Shatter Heart

Misha's consciousness had only partially faded in. Only half awake, he squinted into the rays of light cast through the shutters, gleaming in soft tones announcing the melting of the last snow and the coming of spring.

His spot on the mattress still emanated a faint warm afterglow against the cold air. Searching for the blanket, he found it, wrapped around its thief to his right. After a moment of listening to her calm and regular breath, he crawled across the bed and slipped under it.

Some unintelligible murmur in response told him that Natalie wasn't entirely asleep either. He laid one arm over her. "Mhhhhhhhhhh… you're cold. I'm getting goosebumps."

"Then warm me." He pulled her closer. She snuggled against him, using his well-toned chest as pillow, prompting him to shake his head to get streaks of her hair out of his face.

For a while, the both of them remained in this position, feeling each other's heartbeat and watching the morning light.

Misha's hand started to wander and caress Natalie's shoulder blades. She shuddered "Am I still cold?" She rolled fully over to lie on top of him and looked into his eyes with a smile. "No, but I still get goosebumps."

He laughed, then leaned up to kiss her. "You should have got used to it by now."

"I don't think I'll ever get enough of you."

"Well, a hundred times is the charm, isn't?" He shifted his position to adjust for her weight. "I might be still in a doze," she looked at him with her bleary eyes, "but something about your counting must be off, mister."

"We've been meeting every weekend, except for the two times where your oh-so-important job kept you occupied. 52 weeks a year, chip of two, and our first year anniversary is the hundredth day I have the pleasure to be with this beautiful yet very uncouth lady."

Her face rapidly went through a wide range of emotions. "We're doing anniversaries? I though we didn't wanted this thing to become … like the other couples. How did you called it? Recreational Romance, only obliged to another."

"That are a load of words to say you forgot." Misha narrowly evaded a playful slap on the cheek. "My my, how angry you'll become once you find out I even got you something." Natalie put on an indignant act. "Oh no, you didn't."

He stood up and turned back the sheets, which she requited with a squeal at the cold. "And how I did." He shuffled across the bedroom looking for the place he threw his jacket over, fumbled in the pockets, and finally pulled out a small box. "You don't have to spend that much on me, y'know?"

"How bold of you to assume I have any money to spend on you to begin with." The box was made from plain cardboard and tied with a rubber band. "It's not much, but it's the thought that counts." He handed it to her.

She propped herself up into sitting cross-legged with the box in her lap and the blanket tucked over her head and shoulders like a child trying to hide. "Well, still more than I got you. You should have said something." He waved dismissingly. "Don't worry about it. Also, you have no idea how terrible the male cluelessness is when it comes to choosing gifts, so I stuck to the tried and trusted gift men have given to their lovers for millennia."

She opened the box and starred at the pendant. An intricate piece of glass work in the shape of a heart dangling from a silver chain. An anatomically correct heart. "Jewellery? Oh my god, how much did this cost?" She carefully turned it in her fingers.

"Not that much. They sell these for 20 bucks in the spanish quarter, and that's probably already a scam for tourists. But I found it tastefully tasteless." She held the dangling pendant up like in disbelief. "I don't usually wear jewellery outside our dates."

"Good choice, so nothing distracts from the main highlight." He gave her another kiss on the forehead. "Anyway, it's time to get dressed and make breakfast. You can take a hot shower until the pancakes are done."

Operation Sierra-Blade Update:
Item successfully planted. Operative standing by for further instructions.

It was impossible to make out details under the faint red emergency lighting. The puddles splashing under the careful steps of the two men could be water or blood or oil or something even worse. Only the all-present glass shards where glinting red like they eyes of an unseen predator.

Their presence was pervasive. The airlocks into the containment cells each had a small window, now burst open. The small info panels right next to them also used to be under a now missing glass cover. The emergency LEDs, exposed from under their glass covers only sprung alive because the main neon tubes shattered. At least they made the slick wet floor less slippery.

Many of site's automatic shutters lied tilted against each regular intervals, the heavy metal cut by abrasive jets of molten glass and various others were vitrified in place.

"Remember," said the man to the left, nervously going through the scan and assess drill, "the eye drops prevent it from taking an optogram, but it doesn't know that. If we approach it calm and slowly, it will give it the time to hopefully notice we're no prey." His companion nodded. "Yeah."

