Please click here for part 1
By: Antwan Crump
They called it, The Rubix. It was an area in the country, formerly known as Manhattan. After the war began, most people fled to one borough or another in the hopes of finding whatever kind of reprieve from the chaos that they could.
A majority of citizens had absconded to the borough most likely to accept their complexation. The Whites had Staten Island. The Blacks had Brooklyn. The Hispanics reigned in the Bronx. Queens was shared by the remainder. Those who broke the unwritten territorial lines were normally run out of town or dealt with in a much messier way.
Those who adored or endured the tumultuous lifestyle stayed in the frays of the major city. It made for a complicated mix of folks who enjoyed conflict and the lack of measures taken to reduce it.
Though it was often hailed as a place “evident of our potential to reintegrate” by officials—those close enough to the ground knew that it was nothing, if not proof that it may never happen again. The “American Experiment” had failed. Maul knew that better than anyone else. He’d just hoped that the “blowhards up top” would realize it soon enough to do what needed to be done.
“And that’s why you don’t get too close to these assholes, Mo.” Maul had been sitting in the driver’s seat with both of his feet on the dashboard. As much as he hated what the world had become, he couldn’t help but enjoy some of the technological advancements.
Self-driving cars had become a rarity for all but the most respected officials. He’d managed to complain his way into one. Flawed or not, Maul was well-respected and to a certain extent—feared. “You don’t let a god damn one of those pricks get close enough to your heart to feel your pulse. Do you understand?”
The smoke from Maul’s cigarette had been filling the car. Morales did his best not to choke too hard as second-hand cancer filled his lungs. “I understand,” Morales said with a balled fist to his own mouth, “Do you mind opening a window or something? Not all of us want to die that soon.”
Maul leered at Morales with a bent lip as the ash from his cigarette fell into his lap, “Rook, if you’re gonna’ let a little menthol fuck up your mood, I’d suggest that you’d buy some lubricant to go along with your bitching.”
Maul took a hefty drag from his smoke and craned his head toward Morales. The windows opened as he blew the cloud into his face. “Because you’re fucked out here.”
“Noted,” Morales said, waving his hand around to part the smoke in front of him. “But, I’d rather enjoy that sensation alive, if you don’t mind.”
“I do mind, you son of a bitch! Jokes won’t save your androgynous ass out here.” Maul tamped out his cigarette on the car’s armrest, at the same time, it came to a screeching halt.
“Anger violation detected. Stopping vehicle—in three syllables.
“What the fuck!” Maul pulled his feet from the dashboard and began to smash on the car’s touchscreen, “Abort! Abort! What the hell is going on?”
“It’s a new feature,” Morales tried and failed to hold back a smug smirk, “I had them install it…for my own safety. Yours as well.”
“I don’t need this shit right now, Mo.” Maul punched the screen until it cracked. Its display still flashed CAR STOPPED in bold red letters—as if to taunt him. “What the hell is wrong with this thing?”
“You have to calm down, Maul.” Morales sat back in his seat and displayed the—academy approved—breathing exercise. “You just place each hand on its respective thigh, breathe in…” Mo’s chest expanded as he bloated forward in his chair, “…then exhale.” He let out a strong gust of air. As his lips fluttered in deflation, Maul couldn’t think of doing much else but jabbing him in his or her chiseled chin. “You see? Now, you try.”
Maul’s eyes tightened to a near close, “Fuck you.”
“Citation administered for…Agent Maul. Verbal Abuse.”
“Oh! You fucking talk now. Good. Drive.” Maul lit another cigarette and made it his business to ensure that the windows were shut closed. “Five-Eight-Seven-Six. Do you copy. This is Agent Maul. Drive!”
“Vehicle will remain in place until…AGENT MAUL…has a heart rate of less than SEVENTY beats per minute.”
“Fuck you!” Maul fumed at the broken screen and continued to punch its glass until it was nothing but shards and a light display.
“Heart rate rising…Connecting to…PSYCHE D.R.D.”
“No, no, no. Fine. I’ll do the damn breathing thingy.”
“Standing by for B.P.M.”
Maul placed a single hand on each thigh and took a deep breath in. Morales joined him in meditation. A moment or two later, the engine roared a frightening howl that jolted the two men from their forced tranquility. The steering wheel swiveled left and the car drifted back onto the main road. Maul let out a steady stream of air. As much as he’d hated to admit it, it did relax him.
“Thank you…AGENT MAUL…for your compliance.”
“Right,” Maul said as lifted his feet back atop the dashboard and leaned back in his chair. As he pulled his pack of cigarettes from his pocket and retrieved one to raise to his lips, Morales lifted a lighter to it.
