#2 the lion roars

PART 1 – LIQUID PEACE

PART 2 – PATIENT PAPER 

The police station was accommodated in an old building, a school from the 19th century.

It took me three hours to get anywhere near Benny.

They had me fill out seven forms, both sides, all identical. The policeman in charge ripped two forms apart, and I had to start again. “Hand slipped.” His comment slapped my ears. This was nothing but mile high harassment. I knew it. The police man knew it, and I tried not to get too angry.

Then they had me write down what happened from the phone call on, till now.

Time delaying tactics. Maybe they searched and bugged my apartment right about now. They must have turned Benny’s upside down already.

 I tried to remember, if there was anything suspicious in my flat, something that could get me in jail.

Nothing to hide…

No political literature, beside what was permitted and encouraged. Some family photos, but I’m the only one left alive, so no danger on that end. No newspapers or magazines, no radio – lucky me. Only cigarettes, coffee and booze and dirty laundry.

Still, they told me to wait.

On the other side of the dirty window, the sky caught fire on the margins. The sun would be up in less then half an hour. Exhaustion burned under my eyelids, like sand. I attempted to close them, it stung like salt on an open wound. I feared my eyelids wouldn’t go all the way down. I pushed with with my fingertips against them. The burn eased a tiny bit, only to be replaced by headache. Benny mattered now most. As soon as I opened them, the artificial light made them water. I had to focus on Benny.

 From somewhere outside, they dragged Benny in, hands cuffed behind his back. He stumbled forward, face pale and bright and full with terror and relief. He was scared to death. From the stains on his clothes, I could tell he had wet his pants.

This was, what a man on death row looks like. Nausea greeted me. God! I had to push that thought out of my head fast.

At first glance there seemed nothing wrong with him, only a split lip. His wet hair stuck to his sweaty forehead. I was three feet away from him. I could reach out, but I knew better than that.

The uniform holding  his left elbow grunted. “He fell all by himself. Clumsy, like a child.” The other man at his right and the policeman, I gave my forms to, laughed. The smell of ethanol and urine hit me. It was a roaring filthy laugh, a laugh you laugh at a salt covered foaming snail, or at a cringing burning spider.

The man on his left pulled a lighter out of his pocket. Benny whined and jerked back as far as he could. I had to swallow hard, clench my teeth, so no reaction escaped me. The uniform at his right lifted his right elbow, forcing him down. His face got close enough to the flame that he could have breathed it out. He did nothing. He just trembled.

 

Behind me, the slick voice from the telephone harrumphed. The man put away his lighter, and the other uniforms straightened up. Everything went silent.

“So you are friends with Jews and Hungarians, doctor?” That man… The hair on my neck stood on end. Benny’s face fell, he winced. Slowly, I turned around.

The man leaned with his elbow over a filing cabinet, posture most casual. He was bigger than me, wiry stature. He had broad forehead, a long crooked nose, broken once but healed well and bushy brows. His dark eyes seemed to sparkle with mischief.

From the edge of his lips hung a lit cigarette. Ash clung to the paper. His clothes were elegant, no uniform, coat and shoes handmade. He blew smoke through his nostrils right into my face. I didn’t breathe. Manicured hands, I noticed. Nothing cheap about this man, this was no foot soldier. This was someone, a big someone. This was an intelligent, well educated high ranking officer. He smiled a peaceable smile, perfect teeth hid behind his lips.

This man could only mean trouble.

I steadied my voice. “Only this one.” What a stupid thing to say! My head was empty, there was nothing witty to say.

“Your boss says, you are a capable man. A bit soft, but capable nevertheless. We’ll see about that.” He looks at his manicured nails with interest.

He noded a tiny bit, and the men shoved Benny into my back. I felt him bump into me, grab for my jacket and going down unto his knees.

The man chuckled and waved a hand. “So collect your garbage and go.”

Monkey on the Road – tiger, burning… (3)

Part 1 – The Cold Mountain

Part 2- Tea with Jade and Tiger

The silhouette of San Chou gleams between the three green hills of the southern part of the Yellow River. Like a hungry locust reaches a rice paddy, I reach San Chou, five days after Jade, Tiger and I part at my father’s house. My father is Zhang Dee Yang, the most honored governor of Li Jiang. His high hopes are resting on my shoulders. Jade and Tiger, his friends come along to help me complete my mission.

Dressed like a wandering astronomer, nobody takes noticed of me. I merge with the river of craftsmen and farmers going to the Moon Market in the heart of San Chou. I have no troubles at all. The whole village is busy preparing for the Moon Festival anyway, so no one pays attention to the flood of strangers mixing with the villagers on the streets. Children laugh, dogs bark, horses leave their droppings everywhere. Life pulsates in this seemingly happy village. Nobody knows, that it’s rotting  from the inside, with the poison of the infamous Black Viper, a gang of thieves and murderers.

In the first hostel at the outskirts of the village, I ask for martial arts schools. San Chou has three, the owner tells me. He smiles a polite but expectant smile, so I buy a pork bun and a hot cup of tea.

