Futuristic violence and.., p.1
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       Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, p.1
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           David Wong
Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits


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  Copyright Page

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  For Rico the Bunny, RIP

  The near future, somewhere in rural Colorado …

  If Zoey Ashe had known she was being stalked by a man who intended to kill her and then slowly eat her bones, she would have worried more about that and less about getting her cat off the roof.

  Said cat was on said roof because it was terrified of the Santa Claus hologram in the front yard, a tacky Christmas decoration Zoey’s mother had brought home from Walmart two weeks ago. Everybody else in the trailer park had them, so she apparently had felt pressured to demonstrate her Christmas spirit with this dead-eyed apparition that unenthusiastically said “HO-HO-HO-MERRY CHRISTMASho-ho-ho-Merry-Christmas” in a flat robotic voice to anyone who approached. Zoey thought it was a little unsettling herself, but every time the cat saw it blink to life, he would hiss and go streaking off to some high place where he thought the translucent bearded devil couldn’t reach him. So that’s why on the evening of December 16, Zoey was standing in the snow trying to coax the cat off of the roof while, just a block away, a man was waiting to abduct her and stream her slow mutilation to half a million viewers.

  ONE

  For eight hours, Zoey’s pursuer had been staking out the trailer where the twenty-two-year-old lived with her mother, waiting for the most dramatic moment to make his appearance. Catching Zoey in bed or the shower would be optimal, but he got the sense that this particular young woman had no rigid schedule for doing either of those things. All day he had been watching her through a dirty bay window that put their trailer’s whole, sad living room on display. Zoey had begun her day promptly at one PM by waking up on the sofa and initiating a “morning” routine that involved going to the bathroom, returning to the sofa, and then staring blankly at the ceiling for an hour. Then she read for a bit, ate a bowl of cereal, and did something with her hair that involved wrapping part of it in tinfoil while a nature documentary about pack hunters played on the TV behind her. Now the sun had gone down and Zoey, still in her pajamas, was standing in her yard and yelling up at a cat that had jumped onto the roof. Her stalker had intended to send the news media a video of his entire pursuit of the girl, but he knew that this part would have to be edited way down.

  He was out of patience. He resolved to move in for the kill and even switched on the tiny camera he kept pinned to his lapel, so his fans could watch it live. But then, at the last moment, he had second thoughts. Mainly about branding.

  The man had called himself “The Jackal” for most of his short but prolific career, but had decided to switch to “The Hyena” after watching a pack of them tear apart a moose during the documentary that had played on Zoey’s television earlier. He thought it was more fitting—hyenas were wild, unpredictable predators and had the most powerful jaws in the animal kingdom (that last part was what had really sold him on it). But then again, the documentary seemed to show them only hunting in groups (where he was definitely a loner) and, unless he misunderstood, the female hyenas had penises, and even gave birth through them. That was a problem—when he became famous and the press started speculating on why he chose that moniker, he didn’t want pundits throwing around a bunch of wild theories about his genitals. But if he amended his manifesto to address the issue, or included photographic evidence that he had a normal penis, then that would just make him seem like the weirdo for bringing it up. Maybe “The Wolf” was a better name. Or “The Shark.”

  As he sat in his rental car and wrestled with this decision, Zoey went inside the trailer, then returned dragging a kitchen chair through the door. She tried to use it as a step stool to reach the cat on the roof, at which point she immediately overbalanced and fell off, landing hard in the snow. She gathered herself, brushed snow off her butt, mounted the chair again, and searched in vain for a cat that, unbeknownst to her, had already jumped down the other side of the trailer. This went on for a very long time, before Zoey finally noticed the cat was not on the roof, but rather lying in the snow under the very chair she was standing on. Exasperated, the girl trudged back inside cradling the cat with one arm and dragging the chair with the other. The Shark (“The Piranha”?) decided he would wait for her to get settled again, then make his move.

  Instead, Zoey reappeared at the door and headed for the old and busted Toyota Furia in her driveway. Her stalker wasn’t worried about losing her if she left—the advantage of self-driving cars for a man in The Piranha’s line of work was that their navigation systems were very easy to latch on to. He could just set his own to follow the same route and the car would do the tailing for him—he could literally stalk the girl while relaxing and playing a game on his phone. He watched as Zoey scraped frost from the Toyota’s windshield with what appeared to be a spatula, and then pulled out of her driveway, leaving behind a dark rectangle in the snow as if the car had forgotten to take its shadow with it. The Piranha gave her a ten-second head start, and then told his rental car to follow. He tried to picture the headlines that would tick along the bottom of the news feeds next week, like, “The Piranha Claims His Sixth Victim.” Hmmm, maybe “The Leopard” would be better. It needed to be some kind of biting animal, otherwise the surgery would have been a waste.

