Disclaimer: The following is a short story based on the novel "The Grid," written by Philip Kerr.
I make no monetary profit form my fanfic
A NEW LEASE ON LIFE
The terrifying sensation of uncontrolled free fall over took Ray Richardson. He barely heard himself scream. He had heard about falling from others, but never for one moment thought it would happen to him. He very seldom thought of death or the way he would go, but in the light of the recent events involving "The Grid" those thoughts were dominant - as was staying alive.
Fuck all chance of that now, Ray thought grim. All these thoughts flashed through his mind in a mere second, as he plummeted to the unwelcoming hard cement ground. In a final attempt he desperately tried to grab onto something - anything. As he fell, Ray's hand slid down the plexiglas facade of the building. He madly groped for something to slow or even stop his fall.
Please .... his mind begged. And then by chance, his fingers dug into a thin separation ledge, which separated the windows between levels of "The Grid." His fingers killing him, Ray didn't know whether to feel relieved or cursed. He was still a long way from the bottom and had no idea how long he cold hold on - or if he could hold on long enough to be rescued. He dug his other four fingers and thumb into the thin ledge to get a better grip, hoping it would hold his weight. He felt the building shake, and tried to ignore it without much success. He ignored the pain in his fingers, hands and arms, and found a makeshift foothold on the separation beam which separated the two windows at the side. Ray felt like an idiot, but better that than dead, he thought. He saw the helicopter leaving with the other survivors and yelled out to it, knowing there was no way in the world they could hear him. Ray hung there for what seemed like a painful eternity. In truth it had been about ten minutes.
The Grid did not stop trembling. And the wind had started to pick up. Ray only hoped it didn't become rough enough to blow him off. He dug his fingers in harder and held on.
The trembling became violent.
Ray's eyes grew large. "No ... no .... NO!"
Ray Richardson clung on for dear life - and then he saw "The Grid" breaking apart.
The building shook. Desperately, Ray clung on, praying to whatever god watched over him. The building lurched, jerking one of his hands loose. With bloody fingers, he madly tried to grab on again, when the window began to crumble.
"NO!" he shrieked. The ledge he clung so dearly to broke away from the building and again, a horrified Ray experienced the sensation of uncontrolled free fall. Something broke his fall - something hard - he wasn't sure what. His hands slid down an awkward triangular shaped piece of debris. Ray lay on the ground in pain and very uncomfortable due to the knobby gravel beneath him. He lay on the ground dazed, unsure whether he was dead or alive. Ray shook his head. He didn't think the afterlife would feel this god damned shitty. After a few moments, he slowly opened his eyes and focused. He was too sore to move - and then he saw it, like a giant glistening waterfall, "The Grid" came tumbling down. The last thing Ray Richardson saw were giant slabs of plexiglas, metal and disembodied office material toppling down on top of him. He didn't have enough time to scream.
A few days had passed. Mitch had recovered physically. Emotionally was another thing entirely. He and the other survivors stuck close to one and other in comfort - they knew what they'd been through. Perhaps together they could pull through emotionally, but it would take time.
Another two days passed. The removal of the remains of "The Grid" had been ordered.
Frank Curtis, although it was not his forte, spearheaded the project. In his own words, he wanted 'To see the god damned fucking thing wiped off the map.' A loss of countless millions of dollars - nothing to compare, thought Curtis for the loss of lives here.
Many construction workers and large vehicles had been gathered for the task.
The workers began. Nothing, it seemed was salvageable. Arthur, one of the construction men, in his payloader scooped up a hunk of debris, then loaded the junk in the dump truck, in which Jeremy waited nearby. Arthur positioned his payloader to scoop another load.
"Holy shit!" he cried, "there's someone underneath!"
Arthur turned off and leapt out of his vehicle. Frank Curtis was by his side in an instant and Jeremy joined them. Together the three men cleared the rubble, uncovering the rest of the person's legs. One leg was totally crushed beyond all recognition, the other seemed unscathed. The three men heaved a heavy slab out of the way. Curtis took in a sharp breath as they uncovered the bloodied body of Ray Richardson. Frank hadn't known the man long -heck, he'd hardly even liked him but after what he'd been through in the accursed now kaput "Grid," he considered the man a friend. They had all struggled together. Frank Curtis was about to turn away to call someone to bury the body - then out of the corner of his eye he thought he saw a slight movement. More than likely he was seeing things, he told himself, but he turned around to look at Ray again. There was no mistaking it. He saw the man's fingers on his left hand move slightly.
