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Yuki: Good evening, all! We’re still hunkering down, what with all the craziness going on out in the world.
Assistant: It’s much safer viewing everything in the confines in the Void. Mostly safe from the conspiracy theorists too. Ugh. The amount of people out there that think they’re gonna be tracked…
Assistant: Oh goddammit.
Yuki: What? It doesn’t happen EVERY time. Just on this particular occasion.
Yuki: Look, I can’t help that there really are nefarious organizations out there. We don’t know who or what they are, but we do know they had something to do with…
It was slow going, even for a weekend, Dean Salmons reflected in the break room of RadioShack. The new DIY print station usually had a handful of people requiring assistance or the components trays had a queue of lost souls attempting to fix their appliances before sending it out for repairs or getting the third replacement in so many years. The first two hours dragged on for days, but he was able get the sale signs printed and cut for the evening setup and restock without interruption. The clock chimed once at 12:30 and Dean finished his last piece of broccoli and headed back to the salesfloor.
When the fifth customer of the day walked in, peering over his shoulder, Dean was walking to the checkout counter and his co-worker, Jason, was showing a customer how to adjust the contrast of images on his memory card.
“Hi, how’s it going?” Dean asked, stepping around the counter.
“Uh, hi. Umm, pretty good. Just need to make a few copies.” The man adjusted the strap of his backpack and looked over the store—notably the security cameras—and grimaced. “You guys do faxes?”
“Like, sell them?”
“No, I mean send them out.”
“Oh. Oh! Yeah, we do. Sorry, it’s been awhile since we’ve been asked to send one.”
“All good.” He unzipped his backpack and revealed a file folder. He thumbed through a stack of papers and pulled out three sheets, the topmost with a Post-it note planted at the top. “Can you send this to these numbers here while I make some copies?”
“Yeah, sure. No problem at all.” Dean took the documents and sent them on their way, resisting the urge to peek at what Twitchy Guy had. After he finished with the copier, Twitchy walked over with his papers and five manila envelopes. “This everything for you?”
“Mhmm. Oh! Do you guys guys have RF scanners?”
“The ones for scanning UPCs?”
Twitchy shook his head. “No,” he looked over his shoulders and lowered his voice, “like something to find a signal.”
“How do you mean?”
“To trace where a signal is being transmitted to.”
Dean shot him a quizzical look, regretting asking the question the moment it escaped his lips, “What kind of thing are you trying to trace?”
“There’s a GPS tracker inside me. I went in for surgery a few months ago, right? And a few weeks later I go a WWF show, and they have these metal detectors and wands… Well, one of them goes off and they use the wand on me and it keeps going off right here on my side. So, I go get some x-rays taken and there’s something in there the size of a Tylenol. I’m gonna get it removed later this week. I just wanted to see if I can find the source.”
Dean tried his damnedest to keep a straight face. “Ah, no, those kind of scanners we don’t have.”
“Any idea where I can get one?”
“Specifically, no. But I’d start with Circuit City, and if nothing there, check the Micro Center; it’s at the top of the 275 loop, last exit before you cross 75, no way you can miss it.”
“Okay, cool. Thanks.”
“No worries. So with the copies and fax and envelopes, that’ll be $7.50.”
Dean took the ten dollar note put on the counter and handed over his change and receipt.
Twitchy put everything into his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and headed out. “Take care out there,” he said before closing the door behind him.
When Jason wrapped everything up with his customer, Dean brought him to one side and said, “Dude, you’re not gonna fucking believe this.”
Five hours later, Jason clocked out and left for the day. Dean flipped the “open” sign to “closed” and locked the entrance. He went back to counting the till when a crashing sound jolted him from his concentration. Something smashed into the metal shutters of the delivery bay.
“What the fuck now?” Dean muttered, heading to the back in double-time. The lower half of the shutters were pushed inward, whatever it was was still pressed against them. He went out to investigate, expecting something like a fallen delivery pallet, a dumbshit that put the car into drive instead of reverse…anything but a crumpled body.
It was Twitchy.
Dean came down to the man’s side; blood had started to pool on the ground. He tried to turn him over gently. A groan came through gritted teeth. His shirt and jeans were a dark crimson. A bloody steak knife clattered to the pavement, the man’s hand too weak to hold it any longer.
“They followed me,” was all he said to Dean before going back to work on himself. Dean backed away from him and watched as Twitchy dug his index and middle finger into his side. He screamed again as blood continued to pour out of the wound. His face was a sickly pallor and his hair damp with sweat. “Fuck! I-I think I found it.” He pushed his hand harder into his side, turned his head and vomited.
Twitchy then started to laugh. “I got it! I got it!” he chanted triumphantly. He held up his blood-soaked hand. Between his thumb and index finger, the size of a long-grain rice, the offending metal object. It looked like the resistors they sold in the store, but without the leads or stripes. Time slowed down as the man shoved the tracker in Dean’s face: it was silver-tipped on both sides, half of the tube was a copper color, while the other half looked like it was made of glass, a small green chip rested inside, with an even tinier red light at its end.
The implications were lost on Dean and took a backseat to the fact that this guy had carved himself open like a jack-o-lantern and was bleeding out all over the alley. His focus was getting some help for Twitchy.
“Hang on, man, I’m gonna call an ambulance!” Dean ran into the stock room, picked up the phone next to the steel shutters—
—and felt a blow to his back and white-hot fire in his shoulder. He fell to the ground, and saw a steak knife was jutting out of his arm. It was pulled viciously out of him; Dean howled in agony. Another jolt of searing pain struck, this time in his back.
“Sorry, man, but they can’t find me.”
The world around Dean blurred and faded. A voice he didn’t recognize spoke up: “Ten-Forty-Alpha neutralized.”
There was the familiar static of a walkie-talkie.
“Fuck! Ten-Fifty-Four; Whiskey, Mike, Alpha…”
And everything went dark.
It wasn’t until late the next day in the University of Cincinnati Medical Center that Dean Salmons woke up. He was advised by his nurse that he’d been a victim of a stabbing, and apparently scraped himself up in the process of getting away. She didn’t have the full details of the incident, but no vital organs were hit, and the police would most likely be in to talk with him later that night or the next day; they would be the ones to help fill in the gaps.
She asked if he could eat. When he replied that he, indeed, could eat a cow whole, the nurse shuffled off to grab him a meal with an orange juice.
Dean felt restless waiting for his food and tried his luck at standing. A bit wobbly, but all was well. The worst part was the sting of the cold tiles on his bare feet. He staggered over to his private bathroom and took a look at himself in the mirror. Bandages wound tight over his shoulder. He turned around and saw the same on his back, though not nearly as padded as the other wound. His arms and legs felt like they were sunburned and under lighter wraps. Dean started to recall the intensity of the stabbings and the dings he took falling to the ground.
But one thing he didn’t remember, was that spot behind his right ear. Noticed when he was checking out the wound on his back, it looked like two or three stitches, tucked neatly behind his earlobe. It would have been a weird place to injure himself falling forward and he didn’t remember the knife hitting him there.
Whatever scratched or pierced him was probably small and insignificant, maybe a splinter from one of the pallets in the stock room.
It was nothing, he decided. Nothing at all.
Assistant: …So, you do have equipment here that can detect those kinds of things, right?
Yuki: Oh, absolutely yes. You’ve been scanned before you even reach the front door.
Yuki: If you’re within five meters of the house, absolutely. I don’t take chances either
Assistant: I guess we’re both worthy of tin-foil hats now.
Yuki: Oh, tin-foil won’t do anything for the nanomachines that were dispersed into your system.
Assistant: Wait, what?