The Janitor of Chotebor

Future News Adventures Vol. 1

Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to present “The Janitor of Chotebor,” the first in the Future News Adventures series of short stories for my paid readers. The true story behind the mysterious events in Chotebor; the story of Güntaar Žižka.

If you prefer, it is available on Amazon in Kindle format. (They get most of the purchase price). Enjoy! – D.D.

Güntaar Žižka sighed in relief as he swept up the last of the day’s sawdust off the unfinished concrete floor of Krátký’s Woodworking Shop. There was a calming simplicity to bulldozing the piles of wood chips and sawdust with the wide shop broom, a meditative quality; but he was unusually impatient to be done.

He emptied the dust into the bin and put away his cleaning tools. The handle of the broom gave a loud clack-clack as he let it drop against the wall of the janitorial closet. He was hyper-aware of the lumpy weights in his trouser pockets under his coveralls. He had business this night: cleaning up trouble, time trouble, worse than the evergreen untidiness of Krátký’s on its worst day.

It was time to start his real job, the one that kept him pinned down working as a janitor in Chotebor, hiding in Czechia. He slipped out the backdoor of the shop into the alley, locking up behind himself, and casually began strolling toward his destination.

Big Tech had been quietly at work in Chotebor. InnunData Ltd., the global superpower of data infrastructure companies that owned half the networking hardware at use on the entire planet, had a research facility in town.

The town was completely oblivious to it: the facility was disguised as a small warehouse just a few blocks away from Krátký’s. Its run-down, squat bulk had been sitting there for half a century – since Soviet times, at least.

It was a part of the landscape. A grungy, white-washed building with two garage doors in front, spattered with mud from cars driving by in the meltwater from the patches of snow that still hid from spring here and there in grassy shadows.

Güntaar had been surveilling the facility for a year and a half. A year and a half in Chotebor. He sighed. His salary wasn’t nearly high enough. He absent-mindedly said a prayer for the success of his mission, touching the crucifix around his neck through his clothes. When his far-off handlers in the U.S. had planted him here and arranged his cover, they had assured him it would be a short-term job. As soon as they understood what was happening in the warehouse and understood whether or not the Temporal Transit Blockade Authority knew about InnunData’s activities, a new team would be sent in to handle the rest.

Only that hadn’t happened. Months went on, as he dutifully watched the warehouse, spending his days cleaning up after the workers at Krátký’s. He noted the infrequent comings and going of technicians through the back door that let out from the warehouse into the alley behind it.

On occasion, he had pressed his ear to the door in passing, when he was sure no one was around, and he could hear distinctly the low hum of electronic equipment. Then there was his laptop, which detected and reported 8-Tech – short for “2038 Tech” – signals back to the Americans. It had never stopped indicating the presence of transmissions. The data traffic had been constant the entire time he’d lived in Chotebor.

Güntaar knew more about the warehouse than anyone in town, but even he didn’t know the full extent of what was happening within its walls. His employers had hinted at the possibility of a covert operation involving 8-Tech, but they had been vague on the details. All Güntaar knew was that it was important enough to have him stationed in Chotebor, his life on pause, waiting for something, anything, to happen.

As Güntaar cautiously walked down the dimly lit alley, he couldn’t help but reflect on the significance of tonight’s mission. It hadn’t even been three years since Dr. Natalia Kuznetsova’s team had opened the temporal anomaly now bearing her name: the Kuznetsova Temporal Gateway. So much had changed so quickly since then. The world now had 8-Tech, though the public had never heard the phrase. The nature and extent of the technologies that had been transferred from the future were known to a very, very select few.

The Gateway connected the present to a point fifteen years in the future, a stable bridge across which information and material could pass. Not even the scientists who had discovered the anomaly understood it; how the connection was possible at all, or why it always led to fifteen years from the present moment. He smirked as he thought about the untold billions that must be pouring out of government coffers to answer those questions.

8-Tech was here to stay. It was one of the many consequences of the Gateway. Another had been, shockingly, a kind of world peace. Not true peace, but a cessation of major hostilities as the entire world focused its attention on the new possibilities presented by the existence of the Gateway and the ability to communicate with the world of 2038. No nation wanted to risk facing an enemy with technology that had suddenly bounded forward fifteen years in its sophistication.

Güntaar sidestepped a foul-smelling puddle, which shimmered under the pale glow of a flickering streetlight. The brick walls on either side of the alley were marked with old graffiti, some displaying phrases in Czech and others showcasing elaborate designs. Güntaar’s senses were heightened; every detail of his surroundings became a necessary piece of his mental puzzle as he neared the warehouse.

