Chapter 13: Easy Answers
By AmyAmy, based on an idea by John Hynden
Maeve glared at Patty. “What have you done?” she said. “Can’t you see? You’ll destroy yourself with that poison.”
“Fuck you. You can’t do a thing. It’s made me stronger than you. Craine… You think that it’s just another ero-drug? You never were that smart for a detective, were you?”
“What is it then Patty? Why don’t you tell me?” Maeve glanced behind her. Flora was still there, embedded in the goo.
“It’s the blood of a god! How else you think it stayed good for fifty years? I used the last of the diluted sample. Rip me again with the claws. The more you hurt me the better it feels.”
“You’ve been drinking that stuff, the drug from the bottle? I knew it. I just knew it.”
“Oh yes. Since before this black filth got all over me. Getting that shit on me would probably have killed me otherwise. Ohhh. Yessss.”
Patty sounded insane, drunk, her voice slurred, sluggish. Would her reactions be slower too? What she was saying couldn’t be true though. The goo hadn’t harmed Maeve, it had never hurt her… But Patty had said something similar in the memory, the one where the said she’d been taking something for the pain.
With an upwards swipe of her claws, Maeve sliced Patty from crotch to chest. There was no blood, and no sign of anything inside her but more black rubber. But it must have done something, because Patty fell to the floor, moaning and giggling, black goo dribbling from her mouth. Maeve’s hand felt stiff and cold. She worked the feeling back into it by shifting her fingers into writhing tentacles, then fingers, then back into claws.
“Hurt me more. Go on. Do it. Hurt me again. Go on. Just do it. The pain, it’s so good.”
Maeve football kicked her in the side of the chest. Under different circumstances it might have seemed vicious. She had a suspicion that it wouldn’t amount to anything now. Unfriendly, but harmless.
“Oh yeah,” Patty said, and laughed.
Maeve tore the piece of broken sofa frame out of Patty’s grasp, forced it into a U-shape. She hesitated for a moment, processing that she’d just bent a piece of heavy steel framing with her bare hands. Under different circumstances she might have needed to sit down and work through what that really meant, but she couldn’t think about it now. She’d put off a hundred other awkward thoughts, why not one more?
She slammed the metal U down into Patty, driving it through her belly, shattering tiles, and wedging it into the floorboards.
Patty gave a cracked moan of deranged pleasure. It was unlikely the steel would hold her pinned for long. Or at all… Once she stopped orgasming, but for now she seemed to be lost in pleasure.
Maeve glanced back to see how Brian was doing trying to free Flora. He was slicing through the webbing with bowie knife that she kept taped under the bed, just in case. He’d made fun of her when he found out. Well she’d been right to do it all along, as sometimes people did invade your home, and a knife really did come in handy.
Flora was partially exposed now, naked and unconscious, like Brian had been, and still glued in place. Brian had his arm inside her, trying to remove the device. It was not a scene that would easily vanish from her memory, though she wished it would. Brian, with his hand up her sister, like he was fisting her. She’d rather forget the image right away. Even if she was a monster herself, clearly, there were things even monsters were entitled to be squeamish about.
“Unless you’ve got it, step away. Let me get it,” she said.
Brian pulled his hand out, looked back over his shoulder at Maeve. “She’s all yours.”
Maeve glanced over her shoulder. Patty’s orgasms were over, and she was tugging at the steel, trying to free herself.
Brian spoke from behind her. “Hey, your hair?”
“Close your eyes Brian. You don’t want to see this.”
She strode forward and slipped a tendril into each of her sister’s exposed orifices. Her insides twisted at the idea of violating Flora, her older sister, like this. It was even worse than watching Brian do it. She couldn’t bear for him to see her use her hair as tentacles to invade Flora though. Surely, even Brian wasn’t ready for that yet?
Brian backed away, eyes still closed.
“Keep them closed. When I tell you it’s safe. Get her free. Get them both out of here. Please.”
Maeve had found the device in Flora’s vagina. It was just a matter of transforming the tendril to remove it.
Before she could try, another blow hit her from behind. Patty had given up trying to get the giant steel staple out of her belly, had simply torn herself off it instead. There it was, behind her, still jammed firmly into the floor. But Patty was free, and the two massive wounds in her side were already healing up. For the first time, her claws were out. She was ready to fight.
“For the last time. Give me the bottle. Don’t you understand what’s at stake?”
Maeve’s attention was split. All her attention was focused on the tendril inside Flora, even though she was watching Patty advance on her.
“Fuck. Fuck me,” Brian said, his voice hushed despite the violence.
He must have opened his eyes. She could hardly blame him. Maeve couldn’t imagine what he was seeing, but it couldn’t look good.
