El Paso. The Passage. The door from one place to another. Today, The Passage is sealed by chain linked fences; eighteen feet high, electrified, watched by surveillance towers by day, illuminated by spotlights by night. La migra kicks up gray dust like a plumage of smoke as they prowl, as though there's a fire brewing under the earth. They tell us the fence is for inmigrantes indocumentados. To keep them out. But I can't help feeling I'm in a cage. Driving along el Rio Grande, seeing that fence, freedom feels so fragile. Because at the same time, doesn't it keep us in?
Jaime Reyes was running from la policía. His breath rasped in his throat and his body trembled at every footfall as he sprinted down the street. Couldn't keep going. His legs were about to give out. Pastel, one-story homes streaked past. A single whine sounded from behind and blue lights beat the pavement around him. He swerved down a driveway and leapt over a low cinder block wall of the backyard, nearly colliding to the ground in exhaustion. Just a bit further. Poco más, he chanted to himself, poco más. He forced his feet to move. Tires screeched and the police car sped to head him off.
The suburbs of El Paso sparked to life as dusk settled over the city. Families returned home from jobs and after school activities to seek sanctuary by their air conditioners. One yard over, a screaming toddler splashed about in a kiddie pool.
Jaime felt as though his skull repeatedly expanded and contracted along fissures, squeezing his brain, then ballooning outwards. His vision spun and flashes of light spiraled in his peripheral vision in bright yellows and blues. He couldn't remember why he was running. Why they were after him. If only he could stop and think. But he couldn't. Keep going. Undetected. Lay low until all systems were functional.
He shook his head as though to fling the thought from his mind. Why couldn't he think straight!
Jaime reached the edge of the block. He leaned against a house to catch his breath and assess the street. Even though the sun had barely set over the mountains, everything looked strange. Bland. Like a photograph that had sat in the sun too long. He looked at his hands. They were jet black. And glowing. His fingertips were glowing. He sobbed and clenched his eyes and fists closed.
"Something's wrong," he panted. "There's something wrong with me." He was hallucinating. Or dreaming. Had to be a dream.
Keep moving. Remaining stationary compromised his safety. Jaime lurched forward and jogged down the street, dodging behind parked cars and skeletal trees. As he went he struggled to place things into order. That afternoon he left school, chilled at the library to start on his project due next week, then he went to the garage. Jaime stayed to help his padre because Luis -
Luis! The shooting. Jaime jerked to a stop in the middle of the road.
"Papi," he gasped.
Jaime spun around just as the police car screeched to a stop.
Evade! Jaime tensed to flee, but he dug against his panic. Every nerve in his body shrieked at him to run; the idea crowded out all thought, all senses. He was alone in a smog of fear. It thrummed across his skin, in his ears, over his eyes. Somewhere beyond it he could hear someone yelling, like a voice from the next room. But he couldn't discern the words over the din of that one thought.
He stumbled back through the haze.
Papi. He had to make sure his padre was okay. He locked onto this idea like it was air. At each breath of it, the haze fell away until at last he found himself again on the street.
"I said on the ground!" a man shouted.
Jaime blinked. A police officer braced himself behind his car door. His gun leveled at Jaime's head.
"On your knees," the man said again, "Do it!"
Instead of fear, Jaime felt dazed. His vision rippled as though a rock had been hurled into a pool of water. Geometric shapes drifted across his sight. He watched as the shapes settled over the officer's chest. Strange. It was almost like he could see the man's vital organs. He paused at this label. Vital organs? He spent too much time around his madre.
He felt his arm rising. Fear spiked in anticipation of spying his strange ebony flesh and glowing fingers. But instead of an arm, he was met with a conical device. Plated metal shaped a weapon that could have come right out of one of his video games.
For a moment he had time to wonder, Why is there a sonic cannon on my arm? though not questioning how he knew what it was. Then his mind flipped through calculations. To destroy the steel and aluminum vehicle, he'd have to take into account the stiffness of the structure, its mass and size; and once out of the way, Jaime could deal freely with his opponent. The human body was susceptible from frequencies anywhere from 1 to 80 hertz at a high enough decibel and power levels were sufficient for liquefaction of the organs.
Jaime realized all of this in the time it took to aim the sonic cannon. Somewhere in the back of his mind, liquefaction raised a shrill alarm. That didn't sound right. But by then the police car exploded. At first he thought it had been hit by another vehicle, or something had crashed out of the sky. Shrapnel shot outwards, lodging into parked cars. The debris launched all over the street with a sickening shredding sound. The body of the car lay in a heap as though rammed by a rhinoceros. The fuel tank had ruptured and the sharp chemical smell of gasoline curled into the air.
Jaime stood frozen, arm extended. No. Not arm. Weapon. He'd ... He, Jaime Reyes, he just shot someone.
