The Kitty: From Wives To Wormholes!
Here I was standing on this rooftop upon which the building it covered was abandoned; a personal sanctuary you can say. I was on the well-done side of exhausted from a day that was about as productive as selling bags of sand on a desert planet.
Normally anyone standing on top of vacant, privately owned property would be charged with trespassing, especially if you so happened to park a small space-cruiser on it and use it as an apartment, but you’d be surprised how far favors can carry you. Favors are as much of a currency as credits were, and cops overlooked this blatant violation of aerial parking laws because I helped the chief launder missing stipends and transport off-world military wares once or twice. Sure beats paying the rip-off prices for an actual place around here.
The Amaron System could only be described as nothing less than a beautiful, scenic false metropolis built on top of grime and decay. As I made my way to the edge of the building, the city made for a pretty sight of mighty skyscrapers made from stone and metal, brimming with winding curvatures, angular flourishes of seemingly gothic influence, pointed and proud, shining lights of bright neon splendor covering their figure, advertising catching the eye of any passerby, pastel, bold, with painted illustrations featuring flowing, slightly swirled and sleek texted signs and boards forming pretty words of a vapid “please buy me” intent. It attended a club and wore the brightest dress around to attract the suckers, wanting their time and hard-earned clams. Earth’s distant 20th-century past coming back to haunt this world, bringing all the eye-straining colors it can carry in the luggage, dropping it, spilling everywhere. A fancy Art Deco archipelago of alloy where the water was replaced with bustling streets, flying cars and ships, and billions of souls wandering within. A real mood setter. Some say it’s majestic; I say it proves unoriginality is universal.
Crime may be tearing the place apart, but such a classy dump lent itself to good opportunities for making a living for people like me. Bring a big iron on your hip and some nice insults, you’ll do fine so long as you don’t take a plasma round to the noggin. Such is the life of a freelancer I suppose.
Got the credits? I can get it done. Rental street cop, detective, escort, bodyguard, interrogator, bounty hunter, a tour guide, rental girlfriend even. I’ve been those things, all except an assassin. If I had any limit, it was that killing for the sake of killing, no matter the price, didn’t sit well with me. I stopped counting the times whackos and mafia underlings would come up to me thinking I’d be willing to waste someone from a distance, let alone use my own dual magnums just because one guy looked at another guy funny or for financial or political gain. Guess you can say I’m a freelancer with standards, whatever those were in a place like this.
Of course, opportunities have been high and dry lately. Another bust today. Either those jobs have been taken up by others, or in an odd twist of fate or destiny or whatever you’d like to call it, things have been more peaceful; unlikely I’d say. It shouldn’t be this anti-climactic, not after all that searching.
I went out on the prowl for jobs, called contacts, visited the Central Station for bounties or tips, listened to the scanners, anything to make me feel like I was relevant to a city that’s been so kind to me while digging its heels onto my mouth. As the daylight suffered a chokehold through the seconds, the metropolis skyline stuck out enough to make my eyes want to hurl.
The synthetic sky proved to be a more appealing sight for these bored eyes. Reaching into my trenchcoat’s pocket of miracles, out came my pack of Maranillo cigarettes, my favorite brand, the only Earth-based brand around here that managed to get a foot into alien worlds. Flavor? Erinos aquamint. A nice, soothing inhale after an uneventful day of wasted time and increasingly emptier coffers. I took one out and stuck it in my mouth with the grace of 7-years of experience. As the internal sensor detected my fanged orifice, the tip automatically lit up on its own and I huffed it down nice and deep, feeling a sort of freshness flow down my throat and trachea, filling the lungs, making me feel relaxed, even temporarily, and out puffed a trail of smoke in the next moment.
It had rejuvenating qualities with a mix of natural and synthetic chemical formulation with Triminophoren, or in other words, alien nicotine. Anything from Erinos kicked harder than a meteor impact for anyone less than a Class-7 species. Any human tried huffing this only once, the synaptic damage would no doubt leave even the most athletic of Earth men a gargling cripple if the neurological damage doesn’t put them in a coma first. In other words? Good stuff. Smoke it everyday.
