by Mark Kobrak

The body was sprawled face down, just inches away from a police emergency call box. That was coincidence, of course—the body was only hours old, and that emergency phone had not worked over a decade. But there was, Paolo reflected, a certain irony that he had chosen this section of the abandoned park to die.

It looked as if it had been painful. A trail of blood led backward through the mud from the body for two or three meters, and the man had obviously dragged himself, crawling desperately away from his killer. An old, cheap-model SMG lay in a heap of spent cartridges nearby, all spattered with gore. One of the corpse's legs was lying next to it, apparently severed cleanly from its still-living owner. Paolo viewed the scene in the infrared, the faint light of the stars being too low to reveal the grotesque tableau.

"What happened?" the doctor asked his guide.

"I don't know," answered Tetsutenshi, eyes still searching the landscape. Perhaps she was looking for more clues, or perhaps she was simply concerned someone else might take an interest in them. This was Darkside, and buyers for living organs were never more accessible than they were here.

The doctor knelt by the victim. He carefully turned the body over to examine the figure, and pulled a small flashlight out of his pocket. The body was covered in mud, stained red along the torso. "You understand I know very little about forensic medicine," the doctor warned. "In doing the inspection, I may learn little and damage the evidence."

"I don't know any forensics experts," the cyborg replied. "Do what you can, and don't worry about the evidence."

Paolo nodded, and reached into his pack for a rag. He began carefully wiping away some of the earth that covered the belly. This was an inversion of the usual problem he faced in designing cybersystems. There, he was required to find an ideal weapon to meet a client's specifications; here, he had to guess the weapon from the application. "He's got four entry wounds," the doctor reported. "Penetrating wounds to the abdomen, followed by tearing. Looks like digit-mounted cyber-razors, or a non-standard cyberclaw configuration. Whoever did this was not at all concerned with harvesting organs," the doctor added. "They took out a lot of valuable biomaterial with that strike."

"Cyberblades," the cyborg mulled. "You're certain they weren't ranged weapons of some kind?"

"Positive," replied Paolo. "They struck, and were drawn through flesh." The last time I examined a wound like this, I was still with Avatar, the surgeon recalled. When they bought up a batch of failed replicants for weapons tests. But they were pre-imprintation, non-sentient. This man struggled and suffered.

"Hmmm." Tetsutenshi had probably known that, the doctor decided. But she hadn't wanted to believe someone had walked forward while the victim emptied an SMG into him.

"Whoever did this was very powerful," Paolo observed. "And this man certainly doesn't look that dangerous. Hard to imagine what he did to rate a hit like this." The surgeon waited for further comment from the cyborg, but none was forthcoming. He continued. "It looks like he took some kind of blow to the face," he noted, brushing away some mud. "His jaw is broken. But there are no lacerations there."

"What do you make of the leg?" asked Tetsutenshi clinically.

Paolo looked at the wound. "It's cauterized," he noted. "Some kind of laser." He turned up the magnification on his eyes as he played the flashlight along, then blinked. "This was done with a surgical laser," he said. "The wound is perfectly even—standard laser weapons have a strobe in their intensity. This cut is too precise."

"Can that be done at range?"

"Doubtful," the surgeon considered. "A normal medical laser is only good to about a meter, less for one powerful enough to cut completely through the leg. I don't know if a long-range laser weapon with that kind of precision exists."

The doctor stood up and walked over to the leg, playing his flashlight over that as well. It revealed no new information. The cut had been quick and clean enough to leave the leg viable, but no action had been taken to preserve it. A trace of gore on the leg's exposed cross-section caught his attention. "Look here," he said, gesturing to it. "The wound itself is cauterized—this was just splattered onto it. The leg was cut off before the killing blow was delivered."

"Why would someone do that?" Tetsutenshi asked.

"No idea."

The cyborg seemed to accept this. "Could the medical laser be used to harvest limbs and organs?"

"Certainly," Paolo replied. "But it wasn't. This isn't even the cut you'd use if you were interested in organ-legging, though much of the leg would still have been salvageable."

"So, something ran up at this man—while he was running away and firing," the cyborg added, gesturing at the trail of shells, "And then struck him across the face. Then, the attacker grabbed him and cut his leg off with a surgical laser. He wouldn't have died then?"

"Not immediately," the surgeon replied. "Shock might have killed him eventually, but the cauterization would have prevented blood loss in the short-term."

"So the attacker struck him in the chest with cyberblades, then dropped him and let him crawl away to die."


The cyborg shook her head, and knelt by the body. She began sorting through the victim's pockets, placing the contents on the ground beside them. A knife, a few gang passes, a chunk of soybread, and a few bills. "They didn't even loot the body," she mulled.

"Let alone salvage the organs," the doctor responded. "Perhaps they were interrupted?"

"What could interrupt them that would scare this attacker like that?" asked Tetsutenshi, half-rhetorically.

But Paolo had no answer. He looked back at the bloodstains, when something caught his eye. "Are those your footprints?" he asked the bounty hunter.

Tetsutenshi stepped over to the pair of indentations in the mud and looked at them. Then she stepped into the soft ground next to them, and stepped back. The result was two similar, but smaller—and shallower—indentations in the soil.

"Something heavy," she said, echoing Paolo's thoughts.

"Hm hmm," replied the doctor. "Don't go toe-to-toe with it."

The cyborg looked at him, then smiled. "Is that your professional opinion?"

"Yes," he said seriously. "Doctor's orders." Then he turned back to the corpse and shook his head. "It's the surgical laser I don't understand," he said. "If this were about revenge, why bother with a precision weapon? If the attacker were interested in organlegging, he would have harvested something here. If he weren't, why carry the laser?"

"Maybe he's after bigger game," the cyborg answered. "This guy's organs wouldn't have brought much. Or maybe the laser is part of some more advanced weapons system. Either way, this may just have been a test." She fished a few bills out of her pocket and passed them over to Paolo. "Your fee, doctor," she said. "I'll walk back with you as far as Zone City."

"Thank you," answered the doctor. They turned and left the body lying where it was. Scavengers would attend to it, and neither one of the visitors wanted to linger here.

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