The iron badge pinned at your breast gleams in piercing rays of winter sunlight. The badge—feathered wings protruding from a five-pointed star—has become your identity. People have already started calling you the Iron Angel. Their eyes glimmer with hope and their voices change in pitch when they speak of you, their new sheriff. They say that you will be a difference-maker. They say that you will make the City a better place.
Other things are said about you too, although not as loudly. There are whispers that you are not entirely normal, that you can do unnatural things.
Your breath crystalizes before your face as you glance left and right down the crowded street. Your deputies are all in place, waiting for you to move, their heavy winter cloaks concealing body armor and assault weapons. You shiver slightly, not because of the brisk winter air, but because even in the sweltering summer months, the City is simply a cold place.
It’s true, what the people say—you’re not normal, and you can do some very unnatural things. And deep down, despite everything you strive for, you’re afraid that your very presence in the City is making it a little colder. Closing your eyes, you repeat to yourself:
I am a good person
Though evil besets me on every side, it shall not enter my mind
I am a brave person
Because I face the darkness, others shall live in the light
A burst of youthful laughter suddenly rises above the urban bustle of the street, and you open your eyes to see a small girl running down the lane. Several other children are chasing behind her, laughing as they trip over themselves, skidding across the snow-dusted cobblestones. The girl in the lead rushes past you, filled with exuberance, her untamed mane of wiry hair flapping along behind her like a pennant. You take a few moments to memorize the girl, and you tuck the memory safely away in the deepest part of your mind.
When all the children have passed, you march across the street toward a steel-plated door on the other side. Behind that door are the headquarters of the notorious poacher, Thomas Addlestop, and his black market menagerie of exotic animal parts from around the world. The burly brute of a security guard beside the door straightens as you approach, his beady eyes flicking from your face to your badge.
“Open the door,” you say, holding onto his eyes with your own.
“Just who do you think—”
As you stare into the guard’s eyes, you experience a familiar sensation, like falling forward off a tall cliff. You leave the busy street behind, tumble right through the man’s eyes, and land inside his mind.
The man’s mind-home is a simple hut, square and squat. The front door is locked, of course, but you kick it down with little effort and step inside. You don’t even know this man’s name, but after only a few minutes in his mind-home, you feel as though you have known him for years. The photographs on the mantel depict his friends and family. The tiny model of a zeppelin on the nightstand indicates that he dreams of traveling away from the City (who doesn’t?). The scent of cinnamon strudel lingering in the kitchen tells you the man enjoys a good pastry.
It is a strangely intimate thing, to be inside someone’s mind. The human mind does not like to be intruded upon, and your mere presence within another mind stresses it and causes pain to the owner. The more that you do to disturb the mind, the greater the stress becomes.
You glance around the guard’s mind-home and begin trashing the place. The framed photos get smashed against the floor and the zeppelin get chucked through the window. You pull down curtains and tip over furniture. When you think you’ve done enough, you pull yourself out of the man’s mind, like lifting your head from a basin of water, and the physical world comes swimming back into focus.
The sentry stumbles back from you, shock written all over his features. A thin trickle of blood is seeping from his beady eyes and running down his face like grotesque tears. He swipes at his eyes and stares at you in fear and pain.
“Open the door,” you repeat.
The man’s meaty hand flies to his waistband holster, and you dive back through his eyes into his mind.
This time, you hold nothing back. Sweeping through the hut, you wrench drawers from their slides, smash lamps, and tear apart cushions before finally lifting yourself back to the physical world.
“OPEN THE DOOR!” you shout into the sentry’s face.
The man drops to his knees, blood streaming unchecked from his eyes. He recoils pathetically from you, his broken mind forming broken words that he mutters under his breath. A shaking hand offers you a key, and you snatch it and fit it to the lock in the reinforced door.
Your deputies surround you in an instant, throwing off their cloaks and drawing weapons. Badges gleam in the sun. People in the street scream. You hurl open the door, your deputies flood over the threshold, everyone starts shouting all at once, and inevitably, the first shot rings out.
Gunfire and chaos reign inside the poachers’ den. Explosions shake the walls. The hollow thunder of the poachers’ shotguns is answered by the two-round hyperburst of your deputies’ rifles. Bullets and slugs ricochet through the enclosed space and bury themselves in walls. Dust and debris rain down in showers. Men and women cry out in pain, anguish, and triumph.
Through the bedlam of the firefight you stride, with all the righteous fury of a vengeful winter storm. You rarely touch your sidearm in firefights, because you possess a far more potent weapon. You can choose to enter the mind of anyone who makes eye contact with you, and once you’re inside a mind, you can break it as easily as you can crack your knuckles.
In what seems like no time at all, an unnerving silence falls, broken only by the occasional ceiling tile dropping belatedly to the floor. A smoky haze hangs in the air as you step over lifeless, bloodied bodies, past display cabinets filled with rhinoceros horns, sea turtle shells, and pangolin scales. Your deputies sweep the side rooms for survivors, and before long, a man in a hideously garish suit is hauled out and brought before you.
“Hello, Mr. Addlestop,” you say. “Do you know who I am?”
“Iron…Angel?” he utters in disbelief.
You nod, amused by Addlestop’s surprise. Most people assume the Iron Angel is a towering behemoth of a man with shoulders as broad as a doorframe, because the image fits nicely with the stories that are told about you. What people get instead is a short girl with shockingly-red hair and a rather heavy jawline. You have drab, faded, almost dead-looking eyes that contrast spectacularly with your ginger locks. You’ve been told that you have the eyes of an old soul, and you suppose it’s probably true. After all, you’ve seen enough shit in twenty years to last several lengthy lifetimes.
“I’m going to need the names of your business associates,” you say, looking at the poacher expectantly.
“You can’t possibly think—”
You lift a hand. “Before you finish that thought, Addlestop, you should know that there is an easy way and a tedious way to do this.”
Addlestop hesitates. “I don’t think you understand that—”
“And you should also know,” you say, cutting him off again, “that the things you have heard about me are all true.”
Addlestop opens his mouth. Closes it. Opens and closes it again. His eyes dart back and forth between yours. Finally, with trembling lips, he says, “I don’t know names. You must understand that the individuals who work in this business are very motivated to keep their identities secret! I don’t know names—you must believe me!”
“And finally, you should know,” you sigh quietly, more to yourself than to anyone else in the room, “that I take no pleasure in doing this.”
Addlestop’s eyes are large and frightened. You fix those eyes with your gaze, and feel the familiar falling sensation.
The Memory Collector has been published in full as part of the Static Dreams anthology. If you would like to purchase Static Dreams, you can do so using one of the following links!
Images by tara caribou