Adele Entombed by Victor de Paula

klimt-bildnis-adele-bloch-bauer1-1907

The van’s interior was studded with blue LED’s that blinked softly in the smokey haze of the dark like tiny light bugs. Melting snowflakes were crawling across the windshield, the wind pushing, an artificial stutter before being swiped away and annihilated to the peripheries by the broad sweep of the wipers.

Noan could hardly breathe in the van but Charlie didn’t care at all about that. So Noan watched Charlie sitting there, smoking, like a brownstone pyramid spewing thick soot. The large man was hunched over on one of the cracked, black leather benches lining the perimeter of the van’s cab.

Charlie puffed on his cigarillo anyway, the ancient thing, as Leer swung the van less than smoothly around an icy bend in the road. Tu was glaring at him through the bluish smoke from where she sat across the narrow, carpeted aisle of the van. Noan wondered if she’d try and hit Charlie before they got to the museum. She looked like she might.

The windows were tinted a strange, reflective, filmy brown. When Noan leaned across a discarded blue milk crate from the back of the van to see what was out beyond, he saw only a dark smattering of snow amidst the squat Colony buildings and the passing colors of the trains on their intertwined circuits high above the freeway.

Leer had the bass turned up in the van so that the windows wanted to jump out of their black, rubber composite frames. A vibration would buzz from the windows, like a bee trapped somewhere in the glass when the bass hit. Leer liked to drive with his music up loud, particularly, Noan thought, on an assignment. And when Leer cranked the volume up past how far the dial could turn, he simultaneously spun the van onto one of the colony’s main thoroughfares. Noan could hardly maintain his grip on the two steel canisters the size of small children in his arms. Regardless, he held firm to the P-Catch canister and the butane tank for the flame thrower.

Even with Tu raising her voice from across the van in her most nagging tone, Charlie just smiled showing shining, broad teeth and puffed away. The thick-sweet smell of roasted cherries wafted strangely from the pen-sized cigarillo in his hand. Noan was trying not to cough the whole time Charlie had lit the thing up. He didn’t want to seem uncool in the company of such experienced people.

Noan felt something, somewhere vaguely behind his eyeballs. Like a small pinpoint of pressure right between his eyes that suggested quietly in his mind, like a whisper, that he shouldn’t be here with these people. The sensation moved down across his belly like little warm caterpillars. He had the feeling that he should be anywhere but in this van going to this museum to do what they’d been paid to do.

“Don’t care,” Charlie said in a rumbling baritone, thick brown lips puckering around the tiny cigarillo that was probably older than Tu as he took another pull. The tinted glass behind his balding head framed the smokey blur of the Colony behind him like a smear of multi-colored paint on a brown-black canvas.

“You’ve made that quite plain,” Tu said as she leaned back and smoothly swung her left leg over her right knee. Noan smiled nervously for the ever-watchful Core as he noticed her looking at him. He sat hunched in the back of the van, arms wrapped around those twin steel tanks.

Tu’s eyes had the trained, quasi-manic openness that came with her internal nano-cam implants. The irises were almost never obscured for the purposes of comprehensive image streaming and Noan decided the recorded video in her brain was being fed back to Core for editing and televising purposes. It gave her a disarming look, like she was always mildly surprised. The expression reminded Noan of a crazed religious figure on a weekly crusade on one of those old video programs. This weeks epiphany brought to you by… whomever.

Other than that, Noan noticed as he stole the occasional glance at her, she was just on the cusp of celebrity in terms of fashion. She had a thin strip of long-haired fur around a close-fitted collar that folded out from her jacket. Beneath a thick Aldier Cassius skirt, her legs were sprayed in custom Missiona Collection jeannettes.

“Some type of neoprene derivative,” she said to Noan, as if reading his thoughts, staring at him with that strange alertness. Noan wondered vaguely how far up her legs the neoprene reached with that sprinkled galaxy of dark tones and seemingly endless curve of muted blues and reds.

