Chapter 5: Memory Dream
He knew he was dreaming, because he’d walked these streets on a night like this before. Overhead hung a red moon, searing a hole in the black sky between scaffolds and towers of glass. He looked away from it as he had then, and stumbled. The stumble turned into a trip and the trip ended in a fall.
His shoulder clipped a dumpster and he rolled across its surface to slow his descent. His feet refused to cooperate with his efforts however, and he landed gracelessly in the grime. He felt how tightly he was hugging his own chest, and he began to ease his grip.
Looking down he saw two blossoms of crimson, spreading like spilled ink across his chest. His heart was pounding out of time and he felt as if each of his limbs were sunk in frigid water.
Curiously, he touched his chest. The pain had started to subside, and the gouges in his flesh were shallower than they looked.
Hasty footsteps caught his attention, and he jerked his head around to find their source. Around the corner and into the ally marched three people. Two were male, and one was female.
“Where are we supposed to start looking?” The woman asked, lighting a cigarette.
Her lips were hypnotic. Her hair was a cord of rich mahogany that was braided and draped over a shoulder.
Her neat black suit was too low cut to be appropriate, and the curve of her breast was visible enough to be alluring. The black slacks were skin tight and ended in a pair of four inch spike heels, silver gleaming there and caressing the toe.
The two men dressed to match her, but they did a poor job. The result was more class and less lust, which was significantly less interesting. One man, broad shouldered and with a short black ponytail, built like a linebacker spoke in a deep voice.
“I don’t know. They said he went this way. They gave us an hour time frame from the break in; don’t see how it could be so hard.” Linebacker said.
They’re looking for me! His heart started to race, and he tried to sink into the dumpster. He had to be only ten feet from these people, and he was bleeding profusely, the result stark on his pale skin and the sky-blue material of the scrub-pants.
“They said he was injured?” The woman asked, taking a long, lustful drag of the cigarette, smoke curling from the corners of her red lips.
The second man, scrawny with long fingers and a hooked, beak-like nose, flipped through the contents of a tiny black notepad. “Chest injury, two identical markings. It was freely bleeding as he was making his way out.”
He clutched his chest, panic making a red edge to his vision. He played his cold hands over the wounds in the hope that he could will them to stop bleeding.
They can’t find me, they won’t find me…
The light at the mouth of the ally flickered and died for a moment before it turned back on with a blink. The three suits had all turned to acknowledge the disturbance.
He held his breath as an unfamiliar current ran along his skin and warmed his chest.
The woman exhaled some smoke from her nose, eyes narrowed. "Physical description, maybe? He probably isn’t bleeding now. If he had an iota of sense he would have patched it up and changed.”
The picture was almost reptilian. Like a dragon.
He shut his eyes, and the splotchy red and white swirled behind his eyelids. A thrill ran up his arms and through his chest, and he felt his throat constrict with the effort.
I won’t let them find me. Fuck them, fuck them all. This is THEIR fault.
He felt his skin pull across his chest and he clenched his teeth tightly.
“Height is 6’, approximately 190lbs, blue eyes and light brown hair. It says ‘mid-length’ what the hell does that mean?” The hawk-faced one asked derisively.
“It means shorter then mine.” The bigger man responded.
He could feel his hair tickle his nose. He reached a shaking hand up to brush it away, and then opened his eyes. He felt like his skin was electric. After he gazed at his bloody hand, he looked down to his chest.
Running a hand through the sheen of fresh blood he felt smooth scar tissue, and as he moved his hand the barest trickle of sparks followed in his wake, stretched like infant lightning between his fingertips. He gazed at it in surprise.
What am I?
“Scars? Identifying marks?” The woman took another last drag and flicked the butt from two delicate fingers. The cherry landed an inch from his foot.
He stared at it.
Hawk-nose responded. “It says that he has… a small scar behind his right ear, two inches long, and a tattoo on the back of his neck. ‘X’ hyphen ‘X’ ‘I’ ‘I’ ‘I’. Just a bunch of letters.”
“Its roman numerals, you dumb fuck.” The big man snatched the notepad from hawk-face’s fingers and examined it.
The woman tapped one heel and glowered at the thin man, who merely shrugged. “Nice, Paul.”
“It looks like a serial number. Maybe a gang sign.” The big man handed it to the woman who accepted it with a gesture that seemed more sensual then it was meant to be. As he stiffened from it so did the hawk-faced man ten feet away.
The cherry finally went out.
“All right. We keep an eye out then.” She closed the notepad, tossed it back to Hawk-nose, and flipped her braid over her shoulder. “Be sharp. Arrowhead seemed scared by him. Whoever was left in that office was a quibbling idiot. I don’t care how much they want to have their own justice; if he’s dangerous you just take care of him. I don’t want any third parties interfering in our business.”
“You mean his business?” The big man eyed her cautiously.
The woman hesitated for only a moment before her smile disarmed all of them. He felt his eyes widen and his hand clutched at his chest from his vantage point. There was evil behind that beautiful smile.
“Obviously. Now get lost boys. We have merchandise to move.”
“Oh, fresh meat!” The hawk-like man’s eyes glittered and even from where he curled, X-13 could see the twisted glee.
He suddenly found that he hated all of these people.
