Here's the latest story from the zine I produce with the artist Lawn Flamingo. If you want a physical copy with all the art just get in touch and we will post one out to you. Email: email@example.com
Wilkinson Ashbury House
Paterson Care Group
Patient: Ira Brown (855-750)
File Type: Addendum
FAO: Dr Barton
Ira is sixteen and has recently transferred to us at Wilkinson Ashbury House (see primary file). Her previous care providers placed her risk level at 3A. She is consistently described in notes as sullen, uncooperative and prone to outbursts of violence and self-harm, although there has not been an incident for five weeks at the time of this transfer to WAH.
Ira was orphaned when she was seven years old. (car accident: see file 855-A).
Ira lost her right hand in the accident and sometimes wears a prosthetic. She suffers from PTSD, guilt, anxiety and rage and believes to have caused the accident herself due to a violent nightmare whilst in the car.
When orphaned Ira briefly stayed with her maternal grandmother who subsequently died from a heart attack 18 months later. The body of her grandmother was not discovered for two weeks. Nine year old Ira was discovered in a dishevelled, almost feral condition when the authorities found her.
Dr Barton will have 4 months until Ira’s next annual review.
Liase with Dr Rashid for update to medication plan.
Ron Keller folded the piece of paper, yellowed from a combination of protective lacquer and age, and tucked it into the inner pocket of his grey suit jacket. As he did so he felt the quing already in there with two marbles in its chamber. There were two more of the deadly spheres in another pocket where he kept a fake ID. It was more than enough for any issues that might arise. His previous three targets had barely even registered his presence before he dispatched them. Ron shook his head at the memory of those easy kills but then quickly blinked away any feeling of self-disgust.
Leaving his pauto in slumber and tucked down a dirt track a little way up the lane, he checked his watch. Nearly eight. Dusk beginning to show itself. As he walked toward the old lady’s cottage he could smell the heavy scents of the flowers burgeoning from the evening hedgerows.
Standing at the door to the cottage Ron adopted a business-like manner and knocked loudly. There was a shuffling noise from inside and the door was opened. An old lady stood before him, younger looking than Ron had expected. He had imagined some shrunken old lady, instead here was an elegant woman with silvered blonde hair and a bright look in her eyes.
“Yes?” the woman asked.
Ron saw that both her hands were intact. “Are you Ms Ira Brown?”
“Perhaps you should tell me who you are first young man.”
She had her wits about her Ron conceded. “Of course.” He bowed his head and silently chided his sloppiness. Too many soft jobs, he thought. “My name is Charles Wolf,” he told her. “I’m with a department linked to the government and the armed forces. The GNFU.” It was a typical cover he often used and he flashed the fake ID from his pocket.
The old girl seemed to have glazed over, hardly registering his explanation. “You should come in then,” she said quietly, stepping aside for him. “Go through to the kitchen.”
An alertness appeared to have returned to her a moment later as Ron took a seat at a gnarled looking wooden table. The kitchen itself was simple; pots and pans hung above an old stove, there was an armchair near its warmth and a few pictures of birds and flowers hung about. Real flowers stood in a vase at the centre of the long table. He did not recognise them.
“Lavender and Horehound,” she told him with a warm smile. “I picked them from my garden this morning. Soothing aren’t they?”
“Yes,” he agreed. “Lovely,” seemed like an appropriate word to add.
She sat opposite him. He wasn’t sure if she was looking at him or simply staring at her floral display. She seemed to have disappeared once again into a daydream.
“So you are Ira Brown?” Ron asked loudly.
“What is this about?”
“I’m afraid we have discovered a concentration of unexploded mortars in this area. Primarily scattered about the fields surrounding your residence. We are speaking with all those within this red zone and making them aware of the situation.
“You mean bombs?” She looked horrified.
He retrieved a notepad from his pocket and switched it on. “I’m afraid so yes but you should not be alarmed. It is not recent. They are from the years of anarchy after the purges.”
The capitalist purges that had left so many data holes. It was why Ron now needed to verify he had the right Ira Brown. There were three candidates.
“They are probably nearly thirty years old,” he went on. “From the time of the genetics revolt. There is very little to fear. We are checking the area now and making it safe.” Ron added a rehearsed smile of assurance.
