Incarnations IV:








Violence: Yes, graphic. Please do not read if this is likely to disturb you.

Sex: Briefly explicit


Feed the Bard:


Feed the Bard:

Incarnations I: The Chosen Road

Incarnations II: The Garden

Incarnations III: Vortices

I look into the mirror. Bloodshot blue eyes stare back at me. I tie back my long black hair, then turn on the tap, lean over the basin and splash water on my face.

Over the sound of the water I almost don't hear the quiet tread behind me. I turn just in time, trying to hurl myself sideways. The concussion of the shot is loud. Heat cuts across my cheekbone - the bullet has grazed me but I know it's not serious. The glass of the mirror shatters.

He was intending on shooting me multiple times so I have only a split second before the second bullet is fired. I kick hard. My heel connects with his kneecap, making his leg buckle, making him lose his balance. He gets the second shot off anyway. I'm lucky that it only cuts across the side of my shoulder.

Then I'm on him and the gun is in my grasp. We grapple. I don't try to take it from him but send it flying across the room. He manages to push me off and we come to our feet at the same moment.

Anger flares in me. I've had enough of WetTech and their hit-men and mercenaries. Of their uncaring tests on people who sell their bodies just for a meal. I've had enough of the way they drive areas of the cities into poverty just to make people desperate and easily used. Not that I care all that much - I'm hardly an avenging angel. More a relentless killer that just happens to take on people who thoroughly deserve it. I make a decent enough living out of it. And I wouldn't want to stop. I know I'm addicted to the fighting and the killing. What worries me more is that I'm beginning to like the pain.

Blows are exchanged but we parry them. He's a very big man in a business suit but his shoes are designed to grip the floor. He's fast and his weight and height are advantages. Though I'm a tall woman and powerful I guess I weigh barely half as much as him. I know he's been well-trained. It's likely that he's been fitted with wetware that enhances his reflexes and protein binders to increase his strength and speed.

But I'm better. I grab his wrist as he swings at me, use his momentum and my strength to throw him past. He slams hard into the remaining intact mirror, head-first. It shatters. As he turns he swings a heavy fist backhand at me and I barely avoid it. Blood pours now from a cut over the side of his forehead. Skin flaps loose. He's angry now, and it makes me smile cruelly.

Two exchanged punches, a side-kick, and I catch him at the base of his ribs. I feel the crunch of snapping bone, the grunt of pain as the air leaves him. Even as he falls back against the sink I kick down on his forearm and it breaks.

He charges me then. He has realised he cannot beat me with blows but thinks his weight and strength might save his life. He knows I'll kill him if he fails to kill me.

I turn and we struggle but he can't use his broken arm properly. Pulling him around me I throw him straight through the door of a stall. He falls to his knees over the toilet. I twist his good arm behind him, then pull and feel it dislocate. He groans, hurting and puffing and bleeding, surprised that I beat him, still not quite believing it. There are so many like him, arrogant to the point that they cannot conceive of being bested.

I do not care if he realises the truth of himself or of me. I merely put my hand on the back of his head, pull again on the dislocated arm, then slam his head down three times on the white porcelain edge of the toilet. The first blow cracks his skull, the second caves it in. The third is just because I'm angry.

I step back, staring for a moment at the dead man. His head is over the toilet bowl. The water is red with blood. More blood drips down the white porcelain and pools on the floor.

I return to the sink and wash my hands. Though my knuckles are calloused, one of them is split. I want to check the wound in my shoulder. Though I know it's not serious, it is still bleeding. It'll have to wait.

I walk out of the restroom and across the diner. Half of the customers have fled, no doubt reacting to the shots. A few are hiding and I'm sure the police have been called.

I ignore them, push through the doors and walk to my armoured van. I climb in, start the powerful engine and head out at speed.