Jaime moved forward panicked. He shot someone? They could be dead! His heart thrashed with such force he was sure it would break his ribs. The officer had been blown clear. The cop lay injured on the ground. Jaime rushed to help free him from the rubble. The man cowered. His eyes were wide and his pupils dilated with shock. But unliquified, and more importantly, alive.
"Don't want to die," he was saying. He watched Jaime like a mouse watches a predator. He didn't see Jaime as a person. He was a killer.
"I'm sorry," Jaime stammered. "I didn't -"
"Please," the cop whispered, as though it were a prayer. "I don't want to die."
The officer was bleeding from the head, another wound across his arms where he tried to shield himself, and one leg looked oddly turned. But the man didn't want Jaime's help.
Jaime stared at his hands again. The dark metallic skin was separated into five digits. No gun. No weapon.
"Que demonios está pasando," he breathed. "What's happening? Why's this happening?"
A spotlight struck the scene. A police chopper swarmed overhead. Down the road, two other police cruisers sped toward the wreckage. He looked to the injured man and the demolished car.
"Ay Dios," Jaime said. "Dios mío." He laughed. He had to. This was a joke. Completely manches. He attacked a cop. Blew up a car.
A loud artificial voice sounded from the helicopter. "Down on the ground with your hands up."
The rear rotary system on the chopper was the most vulnerable point. Hovering as it was, the aircraft made an easy target. Jaime aimed the sonic weapon, frequency already adjusted for the helicopter's carbon nomex body.
"No!" Jaime shouted. He jerked his arm to the side. An invisible shockwave shot through the air and shattered the wall of the apartment building just below the aircraft. The chopper swerved and for a moment Jaime feared he'd hit it. Then it leveled. A sniper perched in the side door started shooting at him.
Asphalt exploded at his feet. He bolted, taking cover by a nearby car, ricochets singing past his head. This was becoming an annoyance. It would be quicker to eliminate the threats completely. A concentrated laser output of 500 kilowatts should effectively eliminate-
Jaime clutched his head. "I'm officially pirado. I'm having a mental breakdown."
If he wanted to escape, rather than engage, the best option was to find an area where the aircraft was unable to pursue him. Tall structures. Narrow turns to limit maneuverability.
Like downtown. He was nearly three miles from there.
Then he should fight!
No, he should give up. He was in deep as it was and only making it worse.
But they were attacking. Shooting at him. He couldn't surrender to the enemy.
Enemy? They were the malditos El Paso Police, not some psycho murders.
Then why were they shooting at him? Jaime slammed his eyes shut. This was wasting time. Dispose of local law enforcement before more reinforcements arrived. Probability of survival certain. Options: single laser pulse to the head-
"Cállate," Jaime yelled at himself. "I'm not disintegrating anyone!" He took deep breaths, petroleum oil stinging into his awareness.
Jaime looked down at his feet where a pool of gasoline had trickled from the spill. He peered over the edge of his cover. The two other police cars had arrived on the scene. The wounded man had been retrieved from the wreckage and three others were circling in on Jamie to ambush him. He stared at the rainbow stain of the gasoline. His thoughts became clearer, like a lens shifting into focus. It was as simple as thinking it.
Jaime bent over, forefinger radiating with an intense light. The fumes caught before he even touched the asphalt. The fire prowled across the ground like an animal and leapt into the air with a roar. Smoke as thick as mud billowed upwards. The turbulence from the chopper immediately spread the black cloud. The officers sprang back from the blaze, covering their noses and retreating. The helicopter wheeled upwards as the flames kicked higher and higher.
Jaime was blocks away before anyone could think to look for him, sprinting for home. He cut through yards and down alleys to avoid anyone spotting him, and checking the sky whenever he heard the thumping rhythm of helicopter blades. Or maybe the thumping was only his heart.
Jaime only stopped to catch his breath when he reached Evergreen Cemetery. By now night had stretched across the city. In the distance, radio towers winked along the mountain's ridge like red stars in the jeweled sky. He took the shortcut through the cemetery. There was a bus stop on the other side where he could catch a ride home.
Home. Maybe his padre was there, pacing the living room floor, worried sick about him. Jaime hadn't actually seen him get shot. Just seen the gun, heard the crack of sulfur igniting. His padre hadn't actually been ...
Jaime couldn't remember exactly what he'd seen. The gangster charging in. Luis pulling a gun and Jaime's padre trying to stop him.
That Jaime remembered. And he remembered the gangster brandishing a gun of his own. He remembered his padre yelling at him to call the police. The arguing. The gangster's cold eyes. Then Luis pulled free. There was a bang and then -
Jaime finally dared to look down at himself. He wasn't wearing pants, or shoes, or a belt, or anything he'd left the house with that morning. Even in the dim light of the graveyard, he could see surprisingly well. The suit - if it could be called that - was hard like armor, but at the same time flexible. No bunching or stiffness as he bent his limbs. There were no seams. He couldn't take it off. He didn't even remember how he put it on. In fact it was more like a skin. He could feel the sticky night air over his limbs, the tough parched earth under his toes. But where was his skin?
