Interception Chapter 2

Saz sat on the shredded couch, a cup of herbal tea with a splash of laze mixed in to calm his mind and help with the unwinding. “The more stress you put on the connections, the longer it takes.” The witch told him.

The witch, Minerva, sat next to her console and told him everything she knew about him. She told him that he had contacted her earlier that week for an interception, she admitted to him that she had lied about being capable of intercepting him, she had done plenty of interception before, but never for a human. In hindsight, she wished she hadn’t agreed to their deal. Human interceptions were not unheard of, in fact they were theoretically feasible and were one of the primary ways people were abducted and held for ransom, or worse, sold into slave labor. Various systems had been put into place to prevent such a thing, but even then crafty hackers could still reroute a human mid sprint. Human interceptions typically left the victim dazed and confused for hours, sometimes days, as their mind unwound. There were tales of people being intercepted and sold into slavery, who didn’t know any better, obeying commands as if they were always a mindless drone, until months later when everything flooded back to them and they realized everything they knew had been taken from them.

Since her sprinter was outfitted only for inanimate objects, and not living beings, she had told him to sprint naked, just to be safe, and if he had any augments to have them removed. Saz was not augmented, as far as he remembered. It would require two trips, one for him and the other for the goods. When he arrived she had left the room to give him “some decency” while he changed and adapted to his new surroundings. Probably not the best idea for somebody suffering from temporary amnesia.

“Made a few modifications to help with the unwinding,” she said. “Been a while since I’ve worked on a sprinter though. Hopefully I didn’t fuck it up. You’re welcome to stay until you fully unwind. But, “she stuck out a finger, “on the condition that you stay within this room. When you’re ready to leave I’ll have you blindfolded. Can’t have you knowing where I am. We’re in a similar line of work, I hope you understand.”

Saz nodded and sipped his tea.

He held out his hands, he recognized them easily. From their olive undertones, to the pale scare tissue wrapped around his right wrists like a fleshy bracelet. His left arm was spotted with lighter scare tissue, small and irregular, like a pale leopard.

He placed his right hand on his hair, well head. There wasn’t much up there. A short buzz cut, no longer than the thickness of his fingers. He wondered what color his hair was. Brown maybe?

“I got to make a quick call,” Minerva said. “You promise you won’t strangle me again?”

“Promise,” Saz said.

She left the room, leaving Saz alone with his thoughts.

Like dancers moving across a dance floor while the lights strobe about them, memories appeared and disappeared, as soon as he’d remember something it would be gone, only an after image remained in their place. He’d see a clear image of a gun, held by gristle harry hands. Only hands though, the rest of the body faded into a dark hulking silhouette.

There was a woman with neon pink hair fully illuminated standing in an alley flashing neon signs hung above her, and then she was gone. Then another woman with neon blue hair, her face a dull blue, like glowworms in a dark cave. On her shoulder sat a glowing red five pointed star. Each time she flashed into existence, her hair was different. Her face, a void, but in each iteration she bore the same glowing red star on her shoulder.

He remembered his line of work, or at least of them. He been a runner. He ran chems and other contraband substances from point A to point B, then return back with the cash. He had come to Case City for the big bucks, it was the only city that still printed its own physical currency, making a paradise for libertarians and outlaws alike.

The hatched door swung open, Saz looked over. Minerva shut the door behind her.

“I hope you’re happy,” she said, “I canceled the date.”

“Aren’t you a little old to be dating?” Saz asked. “Don’t you have grand kids or something?”

“Hun,” she said, “you’re never too old to have a little fun.” She still wore the black dress, the drops of light still trickling down the fabric. “Oh, and that’s thirty six strands you made me tear. A hundred and eighty extra bucks coming out of your bill.”

“Fine,” Saz sighed. So what’s your story?” Saz asked.

“I intercept, I get paid, I make a living. Nothing else too it,” she said.

“Did you make that yourself?” He pointed towards the sprinter in the middle of the room.

“What makes you think so?”

“Sprinters aren’t supposed to look like that. Looks like you Frankensteined your own.”

“I’m not going to have the kid with a wound up head tell me what a sprinter should or shouldn’t look like. Pfft,” she spun on her chair. “You get back to your business, and I’ll get back to mine.”

She turned around and began working on the console again. Case watched the sprinter, he knew what they were supposed to look like. That was burned deep into his minds eye. They were supposed to be larger than this, have holoscreens and dials for picking your route, and have a protective shielding. This one was barebone, just a stainless steel coffin, no protective glass or anything. It was either cheap old crap or counterfeit. He knew more about sprinters than himself at this point. In one sense it was relieving to know so much about one thing when he knew nothing else at all, but in another sense he was frustrated that he only knew so much about one thing.

The sprinter began to purr, the purple plasma drifted across the invisible barrier between the room and whatever hocus pocus wonderland lied in the chasms between sprinters. He envisioned a three dimensional roadmap, with highways, feeder streets, main arteries, all the way down to the rustic dirt roads. Each road terminating at a different sprinter, allowing who (or what) ever entered to be whisked away faster than the speed of light from one place to another. He saw the network with clarity, The Case City Network, the CCN.

He watched the specs of light dance across the plasma membrane. The plasma functioned like a break, slowing down the matter passing through the CCN. A sprinter warped only a few packets of matter at a time, in order to not clog up the routes. Whenever a packet hit the plasma would light up like a firefly in the night sky. After the packet of matter had been sufficiently slowed down the sprinter itself would begin organizing said material in accordance to the blueprints it had received from the sender side. The machine would then begin piecing together the packets using a mix of nanomachines and other high tech wizardry he either didn’t know or couldn’t remember. You were effectively dead the moment you began sprinting, only to be miraculously brought to life in another within a few minutes of entering one. Because of this, sprinters had earned various nicknames: coffins, caskets, death booths, Lazarus chambers, and so on.

In theory the material was the same between both ends, but sometimes a packet would be lost or mixed up, most of the time it was benign, other times people would emerge with missing organs, or limbs they had not entered the sprinter with. The cases were few and far between, and mostly happened with counterfeit sprinters. Saz looked at his hands, they looked right to him, seamless and the right proportions.

The sprinter’s plasma barrier retreated back into its hiding spot, like the ocean retreating from the shoreline during a low tide. In the middle of the metallic coffin sat a black box with a white cross atop it. Case stood up and looked at it curiously.

