I have the day off because the Easter Bunny died or something. This is good, as it gave me no excuse for avoiding figg's birthday in the Hoose last night. Ahhh, the pub. Ahhh, the people. Much enjoyment was had. Today was going to be spent exploring the shape of consciousness, but having no filthy assistant until daedalus668 drags his arse up here, I decided to write and drink instead. One is going well, the other isn't. Given the title of this post, I leave it to the reader to decide which is which.
Lots of new people reading and to read since getting here. Interesting seeing the shape of my friends list now. But enough of this babbling. There are story below. Unlike most of my stories, which are one-shots (Atomic America below, for example), this isn't. It's a 10K-ish in words noir thriller set in a future Edinburgh. I just write it in parts because that way I can convince myself eac chapter is a short story and thus actually get it finished.
Shattered City: 4
by Stewart Wilson
"What the fuck was that about?"
Nicole's not fully awake when she hears the question. It takes a moment for everything to come flooding back. The murder, out in the barren. The disgusting detective she'd adopted. Their clues. Nearly being killed by a mad mob. She groaned as memories settled down on her head, some from a great height.
"Sam? Sam. I need something to eat. Protein. Nearly burned out on the run here. Please?" She's panting still, dry throat making her voice rasp.
"All right. Here. All I have in." Sam Chandler hands over half a roast seagull, maybe a day old. Flesh burned to carbon on the outside. To Nicole's implants, it looks perfect. She tears into the meat without regard, sinking her teeth through gristle and bone, swallowing everything. Sam waits until she finishes, smoking and driking the horrible brew he calls coffee.
Once she's done, discarding the fragments of a joint from between her teeth, Sam tries again. "What was that all about? Some mob tear-arsing after you right up to my front door. Can't be good."
"I'm not sure. There was someone speaking. In Hunter Square. A right demagogue, whipping the crowd up."
"There usually is. What was this one about?" He's as much making conversation as he is curious, making sure that she's all right.
"Going on about my -- sorry, our -- murder case." She picks up a worn mug without comment.
"Oh?" Now he's curious, leaning forwards off the edge of the bed. A small lump of cigarette ash falls forgotten into his coffee. "Do I want to ask?"
"He thought. He thought that the Clade framed Saul. No justification." She took a sip of the tar-like liquid. "And used that as an excuse to justify tearing down the Gyle."
"Fuck me. What would happen if anyone was dumb enough to listen to him?"
"Old compact. We keep the wake shield working, you don't try to break in uninvited. People who don't listen..." she shrugs, setting the mug back down as its contents work into her digestive system. "I don't know. But I could find out."
"I don't think we have that kind of time to lose." Sam's rolling a cigarette, having long since run out of packs. His hands work mechanically, fashioning the paper tube without him needing to think.
"Who needs time? Give me five minutes at the window."
"How will that help?"
"Advanced technology, remember. Internal radio link."
"Right." He clicks his cigarette lighter and inhales.
In the dark behind Nicole's eyes, she negotiates for access to the Gyle systems. The internal link lets her access the public areas of the site from outside the walls, but the speed is terrible compared to being there, going from broadband to GPRS. There's little information on the compact on the pages, at least that she can see. Nobody pays it much heed. Sometimes people break in and something happens to them. It doesn't upset normal business. A hunch leads her to the Wunch homepages. A few minutes later she's feeling decidedly ill as she cuts the connection.
"If that weren't so toxic I'd ask for one."
"What'd you find that's so bad?" Sam proffers the cigarette anyway, but she waves it away.
"One Wunch, the people who specialise in biotech -- implants. Like mine. They get anyone who tries breaking in. For experimental purposes."
Sam's brow creased, but he didn't interrupt.
"Biotech doesn't go in right, all the time. So they use disposable people to see how well it fits. If it works, the people are shot. If it doesn't work... rejecting the tech is the last thing they do."
"Shit. I'm getting a sudden and very bad feeling about this."
"You and me both. It could be that we have a Wunch involved after all. But we'd need proof."
Sam turned, finishing his coffee. "We have one way. The killer. He was part of the Tollcross Families. I know where his lot camp out. It's a bit of a walk, over Dalry way."
"Why are they called the Tollcross Families if they work out of Dalry?" It was Nicole's turn to frown.
"Used to be a lot of families who made money all over that area. Typical community crime -- drugs, guns while they were popular, protection, that sort of thing. But the Tollcross bunch were the biggest bastards of the lot. In the end, they either soaked up or beat the other families to death."
"A real bunch of charmers." Sam grabbed his trenchcoat, checking the pockets for the spare knives he'd found. "We might as well go have a look around.
The tone of the city changes around them as they walk. The buildings underneath the shantyscrapers are still sandstone, but the people don't look up and Sam has to beat off people trying to steal his cigarettes. The inner-city never moves or goes away, not in the eyes of people who have lived here for the past twenty years. It just changes into different skins.