Birds flew by, though they more resembled tiny reptiles with beaks and spider-like eyes. Creepy if ignorant to the fact that they were herbivores. Lord knows I was still aching for something to happen after all the job hunting; who knew bird watching would be the most exciting thing I would do today?
Well... that and witness a beige-and-blue trash incineration convoy hover by like gravity-defying whales. Flocks, being attracted to light sources in the night, would be prone to fly into them, and with the sun setting along with my chances of landing a gig, this would be no exception. Twelve birds flew toward a glowing radiator core with haste and— well, let’s just say they’d make a good roast if they weren’t already ashes.
One would be appalled at how the transport design never seems to change to prevent this sort of thing despite how many have complained. Personally, I felt a sort of glee at that moment, a chuckle welling under my breath. Hadn’t even been a couple of months since those pests defecated on my ship en masse while shopping for groceries and cost me hundreds of credits for the clean-up. Money for my favorite pastime down the drain. Burn in Hell, winged demons.
My guard was down and the feeling and smell of the alien smoke was bliss. I probably shouldn’t have, but I needed the sliver-lining to hold my spirits together. Running low on cash, and the last thing I wanted to do was borrow, not in this town. So I closed my eyes, inhaling, exhaling, huffing, and puffing to this relaxing breeze that made my trenchcoat flutter. This was about as good as it would get; to make me forget just about everything that could drag me down to muck.
But just when you think things were peaceful, something comes along to kick that peace up its alleyway. It was a rule I should’ve kept on my mind but didn’t. Usually it’s something mundane, like a ball thrown at your window, a phone call with bad news attached, or a pistol aimed at your head. Wasn’t long before such an occurrence finally came… as I heard it.
The pulsating whirs of a hovercar caught both of my left ears, the human and the cat ears, like bait catches a Mogabinese river carp, tangled and helpless. Instinct made my head turn to the sound immediately. I made it a rule to never share the location of or invite anyone unimportant to my rooftop sanctuary, which could only mean one thing: Someone who knew spilled it.
The car itself looked rather ordinary, if tidy and certainly clean. A civilian black and chrome ride, tail fins high, lights on full blast contrasted against an increasingly darkening dusk backdrop. The hover boosters underneath the vehicle emanated a subtle orange energy jetstream, continuing to make the pulsating whirs and blips that always got on my nerves. Regardless, it was coming toward me of all people, to my place of serenity, like a machine ghoul wanting me to pay the non-existent rent.
This would either lead to two things: A job... or a bodybag. Tension from unannounced visits are a great way to feel alive again, but experience taught me to keep it cool. It also taught me to trust my gut, and despite the mystery of it, something was telling me there was something different about this one. The car eventually reached the rooftop vicinity, flying over my head and blasting its jetstream all around, sending dust and dirt flying which way and almost taking my brown and black ten-gallon fedora off; had to hold the thing down.
As it landed, it didn’t seem to be in any particular rush, which was my first takeaway that this certainly wasn’t mafia or a nut — I’ve come to recognize those types’ piloting styles quite well, aggressive or outright sloppy. This was a clean landing, the pulsating noise of the thrusters dying, descending to the concrete, casual like a certain ignorance or naivety with a spark of banality; a civilian was in that car, no doubt.
The driver door popped open like a can of pop, yet swiveled outward like a gentle wind in spring. Gracefully, it revealed the one behind the wheel. One leg to see, wearing black Mary-Janes —a semi-transparent leg of aqua-colored gel— then another. As the mystery guest stood out of the car, this figure before stood was recognized to be a Saphorian woman.
“Are you Kitty Sugawara?” She asked with desperation. “The investigator?”
Innocent eyes adorned a smooth, gel-like face, her red and black-trimmed buttoned reefer coat flowing against the breeze as she stood, holding her white cartwheel hat like a gentle maiden with the expression of awaiting a loved one or a savior, directed at me of all people. Even in the dying sunlight, she glistened like streaks from a falling comet. Looked fairly young too. Pretty voice.
Saphorians of any type were a rarity on this world, borne from Sarpha, a planet with nine liquid moons. They were either manifested slimy or smooth; looks like this one was the latter. Her hair wasn’t so much hair, but a darker blue that resembled hair, shoulder-length and wavy. Judging from the light, the coat itself was clearly made of syntho-wool and fabric with carbon buttons, albeit of a high quality, yet the hat intrigued me. Though the coat was artificial, the hat was of white suede and genuine silk for the trim and bow, topped off with a black feather sticking from it; an Earth crow feather. Imported Earth goods cost a pretty penny in an age without pennies.
Unique races were typically restricted to the East border of the city, guarded by the Great Wall. Typically those with connections or status get through, and the hat confirmed that maybe she was well-off somehow, and considering my luck lately, lord knows I needed the clients. Might as well check her out, hear what she says.
“Yeah, I can be an investigator if paid in the direction,” I casually replied, “Otherwise I’m just another freelancer, bored out of her skull with nothing but cigarettes and a mood only more livelier than death. Not often I see a Saphorian beyond the East border. Who’s asking?”
Took no time for the Saphorian woman to approach me. Her footsteps were like a water-snake moving in harmony with the current. Was it natural of her or practiced? An irrelevant thought, yet as she came closer, a part of my brain wondered; the raw intuition telling me to center on that one thought. As she walked, my ears, the cat ears, heard no rattling of metal. No blades, no gun.
“My name is Celine Movak,” she proclaimed, “and I think my husband is missing. I was told you could help.”
“Depends. Who told you about me?”
“Bumbles his words, stumbles like an idiot, has breath that smells like a valley of mint?” I should’ve known it was him.
“You know him, Ms. Sugawara?”
“That was Ricky. I’m acquainted with the bulls on a professional basis, but he tends to stand out like a bird in a den of wolves. Interesting he’d point you in my direction though. He typically avoids giving freelancers business directly, even to me.” Flag number two. My intuition spiked up again.
“He only did so after I tried bringing this matter up with them! I haven’t seen my husband in days, no one has! Not his friends, the neighbors, nobody. Man vanished like dirt in a whirlwind and it’s not like him to disappear without notice!”
“Sure he isn’t flapping his wings into another nest?”
“Beniard would never! He’s a family man, through and through. I can assure you that it’s more likely that an Arashmagor can lay eggs into my head than that man could ever be with another woman!”
“If you say so. Beniard, huh? And the cops wouldn’t help? What do you mean ‘his workers?’”
“Ben’s the associate director for C.A.R.P., Cryptinium Associates of Refining and Protections."
“It’s the city’s Cryptinium refinery workers union, one of the few government sanctioned unions free from Chromon control.”
“For now anyway. Man like that must be a big fish.” It also confirmed her reason for being beyond the East border. Lucky dame. “Nice catch, Mrs. Movak. Between your wool and that Hawkson SJ-R7, you must be rolling in the dough."
“That’s beyond the point, Ms. Sugawara,” she pouted with annoyance, breaking from her otherwise maiden-esque nature.
“Just keeping track of things. Anyway, your husband’s a big-shot of a non-Chromon city union for Cryptinium refinery workers and you assume this has something to do with his disappearance?”
“Exactly! I brought this up with the police, but they just rejected my claim!” Celine stomped her foot in irritation. “Dismissed it as another infidelity case that’ll sort itself out and left me to dry! Those cretens turned out to be useless and my man is no closer to being found than the day before and the day before that. I think they’re paid to ignore the problems of non-Chromon union matters.”
“If you’re right about your man’s unbelievable family loyalty, that’s probably the case.”
Celine lowered her head, clutched her chest. “All was hopeless until that Ricky fellow came up and told me all about you and your background.”
Of course. Ricky’s usual soft spot again. Dame like her can make a sucker of a guy like him, the gullible, nice fathead. But that wasn’t the part that hooked my mind. She had mentioned something personal to me.
“Background?” I asked with curiosity. Something I’d rather not bring up or be brought up.
“I know all about you freelancers. Most wouldn’t touch this case with a pole the size of a Yubanar if it involves those Chromon thugs.” Then, like a flower in bloom, Celine had a moment of noticeable optimism as she raised her head towards me. Her smile would’ve been infectious— “But when he mentioned that you were a vigilante, it gave me hope that you were the one to ask, Ms. Sugawara. Oh how glad I felt to know someone such as yourself was around.” If only that Klaxian fathead didn’t spill what I didn’t want spilled.
