NINE WEEKS LATER…
The Networked Planet
‘Him!’ Solita shouted, pointing at an Abinaxian who had just turned the corner into the shuttle terminal. Her voice carried, alerting my target to our presence. Looking over, he saw Solita – my informant – gesturing towards him, and immediately began to sprint away.
‘Cheers,’ I said to Solita, both sincere and insincere in nature; she might have led me to my target, but she also got him sprinting away from me.
I don’t appreciate having to work for my fee, thank you very much.
At least I had planned for such a scenario.
After I charged out the shuttle terminal in pursuit of the fleeing local, I spotted him in the distance – crossing the station square. I weaved between shuttles as I crossed the road, causing their emergency brakes to automatically kick in, and resulting in a chorus of complaints from their passengers.
I’m doing this for your own good, idiots!
My console dinged with notifications as the inconvenienced locals left negative reviews on my Abinax profile.
Distracted by my depreciating Abinaxian standing, I tripped at the curb of the road, staggering for a moment before catching myself. I clambered upright and continued running. The ground squelched beneath my feet as I trampled what must be the only green area for miles around – the station square being the minimum requirement of parkland in urban areas as prescribed by the GMU.
In the distance, the suspect was fast approaching my first planned obstacle. The road ahead was completely blocked off, ribbons and crowds stretched across the walkways to mark the perimeter of the all-important Abinaxian of the Year awards. Well, maybe not so important – it was only the first rounds, after all.
The target, realising his mistake, darted right, leading him across the edge of the square. Perfect! I hadn’t planned for him to go left here – although that would have put him on the main road, which would take some amazing feat of agility to cross unscathed.
‘Approaching reroute point number two,’ I breathed into the console on my wrist.
‘Copy. Roger. Over,’ that familiar voice replied.
I jumped off the grass, onto the main walkway at the edge of the square, and, looking ahead, found that I was only 100 metres behind the target.
Maybe we won’t need that second obstacle after all.
I ploughed onwards, threading through the crowd of commuters that were heading for the shuttle terminal for their journeys home. My smaller form made this easier for me; I could slip through the smallest of gaps, whereas, up ahead, the suspect bumped shoulders with those around him, slowing him down.
As I gained on him, I began to hear the growing commotion. Commuters grunted at the barging man, while he himself seemed to be getting more impatient with those getting in his way. Voices ahead began to shout, but still the suspect continued onwards.
The suspect was fast approaching the end of the street – and obstacle number two – while I was only a few metres behind him. I reached my arm forwards, hoping to catch at the back of his jacket – although the chances of that stopping him was slim to none.
I snatched at the cloth, missing it by mere centimetres at this point – when the suspect turned the corner.
‘Wham!’ shouted Te’rnu, as he stepped out from behind his pre-determined hiding spot. He collided with the suspect, and, with the strength of the mechsuit backing him up, stood still standing, while the suspect fell to the ground.
‘Yes, you know: wham!,’ Te’rnu replied, folding down his helmet to reveal his smiling face. ‘Like the sound that nice coyote makes when he runs into those tunnels he draws for that bird. You know, the one in the Terran shows. This is like that: wham!’
I said nothing for a moment, so he continued.
‘In this instance, I am the tunnel, and our suspect is the coyote.’
‘We really need to get you some more up to date references,’ I replied.
At our feet, the target began to scramble away. ‘Shall I…,’ Te’rnu began.
I nodded, knowing exactly to what he was referring. ‘Go on then.’
Te’rnu pressed at a button on his mechsuited wrist, and bolts of electricity shot from it into the escaping suspect, incapacitating him.
I pressed at my own wrist, too – but where Te’rnu had cool mechsuit functionalities, I had only my console. I sent my drafted message through to the local police, telling them that we had successfully apprehended the target.
‘Let’s see if you’ve got any of it on you,’ I murmured as I crouched down by our horizontal suspect. I patted him down, and found – to no surprise whatsoever – that he did indeed have some of the Stirlik capsules on him.
I looked up at Te’rnu. ‘Hey, you’re recording this, right? I don’t want there to be any doubt that these weren’t planted on him.’
‘I suspect some of our competitors out there would plant stuff like this to get paid…’
The local police soon arrived – a local Abinaxian who seemed more preoccupied in smiling at passers-by than she did at handling our apprehended suspect. She nodded to us, and then, eventually, scanned the man that I was holding to the floor.
‘Ha. No wonder he’s a criminal,’ the police officer said. ‘Look at this.’
She turned her wrist to show me the information on her own console.
‘…Only thirty followers,’ she continued. ‘Surprised he didn’t resort to a life of crime earlier.’
I laughed along, pretending as though my own social media profile had more than twelve followers – among them, an overprotective mother, an employee who only recently left the village he grew up in, and a sister who had been missing for several years. Te’rnu knew enough to keep his mouth shut about this.
‘Will you have enough to prosecute him with?’ I asked. ‘Given that there’s a chance that his buyers won’t have memory of him any more.’
‘I think you overestimate him,’ the police officer replied. ‘Low-follows like him don’t usually have the brains it would take to program the ‘Liks in that way. I suspect those memories will be undamaged.’
I shrugged. ‘OK. Cool. Anything else you need?’
The officer shook her head. ‘Nope, all set – I’ll take him in. Thanks for your help with this. I’ll give you a five star rating.’
I shrugged. ‘No worries. I mean, we’re getting paid for this, not like we were just doing it out of the kindness of our hearts.’
‘Four stars, then, maybe,’ the police officer replied, before hauling the suspect into their van.
‘Maybe you should’ve-’ Te’rnu began, but then I nodded to show that I had realised my mistake there.
Small footsteps patted the ground behind us, and I turned to see Solita, our informant, running to catch us up.
