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Posted: Fri Sep 17, 2004 12:40 pm
The loose space at the fingertips of Cordâ€™s polyurethane glove caught in the teeth of the body bag zipper as she opened it. She spent several seconds working the zipper trying to release the glove from its grip and another few seconds pulling another glove on, ignoring the first as it slid to the sterile tile.
â€œJesus,â€ Cord whispers, backing away from the body a step.
Itâ€™s not in bad shape, as bodies go, still intact with no obvious signs of injury, as though he had died in his sleep. He had been bald, with a long, slightly crooked nose, his mouth set in a grimace in death. â€œOh, Jesus.â€ This time itâ€™s louder, but with a greater urgency. She hovers for a moment before closing back in on the body, shoving the black plastic with its Mitsui logo aside, and the sickly sweet odor of corpse and rotten sweat assaults the room. Reverently, the doc puts her hands, both of them, one bare, one purple gloved, on the corpseâ€™s chest.
â€œDoc?â€ asks a man in a long moleskin jacket, slick brown dress pants with the hem at the back slightly blackened with dirt from the street, and alligator skin shoes. â€œDoc, you okay?â€
â€œI knew him,â€ Cord says slowly. â€œI did his liver, and the claws.â€
She trails her ungloved hand down the corpseâ€™s arm. Her skin is coffee colored, vibrant next to the dead flesh. The doc slides her fingers into his hand, thumb caresses knuckles as though with affection, then gently moves to the metacarpals, and squeezes. Matte metallic claws, about three and a half inches long, slide out of the hand from just behind the knuckles.
The man clears his throat uncomfortably, â€œNice job. I wouldnâ€™t have known they were there.â€ He rubs at his nose, covering his mouth with his hand as nonchalantly as possible, small protection against the nauseating stench.
â€œHe was a good man. Lasted a long time in the game, I guess. Heâ€™s got a kid, too, girl named Sylvia, probably about thirteen by now. I wonder if she even knows.â€ She sounds distant as she gently replaces the dead manâ€™s hand. The hum of refrigeration tanks in the background never allows for any kind of silence. The ventilation unit kicks on and adds an even louder rattle and whoosh, alleviating the smell a bit. Itâ€™s enough for the man in the alligator shoes to lower his hand again, and he shifts his weight from one foot to the other, trying to look anywhere but at the woman gazing at the corpse - at the light fixtures above, the medical equipment with all its cabling neatly bunched and tied, all with the same color green zip ties.
Finally, he manages, â€œUm, Doc? Is he going to be, uh, okay?â€ Then, more hastily, â€œI mean, for,â€ and breaks off again, once more clearing his throat nervously. This time he looks at the doc carefully, sizing her up. Hippocrates would not have approved of the gun worn in the shoulder holster underneath the pristine white lab coat.
Cord steps back from the body, pushing a handful of dark braids back from her face, and nods as though she hadnâ€™t noticed the manâ€™s nervous scrutiny. â€œYeah. Yeah, we can use him.â€ She turns, raising her voice just a little to call, â€œBoys, come get him on ice and prep the OR.â€ She doesnâ€™t look at the body again as two men in scrubs come to wheel it further into the bowels of the clinic. Instead, she goes to the sink and washes her hands. â€œSee Hikaru on your way out. Heâ€™ll pay you.â€
Copyright, S.E. Robertson 2004
Posted: Fri Sep 17, 2004 3:04 pm
Mr. Green isnâ€™t the manâ€™s real name. It is a foolish moniker, given to him by someone unimportant, repeated until it became common. Mr. Green has green, cash, U.S. dollars. You can still use them in what used to be the States, at places that wonâ€™t take chips with identifiers. Anonymous chips, really anonymous chips, are hard to come by. For the small timers, cash works. The drug dealers, the manufacturers of fake identification, the bartenders and the whores all take cash. The cube hotels and public showers take cash. Mr. Greenâ€™s green is good enough.
