by Jeff Hewitt
I built the suit myself. Mostly in the workshop which used to double as my bedroom.
The materials were easy enough to find. Honestly, I probably got more than half of it on AZ. You can order 50 square meter sheets of Ti-spiderweave off there for a few tokens each. Sew it together just right and that shit’ll stop a hypersonic flechette at point-blank range.
Still hurts like a motherfucker, though.
The first time I got shot I wasn’t expecting it. I guess I thought the suit would be intimidating enough.
I was wrong.
I snuck up on this big construction-mech-type guy who was mugging a woman at the Flatbush entrance to Prospect Park, thinking it’d be a brilliant bit of showmanship to tap him on the shoulder. He whipped around and laced me twice in the gut without thinking, then ran off into the Park.
The chick ran away screaming, while I doubled over in pain.
So, I guess I was half right.
I live in a communal project. It’s technically owned by some hippie libertarian property magnate who thought it would be a good idea to mix large, private community spaces and micro-apts along the East River. The way it’s run, you’d think no one owns it.
But it works alright. Unfortunately, there’s not much privacy outside your room. Too many prying eyes and chances for conversation.
Hence the bedroom workshop conversion.
The helmet was tough to build – had to be strong enough to keep my head from getting bust open, but small enough that I wouldn’t topple over trying to walk around. Visor had to be wide; like full 180 wide. Didn’t want to forfeit peripheral vision.
And then there was the wiring.
Ugh. The wiring.
Not really wires but optics. I fucked up during the install so many times I wanted to scream.
I ended up going with a wing suit model, a used one meant for team competition experia casts. Some washed-up has-been posted it on his SellBy. Guy’s profile made it look like he’d been huffing Fentasol everyday since he retired.
The wing suit domes have a spinal extension that works with a wide variety of exos, which was a big selling point. And what those crazy flying fucks on the wing teams do is way more dangerous than my use-case, anyway. At least I can rest knowing I probably won’t break my neck if I take a bad tumble halfway up a building.
I’ll just cough up blood for a few days.
I had this guy Trix mod some bootleg PeaceKeeping targeting software for the visor. I’m pretty good with the hardware stuff, but programming is tedious.
Also: I don’t know how to do it.
He did a great job. Got a real knack for this kind of thing. And since I got a used skull actually meant for experia capture, it’s got built-in lidar.
Incredible what it can do with a few lines of code.
It was foggy the first time I went out. I thought that was pretty cool; suited up at night, walking the Navy Yard waterfront, diffuse glow of Manhattan looming just out of reach above the rhythmic lap of the blackened East River.
Over the past few months there had been a string of assaults along the water. Someone attacking randomly, mostly women, and small-scale enough that none of the security teams in Fort Greene or Clinton Hill could be bothered with it. The Navy Yard sec teams are all bunker-bound. They don’t give a fuck about anyone without a company badge.
I figured I’d bait them out, 4:00AM on a Saturday.
It went better and worse than I’d expected.
I can track something like 25,000 distinct objects within a 20-meter radius, all beautifully visualized and depth tracked on the visor, courtesy Trix’s code. I made a couple adjustments. Mostly aesthetic. It can be overwhelming with all the trackers active; glowing points and shifting lines in a cut-out sphere of neon yellow blizzard.
When the infrared and thermal are cranked up it can get real trippy.
The Navy Yard isn’t used as a Navy yard anymore. I couldn’t tell you where a real one is now.
Instead, it’s populated with massive holo stages, boutique printers, data centers, and a part of the Applied Life Sciences campus. These are all big, faceless buildings, almost no windows, with a logo or two strategically placed to be seen on-foot or in the air. They’re pretty much self-contained fortresses. No real need for outdoor security with most employees coming in and out via blade.
However, due to the magnificent views of midnight Manhattan, a lot of people like to walk the unlit docks after dark. It’s relatively secluded, and happens to be considered romantic by some people, so you end up with couples and insomniac creative-types wandering around the shoreline in the middle of the night.
Which is where the assaults come in:
Six separate incidents. Three basic schoolboy batteries, two sexual assaults, and one particularly disturbing incident where a couple was raped, one watching after the other. The Post had a field day.
