Process Alive #2: Ripper
‘Tis group process time again.
Since I continue to yak about it, I thought it would be fun to see it in action.
I shall post another story. A very, very rough draft of a story.
You may, if you wish, offer constructive criticism.
We can all watch the process at work.
WARNING: This story has some disturbing elements and potential triggers. Read cautiously.
She shifted in the cafe chair, trying to edge away from the corset boning poking her in the ribs.
Wow, maybe that should be the new uni, her partner had said while he ran the checks on her subdermal transciever.
She’d kicked him in the shin with her sharp little kitten heel.
Bastard has to have a Steampunk fetish, tapping fake nails tipped in wire and minute gears on the tabletop. Resisted the urge to scratch were the fishnets were bunching behind her knees.
He’s not coming. She’d been waiting for hours at the cafe, the cold autumn breeze blowing up her school girl plaid, unable to so much as crack her toes in the stiff, over buckled, zipped, and laced knee-height boots. And the fucking fascinator… it had taken so many hairpins to get that insane thing to stay jauntily tilted on her head she was certain her scalp would split any second. She resisted the urge to check her chrono again, signaled the waiter for yet another coffee.
Couldn’t front me the per diem. I’m going to spend three hundred dollars on coffee; kiss that shit goodbye. Have to make sure we can’t trace it back to the department…
He’s not coming.
Fucking waste of…
The cop alarm went off in her animal brain. Her fingers seized for half a second before she forced them to start tapping again, this time blindly on the screen of her phone, pretending interest in the shifting icons. She sipped her coffee. Ordered a piece of pie she ate without tasting it. Ordered yet another coffee.
He was waiting, predator calm, predator patient.
He would wait.
Her amygdala urged her to run. To get up, ran fast, run far.
Fucking undercover assignment without a fucking gun.
There was a shuriken sewnin with each corset rib, the seams along the bottom loose enough for her to pop them out when she needed them.
But they’d found blood at other sites, blood that didn’t belong to the girls.
A bullet to the brain. Maybe. And she’d left her bullets at home.
Stupid stupid stupid.
Heavy footsteps, louder, louder.
He’s letting you hear him coming. Confident. He’s confident.
He doesn’t know.
Transciever. You have the transciever and they’re watching for you to move and go stationary again. Five minutes. Five minutes, they can be anywhere in town in five minutes. You can hold him off for five minutes.
He killed an MMA fighter. You’re good but you’re no MMA fighter.
You’re a cop.
I’m a fucking terrified cop.
Long black trench coat. Leather. Heavy, expensive, she could smell it. Black trousers, highly polished Docs, embellished with cogs and gears, a filigree Cthulu on one steel toe, an airship on the other.
She would have expected long hair and a goatee or a longer beard with braids and beads. Thick rimmed glasses. But he was clean shaven, hair shorn close to his scalp. No ink. She had expected tattoos wending up his neck, down across his hands. He had a mug of coffee in his hand. “I’m sorry, I bought this and there aren’t any tables. Line to get a to-go cup is forever. May I join you?”
An accept she couldn’t quite place. Scandanavian? French-Canadian?
“Sure.” She feigns interest in her phone again, wondering if pretending to smoke would hide the fact she was on the edge of hyperventilation.
It was the same predator patience.
It wasn’t a mistake. He let us see him. All these years with nothing and all the sudden we can run facial recognition on a security video?
Maybe he played the odds they’d send me.
Maybe he wants me.
Her stomach clenched. Coffee, very expensive coffee, crept its way up the back of her throat.
She took another sip to hide the hard swallow.
“The work on your nails,” he says, “it’s incredible. Did you do it yourself?”
“I did,” she lied, flashing him a carefully whitened smile.
She drank a lot of coffee and all of the victims had gorgeous shiny white teeth.
He always left them. Sometimes still in the skull, sometimes made into gruesome sculptures with bits of bone and flesh. Sometimes strung on silk or wire as jewelry.
Oh, fuck no. “Sure.” She held out her hand.
He took it, held it close to his face, close to his lips.
She expected it to be slimy, more akin to her nephew’s toad than the dry, snake feel of his grip.
“Are you ambidextrous?” he asks in the same tone men in a bar had sidled up and asked, “If I tell you I love your body, would you hold it against me?” or “Did it hurt? when you fell from heaven?”
“Do you think I could have placed the watch movements on both hands if I wasn’t?” She smiled again.
