Infinity 7…continued…

earth_soil_creep_moon_217170

 

Copyright 2017 by C R Hinckley All Rights Reserved

In the conference room, Dr. Michael Lee, a man of distinction with dark rimmed glasses, sits at the end of the table opposite John. To his left is Dr. Beck. Next to him is Dr. Elaine Susman, and across from her is Dr. Andrew De Flanders, who sits stroking his mustache. All the scientists are middle-aged, with graying hair.

The red ball that hovered over John’s desk now floats ten inches above the long conference table. “Read Level 3 communiqué. Authorization: Collins.” The ball opens up, a bright and dazzling holographic light brightens the room, then resolves into the ghostly image of a female head, over which layers of deep-red liquid spreads down into a cascade of dripping goo. The liquid quickly solidifies and coalesces onto the face of a beautiful woman with cherry red skin, flaming red hair and dark blue eyes. The woman blinks a few times, then opens her mouth to speak.

“Freeze message.” John turns to Dr. De Flanders and smiles. “Dr. De Flanders, your three-dimensional holoskin looks fantastic. Do you anticipate a breakthrough in the skin tones?”

“They shall be resolved soon,” De Flanders replies in a thick French accent. “We don’t want anything too human, but subtle enough to not be a distraction.”

“Well, it is a bit distracting.”

To John’s alarm, De Flanders looks crestfallen. “Well, these things take time,” he says hastily. “I’m loving it so far. Shall we have her pick up something from the table?”

De Flanders turns a pale shade of high-blood-pressure red and shifts in his chair. “Yes, by all means. Have her pick this up.” He tosses a small I.D. card onto the table.

“Messenger, please pick up that card.” John points to the thin plastic object on the table.

The holographic image, who now has half a body and two arms covered in the shiny red holoskin, reaches out and fumbles the card in her fingers. The scientists eye the hologram in worried anticipation. She tries again to retrieve the card, this time firmly grasping it, then holding it up in front of her face.

“Incredible!” says John. “Your formula and software are almost complete, Doctor?”

De Flanders, who is now almost as scarlet as the hologram’s hair, clears his throat and says, “Indeed. With your permission, John, I have software ready to be uploaded to Metis 3. Also, a canister of holoskin to be used in trial. I’d like to see what they can do with it, in practical terms.”

“Absolutely, Doctor. As would we all. Tech Greely would love to get her hands on your prototype.”

More excited murmurings arise from the group.

“Indeed, indeed,” says De Flanders, who nods and smiles, taking in the group’s adoration. He hands John the small metallic square containing the prototype holoskin and John places it on the table in front of him.

“Excellent. So, now that this incredible demonstration is complete…” John turns to De Flanders, who is still beaming with pride, and nods, then looks to the others, his smile instantly falling away. “The reason we are called…the message from Metis 3. I have to confess: I’ve already watched it. Without the skin, of course.” De Flanders chuckles and appreciative murmurs arise from the group. “However, before we watch, I want you all to consider our current financial situation, which no doubt may soon change if this holoskin is practicably marketable. Let’s dim the lights, shall we?”

The scientists look at each other in bewilderment, a faint grumbling rising as the lights fade.

John nods at the holographic woman. “Continue message.”

The eyes of the beautiful face above the table blink twice, then begins to speak in a calm, serene voice of harmonic triads so musical, it immediately relaxes the gathering. “The crystalline organisms found on the lunar surface at 4.59 degrees south, 137.44 degrees east, in Crater 255, may be active. Metis 3 requests investigative analysis team on board. Further onsite testing requested, within strict stabilization parameters.”

The scientists glance at each other. Dr. Lee smiles. “Organisms? Can you be specific?”

“Crystalline structures similar to the ones found on Asteroid 752 last year.”

A projection of several small, blueish crystals appears above the table.

“Ahhh…more crystals,” says Beck, a tinge of excitement in his voice.

“And they want us to send up a team?” asks Susman.

The hologram’s eyes blink twice, then it turns to face Susman, who leans back in her chair, somewhat flustered by a three-dimensional newly skinned hologram staring at her. “Metis 3 Space Station has requested a team arrive as soon as convenient.”

“What makes the Metis 3 crew think these are living organisms?” Susman asks. “Did they indicate if these specimens could just be more potential fossils?”

“I am not programmed with that information.”

Dr. Lee clears his throat. “What tests do they want to run? They have a full complement of protocols there already.”

The holographic woman’s eyes enlarge until they appear as projections of the testing procedures. A list of requested names and protocols is superimposed over an image of scientists in white lab coats performing tests.

Dr. Susman addresses the group. “A full team is out of the question. Our budgets are tight now; we all know this. Why the urgency?”

The hologram appears to think for a second, then turns to Susman. “I do not have that information.”

Dr. De Flanders clears his throat. “I understood, John, that all messages would include biomedical information of the crew. I am not seeing this.”

John responds directly to the hologram. “Give me the biological data of the crew.”

“All crewmember biosigns are within normal parameters.”

De Flanders has a look of concern. “That’s rather a broad statement. Who sent this message?”

“Metis 3 Space Station.”

“Yes, yes, but who among the crew sent this message?” asks Susman, her cheeks flushing.

“I do not have that information.”

“This is highly irregular,” Susman continues. “Why the urgent request for a team?”

“This request comes from Dr. Brie Thompson.”

Susman shakes her head. “I don’t understand the meaning of this. We speak with the crew weekly. Why this strange message? What specifically requires this breach of protocol?”

“I do not have that information.”

John says, “I would suspect, Dr. Susman, that secrecy is the motive for this mode of messaging. We all know our communications are monitored by outside entities.”

De Flanders chews on a laser pen, then points it at the hologram. “But this is shit, John! All samples are to be properly transported here, to this lab. And a blanket statement of the crew’s health is absurd.”

The scientists stir in their chairs and talk to each other in low tones. John raises a hand to stop the chatter. “I’ll go to Metis 3. And I want Dr. Lee to come with me.” He looks at Dr. Lee, who sits up. “A two-man team is better than no team at all.”

Lee taps his hand on the table. “I agree.”

Dr. Beck leans forward. “I understand the latest search for indicator minerals for gold—arsenic, antimony, tellurium, and selenium—have been found in Area 19. What are we doing about that?”

John feels his pulse surge and his face flush. “We’re talking about alien life here, Beck. Not your search for gold.”

“My search, as you so dismissively argue against, time after time I might add, is what pays the bills around here. I think it best you keep that in mind on your trip to Metis 3.”

“How can I forget it, Dr. Beck? This miserable reality stares me in the face at every meeting.”

Beck’s eyes widen. “I will not be insulted by—”

“Easy, Beck.” Dr. Lee places a hand on Beck’s shoulder.

Beck stands and addresses the group. “A full report of the trace minerals and indicator minerals must be sent to Plutus Mining as soon as possible. I’m sure they will want to have a hand in your latest adventure to Metis 3. In the meantime, I want all mineral reports on my desk forthwith. This alien thing, which I’m sure we all know is another false alarm, is simply just another excuse to delay exploratory excavation efforts.” Beck straightens his tie, pulling it off his ample belly and smoothing it with his hands. “Presently, I have a conference call with Plutus. Good day.” He leaves the room with hurried steps.

The remaining members of the group sit in silence. Dr. Lee smiles at John and says, “I think the hand that feeds us needs a few strokes, John.”

John can’t help but smile. “Indeed…We all know Beck is a company spy for the mining interests, brought on board at their insistence when they took on a substantial amount of our budget. I can barely stand to look at him, not only because he is a spy, but because he’s an over-educated social disaster. An unlikeable fellow with a perpetual sneer on his lips.” John looks around the table. Reading his colleagues’ reactions of shock and astonishment, he hastily admonishes himself. “I’ve wanted to say that for months. Forgive me.”

But each member of the group is smiling now. John can hardly contain his excitement. So many emotions are rifling through him, it’s hard to pin one down. He finally settles on happy. The excitement of getting back into space and the prospect of finding alien life are simply overwhelming.

“Beck is a spy sent by greedy landlords to highjack our mission to the moon. But Beck can be handled. Perhaps he is nothing more than an irritation to be salved and smoothed over. However…finding alien life…now that changes things!” He pauses and looks round, seeing his own enthusiasm mirrored in his colleagues’ eyes. “Funding from the government will return. Private money will no longer be an undue influence. The Metis Foundation will prosper. The real mission, the one that inspired The Metis Program some thirteen years ago, to explore our solar system, will continue as intended. After all, space exploration and the development of scientific investigation are our founding principles.”

The group bursts into spontaneous applause. Dr. Lee leaps to his feet and pumps John’s hand with vigor.

As John basks in the moment, the contents of the hidden coded message remains troubling. The part of the message he hadn’t shown the committee was most troubling indeed, and must remain a secret, for now. He’d be damned if he was going to see his course changed by a lack of funds.

“Beck needs his reports, Dr. Susman. Make sure you give him everything…related to minerals. The other information, anything along the lines of say, alien life, omit from his reports. Understood?”

Susman smiles and nods her approval.

John leans in toward the group. “Our mission has not changed. The spark that lit this company has grown into a flame. I’ll not see it extinguished by greed.”

They all nod. The electricity in the room is palpable.

“Yes, we have an obligation to Plutus Mining. But that cannot, will not shape our future.” John stands and the others follow suit. “We leave as soon as practicable.”

John looks at the hologram above the table. She is frozen in an obsequious smile.

“Message received.”

The woman blinks twice and vanishes in a brilliant flash of lightening. A snapping thunderclap quickly follows, leaving small bits of translucent holoskin on the table.

Dr. Susman frowns. “Who the hell set that contraption to those ridiculous settings?” She looks around the room to vague smiles from the men.

Lee finally says, “I think he already left the room.”

*** ***

In his private office, John sits behind his huge blonde maple desk. Dr. Lee sits off to the side in a rather uncomfortable white plastic polymer chair. They both stare at the equation as it floats above the desk.

4Al + 3O₂ = 2Al₂O₃

Lee points at the hologram with his unlit pipe. “What’s this, again?”

“This is the rest of the Level 3 message, Dr. Lee. I wanted to share it with you privately.”

“Oh.” Lee leans in toward the image, hesitates, then leans back. “And the others?”

“They will know. Eventually. However, you may not reveal anything you see here until I give clearance, understood?”

Lee nods. “What’s going on, John? Secret messages?”

“The moon rover problem, Doctor. You remember the beating we took on our funding after that fiasco. If the press gets a hold of the real reason we are going to Metis 3, it could spell disaster for future funding.”

“Has something gone wrong on the station?”

John nods at the holographic equation. “Does it look familiar?” The equation slowly rotates left to right, above his desk.

“Not really. It’s an equation. But why?”

“I wanted a code word to be sent by the Metis 3 mainframe the minute it detected something wrong with one of the onboard systems.”

“Which system?”

“Have you reviewed any recent orbital path reports from Metis Command?”

“Yes, but I haven’t noticed anything out of the norm. I thought all systems—”

“Variations in the Metis trajectory reports and ground trajectory reports are…troubling.”

Lee shakes his head, and clenches the unlit pipe in his teeth. “I see. But I haven’t seen anything—”

“I’ve intentionally kept it quiet. Not a huge problem. But, one that needs resolution.”

“I see. And this message?”

“It arrived today with the other one.”

“No, I mean, which system is malfunctioning?”

“Well, this particular equation is an indication of a navigation problem.”

“The mainframe sent this?”

“Yes.”

“Perhaps it’s the mainframe that’s malfunctioning?”

John stands and walks to the large window overlooking the parking lot. The sun is bright. The grass is lush and green. The sky is clear. It’s a beautiful, cloudless spring day. “Think of this message as my version of Amazonian frogs.”

“Frogs?”

“A canary in a coal mine, as it were.” John turns to Dr. Lee. “There’s something going wrong on Metis 3. I chose you because you are a medical doctor as well as a top-notch engineer. Not a word of this to anyone, Dr. Lee.”

Lee nods his head. “Of course.”

John frowns. “I think the orbital reports we’ve been getting are inaccurate.”

“How so?”

“Computer, show me the telemetry reports for Metis 3’s last dozen lunar orbits.”

Above the desk, next to the equation, a five-inch diameter holographic moon appears, then a smaller Metis 3 Space Station appears in orbit. As the space station moves, a series of three-dimensional lines trail from it, tracing the lunar orbit. The yellow lines are wide enough to display trajectory data, illuminated in small black font on each trail.

“Rather dramatic visual…What am I supposed to be seeing, John?”

“Computer, starting with this month’s calculations, speed up the orbit and align the data for the third day of this month with each day of this week, and overlay those numbers on the graph.”

The moon and Metis 3 appear at eye level above the desk. The hologram representing Metis 3 rapidly orbits the faux moon. Each orbit lines up with the next until a single yellow line appears to ring the moon. They match up precisely, indicating no variation or orbital decay.

“They appear together, as one,” says Dr. Lee.

John looks concerned. “Precisely. Now watch this: Computer, match all identical data in telemetry reports from Metis 3 for the past month. Increase speed by ten.”

As the holographic Metis 3 Space Station moves furiously around the moon, more orbital data aligns until it is apparent most of the orbits are identical, wrapped like a single yellow ribbon of overlapping data.

John leans in toward the hologram and points. “The orbits appear identical because they are. Most of these yellow lines are repeated calculations. No new orbital data has come through in weeks. This…glitch, for lack of a better term, is apparent in most of the navigational reports.”

“But our tracking—”

“Granted, these are the figures from Metis 3 only. Our Earth tracking station has the more accurate telemetry data, but I won’t bother superimposing those now. Most of the differences are nominal, but they are there.”

“What does Command have to say?”

“We’ve had several meetings. Maneuverability tests show she’s in great shape. There doesn’t seem to be a major concern at this time. It’s just a strange anomaly we need to investigate.”

“I see. So, you’ve spoken directly with Mission Commander Davies?”

“Of course, and I’ve noted this information to him personally. We’ve gone over it several times with no absolute conclusions. He seems to think it’s a simple systems failure and offered to have it fixed in a day or two. That was two weeks ago. The reports are still the same. Since then, I’ve spoken to him and gotten a similar response.”

“And you’re thinking he’s doing this intentionally?”

“I don’t know what to think.” John looks again at the hologram, then sighs. “Perhaps.”

“For what purpose?”

“To cover something up. A problem with navigation, the thrusters perhaps. As of now, not life-critical, but he knows our funding is at a crucial stage. If this mission does not succeed in all respects, we’re done.”

“I see. So, you think it’s a matter of self-preservation on his part…”

“And now we get this urgent request for additional team members to analyze potential alien life forms.”

Lee rubs the side of his face and frowns. “Do you think the request is genuine?”

“Our daily communications, as you know, have been limited due to various glitches, sunburst activity, and hardware issues. At this point, I can only take the request at face value.”

Lee pulls the pipe from his mouth and examines it, as if looking for answers.

“I want you on board, Doctor. For the crew’s sake.”

“So, you think Dr. Kern is…what, unreliable?”

“On the contrary. She’s been a formidable team asset, up until now. But, I want all her records examined. Currently, her medical reports are within standard protocol, just like the orbital reports. The crew appears to be in fine health.”

“Appears? Are you saying the medical reports are duplicated as well?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t know what purpose that may serve, but I was hoping you’d have a close look at them.”

“Yes, of course. I understand.” Lee sits up in his chair. Sweat beads on his forehead.

“I want you ready by Thursday, next week.”

“That soon, huh? That gives me what, seven days?” Lee removes a hanky from his back pocket and wipes his face.

“Are you all right, Michael? You seem a bit unnerved.”

“No, no, it’s just…”

“Look, I know this is short notice. It can’t be helped. Your readiness reports are all good. You’re in excellent physical health.”

“Yes, yes, of course.”

“But?” John sits on his desk, and stares at Dr. Lee. “It’s Aiko, isn’t it?”

“She’s having a tough pregnancy. Her delivery date is only a few months away. She’s going to be very upset.”

“I understand…” John’s voice trails off.

Visions of his own wife’s smiling face pop into his head. She’s in her spacesuit, ready to head into the Source 1 capsule. She turns to him, a broad smile upon her face as she mouths the words, I love you. Her lovely lips form the words as if captured by a slow-motion camera. But she’d actually said it that slowly. Or was that just in his mind? Perhaps she hadn’t said it at all. It was just a memory and memories can be unreliable, haunting. This one usually comes to him at night, as he lies in bed. He imagines her as she died, engulfed in flames, her smile melting like wax. He shakes his head, trying to dislodge the image, and nods, as his focus returns to Dr. Lee. “I’ll ask Dr. Harper, she’s ready—”

“No, no. I’ll go. I want to go.” Lee’s eyes shine with the same intensity John saw when he first interviewed Lee for the program. The burning hunger is still there. “Of course I’ll go. She’ll be upset for a time, but this is…”

“Important.” John says finally.

“Yes. Of course it is,” Dr. Lee offers, somewhat unconvincingly. “She knew I was an astronaut…”

“You are my first choice. My only real choice, Michael, actually. Dr. Harper has never been in space. I need your expertise in evaluating the crew in their current environment.”

Lee sucks on the unlit pipe, a look of concern etched on his face.

“Honestly, Michael, when I speak with my chief science officer, Dr. Thompson, she says it’s all fine, but I know the navigation/telemetry reports were generated, then sent as duplicates. The Metis programming has so many fail-safes. I find it impossible to believe the computer could or would generate these duplicate reports without a human hand involved.”

“So, you think Commander Davies is hiding something. What about this message? There are no alien life forms, then? The message was a fake in order to get you up there?”

“Oh, no. That message is very real. They do believe they may have found alien life. Although the message, as you saw, was vague. Again, everything is vague. Not like the crew at all. Completely unacceptable.”

Dr. Lee stands up slowly, as if the gravity of the information is weighing him down. He turns toward the window. John joins him, and they stand side by side looking out at the parking lot. A small, sleek podcraft pulls into the lot. Its aerodynamic egg shape and clear polymer dome allow the passengers little privacy. An attractive young woman and a toddler get out of the craft. The little boy stoops to pick up something off the fresh green grass. On the curb, walking a few steps ahead, the woman stops and encourages the child to hurry. The boy stands up, delighted by something he holds in his hand. The mother leans down and speaks and the child releases a butterfly into the air. They both look on in amazement as the insect flutters away.

“Alien life,” says Dr. Lee. “Amazing…”

John puts his hand on Lee’s shoulder. “The mission stress studies you’ve authored in the past are crucial to informing our crew re-evaluations.”

“Thank you. And thanks for your vote of confidence. I’ll begin preparations immediately.”

“One other thing, Michael.” John stands directly in front of Lee and looks him in the eyes. “This is classified information. The telemetry, the crew evals, all of it is top secret. No one is to know of our deeper concerns.”

“Yes, of course.”

“That includes the Committee.”

Lee nods. “I understand, John. You can count on me.” His face brightens. “I do have a question, though.”

“Yes, I’m sure you do.”

“About my filming the mission. I have an idea. You know I’m an amateur documentary filmmaker? I’d like to take a new camera I’ve been using. To document our journey.”

