Mace checked his oxygen gauge: Low. “Damn,” he exclaimed. “I have to get a refill.” He checked his oxygen tag and breathed a sigh of relief inside his air tight helmet that it hadn’t expired yet. “Never thought I’d see the day when one has to buy oxygen!” he muttered t himself. He continued to move slowly, watching for any signs of being on a fire field. One false move and he would be toast, burned alive. People used metals like Lithium on various surfaces, covered by dust, as protection. One slight breeze to blow the dust, one footfall to clear it, and the little bit of oxygen left in the air on the planet would oxidize the metals and cause instant flame. The metal was in high concentration to make up for the low levels of oxygen, to insure ignition. But Mace had special boots with jets the emitted dust, like a reverse vacuum cleaner, spreading dust wherever he tread to replace what was stirred, essentially covering his tracks. He looked up at the sky. “I hate this dark,” gazing up at the firmament now bereft of an ozone layer. It was night. “But I hate the sun, too!” It was so bright and hot in the day now that there was no protection, no SPF, no filter anymore with the final destruction of the ozone. “I have to get inside that compound of Jupiter Rising,” he muttered, holding his weapon tightly and moving closer to the strange building.
His heart pumped frantically with that strange echo of the new artificial hearts, full of adrenaline. He almost shook with the beating. His was made of the latest and greatest material, Kevlar. Many were less fortunate and had the cheaper artificial hearts, which eventually wore out from the turbulence of the pumping, but his was guaranteed for a lifetime. There were still some humans with their original human hearts, but those were sure to fail.
“Beryllium,” said the voice in his helmet. “Scan confirmed. Repeat, you are treading on a fire field. Slow, no quick movements, volatile environment.”
“Got it,” spat Mace.
“Everywhere there were landfills,” said the voice in his helmet. “Each one is overloaded with metals, since there was no oil or electricity anymore on the planet; burning metals were the only sources of heat and light. So any field, any surface, could be filled with metal and someone walking over it, unknowingly, could suddenly be burned alive in the oxidation. It was definitely a time where everyone treads carefully.”
“I know,” replied Mace. “And Heart valves wear out in artificial hearts because the valves are made out of materials that are not strong enough to handle the turbulence of the pump that the heart creates. That’s why mine is made of Kevlar. How is my heart gauge looking?”
“Heart muscle pieces pump even after they are cut off the heart,” replied the voice. “Yours is good right now.”
“Did you know Egyptians believed the heart creates feelings, thoughts and emotions. The heart is an organ of fire.”
“Yes, and many minerals like Calcium and Potassium are metals and burn spontaneously, so be careful. Scan for Hydrogen (non-metal), Lithium, Sodium, Potassium, Rubidium, Cesium, Francium, (don’t exist naturally) so far all clear. Scanning for Magnesium, Beryllium, Calcium, Strontium, Barium and Radium exist naturally. Found: Beryllium! Proceed with caution!”
“Our future holds no oils or electricity. Burning metals is the only source of heat and light. Metals oxidize and burn instantly when exposed to oxygen. Metals everywhere in earth now from landfills cause fire fields. Some use a small layer of dust to cover them as camouflage and protection so when dust is blown away intentionally, the fields burst into flame to kill or keep intruders out.”
“Exactly why you need to watch your step.”
“Did you hear on the news how they are using woman to give birth to nymphs like a factory, for sex and cannibalism, that it is legal? And there are no animals on the earth anymore. Every type is extinct.”
“These are sad times. Stay focused on your job at hand.”
“They also say people are buried face down because they believe heaven is in the center of the earth and that the heavens are just cold, empty space, a void, which is hell.”
Suddenly, a shot rang out and a bullet deflected off his body armor! He dropped to one knee, gently but urgently, as to not disturb the fine dust that covered the metal beneath, to prevent oxidation and sudden immolation. His armor suit was supposed to be bullet proof and fireproof, but he hadn't tested the fireproof bit yet and wasn't sure he wanted to find out.
He looked around, consciously evening his breath to prevent his shield on his helmet from fogging. No sign of the perpetrator. He slowly stood and moved again, stepping carefully. His organ donor eye roved frantically for any sign of other perpetrators or enemies. A sudden flash came across his vision. “Dam!” he swore again. “This stupid eye still has flashbacks from its former owner.” He blinked repeatedly, checked his oxygen gauge again, moved forward, this time very close to the compound wall. He had to find a way to get over that wall. He looked up. Out of a recess in the wall came rushing a foe, armed and bent on destruction. Mace fired armor piercing rounds from his weapon and cut the attacker in half, the torso falling to the ground in a heap upon the lifeless lower limbs.
“Trash!” muttered Mace. He set his plastic explosive charge on the wall, set it, leapt back, braced and covered for the eruption. Done. Hole in the wall. He clambered through, quickly, deftly, remembering his military training. Checking his map on his visual display inside his helmet visor, he made for the main reactor and operations room. Pursuit was now eminent. Time to accomplish his mission ticked away. His kevlar heart echoed in his ears, pumping, beating, like a futuristic tin man he pressed on, not afraid of anything.
Voice in his ear said, “Press on. Scan still clear. No hostiles.”
Mace turned a corner, impact! Falling, legs like jelly. Slowly, incandescent light, burning his eyes. Slow, cold, thirsty, like a hang-over. Buzz in his ears. Static on peripherals, slow fade like poison, drip of reality coming back after euphoria of narcotics. Someone stood over him.
“Mace!” Voice in his head.
