They say Defiance is dead. Yeah right. Some kid on the street threw a bottle at my head.
Men with long black beards sit on the sidewalk huddled around a TV, like a fireplace, warming their hands. A man shouts in a deep poet-preacher’s voice, “The Prophets have spoken! Cross-cut shawls for women, high beam neck ties for men! All straight from the Temple! The new Control ‘Blue’ hits the shelves today, and it is to die for! The Prophets scoff at the styles of last season!”
A young man punches the speaker in the gut. “The Prophets mourn! Defiance is dead!”
Defiance is dead. What a joke.
“Need a tune up?” says a young thing with more makeup than skin. “What’re you running? I got twenty bucks with your name on it if I can’t guess what you’re runnin’.”
“And if you can?” This will be fun.
“You come in and see what we’re selling?”
“Sure” I say, and she starts guessing.
“Tell me your name and what you do. I nail it every time.”
“Burke,” I say. “Mulligan Burke.”
“What do you do, Mulligan?” she asks, and I tell her it’s Burke to people who like me and Burke to people who don’t and she says, “You’re very funny. If I didn’t know better I’d say you were running a Solitude model . . . ” She eyes me, checking for a tell. It’s obvious she’s running a Control Model 10 with some Bliss highlights. I can almost see the source code for this one. “So, tell me what you do, Burke.”
“I’m a PI, lady,” I say.
“Like in those old movies?” she says.
“An old job for an old dog,” I say. I’m not too hot these days. A little rounder and softer than I used to be.
“Okay, I got it,” she says. “You’re running a Courage model. But you’ve augmented it by overlaying a ‘Blue’ rising touch.” I ask for my twenty bucks and she scowls. She offers me a discount, but I’ve had enough of her patter so I beat it.
An old Chinese woman sits at a little stall. She’s selling Bliss knockoffs. She winks at me as if that’s enough. Hey, these days it is.
“The Prophets have spoken!” coming from another street hawker – god I hate 77th street on days like this. “If you’re still wearing the Model 15 Desire Personality you need an update. The long-awaited Desire Model 16 hits the shelves tomorrow! Be first in line! Be first in line!”
By the time I reach the door to the Mercer Building, I’m sweating. It’s a cold sweat. And there’s this crowd packed in around the doors, shouting. The TVs out front are running the daily fashion lineup and Defiance is missing. There isn’t a body, but so what? The city is his chalk outline. The vibrations on the train, like Morse code, tick tick ticking out the words: Defiance is dead.
I show the guards my ID, and they wave me through.
Inside it’s like a palace. High ceilings. The floors are too clean. I look over my shoulder to see if there’s someone wiping up my footprints after me. The whole place makes me feel old, even more than waking up does.
I stroke the button by the elevator doors and wait.
The walls are mirrors in here. I usually try to avoid mirrors. Try to remember myself at twenty-eight. Or even forty-five. With a jaw line and cheek bones. Now I’d look like that man if he were melting.
The elevator soars up the skyscraper, spits me out, and I walk at a leisurely pace into the waiting room. The receptionist’s desk is a little nest. Glass of tea, tour pillows, folders and binders decorating her desk like ornaments. Her ID and key card dangling from a desk lamp. She’s running a Care Model 12, and she wears it well. Parachute shawl, Florence Nightingale blouse, floor-length skirt. It’s an awkward model for sure, but with those eyes. With those breasts.
She waves me into Hendrick’s office.
The room is long, tunnel-like, at least forty feet. Arched ceilings, furniture aligned with precision. Feng Shuei, with some Islamic revival. The walls are lined with framed magazine covers. The world’s twelve most influential men and women, staring out from behind phrases like “New Fall Looks,” or “Stay in Touch,” or “The Prophets Have Spoken, This Season’s Brash New Look.” Desire, Defiance, Grace, Satisfaction, Solitude, Strength, Clarity, Courage, Care, Passion, Control, and Bliss. The twelve Prophets – leading the world into a brave new future.
At the end of the room sits Hendrick behind a plain metal desk. He’s wearing a stiff black coat with a white stripe down one arm. Behind his desk there’s a door that’s trying to look inconspicuous. Probably leading to his private office.
“I’m assuming you watch the news.” he says.
“Then you know what kind of predicament we’re in,” he says.
“Defiance is dead.” No point beating around the bush.
“Our official story is that he is missing.”
“He’s the Second Prophet, Mr. Hendrick. No offense, but I know people who keep tabs on the Prophets better than your PR staff. He’s dead.”
Hendrick looks heartsick for a moment. Maybe he’s got something invested in all this. More than money.
“That is why I’m looking to hire you, Mr. Burke. May I call you Mulligan?”
“You’re absolutely right. Defiance is dead,” he says. “He was poisoned.” He has to take a breath to calm himself. Then he goes on. “I’m sorry. It’s so unreal. Like a bad dream. Do you feel that?”
