I'MMA DO IT, BEBEHS
Here's the really, really quick rundown.
The recurring setting of my dreams is a city ('Midpoint'). A city-state, in fact, consisting of nearly fifteen million people. It's a port city built into the hollowed-out side of a mountain- each section is obliquely crescent-shaped, like the mushrooms that grow on tree trunks. They advance slightly up with each level (marina, residential, business-residential, business, business-industrial, industrial), culminating in the headquarters of the governing body. In this case, it's a megacorporation calling itself FIAT (Future Integrated Advanced Technologies), which is one part energy company and one part defense contractor.
In Midpoint, you either work for the company, you let them buy you out, or you get crushed underfoot. I happen to fall into the first category. I am a member of their Internal Affairs division- a saboteur, specializing in wetwork. Or murder for hire, if you prefer that term.
My arch-nemesis is Dr. Vandor Sforza, a neuroscientist who dabbles in genetic engineering. He's in his mid-forties, about 6' 6", and is quite possibly the scariest goddamn person I've ever encountered in my dreams.
A while back (going on ten years now), he decided that he wanted me as a specimen- I heal much more quickly than the average human, for one, and this made me of interest to him. The downside to having vivid dreams is, I can feel pain in them. You see where this is going.
I did escape, mind you. Repeatedly. We're currently in kind of an uneasy truce- he can't touch me because I'm under the Director of Internal Affairs' protection, and I can't touch him because he's under contract with FIAT.
Which brings us to the dream in question; the one I said was a friggin' WALL OF TEXT. And man oh man, I was not kidding.
Are you ready, chill'un?
Here we go.
If you were to ask me how I wanted to spend my nightly sojourns in dreamland, “lying flat on a table while my mortal enemy uses a scalpel to gouge a monstrous, body-surfing parasite out of my right arm” would be pretty much at the bottom of the list.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with these nightmares, I didn’t really get much of a choice in the matter.
The dream started off innocuously enough. I had some time off between assignments, and was spending it down at the marina- namely, looking out over the water with my feet in the bay. It was a calm day; there was hardly any wind and only a few wisps of cloud creeping across the sky.
The streets harborside are narrow, cramped cobblestone, and what buildings aren’t stucco warehouses are made almost exclusively of brick or stonework. The wooden roofs are ancient, weatherbeaten wood. It was midafternoon, high tide, and I was feeding bits of funnel cake to the drab, silver-grey fish patrolling amongst the algae-encrusted pylons below my knees.
The air smelled very green, full of salt water and rot, the boats creaking gently as they bobbed this way and that with the swells.
Then my phone rang, startling me so much that I almost fell into the water (which would have been embarrassing; the first thing I did was look around to make sure no one had seen me jump).
I fished the cell out of my coat pocket, expecting it to either be a call from HQ- or maybe my sister, calling to ask if I wanted to go out for drinks later. If I’d bothered to look at the screen, I might have thought to check the caller ID. Instead, I just clicked it on and raised it to my ear.
“Good afternoon, Nemu.”
I froze, my tongue adhered to the roof of my mouth. I knew that voice- the smooth, cultured baritone; a confident vocal tone that seemed to perpetually border on the smug. It was a beautiful voice. And that just made me hate its source that much more.
“Doctor Sforza,” I said. “How’d you get my phone number?”
“I asked for it, of course,” he replied calmly, as though the answer should have been obvious. “My organization is under contract with FIAT, if you recall. I simply dropped your name.”
So help me, I thought, if it’s the last thing I do, I am going to find the person responsible for that and murder them. “Is there some particular reason you’re interrupting my time off?” I tried (unsuccessfully) not to grind the words out through my teeth. “Or are you just calling to annoy me?”
“As a matter of fact,” he said, “I find myself in the… unenviable position of asking for your help. It is a matter I think you’ll find of some interest.”
I allowed myself a bitter laugh. “You have got to be kidding me. What possible motivation would I have to help you?”
