Neil Koslo walked into a broken down and dust covered bar. He was unsure if he was going to be allowed to walk out. Its ceiling was cracked, the floor was littered with peanut shells, and the walls dividing the different areas with pool tables were made of corrugated sheet metal.
Koslo knew that the employees were not used to seeing someone well dressed enter the seedy hangout. He was wearing a dark suit with a crimson colored pocket square, stepping over the ground litter in shiny wing tipped shoes.
There was a bouncer standing near the front who was painted in tattoos from his wrists to the sides of his face, and there was a noticeable marking on his chin. Koslo made an educated guess that it was a laceration from a recent fight instead of sloppy shaving.
The inked man gave him a nod. Behind the man was a stage and standing on it was a grizzled horn player belting out his notes. A dark haired woman in a red dress was standing next to him while crooning words about love lost.
Koslo sat down in a far corner close to a window. He was the only patron in the place.
The bar was situated on the top level of the building. He took in the view of a neon billboard with the mug of a model drinking a frost laden thermos of soda. Cars were flying outside in clustered rows. Building spires were outlined against the darkening horizon. The streets below were dotted with downward curved palm trees and bus stop shelters stamped with corporate logos.
A fat bartender wearing a sleeveless shirt speckled with grease stains approached him.
“I’ll take a vesper,” Koslo said.
He soon savored the first sip. The taste of the gin, lillet and vodka was soothing. He left a few dollars on the table, finished off half of the glass, and lit a cigarette. The smoke floated above the liquor in a vapory embrace.
A man with grey hair wearing an ash colored suit walked in. The tinge of his clothes blended with the background. He sat down one seat over from Koslo and tapped the bar to get the server’s attention before ordering a screwdriver. Once the highball was placed in front of the man, he turned to Koslo.
“Neil,” he said, “thanks for being here. Let’s get away from the music.”
Koslo ordered another vesper before leaving his seat. The two passed a television set hung on the wall, one the size of a crackerjacks box. The audio blaring from it was a news broadcast about a splinter group formed during the second Civil war called the harvesters, and how they had been active in a series of crimes including extortion, kidnapping, and murder. Footage was shown of one wearing cuffs being dragged from the back of an armored vehicle, the standard symbol of the harvesters tattooed on his forehead. It was a red trident with three prongs dripping upwards.
They went to a booth in the back.
“My name is Abraham Holland,” the man said, extending his hand. Koslo refused to shake it.
“You’re too old to be part of the bureau of psychological defense,” Koslo said.
“The way you dress, you’re too much of an attention seeking shit to make use of invisibility.”
“Try to arrest me and see what happens.”
“I’m not here for that. I thought that was made clear to you by my agent.”
“All of you are liars.”
“I didn’t come here today to get you in trouble, but to give you an opportunity. Don’t raise your voice at me.”
“Your guy knocked on my door yesterday. He told me to meet you, said I’d get cash. I came here to have my pockets filled, not join a geriatric stag party.”
The agent took a swig of the orange juice and vodka.
“I know who you are and what you are capable of,” Holland said. “At the age of fifteen, you were taken in by the government during the uprising, before you agreed to be a guinea pig for scientific experimentation.”
“They coerced me to do it through torture,” Koslo said.
“You let them turn you into a weapon. I bet you regret it, especially when a place like this is the highlight of your day.”
“It beats where I’d be if I hadn’t gone on the run,” Koslo said. “I’d probably have a full time job like yours.”
“You have a son,” Holland said with a smirk. “You haven’t seen him since going off the grid. How old is he now, five or six years old? Must be hard, not being there for him because you’re too busy running.”
“Mention him again and I’ll hurt you.”
“That’d be foolish. Besides, I came here to talk business, not have a pissing match.”
“Let’s talk, then.”
“I’m holding an envelope under this table.”
“How much?” Koslo asked.
“Enough to buy ten more of the suits you’re wearing now. There’re photo’s contained in them. Ones of the target, his house, and the places he goes. We don’t want him snuffed. It’s not a green light. That’d be a PR nightmare.”
“Who is it?”
“A major candidate running for governor.”
Holland did not answer his question, but continued talking instead. “In the envelope is a capped hypodermic needle with a device at the end, a chip. Use your cloaking power to infiltrate his house, you inject it in his arm, and then you walk away while he’s left wondering what bug bit him. It’d be great if you could hit him before he gets to his place, but that’s unlikely. When he goes out he’s surrounded by security. You’ll have to get him when his guard is down, which is why his house is the prime target.”
“This isn’t an assassination. What’s in the chip, then?”
