11

Thirtyseventh is a quality neighbourhood, lot of money there, some of the corporate types keep a spare apartment there for when they’re “slumming”. Station Analysis gets me the number of the place and eve’s already there when I arrive. The Door is closed, but the entry phone has a small sticker on it with a number, I take the paper with my gloves and put it in the forensics bag.

This could be one of two things, either the combination to the door, or a combination to make the entry phone do something else, like explode. Best to be safer than sorrier, so I gently prise off the casing and run a bypass into the system. Scanners indicate nothing on the inside of an explosive nature, and no other electronics on the inside, so I crack the lock and open the door.

The Door swings open silently, and I can hear a faint humming above the quiet patter of the rain outside. We cover the entrance in standard two formation, weapons out and ready, just in case. The interior is plush, far more so than the neighbourhood warrants, and in this neighbourhood, that’s saying something. Real tharpen skin from Polo lines two walls, and a Sindachi original hangs over the entrance hallway, silly amount of expenditure for something that doesn’t have any functional use.

Cameras all over the place here, given her profession, that doesn’t surprise me too much, but if something has happened here, it should give us an idea of what went on. There’s a faint smell in the air but I can’t place what it is and as there's no immediate signs of danger, Eve and I divide to search the place faster, I take the upstairs, she takes the down.

The upstairs has more bedrooms than any person would ever use (unless, I find myself thinking with a wry smile, that you have to use more than one at a time), and they’re all decorated with extravagance beyond normal means. A faint smell of Tiece perfume (Mina’s favourite) hangs in the air, but nothing has disturbed the atmosphere up here for some time. I hear a faint retching noise downstairs and bolt down, weapon ready.

Eve is crouched over at the entrance to the gym area, a small pool of vomit on the floor in front of her. I crouch down briefly down by her side to make sure she’s okay. She looks up briefly with a slightly haunted look in her eyes, then recovers some of her composure and nods at me.

I proceed into the main room the scent of perfume is overwhelmed in this room, it’s been replaced with the smell of human sweat. Nothing unusual with that in a place like a gym you might think, but there’s a difference, and you only find it by getting out there and working in gyms, normal sweat doesn’t smell that bad, exertion sweat is one thing, this is something else. The other type of sweat is dirt sweat, and that stuff reeks beyond all comparison, it’s a smell halfway between ammonia and woodsmoke, and I can’t think of a worse smell.

The Gym is empty, but there’s that faint humming noise coming from the swimming pool area. I snatch a glance through, standard procedure is to jerk your head in the room briefly at a height that they’re not expecting (top of the door or bottom of it is usually the best place) and then get it back before anyone notices. That’s the theory anyway, what I see in there stops me making good on the second part of the action.

The Swimming pool is full, no big thing you might think, but it’s full of human, one of them to be exact, larger than I’ve ever seen, the smell is coming from here, and I lean back into the other room, reaching for my respirator as I do. This in place, I go back into the pool room and see what’s happening. The body in the pool is arcing up from the edges like some enormous balloon, fluids and grease run off it in all directions, looking up I can see the sprinkler system in the ceiling has been re-rigged to discharge those. Not too sure why, but I’m sure I can find out later.

I move to where the face is, the head has sunk into where the shoulders should have been, and there’s no clear line as to where the head should have been. Stretched beyond all recognition, the hair is loosely draped across what used to be her face. No way to take the pulse, so I remove one of my gloves and check if there’s any breath coming from her, no warmth other than that originating from the body, I sigh to the world as much as myself and call in the death.

As I get up from the side of the body, I look over to see the other side of the pool, a long tube is extending into the pool, and beside it, a large video camera linked to a bank of computer screens. I slowly walk over and take a look. The video camera is viewing the scene from the angle above, and I can see a large glyph carved into the body, larger than you could cut with a normal knife, and too neatly done to have been done any time soon, scar tissue has formed over some of it. Looking over at the screens, I can see that there’s a hell of a lot of spare video time available in those banks, so I take the precaution of logging an IA record onto the content of the tapes.

I’ve no talent for computers, something about them that never quite gelled with me, so I give it five minutes, and then go get Eve, making sure that I’ve put up the screen around the pool before I do so.

“What can you tell me about these?” I indicate the machines.

Her face is pale with the sheer enormity of what’s gone on in here, but she’s bearing up well with it. She flips a few buttons and a list of files comes up on the screen.

“It’s a continuous record of every day since……….” She pauses to scroll through the list “since around two months back.”

“It’s all on video?”

“Every bit by the looks of it.”

I nod “okay, let’s take a look at day one then.”

“You sure? Shouldn’t we wait for the Shivers?”

I smile “You never know, strike while the iron’s hot and all that.”

