Bleakly Eleven

by
I was holed up in one of the few places I knew I would be really safe. I was in the dirtiest part of the city’s worst slum, where there are just two types of people who don’t get ripped off and torn apart:the synth-juicers with arms bigger around than my chest… and the insane. Luckily for me, I fell into the latter category.
   

I was alone with a few square feet to myself, in a place where the types of noises I planned to make would not be questioned or investigated.

 My name is Thomas Bleakly, and I’m a detective. It’s who I was. It’s what I was. And with a shackle around my throat – a subdermal collar whose only function was to stimulate the parts of my brain that tell me the world is burning down if at any point I should try to do my job as a detective – I was less than nothing.

The ShockCollar, originally a defense measure of my own, was modified and installed in my neck by the enemies of my latest client. If at any point I knowingly did anything that would in any way assisted Hannah Smith or her missing father, I would be subjected to intense and violent hallucinations.

Which brought me back to the room with no electricity and holes in the walls.

 Time to test this fucking collar’s boundaries.In Michael Crichton’s novel The Terminal Man, a patient is described whose brain is treated with mild electric shocks to the pleasure cortex whenever he begins to have a seizure. His brain, locked in a logarithmic learning curve, began to seize more often until the man’s brain burned out.

 

Well, the good news is that brains can learn.

After a week of slamming myself against the edge of my reality, I could barely fit inside my head. I had bruises on my thoughts.

I remembered- A red mist of violence – punching glass, flesh hanging in shreds from my knuckles. Headbutting a brick wall, gnawing the insides of my mouth, slamming my elbow into concrete. Exerting every fiber of my being to penetrate the veil between my eyes and the real world.

I’d been to Hell and back.

I drank a shot of whiskey. Then I did it again.

Starting to find the boundaries. Given, I’m having some slight difficulty determining what is and is not real. But if anything my powers of observation and deduction feel.. enhanced. Sharper. Can’t say the same for my short-term memory. Where was I? Where am I?

I hit the street and lit a cigarette. Considering what I’d been through, I felt… good. Cleansed. I could think Hannah’s name without cringeing.

I decided to do a test run on my powers of observation, deduction, and sneaky movement by stealing someone’s wallet; I needed booze money.

This guy’s big. I’ll try blackmail first.

 “Excuse me, I say pardon me sir!”

He was a synth-juicer. His eyes had sunken into his face, but his neck, all muscle, was thicker than his jaw. He was at least two feet taller than me.

I took a stab in the dark. “I had a question for you. About her.

He just looked pissed off that I existed. “What. Do. YOU. WANT?” He bared his teeth, but honestly just his breath would’ve been enough to scare me off. (This was impressive, considering that everything smelled like meat to me at the time.)

The guy was big and slow and angry. It wasn’t going to work out like I hoped, so I put a stupid grin on my face to confuse him long enough to think through how I could best turn his animal rage to my betterment.

New plan: This man is a Nocter Employee. Pretend this guy is a Nocter employee. This guy is a Nocter employee and I’m gonna kick him in the nuts. (This was not the height of my decision-making career, but the sidewalk suggested that it might be a decent idea, and the sidewalk had been decent to me in the past.)

The instant the top of my foot came into contact with the little lump bulging in the bodybuilders’ pants I could feel the collar mildly trying to put me out, doing its job to sedate me if I attacked a member of the company. I mean, I knew the guy wasn’t with Nocter. But I figured (or at least, in retrospect, I belive this was my plan) any opportunity to fight the collar’s effects would bring me a step closer to being myself again. I ran and ran and ran and ran, adrenaline fighting the collar, the collar fighting me.

A moment of triumph. I felt like myself again. Or.. as close as I could get with the universe fracturing around me. It was the little persistent touches that weirded me out. Little details, like the buildings bleeding and the way that cars screamed. Those were mild hallucinations my brain was maintaining to keep me tuned in to one reality – and the collar wasn’t helping. It could kind of tell I liked Hannah.

I bought booze and ran full-force at the wall in my head.

Forty-eight hours later:

I’m not entirely sure what I was doing beneath a bridge with a car battery in my lap and a jumper cable attached to one ear, but I’m guessing either it was my idea of therapy or else I was trying to burn out the ‘collar, and since just thinking about the latter made me twitch… Yeah, I don’t think I’m going to be able to voluntarily or intentionally remove the collar. It ain’t gonna happen. But just maybe…

I heard footsteps.

Oh, look. Neithermen.

 

I was righteously pissed off as well as out of my fucking mind. I was a pillar of rage. The Neithermen: suited cronies of the corporation that screwed over my last client, the beautiful ‘bot. Agents of the organization that drove a spike into my mind.

 So I did the valorous thing and discretioned my ass out of there.

