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Quandary Aminu vs The Butterfly Man

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When a bootleg commerce deal goes fallacious and Quandary is blamed for it, she goes on the run to keep away from the crosshairs of a bioengineered killer that solely lives for twenty-four hours. If Q can evade it for that lengthy, she simply would possibly survive.

 

 

 

Jow is emptying the final container of slurry into the claw-footed bathtub when the knock comes: one thud, then two, then one, simply how the nameless script on his fone predicted. He units the jug down too shortly, practically knocks it over. He wipes his palms on his coverall, leaving pink smears on the darkish blue material, and goes to the door.

“Who desires in?” he asks, following the script.

“The stork desires in,” comes a husked voice.

Jow thumbs the digital lock, butcher meat pink to glowing inexperienced. He slides the useless bolt left to proper. Rakes his hair again, sucks his cheeks in, tries to appear to be a professional as an alternative of a nervous darkmarket microjobber.

The outdated girl on the opposite aspect of the door is tall, sun-browned, carrying a knit sweater in mustard yellow. There’s a disposable surgical masks wrapped round her higher arm and he or she’s carrying a charcoal-gray bag, sealed, with no seen emblem or transport tag.

“Tub prepared?” she asks.

Jow nods, relocks the door, and leads the way in which to the toilet. The lady retains the grey bag comfortable towards her hip whereas she walks. She inspects Jow’s handiwork: the empty containers towards the mold-slick wall, the bathtub stuffed with glistening, pale pink biomass.

“All of the concentrations are proper,” Jow says. “Bought the components. Calcium, iron. All the pieces a rising boy wants.”

The lady doesn’t snigger. Her dark-ringed eyes appear faintly accusing.

“I misplaced a bit,” Jow blurts. “Only a bit. Two, three centiliters. The plug wasn’t all the way in which in after I began pouring.”

She stares at him, then flutters a dismissive hand. She units the grey bag on the tile and dons her surgical masks, adjusting the sliders behind her wrinkled ears. Spray-on gloves subsequent, from a nook retailer canister. Jow imagines he sees the bag wriggle simply barely.

Lastly, the lady produces a pair of small scissors and slits the bag open. Inside, an embryonic pouch, slimy and compact. Inside that, curled in on itself, one thing between a fetus and a homunculus. It twitches.

Jow swallows. “By no means seen one made earlier than,” he says.

“Me neither,” the lady says. “However they despatched me a tutorial.”

She drops the pouch into the bathtub. Floor pressure retains it afloat on the quivering slurry at first, then it sinks slowly out of sight. The toilet is so silent Jow can hear his personal dashing pulse.

“You’re on a microjob, then?” he asks, faintly irritated that she’s no extra a professional than he’s, simply one other small-time, part-time prison.

“Pickup and supply.” She takes a plastic probe out of her sleeve and dips it into the slurry. “And this time a bit of additional.”

“Who do you suppose it’s meant for?” Jow mutters.

“Somebody actually unfortunate.”

There’s a rattling gurgle, like rainwater racing by way of pipes throughout a storm, and the bathtub begins to churn. A moist pink fleck strikes Jow’s boot. He steps again, coronary heart buzzing, knees shaky. The biomass is sluicing away, however not down the drain. The factor from the pouch is grasping, rising, sucking with ravenous pores.

Jow watches the extent fall, and fall, and a physique emerge. It swells and thrashes. Limbs elongate. A cartilage skeleton stretches, twists. Muscle tissues creep over one another, layer on effervescent layer; rubbery pores and skin splits and reforms to accommodate. Jow can’t take his eyes off it.

When the gurgling noise lastly stops, the totally shaped butterfly man is mendacity in a shallow carbon puddle. It’s human-shaped, however strays within the particulars: joints distended, no finger or toenails, {smooth} uninterrupted flesh between the legs. Its face is essentially the most good a part of it, with planar cheekbones and soulful darkish eyes.

“Thought it’d be greater,” Jow says, to masks the crawling in his backbone.

“You spilled some,” the lady says.

The butterfly man doesn’t breathe like a human, no acquainted up-and-down locomotion to the ribcage. As a substitute, its entire physique appears to ripple.

“We used to play butterfly man, after we had been little,” Jow says. “Me and my sisters. All the time imagined it greater. Scarier.”

“It’s a tupilak,” the lady says.

“What?”

“Folks inform tales, up right here,” she says. “A couple of factor known as a tupilak. You make it out of animal carcass. Some human bits. You ship the tupilak after the one who wronged you, and the tupilak makes it proper.” She grimaces. “That is that, however they did it with a geneprint.” She blinks down on the tub. “It’s important to watch out with a tupilak, although, as a result of should you don’t make it proper—”

Jow’s fone buzzes towards his hip and he pulls it out of his coverall pocket. One other line has been added to the script. He reads it, blinks, appears to be like up. The lady is frowning down at her personal fone, little doubt seeing the identical message.

“For diagnostic functions, please run or conceal,” Jow recites, throat going tight. “What the fuck is that? What does that imply?”

The butterfly man flicks itself over the aspect of the bathtub and onto the ground, shifting nothing like a human. The lady steps again and drops the plastic probe. The butterfly man scoops it off the toilet ground with its foot, and for a surreal second Jow thinks the butterfly man goes to return it to her.

The blunt plastic tip burrows by way of one aspect of the lady’s neck and out the opposite, spewing blood and spinal fluid.

Jow runs.

 

“My second, I believe I used to be seventeen the evening it occurred,” Quandary says, spinning the empty cocaine packet between her fingers, shredding the well being hazard advisory into vibrant yellow strips. “I did some psilos and took my baba’s husky out for a wander. We walked in circles throughout the block, following the cracks, the tarred-in cracks on the street. With the excessive, it seemed like they had been flowing, you understand? Black magma, flowing and cooling.”

They’re deep in Nuuk’s digestive system, a neon-lit bar packed shoulder to shoulder with carbon riggers and journeymen, a skin-sea all misty with aerosolized sweat and desperation. Quandary discovered her traditional cove—a desk tucked behind a load-bearing pillar—and picked a stranger from the bar to anchor her there.

“Sounds stunning,” says the blurry girl. Quandary selected her as a result of she is lanky, leonine, has naked arms coated in shifting tattoos. The lady is shopping for them each thick, silty ciders; Quandary is shopping for herself low-cost Escobar snowpacks. She provided her companion one, however apparently she solely likes booze and ketamine. Very old-school.

“Yeah,” Quandary says. “Stunning. There was a blackout that evening. Grid assault. Half town was darkish, and we ended up proper on the dividing line, on this spot I didn’t bear in mind, this little hump of grime and useless grass on the sting of the bypass. So we had been this wall of black, pure black, and I knew in my intestine that it was the tip of the world.”

“It’s all the time the tip of the world,” the lady says, pushing one leg towards hers.

Quandary shakes her head. “Not that form of finish. However the restrict. The sting. And I knew that the whole lot round me was simulation—not the probabilistic approach of figuring out, however bone-deep. I lay down on my again and stared straight up, so I may see the simulated stars pulsing up there. There was no approach I may do the fallacious factor, as a result of nothing was actual.”

She stabs a tiny hint of powder off the desk along with her thumb; it sticks within the oily whorl. “And I felt this distilled electrical pleasure, this indescribable, womb-like consolation. As a result of I used to be the one sapient factor in the entire fucking universe.” She rubs her thumb inside her nostril and feels a faint serotonin ghost. “All of it collapsed when the canine licked my face,” she says. “I practically strangled that canine. However yeah. Yeah, that was the happiest second of my life.”

Her companion’s leg recedes. “You strangled a canine?”

“In fact not,” Quandary says, squinting. “It was a husky. They’re monumental.”

“Oh. Good.” The lady offers a bleary grin. “You need to go away now? You may strangle me a bit, should you like.”

Quandary likes the crooked tooth in her smile, and the clear peppery scent of her, and he or she’s contemplating the provide when Timo exhibits up. His reflective orange jumpsuit sprouts out of the group like a night-blooming flower.

“We have to discuss enterprise, Q,” he says. “Exterior. Hurry.”

A chilly wisp of unease will get by way of her excessive. Quandary doesn’t like going locations alone with Timo, however she has her fragger, and his gun doesn’t work on her, and enterprise is enterprise. She untangles herself from the spindly chair and desk. For a nanosecond it appears to be like like her companion would possibly object, however then she registers Timo’s measurement and his scarred-up eye implants. She drinks her cider actual ruefully as an alternative.

“Two shakes,” Quandary says.

She worms across the pillar and Timo cuts their path by way of the group, previous the doorbot sniffing for unregulated narcotics or pheromones. They push out into a chilly pink gentle. It’s daybreak already.

Timo wastes no time ruining it.

“Jokić blames you for the harbor job going belly-up,” he says.

Quandary frowns. “What?”

“The harbor job,” Timo repeats, looking at her along with his nickel-sized smartglass eyes. “Jokić thinks you snaked. Thinks you advised the poli which boat to look.”

“I’m the explanation even half the crew made it out of there,” she says. “If it wasn’t for me, we’d have all been pinched.” A semi-manic snigger spills out of her throat. “I can’t consider this shit. I can’t consider it. I’ve to speak to him.”

Timo shakes his head. “It’s important to get out of Nuuk. Get off the Land. He misplaced two individuals and lots of money, and he desires you useless for it, Q.”

She unclenches her fist and stares down on the shredded origami stays of the cocaine packet. She lets it flutter to the tarmac. “Who’d he pay to kill me?” she asks, hand crawling unconsciously to the grip in her pocket. “You? You taking cash for Quandary Aminu?”

“No one is,” Timo says. “He mentioned for no person to the touch you.”

“How’s that work with wanting me useless?”

Quandary leaves the weapon, slides her fone out of her sleeve as an alternative. She unfolds it and checks the pirate cam that watches her condo entry from throughout the road. Darkish, grainy, empty. And he or she’d know if somebody had gotten inside; the dingy display window could be spattered with blood.

“He’s doing a contemporary take care of the Siberians.” Timo’s voice rocks her again to the bar alley. “For army surplus. Biotech. Unhealthy, unhealthy biotech.”

