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Monday, April 22, 2013

Welcome to the Serpent

         John’s heart raced in his ears as he looked down at the body of his dead partner. Alex’s face was half-buried in the snow, her eyes glazed and facing forward, the shotgun blast that killed her having transformed her head into a half-shell, like an egg smashed on the pavement.

            “Shit, shit, shit…” John was whispering to himself repeatedly, his hands shaking so badly that they made the automatic pistol clutched in his hands rattle loudly. He forced his eyes away from Alex’s body and stared down the long corridor beyond them, its walls littered with countless doors, some open and leaking light, but more of them boarded tightly shut.  Snow drifted in from the huge window behind them that had once sported the words “Glamour Inc. Product Testing Facility,” but now lay in shards under the ice after an animal-rights activist had thrown a brick through it some decades before.
            The facility had not been cruel to animals: it had been cruel to the illegal immigrants, runaways and freshly aborted “products of conception” that the workers there had coerced, smuggled and abducted in order to keep their own skin from the increasingly harsh chemicals that the CEOs of Glamour Inc had been working into their high-end foundations.
            John shivered, and lifted his gun into the ready position, the stench of the abandoned chemicals that Glamour Inc denied the existence of for decades making the breath catch in his throat. He carefully walked forward, and before he had gone more than a few paces, he noticed the fresh set of tracks in the snow, accompanied by a few rogue drops of blood.
            “Mr. Plymouth! You bastard, come out now!” John’s voice was weaker and much more shaky than he had hoped, but there was the sound of someone backing further into one of the rooms, “Jason Plymouth, I’m with the FBI. You are under arrest for running illegal operations regarding Glamour Inc. and for the indirect murder of over two hundred souls. Also, you are under arrest for the murder of my partner, Detective Alexandra Fasbender.”
            “She was an idiot!” John balked at the voice, which seemed to echo from behind him. He spun fast, but then checked the direction of the footprints, “So are you! That happened so many years ago, I’m an old man, just let me alone!”
            “You have to atone for your crimes!” John took another step forward and suddenly, an arm came crashing down out from one of the rooms, the butt of a shotgun accompanying it and smashing into John’s face. The man toppled to the ground as a man in his eighties snarled at him and stood over him, the gun held like a spear.
            “My crimes?” The man snarled, “My CRIMES?
            John rolled onto his back, both of his arms crooked over his head, “Yes, you shot Alex!”
            “And if I had bullets now, I’d shoot you!” Plymouth snarled through a gaping mouth empty of teeth, “All I did was make people beautiful! Is that a crime?”
            “Using human beings as lab rats for terrible procedures against their will is!” John spat out a clot of blood from the hole his jaw had bitten through his lip.
            The old man was weeping, “I’m so tired…so…so tired…” the gun drooped in his arms, and John took the opportunity to savagely kicked him in the kneecaps. There was a horrific crunch and he fell to the ground, screaming.
            There was a sudden flare of light so bright that John’s eyes snapped shut, and when he opened them to blink again, all he saw was a strange curved sheet of opaque plastic that was arched from the top of his head to the bottoms of his feet. A set of large metal struts were curled around his chest and waist like gentle arms, that held him solidly against the thin plush pad that lined the metal bed he was laying in.
            A sudden loud crunch echoed around him, and the plastic cocoon slid away to reveal the face of a young woman with multiple piercings in her face and fluorescent purple hair, “Welcome back, sailor.”
            “No.” John whispered, his eyes opening wide, “No, no, no! I need to go back! Please, send me back!”
            “Honey, you don’t know how many times I have heard that.” The woman reached a pair of gloved hands towards him and he flinched. She gently grabbed the metal arms and entered a code into the numerical pad on the side of it. The arms let out a loud click and, smoothly as large pythons, slid away from his body back into the recess of the metal back of the sarcophagus.  She grabbed him by the shoulder and he collapsed forward into her surprisingly strong arms.
            John tried to push her away, “I need to go back! He’s gonna get away!”
            “He already got away.” John pulled back enough to stare at her, and the woman blinked at him, “Detective Hunter, don’t you remember where you are?” at his blank look she guided him gently to a low bench that ran along the corrugated steel wall, “Detective Hunter, you were just removed from a Total-Emersion Memory Relay Suit. We like to call them Love Machines,” she blushed a little, and John looked beyond her to the room he sat in.
            They were sitting in a large barn-like structure, its sides providing the outer shell of the building, the walls within only reaching up to about a foot above head-level before they disappeared, leaving the roof of the building far above as the only ceiling. Perched on an intersection of these walls was a large metal platform bristling with computers and people dressed in white lab suits. Amongst them stood an imposing Asian woman with hair twisted into complicated designs on her head, and even though she was nearly twenty feet away, he could feel her eyes upon him, burning into his skin.
            “You employed us to help you relive the day that your partner was killed and your were injured to try and recover any new information about what happened and where Jason Plymouth escaped to.” The woman continued, her eyes worried.
            “My injury?” John asked, shaking his head in confusion.
            The woman’s eyes widened further, and a look of profound pity twisted her features, “You really don’t remember that part? You should, we didn’t harvest that particular-
            “What injury?” John repeated, and he looked down at his own chest convulsively. He gasped, and shook his head in horror, “No…” the skin on his chest, arms, neck, legs and groin were twisted and contorted, puckered in strange ways like an alien language. What had been his genitals were now a strange glob of skin glued to his inner thigh by flesh, a narrow tube jutting from the tip in order for him to urinate.
            “You received intense burns to eighty three percent of your body. You were recovering for two and a half years in a hospital before you came to us, and you were hell bent on us harvesting the memory of that event in order to help solve the case.”
            “Wait…” John took a deep breath, tears rushing down his face uncontrollably, “Harvest my memories…?”
            The woman looked up at the control platform, and carefully hit a button on her name badge. A red light began to blink, and three of the technicians hurried down from it. She looked back at John, “I just notified the people in charge, and they will come and explain everything better than I could.”
            John wiped his face with gnarled, distorted hands, “Okay…”
            “Detective Hunter?” a woman’s voice, thick with a Mandarin accent, echoed from the corner, and when John looked up he saw that the woman he had seen on the platform before was standing in the doorway, “Detective Hunter, you probably have a thousand questions for me, don’t you?”

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