Miami, 2036 A.D.
Juan Delano’s gamut of suffering, a blistering experience that had left him frail, destitute, incognizant, and ultimately incarcerated in a remote sanitarium, was something few had foreseen. Oddly enough, experts in the medical sciences who had examined Juan Delano during the last several years, just after the cause of his debilitation–an alleged outbreak of “chronic psychotic neurosis”—all came to the same dour conclusion: Juan Delano’s precarious mental condition seemed not only to be worsening but expanding in its capacity to divest his mind of any semblance of firm, executive control. With the dendritic pulses of heat lightning, the branches of Juan’s insanity seemed to be in continual elongation.
On a typical day, Juan displayed considerable difficulty coming to grip with even the most mundane of realities. He claimed that he could stare at himself in the mirror and watch his facial hair grow and, when he received alleged visual confirmation, that self-actualization of a physical impossibility would crack his skull like an eggshell and fry the yoke of his atrophied cortex.
However, another day would bring with it the promise of progress, the anticipation of swift recovery, the revivification of dreams long since buried in his mind’s daintiest recesses, as other wayward, invalid patients and staff spoke with him and laughed with him and smoked the occasional cigarette with him during mandated outdoor breaks, his eyes beaming with a twinkling glint that shone like the reflection of the sun on the blade of a sickle. During those brief, sagacious periods, he could recite with painstaking and vivid detail the twists and turns of his rather exciting past. But almost everyone ignored him.
The involuntary admission of a patient to a psychiatric ward who, during their period of virtual confinement, would unearth the events of their previous high-flying, dangerous lives, occurred all too often. In recounting and then expatiating the virtues and vices of their past, they painted their former selves in a way that had them usually engaged in a high wire pursuit for ancient secrets, the bombshell discovery of the existence of black ops government programs, or the establishment of some type of contact with something inhuman whether that creature of phantasm be on the Earth or somewhere else deep in the cosmos. And who would listen to them? Certainly not the orderlies nor the doctors nor the nurses nor the beefed-up security personnel who often abused troublesome or confrontational patients. No. As with all the others who came before him, spouting the same story of adventure, intrigue, romance and danger, Juan Delano was just another crazy.
Bedtime was 9 pm. Sharp. Swallow the pills whole or chew them. Either way, medication governed their calendar and kept patients somewhat functional and sane as they endured a harsh convalescence. But something was different tonight. The radiance of the ward’s pale and depressing linoleum tile floor waxed and waned under white fluorescent lights that flickered violently, as if the power were about to be cut in a storm, yet outside, nothing stirred.
Juan huddled in a chair in the corner of a large den that functioned as a communal living space, his bright green, flimsily threaded gown tightening against his taut body. He had been delirious earlier, mixing and matching bits and pieces of other languages into a voluble alphabet soup. Now he was murmuring about a threat. Somebody was after him. Somebody was after everybody in a high-level psych ward. Across the room, mounted and bolted to the corner’s walls was a static hissing television set. The reflections in the slippery tiles underfoot burned in and out. Outside, the curvature of a silver moon lit the night sky.
“It’s time. It’s time! They’re here,” Juan hissed under his breath, his voice quivering, raspy and throaty, just audible enough to upend the transitory equilibrium between the assortment of highly dispossessed and peculiar patients.
Jessica Bernstien, a young twenties nurse who was fresh out of school and wore the near ubiquitous uniform for independent, single moms on a tight budget, stood behind the waist high counter to the medication suite. In front of the counter stretched a line of six patients, all zonked from the presence of meds in their system coursing through blood and bone from the previous weeks,
All except Juan.
That poor man, she thought, as she turned her attention back to the patient across the counter, the head of the motley crew assembled for evening cocktails of drugs whose efficacy no psychiatrist or doctor of any kind could attest to. Forensic psychologists primarily are called upon to determine whether a mentally afflicted defendant is fit to stand trial, and in that sense their job entails a close relationship between drugs whose manufacturers promised relief from William Blake’s ‘mind forg’d manacles’, those crowns of corrugated steel tightened by the vagaries of nature and genetics.
