Thursday, 24 October 2013

Ditched (part 4)

  “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.”

  “Old news, buddy, I forgave you long ago. Don't break down on me now.”

  “Whatever 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.

  I 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.

  “C'mon, don't flake out on me.” Jimmy is still there, his discovered non-existence hasn't dissuaded him.

  “You're not real.” I tell the ghost.

  “Sulking is 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 Bonne...”

  “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 was gone.

  “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.”

  “Imogen...” More tears blur my vision.

  “For fuck's 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?”

  “Fuck off, 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 me.

  The search 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.

  “Good thinking,” say Jimmy. “We've done all we can here and should probably get moving.”

  “You talk a lot for a dead guy, Jimmy.”

  “There's 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.

  “Little 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 nasty.

  “Verrek! 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.

  “Davis, I killed you properly. You're dead.” I tell him despite evidence to the contrary.

  “You never did grasp the implications, did you? Try thinking big for a change. Why just be one person. Hseng figured it all out.” Davis hisses through pain.

  “Hseng was mad, she threw herself into a furnace. Why didn't you do the same?” I draw my gun.

  “And miss 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.

  “Liefman,” I say into my microphone. “Bastard's cloned himself, this isn't good.”

  “Bring him 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.”

  “Is this all revenge for something I've done?” I say as it dawns on me how much of this could be my doing.

  “Yes. If he wakes up on the way, put a bullet between his eyes for me.”

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