That’s a start!  The whole way to the village I muse how to infiltrate the Band of The Black Viper. I will find  some shady characters and tell them good fortune, let slip, that danger is around the corner. A big black snake ready to bite them. I will observe very carefully.  I know where to look for shady characters… “If you look for trouble, search for the troublemakers.” That is what my master in the Monastery says. Martial arts scholars have a clear stroke of trouble on them, no doubt about it.

I’m one of those trouble makers indeed. Before my father sent me to Mount Shongshan, I was a no-good, lazy boy, bound to destroy myself and my foster family. I knew nothing.

The memories of my training well up in my heart. I sip the tea and smile at the years on Mount Shongshan. The wise monks were firm, never allowing anger, fear or joy in their scholars. I cannot imagine that my dear teachers were ever able to giggle, to burst into a fit of laughter or shout at someone. The tea tastes mild and refreshing, I bite the soft bun.  The taste of it’s dough fills my mouth. The spicy pork meat swipes away the gentle sweetness around it. What an excellent bun! I think of the constant hunger and the countless hours of hard work and pain in the Monastery, to school my mind. “Character is the silver you get, when you refine the rocks from the mine.” My foster father says, before he sends me away. The last thing he says to an angry little boy, who just stole the horse of a drunken soldier. The horse, he had to kill and replace, because I made it fall and it broke one of it’s legs… I did not know, what he meant with his farewell words. Years later, my master completed what I could not understand with my angry blazing heart. “But first, you have to crush them, then heat them, so they lose their stubborn efforts to cling to their habit of being rocks…”

Master is right, I decide. Troubled souls have an affinity to martial arts. They are attracted to what they think of as an act of violence, like moths to the fire.

The owner of the hostel comes to refill my cup. I ask him for a room, for the duration of the Festival. He seems happy, and he shows me into a tiny room under the roof. “Three days in advance.” He smiles bowing deeply, and I pay making a sour face. He will get greedy, if I do not show, that the two wen he wants hurt my moneybag. Downstairs, I take two more pork buns. I have to take a look around the village.

A little boy, not more than three summers, squats at the entrance of the hostel and looks quizzically at me. Snot runs down his dirty round face, and he sweeps it away with the back of his puffy hand. I give him a bun. His little moonface brightens up, he bites a mouthful, barely able to close his lips, or chew. “Is this what father saw in me? A hungry little runt? Was it pity?” He shoots up to his feet, suddenly with a troubled look. Fear crawls over his smooth forehead, fear that I might change my mind and take back his tasty treasure. With a shriek around the mouthful of bun he runs. My gaze follows the boy running as fast as his tiny feet carry him. He disappears in the shadows between two huts on the other side of the street. At least he isn’t hungry anymore, and nobody else needs to pity him for today.

“You have a good heart, I can tell.” Behind me a boy tugs at my sleeve. “But you are a stranger here, I can tell that too.” I turn around and look at him, eight summers, maybe nine. He is thin, hungry too, not fitting his clothes. He is, what I need.

I will pay the boy three wen to show me around. One coin for each school. I will give him another, for food. San, my guide, walks with me towards the heart of the village. He does not question anything I say to him. He seems to know everybody around… He must be a beggar of some sort. Tiger and Jade are nowhere to be seen, so I start my observations and take notes. San is explaining everything to me. Each school has one active teacher, and one older master. The number of scholars are variable. Southern Fist has eleven boys, Wing Chun has fifteen and Northern Legs has seven.

I try to remember every scholar entering and leaving the school. It is most likely, that the criminals have some sort of training. I will have to ask the masters for drop-outs without attracting too much attention… Or maybe I will ask San, he seems to know a lot about the people living here.

After that, I check the administration. From the outside it looks fine. I send San away with four wens, and make him promise not to steal for today and to hide his coins from the elder boys. “You may come back to the hostel tomorrow.” I tell him, seeing his sparkling eyes. “I might have work for you.” I lie.

Then. I catch a glimpse of Tiger. San sees me. He sees Tiger. I shoo him away. Tiger leans at the garden wall of a house nearby, in a beam of sunlight and throws me a disgusted look.

Where is Jade?  That smile… My stomach falls. Is she in trouble, and Tiger plots something to get her out? Inside me things add up in a bad way. I have to check for myself.

I have a brilliant idea! I go to the entrance of the administration and knock at the door. Truth is a tool, as much as lies and betrayal are.

A soldier lets me in, and I demand to see the high official. The courtyard of the administration is tidy. Busy officials rush from the entrance to the house. The soldiers guarding the house look sharp. They notice every tiny movement. So far so good, I tell myself.

The soldier leads me to a wooden door at the northern side of the building. I’m shown into a small dark room, with one chair and one table. After a minute, a thin old man comes in. His feet shuffle him forward, a cane supporting his unsteady steps. His clothes are richly embroiled. His hat marks him as a high ranking official.

As he sits down, he nods and flashes his complete set of teeth. Only as he indicates with his hand, I start speaking: “My Lord. I am a wandering scholar, an astronomer. I’m here to warn you. A man I noticed on the other side of the street is spying out the administration.” The man shows no reaction. Odd. Maybe, if I speak louder. “I know him from my hostel, where I made a horoscope for him. A truly dangerous and brutal man.” I try and bow slightly in front of him. He indicates me to stop, stands up and shuffles out of the room. Surely, to check my claims. Or…

Four soldiers barge in. Swords drawn. All pointing at me. The man comes back in, with a most satisfied smile.  “So we caught you, Monkey!” He barks a little laugh, and turn towards someone outside. “Call Miss Jade.” This is not how I planned it. “You’ll see that our prisons are as comfortable, as the ones in Li Jiang.” He points his bony index at me and grins.

Entropy and other inconveniences…

linked to this story here: X

„Nobody took a dump here.“ A scrawl in black sharpie stretched over the upper right corner of the booth door. „SEXXX! Call 314-159-26.“ The lower margin of the door warned about the pervy limbo dancers.

Andy cracked a smile and checked for the naked chocolate bar and the newspaper in the inner pockets of his long leather jacket. Someone flushed a toilet two cubicles to the right. He heard the somebody leaving the public restroom without washing hands. The door slammed shut. Andy sighed. He squeezed his notebook into one of the butt pocket of his denims. His naked toes felt wet and cold on the tile floor. He took a deep breath. The air was stale, the aroma of urine was overwhelming. He consoled himself with the fact, that in a blink, he was going to disappear from the questionable puddle.

A whispering fizzling noise echoed from the walls of the room, and Andy concentrated upon an imaginary spot, half a step away, in front of his navel. A little sphere of pale blue ball of brightness formed instantly. He cupped his hands hovering two inches away from the light. He made it bigger and bigger. The muscles in his arms vibrated with effort, he made the sphere spin. He stretched it  over his shoulders and took a deep breath.

Andy stepped into the pale blue vortex in front of him.

The bathroom, and the rest of the world at his back folded, and faded to nonexistence. Everything went black. The muscles on his chest and back rippled with tension and fibrillation.

At the edge of his visual perimeter, the pale blue light twitched and sparked.

He stood in an Andy-shaped hole in the fabric between realities. His spine tingled and burned, as if his skin had been shock frosted. He felt lightning licking and stinging at the back of his head and around his shoulder blades. His fingertips and bare feet stung with electric pins and needles.

Entropy swept over him like a tidal wave, knocking his breath out, leaning on him, pushing downwards. He bowed his head. Submerged in the currents of energy flow, he slid through spacetime layers into lower energy state realities. The torrent caught him in a tight grip around his waist and yanked him down.

He hated this part. The sinking feeling in his stomach froze his mind. He panicked.

He usually did.

What if, he got a hypo here and had no strength to get out again? Would he die, or would he be arrested in the terrified state of  just realizing, that he was about to die?

Forever?

His instincts took over. „Hold onto something.“ They demanded. „Let it guide.“

His hand grabbed his daughter’s little praying bead bracelet. The pressure that made him bow, lifted suddenly.

In his imagination a happy family breakfast flared up. Ava buttered a bun for Emily. He was drinking coffee. He smiled.

Depressurizing made him dizzy. The breakfast table faded, as he stopped focusing upon it. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear. He closed his eyes. For once, no static filled his head. Calm. He imagined this was peace. Surely this was what it felt like.

He wanted to remain. Inertia crept into his mind. But he knew he couldn’t stay.

He never stayed.

Peace was not human nature. Guilt was. Sickness, decay, futility, death, war and famine were too. Always suffering…

The burning sensation chewed up his limbs, his arms and legs stung. His face hardened into a heavy ice mask.

Transition was a bitch. He couldn’t breathe. His eyelids weighed tons, lips sagged.

He couldn’t stop shivering. The clench of solid inertia overpowered his bones, his organs, his muscles.

The breakfast table flickered again. It hung in front of him, some steps away, taunting. He shuffled a foot forward. He had to keep going. He had to reach it. The darkness pushed into his pores, dissolving in his veins.

He felt sick and broken. Entropy knew he was, and caught in his edges, in the fissures of his brokenness. It cooed to the darkness, that sprouted in his body and soul. The rotten blackness in him grew. His heart seemed to transform to a homing beacon to catastrophes and bad intentions. He had no time to brace himself. The dizziness tipped him out of his position. He spun, but his heart slowed.

He had to keep moving. The gaps between his heart beats grew.

Sick yellow light shone somewhere in front of him. It flickered like a candle a mile away in a dark stormy night. He tore at the slowness of his body. He tore at the spinning of his senses.

Move. Just.

One.

Step.

He fell to his knees in a moving cargo elevator, between Floor 17 and 18. The air around him crackled and fizzed. The elevator stopped with a sigh and a jolt. The lights flickered a slight bit.

For a moment, Andy’s arms remembered the shape his dying daughter. The smell of strawberry shampoo and blood hit him. The memory sank deeper and vanished from his consciousness, as his heart accelerated. The familiar pain burrowed deeper into his spine. Guilt zeroed in of him, and he knew he had the right timeline.

He shivered violently. Rime coated the walls of the elevator, his clothes, skin, hair, brows and eyelashes.

His mouth was a desert. His lungs tried to breathe. His heart tried to crawl up his throat. An invisible hand compressed his chest. Air refused to get in.

Andy propped his arms on his knees.

No hunger, no cold, no nothing.

His body willed itself back to normality and tried to swallow.

