Tags

, ,

4 Beyond the Standard Model / How strange or odd

11 August 2004

Theresa watched silently as Dr Agcaoili walked out of the coffee shop, and then out of sight. She did not regret her last action—she felt that the governor was too much in control of the situation, and so she needed to demonstrate some semblance of independence from him. But she didn’t expect that display of power, and it made clear the gap between their strengths—her knees still shook after witnessing that bright light from Dr Agcaoili’s hand. I hope we’re not up against a governor, then, she thought as she returned the scissors to her bag and left her half-drunk, lukewarm latte and the coffee shop.

She had no destination in mind; she walked around the block as she digested the information she had gleaned from the governor. That was why she did not notice that she had a stalker ever since she stepped out of the coffee shop—a dull grey car with tinted windows that crawled as unobtrusively as possible through the streets crowded with pedestrians. She walked into a deserted street, and the car stopped. A man in a black windbreaker stepped out of it and walked briskly towards Theresa. When he was right behind her he grabbed her right wrist, but Theresa was startled immediately out of her reverie, and she tried to shake her hand free. Taking advantage of the weak point of a simple grab (the joint made by the thumb and the palm) she managed to break free from his grip. But then the man’s left hand rose up and came rushing towards her face; a handkerchief was held in it. That hand was trying to reach around her face, so Theresa turned to face him and drew from her bag the scissors she had used to threaten Dr Agcaoili with. The man was caught off-guard by this display of resistance, and Theresa managed to stab the scissors into his right arm. But the left hand holding the handkerchief remained unhampered, and Theresa’s assailant managed to smother her nose and mouth with it. The chloroform soaked in it instantly took effect, knocking Theresa unconscious, and the man dragged her body to the car, dumped her in the car’s rear seat, and set off.

* * * * *

OJ had not left the site of the second bombing, despite his earnest desire to do so. It has been more than half a day since they had lost track of Theresa Santos’s whereabouts, and they still haven’t found her trail. Furthermore, Agnes still hasn’t reported the results of her investigation of ammonium nitrate sales. But, barring new developments or a solid lead to follow, he needed to be in a place where his subordinates, who were spread throughout the city chasing various leads, could contact him, despite the pressing thought in the back of his mind that today would be crucial for the case, and that somewhere, things were heading towards a decisive conclusion.

His phone rang, and the caller ID displayed the name of the subordinate whose report he had been waiting for the most.

‘Agnes, what news?’ he said to the phone.

‘Have you caught Theresa Santos yet?’ said Agnes.

‘No,’ said OJ. ‘We haven’t found her trail again after missing her in IRHEP.’

‘Call off the hunt, then,’ said Agnes. ‘She’s not the bomber.’

‘What did you find?’ said OJ. Aside from his keen analytic mind, one of the reasons OJ was among the finest investigators in the country was that he listened to his subordinates’s opinions, allowing him to cover the blind spots of his own thought processes. And SPO4 Agnes Rivero was one of the best around for following paper trails.

‘I have enough here to bring to a judge,’ said Agnes plainly. ‘I have motive, means, and opportunity.’

‘Yes,’ I can sense your excitement,’ said OJ. ‘Walk me through your evidence.’

‘Okay,’ said Agnes, ‘so someone’s been purchasing small amounts of ammonium nitrate repeatedly over the past month, and, whoever he is, he used a credit card twice. The ID under which he purchased the material was from Sergeant Alan Gomez, a clerk for Major General Teodoro Garcia, head of the Army Special Forces Planning Group. But the credit card belongs to Second Lieutenant Alex Garcia, son of General Garcia, just graduated from the military academy last year. From that you can see that they both have access to that special armoury with those expensive detonators we found in the first bombing. When I went down this morning to Army HQ to talk to this Sergeant Gomez, he told me that his voter’s ID’s been missing for about a month now. Now I wasn’t really suspicious of him—sure, a lot connects to him, but he lost both his legs in the line of duty—in some skirmish down south—so I doubt he could go all over town to buy all those ammonium nitrate, let alone carry the sacks to wherever his factory is. Plus, he has no apparent motive for him to become a terrorist—his record’s clean, his wife’s still alive and healthy, and his children are all doing well enough.’

‘So Alex Garcia…?’ said OJ.

