Kasse, a Trenchant employed by Port Haven's private military police, tries to figure out how to eliminate his target.
The night sky cracked across Port Haven's light-polluted skyline.
Well, technically, this was Pravya’s skyline, Ossa's lost port of trade. Some people still called her that—Pravya. In her prime, historical structures had decorated the skyline, a story of a centuries old culture that, with its ancient roots, gave the native population a foundation for their fables, their practices, their entire lives. Buildings triggered fond stories, memories; temples reminded the people of the old gods that languished in fringe religions and antiquity; marketplaces were clouded with the spices of nostalgia, the smell of a grandmother’s kitchen in a child’s mind.
Now, Amstead had conquered her. Amstead gave her a new name more palatable to their mother tongue: Port Haven. They pushed her people toward the center where her river of anguish ran through her, put those who loved her most in the path of her floodwaters. They built her a new body, a new face where they’d shattered her, replaced her mythology with knives, jagged skyscrapers all sharp edges and mirrors. Glass and iron and marble stood tall and unyielding against a skyline that still, even after sixty years, mourned the bombs that had robbed Pravya’s heart of a million Ossan pulses.
And just like them, Kasse Sejan was absolutely fucked.
He was a lithe thing with a catch-22 lodged in his cul-de-sac stare, young enough to think he could bluff his way to limping on, old enough to dread the repercussions of failing a blind steal. He paced an indistinct rooftop like he didn't know which of his mind’s Goldberg deathtraps, sprawling and convoluted, would lay his target dead at his feet. Fingers stained the acrid taste of an entire pack of cigarettes lit end to end, he was trapped in a deadlock surrounded by Wrightbog’s ever-rising waterline, the faint light cast from the nearby door diffracting erroneously along the supposed solid edge of his silhouette’s perimeter.
The door was red, cheap steel—sealed shut. Spray-painted across its decaying surface, peeling from rust and age, was a crude approximation of a woman's face rendered in 30 seconds of white over a ten second skull in black. There was a small window at the upper center—right where the average man's head might reach. The window was also, currently, red. Behind the glass and the aerugo thumped the irritating heartbeat of a losing fight for survival, a desperate banging that begged and pleaded in blister steel tone, crude oaths too throttled to understand from outside-not-looking-in.
He knew what they wanted. They always wanted the same thing.
His calutron internus, his electromagnetic utility, had already torn through them. Broken them apart from the inside where no one could see, with his hands inside their bones, twisting through their corkscrew guts, extracting with his precisely applied deluge of shock and dissolution. He'd distilled the knowledge of that room into one single compound, boiled that room full of dead and dying men—Glow cooks, the lot, and their fucking junkie spouts—down into a single drop of information and turned up failure.
The boss wasn't home. 128ers had no idea where to find him. And that meant Kasse was fucked.
No Glow ration.
No contract money.
Just another treatment
that left him
Another closed door—this one in a memory recalled in his search for loopholes—was black, brush painted and maintained, with a red vinyl emblem slapped onto its center. Wright Control. Utility Deployment Division. Enforcer Unit.
The ghost was on replay. He escaped to the roof of Trenchant HQ because it was the only place he could ever see stars in Port Haven, so far above the Cenhaven district’s already superior elevation in respect to the city districts that surrounded it. Above the din of the city, he could hear the river that slithered like an eel through the center of the city. Voracious and greedy, the eel was always consuming. Every day, the river took more into the expanding breadth of its body—ever since he was an idiot kid hustling and pickpocketing and running from the cops, it consumed. When he’d built his lean-tos on rooftops to avoid the rolling roundups of vagrants who never seemed to return after they’d been booked, he’d watched it feed. All those nights spent breaking into libraries to huddle with Lia, his friend-turned-sister, fearful and silent despite his fuck-the-world candor,
But the woman in this memory—stark and clear and whole amidst the incomplete shards of his life, redacted and erased in the name of Trenchant compliance—was not Lia. She was not Pasquale, the digital epidemic Lia had grown up to be.
She was not his sister.
She was barely his friend—
despite her very best attempts.
“Mordecai,” the trenchant said, a blank slate reflecting his handler's approach on his right flank. He could always tell when he was being examined.
The imposter of a woman moved precisely, her hands clockwork as they tapped across a tablet. The screen's glow painted her features cold, statuesque, and foreboding.
"Set. Termination of target Avi Resye, confirmed leader of an unauthorized organization known as 128Arsae," Mordecai paused for the chime of Set's phone as she sent photos. "Under Resye's leadership, 128 has been manufacturing Glow in Wrightbog for distribution in Holm and the surrounding districts."
