17 - SCHEDULED MAINTENANCE
New Hong Kong
"...so that's the situation," said captain Tanaka. "The sooner you solve this crime, the better."
"Okay, just to make sure I got this right," said Pearson. "First I have to get a list of the Wolvencrofts' political enemies, starting with underground betting circles in Netball."
"And then I have to look for the robomaid and capture her if possible."
"And if it turns out neither suspect was involved, investigate any shady business going on in the Mandela district and good fucking luck with that."
The captain chuckled. "I couldn't have put it in better words, detective. Let me be honest with you; this case is a hot potato. Lady Emerson is the kind of person who demands results even if it rains or spears fall."
"Yeah, I can imagine."
"Yes, one question in particular," said Pearson. "Do you really have no idea what the girl was doing on the ground?"
"No idea. That's your job now, detective!" said captain Tanaka before lighting an e-cig.
"Any hints? Don't you have any informants that could at least tell me what kind of stuff was going on in there?"
"That corresponds to the 24th - and just in case you ask, they said that nothing strange happened in the last two weeks."
"Nothing? Nothing at all?"
The captain exhaled a puff of vapor. "Either the informants don't know, or the 24th is deep in it."
"What about the street cams?"
"Nothing. Now there's something funny. There's a surveillance camera right in front of the alley where the body was found."
"What do you mean nothing?"
"Absolutely nothing. In fact that's the first question Holmes asked."
"Let me check that out again."
"So, nothing suspicious at all?"
"Nothing. The first suspicious movement in the last two weeks was a kid digging in the garbage, freaking out and that's when the 24th arrived to the crime scene."
Pearson rubbed his chin. "That doesn't make any sense."
"What do you mean?"
"If there's a camera pointing at that alley 25-7, how come it didn't find the murderer dragging the body there? Did it just appear by magic?"
The captain shrugged.
"I'd like some footage for that camera," said Pearson. "Two months long, if you could do me the favor?"
"Two months, huh? What do you expect to find?"
"Well, detective, two months is a long time. I'll allow it, just in case, but... have fun staring at hours of housewives throwing out the trash."
"Hmm.... what about the garbage truck?"
"Every single morning, at ten zero hours, the truck arrives and collects the trash. Like clockwork."
"Android-driven. Ten zero hours with zero seconds, and sometimes earlier, but never late."
Harris whistled. "Wish we had androids taking the trash back home, eh, Pearson?"
"Speak for yourself, Harris, I prefer people. Captain, I'd like a list of the drivers in the last month, please."
"So you're suspecting the androids, huh?"
"It's my first suspicion. Did I tell you about my last experience working for Kahazaki?"
The captain waved his hand in refusal. "No need, I can imagine. We'll contact you when we have the data."
"Thank you, captain."
"Is that all you need?"
"For now, yes."
"Well," said captain Tanaka, "it seems you got a plan already. Oh - before you go..."
The captain took a sealed envelope from his drawer.
"Lord Wakefield wants you to meet the family, so they know who they're putting in charge of the investigation. But since you just left the hospital today, he wanted to give you some time to rest. They'll be waiting for your call tomorrow."
"Also.... Lord Wakefield prepared this for you," he added, giving the envelope to Pearson. "He says you might need this for your investigations - and get some decent clothing. Surely you're not presenting yourself in front of a Victorian family with that third class suit, are you?"
"Harris, is my suit really that bad?"
"Well..." said Harris, with a disappointed look in his face, "let's just say it reflects your budget."
"Fine, fine, I'll buy something new." Pearson shook the envelope and heard a light metallic noise. "May I?"
"Be my guest!" replied the captain.
Pearson opened the envelope by pulling its little plastic tape, then started taking the items one by one.
The first, a credit card with Pearson's name on it. Not gold, not platinum, but rhodium - the most expensive credit card on the entire planet. Both Pearson and Harris stared at it. Pearson had only seen rhodium credit cards in movies; now he was holding one with his own hands.
"Just remember it's monitored, you'll have to answer for every credit spent to Lord Emerson himself."
"No, no no. Please don't call me sir, I'm not your superior."
