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When Nick Hall wakes up in a dumpster--bloodied, without a memory, and hearing voices in his head--he knows things are bad. But they're about to get far worse. Because he's being hunted by a team of assassins. Soon Hall discovers that advanced electronics have been implanted in his brain, and he now has two astonishing abilities. He can surf the web using thoughts alone. And he can read minds. But who inserted the implants? And why? And why is someone so desperate to kill him?
As Hall races to find answers, he comes to learn that far more is at stake than just his life. Because his actions can either catapult civilization to new heights--or bring about its total collapse.
Based on actual research on thought-controlled web surfing, Mind's Eye is a smart, roller-coaster ride of a thriller. One that raises a number of intriguing, and sometimes chilling, possibilities about a future that is just around the corner.
Release date: January 11, 2014
Publisher: Paragon Press
Print pages: 362
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Douglas E. Richards
The stench was so utterly horrid that it seemed to be attacking him. It was the putrid stink of rot and of food gone bad. It was an unholy soup of dozens of odors that each would have been bad enough alone, but which seemed to clash in revolting and impossible ways when forced together.
Panic squeezed his heart to near bursting as he realized he was drowning in this noxious cloud. He fought desperately to take a breath, but this act was somehow impossible. It was as though he had forgotten how, as if the mental wiring that triggered his breathing response had been neatly snipped. His burning lungs screamed at him for air, and he knew he had but seconds to live.
Suddenly, from the depths of his panic, an epiphany burst forth. He wasn’t drowning. Instead, he was in the middle of a terrible nightmare, and his breathing reflex was only failing in the vivid dream world his mind had constructed. His physical body was asleep and paralyzed.
He threw all of his will into tearing off the crushingly heavy cloak of unconsciousness, and an instant later his full mind exploded to the surface, like a swimmer held down too long in the depths of a cold and murky ocean, and escaping just in time.
Now fully conscious, albeit groggy, he felt the weight of eyelids that were shuttering his vision. He heard whispers in his mind; dozens of them. He could catch words and phrases; images. A kaleidoscope of activity just below the surface, blending together into a white noise; incessant chatter from hundreds of non-stop talkers all speaking at once. He shook his head to try to stop the maddening whispers in his mind, but without success.
He anxiously opened his eyes.
And was greeted by an absolute, impenetrable darkness.
Fighting off the panic that now returned with a vengeance, he carefully extended his right arm and was rewarded when his hand made contact with a smooth surface that felt like steel. He continued to probe his surroundings, and seconds later, his hand came into contact with yet another surface over his head. A roof. One made of steel, like the wall he had found.
The roof was heavy, but by raising both hands above his shoulders, he was able to push it upward, flooding his prison with blinding light. He continued pushing until he hit a literal tipping point, and the roof fell downward as if on a hinge, slamming into the side of the metal container noisily.
Even before his eyes fully adjusted to the light, he could see he was in a living sea of garbage that filled about half of the large container, which was painted a familiar shade of green.
He was inside a dumpster.
The sight of the nasty garbage along with the smell forced him to do what his unconscious body had managed to avoid until this point: he leaned over and vomited, although his stomach must have been nearly empty, because it was more of a dry heave than anything else.
He peeked his head over the top of the industrial-sized container, his eyes now fully adjusted to the light. He was in the back of what appeared to be a strip mall, and judging from the garbage he had been sitting in, one whose retail tenants included grocery stores, butcher shops, restaurants, and most unholy of all, diaper-changing stations.
He climbed out of the container and inspected himself. He had sneakers on his feet and was wearing a black T-shirt and faded jeans. He was painted head to toe with stains and fluids of unknown kinds, including one that may well have been blood.
What had he been doing in a dumpster? He searched his memory.
And found nothing.
How drunk did one have to be to not remember spending a night in a garbage filled coffin?
He gasped as a deeper truth penetrated his mind: he couldn’t remember anything. Not only didn’t he know how he had come to be in a dumpster, he didn’t know how he had come to be on this earth.
He strained to at least remember his own name, but it wouldn’t come.
He checked his pockets but found no wallet or other identification.
What was going on?
His heart rate leaped to well over a hundred beats per minute and he felt dizzy from the shock and adrenaline rush. He had to calm down. He had to think.
