“Take this and disappear. Don’t let them get their hands on it.”
That was the message written on the battered piece of paper. Nothing else. The common grey box delivered by the automatic courier did contain scribbled notes on the sword, gun and cloth in it, but no other explanation on who, what, why. Kirïe double-checked the contents but the mystery maintained. No clues from the various half peeled stickers either, the box looked like it had seen all corners of the world.
“The crud!?” he thought, feeling paranoid now.
Trying to think this was a practical joke was no use, the items were definitely not something cheap. They had the aura of something out of this world. He read the notes; “Sword, will cut through anything when forced, material unknown, sharper than our own atomic blades.”, “Gun, variable firing rate depending on how much power the “bullets” contain, seems to absorb energy from any power source when placed close to it, material unknown, “bullets” vary from laser-like to what might be tiny temporary black holes.”, “Cloth, dubbed it nanocloth, worn directly on body, reacts to thoughts, emotions, no-one has been able to fully control it, might depend on compatibility with DNA, good chance it’ll work.”.
Kirïe unsheathed the meter long sword from the metal-like scabbard. The straight, single-edged blade was pure black, three quarters the total length with the tip rounded to one side. The hilt was a perfect fit in his hand, the same material as the scabbard and followed the straight line of the blade without a cross guard in between. Sheathed hilt and scabbard became one.
The gun resembled a black metal rectangle box, square front and end, with a rectangle energy storage magazine in front of the trigger, about the same length and width as the grip. It was quite compact but there was also an extended barrel and a scope, presumably for long range targeting. There was no thread on the barrel to screw on the extension but it attached by just pressing it against the gun. Taking it off only required little force but when attached the gun could be knocked against the wall without losing the extension. Kirïe started to think these weapons had artificial intelligence build into them.
The pure black nanocloth though amazed him most. It felt smoother than silk, warmer than wool and neither light nor heavy. He draped it over his arm and wondered what was meant by reacting to thoughts. “Maybe it’s like a magic robe and can transform into any type of suit.”
At that moment the lights went out inside. He looked up, then quickly walked over to his terminals, switching to security with a key stroke and they showed dark figures moving past his hidden cameras. Trying to keep his panic down he looked around, thinking of what steps to take now. He grabbed the message and wrapped it with the weapons into the cloth, the box and notes could be left behind as they already knew he had them. His portable unit would be useful so he grabbed it too. Next he went down into the basement where he hoped he could escape through a vent leading into the maintenance corridor.
He’d been down there in the tunnels before out of curiosity so he knew there’d be several directions he could take for his escape. After prying open the dirty vent as quietly as possible as well as without removing too much of the dust he went through it, pulling a box in front of it before closing it. Knowing one exit ended up at an unused area he went that way, guided only by the faint illumination of overhead lights and control lights on a few pieces of equipment in the tunnels filled with wiring and pipes.
It was moments before he reached the turn to the exit that he stopped to listen. Something wasn’t right in his mind and he carefully checked around the corner. His gut feeling was right, some of the same figures he saw earlier were headed his way. His feeling of panic started to creep up again but he suppressed it as best he could. He looked around to see if he could use anything to hide himself.
A door. He’d have no choice but to try that. The rusty door wasn’t locked and led into a dark and dusty small storage room with shelves. It was pitch black at the end so he dove between two shelves stacked with various spare parts for maintenance, wrapping the black cloth around him as camouflage. After managing to get a grip on his breathing he heard someone opening the door. While his thoughts were bent on wanting not to be seen he heard footsteps coming closer. A couple of people went past the door but at least one stepped slowly inside. He heard what he thought was the flick of a switch.
‘Don’t see me, don’t see me.’ he kept thinking, hearing each step coming closer. Whoever it was walked past him all the way to the back, then turned around and walked back out again. Only after waiting for several minutes did he dare to take a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief.
‘Bloody crap.’ he thought.
Figuring they’ll think he’ll be gone far by now he decided to stay in the storage room for the meantime. Feeling very tired suddenly he barricaded the door just in case before getting some sleep.
Despite the uncomfortable floor he felt he had a good few hours of sleep. He examined the cloth again because he thought that not being detected was more than a coincidence.
“Could there really be some truth behind the note?” he thought, then grabbed the cloth in his hand and thought about having it rise up. It moved slightly but he wasn’t convinced it was at his command. He concentrated harder on the image of the cloth rising up and it shuddered.
“It’s working?” Again he concentrated on the image and slowly the cloth started to rise up as if it was warming up to his mind. He thought of rest as he got a bit tired from concentrating and the cloth drifted down to the floor. A smile came to his face as he started to imagine the possibilities of this stuff. He tried forming it in different shapes and with each try it became easier to command it. Then he tried to shape it into regular clothing and he managed to create a large coat after draping it over his shoulders.
“Somehow it’s almost like a liquid, this flexible.”
Then he drew the sword, stuck the point against the wall and pushed. It went right into it like the stone was nothing more than air. He could even push it down and sliced the wall in two.
“This, is awesome and very scary.”
He looked at the gun and didn’t even dare to try it out here. If it was just as amazing he’d have to wait until he could try it out in a place far away from any other people.
For now he strapped the sword and gun to his back and front, then cautiously opened the door, watching out for any movement. No-one was around so he walked quickly in the direction of what he knew was a no man’s land. On the way he made a slight detour to a local shop to get a bag and supplies, making sure to avoid any possible surveillance points.
While he was walking he pondered what he was supposed to do next. Whoever was after him had power. From what little he saw the attackers had to be a disciplined organisation, not a bunch of gangsters. Going to any family or friends was no options, not that that was much help. He only had his father. At this thought he stopped. His father! “That son of a…” he thought. “Of course! With his job at the scientific institute he’d be the only one I know with access to stuff like this! But why!? Why send this stuff to me!? We haven’t seen each other in years! Crap!”.
He wanted to take out his frustration but there was nothing handy to relieve his anger. He walked into an ally and sat down between a few garbage containers.
‘Goddamn son of a bitch motherfucking piece of shit!’ he shouted.
