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Hackers [15]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Cutlerine, Jul 5, 2012.

  1. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Ave! Another one of my strange little stories. This one will be updated less frequently than my main story, whatever that might currently be, but won't die, hopefully. I suppose it's a replacement for my last side-project, Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry, though it's nothing like it.

    As ever, I rate it 15 for darkness, violence, and swearing - this time in English, since apparently tastes change in the future.


    One – Prelude

    'There are three main types of illegal monster in the industry these days: modster, chimera and scratcher. Modsters are based mainly (more than 75%) on one creature, with modifications 'bolted on', as it were; chimeras are fluid blends of various organisms with no single one appearing to predominate; and scratches, most impressive of all, are beasts created wholly artificially, without using any existing code whatsoever.'

    Teeth. That was what you noticed first: a small cave full of teeth, as sharp and long as steak knives, all rushing towards your face at a hundred miles an hour—

    I leaped backwards, reflexively slamming the door shut as I passed through it; a second later, a long orange head tore through it like a rock through crêpe paper, and I had a split-second view of three bulging green eyes before I was off, running around the corner and back into the corridor as if the hounds of hell were after me.

    “What is it?” asked Jack. “Is it—?”

    “Definitely illegal,” I interrupted, gasping for breath and pulling out my gun. “Aim for the heart; it's probably got a—”

    I got no further: the monster broke free of the doorway with a colossal crack of splintering wood, and forced its immense bulk down the narrow passage towards us; plaster fell away in sheets and clouds from the walls and ceiling. Its jaws pushed through the dust and opened wide, and I saw the spark ignite behind the molars—

    “Don't shoot!” I yelled, but it was too late. Jack's bullet scored a bloody trail down the beast's tongue, snapping teeth and tearing flesh; it hit the back of its throat and all at once—

    —the monster's head exploded, its head flying apart in a storm of fire and bone. I threw myself to the left, hitting the floor hard and rolling out of the way as a wave of flame rushed through the spot where I'd been standing just moments before. It climbed the wall and spread out to fill the corridor in seconds, roaring louder than the beast it had come from; I climbed stiffly to my feet and screamed at Jack through the sheet of fire:

    “What did I say? What did I f*cking say? I said don't shoot!”

    “Sorry!” he yelled back from the other side. “I didn't see—”

    “I don't care! Just find a fire extinguisher – now!”

    I turned and ran down the corridor, searching for something – anything – to put the damn fire out; a couple of concerned residents, alerted by the noise and the gunshots, put their heads out of their doors to see what was going on – but I pushed past them, searching for an extinguisher. There had to be one somewhere...


    Just around the corner, I saw a reassuring red cylinder; I grabbed it and turned on my heel, snapping the tag off and readying the nozzle. The fire had encroached about three metres further down the hall in the interim; the oils in the beast's flame sac must have been the lingering sort. Sh*t. I hoped this extinguisher could handle it.

    “Here goes nothing,” I muttered, and clamped down on the handle.

    A gout of white foam sprayed out over the flames, and almost immediately the nearest wave guttered and died. The second, where it was hotter, was more resilient, and I used up most of the cylinder just getting the fire back to where it had started. Now I could see Jack again, fighting the fire on the opposite side with an extinguisher of his own, and for the first time I relaxed slightly; unless there was more fluid left in the monster than I'd thought, the flames were finished – and sure enough, a couple of minutes later there was nothing left but white foam and blackened bones.

    I dropped the extinguisher, rubbed my forehead and stared at Jack.

    “What did I say?” I asked.


    “No, Jack, what did I say?”

    “You said 'don't shoot',” he mumbled.

    “All right, so you heard me,” I continued with a savage intensity. “Then why, pray tell, did you shoot, blow its f*cking head off and almost get us both killed?”

    “I was already shooting by the time you said not to shoot,” Jack said quietly. He looked pretty ashamed of himself – and well he might. He'd almost burned down a whole block of flats.

    “You should've seen the flame sac igniting,” I told him. “Christ, I saw it and I know for a fact that your eyes are better than mine.”

    I was right and he knew it. He'd had the new Primaview models installed just last week – better than eagle, the adverts said. He ought to have seen the spark from a mile off.

    “Sorry,” he said. “It was stupid.”

    I sighed and shook my head. There was nothing to be gained from arguing any further. I glanced down at what remained of the monster and winced. There wasn't much left of it before the waist; the explosion had vaporised its neck and ignited the flame sac, which looked to have been just behind the sternum. I could make out some spine left, and a few ragged scraps of wing – but other than that, pretty much the entire front half of its body had burnt up.

    “Christ.” I sighed again. “Right, you call Chris and get what's left of this out of here and I'll call in the cleaners.”


    I called Denise and gave her our address, then hung up and waited for Chris; a moment later, he turned up with the stretcher.

    “Whoa,” he said, when he saw the body. “What the hell happened here?”

    “Someone thought it'd be a good idea to shoot out the flame sac,” I told him. “While it was igniting.”

    “Sh*t, dude,” said Chris, scratching his head. “OK, let's get this guy out of here.”

    The monster must have weighed about three hundred pounds, but between the three of us we managed to get it onto the stretcher; it wasn't easy, since none of us had any sort of strength mods. Myself, I hate the way they look. All those extra muscles make you look like a freak – well, more of a freak. It's not like I look all that normal.

    It took us about twenty minutes to get it down the stairs and out the doors. Nate was already waiting for us, with a skinny little guy in glasses and handcuffs, barely eighteen. Typical hacker, really – a geek who'd just stepped over the boundary into criminality. He had probably come quietly; maybe he figured he'd get a reduced sentence – not that there was any real chance of that. He didn't know it yet, but the arm of the law was a lot stronger and more unforgiving than we let on.

    As we came closer, the perp gave a little strangled cry and stepped forwards. Nate was about to pull him back, but I signalled for him to stop; I knew how the kid felt. I'd seen my work, my creatures, spread across the floor of an arena before, disfigured beyond all recognition, and I knew exactly how much it hurt. You hadn't lost any work; the code was always recoverable. But you'd lost a pet, a friend, and even if you built another with an identical skin it would never be the same. Not even the League could sequence a mind.

    “You...” The hacker stared at the remnants, then back at us. “You... you didn't have to do this!”

    “Kid,” began Nate, but I interrupted.

    “Leave it.” I returned my gaze to the hacker. “I know it hurts. But what did you think would happen?” I gestured at the corpse. “It always ends this way,” I said. “Them or you. What would you prefer?”

    “You bastard—!”

    “I know,” I said, keeping my voice level. “That's how I felt too.”

    He fell silent then, staring at me and wondering. There were tears in his eyes, I noticed – and why shouldn't there be? He was just a kid, just a stupid kid who'd messed around with some illegal genes and now...

    “OK,” I said. I had nothing else to say to him. “Let's get out of here.”

    We tipped the mound of burned flesh into the back of the van and got in the front; Chris and Nate went in the squad car with the perp, and we drove off towards the Gym. Jack was driving, so I closed my eyes and sat back, feeling the blood pound in my temples.

