I don’t know who you are but this wasn’t meant for you. Right now its do or die for me.
I’m sorry it had to be you.
* * *
When everything starts, I have trouble following. Fake smiles. Strange faces. Neon lights inside and strange places I never know - whole dimensions of myself I can never show. There had always been a strangeness to every me I’ve never known.
Let me tell you the story of how we met.
Let me tell you the story of how I died.
Cracked heads burst black on the burning roof white. A sharp rush. Bitter. Tight quick capillaries could have just frozen, bursting like split pipes. But they didn’t.
The air fell fast, thick and fat. The balcony stood up into the sky amongst ivory giants as I descended. My head was deadlocked with the ground.
I think the last memorable thing was the look of horror on her face. Just parked, packing her trunk right there. She knew I was coming but for some reason she stood her ground. She didn’t budge. Between us, the world stood still.
And then I kissed the ground. Or atleast her backseat. I could really see that look on her face now as shock crept and locked and shut me down from the inside.
In that moment, her car-alarm sang to me.
Her face said to me she hadn’t quite finished paying for the car yet. Maybe that final payment was due.
Maybe it wasn’t. It was funny to me, though.
I couldn’t tell you why it was, it just was.
I tried to smile but nothing.
Beyond the dream, a city of interior lighting lights lined the cabinet walls of the chamber as a battery of jet-engines whispered, cooling constipated digital performance.
They lit a withered bay of bleach-noir checker-mess floor. He knew this from the wavy reflection along the glass ceiling. He stared back at his mirror image, a bodysuit of black rubber and tubes staring back. Silvery clamps bolted the dopple like a chip to a board. Hood ornament. The surface of the tank rippled above his head. Warm and endlessly safe. He felt like a feather. As the daze closed, slow breath from the respirator crawling to cruel stop as the slam from the drop caught up. As the cold peeled through his muscle like ice, he focused on the face-plate as he rose, reading the orange numbers and symbols in his vision… Red stopwatch blinking with a row of zeroes, the name of his dive-target: marked ‘Anonymous’ and a family of flatlines. He read further, deeper across his face-plate in the reflection. The letters were backwards, but they still made words.
The smooth steely streamlined chair made pneumatic chirp as it returned into its natural upright position, the whole assembly surfacing from the tank.
Then florescent lighting tubes reluctantly acted, blinding the carefully designed room. Florecent lighting has this nasty habit of highlighting every blemish in human history and was capable of making just about anything unattractive. An unfamiliarly familiar face with white hair and fragments of bearded grey was — no exception to the law of florescence — stared back from the depths of reality as the contents of the tank dribbled over the elevated seat. ID tag… “Hello my name is…”. “Glen Tarachow” it said in red, a violation of noir. “neuro/memetic forensics” spelled in tiny letters beneath. In the state of shock, their meaning was incomprehensible.
All semblance of power was leaving his body as stared back. Tubes turned dry. The thick bore of the barrel bit below his ribs, nested into his chest. The chair’s psychotic headrest finally fell silent as a stark electrical ringing phenomenon he would later be mis-informed was known as tinnitus screamed through his ears as he fell cold.
The mind has a funny way of deciding whether or not it is dead. If it thinks it is alive and it is able to think it is alive, then its obviously alive. If it either can’t think its alive or more importantly refuses to because it believes that it is dead then the mind will do terrible things to the body. Dying was of course part of the natural order for Edward Vigiletti.
“Recording… Systolic at twenty three forty four. Myocardial infarction. Three… Two… One…”
Glen pulled the trigger.
A thud bolted through Ed’s body. Rippled through his heart. Bolts and hooks in the suit decoupled from his throne, posture broken as his back arched wide.
Tinnitus now had rhythm. Warmth returned like hot broken glass in his veins. Stable pulse. Beep. Beep. Beep.
“Hey hey. Wakey wakey, eggs n’ bakey. You alright in there?” my name is Glen Tarachow said, tapping the side of his visor, distorting vision. Shaky hands drew the clasp of the respirator from his face-plate, lips naked drawing a slow smooth breath and then exhaling. There was a shivery of burning ice in his legs but he knew this routine well enough to dance.
“F-F-Fourteen over fourty. Stone in the rough.”
“Diamond” Glen smiled, the letters replacing ‘Anonymous’.
“Thought we lost you there. Welcome back to the living, Ed.”
“Sss…Specs? S-S..Shit its cold… You got a towel, man?”
My name is Glen held up a clipboard, chirping off details. Bars lining the wall growled into life, illuminating the room. Warmth radiated through him.
“Uhh… Female, Caucasian. Sixteen to twenty. No face, no optics, no dental, no chip, no nothing.”
