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Fantasticoe Spring 2011

A Stranger in the Dark

Sam Kurzcek

            John slept soundly in his penthouse on the top floor of  Cadmium Tower,  headquarters of  Cadmium Technologies, one of the leading companies in technology since 2168.

            A loud, strange noise at the foot of his bed woke John from his slumber. Assuming the worst, John quickly glanced to the other side of the room, careful not to make any sudden moves. At the foot of his bed stood the large blocky silhouette of an intruder. This just confirmed John's latest suspicions of foul play.

            He knew he didn't have much time to react so he decided to use the element of surprise while he had it. John leaped from his bed straight at the intruder. He lowered his stance as he charged at him and drove his shoulder directly into the mystery man's stomach, knocking the wind out of him and knocking him back into the steel door to his bedroom. His assailant brought his fists down onto John's back and with a resounding thud John fell at the man's feet.

            Not waiting for the intruder to recover, John rolled away from the door and got to his feet while the other man took time to regain his breath. The man quickly recovered and moved to retaliate. John turned and picked up his glass top coffee table, swinging with all his might John savagely struck the intruder's face, shattering the table and knocking him onto his back.

            Taking this as an opportunity, John tossed the mangled remains of the table aside and dove onto the man before he could get up. He wrapped his hands around his throat and began throttling him. "Who sent you?! Who sent you?!" John repeated as he repeatedly beat his attacker's head into the floor, still unable to see his face in the darkness.

            The man let out a few gurgling noises, seemingly in response to John's questions, but John was too busy choking him and shouting at him to notice. The intruder's hands and feet flailed around on the floor around him as the life ebbed from him. Just as his movements began to slow his hand found a piece of glass from the table. He grasped it and swung it into John's shoulder.

            John howled with pain and immediately let go of his target. Taking his breaths in deep gasps the intruder threw John off of him and scrambled towards the window.

            White hot pain filled John's mind as he focused on the shard of glass thrust deep into his shoulder. Every motion sent another flash of pain through his body as the shard continued to slice apart the inside of his arm.

            The intruder was outlined in the dim light of the window but his face was still in shadow. Seeing the man, John became consumed with rage. His face burned red as he gripped the glass in his shoulder and ripped it from his arm. He threw the shard aside and charged his attacker once more.

            The assailant moved to throw a punch at the enraged John but John ducked under it and used his forward momentum to slam the two of them into the window, sending a spiderweb of cracks across the floor-to-ceiling window.

            John reared back and bashed his forehead into the bridge of the intruder's nose sending blood gushing from the attacker's face. He held his hands up to his face to nurse his shattered nose and let out a pained scream as blood ran down his hands and arms.

            Sensing his attacker's weakness, John pulled his arm back and sent a wicked right hook right into the intruder's already broken nose. His head snapped back from the force of the punch and smashed into the window behind him, sending another series of cracks cascading across its surface.

            The intruder let out a low moan and John's face lit up with a sick grin. Taking one giant step forward, John lifted his other foot and put all of his weight into a heavy kick right into the intruder's chest. Just as his foot struck the intruder's chest the assailant cried out, "Wait, no!" before his back met with the window for the last time.

            Panting, John turned away from the window and commanded to no one in particular, "Computer, Lights," and with that the room was flooded with light. Now, John was fully able to appreciate the destruction that had been wrought on his apartment.

            The frame for his coffee table sat twisted and bent against his bookshelf on the wall opposite his bed. Most of the books in said shelf had been knocked from their place and were lying unceremoniously on the ground. The carpet in front of his door was covered in a sprinkling of glass shards of all shapes and sizes. And of course, the window was very much broken.

            The polished steel walls and the Persian rug on the floor were spattered with blood and other reminders of the fight that has just ensued.

            John felt something hot and wet running down his arm. He lifted it up to look and remembered the injury his shoulder had received. He quickly pressed his other hand to the wound and left his bedroom, careful to avoid any broken glass on the ground. As he left, he called out, "Computer, command: Repair, Window, East. And run cleanupcrew."

            He rushed to the bathroom, dripping blood onto the expensive hardwood floor of the hallway. With the forests in the state they were in, it was damn hard to find wood these days. He pulled a fresh towel out of his linen closet and began cleaning the wound.

            When he was done, John tossed the, now red, towel into the corner and wrapped the cut with bandages. He then washed the blood from his hands and splashed some water on his face. He looked up into the mirror as he dried his face with a fresh towel.

            What he saw was a middle-aged man with a heavy, square face that was showing the beginnings of wrinkles. Some gray was starting to find its way into his hair, but he was still in fairly good shape, as demonstrated by the fight he was just in. He carefully smoothed out his mustache and combed back his messy black hair. 

