Found an old story sitting on the hard drive and decided to give it a hefty revision. There's something I like about it, but also something I really don't. Have a look?
It was exemplary weather for a funeral. Grieving attendees were arrayed around the hole like fidgeting crows while the rain soaked their black coats. The charcoal sky was brooding above them. Denver watched the little mob of smeary faces and dark umbrellas, counting heads. Then he palmed the trunk shut.
“Couldn’t have even worn black.” The admonishment was from Marsill, adjusting himself in a rain-slicked window. Black suit, fraying black scarf, close-cut black hair. Denver’s zipcloak, by contrast, was faded red with a phallus deco pattern. Hardly inconspicuous. He’d picked it for the deep pressure pockets, though, and when his fingers fluttered to the gun they found it still safely cocooned.
“Not my funeral,” he said. “Maybe for mine.”
Marsill laughed and rapped on the passenger door. The last leg of the tripod opened it carefully and swung out of the vehicle. Scotia straightened with the sampling case in hand.
“All ready?” Marsill asked.
She nodded, no words. She was disgusted with this job. It came off her like radiation.
Denver wanted to catch her eye, but they were lubricated and slid right off. “Let’s go,” he said. “Marsill, Scotia, you’re front.”
“Everyone look sad,” Marsill grinned. The three criminals trudged up the hill, tamping wet grass. Slick marble headstones watched their approach. Stiff wind flapped Marsill’s scarf into his face. A handkerchief, torn from some arthritic hand in the crowd, danced toward them. Denver knelt to pick it up, and the soaking cloth clung to his fingers.
“Live fast.” Marsill, in drunken legato. “Live fast with a short fuse, man. Don’t get dentures, you won’t get indentured. These companies, they want your body and soul, you know?” He rubbed his face against the table.
“Woah, not sanitary,” Denver said, leaning clumsily to grab Marsill’s shoulder. “You’ll get a disease off this table.”
Scotia laughed and smiled with chemical-bright eyes. Denver grinned at her, sliding back into his seat. Her skirt was clinging at her long legs, and her teeth looked impossibly white in the wavery light from the bar.
“Not scared,” Marsill said. He shook his head. “We make the viruses now, Denver. We tell them what to do. They carry our mail, man.” Scotia laughed again, and Marsill gave her a sly look. “That Carrier today was a fucking spastic. Think he bled out half our…half of our data when I…”
He pantomimed thrusting a needle.
Scotia stopped laughing.
Denver looked across at her sideways.
“I don’t want to talk about that,” she said. She stared at the table, started looping a guilty circle with her finger.
Marsill snatched at it. “Better money than cracking autosafes,” he said, frowning. “You want to be a slumbitch your whole life?”
She jerked her hand back. “Shut up, Marsill.”
Marsill gave a crack of laughter. Shaking his head, he produced his third from a soft pocket. He bobbed the fold of cash under their eyes. “We’ll roll in this shit,” he said, drunk-serious. “Bloodjackers, us three, we’re a tripod, we’re a perfect tripod, it’s, it’s this…” His gesticulating knocked his glass over, and they never knew what it was. Marsill swore, because his shirt was factory new, and they all laughed and two of them forgot.
Marsill flicked out later with his tousled black head in his arms. Denver ended up with Scotia leaning against him, mumbling in his ear. He ran a hand over her leg and she whispered something he couldn’t hear. He went to kiss her, and found she was already sleeping, breathing on his cheek. He sponged what was left of the spilled rum with a napkin.
“And may his soul rest in eternal peace…” The cleric was bellowing into the wind as the coffin started to sink, triggering a fresh wave of sobs. Denver had worked gently to the front. Now he stepped forward and jammed his foot onto the pedal. Metal screeched and a hush fell. Denver checked to be sure Marsill was circulating, ready to grab phones and necks, as he raised his gloved hand.
“This burial is being postponed,” he announced. He gave the gears a sharp tug and the coffin heaved back up with a rattle and clank. Someone shrieked in the crowd. Denver’s hand slipped to his pocket. An old man stumbled forward, clutching an umbrella and shouting about desecration.
The sound of the gun ripped open the chilly wet air and the bullet itself gouged a deep hole in the ground, spraying clods of damp earth over the stunned man. His umbrella fell stiffly to the grass.
“There will be no theatrics,” Denver added. He waved the pistol slowly in the air. “Give us room to work, and we’ll be done shortly. Thank you.” Marsill tried to grin at him, halfway through shaking down a young woman for her mobile, but Denver looked down at Scotia instead as she keyed the lid.
The body was immaculate. Denver had seen just enough bodies to know that the coroner had done superb work. The dead Carrier looked like an angel, asleep. He felt bad when the rain started to splash across his face, liquid explosions plastering his perfect hair and puddling in the hollow of his neck. Scotia fidgeted beside him, pulling a scanner from her jacket.
“This is him?” Denver asked. Pointless. The scanner blinked green.
“Yes.” Scotia had shaky hands opening the sampling case. Someone saw the case, started wailing. He glanced up and crooked a finger to Marsill, who set off to quell it. His mouth was set in a lopsided slash that Denver knew was lashing down a smile. He was better at that part, the physical part. He had always enjoyed it.
