Power

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Chapter Four

After the elevator rattled to a halt at the basement, Jaya barely glanced up at the doors opening. A great plorp and then the sound of a train rolling over in death erupted from the machine that took up most of the boiler area. Sighing, she ran her fingers over it and whispered, “There there, Bertha. Hang on, old girl. You’ll make it.”

The mass infrastructure that kept the entire complex in hot everything gurgled to a slower bloop, leaving Jaya fairly certain she wasn’t about to be washed away in a boiling explosion. Rounding past the walls barely finished and most leaking rust colored slime, she slipped into the only door in the area without a hazard warning on it. Someone foolishly took the time to paint on the Department’s emblem in gold — pointless as no one but her ever trekked down here. Even the maintenance crew relied on janitorial robots to soothe Bertha, Jaya picking up the slack when she was bored.

She moved to close the door, then caught Goldie sitting hunched over in the corner of the dark. The robot was little more than a life-sized utility knife given treads to deal with any thick carpet, but she felt a fondness for the thing. A single red light rolled off of the gold cylinder for a head. She was in standby mode.

“No calls I’m guessing, Goldie,” Jaya called to the sleeping robot before slipping into her office.

The desk was old and heavy, made from a real wood instead of the typical plastic polymers everyone else relied upon. That wasn’t so much her doing as they found a table in the basement and no one could figure out how to get a plastic desk down in the elevator. Jaya drew her fingers across the glass screen lain on top of the dead tree. In the far right corner her schedule popped up, practically red with appointments that were ongoing. It became so constant she stopped ever looking at the damn thing, but never had the heart to shut it off.

A few memos filtered through the message box in the center; requests for receipts from the accountants, reminders of who was about to celebrate a birthday, more junk courtesy of the five parties running to take a chunk out of the city government. They never gave two shits about her line of work right until it was election season and they all needed something to slap on mailers and posters. Tough on crime, tough on the barrier. Not even bothering to open a one, she dumped it all into the trash.

Someone whipped up a macro to set all the junk on simulated fire, but it was one of those apps you had to sweet talk the IT guys into installing it. Not entirely illegal tech but one of those things a city comptroller would roll her eyes about finding eating up processing time.

Jaya collapsed into her chair, the back end bouncing as she’d lost the wad of wrappers that had kept the short leg in balance with the others. Scooting it closer, she considered herself to have done enough of the morning routine and dove straight into this murder mystery.

Murders happened, deaths were normal. This was a fairly large city growing greater every day as people felt a pull to it. There wasn’t any good reason; all the glittering jewels were far central in the meadows. Spires towered over flat lands churning with the internal guts of society that made living on top of each other possible. But people eschewed warm summers and crisp winters to trek all the way east in order to buy up a scrap of land near the scar and try to make it in the old city. Even the blues came. There were a few cities that were split in half around the world. One across the globe she knew of, on some spit sized island. Another further south that supposedly had domes of gold for roofs. Neither color wanted to give up access to the past, so both huddled around the scars crisscrossing them and rebuilt life.

When Jaya first began this job there were more than a few Blues who’d sneak in and get up to some dastardly deeds. It kept her on her toes, it kept people in this department, and it kept her from having to place buckets on her desk to catch drips lest it fry her system. She hadn’t even cracked into her old list of visiting blue SKs in over a year.

With one hand she brought up the research, thumbing through the few she knew off hand. With the other, she honed in on the few bits of data they had on this A Non. He was in his 60s or perhaps 70s and judging by the lack of a chip was probably in the 3 or lower range. Despite medicine always striving for more, they had no easy way to tell what category a person was upon death. There were a few ways to guess, but you couldn’t scrap a cell off of someone, stick it under a microscope, and know.

Scientists loved to sit around in starched lab coats theorizing about why there was no anti-gravity or plant talking gene on Sunday morning shows, but all Jaya cared was that it made her life harder. Checking the SK registry would be a breeze, but no…it was all guessing and footwork. Add in the potential of it being a blue and she—

“Foster,” the voice of LaCroix zapped off the speaker in her desk.

