Pretty Little Thing
by Sara Genge
She was a pretty little thing, lithe, dark. She swung her hair just so, without a care in the world, not a hint of tension to betray the danger of the situation, a young girl taking the metro at night, alone.
I imagined she had a boyfriend. She was too hot not to. What kind of man would let her walk home alone at night? Some teen kid, surely, someone who didn’t know what the world was like or didn’t value her enough. If she were mine I’d protect her. I’d help her onto the 25 kph conveyor belts so she wouldn’t have to take off her high heeled shoes. I’d accompany her home. That’s what a decent man would do.
She wore nano. Daddy must have shelled out quite a bit for it. The nanobots pressed her clothes to her skin in just the right places, showing off her not-quite-ripe figure. She must have worn communication lice in her hair too, but they were the expensive kind and didn’t show. She was too young to dress like that. I knew, because she had small marks on her elbows and knees, darker stains black people sometimes get in exposed areas. If she were old enough to use nano inside her body, the bots would have removed them. Not many would have noticed, but I’m pretty observant.
In fact, I’m so observant that I knew immediately when Constanza planned on leaving me. This was a year ago. There was something in the way she stepped onto the boat. A slight trembling of her calf. She was nervous, although she had been to the peniche many times before. I had taken her sailing down the Seine and we had slept cuddled in the room under the deck. I loved that boat. Peniches have been sailing the Seine for centuries. They’re supposed to be flat cargo boats, but I bought mine already fitted out as a home. No taxes, no ties, free to come and go as I please, free as the current of those dirty waters.
She said awful things to me that night, things I won’t repeat because you really don’t want to hear them. I was hurt, I really was. All I’d wanted from her was a little respect. But the past is the past and now this cute girl was sitting in front of me.
I’d programmed my nano to record my thoughts so it was important to be observant. That way I never forgot anything. I was careful, I planned ahead. I went through the information at night in the boat. I added bits and pieces together and reconstructed other people’s lives. Who knew when I might need them?
I could hear the black girl’s legs slide against each other as she crossed them, could see the hungry stares of the men sitting next to her. There was a tramp eating a kebab with his hands. Dirty nails, green-lined cuticles. Did he have a fungus? See, this is what I mean when I say this country is going to pot. That kind of person should be put away, or, even better, put to work. You probably understand. You’re a normal guy just like me. You work hard. You do your part. And when you get out of work, you have to watch these parasites, looking at a young girl’s legs with no respect. It’s disgusting.
The girl and the kebab aroused both my hungers. It was excruciating. I knew a girl like her would never go out with a guy like me. I didn’t know her; if I tried to start a conversation, she’d think I was a pervert. I know things never work out that way. In another time, in another place, if she’d gotten to know me, sure! But she’d never get to know me. I’d crossed her once or twice, accidentally of course, but she lived in a different world: took piano classes at the conservatory, went shopping with her mom, lived in the 17th Arrondissement.
What I mean is that women approach relationships in a different way. I’m OK with that, I believe in Darwin. This overprotected chick would never be interested in me.
This prim man came into the metro and sat next to her. He was stiff, the kind of guy who can’t let go, pretty sick if you ask me. He kept looking at the vagrant’s fingernails and sniffing. I couldn’t blame him for that, but I sure could blame him for his haircut. As if a cow had licked it, that’s how greased it was.
The girl got out in another nine stops, as I’d known she would. She changed lines twice. She tacked through the metro system like a sailboat through adverse wind. When she climbed up the stairs, I caught a glimpse of her panties. They were pink, how typical. She might not yet know what she wanted, but she wanted it, that’s for sure. Constanza was the same at first. Then she got frightened. I was too much of a man for her.
I sunk into the shadows as she waited for the bus, then caught the number of the line and walked. It was a long way and I didn’t really know what her stop was. I had seen her one morning at the Lycée Henri V so she had to live close. I made an approximate guess and then moved slowly. I knew I wouldn’t stand out in a posh neighbourhood; I’ve rented the boat to rich people often. I walk the walk, I talk the talk. Constanza wanted to have a nice place to bring up the kids. She didn’t think the peniche was good for that. She said she’d be afraid that a baby would fall off.
