Bugman’s Burden ~ 3rd Interlude

3rd Interlude
The holovids called me the Bugman. Although the name galled me, it was catchy and aptly described my profession in terms that the masses could at least vaguely comprehend. My real name had been Gaitan LaFolette, before this nightmare had begun. In that dream-time, I had been head of the research branch of BioFarm LTD, a major pharmaceutical provider for the Terran-controlled galaxy’’s – better known as the Triquad: the Triple Quadrants – burgeoning health care industry.

My specialty had been germ warfare. I didn’’t create killer viruses, but I did break down and recombine their molecular structures in the attempt to find cures for their variegated effects.

I have to admit that I loved my job with a passion that defied understanding. The viruses were beautiful to me and their gyrating, perfect forms were stored safely in the sterile confines of my sky-born laboratories. My work was vital to the health and welfare of the human population of the Triquad, for there was no other whose skill even faintly approached my own.

In acknowledgment, I was given the utmost leeway. My enemies were legion, my vindictiveness legendary. It was said – in muted and fearful whispers – that only Heaven could help those who incurred my wrath.

In other words, human lives, upon which I plied my vital queries, were sacrificed unto me; their DNA utterly subjected to my will.

Some were volunteers, others my enemies, but many more were culled from the ranks of the imprisoned and the hopelessly insane. There were those who were beholden to me for their unwilling genetic recombination, brought about by their stated disbelief in, or outright denial of, my sublime Godhood. Life and death meant nothing to me. I held absolute power over both in the Temple of my Destruction.

Technicians were assigned to my crystal tower’s research facilities, drawn by the lure of absolute power. I adorned them in blue, mirroring the azure sky surrounding us, a reflection of the frozen heights of my hubris. We were a coven of demigods, ensconced within the clouds, shining with brilliant arrogance.

They looked upon me, their Paramount Chieftain, as a modern-day Imhotep, serving my every whim and obeying my will unquestioningly. My god-complex was infinite and my power over life and death absolute.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever, Amen-Ra.

I was an accident waiting to happen.

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Bugman’s Burden ~ 2nd Interlude

2nd Interlude
At some point I found a battered glare-visor near a refuse heap and put it on. It fit snugly, its rear straps self-adjusting to the abnormal size of my balding head. The translucent thermoplast was grimy and eaten away in some places but there was enough of the visor left to effectively hide my face.

I wasn’t safe in the alleys anymore. If a C-4 had recognized me, I must have been all over the holovid. It had been six days since my banishment from the Sky and I was starting to smell like the old derelict that I had watched die the day before.

I needed a car. There was no place for me to run but I had to go somewhere, do something. I cautiously made my way toward the busy streets of the central Suburbs, sticking close to the alleys, in case someone else recognized me. I shouldn’’t have worried; the zipping gravicars and bumpercabs paid me no mind. I looked like Class-4 street refuse now, not like a Class-1 citizen of the upper levels.

“”Watch out you piss-wanner!”” A well-dressed C-1 spit, rushing past me.

I stumbled back, muttering a curse under my breath.

God help me. Was I like this when I was respectable?

Stupid question, really. I knew that I was. In fact, I had been worse. The last six days had given me a new perspective on life and the social hierarchy of my world.

I looked up, squinting into the bright sunlight. I looked to the Sky, to the gleaming towers and spires, the gravitubes, farm-bubbles and play-stations. I looked to the floating, aerial structures of the world above.

Faintly, I could make out small dots traversing the heights, gravicars moving about their business: business that used to be my business. Saddened, I returned my attention to my Suburban surroundings, in search of a likely victim.

There. Across the street, a small, yellow gravicar floated gently, a few feet above the trash-covered pavement.

A small kiosk – one of many – was nestled in the shadows of the sky-towers. A crowd of hungry people was gathered around it. If it was truly my lucky day, the owner of the car wouldn’’t even notice my theft until I was at least a block away.

Without thinking twice, I made my move.

I ran across the street without looking, leaving my fate in the hands of the silent gods. Somehow, I made it safely across.

