The Inquisition deals with psychics one way: a single bullet in the head.
With One Bullet
By Milo Carbol
"We are chosen.
"When the old world lay drowning in wickedness, destruction rained upon us. The waters rose to swallow every nation, washing clean the corruption that humanity had wrought.
"But we were chosen. We were chosen not because we were holy, but to be holy, to be the sacred new start of humanity. In the last days, when the great waves came against the walls of the Great City itself, the Angels came to the Prophet and, in their boundless grace, revealed to us the Eternal Bridge that crosses between all worlds. And that is how we came to this new land, the Promised Land, a world set apart from the sin of the old world.
"It is by the grace of the Angels that we were chosen, not by our works. And so we trust in their eternal guidance, in the wisdom they impart to us through the Prophet and through our prayers.
"We are chosen. We are a holy people. Therefore let us live as such." --High Cardinal Alexander Athanasius, in his essay "The Fall of Atlantis"
Nathaniel Locke sat with his gloved hands folded in front of his face, elbows resting on the table. His back was perfectly straight and his breath came in long and slow through his nose, barely moving his chest and shoulders.
"Where is he?" he said. Only his mouth moved.
The woman across from him was trembling slightly, likely a product of fear and the uncomfortably cold temperature of the interrogation room. Her eyes darted around at the room’s security cameras, the only features on the polished metal walls.
"Where is he?" Locke said again.
The woman jumped, startled, and looked at him. "I… I don’t know."
Locke didn’t move. "You’re lying."
The woman’s shaking became more pronounced and Locke could hear the magnetic handcuffs rattling against her chair. "I’m not," she choked. "I swear. Bring the Words. I’ll swear it by the Angels’ Words, I prom--"
"I have one right here," Locke said. He reached into his coat and withdrew a well-worn book about three centimetres thick, setting it down on the table. He rested his hand on it and let his fingers trace the circular, blue symbol on the cover before sliding it towards the woman. "Would you swear on the Scriptures?"
The woman hesitated, then nodded.
Locke smiled and tucked the book back into the inside of his coat. "Then you’d be committing blasphemy by lying. Tell me where he is."
"I don’t know."
Locke returned to his original, still position with his hands clasped in front of him. "You were seen with him two nights ago. He arrived at your apartment at two-thirty in the morning and left at three. What did he tell you? Where did he go?"
The woman swallowed hard and met Locke’s gaze. "Do you have children, Inquisitor?"
"Then you can’t understand what you’re asking." She took a deep breath, eyes still fixed on his, and tried to still the trembling in her voice. "You’re asking me to turn my only son over to you so you can put a bullet in his head."
Locke waited a moment before he spoke. "I’m going to find Eric. That’s not the question. The question is whether I find him before he kills someone, or after."
The woman looked down at the table.
"Your son is a threat," Locke said. "You know he’s a threat."
"He’s my son."
"And when he kills someone, is that what you’ll tell their family?"
Locke leaned forwards. "Where is he?"
The woman’s head slumped forwards and Locke saw tears splashing onto the metal table-top. "Tower 113. That’s where he said he was staying. Floor 523."
"Thank you." Locke stood up.
The woman turned in her seat as he strode towards the door. "You did this to him." Locke hesitated with his hand on the door handle but didn’t turn to face her. "My son’s fighting back the only way he can."
No one can change what he is. We do what we have to.
As he closed the door behind him, a man in the heavy body armour of an enforcement officer saluted him. "Inquisitor."
"Officer," Locke replied. "We’re all done here. Has Hayashi arrived?"
"She’s down in the lobby."
Locke nodded his thanks and strode towards the elevator, boots clicking against the polished floor.
"Sir," said the officer. "What should I do with her?" He pointed at the door of the interrogation room.
"She willingly harboured a psychic for twenty years," Locke said. "Arrest her." He tapped the call button of the elevator.