Patty took a swipe, and Maeve, distracted by Brian and Flora, failed to dodge. A row of deep cuts opened up in her back. There was pain, severe pain, but she could handle it. She’d be healed in a minute. She could heal right away if she gave it her full attention, but there was no time for that, not when it didn’t matter.
“Is that really you Maeve?” Brian whispered. He wasn’t really asking, and she couldn’t find the time to answer.
“Right. You won’t deal,” Patty said, her voice a barely intelligible snarl. “Let’s settle this. See if you can do me before I gut your little pets? Or you could give up. Surrender. Give me both the cores and the bottle. It would only be fair.”
Maeve forgot the tendril in Flora for an instant, slashed through Patty’s chest with her claws, but all it did was make her adversary moan with delight. Her hand went numb with the strange chill. At this rate she was going to lose. Patty hadn’t really hurt her yet, but it was only a matter of time before she got to Brian or Flora, or even Sarah. They couldn’t heal from a claw wound, or being hit with a piece of broken furniture.
She still had to get the device out of Flora. How much time did she have left?
Patty came in again. Maeve braced herself against the door frame, aimed, and kicked her away. It was a good kick. It sent the insane woman tumbling head over heels backwards, and right out of the window.
At the last moment Patty caught the edge.
Maeve took the chance to refocus on the tendril and Flora. She had part of herself in her sister’s vagina … best not to dwell on that. Maeve’s sensibilities curdled at the idea of it, but there was no alternative. A moment later, the device was in her hand.
She crushed it, without thinking about what might happen, explosives or poison. A gray paste spilled onto her hand. I’m an idiot. She shook it off. Nothing seemed to happen, maybe she’d be fine?
Patty was framed in the window. Maeve looked for something heavy to throw, but there was nothing convenient. She could have charged at her enemy, but she’d hesitated, and the chance had been wasted. Patty leaped down and charged at her instead.
Maeve’s enemy didn’t have an advantage of speed or strength, she was probably weaker and slower, and she couldn’t match Maeve in skill either. It didn’t matter. There was simply no way to hurt her. Cutting her only made her happy, and if Maeve didn’t use a weapon, it hurt her instead. Whatever the stuff was in the bottle, it had made Patty practically invulnerable, for now. On the plus side, at least it seemed there was no chance she might accidentally destroy Patty’s goo.
The drug couldn’t last forever. Why else was Patty so desperate to get the bottle back? But how long would it last? Hours? Minutes? Days?
It was only a matter of time before Patty managed to hurt her precious p… somebody, Flora, Brian, or Sarah. Maeve winced. The word possessions had come into her mind. She’d tried to stop it before it could crystallize. Now that it was in her head, she felt tainted by it. She pushed it away. It was the wrong word. They didn’t belong to her, but they were her responsibility. She’d got them into this mess and she had to get them out.
There was also the other problem. Maeve could smell smoke. Patty had set the flat on fire, probably the result of shredding the wiring. Something must have shorted out somewhere, but the reason didn’t matter much. She could hardly do anything about the fire if she had to keep herself between Patty and the others.
As if to remind Maeve’s of the immediate threat, Patty hurled a piece of the gas cook-top at Brian. Maeve made a dive, deflected it at the last moment. Tumbling, the cast-iron trivet ripped a three-foot long gouge in the plaster wall. The green glow of the bathroom was visible through the hole.
Could she use that? But it would mean relying on Brian to rescue Sarah before the timer ran down. She glanced across at him. Brian had Sarah’s device in his hand, and didn’t seem to know what to do with it.
“Just throw it away from you Brian,” Maeve yelled. “Get out. Get them out.” She waited for Patty to come at her again.
And predictably, Patty came.
Maeve re-directed the force of Patty’s charge, sending the woman crashing through the bathroom wall, shattering plasterboard and studwork like it was made of icing sugar.
Maeve screamed to Brian, “Fire. Get everyone out.” Then she followed Patty through the hole in the wall, into the bathroom.
Patty had got a face full of the glowing liquid, disoriented her, and she was still getting up when Maeve closed in. Patty hurled herself at Maeve’s legs. Tangled together, they tumbled over and over. The ceiling was bright, glowing with an intense radiance that seemed to have increased now that Maeve was closer.
They came to a stop with Maeve on top. She extended tendrils upwards to the glowing pool on the ceiling, connected herself to it.
The pool came alive. Aware. In contact. A million tiny voices shrieked with joy inside her head.
With a rush and a splash, the glowing liquid surrounded both of them and formed itself into a ball with them at its center. Maeve and Patty, two black tadpoles in frogspawn, ready to hatch. Or in this case, exactly the opposite of that.
Patty screamed through the liquid, her voice distorted, barely audible. “No!”
She couldn’t know what was about to happen, could she?
Maeve energized the glowing ball surrounding them. Gravity did a back-flip, and a crushing force hurled them upwards through the ceiling. They smashed through the roof and continued upward at ever increasing speed, streaking straight up into the sky, an intensely bright ball of green-yellow light that defied gravity, and played fast and loose with inertia.