If she had been pretty, her Polaroid didn’t show it.
What did you see in there?”
“When can I see the rest of it?”
“Well, the boys down at the lab are working on it and…”
“Spiked melatonin. Low seratonin levels… A cocktail of stuff we don’t formally recognise…”
“Huh… What else?”
“She’s obviously on ice. Obviously severe trauma to the frontal lobe. We’d… We’d probably be lucky if we got another sixty seconds out of her? In minimal gain mode? Most of the mainline connective fiber was severed during the initial shock. Braincase didn’t blink. She was packing australium.”
Glen handed Edward the towel.
Ed just stared. Nothing.
Glen sighed, a cheery frustration in his voice like a child with a toy. “Its expensive. Very hard. Means we can’t X-ray, MRI or GCCD so no shadowing. Bit of a kick in the tits of you ask me.”
Something inside Ed recoiled at those last words, as if something of his very own had been kicked. It clicked up his spine with spidery legs and swelled behind his eyes. Vergito pressure took him, slamming him down in the slanted seat. His hands begged at the arm-rests for stability.
Edward was not alone.
“Little dizzy” he said, hoisting himself to sit on the edge of the tank as the warm fluid drained away. Willpower is a beautiful thing. He felt strangely heavy, though.
“What have we got so far?”
“Ah… We’re still trying to get A-10 and D-22 to bare. The nerves, not the band. As soon as we do, can plug but… We’re frying drills trying to make an incision in her skull. I think we have to admit our limitations here: This kind of thing isn’t usually our style so we’re gonna have to get private in to work on her.”
“Seriously? How’d you get this then?”
“Passive backloop from the optic nerve. Old trick I learned with the 43’rd precinct before they dumped me here out of kindness, probably before you were a whisper in your daddy’s balls.”
“Funny. Why didn’t you retire?”
“Why didn’t you?”
“If you can distil anything, we do need a composite. Ray’s new but I think you’ll…”
Edward lurched. His eyes were glassy as he thought about the drills. About the skulls on the roof, splitting and imploding like broken marbles.
Recursive: He had trouble following it at first. He recalled being skewered on impact — belly imploding into a netless gush of hot rotting fish. He stared back at the thick metal rod through his belly and scented the air. Burning copper. Rotting milk. Lumpy red heaps of rope draped wet across the patchwork floor. His hands cradled, trying so hard to pull it back into himself and yet they didn’t move. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t even look away.
The way it pulsated, oozing golden bubbling grime that ate into the tiles, thick amber steam with stenches that sent an overpowering sweetness, crawling over the back of his tongue with a tingle in his teeth and a crushing bitter flow.
Finally he caught the sight of Ed heaving.
And then pink rice pudding. All over the floor. Perhaps not his finest moment.
Glen just watched.
“Why didn’t you install the bag? Even airli-” he froze, fighting the urge to wretch. Too late. Thankfully round two made it into the bowl.
“Now that ain’t pretty. Was she a jumper?”
Ed turned about with little feeling in his words, in much the same way a dog in the bath, water revealing the frail skinny thing beneath the fluff with big dark eyes, last ounce of dignity pulled. But then something quizzical.
“Don’t bullshit me. Was she or wasn’t she?”
“I said don’t bullshit me. Christ, I thought we were over this. You’re acrophobic. You hate heights. You have since you were seven. It was a jumper. End of story.”
“Tell the whole fucking world why don’t you!” Ed screeched in attempted whisper.
“Oh, the department knows.”
“They also know it won’t impede your work.”
“Man, they can shitcan me for this. Fuck, what am I doing to do?”
“Relax, its fine.”
“They’ll worry I’ll leak so they’ll lobo or scrub me.”
“We don’t do that anymore. We haven’t in -”
Neither said a word.
“…Ed, how long have you been with us now?”
“Eighteen months” Eddie spat bitterly.
“Christ all mighty, not again…”
“Do not move an inch”
Glen tapped at his headset. Ed could just make out the dialtones clearing their throat before Glen began speaking, his voice wet with inflection and calm. It was almost soothing.
“Don’t worry, Ed. Everything will be fine. Hi, this is Section 3, downtown? Yes. Yes, I’ll hold.”
“Everything IS fine. This is nothing a day or two in the tank under defrag then… And a night or two at the duke at the duke with the guys won’t fix.”
Ed stared blankly at Glen.
“What are you doing?”
“Yeah, hi. We’ve a problem with a diver in C-block? Vigiletti, Edward. Yeah. Yes. It might be a buffer-overrun, I reckon? Potential white-wash. Yes, could you put me through to Rectification? Thanks.”
“I don’t need a rectifier.”
