My only gripe is with Nicole being female. Don't want people to think I gave her a chance to show off last part only to have her play the girl-who-needs-rescuing stereotype for the rest of it. I'll see how it feels when I read it through tomorrow, though other viewpoints are always useful.
7000 words so far. Bloody hell.
Shattered City: 3
by Stewart Wilson
By the time Sam finishes checking the body, it's gone one in the morning. He and Nicole walk away from the wooded slope at the base of the castle wall, making for the lights and the press of people that make up the real pulse of the city. They had found their killer, hired muscle for the Tollcross families that run much of the city. The residue of an advanced bodysuit was both their evidence and their main cause for concern.
They take a different road back towards Sam's room. Little more than the bedroom of an old flat, it's still more than many people can afford. Makeshift skyscrapers cover what would be the pavement, abutting the tenement flats with a layer of ablative homes made of whatever people could scavenge. The orange of streetlights and cooking fires casts a monochrome glow over everything, shading the world in black and orange.
"What do we do now?" Nicole fiddles with something in the pocket of her suit jacket. "This makes less and less sense as time goes on."
"I know. This is getting close to being political, too close. I need coffee or sleep. Coffee. Something to wake my brain up." Sam's slouching, hunching in to his well-worn trenchcoat to keep the world at large out.
"You need sleep." There's a slight edge of concern in her voice.
"Don't give me that. Sleep is the enemy. Just an excuse for my brain to torture me. Need coffee. I need to fucking think."
"You think running yourself ragged is going to help?"
"THINK! I need to think!" He turns on her, a fire in his eyes. "Don't poison my brain with your lies about sleep. We're close to something that's going to explode right in our faces at any second. We don't have time to waste."
"How are we close?" Nicole is careful to keep her voice level. The last thing she needs is to annoy her sidekick, no matter how tempting it is. "All we know is that some thug got his hands on a sealed suit. There's no evidence I could get that would link him to the murder."
"There's something. Something more. More, more, more." He drifts off into mumbling, becoming a walking sulk.
Sam has nothing more to say. He can feel his brain fogging, every thought slowing down. It's his own fault, he knows. He has known it for a long time. But he can't stop. He's addicted to the rush of being right, the visceral thrill of seeing a killer give in. A drug far more dangerous than any cigarettes.
The fire in Sam's room burns bright, boiling water to make coffee. He sits, alternately fiddling with the pot and his notebook. He can't help but glance at Nicole, but at least has the manners to do so discretely. She's tall, beautiful, and proper. She's also wired to the eyeballs, crammed full of processing machines and reflex enhancements and God only knows what else. The ultimate lawyer, come to find and serve suit on a killer.
He has a reputation for getting to the bottom of tricky cases, but most of them would be a breeze for a shark who can see fingerprints and DNA traces. This one is different. A killing with all the evidence pointing to a man who couldn't have done it. Add a thug in a sealed suit, and you have a killer who leaves no evidence. So she turned to him, and dragged him into another maze.
Cigarette smoke caresses the ceiling, slowly turning it a sickening shade of yellow-white. Sam grinds out another butt before pouring coffee into cracked mugs. "I'm going to ask a stupid question. And I want you to take it seriously because it's not really a stupid question."
"Okay." Nicole takes the mug and sips, trying not to gag at the taste.
"If we assume that it was one of the Clade who organised this -- who provided the suit, at least -- why would he do it? I thought you were all the same, but that would mean there's no motive."
"It's not like that. At least, not really." She set the mug on the floor, working out how best to answer him. "The Clade isn't one big social unit. Nothing like that. It's just a name some idiot started using that stuck. The only thing that's similar about us is where and how we live. All that the 'Clade' really means is people who were born and brought up in the Gyle, that's all."
"See, this is why I asked the stupid question. Because nobody who isn't in the Clade knows that. That opens things up some."
"The closest thing to a social unit we have are the wunches. Nothing bigger."
Sam lights a cigarette, frowning in thought. "I thought wunches were business units. They come out here and sponsor people or offer loans or send out a shark to collect..."
"It's more than that. At the start, that's all it was, but things have mutated. Each wunch has everything it needs. Researchers, bankers, lawyers, technicians, economists, everything. For a basic comparison, it's a corporate tribe."
"So could it be a tribal thing? One wunch doesn't like another, decides to off one of its kids?"
"That's not how we work. That sort of thing is all settled internally."
"Right... but that brings us back to our starting point. Why did one wunch kill off the kid of another? Any why frame Saul?"
"I don't know." Nicole sighed. "We're going around in circles. We have no evidence past the body. We have no motive that makes any sense. Say what you like, I'm going to get some sleep."
"Fine. I'm going to think some more. You know where to find me."
Nicole wakes to the sounds of shouting. She'd slept in the room Amy had been using, a tin-walled box away from the outside world. There was nothing inside, no personal touches or mementos. Just a map of the city pinned to one wall and a bedroll, not even a space for a fire.
She had managed sleep around five, and her internal clock tells her it's barely ten. Her mouth still tastes of the noxious coffee and her head feels like she's done a whole day at double-speed, overclocking her body's metabolic regulators in the name of power. She knows she needs food, but the sound outside finally registers. There's the hubbub of a building crowd, but there's something more. Something in the subsonic range, the telltale signs of a gathering. She extends her head slowly out of the opening.
Hunter Square and the Bridge is crammed full of people. The majority are looking towards the raised centre of the square and a man she doesn't recognise, others are milling around, hoping to hear. There's theatre in the air. The speaker's going to make some big speech and it had better be impressive or the city will tear him apart, just like it had to Festival acts a long time ago.
"They say!" The man shouts. Others, standing near him, are passing out newspapers. The same newspapers that Sam had helped with their lead story.