After the discovery of the Gateway, the U.N. Security Council and the General Assembly – in a series of events that astounded absolutely everyone – acted in concert to address the issue of the Gateway. Despite the multiple bitter divides in the international community over Russia’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine, they had voted together. The formation of the internationally-constituted Temporal Transit Blockade Authority was announced with great fanfare: a security organization devoted to ensuring that all interaction with the new time phenomena was undertaken with extreme caution and foresight and that the physical security of the Gateway, the location of which was the most closely held secret on the planet, would never be compromised.

Güntaar was well aware of the risks involved in bringing 8-Tech into the present, to the extent anyone could even understand what those risks were. The TTBA strived to maintain a balance between exploiting the benefits of the Kuznetsova Temporal Gateway and preventing potential disasters stemming from its misuse. But he couldn’t deny the allure of the far-reaching advances it could provide. Suddenly, time was the only game in town. All the major players wanted in on it, and InnunData had apparently gotten their wish.

A stray cat darted across Güntaar’s path, its green eyes gleaming in the shadows. The sight momentarily grounded him, reminding him of his movements. The darkness provided cover for his secretive mission, his steps soft and measured to avoid arousing suspicion. He knew every twist and turn of these alleys, having spent months observing the warehouse and its surroundings.

Making his way to the warehouse, his plan began to unfold in his mind, intertwining with the details of the high-tech equipment concealed beneath his coveralls. Güntaar paused to prepare himself. Carefully, he removed the hidden items from beneath his coveralls, taking a moment to appreciate the sophisticated technology that would assist him in his mission.

First, he took out a pair of 8-Tech goggles. The sleek, lightweight goggles were designed to project a heads-up display that showed critical information and motion detection of nearby people. The technology allowed him to maintain situational awareness and detect numerous types of electromagnetic transmissions. He put the goggles on and adjusted them until they fit snugly around his blue eyes.

Next, he removed a small black metal device about the size of a deck of playing cards. It was the processing unit that tied all his equipment together and fed information to his HUD. The message he’d received when the package containing his equipment had arrived said it contained advanced qubit-based processors, sensors, and networking capabilities. Güntaar clipped the device securely inside his belt, ensuring it was hidden from view as he continued his approach.

Finally, he retrieved the device intended to neutralize the facility. The palm-sized cylindrical object, roughly the size of a roll of coins, had a magnet on one side. Güntaar’s mission was to place it on the source of the 8-Tech signals he had detected. The device would then disrupt any advanced technology it could interface with, effectively destroying the research facility. He thumbed a switch on the side to power it up, re-pocketed the little cylinder, and took a deep breath, steadying himself for the task ahead.

The HUD in his goggles kept him updated on his surroundings, ensuring that each step brought him closer to his goal without being detected. When Güntaar approached the door, he could see the gleam of the sturdy metal lock, its mechanism a challenge only an expert lockpick would attempt. He readied himself, his fingers dancing lightly over the various picks and tensioners concealed in his coveralls. The cool metal of the slim tools felt like an extension of his own body, a testament to the countless hours he had trained with them.

He paused, however, as a fleeting thought crossed his mind. He felt along the top of the doorway, then scanned the dim alley, catching sight of a dingy placemat lying inconspicuously nearby. A wry grin spread across his face as he gingerly lifted it, revealing a meticulously hidden key. “How careless,” he muttered, his voice a barely audible whisper as he marveled at the irony of such a high-tech facility being left vulnerable by such an ordinary circumstance. His heart swelled with nervous excitement – this was almost too easy.

As Güntaar unlocked the door, the hinges creaked softly, the rusted metal groaning in protest. He slipped inside, the darkness of the warehouse engulfing him like a thick, velvety shroud. The stale air tasted of ozone and old industry, the musky scent invading his nostrils and permeating his very being. His footsteps fell heavily upon the warped wooden floorboards, their worn surfaces whispering tales of forgotten communist workers.

The goggles’ HUD illuminated the shadows within the warehouse, revealing a labyrinth of wire-laden equipment and powerful processors. The hum of electricity filled the space, an incessant drone that vibrated through the floor and into Güntaar’s bones.

A sudden, spine-chilling sensation crept over him. Güntaar realized, too late, that something was amiss – he had walked into a trap. His goggles trilled in warning as someone barreled at him from behind.

Güntaar’s instincts flared to life. Heaving his body to the side with every ounce of energy he could muster, he narrowly avoided the assailant’s vicious lunge. Cold sweat dripped down his temples as he heard the swoosh of a knife slicing through the air, mere inches from the side of his neck.

