There was a sound and a color that the danger made for Goldberg in what he now fervently hoped was his hallucination. It painted the kitchen and his mind buzzed with its inaudible sound. While not as complex and overwhelming as the apparition outside on the sidewalk, it was far more annoying and far less benign.
‘Ok, knock it off!’ He thought to himself. To his surprise, it faded into the background. ‘Better. This seeing things bit is really getting old. I wish I could just hear voices like normal crazy people.’
Inside his mind, he heard ‘Likelihood that you are crazy, indeterminate.’
His brow creased to the point of touching the bridge of his glasses. ‘Great. Going to die crazy.’
‘Likelihood of fatality 3% and climbing. Entirely dependent on you, dude.’
He considered sighing, but remembered the cop just beyond the door. Instead he scanned the room.
‘OK, well, how the hell am I getting out of here?’
The voice in his head said, ‘At a full run in a straight line you will be four hundred and thirty two feet from the bomb at the time of the explosion.’
‘Helpful to know, but the only way I have to run is either past or through Officer Small out there. Really, I need to get upstairs. The fricking hallucination pointed to… Hey! What’s upstairs?’
‘Insufficient data. Upstairs is the focal point for the pattern of the papers in the other room.’ As the voice said this, Goldberg could see the skeletal outline of the pages and the up and down pattern that swirled up and back over his head. it was like being able to see through the wall and the ceiling up into the unknown.
‘How is it that I can, you know, see that?’ He thought.
The voice in his head replied, ‘I am able to pull in information relating to relationships based upon the current state and make predictions based upon actions conferred to that state.’
‘Wait, what? Who are you?’
‘I am you. I am Ryan Goldberg. I am allowing myself to question in such a manner in order to keep the information manageable as I know all the current states and probabilities of relationship. Such raw information, unfettered would be incapacitating.’
Silence filled his mind as that piece of information set in. After a few moments, the voice in his head interrupted him. ‘Probability of fatality now rising to 5%.’
‘Yeah, fine.’ He barked to himself. ‘Just tell me how much time I’ve got left before the bomb goes off. Every thirty seconds. And give me a timer I can see.’ He was no longer amazed that it did exactly that.
‘Now how do I get upstairs from here? There has got to be something there.’
‘Present state holds that there is an office with furniture. Also the rafters hold an assortment of camping gear and a large unused space.’
‘So, boring shit.’
‘No indication of interest based upon state.’
‘Fucking Bill!’ He looked at the surprised corpse. ‘What on earth is so important up there that you had to make some freaky looking arrow out of your living room to point it out? Ok, but how to get up there without the cop stopping me to play twenty questions?’
The voice took this as a command and blurred for a bit. When it came back, a plan clearly presented itself to Goldberg. It wasn’t spoken to him or shown to him but he just knew it. The physical things that the plan required glowed in the color that was not there.
‘You are fucking kidding me.’ He looked at the decrepit dumbwaiter frame near the blocked back door. Moving aside a flimsy panel, he found what the vision had told him he would find, two ropes. Actually, it was one rope, bent in half over a distant pulley at the top of the dark shaft. He looked up the shaft and even though his vision told him where the pulley was, way up the two and a half by three foot shaft, to his regular eyes it was nothing but dark and narrow. ‘You are fucking kidding me.’
He stopped gaping and started to assemble his ad-hoc machine. ‘If I’m going to die, I’d best do it quickly,’ He thought. Moving around the heaviest pots and pans silently required a very soft touch, but he managed to tie them all together and attach the whole thing to the rope. He quietly put the pile of pots and pans through the dumbwaiters frame. Bracing his feet against the sides of the dumbwaiter, he pulled on the rope, to pull the counterweight up the shaft. When the picture in his head told him it was up far enough, he stopped.
Goldberg smiled again, his ride was ready. The visual faded and reality came flooding back. A quick look at over his shoulder saw the bomb counting down toward two minutes. And Bill’s corpse. ‘Bill, you deserve better. I should have talked to you yesterday but… well, I had a date apparently. Makes you feel any better, I did hook up… with Joy no less.’ He felt a twinge of shame and added, ‘I’m going to figure this out. Whoever killed you, they aren’t going to get away with it. I hope.’
He was ready to relax and let the system take him when he thought of the cop. That guy was just doing his job, but if Goldberg didn’t do something, anything, that guy will certainly get blown up in here. He couldn’t live with that idea. Taking a deep breath, Goldberg yelled, “Hey Small! Run, there’s a bomb in here! Leave now or you’re going to die!”
