I. “Section XIII”
“This is it,” thought Eve. “This is how it ends.”
Not in the blaze of ascension that the Church had foretold, but here, trapped like a rat in the slum ruins of Old Amsterdam. It seemed a fitting setting for a girl born of futile hope; albeit a hope that had carried her unto this point.
Somewhere in this wretched shell of a city, men and women from The Institute were on a mission of the utmost secrecy. The aim of that mission was to extinguish the last flickering flames of the Resistance, and in turn, the pitiful struggle that Eve’s life had become. “Secret” mission or not, Eve knew this because the Resistance knew this. And in turn, if the Resistance knew, The Institute would already be aware that their secret was out, such was the sheer volume of those caught in the middle of society’s Venn diagram of morality. Perhaps, she mused, it was a blessing anyone was after her at all – at least it showed someone cared.
It seemed like a lifetime ago now, but in her youth, Eve had been brought up by The Institute to believe in the value of science, and that only through complete and unswerving belief in its principles could an individual succeed in life. Belief in God, it had been decreed, was an arcane practice that was the cause of the world’s ills and had long since been outlawed. In reality, faith was permissible, but only should the God in question be The Institute itself. Since those early days, Eve had merely chosen the life of a blasphemer. Were she to be speaking truthfully, a blasphemer was merely one of many strings in the bow that was Eve’s life – a bow that, at best, was somewhat illicit in nature. To put it more accurately, she merely did whatever it was that she needed to do to survive the moment. The fact she enjoyed many of those things was merely an added bonus.
She looked to the mirror and the girl staring back at her. In her days being educated at The Institute people had called her “pretty”, “gothic” and told her she should model, but years on the run, from anything, let alone your own state, take a toll on a person. Guys still told her she was pretty and gothic, but you could tell the sincerity in their eyes had long since drained and that it was merely a baser, animalistic desire that had taken over instead. She pushed her long raven-black hair across her scalp and out of her eyes, before looking across to the man still lying beside her in bed. He still had a serene, if sweaty, look of bliss etched across his face that reeked of post-coitus.
“You need to get out of here now or you’re going to die,” said Eve.
The man’s smile remained for a moment or two, as if his brain was unable to take in the words she had just uttered. A quick glance across to see Eve’s relentless blue-eyed stare soon arrested that notion.
“What the hell are you talking about??” he replied.
“Look, firstly, please forgive me for my inability to address you by your name during this conversation, but I can’t recall it. That’s because in all honesty this was only ever a business transaction and now I’m afraid that our time here is up. On many levels.”
When she was young, Eve dreamed of the finer things in life; she would marry a beautiful man with a preposterously old fashioned name, and like all good citizens, would take up a research position at The Institute headquarters in New Amsterdam. Instead, here she was, having fucked her way through a shower of assholes in cheap shanty houses, near-penniless and alone, with only her current client and an android dog to keep her company. All whilst a death squad was hunting her down by the second.
“People are coming to kill me, and if you don’t get out of here soon, they’re going to kill you as well,” she continued. “I’m trying to do you a favour.”
“What? You’re pretty fucked up, you know that??” he replied.
“Very probably true,” she replied.
“I mean, hell, I like a certain amount of crazy in a girl, but murder fantasies? That’s real messed up, you know that?? And for the record, my name is Robert.”
“Ah, that’s why then,” Eve retorted. “Robert’s a perfectly nice name, but it’s far too boring for me – no wonder I couldn’t remember it. And what is this ‘record’ that so many people go on about? Who’s the big man writing down all the facts and figures? If you believe The Institute, it can’t possibly be God, and failing that, I don’t know who would have the same level of omnipotence. Well, except, perhaps, say, Section XIII…”
“You think you’re real funny, don’t you?” said Robert, but Eve was busy, lost in the tangent forming in her mind.
“Wait, do I mean omnipotence? No, it’s probably “presence”, isn’t it? Not that it really matters, as I guess in both instances the two are applicable.”
“What the fuck are you talking about??” Robert replied. “I just wanted some stress relief, man, I came here to get my dick sucked! Instead, I’ve end up with some fucking ice queen who loves the sound of her own voice…”
“Not especially, sweetie, I just like to tell it as it is. Some people don’t feel they can handle that. But regardless, people need to know that I have enemies.”
