Chapter 1. A Delicate Resonance of Longing
It started with a dream. A nightmare.
I must have dozed off on the train coming back from Mitchel’s.
Mitch lived on the other side of the city, in the kind of neighbourhood that you normally try to avoid. Junktown, we called it. Not because it was dirty, though it was that as well, but because when RED first flooded the streets years ago — the majority of it landed in the hands of traffickers operating there. A drug lab found a way to cut the pills with other chemicals, increasing their potency. The trade-off for a meaner high was a higher price. Included was a laundry list of nasty side-effects — tax for the addicted. The comedown alone was brutal enough to make you lose your mind. Literally.
Most people carried enough supply to never have to. The world as we all saw it was largely split in two — dealers and users, and the dealers used too. A regular shit show. Rumour had it that the lab was buried somewhere in the heart of Junktown, though no one ever bothered to look for it — not even the cops. It was widely believed, and really, common knowledge, that the cops used as well — getting their supply at wholesale prices. Besides, for every cop there were twice as many pushers, and for every city — a lab, cutting their own version of RED.
junkRED, blueRED, silvER — the cheapest, lowest quality derivative compound only hardcore junkies took. If silvER was your poison — you were already dead. Either mentally checked out, or hooked so bad that even the purest cap had no effect. When it came to RED — you were either on it, or in the throes of regret about the day you first tried it. Naturally, a feeling like that was best remedied by another cap.
In the end — no one really gave a shit. As long as you didn’t shoot some fucker in the face in broad day light — it was all kosher, all business as usual. A brazen act of senseless violence was what it took to raise some eyebrows, and have your name dragged through a 48-hour news cycle — 72 if it was a particularly slow week.
Sometimes an agency or a renegade reporter would launch yet another inquiry into the manufacturer. The headlines would change to “Who IS Behind RED?” and your stupid face would no longer stare at everyone from high-def, low-energy, ginormous fucking screens that were plastered all over the city. Another week would drag on by, and the obligatory press release from Buer Pharmaceutical would state that “Yes, we’re the only entity with that kind of manufacturing and logistic capability. No, we are not the ones behind it. Yes, we know that you have to ask us first. No, we don’t mind. It really isn’t us. Pinky swear.”
And then — it would all go back to normal. Our “normal” being pretty fucked up, and depending on who you asked. It’s not that we all turned a blind eye or were docile, it was much simpler than that — there was no reason not to use.
Press button, get RED.
The purest caps came to you as if by magic. A perfect, completely decentralized system fed by crypto-currency. No one knew who was behind it, and every lab was a node in a massive network, feeding back into it.
press a button. get RED.
That’s how everyone got started — with the original synthetic compound. Pure and honest, delivered to your coordinates by a tiny drone that carried a metal container — colour of blood — with 30 red caps inside of it. Happiness on demand. You took a cap, washed it down with bourbon, and instantly knew that what you were missing your entire life — was that. The gentle hum of anxiety began to dissipate in the warm haze of the drug. You felt that delicate resonance of longing fade and be replaced with an assurance that you — you who is fucked up, alone, and scared, too — you belong.
As long as you took about a cap per day. (A cap per day made this February feel like Christmas.) There was you, there was everyone else, and there was RED.
I realized I ran out of caps earlier in the day. I’m usually never that careless, having enough supply to last a month or two at least. And if I ever was — the next drop was but a tap away. For one reason or another — the tap away did fuck all this time around. Which meant that I had to make the trip to Junktown to see my pusher, Mitch.
Mitch and I knew each other since we were kids. We played in bands and got in fights together. One time he almost got stabbed jumping into a fight I was losing, and probably saved my life. I never thanked him for that, and probably never had to. We had a tendency to attract stabby dudes trying to mug us, or just have it out on the street outside of various punk-rock joints we had frequented.
Most of those fights — we didn’t start. It wasn’t always malicious, and we didn’t always win — but we always had each other’s backs. We both aimed for the stars, having come from practically nothing. It’s a funny thing about poverty — if you bore it and managed to climb out — you only wanted to be King. (Or Queen, in his case.)
I was going to be a writer. He was going to be a rockstar. Instead, he became a pusher and as for me… well I was fresh out of caps and hoped that Mitch would have my back.
“Mitch, it’s me,” I called him when I thought I saw the fridge door starting to melt. Beads of liquid metal accumulated and were beginning to run. It looked like a cold beer bottle sweating water on a hot day. The door was brushed steel. I ran my finger over the surface and thought I saw metal stick to it.