            Once his wound was bandaged and his appearance was to his liking, John returned to his room. When he entered, the Cadmium Technologies maintenance robots were just finishing installing his new window, and the glass on the floor, along with the table it had come from, had already been cleaned up. One lonely drone was hovering around the room scrubbing the blood out of wherever it had found its way into.

            John stood admiring the little workers for a moment. He always loved to watch their small, metal forms gracefully hover about and work. John loved the precision of it, the lack of mistakes. It was a quality he wished more of his employees had.

            The alarm clock next to John's bed read only 4:13 in the morning. He considered going back to bed, but with all the excitement he figured there was no point in trying. He switched off his alarm and walked over to his closet and started getting dressed.

            About halfway through tying his tie, John's hands slowed as a thought crossed his mind. Who had that man been? John was used to attempts on his life, but that didn't mean that he didn't like finding out who was responsible. Besides, that was an unusual level of success, especially since he had just installed the new security system and paid the extra thirty thousand for the added flamethrower.

            Once he was dressed, John checked his appearance in the mirror and adjusted his jacket a bit until he was satisfied. He turned to face the new window and calmly said, "Computer: Bring up monitor" The whole window flashed into life as readings of all kinds began showing up across it.

            After taking a look at the international stock trade for the day, John decided to investigate last night's attack. The slightest touch from John's fingers moved the stock trade out of the way and expanded the security monitor for John's apartment. First, he scanned the front door to see how the intruder got in. Nothing showed up on the monitor until John himself moved into frame on his way to the bathroom, bleeding from the stab he received during the fight.

            A bit disturbed, John moved the view around the apartment, checking all points of entry he could think of, and nothing seemed to move until after the fight. Finally, John checked the camera in his room. All was quiet, until the silence was broken by a loud whooshing noise, and the intruder appeared where John had found him and the fight began. The camera gave no more insight about the intruder's identity that John's own eyes weren't capable of doing on their own.

            John frowned at the screen, playing the intruder's entrance over and over again. His frown deepened as he watched, becoming more and more sure as he watched. The intruder and gotten into his room using his technology. He had been testing the company's teleportation technology just the other day, and that was definitely it.

            Out of curiosity, John checked the security cameras in the lab downstairs. The feed started some time the previous day so John rapidly began fast-forwarding through it. Somewhere around four in the afternoon he saw himself walk on screen. He brought the video down to normal speed and turned up the audio. This had nothing to do with the investigation but John still wanted to watch it.

            John watched himself power walk past research rooms until he came to the one he was looking for. He watched the people in the rooms he passed and laughed as he saw them visibly shake with fear. The John on the screen was carrying a circuit board that he had just finished yanking out of a new robot prototype that was being developed for military purposes.

            He entered the room and the technician looked up from his work with obvious fear. John angrily threw down the circuit board on top of the technician's project, shattering the board and sending bits of the project flying off the table. The technician held up his hands to shield his eyes.

           

            The entire hall became silent as the workers fearfully waited in silence for John to finish his business and leave. Some of the braver ones peeked out of their rooms to get a better view of what was happening. John advanced on the technician, grabbed him by his shirt front and pushed him back into the wall behind him, knocking charts and papers to the ground. And then the yelling started. "Can you explain to me what a targeting chip from Millennium Technologies is doing in one of my projects?" John yelled, his face inches from that of the technician.

            The technician feebly attempted to respond but all that came out were a few stuttering syllables and heavy breathing. "Well?" John inquired, tightening his grip.

            Finally mustering up the courage to respond the technician feebly said, "They- they- they're- Well, you see, they work better and-" 

            "Better? Better! What do you mean better?" John shouted, saliva flying from his mouth.

            "Using their chip we were able to add twenty meters to the effective range of the targeting system." the technician quickly blurted out.

            "I don't care if it can make me shit diamonds, we do not use our competitor's technology in our products! Is that understood?"

            "Yes sir."

            "Design your own damn chip if you have to but never, I repeat, never bring someone else's technology into my business." John let go of the technician and walked calmly to the door. The technician slid down the wall to sit in a heap on the floor.

            John looked over his shoulder at the technician. "Your punishment is a two week suspension without pay. You have ten minutes before your security clearance is revoked. If you are on the premises after that you will be considered an intruder and you will be shot on sight."

            John left the room, leaving the technician sitting on the floor in shock.

            Back in his apartment, John chuckled at the video, pausing at the technician's shocked expression. Once he was done having his fun, John continued to fast-forward. Nothing seemed to show up until a bit before the attack. John noticed a movement in the corner of the screen. He went back and checked it again. A man came on screen  briefly before walking into another room. He had his back to the camera so John couldn't see who he was.

