The Bobs (Omega Point)
Bob walked up the street, like a man coming from work late. It was late in the evening, certainly too late for the shades he was wearing, but his stride was that of a gentleman, measured and calm, and he kept his eyes straight in front of him. He knew a Bobs was sitting in the car parked in the space between the buildings, in a position where he could get to the street if he needed to, but could also keep an eye on the backs of the houses and the little alley behind the backyards. Every 24 minutes or so, with infuriating irregularity, he could also sense the third Bob on the tram as it approached, passed them, and returned back to the city. The woman was in the building already, but there was no sign of the man along his usual commute. The man was usually very punctual. Without checking his watch, Bob knew his arrival to the house was already deviating from the mean by one standard deviation, and rapidly approaching the two sigma mark.
The Bob in the car kept his eyes on the little alley, turning his head alertly this way and that to face the little sounds that carried through the open window. He knew the other Bob on the street was exactly parallel to his location, and had he turned his head to the street he would have seen him pass the space between the buildings, but even without looking he knew there was a momentary pause in his stride as they both felt the flag come up. The Bob in the tram had acquired the mark.
As the tram approached, the Bob pacing up and down the street made his U-turn in the middle of the road instead of at the end, which left him at the far end of the street when the tram came to the stop. Close enough to see the man, but far enough not to register in any way, especially as he chose that moment to stand still next to a hedge. The Bob on the tram had gotten off at the previous stop, and was making his way down the street from the opposite direction. Had the Bobs been capable of happiness, they would have felt satisfied by their close proximity to each other. There had been what the Bob now realized was a profile-raising moment of suspicion with a human earlier. Bob had just reached his turning point when an old lady with a packet of cigarettes in her hand has asked him for a light. Bob had been too far from the Bob in the car, and the tram had certainly been way too far, and he now knew that both his pointing at the streetlight, and then making a sharp U-turn and walking back the way he had been coming from were both “suspicious behavior” in the eyes of the mundanes. The next time the tram passed, the Bobs realized this, but also knew that the significance of the old lady for their mission was negligible. She had been, however, added mentally to their list of people to watch out for, in relation to this mission.
The man went into the house as expected, and the Bob in the car made the phone call. Just as two Bobs converged to the little gate in front, the upstairs light went out. Soon after, the light in the kitchen at the back was switched off, and shadows through the glass in the door suggested someone had just stepped out of the windowless toilet in the hall. The man and the woman were preparing to leave the house again. The Bobs knew it was too soon; the Grey Suit would not be here for at least another 22 minutes. The two Bobs opened the gate, crossed the little garden and rang the door bell.
The woman opened the door, smiling that frozen, puzzled smile of people when they wanted to seem friendly but were not feeling that way. The two men on her doorstep immediately struck her as odd, but one of them flashed her a smile as unemotional as her own and spoke in calm, reassuring radio-announcer voice. He told her they were with the US Census and would the woman have a few minutes for them to check on some information? She found herself backing away from them, as in fright, eager to just comply and do what they wanted. They were government, after all, and there could be serious trouble if you didn’t cooperate. She backed into the doorway to the living room, and gave a little start as her back hit the doorframe. She managed to stumble in a chair as the men sat, side by side, on the couch. One of the was looking at the arrangement of flowers on the coffee table, then at a painting of some flowers on the wall, as if trying to Spot The Differences. The other gave her another one of those non-smiles, and asked her name.
As the questions came and were answered, the threatening aura seemed to dissipate. This was clearly the way to go, the woman thought, just assisting the US Census Bureau with their important business and everything would be fine. They could still make the show.
“Do you have any children in the premises, ma’m?”
“No,” she smiled, “we only have our hairy babies.” From where she was sitting, she could actually see the kitten he’d gotten her, sleeping in the basket.
The man looked at her as if unable to place his remark.
“Do you have any pets in the premises, ma’m?”
“That’s what I meant” she said, smiling to hide her confusion.
“What was what you meant?” asked the man, his expression that of a man trying to solve a puzzle.
“Do you have any pets in the premises, ma’m?” Supplied the other man, silent until now.
“I just told you” the woman said, the hairs on the back of her neck rising.
The two men looked at each other, and then the first man looked back at her.
“Do you have any pets in the premises, ma’m?”
The conversation never got any further than that. Both men suddenly looked up, as the boyfriend stepped in from the dark den with a shotgun at the ready. The first man’s head suddenly disappeared in a pink cloud and a deafening roar. The woman managed to stop herself from screaming by clamping both hands hard on her mouth as her boyfriend blasted the second man, trying to get up from the couch. Wide-eyed, shocked and in horror she watched him, as he leaned the shotgun against the wall and in a voice he was struggling to keep calm, said “Amanda? Are you ok? I know you’re freaked out, but you need to look at this, see what happens next.” He pointed at the two bodies, and it was more a primal reaction to that gesture than any conscious thought that made her look.
Dead, slumping on the couch, the men looked even more alien than in life. The one who still had a head was completely shaved, even his eyebrows. His skin had that uncanny waxy quality you saw on those freaky Japanese robots who greeted people in office lobbies, but his face was expressionless, as if being ambushed had come as no great surprise to him. As she watched, it seemed like his facial features became softer, until she realized his whole body was becoming featureless, as if melting. A minute later, only some stains on the couch remained of the two men, and the only sign of them ever having been here was where the shotgun had torn the couch, and the briefcase the first man had set down on the coffee table. “Amanda?” said the man, softly taking her hands. “We need to run now.”