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An excerpt from
Future Unfolds

Future Unfolds front cover.jpg

OCTOBER 21, 2084


Sleet hissed down onto the city, relentless, miserable, coating parked cars and grimy metal street signs. Carlos leaned into the stinging gusts with his chin tucked in tight. The straps of the heavy suicide vest beneath his dark brown tunic cut into his gaunt frame like a dull knife. Sweat clung to him despite the frigid weather, and his breath came in fitful spasms. He paused below an awning and sagged against the building, shuffling his feet against the cold. Winter fat used to keep me warm, he thought with a shiver. Now, at a buck ten, the bitter temperature ate at his very core.


A persistent, low-pitched electrical hum blanketed Manhattan with an ominous undercurrent of doom, jangling his already shot nerves. Carlos peered down the street, wondering if he could make it to his target. The light railway system loomed overhead like an enormous, glowing spider web between the towering skyscrapers. 


“At least I don’t have to navigate that,” he mumbled, pulling a crumpled cigarette from his pocket. He lit it with trembling fingers and savored a long drag. Within seconds, his lungs felt like they were on fire. He doubled over, hacking bloody phlegm. When it finally stopped, Carlos haltingly straightened up, swiping a sleeve across his mouth. He flicked the offending object onto the wet pavement. Tucking his scarf around his neck, he pushed off the wall, resuming his hike. The slick sidewalks became more crowded. A few blocks later, Carlos slipped and fell, landing on the pavement in a heap. Bundled pedestrians bobbed and flowed past him, sleet pattering off their umbrellas. He peered up through the gloom and recognized the vast plaza in front of the Masjid Alahmari tower. The 130 stories of the breathtaking high-rise disappeared in the low-hanging clouds. 


“Here,” a voice said. “Let me help you.”


A young teenager reached for his elbow, his face all big eyed with concern. Carlos allowed the boy to pull him to his feet but then yanked his arm away. My God, he thought, this kid’s my son’s age. A shudder rippled down his spine. How can I do this to children? 


Shrill auto-sirens pierced the freezing air, echoing off the canyon of skyscrapers. He whirled in time to see a shadowy figure dart across the avenue, dodging through the speeding vehicles. Uneasy goosebumps prickled Carlos’s arms. Turning back, he picked up his pace, making a beeline for the massive marble entrance. A wave of alarmed chatter rippled behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, then did a double take. 


Across the plaza, a fierce-looking woman perched on the tall concrete base of a streetlight. One of her elbows hooked around the pole, anchoring her. She stood well above everyone. Dressed in black from head to toe, she scanned the upturned faces. Her penetrating stare soon came to rest on him. In an instant, the woman leaped twenty feet in Carlos’s direction. She shoved people aside, heading straight for him. 


He thought, No one can do that. “Out of my way!” he yelled, panicking. He pushed through the line of people waiting to get inside and hustled up the stairs. 


A deep-throated order thundered through the brittle, icy air. “Stop!” 


Chest heaving, Carlos whipped around again. A man burst from the masses and tackled the woman, blindsiding her, midstride. Her head snapped violently, sending her long, dark ponytail flinging about. They crashed to the pavement, rolling and kicking in a flurry of limbs. The crowd shrank away from them like skittish sheep. 


“Let go, Hunter!” She bucked the larger man off and scrambled to her feet. 


“Kristen!” He snagged her foot, causing her to fall, hard. His shouts rang out clearly. “Kristen, stop! You can’t do this!” 


Carlos choked back his terror and hurried to the entrance. His face twitched as he tried to appear calm. Relief surged through him when the armed sentry opened the door. 


Masaa’ alkhayr, brother,” the man muttered, keeping a wary eye on the scene below. 


“Good day, Ameen,” he gasped, passing by. He could hardly believe his luck. But a terrible coughing fit overcame him. He tried to bury it in his sleeve. 


Another guard posted by the security scanner shot a piteous glance his way. “Here,” he called out, waving him through. 


Carlos nodded mutely. He shuffled through, still covering his mouth. Feeling more faint by the second, he paused at the massive window overlooking the plaza. His hands propped against the cold plate glass. He stared down at the duo, trying to catch his breath. 


“Who are you?” he wheezed. 


Buffeted by the dreary elements, they’d stopped fighting but remained intertwined on the unforgiving concrete. The man ducked his head, and his shoulders shook; he appeared to be sobbing. In contrast, the woman radiated strength. Wisps of her dark hair danced in the wind, bracketing the fierce determination chiseled on her features. She looked like a warrior. 


Her eyes roamed the long wall of glass. When she found Carlos, it felt like her gaze bored right through his soul. Riveted, he stared back. She knows why I’m here. He didn’t understand how, but she knew. She knew, and she’d come to stop him. 


Now that he was safely ensconced inside the building, she couldn’t get to him. “Not with all this security,” he whispered. 


He watched her heave the attacker aside and leap to her feet. She bolted for the mosque. With a couple of incredible bounds, she bypassed the staircase and landed on the window ledge in front of Carlos, mere inches away. She whipped out a handgun and fired, point-blank. 


Carlos flinched; his hand grabbed his chest. He stumbled backward, looking down at himself. No blood, he thought in disbelief. He raised his gaze to the woman on the other side of the intact window. Her face contorted into a snarl. He took another step back, reading her lips but hearing no words. 


“No!” She banged the jammed weapon against the thick glass. “No! Don’t do this!” 


Enveloped in the weird vacuum of the awful moment, Carlos felt completely removed from her continuing tirade. Sluggish, numb, he had a vague awareness of his heartbeat whooshing in his ears, confirming he still lived. A thought pierced his consciousness. 


It’s time.


Carlos inhaled sharply, holding his breath to keep another coughing fit at bay. He blinked, knowing he must keep it together only a little while longer. The corners of his mouth lifted into a sad smile. His fingertips drifted to the spot where the strange woman still pounded the glass. He touched it, then turned his back to her. Carlos shrugged his heavy burden and headed toward the elevator. 


Time to die.

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