Highs and lowsMature

"Up and at 'em, Reilly."  Sharp, unexpected. Uninvited. Gleaming white, razor edged, a surgical incision into my subconscious lets the voice in.

No. It's not happening. I'm not waking up. The nighttime deluge of downers and hallucinogens won't give me up so easily. I don't want it to. Not even for Bright.

"Now." Each word stirs some new feeling, some new vision; psychotropic echos reverberate from every stimuli. Sensory overload. Recoil. Pull the covers up to block the light.

"Bright, no. I don't work nights."

"This is an emergency." Urgency. The flutter of wings. Red-tinged, ominous.

"Then you're shit out of luck," the words tumble off my tongue with unexpected weight. "I'm not fit for anything." It's true. Just forming coherent sentences is taking a superhuman effort. But I'm coming around, reluctantly, slowly.

"I can override your machines and flush out your system."

Flinch. Roll with nausea. React. "Oh God no. Don't do that." The shock of instant sobriety was a horror she'd inflicted on me once before, as a test run. It wasn't anything I was keen on experiencing again. "Give me a minute."

Up. Trembling on the edge of the bed, head a million miles away, the floor the consistency of a sponge under my feet. Fumble for the needle, something to clear my head. I know that's not how it works, really. Really I'm digging the hole deeper, but at least I'll be awake. I tie off my arm and wait for the vein to surface. It bothers me that it's become such a familiar process. I could probably shoot up blindfolded.

Maybe not. I miss the vein but I realize it before I push. Thank god. It's still going to leave a nasty bruise.

Second time's the charm. I hit it and for an instant my heart seizes, slammed from low gear into double-time. I lay back on the bed, rebooting— literally. The 'machines are calibrated to ignore the toxins I willingly dump into my system, but they still try to cope with the negative effects on my body.

I blink. I stretch. I crack my knuckles. The stimulants start to even out the downers. I'm functioning— and the fact that Bright has called me with an emergency sinks in. "Are you all right? What's going on?"

"I'm fine...for now." She's "fine" enough to leave me hanging. It's a relief and a special agony all at once. "I talked to Black. I still need to do some fact finding, but the crazy that contracted him to build those bullets is out for blood."

"Whose?"

"Mine." She's not scared, or if she is there's not a hint of it in her voice. Her tone is more one of annoyance at having to bother with death threats.

"Just tell me what needs to be done." I'm pleased when standing up works all right. I start dressing carelessly-- shirt and pants already worn, fresh socks and...where are my boots? I know, I know. I remind myself that I should not be going anywhere right now. But my nervous system is singing with adrenalin and amphetamines and if I can fix this by cracking some skulls then that's it.

"Hold on. I'm getting a transmission from Tosh."

"No problem." I'm struck by the peculiar silence of being the only one in my head right now, and barely so. Boots found under the table, freshly polished. I've slipped into them and I'm pulling on my jacket when the door buzzer rings.

Maybe I'm just way too messed up right now, maybe the sound of the buzzer turned something over in my head; some derelict memory of a life long passed, when the doorbell might have meant company calling, friends or relatives or a package being delivered. Either way, without thinking I head for the door. It's open before my higher brain functions kick in, screaming, "You idiot. No one ever comes to your door!"— but by then I'm on the ground, dropped like a sack of bricks by a solid crack to the side of the head.

My assailant expects me to either stay down or come up swinging, so I do something in between— quickly rising to a low crouch and and lashing out with a sweeping kick. I catch his legs and he topples. As soon as he hits the ground I'm on him, thankful for the bizarre cocktail of drugs in my system. I don't feel the pain that should be radiating through my head, or in my fists, and I have the energy— the strength— of a wild dog, savage and depraved. I force myself to put it in check. I need find out who sent him. I pin his arms and clench a hand on this throat, demand answers in a voice I don't recognize.

His only response is a choked, "now." I realize too late I've put my trust in the wrong place— the guided-missile single-mindedness of my drug-altered senses blinding me to the obvious.

He isn't alone.

Another vicious blow— the butt of a gun to my temple— and the world flickers out. As unconsciousness closes in I hear Bright, relaying a warning.

"—Tosh says he got sucker-punched by a guy and told to stay out of the lower city. They might have tailed his truck to your place— Reilly? Are you listening? Are you—"

My last transmission to Bright is a muffled curse or an apology.

Either would be fitting.

The End

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