Author: Shon-Lueiss Harris
What was a dank alleyway disappeared. Gone, cut straight to black. The pungent stench of urine the only sign Michael hadn’t died suddenly. That and the hands grasping him, both forcing him to follow.
At some point, Michael dropped his coffee. Spilled into the ever-present pool of piss, blood and whatever else accumulated in the alleys. He wasn’t fully awake yet. Failed to pay attention, to count his steps or note the direction of each turn. Not a great first impression.
“Have a seat,” someone offered. A man. Oddly polite for having bagged him just moments ago.
Michael found the chair with his foot then sat down. Surprised they provided a cushioned seat, less so at them binding his arms and legs.
“Bright light.” They pulled the bag off his head. “Know why you’re here?”
“Guessing I picked the wrong horse.”
Somebody in the back laughed. He couldn’t see them through the tears and those awful lights. Another sound silenced them. That cheery pop of acrylic heels on cement. Then pigeons squawking and a voice like whiskey, “Fuck the horses. It’s your next pick that matters.”
There went the guy in the back again, laughing. At least somebody was having a good time.
“Might do better if you told me what the hell’s going on,” Michael snapped.
“Stop playing dumb. We can talk here.”
Michael blinked away the tears to find a pale blur of a woman with light red hair. “Is it really you?”
“We got your message.” Red ashed the cigarette pinched between her index finger and thumb. Blew smoke into his face. Light and fragrant like lavender and clove.
“Thought I made a mistake reaching out. Lot of interceptors in the city, ” Michael admitted, eyes flicking around the room.
Red smiled. Big and forced, only until he smiled back. “We have different problems here. Is that why you left Seattle?”
“And what was your other reason?” Red pressed. Eyes narrowed, waiting.
Michael looked away. “I worked for the Department.” His arms and legs squirmed in the chair. “ My wife was one of you. Protesting against us. Didn’t know until she was killed.”
“You couldn’t stay after that,” she sighed. Michael thought he saw a glimmer of sympathy. “So you had a change of heart and chose to defect. You want to continue where she left off. Is that right?”
Laughing again, the same guy. Michael’s expression twisted. “What’s so fucking funny?”
“How did you reach out to us?” Red asked, ignoring the outburst.
Michael’s eyes began to twitch.
Hands raised in surrender, Steve controlled his laughter. “It’s not my fault the Department replaced me with a shitty writer. That background belongs in a soap.”
Red scowled at Steve before turning back to Michael. The twitching escalated. Every muscle near the center of his face tensed. Dark lines formed in the shape of an X. Along the bridge of his nose, the skin peeled off the smooth plastic and metal face underneath. Red stamped out her cigarette and calmly drew a taser.
Her lips curled into a sad smile. “If it’s any consolation, your wife wasn’t real. You aren’t either.”
Michael felt confused, then the shock. His arms and legs shook horribly as the electricity rushed through him. Then he was gone, cut to black.
“Steve, reprogram it and see what you can do about the face. Be quick. I want our new friend here back at the Department before they start to wonder.”
Oh, that’s tasty. Well done.