Adrenaline coursed through Güntaar’s veins, sharpening his senses and fueling his resolve. The attacker was a burly man with a menacing sneer, his muscles rippling under his tattered clothing. Dressed like a homeless man. Is that how he had missed him? Had he been in one of the anonymous piles of refuse Güntaar had blithely walked past, thinking himself clever and stealthy?

The man wasted no time pressing his attack, ferociously thrusting the knife at Güntaar again, who parried and countered with a rapid succession of punches and kicks. The two foes exchanged blows, the sound of flesh slapping against flesh echoing through the warehouse.

The attacker lunged again, but Güntaar anticipated his move, sidestepping and grabbing the man’s wrist mid-swing. The two grappled, contorting their bodies in a chaotic dance as they each struggled to gain the advantage – the knife glinting dangerously at the center of their struggle. Güntaar’s body ached from the exertion, but he knew that he had to somehow disarm his opponent or risk losing everything.

In a split-second decision, Güntaar stomped on the attacker’s foot, momentarily destabilizing him. The man howled in pain but refused to let go of his weapon. Güntaar seized the opportunity, wrenching the attacker’s arm behind his back and applying pressure to his elbow joint.

They locked gazes over the man’s shoulder, each man’s resolve was evident in their eyes. The assailant growled and spun left to smash his free elbow into the side of Güntaar’s face, ignoring the damage he did to himself as he yanked his trapped arm free with a sickening crack.

Güntaar gritted his teeth, refusing to be overcome by the surge of pain as the sharp elbow slammed his head to the side. He was rattled, shaking his head to try and clear it. He could sense the tide of the battle shifting, the relentless onslaught of the attacker threatening to break through his defenses.

The man had somehow held onto the knife as he broke his arm, and he switched it to his uninjured left hand. As they circled each other like ravenous wolves, Güntaar searched for an opening. He feigned a lunge, drawing the attacker’s attention to his right side, then swiftly drove his left elbow into the man’s temple. The assailant reeled from the impact, but recovered with uncanny speed, slicing the knife towards Güntaar’s ribs.

Leaning back, Güntaar’s breath hitched as the knife tore through his coveralls, leaving a shallow gash on his chest. The pain ignited a fierce determination within him, the stakes of his mission propelling him forward. Whatever InnunData was doing here, it was no good, and they were going to great lengths to keep it secret. He had to end this.

Güntaar fought through the pain, catching the attacker’s wrist in a vice-like grip as he tried for another devastating stab. Still dazed from the elbow to the head, Güntaar drew upon the last of his reserves and heaved the attacker off-balance, driving his shoulder into the man’s chest. The force of the blow sent them both careening toward the warehouse wall.

The attacker’s wrist struck the cold, unforgiving surface, the shock reverberating through his bones. His grip on the knife faltered, the weapon clattering to the ground. Güntaar seized the opening with everything he had left. Summoning his strength, he drove his fist into the assailant’s throat. The man convulsed, gasping for breath as his body crumpled to the floor. Güntaar watched him until his violent struggle for air subsided, and he lay there – unconscious, but alive for the moment.

Pausing only moments to catch his breath despite the fatigue of the fight, now dripping sweat even in the chill spring evening, Güntaar considered his options. He hadn’t counted on having company. He’d been sure from his careful surveillance of the warehouse and recording of the patterns of traffic that no one was due for days. How had they known? Had someone from InnunData been spying on him this whole time as he spied on them? He shook his head again to clear it, for all the good it did. Answers would have to wait.

Güntaar went about hiding the unconscious agent, his mind racing as he calculated his next steps. He quickly checked the back door of the warehouse to make sure no one had heard the intense fight that had just occurred. Seeing no one, he moved cautiously but swiftly. He had to act fast to ensure the success of his mission.

He spotted a large dumpster a few buildings down the alley. He went back and grabbed the man and dragged the limp body of the agent towards it, expecting to be spotted at any moment. Lord, but the man was heavy. The healthiest, strongest homeless man that ever lived. He cursed himself again for not noticing the watcher on his way into the warehouse. The oversight could easily have cost him his life. With great effort, he heaved the unconscious man into the dumpster, shutting the lid with a muffled thud. “Enjoy your nap, asshole,” he muttered under his breath, as he turned and headed back towards the warehouse.

Back inside the dimly lit warehouse, Güntaar’s goggles helped him analyze the various devices and computers he found. The goggles provided him with technical specifications, a growing tree of technologies scrolling down the side of his vision as the processor detected transmission protocols and loaded related information, revealing that the machinery was a system designed for recording and relaying signals transmitted on frequencies only accessible with 8-Tech.

