Waving off the portal, Jaya turned to her fellow traveler whose eyes were wide in what could be either shock or disgust. The latter may be thanks to the stench of body fluids and harsh chemicals in the air. For the former, Jaya leaned towards him, “First time traveling in one?”
“Yes,” Rikuto admitted, his cheeks flushed. “It was warm heading through and…” he ran his fingers up and down his arms, “rather tingly. Like a bath in sparkling water.”
She blinked a moment and deadpanned, “Please tell me you do that once a week.”
“On my salary, I could maybe swing bi-annually…if I only ate pot noodles for meals.”
It felt like nothing to her anymore. She barely noticed the heat even as she had to use it to keep going. The tingles were her way of knowing space had a hole punched in it that needed to be zipped up eventually. “Some people, even gaters, report occasional dizziness. It’s more prevalent if you portal too far, but…”
“No,” Rikuto smiled, his hands ceasing to rub back down the goosebumps. “Nothing like that.”
“Something about the internal sense of direction getting all gobbled up in transit. I, I don’t remember. It was a lot of biology you apparently have to know if you’re born above a 3.” Jaya tipped back the thermos she brought with, willing coffee to heat back up her cold veins.
“You weren’t required to take tests on such matters?” Rikuto asked, his eyes staring around the basement of the hospital. It was nicer than her basement, for starters someone put proper walls up. But a heavy sense of death hung in the air which no amount of bright teal paint or happy kitten posters could chase away. This was where those who were never leaving the hospital wound up.
Jaya screwed back on the lid of her thermos and sighed, “Oh yeah. Despite being short, I can get a lot of notes on my arms and legs if I write really small.” Because of who she was, of what she was, she had to care about everything, know a little of everything about how this worked. And the fact they made her pissed her off. Sweet Gauld she was a rebellious shit as a teenager. It was a wonder she didn’t wind up in full lockup, really.
“Anyway, we’re here to meet with the ghoul,” she tipped her head towards the door.
“You don’t call your morgue contacts ghouls?” It didn’t begin with Chief Avery, the colloquialism being passed down from ye olden collar days, but he never referred to any of them as doctor. They were the ghouls who lived off of death. Not meant as an insult, everyone had to get their pound from somewhere. Still creepy though.
Rikuto glanced through the frosted panes of the window. “It depends on how much black they wear.”
“You’re in luck, this one’s more of a pastel type,” Jaya chuckled while popping open the door. Her free hand let it hang open for Rikuto while she stared in at the typical dissection room. It stank of blood, surprise surprise, and sure enough there was a naked man’s corpse rotating three feet off the table. Her luck required there to always be an autopsy in progress whenever she popped in.
“Please leave your beverage containers outside my lab,” a cross voice called from just outside the halo of light illuminating the dead man’s flesh. Footsteps ushered the voice’s owner into it, and the woman smiled like a librarian that caught you folding pages. “Detective Foster.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Jaya plopped her thermos right outside the door then walked towards Dr. Nadeson. The ghoul woman was thin in that couldn’t put on weight even if she tried way. Her hair was cut short into a pixie bob, sometimes pinned back with clips that had little dragonflies on them. It seemed unprofessional, but then again it wasn’t like her patients were going to voice any complaints. If they did, she had far bigger problems.
The ghoul’s bold blue eyes honed in on the naked dead man floating in the air, his hands dangling limply towards the table. “Hm,” Nadeson mused to herself. With her shoulder, she tugged over a screen that seemed to be taking a much closer scan of the dead man’s flesh.
Jaya felt Rikuto come to a halt slightly behind her, her shadow lapping across his form while she banged her hands together. “Aren’t you going to ask why I’m here?”
Barely glancing up, Nadeson sighed, “The A Non, of course. I finished up my preliminary autopsy and you popped right on over to see the results in person.”
“How in the…?” Jaya shook her head, struggling to keep the surprise out of her face.
“Mr. Avery mentioned you would be stopping by,” Nadeson sidled away from her corpse and slowly glanced behind Jaya. “I see you have a guest with you as well.”
“Ah, right, sorry, this is Rikuto Fujita. Detective Fujita,” Jaya explained as the man slid into the light and towards Nadeson.
“A pleasure to,” instinctively he reached his hand out to shake hers, when he paused at the glaring fact Dr. Nadeson had none to grab. Both of her arms were missing from the shoulder down, which most in the department stopped noticing years back.
Crap, she probably should have told him.
While Rikuto’s hand hung in the air, helplessly cupping nothing, Dr. Nadeson eyed up the glint of color in the middle of his forehead. “A blue?” she gasped.
