EX/WHI :: Part Nine

Previous Part :: Next Part


It’s a second before Chris grasps who Ami is talking to, that her honesty and intelligence might count for something if they’re no longer trapped in such an enclosed space. Looking outside, there’s no doubt this won’t be London they’re walking into, but what happens after that would be far easier to cope with if they knew their captors were more friendly than evil. The same breeze that miraculously fixed the table brushes past his left cheek, then there’s a tingle in his fingers, before on the counter to his right a familiar set of sweats materialises, plus what he knows will be very comfortable Nike trainers. There’s a backpack too: not too heavy, inside which are canteens for water plus silver foil-wrapped squares that look an awful lot like protein bars…

Ami has her own rations, and what are undoubtedly army fatigues, plus Doc Martins. All she can do is stare at the pile, with what Chambers will guess is a mind finally accepting she’d pitched their situation just right. Someone, at this point, ought to be grateful too for their gifts, because that’s what they are, and he’s hardly contributed to this entire endeavour thus far.

‘Thank you. This is much appreciated. Give us time to get ready, and we’ll head outside.’

Chris can’t look upwards as he is suitably grateful, because mind’s marvelling at what just transpired. Ami didn’t ask directly for what was provided, and yet that was what their captors took as the request: change of clothes, food and water plus an indicator they were expected to leave, or why else would backpacks be provided? She’s already getting changed, without a word, and there’s a reason: everything they say and do is absolutely being monitored, so maybe it is time to choose conversation with care. He goes to fill his canteens from the bathroom sink, allowing her privacy to get changed, before coming back and removing his own suit. She then repeats the courtesy for him: returning with water, they’re both ready to venture outside.

The backpack has nothing sharp, anything that might act as a potential weapon. Perhaps it is time to assume they’ll be no need to fight and stop worrying about protection. However, it would be great to feel safe, and right now Chambers really doesn’t. Everything is potentially a test, for observers who might expect vastly different results than what is acceptable as human behaviour. He’s also concerned at the implications of one woman and one man abducted as a pair: if he’s been selected as breeding stock, they really picked the wrong guy.


Previous Part :: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Seven

Previous Part :: Next Part


Ami expression is all the confirmation needed: she’s completely serious. There’s also an emerging belief that the woman is absolutely right: normally in those pulpy Netflix TV box sets he’d watch, the protagonist took at least an hour before it became apparent he was in an abduction scenario. Something has been up since he woke in the Hotel room: only now do these pieces fit into some kind of recognisable picture.

‘How much weird shit has happened to you since breakfast? Be totally honest.’

‘Okay, I woke up and went to the bathroom and got lost. I thought it was jet-lag, like the guy walking past the window, but now I realise the door to the bathroom moved. It started by the bathtub, then it’s by the john, and they were on opposite sides of the room!’

‘Do you happen to remember when this was? About 8.15-ish, perhaps?’

‘Yeah, ‘coz I’m listening to the radio and it stutters, like the same advert repeats a second time and I think this is weird, and that was 8.17, so -’

‘I wonder if that’s when we got shifted into this simulation. I was in traffic at 8.15, coming through Docklands. I thought I’d fallen asleep at the wheel at some traffic lights -’

‘Simulation?’

‘Can you think of a better word for a thing that we both assume is reality right up until the point we stare closely at it, when it becomes apparent we’ve been fooled?’

‘No, simulation is exactly the right sci-fi word for this. How did we not notice it before?’

‘Because we’ve been sleep deprived and confused. If you wanted to kidnap and disorientate someone with a less than perfect copy of their existence, you’d lower their ability to react under pressure.’

Under the word ‘Aliens’ in lipstick, Ami now adds ‘Simulation began at approx 8.15am.’ He can see her hand shaking, wants to reassure, but absolutely won’t use physical means to do so.

‘You’re not alone. Don’t forget that. I’m losing my shit here too, for what its worth, because I have no idea how to even process this effectively. What I do know, from your file, is you have the best analytical mind of anyone in the Service right now. Keep explaining to me why it’s aliens until I’m able to catch up, okay?’

She looks at him, really stares for the first time, before taking a deep breath.

‘There is no way this is a hallucination, because I’ve had those before and know full well that something this complex isn’t how that works. We certainly wouldn’t be sharing that experience either, but it is now abundantly apparent that you and I have been connected by more than a court case and a love of dance music. This whole room, the bouncy set dressing, the fact the only edible things are items we bought ourselves… there’s a logic here, you see it?’

