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Haemorrhage : The Mini Series
Issue 3 : Heart and Soul.
We're getting out of here, she had said.
The phrase occupied her thoughts as they ran. Throughout the minutes of panic, noise and frenzy, Emma Rage put her body on auto-pilot as her mind wrestled with her statement. Even though her psychic power was almost returned, and she could feel the deaths around her as PROSAC troopers became shrapnel of torn armour; even though she could hear the once human screams of the molten flesh in her heart; even though flashes of once loved families became reduced to ash in her mind; she couldn't help but try and decipher her puzzle. The creature that was cutting through the soldiers was cutting its way to her. The wheezing body that she carried was becoming heavier, she had no drug to pep her up, her body was still smeared with soot and her bones were still unsteady from the beating she had suffered earlier. Her life was, for the first time since the last time, in very great danger of being lost.
But still, she could think of nothing else. We're getting out of here.
How long had it been since she had cared? She didn't know. Her self-enforced forgetfulness had robbed her of most of her memories of her previous friends, so she didn't know if she had cared for them. But they were gone, and the lack of pain that fact brought her suggested that maybe she hadn't cared very much for them. Once, maybe. Once, long ago. Not recently.
(A flash in her mind as a suit of armour burst into flame, burning like a firework, red, green and gold. The man within the suit thrashed in agony, and seemed to her peripheral attention to be writing his name in the air, as if his blazing hands were sparklers. His final signature was a failure, if that had been his intent. The glare of him caught on her retina as a purple blur, and her mind saw it as a great black spider clenched and stinking at the centre of a web of human bone. Her team-mates pinned to that construction. Her mind closing in upon itself. Blue liquid dripping from a shattered syringe, from a pair of horror-comic mandibles. Had she cared, there at the last? Her mind shied from the memory.)
Still, we're getting out of here. A man's long broken body in her arms, far too light despite the bulk of his depressed gut. Walls reduced to kindling behind her, and thank God those motel walls were so thin. Doors kicked from their frames. She had run right through the place in her panic. Bullets around her, whining like insects in the air. Rockets and lasers and sonics, their wielders unsure as to who was the target. Scandal behind her, drawing fire, fulfilling her hard-wired purpose, to be the end of Man.
Emma Rage cared. She wanted, at least for now, to live. And despite the aura of misery and defeat that surrounded her burden, she wanted to save him as well. He had said some things back in the motel, some mad things about love and despair that had made the two emotions seem as one to her. Stupid words, certainly, but heartfelt and touching in their stupidity. Despite the carnage, despite the smoke and flames and action-movie score of ricochet and explosion, things seemed clearer now.
And so, fuelled by her confusion and her need to know, Emma ran the gauntlet of dying men and bursting machines, outstripping the destruction-slowed pace of her nemesis, to flee into the Music City night.
For his part, Jon Gunn wondered simply; why women? His question was fuelled by fatigue and drugs and drink. His fatigue and drugs and drink were fuelled by his depression, a case that was the product of two broken limbs and one broken home. He missed his wife, sometimes. When he did, he turned to his hacking, and read the latest Haemorrhage stories as they were passed around the network of his previous employers. When his depression got too much he threw his drugs to one side, they never worked, and turned to PROSAC. He would download her picture, print it out, pin it to his wall, and wish he could masturbate. He would drift into dreams haunted by self pity and imagine the answer to his biggest question: why women?
Emma Rage had become an icon to him. She seemed to sum up all his feelings of frustration, of defeat. Of impotence. He had been castrated by a super-hero. Women were effectively nothing to him now. He actually got on better with them, but his interest in them was zero. He had a few male friends to swap tales of pain with, but they didn't interest him much either. He wanted to be with Emma. He fantasised of being held in her arms, and slowly penetrated by the razor spines that she couldn't help but form in response to his desire. She wasn't a woman any more, she had none of their much-vaunted sensitivity. She didn't kill in a stereotypical black widow mode either; that spider cared for her male, needed him for procreation, and only felt her lack of desire for him after the act, at which point she would act upon the contempt that had driven the entire seduction. Emma was purer; she cared for nothing, least of all man. Least of all him. It was the only thought that could still turn him on.
Now, carried in her arms, he had his wish. But he wanted to postpone that final inevitable moment. He was too tired to appreciate it. It would do no good for him to die in his sleep. He wanted to savour every exquisite inch of her scalpel-sharp agony.
