Published on 08/29/2022
After a paranoia-filled two blocks walk up the street in which he purposefully ensured that all connections were turned off between him and the Unity Network, Vincent arrived at a hole-in-the-wall pharmacy. Many living rooms would be deemed larger than this store. Off the shelf medications were stored on one wall, and across from it was a counter where a man in a dingy lab jacket sat, entranced in some unseen neural reality entertainment. Vincent approached the counter and had to knock on it to get the man’s attention. He jumped, startled from Vincent’s sudden appearance, and unconsciously glared at him. However, after recognizing Vincent, his face relaxed and he stood up.
“It’s not usual that we have someone walk in so incognito that,” the man commented, referring to Vincent’s lack of outgoing signals. Until Vincent had gained some knowledge as to who might be following him, he had no intentions of making himself visible on the network. “Regardless, what can I do for you, Mr. Wolfe?”
Vincent grimaced slightly at that name but hid it quickly. “I’m here to pick up a prescription,” Vincent replied as he removed the sunglasses from his face.
“Ah ok, give me a moment.” There was a door behind the counter, and the man unlocked it and headed inside. While he waited, Vincent looked around, warily eyeing the other door at the far side of the room. He unconsciously tried to open his feed out of boredom, only to be greeted with a large ‘Disconnected’ banner blinking across his vision. He sighed and instead opened up a preinstalled game to pass the time. After a minute, the man returned with two bottles of pills.
“Alright, so this one here is your Doxepine, aka sleepy pills, and the other is your… ah.. Well this is for any mental glitches you might be having.” He handed the two bottles to Vincent, who put them in his blazer’s pockets. “Anything else I can do for you today?”
“Yeah, you have any weird dreams lately?” Vincent asked, seemingly out of nowhere.
“Like what?” the man asked, growing slightly stiffer.
“Dreams of fortune, grandeur and death.”
The man said nothing but reached out his right hand. It was prosthetic, much like Vincent’s. Vincent responded by extending his own robotic right hand and grasped the man’s hand with it. The hands exchanged implant IDs, and Vincent was verified. Immediately, latches began to audibly unlock behind the door on the far wall. Vincent let go of the man’s hand, walked to the door, opened it and entered. A dimly lit stairway extended before him and he began his descent. The door closed behind him and the multiple latches automatically locked back up. From the store, it had seemed like just a plain wooden door. However, from the other side, its true heavy-duty metallic face complete with huge locking bolts revealed itself.
At the bottom of the stairwell stretched a hallway with two doors on each side. Walking past, Vincent could see into one room that had a door half-cracked opened. A tattooed man was laying on a table with his head split opened, still conscious and giving small talk to a gruff looking woman who was fidgeting around with the neural implant on his brain. The sight made Vincent a little queasy, so he quickened his pace to the next door and gave a small knock. The door cracked opened and a sleazy looking face peered out at him from the crack with an eye full of suspicion. However, upon recognizing Vincent, the man relaxed and swung the door opened to greet him.
“Vince, buddy, how are ya’!” the man exclaimed, throwing his arms out as if looking for a hug. Vincent gave a force smirk but stayed as he was.
“Hello Al. Got a minute?” Vincent asked stiffly.
“Yeah, sure sure, come in come in. Always got time for my main man!” Al beamed, moving aside so Vincent could walk through the doorway. Vincent walked into the room and sat next to a counter. The room was filled with giant computers, their low hum filling his ears. Wires were splayed all over the floor, and Vincent had been careful when he entered to not trip over any of them. Jutting out from the back of the room was a large metallic egg-shaped contraption.
A Dream Catcher.
Al pulled up another chair and quickly sat down opposite of Vincent. Al was a tall but scrawny man, with greasy black hair and an unkept goatee. His wore a dirtied white tank top and worn out jeans, and his boots were in obvious need of replacement.
“So, what can I do for the great Captain Wolfe?” Al asked expectantly.
“I’d prefer you didn’t call me that,” Vincent scoffed, looking away in mild disgust.
“But that’s who you are, aren’t you?”
“I prefer to just be Vincent. My old subordinates and superiors used to call me Captain Wolfe, and I’d prefer not to think about the past.”
“Ah, you can never really leave the past behind, Vince! Little bits and pieces always stick with you, whether you like it or not!” Al explained, poking Vincent in the chest with a wiry finger. Annoyed, Vincent brushed it away, but as he did he caught a reflection of himself in the glass of the cabinet above Al. A scowling man looked back at him, but he was relieved that it was his own scowling face.
“Yeah I know. Speaking of the past, someone told me a girl was looking for me today,” Vince said, looking back at Al. Al’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, then went back to their usual friendly position.
“What, you got a child you don’t know about?” Al joked, much to the frustration of Vincent.
“No. I haven’t been with any women lately. That’s why I’m bothered. I’ve made no female acquaintances as of late, yet this lady knew exactly where to look for me, meaning she’s been tracking me for some time.”
Al sensed the gravity in Vincent’s voice and his usual smirk vanished from his face.
“Who do you think she is?”
“Dunno. Did Rahim have any woman that lived around here?”
Al’s face gaped in surprise, then quickly contorted as he went into thought. “Rahim? From March? Rahim from Dubai?”
“Yeah, the only Rahim you and I both know about, who else would I be talking about, Alan…” Vince muttered, growing more frustrated by the second.
“Man, you and me both know he was as straight as a snake. The only woman in Rahim’s circle would have been his mom, and by his profile she’s 127 and bedridden. You getting tracked by old Arabian grandmas now?” Al retorted, annoyed at Vincent’s attitude. Vincent felt his anger rising but realized that it was no use getting angry at Al, and forced himself to calm down. He gave a sigh and relaxed his shoulders.
