THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 13 The Operation
The bag should have been heavier than it was. Maggie’s muscles burned as she lugged it to the elevator, but while she was grunting and slouching as she carried it on her back, she never felt like her body was going to fail under its weight. Pinkerton carried the extra rifles over one shoulder, and even that was giving him trouble. He leaned so hard on his cane that it bowed under his weight.
Once inside the elevator, Pinkerton pulled out an electronic key card. When the elevator stopped, Pinkerton opened a metal door and swiped the card across a green light that was glowing on a hidden control panel. The elevator began to descend once more, and when the doors finally opened, they were blinded by a bright light. Everything was almost white, looking polished and clean. There was no disgusting greenish hue over everything. Dr. Lane had obviously spent most of her funding on this private level. Maggie couldn’t understand why Dr. Lane hadn’t moved the bodies down here. If she had, then it was possible Silas wouldn’t have been able to escape with so many of them.
Idle conversation echoed in the hallway. Maggie and Pinkerton followed the voices until they reached a large dome-shaped room. Inside, stood Dr. Lane, Dr. Blake, Albertson, Randolf and the three members of Pinkerton’s team.
They all turned and looked at Maggie and Pinkerton as they entered. Behind them, Maggie saw a large square machine with a series of levers and buttons on its front and two conveyer belts on the left-hand side. On one of the conveyer belts lay a naked woman, one of the vacant bodies. The machine looked like something straight from a sci-fi movie. As Maggie studied the machine, she instantly understood that it was a fake, built on the off chance someone broke inside this level looking for answers. There were no symbols, no tesla coils. It was nothing but large box built for the sake of looking complicated. She realized that her operation had not taken place on this room, but inside one of the coffins she’d seen on Pinkerton’s phone. She didn’t see any coffins inside the room, but she had no doubt they were somewhere on this level. She shuddered. In a way, she’d died after all.
“Maggie, put the bag over there,” Pinkerton said, pointing to the ground in front of his three team members beside where he’d laid the rifles. Maggie did as she was told, and immediately, the male and female agents unzipped the bag and lifted a smaller bag out of it from which they began pulling out magazines for the rifles. Everyone stared at the weapons and ammo, shocked.
Dr. Blake asked, “Where’s Robert?”
“He left,” Pinkerton said. “He had obligations.”
Dr. Blake nodded, but he didn’t look convinced.
As Pinkerton’s team members loaded their weapons, Pinkerton looked at Dr. Lane. “Dr. Lane, make me a woman,” he chirped. Everyone looked at him, confused. Pinkerton shrugged. “I’m tired of being a cripple.” He pointed at the girl on the conveyer belt. “I want to be that woman.” He sauntered over to the conveyer belt, tossing his cane to the floor, and hopped onto the belt by the opening leading into the machine. He sat there, jiggling his uneven legs like a giddy schoolboy. “How about it, Dr. Lane? I think in the interest of science, we would all benefit from a demonstration.”
Dr. Lane went pale. “I hardly think this is the time,” she said. “The surgery takes a while.”
“I disagree,” Pinkerton said. “In fact, I think the investigation can’t move forward until we see how the operation is done.”
“Pinkerton, are you sure that’s a good idea?” the female agent asked. “Even if your right, that machine might still…do something.”
“I hope it will do more than something,” he said. “So, come on, doctor. We’re all dying to know.”
“Things could go wrong,” Dr. Lane said. Maggie was alarmed to hear something menacing in her voice. “I might mess up.”
“If you mess up, then we won’t be getting out of here alive, will we?” Pinkerton said plainly. Dr. Lane was silent. Pinkerton took this as a victory and laid himself on the empty conveyer belt. Maggie watched as Dr. Lane pulled a lever, and both Pinkerton and the naked girl disappeared into the giant square box. The two agents with their guns at the ready stood behind Dr. Lane, but if she tried something, how would they know?
Dr. Lane pressed a button, and the machine began to hum. Lights flickered and flashed on the control panel. Something which sounded like steam hissed from an unseen port as cogs and gears churned inside. Pinkerton and the girl’s feet stuck out of the machine. Everyone watched the girl’s feet, waiting to see if they would move or twitch. Nothing happened. The machine kept humming, the cogs kept grinding, but nothing changed.
It might have taken an hour. Maggie wasn’t sure, but finally, Dr. Lane lowered her head; her shoulders sagged. “I can’t,” she said and turned off the machine. The conveyer belt didn’t move, so Pinkerton had to crawl out; however, when he stuck his head out of the opening, he was smiling. The girl’s body remained still.
“Dr. Lane,” Pinkerton began as he hopped off the belt and retrieved his cane. Maggie detected a hint of sympathy in his voice. “This machine doesn’t do a thing, does it? It’s a red herring.” Dr. Lane nodded. “How are the souls really transferred?”
“You already know,” Dr. Lane muttered.