“You’re getting paid to be stealthy, not ask questions.”
“If I’m the one carrying it, I deserve to know what it is.”
The agent sighed. “It’s PTSD in a bottle, okay? It downloads traumatic memories into the subject’s head. Won’t kill him, but it will make him wish for death while his sanity remains intact for the brief amount of time it’s still there. None of that is your concern. Close to a million dollars is what you’ll get for this. That’s what you should be thinking about.”
Koslo thought about the assignment while resting his head on his chin and staring out the window, averting his eyes away from the agent’s gaze. He considered the future. How feebleness would prevent Harrier from further political ascension, Koslo’s fugitive status would disappear, and how he would get another couple dozen envelopes after the assignment was completed. He would retire to a beach where gin and vodka would always overflow at a tiki-hut bar. He could set up his son for life after the assignment was complete while soaking up the rays on a sandy shoreline.
“Do you want it done tonight?” Koslo asked.
The agent finished his drink. He then left a fifty under the tumbler, stood up, and straightened out his suit coat.
“Day after tomorrow,” Holland said. “And Koslo? Don’t show up to work drunk. Also, point a gun at me again and I won’t be so nice next time.”
Koslo holstered the weapon he had been holding under the table, along with the envelope that he had retrieved with his left hand.
John Harrier was tall and thin. He had an Ivy League haircut and alabaster white teeth. He looked more like a spokesperson for a fast food chain rather than someone who would lead a state, Koslo thought. He was peering down at Harrier from a neighboring building, his invisibility powered on.
Triggering complete disappearance was not hard. All Koslo had to do was take in a deep breath, go into wide angle vision where he could see out of each periphery, drift into a relaxed state, and visualize becoming unseen. When he no longer wished to remain cloaked, he would then close his eyes and picture a square frame in the center of his forehead. He would watch it expand while imagining himself gaining physical visual permanency.
There was a time when he did not know how to turn it off, and for the first year it was terrifying. Once he began practicing techniques obsessively and stumbling through trial and error, it all fell in order. Koslo was convinced that the government had made many others like him.
Harrier got into a black limousine. Four bodyguards followed and sat around him, and the driver started the vehicle. The limousine floated off the ground and rose hundreds of feet in the air. It sped towards columns of hovering traffic cones.
Koslo followed in his own vehicle, keeping distance but not losing sight of the limo.
The first stop that Harrier had made was at a brick building on the outskirts of the city. It had a sign reading Girls in red neon with its letters shaded in purple around the edges.
The second stop made was at a liquor store. Each bodyguard bought a bottle. The third detour was at a fine dining restaurant located on the top floor of one of the tallest buildings in the area, with chefs who prepared food in front of the guests and placed the plates on a spinning glass table which would deliver the entrée to the customers.
Koslo wanted to hit Harrier with the hypodermic in the restaurant, but he knew that his bodyguards were too plentiful, too close to their subject. They would feel him, and no doubt they had dealt with invisible killers before. He knew that he could make an escape out of the fine dining place, but it would not be a clean one. The bodyguards did not look like the type to use discretion when breaking leather. They would not hesitate to shoot if the needle were to have snapped off in Harrier’s neck, or a wrong artery were hit and severe blood loss were to become prominent. Koslo decided to stick with the plan and wait for the politician to go home.
Flying in the vehicle behind the limousine at a distance of six or seven car lengths behind, he was soon over Harrier’s neighborhood. Marble white mansions with pools and acres of green stretching around collections of statues glinting under moonlight were below.
Harrier’s dome shaped house was made of granite, its edges lined with plant life. It was built on a hill top protected with tall sharp edged fences.
The limousine glided into the garage on the side of the estate. Koslo parked his vehicle a solid mile away on the rooftop of a flat house dark on the inside and without a car in its driveway.
He crouched down on the edge of the precipice, pulled out a pair of night vision binoculars, and saw that almost all of the guards were posted around Harrier’s place. Two were at the front, one was in the back garden, and the last was a floater circling the perimeter and doing routine patrol sweeps inside.
Koslo got back into his vehicle and hovered closer to the house, dropping it along the sidewalk by a golf course irrigated with rotating sprinklers.
He walked along the street, climbing over many cemented hills and passing rows of gates and luxury cars. Upon reaching Harrier’s property, he crept past the first guard in the front, leaping over the sidewalk dividing the grassy turf so as to not leave damp foot prints. He climbed onto the balustrade on the side of the manor, and gained access to the interior.