Ira did not answer him. She just sat looking at Ron. Her eyes were a milky blue like the sky through a thin mist of cloud. He could not tell if she had become vacant once more or was staring deep into his thoughts. She unnerved him. The whole scene unsettled him somehow.
“So you want to know more?” Ira nodded at the notebook in front of him. Now Ron was staring into the flowers. “Mr Wolf?” She interrupted his thoughts. “Will this take long?”
“No,” he told her refocusing. “For our data I just need to ask a few questions.”
“Of course,” she smiled. “Your data.”
Ron tapped and slid his finger across the notepad and announced the date. “August twenty-first, twenty seventy-five.” He looked up at her. “What is your age?” he asked gruffly.
Ira rested her hands on the table top. “I believe I am seventy six years old.”
“At my age it is hard to be certain of anything.”
“You’re pretty sharp,” Ron disagreed, looking about her kitchen. “You keep your place clean and tidy.” He stole a glance at her hand.
”Thank you,” Ira responded. “I try to keep it to a reasonable standard, though it is the garden where I place most attention.”
“How long you lived here?”
“You mean Callard Bay?”
She frowned in thought. “Quite some time. I retired to the bay when I was about sixty. I enjoy the quiet isolation and no longer care for cities.” She was looking at him now and he returned her intense gaze.
“You have always been Ira Brown?”
She did not answer straightaway and looked down at her hands with their age spots and veins, like streams left in the sand when the tide has gone out. “You ask a lot of questions,” she told him.
“I assure you,” he said with a stiffness creeping into his voice, “they need to be asked.”
“Can you hear that?” Her attention was drawn to a sound that Ron did not hear. “The sea breaking against the rocks of the cove,” she went on. “I bet those flowers can feel it.” She looked again at the vase on the table. “You think I’m crazy don’t you?”
His finger swiped the notepad off. “I think you’re evasive.”
“Evasive?” She pointed at herself. “Really Mr Wolf? Is that even your real name?”
He had heard enough. Ron scooped up the notepad and dropped it into the inside pocket of his jacket, at the same time his hand grasped the quing in a subtle switch. As he pulled it from his pocket the old lady had already anticipated his move, shoving the table at him, impacting just below his chest.
“Oooofff,” was all he could manage as the quing sailed from his hand and tumbled through the air. It landed with a clatter in front of Ira.
“I suspect you have that set to kill rather than stun.” She picked up the small, black rectangular box and pointed it at the clock on the wall. Gently she pushed the circular button on the side and a fuzzy wave, pinkish in hue, leapt outward. The clock seemed to pixilate for a second, then vaporised leaving behind a faint outline on the flowered wallpaper where it had been. Ira pointed it at Ron. “I take it you have another shot in this?”
He nodded, still catching his breath.
“Well now,” Ira sat back down. “I have a few questions for you.” She let the weapon rest on the table, still pointing at her guest. “For my data,” she added.
Ron sullenly loosened his tie.
“You only have yourself to blame,” she castigated. “How about you begin by giving me your real name,” she said when he had composed himself.
“Ron Keller,” he grimaced.
“Occupation Mr Keller?”
“I’m a contract killer Ms Brown. You’re my target.” Ron felt strange saying it. In his ten years as an assassin he couldn’t remember ever confessing to his quarry. “May I?” He gestured at his inner pocket.
Ira moved her hand a little closer to the quing and nodded.
He retrieved the folded, yellow piece of paper and tossed it across the table toward her.
Ira looked at it and recognised its origin from fifty years before. “Oh my,” she said almost embarrassed by what she read. “I had forgotten how unhappy I once was.” She looked at Ron. “Want to explain?”
He wondered if he was quick enough to fling himself across the table and get the quing before Ira could discharge it. Maybe once he could have. He wiped the sweat from his brow, not fancying his chances against the old woman.
“Start talking Mr Keller.”
“I was sent that document, along with some other record fragments, by my paymasters. I narrowed it down to three possible Ira Browns. You were the first on my list.”
“You got lucky.”
“Mmm,” he agreed.
“Who hired you?”
“Wouldn’t know. This kind of work is done through channels. I get sent what information exists and when it’s done I get paid. That’s it. I could give you a best guess.”
