“Oh, I see,” said Sebastian. “Civilization. I’m not sure how civilization is evil, but whatever you say, I guess.”
Richter glared at him for a long moment, saying nothing. Sebastian bit his cheek and tried to stop his knees from wobbling. He knew it was coming: the ‘I’m going to have to kill you now’ part of the discussion. But how was he supposed to avert it? Did he care? The silence marched on. Finally it was too much.
“You don’t have to kill me—really. You’ve got to have some other job for me to do… send some message. I could go on being a delivery boy. Just don’t shoot the messenger.” He was blabbing, and he knew it, so he shut up, and wished more than anything for a chair to drop into.
The silence returned, heavier than before. Richter continued to stare at him, as if he were something puzzling to see. At last he spoke, with the slow speech of a man pretending to say his thoughts out loud, but really intending them for the listener.
“I can’t decided whether you are a complete idiot or a sly city fox.”
Richter smiled. Sebastian couldn’t believe it. This rock-man could turn up the corners of his lips? Even if it was just a little.
“Alright, but this next job will probably kill you.”
“I’m obviously not afraid to—”
“Gamble your life.” Richter finished for him. “Obviously. Which makes you useful.”
“Whatever you need me to—”
“This bomb can not stay here. Were you followed here?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“You were, but it was by one of ours. Be more watchful next time.”
Sebastian nodded, and gulped a little at the admonition.
“We’ll put you up here tonight, and tomorrow you will take it out of the city. You will receive only the instructions you need along the way.”
“And, just so you know, you’ve already exceeded your question quota.”
He nodded, not sure if this was supposed to be humourous.
“Now come here.”
Sebastian took a jerky step forward.
“Kneel down in front of my desk”
Nerves making a riotous picnic his poor stomach, Sebastian did as he was told. He found himself staring at the back of the desk. There was a little scratch mark in the grey surface and somebody had written the letter “G” with a pencil in the shadow under the counter top. Funny how you notice things like that when you are more terrified than you’ve ever been in your life. Richter moved above him, and then he felt a hand grab a bit of his hair and tug quickly.
“Alright, get up.”
Sebastian did, quickly, eagerly, his knees bumping together a couple of times as he wobbled to his feet.
Richter was holding a couple long strands of dyed red hair from Sebastian’s mohawk.. With a wince, he added a few strands of his own hair. He then lit a cigarette lighter underneath the hairs and watched as they burnt away. Richter dropped the burning hairs onto a sheet of paper when they were too short to hold. In a moment, all was left of them were a few ashes and a blackened spot on the paper. Richter folded the paper over the spot multiple times and then tossed the square of folded paper into a trashcan by his desk.
Sebastian watched with rapt fascination, not at all understanding what he saw, be feeling the violence of it as if Richter were burning his flesh, not just his hair.
When he was done, Richter looked up at Sebastian. “We do not keep any record of each other in order to protect ourselves and each other. All knowledge you have gained from me, belongs to me, and must be gone from you as if it were burned away. In exchange, I will keep no record of you. Understand?”
Sebastian nodded, then managed a dry “yes.” He felt as though he understood a lot more than that as the image of the burning hairs danced in his retinas.
“You may leave now. The secretary will show you to your accommodations for the night.”
Sebastian turned and left the room. To his surprise, Richter followed him into the reception area.
“Order him some Chinese takeout and get Jonny to show him to our guest room. He’ll be only staying one night.” Richter grunted at the receptionist on his way past her desk. He disappeared a moment later into a marked as the men’s restroom.
She nodded almost imperceptibly, and picked up a phone. Sebastian stood waiting, shifting from one foot to another. After a short time, Richter passed back through the reception area. Noting Sebastian’s nervous movements, he said, without actually looking at Sebastian, “feel free to use the facilities” and jerked his thumb in the direction of the restroom.
Sebastian practically ran into the room, closed himself in a stall, and dry-hurled as silently as he could. Sweat trickled down his forehead and he was shaking considerably. Why couldn’t he control his stupid body? He took so many deep breaths, trying to regain his composure, that he felt rather dizzy. Finally he made his way back out of the restroom, and meekly followed a short, emotionless man, who was introduced to him as Jonny.
“How do we signal to Garith that he needs to come back?” Sandra asked. She was cupping a glass of cold water between her hands and taking slow sips which she held in her mouth until the water warmed up. A stupid, but nicely distracting thing to do.
“Why do you ask?” said Dr. Malpus.
“Because I want to know.”
Dr. Malpus said nothing.
“We can’t signal to him. Unless he gives us a phone number or something to contact him, he’s out of our reach.”
“So if someone comes in here and begins slashing his real body to pieces, there is nothing we can do?”
“If we take the wires off of him, will he come back into his body? What would happen to the version of him out there?” She waved to the screen where Gareth was staring into a mug of cold coffee. He had entered the busy coffee shop hours earlier and done nothing but sit there ever since.
Malpus said nothing.
“Tell me—this is your technology, you must know!” she could feel bottled up anger seething in her chest.
Dr. Malpus looked away from her, back up at the coffee cup on the screen and said nothing.
“You’re a filthy traitor, aren’t you?” she said between teeth clenched so tightly that they hurt.
Silence returned to the room for a long moment. Then Sandra hurled her glass across the room screaming, “I saved your stinking life!” The glass shattered into fragments at Dr. Malpus’s feet and water splashed up, staining his pants black. where they were wet. He showed no emotional response to her outburst, but simply looked at her calmly. Then his attention turned to his grey cat who came streaking into the room and jumped onto his lap. The cat meowed and snuggled into his shirt.
“What does that mean?” Sandra asked, panting a little and pointing at the cat.
“We have guests.”