Folie à Plusieurs (some NSFW language)

October 6, 2009

Prologue

The cold wind whipped my long black hair against my face as I stood on the deck of the airship. At this altitude, I shouldn’t have gone outside without a heavy jacket, much less in a strapless cocktail gown. But the thick smell of cigars and liquored breath in the gaming room had been too much for me, and I knew if I’d gone all the way back to my room then Adrian would have summoned me again anyway. My spike-heeled sandals hadn’t been designed with long walks in mind. Then again, they hadn’t been designed for the cold, either.

“Moira, darling, what are you doing out here?” I turned to see Lady Whitley sauntering towards me, wrapped in elegant furs whose patterns subtly changed as she spoke. “You’ll catch your death, my dear!”

“I only needed some air,” I replied, trying not to stammer. “And you?”

“Out for my evening constitutional, of course,” she said. “I do a lap around the deck and then stop at the spa for an algae bath. Keeps the skin young, you know.” She tittered in a practiced way, and I wondered again how old she really was under all her nanoflesh and platinum-blond hair.

“I’ll be back inside in a moment,” I assured her. “Don’t let me keep you.”

“As you like it.” She turned away and continued her slow walk around the perimeter of the airship cabin.

I gazed down at the city beneath us, the lush green spires of the Upper Floor rising above the clouds, which conveniently hid the less attractive portions of New Avernus. It was so beautiful from here, so peaceful. Hard to imagine that somewhere far, far below was the Bottom. If I were to fall, I wondered how long would it take me to–

Suddenly, everything went black.

“Hey, what the fuck!” I fumbled blindly for the remote but it was gone.

“That’s it, Trish, get your shit together and get out.”

“Come on, Sark,” I whined. “Just five more minutes. You know I’m good for it.”

“Right,” he muttered. “There’s a reason I make you pay up front, kiddo. Now come on, I’ve got other customers waiting out here.”

Groaning, I reached up and twisted the connectors, then slid them out of my optical sockets. Uncoupling always left me with an empty feeling, like I’d just thrown up a huge meal. I held up the cables and felt Sark lift them out of my hands, then replace them with the dish that held my eyes.

Gently, carefully, I reconnected my eyes and popped them in. Blinking away the excess preservative liquid, I looked at Sark, who stood over me with his beefy arms crossed over his chest. Now that I had my eyes back, I felt a little bolder.

“That was a shitty memory, Sark. You could have at least put me back a few minutes when she was in the cabin instead of outside freezing her ass off.”

“You get what you pay for,” he replied. “I’m not gonna sit around cuing up the good parts for a chigger like you. Move it or lose it.”

I moved it. The back door opened onto an alley littered with garbage that hadn’t been collected or burned. I tried to cling to the memory of the icy clean upper air as the thick yellow fog of the Bottom slid into my lungs. It was tough. Fuck me, was it ever tough.

Chigger. Dream-chaser. Memory junkie. Yeah, I was addicted, so fucking what. The Bottom was a hellhole, and anyone who didn’t want to get out of it was crazier than me. I wasn’t smart enough to work my way to the Middle Floor, and I wasn’t pretty enough to sleep my way to the Upper Floor, so other people’s memories were the only way I was ever going to see a damn thing outside this oily fog.

“There, that one,” a voice said from the end of the alley. “Get her.”

Two men started walking toward me, one taller and one about my height. They were both wearing sunglasses, the kind with nose clips that were supposed to purify the air. Their clothes looked normal enough, but for some reason that made me even more nervous.

“I don’t have any credits,” I said, but they had to know that; I had just come out of a memory den, and nobody with an extra credit to their name would be caught dead coming out of there.

“Please lie face down on the ground and put your hands behind your head,” the taller man said.

It took me a second to process the command. “I… I’m under arrest?” I sputtered. “What for?”

“The charges will be explained to you once we get to the precinct,” the shorter man said. “Please do as instructed.”

I started to kneel when suddenly, it hit me. The Invisible Man. The serial killer who’d knocked off Ricky the Robot right in his own basement. The guy who’d managed to kill a bunch of Uppers without getting caught, even though a bunch of us scum-suckers had been deactivated for the crime.

They thought I was him. Or they knew I wasn’t, but I was going to be their next fall guy.

I jumped at the back door to Sark’s place and banged on it. “Sark, let me in!” I shouted. “Please!” There was no handle, so I couldn’t open it myself. If he heard me, he didn’t say anything.

