Just wanted to drop a quick plug for my favorite e-magazine, eFiction Magazine! This is their 13th issue and one of their best. You can get a copy at their amazon store: eFiction Magazine
Things have been quite around here as I’m currently working on my next short story, “Worthless”. I’ll try and get something up to view soon.
Hey everyone! I did a rewrite on my short story, “Jazz Night”. After getting a lot of feedback I decided to address some issues I was hearing. I added more description to the main character, Corbin. As well as his ‘mark’, the Hood. One of the larger complaints was that some people felt this was just a bit to a larger story. While in a way it is, I still wanted it to feel like a self contained moment. So, I changed Corbin’s motivation and reaction to the entire situation and I think it feels a lot stronger now. So thank you all.
Without further ado!
By: Jeff Baker
He was onto me. I could tell by the way my mark had shifted his weight forward on his bar stool; placing one foot on the ground and the other against the bar’s foot railing. My first hit since getting out of jail and I’d already made a mistake. It probably didn’t help that I was over forty and in a black and white suit among all all the hoppers in the club. Well too late now, Corbin.
He was dressed like most members of the Hood. A red hooded vest over a buttoned up black dress shirt, thick black tie, and red suspenders hanging off the shoulders. The drawstrings on the hood were white, signaling him as a low-ranking member. This one decided to go retro with his hair; a large mop that glowed a slight neon-green that was brushed over his right eye.
I turned in my stool at the far end of the bar to face the long mirror along the wall. The rows of liquor bottles stacked up behind the bartenders had made it hard to keep my eye on him, but I had to look nonchalant — I ordered another gin and tonic. I couldn’t help but catch my own face staring back at me. A lot had changed since being locked up. The hair at my temples had turned gray over the last few years, and my forehead wasn’t giving up the progress it had made against my hair line. I had grown a beard, but for some reason it didn’t want to fill in between my jaw and chin. What I had managed to grow, was just short black and gray bristles.
But what always got me, were the deep “cut-lines” that radiated out — like a network of veins — from under my collar. They came to fine points around my cheeks, and what hair was on my face refused to grow over the scars. Scars. I really shouldn’t call them that. They were deep grooves etched into my skin that never healed. And they never would, thanks to the Fibrous Leylines embedded into my body all those years ago. The mesh of fibrous in my body wound its way around my muscles, bone, and nervous system — grafted in and set for life. Early biotech at its finest.
They let me do some incredible things. I could increase my run speed, make some jaw dropping jumps, and even interface with most spintronic devices through the openings in my palms. Real impressive stuff. At least it was impressive by twenty-fifty-three standards. Now-a-days nearly everyone you ran into had some amount of biotech or biosynthetic device implanted. Which is just going to make getting back into the game that much harder.
Speaking of… I tore my eyes away from the old man in the mirror and looked down to the end of the bar to check out the Hood. He was gone. Great job, Corbin. Chalk up another miss for the home-team. I spun in my stool facing the dance floor of the seedy gin mill and began to scan the crowd for the Hood. Like most clubs and bars in New Venice the noise of heavy Jazztronica pumped through the speakers. The luc-lights on the walls pulsed in an array of colors to the beat. The dance floor was a mass of dizzying color coming from the glowing tattoos, hair, and floating ads. There was no way I was going to be able to see him in all the visual throw-up. Time to fix the situation.
With a quick burst of synapse in my brain, the fibrous kicked into play. The network of lines in my eyes shifted the color receptors in my eyes, filtering out the extraneous colors in the room, leaving only black, white, and red. It was the best I could do under the circumstances. Red was bursting in and out of my vision as the colors swirled in the room, but all I needed was to find that one consistent and moving object.
Toward the back corner of the bar I caught the glimpse of his red vest as he was making his way to the emergency exit. Good. I realigned my eyesight and began the foot chase; waving my stolen cred-card in the air for the check-out cameras to scan and pay for my drinks. Pushing through the crowd was harder than anticipated. I wanted to send some of these punks flying to get them out of my way, but couldn’t risk drawing more attention to myself. By the time I reached the emergency exit I knew I had already lost a lot of ground.
I burst out into the hot Louisiana night air, just in time to see him turn the right corner out of the alley way and down the footpath along the back of the buildings. I started pounding pavement, the heels of my dress shoes resounded against the walls of the tight corridor. As I cleared the corner, I looked right just in time to see a two-by-four come swinging at my head. As quick as thought, the fibrous attached to my nerves fired an electric pulse throughout my body. My reflexes were boosted into overdrive. Using my momentum and new found speed, I brought up my forearm and drove it through the wood. My arm was like a steel rod due to the fibrous and sent the two-by-four splintering across the ground; leaving a mangled half of wood in his hands.