All the girls had been ambidextrous as well. He’d cut their hands off and switched them when he’d laid the remains of the remains out.
“You’re very talented.” He set her hand down and she locked her muscles against pulling back and wiping her hand on her skirt.
“Thank you. Did you do your boots?”
“A friend. Almost, but not quite as talented as you.” Everywhere his eyes go, her muscle twitches, a nerve misfires; when he meets her eyes, her vision goes fuzzy for a moment, when they touch on her chest her sternum aches. Her waist and she feels the corset tightening of its own accord, the shuriken digging in to her waist. She’s suddenly certain she’s going to give herself away with blood.
“ … have some friends who have a shop I think you might like.”
Had the others gone with him as quickly as she was about to? It didn’t make sense, but then, she was certain, suddenly, he knew she was a cop and knew that she knew that he knew.
A sane man would get up and walk away.
…. a game. The forensic psychiatrist’s voice in her head. He’s sure he’s smarter than us, certain her can get away with it, not leaving a single clue behind.
Not in CODIS or any of the other databases. He’s stayed away from jobs where DNA of any kind, probably even a urine test, was required.
He’d wooed them.
He was summoning her.
A sane woman would have gotten up and walked away.
“Sure,” she says. She pays her tab, gets his coffee too. She’s pretty sure she isn’t going to live long enough to see the reimbursement anyway, five minutes to anywhere in the city or no.
She’ll make sure he bleeds enough to fuck up any given escape plan.
He’s really very sure he’s smarter than us, she concluded, studying the moving steam powered robot outside the small boutique in one of the just up and come, fancy dog gentrified parts of town.
The girl behind the counter is tiny to the point of twee, her ass length hair draped in dark waves over her shoulders. Her skirt and tunic are loose, flowing, her jerky nod, fingers moving in one hundred tiny twitches to turn the page of her book.
The Ripper motioned for her to follow him behind the counter, through a narrow, musty corridor, down a claustrophobic stairway and into a fathomless darkness.
She stopped. Don’t… move… she orders herself. Stationary. It’s the cue.
Five minutes to anywhere in town.
The lights flicker on slowly, the corridor of a haunted space ship in a bad sci-fi movie flicker. She backs up against the wall and it isn’t damp the way she’d expect. Cool and dry like the Ripper’s hand.
Bays. There are bays lining the basement wall, a massive bank of computers and monitors opposite.
And in each bay, one of the dead girls, each wearing her own face and an alloy and wire body.
“Oh, god,” she whispered, hand flying up to cover her mouth. Her right twitched toward her corset, moving instinctively for one of the shuriken.
The Ripper catches her wrist, snapping it downward; the ligaments jar, just enough for her fingers to go numb and the metal dart to fall to the floor.
She draws in a deep breath, not sure if she’s going to scream or fight.
He lets her go.
She flexes her fingers. Nothing broken, just a pressure point.
“How much do you know about them?” he asks, pulling a wheeled chair out from the computer bank, offering it to her. She sits.
“There’s a redirection field,” he tells her. “The signal is going out and your lawman friends are receiving it, but it will end up showing you at several different locations around the city, none of them this one. They really should have planned for that.”
They did, you bastard. They can hear my heartbeat from six miles away.
“How much do you know about them?” the Ripper asks again.
“I know you killed them. All young women, all with promising futures.”
He jiggles the mouse and the monitors light up, one with each of the faces currently in place on a cyborg. Files pop up with them, all missing persons reports. “These women were stolen from their lives and their homes by men who intend to sell them into slavery to the highest bidder.”
“Bullshit,” she challenges. “We’d have known.”
“You know what the Cartel wants you to know,” the Ripper said. “And what your boss wants you to know. Money is worthless these days; precious metal or human lives. Your Chief of Police? He’s trading one for the other.”
He hits a button. Voices assault her, stranger ones and one, just one, she knows well; the same voice that congratulated her when its owner pinned her Detective’s shield on.
“Computer gen,” she argues, jaw locking tight around each syllable.
“No,” he counters. He hits another button and two wave patterns come up. She can match them by sight, it’s part of her job.
Ninety-seven percent match give or take two percent.
“But you killed them,” is all she can manage. “You cut them apart and left their pieces for us to find.”
“For the soul to transfer, all ties must be cut. For me to save them, they had to die and there could be nothing binding them to this plane.”
