“Melissa. You’ve got to wake up.”
My brother’s voice was distant like I was hearing him in a dream. A pleasant dream, something far away from how good I was feeling at the moment. I was dreaming I was at the beach, someplace warm, with the sun baking my already golden brown skin, a more caramel color. The beach was crowded and I was enjoying myself without a care in the world.
“Oh god, you have got to wake up.”
I could hear him but I couldn’t see him. I noticed the sky darkening first with a dusky smog, making the sky more orange and people on the beach started coughing and sneezing. They were packing up as the wind picked up and sand blew in, first just a little and then the stinging sand started making my towel whip about. My umbrella took flight and struck a family running up the beach for their car. Now I could see him. Jacob was standing at the top of a seawall calling me.
“Wake up, goddammit!”
My right eye opened. I couldn’t see anything from my left. My brother was standing over me and we were on the side of the road. And it was hot. It was so damn hot. I was drenched in sweat. I was having trouble breathing.
“I don’t know what to do, Mel. It’s all over your face.” Jacob was looking at me as if I had just told him I had the plague. I couldn’t understand his reaction. Then two people rush by us, running down hill. They stopped as if they wanted to say something and then with only a look of sheer terror, ran on, even faster.
Jacob stood me up but I was as weak as a kitten and I still couldn’t see out of my right eye. I turned my head and now I saw why we were running. I felt something on my face. Something cold, close fitting, cutting into my flesh, ever so slightly. I touched it and it felt like coral, rough, jagged, hard as stone.
A tiny sliver broke off in my hand as I touched it. I felt it renew itself in seconds. My body jerked and staggered away from the fire with my brother holding me up. I could feel the heat encroaching from all around us. The entire hill was on fire. Now I remembered how we got here….
We left the coffee shop in Denver, Colorado and headed toward our family’s summer house up in the hills. I knew where the key was and thought it would be a good place to hide until my plan had a bit more meat on it. I used this time to figure out how Jacob found me.
“The weirdest part was when you went into the rehab center, I started getting emails about your progress. A Dr. Williams said you would need support when you came back home and he wanted me to know about your progress.”
“So you thought it was just a routine thing.”
“Yep, until I asked mom whether she was getting mail from the hospital and she said no. She said she was told that visitation would be limited until you were doing better. I left it alone and waited for the next email. That’s when it got a little weird.”
I noticed the neighborhood had become decidedly less urban and the beautiful houses made me wonder why we lived in San Francisco when we could live here year round. Then I noticed there were people rushing around and packing their cars with what looked like everything they could carry.
“Turn on the radio.”
“This is a fire alert for Waldo County. If you are within the county lines, this fire advisory will be repeated. All persons within the county line are to begin evacuation and the fire has begun to crest the hills and move down into the lowlands. This is still a voluntary evacuation at this time…” Jacob turned the radio back off.
“I don’t see a thing. The sky is clear. I don’t see any reason to panic. We’ll be at the house in ten minutes and can assess it then.”
I wasn’t feeling in the best of shape when I got up this morning. A quick meal where I hoovered back two breakfast specials took the edge off and my mind cleared. My body, on the other hand felt more sluggish and less responsive than normal. Jacob was a couple of years older than me but he carried himself like he was my dad, always bossing me around and when he decided we would go to the summer house, I was too tired to complain. The first two weeks of running on my own had worn out my mental and physical resources.
We arrived at the house and our special hidden key opened the house to us with everything looking pretty much like we left it. We turned everything back on and within a few minutes the television was updating the information on the fire. With the TV blasting, I went to take a bath and get out of my bio-suit.
I filled the tub, found some bubble bath. After getting a nice foamy cloud, I stepped into the tub, still wearing the suit. The first time I did this, a minds-eye display indicated this was necessary since my physical coordination would suffer while I was out of the suit. My body was still adjusting to working with my cranial-neural implant.