“Hey, hey,” Minerva said, “don’t touch that.” She stood up from her console and walked to the sprinter.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said. “What is it?”

“Medicine,” she said. She sat herself down on the side of the sprinter and retrieved the box. She opened it and produced a small flask. “I’m sure they won’t mind being one vile short.” She sat the box back down in the center of the sprinter and turned to Saz. “Take this,” she held the vile towards Saz. He took it and sat back down on the couch.

“What is it?” He held the vial up to his eyes and inspected the label. ‘REMEMBRANCE’ it said in bold letters, beneath it in smaller text, ‘Case Co Biolabs.’

“Supposed to help with the unwinding,” she said. “You’re lucky that was my first interception tonight.”

“How do I take it?”

“Open it,” she mimed a twisting motion with her hands, “and bottoms up.”

Saz twisted the top off and peered into the vial. A green liquid sat within the container’s walls. He tossed his head back and downed the medicine. It tasted of oil and rotten fruit. He gagged.

“Taste like shit, but works like a charm,” she smiled. “No, don’t spit it out.”

Saz’s gag reflexes overloaded his throat. His throat closed up and his diaphragm began convulsing, he coughed the green liquid up. Some of the green serum spilled on the couch. Minerva rushed over and snatched the vial from his hands.

“No, no, no,” she said, “you are not wasting this. Did you swallow any?”

“A little bit, bleh,” Saz stuck out his tongue, “I think.”

She sighed and screwed the cap back on. “Half left,” she said, “we’ll give it another shot after your stomach settles.” She returned to the console and booted up the sprinter again.

“What are you doing?” Saz asked.

“Figured I’d make a little cash intercepting tonight,” she said, her back turned towards him. “If I got to babysit you in the sprinter room might as well.”

“Why would anyone want that vile stuff?” The taste still lingered in his mouth.

“Runners using counterfeit sprinters mostly, or maybe a sprinting station is in need for an emergency,” she shrugged. “I don’t ask questions, just send it to whoever’s paying the most.”

The plasma receded reveling an empty casket. His gaze drifted from the casket across the room towards the wall with the light board, “Welcome Saz!” still written in radiant green.

“Why’d you write my name on the board?” Saz asked.

Minerva shrugged. “When you called me for the job I could sense distress in your voice, like something was wrong. I thought maybe it’d help with making you feel welcome.” Beneath the hoarseness of her voice, Saz sensed a tinge of warmth in her tone. “Who’d you piss off?” The warmness gone from her voice.

Her console beeped, she spun around on her chair and resumed her work.

“And we have another,” she said. The sprinter booted up once again, Saz watched it, waiting to see what lied beneath the curtain. The sprinter did its magic, the plasma curtain closed, and opened. In the middle of the sprinter lied a steel case, maybe a half a meter long an no more than a quarter meter wide.

“Mind checking it for me?” Minerva asked.

“Uhh, sure…” Saz went to the sprinter and opened the case. Nestled inside a crooked crevasse embedded within a cushioned surface sat a black metallic arm. The reflection of the florescent light above the sprinter twisted around the arm like an ever shifting tattoo. At the shoulder of the cybernetic arm, in luminous scarlet sat a flower with five petals, drawn so intricately. A single line started from the tip of the top petal, it traced the outside and spiraled inwards, growing thinner and thinner until it twisted into a perfect circle in the center. He felt his eyes begin to water, he didn’t know why.

“A runner without augments? You must be quite the paranoid type,” a woman’s voice echoed in his head. The same one from earlier. “I don’t even want to know where you hide the contraband.”

Saz cocked his head.

“How’s it look?” Minerva asked.

“Familiar,” the word just slipped out of his mouth.

“No, I mean what condition is it in?” She asked.

Saz shrugged. “Looks good to me, what are you doing with this?”

“Close the case and set it by the door,” she said.

“I’m not your assistant,” Saz said.

“You’re going to make a little old lady like myself lift a heavy box like that?”

“I bet you’re augmented from head to toe. Just how many implants do you have in you?”

“Didn’t your mother tell you to never ask a lady if she’s augmented?”

Saz was sure that wasn’t a thing people told him not to ask.

“Usually I’d leave that hatch open,” she pointed to the door, “let a little bot take care of it, but since you’re here I figured I’d give the bots a day off.”

“Fine, fine,” Saz closed the hatch and lifted the container out of the sprinter. It was lighter than he expected, he carried to the door and sat it down. “There, are you happy? He said walking back to the couch.

“You make a fine assistant,” Minerva laughed.

“What’s the arm for?” Saz asked, sitting down.

“Refurbishment job,” she said. “Client wants it polished.”

She didn’t mean what she meant, nobody in her line of work would do a simple “refurbishment job.” No, he remembered clearly what those words meant for people like her. She was going to wipe it of any ID tags and markings.

“No,” Saz shook his head, “you can’t do that.”

“Yes I can.”

“How much are they paying you? I’ll double it!” Saz didn’t know what he was saying. There was something about that arm that beckoned him to protect it, like a child holding on to a teddy bear while his mother threatened to toss it out.

“Why do you want that arm so badly? It’s not even your size, it’s clearly a woman’s.”

“Just please,” he closed his eyes. Images of the woman with the luminescent hair and the five pointed star tattoo flashed through his mind’s eye like a corrupt video file. He slammed his fists into the couch. “I’ll triple it, quadruple it. Just tell me how much.”

“Saz, calm down,” his eyes were still closed but he heard her voice draw closer. He felt her hand touch his shoulder, her palms were rough and calloused, like a shopkeeper’s. “I can sedate you if it’ll make this easier. I read some studies that said that dreaming can help with the unwinding process.”

“No, I’m fine,” he opened his eyes and gazed at the sprinter. “Just give me more tea.”

She removed her palm from his shoulder, leaving a cold mark on his skin. He looked at his palms, twinkles of sweat glistened across his skin. Like he had just broken a fever.

