Chapter 1:


Grime in the Gears: Create, Read, Update, Delete

Officer Joe Czeslaw sat at the counter. He was eating his third or fourth doughnut (he had lost count) when his radio chirped. His PARD displayed the text across his vision as the dispatcher autovox filled his ear. 10-57 AT HIGHTOWER ESTATES. 10-42 FRANK CONCHOBHAR. Below these codes were their definitions, helpfully added by his PARD: Possible Death and Welfare Check. Czeslaw scanned the output as it crawled before his eye. Next to the text his PARD dispalyed a map, showing his current location in relation to the location of Hightower Estates. Other blue dots, each representing nearby officers, blipped onto the map as well.

The mechanical voice of his PARD spoke into his ear. "You are the closest on-duty officer," it said. "Let's go."

Joe took one last nip of his custard-filled treat, washing it down with some hot coffee. He stood from the counter, tipped his hat to March, and then walked to the door. "Duty calls," he said.

"I'll put it on your tab," she said, giving him a smile and node before he left.

Czeslaw stepped into the morning city life. The last vestiges of the neon night life were waning, replaced by the natural beauty of the city during day. Sure, it had its warts. Every city did. But covering it with a shroud of darkness and holograms didn't actually fix it. It was up to people like Joe, the custodians of the worst filth humanity could dredge up, to keep the city clean and beautiful. As he walked down the sidewalk, commuters and hustlers and dogwalkers all held civil war for a piece of the walkway while attempting to navigate toward their next objective. A police drone fluttered by, its lights flickering, but its siren silent. A flock of news drones followed in its wake, as well as a drone with the hologram of some lawyer's face and number floating behind. Following this mob were the drones owned by some citizens doing their own sousveillance against potential police misconduct.

Czeslaw ignored most of this, instead focusing on the walking directions projected into his field of vision via his PARD. He looked at the infoscreen for Hightower Estates, thankful that it wasn't in some less reputable part of town. He hated getting called to some place that had an illegal modshop in the basement or too many Untertagen escaping the sewers. He especially hated doing so without any prospect of backup.

Hightower Estates was a luxury apartment building. Its rent was way more than most people could afford, and as such, its tenants were mostly retirees or trusties. He stepped up to the building and looked up. It reached high into the sky, the top occluded by some morning fog. It sure lived up to its name. Dark, reflective glass coated the sides, making it look like a massive black mirror, keeping out the hard realities of the city beyond, those harsh realities Czeslaw and his fellow police were sworn to remedy. He gave a light whistle, impressed by what he saw.

Something cracked under his feet. He looked down at his shoe. The broken remains of a tiny drone sat there, cracked a bit by his careless step. He picked it up and examined it. It said "taskrotta" along the side with the graphic of some sort of rodent. It was smaller than most of the drones he had come across, and based on its design, he was impressed, and a little disappointed that he had crunched it under his foot. He stuck it into one of his pockets and made his way into the building.

A doorman stopped him at the entrance. He handed over his badge to scan and his PARD talked to the building's computer to negotiate some protocol that kept the lawyers happy. The doorman skimmed a flat screen that Czeslaw couldn't see. "Conchobhar," he said. "That'll be Unit 128/64." He tapped a button, and a strip of light illuminated, starting at the doorman's counter, running down the edge and down the side. It ran across the floor toward a bank of elevators. 

Czeslaw followed the trail, his steps echoing through the empty lobby. At the elevator bank, the up button glowed blue. He pressed it. A few seconds later, the door opened and he stepped inside. Facing the floor buttons, he saw that 128 was also illuminated blue, so he pressed that. The door slid shut and he felt the lurch of the elevator as it began to ascend. While he waited, his PARD displayed information about Franklin Conchobhar. He was the CTO of a company called Geomys, a company that claimed it was a "Technical Problem-Solving Solutions Enterprise." The welfare check was called in by his neighbor, who was concerned when he didn't bring her a cup of coffee after his morning jog, something she claimed he had done consistently, rain or shine, for as long as she had known him.

The PARD displayed a picture of the neighbor, one Emily Hayashi. Czeslaw looked at the picture and took her for one of those nosy neighbors, a batty retiree with not enough to do with her day but meddle into the neighbors' affairs.

The elevator doors slid open. The blue light continued along the wall. He followed it until he arrived a Unit 128/64. On the door was a nameplate: CONCHOBHAR. He gave the door a knock.

"I've already tried that," said a voice behind him. He turned to see an elderly woman standing in the doorway across the hall. She looked almost exactly like the picture he'd seen through his PARD.

"You're the neighbor," Czeslaw said. "Emily Hayashi, is it?"

She nodded. "I rang the bell, knocked, called, and even tried to message him," she said. She stepped out of her apartment. Her hair was in curlers, and she wore pajamas and a red robe with embroidered willows decorating it. "I even called his office at work, but the lady there said that he hadn't arrived yet today. I'm worried, is all."

"That's why I'm here, ma'am," he said. He tapped his badge against the door. "We'll get to the bottom of this."

The doorlock flickered a few times before becoming an angry red. "He has special locks," said his PARD. "It appears to be running KOSHER with 3Fence protection."

"What does that mean?" asked Czeslaw.

"Excuse me?" said Emily Hayashi.

Czeslaw pointed to his head. "Talking to my PARD, ma'am. Sorry."

She nodded.

"It means that it is locking us out. I will see if I can override it." The data transfer icon began to spin in his visual display. The doorlock began to flicker through a variety of colors. 

While his PARD worked on the door, Czeslaw turned to Emily Hayashi. "So, he never failed to bring you a coffee?"

"You're talking to me, this time?" she asked.


