Persephone, naked and sweaty, purred into Harrison’s ear. “I killed your father. He had some last words for you.”
Her hand gripped his erection. Stroked.
“‘You’re the last Hemlock. The burden is yours,’ he said. ‘You have to find that which I couldn’t.’”
Fast strokes. Event horizon. One more beyond and he came. Deep shudders crashed through his spine like a direct injection of LiquidCrank. Spirals of colour exploded in his vision. He forgot to breathe. Kept coming in long powerful pulses. Her hand gripped him tighter, squeezing out the last of his essence.
Hot tongue licked his lobe. She whispered, “He said the five tomes are real, Marlowe has evidence.”
The Tomes are real?
His orgasm died. Cut short. Even the effects of the BloodStim couldn’t prevent the premature sobering. Harrison’s brain tried to comprehend. Failed. Too much to handle.
Limp, he eased away from Persephone. Left her sprawled on the sheepskin rug. Sweat gleamed on her brown skin. Illuminated by the single red lamp in the otherwise dark room. He tripped backwards, jeans bunched around his ankles. Head cracked against tiled floor. A lightning storm of pain thundered in his ears. Goddamn!
She let out a shrill laugh. Stood, moving like a snake. Muscles rippled beneath glossy skin. Her fierce, raven-coloured bob swayed as she stood astride him. Sharp, chrome-stilettoed boots rose up to her thighs. A Brazilian strip led his eye to her crotch. He stirred. But he remained flaccid.
“The tomes are real? You fucking with me?”
Her eyes grew wide, pitch-black orbs reflecting the meagre light. She raised a boot, placed the sharp tip of the stiletto against his balls. “You suggesting I’m lying?”
Shrivelled, he backtracked. “Hell no.”
“Hell no, what? Maggot.”
Really, still this act? He wondered if she was ever out of character, if this was a character. He’d only known her for a few weeks. She came highly recommended by one of his more nefarious clients. ‘Assassin and Dom. Equally efficient at both,’ his contact said.
The stiletto pushed further into the soft flesh of his testicles.
“OK. Hell no, Mistress.”
“That’s better. Now, you gonna help a girl with papa’s body?”
“I paid extra for disposal.”
“He struggled. Made a mess of the lab. You said he would be ready to go.” Persephone raised a thin, sculpted eyebrow. Placed a hand on her hip. Struck a pose full of harsh angles.
Light from the red lamp reflected off her metal boot-heals. Struck the gloom like neon warning signs. More weapons than footwear. He remembered the story of how she punctured a guy’s eyeball with a single swift kick. He no longer doubted its validity.
“Fine. I’ll help. Just let me take that to the freezer first,” Harrison pointed to a sample cup on the rug. “Those little guys need to be preserved.”
Persephone smiled. Straight white teeth gleamed. Unnatural. Incisors sharpened. Perfect for puncturing a vein. Is that how she killed dad? A deadly kiss. Those same lips that… he shook his head. Too fucked up to contemplate.
Persephone picked up the cup of ejaculate. Handed it to him. “Didn’t miss a drop of your precious honey, little bee.”
It all counted. The success percentile shrunk week by week, he needed every single sperm for testing. “I’m outsourcing the production of my replacement organs. Something’s changed.”
“Philosophers infiltrated your little alchemy lab?”
“No. I don’t know what it is. My DNA is breaking down in the cloned organs.”
“Why not just replace with synthetic? Last longer than you’ll live.”
“It’s junk. Dead inert junk.” Synthetic meat. Damned Philosophers answer to everything since they took over the government. Medicine, transport, infrastructure. They’d gone too far. Forgotten what it was to be human. But not Harrison. Even his replacement hand was old fashioned carbon-fibre, none of this synthetic bullshit.
Persephone stepped away. Wrapped a black robe around her lithe body. “You mind if I switch the heating on?”
