The Wesley Disappearance

Preface: The Kidnapping

In which we learn the story of the Wesley Mansion.

Seventeen years ago, on February the twenty-ninth, seventeen-year-old Braidon Wesley came home from his after-school job to an empty house. He dropped his keys on the table in the hall, as usual, and went into the kitchen to get a snack. After preparing it, he took it upstairs to his room, so that he could eat while writing a letter to his cousin. Turning his radio on, he went to his desk, and when he got there, he discovered that his mother had left a newspaper article on his chair. Upon reading it, he learned that a series of kidnappings had been going on in the surrounding neighborhoods. The strange thing was, all the victims had been males between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. Not a particularly popular age group with kidnappers. The main suspect was a relatively unknown and rather reclusive Russian scientist claiming to have made a startling discovery in medical science. Unfortunately, no solid evidence could be found supporting the hypothesis that he was the guilty party. Along with the article, his mother had left him a short note. It read: 'I'll be home at six. Lock the door, and be careful. Love, Mom.'

"Alright," he thought to himself, "I'll be careful, and I locked the door when I got home." With that thought, he went back to his snack and letter. Unfortunately, although he had locked the door, he had forgotten to put the deadbolt on. If his radio had not been playing, he would have heard the front door open slowly, and footsteps creeping stealthily up the stairs to the second story, where his room was located. The footsteps continued to pad lightly down the carpeted hall, until they stopped just outside the closed bedroom door. Hearing the radio going rather loudly, the intruder nudged the door open quietly and crept in. Taking a small vial out of his shirt pocket, the man soaked a small cloth with the reddish liquid contained within. Taking slow measured steps, he went to stand directly behind Braidon, who had tired of letter writing and was dozing lightly with his head resting on his arms. All of a sudden, with all traces of stealth gone, the man grabbed the back of Braidon's collar, jerked him into the sitting position, and plastered the cloth over his nose and mouth. Braidon jumped up, and tried to fend off his attacker, but the effects of the liquid's fumes were already taking their hold. As he collapsed, he managed to knock the vial out of the man's hands. It rolled under the desk, and there deposited its contents, leaving a small, almost undetectable stain.

Had anyone in the general vicinity been home from work at three o'clock that afternoon, they would have seen a burly, middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair and a semi-bushy mustache carrying a limp body out to a waiting car. After the car drove off, it never returned to that neighborhood, or any of the surrounding ones, either. The strange kidnappings ceased, and although no other people turned up missing, the families who had already lost sons found almost no consolation in that fact. The Wesley family moved shortly after Braidon turned up missing, and the house remained empty ever since. His parents were so distraught after his kidnapping, however, that they couldn't even bear to take much of the furniture in the house. One Inspector Liam O'Riley of the FBI conducted a short investigation of the disappearances. However, no conclusive evidence turned up. The case was declared unsolvable and closed shortly thereafter. The discreet stain under the desk went undiscovered, and, in time, the neighborhood forgot about the strange disappearances. Almost.

Chapter 1: The Dare

In which the Wesley Mansion gets an unexpected visitor.

It was a dark and stormy night. Just kidding. Actually, it started on a rather clear night, with a full moon beaming brightly in a cloudy sky studded with stars. Although on that night, a dark story began to reveal itself to me. You may ask yourself, if it was so unsettling, why would I want to recall it? The answer, as a book I once read told me, is that it was an adventure, and adventures, no matter how disturbing, are meant to be shared. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me introduce myself. My name is Casey Reese; I'll be eighteen on the twenty-ninth of February, and have I got a story for you!

It all started at my friend Ándrea's birthday party, about a year ago. It was a Friday night slumber party, (not that slumber was the first thing on anyone's mind) and at around one o'clock in the morning, we decided to play Truth or Dare. At first the questions were pretty average for the game: have you ever kissed anyone, have you ever stolen anything, etc. When my turn rolled around, I picked dare, the first person to do so. My dare came from one of the more popular but rather witchy girls who always seem to frequent these types of gatherings, but are never directly invited. She dared me to go out in the middle of the night, and go to the old Wesley Mansion on the hill close to Ándrea's house. When I got there I had to go upstairs and get the key to the room from which Braidon Wesley had disappeared seventeen years earlier, and bring it back as proof that I had actually gone all the way. 'Oh, drat!' I thought to myself when I heard that, 'Of all the things that I could be dared to do, she had to pick that one!' Did I mention that he had disappeared on the very day that I was born? As you can probably guess, I wasn't too hot on the idea. However, I have never been one to admit to a weakness, even if declining would have been the more intelligent course of action. "Fine," I told her, "I'll go. I'll be back in under an hour, and if I'm not, send the posse!" (That last comment with an air of sarcasm) I took my backpack with me, and left the house.

