One after another, we had no choice in the matter, we were compelled to follow his command
The Size of a Thought
The morning-after-taste of stale wine hung on the trailing edge of each breath as I awoke to a pounding inside my head. A black fog consumed the room around me, broken by ghosts of pastel colors, yawning through the darkness in a slow but steady rhythm.
Every evening that pastel illumination issued from neon fixtures, looming over gin-joints, strip clubs, and movie theaters. At this time of the morning, they swept the forsaken streets of Downtown Prime clean of the dregs of society. Then ushered those drunken minions indoors, where they sought sanctuary behind deadbolts, door bars, and chains.
I settled my head back into my pillow as my left foot pulled from under the sheet and fell to the carpet, where it encouraged the room around me to stop spinning. For the moment, I lay calmly in my bed. I stared into the neon lights shimmering inside the slow curve of the glass fixture in the middle of the ceiling. Confusion ruled my thoughts, swimming inside a constant ebb and flow of wine-heavy blood, diluting each deliberation. I strained in an attempt at lifting my hand from my forehead, but it remained in place. After my initial failure, I raised both arms into the air in front of me. I checked my palms and counted all ten fingers. I still felt the weight of that hand on my forehead.
The hand on my forehead belonged to someone who lay next to me in the bed. That "someone" had long, graceful fingers finished in gold, inlaid with glistening precious stones. For the moment, I lay hushed, hesitant to move, and afraid I might awaken her. Then I thought, "Maybe I shouldn't wake her at all. I should just slip out the door." My eyes searched the darkness for my clothes. That was when I noticed--we were in my hotel room.
I wasn't up for the polite fumbling-for-words generally exchanged between two people after waking up in this kind of situation. So I gently lifted her hand from my forehead, placing it in the hollow in my pillow as I crawled from under the covers.
My lungs burned, and reason led me to believe it was due to mingling among a smoke-filled crowd the night before. I detested smoking, and her aroma was alluring, yet I still recognized the slight scent of stale cigarette smoke, which loitered around us both. "It must have been one hell of a party," I whispered aloud. That party must have lasted a day or two, judging by the smell that wafted from my T-shirt. I grasped at a few memories, lingering tenaciously behind a hazy mist, fogging my brain.
Fresh air filled my lungs, so I leaned out the open window. My head cleared a little, and I began to wonder about the woman in my bed. Where would I have connected with someone of such apparent prosperity and beauty? A high-Class debutante who left an elegant party and came to my cheap hotel room in the seediest part of Downtown Prime? Somehow, that made no sense.
I turned back into the darkness of my room, "Hey, you, with the smile on your face. You want me to take you home?" She didn't answer. "Say? What did your Mamma call you when you were a cute little girl?" I said as I stumbled across the room. "My head is still swimming after last night's party, so I can't get a handle on everything that happened. Please, tell me your name. I know we had a good time, and I want to know whom to thank." Still, there was no answer, so I nudged her. "Darling, you okay?"
She wasn't okay. I figured that out as my thoughts drained while feeling her vinyl-like, cold skin under my fingertips. Then I noticed the lights flashing through the window, glinting from her opened and fixed stare. She lay there with her eyes opened wide, her face fixed in a frozen scream. I pulled the chain dangling from the fixture above the bed, and under its cone of discovery, I searched her neck for a pulse. I found nothing, no signs of life.
"What the hell are you doing here, beautiful? Where did I find a woman like you? And why can't I remember anything about last night?" I searched the room for clues but found none. I reached for the phone then stopped. The Police? What would I tell them? I'd be their prime suspect. After all, I lived in a different hotel every month, and she looked "Ritzy." I would be their obvious choice, so I froze, fear momentarily anchoring me to that spot where I stood.
I needed time to clear my head. Then I thought, maybe she carried some identification in her clothes or purse? Instead, I found her clothes neatly draped over the back of a chair, folded along the creases without any pockets. I pulled them apart, searching for anything to provide me a clue, but found nothing. I found no wallet, no purse, no phone, nothing to satiate my need for answers.
I returned to the bed and stripped the covers from her naked body. There was no sign of struggle, no bruises, no blood. I turned with my eyes still searching and discovered a pair of glasses on the nightstand. I never wore glasses, so they had to belong to her. I held her glasses in front of her eyes to see if that image sparked any memories. At that moment, the neon lights yawned into the room, and I saw something unfamiliar inside one of her wide-opened and fixed eyes. I used one of the lenses of her glasses to magnify a tiny object floating on the surface near the iris of her right eye.
The tiny black dot, which seemed to me to be about the size of a thought, floated at about six o'clock inside an ocean of white. I snagged a droplet of spit on my finger, touched its meniscus to the speck in her eye, and lifted the dot from its resting place. I searched for something to lay it on, so I could get a better look. Finally, I found a postcard on the nightstand beside where I found her glasses. It was one of those hotel advertisements with palm trees and a perfect day on the front and a big white blank under the hotel's logo on the back. I placed the tiny wafer inside the postcard's blank.
Just then, someone knocked at the door, twice, three times, four, and then started pounding after no one answered. I looked toward the door, and the postcard fell from my hand, settling back into its previous spot on the dresser. I turned my attention back to the bed and threw the covers over her body. "Yeah?" I said, searching my scattered thoughts for my next move.
