So anyway, it’s been fun around here.
My left eye has been bugging me so I made an appointment, went into town on the appointed day and got there early to do paperwork. The receptionist asked if she could help me, to which I kindly replied: is the the place to get my hemorrhoids fixed? Blank stare, noncommittal reply. I come clean and she hands me a stock of papers three inches deep and tells me to have fun. I promise her I will. Once finished I sit and wait for the other shoe to drop.
This arrives in the form of another girl. This girl, so cute it’s surreal, comes for me and leads me back to a room full of impressive looking instruments. I am staring at her backside all the way, and am sure she’s the cutest girl on earth by the time I’m seated in her room.
“What are you here for?” she asks me nicely.
Being ever so suave and sure of myself, I say, “Sex.”
She looks at me like I’ve just taken a dump on the floor.
Really, I think that’s what’s called a Freudian slip, and I had no idea why I’d said that word until it was floating in the air, stinking up the room. Well, I KNOW WHY, but that was not the word I had in mind. I think this is called ‘having a senior moment.’
The exam was interesting, by the way. A blood vessel in the eye is worn out, and in a few weeks they’re going to start giving me injections – in the eye – to help minimize further complications. Ain’t life grand?
So, been watching the conventions? The Bernie and Hillary Comedy Hour? Donald Trumps DARK SHADOWS? What a great time to be alive. Like World War Z. I mean really? Trump and Putin? And who the hell is Tim Kaine?
I tried to finish Evolution, read it over and scrapped most of it then started over. This story is ambiguous, deliberately so, with hopefully just enough signposts to lead the way.
So, here it be.
…Black and Blue
And who knows which is which and who is who
Up and Down
And in the end it’s only round and round and round
Haven’t you heard it’s a battle of words
the poster bearer cried
Listen son, said the man with the gun
There’s room for you inside…
Pink Floyd Us and Them
She was a moron. I was sure of it.
How she had made it through academy – I had no idea – but after two nights on the street with her I was sure she was going to be nothing more or less than a danger to everyone she came in contact with. It wasn’t, as far as I could tell, that she was simply stupid. No, with each passing hour I spent with her that first night it became clear she reveled in her own joyous asininity, because after each and every one of her stomach turning comments she laughed – and more obscenely in direct proportion to the inappropriateness of her last “joke”. Maybe ‘chortled’ is the best, most appropriate word to describe these inappropriate outbursts, because the word ‘laugh’ really doesn’t convey the sheer embarrassment I felt for her. Too, she made these rough snorting noises when she chortled, and her eyes squinted – causing her eyes to water – and her cheeks turned red too, leaving the impression of having seen a pig screaming at a passing feed truck.
Her name was Amy, Amy Goodman, and she’d been out of academy for two months; the word on her was that she was brilliant at classwork and horrible at anything that had to do with people. In mock person-to-person encounters she’d been through in academy, the ones where cadets get to intervene during a staged domestic fight? She drew down on the woman in her first encounter, called the “aggrieved housewife” an entitled slut and pushed the gal down to the floor before ‘cuffing her. Instructors had been quite impressed with that, before reminding her that she lived in a litigious society and that her actions would cost the city a million and change, plus assorted court costs. She’d alienated every one of her classmates during the course of academy, to the point the academy staff almost felt sorry for her. Almost. I think she managed to piss off every one of them, too. That was the rumor, anyway.
She’d almost washed out, too. Runs through Glen Canyon almost got her, and she’d just managed to do the required ten pull-ups to pass the graduating physical agility test, then fallen to the side of the court and flashed hash all over the gym floor. Following our standard rotation, she went from academy to work a week in a precinct jail, then was sent to day shift for her first two month rotation with an FTO, or Field Training Officer.
And I knew her FTO, too. If not quite a real friend, Ben Royal and I were close in the way cops that have worked together for almost twenty years usually are, and we had been training rookies long enough to know all the signs of a real, classic loo-loo. Goodman was one of those. Still, she was huge, bigger than life, and certainly a lot bigger than myself. Six feet tall, probably a hundred and eighty pounds when I first met her, she was gangly, all arms and legs, though her feet were tiny, like a size six or so, and I only mention this in passing as I wondered how the hell she could run on feet that small.
Not very well, as it turned out.
On a foot patrol down along the pedestrian walk beside Fisherman’s Wharf, Ben spotted a purse-snatcher about the same time Amy did, and they both took off after the kid, weaving through people and bicycles as they gained on the suspect. But Ben noticed Amy had both hands on her “Sam Browne” belt, and after a few hundred yards her hands slipped and her pants flew down around her ankles – and down she went, tumbling down the sidewalk in a blur. Ben caught the kid about the time Amy managed to get herself up and put back together, and she found the owner of the purse and got all the information for the report – like right out of the department’s Procedures Manual – but she’d been embarrassed by the whole thing, enough to talk about quitting.
And I guess that’s the rub a lot of people had with her. It was like she just didn’t fit in, like she’d grown up on the outside – and had always been looking in. She had always been a tell girl, too, which had probably kept her socially isolated as a kid, though in truth it was really difficult to tell what was under her uniform and vest and all the other horse-shit we have to wear. And another truth: women were still the odd man out, if you know what I mean, in a department that was still very much a male oriented organization.
Why was that a problem?
Because of quotas; because the department didn’t have enough women in uniform on the street, and so the feeling was, as was perhaps true for most of the women on the force, she’d been passed along despite some glaring issues. Once upon a time, or so the saying went, a girl like Amy would have never made it into academy, let alone pass, but a lot of us who’d been around for a while had seen the handwriting on the walls. Times had changed, or so we’d heard, and we had to change along with the times – or get steamrollered. So resentments bloomed, and this is the real hard part of the equation: we had to change in such a way we didn’t get other officers – let alone innocent civilians – killed. Affirmative action forced real change on departments everywhere, and now I had to get Goodman through the next part of the ritual.
The first time I saw her, in uniform in the briefing room, she looked like just about every other cop in the room. Uniform starched with razor like creases on her trousers, brass shined and blazing away, and the only thing even marginally out of place was her longish blond hair and pale lipstick, and when I walked into the briefing room her eyes locked onto mine quicker than a heat seeking missile’s. Yet I didn’t see anxiety there, or fear. In it’s place was an easy-going curiosity lurking in those cool, greenish-blue orbs, and I could see she’d held the seat next to her’s open – for me.
After I was seated next to her the shift sergeant came in and began the briefing, going over the most troubling episodes and calls from the evening shift, going over any lurking hotspots we might get called back to. All pretty mundane stuff I guess you’d say, and when it was over I let Goodman get her briefcase put back together before I let her lead us out to our squad car. She had picked up a lot over the last two months – the rough edges weren’t as glaring, anyway, but she was still a character.
My usual beat was ‘Snob Knob’ – the area north of Golden Gate park and west of the bridge. Lot of money in the neighborhood and all-in-all about as far from South San Francisco as you can get. Still, we get some world class domestic disturbances on deep-nights, not to mention big-time burglaries, so it’s a good training ground for rookies. A little more action than ‘days’ – but not quite up to the bruising pace on evenings, so think of it as a planned progression. She’d worked downtown on days, and would go south for evenings – assuming she made it out of deep nights in one piece – before being cut loose to ride solo for a few years.