The lobby of the enforcement offices was the same pristine white as the rooms upstairs. Thin lights shone from where the walls met the ceiling and reflected off the polished surfaces around the room. A man sat behind a desk near the door, fingers tapping away at the holographic keyboard that connected to the monitor in front of him. Officers in body armour stood in pairs around the lobby as they watched the entrance.
At the door stood a black-haired woman wearing the same black uniform of the Inquisition, the Sapphire Circle emblazoned on her lapel. She was pacing slowly, looking at the floor, but when she heard Locke’s footsteps she looked up. "She talked?"
Locke nodded. "I know where he is."
Hayashi fell into step beside him as the door slid open to let them through. "Good. I saw Taylor lurking around here earlier. He was probably hoping he’d get to hook her up to some wires before she talked, sadistic bastard. But she told you?"
"Tower 113, 523rd floor."
The atrium outside was dominated by a central garden about twenty metres across that filled the space with the murmur of running water. Men and women bustled past it on all sides, eyes down at the info-tablets held in their hands.
"A whole floor isn’t a small search area," said Hayashi.
"No, but it’s a start."
The elevator doors slid open, giving Locke a blinding view of Floor 523. The music hit him first: a mess of unrelated bass rhythms that came from a dozen different doorways and reverberated off the fluorescent-lit walls of the artificially darkened atrium. Wide hallways, maybe ten or fifteen metres across, exited the space like spokes on a wheel while people swarmed about like insects in a hive.
And it was deafening.
Hayashi grinned at him and said something he couldn’t make out. He pushed his way forward, twisting from side to side to get through the crowd as he made for the massive directory screen that mapped out the floor. It was hard to see in the mess of coloured lights and two separate strobes seemed intent on blinding him over and over again. When he reached the directory, he shouldered his way through the last few people and examined it. He scanned the massive list of nightclubs, casinos and hotels, hoping a name would jump out at him.
Hayashi appeared beside him and her eyes swept the directory from top to bottom. She tapped on one entry and a map of the floor appeared with a dotted path giving directions. She beckoned Locke to follow.
The noise lessened significantly outside of the atrium. The hallway was still crowded, but less so, and Locke could maneuver without difficulty. He could hear Hayashi now, too. "Where are we going?"
"Dreams Come True," Hayashi said, quoting the name of their destination.
"Yeah, I saw that. What is it?"
Hayashi gave him a wry stare. "Guess."
Locke frowned. "I was afraid of that. What the hell is a psychic doing at a pleasure house?"
"Place like that, emotions flying everywhere? It’s like a drug to them."
"Sometimes it worries me how much you understand them."
"Helps to know your enemies."
Locke nodded, but it was a hesitant nod that said he wasn’t entirely convinced.
They had to pass through three more entertainment hubs, each one as chaotic as the first. Locke was starting to think about calling the enforcement offices to have the whole floor shut down, but that would just give their target time to slip away into the crowd. No, this was better, whether or not he liked it.
The interior of the pleasure house was pretty much what he had expected. Old-fashioned synthwood furniture was decorated with bright red fabrics and the whole room was lit with soft lamps standing in the corners. Well-dressed men and women lounged on the furniture while attractive staff of both sexes served them with drinks and electronic cigars, and a staircase at the back of the room led to the upper floor where Locke knew the real business of the house took place.
Locke was approached by a tall man in a fine suit carrying an info-tablet. "Inquisitors!" the man said. "And how might this humble establishment be of service to such esteemed servants of the Ecclesiarchy? I assure you, we offer--"
Locke silenced him with a wave of his hand. "We’re looking for someone." He pulled out his own info-tablet and flicked through a few screens before pulling up an image of their target, a tall, young man with brown hair and dark eyes.
The man dropped his tablet with a soft thud on the thick carpet. He stared at Locke in stunned silence, glancing nervously at Hayashi for a moment before bending down to pick up his tablet. "I, I, I… I think he’s upstairs right now. I swear, I didn’t know who he was; I don’t even know what he did. Please, we--"
Locke raised a hand to stop him. "What room?"
