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Chapter 3

The Runner

UNPOL Headquarters, The Deep, Level 1 °Corridor, White Room

Thursday 5 December 2109, 12:45pm +8 UTC

Stepping out of the Lev that had brought me from Sir Thomas’s office on the 244th floor of UNPOL headquarters just below Topside, I was now at the lowest level in New Singapore — Level Ten. The Deep. Apart from the lack of sky ports, the corridor looked almost like the one I had just left, except this one had no carpet. But then it wasn’t an executive floor. I smoothed the suit I was wearing. Finest Italian wool, if a bit rumpled, as it was the same one I’d attended Milo’s leaving party in. I straightened my back and traced the directional lighting with a firm step leading me towards the prisoner Jibril Muraz.

The Special Ops team, wearing full body armor, gas masks and black ear protectors, were standing in a group, all eight of them. The directional lights stopped about a meter in front of where the group was standing. I stopped in front of them and took off my upper outer, laying it on the floor. Then the upper inner and I was bare-chested. I could just see through the masks that three of the team were female. I stripped the rest of my clothes off and stood naked in front of them. One of the females deliberately tilted her face mask down to look at my crotch and then, looking up at me, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. She made me feel better and I grinned in spite of the situation. The group leader also gave me a thumbs up and I realized that it meant I was good to go.

I turned to face a door. You could only tell it was a door because of its slightly different shade of color to the rest of the elongated tube I’d been walking in. I stepped up to the eye level Dev and said, “Arbitrator Jonah James Oliver.” Forcing myself not to pay attention to that quiver in my voice, I stood straighter and held my eyes open as the scan was done. The door swished open.

I took a step forward and found myself in white space. The room was entirely white, a matt white. I couldn’t tell where floor, walls or ceilings began or ended — it was like being in a cloud. I turned to my left and saw at the opposite end of the room, seemingly floating in space, a man sitting on a Biosense chair, much like the ones in the conference room although this one was in the same uniform of the room’s matt white, and almost invisible.

Jibril was still sitting in the Lotus position. I took a tentative step forward and then another. My feet made no sound on the floor. I took another step and then another and then I sensed something and put out my hand. Nothing. Another step with my hand held out in front of me and then my hand touched something solid. Despite my foreknowledge of the partition I still felt a quick surge of relief flow through me at the physical touch of this transparent wall between us. I looked down and around and saw a Biosense come out of the floor just behind me. I sat down. The Biosense felt cool on my buttocks. I wondered how many people were watching this.

“I’m Jonah James Oliver, Arbitrator, but my friends call me JJ. You asked to see me.” From what I could tell Jibril was tall, brown hair, graying at the temples, with a pale, almost translucent, complexion. His eyes blinked open.

“I know,” he said, and smiled. It was the first genuine smile of warmth that I had received all day, or for that matter a very long time. The more I looked at the smile the more I felt its warmth and the more I wanted to smile back. I didn’t but I wanted to.

“Do you know what the name Jonah means?” he asked. His voice was very soft but firm and clear. There was a pure quality to it, each word enunciated perfectly.

“It means bad luck,” I said.

“That’s but one interpretation of the meaning and a rather literal one at that. According to the Ancient texts, Jonah was a Messenger of God. Do you believe in God, Jonah?” His eyebrows raised slightly as he waited for my answer.

I was thinking that this conversation was not going as planned, but then who was I kidding? What plan? The only plan that I was following was the 'fly by the seat of your pants' plan, so I decided to go along for the flight.

“Well, yes and no.”

“Ah, Jonah,” he said, with what I could have sworn was a twinkle in his eye, “belief in God is not a yes and no issue. You either do or you do not. The word belief is the crucial one there. It does not allow for fence-sitting or quibbling. So do you?”

“Maybe.”

“Perhaps I shouldn’t be asking such personal questions so early in our relationship, but then I feel as if I have known you for so many years.” He shifted his position and with both hands resting on his knees looked comfortable despite the fact that he was naked. Yes he was tall, judging by height of his torso, at least one hundred and ninety cents, perhaps taller.

“Jonah was a prophet for all religions, the Son of Truth, a dove. He appears in the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, and the Jewish bible, not to mention the Bahai faith. In each he is seen as a Messenger of God, and a fairly strict one at that. Are you strict, Jonah? Will you request God to strike me down for my sins, or having sought repentance of Him, shall I be saved as you were vomited from the great fish’s mouth onto the shores of Nineveh?”

I was thinking that this runner had quaffed a spike too many in his running days, but held the thoughts and didn’t speak them out.

“You’re probably thinking that I am totally crazy,” he chuckled, a hand coming up to cover his mouth as if to hide his mirth at my totally readable expression.

“No, no, not at all. I just haven’t heard that story of my name before. It’s very interesting.”

Again I lapsed into silence. I hadn’t a clue what to say, and in those circumstances it’s usually better to keep your mouth shut and let everyone think that you may be a fool rather than opening it and removing all doubt.

“I don’t think you’re a fool, Jonah. Yes, Jonah, that is right.”

Wait. I heard that but his lips didn’t move. He didn’t say anything but I heard him say that I was right — right about thinking he might be a telepath. This guy was freaking me out. Was I that readable? He continued to smile with a warmth that enveloped me and I felt embraced by it, even in my shock. Nothing in my training came close to enabling me to deal with this situation. As arbitrators, our thoughts are our refuge, and if mine were on open display with him then I had nothing left.

“Yes, Jonah, I am in your mind, but perhaps all of us are in each other’s minds. However, that philo discussion will have to wait for another day for we do not have much time. Jonah, we will have two conversations. One will be for the people monitoring our meeting and the other will be for you and me. Of course, you are free to divulge to your superiors both of our conversations, but I ask that you hold off until we have finished. Now what we need to do here is very complex and usually takes months of training to get right. Obviously we don’t have that much time. So this is how you do it. I have every faith in you, Jonah. I know you can do this.

“You will ask me a question using your voice. When you have finished, I will tell you something using my mind. As I am replying to your question using my voice, you will reply to my question using your mind, and so we will continue. Are you ready Jonah?”

I thought, “Yes,” and said, “You know my name, indeed seem remarkably well acquainted with it, so how should I address you?”

Just before I finished saying this, my mind was assaulted in a way that I can only describe as what I imagine insanity to be. His words, transmitted to my mind, overrode what I was saying and it was a struggle to not repeat what he was saying in my mind, but I succeeded, just barely managing to strangle out the last spoken phrase.

In my mind he said, “I came here to enlist your help on urgent matters of global importance; there is a conspiracy that if successful will send this planet, and the colonies on the Moon and Mars, back into the Dark Ages.” I raised my eyebrows as if waiting for a response to my question, but it was more a reaction to the assault on my mind.