The streets flash by under the hot sun of late afternoon. I pay little attention to the houses, businesses and parks. This is an affluent area. But it is not long before I pass the city divide and enter a large district of slums, old tenements and the suburbs of the desperate. It is remarkable how clear the division is. I've sometimes wondered what law the police are following that allows them to arrest people who cross the divide in the other direction - anyone without the relevant papers who goes from poor area to rich. There's no fence or wall of course. The police actually prefer to have more people attempt the crossing. That way they can claim that a crime has been committed. Then they can do whatever they like with the wretch that has now become their victim.

For a while I think I'm being followed. Scopes on the dashboard tell me there are two fliers behind me, but they peel off before long. That makes me wonder. Is it possible that I'm being used somehow, that the police or some other group are deliberately letting me go? I don't know. I do know that my mind spins paranoid webs faster than I can really follow.

I drive down into the familiar underground garage. I lock the van and activate the electrical detonators. Anyone who attempts to break into it will now be electrocuted. If they find a way around that security measure, they'll be electrocuted anyway the moment they climb inside - unless they happen to have my head with them so that the scanner can recognise it and my DNA. In truth I don't value the truck in itself but having such a vehicle is essential in my line of work.

I take the elevator to the eighth floor and let myself into the old workshop that is now my home. It has iron pillars from floor to ceiling, industrial windows divided into small square panes, unvarnished planking on the floor, and white walls. I actually painted them, because I didn't like the oil stains that coated the bare concrete when I chose the place.

I discard my clothes and take a quick shower. It relaxes me until I have a flashback of the previous night. I was in a bar, and I so vividly remember the feeling of my fist pounding the face of the bastard who was using those cyberkids. I let him watch me take out his bodyguards first. Then I beat him to death, but before he died asked him how it felt to know just a little of how his victims felt. I don't know why I bothered. He just spat blood as his head hung limp, obviously still full of hate, convinced of his superiority, convinced that using those kids was his right, that he was entitled to hurt anyone in any way he wanted, convinced that everything was my fault. He'd lost three of his teeth by then. When I slammed his face into the corner of the bar it must have destroyed his vision in one eye. I think I might have got through to him then, but instead I just hit him again and drove his head so far back that his neck broke. His heart stopped before he hit the ground.

I dismiss the images. I finish soaping my body and shampooing my hair. The wound in my shoulder stings but only a little blood runs from it. I stand under the running water for a while.

At length I towel myself dry. I place butterfly plasters and a pad of soft cotton over the cut in my shoulder. Perhaps I should have put stitches in but it is not serious. Then I go to the bed that is in a corner of the large space behind an L-shaped wall. There is no line of sight through any windows to where I sleep.

It's not late - it's still three hours to sunset. But I was up all last night, and I have a few hours before I need to be at a meeting with the fixer who'll pay me for taking out the bastard at the bar. It wasn't much of a job. I'd rather be going after the faceless men and women who run WetTech and NeuroComm and the Schwarz-Geist. I'd rather be going after the assholes that call what they're doing running the country, but I don't know how to get close. I'm good, but I don't have their resources or protections.

I slide between cool cotton sheets and stare up at the reflected sunlight on the ceiling. Then I close my eyes and squeeze my breasts and slide a hand down between my legs, let my fingers explore. I imagine a woman whose face I cannot see, but I know that she is beautiful. I see her breasts above me. After a while she turns and lowers herself down on me and I bury my face in the slick, delicate folds between her legs, taste her and breathe in her scent. My fingers do their work and I ride the explosions. Unbidden images of her abusing me fill my mind.

Eventually I am spent. A light sheen of sweat dampens my flushed skin. I've thrown back the covers and lie still now in the heat.

The sunlight and shadows shift slowly. I'm not sure I will be able to sleep but I close my eyes and deepen and slow my breathing.


Three days pass. I'm closer to understanding WetTech's corporate structure but the knowledge isn't encouraging. I've also been put on retainer to take out a family that lives in a country mansion upstate. I said I'd take the job but I'll do my own checking first. No way am I going to start killing innocents or children. Of course, they may only barely be human.

