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Different Times (Installment 2)


It's too risky, Louis thinks. He glances at Star, then Kojak. They’re wound up, tense, alert. They’ve trained for this. They’re ready. Time has tested them. Patience has molded their cause. He can’t let them down now. It has gone too far.

I’m ready, Louis knows. We’re all ready.

Long before Integration Agents swarmed this sleepy cafe' they would be gone. Hidden and working on their next part of the plan.

The Americans stick out like Americans do--especially in France. Wealthy young ones with connections to the Integration, like these two, especially. The smart ones know how to blend in but these two aren’t bothering. Why try, if your credits buy you a pass? If your notoriety earns you bodyguards, political pull and digital deletion? In this case, their connections are more sinister. Deletion more thorough. They are free ghosts.

Thankfully, the Integration has its flaws, Louis knows. And with a little help from their new friend, John and Myra Kremel have been unmasked. Or is that de-cloaked? He would need to ask Star about that later. She is the team's hacker. For now, such details are unimportant.

Certainly, this new friend of theirs has been spot on. The Kremels were right on time. And yet this new friend’s motives are not entirely clear. Then again, any chance to put a dent in the Party apparatchik was worth the risk. This operation is no exception. Louis just hopes that it isn’t a trap.

The waiter returns unexpectedly. His timing is off and he’s drunk now.

Louis meets his wavering gaze. "The sabodet is spicy and good.”

Ce sera tout?”

“No, I’m fine,” Louis answers. “Nothing else for me.”

The waiter leaves.

Arrogance, Louis thinks. The waiter’s station in life is set by lines of code and he could care less. If he only knew the truth. If he knew who--or what--was behind the Integration. Then he might act accordingly.

And yet, maybe he wouldn’t. As long as his needs are met, he’s fine. A full belly and a roof over his head. Subsidized organ replacements and a diversion now and again, to keep him happy. Some sim-sex and digital stimulants or is he the depressive type? The booze is a dead giveaway. Just another hopped-up chimera junky.

Louis places his hand on his pant leg. Feels the squarish outline of the capsule. Should he?

After a moment, he presses the button. The pathogen activates.

The waiter goes to the bar to douse his liver no doubt. Probably on his third organ change, if he’s into biogens. If not, the waiter is a user. An augment, with the newest tech.

Users were the in-thing. No need for new organs every few years. Besides, all the livers weren’t grown in labs. Sometimes you ended up with a used part. The slum trade was alive and well. Have over-grown rat livers? Will operate, was the low-street motto.

He feels the capsule grow warm in his pocket. The pathogen is working.

The waiter wouldn’t last a day in the slums, Louis thinks. And the underground wouldn’t take his kind. No moochers there. Perhaps a few thieves and murderers, but certainly no moochers.

Louis finishes the sausage and wraps the rest of the bread in a handkerchief. Food is too precious to waste. The tasteless machine-made protein chips are no exception. He wipes his trim beard with the napkin, takes a deep breath, but he doesn’t move.

Finally, the capsule in his pocket vibrates. It’s ready. He mentally counts down from sixty and glances at his old wind-up watch.

Time seems to slow.

He feels like he’s procrastinating now. But he’s not. If he did, his team will begin to wonder if he lost his nerve.

Kojak clears his throat, but Louis ignores him. Timing is everything.

Thirty seconds.

Louis hopes nobody dies in the next few moments, especially him.

Star is online. Her eyes moving like she’s tracking a fly drone in real-time. A feat in itself.

Fifteen seconds.

Louis taps his wrist and the credits transfer. The meal bill is paid.

Five seconds.

There’s no turning back now.

A glance at Star.

She gives the signal.

He places his hand in his pocket and waits for the prick. A slight sensation as the pathogen is transferred to his bloodstream. Now he has less than a minute to make physical contact.

Louis deftly drops the pathogen capsule in the wine and places a napkin over the glass. The capsule dissolves in seconds.

Louis stands. The pathogen is active. One minute before it kills him. He must make the transfer before it does.

Louis walks over to the American couple. Their backs are turned. If this was a simple assassination, it would be easy. But it’s not, it’s much worse than that. Bullets don’t kill them.

If he fails, they’ll all need to disappear behind the wall and be in the slums within minutes. And hiding in the Parisian slums is not a good Plan B. It’s a hell of a long descent to the underground from there, even if they survived the attempt.

And he would be dead long before that.

The young American looks over his shoulder. "Can I help you?" he asks Louis.

The American takes in the bearded man before him. An old suit, a gray turtleneck and what appears to be denim slacks. There’s dust on one of the man’s sleeves.

“Yes, I think you can,” Louis answers. He sees that the American is put off. Good, Louis thinks. At least they are not decoy projections or avatars. Louis ticks that off on his mental checklist. Their new friend gets some kudos.

Now to deliver the message before it mutates and his skin boils away.

"John Kremel, correct?" Louis asks.

Louis tries to speak without an accent but he hears it in his voice. Kremel is not well-traveled according to their new friend. He won’t know what to think.

“Yes?” John answers.

Louis extends his hand. John hesitates. Louis is not wearing gloves.

Their eyes meet. Both men smile. This is about manhood now. Who blinks first? John accepts the shake and Louis is relieved. John is the man...or so he thinks.

Louis pumps John's hand vigorously. The handshake is firm.

Louis passes off the pathogen. Hold’s John’s hand long enough for it to take. There, it’s done. Now he can focus on the next part of the operation.

"You have me at a disadvantage. You are?" John Kremel asks.

Kremel's eyes search the nearby tables. Star and Kojak are looking away.

Finally, Louis releases his hand. John looks at it for a second. He’s suspicious but not overly so.

"Louis. Louis Thompson," he answers. He chose an common name, just in case.

"We met in San Fran, Mr. Kremel. In '26. Your Web 10.0 Convention. Remember?"

“Web 10.0?” John pauses. Taps his finger on the table. Taps again.

Louis knows what John’s doing. He’s accessing his a machine.

“That was a few years back.” John’s eyes waver. He’s accessed his memories now. He’s seeing Louis in another time, without his beard. The fact is, Louis just implanted the memory.

John rubs disinfectant over his hands now. A holdover habit from the pandemics. Louis knew them well.

“You’ve grown a beard.”

“Ah, good memory,” Louis says. The subtle facial hair change seems to allay John’s suspicions.

“Perfect recall,” John lies. He rubs his hand again. Looks at his palm.

Louis backs away now, slowly.

John cocks his head at an inhuman angle. It clicks. The machine-brain is catching on.

“What did you do?” he asks suddenly. John’s hand begins to change color. Turns orange.

Myra’s hand is on her mouth. It's the first time she has even moved. “John? Your hand!”

John stares at it.

“It’s a message,” Louis says. “To your Party, Mr. Kremel. Or should I say, the late Mr. Kremel?”

John meets Louis’ stare.

© 2020 Jack Shorebird