The main foyer of the house was comprised of beige walls, black and white flooring, chandeliers made of crystal, and two large staircases spiraling up to the second level. Thick mahogany railings twisted and knotted every few inches down the hallways.
Koslo walked up the steps while trying his best to stay quiet. He made his way to the main bed room, which was connected to a home theater. Every seat was upholstered with plush red leather.
Koslo realized that it was a children’s movie playing on the screen.
He then peered downwards at the front row. Harrier was there with a six year old boy. A bucket of popcorn was between them along with two Cokes. They looked relaxed and engaged with the bright colored movie projecting on the screen.
Koslo was a big fan of film, but it dawned on him that the reason he never watched many kids movies is because he did not have the time or resources to see his own son. He wondered how many great stories he missed out on watching with him.
I have a job to do, he reminded himself.
Koslo pulled out the capped hypodermic needle, and removed the plastic covering. The device was visible in the darkness when contrasted with his invisible form, but the shadows of the movie theater kept it hidden. Koslo glanced at the exposed sharp chip, and began creeping towards the two.
He neared the neck of the would-be governor, close enough to smell the cologne that the politician had put on himself to hide the scent of the prostitutes he was commiserating with all day.
Koslo lifted the needle, ready to inject the host of traumatizing memories.
A crashing noise erupted behind them. Koslo turned around for a second as Harrier did the same. Harrier then ran to the front of the theater and out into the hallway, peering over the edge of the balcony. He could not see anything below. Hearing the noise of screaming, he walked over to the window to get a new vantage point. Koslo followed, wanting desperately to inject the needle, but he did not want to accidentally turn what was supposed to look like a simple mosquito attack into an attempted execution.
Peering through the cluster of gnarled tree branches, Koslo saw two of the bodyguards fighting a humanoid machine. They were being impaled by the enemy, who possessed a metallic figure of grotesque musculature. Koslo recognized a symbol on the combatant’s head. It was a red trident-like form with its edges dripping upwards.
The guard from the back came out and opened fire. The harvester was unaffected by the bullets despite how sparks did come off its surface, and ran up to the suited guard and disarmed him of the gun. He turned it on the guard, whose head then came off.
The tattooed individual ran up the steps and knocked back Harrier, who was standing in the threshold of the door leading to the home theater. He then flipped the politician over and bound him with electrical wire.
While staring at him, Koslo recognized this being as a human-machine hybrid just like him. The kid was crying, as the harvester then grabbed the wires holding Harrier in place like a hunter’s trophy.
Looking down, Koslo saw that Harrier had a holstered gun on his hip. Koslo retrieved it, climbed on the back of the harvester, and unloaded half a clip into the thing’s head, hoping to at least graze its hard drive.
The harvester knocked Koslo back ten feet, looking around for his unseen enemy.
Koslo stood up, the gun still in his hand.
The harvester walked up to the political leader and snapped his neck. Harrier’s body fell limp. The thing then grabbed the son, lifted him up, ran to the banister, and leapt down to the ground level, rushing into the chamber through the center. Koslo pursued, walking through the same entryway. The vestibule was carved from Italian wood, located in an almost hidden way in the middle of the two staircases.
He followed the trail of destruction left behind to the pool room, which was surrounded in glass and lounge chairs.
The machine was holding the crying kid over the water.
“Did that candidate hire an invisible man to protect him? Show yourself.”
“No,” Koslo said. “I’m here for the same reason you are.”
While Koslo knew that speaking would give away his location, he reasoned the machine would not chase him because it would be unwilling to give up the hostage. The thing was damaged, with the veneer of his fake flesh peeling. Its circuitry was exposed and its inner mechanisms were grinding away loudly like a failing computer fan.
Simultaneously, Koslo knew that if he attacked, then the kid would be at risk of fatal electrocution or drowning.
“You’re my kind,” The harvester said.
“Yes,” Koslo said.
“You’re not with my group.”
“We were test subjects who got out. Why are you working with them? Did his other competition running for the same spot hire you?”
“You already killed Harrier. Let the kid go and I’ll leave.”
“You’re a traitor. You could have become a harvester, instead you help the government. Do you think this child is going to protect us if he grows up?”
Koslo shot the harvester’s shoulder, causing it to fall to the ground with a clunk, the sound of wires releasing sparks filling the room. The boy was dropped. The six year old ran away through the carved entryway.
The machine went for him again, but Koslo sprinted up and struck the harvester two to three times, momentarily pushing it back.
The harvester tried to block his strikes and flung him to the ground, the chairs around them flying.
