The Constant

Originally published on /r/writingprompts, you can read the original post here.


My journey began two hundred and fifty six years ago when I was a mere graduate student at the Academy. I spent a decade working on my thesis, a rigorous study on the rise and fall of civilizations. Funding was plentiful, as the Overseers gladly sponsored any sort of study to help them maintain power. After civilizations reach a certain level of maturity they begin to reflect on their own past and future by looking at those who had failed before them, and after a hundred thousand years the Overseers had conquered nearly ninety percent of the galactic plane, their crusade slowly dwindling. They had accomplished what they had set out to do, and funding began to divest from the military towards things to keep their grip stable and strong, such as the police forces and non-military research.

Why had so many empires lost themselves to the same fate over and over again? That was the question I set out to answer. In every empire that came before us, spreading their tendrils across the galaxy like roots wrapping and constricting themselves around a boulder, squeezing it until cracks erupt across its surface, and overtime the very foundation that had supported the expansive and intricate root system crumbled beneath the roots own force. My research took me down a particular path, a path I couldn’t foresee.

At the end of their reigns all civilizations fell to just one man, over and over again. The Plague Bringer, the World Eater, Apocalypses Incarnate, Oblivion, Atlas, civilizations had lived and died under his command as long as he lived. Entire nations had fallen because of one bad day he had within their boarders, he destroyed empires stretching across the galaxy because he felt like it. New life would arise to build the universe to how they saw fit before he grew bored of them. Legends say that even the gods themselves fear him, the antimatter to all creation. There were only two constants in this universe: the fundamental forces, and him. A Constant.

I presented my findings before my peers, I was laughed at but granted my professorship anyways because of other useful findings I had uncovered. I took up a job at the Academy in the anthropology department and taught brilliant young leaders the mistakes of our forerunners, imbuing them with knowledge to keep the empire’s roots. I told them everything they needed to know, except for the Constant.

After a while I began to believe that maybe the Constant was nothing more than an honest mistake. My colleagues would share my crazy theories at dinner parties after one too many drinks to poke fun at me, I would laugh along at the foolishness of my youth, and yet the idea hung in the back of my mind, and like the Constant himself it bided its time until it was ready to strike.

The idea grew in my head until it became the only thing I could focus on. My lectures grew shorter, and my nights in the office longer. I began taking unannounced trips across the galaxy to libraries and archeological sites to look for any traces of the Constant. My peers grew concerned and my superiors irritated. Eventually the Academy cast me aside, distancing themselves from me research. They didn’t know it, but that severance was the best thing they could have offered me.

Now free of my obligations I could focus all my time and energy towards my life’s work. I became a nomad, traveling the galaxy in search for the Constant, and after a hundred and forty seven years of searching my journey has taken me to a small mining settlement among the Frontier planets.

I expected the Constant to be a hulking beast, his flesh made of brimstone and his veins filled with fire. A simple sneeze from him as strong a fusion bomb. Instead my journey brought me to a tall and lanky man with a five o’clock shadow and sleepy eyes. His hands calloused from working in the mines, nothing substantial.

“Been a while since I’ve had one of you stop by,” he said greeting me at the threshold of his small company issued capsule.

“One of what?” I asked.

“A fan,” he said. I suddenly became self conscious of my appearance, I hadn’t shaved in quite some time, my beard was disheveled and down to my chest. My hair past my shoulders. I probably smelt of the small freighter I took to reach the settlement, a mix of piss and tar. I should had at least showered before exposing myself to the most powerful man in the galaxy. “Come on in,” he said. I obliged.

The interior of his capsule was cramped yet cozy. Paintings of landscapes lined the sterile glossy white walls, the standard maroon padded seats that came in capsules like this had been replaced with wooden chairs with white cushions. Lavender filled the air, overpowering the scent of burning sulfur that filled the atmosphere of the settlement.

“Can I get you anything? We got coffee, tea, beer.”

“No thanks I’m good,” I said. “May I?” I asked pointing to the chair next to me.

“By all means,” he said.

The chair creaked beneath my weight. My heart sped up, I began fearing for my life, for the lives of others, what if the chair were to break beneath me? Would the Constant abandon his friendly demeanor and topple the very civilization I had sworn to protect? I held my breath.

He walked to the table beside me and placed two glasses of water on the table. I took a sip, not because I was thirsty, only because I didn’t want to offend his hospitality.

“So what brings you here professor?” He asked, his voice relaxed, like he was speaking to an old friend who had popped in because he was in the neighborhood.

“H-h-h-how do you know who I am? Can you read my mind? Have you been watching me?” I placed the cup down on the table gently.

He laughed. “Not at all. Once you’ve been around as long as I have you just develop a knack for picking folks like you guys out of a crowd. To be honest,” he said taking a sip of his water, “I kinda like it. I can let my facade down around your types. Do you want an autograph or something?”

I shook my head. “I’ve been studying you for over two hundred years, I just needed to see you with my own eyes. So you really are the Constant?”

Another small chuckle. “So that’s the name you’ve given me? You know, I like it. Better than the last guy before you, he called me the Downfall. Constant has a nice ring to it.”

“Why do you do it?” I said, immediately regretting my question.

“Do what?”

“End things.”

He shrugged. “Why does a star burn? The star doesn’t know what it’s doing, but it does it anyways because the laws of the universe compel it to.”

“But you’re human, you’re conscious,” my leg began to shake.

“Are you aware of controlled burns?” He leaned forward on the table.

