I hit the streets just as dusk was giving way to the dingy, grey-orange gloom of a city at night. The new body was a little off. They never get things like callouses and tan lines quite right. My skin felt smooth and strange against my clothes. My muscles(more) and mind fresh, but somehow not quite hardened to the harsh, grating realities of urban life in the same way I was.
I'd died a few times before, so I knew what I was in for. But you never get used to it. For one thing, it's prohibitively expensive. From time to time, you hear about privileged socialites and crowdfunded internet personalities killing themselves over and over again in the most bizarre ways they can think of. I guess it's easy to talk yourself into when you know your next body won't remember the sins of the last.
I'd never be able to afford the regen on my own salary. But in my line of work, accidents happen. And my employer bankrolled my subscription. Say what you want about the seedy underbelly of the city. We take care of our own.
I'm sure the fact that I helped him rise to power and make money hand over fist didn't hurt my case, either.
As I zig-zagged the blocks on my way to Three Saints, I started to wonder what I'd be looking for when I got there. I knew where to start, but if it was a planned hit, as I suspected, they probably hid the evidence and booked it in a matter of seconds. As I turned the problem over in my head, I suddenly noticed a familiar face. Familiar, but changed. Harder, more weathered.
I was killed last night. A quick, calculated hit. When I scrolled through my feed afterward, it said my stream was cut at 1:45 AM, somewhere in the south-end of Three Saints. Context not found. Contact administrator.
(more) A bad neighborhood. Not one that was unfamiliar to me, though, in my line of work. But I can't imagine what I was doing there at that time of night. Even prowlers know that there are certain places you don't tread in the gloaming hours before morning.
Unfortunately, when I re-spawned, the body I loaded back into was a few weeks out of date. Of course, mandatory restore points are supposed to be created automatically every night. After thousands of beta-testers complained about the residue of a life half-forgotten during the soft launch, it was made compulsory. But I found a workaround. There are too many parts of my life that I don't want to remember. And if I had to drag them all with me, this life wouldn't be worth living.
I promised myself I'd keep up with the save points on my own, but you know how these things go. The day gets away from you. You tell yourself tomorrow, tomorrow. And before you know it, a dozen tomorrows have come and gone, and you can't for the life of you say where they went.
Things can get complicated when the version of you that you are was only there for half the things you've said, done, and had done to you. But for most of us, it's better than dying.
The body regen took most of day. The jagged wedge of sky through my apartment window was just turning a soft purple-orange. Already missed my only appointment that day. I thought 'fuck it'. Might as well go find my body.
The dead walk and we follow. They tell us who we are, and where we are going.
They lay themselves prostrate across the sky, stars twinkling up the length of their spines. Their arms sweep down from their sides and fall languidly to the earth. They run thei(more)r fingers through the trees, and over the grass and plains. They dip their fingertips in the water and paint maps upon our flesh.
They speak to us in a slow roar, and tell us the stories we are meant to live. They ask us to be the impossible.
We are urged to commit ourselves to a world beyond our knowing. They ask us to see as they see, feel as they feel, but they cannot do the same for us. What they are is finished.
We want to be ourselves, but we're not, and we never have been. We are them. We want to feel complete, but we were never complete, not once in our entire lives, and we never will be. We are made from their shattered remains, and when we come together, there is always, always, something missing.
Time was made, and made finite, so that we may never claim more in return than we give, when asked.
"And you're sure this is working?"
Yatho hissed at the car, thumping at it even as it sputtered and groaned at her.
"I don't care! We just need to get to the ship in time!"
Grynewaht sighed, shaking his head in disappointment. "There's no way. Seems like this thing(more) never does what it's supposed to do."
Yatho scowled. "I need to take this to Cid and get him to take a look at it. Unbelievable."
"So how on earth do you expect us to make it to the ship on time?"
She put her finger to her chin in thought. "I have an idea. You might not like it, though."
"At this rate, we're not gonna have many choices. Hurry up."
"Bloody hells," Grynewaht growled, clinging tightly to the ropes. The giant Moogle chortled above him, and Yatho chuckled as she watched his eyes squeeze shut. She swung her legs back and forth, the wind whistling in her ears pleasantly. "Not a fan of heights, I take it?"
"Never have been, never will be."
He groaned loudly, leaning back in the seat. Yatho tilted towards him so she could rest her cheek on his shoulder. "It is a nice view. We'll be landing soon, if it makes you feel better."
He nodded. "Aye."
She took hold of Grynewaht's hand, pulling him along towards the dock. "Slow down, Yatho-"
"No, no! Let's hurry."
He tried to dig his heels into the road, but she was stronger than him, especially when she was excited. "What about the car?" he asked.