I jumped into the gravicar’’s open door. I worked the acceleration and clutch, diving haphazardly into traffic. Then the passenger-side door slid up.

I was caught.

A small, Asian woman dressed in a florescent red and green-striped bodysuit jumped into the car, her attitude belligerent. She held a festively designed purple and green stun-stick in her left hand and she pointed its dangerously glowing head at me.

I looked at the weapon. Then I looked at her face. And laughed.

I couldn’’t help myself. The insanity of my situation was finally driven home and I felt my tenuous grip on reality loosening. She growled at me, which only made me laugh harder because her voice sounded like that of an ancient rodent cartoon character, high on helium.

““Get out, fok you! Get out me ca’! Get out fo’ I shoot you, fok you!””

I really couldn’t help myself. I was laughing so hard I was crying. Instead of slowing down, I pressed down on the acceleration. My blurred vision and shaking hands didn’t help in the least and we swerved out into the path of oncoming traffic.

She screamed but I was past caring. I stared out of the windshield, glaring at the wildly swerving gravicars as the tears carved a path through the grime on my face. The hopelessness of my situation crushed my spirit and my will to live. I giggled. Insanely, I suppose.

Suicide must have crossed my mind, but I was too disassociated to pay the thought much attention. At some point, the girl shut up and I was vaguely aware of her using the gravicar’s comline to speak with someone. I was past caring then, so when the car’’s auto pilot function took over, I wasn’t surprised to be quickly surrounded by flashing, bubble-shaped cop cars; twenty or thirty of them, at least.

The little Asian woman was huddled in the far corner of the car, staring fearfully at me. The glare-visor had slipped from my head at some point during the car’’s gyrations and now hung askew, giving her a clear view of my face. I guess she had recognized me. Just like the predator.

Fok it. A man responsible for the deaths of eighty-five million people on three worlds deserved whatever punishment civil society saw fit to mete out to him. I hung my head in shame and despair as the car doors were wrenched from their moorings and I was ignobly delivered to the world’’s judgment.

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Bugman’s Burden ~ 1st Interlude

1st Interlude
An old man shuffled down the narrow alley, his eyes downcast. He mumbled to himself beneath the bright, midday sun. Sweat poured down his face in rivulets. He wore only filthy rags and I could smell the aged stench of him from a distance.

I observed his progress as I knelt behind a tangle of bushes, hidden. He had no idea he was being watched. Nevertheless, he stopped for a moment to glance around warily before resuming his slow trek.

At the opposite end of the alley, a predator appeared, cutting off the old man’’s path of escape. He wore a dark, sleeveless vest and baggy, purple plastipants. His pale skin was strangely dry considering the heat and his thick, coiled locks were constrained only by a thin, faux-leather thong.

My heart raced as I observed the drama being played out before me. There was something deadly – almost-but-not-quite hidden beneath the mask of youth implicit in his demeanor, ready to burst forth.

He played with a glinting, silver stiletto while eyeing the old man from beneath the shadow of his brow. Heavy ammo belts covered his chest and two massive pistols hung from the emblazoned double-holster fixed at the cross of the bandoleer.

The old man finally looked up, noticing the youth blocking his path. Fear stole over him and the gargle in his throat elicited a similarly gasping response from me as he turned and began running back down the alley.

““Hey, ya ol’ muck flubber! Where ya think ya goin’, eh mon?”” The bravo taunted, his eyes glinting as he followed his prey.

He moved slowly, languidly, watching the old man’’s desperate retreat, the knife poised, wickedly, in his left hand. His crooked smile signaled the end of the game and his eyes narrowed, perhaps calculating the trajectory of death.

I crouched back further in the darkness of the bushes, praying that I wouldn’’t be seen. I strained to see past obstructing branches with the curiosity of the damned.

The old man passed me – retreating in the direction from whence he had come – his feet shuffling desperately through the pavement-covering debris. His breath came in harsh gasps and his eyes rolled back in his head as his last moments approached on shiny, blood-tipped claws.

““Hey, scab! Watch me now, ya mon!””

The predator took three short steps, bringing his left arm back behind his head in a graceful arc. The blade caught the sun in my eyes and red tracers distorted my vision.

