Across the abyss stands a fading figure. Monolithic, but for the steady particle-by-particle erasing, he is Promethean, cradling fire in his palm. Dissipating from existence while the fire flickers and struggles, he twists. Contorts. Multifaceted eyes like bulbous, molten gems bubble up across his brow and cheeks as his skin peels, pushed aside by something gray and hard. And he’s gone, leaving only a small globe of flame in his stead. I stumble backward, bumping against something hard and transparent with a solid clunk. The world sways and tips and shatters. I tumble across a sea of glass, each piece jagged and ugly and yet utterly the same as the rest. I bleed painlessly—silently—from a thousand ragged wounds.
And then I’m awake and pawing at my arms and chest. Sweat seeps from imagined gashes. My pillow’s on the floor and my sheets have been completely dislodged from the mattress, tucking themselves unevenly around my sprawled limbs and over the edge of the bed. I’m hot and cold and shaking and twitching. Boone snores softly, undisturbed by whatever scene I’ve been making. My phone tells me I have almost three hours until my alarm goes off. I find my iPod in the dark and put in headphones. Jim Morrison sings of crystal ships as I stare up at the ceiling, watching shadows twist and contort.
The playlist rolls through The Gaslight Anthem’s mellow backseat strumming, Against Me!’s tense bassline, and The Kill’s fuzzed out forlorn before I go fetch my laptop. Three hours isn’t enough time to go out on the town and I’m not getting back to sleep anytime soon, so I wander the new sites until something catches my eye.
Yet another article reporting on an anonymous member of the law enforcement community slamming OPHR. Third this month. I skim, picking up the important parts like claims that OPHR bullies law enforcement agencies into dropping cases so they can hand pick who has to obey the law, obligatory quotes from the anti-post-human organizations like People for the Rights of Everyday Citizens, and even someone referencing me by name. Makes me feel a bit warm and fuzzy.
And of course, more name calling. “Illegals” isn’t an unfair term for unsanctioned post-human costumes like myself, but it is a little irksome. Something about the name tastes sour.
“A recent poll conducted by Channel 11 shows that 66% of people are dissatisfied with OPHR’s competence. These numbers are up from 27% in the last poll, taken just two weeks earlier. When asked, over 71% of those dissatisfied cited the recent escape of post-human criminal, Violet Easley, as the main source of their current discontent. Easley, known for a spree of high-end robberies committed earlier this year was apprehended just weeks ago trying to escape a break-in. OPHR quickly stepped in and asked that the police transfer Easley into their custody. Shortly afterward, the first anonymous law enforcement personnel in this recent string of denouncements spoke out against OPHR, claiming that their department was ‘strong-armed into giving up a dangerous criminal’.
“The transfer has been delayed several times due to undisclosed complications before finally happening yesterday. However, late last night it was leaked that OPHR had lost Easley right after the transfer and was starting a manhunt to find her. This morning, OPHR issued a statement urging caution to those living or working around the three addresses shown on-screen. These are places Easley lived or frequented, and may return to.
“Further complicating matters is yet another anonymous report from within the law enforcement community—this one from within our very own police department—claiming that they were ordered by OPHR to keep news of Easley’s escape, and the ensuing manhunt, from the public.”
I’m so caught up in the news report that I barely hear myself muttering out loud. I wanna call Alan, and ask him how they could possibly fuck up this badly. Tell him they’re making guys like me look bad with this bullshit. But I don’t. Alan’s not involved in the law enforcement aspect of OPHR, there’s not a damn thing he can do about it. He also doesn’t know I spend my nights dressed up in a full-body costume wailing on criminals (which makes me sound like I hang out at Mafia-owned BDSM clubs…), and I really don’t want him to know that.
So, I do the next best thing: I arrogantly assume I can do something that neither OPHR nor the cops can do and go out looking for a dangerous criminal. I take down the addresses from the TV, leave a note (a lie) on the refrigerator, and walk to the door. Gripping the knob, I debate the merits of bringing my costume. If I’m gonna go out and do something stupid like this, I should keep it on me, just in case. But at the same time, I’m not exactly comfortable with the crispy state it’s in. Or the crispy state I was in.
Fuck it. Better to have it and not need it.
I run upstairs, grab my bag before I can start over-thinking things, and head out the door.
In a world where the answer to the question “Why is there an overturned ice cream truck in the middle of the road?” is “Because a woman with magnet powers flipped it over.”, I’m not sure why I thought I’d be able to track down an experienced post-human criminal without any knowledge of her power, but at this point, I’m starting to doubt myself.
