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Scar Redux

Human memory, emotions, and their associated neural chemicals will soon become controlled variables on the battlefield....

It was a frigid March morning. Days ago, an explosion at a nearby industrial site shook the city with a deafening roar that sounded like the Earth itself was screaming. The explosion sent up titanic columns of acrid black smoke that quickly swallowed the sky. The sun disappeared behind the lifeless black cloud and ash fell from the sky, blanketing the city like a soft layer of snow. The haze erased the city’s iconic skyline from the horizon and brought a speedy end to spring, but the specter of winter wasn't the only ghost that had returned to the city.
Somewhere deep in the urban hive, Sean Fritz was walking by a row of crumbling houses. A long fence ran along much of the block to keep the hordes of homeless out of the condemned structures that were all in advanced stages of decay. Holes had been cut in different parts of the fence and Sean could sense the eyes of the building’s unsanctioned inhabitants peering at him from behind the boarded windows. The dejected residents of the neighborhood, who occasionally reflected off the edges of Sean’s designer sunglasses with their calloused hands, sunken eyes, and drug-filled emaciated bodies, stood in deep contrast to Sean who had carefully crafted his appearance with shining leather loafers, pressed jeans, and a designer style petticoat. Even though he was out of place, they were the ones who were weary of him.
Sean crossed a bridge that ran over the murky river that had once been the life blood of the city. The 30 second crossing took Sean into what looked like a completely different city. The face of the urban confines had morphed from a charred and jagged facade into a vibrant enclave of large window front stores, renovated lofts, and sky high towers of steel and glass. It was an island of prosperity surrounded by a sea of rot. Sean stopped at the first intersection just west of the bridge. Besides a guy getting in a cab and a female jogger running in his direction, the street was empty. Sean ignored the crossing light. He tried to make eye contact with the jogger as they crossed the street, but a breathing mask obscured her face, and it was apparent to Sean she wasn’t interested. He turned around to at least get a look at how her ass fit in her spandex. It was bittersweet. He felt his heartbeat speeding up and his stomach began to churn. He mumbled to himself, “is it 8 o’clock already?” He pulled a compact mirror from his coat pocket, opened it up, and studied his face for a moment. His pupils were dilated, and he was clenching his teeth. He inflected the mirror up slightly to his forehead. The edges of a perfectly horizontal surgical scar could be seen coming through hastily applied concealer. It was a permanent reminder of the neural chemical regulator implanted in his brain.
It was called the “receptor switch,” a microscopic machine designed to stimulate and regulate the production of different neural chemicals. His brain now produced different chemicals on a timer. Every morning since the operation, at exactly 8am, his brain became flooded with dopamine and serotonin meant to keep him sharp and focused. It was an adjustment as the machine definitely had some kinks in it. He barely slept anymore. Sometimes, instead of smooth chemical transitions, the machine would malfunction, and he would have bouts of mania throughout the day followed by crashes at night, but he was getting used to it. Sean stopped in front of a skyscraper made of a sort of teal colored steel. The building’s directory was a metal plate attached to the wall just inside the doors. Sean looked it over and found that the restaurant Roma was on the 53rd floor.
The elevator doors opened, and Sean entered the dimly lit restaurant. He was greeted by a young red-headed hostess wearing a short black dress that made Sean think of fucking and funerals. She smiled at Sean and said, “Hello. I’m Claire. How are you this morning?”
Good. I have a meeting with Michael Yates here at 8,” Sean informed her.
Are you Mr. Fritz?” She asked.
Yes,” Sean replied.
Okay, right this way.”
Sean followed Claire past a long ebony gold bar that was trimmed with gleaming gold. There were just three steps that led up into a dining room in the sky. The luxurious cavern was lined with mahogany wood and encased in glass. The only thing the view offered was the glow of a few ghostly lights in the sea of haze that hung heavy over the city. It was the backdrop set behind Michael Yates, a stocky middle aged man in an Armani suit.
Sean?” he asked.
Yeah,” Sean answered.
Yates pushed his wire frame glasses back up his large nose and stood up. “I’m Michael Yates,” he said extending his hand, which Sean shook and sat down opposite him.
Your waiter will be right with you,” Claire said reminding them she was there.
Thanks,” Yates said giving her a nod and opened his menu.
They got great omelets here, but I know you have a dentist’s appointment so I’ll make this brief,” Yates said. Sean looked confused.
How did you know that?” he asked. Yates looked like he was trying not to laugh.
C’mon, who do you think you’re talking to?” he said cheerily.
Yates waved his hand which seemed to instantly produce a tall slim man in his early thirties wearing all black and holding a notepad. “Are you gentlemen ready to order?” he asked.
Yeah,” Yates said. “I’ll have the Spanish omelet and uhhhh...” He trailed off for a second and looked at Sean. “Are you sure you don’t want a mimosa?” Sean shook his head. “C’mon man, I know you got a thing, but this is all on the corporate account!” Yates exclaimed. “Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll get an extra one, and if you decide you want it, you can have it.”
Alright,” said Sean, giving in.
Nice!” Yates said with more than a little enthusiasm. “We’ll have four mimosas and a bloody Mary.”
Very good. Anything else?” he asked, looking over at Sean.
No, nothing for me,” Sean answered.
The waiter weakly smiled before replying. “I’ll be right back with your drinks.” The waiter turned and left.
Alright, down to business,” Yates said. He pulled an EnVizion, a micro-optical computer, from his jacket pocket and handed it to Sean. It was small, consisting of just a wireless eye piece that the user wore over the right eye that was connected to a handle that warped around the ear. The 1 square inch of translucent material aligned with the user’s pupil and converted the CPU’s interactive display into signals that would transmit directly into the user’s optic nerves. Three manilla folders manifested themselves in front of his face as if they were floating in the room, invisible to all but him. With slight eye motions, he navigated through the folders until he found one titled H.R. Department Security Consultant Executive Directives. Even the title was filled with enough jargon to deter any possible prying eyes away from the idea of it having any useful information. With a blink of an eye, the folder opened up before him and free floating 3-D displays of information organized themselves for his perusal. “It’s linked to an Overmind account in our cloud server,” Yates explained.
Yes, I’m familiar,” Sean replied while opening a folder entitled Special Instructions. There was only one document in the folder.
It read:

