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Haemorrhage : The Mini Series.
Issue 1 of 4 : Killer of Men.
Men were dying, but that was okay.
Once she might have felt something. Once, she might have felt them. But that sense was lost to her now, her emotions as dry and brittle as her flesh, and the meat was just that as she butchered it with her body. It was all too easy. Her anger carried her along effortlessly, and she felt no pain.
Twenty-three days had been too much, and Emma Rage had snapped. With a world against her, she had dared to leave her hiding place. Twenty three days alone beneath the ground, and she had learned that she didn't need food. She no longer needed air. Her muscles remained strong and available even though human limbs would have wasted through inaction. She didn't dehydrate. She was invincible.
But she had, eventually, needed people. The silence in her head had become deafening, and she had given herself no other choice but to try to fill that void.
She had walked into the HEL-mart in disgrace. Her eyes had barely adapted to the light above ground, and the streetlamps burned her with every step. Music city was alive around her, and she had never felt so lost before. Had she been born here, in this ant hill of frenzy and clatter? Was this her home? She didn't think so. She didn't recognise it now.
Earth dropped from her in clods as she walked. People swerved to avoid her, took a wide berth, crossed the street at the look on her face. The nodding devil sign atop the store seemed to appraise her, but she couldn't tell if she was approved or despised. Hell, she thought. I've come this far. Her clothes tattered rags worn with dirt and misery, she pushed through the door and into the living warmth within.
People stared, but she was used to that. Even before her body petrified, people had stared at her, women with jealousy and men in lust and wonder. She had been a super-heroine then. She had saved lives and been thanked for it. She had shaken the hand of the mayor, she had fought beside Doctor Music. Now the citizens stared in disgust. What had she become?
She had forgotten what to do. She thought that if she behaved normally they might forgive her. Sure, she looked like shit, but had they no sympathy for the drunks amongst them, the homeless and the down-and-outs? They could buy their liquor here, trading in pity and charity. Was she so different? Surely they could see, that she was no danger to them, that she was simply another freak? But she had forgotten everything. What was a Twinkie, a Cap'n Crunch, a HEL-dog? Did she want these things? She couldn't tell. From the evidence in their barrows the other people here wanted these things, and she wanted to be like them. So she must want Twinkies. Yes, of course.
She picked up a few boxes, and wondered what to do next.
Had she seen a movie once? Free tickets with this box of Cheerios. In the movie a woman hadn't understood her store either, and had followed another woman, buying what she bought. Emma tried it, but no-one would let her follow them. Soon she was dizzy with following, her targets running screaming through the aisles. They were buying nothing now, and Emma couldn't understand why. And why was her clothing so ragged, so dirt encrusted? No one else looked like she did. No one else had pale skin that flexed in her frustration, and sprouted tiny spines in response to their rejection of her.
What could she do? She took a random cart, dumped her Twinkies and cereal into it atop the already present shopping, and ran for the check out.
Money, she thought. I don't have any money. Well, that puts an end to that.
She was about to fall, about to plough her ceramic knees into the tiles of the HEL mart floor, when the men with guns appeared. She was about to cry, to show some weakness, and she had no idea why. She didn't think that she could cry. But here came the tears, surely. Here came the weakness, the pain inside expanding from its tight burning coil into a dragon of release, exploding from her for so long in sobs and meaningless movements. She wanted that, she knew. The products around her meant nothing, she didn't need them, but it had been so long since she had been able to feel. She urged the emotion on, eyes to the floor, face set in concentration. She only looked up once.
But that was enough. She looked up, and saw the uniforms, and saw the men with guns, and her memory came rushing back. Twenty-three days in the ground, and she was barely a corpse, though her flesh was grave-pale. Twenty-three days of attempted absolution, and what had it earned her? Five minutes of pain, before the world had rushed back in again to supply her with something that it knew that she would understand. Men with guns. She remembered this, she remembered what to do here. And the pain fled her, and her desire for redemption fled her, as her anger took over. It gave her wings. Her mutated body gave her everything else that she needed.
Men died. That was fine. That was what they were for.
After a time of carnage, death for them and release for her, the chiefs outside decided not to send any more men in. Emma had lost count of her tally, but it was okay. She'd done better, she'd done worse. She stalked the blood-slick tiles, rage burned into her, and felt the flow of her sintered flesh as it orbited her in a thousand sharpened forms. Her ivory feet clicked through the puddles of gore, crushing spilled Twinkies into the mess. Pain was around her, and it knew her well. While she could see it she knew that it wasn't inside, and while pain wasn't within her she knew that she must feel fine. Her daemonic blood flowed ecstatic in her veins, crowing at her triumphant liquid sculptures.
Someone was shouting. Using her name. Ah, they had recognised her. Well, maybe she wasn't surprised. Maybe she wasn't relieved that they had told it to her. Maybe she had never forgotten it. Not really. It was part of her after all. She was as her name suggested; a wound upon the world.