"They say," he shouts again, "that a girl was killed in this city. This is a tragedy, but unfortunately it's more common than we want it to be. But this killing. This killing, of all the others, made the front page of the news-sheet. The same news-sheet that doesn't tell us when anyone else is killed. The same news-sheet that wants justice to come from the people. The same news-sheet that says that it won't get involved." His tone of voice is mocking now.
Nicole's hand darts to a pocket, grasping the cool plastic of a shocker. There's a riot coming in this speech, and she has a dreadful feeling that she's going to get caught up in it.
"And yet this news-sheet tells us that the girl wasn't killed by the man everyone thinks did it. They tell us that it couldn't be him, that people are still searching for the killer. They bother to tell us that." He holds the newspaper out accusingly, holding it on trial in the kangaroo court of public opinion.
"She wasn't killed by him. He was framed. But why is it so important that they tell us this? I know why. They know why, but they don't want you to know. It's because-" and here he leans towards the crowd, basic group control, exaggerated body language all helping to keep them in his hand "-the girl was one of the Clade!"
The crowd breaks out in shock, People express their surprise and astonishment to each other, affirming that they have just heard the same thing. One of the Clade, slumming it in the city -- a child, no less. The outburst is short-lived, as the speaker has more to say.
"This is why people wanted to frame poor Saul. Because then the Clade would have to close it's doors. They can't deal with a city that would kill one of their children, even if ours die every day working for them!" A ragged cheer from the crowd. "These hypocrites wanted to frame us. They engineered the murder to make us look bad. Because we're not good enough for them!" Another cheer, louder. People raising their hands in support. "They want to go on without us! Soon we will storm the walls of the Gyle and drag them out of their enclave! The People! Will! Be Heard!"
With that last line, the crowd goes wild. People cheer and throw up their arms. A few throw tools at buildings, or up in the air to hit other people. It's not long before the first fights break out.
She's halfway down the ladder before the crowd right below her registers. Hunter Square is far enough away that she had hoped she was outside the area, able to slip away into a back alley and loop around backstreets, courtyards and bridges. No such luck. Someone shouts as she jumps to the ground, accusatory fingers singling her out. Not that they need to. Her suit does that for her.
There's no point trying to fight. She knows that even as she runs. Her stomach growls, a timely reminder that without food she's risking a lot if she accelerates. Without that edge, the slow-motion world giving her time to think and plan and react, her options are limited. The shockgun in her pocket is good for maybe five shots, and that's nowhere near enough. Even with a knife, at normal speed she can't take down a few hundred people. Her suit jacket flaps as she runs faster, willing her body not to fail as she accelerates.
One and a half speed. Fast enough to help her gain a lead on the crowd, even if her lungs do feel like collapsing. The muscles in her legs feel like they're ready to snap each time her feet hit the road, but she can't stop. Not now. She just has to get back to Sam's place. It's all she can think of doing. If she leads them back to the Gyle then not only will she be admitting failure, the Clade would happily shock the lot of them and borrow a few for bioware experiments, and they don't deserve that.
The window looms. Her vision is mostly grey and blurred, but she can see the window, see the main hallway. Up the stairs slowly, only moving faster than a crawl thanks to her enhancement. Bang on the door. Once. Twice.
Her enhancements shut off and darkness rushes in.
Sam Chandler wakes up to the sound of someone banging on his door for the second day in a row. One hand on a knife, he pulls the door open. There's a shark unconscious on his doorstep. Not just any shark. Nicole. He crouches, checks her pulse -- still there, but faint -- and drags her through the door.
Soon after, the riot arrives. It's changed, going from a common or garden random fight to a witch hunt. The fittest and strongest lead, everyone else having fallen behind. And they are the ones baying for Clade blood the loudest. The corridor in the tenement block is wide enough to hold four abreast, and they crowd inside. Others are outside. He hears one brick bounce off his window. More follow.
"What the fuck are you playing at?" He's never at his best in the mornings, and finding an angry mob wants a word hasn't improved his demeanour. The thick layer of stubble on his chin adds to the menace in his eyes. Here is someone who will take no shit, it says.
"We're here for the Gylie." The speaker's got a good foot on Sam and is twice as wide, packed out with muscle and tattoos. "Bitch helped frame someone. Wants to tear up the city." A cheer accented his words.
"Who told you that?" Sam held his eyes on the ringleader. One hand back on his knife, the other on the door.
"Everyone knows, granddad. It's what happened. Says so in the paper." The man scratched his shaved head. "Going to turn her over or do we have to move you?"
"Is that a fact?" Sam lowered his voice, leaning in close. Anyone else would have to strain to hear.
Sam's hand barely moved, but the ringleader folded up, clutching his groin. Sam righted the knife, wiping the base of the handle on his leg. He pressed the blade against the bigger man's neck, one knee on an outstretched arm. None of the elegance of Nicole's superfast martial arts, just the art of street brawling as refined over the centuries.
Sam growled, pressing the knife in until a drop of blood welled. "If any of you cunts still wants in, I'll cut your fucking throats. You hear me? I'm in a doorway, you'd be crawling over your friends' dead bodies to have a go. And by God you might kill me but I'd cut more than a few of you up. Piss off the lot of you, and don't come back!"
Nobody had expected this turn of events. People filed out, the bloodlust long forgotten when faced with the harsh reality of a lunatic with a knife. Sam leaned in to the ringleader before he could really move, shifting the knife away. "And if I ever see you again, sunshine, I'll have the knife the right way around the first time."
He stands, taking two steps back before slamming his door and checking all the locks. Only then does he go to check on Nicole.
Edit: Updated to stop Nicole from acting like a bonehead. I like her too much for that.