In a casual, yet heated demeanor, what I said next might’ve been too rash in retrospect.
“And I’m gonna give him a wallop so bad it’ll knock him sideways worse than a gravity-well and turn his skeleton into a liquid gravy paste”
Yeah, that wasn’t appropriate. Right then, Celine went from a hopeful gal who looked like she just won a premium vacuum cleaner in a raffle to yanking her head back from the sudden outburst.
“What?!” Celine exclaimed in shock.
“Ricky’s a good cop, possibly the best kind around; perhaps too good. He shouldn’t be telling you this stuff, helpful or not. I’ve told him not to. Talking about my vigilante days is like asking whether I’d like my death to be slow or slower."
“I... I apologize, Ms. Sugawara. I didn’t mean to upset you,” replied Celine in a regretful tone that twisted my conscience.
It was true. He’s just about the only cop I’d recommend to a child in this city. I didn’t know much about him on a deeper level beyond the times we’ve crossed paths over the past two years, had chats, helped each other a few times, especially when bounties were involved. I’ve witnessed him do a range of things from talking down potential suicide victims, donate to charities that were secretly underground hedge-funds (not that he had known at the time), hold out against a squad of armed assailants during robberies, to even so much as rescuing animals from trees. I know his kind from my past; a man willing to uphold his badge, even if his nature never got him far in terms of growth within the force, most likely to remain on the beat and only the beat. A part of me even liked him, and wondered if, at all, we could get to know each other better.
Nonetheless, he really was a fathead in the worst of times; most nice people are. Yet, here I was, kicking down a potential client with my blended negativity, one who probably didn’t deserve even a ounce of it.
“No, you’re— You’re perfectly fine as you stand, Mrs. Movak,” I said remorsefully, “but as long as you know that I don’t want to talk about it, we’ll be perfectly square.” I pulled out a cigarette carton from my jacket’s pocket, slid it open, and presented it to her. “Smoke? Think of it as an apology.”
Celine blinked. “That’s… definitely one way to apologize.” Celine pulled a cigarette from the carton. “I accept.” I put the carton back in my pocket.
As she placed the cigarette in her mouth, or what can constitute as a mouth for a Saphorian, she inhaled smoothly, almost seeing the alien tobacco flow down her neck, before tilting her head to the side and exhaling a graceful puff. She had experience, maybe more than I. “Back on topic, it’s true that even if I’m the freelancer to go for, that opens the door to the question that really matters at this moment.”
“What would you be offering me if I accepted?”
Celine exhaled another puff and turned her eyes upwards, thinking on my question with some deliberation.
“How about 5,000 credits?”
Fair amount if this were any other job. A union leader, or someone adjacent, was likely to require more than performing simple info-dump shakedown to some guy whom I knew about from another guy who I then got to know from another guy before him. I’d usually dread these jobs, but with the context around it, my gut told me I could push the price a little more.
“Considering the possibilities I have in mind concerning your husband, the risks, and his fat-cat status, you’ll need to offer better than that.”
“I only brought along 5,000 for something like this.”
“Because your man has all the dough?”
“Because our treasurer would’ve gotten suspicious if I took any more. I trust no one for this, except maybe you.”
“Even so, I insist on getting more.”
“I may need to use my iron for this one.”
Upon those words, Celine placed her fingers over her chin, thinking. Her eyes turned to me, then to my ship. Ah yes, my ship, the ship I lived in, parked behind her on this very rooftop. It caught her eye like a fish to a hook, and she widened her eyes before turning back to me again.
“That’s an old Rocketfeller Classic, isn’t it?,” Celine inquired, “3rd generation, right?”
Impressive. Not many people could distinguish a 3rd generation from a 2nd. She was, of course, talking about the small star-cruiser behind her on the other side of the rooftop, somewhat box-like in shape with tail-fins at the rear and stuck out like a fire in a cave in a world of mere hovercars. Black with white trims, the windows of the cockpit nearly tinted over, the grills still shine with angelic chrome after that polish job I gave it two-weeks back.
