astrothsknot: (Default)
( Jan. 16th, 2006 02:49 am)
More nano
posted 01/16/06

“What the hell is all that noise?” The voice on the mobile demanded lazily. She didn’t really care, and Kyle Butler knew she didn’t, as he watched the tableau in the alley from his window. He briefly described it to her. “Once upon a time it would have been me pulling such a stupid stunt as the vampire coming in through the window.”

She cast him a sultry look. He ignored her.

“You’re ignoring her,” continued the voice. “It’s hard not to get carried away with the physicality of the vampire body. Whatever side you‘re on.”

“No it’s not. Nobody pays attention to the dross of either society. You ever see Yagher down here, or any other Council members giving in to their urges?”

“I thought you’d all have your own agency things for that. And we‘ve all heard the rumours about the Odessa.”

“I’m worth more.” Kyle’s voice was hard as he said this. It changed as he moved to business. “So, did we have a visit from the Star Squad?”

“Yeah, sorry about that. All the notice I got was five minutes earlier than you.”

He smiled. “Don’t worry about it. Yeah, I lost a lot of merchandise, but I’ll recover. Keeps them off my back, for a while, and they look good. Everyone’s a winner.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ve a few leads on more property, either for rental, or as a tempory workspace. We need to discuss this month’s takings.”

“Now I know why Yagher has himself an SP for his right-hand woman. I should have done this forty years ago.”

Kyle felt the smile all the way down the line, as he hung up.

***
astrothsknot: (Default)
( Dec. 17th, 2005 03:35 am)
***

Ellis went back to the office to write up an assault case that would never be solved. Lal would go through it later, countersign it. Then it would be committed to file, and no one would ever bother with it again. Maybe it would be pulled up during the mandatory yearly review of unsolved cases, maybe it would be put in with a bunch of similar crime that a career felon would confess to so that his real crimes couldn’t come back to haunt him later. They got rid of plenty like that.

It helped, to concentrate on work. It reminded Ellis that life went on regardless, as it always did for everyone. He was so involved with his thoughts, that he didn’t notice Inez standing beside him until she tapes him on the shoulder and he jumped out his skin. She dumped several data cards beside him, gestured to Yelena, then walked off.

Yelena picked up her jacket and bag. Ellis closed down his desktop. “No rest for the wicked,” said Yelena, still accented after thirteen years on Thea.

“Hope not,” Ellis replied. “Or we’d be out of a job.”

***

Over the next few weeks, David recovered and returned to desk duty, though it was several months before he recovered enough to go back to full duty. There was an ugly scar over his carotid artery, which his fingers constantly strayed to. Until then, Ellis was paired with Yelena, or a member of the STAR Squad.

And Ellis went hunting.

The Thea Police Force worked the continental shift system, four shifts of 12 hours, followed by four days off. When Ellis and his colleagues, who made up Bravo Stream, were next on their days off, Drummond took them all hunting.

“Don’t do this so much anymore,” he said, on the first night. “Gets boring after a while, but it’s good to keep your hand in. Keeps you sharp.”

“And that’s the point?” replied Ellis. “If it actually worked as pest control, we wouldn’t be here.”

“Smart guy,” nodded Eluterio. “We should have had you on board earlier.”

Ellis quickly looked round at him, but Eluterio wasn’t being sarcastic. “What do I do? Run it by me again. I feel like I‘m about to do a raid.”

“It’s not that different. Here’s wooden bullets” - he handed Ellis a standard box full of ammunition. They were the size of standard 0.9mm. “They have to cut along the grain.” Ellis gave him a look. “Everyone always asked. They seem fascinated by that for some reason. we’ve a member who’s a carpenter. He makes them by the lorry load.”

“Eluterio, back to business. They’ll fire out your service weapon, or your off-duty firearm.” Drummond took a box from Eluterio.

“What? No stakes and cloves of garlic?” Ellis joked, nerves showing.

“Well, that would work, but you’d look weird. This does the job just as well, and with less attention. Rules are the same, though. Aim for the heart. Set ‘em on fire, or off with their heads. Sunlight works. But I prefer this.” Drummond chambered a round, eyes glinting in the streetlight.

Lal, who’d been in the driving seat passed round earpeice radio mikes. The four men fiddled with them for a few moments, then were good to go. “just remember one thing, Ellis,” he said. “It’s ok to enjoy this, but it’s still work. Don’t be an arsehole.”

“Wise words,” agreed Drummond, though his mouth didn’t match his eyes.

For the first part of the night, they watched the hookers on the street. “We watch who they are, and who they go with, and who reflects back. In the cars, and in the windows. Watch who the girls fuck, and who they sell drugs to. Down this end of town, they act as agents for dealers.”

“Do the…the v- they watch the whore and clients? Get an easier meal?” Asked Ellis.

“Still can’t say it, huh? Yeah, it makes sense that they do. That’s one reason why they tend to stay around here, rather than going up into town. No one gives a shit here. Plenty more where they come from.”

“Then what was that one doing up around The Seafront? The one that got David?”

“Some like living dangerously,” replied Eluterio. Ellis let it go. He could tell that was all the answer he was going to get.

***

They patrolled, for want of a better word, for around four hours, without anything haappening, much to the disgust of Eluterio. Ellis was glad. He’d had enough shocks over the last month or so. He wasn’t sure how he’d cope if he actually saw one. He wasn’t even sure he could tell the diference between the undead, and the nearly dead that milled around the Raploch. When he mentioned this to Eluterio, all he got was a terse, “You’ll know.”

“I gotta have a slash,” Ellis said finally. He felt like a rookie all over again.

“Pick an alley. Just make it quick.”

Ellis went into the alley closest, tore open his fly, started to piss, more concerned with the blessed relief of emptying his bladder, than the soft moans and gentle sucks somewhere else in the alley. Streetwalkers had to go somewhere. Just so long as he didn’t find one on the end of his dick.

And then, ellis looked, because he was human.

At first he couldn’t make sense of the scene, it looked too normal. It looked like a streetwalker, heroin anorexic, sucking off a punter. The punter looked like he was holding onto the walls for support, gripping the pipes, head fallen back into a swoon.

And he was just standing there, with his dick in his hand. The whore looked back over her shoulder, just then. Ellis wondered why the come dribbling down her chin was red. Maybe her lipstick was bleeding.

They looked at each other for a long moment, while the punter’s crotch pumped blood out of where his prick should have been.

He couldn’t move, she didn’t move.

Eluterio came silently into the alley, behind him. She paid him no mind, merely stood up. Eluterio fired, only missing because she moved at the last minute, with a speed that no living human could match. The bullet thudded into her right lung, a wound that would have felled a human. She merely grunted, and climbed up the pipes, and through a window.

Eluterio took out a real bullet, inserting it into his weopen, aimed at the injured punter, and fired into his head. He waited while ellis put his dick away. The unspoken statement hung in the air between them. You only fuck up once, because whatever way it happens, it never happens again.

***
“So how did the rest of last night go?” Teased Lawrence when Ellis got in the next morning. “Is the fact that you’re thirty minutes late indicative of anything?”

“Eat shit. I slept in, cause I’m hungover. I thought cops could party, but Christ, they lawyers are a whole different .... Different....something. Got any paracetamol?” Ellis sank down on his chair, looking very much like death warmed up.

Lawrence rummaged in his drawer for some painkillers. “So how did it go?”