Pinkerton nodded and turned to the group. “Dr. Lane hasn’t been using science at all. She’s been using a voodoo priest to conduct a ceremony to transfer the soul from the old body to the new body. The devices that Silas stole are the real machines needed for the ceremony to work. He turned back to Dr. Lane. But you were still able to transfer yourself and Maggie after Silas stole your equipment which means, at least, two more coffins remain in this facility.”
Dr. Lane nodded. “They’re here.”
“In a room toward the back.”
“Wait…What?” Dr. Blake asked.
“People in high levels of Satanism believe they can become vampires through ritualistic means,” Pinkerton said. “They fill the bottom of the coffin with a cocktail of roots and herbs, then they write a series of symbols around the lip of the coffin in order to invite a demon to make the transformation. To their unpleasant surprise, they find that the ceremony actually works. It takes about three days to finish. I shouldn’t need to explain the significance of the number three to a demon, but anyway, Dr. Lane was working with a voodoo priest who created a variation of the same ceremony, only they managed to do speed up the process. I assume, the Tesla Coils have something to do with it.”
Dr. Lane nodded.
“That was very clever,” Pinkerton said. “For someone who doesn’t believe in the supernatural.”
“I don’t,” Dr. Lane snapped. “But I heard Delphin explain the ritual and it wasn’t hard to guess what was really happening. The herbs and roots were producing a chemical reaction which provided the energy, and the symbols were directing that energy to cause the change. There was never any need to assume demons were doing it.”
Pinkerton raised an eyebrow.
“What!” Dr. Lane shouted. “I don’t believe in any of that stuff. It’s ridiculous!”
“You believed something. Pinkerton said. “And you were desperate enough to try anything. There’s no way a man like Delphin could convince you of the supernatural. You went looking for him.”
Dr. Lan fell silent. She stared at the floor.
“Hold on,” Dr. Blake said, raising a hand. “I don’t…I can’t follow any of this. This is insane. This is…”
Pinkerton pulled out his phone and held it in front of Dr. Blake’s face. He began scrolling through the pictures his partner had taken earlier. Dr. Blake stared at the screen with wide eyes, then shook his head. “This is impossible!”
“I agree,” Albertson added; although, he sounded less sure.
Pinkerton rolled his eyes as if this was something he’d heard a thousand times, and it probably was. As if on cue, Pinkerton’s three crew members entered the room carrying one of Dr. Lane’s coffins. Maggie hadn’t even realized they’d left. They dropped the coffin in front of the two men who stared at it with gaping jaws. Randolf stepped toward the coffin a moment later, staring at it as if he were trying to puzzle out a math equation.
Maggie sympathized with the three men. She wouldn’t have believed any of it herself if it weren’t for the fact that not an hour before she’d left her body, saw her lifeless form collapse and felt her soul, her essence, being pulled toward a clay jar which would’ve served as an eternal prison. After the three men studied the coffin a while longer, everyone turned and looked at Dr. Lane.
She sighed, trembling with tear filled eyes. “It’s true. I was out of money and options!” She began weeping, her eyes shifting to each person in the room. “I’d managed to make the bodies, and that was an amazing feat by itself, but I…Silas wasn’t the first human experiment. He was the first success. I’d asked the government for help, but they gave me a deadline. We were given inmate after inmate, each from death row, and while we could copy everything, and I mean, everything; every memory, personality trait, piece of knowledge, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing, some unknown thing which regulates choices and processes information, whatever it was, it just wasn’t there.”
“The soul, you mean,” Pinkerton said.
Dr. Lane shook her head and shouted, “No! I told you, I don’t believe that; the super ego, perhaps, the mediator between the various parts of the mind, but not that!” She sighed, taking a moment to collect herself before going on. “In any case, the bodies had the information, but they couldn’t use it. They would just stumble around in a daze like a zombie or sit in place. The inmates would wake up, still in their original bodies, and we would have to rush them out before they saw what we’d done. The new bodies could breathe. All the automatic functions worked, but they would just stare at you like they didn’t know what you were and didn’t care. I don’t know how many experiments we did. All I know is that one day, I got a call from my benefactors telling me I had three months to finish the project. I was desperate. I don’t know how I got the idea in my head, but I started reading about voodoo on the internet. I don’t know what I was thinking, or if I even had a plan, but I found a priest on the dark web, and I called. I picked him at random. I had no idea what I was going to find, or if the man was even legitimate. I just called him and asked if there was a way to transfer souls. He said there was.”
“Providence from hell,” Pinkerton said.
Dr. Lane ignored him. “I bought Delphin Esteban a plane ticket and brought him here. We discussed the ceremony, and I adjusted the original design of the coffins. Then we grabbed the first inmate we could find and placed him in one coffin then put a strong male body in the other. It worked.”
“Silas,” Maggie said.
“Did you know Delphin was Silas’ accomplice?” Pinkerton asked.
Dr. Lane looked at Pinkerton, blinking. “No,” Dr. Lane said, and Maggie thought she sounded genuinely hurt.
“But you must have suspected it,” Pinkerton said. “The day of the theft, the entire staff was late. Did you talk to Delphin?”