“No, thermostat’s down the hall.” He watched her ass sway as she drifted down the white marbled corridor and out of the open-plan living area. A low rumble, like horses running, vibrated up from the basement. The thought of those synthetic muscle-units turning the heating dynamo made him think of the butcher’s shop as a kid. Red slabs of fleshy meat. Thick crimson hunks flecked with blue and white sinewy veins.
Meat’s replaced everything.
He preferred honest mechanical materials from the old days: steel, carbon, iron, oil. Anything but muscle-tissue and PowerGrain stomach systems. No going back now that oil’s all gone.
Sharp clacks echoed on white tiles as Persephone sauntered back into the room. She walked like a supermodel: hips swaying, shoulders high, toes pointing forward. Indomitable. Invincible. And she knows it.
“You look a bit like him. You know that?”
“How so?” Harrison didn’t believe he looked much like his father at all. Grew up thinking he was adopted.
“You have his eyes, almost grey like they’ve been bleached. You’re tougher than him though. You don’t have his delicate poise.”
“I had to be tough. No one around to look after me. Dad spent most of his time making you bastards weapons, FleshNet traffic syphons, and God know’s what else.”
“Poor little Harrison. By the way, you’re nearly out of PowerGrain.”
“I know. Dad usually orders it. I guess it’s up to me now.” He knew there should be guilt there. But there wasn’t, just a feeling of sadness and inevitability. The great ‘individualist’ Charles Hemlock, scourge of the Philosophers, was dying. Irreversible cancer. I just made it less public, put him out of his misery. And the money would be useful.
“They were going to use him, you know that? Everyone thinks they are so perfect, so reasonable. Those damned Philosophers planned to use dad as an example of the dangers of individualism. But do you think any of those assholes out there, those mindless drones would see that it was bullshit? Or that it is they themselves that perpetuate this sham of a society that withheld his treatment, revoked his rights. It’s them that killed him.”
Persephone lit a hand-rolled cigarette. Sat on the glass dining chair and leaned back against the table. The same table Harrison and his father used to sit at and talk about the tomes, the possibilities, the potential of an individual.
The tomes: five books written by a single, unnamed man. The ultimate individualist.
Growing up, Harrison always thought it was bollocks. Just stuff his dad would talk about to stop him joining the Members Of Society. ‘Underneath all this utopia is a rotten core. They’ve forgotten what it is to be human. We are more than just Members of Society,’ he used to say, always at the end of their conversations.
The tomes themselves were rumoured to have unparalleled insight and guidance into the human condition. Details and specifics for an individual to rise through the hierarchy of needs and become transcendent: ultimately human.
Harrison enjoyed the idea of them, but considered them myth. Still, they intrigued him; so he would sit and listen to his father explain their importance. It was part of the reason why his father worked with the Shades Guild. Like the Knights of the Round Table, it was their quest to find them. Or at least it used to be a decade ago. These days they were more interested in making wet-tech devices for the rich or the insane. Surveillance, weaponry, pleasure. Anything anyone with enough cash could think of.
That was Charles Hemlock’s great talent. The melding of flesh and technology. Anything you could imagine he could build it. He was a great wet-tech. A true MeatPunk. The talent wasn’t hereditary though. Harrison wanted no part of it. Preferred good honest bootlegging and thievery.
“Where are we moving his body to?” Harrison pulled up his jeans and buttoned a black shirt. Pure cotton. One of a kind. There was no cotton anymore. Only synthetic fibres. Needed the crop space for food and PowerGrain.
“The pipes. Marlowe will meet us at the corner of Aphex and Burke and take us down. He’ll take your father’s brain and heart—”
“Marlowe’s working on a new construction — a weapon of sorts. Designed by your father. The rest will go into the recycler. ”
A judder crept down his spine at the thought of that—device. So much organic matter had gone through the recycler: chewed with NuBone teeth, digested, and shitted out into constituent organic material for repurposing. Like his hand.
Caught for stealing as a teenager Marlowe had forced it into the recycler as punishment. Harrison could never tell dad though. Marlowe was like his brother. Charles spent more time with Marlowe and the Shades than with his own family.