"More importantly, when it draws close, do not close your eyes. That way it won't see the effect of the drops. Don't provoke it to force them open to make sure it is the last thing you see." the first one continue whilst stepping over a slumped body. It's arm was clutching the empty wireframe of a pair of spectacles. "I try to remember that when something pointy comes to hug my eyeballs."

They turned a corner and faced carnage. A small group of security guards had met their grisly death of a thousand cuts right in front of them. Their skin and uniforms were neatly slashed into stripes, held together only by inertia and the adhesive strength of dried blood. Their submachines were wildly scattered across the corridor, the gashes in the dead radiating from their broken reflex sights.

"No bullet holes… so fast they didn't even got to fire." The right man stopped for a moment to take in the almost surgical precision of the massacre. "No surprise we haven't seen or heard anything from the humanoid containment wing yet. Everything in there is either dead or wishes it was."

The other man nodded forwards. "We don't have time all day." he turned to continue but his companion stretched out an arm in a stopping motion. "Hold on. Do you hear that?"

There it was. Now that the crunching of glass under their boots had given away to their shallow breaths, something else became audible in the distance, something drumming and clanging. Both men levelled their guns in unison. In a weird way relieved that whatever this was, it was something that at least gave them advance notice of its presence.

They closed in on the source of the sound, an office at the end of the hall, advancing pressed against the wall and nervous fingers on the triggers. Communicating now with gestures, they stopped at the door frame. The wooden door was cut to pieces, with cuts too clean to be normally possible in wood. The man to the front extended a hand, counting down with his fingers.

Three. Two. One. He charged in, ready for anything.

Nothing but a ball of tied cables harmlessly spiralling through the air, bouncing off surfaces until it was swept into a new direction by a ghostly tide. "Secured!" Somehow, it must have escaped the containment chamber of its peers through the observation window, to eventually get caught in this corner.

As his partner left his cover behind the corner, he suddenly felt his body shaking as the rush of adrenaline wore off. Searched for something to lean against for a short rest, he settled on the broad office desk. The other one stood in the door frame, looking with a mixture of confusion, irritation and perhaps even a smile at the anomaly.

"Much ado about nothing. By the way, there's someone hiding under the desk." The first man spun around. How strong could his tunnel vision have been to miss something like that?

There wasn't much left of that someone. Cowering bellow the table, partially obscured by a filling cabinet, the clerk had a roll of soaked paper towels and and a dirty paper knife lying in his lap. "Scraped his eyes out. Smart guy." Besides his self-inflicted mutilations, the rest of his body was free of lacerations. "Can't even tell if he's still breathing though."A gunshot. Another one. "We should go." They left, the cable knot still bouncing around like tumbleweed in zero gravity.

The number of slashes along walls and floors steadily increased with every further step down the corridor. The interior fitting turned less fierce and more loungey as they proceeded approaching the heart of the facility. "We are getting closer." More dead bodies, cuts originating from all the awful many places where once glass was crossing on their final resting spots. The density of fine shards made it look like it had snowed inside. Pink snow. "Closer to what?"

"The central atrium. One massive skylight. All it took would have been one crack to have them all look up."

"You think it spread from there?"

"Yes. We know she actually took it to be checked for bugs," he was interrupted by an amused snort of his colleague, "but that one returned obviously negative, so she should have made her way through there with it."

"Makes sense." Ahead, a warm, white shine joined the eerie red glow of the emergency lighting. "From there, it most likely just jumped windows and stuff chasing optograms."

"So where would it be now?"

"Probably in one of the outward facing windows of the cafeteria or something, hoping to fetch a ride from pass…" he fell silent as they entered the atrium. "Does the Item File say anything about this behaviour?"

The skylight was intact. A heap of contorted bodies, some dressed like researchers and engineers, others like guards, piled up in the middle of the room, glass shards stuck deep into their arteries. Bleed dry. Thin streaks of glass connected to them to the pane above like taproots to a stem, where they ramified into a filigree network of veins. Veins carrying blood. Veins making up a picture.

"I don't think so." One of the men almost dropped his weapon in disbelief at the breathtaking piece of stained glass looming over him, depicting a couple in an intimate embrace.

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