The car drew up beside Mimi, jets spattering gravel over her rain-soaked runners. She flattened herself against the wall.
A dark rectangle in the shroud of streaming glass appeared as the passenger window rolled down, and a woman leaned across from the driver’s seat. A shimmer of bobbed hair slid across her cheek. “Get in.”
“Agathe.” The stubble of the wall bit Mimi’s fingers, sharp with the chill of autumn. “Good God, don’t do that.”
“Where’ve you been? We have an agreement.”
“I’m on it.” Mimi pulled her collar tight against the chills that spasmed her back. She continued down the deserted street. Rain down her neck was not enough to make Mimi go anywhere with her sister. She stumbled over the uneven pavement. Half-sister.
The gleam from a bulb at the end of the warehouse glittered on the slick-black puddles. Trust Agathe to find her while she walked off the shakes.
The car crept up beside her. “Get in. I don’t have time to dick around with you.”
A smatter of disrupter shots went off on the next street and they both flinched.
“Get in, moron, before we both get shot.”
Mimi cranked the door open and flopped onto the sprung bucket seat and Agathe hit the jets.
“Ditch the ear phone.” Agathe sped away from the warehouse. “Are you wasted?”
“Screw you.” It’d been eight days and about sixteen and a half hours since Mimi had even looked at deth. Still, sometimes the shakes came so bad she had to move, had to get out.
“You had a job to do. It’s been two days.” Agathe steered with one hand and pulled a cigarette from her bag with the other. She checked the rear-view screen and accelerated into the faster lanes above the buildings. The sound of disrupter fire and grenades faded behind them. “You blew the money on drugs, didn’t you?”
She closed her eyes. Agathe was wrong. Mimi could stay away from needles as long as she wanted. She’d wrapped the money in plastic and stored it in a jar of water in her freezer.
Night could be so long.
A sign flashed under them and Agathe dipped below the traffic, slowing the car onto a quiet street lined with walled houses. “I paid you to put videophones in that cat clinic. You work there every day. We haven’t received one transmission.”
Mimi slumped back into the seat and stuffed her hands under her armpits. Her back itched. Her arms and legs itched. “It’s not that easy.”
“Why? Because the people you work for seem nice?” Agathe lit her cigarette. A dog barked at their passing; guard dog, no doubt, eyes and ears for a private militia. “It’s civil war, Mimi. That cat clinic is a front for a terrorist lab. Those Occupies–anarchists–won’t rest until every civil institution is brought to its knees. Chaos. That’s what they want.”
“Or economic opportunity.”
Agathe shot her a withering look.
She backed off. “What’s the connection? Cats and terrorists?”
Agathe puffed smoke at the windshield. “Cats’ nervous systems mimic humans’. That terrorist lab is experimenting with something. Nerve gas, maybe. Get in there.”
“I don’t have access to the back rooms, all right? Ex-junkies don’t get security passes.”
“You do data entry. You have access to files. Keys.” Agathe glided into a back lane, jets flattening the grass.
“I don’t do data entry.”
“No? Reading big words too hard on your fried brain?”
“I clean toilets.”
The smoke from her sister’s cigarette curled in the light of the instrument panel. “Well, well. You used to be so good at it.”
“I don’t do computers. I do toilets. Get off my back.” Mimi shrugged into the cocoon seat and pushed her toes into the heater. It wasn’t as easy to steal keys as Agathe said. Margaret and Janie and even Dr. Henry were nice. The clinic was a bubble of calm away from the chaos of the streets. Margaret and Janie and Dr. Henry weren’t part of the war.
“Well, find a way in.” Agathe flicked ash on the floor. “The animal doc and his crew didn’t go home tonight. Something’s changed.”
Mimi hunched into the angle between the seat and the door, chilled now that the heat was off. Sleep. She needed sleep.
Agathe was still talking. “Like I said. If the videophones show an animal clinic instead of a terrorist lab, we leave your friends alone.”
“I told you I would, and I will.” No deth. Not tonight. She rubbed her arms. Not tonight.
“The army isn’t going to wait.” Agathe turned on the ignition. “Put those videophones in the examining rooms, or I swear, Mimi, I’ll have a unit go in. Do it tonight.”
“Okay, okay.” She’d find some booze, just to help her sleep.
Agathe took the car up to the freeway. The sounds of fighting grew as they approached the city core. She brought the car to a stop on an empty street two blocks from the clinic.
