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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Of Serpents and Jade

The building was dumpy and small, with no name painted above the door. It was in an area of town long ago zoned for demolition, but due to the city’s managerial absentmindedness it had been allowed to thrive, bristling with black-market warehouses, brothels, N2 dens and this place, marked with only the twisted green coils of a spray painted dragon over its door.
                  Three women, girls really, giggled and pushed their way inside the door of the Green Serpent. The oldest of them navigated her way through the clutter of people waiting on the corrugated steel benches within and made her way to the man in a black leather robe who stood at a raised desk that barred the way to a large open door behind him.
                  “Three for the love machines,” the girl said quietly, while the two behind her giggled.

                  The man looked them up and down and curled a lip, “How old are you?”
                  “I’m eighteen,” the girl smiled, “And it’s June’s birthday.”
                  The man looked the one called June up and down and finally extended a hand expectantly. The first girl slid a card from her pocket across a transmitter embedded in his palm, which instantly charged her account, “Second room on the right. You have purchased two hours.”
                  The lead girl, Yan, grinned and pulled the two others behind her. June trembled and clutched at Yan’s arm, “I don’t know about this…”
                  “Oh come on! Everyone does it now, it’s like learning to drive…only illegal.” Yan laughed, “Besides, it isn’t scary.”
                  The last girl, Ren, snickered, “Not unless you want it to be.”
                  They pushed into the room, but instead of the three empty machines they were expecting, they saw three technicians hauling a sobbing woman out of the room while two more workers pried the lid off of one of the sarcophagi with a crow bar. A bright red light silently flashed above the station, and as the men got the machine open, one of then snarled, “Damn it! Number seven overheated again!”
                  June didn’t hear what they said next. Instead, her eyes were fixed on the puddle of scalded, molten flesh and charred bone that roughly resembled a human body until it sloughed out of the machine’s cradle and onto the ground in a sizzling pile. It took her another full minute to realize that the hysterical screaming she heard was her own.
“Madame,” a short man in leg braces called Felix Marra crouched beside a low couch on which a woman lay prostrate, her eyes gently shut, “Machine 7 has…acted up again.”
“Yes. I know. Shut it down for now, give the grieving widow some flowers or something and I’ll take a look at it later.”
“Alright. Also, we’ve had that request again…from the same dignitary.”
                  “The world has gone to hell, what do we need dignitaries for?” Ng Xue grunted without opening her eyes, her thick accent slurred even more by the N2 she had taken only moments earlier, “Tell him what we have always told him: some memories are harder to harvest than others.”
                  Felix cleared his throat; “He has offered us three times his original price.”
                  Xue sat up, her waist-length black hair sliding over her bare shoulders and over the front of her loose shirt, which barely covered her tiny breasts, “I don’t care. Unless he harvests the memories himself, then there is no bargain.”
                  “He also said…” Felix took a deep breath, “He said he would report us to the authorities if we didn’t take the deal.”
                  “That would be a problem,” Xue said softly, but she was still smiling, “Tell the kind gentleman to wait. Tell him that we will have his little dream in a week.” she stood up and slowly opened a pair of eyes so radiantly green that they seemed to glow in the half-light of the warehouse. She looked over her shoulder at Felix, “It is interesting, isn’t it? We can so easily acquire the memory of a rape, or of arson, murder, and robbery…and yet the single most difficult memory that we have been asked for, the one that seems destined to cause the most problems is the memory of the night sky…the memory of stars.”
                  Felix scratched an ear, “Eh?”
                  “Nothing.” Xue picked up a long pipe from a short table by the window and opened the blinds slightly. As she took a long drag of the N2 she glanced up at the sky, its jet black and deep purple clouds rolling like a bruise. The atmosphere had been incredibly damaged during the last war, and it had been at least twenty years since the stars all went black in the sky, “Felix, I am afraid that I am going to need to send you to prison,”
                  Her lackey smiled broadly and nodded, “Yes, Madame. With pleasure.”
                  New Crimea’s Medical Research Prison was known for its security: the wardens and researchers were each outfitted with a specialized chip beneath the thumbnail of their dominant hand which communicated directly to the prison’s computerized identification system via remote uplink. Fortunately for Felix Marra, he had the left hand of the prison’s chief coroner in his pocket.
                  The memories locked inside the Research Prison were a veritable treasure trove for the Green Serpent’s henchmen, as the memories of the rapists, arsonists, serial killers and thieves housed there were worth more than gold to the clients that Ng Xue liked to call ‘Class Two’ customers. Felix grinned to himself as he slipped onto the first catwalk across the cellblock and surveyed the prisoners. For optimal research within the prison, its inmates were kept in stasis pods; they were subjected to various medical and psychological experimentation, but in nearly every case the subjects were completely unaware. As Felix observed a prisoner who had a gaping hold plugged with tubes and catheters where his hips and legs used to be, he decided that their unconsciousness was a good thing.
                  He slid a long, syringe-like needle through a small opening in the glass near the legless con’s temple, and carefully pushed it through the flesh to the skull. As quietly as he could, Felix tapped the wider, exposed end of the needle with a small hammer until it cracked through the side of his skull and slid into the meat of his brain.
                  The device then did its work: it accessed the cortex of the brain and, with a sickening squelching noise, raided the synapses therein for their electrical discharge. Through some medical magic that Felix did not understand, and didn’t care to, those electric impulses were harvested and with them came the man’s memories. In smash-and-grab jobs like this one, the device took any and all memories it could to be sorted later, leaving the original host’s brain clouded and empty of all though, like a husk. Also, since the memories were not given willingly, they were jumbled and distorted, with only tiny useful snippets remaining. Still, it was enough to fuel the Love Machines at the Green Serpent, which made Felix’s pockets just a bit heavier.
                  He pulled the needle free after a few moments, the suction that the wound created making this a difficult task, and slid it into a thin sheath at his side that was lined with processors. He could feel the slight fluttering vibrations against his leg as the information was downloaded into a data storage device on his back as he hobbled to the next stasis pod. It wasn’t until he had pulled the needle out and set it against the hole next to the cons head that he noticed that the man’s eyes were open and staring at his face.
                  It took Felix a minute to scream. It wasn’t until after the man mouthed the words “help me” that Mr. Marra let loose and howled, staggering backwards into the railing and pitching backwards. He barely caught himself before her went over the edge, and stared openly at the convict in front of him.
                  The man gasped, the fluid surrounding him in the tank not dong the job it was supposed to, not paralyzing the muscles and sending him into a coma. He blinked sleepily at Felix and mouthed, “help me” again.
                  Felix knew he could have. He could have helped the man, could have somehow smuggled him out, or at east fiddled with the settings next to the pod to send him straight back into his watery sleep. Instead, without really thinking, he unsheathed the needle, opened the hatch beside the man’s head, and stabbed the needle deep into the flesh. The man shuddered, moaned once, and then the memories flooded into the needle, and the life seeped out with them.

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