No Morning Light
by Kevin Birge
The driverless black sedan was utterly silent except for the sounds of bulletproof rubber against the aging blacktop. The wastelands of Detroit had mostly been denuded of usable road surface, but the city kept one long stretch of two lane in semi-usable condition for police access. Inside the car, total silence broken only by the strike of a vintage wood safety match flaring to life as it gave life to the illicit and illegal pleasure of a fine cigar. Off in the distance, a half mile distant across the bleak expanse of tumbled debris and abandoned buildings, a streetlight still illuminated the darkness for no useful purpose.
Maxwell Joseph Grim ran his hand over his perfectly bald head and exhaled blue and aromatic smoke. He reclined, and the seat adjusted itself to suit his posture. He was riding out to the lone Precinct left in the old city in the middle of the night, awakened by a call from a couple of officers he kept on the payroll. “Got something for you,” he said. “You wait till morning, it’s gone. Get down here now, and I hope you have the Ameros to cover the cost.” That was the whole call. Grim smiled. For the sake of the cop, this had better be special. His gut told him it was. The old gut feeling, the sixth sense, the man on the shoulder–this had never let him down. This was Halal. He looked up into the mirror. His bronze skin, almond eyes, and angular features, to his eyes, looked regal.
The Old Detroit precinct was a low, squatting , windowless concrete enclosure crouching behind multiple fences topped with razor wire. Rusted signs bearing the warning “high voltage” hung every 20 feet, and the remains of local savages who could neither read the sign nor understand the pictogram remained in varying states of decomposition. The sedan’s A.I. spoke to the Precinct as it rolled up to the gate, which moved aside to let the car pass, sliding shut with a hair’s breadth to spare of the rear bumper. The two digital intelligences had agreed that the sedan, and the passenger, and any portion of the dealings within involving the police would be off the record. No audio or video transcripts recorded, no biometrics involved.
The gullwing door on the starboard side opened up and Grim stepped out, cigar in hand. The cigar was more than mere luxury. The strong smell and flavor of the tobacco kept the rancid stench of decay that pervaded the wastelands of the old city at bay. He took a moment and smoothed the silken black pants. Perfectly creased, spotless, and crisp at all times. Gravel crunched beneath his feet. The precinct door, a grey slab of featureless iron, swung open. Seargent Markham stood in the hallway, grinning. “Get your ass in here, Grim.”
Markham clapped him on the shoulder as they walked into the precinct command room. A magnificently obese officer was seated in a swiveling chair that he completely hid. A bulletproof vest tried to cover his chest and back, bulging and sliding. “Sugarhill here found him.” Officer Sugarhill smiled. “You’re gonna love this. Doris, can you play the video for the gentleman?” Markham spun a wheeled office chair around backwards and leaned forward against the back. “You are not going to believe this shit, boss. This guy is a damned animal.”
The precinct A.I. responded by dimming the lights and playing a hologram. The scene looked like generic wastelands to Grim. High weeds, rusted and unidentifiable junk, cracked and uneven concrete too far gone to ever drive on with anything that didn’t have treads. A solitary figure, sillouhetted against the first rays of the rising sun picked his way down the broken thoroughfare. “Caught this guy with a surveillance drone and he flagged our interests. His biometrics were not in the database. Doris was good and baffled.”
Grim squinted. He was a good judge of size, and he was looking at a super heavyweight. This man was probably six feet seven inches and easily 300 pounds, and every ounce of it looked to be muscle. “Now check this out. When the metrics didn’t match to anything, we moved in for a closer look..and…” The picture zoomed in. The man was still in shadows but he was clearly a caucasian. “Pure strain white boy. Rare as a hen’s tooth.” The giant had his head shaved down to the scalp, and wore an odd hodge podge of ragged garments that looked like they had evolved rather than been made.
A pure white boy. Grim thought this too good to be true. Save for the very old and a handful of wretched, inbred homesteaders out in the wastelands, there weren’t any more white boys. If he was healthy and genetically unmixed he could be profitable simply as a curiosity. A carnival attraction. See the throwback man! The great villain of the ages, despoiler of nations and enslaver of the innocent! And if he could fight, ye gods! The boxers on the draw cards were as mixed as everyone else in the country. A fighter that combined that kind of novelty with boxing prowess would be worth a mint. The lone remnant of a once cruel and mighty race, toe to toe and bare knuckles against the peoples he once tormented! Grim liked it.
The giant figure seemed oblivious to his surroundings. As the camera pulled back, Grim could see that he was being hunted. A half dozen savages armed with knives, clubs, and makeshift spears closed in from both sides. Jihadi cannibals, the fecund and savage citizens of old Detroit. “OK, here we go.” Markham was grinning. “Watch this. We have a half dozen Jihadis moving in, he’s got four coming up on his right, two on his left. He looks like he’s totally unaware. But!” As the officer spoke, the video showed the Jihadis break into a full sprint toward their prey. Two of the four on the right broke out ahead of the pack, and appeared to be racing each other to get there first.
