I shouldn’t be too happy about the seven expected deaths in the hospital. My boots squeaked as I stepped onto the puddle of acid rain from yesterday’s storm. The skyscrapers loomed over the back alley of Centerport City and concealed the grayish angry sky.
A musty, putrid smell hung in the air. At the other end of the alley, the lights from the ambulance were flashing in red and blue. Two masked men in lab coats were carrying a body into the back of the ambulance while I and the other vagrants watched on.
I looked away and glanced at my reflection on the tinted window at the back of the Royal Asianova Hospital. I missed my long hair. I sold it last week. Now I was wearing this short bob that sat above my shoulders.
I entered through the back door of the hospital. The spacious lounge, reeked of sanitizer and drugs, bustled with sick people. I exited through the automated sliding door and took the elevator to the third floor. Once out of the elevator, the holographic signboards hovered above the hallway where the hospital staff rushed in all directions.
Some of them were pushing the silvery metal trays. Their lab coats blustered behind them.
All the staff was too busy to notice my presence, except for that one nurse at the counter. “Hi, may I help you?” She was a plump, middle-aged lady who looked like she’d worked here for decades and decided nothing ever was worth the rush anymore.
I mustered the saddest look I could. “I’m looking for my grandma. Her name is Brenda in Room 2466.”
The nurse gave me a skeptical full body scan with her gaze.
“Look, it’s her final moments. I want to say my last goodbye.”
The nurse glanced around and moved in. She dropped her voice, “You know she didn’t have to go through perma-death, right?” I fought so hard to not roll my eyes. I already knew where this was going. “Have you heard of New Life Insurance?”
She cut me off. “This is a new Zhang Robotics product. Using the New Body Technology, people who have a terminal illness can simply push a button on their phone to upload their Mind Files into the Mind Cloud. These Mind Files will then be transferred into a New Body.”
The nurse slid a tablet in front of me. “If you purchase the New Life Insurance through me, I could give you the promo code for a ten-percent discount.”
“Look, thanks. It was my grandma’s decision to end it.”
The nurse’s face darkened. She retracted the tablet and didn’t take another look at me. “Take a left turn and go straight to the end of the hallway.”
The hospital usually placed their terminal patients at the end of the hallway so that the solemn ceremonies wouldn’t disturb the rest. When I set foot in the shared ward, Brenda’s mourning families were all gathered around her deathbed.
Lying on the bed with the life support system connecting to her veins through the nano-delivery needles, Brenda didn’t look a day after thirty. You don’t age when you’re made of industrial-grade silicone body. No one noticed my presence as I snuck onto the empty bed at the end of the room and pulled the curtain between Brenda’s bed and mine.
The bed was soft and slumped by my weight. My tablet was vibrating when I pulled it out of my backpack. The screen read ‘Wu Zhang’. I swiped to answer the call.
Dr. Wu Zhang’s face appeared on the screen. He was 680 years old, though on the screen, with his silver hair and beard, he looked at most 70. He could’ve looked younger but he chose age supremacy over aesthetics. The creases on his forehead betrayed his displeasure. “It’s quarter past seven. Where the hell are you? And where are the Mind Files? And what’s that noise?”
“Um, Brenda’s family are mourning?” I peeked through the curtain and saw Brenda’s ECG beep steadily. “She’s the last one for today. Won’t be too long.”
“I hope so.”
“I’m not operating the life support machine. I guess we’ll have to wait for the patient to succumb naturally.”
“Half hour. Or there will be a salary cut.”
I feigned excited. “What? I get paid?”
“Wait, wrong employee. If you’re late, Cypher will go into perma-death.”
“You know you can’t always blackmail me with Cypher’s life. A deal is a deal. It’s not like I’m sitting around here watching cat videos or something.” From my peripheral vision, the TV at the top corner of the room was showing home pet videos. I reached for the remote and switched it off.
“I won’t hesitate to use an old trick that works.”
I groped in my backpack to pull out the beacon. The beacon interfered with the brain waves and retrieved Mind Files when the ‘soul’ was escaping the body and was shaped like a gun. Nice design huh? It was solid and felt heavy in my hand so I lifted it over my shoulder when the patient on the bed opposite to me was looking at me with a pale face.
