A young man of eighteen years lay flat in his bed, arms outstretched and eyes wide open. The cold night breeze whispered through the window and rustled the thick, patch-ridden curtains. A radiator sat in the corner, but it hadn't worked for the past year. Ultimately, the only thing that mattered to him at that time was that the room was as cold as if hell froze over. He wouldn't be getting back to bed like this, even if it hadn't been the cold which had woken him in the first place.
While there would never be any record of who he was and no gravestone to his memory come the day he died, his friends and acquaintances knew him as Rade. He didn't remember where he had obtained such a name, but he knew that he was glad to have an identity to call his own. The synths didn't want to give humans any sort of worth, but people fought them every step of the way. The synths were winning a little bit every day. Yet people still managed to hold onto their names, despite the fact that synths had already claimed to have taken that right away.
Rade didn't even bother trying to fall back asleep. If the cold wouldn't keep him up, the screaming and moaning a few rooms down certainly would. Instead, he approached his window and looked at the city outside as he breathed in the October air. The buildings around were scratched up, cracked, vandalized, and otherwise degraded. Yet every time he looked out at the darkness and the scattered lights that illuminated it, he felt the cityscape had a certain beauty to it. Maybe it was easier to appreciate when the deformities were obscured in shadow. Whatever the case…
Wait. He felt his attention being drawn elsewhere. It was a strange feeling, as if he had a second consciousness in that moment which was trying to guide him. And stranger still was that he decided to give it a shot, to see what he was being called to do. He walked towards the battered wooden door out of his single room apartment, and grabbed his bag along the way. He wasn't sure why, since he sure wasn't going to step out into the streets at this hour. Sure enough, he decided that he wasn't being led out into the late night city where he might promptly be hunted down and have his brain cut from his real body and shoved into a synthesized one. Now he had to figure out what he was supposed to do.
As he opened the door, he saw some eerily fresh-looking scratch marks on the door. Someone had wanted to get into his room, undoubtedly for shelter from the synths. He wasn't at all that sure he wanted to offer asylum to anyone crazy enough to wander after dark; it was generally a safe assumption to make that those people were too dangerous to hold property in the eyes of the various landlords. The voice told him that it was alright. Something was off, though, and it worried him. His attention continued to wander, as if he knew what he was looking for. He looked, and he listened. What he finally heard were the sobs from the next room over, what he had assumed was just another one of Wick's so-called "encounters;" Wick was named for his rampant sex drive and one night stands. It seemed clearer now that things weren't so simple this time around.
Now Rade knew what was truly happening. Rage built up within him, and while he was aware that it was all too common among the slums in which people lived, in that particular instant he wasn't going to stand for it. He pounded on the door until a voice from inside finally responded half quizzically and half-angrily, "What? Who's that? If you're enforcers, I ain't done nothin' wrong."
Wick wasn't going to open the door. Rade made no mistake of that, so he simply slammed his weight into it repeatedly—at 6'2" and weighing 186lb, it wasn't too difficult. As he felt the hinge and locked door handle, both already weakened from many years of neglect, he wondered which would break first. But both gave in at the same time and the door fell inward with a heavy, wooden thump, revealing a man with hair similarly brown compared to Rade's own and a young woman with short, red matte of boyish hair.
"What? What's your problem?" Wick growled as he stood over the girl who was easily as young as seventeen and clearly quite scared. The man seemed to have been well into the task of removing her clothes.
"What the hell? Don't tell me that-"
"I'm telling you to stop!"
"Who are you, boy? Who do you think you are to tell me what I can and can't do?"
Rade pulled a ten inch improvised but well sharpened blade from his pack and brandished it with purpose. A spike of fear was present in the elder man's voice as he put up his hands and stammered "W-w-whoa, what do you want? You want some of this? Chill out, you can see her when I'm done. Don't be crazy."
"I won't say it again. This is too far, and you're going to stop."
Wick ddin't know whether to be pissed off, scared, or just plain confused at this completely unprecedented turn of events. "Whoa, what does it matter to you? Chill the-"
Rade was across the room and at Wick's neck faster than he knew he could move. "LET THE GIRL GO OR SO HELP ME I WILL TEAR YOUR THROAT OUT AND LEAVE YOUR CORPSE TO THE SYNTHS."
Wick hardly knew Rade—they had a mutual agreement that they didn't get along and therefore kept as much distance between each other as the few walls between them would permit. But regardless of how well he knew the younger man, he'd never faced a threat which seemed more real in his entire life. He lost sight of the world and his awareness narrowed to three things: his throat, his life, and the razor-sharp edge that was currently threating both. There was no room, no pleasure, no man or woman anymore. All he cared about was the knife poised to spill his blood. He succumbed to catatonia, just like the young woman pinned beneath him.
Rade gripped the thirty-something and two-hundred pound man by the shirt and cast him aside like a sack of flour, lifted the girl, and left the room and the trash within.
His rage subsided as he walked through the door of his own room, and he realized what exactly he had just done, and what he had been less than a millimeter away from doing. He knew not what had just come over him. Yet despite that, he couldn't help but feel accomplished. He didn't know why he'd finally snapped on Wick, but somehow he was glad that he had.
"You…are you okay?"
No response. She seemed to have recovered somewhat over the past few hours that he'd been asleep, but she didn't seem ready to talk yet. He didn't blame her. He could not, for the life of him, imagine what sort of trauma she had just experienced. She could take all the time she wanted.
Still, what was her story? He really wanted to know. She probably came the north end, or from the center. There was no part of the undercity which was truly a nice place to be, but compared to the east end, the north was practically heaven.
A glimmer of light cast over the rooftops forced him to squint. Once he adjusted his eyes he smiled. It was morning now, and that was always a good thing. It was also his cue to start getting ready for the day. He slid his jacket over his shirt, slung his pack over his shoulder, and waved at his guest until he was sure he had her attention.
"I'm going out for a bit. You can stay around for a few days until you get your bearings, but when I'm gone you are to lock the door and pretend that you're not here. Think you can do that? Just nod so I know you understand."
Very slowly and with a strange reluctance, she did. He stepped over to the door and waved casually as he parted with, "I'm off, then. See you later."
And in a voice marred by exhaustion, she replied, "Thank you."
He turned in surprise, but she shook her head as if to say she wasn't ready to talk. Then she collapsed into the bed he'd vacated overnight, exhausted. But that was understandable, as she had not felt safe enough to sleep in over thirty-seven hours. Rade didn't know that, but he felt some sort of odd pressure telling him to leave her be, and that's just what he did. After all, he had far more important matters to attend to.