Abigail Huan whistled as she worked, tapping away at her keyboard. It had been a busy morning, but things had quieted down now, giving her a chance to catch up on the part of the job she actually liked.
That always threw people off, when she told them. Why not become an office administrator, then, or any other job that was actually focused around the paperwork rather than it being a secondary priority? Truth be told, she’d asked herself that more than a few times, but on days like today, those doubts couldn’t be further from her mind. The trick was, that in those other jobs, the paperwork was expected, the bare minimum. But in a field where it was regarded as an annoyance, a bureaucratic hobble? Being the one person not only willing but happy to handle it engendered a lot of good credit towards her. Good credit, and a significant amount of leeway.
And if all it cost her was sometimes having to rummage around inside corpses, then that was a price worth paying.
She finished transcribing the comments left by the primary coroner, double-checked her work, then let the system whisk it away for approval and filing. She leaned back in her chair as it loaded, yawning and reaching for her drink. Empty, she realised as she picked it up, and let out an overly-dramatic groan as she dropped it into the trash can and stood, grabbing her phone and ID. They had a small kitchenette inside the building, but she didn’t like hot drinks, and had been firmly shot down when she asked after keeping soda in the fridge. Going out to the vending machine in the lobby wasn’t that big a deal, though, so she hadn’t pushed – and while it meant dealing with Front Desk Joe’s flirting, it was never more than light comments; she could deal.
The sun was just setting as she stepped out into the lobby, stabbing directly into her eyes.
The air was cool, and slightly musty – she thought she could smell a storm brewing on the breeze, but she’d been wrong before.
“Hey, Abigail,” Front Desk Joe called out, a small grin on his face. “Getting lonely?”
She gave her best approximation of a polite smile in response. “Yes, I’m missing my caffeine dearly.” She tilted her head towards the vending machine. “‘Fraid you just can’t compete.”
Joe laughed, leaning back behind his desk and picking up a paperback novel. “Fair enough.” He returned to reading, not watching her as she walked across, or when she had to crouch to get her drink from the machine’s slot. It was a low bar, practically underground, but she’d take what she could get.
As she returned to the door, she paused halfway through cracking open the bottle to stare. Had that potted plant always been so close to the doorway? She’d thought it had been about a foot further away than it was… but then again, it wasn’t like she’d ever really paid attention to it. She shrugged, dismissing the thought, and unlocked the door, ducking back through. She was probably just tired.
“Okay,” Kihri said after a few moments, whispering even though there was zero risk of her being heard. “I think we’re good.”
Slowly, Zarah let herself relax, sagging against the wall as she released the breath she’d been holding. Getting in hadn’t been the problem – she’d just waited near the employee entrance until someone had come out with a bag of trash, and had slipped a thick piece of tape over the latch while they were distracted. That let her bypass the camera at the front entrance, and she’d only had to hide behind a vending machine for twenty-ish minutes before the man at the front desk had gone for a bathroom break. The outside cameras were static, but the ones inside the lobby moved in a steady sweep – all she had to do was stop one from moving for a few seconds with the handle of the hammer, desyncing them and creating a blindspot over the door every minute or so.
When Abigail (she’d overheard her name from the front desk guard) had come out, she’d stuck the hammer’s hilt in between the door and the frame, holding it open. It was a little bit of a risk, as she had to extend it out from the potted plant that hid her from view, but it was only a few seconds until the blindspot arrived and she’d been able to slip through.
The trouble came on the other side of the door. It was a clean, white corridor, with doors at regular intervals on the left, all of them secured with card readers. It was also barely wider than the doorway, and completely free of hiding spots.
The corridor did turn after a while, but Zarah could tell it was too far to make it in time, even with the blacklight – she could already hear the footsteps approaching.
Kihri had been saying something about squeezing flat and broken noses, but Zarah had already tuned her out, beginning to move. She didn’t have a concrete plan, there hadn’t been time, but following instincts she couldn’t quite place, she had coiled like a spring, then shot upwards and to her left, hitting the wall with one hand and one foot, bending into the impact and using it to push off again towards the other wall.
The narrowness of the corridor had turned from a problem to a solution – she barely had to cross any distance before making contact again, letting her maintain most of the upward momentum. Because of that, just those two jumps had been enough to clear the doorframe; just as it began to open, too.
Zarah planted one foot on the frame, and pressed the other against the adjacent wall, using the leverage to push herself back and up into the corner and stay there. It wasn’t exactly comfortable – her neck ached something fierce – but it had held her up long enough for Abigail to pass underneath and disappear out of sight around the corner at the end.
“…since when the fuck are you a ninja?” Kihri asked after a second, actually sounding genuinely awed. “That was radical, man!”
“…thank you, I think?” Zarah kept her voice low – Kihri might not be audible, but she certainly was. “Is radical good or bad?”
“That’s the beautiful part: it’s both.”
Zarah rolled her eyes and began walking. “<Stupid language. Stupid, stupid language.>”
She proceeded cautiously down the corridor, shoes squeaking softly on the linoleum despite her best efforts. Kihri acted as a scout, phasing through the doors of the locked rooms, and calling back what she found. Admittedly, most of it consisted of variations on “too dark, can’t see shit”, but any information was better than nothing.
The corridor after the turn was basically the same as the corridor before it, but with fewer doors. It, too, turned sharply to the left after a similar distance – presumably, it encircled the central ‘block’ of rooms on three sides, with the lobby on the fourth. Zarah hadn’t seen another entrance from the lobby, though, so there presumably wasn’t another door at the other end.
The light hadn’t changed either – bright fluorescents set flush into the ceiling – so it took Zarah a second to figure out what was bothering her. Only a second, though.
“There,” she whispered, knowing Kihri would hear it regardless. “Third down.”
“What? What’s the- ohhh, good spot!”
The doors were all solid, painted metal, and nearly flush with their frames, but from underneath the bottom of the door in question light spilled out onto the opposite wall, barely noticeable until you did, at which point it became glaring.
“Yep, she’s in here,” Kihri called out, as Zarah advanced cautiously. “Tapping away in a side office, but we’ve got slabs, we’ve got creepy corpse-drawers; it’s an autopsy suite, baby!”
“Any bodies out?”
“No, it’s all spic and span. Loooooooooks like our girl here is handling all the grunt work – forms and shit. Somebody in charge must really hate her.”
Kihri knew, conceptually, that other people had different opinions to her; she’d just never seen why that should affect her in any way.
Zarah placed one hand on the cold metal of the doorway, opening her mouth to ask a question. Before she could speak, though, she was interrupted, by the sound of voices from behind them, and the click of the door opening.
“Kihri!” she hissed. “More people, coming!”
“Oh, shit.” A moment later, her face popped out of the door, looking concerned. “Um, can you make it to the next turn?”
Again, the voices were too loud, too close. She shook her head.
“Shit,” Kihri repeated. “Can’t go up this time, they’ll spot you. Can’t go back, can’t go forward. Don’t suppose you’ve suddenly discovered you can teleport or turn invisible, have you?”
Zarah wasn’t listening, glancing between the door and the direction of the sounds. “How far is she from door?”
“Who, Abigail? Um, about ten feet, but-”
Zarah nodded, then stepped back and rapped loudly on the door with her knuckles.
Kihri’s eyes immediately widened, and she disappeared backwards through the door like she’d been shot out of a cannon.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she demanded. “She’s coming over now! What, you figure if you’re going to get caught, might as well go all out?!”
Zarah didn’t respond, dropping into a crouch and placing one hand against the wall to stabilise herself. The voices were louder now, the footsteps losing their echo as they grow closer, and barely a second later, two figures stepped around the corner-
And were immediately obscured by the door swinging open in front of her.
“…okay, damn,” Kihri said slowly. “Not gonna lie, that was slick.”
“Would you be Abigail Huan?” one of the voices asked. Friendly, if a bit gruff.
“…I would,” Abigail responded slowly. “Look, I’m sorry, but this is a restricted area, and you need to be authorised to be back here.”
“Good thing we are, then,” chuckled the voice, and there was a jangling of metal, presumably as badges were raised. “I’m Detective Spencer, this is Detective Guster. We’re with the 7th, Miscellany Unit.”
Zarah very carefully didn’t move. Cops. Of course there were cops here now. Of course.
“…I wasn’t aware there was a… ‘Miscellany Unit’.”
“Well, there is, and you’re looking at it! The entirety of it, actually, which is probably why you haven’t heard of us.”
“A unit… of two people?”
