Photo by Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash

The hardest part wasn’t breaking into the sperm bank.

It wasn’t hacking the guard dog. Or dodging surveillance drones in broad daylight. The hardest part was doing it all with Keke, whose vocabulary shrunk overnight to the size of a single hypothetical question: “What if we get caught?”

Under the ski mask, Lance felt his face burning. “You worry about the damn pictures,” he said, dragging the mechanical mutt to the nearest bush.

Here she was, the mother of his unborn child, casting all kinds of shadows of doubt. These types of questions made Lance question her faith in him. Hell, he got them this far, didn’t he?

Keke checked her watch. It was quarter to nine. The cops didn’t get out of church till after ten, then they’d be coming right back here.

“Fifteen minutes, in and out,” Lance repeated, dusting off his gloved hands.

About then, another surveillance drone moaned overhead. Lance took Keke’s arm, yanking her to wooden boards against the wall. She had a hard time making herself flat with her backpack on. It was supposed to storm at some point. But the grey clouds hadn’t crept in yet, which left them both exposed in their classic burglar black on a sunny Sunday morning.

“I don’t know about this, Lance,” Keke said. “Why’d you make me do this?”

His lady, he knew after six years together, was a blamer. This woman blamed him for dirty dishes in the sink, dirty socks on the sofa and, if provoked, she’d say these dirty cops were his fault, too. But Lance wasn’t fazed. Sticks and stones and such. It was nothing to clean dishes, toss socks in the washer and, in this case, it was just a matter of getting photographic evidence to blow this whole operation wide open and put this perverted ring of pigs away for good.

“Just follow me,” Lance said once the drone moved on.

Keke shrugged her backpack up on her shoulders as he moved along the wall to the back door. He’d come here a few times before. But this was years ago, back with his philosophy major ex, back when this place was an art-house cinema showing films that made his brain bleed. Last year, the theatre shut down (after too many deaths by boredom, Lance figured), but the city bought it and boarded it up, announcing plans to renovate it for affordable housing. Nine months later, from the outside, the place looked like another pathetic display of public dysfunction.

He wedged his fingers behind the board blocking the door. And pulled.

But it didn’t budge. He pulled and pulled.

Keke reached out to put her fingers back there, too. “Here, let me help – ”

“I got it.” Lance pulled till the sliver was big enough for her to slip through. “Go, go,” he said, pushing her and her backpack through the hole. He slid in after her.

Just like that, they were inside. Even through the mask, Lance could smell popcorn.

Keke looked around the corridor. “Which way?”

“This way,” Lance said, leading her through the hall, lit only by dots of blue service lights.

Frames were still on the wall. No posters. But they all said Coming Soon. Lance couldn’t remember the last movie he saw here. There was a whole lot of talking, he remembered that. All talk and no action. He fell asleep halfway through, his ex broke up with him that night over milkshakes, and he vowed to never to return to this godawful theatre. And yet here he was.

Behind him, Keke gasped. Lance turned around. She stood there, hand over her masked mouth. She pointed to the concession stand. Lance had walked right by it without noticing. The food menu offered combo deals. Not only popcorn and soda, but also sex toys of different kinds, shapes and colours. Screw-on vibrators and butt plugs behind the glass next to the Goobers and Milk Duds.

“What?” Lance said. “You want some popcorn?”

She shuddered. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Lance motioned to Keke’s backpack. “Actually, we should get shots of this.”

Keke shook her head, composing herself. “The bank first,” she said, marching forward.

See, this was why he loved her. Keke didn’t mess around. She asked hella questions, but she wasn’t some hysterical drama queen who’d blow up over every little thing. When Lance told her he planned to do this op solo, Keke insisted on joining him and being in charge of the camera. “If you go down, I go down,” she said months ago, before the anxiety kicked in.

Lance followed her past the ticket-taker stand. They came to the foyer with a bigger concession with more special attachments and a bin of lube packets.

Keke stopped. Checked her watch again. “Which way?”

Lance headed for the door marked Authorised Personnel Only. “This way.”

“You sure?”

He nodded. He wasn’t sure where the bank was, but she didn’t need to know all that. What she needed to do was trust him. She needed to know that he would protect her and their son.

“Wait.” Keke held out a hand. “You hear something?”