“What? Is someone here? Mr. Goldberg?” The kitchen door opened as Goldberg shifted his body weight and relaxed. The rope in the dumbwaiter to pulled him up the chute with a lurch. As he hurtled into the cramped darkness, just barely missing the dropping counterweight. He heard a noise and wondered what it was, before he realized it was him, screaming like a frightened little girl.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Dan took a long swig out of the semi-cold Heineken and continued, “How does someone get a name like Luxury Automobile?”
The two men sat on the metal catwalk that allowed Dan to stand and take the numbers up and down. Though they could sit comfortably, the grate was see-through and the long drop to the ground was ever-present.
The black man beamed a smile. “Ah, that was a gift from my father. See, the man said he always wanted a luxury automobile. Momma had me and he realized that he wasn’t getting a Caddy, so I became his Luxury Automobile.”
“That’s pretty cool.”
“Damn straight! So what’s your name?”
The man didn’t stop smiling once. “You see, I could ask you what the hell a ‘Dan’ is and you would have no response. Everyone knows what a Luxury Automobile is.”
“A Dan is my father, so I guess I’m one of him.”
“Hey, so you’re a Junior!”
Dan put his nose in the air. “Actually I’m a second!”
“I wouldn’t go around letting everyone know that you are a number two. People might start to call you poop boy. ‘Specially since you are, as you put it, ‘crapping yourself’ up here.”
“Nice. And on that topic, I think I’ll have another beer.”
As Dan fished around in the cooler, Luxury Automobile said, “So why are you drinking up here? Hell, I’m a damn bum and even I don’t start drinking at… What the hell time is it?”
He thought about it for a second then continued. “Ok, so most days I won’t start drinking until at least noon, if I got it. Exception made here, of course.”
“Of course.” They clinked bottles and Dan grinned.
“But still, ain’t this dangerous?”
Dan took a long, thoughtful sip. “Maybe, but if I’m ever going to get down, I need to tie on a buzz. I’m afraid of heights.”
Luxury Automobile scoffed. “That’s a bitch. So why have this job?”
“The pay is fantastic,” he said as he looked across the street and right down the ample cleavage of a young woman who was talking to herself. “And besides, I kind of like the view.”
The loft was a single large, spacious room interrupted only with a few beams holding up the peak of the roof and the simple wood railing around the staircase, the only obvious exit. On both the front and the backsides of the loft were three large windows, showing the orange light of morning filtered through the green canopy of a tree lined street. This room was dusty, but clean. Camping gear hung from the ceiling, strung across beams extended down from the high exposed timbers of the underside of the roof. Below this overhang of stuff sat a futon, a coffee table a desk chair and a huge computer set up crushing an old wooden desk.
The computer system seemed to be set up in three. There were three old twenty-four-inch CRT monitors with three keyboards and three trackballs. Three big printers sat on an old folding table against the wall.
Absent from the setup were any actual computers. Instead, all wires led to three clean and dustless rectangles. The room was almost haunted by the sound of those now absent computers with their fans blowing hot air.
In the morning light, a new sound not completely unlike the whining of the computers, disturbed the room. At first it was indistinct, but as it rose in volume and pitch it had the distinct sound of someone screaming like a little girl and approaching at a terrific speed.
The wall panel that covered the old entrance to the dumbwaiter exploded outward. Though Goldberg, had landed flat after the top of the shaft had pushed him into the room, his motion wouldn’t let him rest and his feet kept going. He bent, feet high in the air, face and chest pressed into the ground and back formed into an awkward bow. It is well known that energy never goes nowhere. It is either lost to heat, deformation or otherwise transferred to something else. In this case, Goldberg’s kinetic energy was converted into back pain and a lungful of dust. That having been satisfied, his feet and back snapped back, smacking his pelvis, thighs and feet onto the ground like so much bony meat. Goldberg finally lay prone and at a painful rest. The stars in his eyes flicked out one by one and he got himself together enough to say, “Ow,” into the back of the newly displaced wood panel.
He dusted himself off and straightened his glasses, frowning at a new scratch. He swept his hair back into a pony tail on reflex and then let it go. The wavy locks bounced and dumped back onto his shoulders as he examined this room.
“Really? The only clean room in Bill’s house is the attic?”
He stumbled over to the terminal setups and noticed that the wires went nowhere. “What the hell was he doing up here?”