The comedown from RED is heat. That’s how it starts — first, the room heats up. Then you do. Shortly thereafter — you start hallucinating. For a few hours, the brain still registers that none of it is real, that you’re just tripping. That changes fast, deteriorating along with your sanity. I only personally know one girl who came down from RED and is still walking.
That girl is Jackie. Jackie’s fucking crazy.
“I’ve a bit of a situation developing,” I said into the phone, “I could use a hand.”
“You and everyone else,” said Mitch. “Come by. How soon can you be here?”
“An hour and a bit.”
“Good. Don’t drive. Take transit and then cab to my place from the station.”
“Got it. See you soon.” He had already hung up.
One hour and seven minutes later, I was climbing out of the cab in front of his place. Outside, hitting me point blank in the face, was heat. The air — heavy and ripe with anticipation of bad things to come — as they always did. I buzzed the gate, stared into the camera, and was soon greeted by Mitch. He was wearing a kimono.
“What the fuck… are you supposed to be?”
“It is I, the merchant of doubt,” he said, motioning me in. “How long has it been since your last confession?”
“I don’t know. Twelve, maybe thirteen hours? Fucking long. I can see steam rising from your head,” I said, pointing at his pinned up bun.
“Oh that’s not good!” he gestured me into the living room, “Come, I’ll get you sorted out. A glass of scotch while you wait?”
“A beer will do, if you got any. A really fucking cold one, preferably. It’s retarded out there.”
“A beer it is. And it’s 68 degrees in here,” he motioned to the backyard facing window and the temperature overlays, “74 out there. It’s not hot,” he smiled, “you’re just tripping.”
“That may be,” I agreed and took several big gulps from the ice-cold bottle. “I don’t even know how I ran out without noticing.”
“How does anyone?”
“True that.” I paused for another greedy gulp, “Tried for a fresh drop earlier too — nothing happened! It’s like the system is down again.”
“It is,” said Mitch and disappeared up the stairs to the second floor, “everyone’s having problems lately.” He raised his voice and kept on talking.
“I’ve had a significant influx of traffic. For the past two weeks or so, everyone’s calling looking for product. Not that I’m complaining. It’s been highly lucrative pour moi. I haven’t moved this much since…”
“Since the last time?” I interrupted, seeing him come back down.
“No, not since last time. It’s not like the last time. It’s only been a couple of weeks. Though some people are starting to get nervous.” He handed me a steel cylinder with a month’s supply of blueRED.
“Are you?” I asked.
“No, why the fuck should I be?”
I looked at him, taking another big sip from the bottle.
“It’s not like the last time,” he said dismissively, then added, “is blue cool?”
“Yeah, blue’s fine,” I opened the case and took one pill, washing it down with beer. “Thanks. How much for these?”
I punched in the number and made the transaction from my phone. Something in the room beeped, confirming it was successful, and a message “Received: 600” flashed on the window. Six hundred was a friend’s discount for nine hundred credits worth of drugs. At thirty per cap, blueRED was one of the most expensive designer compounds on the market. junkRED was a little more pricey, at forty per cap, but was too strong for my taste. It was proprietary to the Junktown lab, and made me too jittery and paranoid the entire month I was on it. I also couldn’t write worth a fuck, and hell knows I’ve got enough problems in that department as it is. Blue on the other hand… blue was just right.
“What are you switching off from?” asked Mitch, “RED?”
“Yeah. I vary the two — a few months on pure, then a month or so on blue.”
“No clashes? No crossfire?”
Crossfire happened whenever you went from using pure RED compound to a modified one. Switching over to blue meant that the effects of the stronger compound would be amplified by the purity of the original formula, traces of which would still be present in the user’s system. For most, it meant seeing flashes of lightning in front of their eyes, and generally hallucinating random shit. For some — the shit was scary, for others — benign. Having a bad reaction usually meant that the new compound you were taking was a bad build.
I shook my head, “No clashes. I just sleep a lot for a few days and then I’m cool.”
“Cool,” Mitch nodded and checked the time, “alright my man, I’ve got another meet soon. If you don’t mind,” he motioned to the exit.
“Not at all,” I replied and finished the beer, “I’m out!”
“You need a ride back to the station?”
“No need, my cab’s still here,” we shook hands, agreed to meet again soon — under normal social pretense this time — and I showed myself out.
Walking back to the cab wasn’t as hot as coming out of it when I first arrived. Blue was kicking in. I asked the driver to take me back to the station. He drove without stopping for lights and stop signs, merely slowing down. Same as on the way here. The law of Junktown was that if a car waited outside a pusher’s place — the passenger of that car was a user on business, and as such — not to be touched. When the car was in transit — all bets were off. Bad things happened to good people. It didn’t happen often, but it did happen.
