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The Bomb Chaser

Tara Calaby lives in Melbourne, Australia with her wife and far too many books. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Daily Science Fiction, Grimdark Magazine, Aurealis, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and she is an Assistant Editor for Luna Station Quarterly. She is currently a PhD candidate in English, researching female patients in Victorian asylums. In her free time, she can be found playing video games or attempting to learn Welsh. Her website can be found at taracalaby.com.

***Disturbing tale. Not ideal for Children***
Once a person died, it took anywhere from one to three hours before their chip went dark. Body temperature acted as the catalyst; when the corpse cooled enough, the chip entered death mode, deleting all data and the code that held it. If a chip were removed from its body, the timeframe was less predictable. Taped to a chaser's underarm or groin, they had been known to stay active for as long as half a day. From there, they could be inserted into a different body, allowing the new host to walk the world as someone else. The hard part was getting the chips in the first place. You needed a dead body, damaged beyond a loved-one's recognition. You needed a bomb.
That's where the bomb chasers came in.
When the bombs fell, all of Cologne was shaken. Blocks away from the impact, windows rattled and flakes of plaster snowflaked to the floor. Greta knew to wait until the whine of aircraft began to fade but, while the earth continued to lurch with dull thunder, she dressed in wool and coarse leather. The knife in her boot was for protection. The scalpel stolen from a ruined surgery was for cutting out the chips.
Once the bombing ceased, Greta covered her nose and mouth and walked out into the silence. The streetlights were dark and the haze of smoke and dust blocked out the moon's weak glow, but the zones of destruction were easy to find. They were the gaps in the once-cluttered streetscape and the places where flames parted the night. She could see that the worst of the attack had focused on the industrial area to her north. She walked south, to the place where the families lived.
Greta was small and underfed. She couldn't lift rubble like some of the other chasers could. There wasn't time to move bricks one by one, not when the authorities could arrive at any moment or when the victims' chips were counting down towards their own detonation. She had to go in. When buildings crumpled, they left pockets of space between fallen walls and broken beams, warrens of tunnels that sometimes led to chips and sometimes led to death. Once, she'd been caught in a ruin when a bomb had exploded belatedly in a nearby street, bringing the debris down around her. A uniformed Luftschutzpolizei volunteer had dragged her from the building's remains. Even when tangled around clumps of plaster, her blonde hair had ensured that her chip had been only cursorily scanned. She had been lucky. She had been lucky many times.
Greta recognized the mess of rubble in front of her as the broken bones of two large buildings that had been divided into scores of one-room flats. There were several patches of slow-burning fire, but the damage was mostly the result of the bomb's direct hit. The left building was razed, its stone shattered into slate-colored sand. The right struggled to stand, its back wall upright but amputated at the second floor. There was no sign of the Orpo, so Greta crawled inside.
The first time Greta had seen a dead body, she had cried for the woman's lost potential and endured weeks of nightmares about the unnatural angles of the corpse's legs. Now she was hardened. In her first tunnel, she found the body of an elderly man who had been skewered by a falling beam. His blood was still wet and it coated Greta's gloves as she cut into his wrist, removing the chip and then wiping it down before taping it to the inside of her leg. She could see the lower half of a wrinkled arm nearby, probably belonging to the man's wife, but there was no way to reach it. She wriggled out and found another path.
The child's body appeared undamaged. There was no blood, no broken limbs--just a stillness that Greta knew too well. She checked for a pulse before cutting, keeping her gaze away from the young girl's face. Her heart pounded with hopeful excitement. Children's chips were rare finds. She had been searching for a girl that young for months, but every time the bombs fell she had found only dead adults instead.
When Greta emerged from the building, four chips taped to her leg, she could hear the sound of the Feuerschutzpolizei making their way through the crumbling streets. They were not far away, so she lit the trails of kerosene that she had poured out through her tunnels and ran until she heard the first explosion. Then, she unwound the scarf from her face, brushed off her clothes, and walked sedately into the night.
The Jewish houses were watched by cold men with loaded guns, but on the nights where the sky was torn by aircraft it was easy to slip through a hole in a wire fence. Greta's contact was a doctor who had long since been forbidden to practice. Other bomb chasers sold the chips to criminals, but their value to Greta was far beyond price.
"The small one's for my sister," she told the doctor, pressing it into his waiting hand. "There's one there for you, too, if you want it."
His smile was sad. "I'm needed here."
Greta understood. "Tell my family I love them and to get out tomorrow night."
She couldn't say goodbye in person. They'd beg her to leave when they did: to be safe. But every chip Greta found was a chance at life, an opportunity to climb out from beneath the rubble of the war. She would stay as long as she was able to, save as many people as she could. And, when the bombs finally came for her, she would greet them with her arms outstretched and chase them into the night.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

Author Comments

As a historian, I tend to focus on the social aspects of the past while, as an author, I am fascinated by the infinite possibilities of speculative fiction. "The Bomb Chaser" grew from the place where these two selves intersect and was greatly influenced by my reverence and respect for those who countered unthinkable atrocities with strength and love.

- Tara Calaby
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