Gage

By Ryk Brink All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Other

Wanted Man

*Note to the reader, the following is a concurrent entry from the diary of Dram Johansson section chief of the Chicago office of Xen Chiao global railways initative in the years following.

New York Feb 9th 1849

My how fortunes change, only a year or two ago I was busting rocks in the hot California sun. Blasting away and baking to death like some sort of lizard. And now I’m in this nice heat regulated office in the centre of the most metropolitan city in all of the world. The cental hub for trade on the entire earth and I have my own office.

It’s still rather small but it has my name on the front of the door and that’s all that matters. I look at the picture of Catharine on my desk and I think back on that horrible incident those years ago that drove her into such fits. I feel regret too on what happened, feeling that I could have done more and now I wonder what has become of my friend, sure he is dead or would wish to be.

I remember that day too for the loveliness of Catherine and for what felt like a fated meeting as she is now my wife. I took her as such and it was not without a great coaxing on my part. After Phineas’ accident and when he wouldn’t see her, she was distraught and I did my best to comfort her. I wrote her many the letter informing her also of her husbands firing and then his disappearance. And when I was promoted to work in the city I offered her a place with me there where I could provide for her and Gage’s daughter Eleanor.

I can’t say if this would anger Phineas or not, I have done my best to keep Catherine and his child in the finest of situations, they want for nothing. It almost feels like I’m writing a letter to him, begging for his forgiveness or his acceptance. Because deep down I know I was selfish, I wanted her and I took her because I could and now I wrap it in charity and hope and goodness when it was selfish. But I hope he would understand and if not for me they would most likely be in the poor house or forced to work some demeaning job as washer women both.

They’re as happy as I could imagine and she never speaks of him nor our daughter. Who was too young even to remember that I am not her real father and I love her as if she were my own flesh and blood. I would never let go of the happy short years we’ve spent together as a family. With my continued hard work and perservance perhaps I could even move up to work in the capital. And take them with me to have a life neither could dream of before.

You should see Eleanor now, what a beauty she’s growing into, just like her mother, precocious and smart, she’ll make a fine woman one day.

Speaking of a promotion, I was just sitting in my office reading the paper. The headline was something regarding some wild speculation of madmen. Running amok down south causing some horrific speciesist violence. The crux of which was the murdered body of a son of a high born Cyclon in the city. The boy had supposedly been on some kind of adventure holiday or was doing researching for a book. When he was brutally slain and robbed as well as his body guards. Witneses pronouncing he was seen playing poker earlier that night with a large man with an odd face. This man being the sole suspect in the crime. The paper was calling on the people to use this tragedy. This display of hatred could further galvanise their love and brotherhood for each other in the city. Trying to paint the south as some wild land of barbarism which I couldn’t contest at this moment in time. As my time spent there was reasonably sheltered working for the company. I have received news that the high keeper, the executive of our branch in new york wishes a private audience with me. This could be the chance I’ve been waiting for. Wish me luck.

Coming out of my meeting with the high keeper I felt slightly light headed as I must have been nodding a lot, at almost everything he said. I was in so much of a daze I’m not sure any of his words really went in. So I thought it best to review them here and go over them, some of what I can remember was so surreal that I can hardly differentiate them from dreams.

I remember walking into his office and I was nervous but I held my chest high intending to project confidence and esteem and reliability.

The high keeper is a Cyclon of some note, not of high birth but of notable character in business by the name of Vander Dross. He was an unusual man, small and fat like a baby. He sat upon a mechanical podium with odd chicken legs to elevate him to the height of an average man. I’d heard he would be very upset if someone were to look at the golden legs so I intended to keep my head as high as possible so they wouldn’t drift down.

He addressed me not looking up from some papers on his desk and he told me to sit on one of the chairs in front of his large brass desk.

The corner office was a mess of papers and all the fittings in the room were polished brass and there was a receptible for tubemail right next to him. The office window looking out onto the city was quite breathtaking. With all it’s plodding motorcars below and hindentaxis above slowly floating past puffing steam as they went.