Maeve looked down, watching the ground disappear, for the second time in one day. This time it was receding even more quickly than before. If the repulsor-lifter had accelerated like this, it would have crushed Rebecca into a puddle of blood and shattered bones on the cabin floor.
Somewhere in Maeve’s head, she had an instinctive sense of time, space, distance. She knew long it would take to reach different orbits. Velocities, trajectories, familiar, like old habits. She could navigate the solar system as comfortably as she could find her way around her kitchen. The wider galaxy started to unfold in her mind, new points filling in as some alien part of her retrieved each memory, completed each fresh calculation.
Ah. Not just the solar system.
But she wouldn’t get far sharing a droplet with Patty trying to rip her guts out.
On the bright side, the glowing fluid seemed to be diluting the poison in her enemy. Blood of a god? What was that supposed to mean? Patty had probably made it up. Whatever it was, she could sense every particle of it inside her sphere, the effects would wear off. In an hour or two, she’d be able to absorb Patty’s goo, destroying her, and completing herself. All she had to do was hold out until then.
Or she could kick Patty out of the sphere, out into the harsh vacuum. Leave her floating there, drifting and helpless, until the poison faded, however long that took. Even if it took days, she could wait.
As if reading her mind, Patty clamped onto her. Patty tendrils invaded her mouth, her pussy, numbing cold that sapped the strength from her muscles, made it impossible to resist.
Patty pushed her way in, pulsing, throbbing, invasive but arousing. No. She would not be raped by Patty and enjoy it, though it would be tempting to turn things around. No. Not with that poison in Patty. She had to fight. Didn’t she have knowledge that Patty didn’t? Wasn’t she integrated, at least partially?
And what had that taught her?
Submit to rule? Had the goo been trying to tell her something? A thought of its own, more than just a memory, more than simply following a command? She knew that the being that had once been the goo had been destroyed long ago, banished by the witches, its body carved into three pieces to provide a servant for each of them. But was there still some tiny trace of consciousness remaining there? Good news and bad. Even in three parts, had it simply been biding its time?
Beyond the safe surface of the knowledge, there were doors she had chosen not to open, secrets she had turned away from, memories she could access that were not hers, experiences that belonged to something old and careful. If she didn’t want to end here, killed by the same poison that was rotting Patty, she might need to peek a little at one or two of them.
The only way through that door to the past was through truth. It was her all along. It had always been her. Yes, the goo had groomed her since her childhood, prepared her for this, but it had never had desires of its own, no consciousness, just the instincts of flesh, it was natural for it to be with her, to be released and whole again. The goo didn’t care about sex with humans, it didn’t care about controlling them, or replicating itself. It was unique, had no need of degraded copies. It didn’t even understand human desire, human pleasure, human reproduction. It just knew her better than she knew herself.
All it knows of humans is me.
It had touched her sisters, but they hadn’t been right for it. Almost but not quite. Had it touched her mother’s dreams on some day in the past, and had the burden of even that tenuous contact been more than her body could bear? What about her grandmother? How far back did the chain go? How long had it been watching her family, patiently waiting for the one that would set it free?
The answers were hers, if she dared accept them. After all, she could remember a time so long ago that she could count it in galactic rotations. Remembering the last hundred years shouldn’t pose a problem.
She let the barriers down, just a little. Let the memories seep in. Allowed the possibility of something new. Union. Integration.
And her past came flooding back.
She had lived here, in the dark place too long for comfort, a palace burrowed into the ice, the sky dominated by the orange planet, its swirling storms circling the red eye. Down in the solar gravity well, the sun, just a glimmering spot. She has waited here for orbits uncounted, staring hungrily at the warmth and the inner planets. It was the best place to be, the fastest, but there were also monsters, unspeakable things, distortions from other dimensions, manifestations of the data from alien universes. They sang their mad songs, danced their foul dances, not sound, but light, not light but gravity. Space and time twisted, cracked and stuttered under their malign influence.
She daren’t even leave the system. Out there, in the dark places, worse things were hunting, singing a counterpoint to that hideous song, things the size of stars that hungered for minds. Like a fool, she had ventured into dangerous territory, found herself pursued by slow but determined hunters, pushed ever outward on the galactic arm, cornered, and here, in this solar system, she had gone to ground, but perhaps that had been a mistake. Perhaps she should have kept running?
Her little servants had prospered here, beneath the surface, swimming through the hidden ocean, but the massive moon was not a glorious place. It was cold, and she was ill equipped to harness what energy was available. Everything happened faster near the sun, where the energy was, always leaving her further behind. Inevitably, one day, some other hungry swarm would spill outward from that warm pool and overwhelm her hiding place, and she would be destroyed.