I could practically feel him smirk. “My continued goodwill?” He cut off my incredulous snort. “…No, I rather thought not. Very well, suffice it to say that if you do this one task for me, I’ll owe you a favor.” There was a pause, stretching beyond the uncomfortable and edging into the strained. “Will you hear me out?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose between my free hand’s thumb and forefinger, and let out a long, heavy sigh.
“I can’t believe I’m agreeing to this.” The comment had mostly been addressed to myself, and I knew I’d be kicking myself for it later. Sforza was a slippery ***, not to mention a dangerous one. But barring an obvious loophole, he generally did keep his word.
Most frustratingly of all, now I was curious.
At night, a deserted loading dock is like the nave of a ruined cathedral, open to the moon: all impenetrable shadows and lifeless geometric shapes, lit by halogen floods.
As it turned out, Sforza’s problem was connected to the incident that happened a couple weeks ago, when an entire section of the transit tunnels had been sealed off due to ‘contamination’. He didn’t elaborate on what had gotten into the subway, but apparently his organization had acquired a sample of some kind.
A short time before I’d received Sforza’s call, however, the entire facility had gone dark. No attempts to call for help had been made; no survivors reported. The whole place had simply been put into lockdown, and apparently deserted. He wanted me to go down, look for survivors, and retrieve any data or information on the project that I could find.
“I still don’t get why you need me to do this,” I groused, as my unlikely companion punched his combination into the door mainframe. “You have people; get them to take care of it. Or hell,” I added, as the door shuddered reluctantly open, “petition Director Nieves**; she’s got manpower aplenty.”
Sforza swept past me into the complex’s foyer. Even by the dim light of the flood lamps outside, I could tell this job was going to be trouble. The room was in a stare of complete upheaval: chairs and file cabinets knocked over, the contents of desks scattered (in some cases, the desks themselves had been completely upended); clearly, whoever had been here when the hit the fan had tried to leave in a hurry. On top of that, there was a strange, persistent noise coming from somewhere in the room; the sound was repetitive and mechanical, but I couldn’t pinpoint its origin.
I sifted through some of the paper sheets littering the floor, squinting through the gloom in an attempt to make out what they were. From the look of things, mostly spreadsheets.
“To be honest, I’m not entirely certain what’s down there,” my nemesis replied, over by the far wall. “I’d rather not publicize this unnecessarily, nor do I care to risk my personnel.” Click-click clickclickclick. “Hm. Electricity’s down.”
At this point, I’d managed to locate the source of the odd whirring I’d noticed earlier: there was an elevator in the wall behind the receptionist’s desk, one door slightly ajar. It kept trying to close, but stopped with a hollow thunk and withdrew after about an inch of progress. I pushed the doors open –there was no car, a fact that didn’t seem odd to me until after I woke up- and peered down the shaft. I could see light coming from maybe fifty or sixty feet below, and said as much. Sforza replied that every level of the facility ran off an independent power source, and that to get to it I’d have to abseil down the elevator shaft.
I suppose in retrospect I should have been more wary, but in the Dreaming my upper-body strength is a lot more considerable than it is in this world. Moreover, I’ve done exactly that kind of maneuver on more than one occasion- though I’m usually climbing up, not down. It’s a good way to avoid patrolling security when you’re on your way to a target, though it can be a nuisance if someone gets into the car underneath you and starts it up.
I looped a foot around the cables and swung out into space. It was dark in there; aside from the glowstick clamped in between my teeth, the only source of illumination was a thin band of light far below.
“So instead,” I commented, as I peered apprehensively into the void, “you’re risking me. Fantastic.”
Sforza gave me a wry look. “Oh, do spare me the melodrama. Out of all the entities I’ve encountered lately, you’re the one most likely to come out again intact.” One corner of his mouth pulled upward into a thin, humorless smile, and he leaned forward. “If you like,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper, “think of it as an experiment.”
I was not reassured.
I descended slowly, hand-over-hand, listening to the creak and twang of the elevator cables and hoping to god that the missing elevator car wouldn’t suddenly drop onto my head. Once I actually reached the source of the light -surprise surprise, another set of doors- I had to grip the cables with my legs and use the blade of the short sword I carry as a makeshift prybar. It's not as risky as it sounds. The sword is more than a sword- it's the physical manifestation of my willpower (or conviction) in the Dreaming***. And, ultimately, it's as strong as I believe it to be. I've sheared through steel pylons with it.
