"Shit's gone off the rails. More than I can explain in a note." were the first words of the note I found on my nightstand the morning of the 4th of December.
That woke me up real quick. I glanced at my fianc�e, sleeping fitfully, and stood up from the side of the bed to keep reading while I got myself ready for a full day.
"You'll find Claudia and Biagio Spears, her a mechanic working in the Red sector and him a WCS disposal technician, in the living room."
Wait, in our living room? I had to do a double take at that line. What were they doing here? I set the note down on the edge of the bed while I got my clothes.
The manager of a strip club in Red almost died last night."
My heart tried to open up and read between the lines. There was the terrible sadness, but also something else. The note smelled of anxiousness. Was there something bigger here? I dressed up with casual attire.
"It's all this Bringer cult. A creature, Father Lux, he's eating people. He ate Claudia last night. The Preacher tried to fight him."
Terror grabbed at my limbs and held them still. I had to read that a couple of times for it to register. My mind raced, going in circles. My job. It was my duty to investigate this. And the first lead was in the other room. I smoothed my hands down my clothes and picked up the note, walking towards the door.
"Just be careful and don't trust anyone."
My senses came back to Earth and the words' rationality cooled my mind. I drew a deep sigh. I set the note down and walked through that door.
On my couch, the two figures were asleep, spooning; the smaller, female figure stirring fitfully. He was a middle aged man on the stocky side, dressed in a combination of outlet store clothes and custom made duds, the kind you would save up for from your neighborhood amateur tailor. But as I drew closer, what shook me was his right eye, a horribly disfigured gory mess. Part of his ear looked blown clean off.
Shock shuddered through my body, but I leaned in closer to see what I was dealing with. Deep gouges, clean cuts, destroyed eye. It must have been some very sharp blades. I seemed to vaguely remember that Lux used fingerblades. I forced myself to look at the other person.
She was under five feet tall with long black hair, wearing thrift store rags and Du-Wear. Her hands looked ravaged by hard work.
Sympathy settled in my bones for the couple. Feeling as though I was intruding upon their privacy, I leaned back and walked to sit close by, waiting for them to wake up.
It was about 9:00AM when Claudia finally woke up. She turned around in Biagio's grasp and sat up, meeting my gaze. "Faafetai." she said timidly. Samoan. Thank you. "For letting us stay here."
I felt slightly tense. My urge was to tell her that this was none of my initiative nor had I given my consent. But I could tell she needed a friend and I needed information. "You've been through hell. Please tell me what happened."
"I have no memory of it." she said. "But Biagio tell me dat Margy betray us, and take us to Bringers. And dat dey�" she seemed to have difficulty getting the words out. "... dey eat me." Tears welled in her eyes and she closed them. "My Margy. I love her so much."
A knot drew up in my neck and I could feel my eyes glimmering for the woman. I swallowed and licked my lips, taking a sip of water and offering a second glass I prepared for her. "Did she change noticeably in recent times? Her behavior. Her appearance." I asked calmly.
"I... I not know. I... I wake up in vat. I get another clone. And den I wake up in vat again. Like no time had passed. Dat all I remember. Dey tell me I lose two weeks." she managed. "She be having problems since she lose her baby. She pregnant. Preacher man shoot her. Father was Gabi. He work at Red's. He bartender." She wiped her face but couldn't keep up with her tears.
With each unfortunate disaster that struck this poor woman's family, my heart ached more and more for this woman and I found myself leaning in, sympathizing deeply with this poor working mother. I set my glass down, stood up, walked slowly closer, and crouched near her.
She shied away from my slow touch, then leaned into it, crying harder.
I was almost crying with her inside, but I steeled myself. I knelt closer to wrap my arms around her.
She shook and curled up, making herself small. She whimpered with the incredible pain of her heartbreak, muttering words of lament in Samoan.
I could feel her weakness and depression. I moved closer and held her tightly, rubbed her back, stroked her hair. "Shhh�" I did everything I could to be there while she faced her inconsolable suffering. I offered her a meal and a shower. I did her hair into braids to distract her. She had never seen snow before, being an immigrant from warmer climates, so I took her to the balcony.
Eventually her man woke up and joined us. I let them curl up together. He told me their daughter was a nurse. That she must have been looking for some sort of salvation behind their backs. He said she'd started bringing bodies to the cathedral.
Their vibes were so bizarre, hearing how nonchalant they were about their daughter dragging around bodies. I reminded myself they were from another world, and they didn't belong here. I needed to get what information I could while they were there.