Mordecai scanned the screen. "Resye will be visiting one of his illegal manufacturing facilities this evening. It would be wise to anticipate heavily armed security inside the building. Exterior patrols will also be a factor; however, the circuit is wide to avoid suspicion and obscure the exact location of the facility."
She looked up at Set abruptly. The pit of darkness in her eyes sparked with a trapper’s delight.
"Please report in every quarter of an hour for the duration of the mission." Mordecai’s manic gaze swept over him, cataloguing from head to toe. She was taking a snapshot of him. "There is considerable chance of injury and I am concerned for your safety. If you fail to report for thirty minutes, I will assume you require extraction."
There had never been a single instance in their entire working relationship where the trenchant had complied with his handler's excessive demand for attention communication.
“Hey Momo, your helicopter nanny-panties are showing.” Set was offhand, teasing—unapologetically so. Jokes were easier than addressing the underlying issue: the possessiveness Mordecai exhibited toward him. He was quick to commit the transmission to memory, casually swiping through each of the dossier files as they popped on his screen, his cigarette between his fingers. “Seriously, what are they going to do—shoot me?”
Mordecai, dubbed Momo despite her stern disapproval, narrowed her eyes imperceptibly. "You are fully aware of the kind of injuries you might receive when facing other wrights. You yourself are more lethal than any firearm, and no bulletproof vest would hinder your attack. 128 may also put dangerous utilities into play."
Mordecai lowered the tablet and held it against her chest. "Humor me."
“Not every Ossan is a Bloodwright, isn’t that kind of racist? Either way, fuckin’ Bloodwright's gotta have some meat to get into,” the trenchant replied, squinting up at the moon. “Isn't that why Reva likes me so much?”
Half smirk like a smear on his face made cruel, smoke the shape of his absolute disconnect, the killer was a stark creature, a pale monster that howled through Port Haven's bump in the night. He was a lapidary glint, an obelus reflection of every funeral he'd ever initiated.
Kasse, Set, whichever he was, took another deep drag as he looked over his shoulder. “...maybe on the hour. Maybe. Very maybe.”
There was a lengthy silence as Mordecai tapped some additional notes into the assignment file. She knew what would come of pushing the trenchant further: days of silence followed by weeks of reticence that left her grasping at a ghost.
"Very well," she acquiesced at last. Her anxiety did not show on her blank face. "As always, please take care not to leave witnesses or gather unnecessary attention. Once you have confirmed that the target has been eliminated, the clean up unit will be dispatched. You will be expected to report back here for debriefing."
Those coal eyes roamed, memorizing every blood-touched razor edge of him.
"Do you have any questions?" Mordecai asked tonelessly.
Set looked down at his hands, not fully engaged in either of the timelines he was currently neglecting as they passed. His mind was a scavenger, circling high to witness the scrolling scene of his crimes. He fast forward searched his body for his next bet, how he would recover—
How he could salvage anything useful from his state-sanctioned massacre on dark-web replay.
“You have to let me hunt—” he said, brash and aggravating in his recollection. His memory highlighted his offhand disregard, the long shadow of his constant rebellion overtaking the chain-smoked reproduction of the words in his head. “I’ll come back when I’m ready and able.”
It wasn’t a question, he knew—and Mordecai’s words weren’t a request. But neither of them were very good at semantics, always so willing to slant definitions with faulty interpretation.
Mordecai’s hand hovered over the tablet in limbo, ready to clutch his crimson palms. She wanted to ask him to be careful of the world and the wild things in it, not to abandon her in his carelessness.
Instead her clockwork fingers brushed dark hair from her face. There was no sense in reaching for a ghost. "I look forward to your safe return."
Set wasn’t entirely sure he felt the same way, but he spoke the tired words anyways. “Yeah—I’ll see you soon.”
Dropping his cigarette into the rooftop, he turned to the red door that stood in his right now, its edges saltwater soaked by years of brackish rain, corroded beneath its blood colour. He leaned against the window, observant shrike in his impulse as he took a deeply withdrawn hit from his Glow atomizer. In the moment, Set was remorseless, he was logic. He was a hyperborean neocortex driven by survival instinct to maintain their impermanence no matter the price—Kasse, white noise amygdala all television static and clipped audio, wondered if the cost was too great. The ripples of his violence were always repercussing through every corner of his gutted head. Was his hollow fragmented life somehow worth more than the hollow fragmented lives he piked along the ramparts of his terminal palisade? Could he ever contain the militant advance of his drug tolerance, hinder his addiction to the point that he could say no?
