“Bastard!” shouts Oyuki. Her voice reverberates through the pipes and Bell jolts at hearing it.
“Oyuki?” she calls. “Oyuki, get out of here! Go to –” The tattooed woman’s foot comes up into her chin, sending Bell sprawling.
“You monster!” screams Oyuki, pressing her face against the grate. “She’s one of us!”
The woman laughs again, kicking cruelly at Bell as she circles the downed Ghost. “The kinship of the damned,” she says. Squatting, she holds Bell’s head in place with one hand. The Ghost has no power to fight back. Looking up at Oyuki, the woman says, “I am not like you.” Then she turns to her followers and shouts viciously, “Is she prepared?” The others nod and one hands an empty metal syringe to the woman. Seeing it, Bell thrashes, but the woman holds her. She straddles Bell, pinning her arms against her waist and forcing the air from her lungs. She keeps her hand on Bell’s forehead, holding it still as Bell kicks uselessly, screaming desperately.
Oyuki screams with her. “Get off her!” She pounds her fists on the pipe, but she has no way to get through, no way to get to Bell.
Too weak to resist, Bell is helpless as the woman brings the syringe to her neck. Her muscles are tense, straining, but she is pinned at waist and head. Her teeth clench and her scream becomes a guttural moan as the metal needle punctures her neck, dipping into her artery. Blood dribbles down onto the floor as the woman works the syringe, but it is not blood she draws out. The transparent chamber fills with a thick silver gel which seems to crawl over itself. She pulls the needle out and Bell gasps. She tries to bring a hand to her neck, but the woman slaps it away as she stands, examining the syringe. Panting, Bell tries to thrash to her feet, but three men rush in and take her by the arms, dragging her away from the woman.
Crossing half the space, the woman keeps her eyes up as she approaches Oyuki, stopping almost directly beneath her. She raises the syringe and shakes it silently at her. “This is you,” she says mockingly. “This is all you are good for.” Lifting her other arm theatrically, she jabs the needle into her vein and pushes the plunger, breathing sharply and shivering as the silver liquid vanishes into her body.
Oyuki reels back from the viewport. She can hear Bell screaming inarticulately as she is dragged away into another chamber. Her own mind is screaming, racing through what she just saw, how impossible it is. The gel was laced with nites, she knows that. In a Ghost’s body, they would collect vanishing charge. And if those nites…
“No,” says Oyuki, hunching and shaking her head. “No, that can’t –” She stops, her back clenches. Not again. Not fucking again! She turns, flipping her legs and raising a hand to point. “I told you to –”
Sitting serenely in the pipe is a curly haired girl dressed in a simple suit. She watches Oyuki with intent, birdlike eyes. There is something hauntingly familiar about the girl which keeps Oyuki from drawing back. It is like seeing an old friend after years of aging, except the girl is Oyuki’s age. It’s almost as if…
Suddenly the girl is right next to Oyuki, reaching out and hugging her. Oyuki stiffens under her arms, but then she is reflexively relaxing into her. “It’s good to see you again,” whispers the girl.
Oyuki jerks free from the girl, finding her arms strangely firm. She stares into her face, then she blurts out, “Miss Brown?”
The girl smiles, shrugs. “Not exactly. Call me Pris.”
Oyuki raises a hand to her mouth. “How,” she whispers. “I’ve never even…”
“Shh,” coos Pris. “I’m here to help.”
“But,” stammers Oyuki, “but you can’t be Miss Brown. She’s real, she’s out there somewhere.” Pris nods. “And where are you coming from?” demands Oyuki, beginning to feel frantic. “I’ve never even seen Miss Brown as a girl.”
Pris pouts as she looks down at herself. “This must be your best guess.”
Oyuki gazes at Pris. The other girl’s presence is somehow soothing to her. Maybe now they can…
No! She snaps back to awareness, her eyes hardening at Pris. She raises a hand and waves at the phantom. “Go away,” she commands. Damn, is there a magic word or something? “I’m not going to argue with myself anymore.” She closes her eyes, shakes her head. “I’m not going crazy. I’m not.”
“You’re not,” says Pris, her voice drawing Oyuki’s eyes open. God, she really does look like Miss Brown. “You’re not crazy, but your mind is sensitive right now. That’s why you’re seeing me. Don’t be afraid of me.”
“I’m not,” says Oyuki, not meaning to be so apologetic. “But those Spooks down –”
Ah, the Spooks! Oyuki rushes back to the viewport. She wasn’t paying attention. Many of the Spooks are gone. The woman is directing the remainder, commanding them in hushed but urgent tones to go after Oyuki. “Tear apart the transport layer if you have to,” she says, her attempts at secrecy thwarted by the echoing chamber.