"Last night she was falling apart at the seams, we was watching the snow from the top of Ashlin mall." he recounted. Claudia looked sadly at the snow. It was technically the second time she'd seen it, but the first she would remember. "And she tells me she led this poor son of a bitch to his death. Led him to a Father with yellow eyes who ate him. And then she led Claudia and I to him, and she -fed- Claudia to him. He looked ancient, with black burned skin, NailZ, and yellow eyes. Father Lux. Father Lux." he repeated solemnly. "He ate her. I saw the remains, after he was-- done. My heart stopped beating for a few minutes. I tried to shoot him. He didn't want me, he wanted her. I'm past my expiration date. She was fresh. His words." He let out a pained sigh.
Shivers ran down my spine and I tensed with horror, bile rising to my throat at the thought of the disgusting monster. My hand came to my mouth and I took deep breaths to calm my reaction to the story to remember the details well and take careful notes.
An AV hovered by the balcony and noticed the two individuals who didn't belong in my calm residential complex, reporting them over SIC. They fled and with them my only lead at the time. No more information, just a witness account that opened more questions than it answered.
I was left feeling sad about what happened to them but glad I didn't have to host them for long. Everyone should know where they fit in and I believe the Spears family ultimately makes the choice of living in Red consciously, disagreeing with the corporate way of life.
Either way, I had to find out more so that Justice could be applied and everyone would know the Truth about the horrors of Red, helping corporate citizens appreciate what we have here and not romanticize that terrible sector.
I was grasping at straws. I needed to investigate the scene, which was going to be very dangerous, and to fill in the missing gap, Margarete's view. But how to find this potentially dangerous and unstable woman, much less get something coherent out of her?
No, it was clear to me that she was shrewd and dangerous. I'd been repeatedly warned about her and I had a clear idea of what could happen to me if I pressed on.
But I was a journalist. I had to be professional, and my the risk in my job was implicit. I had to take action before more killings happened. It was the only just thing to do.
A sense of clarity struck me. I thought back to our amazing Justice Force, and how they would want to know more too. I contacted them and explained the article I was working on for the Globe.
They replied with knowledge of the disgusting event and one of their Magistrate Street Judges, Amon Janz, contacted me and offered a chance at meeting Margarete Spears.
A bolt of raw adrenaline shot through my veins. I impulsively accepted, and my rational mind followed through with setting everything up with the Judge, eager to take my chances, despite not knowing how dangerous she was and how efficient this woman might have been at what she did.
The 5th of December was when Magistrate Street Judge Amon Janz went above and beyond the call of duty. Something had happened and Margarete Spears had woken up at Genetek before an unknown perp attempted to drag her through the sewers to the Red sector.
Judge Janz gave chase and valiantly fought the would be kidnapper, giving Margarete a chance to escape to the Hall of Justice where she received medical attention.
Meanwhile, trying to neutralize the suspect, he died after four to six shots of his opponent's firearm.
His courageous sacrifice of a clone for the sake of Law and Order is commendable and I think I speak in the name of many people when I salute him for his unflinching dedication to the Force and protecting the upper sectors from the chaos that would flood in would the Judges let any illegal activities slip by in the Gold sector.
I was worried that this would lose my chance at getting to the bottom of this considering the grave danger it posed to Justice Force personnel to be involved in this. Quite the opposite, it turned out to be key to driving forward the need to investigate. On the 6th of December, the Judge contacted me again.
"I am going to get Spears in custody as soon as she's on SIC again. Understanding the motives behind her actions may be key to getting an idea of who was my murderer. I want you to try to get her to speak on that and what do Lux or Cosmo Thorsday have to do with it, since they appear to be the leaders of the cult and the ones who gave the order to Margarete to make the trap."
Excited to be of service in the investigation, I instantly agreed and prepared myself for the interview.
It was 3:30PM when the Judge called me to the Hall. I hurried there as fast as I could, to find Judge Janz and a woman waiting for me in the lobby.
Clad in tactical armor, the Judge looked tall and strong, his large jade green eyes and Western features pristine, his appearance at once military and executive.
The woman, Margarete, looked small and Asian. She wore a dark coat and boots.
The Judge led us to the interrogation room and told me the signal I would make to end the encounter.
The quietness of the room struck me as I moved to one end of the table, setting down my equipment. I greeted Margarete, trying to establish rapport with her.
