Heather Lawson thumbed through the manila file icons on her smooth black office data-pad reading the names and brief descriptions of each in turn. One of the advantages of working as a writer, you could do it from home with nothing but a dedicated device. She plopped down on her plush blue couch and set her bare feet on the glass top coffee table. She was looking for something interesting, a challenge. Everyday new files were automatically downloaded to her pad from the Interplanetary Judicial Department, most were simple petty crimes, luckily for her, Heather got first pick of the assignments.
She’d developed a solid reputation for results and after twenty-five years she was the senior writer and allowed the luxury of only working the cases she found interesting. Being a Reckoning Writer was not an easy job, it came with a great deal of vicarious trauma, required hours of research, took a supernatural imagination, and was a dying profession.
As long as there are people, there will always be crime, however once Reckonings were developed and administered the recidivism rates started plummeting. It was a great boon for society, but a terrible blow to the criminal justice industry. Heather knew of no other career that its end goal was to work your way out of a job in quite the same way as criminal rehabilitation.
“Hey you brute!” She chided as her large gray cat, Brutus, jumped into her lap pushing her pad aside. “I suppose you’re hungry?” She asked as he purred and she pet the soft spot between his one blue and one orange eye. “Can’t you wait a few more minutes?” She smiled as he flicked his raspy tongue across her fingers.
She lay the pad down on the cushion next to her and kissed his furry head. Brutus was the best man to ever come into her life, and she wasn’t about to let him starve. She stood and he leapt to the hardwood floor and raced her to the kitchen.
After Brutus had been fed Heather returned to her data-pad she only had four more pages of files to go, and so far the most interesting case was for a man who had been caught running a dog fighting ring back on Earth. She hadn't done any sort of animal case in a while and those were usually…different at least.
Now three pages to go, now two, now--wait what's this? The second to the last file was already grayed out, meaning someone had already been assigned to it! Hmm, Michael Cordley a rape and homicide on Mars?!?
She quickly tapped the Gate Keepers icon on the corner of the screen with the tip of her finger. Immediately the folders were replaced with the face of a mousy girl wearing green framed glasses. Heather tore into her before the girl had a chance to finish smiling.
"Who took the Mars case?"
The girl blinked, "Mars?"
Heather pushed a blond curl away that had fallen into her face; her hair always seemed to get loose when she was upset. "Yeah the rape and homicide—Michael Cordley? Look I get it, you're new right? Well I get first pick see, so no one else should have been able to see the potential assignments until I select the cases I want to work on. So just tell whoever picked the case that they were accidentally moved up in the queue and that they have to wait their turn. Okay?"
By this time the girl wasn't even trying to smile anymore. "Give me a moment please." The screen went blank.
Heather sighed and plopped back down on the couch. She better be able to get that case. She hadn't seen a rape or a murder in years, let alone both and especially not on Mars. The red planet had virtually become science fiction's promised Utopia over the last few decades.
She pulled the tie out of her long blonde hair and leaned forward so that it would cascade in front of her. She ran her fingers through it checking for knots, and just as she was resetting her ponytail the girl with the green framed glasses reappeared on her screen.
"Thank you for holding Ms. Lawson."
Heather nodded "It's all right, so long as you've fixed the issue."
The girl flashed a fake smile. "After conferring with my supervisor." Of course, no back bone to make a decision herself. "I'm to inform you that no Reckoning Writer is guaranteed a particular file—
"Listen girly," Heather cut her off. "I've been in the game for a while so don't feed me your policy bullshit. Where is Malcolm? Get him on the screen."
The girl's smile became a thin pink line. Heather was pissing her off, good. She needed to know who she was dealing with. "I'm sorry but Mr. Dinnison is longer a part of this office," she said.
Heather cataloged finding out what happened to Malcolm Dinnison later. Every second she let someone else have their fingers in her file was another second she might not get it back. "Well who the hell is your supervisor then?"
Snowgrin! That little weasel, he couldn't hack it as a R.W. and moved into administrative services. He never did like Heather, she was called in to fix too many of his mistakes. More than one offender wound up in a psych-ward after he was through with them. It often took months to re-write their reckoning’s so that their minds would accept the stories as being real and not some psychotic episode.
Well I guess I'll have to jump ranks, she thought. "Thanks for your help," Heather said as she clicked the screen off. She set the pad down and went to retrieve her personal one out of the bedroom.
Heather made sure to put on some makeup and a silky black top with a low neckline before dialing the I.J.D. Executive Director’s office. She and Susan had been on first name terms for nearly three years and if anyone could put Snowgrin back in line it would be her. It also didn’t hurt that Susan had admitted that she found Heather attractive at last year’s Christmas party. Heather wasn’t above using that to her advantage to get what she wanted!
She checked herself in the mirror a second time before setting her metallic purple personal data-pad on the vanity. She touched the contacts icon and scrolled down to Susan’s name and double tapped it. The screen turned white with a blue swirl in the middle as the device was connecting. After a few seconds Susan’s assistant, a stern older looking woman named Rita appeared.
“Susan Maynard’s office,” she said officially.
Heather smiled, “Hi Rita, it’s Heather Lawson.”
“I can see that, how may I help you.”
“Charming as always I see Rita,” Heather said. “I like your haircut, the pixie look works for you.” Heather waited but Rita just stared back expectantly. Heather gave up, she’d have to try another time to get Rita to smile. “Is Susan in?”
Rita pursed her lips as if impatient. “No, she’s on extended leave. You’ll have to speak with the Interim Director. If you’ll hold I’ll see if he’s available.”
The screen turned white before Heather had a chance to respond. Damn, she thought, well there was still hope, at least the Interim Director was a man and there wasn’t a man alive that could say no to her big green eyes, except for maybe Snowgrin.
Heather was startled when Rita's face was replaced with a pudgy black man's. "Malcolm?"
"Heather!" Malcolm had an infectious smile, "Long time no see."
Heather couldn't believe her eyes. She was going to get her hands on that case after all! "Malcolm, what are you doing in Susan's office?"
He chuckled, his dark round cheeks seemed to almost blush, "I got promoted!"
"I can see that. I was worried about you. I contacted the Gate Keepers Division and they told me you weren't there anymore."
"Is that why you're calling? Concern for my safety?" He chuckled again. "Susan needed to take some time off, her father is sick"
"Yeah," he said shaking his head. "CINS--"
Heather gasped, "Really?" She said cutting him off before he could say more. C.I.N.S or Cyberneticly Induced Neurological Shutdown, was a rare malady in this day in age. Once hackers had developed the ability to upload lethal computer viruses into the human mind, most people quit jacking themselves onto the network. "I didn't know he was a Jacker."
"Apparently, yes. So your concern for me would probably be better served on Susan's dad."
Heather's cheeks went hot; her call seemed rather petty now. "Actually Malcolm, while I was concerned about you, that's not why I was trying to contact Susan."
Malcolm's smile returned. "I didn't think it was. How can I help you?"
"There was this file among the cases this morning--"
It was his turn to cut her off, "The Cordley case?" He said, his grin creeping into his eyes.
He shook his head, "You can't have it."
She slammed her hand down on the vanity knocking her data-pad over. "Damn it Malcolm, I'm the best Reckoning Writer there is. That case should be mine!"
His chuckling infuriated her even more as she reset the pad and pushed her hair out of her face so they could see each other again. "Too bad," he said. "It's already been assigned."
"To who?" She demanded.
"Your new apprentice.""What?!?"