I am Automaton 3: Shadow of the Automaton, page 1
I Am Automaton 3
Shadow of the Automaton
Edward P. Cardillo
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, events, and dialogues are either the products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Edward P. Cardillo
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
I would like to thank my wife Sandra, my mother-in-law Charlene Nunez, Alan Basso, Arno Kolz, Robert Rubicco, James Nunez, Jack Daly, and Phyllis Reis for their feedback and support. Thank you to Gary Lucas at Severed Press. I would also like to thank Sandra and Alexander, whose love and support were essential to my completion of this novel.
This novel is dedicated to my wife, Sandra, and son, Alexander, who are my family, my rock, my core.
O Brother Where Art Thou?
Peter Birdsall ducked down an alleyway and ran behind houses. He passed under an arch as he heard the motorcycle tear around the corner and up the hill pursuing him.
Bullets hit the ground at his feet and flew past him as he ran in zigzags, which made him harder to hit. However, this allowed her to catch up quicker, as he was covering ground more slowly.
Just as she was practically at his back, he jumped left into a doorway and she soared right on past him. He jumped out and ran in the other direction as he heard the slowing of the motorcycle throttle and the hand brakes being applied. It was too narrow for her to turn around easily.
He bolted back down the alleyway and turned left in between two houses. As he re-entered the street he was previously on, he noticed a shadow dancing above his head in the waning moonlight. It was Kafka jumping from rooftop to rooftop, tracking Peter like a predator of the sky.
Instead of running back down the street, Peter ran across it and into another alleyway on the other side. That bastard would have to leap across the street to follow. Given his injuries that would seem unlikely, thus buying Peter another few seconds.
He ran up another steep alleyway as he heard the growl of the motorcycle somewhere behind him, searching for him. Suddenly, a great shadow leapt in front of him, and Kafka hit the ground. Kafka knelt where he landed for a moment, the exertion and the fall having taken something out of him.
Peter ducked between another couple of peach and pink colored buildings and re-emerged out onto the main street in front of a wine artisan shop. He looked up the street and saw Yvette perched on her motorcycle. Unfortunately, she noticed him, too, and began careening down the sloped main boulevard right at him.
The streets were largely empty, save for a few locals taking in some crisp early morning air. Peter ran to the side by an outdoor café. The place was vacant, locked up, and the umbrellas closed.
He reached over a wrought iron railing and snatched up an umbrella, pointing the tip at the oncoming Yvette like a joust. She saw the point coming at her, but couldn’t stop her momentum. She tried to take aim at Peter with her submachine gun, but it was too late.
The point of the umbrella crunched into her chest cavity, knocking her off the motorcycle and sending Peter and the motorcycle flying into the café, crashing into the tables and chairs.
Peter opened his eyes. He was caught in the opening between the seat and backrest of a chair, his right arm radiating pain as he tried to hoist himself up. It was broken. Blood trickled down the side of his face from a gash on his hairline.
He rolled over, taking some chairs stuck together with him. He agonizingly shimmied his way loose and slowly got to his feet. He saw lights turning on and faces appearing in windows.
He stepped out of the café and saw the body of Yvette lying on the uneven stone, blood running out of the right side of her mouth, her eyes wide open with shock, the last emotion that ran through her…before the umbrella did.
Peter took her submachine gun and walked down the street, his body aching and paining from all directions. He saw a smart car parked on the side of the road in a little nook next to a staircase leading up to an apartment.
He preferred a Mack truck, but this would do. He smashed the window with the stock of the submachine gun and opened the door from inside. He slid into the seat and closed the door gently.
If he was going to beat Carl, it wouldn’t be mano-a-mano. He would need help, and unfortunately, this little shitbox was the only thing on hand. He pulled the wires from under the steering column and severed them with a shard of broken glass. He stripped the ends and began to hotwire the car with his good hand.
He heard a shrill screech, like an enraged banshee in the distance behind him. Carl had found Yvette. Poor bastard. He tried so hard to meet a woman. When he finally did, Peter had to go and kill her. He felt awful. But in his defense, she was trying to kill him.
Soon, Carl would be coming for him, and if he wasn’t pissed off before, he was going to go nuclear now. The poor kid had gone crazy with all that talk of perfect beings and invasion.
He peeked above the dashboard and saw Carl’s lithe shadowy form and four red eyes stalk down the hill past him. Peter reached down and crossed the wires. The engine turned over and he twisted the exposed tips together.
He put the car in gear and crept out of his spot slowly. He couldn’t see in the waning darkness, a reverse twilight, so he turned on the headlights totally prepared to gun it.
There was no one down the stretch of the street. Where did he—
Suddenly Kafka descended on the little car, his long limbs stretching over it like a spider overwhelming a morsel. Peter floored it and sent the car bowling down the street as fast as it would go.
