After a few more hours of tense dreams involving Macintosh and his many victims, I woke to the sound of a frying pan. There was a sound I hadn’t heard in a while; everyone used fast prep foods and instant heaters. Frying was too inefficient and too “unsafe.” Apparently this place didn’t think so. I smelled heaven in the form of bacon and eggs; not the gen-tech variety, but actual, real, bacon and eggs. Hard to get in New York. The hotel must have cost a fortune. The thought of Jean Devereux having to pay for expensive food and the room made it worth it. Amy looked up and smiled when she saw me getting dressed. “You sure slept a while. I had to call my contacts. One of them thought he heard something about Macintosh staying at a local hostel for people in trouble with the law. Plenty of those around. It’s not too far away, either. I figure we can hop over there after breakfast.”
I stood up and punched in Kelley’s ID. “Hey, buddy. It’s Darrow. I’m following a real bad guy, and he’s using military spec camouflage, full spectrum. I have no idea where he got it, but he’s got to have some real connections. Have you heard anything?”
“We’re locked down over here. Someone took more than your camo, Darrow. We’re missing a prototype rail gun sidearm, some ammo, and a thermal scalpel. Real nasty stuff. We’re still investigating. I’ll get back to you when I have something.”
“Thanks, Kelley. I’ll wait for your call.” I ended the call and sat at the table, staring at my PDA like it would suddenly spawn answers right in front of me. No such luck. Amy walked over and put two plates on the table, then served the delicious smelling food. I smiled at her and thanked her for the meal, though in reality I was just itching to get back on Macintosh’s trail. He was out there, and he might have already claimed a new victim. I pulled up all crime stories from the news feeds onto my HUD, and started cycling through them looking for anything to lead me to Macintosh. Nothing. No murders, no suicides, not even a death under strange circumstances. Either he hid his victim well, or he hadn’t killed last night. I breathed a sigh of relief and picked up my fork. I knew he was going to kill, but at least I’d be ready. Amy attacked her meal hungrily; she obviously hadn’t had much to eat in a while. I felt bad, because although I was used to going days without food, she was raised in a world without need. She never went without anything, least of all safety; yet here she was, busting her tail to track down one of the worst criminals in the galaxy. It took guts; maybe more than I had. Hunting people was nothing new to me; I’d been doing it for years. This was probably the first time she had ever been on the trail of a killer who knew she wanted him taken care of. I finished my meal with an ounce of regret, hoping that nothing would happen to such a pure-hearted person. I wanted her to live, so that maybe some good could come of this. Maybe her work on Macintosh would allow her to uncover the truth behind the world of grey that has been allowed to hide so long. Who knows.
We finished breakfast and hit the street as quickly as we could; we were a few steps behind him, and knowing him he wouldn’t stop for any amount of time. The seedy motel was just where Amy said it was: in the worst part of town. Anyone could stay here and never be found. We almost didn’t find it, and we knew what we were looking for and where. Nestled between two old, 22nd century office buildings that had long since been condemned, the hotel looked like it had been an old factory. Inside, though, were plenty of people. And not just anyone; the worst of the worst the planet had to offer were hunkered down inside. I could have just started arresting people and not stopped for a month, and I wouldn’t have one wrongful conviction in the bunch. Sick people, dying people, and the recently deceased were put into rooms no bigger than the bathroom at our hotel. No one cared for the place, or for the sick and the injured. They all had done something to deserve it, I told myself. Didn’t help. Amy gagged, the smell of decay and sickness and excrement filling the air. It was terrible. It didn’t matter what these people did; they didn’t deserve this. It was disgusting. I wanted to help, but I knew I had a mission. The smell and the air didn’t bother me as much; it smelled like home back in San Martelos. The slums everywhere smelled like this, all the time. It didn’t matter to those in power, so long as the rich and the almost rich were taken care of. Hell, the poor rarely got a chance to vote anymore, since voting required human interface technology they just couldn’t afford. Damn it all. Poverty isn’t anything new; it’s been around as long as commerce itself. As long as goods exist to be traded, there will be someone with nothing to trade. It is what it is. Doesn’t mean I like it. Many politicians throughout history have said that poverty is a disease to be wiped out. That the poor don’t deserve it. I don’t know about any of that. I’m no philosopher, just a soldier in the never-ending war of life. Amy looked like she wanted to vomit, cry and scream all at the same time. Not that anyone would notice. Her voice would just be one of dozens.
