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Authors: R.W. Van Sant

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BOOK: The iFactor
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Chapter 2
Once free of the congested compartment, Matt felt the air move more easily into his lungs. The warehouse had been an ordeal. Inside the enormous hall, the cacophony of noise and motion overwhelmed his senses. There were just too many people. They moved in and out, between and around the labyrinthine walls of crates. The effort of keeping track of each one, even subconsciously, made his head throb.
The passageway, which led to the city main dome, was not crowded, a fact for which the gaunt officer was sincerely grateful. Still, he appraised the long, wide corridor before he entered it. A rail for the cargo conveyances ran the length directly down its center. On either side, a long, paved walkway led to the end. Interspaced along its length were several small piles of small boxes waiting for available space on the next car. It had only two exits, and he had little wish to return the way he came. Still, it was unoccupied and it wouldn't take long to traverse it. He reminded himself that there was nothing to fear, Sirius was the safest colony in the universe.
The colony was sealed. None of the corrosive atmosphere could get through the dome. The atmosphere was synthetic and sterile. Matt preferred the outdoors, an unobtainable commodity in the extra-stellar colonies. He missed the beaches and forests of California. There was, however, nothing for him back home. After what he did, there was no work for him anywhere on earth, at least not in law enforcement. If not for an old bond of friendship with the colony’s chief of security, Ken Vanderhaar, he’d never have donned a uniform again.
Matt walked rapidly down the causeway, taking advantage of the void. Even so, his ears were alert to every whir and clank of the machinery that kept the city alive. For the moment, he was alone and in control. By the time he reached the end, his pace had evolved into an energetic quicktime. Matt burst into the immensity of the dome and once again into the natural light of Sirius Prime, as filtered through the thick acidic atmosphere and, of course, the silica polymer that sheltered everyone in the colony from a crushing, corrosive death. Under its protection, a metropolitan population thrived and did business.
The large park in the center of the city beckoned, promising peace and serenity. Matt would have loved to take a break and lie in the grass and let tensions seep down the blades into the soil. The activity in the docks, however, left him drained. He strode to a nearby transit station along a little cement path. He cast a longing gaze at the patch of transplanted Terra, but the haven of his small apartment called more powerfully.
The transit stop was vacant. Matt sat on a bench and rested, waiting for the next conveyance. It was one of his favored times of day, tween shifts. During the middle of a work shift, most the workers were at their positions, happily slaving away for the greater glory and growing profit margin of one of the mega corporations who shared the city under the distant auspices of the United Nations Colonial Council’s appointed Governor.
The train car slid up before him and the door opened. It was bursting, unusual for that time of day. Still, his apartment beckoned and his bed would not be denied. Matt stepped on, his muscles tensed as he was jostled about by the representatives of humanity sharing the small space with him. He negotiated his way toward the far door and sat on seat with a space on either side. As the other commuters sucked the air out of the small chamber, he reconsidered walking; it was only a couple miles. The clenched his teeth as the train doors closed and the transport gently accelerated along its way to the next stop.
A few passengers disembarked, but several more boarded and began the hunt for a place to sit. “Sorry, taken.” Matt said as a large man loomed and pointed to the empty seat beside him. It wasn’t as though he were trying to be rude, it was just that he had a strong impression someone else needed the seat more than he did. An image of a weary-looking, elderly woman with a child on her lap and another sleeping with her head leaning on the old woman filled his mind. The seat wasn’t meant for the man in the suit. His impression of the fatigued woman held more sway over him than the demanding stares of an executive. The man wasn’t about to argue with a member of security, even if he was only an inspector. He snorted and made his way to the opposite end of the car.
Matt settled back, cleared his mind as best he could, and took long deep breaths while trying not to let his uneasiness show. Still, he couldn’t shake the sensation that something was off. Several times during the short ride, he had the distinct feeling that a couple of the passengers were taking a more than usual interest in him. A cargo inspection officer on a transit car on Sirius Primary wasn't as odd an occurrence as it would have been on Earth, hell everyone here rode on the transit systems unless you happen to be a cooperate executive, still he felt self-conscious.