“Shit,” I mouthed. “I gotta go.”
“You can’t use this excuse–”
I dropped my tablet into my backpack when a shout made me jump off the bed. “She must be here!” It was the nurse. My nerves rose within me as I peeked through the curtain. Three police officers stepped into the ward.
My heart reeled when my gaze fell on the man in the trench coat. Dark stubble covered his sharp jawline. His tanned complexion was perfectly immaculate matched with a thick nose and thin lips. He furrowed his thick eyebrows as his deep-set, brooding brown eyes darted around the ward.
There was no mistaking he was Detective Danny Everglade from the A.I. Ethics Department. My blood rushed in my veins every time I saw him. He was gorgeous too. But Detective Danny was here for me, the notorious Soul Thief, the most wanted criminal in the Asianova A.I. Department.
Their heavy boots thumped the floor, echoing off the walls. Curtains were flipped, plastic rings scraping against the curtain rods, punctuating the befuddled whispers of Brenda’s family.
I looked around for an escape and saw the window. I lifted the windowpane. A gust of smoke-filled wind whiffed into my nose, burning my lungs. I blinked my eyes which were swimming with hot tears quickly and climbed out of the window. My knees were turning into jelly as I climbed out the window and tiptoed on the edge.
The building next door seemed so far away.
The sudden cry breaking from the ward almost threw me off the building. I peeked behind me and saw Brenda’s family members covering her up with the white sheet. Shit. Brenda was dead. I clutched onto my beacon, debating if I had five minutes.
“There she’s!” Nope. Danny’s eyes interlocked with mine for a brief second. Damn, he was hot. After all, the handsome detective was the most sought after and illegible bachelor in Asianova.
I muttered a cuss. I was one Brenda short from reaching my KPI for the month. “Screw this shit.” I shoved the beacon back into my backpack and sucked in a deep breath, hoping it wasn’t enough toxic to turn my lungs cancerous. On the count of three, I jumped towards the staircase on the opposite building.
I caught onto the railing with a loud clang. Hot pain burned my skin when my palms grazed onto the rough surface. My boots caught the edge of the step, knocking off some rubble.
Danny glared at me from the window. With his well-trained biceps packed under his sleeves, he wouldn’t stand a chance to squeeze out of it. He gritted his teeth at me. “Soul thief! You can’t run forever!”
“Dude, I escaped from you every damn time!” I laughed, half concealing my nerves. Who wouldn’t be nervous around this dazzling off-limits? Sometimes I did wish he caught me.
Danny’s eyes stilled on me for a brief time. A smirk curled the corner of his lips and he shouted to his smartwatch. “Suspect is in the back staircase of Asianova Hotel. Don’t let her get away. I say again. Don’t let her get away! She’s mine!”
My stomach fluttered.
Danny’s brooding eyes pierced into mine. I wished I’d more time to feast my gaze on his perfect features. I tore away from him and bolted downstairs when the footsteps marched in my direction.
I skidded to a halt and turned around when Danny had broken out of the window and jumped on the staircase. I cried out as he swept his arm at me. I jumped back and missed him by inches.
I shot upwards. “She’s up there!” The footsteps thumped with urgency.
My chest expanded and fell erratically. Blood raged in my ears. I pushed through the fire door. Cold wind blustered into the staircase and blustered my hair. I turned in circles on the rooftop, looking for a way out.
My boots splattered on the muddy puddles. I jumped over the half walls, my legs ached in protest. Lactic acid burned my lungs.
“Surrender, Soul Thief! There is no way out!” Danny was right. There was no way out. I shook my head to gather my thoughts. I had to do this. Sucking in a deep breath, I pushed the distress button on my smartwatch. I bit my lip and said, “Upload consciousness to Mind Cloud now!”
“Upload initiated,” my smartwatch replied in a mechanical voice. “Battery low. Upload may be interrupted.”
“Wait, what?” I frowned at the battery bar blinking at five percent. “What the fat hell? I charged you last night!” I picked up my pace as the officers gained towards me. My heart was pounding so loudly in my chest they might hear it now. I was getting closer to the edge. “Screw this!”