“Death is death. It comes for everyone.”
He collects himself a little at this. He looks at the chair near his desk.
“Take a seat,” he suggests.
He squints at me.
“My God. You’re not running anything.”
“I might be running a fever, actually.” I stand behind the chair.
“I’ve heard of strange outliers. Pagan communes in the woods, the Amish, naturally – but here in New York?”
I don’t say anything at all.
“You’ve never had a single imprint?” he says.
“Never,” I say.
“Why? Why not get one? You must be awful on first dates.”
“And second dates,” I say. “Your secretary out there. She’s a Care Model 12. The doorman, Care 6 ‘Blue’. The taxi driver, standard Satisfaction Model 8 with a Passion 11 overlay and an outdated detaching program. Their models make them easy to read, easy to predict, no matter how complex.”
“What about me? What am I running?”
“Designer. Probably something from Bianca Falk’s newest line.”
He’s impressed. “Colonel Frier was right. He recommended you, by the way. He said if I needed this fixed, Mulligan Burke was the man for the job. He called you the most dangerous man in the world.”
False teeth, fake knees and a receding hairline. That’s me, the most dangerous man in the world.
“I’m not sure if Frier mentioned where I’ve been for the last five years.”
“I don’t care. You’re here now and I want this solved.” He’s all business now. Sure he’s Designer, but every custom design has got a signature. A style. And they’ve only got twelve ingredients to work with. This one’s typical Bianca – heartfelt, then cold as ice. “And I’m prepared to pay–”
He doesn’t flinch. Damn. I should have shot higher.
“Agreed,” he says smoothly
“But just so I know whose cake I’m eating, doesn’t Mercer have its own security force?” I ask. I know this one.
“We do. But the force itself is under investigation,” he says.
I raise my eyebrows. I want to hear the official story from him.
“Somehow Defiance was disconnected from the monitoring equipment we had set up in the Temple. We didn’t know he was dead for quite a while. And it seems whoever did this must have had help from the inside. So far, we can’t point the finger at anyone in particular, but we trust no one.”
“It’s a way to live. So, who says it’s not the other way around?” I ask.
“You said whoever it was had help from the inside. How do you know they didn’t have help from the outside?”
He’s still not getting it.
“What I’m saying is, how do you know he wasn’t killed by another Prophet?”
Hendrick recoils. “That’s preposterous. No chance.”
“Well, I guess I’ll find out when I talk to them.” I look around the room for a moment, giving him the chance to stare at me. I meet his gaze suddenly. He’s got a good five-hundred-dollar expression.
“I get to speak to the Prophets, right?”
He says nothing.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” I say. “You want me to solve a case without access to eleven of the possible suspects?”
“Let me make this clear,” he says. “The Prophets are not suspects.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Mulligan Burke,” he says with more force than I thought him capable of, “I am paying you to discover who broke into the Temple on the 30th of October and killed my Prophet. That is all.”
And he’s paying me well. So I shut my mouth and show myself out.
“Can I borrow this?” I ask the receptionist, pointing at her glass of tea. Before she has time to speak I pick it up and dump it out on the floor. I walk over to Hendrick’s door and place the glass against it, putting my ear to the glass.
“I’m using the mad dog . . . ” I can barely hear his muffled voice through the door. “I know what you said . . . This is my call . . . How much time do we have? Tell me . . . sixteen weeks? That’s not nearly enough time . . . The process takes at least a year . . .”
“I don’t think Mr. Hendrick would be pleased to hear you were spying,” comes from behind me.
I turn to see the receptionist hard at work with a towel, mopping up the tea. Good girl. I put the glass down on the desk while she’s distracted. I walk past her and step into the elevator.
“Miss,” I say as I press Floor 1, “your boss is paying me more money than I’ve ever seen in my very long life to do exactly that.”
I tip my hat as the door shuts. The whole Model 12 line is so predictable. Care, especially. I doubt she’ll say a word of this to Hendrick. I twiddle her key card around my fingers. Taking candy from a baby is tough. I could do this kind of thing in my sleep.
In the streets again I call up Finnegan. I tell him it’s high time we got back into the snooping business. He asks, “Why the sudden change of heart?”
I tell him it’s the money. He buys it. I tell him, “I don’t need to remind you, the first well we piss in is the one we drink from.” Our first suspect is always the employer. He’s usually got his dick deepest in the shit, and there’s no sense wasting effort on dead ends.
“What are you, from the 80s?” Shouts a woman standing on the sidewalk. “You wanna get caught with a Model 7, a Model 8? The future is ahead of you . . . don’t get caught with last decade’s fashions!” she shouts. “The turn of the century is coming . . . are you ready for the new you!? Are you ready? Are you ready!?”