She blinks. “Viral agent? My immunos are jacked up.” She says it brave-faced, however feels a jag of concern—they’re all the time developing with new bugs, and most of them are a sluggish kill. “I’ll boil it proper out.”

“Nothing viral,” Timo says. “Foot troopers. The disposable form. You ever met a butterfly man?”

Her cocaine immortality cracks and crumbles. “Shit.”

“Yeah. You’re the product check. If this one kills you, Jokić buys the remainder of them.” Timo’s face does stuttering iterations of an expression Quandary isn’t accustomed to. “I may include you. Tonight. Get us onto an autobarge, head down the coast. You and me.”

Quandary remembers again to a splintered evening in one other bar, then in Timo’s shack, his bare physique shifting at midnight. His skin-smell. His physique warmth. “What was the happiest second of your life?” she asks.

“No time, Q,” Timo says.

His suffocating weight, the dizzy whirl in her head, the dull-then-sharp ache of him burrowing inside her. He should bear in mind it so in another way. Anger comes from a dozen totally different locations and coalesces to a boiling wave inside her chest. For a second she desires to plug Timo proper right here outdoors the bar, whisper growth and watch the frag dart flip his physique into chunks and splatter.

However she wants to avoid wasting her ammo for Jokić and his butterfly man, and Timo is essentially the most reliable form of monster.

“There’s one thing I’ve to get from my condo first,” she says. “We’ll hurry.”

She lopes off into Nuuk’s slick streets, figuring out he’ll observe.

 

Even fifty years in the past, this metropolis was a colourful afterthought. Quandary has seen it in remembrance holos: a craggy coast lined by a rainbow of boxy buildings, pink and yellow and inexperienced and blue, all watching the ocean. Then got here the Cascade, or at the least the purpose within the Cascade the place ice soften unleashed enormous swathes of arable land throughout Greenland and Russia, and that plus the carbon-capture growth introduced foreigners up in droves.

Now Nuuk is sprawling inward, away from the rising sea, and its neat technicolor rows birthed a jumble of printhouse and polyp-grown warrens. Quandary watches the city wilds slide alongside, brow pushed to the window of the NRT, extra generally known as the Backbone, the raised photo voltaic rail that runs town diagonally.

She may trip all of it the way in which to the sting of city, bus out with some carbon riggers, reside to battle and fornicate one other day. However that is about rep, and working makes Jokić proper, that pasty fuck. She labored laborious to get on the harbor crew, and he or she did her job higher than the remainder of them did theirs. Jokić ought to know by now that the poli don’t want moles to return out of nowhere.

Except this isn’t in regards to the harbor job.

Except he desires her gone for another cause.

“We shouldn’t be doing this, Q,” Timo mutters. “It is perhaps ready for you already.”

Quandary grinds her aching cranium towards the chilly glass. She purchased a flush from a merchandising machine, to set her neurotransmitters straight and eat up the alcohol nonetheless lurking unprocessed in her intestine. She regrets it. Her head is pounding and her entire physique feels raspy and he or she in all probability has equal probabilities towards a butterfly man whether or not she’s sober or shittered.

“Wouldn’t be a product check in the event that they dropped it proper at my home,” she says. “The entire level of these items is that they’re hunters, proper? Sample matchers. You give them a face, hearth, and overlook.”

“They match these patterns quick.”

“It’s been alive for six hours, tops,” Quandary says, “and my streetcam exhibits all clear.”

“Yunupingu Memorial,” the rail broadcasts, in genderless monotone. “Doorways opening on the left.”

The automotive tiptoes to a halt and the doorways flutter open. Quandary ignores the escalator, bangs open the steel door to the stairwell, chilly concrete and fluorescent lights and stripes of reflective tape demarcating the steps. She takes them at a run to get her blood pumping.

“What do you want from the condo so unhealthy?” Timo grunts from behind her. “If it’s money, if it’s narcotic, I can—”

She grips the railing and leaps the underside third of the flight, lands with a thump. “Simply watch my again, all proper?” she puffs. “Keep by the door. There’s a superb shadowy spot behind the biorecycler.”

She slams out of the emergency exit, the one with a sliced wire protecting the alarm quiet, and into the road. The solar is up in earnest now, filtering by way of wisp and scud. That will make it simpler to see the butterfly man coming, if she knew what the fuck to search for. Her nerves soar and sizzle when she passes a partier stumbling dwelling, once more when she passes an evening employee in a logo-printed coverall.

Then she’s on the condo block. Timo has trailed her at a distance; he installs himself now behind the biorecycler, tiny vapor pipe clenched in his large hand. Quandary casts a final go searching, then skips up the steps. The door reads her face and gait and buzzes open.

“Two shakes,” she says, and heads up.

 

The condo smells fallacious when she steps inside. It panics her for a second earlier than she remembers drunkenly leaving a plastic plate on the range coil, slagging it to a shiny puddle and filling the room with rancid smoke—her baba wouldn’t be glad along with her. Quandary pulls her fragger out anyway. Adrenaline turns her acquainted furnishings into crouched silhouettes, places faces within the gloom.

She whistles the lights on. When the fluorescents scour the darkish away, revealing a battered white desk crenellated with empties, a hand-carved rocking chair in a single nook, a gelbed shoved into the opposite, her coronary heart slows to tolerable speeds. She’s by no means had a lot of a nesting intuition—she tells the ladies and typically males that she’s solely simply moved in—and it leaves close to to nowhere for a butterfly man to cover.

She hears a comforting electrical chirrup from the room’s sole ornament, a colourful wall hanging above the rocking chair. No guests whereas she was gone. She checks the toilet anyway, however finds solely her haggard self, staring balefully from the toothpaste-spattered mirror. Fucking Timo didn’t inform her she was strolling round with a snowcap. She thumbs the leftover coke away from her nostril, rubs it alongside her gum as an alternative.

Drained neurotransmitters poke their heads up. She apologizes for jerking them round, doing the entire flush-and-go factor, then rides the twitch of vitality again to the opposite room, heading for her industrial-grade fridge. It’s the priciest factor she owns, a metallic grey big with its personal backup generator and genelock.

Her thumb is nearly on that lock when she stops. Hesitates. Her creativeness paints the butterfly man contorted inside, ready for her. They’ll do this. Folks say they’ve cartilage skeleton, like sharks. She doesn’t suppose they’ll hack genelocks, however who the fuck is aware of. She opens the fridge along with her fragger aimed.

There are not any surprises inside. The highest shelf holds a half bottle of low-cost native wine, some curry paste, and a slowly decaying orange. The underside shelf holds the key she would by no means inform Timo or anybody else about. She pulls the black carbon shell out of the fridge, fastidiously, fastidiously, and slides it into the go bag she retains within the neighboring cabinet.

It nestles completely between the medkit and the ammo. She casts round, grabs a checkered drying fabric, wraps it excessive of the shell. The additional padding is just not even barely essential, however feels right. She zips the bag shut and slings it over her shoulder.

Her fone chimes—perhaps Timo, telling her to rush the fuck up.

Not Timo. It’s an alert from her streetcam, the one watching the condo exterior, the one she advised to maintain a watch out for anybody whose gait and facial geometry it didn’t acknowledge. Her throat goes tight. She faucets by way of to the feed.

She sees solely a grainy Timo, now not hiding behind the biorecycler. His broad again is turned to the streetcam. He’s swaying slowly back and forth, nearly dancing. Quandary squints on the feed, attempting to parse, attempting to determine what the fuck he’s doing and why the streetcam is exhibiting it to her.

His ft are usually not planted. They’re dragging on the pavement, boneless, weightless. Quandary sees the pale palms now, wedged beneath Timo’s armpits. She watches his large physique raise and decrease, raise and decrease, as if the butterfly man is attempting to guess what number of kilos. Her abdomen drops straight down an elevator shaft.

Now’s the time to run, however she will be able to’t. She must see who—what—she’s going to be coping with till she, or it, is a corpse. Timo’s physique topples over; she will get a glimpse of his ruined face, a pink mess. Then she sees the butterfly man: small, angular, swallowed up within the blue coverall it wears peeled to the waist. It wipes its palms on its mustard-yellow sweater and leaves two bloody anemones.

The face is oddly stunning, and wears a small contented smile. The butterfly man rolls Timo’s physique behind the biorecycler, the way in which a dung beetle rolls fecal matter, and disappears from the streetcam’s sight line.

 

Quandary unfreezes. Timo’s useless, which suggests a bit of packet of feelings she should observe or destroy later, and the butterfly man is right here, which suggests she wants a plan. If it’s sturdy sufficient to heft Timo like a doll, it’s sturdy sufficient to wrench open a budget fabbed home windows on the bottom ground.

Then it would come upstairs, come to this very room, as a result of it took lower than six hours to determine the place she lives. Or else Jokić is a fucking cheat, and advised it. She shoves that thought away however retains the residual anger for gas. The longer the butterfly man is alive, the smarter it’s going to get. So assembly it proper now, on her personal territory, is perhaps the perfect probability she has to kill the factor.

Battle or flight.

Battle. Needs to be.

She unzips her go bag, digs out a flicker bomb and ammo cartridge. Her fingers are barely tingly, however not visibly trembly, which looks like a superb omen. She pockets the bomb, slaps the cartridge to the magnetic inventory of her fragger. Does all of it one-eyed and one-handed, since she must preserve watching the streetcam.

Timo’s foot pokes out from behind the biorecycler, however there’s no signal of the butterfly man. It’d already be circling the constructing for entries. She appears to be like down on the carbon shell swaddled in her go bag.

“Luck me,” she says, and provides it a comfortable pat earlier than she zips the bag shut once more. Her coronary heart is pounding now, amphetamine quick, anticipating the violence. However she’s no stranger to that. She nearly prefers it.

Timo in all probability had his piece on him, and the butterfly man has in all probability found out learn how to use it by now. Quandary flexes the fridge up onto its rollers and drags it into place, so the heavy steel can present some cowl. She experiments with aiming blind round its nook, first excessive, then low.