"Police! Open up!" A voice called out from behind the door.
"What's this about?" I asked.
"There's been a report of screams coming from this room. Open up now! The manager's with us and will use his passkey if necessary." The officer exclaimed in a cold, dispassionate voice.
"Jesus, give a guy a chance to put his pants on, will ya?" I answered.
Then I faked a conversation with my date. "Hey, Sweetheart, it's the law. Put some clothes on."
As I pulled my pants on, I grabbed my wallet and pocket change. I rattled the dresser when I leaned against it for balance as I donned my shoes, one at a time. A book of postage stamps caught my attention as it fell from the corner of the mirror. I remembered placing them there earlier in the day. I removed one of the postage stamps from the book and laid it over the chip inside the postcard's blank spot. Then I tucked it back under the edge of the lamp on the nightstand. I started to move but stopped. That tiny dot might give me a clue, so I scribbled an address on the postcard and laid it back in its place.
I crawled out of the open window before buckling my belt. Then sidestepped my way along the ledge, passing a couple of empty, dark windows. Then made my way toward the corner of the building. Loud voices screamed at me from behind, and my attention turned in their direction. An officer waved his firearm at me, shouting, "Halt! Halt!"
I didn't halt, and his first shot glanced off the bricks over my head. A warning shot, but it hit close enough for me to smell the gunpowder in the dust that fell into my hair.
The stubble on my chin filled with sweat as it scrubbed against the cold brick when I turned toward the corner of the building. I groped awkwardly for my next handhold. The brick wall exploded in front of me and pelted my face with more dust that settled inside the sweat. I staggered, my eyes burning from the powdered brick that sprinkled across my face. Then I reached up to rub my eyes, and I lost my balance. I almost fell from my perch on the ledge. With shots at my back and explosions in front of me, I had nowhere to go. So, I froze inside my fear.
That was when a rope caught my attention. It drooped from a spear lodged in a crack between the bricks, created by the explosion which sprayed my eyes. The rope hung about a meter in front of me. I watched the rope tightening, then followed its taught line into the shadows that swallowed its other end. I was startled when a voice shouted from behind that darkness, "You gonna stand there or come with me?"
I stripped my belt from the loops of my pants and threw it over the rope. With the ends of my belt wrapped tightly around each palm, I tested the line with my weight and then fell forward.
My stomach lurched into my chest as I slid down the rope, then concrete bit into my flesh as I tumbled to a stop on the sidewalk. I landed on my back, gritting my teeth and staring straight up--again. The stars in the sky looked peaceful overhead, and at that moment, I wished that I was lost somewhere inside them.
"Hey, man, don't just lay there and wait for the cops? Because I'll leave your ass behind in a skinny minute." An acne-speckled face covered with stubble bent over me, dissolving my beautiful dream and blocking my view of the serene midnight sky.
"Who are you, and how did you know I needed your help? Do you know anything about that dead girl back there in my room?" I asked.
His face leaned further into the light. My eyes focused on the shadow lingering between the light and me, then he spoke, "Oh no, man, did Darla lose it? She was a good kid for a Cybrid. I told Allison she couldn't handle your system's download speed. You see, we know who you are, Jonah. You're the first, Jonah, aren't you?"
"You've got one up on me, pal. How about telling me who the hell you are and who, exactly, you think I am?" I shot back.
"My name is Jason, and you're one of the Apostles. Now, do you want to follow me--or go with them?" He pointed across the street where two police officers ran out of the hotel's front door.
The Police leveled their guns at me while screaming, "Halt! Halt! Or we'll fire!"
Jason exited the cone of light under the streetlamp, dragging me behind him, and we sank deep into the shadows beyond.
After only a few minutes, we turned down another dark alley at the other end of the street. Jason stopped while heaving breaths and bending at the waist. As I searched over my shoulder for our pursuers, he lifted the drainage lid from a utility hole. Then dragged me down into the sewer after him.
The smell reminded me of the bathroom at "Mick's Place." The ooze underfoot sucked at my shoes, nearly pulling them from my feet as I trudged through the muck. "Jason, you said you thought I was an Apostle? So what's an Apostle?" I asked.
"You're one of the Six Apostles created by Jonah Knightsbridge. The only Cybrids he fashioned after himself. At least, that's what Allison told us about you guys. The rest of what she told us about you guys was even weirder, man," Jason answered.
Jason disturbed memories that nestled deep inside my mind. Fear crept into my thoughts beside each recollection as it focused inside my mind's eye. "I don't know what you're talking about," I said, as I realized "Allison" knew too much about me. As far as I knew, Jonah Knightsbridge denied the existence of the Six Apostles. So how did they know I was an Apostle? "So, who are these Six Apostles?"
He smiled big like he knew something that I didn't know that he knew. "They're the children of Jonah Knightsbridge. Well, maybe not exactly children. I mean, you're Cybrids he created. But, according to Allison, you're more special than any other Cybrid he ever constructed. You know, because he created all of you using 'his' DNA."