Rico peers out from behind the bar, little eyes, forehead, and disheveled mop of brown hair just visible around the real wood of the long bar. Itâ€™s a relic, shipped in from some famous place in Ireland or somewhere, back when the bar was a trendy, happening place, before the district got shut down by the army. San Francisco was always full of dissidents; it had a history of them. In 2003, there had been no choice, they said, but to clean out the terrorists. Other districts had reopened, become more or less normal again, but the Haight district kept itself closed. It reviled outsiders. Now all of the business that happens here is the kind that people like Mr. Green conduct. Itâ€™s all done in cash. Rico knows that tonight brings a different kind of business. Instead of desperate people huddled in dark corners, speaking quietly, the bar is empty but for two people, Mr. Green, and the other one. The bar closed an hour ago, and all the lights are on - harsh fluorescents mercilessly revealing the shabbiness and filth. A foot hooks Rico under one arm and drags him back behind the bar. His mother dries glasses with a brownish bar towel. He knows better than to make any noise or protest. At six, even Rico can see that this is serious business. He hunkers down behind the bar and curls back up in his blanket underneath the racks of liquor bottles with their shiny metal pour spouts.
Mr. Green slides a plain manila envelope across the surface of the table. â€œI would like you to begin at once. The details are on the chip. If you require more resources, account information is also provided on the chip.â€
Mr. Green is average in height, and build, and feature as though premeditatedly mediocre, with mouse brown hair and dull brown eyes, Caucasian, but probably not entirely so. Where Mr. Green is as nondescript a human being as ever walked the earth, his companion at the table is remarkable. She is tall, slender almost to a fault, with a wide, bony face. Her hair is cut close to her head, white blonde, or perhaps just entirely bleached, and golden eyes, like the eyes of some strange bird, not human at all. From the back of her left ear to the base of her neck there is a streak about two inches wide where her skin looks like quicksilver, like some kind of living metal. The muted green edges of chips stick out in an array along the base of her skull, from ear to ear.
Her voice is dispassionate, flat, and businesslike, â€œI would like a summary of the job before I accept.â€ Her hands do not move towards the envelope.
A short, ugly man comes out of the back office and wraps a thick hand around Ricoâ€™s motherâ€™s arm. She looks nervously down at the boy, who pretends to be asleep, and allows the man to draw her with perfunctory urgency into the back room. The door closes behind them.
â€œNo dice,â€ says Mr. Green, drably. â€œYou want the work, take it. Either you work for me or you donâ€™t.â€
â€œHow about we say I know that Iâ€™m working for someone using you as a middle man?â€ the woman says with a stiff, unconcerned shrug. â€œAnd how about we say that I donâ€™t need work that bad? Or how about I say that youâ€™ve wasted my time? I dislike having my time wasted, and I dislike meeting in places like this.â€
A rat navigates the rack above Ricoâ€™s head, licking at the tops of liquor bottles after the last few drops left at the tips of the spouts. Rico doesnâ€™t mind rats much, but the unexplained muffled sounds coming from the back office make him uncomfortable and a little frightened, and so he crawls to the end of the bar again and peers out.
Mr. Green frowns as though considering the womanâ€™s demands, and then explains, â€œThere is a reason for this place. It is believed that the subject you are to investigate was last seen in this area. Itâ€™s a good place to start.â€
He looks as though he might have meant to leave it there, but the woman says nothing and still doesnâ€™t touch the envelope. She just waits, uncannily still, unblinking. After a moment, Mr. Green goes on, â€œHis name is Donald Lee Finch. Heâ€™s used any number of other names. Heâ€™s broken a deal with some important people. The important people have made every attempt to allow him to rectify the situation, and now they would like to make a point.â€
â€œWhat kind of point?â€
â€œThereâ€™s a daughter, Sylvia Finch. They would like you to deliver her to me, preferably more or less alive,â€ Mr. Green says after a moment. â€œThatâ€™s the summary. There are your details.â€
The woman reaches out for the envelope and tucks it inside her sleek sealskin jacket. â€œAlright, Green, or whatever your name is. Itâ€™s been a pleasure doing business.â€
With that, her other hand shoots out across the table with inhuman celerity, and then comes back to her side. She stands, pushes in her chair and leaves, heels clicking on floor. Mr. Green slumps in his chair as the door closes, and then slides unceremoniously into a heap on the floor.
Rico stays where he is for a minute, then two. Finally, as much from curiosity as to avoid the steadily louder noises from the back room, he gets to his feet and creeps softly to within a few feet of Mr. Green. He waits there for another minute, as though afraid the man might suddenly become reanimated. When no such thing happens, the boy gets close enough to really examine the man on the floor. At Mr. Greenâ€™s neck, where he thinks he saw the woman reach, in that confusing moment before she left, is a tiny little line of blood, hardly more than a scratch. The little boy pokes the dead man a few times, and then prods him a little more enthusiastically with one toe, just to make sure. He looks around, over both shoulders and at the door of the back office where his motherâ€™s muted vocalizations are mostly drowned out by the rude, filthy words of the man. He knows theyâ€™re filthy because he once got the belt for asking about them, and never asked again. Rico, deciding he is alone but for the rat, kneels down and begins taking everything interesting out of Mr. Greenâ€™s pockets.
