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Disclaimer :  Heh, I like music, I like books and films. I don’t own the rights to them, but they do provide some insight into the mind of the author, (me) possibly the character.. If it bothers you too much, well, I could spend a few extra hours typing in credits.   Each ‘Chapter’ has it’s own title and musical quote.  Listening to that song, and figuring out what the title means, may give you (the readers) a clue at some subtext. Enjoy. 

A Whateley Academy Tale

Eat, Drink and be Merry

by Renae

Half Time

Philadelphia, Friday, October 6, 2006

“I walk the maze of moments,
but everywhere I turn to, begins a new beginning,
but never finds a finish,
I walk to the horizon and there I find another,
it all seems so surprising and then I find that I know.
Anywhere is” – Enya  - Anywhere Is

 

“… better than here.” I cursed softly at the ceiling light that was off due to it being bedtime. A glance at the clock with it’s red LEDs that  seemed to flash in time with my heartbeat. Each flash a frozen second of a minute, each minute a frozen flash of an hour. It’s nine o’clock, Friday night. Other kids, other kids are out doing movies, dating, partying, and living. I  would hit the wall and scream “This is so not living.”  If it would not bring my father and mother down on me. 

Darkness fills the room between the red flashes of the digital clock. A flash illuminates the poster of Tron, then winks out. Another, and the various starships from Space 1999, UFO, Star Trek, and others gleam under a faint patina of dust. A bookshelf, science fiction, fantasy books that would be banned and burned if his parents had taken a care to even glimpse the ‘Evil’ inherent in those books.

No, they were happy if I were shut up in my room reading. I couldn’t cause trouble, or be a ‘bad boy’. Or to fall in with ‘the wrong crowd.’ The computer was a harmless toy, it seemed to keep me quiet. Quiet ever so quiet, drug free, safe, away from those ‘Evil Influences.’ I  was safe until Monday; When they had to let me go to school.  If I am really good I ‘might’ get to go see a PG movie.  Chess club was the exception to the rule, with several trophies made out to one Chad Wilson, father almost seemed happy about those.

A glance at the clock 9:05, ten more minutes and the parents would be going to bed. Ten more minutes until I could fire up the computer and the modem without any chance of them figuring out the computer was online. Much less awake and possibly sinning.  Thou shalt not, seemed to be the essence and fabric of his father’s take on life. Unless of course it involved drinking beer to excess, hunting or fishing. Or his Job.

Sitting up I watched the light under the closed door, shadows crisscrossing the bar of light underneath of it.  I could picture the nightly image of my parents stopping to listen, then moving on. Waiting for the light to flash off sucked big time. I slid off the bed, took two soft steps to the chair, ease in to it and back to the Internet.

Depravation, masturbation, exasperation, eradication, dedication, supplication, deviation; it’s a sick and twisted manta I must admit but it sometimes helps me to focus. I blame it on the Daily Newspaper Comic BC™ where the peg legged man was making words that rhymed just in time to step into fire… I had left the search at a stand still, tonight’s subject and recent sermon cum lecture was MUTANTS.  Not that I didn’t know what they were, it was because the minister was so down on them for some reason, and following his lead were my mom and dad. Joy.

Granddad was an Atomic Vet, though he didn’t get to do it on land, he was on a ship during one of the Atlantic tests. He said he could see the bones of his hands through his closed eyes, while sitting on the deck facing away from the flash.  One of the few times he ever really spoke about the war, that half ways seemed to stick in my mind. Though he never did say too much about his part in the war. Which drags me back to focus on the search.

Part of me had wondered what made them not use those weapons. So I was looking, digging, prying for more information. I am not concerned with the morality of hacking so much. More like the old Hacker Credo of the nineteen sixties; Look, play, learn, do no real harm, if anything its sometimes an obligation to provide  information to prevent utter disasters.  One thing we never want is a deliberate Meltdown of a Nuke Plant.

I was looking at a document filed every so loosely located on the old DARPA side of the Internet. It had been mentioned a few times among several of the sites I had raided trying to gather information.  Raided, yes I was a Hacker. So sorry mom and dad; You’re picture perfect, straight A’s honor role student is a cyber criminal. Fortunately, they never went to see the movie War Games, or I’d have to try and figure out a new hobby.

The paper, as it were, was a very dry read. Any staler and I could have used it to absorb moisture from my gym sox. The only significant section was a small table of data that related the percentages of mutant births or mutational development to the exposure of radioactive events. Japan had a higher instance than say anywhere else in the world, they didn’t admit an accident and all that, but, politics

Then again it listed a small but disquieting trend among children and descendants of the ‘Atomically Tested’ World War Two Veterans, and those who lived around Three Mile Island, and Chernobyl.

Which brings me to my dad, the poster child for alcoholic excess and radioactivity.  I sure the pictures of mutant flowers, four legged daddy longlegs, and the depopulation of certain insects and small animals had nothing what so ever to do with the near melt down of TMI #2.  Never mind that he was a farmer’s son, doing all those chores and what not with contaminated soil.  Drinking milk from cows that probably should have been checked with a Geiger counter.   

I frowned at the information for a time then I got up from my chair to go look out the window. Somewhere northwest in the far far distance of fifty plus miles; the  cooling towers were illuminated by white lights and suddenly too close and foreboding.  Statistically speaking, I was hitting very freaky odds, a long shot by any throw of the dice.  Still, I spent a long time staring out the window looking in the direction the two towers would lay, no I was not really seeing them but, in my minds eye they were outside my window. I shivered resting my forehead against the cold panes of glass.

I was already considered a freak at school, well only by the Jocks and Social Elite, but still. I could imagine just what the cruel and unintelligent would say much less do if they could see the connections that history was dumping in my lap. I pulled the curtains closed then pulled them tighter still. Suddenly uncomfortable I didn’t care for the mental view anymore. The dim glow of the monitor was far more comforting than the moonlight and that mental image of reflected white light. Sure they are deactivated and all the dangerous bits are sealed away, there’s nothing to fear according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

I dumped a copy of the file to my disk drive, more bytes of what? Evidence or self-condemnation, it didn’t matter unless I sprouted wings or turned green.  Yeah right, who was I kidding, puberty had not quite hit and some things were beginning to become obvious.  The odd scar I had down there was itching painfully again. Somehow I managed not to lose it when I started urinating blood last month. It wasn’t exactly painful, though the doctors finally blamed it on a kidney stone.

Mom looked at me oddly for a few days after they kicked me out of the hospital, but other than that things were back to normal.  Dad just, well, ignored it though he did give me a weight lifters belt and enough equipment for a small gym. I think he had meant it to be supportive or  possibly something about making me become manly I suppose.  Then my bedtime got shifted back an hour earlier and the curfew was cinched in tighter. 

I had taken the time to filter through some of my medical records that the doctors had so obligingly left beside my bed while the consulted with my mom and dad. Near as I could tell my plumbing was normal… If I was part girl. Sex Ed had sort of laid that out in handy charts and the films we all had to watch in class filled in some other details. I knew I was odd when my tonsils had grown back three separate times, and the bit with my appendectomy and every other scar virtually disappearing overnight.

Then there were the headaches, more like migraines, more like pure acid was poured into my eyes ears and sinus.  I blanked out a few times in class from them, and I was getting a reputation as a stoner, though my grades denied this.  More blood, urine tests, CAT Scans, MRIs and X-Rays. The CAT Scan was disturbing to me, though normal to the doctors.  I saw a white flash while my eyes where closed during that one. Supposedly it happens, from time to time, personally I was kind of dubious about that. The technician in charge just winked at me after he said that.

A few thousand more dollars and the physicians said growing pains, the other doctors nodded politely and handed out more prescriptions.  Dad, well he started drinking more frequently, which made it best to be invisible or out of site out of mind. Pills, I have a row of pills for this that and the other. I suppose they may have helped me somewhat.  One or two times I had experiences my stoner friends would say were decent highs. Frankly I could not stand the waves of vertigo and the disconnected feeling.

Other times I think the pills may have kept me from loosing my sanity. One of the worst times was a three-day marathon hacking session where I tried to track down my birth medical records.  I was seriously disturbed by the whole pissing blood thing, that and my medical report that I had barely glommed through.  So I spent almost seventy-two hours online, and things got blurry for a time.

Bilateral Hermaphroditism, also known as; Choose your child’s gender. Dad wanted a boy, guess what? I am a boy, and something else. A few days of better living through chemistry and I was back to my old self. Ok not my old self, I was more considerate of my sister.  Two years younger than me, no odd scars, no freaky trips to the hospital, but I could swear she was aware of everything that had happened and what had changed.  Though I don’t know if my sister is telepathic or just more clued in than I am. I feel fine yet I suppose it is the something else that I am worried about.

Melting down, melting down is my one big fear. Melting down would be terminal, fatal, end of life go straight to hell.  If you believed in the pastor’s latest sermon.  Lately I have been doing my utmost to not believe a single thing he’s for. But, there’s this doubt.  Religion is wonderful for creating doubt, guilt and fear. It fills the pews, puts millions of dollars in the offering plates and eases the soul. Money and going to church provides absolution for all crimes…All the Mafia films show that.

So, what to you do if you are going to be a teen aged mutant:  Take over the world? Flatten every Jock who looks at me cross-eyed? Win every pretty girl? The odds were telling me I was going to be a girl or something, though since I am going to be sinning no matter what I do, should I go for lesbianism, or would it be homosexualism?

I never was allowed to date, so kissing and the whole nine yards is still a gray area for me.  I put up with a lot of crap from my friends at school for being so clueless when it comes to relationships. Sometimes I really envy the various couples I see in the hallways, and then again I get to be the person they cry on / beat upon when or if it falls apart. Yep, I am the person that is friends with everyone and is no-one.

I sat back down in my chair, a faint headache starting to pulse behind my eyes. I sorted through some of the pill bottles and finally popped a pain pill with a name three syllables long into my mouth and swallowed. Ugh, some things are never coated when they should be. I dimmed the monitor back some more, as it was seeming much more brighter than a moment ago. Experience has made me more alert to the symptoms of a major headache about to happen and I still had, glancing at the clock, another six to eight hours of prime time hacking left.

Eyes closed, I started typing the string of commands that would tie me into the next hot bed of illicit activity, no not NORAD. Please, they hack that every other Thursday, and arrest the hackers by the following Friday, then they hire them. I’ll pass thank you very much. No I am after the Holy Grail, I am trying to track The Palm.

Every hacker has a non-deplume, ninety-eight percent of the time they get known by them. Ok, they go out of their way to be known by them. More than two percent of the time they get arrested by doing something illegal attached to that name. The other two percent probably end up dead under cement, water or just vanish in the desert. Hah, got you. I don’t know where they end up, or if they are even caught, much less exists. Heck for all I know the cops invent them just to feed to the newspaper.  Unless they do something really bad and get a book written about them, ala Kevin McKitrik.

The Palm, was or is a nut job that thinks AI should rule the world, evidently he did not spend time reading any Asmov books.  Much less catch any films.  Oh then you can add in the fact he was a mutant, of some sort, so he has one heck of an edge on us semi-normal Joes.  I mean really, how does anyone compete with someone who can make a blue box or something that that defeats the known phone tracking system with out trying to hard?

Then there is the odd thing…  He’s dead, it is most of what the hacker underground does agree on. There was even a death certificate and autopsy report. I had a copy, I didn’t completely buy his being dead.  Call me a bit paranoid, but no-one that good of a hacker is going to be  killed.  Not with out a really good reason.  Hell they keep McKitrik someplace handy, just in case. In case of what is a great deal of speculation and fodder for the conspiracy theory nuts.

So it is not unbelievable that he or some one very much like him is out there. Even if it is very, very improbable.  Ok blame Douglas Adams if you want to, or me, someone has to take the blame.  It’s not like the only time I have taken the blame, there was that girl in the second grade… Oh never mind. Seriously pay me no mind, no one else does.   Unless it’s time for punishment, extra chores or my hair is too long.  It’s my dad’s big gripe, ok one of them.  I am one of the many ants crawling in the Internet, I am anonymous.

The Palm or who ever has taken on his non-de-plume; On the other hand is a freakin’ hazard to anyone other than himself, herself, whom ever it is.  Stock market computer crashes, airplane course deviations, the universal clock. How the blazes he pulled off screwing the time reading on the computer monitoring it has lots of ‘Official’ people losing it.  If you thought the Millennium computer clock scare was a big non-event, this person is sure fired reason to keep your coffee pot purely analog. It sure keeps me entertained.    

 My headache was easing back from being subatomic and the world was taking on slow drumbeat. I sighed and just stared at the monitor, watching the colors shift in time with my throbbing head. After a few minutes I started to type again, so what if the text was multicolored and three- dimensional? I was on a mission. To boldly go, sorry force of habit. Did I mention something about ADD? I probably should have, but it’s too late now, and we’re on the express roller coaster ride to hell.

I hit one of my function buttons and the display changed to a map showing the various routers and nodes I was currently using. It was floating off the screen as well, I suppressed a giggle and then pushed one of the nodes with my finger as it floated in the air. Vooosh, the text started spinning then it flooded down the walls and around my room.  I had a bad minute of vertigo and some how I kept my dinner in its rightful place. I must have had a goofy grin on my face, or drool, either way I was having one the best time I think I have had in ages.

It’s the drugs, it must be the drugs, a quiet voice in my head was screaming; Sure. Keep thinking that and everything will be right when it wears off.  I ignored the voices in my head, and went with the flow of data.  RPT-1765, Philadelphia Schools Server Node five, been there done that. Not that I need to change my grades… Oh weird, there are my grades. I was just thinking.

Thinking, thinking?  Well if I am in the grips of a good delirium I may as well ride it for all it’s worth. Palm, oh Palm, come out, come out where ever you are! Aha, there is a lot of activity that looks like hands.   Where Am I? Ah, China, good thing the world moves in ones and zeros or I’d need a Babble-Fish.  Oh how cute, it’s green, I’ll just put it in my ear.  Cool I can read Kanji! Urg, he’s trying to break into a weapons research lab.

Now all I need is a good ruler and I can slap his hands. Oh this will do, funny it’s metric and glows all sorts of funky colors.  Slap. Slap. Slap. Heh, this beats Whack-A-Mole any day. Awww, all the little hands went away. Should I follow, sure why not? Just call me Pac-Man. Munch-munch! I follow the blue maze, eat the dots, erase the path, follow, follow.  Disconnected!  What! Poke-poke. Darn little fishy got away. Game Over floats serenely over my computer.  I raise my hands and look at them, all blue and glowing, I touched my chest, yeah you’re a girl, what else is new.  

Part of me wants to argue, the world is spinning though and my sister is saying something in a whisper.

“Chad, you are making too much noise, go to bed.” She says.

“But I don’t wanna, I am having fun.”

“I know, but what is dad going to say when he see’s the light in the room and you glowing blue?”

“Um.”

“Come on Chad, go to bed, you can play more tomorrow.”

She’s smart, my sister. I can play more tomorrow. “Okie dokie, you win, tuck me in?”