But she didn't seem too predisposed to his immediate slaughter, being busy with jumping explosions, dodging bullets and shielding him from shrapnel with her inhuman flesh. He could feel her hard body against his soft facsimile, and it was as if he had been half cemented into a wall to take the place of a brick. She was so damn hard around him, he could scarcely breathe. He could feel her breasts against his shoulder, undeformed by their pressure against him, and he was certain that her nipples were drawing blood from him. He glanced back, their path a hallucination of spinning light filtered through MTV stroboscopic smoke behind. He was dizzy with the whole of it; the danger, the blood, the screams of the dying, and the promise of his future demise. And he was sick with excitement at the sight of their persuer.
He knew of her of course. He had been a member of PROSAC. Scandal was thought to be the favoured killing machine of a villain they knew as Salmanazar. She was an augmented meta human, who had probably displayed above baseline characteristics before her circuitry had been installed. No-one seemed to know or was prepared to guess at her origins. She had no secret identity, no discernible human existence, and seemed to serve no purpose other than to delete any living organism that threatened to embarrass her controller. Jon Gunn had heard of Scandal. But he had never realised how perfect she was.
She mirrored Emma in her efficiency, her potential for destruction, and the cold ruthlessness that she displayed as she processed her routines. Her accuracy was frightening, and her capacity to aim defied all rational physics. She picked troopers off through their visors while facing in the opposite direction, her body being aligned in the wrong position for stability let alone aim. Her hands were guns, and spat death in a manner that reminded Gunn of his own reflection as it brushed his teeth or burst a random spot. She was casual to the point of carelessness, yet she never missed. And the return fire flowed around her as the current might about a silvered salmon. She was a true picture of graceful beauty.
Gunn didn't know who to love the most.
And so his question returned to him. Why women? He had no genitalia and hadn't much liked women when he had borne a penis. His life was pointless in extremis, a burden to all around him and to him especially. But he couldn't imagine his death at any other hands but those of a woman. Emma Rage was a woman. Scandal had been built from female flesh. Why? Gunn's mind repeated the question incessantly as his bearer fled into the night, hauling him to safety and, he hoped, his ultimate absolution. Why women?
The question still echoed loud in his head as he fell back into unconsciousness. He dreamed of dying. In that dream, he saw his ragged flesh hung from bloodied nails tipping slender white fingers, and in that dream he knew. Those blood red lips held all the answers. There was no other way to die.
The villain watched, the monitor before him blinking realistically. He might almost have believed that the eyes through which he surveyed the combat were human, had he not drawn up their bearer's blueprints himself. He always enjoyed watching an artist in action; had her hands not been replaced by weaponry, his Scandal would have finger-painted with blood he was sure.
He turned to his aide. "How is Virus progressing?" he asked. He held his cigarette holder out, pristine tobacco cylinder tipping the hand-carved ebony rod. His aide flicked a lighter of pure silver, and held the resulting flame to the tip of the hand rolled smoke. The villain drew in his breath, and sighed within his heart.
"I've heard nothing, sir," the aide replied. "They seem to be busy. I would hate to interrupt them."
"Yes, you're right," the villain agreed, feeling benevolent as the smoke percolated about his lungs. He could feel his enhancements filtering the damaging tar from his system; the sensation was pleasantly ticklish. "And I am sure that they will succeed. After all, it isn't the first time that my beauties have hacked into PROSAC computers. Soon, in the eyes of the authorities, Emma Rage will never have existed at all.
"How was that?"
"Superb exposition, sir," the aide gushed. "Truly evil. I felt my soul shiver to your words."
"Well, maybe nothing so grand. But it did feel good. Thank you, you are dismissed."
The villain turned back to his monitor, and began to smoke in smug silence.
Emma placed Gunn gently upon the sidewalk. She was deep within Music City now, and though she knew the place well she recognised nothing. She felt no fear at her lack of knowledge, instead taking hope from her positionless state. Maybe she would not be found, if she had no idea where she was.
She had never backed away from a fight before. Not since her mutation at least.
Rain had started to fall through the late morning sky, and clouds gathered above. She couldn't feel the water but she could see it, gentle sheets traced in the air. Her skin was too cold and brittle to sense such a fine display.
