EX/WHI :: Part Fifteen

Previous Part :: Next Part


Chris tests legs, getting gingerly off the camp bed. Everything works as it did before: left arm had vaporised in front of his eyes before unconsciousness swallowed everything, followed swiftly by heart stopping. He knows all this not because of memory, but voice in his head that had told him –

‘How long have you been able to hear them?’

Ami moves back from current spot to the start of the no-longer blank wall, artificial divider in this ground floor, open plan office space. Outside, a newly-introduced artificial sun is going down, creating sense of false comfort in bizarre circumstances. Other things have changed too: ambience is now far less sterile and artificial. Surroundings however are distraction: he’d been asked a question, which means his partner’s expecting a reasoned response. Chambers doesn’t have to think too hard about when this all started…

‘Tired of injustice
Tired of the schemes
Your lies are disgusting
What does it mean…?’

That song, a brother/sister duet was playing on the radio, from airport to hotel, just before sunrise. He loved Michael Jackson’s stuff, always had, knew the words off by heart because lyrically, the song had always spoken to him… as he’s about to explain comes understanding he doesn’t need to. She knows.

‘My dream last night was when they first touched my brain, then when I woke up early this morning… that was when they introduced your consciousness to mine -’

‘ – in the cab, coming from Heathrow. I heard you, singing with me. Fuck.’

A physical connection might have spooked him before but now it’s essential and she doesn’t resist as hand reaches for hers. Fingers brush, as this place vanishes and with unreal disbelief he’s back in the cab, singing his lungs out, much to the amusement of the Polish driver, watching in increasing amusement from the rear view mirror whilst on the other side of town, in her Docklands flat, Ami’s being Janet Jackson. Her voice is beautiful, strident and pitch perfect… put them together –

For a second nothing matters except connection: joint amazement at perfection removes all other distractions. Not only are they genetically complimentary, but the subtlety of their psychic connection is beyond brilliant –

Simultaneously, two hands are drawn away. Chris stares at this woman who he’d now trust with everything, including his life. She’d tried to warn him of impending doom, but hadn’t found the worlds: guilt at his demise still burns brightly within… except he’s now capable of assuaging her simply with a smile. There’s no hard feelings, not a single notion of incapability. Together, they are indivisible, which appears to have been part of their kidnapper’s plan all along.

This was the reason they’d both been chosen to be here.

Without further prompt he’s off the bed, taking a pen from her hand before beginning to add notes to the wall.


Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Fourteen

Previous Part :: Next Part


Consciousness returns unexpectedly: no dreams precede it, yet sense remains of being observed, examined before there was nothing, silence. Chris is no longer outside: this isn’t the cafe they were abducted in either. He can count tables though, re-purposed pieces of wood on delicate, metal legs to his left, stripped wooden floorboards with power sockets sunk into floor level. There’s concern about moving, considering how much pain existed before but everything is better than it was. He’s been completely reconstructed at a cellular level…

That reassurance came before he’d passed out, gentle voice heard somewhere behind field of vision, at the back of a neck which prickles at the memory, skin reacting to warmth and a familiar smell… CK One, somewhere to his right…

‘Wow. You have been busy.’

Disbelief and surprise interrupt Ami, about a metre away. She stands at one end of a long, white wall, on which space of several meters long and a meter high is covered with her neat, organised handwriting. Chris now needs to be upright, scrabbling to sit, already taking in what’s she’s been working on during his enforced absence. This woman’s industry is becoming indispensable, inspiring and frankly impressive. Across the white space is a detailed breakdown of everything that has happened to her since Thursday: it is logical to assume that the blank spaces have been left for him to fill in… but there’s a more pressing question that first needs to be asked.

‘Where did you get the pens?’

‘I asked for them, along with a blanket plus another camp bed for me. I assumed they’d not want us to discuss this, but it would appear that our reactions to experiences are now as important a part of the process.’

‘You know that’s what’s going on?’

‘I haven’t actually asked yet, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t anyway if you weren’t able to take part in the decision making. That’s something we both have to agree on first.’

‘Did they move us together?’

‘No, you disappeared and then I got shown where you’d been taken. I’d like to think all this has been set up because they’d seen me taking notes in the cafe and wanted somewhere in the simulation where I could work our situation unhindered, but that is simply speculation and nothing more.’

