Two Bit Hack by Billy Jones
Part 1: Like A Million Others
Part 2: Pray For Peace
Part 3: Federal Reserve
Part 4: Expanding Economies
Part 5: Big Fish
Part 6: The Machine
Part 7: Pecking Orders
Part 8: Taking Care Of Business
Part 9: Twisting The Throttle
Part 10: Rise Of The Amazons
Part 11: Dangerous Drugs
Part 12: New Order
Part 13: Paying The Tolls
Part 14: Leaders Emerge
Part 15: Target On My Back
Part 16: First Kiss
Part 17: Spinning The Web
Part 18: The Visitors
Part 19: Best Laid Plans
Part 20: Killing Time
Part 21: Home Again
Part 22: Jamais vu
Part 23: The Zahir
Part 24: Mystery Folds
Part 25: Devil You Know
Part 26: Enter The Dark
Part 27: Revelation
Part 28: Journey
Part 29: Beware The Sandman
Part 30: Judgment Day
Part 31: Redemption
When things get sticky, just call me
and I'll come driving by
to zero in and take a shot
if you think you'd like to try.
We'll tie the knot come April
. A woody you'll soon know
. And we'll be off to sail the world
and watch the great whales blow!
"Life is complex. You don't have any person who is nice from the beginning until the end. You don't always have the notion of redemption. The bad people don't always pay." --Marjane Satrapi
It didn't end exactly the way I had hoped. The doctors kept me awake until they removed the microchip from my brain but instead of being released from the hospital after my recovery I was released to the custody of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and dragged into court on charges of kidnapping and murder.
Of course, with all the media attention that holding a nurse hostage inside a major medical center brings and an operating room full of renown neurosurgeons talking on television about what they had removed from inside my brain the government was having a pretty hard time making it all just go quietly away.
They ended up dropping the murder charges, saying it was self defense even though everyone knew it wasn't but the hostage taking was a different story for which I pulled 2 years at the Alderson, West Virginia Federal Prison Camp. That's right, a luxury prison filled with nothing but white collar criminals. I've never felt so out of place in my life.
When I got out I went home and started trying to get my life back together but all I could think about was Asylumland and my friends there. Spring finally rolled 'round so I fired up my old XS 650 and motored north again to Dillwyn, Virginia.
I stopped on top of the same hill as before and looked down on the asylum. The gates were wide open as were the doors. The grounds appeared to be empty except for an old stray dog. I decided to ride on down and investigate.
Everything was still pretty much inside but it looked as if no one had been there for a very long time. I went through the place looking for anything I thought might burn, rubbing alcohol, cleaning products, you name it and dumped them all on the beds, couches and chairs. Then I lit a match, tossed it onto one of the beds, walked out to my bike and rode back to the top of the hill where I watched the entire place burn almost completely to the ground before the local volunteer fire department had time to get there.
The next afternoon I rode up in front of a biker bar not far from Damascus, Virginia. A bunch of young guys were standing out front trying to look tough just like I did when I was that age. "You call that a motorcycle?" one of the asked.
"No," I replied, "I call it a Yamaha."
"Real men ride Harleys," another said.
"I used to be a real man, used to own a hog," I grinned,"Now I'm just old and in need of a beer while I'm passing through."
"Let him be," another said pointing to my North Carolina license plate, "he's a tourist come to support our local economy."
"Well by all means," the first one said as he held the door open for me.
"Thanks," I smiled.
It was while eating a burger and washing it down with a beer that I noticed a young woman. She looked just like Irene had looked at 25 when I first met her all those years ago. She was with some big blond headed guy who was drunk on his ass and being a real jerk. I tried not to look her way but I couldn't take my eyes off of her. Eventually she looked at me and said, "Hey Old Man, why are you staring at me?"
"I was just wondering if your name is Irene," I said.
"How do you know my name?" she asked. Her friend didn't looked pleased that she was talking with me and not him.
I guess it was a pretty dumb thing to ask but the next question just kind of slipped out, "Do you still have that tattoo of a blue butterfly on the inside of your left thigh?"
"How in the hell do you know about that?" she asked turning red as a beet.
"You Bitch," her boyfriend shouted, "I paid for that tattoo. How in the hell does this old man know about it? Have you been fucking around on me?"
She grabbed her helmet off the table and smashed him in the face knocking him to the floor! "Thor, you sorry bastard, nobody talks to me like that! Besides, just because you paid for a tattoo doesn't mean you own me. I just got that tattoo last night. There's no way this old man could have known about it. Besides, I've been with you every minute since you dumb fuck!"