And she seemed in good spirits that night, our third night together. She ran through the car’s inventory of flares and cones softly singing some old ‘Sinatra’ type song, and the thing is…Amy could sing. I don’t mean like sounding good in the shower type singing; no, I mean like Ginger Rogers or Judy Garland. I mean…what the hell was she doing out here wearing a gun and a badge? Why the hell wasn’t she cutting records down in Hollywood?
“What is that?” I asked, knowing the tune but not able to place it.
“What’s that song?”
“Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade,” she said, looking at me like I was the moron.
“Oh,” I said, knowingly. Then, “You have a nice voice. Soothing.”
She looked at me again and smiled, but I felt like I had just uttered the singularly most inappropriate words in the department’s history.
“You think so?” she said, letting me, gently, off the hook.
“Yeah, like Ella Fitzgerald. Smooth as good whiskey.”
“You like jazz?” she asked.
“It’s against the law to live in The City and not like jazz,” I tossed back.
“I never heard that one in academy.”
“Dereliction of duty,” I muttered as the shift sergeant walked by, but the thing of it was, her voice was familiar.
“Y’all gonna hit the street sometime tonight?” he said as he climbed into his Explorer and checked in service. Nonplussed, I tossed her the keys and told her she was driving tonight, then got in and buckled up for the ride, and all the while I was looking at her, casting little sidelong glances her way…because something had clicked inside. She sounded familiar – because she was familiar.
Anyway, we were headed west on Geary when we got our first call: a family disturbance. She was writing the address down on her notepad when she started in on Luck Be A Lady, another Sinatra classic, and I had to shake my head again…
“Man, what are you doing out here? You should be down in LA cutting records.”
“Stop it, would you? My neighbors say I sound like two cats screeching in the alley.”
“They need a hearing check. By the way, what day of the week is it?”
“Friday – morning. Why?”
“Okay, family disturbance on a Thursday night. Does that ring any bells to you?”
“What usually happens on Fridays?”
She shrugged her shoulders.
“Payday,” I said. “Now, what are most family disturbances about?”
“I don’t know – anal sex? Who gets to sleep in the wet spot?”
I groaned. “Okay, other than that, what else comes to mind?”
“Good, right you are. Now, if payday is later today odds are we’ve had a pretty good fight about money tonight. And fights about money tend to be bad…”
“2141,” dispatch said over the radio.
“2141, go ahead.”
“2141, signal 4 at your 38f. Neighbors advise multiple gunshots that location.”
“2141 code three,” I advised as Goodman hit the lights and siren.
“See,” she said with a grin. “Told you it was about anal sex.”
I groaned again as I looked over at her, because there was simply no way to reconcile this girl. Sinatra one minute, off color jokes about anal sex the next. Singing like a bird one moment then completely off key the next, like maybe she was a canary in a coal mine…
So, five minutes later we’re in a cozy, upscale house out on Sea Cliff. Dead guy in the hot tub, fat, bald and at least fifty years old. Screaming hysterically, enter stage left the Russian speaking platinum blond bimbette, waving a chrome plated Beretta .25 all over the place as she lets us in the door. While this may be acceptable behavior in Minsk (or wherever this canary came from), Goodman (being number one through the door) does a decent imitation of an NFL linebacker and takes the bimbette in a bruising stiff-arm tackle and before you can say ‘cat-fight’ the two are down on the (polished white marble) floor playing Wrestle-mania. I don’t know how else to say it either, because within a few seconds Goodman tosses me the (now clip-less) .25 and it’s apparent the bimbette is seriously unconscious. So, color me impressed. There’s no way I ever moved that fast. Ever, not even when I was 25 years old. And never have I taken a bimbette down and put her in a snot-lock; I would have been too dazed by the woman’s 42 DDs to even consider that possibility.
The good thing about all this?
The bimbette is out like a light, so she doesn’t have to listen to all the off color jokes about ‘having a bad hair day’ that ensue. Still, when Goodman said “I hope it was as good for her as it was for me…” I think I was about to fall in love with her – if not for the fact that our shift’s watch commander had just walked through the front door. Still, by that time we’d searched the premises and found the stiff (and I mean very, as I think he’d had two too many 100mg Viagras), and it looked like the guy died happy. Goodman took the L-T out to the hot tub, and so of course said something nice about the fat man’s erection, something like: “Gee, I sure would have liked a ride on that one tonight…”, at which point Lieutenant Tiedemann rolled his eyes – while all the blood drained out of my face.
He walked by on his way out, by the way, and said, “Is she always like this?”
To which I blithely replied: “You have no idea, sir.”
I heard his muttered “Jesus H Fucking Christ” as he walked away, and I understood completely.
Still, she’d impressed me on that call, and in more ways than I can relay. She’d never lost her composure, her reactions were not only quicker than mine, they were spot-on, too. Far from the picture of incompetence I’d heard before I met her, I saw a sharp, competent cop that night.
A cop that just happened to have what was surely the singularly most inappropriate sense of humor in human history.
Then I discovered her first fatal flaw.
She disliked donuts.
When we cleared from the call on Sea Cliff (homicide detectives took over after we secured the scene and left with our report), we took off for Chinatown, home of the best donuts in California. We keep the best locations secret, and never, ever take rookies to them, but there was an ancient place down on Gold Street I was willing to share with her – until she said she hated donuts. Fuck, I said, Dunkin Donuts it is. No, she said. “I don’t drink coffee.”
“What?” I said, not knowing if law enforcement was in her DNA anymore. “What DO you like?”
“No. Ice water.”
“That’s fucked up.”
She turned and looked at me again, confusion all over her face. “Why?” she asked.
If the girl had a humor switch, someone had just flipped it off. I just shrugged and pulled into a 24 hour diner for our lunch break, and while I had a sandwich she had – ice water. She sat across from me and watched my every move – closely – as I took a bite, as I sipped iced tea, as I looked out the window at passing traffic…
“I sing at a club,” she said, out of the blue.
“Next weekend, at the Fairmont.”
“It’s my first time,” she added hesitantly.
She looked down before she bit her lower lip, nodding her head quickly like a little girl’s. “Yes. Very.”
“If you need some moral support, I’ll come down.”
“Could you? Please?” She said please just like my daughter did – when she was six.
“Sure, but from what I’ve heard I doubt you’ll need any.”
She nodded her head again…just as my radio chimed in: “2141, can you clear for a call?”
“Well, they’re playing our song,” I said, trying not to smile. “2141, go ahead.”
“2141, respond to a 36B, Park Presidio and Balboa, report from a BART bus operator that he’s been struck by a motorcycle.”
“-41, show us en route.”
“2141, Code 5 at zero four thirty hours.”
Goodman was already out the door by the time I’d dropped some money on the table. I was in a bad mood, too. The donuts at this place sucked.
The only accident investigator on-duty was working a pile-up way down south on the 280, so this was our call, like it or not. Still, the only thing I saw on approach was an old GMC bus askew in the middle of the intersection, both right-side passenger doors open and the driver milling around beside the front door. Any and everyone else around the scene had already beat-feet, and to make matters even more interesting the usual early morning Golden Gate fog was just rolling in – so visibility was already down to about fifty feet (and closing). Still, the right side of the old bus looked undamaged, even in the fog…
Ah, San Francisco.
The left side of the bus was another matter, entirely.
Because about fifteen feet behind the driver’s seat was some kind of crotch-rocket, but only the rear wheel was visible.
The rest of the Kawasaki (fluorescent baby shit green, if I recall the official name for that color correctly) was, well, ‘inside’ the bus. Along with various bits and pieces of the rider.
