Friday, February 5, 2021

Unfrozen: Cooldown by Anton Tekshin

Unfrozen, book 1
by Anton Tekshin

Pre-order on Amazon -

Release - May 17, 2021

In Place of a Prologue


It may sound trite, but every bad story has to start someplace: a point of origin or a zero hour — call it what you like — but after it everything goes up in flames and plummets to the coldest climes of hell for a smoke break with the devil.

So if I’m going to tell this story in an orderly manner, then I had better start with my death…

“Listen to me, you’ve got to surrender peacefully!” Goha’s voice again hissed over the radio. “Why cause a shootout? You’ll just terrorize the townspeople.”

“Come off it,” I responded lazily, tinkering with the settings of an old laptop, its screen displaying a low-res feed from the exterior cameras. “Why don’t you just go ahead and offer to whack me for free, like, for ‘resisting arrest’ or something? Nah. I’m not about to make your life that much simpler.”

“Nobody is going to knock you off…”

“Goha, you know as well as I do that I’ll never make it to the first interrogation,” I reminded him of the bitter truth of my predicament. “This way, at least I can make some noise with the boys like in the good old days.”

“And, what, you’re going to promise not to shoot anyone?”

“I promise to limit myself only to the ones dumb enough to walk into my line of fire. How about that?”

“You’re a psycho!”

“That’s right. I have an official diagnosis confirming it too. In fact, I have two of them.”

“There’s no helping you! I finally get it now — both why you started this whole mess and why you refuse to surrender. But try to get it through your head: Innocent people could get hurt!”

“And that’s exactly why we’re going to have our shootout way out here and not in the city center. You boys can even go ahead and use gas here. No one will get hurt.”

“What about the hostages?”

“They’re already asleep, they won’t notice a thing.”

“So there’s no way to resolve this without resorting to lethal force?”


“Then I can’t help you any further,” Goha said with a note of regret. “Farewell!”

“Say hi to your wife for me,” I said and, after a pause, added, “sorry that I won’t make it to your housewarming…”

On the other side of the barricade, my former squad mate disconnected without a further word. Well, sure, I could understand him. For a negotiator, he had already said too much as it was. I hoped he wouldn’t get into any trouble over it. On the other hand, he did his job quite well too — he had kept me on the line, blathering, as long as he could.

Lost in thought for a few moments, I fiddled with the now-useless radio in my hands, then sighed and tossed it into the lap of the bound sergeant who was periodically mooing something through the gag I had improvised for him. He and his partner had been patrolling the area on the lookout for the “People’s Avenger,” when he found them and borrowed their walkie-talkies. I had placed both of my hostages out of harm’s way, behind the thick concrete pillars that supported the cracked vault ceiling, so as to keep them out of harm’s way during the imminent assault. Although…  I doubt they’ll ever appreciate my concern.

Four heavily-armed assault teams had methodically encircled the abandoned maintenance facility in which I had dug in for my last, decisive stand. Everyone was here for my sake — it even made my heart swell with pride! They chose not to breach through the main entrance, preferring to use the first floor’s ample windows as their points of entry. Although the windows were positioned high up off the ground, they hadn’t had glass in them since the days of perestroika.

But I had foreseen this possibility and set up some tripwires in the window sills. Fully armed and equipped, the boys weighed as much as medieval knights out for a fishing trip on a frozen pond, so the window sills moved noticeably under their weight as they tried to climb over and my tripwires were already stretched taut as it was.

A series of detonations thundered through the place, throwing up a cloud of dust. Oh, that’s going to cause a real commotion outside…

For a short while, I was the last thing on anyone’s mind. It was only temporary though — I had armed the booby traps with stun grenades so no one would be seriously injured. Yet they did get a fright and they did get pissed — well, it’s their own fault. Next time they won’t be so careless. At least now, they will come crawling up to my control room on the third floor with all the proper caution.

