Delgado had come to call the sharp and cool thing “the silver.” He had a thought that giving things names might help him get a handle on the present. That thought had spilled out into the blue and red random leaving only its core and the name.
The sharp memories he slipped through were vivid as real life, but Delgado knew the difference. Real life was real and memories were not real no matter how realistic. Besides, there were cases where he knew that his recollections were wrong and yet the memory played back that way. Realism and reality held clear differences.
Having worked through his contemplation of memory, he once again reached out to feel the here and now. In doing so, he found another sense. He knew what time it was.
More to the point, he knew that time was moving very slowly for him. Milliseconds went by like minutes and he found that to be strangely comforting. He did not have a good sense of what he was supposed to be doing in the present, that concept had long ago flowed away into the red and blue, but at least he wasn’t wasting any time.
He reached out once again and found he knew exactly where he was. He was thirty-two thousand feet in the air over the Mississippi Delta. The sense was precise and, if it were to be trusted, included relative orientation and velocity.
With the concept of orientation, he found he knew how his body was positioned. He couldn’t move, but he could observe his body as if it were a statue, but one you looked at from inside.
Of course, he couldn’t actually see his body, or even a representation of it. The blue and red randomness and the silver weren’t actually something he saw either. He could just sense these things. And so it was when another sharp probe from the silver came lunging toward his consciousness.
A brilliant shower of color came at the end of this probe accompanied by deafening waves of sound. These were real color and real sound, he knew. Time, his internal sense told him, was now plodding along at its usual pace. He could smell the cool dryness of the air, taste the fact that he forgot to brush his teeth and feel his body stretched over the weird mannequin that told him where his body was. It was sharp and critical and more real than anything he’d ever experienced.
Blinking a few times, Delgado knew he was back. He was back in the rear of the microjet with his hand still grasping the silver block. He knew what it was and once again knew what he was doing, what his mission was.
“Welcome back, kid. Glad to see you recover. We’ve had a few people go off into Neverland and never return.”
“You tell me this NOW?”
Belatran smiled. “We would have a hard time recruiting if that was on the poster. But really, I had no doubt. You wouldn’t have gotten sucked in. You’re wound too tight.”
“You risked my life on that? On…”
“I risked an investment of incalculable value on the fact that everything in your records says you were going to be fine. We need to make sure we have people who won’t crack or hesitate under pressure.”
“And I’m that guy?”
“Solid as a brick. You coming back from the upgrade was never really in doubt. Back when the program started, we didn’t know what the psychological issues were with the upgrades, why some people did well and others … not so much. We had some poor results in the early mix of candidates.”
“We?” Delgado looked at the back of Belatran’s head and saw the faintest flinch. “You were there at the beginning? I thought you said the weathermen were created in response to the Nazis.”
“In response to the great war, that’s right.”
The younger man squinted. “How the hell old are you, Belatran?”
“One hundred twenty four.” The older man smiled. “Sucks that they had to stop me from aging closer to sixty than I would have liked. My birthday is coming up by the way. I’d like a card.”
Delgado shook his head.
“The world is not safe, Delgado. We aren’t going to be able to handle things as normal humans, so we got some upgrades.”
“And they are harmless.”
“For the most part, yeah, as harmless as living. They degrade after a while… a long while, but until then, nothing else will get you, so relax. The details will come along in a bit. Another hour until we land at Hogstown and then we get to start putting the pieces together on this case.”
The pieces had yet to come together for Molly. She knew intellectually that her apartment had collapsed, was there when it came down in a shower of dust and debris, but it hadn’t hit home.
Now, as Molly and Joy looked at the sad and fractured mess, it was pain fully clear. All her stuff was gone. Or, if not gone, certainly wrecked.
Firemen sprayed water over the wreck, making sure everything was out. Anything that might have survived being crushed under two stories of building and other people’s stuff would be damp. By the time anyone could have excavated to the level of Molly’s belongings, the moldy flora of north Florida would have set in, turning it into a stinking green mass.