She looked down at herself. Her clothes were very torn and not at all concealing. She could see that her skin was drier than ever, and that the areas of powdered damage that she had sustained under the PROSAC assault weren't healing. Her body stung, and this amused her, for she had become used to a life without pain. Not brittle at all, she thought. I'm getting soft. She had always assumed that she would shatter into death, but now it seemed that she might melt, or simply fatigue into dust and join the rain upon the wind. The thought seemed promising to her, and inspired a small bark of laughter.
Gunn moaned, as if he had heard her.
She looked around, seeking a place of safety. The buildings were low in this sector of the city, not yet aspiring to the skyscraper class that huddled to her North. Homes, mostly, some shops. Nothing spectacular. She assumed that the people who lived here were poor.
She spotted a boarded up store front. The weathered sign above the peeled door told her that the unit had once held music for sale. She bent to pick her companion from the growing puddle in which he lay, and made for that empty sanctuary. The boards showed little willing to resist her, even in her weakened state.
Inside a musty smell filled her nostrils. The store was damp and unappealing, its scent of moss and the things that crawled beneath rocks. The light was dim, issuing mostly from the gaps between boards across the storefront windows. She tried a switch, but the electrics were dead. The ambience suited her, she decided. She gave some of her time to inspecting the tattered posters that still clung to the walls. She could think of nothing better to do. She didn't recognise many of the artists. She wondered if that was because she lived so far from the pulse of humanity, or simply because the store had condemned itself by stocking obscurities. She didn't much care.
Gunn groaned once more, and she went to him. She moved clumsily now, her joints misbehaving in a manner that she didn't recognise. She wondered how much time she had to live; how long it would take Scandal to find her. It seemed strange that she was in danger of dying without a fight. She wondered if there was a warriors rest beyond death. She wondered if she would qualify. Maybe that was her home. Maybe she would find out, soon.
Gunn moaned, and awoke. She watched as his lids peeled back from his eyes, which stared through her without focus. She wondered what he saw. Some decaying angel of death come to take him? She could feel his emotions quite strongly now, and knew that whatever he saw brought him comfort rather than pain. That she could have such an effect felt strange to her, and good.
"Hi," he grunted. "Did we make it?"
"For now," she replied. "How's the hangover?"
"I'd swear that I was dying. There must be less blood in my body now, right? No legs, less blood? Does that mean that my system'd clear quicker, or that I'd just get more fucked up in the first place?"
"Looks like the latter," she mused as she helped him prop himself into a sitting position. She found that she no longer had need to hold her body in check as she touched him; her flesh was too tired and despairing, it seemed, to attempt his death without her consent.
"How long do you think we've got?" he asked.
"No idea," she shrugged, involuntarily turning to the door as if expecting to see the silhouette of her executioner stood there, dripping rain and malice. But the doorway was empty of life.
"Long term goal?" he asked, with half a chuckle.
"We need to get you to a hospital."
"Suicide," he declared, coughing. "For the both of us. If you left me there, PROSAC would get me, so there's no point. If you stayed, Scandal would get us both. So there's no point."
"Yeah," she agreed. He didn't seem to need sympathy. She could sense that he was almost enjoying his sense of decay. His system was crashing around him, and he liked it. His feelings were bleak, but sharply defined and very profound. She found herself not only caring for him, but admiring him as well. It was a wonder to her that she could change so much in a single day. A single day and a handful of nights in a self-dug grave, she reminded herself. And who knew what had changed her before that?
"So you killed yourself to help me," she stated.
"Sort of," he muttered. She felt a stab of secrecy in his manner. A pinprick of weary embarrassment. "It's a bit more profound than that. I hope."
"Well," she said. She had to stand, to leave his emotional presence slightly. He was very piquant. She wondered if human feelings matured in proportion to their proximity to death. She wondered if life was clear to him now; its corners and curves and hidden portions shining to his dying eyes.
"So, what can we do?" he asked. "If I die, I'd like to be of some use. I could get into the PROSAC mainframe, if you wanted, if we had a viable terminal. I've the codes in my head."
"Yeah? Might be worth a shot. I'm not sure if I want to live myself. But maybe it would be better to choose for myself, which means I'd have to rid the world of Scandal. Shit, I don't know."
"You've two choices," Gunn declared, his voice clear and sober. "You can wait to die, or you can try to live."
