Authors: David Roys
Tags: #Technological Fiction
Copyright © 2012 David Roys
All rights reserved.
All of the characters in this book are fictitious,
and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
To my wife Nikki with a lot of thanks
This book would not have been possible were it not for the help and support I received from my friends and family. My biggest thanks go to my wife Nikki, who provided encouragement throughout the early drafts and kept me writing.
I’d like to thank my early readers: David Carr, Jenny Carr, Ben Naylor, and Kelly Naylor for the excellent feedback they provided. I’m particularly grateful to David Carr for his editing and proofreading prowess.
Thanks to my dad, Terry, for his encouragement and for helping with the cover art (paying for, not creating).
Finally I’d like to acknowledge those people who have shared their specialist knowledge and experiences that helped me to sound like I know more than I really do: Ben Naylor for his knowledge of firearms and ballistics; Michael Hamilton and Jenny Carr for their first-hand experience of cardiology; Mike Ifield for his knowledge of martial arts; Julian Brown for helping with my Spanish.
Jasmine ran along Beach Drive and headed towards the entrance to the park. The music playing through her earbuds helped her enjoy her run and forget the rest of the world, the craziness of the city, her problems at the university, and of course, it helped her to forget about Chris. She slowed as she crossed the intersection with Joyce Road, tilting her head down from the blinding sun as she left the shadow of the trees.
She looked at her watch and read her heart rate from the small display. 144 beats per minute was not nearly enough, she pushed harder, digging deep into her reserves, feeling her legs start to burn. Her chest heaved as she sucked as much oxygen as she could to fuel her muscles. She glanced at her watch again, 160 beats per minute. Still she kept accelerating and now the endorphins came and with them the happy glow that kept her coming back for more.
Jasmine never saw what made her fall but in an instant she was pitching towards the track. She threw her hands out to protect her face and they scraped in the gravel and dirt.
She lay on the ground, not wanting to move just yet. Her hands were stinging, her knees too. Her face was covered in fine yellow dust and she had grit and a taste of blood in her mouth which she tried to spit out. After nearly a minute of simply laying and feeling sorry for herself, she slowly pushed herself up on to her hands and knees, wincing at every tiny movement. Her head was still hanging low and she saw spots of blood fall to the track.
Slowly she got back to her feet and tried to take a few more steps and work back in to her run, but now she felt dizzy. After only running a few miserable yards she had to stop again. She pulled her earbuds from her ears and breathed deeply, leaning forward to try to stop the sick feeling. The sunshine started to fade and she felt woozy.
I should have eaten before I came out
, she thought.
Her vision didn’t clear, instead it was getting worse—dark around the edges, and now she could hear a faint ringing noise. Something triggered in her mind, a memory of a lecture, or a magazine article, something about tunnel vision and hearing a ringing noise, something serious.
Oh my God
, she thought,
I’m having a stroke. This can’t be happening to me.
Fear made her heart race, her vision faded to white and then there was nothing.
Jasmine opened her eyes and looked about her. She was lying on the running track staring up at the sky.
It took her a while to remember what had happened and to realize that she must have passed out.
She tried to sit up but couldn’t. The right side of her body was numb. The high-pitched ringing sound was faint but continuous. She thought she could smell burning toast.
I’m having a stroke.
She remembered now. She’d read an article about how to recognize the signs of a stroke. FAST: Face, Arms and Legs, Speech, Time. Time is critical. Time saved equals brain saved.
I don’t want to die
, she thought,
not here, not like this. I don’t want to die alone.
She tried to cry out, but instead of her plea for help, she heard a groaning sound—she didn’t recognize her own voice.
Stay calm. Plenty of people survive strokes. I need to get help. I need to call 911.
She concentrated on her left hand and managed to move the fingers, slowly and weak at first, and then a little stronger. She managed to clench her fist. She tried to move her hand, it was hard but she used her fingers to slowly crawl her hand up her body to her right arm where her phone sat in a holster. She knew she could get through this if she could only manage to make a call for help.
Her movements were frustratingly slow and even the smallest were hard to make but after a long and painful struggle she finally managed to work the phone free and hold it in front of her face. She stared at the keypad but was horrified to see markings on the phone she didn’t recognize. She knew where the numbers should be but these weren’t numbers, they made no sense to her. Her heart raced.
