This is your future and your present. This is a time when actions begin to come together, like threads that are twisted into a single string. At the start, it can be hard to see that the threads will unite, that there will ever be anything in common between them. Funny things can happen between then and between the way things end up. Two people who are complete strangers, who shouldn't know each other...could end up as loyal allies—or as mortal enemies. Somebody who you meet by accident could save your life. The stories of five people who meet by coincidence on one day...could join and shape history. Some might call it Fate. Some might call it Providence.
I just call it life.
Great. I've got somebody following me. Even when I'm invisible. This crap isn't supposed to happen.
At least, that was the way it seemed. Something was wrong. But everything was silent. When he was invisible, Sam wasn't able to hear noise anyway. He was inside a soundproof...thing. Nothing penetrated it. No sound. No feeling of anything outside. Even sight was dimmed. And then...it seemed at times that he couldn't see anything, but that he...saw...everything. A sight that was not sight. A blind sight in a silent world.
Sam took a step. It was strange...if he focused, he could see the tiny bits of dust that scattered beneath his feet. One by one, flying away as they were compressed. This was invisibility?
I don't care. There's somebody out there, and he probably wants to kill me.
Like a comet, the bullet ripped past him. Without the echo of a gunshot behind it. There was a rippling wave of heat behind it, as it pierced the air next to the hitman. As he dropped and rolled, coming up again. Behind a car. Two more bullets. One streaking by him. One striking the car, and wobbling fiercely. Ricocheting. A chip of paint that shot in some random direction, nicked away by the bullet. Tiny shrapnel of dust and metal that bloomed in an unseen cloud on the car's hood. The air of the unseen world could be seen vibrating in the aftershock of the projectiles. One more bullet. When Sam jumped to the side, and took cover again. Rough pavement, rough against his knees. Ever-so-tiny scrape.
Where is he?
Sam transferred his knife to his left hand. And pulled out a handgun from a chest holster. His only firearm. The man inched to one side. Behind the car. Looking, trying to see his enemy. There. In the middle of the sidewalk. Firing down the street at Sam. Bullet pinged off the second car. Tumbling and falling back to earth. Sam ducked behind the car. Pinned.
I can't get out to fire a shot. He knows I'm here, he can see when I pop out to fire. And his gun is faster than my gun. He know's I'm here...he knows...just like I know he's there...because we're both invisible.
Bullet, slicing through the surface of the car's hood. Throwing up tiny ribbons of paint.
But what if—I wasn't invisible?
Another, thudding into the car frame.
He's depending on being able to see me.
Windshield...blossoming into a cascade of shattered glass. An old-model car.
I have to—avoid his gaze. For a single moment. When I can shoot him.
Another shot passed by.
Concentrate. He's right...there.
Preparing the gun.
Sam slipped out of the bubble, and saw the cold, dull reality come back. As a bullet passed him by. And he pulled the trigger, aiming the gun. Toward where he had seen the gunman. Toward where he could dimly feel a presence. The hitman sidestepped, and then dove behind a car. He began to breathe heavily, as he felt the blood that pulsed through his body. There was no sound. No reply. No gunshots. Sam blinked.
Well, if I missed, I'm as good as dead anyway. Let's finish the job.
Sam slowly stood, and for the first time saw the few shattered windows on the street. Everything was silent; nobody was on the street. He approached the spot where the man had been, and saw his quarry, writhing on the ground. Gasping for breath. Not invisible. He had dropped his handgun on the ground, and was curled up on the pavement. A bullet-hole was in his chest; blood spread across his shirt. For a moment, he opened his eyes, and caught sight of his enemy. His mouth opened briefly, and shut, as he struggled for breath. He opened it again.
Sam smirked. “Sucks to be you.”
With one smooth movement, he readied the gun, and pointed it at the man's head. He pulled the trigger, and watched the bullet hit.
Jim wiped his mouth, and looked over at the mob boss. “That's a good meal.”
“I'm glad you enjoy it, Mr. Eastman. So, then, now that we've got that done with, let's hear what you have to ask me about. After all, if it's within my means, and it's reasonable, I'd gladly help you with it, all for saving my daughter.”
“Diorco. Paul Diorco.”
“Right, sorry. Well, Mr. Dirco, I need to find my father.”
“Ah, yes, caught selling guns, was he?”
“Yeah. Not much he could do about it. It's not like he had anything else to do.”
