Saturday, June 3, 2138
Zoya hummed along to a pre-Dark Times rock tune as she sketched a final line of purple lipstick onto the grossly fat man on the stainless steel slab. She often listened to music while she worked, since it helped take her mind from the peculiar canvas upon which she plied her art. Her preference was for rock from the quaint times when people played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. Lennon and McCartney, Waters and Gilmour, Plant and Page...demigods of a dead age.
She didn’t enjoy working with corpses--the faint smell of decay and the stronger one of embalming fluid, the coldness of the skin--but after three years of working in the morgue, she no longer feared them. Instead she focused on her beloved music and tried to imagine what kind of life each of her customers had led, what dreams they had left unfulfilled.
Fans whirred softly, stirring the chilled air of the room. She stood up to get a better view of the face, and jumped as someone dug fingers into her side from behind.
“Hey, little Sis. Did I scare you?”
Snapping off the music from her slot interface, she whirled and was swept into the arms of her brother.
“Georgy!” She pretended to punch his shoulder. “Won’t you ever grow up?” Despite the tender warmth she always felt around him, there was an icy undercurrent now. He had never visited the morgue before. His jet black hair, usually combed straight back on his head, was mussed, and a day’s worth of stubble scratched her cheeks as he kissed first one and then the other. He was always so meticulous about shaving; something must be wrong. “Why are you here?”
He stepped back, still holding her narrow shoulders in his steely grip. “I need you to do something for me. You know I’d--”
“Georgy! You swore you wouldn’t involve me.”
He nodded. “I wouldn’t ask this if I had anywhere else to turn. You know that.” He reached into a pocket and pulled out a small package, a rectangle of old-fashioned brown paper tied off with twine the way Mother always did it.
“You have lots of friends,” Zoya said. “Don’t do this to me.”
“My friends can’t help me now, Sis. You’re all I have. Take this.”
He thrust the package at her, but she backed away, holding up her hands like a shield. “I won’t ruin my life, even for you.”
Georgy set the package on the table next to the corpse. “I’m sorry, but I have no one else I can trust right now. Please, just bring it to me tomorrow, say around ten.” He pulled a small Web cable from a pocket and snapped it into the slot interface hidden in the black hair behind his left ear. “I sure wish you’d let me buy you a wireless upgrade.” He reached out to plug the other end of the cable into Zoya’s slot.
“No, Georgy!” She shoved his arm back. “I won’t do it.”
Georgy stroked a finger down Zoya’s cheek and smiled. “This little packet is going to save our family. It’s going to get us away from here to someplace better. We’re going to--”
“Please don’t lie to me. Lie to your gangster friends all you want, but don’t lie to me.”
Georgy pursed his lips and stared down at the floor for a few moments. Slowly he reached out and placed a finger on the nose of the corpse. “He’s awfully young to have died. What happened to him? He eat himself to death?”
“I’m not a coroner,” Zoya said. “I just prepare them for the funeral. Don’t change the subject on me.”
Gently, Georgy took her shoulders again and pulled her face close. “Look at me, Sis. What do you see?”
Zoya stared into his brown eyes. There was a haunted look she had never seen before. “You’re afraid?”
“Terrified. I fucked up so badly this time. You have no idea. I’ve got to disappear for a while. I need some time to prepare, and I can’t have this on me. And then things will get better for us. I swear.”
He’d used the moment to slide his hand up close to Zoya’s ear, and now he popped the music card from her slot and slipped the cable end into its place. Reluctantly she enabled the connection in her firewall and saw the location where he wanted her to go. It was in a deserted part of old Moscow, a crumbling wasteland where only the drunk or the dangerous ventured.
“Yugo-Zapadnaya? I can’t--”
“Don’t tell anyone where you’re going. I have a safe house there. You’ll be fine, you’ll see. Tomorrow, around ten, okay?” He pulled out the cable and leaned in to kiss her cheek again. “I owe you big time.”
“Georgy,” she moaned, but he had already turned away, walking swiftly toward the morgue exit. It’s what they always do, isn’t it? If there was one thing Zoya had learned in life, it was that men always walked away from their responsibilities.
She sagged against the edge of the table and looked down at the small package. Fear made it difficult to swallow. Fear for Georgy and for herself, though it was tinged with anger that he had forced this upon her. She closed her grip around the package, and her hand brushed the clammy skin of the corpse. An image filled her mind of Georgy laid out on the slab while she rouged his cold cheeks. She shuddered and tucked the package into a pocket of her lab coat.