“A new camera, huh?”

“This thing is amazing, John. I call it Smarteye. It does every type of filming you could ask, and it downloads directly into an editing program, even making the edits on its own, if you want that. I prefer to edit things myself, of course.”

“I’d have to give approval before any recordings go public.”

“Of course. Who knows, if there is alien life aboard Metis, it would be a huge media event, and we’d already have a good visual document.”

“You realize Metis is already loaded with visual and audio equipment? Each compartment is covered.”

“I guarantee you, Smarteye will amaze you.”

“Smarteye, huh? Well, I can see you’re enthused by the idea. How can I say no to that?”

“Thank you, John. You won’t regret it.”

“Excellent. Your new camera may record, but only I can approve what will be released.”

Lee nods.

“And say hello to Aiko for me.”

“I will.” Dr. Lee walks to the door. Not bothering to look back, he adds without a hint of cynicism in his voice, “She’ll appreciate that.” But John knows it’s there. He knows Aiko didn’t want Dr. Lee to go on any of the three missions he’s already undertaken in the last five years. Lee stops and turns, looking again at the holograms. “So, that equation. Are you going to tell me what it is for, or am I supposed to work that out for myself?”

John smiles and says, “Besides it being an alarm code, you mean? I’ll tell you when we’re aboard Metis 3.

 

                                            To Be Continued…

 

 

Infinity 7

space

Infinity 7 is a science fiction novel involving space travel in the near future and first contact with strange aliens in a most unexpected way.

I am posting it in installments for all to read. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

Metis 3 Communications Center, San Diego, CA

Assistant ground controller, Hailey Cantwell, stands in front of a command-and-control screen in the sterile communications room at the Metis Communications Center. The plain white carbon reinforced polymer and steel box is adorned with Roman Tuscan architectural columns, intended to create spatial tension, and as an artistic distraction from its tepid decor. Hailey wears a heavy cardigan under a white knee-length lab coat to help keep herself from shivering in the cool environment. All rooms are kept at sixty-seven degrees Fahrenheit to insure the computers run at maximum efficiency.

In front of her is a free-floating hologram. The image depicts a brightly lit black box, about three inches square, slowly rotating from left to right. She touches the space bar on the air keyboard and the box stops spinning. It begins to pulsate, expanding and contracting at regular intervals, as if breathing.

“Hey, Jeb. Come here and look at this.” A similarly dressed man wearing black-rimmed glasses walks over to her console.

“What have you got?”

“It’s a message from Metis 3.”

“Odd. When is our next scheduled communications link-up?”

“Not until 10.00 a.m. tomorrow.”

“That’s what I thought.” He leans in closer to inspect the holographic image. “That looks like an old-fashioned screen saver.”

“Yes, but it came in from Metis.”

“Why would they send that in a communiqué?”

“I was about to ask you that question.”

“Whose signature is on it?”

“There isn’t one.”

“There has to be.” He punches in a few more commands on the airboard. The box begins pulsating more quickly now, turning purple and expanding in size. “Is this a joke?”

Hailey laughs, as if suddenly getting it. “It’s Forrest. Forrest has to have sent this.”

“Or Greely. He’s a joker.”

Hailey rolls her eyes. “She’s a joker. She’s a she.”

Jeb hits the space bar again. “Of course. I know that…”

The box turns scarlet, then bright yellow. Hailey smiles. “Rainbows.”

Jeb types in a few more commands, but the box is unaffected. “Are you sure it’s from Metis 3?”

“I’ve checked the frequency twice.”

A miniscule signature code appears at the bottom of the box. “There it is. But, I don’t recognize the point of origin.” He tries to magnify the image, but the font remains small and illegible.

The box continues to expand, evolving into a shade of dark blue. As it reaches about ten-inches in diameter, there is a sudden and colorful explosion. The box fragments into a thousand miniature slow-motion fireworks streaming and falling, then fading away. As the dots dissolve, tiny red numbers emerge from the bottom of the message. As the numbers grow in size, it becomes clear they are an equation.

Jeb runs his hand through his well-trimmed hair. “This is a bad joke. A waste of time!” He wipes a bead of sweat from his forehead and adjusts his glasses. Finally, he stands back from the screen and sighs. The equation grows until the font is about eight inches high, transitioning from blue to yellow to orange.

4Al + 3O₂ = 2Al₂O₃

The equation rotates, like a roast on a spit. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Hailey punches a few keys on the airboard. “Computer. What is the origin of the equation in this communiqué?”

Jeb scribbles on a small airpad with his finger. “O usually stands for Oxygen…The A means…”

A soft, feminine voice fills the room. “The communiqué originates from Metis 3 Space Station.”

Jeb rolls his eyes. “We realize that. Who on board sent it?”

“The message originates from the Metis 3 Space Station mainframe.”

“The Metis 3 computer sent this?”

“That is correct.”

Hailey looks at Jeb, who shrugs. “What’s with the equation?”

“That is not within my knowledge base.”

Hailey keys in more commands. “It’s definitely a formula, but for what?”

Jeb scribbles furiously on his airpad, as if an unspoken rivalry between them spurs him on to finish first. “It’s an equation. It has an equals sign.”

Hailey clears her throat. “Right. I knew that. Computer, who at Command has authorization to read this communiqué?”

“Level 3 clearance and password is required.”

Jeb frowns. “I’ve never heard of it.”

Hailey smirks at her coworker. “Computer, who’s authorized at Level 3?”

The computer voice drones, “I do not have that information.”

“You don’t know who is at Level 3?” Hailey asks.

“That is correct.”

Jeb runs his hand through his hair. “Damn it. Computer, forward this communiqué to command headquarters…and stop wasting my time.”

“I am not authorized to forward Level 3 communiqués.”

“More craziness.” Jeb clears his throat. “Computer, connect me to Metis Program Headquarters.”

Almost instantly, a young woman’s face appears in the center of the room. The computer-generated communication hologram turns clockwise until it faces them.

“Metis Program Headquarters, how may I be of assistance?” The young woman speaks in a pleasant, but obviously artificial tone.

“This is Jeb Craine at Communications. Badge number 314159. I need to speak to…” he turns and frowns sarcastically at Hailey, “…a Level 3 person.”

The woman’s eyes blink twice. “Please repeat?”

“I have a Level 3 communiqué from Metis 3. I need to know where to direct this.”

The holographic face freezes momentarily, obviously running through her data files, then smiles. “Hold, please.” The face fades into a relaxed expression, and her eyes go dark.

After a few minutes, the woman’s face lights up. She smiles and turns toward Jeb, who is now sitting behind a white desk across the room. “The Director’s Office asks that you download the encrypted message into a holovessel and hand deliver it to Metis Command. You are to arrive in person, no later 3:30 p.m. today to deliver this vessel. Thank you for calling Headquarters. How may I further assist you?”

“Okay, that’s fine. End communication,” he says. The face fades away. Jeb takes off his glasses and wipes the lenses with a white hanky. “I guess I’ll have to run this over myself.”

“I’ll go, if you like,” Hailey says, trying to contain her enthusiasm.

Jeb looks at his airpad, busying himself with the equation. “All right. You go.” After a slight pause, as if reading a cue card, he adds, “But I want a full report. And come right back.”

“It’s a long ride up the La Jolla, Jeb. Heavy traffic. How about I just head home after I report?”

Jeb sighs and looks up at her. “Fine. But first thing in the morning let me know exactly what they said.”

“You got it, boss.” She winks at him, and his pale putty face reddens.

 

2

Metis Mission Headquarters

Mission Director Dr. John Collins, PhD in astrophysics, stands on a small stage in Lecture Hall 1. He’s finishing up a promotional lecture on the Metis Program. The room is darkened. His handsome face is bottom-lit from a screen in front of the podium, giving him an ethereal orange glow. Behind him is an enlarged three-dimensional holographic image depicting carbonate globules attached to a moon rock. Various speckles of colored shapes dotting a forest-green rock surface shimmer like fool’s gold. The same image hovers in front of each seated audience member, their eager faces aglow from the visuals before them.

“Various structures we’ve identified, tiny carbonate globules, are indications that some form of life did exist in these rocks, it is estimated as long as thirty thousand years ago. We’ve found many types of magnetites in several morphologies. But these in particular,” the scientist points to a few gold-colored globules in the slide, “were found on the first dig by Metis Team 1, near Theophilus on the moon’s surface. As you may know, Theophilus is a huge crater near the center of the moon’s disk.”

A holographic image of Theophilus appears and rotates above them, revealing various angles illuminated in shimmering sunlight.

“Sixty-four miles in diameter, the crater is enclosed by peaks of eighteen thousand, and sixteen thousand feet. The circumference is nearly three hundred square miles. A little too much for us to explore at present,” polite laughter ripples from the audience, “however, by the end of next fiscal year, our Heavy Equipment Dig Program will be in full operation.”

The image changes to a full shot of the moon from space, then resolves onto the moon’s surface, looking across a huge desert expanse, luring the viewer’s eye up to the rugged mountains resting beneath an inky-black sky.

The next hologram reveals heavy mining equipment. Colossal drills and excavators hover a few feet off the ground on the moon’s surface. Near the equipment, troughs of ore move through the center of a large, clear tubular structure. Sparkling debris glitters as it passes through the tunnel. “Of course, with any luck, this computer-generated mining equipment will soon be replaced by the real thing.” More chuckles emanate from the captive audience.

A 3D holographic image of Metis 3 Space Station materializes into view, replacing the moon hologram. It has an appearance similar to a slowly spinning spoked wheel. “Metis 3 Space Station. She’s approximately one hundred-seventy meters in length, comprised of specialized modules.” In the center of the station is a core module to which all other modules are attached, linked together by a tubular outer walk.