Login: Dorothy38
Password: noplacelikehome
Special instructions: When the contracting party feels the security threat has been effectively neutralized, that party is to contact the following mobile number and leave a voicemail with the message: ‘we’re off to see the wizard.’ Should any difficulties arise that may prevent the contracting party from completing the assignment, the aforementioned party should immediately report it via email to the address of

Now I need to remind you,” Yates began, the smile fading from his face, “I am a lawyer representing Corporate Security Consultants and its affiliates. My clients have specifically instructed me to tell you NOT to injure, kill, intimidate, or do ANYTHING outside of the law while under contract. The money will be dispensed to you at the discretion of the CEO of CSC. In other words, you’ll get paid when it is determined there is no longer a threat. If you should fail or if law enforcement should become involved, the device will be fried via a scrambling signal and any traces of you will be deleted from the Overmind server.”
I know the drill,” said Sean. “I just have one question. What’s with all the Wizard of Oz shit?”
Yates laughed hardily. “Oh, you know, corporate guys and tech geeks really get into that cryptic covert-ops shit. I think they’re just playing spy.”
The waiter returned with the tray of drinks. “Alright, this is going to be a good morning!” Yates said excitedly. His wide smile suddenly coming back to form. The waiter set the drinks around the table.
Anything else I can get you gentlemen?”
No, we’re good for now,” said Yates.
Very good. I’ll be back soon with your omelet,” The waiter replied before turning to leave.
Says here he was in the Green Berets,” Sean said disconcertingly. Yates was taking a large gulp from his first mimosa. He put the glass back down and had finished about half in the first go.
Well, he’s like you. You know, decorated special ops guy apparently recruited while he was in the service,” Yates said and took a large gulp from his mimosa. “Apparently the Security Solutions Group, or the S.S.G, isn’t the only one with an operatives program. He’s even got neural chemical implants just like you,” Yates explained. There was a silence as he took a sip from his second mimosa. “How have you been since the operation?” he asked with an uncharacteristic tone of sincerity.
I’ve been adjusting,” Sean responded flatly. “Is he looking for me too?”
Yeah,” said Mike solemnly. “Yeah, he is.”

