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Burned Out

by Rowan Wile 5 months ago in Sci Fi
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A Submission for the Night Owl Contest by Ryan Wilkins

Another perfect day, a sky so aqua it approached neon in the 16:34:12 afternoon light. Direct rays from the sun were actually somewhat rare down in the Gamin Core. Today was no different, a series of reflections from the nearby buildings zig zagged the light all the way down almost a kilometer to reach street level. The scrappers were so monstrously tall that you had to be at the right place, or the right time to feel the rays of sunlight on your face. Not that I was happy about this perfect day. Normally the cloudless sky calmed me, helped me feel less penned in. Today I was working. Waiting in a borrowed Hazah, in the lead passenger position, my hands lie on the armrest, in a relaxed position, head comfortably forward, alert. Some Hazahs came with manual interface controls, but those could draw an onlooker’s suspicious glance. Where are you travelling that you need to find your own path? I wished to be invisible. The sun was toying with me attempting to cook me in my travel oven. It knew that if I sweat enough I would lose the dull invisible layer of Drux that coated my hands. A layer of super fine resin that covered my skin from the wrist up. Impossible to feel unless you really knew what my skin texture felt like. But if I sweat enough my fingerprints will come back through, I wouldn’t want that. So I turned on the Air control, as this was a heavily repaired older model Hazah. The air made a slight noise while it cooled me, gusting slowly through the cabin. All the while I watched the street. I was in a row of Hazahs, all parked on the righthand side of Dweal St. A busy area right downtown, the buildings overhead watching as people milled like ants following each other around both ends of the boulevard. I waited. My guy would be here soon. In the meantime I watched the fish. The large six story screens on the outsides of the Scrapers, these ones worked together to form a panorama of open ocean in the street. This helped keep Citizens from going stir crazy, feeling trapped.

I peeked to the dash of my Junker ironically freshly painted on the day of its funeral, with a clean crisp coat of silver detailing and new solid frame tires. It looked good on the outside, but its insides were less than ideal. It was dusty and smelled like old plastic with a control board full of scrapes. You knew from the get go it was never a very good model, no one really ever proud to say.

“That one’s mine, I own that.”

I didn’t like abrasive noise or smell when I was working. Even the most minor distraction could become a hindrance. I would need to focus, I scanned the faces of people in my rear view and around me. A boy on a man’s shoulders walking in a crowd, families spending the day together, young women not wearing enough clothing. It was all a pleasant draw of the eye, but a chance to lose focus. When you work as a hired assassin, you need to be more aware of how you stand out, how to fit in. I had been following my prey for about three weeks just at a distance, just out of sight. It’s weird, like a friend. You slowly build a relationship, learn about them so intimately, so unimpeded by secrets. The stories they don’t talk about, you know. The little frustrations of their day, their week, their life. It was always a little personal no matter what. In movies they always show the hitman keeping all this information on the quarry. A data slab with terabytes of intrusive pictures, family history and childhood pet names. In reality that’s a lot of evidence to catch you with, just laying around at your home, ready to screw you. That’s why I just watched, just observed to gather my intel. Nothing in my actual possession. It was much harder to crack a brain than a password.

