Lieutenant Richard Lee Jones was 48 years of age and looked 30. He had never been sick a day in his life, and never passed up the opportunity to say so. Yet, every year, for one week, like clockwork, he contracted a fairly bad cold but never called it an actual sickness. He never used a sick day in his 15 years at the Bionomics Division of the NSA. He loved being in control. Every day he rose at precisely 5:50 AM and immediately started the coffee maker. Then he drank 8 ounces of water chilled to exactly 40 degrees F. At 6:00 AM, he took off the coffee, ate breakfast, brushed his teeth, used the bathroom, dressed for work, and departed his townhouse at 6:35 AM. 6:50 AM found him parking in spot 5A of the NSA parking lot and 6:59 AM found him scanning himself for another day of people monitoring. Or primed, prepped, and prepared for people-monitoring in the official NSA lingo.
Life in the early days of the Bionomics Division, was not always popular. For years a large segment of the Amexicada, or the USA as it was then called, fought against the perceived invasion of privacy the V-chips conferred. In time, like the now defunct credit card that preceded them, it evolved into a practical necessity. 15 years later, the Amexicadan Parliament passed the V-chip amendment, which required all citizens to have the microchip inserted into their body by the year 2015. Now, while it was not a criminal offense to be unchipped, it was so necessary to day-to-day life, that one was held to be a criminal if found without it. (It was criminal to be unchipped in some regions of Amexicada.)
Lt. Jones puzzled over how the man escaped. ‘What kind of electrical disturbance could cause the drone to break down?’ He wondered if the Velkladdaur knew he hadn’t quite told the truth in the matter. Truthfully, it had to be an electrical disturbance. There was no other explanation. 30 days.
* * *
“A.J. old boy, how are you?”
Michael wanted to crawl away and die. He rolled to his side and saw the face of a tall, thin, red-haired man with a beak of a nose staring at him.
“I thought you would be here. Helloooo A.J.” the red-head kicked Michael’s foot. “You awake or not?” He smiled and continued, “sleeping your life away?”
‘He doesn’t look like a sweep patroller,’ thought Michael. He crawled from under the jeep and looked at a man his own age that he had never seen before. ‘It would good to know knew in the world he was.’
“Come on. We’ve got to run,” said Red. “Are you ready to run?”
“Believe me. I’m more than ready to.” Michael crawled from under the jeep and shook his hand. A prickly sensation ran up Michael’s arm. ‘Did I go to high school with this guy?’ he thought.
Red said, ”You wouldn’t believe the trouble I went through to get here. Thankfully, I caught you before you went to the hives.”
“Yeah,” he pointed to the dome-shaped buildings. “Sure you are all right?”
“Sure. A little light-headed. Why don’t you go on ahead without me. I’ll catch up in a bit.”
”You might find that more difficult than you think.” He looked to the sweep patrollers-now placing their hand-cuffed prisoner into a dark sedan. “Come on now. My ride is by the hives. We’ll take it.”
They joined the parade of people walking to the hives. The dusty path was nearly a mile from the parking lot to the first of the hive buildings. With each step, Michael found the presence of evil growing stronger. A half-mile away and his breathing increased notably. His head hurt and his palms became sweaty. He looked to his unknown traveler friend, whistling away as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
“Who is this guy?” thought Michael. “And why is he going toward the hives?”
“Where am I going?” said the stranger. “You’ll see.” Michael’s nerves, stressed all morning nearly burst at this last comment. They continued in silence.
The first building loomed directly in front of them. People were entering the glass doors that encircled the building at ground level. Nobody was leaving-just entering like a gigantic mouth. Swallowing people. Devouring people. His head throbbed.
“Look here, man. I hate to break the news to you buddy, but A.J. here is feeling a little sick. How about I catch up with you tomorrow?”
“Can you promise you have a tomorrow? What do you think you’ll find when you get back to 331 Newport Street?”
“Michael stopped and looked at the red-head. “How do you know where I live?” The moment the words came out of his mouth, he realized his mistake.
“I know about you than you think,” said the stranger. “Perhaps even more than you know about yourself,” and in a barely audible voice added, “Mr. Perez.”
They arrived at the front of the building and walked around it. Michael felt like walking through jelly. He felt compelled to run into the nearest glass door and scream, “Let me in!”
“Don’t do it,” said the stranger in a calm but stern voice. “Keep walking. Look straight ahead.”