    It was going to be one of those days.


    Sixty years ago, there was still some yellow in Saffron. Now there was only grey.

    Then again, sixty years ago we didn't have consumer genetics. Sixty years ago the League was just the organisation that regulated Pokémon Training. Sixty years ago, my parents weren't even born and my grandfather was still in Wales, working as a lawyer.

    How the world had moved on.

    I looked out of the window and saw empty streets; this wasn't a good area of town, and the sort of people who lived here didn't like to advertise their presence. We passed at least two burned-out cars before we got to Cirton Bridge, where things started to look a little nicer; by the time we got to Penton, I felt like we were back in the civilised world again. There were people on the pavements, other vehicles on the roads, even the occasional Pokémon. I sighed with relief – it wasn't uncommon for League vans to be attacked in the rough districts, and though I could take fire-breathing monsters any day of the week, I preferred to keep on the handle end of guns.

    A Mr. Mime stopped us at the gates and held out a hand; I leaned out of the window and passed him my I.D. card. There was a curiously blank look of concentration on his face as he examined it, running his modified fingers down the data strip on the back, and I had to look away: I hated Mr. Mimes. The idea was that something that looked almost human would be the best model for a public servant, but I found it difficult to deal with them for that very reason. They were almost human, but not quite; the shape of the face, the unnaturally long, gangly limbs... All the little differences added up and you felt a shiver go down your spine when you looked at one.

    Eventually, the Mr. Mime nodded and gave me back the card, waving us through the gate. He hadn't made a sound throughout our entire encounter – hence the name. Mr. Mimes were built without mouths, just lips covering the blank skin of their face. Even the League baulked at creating something that could actually talk.

    We left the van in the underground car park, and Chris and Jack wheeled the corpse of the chimeric Charizard into the elevator to take up to the labs. Nate took the kid inside to await the machinations of justice, and I wandered back through the corridors to the office. The only part I played in the process was the capture or destruction of the monster we happened to be after. Beyond that, I had no job besides helping to unravel those cases that required my unique insight. Not that I had a problem with any of that; I was good at what I did, and it paid well enough. Sometimes I missed the creativity of hacking – it is an art, no matter what anyone tells you – but I didn't even think of complaining. The job that I had – hell, my status as a free man – was more than most hackers ever got from the League.

    The office – as so often – was deserted and I dropped into my seat with a sigh. I glanced out of the window and saw nothing remarkable, so I turned my gaze back to my desk.

    “Good morning, Riley,” I said, and suddenly a message in green light appeared on the desktop, read out by an eerily real-sounding voice:

    “Good morning, Gwyn. How can I help?”

    When it had come time to design biocomputers to be grafted directly onto the brain, scientists had tried to create something entirely thought-controlled; unfortunately, they failed to realise that almost no one had the iron concentration necessary to use such a device, and had to redesign it so that it made you hallucinate a GUI. I'd had my biocomputer for the last three years, a tiny subsidiary brain and wireless transmitter attached just below my pineal gland, and still hadn't worked out whether the voice it spoke with was male or female. Consequently, I'd christened it neutrally.

    “Connect to the network,” I said. “Search for any chimeras or modsters seen recently.”

    “Feeling violent?” asked Riley.

    “Just do what you're told.”

    I hated it when computers talked back, but it was inevitable: make something out of living tissue and it will develop on its own. Make a brain and it develops a whole personality.

    “Certainly, Gwyn,” replied Riley, and on the desk I suddenly saw a long list of times, areas and (where applicable) species designations. I flicked the list with a finger and it scrolled down, revealing more; it looked like about thirty chimeras and modsters had been spotted in the last twenty-four hours.”

    “Christ. There are more every day,” I muttered.

    “That would seem to be a logical conclusion,” agreed Riley. “If more were not produced, you would have no job.”

    “I meant more as in a greater number.”

    “Ah. That would be incorrect. Records state that the estimated number of illegal monsters has remained roughly constant for the past six years.”

    “I know, it's... it's a figure of speech.”

    “Yes, Gwyn,” said Riley, as it had done every single time it made that mistake for the last three years. I swear it was trying to piss me off.

    I returned my attention to the illusory list and poked one entry on a whim; the others disappeared and it grew to fill the desktop. Lines of text spread out beneath the title, and a picture flickered into existence on the right.

    “Modster,” Riley narrated as I read. “Base: Primeape. Rogue. Last seen nine hundred hours in Darkoi. Tissue sample recovered in skirmish at nine hundred hours in Darkoi; modified beyond recognition. Everstone usage recommended before engagement.”

    “It's heading for Turtow Hill,” I said, scanning the genetic data. “It's got a trace of genetic memory in the medial temporal lobe that we used to use to recover escaped monsters – some hacker called Wasp came up with it. Makes them run to the safehouse at Turtow Hill.” I frowned. “The League busted that place two years ago, though. How long has this Primeape been around?”

    “Its age is estimated at seven years.”

    Seven years... the Primeape must have been running wild for at least three. Once they'd discovered the League had got me, the hacking community had stopped using Wasp's homing instinct immediately; using Turtow Hill had no longer been an option.

    If that was the case, there was an interesting question here: why was the instinct only activating now? It should've been triggered immediately after the Primeape's escape.

    “Could there be conflicting instincts?” asked Riley. It had picked up a few tricks from me over the years.

    “Yeah, that might explain it,” I said, nodding. “If the hacker spliced in something that overrode the memory – or if the natural rage instinct from the underlying Primeape DNA overpowered it – I guess it'd act according to that. Then something happens – it gets hurt or something, I don't know – and for whatever reason Wasp's memory kicks in, its brain links safety and Turtow Hill, and it starts heading over. Going home.” I tapped the Primeape's data on the desktop. “Alert someone, get a team sent to Turtow Hill. If it was at Darkoi at nine, it'll get to Turtow around twelve.”

    What exactly could have precipitated the activation of the homing instinct wasn't clear, though. There weren't many around who really understood how the brain worked; the team behind the bio-computer had been some of the few who had an inkling. Genetic memories, while usually effective in creatures that were directed primarily by instinct, could easily be swamped and resurge unexpectedly.

    “Yes, Gwyn.” Riley hesitated. “Would you like to be on the team?”

    I thought for a moment. On the one hand, I'd probably be more use here in the office, applying my hacker's knowledge to the hunts for the innumerable illegal monsters in Saffron. I mean, that was what the League wanted me to do.

    On the other...

    “Yeah,” I said, standing up again and blinking hard to get rid of the Primeape data. “Yeah, I think I would.”


    Five minutes later, I was in another League van, heading west to Turtow with Chris and Monica; Jack had decided to sit this one out after his disaster with the Charizard, and Nate was still busy with the kid from the last case. Chris sat in the front with Monica, trying and failing to flirt with her, and I sat in the back with the stretcher and the cages, feeling vaguely trapped.

    “It is a mere illusion,” said Riley chirpily.