"If I died..." Emma began. Images haunted her head. A web of bone, decorated with the corpses of dead friends. "If I died I'd never know what happened. I don't know if I want to know."
Gunn was silent. Emma looked down, to see if he was unconscious again, but he was simply watching her. He could feel emotion emanating from him, but it wasn't easily classifiable. He felt profound, even as he understood that they were locked into private psycho-dramas that had no bearing on the outside world. He understood their unimportance, but also their individual right to care about their fate, no matter how selfish that caring might seem. He had seen death before, and he no longer feared it. He did not fear her, either. He wanted something for her, or from her, but she couldn't tell what. She could feel his warmth, his life, as it bled from him. He felt that he deserved a monument.
"It's a strange world, where we decide how we die," she said.
"I always was going to kill myself," Gunn stated. It was as if he was talking to the world rather than her. As if he wanted it to understand him, just once, before he left it. "For a long time I tried to build up the courage. It seemed to me that I had lost everything, with my legs. So I was alive, so what? I'd spent my whole life aiming for things - my job, my wife, my family - only to be reduced to such a state that they were denied to me. So what was the point? To start again? There was nothing else I wanted. But I couldn't just die. I wanted to write a book, maybe, or form a band," - he cast his arms about to indicate the ruined store - "To scream from the rooftops that I was dying for a reason, so people would know. I wanted my ex-wife to feel for my death, to understand her part in it, and my kids too, sure, when they were old enough - and I wanted strangers to reflect upon my death, to think about what I might have meant to them. I fought for them, you know? Powered Response Organisation for the Security of American Cunts. It was just a job to me, but it still meant something. I had an effect. I didn't want to stop having an effect."
Gunn fell silent.
"So, why didn't you?" Emma prompted.
"Maybe I did," he mused. "Maybe I will. Maybe this is it. It's my choice, my time, my method. Right?"
"Sure," Emma agreed after a pause. She sensed that he was concealing something from her. She could feel a terrible yearning in him, which extended from his broken frame toward her like licking flames of desire. He worried her. But she could sense the selfishness of his want, and felt that she was safe behind that mask.
"So let's go get that drug," he proposed.
"Sure," she repeated. "Yeah, sure. I'll keep my options open. And, fuck it, I am dying for a hit."
"We need a P.C." Gunn informed her.
"One in twenty homes in this state. But there's one in every office."
"Cool. Let's go slaughter some nine-to-fivers."
Emma had always wanted to tear through an office. She'd temp-ed in an office, once; as a seventeen year old girl who hadn't realised that other people didn't know what she was feeling in the same way that she could see into them. It had been hell. The despair had been palpable, and made so much worse by their pathetic dedication to the office games and rituals that had been designed to stop them seeing the truths behind their jobs. It had sickened her, and she had left. She'd become a super-heroine shortly after, and the transition had seemed like a dream to her; like a teenager plucked from a burger bar to star in Hollywood porn. The big time had beckoned. She had followed that wink with a willingness that made her memory wince bloody tears of shame.
As she strode to the reception of a nearby anonymous office block, crippled Gunn in her hands, she thought about what he had said. She wondered how many of the people within the tower above her thought that their death might mean something. She wondered how many would die beneath the wheels of cars, or slowly choke upon industrial fumes until their bodies gave in, or suck on cigarettes until their baby cancers could achieve a fatal life of their own. Eyes blurred by T.V. radiation, guts withering beneath their junk food diet, deaths inspired by the lack of stimulation within their lives.
Gunn had been proud of his work, but terrified of it. She knew that he had been an alcoholic before he had lost his legs; his thoughts had leaked that much. He hated himself with a passion, and had done so for a long time. Now he saw himself as an emotional grenade, and seemed determined to explode at the centre of the greatest population density possible. She hoped that he would get his wish. If push came to shove, in order to spite these people who watched meta humans on television, in the cinema, read their comics and believed the lies they told, Emma would gladly pull Gunn's pin. Gunn had tried to fight human aspiration made flesh every day of his life, and it had broken him. His dedication to banal normality appealed to her. She hoped that when he died, he would die well.
And she hoped that she too could die a human death.
She didn't have to fight to gain her companion a seat at a monitor. They both looked like the spawn of the wars that Americans only saw on television. As Gunn worked the keyboard Emma waited for some of the workers around to offer them a coffee, some small charity, inspired by a thousand brain-washing telethons; but it seemed that their claim was a lie - they refused to give at the office.