But he found it hard to concentrate. The whispers and images in his mind continued unabated, and he couldn’t imagine anything being more disconcerting or inimical to organized thought. He couldn’t seem to get them to stop, although he was at least able to suppress them somewhat, willing them into a deeper and less obtrusive place in his consciousness. Still, he wondered how much more of this he could take and retain his sanity.
Or was he insane already?
No. It couldn’t be. He felt totally rational. And totally sane.
He laughed out loud. Sure, he thought. I’m as sane and rational as any other guy without a memory who wakes up in a dumpster and hears voices in his head.
Off in the distance, across a field of dirt and scrub, he spotted a Shell gas station. It was far more isolated than his current location, and he was sure to find a bathroom there he could use to clean himself up, something he desperately needed to do. He couldn’t take his own pungent stench much longer.
He had walked toward the station for about five minutes when he came to a narrow side-street, and waited for a lone car to go by, its windows open and music blaring.
He recognized the song immediately. It figured. He had instant recall of the lyrics to a random song, but didn’t have the faintest idea of where he lived, or who he was.
The driver was a kid of seventeen or eighteen. “Wow, what’s with this guy?” he heard the driver say clearly as the car passed him. “Ever hear of something called a shower?” the teen added, and then the tone of his voice changed, now conveying discomfort and confusion. “Is that blood on his neck?”
But the man without a past knew that he couldn’t have heard this. He had been looking at the driver at the time—and the teen’s lips hadn’t moved. Besides, the car radio was putting out far too many decibels for him to have heard the words as clearly as he did.
What he thought he had heard was just another voice among the many in his head. He shook his head vigorously, like a dog after a bath, but the voices remained.
He arrived at the Shell only minutes later, entered the men’s room, a small, one-man facility behind the main station, and locked the door carefully behind him.
He looked into the small mirror but didn’t recognize the face that stared back at him. But he did recognize one thing immediately. He had a trail of caked blood on his neck, running down from his hairline, and more dried blood on his head.
His eyes widened as he recalled the words of the teen driver of the car that had passed. The words he had hallucinated. The kid had said he had blood on his neck. Pretty accurate for a hallucination. He felt around his scalp and found a tender spot that his fingers sensed as being dried blood and a newly forming scab, and then quickly removed his hand so he wouldn’t inadvertently reopen it.
He stared back into the mirror and continued his self-assessment. He was clean-cut, with a head of jet black hair, brushed back, and a day or two’s growth of stubble. His teeth were perfectly straight, although he had the feeling that several years of braces sponsored by loving parents whom he could not remember had played a big role in this perfection. He wasn’t classically handsome, but he suspected his face was symmetrical and rugged enough to attract women. He guessed that he was just under six feet in height.
He removed the horrid shirt he was wearing, wet in many places where it had sopped up stains and distilled odor, and dropped it in a small trash container in the corner. His body was lean and well-muscled, his chest hairless.
He stared at himself for several long seconds, willing his memory to come back. But it would not.
Luckily, the bathroom had plenty of liquid soap and paper towels, and he scrubbed every last inch of his face, neck, and torso, and washed grime and blood from his hair, remembering to be exceedingly gentle near his wound. He shoved his head as near the small faucet as he could and splashed water on his hair until it was clear of soap. He then dropped his jeans and scrubbed his legs. While he could exit the bathroom without a shirt, he knew he needed to put his pants back on, which he did with great reluctance.
An image separated itself from the multitude of whispers and scenes buzzing around in his brain. He jerked his head around as the image pierced the dense thicket of internal chatter and stabbed at his consciousness. It was a view of the door to the bathroom he was now in. But a view from outside of the bathroom.
He focused on this now-isolated thread, not knowing why his subconscious had decided this particular hallucination was in such urgent need of attention. The bathroom door was being viewed through the windshield of a car that had just pulled into the Shell lot. He saw a finger pressing a cell phone touch screen to dial a number, and then the phone disappeared from view.
“I found our boy, Hall,” said a voice in his head with perfect clarity, and for just an instant, an image of the face he had been staring at in the mirror only moments before flashed into existence. His face.
Only he wasn’t looking into the mirror now. He sensed that he must be this Hall. But the name didn’t trigger a this-feels-right emotion, or a cascade of memories.
“Let the others know they can pack it in,” the voice continued. “My post was the lucky winner.”
Once again, the man in the bathroom, the man who decided to temporarily adopt the name Hall until he learned otherwise, knew that he had not heard any of these words. At least not with his ears. But they had registered with utter clarity, nonetheless.