‘I see you caught him. I guess your client will be happy?’
She patted me on the arm as if to say – good work.
A headache came over me, and I blinked back the pain from the momentary searing pain.
Fuck, that’s come on quick. Must be the hangover kicking in.
‘Well, that’s what you get when you hire the best detective agency in the galaxy,’ I replied, forcing a smile through the pain.
‘I am not sure about that,’ Te’rnu contradicted me. ‘By no metric are we the best; we do not bill the most, we do not have the highest rated reviews, we do not-’
‘Yes! Thanks, Te’rnu,’ I replied.
Solita approached Te’rnu, patted him on the upper back. ‘Oh, I’m sure you’re better than you think,’ she told him. ‘You caught a ‘Lik smuggler, after all. No easy feat.’
We soon parted ways, and Te’rnu and I headed back to the shuttle station – for transport off this planet. A big part of me was glad to see the back of it.
Once settled in our off-world shuttle, I began working on writing up a report for the client. This was my least favourite part of the job, but I couldn’t yet trust Te’rnu to describe the nuances of our work correctly. That is to say: his reports made our work sound too easy, and perhaps not worth the amount we were charging our clients.
I, on the other hand, enjoyed buying expensive things and running a profitable agency, so I tended to employ artistic license when writing up the reports that we sent with the invoice.
After this case, however, I had another reason to play fast and loose with the truth: I couldn’t quite remember everything we’d done. It was those damn famous Abinaxian cocktails that had done it – how could anyone say no to them? There were cocktails that changed flavour as you drank them. Some fizzed and popped and even buzzed in your mouth. Their most famous cocktail of all was known as Liquid Fire – very literally, an alcoholic plasma which warmed you as it poured down your throat. It was this drink, in particular, that meant my memory was a little fuzzy… and my head a little achy.
Te’rnu glanced over, eyes narrowed, as I tapped furiously at my console, keen to wrap up the report so I could relax for the remainder of the journey. My friend’s angry eyes were not enough to make me type more quietly, and he was far too polite and proper to speak up about it.
‘Told you we don’t need a team,’ I announced to Te’rnu as I sent off the final report and invoice – without, admittedly, spending the time to read it back to myself.
Te’rnu shot me a look which roughly translated to: “I don’t agree but I don’t want to have this debate again”. If he were Terran, he would have rolled his eyes in a big, big way.
Not minutes after I sent the report and invoice, the client contacted me. In fact, when accounting for the amount of time it would have taken for the signal to reach her, it was more like seconds. My console beeped to let me know that a communication was coming in.
I breathed a heavy sigh; a response this quick could only mean that the client was going to push back on the amount we were charging. I put myself into sales mode before answering.
‘Hello?’ I began, ‘I mean- Raynor Investigations, Syl Raynor speaking. How may I help you?’
‘Syl! Hi!’ the client responded. ‘I just got your message. I wanted to check that I’m understanding this right – you’ve finished the job already?’
Oh! It was going to be the opposite, then – not having charged enough.
‘That’s right, Huara. All sorted. Got the distributer, all locked up now, I believe. Shouldn’t be any more ‘Liks on Abinax any time soon.’
‘Oh, really?’ the Huara replied. ‘As easy as that?’
‘As easy as that,’ I reiterated.
‘I thought it would take at least a few weeks. Well… I guess I’m not complaining – means you’re charging less, after all.’
Damn it, I really should have stretched this case out a little more.
‘I mean… yeah. I guess we are. I sent my report along with the invoice – if you want to give it a read and then you can give me a buzz if there’s any questions?’
‘I’ll do that!’ Huara replied, and the line went dead.
‘Well… bye, then,’ I muttered pointlessly into the headpiece.
The call over with, I turned to smile smugly at Te’rnu.
‘Easy peasy,’ I said.
‘“Easy pea-”,’ he began to question, then changed his line of enquiry. ‘Do you remember…’
Te’rnu’s brow was furrowed. ‘Do you remember how we knew that suspect was the one we wanted? It’s a bit of a blur to me.’
‘You got a headache, mate?’ I asked, pointing at the pained expression on his face.
‘Yes, I guess that I do,’ he replied.
I held a finger in the air – one moment – and reached into my bag, pulling from it a bottle of aspirin.
I threw the bottle towards him. Te’rnu caught it, opened it, and lobbed a couple of tablets into his mouth.
‘This will help?’
‘Usually helps me,’ I replied, noting that my head, too, was hurting – that hangover not yet having loosened its grasp on me.
‘Ah,’ said Te’rnu, pointedly, ‘Yes. Of course it does.’
If you’re gonna call me out on the drinking, Te’rnu, just go ahead and do it.
‘I think…,’ Te’rnu began, his eyes widening. ‘I think this might be…’
‘Iyrogenesis?’ I asked.
‘Well… let me know if the pain gets worse. Chances are it’s just a headache, though. We all get them – no need to get ahead of yourself.’
‘Not me,’ he murmured, and then sat back in his seat, strikingly still.
I checked the time left on our journey – still another good few hours. Not quite enough time for a good sleep, but certainly enough time to make a cup of tea or two.
Standing from the seat, I made my way over to the dispenser and programmed in my order.
‘Want one?’ I called over to Te’rnu.
‘No…,’ he replied, still not moving.
‘How’s that head? Getting better?’ I walked over to his seat and stood over him.
‘I think so.’
‘Good,’ I replied, and patted him gently on the shoulder. ‘No transformation for you just yet, then.’
The shuttle console beeped – we’d been assigned a landing time. There would be no queues on Terra today, not this once.
I sighed, sat back down in my seat. It was time to spend the remaining journey preparing myself – both mentally and emotionally – to once again face the single biggest challenge I had in my life: my mother.
This time, at least, I wasn’t alone.
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