If you’ve never seen someone tap into fibrous before, it can be a bit disturbing. You can hear the users muscles stretch and pull while the fibrous heats up, causing the cut-lines across the skin to glow a faint red. And believe me, it’s just as painful for the user as it may sound. I looked up to see the confusion plastered on his dumb goon face. Sure, he’s seen people use biotech to do some pretty superhuman stuff, but nothing is as visceral as fibrous.
Keeping the charge in my nerve lines going, I pushed off my right leg, pivoted on my left and tried to bring my right down on his clavicle like a forty pound sledgehammer; the glow of energy diffused through my pants leg grew bright. I had mistaken this guy for just another Hood. Seemed that he had gathered up some extra cash and bought himself an adrenal swell.
From the time it took my leg to go from where he should have been, to smashing six inches into concrete, he had cleared six feet running. I really hate the new tech. He was going to gain another twelve or thirteen by the time I could get my foot out of the new hole and be long gone before I could get up to speed. I couldn’t fail now. No one was going to hire a past his prime hit-man — at least not again — who was bested by a pushover Hood. I pushed back my back my suit jacket and withdrew my custom Carbine. It was an action I hadn’t performed in years, but came to me as natural as breathing. Like old friends, the fibrous in my palm snaked out to handshake with the hundreds of leads set into the grip.
My vision exploded in an array of tactical readouts that was overlaid on top the world. I could tell you in an instant how fast the wind was blowing, the slope of the ground, and even where he would be in the next second on his present course. As I swung the sights up a round was chambered and safety turned off.
For all the information though, I new something those readouts didn’t. I lifted my pistol and lined up the red dot display right between his neck and shoulder. With a gentle squeeze of the trigger the servos wound up. Oxygen surrounding the gun was drawn in and with a soft hiss and… Pop! the gas was expelled out the back of the gun as a massive charge was released, propelling the bullet forward. This all took but a moment before the goon’s shoulder and adrenal swell exploded in a shower of red and green. You see, while the newer technology is better it still needs a power source; a power source that can be shut off. And I took the hunch that he got his on the cheap from a street-bio-doc, who don’t tend to take the time to bury the swells very deep.
My mark hit the ground and slid another five feet, blood mixed with adrenaline fluid pumped out of the while I blew in his back. Gritting my teeth and with a sharp tug I freed my shoe-less foot from the pothole I created. I did that limp walk, the kind you get when only wearing one shoe, over to the bleeder; stiffness in my knees began to set in. He was trying to half get up and half crawl so I put another round through his knee. That’s when he started to scream.
Strike three Corbin.
I needed to shut him up fast. He had turned over to grip his left, so I fell down on him, driving my knee into his sternum to crush the air out of his lungs. With my right hand I dug my fingers into the muscles on the side of his neck like a vice. I brought my pistol to bear on his forehead, “This is what happens when you run from me,” I said through gritted teeth.
Yeah, I can be a bit vindictive.
He began to squirm beneath me. I said, “What do you think you’re trying to do, huh?” and with a firm squeeze I put more pressure on his neck; forcing his head back into the pavement with the barrel of my Carbine. I was getting too much enjoyment out of this. Had being locked up changed me that much. In my youth I would have just done the job. There shouldn’t be any joy in this. Taking another person’s life isn’t something I had ever taken lightly. I also used to always know why. But my latest employer wouldn’t give me any information, and I was hurting for cash. I don’t like being left out of the loop, and I guess I was taking it out on this kid.
All right Corbin, just put the kid out of his misery.
The Hood’s eyes had glazed over as I sat onto of him and I realized his squirming had started winding down. Shooting out his adrenal swell seemed like a good idea at the time, but then it hit me. All his adrenaline is routed through that system. Now that the swell was scattered all over that back street he wasn’t getting that extra boost. Without it he couldn’t fight off shock. I loosened up my grip and sat back while I watched the slow process of him bleeding out.
“What’s going on down there?”
I whipped my head up just as a spotlight flooded the street. The fibrous constricted my pupils to mere dots in an instant to compensate for the intrusion. Further up the street where it broke into a t-section, bordered by one of the many waterways that allowed boat traffic through the city, was a Red Lion patrolman. When New Venice was constructed, the corporations involved opted for a privatized security firm. That brought about the birth of the Red Lions. Like the cities name sake, they adopted some old world symbols and turned it into some crazy abstraction. The patrolman wore this ostentatious gold body armor over deep red BDUs. His helmet was styled after Roman foot-soldiers, except an opaque plasteel visor covered his eyes. His badge, inset into the best plate of his body armor, had a lion with wings and nine tails embossed on it. Its red lacquer shone against the gold.
Oh yeah, this was a good way to end the night.