Interceptor

part 1: foxtrot uniform charlie kilo

This April evening darkness came early. It was hardly past 5 pm and Newport City didn’t stand a chance. It was engulfed by a tidal wave of flickering electric light, mist and a gentle rain.

The big adds on the skyscrapers flared to life, bathing the windows in neon blue, bright green and crimson. The street lights flashed, blinked and faded away, only to restart in less than half a minute.

Oz moved through his nearly empty apartment without making light. Not that he would have needed light ever again… His new prosthetic eyes automatically switched to night vision, showing him his nearly empty apartment as shabby as it felt to him right now.

In the bedroom, he unrolled his sleeping bag, where his old bed used to be. A clean set of clothes waited for tomorrow morning. He sighed, unsure what to do next, he went to the window. His own reflection looked like it always did. No scars, no metal parts protruding from his skin, even his eyes looked like his old ones. Strix made sure, he kept his retinal pattern for security reasons. No one would notice he had prosthetics. Raindrops trickled down the window. Only inches away, one would notice that his pupils would whirr and turn, not contract. He tapped the glass twice and it went milky. Nothing out there for me. He said it out loud. His voice sounded distant and flat.

What now? Izanami asked.

Can I see you? A young woman blinked into existence. She stood at his right side, and wore a grey catsuit. She had her long light brown hair braided into a long ponytail, resting on her left collar bone. Her full lips smiled at him pleasantly.

He had selected her facial features before he had his implants, even before he had his personal AI.

That face was with him, since he was born. It was the face of his mother in her twenties. His distant memories and an old photo of her laughing, were the mold, for Izanami’s facial features and her emotional response. He had set her emo-hub to be a fun person, optimistic and humming away his favorite songs, when he felt sad. Izanami monitored his neurotransmitter levels and knew when he felt stressed. She hummed softly.

Is this projection a hologram?

No. Izanami smiled. What you see, is a construct. I’m inserting your projection of me into your visual data, just before entering your visual cortex. I use the communication hub between implants and neuronal tissue for that. Your high capacity interceptors are made for this task. Do you want to change my appearance?

You are saying… You’re a hallucination? Oz surprised himself with this realization.

Technically? Yes. She nodded happily, and walked over to his left side. Your gaze follows me through space, but I’m there. Izanami pointed vaguely over Oz’s left ear.

There was the AI’s CPU and memory unit implanted into petrous part of his temporal bone. The implants for the AI were only twice his thumbnail’s size. It has been a minor operation, half an hour, or so. He had earned himself a migraine though.

The Uplink implants have been a procedure of several weeks and some hours in surgery. He still got dizzy, when looking at repetitive patterns. There was a weird interference, he hadn’t manage to filter out.

You seem not to like the word hallucination. What about ghost? Do you like ghosts? Izanami asked concerned.

No. Hallucination it is. Let’s personalize your features, security first. I should have done this on our first day. Oz paced up and down his bedroom. Izanami remained stationary where she last stood.

Firewall? Browse, select, cancel? She asked in a mocking robotic voice.

Select high security encryption. Quantum key. Select super symmetrical dummy barriers, select voice command initialized autistic mode.

Selected. Are you expecting an army of hackers? She giggled.

Select visual notifications and warnings, when attacked. Visual and audio notification, if security breached.

Right, war it is. Ok, selected. What about override? Izanami nodded, produced a clipboard and started scribbling away with a yellow pencil. Oz stopped in his tracks. What are you doing?

Taking notes, darling. She cooed.

Then select override mode, if logically impaired… Say, when I’m unconscious, or sleeping, or if I have lower than 50 blood sugar level, or lower than 80 percent oxygen saturation in arterial blood, or when sedatives or poison is detected in blood stream. Supervision only in autistic mode. I won’t have you getting bugged.

Selected. Please confirm settings with master voice command. She nodded slightly, tucking away the pencil behind her right ear.

A knock at the door interrupted. Who is it?

It’s Marcus. Izanami said. He’s alone and brought you beer. Oz walked towards the door. Go to sleep Izanami, we’ll continue tomorrow. Wake me up at 7:30 am. The woman blinked out of existence.

Open up! You think, I let you slip away that easily? The muffled voice belonged to his friend.

Oz swore under his breath. He didn’t need accommodation. Marcus… Dammit. He opened the door and there stood a tall, beefy young man with dark hair. Marcus being over six feet tall, occupied the whole doorway. His dark cat-like eyes gleamed with mischief, he smirked and pushed inside.

Man, Oz… Are you on a Zen trip, now? He whistled, and flicked on the light switch with his elbow. He thrusted two of the four six-packs into Oz’s arm. I brought beer. But I got a head start, so yo need to catch up. He winked at Oz.

Why are you here, Marcus? I don’t need a party. I don’t need your… Oz sighed, shoulders slumping. He knew Marcus stuck like chewing gum to a shoe sole, if he wanted to, and now he very clearly wanted to.

Oh come on, Oz. You got your papers… So, what? You’ve been banned, not thrown into jail. Lighten up! The world isn’t ending. Oz barked a bitter laugh. Marcus turned around and eyed him suspiciously. Are you moving? Where to? Can I help?