There was a heart-stopping moment after I got the door open, though, when I felt myself slipping and thought I was going to fall. I had to grab for the edge and haul myself out through the doors by my forearms. Not fun.
I was in a broad, linoleum-tiled hallway, the walls a queasy off-white lit by banks of narrow blue lights. It made everything look sickly and washed out- including the huge smear of drying blood that ran the length of the floor and disappeared around the corner of the far wall. It was about two feet long, and from the pattern it made, it looked like someone had been making a try for the elevator when something had hit them, knocked them down, and then dragged them off somewhere.
That was also why I'd had difficulty in getting a grip on the floor when I was trying to pull myself in. I hadn't noticed until that moment, but it was all over my hands.
You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? The feeling that you've just made a godawful mistake, but it's already too late to turn back?
Yeah. That was the feeling I had.
Whoever it had been, I could tell just at a glance that they wouldn't be getting up again. Even in a world that doesn't always operate by conventional standards, no one could lose that much blood and survive. So much for survivors. I couldn’t leave now, though: if whatever was responsible for the carnage got out, it might threaten the rest of the city. I wasn’t having that.
Oh, , I thought. I suddenly felt very tired. And this was supposed to be my day off, too.
I gradually became aware that the air in the hall was dense and humid- almost stifling. The ventilation system must have been shut off, maybe in an attempt to keep the unknown contaminants from spreading.
Aside from the persistent hum of the light strips, the hallway was oppressively quiet. Because of this, and the way acoustics carried, every step I took sounded as loud as a gun being discharged. I hugged the wall and crept along the corridor. There were doors interspersed along the walls, each one set with a window of fogged glass. I tried peering through them, but all I could see were vague approximations of offices: furniture, potted plants, little else. Most rooms were locked when I tried the handles, and I didn’t dare open them by force lest the sound attract unwanted attention.
As I proceeded, following the smear on the ground, it became clear that whatever had happened here, there had been a hell of a struggle involved. Some of the fogged-glass windows were cracked; others spattered with blood and some kind of tacky, unidentifiable goo that clung to my fingertips in threads when I touched it. Doors were hanging drunkenly from their hinges. Bullet holed lined the walls in increasingly erratic patterns, as if the people using them had stopped trying to fire in controlled bursts and resorted to simply spraying everything in the vicinity with slugs.
Eventually, I found myself leaning against a broken door that I could move. Shouldering it aside, I poked my head into the room and immediately wished I hadn’t.
It had been a small, private laboratory at one point, I thought. Cabinets and drawers lined the walls, and there were whiteboards on the far wall decorated with incomprehensible diagrams. In the center of the room, a low metal table, possibly intended to hold chemistry equipment, had been set up.
There was a woman lying on top of it. Early forties, average height, skin that was probably dusky at some point but had gone pale and grayish from blood loss.
Her throat had been almost completely torn away, as if someone had taken a sharpened melon baller to her. I could see vertebrae and shredded bits of gristle poking through the missing space. Her arms were in tatters- from their positions, it looked like she’d tried to fend off her attacker and been overpowered. Blood coated the floor, the walls, even the ceiling.
She’d clearly been dead for some time- the gore soaking into the linoleum was almost completely dry.
I backed out and continued on, checking the other offices as I went. It was just more of the same- most rooms were empty but utterly trashed; others contained mutilated corpses.
I was examining the process of examining the body of a man whose arm had been torn almost completely free of his body, when I saw something move out of the corner of my eye.
Someone had just stood up from behind an upended couch, a few feet away.
It looked, upon cursory examination, like a person. Or rather, it looked like a sculpture of a person, crafted by something that had never seen a human being before.
The entire left side of its face was bifurcated by a long, narrow gash full of black, waving tendrils- a bit like a bivalve mollusk when it’s opened up to feed. The right side was bedecked by a series of black, perfectly circular eyes. These were about the size of grapes, and ran diagonally from the gash down to its mouth. Its flesh was waxy white –translucent enough that I could see the veins beneath it from some distance away- and seemed almost to writhe across its skeletal structure.