Ahead of them, a crossroads. On two corners, the streets continue with houses and cobbled-together scaffold shelters extending away. But the remaining two corners are special. One houses a market in the car park of what must have been a fast-food vendor, a drive-through place in a city where cars were an expensive luxury to begin with. Traders with rough stalls shout and swear at each other and at their customers, pleading and threatening for someone to buy something.
The other corner is a sandstone fortress, an original building without any of the recent additions. The walls look thick, and the top slopes out to prevent people climbing up. Further up are what could almost be battlements. Wide doors provide access to a public lobby. People in there are waiting for an audience, and by the state of the place some have been waiting for weeks.
"Here. Into the market." Sam grabbed Nicole's arm, pulling her towards a stall.
"Why? I can't see through walls." She frowns, following.
"Look around you for a minute. You might have been away from the Clade long enough to feel like a native and your clothes might be ruined from your perspective, but you're still sticking out like a sore thumb. Hell, I stick out here. So get down." Sam's mouth moves on automatic, punctuated with short sharp drags on his cigarette. Nicole's not seen him this nervous. Not when handling dead bodies or threatening people in front of an angry mob. There's real fear in his voice.
"Sam, who lives in there?" She keeps her voice down. No point letting the world know that she's being inquisitive.
"Father. Head of the family. One of the three biggest bastards in organised crime. The sort of man who can order his family to kick half a dozen girls to death before breakfast. An evil cunt, in other words."
"So why are we here?" Nicole hands over some money from the men she knocked out at the castle for a pack of cigarettes, just to keep up the illusion. The stallkeeper, an old woman with a collapsed face, just about spits on her for her trouble.
"Because this is the man who would know that one of his boys has Gyletech. And I want to know where from." He lights another cigarette from the butt of the last one. "I don't believe any shite working for him would be able to keep a sealed suit five minutes without Father's permission."
Nicole sighs, moving to another stall and getting coffee. The building is familiar, too familiar. She risks opening up a radio link back to the Gyle, and digs through for its history.
"This place used to be a supermarket."
Sam looks back from arguing over a cheap holster. "What? What's that got to do with anything."
"It hasn't. I'm just wondering now why a shop would look like a bunker."
"Look at the area. It's the only way not to get robbed blind even back then."
"Maybe." Nicole's about to let it drop when something catches her eye. Looking twice, it's someone. "Sam. There. The man heading through the outer doors. Fair hair, short."
Sam's alert again, throwing away the end of his cigarette. Two dogs, too young to be eaten, scrabble for it in the ground. "What about him?"
"He's the one who gave the speech. The one who started the riot."
"And he's wandering straight into an audience with Father. This just gets worse. How does something simple, like a girl being murdered, turn into this kind of insanity?"
"I don't know."
"We were wading in shit, but now we're in chest-deep. Come on."
Before he can elaborate, Sam's off and moving through the crowd, a bundle of sharp elbows and knees and apologies and insults. Nicole barely manages to stay in his wake.
"What are you trying to do?"
"Get a better look. Odds are there's a skylight, a vent, something. Boxes piled up, more crap, anything to get a leg-up onto the roof."
"Do you know how likely that really is?" She dialled up to a hundred-ten percent of normal, catching up and brushing people aside with ease.
"No. Don't care. We need to see."
"There's a fire escape at the back. I checked the plans."
Sam didn't have time to be crestfallen, instead turning a corner and swinging up the badly-rusted metal. One rung of the ladder gave way under his hand, but he pressed on. Hands bruised from the rusting metal, he collapsed onto the roof.
Nicole, following him, made it seem easy. "You should let me do these kinds of thing."
"Not after the last time you went off alone."
They were rewarded with a small skylight, one of the few sources of light for the den inside. They could make out blurred shapes in the room. Nicole's eyes registered shapes and matched them against stored patterns, letting her recognise the key points.
"The riot-leader's in there. They're talking."
Sam sighed, leaning back to light a cigarette. "You don't say."
"More. Sam, see who's leaving. People were in the shadows, handed something over but I couldn't see it."
He peered over the battlements, then ducked his head right back. "Fuck me. Fuck me sideways."
"Sam? What is-" But she had seen who Sam had seen. The immaculate suits of two sharks on day-release, carrying a storage trunk large enough to hold a sealed-suit, walking plain as day out of the supermarket.
"We're really up shit-creek now, you know?" Nicole leaned back against the wall, staring up into the sky.
"Where do we go from here?" One hand raised to cup her forehead. "I don't like the idea of serving suit on another lawyer."
"And I don't like the idea of trying to do anything to another shark."
"Worse. The Wunch I was talking about, the biotech researchers?"
"I remember." A plume of smoke shot into the sky.
"Those sharks are a part of that Wunch."
"And I bet that a sudden upswing in test subjects would do a lot for their popularity, right?"
"Probably. Nobody in the Gyle is going to believe this. It betrays the whole point. We're supposed to coexist, not try to wipe each other out -- or the city in general for that matter."
"Let's get off the roof just above Father before we talk about this any more. If I get any more paranoid I'm going to die."
"I need time to fit this together. We need a motive. A real one."
"We have one. Power. Best motive there is. Come on." Sam headed back for the fire escape, walking slowly.