“He has clearance,” Jaya dashed towards them, as if she had to fear Nadeson launching some unwarranted attack. “He’s involved in the travel of yellows on his side. I thought that, given that we think — suspect — the A Non could have been murdered by a Blue it best to have him here.” She was babbling. Why in the hell was she babbling?
Dr. Nadeson stared harder at him and Rikuto’s eyes drifted back to the woman attempting to vouch for him. Some spirit take her if the ghoul made him sit outside with her thermos. Jaya may never be able to make up for that humility ever again. “Very well,” she smiled, “but Dr. Nadeson is far too formal for me. Feel free to call me Anuria.”
The worry ran off him like water, Rikuto standing up straighter. “You may refer to me as Rick if you find it easier. Many do.” His sweet, languid accent vanished to the droll city one as he faced down this professional stranger.
“No, I think my tongue can handle you, Rikuto,” Nadeson grinned at the man and Jaya felt the floor open up under her. She’d heard the ghoul was a notorious flirt, but with a Blue and so openly? How little did she have to fear?
Rikuto stumbled back a moment, and Jaya could swear she spotted a blush rising up his cheeks, “It, ah, is a pleasure to meet you.” In his distress, the southern accent rose from its depths, warming the vowels like a hot bath. “Judging by the floating corpse I take it you are a gravity manipulator.”
“That’d be me,” the ghoul smiled bright before turning her head towards the corpse and causing him to rotate. Now they all got a great view of the dead man’s ass and what looked like the wound that killed him. “But you’ll be wanting to look at what I have on our A Non.”
Dr. Nadeson slipped right back to professional as she bumped off the lights over the one corpse with her nose and led them further in towards another. When the dead man softly dropped back to the table, Jaya tried to hide back a shudder.
“This is him,” the ghoul said before glancing up at the light above. In the sweetest voice imaginable she turned to Rikuto, “Could you be a dear and get that for me?”
“I’d be happy,” he smiled, straining up on his toes, which let Nadeson’s eyes travel up and down his body while he was unaware. Wasn’t the woman married? To another doctor working here, no less? Stop being jealous. You have a job to do, and it makes no mention about defending a Blue’s honor from a horny ghoul.
When the light switched on, they all stared down at the face of a man Jaya’d been focused on for an hour. “He’s still smiling,” she remarked, unnerved by it.
“Rigor mortis set in prior to the scene. But even when it unset, his lips seemed stuck. Figure a mortician can fix it if they care…” Nadeson glanced over and Jaya shook her head. No one was going to claim this body. It’d be dust in a brown paper bag.
“As you can see, no lacerations to the outside skin, and judging by this scan,” she lifted her leg up off the ground and jabbed a foot protected by a latex glove into the screen, “not a damn thing wrong with him on the inside either.”
“He had to have died from something,” Jaya continued, stepping closer to the body. Her eyes darted down past the unnerving smile to focus on his beard. Gnarled like an eagle’s nest, there was a spot of something off color inside. Blood? Spit? Vomit? It’d be in Nadeson’s report.
“Yeah,” the doc sighed, “his heart stopped.”
“It was a heart attack?” Jaya turned to the doctor, her own heart sinking. It was the simple answer, an easy one, but it’d kill her case.
“No, I mean his heart stopped. He died from his heart ceasing to beat, his lungs no longer filling with oxygen, his neural cortex clocking out. There’s no reason for any of it. It’s as if he just went from alive and healthy to dead for no Guld damn reason.” Nadeson shifted back and forth on her feet, her shoulder twisting the screen some more as if she could find the answer by staring at the data in a new way.
“Is this a type of skill Blue SKs are capable of?” Jaya turned to her only expert. “Killing without leaving a trace?”
Rikuto was well balanced when facing up to the corpse, but the concept that one of his own could be capable of such a feat seemed to unnerve him. He latched his fingers together in front of his stomach as if fiddling with a puzzle. “None that I’ve ever heard of. Fire leaves burn marks, electricity the same, ice causes cells to show obvious shrinkage like freezer burn.”
“That earth stuff would pound his bones to dust,” Nadeson added in.
“You know of Blue SKs?” Rikuto said before Jaya could wave him off.
“Oh yeah, there’s this show about…” the Doctor began before staring properly at the ocean colored gem in his skin. “A documentary about them, bone dry.” She tried to skirt a lie around a highly popular and gory show about a team of Blue serial killers who seemed to gain new powers with every season to find an excuse to renew the damn thing. Even though no Yellow was capable of altering their SK, much less a power level without tech assistance, the show’s popularity was becoming a bit of a problem. People believed the storyteller’s lies over common sense. It didn’t help that it was mostly an excuse to show soft-core sex scenes and gore then claim it was high art.
