The chill of the morgue was penetrating through his winter jacket.
Ian kept his eyes trained firmly in front of him as he rocked forward and back on the balls of his feet. This was an inescapable part of his job but that didn’t mean he had to enjoy any part of it.
Not to mention he always felt like he was being watched the entire time he was in here. You would think five years as a homicide detective would strip away any proclivity to anthropomorphize the dead – but there was something about being surrounded by a multitude of corpses all mutilated in their own unique ways that tended to re-awaken long-suppressed superstitions.
“Overexposure!” chimed Dr. Miller cheerfully, “Pretty standard case, I am afraid you aren’t going to get an exciting report out of this Detective”
Ian felt his lip curl as he slowly turned back to see her finish up suturing the body shut. He wasn’t sure whether his immense dislike of the woman was a result of association to her workplace or because of her seemingly gleeful attitude towards violent death.
“Female, in her early 20s. I would put the time of death between midnight and 2:30 am today due to the bruising pattern on her chest.”. Dr. Miller followed the outline of each mottled bruise with her finger.
“Wait, bruises? I thought you said this was a case of overexposure”
Dr. Miller slowly arched an eyebrow in his direction. “How many exposure cases have you worked on?”
“Can you just get on with i- ”
“I dunno. Dozens, probably”
She turned to him, eyes twinkling, hands clasped in front of her like a primary school teacher readying herself for a lecture. Ian resisted the sudden impulse to stomp his feet and storm off in a tantrum.
“All that time, and you still don’t understand the mechanics of the process?”
He forced himself to exhale slowly. “Well. Doctor. I didn’t think I needed to be an expert on the mechanics of it all just to stop it from happening”
“Tut, tut Detective. This is not the right attitude” said Dr. Miller as she shook her head dramatically and waved a finger in his direction. “The pursuit of knowledge is the noblest journey a man can undertake.” She pressed her lips together but did little to stop her shoulders from shaking with restrained laughter.
Ian rolled his eyes “Fine then. Please explain these very important mechanics to me so that we can get on with the rest of the report and be done with this”
“Well, then it’s fairly simple. Gas goes in, one very complex chemical reaction later, the pressure builds in the lungs, blood vessels surrounding the lungs and underneath the skin go pop, and then we are left with this wonderful patina curling across the victim’s skin.”
“But wait,” he asked with brows furrowed“this doesn’t happen every time right?”
“Nope,” she chirped back. “You have to be out there for a really long time for it to affect your lungs to this degree. Usually, they die pretty quickly of a massive heart attack before it gets to this point.”
“So all this,” he asked, vaguely gesturing at the body but being careful to not look directly at it, “all happened before death?”
“That would be my guess. I guess you just have to figure out why she was out there for as long as she was, and why it took so long to find her.”
“None. Facial recognition, prints, and dental records all came back negative, we have no idea who she is. She is officially a Janet Doe”
Ian sighed, “Great, that’s just bloody brilliant. Nothing ever comes easy does it” he muttered darkly.
Dr. Miller shot him an amused glance before looking back over the corpse “Judging by the state of her nails and hair, as well as the clear malnutrition, she has probably been unhoused for a while. Initial diagnostics also revealed a veritable cocktail of drugs in her system. And it wasn’t the expensive kind either. This poor kid fell through the cracks ages ago.”
Ian walked over to the gurney to run his eyes over the victim, “Could it be she was forced to do this? A dealer or scorned lover dumping her on the west side to cover his tracks?”
“No signs of a struggle, or any ingestion of Rohypnol, Scopolamine, or similar suggestive drugs. She wasn’t coerced” she shrugged. “Maybe she hit her limit and decided to end it, but it’s more likely she just ran out of units for her apparatus”
Ian cursed under his breath. “This is going to be a bureaucratic nightmare. This is the fifth one this month. The media is going to love this”.
Dr. Miller stepped around the autopsy table, snapping off her medical gloves as she did. “Well, that’s the perk of having a Janet Doe like this. We have the authority to decontaminate.”
“Somehow that doesn’t stop the newspapers from somehow finding out about this and sensationalizing it” he replied.
“They started talking about those ‘leaks’ again then?”
Ian snorted derisively, “When did they ever stop? It’s all the rage in the fun mass hysteria sector of the Internet. One or two of these suicidal psychos walk into the West Sector with no apparatus and we have to spend weeks fending off accusations that the filtration system is ‘not up to par’. And if it isn’t the conspiracy theorists, it’s reporters accusing the government of murder because a couple of crack heads can’t pay their damn bills,” He sighed, rubbing a tired hand across his face.
