By Alexander Ballard
Published August 16, 2013
The dirty back streets were still wet from the afternoon rain. Dull flickering lights illuminated discarded trash and aging walls. I tried to ignore the overpowering stench of human waste and rotting flesh emanating from the desiccated corpse at my feet. The poor bastard was split in half, still warm to the touch.
“Damn flesh dancer body jumped on me.” The sound of footsteps splashing through a puddle brought a smile to my face and I raced after my prey. It was close no more than a few meters away, I could almost feel it. Jumping bodies was a mistake. It always takes a while for them to adjust to a new skin suit. It might have worked in a more crowded place. Then it could have slipped away and drunk another power sap dry.
But here and now, if the beast had an ounce of sense it would have stayed in its native form and scaled up the side of the nearest building. Not that it would have made any difference. Flesh dancers and the rest of the Kine were little more than feral beasts with an ounce of cunning.
I was gaining on the beast rapidly its clumsy attempts to run echoing in the night. I turned the next corner and there he was a filthy haggard looking man lurching erratically towards the busy street no more than a dozen meters away. But for him it might as well have been the ends of the earth because there was no way it was going to get that far.
“Too bad darling did you really think you could lose me in the crowd?” The terrified man edged closer to the exit while trying to mouth some ridiculous excuse.
“Haven’t quite got the hang of your new mouth yet? Doesn’t matter you Kine make my skin crawl. I would recognize you regardless of whatever pathetic disguise you wore.” I took the tarnished cylinder from my side and flicked it on. Emerald light curved out of it connected by a series of rings. The neon vertebra like whip hummed with energy as I cracked it towards my prey.
It leapt forward unleashing an ear pierce scream. I spun effortless to the side and lashed the beast across the back. It convulsed in pain as electricity surged through its body. Again and again I whipped the beast as it howled in pain to the beautiful pattern of flashing light. The flesh dancer lurched forward collapsing to its knees. The night was filled with the sickening sound of ripping flesh as the Kine leapt from its victim’s body, the dead husk of meat collapsing to the ground around it.
The flesh dancer raised itself up to its full height, towering over me. Its pale leathery skin, elongated arms, and vestigial wings looking even more deformed on its narrow body. The beast lashed out at me with razor sharp claws. A second orange light went out on my belt as I dropped out of the way and entangled the Kine’s legs with my whip. Wrenching upwards the flesh dancer screamed and fell backwards. I shifted the whip into a narrow blade of emerald light, the rings coalescing tightly together.
“This is the end sweet heart. You were hardly worth my time.” Before I could drive the EL Blade through its heart the beast vomited out a stream of rancid blood and filth.
“Bastard!” I cursed angrily, my eyes burning with putrid bile. The flesh dancer leapt jaws open ready to tear my throat out. A third light on my belt went out and the world slowed. Three seconds. That’s how long my fugit belt could stretch a single moment to. It was my edge. Just enough time to make a difference, provided you knew when to use it. I turned and slid to the side. Bracing the blade with both hands over my shoulder the world unfroze. The flesh dancer’s snarling leap bringing it on an inevitable path through my blade, skewing the beast in the heart. It briefly withered in agony then collapsed behind me like a sack of meat.
“Piece of garbage you really made me work for that kill.” I kicked the corpse in the head and spit on it. My clothes were covered in undigested blood and who knows what else. That was the end of this top, which was a shame.
It took a few tries and a smack against the concrete floor but I managed to switch the El blade into a thin burning scalp. With a practiced hand I cut out the flesh dancer’s hollow eyes, troika glands, and crystalized core. Even through the core was cracked the parts would still fetch a good price at The Sanctuary. And I could use a stiff drink and a shower after this.
I threw the filthy shirt in the nearest dumpster and headed out into the street. At least in this part of town with all the bars, clubs, and freaks I wouldn’t attract any extra attention walking around in a black coat and bra. Well no more attention than usual at least.
There was some tech kids jacked in at a cyber bar across the way, their minds roaming free in virtual worlds, reality 1.5 they called it. Their bodies were waif like and wasting away. Typical for the kind people who spend more time online then they do offline. One girl couldn’t have more than eighteen her eyes vacant and empty. She looked like she barely had any connection left with the real world. She probably didn’t even know where her body was most of the time.
