Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable
As the bullet from Miles Gregory’s sidearm left the chamber, Ryu’s cybernetic arm reflexively moved to protect his face. The bullet pierced his arm’s armored casing and shattered inside, tearing apart mechanical ligaments and tendons. Miniature explosions caused by shrapnel ruptured the frame of the cybernetic arm and a flare burst from the wound that illuminated the dimly lit bar with a burst of phosphorous light.
Sasha Ivanova seized her chance. Her protective goggles shielded her eyes from the flash. While the others were momentarily blinded, Sasha reached for her own pistol and pinned the barrel against the back of her lead investigator’s head.
“Hold it right there,” Sasha demanded. Everyone in the room froze. “Sorry sir, but place the gun on the floor and then put your hands up. Milton, don’t think I haven’t noticed you. Don’t move or I will shoot.”
“Ivanova,” Miles glowered, but he complied. He bent over and laid the gun on the floor. Ryu, who had been knocked on his back from the gunshot, scrambled backwards frantically on his three remaining limbs towards the bar counter. “I always pegged Milton for a traitor, but not you.”
“I wouldn’t call myself a traitor, sir,” Sasha stepped around Miles, her gun always trained on his forehead. Her eyes never left Milton’s hands. They twitched with excitement. “Mr. Fukuyama, get up please. Milton, hands where I can see them.”
“Amuse me. What else do you call someone who turns their weapon on their superior officer?”
“Insubordinate,” Sasha placed herself between Ryu and Miles. She released one hand off her weapon and grabbed her phone. “Traitors come in different forms, sir. Those like yourself conspire to commit treachery and harm innocent people. Again, Mr. Fukuyama, I highly recommend you get up.”
“Trying,” the bartender groaned.
“Whoa there. Bold claim, miss,” Miles frowned, but otherwise remained like stone. If he was surprised by Sasha’s accusation, he refused to show it. In fact, he had only become more relaxed. “But let’s hear it. Any grave accusations? You gonna reveal I’m some evil mastermind?”
Had he forgotten he just tried to murder the man currently prone on the ground behind her? No, Sasha thought to herself, of course he hadn’t forgotten. When suspected of conspiracy, attempted murder seems trivial in comparison. Miles was merely engaging in the ancient tradition of deception. With Sasha wielding the only gun and in control of the room, subterfuge was his only weapon.
But am I really in control, Sasha wondered.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you,” Sasha held the phone to her ear. “I’ve apprehended him. Converge on me. Alright you two, on your knees. Now.”
“Wait. Why Milton? What’s he done wrong,” Miles adopted a puzzled expression. He turned to the large man behind him. “Milton, you my co-conspirator or something?”
“Shut up. You can talk when you’re on your knees,” Sasha repeated. This time, the two of them listened.
“And who was that on the phone I wonder?” Miles asked. “Would you allow me a guess?”
“Speculation isn’t your strong suit, sir. I’d suggest against it,” Sasha lied. She kicked away the gun at Miles’s feet. “Milton, I’m going to need you to disarm. Please very slowly remove your blazer. Mr. Fukuyama, I can’t see you, so can you please let me know when you’ve stood up.”
“I’m trying,” Ryu said through gritted teeth. “I can’t move my legs.”
“That’s okay, you’re still in shock,” Sasha soothed. “Deep breaths please. Milton, I’m not going to keep repeating myself. Please remove your jacket.”
Milton, with his hands visible at all times, unbuttoned his blazer and undressed. Submachine guns and military knives neatly lined the jacket interior. He set the blazer down on the floor, pressed down on it softly, and slowly pushed it towards Sasha.
“You and Milton were aware I had come here to kill Mr. Fukuyama,” Miles wondered aloud. “If you had wanted to stop me before, there was nothing in your way. You could have surrounded the apartment and taken me then. No, there were too many eyes there. So you’re not with the police.”
Sasha said nothing. With her boot, she shoved Milton’s jacket to the side. She could spot some silhouettes approaching from the distance. No, that’s too fast, she thought. Something’s not right. Then, she heard a shuffle of steps behind her. Ryu’s hand strongly gripped the wooden bar counter for leverage as he righted himself. That was some good news at least.
“But when I called the journalist, you did nothing. Then, when I called the hitman, you did nothing. All those other times, doing absolutely nothing,” Miles mused. “So what is Mr. Fukuyama to you, I wonder? Perhaps you’re here at the behest of an interested party, who is discreetly invested in his survival. Then that leaves...ah.”
Miles smiled knowingly. “Of course,” he said. “I was wondering when they would make their move. How long have you been an informant then, Miss Ivanova?”
“Since ‘54,” Sasha shrugged. There was no point withholding that information now. The shadows outside were getting closer. The soft glow of light from the bar that found its way outside revealed paramilitary gear, assault rifles at the ready. The shadows closed in on Lost Hours like a coordinated pack of wolves. These were not her people. Damn it, how did they get here so fast? “After you purposefully botched the murder investigation.”
“So someone did notice,” Miles yawned. “Well then, you’ve answered my question, Sasha. Let me be fair and respond to something you’ve previously stated, a matter concerning whether or not you are a traitor.”