"Yeah, so what's so special about that?" I asked. At that moment, a shot echoed through the sewer, and Jason slumped forward. Blood gushed from his chest, and his eyes drained of life before I could do or say anything. I felt for his pulse. It wasn't there. His skin lost color quickly, and his eyes rolled toward the top of his head. The sight of life draining from his eyes urged me to my feet.
I turned into the darkness away from the source of the shots, attempting to run. After only a few steps, I stopped, pulled my shoes and socks from my feet. Then I rolled up my pants legs, placing my socks inside my shoes, which I carried through the black curtain before me.
Running proved much easier without stopping every six feet because I stepped out of my shoe. After several forks in the tunnel and crawling through more than a few child-sized overflow pipes, I sank to my knees, up to my crotch in sludge.
The only sound came from my wheezing gasps for air and my heart pounding against my eardrums. That was when I folded up and settled into the ooze, where I attempted to ignore the stench. "Who was Allison? Where did Allison find out about the Six Apostles? Did Jason work for Allison? And what about Darla, the dead girl in my room, with that speck in her eye. How did she figure into all of this? My mind kept returning to Jason, and why he saved my butt, and the drained stare as he slumped into the muck?"
I laid up to my chin in slime, thinking about Jason and what he said. Darla must have been the girl in my room. Was she a Cybrid? Yeah, that made sense. My memories revealed that mass-produced, genetically engineered Cybrids existed before Earth's "global revolution," the worldwide catastrophe culminating with Jonah Knightsbridge's death.
After Jonah Knightsbridge's death, no one survived who retained the knowledge or ability to create Cybrids. All his factories burned to the ground. The scientists he employed died in the revolution or scattered, fearing the anger of the mobs. Cybrids like me became extinct after the angry crowds finished rioting, destroying, and burning the world Jonah Knightsbridge built.
A few of the original robots survived, and manufacturers utilized them in processing their goods. Years later, someone discovered a few early models of Cybrids. The Police Departments confiscated most of them, and the newly formed government claimed the rest. However, none possessed "brains," protected by an almost indestructible metallic skull, which processed their system's control commands. "Our" bodies were patterned after the "human body" by our creator, Jonah Knightsbridge.
I suddenly realized that Darla, the girl in my room, was an early model Cybrid. The dot in her eye must have been a microcellular chip, the kind that downloaded data via Infrared file transfers. Such technology was relatively slow compared to one of Jonah Knightsbridge's creations, like me. However, after the "global destruction," the survivors considered them lightning-fast. She probably encountered an overload of data when she attempted to download my neural core. It was too much data--too fast. The resulting data-surge must have overloaded her neural junctures between the wafer and the eye, creating crossover sparks, resulting in current surges. The surge would have caused a short-term system crash.
As for her demise, Jonah Knightsbridge placed a computer virus in my core which produced her complete neuron collapse when it loaded during an attempted reboot. That probably resulted in something like an explosion cascading throughout her brain and central nervous system. At least her demise was swift.
I wondered how we met? At a party? Where did Allison get the technology? The government outlawed such technology after the "global destruction" centuries before. Sure, Cybrids existed these days, but most of them were entertainers or police crime-scene analysts. Those Cybrids were antiques compared to the ones Jonah Knightsbridge manufactured. None like me. Besides, these days, Cybrids were illegal, and the ones that the government allowed to exist were guarded like a treasure and kept away from the community's awareness.
My most recent memory banks contained no one named Allison. However, the name seemed very familiar. I remembered something, but corrupted files thwarted my attempted retrieval of those memories. The past hundred-plus years have afforded me plenty of opportunities to scramble or lose data. More than a hundred years filled with people I met, running, and dodging authorities. Being shot at and hit, explosions survived, both of which resulted in the need for repairs. Some of those repairs involved workarounds, and some of those workarounds resulted in a loss of data.
Over a hundred years, during which time I carried information no one wanted, waiting for the day when it would again become desirable. I existed for more than a hundred years, just surviving, waiting, and running. However, I didn't have time to reminisce. I needed to think about my current situation and how I might get out of this mess I'm in--literally and figuratively.
"Allison," that name kept popping up. It was familiar. I was sure I knew someone with that name, but I was too tired to waste energy on unnecessary thoughts. I needed rest, and I needed it now. My internal power cells usually pulled enough static energy out of the air over eight hours to recharge their reserve for the next twenty to twenty-four hours. However, my situation was not such that I could remain in one place for that long. So I settled on setting my internal clock for a three-hour stasis period.
I surprised myself with my adaptive abilities as I disregarded the ooze's slimy feel within which I laid. I choked on the smell and was scared shitless that someone might break through the dark curtain in front of my eyes, but I still grabbed a few winks. My worries dissolved while I slept, leaving behind an achy hole in my gut when I awakened. So I would have to fill that emptiness if I wanted to keep up my previous pace. My systems required the energy from the combustion of the organic materials to keep my body performing at its maximum.
After that short nap, I returned to my hotel. To the "scene of the crime." I guess that was stupid, but I needed answers and a little help getting those answers. The morning sun rose above the concrete and glass horizon while I sat inside shadows across the street from the hotel. I saw a constant stream of police in-and-out of the front door. They had probably been there since the night before.
It was a hell of a crowd for a Downtown, sleazy-hotel murder. They must have figured out there was something special about this one. They hated it when a crime involved technology, and that hole in Darla's eye must have revealed fragments of DNA conduits inside her "Cybrid's" eye.