I milled about at the edge of the river for a little less than an hour, skirting the few lamps along the promenade, wearing a big silvery iridescent poncho. Something an artist would wear.
And something to hide my bulk.
The yellow vision caught them before they’d noticed me.
The visor’s glass is custom. They definitely don’t go this all-out on the wing-suit models. Required some actual legwork to get it too.
The Met Municipal PK has a supply contract with this company that makes spec lenses, laser optics, all sorts of shit. Sojourner. They provide the glass for PK’s drop team’s black terror masks. They also corner half the market on deep space glass; stuff that can withstand Jovian pressures, near stellar temperatures, and won’t fog after hours of mouth-breathing zero-g labor. It’s about as top of the line as you can expect to get without literally being a trillionaire.
It just so happens that a friend of my (now) ex has a job reviewing the automation orders for Met Municipal Security, which is pretty much all the Met is anyway.
I guess that’s ironic, given the suit and all.
This administration’s a joke.
So this friend of a (former) friend has the honor of arbitrarily striking items from the automated orders, based on monthly budgets and daily political whims. Sometimes an item or two will get added. When shipments arrive at the warehouse, the sorters send them along their automatic way to the appropriate precincts, district stations, etc.
The stuff without a designated home goes to the 88th precinct office in Clinton Hill.
There’s a certain kind of beauty in bureaucratic procurement: this just so happens to be where my friend–or ex’s friend–works.
To be honest, I haven’t spoken with her since the breakup.
I wonder whose side she’s on.
It was three guys, none of them small, all passing a box of booze around. I couldn’t see them in visual – wouldn’t be able to see beyond five meters in the fog that night. Also; they were behind me.
I waited. I wanted them to come to me.
They roved around aimlessly, not quite stumbling, but on their way there. Little by little, they inched closer to the waterfront.
I could tell the moment they saw me.
I’m not looking to kill anybody. How could I pretend to be doing ‘the right thing’ while bashing people’s brains in?
No killing. That was one of the rules. Maybe the only hard-and-fast rule.
So the suit’s offensive capabilities had to be non-lethal, but brutal. Medieval, even. I wasn’t going out there to make people feel good about themselves.
The problem that came up again and again designing the thing, scribbling away on my WIP render in the office, walking home, in the shower, was range. Non-lethal and range don’t typically go together. At least, not without considerable expense or bulk.
Masers were the obvious option, but they’re expensive and I didn’t think they had a certain je ne sais quoi. I wanted the creeps I targeted to bear the marks of their beatings.
This stumped me for a while. But then, walking through Gowanus one day, I noticed an old family-run shipping supply warehouse. Flashy banner holo: GOING OUT OF BUSINESS, with fireworks going off behind the letters. Like it was a celebration or something. They had these massive gauge steel anchor chains, something an old ship might use.
I didn’t buy those. I’m not stupid. Crazy to buy anything in person, except on the black market. Too big anyway. But it gave me the idea.
The creeps fanned out, whispering to one another. At that point I realized it would’ve been a good idea to get some field mics for surveillance.
After triangulating around me, they moved in slowly. Quietly. My heart pounded through my ears and pulsed along my skin like the stretched head of a timpani. Not gonna lie: I was scared.
Then I turned up the voltage on my palms.
I found 50 meters of rated chain link on Alphamart. Some magnesium alloy with a graphene lattice. The shit wouldn’t break if I was fighting a mech. And it’s super conductive.
I have two small coils on each shoulder blade. Just under six meters of the chain linked to a pressurized release on my wrist. They shoot out and I can swing ‘em around like some kind of homicidal squid.
I got a carbon exo from a contractor auction that keeps it all together. Then I had to figure out controls. Best thing I could come up with is weaving some sensors into my gloves: one little twitch and the chains would out. Double tap my fingers and they’d retract.
The gloves are pretty standard. I have to admit, I actually bought them at a surplus store in Buschwick, with the only criteria being they look as cool as possible. Pretty sure they’re leftover from a Chicago SWAT order.
They look great, but they are not very smart.
So I took them to a printer off Kent and had a silver weave added to the palms and fingers. Then I sewed the biosensors in myself. Thought that might bring up some uncomfortable questions in the shop.
I say sewed, but it was more like stapled.