She lips another button and the first screen changes to an image of an empty pool and the young woman laid by the side of the pool, naked. Something large and bulky moves at the side of the camera and then down into the full vision of the camera, the figure is at least six feet, maybe nearer to seven, and broad as a barn, but still moves like a born fighter. There’s something about a good fighter, they never move as if there’s a rush on, all the steps are unhurried. It retrieves something from the side of the pool and starts moving back towards the woman.

I’ve seen this sort of thing before and I gently drop my hand over Eve’s eyes. She starts to protest and I cut her off softly.

“You don’t want to be seeing this just now, maybe sometime when you’re older.” I murmur quietly, gently moving her towards the door. “I’ll take care of this.”

As I get back to the tape, I find that the camera angle on the screen has changed, whoever is holding it is currently doing a close up examination of the woman on the floor. Flawless is the best way to describe it, the best that money can buy, you could tell the surgery signs if you know what to look for, but most people don’t, and let’s be honest, in the industry that she worked in, no one really cares.

The camera switches from the woman on the floor to the machine over by the pool, I’ve seen this sort of thing before as well, there isn’t an official title for these machines, but in the black market they’re extremely popular. Looking over at the machine, I can see that all the relevant parts are working, and all the equipment is in good condition.

I should explain a little here, you may be familiar with the Skin Trade, I’d be surprised if you weren’t. However, kidnapping people and selling them into slavery and prostitution is but one of a number of sidelines that they have going for them, this is one of the more obscene. With races from all over the world of progress coming to mort, there’s a growing need to provide for the more – exotic – needs of the rich and popular, one of these is dietary requirements.

Still puzzled? Well, allow me to explain some more then, of the races on Mort, Shaktar, Wraith, and Necanthropes are all carnivorous predators. However, this causes a problem, as the more well known among them can no longer slum and get what they want, they have to go through more exotic channels, it is here that the Trade makes use of these machines. You know those offworld bars where you can see the food swimming around before you eat it? Well, take one of those bars and change the food menu from the small tank of fish to the entire of Mort, now, take the normal method of preparing food, and then you’ll understand that it’s impossible to get choice cuts of meat out of some of the species. Ask the carrien, they’ll give you a whole catalogue of the problems involved in preparing food.

Now, imagine you’re one of those races, you’ve got a dinner party, you want something special for the meal, and you can’t get it anywhere else, what do you do? You pick out a meal, then have the chef’s prepare it. It might take them two months or so to get exactly what you’re after, but it’ll be the dinner party to die for. This machine can take an average sized victim and turn them into a king sized delicacy, filled with your choice of appetising food. This is why I told Eve to wait outside, if I’m even slightly right about this, then it’s something that she really doesn’t need to see.

Watching the video, I can see that I’m right, whoever the killer is, he’s got her put on the machine, I’ll not describe how, it’s just things that you don’t need to hear about, but suffice it to say that it’s something that most people shouldn’t have to see. As the killer moves back out of sight, a quiet humming noise begins and the woman wakes with a start, then realises where she is and starts trying to scream around the gag. A half minute later, the scream has subsided to a subdued moaning as the chemicals in the machine are pumped around her. The killer walks over to her and carves a small set of lines in her stomach with a sonic scalpel, the camera zooms in and I see that it’s the glyph on the top of the dome in the pool.

I terminate the video and select one a week later, the killer has moved the woman to the pool, she’s now too large to be able to move by herself, and I can see the glyph has been growing across her as she’s filled up. This tells me several more things about the killer. One, we suspected that they might be an expert with chemicals, this is definitely proven now, as the problem with these machines is that it’s all too easy to get the mix wrong and burst the victim, I’ve seen it done a thousand times. But the thing with the glyph, despite my revulsion at what’s happening to this poor woman, I’ve got to admire the art with which the killer is doing this. The glyph is filled with a set of compounds, probably some of the banned anti-coag drugs that darknight are so fond of. However, at the same time, the fluid in there is also acting as a form of kickstart, so that it’s keeping the wound open, but not causing any excess bleed within the target.

Two, the killer’s been planning this one for longer than we thought, I glance back over at the pool, it’s thirty feet by twenty, at a quick calculation, that’s a few hundred cubic feet. The tank over at the side of the pool is a quarter of the size of the pool, but the woman has more than filled the pool. This means that the killer has returned here several times, each time with a remarkable amount of whatever it is that they were using.

I skip forwards a few weeks in the videos, looking in the pool now, the woman is now a pear shaped balloon in the centre of the pool, there’s no sign of any limbs, they must have been absorbed into the sheer bulk of her body. She’s still alive at this point, as the killers removed the gag and just faintly you can hear the sound of her laboured breathing over the hum of the machine.

I shut the video off, looking back at the dome rising above the level of the pool, as I do so, I find myself looking at the other end of the woman. I immediately begin to look away as an automatic reflex before I notice that another glyph has been carved into her, just above her genitals.

I take out my phone and punch in Geno's number.

The day started so well.