Author : Todd Keisling, featured writer

It’s the smell that gets to me. Agent Lennox ducks his head out from the kitchen just in time to watch me vomit into the hall.

“You okay, Church?”

“Yeah,” I tell him. “Just peachy-keen.”

The smell is that of burning meat Inside the kitchen are the remains of tenant #62 Jim Hollerbach. That horrid smell is from his insides coiled and plopped into a frying pan.

I check my sensory inhibitor, thumb it to olfactory and I’m good to go.

Agent Lennox’s phone rings. He taps the earpiece.

“Lennox,” he answers. “You’re shitting me. I’ll send Church over in a minute.”

He taps the earpiece again to disconnect and motions to me.

“The perp lives down the hall. Tenant #41. Guy jacked his line and set it on a loop.”

“He looped?”

The inhibitor gives me a metallic taste in my mouth.

“Yeah,” Lennox says. “Blind analog feed. Should be down the hall to your right. Go check it out. I’ll catch up in a minute.”

I give the remains of Mr. Hollerbach a passing glance before I leave the room. My stomach twists, but nothing creeps up my esophagus.

The Government requires inhibitors for situations like this. Dulling the senses is required to perform an Agent’s duties—or so they tell us in training. It sure beats the hell out of puking.

The serotonin, they tell us, is to enhance community morale.

Agents like myself and Lennox aren’t required to take the supplements. The inhibitors do it for us.

Walking down the hallway, it hits me. Analog. That’s not a word you hear very much these days. The SmartCams are wired to an all-digital encrypted network, and knowing how to bypass that encryption with old technology would require extensive old-world knowledge.

Printed literature took a backseat after the invention of Channel Zero. Rather than face scrutiny and ridicule during such a turbulent time, the Government chose to reinforce a blind eye toward printed material, instead pumping all its resources into the necessity of the single channel. It made more sense to divert the public’s attention rather than force them to give up reading.

It worked, too. People stopped reading. They stopped caring. Books were no longer a danger because no one gave a damn anyway.

Tenant #41—tonight’s murderer—isn’t home, but he left behind the blueprints for his own design.

I step past the forensics team, tug on a pair of gloves and thumb through the first book I see. Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.

Every wall in the apartment is outfitted with makeshift shelving. Books—at least a thousand—decorate the room. It’s an antiquarian’s dream collection.

“Lennox,” I say, and tap my earpiece.

He answers, and I tell him to conduct a search on all the local antique shops. When he asks why, I tell him.

“Because it looks like our perp is a reader.”

“Oh shit.”

I disconnect and put down the book.

The Government thought they could sweep this under the rug. That if people stopped caring about books, there would be no reason to take away that particular “freedom,” and no cause for alarm or rebellion.

Staring at the home of this murderous reader, I realize the Government has made a gross miscalculation.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows