Tag Archives: Crime

Apocalypse cancelled

“Scientists are now reporting they did the calculations in English instead of metric. We actually have another twenty thousand years to live.” The news report had come in at 12:07, seven minutes after the world was supposed to end.

No government had survived the ensuing chaos. Every last politician had defaced themselves beyond repair, those that weren’t lynched and hung that is, and the militaries of the world had taken the opportunity to fire every last round of non-nuclear ammunition that they had. After all, the world was supposed to go out with a bang right?

The world had now divided into three factions, the people who had lost everything, the people who had. prepared properly because they knew it wouldn’t, and the people who had gotten all the money and resources from the people who had panicked.

The scientists and religious which made up the second group were an odd mix. There were skeptical scientists who had done the math themselves, and realized they weren’t going to die, and the very religious who had either not partied relentlessly, or had known through some religious dogma they would be fine. These two groups now found themselves working closely together as they were the protagonists of the post-apocalyptic world.

The victims of the apocalypse were those that had committed horrible crimes, or had squandered their wealth needlessly. Most of the world was penniless, or on the run from the families of those they had killed or robbed. Mostly penniless though, so much food and gas had been depleted in the final hours, and the people had been shuffled all over going to their dream vacation spots to die. People woke up in countries they did not know the language of, and no way to get home. Borders meant nothing anymore, no remained inside the countries to enforce the borders, since they were now scattered and broke.

Which left the winners of the fake apocalypse, those that now finding themselves drunk with power and stuffed to bursting with ill-gotten gains. It was the gangs, the hardened criminals, and the shrewd couple of businesses who had wagered the world would not end. The gangs had banded together to protect themselves from last minute police or opposing gang retaliations. The hardened criminals had all sprung from jail, and spent the night amassing stockpiles of everything they had missed, and the businessmen had made highly illegal deals to consolidate the world’s power.

They formed a hierarchy, the businesses contacting the gangs to enforce their new laws, and the gangs hiring the criminals for their resources and illegal knowledge. The businesses spread outward, bringing more and more gangs under their belt, and utilizing their company resources to spread far and wide. A burger chain took the east coast of the United States by storm. A famous rapper dominated the west coast, and the middle was controlled by a mess of smaller steakhouses and land owners.

Smaller island nations like Japan, Iceland, and New Zealand were taken over by an airliner who used their fleet to land gangs at key supply points to control the flow of resources. Australia’s inhabitants had all either died or gone into the bush. Africa was overrun with medical corporations. The middle east was taken by oil. Some small business owner who had gotten hold of nuclear weapons was now running India. Cartels ran Central and South America, and Europe had splintered into hundreds of small warring states.

The Vatican gathered to it all the world’s scientists and religious leaders, using its influence, and the Swiss guards, to control Italy. They rallied to the call of any people who could reach them to call for help. They invented new planes and boats for rapid international travel, and new crops for food distribution. The religious institutions used their experience in aid delivery around the world to make sure the supplies got into the right hands, and the scientists saw they had the means to deliver them.

It is now a slow battle with the church and scientific community fighting inch by inch to take back civilization. They pray every night before they sleep that the smaller disjointed corporate states do not band together and wipe them out.

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Man out of time(short version)

As is the case with many of the novellas, man out of time resulted from a short story. In case anyone doesn’t have time to read six thousand words on a blog, here is the short and sweet version. Enjoy!

“Gary Ridgway, you have served your sentence of 1680 years, and you are now free to go.” With a nod to the judge the criminal turns and walks away. They had called him crazy for volunteering for the cryogenic freezing program, but it had worked. They had thawed him out a hundred years or so ago, and it turns out he was the only one who survived the thawing process. Now he was the world’s oldest man by over a thousand years.

He grabs his affects and heads out of the gates to his sky cab. A reporter on Mars has paid over 10 trillion dollars to be the first to interview. He was informed this is equivalent to only a million dollars in his time’s money, but it was still a lot.

A crowd of fans and historians is at the gates to greet him, but he just ducks his head and silently passes through, aided by a few members of the emperor’s personal bodyguard. Apparently the emperor of earth has declared anyone who harms this historical person is to be executed onsight, and has ordered a few of his best man, and several satellite laser strike drones, to see that it is done.

As he sits down in the plush personal interstellar car and takes off he realizes one thing. He doesn’t want any of it. He was happy they had locked him up. He was an addict who hated himself, but just couldn’t stop. When they had sentenced him he was almost overjoyed that the world would be protected from him.

Then when the cryo experiment came up he signed up immediately, not expecting to survive. If he had died giving his life to progress life saving technology, maybe it would have balanced out all the evil he had done. Now he was the sole survivor, and they were worshipping the ground he walked on. He had money, protection, fame, and it disgusted him.

As the cab fired up its FTL drive he sighed and thought about what he would say. They would try to make him a superstar. The millennium man, the ice man, father time, he was already hearing the names from his guards. He would have to take that fame, that money, and do something with it. He had spent his first chance at life destroying others. Now he was given a second chance at life, and he would spend it building others. It wouldn’t be enough. It couldn’t possibly be enough, but he had to try.

Unhooked part five

“You guys are some very scary people.” I say upon walking into the house. Thomas had setup a little demonstration of what we would look like. He had two pistols on shoulder holsters, and a third on his hip. There was a rifle on his lap, and another rifle slung across his back. He had a bandoleer of high caliber rounds and to top it all off, he was in all black tactical clothing with a black mask over this face.

“That’s the idea right?” He replies, standing up and shoulder his rifle.

“It’s a little ridiculous though isn’t it?” I ask. “I mean you need two hands to operate a pistol, and you have three. Those two rifles you have are the same rifle so there’s no possible reason for having both, and that bandoleer doesn’t have ammunition for any of your weapons.”

“You’re forgetting.” Jess is at my side, and she seems to approve of the setup. “We aren’t going for practical. He shouldn’t have to fire a single round, and everyone in that factory probably knows the same amount about weapons as you do. To say nothing of the fact that they’re probably going to be way too scared to count. Besides, all we have to do is intimidate one person. So we ditch logical, and just go for shock factor. You remember that feeling of danger that just magically radiated from the gun before you learned how to fire it? The more guns we bring the more we emphasize that feeling, and at the end of the day any rational person will realize it only takes one to get the job done, so even if they have their wits about them they should still comply.”

“About not firing a round.” Thomas says. “That’s not entirely accurate.” Jess rounds on him.

“Thomas, you better not have gotten any ideas.” Thomas picks up a bottle in front of him. I hadn’t noticed them before, but there are several bottles in front of him filled with a bluish solid.

“I haven’t, just did my prep work for demolition. See these?” He lifted the bottle. “Napalm, burns at almost 2000 degrees, way hotter than any wood fire, and hot enough to ignite some metals.”

“Metals burn?” I ask.

“Everything burns if you get it hot enough.” Thomas says. I don’t know if I believe him, but probably enough things in that factory will burn to shut it down permanently.

“I’m gonna place these around the factory, and hit them with incendiary rounds. It’s the quickest way I could think of to set off as many fires as possible as quick as possible.” I notice there are about a dozen bottles that all look to be a liter or more. “I would like to mix in some explosives, but we used the last of it a week ago.” I turned to Jess.

“Jess, you said you used these things for hunting. What kind of animals require incendiary rounds and explosives to hunt?” Jess practically giggled.

“I didn’t say we only used them for hunting. Ever put an ounce of an explosive binary compound in a watermelon and hit it with a sniper rifle round? You should, you haven’t really lived until you have.”

“I’m starting to have some second thoughts about who I spend my time with.” I say, only half joking.

“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.” Thomas says. I suppose I will have to try it at some point, but I find myself wondering what other supplies the siblings have squirreled away. The rounds on Thomas’ bandoleer were fired by a very large gun. I wouldn’t put it past them to have a tank hidden in the woods somewhere.

“Alright you two.” Thomas says. “You can see I’ve done my part, what have you two come up with? We kind of left it at destroy this facility. I’ve got the supplies to break in and burn, but don’t we need more intel than that first?”

“Like what?” I ask.

“You are such a zombie.” Thomas says. “Like what, like whose the person we’re going to find to get everyone to leave. Where does this person work, when do they work. How are we going to get to them without getting seen by anybody else? What kind of security does the base have. Did you just expect to walk through the door looking like this.” He gestures to himself. “And expect nothing would happen? Isn’t this plan supposed to be subtle?”

