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Chapter 2

He had to kill a man later that day. It was most distasteful, but there were certain things he recognized as his moral duty. He could easily ignore the fact that there were people wandering around in the world who should die, and not kill them, but he was equally aware of the fact that the only reason he knew there were such people, and could kill them, was because of the astonishing hardware acquired at taxpayer's expense. He had always fully intended to exploit his prosthetic technology in the most personally gainful means possible, and hopefully independent of all global governing forces, but just living in the world constantly exposed him to ills that could be most effectively addressed by his particular talents and without a great amount of his time or energy, and these he found obligated to engage.

He had been moving at an anonymous pace with the mid-afternoon pedestrian traffic through a subterranean shopping/transit complex, randomly playing with the sensitivity of his meld reception, making a strange music out of the generally mundane thoughts of the crowd around him. Without warning one voice, tormented and bizarre, slashed out of the bedlam, clear and cold.

In seconds he had found the source: an average-looking commuter apparently heading for the wind tunnels. He was wearing the standard issue padded one-piece grey/maroon suit that marked him as one of a legion of industrial middle managers, each carrying a rectangular datacase attached at the right hip, each gazing blankly ahead as they read growth reports and stock figures made to appear as if they were floating in space before them by their contact lens receivers. His head was neatly groomed, middle-aged or prematurely grey, razor-sharp hairlines on mustache and eyebrows, thin nose and lips, emotionless. This person appeared so utterly anonymous that at first Spaxter was sure he was mistaken, that this couldn't possibly be the source of that banshee wail, and he cast hurriedly around for a more likely candidate. But that voice kept driving his attention back to this man, one of a hundred alike in the passageway. And yet on closer inspection there was, definitely, something... unusual, as if the facade were so flawless that it obviously had to be a construction, maybe a rubber costume cunningly fitted over a monstrous alien form. But the fit was not, quite, perfect.

That unsettling sense of the alien brought him instantly back to the morning's meld session in the motel, but not the enigmatic man in black hawking new age jewelry and sporting some kind of unearthly black intelligence; rather the demonic evangelist which had immediately preceded him.

He looked again at the man, now moving with a train-bound tributary of the human river towards the descent tubes, and saw that for all his apparent normalcy people around him were unconsciously giving him a wider than normal berth, as if maybe he were slightly radioactive, or had just come from an infected zone. Spaxter knew that they were just unconsciously picking up a little piece of that harrowing voice to which he was now listening with such clarity.

"Good GRISTLE would HUNTFUCK get into every EVERYBITCH you putit my ramBAM -unk- STICK the little SLITGILL the little SLICKTIT aah! eats AND EATS a little pill a little THRILLKILL unk! I the blue baby I come the monkey n-OW! Heey you, I just killed another one YAKNOWTHAT?? Been reading the papers have you? Let me tell you about it!..." it went on and on, and it took Spaxter no more than a minute and a half to ascertain that this was unquestionably the individual responsible for a grotesque and bloody serial murder spree which had been terrorizing the city for a little over three months. The popular press had dubbed him the epiLadykiller, something to do with his imaginative use of feminine hygiene appliances.

Spaxter straightened his hat and shifted his cloak from motion mode to officious squareness, exposing the platinum-ribbed synthlar of his black woven body armour. He turned his shades to full mirror, and slipped swiftly into the crowd.

At times like this when his meld was fully firing he found simple physical tasks to be particularly fascinating. He needed the fastest possible transit of the dense mass of people so that he could reach his target before it reached a train, or this little side-trip would take more than the seven minutes he had budgeted for it. By broad-banding his tuning and setting it for a wide pickup pattern he could feel the physical intentions of the crowd, glide smoothly along in concert with their unconscious wills, slipping into spaces as they were made, sliding with unnatural quickness through the mob such that to an observer he appeared to be without substance. Occasionally he would be forced to guide people out of his way, and for this used the gloved hand, sometimes actually sending a slight charge through its surface as a subliminal incentive, often getting strong bursts of internal monologue that it was difficult to filter.

"gone fishin' with god he has" "I love that bastard Magma damn" "not REALLY impotent, just" "LEGS LEGS LEGS LEGS LEGS" "Corporation four point two-two, last option" "Charterbrand, pass the leaf to Carmine, then" "touching her where it counts ah betcha" "KNOWS I COULD DESTROY HIM ANYTIME I" " seem to be so HUNGRY" "jesus do I look like that?" "who the hell is this guy?" "ghost!"

Meanwhile he kept a good tuning on his target, and had picked up a few pieces of useful information from the insane ranting. The man was considerate enough to scream out his own name after the description of one nasty episode involving a family of five; there followed a recitation of the intimate details of a sex/murder spree at an old folk's home delivered with such cool detachment that it might have been dictation of an entry for an encyclopedia from hell. Spaxter caught up with him just before the last turnstile funnel... and played his hand.

"Excuse me, Mr.Century, I'm from - " he laid his gloved hand gently on a shoulder, which stiffened, " - the Agency - " he sent a low frequency wave directly into the flesh, relaxing the muscles. Within the enhanced meld of this physical contact he shuffled quickly through the man's startled thoughts, searching for some kind of angle he could pursue.

Who's this guy? Shit it's a COP! ... Hunh? Agency?