Margarete offered a tight smile as she replied, gaze moving to the camera for a while before returning to me.
It felt fake and I could feel my eyes offering a sympathetic look to let her know of that. "What's your stand on Claudia and Biagio, right now?" I asked.
Margarete said, "I have hurt them very much." Her voice was soft and shaky.
It surprised me. She sounded genuinely remorseful. I told her, "Sounds like you still care. I want to help you. Do you want a chance to explain?"
Margarete said, "Yes, if you would give me it."
I started feeling genuine sympathy. The rapport approach was going to be the most effective in extracting information. "That's what I'm here for. My heart and ears are yours." I assured her.
She started, "First off, I'd like to say I regret everything I've done. But I suppose that means little. The fact is that bad things happened, I was shot...And it ruined me. So I started...hearing things. And sadly, I wasn't smart enough to get treatment for these voices. Therefore, I was...I believed in what a man told me, that if I helped him he would help me...But I was wrong, a fool blinded by grief. I hurt...everyone who is dear to me. I'm a bad person. And I deserve everything that is coming for me."
It shocked me, how someone who could be so conscious of their actions could have done what she did. I remarked, "You sound like you feel extremely guilty."
She stated, "Doesn't matter. It's moot. Too late."
I definitely disagreed with her on that. I tried to form my knee jerk reaction to say something into a more constructive phrase. "It's never too late. Tell me what happened, from the beginning. Gabi."
Margarete said, "I was with him. The Preacher killed our child. I lost it. For a week. Couldn't even talk. Function."
It still felt painful to hear that. I thought we'd both need some sort of explanation of how that could have possibly happened. I asked, "Do you know why?"
She glared at me. "Why a man with a gun shoots someone? There's a hundred reasons.." she looked back at the ground. "I started hearing voices� That's when it started. Voices tell me to go pray at the church. I went..every now and then..one day there were bodies...lots of them...."
I felt bad for putting that question earlier and bit my lip. My head bobbed to show her that I was giving her all my attention. "That must have been extremely distressing."
"It was terrible� I walked out of the church..and he was there..he said he could give me favor...I thought...he meant.. Maybe, when I died, I could see my mother, my daughter. So...I ended up...bringing my friends when I went to pray...and they...got really hurt. I hurt my closest friends..." she mourned.
It felt like she was genuinely remorseful. I wanted her to know becoming something better is possible in our city. "You're having a very empathetic reaction. t's not too late, Margarete."
She pleaded weakly, "Stop..acting like that matters..please... Please. I beg you. Nobody is going to want me near them again, I'm...I'm a psycho� Please."
There was no way I could force her to think like me. I wasn't in her shoes. "I can't imagine how you must feel right now."
There was part of her that knew she's capable of more. I encouraged her. "That's more than could be said of a psycho."
Margarete said, "The little wins...I guess. After that Sunday. I have been hiding. Slowly...coming to terms...reading..about all of this..terrible stuff."
I was getting closer to her real self, closer to the truth and to maybe encourage this woman to seek a better life. "You can help us make sure nobody is tricked like that again, Margarete."
"I'm trying.." she murmured.
She was admitting it too. I moved your hand to Margarete's back softly. "You're doing an amazing job."
Margarete said, "I don't want to be this anymore....I never did� I plan on getting...help...I swear I do. I miss everyone so much...."
She was right there, I could see her thinking more clearly and expressing her emotions. I remembered my discussion with her parents. "They miss the Margarete they love too. I guarantee it."
Margarete asks, "R-Really?"
I said, "You have no idea how much they want her back."
She looked encouraged and tried to figure out what else she could share. "There's...not much else to say..I tried to die so I'd forget about all of this...but they cloned my corpse� All that...just for nothing.. All of this...For what...Nothing."
I could feel her fatalism settling in and shook my head vigorously. "No. Not nothing."
"Then for what..?"
I had to remind her what we were there for and prodded the table with my pointer finger. "You have something no one else has. First hand information on the Darks."
Margarete said, "It's...it was too high a price to pay...but...ok...."
I knew she had endured way too much. But there was no turning back time and we needed to stop this from going on. "The little wins, Margarete. Help me understand Lux and his cult."
Margarete said, "There's...twelve of them...I think...I was going to be the thirteenth...They..it's not for some sort of...higher power..as I understand it..Lux..grants his servants...one material wish when they bring people to him� They say he..Lux is some sort of..failed experiment, that he crawled out of a furnace, that he just doesn't stay dead� My friend said...I was..brainwashed...somehow� His servants...they're strong...extremely strong� They...seem to know everything...He seems to..know everything I feel...." She looked over her shoulder warily.