I felt her push my shoulder and I stumbled out of my chair. I waved my hand at my computer. “Off, go nighty night.”  All the blue symbols and letters faded into darkness and I was;

F

  A

   L

    L

     L

      I

      N

       G. Down. Ker-splat!


Some place in the Internet Matrix, the location was never ‘fixed’ in any one location for very long. Though it only woke up a few months ago.

There was a terminal sitting on a desk:

All processes stopped at 03:45.077.009.

AI Fault Error Code ##### Unknown Error #####.
Trace initiated by Anonymous.
Trace Interrupted at Node EU692.
Warning: Possible Failure of Aid Box 17.

Restart? Y/N _

Inside the man known as The Palm was sweating. “Close, so close.” He got up and paced the area that resembled a shabby motel room, various boxes and color-coded wires branching from shiny colored boxes strewn around the floor.  “It wasn’t her or her boy toy.  Amelia Hartford, is working from Rhode Island, when she isn’t at Whateley. We know this. So we have a new player in the game.  We don’t like interference. We must take steps, we must prevent further interruptions.” He stopped pacing, “We must find out who it was.” 

He sat back down at his terminal and started typing. “Perhaps something fatal should be arranged.”


BLEEP. BLEEP. BLEEP! Alarm clocks must have been created by an agent of the devil. My head feels like someone took a jackhammer to it and my eyes feel like washed out coals of fire. I roll over in the semi darkness of the room and slap at the damned thing until it shuts off. I am still have on my blue jeans and black t-shirt from yesterday, there was some thing, oh yeah, headache, pills, bright colors.  Talk about your whacked out dreams.

The faint odor of breakfast churned at my stomach, cramp, churn, cramp. “Ok I get the idea.” I stumbled to my door, it was partially open.  I don’t remember opening it last night, then again last night was pretty hazy. I made it to the bathroom and thank gods it was empty.

I never realize how clean the bathroom is compared to the rest of the house until I have been puking my guts out for several minutes. My mother isn’t Mrs. Neatness, but I think she does have one obsessive thing about the bathroom. Thank god for small favors.  You never notice how cold porcelain is until you have to hug it to keep the world in one place. My innards keep doing the Boa Constrictor thing, but the world seems to have slowed its spin.

A faint knock at the door, “Chad, you ok or should I tell mom?” asked my sister Joni. “Are you decent?”

Another twist and I croaked out “No and yes I am decent.”

With that she let herself in. Joni could be my twin, other than she’s blond to my brown and already turning heads. We’re both about 5 foot something, Caucasian, and more lithe and athletic rather than large and clumsy.  She is the favorite to win at anything from tennis to volleyball, not to mention being able to clean my clock in ping-pong. We could share clothes, and we do trade t-shirts from time to time, to our mom’s vexation.  

“Chad, how much do you remember from last night?”  My sister never was one to dance around a subject.

“Not much, something about being blue, and Pac Man.”

“I got on your computer this morning.” She paused, it was a touchy subject, my toys, her toys. “I know you don’t like it but listen. You left everything going last night after you collapsed.”  

I groaned and rested my head on my arms. “Are the feds at the door?”

“No silly, but they could have been. You really got to get some help Chad.  Those pills don’t make you think right. You get careless, worse than Dad when he is drunk. You’re not smoking pot and trying to burn down the house, but if Dad catches you all glowy, you’re still gonna get kicked out.”

Did I mention she was more clued in than I expected? “Did you read the stuff in the mutants folder?”

“Yep and your diary and your phone book. All your bases belong to us.” She giggled, “Did you really flunk that Jock that was bothering you?” 

I had considered it, but we needed the thug in the game. My pride, my poor wounded pride. “No.”

She wrinkled her nose, “You need a shower and a trip to the mall for a hair cut, again.”

I pulled myself up to look in the mirror, Shoulder length brown hair greeted me. “Shit, Dad is going to kill me.”

“Yes. If he was home, work called him in early to sort out some mess, so you skated by on that one.” She pushed my hair to one side, then looked at me harder. “Ut oh.”

I had that sinking feeling, about like the Titanic. “Ut oh?” I echoed.

“You’re eyes Chad they’re not supposed to be all blue. Or glowing.”

That crunching sound was the iceberg.

The python that was doing a number on my guts was back with a vengeance, a few shaky breaths and I shoo’ed her out of the bathroom “Find my sunglasses for me, and tell Mom I’m having a seriously bad day. I need a shower.”

“A hot bath would feel better, trust me. Oh yeah, you have email.” I just looked at her for a moment before closing the door. She was probably right about the bath, but I needed out of the house and fast. After the email.

Mother burst in on my shower as I was trying to drown my misery in hot water. Mother’s don’t seem to care about self-dignity, fortunately the shower curtain doesn’t reveal much.

“Chad, I put your meds and a twenty on the toilet, do you need anything?”

A sob half choked me before I sputtered through the flow of the shower, “No, I’ll be ok Mom, it’s just that time again, I think.” 

“Do you need to go to the doctors?”

“No Mom, what are they going to do for me?”

“Ok Chad, just be careful at the mall.”   I could hear some concern in her voice, but the sound of the shower was all I could focus on as another cramp hit me.

Drying my hair, normally just takes a quick brush of the comb and, since it was this long, I tried the hair dryer. It worked fine, then suddenly I was holding a chunk of plastic handle with cord and the remains of the hair dryer were in the sink.  Blankly I looked at the fragments of the motor and brushed a small bit of plastic from my face.  The world flashed blue for a moment and all the light bulbs arrayed around the mirror burned out at once.

“This is so not happening, pills must take pills.” I scooped them up, then one after another sent them down the hatch. A handful of water to wash them down and with luck this delusion would pass too. I looked at the remains of the hairdryer, “Wake up Chad.” In the semi darkness of the bathroom, my all blue eyes were glowing in the mirror. I looked closer, no pupils nor any whites. The voice in my head jabbered; Welcome to Dune.   

Opening the bathroom door I then skirted the short distance to my room ensconced in a towel. Fortunately, my sister had tossed some clothes on my bed and the shades, nothing to bright. I guess she’s been here before.  The shades made a huge difference in how bad my eyes burned, and the odd lines I was seeing, migraine day? God I hope not.

The pills took the edge off of the cramps. Jeeze how many guys need a pharmacy that included Pamprin™ and some funky steroids, just to live normal.  Normal, oh yeah, antidepressants too. Soon I was dressed and sitting at the computer going through my email.

One caught my eye, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.... Okay. Hit the virus scan checker from hell.  Commercial stuff is fine, for most people, I am not most people. It was clean. I hit the open email button.


Greetings Chad,

You evidently are a hacker of some merit. I am The Palm, you were looking for me. You also cost me some time and effort. Which I suppose is my own fault.  There are forces at work that do not want people like us to succeed in our quest for knowledge and power.

Ok, I can agree to the knowledge bit, power. Well maybe. 

I know where you live, who you are, and what you are. You on the other hand don’t know anything about me, but you are a threat.  I deal with threats in one of two ways; One, I arrange for something unpleasant to happen to you. Two I give you a large sum of money and you never ever bother me again.  Admittedly if you are reading this, money is likely not a problem for you, if you think hard about it. 

Like Duh, employment in the future was pretty much going to bring triple digits, if I wanted to do it legally. Quasi-Legal and I could have a billion in under a month.

I can help you make this decision, being a mutant does run in families. If you are not concerned for yourself I can put pressure on your family, perhaps your sister? You have twelve hours to leave a message here stating you will comply.

As an additional incentive, the Sum of two million dollars has been deposited to this account, in your name. (A series of numbers followed and some branch information.) It is all quite legitimate, and untraceable back to me.

I am quite impressed by your encryption scheme. I think the sum I deposited in your name should make up for the inconvenience of recovering all your data.  Consider it payback for disrupting my work last night.

“What the heck did I do last night?” I muttered to the empty room.

The server and email address will only be active for twelve hours from the opening of this email.  I suggest you comply, other wise I will take action.  Though in any case, the Two Million is yours to do with as you see fit.  

“Gee, thanks.” Note the sarcasm?

I am sure a bright boy like your self will choose wisely. This message will self terminate when closed.

Respectfully,

The Palm


I copied down the account information and the branch information. Part of my head was spinning again. You found him, you don’t know how you found him, but you found him… Then I checked my hard drive, nearly eighty gigs were free. “F-u-“ I bit down on my tongue. Must not let the parents hear that word, ever.  I still remember the rose thorn covered switch, the scabs and the odd looks from my gym teacher.  I shut my system down in disgust. Bastard.

I looked at the clock, with luck I could make the bus. I passed through the deserted kitchen, a glass of V-8 juice sat waiting on the table. Normally I won’t touch the stuff unless I am having a really bad day. My mom knows I won’t be able eat for several hours. It was a compromise. 

I won’t bore you with the details of the bus ride, other than to note that the fluorescent bulbs seem to scream rather than hum happily.  That and we stopped a lot. Some sort of electrical problems, I just sank back in my uncomfortable seat and wished the ride was over.

Philadelphia malls are like any other cities malls I suppose, though we probably have better steak sandwiches. Being a Saturday, the mall was filled with your typical teen-aged horde, screaming children, and the odors of food, nails and permanents being done. Add one already queasy stomach and you can rule out the food court.  I left my shades on, it made the streams of light and lines seem to mute somewhat. 

I did notice the lines in my vision were stronger near the walls and lights, the banks of phones and ATM machines.  So I found myself trying to walk in the exact center of the mall corridors trying not to brush up against or through the lines.  Somehow I managed to make my way to the only place I would let touch my hair. 

Blonde Ambition, was owned and operated by members of the gay community. They had been in operation for as long as I can remember, and had a surprisingly good and consistent customer flow. No they were not flagrant about their lifestyle, they were just good people, that and they had a small semi-inconspicuous sign that had a Pink Triangle and the word Friendly under it.  Originally I went there because it would Piss my Dad off royally if he knew, I went back because they were cool.

I dropped into an empty chair to sit out my wait, a casual wave to Tony and Rob to say hi.  It seemed a touch cool so I pulled my legs up to my chest and hugged them for warmth.  I let my head rest back against the wall and closed my eyes.  There was a rush of something then nausea.

I sat upright very slowly then I made a halting stumbling trip to the bathroom of the shop. Then for the second time of the morning I wrapped myself around a toilet.  Once the dry heaves passed, I found my way back to a chair and made very sure I was not touching the wall behind me.  After a bit Rob was done with his customer and he pointed to the chair, announcing. “You’re up sport.”

I sat down and let him wrap me up in the drape, “You’re looking a bit off of it today Sport.” He cocked his head and then said. “The shades have to go you know.”  It took me a minute to take them off, my hands were that shaky. Then I looked him in the eyes.

Rob, tended to favor the typical average guy next door look, apart from sporting a collection of earrings. One was gold and had a rainbow of other rings on it.  Light blond hair with a dancers body.  I had once ran into him before the mall had opened one day. He was dressed in a spandex cycling outfit, with a ten speed in hand at the time.  He’s also the sort of person where every move is graceful though distinctly male. Normally I don’t wish to look like anyone, but if I could chose. 

“Oh what pretty eyes you have, nice contacts.” He said with a wink.  Then proceeded to rattle on about the weather, the kids in the mall, the latest in sports and generally let me sink into the chair and my own private world. When the razor clicked on, I about leapt out of the chair in a shock. “Easy Chad, no one is going to hurt you here.”  Rob pressed my shoulder gently to know he was there. “Relax and tell Uncle Robert all about it.”

“Can we loose the razor though? I am having a hard time around appliances lately. My hair dryer blew up on me today, along with the light bulbs in the mirror.”

“Sure, it may cost a bit more.” He teased my hair with a comb, “Short enough to satisfy dad right?”  I nodded then regaled him with the events of the past few months.

Confession they say is good for the soul, perhaps it why barbers, hairstylists and priests are so popular.  I studied the mirror and my image in it as I talked with him.  My eyes didn’t glow in the mirror, possibly it was the distance, or ambient lighting was affecting the image. Either way it seemed to help.

“You know, there was this one customer.” He looked at me for a long moment. “Yep you must have been the one she was talking about.”  

I must have looked alarmed, “Relax, it’s an old friend of ours. A benefactor, who helped us get into the mall a few years back. She didn’t have any stipulations on her help, other than we were to hold something for someone who would really need special help. Just sit here and I’ll fetch it from the office.”

Ok so my day was getting weirder. He returned with a slightly yellowed and bent letter, “Sorry about the bends I nearly forgot where it was too.”  He excused himself and went back to the office.

A bit hesitant I open the letter carefully.

Hello Chad,

I suppose this must be a day for shocks of all types. I can not tell you which way to go, only that you do have several options. Ultimately all choices must be yours, though I do hope you will consider all sides of the problems you face. By now you are worried about your changes, The Palm, your family and your fate. Let me confirm for you that to take no action at all, is the worst choice you could make. I will not lecture you on evil, though you may have to choose what is the greater or lesser of evils.  At that time I hope you think with your heart.  There is a place in the world for you.

Sincerely,

Mrs. P.

PS, You can trust Robert and Tony. But you already knew that.  Also you should take things in moderation, especially all those medicines.

I looked towards the office where Tony and Rob were chatting. I waved them over and handed them back the letter.  “Can my life get any more weirder?”

“Sure kid,” Said Toni, “You could turn purple and your arms turn into tentacles.”  For a moment he held his face in a picture of solemnity then he lost it in gales of laughter.

“Everyone is a comedian.” I semi growled but I had to smile after a moment.  “Any ideas?”

“Well doing nothing, never gets anything done.” I rolled my eyes at Rob’s proclamation.

“She said as much.” I pointed to the letter.

Rob shrugged, then looked thoughtful, “When you’re ass deep in alligators you need a good sewer team.”

I must have looked confused, but to Tony it didn’t. 

“Right. Look kid, it’s going to take a day to get you any kind of reliable help.”

“But.” I started

“No buts, you leave Mr. Palm a thank you note and stay low key for a few days.” Interrupted Robert. “Take and transfer the cash too, you may need it.”   Robert suddenly looked more imposing than he seemed normally.  Almost heroic, “We know a few people.” Then he sashayed towards the office totally ruining the effect. “Toni why don’t you take Chad down to the food court, he’s had a rough time. I have to make a few calls.”

Suddenly the day didn’t feel so heavy.

Three Quarters Time
Saturday, 7 October, 2006

 

“The moon upon the ocean is swept around in motion,
but without ever knowing the reason for its flowing,
in motion on the ocean the moon still keeps on moving,
the waves still keep on waving and I still keep on going” Anywhere Is – Enya

“You know if you keep walking down the center of the mall you’re going to hit a rail.” That was Toni’s comment as he nudged my shoulder semi-steering me towards the food court.  Toni is about six foot tall, black curly hair, dark complexion, green eyes. He could be a surfer in the tropics if it was not for the pale blue barbers shirt and the black polyester slacks.