In the meantime, the long-awaited, snow-white Range Rover, with its sparkling chrome details and blazing light bar on its roof, finally appeared on the horizon. With a honk at the patrolmen yawning at the cordon, the SUV rolled into the parking lot and came to a stop in a handicap spot. A good location — at once not too far from where I was holed up and in the cover provided by some nearby garages. If I hadn’t festooned the perimeter with cameras, I’d never even see him there.

As I had assumed, Colonel Rybachenko had decided to personally witness the death of the “People’s Avenger” — me, that is. I had made business difficult for him lately, having eliminated too many of his regular “customers.” Moreover, he couldn’t help but be concerned for his own skin — there wasn’t a single person in town that didn’t remember how driving drunk one night, he had hit two local with this same Range Rover.

Now as then, he didn’t bother emerging from the comfort of his air-conditioned cabin. A coordinator in a light bulletproof vest quickly raced up to the driver-side window and reported the latest developments. The assault had already begun, so the colonel would soon make his appearance for the nightly news. After all, at a certain level, you earn your next rank and promotion by putting in the hard work of showing up and appearing before the cameras. Backbreaking labor, what can you say…

I waited for the coordinator to step away from the car and head back to the makeshift tactical HQ, before picking up the simple black and white Siemens cell phone. The number was already dialed; all I had to do was press the rubber call button.

“Hello, you have a collect call from ‘the other side,’” I hissed without taking my eyes off the grainy camera feed. “Ksenia and Olga Lisitsyn want to have a word — remember them?”

There was a prolonged beep in the phone, followed by several intermittent ones, as if the call had been ended — and at the same time the stream from my camera wobbled and went blurry in large ripples. My ears registered the solid boom a half second later, but the building around me didn’t even shudder. Built to stand for centuries, what did it care about a manhole blowing through a car parked outside?

Now all that remained was to disconnect the external hard drive with my most vital data and place it into the pre-prepared glass vessel. In our day of rabid technological advancement, a hammer could no longer ensure that the data on the disk would be destroyed for good, so I turned to acid, pouring it liberally over the hard drive. It’s true that this method was hazardous to both health and the environment, but it was also reliable.

I screwed the lid tight on the container and placed it carefully under the table. After that, the laptop went for a short flight through the third floor window onto the asphalt where it shattered to pieces. The forensics guys also need to have something to do, so let them put it together again. By the time they succeed, all that’ll be left of the HDD will be a milky goo. This is much more reliable than battering it with a hammer.

And now I can welcome my guests with a clear conscience. So as to make sure that they would have no doubts about how dangerous I was, I confiscated the service Makarov from one of the patrolmen, leaving all the cartridges in his pocket where they would be out of harm’s way.

However, I never made it away from the window, which looked out onto the blank wall of a five-story apartment block. A burning pain shot through my chest, knocking the air out of my lungs and pushing me back violently. I grabbed at the wound automatically, in a vain attempt to still the wild pain, took an awkward step and, myself not understanding how, suddenly found myself lying on my back on the floor.

Hadn’t I double-checked myself the day before? I had made sure that there was no line of sight into my control room’s single window — neither from the apartment block’s roof, nor from the ground. The bullets should have gone either into the floor or into the ceiling. And the only way to perch on the smooth wall of the apartment block was by gripping the drainpipe with your cheeks, which is very inconvenient for shooting.

Well, this hole in my chest hadn’t come out nowhere. The sniper must have been on rappel… But it didn’t matter now anyway.

I tried to remove my hand so as to let the blood pour from me faster, but I found that I could not move a finger as if something was holding it down. Wheezing and hacking up scarlet clots, I somehow turned my head to the side and saw Lydia sitting next to me, clamping the wound with both hands. Even though I could no longer speak, I could still address the ghost that had entrenched herself in my head mentally:

“Let go of me. Enough!”

But she only shook her head violently. Stubborn as ever… Even death couldn’t change her.

Growing heavier with every passing moment, my eyelids finally closed for good, but my ears still worked, conveying a hasty, shuffling to my oxygen-starved brain. It was the sounds of boots pounding up the stairs, conveying the tactical team to my location. You boys are too late, the sniper beat you to the punch and you’ll have to buy him drinks later.