Lance froze. Listened. He heard traffic outside. A drone in the distance. But nothing else.

“You sure the cops don’t come till after ten?” she asked.

Lance cocked his head. Who did she think he was? He’d been clocking their movements for three months straight. Sunday mornings were reserved for using the “blood of the Lamb” to wash the blood off their hands.

“That!” Keke’s bulging eyes filled up the eyeholes with terror. “You hear that?”

Behind his mask, Lance squinted like that would help. Was she hearing things? Or was he not hearing things? He figured the former but then heard the grating sound himself: a wooden board scraping against concrete. Somebody was coming.

Lance grabbed Keke’s arm, yanking her toward the storage room. He grabbed the knob. Locked. No time to pick it, either.

“Here,” Keke whispered, pulling Lance into the screening room.

It was a dark, tight space. Six rows, ten seats each. They darted past the pneumatic tube sending station and down the aisle. The exit sign glowed to the right of the big screen. Lance thought she was going straight there, but she cut left into the second row. The floor was very sticky, underscored by the suction sounds their boots made.

Voices echoed in the foyer.

Lance yanked Keke down to her knees.

They dropped.

Crawled to the middle of the row. Froze. Stayed there, huddled up, trying not to breathe or move or touch anything. It smelled like buttered popcorn and ball sweat. The chairs were custom-made to serve the clientele. Plush recliners with prostate massage functions. Self-cleaning, retractable hoses – like octopus tentacles – that toys could be attached to. Seat pockets loaded with tissues and lube packets. A smart sterile cup in the cup holder for manual deposits.

Lance couldn’t see Keke over the backpack. But hearing her gag, he tapped her calf. They had to be absolutely, positively silent if they had any chance. Keke craned her neck to look back at him and shook her head. Was the headshake out of disgust for him or their current predicament? Probably both. Definitely both. They just had to lay low, wait for whoever was out there to vacate so they could finish the job and get the hell out.

But they weren’t leaving. Their voices got louder. Big, twangy voices. Three men’s voices:

“Fuck me, I can’t find him.”

“You sure he’s not outside somewhere sniffing ass?”

“Or maybe Boner’s resting for the Sabbath.”

“It’s a fucking machine.”

“Machines sleep, too, shitheel.”

“Your wife doesn’t. That bitch keeps going and going.”

“Hunter’s got a point there.”

“Fuck you! Fuck the both of you bastards!”

“Aw, poor little Jakey – you take everything so goddamn sensitively.”

“If you like her so much, you can have her!”

“Keep your thong on and help me find Boner, will ya? I got the alert for a reason and if Murphy finds out we lost his precious K-9, he’ll be having all of us.”

“Where are we supposed to look?”

“You’re the detective, you tell us.”

“Fer Chrissake, I can’t think under these conditions.”

“Then what do you suggest, Welch?”

“I say we clear our heads first.”

“I concur.”


Then: Silence. A minute went by. Then two. Keke turned around and shrugged. Did they leave? Lance held out a hand: Hold on. It was one thing to hear voices, but nothing? The cops could’ve left. Or they could’ve been there, right over him, looking down on them.

But he had to make a move. Be smart. Think, think, think.

Lance tapped Keke’s calf again. He motioned for her to crawl. Slowly. And she lifted one knee, but then a hum shook the room, sending tremors through their bodies. He clutched her ankle.

She froze.

He froze.

The big screen turned on.

The voices were back. Coming inside. Two of them this time:

“Whoa, whoa, what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Aw, c’mon Jakey boy, sharing is caring.”

“No sirree, this popcorn’s mine. Go get your own!”

“You’re acting like a pussy, you know that?”

“Yeah? Well, I’m a popcorn-munching pussy, so if you’ll excuse me, I got a flick to watch. And don’t even think about sitting next to me again – six feet!”

Lance didn’t breathe. Mouth bone-dry. Heart tried to make a break for the exit. He ducked. Looking under the seats. He saw boots. Two pairs. One of them scooted into the middle of the last row. The sticky floor sucking on soles. Till he sat down.

The other was coming down the aisle. Closer.

Then stopped. “You know which one he picked?”

“Didn’t ask. I hate spoilers.”