Its astro-jets were top-of-the-class in its day for on-world flying, can still outrun a modern Galaxia-grade command vessel with its lightspace warp engines. The hunk of steel served me well in my past with its multitude of hidden fusion cannons, quantum homing bombs, and the quad-layer shield matrix, but can only really do me any good as a mobile apartment and something to transport me to the nearest food place, general store for smokes, and jobs nowadays. Hardly a hotel, but I’d rather pour money into it than go someplace more comfortable. A hotel blows up, it ain’t my problem. My ship blows up, I’m bound to dig a hole or two.
“A beauty ain’t she?” I replied proudly, “ Keep her conditioned and well groomed. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s if you take care of a ship, it’ll take care of you.”
“And yet Generations 2 to 5 have infamous Cryptinium consumption,” said with a playful slyness so thick it can be used on toast. Didn’t know she had it in her.
“Know that much, huh? Yeah, can’t deny that. Even with modifications done to the reactor and fuel converters, thing chugs Crypt like a frat boy in a desert.”
Then something curious. A smirk erupted from Celine’s otherwise gracious mug, like she was a used car salesman in a past life. Kind of unsettling, but I tried not to let it show.
“Well,” Celine began, “I could possibly get my man to pull a string or two. How would 400-liters of refined Cryptinium sound to you, Ms. Sugawara?”
Bingo. Any latent apathy I had for this job took a high-caliber round. My ears— my cat ears, twitched with interest.
“That’s… 6-months of fuel!” I exclaimed as if receiving a birthday present that wasn’t a gift card or a bomb. What could be better than getting a measly 5,000 credits for investigating a spousal issue? Saving months worth of money on a ship I both love more than my own self and hate because of how much money it’s lost me over the years. That alone was worth it.
“So it interests you?”
“Yeah, I suppose it does.”
From my pocket came my holo-phone, a bezel-less plate of glass with faux gold accents so thin it’d slice someone’s throat if it wasn't rounded off. It automatically detected itself being needed and initiated. It lit itself with its internally projected laser interface upon the glass, icons, text, all on this see-through plate, but what interested me most was what I used to create contracts.
As I briefly navigated the device, Celine looked upon me with curious eyes as I drafted my agreement terms. 5,000 credits and some much needed ship fuel for my trouble? Sounds nice and dandy. The contract was finally drafted and I presented it to Celine. She walked toward me and looked at my holo-phone.
“By lending your thumbprint to this contract, you agree that you’ll uphold your payment offer if and when my services have been concluded,” I said with a business-like demeanor, “Failure to do so means I’d no longer be obligated to assist you in any way. You are also required to provide a phone number in the event I need to contact you and vice-versa. Do you agree to these terms?”
Celine scrolled the contract, skimming through all the details, though I could tell on her currently serious-looking face that, no matter what it took, she already made up her mind and would agree anyway. I’d be proven right when, upon reaching the bottom of the contract, the boxes requesting her contact number and thumbprint finally showed. She filed a number and pressed her thumb on it without an additional thought. The screen processed her biometric input, and after a casual three-seconds, a notification chime played and the contract was registered on my database. After a long day of absolute squat, I now had a new job on my plate.
“You got yourself a private investigator,” I declared. I placed my phone back in my coat's pocket.
“When do you start, Ms. Sugawara?” Celine asked.
I took the cigarette I had in my mouth, threw it to the ground, and stomped on it. It was time to get to work.
“Right now, Mrs. Movak. I’m familiar with The Chromons, they wouldn’t directly involve themselves with government unions if it means having more eyes on them. Rather I believe the underground might be a factor, possibly outsourcing.” I began to walk to my ship, going around Celine as I did; she simply stood and looked at me as I walked. “I have a contact at a bar in the Industrial District, The Ender Pub. I’ll shake some trees and, hopefully, something will fall into place.”
As I neared my precious gas-guzzling Rocketfeller: “Thank you, Ms. Sugawara!” Celine shouted, cheerfully.
I stopped in place for a beat, turned to her, and smirked.
“It’s what I’m being paid for!” I shouted back with confidence. “Besides, not often I get investigation work! I may not need my guns after all.”
I continued my pace to the ship. It was optimistic to say that last bit, but I knew I could do the job. Of course, ignorance can be bliss, so the saying goes at least. At that time, I had no idea just how far down the Ahlnok hole would actually go.