Detective Lace zipped up her uniform and stepped into her hovercraft.
Her suit was a single one-piece, skin-tight, navy blue, stretching from her ankles to her head. She pulled the hood over her hair; it clung to her scalp like a diving cap. It was thin as a ply of toilet paper – and one of the best helmets the precinct could buy. It was supposed to slide over her face, but it tinted her vision and she hated it. She pushed it up so it curved just over her hairline.
“Are you picking me up, or what?”
Her stud-earring buzzed Chuck’s transmission into her ear. Chuck, her partner on the force for the past seven years now. Apparently, he was already waiting for her at the local fast food stand, the next skyscraper over, as usual.
She fingered her earring. It had the odd shape of her precinct’s logo. “Patience, Chuckie. I’m on my way.”
“You know I hate being called that.”
“Then shut up. I’ll be there.” She strapped herself into her seat and grabbed the joystick. The stick registered her handprint and her craft hummed to life.
She was parked on one of the skyscraper’s many roofs. Several of its towers reached above her, disappearing into a ceiling of clouds. Looking down, she could see the building as it stretched in a series of tiers and spires, reaching past the clouds below, descending far towards a distant ground that was beyond her view.
Millions of skyscraper lights shone in the dawn, each coming from a residential apartment. Los Angeles was home to a multitude of enormous jumbo-skyscrapers, each housing close to half-a-million residents, most of whom had never seen the ground. Only the very poor, who couldn’t afford higher housing, got the shittier places close to land. Unless one lived in the ocean. The city stretched thirty miles into the Pacific Ocean, and there the housing prices tripled even for the apartments underwater.
But Lace lived with the middle class, high above a ground she had never seen. She took a moment to enjoy the view. Then she sped her craft off the roof and into the morning.
The paths of the skystreets were indicated by long lines of floating lights. They cut through the air like an unending procession of fireflies. The sky was packed with rush hour traffic. Crafts were jammed between the dotted lights of the skystreets.
Lace cursed. Chuck was right. She was late. She flicked on her siren. Her police lights flared on, circling the circumference of her hovercraft.
Her craft was a compact circular vehicle, silver, with only a 2000mm radius. It was smaller, lighter, and faster than most. Like all hovercrafts, its shell was built entirely of solar panel chips, each just under 25mm, capable of storing enough energy to power the average apartment for three months. She had hundreds of them on the surface of her craft, covered beneath a protective veneer. She had taken her craft to get the solar chips polished and updated just this past weekend; old or damaged chips were replaced, every chip cleaned to a perfection.
Now her craft shone like new, gleaming with the sights and sounds of her police siren as she sped through traffic. She flew through the sky, out her jumbo-skyscraper, towards Skyscraper 99 next door.
When she picked up Chuck, he was finishing up his fast-food breakfast. He leapt into her craft.
“I knew you’d be late,” he said, through his chewing. “Here, I bought you some breakfast.” He threw a small bag her way. It was brown, edible, made from chocolate. He had finished the contents of his own bag and was already starting to eat the bag itself.
“Thanks.” She broke off a corner of her chocolate bag and popped it into her mouth.
“We’re starting city patrol late again. The bosses will scream the fuck out of us. When they do, I’m telling them it’s your fault.” Chuck finished the last of his bag. He pulled his uniform hood over his face. The thin sheet of navy blue cloth clung to the contours of his features; it looked solid from the outside, so Lace couldn’t see his expression.
Their uniforms were bullet-proof, with UV protection. With the hood pulled over the face, it was like wearing giant bullet-proof sunglasses.
They flew smoothly among Los Angeles’ jumbo-skyscrapers. Lace checked her craft’s navigational device on her dashboard. The craft’s voice came on, reading words that scrolled across the dashboard, “Rainclouds detected. Craft cover advised.”
Lace pressed a button on her joystick. The hood of her craft raised up, a clear mini-dome. It covered them as they flew into a raincloud, pelting with cold hard rain. She saw the battery light come on as her craft switched from solar to battery power.
They rounded a skyscraper spire.
Suddenly, someone launched a sign flaring into the sky. Lights exploded in fireworks, illuminating the grey air. The words “STOP THE NEMESIS! VENGEANCE IS NOT JUSTICE!” blazed across the clouds, sizzling in bright red colors. It would be days before the light sign wore off.
“Fuck these damn protesters,” Lace said. “Think these idealist dreamers ever saw anyone murdered? Think they’ve ever lost anyone to a killer? They don’t know what it’s like. Not from their comfy little homes. Can’t even imagine some of the shit we’ve seen. Next thing you know, they’ll be asking us to retire so the criminals can have their way.”
Chuck leaned back in his seat. “Well, people’ll always be protesting something.” His voice was slightly muffled behind his uniform hood. “First, crucifixion was outlawed, then the death penalty was outlawed. Who knows, pretty soon maybe the Nemesis will be outlawed. Maybe one day, there’ll be no punishment for anything anymore. You and I can quit patrolling the city, retire, and we’ll all just do whatever we want.”