Kafka was reaching into the broken window and grabbing at Peter, unfazed by his forearm being sliced by shards of broken glass. Peter was leaning inward, avoiding the swiping hand.
Peter saw around Kafka’s hideous form and saw the jetty approaching fast. He sped past rows of multi-colored boats on either side of the road and onto the narrow cement jetty. Kafka looked behind him to see the sea rushing at him.
For a moment, the little car’s engine gunned as it popped up on the lip, smashed through the top of the cement barrier, and flipped over the rocks on the other side. Peter and Kafka were weightless for a brief moment. The front of the car slammed into the water so hard that the jagged glass on the broken car window severed Kafka’s right arm, causing it to land in Peter’s lap.
Peter was slammed forward against the steering wheel, knocking the wind out of him. The windshield spider-webbed around the impact of Kafka’s face. Water rushed into the little car as it sank into the water.
Peter got his bearings, grabbed the submachine gun, and drifted out of his seat and to the surface of the water. The car sank, taking Kafka with it, but the water wasn’t that deep. Peter hoped that Kafka was pinned under the weight of the car.
He climbed up the rocks to the top of the jetty where the cement barrier was smashed to pieces. He lay prone, catching his breath as the sun rose over Monterosso, chasing out the monochromatic night and bathing the many colors of the town in golden light.
Peter heard splashing behind him and he turned around to see his mother climbing up the jetty one-handed. She looked up at him imploringly, the sight of her rendering Peter speechless.
She reached out for h
Kafka grabbed Peter’s right ankle tight and looked up at him. Peter wasn’t able to classify the expression on his brother’s face—hatred, betrayal, shame. It was horrible and made Peter’s stomach turn. Kafka let go of Peter, and Peter delivered a boot to his face, sending him rolling down and into the water.
After Kafka disappeared under the surface, Peter waited for some time, but his brother never returned.
“Be ready,” said General Ramses biting into a mini quiche. He swallowed it, savoring the sounds coming from the jazz band. “We go online in twenty-four hours. We’ll need the encryptions for the data streams.”
“Don’t you worry,” said Jon Wolff, Assistant Director of the NSA. “Everything’s in place. Once congress passed the Second Patriot Act, our cryptographers went into overdrive. We have some beautiful algorithms for you, new Suite A stuff, 920-bit elliptic curve.”
“I have no idea what you just said,” admitted Ramses, looking around the room that was dimly lit by opulent crystal chandeliers, “but it sounds good to me. There’s some concern that this data can be intercepted via satellite.”
“Yes, I’ve heard about the extra-terrestrial concern,” smirked Wolff.
“Yes, well, let’s just say that the crazy ramblings of a certain rogue operative before his death made an impression on some of the brass.”
“Aren’t you the brass, General?”
“Just tell me that this data cannot be cracked,” demanded Ramses impatiently.
“Maybe not by the Predator or ET, but perhaps by the Romulans.”
“Great,” huffed Ramses, “I’m talking national security and he’s referencing old movies.”
“Relax, General. It should be secure.”
“It will be. Besides, no one knows we are using this technology.”
“Except for OIL,” corrected Ramses.
“I understand that your man took care of that, and at great personal cost,” said Wolff.
“Yes, he did. But we don’t know if anyone else knows.”
“Our cypher is nearly impossible to crack, even by space aliens.”
“That’s real reassuring, Jon. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to drop the bomb on Japan.”
Jon shook his head at the crude reference to a bowel movement. Ramses excused himself and made his way across the crowded room of politicians, governmental officials, and socialites, and went toward the staircase.
He climbed the staircase to the second floor and walked down a long hallway. He passed a couple talking rather intimately in the hallway next to a painting of the French countryside. He found the men’s room door on the right.
He opened the door, entered, passed an attendant rearranging his towels, perfumes, and mints, and took the closest stall. He put down the paper guard on the toilet seat, pulled his pants down, and plopped himself down on the bowl in the nick of time.
He thought he heard the attendant lock the door. “Excuse me. There’s someone in here.”
A head popped up over the side of the stall, black as an oil slick with four red eyes. It was the attendant. When he smiled, he revealed pearly white fangs.
“YOU!” said Ramses, aghast.
Kafka flipped over the side of the stall and landed in front of Ramses, who tried to stand but was slammed back down on the bowl.
“Please, General, don’t stand up on account of me.”
“You’re supposed to be dead! Help! Help!”
Kafka rolled his eyes. “Oh, don’t waste your breath, General. I’ve taken the liberty of putting a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door and posting a drone in a custodian’s outfit outside, so our meeting isn’t…interrupted.”
“How can you be here?”
“Well, I have a saying…well, it’s actually more of a credo for me: what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
“The chip. What about the chip?”
