A new free short story from yours truly. An old piece I wrote in my Literature of Science Fiction class. I hope you lot like it. 🙂 Enjoy and leave comments folks. Share it!

 

Small Prices

R.R. Virdi

Written 2015

Copyright and Published 2016

            The Drift, imagine the first leaves of autumn, tumbling through the air—without direction—flowing—freely. That’s your mind in the Drift, freefalling through someone else’s subconscious—consciously.

It’s as hard as it sounds.

Tresses of spun gold filled my sight, she was cream completed with a smile made for toothpaste commercials. Denim blue eyes greeted me, and her smile widened. Her face blurred, pulled from view like smoke in the wind.

A small dog yapped at my leg, stubby tail twitching in excitement. The corgi pawed at my shin, making every effort to climb up me. It too—faded.

Voices rang around me, they were a distant echo, unclear but loud enough to be distracting. The Drift slipped, and I was aware of the briny solution supporting my body, its coolness on my skin. The sensory deprivation was overwhelming. The utter lack of all sensation threatened to tug me from my meditative state.

I stilled my breathing for a ten-count, my heart quickening as I did. The Drift and its depth returned. I continued to dream.

A small house, the side boarding was the sort of color used to define lush forests. An address, 2101, in chunky metal lettering, ran vertically next to the door. The mailbox was stuffed with letters of a depressing nature, but it didn’t matter. A beautiful girl sat in my lap, her head against my shoulders as we sat on the couch. My fingers idly trailed over the short fur of the dog, dozing contently on the floor.

And it was—all-of-it—taken from me.

My throat was raw, spittle left my mouth as I continued shouting. The well-dressed man with the crooked smile, remained calm as he explained things. My fingers tightened and my fists balled. There was a sharp crack like bone meeting flesh, my knuckles left quite the imprint. It didn’t help my cause.

First the house, lost to paperwork, bureaucracy, and the indecent—predatory nature of corporate man. Then the girl, she buried herself in a bottle to cope. At first it was manageable, soon, like the house, she was gone. Hardest was the ever cheerful corgi, who, through poverty, remained happy and loyal. He didn’t leave through choice, but necessity, a decision that didn’t make the action easier to live with.

Moisture obscured my vision, trailing its way down my cheeks. There was a squirming bundle of fur in my arms, yapping. I refused to walk inside, instead handing him off to the couple, listening to their promises of caring for him. Pride made me turn down the small offering of cash. I didn’t give him away for money. I did it so he could eat.

A rush of air flowed around me, pulling me from the visions. I heard voices again, sounding like they were coming from underwater. The reds of my lids were all I could see. Light peppered me, causing me to squeeze my eyes tighter.

“Get him out,” someone barked.

Hands wrapped around my arms, lifting me out of the liquid. I inhaled like a drowning man as my face broke through the surface of suspension fluid. I squinted in the face of the jarring overhead industrial lights.

“Put me back in,” my chest heaved as I breathed in ragged gasps.

“You’ve been under for three minutes man.”

He was dressed like the others, uniformed in black tactical gear, beige skinned, a few days of hair growth on his face. His amber eyes regarded me with caution, a glint drew my gaze to his chest. A small metallic shield was pinned to it, the gold reflecting bits of light.

“Put me back in, Abe.” I repeated.

He ran a hand through his disheveled dark hair, “You’re pushing it, you wanna go in so deep that you end up in a coma?”

I tried to speak, “Abe—”

With a dismissive hand, he cut me off. “Worse, you wanna end up thinking like that guy? You know the risks, don’t be stupid. Too much time in his head and you’ve got a shot at ending up a criminal yourself.”

I scowled.

“What’d you get?”

“Nothing we didn’t know already,” I said through gritted teeth. “Put me back under.”

He shook his head, but waved to nearby men, motioning for them to help. “One minute, that’s it. Got it?”

I nodded.

“Make it count, or guess which two guys are getting the shaft from the Captain?”

Ignoring the warning, I slid back into the egg-shaped chamber, slipping under the liquid. My fingers trailed over the electrodes on my temples, they still had a firm grip on my skin. Three slow breaths and I was falling under again. The lid closed shut with a hiss.

