's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Gas Squad "

Submitted by Huw Saunders

“Ah, this last one shouldn’t be too bad. Neighbours been complaining about the smell.”

“So, what, gas leak?”

“Nah. They’re probably dead, is all. We find them, ring the coroner, let them handle it and we can clock off early.”

It is growing dark earlier this days, and in the rear-view mirrors of their van, Jobert watches the receding city skyline’s lights start to wink on. Their last call of the day is almost outside the city proper – in fact, they can actually see a tree.

All told, he ponders, he would really prefer the gas leak. Granted a corpse doesn’t blow up in your face if you light up too close by, but a faulty gas pipe is something solid, something he can understand. It seems somewhat childish, but he just doesn’t have a good handle on death and mortality at all.

“Tell you what,” says Yan, “most of these geriatrics have a couple trinkets lying around. My electric bill’s way overdue anyway.”

“Isn’t that like graverobbing?”

“No it’s not like graverobbing.”

They turn into the dead end of a cul-de-sac. Already, Jobert reckons he has picked out the stuccoed house they are going for. It is the one with no lights on. They park up, and attempt to open the house with their master key, but find the lock impossible to turn fully, as though something has gummed up the mechanism. Yan goes to the back of the van for a moment, then returns with a district council crowbar.

The lock gives with a crack, yet the door still holds fast, resisting from the inside. It is only with a few solid shoulders from the both of them that the mound of trash bags behind the door begins to shift. A couple of the bags burst under the strain, expelling floral, rotting banana peels and fruit pulp. Waves of thick, damp air rush straight to their noses.

“Could account for the smell,” says Jobert. “Maybe someone’s squatting it, maybe the owner flew the coop.”

“Come on,” says Yan, gasping as he forces the door further open, then taking out his flashlight, “we got a job to do.”

Once into the hall, they mutually, silently hike their shirts up over their faces. Even so, they are still hit with a kaleidoscope of new odours, no longer just the hovering vapours of the garbage. The wallpaper itself is covered with an expansive fungal growth, emanating from where the pile of trash had sat.

Jobert treads on a beetle, feeling the creature give way under his foot and shuddering. “They must have been dead a while.”

“Ugh, probably,” says Yan, struck with the revelation that the body will represent at least one of the stenches that seem to be catching in his sinuses. He points his flashlight into the front room, and jumps, thinking he has spotted the deceased, resting in an easy chair – but it is only another sagging pile of trash bags. The beam of light picks out more of them in the corners of the room.

“Look there!” says Jobert suddenly. Yan jerks the light back to a scattering of glass shards, barely perceptible, only noticeable because of the glint when the flashlight plays off it. They draw closer, thinking it glimmers more than it should, and realise the light is also reflecting from a puddle of some dark liquor that has not yet dissipated through the bare floorboards.

“It’s still there,” says Yan. “I mean, maybe squatters? Maybe they ran when they heard us? It can’t be, you know, fresh.” His hand twitches involuntarily. The torchlight wanders across the floor, towards the door to the kitchen, and shows them fear in a trickle of blood.

“Alright. No,” says Jobert. “Absolutely not. You want to be one of those guys who turns up on the milk cartons?”

“No,” says Yan, shrinking back, raising his crowbar even though there is nothing to beat.

“I say we go outside and call the police.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay, yeah.”

When they reach the hall the front door is gone. The trash bags are piled high once more, completely blocking off their escape route. “Christ no,” hisses Jobert. Yan snarls wordlessly, and lays into the bags with his crowbar. They split open under the blow and release various noxious fluids. Yan attempts to draw back for another swing, only to find his crowbar is helplessly lodged in place. Not wanting to relinquish city property, he attempts to pummel the bags with his flashlight, which becomes stuck as well.

Jobert breaks, turns and flees, tearing his own smaller flashlight from his belt and destroying a rotten side table as he attempts to navigate the close quarters of the house in pitch darkness. Finally his flashlight flares into action, and he stumbles rapidly for what looks like a back door.

He tears it open. It is not a back door. Organic-looking mildew steps stretch down into darkness his flashlight cannot penetrate. And up out of the shadows comes a fresh rush of garbage-stinking air, a vast huffing breath of decay.


Blood Money Jones stands over the pitiful figure of Roslet, who cries openly as she sits on the edge of his jumbled bed. He would like nothing better to hold her in his arms, and to tell her not to cry, and that everything will be okay.

He hits her hard enough that she falls off the bed. “Give it a rest,” he says, stalking out of the room, leaving her to sob on the floor. God, it would be easier fucking a man, he thinks to himself, they probably only cry if you fuck them too hard. He stomps downstairs, towards the sound of music and laughter, away from any emotional swamp.

The stairs he comes down are old, thick-cut baulks of timber wedged between walls of dry rock, a construction that likely dates back to when their farmhouse had been the frontier instead of an East coast institution. Smoke is creeping from under the pine door at the bottom. He chuckles affectionately, and opens the door, walking through into the open-plan lounge, a huge airy area of glass and steel.

“You look like shit,” Jerald greets him from the couch, speaking through a thick, creamy mouthful of smoke.

“I can’t deal with her right now,” says Blood Money Jones, speaking through his teeth.

Jerald is well accustomed to these warning signs, much like an anthill adjacent to Old Faithful, and swiftly passes Blood Money Jones the joint to cool him down.  He inhales, and suddenly the precise sources of his frustration all fall into place, and can be put into words.

“She thinks she wants me to be all caring and shit? You think anyone wants that? Kirkuk made me, it forged me. Nobody wants me showing weakness. I do that and that little cunt’s going to go looking for her dumb-ass idea of a real man. Fuck that, fuck her, fuck it all.”

Jerald lets him vent, having the sense not to pluck at those barbs in his skin. Stress seems like a real bitch when it’s post-traumatic, Jerald observes privately as Blood Money Jones breathes fire and jabs a hand about for emphasis.

As the joint burns lower things start to brighten up. Eddy comes through from the kitchen with bowls of chili and Blood Money Jones even cracks a smile. Roslet pads downstairs, sits down on the couch next to him and rests her head on his shoulder.

“Well past time we practiced hostage situations,” says Blood Money eventually, slumped forward over his fourth joint. “Eddy, you grab Jerald, then I’ll punch you.”

“Just like in Kirkuk,” says Eddy through a mouthful of chili. Then he stops, acutely conscious he may have gone too far. He is the youngest of the group and has never seen actual combat – the others have a strict policy not to count gang warfare.

Blood Money sniggers, and lets his head fall back onto the couch cushions. He relaxes completely, and slips down off the couch and onto the floor. This leaves Roslet to fall sideways into the space he had just occupied. “Those were the days,” he snorts, nearly falling onto one side himself, almost weeping with laughter.

There is a crack of metal, penetrating and reverberating all through the converted funhouse, that sounds in the group’s ears like nothing quite so much as the action on a ceremonial semi-automatic carbine.

“Must be the door,” says Blood Money, grunting to his feet.

“Ah yeah,” says Jerald, “I belled Ice-B to drop us off another ounce.”

When Blood Money gets to the door, has retracted the thick planks that bar it closed, he is answered by two men, one in an immaculate suit and one in a lab coat. He suspects that neither of these men are Ice-B here to deliver an ounce. “We’re Mormon,” he snarls, going to shut the door. The man in the suit blocks it with his shimmering shoe. Blood Money is on the point of giving it another slam and breaking the man’s foot, when he makes out the man’s face through the fog in his skull.

“Duty calls, Mr Jones,” says the man in the suit smoothly.

“Sorry! Jesus, sorry. Didn’t recognise you for a moment there. Come in.”

“That’s quite alright, we can talk just fine here.”

“He’s on some kind of psychoactive,” says lab coat through the corner of his mouth. This impresses Blood Money, who had attributed that momentary flinch to the skull-and-crossbones tattoo that he bears on his neck.

“Everyone has their vice. The foundation can trust Blood Money Jones,” smiles the suit. “Not to mention the howlin’ commandoes.” He gives a little wave to Eddy, who stares out from inside as though he has just witnessed his dead mother.

