The Vice Girls

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PREVIOUS: Truth Is Sin

FIRST: The Chosen Few

The year is… I'm not sure to be honest.

My memories are fucked up from getting so many bad ones sucked out by Oneiroi. I know it's my junior year at ICSUT. I'm double-majoring in theological engineering and biochemistry. Never let it be said I don't challenge myself.

But I'm not particularly challenged physically, and it's showing in the mirror. Pumping iron doesn't appeal to me, but maybe there's some clubs that will. Parkour looks interesting. Judo too. I could use the cardio, the social interaction — and I've always wanted to learn how to choke someone out.

So that night, I put on my hitherto-unused gym sweats and attend my first-ever judo session. There are four other people there with me: a German exchange student, a slim Asian, the instructor, and a blonde European woman who introduces herself as Natasha. She's been part of the club for two years — the second-oldest member behind the instructor.

The first thirty minutes is warm-ups. My muscles scream as we bounce around the mat. For the next hour, we practice fundamental techniques. As the only women in the room, Natasha and I practice with each other. We learn the roll. The hip escape. The mount.

The final half-hour is what's known as free-rolling, where we pit our pitiful skills against one another. Naturally, Natasha volunteers to spar with me. I'm outmatched in seconds. She sprawls out against me and pins me so fast it makes my head swim.

It's that moment, with her tits mashed against mine, that I realize I've got the hots for other women.

It's later. I don't know how much later. Weeks, maybe? I've been stalking Natasha on social media, and just found out she's had an explosive breakup — with her girlfriend. This is my chance.

I've been attending the judo sessions religiously. It's finally starting to pay off. So that evening, after our session, I invite her out to a movie.

The movie is Lucy. Thankfully, the rest of the night goes much better, as we spend the rest of it laughing about how terrible the movie was. Natasha complains about how she's wearing Louboutins for the entirety of the film. I drone on for an hour about how I could make better nootropic drugs with what I learned in Applied Theology and the campus biochemistry labs. Somehow, it doesn't put her into a coma. She invites me to lunch the following week.

I think I'm in love.

At our lunch date, we talk about a robbery conducted in the past day by a criminal group called the Chicago Specter. Natasha's oddly defensive of them; when I ask why, she starts lecturing me about late-stage capitalism. I figure she'll grow out of her communist kick in a year, but admire her dedication anyways. She's at least trying to make the world a better place. Which is currently more than I can say for myself. But that line of thinking makes me feel guilty. I shove it out of my mind by concentrating on her face.

Eventually I tire of hearing about the alienation of the common worker and ask her if she's seeing anyone. She admits that she had a girlfriend with whom she has now broken up. I commiserate the feeling and tell her that my girlfriend dumped me as well. This is a bold-faced lie. I've only ever had girlfriends in the strictly friend sense. But she doesn't need to know that.

There's a carnival coming to town, so I invite her to it. If I'm lucky, we'll smooch on the Ferris wheel. We throw balls at the dunk tank (I miss every shot — she hits the target dead-on first try), ride the shitty spinning teapots and the carousel, fake screams on the pirate ship, and share cotton candy and caramelized apple. But the Ferris wheel breaks down while we're in line.

My plans are shot, so I try to salvage what I can by suggesting my go-to shitty date idea: a movie. Natasha suggests a film, but there isn't a showing for several hours. She invites me back to her place to watch television until the movie. She has her own car (how cool is that) so we drive uptown to her apartment. It's a small, shitty condo, but one that she clearly takes a lot of pride in. There's a living room-kitchenette combo, with a couch and a queen futon in front of a small telly. I park myself on the futon and prop my back against the couch. Natasha does the same.

We watch anime for a while. She's trying to get me into Fullmetal Alchemist. Her favorite character is the suit of armor. It appeals to her cybernetic sensibilities. I'm content to sit quietly and listen to her talk about how the show's setting tackles themes of fascism and nationalism. I might be within rubbing distance of Natasha but I'm too cowardly to make a move. The movie's starting soon. She tells me she has a better idea, then turns the TV off. She plucks my glasses from my face and straddles me.

