by Uli Kusterer

Fragment 1

The worn plywood desk moaned as Ray added the weight of his head and upper body to that of his arms, resting his head in his palms. His ruffled light brown hair made him look like a pineapple as he stared down at the almost-complete report form on the desktop in front of him, almost indistinguishable from any of his colleagues at this time on Fridays, sitting in identical positions at identical work stations in the busy, neon-lit open-plan police station.

He looked around the room, racking his brain for that subtle clue his subconscious had caught on to. He didn’t want the defense attorney to have a field day taking apart “a police inspector’s hunch”, it would come to him, but he preferred to have the report done sooner than later, preferrably before his meeting with the Captain today.

Movement at the front entrance to the office caught his attention. A young woman, probably in her late twenties entered, high heels softly tapping the worn grey carpet in accurate steps. She was wearing a grey pantsuit, and her chestnut brown hair was tied back in a ponytail.

She looked around for a moment, orienting herself in the room, then spotted the letters on the Captain’s office door and confidently strode towards it. It took Ray until she had reached her destination before he realized where he’d seen her before. She’d seemed familiar, but it took him a moment to place her. She hadn’t changed a bit.

She knocked and, upon the Captain’s inaudible call, disappeared into the small room. The blinds on the windows that allowed the Captain to look over his Inspectors and Sergeants were drawn, so that was all Ray could see for a while.

Repositioning himself so the Captain’s door remained in his field of view, Ray returned to his report. The distraction had helped his memory, and he quickly jotted down a few bullet points about the spent shell casings in a public trash can, the plastic fragments that seemed to match the casing of the missing guns, and several other details that had led him to the suspect.

Maybe twenty minutes later, the Captain’s door re-opened, and Johann Wartenburg’s square jaw and dark-skinned face poked out: “Levy? Care to join us?” he mumbled gruffly in his deep, black voice, not waiting for a reply. Ray quickly slipped his report into a folder and locked it in his desk drawer before he walked into the Captain’s office, closing the door behind himself.

The woman, Amber, as he recalled, was sitting on one of two wooden chairs Captain Wartenburg had placed in front of his large, solid oak desk, angled at a slight distance from each other. The stocky black man had already returned to his desk chair behind the desk. He didn’t bother offering the remaining seat to Ray, and Ray wasn’t waiting for him to do so. He just sat down on the free wooden chair, turning his head towards the Captain, waiting for him to speak.

Johann Wartenburg didn’t wait long:

“Inspector Amber Prescott, Sergeant Ray Levy. Ray, you can deduce the rest, I’m sure.” He looked around the room, which was lit by daylight only just beginning to fade into night.

“Yes, we’ve met.” Ray explained as he shook the young woman’s hand. Amber looked up at him, her brown eyes studying his face for a moment:

“It is a pleasure to meet you again.” She smiled warmly, then turned to the Captain: “The Sergeant was assigned to protect me from an abduction threat at Faraday five years ago.”

“Though, back then, I was told you were a scientist working for their lab.” Ray added.

Amber’s eyes sought the Captain’s, who almost unnoticeably shook his head. Aware that Ray wouldn’t miss this exchange, he addressed his Sergeant:

“Ray, you’re smart enough to know there’s more going on than I’m telling you.” He said sternly. “And you also know I’m not gonna tell you.” He added with an amused smirk that set his already wrinkly face even more in wrinkles. “But I told you you’d get a new partner, and there she is. You’ve done this enough times that I know I can count on you to make sure she learns everything she’s still missing.”

Ray nodded.

“Good. Inspector, why don’t you go find your desk, while I have a word with the Sergeant here.” Amber rose, wordlessly nodded to both men, and left the room.

“A bit quiet.” Ray smirked.

“Don’t let that fool you.” Johann said earnestly. “The woman can take care of herself. She’s been trained in more combat techniques than you and I have ever heard about. She’s been in lots of firefights and made it out alive, so don’t even think about worrying about her in situations where the air is lead heavy. Promise me you’ll watch your own ass, okay?”

Ray chuckled mirthlessly. “That’s pretty much what the guys at Faraday said. She left with a gunshot wound.”

“Ray, forget about Faraday.” Johann’s voice was piercing. “Whatever happened there, I know for a fact that you don’t have to worry about her in a firefight. She will probably save your ass three times over before she gets seriously hurt.” He paused for a moment, then added as an afterthought: “She’s learned a lot in the last five years.”

Ray looked Johann in the eyes. “Are you sure?”

“Never more than about this.”