As for me, it’s time for me to take a rest.


Chapter 1

To my surprise, the welcoming party on the other side didn’t consist of horned demons, eagerly rubbing their shaggy paws, nor melancholy angels with drooping wings. And not even Lydia, who has been waiting for me longer than anyone else. My host on the other side turned out to be a withered old man dressed in snow-white clothes. There was something incongruous about this attire for a heavenly servant, and it took me some effort to observe that what made it odd was that it was an ordinary jumpsuit, albeit one made of some unfamiliar cellular material.

The old man looked at me sternly, as if I had interfered with his monthly quota for harvested souls, and then remarked to no one in particular:

“He is coming around now. In a few minutes, he should be completely ready.”


I peered dully past the old man, trying to get my bearings. God forbid I’d been resuscitated! My head refused to obey my vision — in fact, somehow I didn’t even feel that my head was there at all — but as far as I could see, there was nothing around us, except for smooth, snow-white walls, which I had initially taken for stereotypical posthumous fog.

I looked askance as far as I could and caught a glimpse of the edge of the bed I was lying on. It was same white as my pajamas. They must have defibbed me back after all… But how had they managed it with a wound like that?

“Stay still, young man!” the old man shook a long knobby finger at me. “Breathe evenly, your sensitivity should return soon.”

Surely this strange Asclepius was very mistaken — it was as if he didn’t know who his patient was. Any other, more circumspect doctor would be praying that I remain as helpless as a plant for as long as possible. Why with a patient like me, he could easily find himself coming to on a resuscitation table himself.

Although, that would have been the case in better times. At the moment I felt like a meat popsicle on reheat in the microwave. A sharp tingling pain swept across my muscles gradually dissipating into a sore aching and leaving behind singed nerve endings. It was almost like the feeling of pins and needles followed by frostbite. The cutting pain contorted my body and made me want to howl like a wolf, but I held on, refusing to beg for anesthesia.

As I finally regained control of my neck, I tore my head up and off the hard bed with almost a creak. Once the fireworks faded from my eyes, a look around the room left me with more questions than answers. There was nothing in here except the old man and the bed with me in my pajamas — not so much as a simple doorway in one of the walls. What was even more astounding, however, was the absence of any life support equipment! And yet who was the doctor just talking to?

Sentience continued its painful reconquest of my body, booting up my hibernating subsystems one after another — my hands prickled, my stomach rumbled, my sinuses popped from the muscular spasms. I lay back, taking a good look at the wide medical restraints across my wrists, and focused on calming my ragged breathing, as the old man had advised.

After a bit, the pain began to ebb, but my body still felt as weak as if I had lactic acid instead of blood flowing through my veins. Were these the side effects of severe anesthesia? Or some sort of therapy? I am breathing on my own, after all, and I’m not sputtering blood, nor wheezing. Miracle of miracles…

About five minutes later, my tongue, which had been turning indolently in my mouth as if I’d been eating syrup, came back to life.

“Where…?” is all I could manage.

“It’s not important!” snapped the old man, bringing a small glass with a straw to my lips. “Drink this.”

It wasn’t much of a toast, but the thirst I felt was clenching my throat tightly enough to make my larynx squeak.

Either the water in the glass was distilled or my taste buds remained disabled because the liquid had neither taste nor smell. Still, I felt instantly better after drinking, and my head almost stopped spinning. It was too bad the old man did not have a second drink to offer me. Apparently, he hadn’t counted on me feeling so much better so quickly.

While I was drinking my fill, a respectable-looking man in a business suit entered the room simply and casually, right through an entrance that suddenly appeared in the wall. And I do mean “appeared” since it had not been there a second earlier. A vertical slit formed and abruptly expanded outward revealing a featureless corridor on its other side. At the same time, there was not even the trace of a sash.

