“I dated her a long time ago.”
“Let’s go back to the beginning. After you escaped through the bathroom window three nights ago, how did you get to your home in Logan Square?”
“Did you tell the driver anything about where you’d just come from?”
“Of course not.”
“Okay, and after you managed to elude us at your house, then where’d you go?”
“I wandered around all night. I was disoriented, afraid. The next day I saw this poster for Daniela’s art show. That’s how I found her.”
“Did you talk to anyone else besides Daniela?”
“You’re sure about that?”
“Yes. I went back to her apartment, and it was just the two of us until…”
“You have to understand—we’ve dedicated everything to this place. To your work. We’re all in. Any one of us would lay down our lives to protect it. Including you.”
The black hole between her eyes.
“It breaks my heart to see you like this, Jason.”
He says this with genuine bitterness and regret.
I can see it in his eyes.
“We were friends?” I ask.
He nods, his jaw tight, as if he’s holding back a wave of emotion.
I say, “I’m just having a hard time understanding how murdering someone to protect this lab would be acceptable to you or any of these people.”
“The Jason Dessen I knew wouldn’t have given a second thought to what happened to Daniela Vargas. I’m not saying he would’ve been happy about it. None of us are. It makes me sick. But he would’ve been willing.”
I shake my head.
He says, “You’ve forgotten what we built together.”
“So show me.”
They clean me up, give me new clothes, and feed me.
After lunch, Leighton and I ride a service elevator down to sublevel four.
Last time I walked this corridor, it was lined with plastic, and I had no idea where I was.
I haven’t been threatened.
Haven’t been told specifically that I can’t leave.
But I’ve already noticed that Leighton and I are rarely alone. Two men who carry themselves like cops are always on the periphery. I remember these guards from my first night here.
“It’s basically four levels,” Leighton says. “Gym, rec room, mess hall, and a few dormitories on one. Labs, cleanrooms, conference rooms on two. Sublevel three is dedicated to fabrication. Four is the infirmary and mission control.”
We’re moving toward a pair of vaultlike doors that look formidable enough to secure national secrets.
Leighton stops at a touchscreen mounted to the wall beside them.
He pulls a keycard from his pocket and holds it under the scanner.
A computerized female voice says, Name, please.
He leans in close. “Leighton Vance.”
Voice recognition confirmed. Welcome, Dr. Vance.
The sound of a buzzer startles me, its echo fading down the corridor behind us.
The doors open slowly.
I step into a hangar.
From the rafters high above, lights blaze down, illuminating a twelve-foot cube the color of gunmetal.
My pulse rate kicks up.
I can’t believe what I’m looking at.
Leighton must sense my awe, because he says, “Beautiful, isn’t it?”
It is exquisitely beautiful.
At first, I think the hum inside the hangar is coming from the lights, but it can’t be. It’s so deep I can feel it at the base of my spine, like the ultralow-frequency vibration of a massive engine.
I drift toward the box, mesmerized.
I never fathomed I would see it in the flesh at this scale.
Up close, it isn’t smooth but an irregular surface that reflects the light in such a way as to make it seem multifaceted, almost translucent.
Leighton gestures to the pristine concrete floor gleaming under the lights. “We found you unconscious right over there.”
We walk slowly alongside the box.
I reach out, let my fingers graze the surface.
It’s cold to the touch.
Leighton says, “Eleven years ago, after you won the Pavia, we came to you and said we had five billion dollars. We could’ve built a spaceship, but we gave it all to you. To see what you could accomplish with unlimited resources.”
I ask, “Is my work here? My notes?”
We reach the far side of the box.
He leads me around the next corner.
On this side, a door has been cut into the cube.
“What’s inside?” I ask.
“See for yourself.”
The base of the door frame sits about a foot off the surface of the hangar.
I lower the handle, push it open, start to step inside.
Leighton puts a hand on my shoulder.
“No further,” he says. “For your own safety.”
“You were the third person to go inside. Two more went in after you. So far, you’re the only one to return.”
“What happened to them?”
“We don’t know. Recording devices can’t be used inside. The only report we can hope for at this point has to come from someone who manages to make it back. Like you did.”
The inside of the box is empty, unadorned, and dark.
Walls, floor, and ceiling made of the same material as the exterior.
Leighton says, “It’s soundproof, radiation-proof, airtight, and, as you might have guessed, puts out a strong magnetic field.”
As I close the door, a deadbolt thunks into place on the other side.
Staring at the box is like seeing a failed dream raised from the dead.
My work in my late twenties involved a box much like this one. Only it was a one-inch cube designed to put a macroscopic object into superposition.
Into what we physicists sometimes call, in what passes for humor among scientists, cat state.
As in Schrödinger’s cat, the famous thought experiment.
Imagine a cat, a vial of poison, and a radioactive source in a sealed box. If an internal sensor registers radioactivity, like an atom decaying, the vial is broken, releasing a poison that kills the cat. The atom has an equal chance of decaying or not decaying.