Feather in the Tar: Cross Stitch

          “Lock up when you leave,” Mike says, but Chaz doesn’t respond.

          “Hey, Chaz, do you hear me?” Mike shouts from the doorway of the lab. It’s 5:00 PM, and Mike is on routine. Chaz doesn’t look up. “Damn it.” He says under his breath. He walks over to Chaz’s computer and stands behind him.

          Chaz focuses on a blender schematic. He parses between the schematic and a rendered 3d object. He pushes the run button on the blender, but nothing happens.Chaz searches the schematic again. The blender is for an online interactive education tool at the neighborhood elementary school.

          Mike reaches down to touch Chaz’s arm, but before he makes contact, Chaz shudders and spins around in his seat. His eyes are as big as fried eggs.

          “Whoa,” Mike jumps back. “Dude, you’re freaking me out.”

          “What?” Chaz exhales, closes his mouth and upturns the corners. His face is warm, but nowhere near as flush as Mike’s. He rubs his eyes.

          “I didn’t even touch you, man.” Mike exclaims.

          “Sorry, what time is it?” Chaz ask as he sighs.

           “It’s five. I’m on my way home. I’m meeting the fam for an early dinner and a movie.

          “Oh,” Chaz says. “What are you going to see?”

          “I don’t know, Libby picked something, and I’m not looking forward to it. I just hope I can stay awake.” Libby and Mike met at the original Star Wars wrap party. She was a costume dresser, 5’ 10”, dishwater blonde, and curvaceous. Mike, kidded her “your beautiful build is made for lots of kids.” She laughed, scowled, and laughed, she claimed she was as free as a moth and sensitive to the flame; but when they danced to the Mos Eisley Cantina song, Mad About Me; it was obvious that they were Star Wars crossed. A five bedroom ranch on two acres in Sonoma, an organic garden, with a few grapevines for daddy’s little project, three kids, 6, 7, and 9, Mike and Libby are as happy as a caterpillar becoming a butterfly.

          “Ah, I heard the animated film about Nazi Concentration Camps was extremely intense.” Chaz says.

          “I can’t take the kids to that.” Mike shakes his head, and the nonchalant charm goes out of his face.

          “Sorry, I’m out of focus at the moment. We’ll have to go sometime.” Chaz smiles.

          “Research?” Mike asks

           “I suppose. I just read it was really good.”

          “See you tomorrow.” Mike pats Chaz on the shoulder. Chaz turns back to his work on the monitor.

 

          “The head didn’t match.” Seven says. He is sitting alone in the backseat of the squad car.

          “Was that the head of the last victim?” Cochran turns and asks Sampson.

           “I think so. It didn’t look fresh, and judging from his driver photo…”

          “If the woman’s head is missing, then we’ve another victim on the wheel.” Cochran says. “Looks like we’ve got a real sick fuck.” She turns her head and looks in the back seat. “Time for you to come clean, Seven.”

          “I’ll have to talk to my client, then…”

          “We may not have time; you are interfering in a police investigation.” Cochran says as she stares into the backseat.

          “Maybe he needs 48 in the cooler?” Sampson says. “His records could get lost for a week.”

          “I don’t know Sams, but we sure need a spark. He’s the only sulfur we’ve got.” Cochran turns around.

          “Emily,” Seven reaches up to touch her shoulder through the bars. “I think I can convince her to come in, but she doesn’t know much.”

           Cochran turns around. Seven’s not sure if she’s going to spit or smile. “She’s all we’ve got, even if she’s useless. The heats on, and at the moment, you’re not the only one standing in the fire.

          “Drop me off at my apartment, and I’ll bring her in, in an hour or so.” Seven says.

          “Lieutenant, I could sure use a shower and a change of clothes.” Sampson sniffs the atmosphere in the Ford.

          “We both could.” She says. “OK. Drop me off first, then Seven. After you’re finished Sams, pick me up and drop me at the Hall. I’ll brief the chief, then you pick up Seven and our mystery witness.”

           “Two hours?” Seven asks.

          “Yeah, that should do it. I hope the Chief is working late. Not.” Cochran answers. Inspector Sampson steps on the gas and pulls the red lamp out of its box in the dash. He turns the cruiser toward the North Beach.

          Cochran turns back to seven. She holds up two fingers “two, two…hours, Seven, understand?”

           “Yes.”

          “Or you’ll be spending the next week in the tank.” Sampson adds.

 

           “I’ve got it,” Chas says to himself. It’s 9:30 P.M. He turns his head toward the storage closet. “What the hell is that?” He hears gurgling and rush air, like steam escaping.

          {Power On}

          {Heat Water}

          “Where am I?” Frank shakes his head and looks to the inside of a canvas tarp.

          {Camera Lights On}

          He looks to the gauges in his heads-up vision system. A temperature gauge rises towards 100 Celsius, water’s boiling point. Frank sits for a moment, “Where the hell am I?”

          {Accessing memory card}

          {Find password}

          The head of terabyte hard drive in a pack on his back whirs to speed and pops as it reads data off of the platters. Frank sits still and asks himself for the third time, “What am I? Who am I? Where am I?”