I had already come to terms with the notion that I was in some other world, but when you see such alien tricks out of the blue… You can’t help but think: Have I lost my last marble? Or am I just pumped full of something extra potent?

Meanwhile, the man gracefully sat down on a semicircular section of floor that rose to the occasion, seatback and all, cleared his throat and addressed me in an articulated baritone:

“Hello, Clem.”

I couldn’t help but wince: It wasn’t that I was sick of hearing my name, just that lately, those who spoke it typically wanted me dead. What can you do — such is the downside of the popularity that comes with being the “People’s Avenger.”

The bed shifted beneath me, silently raising the upper half of my body and slightly lowering my legs.  I found myself reclined as if in a dentist’s chair, yet I couldn’t move much — there were restraints around my ankles, and even my waist was held by something like a wide belt.

The old man, with the empty glass in his hand, ran his hand over my bed for some reason and went out with a bow. The doorway collapsed in his wake into a monolithic wall without the slightest crack. Having seen a chair grow right out of the floor, this no longer seemed that impressive to me.

The man and I were left alone. Out of habit, I noted my visitor’s stiff bearing and impeccable attire, which indicated a military background as well as great wealth. Even his dark hairdo was immaculate, with each hair layered delicately upon its fellow as if it had just come out from under the stylists’ hands. His skin color was slightly dark, owing more to his race than a tan. He was clearly of mixed parentage and his face contained both the plastic lines of the Slavs and other features more typical of the peoples of the Caucasus region.

“Can you speak?” asked the yuppie, slightly drawing out his vowels in the dialect of our beloved capital.

The flavorless beverage had cleared the desert cats from my throat, so I could now actually answer him.

“Where… am I?”

“You are our guest,” the man replied evasively. “My name is Georgiy. I have a business proposition for you. A very serious offer. Are you ready to hear it?”

“And if… I’m not?”

“Then Dr. Roberts will prescribe us something from his magic bag,” Georgiy nodded toward the place in the blank wall where the old man had vanished, “to clear your mind.”

“No thanks… There’s no need.”

“Excellent!” The yuppie made a strange gesture with his hand, as if turning an invisible page. “You have an impressive dossier. Clement Denisov, call sign — ‘CD,’ how original… Your IQ is quite high, despite the trauma you suffered. This is good. I don’t think our conversation will take long.”

He seemed to be referring to my concussion and not the hole in my chest that had done me in. I guess my personal file had been leaked a long time ago. Before you know it, they’ll be using it to teach how to identify combat sociopathy. I wondered though whether he had a redacted version or the declassified original…

“I’ll start with the most important thing,” Georgiy went on. “You suffered a fatal wound. At the time of your death, there was no way to save you. Therefore, your patron decided to store your body in cryostasis. Simply put, they froze you. ‘Till better days.”

To say that this news hit me like an axe haft would be an understatement. Am I in the future then?


“Are you truly interested in the technical side of this procedure?” Georgiy raised one immaculately-plucked eyebrow.

“No,” I said, gradually returning to my senses. “Who is this patron you mentioned? And who handed me over to him?”

“I don’t know the details of the operation. But it was headed by Rear Admiral Sergei Rassokhin.”

“Never heard of him. What’s he have to do with me?”

“One of the girls rescued during your last operation turned out to be his daughter.”

“You expect me to believe that?” I asked, incredulous. “She would’ve had bodyguards. How did the Puppeteer manage to kidnap her in the first place? He was cautious to the point of pathology. He only preyed on street kids. God knows how much time I spent tracking him…”

“Yet you dispatched him very quickly,” Georgiy reminded me with a grin.

“There was no time,” I shrugged my shoulders as much as my restraints permitted. “The girl he was working on was in very bad shape. If I hadn’t stayed with her, she wouldn’t have made it to the ambulance: She had lost too much blood.”

“I know. She was the admiral’s daughter. She had gotten into a fight with her stepmother and run away from home. That’s how the Puppeteer found her. Rassokhin was fifteen years older than his first wife, and he was more than twenty years older than his second. You can imagine what kind of mother she turned out to be.”