Kafka reached into his tuxedo breast pocket with a white-gloved hand and pulled out a small, thin, square chip with dried blood crusted around it. He tossed it into Ramses’ naked lap. Ramses bobbled it a bit and took a look at it. “How?”
Kafka pulled back his greasy hair and turned his head to reveal a hole in his skull. “I dug it out myself with my finger. Not a very pleasant thing to do, but absolutely necessary under the circumstances.”
“If you kill me, you won’t make it out of here alive.”
Kafka looked genuinely amused. “I don’t want to kill you, General.”
“Then what do you want?” snapped Ramses.
“I want you to live. I want you to launch the RGT program, and I want it to flourish.”
“Oh, that’s right,” said Ramses contemptuously, “you and your alien overlords.”
“If you weren’t so concerned about it, why did I just see you chatting it up with the Assistant Director of the NSA? Let me guess…they’re using KG-250 with a TCP/IP accelerator, Suite A algorithms…Am I getting warm?”
“Even if you could break the encryption,” Ramses said, “what would you possibly do with data on millions of people’s memories and experiences?”
Kafka shrugged. “Me? Personally, nothing. But my friends from outer space, well, they would just eat that data up.”
“Why? For what purpose would they use the data?”
“That’s for me to know and earth to find out, and it will soon enough,” Kafka teased with a hint of menace.
“Why are you telling me all of this?”
“Because I know that you know that no one believes in this UFO theory of yours, and it’s going to eat you alive to know that you have to go ahead with the RGT Program constantly wondering if I’m really crazy.”
“Oh, I think we’ve established the answer to that question,” answered Ramses.
“Maybe so, but you’ll always wonder.”
“So that’s my punishment? To live in fear and guilt?”
“No,” answered Kafka, “your punishment is coming. When it arrives, you’ll wish I killed you with my bare hands in this bathroom.”
“What about your brother?” Ramses asked, trying to deflect the attention off of him.
“Peter? He’ll get his, too. Everyone will.”
“Well if that’s the case, then why don’t you get out of here so I can finish my shit in peace?”
“Certainly, General. But first, a memento of our time here together.” Kafka opened his mouth to reveal fangs, and he bit into Ramses before he could react, sinking his fangs into his shoulder. Ramses struggled on the bowl, attempting to pry Kafka from him.
Finally, Kafka pulled away. “One of my new tricks. Now I will always be with you, General. I will see what you see. I will haunt your dreams. We are now inexorably connected.”
Ramses clutched his shoulder, “Get out! GET-OUT!”
When he looked up, Kafka was gone. He pulled up his pants and flushed the toilet. He burst out of the stall and threw the door to the outside hallway open. He peered down the hallway, but it was empty.
He went back into the bathroom and took off his jacket, throwing it on the sink platform and knocking over the attendant’s tip bowl. He unbuttoned his shirt and took it off, placing it on top of his jacket.
He turned on the faucet to the hot water full blast and let it run into the sink. When the water was hot, he scooped some up in his right hand and washed the bite on his left shoulder. He grabbed some paper towels and dabbed at the two holes until the blood began to coagulate.
Then he turned off the faucet. The hot water had steamed the mirror above the sink. He was startled at the sight of a four-eyed smiling face drawn on the mirror at face level, overlapping his. The crude features smeared as the moisture on the mirror ran, creating an unnerving effect.
He threw the pa
He descended the stairs with heavy feet, holding onto the bannister, looking at Jon Wolff talking to one of the young female socialites, the one with the reality show…flirting was more like it. He couldn’t blame Jon, given her reputation.
On his way down the stairs, he bumped shoulders with a passerby. He looked up to excuse himself and caught a glimpse of the man he bumped. An odd chill ran down his spine…
…he could’ve sworn the man bore an uncanny resemblance to him.
Pelham Train Station
Southern Westchester County, New York
Bill sat on the train platform in his sweat suit that he plucked from the hamper and threw on last minute. He kept his large, black duffle bag close to his slippered feet. The train was running late.
As he looked up at the television screen displaying the arrival and departure times, there was a faint buzzing coming from somewhere, a nuisance sound like a persistent insect that he just wished would stop.
As he looked up at the screen, random memories began to fill his mind, the most palpable being Helen’s infidelity with another teacher from his job. Bart McKinney. Ten years younger and in much better shape. A real cougar chaser…and he caught Helen.
The train pulled up at long last, and Bill reached down and grabbed his duffle bag by the handles. As he rose from the bench, the memory of Bart quickly faded, leaving an unpleasant taste in his mouth, and he realized that the buzzing…or was it clicking… was coming from inside his head.
He boarded the train and took the nearest seat by the door, the four-seater with facing seats. As he took his seat facing in the opposite direction that the train was going, he tucked his large, black duffle bag under his feet protectively, forgetting that he suffered from motion sickness when riding backwards.
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