Glen smiled, exactly as his training told him to.
“Relax man, its alright, just-”
Ed threw his bowl with a sharp shock. Its contents marked the ceiling in pretty pastel pink as it clipped the floor in spin.
“No. No shrinks, no scrubs, no fucking rectifier, no nothing.”
Glen withheld laughter. “Edward, if you have an episode and I don’t report the potential, we both get scrubbed. And after that, you’ll go to the clink. Prison. Do you know what will happen to little you, looking like that?”
The bowl spun to a halt as he gazed up at the queasy pastel clouds over the glass sheen ceiling. And then slightly past them, getting a real look at himself. The visor and suit covered almost all of his body completely.
Carefully, he began peeling back the layers. His fingers worked at the base of his neck, solenoid clamps in the face-plate extending like the eyes of a snail, unbolting the head-piece from the suit. He wasn’t familiar with the make or model but some things were just universal enough.
He peeled the hood back and felt something strange beneath his hands.
Edward’s vacuum gloved hands prodded at his cheekbones. No facial hair. Brilliant green eyes gazed back at him, almost longingly as if pre-programmed to do so, piercing the clouds like stars. Was androgynous the word?
In the right circumstance, he could pass as a woman or even a teenager, without the grease. This was not his face. In fact it wasn’t his anything. That gaze strayed lower. Narrow undeveloped shoulders wrapped in silvery jet black plastic. Long legs toned. He ran his hands through short golden hair. It was short, but…
“I have hair?”
“Yes, Edward. You have hair.”
He just seemed to marvel with Disney level awe.
The heaters went dead, the warm glow they command fading into a dirty heat. The suit retained the heat though, growing claustrophobic as the vacuum seal to his skin was broken. It was no longer a second skin. The scent of sweat and foreign pheromones made him dizzy.
Edward rose out of the seat, rubber wrapped legs caked in tank fluid and pink vomit against the shiny black. He made his way across the platform, shimmying down the steps to the door.
As Glenn watched, something about the dripping pink and the tank of rich orange fluid reminded Glenn of Hawaii
There was a long hard silence between the two of them as they stared eachother down. Glen thought he could smell maternal blood from the tank something bitterly sweet and forbidden from Edward that confused him. Both still getting used to the change.
“You remember Thally?”
Glen grimaced. Not a word back.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. “ he said as his feet chattered across the catwalk and down the rail-kissed steps to the floor. “
Report it but no scrub, got it?”
“Fine but if you have an episode, its no hair off my balls once I’ve reported it – or yours. Just to make things clear, I am not going to the funeral.”
As the door closed behind Ed, Glen stared at the bowl. An unsightly custard skin had dried across the surface of its pink contents. There was a deep lumbering sigh as the old goat of a man thought about it. He sat in the moment, lit only by his console as the luminescence grew tired. He caught a glance at a photograph of the department. Somewhere between the men of the force, a grizzled round old man stood with a reassuringly confident grin and those piercing green eyes in something resembling a brown space-suit spewing white tubes. Something about him was fatherly to Glen who stood a little to the left in the photo in a gaudy Hawaiian shirt, thirty years younger, still at the point where he was still trying to make theories about how people worked. Back then, he could sacrifice countless tonnes of fast-food to his metabolism and operate with almost zero sleep and his libido still stormed along. Withdrawing his glasses, doughy fists rubbed at his scruffy goat of a mug as he took a heaving coffee stained sigh.
“Yeah, I remember Rosenthal. Happy new year, Ed.”
* * *
Before that, I remember a roof-top. A man in a dark red coat, arm forward at me. You were there, behind him. No colour, only the red of his coat. I know my heart was pounding. Heat struck me tight in the chest. Then balance… Then falling…
Edward came about with a sharp shock, his heart pounding. Any light was too bright. His bicep pillowed his head and his vision loomed out at his arm - fingers unfurling to flex a million miles away. Feet pitter-pattered to the fridge, door opening and light cast. He hissed at the stabbing cold on his naked front and took a bottle of milk. The alarm had been ringing for about a minute now and the sound was especially obnoxious tonight. For a moment, he eyed the mirror, tugging bitterly at the seamless ring of metal about his neck with no obvious method of removal. Displayed in the glass was his face, little number and in the corner, a tiny print of a phone. He noted the clock blinkered 12:00: the singing voice of attention was not an alarm.
As his eyes finally came into focus, he saw a familiar name and tapped the green lozenge beneath the name.
“Wake up you slovenly git” the mirror spoke.
”Fuck, I can hear how ugly you are. Don’t you sleep?”
The voice wasn’t familiar but as his eyes came into focus he recognised the name…
Voice only: [Commissioner] James Bukhar.