"Haemorrhage, you are surrounded! Do not try to escape! Support is on the way from the Powered Response Organisation for the Security of American Citizens! You have no choice but to surrender!"
A fair trial? Emma thought, surveying the carnage around her with a slight smile. Sure. It would be fair. There's not much that they couldn't do to me in response to this.
"Fuck you!" she shouted, trying out her voice. It felt okay. She didn't know if the police had heard her or not.
She roamed the aisles of the evacuated store. In the food section, plastic packaged meat attempted to seem more appealing than the flesh that soaked the floor. The vegetables were wilting from the heat of the lights and the city beyond in the cradles of their own section. The store carried plenty of sweets.
Further on she found a sports section, packed with armour for footballers, baseball gloves, ski's and rackets and bats of all description. The humans used them to take out their aggression harmlessly, and Emma could only approve. There were two walls of guns in the store, with which the humans could kill rabbits and deer and each other.
Toys. Wow, Emma thought. This is cool. Look at all these toys! More guns for the boys, but the girls got little houses and little kitchens and little pastel-hued ponies that could surely be no substitute for the real thing. My little brain-washing kit, Emma read upon a tilted carton, and was slightly disappointed to see the letters resolve as 'My Little Barbecue Kit', complete with photographed plastic burgers.
Then she heard a noise. Like an exhalation of air, the hiss of a snake that had been holding its breath. A hiss and a fizz.
"Hello?" she called, her first reaction one of embarrassment, as if responding to a knock on the door whilst wrapped in a towel. She looked down at her body to see that she was almost naked. Some scraps of cloth still clung to her, but they provided her with little modesty. Her skin had been stained by the earth in which she had lain. She looked like a smoker's smile, she thought, and shuddered at the thought of her ugliness. But it had been a long time now since she had been able to lay claim to beauty, and maybe she was used to it. The dirt made her less female in appearance, at least; her nipples were the same colour as the rest of her skin, and she had been free of body hair since her mutation, and so had little to draw attention to her genitals. And she was covered in blood.
She heard a squeak.
She began to run. Her ears were good with tiny noises, trained by her blood to listen for the tremor in the fearful breath, the drip of a tear of panic onto cupboard floor. There was little that she couldn't hunt by instinct alone. There was nothing that she couldn't kill. She could feel her anger back within her, after her moment of consumer calm. She didn't know why she was angry, but she had no power to deny the emotion. She punched the bullet of her body through shelving until she came upon the source of her discomfort, deep within the toy section, huddled and terrified within his seat, urine dripping from it.
A man in a wheel chair. Shit, thought Emma. That's no challenge. That's no fun at all.
"Oh," she said, confused. "Hello."
The man didn't speak.
Emma had remarkable senses. She knew the scent of piss well enough. She tended to elicit such a reaction quite regularly. She knew that smell, she knew the smell of beer, and she knew the smell of a trap. He had taken her in for a second, but know she knew him, for the actor and the fake that he was. She grabbed him by the arm, and threw him to the floor. Involuntarily she sprouted claws, and blood spilled with his beer as he fell. The can he held, ring popped, bounced to the floor beside him. He screamed.
"Hi," she repeated. "You're in the wrong section. Gardening's the right place for a plant."
He looked up at her, holding his arm where she had slashed it. His eyes were fearful but controlled. He was younger than she had thought. His eyes didn't trace her body, but held her own eyes. Beside the fear within them she was sure that she could see a hint of respect.
How very strange, she thought. It was a strange emotion, she knew. She didn't fully understand it.
"You think that they put me here?" he asked. "You're wrong. No-one knew that you were coming. I was here by accident, shopping. It's my nephews birthday in a few days, he wanted a Doctor Music figure, but they've all sold out. I guess they missed me in the evacuation, I'm just a cripple after all. I thought it best to hide."
"You can't hide," Emma sniffed. "And drop the act. Get up, seeing you wriggle there is unappealing."
"This beer stinks," he muttered. He turned his head, and then turned it back to her. He pushed his arms beneath him, and tried to raise himself. He failed. "There, you see? Useless. No legs at all. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to ask you to place me back in my chair."
"Hold on," Emma grunted, turning from him. She could sense that something was wrong. She didn't know what it was. "How come you're not scared of me?" she asked. "How come you're not puking at the smell or at the blood on my body?"
"Oh, it's a long story," he said, his voice airy. "Not one that I'd want to tell from the floor. Come on, if you want to kill me it'll be even more fun if I'm sitting, right?"
"I don't kill for fun," Emma muttered to herself. She considered her position. She didn't know what they were going to throw at her next. It had been quiet outside for far too long. She decided that a hostage might be useful... and that he'd be easier to push than to drag.