"This isn't real," he told himself. "This can't be real. I'm dreaming. I'm dead. I'm in a coma." His pace quickened past the ordered rows of gravestones. "I'm insane," he went on. "No, I got shot and I'm having hallucinations from severe blood loss." He nodded. "I'm heavily sedated on pain meds. This is all in mí cabeza. I'm going to wake up in a hospital bed." But he read normal for all mental and physical faculties. He wasn't injured in any way. There was no waking up because he was already in a lucid state despite the increase of endocrine hormones from the stress of- "This isn't real!" he yelled at himself.
He jerked to a stop, hands clamping on either side of his head. This headache. Dios. He hadn't felt so fried since he and Paco drank five cases of energy drinks so they could play through the entire Halo series. Jaime breathed deeply, focusing on the emerging stars overhead. The longer he stared, the more twinkling pinpoints appeared, until the sky was more celestial light than the blank backdrop of outer space. His heart steadied. And for a moment, the world held its breath. When had the heavens been so near? A shooting star streaked across the sky.
"Make a wish," he said. Home. All he had to do was get home and everything would be okay. The shooting star seemed to gleam brighter as though acknowledging his desire. It was also gaining speed. And it was coming straight at him.
A sudden spike of adrenaline lit through Jaime's body. He took off like a shot, barreling between headstones. He didn't hear an explosion, but all of the sudden he was flying through the air as if he'd been thrown. He struck a tombstone and it snapped. He hurled on, cascading over the ground and then WHAM!
The world stopped spinning and he lay on his side. His back and arms burned, then seared. Assessment: four fractured ribs, two broken; various abrasions, minor to mild; dislocated elbow. Power levels: insufficient to treat all injuries as well as defend against oncoming threat. Options-
Jaime tried to lift his left arm. He sucked in a breath, holding it stiffly against his stomach. He knew he shouldn't be moving. But someone had fired a freaking rocket launcher at him. He'd landed against a weathered marble monument, explaining the wind knocked out of him. He braced himself against the monument and scanned the graveyard. About ten yards away, a smoldering crater glowed in a scorched patch of dirt. Headstones around it were blackened or toppled. Further out, Jaime spied several shapes darting between the totems. Not several. A whole pack. They were in a ring and they were tightening, tightening, like a noose around his neck.
Jaime swore. Police, helicopter, now what? Priority: healing his arm so he could perform defensive maneuvers. The rest of his injuries could be dealt with in time. He felt a tightening along his shoulder and the area seemed to emit a dim blue glow. There was a wrenching pain and his arm rotated without him willing.
Jaime yelped. "Santo cielo!" A nauseating pop sounded from his joints as his arm grated into its socket. The crippling burn dulled. He tested his arm, bending it gingerly. Since that was taken care of, he'd better assess the possible threats.
Jaime peered into the graveyard. The tombstones stood as silhouettes in the darkened field. They looked like hundreds of skyscrapers posted along endless streets and stretching into the horizon. He thought he saw a figure crouching at the corner of a mausoleum. They were dressed in black and hefted a gun much larger than the pistols the police had been carrying.
A burst of violet light was his only warning. The next moment, a blast of energy struck and Jaime was blown sideways from the force. It felt like he'd been pegged by a baseball. He collapsed against the marble slab.
"Ow! What the-"
Then another amethyst flash, another hit. Plasma slugs. Each blow deteriorated the integrity of his suit. Priority: disable assailants before depleted power levels left him unable to perform repairs. He cowered under a barrage of hits, the blasts coming from the left, right, all around. But with a sweep of his eyes, he locked on to their positions.
The attackers were all equidistant from him making eliminating them all the easier. The soil's conductivity depended mainly on its composition, moisture, and temperature. Jaime charged his fist and struck the ground, releasing 40,000 amperes into the earth for just two seconds. The plasma shots immediately stopped. Several cries sounded and Jaime saw the ambush drop. The ground resistance must have been a bit higher than calculated. The current hadn't been sufficient to be lethal-
"Just shut up," Jaime seethed. He checked the damage caused by the slugs. His whole right side felt like a bad sunburn and one strip right across his thigh was actually steaming. He fingered it, wincing.
A flash of amethyst swelled atop a mausoleum. Jaime swore and lept to the side. A smoldering hunk of marble was left in his place.
"Por favor. Don't you people know when to quit?"