“It’s a strange arrangement, to be sure. Can we come in?” It hadn’t escaped Zarah’s notice that ‘Detective Spencer’ had referred to a partner, but they hadn’t said a single word so far.
“I… may I see your badges again?” Footsteps, and the same rustling of metal as before. “…alright. Okay. Come in, I guess?”
“Much obliged,” Spencer replied jovially. “After you.”
The door shifted as Abigail moved away from the door, beginning to swing shut before something else caught it, presumably one of the detectives.
“‘Miscellany Unit’?” a new voice asked. It was soft, raspy and coarse like a smoker, and no doubt pitched low enough that Abigail wouldn’t be able to hear it. “Really?”
“Oh come on,” Spencer protested at the same volume, “it’s a classic.”
The door began to swing shut, the sound of footsteps obscuring the rest of the conversation. It was slow enough that Zarah could have slipped through before it closed, but instead, when Kihri gave her the go-ahead, she just reached around and placed another piece of tape over the catch.
“So,” Kihri started, “what are we thinking? Criminals? Spies? Aliens?”
“Can you listen in?” Zarah asked in a whisper, ignoring the question.
“Already on it,” came the response. She began narrating the scene inside the suit, doing surprisingly accurate imitations of the voices, but Zarah was only half-listening.
Silently, she rose to her feet, and began padding further down the corridor, more out of restlessness than any clear goal. At the very least, she could make sure she had a clear path out of the building if things went bad-
She paused, considered how the last few days had been going, and sighed.
When things went bad, then.
“Hami Othranta.” Abigail pulled back the sheet with one hand, revealing the corpse’s face and upper torso. In the other, she held a clipboard, which she was currently reading off of. “Seventeen years old, ward of the state but a frequent runaway. Was found early this morning underneath an overpass on the outskirts of Kaila by a driver who stopped to urinate there, and called the police.”
“Yes,” Guster said testily, “we know. Can you get on with it, please?” She was a short, slim woman, surprisingly young, with wavy black hair up in a tight bun and ambiguously-brown skin dotted with freckles. Her appearance would have been entirely unremarkable, dressed in a plain grey suit with no tie and practical boots (underneath the forensic suit, obviously), except for the fact that her left eye was covered by a plain black patch, thin straps holding it tight against the socket.
“Hey,” Abigail snapped back, “you’re the ones who came waltzing in with no prior warning. I was trying to be thorough, because I don’t know what you do and don’t know because you haven’t told me.”
“Ladies, ladies!” Spencer chuckled, holding up his hands. “No need to fight.” He was a middle-aged white man, tall and solidly built, dark beard shot through with streaks of gray and white. Like the others, he was wearing one of the white forensic suits, but underneath was a checkered shirt and slacks, the former with its sleeves rolled up and enough buttons undone to reveal an impressive forest of chest hair that made his receding hairline even more noticeable in contrast. His face was creased with laugh lines and crow’s feet, but behind a pair of simple rectangular glasses, his dark brown eyes were alert and watchful.
Abigail and Guster both turned to him with expressions that could only be described as ‘withering’, and he quickly lowered his hands. “Like it or not, Rinet, she’s kinda right. Cut her some slack.”
“Hrm.” Guster folded her arms, tilting her head to the side slightly, but said nothing.
Spencer gave Abigail a rueful grin, giving a ‘what can you do?’ shrug. “I promise, we want this to be as easy and convenient for everyone, including you. If you could just run us through the notes from the beginning, we’ll be out of your hair lickety-split.”
“From the very beginning?” Abigail asked with a glance at Guster, whose scowl only deepened.
“Like we know nothing at all,” Spencer confirmed.
“Oh good,” muttered Abigail, “we’re on the same page.” She cleared her throat, returning to the clipboard. “Okay, right. Time of death is listed as between the hours of 19:00 and 22:00, Sunday evening. Cause of death…” she trailed off, looking puzzled. “That’s strange.”
“Is it not filled in?”
“No,” she replied, turning it to show them, “it’s listed as a TBI – traumatic brain injury.”
“Which is, what?” Spencer asked. “Exactly what it says on the tin?”
“Essentially, yes. Well, no, but lies-to-children and all that crap. What’s weird is that…” She went quiet again, flipping through the pages, brown creased in concentration. “Hm.”
“Wait,” Guster interjected suddenly. “So you’re telling me he didn’t die from the giant hole in his chest?”