“Alright, alright, I get it.” I say. “Clearly I need to do some more research, here hand me my laptop.” Thomas had apparently been counting on this, and had turned my laptop on, stupid me for leaving it unlocked, then opened it to the page about the site we were going to hit. I had already printed out maps on how to get there, so at least that much was taken care of.

I sit down while Jess and Thomas anxiously inspect the weapons. While I hastily click through websites they’re loading magazines, attaching ammunition to tactical vests, and discussing which knives would look the most intimidating. I wondered if I could make new friends once people got unhooked from the pill.

The site has a personnel page. I open it expecting to just use whoever is the top person on the page. Unfortunately they all looked like business personnel who didn’t look they stepped foot in the lab or would have access to the security system. That wouldn’t do, it didn’t matter if they were important if they didn’t have access to the security system. Halfway down there’s a man in a lab coat whose title is director of process developmnet. Director sounded like a high rank, and process development sounded like a lab job.

“Got our man.” I announce. “Damian Winters.” I say, turning my laptop around for them to get a good look. “Director of process development.” The two look up and study his face, memorizing it so they can recognize him

“Okay.” Thomas says. “How do we get to him?”

“Working on that.” I say.

“Let us know when you have something.” Thomas replies, turning back to bottle of napalm he’s inspecting.

I open up Damian’s page and look around for something. Contact information, having his office phone might be a good idea. I copy and paste that info into a word processer for later use. He’s got a bio about drug design, and commitment to quality. That’s useless. Ah, office hours perfect. Monday through Friday 8-5. The guy must be unhooked to pull that kind of schedule. That turned my stomach. He knew what he was depriving people of, and yet he continued to perpetuate the process.

So now I had a time for us to grab him, now I needed a place and a way to get to it. I looked around his bio and didn’t find any more information. Dead end, several more internet searches showed nothing, and even some illegal use of assets from my job couldn’t find anything.

I pull his company page back up and look it over again, hoping something jumps out. Still nothing, maybe the answer isn’t found on a computer, maybe we have to improvise. I write the office phone number down on a piece of paper I have nearby and turn to Thomas.

“Hey Thomas, do you guys have a hunting rifle with a laser sight?” Thomas scoffed.

“What self-respecting gun owner wouldn’t own a hunting rifle with a laser sight?” Maybe having gun nut friends had some advantages.

We park the car a good two miles away from the factory to make sure our getaway vehicle isn’t spotted at the scene of the crime. The factory is in the middle of the woods, with no neighboring buildings nearby, so we naturally have to walk through the woods ourselves. It’s for the best really. If we walked on the sidewalk then people would get suspicious. We had all our gear stored in several heavy backpacks and duffle bags, but we didn’t want to attract any more attention than we had to.

It was a long walk, plenty of time to fully understand what you’re doing. When I had just woken up I was coursing with almost every emotion there was. Now I had time to cool off and project my energy into other things. Now things were real. That word, real, so many meanings over the last day. It had meant pain, fear, surprise, elation, sadness depression, and shock. Now I could add one more meaning to the list, resolution.

I knew what this meant, or I at least thought I did. We were breaking the law, in a big way, and even putting some people’s lives in a small degree of danger. Tonight there was the very real possibility we would be in jail or worse.

My head began to fill with all the possible scenarios. We could get pinned down and shot at by police. We could be in metal cells staring at blank walls for the rest of our lives and eating bland food. They might even put us back on the pill for what we did, to keep us sedated.

That thought sent a shiver down my spine. It was worse than the other two. At least in jail or under fire we would be in the real world, fighting to make a difference. Under the pill we are almost worse than dead. I shudder to think that mere hours ago I had been under the pills myself, and shuddered again to think of all the people still under the pill.

“Hey, you look a little worried.” Jess says. “Not having any second thoughts are you?” I snap out of it.

“No, just determined to put end this.” This seems to be the right thing to say.

When we get closer Thomas walks us through his part of the plan more thoroughly. I had already covered my part earlier.

“So safeties off and fingers off the trigger. We’re keeping bullets in our magazines like we discussed. In case we need to fire the guns to intimidate anyone, or if heaven forbid we get into a firefight we’ll need to fire rounds into the air in order to escape. But, we don’t want to have to use to them, so be mindful where your gun is pointing, and keep your finger off the trigger. We don’t want any accidental discharges. Once you guys have our man covered I’ll get him to tell me where their explosive or flammable chemicals are and set my charges. You all will then clear the building and I’ll blow them. We’ll ditch the man, and head for the woods. Remember, we don’t want him to identify us, so keep talking to a minimum, and use your voice changers.”

“Got it.” Me and Jess say. The building becomes just barely visible through the tree line.

“Alright, we’re here.” Thomas says. “Everybody knows what to do, let’s get to it.”

The building is large, probably as big as my entire cul de sac, and looks very plain. There is no outward sign of the turmoil the products of this building create. We stay back in the treeline as we walk around the building. Jess and I use some of the binoculars we bring to look into the windows until we can locate our target.

“There he is.” I spot him first. “Third window from the right.” Luckily he had been facing the window, observing the nice scenery no doubt.

“Got it.” Jess confirms with her goggles. Now it’s go time. We fall back so we’re out of sight of the building and open our duffle bags. There are metallic clacking sounds, zippers being done up, and the click of buckles being fastened and adjusted. In a few minutes we transform from a normal twenty something trio out for a walk into three heavily armed individuals that look like a cross between terrorists and SWAT team members. There is hardly an inch of flesh visible beneath layers of leather, cloth, and bullet proof fabric. Between the three of us we have 10 pistols, 7 large tactical knives, and five rifles. Thomas had wanted grenades, but apparently the arsenal of the siblings had its limits.

When we were fully dressed for the operation we stood a moment looking for someone to say something significant. Thomas and Jess looked to me.

“There’s nothing to say.” I tell them. “This has to be done. That’s all there is to it.” This seems appropriate. People in real life didn’t give speeches before they did something significant. They just did it. I was not going to indulge in fantasies before taking down an entity that preyed on the fantasies of people to make money. Thomas and Jess understand that. This isn’t some feel good mission of mercy. We’re pretty much the bad guys using guns to scare people into getting a what we want so we can burn down their place of work and put them out of jobs. I wasn’t going to sugarcoat it. This was ugly, but it was necessary. “Let’s go.”

Thomas sets up underneath a both, taking a minute to disguise his position. Jess and I setup on either side of him. Jess pulls out a rifle with a high powered scope on top. I grab my binoculars and focus on Damian. Thomas pulls out the hunting rifle with the laser sight and gets a bead on the office. He taps me on the shoulder to let me know he’s ready. Jess also draws a bead on the office and reaches over to tap me to signal her readiness.

Sniper in position, spotter in position, it was time to make the call. I pull out the office number for Damian, press in the numbers, and call. It had taken three hours to disguise my phone. It would show up on any phone as a randomly generated series of 10 numbers. This was after it was so thoroughly encrypted that the heat death of the universe would occur before someone could crack it.

“Hello? This is Damian Winters. With whom am I speaking?” A slightly British accent says on the other end of the line.

I tap Thomas on the shoulder and he flips on his sight. His rifle is zeroed so that if the laser is point at Damian, the actual rifle is actually pointed several feet to his left. It took a while to convince Thomas to point a gun so close to a human being, even when the safety on and the scope zeroed to throw off his aim . I activate the voice changer on my phone.

“You have a sniper zeroed in on your chest, any sudden movements and he repaints your desk.” Damian straightens up and looks to his office door.

“I’m impressed, most prank calls aren’t this sophisticated. The voice changer really pulls it together. How did you randomize your number?” There’s no fear in his voice, not yet anyway.

I put the phone next to the hunting rifle and Thomas chambers around. The metal on metal sound is loud and clear.

“Nice sound effects.” He says confidently, but he had hesitated.

“Damian, look down at your chest.” He looks down. And moves behind his desk.

“Damian, come to the window, before my friend gives you a third lung.” Damian looks to the door, clearly weighing his options of running for help. He makes the wise decision to not try and outrun a bullet, and walks to the window.

“Look to the tree line Damian.” When I see he has complied I tap Thomas and he and Jess stand up. Two shadowy figures with rifle and lots of intimidating dear.

“Heaven save me.” Damian whispers. It sounds subconscious.

“Damian, if you play this smart no one is going to heaven today. We don’t want to hurt anyone. So don’t do anything without specific instructions from us or we’ll have to demonstrate we mean business.”

“What did I ever do to you?” Damian asks. “Can’t you find someone else to do whatever it is you want? Surely there’s someone more important or richer you could be doing this to.”

