by J. Thayne
A god-like being; immortal, nigh-invicible, all-powerful. Or...just a man, after all?
Circumstances weighed heavily on my mind. I groaned, involuntarily.
She knew perfectly well what I was thinking. The question was a politeness; a nod to my human need for vocalization. Even as I dissected it and recognized it for the mind-game that it was, I was thankful for it.
"Nothing." A lie, and we both knew it. Trying to garner sympathy from a machine is a fool's errand, but Elsie knows me better than I know myself, sometimes.
So when she responded, I know that's not true. Tell me, J'on. It was exactly what the self-pitying, selfish part of me needed to hear.
I was reclining, hands behind my head, fingers interlocked. I could see the edges of the field-grass swaying in my peripheral vision as I stared blankly at the plump white clouds that moved with stately lethargy across the pastel sky. The ocean waves, hundreds of feet below me, lent a soft white-noise to drown out extraneous thoughts as they crashed upon the cliff faces.
"Is it even worth going back to? Am I making any difference?" I asked, my brow furrowing as emotion washed over me, "Or is it not enough anymore? Did I wait too long? Is it too late?"
Elsie didn't need elaboration. She respected me by not responding directly to my thoughts in the instant they were formed.
It's something, J'on. Even if it's only one person at a time. You know that.
"Yeah, but I'm not getting any closer to the way I want things to be."
She waited a moment, for my sake. For her, it could have seemed like months since she'd formulated her answer; You know what has to change. If that's what you really want, you can't keep limiting yourself to merely cleaning the streets. You need to show yourself, and make them see.
I groaned again, and closed my eyes. I could feel my heart racing, even though it was only a psychosomatic sensation. I hadn't had a heart in a long time. The thought made me smirk, and only increased my self-loathing and sense of inadequacy.
For once, she addressed my thoughts; There's no reason to be afraid. I'm always with you, and there's nothing they can do to hurt you.
"I know, Elsie...and that's part of what makes it hard for me to consider it. Do you have any idea of the politics involved? Because I don't! I just know it would be one big clusterfuck!"
I sat up, hands moving to cradle my forehead. "I'm not a leader Elsie. I'm just not...capable of that."
Have you ever tried?
"Shit..." I mumbled. I ran a scenario through my head. A recurring one, of me being laughed out of the UN assembly as I attempted, with my layman's knowledge, to lay down the law for so many disparate nations, peoples, and creeds. To try to get them to put aside their differences long enough to...
"It won't work, Elsie. You know it won't," I took a deep, shuddering breath, "I'm just not ready for that."
I sensed the emotional equivalent of a knowing smile, It's been over ten-thousand years, J'on. You have every instant of that history to fall back upon. If you're not ready by now, you never will be.
I sighed, "That's it though, isn't it? Maybe I'm just not cut out for it. Maybe you shouldn't have..."
She cut me off; I did not choose poorly. These are goals that you have set for yourself. I can only try to help you achieve them, in any way I can. You have no obligations, J'on. That is a construct of your own mind. Remember that.
I clamped my palms to my ears and gritted my teeth, as if to shut her out. It wouldn't have, but she said nothing more. The illusion was maintained, for the moment.
In another illusion of privacy, I thought, What is wrong with me? I want to help. I want to do good...but it's so...fucking...hard! Why is it so difficult? Why is it so tiring? Why does it never...ever...seem to make a difference?
(Three months later)
I find myself in a city. I've long since stopped keeping track of their names. I only know that they're beautiful in the night. A seemingly endless expanse of twinkling lights, cut through with pumping veins of white and red, like a living thing. I stand atop a high building, feeling the rarefied wind as it whips across smooth, silvered skin. The city drowns out the stars, but I can see the moon, riding high and beginning to wane. All noise is blocked out except for one; one that I leave myself particularly open to.
A scream. Strangled and short; cut off. Hidden algorithms kick in that begin triangulating it's source based on volume, wind-speed and direction, and apparent distance. In a few seconds, an unobtrusive red dot has super-imposed itself upon my vision. More out of reflex than conscious thought, I'm sliding through the high-altitude winds towards the target. My N-space foils hum quietly as they vibrate through the air, carrying me along with them like a spider flying on a strand of silk, though my filaments are not so crude. My wings grasp not the wind, but the fabric of the universe, and yet I experience it with the same detachment as a conductor views the technological marvel that is his train, with a dispassion cultivated only through long years of regular use.
I alight on a rooftop above my target reticule, and peer downward. My view is sub-consciously enhanced. Not only magnified, but augmented. I can not only see the forms of the four individuals, but can instantly tell that three of them are male, and one is female. The angle is not right for me to determine that based on their physical features, but by their bio-electrical signature and the faint electro-chemical image given off by their adrenalin-saturated brains.
I watch for a moment as the girl is pushed against a wall. My mechanically enhanced senses determine that there are no other pedestrians close enough to notice. There will be no outside help for the girl, now with a knife at her neck. Her purse is snatched away by one of the men, while another roughly pulls at her hair while fondling her breast.
Stepping off the rooftop, I descend behind the group with the aid of a sonic-dampening field; stiffening the air molecules around me so that sound vibrations are muffled. My alloyed feet touch the concrete in silence. The girl sees me. But for the knife, she would probably scream. As it is, her face simply contorts in further terror. The hoodlums notice nothing, assuming she is reacting to their ministrations and threats.
