‘Ok, man. This is far from your first hallucination,’ he thought. ‘Go easy.’
The web seemed to be a thing that was both there and not there. He didn’t so much as see it as know it was there. Its parts were connections from everything to every other thing. It overwhelmed Goldberg. As he watched, it became less of a tie between things as a property of the object, like a color, but accessed through its relationship with some other thing. This opened up a huge store of information for Goldberg about the scene around him and that all came flooding into his brain.
He felt his tail bone hit the brick sidewalk. He hadn’t noticed falling.
‘Ok, Down. Ow! But, down is good. Can’t fall and hurt yourself if you’re sitting, right? Good. Woosh!’ His mind swam with thoughts as he leaned over and rubbed his butt. ‘Hell of a flashback. Never had a flashback before. Never even met anyone who had. But what else could this be? Like someone just took the hood off of the world and showed me the engine. But these connections… crazy! Some of them are pretty unlikely.’
He found he could look at the properties of individual connections and it was almost like having a note written next to it. There were no visual words, but he knew what the sign would say anyway. It simply spoke to him. There was a 62% probability that the acorn near his feet would wind up trapped next to the front tire of the car parked near the curb, but only a .1% chance that it would ever make it across the street.
‘That’s pretty specific for a hallucination,’ he thought as he kicked the acorn into the street. ‘and so much for long odds.’
As the acorn flew, he could see the probable path change. It was drawn out in front of it. The current hop showed as a fuzzy arch while the next hop showed as an arched fan. The hops resolved as the acorn skipped to the opposite gutter.
Goldberg swiveled on his ass and scooted. His back rested on the wrought iron fence that marked the edge of the easements on this unique block. ‘Definitely drug related. Nothing to do but ride it out. Good thing I’m in a good spot. No worries here.’
He found his vision turning a shade of alarm along the same dimension that the weird vision occupied. His brow furrowed as he stared out into the street. The numbers were changing slightly. Ripples in a pond.
He only really saw the front tire as the car swerved off the road and parked crookedly half in and out of the traffic lane. It took a bit before he noticed the blue and red lights flashing inside the glare of the sun through the trees. His new sense giving the car, parked as it is, a fifty times greater chance of being hit then if the driver had taken the half second to park it properly.
Goldberg smirked, and then looked up to see a police officer towering over him.
He made eye contact with himself in the policeman’s mirrored sun glasses and watched as he saw that man drop his hands of the top of his head.
‘This doesn’t look good, does it,’ he thought.
The letters appeared under the chin of the police officer like a caption. ‘Chance of this being good or helpful – very low.’
‘Very low? What happened to mathematical certainty?’ Goldberg asked himself.
As if in answer the officer said “Son, are you on drugs?”
Loveless humphed at the computer screen. “Ok, Fine, I’ll work on the model in a second. On to the organization. Any problems?”
“All other loyalty scores in flux. Last report none under 90%, but those figures are being recalculated in light of how you deal with the reported extra activities of Mr. Urk in Orlando.”
“Why? What did Tony do?”
“We have visual conformation of Mr. Urk selling cocaine to a non-vetted distribution network in Atlanta. A runner was captured by Florida Highway Patrol yesterday and provided a description of Mr. Urk. He has been compromised and if captured could provide insight into 46% of the organization.”
“God damn it, Tony!” Loveless winced. “OK, well… Anything else?”
“No other alerts beyond those in Pet Projects.”
“Yeah. Thanks.” Loveless flicked open the Pet Projects tab by tapping on the desktop. He slid the Anomaly folder out, opened it and started reading. His face screwed up into a question but before he could do much of anything, a blip appeared on his desk. He hit it.
“Loveless, can I help you?”
“Uh, yeah. Hey boss. This is…”
“Mr. Jackson. How fortunate of you to call. Saved me the effort. Please. Get to it.”
“Of course. There’s something you need to know. Tony Urk …”
“I know about Urk. He’s your man Mr. Jackson. Follow the procedure. Current plan is two-four-four.”
“But Tony… He’s got a kid coming.”
“Most unfortunate, but it changes nothing. Please tell me you did not call me and burn a secure line to ask whether or not we follow procedure, Mr. Jackson. Now you have a job to do. Good day.”
“But Loveless! He’s just one guy! Can’t I just beat him or something?”
“Mr. Jackson, deviation from my plan will cause a shift in perception that will make other such cases inevitable until we are all undone. Urk is a liability who has already put us all at risk so we will instead turn him into a positive as an example. While encapsulated, Urk is a dead branch. Prune it. Two-four-four. And may Ms. Urk find herself a more loyal man for a husband next time.”
“You are a cold-blooded bastard.”
“I get results. Loyal members of our organization simply do not get caught. They don’t get caught because they follow the plan. My plan. If they do get caught following the plan, we have ways to compensate in the plan. And as a part of that, you must keep your men in line starting with yourself. Good day, Mr. Jackson.”
