A Countdown for Your Security
by Niklas Peinecke
The gentle noise of the sea, like a whisper from the soft curved lips of a thousand mermaids. A sky, blue like the eyes of the young blonde. She runs ahead of Matteck, wearing an apple green bikini, turning her head towards him again, laughing. White teeth flash. She slightly slants her head as if she wanted to draw his attention derisively towards something.
How beautiful, Matteck thinks. I can almost feel the sand.
In reality all he feels are his rain-soaked clothes. Instead of the salty breeze of the sea he smells the equally salty scent of about twenty more or less unwashed individuals.
Sugar-frosted ska music floats from the sea, and a logo comes down from the eye-blue sky.
Just like an anvil in a Monty Python sketch, Matteck thinks.
DermaBrass, reads the logo.
“DermaBrass,” says a comfortably dry male voice from out of nowhere like a naval god wearing an Armani suit.
The letters and the beach disappear and are replaced by the usual disclaimer.
Then he is back in reality, and reality is a subway car.
From one second to the next he is confronted with a face, which withdraws as he looks into the stranger’s eyes.
“So you’re still alive,” the face grins from a respectful distance. It belongs to man with black dyed hair, a shaved bald forehead, and a stubbly beard. The eyes are lakes of quicksilver: mirrored contact lenses.
An Oozer, thinks Matteck. Mindless followers of the long-dead mad philosopher Francis Ooze. Annoying and dangerous, they would not hesitate to hurt or even kill anybody they consider inferior. Someone like me.
“Listen, pilot,” murmurs the Oozer and taps on his watch, “as far as I know, sixty minutes.” He points to Matteck’s green armlet. “So, we’ll meet again in an hour!” He stands up and grins, only with his mouth, not his eyes. His teeth are painted black.
Matteck turns to the window, his heart beating to the rhythm of the clattering rails. The Oozer buzzes off towards the rear part of the car.
Only now Matteck realizes the image matching the scent: a subway car lit by daylight tubes, crowded with people pretending not to be concerned. The only thing left of the beach is a green glowing countdown. Tiny in right bottom corner of the eye: “56,” it reads.
Less than one hour, thinks Matteck.
Escaped from the ad to see more ads. Matteck looks up to one of the flat screens hanging in every corner of the car. There is a crack through the corner like pale, branched lightning. Pixel errors spread around it like a colorful halo. Flickering on the screen: boy, dog, dog food.
Matteck looks away deliberately.
I’m already spending enough time with the spots, he thinks. Do they want to attack me right in the subway? From whom can I expect help here?
It comes to his mind that the Oozer called him ‘pilot’.
He thinks I’m a pilot. That’ll keep them away, as long as... A pilot could cope with ten of their kind. Not me. I was just cannon fodder.
He eyes the people. A couple of pensioners: the man is hunched like a truck with broken shock absorbers. Yellow-shaded glasses veil his eyes. The woman is skinny and straight with hard straight lines framing her face. Matteck imagines her to be the hunchback’s nurse, although she might be as old as he.
A horde of noisy teenagers.
Between fourteen and twenty, Matteck estimates. I’ll have to ask them for help!
The boys wear a kind of diving suit with yellow glowing stripes along the arms and legs. The girls’ suits have transparent windows running from below their belly buttons up to between their breasts.
Matteck realizes that he is staring at them, and one of the girls is staring back. Blood rises into his head and his ears flush warm as if he had pulled a woolen cap over them.
Then her gaze reaches his arm. She realizes he is wearing a green armlet, and she quickly turns away, chatting with her friends excitedly.
The train stops, the teenagers leave. Nobody enters the car.
The three Oozers sit in the rear part of the car. They are wearing the typical calf-length, dark grey coats. Their hair is dyed black or gray; two of them have shaved a frontal bald spot just like their idol Francis Ooze.
They would hunt Matteck like an animal, following Ooze’s advice that the strong should take what they want from the weak. The one who had threatened Matteck looks across, grinning again.
I could deal with one of them, but not all three. I have got nothing to expect from the pensioners. Maybe someone else will board the train, he thinks. He hopes. But he can almost feel the Oozers looking.
A young woman sits down next to him. Matteck slightly opens his mouth, but he can think of nothing to say.
“Hi,” says the woman smiling, “are you a rea?”
Matteck smiles back with only his mouth. His eye muscles remain still as always. No use for muscles, the implants work without moving parts. He shakes his head. “No,” he adds. “Only the eyes.”
His glance scans her face, gliding down her neck. She wears a bright red suit with some logo across the breast, deeply cut at the shoulders. There are two bundles of parallel stripes starting on both sides just above the collar bone, running down to the shoulders and disappearing under the suit. Matteck has seen similar tattoos.
Pilot, he thinks. She is probably older than sixty.
“I am retired,” she says.
Why don’t you say ‘reanimated’, he thinks, unconsciously sniffing through his nose.
She looks at him expectantly. Eventually she asks: “Have you got a trope?”
“Do you have Nanotropan?”