The gloves hook into the exo, and there’s a live wire poking out on the inside of my wrist that I’ve patched into the weave. It sparks up when the chains are out or when I curl my thumbs.
To be perfectly honest, I stole the idea from an old Marvel villain. Except I’m a good guy. I kick people’s asses for a good reason.
Not because I have an inexhaustible well of pent-up rage.
That’s what I tell myself
They crept like cats. My contempt grew with my pulse.
When they were a few meters from me they stopped, swaying, getting ready. Guy on my left whistles, a short little catcall:
“Taking some holos sheereen-am?”
His friends give perfunctory laughs. Clearly this guy’s alpha fuck on shit mountain.
To be fair, I did bring a dummy tripod for good measure. Had to sell it.
“Real good views out here at night.” He puffs on an inhaler and tosses it to one of the cronies.
I watched on the visor, not turning back.
“Yo, you deaf or something?”
Apparently one of the other guys found this funny, snickering and tossing the empty box, bouncing along next to my feet. Sweat beaded on my lip. I could feel my body temperature tick up.
“Tell you what man – you take a walk and we’ll just take your camera. Save everyone a lot of trouble.”
“I’m sure it would.” I turned around.
They took this in stride. Laughing and coughing. One guy even slapped his knee. A lot of people in this city think they’re tough shit.
Even close up, the fog was blurring their shapes. I put a thermal matte over their yellow cut-outs. King Puke started walking toward me, my pulse a jungle beat.
“That’s alright. I’d rather bash you around a bit anyway.”
Then he really came at me.
I wasn’t sure where to put the batteries. They’re cheap, high-capacity solid-state nickel plates this import/export place in the Broadway hypermart sells by the dozen. They’re cheap because they have about a 1 in 500,000 chance of bursting into flames without warning. Cheap Afghan manufacturing. Considering they’re made by the billion, that’s not all that bad.
Two are on the backside of my wrists in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the glove wiring to a minimum. The helmet’s self-powered, so I didn’t have to worry about that.
The rest are stitched down either side of my torso. Enough voltage to power a small satellite. Most of that runs through the gloves, and in turn the chains.
Sometimes–when I have the chains extended–they’ll kick off these blue arcs to anything able to ground the charge. Accidentally lit my mattress on fire when I was testing them.
I’ve been sleeping on the loveseat.
I wasn’t ready for him.
I watched his big, meaty, highlighted fist split the fog in front of me in adrenalized slow-mo.
Not enough time for the chains. Had to go with plan B.
Most everything else on the suit is defensive. That being said, most can still fuck your night up.
I got a few old PK flashers from a guy I know working in Met waste reclamation, ripped out all the HGLEDs, and threw away everything else. Then I got some thermoplastic casing and shield grade mirrors to directionalize the blasts.
The end result is instant sunburn and nothing but glowing purple vision for at least 20 seconds, even if someone’s spec’d up. Basically the equivalent of six normal flashers on each shoulder and two on either side of my head. They’re about the same luminance as a lightning strike right in front of you.
It’s possible they could blind someone. May have already happened. I don’t typically keep track of the pricks I’ve stomped.
I dodged my head right, not quite quick enough, and his knuckles glanced off the side of the helmet. Didn’t feel it at all.
He did though.
I saw in his eyes, at that exact moment, connecting with the smooth cold of the ceramic, that he knew something was wrong.
I’ve been trying to relive that feeling ever since.
As I watched his pupils dilate, I gave him a double barrel flash right in his face. His head snapped back like the photons weighed a ton.
Then the chains came out like a reflex.
I’m an angry person.
I know that. I can admit it. I keep telling myself this is about more than that.
And it’s not that I want to be a symbol or something. I’m not something people can believe in. I take pains to not be seen. The suit’s as non-descript as I could possibly made it, and there’s barely any coverage of me making it out to cast anyway.
I just want people to be scared. The right people. The wolves that prey on the meek. I suppose wolf is too flattering a metaphor. They’re scum. Vile reminders of humanity at its most human.
If I’m being honest, this all goes back to Margot. After she moved out, I just needed to find something to do. Anything. Anything but think about her. But that anger and frustration keeps me going, and isn’t going away. Really, it was always there.
I wonder what she’d think if she knew.