Someplace under her, she hears a cracking noise. A pressured entry noise. The poli don’t normally come round this block, however they may ship a drone or two. She wonders if the butterfly man is aware of that.

She unlocks her condo door, hinges it open only a sliver. Listens for ft. Then she dims the condo lights, goes again behind the fridge, and waits. Her pulse is loud in her ears, so loud she may not be capable of hear the butterfly man coming. From the way in which it moved outdoors, she is aware of it has comfortable ft. It reminded her of a ballerina—exact, fiercely sturdy.

She listens for doorways as an alternative, and hears a telltale pneumatic sigh from down the corridor. She pulls the sparkle bomb out of her pocket. She photos the butterfly man traversing the hall, tries to time its arrival.

A niche of sunshine beneath the door goes darkish.

“Whats up?”

The butterfly man’s voice is a high-pitched croak. It’d be humorous if her nerves weren’t screaming. She glances at her wall hanging. Adjusts her grip on the sparkle bomb.

“Whats up?” the butterfly man squawks once more, and one thing rolls by way of the cracked door, a small black orb dribbling blood behind it.

Timo’s eyeball, or reasonably its smartglass improve. Quandary’s abdomen offers a bit of churn, however she is just not stunned when the second orb follows, on an ideal trajectory, and meets its twin with a pointy clack. She wonders if it was laborious work to seed sadism into the butterfly man’s geneprint, or if it arises naturally in all apex predators.

“Come on in,” she says, sluicing a lot of the concern out of her voice. “By no means met a butterfly man earlier than.”

The butterfly man grunts, a deep sound nothing like its earlier squawk, and Quandary acknowledges the voice. Timo’s eyes weren’t sufficient of a trophy. The butterfly man took the final sound he made, too, proper earlier than it crunched his windpipe.

A comfortable digital bleat from the wall hanging. Goal acquired.

“I used to be going to do this myself, in all probability,” Quandary says, tipping her head to 1 shoulder after which the opposite, triggering the swellies she had a avenue surgeon embed in her ear canals. She will be able to barely hear her subsequent phrases. “He was an actual deluded piece of shit.”

She thumbs her cellphone, and the autogun behind her wall hanging goes wild. The nightly upkeep of its joints and chambers, the lubricant stains on the ground, the spike in her electrical energy facture: all of that shit is immediately price it, as a result of uranium-tipped rounds are actually shredding by way of the doorframe, by way of the wall she by no means favored a lot anyway, and obliterating the whole lot on the opposite aspect.

She lobs her flicker bomb by way of the newly chewed gap for good measure; its detonation is a muffled pop beneath the autogun’s tirade. Even with the swellies in, her entire cranium is vibrating. The burst solely lasts two level 5 seconds—autogun ammo is just not low-cost—however adrenaline makes it an age.

When the gun coughs empty, the wall is a billowing cloud of plaster speckled with pink. Quandary’s pulse roars and foams. The butterfly man needs to be nothing however butcher giblets at this level, however she’s heard sufficient rumors and seen sufficient flicks to be cautious. She lets the mud and fragments settle earlier than she creeps out from behind the fridge.

She stalks ahead, fragger leveled, scanning the particles for shreds of blue coverall or yellow sweater. The darkish pink blood-blots within the rubble are encouraging. She follows them to the ruined wall, picks a gap, sights left, proper.

The hall is a fucking mess, and she will be able to hear her cross-hall neighbor wailing. She forgot to verify in the event that they had been dwelling earlier than setting the autogun off, however solely sees a pair holes punched by way of the other wall, so until they’ve astronomically unhealthy luck—

A scorching droplet lands on the tip of her left ear.

Her head snaps again; the butterfly man is on the ceiling, due to course it’s. Considered one of its legs is now moist pink ropes, slowly knitting again collectively. The opposite leg is unbroken, and because the butterfly man’s arms are busy clinging to the ceiling it has Timo’s gun clutched between its pale distended toes.

She fires, blowing the butterfly man to items—

Besides her fragger jams. Chokes. She remembers the cloud of plaster she simply walked by way of, remembers Timo telling her a fragger is just too fucking finnicky for moist work. His different, a snub-nosed Glock, is now pointing at her face. She wants to talk loudly, clearly, as a result of Timo’s gun has an electrolock and he or she hacked it after the evening she stopped trusting him. Her throat is just too dry to even whisper.

“Quandary Aminu,” the butterfly man squawks. “By no means met a Quandary Aminu earlier than.”

She admires the selection to taunt, however the taunt fucks it over. Her identify is the magic phrase. The butterfly man’s toe twitches. Nothing will get out of the barrel. It tries once more, and Quandary is aware of she will be able to both use this minuscule slice of time to strive unjamming her fragger, or she will be able to use it to fucking run.

The butterfly man drops down from the ceiling, touchdown completely balanced so its stump gained’t scrape the ground. She doesn’t like her probabilities even towards three limbs. She picks flight: again by way of her shattered wall, by way of her barren condo, scooping up her go bag on the way in which to the hearth escape.

The butterfly man sends her off with Timo’s stunned grunt, again and again till it seems like a muffled snigger.

 

Quandary runs till she vomits, then runs one other block post-vomit. Then she reaches the general public lavatory she as soon as had unsanitary intercourse in, the one individuals don’t discover as a result of it’s tucked up beneath a half-constructed skyway, and locks herself inside. She rinses her mouth out, and likewise tries to rinse away the reminiscence of Timo’s smartglass eyeballs, which have been clacking round at the back of her thoughts.

Higher to replay the remainder of the encounter, work out what she may have achieved higher apart from her fucking weapon not jamming. She disassembles the fragger, engaged on pure muscle reminiscence, and units to cleansing out the plaster mud. She’s obtained a long way from the butterfly man. Noticed it, over her shoulder, clambering slowly and thoroughly down the hearth escape, cradling its pulped leg.

The limb was already therapeutic, and he or she doesn’t know the way lengthy she has earlier than the butterfly man is again to full mobility. She ought to have tried to complete the job within the hall, tried pistol-whipping it, tried going again into the kitchen for a knife.

“Bought scared,” she snarls on the mirror, which is taking part in an advert for pores and skin cream, projecting wrinkles on her face after which smoothing them away. “First you froze, then you definately ran, since you obtained fucking scared.”

The wrinkles remind her what she grabbed from the condo. She purses her lips. She doesn’t like asking individuals for assist, however that is life-or-death, and her loss of life would have implications for the one who would possibly be capable of assist her. Her go bag is already open on the altering station, since she wanted oil and a microtool for the fragger. She eyes the cloth-wrapped carbon shell.

“Okay,” she says. “Determined instances.”

She yanks the checkered fabric away and hefts the black shell in each palms, eliciting a faint slosh from the nutrient gel inside. She units it beside the sink, which is an clever shallow scoop within the countertop, then finds some putty in her go bag to plug the drain. She is generally sure it’s adhesive tack, not leftover RDX.

Whereas the sink fills with chilly water, she opens the carbon shell. Even after it reads her fingerprints, she has to prize it aside along with her fingernails, prefer it’s reluctant to let its passenger go, or is perhaps punishing her for ready so lengthy to wake him. When it lastly springs open, she practically drops her baba’s membrane-coated head on the ground.

His face, even slick and slimy, offers her a bit of hit of nostalgia. For a second, regardless of being holed up in a public lavatory, hunted by a butterfly man, she can be a bit of woman taking part in snapper-trappers along with her baba, each of them towards the machine, sitting huddled up shut so she will be able to sniff his icy cologne and take in his physique warmth.

He’s nonetheless hooked to his organoid, a bit of lump of clone-grown cells protecting his mind blood good and oxygenated, so she’s cautious with the tether as she lowers him into the sink. She provides a cable of her personal, from the neuroport on his temple to the one on the underside of her fone. She sends the wake-up chime.

His veiny outdated eyelids flutter. They open.

Quandary breathes. “Hey, Baba,” she says. “I believe I fucked up.”

 

Her baba is just not glad to see her, presumably as a result of she promised him a full corporeal transplant three years in the past, promised him subsequent time he awoke he’d be using a gorgeous clone-grown physique with factory-fresh telomeres, and as an alternative he’s bobbing in a sink in a dirty public washroom.

What within the fuck have you ever been doing all this time, Dree?

The query marches throughout her fone as blocky textual content, pieced collectively by neuroscan, however in her head she will be able to hear his cigarette-seared rasp.

“Working, Baba.”

Working seems on her fone, both a suggestions error or her baba doing one among his scathing echoes. Consuming and snuffing and fucking, extra like. Losing all our cash.

Scathing echo, then.

“My cash, Baba,” she says, souring a bit on the entire reunion. “Your cash ran out ages in the past. My cash’s been protecting you good and contemporary in storage.”

Is that the place we’re? Some cut-rate bio-storage facility?

“No,” Quandary admits. “We’re in a rest room. As a result of I’m in hassle. So we are able to discuss in regards to the transplant shit later.” She eyes the door, then the air vent, photos the cartilage-boned butterfly man sliding himself by way of it. “Proper now, I need assistance.”

I would like limbs and a spinal column.

“You already know about butterfly males,” she says. “I bear in mind.”

Butterfly man, her fone corrects. There’s just one.

Quandary shakes her head. “There’s a fuckload of them now,” she says. “They pop them out like a sweet fab. However there’s just one after me, and I must know learn how to kill it.”

Her display stays black. She stares down at her baba’s bobbing head, his options clouded by the membrane sheath. Watches tiny tremors run by way of the facial muscular tissues she used to prick and prod faithfully to forestall atrophy.

Something I inform you is three years outdated.

“Higher than attempting to sift by way of blacknet bullshit,” she says firmly. “You truly seen one doing its factor. Stated you labored with a grower in Santiago, didn’t you?”

You listened loads higher as a bit of woman.

“Now I shoot loads higher.” She checks the door once more. “I don’t have spare time, Baba. Inform me what I must know to not die.”