‘Absolutely. At 8.15 this morning… or thereabouts we were removed from our reality and transferred into a… copy. We were both hungry and tired, and this was the first coffee bar from the hotel. The car may well have been rigged to scare us and then force us on foot… where we both followed the smell of food and walked into this trap, after which the cage door was swung shut behind us. Like the ignorant monkeys we clearly are, we’ve now become lab rats.’



Previous Part
:: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Five

Previous Part :: Next Part


Everything hurts, everywhere, and this is not good.

Moving from lying to sitting is an effort, but Chris is awake, desperately trying to piece together what happened to induce unconsciousness. He’s lying on the floor of the coffee shop, last piece of Apple Danish where it was dropped, before the entire World literally shifted around them –

Where’s Ami?

He’d felt heartbeat racing, body shuddering and watched as she passed out in his arms, shortly before he had done the same… except it hadn’t been via concussion or physical intervention. They’d been starved of oxygen, that he’s convinced of, but what happened before…? Staring at her prone, lifeless body, everything comes back in a rush, followed by an immediate need to check his partner’s alive. Her body should be in the recovery position at least: as hand reaches down an incredibly muscular leg comes up, forced into chest as body is launched into the air and back onto a table, which summarily disintegrates under both weight and impact.

I woke up and panicked, she’s awake thinking I was the enemy. One of us is not phased by what just happened: I need to get my shit together, because she really is very good.

‘Oh fuck I’m so, sorry, I assumed -’

‘I was a bad guy. It’s okay, at least there’s no worry you’re still incapacitated.’

‘I dunno about that, why does everything suddenly hurt so much?’

‘Well, that was my next question. You’re not alone.’

Picking himself up from the shattered wooden remains, Chris comes to help Ami to her feet. Physically she looks no different, but believable reality is not as concrete as it was when he woke up for the first time today. Turning to survey the damage they’ve just caused, air around them both moves, breeze that is anything but normal, somehow prompting the table to instantly and unnervingly reconstruct itself back to pre-impact state. Chris’ SIG is no longer in the holster either, giving nothing to point at this sorcery as reassurance, so staring will have to suffice as logic stops operating, giving brain the finger before leaving his body with disgust.

‘I have no weapon, and am officially out of my depth.’

‘Neither do I: on reflection, nothing from this point forward is likely to conform to our idea of normal. I’m happy to think for us both for a while, it’s okay.’

‘You go right ahead. I didn’t imagine the room upside down either, did I?’

‘Not if furniture’s putting itself back together, you didn’t, Mr Chambers. At least they stopped running the movie outside what I’m now thinking is probably a prison.’

There’s obvious daylight coming into the cafe, but Chambers isn’t looking out at London any more: instead an odd, white space radiates the illusion of… well, space. He needs to sit down where he stands right now, because all of this has just staggered beyond too much to cope with. Ami doesn’t stop him: instead she goes to the large, glass double doors and stares for a moment, before pulling keys to the car out of her pocket. Taking a step back, the bunch is thrown towards what used to be an exit but at the moment of impact they are flung back, over her head before landing near the toilets.

Suddenly, he’s very grateful somebody else has voluntarily offered to be a grown-up until he’s back in the game. Watching the walk back, picking up keys, standing and assessing: mentally thinking through their joint predicament is absolutely what Ami is doing, with a calmness which is immediately reassuring. Meeting his gaze without fear, there’s a decision made that is both logical and fair.

‘Yup, this is definitely a prison, and we need to know why.’



Previous Part
:: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Four

Previous Part :: Next Part


His bitterness is a surprise, Ami concludes with understandable resignation. He’s undoubtedly one of the Good Guys, already warmed to because at no point has any action suggested he’s seeing her as anything other than equal. An increasing conviction emerges that cheap gags or easy answers don’t exist in his repertoire: once you’ve had it with the opposite sex, there’s no need to worry about their rituals to begin a relationship. He stares instead of at her across the World, moving outside glass of the coffee bar, oddly obsessed with people passing to and from the City, before turning with clear confusion.

‘Something’s wrong here, tell me this isn’t just jet-lag.’

‘What are you seeing?’

‘Watch this guy outside, the one with the umbrella and the black backpack. I’m convinced he’s been past the window at least three times…’

As eyes follow the well dressed, middle aged man, something truly amazing transpires: as soon as city trader moves out of range of the glass window, he inexplicably vanishes. Literally blinking out of existence, the same individual returns to his point of origin, appearing again on the other side of the road before commencing an identical journey. With mounting horror, Ami grasps that this background might look like a busy London street, but the people trapped within it are simply recordings, looped to give an appearance of a busy rush hour scene.

