Thomas awoke to the sound of a gunshot and a woman’s scream. After wiping away the sleep from his eyes, he found himself alone in a car. Green and blue diodes from the control panel cast the car’s interior in a soft glow, but he could only see a black night through the windows. A terrible silence enveloped the car. The gunshot and screaming were merely a dream.
He had a fever with a cold sweat which had formed into a drop on his forehead and began to slide onto his nose. It felt like a slug. After wiping it away, he stared at his hand. It was dry. ‘That’s strange,’ he thought absently.
He had to close his eyes and hold his head in his hands for a while. With his eyes closed, remnants of the dream resurfaced. The memory of the woman’s scream filled his head. Even though it was horrible, he wanted to sink back into oblivion. It seemed important and real.
To forget your identity is like feeling prepared for a test and then failing miserably. The test doesn’t begin with, Who are you? In Thomas’s case, the first questions were: When did you last eat? Who was with you? He had no idea. And finally, Why are you sleeping in a car? Where are you? The question of his identity came last. Answering that didn’t seem as important as finding something to eat.
His confusion was momentarily shoved to the back of his mind when he saw through his front window a bright headlight from a large utility truck. It illuminated the scene for Thomas as it passed. He was parked to the side of a road in a forest.
He energized the overhead light and inspected the inside of the car. All he found were some papers laying on the passenger seat. They appeared to be ID papers with a picture of a man on the first page. At the top were the words, Thomas Kane. He stared at the picture and didn’t recognize the man. He looked in the rear view mirror to see dark blue eyes staring back at him. His eyes were set deep into a pasty white face. They were the eyes and face of the man in the photograph. None of this made any sense or brought back any memories. The only memory he recognized was that he needed to help someone. He had some kind of job to do.
His car turned over quietly when he touched the ignition key. He pulled onto the road and drove in the direction of the utility truck. After fifteen minutes of driving he saw a sign on the road that read, ‘Rybinsk 45 km’.
‘What was that?’ he asked out loud and reached for the papers again. He was in Russia. Rybinsk was almost 300 km northeast of Moscow. After reexamining the papers, he noticed that they weren’t written in Russian, but German which seemed more familiar. ‘Russia is not a good place to be?’ he said to himself. After a few kilometers, he turned onto a larger road and found himself speeding along with another car. A large river ran on his left with barges that looked motionless on the dark water. It was getting light enough to see their outlines.
It was 5:30 a.m. when Thomas crossed a large bridge into Rybinsk. After passing over the bridge, he saw a police car pull onto the road behind him. The lights were not flashing, but they were following close. For a test, Thomas turned down a side street. The police car made the same turn. A moment later, they turned on the police lights, but no siren. He found a place to park near the intersection of a main road.
His heart raced as he saw two police officers walk to his car. They wore black vinyl coats with red buttons, dark pants and boots. They had triangle yellow badges with an inscribed black star. Thomas rolled down the window.
“What’s the problem?” Thomas asked. His own voice didn’t sound familiar.
“We need to see some identification.”
As Thomas pulled out his wallet and searched for some sort of ID he said, “Did I do anything wrong?”
“Just give us your ID,” demanded the officer. The name on the man’s badge said Andrei Gusinsky.
Thomas pulled out a driver’s license with his picture on it. Before he handed it to the officer, he checked to see if it said Thomas Kane, like the papers in his car. It did. The man took it roughly out of Thomas’s hand and scanned it through a hand-held black box. The two officers walked back to their car and whispered while staring at the box.
To Thomas’s surprise he heard every word they said.
“His profile is authentic,” said one of the men.
“Yeah, but that car matches the description from yesterday.”
“I know Andrei, but he doesn’t match the description of the guy from yesterday. He had brown eyes and tan skin.”
“We can’t just let him go. He could be an agent from Moscow. I’ll handle this,” Andrei said casually. They both walked back to the car.
Thomas suppressed the urge to quickly drive away.
“Did you know that you were driving a stolen vehicle?” asked Andrei.
“You must be mistaken,” Thomas said politely. “This is my car. My profile will verify it.”
“We’ve seen your profile,” he said rudely. “This car’s stolen. You’ll need to come to the station for some questioning. Get out of the car.”