Fortunately, I know my neighborhood like the back of my hand, and as I didn't have to navigate my way through any deep, dark forests, I moved swiftly and without mistake down the darkened streets. Finally, I came to the long driveway of my destination. Walking up to the door, I placed my hand on the doorknob, expecting to have to fight with it to gain entry to the house. To my surprise, the door fell open at my touch. 'Strange,' I thought, 'I would have expected much more resistance after all these years.' As soon as that thought passed, I went in. I found myself standing in the front hallway of a house that, to my knowledge, had not had a living soul in it for almost eighteen years. The house had apparently been well built, as it was still holding together remarkably well, although it had not been cared for. Dust was everywhere, and there were white cloths over the remaining furniture; mute testimonies to the house's long abandonment. Taking out my flashlight, I made my way along the dark hall to the staircase. The house smelled musty, and dampness hovered in the air like a curtain. The staircase creaked in places, and I was careful about not stepping in spots where the wood looked less than sturdy. The last thing I wanted was to step through a stair and find myself in the woodwork with who-knows-what-else. As soon as I was upstairs, I navigated the short corridor with more ease than I had anticipated. Apparently hearing so many stories about the place ever since kindergarten had paid off. 'Now to find that stinkin' key,' I thought sullenly, although truth be told, I was uncomfortable with the whole situation. 'How on earth should I know where he kept it?' (Unfortunately, the key's location was a detail left out of all the many stories about this place that made the rounds) Finally, I found myself standing in front of the closed door to Braidon Wesley's bedroom. 'This is it,' I muttered under my breath. 'No point dawdling. Let's go.'

For some reason, as I prepared to open the door, I felt the inexplicable urge to creep. Also, had there been another person with me, I know for a fact that we would have been talking in hushed whispers. Slowly I reached for the doorknob, and turned it. I was, for some unknown reason, glad that the door made no noise as it swung open on loose hinges. A puff of ancient air swelled around me when I opened the door. It was as if the room itself had been holding its breath all these years, waiting for someone to open it so that it could exhale. I went in slowly, and shut the door behind me.

Chapter 2: The Key

In which Casey finds two different kinds of keys.

The door made a soft clicking noise as it shut. I was alone in the room, and I was no longer scared. For some reason, I felt as if the room welcomed me. It was saying, 'It's been so long since anyone has visited! Won't you stay a while?' I smiled at nothing in particular. I thought about my answer instead of saying it, as I didn't want to break the almost peaceful silence, 'I can't stay,' I told it. 'I don't belong here, and besides, I'd miss my family after a couple of days. But I'll come back and visit.' It was true, too. Ever since I had walked into that room, I knew that I would want to come back, although the next time, I planned to bring Ándrea with me. After all, adventures are meant to be shared.

I set my backpack down on the dusty carpet and walked around the room's perimeter, lifting dustsheets here and there, and examining the furniture that lay underneath. It was not a particularly large room, and was furnished in a rather sparse manner. There was a bookcase against the wall where the door was, on the left, and a poster of a rather flashy space battle to the right. Against the far-left wall was a night table, and in the far-left corner sat the bed. The wall at the end of the room was barren of furniture, but held a bulletin board, and a few more tattered posters. Against the right wall, directly under the room's lone window, was a battered roll-top desk and a chair. You may call it feminine intuition if you wish, but as soon as I laid eyes on the desk, I felt again as if the room were talking to me, readily giving up its long kept secrets. 'The desk holds the key,' it told me without words, 'look there.' I felt a sudden urge to go and look at the desk. I walked up to it and reached out with my hand. The wood was smooth and cool to the touch, although scarred in places, probably from being banged with the chair by a certain teenager with a tendency to get up too quickly. I opened the top drawer, and there, sitting on top of a stack of yellowing papers was the key to the bedroom. The key that I was supposed to bring back as proof that I had actually gone all the way in the house. It was about three inches long, and of the skeleton key variety. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. Still, I felt a nagging thought at the back of my mind, something that told me that I had found the wrong 'key'. 'Well?' I 'asked' the house, 'What is it that you want me to find? What other key is there?' It 'responded' without any words, just a feeling, 'Under the desk, silly. Look under the desk.' I proceeded to do so, and as I bent down to look under the desk, my eye caught a flash of dull, washed out red about the size of a quarter. It was the stain left by the liquid that the intruder had dropped.

Chapter 3: The Stain

In which Casey learns part of the method of Braidon's kidnapping.

As soon as I saw the stain, I knew for a fact that it had been overlooked during the initial investigation. After all, when I was thirteen, I had written a short paper on the subject, so I had had to research the old police reports, and I was positive that this detail had been left out. I decided that this was probably because it had not been noticed, not because it had been deliberately omitted. I moved the chair so that I could get a closer look. I still had no idea what the stuff was, and frankly, it looked like dried up cool-aid. I thought to myself, 'Maybe that's why it's not mentioned in the police reports. After all, why would they care about a little bit of spilled drink under the desk? All you could gather from that is that the inhabitant of the room had a tendency toward making messes!' Still, I decided to take a small amount back with me to examine later under a microscope, just in case it was something worth knowing about. I got up, and brought my backpack over to the desk and sat down again. (It was three twenty-five exactly when I started investigating again.) Being the curious and nature-collecting person that I am, I always carried at least three small collection vials, a scalpel and a pair of tweezers in my backpack. That way, if I found any interesting specimens of whatever, I could collect them when I found them instead of having to come back later.

