art by Jonathan Westbrook
The Needs of Hollow Men
by K.A. Rundell
Dmitri's exists in the cracks between the city, in the red zone, where the officials are too busy with the girls to see anything else. It's the only place Kane can go without someone watching him. He sits at the end of the bar, the amber whiskey in his glass trembling in time with the thumping bass of the music overhead.
"You want a dance?"
Kane shakes his head as the voice purrs in his ear. An arm slides across his shoulder. He brushes it off.
"Hey now." She's one of Dmitri's girls, all dark hair and kohl-lined eyes. Tight, glittering garments that barely contain her curves. Mostly natural. Kane notes the thin scar running along her wrist, the soft glow of a flickering green light beneath her skin--an implant chip to process account cards. Much safer than carrying old-time paper money. She props herself against the bar, twirls her dark hair in her fingers. "I just thought we could spend some time together," she murmurs.
She leans closer. Kane can see the faint lines cracking through her makeup, smell the mouthwash and stale tobacco that lingers on her breath. She reaches out to caress his chest. "Come on, mister…" Her voice trails off; her hand brushes the ID badge stitched to his shirt.
"Oh," she says. "You're one of them."
Detective Special Class 4-E, he thinks. Empath. Come on, you can say it. On the streets they call him Hollow Man, able to read the emotional residue, the remembrances left behind on physical objects. To the law he is an invaluable tool, and they provide the drugs that leave him empty, void of his own feelings so that he can re-live the moments of others.
Already he can feel the memories rolling off the dancing girl's skin. Earlier customers, cheap men who've left her short of money for the overdue electric bill. A night, some years earlier, when the law busted her for tricking without a license in the 7th street blockade. She is an unending tide of greed, of jealousy. The sweat on her body shimmers with her desperation.