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Aberrant RPG - How I Learned to Start Worrying and Grow a Conscience


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<h1 align="center">How I Learned to Start Worrying and Grow a Conscience</h1>

<h2><a href="mailto:bowell@rci.rutgers.edu">Written by Rob Bowell</a></h2>

It was all, ya know, easy, before. They give you this big fucking gift, a steady check, and most important, a north for your compass to point to. They tell you, "Don't ask so many questions . . . we're good, they're bad," blah, blah, blah. Then a big, steaming pile of psychic crap like this gets dumped on your dinner plate, and the whole buffet is a lot less palatable.

There was a target I needed to acquire. I was given a contact who would lead me to the target's nearest location. They had no image of the target, and for some perverse reason -I was beginning to get used to their perversities- they didn't want to tell me what the target looked like. They-why am I saying 'they', it's he, Ruben Bird, my handler-he said, "You'll know it when you see it." What I did know was that it was a nova, and I was going to be able to open up on it full-blast to take it down. There was nothing I could do to kill it. It was apparently unkillable. One of those you've-gotta-atomize-me-if-you-think-I'm-gonna-stay-down-and-even-then-you're-taking-a-risk types. It was also apparently a big germ farm, which is why I thought Bird and his Faceless Government Overseers wanted to lock it down.

I was mulling all this over while showering before the mission-what can I say, I like to be clean when I'm doing the dirty-and Manny the Armani, my eufiber colony, was curled up in a snug little ball that would roll to whatever least-obtrusive part of my body the water stream wasn't hitting. I cut off the stream with a short punch of the faucet, and Manny helpfully turned himself into a big, fluffy black towel and began to scrub me.As I headed for the door, strapping on my holsters and guns and slinging the special-goodies-for-the-mission satchel over my shoulder, he formed himself into his default state: Armani suit jacket and slacks, no shirt, no shoes. The shirtless bit was an affectation (but shit, at least I wasn't wearing a fucking mask, okay?), but no shoes helps me keep in touch with things. Get it? In touch? Hah! Because, ya see, if anything came between me and the surface, I wouldn't be able to walk along the wall or the ceiling, and I was going to need to do that tonight. Besides, it's just kinda fun to hang out on a wall. Call me a contrarian. I'm sure it's in my file already.

So anyway, I walk out the window, then jog along my apartment's alley-facing wall-yeah, I'm not big enough in whatever alphabet organization I'm indentured to to get a view-up to the ceiling. From there, I'll be able to see the lay of the land more or less. I've got to get to Nagai-this 'hot' club-in Midtown west. That's where my tracer-target, Eddie Tarantella, was going to be tonight. Plugging my finger in my mouth, I wet it, raise it, and feel the wind. Yeah, I'm an affectation-laden ham even when no-one's looking. Manny reminds me that I'm a schmuck, forming himself into a tee shirt with "I'm with Stupid" on it, and the arrow pointing at my face. I smirk. "Cute, you bastard. Alright, I'll get on with it."

The shirt dissolves, and I amp some juice into my legs and see the air ripple like it does over asphalt on a hot day, and kick off the ground. My jacket flutters in the air behind me. Manhattan rolls by beneath me, and I can tell I aimed my leap pretty well. I start to land, and the mental map I have of the area tells me I'm going to hit only one building short. Unfortunately, I'm going to hit that building's wall, not its roof.

I tuck my chin against my chest and do a slow roll in midair, then jackknife my body straight. I'm headed feet-first for the side of the building. Fortunately, I'm fucking good. My body absorbs the shock of the landing enough that the wall I'm landing on only buckles slightly against my feet, and springs back-thank god skyscrapers are built to sway a little. I barely get the chance to orient to my new position when I kick back off, at an upward angle to the larger building across the street. I curl, roll, and kick off of that building, and back across to my initial target, landing neatly on the roof. Instead of letting my muscles absorb the impact of this landing, I bleed the kinetic energy off in an elaborate series of rolls and flips-because it's more fun that way. A short hop brought me onto the roof of the building whose bottom few floors contained Nagai.

I strolled down the alley-side wall of the building, and pulled a data pad from the satchel. A little fiddling with the stylus, and I got a schematic of the building. The floor above Nagai had a Power, Inc.! gym in it. Trust bodybuilders to have shitty security (to be fair, it's not like they were storing Jesus' First 'Roid Shot in the place). After tucking away the pad, I walk to a bit of the wall that didn't have windows on it, and send some juice into my hands. They start to vibrate furiously and let off a dull whine. I squat on the wall, and make knife-hands, then plunge each chainsaw-hand beside each of my feet. Tensing for a moment, I spin hard, cutting what will be a circle of the wall away. I simultaneously kick off the wall, so I'm doing a hand stand-with my hands inside the wall. My kick also had a bit of torque to it, so my body spins sideways like a break-dancer, or a human corkscrew. The motion gives me the momentum I need to finish cutting a Dean-sized circle out of the wall. I kill the throttle to my knife-hands and fold my body in half, then kick through the barely-attached circle. I pull my body through the hole-just wide enough-and plant myself on the wall above the hole, quickly scanning the surroundings.

I'm in the locker. According to my intelligence, there're window alarms, a motion detector in the lobby and one in the office, and a camera pointed at the front desk. I don't need to get to the office, but the utility closet whose floor I have to bore through is across the lobby. Not a big deal, though, for me. The motion detector is aimed at people walking on the floor. I scuttle along the ceiling of the locker room I broke into, out over the weight room, and into the lobby. The red eye of the motion sensor is dull, the green shining proudly and stupidly. I eye the vector and sweep the area the sensor could take in, and am relieved. Intel was right again, there's an unprotected pocket before the closet. It's going to be a tight squeeze, though. I press my belly against the ceiling and crawl along carefully, turn, and begin to ooze down the wall, over the closet door. I waste a little more juice on buzzing a finger, and cut the handle out of the door. Slipping through, and cutting through the floor, I am rewarded for my efforts by seeing the drop-ceiling of the club's men's room beneath the circle of floor I cut through.

I listened for a few moments. This is the tough part. If anyone's in the bathroom, they can't help but to have heard me cutting through the ceiling/floor. I wait for a sound of any kind for about thirty seconds, and breathe a premature sigh of relief when I hear nothing. As I'm about to lift the drop-ceiling panel above the stall I'm going to drop into, I hear the men's room door bang open. I reach for the cool grip of each of the silenced heavy pistols under my jacket. But I haven't been found out.

The stall-my stall-door bangs open and there's a hurried zip, and then a long, satisfied groan. My dinner rises in the back of my throat as the guy below me grunts long and satisfied, and simultaneously, I'm treated to the symphony of an angry-sounding fart, and the rushing sound of liquid shit rocketing into porcelain and water. Why the fuck do I have to have such an explicit imagination? Right on time, the nauseating funk from the guy's product rises up through the ceiling and I have to fight harder to keep down the Spaghetti-Os and Mountain Dew. The constipation effect of whatever this schmuck was on must've just worn off. I want to kill him on basic principle. Unfortunately I'm not that kind of asshole. Even though I probably wouldn't get spanked very bad for it.

The streaming and groaning stop after a while, and the rattling sounds tell me that like most diarrhea, this is apparently a real cleanup job. Just as I was reconsidering the moral implications of a Nietzschian Ubermensch blowing a guy away for making him puke up his shitty dinner, he was done. The fucker rushes back out to the club right away. Not only doesn't he flush, he doesn't wash his fucking hands. Asshole!

Fighting the rising urge, I pull the panel aside, do a handstand, launch myself slightly into the air, curl my body and twist it, and drop through the hole with my right big-toe leading the way (the other foot pressed against the inside of my thigh). It lands on the shitter's flusher and the Porcelain God sucks the muck down through its gullet. My other foot kicks out, lands on the toilet's tank, and launches me back into the air. I curl into a tight roll, tip up the panel which was resting atop its fellows, and land on the cool tile floor, staring up and watching with satisfaction as the drop-ceiling panel plunks right into place.

I can feel Manny forming a shirt, but I look down from my shit-eating grin (pardon the pun, please) up at the panel to check out my chest, because this is tight like a tee-shirt, not loose like the black silk shirt and tie he's supposed to become for me to better fit in among these dotcom, Ranger Rover, Hamptons summerhome, illegal-Jamaican-nanny-having fucks. In brittle Courier newsprint, the tee blandly proclaims:



"You're one hilarious motherfucker, man. C'mon."

I smirk ruefully, and Manny reforms into the required garments. In addition to the shirt and tie, he grows black leather shoes around the tops of my feet, but leaves the bottoms bare so I can act in an emergency. And then I'm out into the crowd.

The toilets are in a short corridor off of a balcony that surrounds the main dance floor. Something with the sheen of danger, but which is ultimately bland, safe, and-most important-danceable, is playing and pretty people dance to it. The balcony has a secondary bar and the tables and booths for those who're resting their feet, or who never intended to dance in the first place. Stock brokers and wannabe supermodels mingle and bullshit, and I get the appropriate kind of idiot grin on my face. The strap of the satchel has been zipped away inside, so it looks more like a briefcase. I seem to fit in, here. It makes me fucking ill.

I head toward the bar, scanning past the yammering extras and looking for someone garishly glitzy enough to be Tarantella. I order a shot of sake from the bartender, who would be a cute, doable chick, if she hadn't scarified her face. I tip the little saucer of warmth into my mouth, and I catch Tarantella. He's definitely out of place here, but his money, influence and/or connections get him entrée. Doesn't mean the locals have to like it, though. He's a chubby, tanned guy in his mid thirties, laden with QVC gold and cubic zirconium. He's got a passel of what are clearly strippers doting on him. He's buying them drinks, and I think he's probably fingering one under the table, the way he's locked eyes with her.

Whatever. I hang back and sip a few more sakes, make pleasant chatter with a woman or two. But my eye is clearly not on them, and Daddy didn't pay for their nose and tit jobs for them to be so blatantly ignored, so I wind up alone. But not suspiciously so. Eventually Tarantella's main squeeze slips under the table, to the raucous laughs of her compatriots, which confirms my earlier suspicions. Eddie's little Sodom & Gomorrah continues until about 4 am. I'm pretty tired of it already, and the crowd is thinning out enough that I'm starting to worry I might stick out.

Thankfully, Eddie gets tired of the game, too. There're only two strippers left-one the helpful blonde from before-and they accompany him down, and out, and to the valet. I follow at an acceptable distance, and wait anxiously by the garage entrance after Tarantella's retinue heads into the big mouth. Moments later, I'm unprepared when an old-but-well-maintained-and-flashy-looking black Camaro rockets from the entrance, throwing sparks from its undercarriage as it leaps into the road, and squeals a hard right. A few cabs squeak to a halt with a protestation of angry horns, but are quickly on their way again. I'd almost think he knew I was following him, the way he took off, but for two things. One, he was whooping it up with his girls, totally carefree. Two, I'm too fucking good for a baseline-especially an empty-headed and loaded fuck like Eddie-to catch on to me.

I've got to catch up to him, and a leap wouldn't be precise enough, and might be too obvious. The only person on the street is the valet, so fuck it, I say. Manny melts the shirt and shoes, and I run out into the street, behind a city bus that just passed. I'm pacing with it for a moment, then jump and cling to its rear, right over Kathy Lee's face-the shriveled prune is starting another nauseating fucking Jesus show on Broadway; isn't it time for her to kick it, yet? I crawl along the driver's side, and see Eddie's Guidomobile stopped at a light in the lane in front of my bus. Perfect. I crawl forward, and plant myself on grill of the bus.

Maybe the driver knows the timing of the lights, or maybe he's a psycho, but he doesn't slow down for the light. At just the right moment, though, it does change and Tarantella rockets forward. The bus keeps pace, and soon they're doing about forty down the avenue. We get as close as we're going to, and I launch myself forward. I roll as I leap, and close the distance. My fingers touch the bumper and cling just like they would to a wall. I chuckle to myself as I hear the bus squeal on the breaks-guess the driver wasn't so cool and calm after all-but it's cut short as my body slams down onto the asphalt.

Something like this would normally be a stone groove. My new body is pretty hard, and most things seem to just slip away from me-not really a force field, it's just like . . . I'm slippery. Things that could hurt me tend to just want to slide past me. But Eddie's kicking it up to about eighty by now, and I didn't really hit well, so the first layer or so of skin along my belly gets spread on the pavement before Manny buttons up the jacket. The air ripples below me, and my owie is quickly whole again. I press my palms flat against the bumper, and my gravity reorients. I'm doing a handstand on the back of a car, not being dragged along behind it. I fold my legs down under the carriage, and now I'm crouching on the bottom of the car with the pavement whizzing by above me. The fury of the car's motion blows hot, noxious breath in my face, and I hope that Tarantella doesn't decide to make any more sparks.

Apparently, he decided to save the sparks for the bedroom-wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more. He pulls into another garage, this time more slowly thank god, and exits with the giggling duo, promising them all kinds of exotic drugs and orgasms galore. Something tells me with the kind of flub he's packing and the kind of shit he's dosing, he's good for maybe one spurt, then he's in slumberland. What a nauseating fucking image. Hopefully for the girls' sake, they're as into one another as they're pretending to be.

Once it's quiet again, I drop to the ground, roll away, and jog out to the garage's entrance. Fortunately, it's unmanned. And yeah, there's a security camera, but this is the kind they scan afterwards to find out who keyed your BMW or ran off with your Lexus, not the kind that Old Joe is scanning over his cup of coffee in the lobby.

It's time for action. This building takes up the block, basically, so there's no alley to take. However, it's 4 am, I'm in black, and I already told you, I'm fucking good. I walk to one of the corners of the building, and take out my pad. It links up to the OpNet, I contact my handlers' hub, and get their database's schematics on the building. There's a long central staircase which is a likely candidate for my entrance, and according to data that's suddenly coming in on the pad, there's only one room that could contain the target. It's down pretty low, beneath even the garage, but that staircase leads to it.

I pull a light submachine gun from each of the holsters beneath my jacket and start running up the corner of the building at full tilt. All that time in the club let me get the juice back I wasted getting there, and getting in, so I was pretty well full. Good. I was gonna need it. It took a few minutes to run to the top of the building, but when I got near the roof, I did a pretty little backflip, scissored my feet forward, and landed showily on the edge.

"Why can't I have a fucking audience for cool shit like-" the words died on my lips. "Very fucking funny, god," I told the sky, then looked back down at the appropriately-awed group of assholes who had been there, waiting for me. A few were facing the wrong way, and were being tapped on the shoulder and directed to me. Great. Fucking great. How does shit like this happen? I hadn't even juiced myself near the building.

"Alright, guys. I'm sure some of you have children, wives, mistresses, that kind of shit." This was pretty cool, actually. If they were shocked by my entrance, the fact that I was having a chat with them blew their collective socks off. "I think that's cool. I'm all for family values, free love, etc. But if you don't back your asses off, I'm going to have to start doing some damage, and, like, I can't let my respect for you as family guys-captial 'f' or lower case, you decide-get in the way of what I gotta do. So step off, okay? K."

I was loving this. For a minute, anyway. I really didn't want to have to mow them down, no matter how pretty it would look. The fun ended. One of the more tastefully-dressed among them, spluttered out, "F-fucking get him!" It sounded like a whine. Oh, well.

The air around me rippled and rolled. My feet started to give off that chainsaw buzz and time seemed to go down a notch as the quantum juice goosed my brain up a few steps. Before most had raised their guns, I was swirl-kicking in among them like a ballet dancer with big fucking knives on his feet. One guy was cut in half. When they had finally pointed at me, I had emptied a clip from each SMG into the crowd to my left and right, at the guys too far for me to reach with my body. I was in the thick of them now, and they started firing. Not what you'd call well-trained, either. To my right and left flanks, the bullets that were well-aimed enough that they might have hit me, slid around my body and shattered the opposite side-along with a hail of less-well aimed bullets.