I wiggled my way back under the desk and, using the scalpel to scrape up bits of the stain, began to collect a small sample. As I was doing this, I began to notice an unusual odor. It smelled faintly like chemicals, but with a sweet hint about it. It seemed to be coming from my collection tube. I brought it up closer to my face and sniffed it tentatively, which was very dumb, if I do say so myself. The next thing that I remembered was waking up, lying under the desk with a horrible headache. My watch read three fifty-two, twenty-seven minutes after I had smelled the substance that composed the stain. Apparently, I had discovered some obscure type of knockout drug, although in all my studies of various subjects, I couldn't remember any, past or present, that had been so red.

Feeling rather foolish, I quickly sealed the vial containing my sample, and placed it in the largest pocket of my backpack. Standing up, I brushed myself off, and put on my backpack. Making sure that the physical key was still in my pocket, I proceeded to go downstairs. I decided that I wouldn't tell anybody about what I had found, since I didn't yet know what it meant. Making sure to shut the front door on the way out, I ran through the still darkened streets, and back to Ándrea's house where all the girls were waiting for me.

As soon as I got upstairs, they all gathered around me and began throwing questions and comments at me.

"Did you make it to the house?"

"Were you scared?"

"Did you bring back the key?"

"Man, you're filthy!" (That last comment coming from Ándrea, and being in regard to the fact that I had been crawling around under furniture, on the floor of an abandoned house, and both my front and back were streaked with dirt and dust.) I did my best to answer all their inquiries.

"Yes, I made it. No, I was not. Yes, I brought it with me; it's in my pocket." And of course, "Yes, Ándrea, I know that, but at four in the morning I really do not care." After that, I spent the next half-hour enlightening them as to what I had been doing, and what I found, etc. I was, however, careful to not disclose any information as to the stain, or its effects when inhaled. After that, we went to sleep, and the next morning passed rather uneventfully. In the early afternoon, we all went back to our respective dwellings. My parents were not around to talk to, as they had left two days before the sleepover for a trip to Hawaii for their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. I finished my homework for the coming Monday, went to bed, and slept some more!

Chapter 4: Investigation by Self

In which Casey does some research, and discovers something worth knowing.

When I awoke again, it was around three o'clock in the afternoon. I rolled over feeling slightly disoriented, (probably the aftereffects of the red substance I had inhaled night before) and then sat up in bed. The memories of the previous night came flooding back to me in rush. I then decided that it was time to investigate the residue that I had found under the desk in Braidon's room. I climbed out of bed, and got dressed quickly. As soon as I got downstairs, I ate a quick lunch, took my keys and my backpack, and headed for the school.

Upon arriving, I got out of the car and jogged into the large redbrick building. As usual on the weekends, the school was almost empty. However, it was left open on Saturdays as well as during the week, so that students could do any required library and/or lab work whenever they needed to. I planned to do some of both. I went to the student lab, got the necessary equipment, and sat down. Fortunately, the previous occupant of the lab had just left, so I wouldn't have to worry about privacy. I made a slide of the substance that composed the stain, being careful to avoid inhaling it, and placed it on the microscope. I looked at it under the second highest magnification possible, and what I found shocked me. Not only could I see little bits of the materials used to make it, but there also appeared to be something moving in it! I upped the magnification. Yes! There definitely were at least three small, pinkish oblong things with tiny arm-like protrusions squirming around in a small part of it. Adjusting the focus, I found that there were thousands more in the small sample that I had collected, but they were dead, it appeared. At least, they were no longer moving. 'Could they be nanites?' I wondered. Though nanites—microscopic machines that could theoretically be placed in an organism to, in a sense, fix it—were usually associated with science fiction (of which I have always read copious amounts), I had to check.

Using the 'cutting edge in educational technology' that our high school had just received, I scanned the image into the computer, and began a search for a match between the things that I had found and any other known substance. The only thing that the poor, confused computer could ascertain was that they appeared to be artificial. Aside from that, I could find no match between them and anything else in its database. "Drat!" I thought to myself, "That didn't get me very far. Besides, nano-technology isn't advanced enough to create that kind of thing yet. In fact, most of that kind of stuff is still theoretical. Isn't it?" I decided to hit the library next, and try to find articles on nanite development and usage.

For an hour and a half, I pored over medical journals, newspaper articles, and microfilm records. I found almost nothing, and what I did find was of absolutely no value whatsoever. I had, however, been correct in thinking that nano-technology was almost entirely theoretical in terms of practical application. So far, it had been impossible to make artificial structures as small as cells that could perform any kind of medical work once released within the human body. Just drawing the plans for something that tiny and complex would be nearly painful! Finally, I gave up. I hadn't found a single thing that could help me find out what that strange red drug with knockout properties was. I gathered my things together and left.

