Shattered City: 2
by Stewart Wilson
It's dark when Sam and Nicole leave Appleton, the low clouds glowing orange with reflected streetlights and fires. The city is crowded with people escaping their factories and office-blocks, the streets drowning in a sea of humanity. They walk past the Teviot and through the square in silence, Sam taking long drags from his cigarette. After a while, he stops and watches a gang of skatekids who try to mug a drunk brawler and get the shit beaten out of them in return.
"Tell me about Amy." It's the first thing Sam's said since they left the scene.
Nicole shrugs. She's a shark, trained to hunt people and serve suit on them by any means possible. A set of implants make her the finest legal instrument the Clade can manufacture, but she's more than a bit freaked out by the implications of what they've just seen.
"Wouldn't you rather know how someone could get in to that room and kill her without leaving a trail?"
"No." He blows a plume of smoke up into the air. "That's your problem, you're too fixated on the how. We know that it wasn't the teacher, despite what people are saying. We know it was some kind of magic that you lot have. That's good enough for now. I want to know why someone would kill her."
"Did she have any enemies, that sort of thing?"
"Don't be stupid, someone killed her."
"Fine." She turns on him. "What *do* you want to know?"
"Everything. Who was she? Who were her friends? What did she do? How did she cut loose? And what was she doing outside the Gyle? I thought the Clade locked their kids up tight."
Nicole sighs. She's used to being resented for being part of the Clade whenever she's outside the Gyle, but Sam brings it all to a point. "No more than you do. We're still human, remember." She looks away and shivers, triggering search threads to answer his questions. "Amy Bacall. Fourteen years old. Highly intelligent, training to be an engineer. Wanted to work on the wake shields. She has a public journal, but it's full of statistically typical teen angst."
"That's what she was. Who was she? You're part of her wunch, you must have met her."
"I don't know! She was a bright kid, a dreamer. She used to go wandering off into her own head a lot, even at social functions. We approved her spending two months in the city to give her some exposure to what life is like here with everyone else. It was all going fine, she had a few friends, her dad was looking forwards to having her home."
"Right." Sam ground the cigarette under one boot. "Look, I need to think. And walk." His stomach growled. "And eat. And ask more questions."
"If I didn't know better, Mr. Chandler, I'd say you were asking me to dinner."
"Sam, damnit. And maybe I am."
"And maybe I'll let you. Pay, at least."
"The market's going to be our best bet. And it gives me a chance to talk to someone." Sam's eyes narrowed. "Get some things set straight."
The market fills the top of the Royal Mile and the castle grounds, a place for people to buy and sell everything they need. The traders live in the back of their tents, only closing if they can't find anyone to cover while they sleep. It's a portrait of the city in miniature. Stalls cooking haggis and seagull slump next to jewellers and pawn-brokers, smiths and carpenters. Anyone can buy anything for the right price, even the truth.
Nicole and Sam sit on one of the walls, looking over the market. The food's not anything to look at, but it keeps them warm. Nicole can't believe some of the things she sees. Everyone works around everyone else, either making things cheaper than the factories or with that personal touch for those that still think it matters. It's a far cry from the Gyle and it's automation, elegantly fabricated furnishings and good food just the obvious signs of progress away from the hubbub.
By the time she looks up from the nearly-eaten meal, Sam has gone. She catches a glimpse of him from an overhead drone that happens to be passing and triangulates, watching his heat-pattern drift through the open door of a building.
Before she can wonder what he's up to, she catches a movement close by. Two men are standing close to her with studied nonchalance, looking over the market. No glances at her fancy clothes or the rings on her fingers. That's the obvious clue. A good mugger would stare just as much as everyone else. It takes a bad mugger to ignore what's in front of his face.
"Nice night for it," one remarks.
"Yes." Part of her wants to waste no time in going to full-contact mode, breaking bones and reminding them why people are scared of sharks. But she's out of her element, on public view without an obvious target. These men -- barely more than boys -- aren't a danger yet, and she can't claim self-defence if she hits first.
"Seems odd, a Gylie out here for the market," the second one chips in. "Or do you prefer the taste of seagull over steak?"
"No, I'm just waiting for a friend." She tries a disarming smile, playing up the helpless-female stereotype and hoping they're dumb enough to fall for it. She nods to herself as they close, activating threat profiles and tactical assessments. Her amber eyes glitter in the light.
The first one frowns. "See, the thing is, we can't let you just sit there and wait. This is rather our patch. We sell people the view."
"I'm not looking at the view."
"Even so, you're using space for our potential customers. I'm afraid I'm going to have to charge you. Pound a minute and you've been here near enough half an hour." The edge in his voice, common to all small-time hustlers. Give me the money, you don't want to know what will happen otherwise.