Dramatic music resonates as the station glides effortlessly in lunar orbit. “Metis 3 has reached our moon in record time and will continue to probe the mysteries of its mineral-rich soil. And now, with the advent of the Heavy Equipment Dig Program, we will begin to excavate even further below the surface, eventually branching out further into the mountainous regions.”

The image behind the doctor changes to that of a vast, colorful space nebula. Its black heart is reminiscent of the pupil of a gigantic eye. Blue hues of variable chromatic tonalities, surrounding and uniformly shooting out from the dark center, complete the impression of the iris in a colossal human eyeball.

“It’s our mission, as it was in the beginning, and always shall be, to explore our universe, search for evidence of life forms, and comprehensibly study them. And, of course, ultimately share those discoveries with you.” He pauses, stares into the darkened auditorium until he has everyone’s full attention, then continues. “In knowing what’s out there, we can learn more about our origins, and the planet we call home. Remember, the Metis motto: Discovery is Our Business.”

The familiar image of Earth; the white and blue marble surrounded by the blackness of space, appears behind him.

The lights come up. The audience enthusiastically applauds, then begins to disperse.

A voice emerges from the exiting attendees. “Dr. Collins, isn’t it true that the mission statement you just read is only partially accurate, since most of your funding now comes from mining interests?” A few attendees linger to hear a response.

John has heard this question every day for two years, ever since his private foundation became partially endowed by the Plutus Mining Company. After a small glitch in the moon rover set back the project, and tragically resulted in a fatality involving one of the mission crew, the funding began to dry up. The money has to come from somewhere, and off-world mineral extraction is a very real and profitable challenge. John considers it inevitable that the search for natural resources would fund a portion of the Metis missions. However, off-world mining capabilities are still in their infancy, and something he doesn’t expect to come to full fruition in his lifetime.

“Our mission has not changed.” John smiles. “Science and exploration are our top priorities.” Amid enthusiastic follow-up questions, he heads upstage and ducks out a back entrance to the service area.

In the hallway leading to his office, he is assaulted by the shrill voice of Dr. Beck. “John, John!” He turns to see Beck blustering down the hall, his puffed-up belly leading the charge, his unfashionable tie swinging like a pendulum.

John stops and asks, “What is it, Dr. Beck?”

“Something is happening on Metis 3.”

Beck stares at John, waiting for his cue. Beck always does this: makes him wait, then wring it out of him. John wants to shake him. He takes a deep breath and takes the bait. “What’s happening on Metis 3, Dr. Beck?”

“We’ve received a coded message.”

John lifts an eyebrow. “Coded?”

“Level 3, they said. I’m not aware of a Level 3. What is that? Why don’t I know about it?”

“Not here. In my office.” Beck’s eyes flutter and his mouth gapes open. John ignores these facial tics. “Come.” The men turn together and stride purposely down the hall.

A conference room attached to John’s office holds a long, thick glass table surrounded by six chairs. There awaits the woman from Communications. John glances into the room and recognizes Hailey Cantwell. Her evaluations, he recalls, reveal her to be smart, ambitious, and loyal. Mandatory qualities for consideration at Metis. John and Beck enter. Hailey practically bows to John as they approach. This amuses him slightly, but that amusement is quickly displaced by concern. “I hear you have a Level 3 communiqué?”

“Yes, sir. We received it this morning.” She hands him a small metallic ball. John looks at it, then walks to his desk and plugs it into a slot. A hologram of a red ball appears, hovering approximately eight inches above the desk. This ball has a crystalline quality to it, smooth and reflective with cut edges.

“You may leave now. Thank you.” John nods to Hailey and she turns hesitantly, as if not sure where to find the door. “Is there something else?” he asks her.

She turns to him. “No, no, I…”

“Yes?”

“Nothing, sir, thank you. It’s just…” Again, she hesitates. “I’ve never heard of a Level 3, and…”

“Hailey, I want to thank you again for this, and for alerting me to the anomalies you observed in Metis Station’s recent lunar orbit reports. Your initiative and loyalty will not go unrewarded.” Hailey beams. He walks over to her, extending his hand, which she takes. “We need to set up a meeting. I would like to discuss your future here.” He shakes her hand while leading her to the door.

“Thank you, sir.” She nods and bows, walking backward out the door. “I’ll stay on top of those trajectory reports…” She continues to stick her head inside the breach, pulling it back just in time.

“Thank you, Hailey. Thank you.” When the door finally latches, the smile quickly falls from his face, as he turns to Beck. “Call the Committee. They should see this.”

Beck nods and scurries from the room.

To be continued…

Dreaming Wide Awake, Chapter 8 excerpt

mystery

As I drew closer to my apartment, I noticed a dark herringbone sleeve protruded from the shade my doorway. I tried to see who it may be, but a cold breeze whipped around the building and hit me in the face. I zipped up my spring jacket and closed my eyes against the onslaught of street dust. As I drew closer, I saw a man standing near my vestibule. He had a large flattened nose and heavy jaw. A thin mustache lined the area above his narrow upper lip. I expected him to dash away, but he simply smiled. He was chilled and swayed from foot to foot. “A little late in spring to see your breath, eh?” he said, and blew on his massive hands before shoving them deep into his coat pockets.

Recognizing him as the man who stared at me from the car in Connecticut, I was unsure whether to run or punch him in the nose. “You shaved your beard.” I said.

His black eyes narrowed. “Having trouble sleeping through the night lately, Gus?”

“Congratulations, you know my name.” I slipped by him and stood near the trash cans, ready to push him into the bins if he made a move.

“I just want to talk,” he said.

“What about?”

“I apologize for the way I’ve been…how shall I say it?”

“Stalking me?”

“Ha! Stalking… No, I’ve got much better things to do. Let’s just say I’ve been observing.”

Observing, my ass, I thought. I know a loon when I see one. His shabby coat told a story too tedious to care about. “I’m already on a case,” I said. “Can’t take on anything new.”

“Ah, yes. The convicted murderer in Connecticut. How’s that going? You know how many murder convictions get overturned or even re-tried in the United States?” I stood ready to jam him into the bins and run, put his gray herringbone coat back where it belonged. He continued his discourse. “Of course, it depends on which state we’re talking about. Conviction-happy, some states. Take Texas for example—”

“I’m tired and I’m cold,” I said. “I’m going inside. Call my office if you want a meeting.”

I unlocked the vestibule door. He took a step closer.

“Seeing a lot of lines and rectangles, lately?” He asked.

His knowing tone reminded me of a malevolent teacher grilling a student. His eyes lit-up with expectation. Moisture collected on his wiry mustache. The spark in his irises told me he was about to move in for a strike.

“Stop right there,” I said, and held up my hand.

He took a step back, but held his ground, still too close for comfort. I tried to avoid smelling his breath and cologne, but there it was, hanging in the air, a repugnant fog of Old Spice (or something similarly quaint) from the bowels of some ancient vanity. No doubt slapped on his newly shaven face.

“Out with it. What do you want?” I said.

“I’d like to…” He turned slowly toward neighborhood foot traffic, then watched a slow moving cab roll past. “…to buy you a cup of coffee.” His head snapped back to mine, and he smiled. His teeth, what I could see of them below his mustache, were small and yellowed from coffee and cigarettes.

“Not now,” I said.

“A drink, then? I need fifteen minutes of your time. It will change your life, I promise you.”

“A disease will change your life. Death will change your life.” I breathed through my mouth to avoid offensive odiferous inhalation.

“Gus,” he said, in a chastising tone, and butted a size-twelve, extra-wide, wingtip up against my big toe. “I promise you’ll not regret it.”

“I’ve got things to do.” I said, about to unleash my anger.

“I’ll give you a retainer of three hundred dollars right now.”

“No.”

“One thousand, then.” He pulled out a wad of cash and started flipping through hundred dollar bills. My temper quieted down. Was I that shallow, money could dissuade me so easily? I didn’t know or care. “Okay, I’ll give you ten minutes,” I said, eyeing the bills. “The pizza joint, over there.” I nodded toward the corner store.

 

We sat in a small table in the back room. I ordered a slice with everything, and a coke. He stared at me as I took a large bite, wiping grease from the corner of my mouth with a paper napkin. After a few seconds, he pulled a small white business card from his pocket and handed it to me. It read, Porter Grossman, MEd. An out of state phone number was printed below his name.

“Okay, Mr. Grossman, what’s on your mind?”

“Have you ever heard of a government project called…Stargate? The Stargate Project?”

“No,” I lied. I’d heard something about it, but wasn’t sure if it had to do with aliens, UFO’s or psychics. I took a sip of coke. “Enlighten me.”

He opened his mouth to speak and my stomach turned over. A picture lit in my mind; A long, straight white line leading into a rectangle. In an instant the image was gone, but it left an indelible impression. It was like when you stare at a white image against a back background and the ghost images light-up when you turn away. This is what I’d been dreaming for the past few weeks. He noticed my unease and stopped what he was about to say.

“Stargate,” I said, finally, shaking off my unease. “Go on…”

He squinted at me, and took a miniature notebook out of his coat pocket, the kind that leaves no room for more than five lines a page. He glanced at the tiny handwriting, all neatly slanted to the right, like trees in the wind. “I’ve been conducting a little experiment.”

“Experiments?”

“One experiment.” Held help up a gloved hand and pointed his index finger at me.

“On me?” I asked. He nodded. “Does it have anything to do these white lines and rectangles?”

“Mmm. Yes, something like that.”

“So, are you saying those are from you, your little experiment?”

“Yes.”