"I have a couple of questions to ask you about - "

- Maybe it's about the Polypropyl thing -

" Polypropyl - "

NO! They got me! They discovered my lab, the notes, the synthetics, oh NO! EVERYTHING!

"There's nothing to be alarmed about."

They had stopped and Century had turned. They were standing face to face in a backwater of the human tide, in the lee of a padded traffic pillar. Spaxter proferred his gloved hand quickly, focusing his will and his meld gear's limited broadcast ability on making the man shake it instantly and without thinking.

"My name is Baxter."

Century shook the hand, and Spaxter reached up that neural conduit like a blush, diving head first into one of the most twisted inner landscapes he had ever witnessed. The crimes were centremost and overpowering, like blazing tableaus in a demented wax museum, unforgettable and unforgiving. It seems their source was a humiliation Salvatore Century once received at the hands of family members while he was still in diapers, and its specific mechanical manifestation was partly inspired by a sequence he saw in an animated children's program where all the household appliances came alive and threatened to EAT MOMMY ALL UP! Spaxter soon found out about the self-mutilations, and the rubbie murders, and a water supply poisoning, and participation in a quasi-Satanic pornography ring. Expertly suppressing a welling disgust he sorted rapidly through the man's active mental files looking for the piece of information he needed... and found it.

"You've been logged onto Polypryl's supply service team for more than five years now, and we've been hearing some very good things from manpower about your initiative, as in the handling of the Black Microm order..."

He knows about B.M.! Someone in Manpower?

"We've been sending out feelers into many private and public environments seeking out individuals who we think are ready to look at a bigger picture, and your name's come up several times."

Why is he meeting me here?

"I'm afraid I had to contact you outside your normal workplace because, frankly, what we have to offer you is extremely confidential."

Of course! Perfectly random and anonymous... These guys are smart!

"I cannot talk now, but we had to get in touch without delay as you are needed for an urgent assignment."

This is GREAT! Agency wants ME! I'll get EVERYTHING!

"In your mail when you get home you'll find a cheque. If you would like to decline this offer, then simply destroy the cheque. If you accept, we'll be in touch." And Spaxter held out his hand again.

Now for the first time Sal tried to talk, even as he reached automatically for the gloved hand. "Um... uh, you know my work? The Agency? How - ?"

"All in good time," and they shook hands. This time Spaxter beamed a pinball up the nerve column in the arm, a missile of destructive resonance modeled on the meld reading from the first handshake. It would bounce harmlessly around within the subdermal nerve network for about fifteen minutes, then dissipate with a percussive shock that would send a wave of disruption through every connection, invariably causing the instant cessation of all body functions. Sal Century's arm made a small reflexive twitch, and they broke contact.

Spaxter walked away without further word, and for a few seconds was aware of Century's wonderstruck gaze following him. Grimly he visualized the sequence of events that would follow. The man would shake his head at his good fortune, turn and join the mob in the funnel heading for rapid transit. Perhaps he would suffer a moment of doubt, wondering if this might not be some kind of trick, if he had in fact been found out somehow; his native paranoia would flare briefly. But the suggestion was well planted, his pride sufficient, and doubtless when his time came he would be sitting on the train, eyes closed and smiling. When he failed to move at the station his fellow passengers would assume him sleeping and dreaming a happy dream, and they in turn would smile. When the warden came to wake him, he too would smile, at first. In time, most likely, routine investigation would unearth enough information to connect this man with his sinister past, but Spaxter liked to imagine that he would be remembered by posterity as the Happy Commuter at the End of the Line.

And Spaxter smiled. Not that he took pleasure in anonymous execution. This was an onerous task he had only felt it necessary to perform five times before. It certainly wasn’t a requirement that he send the condemned on their way with a smile on their face.

At first, when he actually was from The Agency, he had always closely followed procedure, capturing criminals uninjured, often unconscious, and immediately handing them over to the "proper authorities". It was with considerable frustration that he would then witness the travesties that usually followed such an arrest, under the aegis of one "justice" or another. If it was a secret arrest, especially of political or aberrant criminals, they were handed over to the Dark Lab division, for torture or experimentation. He had been present at the Dark Lab “de-briefing” of one of those he had discovered and captured, a sad little Korean anarchist who had done little more than wire a few bombs together. For some reason they had felt it necessary to keep this man alive and conscious through the greater part of his total physical dissection.

When the big arrests became public they without fail caused such a huge cultural drain through the energy expended in their sensationalized trials that Spaxter thought this in some ways the greater crime. Since his very existence was officially denied by the state he could hardly give testimony, the recordings he made of meld activities were classified, and any evidence gained by their use inadmissible in court. In too many cases the insane were let loose into the world again to destroy more innocent lives.

Spaxter had also come across evidence to support the idea that even while incarcerated the worst of these distorted humans still exerted powerful negative influence on the world around them. He had only rarely seen evidence that they could still exert this influence after their body was dead, and so he deemed this the safest option overall.

Actually, he considered the death penalty the vilest social hypocrisy -- expressing the inappropriateness of the taking of human life by taking a human life -- which was why he did not consider these executions as either justice or punishment, was in fact repulsed by the sanctimoniousness inferred by both concepts. This was simply expediency, the most energy-efficient way to solve the problem of a terminally malfunctioning human.

And why bestow this little slice of heaven on the damned?

Sheer perversity.

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