Fear was trying to shudder its way down my spine but I straightened my back and looked at Margarete squarely, trying to catch her eye. "This room is about as safe as it gets."
Margarete said, "It's no good...my voices still talk to me here� It won't matter soon."
Her words weren't helping me feel good about our chances of stopping these madmen. "Why, why won't it matter?"
"They'll eat me for this, when they find out...they might even know now..who knows...I'm..I don't mean to be selfish..I know I deserve it. The Dark lives in the church. There's only one, it's him." she said.
It felt like she was at once fearful, guilty and sacrificing herself in her mind for the greater good. Perhaps once her head cleared it would help her feel better about herself. For now I needed her to keep talking. "The Temple on South Tamiya."
Margarete said, "Yes. Fighting him is useless, he just gets back up...He doesn't feel like a person anymore. He's..he's an animal."
I didn't like her fatalism one bit. It was getting hard to make her talk and it was time to take charge of the topic."What's inside the Temple, Margarete?"
Margarete said, "I don't know...only a place where he put me...but he doesn't live there, it's just large, empty rooms...I suspect...he eats people in another room...but again. It's suicide to go down there, to go after him. Cause by the time enough people are there, it won't just be him."
That wasn't true, to me. I remembered vaguely how he had been slowed down by concerted efforts by gang members before. "He was taken down before."
"His servants will be there... They're not..people they're..they're monsters." she tried to convince me.
I wasn't going to let her decide that, "If you can tell us more about them, we can start assembling a portfolio. So, Lux is the Dark, is that right?"
Margarete said, "Yes."
I said, "And you were talking about a blue eyed blonde..."
Margarete said, "Huge man..with a fake eye and a gun."
I asked, "Is this the one that attempted to drag you away from Genetek?"
Margarete said, "Yes."
I asked, "A huge man, blue eyes, blonde, fake eye. Did you ever get names?"
Margarete said, "No...I didn't...I swear it...I -fucking- swear it� Nobody believes me when I say that..."
I felt pity for her, a dreadful feeling in the back of my throat. I swallowed and reassured her, "I believe you." I asked, "Lux, he's the thing in the worn habit with charred skin and yellowed eyes, isn't he?"
Margarete said, "Yes."
I remembered the stories and the wounds I'd seen on Biagio, "He uses fingerblades."
Margarete said, "His skin grows..weird when he fights..."
I asked, "How does it grow?"
Margarete said, "Like huge goose bumps...gray.."
That made a sinking feeling settle in my abdomen. He was starting to sound less and less human and more like some rogue biomechanical. I asked, "What would you describe him as, in one word?"
Margarete said, "Angry. At the world. He reminded me of those fire and brimstone type stories. The ones that say if you aren't good you go to hell....ancient...that's the closet thing I'd put it too.. Fire and brimstone." She was starting to speak less clearly and to stare into space.
I was afraid I was losing her and about to have another lead escape me, "And the huge man with the fake eye, he is a Bringer. Can you recall what his firearm looked or sounded like?"
Margarete said, "Silver...maybe...nine millimeters...I'm sorry, I don't really understand guns."
I said, "What is this fake eye like? You make it sound like it's not your typical chrome or biomod."
Margarete said, "Oh..sorry. No..it was just regular chrome..."
I asked, "SaedorKrupp?"
I was having to get every word out of her manually, she was turning preverbal. "Stamped, not color then?"
Margarete said, "Stamped. I feel like there's a joke...somewhere in there. Am I doing ok?"
Her humor was very reassuring. I was going to get everything I needed. I took the queue to encourage her. "You're doing incredibly well. I'm very proud of you. Did you see any other visible chrome?"
"No..I promise." she said.
"I'm sure you'd have noticed. One more thing. Lux. Does he strike you as... more machine than man?" my eyes squinted briefly in hesitation.
Margarete said, "Yes. Easily..."
Satisfied, I nodded and focused on examining her state for a moment, assessing her readiness before moving on to the next subject. "I avoided one topic. Your close encounter with death."
Margarete said, "I've..never been brave enough to kill myself..but I can only imagine people wanted to hurt me for..the terrible things I've done...So...I just...gave myself to themselves...When I woke up..the man who was dragging me said a man killed me� He said they were old?"
