Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nature Abhors a Vacuum: A Murder Mystery (part 33)

Warning: Graphic Violence

A serialized science-fiction mystery created exclusively for this blog! When last we left our heroine, Pip--along with Charles, Masha, and Duncan--had survived the sadistic experiment that claimed her ex-boyfriend's life. Now, having run into Eddie and the rest of her fellow captives, she fights her way to the Confluence.

"Eddie!" said Pip.

"Pip!" said Eddie.

"Eddie!" said Masha.

"Masha!" said Eddie.

"Eddie?" said Charles.

"Who the hell are you?" said Eddie.

"Stop zere!" shouted Lirma'nib, flailing her appendages at Eddie and the Dredmillon's entire human population, which stood huddled behind him. With an instinctive alacrity that would have put a juggler to shame, she snatched at all escapees within her grasp. Eddie leapt aside and the tip of a tentacle brushed his face, leaving a viscous streak across the bridge of her nose. Pip was seized by the neck, Duncan by the waist, Masha by the shoulder. Charles dove at Lirma'nib as if to tackle her and was immediately engulfed by her gelatinous trunk. The Nib wrapped an appendage around each of his legs and pressed him further inward, smothering him against her body.

"Charlie!" Pip shouted. Without so much as a moment's reflection, she bit into the tentacle that held her. The alien flesh was remarkably resilient--it strained against her teeth like a strip of rubber. She stiffened her jaw and bit down harder. Something gave way beneath her incisors. The tentacle split open. Hot, starchy fluid filled Pip's mouth.

Lirma'nib screamed.

Pip sank her teeth still further into the wound, fighting back the urge to vomit as Nib blood bubbled into her sinus cavity. She couldn't breathe, couldn't speak, couldn't think. She could only hope the tentacle would release her before she drowned.

Her incisors struck something spongy. An artery. Pip tore at it with savage determination. It burst, and the tentacle came apart. Pip smelled rather than felt the arterial spray across her face, felt rather than saw the severed appendage as it dangled around her neck. She doubled over and coughed up a chest full of black fluid.

Lirma'nib had become a quivering puddle. She herself had said that the Nib were unsuited to violence. Evidently Pip's brutal display was more than the alien could process. Masha and Duncan slipped free and the latter grabbed Charles by the legs. One quick tug was all it took. Lirma'nib relinquished her captive, who tumbled gasping to the floor.

The alien whimpered. She had wrapped two uninjured appendages around the mangled one, and still the blood continued to flow. Her eyespots were dim with something that looked suspiciously like fear.

"Fazinating..." she said. "You are fazinating. Human beingz..." She buzzed, but the sound was weak and mirthless. "You are capable of zuch unimaginable thingz."

Pip spat at her. The discharge contained more of Lirma'nib's blood than Pip's saliva. "That's for Duncan!" Pip cried. Then--what the hell--she spat again. "And that's for Ron. You want to talk about 'unimaginable things?' How about kidnapping and experimenting on sentient creatures?"

"Mmm," Lirma'nib gave a smug hum. "I know too much about human hiztory to feel chaztened by zuch an accuzation. Nn-" A shudder ran through her body. "Fetch one of my kinzmen. Pleaze. I'll bleed out."

"Yeah," Eddie scoffed. "We'll get right on that." He gestured to the crowd. "Come on, everyone. Let's find that Confluence thing."

The humans trooped away as one, with Pip, Charles, Masha and Duncan limping after them. Pip glanced over her shoulder at the shrinking form of Lirma'nib. The alien's eyespots seemed faint as she turned them toward Pip.

"Fazinating," Lirma'nib murmured weakly. "Fazinating..."

Pip looked away.

****

"So," Eddie said to Charles. "Where the hell did you come from?"

"Martell," said Charles.

Eddie nodded as if that were an adequate explanation. He turned to Duncan. "And you?"

"This is my brother," Pip cut in. "The one I was telling you about."

Eddie's eyes widened. "I'll be damned," he said, obviously impressed. "I never thought you'd actually find one. I underestimated you." He nodded at Masha. "You too, Maria Petrovna."

"Apology accepted," said Masha, with a little smile. Her pleasure at being reunited with her fellow captives was written across her face. The life of confinement that had so depressed her took on a nostalgic glow next to the hell she'd seen since escaping with Pip.

Duncan frowned at Eddie. "Dude," he said. "Aren't you dead?"

Eddie raised an eyebrow.

"It's a long story," Pip told her brother. "But since we're making inquiries--Eddie, what are you all doing here? I thought you'd given up on escaping."

Eddie heaved a massive shrug. "The power happened to go out when the gate was open. Plus we heard gun shots. We figured whatever was going on out here had to be more interesting than watching Henry carve his potato into a bust of Benedict Cumberbatch." Halting, he raised his hand. The rest of the group stopped and waited. Eddie's status among the prisoners seemed to have risen in the past few days. Even Sheila was looking to him for instructions. "We followed the gunshots," he continued, "and there you were. And now you can thank us for rescuing you..." A beseeching look crept into his eyes. "...by telling us you know a way out of here."

Everyone looked at Pip.

Pip looked at Charles.

Charles swallowed and pointed. "It's this way," he said.

Eddie nodded and hung a left turn. The group followed.

"Just one problem." Pip spoke in an undertone so that no one but Eddie could hear. "How will we get through the door?"

Eddie chuckled. "You call that a problem?"

He patted something heavy that was hanging around Pip's neck. In all the excitement, Pip had forgotten about it.

It was Lirma'nib's severed tentacle.

****

The appendage fit snugly into the locking mechanism. Something inside the door gave a sonorous click, and the door slid open. What it revealed was not what the escapees had been expecting.

"It looks like a garbage dump," said Sheila.

"It's the debris catch," Charles corrected, though something in his voice said that he agreed with her assessment. "All the stuff the Kerry vacuums pick up, all the bits and bobs of human beings--this is where it ends up."

Sheila blanched. "You mean that's all hair and skin and finger nail clippings and...euugh."

Euugh about summed it up, Pip thought. The mound of genetic material rose twelve feet high out of a gargantuan metal dish. Above it was a catwalk of sorts, also covered in human sheddings. The room possessed a distinct foot-smell, which mingled with the Dredmillon's ambient piss-aroma to create a scent not unlike that of a nursing home in hell.

"This is all well and good," Eddie said. "But where's the Confluence? All I see is a mountain of crap."

"Look up," Charles said, and everyone did.

From five yards above the debris catch, a stormy blue eye peered down at them. The Confluence was bright, silent, and violent-looking. Pip had seen it twice before, but the sight was still unnerving.

"I just thought of something," she said. "How do we know where this thing will spit us out? It's connected to a few dozen vacuums, at least."

No one had an answer for that.

No one, that is, except a familiar voice behind them.

"It's completely random," said the voice.

Every muscle in Pip's body tensed. She was loathe to turn around. Some irrational part of her insisted that if she couldn't see the man, then he didn't exist.

"Or so we theorize," George Lugner continued. "We've never actually tested it. Until Ms. Packard came through, we didn't think a living being could survive the journey."

Beside Pip, Eddie sighed. "God damn it."

That was when he and Pip turned.

In front of the doorway stood not only George Lugner, but also a detachment of red-bandana'd Nib. Each of them was holding a weapon--sleek and strange, but not so outre as to be unrecognizable. Guns.

The Nib were holding guns.