“No, no grandmas. By the basic description, she sounded to be at max my age, though the only thing I really know about her is that she has red hair.”
“That’s not much help. I know a lot of ladies with red hair, though they’re usually coming after me,” Alan said with a sly grin and a wink. Vincent ignored him and Al continued.
“Don’t know what to tell you, man! Better stay low for a while, keep to yourself until she leaves town.”
Vincent nodded his head as he began to sink deep in thought. Then, he was snapped back to reality by Al’s sudden outburst.
“Ah yeah, that’s right! Actually, it’s pretty good you came in. Got a new job for you!” Al exclaimed, standing up to link himself to the console.
“No. I’m not doing that anymore, Al. I told you after Rahim, I was done.” Vincent spat out while also standing up to promptly leave. Before he could reach for the door knob he heard the audible click of an automatic lock, and turned back to Alan who was looking to the ceiling with hands in his pockets, pretending to whistle.
“Unlock the door, Alan. Now.” Vincent growled as he approached Alan. The scrawny man pulled his hands out his pocket and put them in the classic “I surrender” position, smiling all the while.
“Hey man, just hear me out, this one will be no problem for you, a piece of cake!” Alan explained, reaching his hand down to fidget with the console behind his back. A hologram appeared suspended in the air in front of the Dream Catcher, distracting Vincent from his impending threat upon Al. A man’s upper body and head were displayed, and Vincent walked over to look at it.
“The dude’s name is Kyle Livingston. Got an anonymous request the other day asking us to take this guy out. Apparently, he’s got some dirt on an ‘unspecified company’, and it looks like they’re not too keen on letting him blab about it,” Alan explained, walking around the floating head. Vincent opened his mouth to speak, then shook his head.
“I told you, I’m done. I’m not doing this. Find someone else.”
“C’mon man, you know you’re the only guy that’s got the skill to take people down like this.”
“Ask Lewis to do it.”
“Lewis only knows how to deal with petty thugs and naïve targets, he could never come close to big wigs like this.”
“This guy is high status?” Vincent asked, catching Alan’s words.
“Maybe? He works at unity so…” Alan’s voice trailed off, realizing his mistake. Vincent glared at Alan as if he had just uttered the most despicable phrase possible.
“This guy works at Unity? No way Alan. There’s no way in hell that I would ever do something so stupid.” Vincent’s faced contorted, and he strode back to the door.
“Vince, c’mon, you’ve taken out government officials for Christ’s sake!” Alan called exasperated.
“Government officials are one thing Al, Unity officials are a completely different story.” Vincent jiggled the doorknob in futility, still locked by Alan’s command.
“The guy is low in Unity’s ranks! From the info given this guy isn’t even a regional manager yet! No one will miss him!”
“I don’t care Alan. If Unity tracks us down, and trust me when I say they are very capable of doing it, they will never let go until we’re dead. Now unlock this door Alan.”
Alan looked down and shoved his hands in his pockets, letting out an anxious sigh. “I can’t do that Vincent.”
“… Would you like a broken nose Alan? You want to see what this hand of mine can do?”
“My hands are tied Vincent!” Alan shouted, now visibly stressed. “Five million! The tip gave a five million advanced payment with another ten million when the job is done!”
Vincent’s mouth hung opened. In his many stints with Alan, a full job had never paid over a million and now, just when Vincent was serious about leaving this life behind, this happens. He closed his mouth and faced Alan.
“It’s sitting in my account now, man!”
“So you took it?” Vincent’s face was flushing red, and his fists had clenched unconsciously.
“What do you think Vince, I’m just gonna say ‘Hey that’s a good amount but no can do, my guy just isn’t really feeling it anymore’? 15 million for a job you’ve done dozens of times is an automatic yes!” Alan exclaimed, one hand anxiously going to his forehead.
“You didn’t even ask me, you just assumed I was going to change my mind because of the money?!” Vincent yelled, charging Alan. He shoved him hard, and Alan tripped over the wires and stumbled into the Dream Catcher. Vincent stood over him, his metallic finger jabbing into the fallen man’s chest as he continued to shout.
“You want the money so bad, you do it! Go ahead! See how hard it is to gain a man’s trust, see how hard it is to get to know every bit about him and then stab him in the back! You do it!”
Alan stared wide-eyes as Vincent stomped back to the door, but it remained locked. Vincent went to grab the knob with his right hand in an attempt to pry it opened, but stopped at the sight of that black, robotic appendage. All these years, he had avoided getting that hand changed, despite the history that it held. Even when he had said in March that he was done with that life, he still couldn’t bring himself to get rid of that hand. Despite what he said and what he wanted to feel, the truth remained that he wasn’t truly ready to let it go.
He let his arms drop to his sides and let out a long sigh. All he wanted was a nice, hot cup of coffee, but that was going to have to wait. Vincent had money now, but it wasn’t going to last. This job would set him up for at least ten years, and that was living lavishly. If he lived frugally, it could last for more than 30 easily. Plenty of time to create new life for himself. Despite his rage against Alan, the man had a point. A huge sum of money for a job that you do with ease is a no brainer. This would be his swan song, the last job before he hung his towel to go live the relaxed life of fortune and grandeur.
He turned back to the hologram. Alan sat up in the Dream Catcher and watched him cautiously, but an imperceptible smirk was slowly creeping onto his lips. Vincent looked the hologram up and down once more then asked:
“So who is this guy…?”