“I’ve been contracted to do a series of these jobs. People like you.” He looked her in the eye, at her face that was aged and yet filled with a grace he had only just noticed. Ron couldn’t help but marvel at its magic. It was a complexion the re-juve clinics couldn’t get close to.
Like a pair of bird wings her eyebrows raised above her misty blue eyes. “People like me?”
“There is something about all of you,” he shrugged. “Each of you used to be some kind of head case fifty years ago, then one day something changed. A conversion.”
Ira seemed to disappear again for a moment, letting his information into some deeper part of her mind. Then she returned. “Such as what Mr Keller? I’m intrigued.”
Ron thought. “The last guy was nearly eighty. What records remained said he had been a career criminal in the making back in twenty fifteen. Already served time for his part in a robbery. Vicious little bastard. Then one day something switched. Last week I caught up with him on a spiritual island retreat in the Mediterranean Free Zone. He’d been chief guru there for about thirty years.”
“And you killed him with this?” Ira stroked the top of the black box on the table.
“I’m afraid I did.” Ron started to hear something. It was like blood faintly pumping in his ear only it wasn’t in his head, it was outside. The noise made him dizzy. He closed his eyes and saw the face of his last victim.
“So who wants us dead?” Ira’s voice brought him back.
“My best guess is someone with access to the Organic Mind itself.”
“You mean the AI system in Beijing?”
Ron frowned. “It prefers to be called Organic Mind these days. They moved it off shore about twelve months ago. It’s where Hong Kong used to be. Everything gets run past it now.”
For the first time Ron saw a genuine look of anxiety appear on Ira’s face and felt sorry for her. The noise prickled the edge of his awareness still, demanding his attention. The faces of his last three elderly victims kept appearing to him as spectres on his eyelids. He blinked them away.
“I thought the AI only did the mechanical thinking?” Ira didn’t quite accept what he had told her.
Ron smiled with a shake of his head. “Those days have gone the way of the combustion engine.” Her lack of understanding only seemed to make his task all the more absurd to him. Just like all of the others, he realised. “I have a friend in Chengdu,” he went on. “Called Zhang. He’s got some clout a fair way up the food chain. Zhang thinks about six months ago some genius had the notion to feed Organic Mind the I-Ching. Since then there’s been some pretty left field directives.”
“Like this Mr Keller?”
“Yes. I suppose.”
Ira shook her head. “The I-Ching is a powerful tool of divination. A distillation of time and even the universe itself. It should only be used with reverence and humility.”
“Organic Mind is like a giant sludge mushroom with wires and blinking lights. I don’t think it cares much for reverence and humility.”
“So what should I expect from you now Mr Keller?”
Ron did not know. “You have the quing Ms Brown. What should I expect of you?”
For a time they looked at each other in silence. They thought. The noise Ron could hear had fused with the evening light that was filling the kitchen. He began to think he could make out the sound of distant waves crashing, just as Ira said. He almost thought he could see the flowers in front of him trembling to the vibration of the far away noise.
“I’m curious,” he said needing to break the hush. “All these old folks I’ve been dispatching, I never got as far as a conversation.”
“Perhaps cowardice robs you of imagination Mr Keller.”
He ignored the jibe. “Tell me what happened to you. What changed in you fifty years ago?”
“Everything,” she told him suddenly wide eyed, almost angry. “I was crazy and lonely and hateful of the world.”
“Like a hitman.”
She stood up as if not hearing him. “I thought my heart was black,” she went on. “That’s what the voices in my head told me over and over. The world was a piece of stone and all I did was bash my head against it. Then one day I was just sat quietly, wanting to disappear.”
Ron listened, watching her move, as if music had struck up, beginning to step lightly on the dull terracotta tiles. Her body old and young at once. He could not help but be transfixed. The unattended weapon sat on the table not four feet from him.
She stepped toward the open window to breathe in the August night as it drowsily found its way into her kitchen. Ira turned back to face her executioner. Ron only looked at her dumbly as her moving abruptly halted. “All at once I found myself wrapped up in a blanket of blue light, just like the sky and made up of I don’t know what – energy, the breeze of life, the thoughts of the gods. Something more alive than you or I Mr Keller.”
