LIVE-FEED, KILL-FEED • by Ken McGrath

Static screams across the graveyard, a cascade of black and white snow that only a fool would consider beautiful. It is, even to my eyes, a television-screen blur, the feed coming through my optic-receiver lost for a moment in the wreckage of pops and bursts.

The image jumps – pauses: frac
/ tures.
top right moving forwards, sliding –
– bottom left remains still, frozen. Jumps again: all-goes-black: realigns. And we’ve once again got a clear image.

What I see they see, the viewing public. Every break in transmission draped in a curtain of raining fuzz, every second of live-feed lost to electrical haze is an excuse for them to turn to a competitor. I prepare myself to relegate to the back of my mind the inevitable chatter concerning the poor-quality of the footage I’m pumping. Let the techies earn their keep, I’m busy focusing on the hunt here. That’s how I earn my dollars.

There’s another crackle, a burst of sounds [*BUUU**Z*-*CHAK**CHAK*CHAK*] like metal scraping over bone and then the Editor speaks. Words projected directly into my inner-ear her voice is crisp and clear (somehow they never botch that like they do the visual feeds). She’s sheer ice after the preceding cascade. I imagine her, mechanical and cold, sitting in her pilot’s chair, with long legs crossed at the knee, surveying a bank of monitors, detached from everything she casts an eye over.

I feel an urge when I hear that voice in my ear, that uncaring purr, dripping sex. She never wastes a word, remains precise in her instructions. Functional. Desirable. Controlling.

“Give a full one-eighty. Left to right. Slow pan.”

Without replying I lift my weapon and click a round into the chamber. It’s all for effect. Figures & Ratings show audiences react like woodchips popping in a blaze for that. Every, single, time. And with audience figures comes advertising. And with that comes more big bucks for me.

I begin my rotation and take it all in. Gravestones, mausoleums, stone statues and metal structures. All markers, all signs pointing out the places where the bodies lie. I don’t say rest because I don’t believe they do. Churning and coiling and rolling in maggots and worms as they’re broken down and devoured. What rest can that bring?

Static erupts across my vision again, dragging me back to the task at hand, leaving existential thoughts for later. The cursed reception in this graveyard is terrible. Notoriously so. There are too many conflicting signals criss-crossing, not only overhead but below ground as well. The result: repeated drop-outs and black-spots.

That’s why they run here, the Marks. About 90% of them come to this place. They hope they’ll be the next one to hide out in the in-between, become an unseen among the grave-markers and the flurries of electronic snow, to jump around like ghosts in the blind-spots. But they rarely escape, less than one in twenty. And never any of mine.

This one though, she’s good. She almost gets away by sneaking behind a transmission break. Almost.

I only catch the briefest of movements to my right before static once more descends in a waterfall of grey-white-black, accompanied this time by an ear-shredding crackle.

A less experienced Hunter would have missed her, but I know this game too well. So much so that even as it’s happening I think about how great the pictures I’m getting will play on the Rewinds later as pundits ask the viewers: ‘Did You See The Mark?’

So I trace my line of sight back until… there she is. Her hair’s all tangled like weeds, caught on the edge of the stone angel she’s stood behind. The statue’s carved palms held out and open, as if begging for peace. No chance.

She moves but far too slowly, slower anyway than my augmented movements and I spray a quick burst of C.A. after her. The Cutter-Ammo shreds through stone, spitting splinters from the angel and sending slicing shards over and into the Mark’s fragile flesh.

For a beautiful second it looks like the angel itself is bleeding. There’s an explosion of red spots spattering against the dull, colour-leeched background. This is the moment that is going to be the Kill-Grab, the one that’ll be frozen and pulled. That shot of the bleeding angel will accompany every feed, I’ll bet my bonus on it.

She falls, the Mark, gasping for breath and I zoom-in, keeping her agonised face in focus. Not that it really matters. Now that I’ve already got my Kill-Grab, the actual moment of death itself is mostly redundant. Still, I’m not going to deprive anyone of their thrill. I’m a pro that way.

The Editor is silk in my ear again as, at my feet, the Mark stops moving. Sometimes you get lucky and in amongst all the static and the grave-markers you find a second of beauty.


Ken McGrath lives in Dublin, Ireland but you can find him online @fromthebigface. His fiction has been published in Daily Science Fiction, Speck Lit, Word Legs, Antipodean SF and 365 Tomorrows among others.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Darius Bott

    Doesn’t the telly just ruin everything. Let it poke a lens into any story and it will alienate all while shredding the moral fabric. I want a story where the telly heroically rescues little Timmy from a cold hole in the ground where there’s no food, water or reception.

    Personally, I blame Oliver Stone for my not being able to enjoy this type of story any more.

  • A scene from The Hunger Games without any soul, a purring producer dripping sex, a person hunted without any reason except for ratings (at least none given) a pointless execution to satisfy the public’s blood lust.

    The writing is intense but without any redemption, without purpose.

