STORIES
...from the 'pen' of CHRIS GREGORY  
 

 

 
 

SHOWDOWN
by Chris Gregory

Even as Will tries to beat them away, the white shapes keep on coming. He cannot see them but he can feel them digging into his back, rolling over his thighs. His legs are moving, but he is making almost no progress through the thick black swampy liquid which is rising around him. Then the shapes come alive. The black rectangle pressing into his face suddenly opens into a wide gaping mouth. As he is swallowed up he remembers Grace's words. "Just concentrate. Concentrate on Pure Virtual Essence. Let it come, let it flow, let it take you over..."

As the digichron on the wall bleeps 1100 Central Dome Time, Agent Crane lights up a denicocig and begins to pace up and down. The black plastic of his shoes scrapes against the white tiles. "Cut that out, Crane. Drives me crazy." Technician Blake leans over the dormant body on the couch below him and checks his millisecond wristchron against a series of rapidly changing black digits on the side of the silver headset. He glances up at a blank vidscreen, which is connected to the headset by three black wires. A flat neon light above him illuminates the sweat on his bald head. "I gotta concentrate."

Crane admires his profile in the unframed mirror that is the only decoration in the otherwise uniformly white-tiled room. He smooths a finger down his fine cheekbone. "You work too hard, Blake. You know that? You should come down to the Pleasureunit with me at twelve. I gotta batch of confiscated Virtualporn and a few thousand mikes of 'Z' from G Squad in exchange for a couple of favours."

"Crane, we've only got a one hour Workslot with this guy. Now either come and help me or shut the fuck up."

Crane grinds the denicocig under his heel. "Blake, you know as well as I do, we're too good for chickenshit like this... what's his name ?"

Blake leans forward and checks the nametag on the top pocket of the man's grey overalls. He is thin, like most thirds, the skin stretched over skeletal bones in his face. "Kane.... Will Kane. He's a mute. From Sector B. Caught trying to breach the Main Gate with a stolen Entrydisc. Showed no resistance, apparently."

Crane adjusts his plain blue studded tie. "Face it, Blake, our talents are being squandered. There must be a million Thirds camped outside the Dome Walls. Official CDC line is that they've been 'pacified'. What the fuck do they knowÿabout it? None of them been Outside for twenty years. Guys like us, with our... qualifications... should be out there dealing with them." He licks his lips, his wide, bulbous nostrils flaring. "Remember how we dealt with N'komo and Mahmoud... to see those creeps crawling to us, drooling like dogs..."

Blake shakes his head. "You're so dumb, Crane. You think they're gonna let us near any of the big guys after that incident at North Beach-"

Crane turns away from the mirror. "They were only fucking Thirds, man. Just because I Wasted a few thousand Thirds they declared me 'Potentially Unsound'-"

"You were well out of control." Blake's head is bowed. "Now get your Filevid out. Something's coming through on the vidscreen...

The underground cavern is lit by white slow burning ceremonial candles which give off the smell of musk and bergamot. Will sits at the front of the congregation, legs crossed, head raised with the others in adulation. Above him Grace sits in full lotus in her white robe under the sharpened pointing fingers of two long transparent stalactites.

"Behold, Beloveds, I have seen beyond the hidden archives. I have walked in the very shadows of Sacred Monochrome... but even I have had weak moments..."

The words seem to hang in the air momentarily, before they float down onto the devotees' heads like falling petals. Behind the abundant, shining grey hair her bright lucid blue eyes glow with compassion, with love, with power.

"Beloveds, to be weak is to be human. But there comes a time when we must be prepared to put aside weakness, as each of us has done in order to reach this place... And we must choose one of our number to be strong, as strong as Bogart in The Big Sleep, as Wayne in Red River, as strong as the great Kong himself..."

A gasp rises from the crowd. "PRAISE BE TO MIGHTY KONG!" shouts a Beloved.

"PRAISE BE!" echo the others.

Grace raises a hand. Immediately, silence falls. "Beloveds, I have formulated a great plan. A plan that will destroy the heresy and sacrilege of the Domes forever. In order for the plan to work, one of our number must enter MegaDome One, where he will be captured, tortured, mindwiped and finally Wasted. The sacrifice will be great, but the Chosen One will live forever in our hearts, not only as the great hero of our revolution, but as our saviour, Beloveds, our blessed redeemer..."

The entire crowd raises arms in supplication and chants as one: "CHOOSE ME!"

But Grace has clearly made her selection. Will looks up and watches her long, beautiful finger descend. As she touches him on his shoulder his entire body tingles with what feels like an electric charge. He begins to burn inside.

"That's just snow, Blake. Electrical discharges. Just fucking white shapes, man. We should Waste him now. If I set the AUTOWASTE to SLOW we could make it last a few minutes. Make him scream, just a little..."