    “What the—?”

    I started and smashed my head into the wall.

    “Ah! The hell? I thought I turned you off?”

    “No. Would you like me to—?”


    Riley fell silent and I heard Monica call out:

    “You OK, Gwyn?”

    “Yeah,” I answered. “Just – my computer surprised me.”

    “All right.”

    I lapsed into silence, half-asleep, and was only roused from my thoughts when I heard the sound of someone being slapped from the cab.

    “Everything all right in there?” I called, a faint smile playing about my lips.

    “Just fine, Gwyn,” replied Monica. “Isn't that right, Chris?”

    “Uh... yeah,” he said, sounding considerably less than certain. “Yeah. Everything's fine.”


    There was a pause.

    “Yeah,” Chris said eventually. “Fine.”

    I smiled and shook my head. Chris had a Ph.D. in genetics and forensic science, and he still managed to be a complete idiot at least half the time. It was a complaint a worryingly large number of my associates at the Gym suffered from – I reckoned it had something to do with their sheltered upbringings. They probably grew up in East Saffron, where the most dangerous monster around was the occasional rat, or maybe a mosquito.

    “Where are we now?” I asked. The back of the van had no windows, to prevent anyone looking in or anything breaking out, and so I had no idea where we'd got to.

    “Cinter Bridge,” replied Monica. “Not long. Fifteen minutes now.”

    “OK.” I ejected the clip from my gun and took out the top cartridge, replacing it with a bright green duplicate – a bullet containing a tiny chip of demite, better known by the unofficial name of Everstone. On regular Pokémon, it prevented evolution; in modded ones, it did its best to do the same – with much more dangerous results. Since processes for its mass synthesis had been discovered last year, it had swiftly become the most useful weapon in the League's arsenal: it stripped out most of the added features on modsters with ninety per cent efficacy. Wing an eight-armed Ursaring with one and six arms would just melt off. Unless, of course, you were unlucky enough to be fighting a chimera, where the monster's differing genetic sources were so completely enmeshed that the Everstone did jack sh*t.

    I considered putting in a second cartridge for insurance, then decided against it and clicked the magazine back into place: one shot should be all I needed. Everstones were expensive; I didn't want to waste them.

    “So,” I heard Chris begin, but Monica cut him off.

    “Chris, I think you've dug yourself into a big enough hole now, hm? So just... shut up.”


    “I said shut up.”

    Chris fell silent again, and this time it lasted until we reached Turtow Hill. I pushed open the doors and dropped out the back of the van, blinking in the bright sunlight. Turtow was a pretty nice place now, since the hackers had left – seven streets of upmarket terraced housing, punctuated by the occasional corner shop. If I hadn't known that just three years ago this place had seen thirty-one dead and eighty injured in the biggest battle between League and hackers in Kantan history, I would have said it was pleasant; as it was, I couldn't escape the vague feeling that something unnameable with five legs was going to leap out from behind some bins and try to eat me.

    It took about three minutes for the street around us to empty. There was nothing sudden about it – it wasn't as if everyone suddenly turned tail and ran – but when I next looked around, I saw that the pedestrians had quietly left, that the cars were either stationary or simply gone. They knew what it meant when an indigo League van appeared. You got the hell out of there, or the monsters got you.

    “What now?” asked Chris.

    “I told you to shut up,” said Monica, slipping out of the van and slamming the door shut.

    “Yes, but we're here now and—”

    “Shut up!”

    Chris fell silent and folded his arms huffily, leaning against the side of the van. He looked at me, perhaps searching for sympathy, and got an amused glance; he harrumphed and stared off down the street.

    “Gwyn,” said Monica, “where are we looking?”

    “I don't think we need to look,” I replied. “The Primeape will be heading to right where the old warehouse was. After I told them about the homing gene, the League made sure that when they rebuilt the area, that spot was fortified.” I nodded at the corner shop across the street. “See that shop there? The Primeape will want to get in, and the only way is through the front. The back's six feet thick, made of concrete with Everstone paint on the back. Nothing in the city's getting through that.”

    “So it'll come round the front?”

    “Yeah,” I said. “And as soon as it does, we Everstone it, then kill it.” I paused. “Have you ever seen a Primeape before?”

    “A real one?”

    “No.” Who had seen a real one, these days? This was the forties; it wasn't uncommon to go through life and never see a Pokémon that wasn't synthetic. “I mean a legit one – or a modded one, I guess. They're all the same.”

    “No, I haven't.”

    I nodded and glanced at Chris.

    “What about you?”

    He opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it carefully and shook his head.

    I sighed. OK, so Primeape weren't exactly common – but you'd have thought they'd have been trained to deal with them. When they did appear, you had to be prepared: they went apeshit with more gusto than Hannibal Lecter.

    “Primeape are a niche thing for hackers,” I explained. “And for legal Trainers, too. They don't take well to directions, and they're pretty much impossible to control. Basically, you point them in the direction of the enemy and give them half an hour to wind down afterwards. They're so full of adrenaline that they barely feel anything below life-threatening pain; they just go mental until they, or their opponent, is dead.”

    “Oh,” said Chris, visibly paling. “Nice.”

    “If you don't like it, you're in the wrong job,” said Monica sternly, though she didn't look quite as confident herself. “So you're saying we don't try and take it alive?”

    I nodded.

    “Unless you can get it in a sealed room and you have a hell of a lot of knockout gas, no Primeape's going to take a sedation. We Everstone it – if its file is anything to go by, we're going to need to – and then we do our utmost to replace its brain, heart and any other vital organs it might happen to have been given with lead.”

    “Sounds good to me,” agreed Monica, checking her gun.

    I looked at Chris.

    “What about you?”

    “Uh – yeah,” he said. “Sure.”

    “Glad we all agree,” I said. “Now—”

    I was interrupted by a distant thump, followed by a horrific noise halfway between an aggrieved squeal and an angry roar.

    “Well,” I said, flipping off the safety on my gun. “Looks like he found the wall.”

    Another thump, a crash, the sound of bone scraping along bricks—

    “The alleyway!” yelled Monica, her gun coming up and tracking around to the gap between the shop and the house next to it; it was the only point of passage between the shop's back yard and the street, designed for just this eventuality to direct monsters around to the front—

    A blur of motion, and a tangle of blackened skin and horn threw itself into the street, staggering to a halt on the pavement; it flung out one arm for balance and accidentally punched a lamppost sideways. For a moment, all I could do was stare – between the armouring, the extra limbs and the quills, this thing looked almost nothing like the species it had started life as – and then, before it had a chance to register our presence, I raised my gun and shot it in the chest.

    Immediately, it began to run towards me, not stopping even to roar its rage; three feet pounding the road and scraping up slivers of tarmac with claws ripped straight from a Pinsir. I didn't move: within three paces, it would falter and slow as the Everstone's taint spread through its system...

    The Primeape set a fourth foot down on the floor, and sped up.