‘So, I was just here when you arrived?’

‘There is so much to tell you but I have no idea when they’ll be back, and they could erase this all when they do, so I needed to get started on fixing the timeline whilst you were in stasis -’

‘Stasis?’

‘It wasn’t just unconsciousness, you had this invisible barrier around you. I couldn’t interact at all. I assume it was to fix whatever was damaged.’

‘You’re right, I know they’re not here, because at least one of them was watching me until everything was fixed, then they left. How long ago did the barrier drop?’

‘About an hour by my watch. Are you feeling well enough to join in?’


Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Thirteen

Previous Part :: Next Part



Chris is awake, bolt upright from cold, wet grass, looking around in terror, pretty sure that he was dead about thirty seconds earlier.
This will be the second time his heart has stopped whilst in active service: considering where the last one took place, it is considerably less stressful to be alive here trapped in an alien simulation. He looks for Ami: she’s standing, staring at him with a mix of relief and trepidation before moving his side, checking pulse, as body is gently pushed back to fully horizontal.

This time, there is no objection to her actions: on reflection, lying down’s no bad idea.

‘Because I am a stickler for protocol I’m gonna ask you some questions to check for brain damage. Name and Social Security number, please.’

‘I believe I still am Mark Donald Chambers, 075-26-1431 and I was dead, right?’

‘Very much so and I know as a result your heart’s gonna want some time to recover quite apart from whatever else was rearranged in your body. What’s today’s date?’

‘Friday, June 15th 2018 and you need to explain what just happened.’

‘I will but not yet, not until I’m sure we’re not being eavesdropped on.’

‘You know we are now?’

The nod is almost imperceptible: back at the pillar, his partner wasn’t losing the plot, something happened she couldn’t explain. If he hadn’t reacted so strongly to that touch –

‘No more questions, try and relax.’

‘Aren’t you gonna ask me who’s the joke for a President is right now?’

‘At least you don’t have Brexit to worry about. Be grateful for small mercies.’

A backpack is somehow behind his head and Ami’s fatigue jacket across aching chest as suddenly, Chris is shivering uncontrollably: shock. Almost instantaneously air agitates, now familiar movement as reaction to his condition: a low camp bed materialises to their left, something he’d use in combat training along with blankets and a stainless steel canteen. About to try to get up, a sensation of weightlessness negates any effort and he’s literally floating off the ground, moved from concrete to canvas without ceremony. The blankets float up, down to cover his form, jacket gently placed back into Ami’s lap.

Chambers won’t say another word until prompted: Bishop knows they’re being watched, possesses a ton of intel it’s currently impossible to communicate and he is best serving them both lying here, being a good patient. None of this phases any more, their hosts owning total dominance not only of life and death but the laws of physics, yet Chris just wants to sleep for a week. The thought is acknowledged within subconscious by someone out of his field of vision, and this is no longer psychic sensations. Whoever it was who communicated with Ami in her head before he died also understands the need for immediate recovery.

‘I will provide induced unconsciousness to allow cellular regeneration to complete. When you wake, there will be opportunity to communicate with your partner unhindered.’

Chambers is satisfied because they are being referred to as partners and not subjects there is no danger, right before losing consciousness for the third time that day.


Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Twelve

Previous Part :: Next Part


This is a dream, same one from last night as time itself shifts slightly off centre, out of focus. Her memory is of what is now happening: not deja vu, but something more fluid, insubstantial yet holding cast iron appearance of reality. Ami’s whole body hurts simultaneously: heavy-limbed and tight-necked, pressure at back of skull which is something unnatural, intrusive, trying to pull everything apart.

Understanding dawns: there’s someone inside her head that shouldn’t be. Instantaneously last night’s dream has been removed, almost yanked from brain by force, yet faint echoes remain. Her desperate whisper, Chris’ scream wasn’t imagined but real, before comprehension blossoms. The future which already happened, yet in the here and now has yet to take place… you saw it. Last night, you existed in the present and future simultaneously.

‘Linear time is your anchor. It is not ours.’

