15

Every time I see someone drinking, I hear them say that they’re drinking for a reason, drinking to remember, drinking to the memory of someone, drinking to forget, whatever. I hate to break all those illusions, but here’re a few harsh truths, if you’re drinking to remember, after the twelfth bourbon, you’ll be lucky to remember your own name, much less whatever it was that you were trying to remember. Drinking to forget? Congratulations, you don’t remember a damn thing, but the kicker is, when you wake up, you’ll have a hangover, and then you’ll think back to how you got the hangover, and then you’ll remember what you were trying to forget.

And of course, if you’re drinking to the memory of someone, that really isn’t a good equaliser, after all, they’re gone, so their memory isn’t there any more, and you’re commemorating this by wiping out your memory?

Good call, wizkid.

As I wake up in a pool of vomit, the most important thing I can think of is that I hope it’s my vomit and not someone elses. I can recognise that I’m in my own apartment, which can only be down to the person in the bar recognising an operative level security card when it fell out of my pocket. Unprofessional? Damn right, I’ve never lost one of my own people on active duty, and the taste is not something I can savour. I roll out of the bed and into the shower, setting up the coffee machine for some stuff that’s far too hot and far too strong, the shower takes two agonising minutes, and I get out to find my phone gently bleeping for attention. There’s a few messages on my phone, one from pat asking if I’m alright, one from mina with a reference to ‘the current problem’, and finally a voicemail from mina’s bar. I punch up the access and listen to the message.

“Rio, it’s Mina, I left a text earlier, but you didn’t reply and I sent one to Patrick and he said he’ll look into it, but I just wanted to check if ##########” a burst of static mars the line for a second. “oh, hi Pat, I was just #########, see you later r######,” there’s a soft hiss and a thud at the end of the line and someone gently replaces the receiver.

I’m as awake as I can be given yesterdays abuse, I down a few all-clear to get over things a little more quickly, and am already dialling express backup and transport while changing into something vaguely suitable.

Fifteen minutes later, I’m outside the bar, a shiver cordon has been set up, and it’s fairly quiet in the street. One of the shivers, captain by the looks of it (word must be getting around) meets me at the door and hands me a pair of gloves.

“The Scene’s secure, we haven’t sent anyone in yet” I take the gloves off him and nod, going inside without another word.

It’s silent inside, the first time I’ve heard it like this ever, and there’re no automated sounds either, the main part of the restaurant is empty, so I move through the lower floor to the kitchen area. There’s a quiet hissing noise escaping from here, so I draw my sidearm, just in case. As I open the door, a faint pungent smell that I can’t place drifts through the air. I turn the corner to the kitchen and see Elise’ (the cook) corpse on the hot plate. Something’s took off her arms and legs, split her open and put those limbs inside her, then put an apple in her mouth and left her to cook. Her eyes are open and from the looks of the kickstart seals on the body surgery, she was still alive when she started to cook. Taking a look at her forehead, something shot her with a tranquilliser dart before they did the rest. The kitchen implements used to do this are still on the side, covered in dried blood. I close her eyes and go through to the back of the kitchen, the hissing sound is coming from the walk in freezer. I aim my weapon at the entrance and punch the remote entrance from the other side of the room, the freezer opens with a hum and the hissing noise becomes more pronounced.

Glancing inside briefly, I can see Mel in the freezer, or rather, the components parts of Mel. Her head and body are still attached, and it looks as if she was tranquillised as well. In this case, something took the freon pipe from the side of the freezer and took it in turn to freeze up all of her limbs and smash them off, leaving them in the separate sides of the freezer, her eyes are open too.

No Glyphs on either of the bodies, I slowly walk up the stairs with a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach. The smell of blood overwhelms the smell from downstairs, and I don’t to open the door, but I do. The room is made up, and I took around, everywhere but the bed, everything is in the right place, I take a deep breath and look over to the bed.

There’s a body on the bed, I guess that more than know it, it’s been embalmed in its own entrails, and the two enormous bulges in the chest region tell me more than I need to know. By the head there’s a vid-tape, with ‘Rio’ handwritten on the side and top of it.

I take the tape mechanically and put it in the player.