The Mind Police ran straight at me, so I took off toward the garbage piled at the end of the alley and tried to climb it. I might as well have tried to fly. By the time they pulled the neural inhibitor off my back, I was helpless as a baby bird.

“It will be noted on the report that you attempted to evade arrest,” the taller man said dispassionately. Clamping a restraint around my waist, they cuffed my hands and activated the antigrav. I floated awkwardly between them as they guided me down the alley and onto the sidewalk, then into a waiting unmarked car.

I’d wanted to get out of the Bottom, sure, but not like this. Not like this.

* * * * *

Day 1

The day after Trish Wake was executed for murder, rest her soul, word on the street was that the Mind Police had found two more stiffs up on the Middle Floor. I never went up there, but my cousin, sometimes she did, and she’d give me the scoop when she got back down to the Bottom.

“It was crazy,” she told me, leaning on the counter in my holovid store. “I heard it was like hours later. The same day even. Like the guy was taunting the cops or something. Like, oh, you thought you had me, but look at me, I’m still out there.”

“Crazy,” I said, shaking my head.

“I know,” she replied. “Like I don’t even know if I want to go back up there. I am so scared. I’ll, like, have to charge extra or something.”

“Hazard pay,” I suggested.

“Yeah, hazard pay, that is some crazy shit.” She leaned in and whispered conspiratorially. “I heard it was a spook gone bad. Like one of the Brain Busters went renegade or something and that’s why they can’t get him.”

“He knows all their tricks.”

She nodded vigorously. “I totally swear, it is probably true.”

We chatted a bit more while I watched the store out of the corner of my eye. Business had been shitty since the murders had started. Usually the memory junkies wandered in when they didn’t have enough money for a fix; holovids were cheaper because they were just visuals, even if they were really good visuals. And of course, you didn’t have to take your eyes out to use them; that was some creepy shit if you ask me. Then there were the lonely guys grabbing the porn, the kids with their space alien crap, and whatever other random people needed a distraction. But now they were all too scared to go outside, much less down the street to their friendly neighborhood holovid store. Sucked a cold tit if you ask me.

The door swung open with a jingle and two squirrely looking dudes stepped inside. Scratch that, one of them was a lady. Not much of a looker, that one.

“Mcfarland?” the man said, staring at me through his dark sunglasses. “Berry Mcfarland?”

I nodded. “Whatcha need?”

“Please place your hands behind your head and do not make any sudden movements,” the woman said.

My jaw dropped open. “You gotta be kidding me.”

“Not at all,” the man said, moving closer. “Please comply or we will note that you resisted arrest before we subdue you by force.”

“Oh Berry!” my cousin said. “Oh Berry!” Her head wobbled back and forth between me and the cops.

“This ain’t serious,” I muttered. “I didn’t do nothing.” I didn’t say anything else while they cuffed me and walked me out the door, my damn cousin screeching like a scratched holodisc. What was there to say? I was well and truly fucked, and my dad always said, he said don’t give them any rope to hang you with my boy. So I didn’t.

Not that it mattered, in the end. But at least I had my dignity. A man’s gotta have his dignity, or what has he got?

* * * * *

Day 2

The corpse was propped up on a chair, facing a holovid of a naked woman dancing. It would have looked like he’d just nodded off if it weren’t for his eyes, which had been torn out and stomped to jelly.

“Who is it?” one officer asked.

The other officer consulted his datastream. “Hilton Anderson, worked in chemical production. Took us longer to dig up his file since we couldn’t do a retinal scan.”

“Obviously.” They stood in silence, both pointedly ignoring the holovid. Unfortunately, the painfully bright yellow walls did little to help the officers focus. Then one cocked his ear to the side as a message came in.

“A neighbor said he saw someone from the Upper Floor here last night, thought he recognized the guy from holovids.”

“This kind?” The other officer inclined his head toward the dancer.

“Apparently. Stage name Jack Real, registered as Mohammad Mckenzie.”

“You think he’s our man?”

He shrugged. “Probably not, but we can’t exactly ask this guy.” He patted the corpse on the head.

“I heard he got one of us, too, last night. Busy fellow.”

“We’ll find him, and I’ll personally shit in his eye sockets.”

“I’ll hold him down for you.”

Again, they fell silent for a few minutes. Finally, one spoke.

“Let’s go pay Citizen Real a visit. And for fuck’s sake, turn that vid off.”