Glowing violet slugs riddled the tombstone he hid behind. Jaime dodged from one to the next until he came to a large granite angel. Peeking out from one of its wings, Jaime spotted the shooter. The man had escaped Jaime's stunning pulse from his perch on the roof of a solemn gray mausoleum. He had the same weapon as the other thugs. His eyes adjusted and Jaime could see, literally see, the energy radiating from its canister, arching out in bands. But the gun was useless now. Having analyzed the particles, his suit was now calibrated against the weapon. Further attacks, though forceful, would cause no additional deterioration to his defenses. Priority: eliminate remaining threat.
Before he could let loose a hiccup of protest, Jaime was striding to the side of the angel. Amethyst slugs immediately struck him. Several at his chest and head - those barely registering beyond a firm strike - and one at his injured thigh. Jaime stumbled. Okay, that one hurt.
Jaime returned fire at the mausoleum roof with a wide dispersion blast of the sonic cannon. The assailant vaulted from his roost and rolled to the ground. He tossed his useless weapon to the side and switched to another. This one had no glowing aura of energy. It didn't need one. The cold power of led, aluminum, and steel glinted in the dark. Jaime had a feeling that a M16 rifle would hurt a heck of a lot more than the violet thingies.
"Put it down!" the man barked.
"You're the ones who shot at me," Jaime said. "You put it down!"
"Not a chance."
The two stared at each other, neither twitching an inch.
"This count as a Mexican stand off if I'm the only Chicano?" Jaime muttered.
"What?" the man called.
"I said, you make one move I'll laser your face off!"
"Take it easy."
The man was dressed in thick, black clothes, heavy boots, helmet, and an oblong headset that made him look bug-eyed. He was not the El Paso police, that was for sure. Ay Dios. He must have been from the Fort Bliss Army Base. And now Jaime was wanted by the US military. Could his day get any better?
"So what's the plan?" the man said.
Jaime had already indexed ten different ways - plus their variations - to kill the soldier. Jaime wrestled with the idea, balancing over the rocky drop of sanity's cliff. He let out a half laugh, half sob. He had no idea who he was anymore. What he was turning into. Something was pushing him over the edge and there was nothing to grab on to. And he half wanted to take the plunge. To let go, see what the freefall would bring. It was getting harder and harder to remember why he was holding back.
"I'm not a criminal," Jaime said. "This is messed up. I didn't do anything." The soldier said nothing. "I just ... I need help-" All moisture in Jaime's mouth evaporated and his voice tapered to a whisper. He tried to speak but his throat refused to obey. Why was he trusting some random guy? And Jaime was revealing too much information, displaying weakness. Just shoot him!
"Okay," the man said. His voice was soft. Jaime felt his stress melt at his tone. "If you really want to prove that, put down your gun." Jaime didn't move, not knowing if it was because he couldn't or because he didn't want to. The soldier slowly lifted the strap of his gun over his head and dropped it on the ground. "I want to help you. See? No gun. How about you?" He nodded to the weapon Jaime still aimed.
Jaime's arm trembled. He shouldn't listen. He should shoot him and escape. But the army was the good guys, right? He couldn't keep this up. The running. The shooting. He might end up killing someone. He was going to kill someone. At the moment, he couldn't tell what he was going to do. It shouldn't even be a choice! So why? Why couldn't Jaime stop?
The man stripped his head of the helmet and night vision goggles. His eyes were a bright blue, creased as he squinted in the night. Those eyes held no fear, but a silent strength.
"I can help you," the man said. And Jaime found himself believing. To keep from crossing that line, he needed to believe. "But you need to put the gun down."
"It's a sonic cannon," Jaime whispered. The man cocked an eyebrow. Jaime forced the weapon to lower. He felt it shift back into a normal arm. He was getting help. Everything was fine now.
Something bit him in the thigh, right at his suit's weak point. Jaime stumbled and cried out. The soldier moved faster than Jaime could follow. He grabbed Jaime's arm, twisted it back, and kicked Jaime above the knee. Jaime's legs buckled and he fell to the ground, driven into the packed earth as the man pounced on top of him. Jaime tried to shove him off.
"Don't," the soldier hissed in his ear.
Jaime felt sick. "What-" he panted, "what'd he do to me?" Jaime had been shot with a lethal dose of carfentanil. Priority: keep circulatory and respiratory systems functional.
"Gave you enough sedative to drop a herd of elephants," the man answered. "Don't fight it."
No. The soldier said he'd help. He ... said ...
Jaime's fists unclenched, his body sagged, and night descended.
Lose Spanish translation as taken in context:
ay Dois - oh god
cállate - shut up
Dios - God
Dios mío - my God
inmigrantes indocumentados - undocumented immigrants
la migra - border patrol
la policía - the police
madre - mother
malditas - freaking
manches - ridiculous
mí cabeza - my head
padre - father
papi - dad
pirado - crazy
poco más - bit further
por favor - please
que demonios está pasando - what the hell is happening
santo cielo - good heavens