Wire panels rattle as a pair of footsteps approach, metal shaking against metal, debris from the bottom of the pair’s boots raining down through the wire in a shower of dust for the levels below. A flickering light wavers and dims, illuminating the unmoving figure lying on the low-raised platform before them.
“It’s another down.”
On the floor of the main converters they lay in a crumpled heap, limbs splayed as if they had been reaching outwards for help as they collapsed. They lie within a complex pattern of red lines and circles, intersected by symbols and letters from the Empire’s lexicon, all kept within the boundary of the circular platform. A trickle of red blood, shimmering pearlescent blue, drips off the edge and through the rough wire panels below. It echoes in a persistent ‘drip’ which resonates throughout the open space of the lower converter levels, a stark contrast to the familiar droning hum of machinery the workers are used to.
The blood drips from the woman’s nose and down the side of her open mouth as she stares out at the converter technician and chief. The blood drips onto her black flowing robes which lay twisted and rumpled between her legs and under her body, clutched between her stiff, bloody fingers. The white collar and cuffs of her robes are stained with smears of blood, as if just before she collapsed she had clumsily attempted to staunch the flow of blood from her nose with the thin, flimsy fabric.
The chief towers over the lifeless body of the woman, but does not near it. Instead he simply stares at the blood trickling through the wire floor panels between his boots, with his brows drawn downward in a frown, his mouth set in a hard line. He doesn’t look away when he speaks to the lower ranking technician, “So, a red-blood.”
Across the platform the brawny woman nods, “Looks that way chief.”
He sighs, “Is it the quickening?”
“From the looks of it, I don’t think it could be anything else.”
For a brief moment fear flickers in the chief technician’s eyes. “Check it anyways, she could’ve been on a blood thinner, or bad pain meds.”
“Boss, if it’s the quickening I don’t wan-”
“Just check anyways!” He snaps.
The converter technician’s eyes widen slightly, but she gives no protest. She steps onto the platform, careful to avoid touching the complex patterns of circles and lines, and moving slowly, the rubber soles of her boots squeaking against the slippery metal as she maneuvers through the letters, numbers, and symbols smeared all around her. After a few tense moments she finds herself crouching over the woman’s lifeless body and removing a pair of disposable gloves from her uniform, made just for this very purpose. She pulls them on and shudders at the smooth plastic feeling of them against her hands, that and the proximity between herself and the corpse lying only inches away.
Wincing, she carefully brushes the locks of tightly coiled hair away from the woman’s face and tilts her head upwards so she can see into her eyes. The woman’s eyes are slightly clouded, but she can still see the rich brown irises and the deeply bloodshot, red-tinted whites. She takes a small device, about the size of her thumb, from her uniform’s inner breast pocket and uses it to collect some of the still wet blood dripping from the side of her face. She waits for the analysis.
A green light, contaminated, the quickening.
The technician’s heart seems to skip a beat. She sighs and uses her thumb and forefinger to close the woman’s eyes.
The converter technician looks up at the chief and sees the fear in his eyes; he already knew what she was about to say. “It’s the quickening. The Ruby Adler has been infected.”