Gunter Schumann gasped. His body stiffened.
The safe in the Cryolab was wide open and he hardly dared to venture inside. He felt sick and then hot. His fingers trembled as he unbuttoned the collar of his lab coat and stepped through the doorway. He fumbled for the light switch, catching his breath as the secure room was illuminated. Just as he had feared, box 15 had been forced open. Now he was really scared. Worse than thatóhe was terrified.
Gunter staggered forward, pulled out the metal box, and lifted the bent lid. He reached inside and ran his hand over the bottom, frantically feeling from corner to corner. But as heíd suspected, the box was empty.
His knees shook. "Weíre all doomed," he muttered. He closed the huge metal door of the safe and stumbled across the Cryolab toward the exit, trying to figure out what he should do next.
Gunter passed the three enormous cryotanks that dominated the room. Each contained fifteen human beings, frozen in fifteen clear cylinders that were arranged around the circumference. His eyes fell on tank 2. He shuddered. The patient preserved in cylinder 15 seemed to be looking at him through the glass. It was patient fifteenís safe box that had been forced open and emptied.
Panic gripped Gunter again. He hurriedly turned off the light and locked the Cryolab door behind him, only drawing breath when he heard the sound of the lock click into place.
In the bright hospital corridor, his discovery seemed less sinister. He wiped the perspiration from his balding head and stuffed the handkerchief back into the pocket of his lab coat. The elevator bell sounded. Gunterís heart raced again. He turned to see who would exit the elevator at the end of the corridor.
Will Conroy stepped out. Gunter relaxed slightly at the sight of his lab assistantís son but then wondered how he could get rid of him quickly. The fourteen-year-old was fascinated with the Cryolab and fancied himself as a leading cryonics scientist of the future. Although the Moonís current technology enabled people with certain conditions to be preserved at death, the technique for reviving them had not yet been perfected. Will wanted to be on the research team that made the breakthrough. He always had questions for Gunter . . . too many questions.
Will sauntered down the corridor toward him, hands shoved in his pant pockets and a wide grin fixed on his face. "Hi, Doc Schumann. Howís things? Anybody get frozen this week?"
"No, not this week, Will," Gunter answered, praying that the boy wouldnít stop to chat with him. He smiled at him weakly, trying to hide his distress when all he could think about was box 15.
"I heard that our lunar scientists can now preserve heart attack victims."
"Look, Iím sorry, Will. I canít stop and talk tonightóIíve got things I must do," said Gunter in a pleasant but curt manner.
"Thatís okay. Weíre going out to dinner with Uncle Hank and if I donít hurry Mom along weíll be late. Has she finished for the day?"
Gunter felt relieved that the boy was in a hurry. "Er . . . Rachel . . . yes . . . I think so. She was finishing up the lab records a few minutes ago." He could feel Willís eyes fixed on him.
Willís eyebrows raised inquiringly. "Are you feeling okay, Dr. Schumann?"
"Yes, just fine, thank you," Gunter replied. He scratched his beard and forced himself to widen his smile. When would the boy leave him to think in peace?
"Are you sure? You look rather pale," Will persisted.
"No, Iím fine, really. Nice of you to ask. Iím going straight home tonight. Iíll be collecting my briefcase and plenty of weekend work when Iíve set the Cryolab alarm. Why donít you go and meet your mother?"
Will looked at him in a concerned way, seemed to hesitate and then continued along the corridor. Gunter sighed with relief as he watched the lanky youth disappear through the double doors of the Pathology Department. He turned back to face the Cryolab, and once again his frightening discovery consumed his thoughts. How had anyone got into the lab with all the security? He must get the system changed on Monday.
His mind raced. What should he do in the meantime? Until now he had kept the valuable contents of box 15 a secret. But this was an emergency. He would have to immediately contact Commander Richard Gillman and tell him what had been stolen. He stared at the alarm panel on the wall. Only he, the Commander and Rachel had an access code. How could a thief have got in? He started punching in the four-digit sequence to secure the Cryolab for the weekend.
Gunter heard movement. As he began to turn, searing pain shot through the side of his head. He yelled in agony and grabbed his ear. What was happening? He could barely see. Dizzy, he staggered sideways. He pressed his hands against the wall desperately trying to stay upright, but his knees buckled under him and he fell to the floor. It was too late. Someone knew about his connection to box 15.