As the two of us rode away I shouted above the wind, "I told you I'd take you motorcycle riding someday."
"That's good," Irene shouted back, "I've been looking for a better class of snake anyway."
Two Bit Hack has brought to you in part by Wackemall Mining, Manufacturing & Farming... Proud sponsors of the Vegetable Stalker.
“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path.” --Paulo Coelho
"I'll tell you anything," Stoner said. "Just don't shoot me."
"Why have you been keeping us prisoner?" I asked.
"It's all a DARPA funded experiment," Stoner said. "They called it Project Pegasus."
"DARPA," I asked, "What's DARPA?"
"Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency," he answered.
"So you work for the government?"
"No," he explained, "I work for a private contractor so the government can claim plausible deniability."
"You mean like if I get away and blow the whistle on the whole thing," I said.
"You'll never get away," Stoner said. "As soon as you go to sleep they'll bring you right back."
"How do they do that?" I asked.
"The chip inside your brain. As soon as you go to sleep it starts transmitting and we take control sending you anywhere and to any time we want." Stoner explained.
"Like when you sent me back in time to kill Park Chung-hee?" I asked.
"We thought you might be starting to remember?" Stoner said. "You've been in the program since 1968, you were one of the first to volunteer."
"But I was only 12 years old," I argued, "my parents wouldn't have let me volunteer for something like this."
"Your parents thought you were just going away for the summer-- science camp," Stoner replied, still anxiously staring at the gun barrel, "Faking the bus crash and getting you in the hospital for the surgery was the easy part. The hard part was putting all those memories in your head like that story you wrote about your friend Veggie Head Stalker."
"So I'm a time traveler and hit man who has been held hostage for the last 40 years?"
"That about sums it up," Stoner agreed, "and you might as well give up 'cause sooner or later you're going to sleep and you're going back."
"Don't sell me so short," I said, "There's no telling how long I can stay awake."
"But they're tracking me too," Stoner said, "They'll be here in no time."
"Thanks for warning me," I said. Then I shot Stoner in the thigh and grabbed his cell phone from his pocket as he rolled on the ground. "I bet they don't find you before you bleed to death."
Stoner cried out in pain and rolled across the ground clutching his thigh. The bullet was deep and the blood gushing. "You'll never get away," he cried.
I put Stoner's phone inside a plastic first aid case that I'd been carrying, taped the case up so it wouldn't leak and tossed it in the rain swollen river. "By the time they figure out you're not where that phone is you'll already be bled out." I gathered my things, turned back up stream and left him there to die.
"So Doc" I said standing in an operating room at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, "that's why I'm standing here holding this gun to the head of your nurse. You've got to get that thing you see on that X-ray out of my head and you've got to keep me wide awake until you've finished. Then maybe I can get back and see about saving my friends."
Beware The Sandman
"The wood of suicides has changed since my last visit to Hell. I remember it as a tiny grove. Now it resembles a forest." -- Neil Gaiman
I'll never forget how Irene, Sara and Sabrina all sat down in the floor of that abandoned house and wailed. I'll never forget how much I wanted to sit down with them and do the same. Almost 45 people with which we'd lived for years disappearing into thin air was reason enough for anyone to cry and yet I stood there at the back door as the storm winds began to blow and rain came down in torrents without shedding the first tear, the anger building up inside of me. "Do you think we should go now?" Tom asked.
"In the dark? We'll never get across the river as fast as the water is rising," Joe said. "Unless you want to walk along the river looking for a bridge I recommend we wait here."
"You're right," Tom agreed. "Besides, they're probably watching all the bridges."
"How could they have taken them?" I asked.
"I don't know," Tom answered, "but if you'll think about it, every time they ever took you before it was while you were sleeping."
"You mean to tell me the minute we go to sleep they'll simply snatch us right back?" Joe asked.
"Seems that way to me," Tom said.
"But how will we ever get away?" Joe asked.
"I don't know," Tom said. "I guess we just run and hope we can find a place to hide where they can't track us like a cave or something."
"And hope we stay awake that long," Joe complained. "Some plan this turned out to be."
I guess it was because the rain and winds were so loud that we never heard them coming but it wasn't until I heard Irene scream that we realized Stoner and several other men were rushing in the front door firing stun guns at Tom and Joe the instant they came in. With no idea what else I could do I ran out the back door while they wrestled to restrain the girls.