He had to find out if his father was still alive. But then they’d expect him to get in contact, so that had to be done in secret. If he was still alive that is.
“Best to keep a low profile for some time for now.” he thought. “But where to go?”
After a while he stood up and started to walk back to the passage and just head out of the district. “Best to dump my account and use it to buy stuff I can trade with. They might track me through my card.”
Going through several convenience stores he bought a stack of various vouchers which he could use elsewhere. These were unmarked so there’d be no trace back to him.
After the last stack he bought he went into a different direction just as an extra precaution. For now the only way he went was out of this district into the so-called “outside”. That was everything outside the current living district, the places with “wild” nature and the rumoured occasional hermit or outlaw.
The only thing he cared about was being outside the surveillance network. He could be traced by the multitude of systems set up in public places small and large. Being a project system administrator has the advantage of finding out about what the current system is capable of, and knowing how to avoid it.
Again he stopped at a new realisation. “No wonder he sent it to me! I know how to get around the system!”.
The sergeant confirmed.
Captain Weller pulled out his communicator. ‘Central. The target is gone. Probably with the goods.’
‘Spread out and search for any trace of him in the block.’ ordered Berkman, head of security at the weapons division of Management.
‘Start going through the anomaly queries for any sign of him.’ he said to his assistant who left the office at once.
The tall, bold, white skinned figure waiting patiently in one corner spoke up. ‘We’ll be having a look around there.’
Berkman sat down at his desk. ‘Now we wait.’
He walked on through the outer layer of the district, containing mostly apartments and the occasional small store. Out here the public passages became less crowded up to the point only a few people were around. He was glad he lived away from the centre as it would be even more of a long walk to get to the edge, but now he started to get tired though. Not used to this sort of thing he desired a safe place to rest. Fumbling inside his pocket he pulled out a generic card he always carried around with him. “That should do it.” he though and pulled out a portable from his bag. On the portable he could change the function of the card with a piece of software he wrote himself for the occasion he needed access to some facility.
After some searching he found a relay station which he entered with the card. Inside he switched on the light and looked at the racks of equipment controlling that which modern beings needed; power and communication. Green, orange, red and blue lights where scattered all over them, a few displays added detailed information but that would usually only been seen once in the lifetime of the module.
He created a comfortable corner for himself, switched off the lights and tried to sleep for the time being in the half-darkness and humming background noise.
His body ached slightly when he woke up as it wasn’t used to the strain from yesterday. He massaged his feet and legs as best he could before getting up. He plugged the portable into a switch after masquerading it to see if there was any news on him.
Nothing showed up. Connecting the communicator to the portable and rerouting the call to a company working closely with him he called his own department. When the line was picked up he pretended to be one of the guys he dealt with currently. ‘Hi, it’s Mura from Thungswipe. I’m looking for Kirïe to see if he can join us in an informal meeting.’
‘I’m sorry, but Kirïe is unavailable at this time.’ the receptionist said. ‘Can I redirect you to someone else?’
‘Oh? No, the boss wants to organise a get-together with staff. A bit of socialising. Will he be available soon?.
‘I’m afraid it can take a while. I can’t give you the details but it seems he will be unavailable for some time.’
‘Wow, sounds important. Well, if you can just give him the message that he can call me when he’s interested that will be fine. Thanks.’
He sighed after hanging up. He was cut off.
While gathering his stuff in his bag he took out an energy bar and ate it while walking further to the edge of the district.
There was no real distinction between the inside and outside of the edge of the district other than seeing a few or hardly any people at all. The large concrete passageways continued all the way around the world and were the main transport routes for materials and people. These were used by trains and the occasional car or bike. As they also might contain surveillance equipment he avoided them as much as possible and used service tunnels beneath the default floors. His first goal was to get away far enough from anybody or anything related to him. He needed to become completely independent from the system.
He sat down when he felt tired again and started to think about survival. He never needed to do anything more than pick what he wanted from nearby stores.
“Steal? Or beg?”
He stopped at a vending machine, one of many to be found everywhere containing snacks, drinks, assorted small items.
“Theft can be traced, but if I hack each machine with a different card…”
He checked the card reader and the stack of rewrite-able cards. ‘Yeah.’
‘Three cycles.’ he said to himself as he took a break in one of the countless abandoned homes.
The floor had enough dust on it to see footprints if someone had used it lately. There were none so he felt it was safe enough to stay for a while.
He took out the weapons and cloth from the bag and laid them out before him. Reluctantly he picked up the gun, examining it once more as to find out what damage it would cause when fired. Moving his fingertip along the sides of the barrel he felt a change in the gun. Nothing visible but it was like it became more or less intense each time. A switch at the top turned on a holographic screen acting as a scope. He had to look straight from the back of the gun to see it, otherwise it was invisible and as far as he could tell by moving his finger along the top of the barrel he could zoom in and out. He turned off the scope and slid his fingers along both sides of the barrel to make it feel least intense. The room was large enough for him to feel he could test fire the gun, aimed at the corner farthest away and squeezed the trigger.
A slight pinging sound was heard and he saw a spark in the corner. Looking closely at the wall he hardly saw any damage.
“So this would probably just sting and not kill.” He turned up the intensity. “So what does this do?”
Upon firing he saw more of an impact and there was a small hole in the wall. The more he moved it up the more powerful the impact. He felt it could go up even more but he stopped before he’d blast holes bigger than his fist. Dialling the intensity back on the one side he turned it up on the other. This changed the amount of firing from just once to more and eventually to a constant beam.
“Damn! This is one incredible piece of technology. Even after all the shooting I’ve done it seems like there’s no end to the energy.”
Testing the scope in a long corridor he figured he could zoom in on a really long distance. Zooming out he could even use it to see in the dark.
“Useful in case of a blackout.” he thought.
He laid the gun aside and rolled the cloth into a ball for use as a pillow and closed his eyes.
When he woke up he stumbled into the bathroom and checked the faucet. Water came out, sputtering at first, but it worked so he splashed it in his face to freshen up as best he could. To his surprise a lone roll of toilet paper was available in the corner and he grinned for a bit. “Thank goodness.” he thought.