I think to myself, ah, what the hell, and pull her down so our lips meet. We make out and cuddle for a while. Her breath tastes like caramel apples. Then she slides her hands under my shirt.

It's a lot of fun having a girlfriend. I introduce her to demonics and comics. She introduces me to Marxism and strap-ons. All good things must end, however. I can't find any internships stateside and end up returning home to Wolverhampton for the summer. I spend my internship exorcising faulty surgical robots and slowly becoming radicalized by video chats with Natasha. Then the Brexit referendum pushes me over the edge to full-on ancom.

Natasha pushes me to get out there and turn theory into praxis, but I can't. I come from a long and distinguished line of Brahmin scholars, and dear old dad thinks Thatcher could have taken a few lessons from across the pond. I am simply incapable of dealing with the fallout if he were to discover that I'd turned commie. Natasha's much too understanding, and it just makes me feel guiltier. I'm actually glad to come back to ICSUT for the fall semester and hide away in my schoolwork.

Natasha's graduating this semester, with a double-major in biomedical thaumaturgy and robotics. She hasn't said a word about what she plans to do once she leaves. She'll probably join an NGO or something, or maybe just run off and start a revolution somewhere. I've poked her about it a few times, but she's noncommittal about it. I don't pry — after twenty years of being interrogated by parents, it's nice to spend time with someone who's content to just spend time with me in silence.

A month into the semester, Natasha drags me out into the middle of the woods. I initially suspect she wants to shag (which is an absolute no-go in the fucking forest), but we just end up in a nondescript clearing. Then Natasha opens a portal to hell underneath my feet.

It's not actually a portal to hell. It's like being flushed down the toilet to hell. For what seems like an eternity my lungs feel ready to burst and I'm submerged in slime and my body is being stretched into spaghetti. Then the eternity ends. I take a deep, deep breath and collapse to my knees and puke. Natasha helps me up, then I get a look at my surroundings and puke again. My vomit sails out onto the Moon.

The Moon. The honest-to-God Moon. I'm on the Moon and I'm alive. Apart from the projectile vomiting, I actually feel pretty good. My sweater is more than warm enough, the air tastes cold but clean, and as far as I can tell the gravity seems about the same on earth.

And the view is amazing. We're in a little cave on a mountain, overlooking what Natasha tells me is the Mare Imbrium: a sea of gray pockmarks illuminated against a deep black sky. Far off, there's a little blue ball hanging against the horizon. It makes me feel small.

We spend a quarter of an hour admiring the view. Then Natasha drags me deeper into the cave, into a twenty-first-century witches' coven. It's a well-furnished bubble in the depths of the Moon. There's a microwave, toaster oven, and refrigerator in the corner. They're plugged into a power strip sitting in the middle of a pentagram and plugged into itself.

Three witches lounge on couches, swiping through their phones or (somehow) browsing the Web on their laptops. Natasha whistles to get their attention. The white girl in the Pikachu cap introduces herself as Zabutom. The Chinese girl draped across her legs tells me she goes by Tracy Tzu. Across from them, taking a swig from a bottle of Shock Top, is the girl who tells me to call her — in her own words — Diya, the tankie furry from Texas. I ask her if I can just call her Diya. She says no.

Natasha reveals that this is the the Chicago Specter, a gang of ultra-leftist magical girls. They're all unlicensed thaumatologists, which is practically unheard of — the ability to naturally cast spells is highly rare, highly prized, and highly regulated. They use their abilities to act as modern-day Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. And she's their leader.

That's super hot, and I tell her as much. But while I may outwardly sympathize with their mission, I feel like a sheep in a den of wolves. I have neither the courage nor the magical ability to get out there and raise hell with them. Diya voices this opinion for me, but Natasha explains that I don't need to. I'm their force multiplier. I once told her that I could make nootropic drugs that put Lucy to shame — now she wants me to prove it.

I get to work in the school labs the next night, crafting a theologically-enhanced nootropic cocktail. The next time Natasha invites me to the coven, I give them a set of pills guaranteed to improve their reflexes, make their thinking more tactical, and even give them mild telekinesis. The Specter immediately consume them and then teleport away; two hours later, they return with bags full of loot. Thanks to my pills, they circumvented virtually every security measure inside a Swedish vault and made an impossibly clean getaway.

