Patient 1413 came into my care after an ‘incident’ at Shuntswitch Railway Station. From what I could gather from eyewitness accounts, the youth appeared in the aftermath of an attack by alchemical mutants—those post-people colloquially known as dregs.
A sortie of said specimens emerged from the tunnels of the Skein and assaulted the shroom farmers who use the Shuntswitch line for supply and distribution. Armed with only hammers and sickles, the rail workers and farmers dispatched a baker’s dozen of the wretches before the rest fled back into the depths of the Pits.
A train driver found the youth soon after, clinging like a rust spider to one of the loading cranes. After quite the fracas, and no small number of minor injuries, the youth was subdued and brought to Southmaw Asylum where I took them into custody for study and treatment.
Through careful observation, I deduced that 1413 was ‘raised’ among the deviant tribes in the darker hollows of the Skein. Their mannerisms were uncultivated. In fact, primitive in the extreme. They lacked any rudiment of verbal language, although I was able to discern and learn their twitches and stances; gestures that must have passed for communication amongst the degenerates of the subject’s pack. Through interrogation and intensive observation, I soon came to realize the exciting potential of this nugget in the raw.
In terms of kinaesthetic aptitude, 1413 was a paragon. Never had I witnessed such agility, such harmony over movement. Thus, I confined them to the highest security wing of our institution and petitioned our Metrixian benefactors for funding and certain specialist resources. Seeing the same potential as I, they were most willing to oblige, and so began the next phase of the Iconoclast Trials.
Doctor Krest Mortimer,
Director of Southmaw Asylum
The klaxons howl through the smog-smothered night. Searchlights bore eerie tunnels through the cloying vapor, probing like a surgeon’s fingers into a bleeding wound. 1413 waits until one such scrutinizing shaft has passed by before diving from the asylum’s outer wall.
Such a drop would have killed a regular person, left them shattered, pulped upon the pavement. 1413 folds and rolls with sublime timing, channeling the force of impact through a musculature refined by scalpel and chemistry, converting mortality into momentum that propels the subject into the shrouded streets.
No-one escapes Southmaw, it is said. A point of pride so old it has become a tradition, for the institution’s influence extends well beyond its cells and walls. The surrounding neighborhoods thrive on the asylum’s work and custom. Survival has made them loyal.
Lights flick on. Inhabitants tumble out of doorways, torches and truncheons in hand. Faced with opposition on every corner and causeway, 1413 takes to the rooftops, only to find them as populace and patrolled as the streets.
Harassed by a chorus of alarm, 1413 dances from near miss to imminent peril. Individually, even in small numbers, these people would be no match for the escapee’s prowess. They are fat-limbed slugs waddling in the wake of grace. Yet there are so many. A field of grasping hands and flailing clubs. Exhausted and overwhelmed, 1413 finds themselves cornered in a dead-end alley, a sleek predator driven to deadly desperation by the bleating mob.
Orderlies close in with nets and sick-sticks, their hulking forms padded out with armor. 1413 feels the ache of hunger in their entrails, not for food, but for the fight—for the iron tang of blood in the air. They won’t go back. This morsel of freedom is the sweetest thing they’ve tasted in years. No longer will they swallow the bitterness of confinement, the sour metal of drugs and tests, the foul duet of mindless drudgery and shivering pain.
They eye up a butcher, the fool’s carving knife tucked and forgotten into his belt. They ready themselves to pounce; to go down cutting and bleeding.
The closest aide stops in her tracks. 1413 follows her gaze to the object jutting out of her chest. A copper-barreled dart, the point embedded in the orderlie’s armor. Harmless, until the shaft blinks with scarlet light. Once, twice, thrice. The aide explodes. Flesh and blood splatters across the onlookers. There’s a moment of shocked silence, ruptured by a scream. A second aide scrabbles to tug a dart from his shoulder. He fails—his hands made clumsy by thick gloves—and disappears in a puff of viscera. Two more corporeal eruptions and the gore-soaked mob breaks. The spectacle has become a slaughterhouse and the livestock trample over each other to escape it.
1413 watches the orderlies flee, fascinated, until a rope strikes them on the shoulder. They grab hold of the lifeline, allowing their sapped body to be hauled upwards. On the precipice of a rooftop, strong hands grab and haul them onto the slats.
Shrewd eyes look them up and down. Balanced on the roof’s ridge, the figure’s stance is lithe and ready, her heavy coat offering only a glinting hint of the murderous instruments hidden within. Her voice is as smooth and sure as her aim.
“Hello, little spider.”
1413’s instinct is to run, but the woman’s smooth voice is an intoxicant to their curious mind; her steady presence is almost hypnotic.
“Southmaw’s a tricky place to leave. Even harder to leave behind.” Her gaze flicks back to 1413, pinning them like a moth to a display board. “I might have a use for you.”
She turns, pauses, then looks back over her shoulder. Her smile is like a cold flash of steel in the hot and heavy night. “Come on, then.”
Without question, 1413 follows her over the rooftops of The Maw, trailing her downward into the Pits. It’s a homecoming, of sorts. The familiar tunnels oozing with fresh promise. 1413 doesn’t know where they’re going, but it can’t be worse than where they’ve been.
Patient 1413 has escaped even our most stringent security measures. I do not consider this a failure. No. By all accounts, it is a resounding success. I am sure our benefactors will agree once I have presented them with the findings of my research. The Iconoclast Trials will continue.
For my part, I keenly await the reunion with my prodigal subject. They might resent the confinements, but do not all parents seek to protect their children? They might cringe from the discomforts, but do not all fathers seek to draw the best out of their progeny, even when it hurts them to do so? It is one of life’s inescapable certainties that there can be no growth without pain.
When they return, I expect they will peel open the shell of this mighty cloister and pluck me like a tender mollusc from my bed. I can think of no more satisfying conclusion to my experiment. No greater testament to my work. To justify all those failures, all those losses, Patient 1413 will be an exceptional success.
Doctor Krest Mortimer,
Director of Southmaw Asylum
Written by Edwin McRae and Rachel Rees.
Directed by Robbie Wen. Illus. by Henrique Lindner.