Amazing what not having sex can do to a guy. That, and not having someone around who cares about you.
I snapped him quick as he was crumbling from the flash, and he collapsed into a convulsing heap. The guy on my right thought he could get the jump on me. Didn’t realize what he was getting into.
I threw my arm out on his vector and let the chain fly. It smacked him in the chest. Suddenly slack, I gripped it and whipped it around my head at the last one standing and hit dead air.
By that point the third guy was running off into the fog, ready to tell all the other roaches what happened.
There have been a couple additions since I started.
The chains and flashers are great for dealing with the typical thug backwash of Brooklyn, but I quickly came to the realization that the private security teams weren’t keen on me doing their jobs for them. Maybe I’m making them look bad. Or I’m just as much of a menace as any street rat. Either way…
The suit’s weave is good against just about anything short of laser fire, but it doesn’t stop the pain. And if you’re getting hit from enough directions at once, you’re gonna go down anyway.
Ideally I wouldn’t find myself in that situation. I wasn’t trying to take on whole gangs at once. As long as I kept it to a few targets at a time, I’d be good.
What I’d stupidly overlooked were crowd-control masers.
I was–again, stupidly–suited up in SoHo over the holidays. In the spirit of giving I thought I’d lend a hand to the rich and clueless shoppers taking advantage of the city-mandated 24-hour commerce period. The kind of people who thought it’d be a better idea to short cut through alleys alone than pull for a blade in the middle of the night.
Bundled up in white and red and gold, they led their lev bag spoils behind them like obedient dogs, brand names glowing rainbow. They’d clearly had something to drink as well, hugging and giggling to one another.
I was trying out another addition: electro-mag strips for my fingers, knees, and toes of my boots.
It was working like a charm; I’d been practicing, jumping from dirty old iron fire escape to structurally unsound but not-yet-removed fire escape when I heard them stumbling up the unlit alley. They were lit up with the power of Christmas spending.
Then my autodetect picked up two more people. They were cloaked in cheap squid suits, tailing them, slowly closing the gap.
It was all lined up for me: I could see the illustrated panels and dialogue unfolding.
I waited until the upper-class revelers passed about two stories below me, then leapt down dramatically, jumping one chain in the air. Exo made it all buttery smooth. Hard to say how much higher it could withstand.
Not something I really wanted to test on the fly.
The shoppers twirled around at the thud, frightened yelps, their bags scattering.
I whipped the chain, arcing just over the cobbles and catching one of the squidsuits around his ankle. He collapsed from the shock (and possibly a broken ankle). I pounced toward the other guy before I noticed the way his blurry, wireframe arms were cradled; toting a nasty mase rifle.
He turned it on me, still cloaked, and I felt my skin boiling.
I tumbled to the ground half-pounce, luckily checking him on my way down. He fell back and I saw his suit glitch out for an instant, revealing his private security uniform.
Should’ve known. Romantic, totally sterilized stroll after shopping, complete with armed attaché.
Our tumble took his finger off the trigger, and the pain on my insides faded to a low simmer. I saw him train the sights on me again from the ground, and I had just enough time to blast him with all ten flashers.
I rolled over to him, grabbed his arm and shocked the fuck out of him. Struggling to my feet, frightened shopper-couple cowering at one wall of the alley, I wasn’t sure what to do. Fucked this one up nicely. So I said:
And jogged away.
After that I knew I’d be screwed if PK every came down on me. Not that I ever thought that wasn’t the case, but I figured I was too small fry. After taking out two security details, I was afraid I’d start making it onto their radar.
This chick Sam – another friend of a friend – runs a small-time leaf tobacco ring out of Bushwick, and I heard one of her pushers got picked up by PK with 5 grams. They kept the guy in iso for a week. Didn’t even interrogate him – just left him there.
Those motherfuckers are scary. They’ll out-tech me any day of the week. So I had come up with some creative solutions. One I’m particularly proud of:
Those PK bats have spec setups that make them practically superhuman. My bootleg AR kit is pretty good, but not that good.
However, I know they rely primarily on IR and XR for visual targeting. No way I’d ever be able to spoof them all on the fly without a fucking team of Oracles, so I had to find a solution that was primitive, but smart enough. What I came up with sounds stupid, but works: smoke bombs. Sort of.