I sat back and wondered what the hell was going on. Was he invading my sleep? And if so, how the hell was that happening?

“How?” I asked.

“You don’t believe me?”

“I don’t know what to believe. Explain yourself.”

“Well,” he said taking a sip of his coffee, “That’s what this little meeting is about.”

“Why me?”

“Obvious reasons.”

“To you. Enlighten me.”

“Well, one of my jobs is to scour the media, print, TV, internet, etcetera. Read about any potential talent out there in the world. I happened upon your psychic exploits, your dream state, and found it quite intriguing. Although, I didn’t believe for a second someone could be that psychic.”

“Am I?”

“I decided to see how talented you truly are. By the wide-eyed look on your face when I mentioned the lines and rectangle dreams you’ve been having, I take it the experiment was a success.”

I took a sip of soda and looked around the joint. Nobody had come in since we sat down. It was quiet. A young couple held hands and sipped drinks in front dining area. I didn’t know what I was expecting, a crew of secret agents descending upon us maybe, but I felt uneasy. Digestively compromised. I put the pizza down. “Are you telling me, you invaded my dreams?”

“Invaded? Hmm. I suppose you could say that. I sent you signals and you picked them up. White lines and rectangles. They weren’t random. They were a map of a particular area I was concentrating on.”

“I’m supposed to believe you sent me signals?”

“That’s right.”

“In my sleep.”

“Yes.”

“From your psychic brain?”

“Well, at first, yes. Later, when I was sure you were tapped into these images, I merely looped a video on my computer and played that. All night long.”

“Your computer? I was picking up signals from…and my normal dreams were…”

“Blocked, I presume. Or severely interfered with.”

I sat back, staring at this strange man. He looked like he hadn’t enough money to buy a TV, never mind have the resources to tail me for days.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I told you.”

The sparkle in his eyes told me he was lying, or at the very least leaving a big truth out. I didn’t mind so much, but my stomachache was getting worse. I took a long sip of soda and loosened my belt. “What do you want?” I asked.

“I want your help. Your cooperation in a little experiment.”

“I thought I already was your guinea pig?”

“That was a small test.”

I frowned, thoroughly confused.

“Let’s back up a bit. We were talking about Stargate.”

“So?”

“May I continue?”

“Hey, it’s your dime. Knock yourself out.”

He nodded and took another sip of coffee. “The project was disbanded. That’s the official story at least, after the CIA report disparaging remote viewing became public. They declared the program a failure, called it useless for spying purposes, etc.” A look of ironic humor animated his face. He was enjoying the story. His smile turned to a grimace and he cleared his throat.

“Not true?” I asked.

He snorted and touched a finger to the side of his nose. “It was a public report…”

“Why would I care?”

“Why should you care? A psychic with extraordinary gifts like yours, why indeed?”

I took another sip of soda and stared at him.

He continued. “The report was a cover, the program officially disbanded.”

“Okay, but—“

“And then came the Orenda Project. Much more secret and sinister, born in its place.”

“You work for them?”

He chuckled. “Oh, no. No. Not at all.” He peered into the front dining room, then at the back exit. His cold eyes met mine. His smile was replaced by a tight lipped frown. “I have been authorized to offer you a place within our group.”

The nausea started again. I could smell fruitcake all around me. I hate fruitcake.

“Your group. A boy band?”

He sat back. “You’re a complex character, Gus. We like that. Our group is made up of twelve distinguished scientists, psychics and lawyers, all former government contractors, all aimed at blocking or destroying the inner workings of the Orenda Project.”

“You want to destroy the Orenda Project?”

“Yes.”

I wanted to call for the check, just to have someone normal near us, but I’d already paid. I stood up.

“You can’t leave.” I held the back of my chair and his frown turned to a smile. “I haven’t finished.”

“That’s okay. I get the picture.”

“The Orenda Project was designed to control the leaders of the world.”

I laughed while putting on my coat, but his eyes told me he was deadly serious.

“Gus, I’m telling you…no more free elections. No more representation. All of it controlled by a small group within the Orenda Project. Billionaires vying for complete control of world finances and governments, through mind control.”

I was going to ask him to show me his tin foil hat, then I figured he might just have one. Then I remembered the many times I’d tried to warn people I’d seen die in my dreams, convince them of their impending doom. They had no reason to believe me and usually didn’t, but I wouldn’t give up. I stalked, cajoled, sent notes indicating the time and place of their death, and still they wouldn’t respond…right up until the moment they were killed. Out of respect for his sincerity, and the thousand bucks, I sat back down.

“Aren’t billionaires already doing just that, controlling the world?”

“Ahhh, you would think so, but not in the sense I’m talking about. Of course, captains of industry maintain a certain hold on the political system, by means of lobbyists, money changing hands in a back room deals, promises of riches when retired, etcetera. I’m not talking about that.”

“Oh?”

“I’m talking about direct control of governments through mind control.” He stared at me expectantly. I frowned. He continued. “Those dreams you were having, lines and rectangles, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine being able to convince a world leader to change his mind on a subject simply by bombarding his dreams with the outcomes you want? Imagine if you could do that?”

“Are you saying they’re doing that now, these billionaire, these Orenda people?”

“They’d like to. I mean, that is their goal.”

“So, they really can’t do it?”

“Something is blocking their efforts, Gus.” He sat back, pleased with himself and winked.

“So, the dream blocking images you sent to me…”

“Not the ones I targeted you with, but similar ones are helping slow their progress.”

“But don’t the leaders of the free world…I’m assuming that’s their target?”

He nodded. “Wouldn’t they have to be psychic in order to receive these signals?”

“Normally, I’d say yes. But we, each of us, have a certain amount of psychic ability already, Gus. We’re all born with it. They’ve simply found a way to tap into that natural ability.”

“How?”

“I’m not at liberty to say.”

I nodded, and stood up.  I reassessed Grossman, and his old coat, and he came up wanting. I still smelled a fruitcake. “Well, that’s all very informative, Mr. Grossman. I appreciate the offer, but I’ve got my own business to attend to. I can’t be joining any groups right now.”

“We’re running out of time, Gus.”

I pull the wad of money he’d given me out of my pocket and tossed it on the table. “What do you want from me, exactly?”

He didn’t seem to notice. “You have the strongest natural psychic ability I’ve ever seen. We need you.”

“To send signals?”

He leaned toward me. “To infiltrate their group, through psychic visions.”

“I’m not a spy.”

“You’re a detective, what’s the difference?”

He got to his feet and faced me, then looked past me to the window that overlooked 92nd street. His focus was drawn to a parked car, then at a couple walking our way, and he took step back. “I wanted to…”

“What?” I asked.

He seemed suddenly up-side-down about something. “I’ll get back to you soon.”

He dashed outside and headed toward 2nd avenue. I picked up the cash and followed him out the door. He walk at a good clip toward the corner, turned and shouted, “You’ll sleep better, I promise!” He crossed Second Avenue and sauntered up the hill toward Third. I noticed a car parked on the curb with two men in it. They both stared in my direction. After a few seconds, they turned toward Grossman. Then the black sedan abruptly lurched forward, turned right and headed down Second Avenue.

 

I slowly walked back into my building, wondering how the anything he said could be true.

 

 

A Precog Dream

pexels-photo-356147.jpegI thought I’d share a passage from Dreaming Wide Awake. Poor Gus Chase is dreaming again…
                                                              Chapter 2
She places the apples into the plastic bag. Her smile is white, and straight. Healthy teeth. She’s a happy girl. He notes the little curl of hair as it rounds her ears, her delicate hands and slender fingers, as she rings-up the goods. He is thinking, Not at all like the digits of an athleteNot at all rough, as you might expect. He smiles and they lock eyes. When she touches her nose, he takes hold of her wrist and twists it violently to the left, pulling her close. Her eyes widen. Her pupils explode in gaps of fear. His skin tingles from her smell, forever linking that scent with her contorted expression. He feels her warm breath on his face and involuntarily closes his eyes and he takes her in; frozen memories of sharp images locked forever in the soft part of his brain. Clutching tight the blade, he neatly slits her throat. He lets go and she grabs the wound with both hands, but can do nothing to stop the bleeding. He takes a step back to observe his masterpiece. Her head falls sideways onto her shoulder, her perfect teeth clutched in grimace, the gaping wound spurting a fountain of red.
I’m next at the checkout. The girl looms helplessly in front of me, her wound spraying blood onto my face and hands. I cover my head with my shopping bag, but my face is bathed in blood, welling in my eyes. Through a lens of deep red she dances like a cut chicken, grabbing my collar and pulling me close, her head dangling loosely, the wound gurgling. Slowly it moves into the shape of a mouth, aspirating breath and blood as it tries to form words, her mouth-wound, widening and closing, like a gaping fish’s mouth when pulled from the deep. But she can make no sound. pexels-photo-356147.jpeg

Kirkus Review

DREAM STATE Charles R. Hinckley Mad Drummer (279 pp.)

