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“Why am I here?” Sh.e.l.l repeated the words to himself over and over, muttering in a state of near
Boiled watched with steely eyes as Sh.e.l.l sat there on the bench, head in his hands. The two of them
were the only ones currently in the Broilerhouse waiting room. Sh.e.l.l removed his Chameleon Sungla.s.ses.
Holding the deep violet sungla.s.ses in his hand, he turned to Boiled, his voice a pitiful mess of selfrecrimination.
He should have worked it out long ago.
“If only I’d told you everything right from the beginning, none of this would have happened… I was a
fool to imagine that it would be easy to kill the girl.”
Boiled sat there. He didn’t make a sound; his expression remained constant. He didn’t nod and he
didn’t shake his head.
“I can change. I can become anyone you want me to be. I can clean up any dirt. I’ll make the best of
any situation. So, please, just get me out of here,” Sh.e.l.l continued.
Boiled crossed his legs and met Sh.e.l.l’s gaze. Still he said nothing.
“I’m frightened, Boiled, and I have absolutely no idea what it is that frightens me so. That’s the worst
part of it.” Sh.e.l.l sounded as if he were about to burst, his innards ready to spill out of himat any moment.
“I’ll make everything disappear,” Boiled replied, his voice soft.
Sh.e.l.l’s eyes, so full of pain and distress, opened up ever so slightly.
“It’s time to talk to your lawyers,” Boiled continued and started to rise, when Sh.e.l.l clamped his hand
on Boiled’s arm.
“I’mbegging you… Help me… Help me become a different person again.”
“So it was a matricide, after all…” the Doctor said. His face was calm, almost respectful. “That must
have been the root of all his deviant behavior. Despite losing his memories—no, because he’s lost his
memories—he was left with no other way to control his emotions, to keep his urges in check.”
Balot snarced the words through the choker on her neck, Oeufcoque.
“Imagine that you’re experiencing constant feelings of terrible fear and anger and have absolutely no
idea how to deal with those emotions—you have no idea what will help you calmdown. Then you’ll get a
sense of what it is to be Sh.e.l.l. Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to try and stop the terrifying feelings
that are gnawing away at your mind? Sure, you’d be fine so long as you could find a way to successfully
sublimate those feelings—in your professional and social ambitions, maybe—but what happens when
you’re no longer able to sublimate the urges? Self-restraint goes out the window.”
“And as Sh.e.l.l grew used to the whole process, he became inured to it and started to believe that what
he was doing was entirely normal,” added Oeufcoque, now taking the shape of a geometric pattern inside
the crystal pendant on the choker. “It was probably a self-defense mechanism against his memory loss. He
was afraid of the spirit of his dead mother coming back to haunt him, but even stronger than that was the
feeling that he was responsible for the girls’ deaths, that their sacrifice was all his fault.”
–Because his first lover died, I think.
Balot found herself contributing to the conversation.
–The girl that Sh.e.l.l really did love. It was a real shock to him to find out that she had an abusive
past, similar to his. A shock to discover that they might have chosen one another because of their
Balot felt a pang of sadness in her chest. Sure, she felt uncomfortable and irritated too, but the feeling
of sorrow was winning out over all other emotions. She hadn’t imagined for a moment that Sh.e.l.l had lived
through experiences similar to her own. On the contrary, Sh.e.l.l had always looked for such girls in order
to convert theminto that which was beautiful to him—Blue Diamonds, money, the stairway to success.
I’m going to make you clean. I’m going to clean you up. When Sh.e.l.l had first yelled this out, it was
as a lonely soul, but also as a kindred spirit. Burnt out and wanting others to join him.
“Empathy, eh? Well, people do indeed actively seek out people like themselves—birds of a
feather…” the Doctor murmured. Then he coughed, conscious that the mood had been brought down
somewhat. “Anyhow, all the memories we copied from the chips have already been submitted to the
Broilerhouse as evidence. All we have to do now is wait for the DA to start moving, and then we hit them
with a chronological simulation of Sh.e.l.l’s memories. It’ll be just like fingerprinting him. Our aim for
today’s trial is to get official recognition that this will serve as proof of Sh.e.l.l’s crimes.”
–What’s myrole in all this?
“You’re here as a preemptive gag, as it were, to stop Sh.e.l.l from speaking too much and trying to deny
everything. Don’t worry, this trial won’t be anything like the last one. The only person who needs to
worry is Sh.e.l.l—he may have been laughing last time, but he’s certainly not going to see the funny side of
this one. Not only will his past be dragged up for all to see and judge, he won’t even remember it for
–Not even the memory of killing his own mother?
“He was only about eighteen years old at the time, and we know that he killed his mother in cold
blood, with half an eye toward her life insurance policy. He systematically cut the brake pads. The whole
incident would have thrown his moral perspective askew, and the stress from that would have been
enormous. And then there were his s.e.xual relations with his mother…”
The Doctor trailed off at this point, searching for a new, slightly more comfortable, tangent. “Also,
Sh.e.l.l’s mother was, in her own right, no stranger to the law. We ran a search on the old records at the
DA’s office and discovered that she’d been arrested for insurance fraud, and not just once either.
Furthermore, her husband was dead, and she was even suspected of murdering him in order to get her
hands on his insurance, although nothing was ever proven. There’s every chance that Sh.e.l.l knew all about
this and decided to do the same thing for himself. The mother had a.s.saulted him, effectively, and what
better way for Sh.e.l.l to repay his misadventure of birth than with her death by misadventure?”
The Doctor laughed in a somewhat forced manner at his own somewhat forced joke. Balot didn’t
“You might want to work on that one, Doc,” said Oeufcoque, speaking for Balot as well.
The Doctor shrugged. “I’m just trying to get in the mood. Sh.e.l.l’s past may be somewhat useful as
concrete evidence in the courtroom, but more importantly, it’s going to pique the curiosity of the jury. The
more detailed and salacious the better, even if it does come in the form of a bad pun, as you so helpfully
pointed out, thank you, Oeufcoque. The DA is certainly delighted with this new turn of events, anyway.
He’s now confident that we’ll nail the case.”
The Doctor’s voice was steeped in cynicism, just as the whole situation was steeped in irony—
indeed, there was no greater irony for Balot. At the previous trial, she’d found herself on the receiving
end of the most thorough and gut-wrenching attack imaginable, all on account of her own history. As a
result, she was forced to repudiate her past, cut it off and cast it away, or else her heart would have died
And now Sh.e.l.l would find himself in exactly the same position. The difference was that Sh.e.l.l had
already repudiated his past and cast it away. All he had left was lingering trauma.