Jessica flashed a brief, melancholy smile at patient zero, Sydney, a former defendant in a trial for a widespread RICO case. Jessica’s raven black hair, the hue an elegant mixture of the darkest blue and lightest black, stopped at her shoulders but hung slightly across their front. With a deft twist of her head, she whipped the twin strands hang behind her back, waking her up in the process. The deadening night shift awaited her in its grasp.
“Okay, Sidney, it’s that time of night,” she said.
Sydney’s skin had begun to look chalk white, the color of his brilliant smile, courtesy of the most expensive and high-end dentures on the market, purchased with money extorted from blue collar business owners and white-collar executives who utilized the mob’s services on a regular basis. Whorehouses dressed up as ritzy affairs with champagne on ice, gambling dens suffused with an acrid miasma of cigarette smoke, illegal sporting venues attended by the lowest of the low, all were Sydney’s playground. All brought him and his associates down in the most heavily covered criminal trial of the 1980s. But that wasn’t why he had been incarcerated here for more than three decades.
Sydney frowned. Juan was in media res. Syndey’s nightly routine, the routine that kept him sane enough to suffer the rest of his paltry, confined existence, was being disturbed. Even with the subtle, crazed threat he warned of, Sydney had lived far too long relishing the dark, transitory pleasures of the underworld to feel anything at all. Jessica sensed his discomfiture, for it was evident in his posture and tone.
“That sick man is driving me more insane than I already am, ya hear?” His accent was firm Chicago, the perfect tone of the all-American wise ass, and he wasn’t involuntarily committed due only to the RICO trial or his withering sanity, but because he had stabbed his business partner and best friend with the jagged edge of a shattered wine bottle in a violent rage precipitated by his fellow capo’s handshake and written deal with the FBI. Sydney was old school. Didn’t fuck around. Wouldn’t stab you in the back. He’d eye you intently, like a forlorn prize being appraised, before pressing the point of the blade through your sternum, the hilt to rest between your chest.
Jessica Bernstein was Sydney’s favorite nurse, a fact she had wished she had never become privy to. She stole a glance over Sydney’s shoulder. Noticed the growing disquiet infiltrated the rank and file of the ward. Equilibrium dissipating. “I’m sorry, Syd, Juan will calm down. He just took his medication.”
Sydney closed his crinkled eyes and grimaced as a sudden howl filled the air. Juan was up and making a devil of a time. Unbeknownst to Sydney, not only was Juan Delano awake, he was being secured to a metal harness, an IV shoved up the medial vein by a domineering acolyte of Kassel Microsystems, their face was concealed beneath the menacing prop of a ski mask; the body wrapped up in a cocoon of heavy looking body armor. A four-man team; every one ego-less, demonstrating a war mongering delicacy in the infiltration of bureaucratic confinement.
Jessica peaked behind Sydney, who had turned at the sound of shattering glass. Two more had joined the first. Their attention was fixated on Juan, but as each second passed she could see they meant to silence anybody who wanted to be a hero. She backed away from the counter, hoping they wouldn’t notice her, and pressed an emergency call button to summon security. The ward’s security used their bulk to overpower and subdue those patients who could not calm down in the throes of a fit. Sometimes, violence was unavoidable, and once security showed up, she could breathe.
Jessica waited for relief to sink in.
Instead, she came to the drafty realization that even if the ward’s security arrived in time, they weren’t properly armed to tackle the threat, for this graceful animosity, manifested in a thunderous cadre of Kassel Microsystems private military contractors brandished automatic weapons and heavily sophisticated equipment. They were ex-Delta Force, dropped in for a covert operation, jacked up on dopamine and nor-epinephrine agonists which would twist their brains inexorably, until their blood vessels burst in a conflagration that would be immediately extinguished with a simple mega-dose of synthetic gamma-amino-butyric acid.
“Juan Delano, you are hereby stripped of your civil rights and will be transported to a detention center aboard the aircraft carrier Bugle off the Yemen coast,” said one of the black operations soldiers.