The realization that someone was receiving illegal information from the future made Güntaar very concerned. It raised questions about how the signal could be getting through the Temporal Gateway in the first place. There must be an InnunData spy within the TTBA, Güntaar thought. It was well known that the corporation had ties to scientists that had worked with Dr. Kuznetsova. The implications of such a breach were staggering.

When Güntaar examined the equipment further, he found the central component of the system: a sleek, black metal device, humming with energy, encased in glass and connected to a network of thick cables snaking their way across the floor. The device emitted a low, constant hum, and a series of small, blinking panels indicated that it was processing vast amounts of data. The air around it felt charged with palpable tension as if it were teeming with secrets from the future.

Güntaar approached the device, his heart pounding in his chest. He knew this was the key to unraveling the mystery of the 8-Tech signals and exposing any InnunData infiltration of the TTBA. With trembling fingers, he withdrew the analysis device–the small but crucial mission payload–from his pocket. The smooth, cold metal felt reassuring in his hand.

With deft precision, Güntaar fastened the analysis device to the side of the central component, the magnetic side clinging securely to the metal casing. The device immediately began transmitting information back to his employers while simultaneously disrupting the data network as it began its digital attack on the installation.

The hum of the machinery shifted in pitch, an almost inaudible whine indicating that the process was working. Güntaar knew he only had mere moments before the destruction of the 8-Tech system would be complete and he had to make his escape.

He stood up, waiting for the process to complete, when an alert suddenly flashed on his goggles. A wall of text and code scrolled past too quickly for him to properly read. He picked out one phrase among the rapidly vanishing lines: “Countermeasures detected.”

His heart skipped a beat. This wasn’t part of the plan.

The HUD in his goggles winked out, leaving him momentarily disoriented in the darkness of the warehouse. “Shit!” he blurted loudly, as he was startled by the sudden lack of input. The analysis device started beeping rapidly, a high-pitched whine that sent a shiver down his spine. Then he heard a hissing sound coming from his belt and felt an intense, burning cold at his side.

What the hell? Compressed gas spewed from the processing device on his belt. He swore under his breath and hurriedly tore the device off, flinging it across the room. He followed suit with the goggles, casting them aside as he realized the situation was rapidly deteriorating.

Güntaar reached for the analysis device to retrieve it, but as soon as his fingers made contact, he was met with searing heat. He cried out in pain and instinctively dropped the device, the unexpectedly burning-hot metal searing his skin.

Knowing he had no choice but to make a hasty escape, he bolted out the back door of the warehouse and sprinted down the alley. His breath came out in ragged gasps as he fled, the evening’s earlier exertions taking their toll on his already fatigued muscles.

Behind him, the warehouse erupted in a fireball, the blast so powerful that it shook the ground beneath his feet. Windows shattered, dogs barked wildly, and car alarms blared, creating a cacophony that echoed through the narrow streets of Chotebor.

As Güntaar ran, adrenaline coursed through his veins, pushing him to keep moving despite the danger nipping at his heels. He knew that he needed to get as far away from the warehouse as possible, both to ensure his safety and to distance himself from the inevitable fallout from his failed mission.

He darted down the shadowy back alleys, his legs pumping with desperate determination. The sound of distant sirens filled the air, growing in intensity as emergency services headed toward the scene. The once quiet town had transformed into a scene of pandemonium, its sleepy tranquility shattered in an instant.

He had partially failed in his mission, and the results might be severe. No one would be using the facility, but it could have transmitted anything after detecting the attempted breach and before the explosion. InnunData would undoubtedly be on high alert now, making his position in Chotebor all the more precarious. Yet, he couldn’t help but feel a flicker of hope that the destruction of the warehouse would have consequences within the shadowy world of mega-corporations that he could never have predicted.

Casting aside his doubts, Güntaar focused on the task at hand: escaping the town and making contact with his employers. He pieced together what had transpired in the warehouse. Something had resisted the attack. The deactivation of his goggles, and the malfunction of the analysis device – all pointed toward a sophisticated system designed to thwart any intruders.

But the gas? That was the Americans trying to clean up after themselves. A fail-safe in the event their technology was compromised. He should hardly be surprised, but he wasn’t the kind to casually excuse someone trying to use him and then kill him as simply doing business. No, there would be consequences for that betrayal.

