The iFactor- Chapter 3

by

R.W. Van Sant

Matt’s apartment door slid silently open. It was a universal reality that, in the dome colonies, everything operated well—in the beginning. The colony was well planned, funded, and less than a decade old. There simply hadn’t been time for entropy to work its necromancy on the equipment. Matt found it disconcerting that the colony was so new. Humanity was making a new history on this unwelcoming world eight light years from where it started. It would take decades or centuries before they could truly claim to be part of the new world. Until then, they could vanish from the surface of the new world, and it wouldn’t care or remember.

“Secure door,” Matt ordered. The locks on the door happily obliged.

Some colonists argued that soon, once people became used to the new technologies, locks would be irrelevant. Everyone knew that crime wasn’t a problem on Sirius Prime. Each person had a job, so there was no poverty. Before leaving Earth, each colonial had to pass a series of psychological tests to remove any potential colonist with antisocial or criminal proclivities; tests which he barely passed.

Then, of course, there were palm implants. Chips implanted under each colonist’s dermis. The chips acted as identification, allowed access to restricted buildings, and kept track of one’s health and even one’s finances. They allowed the city to track and record the position of every resident every minute of the day. Anyone committing a crime was immediately identified and caught. On Sirius, justice was swift.

Still, Matt kept his door locked. Old habits die-hard and his apartment was the one place that he truly felt in control. He could afford to let his emotions get away from him without fearing repercussions. It was the only place he could let his guard down and relax. Even so, before he could allow himself the indulgence of relaxing on the lounging chair, he walked into each room turned on the light looked around, inspected, turned off the light and left again.

His bedroom was large, with a window that overlooked the park, but he kept it locked and concealed with heavy drapes for privacy. At his pay grade, he was fortunate to have a window at all. Yet, he rarely opened them. His bed sat opposite the window, pushed flush against the wall. From that location, he could see the door, bathroom door, and the window at all times. A closet with the sliding door removed was at the foot of the bed.  With a quick turn of his neck, he could easily inspect the entire room.

There were several escape routes. That meant there were also several ways an intruder might gain entrance. He checked them. A fire escape ladder was bolted to the outer wall, accessible from the main window. He double-checked the lock. He’d already secured the front door.

The bathroom was small, containing only a toilet, shower, and sink. On the far wall, a door led out to the balcony. It was the only other way to enter the apartment, but an intruder would have to climb to the balcony and make an entrance through the door, not an easy or stealthy task. Matt never went out on the balcony.

The kitchen consisted of a narrow alcove that ran along the living room and was separated from it only by a bar counter containing a washer and sink. A microwave and small refrigerator fixed among the cabinets. The open layout allowed him to view the room and even watch the video screen while preparing his meals.

Overall, the apartment suited his needs. It was almost as good as the one he had on earth, except that he missed his Dodger.

In his old life, back in Dallas, he had owned a dog. His father told him that there was no better security system than a dog. Unless the burglar had meat. Dodger didn’t like anyone except him. It made him a perfect animal to watch his apartment and warn him if anyone entered unannounced.

Dodger had been left behind. Animals don’t take well to the hyper drug, not the higher order animals in any case, except humans. They come out of FTL either catatonic or rabid. The only animals that survive the trip are those of lower intellectual faculty, some kinds of birds and reptiles and fish. To ship a bird eight light years would have cost him more than he’d make in a career, and the thought of a guard fish was just ridiculous.

There were days when he really missed red meat. Mammal meat was shipped from earth either frozen or canned by always at an extreme cost. All of it had to be imported; this made it a luxury only obtainable to the families of the very rich, upper executives, and CEOs.

Matt grabbed a half-eaten sandwich he’d secreted in his cooler earlier in the morning. Beside it sat a pitcher of pre-made orange flavored drink. He poured himself a glass and took his meal to the lounge chair. Slumping into it with a deep, cleansing breath, he allowed himself a few moments to close his eyes and mentally return to the beach.

Some time afterward, Matt opened his eyes and activated the large video screen on the wall. “News.” He instructed then took a bite of stale bread.

The video screen lit up with a notice: Messages.

“Play message one.”

The face of a thin chestnut-haired secretary appeared on the screen. Her eyes were red, and her mascara was smeared. Her name was Brenda. He’d been seeing her for a couple of weeks; it wasn’t serious. At least, he didn’t think so. From the look on her face, he could tell that it was never going to be.