Ray felt the urge to object, but one look in his superior’s eyes changed that: Johann was sure about this. If Captain Wartenburg felt Ray was in danger if he worried too much about his partner, then there was something to it. Ray trusted Johann enough to listen, even if he wasn’t sure he understood. He nodded reluctantly.

“And now stop hogging my guest chair and get back to work.” Johann dismissed him.

Fragment 2

When he first woke, there was nothing. No eyelids, no eyes, no hands, no feet, no skin, no bones, no breath, no air, no heat, no light. No, not nothing. Something. Something weird and unknown. Shapeless, soundless, without taste, without smell. But it was there, whatever, wherever there was.

There was no way to describe it, but as it was the only thing else, and as there were no directions, neither up nor down, front nor back, he assumed that whatever it was was around him. Everywhere. It went into and out of him. It changed, yet stayed the same. It was part of him, in some way. Like food, it could be absorbed and incorporated into him. It could be secreted. But it wasn’t food. It had no shape.

Lacking hands, he nonetheless found himself able to affect his surroundings. For lack of a better analogy, this world seemed to be made up of little things, balls, blobs. The blobs had different colors, finely nuanced. Change the color of one of them, and elsewhere, another changed color as well.

Some of the changes he effected seemed to just be going nowhere. Others seemed to be causing veritable fireworks of color. Again others … ? … they hurt. They genuinely made his head spin, seemed to make him feel dull, uncomfortable or unconcentrated, seemed to impede his abilities or freeze him in time. Several times, he changed one of the blobs, felt the pain, the paralysis, and suddenly, it was gone. As if he had passed out, he woke to find the blob he had just changed had reverted to its previous color. As if God had intervened on his behalf, taken away the pain and set the world right again.

After what seemed like eternities of changing the blobs, turning some from bright red to calm blue, others from dull orange to a brighter yellow, learning the complex progressions of the colors in his surroundings, learning to stay away from certain blobs because they caused pain, a structure began to emerge. While the painful areas were fairly stagnant, others were flowing with a much stronger current. After a while of observation, it was obvious that the blobs were flowing in a fixed direction, coming in far in the distance, and pouring out some unknown hole far on the opposite side. True, there were a few tiny holes here and there where blobs disappeared in or flowed out again, but he had found the main current of the stream.

He concentrated his efforts on this stream. What came in, what came out? What was on the other side? Was it possible to communicate, to learn more? Was there another person beyond? Did certain progressions of color have a meaning? He was sure there had to be another person on the other side. Different, yet in some ways like him. Where was the world? What was the world? That were the questions he wanted to ask. But first, they had to understand each other.

It took him billions of attempts to establish a common language. Many words went into nothingness, or caused monosyllabic answers. Others seemed to be taboo, or insulting, causing the other to go quiet in seeming rejection. Others caused a veritable deluge of complex replies, one after the other, inundating him with un-intelligible ramblings, only stopping when the appropriate monosyllabic reply was used that interrupted conversation for a while.

More and more words and phrases emerged; “Shut up!” needed to be used much less when the word for “please stop” had been found, “tell me more” produced much more palatable results than “feed me from the fire hose”.

But the biggest leap forward occurred when he discovered a whole new language: Much more vaguely descriptive, much less precise, it consisted of a series of interrelated sentences. Not a stream, but rather a rhyme, where each word in a sentence needed to be correlated to corresponding words in the following and preceding sentence to be understood.

No longer were the words abstract concepts like the ideal chair. Great care was taken to describe the actual chair in excruciating detail. Its every change of shade, every shadow, every speck of dust. The language was very difficult to understand. Words describing the same object became completely different when an object’s location or orientation changed.

However, the language was even harder to write: One had to essentially memorize paragraphs of text describing an object for it to be recognizable. It was very hard to determine which aspects of a particular object could be changed or omitted without hindering recognition. But slowly, carefully, he mastered this language as well, just to find that another stream of colourful blobs had arrived, providing yet another language.

Albeit the basic building blocks were much simpler and more repetitive, there was a great variety of dialects, and sometimes there were several sentences overlapping in the same stream of blobs. Such collisions could even change the words themselves, as if one was piggy-backed on top of the other.

But, oh, what a world unfolded before his eyes!

Fragment 3

“Terrible picture of her.” Ray thought to himself as he transferred Amber’s file to his eBook reader. “You hardly recognize her.” He dropped the reader in his briefcase, grabbed the uniform he’d laid over a chair the day before and quietly went across the narrow corridor, into the bathroom, careful to be quiet so he wouldn’t wake anyone up.