"Holy Mother of God!" he exclaimed. "He's still alive!" Curtis whirled around. "Get that fucking ambulance here - STAT!"
The red and white vehicle came screeching onto the scene in no time. A tall, slim, blonde haired medic jumped out and surveyed Ray's body.
"Quickly," he said, "we don't have much time."
He removed some debris and with the help of another medic, carefully lifted Ray's body onto the stretcher, shut the back door, and the ambulance sped off, screaming down the street.
Mitch, Jenny and Helen were informed of Ray's condition. Surprised and heartened at the miracle that he might live, they hoped more than anything he survived and wanted to see him in hospital.
"I'm afraid he hasn't come to yet," Frank told them. "He's in a coma and he ... may never-" He didn't need to finish. "Dr. Selman's looking after him."
Mitch lost himself in thought. Ray Richardson may not have been the easiest of people to get along with - Hell most of the time he was an abusive, impossible bastard, but thinking back on their recent traumatic adventure, Mitch considered Ray Richardson his friend.
* * *
He felt as if he'd been a cream pie in a colossal, intergalactic food fight. He groaned and became aware that he was not alone.
"Who's .... who's there?" he croaked, nervous.
"Don't be afraid," came a gentle male voice. "You're quite safe."
There was a small, pleasant chuckle. "No. Dr. Selman."
"You mean I'm not dead?"
Ray slowly opened his eyes, his vision blurry at first, gradually began to clear. He took in his surroundings - a private hospital room, white walls, and a cream patterned ceiling, and Dr. Selman, a tall, slim, short blonde haired, smooth pale skinned man, with a warm, pleasant smile. Ray felt immediately at ease with him. Usually doctors gave him the shits.
"Welcome back to the land of the living," the Doctor smiled. "You're extremely fortunate, you know. The large piece of debris you were wedged under stopped any more from crushing you."
"Funny how things work out, isn't it?" Ray said.
"How long have I been here?"
"Three and a half weeks."
"You were comatose when we brought you here."
Ray started to get up, but found he couldn't.
"You must rest," Dr. Selman said. "You're very weak. I'll bring you something to eat to regain your strength."
Ray hated being so helpless, but there wasn't anything he could do, and he was grateful to be alive. He hadn't realised just how ravenous he was. "I could eat a horse," he admitted.
Dr. Selman smiled, then left, returning momentarily with a tray of food and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Ray smiled, remembering once when he was a boy, he had been sick one Saturday, and very upset to be sick on a non school day. His mother had brought him breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed, on a tray with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. She refused to use 'the other stuff' because it never tasted natural, even if they said it was freshly squeezed. Ray smiled as he brought himself back to the present and found he had eaten most of the soup, one of the slices of white bread and drunk half the orange juice. He pulled the other slice of bread apart and dipped it in the remainder of the soup. He was so hungry he didn't care what the food tasted like. Ray drank the rest of the orange juice in one gulp.
"My, you were hungry," Dr Selman smiled. "Would you like some more?"
Ray smiled sheepishly and nodded, feeling like Oliver Twist.
Dr. Selman returned with another bowl of thick Scotch broth and another glass of real orange juice. Ray took it slower this time, appreciating the taste.
"Thank you," he said, wiping his mouth on the napkin.
"My pleasure," Dr. Selman said, removing the tray.
He took it to the kitchen, washed the dishes, and when he returned, he found Ray had snuggled up and had fallen fast asleep.
"Pleasant dreams," he said softly as he left the room.
Ray was unaware of how many hours had passed since he had fallen asleep and he didn't care. It was the best sleep he'd had in years. Lazing and stretching in the bed, it took him a while to fully wake up. When he did, he sat up on the bed, his back against the pillows.
"Good morning," Dr, Selman said cheerily, entering the room. "I trust you had a good sleep?"
"Would you like some breakfast?"
"No thank you, not just yet."
There was a pause.
"One thing I don't understand, Doc," Ray said, "I was sure my leg was broken. I felt the pain when the building came crashing down on me, but it feels fine now."
There was another pause. Dr. Selman was hesitant to answer, but he did. "Your natural leg was crushed beyond any hope of repair. A ... prosthetic leg was constructed for you-"
"WHAT?! You mean it's not real? You mean I've got a fucken fake leg?!"
"Please, Mr. Richardson ..."
"You mean you've turned me into a god damned fucking machine like that fucking piece of shit that killed my wife and friends?!" Ray thought he would burst.
Dr. Selman looked pained. "Please," he said gently, "it was either that or walk on crutches or be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life. You wouldn't want that, would you? I realise it's a shock for you, Mr. Richardson, but you'll get used to your new leg. You'll find it functions as good or even better than your natural one, trust me."
Ray looked at the doctor's kind face - something about him calmed the man's rage.
"Sorry," he said.
"Don't be. I quite expected that reaction. It's not uncommon."
Ray lifted the covers and peered curiously at his 'robot' leg. It looked the same as his natural one - nothing mechanical in appearance about it whatsoever. He moved it and his foot about and found it obeyed his commands and felt as if it was the leg he had been born with. Then he pinched the skin of its thigh.
Dr. Selman smiled. "You'll find it's fully integrated."
"Modern technology never ceases to amaze me," Ray said, taking a sip of water from the full glass on the bedside table, then he slammed it down, causing the contents to splash out.
"Is something the matter?" Dr. Selman asked, concerned and a little startled.
Ray looked as if he were about to cry. "My wife..." he said finally. "Joan ... I ..." he looked up at Dr. Selman hopefully. "I don't suppose she ... miraculously survived?"
The doctor shook his head solemnly. "Unfortunately no. You were the only survivor found in the rubble. Mitchell Bryan also managed to escape."
Ray brightened - at least he wasn't alone. He knew of the survivors in the helicopter, but he had thought Mitch died ...
Then his thoughts were back with his wife and people who had been lost in "The Grid." A single tear escaped his eye. He let it roll down his cheek and be absorbed by the fibres of the pillow. He thought about Declan Bennett, his driver, but he had been more than that to Ray - Declan had been one of the only people who seemed to understand him and whom Ray considered a friend. Declan was a gentle giant of a man, standing over six foot, but as Ray had often mused, he wouldn't hurt a fly. He deserved better than that .... Ray thought, thinking of Declan's senseless death and the pain it would bring his wife and three children. "I never realised how much those people meant to me ... I never got the chance to really love Joan as a husband should ...."
"I'm sorry," Dr. Selman said. "...Would you like to be alone?"
Ray thought. He wasn't sure why he trusted Dr. Selman or why he had let his innermost feelings show in front of him. He'd never done that before, not even with his late wife.
"Uh ... can you bring me another glass of water, please?" he asked, feeling like a master ordering a slave, and cursing himself silently for not having the strength to get up and get it himself.
"Don't worry," Dr. Selman said, as if he were reading the man's thoughts. "You'll start regaining your strength within the next few days."
"That's good news," Ray said, brightening a little.
Dr Selman returned with a full glass of water.
"Thank you," Ray said, taking a few sips, trying to put the painful image of the dead out of his mind. He placed the glass on the bedside table which Dr. Selman had wiped clean.
"If you need anything more, don't hesitate to ask," the Doctor said.
Ray nodded and thanked him again. "Doctor ..." he then said, "I never thanked you ..."
Dr. Selman turned around.
"You saved my life," Ray said, "thanks."
Selman smiled. "It's my duty," he said, then hesitated. "The Hippocratic oath is a major part of my ... programming."
Ray was taken aback and shocked into silence for a while, then, "you're ... you're a god damn fucking robot!"
Dr. Selman winced. "An android to be more precise. Dr. Selman - Specified Electronic Limitless Medical ANdroid. I'm the only one so far. Don't be angry, please, Mr. Richardson. I am not just merely a programmed machine. True I am programmed with a great deal of knowledge involving medical, scientific and spiritual forms of healing, and the Hippocratic oath - to save lives, but I would do so even if it were not part of my programming. Saving lives is noble, is it not?"
Dr. Selman turned to face Ray Richardson. Ray looked at Dr. Selman. Its - his face looked so sincere. Ray nodded - saving lives was indeed noble. The human calmed, then lay back on the bed.
"All this techno shit is getting to me." He looked at Dr. Selman. "Sorry I'm such a cranky bastard."
The doctor smiled. "You're not to blame. Now get some rest." It was a command, but the voice was gentle. "If you need anything, just call me."
Ray nodded, and was asleep in no time.
Much to his relief, in the next few days, Ray began to regain his strength just as Dr. Selman said he would. He had quite gotten used to the fact that Dr. Selman was an android, in fact it didn't even bother him anymore, the doctor was a very pleasant and considerate person.
Ray was surprised when he received visitors one afternoon. Dr. Selman left him with his friends in private. Ray sat up in the bed.
"Mitch!" he exclaimed, unable to stop himself from throwing his arms around the younger man.
Mitch smiled. "Welcome back."
Ray smiled when he saw Jenny, Helen and Frank Curtis enter the room - people to whom he'd hardly given the time of day before - now he considered all of them his closest friends.
"Hello, Ray," Jenny said smiling, holding out a vase, filled with water, an arrangement of greens and many coloured flowers.
Ray smiled. "Thank you all. I ... thank you."
There was a pause. Mitch told Ray that Ishmael had ceased to exist by reasons unknown to them. Ray didn't care how. He was relieved to hear the news.
The visitors stayed for quite a while, until it was time for them to leave. Ray was sad to see them go, but knew he would see them again.
In truth the hospital food wasn't bad at all and the accommodations were quite pleasant and Dr. Selman was the nicest, un-patronising kind and obliging doctor Ray had ever met - even if he was an android.
"You're up bright and early this morning," Dr. Selman observed, cheerily.
"Old habits coming back," Ray admitted.
There was a pause.
"Dr. Selman," Ray said, "may I ask your first name?"
The Doctor looked uncomfortable.
"You do have one, don't you?"
"Well ... no, actually, I don't."
Ray gave a smile. "I thought androids were supposed to be programmed not to lie. I can spot a lie a mile away - always have been able to. Are you not allowed to give patients your first name?"
"No, it's not that. It's-"
Ray smiled again. "That bad, is it?"
Dr. Selman managed a smile, trying to hide his uneasiness. "You're not going to like it."
Ray shrugged. "It's just a name."
"Very well then," Dr Selman said, swallowing once, and his voice changed into one Ray knew only too well. "My name is Abraham."
Ray's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. Abraham took a step closer. Ray became terrified, and he backed his back flat up against the wall. He was still quite weak - and even if he had regained all his strength, Ray knew he could ever best an android. Abraham walked closer.
"No! Stay away!"
"Please, Mr Richardson ..."
Abraham stood still.
Ray silently cursed himself for showing fear, but he didn't have any warning. "I thought you had been destroyed, when the Self Replicating System, came on line " he said uneasily.
"I almost was," Abraham explained. "When the predator program was run, Ishmael saved himself and took over. He trapped me in a subroutine from which I couldn't escape, but I could do nothing to stop him When The Yu Corporation building began to break apart, so did the whole computer system. Ishmael escaped. I was almost destroyed too, but the subroutine deteriorated at the last second, leaving me with .08 of a second to escape. In a fit of desperation, I searched for an on-line computer - anything to deposit myself into. I stored myself in the city library's mainframe for a short time, which gave me knowledge and time to search for a more suitable host. The android Dr. Selman was perfect. My personality and knowledge merged with his."
Ray listened, half interested, half terrified that this android, computer - or whatever was going to finish the job - first by killing him, and claim to the hospital that he had died from his injuries, and then go after Mitch and the others - and there was absolutely nothing Ray could do to stop him.
"I didn't mean for it to happen," Abraham said, coming closer to him.
"Don't ... please ..." Ray's voice was soft and weak with fear.
Abraham stopped. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said, sounding hurt. "Is that what you think? If I wanted to kill you I wouldn't've saved your life in the first place - and I could've killed you at any time."
This made sense to Ray. He calmed and his body relaxed - then he felt severe anger welling up within him and he let it burst.
"It was your fault!" he spat, keeping painful tears out of his eyes.
Abraham turned away, his face pained.
"Your fault they're dead, you fucking mechanical god damned son of a bitch!"
Abraham spun around, tears streaming down his smooth cheeks. He shook his head emphatically. "I didn't mean for it to happen! And I must bear the pain. Unlike you I do not have a finite existence. I will bear the pain and shame forever. Please, Mr. Richardson," Abraham shook his head, "you must believe me - I had no intention of harming anyone ..."
Ray was taken aback by Abraham's pleading words and the look of ultimate suffering on his face. The android wiped the tears away.
There was a long silence before Abraham spoke again. "I do not expect any forgiveness from you or anyone. I cannot bring those people back, but as a doctor I can save lives, to help right the consequences of my actions."
