Jac felt the rain on her hat like a thousand drumming fingers. Harsh white neons cast the towering city blocks in monochrome and illuminated nothing. She recognized nothing of the street; no helpful annotations or navigational overlays flickered across the bare concrete and slick black road. No signs distinguished one window from another, no graffiti marked territory, no music droned from clubs or dens. It dawned on her that there weren’t even any alleys.
Her service weapon felt too heavy to carry. Her boots filled with rainwater.
The city would be washed away. Something looming up behind her, something with too many eyes, would make it so.
“Good morning, Detective Hobbes.”
She woke drenched in sweat, eyes wide and staring at the blank ceiling of her flat. Her morning feeds crawled from the edge of vision, lambent text on the off-white plaster. She blinked, banishing it, sitting up and reaching for water on her bedside table.
“The time is eight AM exactly,” the Municipal Information System said inside her head. “The rain is scheduled to continue for one more hour, and will resume at 2PM.”
Civic Centre calls it Sally; all in the push for a ‘friendlier Califresco.’
Jac toyed with disabling the wake-up as she hauled herself out of bed and into the shower. On the other hand, she didn’t want another snide little reprimand about ‘governmental unity’ and ‘encouraging metrics.’ She wondered if uptower folks got the same pressure, or if they even noticed, so accustomed to a steady stream of ads they must be.
She switched to audio feed while getting dressed.
“…brief public disturbance in Such’s Square ably contained by Galathi Inc.’s new deterrent drones…”
Jac cast the coroner’s’ intake list on the back wall, banished it again when the schedule section filled up with the word ‘incineration’. Ably contained, she frowned, buckling on her holster.
“…manual drive required between Grand and Fifth as installation of new guidance lines continues. Commuters should expect some delays and be prepared to work from your vehicles…”
“…solute disgrace, Jordan, an absolute disgrace, it really is tampering with the Lord’s design when the mind is so perfect and sacred…”
“SO HUNGRY YOU COULD JUST EAT SOMEONE?! COME ON OVER TO THE PULLED PIG; GENUINE CLONED HUMAN MEAT…”
“…expecting the Keymaker probe to arrive on Yrva next month, but scientists are still unsure if mana obeys the same laws on other planets…”
Jac killed the feed, switched to Dispatch, and stepped out of her flat into the bare beige hallway. The identical doors stretching along the walls always inspired a feeling akin to vertigo. Lewisham insisted she needed her entoptics recalibrated. The door locked behind her; the lift opened ahead of her and automatically selected parking. Her car was already running when she reached it, driver’s door popping gently ajar for her convenience.
Her father had hated that, but it’d saved Jac’s life at least twice.
On the road, she enabled automatic and fished for a cigarette. The sleek blue-black vehicle smoothly joined the Civic lane and carried her across town. The city blocks towered up to the thick, black clouds and the rain came down like bullets from heaven. The roads were narrow valleys amid concrete cliffs.
Citizens and blacklines crowded the pavements and underpasses. Drones for advertising and drones for security drifted overhead like glowing, bloated ticks. The rain was like the surface of an oil-slick, a riot of colour from the neons on every shopfront, the holoprojections and spotlights.
The smoke curling from Jac’s nostrils was whisked away by discreet vents in the ceiling. She half-watched it, devoting more attention to the words sliding down her windshield. Robbery in Vinter; owners aren’t insured for an investigation. Assault at Wilmund and Cross; victim paid on the spot for full prosecution. A raft of illegal weapon discharges which meant a turf war had turned into a massacre. Jac made a note to look into that later – someone on the force got paid for that. She may not be able to catch them for it, but at least she would know.
The Precinct’s shutters rolled up to admit her car. Jac climbed out and watched it get added to the stack below, stubbing out her smoke and tossing it on her way through the inner door.
Desk Sergeant Mahoney, rail thin with hunched shoulders and a quietly mean streak, barely glanced up as she passed. An assistant civic prosecutor hustled paperwork to the Captain’s office, and a few uniforms chatted with coffee cups steaming in their hands.
Jac paused at the door to The Pen as a skinny guy, a lurid blue-glass gem where a left eye should have been, strode toward her.
“Mornin’ sir,” she replied, and let the door close, standing back to wait for him.
“Don’t fuck about, Hobbes,” he snapped, as if the rod up his ass spoke for him, “don’t pretend you can’t feel the heat. This is a very simple question – were you at Cuveil Street last night?”
Hobbes folded her arms and pursed her lips, pulling up the station alerts. A riot, according to official sources, but she knew better.
“I know you disable your tracker when you’re off-duty, Hobbes. Don’t repeat history.”
Tensing, she held herself still and passed him her cached location data; never left her flat.
“Good, then it’s your turn,” said DCI Slater, turning on his heel.
“My turn?” Hobbes half-shouted after him, “you had to tell me that personally?” she added, but he was already boarding the lift at the end of the hall.
Jac swore under her breath and entered The Pen, where a dozen good detectives were slowly turning into comfortable desk jockeys who would later turn into the kind of pricks who make superintendent. She mumbled hellos on her way through the dull beige cubicles to her desk. By the time she sat down, her neural spike had wirelessly booted her terminal and logged in, at which point the actual device became largely irrelevant. Jac felt better about a physical keyboard for reports than letting the software in her head sneakily edit her entries for better optics.
Immediately all her casework was pushed offscreen and out of her feed by a pulsing orange box marked PRIORITY ASSIGNMENT.