Print and e-book October 16, 2016
BOOK REVIEW
A man capable of precognition via dreams tries to use this power to solve a murder or two in Hinckley’s debut thriller and start of a proposed series.
When New Yorker August Chase first dreams of Emma Donati, he assumes she’s only in his head. But once Emma’s brutal murder becomes a recurring dream, August verifies that she’s a living person and tracks her down. Not surprisingly, she ignores his warning and sadly meets her apparent fate. A similar set of events occurs with Pablo Carrillo, who dies in a car accident. August decides he’ll be more productive as a private investigator and runs a classified ad offering his services as a psychic detective. His first client is Frank Cosh, a recommendation from August’s friend Millar “Mill” Milford. Frank, claiming he’s worried about his sister, Carly, is stingy with details. The stranger following August makes the new PI nervous; he’s sure that Frank’s spying on him. August invests more time with Carla Donati, who wants help finding sis Emma’s killer. He relies on details from his dreams about Emma, as well as the resourceful and exceptional researcher Mill, to unravel a conspiracy, including a possible link between Emma and Carrillo. Meanwhile, a new dream reveals that someone else is in danger, and August is determined to save this potential victim. Hinckley’s novel features a protagonist with more than a few hiccups. August, for one, acknowledges he can’t control his precognitive visions, and he’s neither licensed nor experienced. His gradual development, however, is the real fun. He not only learns to use his dreams more effectively, but smartly enlists Mill, who has a cop cousin and is the self-proclaimed “Hacker King.” Each case, too, spotlights a different phase of August’s education in unraveling mysteries.
Even if August isn’t the most proficient detective, it’s a pleasure watching him work out his kinks.

Precog?

Precog: Okay, here goes…When I was about 21, I took my car off road to paint Plein Aire. It was a side road, off a fairly busy main road, leading into Worcester, Mass., where I was living at the time. I was a huge fan of the Impressionists and was thinking about them as I was setting up my easel to paint. I remember someone telling me, (or did I read this?) that you should try and conjure the spirit of your inspiration as you worked. So I started to think about Van Gogh, asking him to help guide me, etc. I painted a landscape rather quickly. A young kid, maybe around 11 years old, came by and said, “Good job.” He kept walking and I didn’t think anything of it. Then a while later, I realized I had overworked the painting and it was losing some of its charm. The kid came back by and looked at the painting and said, “You overworked it.” It thought it odd that he would know this. But he kept walking.

As I started to pack up my oils, I got a notion that my car was in jeopardy. Perhaps being stolen. I packed up my easel and the painting and quickly started up the hill toward my car. As I walked, I had a vision of a couple of kids in white T-shirts trying to steal my car. In my vision, I picked up a rock and threw it at them.

When I caught sight of my actual car, about a hundred yards away, I was relieved it appeared unmolested. Then I saw a kid in a white T shirt on the passenger side of my car. The door was open. I yelled, “Hey!” And picked up a rock and threw it at them, even though it was way too far to reach. As I threw the rock, I realized it was exactly like I’d envisioned. Then I saw the other kid on the driver’s side door, also in a white T. They saw me and ran. As I approached the car, I envisioned the cops coming, and as I put the painting in my trunk, the cop saying, “Hey, that’s pretty good, how much do you get for one of those?”

When I got to the car, I realized they had jammed the collar where the key goes with a dent puller, and had emptied my glove box. Papers were strewn all over my front seat and the ground. I ran across the street to call the cops at a store. When they arrived, and as I was explaining what had happened, I opened the trunk to place the painting in, and the cop said, “Hey, that’s pretty good, how much do you get for one of those?”

Of course, it hit me as this was happening that it was all as I had envisioned it. And I always wondered if the trance-like state I achieved while painting, the strange kid who knew how to paint, had something to do with it. Was he a young Van Gogh in spirit, come back young and happy, before all his problems, or was I just being imaginative? Either way, the kid was very strange, indeed.

That was my one big precognitive experience.

I have also had precognitive dreams that have come true, exactly as I’d dreamt them. I dreamed the New England Patriots were going to beat the Steelers in the playoffs back in 1999. Tom Brady would injure his ankle, and Drew Bledsoe would come in at quarterback and win the game. And that’s exactly what happened. They went on to win the Super Bowl, as I knew they would. I wish I had put money on that game, but I didn’t pursue it, as gambling is illegal in CA. Much like August, I shy away from the occult, so I never tried to pursue it further. If it happens it happens. I haven’t had a strong one in a while, which is actually the way I prefer it.

Anyway, these episodes, in particular, gave me the ideas and inspiration for Dream State, my first published novel.

Dream State now on Kindle

August Chase is an ordinary man plagued by extraordinary precognitive dreams. When he foresees the brutal murder of a young woman, he tracks her down to warn her. His warnings go unheeded, and the dreamed murder becomes a reality. The victim’s sister, frustrated by slow police work, enlists August’s help, and he is launched into his first case as a private investigator. Delving deep into the victim’s life, he soon discovers a common thread in the shadowy world that may have claimed her. This is book One of the August Chase Mystery Series.

Image may contain: sky, ocean, crowd, outdoor and water

The Worm or The Death of a Hypochondriac

 

cab

The news announcer’s shrill voice rang out, ripping through the bedcovers, stabbing into Marty Stark’s covered ears.

“There is fear of a new flu epidemic. Experts are dubbing it the “Chicken Flu” because it is believed to have originated from a chicken virus strain that has somehow mutated with a human flu virus. Three children in Hong Kong have died from the new strain and there is more concern about it spreading to the United States and Canada.”

Marty removed his hands from his ears, slammed the off button down on the clock radio and sat up. “Great! Chicken Flu! Now we have to be afraid of chickens!” He walked into the bathroom and took two aspirin, stuck his head under the dribble from the sink faucet and swallowed hard, trying to get them down before they disintegrated in his mouth.

“Why are they always from Hong Kong? What’s the deal with Hong Kong? They can’t keep viruses to themselves?”

The hot shower ran down the back of his neck and head, and he felt calm, almost serene for just a few seconds. That’s all he wanted. Just a few seconds of quiet before his hectic day began.  Marty was lulled into mild denial; he didn’t really have to go to work and face a mountain of emails, (approximately 1256 ) didn’t have a meeting at two this afternoon with his biggest pain-the-ass client. The Super Bowl party the night before was great, but his head pounded with Margareta’s Revenge. Oh, and why did he have them with salt? Dehydration was not the ideal way to face Monday morning after the big game. And what’s with the Super Bowl on Sunday night? Why can’t they have it on Saturday so you can sleep in the next day? His eyes shot open as he remembered some of the words he’d spoken at the party. Hey, Babe, how’s it going?Did he really say that? That chick, Billy’s friend, my God, had he asked her out? What happened after half time? Oh, yeah, that cute blonde. Somebody’s cousin, what’s her name. Images of the office popped into his head, and he forced himself out from under the hot torrent of water just in time to see the time on his alarm clock. Shit. Running behind by twenty minutes.

The Choco Bean Coffee Plantation was packed, and Marty waited in a long line that snaked halfway around the store for his double latté. What was her name? Susan, wasn’t it? Or Sally? He got his latte and crossed Massachusetts Avenue and up to Boylston Street. He looked at his watch and realized he’d never make it on time if he didn’t hurry. He started to run, thinking what a sorry sight he must be with his briefcase flying, coat tucked under his arm, huffing and puffing around old ladies and nannies pushing blue strollers, all the while trying not to spill his drink, the big, dark circles under his eyes feeling about three inches deep, off-setting his grotesquely bloodshot eyes. And oh, man, why did he have to eat so much of that seven layer bean dip? His stomach tossed and turned almost giving up the 22 ounces of water he’d slurped down waiting in line at the coffee shop.

Marty didn’t see the cab as he raced across the street, only his latte as it flew above his head, almost in slow motion. Then the yellow hood of the cab came into view as he twirled slowly above the street. He didn’t remember hitting the pavement, only the  old woman screaming like bloody murder.

The cab driver got out and was babbling something about brakes and the light change as he ran up to Marty. Bystanders murmured. A frantic buzz surrounded the accident. The scene embarrassed Marty as he lay there looking up at the sky. Latte stains on his shirt and pants. How could he ever live this down? Marty sat up and smiled at the crowd. A few of them actually cheered. The old lady and the cabbie called for him to lay still, but he would have none of it. The crowd slowly dispersed and he heard the sirens, but Marty didn’t care. He got to his feet, picked up what was left of his dignity and his latte and headed toward the office.

**********

After finding a clean shirt in his lower desk drawer and changing into it, Marty sat at his desk and rubbed his throbbing temples. He took a deep breath and clicked on the space bar of his desktop computer. A black blob slowly twirled and danced on the screen. It resembled a fat worm. What the hell, he thought. Where’s my screen saver? Before he could do anything about the computer problem, his eyes started to ache. Sharp pains, like stabbing needles forced him rub his eyes. He got up and shut off the overhead lights, sat behind his desk, and closed his eyes, just praying the pain would go away.

The office door burst open and Guy Paterson, the tall, unkempt, nerdy computer tech looked in.

“Hey, you awake in here?” Guy said, pointing to the ceiling lights.

Marty sat up. “Yeah. Come on in, Guy. Just watching the screen.”

“What’s with the lights?”

“Got a bit of a headache.”

“Here’s the ten bucks I owe you for the game. You called it, Marty. The Patriots crushed it.” Guy tossed a crumpled ten spot on the desk.

What self respecting New Englander would bet against the Patriots in the big game, Marty thought with contempt. “Thanks, Guy. Hey, there’s this thing on my screen.”

“A what?”

“On my computer screen. There’s this thing I’ve never seen before.”

“A thing?” Guy said, in a mocking tone. “Like The Thing, from John Carpenter’s The Thing? Is it gonna assimilate you?” He had constantly chided Marty about his lack of computer knowledge. According to guy, nobody knew anything about computers except Guy, the all-knowing office guru of computer tech wizardry. “Well, then. Let me take a look.”

Marty was already sorry he’d asked, as Guy sat on the desk and leaned toward the screen, his fat thighs smothering some of Marty’s files.

“Come on Guy! Over this side.” Marty laughed and pushed him back.

Guy came around the opposite side of the desk, and they both stared at the screen. The image appeared to be an out of focus, borderless, 5 x 7 black-and-white photo, twirling and scrolling across the screen in a wavy pattern. Guy touched the space bar on the keyboard, and the screen changed to the desktop.