Loveless continued examining the data on the desk, then looked off to the clean floor. His eyes flicked to the bowl of dice that was the only decoration on the desk. A fingertip stroked the surface of a gleaming purple twenty-sided die and then slid to the desktop, taping on a virtual key pad. In Loveless’s headphones, the sound of a phone ringing only chimed once.
“McCaully, how can I help you.”
“Jackson, Urk. Two-Four-Four.”
Loveless straightened, put the dice back in the bowl, and got back to work.
As Goldberg looked at the officer, the countdown to his glasses overcoming friction and falling off his nose blinked down. Right next to it, the likelihood of the event went up as a percentage. Both figures would flicker with every twitch of his nose and move of his face. The persistent updates made it increasingly difficult for Goldberg to concentrate on keeping his shit together.
Goldberg found himself at a loss for words. He had just been shown so many things. He knew that if he slid a brick off of the roof just opposite him that it would hit the police car’s front headlight. he knew that the wires here took between 250 and 300 lbs of weight before they snapped. He knew how likely it was that a rock would fly through a window from a typical garbage truck crunching along the uneven street. He was aware of all the correlations between all of the buildings in the immediate area. He could spot at least fifteen different ways to get from here to the convenient store without ever touching the ground.
All of this was remarkable, to be sure. He felt blessed with this outpouring of trivia and schematics and felt the need to express that knowledge. For instance, he knew that the officer’s glasses were being held back by the friction in his nose but that if he didn’t move the glasses would fall off in nine minutes and thirteen seconds. He wanted to tell the man, to test the knowledge he’d gained from seemingly nowhere. But he knew better than to mess with ‘The Man’ with a head full of faeries.
“Yeah, I’m good. How are you officer?” That sounded lucid enough to Goldberg. Hadn’t he just asked if he was OK?
“That’s nice.” The officer said in a clipped drawl. “I’m officer Small, badge number 54. Can I see your driver’s license please, sir?”
It always ticked off Goldberg that there was this facade of respect surrounding any and all intersections between himself and law enforcement. It would almost be nicer if they just fessed up and let him know that they thought he was a drug-taking scumbag and then he could inform them that they are just thugs using the law as a justification to push people around. If that was all out in the open, then there would be much more honesty in the proceedings. This was Goldberg’s standing wish, but right now he wasn’t exactly thinking straight, or standing for that matter.
“Sorry man. Can’t do it.”
The officer flinched. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“I can’t show you my driver’s license.” Goldberg looked down the street at the distracting new insights he was receiving.
This seemed to throw the man and he dropped the law and order act. “Do you have your wallet?”
“And you don’t have your driver’s license?”
“Uh… No. I don’t drive.”
The officer again seemed off track and now worked from curiosity. “Who are you, son? What’s your name? Do you have any ID?”
“Oh! Yeah.” Goldberg was pleased to be tracking the conversation once again. The barrage of information trying to force its way into his mind made it tough but ground was being gained. He smiled. This was better.
The officer did not return the smile. “Can I see it please?”
“Oh sure. Right!” Goldberg fished in his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He grabbed his staff card and handed it to the officer.
“You work at the University?”
“Well, Yeah. Is there a problem?”
“You seemed … seem a little out of sorts. Are you injured?”
Goldberg got back on track. “Yeah, I just have these headaches. I, uh, just turned the corner and the light in my eyes… you know…” He hoped the officer did.
“Well get yourself some sunglasses or something,” the officer shot back. “You looked like a public intoxication case. Plenty of weirdos out even this early, coming home from a bad night out.”
“Yeah. Don’t I know it.” Goldberg said, thinking back to the most recent semester break.
“You sure I can’t drive you home, Mr. Goldberg?”
Goldberg grinned. “That would defeat the purpose of taking a walk to the bagel place, thanks. I’ll be fine officer.”
“Ok, Mr. Goldberg. Have a good day. And stay safe.”
“I always try to,” Goldberg replied as the officer was swallowed up in the data that related to him and the things that were then related to those things, and those related to those relationships, spinning out into an infinite web of things Goldberg had no way of knowing but did.
The chair squeaked as Loveless sat back. “Already a bad day. Urk. Urk beat the odds, but not by much. Jackass. Have to recruit. Have to recruit and recalibrate the predictive model to incorporate these anomalies. But they are weird ass. How am I supposed to incorporate… Hell. I might as well put in Ouija boards and lay lines. How does one model ‘seeing through girl’s swim suits’ and ‘spontaneously warming rammen noodles’? I mean, it’s just stupid!”
He looked at his desk, at the anomalies. “Recruit. Hm…” He changed the name of the folder from “anomalies” to “Comic-book-like powers” before erasing that and labeling it “Strange.” He descended upon the desk, typing furiously on a virtual keyboard.
“So, we have a new input to incorporate. The Strange.” He grinned as his eyes hardened. “No rest for the wicked. Good thing I own coffee shops.”
Goldberg needed coffee more then he’d ever needed anything in his life. That cop rattled his brains, but at least the visions were receding to a level where he could function. Only the truly interesting things popped up a message or drew a line for him. It was no longer a jumble.
