Sirens blared as the Mexican police cars arrived at the park. Joanna and Tim were there within a few minutes too. Everything was a blur to Dylan. Why had he let his little brother wander off? Why in the hell had those men grabbed Bjorn and shoved him into that van?
Dylan sat down on the park bench between his mom and Adelita. Joanna was in a state of shock, but still trying to comfort her older son. As the last police officer walked away from Tim, Dylan watched, as Tim took out his smartphone and started walking towards the public restrooms.
“I gotta go to the bathroom,” Dylan explained, as he got up and followed Tim, hoping not to be noticed. Rather than going into the restroom, Tim went behind the building. Dylan stopped before he came around the building. He quickly poked his head around the corner and saw that Tim was right there, holding his phone up, obviously on a video call.
“Mr. Parnell, how’s your vacation going?” asked a young woman on the other end of the call.
“Terrible, Kaylee. I need your help.”
“Okay, what can I do?”
“Kaylee, please don’t hang up,” Tim asserted into the phone. “My girlfriend’s son has just been kidnapped. I know that you’re connected to GAPN. I need to talk to Sebastian, please.”
“Mr. Parnell, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”
Tim, releasing a deep breath, continued, “Kaylee, a few weeks ago, I came up behind you while you were working late. I saw what you were doing. I could have fired you on the spot, but I didn’t. It wasn’t all that long ago that I was a kid too. And I was a hacker too. I was one of the original members of the Legion of Doom. I was known as Rudianos.”
He paused for a breath, and Kaylee tentatively inquired, “Okay, what does this have to do with me?”
“I need you to connect me with Sebastian, as quickly as possible. I think he can help,” said Tim.
“Okay, Tim, hang on.”
Tim sat down on a small retaining wall behind the bathroom, letting out another deep sigh. “Dylan, come on around here.”
Dylan tensed up. He thought he had been quite stealthy, but Tim obviously knew he was there.
“What’s this all about?” Dylan asked Tim.
“Do you know what my company does?” Tim asked him.
Dylan looked at Tim, realizing that he didn’t have a clue about what the guy really did. “Not really.”
“It’s really fairly simple,” Tim explained. “We take direct data feeds from over two hundred and eighty-two social media-enabled companies around the world. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and hundreds more. Many of these feeds are from private social networks, corporate networks, government networks, you name it. We’ve worked a deal to get the data, protect privacy, and extract the intelligence that our clients need. We aggregate the feeds, slice it, dice it, and analyze it a thousand different ways.”
“That’s pretty cool,” Dylan remarked.
“Kaylee is a system administrator that we hired about a year ago. I caught her trying to hack into the systems that aggregate the feeds. I could have fired her, but that would have been a little hypocritical on my part, as you already heard. I was a hacker in my younger days. More importantly, I saw some value in watching her. If she could hack in, we were vulnerable. I had her checked out by a friend of a friend who happens to be FBI. She’s got connections to a group called GAPN.”
“What’s GAPN?” asked Dylan.
“Global Anonymous Pirate Network. It’s a loosely affiliated group of hackers, anarchists, conspiracy theorists, and the like. They made big news recently by releasing a trove of secret government documents from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.”
“Oh right, I heard about that. They can’t find the guy that got into the European government systems,” Dylan mentioned.
“That’s right,” confirmed Tim, “The guy’s name is Sebastian Twyman – a former MI6 operative. Rumor is that he never left London. It’s the most monitored city on Earth, and no one has seen him, even though he supposedly uses the Underground to visit his favorite coffee shops.”
“What’s all this have to do with finding Bjorn?” asked Dylan.
“The police are doing everything they can here, Dylan. I don’t know if I can help or not, and I’m risking a lot if I get to talk to Sebastian, but I think he can help find Bjorn.”
When Tim’s phone began to buzz, he quickly swiped the screen. Kaylee’s face appeared, and her voice was shaky. “Okay, Tim, this better not be a setup.”
“On my life, it’s not,” Tim swore.
The screen split and Kaylee’s face moved to the bottom half of the screen. The top half of the screen was fairly dark, but a man’s face was apparent.
“Hello, Tim Parnell,” the man on the screen greeted him. “Or should I call you – Rudianos?”
“Mr. Twyman, thank you taking my call,” replied Tim.
“So I guess you know what Kaylee has been up to at your company?” inquired Sebastian. “Is that what this call is about?”
“Partially. I need your help,” Tim began.
“The missing boy in Mexico?” asked Sebastian. “I’m in London. You’re in Playa del Carmen. I am sorry, but I doubt that I can help you, Tim.”
“It’s rumored that you like to have a mocha latte at 150 degrees while riding on the London metro system. It helps you relax and think, right?” Tim put forth.
“Sure,” replied Sebastian, “but what does that have to do with all of this?”
“The Underground stations are a panopticon. It’s no secret that the Metropolitan Police and other government agencies are using facial recognition, scanning every face that comes into the subway, and your face is one of the top ones they are looking for. With more than 11,000 cameras in the London Underground alone, you should have been spotted by now.”
“Well, I guess they’ll have to try harder,” Sebastian responded, with a tone of annoyance starting to creep into his voice.
“Let me put it all on the table, Mr. Twyman,” Tim disclosed. “I believe you’ve hacked, compromised, and probably copied and reverse engineered every facial recognition system in and around London. You’ve made it so that you can move around undetected by the cameras. Your teams probably know more about their systems than they do.”
Sebastian began to chuckle. “Oh, do go on.”
“I think you planted Kaylee at my company to get a direct feed on every social media site. I don’t know the exact reason why,” Tim admitted, “but I think if I give you access to the feed, you could help me find Bjorn.”
Sebastian’s face became motionless and absolutely silent. Tim was right. Sebastian was trying to get access to that feed, and he had the capability to scan every word, picture, and video for whatever he wanted. If there was a picture or video of Bjorn on a social media site, he had the systems to find it. He just didn’t have the feed.
“I’m impressed, Tim,” began Sebastian, “but I won’t confirm or deny anything you just said.”
“Sebastian, I don’t have time to dance around. If I give you pictures of Bjorn, descriptions of the van, and every bit of social media data from the last few hours, can you scan it and find him?”
“Open the gates to that feed, and if he’s anywhere on any picture or video, we’ll find him. But what’s in it for me?” asked Sebastian.
“Help find the boy, and we’ll figure something out that more than compensates you,” Tim promised.
Tim passed his personal username, password, validation code, and access window to Kaylee. Within a few minutes, a massive stream of data was flowing into Sebastian’s network from every significant social media site on Earth.
Tim and Dylan walked back to the park bench, where Joanna and Adelita were still sitting. The police, having fanned out, appeared to be interviewing everyone in the park. In the distance, Dylan saw a man walking with a cane. He seemed to be heading towards the bench.
“No way,” Dylan uttered, and everyone turned to look when the man got close. It was their family friend, Atticus Freeman.
“Mr. Freeman, what are you doing here?” asked Joanna.
“A friend of mine has a condo in Cancun,” replied Mr. Freeman. “He invited me down the day you left. I thought I would come down here and surprise you. The front desk of your condo building told me you’d be here.”
They filled Mr. Freeman in on what had happened to Bjorn, and he did his best to try to provide some comfort to Dylan. One of the police officers approached them and suggested that they return to their condo. He would be in touch as the investigation proceeded. There seemed little to do other than follow his suggestion.
Back at the condo, time seemed to slow. Every second that ticked by felt like an eternity. The air felt thick. They tried to make conversation, but nothing could lighten the weight that was pressing down heavier and harder on all of them. Each of them wanted to do something, but what was there for them to do?
The knock on the condo door made them all flinch. “That’s my Uncle Hector,” Adelita assured them. “We were going to talk about maybe going scuba diving tomorrow. He’s just here to pick me up and take me to my aunt’s and his house. My parents had to go to Rome.”
Adelita answered the door and introduced Hector to everyone. He looked the typical part of a dive instructor – tanned, long hair, sandals, shorts, and a loose t-shirt advertising a dive shop. His dive knife was even strapped to his leg.
Atticus stood up to shake his hand, and, like a flash of lightning, Hector’s dive knife was at Mr. Freeman’s throat. Joanna shrieked.
“Kadamba Vorhoor, where’s the boy?” demanded Hector to Mr. Freeman.
“What the hell are you doing?” screamed Adelita at her Uncle. “He’s a family friend.”
Mr. Freeman seemed unfazed by the knife at his throat and simply looked at Hector. “How would I know?”
“I never thought that I would meet the poster boy, himself,” continued Hector. “Tell me where the boy is now, or I’ll run you through.”