“You can’t just arrest me without any kind of evidence.” said Thomas. It surprised him how calm he felt, even though his heart was racing and he had a fever.
The other officer had taken out his gun. A blue laser dot from the gun danced on the ground. When Andrei spoke again Thomas pulled his gaze away from the laser beam, “If what you say is true, you have no need to worry, do you?” He opened the door for Thomas and grabbed his arm roughly. They handcuffed him before shoving him in the back seat of the police cruiser.
On the drive to the station, Thomas tried talking to the men through the glass shield between them. They never responded.
At the station, they put Thomas into a square room with blank, white walls and a stainless steel floor. He sat at a desk in the middle of the room with his hands cuffed behind his back. Close to the ceiling, Thomas could see two small circles of glass covering what looked like eyes. They made him feel uncomfortable. After twenty minutes of waiting, the door opened and a man walked in and sat on the other side of the desk. He was tall and his white shirt looked like it covered a brick wall. He took off his thin glasses and placed them on the table.
“Thomas Kane,” he said in a deep voice. He didn’t say anything else, but just stared at Thomas.
After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, Thomas asked, “Why am I here?” Although the man was clearly intimidating, Thomas stared directly into his eyes.
“I am trying to figure out why a man would steal a car and drive it into Rybinsk this early in the morning.”
“The car’s not,” began Thomas, but the man cut him off.
“And why would a computer programmer, such as yourself, have the need to steal a car?”
Thomas was now listening intently. Any information about himself felt like water sliding down a dry throat. The man continued.
“You have no prior record of any criminal activity. And you live alone. I think your profile’s been manipulated or even fabricated. But don’t worry, we’ll find out your story with or without your help. Although, you will definitely find it more pleasant if you help us.” He now waited for Thomas to talk.
After letting the man’s words sink in, Thomas realized that none of it brought back any memories. A computer programmer didn’t sound correct and living alone didn’t either. Like a butterfly in the wind, the memory of a woman and child flew passed his thoughts. Thomas closed his eyes and tried to bring the images back. He suddenly felt all alone in an strange land.
The man pounded the table with his large fist. The sound resonated in the room. Thomas jumped. “Do not close your eyes when I’m talking to you, Mr. Kane.” The man put his glasses back on. “You wouldn’t need to think about what you’re going to say, unless it was a lie.”
“It’s hard to think,” Thomas said as a wave of dizziness passed. “I haven’t been feeling well.” Thomas knew this man would laugh in his face if he told him that he couldn’t remember anything.
“That’s funny,” said the man, not smiling. “You look fine. Now tell me who was driving with you last night.”
Thomas had no idea what the man was talking about. He knew that to say anything might incriminate himself, so he said simply, “I want to talk to a lawyer.”
The man laughed. “That’s not how it works around here. You are going to tell me what I want to know.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m in no condition to talk about anything.” Thomas was trying to sound sincere and apologetic. The man nodded his head slightly. “I’m having a hard time remembering things, or, or thinking clearly.” He felt another bead of sweat begin sliding down his forehead, but he could do nothing about it. When it reached between his eyes, the man motioned with his hand at the eye camera.
The door opened and two men entered. “I didn’t want it to come to this, but it was your choice.” The two men stood behind him. They held night sticks and Thomas recognized Andrei from the road.
The bead of sweat was now on the tip of his nose. After falling, Thomas looked down to a dry table top. He had no idea why he was so concerned about a drop of sweat when he was about to be throttled by the police. Maybe they were just there to escort him to a cell while they contacted a lawyer.
Just then his head jerked forward after being hit with a night stick.
“Where were you going with those people last night?” asked the man in front of him.
Thomas didn’t answer. He felt a little dizzy, but not from the blow to his head.
“Listen,” said Thomas as he blinked and rolled his eyes until he could focus again. “I can’t tell you anything, all right. I, I don’t remember anything.”
In a flash, the man in front of him launched his fist just under Thomas’s jaw, snapping his head back. Thomas waited for the pain to hit him, but it didn’t. Instead he heard a scream and saw the man in front of him holding his hand. Blood was dripping to the floor and a bone from his knuckle poked through his skin.