Leer made another sharp turn as he yanked the steering wheel and the tanks Noan held onto knocked together with a soft metallic ping. Their cylindrical design made them hard to steady in the turbulent van. He stifled a cough into the side of his arm and watched the reflection of the van’s blue LEDs as they bounced off the sheen of the steel P-Catch canister.

Tu swore quietly under her breath as she swayed and bumped her head against the glass window behind her. She turned towards the driver’s seat.

“Easy,” she said as she pulled herself out of her seat and through the veil of smoke. She leaned over to Leer, her hands gripped the inside shoulders of the two front seats. “Watch the damn traffic stream,” Tu said as she pointed to the display in the dashboard, almost falling over.

Leer briefly glanced at the screen and shook his head. His broad, calloused hands gripped the studded rubber steering wheel and jerked the van with a calculated brutishness. They rode into an endless stream of cars, twinkling in the cold night, speeding against a curving backdrop of skyscrapers and snowbanks. The Colony’s elliptical horizon was blanketed in a faux-New England (Earth) winter.

Noan thought for certain that Leer was going to scrape against the car next to them, a small two-person Mover. The woman driving the Mover whipped her head and looked towards the tinted cab of the van. Her mouth was open as if cursing. Charlie laughed and threw his shoulders back, leaning against the window on his side of the van. Leer forced the van to overtake the woman in the Mover, nearly taking off her front bumper. He plunged the Core-furnished vehicle into thirty lane traffic.

“This is your, what, second outing?” Leer asked loudly, eyes flashing towards the back of the van.

“Third,” Noan said, snapping to attention. He held the steel tanks against his legs. His heart leapt as the van swerved, weaving in and out of traffic. Noan had heard about accidents on the thirty-lanes before. Never many survivors.

“The Core don’t count your training as an outing,” Charlie said as he shifted in his seat and hunched again. He propped his elbows on his knees exhaling blue smoke down at his feet.

Noan didn’t answer. He just watched Charlie’s shiny head, dotted with the reflection of blue LEDs.

“And you,” Leer said from up front as he motioned towards Charlie, “Is it true what I read on the Stream?”

“Maybe,” Charlie said, his head dipping under his shoulder blades as he hunched over his knees, doing something to one of his shoes. “Depends on what you read.”

“You were one of Kylie’s bodyguards?” Leer asked.

Noan reflexively thought of the recently deceased pop icon turned film star. She’d met a gruesome demise as she tumbled carelessly from the top of her sixty story loft in one of the Parisian Colonies orbiting Callisto. It’d been caught by several cams and there was no foul play suspected. Subsequently, the image of Kylie’s tangled blonde hair and her pearl white dress flailing against the blue halogen void of the Colony horizon had become iconic. Her death had become immortalized in the image of her fall, replicated ad nauseum on everything from t-shirt designs to highly edited images emblazoned across album covers. It’d only happened two weeks ago, Noan thought. Every Colony knew about it. She was popular even on Earth.

“Charlie was a paparazzi chaser at best,” Tu said, her words snipping through the hazy darkness of the cab like scissors through rice paper. She held her slender shoulders high and narrow as she swayed gently in her seat.

Charlie sat up, smiled at Tu in a way that made Noan think about knives.

“Core had you do a shooting session with him before?” Noan asked, his voice sounding feeble in his own ears. He realized the stupidity of the question just as he’d uttered the words.

“Not him. We were shooting a segment on Kylie and this,” and she looked at Charlie as if she’d eaten something sour, “hulking stereotype was giving us problems in getting the right shot.”

“He kept getting in the frame,” Leer said loudly from behind the steering wheel, a kind of mocking tone braided into his voice.

“Or maybe you couldn’t stop looking at me,” Charlie said, leaning back again, legs crossing.

Leer looked down at a thin, black strip wrapped around his wrist. Green numbers rose up out of a murky darkness in the strip. He reached over to the passenger seat and touched the blocky, black computer system that the Core had installed. He looked again at his wrist. “Twenty minutes,” he said.

“Should be fairly easy according to the Stream discourse the Core sent this morning,” Charlie said.

