Chapter 13: JANUS
The long drive from London to Windsor had been the most harrowing of Brandon Krouses life. Over every new horizon and around every new bend in the Queens Highway there had been a new way to check out of the world of the living. Never had he been so conscious of the extent to which ordinary decisions could get a man killed, decisions to turn into one lane or another, to speed up or slow down, to keep going or to go back home. Each time, he questioned whether the last choice he made was the last he would ever make.
Now, as he entered the tunnel beneath the Detroit River he felt the walls close around him and questioned whether it would have been wiser for him to take the Ambassador Bridge. It was dark and scary in there, even with the overhead lights because everything was so gray, including the the safety barrier dividing the one lane traffic going in each direction. The cracked and pealing paint inspired little confidence in the structural integrity of what it covered.
How old was this underwater highway? How many tons of water were pressing against it? What if it sprang a leak? What if...? What if...?
There were a million "what ifs" but the only one that would do him any good was the one that said, what if Janus was wrong about how long he had to live? It was, after all, a man made computer program and not the infallible Greek god of past and future it was named for. It hadnt been wrong yet about anything significant, but there was always a first time and always the possibility that Janus would not consider his life or death significant.
Thats the straw he was reaching for in his decision to drive to Detroit. Of all the people listed to expire when he was, he alone had foreknowledge of the Fates decree and therefore some freedom, theoretically, to move against it.
In the end, though, his actions would have less to do with the timing of his demise than the man he was coming to Detroit to see. If Hector Clay wasnt dissuaded from going after Shag Man, the temporal reverberations would end up killing Brandon like a ricocheting bullet and wounding Hector in the process. Janus would not say how it would happen, whether he would hear the news and take a fatal step because of it, whether it would put someone elses life on a fatal collision course with his, or what. The only thing Brandon had to work with was the fact that he would die shortly after Hector Clay left his house to kill Shag Man. The only question was whether he was already too late to stop him.
Brandons gold Mercedes V came out of the tunnel into a pouring rain. His first thought was that the tunnel had indeed sprung a leak and the river was rushing in. He jammed on his breaks, threw his arms across his eyes and cried, "Ahhhhhh!"
The car behind his was stopped automatically by its obstacle avoidance system as was the car behind it and the light truck behind it. But the older car traveling too close behind the truck had no such protection and rear-ended the truck with a "bang!" made louder by the acoustics of the tunnel.
The sound struck Brandons ears at the same time he saw his false perception of the river rushing in on him for what it was. He lifted his foot from the break peddle feeling supremely foolish and wondering why he had stomped on it in the first place. Was it to put the car in reverse and try to outrun the flood back to Canada? Was it to lessen the impact of hitting the wall of water? It could have been either of those things. Such was the logic of panic.
The ultra-slick surface of his windshield allowed him to see in the rain by causing it to bead as it hit the glass and roll cleanly away in tight little spheres of water. To see even better through the gloom of the clouded evening sky, he took his Daylights out of his armrest vault and drove to a U.S. Customs booth. His baseless fear of an imminent watery death was replaced by the realistic fear that too long a delay at customs could be just as lethal. What if he were held for causing the accident in the tunnel? What if his extreme agitation made him look as though he were doing something illegal? Fear itself was now to be feared.
He stopped under the shelter of the booth and lowered his window, trying way too hard to look calm. A placid-faced woman in a tan uniform with a US. Customs patch on the shoulder, took one look at him and laughed, "Thought you were a goner, huh?"
Brandon blinked, as if to ask, how did you know? Then he blushed and said, "Ive never been through the tunnel before. It wasnt raining before I went in. I...I thought..."
The woman laughed again. "You thought the rain was the river. Let me see your drivers license...."
Sgt. Hector Clay was knee-deep in enemy bodies, bloody bayonet in hand, fighting like a wildcat with Guidos rushing him on all sides, when he heard the shriek of a charging trooper. Suddenly, he blacked out.
He came to with a blinding headache and a tightness under his throat and armpits from being dragged through the underbrush by the nape of his collar. The fight was still on and the trooper who had hold of him with one hand was doing it all with the other, firing short, effective bursts. Hector struggled to stay awake if only to admire the magnificent soldier in action. But he felt his consciousness melting away once more as the sound of excited American voices and friendly fire from more automatic rifles than he could count sang him happily to sleep.
