Updated: May 24
Dodge set a paper cup under the nozzle and hit ‘brew,’ then turned back to the TV as the video cut to a camp of teenagers directly beside the barriers. Blankets and metal rods had been converted into a makeshift shelter. Instameal containers lay scattered around a scorched circle of glowing ash. Well-used backpacks lie next to the tent. The camera zoomed in for a quick shot of a crudely rendered drawing of the Klaxon Overdrive logo on one of the straps. Positioned as close as they were to the translucent barricades, they must have been locals.
Jolene cozied up to two of the teens, a boy and a girl. The boy had closely cropped hair, lots of piercings and at least as many implants, including two neon blue strips running up from his temples and back over his head like the pulsing lights of a landing strip. The girl had spent less time in the body modification parlor. Her eyes were big and emerald green and looked far too old for her otherwise delicate features. Then she smiled, unveiling the tips of serpentine fangs, which sadly, were far more practical implants for street life than head-mounted neon. After living in the meager shelters provided by the city, camping out on the island would be like a resort vacation. They didn’t look like they were in any hurry to leave.
Jolene fixed her gaze on the camera. “I’m standing with two of the countless mourners who have journeyed to the Needle, a the place that has come to represent the loss of greatness in the world. The loss of creativity. The loss of hope. The loss of renewal.” She flicked a glance over the water. “Out there, in the city, in the world, people like those you see behind me are the faceless masses most try to ignore. They’re castaways, abandoned by society. They bathe in rejection, survive on oppression.” She paused a moment for effect. “And death is their goodnight kiss on the cheek.”
Joshua exhaled in a burst of disgust and looked at Dodge, as if expecting him to mirror his indignation. It was only then that Dodge realized Jolene had been paraphrasing the lyrics to one of Klaxon Overdrive’s songs. Unloved.
“But here, in the shadow of ruin, they are not faceless. Here they are joined in solidarity with those around them. They are all here to pay homage to the memory of Klaxon Overdrive. To embrace their grief. To breathe in a molecule that once comprised his body. To absorb a morsel of the essence that surrounds the area before it can dissipate into the ether.
“Whatever impetuous drove them, it’s clear that they are here to celebrate their individuality, and express themselves, as Klaxon would have wanted them to.” She paused and lowered her head, as if her words were in danger of overwhelming her.
After just the right amount of time she lifted with renewed strength, gazing directly into the camera, and stated, “These people are the future.”
She turned her face the kids, keeping a three-quarter profile to the camera but appearing to give her full attention to the two beside her.
“Tell me,” she took on the tone of a cool aunt. “Why are you here today?”
The boy jumped forward. Judging by the size of his pupils he was probably on something, but Dodge couldn’t be sure. Anime-style dilated pupils may have been the newest trend. So many new ones appeared every day Dodge couldn’t begin to keep up.
“Klaxon was like our God, right. He was like everything we wanted to be. He did what he wanted and said what he wanted and he was always genius.” He spoke with a light and obviously fake British accent. “He was totally flash. And he died the way he lived, right, with everyone watching.”
Jolene set her features to ‘sympathetic understanding’: mouth with a delicate upward curve at the corners, lower lip slightly protruding, eyes rounded in compassion, brow furrowed. “He must have meant a lot to you. As an artist and a role model.”
Joshua shook his head.
She aimed the thin microphone at the girl. “And you?”
The girl held the microphone lightly, sharing it with Jolene, and looked into the camera. “Klaxon Overdrive didn’t make the best music.” At this, Joshua rolled his eyes and clenched his knees tighter. “Or the best movies or art. He wasn’t the best streamer. But Klaxon Overdrive stood something. For every kid who had ever been picked on because they’d rather read Shakespeare than play rugby and date-rape middle-schoolers. For speaking up and saying what you felt, no matter the consequences, or who told you to shut up. He believed in the power of one person to change the world. He believed in himself and his talent and wouldn’t let anyone change who he was. He was never afraid of a challenge, never afraid to embrace his surroundings and grow. And that is why we’re here, because he was showing us the way, and we’ll need each other if we’re going to try and follow the path he blazed for us.” She waved her arm out to the crowd sprawled behind her.
“They don’t have a clue,” Joshua said to no one.
The coffee finished brewing with a hissing-sputter. Dodge picked up the cup of brown liquid, eyes never leaving the screen, barely feeling the biting heat through the lightweight paper.
Jolene reclaimed the microphone and looked again into the camera. Her face shifted to a look of quiet anguish, as though she alone had decided to shoulder the burdens of the world.
“And there you have it. Two people who came to love and admire a man simply for being who he was.” She looked each in the eyes again, as if to communicate that she understood their pain, and thanked them.
Dodge sat back down and balanced the cup on his knee. Tendrils of steam vanished in the humidity of the room. Joshua’s mouth twitched at the corners.
“Now, as promised, we will show you the video we told you about earlier. We bring this exclusive evidence to you as a testimony to a fallen idol—but we must warn you, this video contains brutal violence and a malicious disregard for human life. While we don’t wish to traffic in human misery, we believe that, as with everything he did, Klaxon Overdrive’s final moments on Earth deserve to be made public record.”