“This is not about revenge, Doctor. Tell the DA to make sure he sticks to the relevant facts and doesn’t
waste any time on unnecessary distractions,” Oeufcoque said, again seemingly speaking for Balot by
proxy. “We’ve already filed papers for the next case, the one that this all leads to. Let’s make sure we
don’t lose sight of the biggest fish of all.”
“Sure, sure. I know full well that it’s not our job to fan the flames of curiosity for the jurors and the
media—they’re perfectly capable of doing that for themselves.”
“Having said that, there are no guarantees, I’mafraid,” the Doctor continued, somewhat apologetically
now. “The counsel for the defense is quite a lawyer. I wouldn’t put it past Sh.e.l.l to stir up the hornets’ nest
either. If that happens, it’ll be hard for me to hold the DA back fromlaying it on thick…”
Then the Doctor’s tone changed abruptly, and he turned to look at Balot, his eyes sincere. “It’s just—
well, this is only a theory, but hear me out. You can shave away the memory, but the shape of the memory
still remains. All you need to do is apply emphasis—stress—to the outlines of that memory, and
everything in your mind is thrown up in the air. Your moral compa.s.s goes haywire. What better proof do
we need than the living example of Sh.e.l.l to show firsthand the sort of damage to society that’s being
caused by OctoberCorp’s irresponsible, gung-ho technology?”
–Do you think Sh.e.l.l would stop killing people if he had his memories returned to him?
Balot asked the question out of a simple desire to know the answer.
Oeufcoque fielded this one. “Well, there’s absolutely no doubt that Sh.e.l.l’s missing memories are
exacerbating his urges. If all his memories were to be returned to him then his desire to rape and murder
would certainly diminish, possibly even fade away completely. But Sh.e.l.l wouldn’t want this for himself.”
–Well, I wouldn’t want his past either.
After she spoke, Balot hung her head in contemplation. The Doctor and Oeufcoque left her in peace for
a moment. After a suitable pause Oeufcoque continued gently, “The past is nothing more than a fossil. To
think that the past always has to determine the future is to doom yourself into becoming no more than a
fossil yourself. Sh.e.l.l made the wrong choice, that’s all.”
“At the very least, we can say that he didn’t endure, didn’t resist, unlike you. He just thought to
console himself with the sacrifices of others.
Balot thought about this for a while, then touched Oeufcoque.
–It was you two who saved me. Thank you.
The Doctor threw his arms up in the air and grinned, a twinkle in his eye. “I hope you got that on tape,
Oeufcoque! There’s the proof of our usefulness for the Broilerhouse! What better words of validation
could there be for Mardock Scramble 09?”
“Doc, you know as well as I do that there’s no way I’d do such a thing without Balot’s permission.”
Balot laughed in spite of herself.
The atmosphere in the room—so heavily laden with the pressure of having all their lives so
inextricably linked—lifted, just a little.
The trial began half an hour later.
As ever, the proceedings moved along at a sluggish pace, but at least Sh.e.l.l’s lawyer could see which
way the wind was blowing, and he put up no more than token, ineffectual resistance. Rather than fighting
the case, the defense attorney seemed almost to withdraw from the scene, looking for an escape route that
would—as much as possible—allow him to keep both his dignity and career intact. As a result, Sh.e.l.l’s
memories were shielded from the worst excesses of scurrilous gossip that usually came with the public
dissection of juicy secrets—though Sh.e.l.l didn’t seem the least bit grateful that, in this respect at least, he
had escaped the worst.
The trial was over by 16:45, four hours after it had begun.
Sh.e.l.l was taken to prison.
There was a sudden ping—a message had arrived.
The Doctor looked suspiciously at his PDA after fishing it out of his jacket pocket.
They were in the middle of an early dinner at one of the fancy restaurants in the neighborhood of the
It was the sort of place lawyers went to celebrate a victory or victims went to celebrate after being
awarded a windfall compensation. Balot, the Doctor, and Oeufcoque were celebrating there too, although
it wasn’t so much in order to enjoy a gourmet meal as to take a much-needed pause before the case was
finally wrapped up. A pause to mark the end of one chapter in Balot’s life, to celebrate all she had
achieved and to prepare her to embark upon a new chapter. Oeufcoque and the Doctor felt she needed a
“It’s from the DA. Apparently the other side wants to talk, and they’re putting in their offer to us
immediately.” The Doctor looked away from his PDA and toward Oeufcoque, who was still in the form
of a choker. “The person offering the settlement isn’t even directly related to this case—he’s stepped in to
try and broker a settlement.”
“Who is it?”
“The director of OctoberCorp. Sh.e.l.l’s boss—and putative father-in-law.”
–What’s going on? I don’t understand.
Sensing that Balot was concerned, the Doctor smiled in order to try and calm her down. Behind his
spectacles though, his eyes weren’t smiling. Rather they were set in steely resolution.
“You remember the man standing beside Sh.e.l.l at the Casino. Cleanwill John October. Well, he’s
proposing a negotiation.”
–To negotiate what?
“The second case, as it were. The one that will implicate all OctoberCorp officials for more or less
ordering Sh.e.l.l to commit his crime spree. You see, we intend to use your case as a vein and continue
digging till we find the mother lode—it’s not just Sh.e.l.l that we’re after. That’s what they’re afraid of, so
they’re asking for certain facts to be made public…”
Balot frowned a little.
The Doctor hastily covered his tracks. “Not in a bad way. I just mean that the chips you won give us a
lot of power and leverage.”
–So, to put it in blackjack terms, what we’re doing is instead of staying, we’re hitting in order to
try and draw out some more criminals?
“Well, in the end, Sh.e.l.l’s just as much a victim of OctoberCorp as anyone else is. You’ve seen his
memories firsthand, so I’msure you understand that.”
Balot nodded. Oeufcoque remained silent.
The Doctor continued. “The brain surgery Sh.e.l.l received as a child, the A10 operation, that was
OctoberCorp’s handiwork. It’s entirely possible to believe that this is what made him slavishly follow
–You mean theymessed around with his head and made him their slave?
“Not in the sense of controlling his thought processes directly, but I’d say there was a good chance
they were artificially stimulating his pleasure centers, making it far more likely for him to follow orders
with blind devotion.”
