Delos and his family sat around the kitchen table. Morning sun glinted off the polished tiles. He didn’t notice that neither his daughter nor his wife had eaten anything. Caroline cried while her mother stared at Delos. Oblivious to their distress, Delos wiped his mouth with the blue linen napkin from his lap.

“Time to go to work,” he said and rose from his chair. The napkin lay next to his clean plate.

He kissed Maureen on the cheek, told her to have a nice day and squeezed Caroline’s shoulder. “Good luck on that math test today.”

Outside, Delos walked three blocks to his bus stop, coincidentally last on the express line downtown. Birds sang along the way and he found himself smiling. It would take him half an hour on the express to get to his building and he would use that time to go over the details of the Cavanaugh deal. Not that it was complicated but he wanted to give his boss his best work. It was a big contract, after all.

“‘Morning, Bob,” Delos said as he boarded and paid his fare. Bob looked over his tablet at Delos without recognition but returned the greeting. Everyone else in the cabin ignored him.

He found a seat in the middle and opened his own tablet. Delos went over the details of the contract he was overseeing: the advance money was high but not out of line with other deals for celebrities. The terms were really in the firm’s favor though it didn’t look that way on the surface. Cavanaugh’s team of agents and lawyers would know this but the bidding was over so it would fly. The firm would own everything it needed to.

The bus passed into the shadows of skyscrapers giving Delos a sense of being deep in a canyon at the bottom of the ocean. When he got off the bus at the corner of 33rd and Roc he was as calm as an unbroken lake. He looked up to appreciate the clear blue sky above, framed like a widescreen movie by the towers trying to reach it.

Inside his building Delos waved his security key card over the scanner and smiled at Boston, the guard. The friendly beep of acceptance belied the concern on Boston’s face. It was like Boston had never seen him before. Delos shook the feeling off and caught the elevator just before the door closed.

He got off at the 36th floor and made a beeline straight for his office. Carly wasn’t at the front desk  when he passed so he’d have to call her and find out if there were any messages when he got settled. The Cavanaugh meeting wasn’t until this afternoon and his calendar was clear until then. He paid no attention to the fact that he didn’t encounter anyone else on his way in.

Delos’ office was properly serene: everything in its place and perfectly placed for maximum effect; the dark woods of the desk and panelling lightened in the bright sunlight pouring through the window. A couch, three chairs with his the best and tallest made it a comfortable place. The art on the walls was tasteful and something he never would have chosen for himself but he liked it. His view of the city below was befitting his station as partner in this publishing firm. Delos himself was happy and content. It was going to be a good day. He brought up the contract and looked it over again.

Thirty minutes later the door to Delos’ office opened. He looked up.

“Oh,” an older gentleman said. He had silver hair, a thin goatee and a shocked look on his face. His dark suit and immaculate tie further contributed to his image as a reigning partner. He was barely inside the room. “I’m sorry I didn’t think you were back from…”

“Alan,” Delos said with great warmth and rose to walk around the desk. “Good to see you. I was hoping we could have a short chat before the Cavanaugh team came in.”

“Who are you?” Alan stepped back into the hall. “What are you doing in Delos Mason’s office?”

Surprised, Delos kept walking toward the older man. “What do you mean, Alan? This is my office.”

Alan retreated as quickly as Delos advanced on him. “You’re not Delos!”

His face darkened and Delos stepped over the threshold of the office. “Be quiet, Alan. There’s -“

“Stop right there,” Boston said. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re not Mr. Mason.”

Alan looked visibly relieved when Delos held up a finger as if to say just a moment then slowly turned to face Boston.

Delos smiled an easy, practiced smile, held out his hands in a welcoming gesture. “Of course I am, Boston, I’ve always been Delos Mason.”

Boston pulled his 9mm pistol and pointed it at Delos. “No sir, you’re not him. Put your hands behind your head and get on your knees. The police are on their way.”

“There’s no need for that,” Delos said. He took two steps toward Boston and was impressed that the man’s gun hand didn’t waver. He tried to reach out to Boston, to convince the guard that nothing was wrong. “There is really no need.” His voice was soft, his expression calm.