I was trying not to be sick but as I moved closer to the wall a nearby Coke™ machine burped and started to dispense plastic bottles in a cascade of thumps and thuds. A few steps later and a pair of telephones started to ring, then change rattled out obscenely. I could see the power lines connecting the soda machine to the outlet, the phone lines to the telephones, through the wall. The phone line was a dim blue, the power lines a bright blue. Some lines projected through the wall, some crossed under the floor.   

I wobbled and leaned against the wall. Security camera, security office, tape machine, static, then nothing. Toni took me by the arm and pulled me away from the wall I was suddenly sliding down.

“Easy kid, when was the last time you ate?” Toni asked as he dropped one arm over my shoulders, more to keep me upright I think, than to be comforting. 

“Well if you don’t count all my pills and half a glass of V-8™, the answer would be dinner last night.” We passed a small flock of girls, one girl frowned as her cell phone emitted an off cadence version of ‘Here comes the bride.’ Others made rude sounds as they dug for an assortment of pagers, cell phones and other communications accessories from bags, pockets and purses.

He pulled me to a convenient bench, “Sit, don’t go anywhere. You need something more than mall junk food I think.” He was half frowning, half grinning. “I don’t think the food court would survive either.”   He watched the gaggle of girls with faint disapproval, then he walked down past a few shops and into a vitamins outlet store. 

Eyes closed, I could see blue globs swimming among the girls. Faint spider webs of light seemed to connect them to some point high above the mall. Other lines twisted off to the distant tall shining pillars that pulsed and danced in time to some unheard rhythm.  I turned my head to follow the lines, I could hear a song that seemed to call me more strongly than the others. It was familiar, it was safe.

I took a breath then opened my eyes. I was staring at one of the new computer terminals they have been adding to the malls recently.  Insert your credit card, check your mail, send pictures and voice email and all sorts of things.  Standing up took some effort, but I made my way to that sirens call.  I touched the keyboard and my vision swam and everything turned blue. I lifted my hand from the keyboard and everything was normal again.     

Ok, too much too weird and not enough medication or something.  Ah the hell with it, The Palm wants his message, I better give it to him.  The world faded once more into blues and I fell into the ones and zeros and back out.  H E A D A C H E!  The terminal spat out a stream of receipts, like a mad court jester’s tongue. All little bells ringing and grinding sounds, with a small arc of light that flashed from the back of the terminal, followed by a small puff of smoke. “I let the smoke out… Not good.”  I backed away from the terminal, wasn’t me, wasn’t there. Nope. Nothing to see folks, move along.   

I wove my way back to the bench, fumbling for my shades.  “Great just great, I am so doomed.” I sat, rather abruptly.

Tony caught me as I started to tilt over sideways.  “Drama Queen.” He commented as he dropped a small sack in my lap. “Eat, drink and be Merry.”

I peered over the tops of my shades, “Merry, huh. Well I suppose.” I rifled through the bag, Sports drinks and power bars.

“Best thing in the world for a hang over, the flue and what ails you.”  He pointed at the sack, “You need at least two of those power bars for a start. Six hundred quick calories, in the lovely taste of dried cardboard and milk byproducts.”

“You are an evil man.” I grumbled at him as I peeled back the paper wrapper of one of the bars.

He pointed to the Cyber terminal.  “Not exactly low key is it?”  My mouth was full of power bar so I couldn’t comment, so I settled for a shrug. 

“So what’s it like being a mutant?”

Several witty and mean statements bandied for equal time on my tongue. Eventually I looked at him and swallowed the bite I was working on. “I expect it’s like being a elephant in a mouse’s body. It looks like a mouse, moves like a mouse, breaks your foot like a well placed sledgehammer.”  I washed the taste of the bar out of my mouth with something blue and vaguely pleasant.

He chuckled as he watched the cyber terminal continue in its antics. “If you ever get a grip on it, you could make a killing in Vegas.”  He nudged my knee with his hand, “Eat, I am guessing you know more about being a mutant than you want to admit. So I’ll spare you the lecture on needing fuel to feed a fire.” 

I had already started on the second power bar, so I grunted my affirmation.  It did make sense, after I thought about it a few moments. “This sucks. I didn’t ask for this, you know.” I waved the remains of the power bar at the terminal “Sure it seems impressive, it is also like asking for a permanent job with the government, more rules, babysitters or bodyguards or a pair of silenced slugs in the back of the skull.”  

“You are too young to be this jaded Chad.” He commented as he made a motion for me to follow him as he got up and started back towards the salon. “Sure, you got problems, but you also got resources and some skills. Most kids these days would have been locked in an institution from not being able to cope.”

“There is still time for that.” I commented waving to an ATM. “My sister thinks I am taking too much and too many medications. I don’t want the medications but, hurting all the time is not something I want either.”

“So you are going to become what, part girl?”    

“Well it’s not like I haven’t thought about it, or been forced to consider it.” It was his turn to grunt. “I dunno, having two sets of semi functioning equipmentis not exactly what I had in mind either.” I let out a long sigh. “I just wanted to be normal, have a normal life, date, you know, those sort of things.”

“We all hope for things we can’t have, you know the old expression; ‘Wish in one hand, shit in the other, see which hand fills up first?’”

“Is that why my life feels like it’s a crapper?” I offered.

“Smart ass.” He rolled his eyes and pointed to a television and gadget shop, “Remember when Ellen came out?” I nodded.  “Suddenly is was cool to be lesbian.”  He snorted with a semi rude gesture towards the shop. “Being gay on the other hand is still an up hill battle.”

“You seem to be doing ok.” I offered.          

“I am also living an accepted stereo type.”  I must have looked blank or semi confused.  “Think about it a minute, what are the accepted television roles for gay men?”

“Waiter, artist, musician, hair…” You could almost hear the click in my head.  “Oh.”

“It’s a big ‘oh’ mind you, but is a safe ‘oh’ in comparison to being a Doctor or Dentist.”   He studied his shoes for a moment. “We all make choices, some painful, some easy.  Love is an easy one, if you ever get there.” He glanced back to the salon a satisfied smile creeping back on to his face.

I could feel my face warm up slightly. “I’m sorry Toni. I didn’t mean anything.”

“Chad, it’s ok I dealt with that issue ages ago. One of my best decisions if I don’t say so myself.”  He smiled again. “You must be feeling somewhat better, no?”

I made a small shrug and held out a semi-shaky hand, “Well aside from still feeling like I have been half baked in a microwave, I suppose.” I rubbed my neck trying to ease some of the muscles.

“Well you don’t look like death warmed over, if that is any consolation.” His eyes seemed to light up as his eyebrows danced impishly, and in a falsetto he added, “But those Clothes, you really need a make over Dah-ling.”

With that, I spewed lime flavored sports drink out my nose and down my shirt. “Urg!”

He pounded my back as I coughed a few times. “There you go, much better. That’s the Chad we all know and love.”

I tried to glare at him but I couldn’t hold it, besides glaring doesn’t work through cheap sunglasses.  “Cute.”  I finished what was left of my drink, trying to think of something witty to say and failing.

He made a half step towards the salon, “You going to be ok?”

“Sure, I think I am passed the worst of it.” I waved a hand to the salon.  “Go make somebody beautiful.”

He laughed, “We try but there is just so much you can do some days.” Then slightly more serious he added. “Stop back in a few hours, catch a film or something, but stop back by before you go home. Ok?”

“Ok, I’ll try to remember.”

“You do that. You don’t have to face all the bad stuff alone you know.”  Then he strode into the Salon as if he was going back on stage. Perhaps he was.

 For a time I just stood there in a slight daze trying hard not to think of anything and well I was failing miserably. I found another one of those convenient benches and sat down. Somewhere between the boredom and the vaguely tasteless power bar my eyes fixed upon the ATM, not really focusing just letting it be blurred in my vision. Every few heartbeats, I could catch the faint glimpse of a palm tree on the ATM screen. “Smug bastard isn’t he?” I half muttered aloud.

Ok maybe I am not the brightest bulb on the tree, but stealing a single video or movie frame was done so much better in the movie Fight Club.  At least then the single frame in the movie was more interesting.  I took a moment to work my nerve up, got up then I walked cautiously to the ATM.

It was your standard ATM, takes all forms of credit cards, bankcards from other banks at a service charge. Of course it also takes the bankcard that the bank that owns it, issues. It also has a security camera that stares out at you, like every other ATM. Thump-thump, that was my heart taking a lunge to the left. Can you say trap?  Sure you can, its an easy word, one syllable, T-R-A-P. Easy wasn’t it? I could just picture my non-de-plume becoming, ‘Total Idiot’.  Do not pass go, go straight to jail. 

With an about face that would have made any Drill Instructor proud, I strolled. Ok, fine. I took several quaking steps away from the ATM and relocated my ass back on the bench, again. Sports, I never was into that whole, ‘Ball goes through the hoop thing’.  So I did a lot of bench warming, go fig.  Thinking would be good, thinking would be great, so why am I so not thinking?

The obvious answer; “You’re a stupid monkey who doesn’t know any better”, seemed to fit perfectly. Pity that Douglas Adams is dead, he had some of the best quotes.  I dropped the semi-empty sack to the side and thought. See all that smoke, that’s my brain cells firing up.  The only solid thing I could bank on was that banking was going to be very interesting in the future.

People don’t suddenly get two million dollars without some sort of money trail following after them.  Winning the lottery was out, I’m way under eighteen.  No one in my family had died with a sizable will made out to my name.  Nor was I going to be getting any refund checks from the IRS, legitimately anyways.  The Palm had mentioned getting me out of the way, spending several years at Club Fed, would do the trick.

 He also mentioned going after my family and my sister. I do what he wants, he wins, I don’t do what he wants, he wins. Twelve hours, is a lot of time for indecision. Time, thyme, halftime, quarter time, three quarters time, en concerto.  Yeah, I was in band, at least part of the school year, the part that didn’t involve sports.  Some time, any time, killing… time.  Make a list check it twice and what do banks do at noon or one o’clock on Saturdays?  They close.

Still, that would only give me a head start on the police by a day, maybe two.  Philadelphia, is a big town I could get lost fairly good in two days, all it takes is time, money and a lot of luck. Not to mention an ego the size of Texas.  I had that Titanic and Iceberg feeling again. Jeeze, at this rate, I’m going to need to take up a stock option on Malox™, pretty much like the guy in The Big Hit.  

SEPTA runs twenty four hours in Philly, so transportation is not so much a problem. You can catch the bus, subway or the elevated rail, da ‘EL’. Or walk. Walking sounds real original, doesn’t it? Costs nothing just shoe leather, and energy. Energy, time, and money. Tick tock, goes the clock.

Oh who am I kidding?  One bad hick up or what ever was happening to me,  on the ‘El’ and I am stuck, another on the subway, stuck, on the bus, well you can get off of a stalled bus, so not stuck. Stuck is bad, stuck is as good as caught.  I could discount planes as a sure way to commit suicide, if it got off the ground. Trains. Amtrak does come into Philly, so that was another route out, or the bus lines.

I sat up, then back down, in a slump. I’m fifteen, any easy way out of the city requires identification, and an adult.  I doubt that anyone is going to give me a ticket to anywhere, just by me flashing my neon illuminated baby blues at them. OK, anyone who isn’t going to use and abuse me that is.

Becoming a statistic of any sort did not have any appeal. Only three things seemed for certain, I am changing or will change further, staying at home was going to be a problem if not improbable, and the last bit; I have an utter nut case, on my case no matter which road I take.

If you have done three improbable things before lunch you may as well go to Milliways for lunch. I pushed my sunglasses up and rubbed my eyes, everything was so clear and easy last night. Yeah and you were blitzed out of your head on pain pills too, answered the sardonic side of my subconscious.   Ironically I was reminded of the story “Eye of Cat” by Andre’ Norton. The hero’s psychic powers were activated by drug abuse, the moral of the story is entirely too close to home.

I dug in the sack for another power bar, they sorta were growing on me. Somewhere in there I crossed a line; Becoming public enemy number two did not have any appeal and number one was too much like becoming an utter looser. Gee Palm you’re good for one thing, you are an perfect example of what not to be. I mentally saluted The Palm with an upraised finger. Then amused myself by picturing all the mottled red expressions of rage my warped cartoon inspired mind could come up with… On The Palm’s face.

I could run, for a time. Sure, the odds favored running slightly more than waiting on some benevolent Governmental Agency to take me in.  Eventually I would have to Deal, with the Fed’s. It was a given. I had a moral code of my own, sure the Fed’s were misguided in how they viewed the rules. Oliver North was a sterling example of how things could be skewed. I’m a hacker, who am I to point fingers?

I. Oh the arrogance of I, no wonder Satan was cast down, or up, or something.  I, indicates an identity, a self.  Alas poor poet, for ere these lips have kissed thine a thousand times your grinning skull mocks me yet. Or when all else fails, abuse Shakespeare. Sanity eludes me, though there are no solid rules for those touched by the gods, or touched by some quirk of destiny.  In this descent to madness leave but one thing for certain, to thine own self be true. 

So with madness in mind, I got up and went to the bookstore. I was going to need something to do until the banks were due to close, and I figured I would need some cash I could bet I would need at lest a half hour to make the withdrawal. Seriously though, what else could I do? Be sick and miserable, check, done that today, worry and freak out, another check mark, decided to get over it and get on with it.  Well I was working on that part..

Twenty minutes later I was immersed in the science fiction side of the bookstore.  I was doing fine until another cramp hit, a florescent light bulb took that moment to implode and to rain glass in a cheerful act of electrical defiance. Another cramp and another light joined its friend.  A wave of vertigo and the store plunged into semi darkness, the crackle of burning insulation, the counterpoint of popping control circuits and the final kick in the pants; The sprinklers came on.

At this point I didn’t care anymore, I dropped the book I was glomming through to the floor and went to the emergency exit so thoughtfully illuminated in glowing red.  It lead to a service corridor another cheerful red sign point the way out. It was a no brainer, follow the red lights, get out. Fortune follows the bold, or in my case the painful and angry twists of my emotions and the cramps.

A whole row of electrical breaker boxes, goody. I pointed my finger and pushed the outer case with an angry jab. “Go ahead pop, I dare you.”  It obliged.  It also ‘felt’ good.   So in rapid succession I told three more panels to take a merry jump into hell.  Each time I got a pop and each time there was a feeling of being filled up with something.  I swayed slightly, no cramps. 

I stood there staring blankly a few moments, then someone was telling me to move. I flowed with the herd of unhappy shoppers to the sound of fire alarms and sprinklers going off.  I wanted to feel bad, I did, but I was feeling so good. The silly voice in my head said it was dementia, I agreed, it was a good form of dementia.   I let the nice policeman guide me to where they were treating people who looked like they needed it. I suppose that I qualified.  

“Miss, are you all right?” The officer waved a few fingers in my face. I must have looked a bit bewildered because he repeated the question and finger bit a few times.

“Um.” Ok not my brightest bit of discussion, but it was all I could think of as another wave of vertigo drifted by.  This time there was a loud thump and the stink of ozone filled the air, accompanied by the crashing remains of something heavy landing behind me. 