“Well, for example, they could make it so that every time he hears the OctoberCorp name or sees its
symbol, a dopamine shot is released inside his brain, and he feels just that little bit better. Reinforced
tens, hundreds of times, it becomes an unbreakable habit, absolute.”
–I think that all Sh.e.l.l really wanted to do was escape. From his own life.
Oeufcoque interjected for the first time in the conversation. “And what OctoberCorp did was provide
himwith an escape route. The ultimate inducement into temptation.”
Balot nodded. She started to remember what it felt like when she was watching Sh.e.l.l’s memories.
–Sh.e.l.l seemed to think that working for OctoberCorp was just like a fish returning upstream to
sp.a.w.n. He considered himself as no more than a little fish, placed deliberatelyin the river.
Then Balot turned straight to the Doctor to look at himand ask hima question.
–The case that they want to try and settle—is it mycase too?
The Doctor was about to nod, but Oeufcoque interrupted him. “You’ve already solved your own case.
There’s no need for you to put yourself in danger’s way anymore.”
“Hey, wait a minute, Oeufcoque. Her case leads to the mother lode. All that’s happened so far is that
Sh.e.l.l has temporarily lost his liberty. As yet, OctoberCorp is still untouched and untroubled. In any case,
she’s already been officially recognized as a co-opted civilian aide to this case. As your user, we do
really need her.”
Oeufcoque was unconvinced—and not only that, he was now uncharacteristically raising his voice.
“Are you saying that we are the ones who get to choose whether Balot gets burnt out in the process?”
The Doctor appeared to falter, but he had a rejoinder. “I don’t know if you noticed, but at the trial just
now, Balot’s Life Preservation Program was extended indefinitely. You know why, don’t you? Because
the Broilerhouse recognizes that she’s still in danger. We don’t know what Boiled’s got up his sleeve,
and depending on how these negotiations go, we may find that both Sh.e.l.l and Balot end up targets of
–Half-baked little Oeufcoque…
Balot spoke quietly. The Doctor swallowed his words. Oeufcoque also was silent.
–Thank you so much for trying to protect me from ending up even more burnt out.
Just as Oeufcoque could now sniff out Balot’s innermost feelings, Balot was attuned to Oeufcoque’s
emotional state. She knew full well that he blamed himself for not being able to protect her fromthe worst
excesses of Sh.e.l.l’s corrupted memories while she was in her dreamstate.
–This is what I’ve chosen, though. I want to use you constructively. If you want to protect me, the
best wayto do that is to guide me.
“Even if, as a result, you end up facing something deeply unpleasant?”
–Bell Wing called you my guardian angel. Guardian angels are strict but kind. If I run away
from everything that’s unpleasant, I’ll end up just like Sh.e.l.l messing with his own mind in order to
try and find peace.
Why me? She still wanted more answers to this question. She was the Concerned Party in this case,
and she wanted to find out what that really meant…
She wanted to determine with her own eyes what exactly it was that lay beyond the depths that she and
Sh.e.l.l had fallen into.
She wanted to be able to feel with conviction that her own life was somehow meaningful.
She touched the choker on her neck, gently transmitting these feelings to Oeufcoque, like a prayer.
–This is our case. Yours and mine. All three of us. Won’t you please show me your way of
Oeufcoque stayed silent for a while. Then, wordlessly, he agreed to bring Balot out. To take her away
fromher safe place and into the maelstrom.
“We need to solve the second case, and as such I’d like Balot to use me,” Oeufcoque said eventually.
The Doctor breathed a sigh of relief. “I have absolutely no apt.i.tude for this sort of thing myself, you
see. Gunfights aren’t my scene. Preparation and maintenance—now, you can rely on me for those—but if
things start getting violent it’s Balot who will to need to protect me.”
Balot nodded. As long as she had Oeufcoque by her side she was confident she could do anything.
“Looks like we’re on the road to victory, then. Come on, let’s go. Time for us to solve our case.”
Balot went to sort out her outfit in the bathroomwhile the Doctor settled the bill.
She rolled up the long skirt that she had worn for the trial and took her underwear off and placed it on
top of the toilet.
She took off her shoes and socks, placing her socks next to her underwear. Then she reached around
and unzipped her dress, unhooked her bra, and loosened the belts that ran up and down her body.
She focused her mind on the precise image of the new outfit—a new sh.e.l.l—that she wanted.
She touched her choker to transmit the image to Oeufcoque.
Oeufcoque’s turn was quick and thorough. A skintight bodysuit spread out fromunderneath the choker,
sliding neatly between Balot’s body and the clothes she still had on. It enveloped Balot swiftly fromtip to
toe. Power flowed through her.
Balot adjusted her clothes, put her shoes and socks back on, and left the bathroom. She glanced at
herself in the mirror on the way out and subtly altered the design and color of the bodysuit so that it
matched the rest of her clothes.
She returned to the restaurant and joined the Doctor to head out to the parking lot.
The red convertible was as good as new, brought back up to scratch in a week.
The car was officially registered as being made by an obscure custom car company, one that existed
more or less in name only. There was only one garage that did repairs, and they had to special-order the
parts on contract.
The parts in question were, of course, Made by Oeufcoque. Oeufcoque’s existence as a sentient being
may not have been officially acknowledged, but the parts that he made certainly were.
They climbed into the car and the Doctor inserted the key and set the controls to AutoDrive. The
steering wheel sank into the dashboard and found itself fixed in position.
“I’d be drunk driving otherwise. It’ll take us a little longer, but let’s go on auto.”
Balot fastened her seat belt, and the car moved off.
Their destination was a high-cla.s.s bar on the North Side, and they had plenty of time to get there.
“Excuse me a minute,” the Doctor said as he leaned over toward the pa.s.senger seat and pressed his
fingers against the electronic fingerprint scanner. A compartment in the dashboard opened out, revealing
maps, a wallet, a small handgun, and a bottle of pills.
The Doctor placed the handgun in his jacket pocket and took the bottle in his hand.
The pills contained a potent double dose: a mixture of caffeine and enzymes that accelerated the
breakdown of alcohol. The Doctor threw a fistful of them into his mouth as if they were so much candy,
then popped the bottle back in the compartment, which he pushed back into the dashboard.
