It was a fine morning at the Compound, that is at the Compound’s edge, I wasn’t allowed in it, I just strolled outside, under the big columns that held the huge bubble 5 meters above ground. My name is Patricio, but everybody calls me Pato, nothing special about me, dark hair, brown eyes, the usual. I hold temporary jobs when I can find one, or, as it was the case now, roamed the seaport town streets dealing in legal and not-so legal wares when unemployed.
I liked it here under the Compound’s dome; sometimes I found some of the Japanese employees, the ones allowed to go to town, leaving or going in who were willing to trade and were not so snotty as not to mingle with the locals.
The dome was entirely opaque and nobody in the port knew what the Japanese were up to inside, and they certainly weren’t saying, but then again Matsushika Corp paid handsomely (so it was said) to General Ugarte’s regime for their privacy. None of my business anyway, but it was rumored they did here the kind of research they weren’t allowed to in Japan.
A fine day indeed, just as I was beginning to feel I might make ends meet at the end of it, the shooting started. “Mierda” I shouted as I ducked behind one of the heavy pillars. two Japanese guys on a motorcycle were running from two ground cars, some 50 meters to my left, and they were going like crazy among the pillars shooting to and fro, the cars were cutting the way to the Compound entrance and the Japanese guys’ only chance was to hold on till Compound security came to the rescue.
Two things happened almost simultaneously, the alarm started sounding inside the dome and the motorcycle seemed to go airborne, hit by an explosive shell. I stuck to the pillar like my life depended on it, and most likely it did. At that point, one of the Japanese guys fell by my side, seemingly with many broken bones, but still cursing and shooting. He saw me frozen against the column and appeared to make a hasty decision: “Take this,” he shouted in broken Spanish and handed me a small package. “Take it to Dr. Yoneda inside the Compound. You’ll be rewarded.”
Before I could say or do anything he rolled on the ground to the next pillar, still shooting. At that moment, one of the cars blew in the air, hit by the security guards now appearing at the entrance.
That was when I decided it was time to make my exit among the pillars. Hidden in the smoke of the burning vehicles and the deafening roar of the guns, I slipped to the seashore hidden behind the pillars and ran the hell out of the place.
Some blocks away, I could still hear the sirens sounding and see the smoke rising above the buildings. People in the port knew better than to meddle in the Compound affairs, so nobody seemed to pay much attention, and everything in the street was business as usual. I sat in a bench in the Plaza to catch my breath. Man, I was scared! And that’s when I noticed the small package I still held in my hand. Hey, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad day after all.
I had no intention to deliver it in the Compound, but maybe there was a buck to be made out of it if it contained anything sellable, I tinkered with the small box and got out a data disk and a small blue capsule. No indication of content.
Now, maybe I’m not the brightest guy in town but I knew well enough not to run the disk in my terminal at home. You never knew which ones were at a given moment tapped by the Dirección Nacional de Información, state security for the regime, so instead I started for the Public Library to ask my buddy Gabriel, who worked there, to run the disk in one of the Library’s terminals.
Gabriel was in a good mood today, “Let’s see what you got there Pato. What is it? Some of your deals?”
“Sort of, I’m trying to find out this disk’s commercial value.”
“Mmm... It’s one of them Japanese new polarized code works. Think I can read it here... Lemme see... Yeah, hey! This is Matsushika property and...”
Gabriel seemed to lose his good mood all of a sudden, he got the disk out of the slot and threw it to me. He was visibly upset. “Take it buddy and get out of here, there’s a tracking code encrypted in that there disk. At this very moment all the bells and whistles are hooting at the Compound, and very likely also at the local DNI office. We’re up for visitors any time now. I never saw you coming in the library, and I didn’t notice who was using this public terminal today. And now, SCRAM!”
I didn’t object, I knew Gabriel’s advice was sound. You didn’t mess with state security, or with Matsushika either, for that matter. I grabbed the disk and made a hurried exit.