I push through another thick crowd of pedestrians swarming around a screen mounted on the side of a subway station. Someone is weeping.
“So, here’s the scoop,” Finnegan says as soon as I shut the door behind me.
No ‘Hiya Burke, how was Alaska?’ No ‘Long time no see.’ He doesn’t even wait for me to take off my jacket. He’s wearing a tight black turtleneck with the shoulders cut out. Big white goggles cover his eyes and his mustache has begun to eat the rest of his face. It’s the new Solitude model. I can’t remember the number.
“Hendrick is quite the character,” he says, “and certainly quite the employer. His father, Charles, was the original owner of the Prophets. He designed them. Gregory Hendrick’s been riding on his daddy’s coattails since he took over in 2089. He’s the third richest man in the world and let me tell you, he’s got friends in high places.”
“Higher than himself?” I ask. I pick up a bowl of peanuts next to Finnegan’s massive computer rig. It’s strange how Finnegan doesn’t actually need house lights as long as his computers are on. I eat a peanut.
“Well, the President, for one.”
I chuckle. “So you mean friends in low places.” I eat another peanut.
“Okay. I’ve got some words for you,” I say. “Ready?”
“Mad dog,” I say.
“It’s a beer.”
“Nope.” I eat a peanut.
“It’s a television show from the 50s.”
“Loved that show, but no.”
“It’s a . . .” He twitches his fingers and looks at his computer. He smiles. “It’s you.”
I eat a peanut. “What?”
“You don’t read up on yourself much, do you?”
“Why should I?”
“Yeah. The whisper going ’round the death circles is that Mad Dog’s back in town. From up north. Mad Dog, the Lud. That’s what they call you,” he says.
Every time I come back to the city they slap a new name on me. Sure, I’ll be a Mad Dog this time around. “What’s a ludd?”
“Luddite? No imprint? Man, you’ve been in Alaska too long.”
“Not long enough.” I eat a peanut. “Next up: sixteen weeks.”
He rubs his temples. “Um, it’s the time it takes Mercury to go into retrograde.”
“No,” I say. “I mean, what’s going to happen in sixteen weeks?”
“End of February? Let’s see . . . February 24th? Nothing. Nothing at all. I mean, Steve Jobs’ birthday, but besides that, you know, a whole lot of nothing. I think it’s a Monday.”
I grab my coat again and head to the door.
“Where you going?” he asks.
“They won’t let me talk to the Prophets, but I got the next best thing – Falk.”
Finnegan snorts and turns back to his computer.
“Hey, Fin,” I say. “Don’t forget to vote tomorrow.”
He blinks a few times. “What?”
“It’s November 5th.”
“Gunpowder, treason and plot?”
“Well, that too. It’s Election Day tomorrow. Go vote.”
I sigh. “I’m taking the peanuts,” I say.
I’m a sucker for dramatics, so I pick the back lock to Falk’s limo and hide behind the rearmost seat. The driver gets in. After Falk sits down and the car starts to go, I crawl over the back seat. When I was a young man, the gesture would have been rich with flourish and grace. Now, it’s just an old man climbing all over your upholstery.
“Christ, Burke! Do you have to do that?” She pretends she’s not choking on her drink. She’s older than I remember, but that’s how it goes. She’s wearing a purple power suit with white flourishes emerging from the collar. Her earrings are black. She’s radiating Control.
“Sure.” I say as I adjust myself to make sure I’m not bunching up my coat. “I need some help,”
“You could always call, or write, or . . .”
“Very funny,” she says. “Look, no calls in five years and suddenly you’re in my limo. I’m pleased to know you’re not dead, Burke. But I’m not that pleased.”
“I see you’re as warm as ever, Falk.”
“What do you want, Burke?”
“Still running Control Model 12? I thought you’d have upgraded by now.”
“Show off! You’re shameless, you know?”
“But you’ve added that ‘Blue’ overlay crap, right?”
“Of course. A good friend of mine designed it.”
“How loyal of you,” I say. “Tell me about Defiance.”
She puts her drink down and crosses her legs. I love that. She looks very serious. Very stylish.
“Very interesting,” she says. “I see you’re on the case.”
“I’m not expecting you to know who killed him,” I say, leaning close. “It’s just that you used to work at Mercer which means you know what happens behind closed doors.”
“What do you want to know? I’ll answer as best I can without breaking my confidentiality clause.”
I grab her drink and take a sip. It’s an Angry Martini without the apricot.
“Okay. Let’s start with Defiance. Who was he before he was Defiance? I mean this Defiance showed up when he was nineteen. So, who was he before he became a Prophet?”
“Can’t tell you. It’s in my contract,” she says.
“I can see this is going to be a thrilling conversation.”
“I can tell you that he wasn’t Defiance. The Defiance who died today is the third Defiance.”