Noan could see Leer nodding, his closely cropped blonde hair bobbing from beyond the drivers seat. He turned the music down. “Just a burn and turn,” he said.

“Turn?” Noan asked.

“As in we get the hell out of there right after,” Charlie said.

Tu looked at Noan, those wide brown eyes glinting. “Did you even watch the discourse?”

“‘Course I did,” Noan said.

The remainder of the ride was silent save for the pulsing bass that Leer had the radio tuned to. Charlie kept his gaze locked onto a rectangular, black device in his palm, his face lit up by the blue screen embedded in it. Tu stared silently out the window, her profile very still against the layers of speeding cars beyond the cheap plastic window. Noan had finally figured a way to balance both cylindrical tanks against his legs when the van came to a skidding, slushy halt in the wetness of an abandoned, snow-laden parking lot.

Charlie slid the van door open and crunched down onto snow. The parking lot was empty and winter-silent. Cones of snowflakes drifted lazily before vanishing, cloaked in the shadows of surrounding buildings. A floodlight at the far end of the parking lot cut a neat circle through the soft, dark snow some distance ahead of them. A crumbling brick building seemed to be leaning into the lot; thick sheets of green plastic billowed out from the second story windows. A light was emanating from somewhere inside like an alien heart beyond the faded green plastic. The cityscape framed the northern horizon beyond the lot and Noan could forget for a moment the doughnut-shaped nature of the Colony as it spun, calculated and careful in the blackness of hidden space.

Tu cautiously hopped out of the van and slammed the sliding door behind her, the sound reverberated, exaggerated in the winter cold. Leer remained seated in the drivers seat, his head turned towards the black metal equipment taking up the passengers seat. He was talking to an unseen listener.

“He’s probably checking in with Core,” Charlie said as he looked at Noan.

Tu nodded into the fog of her own breath and bent at the waist, reaching for her toes as she stretched. “That was a long ride,” she said as she stood again and scanned the horizon focusing her gaze at the old, brown brick building at the end of the lot.

Noan imagined what she was seeing, through those wide, brown eyes, as a final Core product; a video show being shot live.

“Lets get all the stuff out, then,” Leer said as he stepped out of the van. He slammed the door behind him and motioned with his head towards the back of the van as he looked at Charlie.

The P-Catch canister was strapped into a black nylon harness along with the butane tank. Charlie slung the whole affair over his broad shoulders and hiked them up into place with so much ease. Noan picked up the actual frame and nozzle for the tank and canister and slung it snugly around his narrow waist and shoulders. Leer palmed a small black device with two pin-holed LEDs that shone momentarily when he turned it over in his hand underneath the ever-present electric glow of the parking lot lights. Tu had only to bring her eyes and the heads of Core which peered through them.

She maintained roughly two meters behind the three men as they approached the old brick building at the skirt of the parking lot. When Noan looked back at her, she would slowly turn and peer at him through the veil of darkness like lean felines amidst casual night-hunts. There was a reflection in Tu’s eyes, he thought. It was the sort of glint that was otherworldly and odd. The cams were just there, behind the cornea, he reminded himself. And then he remembered that there could be a million people staring back at him right now, through Tu’s eyes.

He turned around and coughed, keeping step with Charlie and Leer. His thoughts turned to Kylie again. The way she had tumbled through the air, turning against the backdrop of skyscrapers, eyes closed as if asleep.

The brick building fascinated Noan. Brick blocks of clay like this had been shipped from either Earth or manufactured with with Earth-like resources. You didn’t see something like it every day. It was much easier to use dark plastene that could be easily manufactured in the Colony. The limited lifespan of brick and the high cost of having it shipped from Earth was simply inefficient. This building must have been either a private curiosity for and by the rich, he thought, or else an exhibit in itself considering their proximity to the Colony museum.

The back entrance of the brick building was a corroding metal door set an inch deep into the brick. Rust had edged its way from the hinges of the door; its’ crimson creeping matching the old brick as it were reaching across the face of the door. Leer knocked on the steel in a very particular way that caused a hatch to slide away momentarily. Noan tried to peer around Charlie’s massive frame to see what had happened but could only see the hatch slide closed again after some words were exchanged.