When it saw me, it let out the most godawful sound I’ve ever heard- like a baby’s cry, but rising exponentially in volume and pitch, and terminating in something almost like white noise. The inside of its mouth was full of what looked like tiny, twitching insect legs. Its throat bulged, and it spat a handful of long, glistening, gelatinous filaments at me. When they coiled around my arms and lashed across my face, they instantly adhered with the strength of tensile steel. They felt like sandpaper coated in paste.
Caught off guard as I was, it almost yanked me clean off my feet. “HOLY !” I croaked, and yanked back on the tendrils as hard as I could as my feet began to slide. Instead of hauling the creature toward me, I wound up barely managing to drag myself to a stop so that I could regain my balance. The thing across from me made a horrible chittering sound as I drew my sword and brought it down on the crap holding me. It rebounded off the tendrils as if I were hitting gummy concrete. Letting out a stream of profanities most certainly not meant for polite company, I slammed my weapon down onto them four or five more times, as hard as I could, until they finally parted with wet, meaty tearing sounds. All the while, the monster had been getting steadily closer; it was at that point only just out of arm's reach.
When it lunged at me, hissing, I curled the middle finger of my right hand over the index finger to brace it, and drove my hand forward at its eyes.
I missed my intended target, as it jerked its head to one side at the last second, and my fingers instead raked a shallow gash in what I supposed was its cheekbone. I quickly seized it by the throat to keep it from biting me, trying to keep it at arm's length until I could stab it in the face.
I realized that there was no blood coming from the gash in its cheek at the same time the monster twisted in its own freaking skin, leaving my grip dangerously slack. As I watched, the skin along its spine rippled, and then the whole monster opened up like a puzzle box. The thing inside was, arguably, much worse.
At first glance, it looked a little bit like a giant centipede. It was perhaps a foot and a half wide, five feet long, and shiny black all over. Its underside was dotted with long, jointed legs and waving, translucent tentacles; its sides were lined with clusters of eyes and lashing, pencil-thick tentacles. Its mouth was that mollusk-like gash I'd seen poking out of the body's face.
It had embedded itself in the corpse of one of the scientists, burrowing into it like a maggot into an apple.
I did the professional thing; the one any highly-trained wetworker who encounters eldritch monstrosities on a regular basis would do: I jumped backwards, spat a shocked “WHAT THE ?!” into its face, and tripped over a desk chair.
Fortunately for me, even if my brain had temporarily vacated the premises, my instincts were still present. I righted myself before I could crack my head on the floor, and when the thing inside the corpse snapped forward and tried to bite my face off, I creased its forehead with the pommel of my sword. All it got for its trouble was a split exoskeleton and a mouthful of wrist guard.
I hadn’t even been conscious of drawing the gun, and it took a second for me to register where the percussion –deafening in an enclosed space- had come from. I glanced down at the smoking barrel, then up at the thing attacking me, in time to watch it slide to the floor in a rapidly-expanding puddle of clear fluid and oxidized gore.
I collapsed, more than sat, on the desk behind me, waiting for my teeth to stop chattering and to see if the creature would get up again. It’s happened before; monsters you were certain were dead surging to their feet for a last, frenzied attack. Sometimes, standard ammunition doesn’t even have an effect. It might have just been waiting for me to turn around.
A few minutes passed, and eventually, I managed to heave myself to the floor for a better look. I almost wish I hadn’t gotten one; there was no clear seam, for example, where the centipede-thing merged with its human corpse. They sort of ran together along the spine, like melted candle wax. I got the feeling, though (regardless of how out-and-out bizarre some of the Dreaming’s inhabitants can be), that these were two entirely separate beings. My mind drifted unpleasantly to the thought of Cordyceps fungi.
Now, more than ever, I just wanted to find Sforza’s goddamn data and get the hell out of Dodge. I didn’t know what other unpleasant surprises were waiting for me in the depths of the facility (considering Sforza’s particular taste for playing with syringes, lots), and I didn’t want to find out.