“Well, I hope he learned his lesson, but I still don’t understand how he managed to take care of me. Some flowers on my grave would have been enough.”

“One of Rassokhin’s buddies was in charge of an experimental military cryostasis program. They forged some documents for you to get you in.”

“Why isn’t he here then?”

“He died ten years after the incident, in 2017. Heart attack.”

“So it goes.” I took a deep breath, preparing to ask the vital question. “What year is it now? Are we even on Earth right now? We’re not orbiting Alpha Centauri, are we?”

“We’re still on Earth.” Georgiy’s smile seemed somehow bitter. “Twenty-four years have passed since your official death.”

“Phew. At least thank Christ it isn’t 3000 AD. I guess then I’m 52 years old?”

“Biologically, you’re still 28, give or take a bit. It doesn’t matter and it isn’t important right now. The issue at hand is that in recent years our organization has borne the cost of maintaining your stasis…”

“You guys aren’t a charity?” I asked with a smirk.


“So I guess, since you unfroze me and patched me up, you probably need something from me. I should tell you right away: I’m not a gun for hire and, frankly, I’m fed up with this whole living business in general.”

“Yes, your psychological profile makes this clear,” Georgiy nodded. “Yet our analysts believe we have to use all the means available to us. And… We don’t need some jaded assassin anyway. We need an agent. A professional. One who can think outside the box, with a high IQ, and most importantly — someone we’ve never used in previous operations.”

“Are we talking international espionage here?”

“More like commercial.” Georgiy paused for a second and then went on, “My organization has been contracted to provide security for the players of a certain clan. Recently, four of them have been attacked — with a fatal outcome in each case. As a result, our professional reputation has been put into question. We suspect a rival clan but have no evidence and having one of our own agents go undercover and infiltrate them is fraught with difficulties.”

“Sorry, I believe I misheard you. Who are you trying to protect?”

“The top players of our client clan.”

“Now look here, George… Since we’re being so frank, let me just ask: You haven’t by any chance taken something from Dr. Roberts’ magic bag? What the hell is a clan?”

“A gaming clan. Listen, Clem, the world has changed quite a bit over the quarter of a century that you were asleep.”

“Changed so much that people are killing each other over some game?”

“That’s right. There’s a lot of money circulating in VR. Much of it is in online games. A significant portion of the world’s population effectively lives in them. More importantly, people earn their daily bread in them.”

“Then who works in the factories? Robots?”

“You could put it that way.”

I imagined the obese denizens of the future, sitting in front of computers for days, and I could hardly restrain myself from spitting in disgust. The soulless machines had defeated us after all — Skynet itself couldn’t have thought of something better…

“It’s not as bad as you think,” Georgiy assured me. “It’s just that cyberspace is the only way to cope with overpopulation. The alternative is war. Not everyone is thrilled about it, but that’s government policy for you.”

“Wouldn’t you be better off in space?” I nodded at the seat that had been part of the floor a few minutes ago. “I can see that technology has advanced just fine in the meantime.”

“That too is a… uh… complicated matter.”

“Well the hell with your future then! Put me back to sleep!”

“That’s not possible,” Georgiy shook his head. “It’s a miracle your body survived to begin with, not to mention the complicated reconstructive surgery you underwent. Even if we discount the damage that the cryostasis procedure does to the body, your chances of survival were no more than fifteen percent. Like I explained, this entire business is prohibitively expensive and you are nothing but a major cost for us so far.”

“I read you loud and clear, but chasing crazy gamers isn’t in my line of work. I doubt you’d get much use out of me as a janitor either, so you’ll just have to kill me again.”

“We can always do that, but maybe you’d like to take a look at the crime scene first?”

“I don’t feel like going anywhere. I haven’t felt this weak in my life.”

“Who said anything about having to go anywhere?” Clearly savoring the moment, Georgiy smiled and snapped his fingers.