-No. Oz put the beer on a box near the living room door. He crossed his arms before his chest. Izanami and I can manage.

You’re the dumbest smart person I know. I’ll sign you up for the Dummy Olympics…

Am I? You know where the door is. Oz puffed annoyed and pointed towards the door.

It‘s not good to stew in your own juice. I told you, and the AI you’re so fond of cannot… Marcus breathed. I want to help. He smiled and held two six-packs up. That’s the start.

Oz wasn’t having any of that. I don’t need your help!

Yes, you do. Your dad made a scene, and you’re hurt. I understand.No, YOU DON’T! Oz shouted, his fists clenched into white balls of sinew and bone.

Man, chill. It’s been two months already. You’ve licked your wounds. Come off of it… Marcus spoke, as if to a rabid animal. Look, I got good news. You remember Professor Henriksen, pharmacology in second year? I showed him your work, and he liked it. He wants you to be his assistant. The job isn’t payed well. I know! But it’s a start. Oz looked at his toes. What do you say? Monday’s your first day! This was going to be painful.

We can share my lab. Marcus flashed his biggest smile and looked most pleased with himself. He turned around to put the beer unto the kitchen counter and got a glimpse of the letter laying there.

The temperature in the room dropped. He grabbed the paper and spun around. His face was the face of a deadly wounded. What’s this? Marcus’ voice trembled. Oz? The skin on his cheeks was ashen, eyes wide and watering.

Oz was caught by surprise, stammered. None … None of your business… The suicide note for his father would be hard to explain.

What the hell!? Marcus closed the distance between them in a blink. Oz backed away from the sudden notion, against the wall. His friend loomed over him, like an avalanche speeding down a mountain side, towards a box with puppies.

What were you planning? Oz turned his face away. TELL ME! He couldn’t stand those accusing dark eyes. The reaction wasn’t what he expected. He could feel Marcus’ beer-breath on his jaw. Is this what you want? He got pinned by his shoulders to the wall. Say something… The grip was strong. Anything… Marcus’s fingers dug into his tee and the skin beneath. It hurt. Oz bit his lips, tasted blood. He was disappointing again.

You want to die? Marcus voice broke. You really want to die? He took his left hand from the shoulder and pushed his forearm hard unto Oz’s windpipe. The bony part connected with his Adam’s apple. A surprised grunt escaped Oz’s mouth, with shock his eyes darted back to Marcus’.

You think you got it bad? Huh? You think you’re the only one suffering? You think you’re the only one struggling, from day to day? Marcus’ face was now white, distorted with rage. Oz tried to push the arm away from his throat, which made Marcus lean unto him harder. TELL ME! Marcus screamed.

He leaned on Oz with his whole weight now. The piercing pain in his throat clawed at him. It felt like glass shards being slowly pushed under his skin. His tongue felt raw, working against his teeth. You never worked hard for anything in your life! Everything was given to you, you little shit. At your first failure you toss it all aside, as if it was a filthy broke toy. And now you throw away your life too! You have no right to!

Marcus…Oz choked. No. Marcus’ eyes burned with hate. …Stop. He wheezed. Air refused to leave his lungs. The blood in his ears sang to the rapid thumps in his chest. Please. He kicked Marcus, but it went unnoticed. He reached out for his eyes, but his arms were too short, only touched his cheeks. He couldn’t swallow the saliva in his mouth anymore. The pressure at his temples blurred his vision. Iza-namiii… He had to do something. Fast.

…Your eyes! Marcus backed away suddenly, as if bitten by a snake. Tears ran down his cheeks.

Oz fell to his knees in a coughing fit. Before his eyes, the room blackened. He held his throat, sucking in greedily air, choking on it. Marcus looked at his hands, as if they were bloody.

The entrance door exploded.

Three men stormed in. Their guns stormed in too. Their movements looked to Oz like a black blur with six feet, stepping between him and his friend. Oz breathed. Each of them wore an undercut, black jumpsuits, bulletproof wests. Sort of military, Oz thought. They trained their guns at Marcus, who slowly raised his hands. Two of the men had weird looking semi-automatic rifles. The oldest of them had only a handgun. “Are you all right, Dr Wellington?” He squatted down near Oz, touching his shoulder.

Oz sat up, and croaked. Who the hell are you, people?

The man raised an eyebrow. “You’re welcome.”

What’s going on? Marcus didn’t dare to peel his gaze from the guns.

Sir? One of the men nearest to Marcus asked. “Cuffs.” The man barked back.

Oz stared in disbelief as Marcus got yanked around, hands slapped behind his back and zipped. He stood up supporting himself by the wall.

“Do you wish to press charges?” Oz shook his head. “Your call.” The man shrugged. “We got you a room in HQ. Lets go.”

Wait. Lemme say … something. Marcus begged. The man at his wrists looked quizzically at the oldest. “You’re a mistake away from another hole in your head.” The man said in a businesslike tone, and nodded .

You never understood, did you? I dropped so many hints. All the time we’ve been together, I thought… I really thought you knew. Marcus was close now. Oz furrowed his brows, not understanding.

Suddenly Marcus leaned forward, planted a kiss on Oz’s lips. He got yanked back hard. With a snort, the man handling him, dragged him out of the apartment. Oz glared after them in shock.