Agathe sprung the passenger door. “Come on, baby. You got them on you? The videophones I gave you?” she whispered. “Five minutes and it’s done.” She reached over and tucked a strand of Mimi’s hair behind her ear.
Her sister’s touch brought a sudden tightness to Mimi’s chest and throat, and she was caught for an instant by her sister’s soft eyes. She disentangled herself, pulled her gaze away and swallowed the ache in her throat. She pulled her jacket around herself and slid out into the rain.
Mimi hesitated before entering the clinic, armpits clammy. Through the glass door, the vestibule was dim with light filtering in from an interior room. It was odd to see the clinic open at night. Agathe was right. Something had happened. Mimi brushed her finger over her ear. Her ear phone was still off.
Janie was not at the reception desk. Mimi waited for a moment, willing her breathing to slow. Maybe one of the cats in the back room was sick. Or maybe the fighting between the army and the terrorists got too close and Dr. Henry and Janie and Margaret were all killed.
But there was no sign of disruption or fighting. Janie’s sweater hung on the back of her chair as though she’d just gone to the john.
A shot several blocks away broke the silence.
“Hello!” She stepped past Janie’s desk, down the short corridor to Dr. Henry’s office, Margaret’s smaller office and the washrooms. She used to have an office like Margaret’s when she was a data entry clerk at J-Mart. Before she’d fallen from grace.
The light was coming from Dr. Henry’s office. She looked inside. Both his and Margaret’s offices were empty. A coffee stood on Dr. Henry’s desk, cold. A list of calls to return, half of them scratched off, sat by Margaret’s computer, and her screen played a saver. It was as if they had just stepped into another room. “Hello,” she called again.
At the end of the corridor, next to the washrooms, the door to the clinic–normally locked–stood ajar. That was bizarre. She’d never been in the examining rooms or clinic; she’d just seen cats delivered through the front. She stepped through.
It was just as Agathe had said. It was a laboratory, not a clinic, with steel benches and gleaming consoles. The videophones in her pocket would give the government all the excuse it needed to blast the place.
But now, the smell of blood and feces permeated the room. She covered her nose and mouth with the tail of her jacket to keep from gagging. Cats meowed plaintively from somewhere within.
A large window gave onto a second room at the far side of the lab. Mimi approached it, following the sound of the cats. A door–closed–stood next to the window. Margaret lay before it, shot in the chest by a short range disrupter. Her pale skin, what was left of it, was cold, her arms thrown over her head as though she had fallen while trying to grapple with the door.
God, what Mimi wouldn’t give for a hit of deth right now.
She tried the door to the second room. It opened. She stepped over Margaret’s body.
Just within the room, Dr. Henry lay slumped against the jamb, three gun shots piercing his body, his lab coat drenched in blood. A small disrupter rested in his open palm. In the centre of the room, amid rows of caged and hungry cats, Janie lay, also dead of disrupter fire, shielding a lifeless cat with her body. She held an old-fashioned pistol in what was left of her hand.
Mimi couldn’t hold back any longer. She vomited on a row of empty cages.
What in God’s name had happened? She wiped her mouth on a lab coat hanging by the door and looked down at the bodies.
The women were burned and blasted but Dr. Henry was whole and covered in bright blood. She knelt beside him and listened to his chest. There was a faint, rapid drumming beneath her ear.
He was still alive.
A lab. Should be full of medical supplies. She threw open cupboards and drawers, rummaged through beakers and stands–found towels. Another shelf. Sheets. Back to a drawer storing scissors. She cut and ripped a sheet, stuffed towels into the doctor’s wounds, shoved her arm under him to wrap tight strips around his torso.
“Is it dead–?” The voice was a rasp, an urgent whisper in her ear.
Mimi paused in her bandaging.
The doctor breathed in, a gurgle. “Cat Forty-Seven–” He struggled to open his eyes.
She sat back, amazed. But then, he had been shot by a gun, not a disrupter.
“Is it dead?” he insisted, pale in the glare of the fluorescents. He didn’t seem to recognize her.
“Don’t talk.” He wouldn’t stay alive long if he continued to bleed as he did. She tugged on the sheet and wrestled with the knot over the towel.
He lifted an arm feebly. “Kill the cat!” He whispered.