I kicked off the ground and jumped off the edge. My heart somersaulted to my throat. I screamed as loud as I could. The wind cut in my ears. My surroundings blurred as the gravity hauled me towards the earth. If the battery went flat right now, I would plunge straight into perma-death.
“Upload complete. Logging off due to low battery.”
A sigh escaped from my chest. “That’s lucky.” My back slammed painfully against the ground. The world ceased into darkness as I succumbed to death.
White glare scorched my eyes like acid. I blinked quickly and realized I was sitting in the transfer tube that looked like an MRI machine in Wu Zhang’s lab. The equipment and furniture in the lab gradually took shape. My memories trickled back after a couple of minutes.
I’d witnessed numerous clients rebirthed in this transfer tube before. It was so hard to believe it was my turn. I thought myself lucky. Only the top one percent of the society could afford to purchase New Life Insurance.
The sudden flash of memories from my death jolted the hell out of me. My hand flew to my chest where my heart thundered like crazy. Death was still death. It was freakish no matter how Zhang Robotics packaged it.
I ripped the oxygen tube from my mouth and wriggled my limbs. My senses and control were coming back and the chill from the air-conditioned room pricked my skin. I winced at how sharp and realistic the nanosensors were.
“It’ll take a while for you to get used to your new Body.” Wu Zhang’s voice boomed behind me. The pressure door hissed to close after him. Clad in an immaculate long white coat, he made to the bed with his hands on his back.
“You got the Mind Files?” I was shocked I sounded just like myself. It made me wonder how much data Mind Cloud had collected to make my perfect clone. I peered at my reflection on the tinted window. I still had my tiny mole on my left lip. Tiny hairs rose on my arms.
“The Mind Cloud is very reliable.”
I rolled my eyes. “That was my first death after one year on this high-risk job.”
“I hope it’s the last. Your organic body had been decomposed of using the Rapid Organic Molecule Dissociation technique once Mind Cloud detected no life. All your gadgets have self-destructed to protect the privacy of Zhang Robotics. That pretty boy detective is getting nothing from you.”
I was still staring at my reflection. I had my brown eyes and dainty nose and full pillowy lips. I was even wearing the same black washed out tee and skinny jeans as I did before. They just didn’t look right. I was like staring at my twin or sister if I had one. “I did a slight modification on your looks so that whatever facial recognition Danny uses can’t pick you up.”
“You changed my looks?” I cupped my hands on my cheeks. “How’d you think my folks will find it?”
“They can share my disappointment.”
I glared at Wu Zhang. “You could’ve kept my long hair.”
“Your New Body is modeled on your last upload to the Mind Cloud. Any modification is part of the premium features so you should be grateful.” Wu Zhang cleared his throat. His face straightened I could feel it in my silicon guts something bad was coming my way. “You’ve been underperforming, Kira. You only recovered 25 Mind Files today.”
Wu Zhang’s lips pressed into a grim line. “At least 200 people go into perma-death every day in Centerport City alone.”
“Shame there is no technology that yet allows me to be at different places at the same time.”
I hopped out of the bed. My knees bent abruptly. I couldn’t feel my legs. I stumbled forward and held fast onto the side of the bed for support. “Not to mention the design flaw of the beacon that only works within a certain range.”
A wicked smirk quirked Wu Zhang’s lips. “You’re only wasting your time at the expense of Cypher’s Mind File. You do know that Mind Files decay over time if they aren’t transferred into a New Body when you keep decompressing them. You have a degree in machine learning and A.I. right?”
I couldn’t roll my eyes harder. My blood was boiling in my veins. “You’ll give him a New Body when I get five hundred Mind Files for you.”
“Of course. I’m glad that you realize that Cypher’s fate is in your hands. Don’t say I’m not helping you, Kira. I can offer you a better, quicker deal if you want.”
I arched my brow in interest.
Wu Zhang waved his hands to conjure a hologram. The 3D rendering of a besuited man materialized. There was no mistaking he was Gavroche, the billionaire entrepreneur, investor, director, actor, surgeon, philanthropist, and philosopher.
“Gavroche has contacted me for a special request.”
“What special request?”