“Be careful,” Denver’s mouth said. Pointless again. He sounded like Marsill. Scotia didn’t look at him, but her shoulder blades were high and angry. She’d been angry for a long time.
Marsill had by now herded the watchers away from the grave, but Denver still stood up to block their view while Scotia assembled the syringe. Then they turned the Carrier onto his side. Rolling in his grave, Denver thought. Scotia found the crest of his hip and sank the needle down, down, down, plunging through matte skin and stealing into the bone marrow.
Then she drew it up, the genetic material that was worth some twelve thousand euros to an anonymous third party. It was thick, a sludge of pale red and greasy yellow, filled with the secrets that had been swimming in the Carrier’s blood when he expired. Scotia handed it to him stiffly, and Denver nodded.
Then he looked up to see Marsill burst into flame. His arms and torso were white-hot glue, he was screaming and diving to the grass and the attendees were shrieking all at once. Couldn’t process it, what had happened, how was…
“Good work yesterday,” Denver said, clipped as he set down the sampling case.
“We’re blazing,” Marsill grinned. “Four jobs in a row, that’s a hot streak.” He leered at Scotia, who gave him a bitter kind of smile. Denver wondered for a moment, irrationally, if they were fucking. She hardly talked to Marsill anymore. But then again, she only really talked to Denver when they were plunged on amphetamines, long, rambling talks broken up only by the periodic hallucinations.
Marsill buzzed, and he pulled an expensive mobile out of his jacket. It was newly acquired. So was the jacket. He made an apologetic wave with his free hand and slipped away into the kitchen, leaving Scotia and Denver at the window.
“We shouldn’t do this anymore,” Scotia said.
“No?” he asked stupidly. He had forgotten how to talk to her.
“You killed him, yesterday.” She took a rattling breath. “Maybe the one before that, too.”
Denver felt the heavy pistol pressing in his pocket. “He wasn’t dead when we left,” he started, “And there was an ambulance…”
“He’s dead now, and you don’t have to look in a fucking anatomy book to know you killed him,” Scotia snapped.
Denver looked out the window. “There won’t be many more of those,” he said slowly. “The corporations are starting to wire all their Carriers now. No more live extractions.”
“You think the alternative is better, huh?”
Denver had no answer for that, and then suddenly Scotia was pressed against him, smelling like lemon. “Please,” she said. “Let’s stop.”
Denver said nothing, and Marsill walked back into the room.
“Blazing,” he repeated. “We’re…on fire right now.”
He writhed in the wet grass but the flame clung, smoking and sputtering. Denver dropped the syringe and fell onto him, batting at him with his sleeves, the fire was burning his coat, scorching holes in his chest, but it wouldn’t die and Marsill was howling now—
Denver saw the dropped umbrella, now filled with rainwater, and seized it. Sloshed it. There was a hissing and steam roiled against his eyes. Marsill went still, the flame extinguished, and Denver coughed on the hot vapor.
“He said you might come for him.” Shaky voice, male. Denver craned his spinning head, focused on a figure with a crude thrower cradled in his hands. The mourners were fleeing in all directions. Scotia was still immobile, crouched by the Carrier’s body.
“He talked about it,” the man said. “You won’t leave him alone with your damn needles. Not even when he’s dead?”
Denver looked back at Marsill. Breathing, but barely. The job had jumped. This was out of control. This was no man’s land. “I don’t decide who we harvest,” he said. He didn’t think he was saying it out loud, but the words tumbled out into cold air.
The man gave a wavery laugh. “He spent his whole life with your injections and your trials and your damn, your damn prototypes. That’s what killed him, all the shit he had in his veins, all your fake viruses and inoculations and…”
Marsill was in shock, bleached white face, his lips had gone dark. The gun was webbed up in Denver’s pocket, familiar ballast. The man still hadn’t seen Scotia, or at least he hadn’t registered her. She was being very still.
“We aren’t working for them,” Denver said. “The company he carried for.”
“No difference!” the man grated. “No difference. You want whatever you can salvage. He told me someone might come. They had him testing a bioweapon, he told me someone might come sniffing for it, go rifling through his blood again. Your boss wants to know what his competition was writing. It’s all about your damn business. He hated it.”
Denver’s hand sank. He thought of Scotia’s angry shoulders.
“It made him sick, all the time,” the man continued. “He was never well. He Carried so we could get a half-decent meal.” He pointed the thrower at Denver, first his face, then down to the prone body in the ground.
“Don’t!” Scotia’s cry whipped him around. The gun flung into Denver’s hand and he snapped his arm rigid, feeling the shot out into the man’s chest, but somehow clipped the harness instead and the chemicals inside unfurled like a star going nova.
Flames raced up towards dumbstruck eyes. The man made three desperate steps and flung himself onto the open coffin. Denver raced after and fired into the base of his skull. Bone splintered up at him, then blackened in the flames. The man went limp.
“My God,” Scotia said. She was clawing at Denver with her wide eyes.
Denver picked up the fallen vial. The liquid bobbed inside, swirling red. He thumbed off the cap, and, on impulse, poured it out into the rain.