            Sighing, John took off his jacket and walked over to his bed. He reached under the mattress and pulled out his gun. He strapped on his shoulder holster and put his jacket on. He thought back to the fight. He had actually gotten bored enough with these assassination attempts to fend this one off unarmed. Oh what a life he led. But business is a dangerous business so John figured that he should bring it with.

            As he passed his window he noticed sirens heading towards his building. Someone had probably called in the body hitting the pavement. It'd probably get filed as a suicide instead of just a simple corporate killing.

            Trying to spot the incoming emergency vehicles, John looked out the window. It wasn't often that he looked out the window, more often than not he was looking at it, not through it. He looked at the urban skyline before him. Buildings hundreds of stories high as far as the eye could see. The sky was a sickly kind of dark gray, the stars had been blocked out by smog decades ago. After appreciating the view for a bit, John continued getting ready to go.

            They say business wasn't always this hard. That, decades ago, before corporations had taken over the government, people were rarely killed in the white collar environment. That wasn't the case any more. Corporate espionage was a serious part of every company's existence and men and women died every day fighting to protect their company's secrets.

            John had gotten used to the bloodshed as CEO of Cadmium Technologies. He had killed many men on his way to the top, but all of them, or at least most of them were for the good of the company. Sacrifices had to be made for the company and John was not a man that was afraid to make them. There were whispers among the employees that John was "crazy" or "a sociopath". They knew that if John ever caught them saying such things he'd have them executed so they stayed at a whisper.

            After several retinal, fingerprint, and vocal scans, John disarmed his security system and walked into his private express elevator and hit the button for the Research and Development floor. John spent the short ride thinking about his job. Sure, it was dangerous but it sure was exciting and it paid well. It had also made him a bit paranoid, but he had been paranoid his entire life so that wasn't too different.

            He figured his parents had something to do with it. They raised him and his brother as rivals, always giving them incentive to outdo each other. John and his older brother were about equal for most of their childhoods. Once high school came around John found himself accepted in to a much better school than the one his brother had gotten into. It was then that his parents favor began to shift.

            John was a smart kid, and he did well in school, but he had an uncanny need to be the best. He didn't care what he got on tests or assignments as long as it was better than everyone else. Instead of studying he would often sabotage those who could do better than him. It worked, and John actually had fun doing it. Once, he stole someone's girlfriend and dated her for six months, just to make him do worse on a biology final. Once the class was over John dumped the girl and moved on. John never much liked women, he thought they just got in the way, that they were distracting.

            College went pretty much the same, and by the end of it he was recruited by Cadmium Technologies. He had climbed the corporate ladder rapidly.

            The vicious world of modern business was the perfect place for John; his ruthless nature helped Cadmium become the powerhouse it was. John quickly became dissatisfied with his place as a worker He needed to be at the top. So, with some carefully planted evidence and a well placed bullet, the last CEO of Cadmium Technologies vacated his office. And with some more well placed documents, John took his place.

            The elevator dinged as it reached his floor. The lowest floor in the tower, the lab sat several stories underground. John sighed as he walked out of the elevator and out onto the R&D floor. He headed for the experimental storage vault. He saw a man  in a lab coat hurrying away from the door to the vault. Suspect number one, John thought.

            John pulled his gun out and leveled it at the man. "Stop where you are!" The man stopped with a start and turned around. John recognized him as his chief scientist, Seth.

            Raising his hands above his head  Seth said, "Whoa there, John! Careful where you're pointing that thing."

            "Someone broke into my bedroom last night using our teleportation technology. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, Seth?" John began slowly walking towards Seth, still pointing the gun at him.

            "What? No, of course not. Why would I know anything about that?"

            "It seems pretty suspicious, walking around the R&D department at five in the morning, Seth. What were you doing down here?"

            "I never left, I've been here since last night working on some new designs."

            "Did you ever go into the vault?"

            "No, I've been in my office. I just left to get something to eat."

            "Well, Seth, that seems like a likely story, but I'm not a man that likes to take chances."

            "What are you talking about, John?" Seth began to sweat and slowly started to back away from John.

            John watched him with a calm expression. "I'm talking about how many people are trying to take this company from me. All the attempts on my life. I'm talking about taking the necessary precautions to stay alive and do what's best for this company." John said, his the volume of his voice escalating as he spoke.

            Seth lowered his hands and sped up his pace, a horrified look in his eyes. "You're crazy! No one is trying to take this company from you! You just think they are because you're a paranoid lunatic!"

            John stared at Seth as his face slowly contorted into a hideous mask of wrath. Turning beet red he shouted, "NO ONE CALLS ME CRAZY!" He fired his gun into Seth's left knee causing him to fall to the ground clutching his shattered leg as it bled out around him.

            "YOU'RE CRAZY!" he yelled. Over and over he yelled it until John came over and silenced him by unloading the rest of the gun into Seth, shouting incoherently the whole time, spittle flying from his mouth.

