Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Stephen Dee
12:00 AM 9th July 2024

Blood Perfect: Part Twelve

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Image by Angel from Pixabay
Image by Angel from Pixabay
The dhôlmun hasn't seen them. It has dropped to a crouch, having been distracted by something on the ground there. It is prizing apart some piece of discarded tech with rudimentary tools. A pair of plyers, perhaps, or a knife and fork. It's too far away to tell. It has gone off the main part of the avenue into an open area on a corner, strewn with droid parts. Across the way, further down the avenue towards another junction, the pulse of an orange beacon illuminates a hidden branch. If the dhôlmun catches sight of that it will run. Scrapper drones aren't programmed for sympathy and understanding.

''We have to make a move,'' says Flick, creeping out onto the avenue from behind a stripped skimmer.

''They're a protected species,'' hisses Shem. ''You know that, right?''

Flick ignores him, gesturing for him to take the opposite flank. ''Put yourself between the drone and the dhôlmun.''

Shem does as he's asked. The scrapper drone skitters out from the branch line into the main avenue, a hundred cubits distant, tidying up as it goes, sniffing at this and that like a many-limbed wasp. The avenue becomes flooded with orange light but only down at that end. The dhôlmun hasn't noticed it yet.

Flick reaches the edge of the field of parts, taking up a position behind a pile of lighting frames. Beyond the fragments of droid anatomy, the area is demarcated by an arc of fast food trailers, some of them in good condition, stretching across between the two intersecting avenues. The rest of the field abuts both avenues and is presumably kept in place by the ministrations of the scrapper drone.

There is a clatter, followed by a muffled fuck! as Shem trips over a particle battery and collides with a one-legged toaster-bot. The dhôlmun, startled, looks up. It drops its plyers and gets to its feet, flapping its arms and issuing a strange, warbling sound from its throat. Flick unlocks her phone and skims an activation tab with a couple of finger twitches. She stashes the Gigs and sprints into the parts field. The dhôlmun then sees her, even closer and heading towards it at speed and this time practically jumps out of its skin. It turns to make a run for it then sees the scrapper drone flying up the avenue from the opposite direction. It starts spinning around on clumsy feet, its ragged kilt opening and closing like some crazed anenome. The warbling sound turns into a sharp keening and it continues flapping its arms about as an additional protective measure.

The drone by this time has picked up on the action and is focusing its attention on the three humanoid figures, one of which is registering as a Gnostic and is therefore protected under Article 53 of the Settlement and Reparations Act. The other two are a different matter. The female is unregistered and therefore a viable target. The other male is a tagged, registered dhôlmun and also falls under the protection of the Triumvirate. However, the drone is within its rights to remove the dhôlmun from an active Paradigm Facility, using physical means if necessary. It usually is necessary with these creatures, the drone thinks, wearily. It gets a lot of dhôlmen around here. They're drawn to the electronics, with which they have a strange affinity and can fashion into all kinds of working, but ultimately functionless, machines which they give to each other as presents. Sometimes humans give them food in exchange for their creations, which can be quite striking, but the dhôlmen don't really understand the point of this as they are fed for free at the collection points.

The pulsating orange light turns blue and the drone homes in. Unfortunately the Gnostic seems to be getting in the way.

''Gnostic, move out of the way!'' calls the drone, still fifty cubits distant. ''I'm picking up speed and coming through.''

Shem double checks his position and takes a step or two to his left. The drone is heading straight for him. He holds up his hand with a Stop! gesture as though he has every right to be there and knows exactly what he is doing.

The dhôlmun continues rotating in a disorderly fashion.

Flick gets as close as she can to it and skims an app on her phone. The device starts emitting something at a frequency she can't hear but dhôlmen can register. The dhôlmun stops spinning, shuts up and looks at her quizzically. Flick speaks into the phone, which translates what she is saying into something the dhôlmun can understand, at a frequency it can recognise.

''I'm not going to hurt you,'' she says to it. ''But we have to get out of the way. Follow me.''

Shem concentrates on the scrapper drone as it bears down on him.

''Out of the way, Gnostic!'' it says again.

Shem tries his hardest to keep his eyes open. He can sense Flick and the dhôlmun behind him, attempting to find cover. The drone comes to an abrupt halt before him, close enough for him to smell the grease on its mandibles. He lowers his hand.

''My name is Shem loJain of the Fourth Order. I represent the guFlecht in this matter and I demand your compliance.''

''Tell me something I don't know,'' says the drone.

''Okay. I need you to relinquish this sector.''

The drone hovers there, looking bored.

Shem has a think. ''My colleague there is operating under deep cover. She's been running with this here dhôlmun for several months now. I'm here for a ... er ... debriefing session and I request compliance under the Duty to Cooperate - as defined under Appendix One of the Settlement and Reparations Act.''

If the drone had eyebrows it would raise them. If it had shoulders it would shrug. Instead it twitches a mandible but it doesn't go away.

''I'm afraid I really must insist.'' Shem gets out his phone and pretends to call someone. ''Hello?'' he says into the phone, ''this is agent loJain. Yes, it's about the dhôlmun witness.'' He looks meaningfully at the drone.

Surprisingly, there is a crackling in his ear and the drone says, via the phone: ''Would you like me to assist with a connection?''

Shem sighs and opens an app. He keys something in. ''Just how intelligent are you?'' he asks.

''I'm level four Base with a point two upshift,'' the drone responds smugly.

Shem keys these figures into the phone and points it at the waspish mechanical. He thumbs go and it promptly cuts out and falls to the ground. ''Four point two's,'' he says, shaking his head as though confirming a long-held belief. ''Let's see what Paradigm make of that. ''It'll probably trigger some major diplomatic incident but he's fucked if he's going to give a shit. He's just doing as he's told. These fucking guFlecht are going to be the death of him.

He turns to confront the scene behind him. The area looks like a post-apocalyptic sculpture park. There are even a couple of human-style heads in there, with hair and everything. The door to one of the fast-food trailers opens to reveal Flick, leaning provocatively against the jamb.

''Dhôlmun Finister, this is my friend Shem,'' says Flick, once he's inside. ''Shem, this is Dhôlmun Finister.''

The two males look dolefully at each other across the deep fat fryer.

''Do you want to know what happens next?'' asks Flick, holding both their hands.

Shem nods grimly.

''Good. You can take responsibility for the back end then. ''Flick blows Shem a kiss and turns to face Dhôlmun Finister.

In front of Shem, Flick straightens out the little blue dress, although given the grease marks, he has to wonder what this is in aid of. She gets to her knees in front of the dhôlmun and unpins its kilt.

The dhôlmun grins and nods its head vigorously.
Shem gets himself into position behind Flick and she allows him to relieve her of her underwear.

''You don't find this a bit... bleak?'' he asks.

''Bleak?'' says Flick, kissing the dhôlmun's inner thigh.

''Some women would find it demeaning.''

Flick breaks off and turns her head to watch Shem remove his trousers with a sort of resignation.

''Of course it's demeaning,'' she says. ''That's the whole point.''

Shem must understand what she's saying because he stiffens immediately.

Flick returns to her task, manipulating the dhôlmun with her hand. ''It's an act of Penitence.''

''Penitence?'' Shem enquires, penetrating her. ''Penitence for what?''

But she can't tell him. She wishes she could. Sometimes she wishes she could tell the whole city but from what she can make out, both Kersten Karter and Telford have kept the secret. Whether or not the other two women have kept their lives is something Flick would very much like to find out. It might shed some light on her own position.