Torth Book 1
A sharp knock on Dr. Ed Beland's office door made him regret staying so late. He perched in his skyscraper office like an executive eagle, high above the stresses of rush hour traffic. The Los Angeles sky had faded to a smoggy pink.
"I'm busy," Beland said, scrolling through his email inbox.
Heedless of his forbidding tone, a young woman entered his office. Well-endowed, dressed as if for a date. Her blond hair was artfully arranged in lazy loops. Not an employee, Beland suspected, although he couldn't guess how she'd gotten past the security desk.
"Who are you?" Beland asked pointedly.
She shut the door behind her in a half-assed concession to solitude. "The future conqueror of your world."
Beland assumed this was a prank. "You're in the wrong office. Please leave."
She sat on his desk. "That's not how a man should treat his conqueror."
Her teasing demeanor belonged anywhere but in the upper offices of a bioengineering research firm. She wore a white fingerless glove, a strange accessory that didn't match the rest of her outfit. The glove had buttons and a glowing screen.
"Leave," Beland said. "Or I'll call security. You don't—"
The woman leaned forward and snapped something against his neck. It curled into a choke collar.
Beland grabbed at the thing to pry it off. It lacked a clasp. He ran his fingers along its edge, searching for the release mechanism that must be there.
Agony shot through his neck and into the back of his head. He roared and jumped to his feet, clutching his head. He'd never experienced pain so acute. Tears sprang to his eyes. He bit his tongue to prevent another scream.
The pain vanished abruptly. Beland nearly collapsed from relief.
"Oops." The woman sounded amused. "Dr. Beland, tell me what you remember about Alexander Dovanack."
The name Alexander Dovanack echoed in Beland's mind. It sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it. What had caused that agony? The choker? The damned thing felt oily and clung like a leech. He was afraid to touch it again. He had to pry it off somehow.
The woman must know a way to release him. Beland was in good physical shape for his fifty-five years, a winner of mountain bike races. Surely he was stronger than her. If he gave no hint of his intent to grab her…
He sat down slowly. "Look," he said. "I need more information. Why are you here?"
"The giant," the woman said.
Alexander Dovanack. Beland remembered him now. A sad boy, self-conscious about his abnormal height and freakish rate of growth. They'd met twice, years ago, when Beland was in private practice in Boston. Alex must be a grown man by now.
If he's still alive, Beland reflected. Gigantism had a lot of negative health effects. He'd examined Alex for medical problems, and although the boy was unusually strong and in perfect health, he'd been growing at a rate of more than six inches per year. The human body was not designed for massive size. If Alex had surpassed eight feet tall, as Beland predicted he would, then his name would bounce around news media. Size like that was impossible to ignore.
"You remember him." The woman's tone was a soft caress. "Did you ever tell anyone about him?"
Beland never shared private information about his patients. "Um…" He stalled, feigning forgetfulness. Then he lunged.
She seemed to anticipate his grab. Any normal human would have been caught, but she casually stepped out of his reach.
"Uh uh." She smiled. "That deserves a punishment."
Pain shot through Beland's head. It lasted for several seconds. When relief washed through him, he found himself on his hands and knees. Cold sweat dripped off his forehead.
"Who are you?" he asked. "Who do you work for?" If he had to undergo torture, he wanted to know who to hate.
The questions seemed to amuse her. "You humans and your names. I told you. I'm a conqueror."
Beland couldn't keep the derision out of his voice. "What, are you supposed to be some kind of alien?" As a geneticist, he knew that human DNA was far too complex and detailed for convergent evolution to replicate. An alien would look alien. If humanoid aliens existed, they would still be too alien to pass for anything as specific as a buxom young woman.
"Well, this isn't how I usually look." She gestured to her face and body.
Beland half-wondered if she really was an alien. Here was he was, a renowned geneticist, on his hands and knees before her.
She walked tantalizingly close. Beland considered trying to grab her again, but the woman acted as if she could read his mind. Too many unknowns surrounded her. He needed to figure out how to catch her off guard.
"I wish I could keep you." The woman spoke with relish. "You'd require a lot of training, but I don't mind. All humans should be in collars."
Beland watched her, trying to gauge how insane she was.
"Have you ever met Thomas Hill?" she asked.
The topic shift unnerved Beland. "The child genius?" At least he recognized this over-hyped name right away. No one could be an expert in so many subjects, let alone a twelve-year-old.
She traced one finger along her glove, as if to enact pain. Beland flinched. She was toying with him. Sadistic.
"I can't be sadistic." She seemed to answer his unarticulated thoughts. "Sadism entails pleasure, which I never feel. Everything I do is logical. Every living being shares an instinct to survive, so the most effective universal punishment is to threaten the subject's survival." She arched an eyebrow. "Or threaten its family's survival."
"Why threaten me?" Beland couldn't figure her out. She claimed to lack human emotions, yet she seemed to be enjoying herself. "I'll tell you whatever you want to know. I've never met Thomas Hill. I have colleagues back east who keep urging me to meet him. Do you want me to fly to New Hampshire and set up a meeting? I will, if you want."
A smile played on her lips. "To your knowledge, does anyone else know that Alexander Dovanack exists?"
"The nurses in my clinic saw him. And his mother always came with him."
The woman nodded. "That's fine. I've killed the nurses. Did you ever tell your wife about Alexander Dovanack? Or either of your sons?"
Fear stabbed through Beland. This woman spoke so casually about murder. "No, I never told them. Are they okay?"
"Well…" She smiled. "Your wife is about to become a widow."
Comprehension slammed into Beland a moment later. It left him sick and reeling. "No." His pride refused to let him beg, but only for a moment. Then his dignity crumbled. "Why are you doing this?"
"Efficiency," she replied. "You told me you were busy. You would have thrown me out of your office."
Beland stared. She had to be insane.
"I'll admit," she said, "it pleases me to see an obedient human." She passed her gloved hand across her face, palm inward. When her hand fell away, her eyes lacked pupils or irises. Her milk-white eyes looked blind.
"You're like dogs or monkeys to us," she said. "You're just animals. You'll never be able to think as deeply as we can, or as fast." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "You've been helpful, slave."
Her empty-eyed face was the last thing Beland ever saw. He screamed in agony, thrashing on the floor, as blood leaked from his ears.