  He rubbed the itchy line of stitches that ran from one temple to the other, looping under his jawbone like a chin strap. He’d had his entire lower jaw and upper teeth augmented with a motorized black market implant consisting of a graphene lattice frame and titanium chompers that could bite through metal. As soon as he had gotten home from the surgery, he had turned on his camera and announced his new powers to the world by biting through a hunk of copper pipe. He thought it made for an ominous demonstration of his new abilities, even if he’d had to quickly turn off the camera at that point because he had cut up his tongue pretty badly. No matter—the jaws worked, and his next test would be on Zoey Ashe’s fingers. Then he’d just chew his way up from there.

  This, he thought, was what he had always been missing: a gimmick.

  She made a left turn, then another. Circling the block. Did she suspect she was being followed? The Leopard would have to be careful—prey animals were weak, but alert and wary. The girl surely could sense the malevolent predator that lurked behind her in the darkness.

  TWO

  Zoey Ashe had forgotten to tell the Toyota’s navigation to stop for food, so she had already missed the turn by the time she was able to convince it to deviate from its route by screaming repeatedly at the windshield. The car reluctantly circled the block and pulled into a food-distribution center that people in the future call “the Wendy’s drive-thru.” Her Toyota’s heater had stopped working weeks ago, which was bad news in a Colorado winter, so she needed something hot inside her. Zoey pulled up to the window and ordered a small container of a semisolid, protein-rich foodstuff that the people in her time call “chili,” hoping it would warm her up a couple of degrees (at least before the heat
left her body a few minutes later in the form of several dozen hot farts). She then urged the lethargic compact car back onto the deserted streets, where the autopilot took over once more. The Toyota whined its way through the darkness, heading directly toward the Zombie Quarantine Zone, which was the name of the topless bar where Zoey’s mother worked.

  The radio had stopped working years ago, and so Zoey made up for it by singing a hit pop song from her time called “Butt Show (and I Don’t Charge Admission)” while she plugged in the strand of Christmas lights she had tacked around the top of the car’s interior. She peeled the lid off her chili, watched steam waft into the frigid air, and decided that things really could be worse. Zoey always tried to appreciate the little things in life, like the fact that just a generation ago you couldn’t devote both hands to eating a bowl of fast-food chili while the car drove itself (how did people use to eat car chili? With a straw?). She had also recently upgraded her phone to one that displayed a little holographic image of the caller, but so far she had found this feature was only useful for terrifying her holophobic cat, which hardly justified the cost of the upgrade. However, a moment later that feature did allow her to see that the call that saved her life came from a man who was fond of wearing fancy suits.

  When her phone rang, Zoey was only a few blocks away from the trashy, zombie-themed bar where she was supposed to pick up her mother at the end of her shift (that is, the point in the evening when the younger girls were rotated in for the lucrative nighttime crowd). When the phone’s hologram blinked to life it startled the crap out of her, as she had forgotten the phone was in her lap and for one terrified moment thought a tiny ghost had emerged from her crotch. Zoey flinched, cursed, and splattered chili everywhere before she figured out that she was not in fact going to have to undergo an incredibly awkward and invasive exorcism. She groaned and tried to scoop hot chili off her pajama pants with her fingers, and panicked when she saw she had also gotten it all over her new phone. She licked chili off the screen and, in the process, accidentally swiped the “Answer” slider with her tongue.

  The little hologram man floating above the phone looked puzzled and said, “Hello? Is this Zoey Ashe?”

  “Hold on. I got chili all over my car.”

  “I—Are you there? What’s that sound?”

  “It’s the sound of me eating chili off my phone. Who’s this?”

  “Zoey, my name is Will Blackwater. You are the—I’m sorry, are you still there?”

  “Yes, I’m listening. Are you actually wearing that suit or do you just have your phone set to display you wearing it?”

  “Please pay attention. You are the daughter of Arthur Livingston, correct?”

  “No. I mean, yeah he is my biological father, but we have nothing to do with each other. Is he in jail again? Are you his lawyer? Is that why you’re all dressed up?”

  “No. Listen to me, Zoey. A man is coming to abduct you. Right now. His car is one block behind you.”

  “Wait. What? Who is this again?”

  “I’m going to take control of your car. Don’t touch the wheel or the pedals, or do anything else to disengage the self-drive. Do you understand?”

  “No, I don’t understand. How can you—”

  “Please buckle your seat belt.”

  Headlights loomed in her rearview mirror. Zoey, her hands shaking, tried to latch the seat belt as the Toyota abruptly lurched to the left, jumped the curb, flattened a row of shrubs, and plowed across a lawn.

  “HEY! JESUS CHRIST!”

  Zoey grabbed the dash and held on for dear life as her car smashed through two fences and a child’s swing set before it thumped over another curb and turned left onto a residential street.

  The hologram man on her phone, Will, said, “I apologize for that, I’m not driving the car. My associate, Andre, has the controls and I’m afraid he’s had several drinks.”

  From somewhere in the background she heard another voice in the phone say, “Hey, I drive better when I got a few in me.”