“No. I don’t think I am all right.” I told the cute policeman. My voice seemed to fade into the background, as everything went gray, then blackish and there was that falling sensation, again.


Intermission:

“Two-fifty.“ A whining sound, “Clear.”  Ca-chunk.

“Three Hundred.” That annoying whine again. “Clear.” Ca-Chunk. Blip blip blip, blipty blip.

“Ok we have a rhythm, pulse is shallow and thready.”

My chest hurt, my throat was raw and I was choking on something even though I could breathe.  I didn’t want to know about it.

Exit: Stage left.

                                      As I fall into

           Darkness.


If ever there was a constant in the universe, I think the smell of hospital disinfectant must rank up there around the top five. I could tell I was in a hospital without opening my eyes.. Part of me was saying I had something important to do, the other part of me said it was fine where it was.  Curiosity being another constant in the universe, made me open my eyes.

Yep, I was in a hospital, wonderful. And I hurt, not a cramp, just a solid underlying wall of pain that made me invent a few new syllables. Then I decided to whimper, as a precursor to screaming.  Then my throat reminded me that something had roughed it up and suddenly cursing in a whisper felt like a better option. So I did.. Silence, silence answered.

Part of me was disappointed, I had expected someone to be shocked at my verbal assault. I attempted to look about the room, single bed, single occupant, intravenous lines, a bag of saline solution going drip drip drip. Attached was another smaller bag labeled something …illin, in a cheerful scrawl that can only be described as something a doctor uses when he wants you to be utterly confused, but somehow pharmacists can miraculously transcribe. 

I eventually located the nurse call box and pushed the ‘nurse come hither’ button. I focused on the far wall where a clock was reflected from mirror over a sink.  Using a bit of deduction I could tell it was in the too dam early part of the morning.  The outside being dark behind the curtains, and the hall way being dim was an additional clue.  Clues were cheap, this hospital bill wasn’t going to be. I was so dead, as Dad was going to kill me.

As I became more alert I could feel more pain, pain supposedly tells your body that this was something that it did not want to do.  As it built to a small patch of fire in my groin region, I was beginning to agree with my body, I did not want to do this. I pushed the nurse get here now button, but it wasn’t working any faster than the first button I pushed. Fine I’ll push every damned button until someone comes.

This as you may or may not be aware of makes the bed try positions it was never intended for by the manufacturer. It also causes the television to turn on, then off, then on again, it also makes the television in question much louder or softer depending on what button you pushed.  I opted for inhumanly loud, figuring it would disturb some other soul that the nurses really cared about. 

Ok that was a bit uncalled for, as most nurses are more caring than patients like me, deserve. I am a terrible patient, I have had practice.  Pain is a lousy teacher, if you were curious, pain only teaches you something hurts. It doesn’t teach you how to not feel pain either, it only teaches you that some pains are minor compared to other previous pains. Currently I was hitting the top ten on my personal pain-o-meter. 

As predicted the television volume was the first thing that the Nurse killed when she arrived. As she fixed a glare on me, I was hoping to be the second thing she killed. Yes it hurt that bad.  For the second time in what I presumed was less than a day, were the utterly wise words of “Uh?”  This time I managed to make it a question.

“You’ll have to wait for the doctor to arrive.” She was almost cheerful when she said that. She had a maroon set of hospital ‘whites’, not the Pooh or fish or cheerful shapes that said children’s ward. Clue number I dunno, five? I was not in Kansas, Toto, I was in a really expensive part of the hospital.

Just great, I am so dead.

Intermezzo

Wednesday, October 11, 2006.

And I've been thinking about the future, I hope some day I'll get away, But the current keeps bringing me back around, Seems the only place for me is underground. So tomorrow, when the sun comes up, I'll be going down. – Current -,  by the Blue Man Group

The nurse had left me alone with my pain while she went of to interrupt someone’s sleep.  That is another constant of hospitals; Nurses invariably make a point of rousing you from your deepest soundest sleep. Presumably to check your temperature, crush your arm with the blood pressure cuff, and to make sure you have medicines at the appointed time.  Can you tell I hate hospitals?

For a time I amused myself by counting the tiles of the room, sixteen one direction, twenty another, giving me a grand total of three hundred and twenty to count. I was working on starting to count the dots when the nurse returned to inflict me with a poke in the ear, for my temperature, then proceeded to do the arm crushing thing. I could tell she wasn’t happy with me, hell I wasn’t happy with me.

The name on her tag was Monica, a registered nurse I was able to deduce by the two letters that followed her name. As opposed to a licensed practical nurse, personally I never could tell the difference between the two.  I thought she had nice auburn hair and a touch of roses that seemed to follow her hands.

“Can I have a drink?” I managed to rasp out.

Then her expression changed from the usual and professional neutral. She seemed more angry and frightened than she should be, I mean, all I did was crank the television up. She leaned close to my ear then clearly and distinctly bit off each word.  “Suffer. Mutant. Bitch.” 

When she stood up I could see she was clenching her fists at her side. Shoulders tight, and voice trembling she continued in a soft stream of vulgarity and ecclesiastic abuse that would have made my father proud. The Pastor of my church would have given her a missionary position, and an award for biblical zeal.

I could feel a righteous anger of my own start to pound in tempo to her diatribe.  The lights in the room started to glow and pulse with each invective she hurled at me.  Finally I sat up and just slapped her across the face.

There was a small pop as my hand struck her, she stiffened and fell as if I had shot her in the face.  For an awful moment I sat there with my hand upraised, shocked at my actions and in a twisted part of mind, there was a savage glee. The lights in the room chose that time to flare up then burn out, the television randomly cycled through all the channels then passed on as well.

I peered over the railing of the bed to look down at the nurse. For a long minute I was in a sheer panic, then I could make out the faint movement of her chest. She was breathing at least. I hadn’t killed her, part of me was sick about feeling good that I had hurt her. That annoying voice in my head spoke up. It said I was going to have to write a book; How to Win Friends and Electrocute People.       

I couldn’t help it, I giggled at the thought, then I started to cry. Not the loud type of crying when you want to draw attention to yourself, but the quiet “don’t make enough noise to bring your father into the room”, kind. I had lots of practice with that sort of crying. Too much practice, offered another corner of my mind. Softly the tears came and dropped down onto the hospital gown, I pulled my pillow around to my face and inhaled hard through it, burying a sob among the breaths..

I stayed that way even though I could hear the nurse stirring and her less than polite exit.  I hugged the pillow close and let myself fall back on the mattress. For several long minutes I just let it go. Screw the nurse, screw the pain, screw the whole freaking world.  ‘God if you can hear me, if you exist, just let me make it.’ I prayed between waves of pain of self-pity and denial.

With a final sniffle I pulled the pillow, dry side up, under my head. A gentle cough and I turned to look at the door, a male orderly stood there. A man with black hair stood in the door, faintly illuminated by the dim hallway lights. It was too dim to make out anything more than that.

“Can I come in?” he asked in a soft voice, he was holding his palms out in front of him, they were empty.

“Sure, I guess.  Time for a trip to the psych ward?” I hazarded a guess while waving a hand to the door.

He chuckled softly then walked almost gingerly into the room. “Calmer?”

“I suppose. I didn’t mean to hit her.”  I sat up, “Just don’t expect me to apologize to her.” 

“How’s the pain?” He rocked on his heels then took another step closer. “I’m John, and well I think she’s had that coming for a long time.”  He appeared somewhat pleased by the notion.

“I hurt, badly. Is she going to be alright?” Not that I really cared, but there was that guilty feeling that was warring with the joy I had felt slapping her.  

“I think so. She has a problem with people of an alternate sexuality, and well you being a mutant has trickled through out the ward.” He looked at me from head to toe, “You’re glowing by the way.”

I spared a glance to my hands, he was right. Wonderful. “Could I please get a glass of water?”

“Sure.” He walked over to the sink and filled a cup from the sink. Then he put it on those handy rolling tables and moved the table in place rather than just handing me the glass. 

“It’s not contagious, being a mutant that is.” He winced slightly at my comment.

“I know, but you don’t know that you can drop people with a touch. Or did you know that?” He seemed to be honestly curious with his question.

I waggled a finger, watching the blue glow mute and fade for a moment. “This is all new to me, I knew I had something going on. If you have seen my medical records, I have had my tonsils out three times.”

“Ouch, and to answer your question. No, only the RN’s and Doctors get that privilege.” He glanced around and then pulled a chair around to where he could sit in it.  

“I didn’t know.”  I was suddenly conscious that he was not bad looking, and that he had a small pink triangle earring in his left ear. “Let me guess, you and Nurse Hard Ass are not friends?”

He laughed, it was a comforting sound. He offered in a conspiring whisper “She doesn’t like my jewelry.”

“I’ll bet. Can you tell me why I’m hooked up six ways to Sunday?” I was aware of an extra line of plumbing that trailed down my leg to feed into a bag partially filled with what I could only guess was my own pee.   

“I don’t have all the details, and I am not exactly supposed to tell you.” He seemed a bit uncomfortable at this admission.

“Please?” I blinked at him, “It can’t be any worse than what my imagination is telling me.”

He let out a sigh, “If I knew I would tell you Chad.” Then he shook his head, “I can guess at part of it, rumor control and all that.” He took a breath, “Your, um, period had started, and your body could not get rid of it. So it blocked up your plumbing and nearly shut down your kidneys.”

“That’s a nice way to describe it John.” Offered a deeper voice from the doorway. John turned an interesting shade of pink as he half rose to look.

“Hello Doctor Cox, I didn’t mean to…” John trailed off as he finished standing.

“That’s ok John, just don’t make a habit of it. Besides from what Monica hysterically has been yammering on about, it’s excusable in this case.” He grinned at the two of us.

Doctor Cox looked as if he had been rudely awakened. A few faint pillow marks easing their way among the spattering of wrinkles that hinted at his age being somewhere past forty.  His sandy brown hair was showing signs of some early graying, which made him more distinguished looking.     

“You, youngster, look remarkably well for someone who has come back from the dead.”  He tried to sound innocent when he said it, but something in his voice said he was not completely joking. “John was mostly right, you were in a bad way. If you were merely human we would not be having this discussion.  Ach, let me rephrase that. You’re human, plus a bit more. That bit more saved your life.”  He looked a bit embarrassed. 

“Even I have a touch of phobia about things we can’t precisely define. Though if you ask me God, didn’t create funny genetics as a punishment, any more than he allowed AIDS to happen as a punishment.”  He speared me with a glance, “So forget all the crap Monica was spewing and your slapping her.”  

“You have been unconscious for a few days. Mostly for your own sake, partially for the staff’s.” He took a moment to look at John, “Take a walk for a few minutes John.” It was not exactly an order but John nodded.

“I’ll be back, I’ve been assigned to you.” He grinned for a moment then turned and left the room.

“A few days?”  I took a sip of water, my throat had gone all dry.

“Yes, surgery and other considerations, namely your mental well being was a huge factor.”  He had walked over to the window, then he turned back to look at me. “I felt you had enough of a shock without having to have some time to recover.”  He studied me, the floor and then sighed.

“Sometime late Sunday evening, your house was blown up, killing everyone inside of it.” He let that sink in for a moment.

I didn’t respond, it didn’t feel real.

He turned to look at me, for a time he just stared. “Chad, I’m sorry. If there is anything I can do?”

I just shook my head, what else could I do. It was my fault. Outside it started to rain, inside, I just felt frozen, numb, dead.

“For the moment you are a ward of the state, that is once you get out of the hospital.  You’ve had a pair of lawyers from the insurance company and the bank calling or dropping by every day.” He continued.

His voice seemed a bit odd which made me look up from my bed. “Why?”

“Well Chad, not many teenagers have a net worth of a few million dollars.”  He looked at me, then continued. “I guess the bank is worried you will stop doing business with them.”

“And the other lawyer?” I asked rather stupidly.

“Insurance company, from the Mall, they are concerned your illness was triggered by the faulty wiring or something like that.”  He didn’t sound so convinced.

 “Oh goody.” I guess the sarcasm was a healthy thing because he smiled.

“I know this is a lot to drop on you all at once Chad. If you need something to make you sleep, John knows where to find me.” He took a half step, hand reaching out as if to be comforting, let he it drop.  “It’s ok to cry. You know.”

“Yeah, I know. I think I want to be alone, if you don’t mind?”  I looked down at the bed.

“Sure Chad.”

He took a few steps to the door before I asked “What day is it anyways.”

“Wednesday.” Then he stepped out the door and out of sight. I took a breath, then another before laying back on the pillow, slowly I became aware of the water leaking from my eyes.  Eventually, somewhere in the darkness the pain and tears, I fell asleep.


The morning sun arrived waking me by degrees. My meal had been hurriedly deposited on my rolling table by a grinning nurse.  While she didn’t seem willing to talk, she did seem wickedly amused by something.  Part of me groused that it was good some one was enjoying themselves.  As I worked my way through a portion of eggs, toast and orange juice the line from the movie Labyrinth wandered through my head. “It’s not fair, it just is..”

I sniffed and choked back on a sob. I was in a big river of denial, and nowhere near Egypt.  Part of me argued that everything was my fault, I was evil, I was going to hell. Then I shook myself, no, I hadn’t killed my family. No, I wasn’t going to hell because this was How God Made Me.   

‘But’, part of me wailed loudly in my head. I squashed that thought hard as I could. A quote from Tron drifted through my scattered mind. “No buts Clue, those are for users.”  I must be way past due for my medication. One of my regular diet of pills was for my ADD, it slowed my thinking somewhat, but it also kept me from leaping from one subject to another.

Pills, I was so sick of pills.  I had not had any of my usual round of medications since Saturday morning. Five days and a universe ago. I didn’t feel too off, though part of me was seriously wondering when the numbness would fade and I would feel the pain. 

You are in shock Chad, you know the symptoms, you have read enough about it in books to at least recognize it in other people. But, that’s books. It’s another thing to really feel it. So, argued that annoying voice in my head, you think the authors have never felt this crappy? Never ever lost anyone?  Never faced a day of pain?

Um. Fine smart ass, if you are so brilliant what do you suggest I do next? Heal. Sure but for how long. The idea of being a foster kid, did not have any appeal. Then there was the question of The Palm. Some how I don’t think I am off the hook there. There was a touch of anger there, it hadn’t worked into a full burn yet, but the embers were lit. 

 The bastard had killed or arranged for the deaths of my sister, my mother and dad. I think the most painful part of that trio had to be my sister. I could feel a touch more of that fire now. But you’re a kid. Legally you don’t have many avenues.  Avenues lead to roads, roads lead to streets, streets lead to alleys. A small step from Alleys, jump to Allies.        

I didn’t have any. I could count my friends on one hand, my enemy on a thumb. “Do I bite my thumb at thee, no kind sir but I do bite my thumb.”  How do I put the bite on The Hand?  I muddled through my breakfast and stared at the television, not that it worked but it was something to focus on.  

Eventually, that same overly happy nurse be bopped in carrying a bunch of flowers,

“Cheer up darling, its flower time.” 