I’m going to die. Shit. I’m actually going to die alone, in a park.
She started to cry great gasping sobs.
If I can just hold on, someone will find me. I’ll be OK.
She managed to stop crying knowing that she needed to be strong. She lay and waited, unable to move, staring at the sky and watching the clouds drifting across her view. She started to feel at peace, as though her life’s problems were drifting away too. She was powerless, yet in a way, she felt liberated.
So this is what it feels like to die
, she thought.
It’s not so bad.
She heard a sound that cut through the ringing noise—footsteps—someone was coming. She tried to call out, but again she couldn’t form the words. The noise was growing louder—someone was close to her now, she could feel it. Someone was bending down, touching her face, checking her pulse.
I’m alive, call an ambulance.
Her head was pushed gently to one side, and then again, and again. She couldn’t see the person and she couldn’t work out what he was doing to her. The hand felt soft and rough, and it felt … wet. A shape appeared over her face. A wet tongue licked her.
Oh shit—a dog.
The dog’s dirty muzzle and tongue crowded her face, sniffing her; licking her. She panicked. Her inner voice screamed.
Get off me.
Get off me.
Someone please help.
Get this damned dog off me.
She was getting hysterical now and tried to swat the dog away with her good hand, but she could barely lift it.
A man’s arm reached towards her and grabbed the dog by the collar, pulling it hard. She could see the man’s face now.
Oh thank God.
He looked at her. She thought at first that he looked sick, as though he was in pain, but then she realized, it wasn’t pain, it was revulsion. He turned away and put a phone to his ear. She strained to hear him through the ringing noise.
I’m going to be OK
, she thought.
Thank you. Thank you.
She listened to the man’s voice.
‘Yes, hello,’ he said. ‘I’m in Rock Creek Park … I’m calling on my cell phone. You need to send an ambulance right now. It’s a girl.’
The man turned and looked at Jasmine again but didn’t make eye contact. It was as though he couldn’t bring himself to look at her. She could still make out his voice, but the ringing sound was getting worse.
‘Yes, just past the tennis club,’ he said. ‘Yes I’m with her. She’s still alive. Send an ambulance quickly.’
Jasmine felt relieved.
I’m going to get through this. Help is coming. I know I can hold on.
She felt her breathing slowing.
Just hold on.
Again she heard the muffled sound of the man’s voice.
‘I don’t know how long she’s got. She’s in pretty bad shape. She’s been shot.’
It’s a stroke.
Jasmine wanted to scream out, but she strained to hear what the man was saying.
‘There’s a lot of blood. And there’s … a hole … in her head. The back of her head is … gone. Please come quickly.’
Jasmine looked up at the sky once more. She could see it getting darker now. It was getting colder too.
Nothing to do now but wait.
Wait for help.
She closed her eyes.
Chris Sanders rubbed his tired eyes and looked at his watch. It was after 3:00 AM, Michelle would be pissed. He finished editing the final line of code and hit the key to compile. He’d been working for twelve hours straight and couldn’t wait to see how the new graphics engine would look.
He took a long drink from a can of soda he found on his messy desk. He wasn’t sure how long the can had been there, and the drink was flat. Pushing away from his computer screen, he stretched his aching back, using his hands to rub his tired muscles. Chris found one of the greatest things about working at George Washington University, was the access he gained to the latest computing technology. That, coupled with the funding from his benefactors, allowed him to build whatever he could imagine. And Chris Sanders had one hell of an imagination. The computer beeped to tell him compilation had finished with zero errors. He put on his glasses and hit run.
Chris’s latest programming efforts were to allow him to do something that man had been doing for hundreds of years. He was going to read a book, but the producers of those early books could never have foreseen what he was about to do. Hovering about eighteen inches in front of his face was a leather-bound Gutenburg Bible printed on vellum in the fifteenth century. The red leather binding was cracked and worn, particularly around the edges. In the center of the ornate border was a golden coat of arms for the Right Honorable Thomas Grenville. Chris had selected this particular book because it was believed to be one of the first books ever produced using the forerunner of the modern printing press and this made it seem, somehow, appropriate for a new world in publishing.