“Now, let’s see how they’re going to play this one…”
“They’re doing everything by the book so far,” Oeufcoque said, his voice emerging from the vicinity
of Balot’s left hand. The Doctor nodded as if the short conversation had settled everything.
Balot looked straight ahead at the road. She thought how there was still so much she needed to learn.
“This is not a good smell. They’re waiting for us, ready for something. We’re not talking just one or
two people there, either—there are at least five of them,” Oeufcoque said when they parked the car two
blocks away fromthe bar.
The Doctor checked something out quickly on his PDA, then shrugged. “I get it. The bar’s part of a
chain, and guess which corporation owns the chain? Not that I imagine many of their directors visit on a
regular basis, of course.”
“How convenient for them. I guess the idea is that the whole bar could disappear off the face of the
earth if need be,” said Oeufcoque.
“Uh-huh. It’s the underbelly of their empire—a place they use to conduct the shadier end of their
business transactions. Rather than bothering to go in, why don’t we just launch a rocket or two at them?
The joint’s a front, anyway—it’s not as if there’d be any innocent bystanders caught up in it.”
Balot braced herself, imagining for a moment that the Doctor was indeed about to do as he suggested.
“So we’re terrorists on top of everything else now, are we, Doc?” Oeufcoque’s sarcastic reply made
Balot realize that of course they were going to do no such thing. “They’re going through the official
channels, and as long as they stick to this, we do the same.”
“Sure, sure. Can’t say I’m wildly enthusiastic about the prospect, though. I suppose we can expect
them to suggest some sort of trade or information exchange, although I’m not quite sure what they imagine
is going to be in it for us. They must know by now that we’re not the sort to be bought off.”
“So we go in fully expecting that they’ll have other means of persuasion at their disposal,” said
–Are we going to be using guns?
“Hmm… If it comes to it, I’ll leave that side of things to you and Oeufcoque, if that’s okay. My
speciality is really the negotiating part. If the going gets tough, I hope you won’t mind if I’m first out the
The Doctor looked so serious that Balot nodded without even thinking.
“Right, then, let’s go!” With these words the Doctor hopped out of the car and walked toward the quiet
bar on the quiet street. Balot followed, and soon they had reached the main entrance of the pub.
There were two sets of doors, and Balot realized that something was up the moment they pa.s.sed
through the first set.
Someone was watching them. The Doctor had noticed it too.
They opened the second set of doors and went in. The clientele seemed at first glance to be a
surprisingly refined lot—some were smoking cigars or drinking brandy from large goblets, others were
reading newspapers or discussing the latest stock market fluctuations.
It was a veritable pocket of resistance against the recent all-pervasive trend of smoking bans.
Balot and the Doctor went up to the center of the bar and took a seat. Had they not been in the clothes
they wore for court, they would have felt terribly out of place. No one else sat at the bar; patrons lounged
on plush leather sofas or in boxes lined with red velvet curtains.
The Doctor pointed to a bottle on the counter, then went into a detailed spiel as to how exactly the
bartender was to prepare it.
The bartender—middle-aged, receding hairline—took his order with a nod, and then looked at Balot.
Balot didn’t really need anything, but she thought back to a Western she had seen in her childhood and
recalled what the hero ordered when he was in a bar.
–A gla.s.s of milk, please.
She spoke through the crystal on her choker. A funny look flickered across the bartender’s face.
Balot didn’t know whether it was her order that was at fault or whether he was just surprised by her
voice. Or it could have been that he was surprised by the very fact that someone like Balot was in this
If he felt something was odd, the bartender certainly hid it well. “Would you like ice with that, miss?”
This part wasn’t in the Western.
Balot thought for a moment, then nodded meekly.
The bartender prepared the two drinks with a precision that could only come from years of practice.
He put the bottle the Doctor pointed to on the bar so that the Doctor could check the label. Balot thought
for a moment that the bartender might do the same for her with the carton of milk, but it wasn’t to be—it
went straight back in the refrigerator.
The bartender placed the gla.s.ses on the bar, then retreated to one side.
“Hmm, maybe I should have ordered the same as you,” said the Doctor, who could barely keep the
laughter out of his voice. Balot looked at him.
“This is just some token hospitality before negotiations begin in earnest, by the way. They could well
be here already, of course, just making us wait…” The Doctor took his gla.s.s in his hand.
Suddenly, Balot’s left hand jumped up to rest on the Doctor’s shoulder—without Balot controlling it.
“There’s a fast-working sleeping draught in yours, Doc. Balot’s is clear,” whispered Oeufcoque.
The Doctor seemed more nonplussed than surprised. “So it’s Balot they’re after, is it? They’re still
hoping for the Trustees to slip up, I guess. They sure don’t give up easily.”
“All seven people in the room, including the bartender, are armed with handguns of one sort or
another,” continued Oeufcoque, before his hand moved off the Doctor’s shoulder.
The Doctor shrugged. “Not much I can do to help, then. Looks like you two are on your own, sorry
about that!” He clinked his gla.s.s with Balot’s and downed his drink. “Urgh…and I’d only taken an
antidote just before I came in too. I think I’mgoing to be sick…” The Doctor pulled a sour face, and Balot
looked on at himwith wide eyes.
The very next moment the pub entrance opened wide, and in came a well-built man, smiling broadly.
“Dr. Easter? I’mSkysc.r.a.per. I trust you received my messages?”
“You’re OctoberCorp’s legal representative?” The Doctor’s eyes were already starting to sag. Balot
couldn’t tell whether it was an act or not.
Skysc.r.a.per smiled again. “I’m one of the legal team, yes. I mainly handle criminal cases and
compensation claims. I do apologize for having kept you so long. Please, do come and take a seat over
here where it’s more comfortable.”
“Thank you,” said the Doctor, walking over to the chairs as if he were floating on clouds. Balot
The man who called himself Skysc.r.a.per sat down last, squeezing his generous frame into the chair.
“I’ll have the same as she’s having,” Skysc.r.a.per said to the bartender when he came to bring over
Balot’s gla.s.s on a tray. “What about you, sir, are you not drinking?”
“No, I’mfine, thankshh…” The Doctor’s speech was growing suspiciously slurred.
It was pretty clear by now that the Doctor really was getting tired. Balot nudged his shoulder gently.
She was trying to tell him that he could fall asleep safely and that she had everything under control, but
Skysc.r.a.per evidently interpreted this move as concern on Balot’s part.
