Slow Ghosts in the Soft Machine: Part 28



In Part 27, Tark found his way out of the virtual circulatory system.


Tark hung the helmet to a lanyard on the back pack. He climbed slowly out of the tank, weary from the narrow escape. Tark stood in the Aquatics Chamber and dropped the air cylinder and back pack. Nurse Herrera was not in the room and he couldn’t see Dr. Longstreet in the Operations Center. What the hell is going on? he asked himself, looking around.

A dark stain on the floor caught Tark’s eye when he entered the Operations Center. When he came around the bank of computers lining the wall he held his breath, stepping back up against the wall. Was that Longstreet slumped over the console in a puddle of blood dripping and pooling on the floor?

Tark’s first instinct was to to get the hell out of there. Casually walk across the street dressed in a million dollar high-tech suit, get in his car, and drive away.

Once the initial flight urge wore off and he no longer felt he might become the victim of a killer, Tark found his phone and dialed 911.

Within minutes, sirens wailed in the distance, ending seconds after the sound reached high levels.

Loud banging followed. Tark walked out to the reception area, arms outspread. Two police officers stood on the sidewalk, hands poised over their sidearms.

Tark remembered seeing Nurse Herrera step on a metal strip on the floor to let him in. He did the same. The door slid open.

“Did you make the call to 911?” the first police officer to come inside asked.

“I did,” Tark nodded.

“Are you hurt? Do you need medical assistance?”

“No, I’m not injured. There is a corpse in one of the other rooms,” Tark said. “It’s —” Tark trailed off. The body was face down. He didn’t know if it was Dr. Longstreet. He didn’t mention it.

The first officer on the scene looked Tark up and down. “Did you want to say something?”

“That room there, officer.”

By now another patrol car arrived. Two more officers came in the building. The first two officers entered the Operations Center. Tark waited in the lobby, pressing cold palms against a throbbing head.

“Tark Wilhelmson?” asked a man flashing a gold badge. “I’m Inspector Grant. I need to ask you some questions.”


“You were identified by Patrolman Digby, the first officer on the scene, as the person making a 911 call reporting a death.”


“You discovered the body and called it in.” Inspector Grant glanced at the adjoining door to the Operations Center. He took a long, hard look at the skin-tight haptic suit Tark was wearing. “Do you have anything to add to this?” he asked, notepad in hand.

“The dead man —”

“You’re referring to Dr. Longstreet,” the inspector broke in.

“Yes, I didn’t see his face when I discovered the body.”

“You knew Dr. Longstreet?”

“I did, I was working on a project with him.”

“You were in these offices before you made the call?”


“Where were you … during this project?” Grant asked, casting another glance at the tight-fitting black suit crisscrossed in a grid of shimmering flat wires.

Tark told Inspector Grant the whole story. Grant listened, stopping Tark often to verify the facts. When he heard that another person, Nurse Herrera, was in the Aquatics Chamber with Tark, he made a note on a blank page, tore it off, and gave it to Officer Digby.

“So,” Inspector Grant leaned in, “what you’re saying is you were inside of the water tank being guided by Dr. Longstreet. You lost contact with the doctor and for some reason it took you over an hour to get out. When you did get, you found you were alone and the doctor was dead.”

Grant’s tone told Tark the inspector had doubts. Shit, he must think I’m a raving lunatic. He’s probably going to haul my ass in.

Tark’s suspicions were confirmed when Grant said, “I’m going to have to take you into custody, Mr. Wilhelmson.”

“Am I being charged?”

“Not at this time. We need to ask you some more questions.”

“Can I put my regular clothes back on?”

“Yes,” Grant answered. “We’ll need the suit as evidence.”