  Zoey was thrown against the door as the Toyota went power sliding around a turn. She twisted around in her seat and saw the headlights of her pursuer streak through the yard they had just left, sweeping onto the road behind them. Zoey’s Toyota abruptly turned into a too-narrow alley, missing a brick wall and a Dumpster by half an inch on either side. Her side-view mirror exploded when the car clipped the corner on the way out.

  The man on the phone said, “I’m terribly sorry to tell you this, but your father was killed. It happened last week.”

  “So? I didn’t even know him! I assumed he died years ago. Who are these people?!?”

  “Hold on.”

  The Toyota jumped off the road again and plunged into a grove of pine trees, branches raking the doors with a noise like frantic predators clawing to get in.

  Over the phone, Zoey faintly heard Will say, “Cut the lights.”

  The headlights blinked out, along with all of the dashboard lights and the navigation overlay on the windshield. Zoey was now hurtling through the darkness of the trees, completely blind.

  She screamed.

  The little hologram man on her phone, which was now located somewhere on the back floorboard, told her to calm down. The car emerged from the trees onto a lawn, fishtailed in the snow-covered grass, then shattered somebody’s solar panel array with an explosion of sparks. Another hard left turn, and they were on a paved street once more. Exactly four seconds later, the tailing sedan was behind them again.

  Will said, “Don’t let this question alarm you, but do you have any weapons in the vehicle?”

  “No! Why would I—Wait, I have a spatula…”

  “Well, we have no indication your pursuer is a pancake, so we’ll abandon that angle for the moment. Now I will need you to stay calm. We can’t outrun him in this vehicle. I’m going to have you get out.”

  “How is that possibly going to help?”

  “We need to pick a spot where he’ll be forced to follow on foot. Otherwise he could simply run you over with his car, obviously.”

  “Obviously. Who is he again?”

  “It’s a hired thug. You don’t know him.”

  “Hired by who? What does he want?”

  “I can explain later. I can assure you that knowing the fine details won’t enhance your survivability and it certainly will do nothing to ease your panic. Let me just say that this particular thug took the contract for a reason, which is that he likes when the targets are women. And he likes to take his time. He’s calling himself The Hyena, according to his feed.”

  “Does he give birth through his penis?”

  “What? Zoey, listen to me—our map shows a pond about two hundred yards ahead, but does not show us if it’s frozen over. Is that a safe bet this time of year, where you are?”

  “It … I don’t know! I don’t go ice skating! I know the kiddie pool our neighbors left out in their yard is frozen, but—”

  Zoey was thrown against the door again. Another hard right was taking her off the road once more, this time through a pasture. The car swerved to miss a single cow that was lazily grazing in its path. It mooed at her, probably telling Zoey she should turn her headlights on.

  Will said, “It’s our only option. Hang on.”

  “What’s our only option? What are you going to—”

  Zoey was thrown forward against her seat belt as the Toyota slammed on its brakes, skidding across the rough carpet of frozen grass.

  Will said, “Go! Get out onto the ice! It will support you but not his car, if he wants to follow he’ll have to get out on foot.”

  “But then wha—”

  “GO! NOW!”

  Zoey grabbed the phone, threw open the door, and ran toward the frozen pond. Before her was a moonlit sheet of snow that Zoey thought was like the thin frosting on a cake made of filthy water and dead fish, the bitter wind having frozen the part of her brain that thought up metaphors. She didn’t even know she had made it to the ice until her sneaker
s slipped and sent her down to her knees, the surface below her crackling and popping a warning in response. As Zoey climbed to her feet, her shadow suddenly stretched across the ice—headlights looming behind her. She tried to move quickly but gingerly, but after three steps, she slipped again and this time fell hard on her butt.

  She heard a car door close behind her. She risked a look back and saw only a silhouette backlit by the twin bluish shafts of headlights. Zoey pushed herself up, her hands swiping aside fresh snow to reveal black ice underneath, her stumbling path across the pond leaving a row of haphazard streaks like Chinese calligraphy. Two more steps—now the ice was making wheezing complaints like a squeaky door hinge each time she lowered her foot. She thought she could hear liquid water sloshing up ahead—she had no idea how thick the ice beneath her was, but knew that not far up, that thickness became “zero.”

  She had stuffed her phone into her coat pocket at some point and, from inside, she heard Will say, “Are you still there?”

  Zoey dug out the phone with numb fingers and whispered, “He’s coming. He’s coming and I can’t go any farther. What do I do?”

  “Let me do all the talking. Just hold out your phone.”

  Through the wind, Zoey could barely hear her pursuer say, “I’ve reached the edge of the pond.” Then after a dramatic pause, he declared, “She has nowhere left to run.”

  Zoey asked Will, “Who is he talking to?”

  “He’s streaming this live, he has a Blink camera pinned to his jacket. You don’t want to know how many people are watching. Let me talk to him.”

  Zoey held her phone out toward the menacing shadow in the headlights. The foot-tall holographic ghost of Will Blackwater said, “Stay on the shore, Lawrence, the ice isn’t thick enough to support the weight of both of you. You’re a beefy guy and you’ll notice Zoey here is not what one would call ‘willowy.’”

 
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