Alchemist: Fingerprints (Part Three)

He holds the card in his hand, while she hadn’t dared. She left it where it landed, as if tampering with it might illicit some complex chain of events, or leave fingerprints.

His are now all over it.

Behind them she spies the piece of bread, peppered with Hara’s blood.

He hadn’t thrown the bread across the room, or screamed at her so close spit flecks hit her face. He hadn’t grasped her wrist and twisted her to a kneeling position on the floor.

Instead he had swatted it to the ground.

She dislikes the waste of it, and something in her boils at the sight of bread on the floor, it’s more than wasteful, it’s a superstition, she’s sure.

She can see how he can be easily wound, like clockwork. She still held the knife.

He flips the card over, there’s no further information on the back.

“Who do you think it’s from?”

“I didn’t think anyone knew I was here.”

He smirks, “You’re kidding?”

She’s not kidding. The two of them stew in their own little worlds for a moment.

Hara confused by the woman he thought he knew, who he thought he shared common knowledge with, who he thought knew him.

He pulls the card up and put it in her eyeline, she glances at it carelessly.

He stands transfixed, and repeats the action as if he’s swiping something across a self-service checkout, and the barcode won’t ring up. He stares deep into his eyes, like a doctor might, to indicate the seriousness of their revelation, and to see if there’s anything there to stare back at them with understanding.

She blinks and draws herself back, her eyes dry. The knife is still in her hands, which are almost wooden; deaden. Hara’s no longer in her sightline. The card is back beside the mat on the floor, she takes a great shudder of breath, and realises she hadn’t been breathing.

She’d been paused.

“It’s some sort of cloaking device.” Hara calls from behind her.

He’s munching a sandwich, the silent observer, where she once had been.

“You stood there for a minute, maybe longer. Without moving, your breathing slowed, your heart-rate slowed, and you didn’t blink.”

He rubs his temple as if he’s scrolling through a series of images, which she realises he is. There’s a swirl of memory that takes over.

She’s in another place, a dilapidated building in another country, her mind is soaked in detail, a floorplan of the room pings direct to her eye, spreading out green in front of her. Voices whisper and distil within her cortex, filtering into key information, a target. She’s to go left, then right, then meet the man who she can hear in her mind, but first she needs to remember the code word.

She taps her temple, and rewinds through the bloody memories, to the man yelping in front of her.

“The Alchemist.”

Alchemist: A Guest (Part 2)

A scraggly black man with a general weary look sits across from her at the kitchen table.

She offered him coffee, or at least she waved the pot at him and he waved his mug back at her, never giving up his stream of talk. She wasn’t certain if that was what you did with a captor. Did you offer them a hot drink? It seemed polite, but he wasn’t particularly threatening, more pissed off.

It was as if he knew her, like she’d done something like this before.

He gulped the coffee like he hadn’t been fed in long while and kept calling her Kathleen, to which she found herself tilting her head like she was questioning it.

This felt different to the unexpected arrival of the card. It was still lying by the mat at the door. He had stepped over it, briskly. Did he have an air of high ranking military? But he slouched, was dirty, his boots were poorly laced. He gave the sense of having had to march, without breakfast.

Perhaps she should offer him a meal as well? She realises he’s staring at her in silence.

“Where are you Kathleen? You haven’t said a word since I got here.”

She tilts her head in reply, he pushes his chair back and stands in one swift movement; exasperated. It’s that feeling again, like he’s dealing with a difficult child. A consistent runaway, who’s forever causing him problems. Who won’t listen, who goes against orders.

Who consistently tilts her head rather than replying.

“Did you not think we’d get word? A woman hiding in the valley, her face half-burned, wandering round covering her face when she decides to speak to delivery boys. Only choosing to talk to fourteen-year-old boys strikes people as odd. Disturbing. You may not have any electric in your home, but everyone round here does.”

The woman watches him silent still. She doesn’t know his name, he walked in like she should know him, he talks to her like she should know him. He acts like he followed her, but he doesn’t seem dangerous.

He isn’t a threat.

She sips her coffee, he’s bothered by this she can tell. Her silent evaluation of him. It’s pissing him off more than whatever it is she did originally. Did she run from him? That doesn’t sit right. Was he by her at The Plaza?