Lace’s stud-earring began to buzz in a transmission from the precinct. “Lace! You’re late! The DNA results from the crime scene are in. We’ve already got his location. I’m sending out the usual crew to get this guy. I want you there!”
The transmission ended. Lace smiled. “Looks like we’ve got the Fun Killer.”
They had nicknamed him the ‘Fun Killer’ because he usually had ‘fun’ with his victims before letting them die. Mr. Fun Killer had somehow gotten himself an invisibility suit on the black market; he had never turned up on the city’s security cameras. But he had gotten sloppy last time and left a tiny shred of DNA behind.
“I want the Nemesis for this guy,” Lace said. “Anything less wouldn’t be fair.”
She watched the mail sign light up on her dashboard. The sign was a rectangle with a ‘V’ inside. Apparently, it mimicked something called an ‘envelope’ that people at the beginning of the Technology Age had used to deliver mail.
She touched it and opened the message from the precinct. It was the Fun Killer’s DNA code. She entered the code into the Universal Database Records. Immediately, the killer’s identity was displayed on her dashboard screen:
Name: SHANE PARKER
Age: 57 YEARS
There was a picture of him, along with his height and weight calculations. He had dark hair and coffee-colored skin, with a height of 2.1 meters. He seemed a typical male.
A second later, satellite records had found his location and displayed it on a map across Lace’s dashboard. He was only a few jumbo-skyscrapers away.
“We got him, Chuckie,” Lace said. She swerved her craft around, her police lights flaring to life.
They sped out of the storm cloud and into the sunshine. Lace pressed a button on her joystick and the craft cover came down. Wind and cloud swept over them, loud and almost painful. She pulled the craft high, over the noise of the city traffic. The air was thin, uncomfortably cold. They were above the civilian hovercrafts, their uniforms warming them. Their training had prepared them for this sort of vomit-inducing speed at such high altitudes. They flipped through the air in a maneuver that would have knocked a civilian out cold.
In a matter of minutes, they had arrived at the Fun Killer’s.
Lace’s craft spoke in a toneless voice, “Target heading west on Skyway 401.”
Lace checked the satellite map. The killer’s location was very near. She looked up. From her position in the air, Lace saw him, speeding away from his jumbo-skyscraper, pursued by her precinct’s squadron.
He was heading directly towards her.
“Come to mama,” she said.
She flew her car down to block his path, activating firearms. Beneath her, laser guns lowered from her craft. She readied her thumb over the trigger to fire.
Chuck had his mouth to the speaker, “Stop or we will not hesitate to fire!” His voice boomed across the sky.
But the killer’s craft only accelerated. Lace was about to put up her craft cover to brace for a possible impact, when guns unfolded beneath the killer’s hovercraft.
She heard Chuck swear.
Thoughts raced through her mind. Black market weapons. If they caught this guy, they could find the black market trade and shut it down.
She pressed the button to bring up her craft cover. At the same time, she fired her laser guns.
Pain exploded over her face.
She heard Chuck screaming as he took the controls.
Briefly, she realized the killer had also fired, simultaneously. Laser bullets had smashed into her face. The craft cover hadn’t come up in time. If only she had worn her uniform hood over her face.
Somewhere, far away, she could feel her suit trying to resuscitate her. She hoped her own laser bullets had gotten the bastard.
And then, her consciousness dimmed, dying into a blackness.
* * *
Slowly, Detective Lace surfaced to consciousness. In the short moments before she opened her eyes, she wondered, briefly, where she was. She was lying in bed, but her body felt different – larger, heavier, not her own.
A voice spoke inside her head. “Good morning, Shane Parker. This is the Nemesis, version 901.7x. You have just lived the life of Detective Lace Evens, whom you murdered on…” . As the Nemesis recording droned on, memories started to come back.
Shane Parker, also known as the Fun Killer, opened his eyes.
It was morning, and he was in bed, sunlight filling his bedroom. He was in the same apartment he had lived in for most of his life, a comfortable one-bedroom in Skyscraper 112 near the Pacific Ocean.
Detective Lace had died more than ten years ago.
Her laser bullets had missed him, but his had been right on target. Shortly after, her precinct’s squadron had brought down his hovercraft in a barrage of firepower. He had been apprehended, and his sentence was a lifetime of the Nemesis. The Nemesis chip was implanted in his brain with the memories of all those he had murdered. Each time he fell asleep, it made him live through the entire life of one of his victims.
The Nemesis recording came to a stop.
Shane got up and put a morning gum in his mouth. He chewed it. It cleaned his mouth, fortifying his teeth with essential minerals. He usually chewed it for several hours, scrubbing his mouth spotless.
