Before - Part I

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A BODY COLLAPSING WITH NO muscular control onto plush carpeting makes a kind of muffled thudding, all raw meat and cut strings. Doctor Basil Grey had heard other, more terrifying sounds in his thirty-three years. He'd heard screams more gorge-raising, had felt more threatened by the piercing shriek of experimental components as their structural integrity began to fail in close proximity to, well, his very valuable self. He'd heard the grating whines of undergrads, the sobs of grad students over the latest drafts of their theses, and the heated yelling matches between colleagues with differing grasps of a theory.

They were all horrendous sounds, and he had ranked them, once, by order of how much they made his teeth ache. But now he quickly reevaluated his internal top-ten list.

This particular sound was above and beyond the worst he'd ever heard in his life.

Something in his gut burned, like a punch had landed solidly to his solar plexus, and Basil doubled over, breath forced from his lungs.

For a ridiculous, dissonant second, he thought he was the one who had been shot.

"No," he moaned, and only realized after the fact that it was he who'd made the soft, wounded animal sound. It was unnaturally loud in the aftermath of the flat, empty crack of a bullet leaving a barrel.

Already partway down, he let gravity pull him the rest of the way to the floor. He reached out before he could stop himself, scrabbing, shaking, and forced his hand into Kalp's, laid a palm across Kalp's cheek. His throat closed up and he struggled to fight against the revulsion from the limpness of the fingers wrapped around his hand; from the already waxy feel of the skin under the bristles on Kalp's jaw.

Kalp blinked, just once, and turned his head towards Basil. And then, somehow, he was gone. There was no death rattle, no dramatic final breath, in his eyes, and then...none.

Kalp was dead.

Kalp was dead on the living room floor.

Basil jerked backwards, away from the thing that he now touched, the thing that wasn't...that was still so warm, and dead bodies weren't supposed to be warm. They were never warm in the movies. But Kalp radiated heat like a little rain forest. Had radiated, no longer in the present...goddamnit all to hell and goddamn the tenses too. Then Basil's other instinct, the desperate need to deny, jumped to the fore and he surged forward to try to shake Kalp back into breathing. The purple-red blood was still oozing out of a fist-sized wound, growing ever more sluggish as the seconds ticked by, becoming sharply chilly in the still air. Basil jammed his hand over the blooming injury, pushed in his fist in a desperate, futile effort to stop the flow. Limp blue fur tickled his knuckles. Dark skin cooled irrationally rapidly, making goose pimples burst upwards along his arms.

Basil called to Kalp, kept calling long after it was obvious that Kalp could never respond, because no, this couldn't be it, this couldn't be all. Not after everything else, not after all they'd lost, he couldn't accept it, he couldn't just let Kalp die in their own house, in the one place that the Institute had promised they would be safe, goddamn it.

He looked up. Standing in the fore of the tightly packed group of three Special Ops soldiers from the Institute, a veritable phalanx of Kevlar and scowls, Agent Aitken had gone ashen and grim. Her gun was pointed at the ceiling now, but her finger was still on the trigger, her knuckles white around the grip. Basil imagined that he could see smoke curling out of the barrel.

"Why?" Basil shouted, and everyone in the room jumped at the sudden submachine spray of words that shot out of him. "What the fuck did you do that for!"

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