Gone

I lulled myself into a false sense of security. I’d convinced myself we were safe.

I lumbered downstairs for breakfast one morning – to find Six was gone. He’d left a go bag on the kitchen table with a note:

“Be ready.”

That was it. No explanation. No saying where he was going or when he was coming back – even if he was coming back. He was just gone.

It threw me. I saw in a daze for a few hours, then something fired up inside me and I got myself ready. Six had been the careful one – checking our security systems, scrolling through camera footage, occasionally patrolling the perimeter, which meant wandering out with a football at random times of day looking like a normal kid and seeing what he could find. But there’d been nothing.

The only strange thing that happened recently was the last time we’d driven into town, which we’d done a few times. He’d been kind of spaced out in the car. I’d turned the radio on and sung along to a few classic tunes and he’d sat there in a daze. Then, in town, he’d vanished suddenly, only to meet up with me back at the car. He never told me why or what he’d done.

Now this.

I’d gone out for the odd wander anyway, mainly to get some air and exercise, but I’d always been careful and kept my eyes open for anything unusual. But I had Six for backup. Now it was all down to me.

I went through everything he’d shown me, making sure all cameras and motion sensors were working, which I could do from the computer upstairs. I scrolled through the last few hours of security camera footage. It all seemed fine.

No. Wait. Something nagged at the back of my brain.

I checked it again.

No one appeared twice. Two kids kicking a football one time. A married couple strolling past. Apart from that it was the residents of the streets – and we’d identified them, their vehicles and any regular visitors ages ago.

I found it. One car passing by slowly – four times. You don’t just pass our house unless you have somewhere to go. It didn’t stop anywhere. Within minutes each time, it passed traffic and security cameras on a main street nearby, which Six had hacked into. Even pausing on the car and zooming in, there was no way of making out who was inside. I was pretty sure it slowed right down as it passed the house, but no one ever got out. I grabbed a pen and paper to make a note of the number plate – but it was spattered with mud – just enough to make reading it impossible.

“Do you know where Six is?” I texted Silas.

“No,” came the instant reply.

How do you tell if someone is lying on a text? Well, the answer was too quick and only one word. Silas knew more than I did. And there was no way of getting it out of him.

“I’m in more danger now he’s gone.”

“You’re fine.”

Another short answer. What the hell was going on?

That night, after checking and double-checking doors, windows and the security system, I headed out for a walk. I wandered along the road in front of the house, turned right down a pathway bordered by wooden fences, vaulted over one at the end to double back on myself, this time approaching the house from the wooded area behind the back garden.

No one around.

Then I saw something that made an icy chill shoot up my spine.

The windows of the house were dark. And I’d left the lights on.

Rescued

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As my hands reached for the hood, I knew that whoever had pulled me out wasn’t Six. Why hadn’t they identified themselves? And how did they get me out wihout climbing into the van?

I pulled the hood away.

I was alone. There was no one watching me, no one waiting to ask if I was okay. Whoever had helped me had gone.

But my eyes were drawn to the scene around me. There were dead bodies scattered over the ground. One was slumped against the van, which was riddled with bullet indentations and spattered with blood. Some of them had been shot. The rest had been beaten to death. I recognised the couple I’d passed before among the dead.

They were all armed and trained. They were organised. So who took them down? And why didn’t they let me see them?

Fight Sounds

jason ryback bullet point for blogWith my hands tied behind my back, I couldn’t get the hood off.

A volley of silenced shots collided with the van wall close to my head. More silenced shots were fired outside. There were running feet. Punches and kicks were landed. There were yelps and screams of pain. A body smashed into the side of the van. Something hit a body hard. There was a crunch. A bone cracked. A shout of pain was silenced with a snap.

Silence.

I waited, holding my breath, not daring to make a sound.

No one entered the van. I couldn’t hear or feel anyone near me.

Suddenly something grabbed my ankle and hauled me over the van floor. Then I was yanked out of the van. I landed on my feet. A blade sliced through the ziptie binding my wrists.

