A muffled scream cried out from Gertrude’s apartment. She shifted a basket in her arms, and thumbed the door open.
“I can’t see!”
The man she recovered from the alley was on the floor, writhing in pain. It was the fourth day he awoke panicked since she brought him into her home.
Gonna need a heavier sedative.
Gertrude fiddled with the controls on his med-cuff, then strapped him back into a chair.
“Sshhh. Easy. Give your brain a moment to catch-up.”
“Who are you? Where have you taken me?”
“You’re at my apartment, remember? I rescued you from the alley.”
“The alley? What are you talking about? Why can’t I move?”
The frightened man struggled under the restraints as Gertrude tightened them. His face twitched a few times before the sedative kicked in.
Now that he wasn’t going anywhere, Gertrude looked back to the door where she dropped her clothes basket. The contents were strewn about the entry.
Gertrude glanced back at the barely conscious man spread across her lounge chair.
“First time I’ve done laundry in two months. I sure hope you appreciate this.”
The stranger mumbled something back, just before he fell asleep.
“Have to get away…”
Gertrude grabbed a towel from the pile on the floor. She rinsed it with cold water, and dabbed his brow.
“Easy, partner. You’re safe here.”
“Where did the body land?”
A patrol hover-car was parked at one end of Franklin’s alley. The taller of the two officers asked the questions.
“Land? ’ell, I didn’t see no fall. Heard it, you get me? I look o’er dare and see’em. Layin’ on da street and not’a movin’.”
“If the body wasn’t moving, why isn’t it there anymore?”
Franklin appeared distracted by the cloaked man behind them, standing by the car.
“Huh? Oh, yah. I donna know, suit. He wa’ dare, then he ain’t.”
“Did you approach the body?”
“Did I... Ah ’course I did. He fell ou’ da sky.”
The two officers went silent. They stared at each other, then back down at Franklin.
“Da sky. Y’know, he a flyer. Rich bossa’s live up dare—”
Franklin paused to point towards the sky.
After a moment, he sighed.
“He ’ave cred, if he a flyer. I check for cred. But no cred on ’dis bossa. No. Fan-cy plush thread, but no cred in he pockets. No I–D neither.”
“So a man fell from the sky. Crashed into the street over there. You picked his pockets, no credits, and no ID... and then you left?”
“Welcome to the ground, suit. Grounders no interested ’less we see cred.”
Again the officers looked at each other. This time the shorter officer spoke.
“Okay, thank you for your time... mister?”
“Franklin, suit. Ma friends, day caw me Franklin.”
“And you live nearby here if we need to find you?”
“Man suit, I donna live anywhere, but right here. Here where you fine me.”
The officers stepped away and the shorter one called in the incident on their communicator. Neither appeared concerned about the fall, or the disappearance of the body.
Nor should they. Franklin had witnessed hundreds of similar suicides. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to jump. But usually they had enough credits to make it worthwhile.
Before the officers made it back to their vehicle, the man in a dark cloak approached Franklin.
“You said the body hit the ground over there?”
He pointed in the vicinity that Franklin identified earlier.
“Ya, suit. Dat’s what I said.”
The man reached into his cloak.
“Oh, right. Pardon me for not introducing myself. I’m not a police officer.”
The man waved his communicator over Franklin’s wrist.
“I’m Agent Stamford… from NeroCorp.”
“I donna talk to altar boys.”
“Please, Franklin. I can make it worth your while.”
Stamford produced a roll of paper credits. Enough to finance several fine evenings for Franklin and his cohort.
Franklin stared at the wad, then reluctantly grabbed it from the Agent’s hand.
“Ya man, dat’s where the body fell.”
“Curious. I don’t see any markings on the road… or indentation where the road broke his fall.”
The street crunched underneath Stamford’s shoes as he walked toward the spot.
Franklin watched the man, but didn’t wheel his chair over to follow him.
“Dat’s ’cause it hit a few tings on da way down.”
“I thought you said you didn’t see the body fall?”
Franklin was looking back towards the garage of Gertrude’s building. He snapped.
“I told you I ’eard it. Didn’t make a smashin’ bang when he hit. ’was softer, like a bump. I ’ear allot. Bodies fall all a’time. Sad ting.”
Franklin was still looking at the garage as the Agent walked back towards him.
The Agent followed Franklin’s stare.