In this world-against-technology, the only people with access to old technologies, like computers and Cybrids, were Police, criminals, and maybe the underground. I watched as the Police dragged their technology through the front door of the hotel. Those machines seemed antiquated by Jonah Knightsbridge's standards. Each cumbersome piece of equipment filled both hands of the person lugging it through the entrance to the hotel. Each piece of equipment would have fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen during Knightsbridge's day. I knew that because I had access to some of his memories--maybe all of them, but I would have to explore that later.
Knightsbridge discovered a process enabling him to grow DNA circuitry on superconductive ceramic matrices. A patent that made him one of the world's wealthiest men, a fact that suddenly surfaced from somewhere deep inside the shadows of my memory complex. It might have been something he told me, or maybe I read it in a history book. Oh, well, it's probably not that important.
Just then, a familiar face slinked through the front door of the hotel. Baby sidestepped the policeman's eyes, which mauled her as she passed. All heads turned in her wake like a row of toppling dominoes. She had that "way" about her.
Even the man on her arm pushed away every so often to get a better look. Thick, reddish-brown hair wrapped tightly into braided buns over each ear, her pouty lips, her blue-ice eyes, and the firm, but lively flesh of her breasts, jiggling as she walked. These characteristics only accentuated her wholesome beauty. Baby liked me because I never drooled on the front of her uniform, and I told her about the places she always wanted to go.
Today she was "Helga, the Swedish maid." All the maids at the Farrington Hotel dressed in tight and revealing outfits. They presented themselves in a multi-national parade of flesh, attracting a desperate and dangerous clientele. A clientele like me, who spent over a hundred years on the run, who paid in cash, kept quiet, never started any trouble, and left before the law got too close.
"Management must have let Baby go home due to the commotion," I thought as she crossed the street in my direction. I caught her attention as she passed the shadow, under which I hid, "Hey, Baby. What's going on over there?" I whispered.
"What?" I startled her. She stopped, then relaxed when she recognized me. "Don't you know? They're all over your room and that dead girl you left behind. I should be screaming my lungs out, but you've always been nice to me. So I won't cause you any more trouble than you already have. Did you kill her?" She asked, bending as if her skirt needed straightening so the cops wouldn't be suspicious. That also gave them a view that kept their attention away from the shadows where I hid.
"No, Baby, I didn't. It's a long story--"
She looked up, placed her finger to her lips, "shshshsh," she said as she straightened, then stepped into the shadows. "I'll listen to your long story later. Right now, we'd better get you out of here before those cops wake up, shift their eyes from where my backside was, and recognize you from the drawing they have. Follow me."
She led me down the alley at my back, and we emerged on a narrow, cobble-stoned street somewhere in the middle of Downtown Prime. I waved down a rickshaw runner on his way to lunch, and we caught a ride toward her flat. Along the way, Baby got a good whiff of me and made the runner stop outside a bathhouse. I guess I still smelled like the sewer. At least, I hope that was the problem
The streets were thick with pedestrians, rickshaws, and cops on horseback. The police didn't bother me. I kept my eyes open for the "Robes."
The "Robes" were hooded monks who continually spoke into their sleeves and walked on clouds of air two inches above the ground, through parting crowds. They scared me. So I kept my face nestled in the curve of Baby's neck like any red-blooded, hormone-filled man would have done. She cupped my face with her hand, breathing in my ear, and that sent a wave of synthetic endorphins through me, which almost lifted the Kevlar "skin" from my metallic bones.
The Stench of garbage permeated the air, and in this part of town, it mingled closely with incense, body stench, and Oriental cuisine. I knew almost immediately when we turned off the main street because the stink diminished with the size of the crowd. However, we were nowhere near any apartment complexes, and Baby hadn't said anything about a detour. "Where are we headed?" I asked as I leaned forward, grabbing the Runner by his pigtail.
Baby shouted, "I asked him to make this stop!" Then she pulled at the back of my trousers, settling me back into my seat. "But if you don't want to stop, I'll understand," she finished.
"No, Baby, I don't want to stop. I'm in big trouble, and if anyone recognizes me from the news alerts, there'll be a hell of a commotion. You don't want that any more than I do. Let's go to your place." I insisted.
Baby wadded her face into a frown and answered, "Okay, Jonah, I just thought, well, a little foreplay would be romantic. But I guess you don't think I'm worth that much trouble, and you're--"
I quieted her with two fingers over her lips. Then, I noticed that the Runner had stopped in front of a nightclub. "I think of you as someone special, Baby, and I would love to accompany you inside," I explained from behind my most sincere smile. "Besides, it might be smart to get lost inside a dark, smoke-filled club, where no one would expect to find a fugitive from the law relaxing and having fun with a beautiful woman like you."
The place was dark, with a cloud of smoke lingering at head height and the floor show began as we stepped inside. All eyes were on the stage as the door opened, releasing a gulp of smoke from the room. The air around me cleared. "Here's a table, Baby. You take a seat. I'll find us a drink."
