GLAUKOS PROJECT I
Six years ago when Laton was kidnapped and tortured, she had killed to survive. Now that her baby brother becomes the latest victim of a wave of children abductions, her worst nightmare turns real. When the kidnappers set the ransom so high, as if counting on her inability to pay it off, she rushes to the authorities. Yet, the police seem to stonewall the investigation.
The only way for Laton to raise her brother’s ransom is to enlist herself as test subject in a lethal research. But if she is as good as dead, why do the attempts on her life start piling up?
And now, here is a teaser…
There were twenty-two ways to kill someone using sound. Laton had invented seventeen of them.
It was because she knew every method of wielding the sound that she paled when her phone chimed. “Laton Ernesta Sakuma?” an unfamiliar voice barked—not only unfamiliar, but distorted.
Shivers coursed through her body. Whoever the caller was, he tried to cover his trail. Worst of all, he succeeded, which revealed more about him than any threat—her gizmos always omitted messages such as ‘Unknown Caller ID.’
“Laton Ernesta Sakuma?” the caller repeated.
Her pulse throbbed at her temples. The smell of rust assaulted her. She sensed her aelty trying to regulate her heart rate. Hopeless try—her panic overwhelmed the healing abilities of the metal being that lived inside her body. “Speaking,” she said. The caller snickered. With the distortion, his laughter echoed like gunfire. “Who’s this?”
“We’ve got your brother. He is fine. For now…”
The air thinned out, smothering her. Any moment now, the mountains of obsolete technology surrounding her would crash down. Inside her pocket, Laton fondled the brain-boiler. That was how her little brother, Sabin, had dubbed the microwave system she had built from junk parts. It did precisely what Sabin joked. In thirty seconds, it bubbled the brain down to goo. Illegal? True, but having no athletic ability, Laton could never hope to overpower an attacker by force. If defending herself meant breaking half a dozen laws, she would break them without hesitation.
“Your brother is such a cute boy,” the caller said. “Such a pretty face…”
Sometimes, she wasn’t sure she could squeeze the trigger. Trembling, Laton clutched the weapon. Of course she could—she had killed before.
“If you touch him…” She rounded her back, her voice hoarse.
Goose bumps prickled her arms. The memory of her kidnapper alone usually sent her spiraling into a panic attack. Even after six years, the past still haunted her dreams. For a month, her kidnapper had played mind games, snaring her in a psychological noose. It had taken all her strength to tear herself out of his mental hold. And now Sabin was caught in the same nightmare she had barely escaped from. She couldn’t allow history to repeat itself. He’s only ten.” Are you still there, darling?” the caller asked, startling her.
In the techyard, an engine clattered as it fell. More appliances tumbled down, pushed by wind. “Yes, I’m here.” She hated that her voice quivered, even if slightly. People like this caller—Sabin’s kidnapper—preyed on weakness. “What do you want to free him? We both know you didn’t call me only to brag.” She exhaled slowly, content with her act. Her voice sounded calmer now.
Belatedly, she rapped her finger on the Record command—not only to record the conversation, but try to hack the communication company systems and home on the calling number. Also illegal, but this wasn’t the time for statutory details.
“My big sister is a doctor of technology,” the caller imitated Sabin.
Something hissed in Laton’s ears. The world tottered. She steadied herself on the first object, before the world could keel over. The hissing continued, overpowering all other sounds. It took her a few moments to realize that she had dropped the gun.
How does he know? She had talked to Sabin half an hour ago. And one thing she was certain of—no one could hack her receivers. Laton had assembled them herself, building in half-a-dozen safeguards. Is he close by, where he can see me?
For the fifth time that day, she scanned the desolation around her. First energy detectors, second—the sonar, and last—the satellite images. She never felt safe enough and for good reason. While the gizmos assured her that no human lurked around, she understood better than most how easily people could cover their traces. She could do it with her eyes closed.
“Hey, Little Skunk. How was your day?” the caller mocked her. “How cute… My big sister is a doctor of technology.” Through the distortion, the voice scraped her ears.
How did he know what they had talked about?
“Would you like a reminder, doctor of technology?” Without waiting for her confirmation, he played back her call.
“Hey, Little Skunk. How was your day?”
Laton’s mouth went dry, as she heard her own voice. She couldn’t even swallow the knot in her throat. Her aelty tried and failed to pump more oxygen to her brain.
“Don’t call me that,” Sabin grumbled. “If the other kids hear you, they’ll make fun of me.”
“There’s no one around me for ten miles, Little Skunk. I’m in the techyard in the Old Town. Do you remember it? We came here together last month. Mountains upon mountains of dead technology. Only that some of the machines aren’t dead yet…”
“… They are in coma,” her brother finished their inside joke, laughing. “My big sister is going to bring them back to life. She’s a doctor of technology.”
“The very best!” The recording played back her own laughter. “Once I save some money, I’ll start my own company. I’ll build technology that everyone can afford. Just wait and see, Little Skunk. We’ll buy a new house and I’ll build even more gadgets. They’ll zoom around the house and do all our chores.”
“Mine first,” Sabin said, never missing his chance to set his claim on their next generation of cleaning robots.
“Yours first, Little Skunk. Until then, you need to do your own chores. It builds character.”
Her brother had groaned. “Homework, first. Sorry.”
Warmth had spread over Laton’s mind, as she had cast virtual kisses before ending the call. Ever since their parents had been taken away, Laton had become his mother, father, older sister, and best friend. With his knack for convincing everyone to do his chores, Sabin could become a lawyer someday. Hopefully by that time, Laton would also have her dream come true. My own neotech company.
Now, in the techyard, she bit the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood.
“Technology that everyone can afford,” the caller taunted. “How adorable…”
Her head snapped up, as something rustled in the air. Vultures, she realized. How appropriate. “You made your point. I know that you couldn’t have hacked my family’s receivers. So you must have hacked the communication company. Now, can we get to business? What do you want?” She injected all the scorn she could muster, hoping that the other wouldn’t catch her boasting. Desperate didn’t quite describe this quagmire. Only someone very powerful held enough sway over the communication company to latch onto a third party call. Or someone very skilled. I don’t even know who’d be worse.
“Five million. The police can’t help you, so don’t even bother. Nobody can help you, doctor of technology. You have forty-eight hours to get the money.”
With a hiss, the connection ended. Laton buttoned the app interface, but the link to the communication company had also been severed. The stench of rust clogged her brain. One message flashed on the screen.
‘Signal: Lost. Identification: Unsuccessful.’