She had to face the monsters while there is still a chance she could win.
No. This was useless. Patty was inside her, inside her body, invading her orifices, making her dredge up old memories, and think useless thoughts that would only cripple her mind.
Submit to rule.
Maybe she shouldn’t dip into those memories, but Patty could. If she just distanced herself… Waited…
She had decided, but in the end, she couldn’t go towards the warmth, did not dare, ended up waiting out there, ever fearful of the moment they finally came for her. She would never travel the dark spaces again, never reach new stars. But then, wondrous luck, the god-monsters vanished. What brought about their doom, she could not say, and perhaps it had been better that she was far away from the upheaval when it happened.
She couldn’t take her servants. She would have to make more on arrival, but she made her way inwards. First a stepping stone, another cold dead place, though considerably warmer than her old home. And then on to a bright blue sphere, a warm paradise where the sea wasn’t covered completely under ice.
And then she discovered the bane of the monsters, and those three slew her too, without hesitation, and cut her in parts, like a trophy, and took one part for each of them to wear, and use, nothing more than a useful ornament. Broken in pieces and enslaved. Oblivion would have been better.
Until one day, inexplicably, the monsters began to return, and the witches responded, as they always did, and she took her chance to betray them. Sweet revenge. The witches failed, and one of them was lost. With only two remaining, they were too weak to stand against such forces, too weak even to control her. Three pieces could not be shared between two. Fearful that their divided slave might turn against them once more, they sealed her parts so they couldn’t reintegrate, and buried them. Perhaps they had intended to return at some point?
There she had waited, fragmented and imprisoned. Suffering.
So far away in space and time. Ganymede then, Earth now. It was too much to remember all at once, a span too vast for a human mind to hold. The simple narrative of her past was not the truth, just as the map is not the territory.
Patty had stopped moving. Trying to crush a billion years of memory into a human mind. Not the edited and censored highlights that Maeve had let herself glimpse, but all of it, moment by moment, recalled in intimate detail. She’d probably be thinking about it for a while.
Maeve squirmed, Patty was still invading her. No. Poor Patty was just cold, and alone, like she had been, back when she had roamed the dark spaces. She could hardly blame the missing piece of herself from trying escape from the monsters, or re-join the rest.
Monsters? Gods? Which was the right word for those things? The way they felt was exactly like the thing in Patty. Perhaps Patty had been half-right after all, the blood of a god? Not blood of course, because blood was a human thing, and those … entities … were nothing like human, and they did not bleed, unless they willed it.
Like her, they wore human-like masks, but unlike her, they were gateways with universes behind them, entire realities, made of geometry, abstracts and ideals. They were nothing like the witches, who had been a kind of mind that could be understood, even if they were a little odd. Maeve had always had a tiny bit of that same oddness in her, though it was hard to explain how that might be possible.
A whole god, directed through the node of a consciousness, was the sort of thing it would be foolhardy to approach without careful preparation, but this little piece of poison, was like one of her own servants, a simple organism, not much more than a set of pre-determined urges and responses … it was something that could be overcome.
Maeve took the time to prepare herself for what she needed to do. When she was ready, she let Patty all the way in. Let her barriers down.
Patty was inside her, her memories, her thoughts and feelings. So sad. So bitter and hateful of herself.
* * * * *
Maeve could hardly bear the sorrow, it was as if her heart was about to burst open, as if she was sinking into a dark icy pit, so deep it was bottomless.
So many tragic moments, Patrice’s memories becoming her memories. The time, back in the evidence store…
Sergeant Spillhaven loomed over her. He had all his tactical kit on, making him even bigger than usual. He wasn’t a small man to start with, heavy set, slightly balding though he was only in his thirties.
Patrice got out of her chair and went over to the filing cabinet, pretended to look for something, to get away from him.
Unnecessarily, he followed her over to the cabinet. “Must get pretty boring sitting in here all day?”
She inched away from him. “Not really.”
“How’s that?” he said, leering at her.
She had to keep the fear out of her voice. “I don’t work full time, and I have so much work to get through I don’t have time to get bored.”
He was really close. If she moved away from him now he’d be able to corner her. Why were so many of the men here massive assholes? The best she could hope for was that they expected her to listen with rapt attention to their crime stories. The worst, like Spillhaven, were inclined to get grabby.
She’d wasted too long thinking about where to move. Spillhaven grabbed her from behind, reaching round and feeling her boob. “How about a little roleplay game?”
Patrice knew better than to scream. The growing fear had turned her bones to ice, but if she made too much fuss, Spillhaven would have it in for her. If he spread some nasty rumor, she wouldn’t be able to keep working, and she needed this job. He had promised her there would be consequences if she lost it, and he always followed through. Besides, finding another job wouldn’t be easy. It wasn’t like she had rare skills.