“What is it?” she asked, trying to twist around the data sheets of known Blue’s abilities, especially when reaching level 4 or 5.

“You have an appointment with someone, someone who’s waiting here in the lobby,” Sarah sounded both uncertain but giggly.

“Whatever, send ’em down,” Jaya said, focusing in on the image of the alley. Something was bugging her but she couldn’t figure it out.

“Okay, Detective,” LaCroix signed off, her giggles growing more fervid.

Damn this black and white shit. It barely saved on any costs, a few pennies at most, but of course the building reps aren’t going to bother shilling out anymore than they’re legally required to. The alley was a mess, but it was an alley. It’d have pinged her more if there was a lovely table set up with candles and a checkered cloth upon it. Their victim lay as if he went down for a nap, his head cushioned by a bag of garbage. Water seeped around him, but it hadn’t been raining that night. Did someone try to hose down the scene or did some of the garbage liquify?

There was something else beside the man in the image. Laying upon the ground was a small blob, maybe the length of his palm. Jaya checked through the report but there was no record of an object being discovered beside him. Did the killer return and remove it? Or, most likely, did another transient run off with the prize. She was about to call the doc when her eyes wandered up to that crimson schedule.

Sitting proudly upon the mark for Tuesday, at this exact hour, was a bright blue note.

Oh shit!

Jaya waved at the intercom system, hoping it’d know to retrace the call and not that she’d interrupt the entire office. “Wait, LaCroix. Don’t take him down here! The conference room, take him to the…”

The ceiling rumbled and dust cast off as sure enough, the elevator came bobbing down to her little slice of melancholy. Jaya barely had time to scoot her work away when the door opened and LaCroix prodded her head in. “It’s your appointment, Foster,” she smiled, then her lips narrowed, “right?”

Swallowing hard, Jaya looked over Sarah’s shoulder at the man having to duck to avoid a lower pipe. His lush, black hair swiped against the ashy dust, but if he noticed he gave no sign. Handsome, oh so damn handsome it’d catch Jaya sometimes from the corner of her eye and she’d find she was holding her breath. Baring high cheekbones someone probably had literally died to mimic, his entire face was sculpted to not waste any of the canvas. The jawline was fine, almost scholarly, scooping high at the back to come to a point on his chin. Those thin, dark pink lips lifted into a gentle smile and his deep brown eyes were always set with a soft wave at the edge. Even when he was in neutral the man appeared to be smiling.

Broad enough to match his giving height, but he bore a litheness to his limbs. While she’d never seen him out of any clothing she suspected he’d have the kind of body where you could trace the beginning and end of each muscle. Not that he was ripped, but there was little fat they could vanish behind.

Ignoring all of that, he was also gifted in their line of work, could make anyone flush with a laugh, and was a fellow 5. Rikuto Fujita would be perfect for her, perfect for anyone, all save that ocean blue, teardrop-shaped jewel in the middle of his forehead.

Trying to shake off the blush she knew was building, Jaya staggered to her feet and smiled. “Detective Fujita,” then as an aside added, “Yes, Sarah, he’s fine.” The secretary didn’t look entirely pleased, but she allowed the man to enter Jaya’s pathetic office.

As he reached out, his warm fingers wrapped around hers and he smiled so deeply a dimple emerged on the right side of his cheek. “My day is looking up,” Rikuto said, his southern accent crisp but comforting, like warm peach cobbler.

“Oh?” Jaya asked him, before her eyes darted over to LaCroix hanging out in the edges. She sighed and jerked her head out the door that she should go.

“When I arrived at the depot and spotted no one, I feared I’d have to deal with your esteemed Mr. Marcroft.”

“Ah,” Jaya finally released their handhold but her empty fingers flexed through the air, feeling lonely. “He…actually, he was promoted awhile back. Out of this department and off the beat to something else. I forget which.”

Rikuto smiled, the barest whisper lifting the edge of his lips up, “Would it be uncouth of me to admit that I am rather grateful for that change in management?”