Now I was really scared. The package the Japanese had given me didn’t look like a good deal any more, but I just couldn’t make up my mind to throw it away or take it to the Compound just yet. It might be my only lever should they catch me.
I didn’t know what to do. I strolled around the piers for hours trying to decide on my next move, but nothing came up to me. So I started back home. All seemed quiet in the neighborhood: no strange cars parked around, no uniforms in sight. What the hell, I went into the house.
I felt a thrill go down my spine as I opened the door and a voice spoke to me from the dark room: “Señor Montoya, do come in please.” And before I could turn around I was grabbed, none too gently, and pulled inside the room.
Sitting in the middle of the room was a man, smiling at me, with three more men in uniform standing behind, aiming ugly-looking machine guns at me.
“Allow me to introduce myself” said the smiling man, “I’m major Herrera of the DNI, and I think you have with you an item we’re interested in.”
I felt cold sweat running down my back, I saw no point in denying so I handed the package to the major. “ I was going to deliver it in the Compound as asked... It’s for some Dr. Yoneda.”
“Sure thing, Pato. May I call you that? Mr. Montoya sounds so formal. You were going to deliver it and never thought of selling, mainly because you have no idea what this little box is all about, do you Pato? But that I can tell you.”
The major came closer, never losing his hideous smile. “What our Japanese friends are doing behind their very locked doors at the Compound, Pato, is research such as is forbidden on their home island: research in humans, which General Ugarte lets them do with good grace and for a certain fee. Dr. Yoneda’s field of research is human neurotransmitters, and he’s one the best in the world.”
With every word the major said I felt my apprehensions rise. He was talking much to freely for my taste.
“Unfortunately, Matsushika is not the only multinational in that field, and you know corporation wars are serious matter. What you witnessed this morning was an attempt from Exxoll-Shellac, through local mercenaries, to put up with Matsushika’s work without actually doing research on their own. They knew Matsushika resorted to messengers because they couldn’t send their results through the net if they wanted them to be secret. So they staked those messengers out and nearly succeeded. We only stood and watched. We don’t interfere in corporate rows.”
“But then you popped out, Pato, and gave a whole new angle to the situation. With you we can and must interfere, you being a loyal citizen of our country.” The smile seemed to grow wider. “You have kindly brought in our hands the result of years of Matsushika research.”
The major addressed his men: “Hold him boys, he’s about to do some more work for his country.”
That’s when I started screaming, but the grim faced men paid no attention and just held me tight in spite of all my wild writhing. The major came closer, still smiling and holding a syringe gun in his hand.
“The disk you have given us contains the formula of Matsushika’s new biochip, an artificial virus which is supposed to enhance human neurotransmission, and the capsule that was with it contains a solution of the virus itself. Tt was supposed to be tested inside the Compound on a “volunteer” provided from some of our political prisoners. But now I guess you’ll do just as well, and Matsushika won’t be any the wiser.”
The major’s smile seemed to fill all of my visual field when he put the syringe against my arm and pulled the trigger.
The next second all hell seemed to come loose, the lights went out and I had no time to feel any pain from the shot. I was carelessly thrown aside and heard the raucous sound of the gun machines and the Major’s shouts, mixed with painful screaming from the soldiers.
In the dark room I thought I saw a blurry shape, impossibly fast, moving across the floor and knocking down every one around, it seemed even to dodge the bullets as it moved.
It all lasted a few seconds, then the lights came back on and I could see the three soldiers lying on the floor, in a pool of blood and the Major unconscious in a corner, but seemingly alive. Now, I don’t consider myself particularly yellow, but through the gun smoke and my tears I saw an amazing sight. Standing in the middle of the room there was a woman, clad in black tights, mirror shades in her eyes and putting away a blood stained blade. She wasn’t very tall and her visible features were unmistakably Japanese, she bowed and smiled (What was this? Smile at Pato day?).