We finally found the person “in charge,” whatever that meant in a place like this. His was a terrible job; he tried to dispose of the dead as they dropped and clean the common areas as best he could; he was fighting a losing battle. Not to mention all the handling of the dead was getting to him; he looked like a corpse himself. He was sick and malnourished, just as much as many of the people here. He didn’t look up when we approached, only asked what we wanted.
“We’re looking for someone we think was here last night. Not one of your usual customers. He still here?”
“What? No. He took off, first thing. Said he had important business to take care of downtown. I knew he was dangerous, so I just stayed away as best as I could. I’ve got all kinds around here, but him? He was pure evil, distilled and bottled in the body of a man. I wouldn’t get near him.”
“Did he say anything else? Anything about where he might be going?”
“Nope. Just said there was something needed doing downtown, in the rich people part of town. I wouldn’t know anything about anything there, anyway. Never been in the city proper.”
“Thanks for your help. I just hope I can find him before he starts killing again.”
“Good luck, Marshal. And God go with you, for what it’s worth.
I turned around to look at him. “How’d you know I was a Marshal?”
The man smiled, and answered. “You’re something of a legend. The poor, the vagrant ones, always tell a story of how one of us turned his life around and became a Marshal. I never wanted to believe it, but here you are.”
“How’d you know it was me?”
“Look at your partner. She’s never been in the real slums. Maybe she’s seen the inside of Luna, but that doesn’t count. Here is different. She can’t handle it. But you? You act as though you’ve lived here all your life. This stuff, the smell – it doesn’t bother you one bit, does it?”
I laughed. He had me pegged. “Not at all. It smells like home to me. So, what do they say about me?”
“That you’re a good man, who fights for the good of everyone, not just the poor. That you save lives and kill the evil men of the world. They call you the hero of San Martelos.”
“Well, I don’t know about any of that. I just do my job. But thanks. I’ve got to get going.”
He just smiled and waved as I left with Amy, who still looked like she was going to be sick. She straightened up once we got outside, into the relatively clear air of the slums. “So you’re some kind of folk hero to these people? Hmm. Makes sense, I guess. They must not have very much to look up to.”
I turned to her, stopping her for a minute. “These people have never seen clean water. They never get to eat anything that wasn’t killed in a sewer, or on the street, or scraped out of a dumpster. They don’t have the luxury of dreams and fantasies. They have to struggle with reality, a fight most of them lose before they turn 50. While people on the other side of the wall live to be 150, and get the best of everything handed to them. You’ve never known what it’s like. Sorry, but it’s the truth. You’re a sheltered little girl to them, and that’s all you’ll ever be. I thought a hotshot journalist like you would know that by now.”
She put her head down because she knew I was right. She turned back to the street and started walking back to the gate into the city. I didn’t really feel bad for telling her off. She acted like that was new. Something novel. Maybe to her it was. To people like me it was a daily reality for many years. I just hoped she wouldn’t forget the minute we were back in the city.
When we got through the gate we were very close to the financial district; of all the places Macintosh could start his spree, it would be here. Here were the people he could most easily kill; people with a false sense of security just because they thought themselves important and protected by the safety of society. They were in danger the most. Unfortunately the financial district had some two million people working in just a few hundred towers. Even the relatively modern building methods allowing towers built up to 700 stories in the sky had their limits. The only building still standing from the days before megascrapers was the Empire State Building, renovated a hundred times in the last 300 years it seems. It was never added to or changed too dramatically; it stands now as one of the smallest buildings in the city. I made my way to the most important structure in the district; the UTC Stock Exchange. Here stocks from markets all across the galaxy could be bought and sold; almost all transactions were instantaneous as most of the rich settlements had several hundred quantum entanglement communications devices that could relay petabytes of information back to Earth in a matter of seconds. Here a single death could cause trillions of credits in financial damage and panic. Just what he’d like to see.