“Johansson” He said absently chewing the end of a black cigarette which was unlit.

“Yes sir” I said leaning over keeping my neck stiff. I didn’t have to control it much as at present he was sat behind his desk, the legs folded under it.

“I have reason to believe you have connections to a suspected terrorist, are my sources correct?”

I was so flaberghasted by the nonchalance of the accusation I almost lost all control of my faculties and yelped like a whipped dog. But it was the shock of his words that kept me from utterance. Charges of this calibre would end in summary execution even without substant evidence. No trial was necessary for those who colluded with enemies of the state.

“Err no, I err” I must have said something equally as ineffectual as he looked up at me unimpressed.

“You worked with the man” He held up a piece of paper and said “Phineas Gage?”

“Phineas? Yes years ago, I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since, I thought he might be dead.”

Dross looked up at me with half lidded eyes. His eyes always seemed to be half lidded and I could never make out whether or not he was just in a permanent state of unarousal. Or if it was just an odd birth defect as his people were known to suffer from,

“And yet you married his former wife and have custody of his child, your records also indicate you spent time in the same reform schools, is that right?”

“Err yes”

“But you say you have no contact with him, is that right?”

“Err yes... sir!”

“Hmm” he said looking at his papers. “Well then you wont mind finding him for us?” He shot me a glance and said “Since you’re old friends.”

“Mmme?- But I’m just a, just a.”

Just a what?”

“I mean, I work in an office now, I wear a neck tie” I said dimly.

“His insurance policy with the company is about to come up for renewal. If he’s not dispatched soon the liability for his actions down south will fall squarely on this office and that means on you.”

“You want me to close his account?”

“You could say something like that” He turned to an intercom beside him and pressed the button “Marsha would you kindly send Ryan in now please?”

“Yes mr Dross.” A Nasally voice said over the intercom.

The office door opened with a click and a large unsavoury character with whitish grey hair entered. His face was normal but vicious and sharp and he had claw marked scars as if he’d had a fight with some wild beast. In fact he looked oddly familiar, I could have sworn I’d seen him before or seen him in a horrible dream.

But not wearing a pale grey top coat and trousers with an ill fitting white waistcoat, that’s for certain. He looked uncomfortable in human clothes, an odd animalistic tinge to his eye and manner. He looked almost like a beast wearing a human suit. Or as much as I could tell getting a glance at him craning my neck over the chair I sat on.

The man came in and sat on the couch along the wall near the glass office door. And instantaneously took out an electronic cigar box and started puffing sickly sweet steam into the room.

“Lieutenant Danko Ryan will lead the team to go find Gage, you just need to point him in the right direction.”

“Oh – ok”

“I’ve heard high praise from your section chiefs. They think having you on this mission will give them more insight and tactical support. Your interactions in that region might be seen as less confrontational than sending a whole strike team there.” He paused thoughtfully. “...or just turning the whole state into glass from an orbital platform.” Dross said offhandedly.

“I see” I said stroking my mustache unconsciously.

Ryan said nothing but I could just hear him puffing on that vile box as it beeped and made odd noises and I could almost feel him smiling somehow.

“Does this sit right with you Johannson?” He asked as if I had room to say no.

“Err yes, I’d just need to tell my wife I’ll be gone for-?”

Dross shrugged his small shoulders and said “As long as it takes, I take my orders from someone to Johansson, it can’t be helped. They picked you.”

A scratchy voice behind me said “Don’t worry pencil neck, I’ll get your pecker back in one piece for your lady fair.” He smiled and chewed the inside of his cheek. “Maybe she’ll make it into a necklace.” He laughed leaning forward and then rocked back again to stick the weird box in his mouth and start puffing away again. Pleasantly as if he said nothing at all.

“Then it’s settled, you’ll leave first thing tomorrow.” Dross attempted a smile but could only muster raising his lids a millimitre higher than usual. “You can take the rest of the afternoon off to pack and say goodbye to your wife-“ He stopped to tap on a keypad “Catharine and one child- Elanora”

“Eleanor”

“Oh that’s right” He said.

