The Skin of the Earth – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

He had studied conflict resolution, human psychology, workplace dynamics … none of which had prepared him for the resolute indifference currently being exercised by his partner. A frog is a frog. That was the last thing his sister, Maddie, had said to him before he had left for the boden. She spoke in dreamtongue now because the spark they had used to waken her had been tainted. It can’t be anything else, no matter how much it wants to be a salamander. Was Sundown the salamander? A creature of fire, it wasn’t entirely unfitting.

Daniel took a seat, exhaling, expelling as much negative energy as he could, and decided to try and wait out his new partner.

Two detectives walked by on their way into the captain’s office, sharing a smirk.

“Who’s this, Sunny? Mail order groom?”

“New intern,” Sundown muttered without bothering to open her eyes.

Daniel opened his mouth to say something but the two men had already left. He returned his attention to Sundown, finding his patience expended. “Are you going to tell me about what happened this morning?”

“Not right now.”

“Then when?”

“Later.”

Daniel found himself rubbing the bridge of his nose, something his father always did when he was annoyed. He put a stop to the idiosyncrasy, making a mental note to keep that in check. Sundown looked to be a few moments away from snoring. “Where are your case files? Can I begin reviewing your open cases?” he asked in compromise.

“Don’t have any.”

“Open cases?”

“Files.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Daniel spat, the events of the entire morning coming to a boil. “How do you bring this barrio’s crimes to court?”

“We’re on the fringe here, Detective. How many prosecutors do you think deign to come down this way?”

There was a cold realization clawing up the back of Daniel’s throat. “No,” he said. “No, I specifically asked to be assigned to a barrio that was supported by the magistrate.”

Sundown slipped her feet off the desk, the front legs of her chair banging against the floor. She sat directly opposite Daniel. There was an edge to her smile, the gleam of a razor. “You ask for a lot, Detective Arbour.” It was the first time she had called him by his name; it should have felt like a victory. Instead it stung like a shaving nick against the throat. “This is an RSE precinct, Detective. We do all of the law.”

RSE. The Red Seal Edict. It was an amendment to the Code of Law meant to expedite the meting out of justice in overrun districts. Rather than having to navigate the slow-moving waters of prosecution, precinct captains were given the power to judge and sentence. A charge was taken to the captain by a detective; if the captain believed the charge to be valid and found the defendant guilty, a hunt was called. All hunts ended the same way.

“I’m no executioner,” Daniel ground out. “I won’t kill.”

Sundown shrugged. “Then I hope they taught you how to dodge bullets up in the himmel.”

*              *              *

Daniel stood in the precinct’s garage, phone in hand. The man on the phone’s screen wore a disinterested look.

“I’m sorry Detective Harbour -”

“– Arbour.”

“– I can put your name in the commissioner’s queue, but you really should be following standard protocol. Complaints should be taken to your precinct captain first.”

“This is more than just a complaint-”

“The commissioners’ office will contact you within three months of your call. Thank you for your service. Semper Aequus and have a genuine day.” The image on the phone’s screen blinked out.

It was the first time that Daniel had ever been hung up on.

His thumb hovered over the call back command. He kept telling himself that these frustrations that kept piling on top of one another were only his own fault, something to accept and move past, not dwell in. It made sense, he conceded. Class 1 detectives shouldn’t have direct access to the Commissioner. For all intents and purposes, he was bodenfolk now; he would have to figure this out as they would.

Still, this was not how he had imagined his first day – half-way through his first morning, and here he was, considering walking away. The captain had made it quite clear that he was to accept the lot that he had been given, or else. She’d fire him, not twenty-four hours on the force. How would that look? He’d return home and everyone would laugh behind their polite smiles and respectful nods; he’d have proven them right. Walking away was failure and fighting this assignment of his meant failure too. That only left one option.

He flicked the end command with a sigh. Had he used his real name, the secretary would not have dismissed him so – but that would have been a different kind of failure. He had told them all that he would live this new life without the clout of his family behind him.

“Let’s go, Spoons,” Sundown called as she passed him, heading towards her slider.

She had been napping on her desk when Daniel had left her.

Her voice broke him out of his reverie. She was already in the vehicle. Afraid that she might leave without him, Daniel followed again, slipping into the passenger seat as Sundown hit the ignition.