I made my way to the river and turned to the right to follow the river downstream as quickly as my tired old legs would carry me. With visibility near zero and no established trail it was all I could do to walk most of the time and I fell often never sure if or how far behind Stoner and the others might be. But I didn't stop except to catch my breath until I saw the sun start to rise in the east and the skies beginning to clear in the west. Then I sat down to eat a chocolate bar and a very cold baked potato left over from dinner a couple of nights before.
It was while I was eating that I heard two men fighting their way through the brush behind me. Knowing I couldn't run I chose to stand my ground, picked up a rock and hid in the bushes. I waited until the first one was almost upon me then launched myself from the bushes, my body hitting the first man and knocking him backwards into the second man while I pounded the first man's skull with the rock.
Luckily for me the second man turned and ran. I grabbed a stun gun off the dead man's body and gave chase. When I finally got a look at the fleeing man I realized it was Stoner. For what is probably the only time in my life, I caught my second wind.
I chased him for almost a mile, maybe more, through the thick underbrush along the riverbank until finally he took a hard fall and twisted his ankle. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a 9 millimeter pistol but before he could get off a shot I hit him with a shot from the stun gun and took his pistol from his trembling hands. "Are you going to kill me?" Stoner asked.
"I don't know," I answered. "It depends on how good you are at answering questions."
"Sleep - Those little slices of death, how I loathe them." --Edgar Allen Poe
I would be no reluctant messiah like in the novel by Richard Bach, I'd not be leading almost 50 people to their salivation and I knew it from the beginning. So did Joe and Tom but when Janice convened our congress together the vote was 100% in favor of escape from Asylumland so good, bad or indifferent, lead them we would. To were we didn't know.
It was the middle of the night, most of the guards were asleep at their posts like they were always known to be. Joe, Sara and the Loon Squad took the lead knocking out any guard or orderly they came in contact with and taking their stun guns, blackjacks and handcuffs as they went. Most of the other women followed while Tom and myself along with the other men watched our backs pouring out jugs of ammonia as we went. As we exited the final door we tossed buckets filled with bleach onto the ammonia soaked floors. The resulting ammonia-chloride gas would take down anyone Joe, Sara and the Loons had missed.
It took Joe all of a second to snap the neck of the guard at the gate who was too absorbed with his hand held device to ever notice Joe walking up behind him and a minute later almost 50 people had walked through the gates, across the road and into the woods to face a cold night in a place where none of us knew the way home. "We're free," Irene said clutching my arm.
"For now," I replied, "but you know come morning someone will be coming to hunt us down."
"I know," she said, "all we can do is try."
We walked all night and all through the next day staying away from roads, houses and open fields moving west towards the mountains. While we expected to hear dogs and trackers rushing us at any moment, for some strange reason they never came. "Do you think they might just let us go?" Janice asked.
"No way," Tom answered, "they're just counting on us turning up somewhere convenient."
"Maybe they know where we are all the time," Joe suggested.
"I wouldn't put it past them," Tom said, "they know how to control our minds."
"Why aren't they controlling our minds now?" Sara asked.
"Who says they aren't," Sabrina suggested, "Who says they aren't leading us somewhere right now?"
"That's just twisted," Irene said.
"Like everything they've been doing to us isn't," Sabrina complained.
Late that evening we came to an abandoned house not far from Gladstone, Virginia near the banks of the James River. Joe and Tom wanted to keep pushing on but most of us were simply too tired to continue on without some rest. We decided it would be best if several of us kept watch while the others packed the inside of the house and slept a few hours. Tom, Joe and I volunteered to keep the first watch and Sara, Irene and Sabrina offered to stay up and keep us company. Four hours later, Sara went inside to wake up the second watch and everyone we had left inside was gone, vanished into thin air. "They're gone!" Sara yelled. "They're all gone!"
Irene and I ran in the back door while Joe, Tom and Sabrina ran in the front door. "They didn't come out this way!" Joe shouted.
"They didn't come out the back either," I yelled.
"That can mean only one thing," Tom said,. "They're all back in Asylumland."
“The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.” --Wendell Berry
Tom had made quite the impression on us. And if you believed his story then it explained what was going on and why we were all living in Asylumland. Problem was, it didn't fit what we believed about ourselves. After all, time travel is pretty far fetched even to a bunch of people living in an insane asylum.
Still, he seemed to be right about my remembering. In the weeks and months that followed I started remembering more and more about who, where and how I'd killed in the past. I remembered starring through scopes on rifles, sticking knives in the backs of unsuspecting people walking down the street and pouring gasoline on people before lighting matches and walking away.