It took a puff or two before the bent tobacco was lit, but once it was, Maul’s trembling hands steadied. Morales had never noticed it before—though, he was aware of Maul’s heart condition, (the entire force was).
Maul rested with the Marlboro between his lips as the vehicle picked up speed. Morales cautiously lowered the window—looking over every half-second or so to ensure that he wouldn’t be chastised. Maul ignored it.
The car sped to a speed of over 200 kilometers per hour as it made its way off of the main roads and onto the expressway. Only droid-operated vehicles were allowed to drive that route anymore. It was a new rule.
Maul hated it.
It hadn’t always been that way. As far back as Maul could remember, agents were left to their own devices once they’d been sent on a call. When he’d first joined the force—twenty years prior—he was nothing if not exhilarated by the job. He’d had less than six months before the shit hit the fan.
It started with death—as all horrible things do. White nationalists—they were once called—although Maul had taken to referring to them as the “pale-skinned fucktards who lit a fuse and forgot to run”. He’d passed as a white man himself. He never really paid much attention to his race, however—the foster care system tends to beat prejudice out of a child. Simply put, he hated everyone equally.
When the war broke out and could no longer be covered up as a series of isolated incidents or circumstances or happenstance society had seemed to become feral—particularly in the area to which he and Morales had just been dispatched. He pushed down the memories of what the streets had used to look like before the city began to eat itself from the inside out.
“Was it always this disgusting?” Morales asked as the two turned off of the expressway and back on to the main roads, “I mean, it couldn’t have been, right?” Morales was far too young to remember the sea of skyscrapers parted in its center by the miles wide forest.
He would have never even guessed that the living bonfire that New York City had become, was once a thriving metropolis—the metropolis. Maul doubted that his partner would be able to picture much other than what had presented itself to them in that moment. Nothing but smoke, scaffolds, and broken glass.
By then, so much time had passed, Maul was barely even sure if his memories were any more than just a whimsy—a hope for something that never was and never could be. “Kid, all that matters is the task at hand. No sense in wasting your time with what may or may not have been. Distractions will get you killed.” It was best not to dwell in fantasy.
Their car pulled onto Block 1—the first of this subsect. What had once been hailed as a “brownstone paradise” had now looked like something plucked out of the Incan ruins. The street had been one of the first to go down during the war.
Both sides of the fight had seemed to think that they’d be making some sort of statement by staging their first attacks on what was once of the most serenely integrated placed within a hundred or so miles. Maul was on call that day. It was the last time that he’d worn his tie or even bothered to shine his shoes.
“We’re almost there,” Maul said. He checked the holster that had been dangling from his side to make sure that his gun had still been snugly fitted into its pocket. He looked back at Maul with an ominous smirk. He knew something that Morales didn’t. “Ever been to the Rubix before, kid?”
“Once. As a teenager.” Following Mauls’ lead, Morales checked to ensure his gun was still by his side as well. He’d even gone so far as to check to ensure that it was loaded and the safety was off. He placed it back in its holster with the same soft-handedness in which you’d carry a newborn. “It wasn’t the greatest experience.”
Maul let out the light chuckle that seemed to be bubbling from behind his teeth, “Bout’ ten years ago?”
“Something like that. Why?”
“Just curious. I wasn’t sure if you’d seen any of those bastards face to face yet.” Maul took a long pull from his cigarette and reached his arm over to hand it to Morales. He looked at him with the condescending eye of an executioner, “A little buzz won’t kill ya…”
“No. I don’t…”
“Suit yourself.” Maul tossed the cigarette out of the window. This smoke had a peculiar smell.
“Was that?” Morales stopped himself before he could say the words. There was no need for the central office to have his inquiry on record. Besides, Morales knew exactly what that smell had been. The last time that he’d smelled it, he’d been around the same area.
Maul sat up in his seat, “It’s the only place in the country where you won’t get arrested for it. Arrogant fucks down at central don’t even test for the shit anymore. It wouldn’t be my bag, but who am I to piss on a perk?” Maul joked. “Check it out.” Maul leaned his head toward the front windshield and looked up. Morales, again, followed suit and took in the view.
“Arriving at… Block 3…Initializing vehicle weapons check.”
“Isn’t it something?”
To Be Continued…
Welcome to the world of the macabre. In this long-awaited anthology, we delve into the dark nuances of the human spirit. From the apocalypse to murder and brutal realities we remorselessly explore them all, in search of the truths that evil holds. Can you face the darkest corners of your psyche or will you cower back to your fairytales and superhero mythologies? When you tire of the lies—we’ll be waiting for you here…in the dark.
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