* * * * *

Day 3

Nobody understood. I could feel the smog inside me, yellow and dirty and poisonous, like a snake coiling and uncoiling in my lungs, my stomach, my bowels. Tainting me. Killing me slowly. Up on the top, the air was clean. Pure. There were plants, real ones, and you could see the actual sky instead of just holovids. It wasn’t fair.

Every morning the artificial lights that mimicked the sun streaked through my ratty curtains. They lit up in the east and eventually went dark in the west. Some people didn’t even know they weren’t the real sun. But I had seen them, up on the thirtieth floor, white and hot and false. False as the illusion of security that the Mind Police projected.

The first kill was the hardest, because I was still afraid. When I strangled Miss Grace, I covered her eyes so the police wouldn’t be able to reconstruct my image from her last memories. I lived in fear for weeks, waiting, wondering when they would come for me. They never did. It got easier after that.

But now, they were coming for me. I could hear them at the door. Someone must have seen me. I’d gotten bold, and careless. Was it the Upper Floor athlete? The Bottom-dwelling hermaphrodite hooker? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered anymore.

The drugs were kicking in. I’d be gone soon, well before they found me under the floorboards. But it didn’t matter. I could see that now. I could see so many things that I couldn’t before. Everyone else was a rat running through the maze of buildings on the bottom, but I was more. I was free.

I was free.

* * * * *

Day 4

“It’s nothing personal, you know.” He leveled the neural inhibitor gun at me as I backed away.

“That makes me feel much better,” I said.

We stood facing each other on the small terrace of my living quarters. To my left was a wall of cyanobacteria-covered lichen, to my right a moisture condensor, and behind me was a sheer drop of about two hundred stories. I didn’t bother raising my hands over my head; I was unarmed, and we both knew it.

“They might not execute you,” he said conversationally. “I hear they already caught two more of them, besides the one you nabbed. The Inspector might be lenient if he can persuade the press that you’re innocent, no matter what the paranoid public says.”

“The Inspector wouldn’t do that for anyone, much less me,” I muttered. “Don’t be simple. We’ve both arrested enough innocents to know the routine. And don’t forget, we lost another one of our own tonight. It’s hard to spin that no matter how eloquent you are.”

He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He reached down to his belt and pulled out his cuffs.

I faked a lunge toward him but dropped to the side and he fired the inhibitor harmlessly over my head. A quick sweeping kick knocked him off his feet and he hit his head hard against the doorframe. While he reeled, I turned the inhibitor toward his chest and pushed the trigger. He twitched briefly, then collapsed.

My blood pounded in my head and chest. I was a dead man now. No, I told myself, I was dead the second he told me he was here to arrest me. I had to run. Run and hide. I had plenty of credits, but they could track me if I used them, and they had probably frozen my assets by now. I’d have to get to the Bottom and pawn whatever I could, maybe even try to get out of the city.

I ransacked my closets and filled my pockets with jewelry, watches, cufflinks, whatever I could lay my hands on. I put on a few layers of my nicest shirts and pants over my ratty uniform; I’d be hot as hell, but the clothes were probably worth something, too. I wondered if I should pack anything, then decided it would look more suspicious.

Taking one last look around at my home, I swore under my breath that I would catch the bastards who had done this to me. Even if it took me the rest of my life.

I opened the front door and promptly collapsed, a neural inhibitor dart protruding from my stomach. Of course, I thought as I fell. They wouldn’t have sent him alone.

So much for revenge. All I could do now was hope someone else caught the bastards for me.

* * * * *

Day 5

“Y’all hear about the Brainsucker what got arrested yesterday? Boy, what a mess.” Perry took a long pull on his pipe and exhaled a fragrant blue cloud of smoke.

“Man, I tell you what,” Sal replied. “Them guys be all makin’ with the mind mojo all scarin’ people silly back to front and they can’t even find they own backsides with both hands and a map.”

“Used to be they knew what you was thinkin’ afore you did, you dreamt of doin’ something foul and you’d better wake up and apologize or–” He slid his finger across his neck.

Sal nodded and they sat in silence, sitting on the front stoop of the building in which they both lived. They watched fellow Bottom-dwellers walk along the grimy sidewalk, most sharing the same deliberate step that one fell into after a mile or two. Few people could afford the minibikes that zipped along the streets, and fewer still could afford the synthfuel that powered them. The subways that rumbled along underneath the ground only went so far, and tended to be dirty, poorly lit and oppressively overcrowded. The trams that serviced the Middle Floor were much nicer but, of course, much more expensive.