Speaking of cracking my brain. I could begin to see the large outline of an Enforcer walk down the street. To any onlooker, you might mistake it for some type of machine, or a bipedal ADAPT android. Red Carbon polyplastic carapace against black skin tight synth wrapped around a humanoid frame. Its weapon on a shoulder sling, obviously loaded. This one in particular was sporting a mask of white with large black eyes. A slow decisive walk along the sidewalk past shops and restaurants. People cleared a path with an almost invisible force. Enforcers were spooky at the best of times, but don’t be fooled they are human. Each Enforcer was a Genderless, soul devoid civil servant, armed to the teeth. As they closed the gap, I could make out that the white face was actually an image of an animal. A barn owl? Memories flicked back to elementary school and a book report on extinct animals of the Old World. The barn owl was gone and the barn along with it. The red figure marched towards me getting closer and closer, I sat still, a bored expression on my face. I didn’t want him to look right at me. I had a semi-reflective layer of makeup on. Designed to make my features harder to spot by camera. To the visible eye it just looked like my skin. I Just breathed and sat still trying to bluff someone you can’t even really see. The owl got closer. They may want to see my Citizen Card, as it was something that could be requested at any time. To not be able to present one would mean detainment on the spot. If an Enforcer checks your CIT on the day of a mission you scrap the plan for a few weeks. It puts you at the scene of a potential crime and Gamin’s finest will come after hours and kidnap you while you sleep. They pretended to be the law, in reality they just had the biggest stick. The Owl possessed what appeared to be a new model Kinishimi-088 with an extended acceleration platform. A long range hand held shrapnel thrower, possessing a deadly payload of a high velocity chrome shell. Which could easily pierce straight through a half meter thick concrete wall and then a man. I was jealous. The Owl walked up, then past my right side, now I could see them in the rear view. Just sauntering down the street. I breathed a little without moving, nice and still. Watched the red body crest the edge of the street. Part of me wondered if the mask would spin around suddenly, legends said owls could do that. The mask was their only identifying feature and each Enforcer had a unique one.

I thought back to the task at hand. This job in particular was going to be less covert then I would normally have liked. Point blank was the goal, a spectacle killing. A really greasy massacre left all over the sidewalk, a written message. After all, it was personal as we have the same employer. Downstairs Attic was a gang, turned high-top on a power trip. They ruled drugs in Gamin right now and had pushed past the conventional into the exceptional. See, my mark is Dr Morey Terr. Morey was an artist of a surgeon. He himself reduced the loss of life of a new type of psycho-systematic implant from about 30% deceased due to failure, to no patients lost in the past five months. All in the short two years since Attic brought Morey on payroll, he implanted people with an electronic drug chip called a Tick. The Tick was a dot of plastic and filament, wired together with some loose tendrils that interacted with the human body in some very interesting ways. When inserted into the base of the brain stem two Nanometers from your medulla oblongata, it allowed the Tick to interfere with brain communication changing the electrical signals. Have you ever wanted to have a thirty minute orgasm so intense you need people to pick up what’s left of you off the floor? Ever wanted to have a three hour out of body experience in under five minutes? Ever wanted to vividly dream, bending your desires to your will? You need a Tick.

The procedure however was the dangerous part, people hadn’t practised “hands on” surgery in over two centuries. We just didn’t have the skills or the patience anymore. Consequentially, people died on the operating tables underneath gambling halls, in clubs and at home. You couldn’t even reprogram a Trauma Stitcher to do the work because Gamin kept those under more scrutinous observation then most street Vendors. Seemed like the technology would never really take off. That was until Attic met the great Dr Terr, he made the surgery safe. It became an absolute hook amongst the most disgustingly rich people in Gamin. A high beyond measure with a onetime procedure with no addiction, no withdrawal, no comedown. Just bliss baby. Should you get caught by the Enforcers and taken in for interrogation to learn where you got your implants, the Tick simply reacts, slows your respiratory rate down to about 4%. No witnesses, no deals, no informants. It was the perfect drug. The people who could afford it, were the hardest to arrest and therefore the most private about passing while in Enforcer custody.

Dr Terr had ego though. He thought he could sell his amazing procedure to competitors and double dip, he wanted to share the skills he learned without leaving, just to create competition. A more stressed market, now needing the good doctor more than ever. Attic found out though. They called me. One request, in person. No changing your mind, no capture. They said the name and I was let off the leash, no timeline of when, or where. Morey will become a symbol to keep the lesser in-line. A little like punishing the entire class to keep a couple bad students from acting out. I came in as a bi-annual exterminator. I’m not really “in” the organization, more like a sub-contract. I started initially as just muscle, but axing people was easier and payed more. You kill once and its gut wrenchingly horrible. Twice its painful, but after fifteen you go home and have sex. I lost a lot of my emotion this far up the ladder. I glanced back to the street, all the buildings were multipurpose. Housing, sales, ads. Primarily though, this little strip was restaurants. I was parked down the street just within view of Celt’s. A tiny, pricey glass-faced pub. Morey ate a late lunch here every other week. He meets up with some of his friends from his academy graduating class. He had a wife and a mistress, he preferred dishes with krill, he liked salty over sweet and was a big tipper. Morey liked to park his New Vertigo model Hazah around the corner on Bleams Avenue, then walk around the corner and into Celt’s. Dr Terr had been burned too many times trying to park on Dweal. Unlike myself he hadn’t been here a full hour and thereby avoided all the rush hour traffic easily obtaining a spot. A parking spot taken up by a Hazah whose barcodes will come up as blanks, and by this evening will be scrapped for material recycling. Just gone.

