In a relative sense, matters progressed quickly after Detective Nrissilli’s visit. That is to say, things went faster compared to what you might expect for a multiple gunshot victim waiting in custody. From my perspective, time dragged on with agonizing slowness.
idle until lunch time. With no video
screen, compad, or other entertainment, I was left alone with my thoughts for
several hours. Given that those thoughts
were focused on a single subject with no new inputs, I
wasted the time looping without any new results.
To tell the truth,
crime detection does not involve sudden revelation after extended
contemplation. You have to go out and
collect facts - often more than you strictly need - before a pattern becomes apparent. Sometimes, you have to actively provoke your
prey into motion, not just chase its trail.
I needed to get back onto that trail.
The last tracks I had led to Pkstzk.
To keep moving forward, I needed to find her. I was still concerned about her safety and her good opinion, but these motivations were rapidly losing ground to a close third: a growing need for answers about her case.
What had her mate, Vzktkk, been
doing on an unremarkable side street in a seemingly random middle-class
neighborhood? Why was someone waiting inside a defunct pet store for him to pass? Why had they shot Vzktkk? Why had someone locked starving
animals inside said pet store, apparently primed to attack anyone investigating
the place? Who was called, right
before and right after the shooting? All
of these puzzles led to the key question: Who killed Vzktkk?
Last night, the case
gained some new questions: Why had there been three well-armed Vislin waiting
in Pkstzk’s hotel room? Had they been
waiting for me or for her? Why did they
try to kill me? Why had they done such a
poor job of it? Where had they gone
afterward? And why was there so little
evidence of their exit… or seemingly, their entry?
Just to round out the set: Who were
those guys? Were they connected to Vzktkk’s murder, and if so, how?
My claws itched for my compad, so
that I could at least list my questions. I was probably still missing a handful of
important concerns beyond the ones I could list. There might be relevant evidence in Tskksk’s EM recording from the night of Vzktkk’s murder. I wanted to talk to her and bounce off ideas to research.
had been questionable. I wondered if her
co-workers knew anything I should know.
She certainly knew a lot I should know. I wanted to bounce a few theories off her to see what made sense.
Bouncing off of either female would
normally sound like a great idea. Sadly, I wouldn't be up to such strenuous activity for a while. Thinking about my injuries reminded me
that, legally, I wasn’t supposed to be following up on this case at all. I was going to ignore that order, of course,
but I’d have to be subtle in my approach.
Not that I didn’t usually try to be subtle; nobody wants to be caught
breaking and entering, pickpocketing, borrowing evidence, conning a witness… you get the idea.
But I’d have to cut down on the personal visits and physical antagonism.
Shadow and claw all the way,
then. I started the deception by playing 'good
patient' as much as possible.
When the nurse arrived with lunch,
he was thrilled to find that I’d earned my hands free. My diet was upgraded to solids: fried ground
meat patties topped with salted belly-fat strips rendered and crisped in the
oven: a childhood favorite. I also got
another serving of broth, this time served in a cup. I thanked my visitor for the meal and let him
know I’d have given him a tip, if the constables hadn’t confiscated my credit
strip. He assured me that he’d tack the extra
charge onto my hospital bill.
Kidding aside, it was a solid meal,
better than any I’d eaten since returning home, better than most I’d eaten
before my recent expense-paid vacation. Given
my appetite and the non-specificity of my holiday memories, I might
consider the hospital food more enjoyable than
anything I’d eaten while abroad. After
life on short rations the last couple of days, all that grease rumbled a little
in my lower digestion, but the discomfort was well worth it.
I tried to make the meal last, but
eventually I had to lick up the last oily scrap and return to contemplating the
already contemplated. Given the freedom
of my hospital room, I considered testing my limbs, maybe pacing a bit. I could ransack the drawers for
I decided not to tempt
either the medical staff or my constable guard by causing trouble. I also needed to save my strength for whenever I had to strain my stitched muscles. For example,
when lunch decided to shove out my previous meals to give itself more room.
Could I nap, instead? I had already ‘slept’ through part of a night
under sedation. That didn’t count much
for rest, though. I’d been woken regularly
during the early morning hours. Combine
that fatigue with the soporific effects of my painkillers, and I was, in fact,
True sleep still managed to evade
me. Even though I couldn’t do anything
more to resolve Pkstzk’s case and its related threats, those troubles still
managed to intrude when I tried to rest.