I was on my way out of the library when it hit me. "Wait a minute! That doctor guy, the main suspect in all those disappearances!" I blurted out, "He was claiming to have made some kind of shocking breakthrough in the medical sciences. What if he had perfected some kind of nano-technology! If he had, that would explain why he might have been kidnapping people! He would have needed test subjects!" I spun on my heel and ran back into the library.

Upon getting back inside, I deposited my backpack in a heap, and sat at one of the computers. I then began a detailed search for anything related to a Doctor Arkady Gorshkov.

Chapter 5: Dr. Arkady Gorshkov

In which Casey learns about Dr. Gorshkov, and asks herself a question.

Upon getting home again at 8:30 that night, I was exhausted! My eyes and neck hurt from reading for so many hours, and my brain felt like it was about to explode. However, I wasn't going to let that stop me from finishing what I wanted to do. As my parents weren't home, there was no point in sitting at the table to eat dinner. I fixed myself a sandwich and took it upstairs to my room. Once there, I shut the door, put my 'dinner' on my desk, and fished the research I had compiled out of my backpack, which I then hung on its peg by my bed.

Sitting down, I began looking over my notes. Although Dr. Gorshkov's medical specialty didn't specifically deal with nano-technology, it seemed to me that it might have been at least indirectly linked. (Of course, you have to remember that this is coming from the girl who almost always has her nose buried in a science fiction book) As it turned out, Dr. Gorshkov was dealing in the relatively experimental science of cryogenics: the chemical freezing of a body of an ill individual, usually right before or after death, so that they can be revived sometime in the future when their disease or other ailment can be cured. It made sense to me; why else would people from that age group have been kidnapped, other that to be used as guinea pigs?

As it was too late to go out again, I finished my sandwich, got ready for bed, and went to get some sleep. I told myself, just as I was bordering between sleep and awake, that I would have to go to the police the following morning. I kept my promise, too.

Chapter 6: The Police

In which Casey goes to get help, and gets ignored.

I woke up early the next morning to get ready for church, and as I got ready, I began thinking about what I would have to do next in my 'investigation'. It was fairly obvious that the next logical step was to take both my findings and a small sample of the red drug to the police. I made up my mind that I would do so as soon as I got out of church. After service ended, I went home, changed, and transferred about half of the sample of the red drug that I had into another vial, and put it in my backpack. Taking my backpack with me, I then proceeded to go to the police station.

As soon as I arrived, I went straight to the front desk and asked to talk to the county police commissioner. After about fifteen minutes of waiting, I was finally shown to his office. He asked me what the problem was, so I told him all about what I had discovered concerning the stain under the desk and Dr. Gorshkov. Then I showed him the sample. After I had finished, he looked at me for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a minute or so, and then he stood. Looking directly at me, he said, "Ma'am, I appreciate your concern, but I don't think that you have a very good basis for your argument."

"What do you mean I don't have a good basis?" I questioned, "I showed you the sample and I told you about the effects when inhaled!"

He looked at me again and responded, "Young lady, you said yourself that it was very late when you went into the house. It is a very real probability that when you laid down, your body saw it as an opportunity for sleep, and simply shut down. In addition, this is already a closed case. Even if what you're saying did have a factual basis, which I am not saying it does, it wouldn't help get those boys back anyway. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do. Good day." It was a casual dismissal of facts if I ever heard one. I was extremely annoyed, but what was I going to do? Of course, giving up was never an option. If I had to figure this out all by myself, I was going to do it, one way or another. I decided that the only thing I could do now was conduct more research, starting with the crimson substance contained in the small vial in my backpack. For the next week, however, I was too busy with school to be able to conduct any more research, and I waited anxiously for the coming of the weekend.

Chapter 7: A Drug Called Vitracine

In which Casey discovers some things about the properties of the unusual stain.

As soon as Saturday rolled around, I went to the state library, which was only about an hour from my house, so I could conduct some more research. It had the most complete records of almost every scientific discovery from the last two centuries. I hoped that they would have some information on my strange little stain.

I arrived around twelve-thirty and immediately went in and began working on the computer systems. Starting a search for the drug by entering its unique properties and attributes, I pulled out a book and prepared to wait for a long time, as I expected that the computer system might have some trouble finding anything. As it turned out, I didn't have long to wait. The computer displayed the word "waiting" for about five minutes and then stopped. On the screen were the words:

Search Item(s) found: 1

See: Vitracine

Exotic Drugs of the Asian Continent

Gorshkov, Dr. Arkady L.

Medical Non-fiction

Serial Number: 8432073-946G

Needless to say, I was very surprised at this turn of events. I hurriedly ran to find the book. Once I had located it, I took it back to where I had all my stuff. I then skimmed through the table of contents. There was a chapter called Vitracine; I turned to it.