“’Ere, take dis back. I don wanna your cred.”
The Agent smiled, then pushed Franklin’s hands—and the money—back into his lap.
“Keep it, Franklin. You’ve been very helpful.”
The man from the alley didn’t wake up again for a few days. When he finally came around, his eyesight had returned.
“What is that?”
The stranger look confused as he stared down at his right arm.
“Oh, that’s my med-cuff. Probably used to something a little fancier. It’s all I can afford.”
Gertrude was in her kitchen, attempting to cook.
The man tried to sit up, so his left arm could grab the cuff. Instead he groaned.
Gertrude set down the spatula next to a pan of crackling grease, then looked back towards her guest.
“Take it slow, mister. You had a nasty fall. Should’ve killed you, I reckon…”
“Fall? Is that why I can’t move?”
“Probably. It crushed most of your bones. Do you remember anything about it?”
The man shook his head.
“I’m having trouble remembering anything.”
“That could be the neuron in inhibitor I mixed with your sedative.”
Alarm shot across the man’s face.
“You… drugged me?!”
The man started to struggle more, reaching towards the cuff. His alarm turned to anger.
“TAKE THIS THING OFF OF ME!”
Gertrude took a step back and reached for a nearby kitchen knife.
“Listen, stranger. That thing is regrowing your bones. You wouldn’t get very far if I took it off.”
The stranger let out a gasp of breath. But he stopped struggling.
“... I drugged you to ease the pain. You’ve had a rough couple of days.”
The man unclenched his fist.
“I’m sorry,” then he let go of the air in his chest.
“This is a lot to take in. You can put that down… I’m sorry I snapped.”
He looked towards his right arm, again confused.
“Did you say this is regrowing my bones? I… what?”
Gertrude returned a curious stare.
“You act like you’ve never seen a med-cuff before.”
“Never heard of one that could regrow bones.”
He must really be messed up.
Gertrude was about to ask another question, when the man’s face turned grim.
“What happened to me?”
Gertrude rinsed another towel and placed it on his brow. The man touched her arm softly.
He looked scared.
“I was kind of hoping you could fill in some of those details. But you’re still in shock, and the drugs aren’t gonna do much for your memory. What I do know is that you fell quite a ways. I figure close to a hundred stories.”
“A hundred… stories?”
“Yup. Much more and you would certainly be dead… instead it just crushed a lot of your body.”
The strangers’s eyes widened. He looked confused, like she told him he had fallen from the moon.
“How did you find me?”
“Well, you kind of found me when you hit the hood of my car. It broke your fall… and is part of the reason you survived, I figure.”
The man from the alley lowered his head.
“Thanks… I guess.”
He swallowed uncomfortably, like he had a bad taste in his mouth. Gertrude gestured towards the glass of water next his chair.
“The meds will dehydrate you.”
The stranger drank from the glass, still fixated on the med-cuff.
“This thing is regrowing my bones?”
“Well, it doesn’t eat them.”
He chuckled before he thought better of the sudden movement.
Gertrude smiled back as she dropped four semi-solid blocks into the grease.
“What is that? It smells good.”
“Protein supplement. My mom told us it almost takes like bacon, if you fry it just right.”
“Mmm. It’s been a while since I’ve had bacon.”
Gertrude gave the man a sideways glance. Something didn’t add up.
It’s been a while since anyone has had bacon.
Must be the meds messing with his mind.
Gertrude wheeled the man’s chair over to a small table where she had laid out two plates.
“I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten my manners. I…”
The man paused.
“… I guess I don’t remember my name either. I’m—”
“Your welcome, flyer. And my name is Gertrude. You’re welcome here for as long as you need to recover… As long as you behave yourself.”
The man smiled and nodded in return.
“Er, what did you call me? Flyer. Is that a joke about how we met?”
Gertrude huffed a laugh.
Well, at least he’s cute.
Hammersmith had never visited the 1215th floor.
It required exiting onto the 978th floor, then boarding an all-glass lift that ran along the outside of the building.
“Thank you, Agent Hammersmith. Mr. Trumble will be with you momentarily.”
The lobby outside of the office was also entirely glass. It gave an uneasy feeling one could walk right off the edge of the building into the abyss.
After a few moments, Mr. Trumble’s assistant granted Todd entry into a sparsely decorated office.