But then sometime you could hardly blame them from escaping. People used to joke back at the beginning of the millennium that the LHC would create a black hole and destroy the world. They couldn’t have gotten it more wrong, but then again they were right about one thing. The day they switched on the LHC was the beginning of the end.
No one knew it of course. Not till it was too late. But when the year of the snake rolled around everything changed. The LHC called to them across the veil. Beating like a giant heart and glowing with the light of a new born star. The Kine were drawn to it with a desperate fervour. They hammered at the veil between dimensions slathering with hunger to get in. Scratching and clawing. They were just able to sense the sweet taste of humanity on the other side, so close and yet so far. It was only a matter of time before cracks began to appear and once the dam finally burst they poured unstoppably into our world.
France and Switzerland apparently were consumed in almost no time at all. Only a problem if you were a skier really. Governments banded together and tried to contain them. They even fire bombed the whole area into a scorched wasteland. But it didn’t do any good the door was open and it wasn’t long before cracks began to appear elsewhere. The Kine had come and were here to stay.
That was fifty years ago people adapted and carried on, even if sometimes it was a bleak and despite existence. But the Kine as it turned out had all sorts of uses that we could exploit, once pesky little things like copyright and patent law were abolished.
I headed through the busy streets of the club district between towering buildings, coloured lights, and touts offering all kinds entertainment and pleasures. Energetic ravers already popping pills and getting psyched up to dance. But there would be time for that later for now I need to get The Sanctuary.
It took almost half an hour of traveling for the city to turn from trendy and dirty to just plain run down and dirty. The heavy reinforced door and glowing blue OLED sign marked the entrance to The Sanctuary in what was an otherwise fine example of dilapidated architecture. I spotted a familiar looking face hanging out nearby. She was dressed in a tiny leopard print outfit, her hair thick and matted. She looked strung out was fidgeting compulsively.
“V. Have you got your magic glove with you today? I could really use a jolt.”
“Maybe depends, what have you got for me today?”
“Come on V. Don’t hold out me I need it.” I switched on the black glove to the lowest setting and gently stroked her chin sending out tiny volts of electricity causing her to let out a contented sigh.
“Now tell me something good and I’ll let you have more.”
“Yes, of course I’ve been good, what do you want to know?”
“What has David been up to? I asked you to keep an eye on him.”
“Nothing.” I gently stroked her forehead the electricity tickling her and causing Poppy’s eyes to flutter.
“Tell me Poppy. You wouldn’t want to disappoint me now would you?”
“He hasn’t been with Casey again if that’s what you’re worried about. But, I followed him and Sonya last night to the Golden Buddha. They ended up back at his place.”
“That bitch, first she Pippa’s me at the club and now she’s trying to get her claws into my guy. I’ll have to teach her a little lesson.”
“What else Poppy any work related gossip on the street?” I said running a finger along her cheek.
“Mmm. There’s a rumour that the new dancer at the Velvet Underground is a Sooki. What else, oh ya, another pile of bodies was dumped at the warehouse.”
“Good girl. Looks like there are still a few more flesh dancers to play with. But hiding their kills, you’d think they were getting smarter. Not that you need to worry about that. Keep up the good work Poppy. Have a nice little trip now.” I dialled up the voltage and sent Poppy blissfully off to dreamland.
The interior of The Sanctuary was lit with rows of OLED lights and full wall screens. The empty dance floor a reminder of what the place once was. Lem was working behind the bar cleaning a dirty glass. Part toy store, part body shop, and a good helping of bar The Sanctuary had everything a busy girl needed in a city like this.
“Hey Lem, place is lively as ever I see.”
“What can I get you V?
“Double jack and coke.”
“Enjoy. Don’t take this wrong way V but you stink. I mean you smell bad, really bad.”
“I know. A flesh dancer wretched all over me before I could take it down.”
“Well that explains the smell. Although you’re the first I’ve heard that happening to.”
“Lucky me. I cut out the toy surprise though. I’ve got fresh troika glands, eyes, and a slightly cracked core. ”
“I’ll take a look, there’s a shower and printer in the back in you want to get cleaned up.”