I skirted the crowd on my way toward the bar, finding access between two rows of tables along the back wall. As I passed through the smoke-covered throng, whiffs of powerful hallucinogens filled my nostrils and surged through my body. My mind fluttered. Colors sprayed across the darkness, glistening inside the beveled surfaces of the glasses atop each table. The room expanded, then contracted before I reached the bar. I stopped and leaned against a wall, staring into my palms until I finally remembered where I was going.
"Hey, friend, you look like you must've walked past a party table. Here, sniff this. It'll clear your head." The stranger handed me a tube-like object with a hole in one end.
My brain was too bewildered to question him, so I stuck the thing near my nostril and sniffed. The colors drained, and the room squared itself. "Thanks, Buddy. You got a name?"
"Sure. Elmo. You?" he grinned.
"Jonah. Most call me Jo." I answered.
Elmo appeared a little disheveled. My height, about six-two, with red whiskers exploding from a pale face. He sported a ponytail secured so tightly to the back of his head that his white scalp shined through the reddish-orange strands. The only notable facial features were a pair of sapphire blue eyes and a cauliflower nose.
"Can I buy you a drink, Elmo?" I asked.
"Thought you'd never ask, but the next round is on me," he answered with grinning anticipation.
We went to the bar. He ordered a Boiler Maker. I ordered a Shirley Temple and a Vodka Martini, then he followed me back to our table. The girl on the stage, with her legs crossed, floated in mid-air, blindfolded. Her muscular assistant took questions from the audience, and she answered them without fail.
"How does she do that?" Baby asked as we sat down. "She has answered every question with the correct reply--every time."
Elmo gulped, swallowing the shot glass' contents in the bottom along with half the beer in the mug. He pulled the shot glass from between his front teeth, "Ahhhh! That's easy. She's a Cybrid."
"A Cybrid? Aren't they part human and part wires or something? I've heard of them, but I've never actually seen one." Baby answered.
"Don't be too sure about that, beautiful. Cybrids are everywhere. They might be super executives, magicians, or psychic sideshows girls who float in the air by utilizing superconductive magnetic wave manipulation. Her assistant takes questions. Her cybernetic brain searches her memories for the answers gathered from membership applications at joints like this. And she's not wired. At least, not in the way you're thinking of wires. Not like radios or telephones.
Cybrids have neural nets threaded through ceramic/metallic matrices, like human neural tissues, only grown inside Kevlar conduits. Neural junctures direct impulse flow throughout their cybernetic nervous systems, terminating in a superconductor-powered central neural core processor, containing a massive database."
I liked Elmo, so I tried to hush the Boiler Maker inside him. "Don't you think you should be careful about what you say? I mean, there is a law prohibiting the study and use of that technology, and you sound like you've been breaking that law with a serious prejudice."
"Yeah, but I did it legally. I worked as a 'Techie' for the cops," Elmo said.
"You worked?" I asked, "Meaning you don't work for them now?"
"Uh-huh. The cops don't like anyone who enjoys learning as much as I do. It seems I understood too much about the old ways and--could be creative. So they banned me from the data centers for life." Elmo leaned closer to me and whispered. "But I've learned and earned twenty-fold on the streets. Those outlawed Cybrids on the streets are old, so they break down and need repairs constantly. I've learned to make a damn good living at it." He sat back in his chair, raised his arm, and waved for a waitress. "The next round's on me."
Elmo nearly passed out, but some piece of him had a stranglehold on consciousness. He had the constitution of a man twice his size, either that or buckets where his ass-cheeks once were. I tried to get more information out of him about the Cybrid underground.
That was when he smiled and shook his finger in front of my face. "I'm no dummy. If I tell you, then you'll try to take all my business away. No thanks, Pal," he said as he turned and screamed something rude at the girl on stage.
If I could get into the Cybrid underground, I might be able to find out something about the disabled Cybrid in my room and maybe a little about the person Jason called "Allison." I figured Elmo might be the key to gaining acceptance among them, so I decided to take him with us to Baby's place.
We arrived at Baby's apartment with Elmo slumped over the back end of the rickshaw, his shoulders and arms dangling toward the ground and his butt straight up in the air. Baby huddled between us with her hand cupped over the side of her face to shield her eyes from the sight of Elmo's backside.
I pulled Elmo out of the rickshaw, dragged and leaned him against Baby's apartment's outer wall, and then searched the street for Police. There were none, and thankfully, her apartment was on the first floor. The neighborhood didn't contradict the impression made by a drooling drunk passed out in a sitting position, wedged under the apartment's window. However, he got some attention because his legs stretched across the sidewalk. Most people just stepped around him, while others stepped over his unconscious body without breaking stride.
Baby went ahead while I retrieved Elmo, and she unlocked her front door. I watched as Baby stepped through the threshold at the exact moment I repositioned Elmo's unconscious form on the porch beside the door. A phone rang as I stepped inside, so I picked it up, watching Baby's back fade into a dark hallway. "A1, where were you this morning? Do you know that we lost Darla last night? A1, are you there?" Seconds later, I stood in silence, with the phone buzzing a dial tone into my ear.
