The first thing I saw in the drone feed was the gun in his hand. The first thing I heard was the sound of screaming around him. Behind him were the glass walls of offices.
His face was colder than the glass. His blue eyes were artic ice in the dead of winter. His smile was murder with a capital M.
“Jake? Where are you?”
“Back where it all began Alfred.”
“The company where your father worked?”
He waved a hand to the frosted sign on the glass of a wall. The drone automatically followed the gesture, focusing on the writing before panning back to Jake.
“I need you to put the gun down Jake. Can you do that for me?”
“Relax Alfred. The gun isn’t for them.”
“Jake please put the gun down. We can talk about this.”
“We’ve been talking for months Alfred. I’m tired of talking. I set my father a deadline to come and see me and he failed.” Behind him, people were running out of the offices and down the hallway away from him.
“Your father is dead Jake. We’ve talked about that. Please put the gun down.”
“Here we are. Room 7732. They removed his name from the door.”
“Your father died a long time ago Jake. Have you been taking your medication?”
“My medication is for treating delusions Alfred. I’m not delusional.” He opened the door into a laboratory. Behind him, posters of brain scans and anatomy covered the walls.
“How did you get into the building?” I asked, messaging the police with my personal phone. He frowned at the question as though I had inquired how he managed to add one and one to get two.
“Digital systems are the easiest to crack. My father knows that.”
“Jeremiah is dead Jake. Please try to remember that.” I called my car from the garage to the road outside as I talked on the business phone, still messaging the police from my personal device.
“I spent hours with him in this room as a child.” Jake said. “I idolised him.”
“It’s common for children to idolise their parents, especially when those parents are distant.” I was down the stairs from my psychiatry office and out the front getting into the car. I bumped my head on the frame as I jumped into the back seat.
“Jeremiah was never distant, he was busy. His work on neural transfer would have changed everything.” The car was on its way. The auto-driver followed the satnav to the tower where my patient was being reckless.
“His theories were disproven Jake. His work was fabricated. That’s why he killed himself. Jake, are you listening to me?” The drone panned from his smiling face to the wall where he was ripping away posters. Beneath one he found a faint hint of letters. The drone upped the contrast to see those letters as he ran a finger over them. It was his name in childlike handwriting.
“I wrote that when I was five.”
“You’re a very talented young man Jake. You have a bright future ahead of you.”
“So did Jeremiah. He still could. All he had to do was come back. I send a message to him. I told him to come and see me. I gave him my address. He doesn’t care. Do you?”
“I care Jake. Of course, I do.”
“Too late.” The passion in his voice turned to monotone as he spoke to the drone. “Begin recording and broadcasting.”
I heard paper and metal hitting the floor as he swept his arm across a desk by a window.
“The glass up here is twenty centimetres thick.” He pointed the gun at the window. The drone hovered behind him, showing his extended arm and the huge window that looked out on the city. One explosion cracked the glass. His thin arm leapt with the recoil. He aimed again and fired. The cracks spread.
Jake stood on the worktop and kicked. The window shattered, scattering the worktop with glass. The drone, programmed to prioritise images of a face, zoomed out of the broken window to hover in the air 77 stories up.
Wind whipped his brown hair. Glass in the window frame drew red drops from his hand as he held himself steady.
“Travel faster car, this is an emergency!” I ripped off my necktie and unbuttoned the top of my shirt which seemed to be strangling me.
I was down the main street, just minutes away.
“Ten years ago today, my father withdrew all of the available funds from this company as cash. He then covered the cash and himself with gasoline and set himself on fire, down there.” The drone turned to look at the pavement far below. People were gathering to look up at the man in the window who was as much of a pin prick to them as they were to him.
“Thirty seconds from destination.” The car tried to pull off the road, but a crowd was standing in the street, zooming in to record Jake in the window on their phones.
“OPEN THE DOOR!” I pushed my way through the crowd, elbowing people to be closer and being pushed and sworn at.
“I’ll see you all in my next life.” Jake winked at the drone. All emotion left his face. He closed his eyes and stepped forward. When he was right at the edge, he jumped.
I saw him racing towards the ground over the shoulders of the crowd as I pushed forwards.
I didn’t see him hit the pavement.
I heard it.
I will never forget that sound.
I'll never forget the mess I saw on the pavement.
Jake’s funeral was a quiet ceremony. A state appointed director read the Eulogy of the Lost as if the man had been a nameless vagrant. Jake McCormack had been anything but.
Following in his father’s footsteps he had pursued studies in neuro-mechanics. Jake had qualified for the course four years ahead of any of his peers and finished a year early. Though Jeremiah had been a prodigy, he paled in comparison to his son.
After completing the doctorate in neuro-mechanics he had taken post-grad courses in cloning, advanced biochemistry, and programming simultaneously. Though his attendance was abysmal he passed every test with flying colours. Graduating summa cum laude from the courses at the same time was unheard of.
He was in the news, compared to his criminal parents. His father was accused of almost bankrupting the company he worked for to avoid being exposed as a fraud. His mother was serving multiple consecutive sentences for murder. It was not the recipe for a happy childhood.
A period of delinquency followed Jake’s moment in the spotlight. He was charged with arson. A short stint in prison was lengthened for violent conduct.