"I'm in," Gunn crowed. He seemed revitalised by their progress, and she could sense his thrill at fighting the authority he had once sworn himself to. She had no idea as to what he was doing, but she was impressed by his skills. "I've a near-eidetic memory," he explained as he worked, his fingers a blur. "I don't forget much. Computers are just simple systems, they do the same thing over and over. Seen it once, seen it a thousand times. And if I see it once," - he tapped at his forehead in triumph - "Then I've got it. Simple as that."
He hit the off switch of the machine.
"You finished?" she asked in surprise.
"Yeah. Did you catch the location? Those codes?"
"No," she replied, worried. "Was I supposed to?"
"No, no, I was hoping you wouldn't." He coughed, explosions of air wracking from his lungs for a long minute. She saw him lick his lips; saw blood on his tongue.
"What have you done?" she asked.
"Hah. While you were unconscious, the motel. Took the rest of my drugs. Overdose. I swallowed them in a little baggy, so they'll take a while to kick in. Have to digest. Should have a couple more hours."
"What? You're insane. You didn't kill yourself to help me at all. You just... killed yourself."
"Always worked best to a deadline. You know how long I've been depressed? First day on the job. Villain calling himself Cutthroat, a lot like you but without the style. Saw my first dead man. He'd been torn apart. I got a good look at what a man's really made of. You know what I saw? No truth, no belief, no faith, no nobility. I saw offal spilled from a chest that had been opened from the groin to just below a grimace of absolute, desperate pain. I saw nothing. Emptiness. And every time I looked at my son I saw the potential for exactly the same. I've been waiting for this for such a long time."
She was sick at herself for believing in him earlier. One day of feeling and already she didn't know what to feel, what to think, and who to trust. She remembered this from her childhood; the impossibility of living when aware of the constant betrayal around her. Maybe she did prefer to be Haemorrhage, to be cold. Maybe she did prefer not to feel.
"Give me the location, give me the codes," Emma growled. His words were acting as a key to the code of his complex emotions. She had failed to see it earlier because it was something far from her current experience. He hated so much. His hate was directed to his heart, but he had closed that organ, sealed it with an indestructible resolution, and the hate bounced from it and coated the world, smeared itself across everything in its sight. She knew nothing of that world of hate and pain.
And yet... and yet she did. Memories began to batter at her mind. She was struck with a sudden terror. She reached for the man, grabbing his tattered shirt with blood-hungry talons. He didn't scream this time. He seemed to relish her touch as it bit into the stuff of him.
"Give them to me!"
"No," he said. "You want the drug, you take me with you. And quickly. I've not much time left."
"Fuck!" Emma screamed, and hurled him away from her. She had positioned him upon a wheeled chair and it rattled beneath him as he flew across the polished floor. He hit a work desk, and stopped. She saw blood fly from his mouth.
She heard noises from the street beneath. Sirens. The sound of the Powered Response Organisation. She heard something else as well, her hearing as sharp beneath her anger as her fingers. But she didn't have time to worry.
She could feel the uncoiling emotions spill from Jon Gunn. She tried to deny her recognition of them, but couldn't. She knew his family, in an instant. She saw the bickering, the cold silences, the reproach. She could feel his will decaying, his resolve faltering within that enclosed space. His drinking had started in memory of a blood soaked man whose face he had seen for the first time only that morning. That man's blood had soaked his hands, his clothes. He hadn't realised how much of the stuff a human body should hold. Too much blood for there to be room for anything else of value.
Emma saw him, then, stooped over her. She was unconscious, splayed across the armoured car, rubble from a liquor store boucing beside her, dust in her hair. Her clothes were torn. He had taken his bottle of pills, leant across from his hatch to where her body slumped. He popped his pills, one by one, staring at her. He placed a pill upon her cleavage, and sucked it up. He placed a pill upon her unfeeling lips, and kissed himself further to death. People stared at him as he worked. He had let PROSAC catch up with them.
He didn't stop until the bottle was empty.
And she began to remember.
She had felt, even unconscious, his sense of victory as he had overdosed. And that emotion fitted into the hollow jigsaw of her memory... perfectly. Suddenly the picture was complete. She had felt that very same feeling. She had overdosed, once, and had been content to do so.
The office faded about her, and she fell into an ugly past.
