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Sandbox - Episode 1: Glitch

Sandbox - Episode 1: Glitch

A covert intelligence officer discovers that our universe is not what we imagined it to be.

Episode 1: Glitch

A man and woman die in bed under bizarre circumstances while a young Canadian diplomat tries to figure out a possible cause.

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Scene I

It was just another dreary, rainy day in the small city of Elmville. The clouds were hovering across the sky like a thick, toxic smog. All hope that the warm rays of sunlight would ever pierce their impenetrable barrier was dampened by the never-ending wetness. Delon was stuck by his office desk near a large window. Most would consider this position to be lucky, but not on this day. He would usually look out periodically throughout the workday, taking small breaks to diffuse attention away from the monotonous paperwork. Sometimes he could only afford a quick glance, but that was sometimes all he needed. Sometimes just a moment of delight was enough. A list of endless tasks awaited. Sipping through another cup, in an infinite number of cups, of cheap coffee, Delon sifted through files of paperwork for hours on end, each day and everyday. There was no end ever in sight. The long lists of information, neatly arranged into clean-cut tables, blurred into a stream of never-ending uselessness. It was no longer important information, but a kaleidoscope of meaningless hieroglyphs on large sheets of dead, compressed wood pulp. With nine hours out of a ten hour workday behind him, there was still the longest hour ahead. With his blood circulation hijacked, dangerous amounts of caffeine bubbling in the blood and breathing a stream of sterilized air passing through air filter long overdue in replacement, it was just another late night evening at the office.

Delon was working on auto-pilot. With only one hour left to go, he was determined not to let it go to waste. With weary keystrokes, he started punching in the list of tasks for all team members under his supervision. As a project task manager, it was up to him to break down all the current company projects into manageable, bite-sized parts, in the expectation that they would end up in the desired result. His brain no longer processed the information on a conscious level. His retina registered impressions. The external stimuli of shapes resembling letters and numbers were automatically determined, leading to a corresponding muscle response. There was no way to determine just how effectively this sensitive data was being handled but handled it was nonetheless.

The employees of the firm named Navitek had their best interests in mind, which is why the secretary always bought cheap coffee using the funds the boss allocated for office supplies and pocketed the difference every time. Everyone in the office was doing their job. The goal was to cash in a paycheck every two weeks and avoid any direct criticism. It was all coffee and donuts, no more, no less. Once in a while, someone would opt for a cup of water, but even that tasted more disgusting than the coffee. For many, their hearts were not in the right place. Many were fulfilling a crucial role in the company, but to most it was just another job.

As Delon typed away through all the paperwork, he saw a co-worker wobble towards his desk, approaching with a thoughtful look and almost ready to collapse from weariness. His two legs were so thin; it was just a matter of time before they snapped like a crispy cracker. They appeared rendered useless from the lack of mobility. Years spent working through lines of code, took their toll on his physical stamina. His face appeared bleached, exuding a deadly white hue. A dirty yellow tie was tied tightly around his neck that it was like a masochistic noose rather than a formal dress accessory. The co-worker was a programmer named Vladimir. He was originally from Ukraine. He utterly lacked any social finesse and tended to be too straight to the point. Hardly ever smiling, he was always direct in voicing his thoughts, sometimes too direct. After calling one of his colleagues a unique idiot and announcing it to the entire office after the latter made a minor coding error, Vladimir, as he was called, received a very long-lasting black eye. It was Vladimir who now approached Delon.

“Delon, I put everything I need in the system for you. Don’t mess it all up again.” He started without any greeting or the usual, unnecessary how-are-you questions that served more as a placeholder template than as a sincere gesture of inquisitiveness into a person’s life. “If you recall last time, you didn’t put enough details about the tasks, and this caused us to spend more time revising than getting the work done. I do not want to revise constantly the coding just because the client is unsure what they want. It will be better if you can find out everything beforehand before setting up the tasks, alright?”

Delon’s right eyebrow slightly churned listening to Vladimir. He tried to keep his calm despite the urge to decorate Vladimir’s face with an additional black eye. No matter how often they spoke throughout the day, he could never get used to his manner of articulation. The pointy manner in which Vladimir spoke always sounded like harsh criticism even though it was not usually the case. Stripped away of all the socially accepted pleasantries, fake add-ons and masked gestures, our conversations would sound more egotistical and more likely lead to an argument or disagreement. They would also more likely lead to a clearer understanding of what another person wants from you.

