Sunday, 19 February 2017

The Machine - A Short Story

The Machine
Mark Gross had been waiting at the police station for nearly four hours when Detective Inspector Addison entered the room.
"Apologies for the wait," said the detective. "It's been a hectic morning.  Has anyone brought you a coffee?" 
"Yes, many times," said Mark, aggravated by the constant insincerity.
"Good," said the heavyset detective in his mid-fifties. "Well then, Mr Gross, tell me why you're here?"
"I've already gone through this with another officer," said Mark, frustration in his voice.
"I'm sure you have, but looking through the notes, nothing you've said makes any sense."
"No sense," said Mark as he flung his head back staring at the ceiling. "What doesn't make sense? I, I remember telling the office about my machine."
"Yes, I'm sure I mentioned the machine. I'm certain I mentioned it."
The Detective Inspector could see Mark Gross was in shock and this was making him seem incoherent, and guilty in the eyes of the detective. Mark's hands were shaking, and he was sitting in the chair with his head close to the table as if he was trying to hide his whole body.
DI Addison had been catching criminals for over 15 years, and he could smell a guilty man a mile away, and this guy seemed as guilty as sin.
"Of course. Forgive me, it's been one of those mornings," said DI Addison as he flicked through papers on the desk in front of him. "Tell me about this machine?"
Before Mark had a chance to begin his account, there was a knock on the door and a uniformed officer entered. He whispered in the Detective Inspector's ear.
"Would you excuse me, Mr Gross, I need to get this."
Mark forced a thinly veneered smile as the detective left the room. He knew he had to tell the police something important. However, he could not remember what that something important might be.  He started to go over his life's work beginning with the creation of the machine. The first thought was about his wife, Allison, and her funeral. The memories made him feel bitter as well as sad. He remembered that this was the spark, the catalyst, the moment he first thought of creating the machine.
            Images flashed through Mark's mind.  He was standing at the graveside in the pouring rain staring down at his wife's coffin. Allison Gross had died of cancer, and at the time, Mark believed it was his fault. He did not want to remember so many painful memories, but the detective would need to know where the idea first surfaced. Mark remembered staring down at the grave as the rain turned the soil into mud. He remembered the brass nameplate and the engraving of a dove with a halo of flowers above. Underneath were the words, "Here lies Allison Gross, a shining light to all who knew her." Those words etched into Mark's mind as a reminder of how wrong he could be about people. How wrong he was about his wife.
             A loud noise pulled Mark out of his thoughts and back to reality. The Detective Inspector was in the room staring at Mark. He thinks I am guilty, Mark thought.  He knows the truth now.
"I must apologise again for keeping you waiting. Do you want another coffee, or perhaps something to eat?" asked DI Addison.
Mark did not answer. He just sat waiting for the detective's questions.
"Okay then.  Where were we," said the detective nonchalantly looking at this notes. "Ah, we hadn't even started. I think you were going to tell me about when you first got the idea - for a machine. I want to know more about this so-called machine.  What is it and what is so important that you felt the need to come to see us?"
"The first time was at my wife's funeral. Or," Mark paused as he felt the emotion of talking about the event overwhelming. He waited a minute then continued."Or should I say it was at the wake."
"And that would be your wife, Allison?"
"Yes." There was another long pause, and Mark composed himself to continue talking about Allison, his wife. " I could not leave her grave. I stood in the pouring rain and just stared down in disbelief overcome with emotion that she was gone overwrought with grief that I would never see her again. I wanted to see her again.  I needed to see her again, to feel her touch, her smell, everything about her. I carried an incredible pain inside me. I missed her so much and at the time blamed myself for her death."
"You thought you had killed her?" the detective quizzed. "I thought your wife had died of cancer?"
"Yes, she died of breast cancer. However, my wife hated doctors and missed appointments. I knew she was doing this, but I never forced her to go. At the time, it haunted me that I could have done more to save her. I don't know why I did not force her to see the doctors and get the scans? Hence, why I blamed myself."
"Help me a little here, Mr Gross. Did you create a machine to save your wife? To bring her back from the dead - was that the idea?" The detective tried not to show amusement at the thought of Mr Gross was trying to be Doctor Frankenstein. "
"No of course not," said Mark snapped back. "I just wanted to see her again. I became obsessed with seeing my beautiful wife once more, and this obsession grew over many months then years."
"Your wife died over eleven years ago. That's a major obsession."