The arm shot forward, the stiletto a blur as it raced toward its target. A wet thunk barely preceded the heavy sound of a body falling to earth. The youth had kept his promise, releasing the old man from his commitment to life.

~

I did not dare look. The killer walked slowly to the body, whistling a nonsense tune. I froze as he passed my bushes. The breath was still in my chest. His shadow fell over me, cool and empty, threatening to erase me with strokes of bold loneliness.

Moments passed but I remained still. I found myself wishing I were anyplace else: wishing I were anyplace else in the universe other than where I was.

But then, where else could I be, a man in my position? A mosquito buzzed past my sweating face and landed on my arm.

I concentrated on its passage; watching it explore the smooth, mahogany morphology of my forearm, finally settling on a spot to feast. The blood pulsed beneath my skin and I could clearly see its course through my body in my mind’s eye.

The elixir of life, I thought bitterly. The fiery breath of God Incarnate. I closed my eyes, unwilling to observe the mosquito’’s actions any further, or to follow my present train of thought.

I could hear the movement of the killer as he knelt beside the body and retrieved his knife; the horrendously moist suction created by the removal of the blade. His fingers, pawing and pulling at the dead man’s rags, looking for God Knows What. He completed his search and strode past me again, still whistling.

I let my breath out slowly. Carefully.

Just as he turned the corner of the alley he stopped and looked back.

Directly at me.

The breath stilled in my body as terror froze time and our eyes met across an impossible distance.
Somehow, in that moment, I recognized him. I caught a glimpse of the gaping emptiness that passed for his soul: a glimpse that reminded me uncomfortably of myself. The moment passed and the crooked smile returned. He spoke to me quietly but loud enough to clearly hear.

““Good throw, eh mon? We killamans gotta stick togedder, sho’ nuff said. Catcha lata mebbe, Bugman.””

Then he was gone. I continued to kneel behind the bushes, shocked senseless, all efforts to conceal myself forgotten.

He had recognized me.

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9th Interlude



Convicted

“Somebody has to go to jail, tonight. Who is it going to be?”

The question echoes in my thoughts as my choice will echo across the length and breadth of my life, revealing past and future as immaterial shadows of the present.

They came as I was leaving, flashlights bobbing in the darkness. Past them and to the side, seemingly floating in the blackness, silver stun guns. Three officers; two men, one woman. She is the Officer in Charge (OIC) and conducts the interviews and later processing.

I sit in the grass, next to my car. An officer stands above me. The cuffs chaff my wrists. I squirm to find a more comfortable position. There isn’t one. I sit straight, breathing deeply, eyes closed, shock setting in.

A short while later, I find that the backseat of a patrol car is built for discomfort. Hot, sweaty and folded uncomfortably, I await transport. It’s late. The neighbors are asleep. No one witnesses my arrest. I am thankful for that, at least.

Hall and Oates, “Ooooh, here she comes…watch out boy, she’ll chew you up, oooooh, here she comes, she’s a Man-eater…” plays on an oldies station. I laugh thickly through tears.

Transport through the city is blurred but clarity returns upon entering the processing center and county jail. Before opening the car door, an automatic gate swings down behind us and two officers wearing latex gloves exit a steel door eyeing me, sizing me up. I’m helped up and out, then felt up and down, arms wide, hands and feet splayed. More tears of rage and anger – and shame – betray me.

Processing is quick. The cuffs are removed, as are my shoes, and, sockless, I spend the rest of the night. My shorts have a draw string, so I am, thankfully, given the blue pants that I see other Convicts, perhaps Trustees, wearing. They’re too short, but better than the shorts I had been wearing. Minutes later, I am given an Army surplus blanket and deposited in a Holding Cell, with the other Convicts, to spend the night.

Graffiti-covered yellow walls mimic cheeriness. Mildewed air chills drunken slumber, fluorescent lights accuse; unblinking, crackling, humming. Echoing conversation, radio-calls and distant laughter parse the snores of shivering, green cocoons huddle on cold steel benches and an even colder, blue floor. The stench of alcohol and chili farts waft high beneath the sunless ceiling, above the chill draft.