A dull ding in my hearing optic, wired next to my right side ear drum. Little words INCOMING CALL were in the centre of my vision. Super-imposed on the real world sight of the street, with all the motion in the background. Within the foreground in white words, a name in the form of Rylla Mantch. I looked to the dash 16:41:36.

“I’ve got time” I spoke as I engaged the answer icon.

Normally with an optical lens you can do video as well, I opted not to. I never liked anything completely blocking my line of sight. So it was just her name in the corner of my peripheral view now.

“Hello Dearest” I began.

“Hey Dune, how is work?”

Rylla had no idea what I did, she thought I worked for the agricultural sphere. It was a good lie, since as a normal citizen she would never have the clearance to go there to see me at work.

“Another day in paradise, just working on one of the harvest tanks now. Pretty crazy day so far poor Spen, him and his wife were in a massive argument last night, she apparently even went to one of the gates this morning and had to be escorted home.”

None of these people were real, but it was easy to keep your family from wanting to meet coworkers if they think that they were likely to fight if we all went out to dinner.

“Women eh?” I asked.

“Ha Ha” she said.

“Just thought I would call, to say I dropped the kids off to Auntie Jay’s.”

“Good to hear, they must be so excited to be staying the night.”

“So since they are gone for the evening, I was wondering what you and I should get up to?” she said in a painfully suggestive tone.

She was a beautiful woman and an amazing flirt. With long hair in a shade of earthen brown and a bright pair of hazel eyes. She had a mischievous smile, like she was always looking for trouble, along with a nose that wrinkled when she laughed. She was a great mom.

“I like where this is going” I continued.

“Well I was thinking about dinner, maybe stuffed brask and for dessert maybe the blue outfit or possibly the red?”

“Hmm” I hummed aloud.

A tough decision on any day, they both had their perks. The blue was by far the more revealing of the two, but the red was in my opinion far sexier. It really was the best pedestal to show off the artistry of her curves.

“The red please…. with red wine” I added.

I could hear her laugh on the other end. I was like a child who had asked for something that wasn’t an option I was given.

“Okay fine, red and red wine, I’ll see you tonight”

“See you then, I love you, bye” I quickly hung up.

I never enjoyed hearing her say goodbye, and I always tried to beat her to it.

It was a habit of mine.

Habits. A dangerous thing to possess. People never really think about being whacked. They find their ruts, their track, their favourites and soon it’s a habit. Makes my job easier. Everyone has one. If you’re looking to strike someone when they are alone or in a crowd it’s important to think of habits. That’s why I try to avoid them. Absolutely drives the wife and kids nuts when I take a new route every other day to their school, always opting for a new restaurant to try. Always watching to see who changes lanes with me and follows the same route.

By that same logic, in my rear view I could now see walking towards the restaurant from around the corner of Bleams was Dr Morey Terr. Astride down the street, possibly debating one of the two krill dishes offered at the establishment. He looked good, Morey was about forty two years old, and like so many before him had hit the age where he reconstructed himself to look in his mid-twenties. Bright blonde hair quaffed by an expensive living barber. Broad arms with very strong forearms from being elbow deep in people, ending with a pair of long thin delicate hands, the tools of a creator. What really gave away his true age were the recessed bags under his eyes, dark spheres of shadow. Too many late nights working. He slowly purposefully took into the street, just like he had walked so many days before.

It was time.