The human body runs about 37° at any given moment. So does the gas used in those Applied Life Sciences don’t-worry-we’ll-totally-wake-you-up-in-fifty-years stasis pods. And it has some very strange EM properties when it sublimates. Any particle less energetic than a gamma ray won’t penetrate very far into the gas before getting absorbed. Goodbye X-ray scanners.
There are a couple molecular printers in the Navy Yard that provide elemental blocks and other compounds for industrial use. Pretty sure the ALS campus is keeping all of them in business. Anyway, they can print most any compound you might need, made to order. Bricks, lattices, DuChamp’s Fountain. Whatever.
I cleared out my savings account and bought ten blocks, 20 grams each. I have one set on each hip. Send an electric charge through the stabilized block, and it violently sublimates in a matter of nanoseconds.
I had hoped I’d never have to use them.
Better safe than sorry.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
I saw it happen a week ago.
I witnessed a murder. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen somebody killed. And not like some cast of a beheading or a fuzzy recording of a PK shooting, but an actual, unmediated death.
I was under Manhattan bridge, trying to sniff out these brothers in Chinatown who were pretty blatantly running a child sex ring out of – of all things – a fishmongers on Eldridge. Experia isn’t good enough for some people. Creeps. They had a habit of getting real fucked up and walking down to the waterfront to smoke after a particularly ‘successful’ evening.
Didn’t get my chance at them. Not sure if I will now.
As I was waiting, crouched in a wet pocket of steel, I picked up some stressful sounding conversation (waveform analysis, courtesy Trix’s bootleg SDK) through the helmet. Down what I had thought was Division Street.
Turned out to be East Broadway.
Wrong street and hesitation. Might have been able to save her if I had ditched the original plan sooner.
I jumped down and ran under the bridge, the night’s drizzle turning everything to a blue and orange blur. I was trying to stay off the street. Didn’t realize my mistake until I heard the scream. Had to climb up two stories of scaffolding to get to a fire escape, then up to the roof, sprinting into a running leap down to Broadway. Caution was a pale afterthought.
I didn’t stick my landing. Hit the ground and tumbled before wheeling around to where I’d targeted – correctly this time – the scream.
Lurking beneath the spectral glow of an always-on string of Chinese characters was an unusually tall man in a trench. He was standing over a woman, curled up against the storefront.
I can still see her. Eyes practically bulging out of her head. I heard her neck snap from a block away.
He was quick. Unnaturally so.
I wasted time again, futilely asking a corpse if it was OK.
I chased him down Broadway, running under the weight of the suit. The thing has always been a little heavier than I’d like. He seemed to walk the whole way, never a foot off the ground, yet still outpacing me. We were in FiDi by the time I’d closed the gap to 20 meters, sweating my balls off. Map said Spruce – between Nassau and Gold.
Then he turned. I saw his face: pointed noise and long black hair robing a sharp jaw, above which sat a smug upturned smile, thinner than razor blade. I saw recognition in his eyes. Pride even.
I could feel him. Not in my mind, not like a telepath or something, but like a gale-force wind pushing on me. I leaned in, struggling to push myself closer. He gave me a slow, amused once-over as I stood there, unable to commit myself. Then he was gone. Into the black stone lobby of a luxury high rise, entryway a mosaic of rock and steel.
The feeling faded, and I jogged to the entrance, a pulser-toting dropbot visible through the crystal doors. And there would definitely be others that I couldn’t see.
No getting in there.
So I stood, fists clenched, eyes tracing up the over-sized embedded stones and onto the jagged metallic lines of New York by Gehry.
It took two full days to convince Trix that I just could not live without this guy’s apartment number.
But he gave in. I can be persuasive when I want to be. Or maybe persistent’s the word. With nothing but the faceprint data he got from my helmet feed, he found it:
Guy’s name is Rommel.
Godfuckingdammit. This can’t be happening.
I knew I wasn’t getting in the front door.
At least the whole building’s sheathed in metal. Solved the problem of breaking and entering.
The magnets on the gloves had been designed for catching myself on falls, but they work well enough for climbing. Still, I put a couple more on my knees and feet for good measure.
Better safe than sorry, right?