That’s the part I hate most about her, now we won’t have any kids. I slept with this woman for a year and I have nothing to show for it. The last time, she screamed a lot, just a show, I know she liked it. I could have been a good father. I’d have taken the kids to the stadium. I’d have taught them manners. I’d have told them the truth about some things, the truth about women. It’s Darwin again. Women and men want different things; it doesn’t mean one is right and the other wrong. It just means they must both pursue their objectives differently and respect each other for going about their business. I read that somewhere.
For example: this black chick was doing it all wrong. She shouldn’t be out alone at this time of the night. God knows she could have paid for a cab.
So why was she doing this? False sense of security, that’s what it was. This girl really believed people were civilized.
They are, but it doesn’t mean anything. I’m civilized, but do you think that should stop me from accomplishing my biological goal? Why should it, when the world is really every man for himself. Darwin again: the strong beat the weak. And this girl was so flimsy I could bat her aside with a hard cuff. I’m not strong for a man, but I’ll always be stronger than a girl. Darwin.
I had guessed her stop correctly. I almost stumbled into her as she got down from the bus, but I swerved just in time and she never saw my face. She wasn’t carrying an umbrella, which was good, nor a heavy backpack that could be used as a weapon. I swear, some of those high-school girls carry bricks in their backpacks. Her keys could hurt but they were tucked away in that little purse of hers, no doubt. She was so stupid she deserved it. Maybe this way she’d learn to pay more attention.
Survival teaches hard lessons. Better this way, better with me than with some pervert, someone dirty who would give her something or hurt her.
I’d cover my face so I wouldn’t have to kill her.
I had to kill Constanza because she knew me, but this time it would be different. This time it would serve a purpose.
I heard steps behind me.
Shit, the prim man had come along, probably followed her, the bastard, and now he was tripping down the street, muttering to himself. Her shoulders tensed, she knew she had company. Shit, shit, shit. What an amateur. He’d spoil everything. He kept grasping his hands, rubbing at them savagely, counting under his breath, only it wasn’t silent anymore, I could hear him from where I stood, repeating some odd series of numbers.
The girl ran. She reached into her hair and I knew in a couple of seconds she’d be talking to the police. Instead, she swung into the construction site, just to the side of the road. How stupid! I thought maybe it was a trap set by the police, but she was too young to be working for them. She was probably just drunk and didn’t know what she was doing.
I’d get her. I’d get her after I had taken care of the prim guy.
I multiplied three by three until 3000 and then started over again, at least five times. Five is a good number.
She was a beautiful girl, harmonious in every way. What I mean, precisely, is that she had perfect hair, perfect hands, perfect body…no, no, no, I didn’t think about her that way.
OK, OK, OK, I’m lying. Not lying exactly, just not being precise.
Sometimes I have this image in my head of a naked black woman and I can’t let it go. It comes back to haunt me every day when I’m working in the assembly line. I think I’ll let it slip; that a colleague will say hello and I’ll blurt “naked black girl!” or “sex!” No, no, no. Can’t let that happen. I lie awake at night thinking about it. What a disaster it would be. Everyone would know I’m a pervert. They’d laugh at me. With my luck, it will happen. I know, someday it will happen. I can’t even be sure it hasn’t already happened. Maybe I already let it slip but they were too polite to say. That’s why I keep a thought-diary, so I can go through my memories afterwards and make sure I haven’t done anything wrong.
When that’s not enough, I count.
I multiply three by three until 3000 and then I start over again, at least five times. Five is a good number. There are five fingers on each hand, five toes. The image of the naked black girl goes away sometimes when I do this five times.
If that doesn’t work, I count skipping one, skipping two, skipping three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and nine. I count until I get lost and have to start over again, five times, five is a good number.