He was reading these people’s minds.
It was impossible, yes. But it was also becoming undeniable. He might not remember anything about himself, but he was quite sure he believed in science. And that he didn’t believe in conspiracy theories, or ghosts, or aliens, or ESP.
But ESP was the only explanation. What was crazier, hearing voices in your head, or thinking you could read minds?
Probably a toss-up, he decided.
You gave us quite a chase, Hall, he picked up with perfect clarity, and he realized this last had been an internal thought of the man he was monitoring, and had not been spoken aloud. Exactly how he knew this wasn’t clear. But you’re done running now, you little prick.
A moment later, the man spoke aloud into his phone once again. “I have no idea,” he said, no doubt in answer to a question. “He holed up like we thought. Who gives a shit where? The prick must have thought he lost us, too. He was on foot, not seeming to care he could be seen for miles. He’s at a gas station with nothing but scrub brush surrounding it.” The man paused. “And just when I was beginning to think this guy was clever.”
He lowered the phone and prepared to end the connection. “I’ll call you back when he’s a corpse,” he finished calmly.
Hall decided instantly that he had to proceed as if he wasn’t delusional, and the voices in his head were completely accurate. Given that the man outside the door wanted him dead, he had no other choice.
He could clearly read the growing impatience in the man’s mind. His quarry had been in the bathroom a long time, the man was thinking. And while he had originally planned to follow him from there, waiting to shoot him until he was isolated, the assassin had noticed that no one was around now, and was coming to the conclusion that a silenced shot to the head as Hall began to emerge from the bathroom, or even two or three shots at chest height through the closed door, would do the trick nicely.
Hall guessed he had forty-five seconds at most to come up with a way out of this. His mind raced, despite the continued presence of the myriad of voices in his head. If his ESP was real, the second he opened the door he was dead—and possibly even before. There was nothing in the bathroom or in his possession he could use as a weapon. No tire irons or lighters or knives. Nothing but water, a small plastic wastebasket, a towel dispenser, and bargain brand toilet paper.
He could try to kick through the wall of the small bathroom opposite the door, hoping that it shared a wall with the main station, where he suddenly realized he could easily read the thoughts of the attendant, somehow isolating them from the rest of the babble. Even if he was unable to crash through, the attempt should cause enough noise that the attendant would come to investigate.
But just as he tightened his leg muscles to make the attempt, he realized he was too late. He caught the decision and resolve in his stalker’s mind and knew the man was even now crossing the ten yards between his position and the door, holding a silenced gun under his gray windbreaker.
A desperate plan materialized in Hall’s mind. He quietly disengaged the small silver button in the middle of the door handle, unlocking it.
The man continued approaching, with practiced quiet. Hall’s five senses couldn’t have possibly detected that he was outside and approaching, let alone his precise position, but the sixth sense Hall now possessed could see from his attacker’s eyes, so he could judge with uncanny accuracy when to launch his attack.
He whipped open the door with all of the speed and strength at his command, just as the man in his mind’s eye began to raise his gun, and was rewarded when the door handle slammed into the man’s outstretched hand, sending his gun flying.
The assassin stifled a scream, and reflexively brought his now bloodied paw to eye level to assess the damage, discovering that at least two of his fingers were now broken. Hall dived for the man’s gun, having no time to ponder this verification that his ESP was real, after all, and highly accurate.
Hall snatched the gun from the pavement and rolled to one knee, extending it in front of him. “Freeze!” he said, his voice guttural and commanding, but low enough not to be heard by the attendant. He knew without looking that the hundreds of voices inside his head were still coming from the strip mall across the way, and he and his attacker were out of sight of the attendant and the two customers currently filling their tanks.
“Hands behind your head!” ordered Hall, rising from the pavement and taking a few steps backwards.
Shit! raged the would-be-assassin, a single, visceral thought emerging from a sea of pain and shock that Hall picked up as though it had been screamed aloud. What the fuck? the man demanded of the universe. There’s no way this little prick could have heard me coming.
“Turn around!” said Hall.
The man turned, and his mind sorted through possible counterattacks. He considered the backup gun holstered to his ankle, calculating if he could pretend to double over and reach it in time. He decided against it. Not only was it risky, his draw would be slowed by his broken fingers.
“Who are you?” demanded Hall.