“Seeing her tonight.” There was a sly smile under the pain. Lawrence grinned. “So what’s up now? We gonna find the other dirty stop-out?”

“Who? Where’s David?” Ellis had just noticed that David was nowhere to be seen. “He’s not in yet? That’s not like him. I’ll give him a call.”

Inez walked into the office, grim-faced. “Don’t bother, the nightshift woolies just got on to me. David’s in hospital. He was found around the back of the Fubar, just along from Maureen’s. One of the pros found him. He’d been beaten, and he’s lost a lot of blood. Something about having his neck slashed.”

Ellis and Lawrence stood up abruptly, waiting on Inez’s consent to go. She nodded briefly, and they hurried in to Stirling University Hospital. The nurse directed them up to High Dependency, where David was in a room on his own.

“High Dependency, that’s something,” said Lawrence. “Jesus, Ellis, look at the state of him. What could have done this?”

“Who could have done this? It must have been a gang. Zhaaneth aren’t shrinking violets.” Ellis turned to the nurse, who’d come in behind them to check his vital signs. “Was he mugged?”

The nurse shook her head. “No, he came in with his wallet and his gun.”

“If this was Earth, I'd say this was a hate crime.” Lawrence pulled out two seats.

Ellis sank down heavily on his. “We don’t have hate crimes on New Alba. Besides, David’s not tall for a Zhaaneth. He passes as a tall human.”

“If it’s any consolation,” said the nurse. “Your friend’s in a bad way, but we expect him to pull through.”

David started choking and his eyes fluttered open. The nurse came straight over to him from one of the monitors, calming him down. “Is his name David?” She looked over to the men, who nodded. She laid a hand on his shoulder, saying several times, “David? David! You’re alive, you’re in hospital, you’re safe.” David’s panic stopped and he looked around to the surroundings. “You’re on a ventilator and you’ve a tube down your throat. That’s why you’re choking and you can’t talk. You’re having a blood transfusion, you lost a a lot of blood. Your friends are here. Talk to him.”

“Ellis and Lal are here, David,” said Ellis. “Someone found you round the back of Maureen’s. Didn’t think you hung out there. Someone must have jumped you.”

David made scribbling motions with his hand. Lal, who had a PDA that supported writing got his out, and put the pen in David’s hand. David frantically scribbled. When he stopped, Ellis snatched up the tablet. He read it quickly, then passed it to Lawrence. “Must be the painkillers you’re on David. Sounds to me like you’re free and flying.” Ellis made a show of looking around. He sounded nervous. “Got any extra for me?”

At that moment, both men looked at Lal for reassurance. He looked down at the floor. “I think maybe I'd better call Drummond.”

“Why’d d’ya need to call Drummond? David’s high. Lucky bastard.” Ellis asked suspiciously, almost incredulous. Lawrence touched some buttons on his PDA and got out his earpiece mic. He spoke to briefly to Drummond, who promised to be in shortly. “How many times you taken statements from someone in a worse state, and used it in court?”

“Yeah, but they’ve been lucid!”

“And David isn’t?” Lawrence pointed out. “He looks fine to me.”

“Bullshit! Lucid people don’t come out with vampires!” Ellis paced around the small room, trying to put distance between himself and this crazy idea. “Maybe - maybe it was some guys in fancy dress. Or vampire lifestylers, the ones who’ve got the fang caps on their teeth. They slashed his throat to drink the blood. They tore at it, we can’t see that through the dressing, but it’s all torn and ragged because they tore at it with their teeth. That’s what happened. David’s lost blood, he’s high on painkillers and that’s what happened.”

They sat in silence for another ten minutes the only sound in the room was the bleeps of machines and hiss of the respirator. After about five minutes Ellis went to get a cup of coffee from the machine in the corridor. When he got back Drummond was there.

“Alright?” Ellis said warily, passing a cup of coffee over to Lal. “I didn’t think you’d get here so fast or I’d have got one for you.”

“It’s ok,” replied Drummond. “I’m not stopping. I’m just here to clear this up.”

Ellis swallowed some of his coffee. Like all machine coffee it was scalding and tasteless, but it wet his mouth. “Fine. Clear it up then.”

“I didn’t want to have to do it like this, but they didn’t leave me any choice in the matter. David’s not lying. He was attacked by vampires. They’ve been over here as long as we have. They mostly stick to eating the poor and oppressed in the Northwest Quadrant, but sometimes they forgot what they’re supposed to be doing. They tend to snack on the drunks in the clubs, but they don’t usually kill them. The one who got David was crazy. He’s dust now.”

Drummond’s voice was perfectly calm. He knew exactly what he was talking about. He sounded like he was giving evidence in court.

“His - his throat...it wasn’t bitten. Was slashed.” Ellis protested weakly. He sank down into the chair he’d been sitting in before.

“I know. I did it. I was coming out of Maureen’s at the time it happened. Don’t want him to show up on vampire radar. Or any have awkward questions. You never know who’s watching.” Drummond came around the side of the bed to sit next to him this time he spoke more softly, terrible understanding etched into his words, his face. “We’ve all been there, Ellis. Finding out that there really was a monster under the bed when you were a kid. It throws you. Even if you believe in the Otherworld already, it throws you. Faith is never meant to be proved.”

Ellis merely stared into his coffee. Drummond spoke again, the softness gone from his voice. “You know what Eluterio calls them? Leeches. They are everywhere.”

“You’re making a sales pitch, Drummond,” Ellis said, suddenly calm.

“You’re right, I am. You’ve heard of the Hunting Club, right?”

Ellis nodded. “I just thought it was another secret society like the Freemasons or the Odessa.or it was just a bunch of cops who went whoring together.”

Lal laughed. “That’s not so far off the mark.”

Even Drummond laughed. “It’s more than that. We hunt down vampires and other supernatural shit that shouldn’t be here, and help them go towards the light. That sound like something you’d be interested in? Your mate’s already put his name down.”

Ellis glanced towards David, who gave the best nod he could from underneath the medical equipment. “I’m in.”

“Good man! Look, I have to go now, but I’ll see you later. Lal, David.” Drummond got up to go. There was still a look on Ellis’ face. “What?”

“I still can’t believe that the wardrobe was coming to get me.”

Drummond snorted. “Don’t be stupid. It’s a fucking wardrobe.”

***
astrothsknot: (Default)
( Nov. 13th, 2005 02:48 am)
***

“I should feel guilty about taking your money, but I’m not gonna!” Eluterio laughed, as conversation at the table turned from drugs to the office sweepstake on who was going to become the new State Prosecutor after the previous one, some guy called MacNally had been found dead in his office. He’d shot himself when some scandal that meant nothing to anyone but him had come to light. Funny how some people put their jobs before their lives. “If it makes you feel better then I'll pay for dinner.”

“Yeah, but how’d you know it was going to go to Yagher?” Asked David. “Even I didn’t know it was going to him.”

“I’ve got my sources. Think about it. Google the name and you get a whole load of them working at Government Plaza, and as middle managers in various companies. Then one turns up at the State Pros Office.” He shook his head. “And you call yourselves detectives.”

“Oh, get the drinks in.”

Just then a party of lawyers came into the pub, noisy and chattering. They seemed to be mostly from the State Prosecution Office, as the afore mentioned Yagher was amongst them, and was buying the drinks. Devon was there as well, and the detectives turned to jeer Ellis as he coloured at the sight of her.

