The iFactor Chapter 11

By R.W. Van Sant

It was a very long day, and his next shift started in less than nine hours. All Matt wanted to do was get to his bed. His rumbling stomach prompted him to get some food. Lunch felt like a distant memory, and the pastries in the break room were gone. There was a small shop near his apartment that sold passable precooked burritos. That would do.

The woman with brown curly hair and bruised face stood staring at the door as he walked up.

“How are you doing?” Matt stopped beside her.

“It’s… I’m alright.” She said. “Look, I was stupid, foolish.

“Hey, it’s not your fault,” he said. “Sometimes people just trust people the probably shouldn’t have. You couldn’t have known. The colonial authority is supposed to screen out candidates with violent tendencies before they arrive.”

“Well, I guess no system is perfect.” She said.

“If it were, I’d be outa work.”

“You don’t think he’s out there somewhere, waiting for me again.”

“Not if he has any kind of brain.” Matt peered out. “I don’t see him. He’s fairly large, hard to miss.”

“Sure,” she gulped and then looked around herself.

“Do you want me to walk you to your home?”

“You won’t get in trouble?” she smiled expectantly.

“No, I’m a witness. Therefore I’m involved. They will have to find another detective to investigate your case.” Matt said.

“Yeah, sure.” She stepped out cautiously scanning the environment as she moved. Matt walked out beside her.

“Which way?”

“I live in Beta quad.” She responded. He let her lead the way down the artificially lit pathway. The first sun wouldn’t rise for another six hours or so, but the entire colony was well lit. People worked around the clock, and even in the middle of the night, people scurried all around heading to and from their jobs.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Matt said.

“No, I just wanted to thank you for trying to help. I mean. Most people who work for the colony are bureaucratic. They really don’t care about the people.” She said.

“Well, I haven’t been here long enough to acclimate to the bureaucracy.”

“Don’t let them change you.” She faced him. “Do you mind if we walk through the park.”

“Sure, if that’s what you’d like.” Matt scanned the park for potential threats.

“I just want to collect myself before I get back. Last time he was waiting for me at my door.” she continued to examine the path and walk in a slow, almost uncertain pace. Matt matched her, not wishing to rush. “He was angry that I went out to lunch with my friend Sal instead of him. The jerk thought I was cheating on him, with Sal.” She looked at him, humor on shone on her face. “I went with Sal to cheer him up. He’d just had a big fight with his boyfriend and was afraid he was going to get dumped.”

“Ironic.”

“Tonight, he accused me of having sex with you, and the other one with you. I should have seen that the man was a freak.” She sniffled.

“Sometimes, loneliness can blind people to the faults of others.”

“Only his fault was a chasm.” She smiled.

“Yeah,” he responded. “Very funny. I don’t think you need to worry about him any longer. The judicial council doesn’t take violence lightly. At the very least, there will be a court order to keep him away. Unlike earth, an order like that can be enforced here.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’ve heard the lecture. On Sirius, no crime goes unpunished.”

“Not while I’m here.”

“Just like a Canadian Mountie,” she observed.

“Pardon?”

“A Mountie. The police forces of Canada used to ride horses and were called Mounties,” she explained.

“Yes, just like that. Except for no horse.”

“I can see that in you. You’re definitely the always get your man type.”

“Thank you. It helps in my line of work.”

“So, you always notice crime?” She said.

“Most of the time.”

“And no crime goes unpunished in Sirius?” She continued.

“That’s the party line.”

“How about that place?” she pointed toward a small shop that was crowded with a line of people waiting to get in.

“What about it?” Matt studied the place. “Nothing wrong with a shop being popular.

“Oh, it’s more than popular.” Jill’s smile faded. “It’s a fantasia den.”

“Excuse me?” He appraised the building with more interest. He had been looking for Fantasia distribution sites. They pop up suddenly under the guise of a legitimate business, or club. They take the customers money in installments so as not to attract the attention of the mainframe. The heat starts, and they faded away to appear somewhere else. “How do you know?”

“I’ve heard talk around the school. I keep track. In case I need to offer guidance to a student.” She said.

“Why didn’t you report it?” Matt said. “You have to report a crime.”

“I can’t know for sure what goes on in there, what I know is hearsay. And as long as the dealers stay there, then I know where they are.” She walked into the park.

“Aren’t you going to get them, call in a raid?” she asked.

“I’m off duty.” Still, he made a mental note of its location for later.

“I don’t get those people.”

“They’re just trying to make money. Unlike most of us, though, they don’t care how.” Matt said.

“Not the dealers. I understand them. I don’t understand why someone would ever want to take the hyper drug again, even in diluted form.” She shuttered. “Even in diluted form, why force a waking dream state, I mean it’s not like they can guarantee it’s a good dream.”

“You know, I feel the same way about the drug. In fact, I would rather grow old and die, Sirius, than ever take it again. The trip left much to be desired” Matt was starting to feel apprehensive. The conversation had veered into uncomfortable territory. Still, he didn’t want to abandon her or forsake her company, just change the topic. “You know, I don’t even know your name.”

“I know yours.” She pointed to his nametag. “You are Dales. I was told you’re a detective.”

“My name is Matthew, and I’ve just been promoted, today is my first day.”

“You seem comfortable for the first day at a new job.”

“I was a detective before, back on Earth.”