“You do seemto be tired, sir. We’d better get this over with as quickly as possible, then. Not to worry
about your return—we have a chauffeured car on hand to take you both back to wherever you need to go.”
“You put in your request for a pretrial settlement just this afternoon?” The Doctor yawned.
“Yes, although we’ve had all the relevant paperwork prepared for some time.”
“That’s very considerate of you.”
“Ah, yes, well, we may be on different sides, but we do have certain issues in common. Our jobs are
to safeguard the long-term interests of our respective businesses by ensuring that our people are protected
and that our businesses are allowed to develop progressively.”
“Is that right? Well, uh, I suppose that’s so, isn’t it?” said the Doctor.
“Yes, and we at OctoberCorp are most concerned about the man you brought to trial, Sh.e.l.l-Septinos.
We feel that his future prospects are most lamentable,” said Skysc.r.a.per.
“Well, you would, wouldn’t you, given that he seems to know everything about everything. And?”
Skysc.r.a.per’s beaming face was unflinching in the face of the Doctor’s flippant riposte. Then he
shrugged his shoulders and smiled at Balot with a concerned expression.
Balot knew all too well how quickly the smiles of these sorts of men changed.
“The crimes that the man committed are terrible, of course. There’s no denying that. But to refuse him
any possibility of rehabilitation is to refute the significance of the law. OctoberCorp’s position is that we
would like to give him the opportunity to reflect on his crimes and thereby gradually redeem himself. We
will of course, Ms. Rune-Balot, foot the bill for any portion of the compensation that you are awarded and
that he is unable to pay you out of his own a.s.sets.”
Skysc.r.a.per smiled at Balot in antic.i.p.ation of her answer. This is how much I’ll pay, now will you
give me what I want? Balot had seen that inane grin too many times.
It was the Doctor who spoke next, though. “And so it came to pa.s.s that Sh.e.l.l lived out his days
peacefully under the thumb of his corporate masters… That’s how the story goes, is it? Presumably we get
our brown envelope under the table if—and only if—we don’t touch on any, uh, inconvenient truths
during the next trial?”
“Dear, dear, Dr. Easter! I do hope you don’t speak quite so bluntly when you’re in court!”
“Maybe not out loud, but I certainly think it. As for your answer, well, I’ll make sure that a reply is
sent to you by email through the official Broilerhouse channels. It’ll be a short reply, though. Shorter than
the pa.s.sword you’ll need to get into it.”
“And what sort of reply might that be?”
“‘Dear Balloon-face. Eat s.h.i.t.’ ”
Skysc.r.a.per’s smile seemed to stretch even farther.
His face turned crimson, his eyes bloodshot. Yet he was still smiling. A grotesque sight.
“You see, we’re PIs, and our job is to solve this case,” said the Doctor, smiling back, a very different
sort of smile. “The courtroom antics are only a small part of that. The best thing you can do now is run
along and try and deceive the judge into believing that there are any number of holes in our case, maybe
appeal for a retrial. Won’t do you any good in the long run, though.”
With that, the Doctor toppled face-first onto the table in front of him.
Balot was visibly concerned. She was worried that the Doctor might have hurt himself.
Skysc.r.a.per thought she was worried about her own safety. “Poor little princess. Aren’t you enjoying
your milk anymore?” he said, his voice now steeped with sarcasm. “Don’t blame me, blame this idiot
here who you trusted to keep you safe.”
His dark red cheeks puffed out as he rose out of his seat toward her. He wore a whole new expression
now, one in which rage and joy intermingled in equal measure. He was practically drooling as his thick
arms reached out toward Balot to grab her, but Balot slipped to one side.
“We know you’re unarmed, we scanned you on the X-ray as you came in,” Skysc.r.a.per smirked. “The
man has a handgun in his pocket, but that’s all you have, right?”
So that explained the uneasy sensation Balot had experienced when she entered the bar.
Balot realized that the people at the other tables were now drawing in.
–Oeufcoque, these people are enemies, right?
Balot wanted to make sure she was doing the right thing before she did anything she couldn’t take
“That’s right. They’re planning on holding you for ransom, and in exchange for your release they’ll try
and force us to relinquish the chips as evidence,” Oeufcoque said out loud, unconcerned as to who could
A puzzled expression crossed Skysc.r.a.per’s face. “Who’s that speaking—”
–Am I allowed to shoot them?
“Sure, but no more than absolutely necessary. No need to stoop to their level.”
Balot’s left armwas under the table, and she felt it grow heavy with the weight of cold steel.
There was an explosion, and Skysc.r.a.per screamed and staggered backward. He’d had a lucky escape
—Balot had actually aimed for his crotch, but Oeufcoque had stayed her hand and made the bullet fly
through the top of his foot instead.
Balot lifted the table up quickly with Oeufcoque’s help—the bodysuit that was him melded with her
body, allowing her to lift the table up as if it were made of cardboard.
She threw the Doctor’s sleeping body onto the sofa to keep him out of harm’s way, scattering their
gla.s.ses across the floor as she turned the table on its side. Fragments of gla.s.s and ice shattered and flew
every which way. Balot wondered where she had seen such a scene before, and then she remembered.
The Western, of course.
“We keep the death toll to a minimum. Got it?”
Balot emerged from behind the plush red curtains and fired at three men in order as they attempted to
fire bullets or electronic charges at her. She hit their shoulders with pinpoint accuracy, and they fell to the
floor and rolled around in agony.
The other men were fl.u.s.tered now, and they fired a storm of bullets at her. The upturned table shook
from the impact. Balot stuck her arm out from behind it and fired swiftly. Not a single bullet of hers was
wasted. The first two men found their fingers blown off; Balot had targeted their guns, piercing the
cartridges and causing them to explode. The men never knew what hit them. Balot then fired a couple
more shots for good measure. The bullets thudded into their thighs, bringing themdown.
Balot jumped out of the booth, table leg under her arm.
The men looked on in disbelief as Balot advanced with the table—a lump of wood that weighed at
least as much as she did—as a shield. They gave her everything they had, firing blindly. In return Balot
fired a salvo of bullets straight into their collarbones. Not a single one of her shots missed.
Just then the bartender emerged frombehind the counter with a shotgun in his hands.
Balot didn’t even need to look at him to thrust an arm out sideways and put bullets straight through
both his shoulders. Unbelievable, his face seemed to say, as he turned a backflip into the array of bottles
that lined the bar.
