Listen, my son

8/5: “Fire, who rises up to become his own dead father.”

A good deal of inspiration drawn from “The Last Firstborn” by Celldweller. Pretty sure I want to write this story at some point, first time using these characters.

“All I’m sayin’, kid, is that some of us have noticed your dear old dad in the way.”

The old man leaned back in his chair, his wizened hands caressing the leather as though the badly upholstered seat were truly a throne. He had that way about him that made Cameron respect him, although the boy could have grabbed the feeble man and crushed him. Men like this would always cow boys like Cameron—those who lacked the intelligence to make it alone on the streets.

But Cam had strength, and the dull biddability of a cow. It had made him an asset, sort of, and he found that being an asset, sort of beat the hell out of being one of the starving husks panhandling on the street corners. The city housed a limited number of careers, and the number dwindled by the day, as rival gangs constricted their hold. Fewer and fewer opportunities to be an entrepreneur, or at least what passed for an entrepreneur in their disintegrating dystopia. Fewer still for someone operating alone.

So Cam stared at Williams—all he knew the man as, probably a false surname, who knew—with his particular slack-jawed look. He’d turned seventeen last week and it’d been the last time he’d seen his dad. Tall and hale even as his strength fled, his father possessed the last vestiges of a dying breed of human—that was, he possessed distinct characteristics delineating a heritage. A strong Swedish accent. A dark sweep of hair, a goatee, dark brown eyes. A far cry from the ambiguous brown-hair-brown-eyed race that had spilled out into the city generations ago, the melting pot melted as far as it could.

“You have to listen to me, son,” his father had said, grabbing Cam by the shoulders and holding him, his strength unnerving and infuriating in a moment. “Listen, my son. Williams and his crew, they took your sister, or they know where she’s hidden, at least. You’re in with them. You have to help me find her.”

Cam had twisted away with a low note of revulsion in the back of his throat. Now, he regarded Williams without expression, his eyes dark as his father’s.

“So, what you want me to do?”

“Well, I ain’t gonna tell ya to kill yer dad.”

The words fell flat and hard, toneless and darkly insinuating. Cam understood. Williams wouldn’t tell him to kill his dad, but it’s what he would do, or wouldn’t do, and it would decide what Williams would do, or wouldn’t do. He had a choice.

“Do you have my sister?” Cam asked.

“Nah,” Williams said, leaning further back in his chair, a shadow passing over most of the upper half of his body. “That matter?”

“Nah,” Cam said, not meaning to mimic his elder but doing so anyway. He shrugged. “What all’s he doin’?”

“Sellin’ information, I’m told, to the coppers. Layin’ out your name and all the rest of us. ‘Cept I’m pretty sure you’re the only one dumb enough to use yer real name.”

The cold implication struck Cam. His dad would know this—would know his son used his real name. Would know that the rest of the gangster scum would filter back through the sewers, back into anonymity, once the information he promulgated led the cops to Williams’ den. Leaving only Cameron, cold and culpable for a number of crimes. Some, perhaps, punishable by death.

Cam flexed his fingers, something he did that everyone except him noticed, when his brain worried over some complicated onus.

“Okay,” he said.

Cameron hugged the corner, the rifle cold and heavy in his hand. He held it up, his face inches from the barrel. His breath came in quick staccato bursts, after he’d jogged a good mile or so in his hand-me-down combat armor, borrowed from Williams. Ahead of him in the cowled darkness of the starless night, his father stood a precious few inches away from another man, shoulder to shoulder, muttering.

He heard his name. His blood went cold for half a second, and then Cam went cold, an expression that had drifted halfway between incredulity and outrage melting away into nothing. He adjusted his grip on his rifle and drew in a deep breath. Stepped out from the corner, swung his rifle down, fired. The man his father spoke with vanished in a cloud of pink mist.

For his part, the Swede only stiffened somewhat, his breath rushing audibly from him. He turned, no surprise visible in his face. Just—something quiet, and soft, and resigned. They regarded one another, father and son.

“Listen, my son,” the Swede said.

“I can’t believe you,” Cameron choked out, fear lighting abruptly in the back of his mind, an unwelcome spark that brightened his vision and set his hands to shaking. “I can’t believe you’re doing what he said you were doing.”

“Listen,” the Swede said, but said nothing else.

Cam shifted the rifle, which had wavered from its target. He gritted his teeth and swallowed and fired. Pink mist. He liked the rifle—he liked the way it simply vaporized its target. But this time, it felt a little hollow. He wanted a skirmish, he wanted to close with his father and feel the Swede’s strength just once more.

Williams stepped out of the alley behind him, and Cam didn’t look at him, just lowered his rifle.

“I can’t believe him,” Cam said numbly, and Williams didn’t offer a hand on the shoulder or a conciliatory word.

“Come on, kid,” Williams grunted. He didn’t sound nearly as tired as Cam did. “We got other shit to do.”


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