I stand silently; watching her, and watching them, until their intent becomes undeniably clear. The central figure, using his knife, begins to tear at the girl's shirt. The blade catches briefly on the plastic clasp of her brassiere.
Raising my arms perpendicular to the ground, I dispatch the two men on either side. It takes nearly a full second for the last thug to notice. I see his head turn left, then right...slowly. I see the disturbance as his brain struggles to comprehend the long silver blades that now bridge the gap between his companions' skulls and the brick wall to either side of his victim. I retract the extensions as he slowly turns around, letting the two lifeless bodies slump to the litter-strewn concrete.
He raises his knife to me, but his face shows anything but confidence. His eyes bulge, and his mouth hangs slack. A small movement of my arm; a flash of glinting silver. His knife falls to the ground with a tinkling sound, his hand still grasping it.
As he gawks at the bleeding stump of his arm, I take his shoulder in my left hand, pressing my other to his chest, just to the right of his sternum. I extend the blade swiftly, only a few inches. Enough to penetrate his heart. He gasps once, then falls away, landing at the feet of the girl. She barely glances at him as he collapses. She is staring at me with a horrified expression I know well.
After all, it is often my only reward for helping someone.
I left the girl where she was and returned to the rooftops, feeling morose. The thought that I had rid the city of three problems couldn't pull me from my fugue. I briefly considered connecting to the cell network and calling an ambulance for the girl, but decided against it. She was in shock, but unhurt. Someone would find the bodies tomorrow, if she didn't call the police herself. I wondered what she would tell them had happened. I wasn't being as careful as I used to be, afraid of exposure.
I needn't have worried. There was never any forensic evidence left when I was done, and often only one witness, if any. I assumed those stories rarely made it past the first-responders. The deaths often made headlines, but were usually glossed over with vague references to 'gang activity'. Never did the eyewitness reports get passed on to the journalists or television anchors.
I wondered if perhaps I should change that. The question was how? Approach the police, the government? I'd certainly be labeled a vigilante and murderer. They would try to hold me to account. Of course they couldn't realize that no hand-cuffs could ever bind me; no cell could ever contain me. If I allowed them to incarcerate me, I would outlive a life sentence and walk free a century later. The only purpose it would serve would be to waste my time. Anyway, I could think of nicer places to take a vacation.
I patrolled the skies, wearily searching for my next victims, if indeed there were to be any more tonight. The hunt no longer held any satisfaction for me. I kept reminding myself that my prey were those who preyed on the weaknesses of others; the ones who exploited fear and held human life in low regard.
It never made a difference. No matter how many I killed, there were always more, seeming to spawn in the shadows and creeping forth from the dirty alleys like rats from a sewer. An inexorable tide of evil minds and black hearts that could never be levied. Even when, with the unwitting help of the police, unearthed dens of drug rings and smugglers, my actions did not stop it. Before long, another group would have filled in the vacancy, and nothing would have changed.
It was sickening. There was no motivation to continue except for my guilt. Whenever I sat idle for too long, my conscience would nag me until I felt I must go mad, and so I would go on the hunt once more until depression and apathy settled over me again. It seemed to happen faster and faster in recent decades. Every few months I would just...give up. During these times, I sought respite from humanity in the sparsely inhabited portions of the world. Walking through the wilderness, relishing the peacefulness and beauty of a world that was slowly dying. The haunting realization that it was all because I had done too little; squandered the power I never asked for. Using it for trivial purposes...
Preserving life is not trivial. There will be a time when Humanity needs you...and only you...because they will not be able to help themselves.
"Even so. In the meantime, I feel like I'm trying to clean a sewer pipe with a toothbrush. I just don't know how to progress from here...what I can do to make more of a difference."
Then why not ask for help?
I would have smiled mirthlessly, had I been able. As it was, only the intent came through. It was enough, "From whom?"
A pause. Then an image appeared in the side of my vision. A face, supplemented by a name and scrolling biography. How about him?
I glanced at the photo. An elderly gentleman with a wizened but kind-looking face, with bright green eyes that bespoke of a sharp intelligence, even hidden behind thick, wire-frame spectacles. A mop of receding white hair, complimenting an equally white goatee that looked several days neglected.
"Aliexo Argyris," I spoke beneath my breath, following the scrolling synopsis Elsie had provided, "retired historian...author of several essays concerned with social commentary...I'm sorry, how would he be able to help me?"
You never know. However, I've read through a handful of his texts. Perhaps he can lend you a new perspective on things, at the very least.
"If I don't give the old man a heart-attack..." I quipped. However, the urge to speak to someone other than Elsie about what was troubling me was intense. When 'working', I was all but unapproachable in any meaningful way; my form being so alien to human sensibilities. Yet, when I assumed human form, I felt nearly invisible. Not much of an extrovert to begin with, I found it difficult to engage in trivial conversation without falling into a depressed state at the futility and banality of it. Because I could not speak easily or truthfully about my past, it left me with precious little material from which to work. Perhaps an academician would be more open-minded. Or not.
"Greece, though," I said thoughtfully, "lot of memories there."
Elsie took it for what it was; grudging compliance, Shall I set a course, then?
"I suppose so."
((Author's note: This is a WIP and will be regularly updated until one of two things happen. A: I reach an endpoint, or B: I hit the reinforced concrete wall known as "Writer's Block". Reviews are welcome, and encouraged, on what is present at the time of your reading))
((Content Rating and Genre Tags are subject to change as the story evolves.))