“No Damian, you don’t know what we want. If you did you would know you’re the perfect candidate. No more remarks. You’re going to do what we want, and if you do it quick and fast you’ll get to go home tonight.” I leave no room for compromise in my voice. “Remember, we’re the ones with the weapons, and you’re the one with the exposed office with a view of the lovely cover these trees provide.” I don’t leave time for him to respond. I jump right into it.

“You’re going to issue a warning that there’s been a chemical spill. It’s highly toxic and the building needs to be cleared. All personnel are to leave the office immediately and maintain a distance of 1,000 feet. Do it now. I’ll stay on the line. As soon as you’ve issued the command hide under your desk so no one sees you’re still inside. Do it now.” I order. He looks at the phone like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. He looks back out the window. He can’t see Jess or Thomas anymore. He’s wondering if he really saw what he thinks he saw.

I put my hand over the microphoneon the speaker and lean over to Thomas.

“Put the laser onto his phone.” Thomas makes an almost imperceptibly small motion. It has the desired affect. Damian jumps back, bumping into his office chair and almost falling over.

“We’re getting impatient Damian.” Damian pushes a button on the desk and Thomas tenses. He doesn’t put his finger on the chamber or toggle the safety to on, but you could tell he thought about it. If Damian is going to call for help, he’s going to do it now.

“This is Damian Winters, director of process development.” I can hear the echo of a PA system over the phone. “There’s been a chemical spill. The chemicals have aerosolized and are a carcinogenic, flammable, severe irritant. We must evacuate quickly and calmly. Exit the building in an orderly fashion and maintain a distance of at least 1,000 feet between yourselves and the building.” He takes his hand off the button and cowers under his desk.

“Good Damian, you’re doing good. That desk won’t stop a bullet in case you were wondering.” A little carrot to reward him for compliance, and then the stick to keep him in line.

“Aren’t they going to notice I’m gone?” He asks. “I just made an announcement so they know I’m here.”

“It doesn’t matter.” I say. We had anticipated this question. “There are over 100 people in that building. Everyone will have evacuated before they notice one missing. They’ll hopefully think you went to the hospital, but even if they don’t a rescue mission is impossible. The building you’re in has purportedly suffered a dangerous chemical leak. No one could come back even if they wanted to.” It also explained why there would be a fire shortly after the evacuation.

“We’re going to monitor the evacuation, stay on the line, and after everyone is out we’re going to come to you. You’re going to show us where to set our charges.”

“Charges? Like explosive charges?” Damian whispers sharply, careful not to speak too loud and reveal to people walking by his office that he’s still inside. “I thought you guys were robbing us or stealing company secrets. Why do you have charges?” Damian’s voice was pretty calm for a guy being held hostage. I guess he had figured out we weren’t going to shoot him, at least he probably thought it wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

“We’re going to burn that abominable place down. There aren’t going to be any more pills manufactured here.” I tell him. “So we need you to show us where to lay the incendiary devices in order to cause the most damage.” I expected Damian to say something like ‘you’re never going to get away with this’ or ‘the police will find you’, instead he just says.

“Okay.” And calmly waits for the evacuation to finish. To the credit of the people working in the building they filed it very calmly out the doors, and only began to jog once they were clear of the building. The only open area for them to job to was on the opposite side of the building from us, so whenever they exited they turned away from us and walked around the building. We would be hidden from view when we exited our cover and approached the building. We had been lucky that Damian’s office was on this side of the building. It made entry to the building much easier.

There are several tense moments while the building clears. Right now, we’re almost entirely risk free. There’s no chance of someone sneaking up on us from our position, and Damian is too far away and too trapped to do anything. Right now, everything is going fine. In a few minutes we’re going to enter the building, and then things will get dangerous again. There could be more coworkers inside who could panic and do something stupid like rush us. Damian could try and disarm us when we get closer, or tear off one of our masks. The charges could work too well and take down the building while we are still inside it. Any number of unexpected factors could get introduced.

It’s been thirty seconds since the last time I’ve seen someone exit the building. I reach over and tap Jess.

“The building looks clear Damian, walk over to the window and throw out your key fob. We’re coming to you.” Jess and I stand up and with weapons out, but pointed down, we head quickly toward the building. Thomas had wanted to set off the charges himself, but someone had to keep the laser on Damian, and Thomas insisted that if someone was going to be pointing a gun near a person, it was going to be him. So me and Jess arrived at the back entrance to the building with me wearing a backpack full of napalm. Damian throws out his key fob as we get close.

Jess and I stack up on the door. She’s got her rifle out, and so do I. I hold the key fob up for both of us to see. This is it, after we go in this door we leave the safety of the sniper hide, and enter an unknown building that could be crawling with people who hadn’t made it out yet. There could even be security guards. Damian had acted awfully calm earlier. Had he managed to signal security that there was about to be a breakin? Only one way to find out. I tap the fob to the security panel, and open the door. We’re in.

There’s a security desk to our left, but thankfully no guard. Jess points to the desk. We had agreed to keep talking to a minimum and that I would be the only to speak, because I had the voice changer. This would keep the chances of someone identifying our voices low. I nod, indicating that I notice the guard isn’t there. She raises a hand palm up to ask where he went. I shrug. I hadn’t seen him leave. Jess clearly hadn’t either.

“Maybe he went out another way.” I say in a voice so quite it is almost just a breath. Jess doesn’t like this. She points to the safety on her rifle. They are currently on, and they’re the only thing preventing a trigger pull from sending a bullet flying out at lethal speeds. Jess wants to be ready in case the guard is still around.

I shake my head and point down, indicating I still want our rifles pointed down. She shakes her head back at me, but keeps her safety off and her gun down.

I point to a staircase. Damian’s office was on the second floor, and somewhere to our right. We move to the door. I open it, she moves through first. She looks up and down the stairwell. She flashes me an okay sign and holds still. She’s listening to hear if anyone is waiting at the top. I listen outside and keep my eyes on the hallway that leads away from the security desk.

I feel that same sensation I did when I fell back off the mountain. This moment we were in free fall, and at any moment we were waiting for the rope to catch us and secure us in place. My brain was firing on all cylinders, and everything seemed to take three times as long.

Jess finally nods, and we move up the stairway, carefully closing the door at the bottom to avoid any unwanted noise.

At the top it’s Jess’ turn to hold the door as I go through. I’m in the middle of a hallway with offices on both sides that stretches the length of the building. I rapidly glance left and right, it’s empty. I flash an okay symbol back to Jess, and we both listen again, still nothing. I count ten breaths to keep track of the time, and then move down the hall to the right, where Damian’s office is. Jess closes the stairway door quietly and moves after me.

I estimated it had been six minutes since the alarm sounded, and two since the building had clear. Our fear was beginning to dissipate and be replaced by an urgency to move quickly. We didn’t know how long it would be before someone called the police or fire department themselves. We probably had at least five minutes, and maybe as much as half an hour, but we couldn’t be sure.

Damian’s office door is closer. I put my hand flat on the pane of glass on the door so Thomas knows it’s me coming in. I hold my hand there for another three breaths to make sure he sees it, then I nod to Jess. She opens the door, and I move in.

It’s just like I saw it from the sniper hide. I wave to Thomas to indicate everything is okay. He has no way of responding since we decided radios would be too loud, and too easy for some passing local law enforcement to listen in on. It would be one more thing that could get us caught, so we had left them behind.

“Damian Winters.” I say. “Stand up.” Damian had been well hidden behind his desk. I hadn’t seen him at all.

“I’m here.” He says, again his voice is too calm. I want to stick my head back out into the hallway to make sure it’s still clear, but I don’t want to look nervous or unsure in front of the man I’m supposed to be scaring into collaborating with the destruction of his workplace.

“Show us where to plant the charges.” I tell him, getting right to the point.

“Yes of course.” He says. “But first, if I may ask, why do you want to burn down this research facility?”

“Research facility?” I ask, the voice changer failing to hide my confusion. “I thought this was manufacturing facility?”

“It is.” Damian says, calmly siting down in his desk chair. “We manufacture the material for clinical trials, which are conducted with the population of this facility, but it is still research. We modify the batches and work on the next generation of pills. When we think we’ve got something we get permission from the government and begin testing the new pill on the local population.” This isn’t good. This won’t interrupt the supply. I don’t know why they’re researching a better pill, but if the current one already has the world lying down and giving up, I hate to think what the new one will do.