Wu Zhang turned away, weighing how much to tell me. “Gavroche met this young lady named Michele during a business trip and fell in love with her at first sight. He later found out that she’s a prostitute. He can’t accept the woman he loves has been tainted by the touch of other men. He wants Michele all for himself, untouched. So he’s come to me.”
“That’s the most disgusting and sexist thing I’ve heard today.”
Wu Zhang pursed his lips. “Our algorithm isn’t sophisticated enough to pick up and mimic Michele’s personality. This is where you come in.”
“How am I going to pick up her Mind File when she’s not dead–wait a minute!” Wu Zhang’s words sank in me. A haze of fear bounced around me. “You–you want me to kill her?”
“Don’t get too ahead of yourself, Kira. That prostitute is going to die.”
“That’s convenient. What happened to the policy that bans the use of Helper Bots as sex droids?”
“I never mentioned sex droids at all. Gavroche has asked for a customized Helper Bot and we as the provider provide the service. Your job is to collect the subject’s Mind File.”
I shook my head in disbelief when Michele’s face and profile took over the hologram.
Michele was only 21, too young to throw her life away and walk the street. I thought I’d grown numb to collecting the Mind Files but this one struck the chord. She was the same age as me. Too young to die.
I played the video generated by Futuregraph, Wu Zhang’s invented program to predict perma-deaths of his subjects. A sick feeling scorched in my stomach when the men in the video started laughing lewdly and Michele screaming pleadingly. My blood ran cold. I stopped it the video.
“You’re a monster. I should be saving her life.”
“Haven’t you learned anything after so long? You don’t understand the purpose of your role, Kira. This isn’t a rescue mission. Your duty is to acquire her Mind File.”
“I can’t do this! How can I stand and watch her being murdered when I knew it was going to happen?”
I clutched and unclutched my fists. Guilt pricked at my conscience and crawled all over my skin. I wished I could erase the mental pictures from my head.
“Cypher. Or that girl you barely know. The choice is yours.”
I glared at Wu Zhang, fighting my hot tears. I pursed my lips. “Can you imagine how your multimillionaire clients will react if they find out that their Helper Bot slaves aren’t A.I. but your soul prisoners?”
A hint of anger flashed in his eyes, then he relaxed into a vicious smile. “If I were you, Kira, I wouldn’t tamper with the chance of reuniting with Cypher. I can wipe out every single trace of his memories with a push of a button.”
I clenched my fists and sucked in a deep breath. I couldn’t afford to lose Cypher. “Okay,” I muttered. “I need more information about the…subject.” I refrained naming the subjects to avoid attachment.
A cocky smile quirked the corner of Wu Zhang’s lips. “Everything you need will be delivered to your new tablet. Please collect your gadgets from HR.”
He stole my heart, so I stole his soul…
When Kira Lee takes up Dr. Wu Zhang’s offer to become his research assistant, it marks the beginning of her soul-sucking job. Think about all the exposure she gets working for the renowned Zhang Robotics! But that’s not why she takes up this job.
Wu Zhang is the only person who can rescue Kira’s boyfriend, Cypher from perma-death.
Kira’s job is to abduct the souls of the dying to serve as Zhang Robotics’ Helper Bots. This makes her the target of the domineering gorgeous playboy detective, Danny, from the A.I. Ethics Department. What Kira doesn’t expect is Danny isn’t only set to capture her but also her heart! As this chasing game turns the sparks into flames of passion, Kira knows she has to put her foot down and focus on saving Cypher.
When Kira later discovers Zhang Robotics’ plan to raise an army of undead robots, she’s thrust back into the path of her arch-enemy and forbidden crush, Danny who is the only person who can help her stop the insurgence of Wu Zhang’s soul prisoners.
Kira is left with no choice but to work with Danny without thinking about kissing his damn sexy lips. Now, she has an important decision to make. To stop Wu Zhang means she has to disable the database and delete Cypher’s Mind Files. Is Kira ready to lose Cypher forever?
Soul Thief is a standalone in the Torn Between Two Series that can be read by itself in any sequence. This story comes with a badass female lead who takes no shit, two equally gorgeous male leads, and guaranteed HEA with zero cliffhangers. Download the Amazon Kindle edition here.
Tags: Candice Lim