The last man standing in the bar had his gun held out with a stupefied expression. Balot stuck her head
out from behind the table, and the man hastily fired off a series of shots. He was at point-blank range and
still failed to hit her, and indeed one of the flying bullets grazed his own armas it ricocheted back, making
him yelp. The bullet smashed into a large mirror at the end of the counter, and Balot expected it to shatter,
but other than the new hole adorning it, the mirror seemed fine—as it turned out, it was a fairly st.u.r.dy
Balot brandished the table over her head and threw it at the man.
The man screamed, loud and shrill, and was thrown back into the booth along with the table.
The bar was evidently fitted with quality air conditioning, as the white smoke in the air was already
being sucked away. No one was dead, but all Balot’s a.s.sailants were thoroughly incapacitated. Balot
ejected her cartridge, reloaded it with a new one generated from within the gun, and went to sit back
down in the same booth she had been sitting at.
There, the Doctor was snuggled up against Skysc.r.a.per, the former happily snoring away while the
latter whimpered in pain and fear. Balot tapped Skysc.r.a.per on his shoulder, causing him to scream and
push his chunky frame back against the wall. He squirmed so hard, it appeared as if he hoped he might be
able to melt into the wall.
“I…I’m just a hired hand! Please…” For someone who had succeeded so far in one of the most
sought-after professions in Mardock City, the lawyer cut a pretty pathetic figure.
–What do we do now? Just go home?
“Let’s establish just who this ‘hired hand’ was hired by.” With that, Oeufcoque turned with a squelch,
and Balot’s glove became a cell phone.
Balot tossed the cell at Skysc.r.a.per’s knees.
“Call your employer. We want to speak to him directly.” Oeufcoque’s voice emerged from the cell
phone. Skysc.r.a.per, a quivering wreck, needed no additional encouragement.
He had to try the number a few times before he eventually got through. “h.e.l.lo…this is Sky…
Skysc.r.a.per here. The other party in the negotiations…um…that is…they’d like to speak to you directly.
He pa.s.sed the phone back to Balot with a trembling hand. Balot didn’t even bother putting the earpiece
to her ear. All she needed to do was connect to the part of Oeufcoque that was inside her suit.
“Mr. Cleanwill John October? Director at OctoberCorp? This is Oeufcoque-Penteano here, PI and
Trustee for this case.” Oeufcoque spoke out loud so that Skysc.r.a.per could hear too. Balot was starting to
get fed up with Skysc.r.a.per’s miserable face, so she got up and wandered over to the bar in search of the
carton of milk.
Then they heard the sneering laughter of Cleanwill John October on the phone.
–That was quite a show you put on for us back at the casino. How did you use your last ten
thousand dollars? A fancy meal at some restaurant you couldn’t normally af ord? A holiday to take
your mind of your woes, perhaps?
“The game’s up. We’re arresting you for attempted kidnapping and blackmail.”
–Where’s your proof that I’m behind this? You have no witnesses. No one will arrest me.
Balot shrugged. Thinking how she was grateful that she didn’t have to talk directly to such a person,
she placed her gun on the counter, took a carton of milk fromthe refrigerator below the counter, picked up
one of the few gla.s.ses that remained intact, and poured herself a gla.s.s. She was effectively committing
robbery, she realized, but there wasn’t any other way she was going to get her drink.
She added a couple of ice cubes to her drink and took a seat at the bar. She stared into the mirror at the
end of the bar, repelled by the nearby phone conversation.
–More importantly, why don’t you think about settling? The trial’s going to be a washout.
“Washout? It’s too late for you to try and bring our case down by establishing a counter-case, if that’s
what you mean.”
–Not if we’ve already applied for our own case. Looks like we’ll be taking the same defendant to
“The same defendant?”
–Sh.e.l.l-Septinos has brought about considerable damage to OctoberCorp. The man has tarnished
our good name and standing, took on fraudulent loans for his own personal advantage, and even had
the audacity to demand a share of our a.s.sets.
“How convenient for you. By a.s.sets I a.s.sume you’re referring to the dowry he would presumably have
received as a matter of course in marrying your daughter?”
–Marrying her? Ah, yes, there was such talk at one stage, wasn’t there?
John paused to laugh, a most peculiar sound.
–Ours is a family business—family is our rock and the foundation of our success. I was actually
pleased to think that I had managed to find someone suitable to take that woman of my hands.
Balot squeezed her gla.s.s tightly. Suddenly she had a feeling that she was missing something.
Something to do with the building they were in…
–Sh.e.l.l—I didn’t actually dislike him, truth be told. He had a good head on his shoulders and a
certain tenacity of spirit. I admire that in a man. It’s no lie to say that he had excellent prospects, and
we’re telling the truth when we say his current prospects are most lamentable.
Balot’s feeling of unease started to solidify inside her. John’s words were triggering alarm bells
somewhere deep inside her unconscious. Balot tried to put her finger on the reason.
–But our company—we’re just as much victims of Sh.e.l.l as you are. We could just sit here and
squabble amongst ourselves, of course, but wouldn’t it be better if we collaborated in prosecuting
Sh.e.l.l together? There’s plenty of scope for negotiation here, don’t you think?
“What exactly are you planning to do? Have him imprisoned and transported to a state where they
have capital punishment, so that you can have the law do away with himfor good?”
John laughed. Balot heard the laugh as if it were echoing in the room right beside her. His future
prospects are most lamentable. Someone had said something like this before. Skysc.r.a.per.
–We need not trouble ourselves right now about what may or may not happen after Sh.e.l.l goes to
prison. The important thing is that there is a certain someone who has been hurt deeply by Sh.e.l.l’s
actions—a certain someone who was hoping to marry him and has been damaged as a result of what
Sh.e.l.l has done. She’ll be inheriting the mantle of this case—or rather, OctoberCorp will on her behalf.
–Sh.e.l.l’s case will be closed shortly, and with it he’ll lose the right to have a PI investigate on his
behalf. We’ll simply rehire the excellent PI that he currently has in his employ and have him work for
us. The contractual negotiations are already in place.
“You’re going to have Boiled kill Sh.e.l.l, is that the idea? You…”
–Well, it looks like the children of Scramble 09 are going to have the opportunity to fight this one
out amongst themselves. In the meanwhile, it’ll be our own OctoberCorp that’s wholeheartedly
received by the people of Mardock City, just as the Three Magi wanted.