Butterfly man. Okay. Began off as only a biotech flex, some Korean lab attempting to overclock cell division and tissue progress, see how shut they may get to a real-time time lapse. Russia was doing quantum-organic deep studying, needed to show babies into programmable psychopaths. Extra so than they already are.

“Match made in heaven,” Quandary says, as a result of she remembers this little spiel and wish to pace it alongside.

Match made in heaven, yeah. Heaven is disposable assassins you assemble on-site who self-terminate when the job’s achieved. They had been nonetheless tweaking it within the warlabs when Russia collapsed, however the prototype hit the darkmarket just a few years later. It solely appears to be like human on the surface, Dree. Genetically, it’s in all probability nearer to a flatworm.

“It is extremely wriggly,” Quandary mutters, verifying her fone is saving the whole lot her baba’s mentioned to her personal drive.

Regrows organs. Breathes by way of its pores and skin. No actual skeleton, hydrostatic muscle.

“The mind, although,” Quandary says, remembering the way it imitated Timo, the way it talked shit to her from the ceiling. “To hunt a human in a metropolis stuffed with people, you could have to have the ability to suppose like a human. Yeah?”

The mind on that factor is the coup de grâce. Quantum-organic, how I mentioned. It’s not ranging from scratch. Each time you develop it, it grows all of the neural pathways from all the opposite jobs. Smarter than a human ever may very well be. Thank fuck it hates present.

“Holy shit,” Quandary says, nonetheless on the quantum-organic mind. Then she registers the final bit. “Wait. Hates present?”

Determine of speech. The butterfly man is designed to be disposable. Partly so it could possibly’t be traced, partly as a fail-safe. Begins to decay after eighteen hours or so. Useless six after that. Thus the identify, you cute dumbshit.

The conclusion goes off like a flicker bomb: all she has to do is outwait the butterfly man, keep shifting, keep unpredictable, after which as soon as it’s useless she goes straight for Jokić and his crew. She’s the sector check. The opposite butterfly males are nonetheless in transit.

“So if I conceal lengthy sufficient,” she says, for absolute readability, “it’ll die by itself.”

Oh, Dree. No one ever hides lengthy sufficient.

The sparkle bomb was a dud; it fizzes darkish. “Again to the primary plan, then,” she says, attempting to sound calm about it. “How do I kill the butterfly man?”

Her fone is clean for a second. Then: You could possibly strive setting a entice.

“I did strive that. It didn’t fucking work.”

I imply a superb entice.

 

Baba goes again within the shell, again within the bag, however she leaves a tiny hole in every so the neuroport cable can keep hooked to her fone. This compromises his temperature integrity, however like he identified, until she kills the butterfly man within the subsequent fifteen hours or so, he’s useless anyway. Quandary is glad he realized that with out her having to say it.

She checks her fragger, then douses herself in sanispray, since her baba mentioned the butterfly man tracks partly by scent. She checks her fragger once more. Then, along with her coronary heart thrashing in her ribcage, she cracks the toilet door.

No signal of the butterfly man, however the streets are full now. She’s unsure if that’s higher or worse. She slips out into the daylight and has her fone message her most freshly acquired contact, a blurry girl with animated tattoos. They solely spoke for twenty-odd minutes, however additionally they practically went dwelling collectively. Quandary hopes sufficient chemistry lingers for her to reply.

Good morning to you, too.

Good.

“Misplaced observe of you final evening,” she mutters for her fone. “Wish to after-party?”

I’m midway shittered on my approach to work.

Beneath the lady’s message, her baba weighs in: Inform her you felt an actual true connection, Dree, felt it like a bit of fishhook behind your stomach.

“Fuck off,” Quandary says, and her fone snaps it off to the tattoo girl earlier than she will be able to cease it, however it is perhaps a superb factor to say anyway.

Fuck you, husky-killer.

Not unhealthy.

“I need to see you,” Quandary says, decanting her traditional lie-truth compound. “I additionally need keta, in a foul approach. Hyperlink me up?”

She weaves by way of an arguing couple, geese beneath a sputtering drone. Retains her eyes peeled for a sure measurement, a sure approach of shifting, although it would nonetheless include a limp. Her good friend from final evening is taking a protracted fucking time to reply. Quandary would usually get the ketamine on her personal, no situation, however her seller is Jokić-adjacent, and he or she doesn’t need that pasty fuck figuring out her actions till she’s shifting by way of his entrance door.

Ideally holding his butterfly man’s sliced-off head as a guest-gift.

I requested somebody about you. They mentioned you’re hassle. An actual black gap sort.

“Black holes are stunning proper as you fall in,” Quandary says. “See time and lightweight all stretched out and whatnot.”

And then you definately’re spaghetti.

“We may be spaghetti collectively,” Quandary says, protecting shut watch on a small man in a hooded raincoat shifting throughout the road. “Two human noodles all knotted up in one another.”

Her baba approves: Poetry, Dree.

The reply takes a minute. They mentioned you’re an actual bullshit artist. How a lot Ok?

Quandary licks her enamel. “Sufficient for a horse,” she says.

Humorous.

“Not funning you,” Quandary says. “I would like as a lot as I can get and I’ll pay two hundo a gram.” She flips from the talkthread to her financial institution. “Little thank-you payment is heading your approach as quickly as you give me a location.”

Her baba disapproves: No nice marvel your crew thought you had been poli, is it.

However the tattoo girl is extra trusting, perhaps as a result of she’s midway shittered, perhaps as a result of she’s nonetheless midway sexy for Nuuk’s greatest bullshit artist. South finish. Good outdated woman, been shopping for tabs off her for years so don’t you dare fuck her round.

“Nice,” Quandary says, altering course as a brand new geolocation drops into her fone. “Any probability she’d have a fuel masks and aerosolizer?”

 

It’s a brief journey to south Nuuk, however by the point Quandary will get to the best block her nerves are shredded uncooked. Each small grownup or massive ado she noticed on the way in which gave her a jolt, and he or she practically murdered a lady with a croaky voice who sat behind her on the Backbone. A carbon rigger with a blue coverall and a foul knee was equally imperiled.

However now she’s right here, in a single piece, and it’s time to buy some retro narcotics. She approaches a small crumbling home wedged between two polyp-grown residences, checking it towards the geolocation.

“Baba.” She’s been which means to ask, and may not get one other rip at it. “What was the happiest second of your life?”

You have to be targeted proper now, Dree.

“I’m targeted,” she says. “What was it?”

There’s a protracted delay, and he or she photos him pulling faces beneath the membrane, pondering laborious. Strolling throughout an outdated car parking zone. Thaw climate, whenever you hear the water working in every single place, trickling beneath the bottom, melting off the roofs. Sunshine and a breeze and vibrant inexperienced buds beginning to develop from the cracks.

It sounds a bit like hers; she’s relieved by that. “So that you had been alone?”

Sure.

Quandary nods to herself. “It’s higher that approach, isn’t it. All the pieces is—purer. When there’s no different individuals mucking shit up.”

It’s my happiest second as a result of I used to be on my approach to see your mom.

“Oh.” She blinks. “Cute.”

Fuck off.

Quandary checks across the corners of the home, then slinks as much as the stoop. Her good friend from the bar advised her to knock as soon as, then twice, then as soon as once more, in order that’s what she does. The echo fades. No one involves the door.

Getting into any seller’s administrative center uninvited, even when the seller is supposedly a pleasant outdated woman, is a foul fucking concept. She is aware of this from expertise. However the butterfly man may very well be exhibiting up any second now, following her scent by way of Nuuk’s soiled air or simply matching patterns Quandary is just too human to see.

She tries the door deal with. No cube.

What’s happening, then? her baba calls for.

“Won’t be dwelling,” she mutters. “Does lots of microjobbing on the aspect, apparently.”

They revolutionize locks prior to now three years?

Quandary knocks a closing time, then glances up and down the road. Just a few little children on hacked scooters stare again at her. She flips them off, and as quickly as they glide away she begins jiggering the lock. It solely takes her a minute with the microtool earlier than she will get to the telltale click-clunk.

Praying her autogun’s outdated proprietor was sincere about having the one unit on the town, she opens the door and steps inside.

 

The seller goes by way of some shit. That’s the solely speedy rationalization Quandary can consider for the state of the home. She acknowledged the scent of fried noodles even earlier than the lights hummed on; now she makes her approach by way of an entryway dotted with compostable takeout containers, most of them half-full and soggy with sauce.

She is so busy looking for ground that it takes her some time to note the partitions. The seller has been turning her stress binge into an artwork kind: the off-white plaster is smeared with reddish-brown spirals and stick figures, the work of messy, twitchy fingers. Quandary realizes she is about to search out an outdated girl zonked out of her fucking thoughts on her personal product, presumably even useless from an overdose.

“Higher be some fucking keta left,” she whispers.

You inside? You have to preserve me within the loop, Dree. I’m blind in right here and all I can hear is the gurgling goddamn organoid.

“Your organoid is the perfect available on the market,” she says, which was true three years in the past. Nicely, practically true. “It is best to relish that gurgle.”

She makes it to the kitchen, the place extra flimsy containers line the counter tops and range. A easy yellow gelfridge has been not too long ago cleaned out; the neat little pile of detritus is heaped in entrance of it. She tries to image an outdated and really loaded girl squatting there, yanking out the whole lot edible, gorging herself sick.

Quandary has binged lots, however the picture is off. She feels her hackles rising.

“Heading to the bed room,” she murmurs, angling right into a dim hallway. “The place do outdated individuals stash their shit, Baba? Floorboard? Ceiling tile?”

In no matter orifice is unfastened, however not too unfastened.

“You will need to actually miss having an anus.”

I’ve obtained you. That counts.

Quandary approaches the half-open door to the bed room. Each time she’s fucked off her head she all the time finds her approach to a mattress, hers or in any other case, so she braces herself now for a physique—hopefully simply asleep or deep within the drug daze, not useless.

However the cheery yellow sheets are unoccupied, neat and tucked in. Quandary does a fast sweep of the room: row of polished boots in a single nook, black lacquered desk and dried sunflowers in one other, a shelf of weathered books, some Kalaallit artwork up on the buzzing wallscreen. No signal of the seller. No takeout wreckage in right here, both.

