We all need things.
Want things. Covet things. Collect things. Everyday life is consumed with hunting and gathering things. But you learn something when you have nothing.
Flying between buildings downtown at the fifth story level in my silent ultra light chopper, I detect a girl in an alley who appears to have been drugged by two teenage boys and is about to be raped.
I beam an auto-targeting photographic spotlight on the scene, startling the boys.They’re stupid enough to look up for a moment before covering their faces and running. I get a good picture even as I fire my autotag gun slapping a micro GPS tracker onto one’s baggy pants.
I land and go to the girl. She’s barely conscious but breathing steadily. I get her whispered name from numb lips. “Narisse.”
I strap her to the Ultra and press a button converting the ultra to street driving mode.
Hours later, inside The Cube, Narisse comes around, finding herself on a bed in a small but comfortable room with no windows but one open door leading down a hallway. She’s fully dressed and nothing is missing from her person. Calling out, she gets no response. Reluctantly, she nervously picks at the fruit and cheese at her disposal.
Soon I’m flying again in Ultra, following the GPS.
I spot the same two assholes assaulting a man who can’t defend himself. One is flicking the man with a knife while the other is kicking him.
I hit the knife-wielder with a treated dart in the neck.
The kicker I shoot in the face with a tainted paintball.
Moments later the kicker begins to laugh maniacally and can’t stop convulsing.
Suddenly knife boy can’t stop crying hysterically.
And I suddenly appear in their midst.
“This won’t stop for three days,” I convey in an unnervingly distorted voice, “by the end of which neither of you will be able to stand, talk or do anything but drool for weeks thereafter. You’ll wish you’d gone to jail instead.”
Backtracking, after an hour, unable to relax, Narisse sniffs some of the coke from her pocket and smokes a joint she’s been
saving. She uses the bathroom, turns on some music from the available list and is almost relaxed when my normal voice startles her.
“Narisse. Please come down the hall.”
Completely spooked, she refuses to move.
“Narisse, I’m the one who helped you. You’re safe now. Your injuries appear minor. Do you want to go to the emergency room?”
“Where am I? Why didn’t you take me to the hospital?”
“You would have been arrested.”
“Are you watching me? Where are you?”
“Like I said. Please come down the hall.”
Reluctantly complying, Narisse finds her way to the Encounter Room, guided by my manipulation of the maze panels of the main floor.
When she comes my appearance unsettles her further.
“You have nothing to fear. This is my uniform. I have a special job and I came across your situation during the course of it. Your addiction nearly got you raped and killed tonight.”
Her expression conveys the certainty that rape is no stranger.
My refusal to remove my mask makes her uncomfortable but the remedy for that is already underway. As I provide the flashback, I subtly administer Formula 46 to Narisse through an invisible gas. My own mask filters out such intrusions.
Narisse is compelled by Formula 46 to answer honestly.
I discover that Narisse ran away from her alcoholic father and her heroin addicted mother six months before.
Only 14 and with no money, she fell in with some older kids who gave shelter.
But she was taken advantage of and learned to not trust. She ended up alone on the streets.
Her caution with strangers didn’t save her from being abducted off the street by human traffickers.
They conditioned her and kept her sedated, then high for weeks as they fed her well and showed her pornography while they forced sex on her and tricked her into performing in their porn. Then the slavers trucked her off across town where they put her to work on a corner. That’s where she was when those boys came up on her, where I found her.
I sedate Narisse then transport her to Hargath Agarkness, the woman who runs the local shelter.
Agarkness Shelter is in Inglewat, a poor neighborhood where a disabled veteran named Cemoh lives alone, dependent on any help he can get.
Mrs. Agarkness brings him a week’s worth of dinners every Saturday. But Cemoh is in bad shape. He’s been robbed again, just after cashing his Social Security check.
Mister Kicker and Knife Boy are back in their hood laughing and crying helplessly.
Their reputations are ruined as everyone thinks they’re crazy.