“Too bad. I hear that story a lot, to tell you the truth. The War on Guns certainly produced its share of organized crime...accompanied by a great deal of profit, too. I myself made a bit of a pretty penny then...”
Jim pursed his lips. “It's good to hear that.” He glanced away, and took a sip out of the wine glass in front of him. “So what about my father?”
“Ah, yes...Eastman...arms dealer...like I told you, I have heard a good deal of that story, repeated many times by many people. Arms dealer, he gets arrested, ends up somewhere in the city. Honestly speaking, I do not have the slightest idea where he might be.”
“You're the crime lord of the city! You have to know somebody who can help me...”
“Not the only crime lord, Mr. Eastman. Very sorry to disillusion you there...”
“I see.” Jim narrowed his eyes. “You can't do anything to help me. Thanks.”
As the man rose, Paul raised his hand. “Stop...”
“Or what? Just get me my gun, and I'm leaving now. Thanks for the food.”
“No.” Jim turned around, and stared directly at Diorco. “I'm done with you.”
“No.” Diorco had risen, and he reached inside of his vest. “Sit down. Do not make me use drastic measures. Stop, and sit down. I fear that you know a great deal, relatively speaking, of one of the most wanted men in the City. When we are ready to let you go, we will let you go. Alive or dead.”
Jim met the eyes of the mob boss, slowly returning, and eased into the seat next to Diorco. “Have it your way, then.”
“Thank you, that sounds rather nice.”
Diorco finished taking his handgun out of its holster, and lowered it beneath the table, pointing it at Jim. He smirked, and pushed it up against the man's ribcage, meeting his eyes with a sneer. The mob boss took a breath, and let it out slowly, accentuating each moment of the action; his lips curled upwards a fraction of an inch. Jim slowly examined his opponent. The man was well-dressed, ebony-toned buttons on the front of his vest. He was a trim man, as far as Jim could tell.
At least...his trigger-finger is trim. I might have guessed.
“So, now...give me a moment to think on this, then,” Diorco mused. “I ought to be able to have you drugged and carried to any point in the city that you desire. I have no information on your father, but I can get you to places.”
“And what good would that do me?”
“Who knows...you don't often receive a free trip anywhere in the City. Take it, now. As my gift.”
“Your gift? I-”
“Please, do not be rash. Consider my offer carefully. Swallow a little of that pride, will you? It makes matters a good deal harder to resolve. You do not want to force me to make the decision for you.”
Jim opened his mouth.
“They got her! They got her, boss!”
The trapped man looked in the direction of the shouting, and saw a small group of gangsters, pushing into the room. All were wearing worn street clothes, and all of them had holstered weapons. In the middle of them was a woman, bound hand and foot with rope. Jim blinked, and saw her face as the group neared. The woman who had called herself Adriann.
Why...do they have her all tied up?
Diorco stood up, still pointing the gun at Jim, and beamed broadly. “Excellent work, men. Miss Paulson herself, I presume? How delightful of you to accompany my men for the day. I shall have to see it that you are treated like...a lovely creature such as yourself ought to be treated in the presence of such lowly men like us. I cannot make any promises about the women with me, of course.”
“I hate you,” Adriann said through clenched teeth. “I'm gonna kill you.”
The leader of the gang laughed. “That is very amusing, my dear little girl...”
“Shut it, Diorco. I really am gonna kill you.”
“I am sorry, you do make me laugh a great deal. You are down there, in a group of my trained killers. I am up here, in my citadel of protection. You are bound by rope, and I am rather free to move about and protect myself. And you, you are about to be made the cause of a great deal of entertainment. I am afraid that your father has crossed me for the last time.”
“Diorco, you are NOT getting away with this!”
“Excuse me,” Jim said a bit quietly, “I think you owe me one. Could I be alone with her, first?”
Diorco looked over, and a smile crossed his lips. He stepped forward to Jim, and holstered his gun. “I think...that you are finally beginning to see things my way. That is a good thing to see.”
“You,” hissed Adriann Paulson, seeing Jim for the first time.
Ashley crouched down, watching the car leave. Please, just don't be going too far away...don't be going too fast... She rose slightly, and shut her eyes, beginning to walk down the sidewalk. In the same direction that the car had driven. She opened her eyes, and continued, biting her lip. What is he doing? Where is he going? Why... The woman clenched her fist, and put her hand on something inside of her jacket. After a moment, she took her hand out, stepping forward. The dead wind whispered for a moment. The wind of autumn. The wind that was sometimes infused with the sounds of crickets. Sometimes.
