Sunday, 22 February 2015

Dragons Eye - Part Six


My alarm went off early, but I was already awake.

I started breakfast, cutting some rye and grinding coffee. I glanced casually at my mobile. A quick glance at my feed and stock prices.

Then I remembered he was going off hunting dragons. I checked a couple of other posts first but curiosity finally got the better of me, and I flicked over to his feed.

His last post talked about heading off to the dragon’s lair.

I typed – You are a nut.

When I first stumbled on him, I thought he was a teenager playing around, but you never know. He said he was Australian – and once explained an Australian tea ceremony. I printed it off and put next to my screen wondering if he was for real.

My mobile rang.

He said – Hey there! I found the dragon.

I told him what I thought of his dragons, but he was not going to let go of the fantasy just yet. He became indistinct for a moment - … when it comes to gold, the blinkers come down and it is every dragon for itself.

I switched on my home screen and scanned the morning’s news. Satisfied that the world was still barrelling out of control I picked up the mobile and said - The dragon must be asleep by now. Go get the gold now, I cannot wait any longer.

He whispered - I am not sure. I think its eyes are still a little open.

I became a little impatient, tiring of the game - Come on

He said - It is a bit more complicated. Dragons eat people.

I smiled, reminded him that this was just a game and that I really did not believe anything he said. The mobile was suddenly full of static and movement. I waited for it to restore.

When the sound of movement stopped, I said – Funny, the connection dropped for a second there. Forget the gold. Go get a proper job. Are you still there?

He sounded really strange – You are right. I am going to have to rethink the whole gold thing. 

There was the sound of him running and an explosion. The connection died.

I put the mobile down. We had talked from time to time – the first time to cure a misunderstanding – the second time when I saw something amazing and needed to talk to someone about it and then it sort of kept happening.

I got lost in a daydream, wondering about weird friends with strange accents who were off chasing dragons. Made life interesting. 

I poured coffee with a taste of hazelnuts and half &half. I put a thin scrape of butter on the rye.

After the toast, I still felt guilty. I called him.

Instead of him, a woman answered the phone. She had a strange accent.

She said – Please do not hang up. I have an important message to give you.

I asked, wondering whether I had misdialed – Who are you?

She said – I am Kathy.

At least it sounded like “Kathy”. It might have been a hundred other possibilities.

Kathy continued – I am a nurse in the Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital. A man was admitted a little while ago. He has no identification other than this mobile.

I said – What?

Kathy continued – Please listen. It is important that you not hang up. Are you a family member or do you know how to contact a family member of the owner of this phone. You are the only person we have been in contact with.

I said - I am sorry. This is a mistake. The owner is in Australia – he called me just a moment ago.

My mouth was dry. I did not tell her about the dragon.

Kathy described the man lying in the hospital bed. But it was his tattoo that told me who it was.

I said – I am a friend, but I do not know him very well. I hardly know anything about him, what can I do to help?

Kathy told me that he was strapped to a bed in a hospital in Christchurch with severe trauma. He was very bad when he was admitted, they thought he might die. They recharged his mobile to try to get information about him, but it was password locked and useless. Until I rang it.

Finally, she asked me for my contact details. All of them. I was not keen, but, in the circumstances, gave them what I thought they could live with. She said they would stay in touch and hung up.

It was all over in a couple of moments – but I felt partly responsible and completely helpless. I had a shower and prepared for work.

I could not leave it. I called again. This time, despite Kathy’s dire prognosis, I got through to him. Initially he sounded a bit confused, and he confirmed his head was sore. But he quickly picked up, and we ended, like we always do, with an argument. He still claimed to be in Australia – but the whole thing was starting to sound implausible. I even wondered whether he had got “Kathy” or whoever she was, to string me along, and briefly imagined them having a laugh at my expense. I put the mobile down, half swearing to myself not to take another call from him, and headed off to work. On the way, the thought crossed my mind that someone from my work may have set this up. And then I really started to get angry.

At work I had another call from Christchurch Hospital. There had been a second accident – the details were still being investigated. He had fallen into a lift well. He only fell a couple of feet onto the roof of a lift – but he was now in a coma.

I reported the incident to my work boss. In my line of work, that is required. Over the next couple of days, I had a couple of additional calls from the hospital, giving me updates. It did not look good.

I kept an eye out on his feed – people wondered where he had gone. I got into conversation with an old online friend, Sean. Sean was feeling as bad as me. I told him what I knew. He told me that it was not my fault. But I knew that already.

Then the spiders started. Small webs at first, I let them be. But then these webs started to have lots of little spiders, so I put down surface spray, with a vengeance. My home, no spiders.

I joked with Sean about the spiders.

About a week after the accident I had a knock on the door. Two guys in black suits and black glasses. They knew all about me, and about you. I made them wait while I cleared them with work.