Another image of the woman with luminescent hair flashed before his eyes. She was smiling at him, her tattooed gave him a thumbs up. She had long scarlet hair draping to her shoulder, like lava flowing down a volcano. The strands flowed into her flesh, and began gently twisting into a delicate pattern. Soon a five pointed star emerged, and the red river continued flowing inwards. The lines spiraled towards the center, tracing the same pattern over and over again, stars within stars, until it ended in a circle. Her flesh turned pitch black, leaving only the tattoo. He had been wrong, it wasn’t a star, it was a flower.

The Two Minute Rule

Prompt from here.

My mother had always lived by the two minute rule, “if it’ll take you less than two minutes to clean, clean it!” She would say. I had grown out of it over the years, getting lazier with every rotation of the Earth, sometimes you’re just too dang tired to clean. However, I might have stuck with it longer if she had told me that putting off cleaning a minor mess would lead to ripping a hole in reality.

It was just a small scruff, a streak of red from dried up pasta sauce from last night’s dinner. Nothing more than a sliver no wider than a grain of rice and no longer than the top half of a thumb. Wren and I had just finished out dinners, full and ready to collapse on the couch I took both our plates in hand while she wiped down the table. One of the forks, my fork, fell out off the plate and tumbled down towards falsely tiled kitchen floor. The fork hit the white vinyl surface leaving the small red mark across one of the thin gray lines, like a teacher’s red pen on graph paper.

The words of my mother echoed through my head, it won’t take that long to clean up anyways. But I didn’t want to, that could be a problem for future me. Plus it had been a long day at work, my energy no longer the roaring fire it had been that morning, but exhausted down to nothing but embers.

Too exhausted to handle the minor mess I figured I’d get to it tomorrow morning when my body and mind were fully rested and recharged. I picked up the fork and placed the bowls in the sink, I’ll handle those tomorrow as well. (Take that mom!) Wren and I spent the rest of the night watching Parks and Recreation until we grew tired.

I woke up to Wren still asleep, as usual. On autopilot I slipped from under the covers and made my way towards the kitchen to prep the coffee pot for the day’s work. I loaded the Mr. Coffee and went to finish last night’s unfinished work. I started with the dishes, which cleaned easily. (See mom, no big deal!) A quick rinse and into the dishwasher they went. Next was the red stain across the floor, I wetted a paper towel, dabbed a little dish soap on it, and got down to my knees and began scrubbing.

Like an erasure to a white board the stain went away, mostly. A tiny finger nail sliver remained, hardly visible unless you were looking for it. But I couldn’t leave it so. The burnt orange mark of the pasta sauce stood out too much on the white flooring, and the scorn of my mother grew louder in my skull. I pressed against the stain and scrubbed away.

The stain remained there, unchanging. As if it were mocking me for not abiding by my mother’s rule. If only I hadn’t been so lazy this task would have been over within a second or less. (Dammit mom, you were right!) I pressed all my weight into the red scare and scoured that pesky mess.

Like the mouth of a rabid dog, a white froth formed on the surface of the floor. I scrubbed until the surface had given way. My thumb slipped through the damp towel through the flooring and into a hole. I halted my mad scrubbing and withdrew myself from the situation. Where the remnants of the sauce had laid now sat a small crack, no larger than my thumb, and as dark as the mouth to a cave on a moonless night.

Had I put too much of my weight into it that I had ruptured a hole in the cheap flooring? God I hoped not. I leaned over to the hole and peered. It was too deep for any sort of the overhead lighting to reach the bottom. I got up and searched the kitchen drawers for our flashlight.

Light in hand I went back to the rip and switched it on. Odd, not even the beam of the flashlight could reveal what lied beneath. The light’s beams seemed to just stop at the edge of the hole, unable to travel any deeper into the void.

I stuck my finger in. I could not see past the threshold where the flooring met the hole. Using my free hand I switched on the light to see any traces of my finger. There were none. I withdrew my hand from the hole, and sighed in relief upon seeing my index finger fully in tact.

I spent the rest of the morning experimenting with the strange abyss. I stuck forks in it, then butter knifes, which were longer, and later a tape measure to see how far the tunnel went. At least twenty five feet, the length of the tape measure, perhaps more. I hadn’t realized the time until Wren had dragged herself into the kitchen. She asked me what I was up to, I told her reconsidering my cleaning habits. Then got up and told her to watch out for the hole in the ground. Groggily she said “sure.” And poured herself some coffee.

This will be the last time I ignore the sage advice of my mother.

A Minor Accident

“Hey hun, I’m going to be a bit late,” Todd said, his voice came from the car’s Bluetooth as I pulled into my parent’s driveway. 

“Is the traffic that bad?” I asked.

“No,” a scuffling sound followed his answer. I presumed his bearded face scratched the side of his phone’s mic as if he were shaking his head at me. “Just a minor accident.”

“A minor accident? Like a fender bender?”

“Not quite.”

“Well, what happened?” 

“Well you know, with the traffic and all I took my little scenic detour – you know, through the hills – no rush hour traffic there, plenty of cyclist though, saw a large group of a dozen or so on the shoulder.” Leave it to Todd to beat around the bush and say in a million words what could have easily been said in ten. I loved him, for all his strengths and despite his flaws, but his habit of burying the lead was so annoying.

“Yeah, I know the route,” it was his preferred route to my parents, traffic be damned. It was a beautiful route over the hill side, just on the outskirts of the city. You could see the city’s beautiful skyline from there, as it bobbed up and down like a buoy in the sea. It was better than sitting traffic, but it always took half an hour longer than the highways, regardless of the traffic. Sometimes I wondered if he did it just to spend less time at my parents’. “What happened? Did your truck break down? I can come get you. I don’t want to keep mom and dad waiting.”

“No, no, the truck’s fine. Although the grill’s a bit dented up,” he banged on something, the hood I assumed.

“Can you just get to the point?” I snapped, my fingers gripped the steering wheel as if to strangle it. I began to regret agreeing to take different cars to my parents, I should had just waited for him to get off work instead of rushing home, but I wanted to cherish the house one last time before it left me forever.

My parents had invited us out to help them with prepping the house for the market. It broke my heart seeing them abandon my childhood home. If those walls could talk they would tell stories of my childhood, from my first word “Doggy” (we didn’t have a dog, Tara, my older sister was allergic, but my neighbors had a puppy named Walker who I apparently had taken a minor obsession towards), to my first time drunk (Tara had returned home from college while my parents were out of town, she invited her friends over and threw a party. I hardly remember that night, and I’d rather not hear what the walls remembered from it). Even though I had changed within the walls, the walls themselves remained the same dull shade of green. And now my mom wanted to give them a new paint job to “spruce it up.”