“I’m a teacher. Hi, my name is Jill. Jill Cochetti.” She thrust her hand forward. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.” He took her hand. Her warm skin against his made his body tingle. His heart was pounding. He felt like a sex-deprived schoolboy, and it bothered him. Nevertheless, he was a little slower than he should have been letting go of her hand. He returned his attention to the path before them.

“Do you live nearby?” she asked.

“I live in delta quad.”

“That’s nearly on the other side of the dome from me.” She stopped. “I can make it home the rest of the way.”

“It’s fine,” he said. “There’s a transit station near your address. It’ll go right by my apartment. I’d feel better knowing you got home safe.”

“As long as you’re sure. I never had a bodyguard before.”

A suggestive phrase popped into his head, but he wrestled it down and said instead. “Consider it part of the service.”

The night sky conveyed slight light through the dome high above, what little there was came from the soft light emanating from the lamp posts dispersed evenly around the park. The city managers could easily increase luminosity, but human beings are creatures of habit. They like it dark at night. It keeps them grounded and provides a quiet time for the colony; even those that work one of the late shifts seem to appreciate the change in atmosphere.

The softer lighting added ambiance to moonlight strolls, and he would have enjoyed it more current walking partner hadn’t just been assaulted. They walked quietly looking upward at the few alien constellations that were still visible through the dome.

Matt observed a pair of shadowy forms sitting by an observation window to one of the fish pools. They took on an eerie, phantom aspect when lit up from the water patterns of the pool.

“They’re the same stars you see from earth.” Jill broke the silence.” We are just seeing them from another vantage point.”

“I never really thought about it.”

“Do you think they’ll ever bring in birds?” she asked. “The trees seem so lonely without them.”

“I heard there was a petition to bring in some.” Matt regarded the tank again. The couple had vanished. It means nothing. Not everyone is a threat. They probably just went inside for a sexual encounter.

“I know, I signed it,” she said. “I don’t think they will risk it though. Maybe if we could free all the parrots, love birds and parakeets the execs brought in for pets.”

“Probably won’t happen.” Matt appraised the park, being as subtle as his training permitted. “You never know how the mind rip might affect a bird. Not all of the ones brought in for pets make it through all right. They have to be euthanized.”

“I saw a movie once when I was young. It was about a town being attacked by hundreds of birds.”

“We wouldn’t want that here.” he was being paranoid and forced himself to breathe deeply.

“Still, it would be nice to hear them chatter again.”

“Maybe you can get a petition going to play bird noise recordings from the trees. I never noticed the birds much, but I always heard them.” Breath followed breath until apprehension subsided

“Maybe I will,” Jill smiled through painful bruises. “I live just down the lane.” She stepped off the grass. Matt made a note of a nearby transit stop and followed.

“What will they do to him?” Jill asked.

“Your boyfriend?”

“My ex.”

“Well, he’s guilty of assault,” Matt said. “If he has no priors, they will probably give him some confinement time while he undergoes anger management. Then after that, he’ll be tracked for a time to guarantee that he stays away from you.”

“He wasn’t a bad guy, really,” she said. “He just got jealous.”

“He hit you, to me that makes him a bad guy. This colony is a contained group of people. Anyone who cannot control their temper here becomes a danger to the whole colony. If he’s a hard case then its confinement and expulsion back to earth. Crime, especially violent crime, will be accepted on Sirius.” Matt used his official voice. “It goes against the company line.”

“No crime goes unpunished. That is why some of us came here. The earth is just so… well you can never feel secure there. I’d never feel safe walking through a park at night there.” She pointed to the next building up. “That’s mine. I half expected him to be waiting for me.”

“I’m sure he’s been apprehended by now. You’ll be safe.” She moved to the main entrance. Matt watched from the walk.

“Thank you.” She said, and walked in. Matt waited until he was sure that she was safely inside then started walking purposely toward the transit stop.

The night seemed a less inviting place without her. The shadows shifted and moved at the edges of his periphery. They began to play tricks on his tired mind. Matt moved briskly to the transit stop.

Paranoid eyes observed every shadow, looking for the slightest shift, any motion that wasn’t part of the normal pattern. Matt wished he still had his dog. Several people approached from the walkway. He gave them a wide birth as they passed.

There was no one, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was stalking him. It grew as Matt stepped up onto the boarding platform and waited. Each moment passed like a pendulum swing, slow and inevitable.

The transit car stopped, and he leaped on board, and through his back against the wall of the vacant cage, eyes searching like a hunted animal as the door slid closed and the car moved along the track. Each meter down the track eased the tightness in his chest, and he started to breathe easier again. By the time he reached his own stop, he felt like a foolish child afraid of the dark. He stood up erect, brushed his uniform straight, and walked out of the car and down the walkway to his apartment.

His legs felt as though they could scarcely hold his weight. Still, Matt climbed all four levels of the staircase up to his apartment. He listened to each creak intently. His neighbors, he knew were most likely asleep by that time. He liked having the hallways to himself. As he turned the door, he appraised his apartment door, more specifically, he focused his attention on a small rectangular piece of paper that was stuck at eye level. Written on it, in blocky letters, were the words, “THEY ARE WATCHING YOU.”

Sufficiently alarmed, Matt inspected the locks for any telltale scratches and sniffed the air. Any electronic lock override device would have to be powerful and might leave the smell of ozone. As far as he could tell, they were all secured. None showed any signs of tampering. Matt pulled the paper off the door and entered quietly, locking the door him. It took several inspections of each room and all the locks before he felt comfortable enough to go to try to sleep. He took the maximum dose of medication the psychiatrist would allow; still, he got little sleep that night.


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