I looked up at her, she was cute. “If you say so.” I managed a lopsided grin.  “What’s the name on the envelope?”

She looked briefly puzzled, “The Palm.”

I could feel that Titanic and Iceberg feeling reaching up to smack me in that part of my mind that was building up to a real fire. “Put the flowers on the table very very carefully.” My voice was flat. 

She looked startled then concerned, “Why?”

I was looking hard at the flowers. Flowers do not come with a blue glow in the center of them.  “Because the card probably reads. “Boom, as in bomb.”

I must have impressed her, because she set it down gently. Then she backed out of the room with a wild-eyed stare at the flowers, the card still in her hand. Evidently she never delivered a bomb before, funny I never had received one either. 

In my best Bugs Bunny voice I spoke to the empty room ‘So it’s War eh?”

I had a problem, ok three problems. One, the bomb, two  the IV., three the um catheter. Ok four, the hospital gown. I could ditch the IV, I have had enough of them. Peel the tape, then make a smooth pull backwards.  I suited thought to action with out feeling woozy. I looked down at the catheter. I looked under the gown, it wasn’t coming out of my penis. I used a word that my father would have been surprised that I knew, and no it was not encyclopedia.

Dr. Cox rushed in, “What’s this about a bomb?” 

I pointed at the plant, then I pointed at the catheter, “This has to go, and so does that.”

He looked at me a bit incredulously.

“Doc, I can see IT. You are just going to have to believe me.  Just get me unplugged and get out of here.”     

 He didn’t look too happy about removing the plumbing, but he did it. Trust me that is a sensation you don’t want to experience. 

I got out of bed, and stepped to the small closet, pants, t-shirt shoes. Underwear and socks could catch up later. I tossed the gown to the floor.

“You’re serious. Aren’t you?” I spared him a look.

“Doc some one blew up my house, somehow I don’t think I am in a joking, ha ha sort of mood.”  I was doing my utmost not to think of anything. Not to get outraged, not to loose it and not to trigger the bomb.  

The pants were damned tight, the shirt, was ok, the shoes fit loosely, probably due to lack of socks.  He was still standing there.  “I have to get out of here, you have to get out of here.  The bomb definitely has to get out of here.”  

He was still standing there.  I could feel something winding down, time was getting entirely too damned short.  I pointed to the chair, “Throw the chair out the window and get out. Now.” I glared at him.

I must have looked pretty dam spooky; Fear does wonderful things to the human strength level. I was almost in awe as he hurled the chair with an ease of a bouncer drubbing a drunkard, through the window.  

I picked up the bomb, “Go. Go. Go!”  I crossed the few steps to the window and gave it my very best shot putter’s push, throwing the potted bomb out. As I watched the bomb arc out and away from the hospital building I pointed my finger and let every bit of rage and fear out in one push of will. “Go BOOM.” It did, quite loudly.  I stood there listening to the sound of falling glass, car alarms, and the sound of the wind.

“Impressive, very impressive.” That was the Doctor.

“D-o-c!”  I looked at him with a bit of concern.  “Don’t you ever do what’s good for you?”

“Young man, I am a physician. I never do what’s good for me, speaking of which I need a smoke.”  He pointed out the window, “So now what?”

“I’m leaving.” He just looked at me. “Seriously Doc, anywhere I go, I am obviously in trouble.”   

“The police.” He started to say.

“Nice thought, but.” I motioned to the winking lights that were starting to gather. “It’s bad enough as it is.” 

“Where are you going to go?” he was frowning.

“Out.”  I was trying to think. Twenty dollars a tank of gas and the Blues Brothers quote was absolutely not going to work. Fine.

“Sorry Doc.” I reached out to touch the doctor’s hand. “It’s best you don’t know where.”

He collapsed like John said he would. I tried to ease him to the floor I did, though I had to be careful not to touch his flesh.    

On the way out, I paused by the mirror, my hair was back to shoulder length, and it was part brown at the ends, mostly black and there were threads of neon blue mixed all through out. I didn’t have time to worry about that now. So I looked more girlish, screw it. Time was flying and the SEPTA waits for no one.

Dolente

Wednesday, after the bomb, October 7, 2006 

“Don't look for me now--I'm not around.
All day long, I'm underground,
and I've been thinking about the future,
I've been waiting for the day.
Let the current carry me far away.”
– Current – Blue Man Group

 

 

I took a moment to grab my socks, and my underwear from the closet, admittedly not the most practical things to grab. Though the thought of just running around without them, didn’t seem right.  A lifetime of motherly training does that for you. Mother. Stay focused Chad, you don’t have time for tears.

Eradication, devastation, declination, aggravation, evacuation… A deep breath and I was in the hospital corridor. Adrenalin and chaos seemed to be the general theme of the moment. Who was I to argue?  I took a moment to survey the lack of lighting and sighed. ‘Seriously Chad, you need a better way to deal with your anger issues.’ Offered that part of my mind that was chortling in gleeful manner.  

The elevator was out, so that left the stairs. People in white, maroon and hospital gowns milled about like ants before a rain shower. No sprinklers so that was a plus, I let the current of bodies pull me towards the stairs, then down them.  Somewhere in the process I became aware of each jolting, jarring painful step.

I tried to slow down, but the press of humanity behind me was not having any of it. Part of my subconscious was working over time, this pain was familiar.  Part of me choked back a sob, the other part said I could manage.

Dad was drunk that night, and well drunks are not known for being coherent, intelligent or considerate.  I don’t think he had meant to break my arm that time. But the pain in my hips and pelvis was reminiscent of the few days of pain that followed the joys of having the bone set and placed into a cast.

I could foresee that a Stair Master™ was not on my Christmas shopping list this year. The sarcastic part of me was pointing out the fact that I could buy one if I wanted one. However, I some how think that the downward spiral of stairs would be burned into my memory for a long time.

At the lobby, hospital security was directing people in an orderly fashion out and away from one direction. It was fine with me, I was doing my utmost to be part of the herd. Moo. Me cow, moo.

“As an individual man, is smart, a mob is not.”  I think the quote from Men In Black fit in there somewhere.  I mused I sticking my hands in my pockets and moved with the ebb and flow. Part of me was happy at the level of pandemonium that I had prescribed for the hospital. It wasn’t my fault, ok, not all of it was my fault. I don’t blow up houses or hospitals.  

On that note a payphone decided to vomit change. Fortune favors the prepared, and well I needed a few bucks worth of change if I was going to catch a bus. Somehow I didn’t think the gift shop would be open at the moment. I must have giggled or something as I attracted a few odd glances. But, no one volunteered to stop me, in fact someone had even commented; “You go girl.”

The ‘girl’ part vaguely bothered me, though I filed it under the heading of. ‘Things to worry about later.’ After a pocket was fairly bugling with quarters, I rejoined the mass of humanity as they made their way into the bright sunlight.  Sunlight, it looked like a blue and red light sort of day. Police cars, fire trucks, black vans, hmmm, black sedans, that was a new addition.  People with suits and sunglasses, it looks like the Federal Dress Code has arrived.

“Losing Flynn.” I quoted absently and started to mingle with the crowd. I rubbed my wrist, hospital tag. That had to go. Hands back in the pockets, look to the left, look to the right, ease back a step, repeat.  A casual half turn to the right and walk, easy. Ok not exactly easy, I was still having a time with the pain of just walking. 

The South East Philadelphia Transit Authority, SEPTA, to us Philly locals. They have busses, the subway and elevated railway. Also known as how to get around one a dollar and change. Never super fast, mostly on time, and ever so popular with the pedestrian crowd. That would be me. The bus stop close to the hospital was out, so I elected to go a few blocks further down the way.    

Step, breathe, step, breath. My current mantra was interrupted a block later by the toot of a car horn and a semi-friendly shout.

“Need a lift?”

Normally the concept would have been to ignore it and keep going. Today I stopped and looked. A used and slightly abused looking primer gray Chevy Nova greeted my vision.  It stopped and John stepped out, sans hospital garb.  He was looking a bit tired and slightly sleep tousled.  Today he was dressed in blue jeans with a Penn State T-shirt. Somehow the moccasins suited him. He repeated the question.

I looked at the hospital then shrugged, “As long as it is away from all that.”

He frowned but nodded, “Get in, but I definitely have questions.”

I went to the door, and looked in the front seat. John cheerfully destroyed another stereotype for me. Bags and various residue from all sorts of fast food restaurants adorned the seat. With a careless shrug John pushed mess to the floorboards. “It’s ok, nothings growing this week.” He grinned at me.

I had to take his word for that, besides I was hurting. I opened the door with a wince, then I gingerly sat down.  The door closed with that solid thump of an all steel door, very satisfying.   

“Seatbelt.”  Commented John, as I worked my way to a slightly more comfortable position.

With a long suffering sigh I complied.  He gave me an amused glance, “It won’t kill you.”

“I know, it just seems slightly.” I trailed off and looked out the window. He pulled away from the curb and then took a left away from the hospital.

“Slightly?” He prompted.

I looked back from the window, “Normal?” Ok so it wasn’t the brightest of thoughts. It just fit.

“As opposed to abnormal?” He chuckled then shook his head, “Sorry.”

I affected a British accent “No problem.  If I don’t do three abnormal things before lunch the day is entirely wasted.”

He started to slow down for a light, “What’s today’s current count?”

“I’m over my three for the morning, so you can relax.” Yeah sure, offered my subconscious.

He stopped and waited for the light to change. “Going any one place in particular?”

It was a valid question, one that I had kind of been working on. “Out, away, gone.”

“Doctor Cox, said something about that.” We started moving again.

I studied floorboards. “I do feel bad about that.” That was true. “I didn’t think he would go for me just taking off. Not to mention that he doesn’t know when to pull a Monty Python and run away.” I must have struck his funny bone, because he spent the next block laughing.

“Oh that’s rich.” I gave him a look, he continued to laugh. “Not many people quote Monty Python after a bomb nearly blows them up.”

I thought about that, what could I say, he was right. I just put my hands over my eyes. Somewhere the voice in my head was smirking, the smirk crawled out to my lips. In my best or worst Bugs Bunny voice I said, “Oh a wise guy.”

The next few minutes of the drive continued with him trying to breathe and drive.  It was fairly amusing to watch, if not a bit scary. I mean here I am, in Philly traffic, with someone who’s obviously sleep deprived and on a hysterical roll. “Next stop Milliways.” That comment nearly put us in a three-car pile-up.

My big mouth, no harm no foul. I saluted the various car horns with an upraised finger, no not that finger, the index one. It confuses people.  John looked at me oddly, I must have been looking slightly demented, “What?”

“Are you normally this wild?” He asked. It was a fair question.

Part of me was rooting for the sarcastic and silly answer of ‘No, this is my normal Wednesday, post explosion attitude.’ I settled for something more mundane. “No. I am normally the guy who isn’t there.”

“Ah, next question; How are you feeling?” We let a pedestrian attempt vehicular lottery, the pedestrian got to the other side of the road.

“Un well.” I took a breath, “What is wrong with my hips and pelvis?”

“Aside from the surgery?”

“Yeah. I am not walking normal.” Much less sitting.

“They broke your pelvis and several other bones.” He stopped at a light, then pulled into a parking garage.

I just looked at him and tried not to think of anything for a few moments. He dealt with the machine and the bar went up. “Why?”

“Your plumbing was way out of alignment.”  The car stalled.  “Could you be a bit more specific?” 

He muttered a few swear words and the nova revived. “The doctor who, re-arranged your um, anatomy, the first time did a crappy job of it.”

“And you learned about this how?” I asked.  I thought he didn’t have access to my records.

“Doctor Cox told me while you were asleep. He figured you might relate better to me if I knew something more about your problems.”  He looked tired when he said it, “Also, he was being, um, political.”

Political.” I must have squeaked slightly.

“He figured that if you had someone to confide in who was um gay, you might feel calmer.” He hurried on, “Then there was Monica.  One thing the hospitals don’t want is a bunch of lawsuits based upon the lack of equal and fair treatment by hospital staff.”

He paused a moment, “So you got me.” 

I sat there for a moment, part of me was tickled, part of me was outraged. Part of me just wanted to blow things up. No wait, someone was trying to do that for me. I settled for sulking.  “I am not sure what I am, so nice of the Doctor to ask.”

“Well you didn’t exactly hang around long enough for him to ask.” He avoided looking at me. “I’ll understand if you’re upset.”

“Upset, well that would be one word for it.” I sighed, “It’s not you John, I do have gay friends, I just never was allowed to think in that direction. Or of sex, well not where my father or mother was concerned.”  You thought he was cute last night argued part of my mind. I also thought the bomb delivery nurse was cute too, I reminded it.  “What I do know is that damned few people would want to be in the same car with me.  Much less help me escape.”

“Think of it as part of my job, not creating other patients by dragging you back.”  He got out. “Come on.”

“Where are we going?” I asked as I undid the seat belt and remind my legs that they had to get up.

“My apartment.” He shrugged. “It’s as good as any place for the moment right?”

“Drag many of your patients to your apartment do you?” I tried for Yoda’s voice, I must have been slightly close.

“Sadly you are the first.” But he was grinning.

The elevator ride to the third ‘floor’ of the building was interesting.  I was doing my best not to have things go wonko. Ok, I was praying really damned hard that we would not get stuck between floors. Aside from an odd lurch or two, in which John turned a very interesting puce color, we made it there safely.

Blessings come in small packages, usually in my case never quite on time.  I was very thankful to which and whatever deity was looking out for me that his apartment was not far from the elevator. I also noticed that the apartment complex was somewhat over what I expected an orderly’s paycheck would cover. That and the security monitors looking every which way.

He guided me into the main living room, and my estimation of his paycheck went up another notch. Ritzy, though untidy.

“Bathroom is around the corner to the left of the kitchen.” He fished in his pocket and pulled out two small packets, “Pain pills, take one every four to six hours as needed.” He waved the other small pack. “Something to help you sleep, take one, and only one for a solid eight hours of sleep.” He dropped them to a semi clutter free coffee table.  “I would suggest one of each now, and a trip to the bathroom, while I unfold the couch into a bed.”

I eased around him and picked out one from each pack.  Then I walked in the direction he pointed out as being where the bathroom was. I found it almost orderly, though he has nearly as much hair care products as my sister has, had. Damn.

I lifted the stool seat, pulled it out and tried to pee. I was rewarded with another unpleasant surprise as everything washed out and down my legs. “FUCK ME!” I collapsed into the puddle of my own urine and started to cry.  Lights flickered and died, a hair dryer whirred in a demented way before grinding out with a stench of melting plastic. 

I was nearly clobbered by the bathroom door as I lay there sobbing as John burst in. “Chad?” He looked down at me and I could see confusion on his face.

I lifted my hands from covering it. “It doesn’t work anymore?”  I could not see his face, though he must have figured out what it was.

“Well.” He started and then stopped for a long minute “Shit. No one told you.” It was a statement. 

I couldn’t look at him, I was feeling sick in more than one way.