“Look, I get it.” The woman said in subdued tones. “You’re not a plan-the-future type of guy. You could at least show up for lunch dates. Do you know how foolish it is to reserve a seat for two and just sit there waiting, for over an hour? Damn it, Matt. It’s my birthday. Look, I know you probably forgot.” She dabbed her face and forced a smile. “I think I deserve more, at the very least I deserve a guy who remembers to show up on my birthday. I hope you find what you’re looking for. It’s just not me. Bye. Have a good life.”

“End of new messages.”

The display started to run up-to-date, stock index numbers. He felt a pang of regret. She was fun to be around. He liked her. She was just too needy, and he didn’t have time to commit to her. It was, perhaps better to end it before he did something really stupid and really hurt her. He bit deeper into the stale sandwich—at least it was still palatable—and thought about his romantic prospects while eating. Brenda was attractive. Matt doubted that she would have any trouble finding someone to take his place, a good solid Joe who would remember her birthday, someone with good prospects.

The economic report ended and was replaced with the face of the third shift reporter.

“The body of a support worker was found outside one of the outer vehicle hatches. In an apparent suicide, the man left the airlock open, allowing the corrosive atmosphere of Sirius Primary to flood the chamber. Authorities have no explanation as to his motives. His name is being withheld until the investigation is completed.”

There was a pause. “The Colonial grief counselors would like us to announce that if anyone is suffering from feelings of solitude, despondency or experience suicidal thoughts, you are urged to seek a mental health professional. They are here to help you through difficult times.

In other news, the transport to the beach dome broke down, forcing forty people to walk twenty kilometers back to the main dome. Although it was an inconvenience, many of the commuters took it as a chance to stretch their legs. We have had reports of several impromptu social events sprung up along the way. In the days to come, people will ask which party were you at when the rail stopped.”

Matt wouldn’t have walked twenty kilometers. He’d have gone to one of the nearest promenades and either rented a private car or gotten a room for a shift or two. The thought of walking twenty kilos through an enclosed walkway full of people made him sick to his stomach.

He turned off the screen and closed his eyes again to rest.

Sleep came uneasily, even though he was near exhausted. He feared losing control and walking through the city streets with a gun, shooting at things that weren’t there. He hadn’t had an episode in over a year, but still, there was that fear. He reminded himself that he had his new medication and that he’d undergone a battery of tests and had been cleared for active duty again. When sleep finally came, it was a shallow thing with many waking fits.

Visions came fast and incomprehensible, flashes of a woman’s breasts—soft and warm to the touch—her naked body entangled in his and the sound of her voice. ‘I’ve waited my whole life for you.”

A woman’s face bruised and crying. Feelings of rage.

Ken’s face replaces hers, “I’m sorry Matt,” his old friend handed him a small, blood-covered computer ship in an evidence bag. “She’s dead.”

Unexplainable feelings of loss and torment clouded his visions. The world swirled into chaos, eventually clarifying into memories of earth and his old life, into the familiar streets of Dallas. People gathered in the decomposing tenements yelling and waving sticks and pipes.

A woman broke into a run and the sound of gunfire.

Blackness.

Faces appeared in dark cells. Endless rows of inexpressive faces, people strapped to chairs, viewing the world with vacant eyes.

Sounds of screaming, glass shattering, gunfire, and people crying. The city of Dallas shattered around him.

A little girl, about seven years old, cried for her mother. She ran into the street, into an intense gunfight. Then her head exploded.

“Don’t!” Matt awoke, screaming. The chair was overturned, and he was crouched behind it. Humiliation swept over him again; shame at being damaged, and shame for the things he’d done and couldn’t remember.

The wall felt cold on his back, and he sat there, looking at his overturned glass. It had poured onto the carpet. It would cause a large orange colored stain, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He took several deep breaths. The pills were not working as well as they used to.

Nevertheless, he recovered the glass from the orange spot on the carpet, took it into the kitchen, filled it with water, and took another pill. When the emotions faded, he turned his chair upright again and pulled a plastic handgun from a pouch on its side. The game would help. His psychiatrist said it would.

“Activate proscribed interactive video treatment beta.” The screen lit up, presenting an accurate depiction of a city tenement, albeit a generic city. The game was set during the gang wars of 2043. He aimed at the screen and said. “Activate the last saved game.”

Mobsters and civilians of all sexes and ages entered the screen, approaching from alleys, doorways and opening windows. It was a simple game. Shoot the bad guys and save the citizens. The psychiatrist intended the scenario to help him by making his eyes complete therapeutic motions while permitting the player to work through their issues. All he cared about was that it would allow him to save some people, even if they only existed in the program. At least it was something.