One of the men from behind him broke his stick over Thomas’s head. Instinctively, Thomas pulled his hands in front of him, turned and grabbed the man’s arm to keep him from striking again. He heard a snap and a scream of pain. Andrei backed away from Thomas and yelled for help.
Thomas bolted out the door and down some halls, knocking several people out of his way like they were children. Just before running out of the building, he heard a gunshot.
He ran as fast as he could through the streets. After several minutes he realized that he was not being followed so he stopped and tried to catch his breath, not from running but panic. He ducked into an alley and sat on the ground.
‘What is happening? Am I on some kind of drug?’ he asked himself, bringing both hands to his face. The handcuff’s chain swung back and forth before his eyes. After watching it for a few moments, he remembered the gunshot from the station. He looked down at his clothes and noticed a small hole just above his left hip. There was no blood. He poked his fingers through the hole then pulled up his shirt. What he saw made him fall back against the wall in shock.
Instead of seeing skin, there was shiny, chrome-plated metal. He began to hyperventilate as he ran his hands over his chest, head and face. As his hand slid over his jaw, where the man had hit him, he felt a small tear in his skin like a cut piece of plastic. It was plastic. “OK, OK, calm down Thomas,” he said while attempting to breath slowly and more relaxed.
He knew it wasn’t a dream. It was too real. He searched his memory for something substantial. The answer slapped him in the face. “I’m an Animation,” he said out loud. An Animation was a remotely controlled robot. He was controlling it, but he had somehow forgotten. He had allowed himself to become swallowed up in the illusion of it. Although his memory was still in several unconnected pieces, he remembered that this was one of the dangers of being an Animator.
The technology had been perfected in Germany, as had other recent advancements, and he was a German. The alternative, being a Russian, was not a pleasant prospect at this time in history. The country had split into separate provinces, each ruled by a paranoid governor who also happened to be the local Mafia boss.
These newly rejoined connections did not answer the main question. Where was he, his body? And why couldn’t he stop controlling the robot body?
He needed to figure out a way to experience his physical surroundings again, instead of experiencing it through the Animation. He held up both hands, which he now realized were just part of a machine. He didn’t realize it before, but his movement felt wrong, like pulling on something.
This was a very disorienting experience. No wonder he had fooled himself into thinking that it was real. Maybe the fever, hallucinations and memory loss were a natural side effect from controlling an Animation. Had this happened to him previously?
After placing the tracking device and radio transmitter on Thomas’s car, Andrei and Vadim drove in their unmarked police car and parked down the street, where they waited. Andrei picked up the radio, “The car’s been tagged. We’re watching from a safe distance.”
“Good,” replied a deep voice. “Just keep watch, and let me know when he comes back for the car, if he does. I’m heading for the hospital, but then I need to go over the security situation at the airport for the governor’s visit tomorrow. Find out what this guy is doing. Over.”
“I still can’t believe Yuri broke his hand on the guy’s jaw,” Vadim said, after sitting there for a few moments. “That guy’s face should have been broken.”
“Well, believe it. I saw it happen.” Andrei sucked the remaining ash from his cigarette then flicked it out the window. “After breaking Yuri’s fist and Alexander’s arm he ran out of the room as if nothing happened.”
“So do you believe what Yuri said, that it’s an Animation sent from Moscow to kill Governor Koslov? He looked like a normal guy.”
“I suppose it’s possible, but why didn’t he just kill me and Peter when we pulled him over? And what was he doing driving people out to the country? No, I think he’s helping a spy network get in and out of the city. Security’s too tight at the airport for anyone to fly in.” Andrei lit another cigarette. “This Thomas person, probably has steel bone implants and a muscle juice injector. We had a gun on him when we arrested him. He was just lucky enough to escape the station. Besides, only the Germans have Animation technology, and they’re keeping it all to themselves.”
“Maybe someone in Moscow’s figured it out.”
“I doubt it.”
Ten minutes later, a taxi cab slowly drove passed Thomas’s car and parked down the street. Andrei and Vadim watched as Thomas exited the cab and casually walked to his car. He looked around for a moment then got in and drove away. Andrei picked up the radio and said, “That Thomas character just took off in his car. Should we follow?”
“Yes, but stay out of sight.”