Simple reasoning was that they were working with Them. The ones who made him like This. He was going to put himself back together then he was going to teach them a very final, very painful lesson.
But not yet, he wasn’t ready yet. He felt the tremble of a static current in his veins and he didn’t know what to do with it. All he remembered about that was pain.
They had even taken his memories from him. All he knew, all he could think about was the pain, the anger, those gleaming malicious eyes and the current.
Where am I?
The thought flitted through his brain as the three strangers strode from the ally and split off to go their separate ways. He tried to stand and go after one of them, ask them questions, beat it out of them if he had to…
But his limbs trembled and it felt like his whole body was slick with his own blood. He could barely get his feet under him.
They can take everything… but they won’t take this from me. Not my vengeance. Not my anger.
The current roiled just under his skin. He clenched his eyes shut and the tide hit him like a wave. The street lamps in the ally went out with a shatter of glass and light danced across his skin in double pain and pleasure; a cacophonous blend of anger and triumph.
Thirteen woke from the dream several dozen blocks away, ten months, or twenty years or five minutes later. (It was hard for him to tell.) He was staring up at the night sky, sitting into the corner of the roof-top balustrade. He pulled his head forward and stretched the muscles there until he couldn’t feel the groaning protest.
He didn’t bother to dust himself off. Instead he got right to his feet and looked out over Cellar City. The sky above was filled with the enormous base of Mid-Level, a cross hatching of pipes and tubes and shuttle tracks. A grid work of alleys punctuated the dark mechanical ceiling with swatches of fog that wisped out from the upper levels.
I am in the belly of a great beast, and I will give it some serious indigestion.
Thirteen chuckled at his own joke, and the corner of his mouth jerked up to punctuate the noise. He had come a long way since that night in the ally.
The convenience store owner had greeted him every night, regardless of blood or stains. Thirteen hypothesized that his eyes were bad. But he never mentioned it.
He had gone out every night since then, hunting for answers. It had taken him weeks to discover that people didn’t notice him unless he wanted them to, although he had kind of realized that from the start.
It came in real handy.
Thirteen made his way down to the streets and pulled a small notebook from the battered inside pocket of his coat. He flipped it open and skimmed past the crossed out names listed. He had found it in the pocket of this very same coat several whatevers ago, after he had patched himself up with electrical tape. It had ‘Paul Mack-or-mack’s’ name in the inside cover.
Each one of these was a lead that had ended up shriveled and dry. It was as if no one had ever heard of Arrowhead. He tried asking in different ways, adding ‘corporation’ or ‘laboratories’ or other such words to it, trying to find a spark of familiarity in the empty faces of the devils he’d killed.
He felt his blood start roiling with anger.
It had been ten months. He had no trace of the offices the three people had spoken about, and he had found no trace of the other two after that night.
When the lights had returned that night so many nights ago, it had been him glowing. He had felt new, energized, vibrant. X had picked a direction, and ended up following the man with the hawk-like nose. That night, he had gone into a place called the Pussycat Club.
That was where he had gotten his coat.
Now he was running around like a mad person, filling the streets with blood to find them and no one even came forward.
He shoved the notebook into his pocket and then he took a moment to pull the jacket off and give it a good shake. A small shower of dust spread into the street and he chuckled. Before he realized it his feet had led him to the homeless shelter.
It was affectionately called the ‘Temporary Home’. It pretty much supplied free showers and a soup kitchen four times a week. The doors were always open. In short order, X came back out, at least a layer of dust and grime less dirty then he had been that morning.
There was no saving his jacket though, and he wore it with a blend of indifference and pride.
Every stain and smear was there because of him.
X furrowed his brow, pushing his hair back with both hands to slick it down. There was something wrong. With him. For the past ten months he had been thinking about it; how easy it was for him to do what he did. It wasn’t just the killing, it was the fact that if he wanted to, he could make people see him. Because normally, people didn’t.
X, on a normal day, could walk into the mall in the busiest hour of the day, and no one would bump into him. It wasn’t as if he were trying to do that; it just happened. But if he tapped someone on the shoulder or touched them on purpose they would see him clear as day, at least until he went around a corner.
Thirteen just had a way to make other people ‘look-that-way’. That part was fine, he didn’t mind it so much. It made it easy to find a place to stay without anyone calling the police on him or having a fit.
The part that bothered him was that in that same moment he could harm someone as viciously as the monsters he hunted and no one would be able to pick him out of a crowd.
Was he even real?
Thirteen entertained the fantasy that he was just a figment of a dream. He wondered sometimes if he was dreaming, or if it was within the confines of someone else’s twisted little world.
However, no proof of either made itself apparent. So he continued.
X-XIII let out a sharp whistle and squinted his eyes in concentration.
“Thirteen! Early night for you?” Westy called from across the street.
X waved one hand, glad it had worked. He liked Westy. “I’m going out.”
“Yeah? You got a hot date?” Westy waggled his eyebrows.
X shrugged, arms raised in defeat. “Maybe I’ll get lucky tonight.”
“Oh yeah? Where are you goin’?”
X sighed and fished out the notebook again. He narrowed his eyes at the names crossed off within the pages of the notepad. His eyes alighted on an unmarred name.
The slowly fraying edges of his sanity spun upwards in a grim smile.
“I think I’ll hit Crank tonight.”