"I don't think I can afford that."
"Wearing that suit?" The second man has a hard time holding a sneer back. "Don't make me laugh. We're not asking much to someone like you." His jacket flaps open enough that his knife can shine in the firelight. Nobody bothers with guns, the ammunition's too expensive. But a knife is quick and quiet and easy to make.
Nicole tilts her head, thinking. "No, you're making a terrible attempt to mug me, and I'd prefer it if the two of you fucked off before I got really annoyed."
"Or what?" The first man's flustered, both of them have knives in their hands. He waves it in the air, showing off. The second just swipes at her.
Metabolic controls go into overdrive. Nicole grabs the mugger's wrist at four times normal speed, the added impulse cracking his wrist. She follows up with a knee to the groin and a hammer-blow that breaks his other arm, toppling him to the floor.
But she's slow, and the air around her feels more like water. The other man almost makes contact before she can twist away. A kick to his elbow as it slides past, then she ducks around him and throws him over the edge of the wall, down to the street below. She returns to normal speed just as she hears the impact. The grey spots at the edge of her vision clear slowly as she sucks down lung-fulls of smoky air.
Sam's running back when she looks up, a bundle of papers in one hand. He takes one look at the mugger. "What happened?"
"Some gentlemen thought I was easy money."
"So you gave them some trouble." He looks to the mugger on the floor. "Less than they would have given you."
"I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble. I'm a lawyer, after all."
This time it was Sam's turn to be nonplussed. "Right. What did you do with the other one?"
"He fell over the wall," she shrugged. "An unfortunate consequence."
"Real unfortunate. But at least you got some exercise."
"That's true enough. What were you getting up to?" Nicole tilted her head, focusing on the papers.
"There's a guy in there cobbled together his own printing press. Him and a half-dozen others keep it running. I figured they could give us a hand clearing Saul's name."
"You told them it was a frame-up?"
"Yeah. We don't know who it was, but we know it wasn't him." Sam paused, lighting another cigarette.
"Will people believe it?"
"Enough of them will for it to work."
Nicole took the paper and glanced over the article. It wasn't perfect, or even very accurate, but it had the seeds of truth. Hard to believe that something so simple could have so much influence. It didn't mention that they had no idea who the real murderer was, or how he'd managed to get into and out of a room without leaving a scrap of evidence. That'd just worry people more.
She put the paper down on the wall where they had sat. "We should check on my other assailant. Make sure that the fall didn't kill him."
"Why bother? He was dumb, he paid the price."
"No." She shook her head. "Self-defence doesn't include murder."
"If you say so." Sam grabbed two knives from the floor, wrapping them in cloth. "Never know when I'll need a backup."
They set off away from the market, heading around the castle mound to the base where the man would have fallen. It's dark, the mound-side too steep for anyone to cut down the trees to build on or to fix the broken streetlights. The lack of light says it all. Nobody lives here. Wood-shavings stick to the branches, detritus thrown over the wall and forgotten. Nicole's halfway into the undergrowth before she spots him, the heat signature giving her something to aim for and his pulse clearing her conscience.
She's about to slide back to the street when something catches her eye.
She hears him crashing up behind her, but can't take her eyes off what she's found. She moves another branch out of the way.
"What is it?"
"Here." Photocells in her irises light up, beaming out a sickly light that's just enough to see by.
"Christ." Sam recoils from the sight of another dead body, his second in two days.
They check the body over for a while, looking for some explanation for why he's dead. The thick layer of slime coating the already-cold corpse doesn't help.
"What is this stuff." Sam sniffs at his fingers and wishes he hadn't.
"Dermal transmission gel. It's what we use for sealed-body suits."
"That's really fucking strange, then." He leans back, pinching the bridge of his nose.
"You recognise him?"
"I should do. I'm the reason he's down three fingers on his left hand. He was hired muscle for the Tollcross families."
Nicole frowned, shaking her head. "How does a thug get his hands on a sealed suit?"
"I don't know. I don't even know if I want to know. You think this could be our killer?"
"He's the right height and build. Give him a whisper-suit and he could glide right behind Amy a half-inch off the floor and kill her without too much effort. And he wouldn't leave a single trace."
"So where's the suit?"
"Good question. Better question is who gave it to him, and why did he use it to kill Amy?"
"I don't know. But he's not going to tell us any time soon." Sam reached for his inside pocket, lighting a cigarette by pure instinct. He rubbed an old scar before pocketing the lighter.
"This is big. Bigger than we thought." Nicole stands, turning back towards the path. "Someone could have triggered a discharge, turned the suit's juice on him and given him a fatal heart attack. But someone would need a remote for the suit to do that."
"And there's no suit here. This just gets better and better."