(Author's Note: For some insane reason, the Category drop-down box in my submit window won't display anything beyond Mystery- so I've been forced to class this as Episodic. My apologies for the confusion)
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A part of me expects to find Jaimie, alone, on my desk. A part of me demands it- in the name of rightness and proper procedure. It's the only theatrically correct way to do it. The world, of course, ignores me entirely.
Jaimie's body IS there, on my desk, locked into a cold chamber. Sadly, it is not alone. Whatever part of me it was that perked up when I saw Kyzik, it goe screaming, to its death when I spot the two goons Midport Polis has sent along with the body. Runn Atkinson (Badge Number 43342) and Revaud III (Badge Number 43556) are among the most brutal, corrupt, and unscrupulous brutes an unlucky investigator like me could ever hope to run into. Naturally, they're here at the worst possible time. They're both leaning against my desk. I hate that.
"Jones," says Runn.
"Professor Jones," says Revaud.
"Right on both counts," I say. "You two are really working toward those promotions, aren't you?"
"Funny," says Runn.
"You're downright hilarious, Jones," says Revaud. "Especially for a murderer."
I raise an eyebrow. "If I were, for some reason, a muderer- which I'm not- perhaps you would be right. As it is, I'm an innocent private investigator who's recently suffered a terrible tragedy, so you're both wrong AND a moron. A good try though."
"Watch it, Jones," says Revaud. "We'll nail you within a week, no question, but keep it up and we can haul you in now."
My left hand strays surreptitiously across my coat and presses the 'record' button on my hardware.
"Oh really?" I say. "And how would you do that?"
Rann just laughs. Revaud grins, showing his shiny new silver plasteel teeth. "We have plenty of ways, Jones. Besides, there's no one here, so it's your word against ours. Who's to say you didn't attack us or something, maybe cause you knew how screwed you were, and we didn't have to subdue you...using maximum force, of course." He cracks his fat knuckles. Revaud is built like a steel doorway. Rann is thin and muscular. Together, they could probably do me some serious damage.
"It's your call, of course," I say. "But don't count on that privacy you value so much. This is the modern Midport, you know. Someone is ALWAYS watching." I flash a grin that I hope looks mischevious and snide all at once.
It appears to work. Revaud taps Rann on the arm. "The murderer thinks he's smart. What IS it with criminals these days. No respect for the law."
I cross my arms. "Do you goons intend to tell me what you think I did, or are you planning on stinking up my office all day? I've got work to do, respects to pay, and you're squashing my plant."
Rann looks over his shoulder. He's leaning against my potted akacha, bending the fronds down under his bony backside. He grins. Rann doesn't have shiny silver teeth. He likes the way his rotting whites disconcert people. He wraps one long-fingered hand around the akacha and squeezes. Leaves squish, and clearish green liquid runs down the back of his hand. He removes his hand and wipes it on his pants. It leaves a cholorophyll-green streak down the less-than-spotless uniform. Rann appears not to care.
"Oh, look at that," says Revaud. "I'm really sorry about that, I am. Rann gets like this sometimes. He really likes justice, and it bothers him when it ain't getting done. I oughta get him out of here, before he decides to squash something else."
Rann grins at me. His rotting teeth disgust me, but I'm used to that sort of thing. I grin back.
"I agree," I say. "You should get out."
Rann cracks his knuckles. The sound is very loud in the suddenly-quiet room. Revaud's grin drops from his face.
"Jones," he says. "If I just had the authorization..."
"You know where to stick your authorization," I say. "Now get out of my office."
They file past me. Both of them are taller than me, and Revaud is roughly the size of the Grand Falchin Cruiser. I tense for a blow, but none comes.
"We'll see you again, Jones." Revaud sneers at me. "You can't murder innocent newsies and walk away from it. We'll see you again."
He slams the door behind him. It shivers open- the latch is gimpy- but he tries to ignore it. He doesn't want to spoil the performance.
I look down at Jaimie. His features are white and frozen beneath the bubble of the cold chamber. He bears only a superficial resemblance to the person I knew so recently. I can see a long cross-hatched line along his neck where the attacker's blade parted flesh.
Have I just been accused of murdering my own newsie?
I get the rest from the newsfiles, ironically enough. Jaimie was apparently on to something in sector four and felt it important enough to make the journey himself. He was found near the Morass with his neck slit and his personal posessions looted. Naked. Preliminary examination suggested that he had been dead roughly 35 hours- a little over a day- before anyone found him. I'd be disgusted, but this was Old Midport, and most people who go in unprepared don't get found at all...which is why it is a bad idea to eat anything while you're there.
I know that I am very, very sad and angry about Jaimie's death, but I can't find it in me to cry or to yell. I feel numb. For now, I'm okay with that. I want to be clearheaded for the next sixty hours or so. I'm going to need it. I need to contact the Council, hire a defender, arrange my accounts, dump something into a protector, burn a few files, check the news for stories about myself or Aarkel, listen on 6464 for the order to burn me down, sleep another couple hours, and arrange a proper deconstruction for Jaimie. The goons have left him on my desk, which means he must have listed me as his caretaker.
He never told me. Which isn't surprising- I would've rebuked him right out the door. I'm no caretaker.
I go to the sink and draw off a handful of water. I walk back to my desk and sprinkle it over my crushed akacha. With any luck, the plant will heal. Akacha are hardy, tough organisms- they have to be, to make it in my light-deprived office. Time will heal the plant's wounds.
I want to cry. I feel nothing.
I kneel down before the cold chamber and feel along the edges until my finger encounters the safety catch. The domed lid hisses open, expelling frigid gasses into the room. The air around my skin cools a good forty degrees in two seconds. I hit the button next to the hatch, and the cold-dispensing mechanisms cut off.
With any luck, it's still intact. They say the best of them can withstand almost anything Terra-based, but Jaimie's been basking in these temps for several hours now. I have to try.
I reach down and touch Jaimie's cold arm. I don't want to do this, but I bully myself into it. I run the pad of my index finger along the skin until...there. The smallish mole halfway up the muscle. I dig my thumb and index fingernails under it and pull. For a second, it refuses to budge, and I'm sure it's been frozen in place. Then it cuts loose, and the tiny wafer slides from Jaimie's arm.
A few years ago, after a particularly nasty scrap-up in Falon Square- which later became the center of a media backwash- Jaimie had arranged to have a tiny camera implanted in his right arm. In the event of severe trauma, the camera would turn on and record for two minutes. No wonder he took me as his caretaker.
I pinch the wafer carefully between my nails. I do not have the technology to view the data on this piece of plasteel, but I know people who do.
I want to be angry. I feel nothing.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.