I awoke in a haze like a coddled child; a hibernated husk of a person. Hallucinatory undulations of an aurora flashes across an interface grafted on the top of my cranium. In my purple haze, I was able to realize that I was in a hermetic chamber, the purposes of which were its viable connection and construction conjoined with the development of science just before the enlightenment. It gave unto an influence on the control nature and was deeply entwined with the alchemists of a mystical age from hundreds of years ago.
A cistern within the floor of the chamber collected a surging stream of water, and I wondered what the fuck I had gotten myself into. I paced around the chamber until my exhaustion began to set in and tried to remove the interface grafted to the top of my skull, but it was to no avail; whoever had kidnapped evidently shrouded my vision with an impenetrable mist, as though I were a mouse to be experimented upon in a research laboratory.
The chamber was furnished with trinkets, ornaments, oak paneled walls, a few Rosewood desks, but propped up firmly above the cistern was a four-dimensional hologram of somebody who was denoted as Kenny Milton in the heads-up display from my cybernetic, polymerized machinery. I recognized the name; he was Clancy’s competitor from more than fifteen years go. I couldn’t believe the bastard was still alive, and he seemed to be not only in good health, but also spry, young, with intelligent, cobalt eyes as though the commission of his behavior and outward appearance had been genetically enhanced.
“Jaxson Dash,” Kenny began. “How did a shitstain such as yourself find yourself enlisted in Clancy’s employ? After all, the man had done you wrong in the past, yet for some reason I can’t fathom, you choose to trust him. Why is that?”
The tone of Kenny’s voice stung me with the pain and prick of a wasp. “I’m not telling you anything, Kenny,” I said.
“Then I have no use for you.”
I paused and studied Kenny’s facial features; slicked back, magenta hair with the sides shaved down to the scalp; eyes which squinted thoughtfully whenever he spoke; the conduits of his soul yearning for release in the Netherworld of dreams.
“Here’s the lowdown, Ken. I think one of Clancy’s button men set me up.”
“The owner of the barbershop was Wilson Sparks, relative to one of Clancy’s right-handed men, John Sparks. He nearly sliced my carotid artery with a razorblade.”
“I see,” Kenny Milton said distantly, as though his attention span were that of a child. The era of my restoration hadn’t even properly begun, and the poison Clancy desired from the cone snails was still waiting in the alchemist’s far chamber, across the space of my spartan room.
Kenny adopted an aspect of singular generosity. “I’ll let you live, Jaxson. Under one condition.”
“Name your fucking price,” I said.
“The poison from the cone snails are mine.”
“You’d like me to be a double agent.”
Kenny nodded soberly. “I’m afraid that’s the name of the game.”
“Why does Clancy want anything to with poison extracted from cone snails?” Kenny’s face went blank momentarily, as though lost in a pernicious fugue on a tugboat out at sea. He regained himself said, “Clancy isn’t one to trust, Jaxson. You may have shredded him with lead in years prior, but the mere fact that he’s giving you the time of day is a red flag. Catch my drift?”
I nodded. “What’s Clancy’s ultimate goal.”
“Where shall I begin. Well, besides the fact that all of his button men, pimp pushers, and solider of fortunes are augmented with signal jamming transmitters, Clancy is on his way, using the latest research in quantum biology, to synthesize life from the bottom up.
“Not really speaking my language anymore, partner,” I said. “Either you’re bluffing, and this is all nonsense, or you pony up the details of what just what the fuck is going on.”
Just then, behind the four-dimensional holographic display, stood the alchemist. His ruddy features seemed as though they had at one-point split in two; a fleshy schism where one half of his face was covered in black and blue patches of necrotizing fasciitis, an unfortune condition common to those who have their genes spliced and diced in the wrong areas of their genome. His manner was that of a discordant lyre and he wore a long tunic with abstract art; the art forming patterns along the wavy motions in its fabric.
However, the most prominent feature of his dress was the necklace he wore around his neck, a black gold amulet. The alchemist stepped out from view and then reappeared at the corner of my vision, looking down at me as an underground gene clinic doctor from Miami would before cutting down my genome.
“Who the fuck are you?” I said. “And how’d you manage to create black gold and stop yourself from selling it on the open market.”
“My name is not important. Simply refer to me as the Alchemist. There are many of us, spread out across the continental United States save Florida, California, and New York.
“Those are three major states. If you’re goal is to keep a business afloat, you’re not doing a very good job.”
The Alchemist shrugged and waved off my question as though I hadn’t asked it. “About the black gold,” he said soothingly, for his voice had the effect of sharp mental acuity and calm, “all I had to do was take ordinary gold and electroplate it with black rhodium. The technique is very simple. But it’s in the hands of the beholder to signal the transit from gold to something of greater value.”
The Alchemist snapped his fingers. “Now, onto Clancy’s obsession with the world of quantum biology. To put it simply, imagine damaging free radicals in our systems. They are molecules that have singular electrons in their outer electron cell, a divergence of most electrons, which are harmonized in atomic orbitals, and–”
“Julian!” Kenny snapped. “You’ve jumped the gun. The man has no way to discern just what the hell you’re talking about.”
Evidently, the Alchemist’s name was Julian.
“Okay,” Julian said, visibly annoyed by Kenny’s intrusion. He turned back to face me. “Imagine you are a bird, finding your way around the sphere of our planet. Many birds use solar navigation during the day and celestial navigation in the evening. Yet, the robin has the ability the ability to detect the direction and strength of the earth’s magnetic field. This is called magnetoreception, and it’s a wondrous feat of existence few understand minus certain theoretical physicists and molecular geneticists.
“Quantum mechanics allows us to explain just how electrons move throughout specific materials, such as semiconductors devices, and is a principal determinant in how humanity developed the silicon transistor, the microchips of our phones, and the computers we use today. The problem is, Clancy is no longer interested in simply harnessing the power of quantum biology for his own nefarious purpose. He intents to use every resource available to build a quantum computer. I’m afraid you cone-snail trek was a way to get you off his back.”
“Can we skip the lessons here,” I said, my brain unable to handle the rush of information being thrown at it. “What exactly do you want from me? Ya’ll are a bunch of mainline sociopaths and I don’t really much care for wavelengths and UV light and the frontiers of quantum biology or computing.”
“Well, we need you to kill Clancy, of course,” Kenny chimed in. “Only then will you be able to meet your son.”
“My son?” I hissed with vehemence. “Why in the fuck would I want to meet that bastard after what he’s done to me and my company?” I shouted.
“John Sparks has him stashed away in a warehouse just outside of town,” Kenny said. Seems as though your son has become something of an iconoclast in our quaint commune.”
It hit me; the rush of fatherhood; the feeling that filial obligations trump any desire for revenge against our brethren.
“Now, you have two options, Mr. Dash. You can either keep the peace with Clancy or join my ranks, kill your friend Benny, and see your son live. John Sparks is a double agent who works for me. I’m the one who holds your son hostage.”
At this revelation I thrashed violently in my supine position. “You murderous fuck! I will fuckin’ rip out your scrotum and feed it to you just like—”
I was cut short, for an auto-surgeon’s needle pierced a vein in my neck and I felt a wave of dizziness wash over me.
“I’ll say it again, and then it’s over and I leave this holographic display. You join me, your son lives. Fight for Clancy, your son dies. I feel the choice is quite obvious, don’t you Julian?”
Julian nodded dutifully. “Oh yes. Yes, indeed.