"Shit," Plasma had said. He was stood beside the Rhesus Factor truck, counting their money. Goblin sat behind Emma within the vehicle, groaning quietly. A random police encounter had left his body fragmented; it had taken her a nearly an hour to catch the last of the fleeing goblins. He was in no state for further action, and needed protein and sleep.
"Bad news," she stated.
Clot was in the bed of the truck. He hadn't moved for a long time. Emma didn't understand the creature well enough to know if that was a good or bad sign.
"We've only enough for one room, if we're to get Goblin his burgers."
She had been very tempted, then. To deny Jasen's cousin his medicine, and take a room for herself. She didn't mind sharing with Clot usually, but Jasen was always a pain, and the thought of goblins crawling across her sleeping flesh made her squirm. She could insist, they were scared of her. But she could hear from the seat behind, noises of the pain that the Goblin was in, and she couldn't do it. She understood his pain. In a way she relied on it, him being the only sentient meta-human she knew who had been as fucked up as herself.
"One room," she grunted. "Great. Okay. Get the room, get the burgers. Do we have enough for a pizza for the two of us?"
"Just about," Plasma grinned, his expression making it clear that sharing a pizza with Emma was tantamount to kinky sex for him. He ran off to do her bidding. She sighed.
She considered walking half a mile and robbing a convenience store for cash, but she had killed nineteen policemen earlier and she was feeling tired.
She had plenty of drug, she realised. She could take a huge hit and ride out the claustrophobic night on the wings of infinity.
But as she came to pump the blue respite into herself, she knew that she had gone too far. The bathroom door span and then fragmented, and she felt her sense of time decompose with it. Towels wrapped themselves around her. In their soft darkness she saw the face of a man that she had never met before. Then she felt herself pushed into that face. Into him. She remembered the old days, her old abilities to know the hearts of people, but emotions had rarely come to her with such force. She had never been hijacked by another. She sensed that this moment was in her future, or so far in her past that only the symbolism held meaning. She felt a surge of absolute satisfaction. She could feel a drug within her veins, its touch so familiar and comforting, like a house cat come for a cuddle...
... but the cat was now a tiger, and as she stroked it, it mauled her. Its eyes were wide with its desire for her soul, and she could feel it pulling at her. She would have to be eaten. She would have to give herself up to it. The feeling was so delicious that she had no other option. Of all the things that she had seen in life, this was the only one that she had ever truly wanted.
"Emma?" she heard. Some man's voice - the man in her time-lost dream? - echoing through the bathroom door. "Em, are you okay? I left some pizza."
"Fuck the pizza," she whispered. She managed to prop her legs beneath her. The syringe was still embedded in her arm - until she rose, at which point it fell, end over hallucinate end. She saw the impact with a clutch of her new-born senses, and experienced the mathematical purity of its flying shards with absolute precision. She walked across the broken glass, her soles now hard enough to resist the sabres of God himself, and opened the door.
"I'm fine," she said. "You finish the pizza. I have to sleep."
Plasma looked at her, and to the floor behind her. He began to speak, spouting some moralistic crap at great length, and she was delighted with the ease that she surfed the rush of the drug, to sail far beyond his words, beyond understanding of the crude language that his words had been formed in. She smiled, and ignored him.
She caught the gaze of the HaemoGoblin just once, but he seemed to understand. Maybe he forgave her, then. Maybe he was far enough away from his flesh to see the future as well. She believed that he might know, though she had yet to learn herself. She believed that she had received his unconditional forgiveness, and even his thanks, in that single glance.
She tumbled to the floor and began to sleep.
In her dream, she visited the future once more. She was caught within a war in an office block, like Die Hard but without a hero. Shredded bodies were forming interesting new shapes about her, as if their old wearers had suddenly been blessed with a short cut to evolution. The walls were red, not a colour conducive to sensible work. Her mystery man was there, his face aglow with some perverse emotion. And behind her -
A woman stood with guns for hands, circuitry pulsing at her temples. Emma turned to her, to look into a mirror.
"Emma," the woman said.
Jon Gunn watched with horror and fascination. He wasn't particularly scared; he seemed assured of his chosen method of demise, after all, and besides the drugs within him had taken most of his human feeling away, at last. It was the first time that they had even come close to truly helping him. He thought it ironic that they had been forced to kill him to do so.
