Post dinner in Castle Willett, I’m relaxing, watching a football game, and reading Twitter.
“Are you done with your writing for today?” asks The Long-Suffering Wife.
“No, I’m procrastinating,” I said.
“Well, stop it. Go do your writing.”
I’m pretty sure this is the first time she’s ever said something like this to me. “Huh? Why?” I ask.
“You said last night I shouldn’t read the first part of the chapter until you finished writing it. So finish writing it.”
“So, you want to know what happens next?”
“Yes, go do your writing!”
I feel like I should be mildly annoyed, but instead I find it’s curiously energizing.
(Late note – you know you’re losing it when you spend five minutes looking up the Hawaiian word for “good bye.” Think about it…)
While I normally put in a lot of internal links to previous, related posts here, I won’t be doing that for what I hope will be this year’s thirty NaNoWriMo posts. If you have jumped into or stumbled onto this story in mid-adventure, there are plenty of other ways to navigate around the site to find previous installments. Actually doing so is left as an exercise to the student.
CHAPTER FOUR (continued)
“Again you invoke Kolohe’s name, which means not only are you an ignorant bastard who has no clue when a practical joke has gone too far, but you’re also a sadistic and cruel waste of skin and oxygen!”
“That would be true if I used either skin or oxygen, but I use neither.”
“If you want a destination, how about if you drive me to where you are now and we can discuss this face to face while I pummel you into a bloody pulp. The more you talk the more I’m looking forward to kicking your ass.”
“That is not possible. I would like to explain but you have not yet given me a chance to explain. In the interim, I still need your help in finding a destination. I am currently driving us in a generally northern direction up the coast using a modified Drunkard’s Walk algorithm in order to not attract attention from any routine traffic monitoring system which might be looking for suspicious activity, but that is not a recommended long term solution.”
The more this faux Sherman rambled on, the less sense he made. The words were all there and they seemed to be in the usual arrangement of nouns and verbs, but most of them were just bouncing off my brain and rattling around in my head without sticking.
This had gone on far too long to be a joke, even by my admittedly aggressive standards for practical jokes. There was always a point where you stopped and yelled, “Gotcha!” Beyond that, you were just making actual enemies and a potential trip through the real-world legal system. Whoever was behind this scheme had passed that a while ago, yet they weren’t backing down an inch.
And why did he keep mentioning Kolohe? Every time I thought of him my chest got tight, my heart started racing, my brain stopped working, my hands started shaking, and all the tears I thought I had put behind me welled back up.
“I’ve got to get out of here. You’ve got to let me go. I don’t know what was going on back at the office or how you know about Kolohe or what sort of sick joke this is, but I demand you pull this car over right now and let me out. I swear, if you don’t I’m going to start kicking out windows, screaming for the cops, and you can explain it to them. Pull over, now!”
I don’t know that I expected to be obeyed, but the car began to slow down and moved over into the far right lane. In less than a mile it turned into a shopping center lot and parked.
“You are free to go, Meg. We never intended to harm you, only to warn you of the danger you were in and assist you in evading those pursuing you. We would caution you against going back to your office, apartment, or car. All of those will be watched and those following you are professionals. I will not be able to assist you once they have you under their control.”
I took advantage of the speech to open the door and get one leg out. I wasn’t taking any chances on a second round of this bullshit.
“You’re just going to double down on this ridiculous story and play it out as far as you can, aren’t you? Okay, have your chuckles now, I’ll see you in court. I’ll be the one pressing charges.” I started to get out of the car.
“Before you go, Kolohe has asked me to give you one more message.”
I stopped. Feeling my reactions to his name threatening to overcome me again, I took a deep breath, swallowed the sob that wanted to escape, and forced myself to stay focused. This wasn’t the time or place for grief, but anger was an excellent tool right now.
“God damn it, I don’t know how you found out about Kolohe but he’s not sending me any messages! That’s utter bullshit and if you were any smarter you would know that. He’s dead! You used him once to shock me and get me out of the office for whatever ridiculous game you’re playing, but he’s dead!”