“Fuck you,” spat the man bitterly, but in the time he uttered these words, a flood of impressions and information entered Hall’s mind from his. The man was Frank Baldino. He had been a mob enforcer, but he’d had a falling out with the boss. So given that he had a talent for killing, and enjoyed it, he had undergone cosmetic surgery to disguise himself and had taken up a career as a high-priced mercenary.
When Baldino had delivered this two-word response, Hall had heard it with a subtle but unmistakable vibrato. He wondered if it was an echo caused by a timing difference between receiving the thought of the words, and hearing the actual words with his ears. An offset of mere milliseconds. This might be due to telepathy traveling faster than sound—which would make sense if it was an electromagnetic or other exotic phenomenon—or it could all be due to a slight delay between thinking a word and vocalizing it. Hall decided that for this analysis to have spontaneously sprung to his mind, he must be fairly well-educated.
“Who are you working for?” asked Hall, and when it was clear he wouldn’t be getting an answer, he drove deeper into Baldino’s mind and fished out the answer for himself.
Frank Baldino didn’t know who he was working for. There was a middleman who set up his jobs and took a percentage. Baldino had been sent a photo of Hall, and given his name and last location, and that had been about all. The mercenary had no idea why someone wanted Nick Hall dead, and couldn’t have cared any less.
Hall absorbed the fact that his first name must be Nick, which he decided he didn’t particularly care for.
What fascinated Hall was his growing realization that he could access Baldino’s thoughts and memories as easily as Baldino could. He couldn’t help but appreciate the ultimate irony of being able to instantly recall every aspect of Baldino’s past he cared to know, but none of his own.
Once again, out of the endless swirl of thoughts flooding his mind, one rose up and pierced through the rest. One of the customers had finished pumping gas and would be driving away in less than a minute. And Hall would then be in full view, wearing filthy jeans, no shirt, and training a gun on Baldino.
His time was up.
“March into the bathroom,” ordered Hall, continuing to monitor Baldino’s every thought. Frank Baldino did as he was told, at least outwardly. But Hall read that he had reached a decision. Once he entered the bathroom, he would launch a counterattack, regardless of the risk. Hall looked clumsy and unsure of himself.
Baldino never got the chance. Just as he crossed the threshold of the door, Hall slammed the hard butt of the gun into the back of Baldino’s skull with all the adrenaline-boosted strength he could muster.
Baldino fell forward into the small bathroom like a puppet whose strings had been cut, and Hall had no doubt he was no longer conscious. He bent Baldino’s legs at the knee, joined him inside the bathroom, and then closed and locked the door.
He reached down and pressed his fingers into Baldino’s neck, feeling for his carotid artery and a pulse. Nothing. He tried Baldino’s wrist and put his ear to his mouth. No pulse. No breathing.
Shit! he thought, almost hysterically. He was dead!
Hall clutched at the small sink for support, reeling. He had killed a man. Hall didn’t remember who he was, but he was certain he had never killed before. Bile rose in his throat as he pondered taking a life. Even though the man had been intent on taking his, Hall suspected he would have puked if his stomach wasn’t totally empty.
How many movies and TV shows had he seen where a man was knocked out by getting hit by the butt of a gun? Dozens? Hundreds?
But never in any of them that he could remember—he was long past considering the frustrating irony that he could remember everything about the world except when it pertained to himself—had such a blow been fatal. But then again, he knew that a single hard, bare-fisted strike to the face would knock out just about anyone—cold—but Hollywood often showed fights in which the combatants barely slowed down after trading dozens of insanely forceful blows.
Hall blew out a long breath. He knew what he had to do next. As distasteful as it was, he had to become a grave robber. Baldino was slightly taller and thicker than he was, but any clothing that hadn’t spent the night in a dumpster was a godsend. Hall stripped him with great difficulty, given the confines of the bathroom, but was soon wearing tan khaki slacks and a light-green polo shirt, both of them a size too large, leaving the gray windbreaker behind.
Baldino’s wallet contained no identification or credit cards, but Hall confiscated the thick sheaf of twenties he found inside. He pocketed Baldino’s gun and silencer and took the smaller gun from the man’s ankle holster as well. Not that he had any idea how to use either one of them.
He removed the keys to Baldino’s silver Acura parked outside, and took an extra minute to apply a soapy paper towel to his sneakers, since he had worn them in the dumpster.
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