          {Enter Password: waroftheworlds}

           He lifts his arm slowly under the tarp, turns his palm up, and grabs it. He pulls it down over, off of his head. Two beams of light bounce off the opposite door. “I remember,” still photos parse through his conscious, faster and faster, they become a film. Frank is watching himself; the most recent history is first, then further back, to his death, his business, his wife, his girlfriend, his business, his childhood, and finally, his birth. “How? I could not see my own birth.”

          Eight Nikkond Research diamond processors, mounted two each to miniature circuit boards, 64 gigabyte of RAM, a one terabyte solid-state drive, and a two-terabyte hard drive mirror, one for one, push the water temp to boiling. The processors hum at 65 GHz, 1.5×10(to the 6th) MIPS (1,500,000 million instructions per second.) The RAID drive platters spin at 15,000 revolutions per second, faster than any consumer AV drive. Chaz over-clocked the platter processors and added rubies to lubricate all read-arm movements. Heat is managed through a combination of an independent nitrogen circulation system with a thermostat/radiator of water and glycol. The heat generates steam in a miniature, stainless steel, and football-shaped boiler in the bottom of the backpack. The steam keeps all the analog pistons alive with enough pressure to actuate cogs, lifters, ball joints, and dampeners. All fluids and steam circulate through carbon fiber pipe coated with silicone.

          Chaz embedded micro pizoelectric fan blades in the steam circulation tubes to generate one megawatt of electricity. A lithium-ion laptop battery in the backpack stores excess and start up power, which can run the electronics for 5 hours before needing a charge.

          Originally, the processors measured brain density and permanent patterns to create random numbers. Chaz does not realize it, but those patterns overwrote the original scope of the operating system, creating time-restrictive autonomy for Frank. The hardwire-clock only allows OS autonomy at night. From 8:00 PM to 5:00 A.M. Frank can activate himself.

          Chaz gets up from his workbench, and looks around the shop. He hears the rustle again, and then the sound of boiling water. It is very faint; he quiets his movements and his breath, slow, slow, quiet, quiet. “What the hell was that?

          Frank’s regulator lets off a whisper quiet whistle. All images link ito congruous emotion, and he remembers all of it. “That bitch, she killed me,” he thinks to himself. Her face betrays her. She knew, she had to have known I was allergic to peanuts. She’s the last one, and then, then, then? What’s next?

          “I knew it. Someone’s in here?” Chaz looks around and thinks to himself. I should call the cops and Mike? Finally, he’ll believe I am not crazy. Where are they? What if they’re armed? What if they’re bigger than me? Chaz looks toward his workstation, but his cell phone is still in his pack. The landline is at the entrance, about 25 feet away, round worktables, stools, and parts. “Don’t panic.” They don’t know you’re here. Where the hell are they?

          Frank visualizes leaning to the side, grasping a plastic bag under his seat, and lifting it to his side. He pauses as pressure builds again. Frank’s regulator whistles again equalizing pressure throughout his system. The temperature gauge in his heads-up is in the green. He visualizes standing, and pistons in his legs and back extend, slowly and solidly. Each movement requires a millibar or two on the gauge. Standing, he waits for pressure to build, but further in to the green bar, close to the orange level. After each movement, steam pressure drops and re-pressurizes. As long as he doesn’t move to fast, he can maintain a steady consistent flutter in the green and fluid motion.

          “Shit, they’re in the storeroom.” Chaz says. Cell phone or landline, he thinks. It will take time to get it out of the pack, but the landline is further away. “Did I charge it?”

           “Joe killed me. Where is she?”

          {Access local wireless network}

          {Enter password: wellshg}

          {Google search her address}

          A GPS system on the left and a Google map pops up on the right side of his heads-up. It syncs with the map, and outputs directions in steps with coordinates down the top center. Frank steps forward one step. The pressure gauge drops a tick out of the green, too much force. It rebounds quickly and he takes another step, closer. “Do I have to learn to fucking walk every time?”

           The first decapitation pops into his head.” Shit, did I do that?” Who is that? It’s her boss, and my wife? “Whore,” she slept with anyone and anything. A series of random pictures flashes across his cortex. A plumber, a parking attendant, a stripper, a dealer under the blackjack table n Colma, a waiter in the Stinking Rose, and I was there. I was masturbating; whore, but it was fun to watch. A beautiful Great Dane crosses his synapses. It’s rust coat smells like sweating dog, and it’s drooling uncontrollably; “no,” that was too far. “Bitch, “must die; she is dead. One more to kill, Frank takes another step, and the gauge flutters perfect. He walks to the storeroom door.

          {Reach right arm forward}

          {Grab door handle)

          (Close fingers and turn}

          Chaz reaches the doorway. “I should run.” I don’t have my cell, he thinks. No one will believe me, unless I catch whomever. “Shit, run idiot.” He says out loud. Chaz hears the door mechanism to the storeroom click and door opens outward slowly. His jaw drop; he’s frozen. He can’t look away.

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