Too Much Information
Abbott hated cloudy days. He hated the rain even more. Where he came from everything was just right. He would say that to everyone, he'd say, "Where I come from, things are perfect, just perfect."
When they would ask where that was, he'd just smile. And they wouldn't ask anymore. But now things were different. It was going to rain.
The alley was dark and the grayness of the day did not help matters much. Abbott was focused on the fire escape of a dirty, off-white, eight storey building that looked like it should have been condemned years ago. The paint had peeled off in many places revealing oddly shaped concrete colored wounds. The alley was narrow and though paved, one could hardly see the road surface through all the garbage on the floor. A single solitary dumpster sat at the far end, a motel of sorts for the neighborhood cats.
How much they procrastinate, he thought, not for the first time.
It had taken a long time to get the stage he was in now. It would be a fine thing to have it end today. It was not bright out, but this would more than compensate. His jacket pocket began to buzz. Someone was trying to call him. Keeping his eye on the building he reached in and pulled his phone out.
"Tobias, Tobias, I thought you'd never call. Any news?"
"We've got him, all right. Manuscripts and all. He's been at it for months now and all reports indicate that he was close to being finished. We didnít have much time to spare, but we did it."
Abbott looked back at the window grimly. At that point he felt the first drop of rain hit him squarely on the forehead.
"What is it? Are you listening?" The voice on the line sounded a little agitated.
"Nothing. Fine. I'm going to go in. You close the electronic net. I'll make sure he doesnít leave the room. You make sure nothing else does."
Abbott placed the phone in his jacket and moved swiftly to the bottom of the fire escape. Jumping once, then twice, he managed to flick the rusty metal ladder so it slid to ground level. It began to rain harder.
Using his considerable upper body strength, Abbott pulled himself up the rusty ladder and landed on the first floor. As the rain got harder, Abbott moved faster, using the rainfall to disguise the sound of his own movements. One storey, two storeys and on and on, until he reached the fifth. This was where he stopped.
The leather jacked he wore was now dripping and his jet-black hair was soaked. With one hand he pushed it back away from his eyes.
Thatís when the smell hit him, the strange exotic smell of those cardamom cigarettes, sweet and heady. There were many who adopted the customs, habits and even the pleasures of this world, but none like this. Silas had been one of the first to arrive back when it was first deemed necessary to be here. He was a good operative, always doing his job well, but there was something else about him: a certain empathy he had for the "natives". A weakness, some would say.
When the first experiments were conducted, Silas had voiced his concerns. When the traitors were marooned on this world he was dead against it. Then one day, when his removal was inevitable, he had disappeared. This was not something difficult for a scientist with his talents. DNA cloaking, even brainwave jamming were child's play for Silas. If he wanted to he could have stayed hidden forever. But he wouldnít. His bleeding heart feelings for the indigens forced him to surface from time to time.
He was a meddler. A meddler that could be tolerated no longer.
The window was open and Abbott heard the clacking of fingers on a keyboard. The curtains were not fully drawn, but it was too dark inside to see anything. Making every effort to keep quiet he slowly climbed into the window and landed in what at first looked like a junk heap. Piles of magazines, books and fast food packaging littered the room. Still the clacking continued.
"This is ridiculous!"
Abbott climbed in through the window and looked about him.
"Hey, when are we going to be able to just disguise ourselves and come in the front door?"
Tobias looked up from the computer and smiled.
"He's on the couch."
Looking in the direction indicated by the techlord, Abbott saw the person he'd been brought in to see. Silas sat on the couch flanked by two man trackers, his hands bound. He was thin and gaunt. Living the life of a native had aged him faster than normal. His thin face looked pocked and haggard, but his eyes betrayed his true origins -- at least to Abbot. The man-trackers sat on either side of the prisoner in their dark suits stoically staring straight ahead. This was a job to them, nothing else.
"Silas, you know why we are here. You know what you stand accused of?"
Abbott had done this many times before, but this was special. Silas had been on the run for millennia. He would surface for a while but then vanish without a trace. Not this time though. He would not get away this time.
"Take your laws and shove them! I do not answer to you and your kind! I am in the right!"
The man trackers gripped the captured fugitive as he tried to stand, forcing him to remain seated.
Abbott looked at him coldly and then again at Tobias. The Tech-lordís curly hair stood out in silhouette against the bright monitor screen. With the day fast drawing to an end, it was quickly becoming the only source of light in the room.
"No, we've erased all the files we could find. Thereís no proof of anything having been transmitted. We should be alright."