When he was ready he sat down to think about what to do first. He’d need to find a place to hide in peace far away from those who chase him.
“They’re going to want this back, that’s for sure.” he thought as he watched the gun in his hands.
He took his portable from the bag and connected it to the data port in the wall after changing the hardware identification. Checking the news sites there was no mention of him. Running a fuzzy search through several proxies resulted in forum messages about rumours concerning the system and a secret find inside an asteroid a long time ago. It was supposed to be so important that everyone involved in it disappeared over time.
“Crapcrapcrappit…” he thought. “If this is true…”
Feeling even more insecure now he gathered his stuff and started walking again. For the next few cycles he didn’t want to use his cards in case they’d check for usage of nearby vending machines. Luckily he had enough food stashed in his bag so he didn’t have to go hungry.
Waking up after spending the night in another abandoned apartment he freshened up with the cold water from the only working faucet as best he could. He figured he needed to wash his clothes as he started to smell himself. That also meant going back into occupied territory again to get to a laundromat. He grabbed his gear after eating a the last sandwiches stored in his bag. He had to go out for food anyway.
He went into the direction of a smaller settlement, arriving there without seeing anyone. Waiting at a corner of the first narrow street leading onto the shopping street he halted and checked the map for shops. Luckily the laundromat had a mini-market next to it so he walked over there quickly. The street wasn’t busy, just a few pedestrians and bikes passing along who didn’t pay any particular attention to him. He reached the laundromat soon, the moist smell of washing powder and softener hitting him hard as he opened the door. The only other person using it was a young woman who was busy talking to someone on her portable. He thought it must be a girl friend because he could overhear her conversation about her new boyfriend, already complaining about him. He tried to ignore her as he went past her, taking some washing liquid from the vending machine, loaded the washing machine as far in the back as there was and let it run its cycle. Having to wait for it anyway he went out again to get some food from the mini-market next door. He heard the woman talk about showing a poster from the wall through her portable camera as he went past her and felt glad she had no interest in him. He thought nothing further of it as he stepped into the small market. The air felt cooler and dryer from the cooling unit at the back. A few people were there doing their own shopping and he went about choosing food he could eat cold but still had some nutritional value. He didn’t know if he could actually cook something on the way so he had to settle for the small selection available here. He filled the basket he took at the entrance to the brim, calculating this was as much as his bag could hold together with extra clothes and other items he needed. Thinking about clothing he grabbed an extra shirt and underpants.
After paying with a fake card he went back to the laundromat hoping the machine would finish quickly. The young woman was still there talking to her friend through her portable. He sat down on a chair in the back and took out his own portable to check on rumours on the grid. The best way to find out what’s going on is to tap into the chatter on the grid. Things that might be hidden from the regular news will find a way onto the grid by the users themselves.
He found nothing of worth which most likely meant they managed to keep the affair so far under complete wraps. He wondered how far and how long he’d have to go to find a safe place to get rest and think out a plan to find out what exactly was happening. He laid the portable next to him and slumped down on the chair feeling very tired, falling asleep right away.
‘Sir!’ said one of the dozen men keeping an eye on the monitors in front of them.
Berkman looked up from a report.
‘Found him! His face showed up on a picture taken by a mobile. Tracing the origin now.’
‘Send the info to Inquisitor and the closest team at the address as soon as you have it.’
He woke up again, shocked by his own snore. Feeling groggy and disorientated he rubbed his face and grumbled at the world in general. He looked around seeing the woman had left in the meantime and opened a bottle of soda to get himself starting again. He didn’t really liked it but it contained enough of the junk to keep one awake he had to make use of it. The machine had finished as well so he took out the damp clothes, stashing them into a plastic bag for now. Stuffing the bag into his large one he went over the contents again to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. Satisfied he had enough to last him for a while he slung the bag over his shoulder on his back and stepped to the front of the shop, then stopped.
Things were silent outside on the street. Seeing as this wasn’t a major settlement and the street wasn’t busy at this time anyway it would be quieter than the place he lived, but this was very quiet. Too quiet.
Feeling paranoid again he slowly took out the gun from the bag and set it to rapid fire. Hiding it under his wide shirt just in case it was false alarm he carefully walked to the front of the shop seeing if he could see anyone outside. Looking through the grimy windows outside there was nobody on the street. His gut told him something was very, very wrong and he should get out of there right away or things would get ugly for him. He had put his hand on the door but pulled it away while stepping back from it. At the same time the glass shattered in front of him and he fell back on the floor. Looking at the cloud of glass shards his mind tried to get him into gear to flee from the premises but his body still had to recover from the shock of being an actual target. The shrapnel hitting him from bullets that lodged next to him in the counter behind him helped him get back to reality. He scrambled on his hands and knees to the back of the shop to hide behind the washing machine. Breathing rapidly he wiped the sweat from his brow and tried to get his shaking body under control.
“Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuuuuck!” he thought. “I’m gonna die I’m gonna die I’m gonna die!”
With the last bit of sanity he tried to get a grip on himself. He clutched the gun to his chest.
“You’re going to get me out of here, you hear? You’re going to get me out of here!”
Taking plenty of deep breaths he managed to get some sort of control over himself and he turned his attention to the front of the shop again. He didn’t hear anything so either they thought he was scared and in hiding, which was true, or he was dying slowly so they could take their time in their approach of the scene. Trying to keep his sense of panic under control he thought of any way to escape. The front was a dead end so he had to get out the back. He looked around and there was a door. With some difficulty he got up and opened the door onto a backroom with a small sink, a table with a couple of chairs and shelves with the stuff needed for the vending machine and the place itself. No staff but he figured with a small settlement there was no real reason to have someone here all day. At he back in the side wall there was another door. He ran down next to it and activated the scope of the gun despite his shaking hands. Pointing it at and behind the door there was no signal of any movement. Carefully he opened the door to find an alley behind it. There were the usual things one could think of like a trash container, bags and assorted litter and crates but it seemed there were no forces to kill him.
“Yet.” he thought. “Get out of here before there are.” he told himself.