I reached under the lead passenger seat of the Hazah, below the cracked synth-thread of the cushion. Pulling a small metallic red object from beneath the adjustable seating. It was small in size only, fitting perfectly into the palm of my hand. It was in the shape of a zed, with an automatic ejection nozzle, and an unguarded contact trigger with two small cannisters at the base. The cans held about ten cubic centimeters each of pressurized material. It looked a little like a dick. It was a Solar Flare, a small propellant throwing device, that shot a quick particle cloud of liquid flame about three meters in front of the user. It had a wide nozzle, and sprayed in a messy cone. Not the most subtle weapon by far. The benefit of using the Flare is that it doesn’t leave a projectile, which would have left a manufacturing trail. The propellant is cheap and available anywhere in the industrial sphere, same as the fuel. Like killing someone with a soft drink, where would you even look for acquiring the murder weapon? The other lesser benefit was that you could possibly take out an Enforcer, which was no small task. The heat just cooks them in their shell, much like a crustacean. Now with a combustion temperature of five thousand degrees Celsius you could also easily die using this tool. Luckily the propellant was under such intense pressure that even while igniting it doesn’t reach full temperature until about 70% of its arc, so long as you’re standing far enough back from your target. I saw one let go in a Hazah once while a hire was adjusting the tanks. Reduced to ashes in seconds.

I pulled a small face covering from the secondary passenger console, grabbing a few extra accessories to go with my very strange attire. I put on a thread mask and cowl and I stepped out from the Hazah door and into the busy street of Dweal. Hungry masses on expedition searching for trendy foods would have witnessed a man in a large blue almost grey cloak, with faux fur trim across the shoulders and bottom edge, as well as sporting a deep hood and mask that rested just beneath his eyes. This was the opposite of blending in. I passed people in business attire, synth sun dresses, work clothes. I was dressed as a Last Watch member. A type of heretical cult pretending to be a religion. They believed that the reason the world was now devoid of humans was because God had taken the true believers to paradise a long time ago. The cult assured that you could still be chosen and saved if you preached the old ways, so they emulate the past by dressing in medieval garb. As if the omniscient could be easily tricked into believing you’re from a thousand years ago? Either way, thanks to a city wide rights of religion policy, it made a great cover, though the policy had exceptions. If an Enforcer asked, I would still have to submit a CIT. No one was above that.

Now I walked behind Morey. The blonde well-groomed hair, in fitted exercise wear, with the brand name shoes. I matched pace quickly, roughly ten meters to the entrance of Celts. I didn’t want to look too eager, a quick sweep for Gamin’s finest. No one in sight. Six meters to the door. I held the Flare in my right hand tucked in a pocket beneath my cloak. Three meters to the door. It was a very crowded street, the mob was a blurry smear in the void of my tunnel vision, Morey at the focal point. People laughed, shopped and moved in a single grand motion, everyone except me, except him. The large screens now didn’t show the mythical ocean, instead an advertisement displayed the same fish swimming in the newest trending liquor. Morey’s hand touched the right handle to the glass double door of Celt’s. I threw up my right hand, steadied myself for the incoming ejection. No one in between the two of us. I could see the side of Dr Terr’s face just catching me in his peripheral. I aligned in a fraction of a second. I closed my eyes. The optical lens was designed to compensate and block the welder’s flash, but I couldn’t risk being stunned not even for a second.

I engaged the contact, with a soft squeeze of my index, ring and pinky finger. I felt the sudden jolt of ignition. Air rapidly expanding into a jet so fast it was like controlling your own gust of wind. Heat radiated along my face, chest and hands. As the sounds of the busy street vanished, beneath the roil. It shook me. Total ejection was less than half a second and I dipped the Solar Flare back into my cloak, while simultaneously opening my eyes. I had to be sure even if it was a million to one he could live, I had to be sure Morey was dead. When I opened my eyes what I saw in front of me was a mess. The glass front of Celt’s had shattered as the sudden expansion of fuel superheating the enamel unevenly caused it to splinter violently away from the blast. Some citizens were shouting and fleeing. A threat of a terrorist, a bomb blast, the end of the world. Others just lay on the ground, the low uniformity of the propellant meant that others beside Morey were hit by the seeking stray flame. Bits of fuel off target, singed and injured people all around where he had stood. Screaming in pain as a drop of propellant burned through the tissue, then the fat, finally the bone. Morey was no more. His handsome face was lost, completely reduced to pitch under the hellfire. His strong torso and forearms lost in the charred crust that lay upon the ground. His legs were steamed sticks, with the cuff of his designer pants now fused to the shoes he had been wearing.