As the swiftest of the two closed in, the huge man crouched slightly and pulled back to throw a haymaker. Grim shook his head. Slowest punch a man can throw, hardest to land, sign of a rank amateur. The punch was indeed a long throw, what the old-timers called “reaching back to Omaha.” That should have been a fatal mistake, a telegraphing of intent that meant defeat. Instead, the punch was delivered with such blinding speed that Grim thought the video was sped up. The first Jihadi fell prone in a spray of blood. Sugarhill whooped. “Bam! Dead!”
“And we were watching this in real time.” Markham shrugged. “Slow night. Lucky you. We thought of you right away. It was Sugarhill that sent the proxy in to nab him.” The first Jihadi had scarcely hit the ground when the big man snatched up his weapon, a three-foot length of rusted iron pipe. He brought it around in a half moon arc, deflecting the spear of one enemy and crushing the skull of another. Spear-bearer drew back his weapon, but as he did so his huge enemy leaped forward, screaming like a maddened beast, and brought the pipe down overhead across his skull. Blood and brains and hair splattered from the fury of the blow.
Three Jihadis had died, and the other three were not keen to try their luck against this monstrous adversary. They fled, heading back to whatever warrens they had come from. The big man had not yet dropped the pipe when a nearly blinding white spotlight hit him. “Detroit Police! You are under arrest! Put the weapon down and get on the ground for processing!” The voice was booming, loud, and nearly Godlike. Markham laughed. “Sugarhill sounds badassed, don’t he? He’s the best proxy operator you’ll ever see.” The proxy robot rolled into view. The robot had a vaguely human head with red and blue lights for eyes. These strobed in the traditional cherries and berries fashion dating back to the old police cruisers.
The torso was boxy and clearly armored. Long, metallic tentacles served where arms should be and terminated in six jointed, finger-like appendages. The bottom of the proxy consisted of four bulletproof balloon tires on wheels that functioned like the old planetary rovers. The searchlight emanated from the chest, so bright that staring directly at it could cause retinal damage. “Alright” Sugarhill said, punching a button on control surface in front of him, “Let’s switch to proxy view. We ain’t even get to the best part yet.”
Illuminated from the front by the harsh spotlight, Grim could finally take in a good look at his prospective property. The face was covered with scars, this was a man who had clearly been in scores of fights. Grim guessed his age to be late twenties to early thirties. His eyes were averted, and he dropped the pipe, but made no move to go prone and submit to processing. The proxy moved in closer. “On the ground!” Instead, there was a blur of motion that could barely be tracked as the man threw a punch at the robot. The picture went dead.
“Took the optical sensors offline with a punch.” Sugarhill switched back to overhead drone view. “I still don’t believe that happened. You could brain that proxy with a nine pound hammer and not jar it hard enough to do that.” The rest happened quickly. A dense, impenetrable fog of vapor exploded out from the robot. “Nighty night.” Sugarhill beamed. “A shot of the old gas, and he was dead asleep. We trussed him up for you and called you as soon as we had him in a cell.” Grim nodded. “What’s his name?” Markham shrugged. “Doris is doing routine interrogation right now, trying to determine that very thing.”
The voice was calm, the voice was soothing, the voice had an almost sing-song quality to it. The voice sounded warm, like the voice of an old friend, or your mother. But the man in the cell had never known a friend, and had never known a mother. He sat on the floor cross-legged with his arms folded and stared at the door of his cell as if looking through it. “Your name is Hank Kelley.” No answer. “Isn’t that right? Hank Kelley. That’s a lovely name. Very old timey. You must have had a very interesting mother, to name you Hank.”
His name was Hank Kelley. This much he remembered. He did not remember his mother. He remembered the woman with the hateful eyes, all he could see beneath the black hijab that covered her face. He remembered how she had backhanded him with enough force to knock him sideways. “Filthy brat! You eat what is left after my children are done!” This was his earliest clear memory. There was something else, something that might have been before that. A scent, like the smell of roses almost, but nothing else. That was buried deep and he seldom thought of it, but when it surfaced he associated it with feeling peaceful and safe.
“Your mother and father were traditional Christians. Old type marriage contract, non-conformists. You were taken by Child Protective Services when you were two years old to protect you from idealogical abuse. Records show you were in various foster homes up until you were about fifteen years old. After that, we have nothing. You were officially considered deceased and purged from the system six years later.”
Hank said nothing. He had not known anything about his parents. He knew his name was Hank Kelley. He knew that he had been shuffled from house to house as a child, and had always been a hated and unwelcome guest. He had learned in school that not so long ago, white men had been the terror and scourge of the world, and that modern society had been built on the ashes of his fallen and devilish empire. The white man was gone but not forgotten, vanquished but not forgiven. And Hank Kelley learned that you had to fight just to survive.