“Thanks. Also my EL Blade has been acting up again, keeps shorting out when I switch to laser scalpel. Can you take a look?” I handed over the tarnished EL Blade.
“This things an antique, it could be the coil or one of the circuits. It won’t be cheap. You know V you’d be better off buying a whole new weapon. I just got the specs in for the series 3 gel rifle with plasma accelerator. Easily switch between kinetic impact and firing molten slugs that will cut through just about any Kine you’ll likely to meet. I’ve even got a crate full of stone melters, in case you ever have need to burn a hole in a wall.”
“Just fix the EL Blade Lem. And have those credits in my account by the time I get back.”
“Yes ma’am.” I wandered into the back and headed into the first vacant room. There were half a dozen rooms here that he rented out by the hour to people like me who need a quick place to crash.
Stripping off my old cloths I got into the hot shower. The water felt good on my skin as I watched the TV screen in the cubical. It was a news bite of a supposed sighting of a dragon over CERN. It still makes me laugh that people still believed that a dragon was nesting at the rift at the heart of the LHC. But hey if it was true even a small piece of dragon would set a girl up for life with all the shiny things she should ever want.
I got out of the shower and called up the vid window and started to browse through the clothing schematics. Lem had a decent selection of patterns for the printer even if he did seem to have a fetish for leather. Not my taste at all, but some people seemed to insist on it. In the end I settled for a red tube top, black pants, and pair of thigh high boots. 3D printing had come far enough that you could download and print just about anything provided you had the raw materials and right hardware. It was just a shame that they had yet to invent an easier way to apply make-up by now. I needed to look my best if was going to pay David a visit later.
There was still time to check out the lead on the Sookie that Poppy had given me. They paid good money for a pair of those gossamer wings down in china town. Supposedly dried and ground they made a powerful aphrodisiac. Something like that might be just the edge I needed to make David forget all about those other tramps. I strapped on my fugit belt there was only two charges left, and the happy hardcore. But that was only in case of emergency. Hopefully Lem would have some Q cells for sale.
“Lem, you manage to fix my EL Blade yet?” I yelled out while walking back to the bar. Whatever Lem was busy doing it had to be good for him to ignore me. Hopefully he was nearly done I had other places to be tonight.
“Lem what you doing out here?” Then everything went to hell. Lem was slumped over the counter his neck twisted in an unnatural angle. A tall bald man with pale grey skin stood over him two companions on either side searching for something. The nearest sniffed the air and turned looking me straight in the eye and roared.
“Death dealer, murderer, you slew my mate we have come for vengeance. To take what is yours.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to be a lot more specific than that.”
“No lies, we tracked you from the concrete forest. My mate’s scent is all over you.” Taking a quick sniff all I could smell was clean soapy goodness.
“Nope, I think I smell alright. But let me see did I kill anything big and ugly lately?” I mockingly joked while making my way closer to the counter.
“There was that bander man the other day. And I did take the wind out of that breath stealer. But I suppose if you’re talking about foul smelling garbage then I’m guessing your mate was that flesh dancer I iced less than hour ago.” The bald man snarled and the other two leapt. There was no choice the EL Blade was a good three meters away and those ugly Kine were going to be on me before I could reach it. The second last orange light on the fugit belt went out and the world slowed. Diving over the bar I hit the ground with a roll narrowly missing a crate.
I made a grab for the El Blade knocking it to the ground as a razor sharp talon was driven into my outstretched arm. I switched on the whip and started whipping the creature impaling my arm. Its claws causing excruciating pain as it tried to pull my arm off. The bald man’s face contorted with pain and joy as he withstood the ensuing shocks.
Flicking the EL Blade to sword format I drove it through the bastard’s wrist. The flesh hardened and flaked off filling the room with a rancid stench. The other two were moving quickly around the bar. Baldy was clutching his wrist and shrieking and his cronies were closing fast. The crate of stone melters that I had nearly cracked my head on was my best shot. I grabbed the nearest detonator and vaulted over the bar rolling when I hit the ground. The nearest Kine got a taste of my EL Blade through its knee.