Mitch was a known pusher, and a respected one at that. He was one of the very few who had direct access to the lab. Allegedly. Honour amongst pushers prohibited personal sources from being revealed. If you found out that a pusher had access to the source — you kept that to yourself. The repercussions weren’t exactly clear, but people occasionally woke up dead, for one reason or another. Properties went up in flames, ascending into heaven in pillars of black smoke. That sort of thing.
So driving back from his place was relatively safe, but still I didn’t much enjoy making the trip.
I paid the driver another two hundred, and got on the train back to the part of the city where I lived. The cabs of Junktown didn’t drive outside it’s border, and on the flip side — most cars also drove around it. The train took off slowly, its lulling motion making me drowsy. Blue was kicking in faster than I anticipated. Must be a stronger build, I thought.
Falling asleep on the train, coming back from Junktown, wasn’t my idea of a good commute. A shiver ran up my spine and I wanted to stand up to keep myself from dozing. That task proved difficult — blue was amping up full force. Gravity seemed to take on another meaning. Beneath my seat, a dark planet heaved a groan of resistance, pulling me down. It’s really a gargantuan creature , I thought. Stuff of myth and books on esoteric teachings.
The world began to slowly shift out of focus — all blurred lines and dripping colours — a perfect symphony in minor key of monochrome. Then an EMP went off in my head, and I was out.
She sat across from me, staring. Blonde and slender, with dark eyes. Eyes that seemed to burn my skin like nuclear fallout. The train moved steadily forward, rocking us both. I looked at her, then out the window. She turned away and focused on the vista outside.
It was beginning to rain, dark storm clouds moving in from the north. Streaks of lighting scurried along their surface and dove into the depths, hiding. The clouds resembled floating jellyfish. I wondered in what culture that was a bad omen.
The train approached a long bridge and picked up pace. It devoured the track hungrily, speeding along to some event that was long cancelled. I didn’t remember there being a fucking bridge in the city. Okay, back up.
I ran out of caps and the drop request didn’t work. Weird that it didn’t work. I went to Junktown to see Mitch, who thought it was weird too. Or did he? No, Mitch was cool, I think.
I didn’t drive there — which explains the train. Mitch hooked me up with some blue — which explains the bridge. I’m in crossfire, I almost grinned.
I’m tripping floating fucking jellyfish!
As on command, all doors in the train blew open, rushing air inside with a jet-engine scream. I yelled something between “wooooo” and “aaaaayyyyeeee” and manic laughter. The girl stared at me — unflinching, unimpressed. She stood up and approached the door, peering down for a moment.
“The thing about standing on the precipice of total annihilation,” she turned and yelled to me, “is that even as you’re starting to fall, there’s still a lingering delusion that maybe this time — gravity won’t work.”
She spread her arms and leaned back. Standing on the edge of her own abyss, cold wind tearing at her face — she was a balancing act gone tragic.
The phone buzzed in my pocket, rudely jolting me awake. I scanned the nearly empty train as it approached my station, coming to a smooth stop. The only person inside other than me was an old cop, sitting on the far end. He was looking out the window, nursing whiskey out of a nondescript bottle sheathed in a paper bag.
I jumped off, and checked my phone’s notifications: 3 texts, all from Mitch.
I’m bought out!
Blue, by Angels.
Make yours last.
I instinctively tapped my coat pocket, checking for the cylinder stored inside. The pocket was empty. I wanted to run back into the train, but the doors already closed and the train was moving.
“Shit,” I cursed, “goddamnit!”
I looked at the time — 3.28 pm — still early enough to get a drop, or find another pusher. “Well… fuck,” I exhaled.
Looking for a lost container of blueRED on public transit was an exercise in futility. Anyway it was more likely that someone stole it. I must have dozed off on the way back from Mitchel’s.
What did he mean “bought out” anyway? Bought out of blue by fucking Angels?! Since when did Angels stock blueRED? They had their own operation going, own lab somewhere in LA. Their angelRED build was more expensive than both junk and blue put together!
“Bought out my ass,” I mumbled to myself and texted Jackie.
Situation developing. Need a hand.
Had I not run out of caps, had I not taken the train to Junktown, had I not fallen asleep on the way back… I would not have texted her. Not in a million fucking years.
And had I not done that, then maybe… none of this would’ve happened.
It wouldn’t have all gone to shit.
The Plague, The Stranger, and The Fall.
The story begins. To read prologue, go back.
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