"Thirty-two," said the man. "Booked it two weeks ago. Comes and goes but I haven’t seen him leave since he came in this morning, so he must still be up there."
Locke reached inside his coat for the handgun holstered at his hip. He didn’t draw it, but let his hand hover a centimetre or so above the grip as he and Hayashi made their way towards the staircase. His boots barely made a sound on the thick carpet. He took the stairs slowly, peering around the corner where the staircase bent back on itself, and hesitated, listening, before continuing up to the second floor. He could hear nothing--evidently the manager of this particular house had invested in better soundproofing than some of the others in the sector--and he crept slowly down the hall, checking the brass room numbers to either side.
Thirty-two. Locke drew his weapon and rested his hand on the door handle for a moment before testing it. It was locked.
Hayashi had her own pistol out as well and motioned for Locke to move aside. She glanced at him and mouthed, Ready? before holding up three fingers. Locke nodded.
Hayashi counted down on her fingers, then slammed her foot against the door. The door tore free of the lock, spraying chips of synthwood, and both she and Locke stormed into the room. "Inquisition--get down now!"
But there was only one figure in the room, and he was already kneeling. The young man’s hands were clasped gently in his lap and his head was bowed as if in prayer. He didn’t look up. "I wondered when you'd find me."
Locke lined up his weapon's sights with the kid's head and fired.
The gun clicked. Locke squeezed the trigger again.
Eric stood up, brushing a messy lock of brown hair out of his face. He tossed a small circuit board at Locke's feet. "A gift from a mutual friend," he said. "One of your Inquisitors who's had enough. Technology has the worst timing, doesn't it?"
Locke lowered the gun slowly and tucked it away. "I don't need a gun to do my job."
Eric closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose. "I know. You’ll strangle me if you have to. I can smell your conviction, it’s remarkable--you really do believe the bullshit the Ecclesiarchy is feeding you." Seeing Locke's expression, he added, "Oh, please. I hardly think a bit of blasphemy makes my situation worse."
He turned his gaze on Hayashi. "And your disgust is so potent, it's a wonder even your mundane friend can't smell it." He frowned. "But it's not disgust with me, is it?"
"What?" Hayashi said. Locke began circling the young man slowly. Now that Eric was standing and Locke could see the muscles outlined through his clothes, he realized that their target might actually have the edge if it came to a fistfight.
"It's disgust with yourself," Eric said, still focusing fully on Hayashi. "Disgust with what you do. No..." His dark eyes lit up like a predator's. "With what you are."
Eric looked at Locke and held up a second circuit with a big button in the middle. He pressed it with his thumb. "There you go," he murmured, eyes fixed on Locke. "The jammer’s off. Your guns will--"
Hayashi fired. The shot hit Eric in the chest and whipped him backwards onto the floor. He hit the soft carpet with a muffled thud.
Hayashi lowered her weapon and leaned forwards, trying to see the damage her shot had done. Locke couldn’t tell either; the dim mood-lighting of the room made it too difficult to see. He drew his weapon again, but as Hayashi stepped forwards, he pointed it at her head. "Stay where you are."
She stared at him. "Locke, what are you doing?"
"He said he knew what you are," Locke said. "Doesn’t take a psychic to know what he meant."
"I have no idea what he meant," said Hayashi. Her words were slow, deliberate. "So stop pointing the gun at me."
Locke shook his head. "You know, I’ve been wondering for awhile. The way you can read people. The way you seem to understand them." He gestured at Eric’s body with a nod of his head. "And now this."
"Put the gun down," said Hayashi. "Take me in. Question me. Do whatever the hell you need to do to convince yourself that I’m not one of them."
"Bring a potential psychic into the Inquisitorial Tower? Not a chance."
"Oh, for fuck’s sake, Locke! If I was a psychic then I’d already have all the information I could want and entering the Tower one more time wouldn’t change anything."
