Bleakly Nine

“Do you know why they outlawed the ShockCollar, Bleakly?”

 At this point, I’m pretty sure my brain was on “Record-only” mode. I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to respond. I was having a pretty bad day, and for me… for me, that’s saying a lot. “I was having a bad day,” said the guy for whom having a good day meant throwing up less than twice and not getting shot at.

 So yeah. If I responded, it was probably by spitting up blood.



 “The ShockCollar was always a very half-assed sort of weapon. Basically a low-grade stun grenade that just so happened to be powered by the person wearing it. No, it wasn’t a very dangerous weapon, despite the indoctrination they still put into ‘bots to this day.” The owner of the voice ran unseen fingertips along my face. “The ShockCollar didn’t just monitor vitals. It monitored thoughts. And that, mon cherie- that is truly a dangerous thing. International law passed months after they were released. Couldn’t have technology so intimately acquainted with the users’ brain, oh no.”

 A reptilian smile. No, an imagined reptilian smile. I could hear it. I could smell it.

 “The perceived danger, and in fact the finding of no fewer than eight studies by very highly respected laboratories, was the possibility that the collars could be reverse engineered to stimulate specific areas of the brain in reaction to specific cues in the brain itself. As in, you think Pavlov’s dog was under control? Just wait until you collar people with this puppy. Outlawing the collars was probably the last really smart thing the World Council did before the end. Yes sir-ree.”

 Thomas Bleakly, Private Eye.

“Now, let’s take a look at some motives and intentions, shall we? Let’s see here. I believe, and please correct me if I’m wrong, that you are currently in the, ah, employ of one Hannah Smith, daughter of one David Smith. It has been in my best interests for you to not inquire about Mister Smith. It would now be in your best interests not to inquire about Mister Smith. In short, my good man, the next time you attempt to help, assist, or in any way aid Hannah or David Smith, your very own newly modified ShockCollar, which now resides just under the skin of your neck, will produce a focused beam into an area of your brain that will cause you to… one moment, let me find it on the list… ah, yes. It will cause you to suffer violent and terrifying hallucinations.”

 Well that ain’t so bad.

“If you attempt to harm or incapacitate any Nocter employee in any way, or if you speak to one of my Neithermen, the collar will produce a strong sedative effect, as you have just discovered for yourself.”

 Gotta look on the bright side, right?

“You’re a lucky man, Bleakly. You’re lucky that I’m not prudent or simple. Because, if I was, you’d be dead. You’re lucky that you have such a reputation, and that I am neither weak nor stupid- it will, after all, be far simpler to assume that a half-mad man has gone the whole way than to believe that the Collars still exist and can so easily be modified. And, of course, should you try to appeal to any sort of authority, I believe there is a dead engineer whose family is currently both comfortable and alive. Should anyone learn of the existence of your collar, my child- I’m sure they would cease to be so comfortable. Bleakly, I am not sure how alive they would remain…”

  I need a drink.

“Well, I believe this is all the time I have to waste with you. I bequeath you now unto the streets. Oh, and don’t forget- we’ve left a few more surprises in that collar. You shall have quite the adventure locating all its little quirks. Now- ***.”


 I think I should start naming these stars. Oh, well…

What was that word? The last thing I heard? It was… It was… Oh, I remember now, it was-

 “Bleuuughh huck ffffck pppt.” I posited thoughtfully. After some consideration, I rejoined, “Unh- uhggrrroooouuullllghk. Fccck ppt. Pppt.” Then, finding it appropriate to do so, I initiated some violent shuddering.

And that, kids, is the story of how I vomited up my gallbladder in a back alley behind an evil pharmaceutical corporation. Try not to hyperventilate. Oh my god I need a drink.

The next thing I tried to do, naturally, was dig out the Collar with my fingernails. The thing that subsequently happened to my brain  is something that will haunt me for the rest of my life and which, with my apologies, I omit here.

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