“Vlad, I already put everything into the system and thought it through. You just have to understand me as well. A client could give me a ten-page document outlining all the details of what they’re looking for but then change their minds half-way through or near the end. In this case, we usually charge more for the changes. But, you still need to do them if they do pay us more. We can’t refuse, otherwise, what’s the point of the business?” Delon spoke calmly and wearily. There was also a hint of frustration hidden below the surface of his demeanour at having to put up a show of amiability. He did this to avoid any confrontation with anyone.

As the project manager, he was tasked with boosting the efficiency of company employees, but he increasingly felt that it was his actual position that was clogging it up. He was alone, but there were over thirty individuals to supervise daily. Since each individual felt mostly fearful of making any grave mistakes, they tended to consult him directly or through the company’s project management system. This meant that sometimes a comment would get lost in a sea of online threads. Unable to reply quickly enough throughout the day to all issues, delays were inherent. The boss was inclined to believe that it was the employees who were at fault, rather than the manager and though Delon was tempted to inform him of the opposite, he knew it could cost him his job. And so he did the only thing possible given his situation: he delayed the inevitable as much as was possible and kept on going as usual.

It was almost an hour past his scheduled workday when Delon finally finished punching in information into the company system. He usually stayed behind overtime, without additional pay. Though his boss praised him for the dedication, all that he stood to earn was lost time and less sleep. Looking out the window, the weather was horrible. It was drizzling rain. He could feel the humidity pressing against his head, squeezing his skull like a vice grip. The lampposts were enveloped by a thick cloud of fog, not to be seen. Only their yellowish lights shone through the barrier, reflecting off of the heavy water particles and lighting up the entire sky. He stood up to pack up his backpack. Placing a scratched up laptop into the inner pocket and throwing in some notebooks, he tucked in his chair. Walking toward the exit, he looked around to check if there was anyone left to say goodbye to. There was just Vlad, sitting hunched over his at his desk, who never reciprocated the art of goodbyes. And so he went on his way.

With a heavy, burdening sigh, Delon walked towards his parked car. It was a brand new Dodge Caliber that he had saved up years to purchase. Now, after only a few years, the insides had rusted, and the transmission was failing. With a five thousand dollar price tag, it was financially unfeasible to replace. All that remained was to part with it and purchase a more reliable vehicle. Despite the regrets of having spent over fifteen thousand to buy the car, all he could get in return was a modest five grand at best. Either way, a car was essential to remain mobile in the hustle and bustle of the modern metropolis. He started the engine and drove off into the streets, heading to home sweet home.

Delon lived with his wife in a modest, subsidized apartment building in the suburbs of the city. Though his job was steady, inflation coupled with a slightly above minimum wage salary could afford him only so much. He parked in his reserved spot and walked along the sidewalk towards the lobby. The entrance was filthy, and the ringer worked half the time. Garbage lay spewed near the front steps. Someone had thrown up near a trash can beside sidewall, failing to control the trajectory of their inner regurgitation and staining the concrete with a nasty yellow bile containing bits and pieces of a once-digested meal for the flies to pick off. It was a great home welcoming that brightened up Delon’s night after a hard day’s work.

Entering his apartment, he greeted his wife with a warm smile and received a playful look of scorn for being late, yet again.

“Hey, my honey.” Exclaimed his wife lovingly, with a tired smile, not hiding her hints of disappointment with some corny sarcasm. “Again you’ve managed to come home so early. What are you, earning millions out there, is that why you stay longer than you need to? You know that you have just lost and hour and a half that could have been spent entertaining me, and helping out around the house with some vacuuming.”

“Dear, sorry that I’m so late again.” Murmured Delon, with a guilty look. “I’m just trying to get ahead. Maybe my loyalty will pay off in the end. If I play a small part in helping the company grow, maybe our finances will grow too. I’m just trying to be patient. Maybe we can leave the vacuuming until tomorrow. It’s late; we’re both tired. Let’s have some tea and sleep?”

“Sure dear, sounds OK with me. I was thinking of the same thing. But maybe we can have some sex before we drift off to sleep?” Winked his wife with a seductive and playful pose. “What do you think of my idea? How do you feel about it?”