I waited a second for my rescuer to whip off the hood and say something, but nothing happened.

A Nightly Stroll

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I left the hotel alone, passing the receptionist who had started the night shift well after we had checked in. He didn’t know who I was. I wandered out the door and paused on the street, looking casually left and right like a tourist out for a nightly stroll.

Following the route we had planned, I wandered down some quiet streets, aiming for centre. The only noise was when I passed a few bars who were still open for business.

Our meeting point was by the river. I stood, hidden in the shadows, jumping every time I thought I caught sight of movement in the darkness.

But nothing happened.

Six did not show.

Poisoned

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I thought back to my encounter with #6 – it’s the only name I could come up with for him. He was into something, but I hadn’t seen him since. I didn’t even know if his predicament had anything to do with me or not. Or he was just crazy. No. A few girls on a school trip didn’t make a hit squad.

“They’re leaving tomorrow,” Vivian murmured to me as she brought me my lunch. “And we’re all very glad they are. Those kids are everywhere. I even found a couple of them behind the reception desk. And our chef had to kick some out of the kitchen.”

“It’s always fun exploring a new place,” I grin.

“Even our crappy hotel,” she laughs. “See you later, Alan!”

As soon as I’d finished my lunch, I started to feel drowsy. My head was so cloudy and heavy, I had to lie down. I collapsed onto the bed. The room span around me and my stomach turned. I felt sick. I felt really ill.

My mind churned over in the few seconds before I passed out, running over what Vivian had said. I knew she was okay, because Silas did a check on everyone in the hotel. But she’d said the kids were in the kitchen and behind the reception desk. Reception – the one computer where my financial records could be accessed, as well as the credit card information for my employer, who with Silas’s help, was paying for my room and all my meals. Then Vivian said the kids were in the kitchen, the perfect place to poison my lunch and take me out of action. The next time they tried to break into my room, I wouldn’t be able to stop them.

I blacked out.

A Spy’s Job

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Who was Silas really? How did he have access to all that information? He knew about the dead cop and expected an information leak would lead back to him. So what did he do and was he really hiding somewhere?

I knew he was afraid of the hitman finding him. Strange how a hitman from another world would intervene on something that didn’t seem to directly concern him. And stranger still that Sarasin didn’t send ShadowAspect to protect me. Was I really that expendable? Or was Sarasin scared of him too?

I believed the hitman’s threat – that he would find me and kill me. But how did he expect me, a writer, to get out there and do a spy’s job? Even if I managed to find the information, how on earth would I get back alive when I was being hunted myself? I was pacing the room with my head in my hands panicking. My heart hammered. I paced for hours.

Then the panic and mind-numbing fear subsided. What did that cop have? I had to wonder what story led to a cop being killed and a killer from a parallel world being so afraid of what he had that he had to get involved. That was a story I had to see for myself. I had to know more.

I knew then. I needed to see the cop’s information. I had to write the story. The addict had taken over.

The Hitman’s Second Instruction

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The Vudrian hitman picked up a pile of ShadowAspect’s notes and drafts.

“It must kill you – having seen the real thing and now making do with secondary material.”

“What do you mean?” I shift in my chair.

“I know an addict when I see one. You’ve looked into the Infinistra. Now you’re stuck in a room wanting more. Very clever of Sarasin it was too.”

“Nothing I can do about it now,” I snap.

“I can’t find Sarasin,” he said flatly. “And I don’t have the time to waste hunting him down. Killing you would set him back, but not for long, so I need to know you’re going to hide the facts in the fiction.”

“I was going to anyway,” I shrugged.

“My planet has its own problems. But you’re in the middle of two worlds that are about to collide. There is a real danger of harmful information coming out and I need it kept secret.”

“Unless it’s presented as fantasy, you mean?”

“Some of it is about to be presented as fact. And once it is out, there will be no stopping it.”

He advanced on me. I really didn’t like where this was going.