‘Yeah. When I checked him out, I found out that he was the older brother of that Universidad Central student who drank acid in a chem lab last month—and, get this, his brother’s been classmates with Theresa Santos since high school. They’re close, but not that close—apparently, Theresa rejected him when he asked her out. Now I’ll admit the motive may be iffy, but he has the means, and with his special forces training, planting those bombs would be a walk in the park, so the opportunity’s there. So unless he has a good reason for his credit card purchases of ammonium nitrate, a decent prosecutor could get him convicted—barring any outside influence, of course; his dad’s not a general for nothing. He’s well-connected: politicians, judges, you name it.’

‘Excellent work, SPO4,’ said OJ automatically, but there remained one nagging thought in his mind. He decided to voice his doubts out. ‘That explains a lot, but not why there were two Theresa Santoses. She still has a lot of explaining to do.’

‘But she’s not the bomber, sir,’ said Agnes. ‘I’m almost sure of that now. For all we know, she’s the target of the bombings.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘”There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”’

‘I bet that’s the only Shakespeare line you know.’

‘But I do use it to good effect, especially in this business,’ said Agnes with a laugh. ‘And I have read Romeo and Juliet, too, so you would’ve lost that bet, sir.’

OJ laughed as well, before turning serious once more. ‘Do you have a location for Alex Garcia? I’ll give you command authority over the manhunt.’

‘I don’t have one yet—he wasn’t at the Army HQ this morning, and nobody knows where he’s gone to. I need people on the street to check out the places he’s been frequenting for the past month. Especially those near gasoline stations.’

‘Again, good work, Agnes,’ said OJ. ‘Keep me informed.’

‘Will do,’ said Agnes before hanging up.

OJ pocketed his phone and started pacing the sidewalk in front of the bombed bungalow. He was glad for having chosen his subordinates well—he had been distracted too much by the mystery of two Theresa Santoses to notice the more mundane trail of evidence, but Agnes chose to follow it, and it led her to the truth. He knew that he was also after the truth, but, apparently, it was not connected to the case at hand. He wanted to drop his preoccupation with this mystery and help Agnes with her investigation, but he couldn’t. He knew that not everything was made clear with the resolution of a case, that there would remain unanswered questions even after the killer had been caught, but this one question took over his mind, demanding elucidation. A truth, one that seemed greater than even the deaths of over a dozen people, beckoned to him.

‘Senior Inspector Tan,’ said an affable voice tinged with erudition, ‘what a coincidence. This certainly is a day of fortuitous meetings.’

‘You,’ said OJ with some venom. He was the person he least expected to show up in front of him, yet there he stood, plain as day. ‘What are you doing here?’

‘I was out for a walk,’ said Dr Agcaoili, stopping about a metre away from the cop, his eyes focusing on the remains of the shattered house. ‘But if your anger is directed at what I’ve done yesterday, then I sincerely apologise for that. But I believe I have the right to get myself released from detention.’

‘What do you want with me?’ said OJ, his suspicions unappeased.

‘A seeker of truth as earnest as you should not be denied, don’t you agree?’ said Dr Agcaoili. OJ said nothing, his wary eyes fixed in him. ‘Do you wish to get answers to the question burning in your mind?’

‘What do you mean?’ said OJ, his distrust giving way to incredulity.

‘The truth about Theresa Santos, of course,’ said Dr Agcaoili plainly.

‘What you do know about her,’ said OJ, his suspicions returning full force, now mixed with anger.

‘Yesterday I had every reason to lie to you,’ said Dr Agcaoili, his voice without a hint of regret. ‘For one thing, my secretary was there, and so was one of your men. I could hardly divulge the truth so calmly in front of them. And another thing: back then you were convinced that Theresa was a terrorist responsible for almost twenty deaths. You would not have accepted my words then. But now that we’re alone, and that you know she’s innocent, I could answer your questions to your heart’s content.’

‘You are a deceiver of the worst kind,’ said OJ, his voice trembling with rage. ‘I should have you arrested for lying to me.’

‘You and your human laws cannot force me to tell the truth,’ said Dr Agcaoili, the light-heartedness in voice completely gone. ‘You may have much authority, Senior Inspector Tan, but I assure you the authority I hold over this world is much higher than your mind could fathom.’ His head turned from the ruins to face the police officer, and OJ saw in his eyes that he told the truth, that space itself would obey the commands of this harmless-looking man. Mustering the strength of his will to suppress the feeling of insignificance that assailed him, he managed to say in his voice of authority:

‘What can you tell me about Theresa Santos?’

Dr Agcaoili smiled in his usual manner, and his head turned back to the boarding house. ‘First, I have a little favour to ask of you. A time will soon come when Theresa would ask for your help. I want you to give it to her, whatever she may need it for.’