I settled for physical inactivity and closed eyes while my mind
continued to churn. I realized,
eventually, that I could still work the case without Pkstzk’s input. I could work it backward, starting with
Vzktkk’s personal business and acquaintances.
At the least, I might get some idea what he was doing on that street in
Isstravil… something Pkstzk might not even know.
Even better, I could subcontract personal meetings with Vzktkk’s acquaintances to a third party acting on
my behalf. I knew a few reliable fellow
PI’s that could handle the assignment.
The problem there was that I couldn’t pay them for their services; a cut of the nothing Pkstzk was paying
me was still nothing. She might be able
to pay something – I’d never had a chance to ask – but getting that credit
would require contacting her. Did I
trust a third party to manage that, too?
Would she trust a request for
payment coming from anyone but me? There
were a few shared secrets I could use to reassure her an intermediary actually
came from me, but most of those tied into our mutual association with Pack
Vzzrk… and I didn’t trust anyone among even my ‘trusted colleagues’ with that
I wasn’t owed any favors currently,
either; could I persuade anyone to work on credit? Offer unspecified favors to be repaid later,
with a ‘no criminal acts’ proviso? Did I
know anyone who would trade for my personal favors? The answer to all these questions, much to my
chagrin, was no.
I briefly considered letting Tskksk
in on the details of Vzktkk’s murder case, in trade for her help tracking down
possible suspects. That should tell you
how fuzzy-headed I was. Getting a
civilian involved in a case like this – a potential witness, no less – was a
terrible idea. Even worse, if she
succeeded and the case tied in to Pack Vzzrk, like I feared, she’d be privy to
my and Pkstzk’s unarmored bellies. She
didn’t seem like the sort for blackmail, but that knowledge could be as much a
danger to her as an asset. Not that I
had much to offer for ransom, anyway, but there’s more you can extort with a secret
than just credits.
Hmm… did I have anyone I could
coerce into helping? I did have a
neighbor who tampered with his water meter to keep its readings low. He’d be useless for investigative work,
though. I should save that gambit for
the next time I needed free plumbing repairs.
I knew some choice details about the security system in Tskksk’s shop,
which I might trade for some hacking work or even a sub-AI program to make calls on
my behalf. I'm kidding, of course. I’d never betray her trust like that, even if my old criminal mind did
consider the possibility.
No, that was it, almost no
resources at all. If I were shadier, or
this case less so, I would have more potential assistance. Being a good guy in a bad situation limited my options sharply.
I did have a small amount
of credit in the bank, still. Was it worth spending
everything on a single hire, for a single assignment, if it meant complete
poverty afterward? It might be, for
Pkstzk. If she was innocent of any
ought to be willing to sacrifice for her justice. I’d have to see who would work cheap but
still be thorough. At least, with me
providing most (if not all) of the background research on the case, they would
just be managing the person-to-person interface. That wouldn’t cost as much as the complete PI
I spent the remaining empty decads
of my drowsing imprisonment reviewing potential candidates for the job. Mostly, this involved thinking of names and
trying to remember what they’d done to or for me, what I’d done to or for them,
and what scandals I could remember connected to those individuals, if any. I amused myself by comparing my assessment of
each competitor with their likely assessment of me. In most cases, I came out (unfairly) lower in
their eyes than they did in mine. I
wondered how many sins other PI’s kept successfully hidden. How would their piles of skeletons
rank next to my giant, invisible one?
I was ranging dangerously close to
self-pity when the door finally opened again.
I was also ranging dangerously close to a digestive accident. I hoped whoever was coming in would oblige by
helping me to the bathroom.
A female Taratumm in constabulary
armor entered the room. Not my first
choice for personal assistance; in fact, I’d had nightmares that started
in similar fashion.