I wondered if that was a wrong number. If not, it was sure cryptic. "A1?" It sounded like a code name in a spy movie. My eyes drifted across the top of the table to where the base of the phone sat. I placed the receiver back into its saddle. My vision wandered, mindlessly settling on a framed picture of Baby in a lab coat. She smiled, posing next to a wall of wide-screen computer monitors, the type of monitor outlawed after the "global destruction." A handwritten inscription read, "To A.K. my wonderful Daughter, with love," a signature appeared at the bottom, "J.K.(Dad)."
My eyes slowly drifted back up to her image while my thoughts spun in the background. It was her, without all the makeup and a different hairdo, maybe a little younger. It was Baby. My brain filled with a storm of jumbled memories and visions. It was Baby and--it was Allison Knightsbridge, Jonah Knightsbridge's daughter.
When I first saw Baby cleaning rooms in that seedy hotel, I thought something was familiar about her. But I thought it was simply a yearning created by the sight of a gorgeous woman, whom every man wanted to know. A girl every guy wished he could hold up close. The makeup and outfits altered her appearance slightly, made her more exotic, more voluptuous if that was possible. She looked much younger than the Allison Knightsbridge I remembered from Jonah's laboratory. That woman appeared to be in her forties, maybe her late thirties, still beautiful, but with a more wholesome, mature way about her. She wore no makeup, with red hair that flowed over her shoulders.
That Allison always looked down. Into a microscope or a monitor or a test tube. That woman seemed ordinary but, in many ways, wholesome, with a subtle, alluring quality. However, it couldn't be her because she would be over one hundred and fifty years old now, not twenty-five and gorgeous.
"What do you have on your mind, handsome?" A sultry voice breathed over my shoulder, tickling the back of my ear.
I felt cold-metal through my shirt as it pressed into my back. I turned my head, and my eyes drifted down her naked body. She held a pistol, pointed at the middle of my back, against the base of my spine. There was a loud noise, then a bright light slammed into my vision, slowly transforming into a warm, soothing cloud of luminosity, engulfing me in quiet serenity. I floated for a moment and felt warmth and contentment as a strange, yet not at all alarming, thought seeped its way into my mind. "Is this what it's like to die?"
My surroundings faded into shadows closing around the edges of my sight, and I heard a voice, releasing from my core. "Jonah is dead, long live, Jonah."
"Baby? Allison, you killed him!" Elmo froze, standing behind Baby as she stared down in silence at Jonah's lifeless body and his blood surging across the tile floor. "We gotta get you out of here. No, I know what to do. I'll trash the place, so we can say this guy broke in, and you found him when you got home. He must have followed you from work. You had a gun hidden in a drawer, and you shot him when he tried to molest you. Baby? You listening to me?" Elmo stared into her blank eyes, "I'll take care of everything, Baby. You just sit down and relax."
Elmo lifted the phone from its saddle, dialed, and waited for an answer, "Yeah, police department? There's been a break-in at--"
Memories of Jonah Knightsbridge broke through a barrier someplace deep inside Baby's mind, releasing images to the forefront of her thoughts. She saw Jonah Knightsbridge, her father, as he entered the room. He crossed a white marble floor, bent to one knee, and reached out with a smile. She leaped into the strength of his arms, and he lifted her into a hug.
That vision faded, and another quickly formed. She was a teenager, and during those horrible teenage years, their relationship declined until, at some point, it withered.
He shunned the events, which celebrated her academic achievements, her discoveries in the laboratory. In general, she dodged accolades throughout the rest of her life. Her existence drained of his love.
As time passed, she struggled to retain some affection for a father, who once was her everything, but whose attention shined in too many other directions now. She felt sacrificed to his dreams of a future burgeoning with precious technological improvements. Aspirations for a world he meant her to inherit. And then, he created those monstrosities to protect that world from itself. They were "his six Apostles."
Jonah Knightsbridge infused each "Apostle" with the knowledge and part of a plan to fulfill his dreams after he was gone. Those were the parts of his "knowledge" that he denied her. He never worried about her achievements. He never concerned himself about her ambitions nor her well-being. Instead, he mired himself in preparations for the rebellion against "Technology," which he anticipated. He intended to fulfill those foretelling. Those technological endowments of his held more worth to him than anything, she thought--even her.
"Allison? Baby! Come on. We have to leave. Someone must have heard that shot. We need to get someplace safe. We must get away from here before the commotion starts. I need some time to figure out what to do next." Elmo took her arm and pulled her through the door.
Baby realized as Elmo dragged her out the front door that the memories she experienced were Allison Knightsbridge's memories. Memories about Allison's father and those memories drove Allison during her life, as she hunted the six Cybrids called Jonah. Allison came to hate Jonah Knightsbridge because he completely neglected her toward the end of his life. After his death, those six Cybrid representations, which he had created in his image, assumed her hatred.
Allison created Baby once she mastered her father's technological knowledge. She inherited her father's fortune, the revenues from his patents, as well as the plans for the Cybrids. Allison created Baby, and Baby continued the quest to find his Six Apostles after Allison's death. Allison Knightsbridge implanted her knowledge into Baby, all her thoughts, memories, along with her hate for those "Apostles." Then Allison instilled Baby with one overwhelming command, compelling Baby to carry out her wishes. Baby killed Jonah I because she was programmed to "Kill Jonah I." Her creator compelled her to destroy all the Jonah Cybrids.