Mimi looked at Janie. She still cradled the upper half of a cat in hole-ridden arms. Mimi crawled to her side and read the collar. “Forty-Seven” was inscribed on the plastic.
She came back to the doctor. “Cat Forty-Seven is dead. Now be quiet.”
“Yes, cat Forty-Seven.”
The doctor’s face slumped. “Thank God,” he murmured.
Mimi touched the dial on her ear phone.
She punched in the emergency code. The band hissed static.
“Don’t call them,” Dr. Henry gasped.
“The band’ll reactivate in a couple of minutes. Don’t worry.” She stroked his forehead. It was cool and damp. “Rest.”
He swallowed. “The army will come . . . you don’t know . . .”
Agathe’s troops. They couldn’t be far.
“Burn it,” he whispered. “Everything. Computers. Lab . . .” He frowned, eyes closed, tried to swallow.
Mimi tried the ear phone again.
A disrupter blast sprayed the ceiling.
A hit of adrenaline slammed into her heart and Mimi ducked, crouching over the doctor as plaster and metal shards rained from above. She blinked through the choke of dust. The doctor’s arm wobbled in the air, his hand gripping the disrupter he’d used to kill Janie.
She wrested the weapon from him and threw it across the room. “Did you all go crazy?”
“Doesn’t matter. Burn–” He convulsed once and his face went slack.
“Dr. Henry?” His weight stilled unnaturally in her arms and his skin grayed to the color of the dust coating the floor. Cold certainty sank in Mimi’s stomach. “Dr. Henry?”
She shook him, but his body sagged. She listened to his chest and heard nothing. She felt for a pulse. No throb. Inexpertly, she lifted his neck and breathed into his mouth–what was the rhythm? One, two, three, four, watch his chest? Nothing. Repeat. Nothing. Repeat.
She sat up. He lay, pale amongst the bright red sheets, unmoving. Mimi folded his arms on his chest. She brushed her ear phone off.
Mimi left the lab and leaned on the door, trembling. What the hell was going on?
She went into Dr. Henry’s office and sat in the big chair. People were killed all the time. Every day, she saw casualties. But these people were different. They were nice. They were ordinary. They shouldn’t have died, and certainly not by each others’ hands.
But–she had to remind herself these weren’t ordinary people. This was a bio lab for terrorists. The army wanted to destroy it.
But why? What were Margaret and Janie and Dr. Henry doing? Dr. Henry was obsessed with killing cat Forty-Seven and wanted her to burn the lab before the army came. Agathe said that cats’ nervous systems were similar to humans’.
Dr. Henry’s computer hovered over the desk in front of her. The answers would be in there.
The screen sprang to life, locks bypassed by Dr. Henry before he died. This was just like data entry. She’d done it hundreds of times.
“Recent items.” Requisitions for mice filled the screen; bills for three cages, veterinary expenses, kitty litter. She voiced through a few layers of security and found a file marked ‘Notes’. Subfiles, A through L. Easy. A document with yesterday’s date. She opened it.
Dr. Henry’s voice rumbled over pictures from the lab videophones showing a common tabby looking directly into the lens from within its cage. “51.05.09.16:00. I can’t wait any longer to analyze the cat’s progress. I’m going to shoot it now, if I can.”
If I can? How dangerous could a caged cat be? But Janie had protected the cat with her body. Why would Janie care so much, she would die for a cat that didn’t even have a name?
Mimi spoke to the computer. “Previous entry.”
“12:00. I finally have all the keys. I have to stay out of sight of the cat. I have to fight with myself not to give in to my compulsion to serve it. Janie or Margaret might find a way to open the door in spite of me. I’ve tried to get them to come out into the street where I might reason with them, but they won’t leave the cat.”
Mimi flipped back.
“9:00. Apparently, the cat wants to be free. When I came in Margaret was trying to liberate it. She couldn’t give any reason for setting it free, but she was determined. The cat’s abilities seem to have reached the point where it can affect the thinking of humans. This experiment has been far more successful than I anticipated.”
“17:00.” Yesterday. “Cat Forty-Seven is no longer enticing mice to it from across the cage. It appears to be directing its thoughts toward Janie, who has fed the animal three times this morning already.”
Bio-engineered mind control? Was that possible?
Dr. Henry had given one of his cats something that made it able to get humans to feed it. To die for it. A wave of revulsion washed over her and she wanted to vomit again. Dr. Henry seemed so nice. And Janie, and Margaret.
Mimi sat back in Dr. Henry’s chair. What would the terrorists do with such a substance? Send the army packing. Kill them? Torture them, turn them into slaves? And if the government got its hands on it?
An end to the war, maybe even a peaceful end. Utopia. No conflict. No free will. Complete domination.
And if two people were modified?
War on the grandest scale imaginable.
Dr. Henry was right. Everything had to be burned.
Mimi killed the remaining cats with Dr. Henry’s disrupter. Then she began wiping files.
A pressure behind the eyes and leaden limbs crept over Mimi as she shut down Janie’s computer. It must be two o’clock in the morning. The sounds of fighting had been closer than usual all night, seeming to come from the street in front of the clinic.
Janie’s computer had no references to the lab experiments, but Margaret had back-ups for everything in Dr. Henry’s files. The lab computers had only raw data.
She stacked the office and lab computers in a heap in the laboratory with the paper files and notes and some wooden furniture. She found flammable cleaning solvent in a drum stored on a back shelf and doused it. Pawing through a drawer of gas masks she found one to fit and activated its auto-seal to her face, leaving the rest of the masks on the lab bench. She turned off the sprinkler system and ignited the fluid, and continued her search. Disrupter fire had stopped for the time being.
Dr. Henry kept his work space meticulous, and she found only five vials in the offices and lab that contained anything that looked like a medicine. She found them in the refrigerator, lined up along one side, labeled “A2102a Herpes, Series F Gene Sequence Precursor, Trial Doses 48 through 53 IV” and a larger bottle simply labeled, “A2102a Precursor IV.” She pulled them out and stacked them on the counter with the needles and syringes, scalpels and rubber tubing.
She picked up the Dose 53 IV vial. Glass, with a small amount of clear liquid and a removable cap. The contents looked like water. Or deth. Presumably, enough for one cat.
But the terrorists were not conducting research to create super cats. A2102a would be for use on humans. This drug was a genie in a needle.
She shuddered. Who would the first user be? The first would also be the last. But no one injected themselves with experimental drugs, except, maybe, Dr. Jeckyl. Such a person would be a genetic mutant, a freak. And who knew what the side effects might be?
She tossed the scatter of vials on the counter into the flames.
The door clicked behind her. Mimi turned, her heart slamming in her veins like a hit of deth.
Agathe. Shit. She shoved the last vial in her pocket.
“Looks as though we were right. A lab.” Agathe pushed her bobbed hair from her eyes and closed the door behind her. She frowned. “What are you burning?”
“What the hell are you doing here? The door was locked.” Mimi’s voice hissed mechanically through the gas mask’s speaker.
Agathe dropped her disrupter into her bag. “When you didn’t come out, the watchers called me. Took us a while to get through the fighting out front.” She made her way among the lab benches to the fire, choking on the smell of the solvent. She picked up one of the gas masks and glanced over to the doorway where the three bodies lay. “What happened?” She activated the mask’s auto-seal, and her voice became tinny.
“They were dead when I got here.” Why was Agathe so calm about the fire? Why wasn’t she screeching at Mimi and calling for backup?
Agathe pulled on the corner of a notebook, then pulled her hand away from the heat. “What are you burning?”
“I don’t know. Stuff. I have to torch the whole place. Police will think I killed those guys.” Agathe should be livid. She should be–
A chill touched Mimi’s neck. Agathe didn’t know—
“Idiot. Maybe you shouldn’t be burning things until we know what the lab was for.”
Agathe didn’t know what the research was.
Flames curled the edges of the paper and flickered up the sides of the computers. Just a few more minutes and the words would be ash, the circuits would be puddles of metal and plastic.
“And why not start the fire on the bodies? Idiot.” Agathe looked up at her sharply. “You bitch. You know something.”
Mimi felt her cheeks flush.
Beneath the gas mask’s plastic bubble, Agathe’s face reddened in anger. “You read the files on the computers, didn’t you? You moron!” Agathe whirled around, searching, spotted a fire extinguisher across the room and sprinted.
Only a few minutes and the research would be irretrievable. Mimi sprang after her, tripped her, knocking a stack of flasks to the floor where they bounced and rolled.
Agathe shoved her hand in her bag but Mimi grappled with her, a smothering hug. The disrupter spilled from the bag and Mimi pushed it, skimming, a few feet away. Jesus, was Agathe going to shoot her?