            One word: Dickerson, ran through my mind.

Cold metal sat beneath my fingertips. I brushed over it with precision and care. Dim lighting showed the various parts of the rifle laying disassembled around me. Other men sat at identical tables, laboring to take apart and clean similar weapons. A flat paneled screen flared to life on the wall, there was no image, just a voice. A prerecorded message droned about the failings of the government, of political ineptitude, of corporate greed. It served its purpose, spurring the men to redouble their efforts and attention to the tasks at hand. The image washed away.

Dickerson echoed in my thoughts again.

A recruitment poster sat on my lap, an old picture of Uncle Sam. The face was replaced with a Jack from a set of standard playing cards. In chaotic bold letters, it read: Jack Mayhem wants you. Make a difference. I folded it back up, tucking into my back pocket. Blackness ensued; another memory took its place.

Dickerson.

I looked down at the floor by floor layout of a skyscraper. A blueprint lay beside it.

I lost sight of it all.

Dickerson

Various drawings hung on the wall, a neat row of materials were arranged on the table before me. Moldable plastique, metal tubing, stripped wiring and an array of chemicals.

Noise, it was like a freezer door opening. There was no ceremony this time, lights shone down, hands gripped me, pulling me out. I was pulled from the Drift.

“Hey, what’d you see?” asked Abe, punctuating each word with a slap to my cheeks.

The world was set to the tumble dry setting, spots of light danced before my eyes and everything continued to seesaw. Abe’s fingers pressed tight around my skull, cradling it as he shook me gently.

“Nick, I warned you man, come on!” My cheeks stung, there was definitely going to be a welt after that one. “Burke!” he snapped.

I blinked several times, clearing my head and vision.

A row of officers stood behind Abe—waiting.

“Bomb.” I said, my voice stone. “He’s built a bomb.” The words hung in silence after I said them.

Abe was first to speak. “That means move, guys!” Officers shot into action behind him, scattering around the warehouse. “Here,” he pressed a clean terrycloth into my hands.

I looked at him, arching an eyebrow. Abe ran a finger beneath his nose, rubbing it back and forth. Salt and iron rolled over my upper lip, I pressed the cloth to the spot Abe pointed out. When I pulled it away, the pristine white of the cloth was marred by a crimson splotch.

Abe gave me a knowing look, “I told you not go back under.” He waved an admonishing finger.

I shook my head, placing my hands on the edges of the pod, lifting myself out of it. “Get me a bigger towel than this man, I’m soaked.”

“Diva,” he muttered as he went to a nearby table, snatching a length of plush cloth from it. “Catch,” he tossed it towards me.

Drying myself, I wrapped the towel around my waist and headed to a makeshift changing area. Abe called to me from the other side. “Find out anything else?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “It’s a conversation best had when I’ve got my pants on.”

He snorted.

I stepped out fully dressed in uniform. Abe handed me a paper cup filled with black gold. “Please tell me this ain’t from our machine?”

Abe rolled his eyes. “Santos made a coffee run.”

I nodded, taking a sip, praying the caffeine would hit me fast. Grogginess and lethargy weighed me down, another side effect of the Drift.

“So?”

“I saw a lot, man. But I’ve got the feeling it might not be enough. He lost his home, his girl, his dog.”

“Rough,” Abe commented.

“Yeah,” I agreed over another sip.

“So… a bomb?”

“From what I could make out, looks like he’s part of that anti-big government—corporate extremist group. The one with that stupid Jack playing card figure head.” I said.

“What? That Jack of Mayhem guy? Pops up on random screens with a mask, lecturing in fake British accent about corruption and stick-it-to-the-man crap?”

I nodded.

Abe shook his head, “Bunch of jackasses following an even bigger one. Stupid name too.”

I grunted in agreement.

“What now?” he asked. “We’ve got a bomb threat, and one of the guys behind it in a Drift Pod. I mean it’s not like we can ask him? He ain’t gonna cooperate.”

“Still wish we could’ve done this at the precinct—”

“And what?” Abe interjected. “Use Drift tech there? You know how much those civil rights groups are riding up on us. It’s unethical, it’s not right, inhumane,” he mimicked in a nasally tone. “Yeah,” he spat, “unethical until there’s a bomb threat. Captain told ’em we don’t even use it anymore,” he finished, giving me a sidelong glance.