Waves of focus coming back.
Sudden click, like camera lens, Mace gathers, steadies, springs. Striking enemy, he steps back. Look of shock and surprise on enemy's face. Mace, brandishes his blade, prosthetic, surgically implanted. He draws from his upper thigh, implanted, a bright metal cutlass. Enemy struggles, crawls back, rises to knees, Mace strikes. Enemy parries with armored appendages, clang of armor. Standing, face-off. Enemy strikes back, Mace recoils, bends, turns, strikes again, parried again. High pitched dint of metal, enemy stumbles back, unwounded.
“Mace! Get out of there!” voice in his head.
He buzzed the entrance and looked at the camera.
“You would not believe the day I had,” he told the servant, Spenser. Spenser buzzed him in and as he entered and the electronic doors with magnetic bolts clicked behind him, he said, “Is Nicoli busy with a client?”
“No,” said Spenser. “I will fetch him. I believe he is in his sculpting studio.”
When Nicoli came out, he said, “Mace, how are you?”
“Fine, and you?” replied Mace.
“Well enough,” answered Nicoli, rubbing his forehead and sitting down, as if he were dizzy.
“I can believe people still want themselves sculpted in the 21st century,” continued Mace. “But they must have good taste because they keep coming to you, you are superb, keeping sculpting from extinction. You are a true master of the age.”
“You flatter me, my friend,” smiled Nicoli.
“I see you are still making a killing,” he sighed, looking around at the expensive antique furnishings and immaculate carpet and painting. “You still won't tell me your secret either, will you?”
“Not a chance. It is the mystery and secrecy, as well as my talent, that keeps my patrons seeking me out above any others. Not even my trusted servant Spenser is able to witness my secret process. No one is permitted to watch me work or are they able to view the work until it is accomplished.”
“It helps that your father was a sorcerer,” laughed Mace.
“So my mother says,” answered Nicoli as Spenser brought drinks for them both. “But she was a passionate Italian. I miss her.”
“Yes, Marianna was an amazing woman, my friend.”
They were both silent for a few moments.
After a pregnant pause, Nicoli asked, “So you said you had an unbelievable day.”
“Yes,” said Mace excitedly, rising in his seat and raising his voice slightly. “I was on a mission and ran into someone I haven't ever encountered before. He had certain powers...”
“Exactly. But my power is in my weapons. His were in his fighting ability and resilience. I think he was armored.”
“Perhaps you have met your match?”
“Perhaps. Well, I have to rest and get ready for tomorrow. I have got to go back and accomplish my mission. I was thwarted once, but won't be again. Good night.” He left.
He lurched. His body spasmed in a dry heave. Suddenly he was aware that someone was watching him. Recalling himself from darkness, he looked over his shoulder. A man returned his gaze; plain-faced, dark-haired, eyes blotted by a wisp of shadow from the doorway. He felt a desire to prostrate himself; whether it was the feeling in his stomach or the command of the gaze he was under, he was not sure. He lurched again, and then looked back over his shoulder: the man was gone.
He slowly rose, moved to the mirror, shuddered from self-abhorrence and looked away from his reflection. He began to wash his face with cold water; moving from the sink to the hands-free no-touch paper towel dispenser, vertigo encompassed him. He pulled open the door and left the restroom.
The pounding of the music greeted him like mockery. He grimaced and clutched his head, making for the exit. The room about him swam with faces blurred into a nightmare. He stumbled onto the sidewalk, out into the night.
“New Jersey; what am I doing here?” he mumbled to himself as he neared the transport. “I'm so sick of this place.” His reactor whistled the indication code as he disengaged the anti-theft sensor. He stumbled into the driver's seat, started to pull away, not noticing the miniature device attached to the side of his transport. He arrived outside his condo, signaled the gate to the parking bay, and descended when it opened.
A small monitor displayed a layout of the city. One dot blinked continuously as it moved across the screen. Then it stopped, continuing to blink. A star, unblinking, lit the lower corner of the monitor. It then began to move, closer to the blinking dot.
A transport came to a halt outside the condo. A man emerged, approaching the gate to the parking bay. The man stood motionless before the gate, swallowed by his extensive trench coat, face masked by the shadow of his hat and the dark glasses he wore, both hands on a small device he held in front of him. Then the gate suddenly opened and he descended. As he walked, a reactor whistled, disengaging its anti-theft sensor, and he moved toward the sound. Once he reached the particular transport, he recovered his device and re-activated the anti-theft sensor. Looking about him, he cautiously made his way toward the elevator.
Once inside, he scanned the directory, then took the elevator from the lobby. He exited the elevator and moved like a phantom to the desired unit. Once inside the right door, he became suddenly motionless.
Inside the unit, the man lay on his bed in a drunken stupor, deep in
sleep. Slowly he began to wake, but when
he opened his eyes, he wasn't sure that he had.
Everything was total blackness.
He attempted to raise his hand to his face but still he could see
nothing. He brought his hands together
but felt no sensation, no physical contact whatsoever. Was he dreaming? Was he dead?
Out in the hall, still motionless in his encompassing trench coat, hand raised in the air in a halting motion, he suddenly touched the door. It opened and the occupant was there in the doorway, awake; his eyes fixed upon the figure before him. He could see his own reflection in the man's dark glasses.
“Dodd, you are mine,” came a voice from somewhere within the trench coat.
Dodd then closed the door. The man left the hall, took the elevator down, back to the lobby. Leaving, he returned to his transport and rode off.