And then he saw the key. Lost along the fence post, the key had bright connections that shot out in all directions, but none so prevalent as the tie between it and the door to the row house a few paces up the street.
“Hey! That’s Weird Bill’s house. Huh. Lights are still on.” he said out loud then added, “Gotta stop talking to myself. People will think I’m weird. And gotta tamp down the paranoia.”
The connection between the key and his hand came up in his vision and it was just as strong. This was the first time he’d noticed himself in this picture and it rattled his already fragile mental state.
“Whatever mental breakdown I’m having, I can’t just leave Bill’s key hanging out here,” he thought. “Anybody in the world could take this thing and… I don’t know… swipe his stuff or something. He couldn’t have left it here on purpose. Besides, maybe he’ll have some coffee on. And I did kinda duck him yesterday… yeah.”
He lifted the key up by the long cord and untangled it from the fence post. The imaginary line between himself and the door was pronounced, but it no longer bothered him. It actually felt rather natural to be following the trail, like walking down a hill.
Key in hand, he knocked on Bill’s front door. After an uncomfortable wait, he figured he’d just unlock the door, slip the key inside, lock the knob, and talk to him about it on Monday.
He worked the locks and pushed the solid wooden door open. In the dim front room, the vision from the street squeezed past him and exploded into life. It superimposed itself upon the already crazy scene. Stacks upon stacks of printed paper were everywhere in great columns. The web of the relationships stuck to every one of these piles and gave them weight. The most elemental of these weights was the size of the stack and it was here that the vision of the web found something else.
“It’s a pattern. Everything! Everything is in a pattern.” The heights of the stacks of paper were the most obvious, but even the stuff on the shelves conformed to the pattern. “Wild! I mean, I knew Bill was a hoarder but… damn man!”
Goldberg floated into the room, dominated by the overlay of this vision. It was like stepping into a cartoon, but instead of ink, the scene was painted in this new color that wasn’t a color, but state, relationship and probability. In a place where every element was placed specifically with its relationship in mind, the whole scene opened up for him.
After marveling at the pattern, he realized two things. “It points up. It points up and to the back of the house, like the attic or something.” He looked at a small stack of paper that should have been on top of the preceding stack, causing an error in the pattern dictated by the house. “And there are flaws.”
The flaw bothered him. “Why would anyone go to so much trouble and screw up like this?” He wandered down the large canyon made by the paper and looked toward the stairs. Another flaw! This time the power marked it in the shade of alarm. “This just looks like carelessness. Maybe it’s the effect of someone else in the house?” Another tiny flaw in a tipped over stack of magazines, led him even further back to a flat, handle-less door.
Goldberg followed the trail of error through the door. It was a disgusting kitchen with stuff piled all over the place, especially in the back against what was once a door. His gaze swept through the room past the sink. A man in a night shirt, hunched over the stove startled him. His new sense retreated in shock, leaving him with only his regular senses and the sudden awkwardness of the situation.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Bill.” He felt foolish. “Um, your key was outside. Sorry to barge in.” He let out a nervous half cough. “I love what you’ve done with the place! The décor…”
The place of the vision clouded with pure alarm. Bill hadn’t moved.
Goldberg cautiously approached through the stacks of cans, papers and old magazines. He held out a hand, and tapped Weird Bill, The Collector of Things, on the shoulder. It felt cold.
The man slowly turned his whole body. His outstretched hands swiveled around as if to grasp Goldberg. Wide, astonished eyes and a screwed up, open mouth silently screamed pain and confusion as he faced the young intruder.
Bill’s body continued to turn and swiveled away from Goldberg, and then fell face first on the floor, dead. The white box that held him into position was now clearly in view.
“Holly shit!” Goldberg said, catching his breath. “Fuck! He’s…!” This was no longer a wondrous experience or an exercise in exploration. His hallucination had led him to a dead man. A man he knew. A man who had tried to give him a message. A man who had, in fact, given him a message. That message was, if he was reading it right, to look upstairs for an explanation.
That wasn’t all. Looking at the box, he noticed thin, unshielded wires leading to a small clock, counting down.
“That’s a fucking bomb!” The digital clock showed less than five minutes to go as Goldberg struggled to keep calm. The police! This was clearly a crime.
His dug his ancient cell phone from his pocket. It flashed ‘Looking for service,’ and he sighed. “Fucking Sprunt! Never a signal when you need it!”
He heard a call from the front of the house that at first, seemed an answer to a prayer. “Hello? This is Officer Small from the Hogstown police. Mr. Goldberg, if you are here, please just come out.” A stumbling sound accompanied the officer saying to himself “Jesus, would you look at this place.” In a more commanding tone he called out, “Whatever you’re on boy, you can’t be wandering into other people’s homes.”
Without a word, Goldberg scanned the scene. Him, A dead Weird Bill, A Bomb. This did not look good at all. In fact, it looked like a murder scene, with him as the murderer! Or at least something very VERY fucked up. His flight response was kicking in hard. Goldberg took a quick look at Weird Bill and whispered, “Dude, if I go to jail for your murder, I’m totally going to kill you.”