“I’m all for your idea!” voiced Delon while they embraced, kissing each other passionately, slowly stepping towards the bedroom as they undressed.

Scene II

Felix Soris was having an awful day. Not only could he not sleep well last night, but his superiors were impatiently waiting for results. Looking out from the window of the Canadian Embassy in Kiev, he admired the time-worn buildings across the street. They were aesthetic relics from a long-gone era of romanticized prosperity and stricter building material standards. He admired the architecture but dreaded potentially living in their grandiose confines. To live there meant to live like a rich Ukrainian or Russian, something that was nearly impossible to achieve through honest means. The entire government was rife with corruption at the highest levels, with the president setting a dubious example for the rest of the country. Millions of dollars were being embezzled through various black-hat schemes every day. Billions of dollars were regularly stolen on a yearly basis; all scurried away into European bank accounts. Meanwhile, the economy remained stagnant, and much-needed reforms never got past paper. He stared at the facades of the building’s exteriors, some with carved out stone reliefs in old European fashion, reminiscent of the Italian Baroque-style. The warm sunlight shone on the stony walls, their layers of paint peeling off, neglected by the absent owners.

Stationed in Kiev as a foreign intelligence officer for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or otherwise not well known as the CSIS, he was tasked with the overzealous collection of information about the current Ukrainian government for the purposes of determining not only the fate of future allocation of monetary assistance, but for revising the current foreign policy towards the former Soviet republic. Higher levels of Canadian government were concerned about Ukraine’s commitment to democratic values and needed field data to refine their approach. Of most importance was covert intelligence sought to verify the true opposition to Russian influence, with many harbouring notions of secretive collaboration with the undeclared enemy of democracy. With the Russian government undermining international security on a regular basis, the memo was out to assess the degree of risk. The information obtained was downright boring in nature at times, while the manner in which it was obtained was sometimes quite the opposite. At the end of the day, it only skewed reality. It was like looking out the window from a different angle each time.

The deadline to submit a comprehensive threat assessment report was fast approaching and his phone vibrated violently non-stop with incoming calls. Felix sat by his desk and opened a previously opened email. It was a scathing review of his paper advocating for handguns and tasers to be removed from police service, claiming that disarming members of the police would put them at risk to untold violence. Closing the email window, Felix sat looking at his phone. He was a young man, about thirty-two years of age, with a good-hearted stare and cold-blooded lips. His hair was trimmed to a boxed-cut, with a zero-cut on the sides, with only a smooth layer of short, black hair on top. His hands were small but rough and beaten down from boxing punching bags without gloves over several years of training, the knuckles covered in bumps hard as stone. The desk job had taken a physical toll. Once a slim eighty kilos, Felix had gained over twenty more. Late night sandwiches, sugary coffee and constant sitting had done their job: he had gained weight. From his outward appearance, any fatty excesses were compensated by the tremendous physical strength and stamina that exuded from his demeanour. His brown eyes radiated a deep intelligence; that was sometimes mistakenly confused with good-naturedness. The silence of his compact office-attache was broken with the ring of the desk-phone. Answering the call, he was surprised by the ensuing conversation.

“Officer Soris speaking. How may I be of assistance?” stated Felix in a calm, professional voice, clearly articulating every letter.

“Hello, Officer Soris. This is Deputy-Director Miller speaking from our Home Office. I have a request that you look into a certain matter of utmost importance. I want you to look into a highly unusual police case and examine the evidence found. This is coming directly from my desk to yours. An overview of the evidence will be forwarded via our secure line. Do you have any questions?”

“Yes Deputy-Director, are these case files from a foreign asset? If so, I would like to point out that my intelligence focus is currently limited to certain regions.”

“The evidence you will receive will be from a local police force, from a national asset. I am counting on your due diligence on this matter. This takes precedence over your current assignment. The assessment report can wait. I will call back tomorrow afternoon, 18:00 sharp and would like to hear your preliminary thoughts, after which you shall be instructed further depending on the outcome of our conversation. Do you have any further questions Officer Soris?”

“No sir, I have no further questions. I will be waiting for the files and report to you tomorrow. Thank you for the assignment.”

“Take care, Officer Soris.”