She should be frightened, pleading at Chris whilst he unknowingly backs too close to the pillar but if he’s rescued, everything changes. This is hard work to comprehend, could be considered as intrusion because the being now co-habiting her mind didn’t ask for permission to enter, but they are communicating, her and it. The alien’s happiness at her lack of fear is tempered with seriousness: her observations have all been totally correct. This is a test, all of what happens an experiment, but there is a problem. Something only now has been grasped about her unique genetics, and as a result intervention is essential.

This presence isn’t running the experiment either: they’re an underling, part of a team, and it is important that the WHI understands this. She must let time exist as it does, as it is seen and felt by her kind, or else there will be attention drawn to alteration of chronology.

‘You must trust these choices: if the EX or WHI are damaged, they will be repaired.’

The pleading look on Chambers’ face finally pulls Ami back to what remains their joint present.

‘Why shouldn’t I step back?’

‘Chris, please… I think I know what’s going on… my head -’

‘I can’t have you lose it now, you have to stay with me.’

‘I’m here but not alone, you don’t understand -’

‘You’re absolutely right, I’m here and there is nothing here to be afraid of -’

Ami knows what’s coming but won’t stop her hand, moving to his shoulder, attempt to pull man away except he doesn’t want to be handled, suddenly angry that she should do this. As the sun goes down in a couple of hours he’ll apologise, explaining how thought had been given to not touching her for reassurance because it showed respect of personal space. For that future to happen, he has to wrench himself from her support and stumble back into the light…

Everything slows as it did back in the coffee shop, and as Chris brushes one of three time portals in the Experiment there is noise and light unlike anything else Ami has ever experienced, and she’s nowhere, body and brain finally separated. The Dark encloses and protects, and she is safe.

‘These areas are dangerous.’

There’s a new voice in her head, warm and calm, distinct and separate to that which existed previously, which no longer exists.

‘You must avoid contact with the portal as it is fatal. Both EX and WHI must be preserved until observations are complete. Reanimation will commence shortly.’

As everything reconnects, Ami’s feet are no longer on concrete but grass. They’ve been shifted from where the Hotel stood, relocated to what she knows is Trinity Square Gardens, in the shadow of Tower Hill. It’s a long second later before the lifeless, charred body of Chris appears out of nowhere before falling to the ground, heap of burnt flesh and cloth. All Bishop can do is stare in stunned amazement as the air moves across an obvious corpse, same way as had been the case with the coffee bar table, literally rebuilding her impromptu partner back to existence.

Then, as suddenly as it appeared, both movement and presence are gone.


Previous Part :: Next Part

 

EX/WHI :: Part Eleven

Previous Part :: Next Part


 

Here is a place where Chambers can be in his element.

It’s taken a while for brain and body to co-ordinate successfully, but this is good, up front and nominally in charge. This is the place in normal life where everything is most comfortable and confident too, even if there are moments when brain screams otherwise. What’s noticeably different from previous missions is a tacit belief that if he can’t cope or there’s a struggle, his partner’s beyond reproach.

Ami’s demonstrating an almost psychic ability to cover his shortfall, implicit belief that’s what will keep happening. However, they’re in undiscovered territory, and both have shown signs of mental stress. He needs to be ready to cover her at a moment’s notice, and instead of the responsibility rankling it’s all part of the excitement. If she falls, he’ll pick the woman up without a word, because that’s the job trained for right from the start.

Chris is fairly confident that had they’d met earlier, he’d not want to throw in the towel.

That resignation letter would have made it to the Deputy Director’s Inbox this morning.  Superiors had forced an increasingly unsuitable selection of partners into his orbit, which only served to strengthen a desire to work alone, when all that was really needed was someone who understood what he was and allowed that to happen.

It is as if he’s known this woman all his life, mostly as a result of their shared interests meshing: this could have been so much more than just a job. He might have begun to enjoy himself…

‘Okay, this is new.’

They’ve turned the corner, into the street where Hotel should be, but instead there’s a large, white space: this is a simulation, another inescapable reminder. In the centre of the whiteness is what looks like a giant Roman column, except it’s floating several inches off the ground. Ami’s at his shoulder, making no move to approach, and so Chris waits for reaction.

‘So, what do we think this might be?’

‘I was kinda hoping you’d provide me with the answer, ‘cause I’ve got nothing.’

‘I can’t be expected to do all the thinking here, that’s not exactly fair. However, I’ll provide a theory, and you can decide to agree or argue. Sound like a plan?’