“Fine, it’s your job, I want to clock off before midnight,” says lab coat, slumping slightly in resignation before addressing Blood Money with “You remember what a bioconstruct is, don’t you?”

Blood Money is not instantly sobered by this. However, the blissed-out feelings instantly blow out of his head. Every relaxed muscle in his body tenses up all over again. His trigger finger twitches involuntarily, no little tic but a full trigger pull – and his arm jerks slightly, in anticipation of the ghost recoil.

“Yeah, we thought you might.”

“We’ve been picking up some warning signs, just on the edge of town,” says the suit. “A few city workers disappeared the other night. You check out the spot, torch anything abnormal, and there’s five figures in it for you.”

“Why do you need me?” Blood Money says after a moment. “You have your own people.”

“It’s our busy season. Besides, these bioconstructs? They’re small fry. It’s not like you’d be fetching up against a cognitohazard, or marsh gas. There’s worse things out there than monsters.”

Blood Money abruptly smiles, taking that as a compliment. The suit smiles too, holding out a manila folder and already mentally signing out of the whole exchange.


“How do we know,” asks Jerald, a short time later, “that they won’t come back after and shut us up, you know, save themselves some money?”

“Because if they were going to, they’d have shut me up a long time ago,” says Blood Money. He suspects I would have taken a couple of the bastards with me goes without saying. He takes a steadying hit from the pipe, and continues “Do you remember the story of how I was taken prisoner in Kirkuk?”

“Oh, when they tortured you?” says Eddy, biting his tongue seconds too late.

“Yeah, Eddy. That time. Well, you know me, I think those kid-killing little shits over there are inhuman, right? But these things they had me locked up with, those were inhuman.” Chiefly he remembers the heat, the buildings like clay ovens, the air waving and warping as it rose from the baking ground. And all around him, the floating shadows, like nothing he had ever seen. On good days he can almost write it off as a fever dream. On good days, when people don’t turn up banging on his front door to remind him. “After the Peshmerga stormed the prison, JSOC bombed it flat. Nothing left but ashes. Oh, and my little souvenir.”

He hikes up his shirt. An ugly, discoloured scar stretches jagged all the way down his ribs and under his trousers, toward his groin. Even years later it still looks raw, as though it might split open again.

“Jesus Christ,” says Roslet, turning pale as her eyes follow the scar down. “Oh, Jesus Christ.” Blood Money is confused by her reaction, as she has seen it all before. But then, he theorises, it is much the same as living in a house for ten years and only then finding out it was built over and out of an Iroquois burial ground.

“We have nothing to worry about,” he continues. “They bleed, we can kill them. It didn’t sound like a major infestation anyway.” He finishes off what’s left in the pipe, then takes Roslet back up to bed and rides her hard.

He feels more relaxed thrusting into her, feeling her writhe and moan, than he did while sprawled out on the couch. The lurking fear of the half-remembered bioconstructs seems less real. As she clenches up, gasps, grunts, he almost feels like himself again, he has never felt right without performing a task.

When he comes, his body seizes up. Behind his eyelids, he sees once more the nightmare shapes surrounding him in the dark. A strangled choking noise rises from his throat as he falls backward, off the bed. He breaks out in a sudden cold sweat, trying to move and recover, but paralysed by how his heart thumps against his ribs and threatens to give out under the strain.

Roslet struggles out of the bedsheets, practically pounces over to him, already trying to comfort. All he sees is a figure descend from above and block out the light. He throws her aside, howling “Get off me!”

The throw itself does not injure her too badly, nor even crashing into the dresser. But an early Mesopotamian vase – one of Blood Money’s actual souvenirs – is knocked free and smashes on her head.

She rises to her feet with surprising dignity for someone bleeding from the head, then wipes a hand across her brow and observes her sticky fingers for a moment. “You have a problem, a real problem,” she says to Blood Money, now lying in a heap between the bed and the wall. As she storms out, he must admit she has a point.


He emerges a short time later fully dressed. He goes back to his seat on the couch, picks up a half-done joint and enjoys a quiet smoke. The others do not talk, just buzz around the edges of the room loading up their combat harnesses. The sight of them making ready, reflected in the huge bay windows, is surprisingly heartening. He feels good, he feels active, and finds himself hoping he’s not about to come again.

“I’m sorry about before,” Roslet says quietly after edging closer over five minutes. She sits next to him and leans in close as he returns to his chili, wolfing it down. “What was up? Was it, like, a flashback?”

For a second Blood Money almost sees the darkness, the shuttered half-light of the prison. “Nah. Well, yeah,” he says casually through a full mouth. The heat of the chili in his throat is suddenly a bit too reminiscent of the persistent, sweltering temperature of his cell block, where you had to strip down to nothing just for it to be overly warm instead of intolerable.

“Nothing too bad?” Her question tails off, heavy with blind hope that she is obviously fearing will be immediately shattered.

Blood Money grunts, his mouth freshly refilled, and shrugs. He recalls the struggle it was simply moving in the prison, forcing his muscles to cooperate and shift through that baking air. The relentless nature of it, he thinks now, isn’t so different from the way Roslet doesn’t seem to want to drop the subject.

He finishes the last mouthful of chili, and slams his spoon down on the empty bowl hard enough to chip the glaze. “We ready?” he demands.

They pile into their van, now dressed in Kevlar and leather armour. As Eddy takes them up the long dirt drive toward the city, Blood Money splits the seal on the manila folder, and begins to formulate a plan of attack.

“They got a perimeter?” says Jerald, reading over his shoulder. “That’s good, that’s simpler.”

“Says these bioconstructs are partially man-made,” says Blood Money. “They think the infestation came in through the sewers.”

“Well, I’d heard of alligators doing that. Man, if only we got called out to those – we could make some fine shoes.”

Blood Money chuckles. He has not worn shoes without steel in the toes since he was a child.

“I’m not seeing anything about the things in here,” says Jerald, leaning in closer. “I’m seeing the floor-plan, the sewer layout, the official secrets act, ok, fine, but is that it? Call me petty, but I want to know if there’s like five, or five hundred.”

“We got at least five hundred rounds between us,” says Blood Money. Jerald nods, unconvinced.

“They’re not going to spit acid at us, are they?” asks Roslet.

Blood Money hesitates. “Oh, probably not.”

When they arrive there are a mere two police cars idling out front, watching the house that is marked off by delicate warning tape. Blood Money gives the others a nod, and they reach behind the front seats, retrieving their weapons – which, according to all local bylaws, they should not be storing in the van.

“The fuck is this?” demands Roslet, first out of the van and now confronting the police with a shotgun in her hands. “We were told there would be a perimeter! A perimeter, motherfuck it, not a fundraiser!”

“We got it locked down,” the young officer she has cornered desperately tries to establish. “Look, I, uh, do you guys have identification?”

“Absolutely. Stand easy,” says Blood Money, still halfway out of the van as he attaches a home-brewed flamethrower to his off-hand. He flexes his wrist to check the pilot light, which roars into action. “If you’ll check this folder by my feet, you’ll find we have the complete backing of the federal government.”

Another officer edges over and checks him out. “Yeah. They’re fine. Stand aside.” The officer clocks the logo on the van, and adds “Radical Solutions? Aren’t you guys a home security company?”

“Today we’re exterminators,” replies Blood Money. “The best, best-paid exterminators in the city.”

“On the federal ticket? What the hell you exterminating?”

“You don’t want to know.”

The officer eyes Blood Money’s flamethrower. “Well, be careful with that mean little fucker. There’s been a few gas explosions recently.”

As Blood Money’s team move inside, they are struck instantly by the smell of rotting biomatter, and by the darkness. The strange thing is, all the blinds are either wide open or broken. After a little experimentation, Eddy finds that the windows are covered in a nearly opaque layer of filth that refuses to budge no matter how much he spits on it.