“Why? What the fuck is this?”
“President Ersatz Morgan has deemed it necessary that you comply under penalty of immediate execution,” another said, forefinger flicking a hypodermic needle filled with air.
Juan began to panic, his painful breaths morphing into dry heaves and a trail of tears coursing along both cheeks. “Make it stop!” he panicked incessantly, adding in inhumane grunts, devilish and obscene and altogether divergent from a respectable decorum of modesty.
Who could blame him? Nobody. Juan had voluntarily admitted himself and when Jessica first laid her amber eyes on him, he clapped his hands together, spun in a circle, and used his right hand to cock a pistol in his direction.
The irony wasn’t lost on Jessica in the present moment.
Two of the Kassel tactical team were placing explosive charges on an already spiderlike shatter of the panoramic glass window that patients used to glimpse freedom, the outermost reaches of which displayed a stunning kaleidoscope bordering on fanciful escapades in Quixotic locales. But Juan was a different book altogether, his pages akin to the Art of War rather than the book of Genesis.
“We have a trained eye on subject 187! I repeat, a trained eye on subject 187!” a tac-team operative with a lion’s mane of hair snaking its way from under the balaclava mesh obfuscating Jessica Suarez’ line of sight.
She was still frozen in disbelief, her skills of comprehension erased from her memory.
Juan Delano? She thought. Who is this man?
Sydney was already on the floor, jolting and jerking and spazzing because the synthetic pacemaker they grafted atop the chambers of his blood curdling, black heart. Jessica dove atop him and called for a crash cart, but the ward was chaos unrefined; a super attenuated superlative of which no word mustered could define.
“One…two…three!” With that, the glass shattered in a thousand tinselly fragments. The ocean seeped in as Juan was fitted with breathing devices and the tactical team ushered him upward toward the surface. The deluge of Biscayne Bay’s aquatic beauty, torrential yet menacing, with the quality of a wicked maelstrom, flooded the anteroom, patient bedrooms, triage center and the nurse’s station, where Jessica Suarez was still administering to Sydney amid a profundity of shouts, cries, and cackles; the bold, the frightened, the undeniably psychotic.
An insatiate overlord with moral qualms the size of an atom, Victor Kassel surveyed Juan’s supine body with a zest unlike that of a parish priest preparing a baptismal candidate for a heavenly elixir. Victor was tall, broad chested, hair tied in a ponytail running the length of his back to small. Two separate ocular prosthesis inserted in each eye scanned a multiplicity of synchronized biomarkers; a change in one would immediately signal a change in another; a biochemical semiology delineating death from life and suffering from vitality.
Juan awoke, gasped, tried to move his arms up from the polished marble of the bio-labs arcing hull.
“Corporal Delano, you are hereby divested of your freedom,” a surgical attendant stated with the droning monotone of a Nazi commandant leading the condemned to a chamber of gas and smoke and suffering.
“Hey, Juan. How are you?” Victor said.
Juan craned his neck. A shooting pain; a flutter of the eyes; a remembrance of things past that Proust would fawn over. Super-consciousness was an ability that had left him in his later years, hiding from Kassel Microsystems in a psychiatric facility some twenty miles northwest of Miami.
Juan choked on a syrupy substance. “Oh, that’s just to give you a sense of who you’re serving now, Juan,” said Victor conspiratorially. Victor’s voice was that of an ivory tower scholar.
Whenever Juan spoke, his voice held the merry quality of a disposed anchorite washed upon shore from years wading in the sea. “Victor, you ersatz fiend…What shall you have with me today? A glass of chardonnay, or a cereal bowl of nails.”
“You’d like to watch me bleed, wouldn’t you?”
“My soul would want nothing more than to see you die, Victor.”
Victor slapped his palm across Juan’s tan flesh, an equitable riposte in light of Juan’s discontented and truculent remark. But, dousing an everlasting fire in saturated sweat adds fuel to the incandescence. Juan’s eyes glowed maniacally and he shot up from the slab and began to crush Victor’s windpipe.
