Lost Asunder

I’m ba-ack! Sorry, couldn’t resist. But it is true. I’m back again with another story post. Lost Asunder is the latest in what I’m calling a series of stories. It follows on from Fragmented Friends. There are a few more ideas I have for this series. Whether I write them or not largely comes down to whether I believe they are good enough. If I do then they’ll get written. If not then… Well, the series will kind of dead-end. Wow, that sounds really sad to admit, but it’s true. Regardless, there isn’t much I can say about this. If you don’t want to be a little lost then reading Overcharged and Fragmented Friends is best. Other than that it’s a longer short story at roughly 12,000 words. Have fun!

Sanjiv slinks into his abode. You couldn’t call it a house, apartment, bungalow, shack. To do so would be wrong. It is a single room brightly lit by yellow overhead lights. One in the far corner is flickering. That is of little surprise for it has been more than a year since he last visited this place. He only keeps it as a distraction. A man without a residence draws the closest of observation and the last thing the former Datastar wants is scrutiny.

Regardless of that the first thing he spies having slinked into the single wide room furnished with a side table that the answer phone sits on is the green light which is blinking periodically to inform that there is a message.

In addition to the table there is also a mattress laid out atop the flat-packed pieces of the bed frame it should be slotted inside of and a couple chairs that don’t look at all comfortable. They’re third hand maybe, Sanjiv doesn’t really recall. He bought them off a woman who had been in the process of tossing them out many years ago. In fact, it was probably, he thinks, not long after he purchased the abode he’s stood inside of at this moment. A smirk slides across his face as he recalls such things. Then his eyes settle back on the answer phone and the smirk is gone.

He’d always been expecting to one day find a message flashing away when he again walked in here but didn’t think it would’ve taken this long. Better late than never, he thinks. Not that he expects the content of the message to be to his liking.

Sauntering slowly toward the answer phone, his eyes searching for any possible would be traps, he notes that the side table is caked with a thick layer of dust. That is just how he likes it. If this was his home it would be quite different but this place has never been a home. In total he might have spent five months cumulative based here. To put that into context Sanjiv has owned this abode for almost twenty years and a good deal of those months spent living in this pretty empty space was not long after he and Dana went their separate ways. He knows the message will be from her. It can be from no one else. She is the only person still in possession of the number, as far as he can recall. All others that once had it are dead. At least he’s pretty sure they are. Regardless, the message will be from her. Lord knows for what reason. Find out, he demands of himself. Without delay that is exactly what he does and orders a replay of whatever message has been left via the tiny sliver barely thicker than a fingernail on the top of the black dust encrusted curved cornered box.

The answer phone, base unit only, is the sole item sat on the top of the side table. Two thin black and grey cables jut angularly out the back of the unit only to disappear down the gap behind the side table and the chair on the other side of it. Sanjiv wonders why he ever set the room up in this manner with the side table in the middle of nowhere. If dug a little deeper into his memories he’d recall as to why. He did it to save himself the wasted energy of ambling across to the far side of the room where the wall socket for both power and signal are located. Due to him having placed the answer phone where he has the twin cables stretch lazily across the white tiled floor. Like everything else they too are caked with a thick layer of dust. Some of the layers are thicker than others from his previous visits and movement, but Sanjiv recalls that he has never once cleaned this place since those very early days.

The machine having finished its announcement that there is a single message left nearly a week ago begins playback. Almost immediately Sanjiv is proved correct as Dana announces that she is the one leaving the message. At hearing her voice he nearly turns to walk away. He sees little point in listening to whatever bullshit she might have to say. It won’t be an apology, Dana would never say sorry. At least she wouldn’t once she became Dana the Director in-charge of overseeing the construct following the events that cost them Warren, their best friend.

Following her appointment as director she changed quite considerably, whether she would want to admit it or not is an irrelevance. That was the moment that Sanjiv should’ve seen and known that things would never be the same. Not because he wanted to be director, he didn’t. From the moment it was conceived Sanjiv was sure it would be a political position of juggling wants, demands and legislation forced upon whoever took the job and he’d been right. Sure, Dana as director had been able to maintain, at least when he’d been around, independence from the waiting tentacles of those without knowledge or context from grasping hold of something that was never meant to be theirs, usually national governments, but that didn’t mean she remained capable of listening to people close to her. In fact, Dana thought Sanjiv mad for wanting to believe that Warren might still be out there, somewhere. That was the first rift of many. He realises now that, hindsight is a wonderful but pointless thing, that is when he should’ve walked away. Back when he first started to see changes in his former friend and colleague. But he didn’t. Rather he elected to remain by her side, to help her, guide her if he could and was permitted to. He wasn’t and when he started to show, what Dana dubbed as obsessive behaviour, due to a belief and actual evidence he had gathered regarding outside agents attempting to exert their influence over the unilaterally welcomed and praised virtual network she delivered an ultimatum unto him. He either drop his investigations, ramblings and obsessions, those were Dana’s exact words, or he vacate his post. The decision was a no-brainer. Sanjiv vacated his post following a final bitter row. He regrets none of what he said. He was right. Dana had given up on hope. She dealt exclusively in facts and there was no way Sanjiv was ever going to get through to her, no matter how hard he tried, because not everything could be explained in such straightforward terms. The world is filled with oddities.