“Yeah, well, on tonight’s performance, I’m not exactly surprised.”
“Exactly, Robert. And that’s why I’m trying to tell you that they are hunting me down with every passing second of my existence, and that you need to leave here.”
“Look, bitch, I paid for three goddamn hours,” Robert continued, looking down to his watch for a second. “And I’ve only been here what?… one hour-thirteen minutes. I’m not going anywhere, you owe me nearly two fuckin’ hours!”
Robert’s eyes began to widen as Eve pulled a gun from the side of her bed and held it to his temple. She tapes it to the side of her bed in case of emergencies and today was very much one of those kind of situations.
“It would be wise for you to get… the… fuck… out of here…” she continued.
Robert began to cry. Not just the odd trickle from the corner of his eye, but in huge great rivers, rolling down onto his naked chest.
“What did I do??” came his snivelled reply. “I don’t understand?? I’m a nice guy, I just wanted some company!!! Please, whatever it is you want, my wallet, my access codes, whatever it is, please, just take it!” he continued.
Eve shook her head, as if annoyed at Robert for not having telepathy. “All I want is for you to leave here… now!” she declared, digging the tip of the gun barrel further into his temple. He let out a whimper before backing away from the gun slowly, and edging towards his robe on the floor behind him.
“Nope,” said Eve. “Just get out of here now, you don’t have time for clothes.”
As Robert turned to run, she slapped his ass, startling him for a moment or two before he started to sob all over again. After composing himself a little, he began to back away slowly again, edging his way towards the door whilst keeping Eve in his sight at all times.
“I’m… I’m s…s…sorry,” he said, before pawing feverishly at the door controls behind him on the wall.
His flustered attempts to operate otherwise simple machinery caused Eve a moment of temporary amusement and she declared, “No, Robert, I’m sorry, and I really do mean that, honestly.”
The doors swished open and he darted outside, heading for the monsoon-like conditions in the surrounding area. Within seconds his naked, sodden form was well clear of the apartment but Eve’s tech implants could still make out the sound of “You’re fucked up! I’m going to report you to The Institute!”
The apartment doors slammed shut as Eve indulged in another moment of quiet amusement before her head slumped.
“I don’t deserve nice things,” she muttered.
By now, the commotion had sent Eve’s dog running into the bedroom and it looked up at her almost in sympathy. It was a touching gesture, but she knew that deep down it was simply doing that which it was programmed to do. The human form has thus far proved too complicated for robotics to master, but simpler beasts had already been conquered. Only the faint mechanical whir of its inner servos and the odd glitch in a trillion lines of coding occasionally reminded her of its true nature. She had christened it “Beatrice”, in honour of the successful, together girl she would never be, and it had been her companion for the past three years. Manufactured by New Japanese Industries, it was a perfect replica in almost every way, barring a few traditionally-Japanese quirks. The company had determined that, somewhat naturally, its clients were not fond of cleaning excrement up from traditional animals, so they replaced it with what was known as the “Surprise Service”. This entailed the animal excreting presents of a varying nature, from sweets, a pleasant smell, or “handwritten” notes to its owner, declaring things such as “I love you master!” Strange quirks aside, she was the only companion that Eve had left in the world at the moment and for that alone she loved her dearly.
“You know it too, don’t you? I don’t deserve you either, Bea,” she sighed to her in fluent Japanese.
Beatrice gurgled in appreciation at her as Eve fussed her, before climbing up onto the bed and into her arms. Whoever it was from The Institute that wanted Eve dead was on their way, and all she could do now was find ways to continue to eke out her existence by the hour. In public, The Institute flatly denied Section XIII’s very existence, but in any place where official facts are sparse, myth and rumour will take seed. In every state there are times when mere police will not get the job done, and thus an entity far more villainious is required. Section XIII, it was claimed, was Satan incarnate, something that seemed at odds with a regime hell-bent on wiping religion from the face of the planet. She had heard all the tales, from those claiming that the spate of deaths in Institute hierarchy were as a result of their covert operations, through to them being responsible for the mausoleum of lost souls; a failed experiment to create psychics that had lead to tortured minds being trapped deep below The Institute’s main headquarters.