“I’m sick of this,” David declared, and went over to Devon’s party, ignoring Ellis’ dire threats. Ellis looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him whole, now, please. The rest of his party waited with baited breath. “Ellis, she’s calling you over,” Lal said, as Devon beckoned. The Squad cheered as Ellis finally got to his feet and went over, muttering something along the lines of “I’m going to set that alien bastard on fire and see if he sees that coming.”

“Speak of the devil, eh?” Eluterio said lightly, as David came back over. Only Lal got that he wasn’t talking about Devon, and he certainly wasn’t talking about Lachlan Yagher.

After all, Eluterio had his sources.
astrothsknot: (Default)
( Nov. 12th, 2005 03:34 am)
Ch 1

No one was there to meet him as he stepped off the transport. He went through Customs, to be checked for his papers, make sure that he made the right registration. No one batted an eyelid at his apathy. Six days on a transport was a long time, and everyone got jet lag, even with the ultraviolets.

He checked the new papers and credit chip given to him on his new PDA. It all felt alien to him, whoever he was.

Even he didn't know anymore. He had his new address on his papers, and a small case. It held everything that meant anything to him, which was mainly just clothes and toiletries.

He sat on a seat in an eatery at the spaceport, thought for a moment before he ordered. He couldn't remember for the life of him what he used to drink. They hadn't been allowed hot drinks in the Centre, and the smell of the coffee was making him feel sick. He eventually
chose mandarin tea. He had liked oranges.

He could recall that much.

He put his credit chip into his new PDA, looking blankly at the name--Flynn Kempski--that went across the screen. It gave his age as 30, his height as 6 ft 1 inch, his address as 216b McDonald, a three bedroom flat that cost less to rent a year, that he used to earn for a week's shooting. Further details went across the screen, direct debits to all the utility companies he would need. Accounts at the nearest supermarkets with the lists already drawn up and replenished weekly. At any one time, the young man could only access 20 credits. His life was tightly controlled, decided. It was for the best until he got on his feet.

If he ever did. Tears threatened to come again, and he cared enough about himself to not want to do it here. He clung to that. It was a small thing, but he clung to it nonetheless.

He sat at the table a little while longer, and no one looked. Here he had no one, and no one had him. It had been what he wanted.

To be unknown.

***

Flynn had eventually taken a taxi in the end to get to the new house. He had actually tried to make an effort to see his new city, asking the driver to take the scenic route. The driver had, along the seafront, before turning left along McDonald. He had also started polite conversation with the driver, managing to get the driver to do most of the talking, but eventually the effort had proved to much.

Flynn tuned him out of his head. It was something he had learned at the Centre. The driver never noticed. He wished the driver hadn't taken him along Nag's Head. It was too much...like...like....

Angel Bay.

Was he never going to be free of that place? Flynn wished he had never held that party, then it would never have happened.

At least, it wouldn't have happened to him. He could still have been on the arm of...what was her name?

He couldn't remember the name of his wife. Ex-wife, now, he supposed. He had not heard from her since Halloween. That had been eight months and another world ago.

His thoughts were interrupted when the driver turned into McDonald. He drove about two blocks, then stopped. "You're here?" He looked at Flynn for a moment. "Can I give you a bit of advice, son?"

Flynn smiled, and hoped it was a normal smile. Not the teeth-blinds-you one from ....it didn't matter. "Sure."

"The northwest of this town sucks. This street ain't so bad, they tend to keep themselves to the other side of the river, so you should be okay here."

Flynn listened and nodded. "I'll bear that in mind." He paid the man, got out his new key and let himself into his new home. The door clicked shut behind him, and he sank down.

The cage keeps the subject away from society, whilst keeping society away from the subject.

Now, he could let the tears come.

###

Flynn never heard all the banging and yelling in the flat below him. He was too far gone in his own private torture. It registered on the edge of his consciousness as gibberish and English, but that was all.

Drummond Campbell was wearing a bulletproof vest and a Police waistcoat, as he yelled “Police! Str’kt Almy!” Firearm raised, he nodded to the similarly attired officer next to him, as she shorted out the lock, before knocking it in with a ram, while another officer filmed it. “Surrender peacefully! Helaa!” He, and his fellow officers entered the house, methodically checking the rooms, and calling back and forth to each other in a mix of English and Zhaaneth. Commands and instructions had to given in both languages, otherwise it wasn’t legal or someone could get killed, even though fluency in both languages was mandatory for Central Police officers.

This time though, their caution wasn’t required. The flat was empty. The subjects of the warrant were not at home. Only their stash of hot PDAs and other electricals was. Yelena Solescu followed Drummond from room to room as he recorded a commentary. A tall detective was seen to walk into an arch, swearing in Zhaaneth while his partner laughed. Eluterio Flores was seen to wander into frame, instructing him to “Get some fuckin’ light on the subject. And open a fuckin’ window while you’re at it. Smells like a dead body.”

“You’re not wrong there,” Detective Inspector Inez Urirte DaCosta walked in just then, recoiling against the stench. “Might be proof they were making Slick, or maybe a rat wandered in here and got lost amongst all this shite.”

“It’d be easy done,” agreed Eluterio. “There’s no room, anywhere.” Electronics were piled up, floor to ceiling, anywhere there was space. There was no room for any furniture other than a mattress with a tangle of blankets and pillows. There was a couple of open suitcases near the mattress, clothes spewing out, cosmetics on the floor. Inez kicked a melting red lipstick, more for something to do, than any real reason, before walking through to the kitchen. It faired slightly better in terms of furniture, with a washing machine, and an airer with clothes on it. There was no food in the cupboards. The fridge hadn’t been plugged in for months.

“Only real space in here,” commented Inez. “And it stinks as bad as the bedroom.”

Eluterio nodded. “Clear for SOCO!” He called, laughing as someone swore, stopped doing forensic things in the living room, and began to ply their trade in the kitchen.

There was a knock at the door, and Inez turned to face a dark haired man in his late thirties. His ID announced him as Deputy State Prosecutor Lachlan Yagher. “Hello, Inspector DaCosta. Looks like your boys did good this morning.” He held out his hand, and Inez shook it. “Thank you sir, we sure did. Before I forget, congratulations on your new post.”

“Thank you, Inspector,” Lachlan smiled, then scowled at the smell. “Have they been making Slick? It smells like they have.”

“We’re checking that now, Mr Yagher.”

***

Every morning, Devon Butler’s routine was the same. She put her hair in a ponytail, put on a bikini top, and wearing nothing else, jumped into the sea.

There were those few painful, disorienting moments while she got used to the shock of the water, and her legs shifted to a sleek dolphin tail, and then she did the distance to Squatter's Island.

Devon loved the feel of the currents and tides, ripping through Stallion Bay, racing across to Asian Bay. She loved how they buffeted, tossed her. Currents that could and had, capsized boats, dragging those who had not made the life raft into the deep, bodies washing up weeks later at Nag's Head.

They did her no harm at all. She was queen of the ocean here.

If she had time, Devon would play for a while in the current, swim down to the seabed. She’d never seen one so clean. And the life forms on this planet!

Even back on Earth, they still hadn’t catalogued even half the life in the waters. They’d barely started here. They didn’t avoid her. They’d never really seen humans, so they were not afraid.

Having said that, Devon had no reason to hunt. She preferred her fish lightly baked in an oven for 20 minutes with a knob of butter, after buying it from a supermarket. Who cared that it was bad for your health?

Christ, being alive was bad for your health.

