“My friend just became the head of Fabronical,” Jordan said. “And I’m the one who woke Sabrina up. So, we’re involved.”
“We’re responsible for her,” Mikki said. “We…we owe her.”
“You followed me down into this basement,” Jordan said, turning to Mikki. “It’s my turn to follow you.”
“Safety first,” Mikki said. “Don’t get near the guy. Just set off the fire alarm or something when you get there.”
“I want to get that pizza with you later, so don’t get hurt, or killed.”
Jordan glanced around the room, the once-dark room that despite only having two people in it, seemed to be bustling. “Are we going to be eating it in here?”
“No food in the lab.”
Jordan held a hand to her stomach. “I really hope I get there in time to stop her from doing something she can’t take back.”
“I hope so too. And I hope we get to show her what true friends are like.”
Mikki handed Jordan an earpiece that she found in her new console.
“Keep in touch,” she said.
Jordan inserted the earpiece. “Can you hear me?”
“Loud and clear.”
“Good, now we can stay together.”
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel