Royce observed the man’s reaction to the news. Depending on what sort of man he was, there were two main reactions to look for: the first, one of complete indifference. This, Royce knew, was a warning sign. Indifference meant ignorance: the lower levels of Toronto were inhospitable to all but the most tenacious of rodents. Someone with a lot of experience would know that an inhuman aggressor wouldn’t be large enough to cause the level of damage sustained by the subject; at least, not any of the usual hostile life down there.
The second reaction to look for was fear. This would be normal, but would be extreme cause for concern. If the fear was too great, then reliable completion of the task would be at risk. Fearlessness was hardly an option, but outright flight wouldn’t be acceptable either.
The third, and the emotion Royce was hoping for, was what the man displayed: shock. Recognition of context and prior knowledge of area. Intelligence enough to understand the weight of the situation. Professionalism enough to keep personal fear under check… mostly. This man seemed to be an ideal candidate for the task at hand.
“The gravitas of the situation, it seems, isn’t lost on you. Good. Good, good.” He rose from his chair smoothly, slowly. Royce hated rushing and preferred to move efficiently and with grace. The mark of a truly intelligent man, his father always said, was in how he moved. Royce always hoped he conveyed that properly. Still, he spoke methodically and sometimes got lost in thought. He hated that he repeated himself sometimes while thinking of the next thing to say. Royce moved to collect a briefcase near the door.
As he made his way to the case, the hunter sat in his chair. He shifted, and moved to the edge of his chair, his elbows propped up on his knees.
“Let’s get this straight,” he started, “you’re asking me to believe that there are non-humans down in the lower levels that did… well, that mauled our friend here?” He gestured towards the lady, whose eyes hadn’t stopped searching the hunter since he walked in the room. Royce noted that the lady, was always studying people, keeping incredibly close eyes on their movements. Intelligence wasn’t a matter of schooling and study, he thought. Those eyes showed an intense intelligence, one quickly capable of measuring a situation and the people in it. She would be invaluable during the mission, Royce thought, so long as she maintained her promise.
“That’s correct, and we both know that the known creatures on the lower levels are incapable of doing this level of damage.” Royce placed the briefcase gently on the table between him and the hunter. “That’s where you come in. You see, we at the Canadian Biotech Institute are curious as to what caused this: in fact, based on the descriptions given to us by the lady, we believe that there are new lifeforms down there.” He paused to let that sink in.
“Do you understand? To create a brand new species, one capable of incredibly ferocity… that would normally take decades of research, experimentation, and fine tuning. Instead, what seems to be happening is a naturally occurring evolution.
“Evolution, you understand, is something that takes place over hundreds and hundreds of thousands of years to create something substantially different.” After opening the case, Royce lightly pushed it towards the man. “Inside this briefcase is all the evidence we have. Please do look at it all, it’s all really quite interesting.”
The hunter began to read. “This’ll take me a while. You two might want to go do something for a bit.” Royce nodded, and made his way to the doorway. He thought a sandwich would be a good reprieve. The lady made no move to follow, and that was fine by him: she was capable of doing almost anything she wanted, so long as she helped with the task.
Once Royce had left the room, the lady resumed analyzing and reading the hunter. He was a typical person, really. Nothing made him that exceptional compared to other hunters, save the longer resume and lack of missing body parts. Something she could no longer claim.
“Lady, do you have a name I can use? Calling you “friend” and “lady” is going to get tiring.” He put down the document he was skimming and looked at her. Not intensely, but she sensed a well of frustration within him.
“No. Lady will do fine.” Her voice was still so strange to her. Ever since she woke up, she’s had this new voice. The old voice was rough, tough, and strong. It could cut clearly through a crowd and through the chaos of a brawl in a bar. Now it was soft, delicate. It was, in all honesty, bullshit impractical.
“Suit yourself.” He went back to the case, pulling out a DNA analysis sheet. An actual geneticist would have been flipping out: this idiot was just staring at it, hoping it would give him some answers. He put it down. “Half this crap doesn’t make sense to me. Look,” he turned to her, “would you mind just telling me what attacked you? It’d save me a lot of time.”
She remembered the teeth. “You wouldn’t believe me. The only reason these overground bastards did was because of…” she paused, and pointed at her throat, “you’re a smart guy. You know why this is fucked.”
“Yeah, something that big doesn’t exist down there, unless it’s a gang member or a hunter. So who did this?” He shut the case, and stared at her.
Like hell. “Not who, idiot. What.” The images of a gaping maw with a neat cage of long teeth flooded her mind. “And that’s the point of this job. You’re going to help me find the thing and kill it.” Her new voice said it so nicely. It was weird, but it distracted her from other thoughts.
“That’s weird, ‘cause I just read that I’m supposed to catch it. Alive.” He leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms. “Revenge is a fine thing, but it’s the CBI that’s hiring me, not you.”
No, she raged inwardly, you are not brushing this off as a fucking normal case. “What you don’t get, hunter, is what exactly did this to me. You want a description?” She was shaking, trying to contain an anger and a fear she had never felt before.
“Here’s your description; it was six feet tall, had two heads, teeth as long as your hand, and wasn’t fucking human. The monster, and trust me I know how fucking stupid that sounds I grew up in the fucking undercity, fucking ate my arm off, and took a chunk out of my throat!” She slammed the table with her hands, fracturing the it and sending shards of glass across the floor.
Her voice box has distorted slightly, causing an altogether unfamiliar growl to permeate her tone.“If you want to fucking take the job, you’re not taking it for a fucking science experiment! I want you to fucking end the damn thing!”
She breathed heavily, her hand still in the crater it left on the table. Looking down at the ruined table, she calmed down, removed her hand, and sat back in her chair. She looked away from the man who, following her explosion, had gripped the arms of his chair. What a fucking tool.
Rick gripped the chair tightly, not only out of fear of what he just saw but just in case he needed to vault out of it. The woman, who up until now seemed meek and resentful, had just just demonstrated a great deal of who she was. An old Torontonian, born and raised in the poverty and senseless fighting of everything down there was nothing to be sneezed at: the people that lived down there were resourceful, crafty, quick, and unusually tough by human standards. They had to be to survive, because no one else was able to.
At this point, Royce walked into the room. His coffee cup nearly slid out of his hand as he saw the room. “That’s… oh my.” For once, the man was out of things to say.
“Had to make a point,” the woman chirped, “this guy didn’t get it. I think he gets it now.” Rick had to agree: she certainly made a her point clearly known.
Rick cleared his throat, and eased up. “Look, Royce was it? I get that rapid mutation and evolution are of interest to the CBI. What I don’t get is why you helped this woman out with what appears some of the finest military cybernetics that our country has to offer.” He waved his hand at the table. “Seriously, a prosthetic that works like our highest grade P-6N series armor on this scale is a huge investment.”
Royce recovered himself, shaking his initial shock off. “Right, well, it had to be done; at the very least there’s a reasonable explanation. She obviously knows where she was when she was attacked, and being the only known survivor of these attacks, it’s important to have a guide that knows where she’s going.” He sat down, gingerly dusting the glass off his chair before doing so. “It would also help if she were able to communicate and take care of herself. Of course, we gave the very best on a condition, but that’s between her and the Canadian Biotech Institute. I’m just here to relay a message and act as your go between for the CBI while you’re out in the field with her.”
Rick let the last part sink in. “How much am I being paid?” he asked.
Royce smiled. “I think approximately five thousand will go to the Guild for good work and risk assessment, but your personal take home will depend on the success of the task. I was told that your tip, to use the old world parlance, would be two thousand.” He paused to drink his coffee. “If my calculations are correct that would be enough to handle your expenses for at least a couple months. In all honesty, money’s not the object here: the CBI’s interest right now is the creature this woman encountered. There’s a lot to learn, a lot of which could be vital to understanding the after effects of the war.”
Rick absorbed the information. There was a lot going on here: these rewards were indeed a great deal of money for a couple day’s work. What Royce was saying should be making sense too, but something wasn’t quite clicking. Specifically, the woman’s role in all this, and the CBI’s interest in her beyond information. Suddenly, Rick remembered something from a few seconds ago.
“Royce, just a few seconds ago you said that she ‘was the only known survivor’ of this… thing… that attacked her.” Rick cleared his head before going on. “How many of these attacks have been recorded?”
Royce shook his head. “I’m saying only known survivor because usually, when it comes to missing persons cases, there’s a corpse.” Royce looked pensive for a moment before adding, “In at least thirty-six missing persons cases down in old Toronto, which is a lot regardless of the situation we’re in, twenty of them have left no remains whatsoever. In addition to what the CBI is asking you to do,” He leaned forward in his chair, “I’d like you to find out if our bogey man is the cause. If it is, stop it.”
The woman smiled, and Rick could only imagine what might be going through her mind.
End of Part 03