The sun smashed down on the cracked and barren land like the fist of God. Juan didn’t care, even in the thick black riding leathers as his heavyset hog burned down the highway.
The oppressive heat couldn’t dissuade him from his goal, his purpose. A greater fire had been ignited within him that the desert’s temperature could not match. His people were at risk, killed mercilessly for the bottom line, pathetic profit the only justification for their murder.
Juan would find the source; terminate them with extreme prejudice, as they said in the movies. Not long now, as the motorbike ate up the dry, dusty miles.
Soon, very soon.
“Servant David, you may enter,” the dry voice leaked out of the intercom.
David smoothed out his suit, quietened his quaking composure. He walked in slowly, waiting patiently to be addressed by the inhabitant of the sumptuously appointed chamber.
“Servant, hearken to my words.” The thrill inside him that reverberated from hearing that emotionless voice made him want to prostrate himself before the speaker, to live and die at his command. He’d remembered when it had just been the money, the power offered for ‘services rendered’.
He still had wealth undreamt of; still had power immeasurable. But now he worked for a completely different reason.
David was now a Servant, and here was the Master.
Who spoke again to eager, attentive ears. “Your task, Servant David, is this. A dealer in the drug Nirvana has been discovered – we believe he has a direct connection with the Unbound. Find out what he knows by any means necessary. Our resources lie at your disposal.”
He bowed low, preparing for his dismissal from the Master’s presence. However, David’s ruler had more to say.
“You must make haste. We have reason to believe that an individual called Juan Ibañez also seeks this dealer.”
He was risking himself, being so impudent, but David had to put it forward. “Permission to speak please, Master?”
A slight inclination of the head; almost imperceptible nod.
“Juan Ibañez is also one of the Unbound, I believe. He would seek this dealer to obtain the same information we seek, the location of the harvesters of Nirvana, for his own purposes. If I get to the dealer first, I can extract the information needed and lie in wait for this … Juan. Kill two birds with one stone, you could say.”
The Master spoke once again to the Servant. “Your idea shows … insight. I am well pleased. You are dismissed.”
David’s knees almost buckled to receive such praise. A torrent of endorphins cascading through his bloodstream, a greater high than the purest cocaine.
He found his voice yet again. “Thank you, Master, for your high praise. I live to serve.” He said reverently. Bowed low and left.
He made use of the Masters’ infrastructure, the network of control interlinking their spheres of influence. Each Master worked with the rest of their kind to bring out their combined goals, the chosen path of humanity. Behind the scenes it was like clockwork; a traveller on the flight he wanted detained by customs, was forced to take a later flight while David took his place. Hastened through customs himself by the totally authentic FBI badge provided in seconds by the Masters.
“I’m coming for you, Juan,” he whispered as he buckled up for take-off. “Soon. Very soon.”
The place was a one-horse town perched on the edge of nowhere. The last gasp of civilization before the Big Empty. If you could call a bunch of down-at-the-heels shops and a rusty gas station ‘civilization’.
But the focal point, as always in these backwaters, was the bar. Already doing a brisk trade as Juan rolled into town. Hog resting on the kickstand he slowly sauntered up to the big double doors, the muted murmur of music escaped from the ill-fitting panels. He kicked a scrap of torn tire from his path, baked dry in the desert heat to resemble the skinned hide of some sand reptile.
‘LA Woman’ assaulted Juan’s ears as he entered the dimly lit smoke-filled air of the local watering-hole. The TVs strewn about the place rained down their Technicolor goodness. Amazing. Broken-down buildings notwithstanding, they still had the resources to get their opiate of satellite gridiron pumped down to this hell-hole.
He wasn’t here to comment on the inhabitants’ choice of décor. Juan looked himself over in a dingy mirror behind the bar. Road-dusty scratched Ray-Bans making his soul a mystery behind the dark plastic. His muscular body showed in high relief through his biker clothes, his olive skin complimenting, rather than contrasting, with those ebon hues.
He looked the part, pretty much like most of the clientele of this seedy saloon. Perfect.
And there was the dealer; half-hidden in a booth at the back.
The flight was quick and uneventful; David was waved through customs easily in this out-of-the-way sleepy airport.
A car was waiting for him, standard Servant issue, but far from standard to Mr and Mrs Consumer. State-of-the-art electronics suite, fuel economy to surpass the dreams of the stingiest bean-counter, horsepower and speed to make the most obsessed rev-head drool. Inbuilt radio transponder and tell-tale plates showing the governmental carté blanche of the driver. He put the pedal to the metal; out here in the Big Empty, police complications would be unlikely, at best.