“It’s a screen saver. What’s wrong with that?”

“Well, first of all, what the hell is it? I mean, I didn’t load it and it’s out of focus and…” Marty pulled up the screen saver options and punched in a selection. The indistinct black and white image appeared on the screen.

“There it is,” said Guy.

“Yes, there it is. But, I have no idea what this is. It was on my computer when I came in this morning. I didn’t put it there, and I have no idea who did.”

Guy grunted and made a clucking sound as he pecked at the computer keyboard.

“Well?” said Marty.

“It looks like someone loaded a photo onto your computer and set it up to be your screen saver. You didn’t do it?”

“No, I swear, never seen it before.”

“Well, then you’ve got a hacker.”

“My office was locked. I lock it every Friday.”

“No, no. Not a thief, a hacker, doe doe. From the internet,” said Guy. “Or…Maybe it’s a new internal program connected to the mainframe. Hmmm….”

Guy’s cell phone rang, and he took the call. “This problem, again? Yeah, yeah, okay be right there.” Guy walked to the door and turned to Marty. “Hey, what can I say? I didn’t do it.”

Guy started to close the door.

“Wait.”

Guy poked his large, shaggy haired head back into the room. “Yeah?”

“Could this photo have been loaded from the Internet without me knowing it? Downloaded somehow?”

“Could be. You have to watch what you open. Sometimes you have to open an email to do it, though. Be careful, there’s lots of scary stuff out there!”

The door started to close again.

“Guy! Just wait a second, will you?”

“Sure, Marty. Anything for you, Man. I’ll just tell Mr. Hart I was late for his little Monday morning pep talk because you have a screen saver demon.”

“Could someone have a remote program that locked onto my computer and put the image in there?”

“Actually,” Guy said, in an ominous tone, then paused for effect, “Yes, there’s a number of ways, Marty. That’s what all those nasty little worms are about.”

“What do you mean, ‘worms’?”

“Well, if you want to get romantic about it, somebody could send you an email, a love letter say, that had a worm attached, and as soon as you opened it, pow! You’re taken over, baby! Worm moves in, you’ve lost control.”

“They can control my computer? Do you think that’s what happened?”

“I don’t know,” said Guy, starting to show signs of concern. “Look, let me run a diagnostic after the old pep talk. I’ll give you a call after lunch.”

Marty sat back, taking a long, deep breath.

“Deal?” asked Guy.

“Yeah. Should I not use my computer until you let me know? I have a client sales pitch at two.”

“I think you’re fine,” Guy said, frustration starting to seep into his tone. “Got to go.” He backed away from the door and quietly pulled it it closed.

Marty sat back and looked at the strange image dancing on the screen. He clicked to the screen saver option to get a better look. The image was basically two small, dark spots and a larger black spot in a sea of gray. He touched the screen, and the image disappeared. He searched the options screen, and the desktop, but couldn’t find where it went. After a few minutes, the screen saver kicked on. GO PATRIOTS! scrolled across the screen. That was the screen saver Marty had put in the computer before the Super Bowl.

“Huh!” he said. “What do you know, it’s back.”

He pressed the space bar again and noticed a dark, blue-black bruise on the back of his left hand. Shit, what the hell is that? The accident must have caused more damage than he realized. Glancing down at the back of his hand, he could have sworn he’d seen the bruise move. He watched for a few seconds more and laughed to himself. He was being silly. Bruises don’t – The bruise crawled a few inches up his arm, like an ameba finding its way in a Petri dish. Marty jumped to his feet, pulled his sleeve up to his armpit. The bruise was traveling fast, just under the skin. It wiggled and pulse and almost seemed to smile at him. His heart pounded. He felt dizzy. The accident, he thought. He remembered being hit and seeing the crowd, but…he didn’t pass out did he? Perhaps he shouldn’t have refused an ambulance. My God, he was sick! A walk-in clinic was just down the street. Maybe he should go there, get checked out? Just the thought of going to a doctor calmed him, but not enough to stop him from running half way there.

***************************

When Marty reached the clinic, he was out of breath. His heart was pounding in his ears. He walked quickly up to the front desk and found it was unattended. The woman sitting inside the clerical support area behind Reception looked strange; a mist-like aura surrounding her. Marty’s head was still pounding, and he was starting to have problems with the bright lights. Everything seemed to have that mist-like halo surrounding it.

“Can I help you?” The receptionist walked to the window and smiled

“I had an accident. This morning, on the way to work.”

“Oh?” she asked.

“I have this bruise…” Marty blinked, trying to clear his vision. The lights were stabbing his eyes. “I was hit by a cab.”

“Oh, dear. Fill out this form. The doctor will see you as soon as he can.” She handed him a clipboard stuffed with papers.

Marty sat on one of the green plastic chairs and tried to read the forms, glad to be the only patient in the waiting room. His arm itched, and he pulled up the sleeve to take a look. The bruise was on the inside of his forearm now, spreading up to the shoulder. A fresh shot of adrenaline coursed through him and his heart skipped a beat, then raced on, upwards of 130 beats per minute, Marty guessed. He stood up and turned to the girl in the office window.

“I think I need to see the doctor, now.”

“He’ll be right with you,” she said.

“I don’t feel good.”

“He’s with another patient. We’ll get you in as soon as we can.” She smiled, and he swore he saw a slight wink, but he wasn’t sure through the strange haze that obscured his vision.

Marty returned to the chair in the waiting area and tried to write his name on the form, but he felt like he needed reading glasses. All the headers for the lines were blurry. He put his head in his hands and whimpered softly. Then he remember to take a long deep breath, count to five and slowly let it out for another five count.

The door next to the reception window opened. “You can step inside now.” A plump middle-age nurse in a white uniform motioned him into the room.

“I didn’t do the forms.”

“Bring them in, we’ll finish them in here.” She smiled. Her voice was soothing and calm.

Marty felt a little better when he sat on the table in the curtained-off exam area. She checked his blood pressure and temperature.

“How am I?” he asked.

“You’re blood pressure is a little high. Are you nervous?”

“I was hit by a cab, and I have this bruise on my arm.” He held his arm out straight, exposing the nasty bruise.

“Oh, that’s not too bad.”

“It was on my hand before. Now it’s on my arm, like it moved.”

“Bruises don’t move,” she chuckled.

A short, balding man with a round pot belly, and dressed in a white lab coat strolled into the room.

“I’m Doctor Babcock. How are you?”

“I have this bruise. Do bruises move, because, I think this one moved?”
“Oh?” Babcock stood back, studied his chart for a second. “Let’s take a look.”

Marty held out his arm. The doctor took a penlight and shined it on the bruise. The nurse leaned forward to get a better look.

“Hmmm.”

“What?”

“Have you been out of the country, lately?”

“No.”

“Do you own any chickens?”

“What?”

“Any contact with birds?”

“No! Why?”

“There is a new flu. A virus they are calling Chicken Flu.”

“You think I have Chicken Flu?”

“No, no. The CDC wants us to ask all patients these questions for tracking purposes.” The doctor pointed to the bruise on Marty’s arm. “How did you do this?”

“A car accident,” said the nurse, helpfully.

“I was hit by a cab.”

“Ouch. While walking? A pedestrian? ”

“Yes, I was walking and suddenly, there it was. I must have flown fifty feet. People were staring at me. The whole world stopped and I was just hanging there in the air.”

They stared at him patiently. He suddenly became self conscious of what he was saying and how panicked he must seem to them. “Then, I came down.”

“I bet. Did you lose consciousness?” asked the doctor.

“No, no. At least, I don’t think so. I was on the ground. I spilled my latte and then I was back at the office.”

“Have you been missing time?”

“I don’t remember. Time? I guess I missed some time, because the next thing I knew I was sitting at my desk. And there was this thing on the screen.”

The nurse and doctor gave each other another glance.

“Why don’t we get an x-ray of that arm?”

The nurse nodded as the doctor leaned in to get a better look at the bruise. The doctor’s bald spot reflected light in Marty’s eyes, and he noticed that only a few straggly hairs still covered his oily scalp. How can a doctor have an oily scalp problem and not cure himself? And why does he have a comb over? This is the guy that I’m supposed to trust with my life? Immediately, his confidence in the doctor was shaken. Who was this fat, balding man with a greasy scalp? He couldn’t even take care of himself, how he could expect –

“Wouldn’t Chicken Flu make you sick with a cold or something?” Marty blurted out, wanting to take control of the situation.

“We don’t know what that flu will do. It came from chickens. People don’t respond like chickens,” said the doctor, then Marty swore he heard him cluck. Just two little clucks, like a chicken. Cluck, cluck. 

Marty laughed, feeling like he was in a bad practical joke, half expecting Guy and some of the folks from work to start laughing in the hallway, give the joke away. “So, you’re telling me, I get hit by a cab, and I get the chicken flu?” Marty paused, then clucked once. “Cluck.”

“I didn’t say you have the flu, sir. I said we are checking all patients.”

The doctor turned and was already gone out the door when he noticed the nurse fishing through some draws to his right. She turned to Marty, held up a paper gown and said, “Put this on.”

He took the gown and said, “I’m sensitive to light, too. I see halos. You have a halo.”

The nurse smiled slightly. “Must be because I’m an angel.”

Marty let that roll off his back. “And that cab driver, he looked foreign. Maybe he traveled to where they have the flu and came back? Can you get it that quick? The Chicken Flu, in an hour?”

“I don’t think so,” said the nurse. She took Marty by the arm and slowly walked him to x-ray room.