“But destroying this place will meet your goals I think.” Damian says. He’s got his fingers folded on the desk in front of him, and his look is utterly confident. What is he up to?

“What do you know about our goals?” We’re wasting time. We may just have to throw the bag in the hallway and shoot it on our way out if this conversation takes too long, but Damian knows something, and I can’t leaving before discovering what it is.

“To destroy the pill obviously. You haven’t expressed any interest in taking anything of monetary value from this facility. Considering how valuable some of the intellectual knowledge is here, in addition to the rare chemicals used in the manufacturing process, that is a pretty big flag that this isn’t a smash and grab from another company. You are here because you hate what the pill does. You perhaps were abandoned by family, or suffered severe depression from the lack of social interaction in your lives.” He’s got us figured out.

“How would you know about that?” I ask.

“Because I saw it happen countless times. I watched as the world gave up on itself. There was this cure for so many sleep disorders. The over half of adults with sleeping disorders could rest easy with a sleeping pill that the body did not develop a tolerance to. They hold the key to a restful night that will let them take life by the horns. Instead I watched them lay down and give up on the world. I watched parents forget about children, and children forget about parents. I saw so many leave a rotting civilization for the wilderness to escape the pestilence of constant sleep I had caused.”

“You made the pill.” I say, flipping the safety off on my rifle.

“Yes, I made the pill.” He says. I point the gun at his chest. Jess had been monitoring the hallway, she looks in and sees my gun up, then see my safety off.

“No Ryan! Don’t do it!” She shouts. I use one hand to tell her to stay back. She freezes. She knows if she moves forward I could reflexively pull the trigger and end this man, turning arson into murder.

Damian tenses, expecting any moment to be knocked backward by a gunshot.

“Before I put a bullet in your heart you are going to tell me why you did it. Why did you hook the entire world?” Damian looks confused.

“Hook?” Damian says. “Do you mean to imply that I or the people I work for are somehow keeping people on the pill?” I nod, putting my finger on the trigger. Just a little tug, that’s all it would take.

“So you think we are forcing people to take it?” He actually has the gall to look surprised and insulted. I nod again.

“Either by making the pill addictive or coercing them into it.” I say. Damian looks at the barrel of my gun.

“Son no one is forcing people to take the pill. They want to.” I almost do it. I almost pull the trigger. I take my finger off the trigger to prevent myself from doing it by accident, but I keep the gun pointed right at his heart.

“Explain.” I manage to say.

“There’s nothing to explain son.” He says. “The pill isn’t addictive. I know. I designed it, and I can’t believe you think we would somehow threaten that many people. You’re pretty clearly not taking the pill. Has anyone forced you? As for addictive agents, have you felt a need to take it? Did that need come fr” He has a point.

“You’re lying.” I say.

“Really, I’m telling a man with a gun pointed at me something that obviously upsets him. Wouldn’t someone lie to improve their chances of survival? I know you’re hurting or else you wouldn’t be doing something as stupid, dangerous, and kind of wrong, but you can’t shoot me. I’m the only one who can tell you what you need to do in order to stop all this.”

“Seems to me we can stop all this with a little movement of my pointed finger.” I tell him.

“Killing me will do the exact opposite of what you intend.” He says. He doesn’t sound like a man whose pleading. “You deserve to shoot me for what I’ve done, but I oversee all research on the next generation pill, pill that will keep man under for twenty-four hours. The company has been working with some robotics institutes, and they’re going to go global with a way to keep humanity permanently unconscious. “ Permanently unconscious, truly this would create the living dead.

“So tell me why I shouldn’t stop you from doing this?” I ask.

“Because if you shoot me they’ll hire someone who hasn’t been secretly sabotaging the experiments. I give them just enough information to keep them from firing me. I have dragged this process out for decades, when it should’ve just taken a few years. You shoot me, and this is going to get a lot worse.” This is beginning to sound a little too elaborate to be a lie made up on the spot with a gun unexpectedly pointed at you.

“Tell me, what were you going to do after taking this facility out? Seems like there’s only two or three of you, or else you would have brought a much larger group. Did you think the remaining eleven facilities wouldn’t beef up security to anticipate another move like this? Not to mention even if you by some miracle managed to pull this off eleven more times without being caught. You would still have to deal with our hundreds of international locations.” I point the gun down and flip the safety off. I hear Jess give a sigh of relief.

“You’ve thought this out.” I say.

“Yes.” He says. “And I also know how to stop this place for good. You won’t need your incendiaries, and I’ll make sure it looks like an accident. We use methane in the manufacturing process. I’ll leave a Bunsen burner on in one lab, and open the methane then run. When I get to the crowd of people outside I’ll say that I smelt the methane and tried to contain it, but it was too late. If police investigate they’ll confirm what I’ve said. It will destroy their research so they can’t finish making the 24 hour pill.” He didn’t relax at all when I lowered my gun. I think he really did want me to shoot him.

“That doesn’t take care of their manufacturing capabilities.” I say. “We appreciate what you’re saying and will trust you to do it, but what about the hundreds of facilities you’ve mentioned?”

“I’ll send them false plans.” He says. “One of the pills greatest strengths is unlike most medicines, your body won’t generate a tolerance to it. With other sleeping pills you eventually need to increase the dosage to keep the same affect. Not with my pills, my pills will always put you under with just one dose no matter how long you’ve been taking them. During my research I stumbled upon a way to make the pill, and remove this affect. I’ll send this pill that the body eventually rejects to our headquarters and claim it works. I’ve been the world’s drug dealer for decades. They will take me at my word, and with this building destroyed their won’t be any evidence to prove me wrong. The world will slowly wake up when the pills stop working.”

“Won’t the company find out and just ship out the old pills?” I ask.

“They won’t keep a stockpile, and even if they did, they’ll need new equipment to make the new pill, and will have to throw out the old equipment. They won’t be able to make any old pills, at least not for several weeks while the new equipment gets made, shipped, and installed. Besides, by the time they find out it’s the pill’s problem, and I’ll do my best to see that they don’t, people will already awake.” He really has spent a lot of time planning this. So why hasn’t he done this before people with guns showed up.

“Why would you just sit on this plan? You don’t need us. You already figured out how to sabotage the pill, and burn down this facility. Why have you just been sitting on your thumbs?”

“Because I didn’t know people like you existed.” He said. “Everyone always went into the wild after they unhooked. No one has ever made this effort to help unhook people before. I can’t take the pill down permanently. We’ll get at most a few months of people being awake. Humanity rejected the real world once, I had every reason to believe they would do it again.”

“That’s why you’ve been so calm during this process.” I say. “You haven’t been afraid. You’ve been hopeful.”

“Yes.” He says. “Finally people are unhooking themselves and going out into the bright light of day. I believe if people like you exist, then there is hope for humanity.” I sling my gun onto my back. Clearly the security guard is gone, and this man is no threat. He proves it by not lunging at me when I put my gun away. I display one more act of trust, and disable my voice changer.

“Meet us in the sniper perch after you’re done explaining to the police and the fire department.” I tell him. “Let’s go Jess.” I say, and without another word, we depart.

When we get back to the sniper perch Thomas practically yells at us.

“What are you doing? Did you use any of the charges? Why did you just let him go? Did you come all this way for nothing?” He has been dutifully watching the whole exchange through his scope.

“No Thomas, I just decided to have a little faith.” I lay down next to him and take out my binoculars. “We’ll see in a moment if my faith was misplaced.”

“If I don’t see an explosion in the next minute. I’m going to stab you.” Thomas says. He’s joking of course, but not by a lot.

“If you don’t see an explosion in the next minute.” I say. “I’ll let you.” Thomas scoffs and returns to examining the building. About the time we finish our conversation Damian runs out the other side of the building waving and shouting at the people in the crowd forming a thousand feet from the building. When he’s about halfway to them a giant pressure wave hits us as a large section of the building is blown up and away. Windows are blown out all across the building and fires can be seen rapidly spreading.

“I guess I get to live to fight another day.” I say to Thomas. For an answer, Thomas starts putting the rifle away.

“Not yet, we’ve got to wait on Damian. I told him to meet us here.” It’s a much longer wait than I had planned. Damian only leaves after the police have come and interviewed people, and the firemen have tried and failed to put out the fires, helped along by their terrible response time. They must’ve been amateur volunteers who slept in their own homes then drove to the station during an alarm. They had taken almost a half hour to show up and had done a very sloppy job putting out the fire. Good thing I never had to call emergency services.

When Damian finally joins us there is only an hour or two of daylight left.