He watched Emma and Scandal through a warped haze of dream and denial, and recognised them both for the first time. There had been no wonder that he had been so taken by the cyborg murderess when he had watched her kill, he realised. He watched them move, he watched them talk (though the drug rang too loud in his ears for him to properly hear their exchange); and if he hadn't been a eunuch, he was sure that he would have come to orgasm at the sight of them.
It was far too good to be true, he was sure of that.
Emma turned to her nemesis, but was too lost within the fantasy world of memory for her danger to register. She had recognised the sound of Scandal's weapons but her incensed rage at Gunn had spoiled her response. She hoped that the PROSAC team had suffered; the mess that they had made of the office staff deserved a bloody fate, and Emma knew that Scandal could deliver. Emma could still feel a few phantom traces of the soldiers' panic as an assault had been launched against them; and thinking that it had been instigated by their target, they had quite reasonably fired upon her position, ignorant of their liquidation of two dozen of the American Citizens that they had sworn to protect.
Their guns were silent now, whatever their fate. Emma could hear some screaming, some moans of pain, vehicles below. She could hear her own heart pumping her polluted blood to her brain. Her veins were slow and thin, she knew. The blood was slow within her. She was so damn close to death.
At least she wouldn't have to give Gunn his satisfaction. She wondered if Scandal would allow him to be killed, before she annihilated Emma herself.
"Emma," Scandal said.
Emma was shocked.
Scandal's voice was electronic and cold, but she recognised the quality of it from somewhere. It wasn't quite right, not enough reverb, not enough echo, but she almost recognised it.
"I know how Rhesus Factor died, Emma," she said. "You killed them. You overdosed and lost control of your body - or gained absolute subconscious control of it. You dreamed, and your flesh created a real approximation to that dream. Salmanazar had the data removed from government computers before it could register. It was buried, Emma, and he took their bodies. You're the only one left. So he sent me to kill you."
Emma didn't answer. She could see it in her mind. Her dream, and ivory web bedecked by dripping corpses, a black widow sat at its centre, blue ichor dripping from its broken-glass mandibles. And she remembered waking from that dream. She hadn't been hung to bleed with her team; she hadn't been the spider, either. She had been the web. She could see her self from the viewpoints of twenty, thirty rudimentary visual sensors. She could feel the cooling blood of her friends upon her. Goblin and Plasma would have died instantly, she knew. Blood Clot was immune to almost any damage, except that caused by the other members of Rhesus Factor. Blood on blood would hurt them all, she knew. They were dripping dry around her, and her skin burned where they hung.
It had taken her almost an hour to extricate herself, to reach beyond her panic to a place of concentration steady enough for her to reform. She had removed herself from them, to leave them as simple bloody corpses. Their pathetic flight finally come to an end in what was perhaps the only manner possible. She had always been their angel of death. They had always needed her more than she had needed them. And in the last, she had taken from them what she had been owed.
She had run, then, astonished at her crime. Not rational, not even irrational; her state transcended such simple modes of being. She couldn't comprehend her sudden position, and had resorted to the only possible solution; to kill herself as well. But her skin was proof against all methods of suicide that her addled mind could concoct, and so she had settled for forgetfulness instead. She had tucked herself deep beneath a blanket of earth, and tried to sleep her nightmares away.
Eventually, 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 at the last, all other comforts denied, she had come to need people. The silence in her head had become deafening, and she had given herself no other choice but to try to fill that void. But she had taken away the only people in world that had any reason to be with her.
Fate had intervened, of course. Fate had introduced her to Jon Gunn, depressed psychotic - the last man alive that cared for her. And why? Because he wanted to die by her razored hand.
She wanted to fall. Her body was so weak now with her lack of drug, with the carnage that surrounded her; she wanted to fall and let her thick black blood be diluted by the spillage of human in which she trod. But she knew that the option was not available to her. Scandal wanted her dead, and she knew that if any God reigned over the universe, he couldn't possibly be blind or mad or dead enough to ignore her crimes. She was bound for hell.
"I'm here to kill you, Emma," Scandal intoned, her voice rasping as her circuits processed the trajectory of her victorious bullet. Emma was tough, she knew; but so weakened now, and Scandal was so much harder. That bullet would come, and it would be place so precisely that Emma would be unaware of the exact moment of her death for all eternity.
"But I can't," Scandal continued.