“Good morning, Mr. Trumble.”
“Please take a seat.”
Trumble was seated behind a simple desk, facing the windows with his back towards Hammersmith.
“It’s an honor to meet you, in person. Sir.”
The seated man didn’t move. He sat with his legs crossed, and made no effort to turn toward his visitor.
“Spare me, Agent Hammersmith. I’m aware of what my agents say about me behind my back.
“Crazy Trumble sits alone atop his glass tower. Never meets with anyone. Manages from afar. Nothing like his father, the visionary. The great pioneer of NeoCorp.”
“Sir, that’s not—”
Hammersmith cut himself off after he realized he was still standing.
The older man spun his chair halfway towards Todd.
“Please, Agent Hammersmith. Do take a seat. There’s no need to come to my defense. I know that it was my father who recruited you. He spoke very highly of your talent when I was a boy. Indeed, you’ve shown so much promise through the years.”
“Thank you, sir. That’s very flattering.”
“Yes, I imagine it is. But flattery is not why I summoned you.”
“Yes, sir. If I may… why did you call for me?”
Trumble response came after an uncomfortable pause.
“You’ve lost someone, Agent.”
Hammersmith waited to see what Trumble would say next. When he remained silent, Todd continued.
“Only moments ago I heard from Agent Stamford. He believes he’s narrowed down Mr. Michol’s location.”
“Indeed. Based on Agent Stamford’s report, I believe I can do a bit better. I know exactly where we’ll find Michols.”
Todd noticed a map display inside of Trumble’s desk. There was a building and floor with a location pin highlighted on it.
“That’s wonderful news, sir. If you could send me the location, I would be honored—”
“Did you know that my grandfather was an investment banker?”
Todd appeared confused at the sudden question.
“Yes. He managed several funds. Amassed quite a fortune for the time.”
Hammersmith thought it best not to interrupt him.
“My father, on the other hand.” Trumble smiled. “He took a different path.”
Trumble paused for effect, gazing out the window into the distance. His back once again to Todd.
“My father made his investments in people, Agent Hammersmith. And his accomplishment dwarfed my grandfather’s. There is nothing more valuable than a person’s potential, he used to say.”
Trumble paused, then wheeled around towards Todd.
“He was a charismatic man.”
The bearded man stood up and walked over to his desk. He pulled a record out of a stack, and slid it across towards Hammersmith.
“He used to quote scripture: Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Helped others see the beauty of our mission: To help our members find a new path.”
Trumble motioned for Todd to open the record.
“Our members mean everything to us. Agent Hammersmith, they must trust us, so we can protect them.”
Todd opened the file, and his eyes grew wide. He stared again at the pinned location on the map, and matched it to the address in the file.
“If we cannot protect one member, then none of them will trust us.”
“I understand, Mr. Trumble.”
“In 52 years, this organization has never suffered a Code 57. Go to the address. Retrieve Mr. Michols at all costs, but most importantly, protect our members and their chosen path.”
“I will protect our members with my life, as I’ve sworn in my proclamation of faith.”
“Use caution, Agent. A Code 57 is not to be underestimated. Our work is very delicate. Prepare every contamination protocol, in case they’re needed.”
“Agent Hammersmith, my father always said you would become our very best agent. Don’t forget the second-chance he gave you.”
“Thank you, sir. I have not forgotten.”
“Do not disappoint his memory.”
“Okay, let’s start again from the top.”
Memories had started to come back. Gertrude was trying to piece together the fragments, but it didn’t make sense.
“I remember being chased.”
“Yeah. I don’t recall their faces. Dark coats. Skin had a weird shimmer to it. And they were fast.”
“Do you remember the room where you fell? Do you remember any buildings?”
The man from the alley frowned.
“This is gonna sound strange…”
Gertrude handed him another glass of water. He’d barely touched his breakfast. Now that he had his strength back, the food must be getting to him.
I said it might taste like bacon.
The man took a sip of the water as he choked down another bite of protein supplement.
“I was in a warehouse. And I was running toward a loading dock. Thought I could jump on one of the trucks leaving. And then…”
The man hesitated, looking frustrated.
“And then what?”
“Well, the floor sort of disappeared out from under me. And there wasn’t any road. I didn’t realize how high in the air I was until I started to fall.”
“Sounds like you were in a flyer facility.”
The man looked confused, again.