So I sat on the metro and enjoyed the way her hair moved. I was thinking dirty thoughts again. I knew I was a bad person; I deserved to die. I wanted to touch her in bad ways. I thought she could tell by the way I was looking at her. Everyone could tell. They’d call the police; they’d know I was a pervert.
She got off at Nation and changed to line 1 to Gare de Lyon. I followed her closely through the ample tunnel to the commute. In the daytime, there would have been shops and restaurants there, but at that time of night, they were closed. There was nobody to keep her safe. No crowd to look after her. I followed her to line 14. She must have noticed. I was breathing so heavily I knew she could hear me. One, two, four, seven, eleven, sixteen, twenty-two, twenty-nine, thirty-seven… I’d lose control of myself. I was afraid I’d hurt her. I’d tear off her pink panties. I couldn’t believe I looked at her panties. I’m evil. I should be in jail. I went to the police once but they let me go. They told me I have an obsessive disorder and that I’d never act out my impulses. They were wrong. Look! I was following this girl around.
I was going to rape her, I was sure I’d do it. I was going to rape her and kill her afterwards.
I almost lost her when she crossed the street on a red light. I couldn’t cross, safety first. I wished I had lost her. I saw her again turning the corner. I didn’t want to hurt her.
One, two, four, seven, eleven, sixteen, twenty-two, twenty-nine, thirty-seven.
This weird guy was following me. He looked at me in the metro and kept his knees painfully bent so as not to touch mine. I’m used to men looking, I know I’m beautiful. But the way he was taking me in and trying so hard not to look…I don’t know, but it scared me. He moved weird, he kept his body closely folded, avoided touching the seats and doors. He counted this mad series of numbers under his breath.
I had to get myself together, I had to concentrate. I should have imagined this could happen. I was deliberately trying to attract the rapist. After that crash rejuvenation treatment I knew I’d attract perverts. I should have anticipated that I could attract the wrong one.
At least the target was still following.
Get yourself together, concentrate.
Darwin, you know? This nut had to go. He’d seen me stalking the black girl. He was a liability. If I got to the girl before he did, he’d be pissed and he’d go to the police. As if they could do anything to stop me. I was at the top of the food chain, but that didn’t mean I’d take an unnecessary risk. I had to get this guy out of the picture so that me and black mamba could have some fun.
I turned around suddenly and took a swing at his face. I rammed my fist into his nose and it started bleeding like hell, all over my new pants. I punched him in the gut and he rolled over and I kicked him, aiming for the gonads, the floating ribs. I kept at it and soon I was sweating.
It’s hard exercise but probably as good for you as the treadmills in the gym. No matter how hard I kicked, the guy kept squirming. You’d think he’d give up and die.
When he was finally still I stopped to light a cigarette just in case he was hibernating and planned on getting up soon. I was very careful, but no nanomed pack I knew of would save him from that beating.
Vincent stopped making love to me after the rejuvenation. He’s decent, he couldn’t fuck a teen. He said he’d wait until it wore off. That’s two months abstinence, too decent if you ask me. I told him it was an accident. Sometimes it happens, you ask them to take off ten years and they take off fifteen. He believed me. He was born rich, it’s easy to fool him. Rejuv isn’t an exact science and it’s very expensive. Most people don’t even know it exists, and that’s what I was playing on. I even had them add some imperfections to my skin. I knew Vincent wouldn’t notice, bless his little heart, but the bastard I was after would know.
I’m only saying this so you’ll believe me. You’d never believe me if you thought I was a stupid teenager blabbering for attention.
The government can read your thoughts. I know that you’re thinking, they’d never do that, it’s illegal blah blah blah. You’re right, they shouldn’t. But they do. All those nifty thought aids and thought diaries. They have access to them. In spite of the scrambling, in spite of the passwords. They have computers that can break those locks like twigs.