When he felt it was safe enough, Thomas parked on an old road that ran along the Rybinsk reservoir. It looked large enough to be an ocean. He stared at the small waves. For the first time since that morning he felt calm. He closed his eyes and attempted to bring back the image of the woman and little girl. He could only picture their dark hair, but nothing else. He wished he knew their names.
After searching his car, he found a laptop computer in a hidden compartment under his feet. He pulled it out and turned on the power. One of the icons on the desktop was a blue star. It was named ‘ProgrammSteuerung (PSt)’. In it, he opened a simple text file, called ‘Aufgaben’.
There were several names and phone numbers. Each name had a check mark placed beside it except for the one at the bottom. The name was Adeline Uchdorf. The number next to her name was the link to a phone number. He clicked on it. A moment later he heard a young male voice say, “Hallo.”
“Um Hi,” he began in German, not knowing what else to say. “This is Thomas.” He waited for the voice to respond.
Thomas heard the kid’s muffled voice say, “Hey Mom. It’s him.” Into the phone he said, “What took you so long. My mom’s freaking out.”
“I need to talk to Adeline.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Why aren’t you on schedule? We’re not paying you to dawdle.” The boy’s voice was angry.
“Listen kid, I’m having problems and all I have is a name, Adeline Uchdorf. Just let me talk to her.” Thomas didn’t know why he was arguing with a kid, but it felt good to talk in German again.
“Thomas,” began a woman’s voice. “What’s going on? Is there anything wrong? I talked to Richard and Otto a couple hours ago. They got to Berlin just fine. They said there were no problems.”
“I ran into the police this morning.” He didn’t know if he should trust them, but it was a relief talking to a friendly voice again.
“I was taken to the station for questioning. They asked me what I was doing driving a stolen car. I managed to escape, but I wounded a couple officers in the process. That’s when I discovered what I was. They have to know that I’m an Animation, or I mean, that I’m an Animator.” Thomas stopped to catch his breath. Talking with them felt like the right thing to do. “I’m not feeling well, and I’m uh, not remembering things.”
“What about Nadja? Isn’t she supposed to be keeping tabs on you?”
Thomas repeated the name, “Nadja, Nadja.” He remembered her, at least the name and face. “I, I don’t know. I’m starving and have a fever. I can’t remember what I’m doing here in Rybinsk. I can barely even remember my own name.”
He heard the boy’s voice again. All three of them were on the line. “This is just great. Are the police following you? I can’t believe they let you get back to your car and just drive away.”
This thought hadn’t even crossed Thomas’s mind. “I don’t know. I don’t think so.” Their voices were beginning to sound more familiar, especially the boy’s.
“Nadja shouldn’t have let this happen to you. Something’s gone wrong.” Adeline cut him off. “This is what we’re going to do. I’ll go to the bank to make the last withdrawal. Albert and I will meet the Animation, I mean you, near the lake, then we’ll find you and Nadja. We’ll just hide out in the country until the helicopter gets here tonight.”
“Mom, I didn’t come out here just to see you get caught in some benevolent rescue attempt. We’re paying these guys to get everyone out, including you. Let his company take care of them.”
“Don’t worry Thomas,” said Adeline, ignoring her son. “We’ll get you. Just give me an hour, then we’ll meet you at the lake. Send me a link to your location?”
“OK, and thanks.”
“Thomas.” said Albert. “While you’re waiting for us, try to find out if you were followed. They’ve got satellite surveillance, so be careful.”
Despite Albert’s abrupt personality, Thomas found that he liked the kid. “One more thing,” Thomas said hesitantly.
“Do you know my wife’s name?”
“I don’t,” Adeline said. “I’m sorry.”
Andrei and Vadim grew tired of watching the satellite images of Thomas’s car. Vadim kept zooming on the police car instead because he was getting bored. He would hold his hand out the window and laugh as he pointed it out to Andrei.
“How old are you Lieutenant?” Andrei asked impatiently.
“Then stop acting like a ten year old.” Andrei sucked deep on his cigarette. He grabbed the controls harshly away from Vadim and zoomed back on Thomas’s car. “I don’t know what Yuri’s thinking by sending just the two of us. We had that guy in a cell with three armed officers, and one of them was the captain. And he was cuffed.”