First thing we did was summon another unit to help set up flares and help with traffic control, then I set Goodman on the enviable task of interviewing the bus driver while I looked over the scene.
You see, once upon a time, when I had slightly less gray hair and a good deal more dexterity, I had been a motor jack, and an accident investigator. With my receding hairline had come a transfer back to patrol, with the proviso that I become an FTO. The thinking was I could get rookies fresh from academy up to speed, AND teach them a fair bit of relevant knowledge about working wrecks, from traffic control and witness interrogations to taking measurements and working up precise drawings of accident scenes. Hell, I was good at it and I figured when I retired I’d go work for an insurance company to make some extra dough. Anyway, that was the plan; it’s just that patrol was turning out to be a helluva lot more dangerous than it had been even fifteen years ago.
Because things had changed. The department had changed, true enough, but now it seemed that all my hard-won preconceptions about the streets had been upended. Terror used to mean a bad slasher-flick at the drive-in; gangs were innocuous groups with Marlon Brando wearing silly looking hats, and money wasn’t a pervasive dark force doing the work of cartels and other grifters. And most of all, politicians could be counted on to attend the public’s needs, and cynics back then used to say we would soon be living in a first rate third world country.
Guess what? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…
Still, all this felt vaguely too familiar, like I had done it all before, and now I was looking at a bus laying at an odd angle in the middle of this foggy intersection, and looking around I saw potholes everywhere, and two out of five red traffic signal lights were burned out. Pavement lane markings were faded beyond useful recognition, too, despite my having sent memos to Public Works many times over the years, and traffic signs were rusted memories of another era. And yet out on Sea Cliff the streets were pristine. Maybe because, what? Wealthy people lived out there? Politicians, perhaps?
As I walked around the bus I noticed a few odd things, too. Like multiple skid marks a hundred yards away. Fresh, rich black skid marks, single track, like made by other motorcycles. I moved our patrol car to preserve them, and took out my MagLite and went to mark the point of impact on the street.
When flesh – and even synthetic fiber clothing – impacts metal at high speed, it heats up. Rapidly, of course, but these materials get hot enough to fuse to metal surfaces, and looking at the ‘imploded’ metal on the side of the bus with my light I could make out the tell-tale residue of a very high speed impact. Flesh, lots of it, and bits of the rider’s fabric one-piece riding suit were fused to the bus’s inwardly bent, fluted aluminum cladding.
Shining my light deeper into the cavity I could see that the rider’s body had been bisected by the bus’s heavier metal floor beams – yet even so the outermost beams had been severely deformed during the impact – with the remains of the rider’s torso and head up above in the passenger cabin, and his lower extremities embedded in the bus’s mechanical workings under the floor.
Several lines of inquiry were obvious. Speed at impact could be derived from straight forward ‘conservation of linear momentum’ calculations, and possibly front fork and floor beam deformation calculations. But what about those other skid marks? Were they made by companions, and if so, why had they split? More likely they were made by pursuers, and the deceased rider had been preoccupied by this pursuit.
And those inoperative red lights? What role had they played? And the potholes? Did they affect the rider’s control at a critical point in the chain of events leading up to the impact?
Within a half hour we had several units on the scene preserving the evidence, and a heavy duty wrecker arrived. After we marked all the positions and skid marks with pink spray paint, I had the wrecker lift the left side of the bus, and after the beast was jacked and blocked I made my way under and to examine the rider’s lower extremities.
The smell was intense under there, too. Feces, yes, but that other smell? Heroin, heated during impact? Hashish? I couldn’t tell, but it was strong. I hadn’t found anything in the rider’s jacket, not even a wallet or any other useful ID, so I’d pinned all those hopes on finding this stuff in this guy’s pants. But no, it was a one piece suit and there were no pockets down here.
I called out: “Goodman? Get some scissors, or a sharp knife, would you? I need to look inside these clothes.”
Moments later she was kneeling beside me, handing me a scalpel one of the paramedics had given her.
“Take the light, would you?” I said, pointing at the rider’s bum. “Shine it right there, just above his…”
“Yeah man, he had a good looking ass too. Nice and tight…”
“Shut the fuck up.”
I cut along the seams, wanting to preserve as much of the suit as possible, and pulled the fabric down and away from the intact flesh here. Liquid feces dropped to the pavement, and dangling from the rider’s rectum was a balloon.
“What the fuck?” Goodman said.
“Heroin. Probably several more tied off up his chute. CID here yet?”
“With the torso, in the ME’s wagon.”
“Get someone over here with a camera and evidence bags, and make sure they get a weight on the torso before they move it off the gurney.”
“Oh, we’ll need another gurney for this, too,” I added, pointing at all the remains fused under the bus.
“Who gets to remove all that goo?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“You do, rookie.”
“How did I know you were going to say that?”
“Gloves, forceps and saline, Amy. If you’re nice, I’ll show you the easy way.”
She nodded her head and turned to leave. “Thanks, I think,” she muttered as she walked away.
We finished at the scene a quarter past noon. Four hours ‘plus’ OT so far, and next we had to go to the ME’s for the autopsy, then, because it was a fatality, we had to go back to the station after that and finish our report. Finish, as in no loose ends, because our findings would make their way to the six o’clock news. CID would wrap up the whole affair in a few days with what would turn out as a homicide investigation.
We watched as the ME found two 9mm slugs in the rider’s shoulder, and one in his left kidney, and that, as they say, was that. The rider was the owner of the motorcycle, so a check of the call log earlier that morning revealed a noise complaint in the alley behind his apartment. A check with potential witnesses got us a hit. An argument about drugs, a brief fight then the chase was on. Two witnesses identified the other gang members, they knew them by name, so bingo: warrants, arrests and who knew what the end result would be. Lawyers in loose Gucci loafers would present those misbegotten fates to a mildly interested jury. Maybe.
All I knew, with all the certainty my calculations could provide, was that the rider (one ‘Riki’ Chu, a mule for one of our local Chinese gangs) slammed into the side of that bus doing at least 119 miles per hour, and frankly I didn’t care about all the rest. Shit like this happens several times a month on my shift, so really, who gives a damn? In the end, the only thing I recalled about the whole thing was Amy Goodman’s final observation after we left Chu’s autopsy. He had been laid out under the lights in all his various pieces and parts, and the ME had said he looked like a typical ‘road pizza’ – what we call a body that’s been run down the road like a piece of cheese down a grater.
“You know,” she said after I’d buckled into the passenger seat of our patrol car, “what say we go get a pepperoni pizza.”
I looked at her long and hard then, looked at her eyes, at the smile she was doing her best to hide. Despite everything, I knew I was falling in love with her. I knew this was true because I knew I’d finally met someone as warped and twisted as that burnt out soul I saw every morning in the mirror when I shaved.
So Friday night comes around; her first night at the Fairmont, if you recall. The Tonga Room, that ode to all things 1940: Tyrone Power lighting Norma Shearer’s cigarette, Bogart and Bacall in a dark corner whispering sweet nothings over frothy Zombies…it all happened at the Tonga back in the day, and still does, as a matter of fact. Back in the ‘30s MGM was charged with turning a small deck-side swimming pool into a Polynesian bar – and they did. The bar is still there, the restaurant too, and the mood hasn’t changed all that much. Music is now, as it was then, performed either poolside or from a platform floating in the pool. Some of the best jazz in the City shows up to play here, and while the booze is pricey it’s hard to beat the vibes. You can feel some pretty spirited ghosts lingering in the shadows, waiting for one more dance before the lights go out.