Koslo squeezed the rest of the clip into the kill zone of the harvester, and pushed his head with a flat open palm. The machine fell into the water, making the pool ripple with bursts of static electricity. The surface of the water resembled a burst of lightning settling like mist.
Koslo looked down and saw that he was covered in blood. A sharp pain was aching through his hips.
The needle was protruding from Koslo’s left leg. He removed it carefully in an attempt to not break off the sharp inside. The chip had attached itself to Koslo’s flesh like a leech, and he pried it off quickly while tearing veins.
He stumbled out into the main foyer.
“Kid,” he said, hoping that the son would come out of the shadows. After another minute of searching, he found the crying child in a corner.
“I’m so sorry,” Koslo told him. “Are you all right?”
It did not feel like enough, but those were the only statements he could think of making. After seeing how there were no visible injuries on the kid, he walked to the nearest phone in the dining area and called paramedics as a cautionary measure, even though he knew that the child was more than likely not hurt.
Koslo moved out into the shadowy night and stumbled down the block with a limp. It was another few seconds before the artificial memories welled up inside of him like an ugly wild grape plant in bloom. He was an executioner with a conscious on a firing squad. He was a participant in genocide at a faraway desert land. He was a victim of a torture, a patient under the knife not given any numbing agent.
None of these are real, he reminded himself, stumbling to his vehicle.
Imagery of dead men, women, and children flooded him. He shouted out while starting the ignition.
Koslo was sitting across from Holland in a bar. It was a little classier than the last venue they had met at, a drinking establishment connected to a Mexican restaurant with candles and velvet cloth.
“Am I still getting paid?” Koslo asked.
“No,” Holland said.
“I killed the harvester.”
“You’ll get half the money.”
“Half? Only half?”
“Things didn’t go according to plan. We can’t give the full price.”
“You guys really know how to treat the people who bust their ass for you. I didn’t know that little stipulation existed, let alone that it would fuck me over like this. How do I know this whole thing wasn’t a set up? A way to weed me out, put me in a nuthouse?”
“We despise the harvesters. We couldn’t have known that our plans would collide with theirs.”
“You knew if things didn’t work out that I’d only get fifty percent of the cut.”
“I don’t make the rules, I just follow them.”
“The Nuremberg defense doesn’t work here. What about the brain virus I have now?”
“We can erase it.”
“Great,” Koslo said, finishing off his drink and standing up. “Let’s go. Take me to the lab. Bleed all this shit out in my head.”
“You don’t understand. We can get rid of it, but we can’t pinpoint specific memories.”
“What do you mean?”
“In order to kill the memories implanted inside of you, we’d have to kill everything else. The positivism of any and all accomplishments you’ve ever had, any genuinely good times, all of them would be gone. You would become an amnesiac and have to rebuild the pieces of your life and learn everything new. That inconvenience is not as crippling as losing the happy memories you have, though. Remember the first time you got drunk, what little of it you can recall? The first girl you kissed? All of it would go out the door. We could supply you with a psychotherapist to help you regain your life back, but it would never be the same. You would be able to sleep again, and eventually go on to live life like a regular person, but you would never recall the good times you’ve had with all of the vivid senses you do now. The treatment is like chemotherapy. We might kill the cancer, but we’ll kill everything else around it.”
“I’m only remembering the good things for seconds at a time.”
Koslo thought about how, even if they were only fleeting, at least they were there. He considered how he might be able to fashion new ones. That was a very optimistic way of contemplating it when contrasted with the luck of recent events, but that sweet requiem of an idea was one he had to cling to.
“If I undergo that procedure, you’re still going to get rid of my fugitive status, right?”
“Yes, but that won’t keep you from being on the run. The harvesters are after you now. You’re going in our witness protection program regardless.”
Koslo lit a cigarette.
“It’s up to you,” Holland said.
“You know what’s been bringing me comfort since I downloaded everything wrong with the world into me? The idea that we were all supposed to be non-existent. Not breathing or having a consciousness is our natural state of being, so why take life so seriously? I try to keep that in mind. Then the memories come back. In the past week, I keep waiting for desensitization to kick in. It doesn’t.”
“It won’t,” the agent said.
Koslo stood up and extended his hand. Holland put out his for a handshake.
“I want my money, not your hand.”
The agent nodded and handed him a manila envelope.
Koslo began to walk away.
“I would still undergo the procedure,” Holland said.
Koslo turned around. “No. The traumatic thoughts have made the good ones more enjoyable, even if only for a few seconds. I’m never giving up the memory of the day my son was born.”
Koslo left the bar.
This story originally appeared in Super-Sick: Tales of Twisted Super Heroes.