A door-less stall barely conceals a stainless steel toilet-sink combination, and the only space left to sit or lay is next to it. So I take it, dispassionately noting the vomit stains and patterns of dried urine only inches from my face.

Being tall, the blanket proves problematic. And so the rest of my night is spent between navigating the dimensions of the blanket in the attempt to keep my bare feet and face from freezing at the same time, sheltering myself from the air-conditioned air emanating from above and the freezer-like chill issuing from the floor, and sitting up, staring at my surroundings, attempting to burn the impression of this night into my memory.

Bulletproof glass separates the Convicted from the Arbiters of Conviction, who are overweight and uniformed, although there are no donuts in sight, all night long.

I’m getting off easier than many others, the arresting officer had said. Her brows were drawn sympathetically. Instead of a class B conviction, she apparently chose a class C misdemeanor to charge me with. Somebody has to go to jail tonight, she had said. And so I sacrificed myself. Her sympathy was unexpected and I continue to wonder why I have been spared, yet again.

Three times during the night I am removed from the holding cell for processing. A tall, male, only slightly overweight officer makes certain I realize how lucky I am.

“You know that she gave you a class C misdemeanor, right?”

“Yes, I know.”

“She could have given you a class B, and then your career would have been over.”

“Yeah…”

“Man, what happened? You can’t let anybody ruin your career. You look like a really smart guy.”

“…”

Twice for fingerprinting and mug shots, once to try my credit card. If I’d had money to pay the ticket, I could’ve left right then. But, of course, my account was short. Poetic justice, I think. If I hadn’t stayed the night, I wouldn’t have met my fellow Convicts:

Another brother, indigent, Spanish-speaking and maybe half-Mexican himself; older, sticking to – and continuously repeating – the story that he called the cops on himself, because he was hungry and wanted to dry out.

A Hispanic male who spoke very little English – translated between guffaws for the rest of us by the other brother – arrested for defecating on an apartment lawn.

Another Hispanic male, cousin to the Spanish-speaking brother, arrested for public intoxication. The two had been drinking together earlier in the evening, apparently, with some women of their shared acquaintance. The drunk brother kept blaming his cousin for his plight, contradicting his own story of self-imposed imprisonment.

He lay down near me and I nodded a greeting. He asked me, “Do I know you? I seen you around, right?”

I said, “Maybe.” He did look familiar.

“Yeah, I seen you around the park.”

“Yeah. Probably.” It didn’t matter. I didn’t remember him, but also didn’t doubt his word. I would probably see him around again.

There was an African from Sierra Leone, arrested for driving without a license, and changing lanes
without signaling.

An old Redneck, arrested for carrying an unlicensed weapon in his truck when attempting to extract his grandson from the middle of a domestic dispute. None of us could believe he had been arrested for that in Tejas. He couldn’t either.

Nathan and Billy Ray, two good old boys arrested for going on a drunken beer run, with no money. In effect, they robbed a convenience store. It turns out that ten cop cars and a little police abuse equal thirty hours in a freezing Holding Cell with only each other and a lonely army blanket for company until the rest of us, the Convicted, begin to fill the cell for the night.

A few others, Hispanic and White, quiet the night through, mostly sleeping, or trying to, shifting, snoring and moaning, heads and bodies obscured by the blankets, anonymous in drunken slumber. Or shame.

And then there I was, replaying the night’s events over and over, wondering how I got to this place in my life and how I was going to move forward in positivity. Without anger. Without rage.

Vivid moments rewind and replay as night turns to dawn. A tasteless breakfast at 4:30 AM consists of hockey-puck sausages and what I think are powdered eggs – the other brother insists they’re real, and he should know, because he’s a regular and has worked in the kitchen – some watery grits and milk. He collects plates from those who can’t stomach the meal, drunkenly repeating his story that he called the cops on himself, cause he needed to eat and quit drinking for a while.

