by: Martin Rutley
It was late, Saturday night, when they brought me in. Strapped to a stretcher, disinfectant smeared into the corners of my eyes, the smell of petroleum in their greasy sideburns. Dressed in the green and gray of the company uniform, each of the six had joyously taken his turn at the head of the pack. They fired off their questions, one after the other, their voices all baby talk and laughter—Who cut your gooky fucking hair? How’s your pancreas feel about the pre-cancerous cells in your liver? Is that Benzo Fury in your bloodstream? Are you aware those idiots at the CIA can’t work so much as a soda machine? Did you know Andromeda’s fucking Ryan from data capture? What kind of schmuck reads Asimov with a hairbrush in his ass? This wasn’t a dissection of what it was made me tick—they didn’t give a shit about the ins and outs of a rodent like me—this was an institution at play, a muscle, uneasy at rest, flexing itself.
I was beaten into the early hours of the morning. A solid workout for the boys on night shift. Each put in his fair share, no slacking or slipping out for a quick cigarette in the reading room—these boys were keen. Of the six, Hunter’s blows landed hardest. He continued long after the others had had their fill. He ended with a particularly brutal strike to the base of the spine—The Hunter Ray Heel Kick, he’d christened it—a signature maneuver none of the others had attempted. Several of them had marveled at his movement—the fluidity of force from deltoid to extensor, the anatomical precision inherent in a curving knee strike to the hepatic duct of a functioning liver. Finally, I was stripped to the waist and given a near-lethal dose of Seventh Heaven, a well-known ventromedial manipulator and driver of grunt warfare since 2037.
“Side effect city,” someone yelled. “Hold on to your DNA.”
“Hold on to your cahoonas,” yelled another.
As he’d spoken, the electrons in the heavy elements of my body abandoned their orbits and I collapsed into a pre-biological soup of ionized hydrogen. I reemerged a nanosecond or so later and pulled on the trigger of a .45 jammed against the roof of my mouth.
“Bang,” yelled Hunter, and the others erupted into what my ex-wife would have described as spasms of ‘screw you’ laughter.
He knelt with uncanny grace and pressed his face into mine. “Makes you cry for Mommy, don’t it?” he whispered.
Later, the others filed silently from the room—not separately, but as one—hairless mandibles held high in the air.
Hunter must have been a hundred feet tall. Had he wanted, he could have ground me into the earth and joined the others for baked lobster fideo or whatever it was these people ate. He assured me he was a killer of some reputation. He’d risen through the ranks of the corporation due to a willingness to do what others wouldn’t. I gave him everything with a candor I hadn’t known I possessed—a complete schematic of my habits and tendencies, end of the world codes, exit points, atom hacks, bombs strapped to the underside of elephants in crowded malls at Christmas—children tugging at their leathery ears, time holes, reset procedures, insert generators—I betrayed everyone and everything dear to me.
Hunter applauded and folded into a smile that pulled at the lids of his eyes. “These elephants, Mr. Lewis, do they exist?”
“If I shut off the TV once in a while, they would.”
“Inserts,” I said. “Harvested from interstellar space and nano-engineered to resist all known modes of interrogation—terrestrial or otherwise. Exquisite animals.”
“Including the Abdominal Slap?”
“Yes, sir—in more than a thousand documented simulations.”
He crouched, scooped me into his hand, and raised me level with his enormous face. Were he to swallow me whole, I’d sit in his small intestine and drift into in a telepathic union.
A single, giant tear descended his cheek. “I want a million of those things.”
I stood and extended my arms perpendicularly in search of at least minimal balance. “I’ll need a quantum entangler, a hundred billion dollars, identity reconstruction, and five hundred thousand square feet of prime off-planet real estate.”
He pursed his lips and blew, rotating his wrist as he did so. I fell into his palm and grabbed at the base of his pinky finger. His hand upturned, I hung helplessly and waited for him to speak.
“Little man, we’re going to save your life,” he said.
He’d spoken carefully, rigidly—as though repeating words previously reordered and rehearsed in his mind. Perhaps the Seventh Heaven was talking, but there was compassion in those dark, cavernous eyes and I couldn’t wait to begin.
Martin Rutley lives in Manchester, UK. His short fiction has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Pedestal Magazine, Locus Novus, The Fortean Bureau, Vestal Review, and Raven Chronicles. He also makes films—some disturbing, some batshit crazy. You can stream Amnesiac on Amazon.
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