“Everyone else is preparing for the governor’s visit,” Vadim said. “Besides, we’re just surveillance, and as long as we keep our distance, we can just shoot him, right?”
“Don’t be so comfortable with our situation. He’s obviously part of a larger plot. If Andrei’s right and he is an Animation, that means someone big is paying for it all. I’ve been waiting for us to be the first to break the provincial treaties and move against Moscow, but this could be the beginning of the alternate scenario. What if there’s a bunch of these Animators, and this is a set up. I think it’s a little suspicious that our audio link doesn’t work, but our GPS link does. He could have arranged people to come for us while that thing sits peacefully in the car.”
Vadim turned his attention back to the satellite view. “It could just be a monkey,” he said, laughing nervously.
Andrei laughed out loud. He had also heard the monkey story. When the Germans first developed a power source light enough for robots to be fully and remotely automated, they found that they could not be programmed to respond accurately to various situations, even simple ones like someone getting in their way. Only sentient beings are able to think and react properly. In a widely publicized contest, a monkey controlled an Animation better than their best team of programmers.
The two officers heard the sound of an approaching vehicle. It was a car driven by a pretty blonde woman accompanied by her teenage son. They slowed and looked at the officers curiously, but then drove on and didn’t look back. A minute later on the satellite view, they saw the car drive slowly passed the Animation’s car. Both officers sat forward in their seats. The car passed out of their view and everything was still again.
The computer in Thomas’s lap was beeping. Thomas woke up, looking around the car in panic. He had a dream about the same woman and small girl. They both had dark hair, and he was eating cake around a table with them. Just before Thomas awoke the little girl began yelling frantically, “Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad, Dad,…” She looked so familiar and yet he couldn’t remember her face exactly, or the woman’s. He hit the answer button on the telephone icon on the computer screen.
“Thomas, we’ve been calling you,” said a woman’s voice. “Are you OK?”
“Yeah, I’m alright,” Thomas said while his heart pounded. “I just fell asleep.”
“While driving to meet you we passed a car on the side of the road about a kilometer away. There were two men. We think they’re the police. We drove passed your car too, but you didn’t seem to notice us. They are probably watching you through satellite. It’s a good thing your radio transmission is encrypted, otherwise they’d hear you too.”
“We’ve come up with a plan,” cut in the Albert. “There’s a shopping center in a town just a few kilometers away where Mom and I have been. We’ll meet you inside. Then drive our car to get you and Nadja. With any luck we can be in and out of there before the police know you’re not coming back to your car.”
“OK,” Thomas said barely following their plan. He felt hotter than before his nap. “How will I recognize you?”
“Thomas, we’ve seen you several times,” said Albert. “You might be wearing a different face, but we’ll know you.”
“And maybe seeing us will help your memory,” said Adeline.
“So give us ten minutes to get ahead of you, far enough for the police not to notice. We’ll give you the coordinates of the town and shopping mall.”
Thomas waited ten minutes before he started driving. When he came to a long stretch of road, he noticed a black car following about two kilometers away. To his amazement, he could focus on the car and its two occupants as if it was just a few feet. He instantly recognized Andrei, the officer that had handcuffed him earlier. Thomas could even see his hazel eyes. After he arrived in town, he didn’t see them anymore.
It was nearly two in the afternoon when Thomas parked into the mall’s half-full parking lot. As he got out of the car and walked into the building, he had an eerie feeling of being watched. He felt that if he looked up he would be able to see the satellite in the sky with its photopixel array pointed at him.
He noticed several people in their fifties to early sixties walking from store to store. He passed a woman with a young boy and girl walking behind her. The girl was crying about something. He couldn’t help smiling at the sight. It felt good to see children again. It felt as if he hadn’t been around people in a long time and that the incident at the police station was in another world, a darker world.
“Privyet Thomas,” said a familiar voice. It sounded like the greeting of an old friend.
Thomas instantly recognized the teenage boy. Albert had blond, unkempt hair and was as tall as Thomas. Several images flashed through his mind. He remembered the boy stepping out of a helicopter at night, and then a woman crying when she saw him. He remembered her face too.