"Sorry, sir. I mean - captain." Pearson immediately scanned the QR and activated the number in his implants. He put it in his wallet.
The second item, a golden badge - also with his name on it - with a QR code and a sexy female silhouette.
"Hello... what's this?"
Pearson immediately remembered a scene from a Noir movie where the detective found a matchbox on the crime scene, and the match box led him to the club to investigate. "Captain, why would I need this? Is one of the suspects a regular?"
"He didn't tell. You might want to explore the place before investigating. Become a regular, who knows. Maybe you'll learn something sooner or later."
Pearson winced. "You're saying it like you don't expect the case to be solved soon."
The captain exhaled another puff of vapor. "You're sharp, kid, I'll give you that. Judging from experience, I say it'll take you at least two years; maybe one if you're lucky."
"That bad, huh?"
Pearson kept fiddling with the golden pass. "Hmmm..."
Harris whistled. "Those are expensive! Did he leave one for me?"
"No. Only for detective Pearson, I'm afraid."
"Don't worry, Harris, as long as you come with me, they'll let you in."
"For real? Well, I'm starting to like this plan," he said smirking.
The three men chuckled at the same time; Pearson and Harris bumped fists. Pearson also put the pass in his wallet.
The third item was a picture of a naked girl with bat wings, smiling and winking at the camera. The picture was just about to show everything but it got cut at the bottom - like any good sex club promo; always leave them wanting for more.
Harris whistled. "Look at that babe! Who is she?"
Pearson flipped the photo. It had a lipstick kiss and a signature drawn with purple ink. "For a good time, ask for Elizabetha. Only on Venus." Pearson chuckled. "Just like in the movies." He started to wonder if this wasn't an elaborate prank, but the Jensen-Yamaha heart beating inside his chest told him it couldn't possibly be a prank. There was just too much money involved. Just the thought of this being real made him feel like he had just won the lottery - a murder case, a beautiful girl working in an ill-reputed club, this couldn't be real. Instantly he had a thought: What if this was just a dream? A recreation made up by his brain implants? Please don't, please don't, he thought. He quickly dismissed the thought.
The next thing, another sealed envelope, reading "For your eyes only." He opened it and took out a handwritten letter; the calligraphy was top notch; nothing less to expect from a neo Victorian. He scanned it and showed it to Harris. "You got that, Harris?"
"Captain, do you have a shredder around?"
Pearson set it to the finest level and shredded the letter. "And finally..." He took a last glimpse at the big envelope and turned it around. A tiny plastic container fell on the desk.
"That's the key for your car," said the captain. "Lady Emerson said not to spare a single cent in regards to this investigation, so they're providing you the best high speed pursuit vehicle available. Just in case you need to catch some augmented criminals like you did this morning."
Pearson opened the little plastic package and let the key fall on his palm.
"Pearson!" shouted Harris. "Is that..."
Both Pearson and Harris kept staring at the key, whose logo was unmistakable: a black stallion standing on its hind legs over a yellow background, below three horizontal lines: Green, white and red.
Harris and Pearson looked at each other and grinned.
A few minutes later
Harris could hardly contain his excitement. "Testarossa Novo. 821 HP multiple-rotor induction with quadruple redundant capacitor array, four-wheel drive, collapsible back seats, convertible roof, dynamic paint with more than 50 preloaded designs, immersive sound system, can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 2.17 seconds!"
He leaned forward almost to touch it... almost. "This is my dream car, Pearson! I've always wanted this!"
Pearson kept staring at the impecable paint job. "Now it'd be perfect if it were bulletproof."
An elegant British voice spoke from inside the car. "That is correct, sir. This unit has been reinforced for police work. Additionally, it has been equipped with sixteen armed minidrones as a backup system."
"Can I drive, Pearson? Can I drive? Please? Please? Please?"
Pearson looked at Harris for a second. "Wait a sec, Harris, didn't you just tell me you broke your car this morning because you tried to tweak it?"
"Aw, Pearson, c'mon!"
"Okay, but we go get the suits first."
14:10 hrs local time
The android attendant was helping Pearson get dressed in his new detective suit.