“So,” Todd continued, “I passed by the scenic overlook, you know the one that gives you a clear view of downtown?” Of course I knew it, it was the only scenic overlook on the drive. “And the lighting was just perfect, the sunset shone through the cracks between buildings, reflecting off the glass like a warm light behind a diamond.” (Todd fancied himself a writer, trying to sneak in metaphors and similes where they didn’t belong. He was amateur at best, but I still enjoyed his stories when he didn’t pester me to read them.) “I knew I had to take a photo.”

“I slammed on my breaks,” he continued, here we go I thought, “and pulled a youie right there on the road.” I expected him to say he got rear ended or accidentally hit a passing car, Todd and situational awareness were not two things you’d find in the same room. “I rushed towards the overlook, trying to beat the sunset. Right at the entrance to the parking lot I saw this woman, her hair was a glowing strawberry red like yours. She was on a bike, focused on climbing the last few feet of the hilltop. I slammed on my brakes,” oh god, I thought, “they whistled behind me, and then suddenly bang!” A loud popping noise shot through the speaker, I jumped.

“Jesus Christ Todd,” my hands pulled at my hair, I wanted to rip it out. “Is she okay? Did you call the ambulance?”

“She’s fine,” he said, “got a little red on the grill though.”

“A little red? Do you mean blood?” I asked.

“I think so,” he said. 

“How is she fine if her blood is on the grill?” I saw my mom step out of the front door, she waved. I waved back and feigned a smile, not wanting to alert her of my husband who had just presumably committed manslaughter.

“Relax, she told me she’s fine. Do you want to talk to her? She’s in the bed of the truck.”

“Sure, I guess,” I wanted to reach through the mic and strangle him.

I heard the crunching of gravel beneath his feet as he walked around the side of the pickup. His pace was slow and gentle, like a leisurely stroll.

“My wife wants to ask if you’re alright,” Todd said, his voice further from the mic.

I heard a woman’s voice on the other end, I couldn’t quite make out what she was saying. The car filled with a rustling sound as Todd passed the phone to the injured woman.

“Hey there,” a woman’s voice said on the other end, her voice was smooth and yet rough like frosted glass. It sounded new yet familiar. “I’m alright, how are you?”

“Fine, I guess,” the tension relaxed a little from my body, just a little though. “I’m so sorry about everything. My husband can be oblivious sometimes.”

“No need to apologize,” she continued, “I was trying to lose some weight anyways and your husband here helped me out.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I mean I wasn’t that overweight, my ex always said I looked beautiful, but Renee, I could see her giving me side eyes whenever we went shopping. I could see it in her face, it was all like ‘Girl, those leggings are too tight for you. Those jeans really bring out your muffin top. Aren’t you a little heavy for a two piece?’ I mean classic Renee, am I right?” She paused, as if expecting me to agree. My mom walked closer to the car. “Hello?” She said. “I mean am I right?”

I didn’t say anything at first. I didn’t know what she wanted from me.

“This isn’t Renee is it?” She asked. Then her voice grew softer. “You’re wife’s name isn’t Renee is it?”

Todd answered, his voice a soft inaudible muffle. My mom stood at the passenger side window waving at me. I rolled down the window.

“What’s your name?” She asked.

“Everything okay Wren?” My mom asked.

“Wren,” the girl on the phone said, “such a beautiful name. Did you know my middle name is Wren? Who are you talking to? Are you with Renee?”

“Who’s your friend?” My mom asked.

“It’s nobody,” I said. “Everything’s fine, just something came up at work. I’ll be inside soon.”

I rolled up the window and my mom walked back to the house, glancing over her shoulder back at me every few steps. A quizzical look upon her face. 

“You mom sounds sweet,” the-woman-with-my-first-name-as-her-middle-name said. “Do we work together?”

“I didn’t see she was my mother. And no we don’t, at least I don’t think so,” my fingers began rapping on the steering wheel. Was this one of Todd’s ridiculous excuses? He’s done stunts like this before to get out of seeing my parents, usually with over scheduling stuff at work or with friends, but never once anything like this. I mean my parents were fine, but high opinionated at times, which Todd had made perfectly clear he found annoying. But they were my parents, his in-laws, he had to at least put up with them for me.

“Where was I?” The woman asked.

“You were talking about losing weight,” my fingers increased in tempo. 

“Oh yeah. So, like I said, Renee was judging me, but I didn’t let it get to me, I was like ‘No way Renee, my ex loves me just like he always did I don’t need your judgement in my life.” I mean I said it to her with my face, just like how she talks to me. Well things were fine and dandy until New Years Eve when my ex, was like ‘I’m sorry but this is over. I can’t be with you anymore. It’s not you it’s me, I mean you’re body is defined with three dimensions and I’m just a geometrical shape defined by two perpendicular lines running at forty five degrees to the x and y axis and intersecting at the origin. We aren’t even in the same plane.’ Men, am I right?” 

She left room for an answer from me.  I didn’t know what to say, this woman was clearly insane, or Todd had gone off the rails with his excuses.

“Are you telling me that your ex was literally an x.”

“Oh did I say ex? I meant ex,” she laughed, “I get those mixed up all the time.” She literally said the same thing twice, no change in inflection or anything. “So anyways, I was like ‘Don’t be ridiculous, we’re still defined in euclidean space, we have so much in common. I mean fuck the z axis! I didn’t choose to be born with a third dimension.’ But whatever, his mind was made up and all, so he just left the party. I spent all night drinking my sadness away and crying on Renee’s shoulder. She’s just the sweetest

“When I woke up I felt so lonely, and tired, but Renee was there by my side. She looked at me and I could just see it in her face, ‘I told you so,’ it said. I sighed and decided right then that it was time to take her comments seriously. I figured I’d start a new years resolution to lose some weight. So here I am, not just a day into the new year and I get some unexpected help from your husband. Funny how that works out right?”

“It’s not the new year,” I said.

“What?” She asked.

“It’s the middle of July, it’s not a new year,” I said.