He moved out keeping low just in case and headed for an opening to the left halfway to the street. As soon as he managed to reach it he saw men in black armour entering the alley. In a reaction more out of fear than control he fired the gun. Small flashes of light from the ricochet were seen on the wall but the men pulled back right away. He glanced around the corner but there was no movement. He didn’t want to wait for the next move and ran down the corridor finding himself ending up at another junction. Without much time to think he headed left, going back into the settlement again hoping they wouldn’t expect him to go this way. He followed the corridor for quiet a while before ending up at the next junction. This time he decided to go right and ran as far as he could before getting out of breath completely. He laid down on the floor on his back and let his heart race as much as it wanted.
‘Dammit. I’m not made for this sort of thing.’ he told himself.
Despite the feeling of sleep he pulled himself up and dragged himself further along the corridor, taking a different direction at each junction he came upon, not caring where he would end up.
Looking at the time he saw he had been going for much longer than he anticipated. He sat down and pulled out another bottle of soda from his bag. While drinking it he pulled out the portable and tried to find out where he was. He felt he was far enough from the settlement to take a break. Around here there was only abandoned world. The dust on the floor confirmed no-one had been here for a long time. Checking the news he found a short video on the laundromat. Under the cover story of capturing a criminal they reported on the storming of the laundromat. Not much else was said but he did get a glimpse at the one in charge. Looking like a stereotypical character out of the movies he wore a black suit, had short black hair and dark eyes. He would remember that face from now on. He put the bottle back into his bag and checked out ways to further escape from here. Any transport lines viable to get on without someone seeing him were still some way off. For now he had to settle for waterways that could hide his scent. There was one close and he climbed down a few levels to reach it. The waterway was a large tunnel through which water flowed from generating facilities to out into the structure. Going through it would mask his scent and there were plenty of opportunities to get away from the stream further down. He looked down the tunnel, for a moment enjoying the reflections of sparse light from the water onto the ceiling, then waded through it until he could exit it again without a trace.
‘How did he get away!?’ Berkman asked.
‘He’s smarter than we expected.’ Weller said. ‘And lucky to get out the backdoor before we could reach it. Seems he´s creative enough to cover his tracks long enough during the pursuit.’
‘Return to base until further notice.’
Berkman put his mobile back on his desk and turned to his assistant. ‘Give me everything you got on him. Work, interests, information he looked into, anything that could add to his knowledge of anything.’
After about a quarter cycle Kirïe found himself walking into a large open space after leaving the water tunnel some time before. A vegetable garden was built here and there was even some livestock walking around. Although he’d seen images before, this was the first time he’d actually saw it for real. Feeling curious he walked up to what seemed to be the main building. When he came close an older woman stepped outside, then saw him.
‘Hello there. What brings you here?’ she asked.
‘I’m just on a break and am going around to see a bit of the world.’ he replied. ‘And then I came upon this nice place.’
She smiled a little. ‘It is, isn’t it? Away from all the busy centres.’
He nodded. ‘Totally different from my usual life.’
‘Would you like a refreshment? We make our own sweet juice from our fruit trees.’
‘I’d love some, thanks!’
She joined him on a bench outside. She wore simple clothes and he could see her age by the wrinkles in her otherwise pleasant face. ‘My husband and I moved here a long time ago after we were fed up with the daily stress from the centres. The only stress nowadays is from the terminal acting up now and again. Must have that checked out some time.’
‘Shall I have a look at it?’ he offered after thinking about it being a god idea to fix it. ‘I’m pretty good at that sort of stuff.’
‘Would you? It would save us a trip to the centre.’
Kirïe followed her inside the cosy living room and she showed him the old model terminal they used.
‘I think I know what to do.’ he said and got to work cleaning up old and unused items and refreshed the terminal operating system. This was the usual fix for older systems.
‘Done.’ he said after a while. ‘It just needed a thorough cleaning.’
‘Thank you. I can clean up this place but not something like that.’
‘No problem. It should be good for a long time.’
He looked at the clock on the wall. ‘I’ve got to go again.’
‘Have a good trip!’ she called out as he waved goodbye, disappearing into one of the main corridors.
Back inside she send a message to a friend telling how her terminal was fixed by a travelling nice young man so she could work with it again, unknowing it triggered a flag in the query systems at Management.
By the time he got tired again Kirïe picked a hidden place to sleep. There were only empty, partially lit rooms available so he huddled up in a corner that was at least a bit darker than the rest of the room. He didn’t sleep too well because of bad dreams so he woke up feeling groggy. He kept his eyes closed, not wanting to see the world, and decided to rest for a while before starting off on his journey again. But then he heard a noise. Soft footsteps. In the silence it became quite clear, someone was sneaking towards him. He opened his eyes just as something lunged forward to grab him. The cloth he used as a blanket reacted and shielded him. He managed to roll away from the attacker getting a glimpse of something with a lot of limbs. The cloth wrapped around him and formed protective spikes. He wiped his eyes quickly to clear his vision and saw what looked like a huge, hairy, black spider.
‘You bastard…’ came a growling voice.
Kirïe checked the room for others but there were none. Running away might be possible but his bag, and more importantly, the weapons with it, laid behind the spider-thing.
‘Why?’ it growled again.
‘Why did you kill her?’ it asked again, moving slowly closer.
The spider-thing rose up and he saw it was a canine body with spider-like legs attached to its back. It looked back at him menacingly.
‘Why did you have to kill my nanny? She never did any harm!’ it growled and jumped forward again.
‘Wait!’ he shouted trying to fend her off.
The cloth hardened where it tried to stab him with the claws at the tips of its legs. They rolled over but he managed to get a grip on the ground with the cloth, then captured all of its legs and its body, pushing it back against the wall. He took a couple of deep breaths feeling glad this cloth was a miracle material.
‘What, are you talking about?’
It struggled but couldn’t get free. ‘You killed the old lady at the farm! She was my dear nanny!’
Confused he shook his head. ‘I never killed anybody. She was fine when I left.’
‘I’m not! What makes you say I did anything to her!?’