It had been stuck in her head to tell people that her house was gone. Her first time at the bong amplified that impulse, but it was as if she was reporting the news. She felt compelled, but it was only because she didn’t believe it herself and she was waiting for someone to tell her that it hadn’t happened.
“Fuck.” The word dropped out of Molly without any energy. Joy just nodded.
A cop came over to them with his back to the wreckage. “I’m sorry ladies. Police business. Can you please move along?” Though the words were polite, the tone spoke of someone who was used to being a dick. It made it clear that he would be a dick to them if they didn’t do what he said.
Molly looked up from the wreckage of the home she had moved into not more than a month ago. As she met the man’s mustachioed face, sparks raged in her eyes. “My home. My home is gone. This was my home.”
“I’m sorry ma’am, but we are keeping this area clear. Crowd control.”
Joy looked around at the now completely empty street. Any parked cars had either been moved or towed. Only a firetruck and a red fire marshal’s SUV remained anywhere near the site. All of the people who had previously been gawking had left to go on with the rest of their day.
“Yeah, some crowd,” she said quietly.
But Molly would have none of it. “This was my home!” she shouted suddenly, making several of the remaining workers look her way. “Are you telling me I can’t look at my Home!? Are you telling me that I can’t try to find even one thing I own in this disaster! Everything! I’ve lost Everything! And you have the balls to tell me to move along!”
She pointed a finger at the portly cop, his unchanging expression adding fuel to her indignation. “Look porky, I’m damned well not going to just move along! I’m going to sift through this shit to see if I can find something, anything!”
“It’s an active investigation,” the cop said without flinching.
“I don’t know what you’re investigating! It’s pretty obvious. Boom! Crash! Done! Good job Sherlock! You’ve cracked the case! Now let me go look for my underpants you …”
A younger plainclothes police man came over and tapped the cop on the shoulder. “Officer Barney, what are you doing?”
The Cop still didn’t change his expression. “Crowd control. Painter told me to keep people from tampering with the crime scene.”
Detective Brace shook his head. “Fine job. Now go get a doughnut or something.” He held up the yellow tape and motioned to Molly and Joy. “Ladies, if you would?”
“Look, Slick, the boss told me himself that we need to keep everyone out of here, no exceptions.”
As the girls walked up to the edge of the debris field, the Detective calmly stared down the cop. “Call him, then. And by the way, it’s Detective Brace. Detective. Call him and tell him that there is a distraught eighteen-year-old who has been put out on the street by all this who would like to try to salvage any part of her life. Until you get back to me that this is an unreasonable contamination of a crime scene, which, by the way, was abandoned by the coroner, the fire department and the forensic people an hour ago, then I will escort these women away personally. Until then, I will watch them and make sure they don’t abscond with a smoking gun. OK?”
“It’s on your ass, Slick. I’m reporting this.”
The Detective smiled, brushed a piece of dust off the officer’s uniform and leaned in. In a whisper, he said, “Well, while you are at it, report that I think you’re being a dick for no reason other than you want to boss around little girls, you prick. Run along. I’m going to go protect and serve our public.”
Pulling back, he noticed a smear of dust on the officer’s shirt. “Oh, and We’re going to be doing a press conference here in about fifteen minutes. The cameras will be showing up any minute, so fix your uniform. Wouldn’t want the press catching you sloppy on the job.” He walked away over the pile and said behind him, “Straighten up man.”
Teague lowered his shoulder and laid into the young man holding the large pad.
“Dude, what were you thinking dozing off in Coach Band’s lecture? You know he’s a dick about stuff like that.”
Teague straightened out and smoothed his hand over his bald head. “It ain’t like that, Brent. I was just thinking.”
Brent Bernard, another one of the Hogstown Hackers tight ends crouched behind the pad and readied himself. “Well you might want to think someplace else in the future. It was like a good minute and he flat out asked you a question by name and you didn’t even flinch.”
