You know what everybody needs in this world? To become dangerous.
That’s the only equality. That’s the only freedom.
I plugged the leading wire into my neck-port and donned the skeletal mask.
“You’re six feet deep in over your head, Frode.” Ashmedai was on his perch again, looking down at where I worked on the floor.
Night had fallen again outside and the poor incandescent light remaining was straining my focus. My skin was crawling with nervous energy, I was so beyond ready to act. Tonight was the night I moved on my goal.
My entire life had been leading up to this, I realized. So many sleepers in their skyscraper coffins would pass up this day as ignorant as the last. With them nothing would change and as the city’s rot progressed they’d play their luck that the next fleshy harvest fell on another door. Every day the same.
But not for me. Whatever happened tonight, I would never forget.
I laughed as I stood. The mask in my hands was a patchwork of electronics, wires wrapping around my neck, running into me and behind into a backpack. The mask itself was Jerry’s faceplate, a white skull marring the front.
I felt bad about dismantling him. But he would live on. We could both evolve.
Putting on the mask brought me into blackness. There were no displays on the inside, nor eye-holes. Only the original optics.
I took a deep breath. In the dark of my closed lids, the static of ghostly images shifted. I watched them form and reform. This was how I slipped into dreams. But here I was waking up.
The data started to solidify.
My eyes opened.
“A freak of nature,” Ash commented. “That’s what you are.”
My voice was augmented through the mask when I smilingly spoke, “So you think I’m special?”
“You’re sure a queer little prick.”
My mind flashed back to that vending machine. Somewhere I recognized that I hadn’t eaten more than a bag of chips today. But I wasn’t hungry. I had what I wanted. All of it and with only a taint of regret for Delilah. Certainty enough to bury it.
Grabbing and turning over the little pistol, I considered this as my biggest problem. I wouldn’t be able to find bullets, so it was useless, really. I had managed to rig up my laptop’s old battery into a taser, but otherwise, I was unarmed going forward.
I remained confident.
“You’ve got a full spectrum receiver in your collar,” I told Ash. Pulling up my hood, I opened the door to let him out. “The decryption key is there too.” I looked up. Outside the streets were a silver-blue, the full moon massive and dreadful in the night sky. Clear for once, I could also make out the distant glossy surface of the Deus Machina hanging in the cold void. Almost peaceful. “You’ll hear a call, Ash. We’ll move from there. This is a hunt.”
Taking to the roads on such a perfect night for abomination-slaying, picking up a piece of pipe I passed, there was no fear to be had. I would let my familiar guide me, slowly as we closed in on our prey and a den of horrors.
We picked up the pace, me and the grey tabby-cat.
It was a long jog through the city, passing more and less dense areas. More than a few miles lapsed as we went.
Ashmedai stayed quiet, not telling me how close or far away we were. He simply assured me he had the signal I wanted.
“You couldn’t possibly be leading me into a trap?” I said, breathless.
He stopped for a moment, green eyes on me. “I don’t have to.”
It wasn’t long after that when we came to a door.
Somewhere on the very edge between civilization and the blackout zone, with adverts still powered up above, he had brought me to an alley door. A heavy steel door in the midst of a garbage-flooded side-street.
Power but no trash-pickup, I reckoned. The stench coming off green bags piled high was something special. Nobody in their right mind would wade into it, not even for a door clearly ajar.
“We’re here,” Ash said.
“The source of the signal?”
“The signal is fucking everywhere. This is just the current coordinate it’s broadcasting. I could tell you what’s behind that door, Frode. But it’d be more fun to let you see for yourself.”
“You first, then.”
I watched the cat slink into the crack before following him into the black myself. My vision pierced into it perfectly, the full spectrum of information I was receiving came together into a singular picture.
I wretched, falling to my knees.
“Oh, God…” I struggled to keep it together.
“Can’t just ignore the input like me, fleshbag?”
“The garbage is a mask,” I uttered.
Behind the steel door, there was only a singular open room. Nothing but four cold walls. In its center was a rotting heap. There a stack of decomposing bodies was completely swarmed by a horde of mewling cats. They feasted on the bloated and blackened bodies and spare parts which had been piled almost to my height there. The smell had hit me all at once with the imagery.
My body shook with the urge to get away. The pure revulsion flooding through my guts turned my stomach and head.
Ash chuckled. “Congratulations. You found a flesh-trade dump.” He paced around me. “You should hear yourself right now.” The way he moved and spoke was mocking. He was sure I was lost.
I caughed. “All…” I hacked. I cleared my throat and stood. In my most menacing electronic voice, I reminded him just why he hated me. I was manic at the sight of unfathomable evil. “All according to plan.”