Anyway, I’d hoped to show up early but got there as the lights were going down and saw a guy on the piano tickling the ivories, warming up with some Bill Evans – On Green Dolphin Street will do it every time – then the lights shone down on guys on drums and an upright bass. People stopped drinking and watched, interested, as the music cooled, then, as Amy stepped out into the light.
She was dressed, well, like Veronica Lake. Her hair was all Veronica Lake too. That is to say she was pure platinum, and the light played in sequined intensity, blinding me, hiding everything in sight within her shimmering radiance…everything, that is, except her face. Her hair and makeup were perfect, her beauty staggering; she’d taken my breath away before she ever parted her lips to start her first set.
Dindi. That two minute symphony from Sinatra and Jobim’s first album. She drew out the words like a knife drawn slowly from a warm leather scabbard. Smooth, pure precision, her voice so sweet I could feel my pulse hammering in my forehead. This girl had been, I stammered inwardly, sitting next to me for the past five nights while I took her on a guided tour of the city’s sewers. What the hell was wrong with this picture? She belonged on the silver screen up there with Bogie and Grant, and sure as hell not in a reeking old Ford – riding around with a bunch of burnt-out old cops.
She moved on to I Concentrate On You, and the tempo she set hit just the right mood once again. Her gown was, I now saw, split up the front and for the first time I saw her legs unencumbered by polyester trousers. Once again I felt my pulse hammering and I took a long pull from my own Zombie. To say this girl was a 12.5 on the ‘10-scale’ was a crazily bemused understatement; to say I felt like a thirteen year old boy stealing his first ever covert glances at a ‘girlie’ magazine was, again, another bemused understatement. As I sat drinking all this in – the music, the eyes, those goddamn legs – I found myself growing absolutely confused.
How had she ever decided on a career in law enforcement, and what fool had let that thought form in her head? The questions kept forming in my head, too, and at a dizzying pace. It may have escaped you, but I’m a cop; no, make that a Cop, with a capital C. I’m suspicious by nature, I observe, take notes, and when things don’t quite add up I start digging. I construct a working hypothesis and start researching. I’m tenacious, annoyingly so, too, and I have that on very good authority, as well. Just ask my ex-wife; I’m sure she’ll confirm that.
She wrapped up her set with Sinatra’s One Note Samba and the room erupted. Men and women were on their feet, our applause thunderously deafening. As she came down she began to notice the reaction and took a bow before stepping out of the light and down onto the main floor. All eyes on her, she walked to the bar and right up to…me…
…and as I stood she draped her gloved arms over my shoulders and looked me in the eye before she leaned in close and kissed me…
And I don’t know where I went in that moment. Still somewhere on the south side of the sky, I guess, but I was floating. She felt all cool and fine in my arms, just the thinnest line of perspiration along her hairline, her eyes crystal clear and blazing with an unexpectedly feral intensity.
“That was magic, Amy,” I managed to say…though just. “Pure magic.”
“What? That little ole kiss?”
She leaned back and looked me in the eye. “Think I could talk you into taking me back to your place right now?”
I held out my hand and she took it, and we walked out together side by side.
When we slipped into the back of the taxi she turned and looked at me once again. “Ooh,” she sighed, “I like the way that felt.”
“Your hand in mine. I could get used to that,” she said as she looked me in the eye.
She leaned into me once again, and her mouth was exquisite.
So was, as it turned out, the rest of her.
And two days later we were on patrol again, and all was most definitely NOT as it had been.
It had started in briefing, when she could not, or would not, take her eyes off mine. Everyone did their best to ignore it, but she was smitten and had no intention whatsoever of concealing it.
No big deal, right?
The shift sergeant gave me the evil eye, meaning: back off – or else. Guys I’d worked with for years shook their heads, rolled their eyes, turned their face away without so much as a word.
And a homeless man had been killed during a confrontation with a patrol unit earlier that evening, and tempers were flaring. Demonstrators had formed and tear gas canisters fired; a few store fronts were alight and more than a few cars had been overturned and torched. In a new twist, dozens of ATMs had been hit; stolen cars were being driven into curbside cash machines and literally crushed open. Money was blown out into the streets and hundreds of people gathered to rake up the loot before responding units could secure the scene, and the latest had happened just fifteen minutes ago. The mood out there on the streets was volatile, the evening shift sergeant told us before we stood and left for our cars.
I could smell smoke in the air when I tossed her the keys as we walked through the parking lot – and my toss was ill-timed and arced well over and behind her – yet she caught them and unlocked the doors before she went about prepping the car for our shift…when the call came out:
“Need a unit to clear for a 3A in-progress.”
“2141, show us in service.”
“2141, 3A at the liquor store, 1590 Pacific, security guard down, hostages taken. 2110 advises respond Code 2/TAC alpha.”
“2141, Code 2. TAC alpha.”
“Code 2 at 00-05 hours.”
“Know the best way there?” I asked her as she turned onto Van Ness.
“Van Ness to Broadway.”
“Okay, hit it.” She flipped on the lights but kept the siren off, per the watch commander’s orders; we had three more units following while SWAT was called out, so our job would be to secure the area and try to keep the situation contained until the black suits arrived.
She took a corner a little too fast and I saw her looking at me out of the corner of her eye.
“I love you,” she said, and suddenly we looked at one another.
“We can’t do this to each other,” I think I managed to say. “Not now.”
I think I flinched inside. The easy way those words came out cut me to the bone, and it felt like the past two days had been a mirage, a shimmering fiction lost in the heat of the moment, but then it hit me once again. This had all happened before…
“I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” I said, not knowing where these words came from.
“I know. I do too.” She seemed confused as the thought hit her.
“Do me a favor, and try not to get killed tonight, okay?”
She smiled as she turned onto Pacific, and I remember her smile as the windshield erupted in a hail of spraying glass fragments. Heavy automatic weapons fire…cut through…the windshield…as I ducked downward, pulling Amy down under me…
She kept her foot on the brake and somehow slammed the transmission into park, causing the Ford’s wheels to lock up and the vehicle to drift wide as it skidded to a stop. My side of the car ended up flush against a parked car, leaving her side the only way in – or out – and bullets were slamming into her door.
“We’re going to get get chewed up in here,” I heard her say while I got the radio’s mic in hand and put out a “Signal 33, shots fired!” on our primary. Sirens lit off all over the city at that point, and she looked at my side of the car’s door, then at me.
You’ve been hit,” she said. “Right shoulder, blood’s oozing, not pulsing.”
“No shit? I can’t feel anything…”
More glass shattered overhead and I felt her stuffing something onto my shoulder, then she had the radio in hand and put out an “Officer down! Heavy automatic weapons fire this location…”
“You ready to get the fuck out of Dodge?” she asked, then in one fluid motion she kicked out her door and grabbed me by the collar, pulled me head-first out of the Ford. She took me in her arms, carrying me like a baby and I felt rounds slamming into her back, into her vest, and I cradled my hand protectively behind her head just as a round hit.
I screamed, I know I did, because I felt her head recoil under the impact of…but she kept running until we were around the corner and safe. I remember hearing a helicopter overhead, paramedics running an IV into my left arm, and Amy standing over me, protecting me, not a scratch on her…then the world grew very silent – and bright – before I heard an inrushing roar and a liquidly soft warmth that was oh so dark and comfortable.