“But it’s already eight o’clock sir, I-”

“Did I ask you to remind me of what the clock says, I’m confused.”

“No I mean, I just, erm, tomorrow, is a little.”

“Oh alright then, I’ll call the capital and tell them to get someone else and pass your file over to the ministry”

“No, tomorrow is fine.”

“Oh good, I’m so glad you reconsidered” He said flatly with his half lidded eyes. “His policy must be closed by the end of the month, do you understand?” Dross said.

“Yes sir”.

Before I knew it the office door was shut in my face and I was left with only my thoughts and my memories. He mentioned our reform school records and it was true. Although we weren’t that close in school as he was a year or two above me. Our parents sent us there as it was compulsory for human children to spend a few years in state education. For the purposes of fixing their mind on their future duties. The children would be evaluated and situated to their ideal profession. We actually didn’t have that much interaction but I remember him for how uncommonly large he was. And I remember that caused him many problems which were similar to my own.

Children are cruel after all and would pick on me for being smaller. But they also saw his size and strength as a challenge and would pick on and alienate Phineas in the same way, in fact it might have been worse. It would have been easier for him to be a bully and collect a gang of like minded thugs. But he chose not to use his strength like that and was somewhat of a loner instead. He was soft hearted I imagined, a real strength of a man is knowing when not to use it I think.

I remember one such occasion when I was being teased for wearing glasses or being small or being chubby or some such small thing. They took and held my glasses aloft from me to make me jump and get them intending to make a fool out of me.

Phineas must have seen this and he just plucked the glasses delicately out of the boys hands and gave them back to me. The other boys just shrank away calling him names. He handed them back without a word, I don’t even remember him looking at me.

It was somewhat of a coincidence for us to meet on the jobsite years later but he remembered me and of course I remembered him. He greeted me as if we were old friends when in fact I can’t remember us ever having a conversation. I can only assume seeing me conjured up all the good memories of that horrible place. Or maybe he was just happy to be a free man and seeing me another free man reminded him of his freedom. I can’t say for sure but I felt a great warmth at his smile and his arm patted my shoulder when I saw him that and the great sense of our work overwhelmed me.

We were out there in the new uncharted world forging a new path for commerce and trade. With our bare hands birthing a new great nation, laying down the bones of the greatest edifice of human achievement. A feat surely impossible without alien intervention. I can’t say how far back technologically we would be if the Cyclon had not come when they did. It was their great leadership that had decided to wipe out the native population of this land categorically and utterly without mercy. For if we had not done so we might now be fighting a war, very costly war that would serve only to keep mankind shackled and hamper our progress. Cleansing the natives was the ultimate symbol of wiping away the brutality of our past. Bounding forward to a new perfect age, alien and man working hand in hand working towards the peak of both species in harmony.

A truly glorious future awaited for us. Sadly it couldn’t be that way for Phineas, no outcome I could see now would ever turn out well for him and was it really not all his own doing? No one asked him to stick his neck out and order that iron from England, his own initiative was what put his hand on the block, he’d overstretched his mark. Great men of this age were those that knew their place and worked tirelessly at it. The great men were those that broke their backs and never asked why or for more. But instead worked mindlessly towards the greater good of this great nation. And that was me and I had thought it was Gage too but it seems fate decided otherwise.

We set off bright and early the next day. I hastily packed the night before and stupidly in my haste forgot to pack my toothbrush. Thus had to purchase one at an exorbitant rate from the kiosk in the train station, what a rip off. Regardless, I had to tell Catherine of course why I was packing and where I was going. It goes without saying I had to make up some kind of story as the truth would have been much too troubling for her. And the discussion that would result would have made packing a lot harder and more time consuming.

So I told her that I was travelling down south to work on a big insurance policy for a new kind of train they were using to transport grain. I picked grain because it sounded really boring and after my meeting with Dross I couldn’t get the need for fibre in my diet out of my mind.