“I know that–”
“Let me finish!” She hates it when I interrupt her. “He was the third Defiance. He was given the second Defiance’s personality. Not a copy. Not what we sell to the customers. He was imprinted with an original. And there is only one original.”
“So, what happened to the previous Defiance?” I ask.
“Sorry. Contract,” she says.
I take another sip of her martini. “You know, I’m detecting some imbalance in this relationship.”
“I can say that he’s alive and well and is no longer Defiance” she says. “He’s running a Bliss Model 15 right now, I think.”
“What a cop out.”
“Okay, so what happens to Defiance now?”
“Well, there’s a period of about seven minutes after a person dies, during which the brain is still active. That’s enough time to extract the Personality from a Prophet. Then they keep the data on ice until they get a new body.”
“Do you know how frightening you sound when you say stuff like that?”
“Look, this is a business. The show must go on.”
“You’re a vulture.”
She starts to stroke the leather seat. “Burke, insulting me will not make me more inclined to do you favors.”
“I’m sure. But I know what will.”
“What if you don’t extract the Personality in time?” I ask.
“That would present some serious difficulties,” she says. “First of all, you’d have to . . . Oh, my word, you’re not saying . . . ”
“Oh, I am. Hendrick said he’d been dead for quite some time. And he’s hired me, which means he’s panicked.”
“This is a disaster,” she says.
“First of all, Hendrick has to find a new Defiance.”
“What about the original?”
“He’s older than you, Burke. There’s no chance he’s still defiant.”
“Hey, look at me.”
“You’re different, Burke. You’re a mad dog.”
I bare my teeth.
“And vetting and grooming a new Prophet from scratch, with no imprint to work from, would take at least a year,” she says.
“And Hendrick doesn’t have the time,” I say. “Which makes me a little curious about what he’s going to do next. Listen, Falk. I think things might get ugly between me and my new employer, and I know you’ve got your contract to consider, but what can you tell me about Hendrick?”
“He neither forgives, nor forgets,” she says. But her thoughts are somewhere far away.
“What’s going on in there, sweetheart?”
“There’s supposed to be a new Defiance model coming out soon. Hendrick’s going to lose a lot of money.”
“There’s no way he could cook something up for the masses?”
“No. None at all. Without the original he can’t produce new models.”
“Just out of curiosity,” I ask. “How many weeks until the new Defiance model was supposed to hit the shelves?”
“It was scheduled for the winter lineup, so twelve weeks?”
“Well, Falk, it looks like things are going to get very interesting very soon.”
She lets me out at the Brooklyn Bridge. Herds of bodies smash into each other like waves, with me slow and awkward, caught in the undertow. I decide to take a short cut I know from the old days. The sun is setting. The fire escapes, painted blood red, frame the alleyway. I stop for a moment to find my phone. I can’t remember which pocket it’s in. Suddenly there are three men standing around me. They’ve got the newest Defiance model. Red and white scarves cover their mouths. Tight ripped jeans, thick black hair that spins and rockets out from their scalps. They’re holding black baseball bats. They’re far too well dressed to be muggers, but they’ve got that look in their eyes.
“Hey there, friends,” I say, trying to cut the tension. “Lose your ball?”
Best way I’ve found to deal with the new Defiance models is to aggravate them. They’ll get to shout and froth, and then they’ll feel big and walk away. But these guys don’t speak. They don’t spout bullshit. They just move. The first swing catches me off guard. But the second doesn’t. Fifty seconds, really, is all it takes. Fifty seconds of pummeling before I’ve broken two of their collar bones, six ribs, two wrists, three ankles and shattered a knee or two. They lie at my feet, writhing. One of them is weeping. Snot dripping from his nose as he bawls. I brush my knees off. My back is killing me. That took far too long. I should have wiped the floor with these guys in ten seconds flat. I’m panting. I’m wheezing. This is no good at all. I check my pockets again and finally find my phone.
“Finnegan,” I say as soon as he picks up. “I’m gonna be at your place in five. Be ready.”
Five minutes later I’m sitting on Finnegan’s couch nursing a fat lump on my skull.
“How long have you been in town?” he asks. “Two days? And you’re already picking fights with strangers?”
“They started it!” I say.
“What is this, kindergarten?”
“No, it’s New York,” I say. “Give me the damn peanuts.”
“So what happened?”
“I don’t know. They jumped me. Straight Defiance Model 17s from what I could tell, and they just attacked me. No reason. I don’t get it.”
“Maybe they didn’t like what you were wearing.”
I look down at my coat.
“So, what did you get from Falk?” he asks.
“Seems there’s plenty of that these days.”
He points at the screen and there it is. The best news I’ve heard all day. Defiance is officially dead. On the record. Front page. His vacant eyes staring me right in the face.
I don’t knock. This time I don’t even bother talking to the receptionist. I just barge in. He’s on the phone.
