If you’re coming in late, the novel starts here: CHAPTER 1: Some bugger steals my sushi
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Kayly pulled the petri dish out from under the skope, and threw the contents, dish and all, into a plastic bag. She zipped it up, and tossed it at Daniel, “Quick! Grab this!” He fumbled the catch, taking it at the last minute, and stashed it in his jacket pocket.
“The other bots! Upstairs!” said Tina. We rushed across the boardwalk in the cellar-lab, Tina in the lead.
“All clear,” she said, peering out of the hatchway into the yard. Kayly quickly locked the door behind us, and swung the pot plant bench-disguise back into place. We pretty much ran back into the kitchen, where Tina grabbed the plate of nanobots we’d first examined.
She asked Daniel to open the bag in his jacket. He did so, and she unceremoniously dumped them in, plate and all, with the second pill’s bots and petri dish. Then she gave the bag back to Daniel.
Daniel looked down at the bag, staring blankly, his brain taking a brief moment to catch up with his body, then he zipped the bag closed again, and shoved it back into his jacket pocket.
“Get out of here,” she said. “Pronto. And dispose of those. Find a public loo. Flush them. Or find some way of stopping their transmission, as I’m guessing they’re sending out info right now, and that has to stop! And get the hell out yourself, quick as you can. Don’t come back here.”
Right at that moment we heard a knock on the door.
“Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!” cried Tina, wringing her hands. “Bloody hell! Not already!” She grabbed her laptop, which was still sitting, rolled up on the kitchen table, opened a kitchen drawer, lifted out the bottom, and hid the laptop in some sort of false compartment beneath.
“Quick! Out the back door, you two! We’ll cover for you!” She slid the kitchen drawer shut with a bang, and leaned against it.
“What about the packs in Daniel’s pocket?” I asked Kayly, as she grabbed at our pots noodles, evidence of visitors, throwing them into the garbage bin. “The unopened ones?”
“They won’t send signals until they’re activated by moisture. I don’t think. They’re fine. But don’t get them wet,” she answered, clearing the table, and hiding a half-burned stash of spike that was sitting on the kitchen bench, waving the air clear with one hand in a sad attempt to dissipate the smell. “Maybe get rid of them too. I don’t know. Crap, crap! Mike, Daniel, go! Get out of here! Git!”
Tina pushed me out the back door, and shoved at Daniel roughly, pushing him out behind me. For a small person, she’s pretty tough. “What about you?” I asked. “What’ll you tell them?”
She smiled tightly. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,” she said. “Kayly will stop them at the door, if we’re lucky. Hopefully they won’t even get inside, if she can distract them enough.”
I looked at Kayly, who was stripping down to her underwear, real quickly, and tousling her long blonde hair, pinching her cheeks, pushing her breasts upwards and forwards. The oldest con in the world; amazing how often it works, I thought briefly, as I was shunted out the back door. I hope whoever is at that door likes women!
“Eyes front!” said Tina, noticing that I was watching Kayly, and she pushed me outside. “There’s a hole in the fence behind the shed. You can get out onto Hyde Street through that. It’s a quick escape. Dump the active bots. Lay low. Hear me: lay LOW!” Then she kissed me firmly on the mouth, and shut the door behind me.
Daniel and I ran for it, through the back yard, past Tina’s prized weed garden and out behind the back shed, where the fence line was falling apart and scrappy, left that way purposely by either Tina or Kayly (although I suspected Tina; she was good at thinking ahead), in case a fast escape were ever needed. We sure needed it now: I glanced behind us, and I could see movement in the house behind us, and hear an unfamiliar voice talking with Kayly, and see unfamiliar shadows in the kitchen where we’d stood only moments before.
A minute later, we were through a gap in the back fence where the fence palings were rotted completely, and onto a neighbouring block of flats. We ran up a side alley of the flats, and through to the Hyde Street footpath.
When we got to Hyde Street, we did a quick scan for cameras, saw none, and started walking briskly, hoping that our trail might not be immediately picked up.
We passed a pile of rubbish left out on the kerb for collection a few houses down, and Daniel dumped the bag containing the activated nanobots, petri dish and plate in amongst the piles of rubbish, kicking it underneath a mass of bottles and an old mattress that looked like it had sat there for a long time.
“You think?” I said, pointing at the mattress.
“Good at damping radio waves,” he said. “I remember my Dad saying he used to hide his WildWave under his mattress when he was young. Government never managed to scan him, while just about everyone else got nicked. If we’re lucky, it might just block any signal those little bots are throwing out.”
We headed north towards the University grounds. I don’t think any of us had any idea where we were going, our only intention being to get away from Tina’s and from any chance of being followed.
I figured that Tina and Kayly would have the sense to pass us off as intruders, or somehow deny their way out of any suspicion. They were clever operators, and hadn’t been caught yet in all the years since the second crash, so I was hoping their skills would keep them safe from whoever was after us now.
We were near the water’s edge but hidden from view to anyone passing by, unless they were fortunate enough to pass real close and see our shoes sticking out from underneath the low-hanging branches.
I was exhausted.
Yesterday I’d been about to enjoy some sushi. Today I didn’t know where my life was headed, or if I’d ever eat sushi again.
