The iFactor Chapter 31

Chapter 31

“Keep an eye on those close to you.”

The handwriting had become disturbingly familiar. That was what Perry had told him. Was it Perry leaving the notes, could Perry be the killer? He knew that he was on the case. Hell, he knew about the blackouts. He had enough knowledge of the synapsis to cover his tracks. Perry? It was possible, and that possibility stripped him of one of the few allies he had. Whoever was putting the notes up, they were toying with him. Did the note represent a warning or a threat? How long had it been there? He never made it home the night before, the letter could have been there since the last blackout, the last killing. He was glad that Kramer left before he entered his building. He didn’t want to have to explain this.

Matt’s head hurt, there was too much to think about, too much to keep straight. Prioritize, he berated himself. Take it one at a time. Start with the killer. No, he thought it didn’t start with the killer, it started with the screamer. Okay then, the drug case first, he thought.

He entered his room and did a quick, security check. The apartment was empty, and as far as he could tell, no one had been there. One of the neighbors might have seen something that could help identify his mystery note placer. Once he had some rest, he would quietly inquire.

The bursar’s connection was in the government, someone fairly high up, high up enough to block their palm chips from giving the colonial computer tracking system identification. It would have to be someone connected with Inter-world Transit, the port authority, colonial security, or the governor’s office. Wow! That was a much larger list than he’d originally bargained for, it needed to be narrowed. Okay, count out Inter-World Executives. They would not, he sincerely hoped, have access to the colonial tracking system. That left port authority, colonial security, everyone in the governor’s office, his staff and all the elected representatives, and of course (he chuckled to himself) the mythical Trust. He would need more information to pare down that list.

Okay then, he thought. Focus on Sirius’s most successful serial killer.

Fact one, the murderous bastard only kills at times when the system is down, and he cannot be tracked.

Fact two, the times when these security failures occur is tracked, monitored, and is one of the most closely guarded secrets in the colony.

Fact three, anyone with the knowledge of these failures and anyone they know has been traced and cleared of the murders. Perry had reported the blackouts; they would have checked him out. He would have already been cleared.

Fact four, new fact, the government can block the cities computers from identifying certain ‘privileged people, ’ and Perry wasn’t one of those. Although he was good with the system, not even he could find out the identity of the mystery executive.

Fact five, he had no idea where to start, nothing made sense and he should have stayed on earth where he could have gotten a job guarding a shopping mall. It was the first thing and the only thing that had made any sense since he started this investigation.

Matt went to his cabinet and pulled out his pills; he downed two pills with some of the remaining orange flavored drink from his refrigerator. He needed to clear his head and needed to rest. He slumped into his lounge chair and retrieved his gaming control.

“Computer activate.” the screen lit up, with the typically preprogrammed presentation. His inbox was full, there several news alerts, most of which dealt with murder in the park. Although the official release determined it to be an accident, it was impossible to hide or pretend it was other than murder. Rumors spread around the colony quickly. The people were starting to suspect that there was a monster in their midst, hunting them, preying on them. Like any other herd animals, the colonists were spooked and starting to digitally band together for protection. Matt, however, would deal with all that later, he needed to relax and let his medicine take effect. “Run the latest prescribed interactive simulation.”

The game appeared on the screen at the last place he had saved the program. He focused on protecting the civilians on the screen. It felt good to save someone, even if it was a computer generated someone. After a few moments, exhaustion took him, and he fell into fitful dreams.

The images on the computer faded into real screams and shouts, crowds pushed against him, a scream built up in his throat. As the sound emerged from his open mouth, it wasn’t his. Jill’s terrified scream filled his mind. She stood there shivering as the dead man floated by in the fishpond.

“Maybe tomorrow will be more eventful,” she said outside her apartment door. The world faded away, leaving only her face lying on a pillow, smiling contently. Matt could feel her naked flesh pressed warmly against his. He felt at peace.

The feeling of love and contentment turned suddenly. He could hear the song in his head. Faces appeared, blank and impassionate. Rows of chanters, all strapped to chairs staring, at him.

“Go to sleep and go insane,

Past and future all the same,

See the world turn inside out,

All you’ll do is scream and shout.”