“You dare to invoke the Three Magi? Can you put your founding director on the line to support your
–She’s a sleeping beauty who won’t be waking up anytime soon. You know as well as I do that she’s
“What I do know is that OctoberCorp is taking advantage of her comatose state to abuse the technology
she gave you and make dirty money, under the pretext of ‘what the Three Magi would have wanted.’ You
know full well that none of the Three Magi really want such a thing.”
–Is that so? I can tell you that plenty of people in this city would disagree with you—they like
being “abused” by our technology, as you put it. We’re just doing our duty as a clan to develop our
inheritance—our duty to ensure the progress of OctoberCorp.
“That’s a foul deceit—trying to justify the suffering of innocent victims, hiding behind weasel words.”
–Do you know the origin of what we call the Stairway to Heaven, Mardock?
–Mardock was the name of the son of the G.o.ddess. He killed his own mother and usurped her role
as creator, ruling in her place far more ef ectively than she ever did. In much the same way, we at
OctoberCorp are here to use the technology brought into the world by the Three Magi. The old moral
values are obsolete in the face of social progress.
“That’s just a fantasy that you guys conjured up to suit your own ends. There’s no such thing as old or
new morals, just morality.”
–I wouldn’t expect you to think anything else—a creature who narrowly escaped destruction only
by hiding behind the shield of Mardock Scramble. Your so-called Scramble 09 is nothing more than a
smokescreen whipped up by freaks such as you so that you can desperately try to justify your existence
to a society who never asked for you in the first place and doesn’t want you now. But has society ever
felt that way about OctoberCorp, the OctoberCorp that fulfills so many of its needs? I don’t think so,
John’s voice was more sonorous than ever, and Balot honed in on the direction fromwhich it came.
“No one who refuses to acknowledge that they themselves are potentially dangerous has any right to
lecture others about morality,” Oeufcoque stated boldly. As he did so, Balot jumped into action.
With all her might she threw the gla.s.s in her hand toward the mirror at the end of the bar.
The mirror that one of the men’s stray bullets had cracked but not destroyed only a minute ago.
The gla.s.s smashed against the mirror, splashing the milk across the surface.
There was an audible gasp on the cell phone. This confirmed Balot’s suspicions, and she moved
quickly. She picked up her gun fromthe counter and unloaded it into the mirror in one swift movement.
It really was a st.u.r.dy mirror. It took over ten shots before it gave up the ghost and started to collapse.
Finally, though, it started peeling fromthe wall.
It was a one-way mirror. And the scene behind it was now revealed to all in the bar.
Balot threw her gun down and snarced the left hand of her bodysuit so that she held a brand-new one
in her grip.
Gun outthrust, she stood in front of the warped mirror.
A wave of disgust ran over her, one that made every hair on her body stand on end. Before she even
had the chance to think about what she was doing, she pulled the trigger, hard. Oeufcoque was there for
her, suppressing the bullet, stopping the action inside himself.
“Ah…you seem to have us at a disadvantage, sir. I never imagined for a moment that you would be in
such a place. Although I daresay the disadvantage is now all yours…” Unusually for Oeufcoque, his voice
dripped with sarcasm. But Oeufcoque was Oeufcoque, after all, and he could only take so much—the
whole scene was evidently getting to him. “I can’t say I think much of your hobbies, sir. By the look of it,
I can see all sorts of laws being broken…”
Beyond the mirror were five or six boys and girls in varying degrees of undress, all young. Preteen
young. In the midst of them was a giant lump of flesh—far bigger than Skysc.r.a.per—sprawled on a sofa in
a nightgown, holding a phone in his hand and looking at Balot in mute terror.
“This is private property…” the corpulent figure finally managed to spit out. It was the same man they
had seen back at the casino—none other than Cleanwill John October.
“Indeed, so we’ll refrain from actually entering unless we’re forced to. We’ll just wait here, keeping
you under guard until the police arrive. Cleanwill John October, as a PI and Trustee for this case, I invoke
my jurisdiction to arrest you on charges of attempted kidnapping, extortion, and—well, lots of other
Oeufcoque managed to stay levelheaded. The proof of this was that he kept the safety catch on the gun
firmly engaged. “Balot, call for police backup.”
Balot shook her head. She wanted to kill them—kill them all, even the young boys and girls with John.
She remembered the lecherous smirk on Skysc.r.a.per’s face, thought again about what it meant he wanted to
do to her, and felt her blood rushing around her body so quickly she thought it might start flowing
“Balot.” Oeufcoque spoke even more deliberately.
“Yaaargh!” A scream came at them from behind, though not before Balot and Oeufcoque both realized
it was coming.
Skysc.r.a.per had emerged fromthe booth and was charging toward them, gun in hand.
Balot didn’t even turn around; she merely fired off a number of shots over her own shoulder.
Both of Skysc.r.a.per’s shoulders and both his knees were pulverized in an instant. His scream rose in
pitch a few notches, and he writhed helplessly on the floor.
Balot’s eyes remained fixed on the giant figure on the other side of the mirror. After the gunshots, all
thought of resistance had been wiped from Cleanwill John October’s mind, and he blubbered, “Peace!
Let’s do this in peace!” Both his arms were raised in a wobbly surrender.
Balot would have rather seen himin pieces than in peace, but she managed to overcome this feeling to
take a step back fromthe broken mirror and snarc her cell phone to call the police.
She left the rest to Oeufcoque. It was the only way she could get through this.
She was exhausted. There was much she still had to learn. It made her head spin.
Police sirens converged on the bar. Balot was in the pa.s.senger seat of the red convertible, watching
the young children as they were wrapped in blankets and escorted to safety.
John October had already been taken away in custody along with the other men in the bar.
“To think that we’d be able to catch one of OctoberCorp’s directors so easily,” said the Doctor. He
was relaxed, still a little sleepy, but was focused on the task at hand. The second case could now
Oeufcoque told him the details of his conversation with John, and the Doctor frowned. “Doesn’t that
make Boiled more or less a fully paid employee of OctoberCorp?” the Doctor asked.
“It could be that Boiled is now planning on taking Sh.e.l.l prisoner. I suggest we play along with
OctoberCorp for a little longer and make out that we’re interested in continuing discussions with them.
That will buy us some time.”
“OctoberCorp is more ruthless than you give them credit for, Oeufcoque. At this stage it’s do or die.
The only thing that’ll make the difference between victory and defeat is Sh.e.l.l and his memories. That
Sh.e.l.l—” At this point the Doctor and Oeufcoque fell silent.