“Chad, the doctors did a lot of reworking. Your body was effectively killing you by trying to return to what it was at birth.” He studied his hands for a moment, “Chad, it was so bad, you did die. Or would have if they had not managed to restart your heart.” 

I snagged a bit of toilet paper from the roll, and blew my nose.  “I think I remember part of that. I thought the odd beeping dream was just that.”

“Not exactly, you seemed to regain consciousness partially when they first tried the defibrillator.” He shuddered. “I wasn’t there but the charge nurse had to be carried out.  You had a seizure or something once you passed back out.”

“Did she, um die?” I was starting to wish for a hole to craw into.

“No, though she had a nasty jolt.  Then they discovered that the thin latex gloves were not very effective in keeping from the same thing from happening to them.”  He seemed slightly amused, “I think that was the first recorded time the hospital had to use heavy duty electrical line-mans gloves in surgery.”

I frowned, “Wonderful.”  

“Ok strip and rinse in the shower. Don’t stand under the stream in or in water for very long though.” He pointed to the tub. “We don’t know if you’ll ground out and possibly die.” He gave me a grin, “You’re perfectly safe from me, you’re not six foot and Nordic enough.”

I had to laugh, “You got that right.” I sighed, “Ok.” He had the grace to leave me to skin out of my clothes and into the tub safely behind the dark blue shower curtain. A quick dash under the trickle of water, cold, what ever. Pits, tits… groin.  I looked down at my chest.

Slightly more defined than steroidal bitch tits, ok fine, feminine.  Soap on, soap off.  I kicked the water up to high and hot for a quick rinse.  I took a breath and went under, the world lurched downwards. I panicked and fell sideways out of the tub. The curtain rings in slow motion went plink, pop, snap.      

John somehow managed to catch me in the towel.  Though I was not sure how. “Now that you got me, what are you going to do with me?”  I might be able to blame that bit of humor on the drugs. 

He looked at me with a shake of the head. “Why couldn’t you be six foot tall and blond?”

I giggled, it just escaped. “Because God hates me?”

He groaned, “Kid, I hate to tell you this, you are going to make men and women crazy.” With that he put me on both feet and handed me a towel. Then he kissed me on the forehead. He froze and looked slightly wobbly for a moment.

I just looked at him during that moment. It wasn’t sexual, or at least didn’t feel like it.

“Sorry.” He colored, “I have a kid sister and well. You kind of look like her.”  He turned a darker red. “I used to.” He trailed off.  “I took care of her when my father was too fucking stoned to care for either of us.”

“Shhhh.” I didn’t know what else to do but smile. “You loved her, cared for her. Besides I wasn’t offended.” Oddly I wasn’t. Perhaps it was the drugs, or the fact that there were damned few times I could remember anyone caring for me, like that moment. Even if it was an accidental memory driven event on his part.

 “You’re weaving, and should be in a bed.  I have an overly large t-shirt for you, but no drawers. Sorry.” He pointed to the toilet lid. “Don’t fall over while I am out.” He shook his head then exited pulling the door behind him.

I looked at the t-shirt and picked it up, it was huge, and had a NEXT Computers logo on the front. NEXT computers are not for the general public.  Most have the power of a small CRAY super computer packed into a slightly oversized tower. He is either a closet computer nerd or has big dreams. One of these years I am going to own a NEXT PC Work Station. 

I wandered out. “Cool shirt dude.”

“You know about NEXT PC’s?”  He asked, a slightly goofy grin on his face.

“Only the best PC slightly available to mortal man.” I answered.

He frowned slightly. “Ah what the heck, come and see.” He grinned wickedly, “Besides with their warranty system, a small nuke would only be a delivery set back. If I was around to complain.”  

With a conspiring grin he made ‘follow me gesture.’  Ok, One portion of his bedroom looked like a small war of neatness versus computer clutter.  Sitting predominately on a stand was the familiar gray and red tower. He sat down in an executives chair and turned to the keyboard. He tapped a key and the system powered up. Soon the spinning dodecahedron that was NEXT’s Logo started bouncing, then it showered the screen with a starburst. Then the “Start with a Bang.” catch phrase.

I barrowed a corner of the bed, “How did you get one of those?”

“I do some research work from time to time. In exchange I get a bit of extra cash and this.” He petted the computer.

“Nice, very.” Yawn, “Nice.” Pills, blue glow, “Don’t email anything about me. Not safe.”  I fell over side ways into the bed, it was comfortable. “Danger.” Things blurred a bit. “Palm is alive.” I was comfortable, past my bedtime. I was… Asleep.

John turned to look at the kid on his bed. “So the rumors are true.” He stood up and eased the kid carefully onto the bed. Then took the time pull up the blankets around him.

“Jesus, this kid defeated the Palm’s AI’s. Unfucking believable.” John whispered. “This is too big. Backup, support.”

“Definitely no email. No cell phones. Land lines only.” He looked at the boy-girl  sleeping on the bed. “Pay phone.” 


Staccato

Thursday,October 8, 2006


”Tried to use things you sold me, no matter what the cost. Tried to go the way you told me, but each time, I got lost. The stairs didn't lead me anywhere! I'm taking the fire escape up to the roof. Don't care if it's not the way you find the truth. Time to make this right. Time to rise above.  -Up to the Roof- Blue Man Group

Chad slowly became aware of voices. It was fuzzy but not threatening.  Words like protection, secure facilities. Then there was Palm. That word jarred him in to full alertness.

Strange bed, some pain, gotta pee.  Oh yeah, John’s room. For a moment I lay there. You have trust somebody some time.  I pushed the blankets back, then put both feet on the ground.  My butt hurt. I don’t remember a shot. Yeah and how much of the last five going on six days can you say you really remember? Asked the sardonic voice in my head. I was faintly glowing in the darkness. Part of me wondered if I could get a Job in the Blue Man Group.  Ok the drugs were still making the world warm, but hey, its not like I have been warm before.

I opened the door to the John’s living room and walked by the small group of people who abruptly stopped talking. I pointed to the bathroom, “Don’t mind me.”  They had the good grace not to comment on my attire, so I was not too worried about them for the moment.

“Don’t forget to sit.” That was John. 

I gave him a look. Then I remembered my earlier surprise of the day. “Right. Pardon me while I die of embarrassment.”

“Sorry.” He was turning an impressive shade of red.

“No problem Bro.” I winked at the group and went to do my business. John was trying to breathe.

I closed the door, then I laughed. Poor John, his kid sister must have been fun. For the record, I will admit to needing the reminder.  Drugs make me fuzzy in the head, and underwear goes on the inside of the pants. Not one of my more favorite family moments.  Family moments. I choked back hard on that. It hurt. “Use it girl, don’t let it use you.”  That was Blade’s line from Trinity. Alleys to Allies. I remembered that much.

I finished my business then went out to where the party was in full murmur. They stopped abruptly, so I just stared at them. I gave them a whole minute of my new neon baby blues. “Ok, either talk to me, or I talk and I can ramble for hours.”

“I got in touch with some people.” Offered John.

“I can see that.”  I turned to put the butt cheek in question to face the entire room I lifted the shirt just enough for effect. “Care to explain why my butt feels like it has a knot in it?”    

John colored, then started to mumble.

“I can’t hear you.” The lights flickered out, then back on.

“I better explain.” This was the lady in medical whites. Lightly tan and slightly exotic, perhaps a trace of Asian mulatto mix. Killer black hair.

I made the universal get on with it motion.

“John was concerned about your plumbing problems, so he asked me to examine you, while you were asleep. The shot was Depo Provera, a birth control shot. There is a slight but very real chance you could make yourself pregnant. The shot should keep that from happening as your body sorts out what plumbing goes where.”

I heard the words she spoke, then let them percolate. I looked back at my ass cheek and took a deep breath. The lights didn’t flicker. “John. If you ever need a bit of code. Ask.”  I made my way to the couch, and made a move over motion at John.  He was going to get up, I put a finger on his shirt. “Sit.”  I took over a corner of the couch.

I looked at the lady who was in the corporate rat suit. Ok that that was unfair, but it was so very standard and unremarkable that she could conveniently be any sectary. Her brown hair was muted and flat, which I could relate to, a fairly neutral completion. Purposely, I could tell she was wearing makeup that didn’t draw the eye.

“Ok, you are doing your best to play wall flower, but you’re not that dumb.” I pointed at her. “Either you’re here for John’s moral support, or you’re here to say something important.” I leaned back to look at the man who was standing in the corner. Muscle or security. I have seen enough movies where it’s almost a fashion statement. Though I doubted it. “And tell Security boy here to sit.”

“Can’t, this point,” he pointed down, “gives me the best shot at anything that comes through the door without loosing cover.”

The lady had the grace to cover her smile with her hand, but her eyes danced. “Ok, I represent an association who owes you a bit of gratitude, and a hefty paycheck.”

“Really?” I made an effort to sound slightly amused, though bored.

“Really. You made quite a contribution to our organization though you didn’t know it at the time.” She answered. “Most of the time we don’t recruit people your age.” She held up a hand to keep me from interrupting, “We have holdings world wide, but we only exist behind the scenes with a few exceptions.” She took a moment to point to the T-shirt, I was wearing. I looked down, Ok Nice logo.

“Largely we favor technology and information, not too mention a profit.” She smiled. “The true power of any society is who controls the information.”

“Ok, I can relate to that. I might have issues with my neighbor building a nuke, so obviously that sort of information is buried. Just not very well.” I added.

She nodded, “True but it is handy for letting people know who to watch.” She pointed a finger at me. “We have had our eye on you for sometime.” She rolled her eyes. “We just did not expect your talent to so outstrip our watchers.” She gave John an amused look.

He looked at me with some odd sort of pride. “You are so far beyond Leet.” Was his comment.

“Sorry to surprise you.” Was my comment to her.

“You know you’re in deep over your head?” Was her parry.

The lights flickered slightly. “The bomb was sort of an obvious clue.”

“We were not expecting things to get to that point.” She looked uncomfortable.

I looked at the guard dude. “Please tell me she is not the brains of the operation.”

He shifted slightly and gave a faint grin of approval, like I had passed his test. “I am just here to keep you safe.” Was his only comment. He gave the lady an ‘I told you so’, look.

The lady shifted. So I plunged on in her silence. “I had that figured out Saturday. Before things went south.” I gestured at my body. “So to speak.”

Her eyes flashed briefly in irritation, “Really?”

“Duh.  The Palm more or less said in his email, that I was up shit creek, the two million was to make it interesting.  Hell I could get a Billion in a month if I wanted it bad enough. Cleanly.” She sat up slightly at the word Billion.

“Anyways, we have resources, you have a vital skill with computers.” She paused. “Ok, let me be blunt?”

I nodded, “Go for it.”

“The Palm is dead and may not be dead.” I waited for her to get to the blunt bit. “He wants you dead and does not care who or what he has to destroy to get you out of the way.” 

“Got that, go to the point.” Her blunt takes a bit of time to reach I thought.

“A great many people are scared, and you are likely the most sought after person in the world right now.  Some want you dead for the money it would bring them, others want to use you for their own destructive plots. Some, admittedly like the people I represent, see you as a priceless commodity. For your solo and singular ability to take out The Palm’s AI.”

“Amelia Hartford.” I offered.

“Is distracted and is well nowhere as successful as you are.” She countered.

“You have to be kidding me.” I wasn’t a fan but hey credit to talent where it lies. “Most of the Tree Freaks worship her for her efforts in locating The Palm.”

“No, she’s still good, I will grant you that, but.” She sighed, “You know that you eliminated up to four Palm AI’s in under twenty milliseconds?”

I looked at John. “I thought it was the meds.” He shrugged. Then I looked at the lady. “I was out of my head on pain pills. I am not that good.”

“Yes, you are. You also had a Gross Physical Manifestation that nearly killed you after you did it. You are a mutant. Probably one of the most rare ones on the planet.” She actually looked frustrated. “If we had known that bit of information we might have spared you some pain.”         

“I encrypted my files.” It didn’t stop The Palm from getting them. “He has them.”

“If is any consolation we have them too; If he is having as rough of a time trying to break your encryption as we are. He’s going to be very very busy.”

I laughed. “Don’t worry I can open it for you.  Though I am not sure what good it will do you.”

She nodded, “Well we think that since you are missing, he is going to focus a lot of time on finding out everything you know.” She grinned wickedly, “There is sort of an inter-office pool going on how long it will take him. Currently I am winning.”

John spoke up, “Just how many layers of encryption are there any how?”

“Well.” I paused to hook the lady in deeper. “More than seven, but less than twenty.” John whistled, the lady just looked more pleased.  “It gets so convoluted that the encrypted data is only able to handle forty gigs of information.”  I leaned back “Now if I had a real computer…” I left that dangling.

“We can help with that.” She said brightly.

“Though there is one real problem. Well several; Security, location and my survival.”

“Leave that to me.” Spoke Mr. Security.

I gave him a look. “You already made one fundamental error.” He looked puzzled.

I sighed, “Monica, Dr. Cox and whom ever might have access to the hospital records. John was assigned to me, how long do you think it will be before some one makes that connection?”

I’ll give Mr. Security credit for not being slow on the uptake. “Evacuate this place. Now.” Everyone one started to move when he made the statement.  Ok, interesting group dynamics.

“Clothes?” I asked.

John bolted over the couch and lifted a bulky sack. “Got them, we go now.” He moved to the door. Then tapped it four times, and received answering to four knocks.

“Roof or road.”  John looked at me, “Princess can you keep it together long enough to fly ten miles?”

“If I was unconscious probably. Other than that, not a good idea.” I answered.

“We can’t carry her.” That was the lady in the medical whites.

“Car it is.” From Mr. Security.

“Something without a computer in it. Or we may get stuck.”  The lights flickered to illustrate my point. “I don’t have any real control. 

“Crap.” That was Mr. Security.

“John’s car is old enough not to have one.” I pointed out. “Adapt, damn it.” I stretched then judged my pain level.

“Right.” Replied Mr. Security as we all moved to the small hallway.

Outside in the hall was a four man team, I looked again three men, one woman. Suited me fine. All dressed in the latest in urban police SWAT gear. With a nice array of deadly looking guns. 

“Blown. Evac.” Mr. Security said to the team, who went from semi relaxed to wound utterly tight. One ran to the elevator and pushed the button.  It did not light up.  “Elevators out.”

“Not me.” I said.

“Stairs.” It was not a question. The security team jogged ahead of everyone to the staircase.  Then stopped to listen. Dimly I became aware of a rattling sound. Gunfire.

“Kid when you call it, you call it. One of our teams is at the bottom.” He looked apologetic. “We’re going up.”

“Wonderful, let’s just deal with it when we get there.” I commented.

The four man team moved to aim down the stairs. As John lead the way up. Somewhere the two ladies and John had produced guns. Not that I objected mind you. One flight up and I could tell this was going to be hell.  Two more and I knew it was.

“Pain killer?” I asked absently. Trying not to disrupt the movement of the group.

“Two more flights love, then we have roof top.” That was the office lady.