He never learned who that hard-charging soldier was, but he thought of him often, and always, like now, when he was about to go after the enemy in a DZ.
To look in a telewindow or read the newspads, one would think that the war Hector Clay fought in had been over for twenty years. It was a popular war of short duration with a minimum of American casualties and a maximum of military censorship. The Americans and their allies had marvelous weapons, trendy uniforms and great press. The vicious, inarticulate, thoroughly repugnant drug lords they went south of the border to fight were wiped out.
The American Armed Forces returned as conquering heroes. The President who ordered them into action was reelected, and a new generation of image-conscious drug lords in the United States quietly replaced the ones who lost the last big battles in South America on prime time TV.
Hector Clay still saw himself as a soldier. He still saw the enemy the way he did twenty years before and he was still fighting like a wildcat to beat them. Only this time he knew that everybody who watched a telewindow or read a newspad was a soldier, too. The people who gave them the visions they used to compose their thoughts were their officers. As the host of God he saw himself as a second lieutenant. He would have been a general as a national talk show host, a National Public Radio pundit or a telewindow network pollster. As the "Bogeyman," he was a private.
In the television age, Americas power to wage anything other than a low cost, 90 day ground war had slipped from the first and second estate to the fourth unless someone was foolish enough to attack it directly. With the advent of the American party, telewindows, ELectronic Facsimiles and Flashback Recording and Encoding Devices, the power to make war changed hands again. It slipped from the hands of arrogant, myopic businessmen and messenger elites to farsighted, genocidal war lords in business suits.
It was all so clear and basic to Hector and Vivian and Mayhew and even Gail. The trouble was, it came about so gradually that the vast majority of Americans never saw it happening and didnt want to believe that it had happened.
So far Hector saw little evidence that anyone of importance had gotten Gods messageexcept, perhaps, George Calloway, who at times seemed to signal him by quoting him word for word. Hector was persuaded, however, that vanity had clouded his judgment on that score and the telewindow history professors matching choice of words was pure coincidence. He wanted to think so because it would have meant that others had arrived at the same conclusion he had independently.
On the other hand, if Calloway was sending him signals, it could mean that he was seeking Hectors help or looking for ways to help him in their deadly war of words and images against their common enemy.
Earlier in the day, Hector and Gail had gone along with Vivians idea of a frontal assault on the disposal zone as a social institution. That meant a no-holds-barred attack on the language, the people and the governing bodies of Condor and the American party that sanctioned them: Disposal zones would no longer be called New Economic Zones; the American war lords in Italian business suits would be named and the mechanisms by which they manipulated the demographics of self-esteem and self-destruction would be exposed.
Gail had already come up with a way to defuse the urb-English booby trap in the ubiquitous Piper Artificial Intelligence chip. By treating it like any other flawed logic patch she was able to begin writing a correction that would override it and pass it on to any system that accessed the one it was loaded into like an unstoppable virus. It was clearly a class D felony in that it would be considered contamination of the airwaves and Gail was certain to be caught when it was discovered. The question was whether a class D life sentence like the one imposed on Charm a generation earlier, was actually a death sentence. If so, the question was whether the series they were all putting together would generate enough high-powered viewer interest to keep it from being carried out.
When the first installment in their series aired late that night Hector would have been ready to accept any retaliation for what it was. But Vivians mysterious disappearance before the broadcast, made him re-think his sense of Gods importance to the enemy. He had convinced himself that Shag Mans so-called Company was an offspring of Condor or the American party or both. Perhaps there was no way to rid the country of the buzzards who were laying the rotten eggs and no point in trying. But there was every reason to seek and destroy the rotten egg called Shag Man who arranged the disappearance of Vivian Foski, whatever his connection to Condor or the American party.
Hector was in his bedroom trying on his "hunting" clothes, a ritual he always performed before the hunt. He looked like anybody one might see on the streets of a big city DZ with his jump boots, dark green slacks and T-shirt, black pistol harness, ruby red Daylights and wide-brimmed hat. The bayonet in the scabbard strapped to the side of his calf was a bit unusual but well within the acceptable range of variation in casual DZ mens ware. Nobody in a disposal zone anywhere in the country would have given him a second glance.