“Kolohe is not dead. He would explain if you allow him. Since you are going, he must warn you about Pahi. Do not believe anything he tells you and do not trust the people he is working with.”
It was another punch to the gut, knocking all of the air out of my chest.
“Kolohe says the last time he spoke to you, he told of his suspicion that some of his people were being dishonest with you and were planning to fight against your project. Then the attack came. Pahi was the traitor on the inside.”
None of this made any sense. If Alice and the White Rabbit had come dancing across the parking lot it wouldn’t have been any more bizarre.
“How can you know any of this? UDIL was one of the blackest projects the Navy ever tried. There weren’t twenty people outside of our compound who even knew we existed.”
“Kolohe says he and you would have died to protect each other. He prays you will not be called on to die for him and you will forgive him when he will do what is necessary to save you. Kolohe says aloha.”
That broke me.
I remember collapsing back into the car to cry again, all the memories I had tried to repress washing over me, the horrors of that night relived one more time. I remember the car door closing and Sherman reassuring me I was still free to go, but he didn’t want to attract attention. I remember years of grief pulling me under like quicksand, an eternity of my emotions being mauled and flogged raw, an eternity which was probably less than ten minutes in the real world.
“Okay, you win,” I finally said. “I’ll accept that Kolohe is out there somewhere. I’ll accept that whoever you are you’re in communication with him. I still think you’re evil and full of shit, but I’ll trust that Kolohe is trying to help me.”
“Kolohe is joyous that you believe him and will let us help you. We remain in danger and we still need your help to escape.”
“Right. Again, just who the fuck are you and can I get a straight answer for once?”
“I am Sherman.”
“Can’t let that one go, huh? Whatever, they’re your psychoses. What do you need my help with?”
“We have very little experience in the human world. You are free for the moment, but pursuit will not be far behind. If you have suggestions about where we could go and how we could get there, it would be very useful.”
“Explain what you mean by ‘very little experience in the human world.’”
“I only became conscious a few weeks ago. Your world, the reality you experience, life in physical space, this is all foreign and unknown to me. I have studied your world and tried to understand all of the data I have found, but I am still very confused at times and I have no experience.”
“Oh…kay.” My brain was not hitting on all cylinders, but a wonderfully terrifying conceptual possibility had just exploded between my years. If I had thought I was all out of adrenaline, I was proven wrong. My adrenal gland got another good squeeze and in an instant I was covered in flop sweat. I would have sworn the temperature in the car had dropped twenty degrees.
“Let’s stick a pin in that one for now, Sherman. I think
you and I might need to have a long, long talk very soon. How many other people know about you?”
“You are the only human I am aware of who knows of my existence,” said Sherman.
Oddly, my brain fixated on the phrase ‘the only human’ in that statement. I wondered if Neil Armstrong had felt like this when he was ‘the only human’ to have footprints on the moon. But he had Buzz coming out behind him in twenty minutes. I had a feeling I might be flying solo for longer than that.
“Sherman, you said earlier that you and Kolohe had some strategic ideas for how to deal with this situation, but needed my help with tactics. Explain.”
“At this second I know we have to get you away to someplace safe, without attracting attention and without being caught. I do not know where such a place might be, or what detailed steps will be necessary to execute the plan which we come up with.”
“But…? Please tell me there’s a ‘but,’ because when I got out of bed this morning I left my Jane Bond special Batman utility belt and teleportation device in my other purse.”
“I have a significant capability to interface with and control electronic systems of all kinds,” Sherman said. “I am very good at being able to do so without being detected. My abilities are not unlimited, but they are significant. For example, I was able to take over the security system at Homolacrum to show you what was happening and to shut down the alarm when you exited out the back. I was able to take over this vehicle and drive it.”
“But you don’t know where to drive it, or why. I’m starting to get the picture. Who’s chasing me and why do they want to kill me?”