Lance blinked hard. The dark boots in the aisle blended into the carpet. Hard to make out. Leaning down, Lance’s cheek skimmed the floor. He jolted up, disgusted, then remembered he had a mask on, but was it too late? He didn’t turn around. More sticky sounds came next. Lance checked, keeping his gloved hand between the floor and his face. The second pair of boots entered row four.

Lance put his hand back on Keke’s ankle. He just knew she was freaking out. But they had to be still. Stay calm. A panic attack could get them killed. Breathing could get them killed.

The third man came in. “I couldn’t decide which flick, so I picked the c – ”

“Hey, no spoilers!”

“You already know how it ends, you cuck. Wait, where’s my popcorn?”

“The prick only made some for himself.”

“Waa waa, go cry to my wife about it!”

“Go fuck yourself, Jake.”

“I plan to, thanks!”

The third man moved down the aisle. Passing row five. Then four. Three. Two. Past Lance and Keke to the very first row. Right up front. Slumping down in the middle seat as the screen lit up, but before Lance had a chance to breathe –


He flinched and Keke did, too, at the sound of the gunshot.

But they stayed low as noise exploded from the screen: sirens and scared voices, cops barking as human beings pleaded for their lives. Lance couldn’t see anything but could hear other things: buckles unbuckling, pants unzipping, massage seats throbbing, hoses being pulled, toys attached, grunts, moans, and murmurs to the heavens.

Somebody screamed: “Get off of him! Get off!” and a cop in the room yelped: “I am!”

Keke shook her head over and over. She was about to lose it. Lance tapped her leg. Stay calm. But she couldn’t. She lurched. Lifted her glove hand to her mouth. Lifted her mask to her nose.

Breathe, breathe, breathe.

But it was no use. The killing. The stroking. The surround-sound screaming. It was all too motherfucking much. Lance snatched a tissue from a seat pocket. Reached out to her. Keke recoiled at the floppy white thing. Lance waved it, insisting it was clean. She kept shaking her head as she plucked it from him. She covered her mouth, but couldn’t cover her ears.

“I can’t breathe!”

“Jesus, I’m coming!”

Her head jerked forward once. Twice. Her cheeks swelled like a trombonist’s, which caused Lance’s mouth to fill with spicy saliva. Stomach bubbling. Seconds from erupting.

Then Keke’s cheeks deflated. Her mouth drooped. Did she throw up? Lance asked with a nod. She held up the empty tissue, her expression telling the story. Lance knew she was beating herself up. He could damn near hear her inner critic, that voice in her head scolding her. (“You just fed vomit to your baby!”) But they didn’t have time to dwell.

Lance pointed ahead. It was now or never. She pulled her mask down. And crawled. Carefully. He followed her out to the aisle. The movie played on, showing bodycam clips, death after death, like a gangster movie montage. Keke got down on her belly, inching forward. Lance did the same, passing row three. Then four. Five. The cops didn’t see them. Too engrossed in the movie, their heads back, eyes rolling, in the throes of pleasure.

As Lance wriggled into the foyer, Keke dusted herself off, massaging her belly.

Lance took her arm and whispered: “Let’s move.”

But Keke yanked away from him.

“Keke, we gotta go right now!”

She pulled Lance to the storage closet. “The bank’s in here, right?”

“Fuck the bank!”

“We’re not finished.”

“Keke, listen to me – ”

“No, you listen to me, Lance. You dragged me into this and I finish what I start, you hear me? Open the goddamn door so we can do this.”

Lance looked to the screening room. Heard the grunts over gunshots. Maybe this could work. If the cops released, they’d be all relaxed. Slow to react. That post-nut clarity could be critical should anything go sideways. He lifted his mask to bite off his right glove. His hand trembled as he put in codes on his tablet. Click. The door unlocked. They hurried through, closing it behind them, dampening the real-life horror soundtrack. Lance hit the switch.

Inside: freezer shelves of sterile cups, all barcoded, filled with whitish semen. The pneumatic tube snaked down from the ceiling to the receiving station, hooked to the computer against the far wall.

“Aight,” Lance said, his ear to the door, “get the pictures and let’s get the hell out.”

Keke crouched to unzip the bag. “When you said you got a tip about a sperm bank run by cops, I thought it was a joke.” She pulled out a metal box. “But you said you were dead serious.”