In a flash, the white walls around us vanished and wallpaper splattered with blood appeared in their place. The room we found ourselves in was a scene of utter carnage — there were pieces of furniture, human remains and all sorts of unidentifiable rubbish everywhere. Were it not for the lack of soot and blast marks, I’d think that a large artillery shell had gone off in here.

For a second I looked around my surroundings with puzzlement, trying to understand how we got here, but then I noticed that Georgiy was standing shin-deep in some kind of jumble of electronics. As well as that the base of my bed was somehow intersecting with the remains of the smashed sofa.

“Is this some kind of illusion?”

“A hologram,” the yuppie corrected me. “You don’t seem very surprised.”

“Well, there are easier ways to see things that do not exist in reality. Like schizophrenia, for example.”

“You’re not schizophrenic, though, only mentally unstable. The important part is that your brain works fine. So what do you say?”

The scene I was in seemed so realistic to me that perhaps the most upsetting thing about it was that there was no stench accompanying it. I had learned through bitter experience to expect it.

“Where is the window?” I tried to look over my shoulder, but the restraint prevented me from moving.

“There is none, for reasons of security.”

“A lot of good that did him. Were there cameras in the room?”

“Two. But both were turned off during the incident. And the ones in the corridor didn’t pick up anything.”

“No one came in or out?”

“No. No one opened the doors either. They’re equipped with three layers of security.”

Oh yes, this limitless faith in the power of technology sounds familiar!

“Were there any other security measures here?”

“A security post with bodyguards. They didn’t see anyone either. Our people checked out their stories.”

“This is curious…”


“Your man tried to defend himself. You can tell by the trail of destruction. See that toy dragon?”

“Half of it,” Georgiy nodded.

“Well it’s made of plastic. But the cut is clean, surgical. The victim was using the dragon to defend himself and swung it through… Well, it wasn’t a blade. Some kind of laser?”

“We don’t know.”

“An interesting scene,” I concluded. “It looks like your guy survived for a short while and tried to run away from the assassin. And the killer seems to have been slow and clumsy — look how much stuff’s been hacked up here. Eventually all the clutter obstructed the victim’s path and the poor guy got dismembered, methodically but also indiscriminately. Why didn’t he just run out of the room? I don’t get it…”

“The door was locked… for reasons of security,” Georgiy admitted reluctantly.

“Are you sure he was your client and not your prisoner?”

“We took all conceivable measures to protect him. The clan leadership approved them all. Indeed, the player himself did not object — he led a reclusive lifestyle as it was. No one could have gotten inside except for the bodyguards.”

Here I felt a jolt from the one thing I’d been afraid of since this conversation began. I felt that damn thrill again. Back in my previous life, my morbid curiosity hadn’t just killed me — it had consumed me first. In the run up to my death, my only occupation was solving intricate crimes. I did all the detective work on my own and my only compensation was the justice I meted out once I’d found the culprit. I knew that the scene all around me now would be a tough nut to crack; it promised long hard work. How’d they manage to kill the gamer?

“I suppose all the bodyguards swear on their mothers that they’ve got nothing to do with this?”

“Yes, and it seems to be as they say. We checked out their stories.”

Georgiy snapped his fingers again, and the hologram around us disappeared. At the same time, the restraints holding me slackened and retracted into my hospital bed. Overcoming the weakness that had accumulated in my muscles, I habitually tried to rub my temples but found that I could not really bend my arm. I couldn’t even move my fingers properly. It was a peculiar condition — I tried to bend my index finger, but my middle finger obeyed instead. And when I focused on my middle finger, it was my pinky that jerked to life. At this rate, I wouldn’t even be able to express myself in traffic properly.

“Unfortunately, Clem, your nervous system is still in disarray,” the yuppie explained. “You are suffering from acute synapse decay due to prolonged cryostasis. A VR capsule is the only way you will ever move again.”

“A what capsule?” I asked with a sigh. “I don’t imagine it’s the kind that I can simply swallow?”

Pre-order on Amazon -

Release - May 17, 2021

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