“Reports of kids breaking into this building after hours. When the boss heard ‘college,’ he assumed it meant drugs and poof — he put us on the job.”
“Aren’t schools supposed to have their own security guards?” I asked as Hardwick’s fingers clutched the handle of a metal door. The last place we had to check before we could run back through cold winds into the heated car. “Tell me it’s good in there?”
His fist stayed on the handle long after he pushed the door open. Whatever he saw caused him to jolt his head down so quickly that his chin smashed into his chest, making a crack. “Shit. Fuck. Shit,” he sputtered out, alternating the curses until he could think of a few new ones to add to the list.
I grabbed my gun from my belt, keeping it aimed at the doorway until I realized that no horror movie props would be bursting through, no AK would fire bullets into my white uniform.
I stepped toward Hardwick, whose entire body shook with the intensity of a cokehead in withdrawal. I went to nudge him with the barrel to snap him out of it, but then I saw what he saw.
Three dead. All in the same way his wife went out.
Rows of computers filled the room, but the students’ bodies (two male, one female) sat one next to the other. Hardwick refused to release the handle while I walked behind the corpses, paying special attention to the woman.
Just like the others, her left wrist had two deep punctures in them. A wound, to me. A socket, to her.
A plug sat inside of the slits, connecting her to the computer in front of her. Tiny drops of blood clung to the inside of the transparent wire.
“Will unplugging it do anything?” I asked. Only the cops trained for Mechanical Mutilation knew how to handle these situations. Everyone else was in the dark. Even the news had been banned from running stories about suicide via electronics. They didn’t need more people learning about the technique and polluting their minds with the idea.
“Don’t unplug it. Don’t. They’re not dead. They’re transformed,” Hardwick said. “They’re still alive. Just not here.”
Transformed. It’s what he always said about his wife, but I never knew the details. All he’d disclose is that she had jabbed her wrist with a plug and had been taken away by a higher power.
His mouth moved to say more, but then a gurgling erupted that sounded more human than mechanical. I placed my ear against the drive, listening naively for a few beats until I noticed the body at the end of the row with bent fingers. They had been flat against the desk earlier, but now they were curved, his nails boring into the polished wood.
The gurgling morphed to coughing, heavy and watery. I expected strings of blood to swing from his lip like drool, but when he found the strength to lift his upper body, his face looked fine. A bit pale, a little droopy, but alive.
Blood sloshed inside of the transparent wire connected to him, pushing back into his body. Once it emptied itself, he could speak.
“It was a mistake,” he said, yanking out the plug and covering the flesh wound with his hands, trying to seal it. “That place is hell. Not for me. No fucking way.”
“What do you mean?” Hardwick asked. “You went and you came back? You can come back?”