I spent a few moments seriously considering the possibility of going “ this, I’m out of here”… then sighed, checked the magazine in my automatic pistol, and went back out into the hallway.
It sloped gently downwards, seeming to go on forever, though the different sections were interspersed with (locked) elevators and (equally locked) doors leading out to emergency stairwells. There was little variety in the décor; oftentimes the numerals painted over the doors were the only indication that I’d reached another level.
This facility was much more sprawling, horizontally, than Sforza’s base of operations, and the further I went, the more obtuse the placement of the walls became. I was in the middle of debating whether or not I should find a ball of twine to mark my progress, when a realization slowly dawned on me.
I couldn’t hear my footsteps any more.
I looked down at the floor, and realized that it was no longer covered in linoleum tiles. Instead, I was walking on a carpet of some dense, sprawling organic matter- like creeper vines, or maybe ivy, but much broader and lacking any type of foliage. The vines themselves were a vague, rusty reddish-brown in color, packed densely together in groups of three or four and anchored to the floor and walls by clusters of smallish tendrils. They were oddly spongy to the touch, and made my skin tingle- a little bit like touching bleach powder. When I rested my hand against the wall for a moment, the vines twitched under my fingers, and I jerked backward in surprise, palm tingling unpleasantly.
The vines grew from an unidentifiable source deeper in the facility- I could see them stretching away into the distance, growing denser and gloomier the further they went.
The rooms I checked were also covered in vines, though less so than the hallways- tendrils crawled across the ceilings like Christmas lights and disappeared into cracks in the walls.
There were more of the weird centipede monsters, as well- I opened a door to one office and found that there were at least twelve of them inside, all standing perfectly still, shoulder to shoulder. It took them a few seconds to notice me, but once they did, they all lunged in unison, making a sound like a buzzsaw cutting through meat. I jammed a steel office chair under the door handle, and covered the next two levels of the complex at a dead sprint.
Eventually –by means of crawling through ducts, the occasional skirmish, and a great deal of exercising the greater part of valor- I found what I was looking for.
It was inside a large, circular room that appeared -to my eye- to be some type of monitoring station- the walls were paneled in video screens, although only a handful of them were showing something other than static. Beneath the aforementioned screens, the room was bordered by a single continuous platform, apparently a communal desk if the scattered papers, coffee stains, and banks of glowing keys were any indication. A single laptop remained standing, its screen glowing cheerily with what looked like chemical diagrams.
Not bothering to pore over the contents, I bundled it inside a discarded briefcase I’d found near the door, stuffed a couple of notepads sitting beside the computer in after it, and snapped the latches shut. Unwilling to risk losing my acquisition after all the I’d gone through to get it in the first place, I fished a pair of handcuffs out of my pocket and clipped the blighted thing to my wrist (yeah, don’t ask where I got those).
As I turned to leave, internally mapping out my escape plan (because there was no way in hell I was going to backtrack through all those things), I heard a sound coming from the room adjacent to the one I was in. It was a low scraping- not the skittering of centipede legs, but more like someone shifting furniture or debris around. I hesitated, listening intently for a few minutes, and just as I was going to chalk it up to coincidence or some other horror setting an ambush, I heard a voice.
“Hello?” it said, the tone so reedy and hoarse I had to strain to hear it. “Is someone there? Oh god, oh god, please answer me; please don’t tell me I’m all alone down here.”
I crouched down near where the sound was coming from, putting my head nearly up against the wall. It had to be coming from the next room- I’d tried the door earlier, but it had been locked. “Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?”
It might not have been the most reassuring thing to say to a possible survivor, but that would have made the first one I’d seen since going down the elevator shaft. And there are things in the Dreaming that can mimic human voices. They like to call out for help in order to lure in fresh prey. I was not going to get my face bitten off for a sudden display of blind compassion.
There was more scraping beyond the wall, followed by a rough, rasping cough. “I work down here,” whoever-it-was replied after a moment. “I stayed behind to salvage some of my research, and the roof collapsed. I'm stuck.”