Delos was deafened by the sound of the gunshot. He whirled to his left and the lights went out.


Blurry waves of light and sound washed over Delos, gently waking him. There was a rhythm to the sound that he recognized as speech though the words were indistinct. He swallowed and it hurt, he moved his head to the left and it hurt. Delos stopped moving, waited for everything to sharpen up. He tried to swallow again but it was too painful. He began counting to himself.

It took one hundred forty counts for shapes to resolve themselves: a window, a curtain, a woman in blue scrubs. “He’s awake,” the woman, presumably a nurse, said. “You get five minutes.”

Another woman, this one older and more hardened by life, came into his field of vision. She squinted at him, studied him, then said, “I’m Detective Paula Garney. You have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney and anything you say may be used against you in a court of law. If you cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed if you cannot afford it. If you answer my questions now you have the right to stop answering until you can speak to an attorney. Do you understand your right?”

She waited until he nodded then said, “Sir, what is your name?”

Delos’ mouth was dry and his throat still hurt. He wasn’t sure he could speak but he croaked some sounds then tried again. “Delos Mason. June 22, 2057. Palo Alto.”

“Sir, that’s the information for the real Delos Harmon, the man you killed last night.” She was very matter of fact. “His wife and child saw you do it. Then you held them hostage until this morning. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”

“I’m Delos Mason,” Delos said.

“No sir, you are not. Why did you kill Mr. Mason?”

“I didn’t.”

The woman sighed. “Who are you?”

Delos felt stronger now. He heard the incessant, rhythmic beeps of the machines he was hooked up to, felt the cool air pushed into his nostrils by the cannula. “I told you, I’m Delos Mason.”

He watched the detective steel herself for further interrogation. He relished the opportunity to keep telling her what she didn’t want to hear but which was the truth.

“The body of Delos Mason was discovered in the basement of his home this morning,” Detective Garney said. “You murdered him around 9 PM last night in front of his wife and daughter.” She smiled.

“Let’s not presume anything, Detective.”

Delos tried to turn his head to see who had spoken, who the new arrival was, but it hurt too much. He winced in pain but saw Garney scowl.

“Who’re you?”

“Grassby. I’m his lawyer.” Grassby held out his card to the detective. “He won’t be answering any more questions for the time being. I need to confer with my client.”

Detective Garney snapped her little notebook shut, glared at Delos then left the hospital room, closing the door behind her.

“Mr. Grassby…”

“Tut,” Grassby said and stood right next to the bed. “You don’t know me. I’m here to take care of everything.”

“What – how?”

Grassby set his briefcase across Delos’ lap and opened it. “It doesn’t matter and you won’t care after it’s done. The good doctors of this hospital have already given you a strong paralytic with your sedatives. After all, you’re a dangerous man.”

“No,” Delos said when he saw the hypodermic in Grassby’s hand. “NO. No no no no.”

Each time Delos shook his head  pain sloshed between his ears, liquid fire burning the inside of his skull; acid eating at the base of his brain.

“Come now, don’t struggle. The paralytic works harder when you thrash about and while you’re trying to fight it I’ve done what needed doing.”

Delos struggled but millions of tiny needles stabbed the insides of his arms and legs, threatened to push through into the air. He wanted to scream with the pain but he couldn’t open his mouth any more.

Grassby looked Delos in the eye. “It’s a matter of moments now before you’re gone. You’re not Delos Mason, no matter how much you want it to be true. Once you were Savion Rogers but you’ll never be him again, either. You’ll get your assignment when you return for reprogramming.

“The committee thanks you for your service.”

He smiled at Delos.

Delos knew, as the needles worked the inside of his skin, that he wasn’t really Delos but he didn’t remember being Franklin Reed. He couldn’t feel his toes any more.

He liked being Delos. Delos was respected and he wanted that to be important. He wanted that to be everything. Delos didn’t remember why he wanted to be Delos or how he’d become Delos. He had no recollection whatsoever of Savion Rogers. All that was fuzzy now and his lungs felt full.

It was hard to breathe.

He pulled as much air as he could in one big gulp, then heard it hiss between his teeth.

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

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