Stigmata (c) 1999 Tim Dedopulos/Nightfall Games Limited


She could feel him as she walked down the road, settled over the sector

like a thick woollen blanket. Stifling her creativity. She waited for a

knot of traffic to shoot past, then splashed across the road, and walked up

to the coffee shop. He was in there, of course; it was the obvious place --

perfect, right down to the cheap, red-check vinyl tables and the

uncomfortable tube-back chairs. She pushed the door open and walked in.


Inside, the cafe was quiet, as it should be. The rain scrabbled gently at

the windows, streaking the neon darkness outside. The menu, such as it was,

had been scrawled on pieces of brightly-coloured card and tacked up above

the counter at the far end in time-honoured fashion. "All day Break-fast".

"Boiled Egg's". A sign near the decrepit cash register proudly boasted

"Cash Only - No Credits", as if anyone in the sector had a job, or would

mistake this shit-hole for an official 'SLA Breakfast Station'. Everything

stank of old oil.


The civilian clientele of the establishment consisted of the obligatory

toothless old man sipping a cup of tea -- four Sugars, no doubt -- and a

washed-out punk with an ugly scar. The punk was sunk so far in his misery

that he couldn't even summon up the energy to leer at her. The ageing

waitress hovered at the back of the shop, behind the counter, looking

nervous. Sensible enough.


Duncan was sitting at a window table, staring out at the rain and absently

stirring a cup of coffee. Slight, shabby and pale, he looked like some sort

of scrawny rodent forced into a man's body. His clothes didn't do him any

favours either; old jeans, a T-shirt that might once have been white, and a

scruffy old raincoat. She sat down opposite him, took off her hat, and

stuck it on the seat next to her. He looked round at her unsurprised, and

raised a thin smile. "Hi Alice, good to see you."


The waitress bustled up. "Hello there, hen. What can I fetch you?" Alice

smiled at her, and said "A cup of tea please, white without." The waitress

nodded, and scuttled off again, busying herself behind the counter. She

turned her attention back to Duncan, grinned broadly at him for the hell of

it, and started off with a light feint.

"Hi Duncan. You're looking pale, doll. You should get out more."

"Oh, I don't know," he replied. "I rather like it in here. Unpretentious.

They serve a fine breakfast too, which does a good impression of bacon and

Lorne sausage on fried slice. You could almost wish for a pint of 70 to

wash it down with."


Alice managed not to flinch, but she couldn't stop the grin dropping a

fraction. The images hammered at her, threatened to crack her will. How did

he know she missed the food more than anything else? Same way she knew

about his musical tastes, she decided. They had to have dossiers and files,

just like her side did. After all, they were the fucking bureaucrats. She

barely noticed the waitress come back with her tea, reach over to put it on

the table.


"This place always reminds me of that cafe at the back of the Barrowlands,"

she said, speaking the words without thinking about their meaning,

concentrating on the sound and not the message. "I always expect to walk

out and see some spotter pretending to sell cheap fags while he looks out

for the cops, or a little man with a big stack of Celtic scarves." A

rustling noise nagged at the back of her mind, but she ignored it, ignored

the bead of sweat forming at the nape of her neck. Did he look a little

paler? "All those band posters too," she continued, "from the gig the night

before. Del Amitri. Simple Minds. The Eurythmics."

"I'm hungry," he said, interrupting her. "I could do with some..."


Duncan broke off, glancing at the table. Her tea was in front of her.

Around it, the grey remains of the waitress were melted and bubbled into

the table-top. The corrupted flesh looked almost slimy, but she knew it

would be hard to the touch, little ridges and bubbles formed into the

whorls and channels, a path of it leading to the edge of the table where

the waitress' arm had been. A broader pool of it was frothed into the

floor. She shot a glance up towards the back of the room and sure enough,

the punk and the old man had become tangled grey sheaths of putrid mush

smeared across their tables. Where the punk had been sitting, ropes of muck

had hardened between the wall, table and chair, like the slimy web of some

monstrous spider. Already, the grey was spreading into the tables and walls.


Duncan was the first to snap out of it. "... Apple pie and custard," he

continued. "I think I'll pass though, everything considered. I'm hoping to

get to DiMaggio's tonight, for a decent Chicken Chicago." She could feel

her body tingling and squirming under her as she remembered the restaurant,

the art museum in the middle of the square. She could feel tears of blood

welling in her eyes, spilling red tracks down her white cheeks.

It was time to pull out her special weapon before he vaped her. They were

all taught, both sides, that repeating a word often enough erases its

context, that repeating a word pair does the same. With enough word pairs

free of context, you could start building whole clauses that your mind

ignored the meaning of, and finally entire sentences, weapons to do battle

with that would force your opponent to remember. However, she was the first

to think about applying the same principle to songs, she was sure of it.

Music was so much more evocative... it had to work. She'd practised the

tune -- "Love is a Stranger", the Eurythmics, title and artist just sounds

now -- for weeks, desensitising each word and each note, whole verses and

stanzas if needs be.


Alice had a good voice, and she made the most of it. "Love is a stranger in

an open car," she sang, concentrating on pitch and rhythm and refusing to

hear the words or the music. "To tempt you in and drive you far away." She

glanced up, and she could see that she had him. He was lost, looking inward

and already becoming pale, remembering some radio somewhere, or an old

walkman, or something. "Love is a stranger in an open car," she sang again,

trailing off as Duncan faded to a wraith in front of her.


Right at the last, Duncan looked straight at her with piercing blue eyes

and smiled beautifully. "Love," he breathed, "goodbye." The words hung on

the empty air where the Stigmartyr agent had sat.


Alice sighed heavily, and had a deep swig of the tea, which was, of course,

vile. Briefly she wondered who had really won, as she always did. Unlike

Slayer's little slaves though, Monitors didn't get to go home after the

game was over, and she really didn't want to lose this body in order to

spend eternity as a Root Dog or some other little tortured abomination. The

job did have it's perks, after all.


In the distance, Alice could hear the drop-ship screaming in. About time

too -- the corruption had taken over the whole cafe, and was almost out the

door. God knows how far down it had sunk. She picked up her hat, and as she

put it on, the fusion bomb hit the shop, vaporising the world for a hundred

yards in each direction, and everything went white.


She decided to free-fall to the base of the crater, plummeting calmly

through the blast and its aftershock. She landed lightly, temporarily

exempt from gravity, and looked around at the devastation. A large piece of

wreckage was big enough to be hiding a door that could lead to steps to the

next sector, so that's exactly what it was doing. She opened it and started

down, already preparing some juicy lines for her next report.