“That’s that. Where’s your stuff?” The man in command asked. Oz swallowed and looked at the man’s hard face, he noticed a long scar on his cheek.

Are you military? The man sighed and went looking for the bags. He found them right away in the bedroom.

“You got your papers, doc?” He shouldered one, and held the second out for Oz to take. He looked him up and down as he failed to take it. He shrugged and started downstairs. “Send in a cleaning crew.” He said.

Yes, sir! A male voice answered from nowhere.

Oz stood in his doorway wondering what to do next. Looking back at his apartment, with the busted door, he wouldn’t be able to sleep in it. Besides, a cleaning crew was on its way, whatever that meant. He followed the men downstairs. Behind him he heard steps. Several somebodies moved.

Outside a black SUV waited with its tinted windows. The wet concrete reflected the adds on the other side of the street. It drizzled. Oz hugged himself, his tee was damp and cold. As he approached, another car pulled slowly up. The man, who had his bags, pointed to it. “That’s yours. We take this one, with Mr Sampson.”

Marcus? Oz asked. The man nodded. What is going to happen to him? The man just smiled mildly. He’s my best friend.

“You should choose your friends more wisely. Try to pick those, who aren’t trying to kill you.” The man winked at him, got into the car, and they sped off, into the night.

The car meant for him halted, and the door opened. Inside, a young woman smiled at him brightly. Dr. Wellington! So nice to meet you in person. Please get in.

Oz looked around, the street was deserted, his apartment building had some lit windows. Th sky above him wept gently. No one was looking out for him. He searched for his windows, and found them smashed.

Nothing there for you anymore… The woman sighed. Get in. It’s cold.

But! Those weren’t broken before. Oz got in obediently, and buckled up. He shivered violently. The woman started the engine and merged into the occasional traffic.

That’s because you died in there. The road she took led to downtown. I-what?

Everyone looks back one final time. It’s normal. She extended her right holding a flask. Here, have some. Whisky.

Died? Oz reached out, smelled and took a gulp. The liquid tasted like extinguished fire and smoke. It burned down his throat, and he couldn’t suppress a cough. It still hurt- I…died?

-Yeah, you really scared me back there. This friend of yours, did he ever… You know? The woman tried. She glanced at him and made a sympathetic noise.

Oz wondered. Why wasn’t Izanami activating? He swallowed audibly. The whisky warmed his guts and he felt a bit better. A question dawned on him. How did these military guys know, he was in trouble? Was he bugged? Was his apartment bugged? How did they listen in? How … did you exactly know?

That’s a good question. She nodded. I’m not allowed to tell you. She said and pointed to the space between her eyes. Maybe you’ll figure out, by yourself. She winked at him too.

The winking was what made Oz lose it. He was sick of being winked at. What THE ACTUAL FUCK! HOW? WHY? IZANAMI WAKE UP!

No use, she got remotely disabled. Bound and gagged. So she wouldn’t call the police. They would have arrived too late, anyway. Luckily a bunch of smart and able guys were in your vicinity. All five, really cute too.

Five?! Oz remembered hearing steps, and a disembodied voice. I only saw… He trailed off, thinking.

Maybe they used the same trick Izanami used. But instead of inserting, the masked themselves, or deleted themselves from his visual data… Before entering visual cortex… Fucking interceptors…

Oh, Dr Wellington. They told me you’re smart. Say, what are you doing tomorrow? Got time for coffee with me?

foxtrot uniform charlie kilo

F***. I’ll miss you. Oz mumbled around his mouthful of Al-Capone Pizza. He wiped the grease from his mouth with his sleeve. He toasted to the city with the rest of the slice in his hand. …Maybe.

He has been on the roof all evening, to watch his last sunset. He let Izanami record all his visual input. Every bit of visual and sensorial memory was important. He was going to be home-sick, he supposed. Everyone was, at least, that was, what they had told him.

Why so serious? Isn’t this what you wanted? Izanami whispered into his ear from his new Uplink implant. He still had to get used to the vision tracking commands, so he wouldn’t zoom in on a passing bottle fly, or falling pigeon poop. If he wanted, he could count the hairs on a mosquito leg, but who would want that?

The orange evening sky withered to an inky brown. In the upper right corner of his field of vision the spectral analysis went berserk. The readout faded, as he failed to focus upon them.

A heavy drone buzzed overhead. It looked like an oversized, robotic amazon-yellow bumblebee. The zoom kicked in. It had 2501 written on its dented body. It was one of those new hub-controlled drones. It hovered briefly over the rooftop of his apartment building, beeped twice, then flew off. Oz sneered. Delivery bumble bee. Data from his new prosthetic eyes pushed into his consciousness. Wind speed. Drone velocity. Hull type. IP-Address.

I booked you unto the 5:50 and the 8:20 flight. Izanami interrupted the flow of information. Also, Strix Genome United sent an urgent request. They need your specs. What should I answer?

Oz scrunched his face into a sceptic grimace. What for?

Dummy, a spaceship needs a life doctor. He swore, he could sense her rolling her virtual eyes. Your hibernation tank. Izanami sighed.