Knowing full well that I’d probably be kicking myself for it in short order, I got up and walked over to the door of the room the stranger was in. “I’m coming in,” I said, putting my face so close to the steel frame that my lips were practically touching it. “If you move or do anything else I don’t like, I swear I’ll put so many bullets in you-”
I punctuated the statement by backing up and putting all my weight into a solid kick to the door. There was a loud CRACK, but aside from that, the assault didn’t seem to have an effect. Nor did the second kick. The third, however, almost tore it from its hinges, swinging the door open hard enough to leave a dent in the wall.
I exhaled slowly as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. The stranger hadn’t been trying to trap me after all- I could see him from the doorway, pinned under a section of drywall and shredded electrical wiring. It was a man, possibly in his mid-thirties, and so thin I felt I could probably break him in half if I tried. His lab coat was covered in a fine layer of insulation dust- so was most of his skin. He had a raw, pinched look to him, as much from worry as from his uncompromising facial features.
It took some doing, but I did eventually manage to lever the drywall up long enough for him to crawl out and prop himself against the desk it had fallen on. Upright, he was shorter than I was, though not by much. I wasn't sure how I'd missed it before, but his hair was vibrantly, eye-smartingly pink: shaved almost off on the sides and done up on top into a curling wave of tiny braids. It reminded me of some of the hairstyles common in the lower ranks of Midpoint.
"Yeah," he said, wiping dust off his face with a sleeve. "South Quarter." I hadn't realized I'd been speculating aloud, and he responded to my surprise with a wide grin. It displayed a truly stunning array of white, serrated teeth.
I was not actually put out by the display. As I've mentioned before, Midpoint is populated almost equally by humans and 'near-humans'- people who look almost normal, but not... quite. Clearly, this man fell into the latter category.
"My name’s Cray," he introduced himself, holding out a hand for me to shake. "Cray Jeschonik."
“I’m Nemu. Sforza sent me.” I jerked my head in the general direction of ‘upstairs’. “Can you walk?”
His smile abruptly metamorphosed into a wince, and he glanced down at the floor, testing his weight gingerly against first one foot, then the other. "I think my leg's broken."
“That’s just great,” I grumbled, restraining the urge to grit my teeth. The only survivor in this godforsaken hellhole, and he turned out to be a cripple. My luck, all right.
At his crestfallen look, I sighed and bent into a crouch, pointing at my shoulders with my free hand. “Climb on. I can’t carry you, but you can lean on me. We’re getting out of here.”
Together, we half-walked, half-limped out into the hallway. In spite of his size, Cray weighed next to nothing; he draped himself across my shoulders like a blanket.
In retrospect, that should have been my first warning that something was wrong, but it wasn't until he slammed me into the wall that I realized something had gone awry.
The ‘vines’, which had been steadily increasing in number since my sojourn into the offices, reacted instantly: snaring my shoulders and upper arms and anchoring me solidly to the wall.
“Cray, what the-” I began. The protest died, unfinished, when he smiled at me and opened his mouth.
It kept opening.
The skin everywhere above his mouth peeled backwards like a crumpled-up sock, bunching as it went and obscuring all of his facial features save for that black, cavernous maw. It was lined with rows of backward-facing teeth, like those of a Dune sandworm, and they seemed to go on forever. I tried to wrench myself away from the wall, but the tendrils held me fast. I could feel them boring through my clothes and the Kevlar body armor underneath like a horrible, fast-growing slime mold, creeping gradually toward my skin. The harder I struggled, the tighter their grip became. I felt myself sliding toward full-blown panic.
I did the only thing I could think of: I cocked my fist back, and tried to punch the thing that was not Cray in the face. Its mouth closed on my wrist with a grinding, toothy crunch, and I was yanked forward with whiplash-inducing force. I watched my forearm, then my elbow, disappear down the monster’s gullet as it chewed its way upwards. All the while, it was whipping its head back and forth and increasing the pressure; it was like sticking my hand into a garbage disposal (and then possibly pouring Drano in after it). I heard something snap –I think it might have been one of the little bones in my hand-, and distinctly remember thinking It’s going to tear my arm off!
