Frozen In Time

A short story by Meg Sorick.

Bright. Blindingly bright. He felt awful —his head was pounding, his stomach was roiling and his mouth tasted like blood and bile. And he was cold. Very, very cold. Alex shielded his eyes from the sun and tried to remember what had happened. The party? Yes. The fight with Valerie? Oh, yes. He couldn’t remember leaving and —god, he hadn’t actually tried to drive in that state, had he?— crashing the car.

He tentatively opened his eyes. The front of the car seemed undamaged. A look in the rear view mirror told another story, though. The back windshield was a spiderweb of smashed glass and the trunk of the car was pushed up and backwards so as to obscure the view. Alex returned his gaze forward. The sun was just coming up over trees that shimmered with a thick glaze of ice. It had apparently snowed heavily overnight, though he couldn’t remember that either. The effect was disorienting. He couldn’t get his bearings. Where was he? The car hadn’t gone into the ditch, rather it seemed to be stopped in the middle of this unfamiliar road. He tried turning the ignition. Dead. Not even a cough. Wishful thinking.

Where was his phone? He found it lying on the floor in front of the passenger seat, screen cracked but operational. He sliced his finger trying to swipe it open. Cursing, he stuck the bloody digit in his mouth. To his dismay, he discovered that he had no cellular signal. How could he have driven so far away from the party to lose coverage? He checked again, moved the phone in all different directions but it was no use. He wondered, without much hope, if Valerie would be looking for him.

After checking himself over to assess the extent of his injuries, Alex unbuckled the seatbelt and tried the door. The impact had jammed it forward but with a huge shove and a creaking groan, it finally opened. He gingerly stepped out into the snow and looked around. Behind the car, the faint imprint of his spin-out was just perceptible beneath the deep snow cover. Further beyond, was the apparent cause of the accident —a train, stopped on the tracks that crossed the road.

“I must have run through the crossing and nearly made it,” Alex said aloud as he examined the back of the car. Twisted metal and plastic protruded from the wreck. He turned his gaze to the motionless behemoth, its engine quiet, just a residual trail of smoke rising from it’s stack. Smoke? A steam train? “What the…? What is this, some kind of tourist attraction?” Alex muttered as he stared in confusion. “Where is everyone?”

He took a step forward, struggling in the deep snow. “Hello?” he called out. Only the soughing of the trees was the response. A chill not from the cold crept up his spine. He checked the phone and again got only a bloody finger for his trouble. By the time he reached the train, the cold air breathed in through exertion was hurting his lungs and he’d lost the feeling in his feet. Soon, he realized, the cold would turn deadly. He either had to find help here at the train or find a spot where his phone picked up a signal. Surely, the train, even if it was an antique, would have some sort of modern communication system.

As quickly as he could manage, Alex trudged to the front of the train. Finding a step and hand bar to grab onto, he hoisted himself into the engineer’s compartment. The space was empty but fortunately slightly warmer thanks to the coal still burning in the firebox. He saw no electronics, not even a radio that he might use to call for help. Alex took a minute to thaw out and consider his options. He could only assume that the engineers had gone back into the passenger cars to check on the people.

After he’d warmed himself sufficiently, he once again braved the cold and snow to forge a path to the first car. Pulling himself up by the handrail, he pushed the doors open into the compartment. The cold penetrated to his bones as he stared into the blank, frozen eyes of the passengers. Every single one of them was dead. Not just dead, frozen in time. Frozen with newspapers in their hands, teacups raised to their lips, leaning over to whisper in their neighbor’s ear. Nothing in nature could freeze a living, breathing human so quickly. Alex slumped against the doorway of the last car to steady himself. As the cold stiffened his limbs and thickened his blood, his last thought was of Valerie and he wondered if she’d ever forgive him.

Inhuman (14)

To read from the beginning, please visit the Inhuman Page.

No sooner had Amanda made the short walk home from the bus stop and stepped in the front door, than her phone rang. She pulled it from her handbag. Nathan. “Hello,” she answered.

“Hi. How’d your first day go?” he asked.

“Uh, well… it was kind of overwhelming actually.” She paused. “I saw Brian.”

“Oh… No one told me he, um, was up and running again. That must’ve been … difficult.”

“To say the least. Listen, I really need to ask you…”

“About dinner?” He hurriedly cut her off. “I thought it would be a good idea to give you a little tour of the town and have a bite to eat at the local diner. Nothing fancy.”

Right, no talking openly on the phone.  “Yes, that’s perfect. I was wondering what you had in mind.” They made plans for Nathan to pick her up in an hour and they disconnected. He has something more in mind than just a tour of the town, she thought. But I wonder if there’s any place where we can speak freely. And speak about what exactly? 

