Sunday, September 17, 2006

Killer of Killers

by Matthew Sanborn Smith

My heart burned arc welder bright as all of them, the insects and the rats and the human vermin skittered to the darkness through the striped shadows cast by my ribs. They knew I was back: The Killer of all Killers.

By nature I had no reputation but my aura shook the preternatural fear in their boiling guts and I was Terror. The broken alley crackled under my boots: shattered vials of Juice and the grit of three lifetimes. A handful of Portnoy's stooges dropped the slug they were beating and darted through the back entrance of their lair. I cut through the stench of piss and rotting garbage and grabbed a straggler before he found his filthy haven.

He screamed until his throat burst and with parted jaws, I consumed his history like a school of starving pirana. In an instant not only did he cease to exist but he ceased to have ever existed. Only I remembered him; I stand outside the timestream. Enriched by vivid memories of a life I had never lived, I savored the familiar bloat of my belly. His name had been Ben. My actual life was crowded a little more as he joined the scores of others who had gone the same way over the last few years.

Tryka wouldn't have wanted this. She could see beyond even what I saw, the alternate presents that I eradicated with my hate. She may have married me only to get my promise to stop. But my promise was only as good as "till death do us part." She was gone now, and those vows were null and void. Besides that, killing the way I did was the only way to bring her back.

The others, the ones that had gotten away, sought safety behind a single steel door, mottled with patches of brown rust and flaking green paint. I made its hinges never be, and with a kick, the door fell outward at my feet. The bullets that Portnoy's goons fired disappeared just inches out of the barrels with a sharp "Fwip! Fwip! Fwip!" The ore from which they'd eventually been made never was. The bullets that might have replaced them were never purchased, or never loaded. When I make things go away, they're ripped out of the Universe leaving a void that's not a vacuum, a hole that can never be filled. Men of flesh and bone scattered before me but I couldn't stomach another one just now and still have room for Portnoy.

I never knew the exact details of Tryka's vendetta. Only that she told me Portnoy had once raped someone she'd been very close to. I knew it had to be her.

"He's dead," I'd said with Hell in my scratchy voice.

"No," she'd said. Her soft green eyes hardened into bulletproof glass. "It has to be me. I have to do this myself. No matter what happens to me, don't do him." I nodded. She had to do it to feel whole again. But I'd have no problem breaking my promise to her if anything went wrong.

I'd assumed human form for her four years ago. Until then I was a force of nature, an impossibly large-scale quantum phenomenon stretching through the fourth dimension. Her passion coalesced me. Her peripheral power formed my consciousness without her awareness of it. I was nothing but a byproduct of Tryka's gift as it dredged reality behind her.

The old wooden steps that ran up to Portnoy's office rang deep and hollow with each slow step I took. The commotion at the top of the stairs abated and drew my attention. There stood Little Maxi, one of Portnoy's inner circle, Ben's memories told me. Dressed in a sharp suit of dark purple, his head was smooth and hairless and his hands and fingers were traced with the thin metallic strips of Sawyer VI exoskeletal modules. Those enhanced fingers gripped a NeuSoviet industrial collapser, one of the few of a growing number of items which are my equal. One which could kill me.

The collapser field manipulated particles at a sub-atomic level. It kept one foot in the fourth dimension in order to do it, so it wasn't affected by my transchronological tricks. But the Sawyer VI modules were. They evaporated from reality an instant before he fired. The unenhanced fingers of his right hand were too weak to work the handgrip. Before he could get a two-handed grip, my titanium alloy fist had shattered his jaw. His small body spilled across the pockmarked hardwood floor at the end of a blood-flecked trail.

Needles spat out of the wall to my side, tearing through my chest before I could stop them. The needle gun was Portnoy's signature weapon. He'd used it to remove the top of Tryka's head after her muddled assassination attempt. I reached out to him beyond the torn gypsum board walls and ripped his being out of the Universe.

"Oh, God!" I moaned. I fell to my knees overwhelmed by this new man inside my soul and everything that he meant. I had destroyed myself.

A warm dish pressed against my head. Maxi was a tough one. Any second now he'd activate the collapser. When he did, countless electrons would fall from their orbits and the atoms that made my head would collapse. My head would disappear. A flicker of my speed-of-thought reflexes and I could dodge. I could kill Maxi, maybe with his own collapser if I felt like it. I shouldn't exist now anyway, but I stand outside the timestream. I am the crux of paradox.

Tryka would never come back to me. She had never existed at all because Portnoy hadn't only been her killer. He'd been her father.

I let Maxi pull the grip.

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