Alright, alright. Send what they need. Oz shrugged. Strix could become a real nuisance…

His contract with them was top secret. They had hired him right after his dishonorable dismissal from Newport Medical University. They took him in like a kicked dog… His experiments with hibernation had failed horribly. The Ethic Committee had made a point in banning him from being a doctor, for a lifetime.

He swallowed hard. He never imagined how it would hurt, to disappoint. The pain, the disgust in his fathers expression killed Oz. The young offspring of a rich family – all famous doctors – sucked at being brilliant, even sucked at being morally immaculate. He would never be able to work as a physician, not on Earth. He never seen his father so upset, not even after his mother died…

The saliva in his mouth turned to acid. It was cold. He wiggled his toes, but the flip-flops did nothing to warm his feet. It was still April, he had to remind himself.

But they offered the kicked dog a ridiculous amount of money… There had to be a catch, he just couldn’t find it. Yet. There had been nothing else to choose.

What if, Strix took everything back, when he vanished? It wasn’t that hard to get a death certificate without a body. What if, they tried to make him vanish after those five years? Wasn’t it probable, that they were behind his hearing, leaving him damaged goods? Possible. He had to be most careful. Izanami, observe all CCT footage around my flat.

Noooooo one hears youuuu scream in spaaaaaace. Izanami prompted with a spooky singsong. That’s because there is no air. He answered.

Behind his earlobe, his implant vibrated with an incoming call. It’s Marcus. Izanami chirped.

He shook his head and she let the call go through to voice mail. Oz hated to be summoned, even to his own „surprise” farewell-party. Whatever Marcus had in mind, it won’t happen. What a shame! Missed that one too. He breathed. It smelled of wet dirt. Rain was coming.

The crate under Oz creaked while he craned his neck after the drone trying to land a block away.

In the lower left corner of his visual field flashed a new message. He blinked twice to open it. Oh come on, you pussy! Pick up. Marcus.

Marcus was what came closest to a best friend. No can do, not even for you, Marcus. A gust of wind tore at his tee. He lit his last cigarette, and inhaled as deeply as he could. He stood and looked over downtown gleaming, not noticing his last night on Earth.

The streets were full with cars, police and ambulance sirens. The taillights and the streetlights seemed to merge to arteries of light, feeding the heart of the city. Oz filled his lungs with dark smoke and damp night air. One star winked at him, then vanished behind thick grey clouds. He was leaving the continent. He dragged in another lungful smoky doubt and shivered uncontrollably.

Time to tidy up, Izanami. The voice command activated a hidden task he programmed earlier, so Izanami would initiate a tiny program in her subroutines and neglect it right away. The blessings of reversed modeling logic worked on every AI, as well as on his personal one. The skin on his nape burned. The feeling of being watched was overwhelming. He flipped the cigarette butt over the edge of the building. He was leaving the planet.

The advance money from Strix sitting in his account went bye-bye. It arrived back, after a brief visit in Switzerland and Cayman Islands. The program moved and shuffled the little zeroes to the music of a quantum key encryption. Even when his account and all his data movements have been flagged, no one could link him to the bits and bites without the key. And the electrons of virtual money circled around him, and his alter ego. Mr Wong was going to be a wealthy, retired and a very happy man. Oz was leaving the inner solar system.

His feet carried him down the staircase, to his apartment. 42. It  was nearly empty, his bags were packed. Izanami hummed softly Babylon Feeling to him. My heart is broke, my will is gone. The lyrics pounced on him, like a lion on a gnu. He felt a heavy thump in his chest, somewhere deep down, where he kept his feverish nightmares.

Everything he possessed was stored away in cardboard boxes. The storage space was paid for five years in advance. It was a long time. Just forget about me… Oz hummed to himself.

On the kitchen counter was a half finished letter. He glanced at it. His nails dug into the flesh of his palms, his clenched fists wanted to crush something.

It was a suicide note to his father.

To leave his old life behind, he needed to die – metaphorically, of course. He had pointed this out to Izanami, as she tried to call the suicide hotline for him. It seemed theatrical, even pathetic. The Strix people were explicit about this part. No one was allowed to know where he went, and for how long. The best would be, he wrote suicide notes to everyone he loved, and just vanish from their lives. His profiling psychologist predicted this, to be his most credible reaction to failure. A knee-jerk reaction, attempting suicide, even if pretended.

Oz thought of the experimental gear he was going to get to work with. He thought of the money, the carefree life he was going to have. What am I getting myself into?

I don’t know, boss. Izanami sighed.

 

-part 2: Interceptor

med bay snippets # 3

Is this one of your stupid jokes, Rains? What do you mean with, “we lost Decker”? He’s hooked to E-bed 2, in quarantine, thanks to you. Care to elaborate? He raises an eyebrow.  I know the doc doesn’t approve that I ripped off the seal. The best I could do, to trigger the alarm.

I shake my head, but plunk down into the seat, the doctor offers me. He pushes a cup of fresh coffee over to me, and glances down his watch. I know perfectly well, that what I’m about to say is… It sounds batshit crazy, even to me.