Trix was kind enough to get me the most recent layout and artist’s renderings of the building’s interior. All sorts of documents had to be submitted to Met Code Enforcement during the building’s last redesign, and most of these sorts of things are available to the public – even if they’re not supposed to be.
I reviewed them on the climb. The long climb. Didn’t anticipate how exhausting it’d be.
After Margot left and I got this crazy fucking idea in my head, I’d been training pretty vigorously, but apparently not vigorously enough.
I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to make it through the windows, so I was going all the way to the roof to make my way back down the emergency stairwell. Or elevator shaft. Whichever worked best at the time.
I was getting too cocky for my own good.
Now look at me.
The top of this 10 million-ton hunk of Gehry was a hell of a sight.
I was standing there, panting at the dark border of two nations. Brooklyn and Manhattan. The silver tesseract of downtown rose behind me, lighting the black depths of the East River. Over that dead zone the hazy, glittering façade of Brooklyn, vaunted and real. The effort and fatigue from the climb gave everything a hallucinogenic edge, a poetic sense of meaning in the view.
Had to find the stairs.
These better work. So help me God.
Of course the stairwell door was locked. This stuff is never as easy as you think it’ll be. Learned that pretty quick.
So it was the elevator. I pried the doors open, the passed-down instincts from centuries of mischievous Brooklynites flowing through me. I touch a pylon on the inside wall, testing out the polarity of the shaft. In theory this would be smooth sailing with the magnets. Piece of cake.
I jumped the gloves and felt it out: back left and front right.
It’s a strange feeling, literally leaping into something you’ve never done before. Yellow lines and numbers on your HUD can only be so much of a comfort. I planted my feet, put my hands out, and clenched my ass. Deep breath. Count down.
My stomach disappeared with my footing.
Half a second and I was way down the shaft, trying to remember solid ground, skyline’s light fading with the elevator doors above me. I extended my arms, tucking my knees like a newborn.
And I stuck. I slid a meter or so, but I stuck. My stomach dropped to my sphincter and I was suddenly aware of the fact that sweat was dripping in my eyes.
And then I thought of Margot. Perfect timing for a perfectly bittersweet memory.
I hung there, basking in the musty darkness of the elevator shaft. Jagged gasps for air. Focus. My arms were burning, feeling each muscle fiber stretch itself.
This is so fucked.
I brought the schematics up and headed to the closest marked frame of an elevator door, sticking out my leg and stepping gingerly onto the exceptionally slight lip of the floor. That’s when I realized how dumb it was not to put mags on the bottom of the boots.
I wedged my fingers between the doors and pulled them open.
I dropped a floor lower than I intended in my leap of faith. Stairway was down the hall.
I felt like I was tripping, thinking about what I looked like: a sweaty black shadow in the calibrated light of this luxury apartment complex’s hallway. The carpeting was peppered with a thin, repeating Möbius strip pattern that stretched down to a lone exit holo.
Must have been quite a sight; like the grim reaper or Tron striding stagelit through the hall. But unless some shut-in was watching their door feed, I don’t think anybody saw me. The exit door slid open to the drab concrete of a one-time city-mandated fire escape route. I bounded up two flights and paused.
This is the floor.
I turned the schematics off, switched my targeting on, pushed open the door labeled 33, and saw three PK bats standing halfway down the hall.
Now I’m going to have to test these sublimators out whether I like it or not.
They haven’t seen me yet.
I’m suddenly painfully aware of the fact that I look like a cheap knock off. Their matte black, ceramic plated full body suits live up to their nickname. Bats. Like Batman.
Except they look like they could kick the piss out of Batman. I don’t know who this Rommel guy is, but either PK wants him too, or they’re working the door.
No time to find out though. I see the head twitch: the one farthest from me.
This is it.
He tacks his pulser on me and the other two duck into a triangle, targeting me and immediately moving in. I jump my gloves, arms loose.
I wonder what they think of my getup.
“FREEZE. YOU ARE TRESPASSING ON PRIVATE PROPERTY.”
That robovoice their masks make… I’ve always thought it was a bit much. Just let them get a little closer now.
“ON YOUR KNEES – HANDS ABOVE YOUR HEAD. SLOW.”