“What the fuck do you want from me?” Juan seethed through clenched teeth.
“Sub-sub-subdue him!” Victor stammered.
Two operatives on loan from the PMC Red Dot Rangers leveled the muzzles of their T-22 rifles against either side of Juan’s temples. He backed down. Released Victor. Relished the ratified constitution Victor had unknowingly written for him.
“Tell them to lower their weapons or I’ll paint the walls black,” Juan said evenly.
“Black?” Victor wheezed, his hand up to his throat.
“Blood sluices black under the moonlight,” Juan said with a devilish grin. Sydney Paluzzo had certainly taught him a great deal about psychopathy, redefined for the post-post-modern age of enlightened, informed curiosity.
Juan sat up and bored his bulging eye sockets in a vector, his line of sight primed on the two PMC soldiers from the Red Dot Rangers.
“You listen to me, and you listen good. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with what you’re doing here. Sure, I hid out from all the bullshit and nonsense and faked a seaside getaway in one of Miami’s principal psych wards, but that don’t give you a fuckin’ right to tell me I’ve one more job to do.”
“Juan, I have but one job. You take it, or you leave it. Follow right hand of President Morgan.”
Juan’s envy, an aspiring personality flawed in all its imperfections, held a subconscious desire for ruin. He disdained his former role as a fixer for Kassel Microsystems, the premier bio-tech, high tech weaponry, and cybernetics conglomerate in the world. In his indignation, he was despised and envied, for glory came by the will of President Luscious Morgan; the unseen, indominatable whale churning the Atlantic seas on a dreadnought class battlecruiser, throned in his empyrean majesty.
“What’s the job?” Juan said soberly, a sad tempest arrowing his clouded visage.
“Jaxson Dash? That’s suicide. That fucker is crazy.” The doctor in his thronged androgyny, pursued the matter by a pursing of his thin, inhuman lips.
“We know exactly where he is, and we know exactly what you must do. Take the plunge, Juan, and adopt a new persona; a new sense of being; a new, transcendent anarchy resting on the chaosphere.
He felt a great burden lift from him suddenly. “Those are the drugs your pumping in me? I’m sure you triumph in jubilee.”
Parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system calibrated; injecting neuromodulating nanomachines.
He felt the power suffuse through him, plotting a convivial seduction with an old friend who would never recognize him.
Strapped to a gurney with a respirator assisting every breath she took in her carcinogen raddled lungs, Jessica Suarez was airlifted from the flood in an Ares Attack helicopter, the nation’s go to mechanism of death in times of survival, to Mercy Hospital, on the eastern shore of Biscayne Bay’s intercoastal.
Regaining consciousness, she angled her head to the sky and saw an azure curvature of glass and pillars surrounding by emerald thickets of planted shrubbery and gorgeous grass, twinkling in twilight, the night sky a benefactor for her recovery. Later in life, after her daughter and granddaughter cared for her in old age, she maintained a conviction that the Aurora Borealis was undulating above and directing the threads of her fate in a tight coil, siphoning life, excising breath.
The Atlantic grew smaller and smaller until there was nothing left to say or do. The doctors would help me, she thought with pained confusion, unsure of herself or the medics that had tightened her small frame on a slab of steel then shoved her into the black hull of an Ares chopper.
Carted into the emergency room, editing beyond ordinary cognizance the penetrating maelstrom pockmarking her soul, she noticed a young doctor, 30s’ or 40s’, approach her in a clean, light green tunic; his gaze conspiratorial; his manner that of a burnished bronze king.
“You’ve made contact with the Sage Invalid?”
“I’ve no idea who that is,” she coughed, phlegm stuck around her throat with the viscosity of candle wax.
“You’re a rebel, no?”
“No! I would never dare—”
“But you did dare. You took comfort in Juan Delano’s suffering.”
Jessica Suarez leaned back in the bed and tried to comb her frail hand through her hair. That’s when he felt an aura of Promethean chains; locked in on the gurney, the force field cuffs scorching to the touch whenever she tried to move, as though she were a sapphire seraph trapped in a messianic cage of dreams.