“Albert, I can remember you,” he said. “Where’s your mother?”
“She’s in the car, trying to call your company again. She hasn’t been able to get through.” Albert was smiling as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. They walked through the mall area and entered a small hallway that indicated bathrooms and an emergency exit. After they entered, Albert’s expression became serious. He looked down the hall suspiciously.
“The car’s waiting out that door which goes to the back parking lot,” Albert continued. “There’s a line of trees we can walk under so they can’t see us from the sky.” They got to the door and Albert said, “Let’s go.”
As they approached the car, Thomas could see Adeline in the driver’s seat with a computer on her lap. The first thing he noticed was her bright blue eyes and silver blond hair. Albert climbed in front and Thomas put his hand on the right side passenger door handle. More memories came back to him after seeing Adeline’s face.
She was the general manager of a German company operating in Rybinsk. Her son had come in the helicopter to meet her because she refused to leave until the rest of her employees were safely back in Germany and everything was in order.
After getting in the car, Adeline turned and said, “It’s the same face you wore last night, Thomas. I can see where that police officer must have hit you. This piece by your chin is torn a little.” She reached out to run her index finger across it, but Thomas only felt a slight pressure. “So how much do you remember?”
Thomas felt chills rack his body. Before responding, he had to shake it off. “I remember Albert from the helicopter, and then when he met you.” He looked out the windows, and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, only a few cars coming and going. He ducked low in the seat. “You hired us to get you safely out of Russia, and now you’re the only one left.”
“We’re the only ones left,” Albert interrupted.
“Sorry,” said Thomas.
“I told you to stay home Albert,” snapped Adeline. She turned back to Thomas. “Anyway, I just got an e-mail from your boss and he gave me your location.”
“My location,” Thomas said, thinking to himself. “He’s not supposed to,..” his voice trailed off.
“I told him what’s happened and how we haven’t heard from Nadja.”
“Oh no, Nadja,” Thomas’s heart began knocking hard on his chest. “Last night, I blacked out on the way back in the car, and when I woke up I thought I heard a gunshot and screaming. It felt like a hallucination.”
Adeline looked down to the ground and shook her head. “We’ll just drive there and hope for the best. Since you’re still alive, there’s a good chance she’s still alive too.” She sounded unconvinced. “Maybe she’s just sick.”
Thomas laid down in the back seat when they started driving. The mere thought of driving to see his body made him nervous. He remembered Nadja clearly now, and how they had worked together previously. Her job was to assure he had everything he needed, including rest and the right dosage of medication that helped him to control the Animation. She was also supposed to disconnect him for breaks, so that he wouldn’t have identity problems.
“According to your boss, you’ve rented a small house in the country, not too far from the helicopter pickup site.”
“Yes,” Thomas said. “It was quiet there, isolated.”
“We’ll find out soon enough,” said Albert, unconcerned. “I can’t believe we left a hundred thousand still in the bank.”
“Albert,” Adeline said patiently. “If I withdrew all of it, they would definitely have gotten suspicious and detained us.”
“This country’s falling apart,” Albert said. “When the provincial governments were set up after the collapse, I knew it wouldn’t last long.”
“History’s a vicious cycle Albert,” said Thomas weakly.
Thomas’s pulse quickened when they finally parked at the little yellow house.
“Thomas get down,” Albert said. “Mom, see that car parked down the road a ways. I can’t see anyone in it. Can you?”
Adeline squinted to see better. “If anyone’s in it, they’ve ducked down and can’t see us.”
Thomas sat up and looked in the direction of the car. He said, “This isn’t good. I’m going inside. You two stay here.” While walking to the house, he inspected the windows for any sign of movement. Heavy curtains blocked any view into the house. Thomas felt nervous, not from any danger to himself but from what he would see inside. He fought the urge to turn and run away. The thought of finding his body filled him with dread.
He found the door locked. Without any forethought, he pushed until he heard a crack. The dead bolt broke through the door frame as he pushed it the rest of the way open. The living room area was empty. The stillness of the room reminded him of seeing pictures of empty rooms in the Titanic laying at the bottom of the Atlantic.
