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Authors: Susan Kaye Quinn

Tags: #future noir, #science fiction, #dark, #debt collection, #urban fantasy, #Paranormal


BOOK: Ecstasy
7.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Ecstasy (Debt Collector 3) Text copyright © 2013 by Susan Kaye Quinn

April 2013 Edition

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved.


No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the publisher. For information visit


Cover by Steven Novak


The Debt Collector Serial



Contains mature content and themes.

For YA-appropriate thrills, see Susan’s Mindjack series.


is approximately 15,000 words or 60 pages
, and is the third of nine episodes in the first season of The Debt Collector serial. This dark and gritty future-noir is about a world where your life-worth is tabulated on the open market and going into debt risks a lot more than your credit rating.



What’s your life worth on the open market?

A debt collector can tell you precisely.


Lirium’s attempts to find Ophelia take him to the last place he wants to be.


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I double check the address on my palm screen, convinced my psych officer has set me up. This can’t possibly be where I’m supposed to pay out the life force I collected from Mrs. Riley. It’s not just the stink of recently expelled vomit from a junkie passed out in the alley. Or the fact that I’m on the east side of Los Angeles, the low rent district of the metropolitan basin, well past the hour for any legal business. The address Candy gave me points to an industrial warehouse buried deep in the sticky smog that coats everything at ground level. The building’s not even four stories tall. And high potential payoffs like Mr. Brodsky, the CEO of Brodsky Electronics, usually live well above the cancer-inducing air that pools at the impoverished feet of the city.

I knock on the metal door, shaking loose a few slivers of rust and hoping someone will answer quickly. I want to confirm I’m in the wrong spot and get out. The dull thuds only disturb the junkie, who rolls out of the spot of hazy street light. The building is deathly silent, a monolith of gray, windowless concrete. No sign. No number. My palm GPS says this is it, but something is very, very off. The feeling that someone is watching me itches up my back. I duck my head into the collar of my trenchcoat, glancing down the street, but if someone’s there, the creeping darkness gives them perfect cover.

I pound harder.

Finally a grinding sound comes from inside, a clacking of gears or rattling of chains. The jitters from the day—Ophelia’s abduction, the hit off the mob thug who took her, my nauseating visit with my psych officer—settle into my stomach. I still have Mrs. Riley’s transfer riding around inside me, too, but the churning feeling is mostly from the bonus life energy I stole from the thug. It’s filled out my bones again, replacing the sucked-dry feeling I’ve had since my first and only mercy hit two weeks ago. The high from helping Apple Girl’s sick sister wasn’t worth the aftermath of feeling like the life had been carved out of me. Not to mention chasing that high would have ended with me as a corpse.

The clanking inside the building screeches to a metallic stop, and someone is finally unlocking the door. It takes them a crazy amount of time to open it, banging around like there are a hundred locks. My foot taps the pavement. The mob might be torturing Ophelia right this moment—I don’t have time to waste with dead ends and wrong addresses.

The door slides open, ripping a cry of protest through the heavy silence of the street. I lean away. A man stands in the doorway; at least I think it’s a man. His goggles are like mini-telescopes, one protruding from each eye. There’s no part of him exposed, from his gloved hands to his masked face to the fine-weave mesh suit that’s lumpy over his clothes. The suit is so bright-white that it glows, making him look like an oversized, electrified bunny. His mini-telescopes scan me up and down, then he pulls the goggles away from his eyes and props them on his forehead.

His stare is intense, and I match it, mesmerized. He has one blue eye, one green. The green one seems to glint with its own light.

“You the debt collector?” His voice is rough with lack of sleep, or maybe fatigue.

I’m not sure if I’m relieved to be in the right place or not. “Is this Brodsky Electronics?”

The man glances down the street, then steps back inside, ushering me in with an urgent wave of his white-mitted hand. I hesitate. It’s so dark, I can’t see inside, and the man hasn’t verified anything.

“Are you coming, son, or not? I’m a busy man.”

He’s about to close the door, so I step through. While he works the battalion of chains, bolts, and electrified locks, the overhead panels blink on and light up a wire mesh cage that could be an elevator. The man brushes past me. He tugs off his mitts, and his thin fingers shake before he grabs the metal handle of the cage and yanks it open. The screech makes me want to cover my ears.