While I was trying to decide
between one embarrassment and another, she spoke up: “Stchvk, you are
released from custody. You may stay or
leave as you prefer, depending upon your doctor’s recommendations. I will be leaving shortly, myself. If you have any concerns about your personal
safety, please contact Constabulary Precinct Kef to request further
I nodded to acknowledge her
statement and she let herself out, duties complete, off to report and relax. Once she closed the door, I carefully turned
and lowered myself to the floor. My
offended leg pulled and protested, but supported my weight just fine. I didn’t feel any tearing as I stepped
cautiously across the hard, cold floor; another good sign. I made it to the toilet without incident and
settled down for a long stretch of contemplation.
So… nobody would stop me from leaving
now, but nobody would stop an assassin from coming into the room, either. I
wasn’t expecting anyone to shoot at me here, but then again, I hadn’t expected
that at the hotel. I wondered what I’d
have to say to warrant an official protective detail. Certainly, I needed more solid evidence than
I had for this case already. Given that
I was officially barred from pursuing
said case and said evidence, the offer of protection seemed like a meaningless
gesture. I supposed I’d know there was a
problem when it started blasting again.
Of course, it might be little late by then for the constables to be much help.
I wouldn’t even have my sidearm for
self-defense. The constables sure seemed
confident I had nothing to be afraid of, leaving me unarmed and unguarded. I hoped they were right, though there was a
strong possibility that I would deliberately prove them wrong.
I briefly considered the
possibility of buying a new heater.
While I was at it, why not shop for a fully automated self-defense
drone, with mini-grenade launchers and a fluoride gas laser? It seemed like as soon as I had a little
credit saved up, I quickly thought of multiple ways to spend it away.
It could take a cycle or more until my
Rtrtr was released, depending on how long it took to find my
attackers. I wished, uncharitably, that
all three would end up shot by constables.
That outcome would spare us all a long trial and spare me a protracted separation from my weapon. Alternately, less
violently, they could all turn themselves in, confess, and simplify matters
that way. Kkk, the death-by-constable
scenario was far more likely.
I wouldn’t normally wish a painful
death even on attempted murderers, even when the murder they had attempted was
mine. But this attack hadn’t been
personal, whether it was aimed at me or Pkstzk.
These were hired guns, practically mercenaries. Whether they were attached to a pack with an
interest in Pkstzk’s death – possibly to end her inquiries into Vzktkk’s death
– or had just taken payment for an assassination, they were the worst sort of
evil. I live in a city full of crime,
most of it petty and profit-oriented, but murder for hire is at the top of my most
I’d pull the trigger myself, if it
came to that. If I had a trigger to
pull. I supposed I could settle for
throwing them out an eighth-story window; justice at its most poetic. To be honest, though, I hoped I’d never see
any of those egg-kickers or their like again.
Revenge fantasies aside, it was better to avoid mercenary killers
entirely rather than hunt them down yourself.
Let the constables find and punish them; I’d accept whatever method of
execution was approved. Or a life
sentence, same thing.
I supposed it was a badge of honor
that everyone else who’d ever tried to kill me was either dead or in
prison. I hadn’t made that many personal
enemies. The impersonal ones rarely
bothered enough to try and murder a nuisance PI. Like Detective Nrissilli, a private detective
was an inevitable symptom of crime. There
was no point attacking an investigator.
If a culprit wanted to stop an
investigation, they had to deal with my employer. Just offing old Stchvk would only save that
employer the credit they owed me... which they could use to hire a new PI. Even if the idea was to scare off any
investigator from taking a case, you’d have to kill two or three PIs before the
risk overrode our desire for profit (or priced the hazard pay above the
employer’s budget). In other words,
sapients in my line of work were used to a certain risk of attempted murder. Plus, there's truth to the old saying: the harder they're trying to kill you, the closer you are to the nest.
So, while getting shot at wasn’t a
rarity for me, being pursued beyond that initial awkward shootout was rare. I didn’t expect to be hunted down this time,
It was at about this point, as I
thought about armed killers coming to find me and finish the job, that I
realized I could just stand up and walk out of the room. I could even request my discharge if I so
chose, although I suspected that escape would be against doctor’s orders. First thing, I should finish up in the toilet
and make sure I could walk enough to ‘walk out’.
Once I left the stall, I took
a few more experimental steps around the room.
It still hurt, but no more than before.
With a compression band and maybe a cane or crutch for support, I
probably could hike downstairs and out to a transport stop. Doing so, right away, would probably cost me
some blood and future scarring, but that cost might be worthwhile to spare my
sanity. I had never had the luxury to
sit still and conduct business by remote; I had no patience for it now.
