Slow Ghosts in the Soft Machine: Part 29



In Part 28, Tark was questioned by a police inspector.


Tark got in the backseat of the patrol car. Fortunately for him, because he wasn’t a suspect, Tark didn’t have to endure the ride squirming to get comfortable with his hands restrained behind his back.

When Tark walked inside the police station and passed through security, Officer Digby led him past the front desk. A placard above the desk read District One: Central Booking.

Two flights above the main floor, Tark was brought into a small room, furnished only with a lone table and three chairs.

“Have a seat,” Digby motioned to the single chair on the far side.

Once he sat down, Tark waited, going over in his mind the events of the past morning. He tried to picture what happened and what he told Inspector Grant as two flow charts stacked side by side. If I could only take a mental screenshot, he thought.

“Would like something to drink?” Digby finally broke the silence.

Tark hesitated. In books, movies, and television, this was usually a ploy to gain access to a suspect’s DNA without permission. Should I say no? Would these bastards try to pull some shady shit, or, is my imagination running wild? I’m going to need my wits about me for the round of questioning that will be coming up. “I’ll take a glass of ice water and a cup of coffee,” Tark replied.

Inspector Grant arrived minutes after the refreshments. Tark took a sip of the coffee. Bitter and lukewarm, it tasted like it came directly out of the script of a cop show. Even though the coffee had the flavor of battery acid, caffeine brought him around, clearing his head.

Grant wasted no time. Setting the notebook down, he said, “I’m going to go over your statement. I want you to listen closely.”

Tark listened to every word, his mind’s eye straining to make pictures of the chain of events. It took three times of this back and forth until both parties came to an agreement.

Then Grant asked the question Tark had been waiting to hear: “What were you doing in the tank?”

“I was taking part in a virtual reality simulation dedicated to Alzheimer’s research.”

Grant took notes while Tark did the best he could to explain a complex procedure to the best of his own limited knowledge. It was Tark’s guess the virtual world he was literally immersed in could only be powered by a super computer.

Grant interjected. “Our technical forensics agree with that. They figure the crime scene was just a node on a larger network.”

Tark looked up. The walls of the interrogation room seemed to come alive in such a real way it reminded him of the time he entered a bathroom during a hurricane. The walls flexed back. Rising air pressure scooped the water in the toilet against the sides of the bowl.

“I’m going to get some more coffee … Would you like some?” Grant asked.

Tark looked at the remnants of the dark liquid floating in the Styrofoam container. He couldn’t choke down one cup of this bitter brew, why would he want another?

“Don’t worry … I’m sending out for it.”

“In that case, I’m in. I’ll take a medium regular with milk.”

Grant typed a quick text on his phone and sent it. While he did this, Tark looked at his own hands. Fingernails needed trimming. Using the tip of one thumb, he rocked the nail on his index finger back and forth, searching for the right threshold of pain that moved the breathing walls back where they belonged.

Tark relaxed, dropping his forehead and closing his eyes. He was dirty, hungry and tired. He needed to feel the soothing touch of a hot shower, the satisfaction of a full belly, and the magic of dreamless sleep.

How much more of this questioning can I stand? Tark asked himself. Every second the panic he felt seemed to match the pulse pounding in his temples.

“Mr. Wilhelmson …” Tark heard a voice in the distance. He pressed his closed eyes tighter. Tark didn’t know how he knew this, but, the chair he sat in was perched atop the KVLY transmitting mast, over 2,000 feet above the barren, snow-covered plains of North Dakota.

Tark felt no fear. Instead of the vision paralyzing him with fear, the blue sky meeting the white horizon calmed him and normalized his beating heart.

“Mr. Wilhelmson.” The voice repeated.

When Tark felt a hand on his shoulder he opened his eyes. “I’m all right,” he answered.

When coffee came, the man sitting across from him got a ping on his phone. From across the table, Tark could see it was a long message.

The man, Inspector Grant of the Ft. Lauderdale Police Force, read the message from FORTEC, the office of the forensic technician:

Observation of the surveillance cameras found at the crime scene (Operations Chamber) show Tark Wilhelmson entering the tank. He is being assisted by Nurse Mercedes Herrera. 

Nurse Herrera is seen leaving the tank room (Aquatics Chamber) and she doesn’t appear in the video again.

Two minutes after Nurse Herrera leaves the room, Dr, Longstreet is seen slumping over the computer console. This footage coincides with coroners time of death prediction

Tark Wilhelmson is still in the tank.

Another message came through:

The social security number given by Nurse Herrera belonged to another Mercedes Herrera, dead for four years.

“I’ve got good news, Mr. Wilhelmson,” the police inspector said. “You’re free to go.”