“Thank you.” He says. “Thank you for making me believe in humanity again. What you did was stupid, reckless, dangerous, and could’ve hurt a lot of innocent people. I forgive you for pointing a rifle at my head, but I can’t condone it. Still, it is my fault. I should’ve done this years ago. Thank you for waking me from my stupor to do what needed to be done.” With that he shakes our hands and departs. He tells us we’re never going to see him again, and we never do.

Two months later we’re sitting with Frank in the sibling’s house, playing cards.

“Are you sure he wasn’t just saving his own skin?” Frank said. We had this argument a dozen times, and he still didn’t believe us. “What if he just set off the methane to keep you from shooting him afterwards?” None of us reply. There’s nothing to say. We’ve all had this conversation before.

“I mean it’s been two months. Why haven’t we seen anyone else outside?” He asks. I give up on ignoring him. It won’t help, but I can’t just let him berate us again.

“Maybe because they decided to stay indoors, or maybe because it takes longer than we thought for the body to build a tolerance.” I respond, Frank doesn’t even notice he’s playing all the wrong cards and we’re sweeping the floor with him in the game.

“Or maybe he fooled all of you. Maybe he didn’t decide to help you destroy his life’s work. Honestly I don’t know why you trusted him.” Frank says.

“Why do you care Frank?” I ask. “I seem to recall you left us on our own for the mission.” I know it’s because he regrets leaving, not that he will ever admit it. Before he can get a chance to make up an excuse, the doorbell rings. That’s funny, nobody ever rings the doorbell.

“I’ll get it.” I say, and make for the door. When I open it Teddy is waiting with a smile at the door.

“Hey Ryan, Jess and Thomas came and told me you had a cliff that you wanted to climb. Can we go today?” He’s eager. He’s smiling, and he walked a half mile to get to me. I look back at Jess and Thomas, they wave to me. Then I turn to Teddy, my little brother. My little brother who had forgotten me and left me for dead. I should be mad. I should yell at him for choosing a stupid dream over me, but in that moment, I can’t find a single ma thought in my head. All I can think is my brother was dead, and now he’s alive.

“Of course little brother.” I say. “There’s nothing else I’d rather do more than go climb a mountain with you.”

Epilogue

“Woohoo!” Teddy shouts as he rappels down the cliff. Jess came with me to help setup the ropes.

“He’s a great little brother.” Jess tells me. She stays up top and talks to me while Teddy descends.

“Yeah.” I say. “It’s so amazing to hear him shout with joy like that.”

“I’m surprised you aren’t angry with him.” She comments. “I heard from Thomas what happened when you went back to your family, and it sounded like his rejection put you over the edge.”

“It did.” I say, the memory stinging a little, but Teddy shouts again and the sting goes away. “But it wasn’t his fault. He was just a kid. He’s still just a kid. He was doing the only thing he ever knew how to do. I can’t hold him accountable for his actions. My parents are to blame for putting him on the pill.” Jess nods approvingly.

“That’s very mature of you.” She said. “Do you know how to dance?” She asks out of the blue.

“What?” I say. It’s a good thing Teddy has reached the bottom because I might’ve dropped him otherwise.

“Dancing, do you know how to do it?” She asks again. I have no idea where this is coming from and think very carefully about my answer. I don’t want to say something completely stupid like I did before.

“No.” I say. “Why?

“Oh that’s a shame.” She says. “Everybody should know how to dance. Here, let me show you how.” She takes my left hand, and puts hers in it. Her hands are soft, so very soft, nothing like my rough callused hands. They’re delicate too. She takes my right hand and puts it on her left shoulder blade. There isn’t more than a foot of space between us, and I feel as if I’m holding her. I feel scared to move because I don’t want to make a mistake and drive her away.

“What’s going on up there?” Teddy calls. “Can I start climbing.” I raise my voice so he can hear me, but keep my eyes fixed on Jess.

“Sorry Teddy, I’ve got to sort something out.” Jess laughs softly and says in a voice too quiet to hear.

“You know, typically there are a few steps you go through before proposing. You might try one or two.” A lion roars in my chest. I no longer feel awkward at all. I feel empowered. I feel like she trusts me to dance will with her. My brother has come back to life, and the best girl in the world, the one who supported and followed me even when she thought I was being a complete idiot or a jerk had just given me permission to try again.

I had spent so much time asleep, letting my mind create the wildest fantasies imaginable. Now here I was, in the forest, with my brother, and my girl, and couldn’t imagine ever wanting anything else.

The end

Thanks for reading Unhooked! I’m working on another longer project that’s been siting in my back pocket for a while, but if you can’t wait for that check out Letters To My Father https://samgalimore.com/2014/11/05/new-book-project/ .Or one of the shorter novellas https://samgalimore.com/2014/10/12/for-use-in-the-apocaypse-novella-version/ https://samgalimore.com/2014/10/04/man-out-of-time/

Until the next journey,

Sam

A murderous game of chess

A veteran detective and an infamous criminal meet unknowingly in a coffee shop.

I liked Ben’s coffee and chess. You never knew who you were going to meet. Take this night for instance. I was just sitting there, sipping on some decaf, mulling over a case, when an unsuspecting stranger walks in and sits down.

“Evening friend.” I say to him. He’s sitting behind the black pieces, so I make my opener. “Your move, I’m Tom by the way.”

“I’m Jim.” He says, countering my move. “Rainy day isn’t it.” It’s been pouring since noon, and the sun has long since set.

“Yeah.” I say. “Perfect day to hide a body.” I like freaking people out. I work with death so much that it’s occasionally fun to just get a rise out of people.

“Not really.” The man counters, as he castles to protect his king. “Rain makes backroads slick, and digging holes a lot more difficult.” Only my interrogation experience kept me from swallowing my tongue. Then again, I had started this conversation, so it was only fair I continue it.

“True, but the decrease in visibility is worth the extra toil.” My foe shook his head as he moved a pawn forward.

“Any serial killer who is going to get caught in the rain deserves to be brought in.” I supposed this was true. These conversations never went this far, and I couldn’t think of anything else witty to say. After a few silent moves my compatriot broke the silence.

“Anyway, disposal isn’t the hard part. It’s isolation and clean up. If you don’t leave any evidence with a body, they can’t tag it back to you.” That was an angle I hadn’t considered before.

“Oh yeah? You mean bring bleach and stuff?” He shook his head.

“No.” We were getting some funny looks by now, but most of the people here knew me so it as okay.

“I mean don’t connect yourself to the victim, use weapons on the scene, and don’t leave any fragments of yourself behind. Make it random. If they can’t connect you to the victim then they can’t make a case.” It was true, and this man’s knowledge of crime was beginning to disturb me.

“Do I know you?” I asked. He looked me dead in they eye.

“No.” The game concluded in a few more moves. Don’t connect yourself to the victim eh? Check, this guy didn’t know me at all.

“How do you know so much about murder anyway?” I asked him as he stood up and started to walk away. It was a quick game, but the conversation had been riveting.

“It’s my trade.” He said. “Been working homicide for 20 years now, about set to retire.” I smiled.

“Good for you.” I tell him. He nods to me, says thanks, and heads out the back door. I grab a bottle from my case of beer, and follow him out the back.

Man Out of Time

“I do not hesitate to impose upon the defendant the following sentence. For the murder of Rebecca Marerro for which I have found you guilty of aggravated murder in the first degree you will serve a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of early release or parole. This sentence will run consecutive to the 48 other sentences already imposed upon you under king county superior court case number 011102070-9. You will have no contact with the family of Rebecca Marerro for that same period of time. You will be required to pay restitution to that family to be determined at another time.”

As those words are spoken by the judge I feel relief wash over me. They can’t bring themselves to say my name, Gary Ridgwy. They hide behind words like ‘defendant’, because to say my name would be to humanize me, and to them I am an animal.

Paperwork is now being filed before the trial concludes. The words of the family of Rebecca Marerro, victim number 49, ring in my ears. She says she doesn’t think they should spare my life. I’m going to serve 1680 years in prison, and she doesn’t know the only reason I went for a plea deal, was because death would be too quick for me.

I was the worst and darkest kind of addict. I knew what I was doing, but I just couldn’t stop myself. I needed to be locked away, and now I would be. I would no longer have to worry about the urges striking me again. The world would be safe from me, and I would have time to suffer for what I had done, 1680 years to suffer. It wasn’t enough time, I had destroyed 49 lives, all of them worth more than mine. They should’ve locked me up for 5000 years, but what did it matter? I couldn’t possibly live long enough to make up for all that loss.

