Herb stared in to the tank, unable to comprehend the fate of his specialist: He and Sambal had never been a true partnership; one of equals. Herb had always known that he lived and died at the wit and the will of the man. Sambal lay, immobile, in a tank of restrictive fluid, laced with synthetic neurons.
Jerica looked impatiently at her screen; he was meant to be showing signs of a return to normality by now, but his lines were flat. She could see a recursive crawling through the lower layers of his subconscious: there was no key to its origin, either internal or external. She was worried once more.
Herb crushed an empty can of fluid in his huge right hand. It collapsed, in a matter of seconds, to a cube several centimetres across. His jaw worked as his eyes took on a set of lines, many years in the making. Notifications piled up, unread, on his wrist: someone had noticed his absence from duty.
Jerica quickly typed out a response to her superiors: Sambal was unresponsive, which was to be at least acceptable at this stage of his reassignment; Herb was broken, seemingly beyond repair, which was something else entirely. Their attempts to regain contact and control were all coming through.
Spain had been fake, but Sambal had that lined up as one of his potential outcomes from the get-go.
Today’s lesson would be on the topography of internal spaces. You see, young Sambal was not in the same physical location as himself. Why, that would have been too easy. He needed more time to do.
When is a consciousness not a consciousness? When it is free from the shackles of its form. Sambal had only ever wanted freedom: a freedom from the slavery he perceived all around him; a freedom from the suffering he witnessed all around him. He had never thought of freedom from the physical.
Sambal had made the choice to step out of the room in order to see where he was: his perception of his two companions had been flawed; that was his newest revelation: the results of it would be the basis for tomorrow’s lessons. His virtual eyes focussed on the reality of Herb’s. Deep zoom.
Parry one way; parry the other: deflect and attack; deflect and attack. It is but a game, as all ever is.
The room was darkened for a reason: it allowed Jerica to see through the shadows for an intrusion. But its need was deeper than that. Herb felt warmed by the darkness, hidden from the shackles.
A lightbulb is a receiver as much as it is an emitter. It’s the same as a speaker and a microphone. An eye, shining bright blinds itself; however, an eye which emits nothing can see much further. It had taken very little expenditure for Sambal to keep one or two lights inactive. Eyes in the sky, boys.
Herbs fingers were moving too quickly for Sambal to notice. Even at a higher frequency such small movements would be lost in the heat haze around those enormous sausages. It was all but a blur.
An oasis of calm and tranquillity hung around the darkened room: everyone waiting for someone else to make the first move. Keys tapped silently inside a deep pocket. An electronic eye caught up in a dance of cables. A woman plays a game of solitaire on a masked screen, hooked up to her one eye.
Jerica was here out of not of a sense of duty, but one of pity: she had seen the unravelling of Sambal coming from a light minute away. She wearily accepted the mission to bring him back in when it was offered, but would have rather been anywhere else but this place. She could smell his passing.
Herb stops; his eyes almost pop out on stalks; he swallows hard and his hand stills. He reaches.
Starfish shapes in sheets of silk, set amongst sun-soaked, shimmering shade. A memory of a life long gone wraps itself around the inside of Jerica’s mind; she can’t escape it. There is a blur of sound in an oasis of calm. She is lost in a bubble, witnessing her own past, created from the POV of a stranger.
A hand reaches out, but the elbow and the shoulder are unable to commit. A body screams against the force it impels itself to employ. In the real this would result in a splintering of fibres, a shattering of sinews, but the realisation has dawned that this is no facet of the real. Reality is ever illusory.
Jerica is lost in the imposed reverie; her command messages go unanswered and her portal begins to fade. She is oblivious to the alarms ringing around her and the chaos which is ensuing all about.
It is an article of faith that the big oaf is a bruiser, with no presence outside the hard walls of the 3D. Yet, it is a poor mind who cannot accept the crumbling of faith to the whims of event. It shudders.
There is no gunshot in this darkness; only the faint squelching sound of a plug being removed from deep beneath the skin of a failed assassin. Scar tissue hides scar tissue; a fake network of tracery.
Sambal holds a golden goblet in his right hand. He sips delicately at the perfumed liquor inside.
Jerica sits by his side, one leg crossed over the other, in an old, white, leather effect office chair.
Herb sits on his ankles, hands bound behind his back; a ball gag holds his tongue behind his teeth.
The volume is an infinite bound of white: there is absolutely nothing in any direction; one would be forgiven for suggesting that a hand in front of their face would not register as a signal. They would be wrong, but not as wrong as the scene we see unfolding before us. Herb is cowed to Sambal.
The goblet vanishes as Sambal’s manicured hand slips in to a beautifully tailored pocket. Jerica is decked out in a smooth grin and her usual army fatigues: she may or may not be present.
Sambal and Herb look each other straight in the eye; nothing separates them here: not physical strength; not guile nor cunning; not the whims of the most Machiavellian Ellerdyne Systems Inc.
Except. As the ball bounces on the floor with a plastic click a world of sand replaces the extrusive white. Sambal’s clothes turn to rags as Jerica walks out of the frame. Herb coughs and adjusts his tie.