Sometimes the memories came to me in my sleep-- sometimes when I was wide awake. Usually I'd worked alone but sometimes I worked with others whose names I didn't know and faces I'd never seen before or sense. If what Tom was telling us was true, someone had figured out the perfect way to kill anyone, anywhere and anytime they wanted someone dead.
And as far as I could tell we were powerless to resist. Even Tom said that since he'd become aware of what was going on they still managed to control him. He spoke of watching the entire thing right down to pulling the trigger and not being able to resist.
I wasn't the only one with memories either. Janice was having the same nightmares again and again. We tried to pass it all off as the power of suggestion, a psychological trick Tom was playing on us, but that wouldn't explain the fact that I remembered killing Park Chung-hee before Tom had told us his explanation of what was going on. "There's one thing for certain," Janice said.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Tom or no Tom," Janice replied, "it's time we got serious about getting out of here."
"You're the president," I said. "Give the order and I'll make a run for it."
"Just make sure you take the rest of us with you?" Janice ordered.
"I'll get up with Joe and figure out a way to make it happen or die trying," I answered.
Enter The Dark
“W. H. Auden once suggested that to understand your own country you need to have lived in at least two others. One can say something similar for periods of time: to understand your own century you need to have come to terms with at least two others. The key to learning something about the past might be a ruin or an archive but the means whereby we may understand it is--and always will be--ourselves.” --Ian Mortimer
"So who did you kill?" Tom asked as he sat down at the table where the rest of us were having dinner. The others only stared.
"Who said I killed anyone?" I asked.
"That's what they usually send us to do when they take us out of here," Tom said, "and like me you're getting old enough to start remembering what they made you do."
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"Look around this table here," Tom said. "Part of the girls think they're here because their fathers didn't want them talking about how they raped them as little girls, some thought they were getting in the witness protection program, Joe there thinks he has secrets the military doesn't want anyone to know and I'd be just about willing to bet that Janice there thinks she was married to some rich bastard who found himself a younger woman and didn't want to give up half of everything he owned. Am I right?"
"What about me?" I asked, "Why am I here?"
"I figure you're thinking you're some kind of leftist, activist type who thinks he knows something about someone in government or big business."
"You say you figure but you don't know?" I asked.
"Right," Tom said, "I'm not a mind reader and I don't really know why any of you think you're in here but the people who run these places are a bunch of two bit hacks and can only come up with so many scripts for the characters."
"And you're saying we're the characters?" Joe asked.
"You got it, Jar Head," Tom laughed.
"Only there's one problem," Joe explained, "Billy thinks he killed Park Chung-hee but that happened a long time ago, not just a couple of days ago. I remember because we studied that in our special ops training."
"You remember it but that doesn't mean it happened the way they taught it," Tom said. "They pop us in and out anywhere and any time they want to."
"Are you saying we're time travelers?" Janice asked.
"That would be one way to describe it," Tom answered. "Of course, to them them we're nothing more than a bunch of machines to be kept on inventory in places like this until they need us for their next assassination, suicide bombing or deadly crash."
"That can't be," Sara said, "some of us have never been away from here."
"You might not be finished with your programming," Tom explained. "And some of the assignments will only keep you away a few hours, like when you have your private exams. Sometimes I've set in the jungle for a month waiting on some Colombian drug lord to come passing by, other times they popped me into some sleeping dignitary's hotel room and I pulled the trigger to the back of his head and was back out in seconds. In and out, same day, never knowing what happened until years later."
"So why do you know and the rest of us don't," Janice asked.
"Some of you do know," Tom answered. "Billy is starting to remember. They're really good at this time travel stuff but apparently the human brain is still giving them a fit. As we get older their ability to erase our memory starts to fail. Take me, I'm almost 60 years old and one of the oldest still around. I'm guessing Billy is almost as old as me."
"I think I'm 57," I said.
"And you're starting to remember," Tom said. "By the time you're my age it will all come back to you, every time you pulled the trigger, every bomb you set, every blood splattered wall, every face in a rifle scope, all of it will come back to haunt you just as if you'd known you were doing it all along. Just don't ever let them know you remember."
"What happens if you tell them you remember?" Sabrina asked.
"Yeah, what?" Irene asked.
"You go away for good," Tom answered.
"Like Georgia?" Irene asked.
"Who is Georgia?" Tom asked.
"She's a girl that used to live here," Sabrina answered. "She went away for a while and when she came back she told everyone she had been to New York with her boyfriend."
"Yeah," Irene added, "We all thought she was just making it all up."
"And they took her away?" Tom asked.
"Haven't seen her since," Sabrina said.
"And you never will," Tom said, "not if you live to be a thousand."