Gang violence at Cuveil Street just after the nightly storm started. At least a three dead according to the census data, and that was already entered into the report. Jac smiled, brittle and mirthless; the actual bodycount was likely higher. It would take an hour to resolve, and a lifetime to forget.
She rolled her chair into the aisle and called over the nearest cube wall. “Campbell, are you busy?”
Campbell looked up with the expression of someone relieved not to have been caught browsing skin at the office.
“Will I regret saying no?” They replied, bioplastic eyebrows cycling from businesslike black to playful silver. Campbell claimed that they were a necessary tool for communication, but Jac always suspected that was one implant the willowy detective chose out of vanity.
“Strike broken on Cuveil last night,” she replied, lips curling bitterly, “I’m the rubberstamp and I’d like some company.”
“This is a favour, then…”
“If returning it involves the phrase ‘plus one’, save it for lunch,” Jac said, rolling her eyes and enabling her remote link as she stood to put her coat back on.
“Deal. I’m driving,” Campbell said, and followed her to the carpool.
The problem with mass-produced unmarked cars is that, sooner or later, people know what a silver-gray sedan is doing in the neighbourhood. Jac busied herself with official census data for the blocks around Cuveil while Campbell hummed along to their tailored playlist. Distinctly lower class area, right near the slums, with a registered civilian population in the low hundreds. Which meant at least twice that in blacklines, the unregistered criminal class; no rights, no records, no civic services. She ran a quick scan of the citizens in the area, rifling through their lives like a dispassionate god; an affair in that apartment, chronic anxiety there, the thousand small moments those people liked to believe were private. One office clerk’s behavioural record was flagged with moderate-high suicide likelihood, but the police software precluded any intervention: she wasn’t insured for emergency services to care.
The rest of the Redlines were safe and well-behaved, holed up in their apartments or away at work to avoid the inevitable police investigation at the intersection.
“This was WavTec again, right?” Campbell asked aloud, though they both knew the answer.
“Yeah,” Jac replied, “I mean, probably. They’ve got a history of employee mistreatment and they’re right around the corner.”
“Ah, ah, ah,” Campbell wagged a finger, letting the autopilot compensate for inattention, “You mean ‘minor persistent morale deficit ‘“
Jac snorted, “Employee Gratitude Shortfall.”
“That was last year’s rhetoric.”
“Hm,” Jac grunted, staring out the window, “flagged as a gang skirmish, so I guess someone had a legitimate grievance this time around.”
“Or enough money for a lawyer.”
“You have any informants locally?”
“Ha,” Campbell exclaimed, “you actually want to treat this like a real investigation?”
“I want,” Jac smirked, looking over at them, “to make Slater work overtime.”
Campbell shook their head, “you’re gonna find contraband in your desk one of these days.”
“Yeah, yeah, runs in the family,” Jac replied, looking away with a dismissive wave of the hand.
“Sorry,” Campbell said, and went back to manual drive.
“The dead are buried, Campbell, I wouldn’t get bunched up about it.”
The car rolled smoothly to a halt a few inches from the police tape, beyond which a pair of uniformed officers slouched against the wall of an apartment block with half-eaten burgers in hand. A pair of vans waited on the opposite of the intersection; competing sanitation companies bidding for the cleanup. The two detectives climbed out of the vehicle, Campbell pressing their lips into a thin line as they approached the uniforms.
The taller of the two took a bite of his burger, the shorter shrugged; “Already been ‘round with the scent control stuff, so if you just don’t look you can keep your lunch down.”
“This is lunch?” Campbell went on, “it’s not even midday.”
“Oooh,” the shorter cop turned to her partner, “you hear that, Dave? Detective I-Get-A-Regular-Shift thinks we’re slacking off.”
“Must be nice to to start work after sunrise,” the taller agreed, talking around a mouthful of artificial beef and Pretty Bready™ bun.
“You wanna talk to our manager, or is that just your haircut?” the short cop continued.
Jac ignored them and crouched under the tape, walking a slow circuit of the intersection. The smell was gone, but the bodies were pale and rigid, faces mostly frozen in screams. The rain had washed most of the blood away, left the corpses soaking, their open mouths full of water.
She made notes as she went, adding them to her internal storage; image, impression, timestamp like curated nightmares.
Three dead citizens, Redlines still broadcasting flat vitals.
Thirty other bodies, strewn across the wide intersection, dressed in a mix of cheap office attire and outsider fashions.
She crouched beside the body of a boy who can’t have been much past eighteen, a neat hole from a beamcaster in his temple and dyed hair wilting out of a styled fan. A fresh tattoo resembling a Seizers Legion tag stood out on his arm; Jac pulled on a glove and ran her thumb over it. It smeared a little, would’ve bled if he’d still been alive. Applied post mortem. She guessed the shiny new gun clenched in his fist was put there around the same time.
Knowing what to expect, she checked it for a chip and found none, nor any ammunition. Anything but the manufacturer would be scrubbed from the body of the weapon.
Jac stood and put her hands on her hips, knitting her brows as she looked around at the corpses again. A few more identical weapons wrapped in bloodless fingers, corpses lying atop each other like they tripped over the fallen before joining them. Her frown deepened and she took a few steps forward, stepped over a pair of bodies, two steps more, pausing at a stack of three corpses.
Campbell strolled over to join her, looking queasy.
“Ready to stamp this and go?”
Jac shook her head, “not just yet – can you pull any drone recordings?”
“Sure. gizza minute or two,” Campbell said, tilting their head, “you hoping to find something specific?”
“Maybe,” she replied, squinting up to where the towering blocks disappeared into the tamed clouds.