His light problem seemed to be getting better now. He could almost make out the X-ray technicians features, who seemed to be a balloon faced monster with horned rimmed glasses who had silver braces on his teeth. Of course, there was no monster, he knew. He laughed to himself, and began to calm down. He could take a joke as well as anybody. Cluck, cluck, indeed. Marty smiled and took a few deep breaths after the x-ray. He was even feeling a bit calm while being led back to the exam room.

After a few minutes, Dr. Babcock walked into the room and stuck an x-ray of Marty’s arm and shoulder onto the light panel. Dr. Babcock stroked his chin, turned his head sideways and again made the clucking noises while he studied the film.

“How’s it look, Doc?”

“It’s not broken.”

“Yeah?”

“What about my eyes?”

“You may have a slight concussion.”

Marty leaned forward on the gurney and peeked over the doctor’s shoulder. There on the x-ray, seemingly embedded in Marty’s arm, was the fuzzy black-and-white image from his computer.

“Whoa! What is that?” asked Marty, his voice cracking, a rush of adrenaline doing the giddy-up on his cardio.

“I’m not sure. Bruises don’t usually show on x-ray like this. Hmmmmmm.” Dr. Babcock fastidiously straightened the few hairs left on his head and stood back, staring at the x-ray like it was an expressionist painting.

“Well, it keeps moving. Look!”  Marty held up his arm. The bruise was almost to his chest. “What do I mdo? What is that?”

“Boy, you’re a nervous one, aren’t you?” Babcock said, with a cluck.

“But that thing was on my computer! You understand? That black spot thing is on my arm and now my chest. They said it was a worm. The same thing is on my computer! I have a worm! It’s a worm! A computer worm and I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Marty had visions of inch long, black glistening slug-like worms squirming around under his skin, eating flesh, boring holes through his body, and finally reaching his spine and then soon, eating his brain. His brain! Then the notion came over him that it was all in his head, and perhaps he was losing his mind, like meth-heads do. They see bugs, crawling on their skin and in their eyes. Maybe the concussion was doing this? Or perhaps he was dreaming. He’d wake up from a nap soon, and all this would be gone. It was all a strange, crash induced hallucination dream. That’s what this is, he thought.

“And you keep clucking at me like a chicken.”

“Come on, now.” The doctor smiled, his finger on the x-ray. “It’s a superficial bruise.”

“You gotta help me, Doc!”

The doctor turned to Marty. “You need to remain calm. Okay? Look at me.” He held out his hand. “I’ve got twelve patients with the chicken flu, you don’t see me running around yelling about worms, clucking up a storm, do you?”

“That’s easy for you to say. You’re not infected.”

The doctor put his hand to his chin for a second, as if to think, then he said, “I’m going to call an ambulance to take you to County General.”

“What? Why? Am I dying? Oh, my God, am I going to die?” Marty jumped to his feet and grabbed his clothes, shoving his leg into his pants. He tripped himself, falling to the floor. The doctor started to help him, but stopped himself before touching Marty’s arm. Marty looked up at the doctor and saw the hesitancy on his face.

“You’re afraid to touch me, aren’t you? You’re frightened by me. This thing I have!”

The doctor shook his head, clucked twice, and waved his hands in front of him, as if to warn him off.  “I’m just concerned. That’s all.”

Marty reached out to the doctor, and Babcock backed away toward the door. “What are doing? I need your help! I’ve got a worm, don’t you understand! A worm!”

“Settle down, now. Cluck. I’ll get you something.” He called out to the nurse for some lorazepam.

“I touched the screen and the worm went into my hand! You understand?”

The nurse brought in a small bottle of clear liquid. Babcock started to load a syringe with the substance.

“What’s that?” asked Marty.

“Just something to calm you down.”

“I don’t want to calm down. We have to do something about this worm!”

The doctor held up the loaded syringe and turned to Marty. “Roll up your other sleeve, cluck.”

“No, I don’t need that! It’s the worm. We have to get it out!” He pushed the doctor away, knocking the syringe to the floor. “You keep clucking at me!”

Doctor Babcock abruptly turned and ran from the room, holding his arm where Marty had touched him. Marty snatched up his clothes and followed him into the hallway. Babcock disappeared behind a door marked, Office. Marty ran to the front-desk area, but the place was empty. He ran back into the x-ray room, but no one was there.

He found his way back to the exam room and hurriedly put on his clothes, thinking; I have a worm. A worm! And he could feel it working its way under his armpit, gnawing at his flesh, boring a path through his body, knowing that if it reached his heart, he would die.

Marty got to the front reception area, and heard clucking coming from behind another  door.

“Are you in there?” he yelled. “Hey, Doc, why are you hiding from me? Nurse?”

It was no use. They weren’t going to help him. No doctor could. Sirens wailed from a few blocks away. He ran to the exit door. They were coming closer. Coming for me, he thought. He imagined a paddy wagon, him being loaded in with chains wrapped around his wrists, the driver saying, “Better watch him, Len. He’s got the worm.” The driver’s pencil-thin head would open in a rabid, sharp toothed grin as he poked Marty with a stick to make him move. He’d be an animal in a cage. The beast with the worm!

Marty ran into the street, not seeing where he was going, knowing only that he had to get away, had to find out about the worm before it was too late. Instinctively, he turned and headed toward his office.

****************

Marty opened his office door. Guy sprang up from the desk chair.

“Marty, what happened to you? You look horrible.”

Marty grabbed Guy, pulling his tie until his face was close enough to smell the tuna fish sandwich he’d had for lunch.

“You did this, didn’t you?” he huffed.

“Did what?”

“The worm! The worm! Look at it!” Marty lifted his shirt. The bruise covered parts of his chest and armpit.

“Geesh, Marty! You better get to the doctor.”

“I’ve been to the doctor. He just clucked at me! It’s the worm. The worm, Guy! Don’t you get it?”

“What worm?”

“Okay, that’s enough. Get back, you idiot.” Marty pushed Guy out of the way and ran to his computer. He frantically pawed at the keyboard, trying to find the screen saver. “Come on, Guy! Help me find it. I’ll show you what I’m talking about.”

Guy stood back, watching fearfully, and looking like he didn’t know what to do next.

“Come back over here. Take a look at my computer. I can’t find it.”

“You gotta calm down, Dude.”

“Just do it!” Marty yelled.

“No, I mean it. Calm down,” Guy said, and he took a few steps toward Marty.

Marty suddenly realized how crazy he must seem. He took a deep breath, then stood and graciously presented his chair for Guy to sit. “How’s this, Guy? See? I’m okay. Come. Take a look, will yah?” He had taken a deep breath and smiled politely, but he knew he wasn’t going to be calm. His heart pounded against the wall of his chest. He imagined that wall contracting, turning black, with the body of that worm thing surrounding his heart, squeezing the juice from it, sucking every ounce of blood he had left, its gnarly, spiked teeth delving through his tender flesh. Marty’s knees were weak, and he felt faint, but he managed a smile as he held the chair for Guy to sit and start his work.

Guy hesitated a second, watching Marty suspiciously.

“Find the image, will you please?” Marty asked, baring his teeth in forced smile.

Guy came around the desk and clicked the keyboard. After a few minutes, the dark image popped up on the screen, slowly twirling like a roast on a spit.

“There it is.”

“What is it, Guy? Is it a worm?”

“I tried to tell you when you first walked in, but you were going nuts.”

“What?”

“It could be part of a worm.” Marty’s body tightened. “But it’s a photo,” said Guy.

“Yes,” said Marty, as he watched the lethal image. “It looks like an out-of-focus photo.”

“Yeah, but what I bet you didn’t know I have software to remedy this,” Guy said.

“What do you mean?” asked Marty.

“I can clean up the image. Look.”

They both stared at the fuzzy blobs on the screen. Marty felt a muscle spasm in his side and grabbed it, clutching what he thought might be the worm as it slithered its way into his chest cavity.

“Can you make it clear?” Marty said, sweat pouring down his forehead so profusely he had to wipe it from his eyes with his shirt tail.

“Keep watching it,” said Guy, a bit cocky now, confident in his almost magical control over the computer.

Guy went into a program, pulled the photo from the screen saver and started to press the number pad. Marty leaned forward, looking over Guy’s shoulder.

“See? It’s getting clearer,” Guy said.

At first, Marty couldn’t tell what it was. Perhaps it was at an angle he hadn’t expected. It appeared to be taken from way up high. As he took in the whole image, he began to understand what he was seeing.

Guy turned to Marty. “What is that, a car?

“Yeah, a taxicab,” answered Marty. “A yellow cab.” The pain in his side was getting worse now.

“And that, right there. Look!” Guy pointed to what appeared to be a crumpled lump of clothing. “What is that?”

Marty took a deep breath. He could feel his head starting to spin as recognition slowly crept upon him.

“And that, that looks like a guy standing in the street,” said Guy.

“Yeah,” said Marty. “Like a cab driver.”

“But what is this?” Guy pointed to the bundle of clothes.

“That? That’s me, Guy. That’s me.”

Guy turned to Marty and said, “What?”

The word what echoed through Marty’s head as he slowly opened his eyes and faced the early morning sky. It was a lovely deep blue with just a few clouds. He turned his head slightly, and an old lady crossed herself as she leaned in, her wrinkled face sadly looking down upon him. The cab driver stood above, yelling something about traffic lights and brakes, and waving his arms around. Marty tried to say something. The cabdriver and the old lady leaned in to listen. Marty took the cabbie by the collar, put his lips to the driver’s ear and whispered, as a pang of relief fluttered through his chest.

“At least…”

“Yes, yes, at least?” parroted the cabbie. “At least, what?”

And with his last, dying breath, Marty said, “At least it’s not a worm.”

 

The End