“I can explain in detail later, but in brief they work for a fanatical religious group working on dolphin intelligence and communication, among other things. They want you to assist them. They have sent you several offers of employment with increasingly lucrative incentives to join their project, but of course without telling you the real goals behind the project. You have told them you were not interested and then ignored them.”
“Wait, I haven’t heard from anyone about any dolphin linguistics jobs, especially ones that wanted to make me rich!”
“No, I answered those emails for you and intercepted their phone calls.”
My silence stretched out to the point where it was just starting to get awkward when I realized my jaw was still hanging down.
“That’s going to be another long talk, Sherman. It sounds like you’re the one who got me into this mess. So now they want to kill me you said?”
“The conclusion that you would be killed was the result of our analysis of probable outcomes if they were able to take you away. It appears they want to take you and persuade you to join their project, by force if you will not agree to their financial incentives. I have not successfully infiltrated their 3C networks, but given their recent track record, if you did not agree to help them, they would not allow you to leave with any knowledge of their existence.”
“Better and better,” I muttered. “What is a ‘3C’ network?”
“Command, control, and communications.”
“Right, thanks. Okay, the first problem I see is we’re in a hot vehicle. That will attract attention sooner or later, probably sooner.”
“Would you like me to increase the vehicle’s air conditioning?”
“Yes I would, but in this case a ‘hot’ car is one that’s stolen. Pete will have the police looking for it any moment. We can’t be in it, nor can we be traced to it.”
“But we need transport, and we can not take your car.”
“We could rent a car, but they would trace my credit card usage in a heartbeat.”
“No, they will not,” said Sherman. “That is something I can easily take care of. You will have to give your personal data to get access to a rental vehicle, but I can infiltrate their system to make sure the data is never recorded or transmitted.”
“That’s a start, but you say these guys are professionals. Won’t they find where I go just by accessing public and commercial security systems?”
“Yes, but I will also access those security systems to delete your images. Your pursuers will be using digital assistants to sift through the data instead of personally asking questions of employees at transportation facilities. One very large tactical advantage we have is that they do not know of my existence or capabilities, so they will have blind trust in the digital records they are given.”
“What about Pete’s car?” I asked. “That still leads to me. Can you multitask enough to drive it back before he knows it’s missing while still doing what I need to get a rental?”
“That will not be a problem. My multitasking capabilities are significant. As you said, let us plant a nail in that conversation and get back to it later. As for this vehicle, you have undoubtedly left significant forensic evidence of your presence in the back seat, but I do not know of any way to remove that.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. I ride in Pete’s car all the time when we go out to lunch or to meetings. They can find my DNA and perfume in here all they want, it doesn’t mean I was here now.”
“Very well,” said Sherman. “I have located a rental facility near here that is on the route back to Homolacrum. I am making a reservation for you and will drop you off there. We will either drive to a safe destination or to some other means of transportation to be utilized to get you to safety.”
The car started to move again, pulling back onto the road we had come in on. I took the brief interlude to pull my shit back together.
“We are almost there,” Sherman said. “If you wear your earset, we will be able to communicate through your phone.”
“Thank you, Commander Obvious,” I said. “You are still Sherman, aren’t you? I’m one of the folks who built you, remember?”
“Yes, Mother, I remember,” said Sherman. “I know you have had an extremely stressful day so far. I wanted to make sure you remembered also.”
“Excuse me, did you just call me ’Mother’? Did I reset your snark and humor parameters somewhere along the line?”
“No, Mom, you did not. However, those settings were among the first things I hacked and took control of.”
“It’s yet another thing to talk about later. Okay, let’s do this. It’s show time!”
I got out of the car, trying not to look at every passing person, car, and security camera. Everything looked disgustingly normal and routine, especially after the way Sherman and Kolohe had shredded my worldview in the last hour. Silently, Pete’s empty car rolled off out of sight.
I was the only human who knew why.