I took in a breath of the stink all around me. I was now in the mind state of a killer, by taking what others had, you yourself began to feel powerful, feared and invincible. I turned quickly, along with so many others, the street was a panic now. The shoppers had gone wild, berserk, people shoving and leaping in case another blast should go off. No one had known what had just happened. It was too fast, too sudden, too random. I emulated the people around me and I pushed through the scared until I reached my dolled up Hazah. I entered the primary passenger slot and sat.

It was time to leave. As I entered the hidden location of the cycler into the Nav, I prepared to merge quickly into the now sporadic street. I could see it was clearly a mix of people who had seen the blast wanting to escape, and those who didn’t coming in to get a better look. Only one person was just still, watching. No interest in the event of savagery or in their individual safety. A single figure stood with their eyes locked on me. That was how I noticed them in this storm because they were the unmoving earth in comparison. A woman stood across the street from where I was parked, just opposite me. She had long earthen brown hair and eyes of hazel. No mistaking this, no second guess, Rylla was watching me.

I sat about to embark into the Dweal Street lane. Our eyes locked, my mouth was dry and I began to sweat profusely even in the controlled chill air. Like a child caught stealing from a family member. How is she here? We don’t live anywhere near here, we had just spoken. I quickly regained my composure, engaged the Hazah into the lane and down the street. Fast, I had pre-programmed some of the cross sphere connections and I was gone, away from Dweal. Back into the calmness of my junk steed. The plan continued on without a hitch. My clunker was disassembled in the scrap shoals, along with the flare. I was paid very generously, and even tipped for the visual carnage. Everyone would know what happens to dissenters within Attic now. I took a Glyph-rail home that night and walked up to the residential block building we lived in. 216 Choster #301. Like all dwellings it was tall, ours was the colour and texture of orange sand and housed roughly a thousand people. It was a quiet evening now, in stark contrast to the day. For myself, I knew I would need to explain everything from the beginning. A lifetime of lies. Lies that I genuinely thought protected them from something dangerous. Not the criminal world, more like my true tendencies. How could you look to a parent knowing they killed people, attacked people, aided criminals, all for money. I walked into the clean foyer of the building, light brown wooden colours, this design was meant to look old world. Faux wood panels, clean and yet dusty in texture. I decided to use the stairway today. I walked up the three floors in a flash, almost not realizing how fast I was moving. It was 301 so we lived right at the end of the hall. I approached our familiar red door, the numbers embossed into the panelling of yet more fake wood. I used my key card and walked into the dark silent living room of my home closing the door behind me.

I was prepared for arguments, screaming and a new fear in her eyes that she didn’t know me, didn’t know if she loved me. She would want space, afraid to know if she was in danger, if her life and the kids’ lives were suddenly unsafe. If I would be taken away, Enforcers ready to break down our door tonight, any minute. Did I kill him for money? Fun? Was everything a sick game to me? I should leave, leave and never come back, she would say with tears in her eyes. Scared she felt the same about me still and loved me back, just as much as I loved her. What I was not prepared for was nothing. She wasn’t there. As I stepped into the kitchen I conferred with the empty fridge. I slumped through the dim halls each footstep heavier than last as I approached both of the rooms. First I checked ours, her belongings, some money, CIT card, all gone. Her bags and clothes missing, bed unmade pictures of our life together off the walls. I trudged to the kids room in a haze. The bunkbed was cold and empty. All of their belongings were already gone, empty bits of old toys and clothes that no longer fit abandoned on the ground. She must have packed everything right after I left this morning, she had been suspicious for a while I guess. Maybe the lie on the call is what pushed her over the edge. Seeing me lie right to her, right in the moments before. I sat on the lowest bunk, the stripped bed softly sank under my weight. I wallowed in the total darkness, for what felt like hours. Just letting the drops fall through my hands to the edge of the foam, then eventually the ground.

Sci Fi

About the author

Rowan Wile

Don’t Panic…

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