“Burke—Patel,” chimed a voice.

We turned to face the source of the voice. He stood a couple inches over six foot, dark skinned and solid built. Lines ran under his brown eyes, a weariness hung in them. His hair was steely gray from age and the stress of the job.

“Captain,” we replied in unison.

“What’d you get?”

I told him.

He squeezed his eyes shut, exhaling, “I don’t need this right now.” Seconds later he opened his eyes, glaring hard. “Find it, I don’t care how, find it. I don’t want tomorrow’s paper headlining an explosion. Got it?” His tone made concrete seem soft.

Abe and I nodded. Captain Braugher spun on his heel and marched off.

“Better find something out Nick, else you’re in trouble.”

We’re in trouble,” I corrected. “Partners, right?”

“Yay,” he droned. “Sinking together, huh?”

“Patel, got something!” hollered a voice. Abe faced the slender man running towards us. Short hair, tanned skin, on the lanky side. He stood out among the rest of us, the only one wearing slacks and a shirt reading: People don’t kill. Robots do!

“What’s up Santos?”

Santos doubled over, resting his hands on his knees, “Aside from my heart rate?”

“Do more cardio kid, take a break from the computers.”

“Shut it Patel,” he said, laboring to breathe. A minute later, Santos righted himself and held up several print outs. “Alright, Curtis Palowski, thirty-one—”

“Skip the AA introduction,” I said.

Santos huffed a breath, flipping through some of the papers. “Fine, guy lost his home recently to a financial scam—”

“It happens,” chimed Abe.

Santos glared at him in cold fury. “Interrupt me again Patel, and I’m going to take your coffee and give you an enema with it.”

I barked out a laugh, Abe stood there, blinking.

“Like I was saying,” he said, eyeing Abe as he continued. “Guy lost every financial asset to that scam by Trott and Dickerson—”

“Dickerson?” I blurted.

“Give me your coffee, Nick!” Santos growled. “I’m going to shove it so far up your ass, you’re going to taste it!”

I raised my free hand in a gesture of placation. “Whoa, calm down, it’s something I picked up in the Drift.”

He seemed mollified. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” I nodded. “It kept going through my head, it was like a whisper.”

Santos waved a hand, motioning for us to follow as he walked towards a desk lined with monitors.

Abe and I fell into step behind him as he led us to his nearby workstation.

He fell into his seat unceremoniously, the chair spinning a bit before he stopped it. Santos’ fingers blurred over the keyboard, screens flashed and seconds later we were looking at a singular image stretched over the monitors. Making a flourish with his hands, he gestured to the picture, “Meet Richard Dickerson.”

I had to fight not to laugh. Someone’s parents must not have loved them.

The man on the screen had a weathered face that screamed “Greed.” If any person could’ve been a physical embodiment of corruption, aging badly, and the stereotypical “Fat Cat,” it was him. He had eyes of faded china blue. One of them was obscured by a lock of shoulder length gray hair. The guy wore a suit that looked like it’d cost more than my second hand card. His crooked smile made me reach back to make sure my wallet was still there.

“This is the man behind the investment banking scandal of 2039. He got tons of people to buy into worthless stock, inflating it, and then dumped it. His company raked in billions, with a capital B. Left a lot of people with nothing, some less than nothing. Lot of innocent folks ended up owing tens of thousands upwards, after having all their assets taken and liquidating what they could.”

Abe let out a low whistle.

“Quick, find out if he’s got a residence here, or an office, something!” I turned to Abe, “Get the guys ready,” he nodded and ran off.

Santos snapped his fingers in rapid succession, “His firms on Wall Street, why?”

“Check to see if they’ve tripped an alarm, anything, call the office, something!”

Santos eyed me, but didn’t question my order. He did his computer thing, muttering to himself all the while. “No alarms tripped,” he commented as he reached for his phone. He dialed the firm, lips pursed as he waited.

“Well?”

