Katya Nosek peddled faster than felt safe, hoping to find Nic before things got heavy. For the eleventh consecutive day there’d been no meds delivery, and things were lively on Mafeking Street. Tough anyway, tougher steering down a road pockmarked with potholes holding a can of Soporol. Regress and pacify, read the label in reassuring blue letters – in practice, people came round to discover tourists laughing at them after they’d explosively shit themselves.
Ahead of her, two werewolves snarled and snapped. The look came from holographic wraps provided by Benway Inc, who had the mental health contract for Nottingham. They operated a safari for gawpers and gamers to fake-shoot the mentally ill, profits supposedly spent on medication. But people proved surprisingly resilient to shooting the distressed, as manager Dawn Tilley pointed out. A brainstorm with Hockley’s most dangerous marketing disruptor hatched the Halloween-themed werewolf concept, to nudge the potentially-aggressive into pretend violence.
“You know Benway make Soporol,” her dad had said last night, cooking up mushrooms they’d picked on a graveyard stroll. “Targets traumatic toilet-training memories.”
Katya whisked pigeon eggs and ignored him. What income they had mostly came from her. That meant tolerating an employer whose first line of support was to hand out phones that auto-played inspirational TED talks before they could be used for anything else.
The noise of a bullet –
No, an actual bullet –
One werewolf was down, wrap flickering away to reveal Nic Baggott’s skull peeled open like a ruby grapefruit. Katya had felt like killing her before now, but at least that would have been personal. For whoever shot her, Nic was just a glitch in a game that – staff gossip had it – was set for live streaming if today’s pilot went well.
Katya looked around, then up. Hovering above, held aloft by a drone, a baby-faced man took a picture of his kill. Her phone sounded.
“I know what you’re thinking Katya, and you’re right,” said Dawn. “It’s not ideal.”
“Someone shot Nic.”
“We can talk about it at your review.”
“Nic got killed because there’s more money making out vulnerable people are werewolves than helping get their lives on track.”
“I hear you Katya, and Gareth said the same. But, if you cared that much you could have helped Nic out by giving her your own meds.”
This was Dawn’s power. Most of her team were paid partly in pharmaceuticals required for their own conditions, a stash kept separate from those Dawn referred to as chaotic individuals.
Dawn kept talking, while Katya held the other werewolf, who drooled onto her hi-viz tabard and shook silently. Much more and he’d soon be catatonic, thought Katya, wondering how to get him to safety –
Two more shots –
One werewolf was down, wrap flickering away to reveal Nic Baggott’s skull peeled open like a ruby grapefruit
Wolf-man dropped dead.
The other week, Katya shelled peas while her dad dug over the allotment. Later, they made a fire and drank last year’s damson wine. He was a git, but had his points, and listening to Katya talk about work was one of them.
“It’ll catch up with you one day,” he said. “And if you’re lucky you’ll see it before things get out of hand.”
“Yesterday’s event means we can provide meds for fifty service users for three months,” Babyface’s voice wavered. “Give yourselves a pat on the back.”
Katya and her colleagues did just that, bestie Gareth giving her a wtf look, Dawn keeping a watchful eye on them all. It was the first team meeting for Babyface, a Benway exec. There was the usual stuff about standards, remembering who they were there for, which allowed Katya to talk about Nic.
“There’s a lot I could say about Nic. We all could.” Everyone nodded. “Some of us will remember how she made muffins when it was her birthday.” Even Dawn smiled.
Katya brought out the box from under her chair. “I made these specially,” she said, passing them round.
Babyface was first, took the biggest as Katya expected. Other team members took ones for themselves, Dawn watchful but unable to see signs of betrayal. They sat eating, and Gareth came through with tea – only he could be relied on to remember who used which mug.
Finishing his brew, Babyface stood to go, but collapsed, legs buckling, a tsunami of bodily fluids surging into his trousers. Aghast, Dawn looked at the team, then into her Proclaimers mug, until she caught the wave and submerged under the tide of her own catastrophic diarrhoea. Curled up like babies, the two of them looked almost cute.
Katya and team continued the meeting outside. The buzz was palpable. Would they blackmail Benway Inc with a video of what just happened to cover up their mutiny? Crowdfund something for Mafeking Street the way it could be done? There’d be consequences. But for the first time in a long time Katya felt like they were ready for that, whatever happened.