Read an Excerpt
Almasi / THE HAMMER OF ANGELS
Monday, January 19, 10:50 p.m. EST
The Metro, Washington, D.C., USA
Insanity isn’t nearly as crazy as people make it out to be. After a while even delusions begin to follow a pattern, and because of all the practice I’ve had, my little trips to la-la land have gotten much less disorienting. For example, the black-haired girl sitting over there is a product of my subconscious, and I don’t have to pull out my pistol and kill her right here on the Metro platform. I’ve hallucinated this same cookie before, and one positive aspect of this illusion’s repetitiveness is that she hasn’t morphed into something else, like a fire-breathing dragon or the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
As usual, this chick is 5'4", the same as me, and has the same small-framed gymnast’s build that I do. We both have fair skin, but her eyes are burned brown, not green like mine, and of course I have my mom’s auburn hair, not the shiny black ponytail this bird sports.
A new detail is how she’s dressed for the weather. Unlike my ultrastylish maroon leather jacket, my imaginary nemesis wears a thick black peacoat to ward off the January chill. When someone walks past, she moves her foot out of the way. Dream Girl’s black Keds are tied really tight, as though someone might steal them right off her feet.
My hallucination’s deluxe resolution and situational responsiveness mean I’m either healthier or nuttier than when I got home from Riyadh last October. Dream Girl was already seated on a bench here in the White Flint Metro station as I came down the escalator. Her ominous presence set me on edge, but it’s not like she’s actually there. Still, for a make-believe person, she works awfully hard to avoid looking at me.
I mentally instruct my implanted Nerve Jet neuro- injector to give me a quick dose of Kalmers. The drugs flow into my bloodstream, and within seconds my relative lack of sanity stops bothering me.
It’s been a couple of weeks since one of my spells, which has made both me and Dr. Herodotus happy. I’m trying to decide whether to tell him about this one when a southbound train finally arrives. I enter the car and take a seat. Dreamy gets on and sits a few rows away, facing me. At this hour, only a handful of other passengers travel with us.
We ride like a pair of grim statues into Grosvenor-Strathmore. Past the girl are ads for crappy action movies and lame-ass technology schools. We’re so close, I can smell her—an appetizing blend of Noxzema and cheeseburgers—but our eyes don’t meet until our train leaves the station. Then she makes her move.
The girl slips her hand into her coat and—it’s such a cliché—pulls out a pistol. My illusions never pull out flowers or tickets to a Redskins game. It’s always a fucking gun.
Big dark lenses slide down from Dream Girl’s brow and cover her peepers like sunglasses. She points her little dream weapon at me. I stick my tongue out at her. Nyah-nyah! I’ve had this delusion so many—
Well, that’s unusual. Dreamy normally vanishes before she takes a shot at me. The make-believe bang gives me an involuntary surge of adrenaline, which prompts my neuroinjector to release a dose of Madrenaline. Swell. Now it’ll seem like all day before that phantom bullet goes away.
The nonexistent chunk of lead spirals toward my face. Imaginary scuffs have been scraped into the bullet by the illusory rifling in the barrel of my friend’s phony sidearm. I shift out of its way just to humor her. The slug passes by and smashes the window behind me. Such realism!
Wait. Why has everyone freaked out? The other passengers all run away or dive under their seats as Dreamy fires another shot. Finally it occurs to me.
Phantasms don’t need Noxzema.
The black-haired skeezer’s second bullet hurtles toward my stomach. I grab the ape-hanger bar on the ceiling and crank myself up and over the incoming projectile. The slug cracks through the back of my seat and leaves a jagged hole.
I reach for Li’l Bertha, the pistol I inherited from my father. She practically jumps out of her leather holster. The WeaponSynch pad embossed on her grip snaps into the matching recess in my palm. Li’l Bertha’s targeting software jacks into my Eyes-Up display and flashes “Target One” over Dream Girl’s head.
I swing my gun hand out in front of me, and Li’l Bertha’s gyroscopic aiming system does the rest. Her status changes to “Target Acquired,” and I let ’er rip. A swarm of .45-caliber bullets smashes into Dreamy’s face, neck, and chest. The girl’s mortal remains splatter all over the windows, walls, and seats. It’s like someone sneezed out a gallon of spaghetti sauce.
The civilian passengers lose their minds and scream like teenagers at a Beatles concert. I dash to the end of the car, yank the emergency brake, and hang on tight while the train comes to a shuddering, shrieking halt. I kick open the exit door, leap down to the tracks, and sprint up the tunnel.
My staccato footsteps and heavy breathing are chased by an older woman’s voice crying out to Sweet Merciful Jesus.