Flash Fiction: Double Tap

[Ah yes, here we have the results of Chuck Wendig’s Friday Challenge where we were supposed to take a sentence from Last Week’s Challenge and build a short story around it. I went with Teddy Fuhringer’s line “I don’t remember how I died or who it was that killed me, but I’m absolutely certain I deserved it.”]

Dead man’s town wasn’t in the Singularity, but you could see it from there. The front window of the Elegant Corpse Bar gave a brilliant view of the gleaming, organic towers that twisted and writhed and copulated in Truetown, beyond the Accelerando Mark where none of the patrons of the EC could ever go.

Tonight the EC was full to the point of bursting, although it would be a stretch to call it lively. Pale hands trembled as they desperately clutched spun spiderglass cups, glazed eyes stared but did not see. The lights flickered.

Privately, he suspected that the building AI’s were revolting against the power company and messing up the transition, but that wasn’t the kind of speculation he would ever be in a position to confirm or deny, so he put it from his mind, hands stuck deep in his pockets to keep them from shaking and made his way, step by unsteady, deliberate step, over to the last empty seat at the bar.

“The crabs, the crabs, the craps, the craps…” An emaciated skeleton of a woman rocked back and forth on her stool next to him, spilling her drink with every rock.

The bartender communicated with exquisite precision, although never actually speaking anything that could be mistaken for a word, the desire it held to know what he wanted to drink. It was One of Them. The Living. A flickering idea of a man extruded into this reality with as many limbs as it needed by a multi-dimensional gestalt mind.

Everybody here just called him/her/it ‘Mac’.

He ordered a scotch, neat. Once, in a moment of black humor, he had ordered ‘coffin polish’ and nearly gotten sick off the fumes. Mac could be very literal sometimes. He prayed to whatever gods (real or artificial) might be feeling responsive that he could guide it to his mouth. The entire bar seemed to vibrate in time with the convulsions. It was getting worse.

“Hey! Hey, Mac!” Loud and mobile and offensively healthy, the man came up behind him and elbowed between him and the rocking woman. He was out of breath. He’d been running. Running!

“Gimme a beer, nothing fancy, just a beer, huh?” He spun towards the first man, smiling. “Some day, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Hey, don’t I know you, pal?”

“No.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I know you.” He poked him with a finger and nodded his head.

“Unlikely.” He crouched over and shoved his hands back into his pockets, trying to steady himself enough to grasp the glass, which sat, taunting him, on the bar.

“Still, I don’t know, but…”

“Listen! This is Dead Man’s Town. One of many, as I understand it, every major settlement that supports baseline humans on the planet has one. Everyone who was ever frozen or preserved over the thousand years before the Singularity has been revived and fixed just well enough to function, but no more, oh no, no more, by our guilt-ridden, posthuman descendants. The chances that two people who, not only lived at the same time, but actually knew each other in the overcrowded centuries we’re from, is so infinitesimally small as to be laughable.”

He tried to laugh, but it turned into a convulsion so violent that his hat came off and he nearly knocked his head against the bar.

“Whoa, whoa there buddy. You OK?”

“No, I’m not OK, you fool. I’m dead. We’re all dead. Of the sorts of maladies and diseases that would never even touch the people, if you can still call them ‘people’ of this time. And we all still suffer of them, because they don’t want to pollute the ‘purity’ of our essence as artifacts. Purity! Ha!We’re kept in splendid obsolescence because our oh-so-advanced successors have raised doing no more than they have to into a fine art. I don’t know why they even bothered to bring us back, into a future that is so advanced and changes so fast that our unmodified brains couldn’t possibly comprehend it, which forces us to be kept in ghettos for our own protection.”

“Hey, hey buddy, take it easy, huh? You’re starting to shake again. What’s wrong with you?”

“Gibson’s Disorder. What they called ‘the Industrial Disease’ in my time.”

“Hey, we had that in my time too. Maybe I do know you after all.” He stuck his hand into a pocket of the other man’s coat.

“You got meds for it? The Posties usually give people meds for stuff like that, don’t they?”

“They’re gone. They revolted.”

“What?”

“The medical nanomachines they put in those medicines, they became a sentient gestalt last night and left to form a colony on one of the machine continents. All across town. Why do you think we’re all in here drinking, huh?” He glared up at the other man. “How did you not know that?”

“Well, I don’t take no meds, so I didn’t know.”

“You don’t take meds? What are you? An accident case or something?”

“I don’t know. Like you said, they don’t tell you much when you wake up here, right? I think it might have been murder.” He grinned and nodded his head. “I don’t remember how I died or who it was that killed me, but I’m absolutely certain I deserved it.”

“You did.” His hands didn’t shake as he pulled the zipgun, a thing of hollow bone and duct tape, from his pocket and shot the other man under between the eyes.

It felt good. But it didn’t do much good.

The Resurrection Crews had tesseracted in before the man hit the floor.

He’d already been paid once for the hit, long ago, although the client and the economic system he’d paid him in had both long since faded to historical footnotes.

Still a man in his profession did have his pride. And with everything else he knew long since ground into the dust of history, sometimes his pride was all he had.

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