She reached down and wrapped her arms around him. He gave a strange shiver, which she took to be fear. "Don't wriggle," she commanded, "I'm having to concentrate here. If my body thinks you're a threat, you're dead."
He waited until she had returned him to his chair. "So it's true?" he asked, as she backed away from him, feeling somehow violated that she had actually helped him. Her blood didn't like it. Her anger was bubbling beneath her skin.
How long is it since I took my drug? she wondered, suddenly. Twenty-three days beneath the ground. Counting had been all that she had been willing to do. Maybe she had the total wrong. Maybe it had been a week, maybe a year. She had no idea. Either way, though, she should be dead now, without her drug. She should have lost control of her body completely, to the point that it might have just cut itself up, ground itself into fertiliser against the millstone of its pent-up rage. Why was she still alive?
"Is what true?" she asked, realising that seconds were passing. She shook her head.
"That you're not fully in control of your powers," he replied, his eyes shining with excitement.
"Christ," she spat, disgusted for some reason. he reminded her of a comics fan discussing the powers of his favourite heroine. He reminder her of... someone.
She blocked the thought from her mind. She felt blood upon her skin. She felt her rage bursting to join it, to twist her mutable body inside out, to let out the fire that burned at her core. "Who the fuck are you?" she asked, stalking forward. Her clawed feet clicked as she moved; she felt her forearms elongate into rapiers.
He tried to back away, but the tires of his chair appeared to be flat. "My name is Jon Gunn," he said, fear in his eyes now. "I used to work for..."
His voice was lost as an explosion tore the roof from above Emma's head, revealing the night sky beyond a cloud of smoke and flame. She could see no stars; the sky was masked by the glow of city lights upon smog. It appeared to be purple. She could see quite clearly. She could see the armoured figures as they began to descend upon her.
"Well, speak of the devil," Gunn muttered.
"Fuck," Emma growled, moving away from the chair-bound man. She was trying to scan her terrain and keep all of her enemies within her senses. She included Gunn. Her concentration spread from her, and she thought...
She thought she saw something, something familiar. Small, green. What the fuck was that?
But she had no time to look again. She had to fight. Her body was only too pleased. She felt herself blossom, a flower with razored petals, sprouting whipping vines of piano wire that bore scalpel fruit. She offered herself up to the armoured soldiers as a gift, as a promise. And they gave themselves to her eagerly.
The super-villain paced within his high-walled compound. The night sky was clear here, miles from the centre of Music City. Smoke plumed from his elaborate cigarette holder, summoning protean demons into the night air. It was cold but bracing. He did so like the darkness.
He heard deferent footsteps, and turned. He saw his aide, a large man with black skin and a bald head who looked so like but was so less useful than the man whose job he had taken. Good help is so hard to find, the super-villain mused.
"Yes?" he asked.
"It's done," the aide said, his voice fawning. "They've finished."
"Excellent," the super-villain nodded. Half-an-hour over schedule, but not too bad. He was glad that he wouldn't have to kill the women who had followed his instructions. They did so brighten the dull compound.
He led his aide toward an armoured building designed to look like a medieval castle plated with chrome. He loved that building. He loved his own sense of style. He walked carefully, avoiding patches of mud that might have stained his pure white suit trousers. As he walked he polished his ruby ring upon his snowy waistcoat.
Doors pulled back with hydraulic power as he approached. He didn't feel it necessary to wait for their access; he should have no reason to bow before a door within his own home. Any programmer that let a door touch their master's person had their lives to forfeit, after all.
The villain walked easily, acknowledging the nods and bows of his staff as he passed them by. He walked slowly, yet they were all careful not to let their desire to accomplish his orders incite them to overtake him. He was pleased with them all. Maybe an extra bonus this month, he mused. They do work so very hard.
He entered a large circular chamber, and smiled as the two armoured guards who flanked the door clicked their heels together in time. The sound of their weapons being rapidly shouldered sent small shivers through his body. He loved the workmanship of high-calibre firearms.
"Virus, how are we?" he asked. At the centre of the room, before a console that stood at the foot of a vast glass tank, two swivel chairs slowly rotated at the sound of his voice. Some cords wound between them, and the villain involuntarily held his breath as he watched them turn. He was convinced that one day the two twins would be come tangled to the point of rupture and he valued them greatly. They constantly surprised him.
A tiny fleck of ash fell from his cigarette as his breath was denied to it. The smudge fell to the breast of his jacket. He plucked it carefully from him with long slim fingers, and threw it to the floor with a disdainful sniff.
The girls were facing him, and he was relieved to see that none of their delicate connections had become fouled by the simple mechanisms of their seats.
"She is tired, sir," the flesh twin stated. "It is so soon since her last task."
"Yeah, I'm fucked," yawned the metal twin. "Christ but that was tough. Got it done though." Her shining lips pulled back from her chromium teeth in a tired grin of victory. The cold white light of the laboratory reflected from her skin, splitting into tiny rainbows of electronic colour as it did so. The villain made a mental note to order a polish for her; she enjoyed it, and she was so pretty when buffed.
