The Quantum Objective

By F. S. Habib

Sci-Fi, Religion & spirituality, Paranormal

Paperback, eBook

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5 mins

Chapter One

London, England
She swirled the cocktail stick around her glass and watched a slow tear roll down its side. What does it taste of today? The sweet bite of loneliness filled her mouth and burned her lungs with every breath: orange bitters. The fake-it-till-you-make-it strategy wasn’t working any better than before. Frustration needled her lashes.
Enough’s enough.
She straightened her spine and twisted on the barstool for a last look at the throng, perplexing as prattling baboons. The relentless bass fractured her patience. She clambered from her perch, slipped, and clutched the bar to regain her balance.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these shoes? I can’t believe I’m supposed to walk in these brutes. She yanked off the heels, surreptitiously rubbed her butt and tested the bar stool with her fingers.
Yep, hard as hate. Not the sort of thing my bony behind can handle for too long.
She tugged down her hemline and pushed through London’s affluent youth looking for Mimi. Her gaze bounced off eye contact like a moth on glass till she spied a familiar face through a knot of social dragonflies.
She pressed ahead.
‘Giles! Have you seen Mimi?’
He squinted through strobe.
‘It’s Elizabeth.’ She waved a length of fiery hair. His eyes widened then sparkled as he cleared a space.
‘Hey, Beth,’ he scanned her sequins. ‘I can’t believe you’ve been hiding such heavy weaponry under your academic bushel all this time.’
‘Sure…thanks. Any sign of Wonder Woman?’
‘I saw the latest Idol hanging around her, entirely unsuitable of course.’
Beth stared hard at his fine features. This was something to do with TV again. She was sure of it.
‘What are you doing here?’ he said.
‘No clue…just a fish out of water. Mimi seems to think this geek will eventually grow lungs, but I have my doubts. If you spot her, please say I’ve grabbed a cab, okay?’ Beth stretched out a smile and made for the exit. She scratched at her forehead where fury itched.
‘Just let it go.’ She rolled the words around her mouth like a malfunctioning spell and swallowed against a tight throat.
‘You’re not abandoning us are you, lovely lady?’ A dapper man blocked her path; his eyes followed her legs with interest. ‘How about some champagne? That usually makes the pain go away.’
Beth started. He indicated the shoes she clutched.
‘Oh that.’ With a rush of relief she pushed past him into a street sparkling with drizzle, but devoid of taxis.

* * *
The gleam of streetlights shimmered off wet paving. A shop window, skirted with fresh litter, threw her reflection back at her. Skilful makeup made her glamorous as glitter, genuine as granny’s teeth. She cringed away and caught the eye of a loitering paparazzo who’d stepped into the rain to get a better view.
One flat look and he retreated to a huddle of smokers.
The street was dead.
The facts hit out in unison - her mobile was warmly tucked in Mimi’s purse, she had no money and the odds of finding a black cab in the rain at 3am on a Sunday were minimal.
She tasted metal on her tongue. Only two martinis, yet the chill air and drift of cigarette smoke churned her stomach.
Great. Another stellar screw-up. What now, Irving?
Cold and agitation clamped her teeth together. She pictured her shower, her nightshirt and her bed, but home was miles away in Cambridge. She had to get to Mimi’s Chelsea apartment somehow. The doorman would let her in, even pay for the cab if she could ever find one.
She frowned down the quiet road. The thought of returning to the club shuddered through her.
She hurried to the nearest cross street and pulled a map to mind: only three blocks from Oxford Street, but everyone there would be vying for little yellow lights. Then again, the Langham hotel was only round the corner; they’d surely call her a cab.
Her naked feet faltered and her freckled nose wrinkled.
Mimi will worry. She probably got chatting and forgot I was even there. Who could blame her?
Her chin wobbled and she tightened her jaw. Droplets in her hairline would shortly run ruinous paths through her makeup. She bit her fingertip to stop pointless tears exacerbating the damage.
Not that it matters, the night’s over anyway thank God. I just need to sort myself out.
A close hum.
She spun to a black van behind her.
She gaped, the door snapped wide and powerful arms jerked her in. It slid back into the night.

