Chapter 15

Magdalena frowned, “Why are you holding me here?”

Patrick offered her a glass, “Champagne? No? Not your style any more Magda? Drinking somehting else these days?”

Magdalena felt a rush at the thought. He knew?

Patrick continued, “Total immersion anthropology demands a second, you taught me that much. So, here I am. The Captain enacted Protocol Seven so I have been recording too. Oh, you’ll report back, I know you will, but then there will be my report, my recording of key events. I’ve tried to be faithful” he paused, “… in memory of the victims. They all had names. Do you remember them Magda? Can you name the men that you’ve killed so far in the name of your study?”

Patrick waited and watched her face, waited for her to speak, finally giving up and pouring two glasses of bubbly champagne. Magdalena could remember each one of her donors, each one that had enabled her to feel strong and alive again. They had given her a precious gift and she was thankful to them. The moment of the kill had been exquisite, each person chosen oh-so-carefully. There was a delicious pleasure in each and every one. She wasnt likely to forgot any of them in a hurry. She spent a moment lingering on each.

“Thank you for that Magda.” Patrick said.

“What? Get the hell out of my head!” she screamed at him, stood up and backed away.

“Where are you going to go?” he asked in a quiet but firm tone,waving a hand expansively, “Construct, remember?”

A rough work book kicked James in the side and woke him. He sat up to see Vincent smiling, leering, down at him.

“Come on. Get your ass up and lets go home.” he said, helping an unsteady James to his feet.

Without warning there was a heavy explosion that sent them both sprawling to the ground. A gout of flame erupted from the fourth floor of the hotel nearby and a human sized projectile flew out of the hole that the explosion had torn in the wall. The body traced a neat arc trailing flames before landing with a loud crunching of bones. As James and Vincent recovered their senses and slowly picked themselves off the ground the body continued to burn. Judging fromt he size and what was left of the clothing it looked to be male and around six feet tall.

The two drunk men stood leaning on one another for support, watching the flames as they engulfed the upper storeys of the hotel. They attention shifted suddenly to the nearby body. It moved. Twitching movements at first, then more coordinated crawling motion dragging it toward the hotel. James only realized he was screaming when Vincent’s hand clamped over his mouth.

“We need to get out of here. There’s something not right about a man who can move of his own accord after a fall like that and being burned that badly. Ghsots have nothing on that I can tell you.” Vincent said.

James and Vincent backed away slowly, watching as the animated corpse crawled with a grim determination to the fallen pair of streetwalkers by the hotel door. The explosion hadnt been kind to them. One had fallen, hit her head on the ground, spilling blood and other fluids onto the pavement. The other lay with her legs crumpled in unnatural angles but otherwise didnt seem harmed. As they watched the corpse made it to the edge of the pooling fluids and seemed to draw them into itself. Strength returned and it heaved itself up and tore into the body hungrily devouring muscle bones and blood.

James felt himself too horrified to move. His legs felt like lead. It was just like Sarah, all over again, bodies torn and pieces eaten. The burned corpse lost its flames, then began losing the black colouring. As he watched in terror, James saw flesh and skin reforming, hair spiralling out of brand new follacles. The figure hauled itself up, twisted legs back into position then stood. With a crunching of sinew and bone it seemed to shrug its spine and shoulders back into joint again. Then it leaned down and tore into the other street walker.

Patrick got to his feet and slowly walked alongthe dunes. Magda couldnt travel far and he enjoyed the scene. Every face she’d remembered, every name she had attached, they had all been added to his files and would go into the report. Protocol Seven lock-down meant nothing could be deleted, at least once it was uploaded to the ship’s mainframe, but he had every item stored away ready. The report would be clear. Magdalena’s total immersion study had seen her carried away with the tide. Submerged in her persona she had been compromised but the data she collected would live on, even if her career was over.

He found her sitting and watching the sunset.

“So, come for a second round? Want to ream my head out some more?” she asked.

“No…” he started to talk then became distracted. The sun flickered and without warning exploded taking the construct with it. Magdalena was engulfed in darkness. She opened her eyes.

The beach was gone. She was buried up to the waist in rubble and burning debris. If she allowed herself to think about her legs they screamed blue murder at her, pain worse than she’d felt in years. They were clearly broken but the flames had taken their toll. Patrick lay nearby but hadnt faired nearly so well. He was pinned, for the most part, to the ground by a twisted metal bed-frame. His right arm was severed at the shoulder and was pumping out his life onto the unforgiving cobble-stones of the alley. The smell of blood inflamed Magda’s senses. The sheer waste of it pumping out onto the ground called to her. Patrick would die but she could give his death meaning and purpose but the weight of the rubble on her legs pinned her in place.

She screamed in frustration and pulled with all her might. There was a tearing somewhere down in the rubble. She ignored the pain and hauled again. It was going to hurt, she knew it, but if she was quick Patrick would be her salvation. With a strength born of desperation she heaved and the tortured flesh of her broken right leg tore off at knee level, the remaining skin and broken bones parting company. The rubble around her waist shifted and moved as she hauled the severed stump out from under it. What was one foot when Patrick was bleeding out the means to save her?

Dragging her own bleeding stump behind her, she crawled over to Patrick and began to _drink_. The taste was wrong somehow, tainted. She glanced down her body and nodded to herself noting the immediate effects, then back to the bloodflow coursing out of her pinned crewmate. To her surprise it had stopped. His sensor-net had extruded a thin film across the wound to staunch the bleeding. She wracked her brain. Were they built for that? She knew that some had stealth capabilities built in, but did they also provide emergency medical care?

She watched the film thickening until it had formed an opaque black covering. She was cut off! She looked over at the severed arm. It wasnt paletable but it would have to do. She reached for it then pulled her hand back in horror. The sensor net was bleeding along its torn edge. Gingerly she ran a finger across the torn edge and it seemed to shrink back from her touch. She tasted the blood. The flavour was strong, and explained what the taint was from Patrick … his blood had mingled with that of the torn sensor net. But how? Why? Why would an inanimate tool like this bleed and move of its own accord? She didnt allow her hesitation to stop her entirely. Mentally she pushed it out of the way as she reached for the arm, tore the sensor net off it, and ate what she could of the flesh and bone marrow. The stem-cells she harvested allowed her to concentrate on healing her own severed leg, covering the stump in skin. For more she would need a fresh donor.

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