Tim and Dylan began to move, but Mr. Freeman held a hand out, indicating that they stay put. Before Hector could react, Mr. Freeman twisted Hector’s hand causing him to drop the knife. One of Mr. Freeman’s legs shot forward, as he extended Hector’s arm back, furthering the twisted position of the hand that had held the knife. Mr. Freeman’s other hand came up and across Hector’s chin, knocking him backward and causing him to fall across Mr. Freeman’s outstretched leg.
“Holy shit,” blurted Dylan, as the younger man hit the ground.
Hector quickly rolled away and popped back to his feet.
“STOP!” yelled Joanna, “Someone, tell me what in the hell is going on here?”
“Has this man told you who he really is?” Hector demanded, without taking his eyes off Mr. Freeman. “Has he explained that scar on his arm?”
Everyone looked at the inside of Mr. Freeman’s arm. Dylan realized that this was the first time he’d seen Mr. Freeman in more casual clothes – a Panama hat, casual pants, and a short-sleeved, guayabera shirt. The scar was evident on his arm, once it was pointed out, but it just looked like random markings.
“Tell them, Kadamba,” Hector commanded, with a sneer in his voice. “Tell them who you really are. Tell them what that scar on your arm means.”
“It’s obvious that I could ask you where the boy is,” Mr. Freeman offered, “especially since you can read the words on my arm.”
Mr. Freeman, sitting back down, began talking to Hector in a language that none of them could understand. Adelita’s face looked surprised as Hector started conversing with the older man in the same tongue. It was evident that whatever Mr. Freeman was telling the younger man was making sense. The tension level began to recede.
“Okay, will you please explain what the hell the two of you are talking about and what it has to do with Bjorn?” demanded Joanna.
Mr. Freeman, rolling his cane between his hands, took a deep breath. “You’re going to have trouble believing what we’re about to say.”
“My son is missing,” replied Joanna, “I don’t care. If it helps find my boy, I’ll believe anything.”
“My given name is Kadamba Vorhoor. Hector and I are not from this planet. We came here on separate exploratory missions from our planet. I arrived over thirty years ago, and Hector came about a decade ago. Both missions had the same goal – to discover if Earth was ready, essentially ready, for our planet to invade.”
“It sounds like bullshit to me,” Tim commented, “but what does it have to do with Bjorn?”
“Part of these missions is to understand if a planet has any Transprophetics,” Mr. Freeman went on, “people with, what you might call, telekinetic or paranormal abilities – like the ability to move things without touching them. It’s nothing more than an evolutionary step, but when it happens, everything changes. The people of our planet want to invade before scientists on this planet can validate a Transprophetic.”
“The vase,” Dylan noted. “It was all over the Internet. Bjorn is one of these Transprophetics, isn’t he? You saw it. That’s why you’re here.”
Mr. Freeman looked at Dylan, nodding his head slowly up and down, “Yes, I came here to try to protect him. I didn’t know if anyone else had come from Koranth, my home planet, but I knew if they did, they would come after him.”
The men from Koranth explained more details of their missions and what they were attempting to accomplish. Both confessed that they had each forsaken their missions, instead deciding to just build a life here on Earth. Hector’s mission had been unable to validate any Transprophetics, so they sent their return vessel home with reports saying that Earth was very close, but not quite ready. That was ten years ago. Like Kadamba, Hector had been in the Corporate military. He was a bodyguard to a logistics and trade expert. He and the expert had been in a car accident that killed the expert and left Hector in a coma for months. After his recovery, Hector decided to abandon his mission and just make a life on Earth.
Hector had recognized the words in Lamaratian on Kadamba’s arm. Unbeknownst to Kadamba, now Atticus Freeman, he had become the poster boy for the Donovackia Corporation’s prison recruiting efforts.
Both Joanna and Dylan couldn’t help but be panicked and cry as Mr. Freeman explained that part of these missions was to find and eliminate any Transprophetics. The stories these two men were telling were beyond fantastical – nearly impossible to believe – but if they were true, it was terrifying. It meant that either someone from Hector’s crew or someone from a new mission might have kidnapped Bjorn, believing the boy to be a potential Transprophetic.
Mr. Freeman looked at his neighbors – the woman who had become his friend and the teenager whom he had grown so fond of. He knew that they would feel nothing but betrayed. More than anything in the world, he wanted Bjorn to be sitting in that room. He would have traded his life at that moment for the boy’s safety.
“What does that say on your arm?” asked Dylan.