The fat guy talked while the thin weasel guy looked. The fat guy did not beat around the bush. My Australian friend was still in a coma in Christchurch. He was caught up in something they could not talk about here. They had been in touch with my work, and they had cleared me to travel to Christchurch to assist the authorities work out what had happened. I asked if they were going to seek access to my private electronic holdings. Weasel told me that I had already been swept. He said, as a sickening aside, that they knew I was not involved, but that they needed my eyes and head.

I called work to confirm that they were aware of the arrangements.

I was put through to my Deputy Chief Executive. He told me that they had been briefed and confirmed the arrangements. He went a little further - I need you to cooperate with the organisation. This is very important to the boss. You will be on full pay until you return.

I said – I will only be away for a couple of days.

He said – Whatever.

I thanked him but he was not going to let me go that easily.

He said, more tersely – One more thing. You know you are supposed to report contacts that might embarrass us. You did not disclose your relationship with this man.

I gasped, and kicked the ground. I kept my cool – No. I do not have a relationship with him. I hardly know him. He and I would talk from time to time – that is all.

He said – You talked to him by mobile. He was building an alibi using you. And you let him.

I was left without words – What? What have they told you?

He said – If it were up to me you would not have a job to come back to. Just make sure that..”

The line was cut before he could finish the sentence. He was upset – but his tone carried more than that.

I thought about not redialling for a moment but then put the call through. His line was dead. The communications in the business district had been bad all week.

I was on a commercial flight in hours. I sat in my chair for a day suffering a series of smaller hops before the long overseas haul began. The other side of the world is a long long way. And New Zealand is as remote as Iceland. I read up on the place, apparently they speak a dialect of Australian.

I wondered what I had missed in all the time I had been smiling at his feeds and talking. Right under my nose. Had the online feed been used to convey encrypted messages. Were those pictures of his carrying other data. Where those bubbly messages of his really intended for another, unfriendly, recipient.

Finally, that surreal moment as you approach your final destination. The pristine ocean crashing onto cliffs around the bay, with that glorious range of mountains in the far distance. For a moment I forgot the mess I had got tangled up in as the plane came in to land.

They were waiting for me at the entrance.

Weasel was standing off a little way, scanning the other passengers. The big guy flashed me his ID and offered to take my bags – Good flight?

I nodded - Where are you taking me?

He said – We have a lot to do. Let’s get you done and dusted first. Unless you want to rest up in a motel first.

I shook my head. I did not want to go anywhere near a motel with either of these guys.

He spoke into his mobile – Let’s go.

We left the terminal building and came out into a sunny day, sounds of the airport all around us. A late model vehicle pulled up to the curb, ignoring the protests of other drivers. I was bustled into the car and we sped off.

We drove through the city, to the hospital. Low houses, trees and grass a glorious green. The mountains surrounding us and the smell of the ocean and the city. Everything was subtly different.

I was taken into a small conference room.

I said – I thought we were going to see the coma guy?

The fat guy said – In good time. You remembered anything else you want to tell us?

I said – I am not trying to hide anything. I have told you everything I can remember. I know it is a bit odd, but…

Weasel said softly – We just want to know why he is in Christchurch.

I said – I get that. Look, I have been told to fully cooperate with you guys. I have been told my job hangs on it. So help me out here. You are not telling me what is happening here. What does it matter to you that some stray Aussie ended up here in Christchurch? What is so damn important about this? Throw me a bone here, I might be able to make sense of it.

Weasel put an old and battered mobile on the table between us – We know where you both were, when you were talking on the phone. One moment he was in Australia, and the next, here. We want to know how he did that.

A knock on the door and an urgent conference. He turned and smiled – Think about it. We have all the time you need.

He looked around as though he had lost something, shrugged and, leaving faint shoeprints, walked quickly out of the room. I could hear urgent conversations followed by an alarm starting in the distance.

The floor was vibrating softly.

The shoeprints grew as I watched them. I could see small black objects moving within them.

I took my bag off your mobile and picked it up. I felt a jolt of static electricity and for a moment, the smell of the hospital was replaced by the small of a summer storm.

You had once told me your password when explaining how to work out one that couldn’t be cracked. I got in and started to scan it for some hint to what was going on.

The vibration increased and I started to hear other sounds. I could hear people running.

I looked up as the room started to disappear.

In its place, massive beams of light that spread out like the centre of a dandelion seed a way away.

Not beams of light. Strands of a web.

I heard Weasel come back into the place where the room should have been. I heard him shouting but could not see him. In moments, the sounds of the hospital faded altogether.

I thought for a moment. I lifted the camera. I centred the image on a node in a network of webs. I took a picture. Not a good shot, in retrospect. In the distance, the shadow of a big spider, out of focus.

As I logged onto my web feed and posted the picture on my site, I noticed a spider watching me.

Very carefully, I took off my shoe and belted it flat.

And shoes in hand, I ran barefoot as fast I could towards the node. 

Peter Quinton

February 2015

> part seven

Image - Molonglo High Plains, today 

(No dragons or cats were hurt writing this part. A spider is missing.)

This is a continuation of a story (a "braided yarn") that started on an earlier G+ post. Details and story at:
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