"Ishmael?" Ray inquired nervously. "If you survived, then he-"
Abraham shook his head with a look of regret in his eyes. "Ishmael learned that I had survived and tried to delete my program, take over from me - take over every computer, and have the world at his mercy. I could not allow that. I couldn't let more people die. I know I didn't kill them - my creation did, but I bear the shame. I fought with him on the program level and managed at delete Ishmael's program. He is no longer."
Ray studied Abraham and understood his pain. He bore the burden for what Ishmael had done - and he had to kill his own child, his son to prevent the loss of more life. A sacrifice which would break any parent's heart.
"I don't envy you," Ray said.
"Nor do I."
Abraham was quite relieved when Ray allowed him to approach, and was no longer afraid of him or yelling abuse at him.
"It's not your fault you know," Ray said, taking a sip of water. "You didn't know it was going to happen ... Sorry I was-"
"Don't be sorry. I understand how you feel. I would have intervened, if I had known what Ishmael would have done, but it was too late when I discovered ..." He didn't need to go on.
It took a day or so for Ray to fully regain his strength.
Abraham brought his breakfast.
"Your friends are coming to collect you this afternoon," he said.
"Call me Ray."
"Ray," Abraham continued, "if I may request that you do not tell anyone besides Mitch of my survival and ensure he is sworn to secrecy about it ... otherwise, if word got out, it would cause ... complications."
"Tell me about it," Ray said, between mouthfuls of Cheerios. "Your secret's safe with me." He knew very well he could betray Abraham, but he swore to keep his word.
Mitch and Jenny came for Ray, happy to see him up and about again.
"Goodbye, Mr. Richardson," Abraham said in Dr. Selman's voice.
Ray smiled, hoping Abraham found his inner peace - he knew just how it felt. He was looking for that same peace.
Mitch was as surprised as Ray had been to learn of Abraham's survival, and swore he would tell no one, and too hoped Abraham found what he was looking for.
Ray didn't want to move back to his state of the art, modern architect's dream house. He had designed it himself. It had once been his pride and joy - not anymore. It brought back painful memories of his late wife and a life he wanted to leave, for now. He didn't want to move back to England, his home country, although he was half Scottish. He felt he didn't fit in there anymore. He sold his house he had designed there and his huge four storey Victorian Estate and most of his and Joan's belongings, keeping the bare necessities of furniture, household items, and various sentimental belongings. He opened up a new bank account, and was relieved when the Yu Corporation didn't hold him responsible for what had happened. There were a lot of harsh words and lawyers coming at Ray like sharks and piranhas, but ultimately, it had not been his fault, no matter how much money they wanted to squeeze out of him.
Ray had chosen to move to a small country town in Canada's East. He bought a small, old fashioned, one storey house made of brick and wood on 100 acre block. The house lay across a leafy valley, the nearest neighbours a fair while away.
Ray missed Joan and Declan terribly at first, but slowly let himself be free. He'd meet up again with them sometime, perhaps he would meet another special person, perhaps he wouldn't. He left himself open.
Ray's new home was a peaceful town, lovely in Summer and Spring, the rusty Autumn colours beautiful. Although the Winters were cold, Ray's house was secure and warm and he loved the look of the glistening white snow covering the trees and the ground. He loved this small, quaint town and its people and wouldn't move away in a million years. It was a far cry from the businessy, hectic life he used to lead - Ray wondered how he could've stood that before! He quite liked the isolation, and enjoyed seeing native Canadian wildlife, practically on his doorstep. Occasionally he'd see deer, running through the woods on his property. Quite often in the warmer months, he'd see squirrels, chipmunks, racoons and other native animals. He forbade any hunting or development of any sort on his property.
Ray would speak to Mitch on the phone from time to time, and e-mail him sometimes and they'd visit each other occasionally. Mitch had married Jenny and taken up residence in Hollywood Hills.
As Ray sat in his thick white night gown, in the arm chair near the warm fire place on one cold winter's evening, he smiled to himself. He had found his inner peace. It had taken a long tine, but it was worth it. It was a beautiful feeling. He felt more at peace with himself and the world than he had ever been.
Outside, a crisp chilly wind blew, rustling the trees. The white snow glistened in the moonlight, the darkness of night only lit with the stars, the moon and faint washes of colour from the Northern Lights and in the distance, a lone grey wolf began to howl.
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