I can’t go down. Not like this.
I start to kneel, and touch my palm to that little brick of solidified gas.
Margot left in the morning, after a long night of painful conversation. I felt cut up.
Apparently I didn’t know what I wanted.
Apparently I was doing nothing to improve myself, sitting in my self-dug hole of depressive learned helplessness. A nobody, doing nothing, going nowhere.
Apparently I was bringing her down with me.
And I was very apparently devastated.
After that I spent the better part of two months drunk, boxes decomposing in the kitchen before I could be bothered to take them out. My shared kitchen. The roommates were pissed. Nearly got me kicked out of my apartment.
I didn’t realize how much I’d outsourced my issues, my percussive inner turmoil, to her occasionally receptive sensibilities.
Now, crouched in this hallway flooding with trade secret vapors, I suddenly understand the meaning of emotional labor.
I don’t know if I got better. But I got busy.
I stopped drinking so much. I started working out. A lot. I slowly discarded the detritus of our previous life. Started tinkering. And then I got this crazy idea.
But the frustration, the rage, was still there. Just contained. I poured it into a new outlet. One somehow even more destructive.
The not-smoke bomb works beautifully. Within a second everything is gone from visual, and the IR reads bright red.
I drop to the floor and feel the air displace from three pulse blasts at chest level. I wonder what colors PK use for their IR gradient.
I count to one and come up like a sprinter, acting purely on memory, popping the chains out a meter and aiming for the center of their triangle. I accidentally check the leader, momentum taking me past him, the heat of the gas pressing on the suit. All I can hear is the hiss of sublimation and my breathing. As the middle bat falls I whip my arms, blindly aiming for two heads. I feel both chains connect, and a thin web of blue arc-light briefly flashes over three grey shadows.
The low frequency whomp of another pulse blast nearly knocks me over, and I flatten myself to the invisible floor before he can get another shot off. I land awkwardly, perpendicular to his legs. He’s trying to crawl away.
There’s a split second of mad, alligator-like wrestling before I knock the pulse rifle from his out-of-focus hands, pry his wrists back, and send an amp through him.
He’s still twitching when I stand up.
Holy fuck. Breathing real heavy now. I need to get out of here.
I take two steps back toward the stairs and stop.
Blood boiling, I grope my way to wireframe door of 3315.
The plan had been to rough him up, then hogtie him on the roof and get Trix to bounce an encrypted package off Luna to the Met municipal investigations unit. Inside would be a cast of what I witnessed that night in Chinatown. The faceprint should be enough to nail him. It was enough to find him.
Hard to say now if PK were about to do just that. But I get the feeling they were here as protection. Going to have to settle for the gut feeling on this one.
The door opens. The haze clogging the hall slopes lazily down to the gold-flecked floor of a marble foyer.
Welcoming… I step in. There’s some kind of atonal horn music playing. The door closes.
I plod in, palms still jumped and one chain in hand.
Marble gives way to polished redwood flooring spread with fur rugs that look like they came from some as-of-yet undiscovered off-world apex predator. Floor to ceiling plate window screens line the living room. I see downtown through the center panel. Pre-dawn London through another. Some desert city I don’t recognize on a third.
There’s a light on in what looks like the bedroom of this swanky pad-
“That you Lt. Saiq?”
I instinctually tense into a crouch as a green bottle comes flying from the warm glow of the doorway, smashing in the kitchen behind me.
“We’re going to need some more white wine.” Throat clearing. “Mute bastard.”
I approach and stop at the doorframe.
He’s there, drunk, splayed on an immaculately made gold twill bedspread, balancing a wine glass on one outstretched finger.
“You should really knock you know-“
Then he sees me, and the glass topples to the duvet. I take a deep breath.
“Oh my. It’s you.” He’s smiling. Sick fuck.
I lunge for him.
And I stop, perched impossibly on the tip of one foot, holding at a 45° angle.
“Ah Ah,” he tisks. “I was wondering what the commotion was out there.”
Struggling up from the bed, he stands, but is clearly having some issues with it. His greasy black hair falls over his pointed face.
What the fuck’s happening? I can’t move or speak. Like I’m petrified. Frozen in time.