It was claimed that if Section XIII had a message to deliver, they were at least courteous enough to make you aware of their presence, through one method or another. At best, reports were sketchy, but that was because few ever made it out alive from such an encounter. Those that did could only mutter that things around them were manipulated, that Section XIII’s will was imposed in some way; be it text at their computer screen morphing into a string of “13”s or repetitions of “XIII”. Strange coincidences such as incidents occurring at 13:13 hours, or in the thirteenth apartment in a particular complex were often traditional reports, but one had to ask how or why these people got out alive in the first place.
If they were so omnipotent, such perfect killing machines, why would such relatively weak individuals escape their tyrannical grasp? Eve figured that it was to hold up as a warning; the powerful sought ever more power, and nothing could create a more terrifying monster than the human mind. Section XIII was simply the Boogeyman, the Freddie Krueger, or the Candyman of this modern world. But she thought, better to be wary of the Candyman until you could categorically disprove his existence, but again, perhaps that was simply due to the empirical teachings she had imbibed in her youth.
A playful bark from Beatrice brought Eve back from her daydream. She looked down at her wrist before making a sliding gesture across it and where once there was flesh, a computer screen appeared. A small red dot began to chime, representing Robert’s current location. He may well have thought of her as crazy, and he was probably right, but she was at least crazy-with-a-plan. The slap she gave him before he hastily departed their love nest hadn’t been for any kind of perverse pleasure, it had been to affix a tagging beacon to his ass. If someone from The Institute were coming, it was best to have a decoy do all the hard work. Robert would wander the streets, naked and disorientated and would be picked up within minutes. The tag would at least give her chance to establish where the local patrols were, and that was all the heads up she needed to beat a hasty exit, at least for another night.
Eve flung on her black leather biker suit as she glimpsed herself in the tall wardrobe mirror at the side of the bed. She was a withered shell of the girl she had been, even a mere six months ago. The greatest exercise regime of all was to be on the run; constantly fleeing from your own state was a constant physical challenge, one that sharpened both the body and mind. At the start of all this there had been more than just Eve, a group of seven, to be exact, but the road to freedom had been paved with death after death. For the last thirteen weeks, all that had remained of that group, was Eve, and Beatrice. She had seen nothing but horrors, and used Bea to film everything she could, but she had still never managed to get footage of the target, members of Section XIII itself.
“Come on, Bea, we’ve got to go… now!” Eve called out to her dog. A moment later and Bea arrived behind her, barking.
Eve turned round to face her.
“What is it, B-B?” she enquired.
The dog responded in a voice akin to a Japanese girl, “Oops!”, before letting out a “Surprise Service” on the carpet.
Eve peered down at the gift, a handwritten note, wrapped up in a pink bow tie.
“Oh, B-B, not now, we have to go!” she said, before Beatrice barked back at her, playfully.
“Ok then,” Eve continued. “But only because I love you.”
She began to unwrap the gift, which unlocked a scent she had not smelt since her youth…
…Instantly she was transported to New Amsterdam… sitting in her mother’s lap in a park… Her father, as usual, would have been working hard at The Institute, as two employees were never allowed leave at the same time, but she imagined him smiling at work at the thought of them… That was, until she found out the truth about The Institute. But they were happier, more innocent times.
How sweet of Bea, Eve thought, but how could she possibly have known?
She unfurled the note and opened it wide.
It read simply, “13”.
Eve screamed, and ran to the window to look out before turning back round.
“Quick, Bea, we have to— ”
Before she could finish her sentence, Beatrice was all snarls and rage, and flung herself towards Eve, sinking her teeth into her flesh. Eve screamed in agony, kicking and fighting with all of her might, but she was no match for the power of servos and pistons. The air around seemed to shimmer and from a great haze, four monstrous armour-clad figures appeared and surrounded Eve, causing Beatrice to momentarily relent in her assault.
“Good dog!” said one of them, before looking back at Eve. “Good dog…”