“What about a 6?” Jaya asked while she watched as both people all but crossed themselves to avoid the evil eye.
“Assuming a 6 would be able to travel anywhere unnoticed, which…” Rikuto extended his hand towards her and she sighed. It was the longest shot she had. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Never heard of a man falling dead of nothing. Not in my city, at least. Perhaps there’s something in others across the territories.”
“An evolution?” Jaya breathed. It was the greatest fear in the entire SK agency across, shit, the entire globe. They had a good handle on what people could do, their classifications, how to knock down someone who became a danger. But what if people began to change? What if they got stronger, or like the serial killer show, developed new skills? Things they’d never even seen before. As far as she knew it was still horror stories whispered in the halls of bureaucracy while people waited for the bathroom to clear out with no basis formed in pesky fact.
If there was an evolution, a real one spotted in the wild, they’d all know about it. The news would be blaring it constantly. No, it couldn’t be that. She’d be better off saying it was were-rhinos or something else mythical that killed him.
“It is a curious thing,” Nadeson spoke up, “this man wasn’t simply not sick before he died, he was in good health. Great health. I’d have given him a good fifty more years if he didn’t come to me in a black bag. Doesn’t that strike you as strange? A vagrant with no bruises, no breaks, not even a bloated liver.”
“Obvious signs of decay, a few missing in the gumline,” the doc pointed towards his mouth with her toe, “but nothing recent. As if someone was tending to his wounds, keeping the man in tip top shape before killing him.”
“Shrapnel casserole,” Jaya cursed, a shudder climbing up her spine at the idea, “thanks for putting that idea in my head. Not just any killer, but someone who’s grooming his subjects before offing them without a trace.”
Rikuto slid in closer to her, and for a brief moment the scent of his ocean sands cologne covered over the stench of death. “If you don’t mind my asking, how are you all certain he was murdered?”
Glancing over, Jaya stared into deep brown eyes. With a shrug she sighed, “We aren’t. We suspect because there was a call from a concerned citizen about noises in the alleyway. Apparently, a busboy was taking out a load of trash and caught what looked like a shadowy figure stooped over their dumpsters. He assumed it was someone stealing garbage, until finding the dead man.”
“Let me guess, the shadowy figure ran, dooming himself. Why don’t they ever think to smile, exclaim ‘Excuse me, I found this man in pain. You should summon a medic please?’ Seems it’d provide a much better alibi.”
Jaya chuckled at that, “Sure Rikuto, tell the bad guys how to get away with it. That’ll make our lives easier.” He shrugged at first as if it was a serious suggestion, when he smiled deep enough to bring out the dimple. Coughing, Jaya gestured at the dead body, “Got any clue what the SK on his guy was?”
“Not a 5, but you already knew that,” Nadeson said, her voice growing as chilly as the frost seeping off the wall of freezers. “Sadly, no one high enough to warrant tagging. I’d guess 3, maybe 2.”
Which meant running his face through the database was as likely to pull up a hit as asking random people on the street. Threes were so common there was no point in registering them, and certainly not feasible enough that there’d have been an agent assigned to a vagrant. “Still, the category might dig up something,” Jaya continued.
“Fine,” with her nose, Nadeson scrolled through the scans she took to reveal a screen full of text. “Based upon his stomach contents I’d either put the man as a speeder, or someone who enjoys high caloric meals.”
That was pretty much no use. Average rank, average SK, average looking man. The only thing that set him apart was how he died, which was not what someone wanted to have for their obituary. Jaya jerked her chin to the screen, “Can you have that all sent to me?”
The doc blinked, looking like she was about to ask if she was the upstart detective’s secretary when Jaya tacked on a, “Please.”
“Fine, but it’s not too hard to go through the database. It’s all on there,” Nadeson sighed. Pinching her lips, Jaya kept from saying technically she didn’t have access because technically she wasn’t a collar. There were ways around it anyway. “Now if you’re finished,” the doc turned her head towards the freezer section. “I’d like to return our Mr. A Non back to frozen land before he continues to rot. Ah, Mr. Rikuto, would you be so kind as to open the door?”
“Of course,” he bowed his head and dashed back to the line of freezers. Running his long fingers over the tight apartment options, he paused when the ghoul nodded her head and cracked it open. Jaya steeled herself for what was coming next.