The water was cold. It had to be. Raising my body temperature was still not recommended while the implant was still expanding. Honestly, I had no idea what it was telling me, at first. Then if I didn’t respond, more information would be presented until I responded. Apparently the device had not completed its growth and was growing and integrating with my nervous system. I wasn’t sure if that was good or bad but the images it showed said the growth would be complete within a week.
It also informed me at that point it would be past the point of retrieval.
Retrieval? I had begun trying to talk with it and it responded with a cold and mechanical voice in my head.
Yes, within a week, the system will be fully integrated and unable to be removed without costing the life of the host system.
Host system? Me?
Why would anyone want to remove the tech?
This technology has a substantial economic value, on the order of one hundred million dollars for this working prototype and easily billions if the technology could be replicated. The entire program…
Enough. I just want to enjoy my cold bath without any more talk of super-science and engineering costs. We can talk about this later.
It is not recommended we stay in this domicile.
Enough. No more talking.
Advisory flag placed. Recommend reading at earliest convenience. Verbal response system offline.
Silence. My bath was exactly what I wanted. Once I was done, I reformed the suit around my body. No, I don’t understand how it melts off, floats around in the bath without me touching it and reforms when I’m ready to get out. I tried to query the interface and didn’t understand a single thing it said.
The suit chilled me back down holding a portion of the water as a reserve for cooling me during emergencies. I came out with the towel around my head, my stubby natural was growing back, and my brother was whipping something together out of the canned foods until we could get to the store.
“So you followed a set of digital breadcrumbs to me? With no idea who was sending them?” I was stuffing my mouth with soup as fast as I could move the spoon to my mouth.
He laughed and then took out his phone. “That’s what I wanted to tell you. Last time I got a message was over a month ago. Everything that led to me finding you was sent after you were supposed to be dead. One last burst with a long email header and everything was encrypted.” He took a bite of a piece of bread we picked up in town and with gusto chewed showing far more food than good manner prescribed.
“Then it got weirder. Every day the message would send itself to me, threaded but with more of the message translated from nonsense character into real data. Each time I would look at the mail, it would show a new link to a location. I didn’t know what to make of the locations, so I mapped them and realized they were moving away from California.”
“What did you tell mom?” My curiosity overwhelmed me. He was such a bad liar.
“I told her what she wanted to know. I was heading back to Chico State and would call her when I got there. I just didn’t enroll for the semester. It wasn’t like I was going to miss going to Organic Chemistry anyway. Besides you know I can’t resist a mystery. With your death, I wasn’t feeling much like school, anyway. I’m not admitting to anything, Scrub, so don’t get any ideas.”
After eating, we sat back down in the living room and kept watching the news. The fire was over twenty miles away and the advisory said to leave your TV on for updates. We fell asleep on the wide and comfortable sofa, exhausted.
My suit woke me. Or my neural implant woke me by sitting me bolt upright. Disconcerting to say the least.
Proximity alert. Wireless communication surrounding domicile. Military-grade.
A knock on the door surprised me. “Who is it?”
“Ma’am this is the National Guard, we are going to have to ask you to evacuate. The fire has changed direction and is going to overtake this entire area.”
I looked out the window and saw military vehicles, police and firemen helping to evacuate people. “Okay, we will be right out.” Now that I was really awake I could smell smoke and the burning of cheap plastic.
“Ma’am, we are going to need you to evacuate right now. We are going house to house and we need to make sure no one is left behind us.”
Jacob was sitting up and listening. He yelled out, “Look Jarhead. We heard you the first time. I think we can make it to the street without an escort. Now bug out and find some other kittens that that needs rescuing.” He smiled and winked at me.
Alert, defensive posture recommended.
I felt time slow down. I turned away from the door and jumped onto Jacob knocking him down behind the sofa. I could see the window breaking and three small objects, twirling in as if in slow motion, each rotation calculated, each arc vectored, they —
[flashbang grenades, used for suppression and preemptive strikes, expect further military response]
— came through the window and exploded.
Countdown at the Memory Palace © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved