The City

by Bernard Hall




            The city was a dark place--and cold…very cold.  That was the one thing I remember best--how chilly the air always was.  I would have thought that over 2,000 years of technology would have solved that problem.  On the contrary, it just made it worse.  People kept to themselves for the most part, no one had anyone very close to them; at least, not on a large scale.  Yes, for some, there was that one or two persons of particular significance, but it was usually limited to that.  It was not surprising, then, that this place had been so frigid.  In the absence of love, warmth, affection, things did grow very cold indeed.


            Everything around us was mechanized, robots and cyborg numbered almost as many as human beings did.  However, the people were not far from being machines as well, in a manner of speaking.  I myself had actually been, literally, a partially synthetic structure, at one point in time.  But that was a period I would rather forget.  I was not proud of everything I did--but when I began down that road, how was I to know where it would lead?  I did know now, and I wanted no part of it, not any more.

            I realized, however, a great river carried us all along; any real sense of control over our own destinies was merely an illusion.  We all struggled, did what we could, but, in the end, the current was greater than the efforts of any hapless person.  Nobody really had control of their own destiny.  Deep down inside, I was sure I wished for better, but rationally, I knew it was not possible.

            I was no different from everyone else.  I, too, kept to myself, stayed relatively anonymous, minded my own business.  In reality, that was the best way to survive.  People did not take kindly to strangers--and most everyone was--meddling in their affairs. 

            Perhaps one way of dealing with this inherent emptiness was a method I learned from a block of ice.  I was of the opinion I was not the only one who practiced this.  I had noticed, in observing a frozen slab of water, that although it was indeed very cold, yet when one placed their hand on it, after a time, when the nerves overcame the initial shock, the bitter bite was lost, and gave way to a sensation of warmth.

            Granted it was delusional, the effect was only due to numbness, and, yes, probably, frostbite would eventually ensue--but did it matter?  The trick was existence, in the most comfort that was possible. 

            I would spend my days wandering about the urban center in which I lived, busy with the tasks of the few small, insignificant jobs that I carried, more for the purpose of keeping occupied, than for the money.  I did not really need to labor over sustenance, as I was retired--yes, in my mid-thirties, retired.  My evenings, then, were free, and I would indulge them in different pleasures or activities, the taverns being just one.  Typically, they were quiet places, a refuge for me to be alone (mentally), to mesmerize in my own thoughts.  Apart from a drunk falling out of his chair, not much went on there.

            It was just one such twilight that I retired to one of these houses, an ordinary day, for all intents and purposes.  The rain poured, the thunder cracked and rumbled, and I made my way through the street.  There were a few bystanders about, some stationary, others running to and fro, attempting to escape the weather.  What was the point, I wondered?  I moved along at a casual pace, unperturbed by the pelting water on my shoulders and head.  So I was wet--what was the big deal?  My feet splashed on the flooded crystal-metallic sidewalks as I passed the various advertisements on the storefronts, some three dimensional (the better funded ones), others traditional flat, still others, fully interactive.  It was a familiar sight.  So much was I used to it by now, that I instinctively tuned it out, almost as if it were not there at all. 

            A lady and a man, I assumed husband and wife, shot past me toward their vehicle with a coat held over their heads in an attempt to shield them from the elements.  They shouted back at forth to each other, something about the husband coordinating holding the cover, whilst the wife reached in her purse for the unlock sequencer to their craft.  It was a common scene.  I had observed the like many a time before.  I gave it a passing glance, then turned away.  I came across a man sitting on a sheltered bench watching a holographic news report.  He was there one moment, the next he was gone, as I passed him by unconcernedly.

            At long last, I arrived at my favorite bar.  I offered my patronage to this establishment quite often. 

            Honestly, it did feel good to get out of the rain.  I removed my raincoat and hat, hung them on the rack at the entrance, and proceeded to seat myself.  I took a deep breath, releasing it slowly, as the waiter, a cyborg, approached my table.  “The usual?” he asked in a familiar tone.  “Yes,” I replied simply.

            As I waited, I sat back in my chair and began to muse.  My eyes wandered slowly around the room, passing over the other tables, some filled, but mostly empty.  Over at the bar was a pair that were obviously close friends.  They were two men, for the most part, completely unassuming.  The one on the left wore a white, long-sleeved dress shirt with a red vest.  His blue eyes were strong, but bore something in them that told a story of much pain.  His friend was a little darker, or, at least, I thought he came off that way.  He was lean, robust, with a much heavier frame and build than the other.  This man was dressed completely in black, his outer layer a sharp, eye-catching mantle coat, a costly vestment that was the merger of a traditional suit-jacket and a cape.  Typically, this garment was something the rich and elite were stereotyped with, but the reality was, everyone wore them.  The man patted his friend sympathetically on the back.

            I turned my attention elsewhere.  Over at a table in a far corner, a couple were kissing rather passionately, and, from the looks of it, were quite prepared to go much further with it.  They went about their business with complete disregard of anyone around. 

            Rolling my eyes and sighing annoyedly, I continued to scan the room.  The soft background music was soothing.  The particular song they were playing was one I liked.  An air freshening beam in the center of the room danced around playfully and caused the atmosphere to bear a sweet fragrance, like fruit.  That was pleasant, and I took a deep whiff of it, savoring every moment.  I closed my eyes and leaned back with my head.  

            Just then, a clink on the luminous, transparent surface before me told me that my drink was ready.  I thanked my waiter, and took a first sip, as he bowed and walked away. 

            For his patrons’ entertainment, the owner had shortly afterward activated the plasma show, and all present were then treated to a display of multiple dancing balls of commercial sub atomically-excited plasma.  The blobs floated randomly about the premise, playing games with each other, flashing all different colors, and creating all sorts of silly sound effects.  It was more irritating to me than anything, but the rest of the occupants (especially those who had had more to drink), seemed to enjoy it quite well.  So I tolerated the show.

