The Influencer

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Chapter 9

“What then?”

Hezekiah shook his head. “Nothing. They did nothing.” He brought a cigarette to his lips, lit, bit into the filter, dragged until there was absolutely no ash, only a quarter-inch-long, bright-glowing ember from the smoke being over-inhaled.

Yoma shook her head. “Wipe out the Cellheads. That’s what we gotta do. Got to, ol’ man.”

Hezekiah didn’t respond.

Yoma slammed her hand on the stainless steel table at which they sat. “YO! I’m fuckin’ talkin’ to you.”

Hezekiah snapped his head up, prepared to yell at Yoma. But he didn’t. What was the point? Why add compound interest to a blue-chip headache that was already yielding him big returns? Better to just aim at being less absent-minded. Stop thinking, start listening (if only for a bit).

“Kill them? Wipe them out. That’s what you said?”

Yoma nodded.

“And then what, kiddo?”

“What do you mean?”

“Exactly what I said,” Hez continued, “and then what? What if they have kids? What if they have wives, husbands—people they rely on; people who rely on them?”

Yoma scoffed and looked away. “Most of the people we punish have family. Besides, they’re already dead. Not like you can unscrew a phone from someone’s dome and they gonna be normal.”

“Most of the people we… ’punish’... have done something wrong. What have these poor jadrools done, huh? Got brainwashed? Caught some sickness? Yoyo, we don’t even know what this thing is yet.”

Yoma was shaking her head, almost violently. “So what’s your solution? Let these brainless mopes go around chomping on New Yorkers? I mean, how many have they killed already? You know what, put Central Park on the big screen Hez. Do it right now.”

Hezekiah did as Yoma asked.

The large monitor flickered to life. There was no audio available, and the footage cycled in ten-second intervals between five different camera angles.

It was chaos. There were Cellheads chasing down pedestrians, blocking traffic; they were on the hunt. In the streets, a few cars were on fire. People abandoned their cars or taxis to run from groups of Cellheads, only to be swarmed and electrocuted by bolts of purple lightning coming from the heads of the monsters. Once they were paralyzed by the voltage, the Cellheads ripped them apart—biting and tearing with inhuman strength. Gore littered the park from every camera angle. Hundreds of bodies.

Yoma tapped her foot while staring into Hezekiah. “It’s not just the park. It’s everywhere. What are we gonna do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?” Yoma persisted.

No. NO, I don’t. And you know what? I don’t pretend to know things—I don’t pretend to be an expert on phenomena that I don’t have enough information about to assess.”

“Fuckin’ word salad bullshit!” she screamed back, pushing the steel table so that it made a terrible screech as it skidded away from them.

Hezekiah flicked his cigarette—didn’t even bother to stub it out in the ashtray—and lit another. “Yoma, let’s just... let’s de-escalate. Let’s calm down. I’m worked up; you’re worked up. Let’s figure this out.”

She held tight; her huge arms folded over her chest.

“Come on, kid… we’re united, you and me, doing the work. What else are we here for? Why else?” He sighed, “Sit with an old man and help him fix this up.”

Looking less angry, Yoma started feeling—well, if not contrite, then she was at least coming around. She picked up the table and carried it back over to its place and then sat down next to Hezekiah.

“Now, what do we know about these things?”

“Well,” Yoma replied, “if you take the cell off their head, others round ’em go down, too.”

Hezekiah’s eyes flashed bright. “How do you know that?”

“That’s what happened last night. Got up close an’ reeeal personal with a few of ’em.”

Hezekiah leapt up and wheeled over a connectivity-ready lightboard. He took the stylus and wrote on it: HIVE?

“And they’re always in clusters, right?”

Yoma nodded. “Always.”

“Alright. Alright… alright. Kiddo. Tell me everything about your interactions with them. Everything.”

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