He felt secure with the DNA profiling security system allowing him sole control of the vehicle, and slightly less happy about the multiple shaped-explosive charges stored unseen in the chassis, primed to explode if this miracle of automotive technology fell into the wrong hands. David just hoped he would be far enough away from ground zero if the system was activated.
As the car ate up the miles, he reviewed his case file in the onboard computer. David didn’t know who was pulling the strings of this Nirvana dealer. It irked him to find this gap in the intelligence; this guy was either some sort of freelancer or his superiors had really hidden their presence from the Masters’ eyes.
The second possibility was worrying, implying that the Masters did not properly have their collective finger, (more appropriately “thumb”) on the pulse of humanity. It wasn’t the Unbound; the Masters had known them for millennia, in their eternal existence and had hunted down and systematically exterminated them when found. Anyway, the Unbound never sold Nirvana, due to its specific nature.
The intricacies of human interaction were as the criss-crossing silk of a spider’s web. Matrix upon matrix of contact interweaved together in geometry beyond Euclid. Or possibly even Escher. But with their ancient knowledge and tremendous power, the Masters could see this interconnected net of consciousness – yet apart from it by leave of their lack of humanity. They were the arachnids that spun the web.
The dealer’s attention was diverted; attempting to drive his knife-tip between the gaps in his outspread fingers of his splayed other hand. The game was often known as ‘pinfinger’ but contrary to the name, staking a digit to the table was not the point.
He was pretty good, only a few droplets of blood spattered the grimy laminate of the tabletop. Juan wondered if the germs in this place, leaping through one of those seeping wounds, would be more lethal than losing a finger in the dangerous game.
He deliberately scuffed his steps, as to not startle the dealer in the middle of pinfinger. As amusing as it might have been to watch him run around screaming and exsanguinating, it would interfere with the business at hand.
The dealer addressed him as he approached slowly. “Jan?”
“Juan, actually. Spanish.” Offering a hand to be shaken, consequently making the dealer put his knife back on the table in doing so.
“Spanish, yeah? Like down south?” The dealer broke into an off-key rendition of ‘South of the Border’ He probably thought it was endearing. Who was this amateur?
“… down Mexico way …”
Juan had politely let the dealer finish his vocal performance. Getting onto other things, he coolly reminded him, “To business.”
Taking it as a toast, the dealer tossed back the last dregs of his Jack Daniels. “To business!”
With exaggerated ceremony, he deposited the small polyethylene bag of white powder on the table. “There you are, my friend. Grade A, premium Nirvana; straight from the source, pure as the driven snow. Try it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.”
Moment of truth: was this the real deal, authentic Nirvana? Juan poked in the very tip of a wettened pinky finger. The acrid, bitter flavour on his tongue confirmed his suspicions. Exactly what the dealer proclaimed. Pure, uncut Nirvana.
The dealer wore the smug grin of the deal already made. He was expecting Juan to fork over the cold, hard cash for the hardcore high he’d just presented.
He was not expecting Juan to snatch up, cat-quick, his discarded knife and staple his hand to the tabletop in a blossom of blood.
David was nearing the site of the deal. He’d hoped he could reach the dealer before Juan did. If the dealer really was selling Nirvana, the Unbound would not be a happy man. Of course, David had to neutralize the dealer to avoid any information being leaked to the Unbound after extracting it for his superiors. In any case, the dealer was a wildcard in the Masters’ plan. It was always better to remove such loose ends when possible.
At least at David’s hands it would be far less painful and a great deal less messy.
But Juan would be messy. All users and most dealers of Nirvana thought that the drug was cooked up in some underground lab like speed, ecstasy or crystal meth. The truth was far more sinister than anything Nancy Reagan could ever envisage.
Nirvana was the pineal gland extract from an Unbound’s brain.
David, being a trusted Servant, had been allowed access to the true history of the world. The Unbound were a distinct subset of mainstream humanity. Although superficially identical in human appearance, on a biological level, their endocrine systems and basic biochemistry were vastly different.
The Masters also differed from the base human; their Methuselah-and-beyond longevity was proof of that. Their control and influence over humanity another distinctly non-human trait.
Not over the Unbound, hence their name given to them by his superiors. They had risen up against the Masters and their human Servants, and the ever-living Masters had wiped out generations of Unbound with ancient atomic weapons, sending the continent of Atlantis beneath the waves.
The Masters knew that the Unbound were their greatest threat; the media circus of another ‘Atlantis uprising’ would be too hard for beings of even their power to suppress.
If this dealer was passing out real, honest-to-God, Nirvana, someone in the organization knew about the Unbound and had located enough of them to harvest the compound for sale. When that information was extracted and passed to the Masters, the remaining Unbound’s extermination would be swift and certain.