I take a new route to one of my weapons caches. I'm not in a hurry and the errand could wait. I want to replace some spent ammunition, but in reality I'm only doing it because I'm restless. I had a workout this morning, including a hundred presses of more than four times my own weight and two hours of other high-intensity exercises, but it's done little to slow me down. Perhaps I'll drive around and pick a fight with some gangbangers if I happen to find any hurting other people - which shouldn't be too hard. A sneer touches my lips and I feel a sudden welling of self-loathing as I consider the ridiculousness of my moral compass.

On the way I stop at a convenience store. I walk around it, choose some bread and cheese and select some vegetables that I'll fry for my evening meal. I take a packet of rice and some frozen fish and chicken. A few packets of tea too - I don't drink coffee.

As I go round the store I'm barely aware of what I'm doing. For some reason I'm thinking about my family - which is rare for me to do. They live on the other side of the country. It's difficult to think of them or their homestead without an intense awareness of what they put me through. I wonder if any of them are dead now. I never really wanted to go over there and confront them. That would have meant they still had a psychological hold over me. When I was much younger I often fantasised about killing them all or becoming strong enough to take over. But I realised soon enough that it wasn't worth it. I don't think about them much at all any more, except when I consider why I am like I am - a reaction against them in many ways.

When I near the counter and look up, my gaze comes to rest upon the young woman standing by the cash register.

I stop. I don't know why I stop. Except that something deep within me must have made me do so. Something about her makes me feel very surprised, though I'm not sure if there is anything obviously surprising about her.

She looks back at me and there is a curious calmness about her. I think that many people might not notice her, might see her just as another quiet, helpful, nameless, insignificant cashier. It is almost as if her manner cloaks the reality of her appearance. I suppose her clothes do not help - the apron she wears with large blue and white checks, the simple white blouse that has seen better days, the skirt that hides her shape. Yet I feel that by peering through the mist of ordinariness that surrounds her I may see something truly amazing underneath.

And in truth there is nothing ordinary at all about her. Her eyes are green, gentle and kind, her regard soft and open. Her eyes are also full of the naïve light of hope and youth. Her hair is blonde and cut quite short. I'm guessing she's in her early twenties, and her open face appears quite unmarked by life. She is very pretty, with a loveliness that is not a classic kind of beauty but all the more appealing for it. For some reason I am suddenly aware that I am about thirty-two years old - I'm not exactly sure. So that would make her maybe ten years younger than me, I think. Then I dismiss the thought. A slight smile touches my face, a moment of amusement at my odd fascination with her. I admit that I find her desirable and . . . more. I feel as if something in her calls to me.

And then I realise that she is staring at me with great interest too, though that is not unusual. I am aware that I look rather striking in some ways and more than a bit intimidating at times. Still, her regard seems to see something else.

I step across to her and begin to unload the shopping basket onto the counter. As I do so she takes the items and passes them before the scanner.

When I look up I see that she has been watching me closely. She glances quickly away and I can see the hint of a blush creeping up her neck and touching her cheeks. For a moment I am slightly saddened, thinking she is embarrassed to have been caught staring at the scar down my cheek and the fierceness of my appearance. Then I see a slight smile tug at her lips and realise that her reaction to me was not a grotesque fascination but a genuine interest. I suspect she is slightly amused at herself as well.

I think she looks charming. I wonder if her interest in me is some kind of attraction. I wonder what she thinks of the danger I might represent and suddenly feel slightly ashamed. Given the location of the store and my appearance, maybe she guesses that I'm someone who lives on both sides of the divide.

She tells me what I owe and I pay cash. 'Thank you,' she says, and looks into my eyes and smiles.