“What?” her eyes burn, her brain is mired in hot maple syrup.
“I saved them,” he explains. “Or the most important parts of them anyway.” He flicked a switch.
Lights blinked in the bay closest to them, servos whirring, metal grating.
She steps down, cocks her head to one side. “I thought you weren’t going to wake me until we’d reached our destination.”
Michelle Leung. The face, the cheekbones, the chicken pox scar next to her lipe, the high, arched eyebrows. And the voice… she knew that voice, she’d heard it on social media videos, voice mails. A nine one one call; someone following me… made it home but he’s right outside…
“How?” she asks.
Michelle’s huge, violet eyes focus on her. “Who’s this?”
“A friend,” the Ripper told her.
“What he said,” Michelle told her, “it’s the truth. I don’t even know how it happened I… I had been clean for six months, but I owed them. They owned me. There was no way I could pay them off, I was just making coffee for people, as many hours as I could get. I was trying, but… he saved me. He gave me a new life.”
The Ripper nodded to Michelle. She steps back into her pod and powers down.
“A friend,” the Ripper says, “wrote a program that can translate the stored electrical signals of a human mind and digitize it. Transfer it to a hard drive. The program then uses past signals as a predictor of how the signals would group given a certain set of parameters in the future.”
“AI,” she whispered.
“AI,” he agrees. “The first true AI. A human mind. A human soul.”
“The girl out front…”
“She’s the first one we completed. Unfortunately, her brain had been damaged by blunt force trauma and we have no ability to do repairs.”
“But why the murder? The mutilations?”
“Because a human soul will always return to its original home given the opportunity. These girls cannot have the opportunity. As for the public nature… believe me, I’d rather make it a private affair. But if you don’t find the bodies, the Cartel keeps looking. It’s a proclivity I’ve always had. At least when I use it in this manner, it’s for the greater good.”
“And now I know.”
“The Chief will know I know.”
“Yes. If not immediately then eventually.”
“Michelle said you weren’t going to wake her until you reached your destination. Where are you going?”
“The Cartel has eyes and ears and heads everywhere.”
“On this planet.”
“I have a lot of friends.”
“Odd. I know. I suppose it’s nice to have someone around who knows what to do with the bodies. At least I don’t snack on them like that fellow you captured last year.” He flicked another switch. A bay at the end lit up. A blank robot, its face smooth and featureless.
“He’ll kill me,” she murmured.
“No. He’ll do worse. He’ll sell you. He’ll sell you and see to it you’re broken, Detective.”
“If I go with you, no one will ever know.”
“I implant the eyes. Your retinal scan will match, your voice print, your brain wave patterns. You can send a message. They’ll verify its you.”
“Not if they find my body.”
“Sometimes,” he said, “people just disappear.”
She blinked. Looked down at the minute lump under her skin. “Give me the knife,” she said. “The big one.”
“I can do that for you,” he offers.
“No. I’ll do this myself.” She uses the tip to slice into her forearm, the edge to pry the tiny transducer-bio monitor off her ulna, drops it onto the cement floor and digs a spiked heel into it. It takes a moment to get it to give, but when it does, it shatters in a hail of sparks and a hiss of evaporating protoplasm. She looks up at him, green eyes focused on some middle distance. “You’ll have to do the rest.”
He leads her over to a morgue table, one with a channel around the edges, a drain. “Detective, you’ll have to be awake during the… process. You will need to consciously will yourself into the translation program which means I can’t sedate or anesthetize you in any way.”
“You’re going to dismember me while I’m alive. Got it.”
She hitches up onto the table and lays down. The Ripper buckles soft, sturdy straps around her ankles and wrists, cross her shoulders, waist, thighs.
He taps a few buttons on a console by his elbow. An aroura borealis springs to life around them. “Can you see it?” he asks.
“I can see it.”
“Don’t look away,” he warns. “Do not close your eyes, even for the space of a blink. You must stay in contact with the matrix or you’ll return to your body or be lost to the ether.”
“I understand.” She draws a deep breath, releases it slowly, savoring the small movements of small muscles, of bone against flesh, of flesh to air.
“I am ready to begin if you are,” The Ripper tells her. “Detective.”
“My name is Jade,” she says, as the scalpel penetrates the hollow of her throat. Blood rushes into her mouth.
“That’s a beautiful name,” he says. “Stay with me, Jade.”
He draws the scalpel down toward her heart.