Was power—the potential to be a reaper absolute, the inescapable endings he wrote—the true addiction?
Did he enjoy this?
Sometimes, the trenchant considered that any guilt he felt was unreal; that he was incapable of remorse, a predator who only feigned meta-emotion because its presence made him look human. In truth, what was guilt?
Guilt was feeling bad about feeling good—
and nothing felt better than making them all stop.
Another hit had him heady, distilling Kasse’s guilt into a blackened syrup, viscous and reduced. With Glow’s blood alchemy, the executioner’s system processed it, ennobled and converted it into all forms of poison one after another until, finally, it arrived at its final transmutation, Set’s ego golden and bright on their body’s exhale.
whatever we are
whatever this might be
is only a matter of fiction—
because what is real, kasse? really,
what is truth? who are we? does it matter?
even if we could manage to separate our
fabrications from our history,
how could we ever
know for sure?
Set finally broke through Kasse’s meandering redoubt, a daedal revenant hush passing that human barrier painted red, his frequencies loose enough to make his perimeter shrapnel, gnashing illusory sparks of atomic smoke along the edges of his coat.
The lights flickered and faded, faded and flickered. Their pause came occasionally in five, ten second intervals, before the fluorescents were struck back into consciousness by the building’s aging utility circuits. The power surged and waned, strained under Set’s derogatory electromagnetic presence, ozone treacherous virga misted in the putrid air that death exhaled.
we’re lying to ourself if we think we know better,
if we think we know where we woke up this morning.
how can a memory so broken, a mind so bereft
be considered reliable enough to play in
a story it doesn’t remember?
The floor crunched beneath his hyperpredator step—broken glass, splintered wood, blood crystallized mid reaction among the chemical catalysts pooling on the floor, displaced teeth suspended in yellowing vomit.
Each step sent a shiver running through every malnourished junkie Glowspout that lined the walls, trapped in wireframed dog kennels lined with rancid newspaper. IV drips and catheter extracted waste, disturbed in Set’s initial destruction of the cookhouse, pooled with the halved and quartered gangsters that littered the floor.
The smell was overwhelming—like a body rotting for days in the rancid shit trough behind an outhouse, ruptured guts spewing swarms of blowflies into the fetid air.
Five 128ers remained breathing, two of those capable. With a brief glance, Set’s utility invaded their lungs, their ribcages, diaphragms. He wrapped his subatomic mind around the fabric of their quantum weaving and
leaving only the two trembling at the useless door the killer had rendered repellant upon his arrival.
do you know this song, kasse? it’s an old one.
this one’s got an intuitive melody, but
we can’t say we know a song
if we can’t recall the lyrics,
can’t sing along if we both
don’t know the tune.
Set’s gaze shifted languid from one man to the other, both of them cowering, both of them praying. Neither of them begged. In this moment, it didn’t matter who either of them was, whether they were good men who took a wrong turn, whether they had families, if they were fathers, brothers, sons—they were both tools in the construction of a delivery system meant only to deliver this message he’d written in bodies.
The killer simply spared the one who looked as though he would run faster.
let me help. watch—
i’ll write us new words, it’s an
old song from our new perspective; a cover.
The other was destined to die, wrapped as he was now in Set’s alfven grasp. Every structural border of man—bone, skin, membrane—was loosed, but slow. The screaming was lasciare suonare, the begging a syncopation that gave his tocatta an arpeggiated spine, the acapella frequencies of a man in his dying a tritone split in Set’s composition. The man conducted into his dying aria was grasping at the chosen survivor’s terrified sostendo reeling with his peu a peu stretto, his pleas overlapping faster and faster as his veins decayed. His tattooed face was straining in quinacridone tones of red, violet, then black as his body began to liquify in harmonic fermata, to fall away stentando and cruel until Kasse, too soon for Set’s ziehen intentions, made his choice and
[sfz al fine]
one man’s liquid body drenching the other in uncontrollable screaming as Kasse turned away. He repaired the magnetic fields that rendered the doors useless as he spoke, when the terror had faded to a hoarse quailing whimper.
“Door’s open. You have ten minutes before I come for you too.”
so we do remember the words.
how could we ever
forget such a
Without another word, head reeling from the high, the guilt, the self-loathing, the indecent level of cruelty he found himself capable of, the executioner began heading toward the door. He paused in his exit, junkie instincts shouting sharp and deafening through the afterglow of his bloodlust until he caved to opportunity. He grabbed two duct-taped bundles of Glow and shoved them into the lining of his coat, to stash with the rest of his emergency supply.
he was so
He left the way he came, his vitriol a stain on Port Haven’s horizon