A pink plastic sheet fluttered and flapped against the side of the building somewhere up above their heads revealing a rectangular darkness of a smashed window. It looked ancient.

The door opened with a disconcerting lack of sound as Noan looked down the side of the building, catching a glimpse of the twinkling city on the horizon as he stepped through the doorway behind Tu into a green neon interior.

Noan hadn’t seen the short, pink-haired boy until after the door had slammed behind him. The kid appeared from the shadows of an adjacent hallway and Noan felt a sharp point prodding against his ribs. His heart leapt up into his throat.

“Core rep said three,” the pink-haired kid said in deadpan. Tu turned and eyeballed him up and then down very quickly. “Muscle, equipment operator and cam girl. Don’t see where this one fits in.”

Noan felt heat coming from the point that was jabbing him in the side.

“Four,” Leer said from down the hall, approaching. “I’m falling back to the sec room when they continue. Recon picked up some resistance in the museum surveillance room requiring my talents.”

“Actin’ as the muscle again,” the kid said, his thin arms going slack, the sharpness at Noan’s side vanishing as quickly as it arrived. Noan never even saw the knife, if that’s what it was.

“Something like that,” Leer said, a smile-but-not-smile creeping across his broad, indiscernible face. “Besides,” Leer got close, “There’s some old fashion smoke detectors. Noan here can operate the P-catch.”

Charlie snorted.

Noan readjusted the nozzle gear to his waist and shoulder straps as they walked single file down into the bowels of the dilapidated brick building. The hallways were strangely narrow disorienting and Noan found it was very difficult to keep his bearings straight. One moment he knew the parking lot was just down the hall and around the bend. But then as they turned a corner to the left and then another to the right, a short flight up and then a long one down, he had no idea which direction he was facing. In some sections, the ceiling gave way revealing a labyrinthine structure of criss-crossing steel-work above them. Sparking lights and echoing voices drifted down from somewhere above them.

“Some kid you are,” Noan said after a while, his head motioning towards the pink haired boy at the front of their column as he rubbed his side.

“I was a mother on Earth before I decided on coming to this Colony,” the pink haired boy said. “Don’t call me a kid.”

Tu turned with a degree of nonchalance that was too calculated. She craned her head and peered past Noan to the pink haired boy. Noan could almost hear the shutter stock clicking in her head.

“It’s true,” Leer said from ahead.

“Who cares,” Charlie boomed from ahead. “I heard our vixen voyeur used to be a pastor. Who gives a shit.”

“A pastor?” Tu spat from ahead. And when she turned, it was the first time Noan had seen her mouth turn up into something like a smile. It suited her.

Noan looked back at the pink-haired boy following them. There was something there, he supposed, in the way the boy held his face. Almost a sneer, almost an amused disdain. In a way, it was both comforting and terrible all at once.

“Why’d you clone out of your body and into that of a child, then,” Noan asked after a few minutes of silent walking as he followed closely behind Leer in the musty darkness. “If you don’t want people calling you ‘kid’, I mean.”

“Because both of my children had grown into people I no longer recognized or respected. And I didn’t want to be a mother anymore, anyway.”

“That’s a lotta cash,” Charlie said.

The pink haired boy, whose name turned out to be Tarry, led them deeper down into a sub-basement through a service corridor that was plastered with old posters. Red and green and yellow and black. Skulls screaming into microphones, holocene animated scenes dancing in broken frames up near the soggy chipboard ceiling. There was a holographic noose with a cartoon wolf jumping through it that blinked in and out of existence sporadically against the wall. Tu eyeballed it as they walked past and Noan noticed in the green neon suffusing the narrow hall that she must be a bit older than he had initially thought. The green shadows filled the wrinkles around her cheeks and lips like dark water pooling in sand-blasted dikes.