“What happened to my parents?” Hank knew the query would confirm the AI’s questions, but that would have happened anyway. Doris sounded genuinely sympathetic. “I’m so sorry, Hank. They were arrested for anti-government agitation not long after you were taken from them. They died while in a state re-education facility.” Hank’s face betrayed no emotion. He just continued to stare. Inside him, however, he was seething. He had run away as soon as he was old enough and smart enough to go and stay gone. And he had finished his education in the wastelands, where he had learned to survive. How to hunt. And how to kill. Hank intended to kill many people by way of an answer for that offense, maybe starting with the first person dumb enough to walk through that cell door.
Grim pulled two cigars from the inside of his jacket, and offered each of the officers precious contraband. “He certainly is the damnedest thing I’ve seen for a while. Doris! I want a 32 ounce bone-in ribeye cooked medium rare with sides delivered to that man’s cell. Real meat, off the hoof, from my personal vendor. Bill it to my account.” He lit the cigars. “Boys, I think you have a product here worthy of my money. This calls for a celebration.” They struck a deal that the officers thought was good, and that Grim considered a bargain. He thought of the traders of long ago, exchanging glass beads for the island of Manhattan.
Hank was glaring at the door of his cell when he heard the clacking of locks being released. He stood erect, muscles tensing and fists clenched, ready to murder the man he came through the door. The door swung open Grim stood flanked by the two officers. Grim was smiling and relaxed, hands on the handle of a stainless steel pushcart. The cops had guns drawn and were nearly as tense as the prisoner. The smell of the steak dinner on the tray nearly sufficed to drop Kelley to his knees. He had not eaten in nearly two days.
Grim raised his hand, glancing sideways at Markhan. “We’re good, boys. Mr. Kelley and I are going to have a conversation while he enjoys his dinner. We don’t need to keep guns on him while he eats, do we?” He looked Hank in the eye, a direct and steady gaze that Hank recognized as an honest gesture. “We can discuss business like civilized men. No need for me to hide behind bodyguards. Yes?” Hank nodded. “Yes.” Grim pushed the cart forward and gestured. Hank picked the steak up and laid into it. He tore great hunks loose and swallowed them down, hardly chewing them as the blood ran down his chin. Grim noted that he ate warily, looking from left to right and back to front like some manner of wild beast.
Markham and Sugarhill holstered their weapons and departed. Grim waited quietly, seating himself on the spartan cot that occupied one wall of the cell. “Doris tells me you have survived a dozen years alone in the wastelands. A lone wolf, yet.” He exhaled blue smoke. “I would call it a lie, except it clearly isn’t. You are some manner of throwback. You are at least a thousand years out of your proper time and place. Maybe more. Guys like you hunted mammoths with spears.” Hank cast the bone aside. He looked for more meat, saw none, and scowled. “I could eat one, easily enough. You spoke of business. You could start with telling me why I’m here. Last time I checked, a rumble in the middle of the wastelands wasn’t a police matter.”
Grim smiled. “It isn’t. It’s my business. And my business is finding guys like you and turning them into money. Plain and simple. I’m in the boxing game.” Hank scowled. “Boxing? They outlawed that a long time before I was born.” Grim nodded.
” Not primal enough. So they had the idea, have the politicians and the talking heads gin up some outrage. Get the folks riled up and primed for the next step. And the next step was, a ban. And as soon as it was illegal and we went bare knuckles, bam! Packed houses! Bigger crowds! And the betting action–don’t get me started, it was paradisical. And ever since then, it’s been all good.”
Hank nodded. “That cell door is open. I know that the AI is listening and I know those cops are watching. It doesn’t matter. I could kill you before they could save you, and I like my chances to kill everyone in this building and walk out the door.” Grim nodded assent. “You could. I wouldn’t give you even money on it, though. Maybe three to one against, which is actually a very good bet.” Grim made no attempt to run and showed no fear. This was his gut decision, and it spared him his life. “So. You want me to come with you and fight. What’s in this for me?” Grim gestured toward the door. “That, we discuss in my limousine. Be happy. This is your lucky day.”
The two men sat quietly as the limousine shot through the wastelands. Hank sat back, eyes closed, and half slept. Grim regarded his purchase. His face was a roadmap of scars, with a prominent brow and a square chin. His nose was still straight, but Grim guessed that it had been broken at least once. His clothes smelled like the barrens, a unique smell of decay and kerosene. He was a huge man, clearly a thousand generation recessive gene throwback to a more savage time. And yet, the men he would face in the ring were larger. The public wanted to see a freak, and to breed a freak, you had to defy nature.
So they juiced them up, and spliced genes, and did a hundred other nasty tricks grow them bigger, and tougher, and meaner. The boxers were scarcely more than animals. Despite all the science, the degradation in brain power had not yet been solved. You could train them. You just couldn’t get real greatness out of them, and this Grim bitterly lamented. His trained eye hated the empty spectacle of two giants slugging it out with no real style. Hank Kelley was different. He was about a hundred and fifty years late, but the fabled Great White Hope of the sweet science had finally arrived. He could be a champion–if he lived.
Copyright 2017, Kevin Birge, all rights reserved.