"Is that fine, sir?"
"Yes, I think that's fine."
"Wait, your tie is uneven. Let me fix it."
Pearson hesitated, but the android lady was too fast. She made a knot and proceeded to put it around Pearson's neck. As she was doing it, she began caressing his hair.
"Is the caressing necessary, miss?"
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir", she replied. "I forgot for a second that my duties aren't sexual anymore."
"You're an eroid?"
"No, sir, but all biomimetic androids are anatomically capable of sex."
"It's part of our specifications."
"Weren't you made by Prometheus?"
"No, sir. I was made by Hermes manufacturing, Android division, now decommissioned. Hestia series 110."
"Ah, I see. Thank you."
Pearson looked at her through the mirror. She certainly was beautiful, but doing it with an android just like that felt... wrong. And he'd rather have Kimiko in his bed. Or... Inoue.
Harris approached him, wearing a suit with flower patterns that was perfectly balanced between casual and elegant. "You were totally right, Pearson! Clothes make the man, right? How do I look?"
"Hey, you're dressing old school! Wait, all you need is a bogart on your head and you're done."
"Oh shut up, Harris."
"What?" he shrugged.
"Harris, I don't want to look like a Chinese gangster!"
"But it looks cool, man..."
It was some sort of tragedy that the Chinese Mafia adopted the 1930s as their fashion; now, instead of thinking of characters like Philip Marlowe, Cole Phelps or Sam Spade, people would see those clothes and think of infamous criminals like Chen Tao or Johnny Zhang (thank you, Channel Six). Still, Pearson couldn’t resist the temptation of wearing that fine silk vest and necktie. And deep inside he did want to wear that fedora.
"Would that be all, sir?" asked the android.
"I'll take two, different colors."
"Wait, Pearson. Ask for seven. One for each day of the week."
"Isn't that too expensive?"
"Two words: Rhodium. Card. You don't wanna miss an appointment because your suit's in the laundry, do you?"
Pearson grinned. "Alright, Harris. You win. Make it seven, different color combinations."
"What about the shoes, sir?"
"Ah, just three pairs."
"I also want one suit per day!"
"Very well, sirs, wait a minute and I'll find your clothes."
A few minutes later and the android gave Pearson and Harris their bags of clothes.
"Anything else, sir?"
"That should be all, thank you." Pearson presented his rhodium credit card. As the android took it, Pearson noticed a band-aid in her arm. It had a dark red stain inside. "Miss, I think you need to change your band-aid."
Pearson looked as the android changed it. The cut was something that a human would definitely want to get checked with a doctor. It wasn't just a scratch.
"What happened, if you don't mind?"
"I cut my hand during a small accident this morning. Don't worry about it, sir, no humans were harmed."
Pearson pressed his lips together. "I see. Better drink some android juice to speed up that healing."
"Thank you, sir. Have a nice day."
>> Pearson. Need anything?
> There's a tailor android with a rather nasty cut in her arm in the department store at my location. [link] She says it was an accident, but I don't buy it.
>> You think it was an attack?
> I'm pretty sure there's a Luddite in here. Better check it out before one of the androids here go crazy and start retaliating.
>> I'll send two undercover agents right away. Thank you, Pearson.
Pearson got dizzy for a second. His mind began conjuring images of rogue androids, shootouts in a storm... and the jaws of a sea dragon opening before him.
"Pearson, you look a bit tense. Something wrong?"
"Just the usual, don't worry." Pearson touched the bandages around his chest cut. He felt a sharp pain near his left ribs. Or did he imagine it? "I hope I don't have nightmares today."
"How many concepts did you download?"
"More than twenty."
Harris cringed for a bit. "Well, good luck, man. Hey, scenic route, remember?"
"Oh yeah! Scenic route!"
"Hong Kong coast highway, here we go!"
"Well, young lady?" asked Jane, tapping her finger on the table. "Mind explaining this?"
"Uh... it was just a promo for one of the shows we had..."
"A live sex show."
"But it was consensual and everything!"