“I must have stayed up really late,” she chuckled. “You know, me and alcohol. I just never sleep when I’m drinking. You have to give me a horse tranquilizer to put me to bed.”

“Well I’m glad you’re alright,” I wanted this to end quickly. “Look, T-” I cut myself off. I didn’t want to say Todd’s name, just in case she decided to stalk us. “today,” I corrected myself, “is a busy day for my husband and I, and I really need him with me. If you’re okay I’d like to talk to him now.”

“Wait,” she said, “I haven’t told you how Todd helped me lose all that weight.” Fuck, he told her his name. 

“Alright fine,” my fingers tapped erratically on the steering wheel. “How did my husband help you lose all that weight?”

“So I was climbing up the hill, thinking of my x, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I was so in my head I hardly knew where I was. I didn’t even hear the sound of your husband’s pickup skidding to a stop to take his photo. Well, as fate would have it his truck ran straight into me. The world began spinning, I felt my torso fly into the air, up and over his truck, like I was going little cartwheels across the air. And then thud,” another loud popping sound came from the speaker, “I landed straight into the back of his truck.”

“Did you break anything?” I asked.

“I mean kinda,” she said, “less of a break and more of a shear.”

“A shear?”

“Yeah, his truck ripped straight through me. Like a weed eater cutting through grass, my torso just popped right off my legs and tumbled through the air. And just like that I loss like two and a half Todds. I mean life hack, am I right?”

“Did you say you lost two and a half Todds?”

“No not Todd like your husband silly, I mean tod with one ‘d.’ It’s a very common weight measurement. Do you use stones? I think it’s like 4.7 stones.”

“Well you sound awfully happy for someone who just got cut in half,” I said really leaning into the sarcasm in my voice. I was really not having it anymore. “Can I speak to Todd now?”

“Todd’s out looking for my legs,” she said, “he should be back in a few minutes. Oh wait, speaking of the devil there they are now. Hey legs, long time no see! I don’t know where Todd is though.”

Great, now I had to worry about a missing husband while talking to a crazy woman on the phone.

“Aren’t legs so cute when they don’t have a torso attached to them?” She giggled. “No, no don’t go over there. I’m over here silly!” I heard a thud, followed by a giggle. “Silly legs, they ran straight into the side of the car.”

“Can you just let Todd speak,” I said.

“I would if I knew where he was. Hey legs, have you seen Todd? Oh they’re shaking yes. Okay legs, go find him!” She said as if she were addressing a dog. “So since we have some time to kill, what do you do?”

“I’d rather not say,” I said. “Just stay on the line until Todd gets back, please?”

“Fine,” she said, “you’re no fun.”

My fingers rapped and rapped on the steering wheel, until I grew tired of it.

“Awe, why’d you stop?” She asked.

“Stop what?”

“Playing music, I was really digging that tune. Better than most hold music to be honest.”

“Are you talking about this?” I began tapping my fingers again.

“Yeah, I love it!”

I kept tapping my fingers to entertain the crazy woman, wondering if this was the right idea. What if she had murdered Todd while we were speaking? My fingers tapped faster and faster, I started to think of ways to discreetly tell my parents to call the police.

“Oh, very tense, I love it. Like a movie soundtrack right before the climax,” she said. “Oh there he is! Hey Todd, Wren wants to know if you’re okay.”

I heard the crunching of gravel approach the mic, then a little shuffling through the speaker. “Hey honey, sorry for the scare,” he said, “I got lost looking for her legs. Turns out they found me,” he laughed. “Hey, I’m sorry for the delay, but I think we’re good here. Are you okay?”

I heard the woman’s voice in the background, muffled by the distance between the mic and her.

“Hey Wren,” Todd said.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“I was thinking, since she doesn’t have any legs anymore maybe she should join us for dinner, I’m pretty sure your parents won’t mind. Or if you’d rather I can take her to her place. I know your parents are looking forward to having us, but you know…”

“Jesus Christ Todd,” I shouted, “if you didn’t want to come you could have just said it. You know this is a hard day for me.” I banged the steering wheel, the horn let out a little honk. “You know what, just don’t come, I don’t even want to look at you after this stunt. I’m staying the night here, I’ll see you at home tomorrow and we’ll have to talk about your bullshit.”

“I’m serious,” Todd said. “I’ll send you a pic.”

“I’ve had enough,” I said. “We’ll talk about this at home.”

“Wr-” I hung up and fell forward. I wanted to reach through the mic and strangle Todd. This could be my last time home forever, and he had to fuck it all up with his elaborate and insane excuse.

My phone dinged, a new message from Todd appeared on the lock screen. I didn’t open it. I left the car, putting my phone out of sight and into the glove box. I spent the rest of my night at my parents, making excuses for Todd, and making up reasons why they should leave the walls the way they were. When I opened the glove box the next morning I finally had enough composure to open the message. It was a photo, a photo of a woman on the ledge of the scenic overlook, I could only make out the top of her torso. Behind her the sun shone brilliantly through the skyline, he hair was a strawberry red, just like Todd had said. Beside her stood a pair of disembodied legs.

Interception Chapter 1

The world flowed around him like water through a river, he was nothing more than a rock beneath the surface, a conduit for the smooth laminar flow. He watched as photons of indistinguishable origins warped before his eyes, a streak of red here, a dash of blue there, perhaps a questionable dosage of x-rays or gamma rays if his route had been miscalculated, or his information had been wrong. God he fucking hoped not, that would be at least a week in a medichamber, if not more. But the odds were slim to none.

The visual world was always first to come during runs, something about the sprinters seemed to turn on the occipital lobe first, working memory came second. Sight before sound, plenty of trips abound. Sound before sight, a runner’s fright. Or so the old sayings went. It was a relic of the old days, when sprinters were still in their youth, full of bugs and faulty parts, before the engineers who’d designed them knew the proper ways to switch back on a human brain after transversing spacetime like a ship parting the waves. But still, the saying persisted, and even in his dumbfounded state, the saying echoed within his skull.

Slowly the world grew more and more viscous, like the arrow of time pointing in reverse on a paint mixer, the streaks of light began to slowly unblend from each other. Gradually they began forming coherent shapes. A tendril of light whipped back and forth above him, like a snake whose head was caught in a mouse trap. At first it moved erratically, trying to escape the mechanism, but with each beat of the whip the the bright white serpent moved slower, and slower until the trap had sucked all the life out of it. The white snake let out its final tremor until it keeled over, and rigor mortis kicked in, stretching it into a long white florescent light hanging above him.

