The call came just after midnight. A thousand mind-liquefiers had been found in shipping containers on Pier 62.
“A thousand,” I repeated into the phone.
As Chief of Police Special Tactics, I was never supposed to show fear, but I’d be lying if I said that my voice didn’t tremble a bit.
I was at the pier in fifteen flat. This was 1936, mind you, and getting from Depot Junction to the waterfront in less than half an hour was no easy task.
Hart stood alone at the pier when I arrived. He was young, twenty-three or twenty-four I guess, but he was honest, and that’s what really mattered.
People thought the Special Tactics selection course was all about finding the brightest and the toughest. The truth was, however, that I designed it to find the most reliable men I could get. If there was going to be any chance at all of getting the liquifiers off the streets, I was going to need trustworthy men.
Hart nodded into my flashlight. Uncertainty was painted all over his baby blues. “Sir,” he said.
“You looked inside the containers,” I said. “You looked at the liquifiers.”
He looked away and thought of lying. The idea was written all over his face. But honest men always find lying more difficult than telling the truth. That’s why they’re honest.
“Yes, sir. I did. I couldn’t call you in until I was sure the liquefiers were in there.”
“Informant give the tip?”
Hart looked back at a container at the dock’s edge, its door hanging wide open. He started to move towards it, but caught himself. The movement was subtle, but I saw it, and I knew he knew I saw it.
“Everything okay, Hart?”
I walked past him to the container. He started to follow, but I held up a hand to keep him back.
“Hold off a minute,” I said.
I looked inside the container. Stacks of mind liquefiers gleamed back at me, glassy screens glaring under my flashlight, knobs and wires lustrous like the eyes of giant insects.
“Sir,” Hart said shakily as he stepped closer. He cleared his throat and took a deep breath. “If I may say so, it seems like an awful waste to smash all those units.”
“Those damn things turn the human brain to soup, Hart. They turn people into breathing corpses.”
Hart shuffled his feet.
“We’ve been trying to keep them off the street for three years. More and more just keep showing up.”
The factuality of his statement seemed to give him courage and confidence.
“People want them.”
“People want all sorts of things that aren’t good for them.”
I shined my flashlight over Hart’s water blues.
“But that doesn’t even matter, really. The law has been passed. I’m a cop, and my job is to enforce the law, and I intend to do that tonight.”
Desperation flared in Hart’s eyes, just for a moment, and then he lunged.
I sidestepped the attack. His momentum carried him stumbling past me and made him easy to tackled from behind.
Hart was strong enough that I worried he’d break loose, but he struggled only for a moment before coming to his senses.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t know what came over me.”
“It’s alright, kid.”
My voice was kind, but I kept my grip on him tight.
“That’s what those damn things do. They’re like a drug that can’t be kicked.”
“I thought I was better than that,” he said.
“It can happen to anyone.”
I let go of him and stood up. Hart followed suit. His eyes held on the shipping container.
“It just seems like such a waste,” he said.
He sighed and shook his head. “A thousand perfectly good television sets, gone to waste.”
“Mind liquefiers,” I interjected. “Call them by their right name or else you’ll forget what they really are.”
Hart nodded in agreement, but he was lost. The damn things had gotten to him.
We waited in silence for the Demolishers to show up with their bats and torches. Hart was next to me, but I felt as alone as I’ve ever felt before or since. It was starting to feel like I was the only person left who really wanted the fight.
The only thing that kept me going that night was the same thing that keeps me going today. See, there’s this nightmare I have almost every night. In it, I’m walking through the city, real fast, the way things move in dreams.
In every house that I pass, there’s a mind liquefier front and center of the living room, its screen all lit up and shining on the faces of families full of people with sunken faces and brains pouring out of their ears like porridge.
Whenever the urge to quit weighs on me, I remember that nightmare, and keep going. It’s got nothing to do with courage. I’m no hero.
I’d just rather be dead than see the day that those things take over the world.