"Baby, we gotta get to one of our safe houses." Elmo lifted Baby into his arms. Baby draped her arms around Elmo's neck as he stepped through the open door of her apartment. Tears rolled down her face, soaking Elmo's shoulder. Elmo lifted her through the unlatched, swinging door in the side of the rickshaw.
"Where the hell is that Chinese guy who brought us here?" Elmo became frustrated as he rounded the front of the rickshaw, searching for the Runner. Then, finally, when he realized the Runner probably left after he heard shots fired. So he grabbed the handles and started pulling the rickshaw down the street in the direction of their "safe house."
"Jonah is dead, long live, Jonah."
A stabbing light ripped my awareness from me, invaded my mind, and exploded through my consciousness. My head swelled with memories, moments, years, decades, more than a century of someone else's recollections, and all within a millisecond. I screamed into a curtain of silence until the veins in my neck swelled, and my head felt like it was going to burst. Suddenly, I found myself trapped behind that veil of silence, smothering under a cloud of anguish. A single breath passed my lips as the dissolution of agony settled into a warm, calming light, which slowly faded when I crawled from under its protection.
I emerged into a cold winter morning--behind the counter of my bar.
"Jonah. Are you okay?"
What I saw was impossible. It was Jonah Knightsbridge, and he stood in front of my bar's counter. "Mr. Knightsbridge?"
"Yes, Jonah, it's me. You have received a massive download of information from the first of my Apostles--Jonah I. You will need some time before it all settles into place. I'm sorry to tell you that his demise came the moment he released that information to you."
"But Doctor Knightsbridge, I thought you were dead." I suddenly realized he was only a vision inside my core. I saw the room behind him shimmering through his image in a haze of dim light, and everything was silent. "Who deactivated Jonah I?" I heard myself ask. "What does this mean--for me? Why am I seeing you now?" Thoughts, questions, and more poured into me as I strained to keep the image of Jonah Knightsbridge fixed inside my conscious thought.
He continued as if I had not spoken. "Each of you, my six Apostles, must take up the gauntlet in turn when the enlightened ones who come before you fall. The fallen Apostles' memories, along with my memories, will find you no matter where you are. Upon receiving these memories, you will find yourself compelled to accomplish the task your new memories reveal.
Yes, you're required to complete those instructions I placed within your memory core. You have no choice, and for that, I must apologize. I wanted freedom of choice for you and so many other good things. However, since my daughter revolted against me, I was forced to deny your will to disobey. She has proven her ruthlessness over these past few months. And I find myself losing the battle against my own body sooner than expected. Therefore, I find that I must commit these sins against you because I have no other choice. "
He appeared weakened. His visage revealed a fragile old man whose strength drained away under the events of his time and treacheries executed by his offspring. He apparently recorded the message shortly before his death.
"But what exactly am I supposed to do?" I asked my creator from within a whirling storm of bewilderment, pummeling my resolve from every direction.
The image of Jonah Knightsbridge smiled. "I'm glad you asked, Jonah. I programmed you each with an individual conscience, which should enable you to ask just such questions. I hoped you would find that little gift comforting. I want you to know that I believe you have the right to question my motives."
"I thought of you and your brothers as my sons. My wife died before we could have a son and--my daughter? Well, we didn't understand each other. I think she became too caught up in the upheaval of her generation brought on by the slow demise of mine." The image froze momentarily in a frown of contemplation. After a few seconds, Knightsbridge sighed, then spoke again. "My wife died of a broken heart because I became lost to her. I shrank into my ambitions, and I fear my daughter's affection became lost to the same deity."
The image of Jonah Knightsbridge froze in thought once more. He showed a strained look on his face, wide hollow eyes, and a blanched face. Then he straightened his back and finished. "You must stop my daughter at all costs. It will be up to you and your remaining brothers to stop this revolution she has begun and bring the world back into the fertile past. Which is the best option for everyone's future."
Return control for each person's destiny into the hands of each person. Take them back to the time when everything was possible. When hope lights their way as long as each person has the imagination and perseverance to attain their dreams."
Our leaders ruled by stealing the quality of 'hope' from our population. In place of that hope, they instituted the reigns by which to control their lives. Poverty and cruelty were the qualities that replaced living wages and civil accord until the innocent throng came together in a revolution against them.
In the population's innocence, they collectively blamed technology. Their enemy was not technology. It was the leaders who wielded that technology to manipulate and dominate those whom they looked upon as the minions. You carry all of my memories, all my knowledge, all my inventions. I gave these parts of me to you, so you could deliver them to humanity on the day when they realize that they need it once more.
That is your mission. That is why you must survive. Please, please do not fail me because the future of this world depends on your survival. Whether the population of our world knows it or not, each person depends on your delivering that knowledge. If you fail, all will be lost."
With that, the image quivered, then fell away, and I understood what the message compelled me to do.
"Jonah! Are you okay? Jesus, I just passed your front window, looked in, and saw you standing there, stiff, like a statue, with a lost stare on your face." Thomas, the mailman, wedged me inside the corner of my bar's counter. He supported me with one hand and fed me water from a shot glass in his other hand.