I have a dream that night, which is nothing unusual. I have dreams almost every night and can usually remember them, which in most cases is less than pleasant. In this one I'm on the run and I can't shake my pursuers. They're all around me no matter what I do, heading me off. Then I duck into the convenience store where she works, though I'm reluctant to because I don't want to put her in danger. Long seconds pass and I expect those who are chasing me to come crashing in after me, shots blasting, weapons swinging. But there's nothing. No sound, no sense of menace. The slanting sunlight through the front windows is cool and pleasant. There is a distinct sense of peace about the place and she is at the centre of it. She is wearing the same clothes I saw her in earlier. She was in the process of stacking some cans in an imaginative way when I burst in. Now she just stands straight and watches me. There's a calmness about her, within her, radiating from her. She smiles gently and I know that I am safe.


Two days later I'm in the back of a warehouse beyond the north bank of the river. I came here expecting to find the chipping of unwilling subjects. Instead the place turns out to be an old-fashioned slave prison, where the slaves - young women mostly, and some men for manual labour that'll kill them soon enough - are kept before being shipped to wherever they're going. I've killed three guards and I'm tempted to try to take out the rest and just break everyone out. But security is onto me, well-trained mercenaries I suspect, and I don't know the layout of this place. If I take them on I know that it won't stop until either they're all dead or I'm dead, or worse. So I leave, and am able to get away.

I call the police through the identification of a lesser city official that they should take seriously. Then I drive my van to a spot that seems good, and watch and wait for the investigating enforcers to show up. I don't expect more than one car at first, just to authenticate the nature of my call.

No car shows up. But five or more fliers appear overhead, and my van's scopes tell me they're sweeping the area around the warehouse on a certain frequency - the one I used to make the call. I turn off my comm and drive. The police obviously aren't interested in the slaves, only in finding me.

I change channels, turn the comm back on and scramble its frequency even as I head out of there. I put in a call to the city official whose identification I used, thinking I might have time to warn him. I'm told there's been an accident and I know he's already dead. I'm damned glad I kept my distance from the warehouse and the van undercover until the wave of fliers had passed.


That night I meet a contact in an old park where tech-junkies swap chips and giggle and twitch. I'm trying to find out how the hell I ended up with such bad information about the warehouse.

'You need to take care of that family upstate,' he tells me while staring straight ahead. He's blind but he has implants that reveal to him the proximity of objects. His face is pale and his head is bald. He wears a cheap black suit.

I am not entirely surprised by his statement. I don't know whether he has sold me out or is being threatened himself. I turn and walk away.

Back at the van, I make a decision. I did some checking on the family earlier. The records I accessed suggested they were exactly what I might be most motivated to eliminate: hateful people using people's lives and suffering for profit. But I don't really believe it. It seems more likely that the records were just planted for me to find. I may be wrong. Of course, I also wonder who is setting me up and why they want the family dead.

I drive for six hours, heading to the family's country mansion. The sun rises as I wait outside its immense grounds. The house is extraordinary, with light architecture and huge windows. There's wild forest beyond the walls of the estate. It's a beautiful place.

I do the briefest surveillance. I barely even consider breaking in and trying to learn more about the man and woman - and everyone else there - that I'm supposed to kill. Whoever wants these people dead is keeping their distance from them. I am fairly sure the family has no idea they're in danger.

So at half past eight I just drive up to the gate, press the buzzer, and tell the maid who answers that I have a delivery for the wife. I expect someone to come down to meet me and challenge me, but instead the gate swings open and I drive up the sweeping way to the large open area in front of the house.

The maid meets me at the front door. I notice a security camera and I'm sure there's a guard or two just out of sight. I give the maid a respectful nod and smile and tell her I need to speak to everyone there, including the guards. I tell her everyone here is in danger. I'm unarmed but hell, if I'm wrong and these people really are bastards, I can always change my approach in a moment.

She asks me to wait and closes the door. A couple of minutes later it opens again and one of the guards asks me to come in. He is polite but wary. He ushers me through an airy lobby to a large living room. A distinguished, middle-aged gentleman stands in the centre, watching me as I enter.

'Tell me what it is you have to say,' he says.