Old Charlie would be a part of everything the Shades made for at least a week. Ironic really. Still, it’s an honour of sorts. Better than being dumped in a shallow grave filled with calcium oxide. Like mum.
“Will you miss him?” Persephone asked.
An interesting question. He genuinely didn’t know. It was a mercy killing, but not through any deep-rooted love or affection. It was to stop his family name being ground into the dirt by the Philosophers. Especially now that he was the last Hemlock. Sure, there was some pity there. Who couldn’t feel pity for a man being eaten away from the insides while refusing synthetic replacements? Marlowe even offered to do it. Had them ready to go. But like Harrison, Charles had no interest in fake, petri-dish organs. Preferred cloned, even if they were still diseased. ‘All part of being human,’ he used to say.
“You listening to me? Will you miss the old guy?”
“Do you care?”
“No. I’m just making polite conversation. I’m kind like that.”
“That cost extra?”
“Manners never cost extra, Harrison. You’d do well to remember that in your new job.”
He snorted. “Job? What job?”
Those sharp, dangerous teeth gleamed again. Exposed by smiling lips. “Aw, you didn’t know. How precious.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You thought dad’s estate would come to you. You were wrong.”
“I saw the will.” Did the old bastard cut me out?
Persephone smiled. Stood. Click-clacked her way across the tiled floor to stand just inches from his face. “You’re mine now, little Bee. Daddy left his estate to the Shades. You have a salary waiting. And you owe us. Somebody needs to take up the slack now Daddy’s not around.”
“Fuck the Shades. Fuck you. I ain’t working for you lot.”
Turning on her heel, Persephone headed down the corridor. Spoke over her shoulder, “Your first job was to dispose of the body. I guess the police can help you with that. Shame DNA is so prevalent in murder enquiries these days. And it would be terribly inconvenient if they were to find your bootlegging stash. What’s that, a twenty stretch inside?” She trailed off with a hint of a laugh.
Fuck! Double Fuck.
Down a winding, steel staircase, the lab was two floors below the lounge. Their decor style wasn’t dissimilar. Both shared white marble-tiled floors and clean minimalist lines. The walls in both were spartan. The lounge featured a few select pieces of art. The lab had its own kind of art: images of organs in cross section: human, animal, and other unique constructions. His father’s work. Those images had burned their way into Harrison’s mind for years. He knew every line, every label.
Entering the lab, Harrison was transported back twenty years. His father holding his seven-year-old hand. The fat man with the blooded smock standing behind a counter holding a meat cleaver in one hand and a long piece of lamb’s neck in the other. The butcher’s shop always smelt of the cold, and empty drinks cans: mild, metallic, and a little sweet.
Swift arc of the cleaver. A dull chop as metal hits wood. A small spray of blood, which would later bloom into a blurry starburst on the thin paper wrapping containing the meat. It was never for dinner though. Charles Hemlock would send Harrison upstairs where Mother was waiting. For years, Harrison thought his dad was cooking the meat for himself in his lab while he and Mother ate in silence at the dining table.
Now fifteen: Harrison opens the door to the lab, curiosity of his father’s activities growing too strong to ignore.
Red everywhere. On the walls, the tiles, the stainless steel work surface. His dad: a butcher. A blood covered smock wrapped around his tall, thin body. Scalpel in one gloved hand, soldering needle in the other.
Current day: the room is much the same. Blood on the walls, the tiles, the work surface. His dad, wearing the same smock: blotched with gore formed into myriad nebulae.
Harrison bent over his father’s corpse. His skin, grey and sallow, hung on a thin, cancer ravaged body. His muscle mass had atrophied. Eaten away. And yet, he worked until his last day. Scalpel in one hand, an organic device half finished on the workbench. It looked like a pig’s heart. Copper wires inserted into veins, joined to a PowerGrain battery converter. Nanotube lattice covered it like an exoskeleton. No idea what the hell it was or did. Like most of things he made.