The dealer scrabbled for the knife impaling his palm under Juan’s unwavering gaze, but the Unbound was having none of that. Knowing that he was cornered, the dealer tried to negotiate. “Did you think I was stupid enough to bring the whole shipment with me, friend? It’s safely hidden away, you’ll never find it.” He thought he had Juan’s number with that declaration.
“But, ‘friend’ I don’t want your foul drugs. What I do want is the name and location of your source.” He could still taste the Nirvana on his lips, something within him shrivelled away from the act Juan had performed, ingesting the essence of his own people.
The dealer clammed up, even as his hand slowly leaked out its crimson contents. Perhaps he wasn’t the total amateur, some measure of professionalism keeping his supplier secret. Or perhaps his supplier scared him more than Juan did.
Well, if that was the case, that would change very soon.
The dealer probably hoped that someone would come and save him, but the bar’s patrons had quickly migrated to the State of ‘I Don’t Give A Damn’; residing in that happy nation of ‘Someone Else’s Problem’.
“You WILL tell me, and you know why? This stuff you’ve been peddling was the result of the murder of my people.” Juan’s composure cracked, smashing his shades down to show the rage blazing in his eyes.
“Let me give you a little history lesson. A few million years ago, some of my people were taken and changed; warped and twisted into mockeries of themselves. They became savage and aggressive, warlike and destructive. Most of all, pliable; easily commanded by their hate, anger and greed. And you’ve spread like rats and roaches, covering the globe like some sentient pestilence of the Earth, as my people diminish into extinction.”
He wasn’t even focussed on the dealer now; the venom in full flow against these usurpers. “You know what I hate and loathe most about those who falsely call themselves ‘humanity’? It’s how we’ve had to become you to simply survive. I will lie, steal, cheat and murder to help my people. You better believe it, I will do anything.”
Juan locked gazes with the dealer and his prey could see the inferno barely caged by its ice prison. Every word was true, and the dealer knew it. Juan would give his life for his people’s survival; he’d already given up his soul. What more did he have to lose?
The dealer gulped and nodded; spilled forth a cornucopia of detail about his source. He was scared enough that Juan had to assume it was the real McCoy.
“Thank you. This information will save many of my people.” Juan’s voice softened, imagining the happier lives of his people, free from the ghastly threat of being harvested for some mutant human’s rave party buzz.
The dealer let a long breath escape his lungs, relaxing gradually. But yet again, Juan was not predictable; with true human speed grabbed the knife from the dealer’s hand and buried it up to the hilt in his chest.
“I can’t let the information pass to anyone else.” A twist of the knife and the dealer’s life was over in a sudden sanguine gurgle.
Replacing his shades, he apologized softly to the corpse, “I’m sorry”, as he left the bar.
He could see the bar coming up in the windscreen, slowing down the car in a flurry of road dust. David knew he didn’t have much time as he dashed into the smoky confines. He quickly found the body of the dealer, his face engraved with his last expressions of shock and horror. Still warm.
“Damnit” he cursed, knowing that his subdermal mike implanted in his jawbone would relay it to his superiors. “Juan got here first. But the situation is not completely beyond salvage, sir. We can still deal with Juan as you choose.”
The emotionless voice of his Master filtered through his earpiece. “There can only be one fate for the Unbound: total obliteration.”
“Yes, sir. Servant David ready to follow new objectives.” Hearing the roar of a motorbike erupt outside, the Masters’ minion ran to catch a whirlwind of desert sand blown back from the departing black-leathered rider. Saw the nitro fire and the Harley zoom beyond top speed along the highway.
David wasted no time, jumping back into his sedan and gunning the engine to maximum speed. “Sir, in hot pursuit of the Unbound, Juan Ibañez. I won’t let you down.”
David did not leave unnoticed, as the greasy overalled man watched the car thunder away on the cracked earth. Pushing his floppy mechanic’s cap up some to get a better view, Juan’s lips curled into a grim smile.
The guy on the Harley had a decent lead, but the sedan was inching closer every second. He wiped the sweat off his brow; it wasn’t over yet. The hog rider still had to escape his pursuer long enough to double-back towards the nearby maze of box canyons.
He started up the rusted utility. That mechanic got a hell of a deal, trading this busted hunk of junk for his lovingly maintained Harley. But it was a risky job; being a stalking horse, luring the Servant into his trap.
As Juan neared the natural maze cut into the waterless hell of the Big Empty, he remembered an old saying from somewhere. A bad hunter chases, but a good hunter waits.
Now the hunter becomes the hunted.