Here’s the second 1500 words (… 1650. I did my best, I swear!). The first 1500 can be found here, and the outline for this section is here. Careful readers will note that I shifted some things from the end of section 1 to the beginning of section 2. I’m still not convinced that this section works as well as I want it to, but it sure was fun to write.
Coloured lights strobed in time with whatever song played over the most meshes. The only sounds were the thump of feet against floor, the thwap of body against body. From her vantage point at the top of the loading ramp Liz watched the song move memetically from dancer to dancer–a group would jerk to one beat, then a new dancer would sync up and her hips would slide into rhythm. Within minutes the room would be moving in time, then a new beat would spread from some trend setter. It was like watching the ocean at night.
One group, though, was all wrong: huddled in a corner, hands twitching and mouths moving. It was enough to give Liz the creeps.
A girl swayed over to the huddled group, then froze next to them. Liz grabbed Yates and followed. Even as they wove through the young bodies more people joined the huddled group, and none of them noticed Liz and Yates. They just kept twitching out of time with each other.
“What are they listening to?” Liz asked, mostly so there would be some voices in the eerie room. She was elbowed in the side as yet another glittering person pushed past her to join in.
Yates squeezed herself between two twitching teens, then stood on her toes. “Listen,” she said, her face against a man’s soot-back lips. “They’re saying something.”
Barely. More like mouthing, so arrhythmic it hardly seemed like language. But it was: “gut yourself,” stuttering, muttering, “the man” over and over, “you listen, you listen”. In different patterns and rhythms, syllables mixed and remixed.
“Hey,” Liz said, joining Yates at the black-lipped man. She snapped her fingers against his ear. “You okay, buddy?” He just stared, eyes blank and lips moving. Feedcams buzzed around his unblinking eyes.
More people pressed in close, the smell like wet dogs and… blood? Liz sniffed the air. Blood. She pushed through the throng, now aware of a very human grunting. It was no longer work to move through the mass. She was being drawn into them, a tangle of limbs guiding her through.
“Yates?” she asked, trying to keep her voice low and light. Yates?
“I’m coming,” for the cams, then, What is going on?
Liz didn’t know, but the inexorable crush was moving her in. Someone mouthed against her ear, fetid breath moist: “gut, gut, gut.” She hoped the cams picked it up.
The bodies around her twitched harder, bony knees snapping into her shins and making them ache. The smell of blood was so near it made her lips curl. But the cams were darting down into a gap in the crowd and it was too late to stop now.
There was a man hunched on the ground, his glitter-coated skin catching the flashing lights. He was slumped in a pool of blood.
His eyes were open. And his hands–his hands were wet with blood, sticky with it. The cams went in for a closer look and Liz couldn’t stop them, could barely stop herself from retching.
His hands were working at his own bare stomach, pulling up strings of flesh and worse.
“Yates!” she shouted unthinking, using all her brain power to call an ambulance. She dropped to her knees, feeling blood soak through her trousers, and grabbed at his forearms. But he was strong or determined or both. Her hands were being pulled toward the gaping wound, dappled with strobes and incandescent with glitter.
Someone grabbed her shoulder. She tried to shrug them off but they pulled her up and she lost her grip on his blood-slicked forearm.
“Yates,” she realized.
The strobes stopped, the lights went up, and paramedics pushed past her to bundle the glittering man onto a stretcher.
Liz and Yates trailed after them toward the ambulance, but a paramedic put out one thick-knuckled hand. “Not you.”
“But I found him–”
“I don’t give a shit. You may as well have murdered him.” He stepped into the truck, then looked over his shoulder. “Playing detective as if this wasn’t your fault.”
He slammed the door before she could retort.
“He died,” Liz said into the dark. “On the way to the hospital.”
Yates rolled over, turned a light on. “Says who?”
Liz bounced the story over, forgetting that Yates’s glasses were on the nightstand.
“It’s on all the news,” Liz said. “The paramedics blamed us and told the tabloids.”
Yates shot up, grabbed her glasses. “Son of a bitch.”
“Let’s hunt down the poet, Brown. He’s–”
“You’re kidding.” Yates’s fingers twitched against the blankets as she read and Liz had to look away. “We’ve got no proof. No evidence. We go back to the nightclub, stake it out–”
“Bore everyone, watch our ratings fall.”
“Find a real lead.”
“Lose our jobs.”
Yates ground her teeth so hard Liz could hear it.
“Listen,” Liz said, sitting up next to her. “We go back to that club, the subscribers complain. People say we’re not doing anything. Someone else dies. Then what? At least if we find Brown it’ll look like we’re trying.” She didn’t say anything about her hunch.