India, Land of Mystery. It was one of the many stops that Dr. Gorshkov made on his research trip through Asia. It seems that when he was in a remote village in the mountains, an old woman drew him aside and offered him a strange red drug. She called it 'sona,' which means 'to sleep' in Hindi. She said it could cure sleeplessness almost instantaneously. He took it from her in the hopes of discovering what it was, and if it could have any real medical applications.

Dr. Gorshkov went on to outline all the research that he had done on the Indian drug. Vitracine, as he renamed it, not only caused prolonged unconsciousness, but also severely impaired a person's pain responses. This, Gorshkov believed, could make it useful in surgeries. He discovered that it was similar to a narcotic in many ways. He finally concluded that Vitracine was an opiate; a drug derived from part or all of the plant known as the Opium poppy. Not surprising since most of the commercially obtained opium in the U.S. comes from farms in India.

The rest of the chapter went on to talk about how he had tried to introduce it to the rest of the medical community as an anesthetic with remarkable pain reducing properties. Here the chapter ended, rather abruptly, I might add. The book then started going off about other research he had accomplished.

I decided that I would cross-reference my findings with those of different medical journals of the period in question. (If you'll remember, before I was only checking for references to the drug in books) My search yielded only one result. It was mentioned in an obscure medical journal about twenty years old. It picked up the story where Gorshkov had left off.

It seems that about seven months after Arkady Gorshkov went semi-public with his findings, Vitracine was discovered to possess a few unpleasant properties as well. It seems that it had side effects after long term usage. It caused minute nerve damage after just three doses, and if exposure was continued, every two doses caused the damage to worsen exponentially. Also, motor responses would be partially impaired with long term use of the drug, and reflex actions in response to pain became almost nonexistent in subjects that had been on the drug for more than a month. Each of these problems by themselves would have been grounds to completely cease all experimentation with the drug. All three of them together caused the medical community to drop Vitracine like a red-hot poker. Gorshkov was shamed in front of his peers, and disdained in the medical community. He decided to give up his research on Vitracine. It was then that he moved on to the highly theoretical study of cryogenics. He believed that he could devise a method of chemical freezing that would not only suspend a body's illness, but would also keep the body from aging and decay. A virtual liquid "stasis field," if you will.

Of course, nobody believed him at all. He was ridiculed by all who knew of his new "calling." I think that it was because of those two embarrassments that he began to do all his work in private, not sharing his research or findings with anyone. In fact, his claim of a "startling breakthrough in medical science" was the first that the world had heard of him in over two decades.

I had formulated my hypothesis like any good scientist/observer; however, proving it was going to be an entirely different matter. I had run up against a proverbial brick wall that I could not climb. I was going to have to find some way to get around it, instead. As I had no other leads at that point, I decided to go back to where it all began, the Wesley Mansion. And this time, I was going to take Ándrea with me.

Chapter 8: House on a Hill Revisited

In which Casey and Ándrea stumble onto something…literally.

It took me the rest of the week to convince Ándrea to accompany me back to the Wesley Mansion. After six days of begging, she told me on that Friday night that she would go with me the next day, on one condition, "That you don't tell horror stories about all the bugs that live in every nook and cranny of the whole place!" I agreed that I wouldn't tell any bug stories the whole day; something that would take just about all the restraint I had, since it's very fun to try to make bug-hating people twitch.

That Saturday, Ándrea came over around twelve in the afternoon, and we began preparing for our "expedition." We had an early lunch together, and then made extra sandwiches to take with us. I packed my backpack with all kinds of neat toys, such as collection vials, a pair of forceps, and two scalpels, just in case we found any interesting specimens to take back with us. I also included a small Polaroid camera for recording any incriminating evidence we might happen to run across.

By the time we headed out, it was close to one o'clock. As we walked along the street looking rather conspicuous with our bulging backpacks, I filled Ándrea in on the details of my previous trip to the Wesley Mansion, and all the subsequent events leading up to our return. When I was finished, she stared at me as if I had completely gone over the deep end—something she does rather frequently.

"You've got to be kidding me!" she said incredulously. "You actually want me to believe that you found a nice red knockout drug on the floor of Braidon Wesley's bedroom? And not only that, but that you can also trace the drug back to Dr. Gorshkov?"

"Yep."

"…Okay."

At that moment, I was very glad that my best friend was as strange as I was. It came in handy periodically.

"So," she began, "what are we looking for when we get there?"

"I don't know," I told her. "I'll know it when I see it."

When we arrived at the old house, and went in the front door, I commented on my earlier observation that the door worked far too well for something in a place that had been abandoned as long as the Wesley Mansion had. Ándrea agreed with me. We decided to start our search on the second story, where I had found the stain. After two hours of looking, we were no further in our quest than when we had begun. Not counting the fact that after searching all the cabinets, we now possessed an old, moldy, coverless copy of A Tale of Two Cities. Oh, boy…

By that time, it was nearing three-thirty, and we were hungry. We discussed our next course of action over slightly squished sandwiches. By the time we were through, we had decided to begin the next round of our search in the downstairs bedrooms. We packed up and started down the staircase. Unfortunately, we happened to put our feet down on the same step at the same time. It was more than the poor, termite-infested wood could handle. With a despondent groan, the step gave out underneath us, and we crashed through the rotten boards of the staircase into the woodwork below.

