Would you accept a one-way ticket to the future?
Earth is dying, but John Carlody has the chance to escape. He wins the most anticipated lotto ever; the opportunity to become part of CRYO, be one of fifty people to enjoy the latest cryonics technology and journey forward half a century.
However, a dream come true could be a making of a nightmare. CRYO isn’t what it pretends to be and John is about to discover their secrets. But will he be too late?
Magic Numbers (Chapter One)
The sales assistant, a gangly and short youngster with a metallic silver tattoo beading its way through his eyebrows, stared over the counter, open mouthed and wide eyed. John’s pupils dilated, his skin became momentarily flushed. Excitement, anticipation, disbelief; his face expressed it all. Wednesday morning, twelve minutes past ten, nothing had been planned for today, nothing was supposed to happen or to have happened, but in the cashier’s hand was something that could change everything. No, it would change everything.
Time had slowed to a grinding halt. John’s mind contorted as it tried to process this split second in time, trying to stop itself from exploding due to the multitude of mixed emotions that John was feeling at this precise and tiny moment in time. Emotion seeped through his veins, pumping his heart with power, a deep resonating booming in his chest that he was sure the whole world could hear. Minute sweat beads began to form on John’s temple, his skin flushed, causing every hair on his body to become aroused. Around him people were shopping, laughing, living, queuing, fighting, crying, and in the midst of it he stood silent, an ordinary chap, on an ordinary day, with one extra-unordinary feeling.
The space around him faded, the clunking and clinking of the daily grind became silent, the modern clean lines of the white shopping centre collapsing into blackness, ebbing away until there was only him, the cashier and the sleek circular booth in front of him.
The open-hanging mouth in front of him burst into a huge grin, revealing an enormous expanse of pearly white teeth that were studded with gold. Without waiting for a word to be said, the sales assistant held up the little metallic chip in his hand.
“Dude…you, like, won! I mean, you got the numbers, you’re in with a chance!”
The voice seemed slow to John, wound down, quiet, like it was being stretched out on a rubber band until it came quickly snapping back into place, searing the words into his consciousness.
“Dude, did you hear me? You won, you bloody well won!” The huge grin paused, and the cashier looked at John quizzically. “You OK?”
John paused momentarily, wondering if he were indeed OK, before nodding, slowly exhaling and letting the initial flicker of a smile come to his pounding cheeks. The cashier grinned again excitedly, his eyes almost obliterated as the teeth took over.
“One hell of a day for you, huh? I need to take your bio print card to register your details.”
Squinting slightly, John tried to make out what the cashier had said, his brain only assimilating data after the moment had passed, several seconds later than it normally did.
“Dude…your bio print card.”
“Oh yeah, sorry.” John fumbled inside his jacket, pulling out a small, uncomplicated brown wallet from the inside pocket. His multi-transport registration card, English Citizen ID, Extreme Evacuation card, aha, here it was, his Bio Print Card; a small rectangular object, his face in one corner, iris recognition in another just below where his fingerprint lay and just above where a tiny chip containing every single piece of computer data regarding his entire life existed. Train journey here, shopping trip there, everything was on this card, from his daily movements to his family’s whereabouts in case of an emergency. His building swipe had been broken for months, luckily, for otherwise the powers of England would even know when he was and wasn’t home. It was all crammed here, onto this one tiny card, his whole life. John handed the card to the thin, outstretched arm ahead of him, passing his entire existence over to the compete stranger in front of him.
“Ah!” The cashier grinned as he turned to face him. “John Carlody. Congratulations, Mr John Carlody! You might just be going to the future!! If you could just lean forwards.”
Still in a complete state of shock, John leant forwards as the man, with the entirety of John’s life hanging between his fingers, lifted a circular scanner much like a magnifying glass and held it against his eye. Tapping a small button on the top of the implement, a multitude of red lines amassed, reading John’s iris from top to bottom, sending thousands of electrical impulses of information wirelessly to the readout screen, where it reassembled the data and compared it to his card.
“Have to make sure, dude.” The cashier, Dwayne, as John now read on his name badge, grinned. “Can’t have you pretending, can we? Need to be on the lookout for bio jackers, otherwise that’s the end of me and this job!” He paused as he gave John a quizzical look. “You sure don’t seem to be very excited for someone who’s just won a ticket in the CRYO lottery…You sure this is your ticket?”
“Yes, it’s mine,” John replied, snatching the ticket away from the boy’s hand and heading off out of the shop. “See you in a thousand years.”