The horror isn’t restricted to outside either: turning to look at the coffee bar, patrons are acting as if they were characters in a video game: same movements, repeated conversations, all looped to give the impression of normality. Staring at Chris, he’s doing his best not to look frightened but this is currently beyond collective comprehension. If an enemy was going to try and intercept them on the way to the Royal Courts of Justice, this is an incredibly complex and horribly expensive bait and snare. It makes no sense, when you could bundle them both into a van. This is something to do with the car, her sleepless night, his plane trip and the ozone…

She can taste that smell everywhere, which is beginning to inhibit breathing.

They’re in real trouble: brain is running too fast, anxiety now gnawing at the edges of consciousness. The coffee’s done nothing to help, and Ami needs to be moving, not sitting. Chambers anticipates her and is already standing, motioning her to do the same, but as they do the entire World shudders, throwing him into her body. They cling onto each other for a moment before the entire coffee bar appears to rotate completely on its axis: tables end up above them a joint grips tighten, pulling them closer not simply for protection.

The nightmare does not affect anyone else, however, their recorded lives continuing unabated: the morning rituals on a loop, oblivious to nightmare scenario playing out for Chambers and Bishop. Neither are now capable of movement, frozen in a moment of time that has been taken out of their hands: for a second both think the exact, same thought, before consciousnesses shut down.

I don’t want to die like this.

==

The suitability of this match is
even more fortunate
than was first considered.



Previous Part
:: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Three

Previous Part :: Next Part


Neither of them trust the car any more, so it is abandoned. Walking into the City, weather is impossibly muggy, precursor to storms moving from Europe northwards, breaking an unopposed two week’s worth of sunshine and shirtsleeves. Chris would dearly like to lose the jacket but remained unwilling in the underground parking area to remove his weapon, a feeling Ami completely agreed with. Both have spent decades understanding that when stuff went wrong, there was always a reason: today’s court appearance may now be anything but routine, so alert is their plan.

Neither is nearly awake enough either, so this unscheduled coffee stop serves several purposes. This is an extremely passable Apple Danish, Chambers decides, almost perfect combination of sweet and soft to make taste-buds forgive him for the handful of peanuts and instant coffee in the hotel room, that pretended to be acceptable as most important meal of the day. As he drinks, his MI6 counterpart’s facial expressions give the impression she’s internally debating something that needs to be shared.

‘I’m concerned about the person who wrote my CIA file.’

‘They’re a moron, without doubt. Don’t stress about it.’

‘It is enough of a fight normally to get taken seriously on my own manor, let alone worrying about what you Yanks are thinking.’

Her broad accent is East London, Chris knows, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out what ‘manor’ means in this context. She’s ex-Metropolitan Police, learning the ropes on these streets as he did in Hoboken with the New Jersey PD. They’d both been too smart to stay tied to policing, recruited in circumstances that aren’t really close enough to be considered as co-incidental, but someone probably decided would be a decent way of making him feel at home. Her face finally resolves into a smile, and reminds Chambers not to be a dick because she’s earned the right to be attractive without him flirting at the acknowledgement.

‘How many people have you killed, Mr Chambers?’

‘Twelve. Thirteen if you count the guy I blew up by accident.’

‘So, really unlucky for him, then.’

‘In fairness, it was his own bomb I inadvertently detonated, so we’re not talking about an innocent conscience to stick on the scorecard.’

‘I remember that story from your file: Jihad motivations to martyrdom have always been impossible to understand. Maybe it’s ‘cause there’s too much left I’d like to do first.’

‘That guy was dangerous before the brain-washers got him. Do you keep a card for your losses?’

‘I have a box at home. There’s six pictures in it, all taken on the mortuary slabs. The Department’s Psychiatrist isn’t sure this is a smart way of keeping me focussed on the human cost of protecting Her Majesty and her loyal citizens, but it works for me.’

‘You don’t fit the profiles, that’s why nobody can do a decent review of you. The rest of the World relies far too much on labels and containers. Those of us who prefer to live in the cracks never get a fair deal.’

‘You really want to keep cultivating that maverick persona, Mr Chambers? Your ex-wife wouldn’t take kindly to hearing that.’

‘I don’t give a flying fuck what my ex-wife thinks.’

‘That really won’t help you see your son more than once a month.’

‘I thought about this long and hard on the flight over: maybe it would be best for everybody concerned if my son never sees me again, and we all just move on.’