Men were screaming and crying all around me, and I did feel a pang of guilt. But these were the fucking bad guys, right? Right. I did another backflip, bringing a foot down through the middle of one guy in front of me, then slammed a clip home into one gun. Slinging the other gun over my shoulder, I put a fist through the head of another guy. "C'mon guys, don't make me do this," I chided, and hated myself just a little.

They still hadn't hit me, but they were too shocked not to keep going. Inertia's a bitch. Realizing the crossfire they'd set up despite their shock, my flanks cut forward. The men in front of me rained bullets into me, most of which slipped around my body. One slug caught my flank and ripped straight through, though. Lucky bastard. I shook it off, pushed the pain down, like a good little Ubermensch in Control of His Own Destiny and Corporeal Form. I reloaded my other gun, pointed them both ahead, toward the door to the steps, and chewed up the intervening meat with the bullets. Leaping through the red hole I'd created, I pivoted on the other side of it, rolled in midair from the forward-leaning attack to a flying kick, which shot me through the door to the other side.

My feet were slippery with blood, but I was never one to pass up a challenge. I jumped onto the handrail and began to run down it, descending the squared-spiral rapidly. I amped energy into my side and the hole there closed up with stubborn slowness-I was at about half a tank. Not fun, because I still had the target to acquire. Reloading as I ran I realized these were my last clips; I would have to use short bursts from now on or switch to the pistols. I grew impatient with the slow progress, once I'd reloaded, and since I knew that floor 32 was not very close to where I had to start paying attention to the level numbers, I decided I'd take the express route. I began jumping downward, from rail to rail, across the central shaft of the stairwell. Each jump was a roll in the air, my body pointing at an alternating 45 degree angle down toward the basement.

Leaping from handrail to handrail, I was making better time, until I found myself passing the lobby level. I started jogging down the rails again, knowing I was going to meet more resistance, here. As I entered the garage levels, I was proved right. At first, men were banging through the doors, and my gun would chatter off a short burst, launching them back into the floor they came from. As I got further down, though, they were already waiting for me, which meant burning a lot more ammo, and killing a lot more guys. Bad guys.

I found my floor-the last one of course-and took out the meager opposition there. I think they were running out. It was a big steel door, but one of the people I'd taken out was apparently a tech who was going to retrieve the target and get him away from the laughing maniac running down their steps. I ripped his access card from around his neck, slashed it through the sensor, and stepped through.

"Christ on crutches," I whined. This was some sick shit. A vaguely humanoid mound of white, squirming maggots was bending over the top of a steel table. Its torso had lost cohesion, and the maggots were squirming all over the tabletop. It was in the process of standing and reforming itself, though, in reaction to the door opening.. I saw a side of beef being subsumed into its mass, and the vagueness of its shape was slowly resolved. It was larger than the average man, with hollows where the eyes and mouth might be.

I'm good, but this was sick. I took a step backward and muttered shakily, "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt your meal, fella." The thing let out a piteous moan that made my bowels watery. "Fuck this." And fuck ammo conservation.

I turned my back on it, and ran up the wall. It was a large room-sort of like a doctor's exam room but covered in pristine stainless steel everywhere. I opened up the rest of the clip, about half left in each gun, into The Incredible Maggot-Boy as I scaled the wall, and ran my way across the ceiling. They were dead-on shots, and the bullets hammered into its body, flaying away blankets of maggots from the chest and arms. I got to see the return of the side of beef, as well as a less-well-preserved turkey that made up the support for its abdomen and a couple of greenish hams that made up its shoulders.

The moaning continued, intensified, but the bullets didn't seem to slow the thing down or give it pause. Made sense, it was supposed to be unkillable. I dropped the SMGs to the floor above me and withdrew my pistols. I started firing everything I had at it, the silenced weapons making soft 'ffpt' sounds at first, but as the interior housing of the baffles was eaten away by the shrapnel and passage of the bullets, the sounds began to approximate the normal thunder of guns. Not that silence was exactly a requirement, here. And not that my efforts did anything visibly. The thing pointed its arms at me, and reached. Maggots shot at me in a stream continuous with the body, and damned if they didn't tag me, and work their way through my slip-field. They not only dragged me off the ceiling, but they begin to burrow into my skin, fill my mouth and nostrils. The stench of rotting meat I hadn't noticed before now became my world, and I began to panic and feel queasy all at once.