‘I smelled you at her place and an agent showed your face on the news!’
‘What!? What news? When?’ he asked confused, then tried reaching out for his bag. It worked and he pulled it closer, taking his portable out of it and checked the news section.
‘What the..!’ he said as he saw it. His face in connection with the murder of an old lady. ‘I did not do this!’
‘Yes you did! I followed the scent from the screwdrivers you used to kill her.’
‘I only used those to fix her terminal!’ he said as he looked through some images of the crime scene. ‘It’s not true! I never-.’ he stopped and stared at one image. ‘That…’
He turned the screen towards the canine and pointed. ‘Is that guy in the background the agent?’
‘Yes. What of it?’
‘That’s the guy who’s trying to kill me for this cloth, and those weapons in the corner. This is probably alien technology and they kill anyone who knows about this to keep it a secret.’
‘I’m not! Do you know of anything that can do this?’ He waved the cloth in front of it and willed it into different shapes.
‘No. But that doesn’t mean anything.’
He sighed. ‘They’re framing me so they can get their hands on this stuff again. It was sent to me, probably by my father who works for them, and that agent tries to get it back. If they find out how this works they could control the world.’
‘Fine!’ he yelled and let the canine go. ‘If I was so dangerous why haven’t I killed you!? Why would I go through all the trouble to convince you as it’s much easier to do away with you!?’ He pulled back the cloth and spread his arms. ‘You want to kill me!? Go ahead! At least I won’t have to keep running anymore and I won’t have to see what they’ll do to you and the world in the future!’
It stretched its spider legs but hesitated.
‘There!.’ he said and pointed at the sword next to his bag. ‘Take that sword and cut me down. I hope it satisfies you for the short rest of your life.’
It looked at the sword, then back again.
‘Go ahead then if you won’t believe me. After all, if an agent says it, it must be the truth.’ he remarked sarcastically.
It walked over and picked up the scabbard.
‘But if you want to see for yourself then use it to cut the wall. See if any blade currently made can do that.’
‘Heh. Try it.’
It pulled out the sword and pushed it against the wall expecting resistance but it went straight in.
‘Impossible!’ it said, pulled it out and tried again.
Again it went in like the wall was made of water, then pulled it out and stared at it. ‘Impossible.’
‘What did I say?’ he asked walking carefully up to the canine.
It reached out a finger to feel the edge of the blade. ‘This must be an illusion.’
‘Don’t!’ he shouted but it was too late as it yelled out cutting its finger.
‘Idiot!’ he said and took its hand in his while wrapping bandage around its finger.
When he was done he noticed the puzzled look in its face. ‘Yes, it’s real. Take your time to sort out your thoughts.’ he said, saw it sink through its knees but managed to catch it and held it in his arms. ‘Careful.’ he said.
‘I need to sit down…’ it said.
He nodded and bend to let it gently down, then noticed the feeling against his chest. ‘Ehm.’ he said as he looked down. ‘Are you female?’
‘Oh, nothing.’ he said as he sat her down against the wall looking away.
He handed her a bottle of water and a candy bar, ‘Here.’ then ate one himself.
He tried not to stare but couldn’t help checking her out. She looked like a mix between canine and spider, having eight big, hairy legs with a single black claw attached to the back of her canine body. She had long black hair, her front and inside of her spider legs white, the rest black.
‘What are you?’
‘Huh? I’m me.’
‘I mean what species. I’ve never seen one like you.’
‘I don’t know. Nanny said she found me as a baby and raised me all this time.’ Tears welled up in her eyes. ‘And now she’s gone…’
She started crying so he sat down next to her to comfort her by petting her head. She buried her crying face in his chest and wrapped her spider legs around him.
“Whoa!” he thought as he felt them around him. “That could be scary.”
After a while the sobbing stopped and she wiped her eyes. Kirïe took his handkerchief and wiped her wet muzzle and nose.
‘I wish I could say everything will be okay.’
‘You haven’t slept, right? If you want to sleep now I’ll stay here.’
‘I’m-.’ she started, but then picked up a sound. ‘I hear someone coming.’
‘Where?’ he whispered.
She pointed in the general direction and he sneaked out the door to take a peek. Going past several corridors he looked around a corner to see the same sort of unit he encountered before. Cursing silently he sneaked back quickly.
‘We’ve got to go.’ he whispered as he gathered his things. ‘It’s the same guys that tried to bag me before. Somehow they picked up my trail.’
‘I’m sorry.’ she whispered back. ‘They must have followed me.’
‘Never mind. They would have come close sooner or later anyway. Let’s go.’
Trying not to make any noise they hurried into the opposite direction, Kirïe taking point keeping the gun ready. He handed her the portable and asked her to guide them to a cargo station that should be nearby. Arriving there he scouted the area for signs of people. Most of the cargo operations were automated so seeing personnel would be rare. At a data terminal he plugged in the portable and accessed the network, looking for schedules.
‘There.’ he said as he pointed to one of the cargo trains. ‘We’ll take that one.’
At another train he stopped for a moment, opened a cargo door and stashed a candy wrapper inside, then closed it again.
‘Decoy.’ he said before she could ask.
At the chosen train he searched for one of the wagons containing electronic equipment; it would not be fully stacked and it added extra shielding from sensors. He found one, attached his portable to the terminal next to the cargo door, set the door sensor to a permanent state of closed and opened the door. He climbed in after her, closed the door and turned the interior light up to a soft glow.
‘This trip will take a while, so you can sleep all you want now. That other train is leaving soon and when they find that wrapper it should lead them into a false direction.’
She soon fell asleep peacefully and he couldn’t deny she looked cute. He made a pillow from his jacket and placed it under her head, sharing it as he laid down on the other side to sleep while he felt the train going off to its next destination.
‘Time to bail.’ he said checking the date. ‘The next stop is the last before it reaches denser population. Better to get off with less chance of being seen.’
She nodded and he packed his things, checking the space twice for anything they might leave behind accidentally.
The train slowed and he shut down the lights before opening the door slightly to peek outside.
Soon the train slowed down to walking speed and he saw they entered another large cargo terminal station.