‘Yup, this works, away you go.’

‘This is the point where you were abducted -’

‘Can we find a better word for it otherwise this is cheesy Sci Fi and I don’t buy that.’

‘Okay, this is the point where you entered the simulation, so maybe they can’t reproduce it because that point needs to remain tied to the reality that is the actual Hotel -’

‘You don’t have a clue, do you?’

Ami’s hands go to her face, a second before he realises she’s crying. The temptation again would be to offer physical reassurance but that’s not what the woman needs, so he comes to stand in front of her instead.

‘I do know know what’s going on… I just… please, whatever you do, don’t step back.’


 

Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Nine

Previous Part :: Next Part


It’s a second before Chris grasps who Ami is talking to, that her honesty and intelligence might count for something if they’re no longer trapped in such an enclosed space. Looking outside, there’s no doubt this won’t be London they’re walking into, but what happens after that would be far easier to cope with if they knew their captors were more friendly than evil. The same breeze that miraculously fixed the table brushes past his left cheek, then there’s a tingle in his fingers, before on the counter to his right a familiar set of sweats materialises, plus what he knows will be very comfortable Nike trainers. There’s a backpack too: not too heavy, inside which are canteens for water plus silver foil-wrapped squares that look an awful lot like protein bars…

Ami has her own rations, and what are undoubtedly army fatigues, plus Doc Martins. All she can do is stare at the pile, with what Chambers will guess is a mind finally accepting she’d pitched their situation just right. Someone, at this point, ought to be grateful too for their gifts, because that’s what they are, and he’s hardly contributed to this entire endeavour thus far.

‘Thank you. This is much appreciated. Give us time to get ready, and we’ll head outside.’

Chris can’t look upwards as he is suitably grateful, because mind’s marvelling at what just transpired. Ami didn’t ask directly for what was provided, and yet that was what their captors took as the request: change of clothes, food and water plus an indicator they were expected to leave, or why else would backpacks be provided? She’s already getting changed, without a word, and there’s a reason: everything they say and do is absolutely being monitored, so maybe it is time to choose conversation with care. He goes to fill his canteens from the bathroom sink, allowing her privacy to get changed, before coming back and removing his own suit. She then repeats the courtesy for him: returning with water, they’re both ready to venture outside.

The backpack has nothing sharp, anything that might act as a potential weapon. Perhaps it is time to assume they’ll be no need to fight and stop worrying about protection. However, it would be great to feel safe, and right now Chambers really doesn’t. Everything is potentially a test, for observers who might expect vastly different results than what is acceptable as human behaviour. He’s also concerned at the implications of one woman and one man abducted as a pair: if he’s been selected as breeding stock, they really picked the wrong guy.


Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Seven

Previous Part :: Next Part


Ami expression is all the confirmation needed: she’s completely serious. There’s also an emerging belief that the woman is absolutely right: normally in those pulpy Netflix TV box sets he’d watch, the protagonist took at least an hour before it became apparent he was in an abduction scenario. Something has been up since he woke in the Hotel room: only now do these pieces fit into some kind of recognisable picture.

‘How much weird shit has happened to you since breakfast? Be totally honest.’

‘Okay, I woke up and went to the bathroom and got lost. I thought it was jet-lag, like the guy walking past the window, but now I realise the door to the bathroom moved. It started by the bathtub, then it’s by the john, and they were on opposite sides of the room!’

‘Do you happen to remember when this was? About 8.15-ish, perhaps?’

‘Yeah, ‘coz I’m listening to the radio and it stutters, like the same advert repeats a second time and I think this is weird, and that was 8.17, so -’

‘I wonder if that’s when we got shifted into this simulation. I was in traffic at 8.15, coming through Docklands. I thought I’d fallen asleep at the wheel at some traffic lights -’

‘Simulation?’

‘Can you think of a better word for a thing that we both assume is reality right up until the point we stare closely at it, when it becomes apparent we’ve been fooled?’

‘No, simulation is exactly the right sci-fi word for this. How did we not notice it before?’

‘Because we’ve been sleep deprived and confused. If you wanted to kidnap and disorientate someone with a less than perfect copy of their existence, you’d lower their ability to react under pressure.’