I looked down at the Hood. His eyes were glass now, and the squirming had stopped completely. At least I can say I did the job. But for some reason the thought didn’t exactly thrill me.
The Red Lions boots crunched against the pavement as he started toward me, “I repeat, what is going on down there?”
I didn’t look up to see if he had drawn his weapon. Sending a surge of thought down into my legs, I felt the fibrous lines wind up tight causing my calves to compress like pistons. They must have sent out a major glow dancing across the damp ground, because I heard the beat cop pause in his tracks. Taking the moment of confusion, I released the welled up energy and shot at him like a cannonball. I ducked my head, tucked my Carbine to my chest, and put my right fist out.
With the residual energy from my legs, I shifted the power in mid flight up to my arm to reinforce it as it drove into his chest plate. The sound of crunching plasteel and ribs rang in my ears as the Red Lion and I shot out over the footpath and into the main waterway. We cam crashing down into a sport boat moored to the dock with the Red Lion’s back slamming into its roll bar. I ricocheted off of him, spinning in the air before I came splashing into the water.
There was a chance I overdid it.
Red Lions have these nifty devices that monitor their heart rates and other vitals. Once that goes screwy you’ve got about two minutes before a Rescue Crew is setting the area in a blaze of gun fire. They really don’t like it when one of their own goes down. And if their response times were anything like they used to be, I didn’t have long to stick around. I took a moment to get my bearings in the greenish-brown swamp water and holster my weapon. Finding the black void that was the sport boat, I turned to the opposite dock and kicked with what strength I had left and propelled myself toward it. My fingers gripped the edge of the concrete dock and I prepared to pull myself up. That is when my leg started to spasm. My hands slipped and I fell back into the water. It is a hard pain to describe and one I’ve dealt with for twenty years now. The best I have been able to come up with is that it feels like the muscles in my thigh are contracting furiously, while trying to play musical chairs with one another.
That’s the trade off with this old stuff. While the biotech guys have got an edge on the power, but like the Hood, it’s limited by normal biological science. So the Fibrous Leylines give me the small advantage of being nearly unlimited in use. Only for the low-low price of ripping my body up a bit more each time I use it. That seems fair, right?
I was sinking into the Mississippi fast and soon the fibrous in my left arm would start to super heat and I wouldn’t be able to hold my breath for much longer. I had to fight against the current and pain, with only my right side able to inch my upward. My lungs were about to rupture as I burst out of the water. Scrambling for air and flailing for the edge I went under again. The water around my left arm began to bubble as the lines began to heat up. I didn’t have much more time. If this didn’t kill me, the Rescue Crew would be here soon and find me an easy target.
I kicked again and surfaced once more. My fingers caught a hold of the edge. Unable to use my tech during these fits, I was left with only my natural strength to try and pull me up. With a final kick and pull I was able to flop onto the dock like a maimed seal. The cut-lines on my left arm made it appear as if molten lava was about to come pouring out as the fibrous that was laid underneath kept growing hotter. The sleeve of my jacket was beginning to singe and burn; I was getting worried that it may burst into flames at any time.
I had always had specially tailored clothes to discretely hold the medicine I needed for these occasions. I reached into the inside of the left breast of my jacket where five canisters were lined up. Each one was about four inches long and an inch in diameter. Laying on my back on the dock, my legs still in the water, I fumbled around and yanked one out. Gripping the cap between my teeth, I ripped it off to expose the needle and spat the cap into the water. With painful effort I sat up and slipped my left shoulder out of my jacket to get to the shunt I had had grafted into my deltoid. I slammed the needle into the shunt and gave a firm half twist to secure the canister in place. A wave of ice cold washed over me. Within moments the heating of my arm subsided, my spasms calmed, and all that was left was a residual tingling in my finger tips — another close call.
That was when I heard the sirens coming from the patrol boats as they made their way down the canal. They would be there at any moment. I pulled the canister from my arm and shoved it in my pocket as I scrambled onto the dock. Making a b-line for the concrete steps up to the footpath, I ascended them. My old knees screaming in protest with each step. When I reached the top, I could see the twirling lights bouncing off the buildings and water. Looking down the stairs and at the dock, I was dismayed at the large trail of water I was leaving. It was going to give them a perfect lead straight to me. But at this point, I didn’t have much choice. Turning to a side alley I began legging it. Here’s hoping they’re too worried about their own buddy to notice.
I fulfilled my end of the deal. One less Hood for the city to worry about. I just didn’t know why this one was so important to my client. And that didn’t sit well with me. I had taken plenty of lives during my life, but this was the first time I felt a twinge in my stomach. I guess this is what remorse feels like.
The thud-squish of my heel and water soaked sock echoed out into the street. Yeah, I’m the real McCoy.