First one goes all crybaby and the other one thinks everything is funny for three days, and then they break out with this story about some dude that made ‘em do it that sound like Batman and shit. Whatever –
Knife Boy isn’t ashamed of robbing “the old fucks” of their Social Security.
“Why should old fucks be the only ones with security?” asks the punk seriously, weeping. “Besides, the government forces people to pay into that, and that’s not right,” he sobs.
“A-g-g-greed,” laughs Mister Kicker so hard he can barely speak. “T-t-that money is up for g-g-grabs,” he says hysterically. “But…heh heh…we should… Ha! …knock that shit off, it d-draws t-t-too much attention and there’s enough money from the dope. Bwah-ha-ha!“
High above, miniature drones hover, video streaming directly to the Media Center inside The Cube.
I pay a midnight visit to Mrs. Agarkness. While checking up on Narisse, the topic of Cemoh and his plight comes up.
Mrs. Agarkness explains, “Dealers, pimps, prostitutes and those who want them populate Cemoh’s neighborhood. He has been burglarized three times and held up at gunpoint on the corner of his own street. Once all the neighbors here in Inglewat were hard working families. Now they’re hard working criminals, and playful children have been replaced by desperate addicts.”
“How did this happen?” I inquire.
“Buy outs and force outs. These days most of the houses around here are owned by several limited liability entities. And most of them are linked to one man: Developer Karl Begora.”
Drone footage tailing Mister Kicker has allready revealed that he made the trip across town to visit the residence of Karl Begora.
Turns out Mister Kicker is Begora’s son.
Once it becomes clear that Begora is profiting nicely from the drug trade in the latest nightmare neighborhood of his own construction, I decide it’s time he took a vacation.
By night, catching Mister Kicker alone in the backyard of his father’s estate, I use a fixed blow dart to inject Formula 16, relaxing the laughing effect and compelling his obedience to direct orders.
I order Kick to convince his father to come out and take a look at what he found in the pool. And then to lie down for a nap.
When Karl Begora comes poolside, I appear behind him and slap him with a sedative ring. I lead him to Ultra, and we fly away.
I take Begora unconscious to The Cube.
A tiny opening in the forest landscaping allows my spying neighbor, Mrs. Gladitz, to gain a binocular glimpse of me transferring a slump Begora from Ultra with the aid of a garage robot! Her husband is a cop. Through the trees I catch a glimpse of her silhouette against the starlight on her roof, a fifth of a mile distant.
Karl Begora regains awareness. Or at least, his body does. His hard exterior is gone. His eyes open wide and innocent. He rests comfortably in an easy chair in a light surrounded by darkness. He tries to rise but his limbs do not respond, though nothing restrains him.
“Who are you?”
Begora’s response, hesitatingly, in an uncharacteristic high voice, is… “Barbara.”
I control events inside the Encounter Room from the Media Center, having emptied a vial of Formula 2 into Begora, by which I have induced a split personality.
“Where is Karl?”
“I never speak to that person, I hate him.”
“Things he’s done.”
“Did he kill someone? “
“Did he order someone killed?”
“No, of course not. Even he isn’t that obviously bad. He took the money. All that dirty money. Blood money. And he looked the other way.”
Back in his normal environment the next morning, Karl Begora signs dozens of large checks made out to organizations such as the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and Habitat For Humanity.
Against the protests of his lawyers he signs ownership of Cemoh’s building over to Cemoh as well as $500,000 for restoration.
He donates $100,000 to Agarkness Shelter.
Then he writes a suicide note, leaves it on his desk, goes to the roof of his office building and stands on the ledge 20 stories above the street.
By noon Mister Kicker is on the news, getting interviewed about his father’s suicide.
The usually leather-adorned dip-shit is dressed up in a suit and tie, bemoaning his great loss. “I used to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Wow – what a great day to be alive! What a beautiful day!’ But now it’s like, will there ever be a beautiful day again? Can someone who’s experienced this kind of loss…ever…I mean, really…be completely ‘happy’ again?”
Police Officer Gladitz, in full uniform, comes to my residence in the late afternoon but cannot find a way to announce his presence, as the gate is locked and there is no call box.