I kissed her and Eleanor goodbye the next morning after a hearty breakfast of gammon and eggs. To be truthful Catherine is not a great cook but God bless her she tries. They saw me off at the train station and wished me luck.

The first leg of our journey ironically was by hypertrain. Some of which was over tracks Phineas and I layed ourselves. Ryan and I took it down to Philadelphia and that’s where we were greeted by a compliment of his personally picked men complete with their drone lugs. Horribly beasts, their ugliness only matched by their stench. But I would never bring that up for fear of what people might think of me. And I would relent to hurt one of their feelings for of course they were our equals after al. Not so much in intelligence but it was our duty as men to bring them up to our level. For how could we expect them to be as men if they were not given the same respect? So I did my best in those regards attempting to greet each one in turn with a handshake and an amicable discussion about the weather. I remember the Kaftas I had worked with all those years ago loved complaining about the heat.

Those were much simpler creatures, these were I expected were city Kafta’s trained and civilised but it was not their custom it seemed to shake hands. As I stuck it out to them they just sniffed it and nothing more. The soldiers and I had a good laugh about it and they too refused to shake my head in keeping with the joke.

They’re a good bunch really, a little rough around the edges. Not the peak in terms of personal hygiene but an amicable bunch of lads always ready for a joke and a harmless prank. Why even as much as the other day on the train one of them, I believe his name is Gable threw my suitcase out of the moving train window on our way to Memphis. It was very funny. They laughed even more so as I was scoulded by the conductor for stopping the train. To of course retrieve my clothes that had burst out as the suitcase had broken open on impact. I can’t imagine the look on my face, good times.

They also make a game of trying to trip me as I pass, and they’re very fond of grabbing me in headlocks and giving me something they call a ‘nuggy’. Very interesting bunch, the entire eighteen hour trip has just flown by as a result of their frivolity. All in all great fun.

They even let their kaftas sleep in my private cabin the company had reserved for me. I had to sleep in the luggage carriage using my suitcase as a pillow and my topcoat as a blanket as it was very cold. It was very funny and I’m sure I’ll look back on these memories fondly.

We arrived after a day of travelling across country. The company had booked us lodgings by telegram at the local boarding house in the town where the shooting of the Cyclon boy took place. A town called McCrory, which was a half a days ride from Memphis.

It was some horrible backwater, the streets full of excrement and mud, I have no idea how the people can stand such a stench. Actually yes I can as most of them were minors too sozzled even to stand up straight when we talked to them.

I didn’t even bother asking them questions above what their names were and even then they took some time to answer.

The citizens were noticeably shaken by the appearance of me and my entourage, a mix of fear and excitement I imagined. It was a rare site indeed to see strangers here, and these strangers must have seemed especially strange to them. Coming from a world so dissimilar to their own but still being of the same species. We were as far from them as we could except that were humans, well mostly humans.

My first point of interest was to speak with the local law enforcement. They were instructed by the company in relation to the federal association of commerce investigations to be as forthcoming as possible as to their relation to the case.

Sadly the sheriff was as much a drunkard as the minors. Although he was much more practised at it and could string a sentence together. He had prepared some patter in relation to the events, it was a consensus reached that he knew absolutely nothing in regard to what happened.

I entered the sheriff office and instantly I could smell the musty stench of rotting wood and booze. And the general foulness of drunkiness as the cells were on the right as you entered and were occupied by a couple of rowdy drunkards. Sleeping it off and incessantly farting in their sleep. It was most foul.

He greeted us kindly enough, a red faced rotund man of indeterminate age.

“Good day to you folks, how can I help yall?” He said in a cheery but dull tone.

“We’re looking for a man that may be linked in connection with a murder of someone of note in your little town.” I said as I took an old photograph of Phineas as he was pictured with a rail spike, the irony not lost on me. But I knew the photo would be useless because as far as I could remember only half of his face still resembled what this picture represented. But it was part of protocol.

He squinted more out of politeness and said “No, can’t say I’ve seen him.”