Sound had returned, he could hear the faint buzzing of the light above him, a faint rattle of the dead snake. Beyond the buzzing a faint machine hummed. A thud banged from somewhere within the space he was emerging into. He wanted to look towards the origin, but his face was still locked in place while the sprinter carried on with its work, indifferent to any outside stimulus.

Sense began gradually returning, each one a little more quickly than the last. Touch, he could feel the cold surface his body laid upon. His vestibular system was next, he could now tell exactly where was in space. He knew the cold surface was down, and the bright white light was up. Then kinesthetics, without looking he knew his hands were where they should be and his feet too. Finally, his organs, he felt his stomach growl, his heartbeat, his lungs fill with air. He was now a fully functioning human being.

A buzzing sound came from his right, odd, he had expected a gentle chime. Must be a different kind of sprinter, he thought to himself, best to play it safe. He waited for the chime, but it never came. He took a deep breath and sat himself up.

He shivered, he looked down at his barren body. Why was he nude? He didn’t remember ever taking off his clothes. Sprinters could transport almost anything, from the fabric of his clothes to the cellular makeup of his body. The practice of removing clothes before a quick sprint was long abandoned, only those too old and stubborn (or paranoid) sprinted naked. He dug deep into his mind in search of his reasoning why he had sprinted naked, he couldn’t find it. Give it a minute, he thought to himself, mind’s still unwinding.

He looked around the room, preferably for something to cover himself up. The room reminded him of the cramped apartment he used to rent in the Dynamo Ward in the lower levels of Wintermute. Oh Wintermute, the city he had made a name for himself. He remembered bits and pieces of his time there what he didn’t remember is why he had left it.

Never mind, that didn’t matter, he had to figure where he was now, and more importantly, why.

On the far side of the room sat an empty terminal, the screen dark. Behind the terminal a wall of black boxes and flashing LEDs, like the twinkling of stars from above. To the left of him sat a maroon lether couch, the cushioning ripped through various incisions and lumps. Flashes of rotting flesh came to mind, bodies lacerated and burned, vital fluids leaking through the incisions and white pus erupting through the blisters. Tas. Why did that word ring so strongly in his mind? He closed his eyes, the gaping wounds hung in his minds eye. He looked to right. A light board hung on the wall. Written in radiant green light were the words “Welcome Saz!”

He cocked his head and squinted. Saz, that was his name, but who wrote that?

The machine he sat in buzzed. A deep purple plasma began spewing from the upper corners of the metallic coffin, the plasma poured off the edges flowing a centimeter or so down before hitting an invisible barrier, and trickled atop the force field.

“Shit,” Saz said. He pulled himself out of the sprinter and hurdled over the edges. His right leg made contact with the plasma, his peripheral nervous system kicked in and quickly pulled the leg backwards. His left leg wasn’t prepared for such a sudden change in his balance. His torso, now just over the edge of the sprinter, was overtaken by gravity and he was pulled towards the ground.

He rolled onto his back. All his limbs were clear of the sprinter. On his right shin sat a pink mark where the plasma had contacted his flesh. He sighed and let his body relax.

“Fuck me,” he groaned.

Saz stood up and watched the sprinter. It was completely covered in the purple plasma, like fog across a pond on a cool morning. There was no safety shielding between him and the plasma as you would find on most legitimate sprinters, but then again, he didn’t typically spend time with those in a legitimate business. Flashes of white light glistened across the hazing barrier, like fireflies in the heat of the summer. The process continued for only a second or two until the machine buzzed again and the plasma retreated back into the edges of the machine.

In the middle of the machine sat a large black duffel bag. He yanked it out. He didn’t recognize the bag, but he assumed it was for himself. He unzipped the bag. He took a step back, and nearly tripped once again. Inside the bag sat loads and loads of paper bills. Each of them gleaming with that soft cyan luminescence, with that large C stamped in the middle. Case City bills, thousands of them.

Another thing caught his eye in the bag, wadded up on one of the ends was a piece of clothing. He pulled it up, gently pushing the cash aside as not to soil their elegance. He unwadded the cloth, it unraveled into a plain gray t shirt, within the shirt a pair of red shorts and underwear.

Tap, tap. He jumped. Tap. He looked towards the source of the sound, a metal door outfitted with a wheel in the center, like a weather tight hatch in a freight ship. Another tap. Saz scanned the room again, looking for anything that could be make shifted into a weapon. He picked up the shirt beside him, held it between his hands lengthwise and twisted either end around his hands, and dashed to the hinge side of the door.

The wheel spun. The door creaked open.

“Saz?” A woman’s voice said. Hoarse, as if she were parched, “have you changed yet?”

The door swung a few degrees more, Saz added tension to the shirt between his hands, and gave it one more twist.

“Saz?” The grainy voice said. She walked through the doorway. She wore a long black dress with light bands flowing from her torso to the hemlines, like neon rain drops running down a window contouring around the fluffs of the outfit. Her chalk white hair held up in a bun. “Fuck not another trip,” she stomped.

Saz lunged from behind the door and lassoed the woman with his shirt. He tensed his arms, pulling her closer to his body and constricted her throat.

“Saz, is that you? You’re just unw-” She gagged. He pulled tighter until she no longer could speak.

She kicked him in the shin, Saz hung tight.

“How do you know my name?” He asked.

She coughed and pointed at her neck. He loosened his grip, giving her enough slack to barely take a breath.

“I intercepted you,” she croaked.

Shit, who’s he piss off this time? Or was just a simple mugging? He quickly looked over his shoulder towards the hatch and kicked it closed. His rubbed his elbow against the wheel and attempted to turn the latch. The wheel didn’t budge, not enough leverage.

“Why?” He said.

“You paid me to,” she said.

“Liar,” he raised his voice and pulled the shirt tighter.

“Well this was nice while it lasted,” she said.

“What?” His muscles tensed all at once, then all fell limp. The shirt slipped through his fingers and draped across the woman’s neck; his legs could no longer hold. His body returned to the cold hard floor. He wanted to reach out and grab the woman, but his limbs no loner listened to him.

