Sometimes #VSS365 flash fiction prompts are perfect opportunities to share glimpses of my longer works. October’s collection, with its macabre Halloween theme, proved ideally suited to the visceral elements of my cyberpunk novel Binary Chop. Every installment this month is an excerpt from the book, modified for length where necessary.
Prompts are in bold, and each piece is no more than 280 characters. If you enjoy these, follow me on Twitter @jk_ullrich for a daily dose, or check out my last batch of standalone flash fiction from August.
“I didn’t choose to be this way. You did.” Dark crescent lips smile without teeth, a starless night revealing nothing of the landscape beneath. “Yes, we chose to be born in the shadow of a toxic metal mountain.”
I do a salsa step to the elevator music.
“Murder doesn’t usually put you in such a good mood,” says Dietz.
“Leads do.” I pass him the confiscated bionic thumb.
Shrewd eyes flick from the finger to the cut on my face. “How’d you get this?”
“It’s not like any grinder gang scene I ever saw. I covered one last week where some Chips and Betas got into a brawl—blood two stories high in the alleyway, with bits of skin and metal cooked onto the pavement.”
“Did you do this to me?” “If you mean save your life, yes,” says the doctor smugly. “People can live without their arms,” I snap. “But not without vital organs.” Organs. Plural. Horror floods me until I can’t feel my toes. Do I still have toes?
Why is it that when I dream of the ice, I wake up sweating? … Panicked droplets trickle down my skin. I scrub them away with my t-shirt hem, but it doesn’t erase the phantom sensation of saltwater and blood.
I drop the needle. Funky bass explodes off the vinyl, etching the air with rich tones. I’ve heard this song a million times, but never like this. I shut my eyes and let the music replace the rhythm where my heart used to be.
My bionic hand twitches, sensing my desire to squeeze the doctor’s neck. I clutch my bag instead & dash outside. Deep breaths expel months of sterile air. Pollution doesn’t burn my lungs anymore; I can taste the faint perfume of autumn leaves.
There’s nothing remarkable in my reflection. The bionic arm has a funny bend in the joint like my real one; no one would guess the bones are 3D-printed alloy, or the muscles are a matrix of fluid-filled sacs. I look the same, right down to my tattoo.
“The world’s most advanced bioprinter is not a tattoo parlor!”
“You promised me my own skin. The insignia is part of it.”
“Ink makes the graft more fragile.”
“Then give me a Dr’s note, asking criminals to be gentle when I arrest them.”
“Vallée, go home & call your doctor. Or maybe your mechanic.”
He holds out an expectant palm. I could slap it aside & shatter every bone in his hand, but that would only make things worse. I surrender my weapon, another part of me torn away.
“Running alone, in the dark? You gotta quit doing that. It’s not safe. Plus, the air is terrible—run on a treadmill like a normal person.”
“Treadmills don’t go anywhere.”
“They don’t need to. You’re not running from anything…are you?”
“None of these are sophisticated enough to be an Omega product.” I toss down a chunk of metal labeled as a bionic kidney. Luminous patches on the seller’s temples shift from green to sour yellow, telegraphing his annoyance like a cephalopod.
His pained grin cools my vengeance to guilt. I reach for the bruise, but he pulls back. “What now?” he asks softly.
“Meet me at La Cocina, soon as you can.”
“Coffee & collusion?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t miss it.”
Darkness parts around his smile.
A sighed curse crackles down the line. “There’s got to be a rule against this somewhere, it’s—.”
“—Conflict of interest?” The ghost of Daniel’s lips flickers across mine, and I lick away the bitter flavor.
“We need to get her warm.”
Splatter. Steam. Porcelain under my thighs. Gentle fingers rinse dirt from my skin, salt from my hair. Who the hell’s hair is this, anyway? Mine hasn’t been this long since before the military. This must all be a weird dream.
“I thought cops weren’t allowed to get upgrades.”
“Then how come you can have them, and I can’t?”
“Because mine aren’t just for kicks. I got hurt on the job. This gear keeps me alive.”
“So does mine.”
A yell echoes outside. I yank off my helmet and look around for the source. Sunrise turns the ice to molten gold, too bright for human eyes. Squinting, I catch movement in the distance: dark forms crawling up the side of the ship. Horror slaps me like a frigid sneaker wave.
“I’m going to shut down these experiments, even if it costs whatever’s left of me.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of. Another midnight call, telling me you’ve got one foot in the grave.”
“Then hope it’s the fake foot.”
“Hey, no fading.” He presses my hand to the warm air vent. “Come back.”
“You said that before. And when I did come back, you ditched me.” Bitter laughter scrapes my throat. “Do you only like me when I’m broken?”
“I like when you don’t let it stop you.”