He’s not who she’d been expecting. It occurs to her that she doesn’t know who she’d been expecting. That she was acting on something else, some memory like a groove in a record player, she was waiting for the needle to hit it right, for it all to sync up, to harmonize.

It hadn’t. He was still exasperated in her kitchen.

Was his name Henry? Harold? Albert? Bert? Cane?

“Kane, you look starved, I have some bread, some cheese?”

He looks back at her hungry but angry.

“Kane?”

He’s not Kane then.

He stands to attention. “I didn’t know we were reverting to last names, ma’am. “

Is that why Kathleen didn’t sit right? It wasn’t her name anyway, she had always been Kat, but he had been Harashan. He was Hara, it was sort of awkwardly falling into place like half-folded origami.

She pulled the bread and cheese from the cupboards and hoped sandwiches might make things better, bring things to light.

“Did you send me the card?”

“What card?” His face crumpled, he was no longer angry, but concerned.

She busies herself with sawing at the bread. He pulls at her shoulder, “Kat, what card?”

She finds herself with the knife at his throat, a drop of blood at the blade. He puts his hands up, and backs away finally realising he hadn’t walked into a familiar setting.

“You know me Kat.”

She continues sawing at the bread, the glance of blood now threaded through its veins.

“I’m not sure what I know.”

Alchemist: Going Dark (Part 1)

She kneeled on the wooden floorboards staring down at the bit of paper. It was more than paper; it was smooth and crisp, textured, with a gold embossed font.

An emblem, with simple text: Alchemist.

A business card worthy of American Psycho, but lacking any way to get in touch.

She got back up off the floor and looked warily past the thick and floral curtains to the dead grass outside her beaten front-door.

It had been slipped underneath her door. No note, no messenger, no package.

Did it signal a delivery?

A warning?

She left it where she’d found it and walked back and forth across the floorboards, her feet cold, while her mind ran hot.

She’d been careful. There was no internet access here. No phone signal, she hadn’t installed a phone line. She didn’t own a mobile device. There were no electronics in this house whatsoever. Not even a microwave or toaster. She cooked with gas.

She hadn’t even latched on to some unsuspecting neighbour’s WIFI, nor snuck into their  house and borrowed some device. She had no hidden pool of electronics under her floorboards that she was itching to tap into. Although she was itching.

In her dreams, she always found herself back at The Plaza, tapping at the screen, nearly covering her tracks while everything went red-hot and burned around her.

She kept getting further, nearly finding a way, but it always ended with her waking up screaming. Remembering her face singeing.

She hadn’t hacked anything. She was off grid. There had been no slip-ups. No chatter.

There weren’t neighbours here, really. There wasn’t CCTV, not down these dirt track roads, GPS barely got you to this location, what with the valley distorting the signal.

A black-spot.

There can’t be many of those nowadays. Maybe it was a case of crossing each of them off the list.

Problem was the ‘community’, they had a hive mentality, she didn’t deal with people directly, didn’t like to show her face. This need to keep her face out of circulation, could have tipped them off. Did they talk about the woman in the valley in the deadened house, who knocked out the electricity, and doesn’t own a radio? The woman who picks up a newspaper and her groceries from a pre-decided stop-off point. Who only speaks to the fourteen-year-old delivery boy, when nothing arrives.

It hadn’t arrived yesterday, neither the newspaper nor the groceries. It had happened before, nothing new, but now it seemed suspect. She had a few things stored away in the cupboards so she hadn’t felt the need to cycle her way down into the village, and remind them.

She figured it would turn up in a few days.

She had no bank accounts. Her bank notes were rolled up under her mattress.

She’d asked for clean bills, the majority had been crisp and fresh. She used the others in a myriad of locations, handed them out to travellers in exchange for anything of use, dumped them in beggars’ bowls, to stump the trackers.

Suddenly the whole plan seemed hurried, unthought out. Would she have been safer in the city? Surrounded by technology, cloaking herself with someone else’s neural tracker. Piggybacking access, rewriting her past, redistributing chunks of information, rather than walking away from it all. Shutting it all down, going dark.

She’d needed to recover, she hadn’t the energy to keep that sort of charade up, to be that purposely clandestine. She’d gone away to hide and lick her wounds, to recalibrate, to let the information sink into place. It was a lot of data, and she’d only had three months.

Or had they given her three months?

There was a knock on the door.