Having completed her swim, she’d quickly dry her tail, dress, and depending on the weather, cycle or drive back home to the apartment she had shared with Lyon Calal’ha in the 6 months since she’d come here. Fucking real estate prices. Even with the discount she got for being a city employee, she still couldn’t afford a decent apartment. At least, not one with a bath.

Lyon would always have breakfast ready for her and a cup of tea. He’d have it ready for her coming through the door. Didn’t matter what time she got in at, it was always ready.

Mind you, telepathy did make life difficult. He knew exactly what he was getting for his birthday.

###

Lyon couldn’t wait to get Devon off to work. He’d tried not to be jumpy, but the results were just too important, and he couldn’t help it. It was a wonder that she never noticed. Devon was intuitive, in that strange way that human women often were. His mother was the same, often finding out about misdemeanours and ill deeds before their father had, and Dad was telepathic!

Thinking of his parents did not help. They hadn’t even bothered having the tests, hadn’t needed to. They’d had Lyon within a year of leaving their service, and Robb had been a bonus five years later.

Robb worked alongside Dad, at the paper peddlers. He expected to get the shop when Dad retired. From Father to Son.

The concept made Lyon feel sick.

He felt Devon come back, and quickly put her breakfast on, began running her bath. It would now take her half an hour to get ready and go out to work, and he’d have to chat with her about what was up ahead, and endure another rant about how much flats cost, particularly ones with baths. And the rates that one had to pay on them. Why couldn’t the Council do something about that? No, they couldn’t, not while they were running committees on the flavour of ice cream.

The phone rang. Lyon picked it up. "Hey Robb. How's tricks?"

"Good," replied Robb. "I got my results. Have you got yours?"

"Not yet. Get them today."

"Have you mentioned this to Devon, yet?"

"Why should I?"

"It could affect her too."

"Only if we were lovers, and we’re not. I don’t care what Dad says. What were yours?"

"I’m not sure you’ll want to know until you’ve had yours. I don’t want to raise your hopes."

"Robb, don’t make me scan you. I need to know that my little brother is alright."

"I’m one in a hundred."

"Oh, Thank the Goddess!" Some of Lyon’s tension slipped from him, only to be replaced by a new fear. "Doesn’t mean I’ll be. Just my luck that only one of us is."

"For Christ’s sake, Lyon, just wait and see, yeah? Take care, bro. I’ll call you later."

He hung up, and Lyon was prevented from saying more by Devon coming out of the bathroom good to go.

###

Devon was really beginning to hate her job. She’d been there six months, had done the conversion course, to get her used to the differences in New Alba Law from the legal system she’d been used to, and all she seemed fit to prosecute was minor scum. She’d prosecuted rapists, child molesters, grievous bodily harm, and even the odd murder back home. Nothing really news worthy, but job wise she was beginning to make her mark. Then she’d thrown it all away to come here, and start at the fucking bottom all over again.

Plea-bargaining streetwalkers. For fuck's sake. They pleaded guilty, got fined, then had to whore again to pay the fine.

She stood at the prosecutors’ desk, files in order, first up, one Wayne Waggoner. God, that was a porn star name if there ever was one. Devon quickly read through the file. How apt. He was up for pimping and supplying varying classes of drugs to both his girls and others. Making and distributing pornography without a license.

Brothels, escort services and porn studios had to register, get licensed. Monthly STD checks, drugs tests, condoms provided by the establishment. Basic rates of pay, and an implied contract laid out in law. BDSM houses had stricter terms and conditions, but that was part of that subculture. Otherwise both parties were protected.

Of course that didn’t extent to the streetwalkers. Too young, old, ill, ugly, scarred or drug addicted to work the Pleasure Houses, but suited to no other living, they were at the mercy of pushers and pimps and all the other psychos that cruised Zhao and the Northwest Quadrant.

Devon scrolled down the file on her PDA. There were hints in the file that he could plead out if he could be persuaded to give up the names of some of his contacts. Or so the detective in the case thought.

Ellis Bell, familiar name. And now a familiar face, as he stood behind her, coughing to catch her attention. The defendant’s lawyer stood beside him. Devon laughed inwardly. If the defendants’ lawyer was any more beside Bell, he’d be inside him.

Even funnier was Bell’s obvious discomfort at the situation. He’d a nice face, so Devon decided to put him out his misery. "Waggoner’s skipped," she said simply.

"Sold his car to one of his girls, and gone. Just upped and left, according to sources. They are not happy. He was bad enough, but the new one is a real mean bitch."

"Well, she’s not my problem, he is. I’ll tell the judge, and get a warrant for him." Devon sighed. "You’d think she’d be sympathetic to them, being a whore herself."

"They do say women make terrible bosses. Don’t like the competition."

"All rise!"

"Back to work!" Muttered Devon. She gave Bell a smile that brought a scowl from the defence. The detective had a very nice face. His arse wasn’t bad, either.

###

Lyon sat in the office. The doctor hadn’t yet opened his file, so Lyon couldn’t scan him.

"Mr Calal’ha, welcome." The doctor had a false, oily tone. "Let me explain your results to you, before I give them to you."

"I'm really enjoying this, mongrel bastard," his thoughts fairly shouted in Lyon’s head. "Not that you’ll ever know."

"Please continue Dr Rodgers. I’m rather anxious to find out."

"Of course Mr Calal’ha. You understand that that Kiron’she genetics are 99.4 percent similar to humans, thus allowing humans and Kiron’she to produce viable offspring, that, like any child will be a mix of their parents genes."

Lyon nodded. He knew this. He was a fucking Halfer. It was why he was here.

"All offspring pick up genes and characteristics from both sides, good and bad. You have inherited your mothers’ wonderful Negroid features, and your father’s height, and his telekinesis."

Actually, Lyon hadn’t, it was Robb who was telekinetic, but why spoil the doc’s fun? He nodded, wanting the quack to continue.

"You understand Mr Calal’ha that genetics are a lottery. You cannot predict with any certainty what genes a child will inherit, and what effect they may have. Often, things will be unique to that generation or may have long term implications. You are familiar with the concept of the mule?"

"Drug smuggling is the bane of any civilised society, Dr Rodgers." Lyon replied calmly. This wanker wasn’t going to unnerve him. He faced worse at work every day.

"I was referring to the offspring of a horse and a donkey, animals from Earth. It was an extremely reliable animal, for riding and as a pack beast. It was rather stubborn, more than both its parents, and had none of their beauty either."

"Are you comparing me to a mule, Dr?" Asked Lyon, sweetly.

"No, Mr Calal’ha, merely to illustrate the point about two species interbreeding. Mules were sterile. Horses and Donkeys are genetically close enough to produce viable young, but not enough for the young to be fertile." He steepled his fingers. "A little known fact about mules is that one in a hundred is fertile, capable of producing young. The rate for Halfers is rather more, 40 in a hundred."

Lyon barely managed to control his breathing and the urge to beat the living shit out of this man.

At last the doctor opened his file on the computer, and Lyon knew.

"So to speak, Mr Calal'ha, you are one in a hundred. Congratulations.”

###

On hearing of Waggoner’s non-appearance, the judge had merely sighed, and filled out the necessary warrants. Nobody really bothered.

Everyone just got on with the job.

Devon’s day finally finished. It was as boring as it had been yesterday, and last week and the last month. The last three months, to be exact. All of the excitement she had felt at getting here, getting this job, had gone.

Now she was picking up the paycheque, and going home at night planning on what to spend it on.