He gets a bullhorn from the trunk of his patrol car.
“Yo, neighbor? Doctor…Stonemaster, I believe? Wonder if I might have a word with you?” blares the cop. Damned if I’ll respond.
Before driving off on patrol, Officer Gladitz takes a few swigs from his hidden flask, looking in all likelihood to be a functional alcoholic.
Night falls, and I set out on my irregularly scheduled sky patrol.
Before long I see the same man who had been cut and brutalized by Mister Kicker and Knife Boy, staggering drunk in an alley.
I land Ultra nearby. I want to take him for analysis. I approach finding him incoherent.
Just then a police cruiser rolls up, lighting up the alley.
I lurk in deep shadows behind piles of garbage.
The blinding light causes the man, Possum, to stir, covering his eyes protectively and mumbling protests. The door of the patrol car opens, closes, and Possum hears footsteps coming. He manages to stand up.
“Turn around!” orders the voice of Officer Gladitz.
Possum fails to respond to orders quickly enough for the agitated officer. “Where’d you get that bread?” Gladitz demands, and I notice an open loaf lying beside Possum. “Seems a lot of bread has been missing lately and you’re the likely suspect.” Gladitz pushes Possum to the pavement and pulls the weak man’s arms behind, cuffing him.
“My face hit the ground, oh Lawd!” cries the man, who gets no mercy from Gladitz as he’s dragged to the patrol car, bleeding from his cheek.
Gladitz is about to pull away when I appear beside his window.
“Apologies, but I want you to know that I gave that bread to the man.”
The officer scoffs, “That’s bullshit. Step away.”
I point out the video I’ve sent to my home computer with instructions for my robot to publicize Officer Gladitz’s “robust” handling of this homeless arrest should anything bad happen to…anyone.
Likewise, said video could be deleted if Possum were simply let go…with an apology.
Gladitz gets out of the car, towering over me, wanting to know “Where’s your camera?”
I nod upward, where three drones can be seen quietly hovering at wide angles.
Begrudgingly, Gladitz frees Possum but refuses to apologize. “It’s only pictures, and pictures can be interpreted.”
I open my jacket enough for Gladitz to see my microphone; I smile, and take Possum away.
Hours after I arrange quarters for Possum at Agarkness Shelter, monitors in the Media Center alert me to a disturbance outside The Cube.
I tap in to find Officer Gladitz on a rampage in his front yard.
Gladitz is engaged in hand to hand combat with a mail carrier. Gladitz is in full uniform using his baton to smash the mailman. The mailman swings his bag skillfully, whacking Gladitz so hard in the face that the officer goes down.
As mailman mounts a retreat, Gladitz draws his gun.
Officer Gladitz shoots at the zig-zagging postal worker, who hurtles bundled mail at the crazed cop.
The gunfire draws the attention of a Colombian yard worker with a leaf blower.
Mail Man runs to the yard worker who runs from Mail Man. Gladitz seems to have gone mad and is now shooting at both of them.
Inexplicably, Narisse comes running from the house shouting “You killed my mother!” and screaming “You killed her!” over and over, stomping angrily toward Officer Gladitz.
“Narisse?” asks a stunned Officer Gladitz. “What are you doing here? You fuckin’ child hooker, little bitch! They laugh at me! Everybody knows about you…”
Narisse responds: “Don’t ever call me that. Don’t call me a child prostitute. That makes it sound like my choice I’m working. It wasn’t! I was being tortured. Every damn time. Besides, a prostitute makes money. I was more like a horse or a cow, used, fed and kept. I don’t think there’s any such thing as a child prostitute. But thanks for all the support, ‘Dad’.”
She pounds him with her fists as Mrs. Agarkness runs out of the house, alarmed.
A dart hits Officer Gladitz in the ass; a small bomb falls beside him exploding in a silent flash and an aerosol hits him in the face.
Bewildered, the officer waves his weapon blindly, wildly, then awkwardly struggling to stand. I appear before him and he stops.