Brown’s place was out in the desert, an easy flight. Liz flew it herself, with Yates as reluctant copilot, and landed her little two-man on the long stretch of nothing near Brown’s plot. Eco-friendly but verdant, a modern paradise for a retired revolutionary. Liz said all this to the camera as they walked, since they had a ten minute stroll to fill.
Yates was struggling to play along. “What are we going to say? ‘Oh, hello, your poem seems to have inspired a string of gruesome–”
Liz held up a hand, hearing footsteps behind a rock. Probably nothing, but they stopped. So did the footsteps.
What did you hear? Yates sent.
Don’t know. She was about to send a cam to check when two thugs came at them, armed with guns and stunner sticks hanging from belts. The barrel-chested one was shouting, gun pointed straight at them.
Fuck, Yates sent, fingers flying over her wrist keyboard. Then her hands went up and her communications dark.
“Come on now,” Liz said. “What’s this about?”
Barrel chest just snarled, stopping with his pistol six feet from her face. The second thug was a burly woman with an ugly fake scar daubed over her mug, jagged enough to fool facial recognition scans. She came around the side.
Two on two, Liz sent back. It’s like they don’t know us. She risked a glance at Yates, caught her eye. Her lip was curled but her eyebrow twitched.
More than two?
A short sharp nod, barely noticeable. Scar was circling them now, getting around their exposed backs.
“Seriously, what do you want? We’re just here on a little fact-finding mission.” The cams darted around their heads and Liz grinned. The longer these goons took the better chance Liz’s team had of ID’ing them. “This some sort of kidnapping?”
“Yeah,” barrel chest growled, “a kidnapping. So come nice and easy, right?”
The scarred woman was around Yates’s back.
“Nice and easy,” he repeated.
Liz knew Yates would want to go with them. Easier to get out of a trap than a headshot, maybe. But Brown’s place was so close…
Duck. Liz lunged for barrel chest and heard Yates drop in time to avoid his panicked gunshot. Scar grunted as it hit her.
Liz grabbed the stunner stick hanging from his belt and got lucky: quick release fastenings. She jabbed it into his thigh and the recoil buzzed through her fingers. He’d be out for awhile.
Yates was crouched over scar, who was moaning on the ground.
“Bad shot?” Liz asked.
“Good shot, from a pellet gun.” Yates menaced the lady with her own stunner stick. “Who the hell are you?”
“I don’t want to leave you and your buddy baking out here. I’d much rather call someone to get you, but how do I know who to call if I don’t know who you are?”
Liz stood, stretched out her back. “She’s very reasonable.”
The lady wouldn’t see reason, so Yates zapped her. Then she stood, eyes roving the sandy landscape for the others. There was no one else in sight. Liz wiped some sweat from her face.
“I must have imagined them,” said Yates. She sounded unconvinced, but Liz didn’t care. If they wanted them dead they wouldn’t have brought pellet guns.
They were sweating hard when they got to Brown’s front door. Yates’s dark bangs were plastered to her skin, and Liz bet she didn’t look much better. She was tempted to walk through the sprinkler that watered the lush flowers in the courtyard. Instead, she walked over the pretty tiles and rang, half-expecting a butler or worse, a too-young girlfriend. She got nothing.
She rang again, then knocked. Waited for a minute or two, then looked at Yates, who shrugged.
But a house like this, in a climate like this? Back through the courtyard and around the side was an open window. The screen popped out and they popped in.
It was dark, lit only by what sun could get in through the leafy trees in the courtyard, and quiet, with only the whirr of overhead fans and the rustle of billowing curtains. The cams followed them in, then darted around the house.
“Hello?” Liz called. “Mr. Brown?”
Yates had pulled her sandals off and was padding softly across the tiled floor. She peered into each room she passed, holding the stolen stunner straight from her hip.
“Anyone home?” Liz tried again.
“He’s home,” Yates said. “But he won’t answer.”
Liz joined her in the doorway, squinting into a bedroom even darker than the rest of the house. When her eyes adjusted she saw Brown lying on top of a made bed, arms crossed over his chest.
He wasn’t breathing.
Liz touched his cheek. “Still warm.” There was no blood, no wounds. Just a wrinkled old man slowly growing colder.
“Maybe he died peacefully in his sleep?” Yates said.
“On top of the covers?”
White curtains hung over the window. They shifted in the wind, letting a patch of sun illuminate Brown’s face. His lips were twisted in a decidedly unpeaceful grimace.
“Shit,” Yates said. The sun glinted off the window screen that lay on the ground. Liz darted to the window, throwing the curtains open. In the distance, across the desert, she saw an SUV disappear behind a shimmering rock.