That night, Natasha and I fuck like bunnies.

At first, everything goes great. I connect with Zabutom and Tracy Tzu and we become great friends. Only Diya remains cool towards me. I get the sense that she has the hots for my girlfriend, so I make sure to send her frequent glares that let her know who's Natasha's girl. I fall into a comfortable routine — wake up, rush to class, do my homework, go to the coven and make drugs, fall asleep, then wake up and rush to class. Saturdays are date days: Natasha and I sing karaoke, race go-karts, go for long walks in the park, the usual. Once or twice we just stay in bed all day.

I'm living my best life. Nothing can go wrong. Until one day it does.

Two months into the semester, all four members of the Specter embark on a bank job. Only three of them come back. I find out online the next day that Zabutom, real name Ingrid, was killed during a three-hour standoff in Germany. A week after Zabutom's death — I can't bring myself to call her Ingrid — Natasha is already back to work, robbing some rich asshole with Diya and Tracy Tzu. I convince myself that Zabutom was killed because she didn't have the right stuff and spend even more time devising new narcotics. And then the semester actually kicks in.

Natasha pressures me to produce more and more drugs for her, but my schoolwork keeps piling up and it's all I can do just to stay afloat. We start growing more distant; I keep having labs and projects and tests due, and my grades keep slipping. As the stressors pile up and I develop a tolerance to my own nootropics, I begin to crack as well. I start resenting Natasha and Zabutom. Have they ever thought about me? Have they ever noticed how fucking stressed I am? I shouldn't care if Zabutom died — fuck her! Then I feel even more guilty of my selfishness and work twice as hard. My weight drops. I stop going to judo. Panic attacks become a common occurrence. I don't tell any of this to Natasha.

Things finally come to a head the week before Thanksgiving. There's something due in every single one of my classes. The worst one is biochemistry: I've been tasked with creating a multivitamin, but my lab partner has wisely chosen to drop the class. Now I'm left holding the bag and have five days to do what would take two people a week. I stop sleeping and start relying on copious quantities of coffee to do the trick. I can barely breathe and my heart thumps like it plays drums for KMFDM.

It's in this fugue state, as I eye the sixth-story window, that I make my breakthrough. Theology-based pharmaceuticals are essentially rituals in a can. The manufacturer combines the materials used to summon a divine entity with the actual drugs needed to reach the desired effect. The user's body acts as the ritual array and their metabolism supplies energy as payment. When the user takes the drug, the divine is summoned inside the user, and amplifies the effects of the drug as desired.

But what if we were to go the opposite way? What if, instead of summoning a deity, we summoned a demon? They're orders of magnitude more energy-efficient than deities, and they have a wider range of effects. There's no shortage of theory on how demonarcotics would work, but they all hit the same roadblock — demons don't discharge energy inside people. They unleash it. Ten times out of ten, a person who tries to summon a demon within themselves will spontaneously combust. Nobody's really been able to figure out how to regulate the discharge of demonic energy in an organic entity. But if you could… well, you'd be unstoppable.

Which brings me to my idea. Thaumaturges are already capable of channeling and regulating the flow of thaumic energy. Sure, it's not the same as demonic energy. But if you can channel one, then there has to be a way to channel the other. And I think I've figured out how.

I grab a boxcutter from a nearby table, assemble a summoning array on my workbench, and arrange acetaminophen and dextroamphetamines inside. In a nootropically-enhanced furor, I program the summoner without even pausing to debug it and flip the switch. There's a crackling sound as my summoner rummages around the bowels of hell. Sparks fly from the pentagram and make my hair stand on end.

The reek of sulphur fills the air. A fat, red, hairy head with horns and leering yellow eyes begins to emerge from the summoner. I've summoned Belphegor, one of the princes of Hell. He's cackling: a low gibbering sound that rattles around in the head and chills the bone.

I stab him in the eye.

NEXT: Rise and Repent

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