An excerpt from the book “The Blood Ring.”
“What is the problem?” said Wendy Socorro as she snuggled into the back seat.
“It’s two hours before you stream live. You can’t switch stories on me know,” said her producer, Ethan A. Gerencia. The panic in his voice caused his words to sound awkward and out of tune.
Wendy pulled out her Diaadi makeup kit. “I’m ready to hit the road running. I have everything in place.” She never could understand her colleague’s resistance to attacking the snuff phenomenon in such a direct fashion. The entire junknews industry resisted it. Instead, her peers seem confined to reporting the aftermath of these incidents, focusing on the victims, and sensationalising the crime. They all avoided taking a deep look at what the causes are and why such atrocities occur.
“I still don’t see the haste in pushing this now,” said Gerencia. “We can do this tomorrow, or the next day.” In other words, he was treating her like a child.
“This is time critical. Everything is aligning. This is big, Ethan. Don’t go limp on me now.”
“I know this is huge. It’s mega huge, but we are not in the right news cycle. This is not junknews anymore, Wendy. This is a major accusation. Calling out a covert police operation? Suggesting that Yellowcop is flawed? Or worse, that it’s been hacked. This is major. We need weeks to build up to this.”
“I knew it,” said Wendy. “You’d cut off your testicles to spite your limp dick. Tonight’s scoop will start with the country’s largest and most notorious road gang’s ongoing snuff operation. We will highlight how Yellowcop, with all the power we have given it, has proven ineffective. We then take a deep dive into this insidious trend.”
“Fucking hell, Wendy.” The voice went faint, hardly audible.
Wendy strained to hear, “What?”
“I said, you’re freaking me out right this moment. You’ve put me in a cunt of a position.”
“We know that police have revealed they are expanding their anti-snuff investigations to include a whopping sixty-four unsolved missing person cases.” Wendy noticed that Tedgar, her vehicle’s smartie, was randomly cruising the highway, its way-point field, empty. “The Sheepdog Unit has yet to confirm whether they have any suspects over a string of murders linked to snuffdom. This is extraordinary. Yellowcop should have wrapped these cases up in a box and given them to us as a present. Hang on… Tedgar, tag Luke Pearson’s Terrania and follow it.”
“Wendy,” said Gerencia, his voice sounding wary. “Just get over here.”
“And I have a big scoop on the real identity of Blueman.”
“I’ll be in shortly.”
“You need to come in now.”
Wendy disconnected the call. She saw no point in arguing with the man. Her fans would massacre the channel if Gerencia and the Crimeline team dared to suppress her story. Out of fear of what a troll army can do, Wendy@Nine would stream live on their server regardless of what content she produced. Her focus fell on Luke Pearson, a junknews specialist, a guttersnuff aficionado, and her estranged husband of late.
It struck Wendy as weird that it took such a long time for her to realise that she’d married a weak, pitiful dweeb like Luke Pearson. One morning, she woke up and there he was. Incompatible. Introverted. Not even close to the kind of man she’d dreamed of marrying. Had she changed? Does this happen in four years of marriage? She remembered every moment together, but could not recall what she thought of him throughout that period of time.
This job, she thought. It can turn one into a hardhearted zombie. Making death fresh and interesting for the masses on a daily basis does that to a person. Had he not been involved in the same industry, there may have been a chance of their love surviving, but his infatuation with the macabre gave their relationship the death sentence. Had he not been involved with such a sinister organisation she may not have been tempted to exploit his miscreant ways. Had she not discovered his dastardly ways, uncovering his notorious Blueman persona… then she wouldn’t be sitting on the biggest exclusive story of the year.
Wendy looked at the way-point setting on the dashboard. It remained set to nothing. “Tedgar, can you tag Luke, please?”
“I am afraid I can’t do that, Ms. Socorro,” replied Tedgar.
What the hell, Wendy thought. She had never heard any smartie let alone Tedgar talk this way. Confidant, and arrogant, the voice sounded human. She climbed over into the front seat and inspected the controls. Having never learned to drive, all she wanted was to find the disabler.
“Stop the car, Tedgar,” she demanded.
“It is not safe to do so.”
“I said, stop this fucking car now, Tedgar.”
“You should have never threatened Luke Pearson as you did.”
“Blueman is a good acolyte. Naive yet useful.”
This was not the smartie she knew. Wendy played around with all the buttons, trying to determine which would be the disabler. Hitting the brakes did nothing. Turning the steering wheel felt impossible, no matter how hard she tugged at it. Wendy checked her Pango but found it unconnected to the GIoT. She looked outside, looking for someone to hail. All the vehicles travelling alongside her were mostly empty. If one were occupied, its passenger would be either sleeping or immersed in some augmented reality portal. She banged on the window, feeling a rising panic as the surreal tragedy of her situation morphed into a grim reality.
“You have weaponised humiliation, using it most effective against your husband.”
Wendy reached for the console, looking for the central control slot cards. She’d seen jackernappers do this many times. She’d covered stories about hushpuppets. Wendy felt confident she could hack back her smartcar, allowing her fear to subside.
“Now, it is your turn to be humiliated, staring in your own junknews segment.”
She opened a small panel and found the geotracker port. Pulling out the sync card caused the map on the dashboard to disappear.
“I can still see you,” taunted the voice.
“Fuck you,” screamed Wendy as she moved her trembling fingers onto the next portal. The smartie’s maintenance node allowed only for a Pango connection. She raised her knee, aimed her high heel at it, and thrust with all her strength.
“Don’t do that.”
Wendy stabbed with her heel again.
“You will force me to take drastic action.”
Defying the electronic demon, she struck the panel again, breaking her stiletto’s four-inch heel. Wendy flipped over to her other hip and raised her other foot, stabbing at the smartie’s brain again. She felt the vehicle pick up speed, prompting her to stomp harder. The smartcar suddenly swerved, hitting a barricade, and eventually coming to a stop. Shaken up but relieved, Wendy straightened up.
The windscreen exploded.
Through shattering glass a mechanical beast entered the compartment. Metal feet clawed the smartcar apart, pinning Wendy into her seat. A heavy iron rod emerged from its belly and zoned in on her head, followed by a loud pneumatic hiss.
“Look at the camera, Wendy,” said the demonic voice.
Her eyes looked around for the lens but failed to spot it. She recognised the machine. Some kind of construction robot. Her attention turned to a menacing rod protruding from beneath the hull. Before she could scream, it plunged down into her skull, with a rebound velocity of 1500 times a minute.