“I’m sorry Matt,” Vanderhaar’s face appeared before him, he held out the bloody chip that had been Jill’s.

The chip grew horribly in his mind, becoming the secondary sun. A massive explosion sent incalculable stellar material in an enormous plume racing toward its massive partner, dimming to the image of Jill running across a catwalk in the dome, the buildings far below. She turned to face him; the sound of a gunshot rings out. The bullet struck her in the chest, sending her flying off the catwalk. Matt dove to try to grab her but could only watch as she plummeted, blood flying from her chest wound, into the city below. Despair drove him to his knees. As he wiped the tears from his face, he saw an unknown dead woman splayed out before him, her internal organs laid out in patterns around the body. A shadow crossed over the scene. A feeling of familiarity filled his consciousness; it was the killer’s shadow. Matt rose to face him, gun in hand. He could almost make out the face.

The doorbell startled him out of his sleep; before he knew where he was, he was on the ground reaching for his gun. The bell rang again; he raised his gun and pointed it at the door. He won’t get her, he swore to himself. The bastard couldn’t have Jill.

“Matt, are you there?” Jill’s muffled voice came from behind the door. “Matt.”

Oh, God! She was in danger. What was she doing here? He stumbled to the door and opened it. Jill stood there, smiling. Keeping his gun at the ready, he grabbed her with his free hand and yanked her into the apartment. As she tumbled headfirst into the table by his chair, he slammed the door and braced it shut with his body. All he could think of was that she was here, she was safe.

“Matt, please put the gun down. You’re scaring me.”

“Gun?” Matt opened his eyes. The chair, table, and Jill were scattered about the floor. Jill looked shaken.

“In your hand.” she moved over to him slowly. “It’s alright; there’s no one here but me. It’s safe; I will never hurt you. Please, for me. Put it down.”

“I’m sorry,” Matt let the gun fall to the floor as his eyes welled up with tears. “I’m not safe to be around.”

“Do you want me to leave?” She moved closer.

“No!” Matt yelled, reaching for his gun again. “It’s not safe out there; there’s a…”

“I know,” she said. “I was there. Remember? It’s horrible, but no one is going to hurt me.”

“You don’t know that?” Matt slumped back against the doorframe.

“Is that why you grabbed me, to save me from a killer?”  She leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. “You are such an idiot. Why would anyone want to kill me?” She slumped down next to him, putting herself between him and his gun.

“Who said killer?”

“Matt, no one believes that man did it to himself. Besides, why else would you be trying to protect me?”

“I had a dream about a killer. If he hurt you, I don’t think I could take it.”

“You had a dream, and you threw yourself into harm’s way to save me?”

“Sorry, did I hurt you?”

“Not hurt, just surprised.”

“I am too dangerous to be around.” Matt sat up and started to stand. “I’ll call an officer to take you home.”

“Is that what you want?” she asked.

“What I want is not to have PTSD. I want to be able to live a normal life.”

“PTSD?” she asked.

“Post-traumatic stress—.”

“I know what it means.” she cut him off. “It does explain a lot.”

“Like?”

“Why you are so edgy around me?” She said.

“It’s not you; it’s been a little more stressful at work than usual.”

“I get it,” she responded. “Murder on Sirius, I can’t imagine anything more stressful.”

“You don’t know the half of it.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“Not allowed to.”

“Are you seeing anyone about it?”

“A psychiatrist. He gives me medication and therapy games. Usually helps but lately, it’s just too hard. Too many people to watch, too many unknowns. It’s getting too dangerous. I think I need to resign from my job. There was much less stress as easier as a cargo inspector.”

“What happened?” She looked sympathetically into his eyes.

“What do you mean?”

“What caused your PSTD?”

“Oh,” he slumped back down. Could he tell her the truth? He wanted her so badly and if he sold her the truth, well how could any woman, let alone a teacher love a child murderer. That might be the answer to keeping her safe, however. If he drove her away, then the killer would have no reason to target her, and he was tired of hiding it. He wanted to tell someone. “Okay, I’ll tell you. Then I can call an officer to escort you home if you want.”