Finally, Sasha realized her mistake. In the corner of her eye was a soundless almost unnoticeable red flash emanating from beneath Milton’s jacket. Horrified, she was reminded of that split second when Milton had ever so subtly pressed on his jacket before sending the blazer her way. Some kind of signal or maybe a beacon? Sasha swore to herself. Well played, Milton.
As she slowly backed towards the wounded bartender behind her, Miles, acknowledging that the tables had turned, stood up and patted down his dirtied slacks.
“That’s better. Now, defining a word is simple,” Miles gestured eloquently. “You don’t know what a word means, what do you do? You look it up in the dictionary, of course.”
“However, words are often duplicitous,” Miles began to pace back and forth, confident with the wolves approaching behind him, their eyes glowing blood red. “Naturally, they inextricably escape the confines of leather bound books. So when we differ, in this case on whether you are in fact a ‘traitor,’ we must defer to a higher authority. And who might that be, Sasha?”
Sasha did not respond.
“Correct!” Miles exclaimed with devilish glee. “There is no other higher authority besides ourselves, Sasha, only our wholly humane bodies, bestowed by our ancestors who reside in the stars. You and I are unblemished by sinister technological forces that do nothing but taint us. Who cares who conducted those murders, Sasha? Those children were the true atrocities.”
“You’re sick,” Sasha spat. Her back pressed against Ryu and for the time she turned briefly, gazed at his haggard expression, and mouthed. “We have to leave.”
“Kitchen’s right behind us,” Ryu whispered. Whatever confusion was clouding his mind, he understood this was no time for stupid questions. “There’s an exit at the back. Can you drive a motorcycle?”
“But here’s the difference, Sasha,” Miles sighed. “You’re a member of a decentralized network of online vigilantes. I, on the other hand, represent an acting arm of StateSec. In the absence of our spacefaring forefathers to govern the meaning of words, we must defer to those who hold more power. In this case, that would be me. And in the power vested in me, I declare you a traitor.”
Sasha and Ryu bolted for the kitchen entrance. Behind Miles, his personal army of State Security agents opened fire. A hail of bullets shattered the windows of the bar and peppered the walls and countertops, shredding apart oak and bottles of liquor.
“Go! Go!” Sasha screamed, firing behind her blindly until her clip was empty. More shots ripped through the thin walls and ransacked the kitchen. Bullets ricocheted off hanging pots and pans, and a stray bullet clipped Sasha’s shoulder. She stumbled and her pistol slipped through her fingers, but she kept pressing on. Up ahead, the back door at the end of the kitchen was just within reach.
“Where’s the bike,” Sasha gasped as they tumbled through the door. Ryu pointed.
Together, the two of them scrambled down the dark alley, the clamoring of murderous voices not too far behind them. As they turned the corner onto the main street, they were surprised to encounter another group. A growing diverse crowd surrounded a storefront advertising video game equipment. A handful of them, holding an assortment of bats and other blunt weapons, smashed down the front door and funneled into the store.
Sasha couldn’t tell what they were looting, and frankly she didn’t care. She and Ryu shoved through the growing mob to reach the other side where Ryu’s motorcycle was parked. Behind them, they could hear the heavy stampeding boots of Miles’s agents, who rounded the corner but stopped short of showing themselves to the crowd. That hesitation gave Sasha the time that she needed.
Moments later, with Ryu holding tightly to her waist with just one arm, Sasha floored the accelerator and raced down the street, leaving Lost Hours and its broken glass fragments behind.
“You could have told me this when I first came in,” Jay groaned. "Why didn't you say anything?"
“Jay, come on, let’s talk about something else,” Helena pouted. “If I had told you earlier, what would you have done?”
“I would’ve rushed back to Fukuyama and asked him about it,” Jay said. “No seriously. Helen. Don’t look at me like that. This guy houses the memories of the dead man I’m investigating. How is that not important?”
“Because he’s not the dead man in question,” Helena threw her hands in the air, exasperated. Dojo jumped off her lap at her sudden reaction. “You can’t perform necromancy on Mr. Fukuyama’s memories and all of a sudden. Yup! Eichenbaum’s soul just...emerges from the vestiges of memory bundled in his mind like some conjured spirit.”
“I’m a detective, not a shaman.”
“Then think like one! This. This is your problem. Instead seeing a mystery’s chaotic architecture for what it is, you tunnel vision on minutiae, all because of that one story you love to tell about how you suspected someone poisoned your father’s right hand.”
“Which they did, I’d like to remind you.”
“Oh congratulations,” Helena drawled, rolling her eyes. “Because you really ended up catching his killer now, didn't you? By the way, when you tell that story, do you ever tell them about me? Because a certain criminal profiler at the time crafted a perfect match for one of the two dozen suspects. Did you tell them about that, or did you go all ‘I have some theories, but like life, nothing is for certain!’”
“Mr. Reus had no demonstrable motive,” Jay refuted. “There was no connection between him and my father. They had never even met before.”
“This is why you don’t catch criminals, Jay. You always let them off the hook by playing by the damn rules,” Helena wanted to scream. “So what if there’s no motive? Find it.”