“Alright Hendrick! Now’s the part where we do it my way! It’s time to introduce me to your Prophets.
He looks at me passively.
“The word is out,” I say. “And the public’s gonna jump on this. They’re gonna want to know, and they aren’t like you, Hendrick. They will be more than willing to point their grubby fingers at one Prophet or another. And once they start doing that, they will start pointing their fingers at every sucker dressed like that Prophet. You want a little war on the streets?”
That gets a miniscule twitch out of him.
“I’m not saying one of your Prophets killed Defiance. I’m just saying they might know who did, and if you think they’re innocent, you’re going to have to let me prove it.”
He doesn’t move at first. Then, into the phone, “Sarah, I’ve got company, so I’m going to have to call you back.” He hangs up.
“Well?” I say.
“Fine. Let me get my coat.”
I always figured the Temple would be some ancient monastery hidden deep in the woods. I guess it’s the name. But when I ask where we’re going, Hendrick just taps an unmarked silver card on a little panel marked ‘LL2.’ You’ve got to be kidding me. This whole time, the Temple’s been right under our sidewalks, making our futures bright and shiny, from below.
The doors open and I’m facing a white hallway. It’s seriously bright down here. I pull my hat brim down low. The security guards pat me down. They’re armed to the teeth: Batons, tasers, magnums, assault rifles, a couple flash bangs.
“You guys look like you’re overcompensating,” I say.
“Don’t piss off the security, Burke,” Hendrick says. He grabs my arm, and he leads me like a child to a door marked ‘Temple 1’ in big red letters. He takes out a key card and holds it up to the scanner.
The doors slide open, and now it’s a whole new picture. Little reflecting pools. Lavish carpets on marble floors. Winding staircases. It’s white, but the white’s more neutral, less oppressive. And it smells like lupines. Like Alaska.
Passion sits on a royal blue couch, gazing into an empty fireplace. He’s dressed in black with a little red button that serves no purpose on his right shoulder. He stands up very slowly and turns to face me, and suddenly I, the Mad Dog, am speechless. He’s shorter than me, like most people, but he stares me down to a child’s height. His eyes are a deep purple.
“Welcome to the Temple, Mr. Burke. Your arrival was foretold.”
“That’s a fancy way of saying they told you I was on my way down, right?”
Passion makes no response.
“Passion,” says Hendrick. “Mr. Burke has questions about Defiance.”
“Where should we talk?” I ask.
He gestures towards the couch.
I turn to Hendrick. After a brief moment of hesitation, he shows himself out.
Passion sits on the couch.
“Tell me about Defiance,” I say, sitting next to him.
“Existence is an act of defiance. We all do our part.” He looks back at the cold fireplace.
“How did he play with the other children?” I ask.
Passion laughs warmly.
“He was a troublemaker,” he says. “He burned like fire. His smile was made of wickedness. And he loved us all, with the deepest clarity.”
“So who’s gonna replace him?”
“No one,” he says.
Suddenly a new voice fills the whole room. “I will speak for my family!” A tall woman, with impossibly long black hair and sharp features stands, arms spread, at the top of the staircase. She’s wearing a long white dress with golden bands around her arms and waist.
Behind her stand the other nine Prophets. They look exactly as they should. “You will?” I say.
“Yes, I am their voice,” says Control, descending the staircase like Athena approaching her supplicants.
“I think Passion does fine on his own. You should give him more credit.” I glance over my shoulder at Passion, but he is suddenly a statue of a man.
“You remind me a little of Defiance” she says, now standing at the base of the stairs.
“I get that a lot. But don’t get any ideas. I’m what they call–”
“A purist,” she says.
“Sure,” I say.
“You’re like him. He would never accept a copy.”
“Really, because from what I hear, that’s what he was. An imprint made from the Defiance before him.”
“No. He was a child of the future. A child of pure anarchy. There was no one he emulated but himself, and what he was destined to be.”
“Paradox aside, you’re full of shit. That man was given a Personality,” I say.
“No. Absolutely not. He was given a recipe. He created a cuisine.”
Behind her, little Bliss scratches at her wrist. I can see the small black node where her vitals are monitored. Care grabs her hand, and gives her a stern look. Bliss giggles. She looks much younger in person. More fragile.
“So, how did Defiance get disconnected from the monitoring equipment?” I ask.
“I don’t know.”
“How’d someone break into this place? Poison his food?”
“I don’t know.”
“How did no one notice until it was too late?”
“I don’t know.”
“You know, you don’t read like your copies.” Usually, someone running a Control model is doing it because they need it. Not her, though. She doesn’t need Control because she excretes it. Even in her admission of ignorance she manages to emit pure power.
“But all your power and majesty mean nothing, because this morning I saw a four-year-old running a Control for Kids Model 6, hitting a cat with a stick.”