The only thing that got her through each day were the little treats she allowed herself. A drink or a meal at Stoney’s. A cake. Surreptitious glances at the cute bailiff/juror/janitor/detective.

Devon thought for a moment of the highlight of today. Bell. She wondered if he was anything to do with the Bells’ whom Lyon had dealings with in Government Plaza. She’d ask him.

Her PDA flashed. She pressed the enter button, and Lyons’ face appeared. It was tiny, but it looked very pleased with itself. "Hi, Splash, guess you can talk?"

Splash was his nickname for her. "Sure, I'm just on my way. Want me to pick something up?"
"Get Pringles, any flavour, some candles, and a bottle of wine. Then come to Dad’s. We’re celebrating!"

"What are we celebrating?" She asked.

"You’ll see!" He was almost bursting out of the screen.

"See you in an hour then." She closed down her screen.

***

Inez came up to the doors of EK Artefacts, swore quietly under her breath, and fished in her handbag. “Damn!” She swore, under her breath.

Inez heard the jangle of keys behind her, and turned round to see Devon come up at the back of her. She smiled. “You’ve forgot your keys again?” Devon grinned. Inez smiled sheepishly. “I do better with evidence, honest."

“So I bloody hope so,” giggled Devon. Devon put her key in the lock, turned it, opened the door, waited for Inez to follow. The door swung shut behind her, and locked again.

"Hey, I got Pringles, and a customer!" She called.

Lyon came out first, took the bag from her, before sweeping up Inez in a long, lingering kiss.
Devon shook her head with mock disapproval. “Get a room.”

Robb Calal’ha came out from the back of the shop with champagne, and four glasses. "Did I hear Pringles? Get’em open!"

“Four glasses? No Lilith and Thomas?”

“Mum and Dad said they’d see us later. Inez, Lyon, don’t forget to breathe.” Robb wasn’t sure what to open first, Pringles or the champagne. Devon held up the champagne. Robb still wasn’t sure. The lovebirds came up for air, with Inez grabbing the bottle and opening it. “Robb, you’ve got weird priorities.”

The drink was poured, and four clashed the glasses hard together, hee-hawing like donkeys.

###

It was supposed to be Lyon who was telepathic, so it must have been coincidence that Devon was chatting to the judge's clerk. Ever since she had got to Stirling, she'd made it her business to get to know the court staff, in a way that most lawyers never did.

She didn't understand this, because it never hurt to have the staff on your side. More than a few times she'd been given a heads up to some piece of legal subterfuge by a defence lawyer, or access to a judge for a subpoena or a continuance, simply on the basis she was a friend of the clerk.

More than that though, Devon genuinely enjoyed the company of these people. She was just as happy to return the good deed, should the need arise.

The subject at the moment was warrants. She had made it a habit to come round, and see what was likely to becoming up shortly, anything that was interesting or that she was likely to be prosecuting. Not that the two tended to be one and the same.

"So did you have your wicked way, then?" Devon asked of Tanya, Judge Menendez's clerk. They'd got on since Devon had come to Stirling.

"Nah," Tanya shook her head, "he was too pissed. Had him the next day though. Hung like a horse."

"Better not say that to him, or you might just find yourself on bestiality charges, even with a Zhaaneth," Devon laughed.

"Not my fault it was on Stallion Bay," Tanya simpered playfully. "What about you? Jumped that sweet piece of ass you live with yet?"

"Lyon is my best friend, and my roommate! I don't think of him like that! I'll tip him the wink, though, if you're interested," offered Devon.

Tanya shook her head. "Not my type. I prefer horses." The room rang with peals of laughter. "Here's one for you." She turned the monitor towards Devon. "You'd be able to get this one, despite what MacNally says."

Devon looked at the screen. It was the warrant for the arrest of Noel Usher and Claire Fitzgerald on theft and distribution charges viz a house full of hot PDAs and other portable electricals. "That the bust on McDonald yesterday?"

Tanya nodded. "Get your boyfriend to pull rank for you. What's the point of knocking off someone from Government Plaza if you can't get them to put in a good word for you, now and then?"

"I want to make it on my own," replied Devon. "I can't go snivelling to Lyon every time I don't get my own way."

"It's done you no bloody good so far," said Tanya, pointedly. "You've been here six months and you're still whore chasing."

"I've only been on the job three months and I need the valuable experience that working from the bottom up will bring me," protested Devon.

"Keep saying it. You might believe it, eventually."

"It's that obvious?"

"Yep." Tanya nodded. "Lyon got you over here, and that never bothered you, so why does getting better cases through him?"

"It just does. But I'm quite happy to use my influence with him on your behalf..."

Tanya winked.

Devon looked at the warrant for a moment, then recalled the case....well, it was more the detective on the case.....then it struck her. "Wasn't she something to do with the case yesterday that was a skipper?"

"Carter, Cartman, it was something to do with trucks...or wagons?" Tanya could recall it as well. "You came down here all dewy-eyed about Ellis Bell."

"Waggoner! That was it!" Devon nodded. "That was the name of the slapper that had bought him out."

"Bought him out, my ass!"

"I agree with you. No way would he sell out, not to the likes of her, anyway. Bad for the image." Devon pinched another cake from the box she'd brought.

"Maybe she and her boyfriend did him in." Tanya got one before Devon finished them off. "Christ, woman, you're so damn thin you'll fall down cracks in the pavement. Where the hell do you put it?

"It's called exercise, Tanya. Sweat your arse off for an hour a day, and you can spend the next twenty-three eating what the fuck you like." She made short work of the cake. "Maybe. Don't give a shit, anyway. One less dick polluting the atmosphere. But at least it gives me a claim to this case, when they get them."

***

“Why don’t you just call her?” David Root asked Ellis.

“Who?” Replied Ellis. He looked at the court room where Devon was not objecting to the latest pleading out of some petty housebreaker who was agreeing to give up the names of his fences.

“Ellis, you’re a blond. See when you blush? It’s really obvious.”

“You read my mind.” Ellis accused good-naturedly.

“I don’t need to. We’ve been hanging round here a lot this past week on the shittiest of excuses, and your lawyer lady through there seems to be the common denominator. Ergo, what with us being detectives an’ all, it would seem that Ms Butler is the reason we’re here.”

Ellis gave up the fight. They’d only been assigned to each other a month ago, but he liked David’s friendliness. He wasn’t too tall either, for a Kiron’she, only 6ft 8in, so Ellis, who was only 5 inches shorter, didn’t feel intimidated by him.

David looked off into the distance for a moment, narrowed his eyes, as if concentrating. “God, I love that about a woman!”

“What?” Asked Ellis.

“The way they can do ten different things at once. She’s bored out her head, but she’s still doing her job perfectly - “

“What else is sh- hey! You shouldn’t be doing that! That’s invasion of privacy!” Ellis paused for a moment. “What else is she thinking about?”

“The water was nice this morning....she doesn’t want to plea-bargain the next two cases, she thinks he deserves jail - oh it’s that case is it? - she likes Empire biscuits, she’s going to get some for lunch......ohhh! My stars, I'm too young for those kind of thoughts!” David looked Ellis up and down for a moment. “You’re not supple enough for that position.”

He gave an evil laugh, and refused to say anything more.

“Bastard.” Ellis sulked.

“Just ask her out!”

***

Devon was on autopilot. Like every day, the only thing keeping her going was her little treat. It was supposed to be an Empire biscuit, and she could taste it, firm biscuit melting into a sweet paste on her tongue. Mmmm.

