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Horizon Analysis

by Michael Pitre 7 months ago in science fiction

Every dream has a meaning.

The cargo hold of a C-17 was a strange place to call home. Maybe that’s why I liked it. The zen of the engines’ textured thrum. The cherry red ambience of the low lighting. Nearly 1,600 square feet of space—more than twice any apartment I could afford.

At twenty, thirty thousand feet from the ground, you didn’t have to worry about neighbors, either.

The job didn’t pay well, but you didn’t do this for money. Keeping a low profile was part of the deal.

You might be wondering how I lived in a plane. I didn’t, really—couldn’t get mail there for reasons beyond the obvious. But I’ve never felt like I really belonged anywhere else.

The subtle, dual tone of a connection attempt cooed into my helmet. A bar of light on the wall pulsed blue.

Coo.

Blue.

Muffled static.

It sounded like those relics known as “dial-up modems,” but much more elegant.

When the static smoothed into the sound of streaming air, the wall light pulsed green. Go time.

I leapt out, embraced by the rushing wind, sky, sunlight, gravity.

“20,000 feet.”

The disembodied voice of an artificial woman accompanied me into the clouds. She seemed to be everywhere these days, but I was somewhat fond of her.

“Proximity alert.”

I could hear the magnified sound of my breathing intensify. The orange icon for a human lit up in my HUD.

“No, no, no, no.” I shook my head emphatically.

Data bleed. I hated data bleed. There was a higher chance of it when trauma was present in the “environment.”

I’d never met the poor kid—wasn’t allowed to—but the briefing described him as a recently escaped abductee. Apparently, there were more where he’d come from. What he went through, or where he’d been, he couldn’t say.

He couldn’t say anything. But his subconscious could. It wasn’t supposed to work both ways—I was a spoofed signal, looking in. And, now, there was something looking back at me.

I rolled over and looked up. It was me—it looked like me. Suit, gear, helmet. And, of course, impenetrable darkness where the face should be. Had I missed it on the plane?

It was diving fast. I wasn’t looking forward to making contact. Those things were so damn strong.

I needed to set a waypoint on the surface. A landmark. Anything to preserve the dream for when I made it down. If I made it down.

A beach, a shore, plenty of water—a sailboat way out there, by itself. I marked the sailboat as a symbol—purple outline, question mark—in my HUD, then marked an estimated vantage point—orange triangle, binoculars—on the beach.

“Brace for impact.”

Then, the breath was knocked out of me.

It breathed like a child, as if it were excited to play with me, but grabbed at me like a killer robot. I couldn’t let it have my back—shoved my elbow into its face to make a gap between us, then turned, wrapping my legs around one of its legs—my arms over its arms, and around the neck for a “front naked choke hold.”

It stopped breathing for a moment, then chopped me so hard in the side that my body broke loose and curled into itself.

“15,000 feet.”

It grabbed the neck of my suit and pulled our helmets face to no-face. Okay—was it trying to tell me something? I relaxed, or tried to.

With one hand at my neck, it reached for something at its belt. Slowly, it moved a colorful, squarish object up into my vision. Some kind of transforming robot toy?

It was giving me a toy. It placed the toy on my chest, took my hands, and wrapped my fingers around the toy, then breathed heavily, as if in approval.

“10,000 feet.”

Had the kid been lured by another his age? Was “it” showing me the bait? Whoa, whoa, whoa—did that mean—

“20,000 feet.”

It seized the front of my suit and pulled me up into the sky.

It was abducting me—somewhat metaphorically, as you do in dreams.

“50,000 feet.”

This is why I hate data bleed. My body was ragdolling, and I was getting dizzy.

It took a deep breath and tightened its grip on my suit. I needed to think of something, fast.

“150,000 feet.”

I blacked out. Was I having a dream within a dream? I opened my eyes in that second dream—could look down, see the blackness of space, the curvature of the earth, and the orange vantage point marker I’d left on my HUD, somewhere so far below that the idea almost made me laugh.

I was tuning into the area of the marker, somehow. Listening to frequencies near the beach. I heard radio static, and then a beautiful song:

🎵 “Do you love me? Do you, surfer girl?”

The Beach Boys? Being played near the beach? Okay, but—ugh! It made me feel something. Remember something. Someone.

Alexandra.

“Alexandra!” I said, regaining consciousness.

“What would you like me to do?”

Right. I’d named my AI assistant after her.

Something had crossed my mind. If my abductor was wearing my suit, my gear, and my helmet, was it also linked to my AI?

“Helm two—emergency override, purge chamber and air supply.”

It “looked” at me while I waited for Alexandra’s response.

“Helm two, chamber and supply safety locks overridden. Purging now.”

Its faceshield sprung open with the hiss of purging air, and it was gone—suit empty, arms and legs flailing, as if no one had ever been in there.

She did love me, after all.

After landing at the vantage point, I could see the silhouette of the sailboat on the horizon, pursued by dark clouds. The sun had almost finished setting.

“Alexandra—analyze symbol object and horizon.”

“Sailboat and horizon analysis follows; sailboat is a projection metaphor of the abductee, produced in response to the first moment he doubted the intentions of his abductors,”

Damn. She was good.

The solitude of the sailboat, disappearing light, and encroaching clouds, express feelings of helplessness, fear, and betrayal. Relic materializations in the area have a high probability of creating actionable intel; and the two land masses, seen on either side of the sun, indicate the presence of two suspects.

I had a trick I loved to use with reflective surfaces. If you peered over the water’s surface slowly enough, you might see the reflections of someone else before you saw your own. The subconscious was weird like that.

The shore was almost as still as a photograph. I walked through the wet, foamy sand, and the receding tide. I leaned carefully into a position where I could almost see the reflections in front of me.

It worked. The kid had memorized their faces. I’d only seen them for a moment, but it was all being recorded on the outside.

A child and a woman—excellent intel. Did you know that the majority of kidnappers are parents? Mothers, and other female family members, have been responsible for the majority of these crimes.

I needed more. “Relic materializations” were items you could manipulate out of the environment. You could use a trick of the light, think you saw the glint of metal beneath the sand, and let the subconscious fill in the blank.

I found a rusty license plate. If it wasn’t lifted—and actually belonged to the abductor’s vehicle—the agency could track its movement in and out of the area. Receipts.

Receipts? The kid did seem exceptionally observant. What if the kidnapping hadn’t been premeditated? What if the toy robot had been purchased in a hurry?

I dropped the toy robot into a trash bin. When I reached back in to get it, I felt around for the cardboard edge of its factory packaging. When that relic materialized, I also found a receipt taped to it.

I couldn’t believe it. He had a mental snapshot of the receipt. We had a name and credit card number.

“Alexandra—call for extraction.”

”Extraction in: ten minutes.”

You never got to know the results of the investigations. Not directly, anyway. If you were lucky, you might see a story on the news that seemed conspicuously familiar.

I’d met Alexandra in a bar—the real Alexandra, that is. There had been other creative types like me there, self-medicating, becoming extroverted introverts for the night. I suppose you could have called it my second home.

When I first saw Alexandra there, I didn’t know how to read her. My life had been complicated in so many ways, and then I saw her smile for the first time. I’m still surprised at how simple it was—feeling good, feeling like the best version of myself, just because she was there.

I hadn’t thought about her for a long time. We’d never really become friends, for whatever reason. During the last horizon analysis, the memory of her had saved my investigation. Saved me from becoming space trash. That made me laugh.

So, I finally returned to the bar to reminisce. The tables were mostly empty, except—she was there. “Proximity alert.” I felt like I was dreaming again.

She took a moment to smile when she saw me, but there was something on the big screen TVs that had her attention. Football game, maybe?

When I asked if the seats at her table were open, she looked up at me and took my hand. She was quiet—everyone was quiet, and someone on the TV said,

A day at the beach turned into a nightmare for these children, lured by predators into what FBI officials are calling one of the largest child abduction rings in the nation.”

The abductors had set up camps in high altitude areas of the mountains—you had to be kidding me. There was no way.

Alexandra held my hand tightly. She was holding back tears. “That’s my brother!” she said. “They found my brother!”

The job doesn’t pay well—except when it does.

If you, or someone you know becomes aware of a missing child, please act immediately, and follow the links below:

science fiction

Michael Pitre

Instagram: @writer_ops

Twitter: @Trizenic

Tumblr: @Trizenic

There’s a vague possibility that I might write here again.

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