Joshua jerked on the bed like a drive skipping over a bad sector.
“Please, parents, if you have small children watching, take the time to properly discuss with them the nature of what they are about to view.”
Dodge leaned forward, mouth open. There was a video? A shocking, brutal video? Len’s dataphage was supposed to have destroyed everything in the Needle security system. What could they have a video of?
“Before we reveal this, be assured the events you are about to witness have not been doctored in any way, except to be edited together from multiple security feeds. Unable—unwilling—to believe it ourselves, especially in light of the recent deep fakes we have fallen victim to, our technicians carefully scrutinized the data and certified it as able to pass the qualifications for Electronically Captured Testimony as Unaltered. This is real. As much as we wish it weren’t so, it is dreadfully, appallingly real.”
A video image, taken from somewhere just above the elevator doors in the Needle’s penthouse, replaced the split-screen. The image darkened as the elevator doors slid open and revealed a huge figure, his bulk nearly filling the screen. The man wore an exquisitely tailored charcoal-gray cashmere suit, a jet-black shirt with reverend collar and an oversized white tie. Slender sunglasses obscured his face.
“Montrose Douglas Dodgson enters the penthouse,” Jolene’s voice narrated. Dodge blanched at the sound of his name, unable to reconcile the image of the man with the person he was. “At this point in the attack, Dodgson has already cut down dozens of security personnel, Entropy employees and guard drones on the Needle’s exterior grounds and into the lobby.”
The video Dodgson stopped, set his broad shoulders, scanned the hallway and exited, screen left.
“Cashmere on a killer,” Joshua said, his voice suddenly lucid. “And cut in next season’s style. You can tell by the flaring on the cuffs.”
Dodge didn’t reply. He hadn’t registered a word. The guy on the screen had his face. The one he had been born with. The flat cheeks. The wide nose. It was him. Somehow it was him. Whether it was digital or just a really good mask, it was his face—but it wasn’t his body. The man on the screen bulged with obviously artificial muscles and who knew what other combat mods. It was like gazing into an alternate reality, one in which he had become a killer instead of a victim.
He waited, but the rush of panic didn’t materialize. Seeing his face on the amped-up body of an assassin eclipsed the power of his everyday anxiety so completely that it became meaningless. If this could happen, anything could. Things he couldn’t even begin to conceive of. Was an ant concerned when it looked up at a descending boot?
On the screen a bodyguard stood across from the door to Klaxon’s penthouse; the same man Dodge had first stumbled over during the blackout at the Needle, but he had seemed quite different lying on the penthouse’s entranceway floor with his face the wrong way around.
There was barely time for the bodyguard to look surprised before Dodgson had streaked from behind the curved wall and snapped his neck. Dodgson walked out the bottom of the screen before the man hit the floor.
The camera cut to the penthouse. A man in an antiquated brown suit and curdled cream-colored tie guarded the door. He scratched his nose and his jacket parted, exposing a semi-automatic weapon. Scattered around the room, reclining on succulent furniture—all from the Entropy Home Cocoon line—sat the assorted human cogs in the Klaxon Overdrive machine, planning the next media-friendly event in Klaxon’s life while drinking glowing Entropy alcopops. Klaxon Overdrive’s song Inhuman Symphony played somewhere, its industrial clanking drowning out any sounds of conversation.
Dodge knew what was about to happen. He had already seen the ending.
The penthouse door slid open and the guard looked to his left. When no one appeared, his face scrunched up in confusion. Another second passed before he brushed his hand into his jacket, just as Mr. Dodgson swept into the room, a gun in each hand. The video paused.
“The guns used here are covert military issue,” Jolene informed the viewers. “Railguns. They are used in operations where stealth is a primary concern. The weapon fires nearly silent projectiles. A longer-range rifle version was used in the attempt on the President last year … We all remember what happened to the Secretary of State.”
Still perched on his knee, Dodge’s untouched coffee had grown lukewarm. Joshua rocked on the bed.
The video resumed and the guard’s chest exploded out his back. Another man screamed and the spinning intruder shot him next, reducing his torso to bloody shreds.
The perspective shifted and they were looking down on Dodgson’s broad back, third-person style, as panic erupted around him. Some attempted to flee further into the penthouse. Dodgson shot them easily, punching craters into their retreating bodies. None of the security managed to reach him or even draw their weapons. A few seconds of elegant violence later and the room was silent.
Dodge turned his head to look at Joshua.
The megastar shifted his glance from the television. “Blair said they would do something like this. But she said it didn’t have to be me. She said I could be done with it,” Joshua said.
“You’re saying Blair did this?”
Joshua sighed. “This is Entropy. This is entertainment. No one was really killed, those were actors with special effects or digital puppets or something. We don’t kill real people in show business. You’re as bad as the idiots in congress.”
Dodge shook his head. “When I walked into the Needle, those people—people—were still there, and they were very much dead. It wasn’t make-up. It wasn’t computers. I saw it with my own eyes. Hell, I saw you. Dead with your chest blasted all over your Italian sheets. Explain that.”
Joshua’s eyes zoomed past Dodge to the doorway. Dodge turned his head to see Blair standing there, arms crossed. Dodge hadn’t even heard her come in.