            I continued to down my liquor and to observe around the place unconsciously.  The two at the bar had turned to watch the display.  The pair in the corner had disappeared underneath the table, and I did not look very hard to find out where they had gone.  An inebriated man stumbled across the fluffy floor in a vain attempt to catch one of the spheres.  Had I the heart to laugh, I would have found that hilarious. 

            Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the man in black had a hand on his friend’s shoulder.  I turned my attention to the left where I saw all the employees, humans and synthetics alike, had likewise taken an interest in the display, pausing in what they had been doing to watch it.

            A loud “crack” and bluish white flash of light several feet in front of me suddenly sent all the place into a panic.  Some dove for cover, others bolted for the nearest door, running for their lives. 

            Calmly, I took another swig of my drink as the bar around me became a chaos.  I took a deep breath.  I closed my eyes thoughtfully, and, slowly, released it, rapping my fingers softly on the table in front of me.  Unconsciously, I began casually humming some tune that I made up on the fly.

            The man in the mantle coat had shot his friend in the back.  The body lay on the floor motionless, obviously deceased. 

            The woman who had until now been busily engaged under her table, presently became quite annoying as she stood upright, frozen in place, screaming at the top of her lungs hysterically, whilst her partner tried to calm both her and himself down at the same time.  I did not think either of them noticed they had forgotten their clothes.

            After a brief interlude, covering several minutes worth of panic and confusion, the police arrived.  The officers were two burly cyborg, led by a human sergeant of like build.  Approaching the culprit, the sergeant addressed him sternly.  “Hey!” he called, motioning to him.  The man’s gaze remained fixed on the corpse, like he had not even heard.

            I glanced at the sergeant.  I knew something he did not.  “Wrong answer,” I muttered to myself quietly.  As he moved toward the man, the other, finally, looked up slowly.  The sergeant’s hand was nearly on his shoulder, but the policeman stopped dead before touching him.  The man glared at him with soulless eyes, that momentarily became luminous, like two glowing sapphires.  A look of fearful recognition appeared on the officer’s face.  Silently, he stepped away, motioning for his men to follow him out. 

            I casually took another drink as I watched them leave.


            The world was hard enough to dwell in without trying to change things I had absolutely no control over.  Later that week, the rains had finally stopped, and, at last, we had a bright sunny day.  I walked along in high spirits, as I carried a package to a delivery point.  I made my way down a large, carpeted spiral staircase, inside a glass building, enjoying the warm rays from above as they shot gently through the multiple transparent panes.  I glanced up here and there at the shimmering prisms that jutted forward from the glass in various sporadic locations.  It was a fine touch of art, I reflected.

            Finally, I emerged on the outside, in the open air, where I felt even better yet.  Most of the wetness had dried up, but there was still the remnants of that fresh post rain smell that left the atmosphere so pleasant.  I took deep breaths as I lavished in the sunlight--with a smile on my face. 

            It was not too often I could say I had a smile on my face, but this was one of those times.  Was it because I was unhappy that I could not say this?  Possibly.  And, very likely, I could have found the answer to that rather easily, but I had absolutely no motivation to bother.  Firstly, even if I did, what would that get me?  Could I change anything?  I at least knew I could not do that.  Secondly, I had no desire to frustrate myself over details I had no control over.  Enjoy the moment and mind my own business, that was my philosophy. 

            After a long, hot steam shower, I retired to bed at a decent time that night.  I did not sleep early very often, only when I was in a good mood, which I happened to be in at present.  I closed my eyes and steadily drifted out of the conscious world. 

            I was abruptly awakened by the sound of a man clearing his throat.  Instantly, I opened my eyes and sat up.  There in front of me, at the foot of my bed, was the hologram of someone I recognized--someone I knew very well, in fact; only I had hoped I would never see him again.  I immediately became full of a sense of aversion, although I was careful not to let myself show it. 

            “Hello, Michael,” he said with familiarity.  “It’s been a long time.  Nine…no, ten years, I believe?  You were one of our best, you know.”  “Hello, Director,” I replied flatly.  “How can I be of service to you, my lord?”

            “I’m glad you asked that.  I’ll tell you more in the morning.  For now, get some rest.”

            “…And where will we meet…?”

            “Michael, Michael--don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already.  Headquarters, of course.”

            “As you wish, sir.  And what time should I be there?”

            “0 of 1.  I can expect you then?”

            “Of course, Director.”

            “I knew I could count on you.  Get your rest.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

            “As you wish, sir.”

            With that, the image vanished.  I laid back, and tried to return to my previous relaxed state.  There was no point in trying to argue with the Director.  Fighting him would be futile and destructive, and I knew it.  I did not sleep much that night, try as I did. 


            By mid morning, I was at the agreed place right on time, as I was apt to be.  “Have a seat, Michael,” the Director began amiably.  I complied.  “You don’t mind if I smoke?” he asked in a superficial gesture of courtesy.  I shook my head silently.  “What am I going to say, ‘no,’” I thought to myself irritatedly.  “Now,” he started again, “as you did indicate last night, you are wondering why I’ve contacted you.”  He looked up at me, and when I gave no response, he went on.  “Well, you may not be aware, but recently, we’ve had--well, let’s just say--some serious problems.  And, I have a job suited just for your special expertise.”

            “But, sir--I’m retired…”

            “Never retired…Michael, surely you must know, once you’re with us, you’re in for good.  Sure, some ‘retire,’ but they can always be brought back.  Now you’re a smart young man.  You should be able to figure that out.”

            I remained wordless.

            “Now, about your mission…of course, you do realize, you’ll have to be reinitiated…There is a certain woman…here is her image…”  He brought up a three dimensional image of her.  “You are to kill her.  I don’t care how you do it.  Just see to it.       “You were always excellent at improvisation.  I have full faith in your abilities.”