Mr. Freeman looked at the words that he had lived with for more than thirty years. The scar on his skin stopped hurting so many years ago, but the wound in his heart refused to heal. The pain just never stopped. Alorus was always with him. Dylan watched as a tear formed in the man’s eye. It ran in a single streak down his cheek as he answered, “Child Murderer.”
A single second of silence can echo through the soul louder than any scream. In that brief moment, Kadamba could feel the horror of watching Alorus die, the pain of the laser burning into his arm, and the terror and torture of being raped in prison. It washed across his soul, weighing down even more heavily now that those close to him, those who had entrusted him with the young boy, knew this piece of his past. Even though he had done nothing but try to protect Bjorn, he could feel the accusations in their eyes. It was as if he were responsible for what had happened to Bjorn.
The buzz from Tim’s phone broke the painful silence. He picked it, swiped the screen, and Sebastian’s face appeared. “I think we found the boy.”
“Where?” asked Joanna quickly.
“I’m not sure,” replied Sebastian. “The picture we found was of some teenage girl making that stupid duckface, but in the background, there is a van and what looks like two men leading a child with a bag over his head into a building. No GPS with the photo, but it’s from a Mexican social network.”
Tim’s phone beeped, indicating that he had received a message. He flipped the screen to the message app, pulling up the photo from Sebastian.
“Do you know where this is?” he asked, holding the phone out for Hector to see.
“It’s only two blocks away,” replied Hector, as he looked at the blurry picture of a van, with a man pulling a child with a bag over his head into the building. “It’s an old warehouse.”
At once, all six people in the room were heading to the door. Within a few moments, they were in front of the warehouse. Hector turned to Adelita, realizing they were acting without thinking. “Stay here. Call the police.”
The door screeched on its rusted hinges, as it swung open, and they walked into a small, dark room. Another door led to a staircase, and they quickly headed up the stairs, emerging into a dimly lit, large room. They stopped in their tracks as a man across the room leveled a submachine gun in their direction. “Come on in,” he greeted them. “Wrong place, wrong time for all of you.”
Mr. Freeman felt the point of the gun as it pressed into his back. Out of the shadows, an old man emerged, pushing Mr. Freeman forward. His face was ragged looking, and his grey hair seemed thin and greasy as it stuck to his scalp and forehead. Laughter seemed to seep under his breath. “For most of the nearly thirty years I spent in prison, I dreamed of meeting you again, Kadamba – to kill you for putting that knife in my chest, instead of into that vile little Thai girl.”
“Dr. Tarea,” stated Mr. Freeman flatly, “you should be dead.”
“Should be, but it didn’t work out that way. The Thai police found me in that warehouse. I spent months in a rundown, nasty hospital and then decades in the hell they called a prison. I’m going to enjoy killing you. Turn around.”
Mr. Freeman turned to look at Dr. Tarea. The years and time in prison had worn on him heavily, but the evil look still remained in his eyes. He was a cruel soul, and his crooked smile began to spread as he looked at Mr. Freeman.
Dr. Tarea began to lift the gun, bringing it chest height, only a couple of feet from Mr. Freeman’s chest. “I’ll put this hole right where you should have driven that knife.” Dr. Tarea began to laugh, as the perverse joy of finally killing Kadamba swept over him.
The blur of Mr. Freeman’s cane as it spun into Dr. Tarea’s knuckles resembled an airplane propeller. The solid maple cracked as it hit bone, and the gun went sailing across the room. Dr. Tarea looked in shock, as the cane spun again and flew across the room. Everyone’s heads turned as the solid maple hit a large metal barrel, sending a gong-like sound through the room.
The grunting “ugh” that gushed from Dr. Tarea’s lips turned everyone’s attention back to the doctor. The brass handle of the cane was firmly in Mr. Freemen’s hand, and the blade that was hidden by the maple was buried in the Doctor’s chest.
“Stay dead this time,” commanded Mr. Freeman, as Dr. Tarea fell backward, landing with a thud on the hard floor.
“Perfect throw, Hector,” Mr. Freeman remarked, peering at the stunned members of the group.
“Huh?” replied Hector as he felt for the knife at this thigh. The man in the back of the room had dropped the submachine gun and was staggering backward. His face showed a look of utter terror, as the handle of the dive knife protruded from his throat.
A scream of pain alerted the group to the fact that there were others in the far room. They all scrambled for the door, and Hector rudely yanked his knife from the dying man’s throat as he ran past him.
• • •
|Chapter 35||Chapter 37|