Both girls were naked, not because of him but from their own choice. Their bodies were identical in shape, and perfect from the curves of their calves through the full roundness of their daintily crossed thighs, to the firm swell of their breasts and sinuous arch of their glorious necks. But one of the twins had been cast in rosy flesh, while the other had been born with ferrous form. Between them a cradle of loose wires and veins pulsed with their private communication.
"We apologise for our tardiness," sang the flesh Virus. "My sister's fatigue did affect us somewhat. But our preliminary problems were soon overcome."
"By which she means," grunted the metal Virus, "That we won, boss. They fought us, but you had 'em figured."
"Excellent," the villain praised, suddenly filled with a bleak joy that came to him too rarely these days. He lifted his eyes from the twins, and gazed into the murky depths of the towering cylindrical tank of liquid that sat behind their console. He could see vague blurred shapes there, drifting silently within whatever dreams the girls had permitted them.
"Excellent," he said again.
Emma surveyed the landscape of destroyed shelving, burned products, twisted armour and torn flesh that surrounded her. She was satisfied, she decided. Not very subtle, but sometimes excess was what was called for by a situation.
"Who were those fuckers?" she asked.
Jon Gunn had been tipped from his wheel-chair once more. He was huddled beneath some shattered display, baby clothes strewn across him. Harsh sobs issued from his shaking body.
Emma approached his quivering foetal form. She gave it a poke with a carefully re-formed foot. "Hey, Gunn, you know who those idiots were?"
He raised his tear-streaked face to her, and she saw a mixture of hatred and sorrow twisted into his features. He didn't shock her or scare her. She felt no pity for him.
"They were my friends, you bitch!" he screamed. He might have said more, but his language devolved into further choking tears.
"Oh," Emma said. She walked across to one of the ruined armour suits. A bloodied face stared out at her without seeing, shards of shattered visor embedded in its cheeks, its lips, its eyes. She ignored it, and reached for a badge affixed upon the destroyed helmet. "Pee, Arr, Oh," she read through the layer of soot and blood that coated it. "Oh, it's a PROSAC badge. I should've guessed. Was that what you were saying before they dropped by? You used to be a member of PROSAC?"
Maybe he nodded, or maybe his head moved because of his gasping for breath, Emma couldn't tell. But she decided to go with her hunch. She began to move back toward him, intending to take him with her when she escaped. Insider knowledge was always valuable in the game she played.
But then she saw it again. Green and small, a tiny humanoid figure. She thought she heard a giggle. They were fast, she knew; she launched herself at it, desperate to secure it, to unlock the secrets of her memory that the sight of it had stirred within her.
"Got you!" she cried in triumph, wrapping her hands with concentration around its slippery body. A stray spur now could decapitate the tiny creature before she had a chance to make it talk. "Now, what the fuck are you?"
But the creature didn't reply. It made no noise at all, despite its rude capture. It didn't even move. Slowly Emma began to realise that she was holding a tiny, half melted plastic figurine.
"Shit," she muttered, dropping it to the floor.
She stared. It still held a fascination for her. It reminded her so strongly of something, that small green goblin. She could hear their tiny footsteps in her mind, and grunts of pain so closely associated with that sound. Where had she seen them before?
She looked around, hoping that she might find the package that the toy had come in. She found a scorched sheet of cardboard, a molten bubble of plastic adhered to it. The writing was difficult to read beneath the damage, but she could make out some letters. '...us Factor' was written at the top of the card in large letters, while '...moGoblin' was written in smaller letters at the bottom. A large blue star had the words 'With working goblin harpoon and blood goo! (Blood goo sold separately)' written within it.
"Christ," she muttered. "What the fuck am I doing. I'm too old to play with toys."
Gunn hadn't moved. He appeared to have cried his grief through, and seemed to be almost unconscious. Emma searched for some clothes for a time, and managed to get a suitcase full of approximately fitting garments together. As an afterthought she thrust the goblin toy into a side pocket of her luggage. Then she hauled Gunn into his chair, and wedged him into it with the case.
She walked out of the HEL mart door into the night, the lights and the sirens.
"I'm leaving," she stated. "This cripple is joining me in stealing one of your unmarked cars. I won't insult him by using him as a hostage, since I don't need to. If you try to stop me, I'll kill you all."
"We can't let you do that, Haemorrhage," croaked an anonymous voice through a buzzing loud-hailer.
"You don't have a choice," she replied softly, and walked to a likely looking car.
She turned to a patrolman who was desperately trying to back away, and stared into his mirror shades. She thought for a second that she could feel the edges of his fear, sharp and sticky, filled with images of his suddenly obvious mortality, and of the family that he would leave behind - but then it was gone, and he was just another faceless figure of authority to her.