After changing from her work attire and freshening her makeup, Amanda watched from the front window for Nathan’s car. Some of her neighbors were walking to their homes, from the direction of the main road. From the bus stop? she wondered. Did they all work at the lab? 

Amanda didn’t wait for Nathan to get out of the car, but ran out before he turned off the engine. “Hi,” she said sliding into the passenger seat. “Ready whenever you are.”

A surprised Nathan said, “Ah, ok. Well, let’s show you around the neighborhood first.” Then holding a finger to his lips, he handed her a sheet of paper with a handwritten note. It read: ‘Be careful. Keep conversation general. I will take the lead. You can ask about the lab but nothing to arouse suspicion. When we go into the restaurant, leave your phone in the car. I believe we will be relatively safe if we are discreet.’

While Amanda read, Nathan began describing the town. “The streets in Makepeace all run parallel to Main Street and the avenues perpendicular. This was a designed community, founded just after the Second World War to house the returning soldiers and their families. The public works projects of the 1930’s had just brought the Interstate highway system through this part of Pennsylvania and the general thinking was that the region was going to boom.” He glanced over. “But then the coal ran out and other industries didn’t come in to replace it.”

“And the mine fire was the final blow,” she added.

“Exactly.” They had reached the stop sign and after stopping to look both ways on the empty street, Nathan turned left. A few blocks later, they arrived at the town’s center —also empty— and pulled into the restaurant parking lot. By use of gestures, Nathan reminded Amanda to leave her cell phone in the car.

The Black Rock Cafe was doing a meager business on this Monday evening. Nathan led Amanda to a booth away from the other diners and slid in across from her. “Just keep your voice down,” he warned. “Now, tell me. How was your first day, really?”

“Fine. I guess. I mean, if I didn’t know what was really going on at the place, it would feel like any other normal office job.” She frowned. “Except for all the security. And the whole taking-the-company-bus-to-work thing. And everyone staring at me. And seeing the man who I was married to a few weeks ago who is now a reprogrammed military android, pass me and not recognize me. Oh god…” She rubbed her temples. “So it was weird, ok? And scary.”

“Hmm, yeah. I’m sure it was.” 

The server interrupted them to bring water and take their order. After she had gone, Amanda said, “The other day went I went to the supermarket, the cashier knew my name. How? I am positive I didn’t give it to her.”

“Well, like I said before, we haven’t had any turnover or brought in anyone new since the program started. You’re a curiosity.”

“Yeah, but the store cashier…?” Her eyes widened. “Is the supermarket owned by the agency, too?”

Nathan looked uncomfortable. “Actually, the entire town is owned and operated by the agency. All the shops and services give the appearance of being independent but everyone in Makepeace is being paid directly or indirectly by the agency. It’s the only way to maintain the facility’s secrecy.” 

So I can’t trust anyone in this town, she thought.

Nathan continued, “An outsider is going to explore the area. Even with all the precautions, they might see something that doesn’t make sense, start poking around. You can see how dangerous that would be.”

“Yeah, and not just for the agency,” she said, shivering. “Nathan, why the hell didn’t the agency just kill me? Or get me out of the way in some other fashion? Wouldn’t that have been easier than bringing me into the fold? It doesn’t make any sense.”

“Amanda, we need your help…”

She snorted. “We? Who’s we? What possible help can I be working in the purchasing department? And help how? And for what?”

He sighed. “Look, it was my idea to bring you on board. I managed to convince the director and his advisors that you wouldn’t pose a risk. You had too much to lose. We —Leo and I and the missing androids— need your help because you’re an outsider, because you’re new and because after a very short while no one is going to be paying attention to you in the purchasing department.”

“So what do I do, just lay low and wait?”

He nodded. “Yes. Just do your job. We’re sailing uncharted waters here. Leo’s primary goal is to preserve his creations. His living creations. He truly believes —and I’ve begun to agree— that these androids are self aware, sentient, alive. Not human —something else. Something new. And we have to try to save them. Not just for Leo’s sake, not just for their sake personally, but for the sake of an entire new species of life.”

Amanda felt chilled, thinking, it sounds almost like religious fervor. Who’s playing god? The doctor? “Nathan, this is insane. These are matters better left to theologians and philosophers. You say they’re alive because they’re intelligent and self aware.”

“Don’t forget sentient — they have feelings, too.” 

“Fine. But that still doesn’t fit the definition of life. They don’t really breathe, digest food for fuel, their bodies don’t repair themselves and they can’t reproduce.”

Nathan smiled wryly. “You’ve been doing your homework.”

“Of course I’ve been doing my homework,” she hissed. “Do you really think I’d just blindly walk into this situation —this dangerous situation— and not find out as much as I could on the subject?”

Nathan’s smile was genuine now. “I told Leo you were smart. And capable. And resourceful I think, too. That’s why you can help.” He leaned forward. “We can trust you, Amanda. You haven’t been drinking the agency kool aid for the past twenty years.”

“Thanks, I think,” she said, running her hands through her hair. “For the sake of argument, let’s set aside the issue of whether or not the androids are alive. The agency still wants them back in any way shape or form. You can’t possibly think they’re going to care what kind of lives the androids have made for themselves, do you? Seriously, as soon as Dr. Knight builds the next prototype, won’t they just swoop in and capture them like they did with Brian?

“Yes, yes, you’re right of course. But making that offer has bought us some time. Time to plan and figure a way out of this.”

“Oh good, great. I’m glad to hear there isn’t really a plan,” Amanda muttered. 

Nathan held up his hands. “Look, priority one is to locate Adam and Diana without the agency finding out. If and when we do, we will find a way to keep them in hiding and completely educate them as to who and what they are. Information will be their best protection.”

“Wait. Adam and Diana? One of them is female?”

Nathan nodded. “Yep, there are women serving in the infantry. Not many, but some. Diana was going to be one more.”

Their food order arrived and they waited before Nathan resumed. “Purchasing will give you access to the network and the database. The doctor will supply you with all the information he has on the androids, one at a time, to be on the safe side. Your first job, Amanda, is going to be finding Adam.”

Inhuman (13)

To read from the beginning, please visit the Inhuman Page.

The feeling of weightlessness quickly abated as the cramped elevator descended through the earth. With her hands braced against Nathan’s chest, Amanda closed her eyes and held her breath until the motion stopped and the door opened into a lobby area. Here, the workers were boarding standard-sized elevators for further descent into the facility’s warren of laboratories and offices.

“This way,” Nathan directed, leading her down one of the corridors to the Human Resources Department. After a brief physical exam, neurological exam and eye test, she was retina scanned (at which she mentally rolled her eyes), and photographed for her ID badge. She was returned to Nathan at the front desk an hour later. He gestured for her to follow. After they had walked out into the hallway, Amanda put an arm out to stop him. “You haven’t even told me what my new job is.”

“Same as your old job at Jason Mechanical. Purchasing.”


“Yes,” he replied, resuming his pace. “You will be in charge of ordering material and products necessary for some of the agency’s programs. You’ll be working for Lydia Castle. You met her on your first visit.”

“How could I forget,” she muttered.

Nathan stoped and faced her. “Look, it only made sense that the agency make use of your job skills. You know how to do this. It’ll be just different vendors from the ones you’ve been dealing with.”

“So how does this…” she threw her hands up. “… big, secret, underground laboratory manage to purchase material from companies in the real world?”

They reached the elevators and Nathan paused. “Try scanning your retina and make sure it works.”

She stepped to the panel and opened her eyes wide. When the scan was complete, and they had stepped into the elevator, she said, “You didn’t answer my question.”

“All the purchases are made for a phony manufacturing company about ten miles away. The material is delivered to them and then transferred here using our own private trucks.”

“But how …?”

“How do we get it underground?”

She nodded.

“The trucks only run between midnight and three AM —not that there’s any traffic around here anyway. When they arrive at the old road leading to the main Centralia mine, the barricades are moved and they pass through. Beyond sight from the highway, the road is well-maintained. It’s just the first hundred yards or so that are rough going. Then, at the main mine tunnel, there’s a barn concealing the freight elevators that deliver goods and material to the subterranean warehouse. The trucks are garaged there during the daylight hours, too.”

“So I make orders on behalf of this fake manufacturing company?”

“Yes,” he said. “Don’t worry. Lydia will explain everything in exhaustive detail.”

“Great,” she said sarcastically.

They continued the rest of the journey in silence. The purchasing department looked as normal as any office space Amanda had ever worked in. Lydia Castle waved from inside the glass door. Nathan said, “Here’s where I leave you.” He hesitated, then leaned close. “Have dinner with me tonight?”

Amanda’s eyes widened. “Dinner?”

He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, maybe that was inappropriate. I just thought…”

“You could answer some more of my questions?” she finished for him. “I would like that.”

He gave her a smile of relief. “Great. I’ll call you later then.”

Amanda stepped through the door and was greeted by Lydia. After introductions were made to the men and women she’d be working with, she was shown a training video and given a desk near the woman who was to be her mentor. The day passed quickly as she became acquainted with her new job.

At five o’clock, she accompanied her coworkers to the elevators and waited for a car to carry her back to the main lobby and the surface above. While she waited, she looked around at the other people walking the hallway and froze at the sight of a familiar face. Brian. As he passed by, his eyes met hers without so much as a glimmer of recognition. He’s really gone, she thought as he turned the corner and was out of sight.