            “But sir…” I thoughtlessly protested.  I had chills down my spine, and I was trembling. 

            “Is there a problem?”  The Director bore a remotely threatening tone in his voice.

            “No sir…”

            “…Good…Then we will begin your reinitiation immediately.”


            The picture of that poor lady appeared and reappeared in my mind.  I did not give it much thought, but somewhere in the back of my head, I had perceived her quite beautiful--with soft, sweet eyes, and long, flowing, sandy blonde hair, full of gentle curls.  The thought of hurting her terrified me, but the idea of resisting my orders was even more frightening, nor would it be of any use.

            I went to a familiar cold laboratory room, full of scary wired and pointy instruments.  I had been here before.  I had memories of this place--memories of slipping away into the final descent into darkness.  It was here that I had been transformed for the first time, years ago.  I had tried very hard to pluck from my mind any recollections of this chilly lab. 

            This place was for removing one’s humanity--for stripping one of their emotions, among other things.  It was for changing a person--changing them into something else, something not quite human anymore.  Those who came out of here became awful beings, creatures that served the empire with ruthless efficiency. 

            A robot laid me upon an icy metallic slab, and strapped me down.  The cold, alloy arms of the machines around me lifted, and then began jabbing my naked body with their many long, quill-like needles.  The points dripped with clear, water-like substance.  I listened as the mechanical limbs made a chorus of whirring, buzzing sounds about me.

            Slowly, the robotic music transformed into more and more of a lulling background drone, as the silvery, tiled ceiling above me grew into a great blur.  I remembered little after that.


            I opened my eyes and saw the ceiling again, gradually coming into focus.  How much time had passed, I did not know.  The machines were quiet.  Nothing moved anymore.  The restraints around my arms and ankles had withdrawn, and I could sit up freely, if I so desired. 

            I knew the damage had been done.  I was one of “them” again.  I recalled the target I was supposed to hit, and, this time, I felt nothing at all.  I was perfectly willing to do the mission.


            Dinner was perhaps my favorite meal of all, being that it was the end of the day, it was almost always a relaxing time, and typically turned out to be the most I ate between it, breakfast, and lunch.  It was particularly more enjoyable this evening, as this was a restaurant I had never been to before, in a city I had not visited in quite some time.

            I was deep in thought as I awaited my order.  Across the room from me was a sandy blonde, who was even more attractive than I had imagined her.  Perhaps it was the sparkling, dark blue, low cut dress she wore, that had a revealing slit in the leg--and hers were something to stare at.  Her hair was done up in a bun right now, held in place by a conspicuous diamond laden hair clip.  Her deep blue eyes were utterly mesmerizing and became an obsession right from the beginning.  Her face, with her just slightly flushed cheeks, was so pure, so delicate, so gentle and sweet, it would have stolen any gentleman’s heart instantly.  I had seen many a beautiful woman in my day, but she, by far, outshone them all. 

            I had no idea who she was; all I knew was that she was my target.  How horrible; and yet, for all practical purposes, I was merely a drone.

            A charming young man approached her table.  Kissing her hand, he drew her up for a dance.  He was dressed in an expensive black ball suit--a white silk dress shirt, a vest with golden buttons, and a long-tailed coat over it all.  His dark brown hair was slicked back painstakingly, and its shiny surface glinted with the lights above it. 

            The pair meandered off to the right, towards the dance floor, far off in the next section of the room, where the soft music was already playing, and various other couples were slow dancing.  They remained there for some time, enough for me to finish my meal, and inconspicuously wander in the same direction.  I found a seat by the punch bowl, indulging myself in the kitchen staff’s scrumptious recipe, generous on the complementary alcoholic spike. 

            I glanced casually over the room, as the couples enjoyed themselves, all the while, secretly keeping an eye on my assignment.  Finally, the music ended, and the dance floor began to disperse, mingling into the area around it.  My target’s date began slowly in my direction. 

            As a group of people walked around me, I rose, and carefully mixed into their number.  I found myself in front of the table I had been sitting beside, and, through sheer dumb luck, ended up right in the path of the woman’s friend.  “Excuse me,” I said politely, stepping out of his way as he reached for two glasses.  Completely ignoring me, he immediately moved to the punch bowl and went to fill the two cups.


            I was invisible to him, but that was to his disadvantage.  I made my way across the top floor of the five star hotel I was staying at, searching for my room.  As I walked along unassumingly, I caught eye of my target once more, a little further down the hall.  Sure enough, she was with Prince Charming, and in the middle of a heated argument.  In time, I could hear everything they said, as they, by degrees, made less and less effort to keep their voices down.

            “I’m through with you,” she finally said.  “Good for you,” I casually congratulated her in my mind, steering myself interestedly toward them.  “I’m not going to be controlled by you ever again!” she continued bravely. 

            The man was taken aback by that reply, and, for a moment, stood there with his jaw wide open.  Then, in a violent rage, he drew back his fist and struck her, knocking her to the floor.  I stopped dead, in utter shock.  I was near enough to them by now, that he took notice of me.  “You lookin’ at something?” he challenged boldly, glaring at me.  “Apparently at a real piece of shit,” I returned coolly, looking back at him unimpressed.

            He stuck out his chest and turned squarely to face me.  “You think you’re man enough to take me!  You fuckin know who I am!”

            “…I really don’t care.”

            “I’m gonna murder you!”

            He suddenly drew an old switch blade knife out of his vest pocket and charged at me.  He dug the blade into my right chest and twisted it around vigorously. 

            Without flinching, I, very collectedly, took hold of his arm, threw him against the wall, grabbed his neck with one hand, and snapped his spine.  His body fell limply to the ground.

            The knife remained where he had planted it, and blood ran down from the wound onto my vest.  The woman jumped over to me.  “Oh my God!” she cried frantically.  “Are you alright?”  She immediately began nursing my injury.  Unconcernedly, I pulled the blade out and dropped it on the ground. 