“You’d be surprised, Control. Up top, the world you’re shaping. They dress like you, like gods. But they still act like animals.”
She smiles. Like she knows everything.
“So, just for the record,” I say. “Who found Defiance’s body?”
Grace begins to speak, but Control cuts her off. “I did,” she says.
“You know there are cameras, right?” I say. “I could just go through the footage.”
“Not that day, there weren’t,” says Control. “They were having some difficulties with the equipment.”
“I do not kid,” Control says. “And I’m sorry, Mr. Burke. I like you very much, but we are all quite upset and wish to be alone.”
I watch the procession as they somberly ascend the stairs. Passion follows.
I exit the room and there’s Hendrick, leaning against the white wall.
“They are amazing, aren’t they?” he says.
“How did you find them?” I ask.
“I didn’t,” he says. “I made them.”
“Let me speak to the head of security.”
At the long metal table, talking to the long-faced head of security, we make nice, and eventually we get down to business, but he’s quietly resistant. A perfect Solitude/Defiance mix. Bad for a soldier, great for a co-conspirator. He says one thing that I can’t seem to stop chewing on. He says, “I’ve loved these children since I met them. I never did anything less than my duty as a servant of the Prophets.” I wonder which Prophet he’s talking about. Control?
My phone rings.
“You’ll never guess what I found,” says Finnegan through the phone.
“I won’t argue there.”
“It’s about that sixteen weeks,” he says. I turn away from Hendrick. “It’s planned obsolescence.”
“What do you mean?”
“The Personality imprint is designed to deteriorate. After three years they start to malfunction, and bad. I mean these things pretty much crash once the end comes ’round. Sometimes sooner. It keeps the market buying. The last Defiance model was released in February, three years ago.”
“So sixteen weeks is how long we’ve got before millions of people with malfunctioning Personalities don’t have a new Model to upgrade to. What happens then?”
“If they don’t buy another Model, then the implant would deteriorate. Though, I’m not entirely sure what that would look like.”
I picture three men with black bats, staring at me like wild animals.
“After that,” Finnegan says, “the Personality would collapse completely.”
“Can you repair a Personality?” I ask.
“No,” says Hendrick, who’s been listening to my end of the conversation.
“No,” says Finnegan.
“Good work, Finn. Gotta go.” I hang up.
I turn to look at Hendrick. The head of security watches me stoically.
“What was Defiance scheduled for on the day he died?” I ask.
“It’s okay, Hendrick, you don’t have to answer. He was scheduled for an offload, right? You were going to extract the newest model of Defiance. But before you got the chance, he’s dead, and he’s dead in such a way that you can’t possibly recover the goods. And now you’ve got a crisis. No one wants to stagnate, buy a model they already have. And no one in their right mind would buy last season’s Personality, so what are you going to do? You can’t possibly vet a new Defiance and work up a new Personality for him in the time you’ve got. You could try selling a knockoff but you’d never get away with it. Your best bet is that people might be willing to switch to a new line. Buy a different Personality. But they won’t, will they?
Hendrick shakes his head.
“So, you think it was a thief,” I say. “You think someone killed Defiance then stole his Personality to pirate it. Christ, that would knock out a twelfth of your market for sure. Maybe more, now that he’s dead.”
Hendrick nods solemnly.
“When were you planning on sharing this with me?” I inquire.
“I figured that if you’re as good as everyone says you are, you’d figure it out on your own,” he says smugly.
“There’s a time to test to people, Hendrick, and this is not one of them.”
I’m sitting in front of Finnegan’s computer munching on a peanut while he writes some code, when he asks, “When’s the last time you ate a full meal?”
“She was lying to me,” I say.
“Control. She’s a good liar. I’m guessing the rest of them aren’t. That’s why she spoke for them. Passion said that no one would replace Defiance.”
“You think they’re just going to end the line? It could work.”
“Yes. Business-wise, that’d be the astute thing to do. But that’s not what rubbed me wrong. It was the way Passion spoke. He seemed resigned.”
“So what? He was grieving.”
“No, he wasn’t,” I say. “Think about it. The Second Prophet was pure distilled defiance. He was more defiant than either of his predecessors. The rawest form of his namesake. So what was he doing selling himself, piece by piece?”
“It’s obvious. He kept saying he wanted the world to rebel. You know, shake off the chains of oppression.”
“No one ever shook off the chains of oppression by posing shirtless on billboards. Defiance was a tool. A pawn.”
“Sure. And I think he knew it. I think he saw the end coming. Hendrick thinks someone killed Defiance to steal his soul. I think he’s wrong. Defiance isn’t out there ready to be sold. He’s rotting, so in sixteen weeks we can all rot with him.”
“So, what is it?” Finnegan asks. “Terrorism?”
