As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light of meaning in the darkness of mere being.
- Carl Jung
We find her in the Gutters.
Its like a bad corporate dystopian film noir: the kind they used to scare us with right in the childhood. My partners still gawking on this travesty in front of us as Im already at her side.
I can tell that its bad. Not terminal, but bad. Shes in a plastered pink latex dress and shes soaked. Why is it always raining in these fucking stories that are always real life? 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 shes a girl that really likes her metal
Damn, my partner says, kneeling beside me on the wet concrete, Is she even
Theres this low whine. At first, I think its 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 its probably a miracle that they give us this much light.
It takes only a moment to realize that the sounds coming from her. My partners better at following orders than dealing with people. I make my decision quickly. You, I tell my partner, check around for some ID. Ill talk to her. Go.
Im not paying attention to him anymore. Im 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. It's 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 in there. Damned if I know why they didnt take it. Says shes a waitress nearby on the Docks.
Thats 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 its 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 thats enough for me.
Call it in, I tell my partner, still trying to see if shes 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 forensics 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 cant find her pulse and the ground seems to be thrumming through me. There must be a generator nearby.
Man, were just a Volunteer outfit. Neighbourhood Eye. All that, you know? Thats for the police to
The only thing the Citys given us Gutter-trash is glow-in-the-dark advert night-lights, Im beginning to remember that Im pissed off and that my partners 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.
Im not surprised he didnt do that. He doesnt 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 shes 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 didnt have time to tap that ID before
I see it before he does. She is moaning quietly again and shifting her head.
Miss dont move.. Were were getting help for you
Man, the number says
I know what the fucking number says, you dumb fuck! Im snarling at him and looking at the side of her face she just showed me, Please, just shut up. Shutthe fuckup 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 its that half the skin on her face is gone, No I wont. I wont
Guy, my partners pulling at my shoulder, Shes 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. Im taking off my jacket and putting it over her body.
Yeah, but we dont have time for this. Shes just a
Just a what? Im not looking at him because I know Im going to punch him if I look at him, A Skin-Job? Is that it? Tell me, man, do you think youd 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.
Shes looking up at me. Her one blue eye is pleading. My hand is still in hers. Shes cold to the touch. I know enough to figure that its a circulation problem. She might have been warm any other time but this. I grip her hand again.
Helps on the way, miss, I tell her, Youre a waitress at the Slippery?
She makes a sound almost like a yes.
Ive 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 couldve 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 hadnt got here. She would have been just another lost Number in the Gutter trash.
Dont worry, miss. Were part of the Gutter Shelter. We dont 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 thats not fucked up is scrunching. The metal part of her is shifting. A tear comes out of her one blue eye. I realize shes trying to smile, or cry.
Its breaking my fucking heart.
I realize, later, when theyve taken her away and my fingers hurt that shed actually been gripping my hand too.
© Matthew Kirshenblatt 2013 All Rights Reserved
Date and time of last update 15:46 Mon 02 Sep 2013
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