The iFactor Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Matt learned as he arrived at the park that his previous assumption was wildly mistaken. The park was not going to be a place where he could clear his mind. The park was crowded. He had walked in a celebration of some sort. Most of the people assembled near the amphitheater in the middle of the park. Instead of turning around and heading toward less crowded paths, Matt thought he needed to push himself a little. Crowds of people have been making him too anxious. It wasn’t a good thing for someone whose job it was to protect the multitudes. The medication that he took earlier was working well; he felt very little as he walked along the less busy edges of the park. It was easier for his mind to cope with the mass of people when they were mostly on one side of him.

From his vantage point, Matt could see the uniforms of several colonial security moving in and about among the throngs of partiers, patrolling the area. A closer inspection of the crowd allowed him to pick out several security officers that he knew personally. They were in civilian attire, but walked around with purpose, their eyes scanning the crowds as he did. Matt wondered if the increased police presence was noticeable to the general populace.

Matt looked at his watch. Another blackout was underway. He closed his eyes and tried to sense anything out of the ordinary. If the part of him exposed to the mind rip could somehow sense the event as it happened, it would go a long way toward helping to validate Rishards’ theory. He felt nothing, and then he felt relieved. A small army of homicidal burnouts could have destroyed the entire colony. Except that he wasn’t a burnout. They never had to give him the surgery. If it were the surgery itself that caused sensitivity to blackouts, Rishards might still be correct.

Seeing the increased patrols, however, did not impart a sense of security. Instead, the awareness that a blackout had been occurring for an hour, only filled Matt with curiosity. The security patrols were unaware, they didn’t have his clearance or “need to know,” but he did. He found the bumbling around in the “dark” nearly comical. The officers would continue to patrol, keeping the masses save, oblivious to the reality of the situation. Still, knowing that for the first time since he arrived on Sirius, the city’s mainframes were not watching every single move, he made felt somewhat emancipating. He wondered if that was how the Killer felt.

Matt found himself drawn to the sound of children’s laughter. He saw a small horde of them sitting before a portable puppet theater in a clearing to his right. They laughed as a small puppet dressed in a toga was presented boldly on the stage before a monstrous apparition that appeared to be a winged lion with a human head.

From behind the stage, a familiar, but disguised voice roared as the creature threatened to eat the hero if he couldn’t solve a riddle.

The children gasped.

Then the voice asked the riddle.

“What goes on four legs in the morning?

And by two legs in the afternoon?

But goes by three legs at night?”

The toga-clad puppet rubbed its head thoughtfully as the children gleefully called out answers.

“A bird,” one child called out.

“A trained dog,” called out another.

“No,” the hero puppet said to the children in the same familiar, disguised voice that was doing its best to sound more masculine and monstrous. The puppet man turned to face the puppet monster and said. “Man! I think the answer is a man.”

“Why is that?” The monster puppet loomed over the hero.

“Because,” shouted another child. “There are no animals on Sirius.”

Out of the mouths of babes. Matt thought as a few children giggled.

“There are fish.” Another retorted.

“Fish don’t count.” the first child said.

“Why not?”

“Fish don’t have legs.” An older child said with some authority ending the discussion.

“The answer is man,” the hero puppet continued. “Because as babies, we crawl on all four legs. In the middle years of our lives, we walk around on two good strong feet. However, in our old age, we require a cane to walk. The answer is man.” The puppet asserted.

A child in the front row counted on her fingers and said. “No, my grandma walks on six.”

“Grandma uses a walker.” The boy next to her said. “They didn’t have walkers in the olden days.”

“Argg!” the monster cried. “You have solved my riddle. You may go on your way. Remember, though, even though you have escaped me, you cannot escape your destiny.”

The curtains closed, and the children cheered and clapped their hands. Some called out for more.

“The next show will be at four.” The familiar face of Jill Cochetti appeared from behind the stage. There was still some puffiness around her bruised cheek, and she wore her make-up heavier than before, but Matt could see that her face was healing well.

“Hi,’ she looked surprised as she looked up to see Matt standing behind the wall of sitting children. “Did you come all the way here just to watch me perform?”

“Honestly, I didn’t know it was you. You are good with voices.”

“Why thank you.” She bowed. “Now if you’ll just tell the critics I can take my rightful place as queen of the ‘thee-at-tur.’”

“I’m sure you’d be great.” He said.

“Oh, you’re sweet, a terrible liar, but sweet.” She turned and closed the curtains to the puppet theater.” Break time. I’m starving. How about a hot dog? I saw a stand over by the fishbowl earlier.”

“I was on my way home.” The dream image of her nude body filled his mind.

“Come on; I’m buying.” She grabbed his arm and gently pulled him toward the large aquarium, which held the colonies fresh fish supply. To Matt’s great relief, the crowds were all gathering in another section of the park. “Don’t be so tense; you’re off duty. At ease, officer.” She saluted.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s been a long day. I’d love a hot dog.”

“Thought you’d see it my way.”

Matt could see the cart off in the distance. The operator had set up directly in front of the largest of the observation windows. It was a good place. From there a person could eat and watch the fish swim, perhaps even buy more food if not satisfied. Matt’s stomach grumbled, and he realized that he had forgotten to eat lunch. They made their way across the grass as the brilliant red light streaked across the cities dome high above them heralding the setting of Sirius Alfa. The sky started to dim as the illumination of the sky was left to dimmer light of Sirius’ companion star. The dimming light was still more than adequate to light their way to the cart.