Dr. Lane said, “I never had any proof, and I couldn’t afford to confront him.”
Pinkerton sighed. “The two bodies in the observation room are possessed by demons. When a witch doctor starts doing ceremonies on a property, he or she opens the door for all sorts of entities. But it takes more than the usual build up of negative energy to provide enough juice for a demon to enter inanimate objects. Usually, there’s a specific ceremony done with this purpose in mind. Do you think Delphin could have done the ceremony without your knowledge?”
“No,” Dr. Lane said. “We cleaned the lab together. Neither one of us was ever alone in here, and I kept the keycards.”
Pinkerton narrowed his eyes. He rubbed the back of his head and said, “I suppose, it’s possible that is something particularly egregious was done to one of the bodies specifically, and that could have provided the energy and created a link that the demon could use.”
“This is crazy!” Albertson roared. Maggie was surprised the outburst hadn’t happened sooner. “Demons! Spells! Coffins! Ghosts! Aren’t you people scientists?! What was your plan, Rachel? Drug every single customer while you and the damn janitor did a quick incantation? Then go out there and proclaim we’d made some great scientific discovery!”
“What choice did I have?” Dr. Lane shouted. “The science wasn’t working! It should have worked! We mapped every inch of the brain! We found every neuron, we copied every chemical, we found out what each compartment of the brain did, and then, we discovered how to chemically copy all of it! At the very least, we should have been able to make a replica of the person, but I watched those bodies walk around with all that information stored in their brains. They should’ve been just like everybody else, but they’d stumble around, moaning and drooling, and eventually, dying because even though they knew how to eat, they didn’t have the drive to do it! There should have been a survival instinct! There should have been something pushing them to live! But there was nothing there. They had the information, but they were nothing more than computers without an on switch. I’m sorry if you don’t agree with what I did, but I had to go where the science took me!”
“Into the hands of a witch doctor?” Dr. Blake sneered.
“Into the hands of a witch doctor,” Doctor Lane repeated, her shoulders sagging.
“Well, the witch doctor is dead,” Pinkerton said. “He stabbed Maggie’s son in the back and tried to trap the poor old woman’s soul in a clay jar.”
“You killed him!” Dr. Lane shrieked, looking at Pinkerton with wide eyes. “He’s the only one who could’ve convinced the demons to leave those bodies!”
“I doubt it,” Pinkerton said. He pointed to the priest. “I doubt even Father Jacob is going to be much help. Possessions and exorcisms are battles over souls. Well, those bodies are nothing but shells. Congratulations, you just gave those demons free housing. To make matters worse, just before Delphin bled out, he told me the reason he helped Silas was because someone or something ordered him to. So, either the demons have a plan, or word of you operation has gotten out.”
“What does that mean for us?” the female agent asked.
“It means the rest of those bodies are going to wake up,” Pinkerton said.
There was a loud bang inside the machine. Everyone’s eyes darted toward the conveyer belt in time to see the feet retract. The girl’s head popped out a second later. Her face contorted into a violent sneer.
“Good job!” the girl said.
She scrambled off the conveyer belt and lunged at Pinkerton. Pinkerton took a step to the right as gunfire exploded from the barrel of the male agent’s rifle. The girl stumbled back as a barrage of bullets ripped gaping holes through her torso. When the magazine was empty, the girl looked up at the agent as if she were mildly annoyed. She started for the male agent with a gurgling scream.
“Shoot the head,” Pinkerton said, sounding annoyed.
The female agent dropped the girl with a single shot.
Dr. Blake and Albertson stepped back, muttering. Maggie had never seen mad men before, but she guessed they carried an expression similar to the one the two men wore, the look of men who were watching the fabric of their reality crumble. Maggie supposed she’d had that look as well when her supernatural revelation hit her in Delphin’s room.
Maggie stepped toward the empty shell. She looked down at the blood seeping out into a pool on the white tiles. At first, the blood came out red. It looked just like anyone else’s blood. But as the body continued to drain its life, that life became thick and clear. It seeped out of the open wounds, looking almost like hair gel. For the first time, an awful reality set in. Whatever she was, she was no longer human. Maggie stared at the corpse. She didn’t belong in this world. She belonged on the other side of the void, yet she was trapped. Was the demon trapped, too? What if being trapped in the dead body lying on the ground was like being trapped inside Delphin’s clay jar? She’d never actually entered the jar, but the jar’s purpose was plain enough. It was a prison, a place to store things you wanted to use later. One day, her new body would cease to work. She didn’t know how, but some day, she would experience a death of her own, but would she be allowed to move on, or would she be trapped, serving a spiritual prison sentence for breaking the laws of God?
Maggie was pulled from her thoughts by screaming. It was Dr. Blake. “How could you do this? You ruined everything! You ruined everything I’ve worked for! Why! Tell me why!”
Dr. Lane looked at her friend with tears and said, “I just wanted to be someone else.”
There was silence for a long time. Everyone stared at the shell on the floor. It was Pinkerton who broke the spell.
“Come on, I have one last interview with our friends in the observation room.”