Under the word ‘Aliens’ in lipstick, Ami now adds ‘Simulation began at approx 8.15am.’ He can see her hand shaking, wants to reassure, but absolutely won’t use physical means to do so.

‘You’re not alone. Don’t forget that. I’m losing my shit here too, for what its worth, because I have no idea how to even process this effectively. What I do know, from your file, is you have the best analytical mind of anyone in the Service right now. Keep explaining to me why it’s aliens until I’m able to catch up, okay?’

She looks at him, really stares for the first time, before taking a deep breath.

‘There is no way this is a hallucination, because I’ve had those before and know full well that something this complex isn’t how that works. We certainly wouldn’t be sharing that experience either, but it is now abundantly apparent that you and I have been connected by more than a court case and a love of dance music. This whole room, the bouncy set dressing, the fact the only edible things are items we bought ourselves… there’s a logic here, you see it?’

‘Absolutely. At 8.15 this morning… or thereabouts we were removed from our reality and transferred into a… copy. We were both hungry and tired, and this was the first coffee bar from the hotel. The car may well have been rigged to scare us and then force us on foot… where we both followed the smell of food and walked into this trap, after which the cage door was swung shut behind us. Like the ignorant monkeys we clearly are, we’ve now become lab rats.’



Previous Part
:: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Six

Previous Part :: Next Part


The bottles behind the cafe’s counter might look full of alcohol but it is immediately apparent they’re empty, and not even made of glass. What Chris finds fascinating is the illusion they create: same weight, even with obvious transparency, but constructed from something unbreakable, that bounces back every time he throws one at the floor. As he attempts to destroy an increasing number of items from hand to ground, Ami is investigating fridges and storage areas. Her conclusions are not comforting: apart from what they jointly bought on arrival, everything else is an elaborate copy.

An incredulous mind is slowly adjusting to their new reality, because that’s what it is. They’ve already established in the last hour by their watches (which still work) that they’re prisoners, there’s absolutely no way in or out of this facsimile, the toilets still function and there’s water they won’t yet drink. With nothing sharp or dangerous enough to make even a dent in what appears to be an impressive and quite bouncy outer wall, they instead investigate the bounds of confinement. Chris has done his best to brute force anything that might look like it could act as a weapon but after the incident with the table, nothing budges.

‘We could try and hurt ourselves and see what happens.’

Chris looks at Ami, who’s holding something in her hand that is obviously not part of the illusion, which is a surprise.

‘I really wish this was a gun or a bomb and not just lipstick, but it at least allows us to make notes. We need to work out what we know, so there’s a chance of answering questions that make no logical sense.’

Her lack of panic or incredulity has been amazingly impressive since regaining consciousness: without Bishop’s pragmatism, he’d have probably just sat and hugged his knees for a long time before wanting to work out answers, not allowing reality to seep into this nightmare. However, she needs to be running the problem, and is already writing a word them on the top of the long, dark wooden serving bar which, as it transpires, was his first thought about their abductors too.

‘I read an inordinate amount of science fiction as a kid. Tons of the stuff, watched all the TV shows. I know what this is, because that’s the only logical explanation for what just happened.’

‘I was big on Buck Rogers, did you get him in the UK?’

‘Yeah, and Wonder Woman, and that thing with the metal bad guys -’

‘Cylons. They at least looked like aliens. What makes you so sure that’s what this is?’


Previous Part :: Next Part

June Short Story :: Alias

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds at 9am and 4pm GMT respectively. It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

WARNING: This story deals with adult themes and should, as a result, be approached responsibly.

Enjoy.


Alias

Christopher Ashcroft piles the white dish with Special Fried Rice, followed by a large portion of Pork and Mixed Vegetables. It is Friday night: this much-needed treat is his anticipated reward after week of healthy lunches and protein rich dinners, plus three nights at the Gym. However, this is nothing compared with the excitement and arousal he’s currently experiencing at possibilities from the evening’s entertainment. Anticipation of what is in store has fuelled Chris since leaving the office; so much potential chaos awaits after finishing this meal.

His current project is coming to a head: it is therefore time to begin organisation of the next campaign. This battlefield is already littered with thousands of angry and upset individuals, all fired by his own brilliantly executed, subversive approach to online encouragement. The almost foolproof technique has been honed over the past five years, allowing Ashcroft the ability to totally demolish other people’s online credibility without him ever being affected. The key is to start fires, but encourage others to stoke their potential for devastation.