The world has changed. My mother told me how there always used to be crickets. Before something chased some of them away. I wonder what it was. Maybe it was all the fighting. When my mother was younger, there weren't all of the people with guns. They didn't have to have a War on Guns. Maybe it was the guns that changed things.
The void spoke nothing to her, the void of near-midnight. Her footsteps echoed alone, in the dark, as she tried to listen to the silence. To listen for anyone...else. Her breath misted slightly as she exhaled; it looked like faint white smoke. The air felt slightly damp. Almost what some people called “clammy”. Ashley frowned. ”Clammy”. I've never had clams. I wonder if they really are like the air, the humidity... The sound of a droning engine approached, along with a pair of headlights. As Ashley kept an eye on them, and watched the lights pass. A car, driving around late at night, for no reason.
Like Troy. Why is he driving somewhere? Who is it he has to meet?
Her lips drew together for a moment, as she continued walking. Her footsteps remained alone, but her hand would still dart to her jacket from time to time as she went on. She was nearly waiting to hear another pair of footsteps, to see another car pass by, to hear somebody, even the sounds of some gunfight. Even a cricket. I want to hear a cricket.
Troy switched the car's radio off. It was a standard old FM radio, because all of the satellites were now controlled by one supergang or another. Most of the police officers used satellite radio even so, except for Troy. Even though the radio never worked half of the time, he refused to install any other receiver. It's useful enough for getting my mind someplace else. I don't want to think about this. He bit his lip, scanning the road as he drove onwards. It was silent, except for the gentle humming of the engine.
“You think you're going to get me,” he murmured. “We'll see how you like getting the tables turned on you. You're not getting my family, and you're not getting me either.”
He left one hand on the steering wheel, and put one hand on his right hip, on the automatic handgun holstered there. ”One shot is enough to kill a man.” That's what they told me. And it's true. All I need is one shot. He narrowed his eyes, and put both hands back on the wheel. I'm going to use that one shot. And whatever miserable hitman is there to take me, he won't last a minute. Pull the trigger, stop the nightmare.
A drop of sweat slid from his forehead onto his shirt. Troy flexed his hands, and took a deep breath. “Calm down, Troy. If you're scared, you're dead. Stop it, now. It's going to be nice and simple. Get there. Hide by becoming invisible. Watch him and figure out where he is. Unhide...and shoot him. He'll be dead.”
If he doesn't shoot first.
“No...how could he possibly shoot me? I'll be invisible. You can't shoot an invisible man. He may be a cold-blooded killer...but I have the advantage. He can't find me. He can't kill me.”
If he can't see me.
“No, I'll be invisible. You can't see an invisible man.”
Troy nudged the steering wheel over, and slowly braked. The car rolled to the curb, and stopped. The police officer put his hand on the handgun, and pulled it out of its holster. He turned off the car's engine, and shut his eyes for a moment. As he slipped inside of the “bubble”. That's what he called the invisibility, because that's what it was like. A bubble, sliding around him and hiding him. The man slowly opened the car door slightly, and slipped out. In an instant, he slammed the door and jumped backwards.
If nobody shoots at where I was...I know that I'm safe...
He felt a sharp pain in his neck, and everything became dark around him.
Ashley crouched in the shadows, watching the car settle next to the sidewalk. She glimpsed around, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. What are you doing, Troy? Where are you?
The car door opened, and then shut. Something hit the ground, about fifteen feet in front of Ashley. And then, a moment later, her husband slumped to the ground, appearing from nowhere.
She almost jumped forward, but then stopped. Somebody-shot him. Somebody...is out there!
The woman readied her gun, and crouched in the shadows-and blinked. A figure was approaching. It was dressed in military clothing, and it wore a guns: a few on its belt, one on its calf, and one on its upper arm. And instead of a face, it wore an ebony mask, expressionless. The thing bent over Troy, and hoisted him onto its shoulders. It rose, and turned for a moment.
“Put him down, you monster!” Ashley screamed, standing and firing.
Something in her vision blurred, and the thing which had her husband was no longer in front of her. Something sprayed in her face, and a sickly smell overpowered her as she collapsed, seeing only darkness.
When she regained consciousness, Troy was gone.