“Lights up,” says Blood Money, quietly smug that his pilot light is doing most of the work. Though with the stink hanging heavy in the air, he is surprised it does not burn with a green edge. The others flick on the tactical lights attached to their guns.

“Yeah,” says Jerald, swinging his light over the mouldering wallpaper, “this place definitely looks bio-hazardous.”

“Sweep the rest of this floor and upstairs. Then we can check out the basement and see if they really are creeping in out of the sewers.” Blood Money attempts to raise his foot, to turn about and further survey the room, peer into the corners and gaps. But the floor actively resists his movement, pulling back on his boot. “Oh no you don’t-”

The floor’s consistency disintegrates to the point of cotton candy. With a disgusting organic wet sound, it gives way beneath their feet, along with every other wall and floor in the house. They cry out as they are battered with falling furniture.

“Are you ok?”

From a dark shaft of a basement, they look up at the inside of the house’s rotten shell. One of the policemen from above is peering down through the front door, letting in some light but not close to enough.

“Yeah, we’re cool,” snarls Roslet, teeth clenched with pain. One of her arms is trapped beneath an entire vanity set. “But, if you’d like to do us a favour, you can sort us a goddamn perimeter! Christ!”

“That’s the way,” says Blood Money, hauling himself free of what’s left of the floor. He wonders if it can even be called a floor now. The closest relationship he can imagine would be a person, with a name and a family and hopes and dreams, becoming a body. He is covered in the corpse of the house. His clothes are soaked and heavy with it.

“No wonder those city workers died,” says Eddy, poking tentatively at a scrape on his neck. “They must have been terrible at their jobs.”

Jerald’s flashlight illuminates the skeleton of a staircase, only the last couple of steps remaining and so black with decay they look burnt. He steps closer, boots still struggling with the muck, and moves his light behind the staircase, to a stucco wall that is now a distinct shade of green, and has a black bite taken out at the bottom where the line shines through. He goes over to investigate.

Blood Money is still dazed. He sees Jerald saunter over to the hole, so casually, not even holding his gun protectively out in front. He wants to scream, normally he would, he would dress Jerald down so that it will never happen again.

“Hey, Blood?” says Jerald, turning back to face him. “It’s not a sewer.”


“I told you never to call this number! What about your instructions was unclear?”

“This thing you marked down on the floorplans as a sewer, it isn’t,” says Blood Money, staring at the concrete room on the other side of the hole. Some futuristic steel furniture has been piled up under the hole as a crude stairway – and the hole itself looks as though it was gouged straight through the wall. “It’s some kind of bunker.”

He hears a sharp intake of breath through his phone. “I have to check something.” This is followed by the sound of rapid typing.

“What’s he saying?” asks Eddy. Blood Money shakes his head, rolls his eyes and mimes masturbating.

Finally, the response comes “You, uh, you haven’t gone in, have you?”

“I’m not calling you for fun,” says Blood Money.

“What you are looking at, and I should not be telling you this, is a mothballed foundation facility. Probably the supplies closet. Naturally, the city has it down as a disused sewer on all the official maps.”

“Are the maps at least accurate?”

“Not even close. Around four months ago, we had a minor – well, anyway, we bricked the place up and left it.” A sharp breath, a chair creaking backward. “Normally, I’d tell you to get out of there, right now. But all our operational units are at least two hours out from you.” More sharp breath, as though from disbelief. “I need you to set charges on as many support columns as you can. Bury the place…”

Blood Money is mentally tuning out the promises of extra pay and danger money. He has heard all he needs to. “I’ll buzz you afterward,” he says into the phone, before putting it away. “We go in.”

Roslet raises her gun. “I think my wrist’s broken.”

“Get her in a splint,” barks Blood Money, already lowering himself through the hole and down the ladder of steel furniture, trying not to think too much about how slippery it is, what exactly is this grime covering it. The fluids of those two city workers would be a pleasant surprise at this point. There is only one door out of this concrete enclosure. He tries the light switch next to it, and to his amazement, the strip-lights in the ceiling blink on.

“What’s our brief now?” asks Eddy, poking his head through the hole.

“Nothing has changed,” says Blood Money. “You see something else move down here, you murder it.” On the other side of the closet door is a corridor of the same concrete design, collapsed in one direction and extending into the distance the other way, sloping downhill. He places some of his radio-controlled IEDs discreetly on the nearest bulging ribs of the corridor, figuring that blocking the closet will do the trick.

The others join him, coming through into the still, cloying air of the corridor, and they begin to spread out and investigate. There are doors all down the corridor, perfectly uniform distances apart. Inside they find bedrooms, break rooms with dead TVs, kitchens, even little shops with all the logos filed off. There were people, some number of people, living here at some point, and now there aren’t.

“They ever mention exactly what happened here?” asks Jerald.

“Should we just make a bunch of noise, see what we can scare up?” asks Eddy. “Y’know, if they can’t hear us talking – with their ears or whatever.”

“We’re not skeet shooting,” says Blood Money. “Check every room, and I mean check them.”

“We don’t even know what we’re looking for!” says Jerald. Eddy attempts to ignite his Zippo, with a joint in the corner of his mouth. Blood Money shoots him a glare.

“Oh, what?” says Eddy in a gust of smoke. “So now we’re after some ab-human monstrosities, it’s not okay for me to blaze up? Would you prefer me stressed out?”

Blood Money turns away, the back of his neck itching. It is not even such a concern, he would just like to be able to smell anything particularly smelly coming for him, rather than Eddy making a fun day of it. The bioconstructs in Kirkuk had stank like sweat, like they were people who had never ever bathed.

He moves on to the next doorway. As he attempts to look into the room, past the huge mound of ripped trash bags some bastard has left in the middle of the floor, a high, piercing alarm comes on. Red bulbs in the ceilings start flashing, and hi-tech sprinkler systems go off, not spraying water, but blasts of carbon dioxide. It only lasts for a moment, it is whatever dregs of gas remained in the system after the facility was mothballed, but this is still enough to extinguish Eddy’s joint and to completely fog up the corridor.

“Eddy,” says Blood Money, “come here.”

“No. I don’t know where you are, and anyway you’ll hit me.”

Blood Money furiously waves an arm, trying to dispel the cloudy carbon dioxide. He turns back towards the doorway, and sees a shadow taller than a man squeezing out through it. The muscles move for him, he swings up his flamethrower and flexes his wrist – only to see the pilot light refuse to work. Helplessly he squeezes his fist, releases a gout of flammable liquid, but it is not lit and vanishes harmlessly into the fog.

A bloated green arm as thick around as his leg comes back at him, knocking him to the floor. “Kill it!” he shouts as it runs past him and off through the smoke, letting out a bubbly screech.

The others shoulder their guns, firing after it through the clear wake it leaves in the smoke. Even Roslet has a bead on the thing, shooting one-handed and from the hip. And they can see puffs of fluid bursting out of its body where their bullets find it, but it doesn’t slow down. In fact, Blood Money realises hazily, it is heading for the supplies closet and for the way out.

He doesn’t need to think. He slaps a hand down on his waist, on the remote control he carries on his belt. The section of corridor by the closet explodes, and he has done his job, the walls give and the roof comes tumbling in, burying the bioconstruct along with their exit route. The sprinkler system gives a mechanical cough, trying to react.

Jerald coughs, bringing up some wisps of carbon dioxide, and says “Well, that’ll stop him.”


They finally reach the other end of the corridor, the only exit left. Before them is a hermetically sealed door with danger stripes around the edges, with the legend ‘MAIN CONTAINMENT UNIT’ written above it in military-style stencilled letters.

“Oh, yeah,” says Eddy, “this is appealing. I bet there’s nothing horrible behind this bastard. Did any of you even get a good look at that…that?”

“It died alright,” says Blood Money, trying to figure out how to open a door with no apparent handle. “Give me your crowbar.” He struggles to wedge the pointed end into the hairline crack of the door.

“Is this all your neurosis at work? You really this desperate for revenge against these little fuckers?”

Blood Money turns to Eddy, who has stepped discreetly out of crowbar range. “We have a job to do.” He attacks the door again.