“No,” she laughed. “I all but threw a parade when he left. He kept jars of mayonnaise in his desk, unrefrigerated. No idea how he didn’t die from food poisoning.” He smiled brighter in response and Jaya gripped onto her desk to steady herself. “Sorry about you having to trudge through half of the city from the depot to get here.”

“It’s not such a bother. Sometimes it’s nice to stretch my legs,” he gently extended one that somehow looked as long as Jaya’s entire body.

“I was in the middle of…” she began, before finally realizing how much of a shit host she was being, “Please, take a chair. Uh, I think there’s one back by the mop bucket.”

Rikuto made no complaints as he reached back and unearthed a flimsy plastic one that looked as if it belonged inside a cheap party tent. With all the class of a man who dressed every day in a pressed dark navy suit and finished it off with a tan overcoat, he sat upon the chair and crossed his legs. Jaya cranked her chair higher, trying to meet him eye to eye as she fumbled through the desk drawer for her pad. Catching on the same, he unearthed his. Despite being on separate sides of the divide, the technology looked identical. A curious fact that would probably make her wonder about the infrastructure of two supposedly separate societies, but Jaya had enough other problems to weigh upon her mind. The fact they had similar data passing tech wasn’t one of them. The only difference between them was that the back of his pad was graced with a single sticker of what looked like a green pear giving a thumbs up.

“Shall we, then?” he asked, his sculpted eyebrow raising.

“Guessing by the way you’re holding that we’ve got hours of unsanctioned transactions to compare,” Jaya said, jerking her chin to the flimsy device.

Rikuto chuckled a moment before glancing down at it and letting his arms sag as if the tech gained a massive amount of weight. “It’s not as bad as you fear, though… I wish there were more files to share so I was required to remain a bit longer.”

Every week she’d meet with a Blue representative to check base on crimes committed by the Yellows. It wasn’t much more than a simple notching in boxes routine, one she used to groan through until being paired up with Detective Fujita. There wasn’t a big meet cute story, unless Jaya arriving late and asking the man to hold her coffee while she closed up a portal counted. But he did it without question, accepted the gruff command of a yellow five minutes late and her thanks before introducing himself. Two years later, and save these hour or so long meetings once a week, Jaya never spoke or saw the man. Not that that didn’t stop her mind from wondering what his life was like across the scar.

Trying to wave off the fact her eyes once again stared down at his ring finger and still found it naked, Jaya called up the first of her handful of cases and began to run through the basics. Rikuto inched closer to her on the chair and followed along. The cases were lighter than usual, fewer and fewer people requesting passes and even less receiving them. It wasn’t surprising, and most other people would be happy to have less work ahead of them, but it also meant she and Rikuto were finished in under twenty minutes.

As all things did, the work gave way to less important matters. “…And he says, ‘I swear I was a speeder when I came in here.’”

Rikuto’s laugh at her poor anecdote caused her to join in. He let the screen fall dark while running a hand back through his parted hair. “It never ends, does it? There was this one woman, a Yellow who was working on the janitorial staff.”

A one then. Funny enough, the ones were the only people who could all but waltz across the scar if they wished it. Barely better than an animal when it came to the skill levels, that afforded them a special kind of freedom. There wasn’t much reason to keep track of someone who could, if they concentrated really hard, at most move a piece of paper in the air.

“She was discovered in a government building, one of the staff caught sight of a yellow jewel and panicked.”

“Let me guess, ’oh no, there’s an entire armed force of pissers shooting up the place. Send help immediately!” Jaya sat back, her legs crossing caused the maroon pants to tug tighter against her thighs. Maybe the second pair of leggings was overkill.

Rikuto chuckled, “Something like that. We didn’t break out the entire response unit, but there were a few 4s in residence.”

“And a 5,” she gestured to him with a smile.

“Yes.” Guld save her, but that damn dimple was going to do her in one of these days. “We track the woman down, scan her records, discover she’s a 1 but works in the office building across the way. As I’m putting her to questions she claims that she got lost, that she must have wandered into the wrong door by mistake.”

