By Luke Mitchell

You’d think it’d be the easiest thing in the world, killing someone.

I mean, maybe not you personally, you know? But, you know, you—“you” in the royal sense, or whatever—you’d just think it wouldn’t be that hard. Hard bullet, meet soft flesh, right? Bada bing, bada boom, yeah? Except not so much, these days. 

You’d think that part might’ve sunk in too by now, for those with a mind to do the deed.

Even so, the first shots crack through the overstuffed foodcourt like overcooked popcorn on a Friday night. Even so, the fear hits the crowd. The acrid bite of homemade accelerant twining through the greasy aroma of fried dough and bad dates. The energy frenetic, chaotic, downright jubilant, as confusion wanes and the good people of the San Esposito Mall of AmeriCorp realize what it is they’re in for.

All that to say: the show begins with a bang.

Or, you know, more bangs. Lots more bangs. As if it really makes a difference.

I watch as they puff up like that metaphorical popcorn—and Christ, now I’ve got myself wanting some popcorn. Still, there they go: an entire foodcourt of good, law-abiding citizens achieving giant marshmallow status in the blink of an eye as their AmeriCorp shooter deterrent smart gear triggers and deploys. Standard issue, except for that glitzy one on the left, there—the dude with all the bling and the honest to Christ peacock feathers affixed to his deterrent bubble. I don’t even know what to say about that one.

Whatever. Point is, in the space of two seconds, we’re looking at an entire mall court of bouncing marshmallow people.

In the space of two seconds, we’re looking at one thoroughly failed Hyperkill.

My ears tell me there are at least two shooters well before I actually catch sight of the sad bastards. And “sad bastards” does pretty much sum it up, by the way. Through the awkward, tumbling sea of marshmallow people, I spot surplus store tactical gear and enough camouflage to give a forest indigestion. One of the mad lads is actually wielding dual assault rifles, guns a-fuckin-kimbo, spraying unaimed shots into the crowd like some modern day Butch Cassidy or some shit. I wonder how many lives they actually took before the deterrent suits triggered. My guess, watching the blowhards work, is not many. One good citizen—maybe portly in there beneath his inflated deterrent bubble, definitely mustached like nobody’s business—lets out a wild cry as he goes bouncing scant inches over my head. Cheering, I note, without an ounce of surprise. The first cheer of the event.

In the space of five seconds, the spectacle is in full swing.

It occurs to me, sitting there unprotected in the roaring mass, that it would be a perfectly unsurprising end, were I to take a stray bullet here and now. Here, in this writhing sea of marshmallow people, all of them chanting and whooping on. Riding the wave of bullets like its the goddamn Super Bowl. Sad Bastards #1 and #2 shouting something back and forth at each other, wringing their weapons like they’re trying to get the poor things to shoot harder, or something. Like they hadn’t seen this all coming. I watch that blinged out bubble take a weird bounce and clear the second story walkway. Near where he lands, two men roll languidly on the floor beside their overturned cafe table, too dosed up on RealiTea to even notice that their suits have deployed, and that the delicate sipping motions they’re still making are no longer to any avail, lolling there on the mall tiles without any damned teacups.

You’d think it be the easiest thing in the world, killing someone. Or, you know, someones—plural.

Call it what you like. Culling the flock. Sheering the sheep. Killing strangers, in the words of that old song. You know the one. Point is, it shouldn’t be all that hard. It isn’t all that hard. We humans are squishy things. Soft and vulnerable, and really not so smart, when you get right down to it. Especially not in crowds. I mean, behold Exhibit A, right? A hundred-and-some cackling assholes, rolling through a hail of bullets like giddy school children.

Crowd Brain isn’t such a good look for humanity.

And sure, maybe they’re not completely without reason to be having the time of their lives right now. With the advent of near-flawless deterrent gear and more action-packed metaverse content than anyone knows what to do with, I can see how this all begins to look like one big fucking joke—a few gunmen trying to do much of anything. And maybe it really is. And maybe these two sad bastard gunmen are in on it too, whether they mean to be or not. 

But to laugh in the face of it all? To bear witness to someone so furious, so disenfranchised with this world of ours that they would come to this—to this premeditated outpouring of murderous rage—and then to fucking laugh about it? To actually delude yourself into thinking that maybe this is all in fact somehow for your divine entertainment? To delude yourself into thinking that you’re actually safe just because those overinflated polyweave elastomers of yours are keeping the bullets at bay?

A single vial of the latest designer virals, slipped into the air supply, my dear marshmallow. A tank of simple nitrogen gas to displace your precious oxygen. Hell, spritz a few drops of giant rat poison in the kitchens, or roll out a yard sprinkler full of Death’s Kiss. Drop a reprogrammed freight drone through that stupid skylight window up there. Find a semitruck and a good brick, for Christ’s sake. Or a match and a can of gasoline.

Deterrent gear’s not gonna do shit against any of it.

We’re not that hard to kill.

But that’s not what this is about.

That’s what these people don’t understand—what no one from the bystanders to the talking heads ever seems to understand, as far up their own assholes as everyone is living these days.