Blake turns the FOCUS dial through 180 degrees. "You'll get your fun later, Crane. I tell you that's not just interference. Look-"

A long corridor. Dark monochrome shadows. A fast camera pan down along a widening staircase. A slow zoom onto a woman's hand in close-up. The hand is held behind the woman's back, and clasped inside it is a key.

Crane shrugs. "Just a scene from some virtualflick he's seen. You probably gave him too much 'Q'."

"I only gave him 4,000 mikes. I tell you, Crane, he's Projecting..."

"Impossible! The guy is a Third. A numbskull drongo Third. To Project, he would have had to be PVE-programmed."

"Interesting, isn't it?"

"Interesting? What the fuck you mean, 'interesting'? You fucking technicians..."

"I want to see what happens next."

"You're crazy. We gotta Waste him, right now, man. If the CDC Council finds out we've been messing with shit like this we'll be mindwiped, or thrown to The Thirds."

"Crane, you're out of line. I tell you, we're on to something mega here. Look at what's happening now..."

Will floats in bliss, in Pure Virtual Essence. As he mouths the Sacred Names of Monroe, Russell, Welles, Bergman, Gable, Harlow, the Sacred Faces flash before his eyes. Each one he reaches out to touch. His hands meet solid flesh.

Will's bony hands are twitching under their straps. His face is ashen, his eyes blank and unseeing. A series of shudders convulses his emaciated frame.

Crane shrugs. "He's just got the 'Q' shakes. Remember that Rebel Third Leader last year who shit himself-"

"Crane, you dumb fuck, just watch the vidscreen..."

The images are still fuzzy. The face of Greta Garbo blends into that of Ingrid Bergman, like ice slowly melting. But there is no mistaking Will's face next to them. One moment he's Claude Rains, then Cary Grant, then Will again.

"I still don't believe it," Crane leans over the vidscreen. "Where the hell has he picked up PVE training?"

"There's no time to lose. We only have forty minutes. We gotta see some more of this," Blake wipes off sweat from his brow with his sleeve. "This could be our lucky break. Don't you realise, somebody has trained this guy. Somebody who is, or used to be, one of us."

Crane shakes his head. "This is dangerous shit, Blake. You know as well as I do, if we allow any Subject to Project unpredictable responses into our Setup we run the risk of letting viruses loose into the entire Network. " He picks up the AUTOWASTE gun. "This has gone far enough. I'm gonna waste him right now."

Blake swings round, grabs Crane by his tie and pulls him down to his level. "Listen, shit for brains, this is our one big chance. If we follow this through we'll find out which CDC agent has gone over to their side. You realise what kind of kudos we'll get from that?"

Red blotches have appeared on Crane's pale, Q-ravaged features. He detaches himself and straightens his tie. "I still say this is a waste of time."

"Crane, it's imperative that we try. You know what'll happen if we reach thirty five and the CDC Council decides we've underachieved."

On the screen, the images are now clear and focused. A hand rips down a shower curtain. There is the face of a naked woman, screaming. The action builds in a series of faster and faster cuts, from the woman to the knife and back to the woman. Then the blood is washed away with the shower water, which gurgles away down the drain.

Grace and Will are alone in the dark cinechamber. They are connected by headset wires. Grace does not need to speak. He feels her thoughts. Her presence inabits every part of his being. "I have chosen the sacred text for you to focus on," she is telling him, though her lips are not moving. "Now all you have to do is have faith in me and Focus. Focus entirely on that movie. Just allow yourself to be at one with it. Have faith in me, and you will Project. You have been given four thousand micrograms of 'Q', the standard hallucinogenic truth drug all the Agents use. Allow your Projections to come, to float out of the darkness in the centre of your soul. Remember, at all times, I am with you." Will stares into her blue translucent eyes, and in that moment they are finally joined, eternally linked. One heart, one mind, one soul.

On screen, the image of the shower is replaced by that of a train track, stretching into the distance. We see three riders coming into town. Their faces are unshaven, their eyes dark and moody. They arrive a small railway station. A sign says HADLEYVILLE.

Cut to an interior. A beautiful young woman in a long white dress is staring up with adoration at the face of the man who stands next to her. A voice offscreen is saying "Do you, Will Kane, take this woman..."

Blake hits the FREEZE control. "No doubt about it now." The face is the same as the one under the headset.

Crane begins to punch numbers into his Filevid. "I'll let you know which movie it is. Then we can get to work."