Flames licked the fabric of the chair on the top of the heap.
“Ben!” Agathe scrambled to her knees, yelling into the air. Of course–she was wired for sound, maybe video.
Mimi grabbed the neck of a broken flask, its edge fracture-sharp, and slashed wildly, cutting Agathe’s calf.
Agathe fell to the floor, lunging for her weapon, but the disrupter skittered under a bench. She stretched her arm into the narrow space. Mimi pulled at her leg, hands slippery with blood.
The solvent drum exploded and a shower of metal debris landed about them, seeding flame.
Agathe rolled over. “You know.”
Mimi pushed herself back. “So what? The notes are burnt and the computers are melted.”
Agathe sat up and stared at Mimi, surprise etched on her face. Slowly, she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter,” her voice clicked through the gas mask.
Agathe laughed, hollow and echoing. “It doesn’t matter that you burned the computers. All the information is in your head.”
Heat crackled on all sides of them.
“They’ll get it out, you know.”
Mimi backed away. “I don’t know chemistry.”
“Doesn’t matter. Every memory of every word you heard or saw.”
Mimi’s bowels turned. “You’re my sister.” She bumped up against the bench where the medical supplies lay. Tubing. Needles, syringes.
The last vial of A2102a Precursor IV was in her pocket.
“Tell me what you learned.”
A mind-controlling army.
“All right, then. We take the information. Simple.”
The way out was in her pocket.
“Don’t look so desperate. Tell me now. You won’t be able to stop the doctors once they start.” Agathe pulled her slashed leg under her, pressing on the wound. Disrupter fire erupted from the front street. “They’re coming.”
Mimi shucked her jacket and wrapped the tubing around her arm. Intravenous or intramuscular? She didn’t know.
“Now?” Agathe’s brows arched. “You need to shoot up now?”
How much? Mimi slapped her arm, felt for a vein. Her skin was slippery with sweat. She thought she would never shoot up again.
The color drained from Agathe’s face. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare overdose!” She tried to stand and fell to the floor with a squeal of pain.
Fingers trembling, Mimi fitted a needle to a syringe and drew a dose of A2102a into the cylinder. Jesus, what was she doing?
What the hell. All of it. She threw the bottle into the fire.
Disrupter fire and the sound of splintering wood and shouted orders filtered from the outer office.
Mimi pressed the tip of the needle against her vein. She had given up needles, yet her heart sped with anticipation. “I’m not committing suicide.” She hoped. Her gaze met Agathe’s. “This isn’t deth.”
Agathe’s eyes widened.
Flames soared to the ceiling. Mimi blinked the sweat from her eyes, trying to focus on the tiny bulge of swollen vein between the tubing and the needle tip. A genetic mutant. Sick.
The door to the main office crumpled under disrupter fire.
Mimi slipped the needle beneath her skin.
“Ben!” Agathe pointed to Mimi.
Mimi depressed the plunger.
“Why should I pay you?” Agathe’s hair was gone and her head bandaged. “You didn’t set the videophones, you burned all the research notes, and we got no information. I can’t believe even Ben’s team couldn’t debrief you.”
They sat in Agathe’s car on a side street near the core watching vandals loot a building.
“I destroyed the weapon the terrorists were working on,” Mimi said. “I burned the place down. There won’t be any investigation. Your problem is solved. In fact, I should get a bonus.”
“We might have been able to use the data in the computers,” Agathe said, pulling the money from her bag. “You should have reported and let us find out what it was.”
“Just because you didn’t get the credit.”
Agathe shoved her bag closed and glared at Mimi.
“Oh, and can I borrow the car?”
Agathe pushed the keys into her hand and climbed out, slamming the door behind her. She stalked down the street.
Mimi slid over to the driver’s side. She knew what she should do. She should look for another job as a cleaner and try to keep her wishes to herself. Don’t make enemies.
But in academia there was a base of research from which to build A2102a again.
She started the motor. First, food, a bath and new clothes. Next, she would look up the world President and the leader of the terrorists. Let’s see if she could negotiate an end to the war.
She pulled into traffic. She shouldn’t feel this good. She should be trembling with fear.
Because Dr. Henry knew he must kill the cat. If it was the last thing he did–and it was–he must kill the cat.
And in the end, he had.