The caller hung up after uttering the last gesture of socially accepted amiability, leaving Felix in expectation of an important email. After several minutes, the email arrived, containing copies of police reports and images from a supposed crime scene. Scanning the photos taken from numerous angles, each one depicted a couple lying in bed, their bodies gruesomely contorted and faces depicting smiles of joy. They were both naked, each with strange lesions running across each body part. Their heads were tilted towards each other, the frontal lobes touching. From all outward appearance, they seemed to have suffered from violent convulsions. They now appeared transfigured, like ancient statues of marble. Everything in the bedroom and the entire apartment was untouched, with no compromising evidence of any outside presence in the dwelling was discovered. A further autopsy report detailed the complete absence of any internal body matter whatsoever, including the skeleton. An explanation for how the bodies had not turned into goo and retained their precise form was not provided. With the coroner unable to pinpoint an appropriate medical term to use, noting the evidence as “bizarre”. Further notes show that the bodies remained solid with no signs of decomposition, even after several days as of the time the report has been filed. The police report summarizes the case as being highly unusual in nature, but not subject to active investigation due to the lack of evidence of any foul play and thereby considered closed.

Felix looked through all the evidence over and over again, going over every detail. The case was a mystery wrapped up in another mystery. With no evidence of any outside interference, it was easy to attribute it to some unexplained scientific phenomena or grotesque accident of nature. However, like in any puzzling situation or mathematical problem, it was best to spot the missing variables first, one-by-one. The problem here, of course, was the inability to communicate with local law enforcement without authorization, especially upon a closed case. He decided to sit on it for the day while taking care of other business. Picking up his cell, he dialled a number from the missed calls list, all of them displayed as unknown. A man with a deep, gruff voice picked up.

“Yes, hello?” the man spoke sharply.

“It’s Soris,” replied Felix coolly. “Do you have something for me?”

“Ah Felix, my friend!” spoke the voice with a sudden spike of politeness. “I was trying to reach you all morning. Can you meet in-person in about an hour?”

“Sure,” replied Felix casually. “Let’s meet at Cafe DeLuxe in thirty minutes.”

“Felix, Felix.” the man repeated his name with a slight sigh. “I don’t know if I can be there that soon. You know I’m a busy man.”

“You can make it. I know you can. You’re a reliable partner.” replied Felix with a slightly humorous tone, but not too relaxed. “Make it in thirty and I’ll make worth your while.”

“Well, in that case, I will be there in around thirty. Talk soon”. replied the man and hung up the phone without waiting for a reciprocation.

Felix printed an image from the case file and folded it into his side pocket. He opened a locked drawer and placed his cellphone inside, removing a different one from an inner compartment. Turning it on to check the battery, he placed it into his right side pocket after verifying it was operational. Grabbing his black jacket, he headed across the hallway and downstairs. Exiting the building via the long stone steps, he waved to the local security guard and headed down to the town square on Kostelna Street.

The Cafe DeLuxe was located in the heart of the city centre, right across from Independence Square and nested next to Kate’s Perogies. It had modest fare ranging from gourmet sandwiches to a few main courses. The aroma of freshly ground coffee mixed with grilled chicken permeated the air. Felix sat in the corner facing the entrance and ordered a caramel cappuccino. He sat drinking, observing the comings and goings of young students in and out. The interior of the cafe featured several vintage highlights. Antique copper coffee machines were placed against the far right wall as a show of dedication to the delicious caffeinated beverage. A large grandfather clock towered behind the bar, facing the entrance. The walls were painted a warm, mellow yellow that was easy to the eyes, with various old posters featuring American coffee ads.

The man Felix was supposed to meet arrived a few minutes late, huffing and puffing. He was a big man, with a very large belly. His stomach extended under his nose like a giant balloon, ready to pop open from regular over-eating. He was just over average height and very much over average weight. A thin, black moustache had a slight touch of arrogance and fingers on his hands were shaped like thick sausages. Each hand was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. He had never lifted anything heavier than a pen all his life. He was a man used to giving orders and taking none. The top of his head was bald, while the sides had some grey fluff, giving his hairstyle a vintage aristocratic flair. Spotting Felix in the corner, he navigating his way through the narrow spacing between tables and chairs. He extended one of his gigantic hands as he approached.

“Hello Felix, I just want to say right away that I don’t have much time,” he said with a gruff politeness. “Let’s get down to the heart of the matter. But, before that, perhaps a beer?”