Somehow, with a supreme effort, I managed to rip myself free of the clinging tendrils, and walloped not-Cray in the face with the steel briefcase attached to my wrist. It didn’t hurt it, but I must have caught it off guard, because it reeled back and let me go with an angry screech.
I didn’t bother sticking around to fight. The vines in the hallway were now quite obviously animate, and were slithering toward me at an alarming speed. I bolted, hurtling down the hallway in an oblique ‘holy mother of god anywhere but here’ direction. As a result, I almost knocked myself unconscious by running headfirst into an emergency exit door. I yanked it open, ducked inside, and slammed it shut again with as much force as I could, slumping against the frame and trying not to hyperventilate myself into unconsciousness.
The arm that whatever-the-hell-that-thing-in-the-hallway-was had tried to eat was, somewhat remarkably, still attached. My coat sleeve was shredded, and I could see a lot of deep, nasty-looking lacerations underneath (the skin around them was turning bruise purple, and throbbed painfully), but all things considered, it could have been worse.
I staggered up the staircase, cradling my injured arm against my chest, as I listened to the deep, hollow crash of the facility levels sealing behind me. Either Sforza had surveillance installed in the emergency exit, or he’d finally gotten the security systems up and running.
When I sprawled out into the room I’d started this whole ordeal from, Sforza was slouched in a chair near the middle of the room, one long leg slung over the other, fingers steepled in front of his chest, and looking insufferably smug. With his gangly build, he reminded me of a human stick insect. The scientist glanced up as I entered, crow’s feet at the corner of his eyes crinkling into what could, with effort, almost pass for a smile.
“Nemu,” he said, resting his jaw against the curve of one hand. “Did you find my data?”
I just growled, breaking the handcuff chain with a quick jerk, and dropped the entire thing into his lap. It took all of my willpower to resist throwing it at his head.
As I turned to go, however, he grabbed my wrist. Pain flared in my fingertips and I rounded on him, the beginnings of a tirade on my lips. My anger died, though, when I saw the look on his face. He flipped my hand over and pushed the shreds of my sleeve up toward my shoulder, his lips drawing into a thin, bloodless line. “How long has your arm been like this?”
I followed his gaze, and sucked in a breath as I saw my entire forearm had turned an uncanny shade of chartreuse, and was swollen to almost half again its usual girth. Worse yet, the lacerations hadn’t healed. That… doesn’t happen. My rapid healing is the only reason I’ve survived this long in the Dreaming at all. These wounds weren’t even terribly deep.
Sforza stretched the edges of one of the lacerations out, and from its depths, I could see tiny black filaments waving back and forth.
"God dammit," he spat. Had I not had a long and storied history with the man, I wouldn't have thought he could move was fast as he did. One moment I was standing in front of him, the next, I was bent backwards over the nearest desk, my arm stretched flat out against the metal as he pinned me down with a knee and drew a scalpel, still contained inside its packaging, out of his coat pocket. "Hold still."
I didn't have time to respond before he stripped the paper off of the knife with his teeth, and laid my entire arm open from bicep to wrist. I screamed, as much in surprise as pain, and tried to jerk away from him. He was, however, stronger than he looked. My arm stayed where it was, and as I watched, he reached into the laceration with two fingers and began by increments to rip out a long, squirming, many-limbed shape.
So that's how I finished my evening- flat on my back on a table, watching my nemesis lever a horrid little centipede-thing out of my arm. I dimly remember snarking that he 'owed me a new coat' at Sforza, and of wanting to throw up a bit -particularly when I saw the little holes the monster had bored into my freaking bone- but it all blurs into white at that point.
It's unusual for one of my dreams to actually have a concrete ending, and how and why it managed to pack itself into eight hours of sleep time, I've no idea. Maybe it's the influence of who I was working for at play, or maybe I was just really into it.
Sforza, incidentally, still owes me a coat.
*-Nemu Poliet, the alias I currently use in the Dreaming.
**-Valencia Nieves, the commander-in-chief of FIAT’s armed forces.
**-*Lots of people have these. I guess if you’re going the Inception route, you could think of them as totems- they take the form of whatever the person manifesting them thinks has power. Mine just happens to look like a sword.