“Don’t have sunset’s like that on earth.” She said.

“No,” Matt looked up. “Sure don’t.”

The number of security uniforms in the crowd had diminished noticeably, at least to Matt. The augmented patrols were ending, the ‘blackout’ was over. He breathed a sigh of relief. The cities electronic guardian angel was back online. He didn’t know why, but walking with Jill, a woman that he hardly knew was strangely calming. For the first time since he entered the park, he did not feel like escaping. He had not felt that comfortable around anyone in a very long time. Images filled his mind as they walked. Matt reminded himself that he wasn’t a psychic and dreams were just his unconscious longings prompting him to take chances.

“Got anything with real meat?” she asked when they reached the stand.

“Fish.” The vendor offered helpfully.

“Oh, you could at least pretend.” She turned to Matt. “Wasn’t it more fun when no one knew what was in a hotdog? Now it’s all soy and fish.”

“We still don’t.” Matt smiled. “It could have reptile in it.”

“Got any with reptile meat?” she teased.

“No,” The vender’s voice contained a suggestion of agitation. “All we have are standard hotdogs with the condiments listed on the menu.”

“Alright then, what do you want?” Jill asked.

“I’ll take a chili dog.” Matt said. “and a cola.”

“Now, that’s what I’m talking about. “ Her smile spread. “Who knows what the hell’s in that? Make that two.”

The food was pre-made, he had it ready seconds. “Ten point five two,” the merchant said as he put the paper tray on the counter.

“Can you grab that?” Jill asked Matt as she waved her hand over the reader to pay the bill.

Matt trembled involuntarily as the recollection of the vision of Vanderhaar holding her bloody palm chip in his hand overran his waking mind. “I’m sorry, Matt.” Vanderhaar’s voice rang in his ears. He stared at Jill’s hand in fleeting horror.

“Hey,” She said, taking the tray as he stood there trying to compose himself. “Sorry, I asked.”

“No,” Matt forced himself back into the moment. Just because he dreamed about her didn’t determine her destiny. Dreams are just dreams. “I’m sorry. I was just… somewhere else.”

“Must have been someplace pretty nasty.” She said. “Are we back now?”

“Yeah,” he forced a smile. “You didn’t buy me lunch just to have me go downer on you.’

“I think I can forgive you for now,” she found a bench and sat down. “No more work thinking got it. It’s fun thinking time.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he sat next to her. She was too full of life to die. If his dreams were precognitive, then he’d find a way to stop to change things. She handed him a chili dog served on an oval paper tray in reverence to the traditional earth vendors of centuries past. At least it kept the chili from dripping onto his fingers. “Mr. Buzzkill has left the building.”

“Good,” she took a bite of her hotdog, a small splotch of chili landed on her chin. Matt stifled a chuckle. “There is a nice place right over here.”

Jill moved to a patch of grass a few meters from the vendor. It was a little close for Matt, but it had one advantage, it had a great view of the tank. Watching fish was always relaxing; it reminded him of the beaches and aquariums he’d been to as a child. If he could afford it, Matt would have had a fish tank in his apartment. That, however, was a luxury well above his pay grade. Moreover, sitting in the park felt too uncovered. Even so, he tried to take his mind off the crowds and focus on the woman who just bought him lunch.

A small school of fish passed before the observation window. Matt could virtually hear the sound of the surf and the feel of the sand beneath him. It was comforting, and he didn’t want to escape back to his apartment. The crowds were still well off in the distance. The person nearest him was one he actually wanted there. He turned from the large window and observed her.

“Thanks,” he said, taking a bite of his hot dog.

“Least I could do.” She said. “You did try to save me after all.”

“I’m sorry he hurt you.”

“I’ll live.” She took another bite, staring up at the tank as the light from the sunset played across the dome creating in crimsons and pinks in the water. “I should make a point of coming out for the main sunset more often.”

Matt looked up. It was pretty, but it wasn’t his native son. Some part of the earthling in him still objected to seeing one sunset as another was still on the horizon.

“Look at the way it is reflecting on the fish tank,” Jill commented. Matt turned to seed the red flashes playing across the water. It was a strange phenomenon, one he’d never noticed on Sirius before. He didn’t know that you could get sunsets inside the dome, perhaps it was just a trick of the light. Sirius primary was setting and the water, like the sky in the Arizona desert grew redder as he watched.

“Some people have no respect,” Jill said.

“Excuse me?” Matt turned back to look at her.

A look of displeasure played upon her face, but it wasn’t directed at him, she looked past him to the tank. “Isn’t there a law about swimming in the food supply?” she scowled.

Matt stood up and walked to the view window. About a dozen or so meters into the pool the form of a human gently moving his or her arms and legs, even so, the swimmer was being pulled along by the current which was bringing the swimmer slowly toward the observation glass. “I imagine there will be some kind of fine involved. There are plenty of witnesses.”

The form drew closer, growing more difficult to see as it approached. The water was growing redder by the moment. The current slowly pushed the body toward the glass until Matt could see that someone treading water did not cause that kind of motion in the arms and legs. The fish were pecking away at the dead man, the force of their feeding moving the corpse’s limbs. Matt could see the man’s dead eyes and blood coming from his head and palm.

“Turn away!”

Jill stared in wide-eyed silence as the dead face moved across the large observation window. She screamed and put her head on Matt’s chest. He waited for her to regain control, and he called it in.

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