That, and the dream of the case that would get her on track to glory. Ever since Waggoner had skipped, and her lunch with Tanya, a plan had begun to form in her mind.

She felt a shiver run down her spine, the back of her neck prickle, as if unseen eyes were watching her. She waited a moment, felt the sensation intensify.

She was being scanned.

Devon fought the urge to glance round. Instead she mentally reviewed the court and its occupants. The defence attorney was human, as was this defendant. There were some Zhaaneth seated in the public gallery, but there was no real reason why any of them would want to scan her. None of these cases were going to trial.

“Fine then. If that how you get your kicks, don’t let me disappoint you.” Deliberately, she turned to her favourite fantasy, involving Ellis, handcuffs and a camel.

No one was stealing this case from her. No one.

***

Ellis and David didn’t get the opportunity to speak to Devon when she left court after lunch. They had a plan of their own to put into action. It didn’t involve handcuffs and camels.

It did, however, involve Ellis.

***

Devon still had a copy of the warrant for Usher and Fitzgerald. She also had an unauthorised copy of Waggoner on her PDA. It was office policy to only have files on your PDA when you were working on them, otherwise it should have been dormant on a data card, in a file drawer at the office, with maybe a permitted back up on your desktop PC at home.

Waggoner was closed until he turned up in the flesh, and Devon had been told to turn over all her files on him back to the office. She hadn’t, and like most Public Servants had kept a copy.
You never knew when these things were going to come in handy.

She wasn’t due back at the office that afternoon. If it was routine paperwork, or research, it was permitted for you to do it elsewhere. Flexible working. Nobody cared what you did or where you did it, as long as it got done.

This was partly the reason that Devon sat in her car on MacDonald, opposite the house where Noel Usher and Claire Fitzgerald had kept their little gadget emporium. She was very much on the wrong side of the river.

Again, that sense of being scanned...

She felt distinctly uneasy as she got out of the car and went up to the front door of the house. The police had put up a temporary door of cheap wood, with a small lock that could easily be opened with a credit chip. 200 years, and they hadn’t solved that problem yet.

Luckily, Devon was a lawyer, and so she wasn’t breaking and entering. She was investigating.

The house was clean inside. The most notable thing about it was a stunning absence of furniture. Devon keyed open a new window in her PDA. It gave her a copy of the report made by the officers involved, including the main case, made by the leader of the Starsquad. She ignored the meta-tag that gave her more intel on Drummond Campbell, instead pulling up the recording of the bust that law dictated be made. The place had been full of gadgets, piled high, and everywhere.

Scuffed floorboards were the only clue now. “Strange” she mused, “the walls were all the same colour. No shading to suggest where the merchandise had been.” No darker patches, the way one would expect if a picture or whatever had been. Mind you, they probably didn’t want to advertise what they were up to.

The sunlight streamed through the windows from which curtains had been ripped. They were more like blackout curtains, or the heavy drapes used over a window or door to keep out a draught. The house must have been like an oven. It had been bad enough when she came in.

Christ, it reeked. The whole house smelled like something had died in it. It was hell to Devon’s enhanced smell.

Some small animal had probably got caught inside, and had died. Maggots were probably eating it right now. She checked her PDA, noticed that Ellis and Root had been on the bust as well. She’d not noticed that before. Root was swearing vigorously in Zhaaneth, as he banged his head on a low, horribly baroque arch. Ellis had been laughing, looking as if he didn’t quite understand exactly what David had been saying. Considering it was taught in the schools, was on every damn signpost in the city, and half the media broadcast in it, it was kind of surprising.

Then again, it stopped them looking at the arch too closely.

Devon considered the arch for a moment. On a whim, she emitted several clicks, setting off every dog in the neighbourhood. She adjusted for their cacophony, emitted several more. A picture formed in her mind.

Testing her hunch, she walked over to the other side of the arch, clicked again.

She was right. There was something in the beam of the arch.

She went out to the car to get her crowbar. She never saw David and Ellis pull up behind her, exchange a glance with each other. They followed her in.

Devon was too small to reach the arch standing, so she pulled over an unbroken chair. She put the jemmy to the arch, and began to haul it apart. The wood cracked, like a gunshot in the confined space. Months of dust showered her.

She was too intent on her task to be surprised when Ellis came in behind her. He paused for a moment - she looked adorable, face screwed up in concentration.

“Help me!” She ordered, never missing a beat. Ellis got up on the chair beside her, very conscious of himself, of Devon, and the strangeness of the situation. They hauled on the crowbar, working it like a bellows.

David could only watch them. The wood began to splinter, and crack. It had the uncanny sound of bone twisting and splintering. There were no jokes. He could sense this wasn’t the time.

In a rush, the beam fell off all along the ceiling, and a shower of maggots feasting on the desiccated corpse showered Ellis and Devon. It knocked them from the chair.

David picked up the PDA, acted on his own intuition. A sinking certainty had welled up in his stomach.

The body was naked, and the tattoo that he’d seen in one of Wayne Waggoner’s self-starring masterpieces was plain, though discoloured.

The taller man caught his partners’ eye. He nodded to Ellis, who returned the nod. “I’ll call it in,” he said. “You take her out.”

Devon screamed the place down as she and Ellis tried to brush the maggots from her clothes and hair, scrabbling at her clothing as she felt them wriggle next to her skin, her back, catch in her bra, feel them crawl around her breasts.

***

After that, it had all happened quickly. As the whole thing had technically been a Stars bust, and it was their remit, they dealt with it, leaving David, Ellis and a still freaking Devon to answer some routine questions.

“This won’t take long, Miss Butler, we just want to get a few things straight,” said the kindly detective. “It’s really just to clear up some things.”

“Sure,” answered Devon, still scratching at herself.

Ellis, who was sitting next to her on the pavement, squeezed her hand in solidarity. “It’s not like it’s a rare event round here. One less asshole to litter your charming precinct.”

The detective nodded. “Let 'em all fucking kill themselves. Let us get on with some real work. Still feel them?” Devon nodded. She’d tore off her clothes and was now wrapped in Ellis’s jacket. Luckily it had been left in the car, so was it was free from baby flies.

They all recounted the events of the last hour from their own perspectives, Devon adding that she had been playing a hunch, after working the Waggoner case for a more minor crime.

David and Ellis made no further comments, and the detective did not ask.

***

Devon was still wearing Ellis’s jacket as she sat in the office of her new boss. She was desperate for a bath, but she couldn’t have that here. Lachlan Yagher handed her the glass quietly. Devon almost choked on the whiskey.

“Hey, careful!” He scolded, gently. “That’s Glengoyne! Do you know how much it costs to have that stuff shipped over?”

She managed a weak smile. “Not how you thought your first day would go.”

“Life doesn’t surprise me anymore. So, what were you doing all the way over there?”

Devon was too tired to think up a decent lie, so she went with the truth. “I was following a hunch. Just seeing if there was any clue as to why the vic just bailed like that. His file had already said that he usually made his court dates. Occupational hazard. It wasn’t like him to miss.”

Lachlan considered for a moment. “I like that you use your initiative. Maybe it’s about time we got you off jaywalkers, and on to something more substantial. You seem ready for it.”

Despite herself, she smiled. So did Lachlan. “Nothing like promotion to put the colour back in girl’s cheeks.”

***

“How can someone just vanish off the face of the Earth?” The male voice didn’t sound quite right, not quite human. It was just about managing to form the words.

