Sometimes I really wonder if I understand the meaning of the word ‘relax.' Its like Mario said when I first got here- If left to my own devices...
The thing is-- I don't know any other way to be. On the bright side I'm feeling much more alive, much more ‘me' than I have in a while. I want to find these two and put an end to this stupidity.
I'm angry now, and I know that anger isn't going to help in this. It never does.
I know that Mrs. Walker is up to something. Whenever I see her, she's humming that tune I heard the other night. She'll look up at me and smile that knowing, motherly smile. I'm pretty sure she know's it's driving me crazy. I think that's why she's smiling so much.
Mike has been a joy these past few days, and I think we've both been exorcizing our demons with the help of Trid, countless game cartridges, and just being there with someone else who understands. We talked about them a little bit- my brothers, Gwyneth... I even talked a little bit more about Aaron. It felt good to just talk, no judgements, no second guessing, just being able to talk about anything and everything. Almost everything.
I still haven't told anybody else about the 'incident' at Aztechnotlogy, or the maulings--or the cat. That one is entirely my fault. I should have asked more questions. I'm beginning to think that's what they're going to put on my tombstone.
"Here lies Jess Miller-- she should have asked more questions."
Actually, when I was talking to Mike, I began to realize what bothered me about this whole thing. Now that I've had some time to think about it, I know there's more going on here than meets the eye.
Why were they still trying to get to me?
Their cover's been blown so they're not trying to protect themselves; revenge is a losing proposition. That means either they think I have something that the fed's don't have... or they don't know that I made copies of the pictures.
There's got to be a missing piece here somewhere, I just don't know where it is.
Then it came to me. Retinal scans. They'd scanned me when they questioned me, watching pupillary, and capillary responses. I thought it was interesting at the time, but now it gave me an idea.
When I id-ed the courier, I did it by visuals alone. Dr. Chen would have gotten the fingerprints to confirm, but nobody had checked the retinal– there had been no need. It wasn't standard op. I still had the retinal images from Andrew's MP case.
I ran it by Casey. It was a longshot, but at least I pegged what had been bothering him. Their persistence to get to me just didn't make sense. Looks like we need to talk to Andrews in the morning.
I was doing much better this morning, although I had a headache. Come to think of it, this whole thing has been one big headache. The more I think about it, the more out of kilter everything seemed.
I didn’t pose any more of a threat to whatever was going on. Not since I passed on the copies of the pictures– unless this whole thing was to draw attention away from what’s really going on. Or the retinal images... I wish I'd compared the two while I was at the morgue.
Andrews showed up around 11:00, should have figured that Casey wasn’t going to put me at risk to talk to the man. Part of me really appreciates his help and protection, but sometimes he really gets on my nerves with it.
We talked for a while, but it led us right back where we started. Dr. Chen had verified both finger prints and retinal scans, nothing had been overlooked. We tried going over everything as we knew it, but it wasn’t helping.
That’s about when I pulled out the 3x5 index cards again. I passed a handful of them to Andrews and to Casey. They looked at me for a minute and shrugged. Talking about it hadn’t helped, maybe writing it down would.
Once we’d all written down the events as we’d seen them, we sorted the cards so that they were all in order, everything from the 911 call to me handing out the 3x5's was there. We took turns reading the cards out loud.
I’d gotten the call, Lydia had given me the disks. I looked at them copied them and gave a set to Andrews. He began the investigation. He talked to several of Lydia’s co-workers and her boss. She was working on a smuggling case. Something big. She’d filed a few background reports, but nothing really telling... Just information on the area and that the night of her accident was supposed to be the big break. – Then Feds One and Two had descended on the Star and Andrews was taken off the case. The Feds grilled him. Asked where he’d gotten the pictures. He’d told them the truth, it was all on record and they were supposedly on the same side of things.
That’s where things got interesting.