She removed the shirt from her neck and tossed it aside. “Glad to see you too,” she said. “Nice job ruining my dress,” she inspected her elbows. Small metal spikes ruptured from the black fabric and into her skin. She kicked his stomach, the air shot out of his lungs.

“My rates just went up, an extra five percent to cover damages,” she leaned down and looked him, “both material and psychological.” Her face was efflorescent and white, like she had stuck her whole face into a bag of powdered sugar and called it a day with her make up. She pointed her right elbow towards him and fiddled with the severed fabric. “This dress ain’t cheap,” she said. The metal rods retracted into her flesh, “that’s five bucks a thread. I’ll have a bot add it all up.”

She walked away from him and squatted down at the duffle bag. She began lifting the wads of cash out and stacked the beside her. She formed six piles of five stacks and brought them to her desk. She kicked at something and leaned over, then stood back up. She sat on the chair beside the console and watched Saz from across the room.

Saz could feel his motor control return to him, first with a slight twitch of his fingers. He lay there focusing on moving his hands.

“You should have your full range of motion back in a few minutes,” the woman said. “Supposed to give the victim enough time to flee the scene and then some so you can’t trail her. Fucking men,” she rolled her eyes. She returned to her console and began typing away at a set of holokeys.

Saz lay there watching her. If what she said was true, she was on his side, at least as much of his side he bought from her. If what she said was true, she was on his side, at least as much of his side he bought from here. He searched his memory for her face, her face reminded him of those wicked witches from children’s stories, but as for her, he drew nothing but blanks. His memory still rewiring in the back of his brain was like an ever shifting maze, wandering it was futile. Best to let it settle first.

“What do you think?” He heard a woman’s voice, it wasn’t the witch’s, it was younger, stronger and it came from all around him “Fully augmented memories,” her voice continued, “no more wind up time. Just sprint, and,” she snapped, “you’re all there. What do you think Saz?”

“Huh?” He groaned and got up.

“Oh you’re up,” the witched turned spun in her chair. She stood and walked to him, she picked up the pair of shorts on her way. “Now would it bother you to get dressed?” She tossed the pair of shorts towards him.

The Road to R-Day

On March 18th, 2067 in the suburbs of Toronto humanity made two major breakthroughs, one in science, the other in religion.

A small start up known as TSD Biotech1 had come about with a revolutionary way to clone anything with a DNA strand, they called their patented process DOPPLE, because they claimed that their cloning process, unlike their competitors such as Ringwald Biotech, or ClearHealth, and even the aptly named DoppleU2, could create a perfect cell to cell copy of a specimen. But despite the proclaimed revolutionary technology TSD had created, most of the hype went under the radar, at first.

The cloning industry at the time was relatively young, only really catering towards cloning individual body parts for transplants, pets for those rich enough to afford it, and animals for consumption3. At no point had anyone successfully cloned a human being as we do today, either due to technical issues, or legal reasons the cloning of a full human was unheard of until TSD changed everything.

However, across the Niagara River, just north of the DoppleU’s headquarters in Buffalo, the Canadian parliament had just passed a law in 2056 (colloquially known as the Deus Act) allowing the cloning of a human being if (and only if) the person had been legally declared dead, and that the revived body had to be brain dead. It was a revolutionary piece of legislation that was wildly criticized. Why had the Canadian parliament pass such drastic legislation? Well to understand that we have to look at the state of cloning at the time and the state of neuroscience. First off, the cloning.

As previously mentioned, cloning at the time was in its early stages, there were a lot of issues and complicated problems that now, with the benefits of hindsight, seem trivial to us. One of these issues dealt with cell division. You see, at the time cloned organs failed a lot, and I mean a lot. You would only ever get one if and only if there were no organ donors available or your body repeatedly rejected organ transplants over and over again. A cloned organ either would grow cancerous or just stop functioning altogether.4 Even the best cloned liver had an expected lifespan of just five years. A patient with a cloned organ had to be kept on constant watch, either through remote monitoring, weekly checkups, or a live in caretaker, just to ensure they could be taken to the nearest hospital in case something failed. Once they arrived, they would be kept on life support until another one of their cloned organs could be delivered and surgically inserted. When you bought a cloned organ you were literally buying time. This issue of longevity of cloned organs was becoming a major concern for the industry and was one of the many reasons why lobbyists had fought so hard to get Parliament to consider fully cloning humans. The theory at the time was that if they could clone a full body, they could grow the organs wholesale and thus allowing people to have a fully functioning liver, heart, kidney or whatever they were in need of. The US Congress was the first to debate this topic, but it kept on being shot down by the more fundamentalist members, so the battle was brought to their northern neighbors. In Canada maybe they couldn’t save the original person, but they could grow a brain dead body and allow their family members access to their closest living relative’s organs. A martyr for the family’s good health.

The second breakthrough at the time was in neuroscience. Another revolutionary procedure had been completed in the winter of 2053, the first ever successful brain transplant. In a lab in Beijing, a team of neuroscientists and surgeons had successfully transplanted the brain of a mouse to its cloned body. This was beyond revolutionary and took the world by storm. Another push of human cloning legislation made its way through the US Congress, it cleared both chambers this time, but was shot down by President Sophia Tucker, who was strongly against “unnatural” medicine5. Despite this setback the research continued on mice and other small mammals. If a fully grown cloned body could show to sustain the brain of another’s then this could open up the doors to immortality.

After the Deus Act was passed a whole new slew of biotech startups boomed across Canada. Many failed, but one succeeded, TSD.

Taylor, Syracuse, and Darwin left their jobs at DoppleU to get in on the excitement. They, like the many other optimistic startups encountered many hurdles along the way, both legally, and scientifically. Legally, they couldn’t find just any dead person to clone, no they would need to find someone who’s family was willing to sign over their deceased relative’s genes and likeness. Plus there was the additional rule that prevented no one person from being cloned more than once after their death. This led to somewhat of a bidding war between companies and put a premium for deceased people’s DNAs. Those who sold their relatives to the highest bidder could make an additional few hundreds of thousands of bucks just for selling away their relative’s DNA. This led to some rather serious unforeseen consequences. It didn’t take long for people greedy for a quarter of a million dollars to grow eager to get their money sooner than later. An epidemic of “unexpected deaths” flooded the nation, in 2058 the total number of unnatural deaths increased by nearly fifty percent. Parliament facing the struggle between the immoral behavior they had perpetuated, and not wanting to lose the lead in the cloning business, quickly amended their law and made it legal to clone a human being if they died, only if they allow it in their will and if their death was declared a natural death. This only caused a “tolerable” spike in deaths afterwards.