I come to understand the meaning of jailhouse camaraderie as the Convicted shared their tales, complaining about the cold and laughing at the fat guards as the old redneck yells and insults them through the glass, unbowed, swearing lawsuits and vengeance against a wayward son-in-law and over-eager Officers of the Law.

His anger has been a searing silence through the night, evident in his eyes staring up at the ceiling between bouts of restless slumber. His daughter walks past us later that morning, headed to another cell and further processing. He tells us his grandson was home with his good for nothing son-in-law who had called the cops on his daughter for busting him in the eye. The Redneck said that he could get some Wetbacks that worked construction for him to bust his son-in-law up and, damn it, that was exactly what he was going to do when he got out.

I feel sorry for his son-in-law.

At some point, one of the Mexicans – the other brother’s so-called cousin – tells me that he spent 8 months in prison the year before with the African, who had been incarcerated for beating his 7 year old brother badly. He also said the African had money. I look at him differently, then.

Someone finally asks me what I’m in for. I tell them. There are nods of understanding. Here, no one is better than anyone else. We are all Convicted.

Finally, the Judge comes. We are marched out, read our crimes, made to sign to them and then marched back in. We are told we are to be released, soon. Excitement and conversation fill the air. There are more fat officers around, and they bear the brunt of our unruliness. Even I contribute, feeling mean.

A little while later, a young brother is brought in, and he tells us he was arrested by his PO. He had thought he was coming in for a drug test. He reveals nothing else.

A white boy comes in, his voice cultured, educated. He says an officer from the Sheriff’s office was waiting for him outside his door this morning, and he’s doing time for a $16 bounced check that he’s paid over $800 for so far. We think he’s stupid, but nobody says anything, because, really, we’re all stupid. We’re Convicted.

My name is called. Nathan and the other brother’s Mexican cousin are called too. I don’t say goodbye to anyone and walk out of the holding cell without looking back. One of the fat officers gives me back my wallet and jewelry in a plastic bag. Everything has been removed from my wallet. I don’t bother putting it all back in. We sign some more paperwork and then we’re told we’re free to go.

The heat assails us as we exit the same door we came in. The temperature is in the mid-90s, and the cold of the Holding Cell is instantly relegated to memory. We walk around the side of the building to the front. The Mexican heads out from there. He says he’s going to follow the river home. We don’t question him.

Nathan has some cigarettes that he got from Billy Ray who had, somehow, been able to keep his pack (Marlboro Reds, my favorite) in his pocket through the body search. He offers me one. I haven’t smoked in over a year, but I accept it. It’s a special occasion.

We finish our cigs and then enter the station, looking, I’m sure, like what we are. Convicts.

From that vantage point, the facility is immaculate. A woman sits there with her two children. She looks at us curiously. I head immediately for the bathroom, and the toilet. It’s clean and I feel like I am releasing years of repression as I sit there. By the time I exit the stall, the night has taken on a sanitized quality.

I find that the pay phone won’t make collect calls, but I don’t really care. I feel numb, yet free.

A doorway seems to have opened, into someplace I hadn’t been in many years. A space of potentiality, a space of possibility, a space of unrefined chaos, from which all avenues extended, spoke-like and shining. Strangely unattached to anything, I wonder idly what the future holds. I realize that I can do whatever I want to do, from this moment on. That the past no longer has any hold upon me. That my choices are my choices and that I must live my life for me, at some point. That I’ve given enough. That I’ve sacrificed enough and that I don’t deserve this. That I can’t let anybody ruin my life. My career. For anything.

Billy Ray comes out next with the non-English-speaking Mexican. Nathan and I ask to borrow his cell-phone. There’s no answer for me. Nathan’s girlfriend is right around the corner and she says she’ll be there in a few minutes. I dap the non-English-speaking Mexican and he leaves us, walking toward the bus stop across the street.

Nathan’s girlfriend pulls up. She’s a young, cute blonde, and I can tell how much they love each other. There’s another girl in the car and Billy Ray hops in the back seat. Nathan offers me a ride somewhere, but I see he’s full up and I want to walk anyway. I tell him peace, I don’t want to see him here again, and they’re gone.

As I watch them drive away, I start walking.