He didn’t answer, instead placing the phone down and sending his fingers dancing across the keyboard. “Line’s cut.” he told me. Santos spun in the chair to face me, “What’s going on Nick?”

I hooked a thumb to the sealed tank behind me. “Curtis over there has built a bomb.”

Santos’ eyes widened.

“He’s in league with that extremist group—”

“The Jack—”

“Don’t say the name Santos, but yeah. Who else would make a better target for the group? This guy stole the life’s earnings from so many people, he’s the poster boy for corporate greed. It’s not just a statement, it’s personal.”

“Nick!” shouted Abe. “Come on!”

I spun, taking several quick steps before my shirt constricted against my chest, stopping my momentum. “Let go of my shirt, Santos. I just put it on, and if you wrinkle it, so help me God—”

“Nick,” he said, voice raw. “It’s the middle of the day—”

“So?”

“On a weekday, in the middle of the workweek..?”

Bile worked its way up the back of my throat. “Hostages.” The word left a sour taste in my mouth.

Santos nodded.

Too many thoughts bounced through my skull for me to make sense of them. “But we can’t be sure though, right? No announcement made, no demands, nothing.”

Santos arched an eyebrow, giving me an oblique look.

The pit of my stomach fell as I realized what he was implying. “They’re not using the hostages as leverage or an escape plan. They’re leaving them in the building for when it…” I trailed off.

“Like you said, Nick, it’s personal.”

I rubbed my face, a negotiator wasn’t going to help, but there was someone who could. Providing he was in a helping mood.

I doubted it.

“Okay, get bomb squad, make sure they meet us at the site.”

Santos arched an eyebrow, “What are you going to do?”

“Get help.” I spun and made my way over to the Drift pods, letting out a sharp whistle, I motioned for the guys to help. We gathered around the still occupied egg-like chamber, several men had their rifles trained on it. “Pop it,” I said.

The glossy shell cracked open. Curtis Palowski lay suspended within, skin flushed pink from the cold solution. His hair was buzzed short, blonde fuzz. He was the unassuming, average every-man in appearance. Average build and height. His eyes fluttered, revealing eyes of steel wool. Shaking his head, he screamed, lunging out of the pod.

It always disconcerting when a naked man jumps out of a pod towards you. It’s like a bad science fiction movie scene.

There was a sharp crack followed by the wet sound of cartilage breaking. One of the officers tucked his rifle back into a shooter’s position. Curtis was back in the water, blinking through the tears as blood seeped from his nose, spreading through the solution like red ink.

“Get up,” I said, my voice coming out like granite.

His face twisted into a scowl and he spat. “Fuck off, tool.”

“Gotta love a guy with manners,” chimed Abe.

“Get him up,” I ordered to the surrounding men. Two officers reached in, grabbing him around the arms and hauled the naked criminal to his feet. “Get him dressed and cuffed. I want him with us on this one.”

Abe shot me a questioning look. “You sure? I mean, he’s the reason we’ve got a bomb threat.”

“And the best one to stop it, just in case the bomb squad can’t.”

Abe pursed his lips, nodding. “I mean hey, if you’re wrong it’s not like there’s a lot at risk right? We’ll all just blow up. No biggie.”

I exhaled through my nose. “I’m gonna gear up and meet you at the car in a min.”

Abe said nothing, instead helping the other officers handle the uncooperative Curtis.

Terrorists never play nice.

I walked over to a table decked out in Kevlar, rifles, ammunition and more. Within a minute, I was geared up and heading towards the cruiser. I opened the door to the vehicle and clambered in. A disgruntled series of noises emanated from the back seat. I turned to find Curtis sitting in the back row, cuffed to a metal bar running along the roof, an officer sat next to him. “You had to put him in the back of our car?”

“Hey, you wanted to bring the criminal along, you know that means they ride wit us.” commented Abe.

“I’m not too thrilled about it either,” called a voice from the backseat. He was dressed in full tactical gear, heavy ballistic plating, Kevlar and black clothing.

“Quit bitchin’ McKenzie.” I turned over my shoulder to flash him a smile that was all teeth. He grumbled something incoherent and went back to training his shotgun on our would be bomber.