            The police came eventually, but, seeing me, they backed off, collected the corpse, and then left without incident.  The woman and I ended up alone in her room as she tended my wound.  I had not said a word to her all evening--I guess I really could not.            “Thank you for helping me,” she said sweetly, as she went to change my dressing.  I wanted to open my arms to her, as our acquaintance seemed to take one turn after another for the better.  But I could not.  I brushed her off with a deep sigh, and left abruptly, returning to my room. 

            The worst part was, I liked her.  I actually liked her.  Being in her presence was uniquely savory to me, in a way I rarely felt about another person.  Every bit about her, was one thing upon another that continually pulled me in to her, like a team drawing in a rope, to which I was attached.  She was sweet, funny, beautiful, adorable.  I felt at ease--a warmth, a safety, a weight lifted off my shoulders--when I was around her.  I could not begin to understand how her boyfriend could have treated her the way he had.  But, there again, I had come across situations like that many times before, and I never could understand it.  I did not run into women I felt deeply about very often, as some seemed to, but when I did, I never dealt with them like that.  It was just me, I supposed.

            I went to my closet and peered within it.  I looked long and hard at the black mantle coat in front of me, and the suit and boots that went with it.  The Director had returned that awful life to me.  I guessed I had better put them on before he caught me without them, and had a stroke.


            I opened my eyes, still in the blur of some dreamy world far, far off.  I was not quite awake; I floated blissfully in the womb-like ethereal realm between sleep and the realization of where I actually was.  I felt happy, content.  I smiled as I basked in the warmth of what turned out to be the blankets on my bed.  There was an innate sense of ecstasy that immersed me.  Had I been fully alert, I would have found that departure from my steady life of melancholy very strange.

            A sound of knocking against wood stirred me from the last hints of sleep.  I opened my eyes partially, scanning about groggily the gleams of light that bounced about my room.  I did not remember ever falling asleep last night.  I did not remember much about last night, except Catherine.  The knocking at my door repeated, this time a little louder.  Reluctantly, I sat up, threw the covers off my legs, and staggered toward the door.

            I felt my heart flutter when Catherine’s beaming face greeted me.  “You forgot your tie,” she said with a smile, handing it to me.  “Oh…thanks,” I returned clumsily.  I expected she would leave, but she did not.  “My name’s Catherine,” she said cheerily, holding out her hand.  “Oh, hi, Michael,” I replied, returning the shake.  Still she remained planted.  With a blush, she smiled shyly.  I felt my heart race.  I experienced something like inebriation.  She was so terribly beautiful when she did that.  “Would you…” she asked hesitantly, “possibly be interested in breakfast?  I’m headed down there now.”  “Huh?” I stammered off guard.  “What?…No…Thanks.”  “Oh…okay…” she returned slowly.  Her cheeks grew even more red, as she lowered her eyes dejectedly.  “Bye…” she said, as if unsure of herself.  “Bye,” I replied simply.  I shut the door behind me and returned to bed.

            I could not bring myself to hurt her.  I lay there, for many an hour, staring at the ceiling.  What was I?  How could I do this?  My mind spun through various modes of self torment, until I could do so no longer.  I was despicable, I concluded--a monster; and I hated it immensely.  But what could I do?

            Hours went by without my noticing as I tossed terrible ideas about in my mind again and again.  When I did finally look at my timepiece, I saw it was almost noon. 

            I gathered the will to go to lunch, and, as I made my way to the cafeteria on the main floor, I ran into her in the hallway.  There she was, silly little thing, struggling to unlock the door with her key code, but, apparently, in vain.  Frustrated, she tried it again.  Once more, the irritating “Access Denied” message displayed. 

            “Here,” I offered, trying my hand at the electronic device.  I met with success on the first attempt.  “Hmph…thanks,” she said, grinning sheepishly and blushing noticeably.  “It’s no problem,” I answered with a smug, triumphant grin.  I turned away and continued on coolly toward the elevators.  As I walked away, I did not hear any sound from her door, neither opening, nor closing, behind me.

            The day wore on with the usual humdrum of everyday life.  I wandered about the hotel, in and out of the casinos, just trying to make the time pass.  At length, I found myself back in the lobby on the main floor, pacing, thinking absently.

            The sight of Catherine’s gorgeous, shimmering hair caught my eye.  She made her way to the travel counter.  I followed at a distance, skulking between two marble pillars, nearby a warm hearth.  I watched, as she bought a ticket for the moon, via particle train. 

            I waited until she left, and, when she was gone, I approached the desk behind her.  I purchased my own ticket, careful to make sure it was the same train she would be on.      


            When evening came, I boarded the car they assigned me.  Journeys into space were always something I had enjoyed, since I was very little.  The harsh realities of adulthood had not managed to take that away.  Who would ever have imagined I would turn out the way I did?  There again, who would not have?  Considering my life as I entered into my early teens, and then on into later years, it was really the logical conclusion to it all. 

            The train cars were all large, spherical vessels, joined to each other by binding fields, and, respectively, railed along a neutrino-proton reaction string.  The really remarkable part about them was that, while the hull was opaque from the outside, it was completely transparent from within, leaving the passenger with a magnificent, panoramic view of the heavens, as they traveled amongst them. 

            I admired the billowy clouds and hazy atmosphere as we ascended.  The city below became smaller and smaller, until its feint lights disappeared entirely.  The sensation was much like I was floating heavenward.

            When we emerged from earth’s atmosphere, I slowly made my way to the viewing balcony, one level up.  Like clockwork, there stood Catherine, alone, admiring the scenery very contemplatively.  Silently, I walked over and watched beside her. 

            She seemed to sense my presence.  “Hi,” she said with a suppressed expression of delight.  She continued to gaze out at whatever it was she was looking at.  “Hi,” I returned, feigning coincidence.  “Admiring the scenery?” I commented, denoting the obvious.  She nodded wordlessly, still not turning to me. 