I tell him what I know, which is little enough. When he bids me goodbye, he thanks me and assures me he will take the necessary steps to protect his family.

I leave and head back to the city.


It is late in the afternoon when I get back to the metropolis. I'm tired but I am glad of what I've done. There's more to do though, and I think I should do it before dawn tomorrow. Some suitably placed explosives at the back of the warehouse, some well-timed diversions and feints, followed by an assault from the other side . . . Maybe I'll succeed. The place is going to be guarded like a fortress. They'll have far more security than the last time I was there. But I have a chance. If I make it out of there, I'm leaving the city. If I fail, I hope I'll be dead.

Right now I just need some peace.

I have taken a route that will take me past the convenience store. Soon enough it comes into view and I pull over to one side of it. There's no one there when I enter the place, but the bell over the door rings and a few moments later she comes out from the back. She stops as soon as she sees me.

We stare at each other for a few seconds. I'm surprised and pleased that a small smile touches her lips, though I'm not sure quite what it signifies. I'm not sure why she is seemingly so struck by my presence either. I take the few steps towards her as she makes her way behind the counter.

'Hi,' she says, just as I open my mouth to speak.

'Hi,' I reply. 'I'm in urgent need of a large pot of tea and something to eat. I don't really care what.' I'm surprised that I said that. Perhaps it's just that, if only in this small thing, I want someone else to make a decision for me, as if helping me or relieving me of some tiny responsibility.

'How hungry are you? Something hot?' She looks at me and does not wait for a response. That smile, rather shy this time, returns. Her green eyes have such a curious light to them, a gentleness such that just her regard seems to take away much of the tension in me. 'I'll do what I can,' she says, and I am very grateful.

I sit down on a plastic chair at one of the two small plastic tables near the front of the store. I don't like being so close to the windows but I manage to ignore what would usually cause me anxiety.

After a couple of minutes she comes out carrying a tray. Standing beside me, she sets down a metal pot of tea, a large mug, a pint of milk and a packet of narrow breadsticks. 'It'll take me a few minutes to prepare the rest,' she says. Her voice has such a pleasant timbre. She reaches out as if to touch my forearm, but stops herself.

'Thank you,' I say.

'You are very tired.'

I'm surprised she has said this. Everything about her surprises me. I nod. 'Yes. Didn't get any sleep last night.' Then I see that she winces as she straightens up. I can't see anything wrong with her but I can identify where the pain is hurting her. 'Your back,' I say. 'Your arm.' I look up into her face, concerned. And I am concerned, in a way that feels more real than anything I have felt in a long time. She seems so gentle, so open, so caring, so damned genuine.

She bites her lip, looks ashamed. 'I -'

I can tell she doesn't want to lie but feels compelled not to tell the truth. I'm not sure if she is simply frightened or if she has some kind of misguided loyalty. 'Who hurt you?' I ask.

At my words her expression reveals hurt and confusion. She is shocked that I can guess so much so fast, when her injuries aren't even visible. She averts her gaze. 'The family I'm staying with. They all hurt me.' When she speaks again, it is so softly that I can barely hear her. 'I'm a slave,' she says. She touches the high collar of her blouse and I guess that she is wearing a control collar beneath it.

I reach up and touch her on her good arm. I am amazed when she leans into me slightly. I feel the softness and warmth of her under the cloth of her blouse. Then she moves away a fraction, as if she has suddenly realised that she was unconsciously taking comfort from me and now feels self-conscious.

I would prefer her to lean against me. I realise that I would like to hold her close and comfort her.

When she looks at me again her expression changes, sorrow and humiliation shifting into curiosity and perhaps relief. I think she sees that I could never judge her. Perhaps she sees that my gaze is warm and gentle - at least that's how I feel, though I don't know how it looks. Perhaps I'm not actually capable of looking warm or gentle.

I suspect the injuries are burns though I cannot be sure. 'How long?' I ask.