“Where’s Sh.e.l.l right now?” asked Oeufcoque sharply.
The Doctor fumbled with his PDA. “He’s been released on bail pending his final trial, and he’s
permitted to travel within a two-kilometer radius of the hotel he’s staying at. There should be specialists
fromthe DA’s office tailing him, of course, but…”
“How long before Boiled hears about what’s gone down here?”
“He’s probably already heard,” said the Doctor.
“We need to hurry, then.”
Without another moment’s notice, the Doctor revved up the car, and it sped off from a standing start.
Balot, who had zoned out, was jolted back into consciousness and rushed to secure her seat belt.
–What’s the matter?
Balot spoke by snarcing the car stereo.
The Doctor shook his head. “It’s Boiled. Unless he gets an order from OctoberCorp to stop him, he
might end up killing Sh.e.l.l. It’d be such a shame to lose our main piece of leverage now that we have one
of OctoberCorp’s directors in the bag.”
–What are we going to do?
It was Oeufcoque who answered this. “The Doctor will head to the Broilerhouse. We’ll go to the hotel
Sh.e.l.l is staying at and ensure his safety.”
–I’m going to go and save Sh.e.l.l’s life?
This time she didn’t use the car stereo, but rather snarced Oeufcoque directly.
Balot was silent, thoughtful.
They arrived at the Broilerhouse, and the Doctor jumped out and rushed in without even looking back.
Balot programmed the name of Sh.e.l.l’s hotel into the display, and the car set off.
The car pulled into the hotel’s underground parking lot, and Oeufcoque gave Balot the latest news.
“Just in fromthe Doctor. Sh.e.l.l’s in room663.”
Balot took the key from the ignition and hurried toward the hotel lobby. She headed into an elevator,
then suddenly realized that the b.u.t.tons stopped at the fortieth floor.
“This is an emergency. Protecting Sh.e.l.l takes priority over any legal niceties,” Oeufcoque said, before
Balot even had the opportunity to ask. She snarced the elevator, sending it up to the sixty-sixth floor.
There was no one else in the elevator and no sign of anyone in the corridor when Balot stepped out.
Suddenly—without Balot having to snarc anything—she felt a squish about her left hand and realized
that she was holding a gun. “Be careful.”
Balot progressed with the utmost care. She walked down the corridor with silent footfalls and stopped
right in front of the target door. She sensed what was on the other side of the door—no sign of movement.
Balot snarced the electronic door lock open, calling on help fromOeufcoque to decode it.
No sooner had she opened the door than Balot was a.s.saulted by a lukewarmblast of air.
The air conditioner wasn’t working. Next to the door was a large dresser coated with a layer of
condensed water vapor.
There was the sound of running water; Balot headed slowly for the bathroom. An orange light was on,
and steambillowed out, filling the room.
Balot steadied her gun and entered the bathroom. She was filled with an uneasy premonition. She was
sure that there was no sign of movement frominside, and her mind couldn’t help but carry this observation
through to its logical conclusion. She walked across the polished marble floor and past a large mirror
toward the source of the steaming, bubbling water.
Balot’s feet stepped in flowing water.
She put her hand on the shower curtain and, taking a deep breath, yanked it back.
The sight that a.s.sailed her made her heart miss a beat.
A woman swayed in the water, her mouth O-shaped, as if she were screaming silently. Her head
floated but her mouth was full of splashing water, and her eyes had started to go muddy, cooked by the
near-boiling hot water.
The woman was naked, and her long blonde hair covered her body as the hot water continued to flow.
Her body was covered with black and blue bruises. Bruises that were no doubt inflicted on her when
she resisted, or perhaps bruises she received because she couldn’t resist.
Finally, Balot exhaled. A streamof cold vapor in the steamy room.
“Looks like this was Sh.e.l.l’s fiancée…” Oeufcoque muttered.
Balot was suddenly overtaken by an urge. She left the bathroom and headed for the living room,
positioning herself in front of the television. She snarced it to grasp its inner workings, then accessed the
“What’s this about, Balot?” Oeufcoque seemed concerned, but Balot ignored him, turning the
television on and bringing up a map of the city. Her eyes remained wide open as she logged into a number
of servers, cracking the encrypted pa.s.swords with ease.
“Stop it, Balot! What are you trying to do—find Sh.e.l.l? You’re hacking into public networks, you
know! That’s a crime! There are official channels we need to go through for this sort of thing. Don’t you
start running off the rails too!”
Balot stared at the television, tears suddenly filling her eyes. Her face crumpled and she sat down. She
cried without making a sound, lifting her gun in her hand as she did so.
–Let me kill Sh.e.l.l.
Her face was painfully sad as she snarced Oeufcoque.
–Let me kill that man Cleanwill too.
“Balot, it’s no good thinking like—”
–Please. Let me. I don’t even care if I die afterward.
“Balot…are you angry? Or sad?”
Balot shook her head. Neither. Both. She felt her destiny swirling about her. Her terrible, terrible
destiny. Why did Sh.e.l.l have to kill that woman in the bathroom? I’m going to make you clean. I’m going
to clean you up. The words echoed around Balot’s mind.
–I think that woman in there was the same as me.
Balot managed to snarc the words to Oeufcoque through the terrible memories that were resurfacing
“The same…? You mean, that is to say…” Oeufcoque started, but he didn’t need to finish. He’d
understood perfectly. The woman in the bathroom had things done to her by her father. Or perhaps other
men and women had done things to her.
–Please, let me kill them all. I don’t care if I die myself. I don’t care if I die.
“Calm down. This has nothing to do with you. Don’t get sucked in. Take a deep breath and calm
Balot held on to her gun. Her whole body shook as she cried. Quietly, her breathing a mess.
Every possible horrible fate seemed to be in this room. For the first time ever, Balot experienced the
feeling of seeing her sorrow transform not into anger but into sheer murderous intent. She wanted to kill
Sh.e.l.l. She wanted to kill everyone who worked for OctoberCorp. She wanted to kill the others caught up
in this case, Boiled and even the Doctor. Then, after she had done all that, she wanted to save the last
bullet for herself.
–I can’t bear it. Help me. Save me.
Balot felt a soft warmth in her left hand. She realized that Oeufcoque was trying to materialize.
Balot clasped her hands together in prayer, and Oeufcoque&rsq