"That's not what worries me. Bethany, I want you to be sincere with me. This woman... Clarise... does she have sex with other customers?"
Beth looked down, and her wings contracted. "Uh... yes..."
"So she is a prostitute."
"And you have sex with her regularly."
"... but we always get checked! I swear! And I always take antivirals before sex! I'm not stupid, da!"
"I know you're not. But I'm worried about you."
Bethany looked away, half ashamed, half bitter. Twenty seconds passed; twenty seconds that felt like an eternity.
"Bethany, do you love her?"
Bethany tensed her lips, and nodded.
Jane sighed. "At least tell me she was born on this planet."
Bethany closed her eyes; she couldn't speak.
"Bethany Michaels... you fell in love with a Terran??? Of all things, a Terran???"
"I'm sorry! These things happen, okay? It's not like I chose to fall in love with her! It's just that she was so nice to me, and caring..."
At first..., she wanted to add.
"How old is she?"
"So almost forty. And Terran."
"You know that in less than twenty years she's going to become old and wrinkled, don't you?"
"Well, Beth... I know that no matter what I tell you, you'll end up disobeying anyway. Doing whatever you want, no matter the consequences. Just promise me that you WILL think about the consequences, okay? You're twenty three already. I don't want you to spend the next fifty years - the most important fifty years of your life living with someone who will die with dozens of health problems, medical expenses, and god forbid, dementia, or cancer, or something!"
"I know, okay? I know!!! And I'm sure she's aware of that, too! That's why she spends so much in youth treatments!"
"And you think they'll work?"
"She's saving up to get a skin graft... and maybe a stomach... a new intestine..." As she kept enumerating the new organs her girlfriend was planning to buy, her voice became quieter and quieter. "...and new lungs... and a new liver..."
"Oh - speaking of, tomorrow morning you're getting your immune system upgraded."
"I already got my boost five months ago, remember?"
"I'm not talking about vaccines, Bethany. I'm talking about upgrading your spleen. If you're going to have regular sex with a prostitute, you better get a good immune system."
"Oh, Jesus. Have you browsed any models, at least?"
"A five thousand??? Are you kidding??? You know how many months of rent that will cost?"
"That's taken care of. Your grandparents are paying."
"What, did they win the lottery or something?"
"Not my parents, Bethany. The Emersons."
Bethany blinked twice. "What?"
"The Emersons summoned me to their estate today. By the way, they want us to go live with them."
Bethany stood up all of a sudden. "YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO ME!!!"
"Bethany, please, calm down..."
"CALM DOWN??? Those bastards... they don't give a damn about our life for more than twenty years, and suddenly they get to decide who I can date, or where I'm supposed to live??? That's BULLSHIT!!!"
"At least let me explain!"
"NO! I'm not going to the citadels to live with a bunch of billionaire snobs! Are they going to tell me how to dress? How to speak? Who I'm allowed to hang out with? That's not the life I want!"
Bethany stood up and stormed out of the apartment while Jane walked after her. "Bethany, just let me explain! Bethany!!!"
Bethany got in the elevator. "Gym. Now."
Bethany walked with her fists clenched directly into the boxing room. The coach kept repeating. "Now front kick, left punch. I wanna hear ya!"
"One more time!"
Beth didn't even pay attention to what Talos was saying. She just walked past him and straight into the punching bag.
She started punching straight with ler right hand and gave it an uppercut with her left. A side punch to the face, one to the stomach with the left. She was livid. She wiped her tears with her arm. "Of all the days," she spoke between her teeth, "she had! To choose! This!" She kept kicking and punching until both her arms and feet began to hurt. She rested for twenty seconds to catch her breath and began punching again.
"Tired of punching like a baby yet?"
She sniffed her tears and stared at Talos. She was furious, but not at him.
"Wanna blow some more steam?"
She didn't even nod, she climbed up straight to the boxing ring.
Talos took off his jacket, revealing a body full of tribal tattoos on his blood-red skin. Those weren't decorative, each one described a feat he had done in his youth. On his left arm there were tattoos depicting feral bugs and mid-size dinos. On the right there were groups of warriors armed with swords and spears. One group had guns. On his chest was the silhouette of a sea dragon forming some kind of spiraly s-shape.