“Maybe it was just your medication?” he surmised.
She shook her head. “This was far beyond medication and chemicals. Everything exploded on my psyche in a way drug users can only envy. Like tiny bubbles, everything touched me; the grass, the flowers, the concrete. The sky had fallen and wrapped itself around me for as long as it takes a galaxy to circle the universe and for as little as the time between the end of one thought and the beginning of the next.”
“You had your conversion.”
“Conversion doesn’t even begin to define it. All those bad voices had gone and in their place was the assurance of the universe.” She saw Ron was trembling though he tried to withhold it. “Heaven in a wild flower,” she added, “and eternity in a grain of sand.”
“And those others I’ve dispatched? They’ve felt this too?” The sea was beating louder inside him.
Ira returned to her seat, sensing his discomfort. “Over the years I have heard things,” she whispered. “From what I know we were all delinquent to begin with. We all changed. Why, I haven’t the faintest idea; something powerful had aligned in the universe and to ask why suddenly seemed redundant.”
Ron sat back in his chair, trying to make sense of what she had told him and the feelings that had come upon him. Previously his targets only expressed shock or horror on their brief meeting with him. This was more than he knew how to deal with. “So what about your hand?” he asked. “Your record says you had lost it?”
“Yes, my hand.” She brought it to rest once more on the quing. “It began to grow back, in the way some animals can re-grow their limbs. It was slow at first but after some years my hand had returned, fully formed. An outward manifestation of my change within.”
“Is that everything?”
She tutted at the question. “No Mr Keller, it was only the beginning. I was seventeen and my life had begun anew. A life of uncertainty and doubt would never touch me again. I had the universe whispering love and joy in my ear. I could feel it pulsating about me in everything.”
Ron cast his face into the habitual smirk and tried to hold the look, laugh even, but couldn’t. His mind was still taking it all in. “So what did you do with your tranquillity?” he asked with a trace of envy.
“I roamed the world and explored and where I could I used my insight to help others as much as possible.”
“But now you’re living in some insignificant backwater by the sea?” Ron didn’t want that to be the end of the story.
“If that’s how you see it Mr Keller. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. After all, you are here too are you not? Ready to kill.”
The sound of the sea was now clearly audible to him. How he hadn’t heard it from the beginning he did not know. It distantly beat a rhythm against the rocks and Ron suddenly wanted to go down to the cove of Callard Bay. He couldn’t remember the last time he had simply taken a walk along a beach; probably not since he was a young man, before he enlisted. “I’m not going to kill anyone tonight,” he told the old woman. “It doesn’t matter that Organic Mind believes you should be dead. I’m not going to do it.”
Ira slid the quing across the table, disappointed. “Reconsider.” She understood the assassin’s weariness. “The universe has sent you,” she told him. “Isn’t that clear to you?” She held her gaze on him, even as he looked down at the weapon now in front of him. “I’ve felt this coming, all summer long. All my life in fact. It is the way the cosmos works. You are the expression of that.”
“I’m the expression of Organic Mind,” Ron shrugged.
“No. It is the expression of the I-Ching. Kill me, just as you killed the others. It is your obligation.”
Ron picked up the quing and felt it in his hand as if for the first time. “What if you’re wrong?” he asked. “Why should there be some special cosmic meaning to anything?”
“Won’t you be in trouble?” Ira proffered.
“I can live with that,” he told her. “You’re right, those flowers are moving with the rhythm of the sea. I can hear it now. I can see it.”
“No,” she scolded.
“You shouldn’t worry,” he said tossing the quing at her. “If it isn’t me, someone else will be sent. You’ll get your wish in the end.”
Ira hung her head. “You don’t understand. The universe has sent you, tonight. It must be this way.”
He stood slowly and pushed the chair back. “Well maybe the universe it telling me something else Ms Brown. Did you stop to think about that? Maybe it’s telling me to change and not to kill you.”
“Please Mr Keller.”
“I’m going to take a walk and think about things.” He bowed his head and made to leave. “Don’t worry,” he stopped at the door and looked at her. She had a sad faraway look. “If I change my mind I’ll come back. Then I’ll kill you.”