Look doc, I’m… I don’t know. I – I just – I have to tell someone. Makes me feel less…

Disoriented? Distressed? The doctor offers. I know he means to be helpful. But…

This is a report. I keep telling myself. I have to warn everybody. Doc Wellington has to keep his cake-hole shut. I tell him, before I let the Captain in on this… Whatever this is.

I can’t meet his gaze. Those eyes,  they accuse, they see through, they strip you bare.

I nod and take a sip from the freshly brewed hot dark liquid. My mouth burns…  This is a report. I will burn less, when I talk. I need to get this out of my system.

You know, some hours ago… Down on Chimon, when Decker knocked himself out, and I had to haul his heavy ass back? 

The doctor nods.

I… I think something happened to Decker. Uh, he said some very weird things… Some, uh, really disturbing stuff… I don’t think he was himself.

The man sitting opposite to me,  fixes me with his blazing eyes. Even though I’m not looking at him, I feel two hot spots resting on my cheeks.  As if two wasps had decided to sting me simultaneously.  Just freaks me out. He harrumphs politely, and  folds his fingers into a praying gesture.

Well, delirium is a very strange mental state. He begins explaining, but this is bullshit. But this is not that easy. It can spook anyone. I don’t like how he shrugs. There are documented cases, where people started speaking tongues, even ancient greek or latin… His patronizing smile turns my guts.  And it was a most stressful situation. Acidic taste seeps on my tongue, and I force my stomach back down. I shake my head.

THIS IS NOT WHAT I MEAN!  Not at all. I nearly left him on the surface! I have his full attention now, he leans forward.  I nearly left him on the surface, because he freaked me out. 

The solar storm damaged the engines of the landing pod, upon reentry.  And the com.  I have to admit, the landing was less than optimal, and it’s my fault, that Decker got nearly killed on spot. He kind of rescued me, and got his oxygen tank damaged. 

My hands leave the cup alone and I raise them, palms up. Shrugging palms.

First everything was normal. Well, as normal as being stranded in a volcanic eruption zone on an unstable planet. Normal apeshit crazy stuff.  The man in front of me scoffs.  A sense of humor is always a good sign. That’s what they tell you in the military. A residual coping mechanism, when everything else is beyond repair.

Got him into the nearest pick-up area.  That was when his oxygen got down into the red zone. He said that he won’t survive this, that the drugs aren’t working properly, that something was wrong.  Then… I swallow.  

Then, uh… He screamed! He screamed for three minutes straight. It was, it was , uh nauseating. It must have hurt so badly. He screamed for his mother… I – I-  Oh, God…

Take your time… It must have been hard to listen to a man dying. 

I cannot hold back, to my surprise – I sob.

Uh, he said that he is going to enjoy this. And that I will enjoy this too. He’d make me…

med bay snippets #2

The soft purring of the monitoring alarm on my watch wakes me, by vibrating. I’m up…

I tell the watch and it recognizes my voice. The command kills the alarm.

Sleeping at the med bay is seldom a good idea, and sleeping at a working station – uh, table – is downright irresponsible. I rub my face into some kind of wakefulness and wish I could rub my back into a painless state.

I wish I would have slept in one of the E-beds, but shake my head at the idea. The beds are semi-autonomous, so they can keep an exhausted man in stasis, till he gets all the tiredness out of his system. No matter how long that may take.

In case you are the ship’s doctor, this is a very bad idea. They tell you that in doctor’s school. Don’t get high on E-beds pain or sleep medication. I guess some of my colleagues must have tried, during their long trips to the Kepler System.

I have Lieutenant Decker in one. The screen above his E-bed flashes red.

Let’s check you then. 

I download the most recent parameters the bed has measured to my watch. I throw out my thumb and index above its display to activate the tablet function. Blood pressure: 100 to 80. Good, pulse: 110. Almost okay. Oxygen saturation: 85%. Not okay… Breathing frequency dwindling under 10. Bad. I shake my wrist to retract the tablet. The antidote is wearing off.

Load E-bed 2 with enough Naloxone. Doctor Oscar Welligton, authorization 00.01, code 672779-0.

The unconscious man in front of me looks like he just hopped from the grim reapers grasp, with a nearly translucent, pale skin.

What a disappointment… I do not recall Decker to be a genius, or  even smart. The flashing red on the E-bed monitor stops. His breathing improves visibly, oxygen saturation climbs above 90%. That’s the spirit, Lieutenant. 

This bloke finds the most pleasant way to go. Fearless, without the hunger for oxygen, without the hunger for life. I make a mental note to stock every suit – at least mine – with enough morphine to kill an elephant. This is a manageable last resort.

It is a stroke of genius to use morphine to save himself from asphyxiation. The question remains, if he’s left with cerebral damage. No one knows how long he was cold out, or even breathing… After all, Rains is not to be trusted with precise observation about his colleagues. If I recall correctly, he even broke Decker’s nose in a brawl a month ago.

How’s the lieutenant? 

The captain’s voice rings through the med bay. The com is in override mode on my watch.

Barely alive. I answer. That’s that.

Any permanent damages? 

Can’t tell… Sleeping beauty has to wake up on his own. The morphine still has  about two hours to the  pharmacological half-life. Ask me again in two hours. 

The Captain seems satisfied, and the com dies down. I pull the footage from Decker’s and Rains’ suits.