Neon Nights

Neon Nights: A Cerebral Shaman's Tale

I never thought I’d get used to the pulsing of the neon lights outside our window. My wife, Sheila, sleeps soundly next to me as the electric hum of the city seeps into our tenth-floor apartment. The glow from the advertisements dance on the ceiling above us, in an ever-changing pattern that is part nightmare, part dream.

I reach out to touch her face, and her eyelids flicker as if sensing my intention but she doesn’t wake. She smiles in her sleep, and I can’t help but smile back. It’s been seven years since we got married and in that time, I’d have never expected my love for her to grow as it has. Through thick and thin, through job loss and family deaths, we’ve been entwined at the soul, as if fused together by some cosmic accident.

I turn to face the window and watch as a group of punks below knock over a trash can, digging through the scraps for something worth selling or eating. Times are tough in this city. I should know; I’m one of them.

I rise from our mattress on the floor and stretch. My body is a mess of scars and bruises, a road-map of a life spent pushing the limits of what it means to be human. A cybernetic arm gleams in the dim light, its black chrome plating an unwelcome reminder of my violent past.

As I get ready for my day, Sheila’s eyes open slowly, sleep still clinging to the edges. She reaches out for me, curls her fingers around mine and pulls me into a sleepy embrace. For a moment, I let go of the darkness and focus on her warmth.

“I love you,” she mumbles into my chest.

“I love you more,” I reply.


Our laughter is muted by each other’s skin. It’s a moment we don’t want to break, but the city waits for no one. An alarm goes off somewhere, a clanging of pots and pans. And just like that, our perfect moment is shattered, replaced by the reality of our lives.

“Be careful tonight,” she whispers. But I don’t need to read her mind to know she’s afraid. I feel it in her fingertips as they brush my cheek.

“I will,” I promise. But it’s a promise I’ve made before, and I can see in her eyes that she knows it’s a lie. She doesn’t say anything, though. She knows the necessity of what I’m going to do, and how it’s the only way to keep us afloat in this neon hellhole.

I leave her side and step out into the cold embrace of the city. The air is choked with smog and rain hangs heavily on the horizon, an apocalyptic storm waiting to unleash its fury. It’s a fitting backdrop for the life I lead as a ‘Cerebral Shaman.’

You see, I have a gift or a curse, depending on how you look at it. With the aid of my modified implants, I can dive into people’s minds and sift through their memories like a cybernetic librarian. The things I find there are not always pleasant – secrets best left hidden or memories relegated to the darkest recesses of the psyche. It’s a dangerous profession but pays well if you know where to look and have the skill to decipher the human mind’s labyrinthine hideaways; and I am very good at what I do.

Tonight I have a target: A corporate executive with a penchant for dirty deals and even dirtier vices. He’s got quite the reputation in certain circles, and my employer wants to know how he’s managed to stay one step ahead of his competition all these years. My job is simple (in theory): infiltrate his private penthouse, locate the man, and dive into his memories to extract whatever juicy information my employer needs.

It’s one of those jobs that could set Sheila and me up for life. We could leave this awful city behind us and start anew somewhere far away from the neon haze and oppressive smog.

As I near the executive’s penthouse, my cybernetic eye picks up rooftop cameras and security systems. I scan the building, calculating the best route to bypass all security measures. After a moment’s deliberation, I scale a nearby building and leap across rooftops, a shadow amongst the city’s ambiance. I cling onto the side of his building and swiftly take out the guards with my modified arm, a stabbing weapon extending where my fingers should be.

Finally, I slip into his apartment and find him crouched over a desk, counting credits and laughing manically. He hasn’t noticed me yet – they never do. I creep up behind him and press my weapon against his throat.

With terror in his eyes, he stammers, “W-what do you want?”

“Your memories,” I whisper menacingly, activating my implants to begin the dive. It’s a messy process, fraught with danger. The human mind is a resilient fortress when threatened, and I have to be careful not to trigger any trapdoors or alarm bells that could send me spiraling into oblivion.

I navigate the labyrinth of his mind, avoiding the siren call of his darkest memories, until I find it – a sliver of information worth its weight in credits. Just as I’m about to extract it, however, something goes wrong. His mental defenses become active – he was expecting me.

My surroundings transform into a battlefield as his mind fights back. We grapple through layers of consciousness, each trying to overpower the other. It’s an intense struggle that leaves me drained and disoriented. But in the end, I emerge victorious.

Exhausted, I return to the real world. The executive is lying on the floor, eyes glazed over, a testament to the internal war that had just been fought. I pocket the information and flee the scene, evading security with ease now that the battle has been won.

I return home, escorted by the light of false dawn. Sheila is waiting for me by the window, relief etched into her tired eyes as she spots me. We embrace and I hold her close, our hearts pounding in tandem.

“We did it,” I whisper into her hair. “We’re free.”

Her smile rivals the brightness of the neon lights outside. And for the first time in a long time, we glimpse a future filled with hope and escape from this city of perpetual darkness.

Author: Opney. Illustrator: Dalli. Publisher: Cyber.

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