Adrian expected to see the other agents descend at any moment. Instead, a flash of movement from the top of the stairwell caught his eye. He looked up just in time to see a small metal object clattering down the stairs. A cold rush of panic coursed through him. “Run!”
He took two large strides and then shoved Olivia as hard as he could. They flew sidelong down the hallway, landing hard on stone, his body crushing hers in a protective shield. A second later, his night vision goggles flared painfully, and the entire room erupted in flames.
The grenade was as loud as a sonic boom in the silent chamber. The blast threw everyone to the ground. Shattered stone exploded from the walls and ceiling, followed by the thick pall of smoke and rock dust.
Adrian’s heart hammered in his chest.
Someone is still here.
His gaze shot to Wu. The agent was clearing rubble from around his legs and then proceeded to army-crawl back towards the stairwell, retrieving his CF-05 submachine gun. He pointed at the door. “You two—out, now!”
Before Adrian could react, a crack from overhead stopped him in his tracks. All eyes shot to the stairwell. A dark figure appeared, silhouetted by a hellish inferno behind him. Another gunshot blasted, followed by the whine of the man’s semi-automatic weapon as it unleashed a round past them. The attacker wheeled back from the force of the weapon’s discharge. Bullets rained from the ceiling, sparking, and ricocheting off stone. Adrian’s whole body tensed, pressing down tighter on top of Olivia.
When the bullets finally subsided, Agent Wu burst to his feet, streaking low across the chamber. He ducked into a cross-corridor and skidded to a stop, leaving only the barrel of his weapon visible around the corner.
Taking advantage of the momentary chaos, the assailant leapt from the stairs, charging headlong into the chamber and towards the solitary exit. He passed in a blur, leapfrogging over bodies as he went. He was almost to the door when another round cut the air, this time coming from Wu’s weapon. The fire caught the man on the back of his torso. Within seconds, his bullet-riddled form crumpled to the floor and the temple fell silent again.
Swearing, one of the agents next to Adrian rose to his feet. “You okay?”
“I’ll live.” Adrian’s eyes were on Olivia.
“How about you, ma’am?” the agent said.
“I’ve been better,” Olivia said, rubbing her arm.
“You’re lucky he got you out of the way before the grenade detonated,” the agent said. “If you had been at the bottom of that stairwell . . .”
Agent Wu joined them. “You’re safe now.”
The long, quiet walk to her lab usually calmed her. This morning, however, the solitary trip had Olivia on edge. What she had learned hours before about her lab partner left no doubt in her mind that whoever had killed Andreas had walked this very same path. As far as she knew, his attacker could still be nearby, and she couldn’t escape the feeling that a target now rested on her back.
Five years ago, Alexander Tso had walked Olivia down this very corridor, introducing her to CyberGen by proudly showing off its state-of-the-art lab.
“I thought that maybe you could use a dedicated lab space—a facility where you can push the limits of the work you have been developing these last few years.”
“Surely you know I can’t consider leaving Boston,” she had said, growing annoyed. “Some of the best work in the field is being done at the MIT AI Lab.”
“Olivia, let’s be honest. Are you not limited there? By the resources of the university, the extent of your grants, your immature tenure?”
Olivia didn’t appreciate the man’s presumptuous attitude. But she couldn’t argue that he had a point.
“Answer this,” Tso had continued. “Do you wish to probe the inner workings of the mind, Olivia? To unlock the full potential of mankind?”
“Of course I do. That’s why I study synthetic intelligence.”
“Then the job is yours,” Tso said simply.
Olivia stared at the stranger in shock. “But I haven’t even interviewed for the position!”
“On the contrary, Ms. Chen. I have been following your work in neural networks for the last two years. It shows incredible promise. This isn’t an interview,” he said, his hazel eyes flashing warmly. “It’s a job offer.”
Olivia hadn’t known what to say. “Respectfully, the technologies required to run my research are—”
“Enormously expensive?” he finished. “I’m already aware.” He smiled broadly. “The lab was completed six months ago. Funded entirely by a ghost investor.”
Arriving at a glass door, Olivia stopped short, speechless.
“Beyond this door,” Tso continued, “is one of the most advanced machine learning facilities in the world. All the equipment you could possibly need would be here at your disposal.” He reached for the door. “Would you like to see your lab now?”
Olivia could barely manage a reply. “You are offering me my own lab?”
“I can think of nobody more qualified. Except maybe your new partner—Andreas Kohler. I will introduce you shortly.”
“But Mr. Tso—”
“Ms. Chen—the advances you are making will provide an incalculable value to science, not to mention the commercial prospects. Tso stopped and looked her squarely in the eyes. “Imagine what you could accomplish here, Olivia.”
Then Tso led her through the glass doors and showed her the lab. A moment later, he handed her an offer letter with her new salary.
Olivia’s jaw had dropped.
That was five years ago.
She had left her job at the AI lab at MIT and never looked back.
Now, as Olivia arrived at the same glass door, she realized how far they had come since that day. Exactly as Tso had predicted, Olivia’s research had produced astonishing results, particularly in the last three months. The breakthroughs would usher in entire new paradigms of thinking. Andreas and Olivia had agreed to keep their discovery quiet until the implications were more fully understood. Olivia knew that when the time was right, they would go public with the most transformative science in human history.
If only she had known, it would come at a tragic personal cost.