"Do you have the keys?" she asked in a level tone.
"N-no, miss," he stammered. He had shaved badly that morning; Emma could see a few stray hairs about his chin. She heard footsteps, and turned sharply.
"No further," she instructed to the rumple-coated detective who was advancing. He stopped, but held a set of keys up to her, jingling them slightly.
"Falk!" another cop barked. "This is my command and we are not letting her take that car!"
"Yes we are, sir," the rumpled detective replied, half turning as he spoke. Emma was become irritated by the searchlights that were trained upon her, but told herself that she could wait; if she broke them, she was sure to set some twitchy new recruit shooting, and her hostage would be the one to suffer. If he was ex-PROSAC then he would know about meta-beings, and might be able to solve the clue of the goblin figurine for her. With a little encouragement.
She let her forefinger extend, and positioned the rod before the face of the distant detective. "Keys," she ordered. He slipped the ring onto her elongated digit, which she tilted upwards. The keys jingled as they slid to her hand. A moments concentration and she was reformed.
A small paranoid voice was whispering at the back of her mind, that she shouldn't employ such showy tactics. She had no drug, and every use of her powers would bring her closer to a total lack of control and the body count that such an event would bring. But she pushed it away. She had more important things on her mind than the safety of the populous of Music City.
She tipped her captive onto the back seat of the car. Police men rustled around her like stalks of corn in a breeze, and a wave of their tension drifted into her. But she couldn't hold onto it, as much as she might have wanted to; she looked into her rear view mirror as she drove away and saw in her own eyes that those men were as much meat to her as the ones she'd left smeared across the HEL mart floor.
Emma booked herself into another Xeroxed motel, somewhere on the outskirts of Music City. These places looked so similar, she knew, that even if she were spotted here, by the time her discoverer had found a telephone box he would have forgotten where he was himself. Music City was an unpleasant place, but as least it was interesting. Its satellite towns were just dull and two-dimensional.
She left Jon Gunn tie to a chair and locked in her room, then went out to the nearby store. She bought food and snacks, and whiskey. She could have none of her drug until she managed to get her head together enough to plan a raid; but she was damned if that meant that she was going to stay sober. She caught a few strange looks as she paid with money stolen from Gunn's wallet, dressed as she was in her HEL-mart stolen clothing, some of it still a little charred and crisp around the edges. But no-one seemed to be too disturbed. Such people ignored such little mysteries every day of their lives. It was a talent that they had.
By the time she had walked back to her room, Gunn was awake.
"Where the hell am I?" He asked, groggily. He was wriggling against his bonds in such a way as to suggest that he had yet to realise that he was tied up. He looked frightened, but as she watched she saw his memory bleed back into his face, and his control begin to return. Anger too. His eyes were grey, and hard like flint.
"No idea," Emma replied, shrugging. She turned her back to him, and placed a pair of paper cups on top of the room's television. She lifted her whiskey from its paper sack, and began to worry its cap.
There was a mirror above the television, and Emma could see Gunn struggling in his seat behind her in its reflection. She took a step to the left to obscure his image with her own. She looked at herself as she poured the whiskey. The dirt and mess on her face spoke of a hard day, of weariness, but beneath that mask the pale ivory of her skin was faultless in its geometry. No bags beneath eyes, no wrinkles, no sagging skin to obscure the high planes of her cheek bones. Nothing could touch her, she knew; maybe not even time. Even high calibre weaponry merely chipped at her flesh, and the scars soon healed into flawlessness once again. She was permanently perfect.
But she was no longer beautiful. Her hair was too black, matt black, the colour of the ichor she used for blood. And her skin resisted any touch of vitality as strenuously as it did damage. She was a nothing in appearance, perfect but ordinary, pristine but soulless. People glancing twice at her did so from curiosity and fear rather than desire. Her body was curved and well proportioned, but her hips had no sassy wiggle, her breasts had no jaunty spring, for her body was like stone, as if she had been cast instead of born. Her body was a ghost, haunting itself, blaming itself for its own death. Emma hated the way that she looked.
She felt whiskey spill, and looked down to see that she had missed the cup completely. She saw some of the liquid dribble into the mesh at the back of the set. She made a mental note not to switch the appliance on until it had had time to dry.
She poured a stiff shot into each cup, and turned. She walked to the bed, sat daintily upon it, and turned Gunn to her by hooking her ankle around the leg of the chair to which he was bound.
She held his cup to his lips, and poured a small amount into it. He breathed sharply, and tried to swallow without choking. By his second sip he seemed to have got the idea.
Emma helped Gunn finish his drink, then started on her own.
"So," she said, savouring the cheap and cheerful acid burn of the liquid. "You were a member of the Powered Response Organisation for the Security of American Citizens, and you got a little upset when I killed some people you knew when they attacked me."
"That's right," he nodded, apparently in control despite his position.