With dinner done, it’s time to sit back in his custom-built gaming chair, surveying fresh wreckage of this latest endeavour: turning two online friends into enemies. He’s convinced the other their online confidante’s a conniving and duplicitous liar, slandering behind their back. A quick glance at Twitter notifications offers unexpected surprise: there’s no DM’s from either Abigail or Ruth, despite having formed complex relationships with both over the last month. With rising concern, Chris goes to their Twitter biographies. Both women have blocked him.

Logging to his alt account shows nothing untoward: no mention of his name, indication he’s been found out. Both women’s conversations continue totally as normal. In fact, one of their closest joint friends has chosen to follow on recommendation, which is quickly reciprocated.With an increasing sense of foreboding, timelines are scoured for any indicator of what might have transpired between lunchtime when he was chatting freely to both and now. Then there’s a notification: latest follower has sent him a message. Opening the window, Chris is stunned.

The solitary line of text suddenly turns his blood cold.

‘We know exactly what you’ve done.’

The instant temptation is to feign ignorance, but a second message has already arrived, stab to his heart.

‘Not just to us, but all those other innocent people since all this began.’

==

Chris tried to sleep, but to no avail. It is 3.25am, and time to do what he’s paid for during the week: troubleshooting. This time, all efforts are focused on his own online behaviour over the last month. The object of this exercise is simple: find out where the mistake was made. This game’s been played, on and off for almost ten years: beginning as a provocateur on tech support sites, moving up to an antagonist on LiveJournal, then a successful period of anonymous destruction via Facebook, until the rules were changed and he got bored of the responses.

A lot has been learnt since those early days: how to IP mask, withhold all personal details, have a cover identity written and committed to memory. Ashcroft is convinced no mistake’s been made; his next step is to work out what has missed in the pair’s complex text communications. Organisational fault is obvious, apparent since before this particular exercise was begun. It is not Abigail or Ruth who exposed him, but their mutual friend. It appears this user has been stalking his actions, active within several planned provocations over the last six months.

The same IP address keeps appearing again and again: tracing the machine to a London Internet cafe, he can now go to bed happy. Sending DM to his new nemesis, sense of ability and comfort soon returns.

‘I’m not afraid. No laws have been broken here. You have no power over me.’

==

There’s brief disorientation as Chris awakes, immediate realisation there’s no bedside clock illuminated beside him. It is soon apparent his flat’s without electricity: PC is dead, no smart devices are operational. All he has is mobile phone, on which a text message sits waiting.

“I have plenty of power, Mr Ashcroft. Stop your online intimidation of the innocent, or there will be consequences.’

As the message is read, entire flat springs back to life, and Chris is calling 999, before stopping himself. How does he explain what just happened to the Police?

==

The rest of the day is spent scouring house for potential bugs, disconnecting all internet-connected items that might be remotely controlled and trying to work out how this particular person not only knows where Ashcroft lives, but his real name, which has never been used online. A sense of discomfort and panic gnaws at a mind all too aware of the irony at play: this is what is meted out to those people whom he decides deserve to have their lives disrupted and manipulated to his own ends; drama created as entertainment now skilfully turned in upon itself.

After a while, pleasure emerges from this unseen, expert manipulation: his new online spectator could also be influenced for entertainment. This offered a chance to expose initial actions as illegal: shutting off electricity should be offence enough to get local Police involved. As he masturbates multiple times in the shower, Chris imagines being watched, making sure that performance is as assured as the online personal he knows will emerge as victorious. Going to bed, sleeping with confidence, Sunday will see the start of a new, focused plan of attack.

==

Over the next week, online activity means supportive encouragement of friends, plus a very public, heartfelt apology to both Abigail and Ruth. The entire time, his nemesis’ actions are tracked and recorded: by Friday, pattern of movement has emerged before a plan is executed. After a meeting in the City, Ashcroft suddenly and unexpectedly detours from his normal route back to Canary Wharf, heading for the part of east London where his nemesis’ Internet cafe is located. Arriving at the address, he is confronted with a burnt out, empty shell of a shop.