He pulls a small hypo from the pocket of his black pleated trousers and puts it to his neck, sharp intake of breath, hissing release. He blinks, exhaling.
“You’re an interesting character, aren’t you?”
I can’t place his accent. He wobbles closer, examining my suit.
I want to swat him. He walks almost soberly past me and out of the bedroom. My body twists and follows him of its own volition, maintaining its absurd, trophy-like stance, one of my boots dragging on the floor.
One hand on the wall to balance himself, apparently in and out of inebriation, he sways into the seamless white kitchen. The fridge opens. Nothing but long-necked green bottles in sharp blue light.
No way this is really happening. Need to move – my muscles are twitching with the effort. I can’t budge.
He’s clinking bottles around, flashing a cursory glance back my way.
“What do you think, prosecco?”
I can’t even move my mouth.
“Yes, I suppose it is more of a morning or early afternoon drink.”
He snatches another bottle and rests it on nothing. It just floats there next to him.
This guy’s telekinetic. Real life urban legend horror story manga shit.
And I thought I was in over my head with the PK.
He turns back to me, squinting, arms crossed, with one hand clasped over his chin. The bottle tilts, and the cork flies out. My body tries to flinch, but can’t as it ricochets off my helmet.
“What to do with you?”
A glass emerges from one of the counters and glides over to the prosecco, which pours itself. He holds out a hand and its stem neatly tucks between his middle and ring fingers.
I want him to let me go. I’ll tell him I’ll leave, no questions asked. I wonder if he’s a telepath too. Panic’s racing through my veins.
“I guess that depends on what you did to them.” He waves the glass toward the hall, spilling fizz over the side. “Probably lying on the floor out there. Tied up? Dead?”
“You know, they keep me in here. Most of the time.” That malicious grin again. “When they can, I should say. They consider it protection. But really they just don’t want me outside…”
He strides over to the window screen showing FiDi.
“… in this filthy city with its trash people.”
He pulls me over to his side, painfully altering my stance so I’m standing at mock attention. I feel bones and tendons crack.
“Are you from New York?” He looks me up and down, lip curling in disgust. “You must be. Self righteous, do-it-yourself attitude. So American.”
I’m sweating bullets. God. I fucked up.
Tilting his head back, he downs the glass and sends it spinning leisurely back to the middle of the room. I watch his reflection in the black screen. Hands on hips, aimlessly looking around the apartment.
I collapse to the floor, body aching like I just got my ass kicked. I realize I haven’t been able to breathe since he locked me up. Gasping for air, “Motherfucker.”
“You are a New Yorker.”
“You killed that woman.”
Suddenly serious, “you have no idea who that woman is.”
I manage to get myself onto one knee, searing pain up my shins.
“I don’t need to.”
Clearly annoyed, he looks down at me.
And I flash him with every watt of light my suit can pump out.
Margot was in the kitchen, a couple bags in her arms stuffed with everything she’d left at my place. Dressed to go.
I was in sweats, stuck to the doorframe of my room. She looked beautiful in the early light, haloed in orange and yellow.
“Why?” I croaked for the hundredth time that morning.
Her eyes were watery, lips pursed.
“I just can’t anymore Hopper.”
A tear streaked down her cheek, and she walked out.
I’m weightless. Or rather; I’m exactly the opposite.
I thought the flash would give me a second to reach him.
I needed a second and a half.
One electrically charged hand reaching out, the world freezes. I see his eyes. I know those eyes. Filled with rage.
I see them in the mirror everyday.
Then with a wave of his hand I fly backward like I’m on the wrong end of a rubber band, glimmering shards of black and deep purple surrounding me, little skylines still reflecting in each piece of the window screen’s shrapnel.
Part of me knew it would probably end up like this.
The warm light of the apartment quickly gives way to cold steel, the glint of downtown painted over the building’s side.
Cool air rushes by me, heading up.
All I can think about is how alone I am. I’m falling. Fading away silently into obscurity. And I can’t see a single star in the sky.
Originally from upstate New York (think Canada, not Westchester), Jeff Hewitt is a recovering TV post-production supervisor living in LA. His short story ‘The Kid’ has recently been published in Dispatches, a newly launched literary magazine. This is his second publication, with many more to come.
Content warnings: voience, attempted sexual assault, strong language