    If I'd been just a fraction more arrogant, I'd have stood and stared, and got myself flattened by four hundred pounds of armoured monkey – but I wasn't, and so I leaped behind the van as it thundered past, snatching wildly at thin air. I shot it twice more in the back, which had exactly the opposite effect to the one I wanted: the modster dug in its feet and brought itself to a sudden stop, turning on its heel to face me with an ear-piercing squeal. It paused a moment to rattle its quills, making sure I knew just how badly poisoned I'd be after it punched me, and snarled out a warning gurk – which was just enough time for two more lime-green bullets to zoom into it from the right. One glanced off the angled bone plating above its ear and embedded itself in a wall; the other hit its shoulder and vanished.

    Instantly, the monster forgot about me and spun around to charge at Monica, quills akimbo; this time, it stumbled and fell after just a few yards, crying out in surprise. For a moment, it scrabbled weakly at the tarmac, trying to push itself upright, and managed to haul itself back onto its feet – but then it fell again, flakes falling away from its arms, and lay still.

    I took a few steps closer to it, keeping a wary eye on its hands. The Everstone had taken off a good deal of its muscle mass, but its fists were still the size of pumpkins. One good hit from that thing would snap a leg, toughened bones or no – and once I was next to it on the floor, incapacitated by pain, the Primeape would be able to kill me with or without its modifications.

    “Is it dead?” called Chris.

    I shot it, and it sprang upright in a blur of howling rage, leaving its extraneous limbs behind; without stopping to consider the new development, I flung myself back behind the van. A moment later, a massive fist slammed into its side, leaving a six-inch dent.

    “Nope,” I called back. “Still kicking.”

    The Primeape squealed again, and now it was more of a squeal than a roar: most of its modifications had been taken out by the Everstone, and aside from a few tenacious quills and bony plates, it looked almost natural. Unfortunately, it was still dangerous, and even more pissed than it had been a moment ago. Which was understandable, really – I doubt I'd be happy if I had three legs, two arms and half my muscles dissolved without due warning.

    “What do we do?” yelled Chris, firing wildly at the Primeape and opening up red splashes across its hide. It howled, wrenched its fist free of the van and charged him, dropping instinctively to all fours like a gorilla.

    “Sh*t!” I yelled, sprinting towards him. “Get out of the f*cking way!”

    Chris flung himself to the ground as the Primeape leaped up; it passed straight through where his chest had been a moment ago – and as it did so, Chris rolled onto his back and emptied his gun into the soft fur of its belly. It jerked, screamed and hit the ground hard, splashing in a thick red pool as it scrambled back to its feet.

    I reached Chris as it raised its fists and roared, bloodshot eyes seeking out the person who had hurt it; dragging him back to his feet, I aimed a couple of shots at the Primeape to keep it at bay and succeeded for the two seconds it took to get Chris out of the way.

    “Reload!” I hissed, dropping him on the pavement, and turned back to the action to see the Primeape barely a yard away from me, breath ragged, eyes bloody and hands outstretched—

    —and then it just fell, sliding gracefully from vertical to horizontal in one long motion and coming to rest with its forehead an inch away from my boots. I stared at the neat hole in the base of its neck, and looked up to see Monica standing there with a smoking gun. Then I looked back at the Primeape, and shot it in the back of the head until I ran out of bullets.

    “I think it's dead, Gwyn,” said Monica, walking over.

    “I'm feeling vengeful,” I replied, glancing at Chris. “How are you?”

    “I'm covered in Primeape sh*t,” he said sourly. He was as well – blowing holes in a monster's intestines while it's above you tends to do that to a guy.

    “Good to know.” I returned my gaze to the Primeape. “How long was it before the Everstone kicked in?”

    “I don't know,” said Monica. “Half a minute?”

    “Everstone doesn't work like that,” I said. “The longest it ever takes to activate is three seconds.”

    Monica stared. She got it: this Primeape resisted Everstone to a degree never before seen – and chances were, the hacking community had no idea about it, because it had been running wild for seven years. We needed to get it back to the lab, and make sure that no hacker could recover any DNA from the site: the last thing we needed was modsters that were resistant (or, God forbid, immune) to Everstone. It would be the thirties all over again.

    “I'll call in the cleaners,” she said, putting her gun away. “Good morning, Claire.”

    I saw nothing, but I knew that the same green text that had been on my desk was flashing before her eyes.

    “Get a full team,” I told her. “We can't leave a single cell for the hackers.”

    She nodded.

    “Send a message to the Gym,” Monica said to her computer. “We need a full team of cleaners at Turtow Hill as soon as possible. We've found a valuable mutation that needs to be banked.” She paused, doubtless hearing the computer's – Claire's – response, and then said, “Good. Shut down. They're on their way,” she added, looking at me.

    “OK.” I sighed and stuck my gun back in its holster. “Right. Let's get this thing in the van and get out of here. Chris?”

    “Yeah, yeah, I'm coming,” he grumbled, getting to his feet.

    “Quicker we do this, the quicker you can go have a shower,” I said brightly. “Now, you grab its arms, I'll grab the legs. Monica, if you can pick up some of those extra limbs over there, I think we'll be all set.”

    “The limbs? The decaying parts?"

    "It's all decaying, Monica."

    She looked at the main body of the Primeape, which bore evidence of having shed its flesh by the nastiest means possible.

    "Fair enough," she said, sounding resigned, and headed over to the nearest arm, grabbing it with such force that a chunk of necrotic filth fell off; groaning, she dropped it and looked balefully at the greasy brown stain on her hand. After a few minutes, Everstone started doing pretty nasty things to the flesh it attacked.

    “Don't forget the gloves!” I called cheerfully, and received a raised middle finger in reply. I smiled, and turned back to Chris – who looked like he was trying to decide whether or not he ought to be helping Monica. “I wouldn't,” I advised him. “I'm pretty sure she's not that happy with you right now.”

    “You're probably right,” he sighed, and grabbed the Primeape by the wrists. “Count of three. One... Two... Three.”

    We hauled the big beast up and into the back of the van – no mean feat, but considerably easier now that it'd shed a couple of hundred pounds of flesh. By the time we were done, Monica had got most of the rotting parts, and we spray-painted a big X over the spot where the Primeape had died to show the cleaners where to start from.

    “All right,” I said. “I guess we can go now.”

    “Finally!” sighed Chris, and started to climb back into the cab.

    “Stop right there,” Monica said, grabbing his shoulder and pulling him down again. “Aren't you forgetting how many Primeape cells are left scattered across the road?”

    "Oh, come on," he said. "I did this last time..."

    "Yes. You're also covered in Primeape sh*t, so it's not like I'm letting you in the van. Wait here and make sure no one interferes before the cleaners get back."

    He sighed again, and wandered back to the X without further complaint. I hopped in the front, and we headed off back to the Gym. The Primeape was dead, the cleaners were on their way, and, most importantly, it was time for lunch. After the morning I'd had, I felt I deserved it.
    Last edited: Jul 10, 2012
  2. Sound

    Sound Well-Known Member

    Cool, another Cutlerine story. I'm not a frequent reviewer, but I'd figured I'd give it a try.