They came to a short grassy hill with steps leading down to a paved lot with half a dozen white vehicles stenciled with the letters TGC on their sides. In addition to a few motorcycles. “Trans-Genic Center. That’s what the letters stand for. You wanted to know.”
This was indeed what Michael wanted to know. He said nothing. They stopped by a TGC- stenciled BMW motorcycle.
“By the way, you can call me Duncan Mackenzie. Better yet, just call me Mac.”
Mac undid a clasp on the bike and produced two helmets. He pressed a switch inside them and gave one to Michael. “This trip might be a little rough. Put this in your ear.” He gave him an earpiece with a transparent wire attached to it. “You’ll have to twist it a little to get it in there.”
Michael inserted it into his hear with the end of the wire in front of his mouth. “It feels like a pencil eraser stuck in my ear.”
“You’ll get used to it. Won’t even know it’s there after awhile.”
Mac pressed a switch on his watch and talked. Michael heard his voice, loud and clear, and faintly metallic, in his ear. “Works by infrared. Useful when you don’t want people listening in on random radio-linked voices.” Michael got the idea.
Mac and Michael jumped on the BMW and headed to the front of the first hive. They made a sharp right and drove leisurely past four more identical hive buildings on the same road. Michael found that the evil presence seemed muted with the helmet. Soon, they passed the fifth hive.
The road continued on past some abandoned warehouses. Then it led through a massive junkyard of scrapped cars, office machines, and old airplanes. The road became worse and pockmarked with holes. At times, great sections of the road were completely eroded. Mac carefully threaded his way down the eroded banks and up the other sides. After a time, the junk disappeared until all he saw was a desolate wasteland. No trees, plants, and no farms. Simply an enormous wasteland of rocks and sand.
“We’re going to my place,” said Mac suddenly.
“A little dusty, isn’t it? Why so much dust?”
“Can’t see much.”
“Exactly. Dust covers hidden cameras, and is hard on equipment. Makes it easy to hide from prying eyes. Useful when you want to hide.”
“You can hide for only so long before the satellites find you.”
“Not if you’re underground.”
“You live in a hole in the ground. . .like a hobbit?”
“Err, not quite.”
Michael heard a throaty, thumping sound-like a helicopter. Ahead of them, and to their left, another road joined theirs. A cloud of dust was moving along it caused by a large boxy vehicle with large squares sticking out the sides. Mac gunned the BMW’s engine hoping to arrive at the intersection before the other car. They arrived the same time, but as the road widened at this point, the two vehicles didn’t collide.
The boxy car, now only a few feet from them and parallel, had an open cockpit and looked to be made of concrete. The two side squares were fairly curved, and swept back. The driver, wearing a helmet and goggles, didn’t look at them. The noise was deafening.
“What is it?” asked Michael.
Michael looked at the large, lumbering, sand-colored square upon wheels. Black smoke belched from its rear. It smelled like sulfur. The two wings moved slightly and extended outward. At once Mac shot forward ahead of the Rhino.
They’re nuclear-powered,” came Mac’s tinny voice over the sound. “Those two wings are boosters. You don’t want to be behind a Rhino when those things fire up. It’s like being stuck behind a jet engine-and very loud.” Michael wondered if anything could get louder. “They also fire rockets from the wings. Very useful.”
Mac increased his speed and soon the Rhino was merely another lumbering dust cloud.
“Friends of yours?”
“Hardly. Rhino operators are usually unchippers and not overly friendly. They’re rough people. I call the drivers Ruff and Gruff. Those guys only shave about three times a month and you can never understand what they’re saying.
Ruff and Gruff were shaggy old souls,
and shaggy old souls were they.
They smoked, and choked, and lived on coke,
And used up mom’s DNA.
Stay out in the sun too long,
And soon you’ll be as old as they.”
“I’m confused,” said Michael.
“I’ll explain later.”
* * *
“Good morning Mr. Jones,” came the cheery voice of Candy Skipper.
“Any messages?” asked Jones.
Candy Skipper, fond of chewing gum, mini-skirts, different hair styles, and Celtic pewter jewelry was the secretary of Lt. Richard Jones. She was his complete opposite, yet for obscure reasons unfathomable to her creative mind, she had developed a crush on the Lt. Whether he knew this is a matter of some debate, but Candy, due to her unique mindset, felt it would be a serious social faux pas to come out and tell him.
In celebration of pay day, Candy wore green hair, gold shirt, and silver skirt.
“The techies have been calling all morning. They’re down in room 312. . .
The drone lay on a white table. It’s insides spread out like a bad car wreck.
“What have you found?” asked Jones.
“Nothing to speak of. All the systems are working properly, at least until we completely disassembled everything.”
“I want a test run.”
“We’ve done that.”
“It went perfectly. Killed all our test rats in one fell swoop. Even Smart Sparky got zapped.”
“Tragic, I know boss. . .but science is science.”
“We downloaded the video and see the unchipper in the plaza. The best we can figure out is the tramp stood directly in the line of sight between the drone and Mr. No-chip while the video was running. Sort of like the moon during a solar eclipse. See right here at 17’00”35.6. And then as we go to 17’00”42.7.” Here the technician fast-forwarded the downloaded video. “Here we see the plaza empty except for these two.”
“You didn’t get a video of the unchipper’s face?”
“Nope. Strangest thing too. All the video shows is the back of his head. When he turned around facing a camera, there either was somebody directly in front of him, or in once instance, the video just went blank. It’s probably just an electrical surge in the wiring induced by the Prime Minister’s call.”
Jones put his face in his hands, and then said. “Get me a picture of the unchipper anyways. The best you can come up with. A close-up. I want to see what the guy was wearing. The Velkladdeur seems to think it important to find this guy.”
The technician whistled. “What for?”
“Not certain. But know this. When the Velkladdeur wants his man, that man has something worth taking.”
* * *
“Here you go Lt.” The technician laid a digitally-enhanced photo on Rick’s desk. “Abercrombie and Fitch khaki pants and looks like size 32-34 waist. Light blue long-sleeved shirt with partially rolled-up sleeves. The shoes appear to be size 11 black Adidas hiking boots.”
“Thank you. That only narrows it down to about. . .3,000 different people in this city.”
* * *
The Velkladdeur sat alone in his office brooding over the fact that an unchipped man escaped with his life intact and his identity unknown. He knew that Lt. Jones most likely would never find the man within 30 days- if ever, but he felt it was good practice for the NSA employees to see a man killing himself to get a job done. Every once in a while the agency needed a good shake down. And if he had to sacrifice a man-so be it. He knew fear or threat bred loyalty to an organization. He had seen this countless numbers of times in his life.
The Velkladdeur was old, much older than anybody knew. True, his 157-year-old body had been artificially lengthened by gene therapy, but the fact remained that although his body was in excellent condition, his mind was subject to unexplainable fits of anger and increasingly, for the past decade, he made choices solely by instinct rather than through conscious thought. His formidable mind gave him the ability to make logical inferences about events rivaling that of any supercomputer.
Whoever this unknown man was, Velkladdeur knew he divined his presence. The world is a cohesive whole. Everything is linked to everything else. When a man talks at 11:00 AM, the words affect the very fabric of space so that one well in tune, one whose mind is in-phase with the space-time continuum, will detect the waves or ripples generated from the speech and discern his location.
“I must find this man!”
The Velkladdeur viewed all the possible outcomes from each decision he made. Ina great many future outcomes, he saw his body lying in state in a large auditorium. This did not frighten him. Throughout his life, he had met others like this unchipped man and eliminated them.
An hour past sunset, the Velkladdeur made his way to the roof of the NSA. He had a room, surprisingly small, that he entered on a weekly basis. Once inside, he closed and locked the doors, lie down on a table, and shut his eyes. The room, sound-proof and always kept at 98.6 F and 0% humidity, was a key component for his longevity. He pressed a button on the wall, placed a visor over his eyes, and waited.
A series of images flashed off and on at such a rate it seemed to be mere pulses of light. The images were discrete pictures of daily events in his life. A daily photographic record of his last 67 years. It was found out that viewing these clips reinforced the neural network in his genetically-enhanced brain. It also forced his brain into a default-type setting. When humans first started undergoing gene therapy trials, the neurons had trouble adapting to the increased life span. As a result, people went insane, which defeated the purpose of gene enhancement. In 1999, Dr. Abram Nasglow, a cognitive scientist at MIT, discovered that if you stimulated neurons, new and more connections would form between them, so that thinking became clearer. One of the drawbacks was the Velkladdeur was unable to dream.