After he entered the kitchen, he could feel his eyes well up with tears from what he saw. He could feel a tear rolling down his cheek. Sprawled on her back on the kitchen floor was a woman with dark red hair. Her lifeless green eyes stared up at the ceiling. Close to her open hand was a gun. Her other hand clutched at a gash in her neck, where blood had poured out onto the floor.
There was a closed door leading to the backyard. Face down on the floor in front of it, lay the body of a man with a shaved head. The floor under his belly was also covered with blood and Thomas could see a bullet hole in his lower back.
He knelt down on the floor near the woman and brushed back the hair from her forehead. “Nadja, I’m so sorry,” he said as more tears fell. He heard movement from behind him and saw Adeline and Albert scanning the room in horror.
“Is she,…” Adeline began but didn’t finish. She knelt down with Thomas and closed Nadja’s eyes. “We’re taking her with us,” she said fighting to control her emotions. “Thomas, where are you?”
“There’s a small room in the back of the house,” Thomas said. A moment later he stood. “You two stay close to me.”
He stood in front of the room with his hand on the door handle, but he was afraid to open it. His memories hadn’t completely returned, and he was more disoriented than ever.
“Thomas,” said Adeline. “It’s all right.”
“Do you want one of us to go in first?” asked Albert.
“No,” Thomas said as he opened the door. His heart beat frantically. Straight ahead was a window with thin curtains that illuminated the room with a soft glow. On a bed in the corner of the room lay the body of a man staring up at the ceiling. He had black hair that contrasted sharply with his pale skin. A black strap wrapped around his head. A small antenna extended from the strap and a dark glass oval covered each eye.
On a drawer was a lap-top computer with a black box on it. The computer screen showed a live view of what the Animation was seeing. When Thomas looked at the screen it transformed into an infinite hall of mirrors that made his head spin.
After they entered the room, the man’s head turned slightly, facing their direction. Thomas felt dizzy by this action and had to close his eyes. The computer screen went blank.
Adeline `put her hand on Thomas’s forehead. His hair was wet with sweat. “You’re burning up.”
“I can feel that,” said the Animation at the door. “It’s, it’s amazing.” Her touch alone made him feel better, more himself, more real.
“Now what do we do?” asked Albert. At first he addressed the Thomas on the bed, but then turned his attention back to the Animation when the body didn’t respond. “I don’t think we should disconnect you just yet. We might need the Animation.”
“I want to get out of this is a horrible place,” Adeline said, going to the window and moving the curtains. “Let’s get you and Nadja to the car and go to the pickup spot. Albert’s right. We still might need your help. Can you hold out for that long?”
“I think so,” he said. As he stared at his body, he realized that the thought of returning filled him with fear. He wondered if it was how you felt when dying. You leave your current body and return to an entirely different reality.
Adeline cleaned the blood off Nadja’s body then wrapped her in a blanket. All the while, silent tears were streaming down her cheeks. Although he was agonized by the sight, he was incredibly angry with the dead man laying just a few feet away. He wanted to do it bodily damage, but knew it wouldn’t make him feel any better. He was probably just a thief who didn’t care who he hurt in the process. There were too many people in Russia like that lately.
On Albert’s insistence, they put Nadja’s body in the trunk. He said it wasn’t healthy to breath the air around her. Thomas and Adeline didn’t like the idea, but couldn’t disagree. Thomas’s body was laid in the backseat and Adeline came up with the idea of Thomas driving the dead man’s car.
“It’s an hour drive to the pick up spot from here,” said Thomas. “We should get there around seven o-clock. The helicopter could be there by then.”
After driving about five minutes Thomas could see two police cars parked on either side of the road about a kilometer ahead. Four men stood outside. They all held guns in their hands. He recognized one of them as Andrei Gusinsky.
“Thomas,” Adeline’s frantic voice came through the computer. Now that his body was in their back seat, Thomas could also hear them with his physical ears. “There’s a police car following us.”
Thomas looked in the rear-view mirror and saw it as well. It was closer than the cars in front of them. Thomas pulled over on the side of the road and waited for Adeline. The police car behind them also stopped.
“Over a kilometer ahead, there are two police cars and four men with guns waiting for us. One of them is the guy that arrested me this morning.”
“I can’t see them,” said Albert.