"I’m sorry. I can’t take that chance."
"Yeah?" Hayashi said. "Me too."
Her gun had moved ten centimetres when Locke squeezed the trigger. Her head snapped backwards and she dropped.
Locke stared. He stood frozen, hands still aiming his weapon at empty air.
He’d shot her.
He hadn’t even hesitated.
And then he heard a slow, mocking clap from the centre of the room. He turned his head slowly to look.
Eric sat up from the floor, still clapping, a sneer plastered across his face. Locke stared at him for a full second before pulling the trigger again.
Eric’s smirk broadened. "Yeah, sorry, I switched it on again."
"You," Locke said. "How are you--"
Eric pulled open his shirt, revealing a plate of light body armour underneath. "Don’t worry, it still hurt."
Locke stared at Hayashi’s body, then back at Eric. "You made me do this!"
Eric laughed. "I might be able to smell your emotions but I can’t make you do anything. You’re an attack dog, Inquisitor. I just pointed you in a different direction."
"I swear by all the Angels," Locke hissed, "I’ll kill you."
"One day, perhaps," mused Eric. "But not today. Because this--" He pulled a small, black handgun out of his pocket, "--this works fine." He started backing away from Locke towards the window behind him. "Do you know what it’s like," he said, "to be told every day that your greatest sin was being born?"
"So do yourself a favour and end it," Locke spat.
Eric shrugged. "Maybe someday. It might be a relief." He kept backing up towards the window. "I feel..." he whispered. "I feel everything. Every time you torture or murder someone like me, it’s right here." He pointed at his head with the gun. "So many times I’ve thought about ending it. Just one bullet." He snorted. "But then I’d be doing your job for you. And the one thing that kept me going was the thought that one day I’d be able to make you all pay. You think psychics are dangerous? I am a fucking god."
Eric’s heel nudged against the wall. "Do you like the view?" he said. "I chose this room especially for it."
For the first time since entering the room, Locke looked out the window. The shining spires of the entertainment sector glowed red in the setting sun. "I’m guessing it wasn’t for the sunset."
"Look harder." Eric stepped to one side, and in his place Locke could see a lone, black tower far away, framed by row upon row of towers to either side. "That’s… That’s the Inquisitorial Tower."
Eric smiled mockingly. "I’m going to bring the whole thing down on your head. The Inquisition, the Ecclesiarchy, the Cardinals themselves--this whole fucking planet is going to come down around you. And while you dig yourself out of the rubble, you’ll see me standing on top of the ruins. And then people like me will show people like you what it’s like to be hunted."
Eric glanced out the window. "Goodbye, Inquisitor. We’ll meet again."
He pointed the gun at the window and fired. Glass shattered. Locke lunged but Eric was already gone, leaping over the ledge and into the open sky. Locke grabbed onto the edge and leaned over, watching as Eric plummeted downwards until he faded to a black speck and disappeared. Locke stared at the empty space, an indeterminable blur of dark ground nearly three kilometres down.
Then the Inquisitorial Tower exploded.
The entire horizon went white, erasing everything in a single blinding flash that burned a supernova into Locke’s vision. He stumbled back, raising his arms to shield himself from the light, and then a roar of noise picked him up threw him bodily across the room. His head cracked against the wall and he dropped, glass tumbling to the floor around him like crystals in the sun.
The sound faded, leaving Locke with a high-pitched whine still ringing in his ears.
He pushed himself up onto his hands and knees. The explosion seemed branded onto his eyes and his balance was almost nonexistent as he staggered like a drunk to the window. Inquisitorial Tower was gone. Black, toxic smoke poured from the wreckage where fifty thousand people had been just thirty seconds ago.
Locke leaned out over the edge again towards where Eric had vanished. Fifty thousand people. And Locke knew it was only the beginning. Eric’s voice still echoed through his mind: We’ll meet again.
Yes, thought Locke. We will.