"Some of us..." Blake snorts "...have done our research. If you spent a little less of your leisure allocation shooting up 'Q' or 'Z' and getting into virtualporn you might know that this is a movie called High Noon. Made midway through the last century-"

"A prominent example..." Crane reads from the Filevid screen "...of what was known as the 'Western' genre; a largely romanticised version of the history of the Western part of United States Of America some century and a half before the Ecocollapse-"

"Yeah, yeah..." Blake is still staring intently at the screen, where Will Kane is turning in his Marshall's tin star. "And I've also done some research into new religious cults among the Thirds. Since the policy of the CDC Council changed from Third Cleansing to Third Control, the Thirds, or some of them, have had access to thousands of old virtualmovies, from the pre-collapse days. The believers each have a particular old movie which they identify with. So much so, they usually change their name to that of the main character in that movie. They believe, supposedly, that they are reincarnations, embodiments of the original characters and that their destiny is to re-enact the original action of the first version of the movie."

Crane sighs. "Blake, you know as well as I do that all the original versions of that stuff were virtualised years ago. There's no way some dreckhead like him's gonna have knowledge like that in his head."

"Don't be so sure. Remember, he's had PVE training. It could be that whoever taught him knows what happens at the end of the original movie. That means it has to be somebody pretty high up. Don't you see, Crane, the guy's been programmed. He's been set up to enter the movie and find its original 'sacred' ending. We need to find out why he's been sent and, most importantly, by whom. To do that we need to enter the movie ourselves to counteract whatever Kane does. In High Noon Kane has to confront four armed and dangerous gunslingers, who are all out to kill him. But we've got it easy. We use the FREEZE to set ourselves up and we can't fail." He checked his wristchron. "We've got exactly sixteen minutes. All we need is one Technician and one Agent who knows how to Project. Now, as I'm the fully qualified Technician around here..."

"Oh no... you must think I'm really dumb."

"Get in the other chair, Crane. I'll prepare a good shot of 'Q'."

"No fucking way, man."

"You want me to tell CDC about that party of tame Thirds you and your friends Wasted last year on your 'vacation'?"

"You fuck, Blake. You wouldn't..."

Crane looks down. He sees that Blake is holding the AUTOWASTE gun in his hand.

Onscreen, Will Kane is getting no support. The whole town knows that Frank Miller is arriving on the noon train. We rapidly cut through a series of locations in Hadleyville. The Judge who convicted Frank Miller is packing up and leaving his house. At the Jailhouse, we see that Will isÿalone now that his deputies have run out on him. Tearfully, his new wife informs him that if he doesn't renounce his gun she will be on the noon train.
"Don't panic"... Grace had told Will. "It's meant to happen...
"

"You listen carefully to me" Blake shoots of a tiny drop of excess liquid to ready the hypo. "Your name is Frank Miller. You are arriving on the noon train. You have come to kill the man who put you in jail. That man is Will Kane."

As Blake approaches with the hypo Crane begins to salivate from the left hand corner of his mouth. As the needle slides into his upper arm Crane lets out a long, satisfied sigh. Blake checks the digichron. Nearly twelve minutes left. He straps Crane's arms down and applies the headset.

"If they allow you to continue past this point," Grace whispers, "you'll know they've decided to go for the bait. From here on, all you have to do is to BE Will Kane..."
Across the darkened room, Grace's face glows. He is consumed by her presence. He nods.
"Remember, Will, you will be giving your life for the greater good of all..
"

Will Kane bursts through the saloon doors. He appeals for volunteers to raise a posse against Miller and the boys. He is met with scorn and ridicule as the men of the town turn their backs on him and swill whisky, laughing mockingly. In the back of the barber shop, the coffins are already being made.

Will and Grace touch hands. In that moment it is as if their flesh is dissolving.
"Now...." Grace whispers. "We are one...."

Kane interrupts a service at the local church. The children are sent away. Again he appeals for help. There is some debate, but the townspeople are too scared of the Millers. They tell him that the best thing would be for him to get out of town for his own good.
Cut to the town clock. Noon is approaching.
Cut to Will, alone on the street with his lengthening shadow.

Grace is with him, inside him, at every moment. So he is strong. He has replayed through every action with her and he knows exactly what to do.

High noon. The train arrives. Frank Miller steps off onto the platform. He has Crane's face. He meets with Pearce, Colby and Ben Miller. They make for town.

Cut to Will's face, taut and resolved, peering from behind the saloon's wooden supports. The four men are in sight. Immediately, the shooting begins. Will dodges the bullets. He manages to pick out Pearce, who has left himself exposed in front of the saloon. Pearce crumples to the ground. Cut to an angry, vengeful Ben Miller, chasing Will up a ladder into a hayloft. We see Will through the sights of Ben's rifle. We hear an exchange of shots. It is Ben Miller who falls, a bullet in his chest. Colby and Frank Miller are closing in on Will. In desperation, Will sets fire to the barn. Using the smoke as cover, he escapes. But Colby is in pursuit. As Will reaches the main square of Hadleyville Colby raises his gun.

"I have chosen well..." Will can hear Grace's voice inside him. "Have faith in me. Your destiny is to enact the original scenario. You cannot fail."