I was giving up a couple of other
perks: regular pain relief and a guaranteed, likely edible dinner. Those two sacrifices, alone, should tell you
how much I hated the idea of further downtime.
Besides mere freedom, there was another important need driving me out
the door: time. The longer I waited to
pursue this case, the better the killer could hide. Given the week that passed between Vzktkk’s
death and my initial investigations, a day or two might not seem
like much… but if the hotel attack was related, that meant that the case was
still hot. Someone was concerned about me and/or Pkstzk, maybe both of us.
I was willing to put up with
additional pain and hunger if it meant a better chance at some answers. I limped over to the door and found it
unlocked, as promised. Opening it showed
me a hallway somewhere on the 12th floor of Vaktrri. There was a nurses’ station about a hundred
feet away. My mealtime friend and
sleep-time tormentor wasn’t visible, but there was a Taratumm staffer at the
desk. He looked up as I hobbled down the
“Are you all right, sir?” the nurse
“Amazing. A credit to the doctors here,” I told him in a strained voice that nearly contradicted my words.
I was trying not to be
sarcastic, which was nearly as difficult as hiding the winces and gasps evoked
by my protesting wounds.
“Can I… help you?” he
persisted. His expression suggested both
that I needed all sorts of help and that he was only interested in the kinds
he could directly provide.
“I’d like to collect my
belongings. I want to be discharged as
soon as possible.” I phrased this
politely, as a preference rather than a demand.
My tone hinted that I would make life difficult for him if
he opposed my preferences.
He tried to placate me: “I’ll
notify your nurse and doctor.” He didn’t
make any move toward a ‘pad or other comm device, though.
I continued, in case he was waiting
for acknowledgement: “Please do, and soon.
I need to check on a friend’s safety.”
My added excuse was a mistake. He challenged me: “If you had immediate
concerns, couldn’t those be addressed by the constables that were in your room
earlier? I can have the officer who just
I did my best to humor the
stomper. “They told me she’s fine, but
they won’t spare an officer to protect her full time. Could you please help here? I’d like to do this the right way, rather
than storming out and undoing my surgeon’s good work."
He looked down at a wide display
set into the nursing station’s surface.
“All right, I see you’re cleared for release on your discretion…
although the doctor did recommend you stay an additional day for observation. I’ll ask that your belongings be brought here
from secure storage and notify your nurse.
Please wait in your room until we’re ready to authorize your discharge.”
I realized this response was
probably the best I would get.
Fine. Let him have his little
moment of officious power. I wondered
how many patients gave him trouble by asking to leave quickly. If I had the time, I’d have milked a stay at
Vaktrri for every day my insurance would cover.
The damage was already done in terms of my billable deductible. Every pill or meal after that was free, paid
by the City’s coffers. Normally, my
policy wouldn’t cover admission at Vaktrri, but since the constables had taken
me there, I couldn’t be blamed (or upcharged).
Anyone else who was paying higher private premiums to qualify for Vaktrri
Medical care probably wouldn’t waste their hard-earned comfort.
Then again, there might be a few
workaholics, claustrophobics, and other anxious sorts who refused to stay in
the hospital a hectad longer than necessary.
I supposed I almost fit that category.
I was asking to leave so I
could get back to work. Plus, there were
some anxieties involved. But I wasn’t
making a fuss, just asserting my option to get out and manage my healing on my
own recognizance. I just hoped
this medical bureaucrat wouldn’t delay my exit any longer than honestly
Having done my best, I turned and
slide-stepped back to my room. It was
while I opened the door to go back in that I finally registered one last
anomaly. Why hadn’t I noticed it
before? Maybe my head was sharper from
increased blood flow, upright posture, and a declining amount of medication in
my system. The weird thing was: no
Almost every other time I had been
admitted to the hospital, the first thing they did was start an IV. Whether putting in blood, antibiotics, or
just rehydrating saline, IVs were SOP for EMTs and other medical
responders. I was pretty sure they had
installed a line back in the ambulance.
Why, then, had I woken up without one?