    The problem I have with this is that sound works two ways. Shouldn't Chris and Monica be able to hear Gwyn? You specifically said 'the ensuing quiet', which means that Chris and Monica weren't speaking at the moment (hence why the slap ended the quiet). Although, I suppose this could be explained by the speculation that they simply weren't listening to Gwyn, this still begs the question of why neither reacted when he shouted. If someone shouts, you tend to listen to them. Of course, if Chris said something Kester level insensitive to Monica and didn't realize until after he said it, then it stands to reason that both would tune out Gywn in stunned silence. If this was the reason that Gywn wasn't heard, then I retract my disagreement on this. Or, alternatively, the conversation between Gwyn and Riley took place telepathically (which, would be hard to tell, as you still used quotation marks and nothing was stated in the narration to indicate such a thing).

    Eh, I figured it wouldn't be a very good review if I couldn't find one thing that didn't click in my head. And, now I'm done reading into it. It was funny.

    Oh, the mental image that last part conjured up. Now I'm torn; I want to see a Primeape now, but I'm afraid that it would tear me a new one.

    The irony is so thick there, I cracked up. Extremely clever.

    And, from what I've seen, I believe I'm supposed to do this. First.
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    Quite right. I'll think of something and write it in. Thank you for pointing it out.

    Ah, yes. I can't quite give up the humour, it seems. Not that I intend to; I want a touch of levity here. Hackers is heading in dark directions, and needs a bit of humour here and there.

    Thanks for reading, and even more for commenting! It's always nice to get feedback.

  4. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I enjoyed Coriolanus Rowland's Guide, so I thought I'd give this a shot. Overall, I've got mixed feelings about that, but at the least this continues the trend of being very different from the norm for pokémon 'fic, both in terms of the choice of topic and the quality of the writing.

    "From where" is just horribly awkward. A simple "and" would be better, and there are any number of ways that could be reworded to avoid the problem.

    Should be another dash after "man," since that entire phrase is an apposative.

    That second part seems cumbersome and unecessary. Why, yes, the office would be deserted if everyone was off doing something else. Why not just leave it at saying it was deserted?


    Seven years is "soon?" Seems like if you had an escaped monster-project you'd want it dealt with a lot faster than that. It would also be an incredible feat of biological engineering to set build in a timer that would cause an organism to reliably die after seven years.

    If he's on the time because of his science knowledge, why is he running field missions instead of staying in the lab? Or, if he needs to accompany the team, at least staying in the van rather than going out and trying to shoot things. The way it's set up, it seems like he's just a liability to the team, and the League would have to be very stupid or very desperate not to put him in a position where he would actually be able to use his skills.

    Nevertheless, shouldn't they be doing something to secure the area and make sure that nobody's going to be getting in the way or actively interfering with their work?


    There was no picture or physical description in its file?

    I find the way you handle your only female character in this chapter pretty distasteful. The stereotype of the unreasonable, easily-offended woman who sees everything as a slight against her because of her gender; your playing it for laughs, along with the implication that this attitude is somehow "feminist" is even worse.

    Oh, those crazy feminists, getting bent out of shape, and nobody really cares. Hurr, hurr hurr. It's really just in poor taste, not to mention completely unnecessary (so far as I can tell) in the context of the larger story.

    Not even going to stay until the cleaners come so they can be sure nobody messes with the site in the interim?

    Overall, this is a very solid opening chapter. You do a good job of introducing just enough of the setting and characters to intrigue readers, rather than beginning with the sort of history lesson many authors would find it necessary to give, laying out everything that's happened to change the Pokémon world in such a way. I'd love to learn more about Gwyn's past life as a hacker and what caused him to be taken on by the League, and I have no doubt that it will be an important element of the story in later chapters. Your other characters aren't looking very interesting so far--they've pretty much been serving comic relief roles thus far--but there's plenty of time to develop them more. I also love what appear to be the nods to fandom throughout--hackers remind me of "hackers" of pokémon games who give their monsters impossible stats or abilities, and the use of "scratches" to refer to completely original monsters, like "scratch sprites," is excellent. I don't think I've ever seen a fanfiction running quite along these lines, and it looks like you're having plenty of fun with the setting, which is great.

    This 'fic can't quite seem to tell whether it wants to be a gritty grimdark story or a campy sci-fi horror-ish kind of thing, though. The chapter starts off more in the first mode, with the descriptions of a dystopian Saffron City being overrun by mutant creatures, but on the other hand some of the humor and sloppy science robs it of some plausibility and real impact. Right now I would say that it's definitely leaning towards the B-movie camp, so if that's not your intent, you might want to reconsider some of your more outrageous material (oh lord is that not how viruses work).

    There's not a lot to say about the writing. It's not transcendant, but it's plenty solid and really shines in your action scenes--which is good, of course, because I imagine there are going to be a lot of them in this 'fic.

    All in all, aside from some reservations--it looks like there might be some gross gender politics in here, and there have already been some cringe-worthy science moments--it looks like this will be a fun 'fic. Good luck with it.
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    A valid point, though personally I prefer the original (which is presumably why I wrote it like that). Though I'm probably mistaken; while style is often personal, it does have certain universal rules. Which I'm probably breaking here.

    Another valid point. Must've missed that one.

    And another.

    I'm aware of both of those, and have no answer to either. You are correct, and I really need to think of something better than that. This was evidently not a good day for me in terms of ideas.

    It isn't for his scientific knowledge; after all, there are plenty of others with his knowledge. It's simply that he knows the hackers better than most. Nevertheless, it's true that he probably shouldn't be risking himself, and I doubt the League like him doing it.

    Mm, I suppose they should. Let's see if they're up to doing it.

    There probably was a description, but I find it unlikely it would be anything like actually viewing it.

    Hm. A fair point, which kind of took me aback since it was unintended; I'll rethink that at once.

    Again, it's unintended; I see now that yes, it could be interpreted that way. It needs to be changed at once, since now you've pointed it out I can't read it in any other way, which wounds me deeper than Christian wounded Apollyon. That flies in the face of virtually everything I hold dear, and I hate that I did that.

    I suppose that this really does prove that a second pair of eyes is a wonderful, wonderful thing.

    Apparently not. I suppose I ought to alter that, too.

    Mm. Plenty of food for thought there. Thanks for that.

    As regards my other characters... well, to be blunt, they're not important. I'm really not trying to make anyone like them, though I think they could probably be better developed. I wanted to focus more on the world in this chapter (as it is, after all, the prelude) than characterisation, I guess, though I don't think I thought anything like that at the time.

    I intended the B-movie feel, to be honest; I've never written anything like that, and was doing my best to emulate the style (I'm aware, for instance, of how most of the science in the story ought to work - I just choose to ignore it for the sake of entertainment and creating a B-movie flavour). From what you say, though, I've overdone it a bit there, and probably ought to pull several things closer to reality.