“It’s only early afternoon, Piotr Ilyich.” started Felix with a cool, confident tone, knowing that it was customary in this part of the world, to drink quite often, and throughout the day. “I certainly don’t mind having a beer with you, but not at this time of the hour. Do not take offence, even though you may consider it as such.”

The man shrugged his shoulders and joked sarcastically, “I definitely understand Felix. But, what I will never understand, is how after living in our country for so long, you manage to stay sober at this time of day! Ha ha!” He laughed with a very unnerving laugh at his own declaration.

A young waiter approached. Piotr blurted out his order, “A Stella Artois! A pitcher of the good stuff with those fresh sliced pig’s ears I hear about.”

The waiter asked, “What kind of seasoning? Spicy, sweet, a mix of both or no flavouring. Just to note that the spicy one goes really great with beer.”

“I’ll have them spiced. And bring some black bread as well, with a shot of vodka on the side,” said Piotr.

“And you sir?” the waiter faced Felix with a questioning look. “A beer as well?”

“No, no beer now,” said Felix as he handed over the cup. “I’ll have another cappuccino, with some extra caramel, if you can. Much appreciated.”

“Of course, sir. A cappuccino it will be,” said the waiter and left speedily.

“With the shit I’m going through to hide this arrangement of ours, I think you can get the tab for my afternoon snack,” noted Piotr as the waiter retired to fetch the order. “They’ll definitely have my ass on a hot frying pan once someone finds out who you are and what I’m doing.”

“No sure what you mean, Piotr,” replied Felix while looking his counterpart straight in the eyes. “Not everyone knows who I am. They can only speculate. But, as far as they’re concerned I’m a Canadian diplomatic representative, on official business here in your wonderful country, working with the same interests in mind as your government should have in consideration. From this, it’s definitely plausible that you, a representative of your government, would like to share a beer in commemoration of this mutual direction of our relations.”

“I know where you’re getting at, Felix,” replied Piotr with a smile. “Let’s just talk plainly. You just want some inside information, and that’s all. Whether it’s mutual interest or no mutual interest, it’s in somebody’s interest.”

“So, you have something for me?” asked Felix, to get straight to the point.

“Yes, I do in fact,” replied the latter with a sigh as the waiter came by with the beer and a large plate of raw, sliced pig’s ears. He placed the plate before Piotr and poured a glass of beer. Then, he placed the cup of coffee beside Felix and promptly left.

“This is for you,” said Piotr, and pulled out a folded envelope from his side coat pocket. “It’s here, copies of the unofficial memo on how to use the international support money, and inside a USB with some compromising recordings.”

“And what about the audio? How did you manage that? It’s like you’re allowed in with a cellphone to these meetings? ” asked Felix with a hint of unrestrained curiosity.

“Ha!” exclaimed Piotr, gobbling up the raw delicacy on his plate. “Those who are trusted, and have some influence, can enjoy the privilege of having their phone with them. It’s not like there’s a big security deal over there. Sure, for all the other mortals, they have to follow the rules. Me? I do what I want! I’m a free man.”

“Well, what can I say, I’ll take a thorough look at this,” replied Felix, and after a momentary pause asked hesitantly. “Can I ask another favour?”

“Ha! Another one?”, burst out Piotr, chomping down on the sliced pig. “I’m busting my buns here, putting myself at risk for a promise of who knows what. Anyway, who cares, what is it? If you’re in deep already and can’t touch the bottom of the pool, what’s another few meters going to do, right? Ha ha!”

Felix pulled out the folded image and placed it on the table, gently pushing it towards Piotr with two extended fingers. “What do you make of this?”

Piotr wiped the excess spice from his hands with a paper napkin and unfolded the image. With a ghastly voice, he looked up piercingly at Felix. “Where did this happen?”

“Can’t tell you the exact location, but somewhere in an undisclosed location in my country,” replied Felix. “From your look, I’m thinking you’ve seen something like this before? If so, any insight you can provide, it would be of great help.”

Piotr gulped down another glass of beer before pulling another clean napkin and shouted to the waiter helping customers at the bar. “Waiter! A pen please!”

The waiter came by after a minute or so with a ball point pen, as Piotr looked on at the photo, waiting in silence, sipping his beer less enthusiastically.

“Here’s a number that you can call. Show him the details you have and he assist you,” said Piotr with a slightly hushed voice.

“What’s his name? Who is he?” inquired Felix.