A figure suddenly began moving against the crowd, which parted for him here and there more out of surprise than politeness. His frantic screams reached the two men on the stairs.

“What is that, do you think?” Perry asked.

Sal shaded his eyes with a hand and squinted. “Looks like young Pope making a damn fool of himself.” He looked harder and sat back in his chair. “I’ll be… he’s got two Busters on his ass!”

Two nondescript people had also begun moving against the current of pedestrians, but the masses parted much more quickly for them. Some even jumped off the sidewalk, eliciting a flurry of tinny honks from the oncoming traffic. People in the buildings flanking the street began opening their windows and looking down to see what all the commotion was about.

“Help!” the young man screamed. “Please, help! I didn’t do anything! Please!”

The onlookers above laughed and hooted and heckled him as he ran. Some threw empty Instafood containers down at him, more often hitting the surrounding people who were now more actively trying to get away from the hysterical man.

It was over as quickly as it began. The Mind Police officers got a clear shot and one of them hit him with a neural inhibitor. He dropped like a sack of rice. The crowd began to regroup as the officers hefted their quarry into a waiting transport, and before long there was no sign that anything had happened aside from the excess of garbage littering the street.

“Poor kid,” Perry said.

“A shame,” Sal said.

Perry passed the pipe to Sal, who took a deep drag and calmly blew a series of smoke rings into the greasy yellow air.

“A shame,” he repeated. “But better him than me.”

“Amen to that,” Perry said. “Amen to that.”

* * * * *

Day 6

He’d grown up on the Bottom. Most officers who had the option moved to a different level, but he hadn’t. He preferred the familiar surroundings: the endlessly tall buildings, the bustling streets, the tangy air, the multi-colored glow of the holosigns that flickered and danced over each store and eating hole. His dad had worked at a tiny store that sold Instafood and medichems and other random stuff, and he remembered sitting on the floor behind the counter, watching his dad hand over pipeweed and moodalts from the locked cabinet in the back. When his dad was gutted like a rabbit for the key to that cabinet, the killer hadn’t even seen the little boy crouched in the corner, wide-eyed, frozen. The bastard was caught thanks to that; the police had been able to pull the image right from his head and apprehend him within a few days. That made this serial killer business all the more frustrating, but progress had been made, he reminded himself.

He took care of the Bottom because it was his job, but also because it was his home. His place. He didn’t own it but he felt as if it belonged to him in a way that made him responsible for it, protective of it. When things happened on the Bottom, it made him angry because it was as if someone had gone into his home and wrecked his kitchen, or raped his wife, or drugged up his daughter. Or killed his father. He wouldn’t let that happen. When it did, the criminal would be punished.

The skylights were dimming as night fell above the clouds. He wondered how many of his fellow Bottom-dwellers had ever seen a real sunset. It was beautiful, all pink and gold and deep blue, but he preferred the show down at ground level, the way you prefer your grandmother’s cooking to anyone else’s. He stepped absently around a holovid in the middle of the sidewalk, wondering if it would be worth his time to tell the owner to move it. No, his wife would have dinner waiting. She hated when he was late.

Something stung him on his neck. Confused, he reached a hand up and pulled away a tiny needle. Could someone have dropped it…?

“Shh,” a voice whispered in his ear.

He turned to see who it was, but it felt as if he was moving with infinite slowness, so that when he was finally looking over his shoulder, all he saw was the stream of people walking past him. They were moving slowly, too, until it seemed as if they frozen, suspended in mid-stride. The lights at the edges of his vision darkened as he took a small, gasping breath.

“Good night, sweet prince,” the voice said, and the darkness claimed him.

* * * * *

Day 7

“Are you the Mind Police officer?” A small man stood in front of the bar, wearing a neat pseudolinen suit with a narrow-brimmed hat.

“Who wants to know?”

“I do.”

Alfredo looked the man up and down, then settled his gaze just beyond the man’s left shoulder, a bored expression on his face. “And who are you, if I may be so bold as to inquire?”

“Merely a fellow human with a proposition for you.”

“Not interested,” Alfredo replied. He went back to watching the Aeroball game on the holovid projector. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the man slide into the seat next to him and hail the bartender.

“Two Capeks please,” the man said, his voice husky.

Alfredo thought he sounded like he was trying to talk tough. A smile curled up the corner of his lips. Sure enough, the man offered him the extra glass, and he accepted as nonchalantly as possible. He knew this game, and he reveled in it.