"Forget the car! We'll get it back when it finally does what it's supposed to do?"
"That could be never."
She tugged him onwards, and as sick as he was, he knew the butterflies in his stomach were something else. (less)
When in doubt, declare your love. You might still fail, but you'll know. You''ll know one of the great truths that we are born into this world in order to discover. Say nothing, and you'll always be left wondering. I have a lifetime's worth of wondering already. I feel(more) buried by it. I can't allow myself to add on any more. If I add any more wondering to it, I won't have enough lifetime left to try to dig my way back out. And you need that hope. We constantly reach. And you need to be able to hope that one day you'll reach out into that unfathomable mist and another person's hand will be there. There to grab you firmly in this groundless, orientationless cosmos, so that you pull each other out of your own self constructed hell of unknowing. Time, action, emotional space. We see all of them through a dense and inscrutable bank of fog. There's nothing for it. But we have to keep hoping. We have to keep believing that out in that fog of unknowing are other hands, other bodies, other minds, who might ease our pain and whose pain might be eased by us. We are good at hurting. We do a lot of it. We should be better at seeing it in others and extricating its more self-inflicted aspects from ourselves. We have a chance to do that every day. And we must learn to. Because another hurt is always coming. It's a lesson that others can help us with, but no one else can learn for us. Reach for it now, or regret it forever. (less)
We talked through the normal adult talk. Work, kids (hers), where we lived, how we were doing. I didn't mention my girlfriend, and she only said, "Oh, Jon's Jon," when I asked. We talked some more, but then we talked less. That was the way it had always gone:(more) gulfs of silence that weren't awkward, just a space for everything to lay. Just part of the game.
She walked out with me and we started talk again about old times. "Should we walk on the roof of the arts building again?" she teased. “Like that night you walked me home?”
"You insisted we go up there, as I recall,” I said.
“Mmm hmm. I loved that building. Guess I wanted to show it to you.”
We were at my hotel. I felt seedy and excited and embarrassed. The silence lay open between us again. I stepped into it. I took her hand, which felt corny, so I leaned in. Closer. Was she surprised? She didn’t move.
I kissed her. She was unsure. I put my other hand on her back and the kiss opened. Like an old wound, opened up and fresh again. It was painful and pleasurable and exciting and new and old. The kiss ended and our heads stayed close. Once we separated that would be all.
“You never kissed me before.”
“I should have. I wanted to.”
“Our first kiss,” she laughed. It felt like a cruel joke, but it was a joke on both of us so we both laughed.
We parted, finally. She walked home and I went to the hotel elevator. To the rooftop. Just to think a little before packing and leaving.
Before moving North, I pictured how life would be there, and began to look forward to it. From the red-black pulse of a dirty life, I pictured how things could be different.
My life was night shifts, insulting rents, weariness and addiction. But I could picture how lif(more)e would be pure. Stripped down and unsullied. In the North: there would be fewer distractions. Less fog. Less bullshit.
I pictured a cleansing wind that would start somewhere in the Arctic and blow over me. Cheeks stiff in the chill. Emotions finally lulled to silence. I pictured peace, enforced by nature.
I had already visited the town where I would live: a dozen streets, a cinema, a grocery store. And nothing but taiga for a thousand miles in every direction. Heaving, grey-pink rock scabbed with lichen, scrub grass, and hardy mosses. The Canadian Shield, as described in school textbooks (and forgotten ever since): that obdurate stone that survived the imposition of icebergs and minus-50 degree winters.
No horizon here, not like in Vancouver. In Vancouver, you can see the edge of the sea where the ships slide off Earth. Falling into the sunset, falling straight into China like a dropped penny.
In the North, the land rolls on and on, studded with low trees and an aching empty stonescape. Birch and its lean paper trunks, jack-pine with its arthritic knots. Aspen whose leaves susurrate like ocean waves I've left behind.
In the North I would be less angry all the time. That's what I thought. Less obsessed, less consumed and addicted.
In the "North" - never just "the north." The change in latitude is substantial enough to warrant capital letters.
All that's actually happened is I've come all this way for no real improvement. There's some extra money. There's certainly more silence. (less)
It pulses and twists and rolls and squirms. Flummoxing, he finds it. Vexing. The brain's chords plucked and pulled out of order, out of tune. Unfocused and wild it wanders through, twisting its way between his ears and down his spine.
(more) "I'm sorry," he asks. "What was the question again?"
Gnats flickered about the man's head like sparks off a crackling, spitting fire. Runnels of sweat escaped his brow. He pawed at the moisture with a dirty rag that blackened the creases of his face.