Talos finished putting on his boxing gloves and punched them together twice. "This time I'll pull no punches."
Bethany replied with the same gesture. As soon as Talos raised his guard she began attacking with a spinning kick. He blocked perfectly and countered with another spinning kick. She dodged.
"Come on," he shouted, "you can do better than that!"
She yelled. She began delivering straight punches at his face, then kept hitting the arms, then the stomach.
"Do you want to defeat me or are you just going to treat me like another punching bag?"
He kicked her groin; she fell. He took two steps back. "Remember, Bethany! Bad guys play dirty!"
She jumped and directed a kick at his face; he grabbed the foot and pulled backwards; both fell to the floor, but Bethany rolled.
"Try to use your head more, girl," he said. "You'll get more hits that way."
Bastard. She hated to admit she was wrong, but he was telling the truth.
"Cool that head", he said, throwing some jabs and kicks at her. "Analyze your opponent. Check out his patterns. Attack his blind spots. Well, what are you waiting for?"
She waited for the right moment and attacked with another kick, but retreated at the last second. She dropped herself to the ground and kicked the back of his knees. He stumbled; she landed a hit on his cheek.
"Now that's more like it! Now it's my turn!"
He launched himself at her and aimed for her belly; she barely managed to block, but was knocked back by the hit.
"Fuck." She began her attacks again, starting with short jabs. She was fast; Talos needed to watch her movements and dodged them.
"Aren't you forgetting something?" he asked.
"That giant weak spot you have!"
Before she knew it Talos threw himself at her feet and grabbed her tail. He pulled, throwing her off balance. She managed to recover, but not fast enough. Talos finished with a kick to the stomach and she was on her knees, gasping for air.
"What happened, girl?"
She couldn't take it anymore; she started crying and sobbing.
"Come 'ere, girl. Come 'ere."
"It's not fair!" she cried. "It's not fair!!! I don't want to go up there!!!"
Talos removed his gloves and then hers.
"Easy, girl, easy."
"I don't want to leave the ground", she said, crying, "I don't want to!"
"Easy, girl. Easy. You're not leaving the ground. You're not leaving the ground, I'll take care of that."
She hugged him until she calmed down.
"Now wash yourself, Beth, and we'll talk, okay?"
Beth nodded. She stood up and went to the restrooms. She didn't want to look at her face; all her tears would make her look pathetic. She washed as thoroughly as she could and dried herself with a paper towel. When she looked at her eyes she realized they had turned yellow.
"Oh, fuck me."
She had forgotten that emotional plugin that made her eyes turn from blue to yellow whenever she went furious. She had probably spooked out the entire karate class. Well, what's done's done. She took a few deep breaths and turned on her alpha-wave gen. Her eyes went blue again, but the mood gauge below her left eye was still in the "F" mark. Again.
"So..." said Talos, "I'm guessing you spoke with your dad."
"And she told you that your grandparents wanted to take you up."
"And you failed to listen to everything else and came down here."
"So you didn't even give her time to tell you why that happened."
"No, but I can guess."
"Oh? Well," he added, "I think there was a tiny communication problem there on both parts. But humor me," he added, crossing his arms. "Tell."
"She found a promo poster from the club."
"Oh? Hmm... so that's how she started the conversation." He chuckled. "Yeah I can imagine now. What poster, exactly?"
"A promo for a live sex show."
"The one with you and that Japanese woman, Clarise?"
"Yeah, that one."
"The woman who can never get her finances in order? The woman you've been sleeping with despite all my warnings?"
Beth slumped her shoulders and wings as she hung her head.
"Anyway, Bethany, this is NOT about the club, the live sex shows, or even your so-called 'girlfriend'."
"No, it has nothing to do with that."
"Then why did she start with that?"
"You know your father; she sucks at communicating. Now are we going to dwell in the same old bullshit or do you really want to know what this shit is about?"
"Okay, what is it about, then?"
"It's about your aunt."
"Your mother's sister, Lady Catherine Emerson."