    And evidently some of the noirish stuff I've written in the past crept in at the start there. I need to purge it. Alternatively, I can blank my inner desire to include humour and reconfigure the science to make it something I'm (marginally) more familiar with writing. I'll probably have to sleep on that decision.

    This is always the way when I decide to try out a new way of writing. I make stupid mistakes and end up blending in styles that I really didn't want to end up in there. Oh, well. No peace for the wicked.

    That's kind of what I wanted to hear, in a way. I can't improve if I don't know where the weak and strong points are. I'm well aware that this wasn't my best; I was dreading someone saying that it was awful, actually. 'Plenty solid' is a starting point that I can definitely work from, and I need practice at writing non-action scenes anyway.

    Thanks for your criticisms - sincerely. It's very rare I get a real constructively critical review, and it does me a world of good. You can bet I'll be up all night making revisions now, which is almost exactly the best way I can think of to spend my time. Unless you're a far better reviewer than I am - which is, I admit, pretty likely; I'm not all that good - you've spent quite a lot of time and effort doing this, and I really appreciate it. Once again, thank you very much, and I'll do my very best to take all you say to heart and improve.

    Last edited: Jul 9, 2012
  6. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine a lonesome harp guitar

    I totally didn't forget to post this months and months ago. No time at all has passed since the last update. Do not argue with this statement.

    Two – Thieves

    'Few people in Saffron have seen a natural Pokémon now; they are scarce, requiring more food and less-polluted habitats than any of the artificial ones. It does not matter. League-produced Pokémon are exactly the same, but improved.'

    “Good morning, Riley.”

    “Good morning, Gwyn,” replied Riley chirpily. “What can I do for you today?”

    “Display messages,” I replied, and illusory green text flickered over the windscreen of the car.

    “I'm afraid I shall have to move these as soon as the car starts moving again,” said Riley warningly. “It would be a terrible hazard for your attention to be divided between the road and your messages in such a way.”

    “All right, whatever.” I glanced at the traffic lights – still red – and back at the messages. Thirteen new ones, ten of them station-wide alerts about new developments during the night shift, and three addressed to me personally. I poked one, and it expanded into three paragraphs of apology from Jack for shooting out the Charizard's flame sac the day before. I sighed. “Delete.”

    It vanished, and I moved on to the next one, which was from my sister; it was a gentle reminder that it was my niece's birthday next week, and it would be very much appreciated if I remembered it this time.

    “Riley, remind me to get her a present tomorrow and see if I can take Tuesday off.”

    “Naturally. I shall compose a request immediately.”

    I returned my attention to the windscreen, and had just enough time to see that the subject of the last message was 'Urgent Request' before the lights went green and it disappeared.
    “For your safety, I have removed your inbox from sight,” Riley informed me.

    “I noticed, thanks,” I muttered, and drove on. Without the illuminated text in front of me, there was almost no light save the numbers and dials on the dashboard; this morning, the city was thickly shrouded under a dense, slate-grey fog. The car's headlights penetrated only a few feet in front of me, just about showing the back of the truck in front; were it not for the fact that I knew exactly where I was going, I'd have had to stay at home today – that or risk using the satnav, which had picked up a rhinovirus last week and was still not feeling well.

    The fogs were getting more common these days, and no one really knew why. Every expert had their own theory, and none seemed very convincing; for my part, I could never rid myself of the conviction that it was Saffron's way of protesting at the way we defiled it – protesting the abominations that we built and that called its alleys home, protesting the decaying monsters in the sewers and the poison that the laboratories poured into its veins. I shivered as I thought over it. I wasn't usually so morbid, but the fog had a way of getting into your head. I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been alive itself, a malignant spectre that leeched all your good spirits away and spat acid back in their place.

    Thanks to the fog, it took me a full forty-five minutes to get to the Gym, and by that time I'd half-forgotten about the 'Urgent Request'; it was only as I was parking that Riley chirped up:

    “You will be stationary imminently. Shall I display your inbox again?”

    “Oh. Uh, yeah.”

    I turned off the engine, and the list of messages reappeared on the windscreen. Unbuckling my seatbelt, I poked the 'Urgent Request' one and read its contents:

    Agent Cadogan, I would very much appreciate it if you could contact me as soon as you arrive at work today. There is something I require your assistance with. More details will be made available when you get here.


    Professor Maxwell Blaine

    I stared.

    “Riley,” I said, “this message is from Professor Blaine.”

    “Yes,” it replied. “It is.”

    “No, you're missing the point,” I said, rereading the message and still not quite believing it. “It's from Professor Blaine. The best geneticist in Sinnoh and the main thing standing between the League and total genetic anarchy. You know, that Professor Blaine?”

    “Yes, of course,” Riley said. “After all, there is only one Professor Maxwell Blaine registered in the personnel database.”

    I shook my head.

    “You really are a robot,” I sighed. “All right. Turn off.”

    “As you wish,” Riley said, and the message disappeared.

    I got out and walked to the elevator slowly, wondering what Blaine could possibly want with me. As a young man, he'd ushered in the genetic revolution of the late Noughties from his lab on Cinnabar Island; now, as an old one, he'd retired from his position as Cinnabar's Gym Leader to become the head geneticist for the entire League – which meant he was here in Saffron, where the biggest laboratories were. They'd wanted to put them up on the Indigo Plateau, where the League headquarters were, but getting supplies out there was a *****, and things were generally just more convenient down here in the capital. Besides, no one in Kanto really wanted to be sharing anything with the Johtonians – and definitely not our genetics labs.

    Where exactly Blaine worked in the building was a mystery to me; what he did was so secret that very few people actually knew what it was and where he did it. To find out, I went to reception and asked them to call Blaine and tell him I had received his message; I'd have asked him directly, but his biocomputer wasn't accessible from the Gym network. A moment later, I got a reply that told me to meet him in the third sub-basement, and I went back to the lift and down.

    As soon as the lift doors slid open, I knew something was up. Two armed Mr. Mimes stood in the corridor, tapping their fat fingers against their thighs; they had an aura of menace about them, and I was sure that they were trained combat models. If they got the slightest idea that there was a threat present, people were going to start dying pretty damn quickly.

    “Agent Cadogan!” I looked past the Mr. Mimes and saw a bald man in a linen suit and round sunglasses approaching. “Agent Cadogan, you got my message.”

    He seemed casual enough, smiling broadly beneath his impressive moustache and waving his cane around with friendly abandon; immediately, I began to feel slightly suspicious. After all, there were two military-grade Mr. Mimes in the corridor with us. There was no use acting as if nothing had happened when something like that was going on. Still, if that was the way he wanted to play this, I wasn't going to interfere; he was the one in charge here.

    “Professor Blaine,” I said reverently. “It's – it's an honour to meet you, sir. It really is.”

    “Oh, no, Cadogan, the pleasure's all mine,” he replied, guiding me down the corridor. “You've quite the reputation – the Saffron Gym's most valuable resource, so they tell me.”

    “I'm good at what I do,” I admitted.