Forty-eight hours later:

The room burst into flames, since I knew full-well the call I was making was for Hannah. I had a long way to go before I could help her directly… but for now I could do one thing. I could call an old friend.

Gregory Jacobson. One hundred twenty-six years old, white beard to his waist, and at one point a brilliant detective. Hopefully he could keep Hannah alive until I could admit to myself I wanted to help her without the walls screaming at me.

Ring. Ring. Ring. Pick up, Greg.

 “Hello?”

 “Greg. It’s Bleakly.”

“Tommy? Tommy, is that really you?”

“It’s really me, Jake. How you been holding up?”

“Good, good. You sound like shit.”

“I feel like shit, too. Listen, Greg- I’m in some trouble.”

“You need a place to stay? You got it.”

I grinned. “Nothing like that right now. At least, not for me. No, I need you… I…. need…. you…. to….” Fingers were reaching through the phone at me. The ground was quaking. I needed to beat the collar…

“What is it, Tom? Tom? You there?”

“I… need… check your… handheld. Data- help… HELP HER.” I could feel nausea rising in the back of my throat. “HELP HANNAH SMI-” was all I could say.

Forty-eight hours later:

I’d done all I could for her. I needed a foothold.

To start with, I decided to build a tolerance to hallucinogens. And not a physical tolerance, either- I was going to build a psychic tolerance. My brain was going to be hallucination-proof. Iron-clad. I was not going to lose hold of reality… at least, not of a reality. I just needed consistency.

Fuck, this’d be easier with a Learning Coil. Too bad those are outlawed too. Good going, getting involved with Mindscan tech at all… real good going, Bleakly.

 I kicked the asses of five drug dealers to get-

 Acid, Ketamine, Ecstasy, Rip-Run, Easygo, Peyote, Multiverse, Salvia, Nutmeg, Absinthe, Nitrous Oxide, Synapse-Rape-In-A-Bottle, and mushrooms.

It’d take me a couple weeks to try each one. Then I’d start with combinations. It was a good thing my handheld was indestructible. I went through the drugs and threw away a small fortune in junk, dope, smack, and dogshit. Another addiction was not what I needed.

On the floor beside the mattress I had eight pill bottles.

I shaved, brushed my teeth, and washed my face before returning to the ancient mattress. I tried to find anything good on the holovision, but even with three thousand channels, as the old saying goes… nothing’s on.

I was as ready as I was ever going to be. I opened my mouth and swallowed the contents of the first bottle.

I didn’t know what to think when Tom called me. Luckily, I didn’t need to know much- he sent me a text message with an address and the words “HELP HER.”

There are few people I have met in my fifty-two years who I trust absolutely, but Thomas Bleakly is one of them. So I went.

I knocked and a tear-stained woman opened the door. I smiled warmly at her.

“Hannah Smith, I presume? Thomas sent me. I’m here to help.”

 —

I didn’t wake up. The reason I didn’t wake up is that I wasn’t dreaming to begin with.

So I’m an idiot. I made it worse. I… I guess hallucinations don’t work like I thought they did?

Because the amount of control I have on reality is… excuse me, I’m trying to talk. It’s very rude of you to put your spiky penises near my face when I’m talking.

And hey, look! Neithermen!

 “Hey, guys, I…fu…”ck I forgot. Can’t talk to the Neithermen. Or else the collar passes me out.

 

Oh, man. Stars. I remember you guys. There’s Hector, there’s Steve, and who can forget Bonnie! Hey, where are you guys going? Guys?

Man, just when you get used to stars…

 The T-6 ShockCollar was originally a defensive device. It incorporated Mindscan Technology such that the collar would emit electromagnetic radiation into the skulls of anyone within a fifteen-foot radius whenever certain thoughts were triggered. The collars could be set to mental activation codes, vital signs, or emotional triggers.

When it was discovered that MindScan technology had the potential to destroy human civilization, it was banned by the World Council. As a consequence, very little is known about MindScan technology.

It is a little-known (in fact, almost totally unknown) fact the effects of the collars can be resisted by a strong-willed individual who is subjected to the field effect of the collars repeatedly over time.

It is for this reason that I regained my faculties of hearing at this juncture. And with that I was once again in business. Yesss. Thomas Bleakly, Professional Badass and Private Investi- holy shit, what did he just say?

I had a problem. I could hear the Neithermen speaking with their boss. But I couldn’t move. Hell, I couldn’t open my eyes. I got a foothold on the collar, but it’s still in charge.

I could hear. That was a good thing. Anything to give me an edge, a foothold, a scrap of information to close this case. No, my problem was that the things I was hearing, while enlightening, were very, very, very bad… and the only person who could help me I couldn’t speak to without hallucinating.

Doesn’t matter anyway. I can’t move.

I can’t move, and I’m going to die.

Shit.

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