Another uniformed officer rushed into the room and handed the detective a piece of paper. The detective looked at it and then looked at Mark, there was a long pause, that seemed like a lifetime. "How did your friend Franklin Jessop die?"
"Die!  Frank's dead." Mark looked visibly shocked by this news."
"You were not aware of his death?" quizzed DI Addison.
"No, of course not. When did he die? I was with him only a few hours ago. I think," said Mark as a tremendous surge of fear flowed through his body. Shit, they think I murdered Frank, oh what the hell have I got myself into, thought Mark.
"You think. You don't know.  Mr Gross, why are you here? Are you confessing to killing your friend? The seem very flustered, are you feeling guilty? And not about your wife's death but the death of your best friend, that you murdered in cold blood."
Mark looked perplexed, stunned by the vitriol in the detective's directness.  Mark was unable to comprehend the realisation that his friend was dead. His ears were ringing, and he felt as if his head was shaking uncontrollably. All he could hear in his head was gunfire, shots, and the thought of murder.
"I don't know why I'm here," said Mark.
"Were you with Mr Jessop when he died? Did you kill him?"
"Yes, I was. I think. Yes, I was there, there were gunfire, machine guns, we were running." 
"You're admitting you murdered your friend," said DI Addison.
"No, no, I didn't kill Frank. But, I think I was there."
"Why did you not tell me this before?"
"I couldn't remember. It all seems like I'm waking from a nightmare. My head's killing me. Can I have a painkiller?"
"Mark, we'll give you a painkiller when you tell us how he died?" 
"I'm not sure. It's all a blank I just remember gunfire that's all."
"Okay. Please describe the last time you saw Mr Jessop then?"
"I was... Well I mean... I went around to his flat because we needed to finish a project."
"The machine?"
"Yes, the machine."
"What time did you get there?"
"I was there at five past eleven, and I stayed there no more than five minutes."
"And that's the last time you saw Mr Jessop?"
"Yes," said Mark."He was alive then. I think. I'm not sure. My mind is hazy."
"You are lying to me," shouted DI Addison. "We have you on this camera." The detective threw a CCTV photo in front of Mark. "And this camera. And here. And here. Every photo is after the time you state."
 Mark could not stop staring at the photos. Then the detective threw a picture of Franklin lying dead in an alleyway covered in blood. Mark started recalling the events that had unfolded that night. Now he remembered the gunshots and his friend falling onto the pavement. Mark's heart began to race. He realised the detective thought he was guilty of the crime of murder. Holy shit thought Mark; I'm in deep trouble.
"You were with Mr Jessop at the time of his death. Lividity places the death at around eleven thirty. CCTV footage clearly shows you with Mr Jessop around the time of his death. Tell me!"  The detective slammed the table with his open hand. "When did you last see your friend?"
Mark was still unable to speak. He continued to stare at the photos as the detective placed photo after photo in front of Mark.
"Okay I was there," shouted Mark abruptly, "I was there, but I never killed him."
Mark sighed, saying he was there was a massive relief.
"Go on Mr Gross, tell me what happened?"
Before Mark had a chance to speak, another detective entered the room.
Detective Dorman did not speak or acknowledge anyone. He just sat on a chair next to DI Addison.
"Detective Dorman has entered the room and will join the interview, said DI Addison. "You were saying,"
"We...We were running away from men trying to kill us," said Mark.
"Running from whom?" asked Detective Dorman.
"From men sent by Icon Global," said Mark.
"Icon Global, one of the largest corporations in the world," said Detective Dorman. "They sent men to murder you both. Please, don't insult our intelligence, Mr Gross, you were chasing your friend, and you murdered him.  End of story."
"No. No, it was Icon Global," pleaded Mark.
"Why would Icon Global want you?" asked Detective Dorman.
"I told you. Because of the machine I created."
"And what's so special about this machine?" asked DI Addison.
"I thought you knew. It's a Time Machine."
There was a pause as both detectives processed the information Mark had just told them.
"A Time Machine," said Detective Dorman as he rose from his chair and walked around to face Mark. "Are you trying to piss me off? Annoy me insult me us with this crap."
Detective Dorman's face was now within inches of Mark's face. Mark could smell the detective's body odour mixed with cheap aftershave. He could see the blood red eyes from years of heavy drinking. He could smell the taste odour of whisky. Mark wanted to be sick.
"Do you honestly believe if you act all crazy you'll get away with murder? Create some ridiculous story about a time machine, and we will somehow let you off the MURDER!"