    “I'm the same, Cadogan, I'm the same,” said Blaine breezily. “But you were no slouch in the genetics department either, were you? The finest mind of your generation, they say.”

    “If you're referring to the reports, sir, they tend to exaggerate things. The League likes to think they made the best possible acquisition when I turned.”

    Blaine laughed.

    “You may be right there,” he said, ushering me into a laboratory and closing the door behind us. “Now, to business,” he continued, and his whole manner changed abruptly: anxiety replaced levity and a frown his smile; all at once, he ceased to look jolly, and instead looked like a man with the world's battery ranged against him.

    “What?” I blinked for a moment, startled by the sudden shift in mood; it took me a moment to realise that his apparent good humour had been an act, designed to conceal the fact that something was very obviously wrong. “Wait – what – why the subterfuge?” I asked at last.

    “We can't be too careful,” said Blaine. “Someone – or more probably something – got past security last night, and got down here too. This floor's been evacuated except for a few select employees, but I'm not sure I want to trust that anywhere outside this lab is safe.”

    “Wait,” I said, trying to sort things out in my head. “There's been a break-in?”

    “Yes,” replied Blaine, and shook his head slowly, sighing. “And that's not the worst of it.”

    “What is the worst of it?” I asked, afraid of the answer.

    “They broke in in search of something,” Blaine told me. “There's been a theft.”

    I stared at him.


    “Some hacker group has entered here and stolen the embryo my team and I were working on,” said Blaine.

    “That you...? Your project?”

    I couldn't keep the disbelief out of my voice. It was strange enough that someone had actually got into the Gym, but to have managed to overcome whatever security measures Blaine had in place and take his work... I hadn't thought it was possible. Where Blaine and his research was concerned, the League spared no expense in keeping things secure.

    “Yes,” he said. “My project.”

    I didn't ask what the project – this mysterious embryo – was. If I was meant to know, he would tell me; otherwise, it wasn't my place to ask.

    “I – God. Do we know how it happened?”

    “We've got a few things pieced together,” Blaine told me, crossing the lab and stopping before another door. “We know there were two intruders. One that broke into this lab and actually committed the robbery, and one that disengaged the alarms and cameras before the theft took place.”

    “How do you know there were two of them?”

    “Because we have one of them in here,” he said, and pushed open the door.

    Beyond was a standard examination room – much like a morgue but without nearly as much charm. On the steel table was a small abomination spread out in various chunks across the table; it looked like its body had exploded and blown its limbs and head apart. A scientist leaned over the whole, investigating the contents of its abdomen with a probe and scalpel.

    The scientist looked up at our entry; Blaine motioned for her to keep working and turned to look at me, evidently expecting a reaction of some sort.

    “What the hell is that?” I asked.

    “We have no idea,” said Blaine. “It uses the standard Base v04.1.3 code, but the rest seems to be home-grown – completely made from scratch.”

    That put the ugly little monster in a new light. I studied it more closely: round, oval head studded with eyes, apparently at random; tubular mouth with needle-shaped tongue; fat little body and two long, thin arms that terminated in three-fingered hands. If it had any legs, they were missing.

    “A security guard found it in the watchroom,” Blaine went on as I scrutinised the beast. “Looked like it had burst at the base of its body, ripping up its sides and shredding its legs. We're not sure how it managed it; it was as if—”

    “Someone ruptured a flame sac,” I murmured, thinking of yesterday.

    “Perhaps. The damage is consistent with a small flame sac – but there's no residue.”

    “Really? None at all?”

    Blaine shook his head.

    “I have no idea how it exploded. All I can say is that it did, and that before it did it strangled the guard watching the cameras, hacked into the security computers and disabled the alarms. It also erased the entire night's security footage and turned off the cameras.”

    I whistled.

    “That's... an impressive little monster.”

    “Yes. It's worryingly intelligent, actually,” Blaine said. “And yet its brain is tiny – it looks like it came from a fish.”

    “Sir?” asked the scientist, looking up from her reconstruction work. “We've confirmed that now. The brain is based on something.”

    “Not home-sequenced? Thank God for that,” said Blaine. “I'd be worried if there were hackers who could create scratch brains so easily as to throw them away like that. What is it?”

    “It's loosely based on a tuna brain,” replied the scientist. “But it's got three or four strange nodes in it that we can't identify.”

    Blaine raised his eyebrows.

    “Keep looking,” he said. “We need to know more about this monster.”

    At this point, I decided I'd heard enough; it was time to go for the big guns.

    “Sir,” I said, “what did the scratch let into the lab? What broke in and stole your project?”

    Blaine hesitated.

    “We don't know,” he admitted after a while. “It may have been a person, but if it was, it was someone who was known to the night staff. Someone who wouldn't have been noticed. I've already had people ask questions, but no one saw anything out of the ordinary.”

    “But you don't think it was a human, do you?”

    He sighed.

    “No, I don't,” he confirmed.

    “Why not?”

    “Because there were two dead guards in the building this morning. The one strangled in the control room, and another lying in the corridor down here, crushed beyond all recognition and covered in three-inch puncture wounds.”

    My eyes widened involuntarily.

    “What? What the hell was this thing?”

    “We don't know, remember?” Blaine threw up his hands in frustration. “Hell, this whole mess is one big question mark! Whoever orchestrated this, they aren't a hacker group we know about; no one's this good, this well-organised.” He gestured at the tuna-brained beast on the slab. “No one can take a tuna brain and make it do what that thing did.” He sighed again and turned back to me. “That's why you're here, Cadogan. You're uniquely placed to figure out who did it and how.”

    “Me?” I'd been expecting this, but I still couldn't see why me exactly. OK, so I knew a lot about how the hackers operated, having been in their line of work myself for so long – but my knowledge was three years out of date now, and it wasn't really going to help me track down these mysterious thieves.

    “Yes, you.” I could feel Blaine's eyes boring into me even through his sunglasses. “Cadogan, it isn't just that you understand the hackers, it's that you're a good detective. You must admit, your insider knowledge would get you nowhere without a certain aptitude for problem-solving – and for monster-killing. It isn't the one aspect or the other that draws the League's interest in you, it's the combination.” He paused. “That was the report given to me by Lauren, and I trust it. So, this investigation is yours and yours alone. This embryo must remain entirely secret, it must be recovered, and the hackers who took it brought in for questioning. You have the entire support of the League behind you.” Another pause. “Any questions?”

    I took a deep breath, and tried very hard to act nonchalant.

    “No, sir. I'll – I'll start right away.”

    “Excellent,” said Blaine. “I've arranged for you to have your own office on the fourth floor. I'll take you there now, and show you what we have so far.”

    As I followed him back out to the corridor, I couldn't help but grin. If I wasn't very much mistaken, I'd just been put in charge of the League's most important investigation and been confirmed as the best agent they had, all at once. Pretty good for a morning's work.


    My new office was a significant improvement on the old: austere, white walls, handsome furniture in pale wood, glass and steel, and a floor-length window to the right of the desk that looked out over the top of the fog, letting in bright sunlight and making the city look like it was flooded three storeys deep in grey sludge.

