By Elad Haber
Two shots in the morning. Bang bang.
I keep the caffe pen by my bed. I reach for its slim silver form and press its mouth against the confluence of veins below my left wrist. My eyes flash wide, instant awake.
There’s a girl in the sheets behind me. She stirs, but doesn’t wake. I forgot her name or never bothered to learn it.
I insert another small cartridge into the pen. I’m already awake, but the extra boost helps. It’s not like I slept.
There’s a hydraulic hiss when the pen makes contact with skin. A bit of a roasted aroma, hints of toasted walnuts. I bolt out of bed.
Hard to believe people used to drink this stuff. Who has time for that?
When I’m caffed, I can fly.
Cities have grown taller than ever. No place to go but up, as they say. Buildings on top of buildings: vertical urban expansion. Elevators are slow and prone to malfunction so a group of geniuses designed an urban tethering system, incorporated in a dozen big cities worldwide.
I step out onto the chilly shared balcony at the midpoint of my building. There’s a few other people waiting around, staring at the digital projections only they can see. There’s a family near one of the glass railings. Two kids, a boy and girl, dressed as if going to a wedding in suits and dresses and fresh haircuts. The boy is sobbing while the parents are arguing.
I press the button at the center of my belt and it starts to glow green. The color is pulsing, a “waiting” phase. It’s all computerized, of course, with a central brain coordinating travel. Nearby, the system picks up a smartly dressed woman in a navy suit and heels. She lifts off the ground as if she was a marionette and then she ascends. Her legs flail a bit, but her posture remains calm, as if the invisible hand of a virtual god was nothing worth discussing.
My apartment is already high up off the distant ground, but my office is even higher. On a clear day, you can see the massive form of the ISS2 from my window. When I started looking for a job, I focused on the firms with the best real estate. Maybe that was superficial, but my dad always used to say, “Aim high, buddy. Don’t settle for middle tier. Top floor, buddy, that’s where you belong.”
He always called me ‘buddy’ as if he wanted to be my friend, not my father. He was rarely home, off on business trips, but birthday gifts always arrived on time and age appropriate, as if pre-scheduled.
There’s a shout as the system picks up the family with the sobbing child. The boy is screaming. His sister laughs and the parents look worried.
My own belt starts to vibrate, indicating liftoff. It starts slow then picks up speed. My legs hover over the ground, my shoulders and back stretch, and then my body is roaring through the sky, the passing windows of the apartments a blur of sunbaked glass.
The commute is usually about eight minutes long. Just enough time to check my schedule on my handheld. I’m a consultant, brought in to save failing companies. My advice is usually the same: Cut your workforce in half, use the excess money to invest in the company, then prosper. Sometimes I recommend a seventy-five percent personnel cut. I never wanted to be a corporate bloodsucker like my dad, I wanted to be a superhero, but sometimes things just happen.
Suddenly my body trembles like I’m on one of those old underground trains – what were those called again? – and I can feel the dramatic force of the tether just stop. I am suddenly weightless.
I look down to check the belt. What’s supposed to be a calming blue during transit is a dark, dramatic, red.
In the rare event of a tether break, nets are designed to deploy from the buildings to create a kind of honeycombed spiderweb to catch falling passengers. They test it every once in a while, I’ve seen it. But that’s not happening.
The problem is I’m not falling. The force of the pull from the tether was so strong that despite the broken connection, I’m still climbing, floating up and up through the atmosphere.
And I’m not the only one.
People are starting to freak out. Both the kids are crying. We pass the familiar glass of my office suites. Up here, the air is thin. I notice the parents start to doze off.
I can see the nets start to deploy below us. They’re making their way up, but they’re too slow and we’re too high. We’re about to clear even the top most structures. If we could somehow change our trajectory back down, we would be okay. But how?
My head starts to match the sky, light and airless.
I fumble in my pants pocket for my caffe pen, already pre loaded for on the go. I jab it into my veins. My brain ignites and I have a plan.
I kick my legs as if I’m swimming and launch myself at the family. I reach for them and pull them down as hard as I can, reversing their trajectory. I manage to stop all four and then launch myself again this time towards the woman in the navy suit. She’s already passed out, floating weightless.
My path is off and I almost miss her, but manage to reach out and grab one of her legs. I barrel roll us and then let her go, floating peacefully down while I continue my unwilling ascent.
I push through the air and pull every other floating person down until it’s just me and the approaching darkness.
At least I got to be a superhero. Even for just a few minutes.
Elad Haber is a husband, father to an adorable little girl, and IT guy by day, fiction writer by night. He has 2023 publications in the following venues: Lightspeed Magazine, the Simultaneous Times Podcast, Underland Arcana, Microfiction Monday Magazine, Space and Time Magazine, and in the Shacklebound Books anthology, The Book of Drabbles. You can follow him on Twitter or on his website.