I didn’t even have a bandage, a wound, or a sore spot from an intravenous needle. Surely, after my wounds and surgery, I
had needed some transfusion of fluids? I
was fairly sure antibiotics were called for after major injuries, even as
relatively minor of major injuries as I had sustained.
I didn’t feel dehydrated… or infected, for that matter. It was possibly I’d already been thoroughly
pumped with whatever I needed before I woke up. Maybe Vaktrri had gotten just that advanced
that they could manage without older techniques like a tube in your arm. Maybe the doctor was bright enough to
recognize that I didn’t need an IV and respected enough to override standard
orders. But maybe the omission was due
to oversight. Maybe it was neglect; when
the constables had ordered ‘no painkiller’, someone might have detached the IV,
then forgot to bring it back later. In
that case, I was fortunate I hadn’t suffered from the absence.
Whatever the reason, I hadn’t had
to dance with an IV stand when going to the bathroom or exiting my room, for which
I was grateful. I just hoped I wouldn’t
pay for that minor liberty with a dehydration headache or anemic shakes,
I sat back on my bed, trying to
wait patiently. I’d give them… some
reasonable amount of time. Without a
clock, viewscreen, or compad in my room, I had no way to measure time
exactly. I expected that I’d be anxious
and bored after maybe half an hour, so that would do as a deadline.
I never reached that level of
discomfort. I hadn’t even gotten
comfortable again, yet, when the door opened and my Hrotata nurse arrived.
He looked me over with rhetorical
exaggeration, taking equally theatrical notes on his service compad. I watched him and avoided spoiling his act
with an interruption. I did tilt my head
from side to side like an audience
rapt with attention to a performer.
Finally, he looked up from his
records and told me, “I wish I could find a good reason to keep you. All I’ve got is a warning that your arm and
leg wounds could reopen if you strain them too much. You’d be safer here, especially with me
checking your readings, but there’s nothing potentially fatal about you resting
up at home... quietly. That is, provided you get
there in a well-cushioned vehicle. Do
you have anyone there to change your dressings?”
I’m sort of hoping to use these bandages for sympathy, see if I can persuade
a certain female to take care of me.
That was the ‘friend’ I mentioned to your co-worker. You know, she rebandages my back, I guard
hers…” I offered an eyeroll and click to
sell the friendly joke.
looked serious, though. “I hope you
really do have a friend. If you leave
those pads on to fester, you’ll be back here with blood infections… if you’re
lucky. You’re a native, right? You know how the microbes are here. You don’t stay clean, you pay the price.”
what he meant. Spore wasn’t just a
clever name for the planet. Our lush world was home to a profusion of unicellular
detritus: actual spores, pollens, bacteria, and a few unique parasitic
microbes. No few of those organisms
would relish a foothold in my exposed flesh.
Most would be suppressed by a decent antibiotic - and I planned to fill
that prescription along with the best painkiller they’d allow me – but letting
my dressings sit and get foul would give the crawlies too much advantage for an
antibiotic to overcome.
came to that, I’d drag myself to the neighborhood emergency clinic for
maintenance. It’d cost a bit, but not as
much as hiring an in-home nurse. It still
wouldn’t be as costly as sitting around the
hospital, if you counted values beyond credit.
summarized these thoughts to the nurse by replying, “Understood. Yes, I have someone to help me. I’ll follow the discharge instructions. No offense to your excellent work. If it wasn’t urgent…”
squinted at me as he interjected, “…you’d stick around and wait for the next
constable visit. No, I understand. I overheard a little about your
business. Well, good luck. I hope we won’t be seeing you again
soon… er, I mean, in the hospital. Don’t
end up dead, either.”
managed to recover without stammering. I
respected that. His discomfort showed
that he did care, despite his hints that I wanted to leave for less-than-noble
reasons. He could think whatever he
wanted, provided he hurried up my discharge.
right, here’s the form,” he obliged, showing me his compad screen. The illuminated document thereupon ran to
several pages of text. I made a show of
reading it like any other legal release form, which was to say I skimmed the
headers and ignored the rest. I was
taking my chances, the hospital wasn’t to blame for any harm I caused myself by
this choice, and so forth. I was a
little late to be risk averse. I
scrolled to the bottom of the document and signed the screen with a claw tip.
was a second signature required, releasing information to my insurer for
payment and accepting charges. Seeing
that hurt more than my injuries. The
deductible would eat half of my remaining credit, by itself. I could claim it as damages if they caught
and convicted my shooters, but I’d gladly lose that much if they died first. Frost, I'd pay that much to ensure they
were dead… Ssss, hypocrite. Pay
who? A contract killer?
that, we were done. The nurse, whom I
finally found out was named Thrisstil, wished me well and confirmed that my
belongings were being delivered upstairs.