Emma stared. She had wanted to die, after all. She understood Gunn, she thought. Maybe given time she might forgive him. But she didn't want to be given that time.
"Oh for fuck's sake!" she yelled. Scandal smiled beneath her hard-wired mirrorshades. "There's no can't about it you bitch!" Emma continued. "Just - fucking - kill - me!"
"I had a reason, once," Scandal began to explain. "I saw what you had become. I came close to you, and found no form of human emotion. I could see that you were dead inside and for my own sake I found that I had to obey my programming and rid the world of your curse.
"But you escaped, and now you have changed. It wasn't the killing of your friends, but that helped. You've become almost human again. I can't kill you as you once were. I can sense your humanity, Emma. I can sense the repentance in you. I can sense your need for redemption."
"How?" Emma screamed. She felt so desperate, inside. This toying was the final straw. She could think of nothing so cruel. "How the fuck can you sense what's inside of me? And why the fuck should you care?"
By way of reply Scandal reached to her temples with gun-fingered hands, and triggered studs there. Her HUD glasses fell from her face. She stood tall, and looked Emma in the eyes.
Emma saw her own face gazing back at her.
"I'm you, Emma," Scandal explained. "When Salmanazar realised that you would be the threat to him that you are, and the prize that you must become, her made me. He has blood samples from all of you, all of Rhesus Factor, old and new. Every fight that you win, you still leave traces behind. Blood is a motif to you people, the calling card equivalent of a twenties serial villain. You wade in blood, and give it in turn. He has you. And he has the technology. I am a clone, developed from your blood. I know what you knew. Blood is so potent, no one realises. And I have your powers, your sensitivity, your ability to know the hearts of others. I can feel you now, Emma. And my mission to rid the world of the abomination that you had become has faltered, because I can see that of the two of us, you are the most human, and I am the monster."
Emma stood speechless. She was enraged at the crime; her heart, her soul, broken over some photocopier of the gods. But she couldn't feel the anger in her veins. The familiar burn, the sucking from her mind of all rational thought, the red haze and the fire within her muscles; all gone. She was human, as her opposite claimed. She could feel it. And she could feel the sincerity of the cyborg woman. Her mutation was fading, and her previous identity was battling to reassert itself. And now that noble battle had led to something very close to her death. Despair, she thought. Where can I go from here?
"You have to come with me," Scandal asserted. "You can help me, now that I have spared your life. I wish to break free of my programming as well. Salmanazar has the corpses of your friends, and their potent blood. We can stop him, together. And then I may be free. I might be able to cast aside the augmentation of my body, and become human once more.
"I am begging you. I have prayed for this event. I was sworn to destroy you as long as you were a travesty of humanity, for I hold the human condition dear due to its very distance from me. My memories incorporate your past humanity but I have never tasted it for myself. We must work together, to be free together. You of the programming of your angry blood, and me of the programming of the wires that have replaced my veins.
"Do you agree?"
Emma was beyond reason. Events were progressing with such speed. She had fled from this science fiction fantasy woman for so long, and now within the space of minutes her heart told her that her opposite could be trusted. She was confused, and knew that if her alien flesh would allow her to cry, she would...
And then she realised. For the first time in so long, for the first time since her mutation, tears were spilling from her eyes. For some reason she felt herself turn those eyes to meet those of Jon Gunn. He was approaching evil in his manipulations, but behind that she could sense simple human desperation. Consumed with a desperation of her own, she turned to him for advice.
He nodded once, and again. He seemed to recognise her pain. Her soul was too garbled for her to make sense of the emotional stew that surrounded her, but she knew one thing; that she could feel. Her flesh had softened to the point of humanity. And even if that humanity was to lead to her death, she knew that she had to hold onto it.
"Alright," she told Scandal. "But I'll need the drug. If I can get a fix, I can take down Salmanazar and anyone who stands with him. Can you take me to it?"
"I don't have access to that data," Scandal said, and Emma could feel her dismay. Scandal reached to the floor, picked up her glasses, and fitted them to her face. Emma heard them snap into place.
"I do," Gunn said wearily. "And if we make our move before I die, I can take you there."
Emma stood. She pushed her attention to the flesh of her hands, and formed them into claws. It hurt, but she was still Haemorrhage. She had enough inhumanity left to get her to her goal. She clicked her fingers, drawing sparks, and grinned a toothy grin.
"Let's do it," she said.
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