He shuffles inside. I hazard a guess. “Mr. Brodsky?”

“Yes, yes. Come on.” He wants me to get into the cage with him, and now that I’m reasonably sure I’m in the right place, I’d just as soon get on with it. I have further plans for tonight, and they don’t involve Brodsky Electronics. He closes the cage, and the wooden floor of the elevator lurches us upward. The second floor lights up and then shuts off as we pass it. The flash of illumination shows a scene that’s straight out of a horror movie: hacked off arms, dangling torsos, and I’m certain I saw a head sitting on a table. It’s lost in the murk as we glide up to the third floor and jerk to a stop.

The lights flicker on and this floor is less morbid, but still creepy. Large, bulbous magnifying glasses reach out on spindly arms from shiny tables that look like they came from a morgue. The tables play host to a multitude of strangely shaped devices, some metallic, some flesh-colored. Banks of computer screens and boxes of tools, both electronic and mechanical, crowd the rest of the small space. The lights are only half-lit, a checkerboard of panels across the ceiling, making the room dim with multiple shadows.

Mr. Brodsky pulls off his telescopic goggles and places them on top of a pile of what looks like toes. I cringe as I realize the workbench is littered with them: some propped on metallic bones, some attached to feet fallen sideways, as if their owner took them off and discarded them like shoes. They look realistic enough to be my own toes, chopped off and sprinkled on the benchtop. There’s no blood, and I’m hoping they’re the cybernetic kind. That's what supposedly put the CEO of Brodsky Electronics at the top of the “high potentials” list for today.

Mr. Brodsky shucks back the hood of his bunny suit, revealing the unnaturally youthful face I first saw on Candy’s palm screen. I bring up my palm recorder to get his consent. He has one on file, but I want to send it to Candy, so she knows I paid out. Especially since I plan to drop off the grid for a while and do something my psych officer would definitely not approve of.

I hold up my palm. “I need to record your acceptance of the transfer, Mr. Brodsky.”

His eyes—green and blue—are both trained on me. Something mechanical moves within Mr. Brodsky’s green eye, and I lean away. I have the strangest feeling that he sees something I don’t want him to.

“How much do you have for me, son?” he asks.

“I… um…” Payoffs don’t usually ask about the extra weeks; they’re mostly interested in the boost from the hit. They’re addicts, just like me, only a little higher brow. “About three weeks, sir.”

 “Three weeks. Three weeks.” His mumbles aren’t for me. He shoves aside some toes on the benchtop and presses his hands into the smooth black stone. “Not enough. Not enough.” He bangs a clenched hand, quietly, like he’s crushing the idea of three weeks under his fist. “It will have to be enough.”

“Enough for what, sir?”

He turns and jabs a bony finger at my palm, which is still hanging in the air, recording. “This!” He quickly touches my hand a few times before I have the sense to pull it back. “You got this when you joined the Agency, didn’t you?”

I frown. “It’s policy, sir.” This payoff is already more trouble than I expected, and now he’s asking personal questions. I grit my teeth and flip my hand over, thinking Mr. Brodsky’s light taps have messed up my recording. Instead he’s brought up a screen with a logo and some words. I stare stupidly at it. A capital S swooshes in a geometric shape with the words
working today for a brighter tomorrow

“I designed that,” Mr. Brodsky says, pointing to my hand. I think he means the device, not the logo. His cool fingertips touch my right forearm, and I jerk back, not expecting it. “You have the tracker implant, too, yes?”

I nod, eyes narrowed.

“I designed that as well.” Mr. Brodsky shakes his head, and his unnatural gaze falls to the benchtop of toes again. “So useless. Meaningful only to bureaucrats and technologists and businessmen. So much wasted time. But now… now… when I’m finally getting to something with purpose, that’s when the time, she slips away like a frightened kitten.”