"Well, good," Emma nodded. She realised that she didn't really want him around. She had to find out what had happened to her, to the rest of... her friends. But she wanted so badly to be alone. Talking was difficult. She swigged at her whiskey, draining the cup. She stood, and walked to the television to pour two more shots. She avoided her reflection.
"Why didn't you kill me too? And where's my wheel chair?" Gunn asked.
"Didn't have a reason to, and it got blown up by one of you trigger happy ex-friends. Just be glad you weren't in it."
She returned to the bed, and held his whiskey to his lips. He spluttered.
"Look, if you want me to drink just untie me, okay? I can't run away, I can't crawl very fast, and I doubt you've much to fear from me assaulting you."
Emma considered that. She wondered why she had tied him up, but she knew, really. She was almost used to being invincible. Sometimes her subconscious liked to pretend that she was the old Emma Rage, the one who's name had been an ironic joke to her friends rather than a job description. Sometimes that side of her made her careful, made her play games, made her want to act like a human being. Fear was part of that. Even though the man was helpless she was afraid of him.
But she didn't want to have to explain, and she didn't want to have to feed the man. He'd need to go to the bathroom as well, soon. She hoped that he could manage that by himself.
She reached out and gently stroked the knots that held him, one by one, with her forefinger. Her razored skin made light work of the torn sheets, and soon he was free.
"Thanks," he grunted, knocking back his whiskey. "You want to bring the bottle over here?"
"Sure," she nodded, and did so. He refilled his cup, and begin to drink at a steady pace.
"So, what do you need me for?" he asked at last.
"You're ex-PROSAC," she began.
"Can't use the letter X, contractual.. oh, you mean I used to be with PROSAC. Sure, until, well. I had an accident."
"What happened?" Emma was surprised to hear sympathy in her own voice. It had been a while, she mused.
"I've been trained in hostage situation tactics," he stated bluntly. "No use trying to win me round. There's no way I'm ever going to trust you, or help you."
"That's a bit premature isn't it?" Emma asked, trying to frown. Mostly her face muscles worked, to a point, but if she was feeling emotional then she had to consciously reform the protean flesh of her face in order to hold an expression. It was an effort, but she found it more of an effort to allow herself to act inhumanly.
"I know about you," he shrugged. He poured more whiskey into his still half-full cup. "Sort of a hobby of mine. Where've you been?"
"You're good," she said, conjuring a small smile. "You'll not tell me anything but you'll listen to anything I tell you, right? Might have plenty to tell the old boss after I let you go. Might get your old job back."
"Not much chance of that," Gunn shrugged. His face had yet to move, since his initial frustration upon waking. "Needed legs, really."
"You got powers?" Emma asked, curious. She didn't fear that aspect of him, reasoning that she'd have a fifty-fifty chance against Doctor Music, let alone a drunk cripple. "Other than in the drinking of paint-stripper whiskey, I mean."
"I can drink, but that's about it, now." he shrugged, his face still pragmatic.
"Well, you'd not tell me anyway," Emma said. She sipped at her whiskey for a time. "How long was I missing?" she asked.
"Missing? No one spotted you for about two weeks. Average sighting time for Rhesus factor is every other day, you tend to stand out in a crowd, so it might be fairly accurate. What's up?"
Emma felt a hammer pound at her blackened heart. Rhesus Factor. She remembered that name. Her and three men, no, two men and a thing. No, one man and two things. And the man wasn't up to much. Christ, what had happened to her memory?
Then she saw something, deep within her mind. Blurred by her days beneath the ground, counting, waiting to forget... but it was still there. A dirty web, a spiders web. Three silhouetted forms hanging from it, strung up in a room, a pale grubby banal motel room like the one she was sitting in. No place to die. Had they died? By the mandibles of some huge spider? Emma herself was nowhere to be seen in that memory. No giant spider, no white widow. What had happened?
And why had she forgotten? Why had she tried so hard to forget?
"You okay?" Gunn asked, but his tone was cold. He was asking in a manner that suggested that if she wasn't okay it was all fine and dandy by him, and he'd be making a crawl for the door now, thank you very much.
"Yeah," she sighed. "Hey, you don't want to answer my questions, but how about this." She slid the case she had stolen from the HEL mart from beneath the bed, and rummaged in it until her cold plastic textured fingers met likewise. She pulled the little green doll forth and held it up. "What's this?"
"Is this some freaky test?" Gunn asked. "That's a part-melted HaemoGoblin doll. Thought you were big time. All that trouble for a plastic do-dah? My niece has you, a Haemorrhage doll, but she hates you. I tried to tell her you're mis-represented, but her Doctor Music always wins when she plays."
Emma could barely hear. HaemoGoblin, of course, a relative of, of, that other guy, and her old lover. They were brothers. Two of her old lovers had been brothers. One had died. Jesus, that was bad. The other one?