“Cryogenic freezing is the term.” The man in the black suit from the FBI tells me. He’s with a NIH consultant, one of those scientist types. The scientist mostly just stares at the ground. People who don’t work in law enforcement can’t usually bring themselves to talk to me.

“It’s a new technology. It hasn’t been tested on healthy human beings before.” The FBI man informed me.

“Why me?” I asked, knowing little about what he was talking about.

“Because you’re never going to get out of here alive anyway.” The FBI man responded.

“This procedure will halt the progression of your age, if it doesn’t kill you.” He went on. “So we will freeze you now, and wake you up just a few days before your release. It will be like no time has passed. If you survive of course, which is why we are asking you, because you’re basically dead anyway.” The black suit man looked briefly at the scientist to confirm everything he had just said. The scientist nodded.

“So I will be released then?” I asked. The FBI man nodded. No, I thought to myself. No, I had to stay here, this was the only place that was safe for other people. Unless there was some other benefit, there had to be some reason they would be willing to give me a free pass

“You told me what good it would do me, but what good would it do you?” I asked the FBI man. “I would think you were just doing this to kill me, and I don’t blame you. But there’s no way the NIH would go along with it if there wasn’t a good reason. So what’s so great that you’re willing to risk letting the green river killer go free to get it?” The FBI man looked to the scientist for an explanation. The scientist shook his head back and forth vigorously. Civilians really don’t like talking to me. The FBI man gestured in my direction and whispered something about willing test subjects. The scientist sighed, and then took a couple of deep breaths. When he spoke his voice was stuttering

“Because we c-could save people this way. If a disease isn’t c-curable, we can freeze a person until a c-cure develops. If someone is deemed highly important to s-society, we can freeze them during a time of prosperity, and thaw them ag-gain in a time of desperation.” His stuttering stopped as he began to get caught up in what he was saying. “Long missions to other planets could be made possible by freezing the passengers until they arrive. This could open new worlds for us.” For a moment the scientist was looking at me excitedly, like he was actually happy to talk to me. Then he remembered who I am and he went back to staring at the floor.

“I’ll save people?” I ask the FBI agent. The man nods. That’s enough for me. Hopefully I’ll die during the testing. My life will go towards saving others. I had 49 life debts to pay, and if this testing saves at least that many, I will have paid that debt. I needed just one more assurance before I consented.

“If it works, thaw me out 100 years before I’m to be released.” I pause for a moment to think. “As long as that won’t interfere with the testing.” I add on.

The scientist and the agent look at each other. They huddle briefly and exchange a few words. “Why?” The FBI agent returns my own question to me when the huddle is concluded.

“So the world never has to deal with me again.” I tell him. The scientist looks up at me, and without a stutter in his voice responded.

“It will not interfere with the testing.”

“Then do it as soon as you can.”

“He’s waking up.” I heard someone call. The voice was distant and muted. I couldn’t see much, just an iced over plate inches in front of my face.

There was a hissing sound, like gas escaping from a sealed beverage. I was alive, that was unexpected. I had hoped it would be over, but at least I was still in prison.

The hatch covering me pulled back and revealed a small room with a couple of scientists and a couple of men with guns. Men with guns, that was good. They were still taking me seriously. The guns weren’t really necessary. I wasn’t skilled in combat. I was just willing to kill. All of my victims had been defenseless. I never would’ve been able to take them down if they hadn’t been so much smaller and weaker than me. It stung to think of them again. A few violent images popped into my imagination unbidden, and I had to force them down.

Hands quickly pulled me out of the chamber and threw me onto a nearby gurney. That was good, get me cuffed quickly, and put me back in a cell. Except they didn’t. They were rapidly strapping on various monitors and shining things in my eys.

“Pulse is good, internal temperature normal, brain function nominal, no freezer burn.” They pulled the devices off and stepped back. Confusion painted their faces, this was not what they expected.

“He’s…. fine.” One of the scientists commented. They exchanged glances, and began double checking their equipment. One of them pulled out a photo of me, and began comparing it to the real thing.

“No damage whatsoever.” A different scientist commented. “That puts the final survival rate of the program at what, 0.5%?” He asked his compatriots. They all nodded. “So he’s the only one.” They were crowding around me now, looking at me like I was the world’s biggest diamond.

Why weren’t they cuffing me? Why didn’t they look afraid? I looked around the room some more and none of the men with guns seemed to be paying much attention. In fact, they weren’t even looking at me. They were looking at the scientists. What? I was the danger here. Why would they think the scientists were a threat?

“Alright labrats, you thawed him out, now it’s our job to see him safely out of here.” The armed men began escorting the scientists out of the room. “You’ll finish your diagnostics later when he’s had time to rest.” Rest? Who cared about me getting rest? They seemed to think I was some kind of important person, not one of the world’s worst serial killers.

“You’re taking me to my cell aren’t you?” I ask the guards. One of the guards laughs.

“Cell? You? Of course not! We wouldn’t put someone as valuable as you into a cell. You’ve got an apartment laid out for you nearby. We’ve already checked out the neighborhood and taken every precaution for your safety.” I felt a note of panic. No, no, no, they had to keep me in here, away from everyone else. Another violent image flashed. This one takes a moment to shove away. It stays long enough for me to recognize the face. It’s Cynthia Hinds. I remember the name. I remember all their names.

“But I’ve still got 100 years left in my sentence, you’ve got to keep me in here. It’s the law.” I start to sound like I’m pleading.

“Um, your crimes are over 1500 years old sir.” He called me sir. No one should call me sir. “I don’t think anyone still cares.” Nobody cares? How could they not care? I felt like I was going even crazier than I already was.

“Besides, you’re the worlds oldest man. You’re a living historical icon. We’ve got to keep you safe so we can learn about when you came from.” He leaned in close to me with a boyish smile on his face. “You obviously couldn’t know this, but you’re kind of famous, and there are a lot of ladies who are into that kind of thing.” He winked at me.

That was too much, maybe if they kept me only around men it would be alright. I could control myself around men, or at the very least they could defend themselves from me. Several more images flash in front of me, painting the last moments of Rebecca Marerro. She was my final victim.

I grabbed the guard’s his collar. It was a mark of how true his words were that he didn’t try and defend himself, and none of his buddies came to his aid. I couldn’t be around people, but women in particular were completely out of the question. I had been near too many women, at least 49 too many. There would not be a 50th. I would not let my debt get any higher.

“You’ve got to put me away.” I demanded. The guard didn’t even looked scared by the serial killer grabbing his collar. If anything I’d describe his expression as awkward.

“Easy Gary.” He said, trying to calm me down. He was talking to me like I was a friend. “We’ll put you back in your cell if you really want us to. I mean you’re the boss.” I released him and lay down on the gourney. I closed my eyes and felt relief course through me. It would be okay, I had at least 100 more years where I wouldn’t hurt anyone. Maybe future medicine would keep me alive for a while, but I had been an old man when they froze me. I couldn’t have much time left. I would die in a cell, just like I had planned. It would be okay.

“Gary Ridgway, you have dutifully and responsibly served your 1680 year term. During that sentence you have contributed greatly to the medical knowledge base of humanity by your volunteering for cryogenic experimentation. As such this court eagerly releases you, and in recognition of your efforts and sacrifice restores to you your right to vote, your right to carry a firearm, and cleans your record of any criminal activity.” A bowed to the judge, and a couple of armed guards escorted me out, not because they were afraid I would harm someone. They were afraid someone was going to harm ‘an international treasure’.

There were so many things wrong with this. They shouldn’t be releasing me. They shouldn’t be patting me on the back. They shouldn’t be making me a normal member of society. I must be cursed. I had been given a sentence of almost two millenniums. I had volunteered for a medical experiment which killed all of the other participants. I had forced them to keep me in prison for another 100 years, and yet I was still alive.

That last part was my fault. Medical knowledge had progressed greatly in the last 1500 years. The average life span was about 250 years. I should’ve anticipated that and had them thaw me out earlier. 100 years had seemed like a long time back then. Now, being almost 200 myself, it had passed in the blink of an eye. Now here I was again, about to be put back where I could indulge my addiction.

At least they had given me good guards. As we arrived at the gate I heard a crowd outside, and there were several heavily armed men waiting for me. The prison guards exchanged salutes with these men.

I felt a little comfort by their presence. This new set of guards looked like they could overthrow a small third world country if they wanted to. I don’t recognize any of the weaponry or armor on them, but it looks far more expensive than the stuff my last set of guards had. I didn’t know how long they would be watching over me, but at least the world would be safe for a little while.