They’d asked him about me; how he knew me; how I knew to give him the pictures– and he’d told them how I’d done a few things for him, that he was the chief investigator on a case I was interested in– and how I did the missing person’s check.
As we went through that section for the umpteenth time, Andrews gasped. “Jess,” he said. “Do you still have the disks I gave you for the missing person’s check?”
I nodded. I’d been meaning to return them, since he gave me a new update each week. Normally I just slotted the chip and read off the information. I pulled out my disk case and began going through it. I found the one for right after Lydia’s accident and handed it to him, then began looking back through the ones before.
Scanner in hand, Andrews found the information on the case in question. I pulled up a pre-accident version of the same case. All the background information was the same, but all the identifying records were completely different. Retinal scans, finger prints, dental records– they all belonged to two very different men.
They’d been able to cover their tracks, changing all the online police records, but I had one of the few offline copies– and it was enough for them to want to kill me.
One look at the two of them and I knew I wasn’t going back to work for a while. Not until this whole thing was straightened out.
I made another copy of the disk.
I ended up making about twenty copies. The original went directly to the safety deposit box. Andrews took one back to the station, Casey sent three to various people in the Fed chain of command. Jonathan sent several copies to people he knew on the Salish-Shidhe council, but that wasn’t the end of it.
After several phone calls to the office Casey also sent a copy of the police records and Lydia Greenwood’s pictures to her newspaper. They promised to publish it with the morning’s paper. I know I felt much better about the whole matter– Cloak and Dagger just doesn’t work all that well against an avalanche.
Thanks to my friends and family, I wasn’t caught in it. It’ll be a while until I’m safe, but very soon, they’ll know that going after me is pointless. Funny thing is: if they hadn’t tried, we’d never have figured it out.
I was feeling a lot safer, until Casey pointed out the fact that it wasn’t over, and that there were still some things they’d have to work out. I know he didn’t mean to burst my bubble, but like the man said, ‘it ain’t over till it’s over.’
At least the end is in sight.
As we got ready for my checkup, I found out what Mrs. Walker had been up to. She came in as I was getting ready to go to the hospital for my check-up. She was carrying my uniform, only it wasn’t my uniform. I could ‘feel’ it. It was like when Mario was working on me, or the feeling I got from of Alan’s things. It was kind of tinglely.
She smiled innocently when I looked at her. Now, it was a slight feeling of magic I got from the uniform, but my vest, was something else entirely. It practically screamed ‘magic’-- she hadn’t done anything to hide it since it was to be worn under my uniform. She had worked a very light, tightly woven cloth into a cover for the vest. I didn’t recognize the patterns, but I knew they were all protective. I knew some were Salish, some Shidhe, some were Aboriginal, some, very formal, western style patterns.
She handed them all to me and smiled. “Thanks... mom...” I’d finally found my tongue.
She smiled and hugged me. “Some one must look after my little girl,” she told me with a mischievous grin.
I’m amazed at how many people are.
Since I wasn’t going to work today, I left the uniform there, but there was no reason to leave the vest behind. I put it on under my pullover.
She seemed satisfied as I left with Casey for my check-up. I got a clean bill of health, but Casey wants to wait for me to go back to work. Not that I can say I blame him: all the time we were out, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up.
We were back on the Island before dark, but I couldn’t help but feel that something was still watching me. I went for a late night jog with Jonathan. He was in the lead, but for the most part I could see him. As he rounded a turn, I lost sight of him.
That’s when I saw it.
It was a jaguar, but not a jaguar. It was hunched down low, its eyes seemed to glow in the twilight. As it stood, it took on the form of a man. His eyes glowed ever so slightly as he pointed at me. I was so freaked out I didn’t move. He did.
He started moving towards me, shifting back into the form of the jaguar... and then he leapt through me. It was as if he faded as he passed through me, but I could feel it: a cold chill as the cat’s form passed through mine.
In my mind I heard a voice whisper. “Next time...”
I really wish someone had told the bad guys it's over.