“He’s some kind of theoretical physicist. His name’s Bogdan. Quite honestly, a total wacko. I’ve just heard rumours that he’s just bat-shit insane.” Piotr explained with a look of disgust. “He was dismissed from several universities after trying to teach students that there’s no god, no aliens, no nothing out there. Some kind of bizarre theory, something like from one of those Matrix movies or something they said. Anyway, he got fired a few times, and now no one wants anything to do with him.”

So how does this exactly relate to the image I just showed you.” asked Felix.

“Listen, listen to what I have to say about that,” said Piotr and started explaining.“One time, we had an incident much like what you’ve shown me now. Everyone thought it was some sort of weird accident. The police here were stumped. I mean they just couldn’t provide any coherent explanation. It was all over the news. Anyways, this guy goes to the police station and starts rambling on about how he believes this is was not an accident, but done on purpose somehow. I don’t remember how he explained it exactly. But, the police start questioning him and decide he’s a total nutjob. At first, they thought maybe he had something to do with it, but after realizing he couldn’t afford to give them a bribe, and putting the guilt on him wasn’t feasible either, since no one would believe it. So they escorted him to the door, laughing him out. And that’s that.”

“Hmm. I wonder whether you’re right about the person being mentally unstable. But, I think I’ll still pay him a visit.” said Felix.

“I see, you’re day is pretty boring then, and you need some entertainment!” Piotr laughed out loud. “I think you’ll definitely be entertained at the very least. And you guys think we’re wasting our government time. Don’t know how visiting crazy physicists is part of your job profile!”

“I doubt I would be entertained by the ravings of a madman, but quite often the madness is just a reflection of an alternative perception of reality, one that we have trouble understanding.” said Felix.

“I didn’t know that the Canadian Embassy hired philosophers!” blurted out Piotr with another hearty laugh.

With a final swing of the arm, Piotr swallowed the remaining beer and stood up to leave.

“I’ll be going now, Felix. The tab is on you,” said Piotr, shaking Felix’s extended hand as the latter also stood up. “And you probably don’t want to hear this, but I think this will be our last meeting. Like I said I’m a free man, and I need to safeguard my interests. You can come and go anytime, but I have to live and work here, with these people. Anyways, good luck!”

Piotr turned around sharply and bumbled towards the exit, taking his leave. Felix reached for his cellphone and immediately dialled the number Piotr provided. A well-spoken man apprehensively answered:

“Hello, you have reached Bogdan, may I ask who is calling?”

“Hello, Bogdan, an acquaintance of mine gave me your number.” Felix started explaining. “I was wondering if you have some time today to meet. I am in need of your professional opinion about a certain case I’m working on.”

“Are you with the cops?” asked Bogdan, his voice slightly wavering with a hint of suspicion and doubt over the phone. “If you are from the police, there’s nothing I can help you with. I have done nothing wrong.”

“No, I’m not with the police. Perhaps once you see what I want to show you, you will understand. Let’s talk in about an hour or so if that’s convenient for you?” said Felix.

“Well. Hmm. I’m not sure what you want exactly, but if you want my consultation services, then it’s ten dollars an hour or a fixed fee plus transportation costs. The subway prices have gone up! If you want to talk, then meet me at the corner of Podol Street. I can be there in an hour approximately but bring the cash. No cash, no consultation. What do you say?

Though somewhat taken aback my the man’s straightforwardness, he agreed to his terms. “Alright, Bogdan, no problem. I will be there in an hour and yes, I will compensate you for your time and insight.”

“Good. Then it’s agreed. See you then, sir.” said Bogdan as he hung up.

Felix asked for the bill, paid in cash, left a small tip and left, heading towards the subway. He placed the envelope given to him by Piotr into his inner jacket pocket, zipping up the collar tightly.

Scene III

The trip in the subway was slow this time of day. Each car was packed with people above maximum capacity. It was so overfull, that the Soviet-era train barely managed 40km/h along the route, compared to the usual 60km/h, slowing down periodically along the route. The passengers were tightly packed together like sardines in a can. The air was stuffy. It smelled like mildew and freshly boiled eggs topped with mayonnaise. About three men and one woman rubbed against Felix from all sides. Some small windows were open, blowing a stream of cold air uncomfortably down his neck. There was not a single unoccupied space in the entire train. After a few stops, Felix pushed his way out, elbowing an elderly man who cursed him as he jumped out.