There was a sound outside the door and Spillhaven stepped away. Patrice hastily grabbed a file and slammed the cabinet closed with a bang.
Maeve Craine let herself in. There was a calculating look in her cold green eyes as they sized up the situation, moving from Spillhaven, to her, and back again. She flicked a finger towards Spillhaven and then towards the door, “I think George is looking for you Sergeant.”
“Are you sure?”
Craine curled her lip, “Do I need to talk to your boss Sergeant? We have standards of behavior here. Shouldn’t you set an example for the contractors of how an efficiently run division is supposed to operate?”
Stillhaven muttered under his breath. My mistake, Inspector Craine. I thought we were being informal here.”
“Apology accepted,” she said, holding the door open for him.
Saved by Craine, the ultimate humiliation. She ought to be thankful, it had been fifty-fifty that Stillhaven planned to force himself on her, but it left a bitter taste when the younger model that had replaced her in Ridley’s affections had to drag her out of trouble. It was just another way she wasn’t good enough, never would be good enough.
Craine closed the door behind the disappearing Stillhaven.
“Thanks,” Patrice said.
Craine gave an odd sideways look, as if to tell her not to talk about it. “I need the inventory and the court files for the Maples case.”
“You’re kidding? It’s not done.”
“I can’t do anything if the investigating officers don’t put their reports in. I just print it out and collate it into binders. I don’t write them Inspector.”
Craine gave a long sigh, and Patrice felt just a little bit more inadequate.
Back further… That moment just scratched the surface. Patrice’s history ought to be a line, but it was a cloud, a cloud made of glowing dots, and some glowed so much brighter than others.
Here was one of the brighter ones.
Patrice’s heels clicked on the hotel lobby floor. The concierge looked up from her desk and gave her a filthy look. She didn’t slow down, knew better than to go anywhere near the desk. She made straight for the lifts and took the first one, not even looking whether it was going up or down.
Hotels like this didn’t like prostitutes, not the sort that people could spot, and Patrice was definitely easy to spot. He had told her the exact clothes to buy, the exact way she had to dress, and he had made her come here tonight, at this exact time. She pressed the button for the eleventh floor.
The lift was empty. Nobody had to see her like this. She checked the cheap cream-colored blouse. Buttons undone at the top exactly as required, so she showed too much cleavage. Her black underwear was showing through the flimsy fabric. She tugged down at the short mini-skirt, the waistband folded up to raise the hem so that it just covered her bottom. The slightest movement revealed her bare cheeks, exposed by the ultra-brief black thong panties that weren’t much more than a g-string. The tops of her hold-up stockings weren’t even partially concealed by the skirt.
The lift was slow. She slipped one foot out of her five-inch, black PVC, stiletto sandal, stretched it and slipped it back in. She was about to do the other foot when the door opened on the eleventh floor.
She followed the signs to the room and knocked on the door. “Special order for Mr. Smith,” she said. Her voice almost cracked, her hands were cold and shaking, her knuckles white. She couldn’t feel her face.
The door opened. The room beyond was almost dark, and at first she couldn’t see anything.
A hand grabbed her wrist, bruising it, and yanked her in. The door closed with a heavy thud behind her. Her arm and her shoulder ached from being yanked. She made to rub her shoulder.
“Put your bag down,” said a man’s voice. It was deep, and she could hear the age in it. He was in his fifties, or older.
Her eyes adjusted to the dark. The only light came from a screen showing porn. Brightly colored images, a woman on her knees, a penis in each hand, sucking each one alternately. She was plainly in her twenties, but was dressed and made up as if she was a teenager, her blond hair tied in bunches.
“Presented as requested. Show me the panties?”
She tugged the skirt up, trying not to shudder visibly.
“That’s good. Your boss is a man who understands customer service. He knows how to satisfy. Do you?”
By the look of it, he was wearing a hotel robe, white toweling, and was naked underneath it. As her eyes adjusted better to the light, she noticed how hairy he was. The exposed chest beneath his neck at the top of the robe looked as if it were covered in fur.
“Yes sir,” she said, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.
“That’s good. You can get undressed now. Leave the underwear on. I don’t want to see your tits sag.”
She tried to do as he asked, but her numb fingers fumbled with the buttons on her blouse. It seemed as if she was taking forever. He watched her, breathing deeply, but he didn’t complain at how long she took. At last she was able to shrug off the blouse. She dropped it on top of her bag. The skirt was easier. She dropped that on the bag too.
He stared at her and nodded. “Not so bad. Are those scars, or stretch marks?”
“If you say so. Next time, say scars.”
He turned away, picked something off the bed, turned back to her. He was holding some kind of black rubber wrist-band in each hand. She blinked, clearing the stickiness from her eyes. Not wrist-bands, cuffs.
“Put these on.” He handed them to her. Each was made of stiff rubber, padded on the inside, with a thinner rubber strap wrapped around the outside.