A bone fragment nicked my right brachial artery, just enough to cause a bad bleed, and being close to USF had saved my life – or so I was told. Well, no, that’s not quite right, is it? Amy Goodman saved my life that night, in every way possible, yet so many questions remained of that encounter.
Like how the hell did she kick a car door off it’s hinges? How did eight rounds from an AKS slam into her vest – and not take her down? The round that shattered my left hand, cradling her head? Not a scratch on her. What could hurt her? Kryptonite?
When I came out of wherever it was they fixed me and was wheeled to what looked like an ICU, she was there waiting for me, and I remember her looking down at me. Those perfect blue-green eyes of hers, pools of empathy and compassion, all knowing and all seeing. The gentle curve of her lips, the love in her eyes and on her tongue – waiting.
“You’re going to be fine,” she said, her eyes bold and clear. “Even your hand, too.”
“What’s wrong with my hand?” I said as I held it up and looked it over. My thumb and index finger were gone, replaced by a huge wad of gauze and surgical tape, and I nodded my head, suitably impressed. “Well, shit,” I think I managed to say, “ain’t that a kick in the pants?”
A surgeon of some sort came into the room, flipping through a chart and making little clucking noises as he looked at the numbers that told him all he needed to know about me, then he came to my bedside and unwrapped the bandages on my left hand and held it up for me to see.
Black sutures held the remains of my hand together, and the flesh was splotchy and blackish-blue in places. He turned ‘it’ in the light, making sure I could see every bit of the remains, then he took fresh dressings and rewrapped it.
“So,” he began, “what are we going to do about this mess?”
I looked at the name embroidered on his white coat: ‘Ben Prentice, MD, PhD’ in nice bold lettering, and under that, ‘BioMechanical Engineering, SUMC.’
Amy was looking at me just then, and I remembered her saying “Even your hand…” just a moment before; I looked at her again, then at this Prentice fellow. “What are my options?”
“Let this heal, take early retirement…”
“Let me…fix it.”
“Replace a few key components, make a few modifications to your original equipment.”
“Beg your pardon?”
“I’ll replace this mess with a newer, bio-mechanical unit. Computer controlled, linked to your – brain.”
“Okay, Bones. I assume you’ll do this back on the Enterprise?”
Prentice laughed. “Not quite. We’ll do it back at Berekeley, at our lab.”
“Your lab? Ah, so your real name is Frankenstein?”
The man smiled again, and it was a familiar smile. “Not quite. We’re working on other projects, so this would be kind of an experiment. Our hope is your hand will be completely restored. I mean completely, as in one hundred percent. Looks, function…everything. You in?”
Amy was looking down at me, nodding her head, smiling gently as she encouraged me to make the leap.
“You can be back on the street within six weeks,” Prentice said, “but you need to let me know now so I can amend the surgical reports one way or the other. If you stay as is, the department will begin processing your retirement later today. You’ll be released from hospital on full medical retirement, if that’s what you want. Or you can go back to work. Your new hand will be as good as – if not better – than the original. In every way, I might add.”
“How do you know? How can you be so confident?”
“Because our results let me.”
“I’m sorry, but…will this – replacement – look like something out of The Terminator?”
“No, not at all. For all intents and purposes, we’ll provide what is essentially a temporary carbon fiber skeletal structure for a regenerative matrix of your own tissue to adhere to. While this is going on, we’ll implant a synthetic neurological net as a failsafe, in case your own doesn’t regenerate correctly, or to help it along if your own resulting net is incomplete. It’s actually simpler than it sounds, as your body does most of the work.”
“Yes, but in time even that matrix will be replaced by your own bone. In a few years you’ll be, again, for all intents and purposes, one hundred percent you.”
“This is all new, isn’t it?”
“Yes, and still considered experimental. So, what do you say? Are you in?”
I remember looking at Amy again, that smile, those eyes. Pleading, a soft parade leading me on.
“Yeah, I’m in. Too young to retire, and too stupid to know better.”
“Fine,” Prentice said, sighing relief. “We’ll have some papers for you to sign tomorrow, and we’ll prepare your short-term disability papers as well. We should shoot for moving you over to our lab in three days, and you should be home within two weeks.” He turned to leave, but paused and nodded at Amy before he left, and she followed him out of the ICU.
I didn’t see her again that night, or for a long time, as it turned out.
But when I came home from Prentice’s lab, she was there, waiting, when I walked in the door to my place. I’d given her a key, I remembered, “just in case.” Curious, those spur of the moment choices we make.
And my place was spotless. Cleaned, like a regiment of Marine “boots” had invaded the place. So clean I was sure the bolts holding my toilet seat to the bowl had been hit with Brasso…twice. My sheets were starched, and there was a goddamn turkey roasting in the oven. Had she moved in, too? Was she, god forbid, pregnant?
“I just wanted to make sure your first night home was easy.”
“Yeah. You know, clean sheets, something to eat. That kind of thing.”
“Ah. I was certain I heard wedding bells.”
She laughed at that. At least I think she did.
“Maybe that would be a bad idea,” she said.
“I thought you said you loved me.”
“I thought you said you loved me, too,” she replied.
“I did. Because I do.”
“Then…would you just hold me?”
“I can do that,” I said, but in truth, I wasn’t so sure. The feelings coming from my still bandaged left hand were as yet anything but “normal” – more an annoying “buzzing” sensation that at times felt alternately hot, then cold. But when Amy slipped into my arms my whole world felt complete again…there was a current between us…something so elemental was enjoined in that moment. Still, my right hand went for the back of her head. That part of me couldn’t understand why the round that shattered my other hand hadn’t penetrated her skull, yet – I felt nothing. As in: I felt nothing at all, just normal hair, not even a scalp wound.
‘I guess my hand took it all,’ I remember thinking. ‘Lucky.’
But her hands were searching for something else just then, and as she undid my belt and pushed my pants down I hoped the bird in the oven wasn’t going to be too badly burned.
Odd. Returning to duty felt odd.
Like I hadn’t been gone.
No one said a thing to me when I walked in the briefing room. Not one “how’re you doin’, Jim?” and no knowing nods. I’d been gone six weeks, and now…this? Had my affair with Amy poisoned so many friendships? Why the silent treatment?
But it wasn’t poisoned, not really. The feeling was more like I hadn’t been gone at all, and when Amy walked into the room no one looked up, no one looked at her as she walked over and sat in the chair next to mine. Our shift sergeant walked in a few minutes later and briefing got under way – with not one “Welcome back, Jim,” to be had. Notes taken, feelings hurt, briefing broke up at five ‘til and Amy and I made our way out to the lot and prepped the car. She drove and I sat in the dark, wondering what the hell was going on.
The hottest call we’d had all night was a barking dog complaint, and by zero four thirty I was bored, yet antsy, even so. I flexed my left hand, marveled at the perfect sense of movement, the utterly normal sense of feeling in there now…even my fingernails were growing back ridged, just as they had two months ago…before all this bullshit happened…but the feeling that something was wrong began to grow in the shadows…
“How ‘bout a donut?” she said as our lunch break came up.
I shook my head. “Maybe some water,” I said absently…but she pulled into our all-night diner a minute later and checked us out.
“Come on,” she said, looking at me with real concern in her eyes. “Let’s eat something. Just get out of the car for a while, anyway,” and as she was getting out we both heard it…
A woman’s scream, then two gunshots.
Thursday night, full moon out too. We both stood still, trying to make out where we’d heard the noise.