“We’re not asphyxiating,” says Jerald, “so there must be air vents, we’ve still got a way out.” He does not suggest that the bioconstructs could make use of that route as well, in a brave attempt to keep everyone’s spirits up. The others are all thinking it anyway.

Sparks fly from around the doorway. Blood Money leaps back, raising the crowbar defensively. With a hydraulic hiss the door flies open. He instinctively swings. On seeing it is a pale young woman collapsing through towards him, he manages to draw back enough that she is only winded. She doubles over, clinging at him for support.

“Not again,” says Roslet, coming forward to aid the girl. Blood Money tries to help her as she rises to full height clinging to him, noting as Roslet comes in from the side how she is essentially the opposite – slim and pallid in every way that Roslet is buff and tanned.

“Don’t, don’t hurt them,” the girl is pleading, so quietly. There is no ambient sound, but her words could almost be swallowed up by their deep breaths, by their imperceptible bodily shifts. “They’re hurting them, they’re killing him, why can’t they just stop-”

Blood Money gives her a gentle shake. “Who are you? What’s your name?”

“We need to get out of here,” says Roslet, as firmly as she dares. “She needs medical attention.”

As Blood Money supports the girl, attempting to think of a response, he looks down and realises one of her legs is gone below the knee. He visualises that level of helplessness and nearly vomits. He and Roslet mutually bear the girl’s weight on their shoulders, with little difficultly. Her head lolls and rolls, as if she is wasted, or otherwise dog-tired.

“Did they say one damn thing about hostages?” says Eddy.

“No,” says Blood Money. “No, they didn’t.” He turns his head the other way, and sees, next to his face, a cluster of bruised old track marks in the girl’s elbow. For all he knows, down here, she was being dosed with something just to see what would happen.

“Need to get out,” she’s begging someone who isn’t there, “need to find him again, need to get help…”

They move on through the door, which leads them onto a dizzying gantry above a huge room that looks like a nuclear bunker and, in a pinch, could probably serve as one. Even with their limited light, they can feel the space around them, the echoes from the slightest noise, and how the foul smell seems more dispersed in here.

They turn their lights over the railings and see, down below, misshapen black figures looking back at them from a wasteland of broken furniture. A few of the things run from the light but some keep staring back, not like deer in headlights but like a challenge. Something long and black stretches across the floor, Blood Money assumes it is a length of water pipe that has been torn from the walls.

“No wonder they abandoned this place,” says Jerald, backing away from the railing. “Some containment unit.”

“Got out,” the girl mumbles. “All got out.”

At the far end of the gantry is another space-age door, and next to it a staircase leading down to the floor of the room. When they spot it, they scan down the steps, expecting to see greenish-black figures climbing up towards them. They look over the floor again, and the bioconstructs have vanished.

“This is fucked. They’re not even hostile,” says Jerald.

“Think we could clear enough of that rubble to make it out?” says Eddy. “We can just blow it up again afterwards.”

“We have to kill them all,” says Blood Money. “We have to at least find those city workers, God knows what’s been done to them.”

“They took them away,” says the girl. She says it very quietly, but she is close to his ear. He screws his face up, not actually wanting to hear what’s been done to them.

“Where’d they take them?” demands Roslet. “What are they up to?” Blood Money begins to snarl, but the girl does not reply.

“I think I know,” says Jerald softly. “They’re probably what took this chick’s leg. I mean, they’re bioconstructs, right? So they’re probably after more of the raw materials. They’re trying to build more of themselves.”

“All life is precious,” says the girl, head rolling as Blood Money and Roslet move her along, somehow seeming even more messed up than before. Eddy, at the front of the group, is the first to reach the next door. He is about to ask for the crowbar when it swishes open before him, and the emergency lights in the corridor beyond flash on. “Down here,” the girl adds, “down here, this is where they’re doing it.”

Blood Money hauls her away from Roslet and slams her bodily against the wall just inside the door, his pilot light flickering in her face and crisping her hair. “Don’t fuck me around. You’re lucid. Tell me who you are. Tell me your name.”

“Suz,” she says, drawing out the word, making it sound so much like a hydraulic mechanism that he turns to check the door. That very second, there is a scream of metal and the door closes with a shower of sparks, leaving an inch-wide gap with Jerald on the other side.

“The fuck did you do?” roars Blood Money, tightening his grip on her throat and lifting her off the ground.

“What do you mean, what did she do?” says Eddy, trying to get him off her. “The electrics down here are fucked! It – it could be a coincidence!”

Blood Money looks over his shoulder. Roslet is leaning against the opposite wall, eyes shut. With a growl through his teeth, he deliberately sets Suz back down on her feet. “Alright,” he breathes, feeling it burn down his windpipe. “Someone get that door back open.”

“Nah,” they hear Jerald say. “Nah, don’t, don’t do that.”

They look through the gap. They can only see parts of Jerald, he is backed up against the door. Facing him down is a simian figure, loping and knuckling steadily closer along the gantry. Blood Money cannot take his eyes off the thing’s eyes – they are the only part of it that look organic. Its skin is the colour of long-dead flesh, and carries a sickly sheen.

Jerald fires on it, his gun on full-automatic, far too close range to bother aiming. Its skin is torn away in huge burst patches, and then they see the true nature of the thing. Plastic water bottles embedded in heaving grey viscera, rhythmically filling and emptying themselves of dark fluids. Shreds of paper and plastic falling from its wounds like dandruff. An entire rack of ribs, splintered, biomatter hanging off them in ropes as they heave up and down. But despite having its skin shredded and its body blasted open, it keeps advancing on Jerald, who is now out of bullets.

“Guys,” he says, “tell my parents, tell them – oh, fuck it! Fuck this!” He drops his gun. A metallic flash in the darkness suggests he has drawn his knife. At this point the door, groaning in agony, finally closes the last inch.


Now Blood Money is grateful for Eddy bringing his stash. The joint is keeping him level, and provides a nice perfumed counterpoint to the cloying smell of disinfectant in the corridor, which is somehow worse than the garbage stink it is covering up.

“You a good man?” he asks Suz, who is slumped in the corner, not responding. “How about those city boys? They good men? Because you bastards just lost me a good man. I don’t give a fuck about the money now, I want my pound of flesh.”

“Yo, Blood!” says Eddy, leaning out of one of the sick-bays that line the corridor. “Got some morphine!” He throws the pack down the corridor, and Roslet catches it painfully.

“Won’t this just put her to sleep?” says Roslet.

“Can’t do any harm at this point,” says Blood Money. “Okay, you remember how we used to play good cop, bad cop?”

“I don’t remember playing good cop.” She gives herself a jolt of morphine, only half a hit, directly into her injured wrist, before sticking the rest in Suz’s chest, over her heart. The effect is instant – Suz sucks in breath, her eyes slam open, pupils dilating like holes into eternity.

“Jesus Christ,” she says, “I thought I hallucinated you guys.”

“How long have you been down here?” asks Roslet.

“Oh, geez, I don’t know – a few days? Or months? I’ve, I’ve been busy.”

“Doing what?”


“She’s fucking high,” spits Blood Money, and draws on his joint. He kneels and looks Suz in the face. “You can give us some fucking answers or I’ll beat it out of you.”

“I gave you an answer,” Suz replies, “you just didn’t understand it.”

He draws on the joint again, sucking until the end glows as red as the emergency lighting. “Ros,” he says, “look away.” He seizes Suz’s hand in an iron grip, and touches the end of the joint to her palm. She looks back at him with utter scorn, not blinking, not showing the least bit of pain even as her flesh audibly sizzles and blackens.

He keeps it pressed down until Eddy and Roslet seize him by the arms and drag him off Suz. He resists violently even though this is all part of it.

“Tell us what you know!” Roslet says, doing a bad job of restraining Blood Money.

Suz giggles. “I know you three are out of your depth.”

Roslet and Eddy exchange a glance, then release Blood Money. He storms forward, steam practically rising off his body, and hauls Suz upright. “Two seconds,” he says.