The second last light went out as I picked up speed crossing the floor of The Sanctuary reaching the door just as the world caught up with me. With a smile and salute I threw open the door and headed into the night. The detonator was in my hand and I was barely halfway across the street before I flipped the switch that turned the building behind me into a burning hell. The heat scorched the air and the foundations liquefied in the flames. It didn’t stay up for much more than another minute or two before what was left of the upper levels collapsed into a heap of concrete and twisted metal.
So long to you Lem it was fun while it lasted. I turned to give the place one last look slapping a THC tab on my shoulder to help me relax and forgot about the bleeding. I was just in time to see a dark shape escaping to the roof tops. It was Baldy or at least as much of him as had survived the stone melter, so much for things coming to an easy ending. My phone let out an erotic little moan to let me know I had a text from David.
“I’m free after work tonight. Pick up some Thai food on your way over beautiful.” Perfect, I had a psychotic flesh dancer after me. Who as it turns out could apparently smell me through the rest of city’s colourful odours. Plus I only had two hours to clean this mess up if I was going to meet up with David tonight. That really only left me with one option and that was to pay a visit to the Red Lady.
The Red Lady queen of the tech kids and a virtual idol to millions. She was kind of a big shot and celebrity in the cyber entertainment circles. Actress, entrepreneur, information broker, cult leader, or dealer whatever way you described her she had the kind of contacts and skills I needed to find Baldy in a hurry. She was also a self-indulgent cow with big crimson hair, fake lashes, and heavy makeup.
She made her home in the heart of Nu Town at a cyber bar known as the Nomad. It was just a sky train ride across town. The tram glided past the concrete towers and walls of glass and neon lights into the glistening white domain of Nu Town. On one side of the street was The Cube one of those trendy new coffee clubs that were popular at the moment. Why anyone would want to go to a club that only served coffee I’ll never understand. The Nomad was across from it a squat four story tower of shrinking rings. Each level had its own take on the same theme.
I tried my best to skip the queue and walk straight in but two ugly looking tech kids were blocking the entrance. One wearing sunglasses the other with a bright green Mohawk they weren’t intimidating compared to normal bouncers but I didn’t doubt they could hold their own with most of the clientele here.
“Move it, I’ve got business with the Red Lady.”
“Piss off love, we don’t let lurkers and noobs in here.”
“Does your mommy know you’ve died your hair? Get out of the way I don’t have time for this I’m an old friend of your boss.”
“You and everyone else here. Get lost.” I really didn’t have time for this. I dialled up the stim glove to max and gave green boy a heavy jolt right to the face. Glasses just stood there slack jawed in surprise. I left green standing there with a stupid grin on his face and pushed my way inside.
The interior of The Nomad looked like a Tesla inspired opium den designed by someone with an inexplicable love for red velvet. There were tech kids lying all over the place off exploring cyberspace. A few were not plugged in but refuelling with energy bars and power drinks. The Red Lady was holding court in back sitting in the middle of a podium surrounded by cushions and elf eared sycophants. She was dressed in a bright red dress and her eyes were black with tiny green characters fleeting quickly across them. Smart lens the ultimate in heads up display streaming data and providing real time information on anything around, all controlled with eye movements and touch pads on her fingertips.
“Hey there Red.”
“V. I didn’t expect to see you around here, you must be desperate.”
“It’s not like that all.”
“Uh huh, does this have anything to do with the news bite that just hit the wire about The Sanctuary being torched?”
“It does, a little trouble with a flesh dancer and its pack hunting me down.”
“You must be losing your touch if a flesh dancer is giving you trouble. Maybe you should give up the game I’m sure I can find other employment for you.”
“No thanks, one flesh dancer normally isn’t a problem but it already tracked me down once and I can’t afford to have it show up unannounced.”
“How did it find you at The Sanctuary?”
“Apparently I’m marked by its mate’s scent.” The Red Lady scanned me quickly her eyes flittering back and forth. The lights dimmed and a series of different lights flicked on before she finally settled on the black light.
“You do have some residual pheromones stuck to you. There’s nothing about it on the web so it looks like you’ve encountered a new phenomenon.”
“You know what that means.”
“Ya, that I have to deal with a pack of evolved Kine. Perfect.”