"You're in luck, Crane..." Blake whispers over the virtualphone. "...looks like we ain't gonna need you."

But then Colby falls dead. Will whirls around and sees his wife, Amy, at the jailhouse window, smoking gun in hand.

"Shit!" Blake presses FREEZE. He applies BLOWUP and studies the face of Amy carefully. "Crane...we've struck gold!" He is excited. "You see whose face that is? We're gonna get Unlimited Credit for this. We might even be nominated for the CDC Council. You remember, couple of years ago, one of the Controllers disappeared. Vanished from 'A' dome overnight. Official story was she'd been killed by this Third who she'd got in as a slave. It didn't bother me much, but soon afterwards I was in the 'A' bar and I overheard a couple of our guys saying she'd been plotting the overthrow of the Council and that she'd been Wasted by the Chief Controller's Agents. Y'know how weak Spencer is now. He musta spread the rumour to keep James and Mink in check. It's obvious now that she must have escaped from the Dome."

"I remember the bitch well," said Crane. "Grey haired old hag with blue-eye imprints. It was her who got me busted for wasting those Thirds."

"Yeah, it was Councillor Gracewell who convinced the CDC Council to change their policy on the Thirds. She argued that they were needed as a slave race to support the economy of the Domes. A lot of people on the Council thought doling out Virtual Units to the Thirds was dangerous, but she persuaded them to allow her the necessary Mindcontrol Technology. You can bet that by now she's used her PVE training to get a whole army of mindwashed Thirds worshipping her, ready to do anything she tells them, willing to die for her. Like this guy...."

"OK, Blake, you're a fucking genius. Now they're both frozen. Let me Waste them both and get me out of here. "

"We've still got five minutes. We need to know exactly what their next move is."

"Don't fuck with me, Blake. You've got all the information you need. This guy Kane is shit hot. He's gonna Waste me."

"Crane, I've got a plan. First thing you do is grab the woman. It's the only way to draw Kane out."

"But-"

Blake depresses FREEZE.

Frank Miller runs to the jailhouse, and twists Amy's arm behind her back. She struggles as he drags her out into the street at gunpoint.

Kane steps out of the shadows.

"Now, drop that gun, Kane..." Miller calls out.

Blake presses FREEZE. "Now, play it cool, Crane. As soon as he's in your sights, Waste him. Then Waste the woman. It'll be beautiful. When Spencer sees this..." He depresses FREEZE again.

We cut to a close up of Miller's face. The eyes fill with loathing and his lip curls in triumph. He raises his gun. Suddenly the woman struggles, pushes him in the face, and steps away. Kane fires.

"Crane!" Blake shouts. "You lost control. CRANE!"

We see Frank Miller's dead body lying on the ground. The screen quickly cuts to Kane and Amy leaving town in a horse and carriage. The closing credits roll.

Will is transported in bliss. With Grace beside him, forever, he rides out of town and surrenders to the thousands of images that rush in to overwhelm him. First the sacred faces- Harlow, Welles, Gable, Bergman, Grant and the others. Faster and faster they crowd in on him. A rapidly accelerating number of scenes flashes before him, until it is impossible to tell one from another. But he is calm. This is exactly the way Grace told him it would be.
"Just close your eyes and Accept..." she had told him. "Never fear. I am with you."
As he steps into oblivion, he knows that she speaks the truth and that their souls are joined forever.

The two bodies in the Virtualchairs are frozen into stiff, rigid postures. The vidscreen is silent. In the corner of the room the digichron bleeps 1200. Official Compulsory Rest Hour. Frantically, Blake punches code numbers on his Filevid. It is even worse than he'd thought. The readout indicates that an Extreme Burnout virus has taken hold of the entire Control System. He swallows hard. It will take less than a minute for CDC Security to trace the source of the virus.

Something is coming through on the vidscreen. Blake's data indicates that the transmission has interrupted Good Friends, the Feelgood Virtualsoap which nearly the entire population of the Domes is plugged into. The grey hair and deep, soft blue eyes of the speaker are unmistakeable.
"People of the Domes..." The voice is calm and reassuring. Soft tinkling music plays in the background. "Your communications systems are approaching total collapse. Soon the force fields around the whole network of Domes will cease to function. My armies are poised outside, just waiting for one word of command from me. I appeal to you to surrender now, before it is too late. Those who do not resist me will be spared, and will undergo only painless and healing mindwiping. In just a short time, as my followers have already done, you will all learn to love me..."

The image fades, but the last phrase keeps on repeating itself: "Learn to love me.... love me..."

Blake can already hear the footsteps coming down the corridor.

He picks up the AUTOWASTE gun and sets it to a minimum pain threshold. Then he opens his mouth.

"Love me... love me... love me..."


END

 

COPYRIGHT CHRIS GREGORY (C) 1999-2002 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Digital Generation