Don't shoot the messenger

A short thriller

image/svg+xml Openclipart Simple Horizontal Rule 1 2012-10-13T19:58:51 Simple horizontal rule designed to be used in a programme/ending of a chapter. Based on one seen in an out of copyright book called "The universe: or, The infinitely great and the infinitely small". https://openclipart.org/detail/172738/simple-horizontal-rule-1-by-nasfarley88-172738 nasfarley88 decoration horizontal rule

People who claim that Tokyo is a cool place haven’t actually had to run from a dozen rabid dogs in the middle of the night. My job brings with it the privilege of the rabid dog chase every other month or so. Become a spy, they said. You’ll get cool guns and stuff, they said. Well, I’m getting something else too: pissed off.

As I step off the monorail and make my way up the city junction, I take a moment to appreciate the billboard-dense sky of the most retro metropolis to exist after the Great Space War. Loud red and blue neon lights flash everywhere, a digital rain that bounces from one skyline to another. It’s the year 2071, and everything has changed. AI, the existence of aliens, the whole nine yards. No one has bent space and time yet, so that’s cool. At least my trenchcoat is still in vogue. I stride along the herd of other dark entities, hidden in the shadows cast by kilometers of bright lighting strips that lit the city up. Downtown is packed and sweaty, and some deep techno music is playing somewhere out there, nicely muffled by the silent humming of the city’s dank underbelly. I feel weary, and my legs feel like they’re made of lead. I stumble, and right before my vision blurs, a dingy convenience store looms up in my vision. Tightening my trenchcoat and making sure my gun’s still in the holster, I trudge through the last couple of meters and push my way into the public restroom. “Ah, fuck…” I say, to the extremely crusty-looking man in the mirror.

My handler has been missing for a couple days. I haven’t showered for roughly the same amount of time. Dave…

As the cold, suspiciously slimy water washes over my face, I run over the events that had take place in the past 48 hours. Dave had gone missing very randomly, and although he was a prick, he wasn’t irresponsible. The middle-aged man had been my mentor for several months after I was approved for field service. It began to rain outside, more or less at the same time that my phone rang. I jump, startled by the sudden vibration next to my hip. Why am I so jittery?

“Letterman?” a raspy voice hisses at me through the phone. “Charlie, is that you?”

“Holy shit, Dave?” I stumble toward the exit. “Where are yo-”

“Listen, Charlie, you stupid idiot. Don’t believe them, yeah? It’s not what you think. Get to safety asap. Don’t worry about m-” Thwack! A very wet-sounding thud echoes in the background, and he hangs up. My real name is not Charlie Letterman. I may be a loser, but I’m not the CEO of losers. I’ve always wondered what Dave’s real name was; he always seemed to me like a real Dave.

Before I can properly react to this strange call, however, the door of the restroom is thrown open and a woman dressed in full black camouflage enters, knee first. I am a very averagely built man. My face was declared the fifth most-forgettable face in college. But for someone with a beergut and a balding head, I am an agile dude. As the woman’s knee swooshes toward my abdomen, I shove an elbow into her thigh, even as my phone makes its way into one of the folds of my trench coat. Nifty piece of apparel, let me tell ya. The woman is thrown back. I reach for the darkness outside the door. I have to find Dave.

The woman reaches into her blouse and produces a blade. It clinks open in the dim hallway. How is that even comfortable? Doesn’t it poke into your flesh? I think, and kick at her left knee with all my might. There’s a satisfying crunch, and the knee bends the other way. The woman shrieks, and I shut her up with an elbow to her temple. It’s not personal. It never is. That’s the beauty of spycraft. We’re like thieves, but with honor.

I run through the night, squelching through the station’s parking lot, over a few backyards, into a gaming arcade that’s supposed to be “in ruins” but it really is a front for a safehouse. Several years as a logistics expert, half a year into field service but I’m never not surprised by the ingenuity of spies. The arcade is dusty and smells like scorched ciruit boards. More LED lighting everywhere. I make my way through the tarp-covered pinball machines and TRON consoles and space shooter VR rigs, all the way into the back office.

My phone screen lights up for a moment, and the LED blinks orange a couple times. I have a new unread email. Who the fuck’s sending me emails right now?

n8: don’t enter

That’s all the body of the email says. Strange. I put the phone away; there will be time to look at that stuff later.

There’s a moldy-looking keypad next to the door. I put my eye in front of it. A silent whirring signals that the futuristic mechanism of the retina scanner is doing its job. Click. The door opens.