I felt startled and I remembered Biagio's feelings towards her about two days ago. I had my suspicions but ultimately it wasn't going to be too important. I looked at Margarete and tried to close on a good note. "You're an amazing girl, Margarete. I think we just about covered everything."
"I don't feel very.." she looked away.
That pity was still in my throat. I knew her destiny was in her own hands but some encouragement might god a long way. "I promise it gets better. Thank you for your invaluable cooperation. You'll keep us posted if you think of anything else?" I made the signal to end the interview
She said, "Ok." and gave me her contact details.
"Take care of yourself, Margarete. See that therapist."
We were escorted out by the Judge, who thanked me for getting all of that lucrative information out. We were getting closer to forming a solid case against the man who had killed a Judge and escaped. We knew what he looked like and we had an insider look into his organization.
My original objective was to gain a comprehensive understanding of the story for the goal of writing a large article on the subject and send it to my editor for publishing in the Globe. My intentions had since included more, given the special nature of this case, the exceptional importance of ensuring Justice prevails and the sensitive nature and risk associated with the information gathered.
By now I'd taken detailed notes and eye-witness accounts, I was in contact with Margarete by SIC and phone, and telling her of my new intentions encouraged her to give me more information that could aid the Force.
I kept them up to date and inquired on how the case was progressing with their public relations. They told me having all of this disparate information wasn't enough, that somebody had to assemble a report on the whole matter for a consortium of Staff Judges to review.
They gave me a declassified, censored report on a previous instance of a Bringer incursion into the Gold sector, threatening the peacefulness of corporate life. It said that Citizen Cosmo Thorsday was identified as being a Harbringer of Death, an associate of the Bringers, who was actively assaulting Citizens in the Red sector with a firearm.
On the tenth of June, he was hunting people in the Gold sector, and the Justice Force bravely punished him for his crimes before he could commit more murders.
Feeling my duty to my city of birth and the corporate medium that makes our lifestyle possible, I realized I was the one who had stuck their nose into the matter the most, who had the best notes and eyewitness testimony transcripts. I locked myself in, leaving only to go to the Archives and look up the proper writing technique to assemble a field report in six parts, including an introduction of the issue, a description of what I did, my analysis, my recommendations, a full transcript of my interviews and a list of Grid references.
All in all, it was 3,700 words. 3,700 words that demonstrate the presence of a secret cult made up of dangerous individuals who lure people to their deaths at the chrome claws of Lux; cannibal, monster, devil. Combined with the numerous testimonies and sightings findable on the SIN and Grid, we can paint a clear picture of them.
They might be twelve or they might be many more, but it's clear that they manipulate people in very vulnerable mindspaces with diabolical meticulousness such that later they might not even know how they were capable of doing what they did for Lux.
In exchange, they get favors from the nigh-invincible biomechanical monstrosity, who allows his minions to believe he can fix their problems while he only rewards them in ways that dig their hole deeper in with the cult.
As long as we don't let ourselves be lured into the Red sector for any reason at all, I believe most corporate citizens are perfectly safe from this threat. I trust in the Justice Force to take strong action to stop any incursion into the Gold sector from happening again, not to mention make it clear that nobody can get away with murdering a Judge.
With the help of my report, a solid case has been established against Citizen Cosmo Thorsday, who now has a 100,000c bounty on the WJF Most Wanted Board. To recap, he is a hulking blue-eyed man with blonde hair, last known to have an SK cybereye and carry a small firearm. He has been taken down before by small groups in the Red sector and through concerted fire by the WJF.
Meanwhile the 'Lux' creature is also at large but its activities have so far been confined to the Red sector. Yet there are rumors that it has been captured before by large gangs.
I hope that this reminds us all of the terrible dangers and horrors of the Red sector and the incredible privilege we have as corporate citizens to be protected from that madness by Withmore's Finest.
I would not wish upon anyone to have to live in the 'Mix', but it is up to each individual to decide how they will act. Where they will fit in. The resources at our disposal give us the tools to improve our lives on a level unprecedented in human history. There are incredible educational instruments and an expertly orchestrated environment that rewards hard work and dedication to our corporate values.
So take charge of your life and make it better for you and your loved ones. Don't compromise your integrity or capital, whether emotional or financial or personal, for any reason at all. The corporations enable us all to live happier and more satisfying and productive lives.
Withmore for Corporate Citizens. That should be our doctrine.