art by Erin Cardwell
“Officer Zandish. A word?”
He said nothing, but followed as Lyden turned and led the way.
She strode up one of the catwalks that sloped up from the second tier of the Hedron to the third. She walked without glancing back to make sure he was following, rubbing her temples. She was engulfed by incompetence.
On the third tier, they walked around the perimeter a short way before stepping into a large office with a single desk.
Lyden dropped into her chair, leaning her head back and closing her eyes. She heard the door close as Zandish stood hovering just inside.
“What did I tell you the last time, Zandish?”
“That swifting is the least of your concerns.”
“Uh-huh.” She sighed. “Let me make myself clearer. Don’t arrest swifters.”
“But it’s against the law! And it’s an issue of public safety.”
Lyden sat up abruptly and fixed a firm stare on him. “So are substance abuse and prostitution. Not to mention ‘canid justice.’”
She stood. She appreciated that he took his job seriously. She actually trusted him more than some of her other peacekeepers because of that fact.
But it took more than a little push to change an orbit.
She came up to him, and gripped his left arm tightly. She dug her fingers into the dark bands on his exoskin that indicated his status as a peacekeeper. “If you drag another swifter in here, you will no longer bear these stripes.”
She caught a whiff of garlic off of him, and a bubble of nausea crept into her stomach. She released his arm and hurried back to her desk. Spinning her chair away from him, she surreptitiously wrapped her arms around her middle and closed her eyes.
She mustered her self-control to speak evenly. “Dismissed.”
She heard him step out, shutting the door behind him.
With him out of the room, she doubled over to help relieve the discomfort in her abdomen.
“When is that doctor’s appointment again?”
“Your first appointment is tomorrow at 1600,” chirped LC, Lyden’s pax.
Lyden closed her eyes. “Turn down your pitch half an octave. You’re shrill.”
“I’m the same as always.”
“Well you sound more shrill today.”
“Is this better?” LC’s voice was still cheerful, but lower.
“Fine. And stop being so chipper!”
Her pax’s response came in a deep, monotone, digitized voice. “Is this better?”
“You’re not funny,” she said even though the banter had made her feel a little better.
LC went silent. She did that sometimes. After a short rally, she would usually go quiet. It wasn’t that she couldn’t come up with a logical — or witty — response. But paxes were programmed to sense when a human was running out of responses and stop short so that the human could have the last word. LC got it right the majority of the time. This was supposed to make Lyden feel like she’d won the argument, and thus feel less hostile toward her pax. It worked. It also tended to make her feel like scum.
“Bring up the PFA, will you.”
The wall across from her was immediately illuminated with a series of images. On the left border were video feeds of her analytics team. Everyone but her linguistics specialist were at their desks.
The center viewport was a 3D rendering of the Colony with vertical bars of various colors rising from each city block.
“Fill me in, Tormer.”
She nodded. “You got it, Alpha. First and most obviously, a body was found at the Earthward mine.”
The viewport shifted, so that it looked like Lyden was flying rapidly over the city, settling on a spike of red that towered out of a steep spiral depression in the regolith.
“Male. Age twenty-three. One Rale Sim.”
Images of the body and his surroundings appeared on the right of the main viewport.
“The cause of death is not clear at this point, but Straya’s diction models of his recent digital activity are consistent with suicide. She can give you more details when she gets back. The autopsy should be back in an hour.”
“Keep me notified.”
“This one’s interesting,” Tormer continued. “We’re detecting a query trend over near the Biorecycling plant…” The camera seemed to swivel and glide back toward the center of the city. All of the colored bars dissolved away except the yellow ones. They were randomly distributed at first, the ones from different blocks rising and falling at different times. Then a wide, irregular ring formed and started to expand outward like a ripple.
Yellow. Prohibited substances. “What does it mean?”
“I couldn’t say for certain, but let me show you this.” The viewport split into two, and the other half showed a similar pattern — though on a smaller scale, and this time in pink.
“This is what we saw when a new bordello opened on the corner of 5th and Sagittarius a few months ago.”
“What are you saying?”
Tormer shrugged. “My best guess: Sirius opened an ambrosia den. The initial ring may have been so large because everyone who lived within a few blocks knew the location on sight. Eventually, though, word spread to folks who needed to ask their paxes for directions.”
Lyden nodded to herself. “He’s responding to the crackdown.” The crackdown had made peddling ambrosia and nectar on the street much riskier. She felt a small surge of satisfaction, knowing that she was forcing him to change his tactics. At the same time, however, she understood that this was a setback.
She set her jaw. She would see this city purged of Canis and the vices it brought in the next eight months if she had to spend ninety hours a week doing it.
“Thank you, Tormer.”
She nodded to her and his feed minimized.