“Good evening, Pato-san. It seems I was too late to retrieve the virus solution before you were inoculated.”
“Who... what are you?... You... you killed those soldiers all by yourself!”
“You can call me Fujiko, and I was sent by Dr. Yoneda to take his package back to the Compound.”
She held in her hand the disk and the empty capsule and smiled again, it was a very humorless smile. “So it seems I’m going to have to take you instead.”
I jumped to the door, but before I could reach it, there was Fujiko standing in front of me, I didn’t see the blow coming but I most decidedly felt it.
“You’d better come along willingly, Pato-san, there’s no way you can escape me, I can take you in unconscious if you wish, but take you I will.”
“ Nobody can move so fast! What are you, lady?”
“You’re right, nobody can move this fast, so don’t even try it. Come graciously along and on our way to the Compound I’ll tell you a couple of things about me, can we start now?”
We left the house to go out into the dimly-lit street. It was late at night now, and the street seemed deserted. If anybody heard the shooting (and they must have), they were minding their own business, which in matters concerning the DNI, was the sensible attitude.
We started walking towards Fujiko’s car, parked in the next block. Suddenly she halted and whispered, “Keep walking to the car. Don’t try to run. You know you can’t outrun me. We’ve got company.”
She seemed to blend in the dark walls, and before I could give any answer she was gone. Now I really felt like running.
The street was still quiet and poorly lit, nobody walking home, no cars, no open doors or windows. It took all my will power to keep on walking. They saw me before I saw them. Four men approached; they had the appearance of mercenaries and looked like they meant business.
But before they could come any closer, hell broke loose again as Fujiko fell on them. This time I knew what it was all about, but still I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: the woman was a flash of darkness moving among the screaming men. One of them managed to get his gun out and shoot once. He didn’t have any chance to do it again as he fell with a cut throat. What was utterly alien was the silence Fujiko moved in. The men shouted and cursed; she didn’t make a sound as she took them down one by one.
It took sixty seconds and the slaughter was over, I was so scared it hadn’t even occurred to me I might have tried to escape.
“Good boy , Pato. You’re learning what’s good for you.”
“Who... who were those guys?”
“Exxoll-Shellac people, the same who ambushed our messengers this morning. I was kind of expecting to hear from them, as we heard from the DNI. Now, let’s move on, okay?”
We got in the car and as we started towards the Compound I asked, “What do you want from me?”
“Not your sweet looks, Pato, but rather your blood. Well, actually not all of it; just a sample to isolate the viral bio-chip Major Herrera had the bad idea to inject in you and which must be multiplying like crazy in your bloodstream.”
“And what will it do to me? Will it kill me?”
“Not likely, but what it will do to you is what Dr. Yoneda wants to see personally. That’s why I have to take you to him.”
We moved silently through the empty streets, I asked again, “How can you move so fast? Those guys didn’t stand a chance with you.”
“I shouldn’t tell you things you don’t need to know, but since we are going to be seeing a lot of each other in the near future you might as well know. My condition is a very classified one. My neurotransmission is highly enhanced, and so the delay time between my brain’s command and my muscle response is about a third of yours”
“And that’s Dr. Yoneda’s doing.”
“Exactly. And now be quiet. We’re getting close to the Compound, and I think we might hear from our friends in the DNI again.”
The Compound appeared now as a big spherical shadow set in the shallow beach not far away, red lights could be seen blocking the streets accessing to it.
“Damn, I knew it! They’re waiting for us. They know we have to get there.” Fujiko stopped the car. “We are walking from here, we’ll try the beach. And don’t try anything funny. You don’t really want the DNI to catch you. They’ll treat you a lot worse than Dr. Yoneda.”
Deep inside I had to agree, DNI wouldn’t be kind to me if they thought I was involved in the soldiers’ murder.
“Wait,” I said, “I know the place better than you do, I’ve been in this part of the beach plenty times. Let me show the way.”