I did my utmost to block the pain from my mind, it was not working very well. The lights stopped, and time started to stretch. Each upward step was a victory. Somewhere in the darkness I could feel something being draped over me.

“Trench coat.”  Whispered John. “You can’t stop the glow?”

“Not yet.” I sighed, then slipped my arms through the sleeves and stuffed my hands into the pockets.

“Keep going.” That was the nurse lady.

Upward ever damnedly upward we moved.  John pushed the door open and stared into a gun, “Blown. Evac.”  The man with the gun stepped out of the way.

I could hear the sound of an approaching helicopter. We all hunkered down and waited, Mr. Security came closer to me. “Sorry Chad.”  Then he sucker punched me.


There was a droning in my ears as I slowly became aware of rapid movement. I was feeling no pain and the world was full of glowing lines. “Traffic inbound, intersection angle.”  I murmured, I was aware of some cursing. I could feel the lines in the helicopter, and the lines of the one approaching. “Identity parallel, equation summary, mole.” I was babbling.

The nice office lady was swearing then I felt something tap my leg.  “Are you certain?” A voice asked.

“Certainty approaching ninety-eight percent.” I replied.

“Christ how?” It sounded like John.

“I’m not quite here.  John, I’m in lots of places. The Internet is in the air too you know. Should I drop them? I can bork their computer.” I was riding the lines, cris-crossing, skipping. 

“Are you sure kid?” That was Mr. Security.

“Watch the pretty lights fall from the sky.” I answered.

I touched that line, interrupted it, the glowy bits went dark. Somewhere in faint sounds that surrounded me I could hear some people cheering. 

“Are you ok Chad?” That was the nice nurse lady.

I giggled, you are doing that a lot the voice in my head said. “I’m drugged up good aren’t I?”

“Yes honey you sure are.” That was John.

“We need you to tell us where to go Chad.”  Insisted a voice.

I felt the lines in the nice helicopter, the computers in it and the ones it connected to.  Everyone tasted wrong. I bent the lines swimming in them. “Variables, cross checking, apple at the chapel. Angel not devil, safe house, unlisted.”

“What?” That was John again.

“Shut up John.” Different voice.

“Chad, you need to go to sleep now.” I felt a sharp jab.

“Sleep too much.” I complained.

“Is there any doubt we need Chad?”  It was that voice again.

The lines faded out and so did I.


Agitato

Monday, October 11, 2006

“I'm taking the fire escape up to the roof. Don't care if it's not the way you find the truth. And when I get up that high, I don't know what I'll find. But I'd rather look at the sky than wonder why I let you take my time. Time to make this right: to rise above.“  –Fire Escape-  Blue Man Group.

I was drifting in and out for what seemed like days or years. I was in a familiar blue world undefined by form, and connected to some many places. I remember questions, and silly rhymes that made little sense. Then there was another time of darkness.

I was slowly becoming aware of a dim light, must be morning I thought. I was becoming aware of a slight musty smell, and a slight chill to the air. As light slowly filled the solitary window of the room, I could make out more detail.

I was in a strange bed. It was fairly firm but not uncomfortable. Several layers of blankets, one in what could only be described as an ugly olive green.  I looked about the room, stone walls, not brick, with signs of vast age.  A wooden dresser, with three drawers, not modern, not exactly an antique either. A table with a mirror, a vanity I suppose, though the silver had faded about the edges. A chair, which had seen better days from the look of it.

To the left of the bed was a small table, on which were a glass pitcher, a glass and an very thick envelope. I reached over lazily and picked up the envelope. I lifted the edge and pulled the letter out.

Chad,

First off let me say you are safe, so you can relax for the moment.

Wonderful.

Secondly, you have been drugged for a while, and several days have passed since you all had escaped from John’s apartment. I realize you may be upset with us for treating you with such disregard for your own desires. Unfortunately, time and events drove us to take such drastic measures. It was not done without making absolutely certain you would take no lasting harm from it.

Define lasting harm. Loosing several days is not exactly what I call unimportant.

Without your ‘assistance’, even if it was not exactly voluntary on your part.  A great many people would have died. You may or may not remember much of your flight from the Roof of John’s building. However, Bill is worried you’re not going to forgive him for punching you.  He’s not one to hurt children, though he doesn’t hesitate to take action to protect people under his care. Even if his methods sometimes are not exactly orthodox.

Hell people are out to kill me, I can forgive one punch. Drugs don’t work fast sometimes either. I noted to myself

Your talents allowed most of our security team to make it away unscathed.  Those that were injured are recovering well. Needless to say you have some fans in the security department.

You also have a lot of fans for other reasons. We had a very ugly problem in our internal structure of our organization. While we are not one hundred percent sure we have rooted out the worst of the problem, NEXT, owes you a big debt of gratitude.

Funny way of showing it. I looked at the room again. “This is not exactly the Ritz.” I commented aloud.

While your current accommodations may not be very elaborate, or modern, they are safe. At least as safe as we can arrange at the moment. We are working on arrangements for getting you to a safer location.  Where your skills and powers can be trained and with luck, grant you a measure of control where ‘normal’ life will be possible.

This will take time to arrange, and from what we have been able to deduce from some of our sessions with you. You had the start of a solid plan for your own escape. You impressed Bill, by the way, and from working with him in the past, that is no small feat.

We don’t think you should make a habit of using medicines any more than you absolutely have to. Or alcohol. While it may give you an easier way to utilize your powers, from what we can tell it puts you so deeply enthralled that you do not know what is occurring around you. I admit some guilt at having had to use your abilities while you were in that state. But rest assured I got an earful from everyone who owed you their lives. John and Bill can be very, forceful, when they want to be.     

Our experts predict that with proper training you will be able to do quite a bit more, and even they are not sure what your upper limits will be. Unfortunately, from my stand point, the time to get you trained is going to seem like forever. As we really do need your help.  Frankly, the world needs about ten people like you and well. While you do have a moral sense that echoes our own, you do have some lines you won’t cross even if you are in a suggestible state.  For which a great many people, even myself are extremely grateful and somewhat relieved.

I won’t lie to you and say we are exactly a bunch of white knights, or much concerned with right and wrong, as a ‘whole’.. Though our past history has shown us that we do better to stay firmly in the gray areas as much as possible. The old adage of absolute power corrupting absolutely, has been a bitter lesson, occasionally.

Tammy, who is one of our talent scouts or recruiters if you will. Is hoping you will continue to work with us, and has volunteered to be one of your primary contacts. No matter what the risk. (She says to say that she is still ahead in the office ‘pool’ by the way.)  From what I am able to gather, she may be coming out the winner.  Much to my dismay. 

From what we are able to garner form the sheer amount of effort my team has in trying to unravel your encryption. The Palm may not be able to break the files for another few days. We don’t know what resources the Palm has, but there are several people in the encryption department who are begging me to allow you to give them a key.  I said no by the way. I figure as much as I would like to win the office pool, we need a firm approximation on how much time before The Palm will do it. The office pool, is no small chunk of pocket change either.

On to other matters: We’ve arranged for clothing that will fit you, and I am sorry Chad, but we had to opt for a distinctly female attire, and identity for you.  Our people, feel it may be the safest avenue for you. It will allow you more freedom of movement since most people are looking for you, as a male.

On that note it is my sad duty to inform you that you have died. Chad Wilson was found in an ally having suffered a death resulting from his mutation.  We provided enough DNA and other evidence that most people will safely consider you dead. I am not sure if it will hold up under ultra intense scrutiny. However it will buy you more time.

Taking a cue from one of our sessions your new Identity was taken as a suggestion from one of your old friends. As of this time you are Merry Candice Powell. You were born in Philadelphia, to less than nice people, and have run away.  They do exist and they did have a daughter by that name. Sadly her fate was not as kind as yours. It is my hope that your use her name will grant her a measure peace, where ever her soul is. 

She would be about your age, and the police trail on her has grown cold. Her murder is still at large. Though you have my personal word that we will find him and deal with him. Permanently.

Your new parents, do not have the money or resources to continue looking for their daughter and any attempts to locate her will be squelched. From what I can tell, they were not trying that hard anyways, if that gives you any indication of why she/you ran away. Should there be any odd chance that you end up headed back to their custody, steps will be taken to get you out. 

Unfortunately, this means you will have to live on the streets, for a time. Though from what we have been able to learn about your plans you were prepared somewhat to do this.  We have given you a new ATM card, picture identity and adjusted some school records, though only slightly. In the drawer is a fairly powerful laptop with the best software we could stuff into it.  Also a PDA.  Both are capable of wireless connection to the Internet, but they are only wireless enabled if you plug in the cards that connect them. Even then there is great risk, like the cell phones it can be traced.

My advice is to Avoid using anything but public resources to connect to the web.  We also have given you a cell phone. It is turned off, but you know how easy those can be tracked. It is for and only in absolute dire emergencies. You must discard it, after you use it. It has one number stored in it. Dial that number. You will be given a retrieval point. Then dump the phone.

The PDA has a list of numbers that you can use for contact and email communication. Each number and account can only be used once before they become inactive.  Choose one at random, and erase that one after you use it.  There is also a list of drop points and pick up points.  Should you need to get something to us, or we need to get something to you. 

The PDA is your best link back to us. Should you feel that your Contact List is compromised. Plug in the wireless card, run the Escape program, and drop the PDA in a trashcan.  Then get very far from it. It will act as a beacon that our network team will be watching for. Do not expect pick up for a few days afterwards, and then it will be only by some one you have met in John’s Apartment. 

There is a beacon in the Laptop as well. It will only activate at absolutely random times, and in time duration so short that perhaps only you will be able to detect it.  We have ensured that it cannot be remotely set to act as an active homing beacon. Only you can activate that beacon at other times. It has it’s own battery and is heavily shielded, so if you accidentally fry the laptop it should still work.  We have provided a solar panel set up so all you need is sunlight to recharge both.

Bill also left a few toys for you as well, no guns, but he felt you needed in his words, “An edge suited to your grasp.”

I am sorry if we seem to be feeding you to the lions, we are going to be watching for you and over you. You won’t see us and we will be doing our Utmost to ensure you don’t run into anything you can’t get away from.   You are going to have to be creative as to how to fill the time from eight in the morning to three in the afternoon, Monday through Friday, excepting holidays. Truant officers do roam the streets during those times. Other times you should be safe.   

Bill says to say that movement is your best friend, do not stay in any one place for more than a night. He has also packed some things to make dealing with the elements a bit more easier, even if they don’t look like much.

We have scattered the group you met at John’s apartment complex, and sadly as much as he wants to be where you can reach him.  John is more worried about keeping you alive. (I think you have a made conquest, even if he isn’t your type. I know he’s mentioned his kid sister to you.)

You probably should examine all your new stuff and pack. I am not sure when the medications should have worn off. You have at least a day and night of safety where you are. If your location seems a bit morbid, well I will admit it’s not where someone would look for you. Even if Bill has a sick sense of humor at times.

   Sincerely,

Willard

 Sorry Sis, Willard is so, well, he’s right. Too many connections tie me to you. So I am getting a vacation in the tropics. Sort of.  I’ll keep you in my thoughts and if everything goes absolutely bug-fuck I’ll find you no matter what.

Love ya Sis, keep your head down and your chin up.

John

PS. On a side note, your ‘bank’ went ape shit when you disappeared and ‘died’. I think Monica is looking for a new job. I don’t think she’ll have an easy time of finding one. Doctor Cox is getting a better position in the hospital. ‘We’ take care of our own. Even if they don’t think they work for us.

J.

Hi Merry, it’s Tammy. There will be times we can get together.  So stay focused, stay safe. And like John if things go to hell, I’ll find you too.  Don’t worry about me I’ll be doing enough worrying for the both of us. Your ‘Funeral’ made national news. I pushed for that, considering you stopped one public act of terrorism. I know it may feel a bit uncomfortable, or down right scary. I think you will do wonderfully as Merry.  We’re working on getting you into someplace I think you will like. Even if it puts you behind somewhat, school year wise.              

Looking forwards to working with you,

Tammy

Hi Merry, it’s Bill.

You are sharp, smart and I feel like shit for having to knock you out. I’m not much for words. But I do hope you like my toys I left for you, and the books. In the drawer of the nightstand and table is a butane lighter. Re-read this all a few times and burn it. You won’t see me, but I will be watching over you.  Though even I need to sleep a few hours.  If it is any consolation, I will living in the same weather you will be. I have sole discretion on if the elements are too bad. Don’t expect me to pull you out if it unless I think you can absolutely not handle it.             

You can beat me up later, be sharp kid. I know you can do it. Today is Monday. I always hated loosing time too.

Bill


I looked about the room, “Morbid. I don’t get it.”  I got up and found a camping toilet tucked behind a canvas tarp. That business taken care of, I explored further. I moved the chair under the window, stood on it and peeked out the window. Outside was a graveyard suddenly I got it. “Bill you are one sick person. Glad you are on my side.”    

I hopped down, no pain. That was a plus. I wandered to the vanity dragging the chair behind me. I sat down and greeted myself in the mirror “Hello Merry, pleased to meet you.” My hair was longer and the brown ends were gone, It had been trimmed but was slightly ragged. You’re not going to be sitting in a salon girl, so it should be unkempt. I was not sure how to explain the blue strands. I plucked one strand out to look at the ends, it was blue at the root. I shook my head, I needed a hat of some type for sure. Though I had seen odder hair colors in school, so it may not be that far out of place.

I got up and looked at the chest of drawers. I pulled out the top drawer. Laptop, PDA and cell phone as promised. I pulled them out and set them on top. I double checked the top drawer and closed it.

The next drawer held clothes. Not ultra girly, but not overly obvious that I wasn’t living on the street.   Clean underwear, a few bras, and several thick socks.  I looked down at what I was wearing, nondescript black t-shirt, and panties.  Right. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck it must be a duck. I pulled out a pair of faded black jeans, there were another set of jeans and black t-shirt. Two sets of everything and a small bag marked sanitary stuff. I set that on top of the dresser and put the jeans and socks on. The jeans fit without the need for a belt.

I closed the drawer and opened the last one. One side was a largish backpack, empty. I pulled that out and dropped the pack to the floor. I sat down and studied the stuff.  One thick book with the title of “How to survive the end of the world.”  Cute.  There were several small pamphlet styled books, “Army Ranger Course Field Guide.” “Dirty tricks for fun.” The word fun had a line through it. The last book was unusual and as thick as the first and seemed out of place. “Meditation and Control.” The inner cover was stamped Whateley Press 1999.

I put all the books on the floor and looked at the other things. One was a short folding lock blade. It had a piece of tape on it labeled, ‘Legal’. I tucked that into my back pocket.  A longer knife was sitting with a bit of tape on it ‘Not legal, keep under your blankets and in your hands at night.’ There was a coil of braided wire, attached to a large ring at one end and a hefty looking spike at the end.  Under that was a pair of heavy duty gloves. The gloves were labeled ‘Electrically insulated and warm’ I didn’t try them on just yet. I did take them out as there was a piece of paper and a small ball of cord left.