Copyright, S.E. Robertson 2004
Posted: Sat Sep 18, 2004 9:34 am
â€œWhy donâ€™t you come out of there and eat something, alright?â€
It comes like a disembodied across some great void. It doesnâ€™t seem to fit with the data here, like billions of fireflies moving through a great neon maze. Sylvia is a part of those fireflies, sliding in between the icons, circumventing gates. She is moving impossibly fast, a sensation of speed so profound in a space so vast that her body could not bear the gap between perception and reality. Bile has irritated the skin around her mouth and chin and partly digested chunks of this morningâ€™s soy burrito have dried on her purple t-shirt with its Disney Corp. logo, but she doesnâ€™t know it. â€œHey! Come on, youâ€™ve been sick. You need to clean up. And eat and drink something. Youâ€™ll be lucky if you havenâ€™t pissed yourself. Dinnerâ€™s ready.â€
All of a sudden, itâ€™s all gone. Everything. Plucked from the freedom of the net, Sylvia is meat again. Chuck is holding the cable he pulled from the slot at her left temple. The shock is terrible, and her eyes open and her back arches, as though in seizure, all in denial of this trap. From the unending expanses of the net to the confines of an eight by eight room strewn with components and tools, from flying in absolute freedom to the limitations of weak flesh, Sylvia stares with revulsion at her hands and at the floor beyond them, and then rolls over and convulses anew; this time in dry heaves. She spits between gritted teeth, â€œYou couldâ€™ve fucking killed me.â€
â€œJesus, kid, I just wanted you to eat something. Youâ€™ve been in there all day and you look like hell. Donâ€™t you ever go outside to play or anything?â€ Chuck just looks confused, standing there in his work clothes, the only clothes he ever wears, grease stained overalls, with an orange plastic glass in one hand and a paper plate with a sandwich underneath an unopened single serving bag of chips.
â€œYeah, well suppose Iâ€™d been inside something and couldnâ€™t follow my line back out? Suppose Iâ€™d been trapped when you pulled that plug? People go nuts that way, sometimes, nothing but zucchini left for brains,â€ Sylvia spits vehemently. She rolls off of her pallet, onto her stomach and laboriously props herself up on her elbows. Sheâ€™s a skinny girl, just a hair shy of anorexic, with sallow skin and a shaved head. What little fuzz there is on her head is dyed blue and traces of a tattoo show through it, silver and green circuit patterns that encircle her head and disappear down her back.
â€œThat doesnâ€™t happen to normal users. You gotta be doinâ€™â€¦â€ Chuck stops for a moment, â€œWhat are you doing in there, anyway?â€
Suspicion written all over his plain face now, Chuck squats down to stare at the girl, â€œYouâ€™re not doing anything thatâ€™s going to get us in trouble are you? Cops busting into my house and hauling us both off because your ass is underage and Iâ€™m responsible for you?â€
â€œIâ€™m looking for Lee.â€ She says it with a careful absence of emotion, blue eyes fixed on Chuck as she pulls herself up to sitting, wincing suddenly and then pulling the end of the soldering iron cord out from under her butt. â€œIs that for me?â€
â€œHuh? Oh yeah, you need to eat,â€ Chuck answers, shoving the plate into her hands, setting the orange plastic glass down next to the girl. He sits across from her, heavily, as though he might have run out of energy at the last moment, and his shoulders slump. â€œLook, I know youâ€™re worried, but itâ€™s not safe to go looking for your dad, kiddo. Heâ€™ll turn back up. He always does. Heâ€™s smart, your dad. Like you. Alright?â€ The big man tries a tentative smile, unaccustomed to being anything but gruff, looking uncertain about it.
Sylvia looks between Chuck and her sandwich, grimacing a bit as she drops the chips to one side and picks up the sandwich. â€œUh, look, I havenâ€™t needed a babysitter since I was nine. Somethingâ€™s wrong or Lee wouldnâ€™t have sent me to you. He said heâ€™d be back Sunday. Itâ€™s Thursday, in case you hadnâ€™t noticed. Somethingâ€™s wrong.â€
Chuck opens his mouth to say something placating, then closes it again. â€œIs there something wrong with your sandwich?â€
â€œNo, I mean with Lee. Thereâ€™s something wrong with Lee,â€ Sylvia says, impatiently.