‘Looks like no personnel walking about.’ he said as the train came to a halt. ‘Let’s go.’
After getting out and closing the door behind him he changed the door sensor back to normal operation.
‘Where to now?’ she asked.
He checked the direction on his portable. ‘This way.’
Trying to stay out of sight of cameras they followed automated cargo carriers around until they could slip into a small hallway.
‘Where are we going?’
‘For now to a place without people around for blocks. We have to keep out of sight and I need to think about what to do next.’
After a while he stopped at a vending machine and looked around.
‘If I can make it look like an accident..’ he said to himself.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I can raid the vending machine without letting the supplier find out that food has disappeared if it looks like a fire or something.’
‘How about this?’ she asked, gesturing at a humming box next to the machine.
He looked closer. ‘Good ears. I didn’t hear that at first.’
Opening the box carefully he found a high energy relay humming from an overload.
‘Can you gather some of that trash in that corner and put it underneath? That’ll be the fuel to set on fire.’
He hooked up his portable to the vending machine terminal and got it to open the front, then stuffed about three quarters of the food inside in his bags before closing it again without any change to the inventory list.
Seeing she had piled enough burnable trash under the relay he kept the box partially open.
‘Okay, better get away while I shoot the relay.’
She hurried off with the bags as he set the gun to a setting enough to fry the circuit, but not to damage anything around it. He aimed it at the opening close enough hoping he wouldn’t get burned by sparks and pulled the trigger.
The shot damaged the relay as expected and caused a flood of sparks. Those set the trash on fire and he saw it burning hot enough to light up the vending machine.
Feeling they’d gone far enough through all sorts of corridors he suggested they’d take a break.
‘You know, during all this time I never thought of asking your name.’ he said while filling a couple of water bottles at a service faucet. ‘I’m Kirïe.’
‘Imora.’ she said, going through the edible contents of one bag. ‘No fresh food here.’
He sat down next to her. ‘Wouldn’t expect it at the machines farther away from the city centres. Those supplies have to last for ages or they’ll have to throw away a lot of it.’
She sighed sadly. ‘Nanny always cooked with fresh ingredients.’
He just nodded while she wiped away a few tears. ‘I’m really sorry. If I had known they did thse kinds of things I’d never come close to anyone.’ He watched the bottle in his hand for a moment. ‘I’m sorry you got involved.’
She tried to wipe the moist from her hands. ‘Tell me, can we make them pay?’
He turned the bottle in his hand a few times. ‘I don’t know.’ He took a drink from it. ‘I don’t even know what to do next.’
Quietly they ate some standard food bars, then continued on their trip.
He didn’t take the chance that the deserted main corridors had no cameras or sensors activated and stuck for the most part to service tunnels until they arrived at the destination he had in mind several cycles later.
‘I think we can stay here for a while.’
She looked up and down the large open space. ‘Looks like one hundred floors.’
He nodded. ‘This probably used to be a residential area. Or was meant to be one. There’s power and water so we can stay for a while at least.’
He opened one of the closest doors and entered the apartment. The rooms inside were empty except for a couch and a table.
‘What luxury.’ she said wiping a finger across the dust on the seat.
‘At least there’s warm water in the bathroom. Want to take a shower?’
‘Yes, please! Do we have soap and a brush though?’
‘Check the bags, there were all sorts of things in the machine besides food. And I took soap and two towels with me.’
She checked and found the towels, soap and two multipurpose tools that included a comb.
‘Found it?’ he asked returning to the living room. ‘I kept the water running to flush out the old.’
‘Yeah.’ she said showing him.
‘I’m going to check for any news.’ he said as he plugged in the portable in the data socket in the wall.
‘Nothing.’ one of the team members said.
‘There’s just too much dead space in which to disappear.’ another said.
Berkman tapped with one finger on a desk. ‘Then we’ll have to lure him out.’
‘His father?’ Weller asked. ‘Would that work?’
‘The only connection available.’
‘But they don’t get along. And he will suspect it to be a trap.’ one member said.
‘We’ll just have to be patient then and take it slow.’ Berkman said as he stood up. ‘Think of a way to get out information on the location of his father that’s outside the normal channels. He likes mysteries so we have to create the right puzzle.’
Imora returned after her long shower. ‘Any news?’
‘Nothing. Not even any mention of your parents.’ he said, looked up at her and stared at her.
He grinned. ‘That’s quite the look.’
Her wet fur and hair was clinging to her body and water dripped from every limb.
‘Hey, you try getting dry with one small towel when you’re covered with fur.’ she said and swung her arm to sprinkle water on him.
He rolled away laughing. ‘Gomen. It’s just such a funny sight.’
‘Maybe I should give you a big hug then.’ she said reaching her wet spiders legs out to him.
He grabbed his towel quickly and moved quickly to the bathroom still laughing. ‘No thanks, I can get wet on my own.’
By the time he had finished his shower he felt a lot more relaxed. In the meantime Imora had pulled the cushions from the couch, dusted them off and placed them on the floor to sit on. She was sorting out the supplies to see what they got.
‘Enough food bars to get completely sick of them before they run out. Assorted electronic parts, household items and compressed clothing.’
‘Nothing to dry you with?’ he asked seeing her fur was still dripping wet.
She shook her head. ‘I’ll just have to comb it. Got nothing better to do now anyway.’
He saw the sad look in her eyes.
‘Well, neither do I so I might as well make myself useful.’ he said, took the second multipurpose tool, sat down next to her and started on one of her spider legs.
‘You don’t have to.’
‘Don’t want you waking up tomorrow still looking like a drowning victim.’
She had to snicker at that image. ‘Thanks.’
When Kirïe woke up Imora was still asleep. Silently he took the gun and a food bar and left the apartment to do some reconnaissance. Standing at the railing looking into the dark depth he listened to the various background noises. Hearing a drip and faint humming he decided to check up on that first.
Walking a couple of floors down he found the source; a rundown small shop with most of the inventory left behind.
“So there have been people living here once.” he thought.