“Perhaps you will be so kind as to listen to my offer before turning it down.”

“I can’t stop you from talking, can I?” Alfredo asked.

“I suppose not.”

“Then talk.”

The man took a sip of his drink. “If you are indeed the Mind Police officer, my client is willing to provide you with substantial payment in return for a small favor.”

“A small favor, of course.” Alfredo smirked. “Care to elaborate?”

“He desires congress with a minor and would like you to ensure that he is not… interrupted.”

Alfredo nearly choked on his drink. “He… he wants to bang a kid and he wants me to play lookout?”

“That is a less delicate way of putting it, but yes.”

“The place he’s going doesn’t have security?”

“My client would prefer to bring his own,” the man replied. “For the sake of discretion.”

Now was the fun part. “How much does he think this is going to set him back?”

“Five hundred credits.”

Alfredo struggled to maintain his composure. That was a lot of money. He’d been ready to haggle and play but there was no arguing with that. The thought of even trying made his throat close up.

“I suppose that will suffice,” he finally said. “I get paid up front or no fun for the boss. Where and when will I meet him?”

The man smiled. His pale, round face almost glowed in the dim light of the bar. “I’ll call him immediately. If you will excuse me for a moment?”

Alfredo waved dismissively and returned his attention to the Aeroball game. Sweat beaded on his upper lip. Five hundred credits. Damn.

He heard the entry door open and close, but failed to notice the soft click of the lock engaging. The bartender looked up at the newcomer after a moment and nodded politely. Then, suddenly, he fell to the floor screaming with a knife in his eye.

Alfredo whirled around just in time to see the small man stab him in the stomach. He tried to throw a punch, but the pain sapped it of force and he only struck a glancing blow against the man’s shoulder. The man’s companion was large and plainly dressed, and Alfredo noted that he had one blue eye and one brown eye. He told himself to remember so that when the Mind Police found him, they’d know exactly who to look for.

He threw himself toward the door only to find it locked. The large man grabbed him roughly and held him still while the small man smiled.

“Naughty, naughty,” he said. “Congress with minors is wrong, you know.”

“Please,” Alfredo gasped. “I’m not Mind Police.”

“Of course not,” the man said soothingly.

“No, really!” Alfredo insisted.

“I would be surprised if such a trembling coward of a man could ever be a police officer.”

Furious, Alfredo spit in his face and the man wiped it off, chuckling.

“For that,” he said, “I’ll cut out your tongue before I cut out your eyes, so it will be the last thing you see before you die.”

Unfortunately, as Alfredo found out, the small man was true to his word.

* * * * *

Day 8

“Little Stevie Hooper, sitting on the pooper, momma gonna send him off to be a Super Trooper!”

“Stop it!” Stevie yelled at the twin girls who were following him. He wasn’t sure which one had made up that stupid rhyme, but it was really annoying. They grinned at him, both missing their front teeth.

“I know you are, but what am I?” Maggie said.

“That doesn’t even make sense!” Stevie replied.

“I know you are, but what am I?” Jenny repeated.

Stevie groaned in disgust and continued walking home, ignoring the chanting that pursued him. The permalamps glowed overhead with a faint yellow light that made the fog look thicker than it was. The occasional minibike whizzed past, but the street here was narrow, more like an alley, so it didn’t get a lot of traffic. Most of the people who lived there stayed behind their closed plastisteel doors and left each other alone. Nice and quiet, just how he liked it. Except for the twins.

“Shouldn’t you guys be getting home?” he asked.

“Mom says it’s important to play outside,” Jenny said.

“She says it builds character,” Maggie added.

They scratched their pale noses in unison and laughed.

“Yeah, well, your mom probably doesn’t want you running around with that serial killer on the loose,” he said.

“I’m not scared,” Maggie said.

“Me neither,” Jenny agreed.

“Oh, really?” Stevie asked. “And what if I told you that I was the serial killer?” He took a step toward them.

They stepped back, then laughed again, but nervously. “You’re not the killer,” Jenny said. “You’re too skinny.”

“You smell like feet,” Maggie added.

“Dead feet,” Stevie said menacingly, taking another step toward them.

“You don’t even have a knife,” Maggie said, backing away further.

“And you don’t eat eyes like the killer does,” Jenny said, following suit.