"I never killed Frank," said Mark looking directly into Dorman's eyes.
Detective Dorman backed away and moved around to stand behind Mark. He roughly massaged his enormous hands into Mark's shoulders, until it started to hurt. The detective leant forward and whispered into Mark's ear.  "I don't believe you."
"You can understand my colleague's questions, Mr Gross," said DI Addison. "Perhaps if you told us the truth instead of creating this fantasy we would be more inclined to believe you."
"I'm telling you the truth. After my wife had died, I became obsessed with seeing her again.  So much so, I started to dabble with the idea of using a quantum computer to create a visual time machine. You see one can use the memory of atoms and-"
"We aren't interested in your geek talk, we want evidence and facts," said Detective Dorman.  "If you created such a machine, where is it?"
"I destroyed it," said Mark. "I realised after a few months of testing that this was not something the world was ready to see. When I saw Frank at his flat, we were there to delete the code."
"Well that's a fascinating story, Mr Gross," said Detective Dorman, "and rather convenient I must say, but where's the proof?"
"There must be something, somewhere, the place you built this time machine," said DI Addison.  "Can you write down the address? I'll send a team to check it out."
Mark wrote down the address, but deep down he knew that Icon Global would have removed anything of value by now. It was over fifteen hours since he had destroyed the physical machine. Nevertheless, the evidence clearing him was likely gone. Mark wondered if he should ask for a lawyer, but he was scared it would make him seem guilty.
"I think I'd like a lawyer?" said Mark.
"No lawyers," said DI Addison. "This is 2026; no one gets lawyers until we charge you, and you've not been charged with a crime. Do you want me to charge you?"
"No, I'm innocent. I've done nothing wrong."
"Well then explain to me how CCTV footage shows you with the murder victim, Mr Jessop, minutes before he died?" asked DI Addison.
"I told you they were chasing both of us."
"So, let me get this straight, you are saying that goons sent by Icon Global, wanted your Time Machine" The Detective Inspector raised his fingers in the air signifying quotation marks.
" And they murdered your friend," said Detective Dorman as he rose from his chair, with his fists forced into the metal table. "The problem with your account is that CCTV has no evidence of anybody else being near you. Let alone a group of hired killers."
"I'm telling you the truth," said Mark frantically. "You've gotta believe me."
"I don't believe you," shouted Detective Dorman, "You murdered your friend in cold blood.  You shot him six times, and then thought you could walk into a police station and plead insanity."
"No. No. I didn't. You have to believe me. It was Icon Global. There were three of armed mercenaries. They wore suits and carried semi-automatics."
"Where Mr Gross, where are they," said DI Addison as he pushed more photos in front of Mark.
"I dunno, but they were there," said Mark.
"Let's leave it there for now," said DI Addison. "I need a leak."
The two detectives left Mark alone in the room.  He could feel a gnawing pain in his abdomen as his anxiety continued to increase. Mark was feeling guilty for something he did not do, and he did not know how to convince the detectives of his innocence. Mark retraced the steps in his mind towards Franklin's death. Mark used memory techniques to go through the events, hoping he would remember something to prove he did not kill his friend. Mark's mind went back to the warehouse where he had built the quantum computer, and the conversation with Gerald Arthur, the CEO of Icon Global, the man who had financed Mark's creation.
"I cannot let you use the machine," said Mark.
"Why what's wrong with it?" asked Gerald, "You told me it was ready, and all you needed to do was testing.  I have been more than patient with you, Mark. You have been testing for over six months. I want to see the results."
"I've realised no one should be able to use this machine. It's dangerous, especially if you're going to sell to the public. It could create anarchy and destabilise the world. I know it would be the end of our civilisation."
"You were not so bothered about saving the world when you came to me with this idea," said Gerald. "I saw the idea and its potential. I have given you millions of pounds Mark. I have waited years for you to develop and create your time machine, and now you have finished you become all sanctimonious and moralistic. Why Mark? Before I allow you to destroy our dream, I need a good reason."