An ear jarring screech filled the air as rubber burned. The cruiser lurched forwards as we sped down the street. Sirens blared above and around us, lights cascading off the glass of nearby buildings. Abe said something as he drove, but it came over muffled. The sirens quieted and an electric jolt shot between my temples.

She had an easy smile, perfect white teeth, and hair you wanted to run your fingers through.

“Nick?” said Abe.

I blinked, shaking my head clear of the vision.

“Nick?”

“Yeah,” I groaned. “What?”

“You alright? You blanked out.”

“Yeah,” I repeated, “just saw more visions, well the same ones.”

“Still?” Abe said as he wrestled with the steering, leading us around a tight corner. “That’s not good man. Anything else, or just more memories?”

“Just a flash of one, not even complete.”

Abe nodded as we rocketed down another street.

“Serves you right!” shouted Curtis. “You got no business running around in people’s heads. No business!”

The next sound was of McKenzie jabbing Curtis in the ribs with the butt of his weapon. Curtis grunted and let out a stream of creative obscenities. Some of them should’ve won awards.

I shifted in my seat as the car swerved a bit, Abe fought to keep in control. Brakes squealed in protest from the hard and sudden deceleration.

“Cap’s on scene coordinating, let’s go.” Abe waved a hand to follow.

I nodded, stepping out of the cruiser and moving towards the rear passenger side. I reached out, opening the door, leveling my handgun on Curtis. McKenzie undid the locks holding his cuffs to a rail running across the cars interior roof.

“Get out,” he ordered.

Curtis slid towards me, inching his way out of the car. Right when he was at the edge of the seat, I reached in, grabbing him by the collar. With a sharp tug, I pulled him to his feet and out of the cruiser.

“Move,” I snarled, shoving him towards the mass of officers and tactical response units gathered outside. McKenzie and Abe fell into step behind me as I led Curtis further towards the group.

Captain Braugher was on the scene, barking orders. When he saw me, or rather, who was with me, his face twisted into a scowl.

“Burke! Please tell me you didn’t bring a terrorist to the building his buddies are occupying with the very bomb he built?”

“I thought he could help.”

“You..? Christ, I don’t need this. Sure, whatever. Look, we’ve reasoned his pals have gathered every employee and have them somewhere on the first floor. Somewhere near the back end of the building,” he said, pointing to the skyscraper in question.

It was a monolith of concrete, steel and glass, fashioned like every other modern art deco nightmare.

“How do you figure the first floor?” I asked.

“Where else would you put a bomb if you wanted to take out a building?”

The Captain had a point.

“What’s to stop them from blowing it up as soon as we enter?” I argued.

All eyes turned to me.

“Burke!” snapped the Captain. “Refrain from giving the terrorists ideas that’ll turn my finely shaped ass into briquette.”

“Yes sir.”

As we went over how we’d breach, I pulled Curtis aside. “Look man, last chance. This is bad, anything you give me that can help, will help you out as well.” His lips peeled away from his teeth and his eyebrows knitted together.

“Like hell,” he spat.

“People could die!” Spittle left my mouth as my fists balled around his collar.

“They deserve it,” he said, venom dripping out of each syllable.

“Deserve?” My grip loosened at the conviction of his statement.

“People like that, they took everything from people like me! My home, my life. It’s personal,” he growled.

A series of minute pops rang out as my knuckles ground in anticipation. Punching him wouldn’t get me anything, except intense satisfaction. My palms impacted his chest as I pushed him away from me.

I flinched as a hand fell on my shoulder, giving it a squeeze.

“Come on Nick, we’re ‘bout to breach.” said Abe.

“Yeah, one sec.” I glared at the criminal, still lying on the ground. A few quick steps and I was standing over him. I kneeled, grabbing his clothes and hauled him to his feet. I tilted my head, leaning close to his ear. “If we burn in hell, you burn with us.”

Abe led a handful of officers to the south side of the building, I followed with Curtis in tow. Lined up against the opaque glass, we waited.

The comms buzzed.

“Breach!”

An officer at the front of the line pressed a button on a large contraption. It had a steel pyramid base, at the top of it was an industrial grade ram. The metal cylinder rocketed forward with hydraulic speed and pressure. The area where the door met the building, crumbled, and the door flew into the building.