I’m starting to worry about Mr. Brodsky’s mental state. But that’s not my job; I’m just here to pay out. “Mr. Brodsky, if I could just have you—”

He moves, fast. Much faster than an old man should, but then he’s not really old. He clenches my shoulders in his bony hands, drilling me with that artificial eye. “She doesn’t have that much time!” My shoulders bunch up, but his strength is impressive. He must have been on the receiving end of life hits for so long that he’s one of those perpetually young payoffs, who live off the hits right up until the day they die. Those payoffs literally live day-to-day. Week to week. As long as the life hits keep getting doled out to them.

But something doesn’t add up. “Who doesn’t have that much time?” I ask.

He comes out of the fury, relaxing his hold on me and patting down the bunched fabric of my trenchcoat. “I’m sorry, debt collector. This… it isn’t your trouble.” He gently takes my hand, avoiding the bandages still on my knuckles from when I punched the elevator, and taps cool fingers on the recorder. Then he holds my palm up to face him. “This is Dr. Leonid Mikailovich Brodsky. I understand the risks and benefits of the life energy transfer this young debt collector has come to administer. I accept them and approve the transfer.”

His pale fingers release me, and his eyes have gone dull. “How long have you been collecting, son?”

Again with the personal questions. “Two years, sir.”

“Only two?” His furry eyebrows hike up a millimeter. “You look older than twenty.”

Just what I need. A payoff reminding me I look like shit. “Thank you, sir.”

“Did the Agency take you early?”

“No, sir, I started at eighteen like everyone else.” The truth is I ran to the Agency office as soon as I knew, but they wouldn’t take a seventeen-year-old kid, even when my mom signed off on it.

“Tested in?”

“Yes, sir.” The law prohibits testing before the mandatory age of eighteen, supposedly to protect debt collectors from being targeted as children. But that just makes collectors who express early an easy target for the mob. Only ten percent of the population carries the genetic marker for collecting, and even with the marker, odds are still good you won’t express.

My luck has never been good.

You’re not tagged as a debt collector in the government records until you’ve demonstrated that you can, in fact, collect life energy. But once that happens, you’re in. Some collectors make a run for it, turning down Agency training to try their luck with the mob. But by the time I arrived at the Agency, I’d already tangled with the mob and barely made it out with my life.

He’s shaking his head. “So young, and yet already doing this… work. It’s a shame.” He looks in my eyes. “This is an abomination, this thing we do, yes?”

I don’t know what to say to that.

“These three weeks that you have for me,” he says. “I do not deserve them. They belong to the poor soul you took them from.”

My eyelid starts to twitch.

“But I will not turn them down, because, you see…” He spreads his hands wide. “I need them. This project I am working on. It is of the utmost importance.”

“The one for… the girl.”

“My granddaughter, yes,” he says. “But not just for her. For all the young who are struck down, yet have so much life left in them. Life energy that is untapped. It is also for you, my young debt collector.”

My eyebrows raise.

“I am working on a device that will change everything.” He pauses, picking up a toe from the creepy table. “Imagine you have a young patient, a girl not even out of her youth, like my beautiful Tatiana. She is stricken down with the most insidious of diseases, something that attacks the heart or the kidney or the lungs. A vital organ she cannot live without. It withers under the assault, but the rest of her body has the life energy of the full span of her young, young life.”

I glance at the toe in his hand. “What about your cybernetic parts? She could get a transplant or an artificial heart.”

“Yes! And that is much of what I have devoted my life to—making those replacement parts for the body. Better, simpler, longer lasting. Lower incidence of rejection. But always, always, this thing, this device…” He shakes the toe, then tosses it back on the pile. “It is foreign to the body. Even tissues grown specifically for their DNA match are problematic and that takes time… time these patients often do not have. Regenerative science is still in its infancy and carries the risk of rampant cancerous cell growth. And even that requires time. Time, she is the one thing we all need, yes? More precious than anything. But the answer is there, has been there in front of me all along, and it has taken me all these many decades to see it! But I see it now, debt collector. I see it!” His eyes take on that fervent, drilling aspect again, like I’m under a microscope, and he can see the very fibers of my being.

“What… what is it?”

“The life energy itself!” he cries, flinging out his hands then briefly covering his face with them, as if he is pulling himself together. “It is there, within the body. Life struggling against the disease, enhanced by all our medical science, but still losing the battle. But it’s
, debt collector, or you would not have a job, yes?”

BOOK: Ecstasy
7.39Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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