"How," she began, but her voice failed her. Gunn was still rambling, holding the Goblin doll and ranting about Emma's evil. Could he be so drunk already? "How long have they all been missing?" she asked, breaking his flow.
He swigged at his drink. Emma noticed that the bottle was already half empty. He poured himself some more. "Same as you," he stated. Then his eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "You mean you don't know where they are?"
"Do you?" she asked, jumping forward and grabbing the front of his filthy shirt. Her fingers tore into the fabric, as she felt skin part as she dug deeper. Gunn began to thrash at her, hitting out with his palms. She saw the hand that held his cup beat upon her left breast; the cloth of her borrowed sweater tore instantly, and blood splashed with whiskey from the ruined paper cup.
Gunn screamed. Emma jumped backwards, clutching her hands to her chest. She was breathing heavily. Her entire body was bristling with tiny razored fins, she could feel. It hadn't done this before. Her panic attacks usually provoked longer, offensive spikes, not this defensive arrangement. She felt the air of the room upon her body as her cloths began to tear against her skin with her movement.
"Christ!" Gunn was shouting, holding his hand. Blood oozed from it, across his fist, and dripped to his lap. He face was contorted with pain. "How sharp are you?"
"I'm..." she began, but thought better of it. She hadn't said the word for so long. The thought of apologising to the stubborn man made her angry. He had groped at her, after all. He was lucky not to have lost his hand altogether.
She walked at a steady pace into the tiny bathroom, and pulled a rudimentary first aid kit from the cabinet there. She was lucky that it hadn't been stolen. Jasen always stole the things, claiming that he was so much more at risk than the rest of them.
She walked back into the bedroom, and threw the kit at Gunn. Only then did she realise that she had remembered another name. Jasen, Plasma! Human by appearance, tended to glow when excited, shot pathetic beams of light that felt sort of warm and itchy when they hit you. Christ. One more to go.
"Great, you're a proper Florence Nightingale," Gunn muttered, wrestling with antiseptic.
"Hey, I'm clean!" she shouted. "I don't carry diseases or anything!"
"Can't be too careful" he grunted. He looked up briefly. "Christ, change those clothes before they fall off you, would you? Better still, find yourself something in kevlar."
He pulled a bandage from the kit and began to manipulate it. He was having some difficulty moving his damaged hand, but he persevered. The bandage was soaked through and scarlet by the time he had applied it, but he wrapped a few extra layers round. He seemed to be happy enough with his handiwork.
He picked up Emma's cup and finished her whiskey.
"Go get changed," he instructed, his voice tired.
She picked up her case, and walked to the bathroom.
She removed the strips that remained of her previous outfit and began to examine her skin. The ridges looked much like fish gills, but covered every inch of her body in sweeping spiral form. Like parallel train tracks, the spurs were wrapped around her arms and thighs, about her belly, winding up to form spirals that closed around her neck and at each of her nipples. As she watched, the gills opened at closed in turn, giving the illusion of progressive pulses of movement traversing her body.
And, of course, the gills were razor sharp.
"I really need that drug," she murmured to herself. But she didn't know where she could get any. She usually replied on Goblin and Plasma to track a source down for her. It was a rare medical chemical, with no street value and no use outside of maybe half-a-dozen extremely rare ailments.
But Salmanazar made more. More than anyone might need. He no doubt had his reasons, and Emma believed that they had something to do with her, or at least the blood that flowed within her... But she didn't care for his reasons. If she could find his laboratory, she could be whole once more. It was worth any risk.
She dressed hastily, concentrating as she did so, to calm herself, to smooth her errant skin. She chose loose blue jeans, a thick checked wool shirt and a brown leather waist coat.
"Hey, Gunn," she grunted as she re-entered the bedroom. Gunn had his wounded hand above his head. He was spilling whiskey from the bottle into his mouth with the other.
"What? Yeah, you look great," he muttered, barely glancing at her.
"Oh shut up. Does Salmanazar have any research holdings round here?"
"What?" Gunn grunted, sitting bolt upright. He winced as his rapid movement jerked his damaged hand. "How do you know about Salmanazar?"
"We've tangled with him," Emma shrugged. She moved to the bed once more, trying to move stealthily, trying to project the fluid menace of a panther.
"Then you should be dead," he grunted. "You don't want to get mixed up in that, trust me."
"Oh yeah? And what do you care?" she hissed, leaning toward him. "You tell me where Salmanazar had his plant, I'll go off there, get myself killed, and bang, you've avenged your friends."
Gunn looked into her eyes. His were grey, but warmer now, like the sky on a cloudy but bright day. But he looked sad, as well. Rain was forecast.
"I won't tell you," he said at last, and sighed as he sat back into his chair, eyes ignoring her.
"Oh for fuck's sake," she grunted, and began to pace. "I'll bet you can resist any torture too, can't you?"