Sean sat in the waiting room of the dentist’s office. It was a small space, just another corner suite in another highrise, very typically furnished with a few chairs and a coffee table covered with random issues of different gossip magazines. The only ones in the brightly lit white and windowless space were him and the receptionist who sat at the other side of the room behind a fake wooden desk. She stared at her computer screen, furrowing her brow and occasionally muttering to herself. Sean assumed she was pretending to work to avoid conversation, which worked out well enough for him. His mind was far too preoccupied for small talk. He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the EnVizion Yates had given him. He hoped the collection of obscure information would lead to some kind of revelation or some kind of breakthrough in his hunt.
The target was Drennin Louis, a decorated special forces operator with a service record of large parts not yet declassified. In short, he was just like Sean. Sean had been recruited by the S.S.G while he was finishing his last year of service. He signed an exclusive contract that, in some very muddled language, allowed the S.S.G to use his training however “they saw fit.” The pay was beyond anything a soldier could ever dream of, and up until that point, the workload had been relatively easy.
He was taking advantage of his access to a rather generous spending account to have some dental work done due to a mishap on his last assignment. It was carelessness on his part and overconfidence that had made him forget how hard anyone could fight for their lives.
The target was a computer programmer named Andrew Morris. He was sharing some kind of state-of-the-art anti-virus software he wrote in his basement. It wasn’t really a mystery to Sean why a modern corporate security firm like the S.S.G didn’t like the idea of free anti-virus software that put theirs to shame being proliferated over the internet. Sean found the unsuspecting programmer in his garage, smoking a joint, while shining a laser pointer at the wall for his cat to chase. Sean’s light footsteps were inaudible to Andrew, and the cat didn’t give him any kind of heads up. Sean’s body, drawing upon the muscle memory of death, acted swiftly and mechanically. He locked his arm around Andrew’s neck and brought him to the ground. He put an ether covered rag over the programmer’s face. He loosened the grip around his neck just enough to let him breathe in the ether. After just a few seconds, Andrew stopped moving, and his body went limp. Sean pulled a small box cutter out of his pocket. He slowly ran the blade across each of Andrew’s wrists opening up his veins.
Sean watched the blood stream out of Andrew for a moment before he turned to leave. The first thing he saw was the blunt end of a wine bottle racing towards his face. Before he had time to react, the bottle smashed into his jaw breaking three of his teeth. His mouth instantly filled with the iron taste of blood. He swallowed the blood, careful not to let any fall between his lips to become forensic evidence. When Sean didn’t go down, the girl turned to run away, but her legs couldn’t carry her fast enough. Sean pounced, sending her face down to the floor. Lost in the moment, Sean quickly jabbed the box cutter into the side of her neck. She began to choke as blood filled her throat. Her eyes rolled up into the back of her skull, and she began convulsing. Sean quickly got off her and stepped away as she went through her death throws. Every breath became sharper and sharper, until finally, she inhaled one last time, and her body went limp. Sean spent the rest of the night dressing the scene up into something the local detectives would rule a murder suicide.
Andrew never had a chance against Sean. No one Sean killed during his time as a “consultant” did. Drennin was a worthy adversary though. He was like a ghost with hardly any known family and a foggy history. The file didn’t even have any useful pictures for Sean. All that was really known was he had been in the Berets and had a reputation for starting fights at college bars. Sean read and re-read all the files. “Enoon,” he mumbled. It dawned on him that “enoon” was “no one” backwards. Sean laughed to himself. The corporate boys really do love cryptic shit.
Mr Fritz, the doctor will see you now,” the assistant called.
Sean was reclined in the dentist’s chair. His nearly horizontal body left him facing his own reflection in the large examination mirror hanging over his face. It was quiet. The only company in the room was his own staring reflection. He started humming and drumming on his knees. He abruptly stopped. He ran his finger over the exposed edge of the scar on his forehead. His finger smudged the concealer, making it even more visible. He stared at it while he ran his fingertip over its surface. Its crumbling and jagged texture triggered an associated memory.