Mandated therapy was a condition of his release. He saw me for two hours a week for six months. The day he died would have been our last session.
His remains sat in an urn with endless others who had no family or no one who wanted them. With no one else to claim it, I was given permission to take the urn with me. It sits on the highest shelf in my office. It reminds me of my responsibility.
Jake’s name faded from the news. The world of Kali moved on without the McCormack family.
I continued to work as a therapist but whenever a patient was boring me, I shouldn’t say that, but they do, I looked at the urn on the shelf. It reminded me of my duty to look after them. No one else would die while in my care.
A year passed. I looked at the urn less and less. My wife gave birth to our first child, Jacob. He had my blue eyes and his mother’s wavey brown hair. The weight that had been sitting on my shoulders since Jake’s death lifted. I felt whole again.
One afternoon I returned from my lunch break to find that my office door was unlocked.
Sitting in my chair, holding my baby boy, was Jake.
I dropped my coffee.
I almost fainted.
“Say hello dad.” Jake cradled the baby gently in his arms and waved Jacob’s chubby hand at me. For a moment his smile was warm and sweet as fresh pancakes. Then it soured and became the grin of a shark who’d swallowed a lemon tree.
“You’re alive,” I gasped.
“I am.” He nodded. His eyes widened. He wore one of my suit jackets over a T-shirt I wore when I went jogging. He somehow looked younger than he had been when he died.
“What are you doing with Jacob? Give him to me.”
“I wanted to get to know him. He’s clearly very precious to you.” Jake had his mother’s eyes, the look she had given the camera as she was convicted of murder.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, gasping through the fear as I looked at a gun on my desk.
“I was always here.” Jake pointed to the urn on the shelf. “I appreciate that. What I don’t appreciate is the fact that you never responded to my letter.” He opened my desk drawer and pulled out the letter he’d posted to me the day before he threw himself out of a seventy-seventh floor window.
“I didn’t know how to respond to that Jake.” I got down on my knees and held up my palms to him. His face was twisted into a mask of hatred.
“It was easy. Admit you lied and meet me. That was all you had to do.” He was growling loudly. Jacob began to cry in his arms. I felt tears on my face as I watched the murderous genius with my baby in his arms.
“Don’t hurt him please.” I sobbed.
“Why would I hurt him?” The acid of his voice could have bitten through a bank vault door.
“Jake, I’m sorry.”
“Good start. Go on.”
“Give him to me please.”
“Why are you so scared that I’ll hurt him?”
“You’re not acting rationally.”
“Rationally?” His voice broke with a laugh. “What’s the rational response for a boy whose mother murdered people? What is the rational way to act when your father fakes his death by setting himself on fire and runs away with stolen money?”
“Jake, please. Give him to me.” I stood slowly. The fury in Jake’s eyes was squeezing my bladder but I couldn’t leave Jacob in his arms.
“I’m not going to hurt him, Alfred.” He put an extra bite on my name as he stood. “I’d never hurt Jacob. He’s my brother.” It was at that point my bladder shrugged and evacuated. “Why would you think I didn’t recognise you?”
My baby was crying in his arms.
My heart was pounding so loudly it hurt.
“You sat here, every time, and pretended I was a stranger. You looked me in the eyes and asked me about my father. You thought I didn’t know.”
“Please.” I reached out my arms. Jake placed his little brother in my hands and turned back to the desk. I watched him pick up the gun. “Oh god. No. Don’t kill us.”
“I told you dad. I would never hurt my brother. Or my father.” The gun rested by his side, pointing limply at the floor. “I want you to say it though. Tell me your name.”
“My name is Jeremiah McCormack.”
“Was that so fucking hard?” He raised the gun to his temple. “Sorry about the mess.”
Jake was in the news again. I was in the news again, as Alfred. I was the therapist to the monster. Father of the kidnap victim.
No one else knew how twisted it truly was.
I moved house, into an apartment with an armoured front door and a panic room. Jacob’s mother Bethany took a break from her job to look after him, barely leaving the house.
Six months passed.
“Eliza McCormack is said to have died in her sleep at the Falcon City Prison. She had been convicted of eight counts of murder and was serving consecutive life sentences. Although her remains were positively identified, rumours are already spreading like wildfire.
The son of Eliza and Jeremiah McCormack supposedly shot himself to death in the office of his court appointed therapist Alfred Frost. Before shooting himself, Jake McCormack, 26, kidnapped Mister Frost’s infant son and held him at gunpoint.
And now Roberta Fletcher with the weather-”
The taste of vomit rose up my throat as I drove home. Running down the hallway, I slapped my hand on the palm scanner at the door. I panted as I pushed the heavy door open.
The news was playing on the projector in the living room.
I rushed through to find Eliza and Jake sitting on the sofa, watching.
“Good to see you again Jeremiah. It’s been too long.” Her smile froze my soul.
“Hi dad.” He stood and spread his arms with a beaming smile on his face. “Welcome to the family reunion. Bethany and Jacob should be back from preschool any moment now.”
“How?” I asked, almost as curious as I was terrified.
“Arthur C. Clarke was right. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” He began giving me jazz hands. “Ta-da!”