I could wait by the elevators if I wanted, although he recommended
taking advantage of my hospital bed just a few decads longer.
obliged him that much. No point in
compounding the strain on my leg. I sat
patiently, tediously, while the circuits of medical bureaucracy cycled. I tried to be grateful that everything was
now networked and integrated, with no paperwork to shuffle; I was only waiting
on the organic processors to do their part.
the nurse returned with a plastic crate.
Inside were my compad and my tattered armor. Since I wasn’t excited about going outside in
my patient robes, I chose to risk the armor.
The back plate was tattered, of course, and the left greave shredded,
but the anterior pieces were only scuffed, mostly from my landing. There was enough intact for basic propriety,
even if I would look like… well, someone who had been shot. I chose to think of the look as ‘wounded
soldier’ rather than ‘mugging victim’.
stepped out to let me get dressed. Once
I was done there, I woke up my compad. A
handful of messages were waiting for me, among them the note with Detective
Nrissilli’s contact info. There was also
a formal issuance from law enforcement regarding my detention, another about my
release, and a third spelling out my status: restricted from travel out of
Layafflr City until further notice and forbidden from any activity pursuant to
investigating the murder of Vzktkk.
To my surprise, there was also a
short video message from Tskksk. She
apologized for missing my earlier calls and reassured me that she was just
staying busy, not avoiding me or in any trouble. That was nice to know, although since her
call was now eleven hours old, its reassurances were slightly dated.
And there was a message from my
landlord reminding me that rent was due.
Great. One more expense to
deplete my remaining credits. It seemed
inevitable that I would return to bankruptcy, one way or another. My only choice was the route by which I arrived.
I typed back a response to the
detective to acknowledge receipt and included that I’d heard from Tskksk. I also reminded her of her permission to
contact the tech store owner, an option I intended to exercise. I didn’t notify the detective of my
intention to call Pkstzk.
I figured that since our
relationship – at least the employer-employee version – was already exposed, I
could get away with a live call.
Hopefully, Pkstzk would agree with my reasoning and answer. Still, I wanted to wait until I was safely
away from the hospital and any prying ears before calling. For all I knew, nurse Thrisstil was reporting
back to Nrissilli. The big detective might have persuaded
the young male to track my activities; she had more to flash at him than just her
walked out of the room and down the hall, then past the unstaffed floor
station. My pace was slow due to
caution. Both the stitches and my pain
tolerance were holding well. Eventually,
I’d need to get off my feet, not to mention pick up and take my
medications. Assuming the hospital
submitted the authorizations properly, I should be able to claim my antibiotics
and analgesics at any networked pharmacy.
it to the elevator, down to the lobby, and out the doors before I allowed
myself to believe that I was free. For
some reason, the whole time, I had been expecting someone to rush up behind and
order me back to the room, perhaps even to tie me down again. This paranoia struck me as odd. Granted, paranoia is my default state, but
usually I reserve my fears for bigger hazards: death, injury, unexpected
expenses, public humiliation, and the like.
Spending extra time in the hospital wasn’t exactly a frightening
fear, I realized as I lumbered down the sidewalk, came from my urgency to
resolve this tangled situation. I had
gone beyond wanting to protect Pkstzk and myself. I needed answers. Too many unexplainable circumstances were piling
up lately. They might not all be
connected, but solving this case would at least clear away whichever oddities were its fault. Then I could get to work solving whatever
situation had produced the other anomalies, like my memory difficulties and erratic sleep patterns.
public aircar station was located, logically, on the grounds of the medical
center. By now, the surge of familiarity
I experienced when approaching the kiosk was itself a familiar experience. Seeing the adjacent public comm booth evoked
a dim feeling of amusement and revelation, without being actually amusing or
revealing. I rented a ‘car, barely
feeling the sting of one more credit drain.
the station, I stopped at a pharmacy and picked up my waiting pills. I took the recommended dosages immediately, assuming I
had already waited sufficiently long since the hospital gave me anything. I kept the aircar waiting while I shopped, then
dragged myself back inside when I was done.