But what Güntaar didn’t understand was how InnunData had detected his presence. He had been meticulous while surveilling the warehouse and took every precaution to cover his tracks. Yet, someone or something had known he was there, setting an agent to wait for him and strike when he was most vulnerable. He was caught in a game of cat and mouse against forces the scope of which he only dimly knew. Could he evade InnunData and whoever else might hunt for him?

Güntaar burst out of the dark alley onto the main street, his heart pounding in his chest. He was almost free, in a few more blocks he would be able to lose himself in the now loudly disturbed nighttime of Chotebor. He allowed himself a momentary glance over his shoulder, looking back at the distant glow of the burning warehouse. That was when he spotted a policeman, standing at the corner, and their eyes locked.

A feeling of panic surged through Güntaar. His first instinct was to run, to bolt away from the officer, and risk being chased. However, he knew that could only lead to further complications, and he was already in a precarious position. In a split second, he decided to feign seeking help.

“Help! Fire!” Güntaar cried out as he ran towards the policeman, doing his best to sound desperate and convincing. He waved his arms wildly, gesturing back towards the warehouse, trying to draw attention to the emergency unfolding nearby.

However, as Güntaar neared the officer, he could see the man’s face harden with suspicion. The policeman’s gaze was focused not on the distant blaze, but rather on Güntaar, as if sizing him up as a threat. Güntaar’s heart sank as he realized that the officer wasn’t falling for his act.

Without warning, the policeman lunged forward, his truncheon swinging in a wide arc. Güntaar, caught off guard, barely had time to react before the blunt instrument connected with his stomach, driving the wind from his lungs and sending a wave of pain through his body.

Gasping for air, Güntaar crumpled to the ground, his legs buckling beneath him. He tried to explain himself, to make the officer understand that he was merely seeking help for the burning warehouse, but the words were trapped in his throat, stifled by the overwhelming pain.

Before Güntaar had a chance to recover, several other officers – drawn to the scene by the commotion – arrived and piled on top of him. Their combined weight pressed him into the cold pavement, making it even harder for him to breathe.

“What’s going on here?” One of the officers barked as he roughly dug Güntaar’s wrists from the pile of police, snapping cold metal handcuffs on him.

“He was running from the fire,” the first officer grunted as he got to his feet, his truncheon still clutched tightly in his hand. “Tried to attack me. Must be involved somehow.”

Güntaar’s mind raced as he struggled to find the words to defend himself, to explain that he was merely a concerned citizen trying to alert the authorities to the fire. But even as he opened his mouth to speak, he realized the futility of his efforts. Any explanation would lead to more questions, questions that would inevitably reveal his true purpose in Chotebor. Perhaps it was best to remain silent, and hope for an opportunity to escape later.

As the officers hauled Güntaar to his feet and dragged him towards a waiting police car, the chaos around the warehouse continued to intensify. Sirens blared and bright, flashing lights cut through the darkness, as more first responders arrived at the scene. Firefighters leaped into action, battling the fierce fire with powerful hoses and expert precision. The once quiet town of Chotebor had been transformed into a war zone, a medley of noise and activity that swallowed the night.

Güntaar’s heart hammered in his chest, a mixture of panic and confusion coursing through his veins as the officers shoved him into the back seat of the patrol car. The cold, hard metal of the handcuffs bit into his wrists, a constant reminder of his precarious situation. His chest throbbed where it had been sliced in the knife fight, his fingers burned where he had grasped the overheated analysis device.

The car pulled away from the scene. Güntaar stared out the window, watching the destruction he had unexpectedly caused. Not part of the plan. The warehouse was now a minor inferno, the flames leaping into the night sky, casting an eerie orange glow across the town. He could see the firefighters starting to battle the blaze, their silhouettes thrown into sharp relief by the flickering light. It looked like the surrounding buildings would be safe from the fire, at least.

The ongoing question of InnunData’s potential infiltration of the TTBA and the unseen battles over 8-Tech swirled around Güntaar, leaving him feeling small and powerless. Yet, despite the overwhelming weight of these unknown forces, a spark of determination still flickered within him. He stretched his chin down to touch the top of his crucifix, still hanging reassuringly under his shirt, and quietly thanked God for surviving not one but two near-deaths in one night.

Güntaar pressed his forehead against the cool glass of the car window, watching the night slip by as he contemplated his future. He knew that he was in grave danger. Still, the fire of his determination refused to go out.

As the patrol car traveled down the darkened streets of Chotebor, Güntaar Žižka, the janitor of Chotebor, began to formulate a plan. He would not become the pawn of forces that sought to control the flow of technology between the present and the future. He would find the truth, and when he did, he knew just who to tell it to.