So far, I’ve followed every single person who’s looked suspicious and the sum of my work has been my feeling like a stalker-perv. One woman bought an inordinate amount of food at the grocery store, so I figured hey, maybe she’s stocking up so she can properly shelter the post-human fugitive she’s housing. I know better than anyone that active post-humans can have very hearty appetites. What did I find out? That Cousin Justin and his new wife were coming into town to stay with them for the week and that the woman’s kid was very excited to see big Cousin Justin again. Congratulations to me.
Next up was a shifty looking guy who kept eyeballing every cop and security camera he passed by. After following him along a suspicious couple laps around a three square block area, I found out that he was some small-time pothead dropping off little baggies of fun to suburban men and women who needed a pick-me-up before heading back to their little boxes made of ticky-tacky.
I saw a woman who bore a passing resemblance to Easley shoplifting a pair of shoes, a kid who looked like a miniature Jason Segel pocket a pack of football cards, and I’m about to give up searching around the third address the reporter listed when something catches my attention.
A nagging sensation that I’m being watched, like when I was poking around the ice cream truck. I’ve been ignoring it for the last twenty or so minutes because when you’re wandering around a relatively crowded area, it’s hard to ever not have a pair of eyes on you, but at this point I’m starting to get paranoid.
I don’t have major social anxiety, I’m not freaked out by large crowds of people, and though I am a little more sensitive than most when it comes to feeling eyes on the back of my neck, I don’t usually have issues like this.
It’s at this point that something metal jabs against my back and a hand clamps down on my shoulder. The metal thing jabbing me makes a clicking sound that’s alarmingly similar to the sound of a pistol’s hammer being thumbed back.
“Smile. Smile like we’re family friends who haven’t seen each other in awhile.”
I smile weakly and turn my head toward the hushed female voice.
“Face front, dipshit. I don’t know you from Adam and I will blow your goddamn spine out through your stomach if you don’t do exactly as I say. Deal?”
The little stretch of spine directly in front of the barrel of her gun goes icy and starts tingling. I have to swallow three times before I can respond.
“Good. Keep walking straight. I’ll tell you when to turn. Now laugh, all my friends think I’m fucking hysterical and I just told you a joke.”
Has anyone ever told you just how hard it is to act cheery when someone’s threatening to cripple you? Cuz it is. The sound that comes out of my mouth only loosely qualifies as a chuckle.
She jabs the gun harder into my back. “Turn right here and keep your hands out of the goddamn bag.” We head down a less crowded side street and I feel a sudden pang of loss for the crowd we’re leaving behind. “Who are you and how did you find me?”
“I, uh, I don’t even know who you are so how could I find you?”
“I’ve seen you three times today. Once at Martin’s Square, again at Prince Avenue, and then just now when I picked you up on Nelson Boulevard. All three times you were looking around, looking for someone. You’re way too young to be a cop, so who are you and how did you find me?”
“Please tell me you’re not Violet Easley…”
She jams the gun harder into my back. “No. And that’s your one and only question. Left here.”
Oh sweet shit, not only did I not find the criminal I was looking for, I drew the ire of an entirely different criminal who just got the drop on me. And I’m not even in costume. It’s official, no one has ever been worse at this than I am.
We’re leaving civilization fast. This street’s only one step above a dark alley. To the left of us is nothing but a row of garages blocking the view of the apartments and to the right is an apartment building that may or may not even be habitable.
“Really? Because your answer leads me to another question,” and before I can stop to consider whether this’ll get me what I want or just get me shot, I ask “Are you hot? Because I need to know whether to just feel terrified or terrified and turned on…”
Unfortunately for me, my exceptionally sexist remark gets me exactly what I was hoping for. Miss Hostage-Taker snarls and pistol whips me.
The second I feel her take the pistol off of my back I start leaning forward a little, not enough to run away or to avoid getting clubbed, just enough to drop my bag without getting tangled and then lean away from the hit.
When she does hit me, I’m already moving. A glancing blow to the head is still painful enough to disorient me a little, but a pistol that’s smacking someone is a pistol that isn’t able to shoot them through the spine. I turn and grab her wrists as I fall, dragging her to the ground with me. From there, all I can do is turn my hips to (hopefully) keep her from landing knee-to-groin, and bring my chin down before she lands. Luck and heightened reflexes are on my side and her nose smacks squarely against the crown of my head.