"I lied to you," said Mark. "I never had any interest in marketing or selling the machine.  I agreed because I needed the money. I just wanted to see my wife again. Yes, I know it's a pathetic and selfish reason. I was grieving when I asked you for the money. As I told you, I never knew if it was possible to create a working machine, but I thought I could. Then once you had given me the money and I was able to start building a viable quantum computer.  With Frank's help, my dream seemed a possibility. We finished the machine over a year ago, but I began to worry about the consequences of my creation ever becoming commercial.  Watching Ally's life reinforced my resolve never to let this application see the light of day. It was strange to see my dead wife as if she was alive as if I was in the room with her. Then I was in the room with her and her lover. She'd been unfaithful to me; this made me angry, and I imagined what would happen if everyone had this power. She'd been sleeping with a work colleague for several months. I was overwhelmed by this realisation, and it immediately made me think - what would our world do with this power."
Gerald Arthur did not answer straight away; he sat in his chair and typed into his phone.
"So you think if the world has the time machine version of Google Earth at their fingertips, they will use it for nefarious means?"
"It's not just people using it to see if their wife was sleeping around. My time machine could compromise the whole world order. What happens to religions when they realise the truth about their lords and saviours, what happens if it's all true as well? History will change. All this information could be disastrous for humanity. We would be responsible. All the lies countries use to deceive their citizens would be public. Every crime analysed, every shady deal, nothing would be private, everyone's past would become an open book."
"Of course it would," said Gerald. "Did you not realise this when you were slaving away?  I knew these issues would arise, and I had a contingency in place."
"Contingency," said Mark. "What could you possibly have in place? You do realise the government will take it from you before you have a chance to sell it." Mark paused thinking.  "Ah, you piece of shit! That's your idea all along, isn't it?  To sell my time machine to the government."
"Precisely. You were not the only one keeping secrets. With this tool, our government will be ahead of any other country regarding intelligence. I was never going to sell this to Joe public. It's far too valuable for any mindless moron to use."
"I cannot let you do that Gerald," said Mark.
"And how will you stop me, Mark? You have completed one of the greatest creations of all time. An actual time machine, but remember I own the machine, it is mine to do with as I wish. I have fulfilled my promise to you. Now the machine is owned by Icon Global."
Gerald rose from his chair and started to walk towards the exit.
"I have contacted a team. They'll be here in about 30 minutes. Be gone when they arrive Mark. Or you will be seeing your cheating wife soon."
Mark remembered the fury that had built up inside him after Gerald had left. Mark removed every vital piece of technology throwing it all into the cooling tanks and anything that was too big he smashed with a hammer. He then threw every piece of paper into a pile and set it on fire. Before Mark had a chance to leave, Icon Global mercenaries arrived and started shooting at Mark. He just managed to make it to the fire escape. 
Detective Inspector Addison barged back into the room, and Mark came back to reality. 
"We've been to the address you gave us. Any guess as to what we found?" said the detective.
"Nothing but a burnt pile I suspect."
"You suspect wrong. We found nothing. The place was empty."
"That can't be right," said Mark. "I smashed the cooling tanks, set my files on fire.  There must have been at least the residue of a fire."
"Look, Mr Gross, you're trying my patience. Unless you help me, I'll charge you with murder."
"But I don't know how to help you," said Mark as his eyes glazed over and he stared passed the detective as if he was looking into infinity. He could feel his body tighten as if he was getting smaller trying to become a ball. He could feel his feet tapping and his torso curling closer to his legs. "I dunno what else to say. I've told you the truth.  I ran to Frank's flat.  The mercenaries chased me there; Frank deleted the code, and we escaped together. The mercenaries caught us up on Wade Street, and they tried to machine us down. A bullet grazed Frank's arm, but we continued onwards, then they cornered us and sprayed bullets. A bullet hit Frank in the chest. I just ran until I reached the station. I waited outside..."
"Wait at minute," interrupted DI Addison. "What street was Frank killed on?"
"It was Westbury Avenue. I'm certain."
"Give me a sec."
The detective left the room. A slight feeling of hope made Mark feel better as he waited. It was an hour later when DI Addison came back into the room.
"Good news, Mr Gross," said DI Addison, "We retraced your steps and found bullet casings on Westbury Avenue as well as dried blood."
"So, how is that good news?"
"I never told you where we found your friend. We did not find the body on Westbury; we found him on Northampton Road."
"What does this mean?" asked Mark trying not to sound too excited.
"It means for now I'm letting you go. Your story seems farfetched, but I don't believe you murdered your friend."
Mark found it difficult to hide his relief as the detective showed him to the front desk.
"Mr Gross, take care, and we will be in touch. Don't leave the country, in fact, I'd find a nice hotel and hide for a while until we work this out. We may need you as a material witness."
"Thank you," said Mark as he closed the police station door.

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