“Get me Apollo.”
“Right away,” her pax replied.
The PFA dimmed as she turned away from the screen.
“What.” Apollo’s voice was flat.
“Where are you, Apollo?”
“At your beck and call, apparently.”
She rolled her eyes. Would he never cool off? It had been almost a year since she’d been promoted.
“I have an assignment for you.”
“Oh? I thought I just busted crime rings for fun.”
“You’re receiving a call,” LC said.
Lyden glanced up at the corner of the wall-screen. It was Vice-Chair Pelar. Lyden hesitated, weighing whether or not to take the call.
“It’s the Board, isn’t it?” Apollo said.
God, she hated that he could read her like that. But that was part of what made him a good detective.
“I’ll call you back,” she said. The Vice-Chair’s video feed went live on her screen. “What do you want, Pelar?”
“I want to know what you’re doing up there. You haven’t released a statement about the Sim boy. And don’t tell me you’re short-handed, because you’re over budget.”
“The autopsy will be back in an hour. I’ll release a statement when I have all the facts. Anyway, all signs point to suicide right now.”
“That’s not what his friends are saying. Apparently his boss wouldn’t listen to his complaints about the working conditions. When he threatened to smear the mine on his vlog, mine officials had him killed and made it look like a suicide.”
Lyden’s head started to throb. Lyden made a motion and LC dimmed the lights. . She leaned back in her chair and rubbed her temples.
“The motive doesn’t hold up. A suicide would corroborate his accusation that the working conditions are poor.”
“I want you to put your best detectives on this.”
“My best detectives are busy. People die up here every week, Pelar. You want me to pull people off of legitimate murder cases to look into a probable suicide?”
“How many of those murder cases are unemployables?”
Lyden glared at the ceiling. “Most of them.”
“All of them, I bet. Well the Sim boy was in good standing with the Colony. Not to mention he’s got a bit of a following down here.”
“I’ll release a statement when I get the autopsy, and I’ll get a detective on it as soon as I can.”
“What’s Apollo working on?”
“I thought you didn’t like him.” After all, Pelar had passed him over in favor of Lyden.
“He wasn’t right for the Alpha position. He was too abrasive.” He let the comment hang, and Lyden could feel the implication: don’t be like that.
“He’s just on his way to bust up an ambrosia den.”
Pelar gave her a blank look.
“It’s a new development,” she added.
He waved a dismissive hand. “The starheads can wait. He’s on this case now.”
Lyden pressed her fingertips into her temples more forcefully. He didn’t understand. He didn’t have to walk these streets. If he did, he might be able to see that the escapist culture was probably responsible for the suicide anyway. When all your peers were doping themselves into oblivion, it was easy to feel alone — like you wouldn’t be missed.
What’s more, the prevalence of substance abuse and prostitution also underpinned most of the violent crime in the Colony. But the Board’s concern was to keep the institution from looking bad. Sure they wanted her to keep violent crime from getting out of hand, but they kept trying to force her to treat the symptoms, instead of curing the disease. Violent crimes were typically committed by unemployables or low-ranking citizens, and thus made no ill reflection on the Board. The Rale Sim case, on the other hand — with its high-profile victim and implication of a Board-appointed official — had the potential to make their lives hell.
“Well, I guess Apollo will be okay for the job,” Lyden said.
“Of course he will. He’s top-tier.”
“You said yourself he’s abrasive.”
“I suppose this is a sensitive case… Did you have someone else in mind?”
“I haven’t heard of him.”
“He’s up-and-coming. And he’ll handle things… gently.”
“Make sure he’s thorough. And get back on budget, even if it means some low-priority cases gather dust.”
“I’ll check back in an hour.”
Lyden sat up, and her pax brought the lights back up, though not to full brightness.
“You want Apollo back on the line?” LC asked.
“How did it go?” Apollo asked without genuine interest.
Lyden ignored him. “There’s a place I want you to check out. LC, send him the distribution of addresses that have been queried.”
“Yeah, sure,” Apollo said. “I’ll get right over there. And then you can take all the credit when I bring Sirius’ organization down single-handedly.”
Another bout of nausea rose up, and she leaned forward, putting her face in her hands and breathing deeply.
“What do you want, Apollo?”
There was silence. They both knew what he wanted: her job.
Lyden took a deep breath to force down the queasiness. “Stay bitter if you want to. But when the Board asks me who was behind busting Canis, I’ll have to tell them that my man on the ground was Officer Hillimer.”
“Ha! Hillimer couldn’t spot the sun at its zenith.”
“Gambling is against regulation, you know. If I were you, I wouldn’t bet against him and Luinti.”
He cursed. “Fine. I’m going.”
Read the next chapter: Pax