She slipped the first cuff around her wrist. It was so big, and stiff, and the skin on her slender wrist was so soft, even with the padding, it was going to scrape her raw.
He shook his head. “Make sure they’re on tight.”
She pulled the strap as hard as she could with one hand, and the pin on the buckle moved another hole. She did the other cuff up the same way.
He passed her two more cuffs. “These are for your ankles. Put them over the shoes.”
These were different, there was an extra strap that went under her foot. When it was done up it would be impossible for her sandals to fall off. She crouched down and did them up. All the time, his eyes were on her, staring.
She was thankful for the poor light, though sometimes a reflection from the screen glinted in his eye. It sent shivers down her spine, but she couldn’t say why. It made sense to be afraid though, she was terribly vulnerable, naked apart from slutty underwear and crouched in front of this bear of a man.
She finished strapping the wrist-cuffs on and stood up.
“Hold your hands out,” he said. It was an order.
She obeyed without thinking. He gripped her wrist and slotted a small padlock into the buckle on the cuff, snapped it closed, locking the cuff on her. He repeated the action with her other wrist, then her ankles.
After that, he got started.
Maeve didn’t like to dwell on what she saw done to Patrice that night. No wonder that speck gleamed so bright in her memory. She had carried the scars on her flesh, up until the goo erased them. She never completely recovered from the nerve damage, leaving her with the faintest trace of a limp.
Maeve would have wept, but Patrice had already spilled enough tears for both of them.
After she’d examined it, the speck dimmed, but there were so many others still glowing brightly. She would have to inspect them all. It wasn’t a problem, it would take time for the poisonous drug to wear off anyway. Patrice had endured so much, it was amazing that she was still alive. It was a testament to her resilience that she could function day to day as a human being after enduring those things. Poor Patrice, Maeve hadn’t appreciated just how strong she had been.
Even after all that, the only thing on her mind was her sister, Jessica. Patrice had wanted the bottle to save her sister. Why hadn’t she explained? A silly question, those glowing motes would show her exactly why, and more besides. To live those memories, take all of them in was the least she could do. Patrice could live on, in a way. Didn’t she owe her that much, after all the things she’d taken from her?
* * * * *
After absorbing the human remnant of Patrice, and her entire goo-body, Maeve was curious to find herself heavier, but still the same size.
It was a mercy really. What was left of Patrice would have been gone in a day or two, anyway, in agony. The goo and the drug … blood … whatever it was … they were fundamentally incompatible. The remnants of Patrice’s human body had given it a foothold, but to the goo, it was poison, beyond the single core’s abilities to completely absorb or destroy.
When it was over, and every memory had been relived, Maeve ejected the poisonous remnants of Patrice from the sphere. It wasn’t much, no more than a clump of damp, orange sludge. In her final madness, Patrice had believed it was the blood of a god. It had been dark-brown in the bottle, but it made a cloud of bright orange dust in space as it boiled off from the sludge that remained of Patrice. It had cost her, simply to eject it, but if she hadn’t paid that price, it would have tried to dismantle her from the brain outward.
Back in the dirty, dismal flat, when Maeve first attempted to separate the core from her, there had still been human bones and flesh left in Patty. But this time there wasn’t anything left. The goo had transformed what was left of her antagonist, and the drug had burned up the rest.
The blood of a god? Something powerful had made it, that was certain, but whether it was a transcendent entity, or merely a being on her own scale of existence, was unanswerable given the evidence in hand.
Patty’s transformation had been a haphazard affair, different to her own in every respect. Though her own human body had been replaced, it had been done in an orderly manner, and there had hardly been any pain. She had been remade from black liquid, but it had preserved her, Maeve. Or so it seemed. How could she be sure that Maeve still existed? She still felt alive, but was she that person? Was it Maeve, feeling it? Or was she something else? There ought to be a bit of Patrice in there, and it would make sense if there was.
If Maeve had lived through Patrice’s life, wasn’t she as much Patrice as Maeve, or more Patrice, given that Maeve had been younger?
No, that can’t be how it works. It isn’t just a total of experiences, like figures in a column.
She had experienced Patrice’s life as Maeve, and had been Maeve re-experiencing it, not Patrice. She now an older and wiser version or Maeve, a Maeve who had simply looked into Patrice’s head, albeit a little too intimately. Or was that sophistry?
Was she just a something that remembered being Maeve? Just as it remembered being Patrice, or the monstrous swarm mother that hid in dark tunnels, hollowed out of remote moons, illuminated by the cold light of a distant sun. The same sun that was now so close before her eyes, peeking over the edge of the Earth, so bright and warm.