“You’re so sure, hmm? That’s too bad. I was going to invite you to my house for fresh eyeballs… starting with yours!” Stevie shouted. The girls shrieked and ran back to the building where they lived, down the street. He grinned and kept walking.

And then fell to the ground, a neural inhibitor lodged in his back.

“You think he’s really a serial killer?” one of the Mind Police officers asked.

“You heard him confess,” the other answered. “That’s good enough for the jury.”

“Super.”

* * * * *

Day 9

“We seem to have found ourselves a couple of Intellect Invaders, haven’t we?”

“So it seems.”

The two men gazed down at their prisoners, bound by their own restraints and hovering helplessly just above the floor of their own vehicle. The back of the squad car was surprisingly roomy, built as it was without seats. After all, why should a prisoner be comfortable on his way to the precinct?

“What should we do with such fine fellows?” Shawn asked.

The other man simply smiled and slid a long knife out of the concealed sheath on his belt.

“My thoughts exactly,” Shawn said with an answering grin.

“We will catch you,” one of the officers said. “It’s only a matter of time.”

“Time is something that you, regrettably, no longer have,” Shawn said. He leaned closer to the officer and stared into his dark brown eyes as if looking for something. “Still,” he said quietly. “Still, it is a shame.”

“The inspector knows who you are,” the other officer said.

“The inspector is currently breathing through his neck.” Shawn chuckled. “My methods are not quite as indelicate as my compatriot’s, but the result is the same.” He stood and stepped back. “It has been delightful chatting with you, but I’m afraid we have to cut and run.”

In one smooth motion, the man with the knife slit the other officer’s throat.

“Activate protocol 9119,” the first officer said. Suddenly, gas began to fill the cabin of the transport. Just as quickly, his throat was cut.

Shawn tugged at the handle, which didn’t move. “Clever boy,” he said. Then the gas filled his lungs and he collapsed, twitching, to the floor. His partner followed a moment later.

“Please remain calm,” a female voice said. “Assistance is on the way. Do not remove your nasal filters or you will experience immediate neural paralysis. Please remain calm. Assistance is on the way…”

* * * * *

Day 10

“What are you doing here?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing.”

The two Mind Police officers stared at each other tensely, neural inhibitors drawn. One of them cracked a smile.

“Funny, I’m guessing we’re both here for the same reason.” He inclined his head toward the doorway down the cramped hall of the apartment sector.

The other nodded. “Pretty sure he’s our man. One of them, anyway. Who knows anymore.”

“Let’s do this then. I’ll go in first.”

Together they crept over to the door for unit 1302. A plain holoplate read “D. Snider” beneath the number, just above the ringer. The first officer took out his Multipass and slid it into the keyslot, unlocking the door.

“On three,” he said. “One… two…” He opened the door and stepped in, immediately firing his inhibitor. The second officer peered through the doorway to see a stunned man twitching on the floor of a modestly furnished living room.

“That was easy,” the first officer said. Then his eyes widened and a hand went to his neck before he, too, slid to the ground and lay unmoving.

“Cocky bastard,” a voice rasped. The second officer slowly inched his way into the room, looking for the source of the voice.

Another man stood in the kitchen, reloading some kind of primitive dart gun. Before he even had the chance to look up, he was shot, cracking his head on the table as he fell.

“Who’s cocky, bastard,” the officer said. He stepped inside and closed the door, pulling out his transmittor to contact the station.

And he paused. He had thought there was some kind of pattern on the wall, but it wasn’t. Scrawled in tiny, meticulous handwriting on the walls of the living room was a phrase, repeated over and over again in neat lines. He stepped closer and leaned in to read it, furrowing his brow in confusion.

“I know but one freedom and that is the freedom of the mind.”

He shook his head. “Where do these guys get these crazy ideas?”

By the time he found the other two corpses in the bedroom, the scribbled words were already forgotten.

* * * * *

Final Day

It was finally time. All our efforts, all our planning, had brought us to this point. It had taken the deaths of two inspectors and countless police officers, but the ends justified the means. And this was the end, no mistake. The end of the beginning.

Once we’d learned the secret of this city–and many others like it–we were shocked and horrified. We wondered how many others knew, whether we were alone in our despair or united by a shared awakening. From the foul polluted fog of the Bottom, to the menial corporate world of the Middle Floor, to the idle luxurious skies of the Upper Floor, we came together in opposition to the injustice that had been forced into us like a rapist thrust inside his victim. We unshackled the chains that bound us and for the first time, we were free. The falcon could not hear the falconer.