“Fuck two seconds,” says Suz, “you can do what you’re going to do.”

Roslet turns her head away instinctively. The sound of the blow echoes slightly in the corridor. When she looks back, Blood Money is flexing his fist. Suz is sprawled across the ground, face in the dirt, a smear of blood and teeth left behind.

“So, when do we get some answers?” asks Eddy. Roslet winces again.

Blood Money’s mouth moves, but no sound comes out as he waves a warning finger toward Eddy. Finally he vomits out “Fuck your answers. We’re wiping them all out.”

“Oh, really? I don’t know what you just saw, I just saw Jerald fucking die, not taking them with him! I say, we get out of-”

Blood Money takes hold of Eddy by both shoulders and slams him against the wall, knocking the wind out of him. Roslet backs herself into a corner, looking at the ceiling. Blood Money is about to swing his fist again, when a tiny rattle echoes through the corridor. He and Eddy look round for the source of the sound, the imminent bloody beating forgotten. There, on the floor, Suz’s broken teeth are rolling and bouncing toward her mouth while the blood around them recedes, her wounds drinking it back in.

She gets up onto her knee and her stump. For a second they see her face smashed and broken, deformed by Blood Money’s knuckles, before it is completely restored to how it was. To Blood Money’s increasing discomfort, the burn on her hand has vanished – and the needle in her chest has been sucked inside, only a bit of the plunger left showing.

“Okay,” she says, “now I’m pissed off.”

The door crashes open and another heaving, humid bioconstruct flops through as though it was a mass of liquid. Roslet screams and dives away as it pools around her toes. Then it pulls itself up into a vaguely solid shape and turns two mismatched eyes onto Blood Money’s group.

Eddy reacts first and gets off a shot. It splits the bioconstruct’s black skin. Instantly it responds, a slick grey appendage jets out of the rupture, wraps around Eddy’s gun and then retracts, pulling the weapon back out of Eddy’s hands and into the bioconstruct. Now it swells and convulses, making sloppy smacking sounds as if it is chewing.

Roslet and Eddy start to back away, still trying to have an orderly retreat. Blood Money does not move, and Roslet reaches for him fearfully but also hesitantly, not sure if coming face-to-face with a live bioconstruct has finally broken him mentally.

Fire fills the corridor, mixing with the red of the emergency lights. The bioconstruct shrieks, withering under the flames and attempting to stuff itself back through the door. Blood Money imperceptibly steps backward and it appears as if he is being forced back by the blast.

It lasts only split seconds, but when it is over it still burns on the insides of their eyelids. The bioconstruct sprawls helpless, still smouldering in places, making noises like no living thing but very clearly sounds of pain.

Suz turns towards them again, hair crackling with pinpricks of fire, skin soot-black and crackling. “Oh,” she says awkwardly through a damaged mouth, “now you’ve done it.” The bioconstruct splits in half, folds in on itself, and reveals a swollen protrusion that seems to have bits of Eddy’s gun in it. It fires a long blob of matter the colour of earwax that comes lazily through the air towards them.

Blood Money is still riding the adrenaline charge of unleashing hell from his fist. He is standing in between Roslet and Eddy, and it is Roslet he grabs and hauls out of the way. The blob hits Eddy square in the chest. For a moment he looks confused, then his clothes start to fizz. He chokes for breath, clawing at his face trying to rip his airways out as he collapses forward. The smell of decay rises from his body, and chases after Blood Money and Roslet as they run blindly away, the sound of burning and Suz’s laughter following with it.


They crash down two flights of black-carbon stairs in an effort to get as far as possible from Suz. On the second floor down Roslet trips and lands agonisingly flat on her face, and Blood Money seizes up, almost weeps at how lost he has gotten them before collecting himself and slapping himself roughly around the face. He cannot afford to lose himself.

“Jesus Christ!” screams Roslet, thrashing her leg about. A small bioconstruct has latched onto her ankle, and it cries out pitifully as she slams it against the floor. Blood Money gets back to business, holding her leg in place and shooting three decisive bullets into the bioconstruct. It releases Roslet’s leg, deflating and leaking disgusting fluids.

They sit motionless, gasping for breath, trying to keep their hearts level, before Roslet gives up and says “Oh, fuck.” She points. They can see the shadows of more knee-height bioconstructs, a whole swarm of the things, coming down towards them.

Blood Money grits his teeth, and readies himself to face them down. He and Roslet stand back to back firing into the oncoming crowd, just like when they first fell in love. Torn and tattered, the bioconstructs keep coming, struggling through the rain of bullets, up to the point where Blood Money and Roslet are shooting them and kicking them to pieces at the same time.

“That can’t be all of them,” says Roslet, when the mass of slurry around their boots has stopped resisting. “Do we keep moving?” She says this tinged with hope, while at the same time halfway choking on the fumes rising from the broken bioconstructs.

Blood Money scans his surrounds, heart pulsing through his eyeballs. “In there!” he says, pointing wildly to a room off the corridor. The room is another sick-bay, but this one has an obvious air vent high on the wall. Lacking the crowbar, and not wanting to be delayed, Blood Money simply shoots it through.

“You go first,” he says. “Don’t know if I’ll even fit.”

Roslet stares back at him. “I don’t want to leave you here.”

“Ah, this…this isn’t so bad. Those other bioconstructs, they were – they didn’t do the whole straight-up fight thing. Compared to them this is like a vacation.” He gently puts his hand on her cheek. It feels wrong so he draws it back, curls it into a grip he usually reserves for hostile forces. “Just get outta here. I’ll, I’ll be ok.”

Suz peers into the vent, and hesitates again. “I just don’t want to be way down in there, and then see one of those things coming the other way.”

Blood Money nods sadly, understanding on a primal level what it would be to be hemmed in and constrained by a steel shaft, and to then have a bioconstruct in there with you. “Still, it beats the hell out of knowing they’re after you,” he says. “Get in there before I stuff you in, ok?”

Roslet is not looking at him. She is looking over his shoulder, horrified. For a moment he wants to take back what he said, take it all back, to hold her and stay with her and probably die together because even that beats the alternative. Then he sees the flicker of a humanoid figure reflected in her eyes, moving up behind him. He breathes, incredibly relieved that it is simply a physical threat he is being confronted with.

He swings his elbow back at head height, and nearly breaks his arm hitting something that feels like a sack of meat. He tries to draw it back, and can’t.

“Go! Now!” he shouts, awkwardly turning to face down this new hostile. But he cannot. Instead of a face he sees blank red plastic. He has split its skin where his elbow struck, and now dripping crimson tendrils are spilling out from inside, wrapping around his arm tighter and tighter. As he thrusts it back and forth, panicked, it only seems to become lodged deeper.

The red bioconstruct slaps at him. He shrugs off the blow, but only too late does he see the fine needle-points jutting out of its hand, and feel where they have stuck him. Suddenly he feels weak, his heart skips several beats. He digs his heels in and forces the bioconstruct back against the wall, twisting and wrenching his arm to do so.

He had expected a gasp, a grunt of pain, some reaction. But the bioconstruct just silently resists, and it is hellish strong too, like it is all muscles under that red plastic, it is all he can do to keep the thing pinned to the wall. With his free hand, he brings his gun to its head, attempting to aim it so he will not put the bullet straight into his trapped arm.

The bioconstruct seizes his gun by the barrel, trying to force it away. Blood Money grits his teeth and fires, knocking holes in the bioconstruct’s head and coating his face with cordite and viscera. He plants a boot on its chest and steels himself, attempting to pull away again, and as he hauls on his own arm out of the corner of his eye he sees Roslet’s legs vanishing into the vent. With another mighty tug and a roar of effort he breaks free.

He staggers away and the bioconstruct descends on him again, but he is ready, this time he puts his gun to its chest and blows big dripping chunks out of its centre of mass. Its momentum carries it forward and it sucks the gun into its flesh, ripping it from his hand, but its legs are beginning to fail and he steps neatly aside to let it fall to the floor.

