What Molly Found
She smelled them before she saw them. Smelled them first, and then heard the flies.
She was navigating the back alleys, looking for an overwatch position. Base would have told her to just use the topo imager to find one, had he not surrendered to Molly’s archaic methodology years ago.
Methodology? More like ideology. A tao, a religion, a yoga. Base had never been able to figure where it had come from, her worship of the antique, and Molly wasn’t offering any clues. He supposed if he could see and read more of her ink, he might hazard a guess, but he only had the 20th century poetry on her forearms to go by, and that might as well be Greek to Base:
Dear Ghost, what shelter in the noonday crowd?
There’d been a small group of lovers, men and women, who’d tried looking into her past, none of them with any appreciable degree of success. Some were around longer than others, but there’d been no one, to Base’s knowledge, in six months or more.
Base’s 75 vertical inches and 240 pounds were crammed into the back of an antique Ford van with blacked-out windows and a generative motor that was designed 300 years after the vehicle had been manufactured. He watched her holographic projection idly as Molly picked her way through the empty, dusty streets north of the church.
On the earth a many-colored tower of longing rises.
“I suppose the steeple isn’t suitable,” he muttered. Molly didn’t bother to reply. Not for the first time, Base noted the way her body moved—alert but not tense, with a rolling stride that reminded him a cat. He heard her breathing. Faintly.
Only my intermittent life in your thoughts to live
Which is like thinking in another language
She paused next to a fence made of rammed earth or some vague adobe brick, or both, her head cocked, listening for something she couldn’t quite hear.
Base enlarged the holo and watched as Molly opened her mouth slightly and breathed, as though she were smelling with her tongue.
“Something’s dead, just past this wall. Someone. More than one.” Base watched as Molly’s bio-indicators started to ramp up: pulse, blood pressure, muscle temp, respiration, all in varying reds and yellows but well below their peaks. Base couldn’t recall ever seeing her levels peak, now that he thought of it. Base made a vague gesture with his right hand, releasing a micro drone that darted out from the van, and in seconds hovered near where Molly crouched beside the wall. “Just in case, Molls. I won’t send it until you give the word.”
“Keep that fucking thing clear of me Base or I’ll trash it.” Base knew should could, and would. There aren’t many people that had the reflex potential to swat down a 4th-gen micro, but Molly did. Base had watched her do it two years ago. He’d watched her walk out of a closed-door disciplinary hearing over the incident, too. All charges dropped.
Where are you? Where you are is the one thing I love,
yet it always escapes me, like the lilacs in their leaves,
too busy for just one answer, one rejoinder.
Base listened to the audio feed as Molly sharpened it and raised the sensitivity of her software. People used to call it wetware, and some still did, though not to Molly.
Base could hear the intermittent buzz of the flies, now, some oddly muffled, and a dull crackle that came and went with the breeze.
“There’s nothing alive over there, and no mech or tech, either. I don’t need a fucking drone to tell me that.”
In a single twitch of her legs, Molly vaulted over the wall, and landed in dry scrub grass and dirt. A square, walled-in lot. Roughly 60-feet square. Dead tree 40 feet west. She stood and took four steps toward the tree and stopped.
In the dirt a few feet in front of the tree, thick plastic sheeting lay over a rectangular hole cut into the ground. Chunks of broken concrete held the edges of the sheeting, which rustled in the wind. Flies buzzed on both sides of the clear plastic. A blackened, crusted pool of dried blood in the center of the sheeting drew most of them. The hole was about six feet by ten. Molly wondered how they’d gotten a backhoe in and out of the yard, then noted the repaired gap in the southern wall. Nicely camouflaged but still fairly obvious.
A hole that size would hold ten bodies or more. Molly wouldn’t feel like counting, Base knew.
“Send it. Fuck this. I don’t want to do this right now.”
The drone silently darted forward. In less than 5 minutes it would generate a fairly thorough precis of the scene. A more detailed investigative package would be launched from an Org outpost as soon as the drone’s report was linked. It would take less than a half-hour to fully process the scene and monitor any activity at the site.
Base was already looking at preliminary imagery of common Azzine Church ink and embroidered garments. Some of the bodies were partly burned. Three children, six women, four men.
The sun fades like the spreading
Of a peacock’s tail, as though twilight
Might be read as a warning to those desperate
for easy solutions.
Molly turned her back on the grave and jumped easily over the wall/fence. In ten minutes she’d found the backhoe they’d used, and in ten more she’d scouted her overwatch and given the coordinates to Base. She walked unhurriedly back through the dusty suburbs.
Base noted that her bio-markers had returned to normal.
(Note: All italics by John Ashbery)
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