Then I see her. “Sarah Maxwell at your service mister Ridgway.” I didn’t see her behind one of the guards. She steps out and extends a hand.

I take a step back, look away, and throw up a hand. The last time I had Denise Bush flashed before my eyes. I winced. It had been decades since the last time I had seen one of my victims.

A woman, they sent a woman? This one didn’t even look remotely dangerous. She was unarmed, carrying armor that didn’t look nearly as impressive as the stuff the gun toting men were wearing. Were they crazy? Why was she even here?

She looked at the guards who shrugged. “He’s been away for a long time.” One of them said to her.

“Right.” She said, putting her hand down. “Mister Ridgway, you’ve refused to learn about the outside world for some time. Your doctor’s tell me that you think the less you know, the less dangerous you’ll be.” I look back to her, maybe she understands? Maybe the dangerous men are to protect her, not to protect me. I start to relax a little. Then when I meet her gaze I see she’s smiling. That conjures up Terry Milligan’s face, and I wince and look away again.

“It’s alright Mister Ridgway. I’m here to bring you back into the world. I’ll bring you up to speed on modern technology, politics, and anything else you need to know.” They were giving me a personal assistant, a female personal assistant. Had no one told people those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it?

“For starters, we’re about to head to Mars. You have an interview there with a major news outlet.” That caught my attention. I didn’t follow space exploration, but when I was being put under the thought of colonizing Mars had been lunacy. Now we had done it? That snapped me out of my self loathing long enough to not make eye contact again, but to look curious.

“Mars?” I ask her.

“Yes Mister Ridgway. Your FTL motorcade is waiting just outside these gates.” She tells me. For the first time since I was put away I look around. Over the walls of the prison I can see there are floating houses, flying cars, and people jetting around between buildings.

Sarah sees where I’m looking and smiles again. “The population of the earth is over 70 billion; we had to resort to extreme means to fit everyone. The bottoms of the oceans have been colonized, and we’ve spread out to just about every celestial body in our solar system.” I get a sense of wonder that calms me down. I’m distracted enough that I don’t think about all the horrible things I’ve done for a few moments. I look back at Sarah and the guards. The guards are well trained I’m sure, this will be alright, at least for a little while

“Glad to have you with us mister Ridgway.” She touches my shoulder and gestures to the gate. It opens and there’s a giant crowd stretching as far as I can see. I notice there are no buildings or streets on the ground, just one giant mass of people.

“You’re a celebrity mister Ridgway.” Sarah shouts over the din of the crowd roaring my name, along with several nicknames. I catch man out of time, father time, and several other nicknames.

“Don’t worry.” She tells me as the guards clear a path to the cars. “These are the emperor of the Earth’s own bodyguards. They’re the best in the solar system. You’ll be fine.” She’s concerned for my safety. She’s really concerned about my safety. “Besides, The Emperor has decreed that you’re not to be harmed. Anyone who inflicts bodily or psychological harm upon you gets to serve the same sentence you did, complete with cryogenic freezing.” A death sentence, harming me now carries the death sentence.

We reach the cars and I’m shuffled into the back seat of one, along with Sarah. Two guards occupy the front seats. Good, they’re not leaving me alone with a woman.

“How long are the guards with us?” I ask Sarah.

“For six months, or until your notoriety dies down a bit.” She responds. “After that you’ll be switched over to a private contractor for several years, until your celebrity reaches more normal levels. Then, seeing after your own personal safety will become your own responsibility.” Several years, maybe in that time they’d remember who I was, and decide to lock me back up. “I’m sure you could hire a local security company with your vast wealth.” Sarah says.

“My vast wealth? What do you mean vast wealth?” I turn towards her, confused. “I haven’t had a penny to my name in centuries.” Sarah shakes her head.

“You had a 401K when you were put away, that has now matured to a very sizable fortune. On top of that, news outlets like the one we are going to will be paying you millions for your stories. To say nothing of the book deals, advertising spots, and endorsement deals.” She gives me a sly look. “You are a made man mister Ridgway.”

Advertising spots? Endorsement deals? “You’re telling me people will actually buy a product just because I tell them?” I ask Sarah. “Does no one remember I killed almost fifty women in cold blood?” My voice starts to rise against my will. “I’m one of the world’s worst serial killers! Does no one know that? Didn’t you look up my profile when you agreed to this job?” She looks taken aback, but she doesn’t shrink away.

“I read every file we have on you, and the consensus has been you’re a hero.” That word was physically painful to hear. It was as if someone had punched me in the gut. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I looked out the window. Sarah said something, but I didn’t catch it I just now realized where I was.

Outside the window was entirely black with little white stars in the distance. I jerked my head around and there was nothing except the sun visisble, no Earth, no Moon, no Mars, as far as I could tell the entire solar system was gone except for the Sun.

“Where are we?” I asked Sarah. I had cut her off, but she didn’t seem to mind. They had said something about FTL vehicles. I didn’t know that meant they could go to space! FTL must stand for flying something or other.

“In space of course, we are about halfway to Mars. The Faster Than Light drive on this is pretty good so we only have about three minutes left to go.” Oh, that’s what FTL stood for.

“Is this your first time in space?” She asked me. It wasn’t a sarcastic question, she genuinely didn’t know. They must really not know about the twenty first century.

“Um, yes, very few people from my time have ever been to space.” I responded. I had begun examining the car’s windows. They looked like regular glass, could normal cars survive in space?

“Really? See that’s the sort of stuff that you should talk about during the interview.” Hadn’t this person thoroughly researched me? Didn’t any of that internet stuff make it through? “We have had limited storage space, so a lot of the data from your time has been condensed and trimmed down. We kept a file on you, so we know some medical stuff, and of course the terms of your imprisonment, but beyond some sit coms that we really don’t know a lot about people from your time.”

“Limited storage space?” I asked. “I’m not a big computer person, but I had thought the amount of data that a single computer could store was enormous.” She shrugged.

“When everyone in the world is recording their lives in higher definition than the human can perceive things get filled up, and old files corrupted or just run out of power and forgotten.” That still seemed a bit far fetched to me.

“You gotta realize, you are from a time that’s 1500 years before almost any of us currently living were alive. I mean, how much information did your generation have on people from the year 500?” It was a fair question. There were not many manuscripts from that time even before I was frozen. Something still didn’t seem right about the limited storage space. I remembered talking to a cell mate about how much information he put on his computer, and even if it had been 17 centuries, more should have survived.

I didn’t have time to analyze it further. Sarah pointed forward. “Look, we’re entering Mars’ atmosphere now.” I followed her finger and gripped the seat tightly as we entered the atmosphere.

“Good evening ladies and gentleman of the solar system. You are joining us for a very special edition of The Facts. Here with us tonight is The Man Out of Time himself Gary Ridgway!” The host was a plucky young twenty something girl with a pig tail. The studio audience applauded. I waved sheepishly to the crowd. Were stage lights this bright back in my day? It felt like I was on a surgeon’s table. That was a thought I quickly squelched. It was best not to think of places that had a lot of knives.

“So mister Ridgway.” I had missed something, Sarah had been talking. I was doing a lot of missing conversation recently. Must be because I’m old. “How was life back in 2000? What did you do for fun?” I took a second too long to respond because I couldn’t tell if the second question was a joke or a personal attack. I decided it didn’t matter so I answered her question honestly.

“I think a lot of what you might do today. I read books, watched TV, went on dates.” I paused for a second to see how the studio audience would respond to this. They were leaning on the edge of their seats waiting for me to go on. They weren’t the slightest bit concerned about what my dates usually resulted in. “Took walks in the park, and I had a few hobbies.”

“Well mister Ridgway, I think you’ve missed a lot. We in the 38th century don’t have books anymore. Tell us, did you have to write on reeds with a quill, or had paper been invented?” She asked.

“No, we had paper. Some people had begun reading electronically, but most of us were still dead tree readers.” An excited ‘oooooh’ came from the audience. It was like talking to a five year old, they found the most mundane things exciting.

“Now about these dates mister Ridgway. You had them in person yes?” This was getting weird. Once again the strangeness of the times overrode my concern that these people didn’t find me dangerous.

“Yeah, you’d meet a girl out some place, maybe a bar, and then you’d exchange numbers and have dinner some time.” The audience gasped. How had they thought I had gotten my victims?