And then, they passed through a red wooden door. They climbed through a small hatch in the concrete at their feet, Tarry pointing downwards with his small hand. They carefully made their way down a narrow circular stairwell, the P-Catch canister knocking against the railing as it bobbed on Charlie’s back. The smell of wet foliage pervaded the cylindrical gap as they descended, corkscrewing down into the sub-basement.

Noan sensed a dip in temperature and he could see his breath now. As they went deeper, the darkness thickened, scraped away edge-wise by the thin strip of LEDs wrapped around the railing. Tarry was below, somewhere, his pink hair lit by the small hand torch he held out in front of his fox-like face.

The sound of water splashing echoed off the walls and Noan heard Charlie swear somewhere below.

“Ankle deep,” he called up, his voice clear, an auditory trick playing off wet stone.

Tu coughed somewhere next to Noan. “Core did say something about getting wet before putting the burn on the museum’s display,” she said as she stepped into the strangely warm water. “Thought they were making a lewd joke.”

Noan paused in the water and hiked up his jeans. Tu steadied herself with her hand on his shoulder and nudged past him. Fur from her jacket brushed his cheek and for a moment he smelled cigarillo smoke.

They splashed into a flooded tunnel that seemed to have been used as an old sewer system.

The faded green brickwork had, in some sections, long given way to what lay beneath. Considering how expensive it was to load transport ships with Earth bricks simply for aesthetic value, Noan was not surprised. When it wasn’t plastene, Colony engineers preferred to build with long stretches of far more efficient non-reflective steel composite. Noan almost felt a vague sense of pride when he first stepped off the small brick ledge and onto smooth steel. The water was colder and slightly deeper, but the footing was superior in the tube-like waterline for as far as Noan could see. The green sheen that plastered onto the surface of the now knee-deep water rippled away and broke as they splashed through.

Tarry cast an ominous shadow against the verdant horizon of the waterline from a few meters ahead and Leer trudged through the cold water behind him as if it were just another thing to do. Charlie hiked up the metal tanks on his back, his head almost catching the gleaming waterline ceiling every time he had to step over a drain or access hatch.

“Where were you when Kylie jumped?” Tu asked, the melancholy in her voice mingling with the echoing splash that suffused the pipeline.

Charlie turned for a moment as he walked and then continued, his broad back to them. “I was at her loft window. She’d locked the panel to her balcony. I had to punch through the glass, but I was too late.”

Leer had suddenly stopped, motioning with his hand towards what looked like a break in the reflective surface of the tunnel wall.

Tu was the first out of the water. Her neoprene sprayed legs seeming to dry as soon as the water had slid off of them like little green gems blending into the rippling surface of the water. Noan climbed up and out of the waterline tunnel after Charlie heaved himself into the blackness of the access corridor.

Noan adjusted the nozzle attachments dangling from his belts and stomped the wetness from his boots. He looked back into the waterline which was now reduced to a green, circular cutout in the darkness of the access tunnel. Leer was still standing in the water, his arms folded across his chest. He was speaking in a hushed tone with Tarry in the same way someone would if they did not want to be overheard.

Charlie laid a broad hand on Noan’s shoulder and motioned towards a door at the far end of the access corridor and the three of them left, leaving Tarry and Leer behind.

“Leer heads for the surveillance control room, now,” Charlie said as their feet clanked on a wet, dripping iron catwalk. They ascended through another narrow stairwell.

Tu brushed past Noan as one of the darker corridors widened. Her fur caught against his naked arm and he watched her open a door that was cut out of the metalwork wall panel.

Rectangular white light flooded the access corridor. Tu stepped into it first and then Charlie. Noan closed the door behind them as he walked through.

They eventually found their way through a supply room and then a janitorial closet before emerging into the ground floor of the museum.

“Wait,” Noan said as he motioned to the small, black device that Charlie kept clipped onto his waist.

Charlie nodded and checked the holographic screen. The blue light illuminated a sphere around the three of them before they could all see Leer’s signal. The museum’s central security hub had been diverted.

“We should be clear to go,” Charlie said, his steps echoing the wide, arching stone hallways of the museum.”The display we’re after is beyond the Early Earth Millenial section. I think.”