Sitting in his vanity-plated black Audi TT, Chris can’t work out what is going on. This is the address that Google Maps specified: location that, according to the Cafe’s web-page, is very much active and vibrant right now. Holding phone in shaking hands, a text message appears:

‘However hard you try and win, this reign of terror and arrogance is over, Mr Ashcroft. Time for punishment.’ Unable to move, sense of genuine panic grips his soul. As the man sits and watches, every application is methodically deleted, before the iPhone is effectively bricked.

Staring at darkness from his screen, glass surface unexpectedly ripples. Trying to move, Ashcroft is immobilised via countless thin, black tendrils of smoke that spill unhindered from the phone, wrapping around left wrist and arm… slowly spreading inside suit, onto his chest…

==

After failing to return back to work, it takes three days before anybody thinks about reporting Ashcroft as missing. The car is eventually located, after having been towed away and then impounded by the Metropolitan Police, with both his keys and phone inexplicably locked inside. Friends and colleagues are interviewed: only after his home is searched and PC taken in for analysis does it emerge that a popular, dedicated City trader led a shocking, double life. However, duplicitous alter ego is not a surprise to everybody, particularly his ex-girlfriend.

Andrea left Chris when it became apparent his lust for attention and control superseded all other rational faculties. It had taken some extraordinary measures to ensure she was no longer bothered by Ashcroft, the details of which are not shared when police finally interview her. The terms of her contract had been very specific: we will be happy to deal with your problem, on the sole condition you never mention who we are, what we do and how justice is served. In the modern world, sometimes, the less people knew of real truths within reality, the better.

In exchange for a promise to live decently and honourably, her soul’s forfeit wiped homophobic, narcissistic arrogance off the face of the Earth. Chris’ spirit, with a growing number of others was uploaded to the Angelic Cloud: there it would be saved, inaccessible, for eternity.


EX/WHI :: Prologue

Next Part of EX/WHI can be found here.



The night before They came
, she dreamt of a child that would finally happen.

This body was broken, damaged beyond repair, and nothing could be salvaged from the broken wreckage of ovaries. It was, the Doctor had suggested, scans in slim, dark fingers, just unfortunate. Missing a birthday was unfortunate; forgetting Parmesan on Lasagne night. All those years of spotty periods and acne breakouts had been the warning, but there’d never been time to fix the underlying issue. Career mattered more. In many ways, that was still the case.

Amelia Bishop lies, sweat-drenched, crying into darkness.

Blood rushes in ears which won’t hear any more truths: what remains in this existence is a lie, impossible to deceive. Deep down, she knows conception will happen. Maybe it won’t take place inside her body, but everything else is possible, even if she cannot provide the raw materials. A vessel is what she has become: home, simply waiting for a family. Money is no object, and once today’s Court Case is concluded there’ll be holiday enough to make everything happen.

To add insult to injury, this Thursday was when girlfriend left for good.


The night before They came, Flight BA145 hits turbulence, just before breakfast.

Almost thrown out of the bathroom, Mark’s having to scrabble for a handhold as the plane drops, sickening lurch that wakes many passengers screaming. He’s struggling back to First Class, fighting desire to throw up, pastrami bagel eaten in the departure lounge at JFK earlier feeling uncomfortable and stodgy in body which aches in a way he can’t remember from countless physical beatings. There’s been too many nights of hotel rooms and bad take out and when this Court case is done, he’s putting in for vacation time, because being a secret agent fucking sucks.

Mark Chambers sits, wondering why life won’t just cut a decent break.

His son had cried as ex-wife had picked him up in Brooklyn, look of disgust that meant he’ll be paying more alimony and seeing the boy less going forward. Little Pete was perfect, the only thing he’d done right in ten years. Fact remained that Dad was a tool to him and treated mom like dirt. On reflection, Cassie’s threat to reduce visitation rights was probably as good a deal as could be expected. On the scale of 1-10 of shitty male behaviour, Mark hovered permanently in low 60’s, showing no sign of reducing the average. All those promises to not be the Navy Brat like dad had been lost, ignored in the clamour of CIA notoriety. What a fucking joke he was.

To add final insult to injury plane the suddenly drops: pastrami on rye ends up all over his lap.



Before scheduled arrival,
suitable matches were determined.


 

Next Part of EX/WHI can be found here.