“You need to get to it first. There is a file of information hidden somewhere and you need to find it before anyone else does. Then you must use it in your stories. If someone does try to present it as truth later on, no one will ever believe them.”

“How do I do that?” I spluttered. “What am I looking for?”

“Ask your friend Silas about a dead cop. Then you’ll know what to do.”

“What if he won’t help.”

“Tell him he can hide all he likes. I know where to find him.”

With that, he parted the curtains, stepped through the window like it was water and vanished. I ran to the window, but he was gone.

The Hitman’s First Instruction

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The more I watched the killer in front of me, the more certain I was that I recognised him. Sitting there feeling numb from the skull down, my mind wandering somewhere inside, I couldn’t work out what was more terrifying – what he was going to make me do – or that he found me and got to me so easily.

“You’re not unique,” the Vudrian hitman said. “If I kill you, Sarasin simply recruits another just like you.”

I felt a jolt. Sarasin would replace me just like that?

“You really thought you were the only one?”

I shrugged, caught off guard.

“Do you know what the Cardinal Rule of my world is?”

Nothing would come out if I tried to speak, so I just shook my head.

“That your world never finds out about mine. Anything happens to you now and it will look like someone has something to hide.”

I cleared my throat.

“But if I keep writing and publishing, it could all be a story,” I agreed.

“Everyone out there has to believe that,” he said. “The more you write, the more it will look like a fantasy. And the more detail you throw in, the more unbelievable your readers will find it.”

“So that’s what you want me to do? Write more?”

I took one look at him and knew the worst was still to come.

Never Enough Stories

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If I’d had to guess what Silas would send me next, it wouldn’t have been The Walking Dead. Didn’t see that coming at all. Zombies were never really my thing. But I tried it anyway and was pretty much hooked from the first episode. All the while, I was working on the material from Sarasin, writing, rewriting and editing. Trouble was, after seeing the real thing, watching the myriad stories as they happened, just making do with Ghostwriter’s written material didn’t seem enough anymore. In spare moments, I’d find myself thinking about what I’d seen and imagining what Sarasin would be watching right now. Then I started taking longer and longer getting to sleep at night, my mind sorting through the images in the Infinistra, working out what those people were doing now and if I’d ever recognise them in one of my books. I couldn’t help thinking Sarasin did it on purpose. Now he knows I’m hooked – and I always will be.

Back in the Real World

jason ryback bullet point for blogI woke up one morning and realised I was back in my hotel room. Did that really just happen? Turning on the TV told me I was into the second week of January. Either I’d been in a coma for a couple of weeks – or I’d really spent all that time down in Sarasin’s underground home.

My phone buzzed.

“How was the cave?”

“Who are you?”

“A friend.”

“Tell me something. I know nothing about you.”

“A friend. I emailed you the manuscripts. I’m an expert in all things technology-based. I can’t keep all the men with guns away, but I’m doing what I can to remove your digital footprint, create a false trail of breadcrumbs and generally make you a lot harder to find. Other than that, the less you know the better.”

I leaned back and felt a wave of relief wash over me. It was nice to know I wasn’t totally alone and actually had a human friend for once. No one else I’ve been in contact seems to be – even Arvalane, who is by far the most normal of anyone down there.

I spent the day writing down as much of my experience of the cave and the Infinistra as I could remember.

A loud knock at the door woke me up with a start the next morning. My mobile phone buzzed on my bedside table with a text message:

“Don’t worry. It’s from me.”

The same receptionist was at the door. She had a bigger parcel with my name on. I locked my door and unwrapped it once I was on my own. It was a laptop. It was already set up with an email waiting for me and another manuscript attached.

“Let’s email from now on if we can.”

“Who are you? At least give me your name.” I needed to know something.

“Silas.”

“Is that your real name?”

“Of course.”

“What do I do now?”

“Stay put. I’m scoping out new places for you to stay. Be ready to pack and go at a moment’s notice.”