“Keep it down,” Tu husked as she ducked under a cordoned off doorway.

There was a softness to the angular, dark, semi-translucent stone that made up the sweeping arches and stippled pillars of the museum. Noan ran his fingers along the wall as he followed Tu. He felt crushed pseudo-velvet on wall carpets framing an early Earth-period pop music display corridor. He found his pace had quickened and before long, they were almost running up a wide flight of regal sandstone steps.

“Up top,” Charlie said from somewhere above. The blue light of his holocene device creating a glow bouncing from the stone like a distant electronic fire obscured by layers of ice-like stone. “The display is up here.”

Noan opened his mouth to speak but Tu sensed this and stopped him. Her hand came up to his mouth in what turned into a kind of slap. She kept his mouth covered as she frantically pointed back down towards the lower floor.

When Noan looked, following her finger, he saw nothing but the wide sandstone steps vanish into darkness beyond red cordoning rope like a barrier against the heavy darkness of the museum. He looked at her again and noticed a nuanced difference in the wideness of her eyes. She wasn’t looking for the benefit of her cams. She searched out of fear. He felt something flutter in his chest and up to a spot behind his eyes. An unlabeled panic welled up in him as he stared down into the darkness.

A thin, red line flashed in the darkness like a bloody strand of hair pulled taut under the surface of cloudy water. It swept the hallway in a subtle flash. And then it was gone.

“Go,” Noan whispered from behind Tu’s hand as he backed away. “Quietly.”

His legs did not listen at first. When she moved, Noan followed and they climbed the steps two by two as silently as they could manage.

Charlie was peering over the bannister from above and Tu frantically motioned to him for silence as she ascended with Noan close behind. She made some kind of signal with her hands and as they approached Charlie, Noan could tell he understood. They silently agreed to continue in swift silence.

“Something may have happened to Leer,” Charlie said, stealing a reflexive, useless glance at his dangling holocene device as he took the stairs three at a time. “It’s not like him.”

Noan felt a dampness in his armpits and wiped away beads of perspiration from his forehead. His heartbeat had elevated and he felt a tightness in his chest. By the time they’d reached the display, the cold moonlight filtering in from the frosty, tall glass panes at the end of the hall had only heightened his anxiety. He knew that the red beam down below could only mean a security system had become triggered.

“Get the particulate catch canister ready,” Tu said as she looked at him, fear mingled with awe as she turned and peered into the semi-circular display room.

Noan, too, was suddenly lost as he set eyes on the display.

The crescent-shaped room was enclosed in panels of alternating glass walls and white concrete. Each concrete panel had a painting hung up against it. They were supposed to be priceless according to what Core had estimated.

“Gorgeous,” Tu said as she swept through the room, pausing in front of each piece and scanning them once over.

Small lights shone down on each work as if encapsulating them in soft, golden eggshells. There was Gauguin, Cezanne and Rothko. On the glass panels there was at least one Picasso along with Modigliani and even Pollock. One piece by Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I was the only one not hung up. It lay horizontal, solitary in an obsidian tomb in the center of the room. A plate of glass served as the lid of the tomb and viewing down into it gave Noan a feeling of dread and loss.

“Let’s get to work,” Charlie said as he unbuckled the nylon harness strapped across his chest.

Noan took the P-catch canister from Charlie’s back. He unattached both nozzles from his body harness and gave one to Charlie. Charlie attached the nozzle to the butane tank and readied the flamethrower. Noan screwed the other nozzle onto the P-catch canister.

“Another one of those red lights,” Tu said from near the staircase she was looking down towards the ground floor. “It’s following us. Not sure what it is.”

“Some kind of security measure,” Charlie said as he sparked the flame thrower. “Let’s get it done.”

Noan squinted, the heat of the flames burning the hair away on one of his arms. He stepped away from Charlie and aimed the P-catch nozzle above the Modigliani that Charlie burnt first. Tu had bolted into the room and crouched behind a glass panel. Noan figured she was getting the best angle possible.

