Excerpt Debt Collector Season Two, first episode – Wraith
“Adrien Odel,” I say with my best judge-and-jury voice. This part is important. I want him to know why I’m here. I’m not a debt collector for the mob or some rogue collector out for juice on the side. I’m not the government’s grim reaper, cashing out the destitute to feed a corrupt life energy supply system. I’m something he’s never heard of: a debt collector who will make him pay for his sins. A vengeful angel brought to his bedroom by his own foul actions. At least, that’s what I want him to think. The suit usually helps, along with the wild-flowing curly black hair.
“I… what…” He’s still breathless. But he’s smart, too, and quickly figures it out. His legs are trapped under the blanket, but his arms are free, so he lunges for me—the typical response. If he tried to twist away, making me lose contact with his bare skin, I might actually get into trouble. But my targets almost always go for my throat, especially the men. And most of them are men. I’m not biased—I’ll hunt down anyone who trafficks in life energy—but while the occasional socialite, movie star, or female corporate executive might make my list, it’s usually the men who think they can make deals with the mob and get away with it. And when they see a woman in a skin-tight suit perched on their chest in bed, they automatically assume they have the advantage.
I pull another hit from him.
Odel’s back arches again, but the pleasure is all mine.
I let it go longer this time, closing my eyes and drinking it in. I’m careful not to pull too fast—I’ve still got a few scars from those early trial-and-error lessons in how to collect, and I don’t need any more angry red marks across my palms. Plus I’m not ready to do the full collection yet. Odel still needs to learn his lesson. But I take a drink and let the energy seep out to every living cell in my body.
Not sure why I thought I could resist in the first place. And my targets do deserve everything they get. Any “high potential” who steals the life energy of someone “less deserving” needs a taste of what that kind of dying feels like. But I’m fooling myself if I think it’s only about the justice. I’m an addict, through and through. Really no better than the government’s debt collectors who do it for a paycheck and their ten percent cut of the hit.
Might as well get used to that, too.
I breathe out a deep sigh and stop the pull. I’m almost dizzy with the high. Too much. Need to be more careful. By the time I lazily open my eyes, Odel’s body is slack against the bed, his arms lying where they fell once I started the transfer. His chest is heaving, and the gray pallor is starting to show in his face. It’s hard to tell with all the creepy red glow-light in his room, but he’s definitely looking more like death than when I came in.
“What do you want?” His words are wheezy.
I lick my lips, already dry from the take. “You took something that doesn’t belong to you,” I say. “I’m here to take it back.”
“I can… I can pay you,” he says, already reaching the desperate, bargaining stage. That was fast. “Anything you want.”
“I don’t want your money, Odel,” I say, chastising him lightly. The high is making me want to play with him, and that’s not a good sign. It’s been too long. I should have known it would be hard to come back. “I want your life.”
“Please.” God, he’s starting to tear up now. These pampered high potentials can be so soft once you get them out of the boardroom. “Please don’t kill me. I’ve… I’ve got a family.” He doesn’t try to escape my hold on his forehead this time, like he’s finally figured out my palm is a gun barrel pressed against his skin. But he flails his arm to the side, reaching for something.
I shove down against his forehead, and his head sinks into the pillow. His hands go up in surrender.
“Is there something you need?” I ask.
“I just… I have… a picture…” He’s trying to look with just his eyes for whatever he was reaching for. Sometimes I forget how smart these high potentials are. I should know, I’m one of them. And a smart animal trapped in a corner becomes even smarter as the panic brings out every instinct for survival they have, including using all their brain cells at once. And sometimes they figure out my one weakness really fast.
I lean back and look, even though I know better.
He blindly reaches for the slick black photo cube. It’s the kind you tap and a holographic projection pops up whatever you’ve programmed: slide shows, video snippets, the slice-of-life stuff everyone has. It reaches in and stabs me in several different ways: because he has a smiling mother and a cute younger brother and a shiny-coated dog who adores him; because all the people whose life-energy he stole lost all of that and more; and because I have a cube just like it at home. Only the people on it are dead, and my empty apartment will only ever house me, my debt collector suit, and a haunting memory of a life that could have been but wasn’t. Because I do this instead.
I hold my free hand out to him. “Give it to me.”
He hands it over, a slight tremble in his fingers.
My palm is still plastered to his forehead, but I ease up on the pressure a little. It’s starting to sweat, making the contact slick. I need to move this along.
I hold up the cube. It’s still playing, so I freeze it. “Alicia Kentworth had a family, too. Only hers wasn’t rich. Trina Smith had two daughters she left behind. Matt Worthy was only twenty-five when they came for him, but he already had a beautiful baby girl. One who will never know her daddy.”
“I… I swear, I don’t know those people.” The desperation in his voice is inching up to hope, like he thinks he can talk his way out of this.
“No, of course you don’t.” I toss the cube aside, and it tumbles across the carpet. “You don’t think to ask about them when you’re getting your precious life energy hits, do you? You never say, Hey, Mr. Mob Boss, who had to die so I can be a little more peppy for that upcoming board meeting? Because then you’d have to think about it. And that might make it a little harder to sleep in this incredibly peacocky bed you have here.”
Odel has gone very still with my words, and I can see it on his face: he’s gotten to the stage where he realizes he’s not getting out of this. That anything he says will probably only make it worse. What he doesn’t know is that’s what I was waiting for: the look that says he understands what’s happening. And he knows he’s going to pay.
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy and the Debt Collector serial, as well as other speculative fiction novels and short stories. Her work has appeared in the Synchronic anthology and has been optioned for Virtual Reality by Immersive Entertainment. Her business card says “Author and Rocket Scientist” but she mostly sits around in her PJs in awe that she gets to write full time.