â€œI get that,â€ Chuck answers calmly, â€œBut youâ€™re looking at your sandwich all funny. Youâ€™re not allergic to peanuts or something?â€
â€œYou shouldâ€™ve had kids, Chuck,â€ Sylvia observes. â€œItâ€™s fine. Itâ€™s hard to eat afterâ€¦ you just donâ€™t feelâ€¦ itâ€™s hard coming back from the net sometimes, is all. Look,â€ she takes a bite of her sandwich, â€œStrawberryâ€™s even my favorite flavor jelly.â€ She gives the man a little, half-hearted smile.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, Sylvia. I just donâ€™t know what to tell you. He is a smart guy, though, your dad. He might be in a spot of trouble, but I donâ€™t think heâ€™d want you going around trying to dig him out, you know? Thatâ€™s just not right.â€ Chuck scratches at his nose nervously, then props his chin on his hand, elbow resting on his knee, so that heâ€™s just about eye level with the girl. â€œIf he sent you to me, then he wanted you to be safe. Not goinâ€™ off and doing stupid stuff.â€
Sylvia chews peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a while. One bite, and then another, before she says, â€œChuck, do you know what Lee was doing?â€
â€œWell, no, but itâ€™s none of our business.â€
â€œItâ€™s not our business that everybody is looking for my dad? Everybody, Chuck. Important people. Corporate people. He left me with you because he went into hiding. I think he lied about coming back on Sunday. I think heâ€™s in more trouble than he wanted us to know about.â€ Sylvia stares evenly at Chuck, forgetting to blink. Her eyes are bloodshot. She takes another bite of sandwich, shuddering with the revulsion of it.
Chuck stares back uncomfortably, sits up straight again. â€œThereâ€™s no way you could know that, Sylvia. I think youâ€™re jumping to wild conclusions. Things arenâ€™t like that.â€
â€œHow do you know?â€
â€œWell, because, because your dad wouldnâ€™t lie to you and â€¦ well, how do you know any better, Miss Know-It-All?â€ Chuck scratches his head nervously. â€œYouâ€™re just a kid, alright? Let your dad handle himself. Heâ€™s been doing it since long before you came along.â€
Sylvia puts down her sandwich and pulls herself to her feet, wobbly at first, skinny legs colt-like. â€œI know because a ghost told me so. Being all grown up, I guess you donâ€™t believe in those either, though. So if you donâ€™t mind, Iâ€™m going to go take a shower. Thank you for the sandwich.â€
Copyright, S.E. Robertson 2004
Posted: Tue Sep 21, 2004 3:42 pm
The doc comes out of the OR, the door behind her resealing, the chamber in between re-pressurizing. She has not bothered to change, only to pull off gloves and free her braids from their sterile paper confinement. She ignores the polite â€œGood afternoonâ€ of Hikaru and slinks into the darkness of her office.
The office could easily be as sterile as the OR. The desk, the upholstery, the plants are all synthetics, all completely free of dust. Dim green light from the two computer displays pours over the only object left out on the desk, a matte black of an old-fashioned Colt .45. The doctor sits slumped, exhausted, in her chair. The blood on her scrubs hardly shows in the darkness. A few minutesâ€™ indecision, and she picks up the phone and dials. It rings three times and goes dead. The greenish light of the displays flickers, and the line comes alive again, and a womanâ€™s voice speaks, â€œHello, Cord. Iâ€™m sorry to interrupt this way. Please do not be startled.â€
Perhaps the doc is too tired to be particularly startled, she only shakes her head.
â€œDoctor? Are you still there?â€ The voice is light and sweet, so entirely unaccented as to seem exotic or unnatural.
â€œIâ€™m still here.â€ The doc pauses, glances around her office a moment. â€œAre you- what can I do for you?â€
â€œI need to know if you know where Lee Finch is.â€
â€œWhy are you asking? Why should you have to ask?â€ Cord responds, apprehension edging her voice.
â€œItâ€™s a small world, Cord. I have a concern about his daughter. I thought you might share it.â€ The voice on the phone does not change, seems frozen in its pleasantness.
â€œI have the body. Do you know where Sylvia is?â€ Cord responds grimly.
â€œYou have Lee Finchâ€™s body.â€
â€œAre you sure you want to know where she is? That level of involvement will be problematic.â€
â€œIt already is. Tell me where.â€