Me and Dave? We’re part of a private outfit. We don’t work for the government, not exactly, no. We work for parts of the government - or a faction of a huge corporation - that wants to do dirty work but can’t be bothered to wash hands. So we do the work for them. All the governments in the world have such outfits waiting in the wings. Plus, since we’re on contract, the plausible deniability clause is the government’s best friend. Someone invented a pocket raygun? We go in and clean it up so the government can “repurpose the inventions for the protection and benefit of its people”. Think black-ops, but older-looking people who can blend in. That was Dave.

Dave, who’s currently sitting in the couch at the arcade’s back office, his face mangled and his arms broken. “Dave?” I rush to see if he was okay, but-

“Ah ah ah,” a voice whispers from the darkness. Shit.

It’s Jet Yamada, the guy I was supposed to “rehabilitate”.

TWO HOURS AGO

Yamada is a scientist of some or the other sort. Supposedly he invented a hopper, a device that allows you to communicate with people in parallel dimensions. Sure, sure, it’s all supposed to be fancy and what not, but as a professional, I’m least concerned with the device itself. My job is to secure all personnel and ‘equipment’ that may be instrumental to the growth of our private espionage outfit.

I’m at his office, where I was supposed to meet Dave, once again, who has been AWOL for god knows how long. Yamada has ties to the neo-Yakuza, who have ties to some other shady people, who regularly kill people for a living. The neo-Yakuza stopped getting involved in local skirmishes a long time ago. His office is a very posh space, designed by a blind woman he recruited from the mountains. Bunch of nice artwork too, very hip. Anyway, Dave and I were supposed to pick the device up from Yamada, and let him know that his invention would be used for bigger solutions for bigger problems in the bigger picture. I was allowed a limit of sixteen million credits to help convince him. Dave’s like the best negotiator I’ve ever seen. He could convince inventors to join a cult or something, from what I’d seen of him in the field.

But Dave isn’t here right now.

NOW

I don’t exactly remember what went wrong at Yamada’s office, but I remember that he was very, very angry. And he’s very, very angry even now, two hours after I had managed to give him the slip. It’s safe to assume that the woman who had attacked me at the convenience store worked for Yamada. Rich guy, very cool.

The hopper looks like a little flip phone, but the hinge is cosmetic. So it’s a flip phone that doesn’t flip. It has a nice little sturdy-looking antenna thingy on one end. Yamada was holding the hopper when he walked into the light, but it’s in his pocket, safe from me and Dave now. Dave…

Yamada motions with his gun. I take a seat opposite Dave, in the recliner across the coffee table from the couch. Dave is slumped, his face is bloodied and there are pieces of flesh and muscle sticking out from his cheeks and jaw. Someone has done quite a number on him. Maybe it was the woman?

“Charlie,” says Yamada, his voice smooth. Like I said, Japanese hip. Very cool. “Let’s see the gun.”

“Yamada,” I say back. I take the gun carefully out from my trenchcoat and place it on the table. Dave isn’t moving.

“You really thought you could take my life’s work from me, for what, sixteen mil?” Yamada laughs.

“Haha,” I say politely, and jump at him.

The thing about good guys, villains, and anti-heroes is that there’s a lot of talking involved in a situation like this. Say, for example, that Yamada would have gone on rambling about his invention, and how it implied a paradigm shift in the several interpretations of the string theory, and that the time-slice hypothesis may need to be revamped from the ground up. But it doesn’t matter to me, because I am just a guy trying to do my job. I do not care for this madman’s plans. While Yamada is half-turned with his own gun pointed slightly away from me, I grab my gun and point it at Yamada, swiftly reaching for the device with my other hand. For all his hipness, Yamada is pretty fast, he turns and squeezes the trigger. It’s a gun similar to mine: it doesn’t shoot bullets, it shoots compressed packets of energy. The shot hits me square in the lower chest, and I barely manage to shoot my own shot. Ping!

Yamada takes the hit in his face, point blank. Let me take a short moment to explain how these energy packets work. From the point of impact, they explode outward, into the victim’s body. Yamada’s face implodes and his gun drops out of his hand. My chest isn’t faring much better; there’s a gaping hole in my core.

I feel my consciousness slipping. Surely there has to be a way to avoid this outcome, you know? With the blood leaving my body fast, I have to struggle to grab the hopper from Yamada’s pocket. My fingers are pale and feel like dandelions, light and fluffy and almost gone…

For an interdimensional device, the hopper is a strange appliance. I type out an email message to the only person I trust, with my real name in the message so I know it’s me. I spend the last ounce of energy I have left to hit send, and then I let go, taking solace in the fact that I’ll definitely get the message in time. As my eyes close for what seems like the last time, I let my mind take control from the lizard brain. The message should reach me before I enter the office, and I won’t enter, and I’ll manage to save Dave, and everything will be fine…

Writing prompt by @gabbywhy

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