There…down the street…lights going out in a second floor window…
“Call it in,” I told her, “and ask for backup.” I reached in, hit the safety and took the Remington 870 from the rack and jacked a round into the chamber as I started down the street on foot. Fog was rolling in – all I could hear was a foghorn out in the bay – and Amy running to catch up with me. Turning my head a bit, I reached out into the night, trying to feel something I knew was eluding me…
Once the thought hit I stopped dead in my tracks, and Amy did too.
“This is a trap,” I whispered.
“How do you know?” came her whispered reply.
“We open the door and get out of the car, then – bam. People around here know we eat here, all of us, all night long. Anyone watching our routine would know when to look, too, and there are no calls coming in, no one complaining about gunshots and screams at four in the morning. Something’s not right…”
She got on her hand unit and advised dispatch what I’d said, and dispatch confirmed no calls coming in from the area.
“Let’s wait for backup,” I said as I pulled her into the shadows, then…
“Over there,” she whispered, pointing at a man across the street – with an AK-47 – running in a low crouch – in our direction.
We drifted back into some deep shrubbery, and she updated dispatch. A helicopter was en route, a tactical call-out in progress; now we had to wait, see what developed.
The man across the street stopped, looked at our squad car, then at the diner – but not at us – then I saw at least two more men in the shadows across the street, and Amy whispering to dispatch, listening now through her earbud.
A noise, close, on our side of the street. Foot-steps, very quiet…had I taken the safety off? I slipped my finger along the trigger-guard and felt that – yes – I had, just as I saw this new attacker not ten feet away, looking up the street at the diner…
I heard the first back-up unit before I saw it, but this guy’s AK was already coming up to his shoulder when I saw the Ford’s lights two blocks up Van Ness. My 870 was up on my shoulder and as soon as I heard the first round from his AK, and I squeezed off a shot. The double ought buckshot ripped into the guy’s chest and neck and he went down hard and fast, like a sack of potatoes. Amy had her Sig out and opened up on the guys across the street, just as a burst slammed into the stucco above our heads – and I pushed her to the dirt. Then I was up and let slip four quick rounds of buckshot, just as a couple million candlepower light lit up the scene. There was a helicopter overhead now, and two vans full of Tac officers arrived and engaged as fast as they could get into the fight; next I felt an explosion and the lights went out…all of them, all down the street…and then I heard another helicopter overhead…this one with a gunner leaning out the door.
This isn’t San Francisco, I remember thinking. It’s Mosul, or Kabul, but surely not the City by the Bay I’ve lived in all my life – when I see another man with an AK looking right at me not five feet away. I’m empty so go for my Sig but he has me and I know it.
I feel the bullets hitting my vest, at least two in my shoulder (again) before something spins me around, then I’m face down in the dirt. It’s hard to breathe now, but I’m aware in those last seconds of heavy fire just a few feet away, then the world grows very quiet, and very dark, one more time.
“Goddamn, it’s him again. Didn’t we fix his shoulder – like just a few weeks ago?”
I hear voices, faraway, yet very close.
“Yeah. That’s Prentice’s favorite. His old man, I heard him call it once.”
“Oh, right, I remember now…”
“Look at that mess. We’d better call in, see what he wants to do this time.”
I’m having a hard time following this. What? Am I back in the lab? Something wrong with my new hand? I try to open my eyes, but nothing happens, so I try to speak…
“Where am I?”
“Shit, he’s conscious…” is the last thing I hear, then I’m out, just like somebody flipped a switch.
Next thing I know I’m awake, sitting up in a hospital bed, looking out a window at bare trees swaying on a summer breeze. There are patches on my arms and ankles, electrodes maybe, but no IVs. Plain room, very small – like eight feet by ten. White walls, 110 volt outlets on the walls, two light switches. No paintings, no framed posters. That seems odd to me. There’s water in a pitcher on the rolling table, but no TV, no remote control. There’s a call button on the bed-frame and I punch it.
“Where am I?”
“I’ll be right there, just sit tight.”
A minute later the door opens. It’s Amy, but she’s wearing a nurse’s uniform, and her hair is red now, like bright copper shining in sunlight.
“So, you’re up! It’s about time!”
“What? No, my name’s Becky. Are you feeling okay?”
Becky? My daughter’s name? Coincidence?
“I feel fine. Where am I?”
“In Palo Alto, at the Medical Center.”
I can see out the window all the way to the bay, and none of what I see looks even remotely like Palo Alto. I point, say “That’s not Palo Alto,” then “Where’s Dr Prentice?”
“Dr Who? Prentice?”
“Yes, where is he? And where is Amy?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t know those names, but your tech will be by to see you this evening.”
“Yes, now drink some water. That will help you wake up.”
“Yes. Call me if you need anything else.”
Well, this girl’s coming and going left me floating, all questions unanswered, and I don’t know why but I looked at my left hand – again – as if for the first time. It looked like – my hand. That is to say, nada, no answers there, not even a hint. I felt my right shoulder area – again, nada, zip, nothing out of the ordinary… But I’d heard those guys say it was a mess?
And “my tech” never came by that evening…but Amy did.
My god, but she was a sight for sore eyes. Completely unchanged, too. The same blond hair, her mesmerizing blue-green orbs lasering in on mine, the butterflies in my gut still out of control. She was in uniform too, but the rags were somehow different. The SFPD patch had been changed, and her pistol? Like nothing I’d ever seen before…but everything else seemed pretty much the same.
“So, how’s your training going,” I started, looking for a nice clean patch of safe, common ground.
“Good. I’ve been waiting for you to come back – so we could resume.”
“Oh? How long have I been out?”
She looked me in the eye – but shrugged. “Who’s counting?”
“How’s my apartment?” I said, dancing as fast as I could.
“Are you still planning on moving in?”
“I, uh, well I already have. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Amy? What is it? What are you not telling me?”
She looked around the bare little room, evading the question. Evading me.
“That night on Pacific? Do you remember what happened out there?”
“Not really, but I think I got myself shot again,” I said, thinking about the man walking up to me, but then I remembered him putting his AK up to my head, and a blinding flash…
…and a sudden chill swept the room…
“Amy? How long have I been out?”
She shook her head and started to walk out of the room.
“Are you still singing?” I asked as she reached for the door.
She stopped, turned and looked at me, nodded her head as she smiled. “Yes,” was all she said before she slipped quietly away.
I stood uncertainly and walked to the window a while later, looked down towards the water a few miles away. What struck me was that I could see the bay at all; trees were usually so thick on this part of the peninsula the sea was all but invisible. Not now, not tonight. The few trees I saw were all barren, even the handful of palms I could see in the distance, and it was devilishly hot outside. There wasn’t a building over two stories high in view, anywhere, and everything was painted white. I saw every rooftop was equipped with some sort of solar array, and not one of the cars passing on the campus road made a sound.
A great deal of time had passed, apparently years, perhaps decades – but I found myself thinking that time had somehow become irrelevant. It was either that, or I was dead – or perhaps worse still, this was a dream and I couldn’t wake up. But…what of Amy? What had time done with her? She hadn’t aged. Not one day, at least from what I could make out during our short time together.
Then I blinked, and it dark out. Deepest night, and I could see wildfires across the bay, the hills beyond Fremont literally pulsing, alive in a fierce, writhing dance of flame and smoke. Firefighting equipment, on the ground and in the air, swarmed around the beast’s periphery – but I could see the bare trees outside my room being whipped by an equally frenzied wind and looked anew at the blaze: it was advancing to the north at a startling speed.
