Not Safe for Work and Possible Trigger Warnings. Reader’s Discretion is advised.
We find her in the Gutters.
It’s like a bad corporate dystopian film noir: the kind they used to scare us with right in the childhood. My partner’s still gawking on this … travesty in front of us as I’m already at her side.
I can tell that it’s bad. Not terminal, but bad. She’s in a plastered pink latex dress and she’s soaked. Why is it always raining in these fucking stories that are always real life? I can tell you right off that her leg is not supposed to be bending that way.
But her head. Goddammit all, they did a number on her face: it’s all tangled dark hair, blood, and metal. Either they mashed her with a chunk of stainless steel or she’s a girl that really likes her metal …
“Damn,” my partner says, kneeling beside me on the wet concrete, “Is she even–”
There’s this low whine. At first, I think it’s interference. The advert-murals in the Gutters never really work all that great to begin with and with all the hack-jobs and shattered plasta-glass around it’s probably a miracle that they give us this much light.
It takes only a moment to realize that the sound’s coming from her. My partner’s better at following orders than dealing with people. I make my decision quick.
“You,” I tell my partner, “check around for some ID. I’ll talk to her. Go.”
I’m not paying attention to him anymore. I’m placing her wrist in my hand to get a feel for her pulse, “Miss? Miss, stay awake please. Miss, I need you to tell me what happened here?”
She needs to stay conscious. I see one blue sliver open on the most battered part of her face. Its unfocused and muddled with fear. I take her hand and I squeeze it.
“Hey,” my partner calls out, “I found a purse. Credits are still there. Damned if I know why they didn’t take them. Says she’s a waitress nearby on the Docks.”
“That’s not far from the Gutters,” I mutter to myself and her: to keep her alert.
I want to ask her what in the hell she was thinking being down in the Gutters at night. Not even the cops come down here at this time: not if they knew what was good for them. I want to shout at her, but it’s not her fault. She doesn’t deserve this. And looking at the injuries and knowing no one took her credit chips, this looks very fucking personal.
And that’s enough for me.
“Call it in,” I tell my partner, still trying to see if she’s breathing or not, “Tell the Shelter we need some back-up and a forensic. And a Talker,” I add, “definitely a Talker.”
My partner groans, “A forensic’s probably not gonna help. Cheapest scanners in the world, man. Those fuckers are probably squeaky-clean and long gone by now.”
“Tell them to bring it anyway,” I still can’t find her pulse and the ground seems to be thrumming through me. There’s probably a generator nearby.
“Man, we’re just a Volunteer outfit. Neighbourhood Eye. All that, you know? That’s for the police to–”
“The only thing the City’s given us Gutter-trash is glow-in-the-dark advert night-lights,” I’m beginning to remember that I’m pissed off and that my partner’s a bit of an asshole, “The Guilds will pay for our lights, but not our security problems. Scan her ID number through if you need something useful to do.”
I’m not surprised he didn’t do that. He doesn’t think too hard. Good for the gun in his pocket–and not the non-existent one he tells the ladies about–but definitely not for the details. But if she’s not from around here, she could be in another district and out of jurisdiction. The police there might be a better help to her if we scan her number. Maybe she didn’t have time to tap that ID before …
I see it before he does. She is moaning quietly again and shifting her head.
“Miss … don’t move.. We’re … we’re getting help for you …”
“Man, the number says–”
“I know what the fucking number says, you dumb fuck!” I’m snarling at him and looking at the side of her face she just showed me, “Please, just shut up. Shut–the fuck–up for a bit.”
I’m staring at a mass of burning circuits and mangled wires underneath tatters of skin. I thought it was just the blood that made that side of her head glitter like that. Good old Heinlein would have called her an Artifact. I call this whole situation a piece of work.
I see a dark stream of waste flowing out of her mini-skirt. It smells like liquid rubber and she’s whimpering. When she speaks, her voice is all static-filled pain.
“Please …” her voice reverbs, and I wonder if it’s because her cords are crushed or if it’s that half the skin on her face is gone, “No … I won’t. I won’t …”
“Guy,” my partner’s pulling at my shoulder, “She’s a Number. Bought herself out of the Slippery Diner. Not our problem.”
“Did you call up the Shelter?” I realize the thrumming beneath me is the hum of her cardiac generator flowing power into her body. I’m taking off my jacket and putting it over her body.
“Yeah, but we don’t have time for this. She’s just a …”
“Just a what?” I’m not looking at him because I know I’m going to punch him if I look at him, “A Skin-Job? Is that it? Tell me, man, do you think you’d still look pretty if it was you without your skin?”
He says nothing. His cowardice saves him from a decking.
“Call them the fuck up again,” I say in a much quieter voice, “Tell them to bring one of those Artificers. I know we have them. So call. Now.”
He shrugs. I stare him down and he walks off. It’s almost a good thing we’re in the Gutters. There are none of them damn Registration Officers here to really cause trouble. Number-watching, my ass. Those stormtroopers make my partner look like freaking Archie Bunker.
She’s looking up at me. Her one blue eye is pleading. My hand is still in hers. She’s cold to the touch. I know enough to figure that it’s a circulation problem. She might have been warm any other time but this. I grip her hand again.
“Help’s on the way, miss,” I tell her, “You’re a waitress at the Slippery?”
She makes a sound almost like a yes.
“I’ve not been there a while now,” I see the lights of the crew coming in the dark, “best sushi rolls ever.”
I might have even seen her there. She could’ve served me and I would never know it. She looked like she was somewhere else: hoping for a night on the town. I might never know what happened. And no one ever would if we hadn’t got here. She would have been just another lost Number in the Gutter trash.
“Don’t worry, miss. We’re part of the Gutter Shelter. We don’t leave anyone behind. Anyone.”
She looks up at me. The gears in the side of her face make a whirring sound. The flesh part of her face that’s not fucked up is scrunching. The metal part of her is shifting. A tear comes out of her one blue eye. I realize she’s trying to smile, or cry.
It’s breaking my fucking heart.
I realize, later, when they’ve taken her away and my fingers hurt that she’d actually been gripping my hand too.