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A Simple Procedure

More micro fiction. Enjoy.

A Simple Procedure
By Dustin Driver
If you distribute, let them know I wrote it.

My buddy tells me about this great deal for a full empathic upgrade. Low-cost, high-quality and no expiration date. So I go to the hacker. His shop is under a dry cleaners, in an alley. The door is unmarked—a simple steel job with a brick of bulletproof glass at eye level. I knock twice, wait, then knock again. The door opens. He's wrapped in a black rubber apron, purple latex gloves stretched over his hands, goggles perched on his forehead. He leans out of the doorway, eyes rolling like greased ball bearings, gliding up and down the alley in search of intruders. "Get in here," he says. "Last time a guy hung around for an invitation some thugs smashed his skull in. Not much I can do for that."

I follow him into a waiting room littered with old porn magazines and travel brochures. The place stinks like stale sweat and burnt coffee. He closes the door and starts flipping the locks. "So you wanna be a hotshot, huh? What'll it be? Superhuman strength? Wanna breathe fire?"

"No, not really."

He charges ahead. "Indestructible, that's it. You've got that look. Been hurt before, yeah. . . Maybe not. Maybe you want to read minds. Is that it?" He adjusts the goggles on his forehead, pulls a cigarette out of an apron pocket and fumbles with a lighter, purple gloves squeaking on its plastic case.

"I'm just here for a basic telekinesis job." Ever since they went to per-unit pay at the factory my check has been shrinking like a dick in ice water. One injection of serum will double, even triple my output. I'll make line supervisor by the end of the quarter.

"That's what they all say. Next week you'll be back for a full empathic upgrade, the whole shebang." He gets the cigarette lit, blows smoke at the ceiling.

I'm a little irritated now. "Just put me down for the basic job. Let's get this over with quick." I reach into my pocket and pull out a wad of bills.

"Hey, sure. You're the boss. You say you wanna do the dishes without touching soap, no big deal. I can do that." He takes the cash and starts counting.

I look around the room. There are autographed pictures on the wall. Theresa Savage, mind-reading journalist, Guy Rupert, laser-eyed dermatologist to the stars. Now, after the crackdown, it's not about using your powers to do good or evil, it's about using your powers to get paid. "That your work?" I ask, pointing to Savage.

"Naw, I just collect autographs." He pockets the money and strides across the room to another door. "C'mon," he says. He flings it open and sails through like a lit firecracker, smoke ribboning off his cigarette into the stale air. I follow.

The lab is dusty, clogged with empty styrofoam containers and soda cans. It smells like a candy factory—burnt sugar, food coloring and spray lubricant swirled in a copper pot. There are no windows. Busted toasters, CD players, microwaves, blow driers, calculators, TVs—you name it—are stacked to the roof on wire racks. An impossible tangle of glass tubes, wires and burners gurgles to itself on a workbench. "Is that where you make it?"

"Some of it, yeah. Most of it I make over there." He points to a pile of equipment on low counter along one wall. Some of it I recognize, a centrifuge, a microscope, a coffee maker. Most of it is foreign, a robot arm equipped with a long needle, an aluminum tube coiled around a glass tank—lots of white plastic and green glowing LCD displays.

"Right this way." He takes me to an old dentist's chair with straps and a perm helmet. It's surrounded by computer monitors and IV stands. He points at the chair. "Sit," he says.

"Hold this." I take my jacket off and hand it to him. He tosses it onto a jumble of gutted household appliances. "Thanks," I say. I slide into the chair and he starts strapping my arms and legs. "You really need to do that?"

"You really need to tell me how to do my job?" He tightens the straps and drops the helmet down over my head. "Relax. It's just a precaution. Hardly anybody seizures after a basic tele shot." He pulls a rolling instrument tray up to the chair, sweeps an empty Chinese food container off of it.

"Good to know." The straps dig into my arms. Warm air leaks out of the perm helmet and into my ears.

He shuffles over to a small fridge and pulls out a vial full of serum. The thick liquid glows orange, sputters and pops as he brings it over to the instrument tray. "That's it," he says. "That's your new life. Permanent, no expiration date. How does it look?"

"Lovely." I twist my arms against the straps and try to move my head. It bumps against the perm helmet. "You charging me extra for the hairdo?"

"Funny. Bite this." He snatches a strip of chewed leather off the tray and shoves it in my mouth. I bite down hard, think about all the extra cash I'm gonna pull down at the factory, all the new tricks I'll use in bed.

The syringe is the size of a shock absorber, needle like an ice pick. It's polished stainless and cleaner than anything in the lab. He pulls it out of a ziploc and loads it with the serum, pours the orange goo into the chamber. I watch him ease the plunger until a drop oozes from the needle. "Ready?" he says. I nod my head, knock it against the perm helmet a few times.

The needle slides through my skin and into a vein without much fuss. I grind the leather strap in my teeth . He pushes the plunger. The goo glows through my skin, lights up the vein like a neon tube. At first I don't feel a thing. Then the pain starts, creeps into my upper arm and chest. It holes up for just a second, gathers strength and explodes.

I'm blind with it, all I see is red. The serum pillages my body, ravaging flesh and cracking bones on its way to my brain. I strain against the straps, scream like a baby. It hits my head like a glacier, freezes everything. Then I'm out.

I wake up in a pool of my own sweat, strapped into the chair. The perm helmet is off. Everything's fuzzy and my head feels like the Hindenburg right before it blew. I glance over at the guy. He's crumpled in a chair, sweat beaded on his brow, eyes like two empty wells. "What's wrong?" I croak.

He stares out across the lab, pulls the goggles off his forehead. He's holding the empty vial in his right hand. "I picked the wrong one," he says.

