CHAPTER 3

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New York City - 2076

A blustery wind greeted Sarah—on New Year's Eve—fourteen minutes till midnight. She flinched as a plow truck grumbled down Broadway, clearing a fresh layer of snow from the street, leaving a gritty mix near the curb at her feet. When the flashback struck her without warning, she had been waiting impatiently for the incredibly long pedestrian traffic light to give her the okay to proceed. Sweat beaded on her forehead, even in this weather as she stood on a sidewalk in a crowd of people, her equilibrium off balance from the abrupt change in scenery—for all intents and purposes—she had teleported from the past to the present in a matter of seconds. At least that's what it felt like.

Gathering her wits, she tucked her chin into a woolen scarf, shivering, as her toe tapped a barely audible staccato rhythm in the ice crystals on the sidewalk. She wondered at this precise moment why she ever decided to leave her apartment and brave the elements, and the constant chatter of conversations from the people around her.

Her first instinct was to look for Jake, but he was no where to be found; it had been twenty-five years since she last saw him. When NASA officials aboard a coastguard ship fished her escape pod out of the Pacific, Jake's pod had never been found. At the time, they told her he must have burned up on re-entry, or sank to the ocean floor. Sarah suspected there was something they weren't telling her, possibly that there had been a malfunction with his pod. One of their own designs. Maybe that's what happened, but she had no proof. If so, they'd be to blame for Jake's demise. But for her own sanity, she chose to believe the latter of the two scenarios. Death at sea would be a fitting end to a man who loved the ocean and everything in it.

But there was a third possibility. One that seemed a far worse fate. Jake could still be out there somewhere, lost among the stars, his pod knocked off course by some unknown force. Alive until the sun could no longer charge the batteries powering his life support system. He could have simply frozen to death, or suffocated with no oxygen. Or his trajectory could have taken him past the edge of the solar system, forever drifting farther and farther away beyond the orbit of Pluto. Or a more likely scenario, sucked into the gravitational pull of Jupiter, obliterated by the super hurricane that is the gas giant's great red spot.

A chill swept through Sarah's body. Not a physical chill, but a chill that came from within, emanating from somewhere deep in her soul. What if Jake woke up before he died, alone, thinking of her? Banging his fists against the glass separating him from the murdering void of space. The thought made her woozy. She couldn't contemplate such a horrible fate.

The shadows of the night clawed at her vision, but the bitter cold flushed her cheeks a rosy red, keeping her awake, breathing, living, existing.

In a blur of lost love, squashed hope, and empty faith, like a desert sky with no rain—Sarah wavered in place, waiting for the crosswalk sign to change, invisible needles pricking the back of her neck, her gaze cast down on the black asphalt under the glow of the city.

She still felt the dryness of Jake's kiss. The adrenaline of the moment wicking his body of all its available resources in order to survive. But there was one thing that could never be stolen from Jake...his will to live, a trait Sarah admired, even now. He would fight until there was no life in him to fight. He was a fighter. He never gave up. But for all the warmth that thought gave her, she knew there was no way he could still be alive. No, Jake's fight ended a long time ago, but it felt like mere moments.

Across the street, the amber tinted glass of the Next Gen building tapered upward to a velvety mix of dark clouds, ending in a horizontal rotating wheel with spokes—an observation deck with the offices of board members peering into the heavens. The corporation led the world in robotic technology with military contracts galore. Some of their units appeared so humanlike that the average person couldn't tell the difference, no doubt loitering among the spectators tonight. One of them could be the man standing next to her, his perfect skin, smooth and bronze. In this weather? Seriously, he wouldn't have a tan this late in the year, unless he'd just returned from a tropical vacation. No one but a humanoid would have such radiant skin; that's what they called them, but they were no more human than a dog. They didn't have a heart. Not the blood pumping kind, the kind that made a person a person. They were nothing more than a glorified computer program. A program that analyzed the incoming data it received from the world around it and reacted instantly, faster than any real human.

The guy winked at Sarah, a tuft of his blond hair lifting with another breeze.

A humanoid had tracked her once. Nearly trapped her, but Sarah wasn't a normal human either. She managed to snap the cyborg's head off, climbing the brick wall with her feet, wrapping her arms around its neck in the process...then falling to the ground with a nice twist. That was a humanoid's sole weakness, it's neck.

Next to her, the guy coughed. A deep barking cough. It sounded bad.

Sarah sighed. He was human after all. Robots didn't get colds, and they didn't have a respiratory system. And most importantly, a humanoid version of Thor wouldn't be chasing her tonight.

Or at least she hoped that to be the case. She was in no mood for danger tonight.

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