"Wait... this is wolf business, isn't it?"
"Finally! Now you're starting to see the scope of the problem."
"What happened with my aunt?"
"Something bad. Bad enough that it made the Emersons panic and want to snatch you from the ground, and trust me, Victorians don't take these decisions on a whim."
"It's bad, isn't it?"
"Bethany, look at me in the eyes, because this is very serious. Probably more serious than all your life problems combined. Your aunt was murdered. Here, on the ground."
"Nasty business. Your father asked me not to tell you, but given the circumstances I'm not gonna spare you the details. She was killed in the slums. Maybe even the same slums you use to visit with your avatar."
"Shit. How did that happen?"
"Nobody knows, that's for the cops to find out. What I can tell you is this: Her body was found in a dumpster; naked and bagged. Knife through the heart, right here," he said, pointing at his chest.
Bethany couldn't believe it. A Victorian? In the slums? Naked and killed?
"Oh god. She wasn't raped, was she?"
"I don't know, the cops are investigating but they haven't let out any details."
Bethany looked down. "Shit."
"Are you sure you can work?" asked Talos. "You can just skip work for the next few weeks, at least until the crime's solved, your know?"
"No. I have to work. I need to save as much money as possible."
Talos winced. "Why? Don't tell me you're planning to run away or something, because that would the most stupid thing you could do right now. Especially right now."
"No, of course not!"
"Then? Home told me you went to the citadels to buy something. I let down my guard, but then I checked and your GPS told me you weren't in OUR citadels. You were in a birdcage. A fucking birdcage, Bethany. Can you imagine how I felt? Knowing you're lost, in a birdcage? The same week that your aunt got killed? Do you want to give me a heart attack?"
"I had to take a sky cab to follow your coordinates, spend a month of rent to bribe the fucking security guards, get to your floor, take another sky cab because you were moving again, follow you back, witness a police chase, and finally thank the heavens that you returned safe and sound.
I know you can go to the weirdest places to fuck older women whenever you feel lonely, but a birdcage hooker does not pilot a flying Lamborghini with a gun strapped to her belt. Who the hell was that woman?"
Beth sighed. "It's a long story..."
"I have all the time in the world."
"Well, it started this morning... I was with the gang..."
"We were going to protest at a political campaign..."
Talos closed his eyes and clenched his fists.
"Please tell me it was only a protest."
"Well, actually it was more like sabotage..."
Talos rested his face on both palms.
Bethany went on. "...and I kinda... got in trouble with the law..."
Talos grunted. "How deep was this trouble?"
"Like... the deepest..."
"Just TELL ME you're not in jail right now. Because if they took any biometrics, it's game over for you."
"No, no! They didn't catch me."
"Ah.... Thank goodness."
"But one of the cops saw my face up close..."
"Don't worry! We knocked him out and wiped his cache! Completely clean!"
Talos sighed and stood up. "Okay, that gives me more questions than answers. Who is 'we'? And where the hell did you learn to wipe people's implants? Are you a pro hacker now? And what does that have to do with the Lamborghini woman?"
"I told you, it was a long story. Oh - just in case someone asks... I reported Abbie as stolen... so, technically, it wasn't me, okay?"
Talos inspired. "Reported it as stolen? To whom?"
Bethany tensed up.
"Bethany, this is serious shit. I'm going to try to calm down. You have one hour, not one minute more, to send me an encrypted written report of everything that happened today, since you woke up until you got home, and you better not skip ANY details. Only after I get to read that I'll decide whether it's safe or not for you to keep working. Understood?"
"I might also need to make some calls to people I swore I would never make a deal with ever again."
"Bethany," he added, this time with a softer voice, "I'm seriously, seriously disappointed in you. Now go back to your room and start writing that report. Dismissed."
"Oh, one last thing. Did your father tell you about tomorrow's meeting?"
"With the family lawyer."
"It's gonna be a busy day tomorrow, girl; better sleep well tonight. Now go write that report."
"Yes, sir," she replied, almost whispering.
After Bethany went back to the elevator, Talos walked to the punching bag. He got in guard and began attacking with a spinning kick.