Viscura: With Extreme Prejudice
by Lee Hulme
Three people sat in a windowless room, around a table barely visible through the piles of paper, takeout boxes, disposable coffee cups. All three looked exhausted, their eyes barely open, heads drooping, clothes rumpled. They looked like students pulling an all-nighter before a big exam, except the papers scattered and screwed up in front of them were covered with scribbles far beyond the scope of most people.
The youngest was red-haired and pale, as much from tiredness as his natural skin tone.
The oldest was barely moving, her face craggy, hair grizzled grey.
The third person stretched, rubbing her eyes, olive skin slightly flushed from excess caffeine.
In the middle of the table, coming from a barely-visible device, a holographic image spun slowly. It was human in shape, though neutral in gender. Even in the holograph the figure was strong, and somehow radiated a sense of inner rage.
At least that’s what the third person thought as she looked at the revolving figure. Though that may be because the only contact she had with the full-sized and very solid version of this figure had been short and violent, leaving her unconscious, with a deep scar across the right side of her face. A thought slowly occurred, stumbling through her tired brain until it hit her mouth, “We need to show everyone else what it is, and let them take care of the problem.”
The other two looked up, brains ticking over the sentence and all it implied.
Viscura was as far away from people as ze could get, without the ability to fly to the top of a distant mountain range. A building, not much more than a shack, on a deserted patch of land, with no roads or other buildings as far as ze could see. Zir cybernetic system able to survive on a minimum of fuel, ze needed only the nearby spring to survive; water, and the occasional wild animal that chose the right moment to stop for a drink. It was safest this way. If ze saw nobody, ze could hurt nobody – and hurt ze would, if given the chance, ze had seen enough of zirself to know that by now. As hard as ze tried, there would always be a monster inside zir head, and the only way to stop it hurting someone else was to ensure it never got the chance.
So ze had sorted through urban legends and tales of cannibals and monsters, finding a town with a tale that centred around a deserted field, containing a rundown hut, which was long avoided even by the more daring of teenagers.
There was a cellar close by, but not attached to, the property, mits entrance mostly hidden. Viscura had worked hard to clear and then conceal an entrance. Ze had cleaned the cellar of years of mud and crumbling stone, and prepared it as a hiding place, should the need arise.
This plan so carefully laid out, it was with surprise and wariness that ze saw two figures approaching across the field. As ze watched, one pointed towards the shack. How they happened upon zir retreat was a question for later. In a flash, Viscura had gathered together the few belongings not hidden in a cubbyhole beneath the floor, exited the shack through the shuttered back window and slipped inside the cellar, pulling back the grass-covered wooden board that served as concealment, when surrounded by the longer grass.
The cellar was lit by a single wind-up lamp, more than adequate for Viscura’s enhanced vision. In one corner was a mattress, mildewed with the damp. One metal strongbox stored books, clothes and sundries. A disused fridge stored food and water, cold in the cellar even without electricity. Viscura could camp down there for days, even weeks, if necessary. The only thing lacking was a way to tell when the shack was empty again.
Viscura let her armful of things drop to the floor, holding onto the book ze had been reading as ze sat on the mattress. Time passed as ze read, occasionally looking up as if ze was trying to see or hear what was going on above. Eventually zir inner clock told her it was the early hours of the morning. Surely the two trespassers were gone.
Ze exited the cellar and crouched low as ze crept silently around the shack, looking for any sign that the people were still inside. There was another, less damp, mattress in the room ze used for sleep, and it was occupied by two figures. They had covered themselves in a thick woollen blanket, their clothes strewn across the floor, and were toasting each other with a bottle of wine.
There was a sharp buzzing noise and one of the figures, a pale redhead, leaned over to rummage through a pocket of his jeans. He glanced at the phone and dropped it back to the floor, turning to his companion.
The companion was a little older, his hair dark and wavy. He smiled as the young redhead kissed him, “You know it’s not every day I let a young stranger seduce me.”
The redhead chuckled, “It’s not every day I seduce someone. I guess we’re just lucky today was the day for both of us huh?”
“All the same, we should be going…”
“Scared the boogeyman will come home?” the redhead chuckled again. “I might be new to town but I heard the stories. I mean you know that’s all they are, right? Stories? Every town has ‘em.”
“Maybe they are, but they’ve kept this place empty for a long time – and they came back into style again the last few months.”
“Oh really? You think some monster heard the stories, and decided it’d be the perfect place to hide?”
“Why not? It’s what I’d do if I were hideous monster that liked to eat people.”
“Aw. Maybe the poor monster just needs a friend.”
The older man shuddered slightly, ” Then it can find another one. Come on. Let’s go.”
“Alright. But one more look around first, see if we can find it,” the redhead rolled off the mattress and into his jeans. Faster than Viscura realised his intention, he was at the window, the shutters were pushed wide open, and he was looking zir in the eye. There was a beat of silence, and then he cried out and staggered backwards, arms flailing.
The older man shot past him, just in time to see Viscura bolting into the cellar.
Ze stopped long enough to throw some food and water into a bag, and was halfway out of the cellar again when ze realised zir mistake in not simply running. The two men were heading zir way.
“Holy shit, there really is a freak living here!” the redhead cried out.
Viscura flinched at the word and froze. After months of isolation, the jab hurt worse than usual.
“What the fuck is that thing?!” the older man shouted. “Oh my god, is it dangerous? Oh shit, shit, run!”
Both men turned to run as Viscura gave a soft growl and sprinted towards them. A few steps and a leap, and the redhead was sprawled on the floor. Blood pooled around his head, his skull caved in where Viscura’s airborne weight had smashed it against the solid ground.
The older man took a single look back, and then put on a burst of speed.
Viscura’s eyes were fixed on the blood as ze fought to regain zir senses. Being away from people had done nothing to keep zir immune to the name-calling, the confusion, the disgust, the fear – the very opposite, it had hurt worse than before. And now ze had done the very thing ze had gone to such lengths to avoid.
Ze let the older man run, and sat beside the redhead, zir head bowed, waiting for him to return with others.
Back in the windowless room, the grizzled woman and the scarred woman looked at the empty chair. A screen on the wall showed blackness, and a single red line running across the bottom. The camera was broken, the carrier was dead. The third of their number would not return.
“He knew the risks,” the older woman said. “Phase one is complete.”
The scarred woman tore her eyes from the chair and nodded, “Phase two begins.”