He walked out of his bedroom.
Shortly after the Nemesis had been implanted, he was forced to undergo genetic modification, removing his desire to kill. At first, he had felt strange, neutered. But as the years went by, he had forgotten what it felt like to want to kill. He remembered it dimly now, as a hunger, an excitement, an escape from the monotony of life. It had been a thrill that now caused him revulsion.
Now, the monotony of life didn’t bother him anymore. And slowly, he had learned to live with himself and what he’d done. He had adapted, the way he had adapted to the Nemesis implant.
The first years of the Nemesis had been torture. He had tried to stay awake for days before falling into bursts of narcoleptic sleep. He would snap awake, seconds later, to the sound of the Nemesis recording, after living through a victim’s entire life.
Only the government knew about his crimes and his Nemesis. He could have told his family and friends, but he never did. The government had given him the address of a virtual support group. There, he networked anonymously with others also sentenced to the Nemesis chip. Those were the only people he had told, strange and faceless people. Some in the support group had never adapted to the Nemesis. They had killed themselves after a few years.
But slowly, Shane had gotten used to his victims’ memories – memories that were part of his own memories now. Memories that had become a part of his waking mind.
Over the years, he became withdrawn, only letting a few family members visit him occasionally on the holidays. He hadn’t left his apartment in three years. He still worked the same job, for the same company he had always worked for. He hadn’t eaten in over five years. Instead, he simply ate a weekly nutrition pill. He didn’t have the desire to eat anymore.
He walked through a short hallway.
Pictures scrolled across the white walls, artistic projections in vivid colors. In his living room, there were a few tiny projectors no larger than a thumbnail in the corners of the floor. They cast his photos onto the walls, giant images of his life before the Nemesis. There were pictures from his vacation on the moon; some were still photos, others were moving.
He looked, for a moment, at a picture of himself in zero gravity. It was thirty years ago. He watched his young self bouncing around in space. The image was displayed briefly before it flicked to a still picture of him and his sister.
He sat down and turned on his computer. A large screen projected onto the wall in front of him, lit with several icons. He touched his company’s icon, logged in, and began work for the day. He had been managing the finances of Venture Architectural Designs almost his entire life. Like most offices, it was a virtual space accessed through a personal computer. He worked with hundreds of other colleagues he had never seen in real life.
Venture Architectural Designs was based in Venture, one of the largest cities on the moon. His company specialized in building lunar jumbo-skyscrapers.
When he finished work, it was evening. He logged off.
He spent some time scrolling through the news on his computer. He stopped briefly at an article on the decline of Scientology. It was a religion that had begun at the start of the Technology Age. Much of the history surrounding its earlier years was obscure now, lost to time. It had become one of Earth’s major religions, but now the numbers at church were falling. The article went on to discuss the rise and fall of religions, citing ancient religions he had never heard of, some dating back hundreds of years before the Technology Age.
He went on to skim through some articles on the colonization of Mars. Venture was eager to expand into Mars development. He saved the articles. The virtual paper displayed across his computer wall had the look and feel of ‘real paper’, which he had seen in a museum once, before his Nemesis days.
Shane turned his computer off. The wall went blank again. Soon, a small photo projector turned on and started projecting photos across the blank computer wall.
Back in his bedroom, Shane laid down and looked up. His bed was round, in the center of a large glass dome. He had a very simple, average apartment, although he had to pay more for it because it was so close to the ocean. He had a good view of the Pacific during the day.
Now, the ocean was fading into the coming night. Soon, his glass dome was filled with the night stars and the city lights. Overhead, he could see the moon. It was partially blue with a manmade ocean. Shane wondered what the moon looked like before it had been developed. He had seen pictures of it. It had been stark and blank, white as a solid wall.
He looked at his bedroom dome made of one-sided glass. He could see out, but no one could see in. He flicked a switch and selected a movie. The film played across the large curve of the dome, surrounding him. His senses were filled with a barrage of sound and colors, action and thrills.
When the movie was over, the dome faded back into the night stars overhead. The moon had moved across the sky. And Shane felt lonely.
He was still in his pajamas. He never wore anything else anymore. He pulled his bedcovers over him.
Tonight, it was Sarah Cheringer’s memories that would play while he slept, a young teenager he’d ‘hunted’. Her murder was the worst to endure. Her memories, the most painful to wake from.
He rolled over, staring at the night sky. The average lifespan was 120 years. He was 70 now, middle-aged. Only 50 more years of the Nemesis to endure.
He looked at the lights of the stars and the city. He tried to keep his eyes open.
But eventually, he fell asleep. *
About the author: T.L. Rese last year completed her PhD Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. She was graduated with a BA in English from UC Berkeley. Her poetry and short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, most recently, The Lamp Post of the C.S. Lewis Society Magazine.
About the artist: Romeo Esparrago has a chip implanted on his shoulder.