She thinks I could sell her Nanotropan, trope, the reflex-boosting drug of the pilots! “I was not a pilot,” he says. He sounds hoarse, so he clears his voice. “Medic. A creeping mine got me.”
“Are sponsored. By ads. OptiMed commercials financed them.” He shrugs his shoulders. I bet the air force paid for your body, he adds silently.
“Okay,” she says, looking away out of the window.
Speak to her! Hold her!
“Do you see the Oozers?” he asks, looking cautiously towards the end of the car.
She turns her head only slightly watching from the corner of her eye.
“They won’t do anything.” Not sounding confident.
The train stops.
She jumps up saying: “I have to go. You know.”
Wait, he wants to say. Don’t leave me alone with them!
But he can’t say anything, and she won’t listen. All she can hear is the call of the trope. She runs across the platform, after the trope.
The Oozer grins.
Just in time they arrive at station “Torplatz.” He has to change trains here.
Matteck leaves and crosses the border from the daylit world inside the train over to the brick red cavern of the station. Each of the underground stations is designed individually: this one is a mess of large tubes with brick walls, resembling Victorian sewers. There are camera eyes on the ceiling, black and shiny like cyclopic flies. Matteck runs across the platform.
Maybe I can elude them or reach the other train. Or attack them and switch at least one of them off, before...
The walls are cluttered with strange, colorful, graffiti-like tresses. Tags and bombings. “Qork,” he reads passing by and “Tigel2010” and something else that looks like Arabic glyphs. Climbing up the stairs, he avoids a dreary puddle.
This is the john, he thinks. No camera here.
His hands are shaking, so he puts them in the pockets. He looks around but sees no Oozers. Not even other people.
They are waiting for him around the corner. One is leaning casually against the wall, pushing off as he sees Matteck. There are only two of them.
Matteck presses his lips together, looking straight over the Oozers as he walks towards them. They retreat, peering nervously at their watches.
They really think I am a pilot. Damn, are there no people around? Back to the platform?
He turns. There is the third one.
“Hey, pilot! Wait a minute!”
An Oozer in front of him, one to his left, one behind him. To his right there is the wall. All of them out of his reach, a magic-spell circle around him.
The one in front of him throws a punch at his left arm, the arm with the green armlet showing the three black points. The sign of his implanted eyes, of his weakness. The Oozer is thin but brawny.
“Watch out, Ras! Maybe he’s got more implants!” hisses the one behind him.
Matteck turns around peering at the guy, a small strangely hamster-like twenty-year old with gray hair.
That would be a way out, thinks Matteck. If I could convince them that I am tuned...
“Don’t think so,” cackles the brawny. “Then he would have crushed us by now. Right, pilot?”
“I have to go,” murmurs Matteck putting all his eggs in one basket. He tries to break through. His whole body trembles uncontrollably. From the corner of his eyes he gets a glance at the countdown. The Oozer looks at his watch and starts to laugh.
Now I am done, Matteck thinks.
Then they grab him.
His eyes switch to the next commercial.
The tube station and the Oozers disappear and are being replaced by a bright large living room. White cubic cushions are placed on bamboo parquet, and huge windows lead to a terrace melting somewhere into sky and sea.
The first punch is aimed at his stomach. He cannot see it coming since the living room fills up his entire vision, but he takes a good guess and parades with his hands. Simultaneously the Oozer behind him gives him a hard kick in the back with his boots. Matteck goes down on his knees.
A slim, black-haired woman stands in the living room looking out to the sea. From the side, a large man enters the picture and lays his arm around her shoulders. She nestles up to him.
Matteck bends to minimize the possibility of attacks, but he cannot see his opponents. There is only the couple. Another kick, this time hitting his chest. Air gushes out of his lungs. A hot blade of pain cuts through his body as a rib breaks.
“Don’t you want to live your life the way you like?” asks a voice like precious brandy.
The Oozers kick his kidneys and his head. His vision narrows and a broken EKG beeps in his ears. Every breath hurts as if there was a rope tied around his chest. But still he can see the living room with the happy couple.
“Take the first step. We care for the rest,” says the brandy voice.
“Hold him, I’ll do that,” says Ras.
They drag him up, almost dislocating his right arm. Hands search the pockets of his parka. Another punch throws back his head, the Oozers holding him almost smash him into the fist.
The dark blue logo of the UbiBank materializes in the air.
“UbiBank,” says the brandy’s voice.
Matteck collapses, half dazed. Warm liquid pours from the corner of his mouth, from his nose.
Blood, he thinks.
Then steps of hard boots quickly depart.
The living room dissolves being replaced by a black screen with tiny red text on it. He knows the content by heart.
By accepting the transplatation contract the user has agreed with the general terms of usage by the OptiMed Transplant Marketing AG (OMTM). OMTM cannot be held responsible for eventual damages to objects or persons connected with the broadcast of advertisement features. For your security we provide a counter measuring the remaining time until the next transmission.
The text fades to black. Then it goes totally dark.
Copyright © 2007 by Niklas Peinecke