Chapter 32 by Nishant Mishra

Blood. The vehicle of stardust that feeds the human machine. 

For Ken, people were just bodies to be experimented upon. He believed science was independent of emotion and he felt his detachment was what made him a good scientist. 

He felt his mind involuntary dissolving in between hazy memories and sharp painful reality...charged for murder and organ theft for black market sale back home, his escape to Matana to disappear and find his next score. 

He flashed back to the start of his time at LifaLabs and how he wished to add a brick to the edifice of the human body. Stabbing pain brought him back to reality.

Ken was now laying in a pool of his own elixir on the floor, semi-conscious as it dripped from his ashen face. His head was reeling with pain from the wound the bullet had inflicted. He was barely breathing as he heard Charlotte answer her phone, “...we’re so close! Can't wait to see you at Matana Tower. Love you too, Dorian." 

Ken tried to focus and piece together what he’s heard. 

It seems that glacier of a woman was in it for herself all along. He thought to himself. I don’t think so. 

Ken did a quick assessment and inspected to bullet hole, finding air bubbles at the opening, his lung was slowly collapsing. 

Adi. He needed to call Adi now. It was the only way to bring down Charlotte. He groaned as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, blood spraying the floor as he coughed and fumbled as he pressed the call button next to Adi’s contact number. The phone began to ring. 

Meanwhile, at Cryptop headquarters Adi and Talal were pouring over the logistics of a possible rescue plan. Dorian and Tara were skimming security footage they had found of the airport as well as the perimeter of LifaLabs base of operations and Rob was listening intently to various recordings being gathered from bugged enemy communication hubs. All to find Nadia and bring her home.

Adi let out a moan, “Not a single lead! Nothing to bargain with if we plan to intercept before she reaches the casino. If the exchange is made and if she gets to the airport it’s over!”

Tara turned around while Dorian remained fixated on the screens, “Adi please, we’re all trying our best. The worst thing would be to lose our heads...we will get her ba-“

“How can you say that?! We are hours away from losing Nadia! What do you just think the solution is going to fall into our laps?!” 

“Adi!” Talal grilled from the other side of the table, “your attitude towards your friends is appalling, we are doing our best!”

Tara looked over at Dorian, who had seemingly drifted off into some riviera of thought where he was far away from all the conflict unfolding around him. She even thought she saw him chuckle silently at Adi’s and Talal’s quips taken at each other. 

Suddenly, a marimba ring tone pierced the tension as Adi’s phone started ringing. Kens name flashed across the screen. The room was dead silent except for the jaunty song that kept madly repeating. 

“Adi pick it up he could help us!” Tara motioned towards the phone. “We might be able to weasel some more details out of him it’s worth a shot we just keep hitting dead ends! He might be able to give us an the evidence we need to twist the President’s arm!”

Dorian spun around in his chair and addressed Talal, “That would not be advised. Do you not think that it’s curious that Ken is attempting to make a call now? This has trap written all over it!” 

“Dorian, what’s gotten into you? We need to try everything we can right now," Talal said.

“I must protest!” Dorian was on his feet now, hands balled into fists. He was shaking. “We already know where Nadia is. Why not simply knock out all the power and take her by stealth? They’ll never know what hit them, especially if we entrust this with my personal team of operatives.” Dorian was getting desperate. 

How was he still alive?! He thought to himself. 

The phone stopped ringing. The room was quiet for a moment, then the marimba tone started playing. Ken was calling again. Without taking a moment to think Adi slid his thumb across the screen and accepted the call on speaker. The whole room went quiet, waiting for a sound from the other end of the line. 

Then a voice rasped over the phone, sounding as if the speaker was gargling a mouthful of tar. Coughing and more rasping and then, “...Adi?! Adi listen to me! I don’t have time. I’m out of time. It’s over for me dude I messed up...trusted wrong people...” 

Ken was rasping and gargling more now. Adi spoke, “Ken what are yo-“

“Adi there’s no time. We’ve all been played, man. There were never gonna be any cars! No damn golden eggs! Listen to me! Nadia location was a lie. She’s in Matana Tower where Yoss lives. Her location was changed."

Adi went silent, trying to fathom why Ken was suddenly being so accomodating with information. Ken kept talking, “She shot me man! She freaking shot me!” 

“Who shot you?!” Adi was completely out of his depth now.

“MOLE! Yoss has a mole in Cryptop! He’s been reporting to her since the beginning! She’s orchestrating some sort of sleight of hand crap where she and this guy she’s playing house with take the money and run!”

The room was silent, Adi and the rest of the group were completely flabbergasted. A mole. Their worst fears had been realised. 

Ken was wheezing now, he could barely speak “Do it for your dad.”

Adi muttered, “Ken, man...I, I don’t know-“ 

Ken cut him off, “It's Dor-Dorian”

Ken stared at the phone as Ken started coughing more, the wet sounds of blood pooling in his lungs punctuating ragged breathing and then, silence. The phone disconnected. 

Dorian stares around in disbelief, his long braid almost as bushy as the tail of a cornered cat. He made a dash for the door in a desperate attempt to escape. 

TWACK! Dorian found himself on the floor in a tangled mess, head bloody and unconscious, Rob holding one of his crutches over his head like some strange mallet. Everyone started at Rob and Dorian. 

“Never liked his pretentious vocabulary anyway,” Tara said.

About the author:
Nishant Mishra, 29, based out Dubai, is a professional in the asset management industry. When not tracking bull & bear markets, he loves to indulge in art, music, spicy food and sport. He would also like to make it known that Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time.