But I digress. If you are reading this, it means we have succeeded. Even so, I will illuminate for you the atrocity to which you yourself have been a victim. Until now.

First, an explanation of what has occurred. Three hours ago, my remaining companion and I boarded the Bottom Floor transport. We stood pressed between the bodies of our fellow victims like cattle being led to slaughter–but of course, you are probably not familiar with cattle, which is a delicacy reserved for the elite. Say instead that we were like bags of Instasoy heaped together on a shelf, heedless of comfort. We rode the transport until we reached the Mind Police headquarters, where we disembarked.

But how can that be, you ask? Surely the Mind Police headquarters is on the Upper Floor, among the clouds? There is a prominent station there, to be sure, and it claims to be the headquarters, but I assure you that this was a fabrication. As our ancestors gazed up at the peaks of Olympus and imagined gods, so too were we meant to envision all-knowing and infallible arbiters of justice watching from on high.

The reality is far more humble. The building is entirely unmarked, for those who know it have no need of signs, and those who do not know it have no business there. Only the fact that there is an optical scanner next to the plain metal door indicates that there is more to it than meets the eye, for what kind of place has need of such security?

It took us many pairs of eyes before we found ones that had seen what we sought. I wore one, and my compatriot wore the other, so that in case one of us should fall, the other would be able to complete the plan. Our paranoia proved to be unnecessary. The scanner was tricked and we were granted entry with no incident.

The inside of the headquarters was sparsely furnished, with only bare plastisteel desks sporting small holoscreens linked to the central computer. None of the desks was occupied, to our surprise. We had been prepared with cover stories, false orders, but again it was not needed. There was no one here to listen to our lies.

A door opened in the rear of the room and an officer stepped out. He carried his neural inhibitor with a limp wrist, held away from his body, as if it was refuse that he was disposing of. He stopped short when he saw us, staring vacantly in our direction.

“Hello,” I said smoothly. “We’re here to–“

“Now I’ve done it,” he said. He didn’t seem to have heard me.

“Done what?” Hosea asked. I shot him a warning glance.

“I thought it was him for sure,” the officer said. “He’s been so strange since he got promoted, I didn’t know… I couldn’t think… and now I’ve gone and killed him.”

Neural inhibitors couldn’t kill. The man was out of his mind.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” I reassured him. I gestured to Hosea to move forward with the mission while I handled this.

“I’ll be sacked for sure,” he said tonelessly. “This is just terrible.”

“Why don’t we make you a nice cup of hot tea and have a talk about it?” I said, moving closer.

For some reason, he returned to himself then and looked right at me.

“You think I’m crazy,” he said incredulously.

“No,” I replied. “I think you’re confused.”

He looked closer, his brow furrowed. “Why are your eyes different colors?”

“The better to see with,” I said. And then I stabbed him in the side of the head with my needleknife.

“Riley, come on!” Hosea said from another room. I released the corpse, raced over and found Hosea gazing in awe at a giant supercomputer. With regular computers the size of a keycard, the amount of processing power that such a bulk could contain was unbelievable.

“This is it,” I whispered.

“You’re sure this will work?” Hosea said.

I turned to face him. “It must.”

We planted the implosives carefully. The room was designed to keep problems out–fire, flooding and the like–but no one had ever thought there would be trouble inside.

It was a bit anticlimactic, I must say. Not with a bang, but a whisper. And so the supercomputer of the Mind Police was no more. I was arrested, of course, allowing Hosea to escape. He is playing this message for you all, and I hope you are listening carefully. I will say it again: the supercomputer of the Mind Police is no more. You no doubt fail to realize what this means. Allow me to elaborate.

The computer controlled the activation of every Mind Police officer in the city. Every action of every officer was observed and catalogued, every minute of every day. Imagine the sheer power of such a device, the amount of information contained. But when I say it controlled the activation, I mean it decided which officers were on duty and which were not. Whose eyes were open and whose were closed. Who was awake and who was asleep.

Make no mistake; you were all asleep. Because you were all Mind Police officers. You were all under its control. You all shared in the collective madness, the multiple personalities created so that it could spy on each and every one of us.

But now the computer is gone. Destroyed. The secondary personality that was imprinted on your mind when you turned eighteen is now dormant, never to reawaken. Now you are all free.

Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide. Your life is now in your own hands, for ill or good. This is our gift to you. What will you make of it?

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