We Brace while we’re still in the Jenny, its twin rotors beating a heavy rhythm in the night air about twenty minutes outside Tijuana, and when the wave of Brace crests inside me I think to myself: so this is what it feels like to be a sociopath.
Each of us has inhaled deeply and abruptly, the way they tell you to do, holding a disposable applicator mask over nose and mouth. The interior of the Jenny is utterly dark in the visual spectrum for stealth, but our visors are tuned to an expanded EM range and the ultraviolet lamps make the inside of the hold gleam a pale whitish purple. We sit facing each other on benches that run down each side of the hold. On the floor in between us there is a small pile of crumpled applicator masks, a California National Forces logo fluorescing on each one.
The Brace has a harsh chemical tang in my nose and throat, reminiscent of burning plastic, but that’s quickly forgotten as the drug rushes up the inside of my face and explodes in my frontal cortex, then lies there sizzling, lighting up my brain from the inside with an intense white light, like the weaponized phosphorus of Angelfire.
I feel several things at once, none of it quite what I imagined.
My entire body is engorged with a carnal joy that I am suddenly too inhuman to express in words.
I am refreshed, reborn, re-energized – I could run, run, run forever and never run down. Despite my energy, I am filled with an ecstatic peace, a sense of being exactly where I belong, free of conscience, worry, or human sympathy.
I am blissfully awash in evil, in a profound lust for violence, unrestrained by anything like love, all empathy junked in a rush of pure kinetic bliss with the sweet taste of sin in the back of my throat.
Or maybe that’s not sin – in the first rush I bit the inside of my cheek and it’s bleeding.
I look across the aisle at Yarborough. Because of the reflection on his visor I can’t make out his eyes, but I can see his mouth. He is grinning uncontrollably, and I feel my face pull into the same rictus – not a smile, but a manic baring of the teeth, something inherited from our predator ancestors who hunted with their teeth, fought with their teeth and killed with their teeth.
He tilts his head slightly and his eyes become visible. He looks back at me and we know each other, the way monsters know each other. Next to me Macchia begins stomping his feet, first one and then the other, in a slow rhythm. I can feel his left leg against my right as he raises it up and stomps it down, over and over. I can feel the vibrations of his footfalls through the metal plating of the floor. After a moment Yarborough falls into step with him, and then I do, and then we all do, as though the entire squad is marching while sitting down. The beat is out of time with the Jenny’s rotors, setting up a jazzy syncopation. Someone down the aisle starts ratcheting their flechette launchers with a sound that is eerily like a güiro.
Wired on Brace, we’re not a very disciplined force, but then we don’t have to be. This isn’t a strategic infiltration like Boulder, or a covert intel op like New York. This is strictly civilian control, a euphemism for stomping on everyone and everything so painfully that for the rest of their lives they will keep their heads down, cause no trouble, and be grateful to simply be left alone. Guiterrez is a hard man and normally keeps his city under control, but lately he’s been distracted by local affairs – ambitious lieutenants, pleasures of the flesh – and the some isolated pockets of resistance have developed. Sacramento wants the place disinfected before isolated resistance comes together into something like insurrection.
The brass may call this civilian control, but we call this kind of mission what it is: deploy and destroy, burn and return. The Jenny’s floor begins to sink perceptibly, signaling our imminent arrival at the drop zone. Almost time.
Whatever we do down there, we won’t even remember it once the Brace wears off. It’s been coupled with a GABA agonist marketed under the trade name Erase, which temporarily prevents the formation of long-term memory. Like a bunch of blind drunks, when our consciences return in the morning we’ll be unaware of the atrocious things we did the night before. Hell, I can’t even remember boarding the Jenny.
Except that’s not right.