“Fine, I’ll follow you”
“This is a rotten-smelling beach,” whispered Fujiko as we hurried on.
“No wonder, it’s been getting the drainage of all the factories around for years. Nobody’s bathed here in a long time.”
And I found myself talking alone. Fujiko was gone before I could see which way she had gone.
“Damn, not again!”
She was back in a few minutes.
“We can go on now, We had DNI company on the beach”
“What did you do to them?”
“You don’t want to know. Keep going”
We got to the pillars under the dome with no further trouble.
“Stop here,” said Fujiko. “I’m going to call up. It’s safe to do it now. Under the dome my call can’t be tapped.”
In a matter of minutes a hatch opened over our heads and a ladder was dropped.
“Come on in, Mr. Montoya.” She pushed me up the ladder. “Obviously we can’t try the front door.”
Now I could see for the first time the Compound from the inside, even though it was night the place seemed very busy with people coming and going, a low humming sound pervaded everything.
Four guards escorted me without saying a word, Fujiko disappeared once again.
“Do come in, please” said a small, middle-aged Japanese man, as the guards left me in one of the many compartments of the Compound. Fujiko was with him. “So you are Mr. Montoya, our unwilling experimental subject , I am Dr. Yoneda and I believe you have already met Fujiko. She has briefed me about your situation.”
I can’t exactly say when I started to feel different, but as the Japanese doc talked, my sensory input was already changing. The soft throbbing I had heard all along in the Compound felt strange, like the machine was saying something to me.
Yoneda kept talking, “ The virus injected in you is a very sophisticated nanomachine, designed to replicate itself in your bloodstream. We expect it to alter your synapses in building new neural paths. We think it will make a drastic change in the way your system handles neural signals.”
I asked what was really troubling me, “What are you going to do to me? Are you going to lock me here till you get whatever results you expect or what?”
“Well, actually the original aim of the experiment was to repair damaged nerves in paraplegic people. If we accomplished that, we would have opened brand new pharmaceutical markets for Matsushika. The virus was never meant to be tried in a healthy subject, and we are very curious about you.”
Fujiko was the first one to sense a difference. I think I’ve said how fast she was, the perfect killing machine with lightning reflexes. Dr. Yoneda’s voice seemed to drop 2 octaves to my ears. I heard him in a sluggish drawl, and the lights shifted colors in my eyes.
That’s when Fujiko attacked, she jumped an impossibly high jump and directed her mortal kick at me, no doubt she knew already. But this time I paid almost no attention to her, the whole room, the whole Compound, damn! The entire world was speaking to me in a language made of lights and sounds; electromagnetic signals surrounded me, caressed me in their weird embrace.
In the time it took Fujiko, with all her unbelievable speed, to reach me I had already experienced a lifetime of changes. For all I cared she seemed to hang in mid air, her body emitting all sort of beautiful signals my bewildered senses almost couldn’t handle.
But only almost, when she reached my place I was no longer there, I was focusing on Dr. Yoneda’s neural paths and signals, it was all spread before me and it seemed only natural to alter one little spark here and another there and the doc would forget everything about me.
He fell limp on the floor. Fujiko’s face was a picture of surprise and incredulity. I guess she had never missed a target before. I visualized her neural signals as an aura around her, an aura I could and would tamper with. She never jumped again, she just fell by the doc.
And then the world stood still, I knew by now I could leave the Compound whenever I wanted and nobody could stop me. I knew I had nothing to fear from the DNI. Hell, I had nothing to fear from General Ugarte himself!
I walked out by the Compound front door. Nobody seemed to see me as I walked past their shining body signals. Outside, dawn was breaking and the DNI blockade, some distance away, was a beautiful electromagnetic symphony in the rising sun. They didn’t see me either.
I didn’t know what I was going to do, I still don’t quite know, I only knew I had a fine day ahead of me and I faced the morning and walked away into the beautiful world, born anew for me.
Copyright © 2003 by Roberto Sanhueza