"Not any torture," he said quietly. "But most. I always excelled at resisting torture by blade, by the way. And I've been worked over by some real experts."
"Pah. You've been worked by expert hands, but you've experienced nothing until you've been worked on by the knife itself."
His eyebrows rose at this, and she thought she saw a slight smile play across his lips. He turned back to her.
"I'm sorry that you had to kill my friends," he said. "But they would have captured you if you hadn't, and I'm afraid that the words 'fair trial' mean very little in your case."
"I'm not after your understanding," she spat, for some reason more enraged by his last statement than anything else that day. "I just want what's in your PROSAC-trained head."
"Well, you're not getting that. I assume I have to sleep in this chair?"
Emma felt her anger drain once more. It was getting so hard to sustain any kind of emotion. She felt empty. She wanted a shot of her drug, and to drift into a blood-tinged sleep. "Shit," she said, feeling tired. "You take the bed, I'll just slash it up if I use it. I'll take the floor. Can't feel much anyway."
He looked at her for a second or two, then began to laboriously haul himself onto the mattress beside his chair. Emma noticed that he had very little strength in his legs at all, and was barely able to use them as a prop as he moved. She was tempted to try to help him, but reasoned that he'd probably lost enough blood for one day.
"Thanks," he said, as he lay gasping atop the bed. She had thrown the covers onto the floor as she had bound him with one of the sheets, so she pulled one of the two blankets over his body, saving the second for herself.
"I locked the door, and I have the key," she stated. "Also, you could hit me with a TV or something, but you'd just piss me off. You can't tie me up because I can cut through anything. You'd have trouble getting even a syringe into me, if you had one. I suggest you get so sleep, I'll torture you in the morning."
"Great," Gunn grunted dozily. "I'll look forward to it. Jesus, I hope his blood clots."
Aha! Emma thought to herself. And that completes the set.
Emma dreamed of a giant web formed from sugar icing, within which her companions were caught, positioned like decorations upon a cake. The web was stiff and brittle, but they were too weak to break free. At the centre of the web sat a huge bloated black spider, all glaring red eyes and scuttling hairy legs, with fur like black flame. It hadn't eaten them yet. Maybe there was still time. Maybe, if Emma could only find herself within her dream, she would have time to save them.
Then she recognised herself. In her dream, she learned the answer. But by the time the bright morning light woke her, she had forgotten that secret once more.
The villain stood within his media chamber, smoking dreamily, idly watching his many screens. He couldn't take them all in of course, and standing before them for too long gave him a terrible headache. But he had always had a soft spot for the trappings of villainhood. He didn't like to disappoint the staff.
His aide burst in, sweat both visible and detectable to the villains sense of smell.
"This better be good," he rasped.
"Channel fifty seven, sir," the aide chattered. "They found her, sir. They found her."
"Fifty seven!" the villain barked. His video wall merged into one to show a single giant image of a burning HEL mart. Well, thought the villain, no publicity is bad publicity.
"...thought to be one of the rogue team of meta villains named by the media as Rhesus Factor. Eye witness accounts suggest that Haemorrhage was merely shopping for Twinkies when police and PROSAC forces converged upon her, resulting in twenty five dead and twice that number seriously injured. A surprise comment from Senator Kelly was recorded earlier today...
"... expect this kind of performance from the police force, but that PROSAC members could assault a triple-A rated super menace without first securing the area to prevent loss of civilian life is despicable. I will be calling for a review of PROSAC methodology, and praying for the victims of tonight's blood-bath, along with the friends and family. Thankyou."
"Why exactly do I continue to pay that man?" the villain asked.
"Er..." replied his aide.
"It was a rhetorical question," the villain sighed, making a mental note to avoid sending useful personal on suicide missions in future. "But this is good news. Our daughter has returned to us. And she must be feeling a little dry by now, wouldn't you think?"
The villain began to walk, ignoring the scurrying movements of his aide. Doors parted before him as if he were Moses facing the sea. He liked the hiss they made. He had used up quite a number of engineers in trying to get it just right.
He walked into the central chamber of his fortress, admiring as always the sheer ostentaciousness of his owning a twenty foot tall glass tube. Virus turned as they heard his entrance, and looked to him. He held his breath as their connections tangled then... untangled, cleanly. This time. He would really have to do something about that.
"Girls, I would like you to transmit our broadcast on all commercial radio stations at fifteen minute intervals, tomorrow morning. And alert Agent 306. I do think that we might have something, this time."
Virus turned back to their console, and began to tinker. The villain sighed, overcome for a second by his own dashing power. It was so luxurious. And it had all been going so very well, recently. He walked forward and looped an arm around the shoulders of each virus body, cupping a warm human breast in his right hand and a smooth, cold metallic breast in his left. He could never decide which he preferred.
"Yes," he said. "Call in 306. Call in Scandal."
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