“That’s what it says,” Abigail confirmed. “Not actually that unusual for this kind of injury; even if you’re losing blood rapidly, something else usually gets there first.”
“This kind of injury? You see basketball-sized holes in people’s chests a lot?”
Without looking up, Abigail held up fingers and began ticking them off. “Hydraulic press, falling debris, machine-mounted jackhammer, improperly-secured pipe smashed through the back of the driver’s compartment of a truck by a rear-end collision, gored by an elephant.” She glanced up. “Does that count as ‘a lot’?”
Spencer raised an eyebrow. “…so you’re the assistant coroner?”
“Better paperwork-to-viscera ratio. You’re not exactly wrong, though,” she said to Guster, who raised a solitary eyebrow. “About it being unusual, I mean.”
“How so,” she asked dryly.
“Well, like I said, this kind of injury isn’t exactly common, but it’s not unprecedented either. We do have other cases to compare it against, and it doesn’t really fit what we’d expect based on that. The cause of death is part of that – TBIs aren’t like strokes, they don’t just happen. Most common cause is whiplash, an impact smacking the brain against the side of the skull. An impact like, say, whatever aeriated our victim’s torso.”
“Except there are no signs of anything like that here. No injury to the muscles, tendons or soft tissue in the neck, or anywhere else. Hell, even the tissue around the wound is barely damaged at all!
“Wait,” Spencer asked, “why would it be damaged? Or, more damaged, I guess.”
“Knock-on effect, basically. Injuries like this aren’t usually clean, in the sense that they’re blunt-force. Not slicing, but crushing and tearing with enough force to cause separation of flesh, which, as you can imagine, tends to damage the surrounding tissue pretty badly.
Here, though, it’s… well, it’s almost like someone cut this hole with a knife. An extremely long knife, I guess. Maybe cheese wire or something, doesn’t matter.”
“Is that… an actual possibility?” Guster asked cautiously.
“No, no. Almost only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades, after all. There’s enough to tell that whatever hit him entered from the front of the chest and exited at the back – if you rolled him over, you’d be able to see the scraps of skin hanging in that direction. Don’t do that, though,” she added hastily.
“We’re not stupid,” Guster replied acerbically.
“Could’ve fooled me,” Abigail muttered under her breath.
“Could it have been a bullet?” Spencer cut in, saving Abigail from having to come up with a lie. “Some kind of exotic round or something?”
“Good thought,” she said, pointing at him, “but no. Bullets, or any kind of high-velocity projectile, are pretty unmistakable in terms of the damage they do. A sufficiently high-powered round could cause a hole of the same size, but it’d be much rougher and messier, and we’d find shrapnel fragments embedded in the wound. This is… almost exactly what we’d expect from someone who’d been, say, stabbed with a piece of rebar.”
Simultaneously, the two detectives looked at the wound.
“That’s one hell of a piece of rebar,” Spencer muttered.
“Yeah, obviously it wasn’t that specifically, but it’s consistent with a very large, cylindrical object with a pointed tip, moving at high speeds. And then also,” she added, as if just remembering, “brain injuries with seemingly no cause. Sound like anything you know?Cause it sure doesn’t to me.”
Spencer and Guster exchanged a glance. “Can’t say it does,” Spencer said slowly. “What’s your best guess?”
Abigail frowned, brow creasing in thought. “…armoured octopus?” she said at last, earning a snort from Spencer. “A giant, armoured, land octopus. Jokes aside, the coroner’s speculated it was an excavation drill, and I’m inclined to agree, if only because he’s my boss. That, or some kind of… experimental or exotic weapons test, but I’m coming up short as to what that would actually look like.”
“What makes you think that, then?” Guster asked, sounding genuinely curious for the first time.
“Eh,” Abigail shrugged one shoulder. “More the context of the crime than anything else. Homeless kid with an unusual wound, clearly dumped far from where he was killed. I read a lot of spy fiction,” she added, seeing the looks they were giving her. “Just an idle thought.”
“…I’m sure,” Spencer said slowly. “Sorry, Miss Huan, but would you mind running back into the office and making some copies of that report for us? I want to spend a little more time just…” he made a spinning gesture next to his head, “letting it process, while we’re still here.”
There was something in his eyes that there hadn’t been before, something that set her nerves on edge. “…sure,” she replied. “No touching, yeah?”
“No contamination,” he confirmed seriously.
On edge, but unable to justify why, she turned back towards the office. He was still watching her, though; the itch between her shoulder blades told her that much.
She glanced over her shoulder, just in time to catch the end of a flurry of motion, shoes squealing against the linoleum.
Spencer had stepped forward, and there was something odd about how one of his arms was hanging. She couldn’t get a better look, though, because Guster had stepped between them, one arm on her partner’s, glaring up at him with disgust. She spat a few hushed words, too quiet for Abigail to here, and Spencer started to respond. He noticed her looking after only a moment, though, and fell silent, staring into her eyes as his arm began to rise up-
There was a single, sharp knock on the door.
They all went still.
“Abigail?” an unfamiliar voice called out, loud enough to be heard through the closed door and pane of glass between them. “Are you in there?”
She was absolutely certain she’d never heard that voice before, but… they knew her name, and it wasn’t like they could have gotten to this point unauthorised. “I’m-” she coughed, clearing her throat, which had suddenly gone dry. “I’m in here, yes.”
“Excellent,” came the reply, and a second later, the door swung open, revealing the voice’s owner as she stepped inside.
It was a young, dark-skinned woman, dressed in loose, casual clothing under one of the generic labcoats that the morgue bought in bulk and kept in every room. She had a long, angular face, liberally pockmarked with tiny acne scars, as well as two distinct moles next to the bottom of a high, aquiline nose. Her eyes were green, deep-set with heavy bags underneath, but her gaze was sharp and inscrutable as she glanced around the room before settling on Abigail.
“Abby, hello. I have some forms I need you to sign, please?” There was a distinct accent to her voice, the words careful and stilted, but her tone was casual and relaxed, and Abigail knew without a doubt that she had never seen the girl before in her life.
“…which ones?” she asked carefully, hyperaware of the two detectives behind her.
The girl gestured her over to the observation window, which she stood on the other side of. “Apologies, they have come in last minute.”
She showed her the clipboard, turning it just enough that she could see but it would still be obscured to the others.
There were no forms on it, though. Instead, scrawled hastily on crumpled paper, were the words ‘THEY ARE GOING TO KILL YOU’.
Then, while Abigail was still frozen, she flipped to the next page. ‘GUN INSIDE MAN’S SUIT’, it read. Then, lower down; ‘COME WITH ME’.
Abigail felt like her veins were filled with ice, but she somehow managed to nod calmly, before turning back towards the detectives.
“Sorry,” she said, slightly unnerved at how level her voice was, “but I have to go handle this. Excuse me for a minute?” Now that it had been pointed out, she could tell that Spencer’s right arm wasn’t all the way into the sleeve, and there was an odd oblong shape at the bottom.
She met his eyes, and though they were back to being friendly and affable, she could feel in her bones that he was aware she knew.
“Of course,” he said, with a grin and a slight chuckle. “Me and my partner here have some private business to discuss anyway, as you can probably tell.”
Guster wasn’t holding Spencer’s arm anymore, but there was something interdictive about the way she was standing, in front of him and slightly to the side. She’d physically stopped her partner from shooting Abigail, and she was holding him back still, though she wasn’t quite sure how. Guster wasn’t his superior; their dynamic was one of equals.
Wanting to acknowledge the other woman’s actions, but unable to without breaking the fragile stalemate, she just gave her a quick nod before turning away.
“Shouldn’t be more than a few minutes,” she lied.
“Maybe longer,” the girl added, giving a rueful shrug. “Apologies.”
Abigail could feel the three sets of eyes on her as she passed through the airlock, the detectives, if they even were that, hard-edged and dangerous, and the girl’s, calm and patient. It was almost impossible not to rush as she stripped off her forensic suit and shoe coverings, and by the time she made it outside, her breathing had begun to grow ragged with the stress.
“Good,” the girl said approvingly as she stepped out, gesturing with her head towards the door. “The main thing that has been giving me trouble is these three?” She moved alongside Abigail, using the pretext of showing her the clipboard to place a hand gently on her back and guide her forward. “I believe that one of the coroners has filed them incorrectly? Or maybe used the wrong form? Or-”
The door clicking shut behind them sounded as loud as a thunderclap. The girl immediately stopped talking, removing her hand and stepping away, the calm expression on her face falling away, replaced with a hard, neutral mask.