“She likes yellow,” Quandary says.

You all the time favored purple, as a bit of woman.

“Actually?” Quandary asks, eyeing the disturbed mud in entrance of the mattress.

You’d all the time pinch individuals’s arms, say you had been attempting to provide them purple skin-flowers.

“I used to be not properly adjusted,” Quandary admits, depositing her go bag on the ground, fone on prime of it. She levers herself beneath the fabbed body of the mattress, wriggling on her stomach. Paydust: there’s a bit of steel case ready for her, a rusty outdated factor with a retrofit genelock soldered on.

She’s about to wriggle again out when she hears the entrance door. For a second she envisions a horrible state of affairs the place the wrinkly seller and her wrinkly lover head straight for the mattress and go at it rabbitlike whereas she’s trapped beneath. Then all of the ideas which have been darting round at the back of her head coalesce directly.

The psychoscrawl on the partitions—achieved by spidery, inhuman fingers. The mad quantity of meals—required to gas a metabolism that runs like a supercollider for 24 hours. Her baba mentioned they make lairs typically, on a protracted sufficient job. He didn’t say they favor the homes of small-time ketamine sellers.

She continues to be attempting to determine if that is some really next-level sample matching, or if the universe simply fucking hates her, when the butterfly man strolls in carrying its blood-splotched yellow sweater.

 

Hiding beneath the mattress, biting her hand, watching a shadow transfer round—that’s horror flick shit. That is horror life, so the butterfly man has already smelled her sweat and sanispray, seen her go bag and fone, and is aware of precisely the place she is. She pulls out her fragger, fires for its approaching shins. Her explosive darts punch the air, cough-cough-cough, solely discover the other wall, however that’s tremendous, offers her time to roll out the opposite aspect—

A distended hand comes scything down; she cancels the roll, realizes in a small shocked neuron bundle that the butterfly man vaulted your entire fucking mattress within the time it took her to squeeze a set off. An angular  upside-down face seems inches from hers, unsmiling.

“Welcome to my home,” the butterfly man caws.

Gone earlier than she will be able to get the fragger aimed. She hears a pointy crack, and one nook of the mattress lurches downward. It’s kicking out the stubby legs. It’s going to convey the bedframe down on prime of her, crush her right here like a pressed flower.

It’s fucking toying along with her. That makes her livid, how she is livid with Jokić, how she was livid with Timo and nonetheless kind of is even now he’s useless. The sensation boils over and scalds away her concern. Leaves a truth behind: she goes to fuck up a butterfly man. She fires the fragger once more, peppering darts all alongside the far wall, sowing seeds.

One other crack, one other lurch; the underside finish of the mattress slams down and narrowly misses her foot. She scoots up towards the pinnacle, taking the steel field along with her. She reverses her fragger and makes use of the heavy steel grip as a membership. The affect vibrates the bones in her hand, sends sparks flying. The shoddy soldering between genelock and outdated lock offers approach.

She feels the butterfly man shifting for the third leg of the bedframe. She flips open the field, finds acid tabs, keta tabs, shoves the whole lot she will be able to into the glossy little grinder. The third leg crunches inward, and the bedframe crunches down on her again. She wails, wriggles free, shifting towards the final nook.

The butterfly man meets her there. She will be able to see its bony hand reaching for the fabbed black leg.

“Hey,” she says, fumbling from grinder to injector. “Hey!”

The hand pauses. “Whats up.”

“Increase,” she says.

Her fragger darts are programmed to go off on voice set off—much less collateral harm means much less cleanup—and now all of the tiny explosive slivers throughout the sides of the room, caught within the plaster and wooden, detonate directly.

Because the world goes up in flames, as superheated particles leaps from all sides, the butterfly man finds the closest cowl. It slides beneath the bedframe like mercury, so {smooth}, so swish, and proper into Quandary’s raised injector. She plugs its jugular with sufficient medicine to drop a clone-grown woolly mammoth.

This was not the plan, after all. Her baba had one thing far more elaborate in thoughts: luring the butterfly man into a good ventless house, utilizing its flexy skeleton towards it, vaporizing a ton of keta and guffawing behind her fuel masks whereas its porous pores and skin sucked all of it down. However that is higher. Extra satisfying.

The butterfly man’s sweater immediately drenches. Possibly it’s attempting to sweat out the cocktail, however its traitorous metabolism has already absorbed sufficient to make its palms tremor and fall midway to her throat. It doesn’t gasp how a human would, however its entire physique twitches. Its darkish eyes flip glassy.

She waits—for the home to douse the fire-dregs with foam, for her coronary heart to cease pounding, for the butterfly man to go totally limp—then crawls out. She knees its good face on the way in which, and doesn’t really feel even barely unhealthy about it.

Her fone is filled with her baba’s rambling, however his carbon shell is unbroken. She debates whether or not or to not inform him how shut she in all probability got here to cooking him when all of the fragger darts went off.

“Guess who caught a butterfly, Baba,” she says.

Thank fuck.

“Thanks, fuck.” Quandary slides contemporary ammo into her fragger. The clack sends a scrumptious shiver down her backbone. “Killing it now.”

She goes again to the mattress. She must be businesslike about this, because the explosion was loud and poli drones are little doubt incoming. Can’t savor it an excessive amount of, though her entire chest is filled with helium and he or she appears like absolutely the fucking girl. She sights down on the butterfly man’s head.

It’s nonetheless preventing the tranqs, managing a sluggish wriggle right here and there. Its large darkish eyes are nonetheless open. She goals her fragger on the proper one, then drifts over to the left. The butterfly man strikes its lips. Makes a thick noise in its throat.

“What’s that?” Quandary asks, as a result of final phrases appear vital, even from a quantum-brained flatworm.

The butterfly man stares up at her. “Not glad,” it rasps. “Needed extra noodles.”

 

Quandary tells her baba what she’s doing, tells him she feels a little bit of actual true connection like a fishhook behind her stomach. Then she untethers her fone, earlier than he could make it clear to her how fucking silly she is, and begins restraining the butterfly man. The actual play is protecting it pumped stuffed with ketamine, sure, however the zip ties from her go bag assist her really feel a bit higher about taking a really dumbshit danger.

The butterfly man’s cartilage skeleton makes it disturbingly gentle; when she stuffs it into one of many seller’s parkas she appears like she’s dressing a really unusually proportioned baby. Even so, it plus her go bag have her bent double. She staggers out the again door of the home—sellers usually have a dependable and uncluttered emergency exit—and onto the road.

A glossy black autocab from a selected firm is ready for her on the curb. They’re totally algorithmic, and the algorithm is aware of its greatest clients usually have our bodies in tow. Jokić might need put a flag on this pickup location, however she doubts it. She suspects she’s the one one who is aware of what the butterfly man’s been as much as right here.

Quandary bundles her prisoner inside and so they draw back to the sound of approaching poli drones. As soon as they’re a block down, she lifts the parka hood off the butterfly man’s face. It gazes again at her with large black eyes. Its mouth is taped over for now.

“We’re not so totally different, you and I,” she says.

The butterfly man spasms barely.

“Joking,” she assures it. “You’re a functionally immortal quantum-brained killing machine, I’m a piddly little human.” She waves the injector. “I did simply fuck you up, although.”

The butterfly man stares, no response.

“You bought loads of ideas in there,” Quandary says, placing a knuckle to her personal cranium. “Too many, I wager, should you’re working all of the ideas from all the opposite butterfly males who ever obtained grown. Folks in all probability by no means ask you them, although.”

Its good face is clean. She will be able to’t inform if it’s even listening, however she presses on.

“I’ll take a guess, and as soon as I ungag you, you possibly can inform me if I’m shut,” she says. “Day by day you get up, it’s the identical fucking story. Typically you’re in a correct biotank, typically you’re in some soiled bathtub, however you all the time get up with a face or a reputation in your head. That’s the individual it’s important to go kill.”

Its nostrils flare at kill, prefer it desires to inhale the phrase.

“It was enjoyable,” she continues. “Was this sport. In all probability used to tag individuals out as quick as you could possibly, attempting for pace runs. However you bought too good at it. Began to bore you to shit. So that you began wandering, began trying out the skyboxes and bounds. How individuals all the time do, with video games. Began expressing your self.”

The butterfly man’s fingers twitch.

“The wall drawings,” Quandary says. “Yeah. I seen them. Fairly unhealthy, should you ask me.” She pauses. “However then once more, even with all of your jobs stacked collectively you’re only some years outdated. Which makes the roles some baby labor sort of shit.”

The butterfly man’s eyes flick away. It’s beginning to lose curiosity.

“Ever marvel who places the face in your mind? Who pulls your strings? I’ll inform you who did it this time. I’ll even present you him.” She swipes a streetcam snap of Jokić onto her fone, holds it up. “Take a look at this man. This man is a two-timing bitch too lazy to do his personal butchering, so he’s making you do it as an alternative.”

The butterfly man is unmoved. Quandary launches her final argument, coronary heart pitter-pattering.

“He has a complete cargo of you on the way in which,” she says. “Crates of you. So that you’re going to be waking up in tubs throughout Nuuk, doing drudge work. Searching down small-timers who offered on the fallacious block, grunts who smart-mouthed him, girls who didn’t need his pale little cock.”

The butterfly man shifts its certain palms to its crotch, waggles a questioning thumb.

“That factor, yeah.” She exhales. “Drudge work is beneath you, butterfly man. So I obtained a counteroffer. You overlook about killing me, and I assist you to safe that cargo. You get to choose the names and faces for the subsequent twenty instances you get up.” She narrows her eyes. “You may even choose mine, in order for you. I can fuck you up twice.”

The butterfly man shakes its head.

“Or perhaps you don’t choose any in any respect,” Quandary says. “You simply take pleasure in your little slices of life, as an alternative. Possibly work in your artwork, which wants lots of fucking work, let’s be sincere.” She runs her tongue alongside her enamel. “With sufficient consecutive days, that quantum-organic mind of yours would possibly even work out a approach to flip off the failsafe. No extra twenty-four-hour lifespan.”