Hooray for finally doing something right.
She slumps off of me and lands in an unconscious heap on the pavement. Unfortunately, I’m now covered in little splotches of her blood and I still have no idea who she is or why she pulled a gun on me.
What I do know is that she was in all three of the places Violet Easley was said to frequent, she was on high enough alert to notice me looking around at all three places, and that whatever had her on high alert was enough to get her to pull a gun on me. I’m starting to wish there was a summer course at the Batman Academy that taught amateur crime fighters detective skills. Hell, at this point I’d settle for a YouTube video from a Sherlock Holmes-wannabe.
So, now what? Found…someone, got snatched, knocked said someone unconscious, and now I’m in the middle of the sidewalk, crouched over the unconscious body of a woman whose blood is spattered all over me. God. Dammit.
I take a look around, momentarily thankful for the all-but-abandoned street we’re on. No one’s started screaming yet. I don’t hear police sirens off in the distance. Maybe I’m okay. I decide that’s a sign from God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or whatever it is that runs the universe that my idiocy has been blessed. I loop my arms under her shoulders and drag her into the nearest alley, hoping I don’t get mistaken for a rapist by an inconvenient passerby.
Long black hair, soft cheek bones, a slightly flat nose (which might be my fault), and a long face. Her skin’s olive. I clearly don’t know her, but I keep staring like that’ll suddenly change.
I set her down between two dirty, faded garages and go back for her gun. I make sure to grab it with my sleeve over my hand, just in case I need to not have my prints on a criminal’s gun. Into my bag goes the gun (until I can find a better place for it), and out comes a pair of cable ties. Ankles and wrists.
I’m grateful for the cover provided by the two garages now because I definitely look like a rapist. Goosebumps roll across my arms and chest and I shiver.
Now, seriously. What next?
Fragments of thought, exasperation, confusion, and God knows what else start clogging my brain, swirling too fast for me to process. Something pulses between my eyes and I wonder if my brain’s gonna erupt from my forehead like a Chestburster.
I lean against one of the garage walls and slide down to the ground. With my eyes squeezed shut, I start winding down. Deep, deep breath; let it fill my entire chest and stomach. Hold it. Push it out. Rotate my head, around and around. Roll my shoulders. Keep breathing. Bend my elbows, clench my biceps, extend, flex my triceps. Chest. Wrists. Fists. Thighs. Calves. All the way down to my toes.
And I nearly lose my shit entirely when my unconscious friend groans and rolls over. I manage not to shriek by the thinnest of margins. I don’t even bother trying not to jump backwards.
She’s still snugly cable tied, but her hair’s different. It’s getting shorter and blondeness is overtaking the formerly dark strands like the tide washing in. Her cheekbones are more pronounced, her nose looks slenderer (but still a little broken), her skin’s lightened, and her ears are inching flatter to her skull. I don’t know exactly what color her eyes were before, but they’re bright green now. I also don’t remember there being a birthmark on her neck.
All told, this woman now bears a striking resemblance to Violet Easley.
Okay. Now I’ve lost my shit.
Since when the fuck are shapeshifters a real thing? And why didn’t anyone mention that the big, scary criminal everyone’s looking for can change her appearance at will? And holy shit, when did I start doing my post-human business without a costume? Now is the time to walk away. Put a call in to OPHR and just walk away. What more can I do here? Dress myself up and walk this woman to the PD’s lobby? (No, daylight superheroing is not on the table for Illegals. Tried it, didn’t like it.) Just put in a call, pretend to be a bystander who saw someone fitting the Sentinel’s description, and then walk the hell away. I’ll have to torch this burner afterwards, just to be safe, but life’s full of little sacrifices.
It’s only after fishing the burner phone out of my bag that I realize I didn’t copy down the hotline number OPHR posted. Which leaves me with two less than ideal options.
One, call the police and have them bring in Easley. She’ll still get to OPHR and this mess’ll be cleaned up, but it doesn’t reflect particularly well on OPHR that they had to resort to such methods and at the moment, my alter-ego is catching splash damage from OPHR’s shitty PR.
Option two is to call Alan on my burner and hope he doesn’t think it’s a prank. Alan can pitch it up the line and OPHR can save the day and hopefully start taking the heat off of amateur crime-fighters such as myself.
It’s during this moment of contemplation that I see the roving red and blue of police lights creep up the street.