“Couldn’t you have been cleaner?” On his neck an ugly puncture wound. Ragged skin torn around two rough holes. “You fucking bit him. No wonder this place is a mess.”
Persephone leaned back against the workbench inspecting her ruby varnished nails. Smiled.
“I paid you to fucking respect him. Do it quick and painless, I said.” Harrison’s good hand trembled as he crushed it into a fist. Knuckles blazed white. Threatened to burst out of reddening skin.
“So you care after all?”
He was about to leap over the body and strike her when she lifted a leg. Pointed the sharpened stiletto at his throat. “Calm down, honey bee.”
He skidded on the slick floor, regained his balance and took a step back. “Calm down? This was supposed to be about preserving his dignity.”
“He struggled. I needed to act quickly.” Persephone turned her back. Displayed an ugly gash between her shoulder blades.
Where was the blood? The wound was open. Skin curled at the edges.
“Oh shit.” Then it sunk in.
Persephone smiled again, seemingly her default reaction to anything and everything, which now made sense.
“You’re a fucking automaton. Aren’t you? One of Marlowe’s creations.”
“Not quite. You’ll have a chance to ask him though. Now grab daddy’s legs, we need to get going.”
They pulled up to a designated parking space on the corner of Aphex and Burke. The dynamo of Persephone’s car — designed and built by Marlowe; the lack of any interior comfort was a signature of his — whined down, creating an animal-like cry. Harrison could never get comfortable with the meat engines. Genetically modified muscle working in sync with electronically controlled propulsion systems just didn’t seem right.
It was anachronistic of Harrison to have this aversion, he knew it, but couldn’t help thinking it was going too far, this reliance on ‘wet-tech.’ Perhaps it was the noise, or lack of it. He was just about old enough to remember internal combustion engines and their throaty roar. These meat engines were so different. Thick, red, ropey muscle pulled and pushed in silence.
At night one could creep up on you and you would never know it was there.
“Friendly round here, aren’t they.” Persephone said, referring to Harrison’s neighbour offering to help them load their ‘heavy item.’
“What do you expect from the MOS?” MOS: Members Of Society. “Nosey bunch. Ignore them, don’t engage, they’ll only try and convert you.”
“Oh, honey, you’re forgetting who you’re talking to. I deal with the MOS on a daily basis.”
Harrison knew exactly what she meant by ‘deal with,’ and it wasn’t holding polite conversation.
The corner of Aphex and Burke was like any of the street corners: quiet dirt roads forming a strict grid pattern. Between the roads, PowerGrain fields stretched as far as the eye could see. No more cities any more. All rural.
In the distance, a rolling thin cloud of dirt swirled into the sky. It was getting late, nearly dusk. The sun dipped beyond the horizon. Casted pink and orange tones to the underside of clouds. Looked like melted tropical fish.
The sound of his breathing seemed excessive in the stillness. Persephone had one elbow resting on the door. She smoked with the other hand. Smiling.
Marlowe will be here soon.
He flexed the fingers of his replacement hand subconsciously. He still had those phantom feelings as if his real fingers were still there.
His throat was dry, and a dread crept through his bowels. He clenched his good hand. Fidgeted in the car seat. Awaited Marlowe’s arrival.
The last thing Marlowe had said to him — after ‘recycling’ his hand — was a vow to remove his eyeballs and make them into a jewellery piece for the Philosophers.
He reminded himself to breathe. To relax. To be rational. It didn’t work. He kept on grinding his teeth. Cracking his knuckles. Tapping a foot. Anything to extinguish the nervous energy.
And the fear.
What would Marlowe’s reaction be now that Harrison had his best friend and best wet-tech killed? Can’t be anything good.
A black, sleek, curved vehicle approached in front of them. Stopped. Dust covered the bodywork. To anyone else it would look like any other car. But from behind the windscreen, two green orbs glowed from inside the dark cabin.
“Marlowe’s here.” Persephone whispered. Blew a smoke ring as she exhaled.