Friday, April 20, 2018


Bobby Derie

Wherever there is sufficient demand, a supply emerges. Get a few clients and suppliers together and you have a market. If the demand or supply is sufficiently strange, it becomes an underground - a shadowy demimonde of a few names and faces, a culture of its own that evolves languages and practices suited to it. Most folks think of underground markets for drugs, gun, terrible pornography. The weird underground deals in less tangible assets. More terrible hungers.

Detective Jack Bastard hadn't dealt much with the weird underground. Most of it wasn't strictly illegal, but only because it was so far off the map that lawmakers had never passed any laws against it - not in this century, at least. Still, cops tend to make people nervous. So he turned to one of his CIs.

Gregor was at the third bar Jack tried. If it ever had a name, he'd never learned it. At some point in its life, it had been a book store. Then they'd added a coffee shop. Then the coffee shop had begun to sell booze on the side - patrons sipping out of paper bags, reading old library discards. It attracted the type of quiet intellectual that liked to feed multiple addictions at once. Like Gregor.

He didn't look well, though Jack had never known him to look particularly healthy. Skin always looked a few sizes too big, shrunken folds of flesh piling up in odd corners of his anatomy. He had on the same grimy trenchcoat that Jack had last seen him in, weeks ago. The detective wondered if he slept in it. Jack let his knuckles brush the table, just to let Gregor know he was there. Or maybe to see if whatever was wearing the Gregor-suit would scurry away, that pale flesh deflating like a balloon...

Gregor looked up from his copy of Kafka. His smile made Jack's mouth crawl. The gums were brown. Something behind those yellow fangs wriggled.

"Detective," he said. "What brings you here?"

"I need an ear to the ground."

"Of course, of course..." He motioned at the chair opposite on the small table, and Jack sat his ass down. Gregor's copy of Kafka rested between them.

If you didn't know what it was, you might not have guessed. The original 1915 edition of the Metamorphosis had itself metamorphosed into a bulging, uneven tome, bound and rebound by Gregor's own additions, interpolations. Jack had caught a couple glimpses at the contents once. Glossy magazine cut-outs of The Fly and Mark Hamill's character from Guyver. Illustrated pages from at least a dozen editions of Kafka's story, in as many languages. Scrawled marginalia, executed with all the artistry and effort of a medieval illuminated manuscript: crawling cockroaches picked out in brown and green. There was, he suspected, more. Gregor was the type. Densely coded symbols and messages only he could decipher.

Jack wondered what the man had been like, before he got religion. Before everyone called him Gregor.

"Someone is...collecting. Body modifications. There have been attacks. No one's dead, yet. Surgical work is crude, rushed, but serviceable."

Gregor sighed, running a hand over his bible.

"Transhumanist, probably. I know the feeling. Wanting to complete yourself. That was always the funny thing about the Metamorphoses. Samsa regarded his transformation with such horror...when there are those who would so much have embraced it. To become what they have always truly known themselves to be." The fingers traced a strange spiraling pattern on the cover. "Competition can get fierce. Only so many resources to go around. Patience wears thin. That's when...folks can try to steal a march. Cannibalize the fruits of others' efforts. The quick and easy path to ascendance. A terrible, false path. When men and women that would be gods become demons, preying on each other. Bad for the community. Bad for the soul."

Little antennae were peeking out from the cuff of Gregor's sleeve, where it laid on the table. Jack tried not to notice, focused on the man's face, eyes wide and bloodshot.

"I'll make a few inquiries. And you'll keep to our deal?"

"No stepping on roaches." Jack said with a nod. "Although its hard sometimes, out on the sidewalks."

"I know," Gregor sighed. "But we appreciate the effort."


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