* * *
What just happened? A fluorescent glow drew her wide gaze through the dark to hard eyes behind a mask.
Her legs shot her up and she jerked against an iron grip that shoved her face to a rubbery floor. Her heart convulsed like a trapped cat.
I can’t let them take me.
Mouth wide, she sucked in air but the shout was jammed in her throat by a rough gag.
A futile retch. The scratch of a needle on her arm.
Fight, fight, fight!
She kicked out and hit a wall of muscle. Pain knifed through her foot.
She strained wide eyes. A hood blinded her and strong hands clamped her ankles as the tight bond of tape bit her skin. Trussed up, she focused on breathing.
Rank panic burned a fiery path through her chest, stomach, and bowels; a wave of darkness rushed to meet her mind.
Static buzzed close to her ear.
‘Base, this is 113. Target is secure. ETA in twenty-five.’
As the chill of dread and chemicals pulled her into a deep hole, the screech of tearing metal engulfed her before she was flung into a violent wind.
Then oblivion.

* * *
The darkness eased a little. Gurgling warmth pooled around her edges and a faltering rattle beat against her ribs.
Is that my heart?
She pushed at the intractable fog in her mind, forced heavy lids wider and turned her head.
Nothing happened. The cold wet tarmac wouldn't let her cheek leave. She couldn’t tell where her body started or stopped.
Where am…did those guys dump me?
It was still drizzling. Beyond the gurgles, a horn blared its uninterrupted irritation into the night. Her mouth was clear now, but the air wasn’t working. She couldn’t escape the icy fingers that pierced her chest and head.
A shadow flickered against a brick wall. She watched its distinctly male outline shrink as the crunch of steps closed in. A warm hand pressed beneath her ear. The low curse wasn't in English, but the panic was clear and infectious.
I’m dying. Shit, I can’t die; I’m only eighteen. I haven’t done anything yet.
Hot hands sizzled against her shoulder blades. Delicious warmth swelled to searing heat. She screamed, but no sound came. The fiery fingers burned down her back, then moved along her legs to press her frozen feet. Confusion pushed through the pain.
What’s he doing? Come on Sherlock, how about an ambulance?
Tears pricked her failing heart to a faster rhythm. She wouldn’t allow this moron let her die; she had to move. But her mind was letting go.
Just let it go. It suddenly seemed easy. She floated into the now familiar blackness.

* * *
Barcelona, Spain
Had regret shaded those empty eyes? The soldier shook off the thought. Not a chance.
Khoen hid ebbing rage behind stiff fingers. Eventually his palms slipped off a twisted mouth.
‘If she is impaired…’ his fists squeezed white. Tight eyes opened black as the far side of the moon. A shiver shook the soldier, but he didn’t flinch. He forced his stare away from the dark orbs to the blood that oiled a path around the unmoving boots of his commander.
‘My information was good and I want my reward. Was the task so difficult?’
‘No, sir.’
‘Yet, she is not here.’ His calm tone corroded the soldier’s courage.
‘The Sayan… ’
The soldier pushed mettle into his voice. Excuses wouldn’t cut it.
‘I will complete the mission.’
Pale grey shoes moved into his line of sight. The leather, soft as cloud, glinted. Metal?
‘On your feet, soldier.’
He jack-knifed to attention, gaze fixed on the chopper blades thumping in the dusk beyond. He was close enough to smell the energy still pouring from the fiend. It filled his nostrils and pushed into his brain like napalm.
‘Go fetch.’
The close whisper pumped hope and dread in equal measure through his spine.
Khoen’s footsteps faded.
The motionless soldier flicked a glance at the retreating figure and then bumped the black soles before him. Looked like he’d just gotten promoted.
Too close, he thought.
The scab in the crook of his elbow itched. He stroked it. His team would have to go deeper, mover faster or it was game-over.



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