The scene starts from black to reveal the outside of the bar, there’s no sound on the tape, the shot moves inside and I see mel come towards the camera, she’s not concerned, whoever was holding this camera was someone she knew, and wasn’t afraid of. Her eyes widen as a needle takes her square in the forehead and she collapses to the floor, Elise is next, then it’s up the stairs and Mina opens the door with a smile on her face, then puts the phone she was talking on down, and then the needle puts her down as well.

I skip past the killings of Mel and Elise, I can already put together how the killer did them, and although every good part of me that every existed doesn’t want to see what came next, some part of me has to know.

The killer is back up the stairs where Mina is still laid on the bed helpless, the camera angle shifts and I can see the killer mixing a new cocktail of drugs. He stands her up and injects the solution into her neck. She stiffens up and stands straight, must have been a combination of Set and UV, as she’s awake and able to move her eyes, but not able to move or do anything but stand there.

Another injection goes into her throat and I see her eyes begin frantically twitching, the killer slowly cuts the clothes off her and then sits down to watch. Five minutes pass and Mina starts to sweat, I’m not sure where this is going and I don’t want to sit here and watch the torture. I hit fast forwards and skip to when the picture starts to move again, in total an hour has passed and the sound is now on. The killer has got up and is now massaging her body, I can see that she’s dripping with sweat, but there’s something else, where the killers hands are moving on her body, her skin is moving a little more than it should, there’s more give there than there should be. A soft noise like someone dragging their feet through the slops on a slaughterhouse floor is coming from her body.

The killer moves their hands over to Mina’s face and pulls gently at the skin there, her mouth stretches, stretches far more than it should, almost as much as a wraith can normally. I close my eyes and drop my head to my chest and stifle the rage I can feel building inside me. A soft sucking noise brings my attention back and her mouth stretches horrifically as the killer puts their hands inside her skin and pulls the hole over the top of her head like a hood. My hands are shaking as the killer eases the skin over her head, and I can see the terror in her face as she realises what’s happening

The whole process takes over an hour as the killer slowly pulls her skin from her entire body (still intact) and leaves her standing there like a vatgrown lump of meat. The killer pulls a spray from one of the many pockets and I recognise it as a can of Kickstart UltraPro, kickstart in a can, something only those of Operative status or above can get access to. He sprays her all over and the bleeding stops almost instantly, another injection of something else and her body starts to tremble.

I can’t tear my eyes away, her stomach muscles begin to bulge and the camera focuses for a second on that, then up to her eyes, where naked terror stares back at me. I hope with all my heart, that she wasn’t really aware of what was happening at that point. Terror can sometimes do that to a person, and I fervently hope that it did here.

The camera moves back down and the killer makes a small incision in her stomach, directly above where the swelling is most pronounced, then sits back down again. As I watch, her stomach swells and splits, her intestines pushing through the gap thus formed. The killer gets up and the camera zooms in on their hands slowly pulling all the intestines out, taking care not to damage any of them. From a coldly clinical point of view that I didn’t know I had, I can see that something’s caused the intestines to bloat and expand, making what should only be a few metres of internal organs cover far more space. The killer takes all of her insides and snips them, not bothering to seal the injury, then begins to bind her from the feet upwards. The whole process takes little more than a half minute, and at the end, the killer focuses on her eyes, she’s still conscious somehow, but (and I can thank the good lord only for tiny mercies) she’s not aware of what’s going on. The killer puts something in her mouth and then seals her up inside her own insides, standing to get a final shot of the convulsing body on the bed.

The screen bursts into static and the tape ejects.

I draw in a long shuddering breath and realise that I’m quietly sobbing as I drop my head into my hands, I sit there for maybe ten minutes before I raise my head up, she’s gone, but the matter of avenging her still remains.

I unwind the blue-grey rope from her face, revealing all the horror of what happened to her, I can still make out her face even through all the blood, and my fingers are trembling as I open her mouth to take out the thing that the killer put there. It’s an SCL card, Eve’s to be precise, and on the back of it is another glyph, I don’t need Geno to know what this one is.

I look down at Mina one last time and bend over her to kiss her one most time, allowing my fingers to touch gently on her lips. I take my SCL card and lay it on the side of the pillow, renouncing my claim to any ranking within the system. Standing at the end of the bed, I take one last look at the woman who was my life, and my voice cracks slightly as I whisper my last promise.

“Forever.”