Christian Russell shrugged. “There’s no trace of him left on this planet, is all I can tell you.”

“Could he be dead?”

Another shrug. “There are plenty of mages of his calibre in this world. Surely one of them could continue his work?”

“It’s Tobias Ross with whom this started, and with whom it should end. The Ending of the Circle. You’re a mage, you should understand this!”

“Of course.” Christian paused for a moment, considering his next comment. “In this day and age, vanishing off the face of the earth is quite possible.”

“It is?”

“They discovered two new planets about a hundred years ago, Zhaan and New Alba. They’re settled. He could be there. Provide me with the funds and I'll take care of the rest.”

The voice was silent. After a few minutes, a large leather bag materialised at Christian’s side. It was reminiscent of those old drawstring pouches that people had kept money and valuables in before the twentieth century had seen the invention of the purse, the handbag and the wallet.

He picked it, up, and left the room.

Christian spent some of the afternoon converting the gold - gold! - contained in the pouch into digits on a credit chip, judiciously spreading it around various accounts. He settled his affairs, then spent the rest of the afternoon going through his small flat, deciding what he wanted to keep and what he would leave for friends and various charities. He’d whittled this down to some clothes, some personal effects, and a laptop, and its attendant files. There was enough to fill a medium sized backpack.

He locked up the flat, and posted the keys through the letterbox of the warden. Then he walked off without a backward glance. It wasn’t the first time he’d done so.

Ah, well. Christian doubted it would be the last.

***

His arrival on New Alba was even more low key than his quarry’s. It had been easy to get a low grade position on the transports that ran all the time to the two planets, then sneak past the security of the space port, away from the quarters put up for the convenience of crews who did not have the right passes to leave the compound.

He knew more or less where he was headed. He’d spent the long trip going through the ship’s databases, aquainting himself with this new world. It wasn’t that hard, Stirling was still fairly small, roughly a million residents, not too many streets, handily laid out in the grid pattern beloved of American city planners since the 1920s.

It took roughly 90 mins of walking up the first street he could find before he found the rough end of town, where no one would question him. He simply wanted to remain anonymous, and the little hotel he found would allow this.

He took the room on a weekly basis, to the amazement of the receptionist, who was far more used to renting the rooms out by the hour. But it was clean, and basic and that was all he needed right now.

Christian showered, shaving off the fuzz that had started to grow on his chin. “Black men can’t grow beards,” he laughed to himself.

Damn, that felt good. Gods, this city was hot, wet hot, nothing like the dry heat of California, or the airless, baking oven of a cargo ship. He stood under the water for sometime, enjoying the feel of this new place.

There was magic in the air here, mixed in as it was with the usual city miasma, and there weren’t that many places that still had that sense of ...electricity...expectation.

It was a city on the edge, vibrant, alive.

Christian pulled out a pair of black trousers, and a blue fitted shirt that was the colour of the sea on a sunny day. It didn’t exactly match his eyes, they were turquoise, but it brought them out.

For someone who just wanted to go about his business unmolested, Christian cut quite a dash.

It was a beautiful night, so he walked around, taking the air, ordering a drink in every little bar that took his fancy, stopping to observe the nightlife, and chatting to it, when it chose to observe him. He joined a group of court officials, bailiffs and clerks out for their weekly night out, enjoying the banter and shrieks of laughter as they let their hair down, the women dressed to the nines. It was heartening to see that people still believed in dressing up here.

Joined wasn’t exactly the correct phrasing. It was more that he’d been sitting watching the world go by, when the group had come in. He thought he recognised one of the women in the group, but that thought went by the wayside, as the slightly smaller woman she’d been with saw him, screamed loud enough to make the whole bar look at her, as she descended on him with all the delicacy of an avalanche. “You available?” She demanded.

“Do I have a choice?” He replied.

“No, you don’t,” she announced firmly, and that had been that. She’d introduced herself as Tanya, and that she worked as a judges’ clerk. That, and she drank Bacardi and Coke.

And that was how he’d ended up in The Fubar, with a pretty girl on his arm. It was one of the best first nights he’d had.

“Thish ish jus’ the best club there ish here,” yelled Tanya, over the noise of the DJ. “They have live bandsa coupla of times a week. The owner gigs as well.”

“Sounds cool,” he yelled back. “Love the decor.”

“Yeah, it’s all Zhaaneth shit. Shee those really tall people over there -” Christian nodded. Tanya grinned drunkenly. “Theys aliens. But theys all really cool. And theys all really tall.” She hauled Christian to his feet. “Am dancing. So’s you.”

They tottered out onto the floor, jostled by other couples, Christian holding on to the drunken girl, not that either of them minded. He didn’t let go when they got to the floor and began to dance. Despite the fact that she was well in her cups, Tanya was a surprisingly good dancer.

They’d been on the floor maybe half an hour when trouble flared, though not with them. Christian couldn’t see exactly how it had happened, but he didn’t need to. One of the Zhaaneth marked out by Tanya earlier had got into a scuffle with another, smaller man, who’d drawn a knife on his opponent. One of the knifeman’s companions had tried to stop him, gaining a slash across the arm for his trouble. It wasn’t much, but bled a fair amount. The club bouncers had quickly broken up the fight, and taken him through the back to have the wound dressed.

One of the bar staff came over to clean up the mess. On a pretext of getting them drinks, Christian left Tanya with her friends, and came over to the cleaner. He’d already cleaned and righted the furniture, and was about to move on to the blood on the floor. He’d paused, gazing at it for a long moment, before he knelt down to clear it.

By this time, Christian had reached him. “If you don’t clear it up soon, pal, there’s more than a few in here who’d like to help,” he said quietly, but with a smile in his voice. “But maybe you could pass it off as a fetish.”

“We’re on the wrong side of town for that to stick,” replied the barman. He was giving the blood much the same look as a vegetarian would a hamburger. If that wasn’t a clue, mused Christian, there was also the fact that he wasn’t wearing rubber gloves.

If anything gave it away, it was that.

The vampire had started to clear away the pool, almost gagging on the strong smell of the bleach. Poor thing.

Christian looked around for a way in, then saw hidden within the glyphs on the wall, warding signs. They’d been bright at one time, but were starting to dim. “I can recharge those for you if you want.”

The vampire saw where Christian was looking. “Yeah, thought they must be running down. They’re supposed to stop stuff like this happening.”

“They don’t stop all of it,” replied Christian. “Why don’t you see your boss on it, and call me on this number -” a business card appeared. “I’ll be cheaper than his regular guy.”

“It’s a her.”

They said their goodbyes. Christian went to the bar and bought his drinks. He’d wanted an in to the underworld of this place, and he seemed to have found it.

He returned to Tanya, and set about enjoying the rest of the night.

***

The office of the Starsquad was located in an office in Randolphfields. “Office” was a compliment. It was a room that held the men and their files, some couches that were bursting, being purloined from various sources, and a low table that had every manner of defacement possible, as well as a missing leg. It tipped up if you sat in the wrong place.

It was currently stifling in there. The windows didn’t open, and the aircon was broke, again. Someone had acquired a fan from the evidence lock-up, but all it was doing was circling the hot air around the room. This was partly the reason they’d relocated to Port Customs pub. The other part was that it served food until closing time, and had functioning aircon. That, and it was right on the dividing line between Government Plaza and the Entertainment Quarter.