Violently, he overbalances, slamming into the wall like he was trying to rugby-tackle it. Bracing himself against it, he gets back to his feet and kicks the bioconstruct as hard as he can, unwilling to take any chances with the thing. Whatever it has instead of blood and guts gets all over his boots. Then, after a brief pause trying and failing to collect his thoughts, he stumbles out into the corridor.

Two steps down he falls over again, legs barely even solid under him. When he hears paces on the stairwell and sees shadows dancing down the walls towards him, he is still together enough to roll over and swing up his flamethrower. But there is nothing, only the empty corridor. A dribble of flaming liquid falls from his arm, and he vomits something completely unrecognisable as chilli. Even as he is cramped over retching, he keeps his arm solid.

When he has got all his stomach contents out, his vision sloppily focuses in on the crook of his elbow. There are several broken needles sticking out of it. And it is now he starts to shudder at that, knowing they came out of a bioconstruct and that being a little woozy is the absolute least of his problems.

Now he sees them, they are blurred and separating into twin images, but they are coming for him from the stairwell, big white eyes staring unblinking out of the darkness. “I’m ready, you little fuckers! I’m ready!” he screams, and clenches his fist, nails digging into his palm. Phoenixes and red ghosts erupt from his wrist, flickering across the entire corridor, howling and blazing, as ghastly as the bioconstructs and so perfectly suited to fight them.

For a moment he leans off the flamethrower slightly, making it only a column of fire instead of a full hell-inferno. In the comparative calm he sees the stricken bioconstructs, writhing in half-melted pools of their own bodies, crying out, their innards spilling out and blackened. Tiny specks on their extremities glow and pop like distant streetlights.

The air fills with the fumes of their burnt forms, chemical and probably poisonous gases that hang heavy in Blood Money’s throat. Furiously, he stops pouring fire on them and attempts to crawl away, down the corridor and into a fresher climate. The walls and floor are swaying around him, wavering like paper in the wind, but he is still pushing forward, he does not need to see straight, he just needs to put one limb in front of the other, let his muscles do the work.

When the tortured moans of the bioconstructs finally fizzle out, and he can just about make out the end of the corridor, lungs burning but hoping desperately for a mistake, he hears heavy, sloppy footfalls being him. He looks over his shoulder, and there is the red one, rapidly reconstituting itself into its humanoid shape, needles scraping along the ground. One of its hands is wrapped around a fire axe.

With a snarl of effort he rolls over again, and tries to raise his arm. The mechanics of both his muscles and the flamethrower seem sluggish, rusty. The red shape brings the axe up, then crashing down.

“Missed me, you stupid bastard,” Blood Money says dreamily. Then he sees the feed line for his flamethrower and his arm are split at the elbow, leaking gasoline and blood that mix in a growing puddle that expands toward his face. But the darkness that covers his eyes moments later is born of whatever chemicals the bioconstructs have infected him with, and the last thing he feels before dropping off completely is needles penetrating his ankle as he is dragged away.


Once more he is in that pressure-cooker somewhere under Kirkuk. They did not have the sleek plastic skins down there, they were just piles of sweating flesh. He was younger then, skinnier, hungrier, and just as willing to go fist-to-fist with a bioconstruct.

His being willing did not matter so much, not when it was a choice between fighting, and only eating enough to die more slowly. He had never expected to see a gladiator ring outside of historical movies, much less fight in one. But then, he came to rationalise, he was a guest of the Republican Guard. After dropping mustard gas on the Kurds, having their prisoners fetch up against bioconstructs probably seemed par for the course.

There would be a buzzer, a ghastly tone like a machine screaming, the kind of thing they probably have in abbatoirs just before the knives start spinning. Then the cages would open. There would only be shafts of light into the arena, as though the sun itself was trying to stab them, and he wondered how the watching Republican Guard could even see. They cheered though, he was very sure of that.

When he punched those bioconstructs, they didn’t suck him in, not then. No, they would react, roll with the blow, and they would hit him straight back. Every strike and another cheer would go up, sometimes he would feel their spittle flying down from above.

Some of them weren’t purely biological. Now and again there would be one that had incorporated a piece of stone, or metal, or simply had a broken bone jutting out. It would cut the hell out of his hands, and he would go on beating it, his own blood spattering them both, serving only to lubricate the process.

Every victory he racked up, he was made to clean out the ring afterwards. And most times he had done such a number on his opponent that he had needed a mop. He would splash it around the floor after bagging up the solid chunks, with a guard holding a gun on him at all times. Every mopping session he would mentally simulate going for the guard with the mop, try and calculate exactly what odds he had. It never came out as something he would put money on.

One night a guard jangled the bars to his cell until he was awake, then told him, in terribly broken English, that his performance had won the guard ten thousand dollars so far. He did his best to memorise the guard’s facial features for later.

It was an eerie place and experience, reduced to only his physicality and forced to beat them into the ground with his own hands. What was particularly eerie was how good he was at doing it.


“Wake up! Wake up!”

He thrashes out of restless sleep, and feels gentle hands on his shoulders, with the suggestion of pinning him down but only in a caring way, the kind of medical way someone might try and stop their patient hurting themselves.

“Ros?” he whispers, throat dry. Then he looks up into Suz’s eyes.

“That’s a relief,” says Suz. “I thought something was really up with you, you were screaming like a madman.”

He dimly registers his severed arm. Fine though, he thinks, he always has the other. He goes to lash out at Suz, give her a heavy blow right in the guts and get her on the ground, but his arm is stopped short. When he sees it is chained, he screams again.

“Yeah. Sorry about that.”

After a moment to take stock, he re-evaluates, rotates his body, throwing a kick for her head. She jerks back, toppling to the floor and then sitting there, safely out of his range.

“I understand you’re angry. I mean, you made that clear enough. You want to kill us all so bad. Right, well, you know what I want to do to you?”

Out of options, he spits at her as hard as possible. It lands on her chest. She barely notices.

“I am going to reach into your head, and take all that rage, and fix it. Make you all better. Just like those poor city workers who ended up down here, they were all full of fear, they were afraid of what we are, and we fixed them.”

Blood Money strains against his manacle again. “You’re fucking sick. Let me out of this chain, I’ll reach into your head and fuck it.”

“You know, I believe you. See, this is why you need some treatment. You need to be shown the value of life. How long have you been wallowing in pain and death? I bet it’s a while.”

“You killed my boys, you little cunt! I’ll fucking tear you open!”

“Killed?” Blood Money is grudgingly aware that Suz is fairly pretty for a bastard bioconstruct, but the grin she gives him now is more hideous than any of those burnt bodies. “Oh, no, no, no, not killed, not us. No, Jesus Christ, we’re not monsters.”

At that, Blood Money frowns at her so hard, she laughs. Then she beckons to someone behind her. Eddy walks forward into the light. He looks surprisingly healthy, for a man who has had the chunk missing from his chest replaced with pulsating black plastic.

Blood Money looks Eddy squarely in the eyes, and says “Punch the fuck out of her.”

“No,” says Eddy, “no, Blood Money, I won’t.”

“Oh, I see. That’s how it is, is it? Yeah, fine then, you have your fun.”

“It’s not like that,” says Eddy, and nervously takes a drag on his joint – a joint he holds with a tattooed, disproportionate arm.

“That’s my arm!” explodes Blood Money, bringing his chain taut again. “You give me back my arm, you little shit! What the hell happened to yours?”

“Had to show him what we can do,” says Suz, grinning again, more friendly but no less sinister. “You wouldn’t have believed it, otherwise. This is interesting, actually, I wouldn’t have believed you knew about the fuckers who put me down here in the first place – but here you are.”

Blood Money stays silent. Eddy avoids his gaze.

“That one, though, that all makes sense, I mean, their whole thing is taking anything that’s too weird for them and locking it away – and then hiring in bad men like you to come and destroy it. Burn it all down. Am I wrong?”

“And now you locked me away,” Blood Money shoots back. “Well fucking done.”

