He was five-four, one-hundred and thirty-three pounds. A small belly peeked out under his child-sized XL salmon colored t-shirt. His khaki shorts hung a little above the knees, showing off his pale skinny legs. Keen-style water sandals covered his feet. Thick glasses sat on the bridge of his nose. He was sitting at the far table on the veranda, watching the straw umbrella sway in the ocean breeze.
A man sat down across from him; six-two, two-hundred and fifteen pounds. A blue T-shirt with his dated logo stretched to contain his muscles.
“It’s nice to meet you, Kent,” the small man said, holding out his small hand, “In person.”
They shook hands and Kent sat down. His black hair was cropped and his eyes were blue.
“Would you like a drink?”
“I don’t drink.”
The small man grinned and sipped his cocktail. He smacked his lips at the bitterness and set the glass on the table.
“You never change, Kent,” he chuckled, “You never change.”
“I see no reason to.”
“Of course not. You’re perfect. Flawless, I might add. But where will you be when the Storm comes?”
The palms between the veranda and the beach shuddered against the wind.
“Things aren’t concrete anymore, Kent. Villains don’t run around with explosives and rob banks, at least in the physical sense. Criminals work undercover. Corrupt data miners can abstractly control this world. A crook with internet connection is more deadly than a mutated freak with firearms. Your fists of steel may have saved this rock for years, but you can’t punch data.”
Kent leaned forward on the table.
“You’re telling me you can?”
The small man took a sip of his drink.
“Me? Certainly not. I am singular,” he smiled, “But my group? Most certainly. We are plural.”
Kent sat back in his chair, taking note of the people around him. Everyone was wearing large sunglasses and flowered shirts, laughing and sipping on their drinks.
“You’ve been crowd-sourced,” he continued, “But you’ll never see your replacements.”
Kent became agitated. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. There was something about this man that unnerved him. He was so calm, so matter-of-fact, like he was not a man.
“You’re everywhere. Data is not lacking on you, Kent. An anomaly of your extent has highways of digital footprints. When the bureaucrats want you gone, all they need is one steel-piercing bullet, and they’ll know right where to place it. I fear for you.”
The waves crashed lightly on the shore, one after another for as far as they eye could see.
“A man so mighty, now so…”
He paused, making eye contact with Kent across the table.
He took another sip of his cocktail.
“What are you drinking?”
The small man smacked his lips, “Let me tell you a story.”
Kent sat back in his chair and the brown-skinned waitress placed a glass of iceless water before him.
“Once upon a time, in the great Pisco desert, there were two naked hermit crabs lying in the sand. They were the only living things for as far as the eye could see. In fact, they were the only things for as far as the eye could see. There were no cacti; no other crabs, no water, and certainly no shelter—save for the single grey shell between them. It was slightly too large for the smaller crab and slightly too small for the larger crab.
‘When the Storm comes, we will need shelter,’ said the larger crab.
‘He will provide it,’ said the smaller crab.
‘When He permits it.’
The larger crab, displeased with this response, became angry with his friend. The Storm could occur at any moment, and he was entirely exposed. He could feel the sun beating down on his skin. Why should he die in the Storm while his weaker friend was covered? Decidedly, the larger crab reached out with his claws and snatched the shell. He forced himself inside. Even crabs understood Darwin.
‘I am sorry, friend,’ said the larger crab.
‘I am too,’ said the smaller crab.
At this point, the ground ruptured beneath them and a pair of enormous silver claws tore up through the sand. Each of the crabs was enclosed by a claw. Almost immediately, the one containing the naked crab returned beneath the sands. The other, dropping the shelled crab back on the ground, descended beneath the surface after the first.
‘I have survived the Storm!’ the larger crab delighted as he fell back into the sand. Feeling safe in his shell, he started trekking across the desert.
After a few days, the sky opened and rain showered down. This did not phase the crab. He continued to delight in his good fortune as the shell kept him dry. He continued his journey. As the hours passed, the rain did not let up. The sand soon became so inundated that water accumulated along its surface. The crab struggled to keep walking. Soon he struggled to keep afloat. As the rain continued to fall, the water levels rose and the crab realized he had misidentified the Storm. The Pisco desert filled with water and the crab cursed his sour luck. He drowned.
When the rain ended and the desert drained, the gigantic silver claws rose up from the earth and dropped the smaller crab back in the sand. He walked across the desert until he found the emptied shell of his friend. Crawling inside, he began his trek across the desert, to live another day.”
Kent stared at the small man across the table.
“Who are you?”
The man crossed his legs. “A vigilante, like you, Kent. But there’s a difference between us. They know too much about you.”
“What are you talking about?”
Setting down his drink, the small man crossed his arms.
“You can settle here. It’s warm, relaxing, inconspicuous. The Storm won’t reach you, and we’ll cover your tracks. Let us protect you. Hang up the cape and we’ll finish the work.”
Kent frowned and slid back his chair. Standing up, he looked to the sky.
“I’ll be fine.”
He turned and walked away. Shaking his head, the small man picked up his drink. It was so bitter. He watched Kent rise up through the clouds like a rocket. Tipping his glass, he finished his Pisco Sours and listened to the crashing waves.