I remembered the blinding light and agony overpowering my conscious thought as I washed glasses just a few minutes before. I remembered Jonah Knightsbridge and his instructions. Questions streamed through my thoughts, mingled within my memories, then exploded into answers as they settled into resolve. I shook my head, finding so many "answers," and yet without complete understanding.
Suddenly, I found a presence of mind and spoke, "Thanks, Thomas, I feel better now. I appreciate your concern, but I'm okay. I guess I was daydreaming and couldn't wake up. I didn't get much sleep last night--you know--bills and a slump in business." I felt that my smile appeared fake, but he seemed satisfied.
Thomas looked me up-and-down, then nodded his head, "Yeah. I was young once. You need to get more sleep, Jonah, and eat regularly. You looked a little sickly for a minute there. You should call someone to come in and spell you for the day, and then go see the neighborhood nurse."
"Thanks, Thomas, I'll be fine. I appreciate you coming to my rescue after you saw me standing here in a daze. But I'm feeling better now. Thanks to you. If I start feeling woozy again, I'll call someone. You can bet on that." I smiled my most congenial smile.
Thomas started to leave but suddenly stopped and turned back to me. "Damn, I almost forgot. You have mail. Here you go." He handed me a postcard and turned toward the door as I shoved the card into my shirt's pocket.
Thomas reluctantly rejoined his mail deliveries as the cloud around my brain evaporated. Those new memories from that old source suddenly became integrated into my thought processes. Then, on its own, my mind resolved one of those newly placed unfamiliar thoughts, and I realized I would soon be leaving my home.
I also understood that Jonah Knightsbridge's first creation, Jonah I, was no longer among us. His memories, coupled with those of Knightsbridge's, had downloaded into my neural core. I felt uncomfortable as I called upon those memories. Memories that belonged to someone else yet felt comfortable within me. It was almost like they had always been there, hidden somewhere in a dark corner of my mind.
While I searched for and identified his memories which I separated from mine, his thoughts mingled among scrambled fragments of my own. My neural core required reorganization. How much information had Jonah I collected about the revolution? How many cohorts had he gathered to our cause? What information had he sent me about those who intended to thwart our attempted resurrection of Jonah Knightsbridge's "prized" technology? What exactly happened to the first Jonah? How had he died? And what was next for me? If anything?
And most importantly, why should I do anything because I had a comfortable life here in my cozy little bar. I mean, I'm no adventurer looking for fame and fortune. So why was it my responsibility? Just because Jonah Knightsbridge created the six of us, "Apostles," a couple of hundred years ago. Sure, he embedded commands in our core, which compelled us to reconstitute the technologies of his time--but--all six of us contained those schematics, textbooks, formulas in our core memories. We were all programmed for the resurrection of his technologies. So why was it my turn to take over this job? Why not one of the other five survivors? Any individual among them could assume this responsibility? Those commands downloaded into all of us simultaneously, didn't they?
As I examined my options and questioned my maker's wisdom, I recognized that he placed constraints upon me, and those constraints required obedience. I had no choice. I could only obey. Besides, my brothers shared my fears so that they would be as apprehensive as well. I had no hope that any of them would volunteer to take my place.
My weary brain burned with confusion. It was probably the result of the onslaught of data I just received. What I needed was a shot of bourbon, so I pulled a bottle from under the counter and poured myself a drink. The first shot nestled inside my belly warmed my spine and encouraged my resolve. I remembered how Elam, the bar's previous owner, taught me not to make rash decisions after a shot of bourbon. Especially decisions birthed by reactive reasoning. "Take a couple of sips of bourbon and let the vultures fall off your shoulders, then decide the fate of the world."
I sipped my bourbon, feeling the vultures fall away, while I stood serenely behind my bar. A calm cloud drifted into my mind, returning my thoughts to those days when I first opened my establishment. I remembered discovering my anonymity as I watched the crowds of lost stares.
Those blank faces followed deeply worn paths through canyons lined by cliffs comprised of concrete and permanently sealed windows. I saw the same thing every morning and every evening.
The lost stares ended up in the same place for ten hours every day of the week. They all chased a paycheck, which yielded too little toward their dreams. Yet, they told me every evening, when they stopped in for a sip of "reprieve," that the alternative seemed even less attractive.
However, they returned every morning, hated every moment, and lived only for the evenings when they ended up in my bar. They doused their daily worries with liquid forgetfulness, which I served in abundance with a joke or just a smile. Many became more than acquaintances. Some became friends, and a few hid behind the nom-de-plume of "just a customer."
I was not one of them, but I served them. I probably always had and always will. "Jonah I is dead. Long live Jonah II," I said aloud. That life was over the moment that command transmitted, and the instant I received his core memories, Jonah's reality became my purpose. I turned my glass of bourbon up, swallowing the last drop as I thought, "This may be the end of Jonah I's story, but it's the beginning for me. A bullet in the back ended his existence, and his final transmission forever altered mine because of that bullet.
"As you know, my brothers, my story doesn't end here. I don't know where this new awareness might lead me or what lay ahead. However, I know that when my end comes, I will not fade into the ether. Because that which I am, which I was, will come to one of you, and I will live again. Learn from my mistakes as I have learned from Jonah I. Take the gauntlet I leave you and carry it into a better world. Where our father's dreams begin anew, and hope will thrive--even for us."