We lay on the floor for about thirty seconds, wiping our eyes, coughing out sawdust, and checking ourselves over to make sure there were no serious injuries. When we finally stood up, we saw that we were in a small tunnel-like area underneath the 'hole-y' staircase. It was fairly dark, with the only illumination coming from our flashlights, and a faint glow at the other end of the tunnel. We began to walk toward it, all the while cracking jokes about the "light at the end of the tunnel." I had expected it to take no more than thirty seconds to get to the end, which I had assumed would be at the end of the house. However, at the end of a minute and a half, I was becoming confused. The tunnel went for about twenty feet, and then angled left and began a slight downward slope. After another minute, I estimated that we were now approximately a hundred feet behind the house, and a little over fifty feet underground.

After we had rounded the bend, we could see that the light was coming from one old, dusty bulb swinging on a cord above a wooden door. We arrived at the door, and Ándrea turned to me. "Well," she began. "What do you think?"

"You remember how I told you I'd know what we were looking for when we found it?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I think we just found it."

Chapter 9: The Experiments

In which the last piece of the puzzle is revealed.

We stood looking at the door wondering what to do for about thirty seconds. Then Ándrea pointed at the door with a flourish. "After you, darling," she teased.

"Why, thank you, dear," I responded.

Then, grabbing hold of the old brass doorknob, I proceeded to open the door. It made not a sound; its hinges were well oiled, often used. I now knew why the front door had opened so easily. The house was not as abandoned as I had originally assumed.

Ándrea and I stepped through the now open doorway, and were amazed by what we saw. We had just stepped into a small laboratory, about three times the size of a normal living room. It appeared to have been converted from an old bomb shelter that I hadn't previously known about.

"Casey," Ándrea began shakily. "I don't like this. I think we should get out of here and let the police fix this mess."

"Just a minute," I told her distractedly. "I have to get a couple pictures of this."

The room was furnished with the standard lab equipment, along with a few other things apparently used for extended living in the lab. I took five or six pictures of the different chemical beakers, the open notes on one of the three long tables, and the several small experiments going on atop one of the other tables. After I had gotten the last picture, Ándrea and I went to examine a small glass cylinder sitting on the floor on the far-left wall. It was half covered with a cloth, and when I removed it, we both jumped back. Inside, suspended in a pinkish liquid medium was a furry cat. There were electrodes attached to its head, chest and neck, and although it wasn't breathing, a small heart monitor connected to the tube was registering a heartbeat…a very slow heartbeat. We were glad that its eyes were closed, as it would have been very unsettling to have it staring at us. I took a picture of it though. With evidence like that, the police would be hard pressed to not at least check into our story.

It was then that I noticed a group of floor-to-ceiling wall partitions over in the far right corner of the room, obstructing my view of whatever lay behind them. I motioned Ándrea to come with me as I went to investigate. We had just gotten to the partitions when a small door on the other side of the wall creaked open. We hid behind a couple of old storage boxes and watched as an older man with a thick, gray mustache walked into the room. It was Dr. Gorshkov.

He walked slowly over to the partitioned area and disappeared inside. I looked at Ándrea with what I am sure must have been a very dopey grin, and motioned her to follow me. I must say that I was enjoying myself completely. We tiptoed over to where Gorshkov had entered, and peeked in. It was all we could do to keep from gasping. Seven cylinders, each over six feet tall, sat in a row. Hundreds of cables and coils of wires attached them to the ceiling, and then to a generator half buried in the wall. The four tubes to the left were dark and empty, but the other three were still in use. Suspended in the same liquid as the cat, were three young men, complete with electrodes. They were still dressed in bits of what I assumed to be the clothing they were wearing when they were captured. The one that drew my attention, however, was the one on the far right. He was about my age, with short, dark brown hair. On the bottom of his tube was a small LCD display. It read: Subject 7, Wesley, Braidon T.

It was then that I knew we needed to get word to the police, before Dr. Gorshkov could lose any more patients. After all, he had started out with seven, and now, there were only three. I tugged Ándrea's sleeve, and we went back behind the box to talk. I handed her the pictures I had taken, and told her that she needed to get them to the police, and then bring the police back to the lab. She stared at me for a second.

"What are you going to do?"

Recalling a quote from my favorite movie, I replied, "Don't know. I'll think of something."

She got up and tiptoed quietly to the door we came in. She made it all the way without mishap. She opened the wooden door and went through. Unfortunately, the door decided to be very unhelpful to our endeavor. Upon closing, it creaked…loudly. Ándrea took the hint, and began running for all she was worth. Gorshkov, however, had already heard the door, and had just come out of his enclosure and was jogging towards the exit.

"Drat!" I thought to myself. "I didn't really want to meet the guy just yet. Oh, well."