He took off his big floppy hat, pistol vest and bayonet scabbard and put them in a laundry bag. He didnt live in a disposal zone.
No upstanding citizen of a black, middle-class neighborhood like Hectors would ever wear a getup like that in public. Hats were never worn by anyone with an interest in upward mobility. Fighting knives were unknown. The only daylights that a stylish Afro outside of a DZ could consider were either deep purple or royal blue.
With laundry bag in hand, he bounded down the stairs to his front door, unfolded a small compartment on his wristband computer and checked the locks and alarms on his house. The locks slammed shut and the arming light flashed. Satisfied that everything was working properly, he touched a button that put things back to normal and reached for the door knob.
Pulling the interior door open to leave, he was startled by the presence inside the screen door of a nervous little white man with long red hair and a three day growth of beard. He was wearing a white shirt and carrying a dark brown leather attaché case. His ashen face behind Daylights, made almost clear by the hall light, registered the same startled response as Hectors.
Hector, assuming that the man was a salesman, tried to brush him off. "Im sorry," he said, "but I have an appointment."
The man set him back on his heals when he said, "Excuse me, Dr. Clay, but you cant do it."
"I beg your pardon."
"Hes not there. Shag Man. You cant get to him. Nobody can. Hes invulnerable."
A painful knot formed in Hectors stomach and began to tighten. Who is this guy? he wondered. But he said, "What are you talking about?"
"You know what Im talking about."
The redhead lowered his eyes to the bag in Hectors hand and Hectors blood ran cold. He was sure that the stranger knew what was inside the bag. He was sure that the nervous little man with the bloodshot eyes knew all about himand the Bogeyman.
"Please dont try what you have in mind. It wont work. You wont find Vivian Foski, you cant kill Shag Man and you shouldnt try. It will end in tragedy for you if you did try."
Hector gave the man a look that was no less jarring than if he had grabbed him by the front of his shirt and lifted him into the air. "What do you know about Vivian and Shag Man," he said icily, leading the man in with backward steps and allowing him to close the door. "Did he send you here? Or was it somebody at Condor?"
"No! No! Its nothing like that. I dont even know the man you want and I have no connection to Condor what-so-ever. Please, I have something to show you. Its vitally important."
Hectors penetrating eyes searched the face of the stranger, whose expression of fear and urgency, more than his words, argued persuasively in his defense.
The cold, hard grip of Hectors stare loosened. He ran the back of his hand over his mouth as he studied the oddly shaped visitor then jerked his head in the direction of the entertainment room. "Come in but make it short. I dont have much time."
"Believe me," said the man, smoothing his shirt and walking behind Hector to the E room, "I have less time than you do."
As soon as they sat facing each other on separate sections of a modest, dark brown couch, Hectors uninvited guest started talking. He talked fast. He said that his name was Brandon Krouse, that he was a time track engineer, that he represented only himself and, as far as he knew, he was the only one aware of Hectors violent alter ego.
He showed Hector his Canadian bank book and drivers license with his hologram on the back. He didnt pass judgment on the Bogeyman or even suggest an interest in his past activities other than to tell Hector that someone associated with Condor Broadcasting's highest echelon would know all about him very soon.
Hector still didnt know what to make of the man. He revealed little of himself until he told Hector what was in the bag and where he intended to go with it. Hector had not made up his mind where he would go first, but he had two places in mind when he started out of the door. His visitor named three, the two he was thinking of and one more.
Hector was not familiar with the other location. "Parmenders?" he asked. "I dont know where that is. I dont know what that is."
"There are only three possibilities," said Brandon, "We have a different name for how we arrive at finite options like than than you do, but its essentially the same thing. What you would call the dominating influences, in the situation would have led you to any of those places with the same result: Shag Man would be somewhere else when you got there. Its a paradox displacement phenomenon that pops up every time somebody tries to tamper with fate."
Reading the look on Hectors face at the mention of the word, "fate," Brandon quickly added, "Fate is a technical term. Its pretty involved but Ill try to give you an idea of why we call it that and how it works in a minuteIn fact, thats one of the reasons Im here. I guess you could say that Im trying to tamper with fate myselfI can tell that you think this is a lot of Mumbo Jumbo. It isnt."