“I see them well enough,” Thomas answered. “Through these lenses of mine.”
“What are we going to do?” asked Adeline. Her voice was shaking. “What are they going to do?”
“They’re waiting for us to make the first move, I suspect.”
Thomas got out of the car and walked to the human’s car. He looked down the road behind them and saw that the police car had stopped about three hundred meters away. Adeline rolled down her window. It was strange, but he felt incredibly calm. He felt invincible.
He spoke in a whisper. “When I get back, follow me at a safe distance. You’re going to be all right. Trust me.”
He got back in his car and turned it around to face the police behind them. His tires made a horrible screeching noise when he hit the accelerator. The unmarked police car started moving backwards, but Thomas caught up with them a few seconds. He reached eighty km/hr when he turned hard on the steering wheel. He whipped around and hit them with his back bumper. The force of it knocked their car to the side of the road.
One of the men had blood dripping from his forehead and held both hands to his head with his eyes closed. The other looked dazed. The hood to their car was bent at an odd angle and he could see a mangled engine beneath it. As he had hoped, the only damage to his car was a smashed bumper. His back right tire was in bad shape, but it would still work. His computer laid in broken pieces.
“Wow,” Thomas heard Albert say.
Thomas started driving towards the other police cars while Adeline drove about fifty meters behind him. He could see that all four men held their guns in the air. “I’m going to clear the path for you,” he said. “Drive through and don’t look back.”
“Thanks Thomas,” said Adeline and Albert together.
He didn’t have time to reply because bullets started pouring through the windshield. He knew that he was being hit, but all that mattered was that he could still see, hear and move. When he got about thirty meters away from the road block, the shooting stopped. The men scattered in all directions just before Thomas rammed sideways into one of their cars. Adeline drove passed the scene and was out of shooting range when the men got up from the ground.
“Go after the woman,” Andrei shouted. Thomas remembered his voice. “We’ll take care of him.”
The drivers side of Thomas’ car was smashed against him so he had to push hard on the door. It fell to the ground with a loud clank. He jumped out of the wrecked car and pointed his gun at the two men on the other side of the road. “Get away from the car,” he shouted at them. They stopped their approach and held their guns to the ground.
He heard two gunshots and felt his head jerk forward with each hit. “Go for its eyes,” Andrei shouted from behind Thomas. The two men in front of Thomas began shooting. Suddenly, the signal from one of his eyes stopped and the scene appeared two dimensional. He required half a second to come back to his senses.
He held out one hand as sort of a shield then shot both men in the shoulder. They screamed in pain and dropped to the ground. The shooting behind him also stopped. He heard movement and then one more gunshot. The bullet blew one of his fingers off, and knocked his gun to the ground.
“Give yourself up,” said Andrei who stood about five meters away. His gun was pointed directly at Thomas’s mutilated head.
“I don’t think so,” Thomas said. He peeled away the skin from his undamaged hand, revealing shiny metal fingers which were sharp at the tip. He stuck his index finger into his neck and activated a one minute countdown. Thomas faced Andrei and said, “You should start running. Right now!”
For a few moments Andrei just stared at Thomas and then his eyes widened in surprise. “He’s going to detonate himself,” Andrei said right before he dashed down the road. The others followed.
He entered the undamaged car and closed his eyes. Near the end of the countdown, Thomas’s heart was beating so hard that it felt like his chest would explode. After the deafening roar of the blast, Thomas was drowned in a dark silence. Pieces of the police car landed as far away as one hundred meters.
Thomas felt a needle pierce his forearm. “This should bring him back to us,” said a familiar voice. Instantly, a warm sensation spread up his arm. He blinked for a few moments and his vision returned to full clarity. At the side of his bed stood the woman and child from his broken memories. She picked up one of his hands and held it in both of hers. It was a warm sensation that gave him the chills. “You’re back, Thomas. You’re safe.”
He smiled at the woman with dark blue eyes. The small girl jumped on his chest and threw her tiny arms around his neck. As tears streamed down his face, he weakly put his other arm around her.
“My little Adeline.” She hugged him for a long time.
Artwork by MidJourney
I used the MidJourney image generation programs to create the following original artwork to represent some scenes and ideas presented in this story.