It’s not like these two spray-and-pray bozos don’t already know all this. It’s not like they can’t see that there are easier ways, more efficient ways. Just like those weirdos summiting Everest know damn well they could’ve hopped a high altitude EMV and spared themselves the frostbitten toes if all they’d really wanted was to see the peak. We all know it’s not about the peak. It’s the allure of the challenge that keeps sad bastards like these two trying—that elusive dream of achieving the impossible. Of imposing your own little piece of order on this dumpster fire of a world. Of being seen, goddammit. Of being heard.

Hyperkill, baby.

Oldschool, bloody, gritty Hyperkill. Guns blazing. Headlines, too.

What a time to be alive, huh?

If I’m being honest, I can’t decide whether I’d rather see these two sad bastards pull it off or die trying. But it’s clear enough which way the tide is turning as the show proceeds to the next act.

A deeper boom-boom joins the chaos, the hot twin streaks of tracer rounds from above drawing the crowd to a hush in a round of dramatic gasps. The bounty hunter who descends from the rafters is one I’ve seen before. Sinda, they call her on social. Two-hundred-some pounds of solid break shithouse, as the saying goes, dressed to the gills in slick black combat armor—save for her arms, which she leaves bare to showcase the tattooed kills that line her frighteningly burly triceps.

Probably, she’s been tracking these two for weeks. Connecting the dots. Just like me.

Probably, she’s been watching this whole time from the rafters up there, just waiting for the opportune moment.

Apparently, she’s chosen wisely.

A wave of bizarrely polite applause ripples through the crowd as Sinda alights in the foodcourt. The enthusiasm intensifies when she takes all the impact force her armor servos just drank in and kicks Sad Bastard #1 clean through the serving window of the Mr. Tasty Brain next door. Me? I’m just eyeing the distinctive shape of the expensive hyperkinetic rounds on Sinda’s bandolier—the ones that almost certainly would’ve dropped the shooters without a fuss, armored vests or no, had she deigned to use them.

Can’t kill the entertainment too quick, you know? Have to make it look good if you want to curry enough views to get paid for your so-called service.

I’d say I don’t know how it’s come to this, but it’s really not so hard to figure out.

What’s harder to figure out is how I’m suddenly on my feet. I don’t remember deciding to stand, but now that I have, I can’t undo it, just like I can’t undo this feeling oozing through my chest. I suppose it’s what I’ve been waiting for all along. A sign. An affirmation.

The crowd, oohing and ahhing as Sinda and Sad Bastard #2 trade a dazzling flurry of blows between her crackling stun baton and his stupidly oversized bowie knife. The dull glaze in one spectator’s eyes as his attention drifts away from the spectacle, back to his omni display. The mild glint of returning curiosity as the gasps of the crowd tempt his attention back to the fact that Sad Bastard #1 has just thumbed the trigger safeguard off of whatever dirty bomb he’s got smuggled on his person. Sinda sees it. Probably too late. To her credit, she’s really not so bad at what she does. It’s just that what she does is worse than useless.

I’m already turning to leave, scooping my blank notepad up from the ailing white foodcourt table as I do. Pen and paper, baby. The last frontier of privacy in a world gone insufferably digital. If only I’d found anything worth noting here today.

Maybe it really is one big fucking joke.

Either way, I’ve seen enough. I know where this is going. I’ve seen it before. And somehow—I can’t even say what it is about this travesty in particular, but somehow—I know I’ve already found what it is I came here to find today.

I don’t look back as the mall’s sentry systems fire up in a gaudy show of flashing lights and peeling alarms, preparing to do what they could’ve done at any point throughout this frivolous charade. I do almost pause at the look on that one’s face. Maybe because she’s pretty. Maybe because she reminds me of someone. Maybe because, for a moment, she actually appears to be properly, mortally terrified that we’re all about to be blown sky high.

In that moment, it all wavers in my mind. Teeters. Threatens to flop.

Then the mall cannons disintegrate the whole damned struggling trio back there on an invisible burst of hyper-focused sonics and electromagnetic radiation, and the pretty frightened girl promptly becomes the raucous cheering girl. The mall holos come alive with the alert (“3 dead, 4 injured”) like some bright red scoreboard, and it’s about all I can do not to scream.

I leave the foodcourt then, picking my way through the field of deflating marshmallow people. Some are beginning to chatter as I pass, speaking about the whole thing as if it’s nothing more than some contrived opera they’ve just been to—and one with a lackluster ending, at that.

I leave them behind with the sickening feeling that I’ve been at that opera too. That we all have. That we all are. I leave them behind—the atomized remnants of Sinda and her two challengers drifting on stale currents of recycled mall air. And all I can think, as I find myself standing there in a corner mart checkout line with a box of microwave popcorn like some mindless fucking automaton?

All I can think is that I don’t know what I’m going to do. 

All I know is that I can't—I cannot—go out like those two sad bastards back there. The fucking amateurs. I'm not going out like them. I won't. And as I spy the haircut in front of me ogling the breaking footage from the mall, practically smuggling an erection, there's nothing left for it.

Hyperkill, my dear marshmallow. Hyperkill.

Sometimes, I think they want it even more than I do.

So, that night at home, snuggled up with my snack bowl and my trusty pen and paper, I set about figuring how to give it to them. And believe me when I say, my friend, that popped corn has never tasted so sweet.

The End

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