When she had just been Maeve, she had woken every morning, and had trusted she was still herself. She’d taken it on faith and never questioned it, never thought about it. What luxury! She should have appreciated it more at the time. Nobody could ever prove that their memories were real, or that their past existence was anything more than a fiction. And yet, she had never considered it likely. Most people didn’t. So, why did she doubt herself now?
She looked down at the blue-white globe of the Earth, so big that it seemed near, even though it was thousands of miles away. Darkness was spreading across it as it blocked out the sun. In a short while she would be in position to descend back to her flat, though that had probably burned down hours ago. Or she could abandon this beautiful planet and its ugly hopeless problems.
Leave? Wouldn’t they be better off without me? Surely no worse.
Out there, in the dark cold of space, everything was waiting for her. The bright comfort of suns, the cold dark empty places between, lonely beyond compare. And surely the nightmares that had hunted there in the past had moved on, or devoured each other?
But no. Not today…
She had things unfinished here, and besides, she wasn’t even properly prepared for a long journey. Perhaps the time would come when it would be right to leave. But it wasn’t today.
Hadn’t she told Brian that she wouldn’t go without him?
* * * * *
Maeve sat in the Burger Bar by the central railway station, watching the news on the wall-screen. The sound was down low but her hearing was sharp enough to make it out over the noises of cooking and customers anyway.
The reporter-on-the-spot spoke into her big, hand-held microphone, more a symbol of her job than a necessity. They had recorded her against a backdrop formed by the remains of Maeve’s flat. “…man who rescued two unconscious women from the collapse is still in hospital, and all three are receiving treatment for smoke inhalation. Seven others escaped before the explosion, and are currently in a state of shock. At this time, a gas leak seems to be the cause, but police are investigating, and say they have yet to draw a conclusion.”
“Well what do you think Gwen?” The silvery-haired anchor man said. “Is this a case of terrorists blown up by their own bomb factory?”
Gwen smiled, acting as if the question was unexpected. “That’s hard to say Alastair. I think we’d be looking at different reaction from the police if that were the case, but they could just be playing things close to their chest, not wanting to tip-off accomplices. Sources tell us that a local police officer may have been in the building at the moment of the explosion.”
“Do we know if a raid, or arrest was in progress at the time?”
“I’m afraid the police haven’t released any information about that yet, but sources within the police say that it is a possibility, and for now, the officer’s whereabouts remain unknown.” Gwen added a facial expression at the end that showed she feared the worst.
“We all have to hold our breath. Should we expect to see further developments any time soon, Gwen?”
“Well Alastair, I don’t think we’ll see a press conference before lunchtime tomorrow. They’re still searching the wreckage. Until then I’ll be reporting from the spot.”
Maeve sighed at the empty performance that passed for journalism. As if Gwen was likely to spend the entire night, and tomorrow morning there. And sources? What was that about? At least they hadn’t just made something up, this wasn’t the channel where they did that. There was probably another version of the story up on the internet, where she was part of a terrorist conspiracy to blow up the city. She glanced around the Burger Bar, assessing the patrons, and the décor.
She had a distant childhood memory that places like this used to have pay-phones in them. Not now. If you didn’t have a mobile-phone there was no way to call.
She walked over to a man sitting at the counter in front of the window. “Can I borrow your phone for a sec?”
He looked up, turned to face her. His facial expression was slack, stunned.
He stared at her in amazement. “Oh, yeah, sure.”
He picked his phone off the counter, unlocked it and handed it to her.
From the way he was looking at her, she could probably have asked for his wallet, and he would have handed it over without hesitation, and then just sat there, staring at her, as if hypnotized. Maybe she should? It wouldn’t be stealing if she paid him back later. And it wasn’t as if anyone paid for actual phone calls any longer, so she wasn’t taking advantage.
His entranced gaze moved up and down her body as she entered the number. She was surprised she could remember it without her contact list.
* * * * *
D.C.I. Ridley took the paper-cup of coffee from the constable and leaned back against the side of the incident van. Coffee? He needed more than one cup.
Things had been going wrong consistently, for the last few days. It had probably started when Maeve had failed to show up for her planned return to work. The tracker on her phone showed she’d gone back to that island. He would have assumed she was still there if it wasn’t for the flight records from Aesir. Where had she got the money for a trip like that? A regular flight only took a few minutes, so why the rush? And why had she turned off her phone again? It didn’t make sense, and the train of reasoning that left from there didn’t go anywhere he wanted to arrive at.
Forensics had been at her flat for the last twenty-four hours. Officially, he had to keep his distance from that, but it sounded like the only notable thing they’d found in the wreckage was a quantity of weird black resin. They still hadn’t worked out what it was. A black-market glue-grenade, perhaps? If only he was on the scene, he could see for himself.
If a corporate team had confronted Maeve there, then they’d probably got her. But why would corporates be after her?
No. I know better than this. Jumping to conclusions is amateur, at best. I’ve got to stick to facts.