“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” he asked as the slider roared out of the garage and into the sunlight.

“The Junction,” Sundown said, to Daniel’s surprise. “Old rail station. Mostly cypes and rets there. It’s our best bet for this Farin kid.”

“Cypes? Rets?”

“Cyberpunks. Retrolos,” she looked at him sidelong. “You know what those are?”

“Subcultures unique to the boden, well originating in the boden atleast. Midburg has their own lighter versions,” Daniel answered, feeling as though he had passed her test.

Sundown’s smirk told him that he had not. “You ever been this far down before, Detective?”

“Once,” Daniel responded a little too quickly. What he didn’t say was that the occasion had been a naming ceremony in his family’s honour; nor did he reveal that it had been something close to a life’s obsession of his to one day return.

“Well, I’m impressed,” Sundown said, sounding the exact opposite. “How did you manage to find me this morning?”

“The captain did give me your badge number,” Daniel pointed out. “She synced us up,” he said matter-of-factly. He did not mention the fact that his driver had been largely responsible for his transit up until he closed in on her location.

“Did she?” Absently, she touched the badge that hung from her neck. It beeped in response. “Where’s my partner?” she asked.

“Approximately point .36 metres to the south-south east of your current location, travelling in parallel at a comparable speed,” the electronic voice returned, this time from the badge itself as Sundown wasn’t wearing an earpiece. Daniel found it interesting that his partner used the default AI, rather than the more advanced (and more human sounding) version available to detectives class 5 and higher. He found it interesting; it did not surprise him.

“I guess I won’t have to worry about losing you,” she commented as she turned the slider sharply to the left. The inertia swung Daniel into the passenger window and Sundown into Daniel.

“You may want to worry about your driving though,” he said, rubbing the side of his head as the slider righted itself.

Sundown laughed. “Was that a joke or an insult? I can never really tell with you spoons.”

Daniel stared out the front window, watching as the horizon of the slider’s dash slowly rose up against the precinct’s shiny exterior. No one had ever treated him as Sundown did – save for Dex Keatings who had taken it upon himself to torment Daniel for the majority of grade four, and his brothers who had an inherent obligation to be obnoxious he had long ago decided.

“Detective, I’m entirely sure I haven’t done anything to offend you so could we, perhaps, get passed this prejudice you seem to have?”

“Sure,” she said as the slider merged into one of the upper traffic streams. “I will, if you will.”

He looked at her, incredulous. “I’m not prejudiced against the boden.”

“No?” she gave him the slightest of glances. “So you didn’t come down here to save the city from its own savage underbelly?”

“I came here to be a detective – to help people.”

“How many years you do on a beat?”

He hesitated for only a breath, but it was all she needed. “I –”

“You didn’t work a beat did you?”

“I was first in my class. I’ve worked as an investigator for my father for nearly eight years – I learned from some of the best lawmen the himmel has to offer –”

“Uh huh, and soon you’re going to realize that most of that doesn’t mean a hell of a lot down here.”

“Spare me the lecture about my naiveté, Detective. You’re stuck with me so deal with it.” Daniel appraised Sundown’s reaction, blushing a little at his abruptness – that was getting as close to proper rudeness as he was going to allow himself.

Sundown’s face remained neutral as ever. He exhaled loudly.

“Let’s play a game,” she said. “If you win, I’ll let you stand by real close and watch how to work this barrio.”

Gottimhimmel what now? He nearly rubbed the bridge of his nose again; instead, Daniel smiled. “What do you mean?”

“You wanna be a detective, Detective? I may be stuck with you, but if you think that I’m going to let you screw with any of my investigations or any of my contacts –”

“You can’t stop me from working with you.”

Sundown turned to him and smiled. “LOLA, restrain passenger.”

Before Daniel had time to grab his badge, straps popped out from the side of his seat and bound him – one across his chest and two more across his wrists. He struggled against the confines if only out of frustration rather than any real hope of escape.

“You’ve ensorcelled the slider?” He asked after a moment, feeling slightly dumbfounded.

“Actually, the AI itself. Took a hell of a lot of newcomer rations to get that to stick.”

They drove in silence for a few moments. Daniel watched the steel and brick buildings as they whizzed by, wondering why he had felt so empowered to challenge Sundown. She was his superior. This was his own fault.

“So, you wanna play that game now?”

©MSR 2016

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