‘It wasn’t clear whether she was unconscious or dead. There were, in any case, no traces of blood, apparent signs of a struggle or wounds.’
Extract taken from Rescue Code
By Paolo Antonio Magrì
Published by Black Wolf Edition & Publishing
At 9:28 a.m. Daniel Keaton was already in front of the entrance to the W255 classroom.
The lesson of that 2nd February 2256 would have been remembered all his life. The study programme for the day included discussion of the popular uprisings and political unrest in Europe in the 22nd century against human cloning projects.
The lesson was, as usual, dominated by authority and enthusiasm at the same time, marked by lively discussions between students who supported conflicting opinions, and accompanied by the winks of the students bewitched by his charm.
Professor Keaton’s lectures were famous for the active role reserved for the gyys, whose judgments were stimulated and listened to and then centrifuged into the debate that characterized the last twenty minutes. Even that day two hours had flown by. The issue of cloning projects and the moral question it raised were still topical, even though all those years had passed.
Punctual, as it had begun, at eleven thirty the lesson ended. As he left the classroom, Daniel was approached by a young woman. She didn’t give the impression of being a student, she showed no more than thirty or thirty-five years. The golden blonde hair grazed the shoulders with a soft bob. The slim body, with an elegant posture, was embellished by two ultramarine blue eyes and a charm that was independent of the external appearance. The clothing was strictly designer: grey trousers, red blouse, high heel but not dizzy shoes.
‘Professor Keaton, I need to talk to you,’ the young lady said without even saying hello. She seemed to be in a hurry and kept looking nervously around. ‘Excuse me! Good morning, my name is Katrine Johnson and I need at all costs to speak with you’ she corrected herself.
‘Good morning,’ he replied a little uncertain, yet smiling.
‘Can we go to your studio, please? It’s something delicate.’
Daniel’s studio was on the same floor, squeezed at the end of a blind corridor that ended straight at his shelter. He had demanded from the rector just that, since it allowed him to escape from the confusion and buzz of the people. His lair was not excessively large, but well organized and above all full of books, school texts, publications and manuals. ‘A true rarity for true connoisseurs’, the person concerned often said; ‘for true fanatics’, others specified; ‘for archeopsychopaths’, the most polemical advocates claimed.
At a time when thousands of books could be immediately available on a memory of a few millimetres, he still insisted on using old paper books. Those crammed in his studio were only part of the library he could show oat home. When some of his most trusted friends found the courage to point out this strange passion of his, he would take refuge in the corner kick with the old and proven excuse of investing in publishing antiques.
Daniel and Katrine Johnson walked down the endless corridor. The professor typed in the password, the security system swallowed the password and the door opened. Once inside, he made the girl sit down and consumed the ritual of every morning: opening the curtains, deactivating the
drawer block, and anxiously searching for the irreplaceable orange candy, which he immediately offered his guest.
‘Would you like that, miss?’
‘Ma’am. No, thank you.’
‘Tell me how I can help you,’ continued Daniel.
‘I’d like to find out what you have to do with my life.’
A sentence like that, with neither head nor tail, could only imply two eventualities: he was dealing with a psychopath, or that was a joke. In both cases, it was better not to overreact, in order to avoid bad reactions. He remained calm and relaxed, especially in tone. He flaunted a circumstantial smile, stroked his beard and asked, ‘Could you be more specific, please?’
‘It’s a complicated story. If I had figured it out, I wouldn’t have come all the way over here.’
The young girl’s face began to darken. She added, ‘The only thing I’m sure of…is that you are somehow connected to my family, and perhaps to my husband’s disappearance. Actually, the only thing I know is that you… I mean… I mean… It’s like if… You…’
‘All right, that’s enough,’ interrupted Daniel, managing to block out that rash of rambling phrases. It seemed that the woman feared that she could not fi nish a speech before she had even started it, so the words flew from her lips and remained meaningless.
‘I have little time to explain. Believe me, I’m not crazy,’ she continued, gesturing in growing agitation. Daniel was impressed, and somehow scared. Katrine Johnson did not seem dangerous, but she was clearly altered, perhaps prey to some strange substance. Or maybe she was a mythomaniac. It certainly wasn’t for him to find out.
‘Miss, I’m here to receive the students and the colleagues, not to…’
‘Does the name Robert Konnor mean anything to you? He was my husband. You have something to do with football? I’m a doctor and I found out that…’
Daniel stiffened and waved a hand to silence her.
‘Listen, I work here. If you have any questions about my profession, ask, otherwise go away. I’ve already pressed the button to call security, though.’
Katrine Johnson realized she had exhausted her chance to be heard.
‘All right,’ hissed bitterly. ‘I hope to come back if they’ll give me the chance.’
She got up, opened the door and left. The communicator rang at the same time.
‘I accept,’ said Daniel to activate the holographic call.
That was Mr Finson, head of security.
‘Professor Keaton, a problem has been brought to our attention. You may be bothered by a person. Keep the door locked. I’ll send an officer to you right away.’
The lapidary conclusion of the call upset him. Mr Finson used to call him ‘Professor Daniel,’ after all, they’d known each other for years. Secondly, who and why did you report the girl’s presence? He only pretended to call security in the presence of Mrs Johnson.
A knock on the door took him away from those thoughts. Finson’s warning advised him to keep closed, but after a few moments of reflection, his instinct took over and he decided to open up.
Behind the door, Katrine Johnson awaited him again. She was lying on the ground, powerless. She probably tried to get to the door with the last of her energy and ended up banging into it. Her face looked contracted, her eyes grainy and shiny. Daniel called her, no answer. He looked around lost, but there was no one around. He noticed the woman was holding a circuit board. Weird. Different from the common ones. He opened her palm and took it.
The hand stayed open, taut. Daniel bent over the woman and tried to wrap her in his own, as if to support her. After making the effort to lift her arm, Katrine grazed the professor’s astonished face trembling. Then she lowered her eyelids and her facial expression became more relaxed. It wasn’t clear whether she was unconscious or dead. There were, in any case, no traces of blood, apparent signs of a struggle or wounds.
Rescue Code by Paolo Antonio Magrì is published by Black Wolf Edition & Publishing, priced £13.99.