I wish they’d listened.
At least its over, but that’s the only good thing I have to say about the whole mess. I just wish it had happened some other way.
The paper came out this morning, complete with everything Lydia Greenwood was hoping to make public. The Feds had supplied the details. It was so weird to me. It turns out I was in the middle of an international terrorist smuggling ring. They were transporting toxins, using ex-governmental spooks. Andrews’ missing persons case was the result of a worried girlfriend who hadn’t been clued in as to what was going on and had called the police when he hadn’t shown up for three days. They realized that they’d needed to cover their tracks, so they’d gotten someone who generally looked like him, fixed him up the rest of the way, and let the police find him. Guess then they figured they only had to tie up a few loose ends, like a stubborn Paramedic, who’s predisposed for trouble.
I was in the middle of it, and I had no idea what was going on. Even after reading the report a second time, I was still amazed at how little I’d known about the whole mess. But, on the bright side, with everything out in the open and arrests being made left and right, it meant I could go back to work.
It meant I should have been able to go back to work.
That should have been the end of that. Over. Kaput. No more... Go directly to Jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200 credits. Hasta la vista, don’t forget to write...
But no. Our boys were so intent on taking out the threat that they missed the fact that the threat had become reality and it was time to pack it in.
My first night back and it was a busy one, calls all over the city. Minor fender benders; twelve car pile ups; heart attacks... the works. By the time we got our last call, we were exhausted. I was glad to be back, but man, I was looking forward to a nice long hot soak.
Last Call of the night, pre-dawn, heart attack. My call, motorcycle response since traffic was still tied up in some places. I got to the place, but instead of a man down, there was a human shaped pile of rags laying on the sidewalk. There was no victim, no panicked wife... only the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Ray and Casey were due to arrive in less than five minutes. Five minutes that could have cost a heart attack victim his life, five minutes where I presented the perfect target. As I tried to get on my bike, the first bullet hit me full in the vest. It knocked me to the ground.
My heart was racing: if I laid still, they might think they got me; if they didn’t, I was an easy target for the killing shot.
I rolled out of the way. I mean, my helmet’s rated to take some serious impact, but it’s designed to protect me from solid objects at motorcycle speeds, not projectiles...
I was in serious pain. The vest had stopped the bullet, but the impact had been enough to knock me down. I pulled my pistol, even though I knew they were out of the Walter’s range.
I reached for my radio and tried to call for back up. That’s when I found out it wasn’t my vest that had taken the brunt of the impact. It was the Motorola... I hit the panic button for all I was worth and found the best cover I could under the circumstances, a nice thick dumpster.
Ray and Casey got there before the backup team. I was hoping the feds would leave at that point, but no, they started shooting at the truck. Ray pulled it out of there, I’m glad he did. There was no way he could have found me, and even if he did, there was no way I could have gotten there without presenting a good target.
The response team arrived, with the police, the Federal Marshals, K-9s and helicopters. They found our boys, and again, that should have been it, but as they were being led to a car, one of them broke free and grabbed an officer’s gun.
I turned when someone screamed 'Down!' And had a really good vision of the barrel of the gun, before Casey tackled me from the side. It all happened in slow motion. We were on our way down when the gun fired. I could hear Casey’s grunt as the bullet went through his vest.
I could see the look in his eyes as he gasped in pain. We hit the ground as a barrage of shots answered the first one. I didn’t even bother to look to see if they’d gotten him. I was already working on Casey. I got his shirt open and was already assessing his injuries when Ray came with the kit. The bullet had managed to miss everything vital, but he was still one hurting pup.
I was in the back with him when he came to and looked at me. “Told you... you were a trouble magnet...”
I smiled. He was going to be all right. “Case hon,” I told him. “I may be a trouble magnet, but I’ve never been shot...”
He looked very surprised by that, but its true. I’ve been stabbed, shocked, hit, bitten, clubbed, drugged, beaten up, kicked... but I’ve never been shot.