Walking towards the corner of Podol Street, he noticed a very tall man in a black greatcoat, nervously rubbing his hands together. Felix walked towards him with a greeting:

“Hello, are you Bogdan?” asked Felix with a polite manner, extending his hand.

The man looked down at Felix, with an anxious look and extended his arm as well.

“Yes, indeed I am,” he replied. “I came here a bit early as you can see. So, first thing, my fee starts from the moment we shook hands. What did you want to ask?”

Felix pulled out the folded image and handed it over to Bogdan. “This is an image I came across recently. It’s from an incident in Canada, where I’m from originally. My acquaintance told me that you believed this was the work of some kind of weapon? If so, your insight would be appreciated.”

As Felix spoke, Bogdan unfolded the image, studied it silently for a few minutes and handed it back with a shaky hand.

“This is the second time I have seen something like this,” he started explaining. “The first time was when we had a similar case, here in Kiev. The police laughed at me. But they just couldn’t understand. They couldn’t comprehend the scientific importance of this case! I tried to explain, but all I got in return for my insight is mockery. Why are you interested in this if you are not a cop?”

“A friend of mine is a cop. I’m just trying to help them out,” replied Felix casually.

“Sure, a friend, right,” replied Bogdan with some obvious expression of doubt. “And this friend is, of course, you.”

“Will you help me or mock me just as you have been mocked?” replied Felix.

Bogdan looked steadily at Felix for a few moments before continuing. “The people here were, no doubt, a couple with a very close bond to each other. It’s my belief that during sleep when their heads touched, a powerful reaction took place. That reaction caused all atoms in their bodies to be transformed into energy. It is this energy that was somehow extracted.”

“Extracted? You mean by someone?” Felix asked in disbelief. “That to me seems impossible given that converting every single atom into pure energy seems only plausible theoretically. There is no existing technology that can do this. Or…are you suggesting aliens did it?”

“Do not talk to me about aliens!” replied Bogdan angrily. “I do not believe in aliens, and even they existed, what business would they have with us anyway? Aliens are a convenient and fictitious excuse to take attention away from the things that matter here, on Earth! This was a result of an unforeseen glitch in the physics of our world.”

“A glitch? You are suggesting that we are in some kind of program?" Asked Felix.

“Yes and no. You see, I believe there is some credence to what theoretical physicists describe as an ‘illusion of reality’. It’s just my belief they are looking at the problem in the wrong way.” Felix continued to explain. “We are not in a computer program, per say. We are coded into an elaborate program that is nothing more than a game, a ‘virtual sandbox’ so to speak. What we perceive, the laws of physics or mathematics or other truths we discover are nothing more than the elaborate coding of the sandbox.”

“A ‘virtual sandbox’, you say,” repeated Felix to himself. “And how would this explain the mysterious deaths of these two people in this bizarre manner?”

“There is no explanation. Like any program, things can go wrong. I believe that what occurred was nothing more than an unexpected glitch.” said Bogdan. “If you’ve ever played any game before, imagine being in the game. Imagine that you are AI coded to a certain level and everything you perceive is just your reality, the sandbox reality. You’re part of it, which means you can’t really escape or find out what, where and how exactly. You just work within the work you’re in. It’s like physics; we can’t see all the other dimensions that might theoretically exist because we just aren’t capable.”

“And this glitch was caused by someone, something? If so, why the energy disappearance then?” asked Felix.

“It’s highly probable that the answer is no. Yet we will never know if it was not,” replied Bogdan with a hint of fear and disappointment on his face. “To tell you the truth, I was denied permission to look more closely at the bodies, and so I have no way of coming up with evidence of my theory. It might be possible that the energy will manifest itself in some other way. I don’t know.”

“Your theory is interesting, Bogdan, but you have missed something,” explained Felix. “The theory our reality is so elaborately coded, presumes that it was done by someone or something. Correct?”

“No, no, no! You don’t understand!” Bogdan cried out, shaking his head forcefully. “It does not mean that someone or something had to have created it! Don’t you see? It doesn’t matter. Even if there is someone, it doesn’t matter, because they have played no influence on us in any way. And there was no weapon! That’s just the police twisting my explanation!”

“So basically, your theory about this case is pure opinion, with no solid evidence to support it?” asked Felix.