I picked up the nearest beaker and dropped it on the floor. That got his attention. He reversed directions more rapidly than I would have given him credit for. Within a matter of seconds, he was standing in front of my crate. Since there really wasn't anywhere else to hide, I stood up. "Oops. Did I do that?" Surprisingly, he looked more annoyed than angry.

"Bother," he muttered. "Well, since you're already here, I hope you like it. Because you're not going to be able to leave."

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, you see, I would use you for another experiment, but since you're a girl, you would skew the results."

"Gee, thanks."

"However, I could use a new assistant. Ever since Vladimir died, it's been so hard."

I shuddered to think what he might have done with the body. He was about to go on, but I had a question. "Why is the stasis medium reddish?"

All of a sudden, the old man brightened. "You know about my work?" he asked eagerly, completely ignoring my question.

"Yes, I've done a lot of research on you. I know about your cryotechnology, about Vitracine, and also, about your nanites."

I had intended to make him uneasy; however, it had the opposite effect. Feeling, I suppose, that he had found a kindred spirit—oh gag—he proceed to tell me all about his research.

Chapter 10: The Explaining

In which Dr. Gorshkov "spills the beans."

"You see, young lady," he began, "I started out as a rather well-known scientist, but unfortunate circumstances reduced me to working in private. I hired Vladimir, a rather witless young man, to help me obtain test subjects through rather, um, well, rather extreme measures."

"That would be called kidnapping," I interjected.

"Now, now, child," he admonished, "you're using such a repulsive term. It really wasn't as bad as all that. Anyway, I am a great scientist. The rules that apply to other people don't really have to apply to me."

"Oh, dear," I thought. "He's one of 'those'." "Those" being mad scientists who feel that because of the great importance of their work they just so happen to be above all that law stuff.

Dr. Gorshkov continued, "Unfortunately, the first four subjects went and died before the method of preservation was perfected. Acceptable losses, you know."

I was beginning to get the feeling that underneath the mild looking exterior, here was a man with a very sick, twisted view of life and what he could do with it. I still wanted to know more about his method, however, so I interrupted again. "Dr. Gorshkov, what exactly do the nanites do?"

"So glad you asked. The nanites are introduced into the system through the inhalation of the Vitracine, and they do three things. First, they help to slow body functions in preparation for stasis. Second, during stasis, they repair minor system breakdowns that occur due to long periods of inactivity. And, third, they help bring body systems back up to a functional level in preparation for removal from stasis."

"Actually," he continued, "the whole cryo-pod system took me years to design and perfect. Getting parts the usual way just wouldn't do. I had to use the Black Market, naturally. Once my pods were built, however, I still had to create the stasis medium that you see my subjects floating in. I simply can't explain it to a layman, or laywoman, in your case. Suffice it to say that it is a plasma based fluid with liquid nutrient supplements. Breathing is suspended during the period of stasis, as the liquid in the tube supplies the necessary oxygen. Heart activity is greatly reduced, beating around once every two minutes. The echocardiograms I have attached to the pods are very sensitive, and serve to help me monitor how my subjects are doing."

"What about brain activity?" I inquired. "How is that affected?"

"Well, at the moment, I don't really know that much. I do know that there is still brain activity; I have that documented. The problem is, it's coming from places that aren't usually active. I have a theory, though. Want to hear it?"

I nodded, wondering what exactly he had discovered this time, and not quite sure I wanted to know.

"Theoretically, I believe that something about the cryogenic freezing process itself somehow amplifies the particular electromagnetic "waves" that carry thought, and broadcast them. It would then be theoretically possible for another biological receptor, in this case, another human brain, to pick up the thought waves. I believe that I have experienced this first hand, as I will periodically pick up on snippets of thoughts coming from, I believe, subject number seven. His brain patterns are the strongest."

All of a sudden, it hit me. The first time I had come to the Wesley Mansion and had gone into Braidon's room to look for the key, the feeling that the room was talking to me was actually real. The only difference was that it wasn't really the room. It was Braidon's thoughts being amplified by the stasis field. Somehow he had sensed my presence, and had been unconsciously trying to help me find him. I didn't share these thoughts with Dr. Gorshkov, though, as I didn't want to have to listen to another theoretical lecture. I was, however, beginning to wonder what was taking Ándrea and the police so long. As it turned out, I didn't have long to wait.

Gorshkov had just finished explaining to me about how one went about putting someone in stasis, and then how you could take them out again, when all of a sudden the wooden door at the other end of the room burst open. The Cavalry had arrived.

Chapter 11: The Police…again

In which we learn that our law enforcement officers really can do something.

As soon as the door was kicked open, I felt Dr. Gorshkov grab me from behind. Pulling me towards him, he proceeded to pull a small handgun out of his lab coat pocket. He was beginning to show his true colors.

"No!" he shouted at the top of his lungs. "I have worked too hard and too long to allow you to take me away from my work."