“Look, Blood, life, life, life is a journey,” says Eddy. “With all kind of things happening to you. They got me, right? We know that. And now here I am and I come out better for it. Shit, man, remember Kirkuk, after that you were all driven and focused, and…” He tails off on getting a good look at Blood Money’s face.

“If I wasn’t on the chain right now,” says Blood Money slowly, “I would choke you with my stump.”

“This is exactly why we put you on the chain,” says Suz.

“What, so cocksucker McGee here can go un-choked? You vicious little fuckers have the wrong priorities.”

Suz casually takes the joint from Eddy’s new hand. “See, I thought that you might have cooled off a bit in here. Obviously you haven’t yet.” And she tokes on it and does not stop, her cheeks hollow, silver fumes rising off the glowing end, a few puffs coming down her nose, even Eddy looks startled. Then, finally, she exhales, and she does not stop doing that either, the room fills with thick milky smoke, before too long Blood Money can no longer see either of them.

“Is that…” Blood Money coughs violently, trying to keep his lungs down while looking towards where he thinks they are. “Did you, like…” The fug clings to his skin, it snakes into every orifice of his head and feels like nothing more than bypassing his windpipe and seeping directly into his blood vessels. “You…you put tobacco in that, or something?”


Over the course of falling into what feels very much like sleep, or a coma, his mind separates neatly from his body. He drifts ghostlike through the bars of the door and begins wandering up the corridors. They are as dimly-lit and abandoned and menacingly concrete as before, but somehow he minds less, they are just a place, nothing intrinsically wrong with them.

He hears the trilling sounds of the bioconstructs, and attempts to leap into a combat stance, but he cannot, not now. He approaches anyway, following the sounds. Inside one of the sick-bays, two of the heaping bioconstructs are fussing over a trash bag.

Suddenly, he has a swooping, choking feeling in what he would describe as his stomach. He has just realised why their shiny, plasticky skin seems so familiar.

The bioconstructs slit open the bag with a piece of jagged metal, making soothing coos all the while. A cockroach and some flies emerge from the bag’s innards, but they do not scurry away for the corners, they sit in place on top of the trash, waiting expectantly. With a watchmaker’s care, the bioconstructs insert a pocket calculator and what looks very much like Eddy’s old arm. They slot into place quite naturally.

They wrap the trash bag back up, and then it is sitting up under its own power, blinking big wide eyes at them and making its own little noises. The change was imperceptible and he realises that this is no longer a sick bay, now it is a maternity ward.

As his urge to torch the whole place rises in his mind, sending bioelectrical signals to muscles that aren’t there, he simultaneously remembers stories from the Gulf, about how the Republican Guard had torn Kuwaiti children from incubators, and how it had made him want to vomit until he couldn’t think about it anymore. He feels elements of his consciousness tearing apart, and he had thought this was something unimaginable.

He continues down another corridor, one where thick, humming cables are crusted along the walls like roots. They lead him out to the big bunker room, where they feed lifeblood into a huge tangled construction in the middle of the floor. A lanky bioconstruct picks up a smaller one – that wriggles about, hyperactive with excitement – and slots it into the shell on top of the construction.

As the shell closes on the little bioconstruct, the pile reforms itself into five spindly tendrils that start to move, stretching out, untangling themselves and bearing their own weight, rising up far above, filling the room. One grimy spider-leg raises up, then comes crashing down on Blood Money – but there is no pain, no being crushed into offal, just a sense of contact. As though another life has reached out a finger and touched him.

The impact on the ground raises a cloud of dust and dirt. The watching bioconstructs break their silence and make noises that sound like gratified cheers filtered through a removed voicebox and a head cold. Even though he is not there he recoils, the impact through the air sends him reeling, spinning away, the room and the bioconstructs flashing past his eyes, until finally he finds himself facing a door.

“The fuck is through there?” he says, or thinks, or feels himself wondering.

Suz, standing on the left of the door, grins at him again. “You know what’s through there. Bad shit. Shit you don’t want to deal with, shit you’d rather burn down.”

He feels the electrical impulses that would have one fist crushing Suz’s swan-white neck, and yet nothing happens. “Burning it down,” he says, in a measured, just-about-controlled way, “is dealing with it.”

“You know what, fine,” Suz replies, mouth twisting and distorting so he is not even sure if she is still grinning. “Whatever you say it is, that’s how it is, it’s your trip, after all.” The door opens with no input from either of them. He shoves through, not looking back.

It is dark on the other side of the door, dark and warm, the air close and oppressive. Instinctually he reaches out in front of him, trying to fumble along like a blind man even without arms. Then the red bioconstruct stands in front of him. It takes him by the hand, he grunts softly as the needles pierce his flesh again, and it begins to lead him forward.

Suddenly the grip on his body changes and he is thrown forward, falling for too long then landing painfully in a pool of light. To his own disgust his eyes start to water, filling with tears, as the red bioconstruct steps out of the shadows to face him down again.

Is it the red one? He struggles to stand straight, see clearly, just about making out the swollen hips of the thing in front of him. The outline of it is definitely familiar. But when he hears the screeching voices all around them, and sees the construct’s skin – not red but flesh-toned – he realises he has seen this awful thing before.

It seizes his arms in an overwhelming grasp, not with the pointed paws of the red one but with small tendrils that are almost like fingers. The voices roar, entertained, as that terrifying strength forces him slowly but inevitably down to the dirty ground. There is a flash of fear in his brain as he realises it is happening again.

He scrabbles at it with ghostly arms, his hands slipping on the greasy sweat that dapples its flesh. He grabs for its head, and recoils when he finds himself trying to jam a thumb into Roslet’s eye-socket. But then a shadow passes over the thing’s face and it is no longer Roslet, perhaps it never was.

With every muscle he can get to function he struggles, trying to push the thing off him or otherwise lever himself out from under it. But with mounting frustration, all he really manages to do is to rub up against it. It responds in kind, pinning him down further still, almost gently now, pressing its bloated chest onto his face.

He is desperate now, barely able to breathe, straining against the weight of its body and turning pink with the effort. He is mainly trying not to cry out, not to show any weakness. Then he feels its soft puddingy fleshiness start to absorb him, to take him into its body, and he screams, thrashing around.

It has broken him, he registers dimly, through the fog of large sections of his brain shutting down. It has won. And the worst part is, with his forced respect for the strength it shows, still pinning him down with its full pillowy mass, he is almost enjoying it.


“Jesus Christ.”

It is somehow like being pulled out of a dark and cold river, while remaining completely still. He is back where he was, chained in the corner. Suz is slumped in the opposite corner, looking paler than usual.

“Jesus Christ,” she says again, “I’d want to punch the fuck out of things too.”

“You saw,” says Blood Money, dopily, feeling like he has just woken after sleeping for a month, “you know.” He tries to get to his feet, only for the chain to restrain him halfway up, bent-kneed and awkward, and he crashes down again, taking the path of least resistance. “How?”

Without a word, Suz picks up a fragment of mirror, and turns it on him. He looks worse than she does. All over his scalp and skull are strange little growths that look like miniature volcanic craters. Then she crawls over to him, strokes his head, and he feels what can only be her finger penetrating his brain. Almost immediately the pain of it vanishes behind soft soothing chemical sensations.

“The mind’s fairly easy to work, once you get a grasp on it,” says Suz.

“The mind?” he chokes. “What about all that body stuff, all the mixing and matching?”

Suz giggles. “Oh, that’s simple. It’s all just biomatter. Big gobs of protein and carbon. Funny thing is, it was easier with you. It was like you’d been touched by it before –” She stops, and takes her hand off his head. He gasps. “I’m sorry.”

He turns his head away, finding he doesn’t want to know about the body stuff, either.

“Really, I’m sorry. That wasn’t the right way to put it.” She shuffles back across the floor to the far corner. “I can go if you want.”

He looks at her again, and asks “Could I go?” It makes her feel visibly guiltier. “I mean, you and…you guys won. I can just walk away…I think I’d quite like to sleep, properly. And I need to find Ros.” A horrible thought strikes home. “Did she get out?”