The painting bubbled and curled black, burning away much slower than Noan had anticipated. He fired the P-catch above the flames and watched as the invisible enzymes bound to the smoke particles. Gray slop plopped to the ground at their feet and the detectors above their heads didn’t smell a thing.

Charlie aimed at each piece and destroyed them with spurts of fire. One by one, the Cezanne, the Rothko and the Pollock burned into nothingness. Noan eradicated any trace of smoke with his particulate gun and Tu shot the whole thing with her gleaming eyes.

Noan felt something warm splash against the side of his face and before he could realize it was blood, it’d been way too late.

Charlie’s arm had erupted into a fine, pink mist and the flame thrower swung wildly as he gripped it with his remaining hand. When Noan turned reflexively another thin red beam scanned the room and shattered his P-catch canister in his arms in a tiny explosion. The metal had dug into his flesh, knocking the air out of him as he fell over and caught his head against a glass panel. He crawled behind an adjacent concrete slab, his lungs refusing to inhale. Tu was on the other side of the crescent room, still crouched, her hands covering her mouth. Charlie threw himself behind the glass coffin housing Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.

Another beam split from nowhere and caught Charlie’s leg, cleanly slicing it off like a cleaver through pastry dough.

Noan felt the heat before anything else. The room flashed white-orange and the explosion dulled his ears. Metal shards of the butane tank had scorched and broken through the glass panels shattering all of it as the flames scorched the walls. The soles of his boots melted to the stone floor and as he tried to move away, his wet feet slid out of them. Sound returned with a dull ringing and he heard something roll against the floor across the hallway outside the display room.

Silence lay thick across the crescent display room.

When Noan peered around the concrete panel he saw Charlie’s scorched remains. When he could tear his eyes away from the gore, he noticed a spherical thing that looked like metal ball with a camera lense embedded into it. It was laying prone and useless at the entrance to the display room.

“Laser defense lense,” Tu said as she stood, her voice cracking. The fur on her jacket had burnt away. “Oh my God,” she said as she looked at what was left of Charlie.

Noan dragged himself back and leaned against the front of a scorched concrete panel. He took off his wet socks and felt a sharp pain shoot through his leg from his knee to his hip. Tu helped him up, steadying him with an arm under his. He felt an intense pain as she caught against his side and he realized that he’d been stapled along the right side of his body with shrapnel from the P-catch canister. The blood was dark and thick as it dripped down his jeans and pooled at his foot.

“Gotta get you out of here and straight to a med bot,” Tu said as they hobbled out of the charred crescent display room. “Leer messed something up,” she said. “He might’ve sold us.”

All Noan could think about was Kylie and how she’d died in the air with all those people filming her. How her body was printed on the sides of buildings and on the backs of jackets and how they were probably going to shoot a whole movie about it. He thought about how the woman that would play her would inherit the ghost of her fame.

He thought about his mother, too.

By the time he saw the other fine, red line cut through the hallway, he’d accepted it. He pushed Tu away and she slid her arm away from him. She ran towards the broken glass window at the end of the hall, towards the cold winter moonlight. She turned at the last moment and aimed her eyes at him. He stared at her, at Core, at the people who would watch what happened tonight.

It would probably be entertaining, he thought.

Noan felt something slide across his belly like a warm, slender finger and when he looked, there was only redness spreading out across his shirt. The hall turned sideways and he watched Tu. Her long neoprene-derivative legs vanishing beyond the window frame. Twin points of red in her eyes, little glints, little crimson stars set in those wide eyes as she turned and leapt from the broken window and out.

Down and down into the winter night, into the winter snow.


bioVictor de Paula is a poet and fiction writer who has made his home in the Pacific Northwest for the last two years. Born in Rochester, New York, to Brazilian immigrants, he has been writing for nearly two decades. Fueled by his experience as an ex-patriate in New Zealand, he has turned his love of writing to a professional pursuit. He is currently assembling a selection of his short stories and poetry into a book of prose to be released in late 2017.

 

 

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