            A time of silence passed.  “I used to enjoy this as a kid,” I piped in, breaking the still.  “Hmph,” she mused, “so did I.”

            “I’m sorry for being rude before.”

            “...It's okay.”

            “Would you…want to go get a drink?”

            She turned to me for a moment without words, looking me in the eye.  “…I’d like that,” she said finally.  A beautiful smile grew on her delicate countenance.

            “So,” I began, setting my glass down on the table, “--and tell me if you agree or not--I am of the opinion, that, since we seem to be destined to keep running into each other, it probably wouldn’t hurt to get acquainted, at least.”  “I agree,” she returned with a teasing smirk.  “So,” she said, delving right into the subject, “tell me about yourself…Your parents?”

            “You would ask that.  No, alright, that’s fair…”

            “Bad subject?”

            I shook my head.  “Let’s just say my family was part of the Plebian caste…”

            “…I see…and yet you’ve done quite well for yourself.”

            “I’m an oportunist, a pragmatist, a businessman.  I was able to make do with much better than most of my peers.”

            “Sounds like quite a story.  It goes to show where you’re born and where you take yourself in life can be two different things.”

            “I suppose that might be one way to look at it.  What about you?”

            “Me?  Well, not Plebian; Middle Class.  My mother was successful in entrepreneurship.  Unfortunately for us, my father squandered every credit she made on drinking, gambling, and other questionable activities…we don’t even know what all he was into. 

            “After a while, my mother couldn’t take it anymore…really, couldn’t take life anymore…”

            “She killed herself…”


            “I’m sorry…”  She shook her head dismissively, but it was clear the subject had a profound impact on her.  “What happened to your father?”

            “Hmph…without her to support him, he wasted away.  He disappeared for awhile…when they finally did find him, he was dead, no one was sure how.  Some people say it was just from exposure, though others swear he was killed by someone--although they could never offer a suggestion why.”

            “Sounds like you and I have something in common after all.”

            “Circumstance.”  After a moment, her eyes had filled with tears.  It made my heart sink with pity for her.

            I grasped her hand gently.  “Catherine.”

            She looked up at me, gazing into my eyes.  We were like that for some time.  “Michael,” she began with an altered tone, “there’s something…”  She did not continue that thought.  “What?” I asked with concern.  She shook her head and swallowed a lump.  “You won’t understand…”  She placed her other hand affectionately on mine. 

            “Try me.  I may know more than what you might think.”

            “You’re too kind to me…You’ve already helped me so much…I don’t deserve this…No, no--I don’t deserve you…”  The tears in her eyes increased in volume, and she suddenly withdrew her hands.

            “Catherine…Catherine!  Don’t be insane.  Who says there’s anything you don’t deserve?  That’s not true.  You’re a beautiful, wonderful, incredibly attractive woman, and I would give the world to be with you.  If anything, I don’t deserve you.”

            She looked at me briefly, then abruptly arose and left, dropping some money on the table for her drink.  I sighed deeply, rubbing my face.

            The remainder of my night was very uneventful.  I wandered about the balcony, staring into the stars, until I was too tired to continue.  There were two distinct sides to me now.  One wanted more than anything to be near her.  The other to run, as fast as I could, and never see her again. 

            I awoke early the next morning to the overhead announcement that we had arrived on the lunar surface.  I gathered what little I had with me, and then mingled into the crowds that were meandering through the gates to the station.  Through the throng, I looked about, half hoping to find her.  In a moment, sure enough, I did.  It was like I had some kind of link with her. 

            I caught up with her, as she struggled to drag her excessive luggage down the boarding ramp.  “Where are you going so fast, kiddo?” I asked affectionately, grabbing one of her bags.  “I have a transport to catch,” she said with a smile. 

            “I see.”

            We made our way to the embarkation dock, where she thanked me.  As I turned slowly to leave, she stopped me.  “Have anywhere in particular you’re going?”  The question threw me for a spin, although I probably should have learned to expect surprises from her by now.  I hesitated for a moment.  “No, not really,” I replied finally.  “I wouldn’t mind some company,” she suggested.

            “If that’s what you want.”

            “Yes.  It is…Very much so.”


            The lunar surface was a desolate wasteland, though it did not seem so from inside the vehicle.  No, in here it seemed beautiful.  Perhaps the sensation was increased, since Catherine sat next to me.  She had a way of bringing out (or perhaps providing in the first place) warmth and happiness to the grimmest of settings. 

            I would never forget that trip, as long as I lived.  I looked out the window as we sailed over the enormous grey mountains, sprinkled in small, rubble like rocks, floating like icebergs in the soft, ash-like dust. 

            To see the moonscape for the first time was probably a fascinating experience--but this was not my first, and a few minutes of that scenery (which never changed) became extremely monotonous…At least, it should have been monotonous.  Here, it was anything but that.  Nothing could ever be mundane, grueling, or unpleasant with Catherine around.  She filled my heart with warmth, and life.  Neither of us spoke, but she held my hand the entire way.  I think that said more than anything.

            Of the two weeks we spent there, I was bored out of my mind for most of it.  I had no real reason for visiting, save her.  Day in and day out, I would pace about our suite, thinking, dreaming, trying very hard to keep myself from being eaten by a monstrous boredom that, with each progressive moment, threatened to swallow me whole.

            At least, “boredom” was what I tried to convince myself it was.  I did not want to admit to myself that I was falling for her, head over heels, faster than a meteor spinning out of control through the atmosphere of the earth--incinerating from the friction against the air, for the sheer, unfathomable speed.  I wanted her every moment.  Every second she was away, was like some horrible torture I could hardly endure.  I needed her.  She was like some powerful drug--and I was constantly in withdrawal. 

            I savored every moment we did get to spend together.  They were few and far between, given how busy she was when she was here.  But, I think made them that much more memorable, that much more meaningful.  “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” or so went the ancient saying.       