“Well after what happened in Detroit you can’t exactly blame the masses can you” retorted Dr. Miller as she shrugged out of her lab coat. “If they keep finding this material, it will just keep feeding the Climate Reversal activists. Every other week a new one turns up, are you sure there really isn’t a leak?”
“It is not a goddam- do you want me to show you the bloody blueprints of the System”
She chuckled, “Calm down Detective, you are just going to feed the media if you react this wonderfully to any line of question,” She pulled on a set of pink scrubs and lab goggles before turning away from him with a smirk.
Ian slowly massaged his temples, mentally counting down from ten. His head was beginning to throb with what felt like the beginning of a migraine and he was self-aware enough to know that he was being goaded into an argument.
But that didn’t cancel out the sudden overwhelming desire to just take direction from the bloated corpse lying next to him, and walk three blocks into the next sector sans apparatus rather than continue engaging with this woman
“Just start the decontamination process. Please” he forced out through gritted teeth.
“Will do boss.” she chirped back with a grin, already wheeling the gurney towards the large metal cylinder at the back of the room.
Ian turned to leave, his mind already going over the mountain of paperwork he would have to deal with when he got back to the precinct. There was only so much they could cover up before the press caught on and the Terra crazies smelled the blood in the water. He pulled on his hat and reattached his respirator.
“What would you guys do though? If there happened to be a leak.”
Ian turned back around, not bothering to suppress his groan this time, “If there was a leak, the Overseers would inform the public, and immediately quarantine and decontaminate the isolated sector. Which hasn't happened in over twenty years.”
Dr. Miller remained where she was, with her back turned to him.
“Half a sector just got sealed in Detroit last month” she muttered, her voice uncharacteristically low, “And yet they say we haven’t had a leak in twenty years.”
Ian grabbed his scarf off of the hanger near the doorway, he had his fill of her presence, and the last thing he wanted was to stand around with this despicable woman and talk conspiracy theories. “That was a precautionary quarantine to quell an outbreak,” he aggressively looped the scarf around his throat, “when they reopen the sector in another eight weeks I can’t wait to finally have a break from all this sensationalism.”
He meant doom predicting, anti-Government nut jobs, but sure “sensationalist” would do. He turned and walked to the door before her voice rang out behind him, loud and chipper as usual, forcing him to pause with his hand still resting on his keycard.
“I sincerely hope that is the case Detective, or else that will be 30,000 Janet Does for us to decontaminate on the quiet.” She laughed, a bright airy sound that rang out in the empty space between them like a death knell, “And I don’t think my lab is nearly big enough, do you?”
He tapped his keycard and strode out of the door without turning back, the echo of her laugh following him down the dim corridor. He walked faster until he was practically jogging to his car docked outside the building. Above him, the bright dome encasing their sector pulsed with different visions of the night sky. Today they seemed to be projecting one for 2009. It was nice, you could still see some of the stars.
Dr. Miller hummed to herself as she pressed a button on the panel in front of her that fed the gurney into the cylinder. She checked the body one last time before walking back to her operating table and pulling out the sanitized and vacuum-sealed case of all of Janet Doe’s wordly possessions at the time of her death.
Sitting amidst the wadded up fabric of ripped and (formerly) muddied clothes, was a cheap plastic respirator, a violently orange peeling pleather satchel, around 50 units worth of tokens, and a tiny pendant shaped like a heart that was pressed into the corner of the case, right against the reinforced plastic. Dr. Miller stared at it blankly for a moment, still humming faintly under her breath. The pendant was bright red, shiny plastic rhinestones pressed into its surface and faintly reflecting the white light of the room. She could see a slight hinge along the side of the pendant.
She looked back up at the body on the gurney in front of her. What would this bloated shape have thought important enough to persevere in this locket? Was it something important? A secret? A lover that left their mark? A sentimental keepsake from a childhood long gone? Or was it empty - a petty trinket that they just happened to hold onto even as everything else slipped away.
Whatever it was, it clearly wasn’t enough to stop this eventuality from occurring. Dr. Miller sighed briefly, before tossing the case on top of the body and sealing the cylinder shut. She walked back to her office, thinking about all the paperwork she filed that she now has to undo.
Behind her blue flames slowly licked their way across the mangled, purple corpse, sparklingly against the shiny, beaded surface of a tiny melting locket, before eventually curling into smoke.