I nodded.

“That is my purpose, I don’t know why I do it, I just know that if I didn’t things could be far worse. I’ve seen futures where empires had stretched themselves too far, too thin, they starve out. Civil war breaks out and in due time, they blow each other up, eradicating all life in the galaxy.

“In other futures,” he said tracing a line on the table, “man and machine do not live in harmony like you’re civilization had managed to do. Which is something you should be proud of,” he looked at me and smiled, “it is not easy reigning in god like intelligence. In those futures their very own creation grows beyond their control, and in due time it too wipes out all organic life.”

“S-s-so what do you do?” I asked.

“I keep watch,” he took a breath. “I keep watch until those who control the galaxy begin to mutate and grow cancerous, and when the cancer had begun to spread out of their control I step in and reset the balance.”

“But what are you doing here, on a Frontier planet?” I asked looking around me. “You could have anything you want. You could use your powers to build a more prosperous future as benevolent god, ensuring you’ll never have to burn it all down.”

He chuckled. “There are many things I’m good at, but being a leader has never been one of them. My very nature makes it impossible for me to lead such an empire, trust me I have tried but no matter what my men either turn against me or nobody listens to me in the first place. And these powers you speak of, I do not have them at my disposal to do so as I wish. They’re like a bucket of water, after every use I need to go back to the faucet and let it fill up. Right now I am just a mere miner, and father of a lovely young daughter, biding my time until the tumors of your society grow too strong.”

Hearing that made me relax a little. “Do you know when you’ll be fully replenished?”

“I feel them growing within me, but don’t you fret,” he smiled, “in due time they will awaken again, but not until you’ve grown bored of your life and retire yourself.”

“I don’t plan on retiring for a long time,” I said.

“Then you have plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of your civilization. You look like a mess,” he said standing up, “want to wash up in my shower?”

I nodded, he guided me to the small cleansing station in the back corner of the capsule. As I bathed I felt the warmth of relief flood my body.

A Thousand Years

A thousand years of life, handed to me in the form of a prison sentence. Not even billionaires get this lucky. I would be rendered invulnerable for generations. No empire lasts that long, I shall remain patient until the prison wall’s have fallen and make my escape. After all I had plenty of time. How foolish of him to give a crook such a generous gift. How foolish of me to think those thoughts nearly a millennia ago.

Three hundred years of torture, not a single day went where my body wasn’t mutilated, burned and seared, lacerated and mangled by the so called peace officers. My arms were restrained out and up, and my legs anchored to the floor, like some sort of medieval torture victim. I didn’t eat, I didn’t drink, nor did I see the sunlight. My body no longer needed substance to function, it took care of that all on its own.

Every day the guards would come in at random intervals and unleash the furry of the state upon me. I had seen their faces change through the decades. Ever changing, like faces in a dream.

They It was so I could feel the pain and suffering I had inflicted upon others, but by the time it had all ended I had forgotten why I wounded up there in the first place. My life as an outsider faded to the back of my mind like the memory of a story I had read long again. Was I Prometheus after he had given light to the mortals, forced to suffer until the end of time for his rightful deed? Or was I a forsaken soul, banished to the ninth circle of hell doomed to be tortured next to Lucifer himself for my unforgivable deeds? I no longer knew.

And then the day of the roar came. It began with a deep roar, like a stampeded on the horizon. The guards grew anxious and made haste with their punishment to me that day. The grumbling grew louder and more ominous through the session, the guard’s face began to sweat. He dropped his tools and dashed out of the room, the power to my chamber cut, leaving me in complete darkness. A crescendo of roars and screams hit a fever pitch moments after he had ducked out, the walls began to rumble, more violet than any earthquake I had seen before. The noise outside of my chambers shrilled like the winds of a hurricane! How long the roaring lasted I cannot tell you, somedays I remember it lasting just a mere second, and others decades. But, it did die down, leaving me with nothing but silence, and the abyss.

I hung there in the abyss for many lifetimes. I no longer remembered who I was, hanging there in the void. I was nothing more than a thought in the deepness of space. I had begun to wonder whether if the world around me in which I had remembered, with all its colors, sounds, and textures, was nothing more than a reality I had dreamt up to keep myself busy as I just existed. Something to keep myself sane. I began envisioning other realities, ones in which I was an explorer conquering unknown lands; others where I was royalty, imposing my rules about the land, and punishing those who dissented; sometimes I saw myself living a simple life, in a quite little town working in the mills. No many how many realities I dreamt up, they never met the vivid elegant world I had once remembered. And then the light returned.

It was an expedition to the lost plant, an archeological crew had ventured into the the caverns of the Empire’s supermax, deep within the forgotten mountains. I could hardly believe it when I saw their faces, and they as well when they saw a living breathing human in the cell.

Unlike my previous caretakers, they meant no harm, in fact it was quite the opposite. They wanted to know everything. What life was like within the Empire, what they ate, what they watched, how they dressed. The Empire I had once belonged to had been wiped from the face of the planet, erased not by an exterior threat, but through their own hubris of their weapons program. What had been a simple weapons test had lead forth a cascading explosion, incinerating the breathable atmosphere of the planet, and rendering the capital uninhabitable.

I was taken away from the inhospitable surface of the planet, and given care by my rescuers. That was a century and a half ago. I am now at the end of my sentence, a sentence of a lifetime in pain and isolation, but I am proud to have found a new life within the culture of my rescuers.


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.

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.