He ranted for about a minute, going on about having a hostage and how they had better not raise their guns or he would shoot me. I wasn't quite sure I believed him, but at the same time, not quite sure I didn't. He was just starting to calm down when one of the officers began to take aim. Up until then, Gorshkov had been pointing the gun at me, but at that moment, he brought it up to try and shoot the policeman. I saw my opening. When the gun was no longer pointing at me, but not yet pointed at the officer, I twisted in the scientists grip, and drove my right elbow as hard as I could into his gut. He let out a mighty grunt, and crumpled into a pile on the floor. I kicked the gun away from him with all my adrenaline-augmented might. I have a feeling that I kicked his fingers in the process, because he let out an unintelligible squeal when I disarmed him.

The police immediately took over, and soon had him in custody, handcuffed and all. Needless to say, he didn't put up a whole lot of resistance. He only began to struggle as the police hauled him out the lab door. He turned around to the remaining two officers inside and yelled, "No, you must let me go back! If the cryotubes aren't adjusted every hour, the subjects will die! You must let me stay. Let go of—" and then he was gone.

I quickly explained everything to the lieutenant in charge, and then described to him the method of removing the people in the tubes. The two rather flustered officers, Ándrea, and I then worked on shutting down the tubes and getting Braidon and the others out. It took us a little under an hour. It would have taken us much longer, but fortunately, Dr. Gorshkov had designed the system to be user friendly, and the control panel was nicely labeled.

At the end, after we had freed the subjects, a sopping wet Braidon walked over to me. "You're the girl I was dreaming about, aren't you?" he inquired. "You were really in my bedroom?"

"Yes," I told him, completely fascinated.

He grinned, then threw his arms around me and hugged me, although it would probably be more accurate to call it a "crunch".

"Thank you so much!" he said exuberantly. "You have no idea how grateful I am."

I barely admit to blushing slightly. "You're very welcome!"

Ándrea, who had returned with the police, walked over then. As soon as I introduced the two of them, Braidon hugged her too, repeating the thanking. I turned to my best friend. "What on earth took you so long?!"

She just stared at me and said, "I don't like our police chief very much."

Privately, I wondered just how long it had taken her to convince the man that it wasn't a hoax. Probably all but the ten minutes it took to get to and from the police station from Braidon's house. Poor Ándrea.

Afterward: Top Secret

In which we get a happy ending.

It took three days to clear the whole thing up. Fortunately, my parents came home that night. Boy did I get to do a lot of explaining. In the end, however, it worked out well considering the circumstances. The two subjects besides Braidon had been over twenty when put into stasis, so contacting their parents was not needed. They were questioned, examined, and released. Finding Braidon's parents, however, took two days. After his kidnapping, they had moved to a small town in northern Oregon. They flew down quickly, and the reunion was wonderful— although it took Mr. and Mrs. Wesley awhile to get used to how young their son was compared to how old he should have been. That was, however, only a minute problem, considering that they had gotten their son back after seventeen years.

Braidon had become Ándrea's and my new best friend. We got along wonderfully, and were overjoyed when we found out that the Wesley family had decided to move back into their old house, after the police were finished with it, of course. I also informed them that the staircase needed to be repaired. When they asked why, Ándrea and Braidon started snickering, so I was the one left to explain just how exactly we had found Dr. Gorshkov's laboratory.

As for the cryo-pods, three of them went to NASA, for experimentation to discover whether something similar could be developed for interstellar space travel. Three went to White Sands, as well, where the government is doing undisclosed things with them. The remaining pod, as well as the small pod used for the cat, was sent to Stanford University for ongoing research. All that research, of course, proceeds under a tight lid of government secrecy. Dr. Gorshkov's notes were copied several times and distributed similarly, leaving at least one copy to be stored in some unknown government vault where no one will ever find it, of course.

Although hailed as an unsung genius among those researchers designated to continue his work, Dr. Gorshkov was brought up on seven charges of breaking and entering and kidnapping, and four charges of second degree manslaughter, in a secret government trial. He is currently serving a life sentence at a maximum-security prison somewhere in the Midwest, in solitary confinement. Seems he still talked too much…

That was a year ago. Braidon's family has moved back into their old house, and Ándrea, Braidon and I are together frequently. He still likes to make jokes about never wanting to go swimming again, and he sometimes tries to boss me around with the lame excuse that he's older than I am. I keep telling him that the last eighteen years don't count! Also, I named the experimental cat C.K., short for Cryo-Kitty. Sappy, I know, but it fits under the circumstances. As it was later discovered that the nanites exited the body during the process of stasis termination, there would be no purpose to the government experimenting on the cat, anyway, so I kept him.

My life is getting back to normal now, aside from the fact that one of my best friends used to be in suspended animation, and still has what's left of a mad scientist's laboratory under his house. I'm used to it now, though.

But you know, now that I think about it, this whole adventure has been classified as a government secret. Unfortunately, I guess that means that you can't tell anybody anything that I just told you. Oh, dear, I'm so sorry…

The End