Scientifically there were many hurdles as well, mostly on the process of growing and aging said clone. The first wave of clones had been implanted within surrogate mothers, then after their birth immediately placed into a medically induced comma and underwent many treatments to rapidly age the body. After artificial wombs were created in 2060, the surrogacy went away overnight, and the industry went through a “Second Renaissance.”

The development of artificial wombs actually made it easier to experiment with the aging process, and after a major breakthrough by CleanHealth aging the normal way became a way of the past6. This was fine and all, but there were a few hurdles: most notably, the bodies were aged, but without any sort of external stimulus the muscles and organs were severely atrophied and unable to function in a fully grown body. Enter TSD.

TSD, for the most part, was well behind the curve. They had less funding than other startups at the time and didn’t exist in any sort of fancy office building. In fact, TSD was based out of a former fast food chain’s storefront. They managed to convert the kitchen area into a lab, keeping the fridge and freezer to store specimens, and turned the front of the house into a small cubicle farm. But, despite all their setbacks they cracked the code in 2064, they were able to not only grow a full sized human in a vat, but also create one with a perfect cell to cell ratio of the one who passed. After they had cracked the code it was off to the big leagues.

Their revolutionary new DOPPLE tech allowed a human to be grown in a vat but with enough artificial stimulus to have a functional human body. This opened up so many doors, however they were soon shut on the fateful night of March 18th, 2067.

On March 18th, 2067, now more commonly known as R-Day, one of TSD’s clones had been released for “harvesting”7. As with standard procedure the body was removed from the tank once it reached the peak physical age of the previous owner’s life, and was prepared for surgery. Typically the body would be placed under general anesthesia as was common at the time for all sorts of surgeries, however this time the anesthesiologist had been lacking sleep from a bachelor party the previous night and had made a miscalculation in the dosage. Before a single scalpel had been placed upon the clone’s skin the clone shot up off the table and gasped. The clone, as you might know her today, is one Mindy Breaker, the Second Lazarus.

Mindy had died nearly a decade ago due to a brain tumor at the age of sixty eight. Although it was in her will to have her body donated to science, her widower denied it over and over again, it wasn’t until he had passed that the surviving family was able to sell her DNA rights for science. So you must wonder what it was like to have suddenly returned to the world of the living ten years later and in a body forty four years younger.

Having never encountered this situation before the doctors panicked and attempted to subdue the woman, but she resisted, and managed to escape. She was eventually apprehended by the police and brought in for questioning.

She claimed that she had returned from the afterlife. She had spent a decade with her parents and siblings who had passed once again. And after ten years of waiting, she had finally seen her husband once again. They were dancing together in their old living room, until she had been suddenly dropped through the floor and into a deep void, only to wake up in a cold sterile lab. She didn’t understand what had happened, and if it wasn’t for her renewed energy and younger physique, she would have thought it all to have been a dream. Mindy was let go and returned to her closest living relative, her son who was now thirty years older than her.

Her resurrection had been a nuclear blast upon the moral, religious, and legal world. Morally, was harvesting organs wrong if that meant they were bringing back people from the dead? Now after millennia of religious debate there appeared to be proof of an afterlife, but which one? Nobody could agree, but it had opened a whole new world of study: the spiritual world. Scientist started having people consensually agree to die and be brought back to life. And legally, legally who “owned” Mindy and the others who had sold their DNA to TSD and the like? Mindy fought for years trying to regain ownership of her genetic code, and eventually won, even if it cost her family everything. She eventually died of old age, again, and made sure her will did not include any language regarding cloning this time around.

Thanks to an unfortunate mistake made by a hungover medical professional8, humanity had made their first jump to discovering immortality. Either through the afterlife or cloning here in the physical world, the future looked bright.

Footnote 1: TSD officially stood for Taylor, Syracuse, and Darwin, the initials of the three cofounders, but to those in the industry it was a bit of an inside joke. TSD also was short for the very campy action movie The Sixth Day staring the late actor turned politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Which in itself was named so because of the Biblical verse “on the sixth day, God created man.” The film was a bit of a cult hit among biologists specializing in clone tech, mostly for its horrible science.

Footnote 2: DoppleU would later go on to sue TSD for their usage of the word “Dopple”, but would later be shut down by the courts as DoppleU never officially cloned a single human before the TSD breakthrough. Ironically, DoupleU eventually had to change its name to Replika in order to avoid being confused with TSD.

Footnote 3: Although given the general concern about cloning at the time, most people would avoid eating cloned meat due to its unnatural origins, and falsely spread rumors that it would cause cancer despite plenty of studies showing otherwise. But there were a select few who indulged in it, otherwise the cloned meat was given out as animal feed for dogs and cats.

Footnote 4: This often brings up the question of pets. How could cloned pets live much longer (proportionally speaking that is) than a cloned human organ? Most cloned pets tended to live up to three quarters of the original pet’s life expectancy, meanwhile these organs would fail after just 6 percent of their theoretical lifespan. Well, that question is one reason why the Canadian Parliament spent years debating the legalization of fully cloned humans.

Footnote 5: For those not in the know, Misses Tucker had previously found her fortune in the alternative medicine industry at the now defunct Woop, a brand touting treatment to cancer with things like honey water with sprinkles of vitamin, along with “healing” stones. During her time in the House as a representative from California she frequently fought against pushing for more conventional healthcare funding. As president she swore she would “keep a close eye on the cloning industry.”

Footnote 6: Unlike what we know today, the technology at the time only allowed for aging forwards, it would be another one hundred and sixty two years until de-aging could be done cheaply and reliably.

Footnote 7: A now outdated term for taking the organs out of one clone and placing them in storage for future use.

Footnote 8: The anesthesiologist, despite being the one who had triggered this new discovery, was later disciplined and lost his license, and fined severely. He still had to be made an example of to deter any reckless medical practices.