Pyro's Grand Demise
My nose hurts.
It started bleeding again so I had to wad some tissue paper up it--only the left side which is weird because I was punched from the right. My stomach growls and I think my blood sugar must be low.
Nancy hadn’t been in her office, so I left the cash in an envelope marked with my name and apartment number. I can only hope the intuitive grandma finds it and doesn’t pretend to have never received it. It’s not like I exactly had the time to wait for her return--not after all those gunshots.
I knock on the front door to the shop and wait for Joe to look through the peephole. He yanks open the door and pulls me through before slamming it. I observe him with an amused expression as he looks through the peephole once again.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he hisses while turning on me. “We both agreed to stay indoors, yet here you are frolicking around.”
“I had to pay my rent,” I explain. I'd already decided to tell him the least amount possible. What good would it do him to know that even my own people hate me? At least Greenie did, but I can only imagine what the others would think after I burned down their way of living. Hopefully they don't all figure out my death was a ruse until after I skip town. If we're being honest, I've already hung around too long.
“You’re supposed to be dead. If anyone goes looking for you, the first place they’ll check is your apartment. Now they’ll know you’re alive because your rent is still being paid.”
I shake my head. “My landlord doesn’t keep official tabs. Everything is technically under the table so there’ll be no record of me being there.”
“And what if your landlord is interrogated?”
“She’s too smart for that,” I scoff. “Besides, the job is in two days. What are the chances of anyone finding us here before that? It’s not like anyone knows we’re here.”
“Unless you were followed,” he points out. “Who hit you?”
“An old colleague,” I sigh and enter the kitchen. “But we don’t have to worry about her.” I snap open a bottle of water and drink until the plastic crushes in on itself.
“You killed her?” he asks, shock making itself evident through his furrowed brows. I’ve never seen his expression so taut before and it makes me chuckle.
“Did you think I became one of the best because I was gun shy?” I ask and squat in front of the fridge. I rummage through it and say, “Being a cyborg isn’t for the queasy. We grow up exchanging our body parts for larger, newer models. We adapt to the idea of being viewed as insects, even. Killing a few people comes with the name.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s right.”
I stand up and pop a crick out of my neck, a leftover takeout box in-hand. I turn on him and stand close enough that if I were to lean forward, I’d kiss his pectoral. “Listen, prick. Don’t you dare judge me. While you were living comfortably in Mommy’s Mansion, eating kids’ meals and playing video games, I was out on the streets scrounging for stale bread outside the local bakery. The moment you’re allowed to fucking judge me is the moment you learn what it’s like to be me.”
I fish a fork out of the drying rack and retreat to the other side of the shop. There may be limited space, but I can at least eat somewhere I won’t feel his prying gaze resting on my shoulders.
The lo mein is cold but I’m hungry enough to ignore any urges to microwave it. Instead, I sit in the corner on one of his swivel stools, leant up against his desk. I lightly draw little profanities on the wood with a pencil.
This just goes to show how different we are. I hadn’t thought twice about killing that green-type. I wouldn’t have batted an eyelash at killing the kid had it been in my best interest. Sure, no good person would kill a child, but then again most good people haven’t been put into situations in which it’s either their life or the child’s at stake.
No good person has ever survived having their head shoved into the mud so many times that it’s either fight or die. Because the moment they decide to stop laying down is the moment they stop being good.
He has a presence, and the hairs on the back of my neck tingle moments before he crosses the room and approaches me. “Hey,” he hesitates and scratches the back of his head, “I’m sorry.”
I continue doodling a perverted image, waiting for him to continue. Without looking I can practically see what expression he’s making and how he’s awkwardly flexing his fingers.
“You’re right. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up on the streets. That must have been very difficult for you. But you must imagine how difficult it is for me to be empathetic, having the mother that I do. I grew up believing cyborgs to be tools. Half-humans built for the sole purpose of helping the human race flourish. Over the past several years I’ve gotten to realize how wrong she was. How wrong I was.”
I thoughtfully tap the graphite against the wood. “What changed?”
“Sorry?” he asks.
Finally, I look at him. “What changed and made you gain empathy? What caused you to view us as human? Because whatever happened to you needs to happen to billions of others.”
He hesitates, then moves to sit on the desk. I set the pencil down.
“I made a friend,” he slowly explains, “in one of my mom’s laboratories. I didn’t know until later on that he was a cyborg, but once I found out, there was no going back. I realized the biggest secret my mom was keeping from me was the fact that she’s a monster. Cyborgs really do have feelings just like everyone else. I’d grown up being told otherwise. That their brains function differently and they’re incapable of expressing human emotion. Well, any of the good ones anyway. That they’re more robot than human.
“This friend of mine was treated better than the others. He wasn’t a lab rat or anything like that, but instead worked for my mom. Some of the higher ranking cyborgs are treated better if they act as officers and force the weaker ones to stay in line. They’re loyal so they stay in power. I used to think that this made my friend different, but in the end he was just trying to survive. They all are.”
He hesitates and his throat bobs. “Finally my friend couldn’t take it any longer. There’d been an escape attempt in one of the labs and he accidentally shot an innocent. I tried talking to him, to convince him that it’d been a mistake, but he couldn’t forgive himself. He shot himself in the back of the neck the following day. The moment I found out, I left my mom’s house. I haven’t returned since then.”
Joe’s eyes pierce into me just as easily as any knife. Candy-colored eyes rimmed in red, but no tears. “I’ll never forgive myself if I let this blueprint be turned into reality,” he explains. “This is why I need you to break in and steal it. Nothing good comes from what my mom does, and I want to prevent any more unneeded deaths.”
Ten minutes later I empty a trash bag onto the couch.
“What is all this stuff?” Joe asks while holding a platinum-blonde wig between his pointer and index finger.
“Supplies for my various jobs,” I explain. “I can’t always be wearing a mask, so oftentimes I need a disguise. Sometimes it’s better to make people think I’m human.” I hold up a plastic container of contact lenses.
“Isn’t hiding the fact that you’re a cyborg illegal?”
“If you consider us second-rate citizens, it is,” I grumble and search through the pile. Most of my wigs are safely sealed in their baggies, but some of them have gone astray. I’m going to need to brush them out. A handful of them definitely need a good shampoo and conditioning.
“And what exactly are you planning on wearing in two days?” he asks while frowning at the pile. “It’s not like a disguise will exactly matter if you’re caught.”
“Thanks for the pep talk,” I answer dryly. “I’ll probably just wear something basic. Maybe a custodian uniform with a ponytail. I can act like I’m there to mop the floors.”
He’s shaking his head before I finish speaking. “No, that won’t work. My mother knows the names and faces of every employee. It’s best just to get in and out without being seen.”
“So a mask is best?” I hold up one of my favorites. It’s a matte black that doesn’t reflect light. On cameras it almost looks like a black hole or technical error.
He jerks his head. “Cover your face and get out fast. Those are the only two things you can do besides following my directions exactly. I’ll try my best to get you out within twenty minutes.”
I take a deep breath and feel the sensation of butterflies in my stomach. It’s been a long time since a job has gotten me so jittery. "Alright, then."
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