“Not if I see you on tonight’s network coverage!” Dwayne yelled with a grin before talking excitedly to the customer that had been behind John. Pointing after John as he disappeared through the sliding doors, Dwayne found his line of customers getting increasingly excited as they realised that it wasn’t impossible after all, that a simple, ordinary man could, and indeed had, won one of the rarest and most valuable lotto tickets. Tickets that were currently in circulation in numerous countries, tickets that, if they could be resold, would be worth millions of pounds. Not that any resale was possible. Now that John’s Bio Card reading was in the system, there was no other individual who could claim that ticket number. No, John was stuck with it alright. That was a definite.
Outside, on the thirteenth-story balcony of the shopping arcade, John slouched sideways onto a bench. He leaned forward and clasped his head in his hands, staring at the metal grated floor and trying to work out what the hell was wrong with him. He had just won one of the greatest prizes in Earth’s history, a place in the CRYO program, something that, ever since the leap in cryonics had been made, he’d wanted to experience. But he felt numb to it, numb to the fact that he bought a ticket in the first place, numb to the fact that he’d just, a single minute ago, won a place, and numb to the fact that if he got through, if he went all the way, he had just had the biggest change in destiny that anyone could imagine. He didn’t want to let the grin on his face grow bigger, or let his mind fully grasp what had just happened.
Shoving his hand into his pocket, John pulled out his phone, a thin, cylindrical object. Tapping a square blue button at the end, it flipped open, rolling out into a flat rectangle the size of a credit card. A tiny projection view screen appeared, alongside a virtual key pad and a small, constantly changing gallery of pictures, the current one showing a thin and beautiful brunette woman in her early 30s, a huge smile across her face.
“Work,” John said steadily whilst gazing at the picture of the woman. Why did he do this? He hadn’t needed to open the phone to make the call, but somehow he wanted to, wanted to torment himself that little bit more, wanted to make sure that, though this should’ve been a happy day in his life, it wasn’t, even if only for a second. He continued to stare at the image before him, letting stomach-dropping emotions rage through his body.
“John? John?” A faint voice was suddenly heard. Flipping the phone, John quickly released the small silicone-based earpiece and pushed it into his left ear whilst moving the phone up closer to his mouth.
“JOHN? Where the hell are you? Agnes is on the rampage over here. You were supposed to have those schematics to her by nine.”
“I can’t come in Hale. Something’s come up.”
“What?!” The woman’s voice at the end of the phone grew louder and agitated. “You can’t fucking do this to me again. We’re in deep shit, John, and you do this to me. I can’t believe it. You know who always gets the blame. Yes, me, whet—”
“Hale, I’m sorry. I just can’t,” John interrupted her.
“John, don’t hang up on me. JOHN, don’t you da—” But he already had.
Just the thought of going into the office on any normal day was enough to make him want to slit his wrists in the morning, but on a day like this, hell no. Agnes he could handle. He could normally worm his way around her, even if it made his skin crawl to do so. But Haley, no, she saw him for who he was, and that scared him, that made him not want to fuck up around her, which made him even more stressed than he already was.
“Shit!” John gasped, jumping to his feet. He’d left his damn Bio Card with the sales assistant and now he was going to have to go back and face that young, happy and exuberant ‘dude,’ Dwayne.
Running a hand through his messy brown hair, he breathed in the smoggy London air as he looked to the horizon. Somewhere below was the Thames, but you’d be lucky to see it through the smog at three stories up, let alone thirteen. But it was comforting to know that it was down there, water lapping at a higher level than it ever had, drowning out the sorrows of the modern world.
The skyline was more different than it had ever been. Development had not stopped, even through various terrorist attacks, and the sky was the only place left unconquered, so up and up the buildings went. Canary Wharf was long gone, replaced with something far bigger and greater. John remembered the demo day, a monumental moment for London as it announced to the world that it was saying goodbye to the old and hello to the new. The docklands area was now reformed into a great mini city of shops, residences and offices rising hundreds of blocks into the sky.
London’s more traditional features, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, were long smothered by rising river water, smog and other buildings. They were still there, of course, just no one could ever actually see them unless you were up close and personal, and great protective barriers rose up around them in an attempt to keep out rising river waters.
Across the trash-smothered Thames, the place where the wheel had once stood, still showed the mark of the day when it had broken its footing, sending hundreds of screaming people into the muddy waters below to meet their deaths. The site was a memorial, untouched by man and left to sink below the waters. The world had changed alright, and it seemed to be getting darker and greyer every day.
Stepping off the balcony and back into the sterilised shopping arcade, John made his way back to the shop where Dwayne still stood gossiping, animated, happy with life. He grinned as he saw John and held up his Bio Card.
“No, I didn’t mean this. I meant your brain!” He pointed across to John’s head. “Dude, this is the most exciting day of your life, and you seem like someone just died!! Live a little!!”
“Someone did what?”
“Die. Someone fucking died, alright? So I’m sorry that I’m not so excited about winning this bloody CRYO ticket.”
