Inside Job (Dystopian)

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Cool darkness.

A voice that may as well be in my head. “Evening, Sam.”

“Evening,” I say. I can’t even hear my own voice in here but I know the controller will pick it up.

“We’ve already got one for you. Paperwork just came in. You all settled?”

So it’s going to be one of those nights.

“Yeah, just give me a sec.”

I scrub my hands across my face and try to relax.

“You alright? You look tired.”

“Lost power in my bloc again last night. Had to mask it. Paul wasn’t happy, so no sleep for us.”

“I’m sure they’ll have it fixed soon.”

A standard answer. The recorders must already be running.

Should have watched my mouth.

Nothing for it now, I take another breath.

“Suspect or Detainee?” I ask.

“They haven’t brought him in yet, so be quiet.”

The last of the tension from the day slips away and I’m floating peacefully.

“Link?”

“Two nodes close enough, I picked one.”

Somewhere in the city then.

“Triggers?”

“Um,” a slight pause, like he’s shuffling through paper, which is of course impossible. “Friday night. Excitement. A bright light. And something to do with skulls.”

Just across the horizon, and I’m not thrilled with the signs. Not a great start. I’d say something but the recorders are running.

Better not be another mass murderer, I didn’t sleep for a week after the last one.

“Ready,” I say instead.

“Just got the green light. Cut in 3, 2, 1...”

The smell of pine. Leafy boughs overhead. A small clearing. Heavy grunting. Two bears humping in it.

It really is going to be one of those nights.

I hit the Interrupt and the scene jerks and crumbles. Somewhere, probably not so far away, someone rolls over in their sleep and I hope doesn’t wake up.

The world wavers, but stays dark. Good.

A shadow to my left. A house maybe. A woman’s face in profile. Blonde and smiling. An old car engine revs in the distance.

I slip the Feed in between beats and start the Protocol. Everything freezes and fades to black.

Let’s get started.

They didn’t give me much to go off of, but something about Friday night tugs at me. It was recent, maybe something will come up. I dig for weekend, end of work, night off. I toss in beer on a whim, and girls, and something tells me more than a little fear.

I get a response on the first try. I might say I got lucky, but --.

Screaming! Lots of screaming, a shriek really, in the center of my head. Blood explodes everywhere across my vision.

-- I wouldn’t really call this lucky.

Just great, another killer, I start to think but the scene is wrong. The scream is wrong, and there’s no smell. There’s always a smell with a killing. Even in here.

I go off focus. Push the edges a bit and the gore moves away into a harsh glow. A large screen on a small wall. A couch pushed too close. I jostle the view and get a head turn. There’s a girl on the couch and beyond her another guy. Features are indistinct on him. The girl is the blonde I saw earlier. She barely looks overage. Her eyes are wide, scared but excited. Her fingers are digging into his arm. I can’t see them in the dim room but I can feel the tug.

Another scream and shriek. The girl echoing the screen. View whips back in time to see a head pulled free from a torso. Nasty stuff, very realistic looking.

Contraband, obviously. Doesn’t feel quite right though. Sans skull so far and this is petty stuff to toss my way.

I let it spool out a bit, cut the audio, crank Temporal. Blood and guts fly by faster in predictable but gruesome ways. Still missing something. I feel around. Heartbeat pounding and I don’t think it’s from the video. Something else. He knows its blocked content. I’m sure of it.

I start wondering where he got it.

I can’t rewind of course. Nothing runs backwards upstairs so nothing goes that way in here. I should probably try to snag a transition but the darkness around the edges feels solid. I hit a hard cut. The darkness wavers, fades. I hold my breath and after a moment it’s dark again.

The excitement was mixed with anxiety and fear. He was antsy. I bet he couldn’t wait long to watch this. I ride the anxiety, the feel of a rush. On a hunch I dig dark, alone, almost weekend.

Brightness immediately. Another screen, smaller, but all encompassing. I feel fingers on a keyboard, clacking away out of sight. An uplink pops up and then a search screen. I wait for the official logo, but it never pops up. The view is entirely different. There’s a skull and crossbones waving darkly. The thrill ratchets up another level. Tingling now.

My mind stops and the scene shudders along with it. It’s a direct link. Unfiltered. Lists of files scrolls past on the screen. Lists of possibilities.

I want to ask how he got out. How he got under the wall. The scene is far away but tantalizingly close. But it’s too late now. He should have been more careful.

Even if they can’t read me in here, I can’t pause too long. I don’t want to rate an Examination.

Sorry pal, you fought the law and the law had eyes everywhere. Even in your skull.

I drop the link to cool darkness.

“Welcome back,” the voice says too close for comfort. “Good job in there. How are you feeling?”

I don’t risk pausing too long. “I’m fine,” I say.

“Glad to hear it,” says the voice. “We’ve got another one for you.”

I want to think about that dark flag, about what I saw. But I don’t, they’re watching.

I go back to work.

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