Previous Part
:: Next Part

EX/WHI :: Part Two

Previous Part :: Next Part


It will soon be insufferably hot in this confined, concrete space: Agent Bishop’s forced to find a CD of Oakenfold dance tracks as entertainment, because there’s no DAB signal in the car park. Radio and TV have both been on the blink for days anyway: something about sunspots and abnormal atmospheric conditions that she’d half grasped over a hurried bowl of breakfast cereal. Escaping to the songs of her youth is perhaps not that wise, because it will just remind again of the mistakes made that can now never be corrected. Except the soothing, rhythmic beat is what is required as relaxation. Nerves are suddenly, worryingly heightened.

He’ll be on borrowed time because of his bravado, Ami decides, wondering if Special Agent Chambers is going to turn up for his lift to the Royal Courts of Justice early or late. The American’s personal life remains enough of a disaster area to suggest that, like her, job matters more than what transpires after hours, so he could be worth getting to know. As with all of these things, it is going to depend on what parts of her file get highlighted in his assessment, just as has been the case in her research of him. If he looks past bisexual, that’ll be a start. Explaining that has become a depressing part of introductions since coming out last year. Maybe, if more people could take her as just human, that would be better.

There’s an odd smell in the car: reminding of photocopiers, bad air conditioning… except hers is not on, driver’s side window open. Turning off the engine, keys pocketed, Ami gets out of the car; senses alert to something that is most definitely amiss. Then movement happens behind: the Walther shifts from holster to hand in a heartbeat, spinning to point at man who’s a lot taller than his file suggests, but whose reaction times are without question.

‘Glad I’m not the only one who’s spooked. You like Bishop or Amelia?’

‘Good friends call me Ami, and if you can react that fast, Mr Chambers, I suspect we’ll get on famously.’

‘I approve of the formal use of my name, that’s way cooler than it sounds from my boss. You can keep that. So, what’s making you nervous?’

‘The smell, a bulletproof sixth sense… it’s been like this since about 3.15 am.’

‘I was upchucking dinner over the Atlantic at 3.15 in a storm that appeared outta nowhere. Everything’s been weird since. That’s just a massive co-incidence, right?’

‘Everything in this job is related. Maybe that extends to our ability to research each other and make an immediate connection.’

Both guns are re-holstered: Chambers’ handshake is solid, reassuring, and there was no need to worry about this guy’s credentials. He’s got the looks and body of a film star, but beard makes him feel more human, flawed. Good guys need to be clean-cut and scar-free, yet he has both in abundance, which allows him a more relaxed, believable air. He’s also staring at Ami with clear discomfort.

‘You know that thing that happens when you’ve read about someone in a file or had a briefing in a room somewhere and then that person turns out to be nothing like you’d expected -’

‘Is it better than you thought or worse?’

‘I’d like to apologise, in advance, for anything dumb or stupid I say or do based on my understanding of you, because whichever fuckwit in my organisation who wrote your file was blind, stupid and utterly ignorant.’

‘What were you expecting?’

‘Someone far less capable and far more angry. Your dress sense is phenomenal, this car is absolutely not what the file version of you would pick from the available pool, and if you have ‘Southern Sun’ playing on the stereo, I’ll forgive you a very great deal.’

Ami feels for the keys in her pocket, only now aware the CD is still playing, fairly convinced this model didn’t allow that to happen… and then music suddenly stops, before the vehicle’s engine unexpectedly starts. Weapons are re-drawn, pair scanning surroundings before a horribly loud, piercing alarm springs into life, lights frantically flashing a completely redundant and utterly impossible warning.



Previous Part
:: Next Part

Welcome to the Working Week

I like setting myself ridiculous challenges, and it has been a while since one’s been put on the table. With the Novel [TM] moving happily towards first draft, complete to my satisfaction (and it is, will be working on it over the weekend) it is time to push the creativity in other ways. Both of my Bond fictions were initially written in episodic format, and with the short stories now beginning to flower in their own space on Twitter… I think it is time to see if this site could support a weekly, longer-form project.

Hence, we present Fridays as the day I’ll be attempting to bring you EX/WHI.

spacetravellers.gif

Right now, all you need to know is this story involves ALIENS. There is, of course, far more to it than that: the basic plot is blocked and roughly written, but as this will be very much a live WiP I have no idea where it is going to go. Also, and this is crucial, there is no beta reader. I’m not getting anyone to check this or see if it makes sense, it is just happening, from brain to screen, on a weekly basis. Therefore, if you spot a typo or there’s a glaring WTF moment, feel more than free to tell me in the comments 😀

This is an exercise in patience for you guys and ability/dedication for me. I love this idea enough not to get bored and wander off. It’s not just a bog standard science fiction story, either, and I promise that you’ll get your money’s worth. The only way to see if this works, of course, is to just start writing the damn thing and see where it goes… so after this gets posted, Prologue to the story will appear.

I’d love to have you along for this latest part of my journey 😀