The doctors say he’s going to be all right, but I stayed with him until he woke up. Figured it was time someone watched over him for a change.
I stayed at the hospital until about 9:00, when his ex showed up with their son. I could see the relief in her eyes when she saw him.
I get the impression that the big reason they broke up was the job. I’ve seen that a lot. High adrenalin, high stress jobs, things you can’t talk about, risks you have to take to get the job done, it isn’t easy on relationships.
I’d headed out, reflecting on that. My own history with relationships isn’t all that great, but I think its more because I always end up being more of a friend than a girl-friend. I’ve pretty much accepted that as a fact of life. Besides, the last thing I need right now is a relationship.
I got as far as the elevators when his little boy, Ethan come running up to me. He took my hand and led me back into Casey’s room, telling me that his dad wanted to see me.
Casey looked at me and smiled. “We just wanted to thank you,” he said.
I smiled. “Thank me for getting you shot?”
He chuckled at that, but his wife shook her head. “No... for letting him take care of us... for taking care of him after he got shot... for being there.”
I smiled. “I’m just sorry y’all ended up involved in this.”
She smiled at me, almost like she’d expected something like that. “You be careful Jess Miller, Paramedic... material witness.”
I had to laugh. “You too,” I said then turn to Casey. “You ever want a safer job– Citiwide’s always looking good medics.”
He said, “thanks but no thanks.” And then made some comment about my job being anything but safe. Turns out he’d been shot at more in the past week than he had in three months. Guess he has a point.
I stopped by records, but there wasn’t really anything new there. Andrews had a new disk for me, but he paused before giving it to me.
He tried to get me to think about taking a break from all of this, but I just finished a week-long break. I needed to get back into the routine and I think we both knew it. He gave me the disk and then asked me out to lunch.
We had burgers, nothing fancy– but he passed me something else he figured I might need. It was a private investigator’s licence and ID. Sometimes I swear the man has my life planned out.
Its amazing how quickly you can get used to something. I didn’t really realize how empty the condo was until last night. Sure, the cats were there, but they were sulking in the livingroom. I’d been ignoring them, so now it was their turn to return the favor.
I called Citiwide’s corporate office to find out how much trouble I was in. For a change, I wasn’t in any. They didn’t like the idea of anyone using their medics for target practice, and since I’d almost been killed after the area was supposedly secured, they figured I could start back to work whenever I was ready.
Personally I get the feeling that Casey and his bosses had come in on my side with this. Once that was settled, I called in to the station to get a report on how things actually were. They needed me back as soon as possible, no surprise there, but they also needed me to step up Ray’s training. The daytime calls were building up and one motorcycle didn’t cut it.
I thought about that as I started my rounds on the John Doe check. Ray’s problem is that he can’t loosen up long enough to get the feeling for it. We need him up to speed, but we need him up to speed and uninjured. I mean, the medical part isn’t really a problem, Ray’s good at improvising– the big problem is the bike. By the time I’d reached the morgue, I’d seriously begun to consider the simulator solution.
Dr. Chen was happy to see me. He told me he was glad things were back to normal. He asked me if Andrews had turned me into his lackey yet, so I showed him my badge. He shook his head.
“Like I told you Jess,” he sighed. “You’re going to end up with his job.”
I shook my head. “Nope,” I answered. “I’m a medic.”
It felt good to say it. I am what I am, and with everything else that’s been going on– its really good to have that back.
The Hospital check was a bust, almost. Seems there was a John Doe at McChord that matched Alan’s description. He was there last week, but gone by Sunday. They never got his real name, but I got his medicals...
I really don’t want to get my hopes up, but it’s the closest I’ve gotten to a clue in a while. Everything was inconclusive, of course. I spent the rest of the day trying not to think about it, not to get my hopes up. I finished the check and decided to immerse myself in my work, or at least in a VR version of it. I ended up going to the arcade I’d seen after trying to get Ray to do some dirt biking.