            John continued to pull the trigger even after it clicked empty. He stopped after a few seconds, realizing that Seth was very dead and no one was calling him crazy any more.

            Regaining his composure, John looked down and lamented the loss of his clean shoes that now were covered in bits of Seth. Oh well, he could get new ones. He'd have to remember to tell his secretary to send a janitor over to clean up this mess.

            After wiping the excess goo off on Seth's coat John walked over to the vault. He tossed the empty gun onto what was left of Seth's body.

           

             "Computer: Access vault entry history." A screen appeared on the wall next to the vault's door. John once again frowned at the reading. It appeared that no one had been in the vault since he had been in there yesterday.

            An idea struck John. It appeared that Seth had, in fact been innocent. He supposed Seth was a good enough worker and it would be a pain to get someone else to fill the position, so John decided to kill two birds with one stone. Especially since it turned out that Seth was at least somewhat trustworthy. It was hard to find trustworthy workers, even if they did call you crazy.

            John ordered the door open and entered the vault. Gadgets of all shapes and sizes sat on shelves and stands around the room. Some were large enough to stand alone on the floor. He spotted the teleporter, a small box the size of a pack of cigarettes, right where he had left it. At the back of the vault was another door.

            The locks on this door were more complex, designed and built by John himself. It scanned his retina, blood, fingerprints and tested his voice to make sure he was really John, the only one capable of opening this vault.

            This had been where John had spent the last six months of his work. He entered into the dark back room and turned on the lights. Against the opposite wall sat a large machine that looked very much like an upright tanning booth. John walked over to the screen on its side and punched in some numbers. When it was ready, John stepped in and closed the door.

            John liked this design, it was sleek and simple. Nothing too extravagant. The walls were smooth metal and a single touch screen was used for controls.

            He would prevent Seth's death and find out who his mystery assailant was all in one fell swoop. Not to mention finally getting to test his honest to god time machine. It still needed some tweaking before it would be ready to leave the vault but it would serve his purposes just fine.

            This machine would put Cadmium Technologies at the head of the pack for a good, long time. Not only was it a significant scientific advancement but it made them masters of time, something that the other companies would have a hard time competing with. John was particularly fond of being able to go back in time and file his competitor's patents before they could.

            Cadmium technologies was already nearing the head of the pack but John needed to be the best. He wanted to  make sure Cadmium would be the best and that no other company would even have a chance to catch up with the.

            John could rule the world with this thing, but for now he'd just use it for these two little errands.

            The machine flooded with white light, and John had to close his eyes to shield them from it. The machine worked by converting John's mass to straight energy, excluding him from the second law of thermodynamics. With no time arrow, John could  move freely though time and space. For a brief moment, John had no eyes to close, no body, no brain. Then with a loud whoosh John regained his physical form and found himself in darkness.

            Disoriented, John stumbled around for a bit trying to get used to the darkness when, out of nowhere, a force struck him in the stomach and his back met a wall behind him. John quickly realized that it was a person that had hit him and he struck downward at whoever it was.

            It seemed that his mystery assailant had anticipated his arrival. He stepped closer to the assailant, remembering that he should get a good look at his face first.

            Before he could think about much else, something very large smashed into his face and he found himself on the ground. Next thing he knew, the intruder was on top of him with his hands around his throat. John's vision began to go dark and his hands reached around for something to defend himself with. They found something sharp and swung it up at the attacker. He released John and pulled away.

            John's shoulder twinged as he tried to deal with the strangest case of Deja Vu he had ever experienced. He stood up and attempted to get his bearings. The intruder rushed towards him again. John threw a punch at him but it sailed over the attacker's head and he was pushed back into the wall behind him. He heard a cracking noise from behind on him and his face began to light up with realization. The look was short lived as the attacker's face met his and broke his nose.

            John's vision flashed white as the blow struck his face and he instinctively reached up to hold his nose. Another blow struck his face and just intensified the pain. He barely even felt his head slam into the window behind him.

            His vision finally adjusted to the light and John blinked through his tears to see his own sinister grin staring straight at him. The light from the window lit up his attacker's face and did just the opposite to his own.

            The reality of the situation dawned on him and he only managed to cry out a desperate, "Wait no!" as John's foot struck John in the chest sending him flying through the window.

            No longer caring about his injuries, John thought about what had just happened. He had a very long drop to think about it. Even now, his attacker was heading down a path that would end in the exact situation he was in now. In  his last moments, John got a kind of sick enjoyment out of the twisted justice of the situation.

            The irony became too much to bear, John's face split into a genuine smile for the first time in a long while as he let out a crazed laugh on his way to the ground.

            Then his face split open for a different reason.