I was dragged down into its mass, and I suddenly realized that, to this thing, I was just more meat. Meat that was tough, that struggled, but meat nonetheless. With this realization came a new queasiness. This wasn't just fear, this was . . . illness. I hadn't felt ill since I opted in for this whole thing, but I kept the ghost of its memory close to me, and this was very like getting a nice, hefty shot of chemotherapy. If I didn't do something, this would be it. Time to use the rest of what was in that satchel.

I fumbled to my side through the shifting, invading environment I was trapped in. I couldn't breathe. I felt a few working at the pink triangles in the corners of my eyes, trying to feast on the thick jelly inside. I got into the bag, and pulled out of it the ludicrously large-barreled pistol that Terence Eugene, the guy who gifted me with all of this, had made. It was a one-shot device that wasn't fully developed enough to survive its own use. Ruben was loathe to part with it, since with Eugene dead thanks to my difficult rebirth, they wouldn't be able to replicate it, but he'd said that this target was worth it. I wasn't sure what it was supposed to do, but if they thought this was a last-stop, guaranteed-to-work elephant gun, it was all I had.

I shoved the muzzle of the gun against the side of beef that made up the torso as one of the maggots managed to work its way beneath my right eyelid, and squeezed the trigger.

The effects were numerous, and instant. First, the gun exploded and shoved me back against the far wall with a big, sweaty palm. I immediately burnt most of the rest of my juice in purging my body of the bugs, and the sickness they brought. Just in time, too, because I felt a backlash, an iota, of what The Incredible Maggot-Boy was getting a dose of. The gun had somehow filled . . . space, reality? . . . I'm not sure how to quantify it . . . with some kind of intrusive nothingness that pushed aside all the juice in the room. I lost my link to it just after getting the chance to heal myself somewhat, but TIMB didn't get that chance. His component bugs shuddered in a rippling wave and burrowed into the meat at the center of his chest. Those who didn't get into that 'protection' in time fell inert to the ground, as did the various rotting bits of meat and bone that had made up the creature's skeleton.

The lingering effects of the gun were still there. I wouldn't be able to touch the rest of the quantum energy I had left to me without it slipping through my fingers like mercury. Fortunately, I could run without touching it. I picked up my satchel and took out the last of Eugene's inventions that I brought along on the job. It looked sort of like an old-fashioned tube you would put your check and license into and then shove it into the pneumatic tubing system at the drive through of a bank. Only it was entirely made of metal and had naked circuitry and blinking lights on it. All I had to do was point and open, though. So I did.

Again, instantaneous effect. Terence Eugene was never much one for a casual, measured pace. Everything not nailed down and not right behind the nozzle was sucked into it. If it was too wide for the hole, it would reform and squeeze down, like water being sucked down the drain. The door slammed shut as the suction of air molecules continued, and I began to feel lightheaded. Everything was gone, including my SMGs. I slapped the tube closed, and slumped.

There were still lingering wounds and sickness from the maggots. There was still the loss of connection to my juice.. There was also still a building full of people whose coworkers I had just blown away. I got up off my ass and ran for dear life. There was a bit of nuisance resistance, but nothing to speak of. Once out on the street, what little juice I had left back in my grasp, I leapt for dear life.

So I deliver the goods, get my pat on the back, get some time to heal back up . . . all's well, right? What's all this doom and gloom foreshadowing bullshit about who's the good guys and who's the bad?

You seen the papers lately? I usually get them edited, "for my interest," but more so that I don't ask uncomfortable questions. Anyway, I got my connections, and once in a while I pick up a clean paper to see what I'm missing. January 6, 2008. New York Times' International section, third page, under the fold. The headline, "DANGEROUS NOVA ROGUE, 'THE SQUIRM' SLAYS COLUMBIAN VILLAGE, RENDERS FARMLAND BARREN".. No more opium poppies in that field.

So you tell me, who's the bad guy?

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