    “Whoa,” I said, unable to hold back. “Now this is a workspace.”

    “Yes, it's very good,” agree Blaine distractedly. “Over on the desk here are the requisite files – hard copies only, you understand? Nothing about this gets onto the database. This are real state secrets we're working with here.”

    I wondered what they could have been creating that could be so devastatingly important, but didn't dare ask.

    “OK,” I said aloud, picking up the folder. “What's in here?”

    “Everything we know so far,” Blaine told me. “Which, I'm afraid, isn't much.” He paused. “I'll leave you to read it. I'll be downstairs trying to recover something from the mystery scratch, if you need me.”

    “All right. I'll be down soon, I guess. Might as well start with the crime scene.”

    Blaine left, and I took a moment to spin around proudly on my new chair and look imperiously out of the window before opening the folder and flicking through its contents.

    There wasn't much in there that I didn't already know: two creatures had broken in somehow, turned off the cameras, killed two guards and stolen something unbelievably important from Blaine's lab. I sighed, set the folder down on the desk, took a last proprietary look around and went back downstairs.

    “Still no idea how the brain works,” he told me as I came in. “This thing should barely have the capacity to work its own legs, let alone use the computers in the watchroom.”

    “We have got something back from it, though,” said the scientist who'd been dissecting it earlier. “It's got very unusual blood.”

    “How is it unusual?” I asked.

    “It's human,” she replied.

    “Human?” I repeated. “You're sure?”

    “Yes,” she said. “I can even tell you the blood group. AB negative.” She shook her head. “With traces of P-37, of all things.”

    P-37 was the primary constituent of the fluid that ran in the veins of Poison-type Pokémon; what it would be doing mixed with human blood in a scratch monster was anyone's guess.

    Human blood... That rang a bell, somewhere in the back of my head. Human blood, a blown-apart body, P-37. I'd seen this before, somewhere – read about it, or heard about it. Something experimental, that we in the hacker gangs had been talking about but had never actually tried.

    “Hang on,” I said. “Tell me about this little monster's skeletal system.”

    “Weird as hell,” replied the scientist. “It's built like a birdcage – all the way around the edges of its body. The whole thing snapped to bits when it blew up.”

    “Is there a little stubby bit in the middle?” I asked. “Like a truncated spine?”

    “Yes, actually,” she said, puzzled. “How did you know?”

    I smiled grimly.

    “The brain you've got there is a decoy,” I said. “There was a second brain in there. A human one, illegally modded with an Abra psi gland and supported on a bone stem.”

    “Of course!” cried Blaine. “Someone grafts their brain into this little robot scratch, gets it into the building, pilots it to the watchroom, turns off the cameras and teleports out, leaving us with what looks like a sentient scratch to puzzle over.” He frowned. “But the explosion...?”

    “No such thing,” I told him. “It was an implosion. The brain suddenly vanishing from inside the body creates a vacuum, and the pressure outside gets too much for those spindly little ribs.” I pointed at the thin bone fragments on the table. “The whole thing snaps in the middle, and the psychic field sets off the P-37.”

    P-37 reacted badly to psychic fields, and so the teleportation would have caused accelerated decay in the rest of the body – hence the extensive damage. Instant collapse, just add psi waves.

    “Someone implanting their brain into an automaton... but that's incredibly dangerous!” pointed out the scientist. “They'd be running a huge risk – in such a fragile body, they might easily die, and the return teleport would be completely blind. There'd be a large chance they'd never make it back to their original body.”

    “Which means that either the thieves are lunatics, wanted this thing really badly, or both,” I concluded.

    Blaine nodded slowly.

    “They said you were good, Cadogan,” he said. “I guess they really meant it.”

    Despite the circumstances, I couldn't help but smile; I'd just been complimented by Professor Blaine, probably the greatest geneticist the world had ever seen, on a problem of forensic biology. That was something that didn't happen every day.

    “Unfortunately for them, these guys picked exactly the wrong person to send in on this mission,” I went on.

    “What? Why?”

    “The blood. AB negative is pretty uncommon – the rarest type, I think. I don't know the exact figures, but it's definitely less than one per cent of the population. We should be able to at least make a start here by looking through the people in the AB negative blood group.”

    “Well, Cadogan,” said Blaine. “Good start. Contact me the moment you find anything.”

    I nodded.

    “Will do, sir.”

    I turned and walked out, grinning to myself like an idiot. I knew this was serious, but it was going so damn well.


    “Welcome back, Nadia.”

    The blackness was receding, and she thought... yes. There was a face, and a light, and a harsh, pounding headache that felt like a giant drumming on her skull.

    “****,” she mumbled. “Hurts.”

    “Yes, it'll hurt. Not much we can do about that, really – brain surgery's pretty painful stuff.”

    What was that noise? Why was there noise? Nadia tried to wave it away, but her hand barely moved at all; her body felt clumsy and disconnected, as if it belonged to someone else.

    “Hang on there. You can't move yet. You haven't quite reconnected.”

    “You're loving this, aren't you?”

    A new sound, this time. Different – higher, sweeter than the other.

    “Christ, just put her under for a while longer. She's a ****ing hero; don't leave her in agony.”

    Why wouldn't the noise stop? It hurt so much, stabbed her in the ears with sharp, needling pains...

    “She's not in—”

    “Yes she is. Put her under. Now.”

    The sounds were fading, drifting further away; Nadia felt consciousness dancing before her, just out of reach, and gratefully let it slide into the distance.

    When the light came back a second time, she felt a little better. She knew who she was now, if not where she was, and she was pretty sure she could move. She curled and uncurled her fingers, and wondered vaguely why everything was so red; then she realised her eyes were shut, and opened them.

    There it was – a face.

    “She's coming round,” it said, and now Nadia understood the words. “She's back! Nadia's back!”

    “What – where am I?” she managed, through dry lips and a fumbling tongue.

    “Back at the base, Nadia,” said the face, and for the first time she realised it was attached to a body. “You did it. Everything worked, just like the boss said.”

    Then memory returned like a sudden blow, and Nadia gasped.

    “The embryo—?”

    “Safely in the incubator. It looked like it might not make it for a bit, but it's stable now. We did it. You did it.”

    “I did?”


    “Thank God.” Rational thought was returning now, dripping back into her skull as the stem cell wash in her head fixed up the last few neuronal connections. “Christ. I've got a ****ing bad headache.”

    “Kind of the price you have to pay to have your brain transplanted. You almost didn't make it back to the lab, you know – you teleported into a bin. We had to clean leftover Chinese takeaway off your medulla.”

    “Nothing left?”


    “Good.” Nadia closed her eyes. “Look, I need to sleep, S – So – Sam—”

    “I'm Jack.”

    “Yeah, Jack. I'm just gonna – gonna sleep for a bit...”

    The red glow of the light through her eyelids went out, and Nadia descended once again into exhausted, painless sleep.

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