“But it does make me helping you more appealing. Because looking at your account balance you couldn’t afford me.”
“Alright, you clean me up and track down Baldy, and then his core and head are yours.” The Red Lady smiled.
“I think we’ll have a lot of fun working together. Jess well be here shortly to clean you up. When did you last see the flesh dancer?”
“Baldy was leaping to the roof tops from the burning wreck of The Sanctuary.”
“I’ll send out a query and let see if we get any hits.” She flicked her hand at the wall and images began to quickly flash by. Photos and video were running by at high speed as she grabbed footage of Baldy running through the city. She pieced together its flight from the burning building, across the rooftops, and down the back alleys to a desolate abandoned underground garage not far from the warehouse.
“There you go V. You’ll find your new friend there.” That’s when Jess walked in carrying a large citrus smelling jug.
“Lemon juice, lots of lemon juice we’re going to wash your hair, face, and chest in it to get that nasty flesh dancer scent off of you.” Jess didn’t look like she was all there but there was nothing new about that. Then she dunked my head in the jug of lemon juice. Next thing I knew she was all over me with a lemon soaked rag.
“Great now I’m all sticky”
“I doubt it’s the first time. Now off you go you’ve still got some work to do.” She was right time was running out and I had to hurry. I hopped in the nearest taxi reeking of lemon juice and headed off to the edge of the industrial quarter. It was empty and quiet most of the building had been levelled years ago. The whole area was abandoned apart from the warehouse and few other haunts of the homeless and disenfranchised.
The ruined garage was just ahead I made my way quickly down the steps to the dark basement. There were a few rusting cars and broken concrete pillars. There was also a foul stench and patches of filth.
“Well Baldy this is definitely your nest why don’t you come out to play?” A pained roar echoed through the chamber. Four wild and ferocious looking flesh dancers still in their natural forms appeared from the shadows, it didn’t look good. Baldy dragged himself out of a ruined car chunks of melted flesh stuck to him and large bits hanging loosely and rotting.
“Oh, it looks like you are too injured to shed what remains of that body. Don’t worry though I’ll fix that soon enough.”
“Defiler, slayer, you invade our nest you kill us without regard. You will pay for our pain. I shall wear your skin.” They moved around from all sides advancing towards me wild and hungry. I drew my EL Blade the emerald sword glowing in the dark. The first beast leapt from behind I twisted out the way narrowly avoiding its talon and impaled the closest one in the eye. It clawed blindly at me leaving a thin trail of blood and torn shirt across my stomach. Baldy was advancing slowly the rest moved in snapping and clawing at me while I did my best to keep them at bay with a crack of the energy whip.
I ensnared one of the flesh dancers sending it crashing into its neighbour, than managed to crack another hard on the head before it was on me. One eye had recovered and was spitting bile and oozing blood as it charged towards me. This was it they were close enough now and I had only one option left. The red light on fugit belt went out and the world exploded with noise and colour as the Kine turned to statues.
My EL Blade pierced the heart of one eye and I carried on without slowing skewing the two fallen flesh dancers in quick successions. I danced to the right taking out the last one as the world began to speed up and I could see Baldy moving in slow motion through world of psychedelic colours. With one last desperate maneuverer I leapt towards it. The emerald blade pointed downwards. Things returned to normal just as I hit the beast hard on the shoulders the EL Blade cutting through it into the concrete floor. Without a moment’s hesitation I stabbed it through the heart and the beast collapsed beneath me.
I was drenched in sweat. Every muscle ached and I felt like I’d just run an entire marathon in under a minute. I was completely disoriented and started laughing uncontrollable as the world spun around me and I fell to the floor. It was a few minutes before I could regain enough sense to see straight and stop laughing.
“Well Baldy, you certainly know how to ruin a girl’s night. Now I’ve got to deal with that bitch the Red Lady and I’ve ruined two perfectly good tops.” I was exhausted, starving, sticky, sweaty, and horny all at the same time. David would not be impressed with me showing up at his door looking like this but hey I’m sure after some of his favourite Thai food he’d be willing to join me for a shower. The Red Lady would just have to wait for her payment, because I had other plans for the rest of the night.