OJ hesitated, weighing his duty to a nation and its citizens against his desire to know the truth. After a while he said: ‘So long as it doesn’t go against my duties.’

‘I doubt that it would.’

OJ gave a curt nod of assent, and another smile appeared on Dr Agcaoili’s face.

‘Very well, then. I hope you’re ready for some earth-shattering revelation.’

* * * * *

When Theresa regained consciousness, she found herself sitting in a cavernous dark room that smelled of gasoline. When she tried to stand up she found out that she was bound to a wooden chair. Remembering the sequence of events that brought her to this place, she cast her eyes around for a glimpse of her kidnapper. She found a person hidden in the shadows of some scaffolding and the wall, bent over a box.

‘What do you want with me?’ said Theresa; she was glad that her voice didn’t quaver, despite the fear and anger that she felt.

‘Ah, you’re awake now,’ said the man in a conversational tone as he stood up and walked towards her.

That voice… It was somewhat familiar to Theresa, although it wasn’t one that she had heard recently. She searched her memories for the owner of the voice.

Kuya Alex?’ said Theresa tentatively. ‘Why are you doing this?’

‘So you remember,’ said Alex. ‘Maybe you also remember my poor brother Peter, whom you cast aside so cold-heartedly.’

‘I didn’t…’ said Theresa softly, her head shaking from side to side. ‘I made it clear to him many times that we would never be more than friends. He should have remembered that, but he ignored my wishes, so I had to turn him down. I still wanted to be his friend despite all that, but he was the one who ran away from me.’

‘I didn’t bring you here to listen to your excuses,’ said Alex in a chilly tone. ‘But,’ he added, returning to his previous conversational voice, ‘maybe we have time for that. I want you to know why I brought you here.’

There was something in his words that made Theresa fear the worst. ’Were you the one who bombed the mall?’ she asked hesitantly.

‘Yes,’ said Alex plainly, neither with guilt nor with pride.

‘And Patrick’s boarding house, you attacked it, too?’

Alex nodded. ‘I’m glad you brought his name up,’ he said, and this time a dash of anger was mixed with his voice.  ’I don’t know what you see in him that you would choose him over my brother—’

‘That’s not—’

‘—but I don’t care about the caprices of your emotions. What I do care about is that you’re close to the one responsible for my brother’s death, so I can use you as bait.’

‘What?’ said Theresa in genuine puzzlement. She felt that during the entirety of their conversation she had been missing a vital piece of information for that sentence to make sense. ‘What do you mean?’

‘Peter died because of what that Patrick Cruz did.’

‘What? Peter’s dead?’ said Theresa, almost as a shriek.

‘How could you not know?’ roared Alex. ‘Yes, he’s dead, and it was a shock for me that he would take his own life. At first I thought you were to blame… Then he told me.’

Theresa stared silently at Alex in disbelief. The Peter Garcia from her world was still alive, but ever since they entered the university they haven’t talked to each other. That was why she didn’t notice…

‘What did Patrick do to make Peter kill himself?’

‘He cheated on that exam. He stole what should have been my brother’s, the top of every academic endeavour.’ The corners of Alex’s lips twitch, as if he doubted his own words, or as he had just uttered a poorly-delivered lie. Theresa was sceptical that anyone would take his own life for such a reason, even someone as academically exacting as Peter. But, looking at Alex, she realised that his actions were carried out because he believed what he had said, despite that twitch she saw earlier. Also, he seemed different when he said that—despite the outburst, he seemed robotic, like an automaton programmed to deliver those lines.

After about a minute of silence, Theresa spoke coldly. ‘You’re a coward. Even though you hate him this much, you don’t have the courage to see him die before your eyes. That’s why you used this cowardly method—bombing a place full of innocent people, and kidnapping me.’

‘You’re wrong!’ roared Alex, as he stomped towards her. ‘No one is innocent! A world that would allow my little brother to die could never be innocent! He should have been alive. He should have been happy. He deserved that.’

Theresa started at his use of the word ‘world.’ It was as if he had seen a world where Peter still lived, and he believed that that was what should have happened.

‘And you—you most of all—you’re not innocent. In fact, after Patrick Cruz, you’re the one most responsible for his death. You made my brother sad and pushed him to the brink. That’s why I’m happy you and Patrick Cruz are related. I get to use you to lure him into my little trap—once he walks in through that door to rescue you, boom!’ His hands mimed an explosion. ‘And I get to punish you as well.’