“Besides the gift of tranquility, I hit you with three states of consciousness that you’ll now endure,” I say in Officer Gladitz’s groggy face.
“You’re going to fall asleep for three days. During that sleep you’ll experience only nightmares whenever you dream. Sorry, but I thought you deserved that, and then – you’re going to slip into a coma for a year while authorities figure out what to do with you. I bid you farewell.”
Once things settle down after Officer Gladitz’s arrest, Mrs. Agarkness explains that she took Narisse to her old neighborhood for a drive-through just as part of her recovery program.
When Narisse saw that something was wrong inside the house she once lived in, she insisted on going in to investigate.
That’s when she found Mrs. Gladitz stabbed to death in the bedroom. It seems she had been seeing the mailman for special deliveries.
A recovering Possum reveals that, “I never did have much family. Family I had never did much for me. Why do you help people you don’t even know, Mister Stonemaster?”
And so I tell him, as best I can recall tapping into this borrowed brain.
“I made a vow to my dying father, I promised him – not because he asked me to, but because I wanted to – I swore to my Dad that I would find a way to save as many of the downtrodden as I could. There were – there are – so many of them out here, people who have suffered catastrophe, that have been through gutting disaster and lost everything…and we all need things. Want things. Covet things. Collect things. Everyday life is consumed with hunting and gathering things. But you learn something when you have nothing. If you’ve never had nothing, you can’t see the actual absurdity of it all. Even in the foggiest brain out there on the street, there has been at least one moment when the face suddenly smiled and laughed at the magnitude of effort put forth to please just a few real needs. And one of those needs – peace within one’s self – is ever-elusive amid the clawing, climbing masses. My father lost his store in a riot. Times were tough everywhere, he couldn’t get loans, insurance wouldn’t replace his damages and he lost his business. Then he lost his home, unable to make enough working for others. Alcohol became a problem when he took a job at a liquor store. After a while he was in the street. By the time I found him, it was too late.”
Incredible, so many routes my life could have taken, and has taken, on other Earths.
The Stonemaster Pharmarsenal includes 3 categories, Defense, Assist and Assault.
Defense: Antibiotic, Antiseptic, Energetic (for up to 12 hours), Painlessness (complete), Tranquility (for up to 12 hours).
Assist: Alertness (heightened senses up to 14 hours), Reasoning (enhanced thinking for up to 8 hours), Savant (at whatever task one has a natural but undeveloped talent for).
Assault: Anxiety (nervousness, self-doubt up to 16 hours), Comatose (for up to 14 months), Compliance (to suggestions of anyone), Crying (unstoppable up to 5 days), Depression (for up to 72 days), Diarrhea (for up to 6 hours), Ecstasy (for up to 10 hours), Hallucination (sensations derived from inner projections when imagination seems real), Hyperactive (for up to four days), Illusion (misinterpretation of outside world events through one’s own inner priorities), Insomnia (for up to 28 days), Invincibility (sense of), Laughter (unstoppable up to 3 days), Nausea (incurable up to 11 hours), Nightmares (whenever REM sleep occurs), Obedience (to direct orders of anyone), Painfulness (general), Paranoia (conspiratorial, up to 27 hours), Poison (instant or slow-acting), Shock (up to 12 hours), Sleepiness/Sleep (up to 3 days), Split personality (psychoanalytical method exposes conflicts within individual), Suicide (instant or subtle movement toward), Unconsciousness (instant or delayed, 10 minutes to 13 hours), Vocalization (ceaseless talking, thinking aloud up to 4 hours), Zombie (no sense of touch, mute, stiff muscled, glassy-eyed, uncomprehending, several days).
The only survivor from a family of addicts, sworn to save those I can utilizing the Defense and Assist compartments of my Pharmarsenal, Stonemaster lifts the fog of mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse to communicate with the cognizant core of an individual’s being, temporarily “sobering” him or freeing his mind of torment. I then discover where this person belongs or would be without debilitating forces. Sometimes I restore people to families, attains proper medical care or liberates victims altogether. Sometimes it is too late.