“Sorry,” she said, as Abigail sagged against the door, breathing heavily. “For touching you, I mean.”
Abigail blinked at her, confused. “I… it’s fine, why would you think that-… it’s fine.”
“Good,” she replied with a nod. She leaned down, and picked up a bag that Abigail hadn’t even noticed was sitting next to the door, along with… a hockey stick, in some kind of handmade sling? She slipped out of the labcoat, stuffing it into the backpack, and then slung both of them over her shoulders.
“We should go,” she said brusquely, starting to walk. “Away from them.”
“I…” Abigail still felt like she was about to faint, but she found herself walking anyway, as if pulled into her wake. “Who… why… what is happening?!” She hadn’t realised she had yelled until the girl shot her a glare over her shoulder. “What is happening?!” she repeated, softer but no less intense, some of her composure starting to return. “Who are you? Who are they? How did you get in here? How did you know my name? How did you know-”
The girl cut off her stream of questions with a raised hand. “Zarah,” she said, pointing at herself, then started ticking off fingers as she addressed the other points. “Them, I have never seen or met. Probably actually government, not cops. Joe at front desk said your name.”
“Wh-” Abigail stumbled as she processed that. “You were in the lobby?!” she demanded. “You weren’t. I would have seen you.”
Zarah shrugged one shoulder. “Very good at hiding.”
“It’s a completely open- …the potted plant.”
“You should probably upgrade your security,” Zarah confirmed.
This was too much, this was all too much. “Dammit,” she muttered as they rounded the corner. “I really liked this job.”
“You could be dead,’ Zarah replied coldly.
“…shit, I really could be.” It still didn’t seem quite real, honestly. “Um, I don’t know if I… thanked you? For that? Ugh, this feels weird.”
“It is mutual, believe me.”
Abigail barked a short, humourless laugh. “Well, that’s a relief. Still, thank you, whoever the fuck you are, for saving me from getting executed by the fucking men in black.”
“I already told you my name?” Zarah said, sounding confused.
“Yeah, but like, who are you? Some random…” she trailed off, staring at the back of Zarah’s head. “Holy shit, you’re just a kid, aren’t you?” She hadn’t noticed it before, but now it felt almost blindingly obvious. “How fucking old are you, fifteen?! Wait, is that… was he your friend? Othranta, I mean.”
“Seventeen,” Zarah replied without looking back. “Or eighteen, maybe. And no, I did not know him… but yes, he was why I was here. I needed to look at his body again.”
She waved a hand. “Long story, no matter.”
“Kind of fucking is matter, actually!”
Abigail could hear the eye roll. “You sound like my sister.”
“She sounds sensible, then!”
“She is really not.” It was the closest she had come to sounding amused. “Ah, and of course, my mother-in-law loves me. Where did you go?”
“…me?” Abigail asked, confused. Apart from them, the corridor was empty.
“No,” Zarah said over her shoulder, before turning back. “Kihri, what are you- Kihri.”
“Who are you talking to?” Abigail asked.
Zarah waved a hand. “My sister, shh.”
Abigail looked around, but the corridor continued to be empty.
“What do you- slow down,” Zarah was saying to thin air. “I cannot- no. No. ‘Fuckiting-bye’ is not words, you need to use words. Al’khya ilti tazheal ayamia maeaha, Kihri, just-” She gave up with a huff, turning away to resume stalking down the corridor.
“…do I need to be worried?” Abigail asked cautiously, following her. Maybe she was being a little too trusting, all things considered, but as far as she was considered, Zarah had earned some for stepping in like she had. “It sounded like she was trying to tell you something?”
“She was,” Zarah growled, “but she cannot ever just say things, it always must be jokes and euphemists, and now I know not what she actually-” She took a deep breath. “It is fine.”
“…okay, then.” They were almost at the door now, and Abigail raised her keycard. Halfway there, though, she paused. “Can you…” she asked slowly, “feel something?”
Zarah’s gaze whipped around to lock on to her. “Feel what?”
“I don’t know, there’s just…” Whatever it was, it was on the very edge of her perception. “Vibration?” she guessed.
Zarah’s face went cold. “Kihri!” she called out. “Is it-”
The lights cut out in an instant, the building shaking as whatever impact had caused the noise destabilised it. They returned on a second later, but much weaker, and flickering erratically.
Zarah muttered something under her breath, then let her bag slide off her shoulder and caught the strap in one hand. She held it out to Abigail, gaze intense. “Khudh idhada,” she snapped, gesturing with the bag. “Ghada! Aletur ealae makan amin-”
“What- I can’t understand you!”
She growled, rolling her eyes. “Take bag, run away. Yes?”
“While you do- what?” Still, she took the bag, finding it surprisingly heavy.
Zarah reached up, and yanked the beanie off her head, revealing a shock of wiry, snow-white hair bound up in a bun. “What I should know better.”
Somehow, Abigail didn’t think she’d appreciate a correction on her grammar.
“Kihri!” Zarah snapped as she ran back down the corridor, hurriedly rolling up the sleeves of her baggy sweatshirt to the elbow. “Where are you? What is happening?”
“Safely underground, thank you very much,” came her sister’s disembodied voice. “No way am I sticking around when things start exploding.”
“Things exploding? What things?”
“Well, not really ‘exploding’, I guess, but something big smashed through the wall, and I wasn’t about to wait for the dust to settle to see what it was.”
Something heavy settled in Zarah’s gut. “Were the two still in there?”
“Ayup,” Kihri confirmed. “Spencer was pissed at Guster for stopping him from killing Huan, Guster was pissed at Spencer for trying to kill Huan, something about protocol, yadda yadda, then the wall exploded. On the plus side, they’re probably both dead now, so we don’t have to worry about that, at least.”
“Come back,” Zarah demanded. “I need your eyes.”
“Too bad, because I ‘need them’ to stay inside my skull. I’m cool down here, thanks!”
“You,” Zarah growled, “are a ghost. You cannot get hurt.”
“You,” Kihri snapped back, “don’t know that! You don’t get to make that call!”
Zarah didn’t want to let it go, but she’d already arrived at the door, and time was wasting. “Fine,” she said curtly. “But if I die, I will make you miserable.”
“Only fair,” Kihri agreed.
Without removing it from her back, Zarah tapped into the hammer, letting the blacklight flow through her, then reached up and grabbed the door’s hinges, effortlessly ripping them away.
The door immediately began to topple, but she was already stepping back and bracing herself, and before it could truly start to fall, she kicked it dead-centre with all of her strength.
With a heavy crunch and a muted, ringing tone, the door went flying backwards, its centre dented inwards a solid six inches or so. It flew true for a second, before smashing through the plane of glass and tumbling into the autopsy room itself, drawing startled noises from the occupants and sending the thick clouds of dust blooming outwards.
There was one more solid impact, then a few more dull clangs as it bounced to a stop, and then the room was silent.
Until, slowly, a voice started to laugh, and the weight in Zarah’s stomach coalesced into a tight ball of focused, cold rage.
The broken glass crunched under her shoes as she stepped inside, walking slowly and deliberately. The laughter continued, and with it came the sound of shifting rubble, and muffled winces of pain. Finally, as she passed over the shattered remains of the observation window’s frame, it faded into chuckles, and then finally stopped entirely.
“Damn,” a familiar voice exclaimed, laughter still floating underneath. “That was certainly something!”
There was a blur of motion through the dust cloud, and a second later, a powerful wind tore past her, yanking her few strands of loose hair backwards and clearing away most of the dust.
The room was utterly destroyed, Zarah could see immediately. The far wall and a decent chunk of the ceiling had collapsed entirely, creating a large slope of rubble. Sitting at the front of it, the cab of a truck was lying on its side, one wheel still spinning, headlights providing most of the illumination now that the lights weren’t working.
Improbably, H- the corpse still lay on the slab where Abigail had left it, mostly undisturbed apart from a thin coat of dust. Guster was crouched behind the far end of the slab, similarly coated, and the tattered remains of her forensic suit hung loosely off her. Evidently, she’d torn it open, to get access to the pistol she now held tightly in both hands, finger on the trigger.
She noticed Zarah and her single eye widened with shock then quickly narrowed in recognition and realisation. Zarah ignored her, though, gaze fixed on the new arrival.
Suspended above the floor, the limp form of Spencer held in the same blue tendrils that held him aloft, he turned towards her, and his face split into a broad, slightly manic grin.
“Oh, hey!” said the man from the power station, who’d punched a hole straight through Zarah’s chest and left her for dead, who’d murdered Hami. “Haven’t I killed you before?”