The darkish eyes blink. Time to whittle issues proper down.

“Assist Quandary Aminu,” she says. “Kill Boban Jokić. Be glad. Eat noodles. Alternatively, I plug you with an exploding dart behind a dumpster.”

She reaches ahead, and as she peels the tape from her prisoner’s mouth she realizes her fingers are trembling. She holds her breath.

The butterfly man wets its lips with a small pebbly tongue. “Kill Boban Jokić first,” it croaks. “Kill Quandary Aminu after. Earlier than darkish.”

Quandary admires the honesty. She reaches for her go bag. “We’ll burn that bridge after we come to it,” she says. “Wish to meet my baba?”

 

It seems they already know one another, kind of. When the butterfly man claps eyes on her baba’s disembodied head, it rattles off a avenue deal with in Chilean Spanish, which her baba confirms was the placement of the darkmarket warlab in Vitacura earlier than it burned down. Quandary wonders simply what number of faces are imprinted within the butterfly man’s quantum-organic mind, and what number of of them are nonetheless alive.

That is unhinged, Dree.

“You like it.”

Going to get your self killed. Me, too, by proxy.

“Not should you assist me provide you with a superb plan, Baba.”

They’re parked in a north-side tunnel, lights dimmed, engine off. The autocab is more than pleased to maintain nibbling at her checking account in silence, and he or she has sufficient to spare since she by no means truly paid for the medicine. The butterfly man is flexing its wrists and ankles on the seat beside her—that was a dicey second, taking the zip ties off, however up to now it’s made no makes an attempt at revenge.

How’d you get into this within the first place? Full story, not abstract.

Quandary pulls a grimace. The dialog outdoors the bar with Timo, Timo-who-is-now-dead, looks like it occurred weeks as an alternative of hours in the past. “The harbor job,” she says. “The fucking harbor job.”

I don’t obtained newsfeed in right here, Dree.

“Ten days in the past,” Quandary says. “Or eleven, now, truly. Jokić needed warmth and muscle for this supply coming in. Was anxious the Siberians would possibly attempt to fuck with him. I took the job as a result of I wanted some cash—to your transplant.”

You pause for gravity, there?

She units his head on her knees, glances sideways to verify on the butterfly man. It’s now tapping away on the backseat display, sallow face shifting colours within the glow of some animated netgame, totally enraptured.

Some of it was to your transplant,” Quandary says. “Swear to fuck it was.” She purses her lips. “I obtained all strapped and amped, wore my tac boots and the whole lot, however the Siberians performed good. Seemed prefer it was going to be cash for nothing.”

Poli interrupted, you mentioned.

“In a giant approach.” Quandary folds her palms beneath her armpits. “Full swoop. Drones and boats and physique armor. Was a complete mess, and would’ve been even worse besides I fragged a hydrogen tank, set one of many poli boats burning fairly good. Whereas they was pulling again, about half of us hit the water and obtained away.”

I’m the one who taught you to swim, you understand. By no means thanked me even as soon as.

“You pushed me off a fucking cliff.”

Overhang, and I used to be coming proper down after you. Did the Siberians get away?

“They had been properly clear by the point the poli confirmed up. Yeah.” Quandary untucks one hand and makes use of it to rub her temple. “However Jokić misplaced all the brand new product proper then and there, and two of his common weapons, Markus and Vola, they obtained pinched. And he’s blaming me for it, though I’ve by no means talked to the poli in my entire life. Simply because I’m the surface rent.”

Her fone stays clean for a second, and he or she sees a minute think-wrinkle furrow her baba’s slimy brow. Saving face with the Siberians. Or. Does he like Markus and Vola?

“Fuck, no,” Quandary says. “However he wants them. Markus is the one one in his crew with adequate skullspace to know when Jokić is fucking up, overextending. And Vola is the one one with the ovaries to inform him.”

And people are the one two who obtained pinched?

“Yeah. They hit the water like the remainder of us, however I suppose the seals discovered them.”

Her baba’s mouth twitches. Jokić is aware of you didn’t snake. He’s pinning you on function.

“Figured.” Quandary envisions Jokić’s smug scabby smile however resists the urge to spit; the autocab will add a surcharge. “No want for anybody to have snaked. The poli algorithm sniffed us out, I wager as a result of . . .”

She trails off, frowning down at her fone, which is stacking new textual content at frantic pace.

Jokić is the one who brokered the seizure with the poli. Removed two potential threats to the throne, maintained good relations with the Siberians, and I wager obtained half his product returned by way of a again channel the subsequent day. Now you’re his sacrificial lamb, since you’re younger, feminine, and transient. Additionally as a result of he is aware of you would possibly determine it out.

Quandary blinks. She thinks again to the rent, again to the harbor, again to the poli coming at them nearly as lazy because the butterfly man taking part in its little predator-prey video games. “Shit,” she says. “We should always discuss extra usually, Baba.”

It is best to get me my fucking physique, Dree.

“I do know. I do know.” She clenches and unclenches her enamel. “I do know why I been placing it off, too.”

For 3 years.

“Yeah.”

No nice thriller. It’s as a result of different persons are for different individuals, not for Quandary Aminu. She doesn’t want them dragging her down. She’s happier with simply her and entropy, simply gliding alongside from this chemical to that one till she. Till you. Get a bullet in your head.

However that wasn’t what she was going to say in any respect. Quandary stares down on the fone in silence. She feels her throat begin to heave, her eyes begin to sting. “It’s since you all the time had been a cunt,” she says. “Sleep tight, Baba.”

She pulls the cable, packs him again into his carbon shell, zips him into the go bag once more. By the point it’s achieved, her eyes are good and dry. She glances throughout on the butterfly man, who’s looking at her dispassionately.

“Fuck are you ?” she asks, as a result of she’d nearly prefer to get strangled now.

“Push Boban Jokić off a fucking cliff,” the butterfly man suggests. It hooks two fingers into the corners of its mouth and drags upward. “Change your face. Be glad.”

“Would possibly assist,” Quandary mutters. “Yeah.”

A fist thunks towards the opaqued window; she snaps a hand to her fragger. The butterfly man is unperturbed. Its nostrils are large and she will be able to see a little bit of drool dribbling down its chin because it leans throughout her, sinuous as ever, and pushes the automotive door open.

On the opposite aspect, a really nervous supply girl holds up an insulated bag. Quandary relaxes her set off finger. Glances over on the backseat display, the place she sees an order affirmation for six cartons of Sichuan noodles.

“Solely the fourth greatest place in Nuuk for noodles,” she says, eyeing the emblem. “Third for jiaozi. If you’d like, I’ll take you someplace actually good. After we kill Jokić, and earlier than you kill me.”

“Earlier than darkish,” the butterfly man says, and this time it makes a bit of movement beside its head, fingers rubbing towards one another after which splitting aside, a mind dissolving. Quandary understands completely.

 

Mad has all the time been simpler for her than unhappy. She leans into that now as they make their method on Jokić’s condo, skulking on foot by way of fading daylight. Her baba is just not with them. She was briefly tempted to punt his head into the ocean; as an alternative she directed the autocab to a storage facility and used the final of her cash hiring a microjobber to satisfy him there and get him refrigerated.

Now she will be able to give attention to being actually fucking indignant with Jokić, who thought he may do his little take care of the poli, scapegoat her for it, and have a butterfly man homicide her earlier than she obtained an opportunity to clear her rep. She packs all the trend down right into a miniature solar burning in her stomach, prepared fuels.

The butterfly man appears to be in a superb temper. It’s nonetheless carrying the seller’s parka, loping together with the overlong sleeves hiding its palms, fluttering within the night breeze. Possibly that is all simply an sudden game-within-the-game for it, a bit of shock it didn’t comprehend it may unlock.

Or perhaps it’s already as good because the quantum processors they’ve engaged on interstellar burns and starch synthesis, and he or she’s simply develop into a pawn in its elaborate plan to finish or enslave humanity. Both approach, she’s fairly positive Jokić is fucked—it retains whispering his identify and cracking its neck to 1 aspect, like a backbone getting snapped.

“Maintain up,” she orders. “Quickly as we get any nearer, we’ll be on his cams.”

The butterfly man stops mid-stride, one foot frozen within the air. She will be able to’t even bear in mind which one obtained pulped by the autogun; each are again to their killer ballerina methods. Forward, spearing up from a hoop of recent development, is Jokić’s dwelling: a tower of polyp and nanocarbon, swatched with hydroponic greenery and topped by jagged orange holo.

Quandary feels an electrical sweat on her uncovered pores and skin. Go time. “You bear in mind the plan, yeah?” she asks.

“Useless woman gambit,” the butterfly man says, in an uncanny imitation of her voice. “That’s the play, I determine.”

“Works in all of the flicks,” Quandary agrees with herself. “Don’t drop me.”

She unrolls a membranous physique bag on the pavement, the one she retains on the very backside of her go bag for emergencies, and climbs inside. It’s not essentially the most dignified approach to make an entrance, and if the butterfly man decides to renege on their little deal and do her first, she’s packed up actual handy for disposal. She will be able to hear her baba’s raspy voice telling her precisely how unhealthy an concept that is.

However he’s a head now, and he ruined her try at a heart-to-heart, so fuck him. Quandary lies again and lets the butterfly man zip her up, sealing her into the darkish. She retains a good grip on her fragger.

The physique bag has little scent pods in it, which is a pleasant contact. She inhales the synthetic lavender because the butterfly man slides its wiry arms beneath her knees and again. It lifts her prefer it’s lifting origami, which she resents a bit, and units off. The rocking movement reminds her of one thing from childhood, of faking sleep so her baba would carry her, however she pushes that away. Focuses on entering into character, which means limp and corpse-like.

It’s only some minutes of gliding by way of the darkish earlier than Jokić’s patrol intercepts them.

“The place the fuck you suppose you’re going?” a voice calls for. “Cease the place you’re, drop the bag.”

Quandary braces herself, and is grateful when the butterfly man doesn’t comply.

“Meals supply for Boban Jokić,” it squawks. “Quandary Aminu. No cutlery.”