The hold cost more, but I had few alternatives if I wanted to spare
myself unnecessary walking distance.
it was time to go home. I was tempted to
visit Tskksk in Isstravil or go looking for Pkstzk, but I knew my condition was
too poor – both physically and legally – to take such risks. At the least, I shouldn’t venture out without
a plan. I could still place calls from
home. Calling either female, or anyone
else connected to Vzktkk’s case, was still against constables’ orders, but it
would take them longer to notice that offense than if I traveled somewhere
forbidden in person.
the aircar ride from uptown to my neighborhood was a lengthy one, I decided to
use the time unwisely. I searched out
Pkstzk’s number. Maybe it was the drugs
kicking in, maybe just my short patience, but I hardly considered the risk
involved in calling my confederate immediately after getting my compad
back. I hadn’t even searched it for
monitoring devices or software. Then
again, if the law was going to such lengths, it wouldn’t scruple at bugging my
apartment, tapping the call remotely, or indulging any of a hundred other
surveillance tricks. I was good at
avoiding physical security measures, but I was no adept at virtual stealth.
There was no
answer to my call. Pkstzk’s unavailability kept me
out of further trouble, at least. I left
a message letting her know what had happened: I got to the hotel, some armed
Vislin tried to kill me, I escaped then was arrested and taken to the hospital,
I was out of the hospital in surprisingly good shape, and now I was resting up,
worrying about her safety, and hoping she could please call and reassure me she was alive. Also, if she didn’t mind stopping by and
filling me in on all the background details of this case I was no longer
officially working, that would be great, thanks and goodbye.
exhausting for a voice message. I felt
fatigue piling on top of me as the aircar covered the last few miles to my home. When it signaled arrival and opened the door,
I could barely haul myself out and stagger through the building’s entrance. As I pulled myself up the stairs serially, I
wondered how long I would sleep this time.
Half a day? An entire day? Or would the pain wake me early?
reached my door before I thought to pull out my card key. I checked the slit pocket in my armor where I
usually kept the key along with my PI license and ident. The other cards were there, but the key was
missing. I was certain I couldn’t have dropped
it, even with all the jostling I’d had.
Someone must have removed it. But
why? To search my apartment? There wouldn’t be anything interesting
there. Anyone who knew me would know I
didn’t have any valuables to steal, other than my compad and heater, and those
would be on my person if I was out.
Besides, if they’d taken my key card while it was in constabulary
custody, they could have taken the other items already.
idea was to wait for me inside the apartment, then the door would be unlocked –
or else I couldn’t get in – and that
would be suspicious. On a sudden hunch,
I checked the other slit pocket on
the armor’s opposite side. There was the
keycard. So someone had taken it out and
replaced it on the wrong side. Possibly
an innocent mistake while the detective went through my possessions. Possibly, a telling mistake for someone who
used the card and put it back, wanting
me to come home without noticing anything.
tested my door: locked. That didn’t mean
there wasn’t another hit squad waiting inside, watching for me to unlock the
door and enter. I could oblige them, I
could just stand in the hall, or I could go somewhere else… but where? How foolish would I look, getting spooked
over nothing? Besides, I was really tired. The possibility of danger had perked me up
some, but there was no certainty that I could get to the local aircar station
without dropping unconscious on the sidewalk.
I might be able to crash at a neighbor’s apartment – one of the few I
trusted – but that was just postponing the inevitable. I didn’t have enough reason to call the
Inside, then. If I was still armed, I’d have
drawn Rtrtr before turning the latch. As
it was, I rotated the lever slowly, standing close to the door as I slid it
open a crack. My idea was to look
and listen through that gap, ready to jump back at the first sign of presence
or motion. Instead, my warning came
from the door itself.
entered and exited my own door thousands of times. I had a certain familiarity with its range of
motion and its sticking points. This time, I encountered
resistance at an atypical point as I pushed the door open. That, plus my heightened nerves, was enough
to send me stumbling backwards.
reaction turned out to be exactly correct.