'Just over a year,' she says. 'They promised me they'd free me after a year, but only made the promise so that it would hurt me more when I found out they have no intention of freeing me. I hope they won't play with me tonight. I guess that they can't hurt me too badly or I won't be able to work.' Her hope is so touching, such a small thing against the darkness that is her life, but the nature of what she hopes against appals me. She looks at me as if to ask me why I want to know, but I say nothing.

I'm not sure what to do. If I take out her owners and manage to get her to a place where I can have her control collar removed without it killing her, at least she'll have a chance of freedom. Not a good one - if she gets caught she'll just be killed and thrown into the rubbish by the enforcers. I could protect her, but I don't want to give her false hopes. I have to survive the attack on the warehouse first - I just can't leave so many people like that.

I am startled by my sudden desire to survive the coming night. Something wells up from within me and I realise that I want to put her first, before even those hundreds in the warehouse.

I'm damn well going to try to do it all. But I can't decide for her, can't put her in such danger without at least asking her if that is what she wants.

'I'll get your food,' she says, and nods to me in a friendly way and then walks through to the back.

Soon enough she returns carrying plates heaped with steaming and fragrant food. As she sets them down on the table I say: 'Will you sit with me for a little while?'

She seems amazed and delighted that I have asked. But she is hesitant. 'I'd like to,' she says. 'Very much,' she says more softly. 'But I'd rather just stand here if you want company. I don't want to appear like I'm not working in case anyone comes in and sees me.'

'I understand.' After a moment I say: 'Would you wish to be set free? The collar removed from your neck? Even with no safety, no one to protect you, the police and enforcers after you?'

She is clearly shocked by my directness. 'Yes,' she says almost without hesitation, and I hear a note of bitter determination in her voice. She bites her lip and says: 'I was . . . thinking of taking my own life.' There are tears in her eyes and her voice is full of grief.

'Where are your owners?' I ask.

'There are three of them. They will be back in an hour or so.'

'Then I'll wait.'

As I drink tea and eat the good food that she has prepared, she stands with me, watching me. I can see the desperate hope in her, the near disbelief, and dread. But she does not question, does not give voice to her fear.

Sometimes as I eat we find ourselves glancing at each other - I find it difficult not to just stare at her. I wonder at the fierce pull she exerts upon me, the curious attraction I feel. It is not just her looks, though to my perceptions she is beyond beautiful. It is something else, something that seems to go much deeper. As if I have known her from another time and she is everything to me, though the memories escape me.

She also has another effect upon me. Usually I am driven, restless, unable to stay in one place, unable to find peace even when I have time to do so. It exhausts me. Yet with her next to me, just being there and doing nothing else at all, I feel a sense of profound quietness. I am filled with calm and wondering emotion. In her presence I am happy just to stay still.

I sip from my final cup of tea after I finish eating. Just as I drain the last of the mug, a pickup truck slows as it passes the storefront. I am aware of her tensing beside me, aware of the fear that she is so determined to keep under control. I watch and listen as the truck pulls into a small garage to one side of the building.

Her owners are here. I am aware of how they can, at a whim, trigger her control collar to inflict terrible pain upon her. Cold fury wells up within me when I think of the times they must have activated it to hurt her. Taking away their ability to control her will be the first thing I do.

And then . . .

When her owners are bleeding at my feet, I wonder if she will want me to kill them. I will not ask her - I do not want to put that burden upon her. I suspect she will just want to leave them behind.

I hear the opening and closing of doors, and footsteps. I stand up and step around her to confront those who are coming. I glance back and indicate that she should stay out of sight. Then I walk towards the counter and the doors to the back.

This first. Then I'll take her to a place where the control collar can be removed and find her a safe place for the night. Afterwards I'll head out to the warehouse.

I am damned well going to make sure that I am still alive tomorrow. Perhaps then we may set out from here together, to go far away, heading for new places and better lives.

And mostly I wonder: will she want to stay with me?



The End


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