Alex drew closer to Theresa until they were face-to-face. ‘You’re a beautiful woman,’ he whispered. ‘I guess that’s why my brother fell for you. But you’re like the rest of your kind—sluts who would draw in men to use them, and then throw them away when you’re done.’ He lifted Theresa’s chin with his hand, bringing his face close to her neck. ‘If you’re acting like a slut, I think you should go all the way. That’ll be my gift to you, before I leave.’

He moved away from Theresa and looked into her eyes, hoping to savour the fear he thought he had instilled in her. But that was a mistake—Theresa had been trying to use the ability Dr Agcaoili said she had, the power to see between worlds. The concentration she needed, and not the fear of his threat, was the reason she was silent while Alex looked at her with lust.

There has been no tangible change in her; her eyes didn’t glow red or blue, and no visible aura surrounded her body. But Alex stopped in his tracks as she stared at him, as if by an irrefutable command or a compelling force. After a moment of paralysis he took a step backwards, his eyes wide in terror. He felt naked before her gaze—worse, he felt as if every moment of his life had been scrutinised by an unfeeling deity, who had now in judgement cast a baleful glance at him.

‘What… are you?’ he said, fear dripping from every word of his question. He was bigger and stronger than her, and more experienced in fighting; he knew that much. And in any case she was tied up in a chair, unable to move. Yet with her gaze on him he felt that she had the upper hand, that he was the helpless one. He swore to avenge his brother even if it killed him, but he wasn’t prepared to suffer damnation just to complete his vengeance. With his eyes fixed on Theresa’s bound form, he backed his way towards the door and exited in a panicked haste. In any case his trap was set. If Patrick Cruz came to rescue her, then he would die for sure this time.

After watching Alex flee, Theresa sighed and closed her eyes. The strain she endured as she connected to all the worlds she had seen threatened to break her; it was similar to what she had suffered during her journey between worlds. After a moment to compose herself, she opened her eyes and muttered to herself.

‘So he has seen other worlds.’

So far as she knew, there were only two ways for someone to be able to see other worlds: either he had crossed worlds, or a governor allowed him to see them. And since the brilliance of other worlds shone only on his mind, and not on his entire body, she knew that the first case was impossible. And if she were to believe Dr Agcaoili’s innocence (and, while she had suspicions that the physicist had plans regarding her and Patrick, she believed, for most part, his claim about being innocent of the attack on them), then there was another governor out there, one who worked against them. She wondered if Alex connived with that governor for his revenge, or if that governor merely exploited Alex’s anger and grief—she knew how much he cared for his younger brother—for his own goals.

But now all those questions were academic. A soft beep brought her back to her present situation. Abilities or not, she would die if she stayed here. And even if she managed to escape, but if Patrick rushed here, thinking to save her, he would die. Theresa already bore the weight of her mother’s destroyed future; she felt that she would break if another life were ruined because of her. She struggled against her bonds, but it was too tight. Nevertheless she continued to wriggle, hoping to shake the ropes loose even a little, but all that she had achieved was to bring the chair to the floor, knocking over a pile of wood that tipped a metallic box over. A clear, thin liquid spilled from the box, crawling towards another metallic box—the one that Alex was working on when she came to. A small spark jumped from inside the box, igniting the spilled nitromethane fuel, and soon Theresa found herself surrounded by burning fuel. The heat and smoke assailed her senses, but Theresa stared calmly at the heart of the flames, murmuring to herself.

‘Don’t come here, Patrick. I’ve already warned you about your dreams. Besides, I’ve been waiting for a long time for my chance to die, and I won’t let you take it from me.’

She closed her eyes; a sign of surrender. The oppressive heat seemed to her a gentle caress that would bear her to a world of peace. Then she saw her life flash before her eyes.

She had told Dr Agcaoili that she had no feelings for this world’s Patrick, but the memories that played in her mind as death drew near were those spent with him yesterday: the tenderness in his eyes when she told him about how she crossed worlds; the relief in his eyes when he came to rescue her from arrest; and the look of affection he had during that conversation on the way to his house. A fear of death took hold of her, and her eyes snapped open, looking around for rescue that she knew would not come.

A part of the building exploded, showering concrete dust on her. Scaffolding scattered throughout the building had their wooden supports burned away, and the crashing sound they made when they fell to the ground rivalled Theresa’s cry.

‘Patrick! Don’t leave me alone!’

The door was slammed open, as if by an explosive force. Outlined in the fiery light was a figure familiar to Theresa.

‘PATRICK!!!’

Her plaintive cry seemed to reach the heavens, and cross the boundaries of worlds.

[PreviousNext]
[Back to Crossing Everett index.]

Advertisements