“You're dead, Jimmy,” I look up at my impossible friend, his face distorted by a tear that trickles down towards my ear. “I killed you. I should have followed orders, I should have let them crash.”
buddy, I forgave you long ago. Don't break down on me now.”
became of us, Jimmy? Why did you ever stick with me? I only ever
hurt you, but you were always there, always ready to forgive me.”
“Ever since we
were two lonely, scared kids, trying to be brave, trying to do a job
a long way from anyone else. Craving comfort, understanding and
intimacy. We moved on to other things, other people, but I knew we'd
always have that connection, always be linked together.” He grins.
“We still are. Don't let it bother you.”
“Don't let it bother you,”
The patch on the suit says 'Mohammed J. Mahdi', but I called him
Jimmy when we were first paired up and the name stuck.
I try to ignore the water,
imagine it as the cold hard vacuum we are training for. The EVA suit
is bulky and snug, it fails to hold out the crushing pressure I feel
in my mind. I concentrate on the task in hand, replace the damaged
system and let Jimmy close the hatch. I put my mind on the ultimate
goal, escaping the atmosphere and working out in the booming space
industry. Still the water is there, enveloping me, enfolding me,
trying to smother me with its embrace.
“Focus, they are monitoring
your heart rate.”
I decide that the rescue divers
are not helping and close my eyes to block them out, there are no
bubbles in space. I click the new aerial in place and tighten the
securing bolts by feel alone, I have practised this and will not let
some leftover childhood fear spoil my career.
“Quit talking, I've got this.”
But after they hoist us out of the tank and we are left alone to
strip our suits and get dressed, he holds me until I stop shaking.
lie there a weep for a while, mourning something lost in the past.
The rational part of my mind wonders what else I have left behind,
feels the need to prod it to see if still hurts.
flake out on me.” Jimmy is still there, his discovered
non-existence hasn't dissuaded him.
real.” I tell the ghost.
not going to get us anywhere. You were doing well with the
memories.” Jimmy is young, lacking the salt and pepper hair that
gave him a distinguished look, the skin graft marks on his hands from
a cabin fire and the lines on his face properly earned. He looks
like he did when we joined the war ourselves.
I arrive at her door in a state,
wrung out and quivering, not knowing where else to go She takes one
look at me before pulling me inside and making me coffee.
“Imogen...” The cup sits in
my hands gently scalding them, not hurting enough. “The fire in
“Your sister? I saw it on the
news, I didn't know...” I had introduced the two women in my life
briefly at a party a couple of months ago, now my last family member
“Her company signed the
Freedom from Interference agreement last month, but their I.T.
Supplier is in government pockets. Someone used a backdoor exploit
to get into their servers.” I recalled the newscasts, smartly
dressed people standing in from of a blackened building using phrases
like 'multiple systems failures', 'tragedy', 'essential services
deactivated', 'trapped' and 'cooling malfunction', talking and
talking until I could stand it no more.
“What will you do?” Her arm
around my shoulders.
“My company are starting a
private security force, we reckon there's going to be fighting, the
talking is failing, the electronic war is now killing people, we need
to bring this to an end. I'm joining up.”
“It won't bring Imogen back.”
“It might save someone else.”
More tears blur my vision.
sake, man, get your hand on the stick!” An angry ghost, he shakes
his fist at me. He would probably punch me if he was real.
“Becoming maudlin isn't going to help. What's next, the goldfish
you found floating belly-up in the tank when you were six? The
sandwich that seagull stole in Gothenburg? The boating accident that
took your parents?”
Jimmy, you're still dead.” He's right, of course, I've spent too
long lying on my back hurting and feeling sorry for myself. Time to
do something. “And it was a fantastic sandwich, don't demean it.”
I use my hands
to manoeuvre my torso so I can search Peterson's body. My body feels
light without the weight of my legs, but not being able to kneel
makes movement awkward and clumsy. I hold my body up on one arm and
use the other to check the corpses pockets, hovering on the edge of
balance. My hand brushes his skin, paper-thin but not yet cold,
something has sucked all vestiges of life from him. I guess that was
reveals nothing until I disturb his coverall sleeve and see a small
terminal strapped to his wrist, like a streamlined version of the old
pilot's watch I used to wear. It takes an effort of mental and
manual dexterity to figure out how to remove it without falling onto
the cadaver, but finally I have my prize.
thinking,” say Jimmy. “We've done all we can here and should
probably get moving.”
“You talk a
lot for a dead guy, Jimmy.”
different kinds of dead, you know.”
The air fills
with bullets and as I dive behind a vat I feel a tell-tale tug at my
leg. I bark the command to engage and the armed drones commence to
make a mess of their human adversaries.
more than a graze,” Jimmy tells me. “Won't slow you down.”
I let my
little mechanical army fight the battle without my clumsy
interference. I scan the factory for any other sign of threat, but
it is a fairly low-tech set-up considering the nanoculture in the
vats. By the small scale of the place, it looks to be some sort of
experimental manufactuary, a lab trying to cook up the next batch of
You have to see this!” Liefman seldom breaks into profanity, or
indeed her native language, so I risk sticking my head back round the
side of the tank.
The man has
been pierced several times by the projectiles of the small, flying,
insectile drones, but he still keeps backing away from them, dragging
his shattered leg behind him. I stand and walk over to the figure,
my leg inconveniencing me less than the rip in my trousers.
killed you properly. You're dead.” I tell him despite evidence to
did grasp the implications, did you? Try thinking big for a change.
Why just be one person. Hseng figured it all out.” Davis hisses
mad, she threw herself into a furnace. Why didn't you do the same?”
I draw my gun.
being the architect of the new world?” He gives me the smirk that
had made me hate him the moment we first met, so I empty my clip into
his face and chest.
I say into my microphone. “Bastard's cloned himself, this isn't
back,” She replies into my earpiece. “We need to know if he
managed to replicate the controller. And get out of there quickly,
I've leaked the location and the scouring squad will be there very
soon. Take the rear exit, I've arranged transport, should be okay
for two if you don't mind being intimate.”
all revenge for something I've done?” I say as it dawns on me how
much of this could be my doing.
he wakes up on the way, put a bullet between his eyes for me.”