We moved in unison, stepping through the deteriorating door frame, and spread out.

It was the typical office space, an indefinable dark colored office carpet. Cubicles consisting of corkboard walls and the cloth lining them.

All of them were empty.

“Clear!” Shouted several voices in stereo.

“This is oddly unsettling,” murmured Abe.

“Moving to conference room,” blared our talkies.

“Move,” I growled to Curtis, as I continued forcing the cuffed terrorist to follow.

We made it outside the conference room with only a minutes walk. Two doors, six teams. I looked to Abe, he nodded and tapped the speak button on his talkie twice.

Two clicks answered.

We burst through the doors and froze.

It was as wide around as the wheels of a big rig. The pylon ran from the office floor to the ceiling. Finger thin lines spider-webbed out from its core across the roof, windows, and to random points on the walls. They were translucent tubes, a staccato of red light flared within them. At the core of the construct were a series of Post It note sized squares, comprised entirely of light. They whirred about the machine like a scrolling marquee of pale blue light.

The bomb. A really big fucking bomb.

Lining the walls were men and women, dressed in a monochromatic swatch of the colors you’d expect in an high tier office environment. They were bound and gagged, some were passed out, others awake, covered in a sheen of sweat.

“So, we’ve got the hostages—” said Abe.

“—But where are the hostage takers,” I finished.

Someone laughed.

I turned to Curtis, he doubled over, laughing harder. His skin flushed, tears welled in the corners of his eyes.

“Aw holy Admiral Ackbar,” muttered Abe.

“Yeah, it’s a trap.”

“You didn’t think we were going to go out in this, did you?” said Curtis. “What, die with them?” He waved a hand to the employees. His laughter died out, replaced with iron tones of rage. “After what they did to people like me? They ain’t worth dying over. But you,” he pointed a finger at me. “Cops, we figured something like this would happen. Didn’t count on me having to be here but you know, small prices to pay.” The laughter resumed, and I felt the overwhelming urge to throttle the man.

“Clear the hostages out!” I ordered. Officers rushed to cut their bindings and lead the hostages out. “Bomb squad, move it!”

The world slipped and dull throbs rolled through my skull.

“No!” snarled a voice.

I struggled as Curtis’ hands slipped over my throat. He was using his weight to his advantage as he kept me pressed to the floor. My gun was pulled from my holster and pressed against my forehead.

A thunderous report echoed throughout the room.

Curtis fell from atop me, a neat hole where his nose used to be. Several more shots followed.

“Damn sloppy Nick, letting him get the jump on you.”

“Shut up Abe.” I took his hand and pulled as he helped bring me to my feet. I looked over to the bomb, which was being combed over by four officers in gear situated for handling explosives…and their detonation.

I hoped.

“So?”

One of the men sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Shit, thirty seconds, you and detective Patel should leave. Now.”

A small dog yapped at my leg.

It was pulled from view.

I remember leaning against the wall from support, something warm trickled down my nose.

“Nick,” shouted Abe, it sounded far off. “We have to go!”

Tresses of spun gold filled my sight, she was cream completed with a smile made for toothpaste commercials.

A taser went off inside the base of my skull as the flashes continued to appear, and be torn from sight.

Cold metal sat beneath my fingertips, I brushed over it with precision and care.

I shut my eyes, squeezing tight, trying to stop nails being driven into my brain.

“Fifteen seconds, guys, leave!” rang a voice.

The Drift clung to me, even still. So I did the only thing that made sense.

I gave in.

A small house, the side boarding was the sort of color used to define lush forests.

It’s personal.

            It’s personal.

“2101!” I screamed.

“Ten seconds.”

“2101!” I roared, the lining of my throat going raw.

One of the bomb techs entered the numbers into a keypad.

I watched the detonator screen flash.

“Three!” called the tech.

“Two!”

“One!”

And he didn’t stop.

“Zero!”

I shut my eyes. There was no flash. If there was, I didn’t see it. All I saw was the Drift.

Tresses of spun gold filled my sight, she was cream completed with a smile made for toothpaste commercials. Denim blue eyes greeted me, and her smile widened.

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