Looking at the electronics it has been quite a while ago. He sorted through the food section which still had a large selection of items still edible.
“At least we got more choice in taste now.”
He left the shop and walked around more in search of other shops but there were none so he went back to the apartment.
‘Where were you!?’ asked a concerned Imora.
‘I just had a look around. Didn’t want to wake you.’
‘Next time let me know. I was afraid I ended up alone here.’
‘Gomen. But I can make it up to you. I found a shop, and saw extra food and even better, blow-dryers.’
‘Baka. Just admit you liked combing me all evening.’
Some time later they had several bags of useful items and food lying in the corner of the room.
‘Not as powerful, but I can use these portables to expand my connections.’ He said, typing on one of a dozen he took from the shop.
He stashed them all in one bag. ‘I’m going to hook these up all over the floors where I can hide them.’
He smiled back at her. ‘Paranoid would be better in our case.’
He chose locked apartments which he could enter now with key cards he took from the shop and modified. In there he looked for a data port in a spot where it was possible to place the portables out of sight.
When he returned Imora had retrieved more cushions, lamps and a heater from the shop.
‘This is as comfortable as I can make it. And now we can have a warm meal.’
He smiled. ‘Looks cosy enough to me. Makes me think of poor newlywed couples.’
He saw the confused look on her face. ‘Ah, I didn’t mean anything, just an image popping up in my mind.’
‘Right.’ she said. ‘So, want to take a bath or eat first, darling?’
He let out a laugh. ‘Eating sounds good. I’m hungry.’
They ate the meal she put together from the different bars and tubes they had, then he logged into the portables and started running queries on sites for news, messaging, personal sites.
‘What are you looking for?’
‘Keywords. Anything that might give me a clue on what’s going on.’ he said and sat back. ‘It would be easier to use my own system or the one at work, but I can’t trust those now.’
‘So now we wait until something pops up.’
‘No idea. But I got something from the shop to lighten the frustration of waiting.’
He grabbed into his bag and pulled out a couple of bottles of liquor.
‘Really old now, so must be really good.’ he said as he opened one up and took a swig.
He coughed and wiped the tears from his eyes. ‘Yep, good.’ He held out the bottle to her. ‘Want some?’
‘I’m not sure..’
‘It’s great stuff to make you relax and forget about reality for a while. But you’ve got to acquire the taste for it. I admit that.’ he said and took another drink.
She tried a sip an almost choked on it. ‘How can you drink this?’
‘Practice.’ he said with a grin. ‘You get used to it.’ He pulled another bottle out of the bag. ‘I figured this would be too strong and luckily they had something sweeter.’
She sniffed the open bottle. ‘Smells almost like fruit.’
He nodded and she sipped it.
She took another drink and he leaned back. ‘Sometimes I just had to relieve myself of all the stress from work and that meant turning up the music and downing this stuff.’ He took another drink. ‘And I don’t mean listening to a standard setup but my own design giving me the full illusion.’ He looked at his bottle. ‘That, I’ll miss the most.’
‘I miss..’ She started, then tears rolled silently down her cheeks.
He moved over to her and wiped the tears from her fur. ‘I’m sorry, really sorry.’
She hit him with her fists. ‘It’s all your fault! They died because of you!’
She wrapped herself in her spider legs and cried. He watched her for a moment, ‘I know.’ he said, then got up and walked out the door.
Outside he leaned against the railing and took a swig from his bottle. ‘I know..’ he whispered to himself.
Much later he woke up from her shaking him.
‘I’m sorry.’ she said.
His mind felt foggy but he understood what she was talking about. ‘Forget it.’ he said and tried sitting up at the corner he fell asleep in hours before.
He held up his hand. ‘Forget it, really.’
‘Your portable is beeping.’
‘Ah.’ he said and rubbed his face. ‘Maybe a clue.’
He read through the messages that triggered the alarm and nibbled on a bar. ‘Some talk about a mysterious transport.’ He started typing. ‘Let’s see if there are any pictures from around that time and place. Almost every photo taken has location info tagged in it.’
He laid the portable back on the floor when he had finished pushing the task to the others. ‘Now we wait again.’
She ruffled her hair. ‘Boring.’
He nodded. ‘Let’s have a look at the store again. Maybe there are some movies.’
Some time later they were looking through a rack back in a corner at the collection of what were probably bargain bin movies at that time.
‘Never heard of these.’ she said reading the back of one case.
‘I recognise a couple of titles. Obscure movies with a special fan base. Might as well watch them since we got nothing better to do right now.’
Back at the apartment he set up the player and projector they had taken from the store while she tried to make something of a meal and snacks out of the supplies.
They leaned back into the stack of pillows and he started the first movie.
‘I advice to drink plenty. That’ll help with the sort of comedy in this movie. You need to have a certain kind of mindset to watch this.’ he said with a grin.
‘I guess you already have that?’
He laughed. ‘I certainly do. Sometimes I think it’s best to be not quite right in the head.’
She agreed the movie became funnier after she learned how to drink some more.
‘I wish I had my music system.’ he said after the movie. ‘I could go for some good music right now. But I’ll guess I’ll have to do with a horror movie.’ he said holding up the case of a movie titled Mist. ‘It’s about people locked into an area when the environmental system fails. They can’t see anything through the fog and are attacked by strange creatures.’
‘That’s the point.’
She obviously didn’t handle scary scenes well because she crawled closer to him each time. Eventually he offered her to sit in front of him and hold her.
‘Yeah. If it’ll make you feel safer.’
She crawled in front of him, leaned back against his chest and he laid a large cushion on her stomach.
‘There. Isn’t that better?’
She nodded slightly and he wrapped his arms around her.
Having her in his arms distracted him a little more from the movie than he expected. He liked her smell and the feeling of her soft fur and scritched her softly.
After the twisted ending of the movie she looked up at him. ‘Can we watch something easier now?’
‘Sure. Take your pick.’
She started her choice and he couldn’t help thinking she was a real girl after all, seeing she selected a more romantic comedy. He didn’t mind it though and liked how she held his arms the entire movie.
She stretched and yawned when it was over. ‘At least now I can sleep safely.’