Silas stared at the box at his feet. One of the man trackers had set it there before anyone else had arrived. It was a medium sized metallic cube with no visible lid or openings. For all appearances, it could have been a solid block of fire burnished steel.
"Just go ahead and do it, I don't want to hear your bullshit!"
Abbott shook his head,
"No, no. You'll hear your crime spoken to you. You must face what you have done. Have you forgotten everything that you once were?"
The room was getting darker and stale smell of smoke was beginning to get to everyone. Tobias listened as he clacked away at the keyboard.
"You stand accused of giving damaging information to the indigens on more than one occasion. Information forbidden to them by decree of the high council."
Silas's face contorted as he listened. "We have no right to keep the truth from them," he retorted. "They are living, sentient beings with a right to know about their reality! We cannot hide this, of all things --"
"Silence!" Abbott commanded.
"We can excuse you for one slipup, but you have committed the same crime many times over on this world alone. You have caused only chaos and suffering for the people you claim to care for!"
Silas's head drooped now. He knew there was no hope for him. He knew he had made mistakes, but he had kept hoping that it would change, that this time the natives would change, that they would look beyond themselves and see what the truth meant. But the same thing had happened over and over again.
Abbott consulted something that looked like a spiral-bound notepad -- except that on close inspection, the scribbled notes were changing although Abbott never turned the page. "Well, Silas, let's see: over the years -- no, over the decades, centuries, millennia that you've been a fugitive, you've been very busy. The list of indigens you've befriended is quite long -- I imagine that even you have forgotten some of them.
A young king in pre-Slavic Macedonia. A fifth-century chieftain from the Asian steppes, named Attila. Another horseman from the steppes turned out to be more bloodthirsty later on. More recently a Corsican youth who was so encouraged by what you'd told him that he rose from obscurity to being the Emperor of France. Lastly, who can forget the Austrian artist you befriended after the First World War? In between there were many more, but I think these were the most unforgettable."
The captive was silent. He knew what was coming.
"Well, after all that I've just said," Abbott continued, "You don't seem to have much fight left in you. I can only surmise that you know what you did was wrong. This will be put on the record. Tobias, make sure that happens."
"Sure thing." The Techlord had finished with the computer. It was clean. He now sat and anticipated what was coming. He had only seen the box used once before, on a convicted murderer. It was not a memory he visited often.
"Put your feet on the box, Silas," Abbott ordered. You two, give him a hand."
The trackers each took one of Silas's feet and placed them on the box. At this point, Silas began to weep.
"I didn't mean any harm, I really didn't ... But maybe now finally, it will be all right."
Abbott looked away.
"Is he secure?"
Silas could not move his feet. It felt like the box was magnetized to the soles of his shoes. The trackers stood up and walked towards the center of the room. It was then that the box started to glow. It was a pretty blue, violet light, at first dim but as it began to pulsate, it grew brighter until the whole room was illuminated. Silas looked at his captors one last time, and then seemed to stretch and contort as the box underneath began to suck him in. It reminded Tobias of a fax machine. To his credit, Silas made no sound. Only after the top of his head disappeared, did the box finally begin to fade to black.
Abbott looked around at his companions.
"Well, looks like we're done here."
The man-trackers lifted the box and stored it in a larger cardboard carton. They lifted it up and went to the window. Even though the box was constructed out of a solid metal, they each only needed one hand.
Tobias could hear them climbing out onto the wet fire escape as he cleaned up.
"Well, Abbott, another one done. When are these guys going to learn?"
Abbott just stood nodding at the empty place Silas had left in the room.
"Maybe never. They always believe that they are doing 'the right thing', that they are selfless and noble, and we are selfish and cruel. Itís a bit grey sometimes though. This one had a history. Heíd fallen in love with a native in the beginning. According to his file, after she died he went a little insane. I know it sounds stupid, especially considering the training heíd received but still. If you think about, I mean really think about it -- it is pretty sad."
Tobias shook his head as he packed his equipment into his bag. The job was making all of them tired. At least someone would come and clean up the apartment though.
"Hey, you're a full blown Commissar, itís your job to make these spot decisions, but you've got to admit, this guy wasnít too bright."
Abbott took one last look around as Tobias followed him out towards the window.
"I mean seriously, who in their right mind would give an indigen the answer to a question like, 'Is there really a heaven or a hell?'"
© 2005 by Sohrab Koohpaima
Bio: Sohrab Koohpaima lives in Dubai with his wife (but no kids -- yet!), and spends his spare time reading, playing football (soccer to us North American types), and writing music and short stories. At least some of his short stories keep winding up here in Aphelion, most recently Pot 62, July 2005.
E-mail: Sohrab Koohpaima
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