A concussion wave of force and flame hurled my apartment door against
its frame and buckled it outward. Only
my distance and the barrier itself spared me from a
crippling impact. As it was, the blast
was merely agonizing. The punch from the
explosion threw me across the hall, revisiting the earlier shotgun blast,
as my back slammed into the opposite wall and rattled my wounds.
When I landed, my torn leg gave out and I
toppled to the floor. My face and hands
stung from the heat of the flash, but didn’t feel worse than first-degree
burns. I couldn’t hear anything after
the initial roar, which meant I’d been deafened, but at least my eardrums hadn’t
been perforated. Believe me, a Vislin
knows when their sensitive ears have been traumatized. That I was still conscious confirmed that I
wasn’t experiencing the pain of a burst eardrum.
also been spared shrapnel wounds from the bursting door. The few shards of hardwood that had flown
past were fairly large, and any smaller pieces bounced off my
armor. I wasn’t having generally good
luck, but my recently acquired talent for avoiding serious injury seemed to be
holding. The non-serious injuries were
still enough to keep me flat on the floor, gasping. If I hadn't been so stunned, I might have been
frenzying down the stairs. I hurt more
than the pain medications could manage.
flickering light from inside my apartment caught my attention. Oh, it was burning. That was bad.
Among other unpleasant meanings, a fire meant that I couldn’t keep lying in
the hallway. Fire would hurt a lot.
recent or more expensive building would have fire suppression systems, ending
any serious blaze within seconds. Even
this stack of shacks had fire reducing materials in the walls and sprinklers in
the halls. At worst, my apartment would
be engulfed but the neighbors would be spared.
They still might inhale the smoke, though. I needed to sound an alarm. Actually, the explosion already should have
alerted everyone to the danger. I needed to get up and out of the
Evacuate. That was the word. My already abused brain was definitely having
problems with basic functions… like standing up. I lifted myself to hands and knees three
times and collapsed twice, before staying halfway upright.
turned out the effort was moot. By that time,
my upstairs neighbors, a small, young Vislin pack, descended enough to spot
me. I was privileged to see their
expressions as they looked from my battered body to my shattered door. I’m sure they weren’t surprised to identify
my apartment as the source of the explosion.
I hadn’t often taken business home like this, but they knew me as a PI. To most citizens, that meant a trouble-seeking idiot.
they couldn’t reconcile was the fact that not only was I hurt, I was already bandaged. I probably looked like I’d come prepared to
be blown up. Considering that the damage
to my armor was on the back, but my burns were on the front, I would have been thrown off at first
to their character, the kids didn’t pause long to think. One, a slight male in slick synthetic armor,
stooped to pick me up by the unbandaged arm.
They might have said something to me.
Maybe they were talking to one another.
I couldn’t hear at all and couldn’t see well either, but their beaks were moving. I could smell smoke and see the haze
starting to obscure the air. I did my
best to assist as my rescuers hauled me toward the stairs, the one on my arm
and another hoisting me by the waist.
hurried downstairs as fast as the group could manage and spilled out onto the
street. Still thinking smart, the pack
crossed the street, my old carcass in tow.
It was unlikely the fire would spread or that anything else would explode in
our building, but better to be safe. Not
knowing the reason for the sabotage, these citizens might be leery about
What was the reason for this attack? This time, I was certain I was the
target. But why? As I slumped down against the building wall
where my rescuers settled me, I tried to summon enough awareness to decipher
this new danger. Why try to kill me?
Usually, when someone tried to kill me, I was getting close to something
sensitive. I didn’t know
what I was close to, though. What did I
know that was worth killing over? What
might I eventually know if I kept prying?
I didn’t even know what this case was about, aside from murder.
due to my association with Pkstzk? With
Pack Vzzrk? Was this attack set up because I’d stumbled
onto and/or foiled the ambush intended for Pkstzk at Taburket’s? Or was this bombing entirely unrelated to my
current case? Was it somehow related to my previous case? A bomb was worse than a memory gap or a
sleeping problem, but only by a matter of degree.
it was the new trauma, the old wounds, my situational narcolepsy, or some
combination of all three, my internal processing ended there. I passed out, relieved of duty once again.