I figure if I can’t get him to loosen up in reality, maybe a little virtual is just the thing he needs. I’ve got an appointment to go back there tomorrow.
I must have reviewed the McChord case twelve times last night, and it was still rolling around in my head when I went to check in on Casey. He was looking a lot better– well except for looking pathetically bored.
When I got there he’d used just about every scrap of paper in reach and folded into some intricate piece of origami. He looked up at me and smiled.
“You sleep okay?” He asked me.
I had to chuckle. I’d slept all right for a change, he on the other hand looked like he hadn’t and I said as much.
He chuckled. “Guilty,” he admitted. “I hate hospitals.”
I could understand that completely. “Origami,” I commented as I nodded to the pile of paper animals and boats.
“Only when I’m bored,” he answered.
I looked at the pile and then back at him. “That bad?”
He nodded. “Teresa left about an hour after you did, haven’t seen her since.”
I looked at him in surprise. They’d seemed, like they’d talk more than that. “So,” I asked changing the subject. “When do you get out?”
“Tomorrow morning,” he sighed. I could tell that was 24 hours too long, probably 48 judging by the origami.
“Can I get you anything?”
He smiled. “This is perfect,” he told me. “Its nice to have a friend to talk to.”
I knew what he meant. We talked for a while, but as the conversation drifted off, I started thinking about the JD at McChord.
“You find something,” he asked. I was startled, but that’s Casey. Man doesn’t miss a thing.
“Maybe,” I told him. “Maybe not.”
There are a lot of people who match Alan’s general description. The big difference was this guy’d been mildly cybered. Alan could have had surgery, but he was always talking about how it interfered with the flow of energy. Matt always agreed with that, saying something about it interfering with the flow of one’s Chi.
I handed him the folder, figure its always good to have someone a little more subjective review things.
He finished reading it and handed it back to me nodded. “Nothing concrete,” he agreed. “Hell of a break.”
I nodded. “A break that is no break.”
He nodded, then asked what I was up to. I told him about my appointment at the arcade.
He chuckled. “Good luck, sounds like if it works, you’ll have a useful tool for training others.”
I shook my head and started laughing. “My live, as a video game.”
“Just be careful,” he urged.
I looked at him a moment and grinned. “I’ll check in on you when I’m done.”
He told me I didn’t have to, but I could see that he could definitely use the company.
The arcade was an interesting trip. The manager turned me over to one of his techs and he led me to one of the simulator rooms. The tech introduced himself as “PushCiti” and got to work laying out a network of cables as he had me explain exactly what I was trying to do.
He nodded to himself as I explained what I did and how I was trying to train my partner. When I finished he looked at me and began explaining his equipment.
“What I’m going to do, is place this net over your head. It’ll pick up your brain impulses, and translate them into data. This first session will let us get a preliminary feel for the project and allow us to adjust the equipment.”
He sounded bored with the procedure, but enamored with the equipment.
I grinned. “Would this help?” I asked as I uncovered my data and chip jacks.
This time he was surprised. “You deck?” he asked me.
“Only minor stuff,” I admitted. “Reports, procedures, news feeds.”
He looked at me in surprise as he leaned closer. “You’ve got a 1st rate piece of ware there, and all you do is file reports???”
I shrugged. “I wanted to leave my options open.”
He grinned at that, then got to work. We got a wire frame done of the simulator, but by the end he was seriously getting into it. He understood the idea of sudden hazards, road and weather conditions. Turns out he’d done motorcycle simulations, but never one this– strenuous, and never one where you were trying to get somewhere without getting hit. Usually it was some sort of evasion.
He told me he’d have a first pass in about a week, and then he also told me to stop by sometime and he’d show me how to really “use that thing right.”
I looked at him for a minute and then smiled when I realized he was talking about the datajack.
Mission accomplished, I headed back to the hospital and spent the rest of the evening with Casey. His wife hasn’t been back.