    **

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

      And a vignette, to boot…

      • Joseph Kaufman

        Actually, adrenaline is the last thing I would expect the hunter to get hepped up on — he’s not really ever in any danger. And he has all the killing tools needed to easily defeat the mark.

        While it it true that one can get the adrenals pumping in other ways, classic “fight or flight” scenarios do the best job of it. He’s more or less an exterminator looking for a mouse, knowing that when he finds it he’ll dispatch it with ease (and he makes clear no mouse has ever gotten away). I don’t know about you, but my adrenaline doesn’t spike when I put fresh
        peanut butter on the mouse traps… (There I go on a rodenticide
        thread again…)

        I think the story is more about the voyeuristic nature of us watching this terrible act than the conflict itself — sort of like an episode of “Black Mirror.” In that sense, I personally feel it steps beyond the realm of the vignette, but I can still very much see your point.

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

          Well, a human being isn’t a mouse, and the MC’s intrusive, contemptuous focus on the sexually-charged (or what he perceives to be sexually-charged) presence of his editor during what should be a coldly-dispassionate hunt make me feel like perhaps he wants to turn his weapon on a different target. Of course he’s got to be a psychopath to thrive in this line of work, but his narrative seems full of some sort of hormonally-fueled energy.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            I think this killer definitely considers the Mark as prey (perhaps more than a mouse, sure). I took his energy as confidence as coming from the fact that he has a decidedly savage weapon that essentially vaults him to superman status. Heck, he could have simply turned slowly in a circle and sent cutter-ammo out omni-directionally and taken her out. But, of course, he needed to get a visual on her first to “win” the “game” for the viewers.

            Interesting insight about the sexually-charged tone in relation to the editor. I wonder how much control the hunter has over his own actions. I wonder how much of him is even organic?

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            Your last sentence: At first I wondered that too, and if the visually-arresting text formatting of the beginning served two purposes.

            But the MC’s interpretation of his editor–and for all we know he’s an unreliable narrator–seemed all too organic to me.

          • Joseph Kaufman

            Heh, true — unless these killers have been programmed so well with A.I. that gender-specific control is ladled on in large doses. What better way to control a homicidal cyborg than infatuation?

            Now I want the second chapter to this, when the hunters all take a cold shower and decide they don’t want to kill Marks any more…

            (And yes, I also saw the oddly-arranged text near the start as a potential re-boot/startup sequence for our possibly computerized MC.)

          • That’s what I thought, as well. The code running through his (its) thoughts.

  • Running man, much?

    There were a few typographical errors that should be fixed. One was “inner-ear her voice is crisp” needs to be separated between ear and her.

    All in all it had some good pacing but the alternating bold lettering and broken wording didn’t really win me over and it read a lot like poetry in spots.

    I’m not sure if I agree that it was a vignette rather than a story, but I’m not sure I don’t.

    One thing that seems odd to me, and I could be wrong here, but if you shoot someone through stone angels, how is their blood going to be visible on the anterior face of that carving? The direction of the shot will carry some spatter forward, but it’s not likely to ooze out the statue link that, is it?

    • Joseph Kaufman

      I am not sure about the “ear her” issue — I am seeing a space. Are you saying you feel there should be a comma or other separating character? I think the flow works well enough that I chalk it up to creative license.

      I rather liked the disjointed, textual representation of static clearing up in his feed. I figure it was meant to immerse the reader, visually, from a non-visual medium. Of course, such a device is going to work for some readers and not others, that old upside/downside ratio rearing its ugly head!

      • I guess if you want to call that creative license… I often use bad grammar as creative license but no grammar? Anyway the way it read to me was that sounds were projected into something called his “inner-ear-her-voice.”

        • Joseph Kaufman

          At most it’s missing a comma… Perhaps the author will read the comments and weigh in.

          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

            I thought perhaps there was a missing full-stop and following capitalization.

          • Yeah, that’s what I said. A separation between those words. By “no grammar” as poetic license I meant omitting stops and pauses in that line I drew attention to. If it seemed I was saying “no grammar” in the piece, then I mean to clear that up. I was just speaking in the specific line and specific spot where I specified it was missing a separation (ie, comma, period, colon, semi colon, ellipsis)

          • Joseph Kaufman

            Not a problem, and I agree that some sort of break might make that flow better. If the author asks us to make a change, we’ll take care of it.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    I enjoyed the style of the story, though the violence portrayed seemed a bit gratuitous.

  • Michael Snyder

    Not my particular cup of tea. (I was born with a blind spot for sci-fi/fantasy). But clearly some admirable writing chops on display here.

  • S Conroy

    I didn’t warm to the story, but I’m also pretty sure that that wasn’t the point… Overall compelling reading and I liked what he did with the white noise and static. For some reason the creepy voyeuristic reader’s perpective made me think of news images from the 1991 bombing of Iraq.

  • Teacher

    I was left feeling a little hollow after this. Asking the question: why did any of this happen? Neat writing, but I struggled to engage.