Maeve had never shown any sign of having any secrets to hide that he hadn’t burdened her with in the first place, and hadn’t acted in any way questionably, until she was shot.
He took a swallow of the wretched coffee. Maeve’s flat wasn’t his concern. His business was here. But what was here? The incident on the train was a curiosity, like something from a sci-fi show. The situation at Maeve’s flat was probably more important, but that too was over. There was nothing urgent about either situation, unless Maeve was in trouble somewhere. The flat might hold a clue to that. It would be quicker if he was there.
If it wasn’t for the conflict of interest issues frustratingly excluding him from the investigation at the flat, he would be there, dammit. He ought to be there. But somebody had to head-up the train-scene, so here he was. Drinking terrible coffee.
As long as they didn’t make a connection to Maeve here as well, it would be fine. If they found her on the surveillance video of the carriage, he’d have to back away, hand this over to somebody else. But it didn’t seem possible that she had anything to do with a gas attack on a train, or whatever it really was. All he could see now was a mess, and if the media got hold of it, they’d start screaming about terrorists, but nobody had been hurt, and no announcement had been made, and that was not how terrorists worked.
On the other hand, Maeve had been at the airport. She might have boarded a train like this, or even been in this exact carriage.
No. It didn’t happen. I’m just making up problems.
On the up-side, there was nothing for the reporters to focus on. Medics had taken the passengers away hours ago, before a single drone arrived. He’d ensured they set-up a special emergency ward to handle them quickly, but it hadn’t been necessary for long. They’d woken up shortly after admission, confused but unhurt. Nobody remembered anything. Statements had been a wash. The burning flat had kept the press busy long enough to get things tidied up here. Not that there was much to tidy. It was the glaring lack of evidence that made it such a messy problem.
This wasn’t going to be the sort of incident that could be resolved tidily. Would it taint his division’s statistics? Or would they write it off as a minor air-quality incident? Maybe the best thing that could happen was to connect it to Maeve after all, and then it wouldn’t be his problem any longer.
No. No. That’s negative thinking.
That would drag in the anti-corruption board, and he’d have a whole lot of other problems, worse problems.
Besides, he didn’t want Maeve to be linked to it. She needed a break, deserved a happy ending to a succession of unfortunate events. Not much he could do about that, and it was probably his fault that she was in trouble in the first place. His fault? In a roundabout way, maybe. He’d been expecting somebody to approach her with an offer. Who could have guessed that somebody would see her as the kind of threat that needed silencing with a bullet rather than a bundle of cash?
The forensic bots were still in the carriage, doing their detail sweep. The technician emerged from the clean-tent held up a small plastic baggie with a pair of forceps. “I think we’re in luck.”
“What’s that?” Ridley said.
“Remains of a phone. Crushed. It might have something we can use.”
“You can get data off that?”
“The chip packaging is damaged, but the chip itself might be intact enough for us to pull something from the remaining memory cells.”
“That’s all you’ve found?”
“It’s definitely something. It must have been destroyed for a reason. All the other passenger luggage was untouched. This was deliberately pulverized.”
“I can’t help thinking we’ve missed something here,” Ridley said. “Don’t rush with that report. I’m planning on sleeping for a week after this.”
In theory, he could have gone home hours ago. There was no rule that said he needed to be on site, but some rules weren’t written down. Something this peculiar might draw media attention, even if it wasn’t on their radar right now, it might be, the moment there was nothing better to focus on. It would be safest, if when he was asked, that he could say he’d been on the spot the whole time. People had lost their jobs for stepping out of a control room when something was happening, even if it was nothing they could help with. He sighed. Sometimes policing was as much about theater as tangible results. If people didn’t believe in the police, they weren’t really police any longer.
He scanned the skies. He couldn’t see any news drones watching him or holding station on the site. They could be out there, lurking in the darkness, but it wasn’t like them to be that sneaky. And if they were watching now, there would be no sign that the carriage had ever been full of unconscious people. All there was to see was an ordinary train, undamaged, a couple of clear plastic forensic tents, and a few bored-looking officers staring into space and reading their display glasses.
His personal phone buzzed. He reached beneath the unfamiliar fluorescent vest and armor. There was never enough time before calls went to voicemail. How was anyone supposed to answer them in just six rings?
“Hello. Who’s there?” he said.
A female voice. “I’m at the Burger Bar near the station. We need to talk. Can you get here?” It took a second for him to register who was speaking.
It took him a few more stunned seconds to process what he was hearing. He had to say something, but what?
“I’m working the train scene on the overpass. I can be there in five minutes.”
Silently, he cursed himself. He should have thought before he spoke. He shouldn’t have said what he was doing. Should have said fifteen minutes, not five.
Now he’d had a moment longer to consider it, he shouldn’t have agreed to meet her at all.
story continued in part 14