            I wish she would have hated me; I wish she would have fled at my shadow.  But, as it was, she loved me.  It was a cruel irony that I had to so regret the very thing I should have desired with all my heart.


            “Evening” on the moon was a term I would use very loosely, as daylight and night lasted for very long periods there.  By the twenty-four hour count on earth that most went by, one could consider it evening.  The long, warm beams of sunlight poured in through the restaurant windows, creating stretched shadows all about.  The radiating warmth felt very much like a caress to me. 

            I had gotten my favorite dish, yet, tonight, I did not really taste it.  It was difficult having an appetite when I was with Catherine.  She looked up at me thoughtfully; she gazed intently.  “Michael,” she said, “how’d I get so lucky?”  I puzzled for a moment.  “Lucky?” I replied hesitantly, cocking my head.  I was almost certain I knew what she alluded to--“lucky” to have me--but a sense of modesty kept me from acknowledging it.  It was like a strange kind of denial. 

            “Lucky to find such a wonderful man.”

            For a moment I was silent.  The truth was, that statement dumbfounded me.  The flattery was overwhelming.  “I don’t know.”  It was all I could come up with.

            Some music started up and Catherine began playfully moving her shoulders to the beat.  Then she rose, grabbed my hand, and urged me toward the empty dance floor in the background.  She loved to dance, and she was excellent at it. 

            Before we knew it, it was some insanely early hour in the morning.  Most of the restaurant staff had left, and we were practically alone, still wearing down the floor.  Sheer exhaustion was finally setting in, and only now did we finally decided to retire for the night. 

            I lay in my bed, beaming.  My heart would not stop its incessant throbbing.  I finally realized--or admitted to myself--I was falling in love with her.


            I slept in till the evening, and, when I finally awakened, I was starving.  I called Catherine on her intercom so we could meet for dinner.

            I closed the door to my room behind me, and stepped out into the hallway.  She was there, awaiting me.  She had let out her hair, and was wearing an eye-popping mini-skirt.  “Oh my God, you look nice!” I blurted out senselessly. 

            She laughed a little.  “You like it?”

            “Like it?  You’re absolutely gorgeous, Catherine!”  I was utterly enamored with her beauty.  With a smug grin, she snagged my arm and moved off with me.


            The following day we spent with each other, and, like children again, with carefree spirits, explored about all the wonders the rich colony had to offer.  I lost track of time when I was with her.  I could not get over her bright, beautiful eyes, or that soft, aromatic, flowing golden-brown hair. 

            That evening found us sitting on an observation porch, looking for shooting stars.  I held her in my arms.  I swore, on my very life, there was nothing better in all the world than to feel her soft body pressed gently against mine.

            “There!” she exclaimed.  “I saw one! Did you see it?”  “Hunh?  What?  Oh…” I stumbled.

            “Quit looking at my chest for a minute, and you might catch one.”

            I turned beet red as she began laughing at me.  I had been staring at her breasts without realizing it.  I think my embarrassment amused her.

            “Hey,” I said after a moment.  I looked directly at her with a piercing gaze.  All at once, she stopped giggling.  She looked back at me.  Gently, I raised my hand and touched the side of her face with the tips of my fingers.  She began rubbing her cheek affectionately against my hand.  Slowly, her head sank, until it rested on my shoulder. 

            After a while, she lifted her face, and we were gazing at each other again.  Slowly, slowly, our faces grew nearer.  She pressed her lips to mine passionately, and I held her tightly, returning the gesture.

            At length, that blissful eternity was over, and she lowered herself slowly into my arms.  I basked in her warmth.


            The last day on the moon we spent again together, now more absorbed in each other than ever.  I could not count how many times we kissed in that twelve hour period.  When it came time to leave, I could hardly bring myself.  I did not want to leave--or for this time to end.  Until now I had fought this moment, in the vain hope that somehow I could delay its coming; and then, it made its presence, in spite of all of my efforts.  I did not want to go back to earth, back to my old place.  I just wanted to stay here, now.


            The trip to the moon had ended, passing by like a flash--much, much too fast.  Deep down inside, that whole time, though I never would have expressed it to Catherine, I knew that those blissful two weeks would pass, and never come our way again.  I let myself forget--or just overlook--the fact that it was all just a dream.  Regardless of anything, we could never be.  There were forces more powerful than either of us that would see to that.  All too soon, everything would be just a memory, something to look back upon fondly, and wish, with an empty longing.

            We did not see each other again for an entire month.  I began to wonder if I had lost her.  In some sad way, I hoped that was the case, that she had simply drifted away somewhere, never to return.  It would be for the best. 

            After a time, I began to resign to myself that this was the case.  I did not want her gone; but, there again, what good could come of her remaining? 

            One day, completely unexpectedly, our paths crossed once more.  For sheer curiosity, I had wandered into a small shop, off a little from the main body of commerce in the city square, to see what fascinating and perhaps useful merchandise the owner had to offer.  Apparently, Catherine had had the same idea.

            “Hi,” she said with a smile.  My heart fluttered.  I was not sure she would be happy to see me; but it seemed she was.  “Hi,” I returned.

            Our reunion was cut short when a disturbance on the other side of the shop drew our attentions.  A man, dressed in ragged clothing, pretending, until the present, to be one of the customers, had drawn out an energy displacer hand gun, and began waving it about threateningly.  He quickly barked out orders, demanding everyone lie on the floor.  Then,  he held the owner at gunpoint, and collected the stash of gold the latter carried in his trade chest.

            At first, preoccupied with securing his loot, he failed to notice I had not complied with his demand.  Catherine repeatedly admonished me to get down on the floor with everyone else, but I was ignoring her, even though she took to tugging frantically at my leg. 