"What?" The room spins counterclockwise for exactly two seconds. Then I notice the wispy black fur on my arms, the length and curve of my fingers, their yellow nails. My pants, too long and bunched around my ankles. My T-shirt, strained across a barrel chest. "What did you do to me?"

He stands up, lifts his latex-clad hands into the air. "Now, look, it's not that bad. Barely noticeable. . . you can shave the hair. . . nobody will even notice the hands. . ."

"WHAT DID YOU DO?" Rage clears the fog from my head like a stiff wind. The lab becomes startlingly clear. I smell things, the rotting burrito on a plate across the room, the congealed soda in the can on the floor next to me, the guy's bad aftershave, his sugary sweat, the cigarette smoke on his breath, the acrid smell of his fear. I'm still strapped in, even tighter now that my arms and legs have thickened. I strain against the straps. "GET ME OUT OF THIS."

"I can reverse it, calm down. It's no big deal." He backpedals across the room, stumbles over a broken toaster oven. "You'll be back to normal in no time, I swear!"

I pull against the straps. They're strong, but the chair is not. It creaks and groans under the strain. A weld pops somewhere under my right arm and the armrest loosens. I work it back and forth until another weld pops and my arm is free.

"Let's just talk about this. . ." I can hear him rummaging through piles of junk, tossing things on the floor. "We can work something out."

I grab the left armrest with my right hand and pull hard. It pops off in one go, spitting broken bolts and shreds of metal onto the floor. I sit up and undo the straps on my legs. My new fingers are strong, but clumsy. I fumble with the buckles. My heart is pounding now, beating a powerful rhythm against my ribcage. I stagger to my feet, stumble into one of the video monitors. My legs are like tree stumps rooted in clay.

He bursts from behind one of the shelves. He's got a pistol in his hands. "Listen," he says. "I can fix this, I can. . .I don't want to have to use this. . ." He raises the gun, cradles it in his gloved hands like a man holding a bomb.

I steady myself, push off the monitor and settle onto my new legs. I can feel them now, strong and stable under me. I take a step forward.

He pulls the trigger. The gun pops once, then hisses. I cringe, curl up behind my arms and wait for the pain. Nothing happens. The gun failed. I straighten up. He pulls the trigger a few more times. The pistol clicks, but doesn't fire.

I lunge, swat the gun out of his hand. He staggers back into one of the racks. Bits of wire and transistors rain down from the shelves above. I reach out, wrap my fingers around his neck and squeeze. He coughs and sputters, beats his fists against my arms, grabs at the arm rests still strapped to them. Words dribble from his lips. "I . . . I . . . no. . . please . . ."

There is nothing but his face, red, swollen and sputtering. My teeth gnash like a vice, a growl erupts from my throat. Rage flows into my arms like water into a fire hose. I squeeze harder and then he goes limp, hangs there in my paws like a deflated balloon.

Weird Tales!

Very nice. No complaints after your last edit- it's got a great E.C. comix
style to it, but it reads very contemporary. It's a solid short film- you're
ready for the indie feature next.

every wall collapses, given enough time.

Edit

Made a quick edit to the beginning. Still working on it, though. ..

Thinking about that ending. . .

Much better.

It's not that I needed you to tell me that the story isn't set in the real world, it's that telling me captures my interest. The new first line does that just fine.

The ending really only needs another sentence or three. I like the "looking in a mirror" bit; nice and comic booky. Maybe something along the lines of... "I catch a glimpse of my reflection in his goggles. I never wanna see that face again."

--Dan

www.Bayn.org

Excellent!

"I catch a glimpse of my reflection in his goggles. I never wanna see that face again."

That, my friend, is fantastic! Really sends chills down my spine! That's so good that I feel guilty about using it without giving you co-author credit!

I'm still working on that opening sentence. I, like you, think it could be better.

Thanks for your help, I really appreciate it.

Cheers,

Dustin

No problem.

That's what we're here for. And feel free to claim that line as your own. I'm sure you'll give it a good home :)

--Dan

www.Bayn.org

kelson.philo's picture

So much for the FDA...

Well, you might find your ending by doing a bit of world building. 1) You've got a situation where this magnificent serum is heavily regulated, hence the protagonist going to a blackmarket fellah who deals only in cash and 2) the world has to be wicked enough for the blackmarket dude to get the serum in the first place.

So what happens when the protagonist looks in the mirror the first time? If having superpowers is all about getting paid, who in this world can make the most use of this mutant gorilla?

Ooo, I like it. That's a

Ooo, I like it. That's a great thought. . . Way to set me on the right track man. How does my character make the best out of a bad situation? Or is that too much?

My original concept only involved the wrong serum. In fact, the story ended at "I picked the wrong one." I originally felt that the story didn't need to progress any further. But I like little blasts of fiction .

Almost a 5

I would've given this 5 stars, but I think the beginning and the end need more work. "So I go to the guy," doesn't really pull me in. Try to come up with something the foreshadows the end or at least lets us know that this isn't the really real world. Especially in flash fic, a good first line is important.

Similarly, the end is abrupt. It doesn't give me a sense of finality or completion. The story just stops.

The prose and the concept are excellent. I particularly like the character interactions. Good, witty dialogue. It'd be nice to bring a little of that wit back at the end. I figure the protagonist has gone a little nuts; macabre sarcasm would fit right in.

--Dan
www.Bayn.org

*nod*

I agree, the first line needs work. But do you really need to know right away that this isn't the real world? When you read a piece of fiction, do you expect it to be set in the real world? I don't.

I'll try to think about the ending, but I'm terrible with endings. I've gotten a few comments from this one. Some people like the ending, others want more.