A tightness swelled in his throat as he realised the weight of his words, an uncharacteristic sound in his throat.
“G’Morning sunshine-boy. You still sore over the party?”
“You’re funny Eddie but cut the crap. Case filed under diamond had a diary. Hard copy. You remember those?”
“A real collector’s item” Ed said, eyeing a copy of War and Peace on his mantle. He ran his finger along the top, feeling the layers of pages making the labia of the book, nested with a thin carpet of dust. He couldn’t remember the last time he read it.
“We’re trying to transcribe it and forensics is going over it. We’re having trouble understanding it. You have a background in semantics, right?”
“Word psychology, yeah. Yeah, yeah. … Yeah, why?”
“Looks like you wrote it.”
Ed stared at his left hand for a moment. His writing hand.
“You want to be showing that to a shrink, not a guy with a hardon for bad diatribes at five in the fucking morning. Let me enjoy my goddamn hangover in peace, alright?”
“Hey man, its your head, not mine.”
Ed could hear him smirking through the mouthpiece.
“We’ve been ordered by section 7 over in central to handover the body and all related materials. We get another 72 hours with her. You understand what I mean by ‘all related materials’, right?”
Edward’s blood froze. The sealed collar suddenly felt heavy. He ran his dusted finger over the exterior, feeling the serial number.
“Fuck off, like hell they will.”
“Everything has to be deniable. Your face doesn’t match your profile so I think we can manage something. How is it?”
Short sharp breaths were the order of the night. He held a carton of milk in his other hand, scrutinising the expiry date.
“The freak show? Ran for the first time in years.”
“Not bad then.”
“So when did I get this done? And how am I paying for it?” He took a mouthful of milk.
“White wash… Glen wasn’t kidding. Well, I’ll bring you up to speed. About a year ago, you trashed your body in some sting. Eyeing your second will, they saw you wanted this model as your next body.. You make a typo on the model number? Seeing it, the guys in human resources think you’re moonlighting as a milk-boy. You fucking look the part.”
Edward inhaled and something stung his senses. Vomit was still fresh in his sinuses. He couldn’t taste a thing. He took another gulp of the milk and began to eye the carton.
“What, like delivery?”
“Sort of. A milk boy.” He began, quoting the company line: “Engineered to perfection… No body hair, a few new glands and…”
“You really don’t… Alright. You know those photos you see over in central, plastered inside the booths? The really pretty ones with the phone-numbers?”
“Yeah… Oh.” Edward coughed as his belly wretched. He put it down to the work.
“Yeah…” he said, tongue napping as the off-milk stung more than just his palette. “I thought those were…”
“Huh… And I’m…” he said, eyeing the mirror. He could see the potential staring him back. His eyes narrowed. Looking down, he realised his hips were much much wider than he remembered. Almost wider than his shoulders. He twisted his waist, peering over his shoulder and then down at himself from behind. The tip of his tongue peeked out from the corner of his mouth as he convinced himself he was in deep thought. His teeth squeezed. Something in his heart felt like Christmas. His eyes caught the red letters, the date on the carton.
Icy cold white sprayed over his feet.
“Rentboy?!” he screeched.
“Two for two. Incubus model. Half the department thinks you’re losing it.The other half think you should grow your hair out and go as a play-boy bunny to the —”
“Jesus” he coughed, wiping his mouth with his wrist. “Jesus… Jesus fucking Christ! How the fuck am I paying for this!?”
“Well” the commissioner smirked. “Health insurance don’t cover skinjobs. You know that. Neither does your slip. Maybe you really are moonlighting.”
Edward almost choked. Maybe he was.
“Let’s deal with the matter at hand. You got visitors at oh-nine hundred tomorrow. They’re not into theatricals so sit tight and don’t leave your apartment. Don’t worry, they’ll fix everything.”
A moment of silence.
“Absoloutely. Until everything’s all sorted out, you best stay off your feet. And stay off the streets.”
“You owe me, Eddie When its my turn to collect, you’d better not fuck around.”
Something about the tone in the comissioner’s throat made Edward feel very small, stomach knotting tightly. Click. The call duration and a portrait of the last caller, the comissioner filled the mirror. The face was familiar but not the name. Big man. Strong jaw, dark hair and a broken slither of a smile to one side of his lips. Good poker face.
The portrait’s blue eyes followed Edward about the room as he motioned toward the bed. Edward shivered, the milk drying like ice down his hairless legs. He took one last look at the mirror and then onto his fridge. He stared at the collage of polaroids and sharpie scribbled numbers. Unable to recognise most of the faces and names on his contact list, he frowned at a loss.