Matt played until his eyes burned and wouldn’t stay open for more than a few moments at a time. He won, saved the civilians, or at least most of them. Nobody could save them all. This was also a lesson the game was supposed to bring home. It was the seventh time he’d beaten the program. He’d learned its secrets, and now he could foresee what would happen next.

“Voicemail to Doctor Denny Garcia.” Matt put down the toy gun. “This game is getting repetitive and boring, request a prescription for another. Will talk to you about it at meeting tomorrow. End.”

“Incoming call. Identity Ken Vanderhaar.” The monitor displayed in larger bright letters accompanies with a pleasant attention-grabbing, digital ring.

“Answer.”

The screen transformed, to reveal a somewhat more extravagant and well-furnished apartment than the one he sat in. The chair the chief sat looked expensive, very pricey. Leather? On an officer’s salary, it had to be synthetic. Ken was the chief of security in a cooperate settlement, however, and Matt really had no idea how much his old partner made. He was willing to bet that it was considerably more than he did.

“How are you feeling?” Chief Vanderhaar asked. “You looked a bit spooked today.”

“I handled it,” Matt replied. He was comforted that he could at least talk to the chief about his problems. They had been partners in Dallas together when the Post Traumatic Stress diagnosis had cost him his badge. “It was just a little close in there, too many people walking around.”

“Are you taking your meds?” he asked.

“Only when I need to. I can do without them most days.”

“The way you went for your gun today, I’d suggest you take some when on duty. At least for the time being. I’m saying that as your friend and your boss. I vouched for you. If you screw up and hurt someone, it’ll be my ass.”

“I know. I appreciate all you’ve done for me.” Matt said. “No one else would have.”

“No one else knew you. You’ll come through this, and you’ll become that sharp-eyed investigator that won the Texas service star.” He took a sip from a clear tumbler that contained a brown fluid that Matt presumed to be brandy. The chief had a fondness for brandy. Perhaps he’d get him a bottle for his birthday.

“Dallas still bothers you?”

“Only when I think about it. I try not to.”

“It wasn’t your fault. Anyone could have snapped in that situation.”

“Tell that to her father. The man was just trying to get them out, and he lost his family that day. All I lost were some marbles.”

“He was one of the instigators. It’s sad, but he ignored his duty, and that put his family in the line of fire. It was his fault they died. They needed someone to blame. You just happened to be on the trigger.”

“Doesn’t make it any easier.”

“I have faith in you. You’ll get it together?”

“I’m glad one of us has faith.”

“The shrink in California cleared you for duty. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to hire you.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Before he left earth, his treatment had progressed to where he could almost stand to think about that dreadful day. Perhaps if he had remained there, he’d have recovered. He needed the work, however, and Ken offered him a job.

Something happened on the trip from Earth. Something he never told anyone, except his psychiatrist. There was a mishap; he received a short dose of the hyper drug. During the journey, his mind was, to an unknown degree, exposed to the Mind Rip. He should have arrived at Sirius a screamer, but his injured brain rejected the mental burden. It shook him and set him back in his recovery, but he survived. Unfortunately, Matt felt as messed up as he was before he started therapy. The nightmares were growing more persistent. If he had to go through the screening process again, Matt doubted he would pass the tests.

“That’s the spirit. So, take your meds and get some sleep. I need you here, bright and early.” He downed his beverage. “Good night, Matt.”

“Night, Ken.” The display reverted to the news feed. “Stock in Sirius Teck futures is up for the twenty-ninth straight week on news that…” He turned it off. One day, he’d have to buy some of the stock for his retirement. It just didn’t feel like the right time. The personnel director was encouraging him to think more about his future. Every time he tried, he had an overwhelming sense that whatever it held was out of his control.

Matt moved around the apartment, a nightly routine to ease his anxieties enough to allow him to sleep. He double-checked all the locks on the doors, then the windows, ensuring the curtains permitted no visual penetration. A quick examination of the kitchen reassured him that the knives and forks were securely in their drawers. The lights darkened as he exited the room.

He brushed his teeth, washed his face, and retreated into the bedroom. He undressed, leaving his pants on the end of the bed, fluffed the pillows and turned the bed radio on low for the static. This was an important measure — without the noise of the radio, his ears would pick out the sounds of the neighbors, people walking the halls and at each bump, laugh or creak he’d be wide-awake again.

Matt accepted the reality of his condition. He was near exhaustion and needed sleep. The doctor gave him different pills for such circumstances. He didn’t like them. The drug made him crash hard. He tightened his gut and downed the tablet, then crawled into bed and stared at the shadows playing across the ceiling, quietly reciting the words to an ancient song his mother taught him. “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad….”


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