“It can’t be that bad.”

“I was a detective on Earth. Working for the Dallas PD, that’s in the United States.”

“Yes,” she said. “I know.”

“It was during the food riots.”

“Oh, “her voice dropped. “I’m sorry.”

“The people had been on food rationing for over a month; they were hungry, angry. Much of the population, the very old and very young were dying of hunger. A large shipment of food came in, enough to feed the people for a week with no rationing. It would have saved thousands of people who on the verge of death.”

“The history books said the food was bad.”

“Yeah, when the people found out they started to riot, hell I would have too. Their children were dying; looking into the inner city was like looking at history footage from the images from Africa in the twentieth century. They were desperate. First, they attacked the distribution sites, then the governmental offices. My partner and I were investigating the cause of the distribution problems, just before all hell broke loose. I was following a lead when I was struck from behind and left for dead. When I awoke, I got the call to report to the suppression line. My mind was fuzzy; my head still hurt like hell. The people charged at us. The order came to fire into the crowd. I did, just before passing out. When I woke, I was facing charges of killing children.”

“You didn’t…”

“I don’t remember. My partner was at my side; I read his report. I remember leveling my gun, then nothing. But the report detailed how a child, a little girl ran into the line of fire and was killed by my gun.”

“But how can you know?”

“I have nightmares; I still see her head exploding. I did it.”

“Oh Matt.” she took his arm.

“Anyway, when I was released from the hospital, I faced a police tribunal. It was ruled an accident, but I was broken, a broken child killer. My mind suppressed the memories of the event. I spent months undergoing therapy. Finally, I was cleared for again duty, but no one would risk hiring a child-killing police officer with Post-traumatic stress.”

“How did you end up here?” she asked.

“After Dallas, my partner retired from the force and took a job as the chief of police for the colony.”

“The chief of police was your partner?”

“Yeah,” Matt told her. “And possibly the only man in the universe who would risk putting me on the payroll. So I left earth for a fresh start.”

“But there’s more, isn’t there?”

Matt gulped hard. What harm could it do to tell her? He would have to resign in any case. “There was an incident during the trip. I was short dosed, exposed to the mind rip. I don’t know why I didn’t end p a screamer or burnout. It’s crazy, but I think that because my mind was already suppressing memories, the memory of the mind rip went into the same hole. Does that make any sense?”

“A little.” She said.

“The mind rip. They say that during the faster-than-light trip you experience the past, future, and space, years of it all at once.”

“Yet you survived it,” she said. “What was it like?

“I suppressed it.” He said. “I don’t remember.”

“What?”

“My PSTD got worse, but I suppressed all of it. The entire experience. Eight years of past, eight years of future, eight-time my perceptive range external and internal. It’s in there.” He tapped on his skull. “But it’s locked away fighting every second of my life to escape, like a caged beast.”

“What happens if you remember?”

“If I start screaming uncontrollably, we’ll know.”

“How horrible for you.” she leaned her head on his shoulder.

“That’s why you have to leave and stay away from me.” He said. “I could have hurt you just then.”

“Pshaw! You were having an attack, and the only thing you thought of was keeping me safe. I couldn’t be safer.” She stood up and grabbed his hand, pulling him up. “Come on, my turn to look after you. Get a shower and get to bed. I’ll keep guard in case anything happens.”

“You?” he asked.

“Sure, the door’s secure, I’ve got your gun, and I’ll wake you if it looks like you’re having nightmares.”

The look on her face allowed Matt no room to debate, and to be honest, he didn’t want to. He quietly walked off to his shower. The water flooded over him, easing stressed muscles. When he came out of the shower, the room was cleaned up, and Jill was sitting on his chair. She rose when he opened the door.

“There you are,” she smiled. “You look, and smell, much better.”

“Thanks, I think.”

“Now, off to bed.” she gently shoved him toward his bed. Once in his bed, she set on it beside him. “Don’t worry; it’s my time on guard duty.”

“If I have an episode, it may not be safe to be with me.”

“I can take care of myself; I’m a big girl.”  She tucked him in and then lay next to him until he went to sleep.

Matt didn’t have nightmares that night.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s