            The robber wheeled around to find me standing in defiance of his command, and immediately turned his weapon on me.  “I see we have a hero in the room,” he said scornfully.  “Is that what you are?”  He inched toward me.  I did not honor him with an answer. 

            “Hey! You!”

            “…You know, I find you…very unimpressive.” 


            His momentary lapse was long enough for me to have my own pistol in my hand. I fired an energy burst through his forehead with deadly precision. 

            It was over.  The owner and several of the patrons, Catherine included, began, after a moment, to look around in a daze, and then to turn their eyes to me in disbelief. 


            “Michael,” Catherine said softly.  We were spending the evening immersed in the fresh air and panoramic scenery the lofty balcony of her apartment provided.  “Yes?” I answered simply.  I knew a flood of questions were headed my way.  She was seated at a small stone porch table, and I stood, against the concrete railing, looking out into the city, with my back to her.  “It’s time for you to be honest with me,” she said flatly. 

            For a time, I did not respond.  Then, finally, I took a deep breath.  “I’m a bounty hunter.”  I turned to her.  Sure, that was not true either, but to tell her what I really was would be impossible--physically impossible, so that even if I wanted to, I could not have divulged that secret.  Unfortunately, the Director still held firm control of certain aspects of me.  The bounty hunter would have to be my cover story. 

            She leaned forward, raising her voice.  “Michael--how long have I known you!”

            I gave no reply. 

            She then continued with the scolding.  “A bounty hunter!  I’ve known you for almost two months, and you haven’t thought once to tell me about what you do on the side! 

            “Then I run across you in a shop one day:  And, there you are, whipping out a gun!  I didn’t even know you owned one!”

            I felt terrible.  I knew I had lost her trust.  I tried to say something to her, but “Catherine…” was all I could muster.  I did not have a leg to stand on, and I was very aware of it. 

            “Michael!  I feel like I don’t even know you right now!…What’s the matter with me!”  Her eyes filled with tears and her face sunk into her hands--and my heart sank.  She began to sob pitifully.  I had always melted over a woman crying, and that tore my heart violently into pieces--especially since I was the cause. 

            At length, I tried my hand at speaking again.  “Catherine…for what it’s worth…I love you…”  If nothing else was true, that certainly was, very much so. 

            In a moment, she started to compose herself, and, through sniffles, she spoke.  “I’m sorry…”

            “Catherine…” I returned compassionately, moving toward her.  I placed a hand on her shoulder, and, gently, she greeted the gesture with an affectionate grasp, and then caresses.

            “I’m so sorry, Michael.”  The springs in her eyes began to well up anew.            “Catherine.”  I embraced her tenderly.  I hugged her tightly for a long time.     Finally, we looked at each other.  I carefully wiped the tears from her rosy cheeks.  She gazed at me adoringly.  “Michael…it’s just that,” she tried to explain, “my life…well…there’s things I’m afraid of…I mean, things I’m looking out for…”          “Shhh,” I soothed, caressing her gorgeous face.  She sank back into my arms, hands gripping my shoulders affectionately.

            The night wore on.  We talked and drank, and then talked some more.  We tried our hands at some virtual games, but neither of us were very good at them.

            Finally, we turned on some soft music, stuff we both liked.  The lights automatically lowered.  I took her into my arms.  We slow danced together for a long time, there on her living room floor. 

            I held her, closer and closer, tighter and tighter.  I stroked the small of her back, and rubbed the back of her neck through her soft hair, and she poked her head up at me and kissed me affectionately. 

            That kiss lasted, and lasted.  It grew in intensity.  We groped and caressed each other energetically.  Not with the most grace, we pulled off each other’s clothes and threw them about the room unconcernedly.  The lights in her apartment finally turned off completely.  We fell, without much thinking about it, onto her couch, now bathed in only the soft, blue moonlight that poured in through the transparent doors to her balcony.

            Sometime during the night, I got up, unable to sleep.  I found myself in the nude, gazing out onto the porch thoughtfully. 

            “What are you thinking?” 

            I turned, as Catherine walked up behind me.  I smiled at her.  “I don’t know,” I said simply.  She tilted her head questioningly.  “I was just wondering…” I tried to explain.  “Did we do the right thing?” 

            “What do you mean, silly?”  She grinned playfully.

            When I woke up in the morning, she was busy fixing breakfast.  I got dressed, and went out on the balcony, deep in thought. 

            I did not know exactly how long I was out there; but my mind was made up when I came back inside.  I kissed her on the cheek, and left abruptly.


            A week had passed.  I was alone in my living room.  “I can’t!” I cried to myself.  “Phantom Agents--”  That was what we were; what I was.  Our purpose in the empire was a dark one, that of carrying out whatever work the Imperial Mind had on its agenda, and doing so with deadly precision and reliability.  We were feared like ghosts by those who hypothesized our existence.  The rest were completely unaware of us. 

            I hated them as much as anyone--and I was one of them; I hated myself.  And, here I was, trapped.  I had to kill Catherine…but I loved her deeply.  My feelings toward her were genuine, in spite of how I had come to meet her. 

            “I can’t!”  I was even louder this time.  “I won’t!  I refuse to!”  I made a move toward the door.  Then, all of a sudden, it hit.  An excruciating pain, the likes of which I could not even begin to describe in words, poured throughout my body and soul.  It was as if the life force itself was being extracted from me.  I flew to the ground, writhing about in agony for what must have been an hour or so, until I passed out.


            A bright, beautiful day found me once again with Catherine, my one delight in life.  We had spent the afternoon together, wandering about town, dabbling in the casinos, and just meandering about.  Now we sat on a riverbank, quietly watching the sunset. 

            She looked into my sad eyes.  “What?” she asked, obviously sensing something amiss.  I shook my head.  “Michael--” she pried, “why did you leave?  Was it something I did?…Something I said?” 


            I had a look of desperation in my face that she did not seem to know how to intrepret.  “Catherine, it’s not you,” I reassured gently. 