A half hour later Amy came into my room, my laundered uniform in one hand, a gym bag in the other…
“Sorry,” she said, “but we’ve been called up. The fire,” she said, pointing across the bay, “it’s moving towards Berkeley – fast. We’ve been called to help with the evacuation.”
I was out of bed and getting dressed before she finished speaking, then taking my belt and holster out of the gym bag and strapping it on. I checked that a round was chambered, and noticed the pistol was new and looked familiar, yet a brand I’d never heard of. “What is this?” I said, holding the weapon up to the light.
“Just like your Sig, only a newer version, made in Caledonia.”
“Scotland. Used to be called Scotland.”
“Used to be?”
“Sorry. We haven’t got time to go into all that right now; you ready to roll?”
She smiled when she heard that – like she’d just heard an affirmation. “Yeah, come on,” she said as she took off down a corridor that led to…where? A parking lot?
No, to some kind of helipad…and she ran out of what looked like an elongated tadpole – with four tilt-rotor pods attached at the corners, and a gull-wing door opened as she approached her side – just as another opened as I reached that side of the – whatever the hell this thing was…
And the lettering on the panel was? Cyrillic? Some sort of slavic derivation? A hybrid language?
It didn’t matter. Within seconds of getting situated in the left seat Amy had the craft airborne and we were headed north north east across the bay, towards the Bay Bridge…
But it wasn’t the Bay Bridge – not the one I remembered, anyway. The two islands at the midpoint – Yerba Buena and Treasure – were gone. Now there was a massive structure, all sorts of domes and dishes – like Kennedy Spaceport – on steroids. Ships. Navy ships. Red stars, hammers and sickles, some with Mandarin symbols, a few that looks like US Navy, but not all of these were seagoing vessels.
No. Four were huge, all white and obviously launch vehicles…and the wall of flame had already reached Alameda. Even three miles away, the heat from this inferno was intense enough to feel inside the cockpit, and I saw Goodman shaking her head, talking on a secure COMMs unit to someone on the ground
She flew past these moored ships, arced downward towards University Avenue and I could see the Berkeley campus dead ahead, a few of the old buildings recognizable – but most now in flames. Bullets slammed into the glass windshield, but the material healed itself within seconds as Amy jinked down to the treetops.
“Get ready, Jim…”
“Ready? For what?”
“One of our birds is down, and they were on a rescue mission. We’ve got to pick up three to four cops, then get out of here before the…”
More bullets slammed into the side of our ship – and I felt the craft yaw hard right, heard an audible alarm going off. Amy corrected for the drift and I could see the traffic circle between Bechtel Hall and Bancroft Library. Three uniforms crouching beside their ship, guarding a fourth man in a white lab coat…
“Touching down in ten seconds. Get out and get ‘em in the back, then get back up here. If you’re not back here in ten seconds you’ll be staring at the ass end of this bird as it…okay! Go! Go! Go! NOW!”
The door was open, the flames now less than a mile off and I felt the hair on my face and arms withering under the heat, then the skin on the back of my neck beginning to sizzle. The uniformed officers behind their downed bird were searing under the onslaught, yet the lab-coated ‘scientist’ appeared almost unfazed as he walked into the back of our bird. And…he looked familiar too, didn’t he?
More shots rang out; one of the officers went down and I grabbed him by the vest and threw him in back, then jumped back into my seat just as Amy pulled up on her stick. Our ‘bird’ leapt into the torrid air as a wall of flame engulfed us, and I could feel the ship – Amy, that is – fighting to keep us up in the roiling air. She pulled the ship up and out of the fire, but more alarms were going off now and I could see flames in the aft cabin, the engine compartment obviously on fire, the ground reaching up for us now, coming up at us with dizzying speed.
I felt flames licking first my legs, then my arms – and I looked across at Amy as fire engulfed her, and I wondered why she was smiling.
I’m in a room, much smaller than the last one. I can’t tell if the walls are made of plastic or some kind of warm metal, but I can reach out and touch both walls – easily – while still lying in bed. Not really a bed, I see; more a cot, and there are four of them stacked in this little room. I’m on the bottom rack, I see, and there are three people sleeping above me. The room is bathed in cobalt blue light, and suddenly I feel claustrophobic, like I’m in a diving bell – trapped at the bottom of the sea.
Fighting the feeling, I push myself up out of the rack and open the door, step out into the…
What is this place?
My door has opened up – onto a cornfield…
Yet I can see a wall perhaps a hundred yards away, a white, curving wall. Looking up, there’s a curved glass ceiling, and beyond – the night sky, full of impossibly bright stars. And the other side of the structure. I’m inside a donut, I see, and I feel the humor in that and smile.
“Hello, Jim, how are you feeling today?”
I turn to the voice; the face I see is at once familiar – and strange – to me.
“I’m not sure.”
“I understand. Would you come with us, please?”
Us, I think, and I turn and see three more people standing there. Odd. Amy is one of them, yet she looks at me like she doesn’t even know me.
Perhaps she doesn’t, because I no longer know who I am.
I follow the man to a room, larger than “my” bedroom, and there is a window in this room. I walk across the room to the window and look on a vast sea of stars, and solar panels, and there like a small blue marble held at arms length is earth – and her little moon beyond.
I turn and look at the people sitting around a table, all except Amy. She is standing beside me now and I feel the warmth in her eyes. The warmth of recognition. She comes to me and puts her arms around me, leans the side of her face onto my chest and I can smell her hair and as I close me eyes it all comes back to me in a rush.
She is on stage now, singing. She shines in silver light, I see her legs and feel a million butterflies and a moment later we are in bed, our souls entwined as we feel our way to understanding, to an uncomfortable resolution.
I feel my fingers running through her hair and open my eyes.
These people are staring at us, their eyes full of dread wonder.
“Do you love her?” one of them asks me.
“Of course I do,” I manage to say, and somehow the questions feels judgmental, my reaction to the words subject to study.
“He should know,” I hear one of them – a woman – say. “He has a right to know.”
“It doesn’t have ‘rights’,” another says. “He’s not like us.”
“I’m not so sure,” says the third.
“Give it to him, Storm,” the woman says. “He at least has a right to know who – and what – he is.”
“What do you mean,” I say, “ – by ‘what I am?’ What am I?”
I am looking at this ‘Storm’, this leader of theirs, when the woman steps over to him, a crystalline cube in her hands. She hands it to him, and looks him in the eye.
“The choice is yours, but I implore you: he deserves to know.”
This ‘Storm’ takes the cube, his eyes locked on hers, manifest anger clear on his face – a man still at war with himself.
He takes the cube and it looks for a moment that his intent is to smash it into a million pieces, then a sudden peace falls from him, replaced by a gentle resolve. He nods his head one, slowly.
“I see,” the man says.
He turns, looks at me. “You two come with me. Now.”
It is an order, and I cannot refuse. I follow him to yet another room, this one quite far away and we walk past cornfields and vast rows of wheat on our way, then through an orchard of some sort – avocados, I see, and peaches – until we come to a small village.
The scene is almost medieval: a woman stirring a pot over an open fire, her cast iron kettle hanging over the small fire. She walks on dirt, and beyond her I see goats and chickens picking at seeds and grain on the ground. There is a man in the field further off, in the near distance, working on some sort of tractor.
We walk through the simple homes until we come to a last house at the end of the one dirt street, and he leads us inside. There are pictures on the wall, pictures of – me. Me, and Amy – and our children.