“I was – I am,” he said, still listening out. “C’mon, c’mon.”

She opened the box carefully. “You said these officers of the law were scared to death of becoming the minority in this country. And you wanted to protect me, to protect your child by making sure the world wouldn’t give birth to no more corrupt cops.”

“Yeah, exactly, so hurry up with the pictures so we can – ”


“What? What’s the matter?”

“I didn’t bring a camera.”

“What?!” Lance’s bulging eyes filled up the eyeholes with terror. “What the hell is that?!”

“You said it yourself.” Keke carried the device to plant it under the computer. “We gotta blow this whole thing wide open.”

“That’s not what I meant – we’re not terrorists!”

“We’re solving your Trolley Problem.”


“Killing bad sperm to save good lives.”

“No, that’s not how it goes – there is no solution.”

“There is now.”

“Keke, think about our child. If we get caught, what happens to our son?”

Keke went to grab Lance’s hand to put on her belly. “Do you feel anything? Any movement?” Lance didn’t feel anything. “I know you don’t, but I do. I feel everything. And he been moving less and less ever since we stepped foot in this shithole, you understand?”

“I didn’t want you to come.”

“It’s not about you, it’s about us!” she said. “I’m not about to let those sick muhfuckas kill my baby before he takes his first breath.”

Keke turned back to the device, but Lance grabbed her wrist.

“Let go,” she said.

“We can’t do this.”

“Watch me,” she started to say, but then, they heard a hum. Not from speakers.

He froze.

She froze.

Overhead, a cup zoomed through the pneumatic tube, landing at the receiving station.

Keke jumped back as a mechanical arm grabbed the cup. The computer analysed the sample. The arm stuck a barcode on the cup, then shelved it in the freezer.

Lance leaned to the door. Hearing nothing, he opened it. Slightly. Peeked out. Seeing nothing, he motioned for her to come quickly. Keke snatched up her backpack. There was no sound booming from the screening room. No signs of the cops. Did they finish? Maybe, maybe not, but he and Keke had to make a run for it. On three. Ready?

One. Lance took a deep breath.

Two. Keke took a deep breath.

Three! Lance took Keke’s hand and they ran.

Past the big concession counter, past the ticket-taker stand, past the Coming Soon frames, running, down the corridor, the exit in sight, there it was, dead ahead, almost there, almost there, almost there. Lance reached the back door, pushed the board for Keke to slide through –  

But the metal teeth of the guard dog thrust into the hole.

Keke shrieked.

Lance fell back. “Yo!”

The dog kept barking, trying to squeeze through the opening. Keke helped Lance to his feet, and they turned to run back, but the three cops were right there, guns drawn with sticky trigger fingers.

Twenty minutes later, Lance and Keke rode in silence, their lives flashing before them like the dreary world whizzing by the squad car. Lance blamed himself. Hell, why wouldn’t he? He got Keke into this mess. Said the dog would be asleep for two hours. Said the cops wouldn’t be back till after ten. He assured her they wouldn’t get caught. And yet here they were.

The cops didn’t shoot. They frisked and unmasked, and they asked a thousand questions. Then arrested them for trespassing. They clearly released in that screening room. And in the back seat, Lance’s stomach knotted at the notion that all those senseless state-sanctioned murders caught on video saved his life.

Keke reached over to grab his shaking hand. How could she ever trust him after this? He failed. He failed her and their unborn child. Keke pointed to her watch.

Lance knew he fucked up. He mouthed the words: “I’m sorry.”

Keke pointed to her watch again. Lance didn’t understand at first. Then she gave him a look, her eyebrows raised, and he knew exactly what she meant. No talk, just action. His throat burned, and her eyes welled as he touched her belly. He held his breath, and together they pushed the button, and the eruption shook the streets, shooting flames into the crying, grey sky.

About Russell Nichols

Russell Nichols is a speculative fiction writer and endangered journalist. Raised in Richmond, California, he got rid of all his stuff in 2011 to live out of a backpack with his wife, vagabonding around the world ever since. Look for him at russellnichols.com.

Russell Nichols is a speculative fiction writer and endangered journalist. Raised in Richmond, California, he got rid of all his stuff in 2011 to live out of a backpack with his wife, vagabonding around the world ever since. Look for him at russellnichols.com.

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