            “What is it?”  She was increasingly insistant. 

            “Catherine--I want you to know, that no matter what happens, no matter what, I will always love you, more than anything, more than life itself…You know that, right?  You believe me, don’t you?  Because, no matter what, at least that much is true…”

            “Michael--you’re scaring me…Of course I know that…What’s wrong?…What’s wrong!” 

            I embraced her, and held her tightly.  She was trembling.  “Please tell, darling!…What’s wrong!” she sobbed.  I felt myself shaking as well.  Despite all my efforts, I could no longer hold my own tears back .


            I looked out over the city from the perch of her balcony.  The waning daylight seemed to speak to me of things to come.  My heart felt as though it would set with the sun.  I swallowed a large, painful lump. 

            “Michael…” she said to me sorrowfully.  “You’re my only friend…I love you…I have no one else…You’re the only one I have…” 

            I turned and looked her squarely in the eye.  “Catherine--I have to go,” I said firmly.  “I love you more than anything in the world.  I know you don’t understand, but it’s for the best--it’s for you.  Please trust me.”

            “What are you saying?”  Her eyes filled with tears as she woefully anticipated the answer. 

            “I love you,” I said simply.  “I have to go.  We can never see each other again.”  I kissed her on the forehead, then, quickly, turned and left. 

            I heard her scream my name as I exited, and my heart ripped vehemently from my chest.

            I returned to my place, and hastily began packing.  I jumped when the Director’s image suddenly appeared next to me.  “Michael,” he asked, “what are you doing?”

            “What does it look like!”

            “Don’t tell me you don’t want the job now.”

            “Get someone else!  Find some other depraved monster to do your murders!”

            “Now, Michael, don’t tell me you’re getting soft on me.”

            “You sick son of a bitch!”

            “I don’t care if you want this or not.  You will carry out your mission.  You have no choice--you belong to me, Michael.  You belong to the Empire.”

            “Make me.”

            “You know as well as I, you don’t want that.”

            I grabbed my gun and pressed the muzzle against my head.  The Director laughed heartily.  “Go ahead and try,” he challenged.  I gritted my teeth in rage.  He knew as well as I that he held control over the very action of my hand.  I was furious, but helpless.

            “Fuck you!”  I tried to make it out the door, but he would not let me leave.  A horrible pain filled me, and hideous visual and auditory hallucinations assaulted my mind relentlessly.


            It was a splendid evening.  The wind caressed lovingly.  The sky was clear, and the air was fresh.  There was a beautiful bronze sunset.  The shimmering rays reminded me of Catherine’s sumptuous hair.

            I knocked at her door.  When she opened it, a look of utter joy immediately beamed from her face.  We took each other in an embrace so tender, I doubted there had ever been any like it ever before, nor would there be, ever again.  She kissed me incessantly, and so rapidly, I could hardly keep up. 

            We found our way out to her balcony--we had begun to develop a certain nastalgia for that spot.  Most likely, neither of us thought we would ever be here like this again.  I held her against me, and we gazed into the sunset.  Silence was our only conversation.

            A flash of light lit up the dusk, and a loud crack broke up the stillness.  I trudged gloomily out of her apartment, and off into the streets below.  The night fell, and it was very dark indeed.


            I threw my gun, followed by my gear, haphazardly onto the Director’s desk.  I felt nothing. 

            He looked up at me.  “Mission accomplished?” he asked, in much higher spirits than I was.  “Yes,” I replied dryly.  “Good work, Michael,” he said jovially.  “You may return to your life now…until we need you again.”  I glared at him with a souless gaze.


            The streets were indeed cold--that was the first thing I noticed.  I did not even bother to heed the freezing rain that poured endlessly against my head on this fridgid, winter night.  I did not care. 

            I was but an insignificant, invisible grain of sand amidst the endless, ever churning masses that filled the earth, and the vast galaxies that spanned around it.  On I wandered, disappearing into the inky depths.



The End                          



© 1999, 2005 by Bernard Hall.   Although I have had a gravitation to writing, drawing, and art in general, from my earliest years, it was not till I was sixteen that I first started off and on tossing about the idea of making any of it an actual career.  From that time, I began various writing projects (amongst other arts), some completed, others lingering, with this goal at the back of my mind. Subject matter took on both old and new interests, including my all time fascination with sci-fi, as well as my developing attraction to drama. 

            I was born and grew up in Georgia, and my education began in private schools (Montessorri).  Then, later, a couple of years were spent in public school.  After 7th grade, I was entered into a home schooling program, then, in 10th grade, my family made the move across the country to north Idaho, where I was enrolled in a private Catholic school to complete that year.  Finally, I completed my last year of high school in home schooling again.  It was during the years after 7th grade that I was exposed to Latin and Roman history, where I developed a fascination for both.  Also, growing up in Georgia gave me numerous exposures to American Civil War history, to which in time, I also developed affinity.

            Following High School, I enlisted in the army and became a nurse (LPN).  I had had a number of career interests at the time, including becoming a police officer.  I worked for a short time as a nurse, before deciding it was not for me.  After this, I thought long and hard about what I wanted to do with my life, finally moving in the direction a friend suggested.  He saw that I had an innate interest for computer graphics, 3d, and writing, and he said that I should pursue a career that would satisfy all that.  I set my goals on entering the film industry, and, in way of achieving this, began volunteering my help on a local college TV show.  Ultimately, through this, I met a production manager at a local TV station, and convinced him to hire me.  It was the most satisfying work I had had to date.

            Throughout this all, I never lost my natural tendency to write, and, in way of incorporating all new and old experience, I took my first gander at writing a screenplay in 1999.  That was how my first script, Drifters, came to be.  Ultimately, I had hoped I could find a studio that would want to produce it as a movie.

            Since that time, I have continued to write, some projects screenplays, others short stories, while still others, novel length manuscripts.