I mean, nanobots? WTF? My whole life seemed to be dumped on its head.
And those images. Where they trips? Were they real? They seemed so real.
“We’ve got to rest,” I said. “If I don’t take it easy for a bit, I’ll collapse anyway.”
“Fair enough,” agreed Daniel. “Here’s as good as anywhere. I’ll set an alarm for a couple of hours, just in case we don’t wake up anyway.”
“What’s the time now?”
He looked at his phone. “Nearly four. Tell you what: I’ll set the alarm for five thirty, in case we don’t wake up by then.”
“Not much chance of heading home safely, you don’t think?” I said.
“Not right now, not likely,” he answered. “Actually, I’ve got no idea. It might be fine, or we could be screwed if we try it. Here is best, just for a bit. Now shut up and let me snooze a bit.” He took off his jacket, rolled it into a pillow, and lay down on the grass.
I lay down next to him. “Cheers, mate.”
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Daniel didn’t set an alarm.
Of course he didn’t set an alarm.
I should have known he wouldn’t. Some things never change.
I woke up with a start, to find it was completely dark. Well past five thirty. Likely well past eight thirty. Shit.
My sleep had not been easy. I sat up, every muscle aching even more than it had before, if that were possible. I felt like I’d been on a very long horse ride. I shrugged slowly, trying to move the soreness out of my shoulders and back. It didn’t work. Then I stretched.
I sighed heavily, and Daniel opened his eyes. “Great alarm, smart-arse,” I said, annoyed.
“On purpose, of course,” he said smoothly. “You needed the sleep.”
“Yeah, well, my dreams were not that great. I think I must have run over everything that happened in my mind a dozen times while sleeping. Plus I got all the bonuses of dreams – psychadelic changes in venue, weird switches in time and characters. The usual.”
Sounds good,” commented Daniel. “And conclusions from it all?”
“I’m screwed,” I said to Daniel. ” I mean, I can’t even trust my own mind any more. Am I going insane?”
“Naaaah,” he said. “You’re not nuts. Or if you are, I’m nuts too. Hey – maybe that’s it? Maybe we’re both nuts, we’re imagining all this, and we’ll wake up at any moment in a locked wing of a loony bin!”
Then he looked me straight in the eyes. “Not so,” he said, blinking and yawning. “We’re sane. Really, really weird shit is going down in old Dunedin town and, as it looks like no-one else is going to figure out what’s going on, it’s up to us to clue it up.”
“You know,” I said, wistfully, rubbing my legs. “We could just walk away. Throw the rest of the bots in the river. Pretend none of it ever happened. Look the other way. Get back to our lives. Sure, they sucked, but they weren’t any suckier than anyone else’s.”
“Yeah, right,” said Daniel, sarcastically. “And then what’ll we do when whoever the hell it was that came to Tina and Kayly’s comes knowing on our door? My whole life is built on keeping out of the way of the bosses. How the hell am I supposed to run my business with the government – or whoever it is – chasing me? I can’t exactly sit in Maccas with my customers any more, can I?”
“Guess not,” I said, sitting back. “But I’m buggered if I just want be a victim in all this. It’s not my fault, for hell’s sake! I didn’t do jack! I wasn’t involved in that fricking protest, and I sure as hell didn’t intend on ending up seeing some poor bugger shoot himself. It was your idea to go find that doc at the hospital, and you were the one who thought it was a great idea to start nicking drugs. I didn’t want any of this!”
“Stop whinging,” said Daniel, shoving me, so I toppled over on the grass. I fell backwards, and he leaned in real close over me, so we were nose to nose. I pushed him back, and sat up again.
“Look,” I said. “I want to find out what this is all about. But that doc freaked me out. I could deal with one of her, but an evil twin as well. Shit, man, that’s insane.”
“How can it help? I don’t get what you’re on about?” I was confused.
“Well,” said Daniel. ” While you were snoring, I had a bit of a think about all this. Some of the stuff you mentioned seemed real familiar. Then it clicked. Dunno – maybe your snoring actually helped…”
“Thanks,” I said, annoyed.
“You’re welcome,” he said. Then he continued:
“…and it was that fire you told me about. On the Octagon. You said it was above the old Regent theatre?”
I nodded, not sure where he was going with all this.
“But you said it wasn’t like the Regent. It was like somewhere else. Like what you saw had happened to the Regent a long, long time ago.”
“Yes,” I said. “It wasn’t the Regent. It was like, ummm, like that really old video footage I’ve seen, of Dunedin like it was maybe a hundred and fifty years ago or more. Even before the car era. There were horses and carts, but not like today’s – the ones I saw were carts from centuries ago.”
He was staring at me. “It fits with what I know about the Octagon. I remember Phil – you know, the guy behind the bar at The Craic – telling me how there was a fire at a pub that stood where the Regent stands now. In real life. But nearly two hundred years ago. Lots of people died. Phil said it rumour had it was started on purpose. But if that’s true what he said, then -”
I cut him off. “Then it wasn’t a trip.”
I realised I was shaking. “And what I saw actually happened.”
“So what I saw wasn’t a dream, or a mirage, or a trip. It was – the past. I was seeing history.”
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Image of St. Paul’s by PanDrCutts
Image of the Waters of Leith from the ODT