"Look, Mr. Krouse," said Hector as impatiently as he started, "Ive been very patient with you. But so far you havent said much. Notwithstanding the fact that you contradicted yourself, you dont seem to know as much as I do about tracking. Trackers can see the past with a FREDor a TOM, if you want to call it that, as well as any ordinary person can see the present with a telewindow Cam-corridor but none of them can see the future the way you claim to. Nobody can."
"You know what a FRED can do," said Brandon, "because every level of government in the world that can afford one has one and you see flashbacks in one form or another in telewindows every day. Think of how crazy all of that would have sounded to any ordinary person fifty years ago? Today, Flashback Recording and Encoding Devices are no secret to anybody. But what do you know about Janus?"
"He was the Greek god with two faces," said Hector, trying to merge into the fast moving traffic of the redheads words, "one looking backward toward the past, the other forward, toward the future."
While Hector talked, Brandon shook his head, "No, no, no. I mean the time track computer program." His question about Janus had been a rhetorical one and it peeved him to have to sit through an answer as though it had been a real one. "Its been around for nine years but only three governments and two international corporations have had access to it."
Hectors eyes widened and narrowed; his heartbeat quickened with hope and dread. "Do you know what happened to Vivian?"
Again, the pear-shaped Canadian shook his head. "No more than you do. It takes too long to get at those kinds of details. I had to"
Hectors eyes flashed with quiet rage. "Detail? You call that a detail?"
"No." said Brandon, "But Janus does... Please keep your seat, Dr. Clay. Its terribly important that we get on with this. Please."
Hectors left eye twitched and his chest heaved. With a concentrated force of will, the cords on his neck relaxed. He took two deep breaths. "OK," he said, "Assuming I can trust you, why should I trust your computer program?"
Brandon rocked back and forth like someone who had to use the bathroom. "Events," he said, "are predictable when you can discount the variables preceding them and you know enough about the constants involved to exclude all other possibilities. For instance, There are a number of variables involved in knowing what would happen to a chicken egg if you dropped it on your kitchen floor. How old is the egg? Is the shell intact? Has it been hard-boiled? How high is it from the floor. When you have narrowed all of these variables to a single set of conditions, you know what will happen if you drop the egg because you know the consents of gravity, mass and density involved. Janus knows all the constants there are. It can distinguish apparent variables from real ones and prioritize the real ones without bias or misguided notions about time."
"What do you mean by misguided notions of time?" asked Hector.
"You cant think of time in terms of past present and future events," said Brandon.. "Those are static concepts that wont work in a universe of motion. You have to see time as movement through life-spans, from nanoseconds to eons, in which a limited number of events can be packed into other events. If you know what a thing is, the conditions under which it can exist and the conditions that will exist longer than it will, you can predict its lifespan. Thats what we mean when we talk about seeing the future.
"Lots of things move so slowly that we cant see them move and lots of things move so fast that we cant see them at all. Humans can perceive things and do things only within a narrow range of possibilities. Janus doesnt have that problem. It can see the life span of the human race in nature the way you or I can see the life span of a snowflake in a hot skillet."
Hector seemed interested, but not convinced.
"If you looked at some flashbacks from the 1860s, lets say, you wouldnt know them from the 1760s or the 1960s unless you expanded your view of events. Only when your view included every change in the temporal environment that occurred before the American Civil War and excluded all of the changes after five years of reconstruction would you know what time it was. Now, if you know anything about your Civil War, you know that some people saw it coming 80 years before it did. Any dispassionate analysis of the dominating influences of that time80 years before the war, would have told you they were right. If you knew what to look for you could even tell who the President of the United States was going to be and when and where he would die. Am I skipping around too much or talking too fast?"
"No," said Hector, "I follow you." He kept to himself the fact that he didn't buy all of it.
Hector didnt know what any of this had to do with him, Vivian and Shag Man but as this man who said "about" the way Hector said "a boot" kept talking, there was a chance hed find out. He could already see that his quest for Vivians abductor was only a part of a bigger picture and perhaps a bigger plan that had to include the one and only Dean Piper. But whose plan? Certainly not Shag Mans.
As Hector saw it, Detroit had more than one Shag Man in more than one DZ and the country had more than one "Detroit."Back to top
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Contact the author: Jasper Garrison