“Don’t tell me, she’d been working a good 6 months to a year across the scar and suddenly one day, oops I think I’ll head over there.”

Rikuto leaned closer, a hand to his mouth as if conspiratorially whispering, “Wait until I get to the best part. We’re clearly not buying her story, so she tries a new one. ‘Forgive me, Sir. I’m a portaler and accidentally slipped through the wrong one.’”

At that Jaya’s mouth fell open wide. “A…a one, a bloody level one portaler. Shit, we don’t even call ourselves that. Sure, lady, a level one portaler can pop on over to another building. Maybe a two, nah, shit some threes can’t even manage that.”

“That poor woman failed to take into account that anyone on our side would know a thing about yellow SKs. Her face drained of nearly all color when I informed her of my position.” Rikuto leaned back, his head tipped up towards the ceiling as if in thought.

Jaya followed, her forehead wrinkling to the point it folded up her jewel. The exposed pipes and death rattles of Bertha were all the view he was afforded down here. “So, my office, now you learned the big secret of how this side treats an Intra-agent,” she tried to shake off any shame of her lowly position with a smile. “Not so bad, sometimes they let me keep all the chemicals to clean up blood and vomit.”

“Exciting,” Rikuto didn’t shy away in disgust, his eyes shining. “Mine is smaller, there are less fascinating machines that appear as if they could blow apart at any moment, but I am afforded a window.”

“Oh?”

“Which opens directly onto the backside of another building that houses an insurance company,” he cracked up at that as did Jaya. He was always dressed so finely she assumed the Blue side knew to treat their work as worthwhile. Perhaps she was wrong about that. Smoothly, Rikuto reached over and pointed towards the far wall, “You could try putting a window there.”

“And I’d get a lovely view of everyone’s ankles while they shuffled away from the Collar station,” Jaya smiled at the idea before turning her head quick and finding Rikuto’s dimple an inch from her lips.

When his eyes dropped down from the scrap of wall to beam directly into hers, Jaya panicked, her brain searching for any distraction. “That woman,” she waved her hands around, “the yellow one, what was she up to?”

“Oh,” he blinked, sliding back as he thought on their earlier conversation, “stealing toilet paper. Turns out there’s a mint to be made on the black market with it.”

“Really?” she sighed, “Every time I think I have this job figured out…” At the word job, a deafening silence fell between them. They were done with the rare bit of cross-work, all the minor breaks and few major ones that required prosecuting laid out. It’d take her a few minutes to pass hers off to the DAs, and the SK office. There was no good reason for Rikuto to remain over here.

He must have felt the same, his hands landing back upon the knees practically to his chest courtesy of the tiny chair. Absently, Jaya’s eyes wandered down past the hems of his suit to find the man who was always dressed to the nines was wearing a pair of flimsy loafers. So cheap they looked like plastic and foam painted to give an appearance of leather. That couldn’t be right, he was always… You’re focusing on stupid shit to keep him here. You know how dumb that is.

“Well…” Jaya began, when her desk beeped at her. A message forwarded from the chief flashed on the glass screen. She barely had to glance over at it to figure out the contents.

Rikuto looked about to rise, sliding the pad into his pocket, when Jaya said, “Any chance you could stick around and help me with an ongoing case?”

He paused in unfurling his sunglasses and smiled, “I’d be delighted to.”

It’s totally professional, Jaya. It makes sense to get a Blue’s perspective on what could kill a man and leave no mark. He’d know his own kind better than someone who learned it all in a long weekend course. Even as she berated herself with the innocent facts, she couldn’t stop her stomach from flipping at the thought eyes were watching her. Eyes that were about to put a glaring red mark in her file.

Shaking it off, she smiled at him, “Shouldn’t take too long, have to travel a bit, but I hope you’re not squeamish around corpses.”

The dimple was in full force as he snickered, “If so I got into the wrong line of work.”

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