The riders were not staring or even looking at him, yet an inexplicable feeling was developing. It didn’t feel as though he was being watched, rather that someone quite close was thinking about him too much. Eventually, he had enough and rose from the seat. A man in a city employee uniform relocated to take the seat. Matt, held up his hand to stop him. A confused, surprised look crossed the man’s face. Matt glared until he backed away.
The train slowed to a stop and the door opened. An old woman struggled to get herself and the two young children who clung to her, onto the train. The smallest girl was weary and crying.
“Please, sit here.” Matt turned and let the woman and children fill the freed seats. A grateful girl smiled at him. He returned it and stepped off the train to the wide-open space of the dome with its less heavily trafficked walkways.
Chapter 3
Matt's apartment door slid silently open. It was a universal reality that in the dome colonies, everything operated well—in the beginning. This colony was well planned, funded, and less than a decade old. There simply hadn't been time for entropy to work its necromancy on the equipment. Matt found it disconcerting that the colony was so new. Humanity was making a new history on this unwelcoming world eight light years from where it started. It would take decades or centuries before they could truly claim to be part of the new world. Until then, they could vanish from the surface of the new world, and it wouldn't care or remember.
“Secure door.” Matt ordered. The locks on the door happily obliged.
Some colonists argued that soon, once people became used to the new technologies, locks would be irrelevant. Everyone knew that crime wasn't a problem on Sirius Prime. Each person had a job, so there was no poverty. Before leaving Earth, each colonial had to pass a series of psychological tests to remove any potential colonist with antisocial or criminal proclivities; tests which he barely passed.
Then, of course, there was the palm implants. Chips implanted under each colonist’s dermis. The chips acted as identification, allowed access to restricted buildings, kept track of one’s health and even ones finances. They allowed the city to track and record the position of every resident every minute of the day. Anyone committing a crime was immediately identified, and caught. On Sirius, justice was swift.
Still, Matt kept his door locked. Old habits die-hard and his apartment was the one place that he truly felt in control. He could afford to let his emotions get away from him without fearing repercussions. It was the only place he could let his guard down, and relax. Even so, before he could allow himself the indulgence of relaxing on the lounging chair, he walked into each room turned on the light looked around, inspected, turned off the light and left again.
His bedroom was large with a window that overlooked the park, but he kept it locked and concealed with heavy drapes for privacy. At his pay grade, he was fortunate to have a window at all. Still he rarely opened them. His bed sat opposite the window, pushed flush with the wall. From that location, he could see the door, bathroom door and the window at all times. A closet with the sliding door removed was at the foot of the bed. With a quick turn of his neck, he could easily inspect the entire room.
There were several escape routes. That meant there were also several ways an intruder might gain entrance. He checked them. A fire escape ladder was bolted to the outer wall, accessible from the main window. He double-checked the lock. He’d already secured the front door.
The bathroom was small, containing only a toilet, shower and sink. On the far wall, a door led out to the balcony. It was the only other way to enter the apartment, but an intruder would have to climb up to the balcony and make an entrance through the door, not an easy or stealthy task. Matt never went out on the balcony.
The kitchen consisted of a narrow alcove that ran along the living room and was separated from it only by a bar counter containing a washer and sink. A microwave and small refrigerator fixed among the cabinets. The open layout allowed him to view the room and even watch the video screen while preparing his meals.
Overall, the apartment suited his needs. It was almost as good as the one he had on earth, except that he missed his Dodger.
In his old life, back in Dallas, he had owned a dog. His father told him that there was no better security system than a dog.
Unless the burglar had meat.
Dodger didn’t like anyone except him. It made him a perfect animal to watch his apartment and warn him if anyone entered unannounced.