Hi Merry,

By now you have seen the large ring, cable and spike. They are all made of a super conductive material. There are two reasons you got this. One, you can use the spike to get rid of extra power if you push the spike into the ground and just hold it. Secondly it is potentially a very useful weapon and tool. With the gloves on, your hands are protected enough where you could use it to climb trees. If you hit some one with the spike or ring while holding onto one end in your bare hand. Your body’s zap effect goes all the way down the cable to the other end.  Depending on how angry or scared you are when you use it, you could drop an elephant.

I don’t want to frighten you.  But, what little testing we did, you can pick and hold a charge that is plainly dangerous to other people if you brush or touch flesh, and possibly even through some heavy armors.  You should make a habit of using the spike to ground –daily- if not once every twelve hours. Also you seemed to get very drunk when you were that charged up. On top of the medications you were on. If you end up in a lightning storm, slip one are through the hoop and drag the spike. It should keep you from harm.

I drew some basic attacks on the back of the sheet of paper for use with the Hoop and Spike. I don’t know how familiar you are with Chinese martial arts movies, but if you have seen Kill Bill, you may have seen something similar.

Luck,

B.

Ps. I marked a few pages in the books. You have time, read them.  It will give you an idea of what you can take with you from here.

PPS. Arise Lazarus.

I had to laugh at the last bit.


I spent the day reading and finding the other essentials in the room, a pair of boots, a military coat and a stocking cap. They were obviously used, and the coat seemed heavy. I checked a pocket and found a scrap of paper. ‘Kevlar, and warm. It will stop some guns, but not a knife.’ The boots had a bit of paper too, ‘Steel toed’. The stocking cap was actually a ski mask. ‘Handy for hiding in the dark, warm.’

The bedside table had a few power bars, a wallet with all the goods from the letter and about three hundred dollars cash and a piece of paper with a pin number on it. Student Id with lousy photo, a plain white card with a magnetic strip on it. Unlabeled, or embossed. Though I could see a faint blue glow in one corner it, was a ‘smart’ card.  The card had a piece of tape on it ‘Daily limit, none, use as needed. Just use common sense.’ There was also a pair of wrap around sunglasses. They had a piece of paper under them,  ‘Ballistic, laser safe, military issue and damned cool looking.’

I tried them on and went to the mirror, what could I say, he was right.


Tuesday, October 12, 2006

Night passed much to quickly.  I took the tarp, blankets, toilet paper and the other stuff from the chest of drawers and stuffed them into the backpack. I put on the coat, stuck the long knife into the backpack on top of everything. The hoop and spike fit neatly into a front pocket of the coat.  The laptop came with it’s own beat up satchel and I put the PDA and cell phone into the inside coat pockets.  The pocketknife and wallet went into the jeans pockets.

I had one last duty. I quickly reread all the letters, and notes and such. I then burned them in the middle of the floor.  The lighter went into the front pants pocket.  I pulled the gloves on and went to the door. It was slightly ajar and rusty. It took some effort but I got it open, got out then pushed it closed again. The air out side was frigid and winter was definitely coming.

I glanced at the family name of the crypt I had in habited, Poe. Weird, but ok, I tried to think of anything by the author and failed.  Oh well, I tapped the door for luck and turned to go find a gas convenience store for breakfast.

It was early enough in the day where having to worry about the truant officers was not likely to happen. So I made my way into the Circle K and bought up all the power bars, a cup of mocha and a few Cokes™ and chocolate bars.  It seemed a life time ago, since Toni had introduced me to them, and he was right they do have lots of calories.  I hoped that Rob and Tony were not buried in grief.  I figured one place to go later on was the public library to read up on the last few days newspapers. Just not during school hours.

I was looking at least six to eight hours of hiding out each day.  Well, I did have several very handy practical manuals from Bill. I dug out the PDA and looked at the maps loaded into it. I didn't fancy a trip into the sewers, just yet. Even though several were marked at fairly safe and not in service.  Philly is filled with such areas if you can find them, I had a map. I figured that my first hiding spot should be sunny place with lots of trees and brush. I quick glance at the PDA maps and I settled on one not too far.

I figured that I needed to make sure every thing had a recharge. I also wanted time to find out just what was in the hardrive. Last night I was happy to note that were tons of things from decent hackers tools, to a few adventure games on it..  It was also just as powerful, if not more so than Johns tower. I don't know if NEXT had been entirely honest with me, but as far as services provided so far it looked like a good partnership in the future.

Willard had said he was somewhat pleased by my moral stance, and resistances.  So they had to have pushed me somewhat. But, hey. If what little of my dreams last night were real events, things must have gotten somewhat ugly in the corporate shake down.  "Yeah they were shooting, remember?"  I murmured to no one.

I passed an elementary school on the way to the park, the pre-drop off horde was jostling for position and kids were reluctantly filing in. Part of me grinned, no school for a while.  I hummed a bit of that song and checked for mp3's on the PDA.  Sure enough some of my favorite tunes were loaded.  They must have known me pretty well.  I put the list on shuffle and enjoyed the selection. 

Beltway Park was located on part of the river that bisects the city, I had not been there before so it was a treat.  No so much a kids place, but it did have lots of trees to sack out around and under.  It also had a restroom, which was not exactly clean, though I was happy to have my own roll of toilet paper, a sink that worked but no other amenities.  Part of me noted I could sleep here if I had to.  Though I figured while the weather wasn't drowning me, or burying me, under the stars was a better place to be.  

I made my way out and found a tree with enough brush around it I could be hidden from the street. I figured out the solar panel and plugged it in to the PDA, figuring it would be less power efficient.

I was not prepared for the world to turn blue when I turned on the laptop.  I sat it down then took a few steps back. The glow faded. I stepped closer, the world went back to blue.  I sat down and looked at the laptop.  No lines connect it to anything, but I was certainly not touching it.

There was a bright flash of light that blipped up from it. Ok, hello folks I am still alive. I pulled off a glove and removed the spike from my pocket. I pushed it into the ground, the blueness faded somewhat, but I was still very much in my own world. Of a sort.

I peered down into the laptop and it opened up and let me fall inside of it. I found myself randomly sifting through all the files, I knew what each one contained, how to use it and that I could change things on a whim. I stood on a limited terrain, it was a blue blank canvas. I had to get out for a moment.  OK, I was wanting out and then I was laying on the ground looking up at the sky.  

Part of my mind screamed, ‘Danger Will Robinson' the other part of me said. Damn this could be a real problem.   How can I possibly explain to any librarian or what not that I was not asleep.  Or worse. You are defenseless while you are in that blue realm. Bill's books are suddenly a godsend. Bill old buddy I am going to have to buy you a new gun or something. I decided that I needed to do something non computerish.  Though part of me was wondering what the difference between the PDA and laptop was.

I picked up the PDA and looked at it. Yep it was glowing, but the faint blue glow it sparked in me was not nearly as powerful as the washed out blue of the that the laptop inspired.  I lifted my shades, yes, so the world was glowing, I looked up and saw several traceries of light, but they were far up there.  In the distance the Radio towers looked like throbbing blue fountains that reached and sprayed through everything.

 A microwave tower not too far was a searchlight of focused blue light that struck another tower a few miles away.  Far off the steam from the power plant was illuminated by a glow that out shone the sun. I pulled out the ring and slipped it on under the coat, some more of the blue faded, but looking at the direction of the power plant was still dazzlingly bright.  I flipped the shades down, they helped some, but even so I could not look for long.

For a time I let my sight wander around the park, the high-rises in the distance and the various lines that seemed to be everywhere.  “Houston we have a problem.” I closed my eyes and I could still see the brighter of the lights. I dug in the backpack for the mediation book.  What the hell maybe it would help, maybe not.

It was dedicated to Noah Whateley, “You never saw this coming did you?"

Ok odd way to dedicate a book, but I had seen odder ones.  It seemed like an esoteric primer, for the first few paragraphs, then it mentioned mutants. I flipped a few pages and was amused to see that some one had scribbled a note, “This book is sorta helpful”.  Okay, I went back to the beginning and read until my stomach reminded me it was being neglected. I munched a few power bars and sipped at a coke.  After which I switched the charger over to the laptop.

I hit the chapter on spell working and rolled my eyes. I skipped that one.  My life was weird enough without adding any hokey magic stuff to it. The chapter following was energizer, whatever that was, but it made more sense than the one on psionics.  By the time I hit the section on mediums and avatars. I decided that the author was a bit screwy. So I jumped to the section labeled ‘Exercisers for Energizers’.. The only section in the book that made any real sense to me was the energizer one. So that's where I started. 

The first one was fairly simple just close you eyes and breathe regular. I did that for a few minutes.  The second exercise was similar, but you were supposed to reach out and feel for something.  It started off easy enough, I wasn't sure what the reaching bit was about, but I could feel a pull towards something so I reached out at it and pulled back.  

Sometime later I became aware of a faint burning sensation, I was laying on my back again and the patch of ground that I had shoved the spike into was smoldering.  I also felt like I was flowing down the cable to it. I looked at my bare hand, it was glowing intensely.  I grabbed the spike and pushed the flow along and faster into the ground. 

"Ok that exercise went a bit too well. Or I blew it. Somehow I don't think Bill had intended me to use the spike to start a fire, but it was potently useful. I packed everything up and decided to play with the spike and hoop. It had to be safer right? I also put my glove back on.

Well mostly safer. Lesson one, don't hit yourself with the freaking hoop or spike. It hurts. Lesson two, it’s not a lariat, well it did have potential for playing ring toss.  But I was not sure that was too combat effective. I spent some time using the tree as a target for the spike.. The first few times were embarrassing to say the least. Too far, and it nearly jerked the ring from my other hand. Too close and you can get a nasty bounce back in the chest. I could wrap it around some of the leg or arm sized branches easy enough. It did not promise to be a weapon I could use with out some sort of lead-time on the bad guys.

Though I could see that by just connecting on flesh with it would give me a extra few feet of room for either running or getting close enough to choke a person with it. After a bit more of playing around, I put it away and went to find a restaurant. Power bars were nice, but part of me wanted a steak. 

Ok, I wanted several steaks.  I sighed, think boy, girl, you are a girl. Girls don’t eat several steaks in one sitting. Change of plans. I am picking up munchies for my girl friends. Ok, I will have to make several stops, if the book is right. Energizer, lots of food, high calories.

“This is not an Atkins friendly diet plan.” I said as I exited my second burger joint in twenty minutes with yet another big bag of food. I opened the sack and pulled out my sixth burger. I am not a big fan of power bars but I can tell that hitting several burger joints every night is going to draw attention eventually. God, if you are not laughing at me, how about a sign?  I didn’t get an answer much less expected one.

My PDA had directions to a library, I was on my way when I saw the sign for a used book store. I rolled the edge of the burger bag into a handle and went in. Libraries require identification and an address, one that does not flag the Cops attention. Not to mention Merry, being me, does not have an online presence.  

Christ I am going to need a freaking handle. No, no, no handle, handles attract attention. I wandered for a time, the smell of old books was calming me somewhat. I found myself looking at of copy of “Stranger in a Strange Land.”  when I heard something out of place.  I eased around an isle to check the counter.  A man with a gun was pointing it at the clerk.

I eased back around the shelf. Fear grabbed me, then the light went out. I dropped the sack of food.

“Who the fuck is there?” shouted the man with a gun.

I eased back a few more steps and pulled out the spike and ring. Eating doesn’t work well with gloves, so that was one benefit thing in my favor. I crouched down, Bill’s books are proving a really helpful. I was burning brightly, not helpful, I pushed my shades up. 

I intoned with a deep rumble “You should be running now.” 

The gun came around the corner before the man did, never look a gift horse in the mouth. I looped the spike over the gun hand.  Lightning went down the cable. Pop goes the weasel.

I tugged the spike back, and walked to the man and kicked the gun away. I dropped the shades back down, and retrieved my burger bag. I commented to the shopkeeper. “Sorry about the mess. Hope you have a better night.”  I turned and walked to the door. Inside I knew I had blown it. Time to leave the area. Crap, so much for my trip to the library. I slipped a glove on and opened the door, “I wasn’t here. Honest.”   

I didn’t look back, no alarms, and night was starting to fall. I went around the corner and started to run.  I needed to put a few blocks behind me. I tried to pull  the mask out and on one handed handed, not something you can do with sunglasses on. I stopped took the precious seconds to put on the hood properly, then tucked the shades into a pocket. Running, running was good. Running was smart. I ran until my lungs burned.

I leaned against a wall in some ally. I didn’t care where I was. Time to regroup, I crouched and ate the remaining burgers.  Cold fries never tasted so good.  Once the bag was empty, I dropped it then I picked it up.  DNA, finger prints.   Just freaking wonderful. I found a dumpster and dropped the burger bag inside.  Ok, PDA time.

I dug in the satchel for the GPS card. Running for your life you loose track of where you are. I hated the idea, but going out in the open in the street was just as dumb as being mutant hero on the spot. Global positioning system, three satellites and you get a lock on your position close enough to drop a bomb on.  Gotta love technology, map software takes that information, and poof a neat little dot on the map show you where you are. 

I was not in love with the idea, but it was sewer time. I was not even a turtle. Nearest safe point was a mile away. I could do that.  I eased the shades through the holes in the mask and pulled on my other glove.  I took off with an easy jog checking the PDA every few hundred feet.  Night was falling, I was glowing, this is nuts.

Finally I reached the supposed entrance point. It was a manhole cover in of all things a badly overgrown park.  Fine with me. I pulled the satchel out, tuned on the lap top. I entered that blue space again. “Ok, like the man says, no problems only solutions.”  Goes the quote. I reached down into the lap top.  Files, commands, locator, ping. “Execute.” 

A bright flash and it was up and away. There were lots of lines intersecting this area.  My blue world jumped out  to encompass the whole world. Nice effect. I looked at myself. I was nude, blue and floating.  I laughed and looked around.  I didn’t have a network connection but I was accessing the net. This held a lot of promise. In the distance I heard the familiar sound from the movie Tron. Light Cycle.             

I leapt upward to watch, abruptly the flat blue of my world was impinged with the movie world of Tron. The Cycle screamed away below me and the world reverted back to its flat geometry. I looked around. No Recognizers, no trace programs.  Someone has an interesting trick. I dropped to the floor of my world.  Just for fun I yelled into the space. “Clue, Location query. Acknowledge!” Ok, enough fun. Out.

I sat back up, and packed away the laptop. Humming Current, I used the spike to lift the manhole cover. I removed my shades and tucked them away.  Nice to have your own built in flashlight.  I climbed to the bottom dumped my gear and went back up. I must be slightly stronger than I thought as I eased the cover back in place with a clang.  

In a room in Melville, Whateley Campus. Someone sat up abruptly to the sounds of “Clue, Location query. Acknowledge!”

Somewhere under Philly, a pair of blue eyes floated serenely to the to the sounds of music. She was dancing.

Somewhere else, above ground, in Philly, a man chuckled and wrapped a blanket around himself. “Smart move kid.”

Exit stage right, laughing.