They don’t do it routinely, takes too much computer time, but when something arouses their attention, say, a bunch of Arabs in a mosque heatedly saying “bomb” two or three times, or two individuals in a deserted location recording thoughts of rape in a high-strung emotional tone, they might listen. They have nifty little programs designed to detect that kind of situation. If you wanna kill somebody, you better do it by surprise, and you better not think about it too much. Better yet, don’t record it.
I’m going to turn this off now. If the going gets rough I’ll turn it on and hope somebody notices. If everything turns out OK, I should have time to erase all of this before I get back home, but now I need to build a precedent in case something happens. In case I’m killed. If I die, this gets broadcast into the net. My nano is very very special. Most nano stops working after the user’s croaked, but this model can use my dwindling body heat as an energy source to do me one last favor.
If I die, shit hits the fan.
[End of recording]
It hurt, but I couldn’t shout. My emergency pack went into primary. I was glad to have the latest model, safety first.
The psycho had stopped for breath. I overrode the pack and forced it to shoot me some amphetamines. I took off and he yelled, but I moved fast.
I didn’t know where I was running to. At first, I thought of calling for help but everyone knew I was a pervert and they’d never believe me. The guy was probably the boyfriend of the beautiful girl and was just giving me what I deserved.
I’m evil, I deserve to die.
I went into the construction site on the left, hoping for something, I didn’t know what, something to come and save me. My eyes scanned the floor in the dim light for something to use as a weapon, then I caught myself and realized what a sadist I was and had to start counting again, one, two, four, seven…
It wasn’t hard to find the prim guy, he kept counting out loud. He was stupid.
He’d run after the girl into the abandoned construction site, away from help. He didn’t know about Darwin. He didn’t know that I was the fucking top of the food chain.
I grabbed a heavy metal bar. It felt rough under my palm, corroded, but who cared? I inched in towards the counting-guy, concentrated on my prey. I was a lion. I couldn’t let anything get in my way.
I took a step forward….
[End of recording]
Twenty-nine, thirty-seven, forty-six, fifty-six, sixty-seven.
I was still afraid but maybe the jealous boyfriend needed help. I crept out of my hiding place and lit my mobile for some light.
I saw her. It was dark, so at first I didn’t see the small black cylinder in her hands, not her black skin either, just the glint of nano.
The psycho fell without a sound but there was blood everywhere.
I’d never seen a gun up close before.
She turned towards me. I knew she was going to kill me, but she lowered the cylinder and signaled me to check the guy. I leaned over carefully, trying hard not to get blood on my cuffs. I was so scared I didn’t even count. I just took his pulse.
He wasn’t dead. He looked at me bewildered. He tried to speak but he only gurgled. He’d die soon if he didn’t get help.
“He tried to kill you too,” she whispered.
She was right. For good measure, I kicked him, hard. I jumped up and down on his chest until it caved in. I didn’t count.
They’d all laughed at me long enough. Even a pervert has a right to some respect.
I knew what she’d done. She’d involved me in a murder. I didn’t really care, not much, not at the moment.
She shot him again and I looked at her, bewildered.
“I was Constanza’s friend,” she said.
“He smothered her in her sleep and dumped her into the Seine. He was so fucking calm he recorded the killing without tipping anybody off, the probes never saw him skip a heartbeat,” she said.
“What probes?” I asked.
“The probes, man, the government probes.” Suddenly, her voice broke into a whisper. “You don’t keep a thought-diary, do you?”
I didn’t answer.
From the look in her eyes, I knew she could hear the sirens too. She lowered the gun. She had the saddest smile on her face.
“We’re going to jail,” I said.
She shook her head and pressed a black button on her plastic gun. It blazed up in flames and disappeared, not even a spoonful of dust to show that it had ever existed.
“No, you’re the only one getting nailed for this. You’re the one with the motive and there’s blood all over your shoes.”
Then she started to scream for help. She’s a beautiful girl, so strong and perfect and I’m a monster. I deserve this, I really do. I don’t mind going to jail for her.