Dodger had been left behind. Animals don’t take well to the hyper drug, not the higher order animals in any case, with the exception of humans. They come out of FTL either catatonic or rabid. The only animals that survive the trip are those of lower intellectual faculty, some kinds of birds and reptiles and fish. To ship a bird eight light years would have cost him more than he’d make in a career and the thought of a guard fish was just ridiculous.
There were days when he really missed red meat. Mammal meat was shipped from earth either frozen or canned by always at extreme cost. All of it had to be imported; this made it a luxury only obtainable to the families of the very rich, upper executives and CEOs.
Matt grabbed a half-eaten sandwich he'd secreted in his cooler earlier in the morning. Beside it sat a pitcher of pre-made orange flavored drink. He poured himself a glass and took his meal to the lounge chair. Slumping into it with a deep, cleansing breath, he allowed himself a few moments to close his eyes and mentally return to the beach.
Sometime afterward, Matt opened his eyes and activated the large video screen on the wall. “News.” He instructed then took a bite of stale bread.
The video screen lit up with a notice:
Messages
.
“Play message one.”
The face of a thin chestnut-haired secretary appeared on the screen. Her eyes were red and her mascara was smeared. Her name was Brenda. He'd been seeing her for a couple of weeks, it wasn’t serious. At least, he didn’t think so. From the look on her face, he could tell that it never going to be.
“Look, I get it.” The woman said in a restrained tone. “You're not a plan the future type of guy. You could at least show up for lunch dates. Do you know how foolish it is to reserve a seat for two and just sit there waiting, for over an hour? Damn it, Matt. It's my birthday. Look I know you probably forgot.” She dabbed her face and forced a smile. “I think I deserve more, at the very least I deserve a guy who remembers to show up on my birthday. I hope you find what you're looking for, really. It’s just not me. Bye. Have a good life.”
“End of new messages.”
The display started to run up-to-date, stock index numbers. He felt a pang of regret. She was fun to be around. He liked her. She was just too needy and he didn't have time to commit to her. It was, perhaps better that she ended it before he did something really stupid, before he really hurt her. He bit deeper into the stale sandwich, at least if was still palatable. Brenda was attractive. Matt doubted that she would have any trouble finding someone to take his place, a good solid Joe who would remember her birthday, someone with good prospects.
The economic report ended and was replaced the face of the shift three reporter.
“The body of a support worker was found outside one of the outer vehicle hatches. In an apparent suicide, the man left the airlock open, allowing the corrosive atmosphere of Sirius Primary to flood the chamber. Authorities have no explanation as to his motives. His name is being withheld until the investigation is completed.”
There was a pause. “The Colonial grief counselors would like us to announce that if anyone is suffering from feelings of solitude, despondency or experience suicidal thoughts you are urged to seek a mental health profession. They are here to help you through the difficult times.
In other news, the transport to the beach dome broke down, forcing forty people to walk twenty kilometers back to main dome. Although it was an inconvenience, many of the commuters took it as a chance to stretch their legs. We have had reports of several impromptu social events sprung up all along the way. In the days to come people will ask which party were you at when the rail stopped.”
Matt wouldn't have walked twenty kilometers. He'd have gone to one of the nearest promenades and either rented a private car, or gotten a room for a shift or two. The thought of walking twenty kilos through an enclosed walkway full of people made him sick to his stomach.
He turned off the screen and closed his eyes again to rest.
Sleep came uneasily, even though he was near exhausted. He feared losing control and waking in the city streets with a gun, shooting at things that weren't there. He hadn’t had an episode in over a year, but still there was that fear. He reminded himself that he had his new medication and that he’d undergone a battery of tests and had been cleared for active duty again. When sleep finally came, it was a shallow thing with many waking fits.
Visions came fast and incomprehensible, flashes of a woman’s breasts—soft and warm to the touch—her naked body entangled in his and the sound of her voice. ‘I’ve waited my whole life for you.”
A woman’s face–bruised and crying. Feelings of rage.
Ken’s face replaces hers “I’m sorry Matt,” his old friend handed him a small blood covered computer ship in an evidence bag. “She’s dead.”