No sooner than the words were out of his mouth did John regret them. The lady in front of him turned, mouth wide, her in-vogue haircut swishing as she whirled around, knowing that if what he had just said was true, then she sure needed to touch him. Without a second thought, she threw herself at him, and John had no time to sidestep the woman’s grappling arms.
“Oh my God, you won a ticket? This man’s won a ticket!! He’s won,” she shrieked to the fellow passers-by who were all soon clambering around him.
“I need your autograph…for the future, you know.” She looked up at him, as if he were some strange form of deity. When had he become a celebrity? She pulled out a piece of paper, grabbed a pen off of the cashier desk, and thrust it at him “To Mandy, my wishes for your future! Then your name…?”
“John,” he replied. “John Carlody.”
The floodgates were well and truly open now, and with one fell swoop, John had managed to enter the world of the celebrity. His fifteen minutes of fame had started, and all around him people bustled and jostled to try and get a look at the man who had won a ticket, to see one of the luckiest men alive. Some gaped at him in awe, inspired by his courage. Others regarded him with jealousy, knowing that there was nothing they could do to take his place, but wishing there was some way nonetheless.
“Alright folks, enough. Back off a bit now. Come on, everyone. Steady there.”
John began to become increasingly anxious as more and more people flowed into his vision. But, it was useless. The throng pushed in harder and harder as every person tried to get a glance at the man. Passers-by joined the throng, trying to find out what had happened, not wanting to miss out on the slightest bit of insignificant daily gossip.
John cast his glance across to Dwayne, whose outgoing bubbly mood was now somewhat more affiliated with John’s. Beckoning John in his direction, he yelled out over the crowd.
“Over here…John…this way….”
The crowd, in their excited force, had managed to sweep John several metres from the kiosk, and it took some brute force to push his way over to Dwayne, where the boy opened a small hatch, allowing him to scramble through and join the cashier in the booth. Panting heavily, John pulled at his tie, loosening it, allowing him to gasp at the valuable air that his body was much in need of right now. His eyes darted around the shop, at the swarm of people that stretched as far as he could see, all trying to get to him, all trying to get a piece of him, all wanting to be able to say, “I was there when he got the ticket,” “I got his autograph,” “I saw him, he was nothing special.”
“It’s OK, dude.” Dwayne smiled. “We get this here all the time when people come to check their tickets.” Turning around to face the crowd, Dwayne held up his hands.
“Show’s over everyone. We’re done here. I’m gonna close up, so please back away and take your hands off of the kiosk or risk getting a shock.”
Flicking a switch just below the kiosk desk, a sudden humming filled John’s ears, and with a flash of light, a static electricity force field ran up the bars around the kiosk. A few members of the public who had not heeded Dwayne’s advice found themselves suddenly catapulted over backwards, not enough to do injury, mind you, but enough to jar their systems. Dwayne had given the legal warning, so they could not claim negligence on the kiosk operator.
John looked around, wondering what the hell happened now. They couldn’t leave the kiosk now that the force field was up, and there seemed to be no other way out. He always wondered how the employees got into these booths as never, not once, had he seen someone entering or leaving one.
“That’s fucking great, Dwayne,” he said, stressing the cashier’s name. “Just what I needed, to be stuck in a sodding lotto booth on the thirteenth floor. Marvellous. Bloody marvellous.”
Dwayne looked at him in exasperation.
“Dude, you need to chill out a bit.”
“Stop calling me dude.”
“I mean it.”
“OK, OK,” Dwayne said as he tried to quiet the situation. Outside, seeing that the kiosk was closed and there was no getting to John, people started to drift away. A few determined stragglers sat down and crossed their legs, adamant that they would get their excitement of the day.
“So what? We just wait for everyone to go away?” John asked in an irritated tone.
“Hell no,” Dwayne replied with a grin as he tapped a small button on the floor. “We go down here!”
The floor, which up until now John had not once glanced at, was slightly transparent, enough to see that there was something below. As Dwayne tapped the button, a small, circular hatch opened in the floor, two metal plates retracting into the floor and revealing two Perspex semicircles which could be flipped back.
“I’m gonna get so sacked for this,” Dwayne said as he flipped back each side of the hatch. “We ain’t supposed to use this during our shift unless it’s a total emergency, and we definitely ain’t supposed to allow someone else in it.”
“This is an emergency!”
“Uh, tell me: can you see any guns or bombs? That is an emergency. But hell, I like you…Now, step on the area inside the hatch.”
Following this order, both men stepped onto the space created when the hatch doors had been opened.
“Close, ain’t it?” Dwayne grinned in John’s face as he tapped another button on the kiosk wall and jumped onto the hatch pad, having to stand uncomfortably close.