I entered the building and made my way to the main security desk for the ground floors; the skyways allowed for entrance to the building on the 140th, 270th, 415th, and 575th floors. I hard linked my PDA to gain access to their security system, then started using the AI from my PDA to run constant sweeps of the building’s cameras with facial recognition software. If Macintosh was in the building, or if he came in, he’d be spotted and I’d be alerted. I thanked the guard on duty, who looked dumbfounded to see a Marshal. I guess my name wasn’t quite as popular with the upper echelon of society. Amy pulled me toward the nearest express elevator, waiting to take us to the upper levels of the building. Gravity plates in the elevators and magnetic propulsion made fast travel on an elevator comfortable, but it still was a little disorienting to me. Amy didn’t seem to be bothered by it, but as she was probably raised in one of these buildings, it makes sense. We walked out onto the main floor of the building, where all the really powerful traders would be. Men who moved fortunes around every minute. I was sure these would be Macintosh’s targets. He could cause irreparable damage in a few minutes, and be gone before anyone knew what happened. There were several security guards around every entrance, just in case the cameras failed. I knew there was a chance that he’d show up in his camouflage, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. I was sitting in the main room, waiting to speak to one of the head traders for the largest firm in the city, when my PDA beeped and Kelley popped up on my HUD. “Hey Kelley, you find out who took that gear?”
“Yeah, but I’ve got one better for you. The pistol he took, the experimental rail gun? It has a tracking chip in it. I’m sending you the ID now.”
Another beep in my ear told me I’d received it. I pulled up that ID to scan for the transmitter and quickly got a hit. It appeared as another red dot on my view; a large dot less than thirty meters below me. He was in the building. I grabbed Amy and sprinted for the short-ride elevator, explaining along the way. The doors opened on the 115th floor, where the signal was. I ran down a hallway and turned, nearly hitting myself in the face with a dead body hanging from the ceiling. Macintosh was dead? No, that can’t be right. I checked the HUD, and it told me that the gun was right in front of me. After searching the body, I figured out why. The gun was inside the man’s jacket. Macintosh had left it there. There was nothing in the area to indicate where he’d gone. I was lost, and he was loose in the building. I called the security chief and informed him of the situation, then told him to call the authorities. They might be able to help stop Macintosh. Who knows. I ran back to the elevator and went to the main level where the primary trading floor was. When I got there, people were running around. The day’s trading had started, and everyone was eager to make their fortunes. It would be impossible to find Macintosh in this frenzy, but he could kill almost without detection if he wanted. I ran to the main room, a trading hall that ran uninterrupted from one corner of the building to the other, and took up 10 floors. There were multiple mezzanines with people all gathered around their screens, watching the trading fervently. A few thousand people in one room made this a needle in a haystack. Maybe an invisible needle. Perfect. I knew it was too late when I heard the scream from the fifth level. A woman, no older than 30, tumbled off the mezzanine above, falling 50 feet into a bank of computers. I grabbed the nearest elevator up to the level, but I knew I was too late. The trading floor was in a panic; people were screaming and running for the exits. Macintosh would have no problem escaping in the chaos. In his chaos. I ran for the exit on the sixth level, hoping to see him running toward the nearest garage. No such luck. He’d probably go for one of the dozens of sky trams around the building, and I wouldn’t be able to figure out which one. I called down to the security chief and told him to halt all public access from the ground or trams, and to shut down all express elevators. I’d at least be able to slow him down.
Amy grabbed my arm, and when I turned to look she was pointing in the direction of the nearest tram terminal. I saw what she was pointing at; a bomb in the terminal. A bomb? Macintosh had never used a bomb. What was happening? I felt the shockwave before I heard it. I grabbed Amy, pulled as close as I could, and brought myself between the heat and the concussion and her body. White hot fury and the feeling of being hit by a truck came first, followed by a thundering boom as the sound caught up to the explosion. We were knocked to the ground several feet away; when I could sit up I felt blood trickling out of my ears. Luckily our auditory implants shut off access to the eardrum; a countermeasure for loud noises and powerful concussion. Amy was dazed, and couldn’t focus on anything. I grabbed her and picked her up, checking her head for bleeding. When I was sure she wasn’t hurt seriously, I stood up and looked around. A huge hole had been blasted out of the side of the building, and the freezing air was whipping in, dropping the temperature in the area until I could see my own breath pouring out of my mouth as I tried to get my breathing under control. Standing up, Amy grabbed my arm and held on as tightly as she could. There was no one around; everyone was either killed or fled the instant the saw what happened. I just stood there, shell-shocked. It was unbelievable that Macintosh would use a bomb. He preferred the close up kill; he wanted to hear the last breath of his victim as it passed their lips. I thought again about the possible connection to Amy’s father; there were rumors that he had a connection to an anarchist group, and I always suspected Macintosh had received some help. But this was too much. I needed answers, and I needed them now. I shouldn’t have wished so hard.