As soon as the question came up, the pattern suggested by the stacks of paper became visible in the odd non-color color. The view was disconcerting. While Goldberg could clearly see the floor, he could also see the spire represented by the stacks that started four floors down and came to a point in this very room. As he moved, the three dimensional display changed to match, giving him the impression of walking on nothing but empty air.
“Jesus!” He shouted. “A little warning next time!”
‘You are the one asking questions and time is of the essence.’
Goldberg accessed the ticking clock and agreed. “Yeah, well. Who would have guessed that being able to ignore hallucinations would come in handy? First trick you learn as a frequent user of psychoactive drugs. Least the walls aren’t breathing. But what’s the point?”
In answer to his question, the power illuminated a softball sized nicknack in the center of the coffee table in the lounge area of the large room. It sat right on top of the pinnacle of the spire where the fractal pattern became so small it was more of a sharp smooth cone rather than a jagged, mountain, easily represented by square stacks.
“Shockingly literal for something so fucked up,” he mumbled to himself.
He picked up the knickknack, palming it in his knobby fingers. Made of wood and well finished, the ball had geometric seams running all over its surface. It was a sort of puzzle like he used to have as a kid, but oversized and more complex.
“Bill you weird ass. What is this all about? What’s with this ball?”
He half expected the voice in his head to go on about the contents of this puzzle, but instead it said nothing.
“Now you shut up?”
The voice said ‘I don’t know. Nothing in its physical state betrays its obvious connection.’
“Well that’s great. What the hell can you tell me?”
As the words came from his mind, messages popped up all around relating to all the items in the room. The brightest came from the landing at the top of the stairs. ‘A police man will be here in sixty seconds. He will take the ball and die in the explosion if you just stand there like a jackass.’
“A sense of humor. Great. Even my delusions are sarcastic.”
He looked at the ball and wondered how he could get it to a place where he could examine it and maybe figure out why Bill died.
The power said “Drop it out the window near the dumbwaiter. Tie the desk chair to the end of the rope to help you overcome the weight of the pots and pans on the other end. The pulley will hold.”
He wondered about the fate of the police man and the power instantly replied, ‘Probability of the policeman surviving too small to be significant.’
“Wait, what?” Goldberg said aloud, now hearing the cop’s feet clambering up the steps. The power just put added glow on the words.
More thinking than saying, Goldberg told the power that he couldn’t be a cop killer, even by proxy. This threw a new set of variables into the analytical mix and all the color that had been superimposed upon the scene flickered.
A new plan locked in but now, it was far from certain. The power showed an eighty percent chance of his getting out unharmed and gave the police man’s percentage as a new overlay on the floor. Goldberg noticed that the cop was significantly tougher than he was as his chances were a lot better in a lot more places.
The bitch of it was, the plan was for him to jump back down the dumb waiter. The whole chute was exposed since the wall panel had been blown all the way down to the floor. He needed to tie the desk chair to the end of the rope. Then all he needed to do was jump and hang on to the rope with both hands. It would take him all the way down and he could run out.
With fifty seconds, he went to work, putting the ball down on one of the keyboards and pulled the desk chair over to the dumbwaiter. He flipped the chair upside down and tied the rope to the center pole. Into the hole it went and the tension on the line grew. He tested the rope and it seemed to move well.
Thirty seconds saw him picking up the ball. “How am I supposed to hang on to the rope if I have this in my hands?” He thought.
The power replied, ‘Ditch the ball.’
“No way. This thing has got to be important. What’s the best way to make sure it survives and I can get it back?”
The message popped up on the ball and a glowing target appeared on the right front window of the house across the room and nearer the stairwell. ‘Throw the ball here’ read the message.
“Ok, so I chuck it through the window and get it later. Cool.”
He wound up to throw the ball. He tried an over hand throw but stopped as the ball was too big and it felt weird. He practiced a side arm which was even worse. Finally he tried the overhand again but this time it was more of a shot-put throw with his one leg and arms going off in a spastic cartwheel around his plant foot.
The ball sailed through the air, slack and unmotivated. It arched up and over, coming right down on the designated spot.
No glass broke. The ball popped up into the rafters holding the camping gear, knocking into a canoe paddle which hit some more junk before both it and the ball dropped to the floor.
“Fuck. Why didn’t the glass break?”
The power said, ‘throw: 30MPH, speed required: 75MPH and up.’
“Well, that sucks.”
“Freeze!” Officer Small charged up the staircase and swiveled around to point at Goldberg, gun out in front. “Hands in the air!”