“Hold on!” Dwayne said excitedly. “I love this bit of my job!” And with a sudden wave of nerves and excitement, John felt the floor beneath them start to descend. Slowly at first, increasing in speed every second or so that, twenty seconds later, the two of them were rotating slowly as they disappeared through the floor of the kiosk
“This is cool!” John beamed with amazement as the floor of the booth passed his eye level. “I can’t believe this. I always wondered how you got in and out!”
“That’s why we ain’t supposed to use it mid-shift. The company wants to keep the mystery of it. Still, I can find a new job, I guess.”
“No, you won’t need to. I’ll talk to them, tell them it was an emergency, it wasn’t your fault. You were rescuing me. I’d got way out of my depth.”
They fell silent as the floor continued to drop, taking them down the building through a small, cylindrical elevator system. Outside of the lift, it was dark, and John guessed that they were dropping through some kind of shaft that he never even knew existed. He didn’t even know these types of lifts existed until now. Inside, the cylindrical lift was lit by a pale blue light. A transparent ceiling had closed over the top so that he could look up the shaft from where they had come from, the kiosk now several floors above them. It was a completely surreal experience. His whole day was turning out to be that way.
“I’m sorry about, you know, the person that died.”
“Oh, yes,” John said quietly as he looked back to Dwayne. “I’m sorry, too.”
“Who was it?”
John stuffed his hands into his pockets and lowered his head, not wanting to talk about it.
“Dude, sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“My wife. It was my wife.”
“Man, that is harsh.”
“You don’t know the meaning of harsh. How old are you? Eighteen?! You’ll know harsh soon enough. The whole world is fucking harsh!” John snapped back without control.
Dwayne raised an eyebrow at him.
“OK, chill,” he said before he looked away out to the darkness and avoided John’s apologetic looks.
The final few minutes of the trip from thirteenth floor to ground were held in silence, both men wrapped up in their individual thoughts. A slowing of the lift signalled that they were about to stop, and with a clunk, the base touched down. To John’s right, a doorway appeared in the shaft that they were descending into, allowing soft natural light to flow into the lift. This time, the side of the lift split and Dwayne ushered him out.
“OK, dude, this way.”
Dwayne crept off down a dark hallway with sparse walls that were of a monotonous grey. Several steps ahead of him, Dwayne disappeared around a bend, shortly after which John heard a gruff voice utter a number of obscenities. Rounding the corner himself, John was met by a burly security guard and saw Dwayne in the corner being yelled at by, who John could only guess, was his superior.
“I’m really sorry,” John said, stepping forward and trying to interrupt the argument.
“Who the hell are you?” the older man said, turning on him. “You think you can just get into our elevator system as you please? They’re only made for one. What if the whole damn thing had broken with you two inside it? You bloody idiot.” He looked back at Dwayne. “And, as for you, you can get your coat and get out of here.”
Nodding his head, Dwayne sighed.
“Told you,” he muttered as he turned and looked towards John. “At least I got to meet a CRYO winner. Take care, John.” And he lurched off towards the exit.
“Wait…what did you say?” his supervisor said, calling after him and then looking towards John. “You’ve won a CRYO ticket?”
John nodded as Dwayne turned and headed back in their direction.
“You’ve definitely won a ticket?”
“Yes,” Dwayne interrupted. “That’s what I was trying to tell you. He was getting swarmed with people up there. The elevator was the only way out.”
“Yes, yes,” said the supervisor, who hadn’t taken his eyes off of John since the CRYO word had been mentioned. “You did good, yes, you did good. You recorded it in the system?”
“Yes, I always do. I know how to do my job,” Dwayne replied hopefully.
“Ahhh.” The supervisor rubbed his chin and nodded, a slight disappointment on his face, his eyes still on John. “Forget what I said. Get something to eat, and then get back up there. And you…Congratulations, that is a very fortunate prize you have there.”
“Yes, I know,” John said, trying to hide the unsettled feeling that had swept over him with a false smile. “Look, I really better get out of here and let you folks get on. Dwayne really saved my bacon up there. I’m glad you’re giving him another chance.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” came the slow reply, as if the man was thinking something through whilst still rubbing his chin.
His behaviour really starting to cause a dubious atmosphere, John smiled briefly and made a move to walk off down the corridor in the hopes that he could make a swift exit. His Bio Card had been read, so there was nothing this man could gain by doing anything to him, but nonetheless, something wasn’t right here. The fight or flight feeling was definitely starting to pump through John’s body.
Wishing for a swift exit, John stepped forward, hoping to avoid another unpleasant situation. Upon passing the man, John’s stomach drop-flipped as his arm was grabbed by a large and bony hand.
“Wait…” The man rummaged around in his trousers before pulling out a piece of paper and a pen. “Can you autograph this? My wife will be so excited that I met you,” he said with an inane grin.