“Why don’t you just tell me to fabricate evidence then?”
“I’m not telling you to break the rules. I’m telling you to think like a criminal would,” Helena tapped her temples repeatedly in frustration. “And before you even think it. No you idiot, I am not saying you should go commit crimes to get in the mind state of a murderer.”
“Then, please, enlighten this detective with your wisdom. How do I do my job?”
“Oh shut up,” Helena shook her head and put her hands on her hips. She took a long breath. The two of them sat quietly for a short while. “Look, I’m uh. I’m sorry I didn’t mention it to you before. If you want to read over his case file, give me an hour or so. I’ll need to black out confidential stuff. He’s still my client.”
“Yeah. Sure,” Jay mumbled. “Where’s Dojo? He jumped off your lap earlier, right?”
“I don’t know. He went upstairs maybe,” Helena shrugged. “Mr. Fukuyama’s case files are in my bedroom, actually. I’ll look for him while I’m up there. Help yourself to anything you’d like down here.”
Helena got up from her seat and brushed past Jay without another word. Sure enough, Dojo could be found just near the top of the stairs. The cat pawed at the crevices beneath one of the closed doors, meowing occasionally into the dark void that occasionally answered with bright colorful flashes.
“What are you doing here, Dojo?” she cooed, picking up the large cat. “You interested in this room? That’s not good, Dojo, let's try to not open closed doors okay? Let’s go get your helpless dad his evidence instead.”
Her bedroom was messy, to say the least. Jay had always preferred neat and organized sleeping quarters. Helena, on the other hand, rationalized her chaotic environment with its crumbled bed sheets, haphazard strewn books, and misplaced underwear as psychologically consistent with a stochastic universe. Really, it was just a euphemism for being lazy, but Helena rarely slipped an opportunity to burden a conversation with jargon.
Both her laptop and phone were lying on a nightstand next to her bed, stacked atop a book of poetry. Professor Eichenbaum had given it to her many years ago. “There are some beautiful poems in here,” he had said. “But I don’t have the heart to read them anymore.” Helena grabbed what she needed and headed back downstairs with Dojo hoisted on one arm.
As she reached the bottom of the stairs, Helena set down Dojo. She noticed Jay was nowhere in sight. To her right, she saw that the sliding door leading to her backyard was slightly ajar. Outside, a lone paper lantern hanging above the porch had been lit, and Jay stood alone staring at a pack of cigarettes.
“When are you going to quit?”
Helena had asked that question all those years ago. They had chosen a pleasant spring afternoon for a picnic at the foot of a linden tree. Jay had brought some potato salad. She had made tuna sandwiches. Between them, a younger and leaner Dojo munched on unsalted steamed chicken and bits of arugula.
“After this next pack,” Jay puffed and munched on the cigarette. “Or the one I buy tomorrow.”
“That’s not even funny as a joke,” Helena scowled. “Come on, seriously. When are you going to make the effort? If you think this is some kind of mental block, or you’re scared of withdrawal, you know I can always...”
“Helen, I’m not taking counseling from you.”
“It doesn’t have to be me,” she protested. “I can think of a dozen therapists who deal with this kind of stuff, and they’re all very good.”
“Really now?” Jay turned to her and stared blankly. Pride would do the work for him.
“Okay, fine they’re just decent. My point is they’ll get the job done.”
“That’s more like it,” Jay smirked.
“Look, I can be condescending to you about my colleagues whenever you want,” Helena gripped his hand tightly. “But for once, I’d like to not be sardonic about something. I mean it. I’d like for you to be around as long as I am.”
“Oh, my heart gently weeps,” Jay sang. “But what’s wrong with a cybernetic lung?”
“Fukuyama implants have a higher than ten percent rejection rate, Jay,” Helena pleaded. “Not to mention even those who don’t get rejected need to be constantly hooked on Nytropozyne to prevent buildup of glial tissue. You’d be trading one addiction for another. Or would you prefer to have neither?”
That was enough of an argument to give him some pause. After what seemed like a full minute of silence and deliberation, Jay slid the cigarette out of his mouth. He crushed the burning end on a patch of dirt beneath the tree. He then tossed the butt into one of the brown paper bags they had brought along. Jay turned back to face her.
“That’ll do, right?”
“It’s a start,” Helena smiled.
As the memory faded, Helena watched as Jay rustled the box of cigarettes in his hand. A single butt popped out then back in, and Jay repeated the motions a few more times. After another minute, he pocketed the pack and turned to step back inside. That’s when he met Helena’s gentle eyes. She leaned against the backdoor, arms crossed. Her face wore the most sheepish grin he could imagine.
“I wasn’t gonna smoke I swear.”
“I didn’t even say anything!”
“Yeah, but you were thinking it.”
“Okay, now who’s the one trying to teach the other how to do their job?”
Helena’s phone began to ring over the antique marble table. Dojo considered picking up the vibrating device in his mouth and carrying it over to her. But the cat watched amused at a pair of lost souls bickering over silly things and instead decided once again to curl up and rest on the couch.