“If you want to put it that way, then fine,” said Bogdan, shrugging his shoulders. “You owe me $10, and I’ll go about my way.”

“Fine, then,” said Felix, pulling out his wallet and handing over a few bills. “Thanks for your…insight.”

“All the best.” said Bogdan and walked away unceremoniously toward the subway.

Felix pondered about Bogdan’s theory, but not for too long. Without any serious headway into the case, he headed back to his office to work on a long overdue report.

After a long and tiring trip back to the city-centre, Felix returned to the embassy. Replacing his phones, he checks any missed calls and messages, filtering them based on importance. Some few minutes later, after reading the latest news highlights online, he opened up his report file and began entering data provided to him by Piotr. After several hours and several cups of coffee, the report was nearly complete. All that remained was a final proofreading to weed out any potential grammar or spelling errors. It was late at night when Felix retired to sleep on an office couch.

Scene IV

It was early morning when Felix awoke, slightly wrinkled from another night spent at the embassy. After quickly washing up, he went out for breakfast at his favourite place, the Cafe DeLuxe. He ordered an omelet with baby spinach, Swiss cheese and arugula with a cafe latte. With his morning hunger assuaged, another long day of work was before him.

Returning to the embassy after a brisk walk around the town square and grabbing another coffee, Felix got to work. Several hours were spent editing or re-typing certain portions of the report, with regular collaboration with colleagues based in different parts of the world. Phone calls had to be made to confirm certain findings while others were made to clarify certain details. His report would be integrated into a single, multi-volume document that would dictate foreign policy for the next few years. This required approval from his superiors, with solid evidence to support his assessment.

It was late evening when he received the long-awaited call at exactly 18:00 hours.

“Good evening, Officer Soris,” spoke the Deputy-Director. “Have you any insight into the matter we discussed yesterday?”

“Good afternoon, Deputy-Director Miller, sir,” replied back Felix. “I had an occasion to speak to a man who had information about a similar event here in Kiev, a few years ago. The local authorities here were just as puzzled with the case and also ruled it to be a bizarre accident. Other than discussing an equally twisted theory about the possible cause of this, there is nothing concrete that I can report to you, Sir, at this time.”

“I see,” replied the voice with a thoughtful tone. “And what theory does this man have exactly, Officer Soris? Please describe it regardless of the potential absurdity of the man’s claim.”

“Well Sir, it is this man’s belief, who I was told is a theoretical physicist- that the energy from both bodies was extracted by a possible glitch in our reality,” explained Felix. “He described his belief that our very existence is a programmed virtual reality. In any case, sir, he could not elaborate further than these generalizations.”

“I see, I see,” repeated the Deputy-Director even more thoughtfully than before. “What I have to say to you now, Officer Soris, stays strictly confidential. I must emphasize that due to the strange nature of this case, the CSIS has held an emergency meeting and reached a decision to launch an investigation into this matter.”

“I don’t understand, Sir,” said Felix, sounding confused. “Could you please clarify?”

“You are to pre-emptively head this panel, Officer Soris,” said Miller. “From now on it is being classified as Operation Sandbox. You will be the sole operative for the time being. You are to depart on the first available flight to Ottawa and report directly to me. I will brief you in on more details once you arrive.”

“Sir, if I may ask.” voiced Felix. “What is so important about this case that warrants a special operation to be authorized?”

“Officer Soris, the bodies that were recovered from the scene were due to be recovered by the families of the deceased for burial this morning,” explained Miller slowly. “As of today, 12:00 EST, the two deceased persons have recovered from death. In other words, both persons are currently… alive and well.”

“Sir, is this a joke?” blurted out Felix in disbelief.

“This is no joke, Officer Soris,” replied Miller with a more hardened tone. “I expect to see you in my office promptly upon arrival.”

Deputy-Director Miller hung up the phone. Felix held the handset next to his ear for more than a minute, the annoying static tone blasting into his ear, trying to collect his thoughts. The news meant that the CSIS was taking the case seriously as a potential risk or threat, but other than this implication, he was at a loss concerning the details surrounding it. There was potentially a reasonable explanation for the fantastical incident, such as a fake death scenario or an elaborate prank. In any case, his orders were real, and he intended to follow them to the letter. Pulling up a list of flights, he booked a ticket for Ottawa, set to depart early next morning.

To be continued…hopefully.

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