Around him, fresh-faced tourists squawked. Sipping tea, buying boots, browsing their way throug(more)h life. A svelt, pointedly-attired midday jogger. A pair of sticky children lapping ice-cream from comically over-sized cones. An older white woman wearing wing-tip sunglasses, walking a min-pin bedecked in black studded BDSM leathers.
He liked her best.
The man tried to picture them in their homes, doing mundane things. Eating salad. Fixing a leaky faucet. Going to the bathroom. Pulling kitchen sundries rather violently out of a stuck kitchen drawer. Sitting at the foot of an over-sized bed, crying alone. That sort of thing.
He wondered if any of them saw him the same way. Thought about who the man with the sunburned, sweat-soaked face was, pictured him sans plastic hardhat and hi-vis. Imagined him at his leisure, not taking meter readings, but doodling silly cartoons in the margin of a book, or supporting the local repertory theater.
Then he sighed, and disappeared into the background.(less)
"That's nice of you," she said, almost dismissively as she tapped her fingers on her keyboard waiting impatiently for the reports to load.
"I didn't do it to be _nice_, I did it because it was needed."
"But it was still a favor to them, wasn't it?"(more)
"In a circuitous way, maybe? But I still don't see why it wasn't needed."
She looked up from her laptop. "Look," she said, "they've got their heads so far up their asses on what _we_ do they don't need you making their jobs any easier."
"But nothing. We're busting our asses for them and then you go around, behind our backs, and help _them_ out? No man, that's nice of you, sure, but you're just trying to kiss ass to keep climbing that ladder."
He shook his head, "Whatever, dude. It'll help us out in the long run with your support or no. It'll get done regardless.
She rolled her eyes and went back to her reports. He turned on his heel and walked away.
Her only regret was the open office. This would never get let go.(less)
"What are we?" Steve murmurs, one morning after waking up in between Nancy and Jonathan yet again.
Nancy is already wide awake, the early bird of the trio. She's scratching Steve's back with one hand, and when he turns his head to look at her he sees her(more) reading a book with her other. Her brows are furrowed in concentration, but as soon as she realizes Steve is waiting for an answer she gives one. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," Steve tries, rolling over to lay on his back and motion towards Jonathan's sleeping form next to him. "You two are an item. And I'm just here."
"You're looking comfortable," Nancy says, fingers drumming against his bare chest. "I like it."
Steve frowns and turns away from her to stare at Jonathan. Maybe it's the eye contact, or Steve's legs brushing against his, but Jonathan stirs after a few minutes with a loud groan. He turns his head to make eye contact with Steve first, then Nancy, and then sighs.
"Are you guys talking about something serious?"
"Maybe," Steve says. "Why?"
"I can see it on your face, you know." Jonathan's voice, slow and raspy, is tinged with concern. He reaches out, thumb stroking against Steve's forehead. "You look nervous."
Perceptive as ever, even in the mornings.
"What are we?" Steve asks him. "Nancy won't give me a straight answer."
"There's nothing straight about this, Stevie," Jonathan says, hand moving to Steve's hair. Stevie. The nickname is a little endearing, not that Steve would ever let him know. "I'm serious," Steve insists. "Please. I want to know."
"We're whatever you want," Jonathan says. "Isn't it obvious?"
Steve isn't sure about anything. But as Nancy puts her book away and wraps an arm around him, he's surprisingly okay with that.(less)
Why murder? This question will have as many answers as there are people murdered and those doing the murdering. In a sense, the question of why is beside the point. What’s important is that one has decided, for r(more)easons sufficiently compelling, to take the life of another.
Pick your target. Anyone will do. Circumstances will usually dictate the choice of victim. Better to not pick a child, though, as its killing will elicit universal outrage, and if you’re caught and sentenced for it, your time in lockup will be that much worse. Child killers do not fare well in prison.
Pick your method. Guns are traceable. Knives are bloody and too, too intimate. Poison is good, but requires an often elaborate amount of planning. Pushing someone off a height is perhaps the cleanest method, but hardest to set up. Do not research things on the internet, as this can be traced back to you. Play out different scenarios in your head until you arrive at a satisfactory plan. Consider the steps carefully, then try to imagine the different ways law enforcement will approach the crime based on the method you have employed.
Prepare, prepare, prepare! Do your homework. Study the habits of the victim. Know their comings and goings. When will they be alone? When do they go to sleep? How far do they drive to work? Commit all details to memory. Know the victim as well as they know themselves.
Keep your pants on! Cultivate a mental sense of cool to serve as an emotional bulwark behind which you can hide your feelings. Betray no thoughts that might give you away. After all, you re no killer! If you believe this fervently, and prepare throughly, you will not get(less)