It was just a few days after his surgery. By complete accident, Sean had found out Lt Allen Dotson, a man who served in the S.E.A.Ls with him, had worked as a “consultant” for the S.S.G. just a little over a year ago. When Sean heard he was still living in the city, curiosity got the better of him. He found out where Dotson was living and took it upon himself to pay him a visit. Secret contracts, and the recent reconfiguring of his brain chemistry, were starting to give him second thoughts about his new high-paying position as “a security consultant.” He hoped a quick meeting with Dotson to see how well he was living would alleviate his concerns.
When he found the building, he started to become a bit more optimistic. It was a modern glass and steel high rise sitting towering over the bank over the river. The building was a completely sealed structure, and the airlock doors at the entrance ensured the only air circulating went through massive subterranean purifiers. There were high end stores in the lobby and a staff of 24 hour doormen.
Dotson was on the 24th floor. Sean knocked on the door. After a few moments, he could hear a series of locks clicking, the door opened and standing in front of him was a short somewhat heavy middle aged Filipino nurse. “Yes?” she asked in a manner that was less than welcoming.
I’m Sean Fritz,” Sean blurted out. She was silent for a second. “Here to see Allen Dotson,” Sean continued awkwardly.
He’s back here, follow me,” said the nurse.
Hello Mr Fritz,” a man said in a chipper voice. Sean felt his eyes shift, and he was back in the dentist’s office staring at himself in the mirror. “Don’t get up,” the man said with a laugh. “I’m Dr Cerone. How are you doing today, Sean?”
Not too bad, considering,” Sean replied.
The doctor laughed again. “Well, I’ll have you all fixed up in just a bit.” The examination light switched on. The combination of the harsh ultraviolet light and the metallic clanking of the dentist’s tools was making Sean uneasy, but all the standard symptoms of nervousness didn’t surface. Sean’s neural chemical regulators, sensing Sean’s fear, began to release small amounts of oxytocin. It was like it had an override switch for his brain. Sean’s mind took him back into his memory like a movie that had been put on pause.
The nurse lead him through the cold dark apartment. The freshly painted white walls were devoid of any pictures or decoration, and the rooms were stacked with sealed boxes instead of furniture. The nurse opened the door to the bedroom and motioned for Sean to come in. The first thing Sean saw was the shadow of a bed with the wiry frail silhouette of the Lieutenant’s body cast against the wall by the soft blue glow of the TV. “Hey Fritz,” the Lieutenant said, weak from his breathing mask. He was unrecognizable. He was only 34, but his body had already been wracked with the decay of age. The contorts of his bones were perfectly visible though the thin wrinkly wrapping of his flesh. Dark yellow liver spots covered his body like marks of death. His shallow cheeks and hollow eyes sat behind the translucent plastic of a breathing mask, and on the night stand next to his bed, was a menagerie of prescription pill bottles.
Dotson,” Sean answered as he looked down at the floor.
Sit down,” said the Lieutenant. The nurse pointed to a small chair against the wall. Sean sat down, and the nurse left the room closing the door behind her and leaving only silence.
How has...”
What the fuck do you want, Fritz?” Dotson interrupted Sean.
I heard you worked for the S.S.G,” Sean said. Dotson was silent. “I understand you signed a non-disclosure agreement. I just want to...”
Yeah, I did operative work for them,” Dotson said, cutting Sean off again. He talked almost like he was being choked. He pointed at Sean with his trembling hand. “Don’t worry, Fritz. I remember... I remember you... a guy like you is going to do fine.” Sean didn't respond. “I can see the scar on your forehead, Fritz,” Dotson continued. “It’s just like mine.” He turned his head. His large, unblinking eyes fixed on Sean’s as he pointed a bone thin finger at an identical horizontal scar on his forehead.
Start counting backwards from 100,” the dentist said as he strapped the mask in place. The moment in Allen Dotson’s bedroom raced to the back of Sean’s mind as internal white noise. Sean could hear the hiss of the gas being released from the tank, and he breathed deeply. As the creeping darkness of unconsciousness began to engulf the world around Sean, his head tilted back and his eyes began to close. The last thing he saw, surrounded by the bright examination light, was the oral surgeon’s face. His mouth was covered in a surgical mask and a horizontal scar identical to Sean’s ran across his forehead. Sean’s last thought was “fuck, it’s Drennin!”
Drennin proceeded to drive the screeching head of a dental drill through Sean’s left eye and into his brain killing him. Drennin watched Sean’s body convulse in the chair as his eye spurted blood. After a few minutes, Sean’s tremors became more infrequent, and he stopped moving entirely.
Drennin took out a phone and dialed. After a few seconds, he said, “we’re off to see the wizard.”

This story was printed in Skive Magazine's "Farewell  Edition". Unfortunately it was the publication's last collection, and it does not disappoint.  Here you will find dozens of pieces from across the literary spectrum that come together to celebrate the life of one of the world's most fantastic independent publications.


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