“I –” Suz stops. “We didn’t find her. I don’t know if…maybe?” They are quiet for a little while. Then Suz takes his manacled hand in hers – he does not resist – and rubs her own spit into the lock. In seconds it is smoking and loudly corroding, before a minute has gone by it has popped open.

Blood Money looks up at her, then at the manacle, then back at her. “That was pretty good.”

“It’s alright. It’s hell brushing my teeth, though.”

He gets to his feet, stretching. Suz tries to struggle upwards. He offers her his good arm. “Fucking pair we are,” he says, waving his stump as she hops along leaning on him.

“Ah, we’re not too bad,” she says. “Here, this way.” She leads him down the corridor and out into the big room, where he is not too surprised to see the huge, spidery bioconstruct he thought he might have only dreamed. It sits dormant, its legs curled in under itself, and at its base Eddy and Jerald sit cross-legged, eating canned vegetables.

“You guys made it,” says Blood Money. They both look terrible. Eddy is chalk-white, and while the black mass in his chest is covered, the veins under his skin stand out dark and florid. Meanwhile Jerald looks soft, flabby and basically as though he has been slightly melted.

“Sorry about – you know,” says Eddy, raising Blood Money’s arm.

“That’s fine,” he replies, swaying slightly. It could be the delayed effect of the blood loss, it could be any of the things that have happened.

“We could probably make you a new arm,” says Suz. “A better arm, even. An arm fifty feet high.”

“No. Not that.”

“No, okay.”

“Do we get to leave now?” asks Jerald. His face is shining with sweat, or at least some sort of fluid.

“We’re not stopping you,” says Suz. “It wasn’t us that blew up the way out.” Jerald gives Blood Money a glare, and Blood Money raises his hand in a mea-culpa. “We’ve been scoping out some more of the higher tunnels, but this place is like a maze.”

“How much of the power have you got online?” asks Jerald. “Only, I’ve been cross-referencing this place with the city maps. The roof in here should open up.”

They all look up, and spot the hairline crack in the middle of the roof.

“See, if I’m right, that outlet mall they built last year goes around the roof up above,” continues Jerald. “It makes sense. That way they can have this place right in the city, they can be bringing in stuff by truck, by helicopter, and nobody would ever notice.”

Blood Money looks at the spider-construct again, and has a startlingly vivid image of it emerging from the middle of the outlet mall, sending customers running and screaming.

Suz sucks air through her teeth, and says “Well, wherever it comes out, we can probably get the fucker open. You guys don’t have any more of those bombs, do you?”

High above, part of the wall explodes outward, pelting them with shreds of concrete. A couple of wandering bioconstructs run for cover, bleating, as a torrent of brown water comes roaring out. Then Roslet comes out of the hole, soaking wet, with dark rings under her eyes, and absolutely furious. Clouds of gas float out of the hole after her, hanging in the air thick and dark.

Blood Money tries to shout to her, but is wrong-footed for a second in the rush of water. Before he can react, she has shouldered her gun and shot Suz in the arm. She collapses backwards onto the vast spider, gasping. The lower part of her arm is hanging off by the gristle, and instead of blood it extrudes writhing black worms.

“Ros!” cries Blood Money, but he knows it is no use, she is in full combat fever now.

Roslet buries another shot in Suz’s chest, then turns on Jerald, the most obviously altered one of them. He backs away, raising his hands, and she sends bullets straight through them. He is knocked off his feet and vanishes in the surging water.

The spider begins to expand, to rear up awkwardly in the confined space. Now Blood Money is scared for her, knowing it could crush her without even thinking. But to his surprise and arousal she even takes the initiative against the spider, hucking another of their bombs at its shell as it rises. The burst seems to stun it a little, and makes his ears bleed. Eddy is splashing away, Suz is collapsing against his legs, it is up to him.

“Fucking give it a rest!” screams Blood Money, just as Suz is aiming for his centre of mass. Now the effect is instant, she turns paler, nearly drops her gun.

“Blood!” she replies, all grief and horror and relief all at the same time. The spider – all ready to drive one of its legs straight through her – hesitates, seeming to recognise things have changed. Then she seems to double-take, showing only fear. And she looks up, then back at him. “Run!”

Four explosions go off at once, where the wall meets the roof. One of the great hatches, its hinges vaporised, comes cracking down. Blood Money sees it falling, sees the light of the dawn outside, and then it hits him.

It does not even send him to merciful oblivion. A slab of reinforced concrete strikes him in the collarbone and bears him down under the water, crushing everything below his neck. He tries to struggle, but now even his stump will not respond.

As his life explodes from his mouth and nostrils in great puffs of bubbles, one of those black worms comes floating towards him, riding the currents. As it moves out of his vision he feels it probing about for the lesions on his head, and darting inside.

Then there are hands on his skull, pulling as desperately as he struggled against the concrete, and he feels his own flesh ripping apart. He clenches his teeth, but it is not too bad, it beats drowning. Suddenly he has broken the surface of the water, and he frantically inhales, not air but the dark, cloudy vapours that are filling what’s left of the room. They nourish him, but do not reach his lungs.

“Oh Jesus,” sobs Roslet, standing knee-deep in the water, holding his head in her hands. “Oh God.”

Over her shoulder, to his mild interest, he sees the spider – wounded, dripping purple blood from its scars – clambering out through the hole in the roof.


It is later now, and Roslet is sitting down at home, towelling her hair dry with one hand. There is a sound like a rifle action, she knows it is someone at the door, but she does not get up to answer it. They will wait.

The door is kicked in. Suit and lab coat walk inside. They look as though they never actually got the chance to clock off. “Oh, hey guys,” says Roslet.

Suit draws his pistol, and holds it under her chin. “What did you do?” he pleads.

“Put that away,” she says. “You’ll hurt someone.”

He does not put it away. “We’re evacuating the city. There’s this gas floating around that I really hope is just poisonous. Part of the new outlet mall has collapsed and subsided. Something fifty feet tall is wandering the countryside breathing fire on people, so I’m going to ask you once more – what did you do?”

Roslet chokes giggling as she looks up at him. This is not because any of what he has said is funny, rather because it is all completely expected.

“If you don’t answer, I will turn this one – this thing loose on you,” he says, jabbing a finger at lab coat.

“He’ll do it,” adds lab coat, “he’s crazy.”

Suit mouths for a few seconds, before adding “Get your scalpel out.”

“Jesus, fine. You know if you just took a basic neurology course, you could interrogate people yourself.” Lab coat fumbles in his pockets, cursing, before taking out a bone-saw and giving suit a hopeful look.

“Fine,” says suit wearily, “that’ll do. You, girl, start talking.”

“Blood, kill them both,” says Roslet.

Blood Money’s head rises jerkily from behind the couch, borne aloft by bursts of genuinely unhealthy-looking smoke coming from the shreds of his neck. “Kill them?” he says, somehow audible despite having no lungs and only two inches of windpipe. The same fumes tumble from his mouth, his nose, and the craters all over his skull. “How the fuck do you suggest I do that?”

“Bite them?”

Suit takes a few steps back, staring at the wobbling head, not quite sure how to respond. “He’s infected! And I think he’s on psychoactives again!” says lab coat, pointing with his bone-saw to underline the accusation.

Blood Money appears to hold his breath, and the gas starts to flood out of him. In seconds the room is obscured, suit attempts to aim at him, fires, and hears only a metal ricochet. He sees a white coat fleeing for the door before he is forced to take in a mouthful of whatever now fills the room. In seconds he has collapsed, either sleeping soundly or seeing unimaginable visions.

“What now?” asks Roslet.

“Now,” sighs Blood Money, “we get to figure out how to live with ourselves.”

“No, I meant getting rid of the body – I mean –”

Blood Money laughs, trying to seek her out through his fog. “Yeah, mention it some more.”

“I know it’s all awful, and stuff. But I’m not going to miss you hitting me.”

“I know. Me neither.”