“Shit.” A second voice, presumably Timo’s cousin Piet. “I believed it’d be greater.”

“That’s it?” The primary voice is hushed now; Quandary hears ft scuffling backward. “That’s the fucking butterfly man?”

“That’s the fucking butterfly man. I’ll name in.”

A stretched silence. Quandary tries some optimistic visualization: an escorted jaunt to the constructing, a fast elevator trip to the highest ground, throughout which the butterfly man kills the house owners of voices one-through-two, then she pops out of the physique bag fragger-first, aiming for the spot between Jokić’s eyes.

“Says to confirm her face, then dump her within the nearest biorecycler.”

Fuck.

“You may drop the physique right here, Mister Butterfly Man,” says the primary voice, very respectful now. “Boss doesn’t need to see it.”

The butterfly man complies this time, and Quandary is just not prepared. Slightly grunt escapes her lungs when she hits asphalt.

“Shit,” says maybe-Piet. “Is she alive in there nonetheless?”

“That’s the play,” the butterfly man croaks.

“I higher name in once more, then. See if—”

Quandary hears a cartilage crunch, a wail. By the point she claws her approach out of the physique bag, the enjoyable is finished with: each of Jokić’s weapons are useless and cooling. The butterfly man is crouching on the nearer one’s chest, like the standard kind of nightmare. She plucks the dropped fone from the pavement, and since they’re already on cam anyway, she thumbs the interrupted name again open.

“Hey, fuckwit,” she says. “We’re coming to get you.”

She hears Jokić breathe as soon as. Twice. “I see,” he lastly says. “Come on up, Quandary. My door’s all the time open.”

He cuts the decision.

 

The useless woman gambit has develop into a reside woman gambit, and it places Quandary’s nerves towards a grater. No drones dive-bomb them on the way in which to the doorway. No extra patrols come out of the darkish. Jokić even offers them a bit of holotrail to observe, orange arrows pulsing all the way in which throughout the dim-lit foyer to the shiny elevators.

“Apparent entice, yeah?” She mimes scissors. “We get in, he snips the cables after we’re midway up.”

The butterfly man shrugs.

“Very fucking useful,” she says. “Thanks to your perception.”

She nearly needs her baba, cunt although he’s, had been right here as an alternative. He’d be capable of assist burrow inside Jokić’s thoughts, work out what he’s taking part in at. If she steps into that elevator, she’s an ant in a field. If she takes the emergency staircase, she’s an ant in a tunnel, which isn’t a lot better and a complete lot sweatier.

The likelihood that Jokić deliberate this entire factor out, that the butterfly man is simply following some very serpentiform programming, retains creeping by way of the again of her thoughts. An excessive amount of time to suppose all the time turns her paranoid. She stares balefully at her companion, now solemnly observing its personal reflection within the shiny elevator doorways.

“Hey,” she says. “What was the happiest second of your life?”

The butterfly man appears to be like over. “Second of your life?” it croaks.

“The very best feeling you bear in mind,” Quandary extrapolates. “What was occurring whenever you felt it? The place had been you, what had been you doing?”

“Not but,” the butterfly man squawks. “Later.”

“We is perhaps useless later,” Quandary argues. “Come on. Folks in bars reply me this on a regular basis, drunk off their asses. Search round in that large quantum mind of yours.”

The butterfly man blinks at her. “The happiest feeling is later.”

There are lots of methods to interpret that, however Quandary figures it’s time she stopped stalling. She knuckles the up button and steps into the elevator. The butterfly man slides in after her. She appears to be like up and down the column of numbers, the tower format rendered in glowing diagram, however sees the curlicued R on the prime is already highlighted.

“All the way in which up,” she says, to fill the silence.

“Whats up,” the butterfly man says. “Do you want heights?”

She remembers a sluggish fall and an icy plunge. “Not a lot, no. You?”

Her companion offers a beatific smile. “Pushing individuals.”

The elevator rockets them up the constructing’s magnetic gullet, so easily her abdomen barely registers it. The slosh once they attain the highest, when the door chimes open, is concern, not gravity. She retains a hand on her totally loaded fragger as she steps out. All ten darts are set to detonate routinely now, no verbal set off. She’s anticipating to do some collateral harm.

She scans the terrain. The tower’s rooftop is a large circle of pebbly asphalt, naked other than a half-built pool and a few polyp printers over to 1 aspect. The holos arrayed across the railing are switched off, making the twisted waist-high steel extra cage-like than ornamental. It makes her suppose area.

Their first two opponents are ready for them outdoors the elevator, stubby bulldog submachine weapons slung from their shoulder harnesses. She is aware of one among them by sight, by hormone-hewn shoulders and gleaming septum piece, however not by identify. Two extra of Jokić’s weapons stand nearer the sting, lengthy coats whipping within the wind.

And simply previous them, pale and brawny and busy shaving, is the person who turned her evening after which her day into such a fucking shitshow. His chair is geckoed proper to the sting of the roof, overlooking the development web site under. Slightly bot is clinging to his sternum with comfortable pseudopods, whisking a triangular razor alongside his jawline.

“Quandary,” he says, swiveling in his chair. “Come get this view.”

She will be able to see sufficient from right here. The solar is on its approach down; the mud is on its approach up; they meet in a dancing cloud of orange-furred motes. Building hardly ever sleeps in Nuuk. The machines are nonetheless seething, printers nonetheless birthing porous coral and nanocarbon skeletons, layering up and over one another, stacking for sky.

It’s fucking stunning, and right here he’s appearing like he didn’t attempt to take it, and each different view, away from her eternally.

Quandary feels the trend vibrate in each cell of her physique. “New poli station?” she guesses. “Saves you the stroll to wank one another off. Make your little offers.”

Jokić twitches in his chair; for a hopeful second she photos the bot’s blade digging into his artery, spraying a jet of blood throughout the gunmetal sky. However the bot has higher reflexes than any barber. It retains proper on working.

“You’re a superb liar,” he says. “You place lots of ardour in it.”

Quandary takes a check step, and neither of the closest muscular tissues go for his or her submachine weapons. The butterfly man lingers barely behind her, again to its silence. She hopes it’s utilizing its large mind to calculate precisely learn how to kill all these motherfuckers with out getting mowed down.

“I obtained no cause to lie,” she retorts, not for Jokić’s sake, however for the sake of the 4 weapons on the roof with them, the 4 set off fingers that is perhaps getting a bit of conflicted. “You do. You made positive Markus and Vola obtained pinched, since you’re petrified of anybody with mind and spine. That’s some shit management. And reducing offers with the poli, that’s a shit look on anybody.”

She spares a peripheral for the butterfly man. It has its head bent like an outdated man, its anemic palms stuffed into the deep parka pockets. She tries to recollect what number of hours it’s been alive and guess what number of hours it has left at peak performance. Now could be a foul time for it to get decrepit on her.

“You already know why I convey individuals up right here?” Jokić asks, {smooth} and unworried, previous his twitching section.

“Makes issues dramatic,” Quandary says.

“It offers individuals perspective,” Jokić says, ignoring her. “Reminds individuals they’re only one tiny fragment of an enormous teeming metropolis, and that metropolis is a speck”—he throws a hand towards the watery horizon—“on an infinite planet”—he factors upward, on the purpling nightfall—“which is, in comparison with the universe, the dimensions of perhaps an electron.”

“And it’s in all probability all a sim anyhow,” Quandary says, inching left, getting a mirror movement from the muscle with the septum piece. “Yeah. Who offers a shit.”

Jokić nods, all considerate, and the bot rides it out. “Sims inside sims, I wager.” His gaze lastly drifts over to the butterfly man, now squatting towards the wind, a bit of hump of parka. “Butterfly males are fortunate, you understand. By no means have to consider it. They dip out and in and by no means should get caught within the being-human bullshit.”

“The butterfly man thinks about lots,” Quandary says, feeling oddly defensive. “That’s why we’re right here.”

Jokić frowns. “It’s faulty, yeah. I can see that.” He thumbs a lick of shaving cream from one ear. “By no means getting biotech from Siberia once more,” he says. “So thanks for that. You’ve saved me some huge cash.” He blinks. “I suppose we’re all numbers, fucking over different numbers, to build up totally different numbers.”

Quandary lastly spies the vapestick constructed into his armrest, and realizes he’s excessive as fuck. The pair nearest her modify the angle of their weapons, shifting grip simply barely. The butterfly man offers a bit of wriggle on the fringe of her imaginative and prescient.

Go time.

“Be glad,” she says, and dives for canopy.

 

The butterfly man fires from its pockets: Timo’s unlocked Glock in the best, a disposable blockgun from a darkmarket printer within the left. They shred the parka to items, and Quandary will get to observe by way of a cloudburst of insulated lining because the muscular tissues with the submachine weapons drop, skulls holed.

Considered one of them finds the set off on the way in which down, central nervous system doing its factor even with the upstairs boss drilled, and it chews sparking craters an inch from her boots. She rolls an additional roll, comes up firing for the third goal, the lady surging away from Jokić’s chair along with her pistol flashing.

Quandary feels blood spray, hears a moist smack because the butterfly man takes a bullet. She anchors herself and her subsequent dart is an efficient one. It whistles into the lady’s fleshy forearm; she retains a grip on her pistol however misses—solely by micrometers, judging by the wash of warmth throughout Quandary’s cheek.

She doesn’t get one other shot earlier than her arm detonates in a burst of blood and bone. Quandary whirls to search out the fourth goal, however the others are already gasping and burbling on the pebbly ground. She whirls again, ranges her fragger at Jokić’s half-shaved face. Her coronary heart is a conflict drum.

“How’s that for—” Quandary’s lungs are gassed; it ruins her scathing comment. “How’s that for faulty, huh?”

The butterfly man worms out of the parka’s stays. The bullet holes look small and neat throughout its bony chest, however when it turns round Quandary sees ragged exits, shreds of sweater interwoven with ribboned pores and skin and muscle. Wine-dark blood is gushing down the backs of its trembling legs.

Jokić doesn’t attempt to transfer, not even to take a pull from his vapestick. “They make it like artwork,” he says. “They make it so fucking stunning.”