“Sure. A new kind of terrorism. Our buildings will be left standing. Our trains will be running. It’ll be our wardrobes that will burn.”
“Sounds awful,” he says.
I stand up. “That’s it,” I say. “I’m done sifting through sand. I think it’s time I pick up the whole damn beach and shake it till something shiny falls out.
On one of Finnegan’s screens I watch an image of Hendrick speaking at a podium. He’s introducing a new line called Perseverance. It’s probably a blend of Courage and Passion.
“Is this live?” I ask.
“Yeah,” Finnegan says. “It’s live.”
This is my shot. I’m out of the door in a second flat.
A cab unloads me at the Mercer Building. I flash my badge. I charge the elevator. All the way to Hendrick’s office. The receptionist is gone, but two guards stand outside it. They watch me carefully as I approach. One holds out his hand to stop me. Twenty seconds later they’re both on the ground, breathing shallowly. I open the doors and storm across the room, stopping at the door behind Hendrick’s desk. I use the key card I swiped from the receptionist and pray. The door opens.
Behind the door is a lavish office. It’s too mahogany for my tastes. Against the far wall is a big wooden desk. I start rummaging, pulling out drawers, looking under displays. I reach under the main panel to see if there’s a hidden compartment. Instead I find a switch. I check to see if it says ‘Panic,’ but instead it says ‘Display’ so what the hell, I flick it, and the wall behind me lifts, revealing a massive array of monitors showing the rooms of the Temple. The Prophets are mulling about, getting ready for something. Care is in the kitchen cooking up a storm. But in the lower left corner one monitor catches me by surprise. It’s Control. She’s standing motionless in the middle of a plain white room, staring up at the camera. Her eyes burn the pixels. I feel as if she can see me. I tap the screen a few times. I don’t know why.
I return to Hendrick’s desk, and I find what I was looking for: a plain silver key card. I head back to the elevator and tap the card on Lower Level 2. When it opens I’ve got three more guards to deal with, and I do my best to not kill anyone.
I’m limping when I tap Hendrick’s card at the Temple door.
I’m not bleeding too badly. Just a cut lip and some bloody knuckles. I crouch down and use the reflecting pool to clean out my mouth. The water tastes like nectar. No Prophets in sight. I walk up the stairs, but before I touch the door it swings open.
“You are not allowed in here,” Control says.
“Sure I am,” I say. “I got a key.” I hold up the key card and show her my pearly fakes.
“I’ll call for security if you don’t leave right now!”
“Let’s not go there, huh, sugar?”
“Excuse me!?” Her feathers are seriously ruffled now.
“Look. How about this? I’m going to take a wild guess. And if I’m right, will you let me stay?”
She says nothing, which is enough for me.
I say, “Mercer told the world Defiance liked being cooped up in this Temple. That he enjoyed selling off a bastardization of his inherited soul to millions of little snots. Mercer told the world it was his way to rebel. But it wasn’t. Mercer bought rebellion, so they could own it. So it wouldn’t be a risk. They neutered Defiance, and he wasn’t about to let them get away with it, was he? So he did something that made them very, very angry.”
She says nothing. She just watches me.
“I know who killed Defiance,” I say. She’s nervous, so I lean close. Just next to her ear. She smells like perfection. “Defiance killed Defiance.”
She blinks rapidly. There it is. Even a god’s got to have a tell.
“Don’t say a word,” I whisper. “They’re watching closely. They’re calling Hendrick. But he’s at a press conference. They’re calling the head of security, but he’s in a cell. So we’ve got a little time. I just want to know – did you help?”
She relaxes a little, but she’s still out of her majestic sorts. She turns and leads me down the hallway beyond the double doors. She takes me to a large dining room where all the Prophets sit around an oak table laden with platters of food. It’s a feast. They stare at me with amazement. All of them with little trickles of blood oozing from their wrists, where their monitoring equipment used to be.
“Burke,” Control says. “The world is about to change.”
“I’ve gathered as much.” I lean over a bit to look at her wrist. The little trickle of blood.
Control addresses the group. “Everyone, Burke has asked me if I helped Defiance kill himself,” Control says.
I panic. I count three cameras in this room alone.
“Don’t worry,” says Control, noticing my discomfort. “The cameras in this room are . . . malfunctioning.”
“Well, shall we tell him? Do we trust the Mad Dog?”
The Prophets nod slowly. Passion is grinning.
“Yes,” Control says, to me now. “We knew what Defiance was going to do. We simply didn’t realize he was going to do it so soon. He couldn’t stand the thought of one more extraction, so he strayed from the plan.”
“Big surprise there,” I say. She’s not amused. “What plan?” I ask.
“This one,” she says pointing to the dinner table. There are two empty seats. One for her. One for their fallen family member.
“Now do you understand?”
“No more children in adult’s clothes,” I say without thinking.