Most of the Starsquad were members of the Stake Club. Furthermore, they all felt as Drummond Campbell did. It was time to take out the big guns. All of them were members of some years standing. Rookies tended to make mistakes, be too gung-ho, and that just got you dead or allergic to sunlight. The oldies were the opposite. Carefully stake a few whelps every once in a while. Not too many, didn’t want to bring trouble to the doorstep.

Now, caution wasn’t a bad thing in itself, but, all things in moderation. No, caution was better if were applied to a situation, rather than a virtue in its own right. Too much caution could get you killed just as much as not enough.

“Drum?” Eluterio Flores was looking expectantly at his colleague. “You wanna move it along here? The food’ll be here soon.”

Drummond snapped back to attention, suddenly all business. “What’s new on the Usher front?”

“Fuck all. Him and Fitzgerald are quiet for now. I’m guessing they’ll be trying to get up custom for their new line of business. His whore was seen in the Fubar the other night, along with most of the other seaside clubs.” Eluterio sipped his coffee.

“Blues or Reds?” Asked Lawrence Hillyer.

“Merger or takeover?” Mused Drummond.

Eluterio shrugged. “I hear her pimp turned up dead. She’s gonna have to learn to hide the evidence better. Usher won’t put up with that kind of carelessness for long. Neither can we, cos, she’s our only link to him. It was Bluelights, Lal.”

“What’s forensics say?”

“Wasn’t killed there, and that’s it. Cause of death was heart failure due to massive blood loss,” Lawrence read out from the report in front of him.

“Just your typical leech attack.” Eluterio was bored with this. Frankly, he couldn’t see how this could be done. He could see the logic in Drummond’s grand plan, but the Stake Club simply wasn’t big enough to take out some of the most powerful forces, for want of a better word, in Stirling. It was exactly the same as the whelps. There was always another one to take the place of the one they’d just dusted.

Why would this be any different?

“It says here that Root and Bell found him, along with some DA,” Lawrence said, as he read further. “Why would they be all the way over here?”

“Good question.” Drummond leaned back in his chair, considering.

“Well, now there’s a thing,” Lawrence brought the PDA closer to his face. “Eluterio, do you know that name? The signing detective?”

Eluterio took it from Lawrence, and stared at it. “No, I don’t. Drum, we may have a mole.”

The PDA was passed to Drummond. “Root and Bell don’t know many of our team that well, so they wouldn’t recognise him. You’d have thought Root would have known, though.”

“Maybe he’s in league with our mole,” said Lawrence. “They seemed pretty keen for us to have this. It’s either careless on their part, or they don’t care.”

“I agree, but at the same time, don’t be so quick to damn Root. Not all Zhaaneth scan you straight off.” Drummond warned. “They don’t do it without reason.”

Eluterio snorted, but said nothing.

“I guess we’d better start thinking who our mole is, and why they wanted us to have this intel so bad, and why the fuck Root and Bell were over here.”

The food arrived, and they fell silent, until Lawrence spoke up. “Like all the best recreational drugs, the creator of Slick is anonymous,” he read from the press release that had been put out a few weeks earlier. Like many such leaflets, it was so badly written that it had become the source of mirth for many a professional whit. “The investment in time, money, equipment, premises, marketing, personnel, and recruitment remains unknown.” The group sniggered

“Who wrote that shit? They really put that out for public education?” Ellis and David had been passing, and overheard Lal reading. Drummond pushed out some chairs with his foot, and the two men sat down, a trifle warily, Drummond, Lal and Ellis had an uneasy history with each other. David knew the gist, but not the not ins and outs of the matter. But for now, none of that was uppermost in any of the human minds. He relaxed a little. “I’m sure they write them that bad on purpose,” he said, accent still strong after all these years.

“Nobody could write something that bad on purpose,” Eluterio sipped his beer.

David shook his head. “Think about it. We’ve had all kinds of weird and wonderful shit coming out of the Stationary Office for about the past four years. It’s become almost a cult thing, seeing what they’ve done this time. You can’t not read them.”

“It’s the only way we would read them. Lal, pass it over.” Eluterio continued to read. “Perhaps it was some chemistry student messing around, dreams of making a designer drug, then retiring rich on the proceeds to their very own desert island. What fucking desert island? There’s no deserts here, and who the fuck goes back to Earth?”

“The morons that wrote this,” chimed in Ellis. “They’ve got to be taking Slick to come up with this. It’s bad even by Stationary office standards.”

“I love how they’re giving SU students ideas. Enterprising lot, so they are.” This gave rise to more hilarity round the table, as they discussed exactly what shape and form that enterprise had taken when Stirling’s brightest and best had set to work, particularly among the foreign students who’d no right to the free further education enjoyed by citizens.

Through it all, Drummond said nothing, merely followed the conversation. Only Eluterio noticed, but said nothing. He’d a rough idea what kept his boss so quiet.

“What’s weird,” said David, well in his cups now, “is that it took so long for us all to actually figure out you could make a drug with it. It didn’t take anyone too long to figure out you could make a drink with hemmet.”

“Can you blame them?” Lal reasoned. “They’d only brought out so much alcohol with them, they needed more practical things, but still, a body needs to kick back. Plenty beer now, though.”

“Don’t let us stop you Lal, same again all round.” Eluterio look around the table for the nods. “In a way, it’s sad. Not that it actually matters, as I doubt that they are currently alive.”

“Not for me, I’m calling it a night. Drummond got up from the table. “My round next time.” With a muttered “night”, he got up from the table, stepping out into the stifling night air. Fucking gas giants and green house effects. Not that it made any difference to the student.

“If he’d got a backer, that backer would most likely have killed him when the mix was right, or had him killed when Slick came to his attention, which it would. They always would.” Lal had come back with the beers.

Not that it made any difference to any body, in the end. He was still dead. And Slick was still on the street. They’d found out how to make the drink first, those first settlers. Drummond’s mind was still on the subject, as he walked the streets until he came to a familiar red glow. Maureen’s, the sign said simply. He hesitated before going in. Then shrugged, he was too wired to sleep, despite the drink in his system.

“Maybe that was the reason that the drug took so long,” offered Ellis. “Humans were too busy empire building, and besides, there were already other drug recipes in existence. Most folk would try a new drink, but they’re often slow to uptake a new narcotic.”

Drummond ignored the bouncer on the door, sat down in a seat near the stage. He didn’t pay much heed to the show. Some guy writing his chip detail in lipstick on the stripper’s arse. They’d take the money out his account later in the evening.. It wasn’t long before a slim, long haired woman not wearing very much came over with a complimentary glass of mahtob. She turned to go, but Drummond caught her wrist, pushed his card into the tabletop reader, and keyed it in, waited as she affirmed her number. He paid her no attention as she undid his zip, slid out his dick, barely noticed her slide on the condom, he only moved to turn his head as she tried to kiss him. She took the hint, mounted him and began to thrust again him. He barely noticed the act.

This wasn’t getting them anywhere. It was time he turned his attention back to the real problem of this city, those at the top. Deal with them, and he’d bet his arse that crime would be cut by half. He looked at himself in the mirror that ran behind the optics of the bar, ran a hand over his lean features. Part of him couldn’t believe what he was contemplating, the audacity of it. Part of him couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been attempted before, and part of him wondered if it had, and if so why hadn’t he heard about it.

Drummond looked back at the mirror, watched as his hands made all the right moves on the body of the prostitute, vaguely registered some of the sensations from his body, barely noticed when he came. He wished he could still lose himself.

He wished that he could still feel.

***
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