Welcome to the latest installment in “Code Red,” my serialized short story set in the Marvel universe. You can read the first chapter here, or click on the Short Story button on the menu bar to access all chapters.
“This, Miss Green, is a Cosmic Cube.”
“And that’s supposed to mean something to me?” Abigail heard a bitter sarcasm in her own voice. She knew that belligerence probably wasn’t wise given her confinement on a slanted pallet in the sterile laboratory that she was kidnapped to. Yet, something about the absurdity of the situation made her just not care.
I’m clearly screwed. It almost felt unreal, but then again, denial was allegedly the first stage of coping with trauma, she reminded herself clinically.
“Not yet, but you will soon come to appreciate the brilliance of this piece of technology.”
“Go on, impress me,” said the woman . Where is this sass coming from? Stop it, Abigail!
George Tarleton cleared his throat like a professor about to begin a very dry lecture. He walked over to a small desk, on which a thin tray sat holding an apple and two syringes.
Strange that a doctor would leave food out on a medical tray… and why am I even assuming this nutcase is a doctor?
The man snapped up the apple, still holding the pulsing silver cube on his other gloved hand.
“What is this?” he asked simply, holding the deep red apple in front of Abigail. Clinical overhead lights glowed off the fruit’s shiny exterior.
“A … Red Delicious apple? Or is this a trick question?”
“No tricks.” The man nodded curtly, acknowledging her correct answer. Without a word, he raised both of his hands in front of his face, eyes darting back and forth between the glowing pewter cube and the fruit. He slowly drew his hands closer together until the objects nearly touched.
Even though she was a captive and didn’t have any other choice, Abigail found herself transfixed. Now within a centimeter of the apple, the cube began to radiate pulsing flickers of grey lightning. The silver sparks flew wilder as the apple drew closer, sizzling and shocking audibly.
Then it began. Creeping over the edge of the apple closest to the cube, a bright green hue permeated the apple. The fruit’s shape morphed gracefully from being top-heavy to being more spherical. Before Abigail knew it, the Red Delicious apple was clearly — in appearance at least — a Granny Smith apple.
George Tarleton withdrew the apple, and the neon grey flickers from the cube dissipated, the cubes pale blue edges humming back to their original steady pulse.
“That, that looks like a Granny Smith now!” She was so enthralled with the apparent illusion that for a brief second she forgot how much her wrists and ankles ached from being strapped down.
“That’s because it is now a Granny Smith apple.”
“But…” Abigail began, trailing off in confusion.
“That, Miss Green, is the power of the cosmic cube. Or rather, a very simple demonstration of it. You see, this humble little cube has the power to alter reality, as you’ve just seen. Of course, transforming fruit is of little interest to me. My goals are more … lofty.”
“Look, Mister Tarleton –“
“Look, Doctor Tarleton,” Abigail continued, agitated, “I don’t know who you think I am, but I’m just a banker. And not even the kind who has direct access to a vault. I’m just a statistician. Heck, I spend my days programming, not counting cash!”
“Which is precisely why I’ve brought you here, my dear. You see, I work for a scientific organization called Advanced Idea Mechanics. My colleagues and I have successfully created the cosmic cube containment matrix you see here. Which, as I’ve explained, possesses the ability to alter reality, when harnessed properly, of course.”
The man placed the cube gently back in its resting spot where he had retrieved it. Biting into the now green apple with a crunch, he paced back and forth thoughtfully.
“Your role in all this,” he continued, munching away on the apple, “is as my newest recruit. You see, AIM needs a hacker. But not just any hacker will do. We need someone who already has an ‘in’ with the banking community. Someone who already has exquisite programming skills. Someone who is so highly esteemed in the legal departments of banks that she will never be suspected of hacking into global financial systems. Someone quite like you, Miss Green.”
“Look buddy, I’m no hacker!”
“Abigail, Abigail, Abigail,” said the doctor, sighing. “That is what the cosmic cube is for. Traditional hacking methods rely on a programmer’s ability to bypass sophisticated firewalls to enter secure systems. The cosmic cube, however, will allow you to virtually manipulate encrypted data itself. This will truly be a revolution in hacking.”
“But, but, why me? And how exactly do you plan on forcing me to do this hacking, anyway? If you researched me at all, you know I have too strong of a conscience to even consider doing something like this!”
“Miss Green, I already described the ideal candidate for this little project. My brother was kind enough to do the recruiting within his own bank. You come highly recommended. I should think you would feel flattered.”
Abigail remained silent. She glowered at the doctor, furrowing her eyebrows and narrowing her clear green eyes.
“To answer your other question,” he continued, “your transformation process has two phases.”
Abigail did not like he way he emphasized the word “transformation.” What kind of science experiment am I about to become?!
“First, I shall inject a diluted substance containing micro-granules of the cosmic cube in your bloodstream. This is what will give you the hacking abilities. After that, we’ll be implanting a computer chip in you. The chip works off of one of the AIM servers, so you will only be able to use your hacking to serve us.”
He smiled politely, as if he were a dentist simply explaining how a cavity is patched. So horrified by his explanation, Abigail hadn’t noticed him reaching for one of the syringes on the tray that had held the apple.
Before she knew it, he was coming at her, a sick smile widening across his thin face. George Tarleton flashed the liquid filled syringe in front of her face with one hand, using his other hand to rub her upper arm with an antiseptic wipe.
No!!! The words echoed in her head but refused to come out.
Abigail barely had time to think. The last thing she remembered was looking up at those piercing eyes and pointy nose, watching that thin smile grow as the syringe pierced her skin.
A stinging wave washed through her, coursing through her veins with what felt like the voltage of a lightning bolt. Eyes squeezed shut tight, her vision swirled silver, peppered with flickers of neon blue.
Then, everything went black.