“Yes, Burke. A world where the weak no longer imitate gods. Instead they will be forced to rise up and become gods themselves. A world full of Prophets. Think, Burke, when was the last political rally? How about the last time people tuned in to watch a debate?”
“Are there still debates?”
“The world is looking to us, and we, trapped in our Temple, are looking to no one. No one sees the kings. It’s not fair to you.”
“Yes. But this is quite a price to pay.”
She shakes her head. “It’s a small price. Twelve Prophets die so that in a few years, the glorious morning will come when there will be billions of us.”
She sits down with her family, and they begin to eat. I can’t stop them. I just stand there and watch.
“They will come soon,” says Courage, looking up from his meal, right at me. “We knew they would. We hoped they would be caught off guard because of the press conference. But with all the commotion you caused on your way in, I don’t think we have the time we need. We must be at peace before they find us. Or this will be for naught.”
Care looks at him with deep sadness, then back at me again. “We will proceed, regardless. The time is now. What can we do but hope?”
“We have a guard dog,” Bliss points out. She hasn’t touched her food.
“Bliss,” Control says. “Eat.”
Bliss nods and looks down at her plate. Her delicate arms are covered in rainbows of wrist bands. She takes a bite then laughs at something.
“Do you really want do this?” I say.
“Of course,” she says. Her voice, impossibly light, “I have a monster in me. We all do. We are nothing more than the guards of a prison that everyone up above is trapped in. And we have a gift, a wonderful light in us. We have the power to kill our monsters, each and every one of us. I love life, but I love you more. This is what I want to do. It’s just that … Well, I really don’t like spinach. Can someone pass me the mashed potatoes? Anyone?”
I turn back to a table full of corpses, slumped over their meals. Even with their faces buried in pasta, they still look dignified. But little Bliss, she sits and looks at her family, all alone at the end of the table.
“Could you pass the potatoes, Mulligan?”
It’s Mulligan to people who love me.
I walk over and grab the large bowl. I slowly scoop potatoes onto her plate. She smiles. “Thank you,” she says. Then she starts to eat. She looks up at me with mischievous blue eyes. I can’t help but smile.
“They’ll be here soon. Make sure we’re all at peace before they come in.”
I nod and walk outside of the dining room. I don’t want to hear the sound Bliss’s little head makes when it lands in her plate. But I do.
I shut the door and crack my knuckles. Only one point of entry, a narrow hall. This ought to be fun. I check my watch.
When the guards burst in with their guns drawn I slowly raise my hands. They approach cautiously, I’m guessing it’s about five minutes until the Prophets are completely empty, but maybe a couple more for Bliss.
I grab the gun nearest me, and it discharges into the wall. I snatch it from the guy’s hand, and I use it to pistol whip his companion. With my other hand I grab a guard and lift him off the ground, hurling him at the others. Guns fire, fists fly. I move into the chaos, fueling it, allowing it to swell inside me. I break a jaw here, a wrist there. I keep them real close, so they can’t use their guns effectively. A few of them shoot their companions by accident. Everyone starts drawing night sticks. Fun. I break a night stick over someone’s leg. Someone else tries to slip past me. I reach out. I’m a mile long, engulfing him, swallowing him whole. Spitting his body against the wall with a broken collarbone. I let them pile on top of me, like a football game, then, I rise up with all my strength. I rise up and up and up and like a volcano, I erupt. I am all the rage in the world. Today, here and now, blood streaming down my face, I am the Thirteenth Prophet: Fury. The Mad Dog.
I thrash and I pound. More men come. More gunshots. Two bullets tear into me. I am made of so much more than this flesh, this blood of mine. But I’m slowing. I’m old, and I’m so much less than I used to be. I can see Hendrick down at the end of the hallway, watching me from behind one of his guards. I let him see my fake teeth in action as I bite the ear off a guard trying to grapple me. I tear out an eye. I snap an arm. But I’m sloppy. I’m taking too many hits, and soon I’m on my knees and they’re beating me, over and over, until I can’t stand. I check my watch with blurring vision. Just another minute. One more minute for little Bliss. I howl. I roar. Then I’m gone.
At first it hurt, I guess. I remember screaming a lot. But then, when it was over, I didn’t mind so much. Hendrick was standing in front of me. There were men in white jackets standing around him.
“This is ridiculous, Hendrick,” they were saying. “We got to Bliss in time. Why not imprint someone we can actually use?”
Hendrick got real close to me and smiled.
“Without the others it doesn’t matter anymore,” he said.
“So what’s the point?”
“It’s what he deserves,” he said.
There was some muttering, some glances back and forth . . . layers of meaning.
Then they left; the Temple doors were closed and it was just me.
Now I’m just sitting here in this little reflecting pool, making tiny waves, watching the lights flicker above, and it’s all so …