the ladder - synapse city (part 1)

The Ladder – An experimental web-only fiction series that spans multiple story lines and characters…Tune in every Wednesday for a new installment.

Synapse City. Metropolis of mixed metaphors and literary allusions both respectable and dubious. New York density in an LA sprawl. A forest of skyscrapers, jagged skyline like broken teeth. The light is blinding, here, and shadows stick like tar. Fog rolls in like hard liquor and crawls out like a hangover. Everyone can hear you scream. Few people care.

63rd and Motter Avenue. Background noise: car honks and sputtering engines, two hobos arguing over a half-empty bottle of whiskey found in a trashcan, a chain reaction of barking dogs, a man and woman having loud sex like they’re reliving a ‘70s porno. The alley is dark and empty except for a large green dumpster that stinks up the dead-end with week-old food and other filth. Trash from a diner and the building of interest, a five-story brick Georgian that houses the Flowers nightclub. A door, gunmetal grey, in the wall under watch. A bald man standing still against the wall, in a shadowed corner, late thirties, thin, hallowed cheeks and pointed chin. He wears a fitted white leather smock-like jacket, asymmetrical black buttons. Black leather gloves like a second skin. Black pants and heavy-duty boots. Goggles with lenses that glimmer with the red of infrared sight. This is the EQUATION; scientist, inventor, cold-minded but warm-hearted, and de facto leader of the EQUILIBRIUM TRIO. Next to him a man built like construction equipment; tall, muscular, square-jawed and black-haired, dark-skinned, midnight commando garb with bandoliers of flash-bangs and grenades, holsters for various weapons and knives, goggles. This is the ENGINE; martial artist, special ops, expert tactician, and a penchant for playful pyromania.

They watch the door, the alleyway, the sky; everything and anything that might disturb their mission, even when they’re playing the waiting game. If there are stars above, they can’t see them. Synapse City spills light into the sky like a john spills himself into a cheap hooker.

“The metaphor is crass,” the Equation observes.

“But it’s true,” grins the Engine.

And they wait, nerves tense, muscles at the ready. Then a clank as the door handle turns, a mousy squeak as the door opens. The two men prepare for the worse, then relax slightly. It’s a woman. Buxom and curvy, a well-proportioned wet dream. Long wavy brown hair. Red dress. Strappy black stilettos with lace ribbons wrapping her calves. Face like a porcelain doll, soft, no edges, innocent, flashing green eyes, perfect makeup of rouge lips and kohl eyes. She looks around, sees the men, sighs relief.

“I have it,” she says. This is the EFFECT; spy, infiltrator, psychologist, seducer of men, women, and machines. The Equation pulls a pair of goggles from his pocket and quickly tosses it to her; she catches it smoothly and puts them on. Then, around the corner at the alleyway entrance: clicks on concrete sidewalk, footsteps. A tuxedoed figure cuts around the corner – suave, cool, but not flashy or arrogant. A stab of streetlight reveals his hook-nosed, masculine, movie star face. Thick eyebrows above serious brown eyes. Also: the cocking of guns from well-dressed goons at his sides, and more goons from the diner’s low-slung rooftop. This is Vitti “Boss” Marcone, an escapee from a Batman comic who set up his own Roman mob in Synapse City after taking out rival sharks with smaller, blunter teeth. He speaks at a measured tone, loud enough but not too loud. The Trio watch him, their goggles make them look like robots or insect. While the thugs are intimidated, brandishing their Tommy guns with a slight tremble in their hands, Boss Marcone is unfazed.

“I figured someone would make a play,” he says. “I even half-figured it would be you three.” A soft chuckle. “Did you think I wouldn’t plan ahead?”

A brief, subtle hand motion from the Equation; all three flick a button on their goggles while, a split-second later, the Engine presses a button on the remote concealed in his hand. A startling thunderclap and blinding lightning flash. Marcone and his goons put hands to eyes in a futile attempt to rub away the silver stars and blackness. The Engine then moves forward, a flash, and disarms the thugs. A few well-placed palm strikes to the chest, elbows to the jaw, and nerve attacks to pressure points on the neck sends Marcone and his muscle to the ground. The Equation smiles slightly - that alone is a magnificent display of emotion – and steps over the unconscious men out of the alley, the Engine following two steps behind. Hearing a groan emanate from Boss Marcone, the Effect lingers just long enough to crouch down, pat Marcone on the cheek in a gesture more sarcastic than sweet, and say with a smoky, caustic, sex-infused voice, “We plan ahead too, darling.” She pronounces it “dah-ling.” The Engine looks back as the Effect leaves Marcone to his appointment with a future headache, grins again, and repeatedly taps the side of his head with his index finger. “They’re crazy, these Romans.”

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