The next hour was full of plenty of personal questions about every day life. There were some similarities, dental hygiene hadn’t changed much at all. While others had changed drastically. I had spent an hour discussing dating because how people found ‘The One’ in this day and age was by putting your name into a database, waiting six months, filing the appropriate paperwork, and then showing up at a courthouse to fill out more paperwork when you finally met the other person. More casual encounters were achieved in a similar way, but with less paperwork and much less waiting.

After the interview the woman shook my hand and I was escorted back to the car after signing some autographs. Sarah was waiting there for me, and boy did I have some questions for her.

She told the driver to take me to my apartment on one of the moons of Saturn. I had a great view of the great red spot this time of year. She informed me.

“Sarah, earlier you said that there wasn’t enough storage for people from my time.”

“That’s right.” She responded.

“Why couldn’t you just take a couple dozen computers with large drives, and save a bunch of information from that year, and then lock those away. It could only take a couple hundred thousand computers to cover all the time from when I was frozen until now.” Sarah looked at me like I had just suggested rolling down the windows to catch some nice cool space air.

“Because we don’t have the resources.” She explained. “There are 70 billion people on earth alone, almost a trillion spread across the solar system. Every single resource has to be carefully measured out so there’s no waste.” When I didn’t respond to what she believed to be an obvious statement of fact she continued.

“I mean, physics only goes so far. There are limits to how much data a computer can hold, or how fast a ship can fly. That’s why we haven’t spread out further into the galaxy. It takes almost 4 hours to reach Pluto, and would take over a year to reach the nearest star. We can’t afford to squander the resources necessary to terraform a planet if it won’t help with the population problem.”

“The population problem?” I asked.

“She.” She said, getting mildly exasperated that this took so much explaining. “The population proglem, the ability of the planets to support the population of the solar system maxed out at about the turn of the last millennium. Recycling and energy production both got much more efficient, but we still had to start allocating resources. Vital supplies like rare earth metals that computers need. We couldn’t just use them to keep data we didn’t need for research. We have to be very careful about what we use. It’s why we have a culling every couple of years.” Even before I asked what a culling was, I knew the answer. It explained why everyone wasn’t bothered by my murder spree.

“What’s the culling?” I asked, and my gut already had a sinking feeling before she responded. It was one of the first times that feeling hadn’t been caused by my own actions.

She was slow to explain this. Even with the limited knowledge about twenty first century earth that they possessed, she knew what she was about to say was shocking. “Every couple of years we remove the bottom 5% of humanity to prevent over population and an overburdening of resource allocation.”

“Remove.” I responded, with a note of anger entering my voice. “You mean kill. You kill.” I did some quick math in my head. “50 billion people every couple of years.” She nodded. Now it was she who couldn’t meet my gaze.

“No wonder you people don’t find my kill count disgusting. You must think I was just ahead of my time.” Her silence was confirmation of my assessment.

“Fifty billion people.” I said flatly. “That’s almost the entire current population of the earth.”

“We take them from the dregs of society.” She said in an effort to defend herself. She still wasn’t looking at me, and her voice didn’t have any energy in it. “Prisoners, unemployed, homeless, people who are a resource drain. No one who is a productive member of society gets culled.”

“And that makes it better!” I shouted at her. It felt good to raise my voice. It felt good to get angry, and to get angry for the right reasons. This was genocide of the worst kind, and on a truly staggering scale.

“Do you give murderers gold stars?” I asked aggressively. “Do you pin them up as role models who prevent ‘the population problem’.”

“No.” She said meekly. “Only people who are selected by the culling are viable targets. Unsanctioned killing is still a crime.”

“I get frozen so the world will be safe from me. Now I get thawed out to find out that the world is full of people who make me look like a saint.” Disgust was clear in my voice. I, a person who had slain in cold blood more people than could be counted on my fingers and toes was disgusted. The future was shaping up to be fantastic.

We arrived at my apartment in silence. Sarah hadn’t been able to think of anything else to justify her actions. I paced up and down the apartment. I was no longer concerned with protecting the world from myself. The world was already far darker than I could ever make it.

My debt still weighed on, but my fervor had made it lighter. It was no longer something that anesthetized me, it was something that energized me. I had fame, I had money I could fix this. I just needed to figure out how.

Sarah had been sitting on a couch watching me pace up and down, and when I walked up to her with a gleam in my eyes she flinched. That was not new to me, and I ignored it.

“You said these guards come from the Emperor of the Earth right?” I asked her. She nodded.

“The best in the universe.” She told me.

“Do they have to report to him?” I asked.

She hesitated, sensing that I was up to something. “Yes, as do I. As soon as you go to bed we’re going to report in.”

“And this Emperor has a large say in the allocation of resources?”

“Yes.” She said. “What’s this about Gary?”

“You’ll see.” I told her. “Last question, where’s the kitchen?” She was visibly relieved to answer a more normal question and pointed towards a door. It was time to see if they had knives in the future.

I sorted through the drawers and picked a nice sharp steak knife. As I picked it up my anger and drive faded for a moment, and several faces flashed before my eyes. I remembered what had happened the last time I had held a weapon like this. Could I do this? Well, one more couldn’t hurt. Regaining my determination I slammed the drawer shut and walked out to where Sarah sat.

“Call him.” I tell Sarah. She glances from the knife to my face, calmer than I expected. She should’ve read my case files more closely.

“Call who?” She asks. A couple of gaurds who had been watching from doorways walk into the room, hands going to weapons. They knew what was going on even if Sarah didn’t. It didn’t matter, they were already too late.

I put the knife to my throat. “The Emperor Sarah.” The guards rushed me. I spilt a little blood to show them I was serious and they halted. “Call him right now Sarah. You’ve spent a lot of time and money on me, giving me the best guards and medical treatment. I must be valuable to you. Show me how valuable, call the president, or you get to explain how you let an interstellar treasure get destroyed on your watch.” Her face had long since drained of color and she couldn’t move. One of the guards pulled something small out of his jacket and tossed it to me.

“Stick it to your throat and hit the red button.” He tells me.

“Thanks.” I tell him. “I’ll tell people what a stand up guy you are during my next interview.”

“Who is this?” A voice inside my ear rings.

“Is this the Emperor?” I say out loud. I had no idea how this technology worked. I made a mental note to ask Sarah if I survived this.

“No, this is the head of his security detail. To whom am I speaking.” One of the guards must be eavesdropping because there’s a pause and the speaker begins again.

“Ah, mister Ridgway, one of your guards has informed me of the situation. I’ll link you to the Emperor immediately.” During the pause the guards start looking at my hand and edging a little closer to me.

“I’ve killed before gentlemen, and I assure you it will be far easier to take my own life.” I drew a little more blood and they stepped back helplessly. I’m sure they’d eventually knock me out or something, but I didn’t need long.

“Mister Ridgway, what can I do for you.” A diplomatic voice speak in my ear.

“Is this the Emperor?” I ask.

“Of course, now what seems to be the trouble. We’ve gone through a lot of difficulty to keep you alive mister Ridgway.”

I wanted to snap something about how little life meant to him, but I held my tongue.

“The culling, it has to stop.” I heard someone not very close to the microphone on the other end laugh before someone with more discretion silenced him.

“I’m sure Sarah has explained we can’t do that mist Ridgway.” The Emperor told me.

“Yeah, she’s told me you need the resources of this system, and that you can’t spread out, but I think you’re over looking something.”

“I assure you mister Ridgway we haven’t. We have had every great mind of the last 700 years look into this problem to no avail. What could you have possibly seen that we missed.” The answer was almost too cliché. I didn’t tell him straight off. I’d lead him on a bit first to see if he could guess it.

“You said it takes too many resources to send a terraforming team out of the solar system, what if that team is cryogenically frozen. They could spent the whole journey in the freezer, and then when they arrived they would only be thawed as they were needed.” There was a pause on the other end of the line as no doubt the mic was muted and some hurried discussion took place.

“Even if we could do that Gary, cryogenic freezing doesn’t work. It kills everyone that’s put under.” I’m sure he realized his mistake as soon as he said it.

“Not all Emperor.” I actually smiled. “One man survived. I’m the thing you’re missing Emperor. I’m the thing you’re overlooking. I can’t blame you. I’ve been thawed less than a day.”

“But Gary we’d need volunteers. We’d just send the people we cull, but they would never be able to terraform a plant, and Gary.” His voice lowered for emphasis. “We would need your body for testing.”

“Get me on a few more talk shows and I’ll get you your volunteers.” I lowered the knife and tossed it to one of the guards.

“Then you can have my body.” I had found a way to pay my debt.