"Oh, yes," she said. "Like clockwork. He'd go for his morning jog, then stop by the coffee shop on the corner. Then we'd sit, chat, and work on the Post's daily crossword together. Have you ever done their 3D crossword?"

Czeslaw shook his head. "I just stick to the funny pages," he said. "Besides, I can't even do the regular crossword. 'A nine-letter word meaning to go clubbing,' and other junk like that. I sometimes wonder if I can count high enough to even do the sudoku, if you get what I mean." He smiled. "Just give me that comic about the kids and their AR tiger pal or the one about the cranky cop with the cyborg arm, and I'm set."

His PARD chimed in. "Ready," it said. "I managed to get an approval from Just.ICE with the crack-door for the doorlock's encryption. Deploying." Czeslaw saw a graphic of a blue key slide into a red lock. A progress bar appeared below it. After a few ticks, the lock turned green. "I wonder why he chose 3Fence if he was so adamant about keeping law enforcement out," his PARD mused. "If I were trying to keep out government officials, I would not be using a government-generated encryption standard." The door popped open. "See what I mean?"

"Nobody likes a smartass," Czeslaw said to his PARD. He glanced over at Emily Hayashi and pointed to his ear. She nodded. He tipped his hat to her, saying, "Ma'am," before stepping through the door. Once through, his PARD activated the police tape holograms over the doorway. "CRIME SCENE. DO NOT PASS."

The air had the faint odor of mint about it. The main room of the apartment was clean and tidy, aside from the body lying in the middle of the floor. "This must be Frank," said Czeslaw. Frank's body was rigid, and his skin had a pale green tinge about it. Beside him lay one of those brain-boxes. It had a sad face on the LCD screen. Two eyes and a frown. Czeslaw leaned over to look at Frank, letting his PARD take a full set of measurements. After another moment, the PARD confirmed that the body had no vital signs.

The room was silent, aside from a faint, intermittent whistle. Czeslaw followed the sound to the window. The whistling came from a small hole, less than 20mm in diameter. As the wind blew, it made a whistling sound through the hole, much like blowing across the top of a half-empty bottle. Czeslaw tapped on the window with the back of his hand.

"Carbon Glass," said his PARD. "No light task cutting that hole." An arrow appeared in Czeslaw's vision. "Would you please step over toward that console in the wall?"

Czeslaw stepped away from the window, following the arrow toward a computer screen embedded in the wall. Once he had visual contact, his PARD began interacting with the machine, downloading data from it. His PARD was silent.

"What do you think, PARD," said Czeslaw.

"It is pretty clear," said his PARD. "Based on the state of the body, the stiffness, the green coloration, the minty odor, the hole in the window, it is most likely one thing."

Czeslaw leaned back over the body. "Mary Jade," he said. "Poor sucker. Someone must have really had it out for him." His gaze went down the body, toward Frank's hand. It was flashing orange. "Looks like he didn't get his steps in, too."

"I shall notify the department as well as his shortlis--OVERRIDE." The PARD locked up.

"PARD?" he said. He tapped against the unit on the side of his head. "You still with me?"

"We'll be taking over," said a voice from the doorway. Two figures, a man and a woman, stepped through the holographic police tape. They had glowing blue badges on their lapels. The man had wavy, blond hair, five o'clock shadow, and mirrored shades. The woman had short, straight black hair, and eyebrow ring, and a glowing blue light stuck in her ear that looked like a shrunk-down version of a PARD.

The man stepped up to Czeslaw, standing in range so that Czeslaw's PARD could scan his badge. "HomSquad is on the case," said the man. "I'm Detective Vadstalle, and this here's Detective Javan. We'll take over from here, beater."

Javan was already walking through the room, taking threedees of the scene and dictating notes into her headset. Czeslaw tried to access his PARD to figure out what the heck was going on, but it was still stuck in OVERRIDE mode, only showing him the bona fides of the two officers that shared the crime scene with him.

He sighed. "Thanks," he said in a way that said he didn't really mean it. He walked toward the door.

"Hey, man," said Vadstalle. Czeslaw stopped just before the holographic tape. He turned to face his supplanter. The detective flipped him a five-namero coin. "Get yourself a coffee and a doughnut on me," he said with a wink.

Czeslaw stepped through the holographic tape, it shimmering as he passed. Once he was outside the apartment, the OVERRIDE on his PARD lifted. "What an ass," he muttered, looking back at Unit 128/64. He turned his head and saw Emily Hayashi looking out through her door. He tipped his hat to her once more. "They've got everything under control," he said, jerking his thumb back toward Frank's apartment. "Sorry for the loss."

She closed her eyes and nodded to him.

The ride down to the lobby was quiet. He looked back at himself, reflected into the shiny surface of the elevator door. No blue lights guided him as he left the elevator, walked through the lobby, and out of the building entirely. 

"I called a car," said his PARD. The morning light did nothing to clear away the cloud of self-doubt and loathing that clung to Czeslaw. He watched a single-rider police cart pulled up to the curb to greet him.

"Thanks," he said with little more enthusiasm that he had given Vadstalle. He climbed into the car. Once he was in, it began to drive off. "Where to next?" he asked his PARD.

"There was a burglary in the Coal District," his PARD said. "A place called Mannix. It operates as a convenience store, but based on stochastic analysis, I have a suspicion that it operates as an underground mod-shop."

Czeslaw sighed. He watched the city seep away as his police cart drove deeper and deeper into the dark heart of the place he was sworn to protect and serve. "What's a seven-letter word for a guy who's had enough of this crap?"

"WEARIED?" suggested his PARD.

"More like, CZESLAW." They rode off down the street. Graffiti littered the crumbling walls, and several drones flew past a Mithraist holding a cardboard sign. They sped past too quickly for Czeslaw to read it.

Taylor Victoria
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