Barely taking her eyes off of the dashing Blue detective, Nadeson levitated the corpse, or however gravs worked. It was a cheap magic trick for most, right until you caught one leaping out of a window because waiting for the elevator was boring. “Detective Foster,” the ghoul grinned, enjoying this part. “If you could be so kind?”
Swallowing down the rising fear of dead bodies that she should be able to move past, Jaya slid around to the A Non’s shoulders and began to push him. He weighed nothing, offering no resistance while the human body floated in the air like a party balloon. Her eyes fixed upon the ceiling while shoving him along, when the feet bounced into the wall. Mounds of lice coated hair ricocheted back against her chin and she turned around to snarl at the doc.
“Right, sorry,” she smiled as if it was an accident. The corpse drifted down so she could line it up and give a last shove to finally come to rest inside the frozen coffin. No, don’t think about it like that. Jaya reached over to close the door herself, when her fingers froze up. Splayed out in pain, they couldn’t move. She should have put on the thick gloves before…
As if he hadn’t noticed her pause and failure, Rikuto closed the door, his body sliding closer to hers. “I admit, I’ve never been in a morgue that’s quite so lively.”
“Oh, come on,” Jaya groaned. She dropped her hands deep into her pockets and inched away from the frost, “That’s a static show level awful pun.” Smiling at his terrible joke, she glanced up at him, “You were waiting to use it.”
“If you’re both quite finished,” Nadeson grumbled, seeming to be upset she didn’t have the same charms to persuade an exotic Blue to lob bad puns at her, “I have real work to be getting back to.”
“Ah, of course,” Jaya nodded. “Thanks for your help.”
“Hopefully you won’t need it again,” Nadeson smiled at her.
Because there were no more murders or… As Jaya watched the doctor slide on a mounted scanner for her head, she realized it was probably both the former and the dangling or. Nodding her head, Jaya directed Rikuto out the door. “If you don’t mind my asking,” she turned towards the doc, “how come you’re not wearing your fake arms?”
Nadeson blinked, then honed in on the corpse below her. As it lifted into the air she answered, “They work counter to my grav skills. If you are finished…? Ah, but, it was a pleasure meeting you Rikuto.”
“It was all mine,” he smiled, happy to end on a high note with a woman he’d never see again. Jaya wished she could be that lucky.
Out in the hallway, she tugged up her thermos on instinct and began to pace back and forth. One part of her hoped the autopsy would reveal it was a heart attack, or poison, or some other easily solved problem. But another part, the one hungry for something to do beyond re-checking paperwork and rubber stamping things was ecstatic. A never before seen attack, no trace left behind, and to go right to murder. It was fantastic!
“That seemed to raise more questions than answers,” Rikuto summed up. He kept his hands behind his back, his chin tipped upward while he honed in on the ceiling.
“My life’s story,” Jaya groaned, massaging her neck. The man chuckled and she couldn’t shake the blush. She’d bamboozled him into visiting a morgue and then usurped his time. The least she could do was buy him dinner. “So, um…” Jaya began when the watch upon Rikuto’s wrist lit up.
It looked ancient and golden, with a dark leather strap to keep it in place, but when he pushed a button the gears vanished to be replaced by a touchscreen. He read over it quickly and sighed, “It appears I am needed back at the office.”
“Oh, sure, right. You have to…do you want a ride? Not ride in the sense of a car. Never learned how to drive, surprise surprise,” she waved her fingers in the air as if sparkles should shoot from them and internally groaned. Stop acting like a moron. This isn’t a date, he’s a co-worker. Well, no, he’s not. He’s worse than that.
“As tempting as that sounds, I’ve been tasked with gathering up some of those bodega cookies you only have on this side.”
Probably by a girlfriend, or other such thing he’d have. Jaya tried to smile even as her hopes dashed themselves upon the rocks.
“The office would probably bar the doors if I returned from a visit across the scar without them,” Rikuto continued unaware of Jaya’s sudden eclipse and return to the sunlight. “I will look into any potential Blues that may have traveled here and get back to you with whatever information I find.”
“Thanks,” she grinned, grateful for any help. They both shook hands, Jaya’s fingers curling around his in their gentle shake which felt a beat longer than normal.
As he pulled his hand back, Rikuto pointed towards a door marked exit, “I assume that will lead me to the stairs.”
“Ah, yeah, I think. Not certain because…”
“Gater, got it.” And with that he turned on his cheap heels and walked quickly to the door. Well, Jaya, not as if a long, cozy dinner with the man was going to be a possibility. Instead of comforting pasta holding all the sauces of the rainbow, she could look forward to a long night curled up with spreadsheets and a list of a corpse’s stomach contents. That had to count for something.
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