“Maintain a gun on him, will you?” Quandary asks.

The butterfly man raises each, {smooth} and exact as ever regardless of the chunks blown out of its torso. That lets Quandary cross to the lady with the blown-off arm, who’s in shock for now however would possibly recuperate quickly, and retrieve her dropped pistol. She does the identical for the gaspy man mendacity close by.

She tosses each weapons off the sting of the roof, will get a bit of bubble of vertigo in her stomach as they spiral out of sight. Then it’s simply her and Jokić and the butterfly man, and as a lot as she would like to plug the previous proper in his chair, blow him off the sting of his personal tower, she did make a take care of the latter.

“Time to name up the Siberians,” she says, aiming her fragger once more. “And inform them you actually like how issues went with the sector check. Inform them you need all of the butterfly man you possibly can deal with.”

Jokić stares. “What?”

“These are our phrases, fuckwit.” Quandary glances over on the butterfly man, hoping it understands leverage and deception. “You usher in the remainder of the cargo, we allow you to reside.”

“That’s some huge cash for a doubtlessly flawed product,” Jokić says, shaking his head. “There’s a cause militaries haven’t cleared out their drone factories to make room for incubators. These little bastards are getting glitchier yearly.”

“It wasn’t a request,” Quandary says. “Name them, or I take your toes off.”

Jokić is unperturbed. “I’ll give it some thought,” he says. “It relies upon how the second does.”

Quandary feels all her little hackle-hairs flip to spikes. There’s a cause Jokić has been so fucking chatty. She turns her head by an increment, simply sufficient to see the half-finished pool. A well-recognized hand, slicked with pink residue, is gripping the lip. Her coronary heart stutters. The contemporary butterfly man climbs out, bare physique clotted with leftover biomass. It waves.

She doesn’t wave again, however she realizes it wasn’t for her anyway—the less-fresh butterfly man, the one whose punctured physique continues to be leaking blood, raises a hand in reply. She hopes, for a second, that the 2 of them are going to be mates. They’ve the identical quantum-organic mind, in any case. Simply working on two barely totally different working programs.

The contemporary butterfly man flips the other way up, does a bit of jig on its palms. The less-fresh butterfly man, the one Quandary now realizes she thinks of as her butterfly man, drops its weapons to do the identical. She’s nonetheless pondering how that’s a superb signal for them being mates once they leap at one another.

 

They collide like meteors, and even when she had been fast sufficient with the fragger to tag the bare one and never the bloody one, Quandary is distracted by a sudden motion in her peripheral. She pivots proper as Jokić’s insectile barber springs at her, razor flashing, and he or she drops simply in time.

Adrenaline places the blade in excessive definition, shiny and molecule-sharp. Displaced air ripples her face.

Then she’s turning, monitoring the touchdown. Fires twice. Misses twice. The explosions tear craters within the rooftop. The bot is a scuttling blur, dancing sideways after which again once more, razor buzzing the air because it searches for a gap. She feels Jokić come up out of the chair behind her; fires a blind dart over her shoulder.

The bot lunges once more. She twists away, however this time she’s a planck too sluggish. There’s a moist sound, a stinging, a splatter of blood. The blade splits her chin on its well past. She howls. Fires. The dart detonates within the spot the bot was, a fiery ineffective blossom. Her backbrain whispers: Seven spent, three remaining.

A brawny pale arm smashes in from nowhere, and out of the blue she’s obtained no darts in any respect as a result of her fragger is skidding throughout the rooftop. Jokić has her bear-hugged from behind; she will be able to scent the bitter sweat of him, a whiff of weed smoke. His vise-tight grip crushes her personal sharp elbow into her diaphragm.

“This was by no means about you, Quandary,” he grunts. “Attempt to be at peace with that.”

Scorching copper continues to be gushing from her chin, splashing down her entrance. The bot was going for her throat, practically discovered it, and her jugular is now a sitting goal. She kicks, wriggles. The bot rounds on them. Its red-dipped razor takes goal.

Quandary is just not at peace with something. She desires to satisfy the lady with the tattoos and an curiosity in spaghettification. She desires to blow Jokić’s head off. She desires to talk along with her baba once more, and apologize for calling him a cunt though he’s one. She desires to point out the butterfly man Nuuk’s greatest Sichuan delicacies.

She desires a brand new happiest reminiscence, perhaps one the place she’s not on their lonesome. Possibly one the place another person is on the hill along with her, wanting up into the equipment of the beauteous, pitiless simulation.

The bot coils and is derived and—

By no means makes it: a blur of butterfly man limbs whirls previous, and one among them casually plucks the bot out of midair, grabbing not the place the bot is however the place it’ll be, and makes use of its razor to carve a furrow into a distinct butterfly man limb, probably one with a distinct proprietor, all in a single mercury-smooth arc.

Jokić sucks in a breath at the great thing about it. Quandary deads all her weight directly. The pouring blood makes her slippery sufficient; she worms her arm out and claws for Jokić’s eyes. When his head reflexes backward she thrashes downward, wrenches herself free. Catches his swinging boot totally on the hip.

She lays out for the fragger, which didn’t skid far, and will get it by her fingertips. The bot, already discarded, is racing towards her alongside the rooftop, dragging one broken leg behind itself. It’s hobbled sufficient that she will be able to goal the place it’s going to be. Her dart plugs it proper in its bulbous sensor.

Increase.

No time to observe the fireworks; it’s nonetheless exploding when she swivels to Jokić, who’s pulling a pistol from his coat, and faucets the set off once more. Her second dart burrows into his shin and goes off. Flesh-and-blood turns into vapor; a bone fragment skips off the rooftop and slices her knuckle open.

She doesn’t let it have an effect on her goal. Her closing dart goes to slip proper between his glassy blue eyes. She’ll discover another approach to get the butterfly man its cargo.

“Assist.”

The squawk barely makes it previous the swellies in her ears and the adrenaline in her head. Jokić is pallid, paralyzed with shock, so she spares one look, up and left. The butterfly man within the shredded yellow sweater—her butterfly man—is midway over the sting of the rooftop. The bare butterfly man is attempting to bump midway to all the way in which, jabbing and prying with its spidery fingers, playful however intent.

Quandary appears to be like down at Jokić, who so totally deserves an explosive finale, then again to the sting. Her butterfly man is only a face and two disembodied palms now, clinging to the very lip of the roof. The bare butterfly man pushes up towards the railing, stomping now with its heels, attempting to dislodge the opposite’s gripping fingers.

“Nice,” she breathes, and places one between its shoulder blades.

Besides its shoulder blades are elsewhere. Sound cue, intuition, quantum precognition—no matter it’s, it’s fucking bullshit, and Quandary is pressured to observe her final dart sail off into the skyline, not fairly grazing the butterfly man’s slimy head on the way in which.

She pulls once more on muscle reminiscence. The empty click on has by no means been so loud.

“Quandary Aminu,” her butterfly man croaks, sounding faintly disillusioned, and slips out of sight.

Quandary feels her guts do a plunge of their very own, though she solely met the butterfly man this morning and it’s spent a lot of the day attempting to homicide her. There is no such thing as a water on the backside of this cliff, and no baba goes to observe the butterfly man down and tow it to security, laughing a spluttery snigger.

The bare butterfly man turns. Steps towards her. Its unnervingly good face, an identical to the one which simply turned to pulp down under, continues to be streaked with glistening dregs of biomass. She dives for Jokić’s pistol, however the butterfly man beats her to it. It tosses it from hand to foot, one toe poised on the set off.

“Whats up,” it says. “What was the happiest second of your life?”

She blinks.

“Noodles,” it guesses, leveling the pistol at Jokić’s head. “Meals supply.”

Quandary narrows her eyes. “That’s you in there, then?” she calls for. “Why the fuck did you kill your self?”

The butterfly man’s mouth stretches right into a smile. “Pushing individuals,” it says, and kisses the air.

“You aren’t properly adjusted,” she mutters.

She appears to be like down at Jokić, who’s shedding consciousness, eyelids fluttering. She appears to be like across the rooftop, at what’s left of Jokić’s crew: three corpses and one also-ran. She thinks in regards to the useless pair down within the alley. Her fantasy of blowing Jokić’s head off is beginning to lose its shine—which is a disgrace, seeing as he’s the one who truly deserved the dart.

“Time to name the Siberians,” the butterfly man says.

“Proper. Yeah. That was the deal.” She touches her chin, the place the sliced capillaries are lastly slowing down. “You continue to should kill me earlier than darkish?”

The butterfly man faucets a finger to its temple. “No face,” it says. “Manufacturing unit reset. You fortunate, fortunate orphan.”

Quandary has zero want to know the way the butterfly man realized the phrase orphan, however it reminds her that her baba is froze within the storage facility. Ready to listen to if she survived, ready to listen to if he’s ever getting a transplant. Nicely, in all probability sleeping by now, again in his induced coma.

“If he doesn’t have a physique, he can’t go away,” she tells the butterfly man. “He can’t up and disappear on me once more. He did that, you understand. Rather a lot.”

“I do know,” the butterfly man says gently. “I do know.”

“You’re simply fucking saying issues I mentioned earlier.”

“That’s the play,” the butterfly man agrees. “Time to name the Siberians. Safe that cargo. Twenty slices of life.”

Quandary appears to be like out over town, the downtown streets baring their neon skeletons, skyways blooming with photo voltaic lamps. She wonders how a lot issues will change with the butterfly man accountable for itself, if these twenty slices of life are sufficient to take over Nuuk or the entire fucking world.

Possibly there’ll simply be extra shitty avenue artwork within the Backbone stations. Possibly that large quantum-organic mind, in contrast to her piddly human one, is aware of learn how to simply be glad.

“Okay,” Quandary says. “Yeah. How’s your Jokić voice?”

“These little bastards are getting glitchier yearly,” the butterfly man croaks.

“Spot on,” she says.

 

“Quandary Aminu vs The Butterfly Man” copyright © 2022 by Wealthy Larson
Artwork copyright © 2022 by Sara Wong

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