San Francisco. I can see the Golden Gate beyond the Presidio. I remember the day. I remember Steve McQueen and his green Mustang. They were filming Bullit, and I had taken Amy and the kids down to the waterfront where they were filming parts of the chase scene, and suddenly the day came back to me in a sudden rush. The sun on my face, the wind in my hair, Amy so alive with love, little Becky so unconcerned, and Ben aware of little else beyond the cars and the people gathered on the roadside watching the action. He was studying them, watching people watch the film crew, and I remember wondering what he was wondering about.
The man, this ‘Storm,’ hands me the cube and I reach for it. “What is this?”
“No. I mean, what is this,” I ask again, pointing at the cube. It is full of vapor, chaos – as far as I can tell, but the man looks at me again – until he understands my meaning.
“It’s a quantum cube. Memory and storage? A computer?”
“This is a computer?”
“Here,” he says as he takes it from me. “When you’re ready, put the cube in here,” he says as he points to a receptacle in the wall.
“When I’m ready for what?”
“Answers, Jim. Answers to all your questions.”
The man looks at me and shakes his head, then sighs as he points to the house. “This is your home now, Jim. You and – Amy. You will live here now, with her. This village, this is where you’ll work. You’re the constable here,” he said, pointing outside. “You maintain order here, like you always have. You protect us, all of us. Like always? Do you understand?”
“Yessir,” I hear myself say, responding to the force of command in his voice.
“Good. Well, I’ll leave you to it. Good day.”
“Good day, sir.”
I turn, look at Amy; she is looking around the single room – at the bed in the corner, at the single table, then she looks at me.
“This is our home,” she says, her voice flat and featureless, then she looks at me. “What did he mean? Answers?”
“I don’t know. Should we open the cube?”
She shrugged. “The woman thought we needed to. Perhaps we should.”
I walked to the table, picked up the cube and looked at it, at the clumps of particulate mists swirling inside, then I went to the receptacle in the wall. There was a power button, dark gray with a red symbol that lit up when my finger got a half inch away.
A small door opened on the receptacle, and a motorized tray slid out of the wall.
“Please place the cube in the slot,” an unseen voice said, “and stand clear of the projector.”
The cube could only fit into the slot in one orientation, and once I’d placed the cube in the slot I saw the mist inside the cube glow, then reorient itself into precise rows…
“Dad? Dad, is that you?”
Startled, I turned and saw Ben Prentice standing in the room, and then I saw Amy. Her face, contorted in a silent scream, her hand out, an accusatory finger pointed at our son… “How…? Who is…? This can’t be,” she said.
“Mom? Is that you?” my son said as he turned to confront the other voice in the room.
“Ben?” I asked.
“Yes, Dad, it’s me,” he said as I reached for him…but his form dissolved for a moment when my hand touched the space.
“Holographic projection, dad. You ask me questions, and I can answer within the limits of what I’ve anticipated you might ask.”
I must have seemed in pain, because his form reached out for me. “I’m sorry, Dad. I know this is hard…”
“Where am I?”
“Dad, I have no idea. I recorded this in 2010, about twenty five years after you were killed.”
“Killed?” I said as the words slammed into me.
“Yes, in the line of duty. Shot, and killed.”
“Killed? How can that be?”
“I kept your tissue, Dad, including stem cells, so I could, so I could – recreate – you. You called me Dr Frankenstein once. Remember?”
“After the first time we brought you back, the first time you were Mom’s FTO.”
“I do,” Amy said suddenly, stepping towards our son’s image. “After that ambush on Pacific. Does this mean I’ve died too?”
Ben’s image stuttered for a moment, I assumed as a file was accessed. “Yes, Mom, not that long ago, in 1997. Ovarian cancer. I used the same techniques to harvest tissue, the same chemical sequencing to preserve memory. There are more gaps in Dad’s memory than yours, by the way, so you may have to help him fill in the blanks from time to time. Still, we were able to keep his law enforcement files intact. That was one of the intentions of the project from the start.”
“The project?” I said.
“Yes, Dad, the project. An idea that’s been floating around for decades. Laws need to be enforced dispassionately, objectively, neutrally. Force needs to be employed in a similar fashion. The problem was simple: human beings were never able to do those thing very well, and as the country spiraled out of control the need grew more and more pressing. The Project was originally conceived to develop combat troops, but as combat came to the country the need to develop a force-oriented police officer became an immediate need…”
“More soldier than cop, Dad.”
“But that’s not law enforcement, Ben. You know that…”
“Do I? Dad, I was just setting up my lab at Stanford when you were killed. The cartels, the gangs, all armed to the teeth, cops still out there with there .38 specials because, you know, there was too much liability associated with using magnums. Do you remember those comments, Dad?”
“I do,” Amy said. “I remember your funeral too, Jim. Closed casket, because your body was… Oh, forget it.”
“I know, Mom. I remember too. And the way GranPa reacted when he saw Dad’s body at the funeral home.” Ben sighed, crossed his arms over his chest. “Dad, I was one of the founders of The Project. Myself and a bunch of other like minded Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. We were determined to put a stop to the carnage, and by the time civil war broke out most cops were already on the front lines of a war few saw coming. They were decimated, and we had to replace their ranks quickly.”
“Did you…make copies of me?”
My son looked down on hearing that. “Uh-huh.”
“A lot, Dad.”
“How many, son.”
“Truthfully, I don’t know. I’ve been dead a while too, you know.”
“You didn’t make a copy of yourself?” I asked, with perhaps a little too much irony in my voice.
“Oh, I did,” I heard him say, but the voice hadn’t come from the holograph in the room, but from the teenaged boy who had just walked through the door…
I had to admit, life in the village was serene enough. Placid enough, you might say, at least in the beginning, but as it always has I saw the seeds of discontent sown more than often enough. Still, it was déjà vu all over again: sitting around the table at dinnertime, talking about the day’s events with Amy and Ben – yet with memory a place we danced lightly around – always. Amy taking reports during the day, the nights left to me, though our patrol patterns were relatively simple.
Walk the ring, as the habitat was called. Two miles around by the straightest trail, a constant 200 meters across, so the apex of the ceiling was a hundred feet up, the guts of the habitat under the dirt ‘ground’ and unknown labyrinth off-limits to one and all. And the most disconcerting aspect of it all? We weren’t in orbit around anything, nor were we anchored at a Lagrange point. Our habitat was a ship of sorts, a starship, if Storm’s description could be believed. There were, apparently, more than fifty of these ships headed out to exoplanets all over the galaxy, and the chosen few were on board, the lucky ones discarded by a dying earth, chosen to spread thier seed across the cosmos.
And yet, or so the story goes, all this has happened before, and will happen again. I saw it on TV, so I know it’s true.
Storm and his ilk lived on one side of the habitat, the worker bees lived on the other. One side was, and this was all too readily apparent, nicer than the other; this ‘nice’ side developed a better way of life, with more and more creature comforts showing up over the years. Discontent grew in the shadow of increasingly vociferous malcontents on one side, new laws were imposed from the other and suddenly my services were in demand all over again. Burglaries, assaults, then we had our first murder, and Amy took that call.
A domestic dispute, as of course it had to be. It was, after all, a Thursday night, and I looked out at the stars and wondered what lay in their courses.
(C)2016 AdrianLeverkühn | abw
So, working on a few updates, then one last push through Mr Christian to clean up the rough edges. Erica is home again, walking with crutches for now and the blood clots under control.
I can’t wait to write a story that includes getting a needle in the eye…
Later…and thanks for dropping by. Aa