Unexplainable feelings of loss and torment clouded his visions. The world swirled into chaos, eventually clarifying into memories of earth and his old life, into the familiar streets of Dallas. People gathered in the decomposing tenements, yelling and waving sticks and pipes.
A woman broke into a run and the sound of gunfire.
Blackness.
Faces appeared in dark cells. Endless rows of inexpressive faces, people strapped to chairs, viewing the world with vacant eyes.
Sounds of screaming, glass shattering, gunfire, and people crying. The city of Dallas shattered around him.
A little girl about seven years old cried for her mother. She ran into the street, into an intense gunfight. Then her head exploded.
“Don't!” Matt awoke screaming. The chair was overturned and he was crouched behind it. Humiliation swept over him again; shame at being damaged, and shame for the things he'd done and couldn't remember.
The wall felt cold on his back and he sat there, looking at his overturned glass. It had poured onto the carpet. It would cause a large orange colored stain, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He took several deep breaths.
The pills were not working as well as they used to.
Nevertheless, he recovered the glass from the orange spot on the carpet, took it into to the kitchen, filled it with water and took another pill. When the emotions faded, he turned his chair upright again and pulled a plastic handgun from a pouch on its side.
The game would help
. His psychiatrist said it would.
“Activate proscribed interactive video treatment beta.” The screen lit up presenting an accurate depiction of a city tenement, albeit a generic city. The game was set during the gang wars of 2043. He aimed at the screen and said. “Activate the last saved game.”
Mobsters and civilians of all sexes and ages entered the screen, approaching from alleys, doorways and opening windows. It was a simple game. Shoot the bad guys and save the citizens. The psychiatrist intended the scenario to help him by making his eyes complete therapeutic motions while permitting the player to work through their issues. All he cared about was that it would allow him to save some people, even if they only existed in the program. At least it was something.
Matt played until his eyes burned and wouldn’t stay open for more than a few moments at a time. He won, saved the civilians, or at least most of them. Nobody could save them all. This was also a lesson the game was supposed to bring home. It was the seventh time he'd beaten the program. He'd learned its secrets and now he could foresee what would happen next.
“Voice mail to Doctor Denny Garcia.” Matt put down the toy gun. “This game is getting repetitive and boring, request proscription for another. Will talk to you about it at meeting tomorrow. End.”
“Incoming call. Identity Ken Vanderhaar.” The monitor displayed in larger bright letters accompanies with a pleasant attention-grabbing, digital ring.
“Answer.”
The screen transformed, to reveal a somewhat more extravagant and well-furnished apartment than the one he sat in. The chair the chief sat looked expensive very pricey.
Leather
?
On an officer’s salary, it had to be synthetic
. Ken was the chief of security in a cooperate settlement, however, and Matt really had no idea how much his old partner made. He was willing to bet that it was considerably more than he did.
“How are you feeling?” Chief Vanderhaar asked. “You looked a bit spooked today.”
“I handled it.” Matt replied. He was comforted that he could at least talk to the chief about his problems. They been partners in Dallas together when the Post Traumatic Stress diagnosis had cost him his badge. “It was just a little close in there, too many people walking around.”
“Are you taking your meds?” he asked.
“Only when I need to. I can do without them most days.”
“The way you went for your gun today, I'd suggest you take some when on duty. At least for the time being. I'm saying that as your friend and your boss. I vouched for you. If you screw up and hurt someone it'll be my ass.”
“I know. I appreciate all you've done for me.” Matt said. “No one else would have.”
“No one else knew you. You'll come through this and you'll become that sharp-eyed investigator that won the Texas service star.” He took a sip from a clear tumbler that contained a brown fluid that Matt presumed to be brandy. The chief had a fondness for brandy. Perhaps he'd get him a bottle for his birthday.
“So Dallas still bothers you?”
“Only when I think about it. I try not to.”
“It wasn't your fault. Anyone could have snapped in that situation.”
BOOK: The iFactor
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