City of Flowers
When Alex arrives at the scene of the crime, the worst is already over. Tiergarten, Fontanelle’s largest and only Blumen institution, lies in a crumbling heap of dust and stone and bodies. The enforcers have already barricaded the area off with bright police tape, but it only takes a flash of Alex's company phone for her to acquire entry.
She picks up a fist-sized slab of concrete and turns it over in her palm, noting the fine, white residue that it leaves. Further ahead, she sees blood stains that have not yet dried. The destruction is recent.
Alex drops the slab back into the rubble. She does not count the bodies as she leaps from slab to slab, because she knows that she will lose count. There are many bodies, but she only needs to identify one of them.
No, scratch that. It would be preferable if Alex could identify none of them instead.
"You probably won't find what's-her-face in this pile up."
Alex does not turn to greet the voice. She nudges over another cut of concrete with her foot instead. "I thought you said that you'd die if you went outside, Jackson."
A nervous laugh. "Heh, yeah. But people tend to go on dates outside, not through computer screens, so I'm kinda trying out this whole outside thing. Girls dig it when you go outside." Then, a salient pause, followed by a quiet, "I'm also on my lunch break."
"Very funny. If you can stomach all of this gore, help me look for a blue cardigan."
"I've been watching leaks of people getting their brains blown out by cannons since I was ten, Alex. Ten! This is nothing."
This isn't really something to brag about, but Alex hasn't had the best childhood either. Why anyone would subject themselves voluntarily to abject horrors is beyond her.
And then she sees it. Squashed between the remains of what Alex assumes to be a door and the ground are a pair of scratched prosthetic legs, cut from the thigh down. They are similar to Alex's own, except they have been sprayed with a coat of lustrous silver.
Jackson sees it too. "Hey, isn't that the goon you fought back in the Blackveil? The one you keep running into?"
"No." Alex grits her teeth. "Couldn't be. How many hirehands in this country have silver Cirsium, Jackson? It's a popular colour."
He leans closer towards the body, pinching his nose. He tugs on a scrap of material that is lodged underneath the door—it is white and thick, like a sheep’s coat. "And how many silver footed hirehands wear comically woolly overcoats?"
Further investigation reveals strands of curled, brown hair and pieces of mirrored sunglasses. Jackson is right—Alex knows this woman.
She remains silent as she kicks aside another blood splattered block to reveal the remains of someone's hand. The skin has purpled, and the fingers are swollen. But what arrests her attention the most is a smear of dark green that is next to the hand, and if she scrutinizes it—
Alex curses and yanks the hand free from the debris, and her worst fears are confirmed. She's holding onto an entire arm, and though the blood has stained the fabric red and the material is crusty she recognises that she is holding what remains of the girl's blue cardigan; the sleeve.
She drops it quickly.
"You okay there, Alex?" Jackson makes his way over, hopping clumsily from block to block. "I heard—oh. Is that a… blue cardigan? Uh oh."
"There's no body." Alex wipes her bloody fingers on a nearby rock. "Just an arm. She's still out there."
"Didn't expect the Hare to get spooked by a loose limb."
She presses her lips together, and Jackson falls sheepishly silent.
"See the green smear on the side? Biological material. No corp was behind all of this—" she fans her arm around at the destruction, the carnage, "—because a Blumen did it. It—did this. Killed everything."
"They build these things specifically to hold the freaks, Alex. It couldn't've just broken out like that."
"Then you tell me what's happened here. Because that’s exactly what happened, no going around it."
Jackson sucks a breath through his teeth. "I was coping. I was hoping you were wrong about the Blumen."
Swallowing a bubble of air, Alex turns back towards the arm. "Did the Blumen try to attack her too? Or…?"
"Doubt it. You found the hand caught under the rubble. Our girl was trapped—she needed to escape." Jackson folds his arms over his chest. "So she let the Blumen cut off her arm. That explains the smear as well. Don't know how she managed to convince one of those freaks to help her, but she did it."
Alex steps over the bloodied slab, observes its surroundings. "She'd leave a trail of blood. Where'd she go?"
But the surrounding concrete remains alabaster white, its faces smooth and featureless. Jackson cradles his chin in the palm of his hand.
"Well… she wasn't bleeding. Which is a problem, because people do tend to bleed when you delimb them."
"Do you see any heat sources?"
They stare at the broken exhibits for a while. Finally, Alex breaks the silence. "We're getting ahead of ourselves. Where would a naive fugitive go if she was being hunted?"
"Not that naive."
"She's smarter than that, Jackson." She's a uni student in Fontanelle, do you know how hard it is to get into one of those? Alex thinks about adding, but she keeps her lips tightly pursed.
"You're really making little ol' Jax here work overtime, huh?" A snort. "Fine. I'd probably leave the city. But not through the airport—or the tram station, where you have to immigrate officially with all of those official documents and jazz. I'd want to sneak out, maybe blend in with some other fugitives. Hell, they don't even have to be fugitives. Just people who prefer not to fit in."
There's only one place like that around here.
Alex turns her line of sight towards the horizon; there, a slate wall rises in a gap between two glass towers, kilometres tall and kilometres wide. Though she cannot see it, she knows what lies inside—an ever-expanding train of cobbled-together technology from the Age of Metal, each vehicle functioning through battery and electricity rather than sun and nutrients, all yearning to see the light of day on the other side of that wall.
Where the Tongues-Settlements preside.