By the time Sanjiv slides back into the present Dana is finishing her message. He heard almost none of it which causes him to sigh sharply and then depress the button for a second time. This time he will have to listen. He doesn’t want to but…

Sanjiv hears mention of Warren’s name. His brow furrows and eyes lock on the black box as though doing so might influence what comes next. When he hears the claim that Warren is alive and the broken half explanation that follows, mainly filled with repetitions he shakes his head. Without a doubt Dana is lying. She was never believed their friend is out there and the thin story she’s rambling, quite brilliantly, isn’t fooling him. This is part of some game. For what purpose he doesn’t have a clue but after all these years she still insists on wanting to exert her control. He’d be angry if he wasn’t impressed by the depths to which she is apparently now capable of sinking. Resourceful but will change nothing.

The message ends for the second time leaving Sanjiv to debate whether he should erase it or simply walk away. He’s torn between the two. In some ways deleting the message feels petty. After all, he gave Dana the chance she so confidently claimed he never would. In his mind that means his obligation is over. She squandered the final olive branch he’d left extended toward her. It doesn’t surprise him, though it does disappoint more than he had expected it too. Perhaps, he had always hoped she might come to her senses. Alas, it seems he’d been very wrong. Dana Marcello has found her place, her setting and deviations from her intended statements, which to Sanjiv sound rehearsed; make little sense other than to cover her lack of clarity.

Finally, he chuckles quietly to himself in half snorts amazed at how stupid she must think he is if she believes he’ll fall for such a ploy as this.

Unlike her, he is confident, one hundred percent, about Warren being out there, somewhere in the simulation. Just not in the way Dana was attempted to falsely claim. Still, he feels he would be remiss not to check and so calls on the one ‘person’ he can rely on in this world still, the AI clone of Doctor Helena Tabar.

His call is issued without a voice command but isn’t sure as to why. It could be that this room is too quiet for him to feel comfortable in shattering said silence until he hears the voice of another first commit such an atrocity.

“What can I do for you Sanjiv?” The voice of Doctor Tabar says in his ears. Sanjiv can’t be certain, as he never met the organic founder of the construct, but he thinks this AI built using a scan of her brain must sound exactly as she did. It’s a strong, confident voice that manages to avoid coming across as arrogant or belittling. He likes that. He wishes… Sanjiv trails off. There is little point he feels in retreading that old heavily compacted ground any more than he has previously and so elects, feeling comfortable that the silence of this abodes silence having been shattered, to speak.

“Could you run a check for me?” His voice is louder than he anticipated that it would but settles on the fault lying with how empty the room around him is and it not being the result of his volume. After all, Sanjiv has never been a loud man. He’s quietly spoken until he isn’t. And the only times that he isn’t tends to be when he’s in an argument, or when there is a need for him to be loud. More often than not these days it is the latter. Nothing really gets under his skin anymore and how could it? He’s spent the better part of the last fifteen years investigating leads on people who don’t want to be seen, men and women who work from the shadows. A number of them over the years he’s dispatched but their network never appear as if it suffers, folds or fails as a result of his efforts. It’s as if they have a limitless supply of operatives. That might not be the case if he’d managed to locate the kingpin, or something that could reveal all of their names and identities simultaneously. He has found no such thing but not through lack of trying.

“Of course, what is your query?”

“I need you to check the construct again.” Sanjiv mutters making his intent clear. It’s rare he asks the AI to run a search through the virtual network anymore for any name. Those that work from the shadows have no presence in the simulation and for good reason. If they did then they would inevitably leave a trail by which they could be tracked. Surprisingly, it is more difficult to track people in the real world than in the construct. How times have changed, Sanjiv thinks recalling the past while he waits for the Doctor Tabar AI to respond.

“Are you sure? Is this wise? I foresee you will not be granted the answer that you…”

“I will this time.” Sanjiv assures cutting the AI off. She, it, he doesn’t know how to categorise the AI really, thinks he is fixating on Warren having been missed. That isn’t why he’s asking for such a search. Instead, he wants proof that Dana is lying.

“As you wish, initiating search for one Warren Thewlis. Expected wait time is…”

Again Sanjiv cuts in. This time to announce, “Just let me know when the search is done and what the outcome is. I won’t be waiting here. I have somewhere to be.”

With that Sanjiv does an about turn and strides the short distance, four steps, out of the abode. The automatic door slides closed behind him and having fished a fob out of his pocket he activates the lock to seal this room for… Well, he expects for a very long time. He certainly has no intention of returning.

He will have to remind himself to deactivate the forward link that alerted him to the presence of the message Dana left though. There is no need for it now. They won’t be conversing ever again, he suspects.

With the abode locked Sanjiv turns and strolls casually away from the faded white door recessed into stained and graffiti emblazoned concrete walls. Overhead lights some twenty foot above his head hang from long cords. A few list precariously due to some of the aged cables having failed from the decade’s worth of neglect.

From Sanjiv’s position he can see the gaping maw that leads back to the surface. The damp walls of the underground cavern run wet with moisture that give the air a surprisingly cold bite considering that he is beneath a section of the Oljato-Monument Valley.

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