“That’s too bad.” I said, I sort of paused or laughed as I was really slipping into my role as a claims investigator rather well. But it slipped for a second. Must have been the dizzying smell but the sheriff just looked at me saying nothing with his head tilted back smiling slightly with his mouth open. Like some bumpkin waiting for me to throw him a potato. “I’m sorry, I’m new to this” I stammered. “Do you have any leads I can follow?”

“Leads?” He said scratching his greasy sweaty brow under his hat.

I sucked my gums and tutted and said “Erm yes, can you direct me to anyone who might know more?”

“Err.” He tilted his head and put his small round chin in his finger and thumb. “You might try talking to the barman McGruber, he was the last man saw that alien boy alive I should think”.

“Did you talk to the man McGruber?” I asked.

“Why yes I did” he said with what could have been a little indignation in his voice. He put his hand on his hips and cocked his head to the side like a fish wife and said “Do you think I don’t know my job?” It struck me as mildly amusing as for a second he looked like a child wearing a costume with a toy gun belt just there for show.

“No, of course I wouldn’t imply such a thing” I said in a conciliatory fashion with my hat in my hands gesturing as I was. “I was simply asking because if you did then you could just tell me what he said. Or perhaps you wrote it down thus saving me the trouble of bothering Mr McGruber.”

“Well, that was- err, two weeks or a month ago, I can’t remember back that long ago.” he scrunched his round face up and tried to remember what he had for breakfast.

“You might have written it down or recorded it someh-ah nevermind.” I said eventually as I could feel my patience stretched interacting with this boob.

I bid him good day and made my way outside where Ryan and his boys were waiting for me. Dressed as inconspicuously as they possibly could with all their gear. To cover it they all wore loose fitting suits that were at least three or four times too big for them. To fit the skeletal frame suit with all the limb actuators and doodads on top. So the result was they had these big bodies and big baggy suits and tiny heads. Resulting in a comical look resembling two children standing on eachothers shoulders wearing long dusters.

It was quite comical I must say, but I did my best not to look at them and laugh. As I could tell a lot of them were particularly sensitive about it, especially that Gable lad, very hot temper. Ryan already had to shout him down from pulling the head off of some local laughing at his comical appearance.

The other three seem more even tempered although there are some clashes in the group as the make up well, ‘eclectic’. I believe Ryan and Gable are from some kind of European decent. Not Nordic like myself, I suspect Ryan is irish and Gable too may be of Irish or Scottish descent. The other three are not what you’d call white men but are still humanoid. Ramos is as his name suggests a remant of the Spanish American war, a child of that very bloody time.

The indian they call her Socks because her horse notably had white legs which resembled socks. A very character as I can’t say there are many around these days. A Sioux who turned sides in exchange for her life she helped track down and genocide her own people. Although she told me during the journey Sioux just means ‘Enemy’ or something along those lines. Her English isn’t very good, speaks very slowly and monosilavically. I’d always thought it meant Snake, but maybe they see snakes as their enemies. I can’t say the subject of a dead race interests me very much, maybe in a couple of thousand years it’ll peak, like atlantis.

The last was a strange fellow named Stein who boasted he was one sixteenth Cyclon or some such a story. It seemed unlikely to me as he was quite large and very hairy with dark beedy eyes and curly hair, sort of looked more greek to me if I’m honest. Not like Adonis more like a greasy fish merchant with a potbelly and a beard which was the opposite of how Cyclon appeared. Although there was obviously some discrepancy or malformations when it came to interbreeding between the species’. Dross for one did not look anything like the tall and handsome almost elfen features of the Cyclon’s who read the news or appeared in picture shows and plays. The two were poles apart, speaking of Poles, Gable could have been a pol now I think of it. I’d ask him but I dread to think what his reaction might be to such impertinence on my part. My curiosity was not worth having my head twisted off by someone probably ten or fifteen years my junior.

“Well that was a waste of time” I told Ryan.

“I told you as much” Ryan smirked.

“Well” I said pushing my hat out and put it on my head “Who wants a drink?”

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