“Yeah, well. He was boring as fuck, man. I mean, who doesn’t know why you have a slot run across the middle to clear the zone for an end or back across the middle. I’ve been through route running every single year since pee wee. Not to mention that they cover the same stuff in basketball camp and soccer.”
They both chuckled. With the tweet of a whistle Teague lowered his shoulder again and blocked into the man-shaped pad, knocking the young man back three feet.
“Jesus, good hit!” The Brent said as Teague came over and helped him off the ground. Brent was pretty cool for a redneck. Teague appreciated that he didn’t try to talk ‘Black’ to him, “You played soccer?”
“As a kid. Quit when they wanted me to be goalie. Couldn’t stand all the standing around. Might have been good, but it seems like such a pussy game, you know? No hitting.”
The young man steadied himself on his feet and put the pad out a little more forcefully this time. “Yeah, I know what you mean. Learn anything else?”
“Yeah, that white chicks dig the soccer players.”
The whistle sounded and once more, Teague made to block the pad as if it were a defensive end coming to cut off a running play. He dipped his shoulder and pushed up into the pad, his knees straightening and his back stiff. There was a little collar bone thrown in for good measure and to Teague, it felt like nothing but a good solid block.
Where he connected with the pad, it ripped in a long line. The shockwave carried through to the young man behind the pad. A wet snap betrayed the breaking of a bone in the man’s forearm as the concussive force of the block threw him three feet into the air and sent him tumbling into players at least a first down away.”
“London!” the O-line coach barked, putting down his whistle. “What the fuck was that, son? Huh? What did he insult your mother or something?”
“No!” Teague looked at his partner laid out in the midst of the other group of players. “No. I have no idea what happened. I just blocked the guy!”
“Bullshit. You threw him ten fucking yards! You God damned hot head! I should throw you off this fucking team!”
Teague saw Brent trying to move and gasped. “I don’t know what happened.” He looked into the coaches face. “Really, Coach!” Looking back at his friend. “Maybe I should get the trainer.”
“Maybe you should. And when you get back, you, me and the head coach are going to have a word about your aggressive tendencies. This isn’t the first time!”
“Man, that’s bull. I’ve changed since then and Brent’s my boy, man!”
The coach looked at the hurt boy. “He doesn’t look like it now, does he? Now go get the doc.”
Teague jogged off shaking his head mumbling, “This’s messed, man.”
Zamantha walked past the room that was still cordoned off with police tape. Katie was still inside, being questioned by the police. She shook her head for her fellow nurse but did not interfere. Instead she walked two cubes over to where Natasha Riley lay in her bed.
Outside the cube, Dr. Moore continued to talk to the kind eyed husband. The man was big for an older guy, but now he looked small. Sweeping aside the curtain, she read the numbers. Low and erratic.
Again shaking her head, she put on her best smile and said, “Hi Ms. Riley. I’m here to check your lines, OK?” The round faced old woman did not stir and she did not continue.
The young nurse saw something she didn’t like out of the line going into the woman’s neck. With all the fuss she raised earlier, things being out of place wasn’t a surprise. She leaned over for a look.
A hand grabbed her by her throat and drew her up to Natasha’s face. Zamantha lost her breath in shock and found herself staring into ice blue eyes.
“My Husband.” Her voice was low, strong and calm. “He is dead? He killed himself? Or maybe men came by?”
“What?” Zamantha croaked. “No. Why?”
Behind the patient, a bell went off. Heart fibrillations. The bell was to warn people of an impending shock event, but the two women were locked.
“Why? Listen carefully. He is The Bomb.”
“Not A bomb. THE Bomb. He … It will…”
The defibrillator automatically shocked the woman’s fragile heart, giving both her and Zamantha enough of a jolt to make muscles spasm. The young nurse fell to the floor while the patient slumped back into her bed. Scrambling to her feet and out the door, the nurse left Natasha alone with her unconscious thoughts of murder.