“I don’t understand.”
Gertrude eyed him for a moment, then attempted to explain.
“Well… the dark men in cloaks. You said their skin was shiny?”
“More or less. It wasn’t like yours or mine.”
“Well, flyers don’t get pockmarks in their skin like we do, because they live above the acid rain clouds. Also they’re rich, and many of them get their skin polished.”
“A visual reminder we’re not as well off.”
It looked like the man was hearing this for the first time.
What if he never remembers? Who will take care of him?
Gertrude waved off the thought.
“This will all come back to you in time. Your long term memories are still fuzzy. Probably why you still can’t remember your name.”
The man shrugged his shoulders
“Anyway, you were up high. The flyers live and work in the tallest floors of buildings. That’s why this loading dock was in the air.
“There are rumors, of course.”
“… of labs where flyers conduct human tests on grounders.”
Gertrude thought better of it. Might be too much for him to take.
“They’re only rumors.”
Gertrude’s communicator chimed. She forked the last bite from her plate, then glanced at the stranger’s.
“Take your time with that. I know it’s not very tasty, but it should help with your memory. I need to get to work.”
“Are you going to be long?”
“Until the afternoon, at least. I haven’t met my quota the past few days, and I’m gonna need the money now that I’m feeding two.”
The stranger blushed.
“Wait, that reminds me. Before you go…”
He attempted to stand-up. Gertrude rushed back towards the man, as he gingerly took a few steps towards the counter.
“How long have you been on your feet?”
“Just started. Figured now was as good a time as any.”
The man stumbled slightly, and grimaced.
Gertrude grabbed his arm, worried he would fall. The stranger wheeled around with a folded brown bag in his other hand.
“Just something for your ride.”
Gertrude started to protest, when the stranger insisted.
“You’ve been taking care of me for weeks. It was the least I could do.”
Gertrude ran her hand up the man’s arm, and smiled in thanks. She wasn’t used to others looking out for her.
“Thank you. Now, let’s get you back into your chair.”
As she pulled him in close, the man put his arms around Gertrude and squeezed. The unexpected warmth from the man caught her by surprise. As she set him back into the chair, their eyes met.
Certain the man was about to lean in and kiss her, Gertrude made an awkward sound in her throat.
The stranger gave an awkward smile and settled back into his chair. Gertrude took a moment to regain her composure.
“Don’t try any more of that walking until I’m back, okay? I don’t want to return to you screaming on the floor again.”
Gertrude grabbed her communicator off the table, and made towards the door.
His voice was soft.
“I think I just remembered my name.”
“My friends. They call me Thad.”
Gertrude’s smile loosened for a brief second, then curled back into place.
“Well alright, Thad. I’ll see you this afternoon.”
“I’ been looking for you.”
Franklin was waiting in the garage by Gertrude’s taxi—his face full of panic.
“He still dare?!”
“Is who still there?”
Franklin looked around, then lowered his voice. Gertrude leaned down towards him.
“You know who. Dat bossa who crashin’ to your taxi!”
“Oh. You mean Thad. That’s his name, he just—”
“Shh! Don’t go sayin’ he name.”
Gertrude had never seen Franklin this alarmed. His eyes kept shifting from side-to-side.
“Here. Take ’dis.”
Franklin handed her a giant roll of credits. Gertrude’s eyes went large. It was the most money she’d ever handled.
“You need to’go.”
“Go? Go where? Franklin where did you get all of this money?”
“Long story. I ’splain it to you ’nother time.”
“Franklin, you’re scaring me.”
“Gertrude, they are after a man. Da bossa you pulled from da street!”
“Who is after him?”
“Dark cloaks. Shiny, flyer bossa types. The workin’ wit da suits. Been swarming ’round here for weeks.”
A pit formed in Gertrude’s stomach as she glanced back in the direction of her apartment.
So Thad is being chased.
Gertrude was quiet as she tried to think. Where can we go?
She lifted her head, the beginning of a plan formed. She handed Franklin her communicator.
“Where you go?”
“If I said, you wouldn’t be safe. When the coast is clear, I’ll send you a message.”
She nodded toward the communicator.
“If they leave or things change, you let me know.”
“Any’ting for you, Gertrude.”
Gertrude eyed her taxi. They were gonna need a distraction, and her car can be tracked.
“Franklin, do you know how to drive a stick?”