‘No more fear of creepy crawly things in the dark?’
‘Nope. I’ll just hide behind you.’
She rolled over and snuggled up with some cushions. ‘Sleep well.’ she said with a slightly devious grin.
‘Yeah. Just don’t wake me in the middle of good dreams.’ he said as he turned off the projector and lights and made himself comfortable.
He woke up from the beeping portable. Sleepily he silenced it and looked at the data. ‘Shit.’
‘What is it?’ asked Imora who had woken up as well.
‘There was a picture that showed part of the people on the transport.’ he said and showed it to her. ‘Meet my father, the third from the right.’
She looked at it. ‘Looks like he’s a prisoner with all those guards.’
‘At least he seems to be alive.’
He tapped his finger on the portable. ‘I guess they think he’s still useful alive. Maybe they want to keep him in case of a trade.’
‘Will you trade this stuff for him?’
He thought for a while. ‘Logically speaking better not. Also, I haven’t seen him since I was little. He left my mom and me to pursue his science project. Why would I? And he sent it to me for a reason. I guess to keep it out of their hands.’
‘Then what will you do?’
He laid back and stared at the ceiling. ‘I do want to know, but I’d better keep away for now.’
She picked a food bar and started eating it.
‘What about you?’ he asked. ‘What are you going to do?’
She crumpled up the wrapping. ‘I don’t know. I have nowhere to go but I would like to pay back the bastards that killed my parents.’
He sat up and picked a food bar from the bag. ‘I think we can do that. It will take time though.’
She looked at him. ‘Don’t care.’
‘Right then. We’ll have to find a place to live with access to the grid but without being seen by any sort of sensor.’
He fed another query into his portable and set it down. ‘I’d be glad not to have to be alone.’
He stood up and moved to the shower. ‘Thanks.’
The query had produced a map of areas that seemed to be offline from the grid. He rotated the model every way until he completed a route to one of the outer corners of the world.
‘Is this for real?’ she asked.
‘This,’ she gestured at the model ‘is..?’
‘Our world.’ he said and leaned back against the wall. ‘You’ve probably never thought about it before.’
She shook her head while examining the model up closer.
‘Most people don’t. The subject is never uploaded in anyone’s mind. I only learned about it because I read through all the information my father had stored at home.’ He smiled at the memory. ‘He had this really old machine which looked like it didn’t work, but he showed me how to start it and use it. I never looked at it much until one day I found it again at the back of my closet. I logged in and explored it for a bit until I came across a collection of documents about the world we occupy.’ He zoomed out to a cube shape. ‘This, is what our world looks like from far away. It’s made out of sixtyfour cubes, four by four by four as you can see. Every cubes is about ten thousand kilometers in size and about a quarter of that apart.’
She looked at him and he saw the question in her eyes.
‘I can’t show you how much that is. There’s no place to compare it with, that’s how huge it all is. It took me some time for it to sink in as well.’
She nodded and looked back at the model.
‘So far as I could gather from the documents each set of eight cubes is interconnected near the centre, and the sets are interconnected in the same way by the inner cubes into one mega cube.’
He poured himself a drink.
‘Once I knew this I casually poked around the network our team supported. Bit by bit I found ways to cross the various borders and enter other cube networks. Eventually I had a rough map of the complete world grid.’
‘They never noticed?’
‘There’s too much traffic to notice casual data going through.’
‘You never told anyone?’
He shook his head. ‘Knowledge like this is dangerous. I dug a little further and found hints about people disappearing who explored a little too much. Several were mentioned in the documents.’
‘You’re scaring me.’
‘Sorry, but it’s better to know and be scared than to ignore and get caught.’ He shut down the portable and stashed it away. ‘I had sleepless nights after I learned the truth.’
‘Not too heavy?’ Kirïe asked Imora after she hoisted the backpack on her back.
‘I don’t know about you, but I’m not used to a lot of physical activity. Most of my time was spent sitting behind screens.’
‘I’ve always been active at home. We didn’t use much technology so I usually played with the animals or helped in the garden.’
‘Then I guess it’s up to me on how far we’ll get before I need to rest. Be gentle with me.’
She snickered. ‘We’ll see.’
They travelled through service corridors at first until they came up to a service elevator. Kirïe called it and they took a break while waiting for it to arrive. When it did he punched in the destination several kilometers down and sat back on one of the folding chairs on the wall.
‘It’ll take some time before we get to where we get out. Might as well get some sleep.’
Imora agreed and they made themselves comfortable enough to doze off.
When the elevator almost arrived at their destination a buzzer went off. They woke up and ate a few food bars before the elevator stopped and opened its door to a large open space.
‘Here we are.’ Kirïe said and walked out onto the walkway looking out over a large body of water.
‘What’s this?’ Imora asked as she wondered if the faint lights far away marked the other end of this space.
‘A water basin. Here water is collected, processed, and pumped back to wherever is needed in this block.’
She watched the reflected light from the walkway lamps on the surface. ‘We had a pond at our place, but nowhere as large as this.’
‘Only service personnel would come here, and even then rarely so very few people know about these basins. The size and depth just gives me the creeps.’
‘I can. I’ve just seen too many horror movies.’ He said and started following the walkway.
Eventually they reached the end of the walkway and continued on through more service corridors lined with endless pipes and cables.
‘Does anyone actually come here at all?’ Imora asked.
‘Who knows. I think there used to be a lot more people in this world a long time ago but for some reason the population declined. The whole infrastructure I’ve seen suggests this whole world had once been filled with people.’
‘Were there no records of that?’
He shook his head. ‘I couldn’t find any information about it. I doubt if there are any records in the first place.’
‘There’s almost no history of this world. It’s like it has barely existed at all.’
‘You think that’s deliberate?’
He pondered for a moment. ‘Could be. If someone had an interest in keeping the past secret. But I have no idea why.’
A lot later they found themselves in a space occupied by a few trees and bushes.
‘Let’s rest here for a while.’ Kirïe said. ‘I could use some sleep.’
Imora agreed and they laid down on the grass out of sight from the entrances.