What is it? This man’s first day driving a bus? I swear, If I’m late, I’ll –
She’s thick, ain’t she? Man, if I had just five minutes, I’d...
I rub my eyes and sit. I made the wrong choice. Fucking telepathy. “Know all!” they said. Turns out all there is to know is that people hate. A lot. Oh, and they think about running away, stealing, and, my God, they hurt inside… at least in this little slice of paradise. I shake my head and cover my ears, but it doesn’t help. The implant uses bone conduction technology. There’s no drowning it out.
I pull out the instructions.
Thought Genie! Step into the minds of anyone not wearing a mind vest and know all! Chip will dissolve in 24 hours. If the chip does not self-dislodge, T.GENIE NOT AT FAULT! All sales are final.
I huff. Yeah, my fault. I should be flying around right now with the rest of the addy-flight freaks, but there’d been a few things I wanted to know. Did my brother-in-law cheat on my sister? Bastard. Was the lying prick Stephen stealing my ideas from my office desk? Does Mel still love me... I rub my temples and see Du Pont Circle coming up.
“Next stop, Florida Ave.,” the speaker buzzes.
I make a note to stay off the damn bus til the weekend. I stand and brush past a man who breaks eye contact as quickly as he makes it. He smells like ashes and ozone. I shimmy-shuffle past the lady in the front seat with all the bags. And then I hear it.
Wait ‘til she sees what I did. Oh, man! I can wait ’til that dumb cow sees what I did to her. She’ll regret droppin’ me. Oh, man...
The words bother me, but they aren’t that unusual, even after just two hours in the city with the Genie. It’s the tone. I know. I know, but thoughts have a tone. And that particular thought stops me cold. My stomach drops. What is this? I... feel something. The Thought Genie is basically a high-frequency tuner. Reads some kind of chem signals in the brain and interprets the neurons and synaptic patterns. Science shit. Who knows? But there’s no place they talk about feeling the transmitter’s feelings. Fuck.
I yank at the device above my ear, but it’s locked in tight. I shake my head and try to differentiate between my feelings and the man’s, but they’re entangled.
Mary’s all but dead and she doesn’t even know. Walking dead, bitch. What she deserves.
I stumble backward and shake my head. A prim woman in a pressed skirt and tight glasses bats me with her paper like a bad dog. “Sorry. Sorry, ma’am. Miss. I -”
I shoulda made her pay years ago. Well, best served cold, ain’t it, Marrrry?
“I’m - ugh, excuse me.” I make for the bus door and trip. “My stop, driver. Coming.” I muster and feel my fists clench. My insides tighten like a spring. My eyes focus on the black grippy floor. What? Why? I turn. The man is staring at me. Jaw tight, fists clenched, eyes locked. Shit.
I mat my hair over my Thought Genie and scramble to my feet. Just some distance. Just need some distance and he’ll go away. Poof. I jog a few steps and feel the connection begin to link to another mind. Thank God. Anyone else. I jog around the corner and breathe out against the cool morning brick. I feel a vibration in my head, then a pause as it uplinks.
Where did that piece of shit go? Dammit! Damn tech mutants. I’ll kill him. Freak. Eavesdropper! What’d he hear? What’d he hear?
“Help, sir!” I say to a man striding past on his phone. He raises his eyebrow behind thousand dollar sunglasses and sweeps passed. I peel off the wall and peek around the corner. There he is. Walking this way. A conservative mad man in stark relief against a city that accepts him. Wears a cool salmon tie against a crisp blue suit that cuts to his svelt body like a shell. But inside it, he hides. A hermit crab human. A white-collar monster.
Can’t think. Can’t separate his thoughts from mine.
There he is. What’d he hear? Never gonna tell another secret again.
I race. A store. Glass windows. Keep running. There, Kramer’s Books! I know it. Maybe Josh is working. Oh, God!
Go on, little rabbit. Can’t hide from me.
I bang open the door and look around. Quiet mid-morning. Empty. Old book smell. Two, three... all women. “Josh!” I call. A woman behind the counter shushes me and beckons me over, shaking her head. “Call the cops. There’s a killer - a killer coming!” She stares. I begin to cry loose sloppy tears and run to the back of the store. A way out? Back Entrance?
No way out. He’ll try to come out this way. You still listening, pal? Go ’head. Listen.
I run upstairs. The stairs creak and moan. I stumble past rows of Mechum and Bryson. I turn the corner into the wide-open space with no exit.
Right behind you.
I smell ashes and ozone. I see the huge window and race toward it. Blind sprint. Can’t breathe. No more tiles. I stop and turn. “What’d you do?” I scream.
“You’ll never know,” he says as he shoves me through the glass. I hear the crashing glass above the fray of his myriad thoughts.
Got ’im. Close. Too close. I can get out of this. You’re next, Mary.
Bright light. Grey clouds. Crack. Buzzzzzz.
“It’s alright, ma’am. I’m... Agent Foster. That man’s a criminal. Stole private property. I’ll go outside and phone the cavalry. You just relax now. Stay here.”
The light fades. A blue suit steps over me, careful of the oozing crimson.
Now, where’s that bus stop.