Chapter 7:


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

Her deskphone chimed. "Representatives from LifeBack are here to see you," said the voice on the line. Javan looked to Vadstalle. He pointed to his terminal where he was still working on his report.

"I'll be right there," she said to her deskphone. She stood from her desk.

"Give 'em Hel," Vadstalle said.

She walked toward the front of the precinct. There, by the front desk stood two figures. She could not immediately determine their sex. Both had shaved heads and wore loose white tunics that went to their knees. Saffron-colored sashes went across their shoulders down to their waists, and the cuffs of their white pants were embroidered with an array of color stitching. Both wore sandals, and socks under the sandals at that.

One of them carried a small black box. The figure held it aloft toward Javan. "Good morning," said the black box. "I represent LifeBack. These are my emissaries, 41EF and D831." As the black box said each name, the respective figure gave a small bow. "We are here to retrieve a LifeBack Emergency Backup Kit."

"Yes," said Javan. "Please, come with me." She led them past the scanner. As they walked to the storage locker, she said, "We are very interested in whatever your investigation uncovers regarding the death of Mr. Conchobhar. I understand that the backup has been corrupted, and I'm to understand that his family would be greatly appreciative if you could restore it."

41EF and D831 looked at each other. "We will do all in our power to assist the investigation," said the box. "As for the other matter, however, I do hope that the family understands that we will not work on any restoration process while the balance on Mr. Conchobhar's account remains outstanding. We would appreciate a point of contact so that we may communicate with them directly on this subject. Our records indicate that this LifeBack Emergency Backup Kit's registration card was never completed. Granted, this is a common occurrence, as most users do not anticipate needing to use it until just before they need it, leaving the registration card left unfilled. We will cooperate with your department and with Mr. Conchobhar's family to get both of these matters resolved to everybody's mutual satisfaction."

Javan looked at the box while it spoke. She could not immediately see any sensors that she should be looking at, and therefore couldn't "look it in the eyes" while they communicated. "What would happen if Mr. Conchobhar's family were unable to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement?"

"We will simply recycle this kit once it is no longer required for the investigation."

Javan nodded. She led them to the evidence storage room. Lockie smiled at her when she stepped through the door. "Hello, again, Detective Javan," he said. "Are you here for the Conchobhar evidence again?"

"Yes," she said. "These are the representatives from LifeBack. They will be assisting the investigation."

"Of course," said Lockie. "I just have a few bureaucratic matters to attend to first."

"Allow me," said the box. It began to make a series of strange beeps. Lockie listened to the stream, as did Javan. Satisfied with the result, he produced the parcel containing the LifeBack kit. Javan removed it from the parcel and handed it to D831, the emissary not holding the black box.

She also handed D831 her card, a rectangle of plastic with a hologram of her face, complete with her contact information. "Please call me with any updates on what you discover."

"Thank you, Detective Javan," said the box. She led them back toward the entrance, where they stepped out onto the street. Within seconds, a hover car came by and picked them up before disappearing into the sky.

She walked back to her desk. Vadstalle wasn't there, nor did he rearrange anything on her desk. He left a note stuck to her monitor. "Following a lead." She plucked the note off of her monitor before setting it down onto her desktop. She ran her finger along the back of the adhesive part so it wouldn't budge from its precise position.

That handled, she opened up the shared notes for the investigation. She found the toxicology report from the coroner. It indicated certain markers in the chemical analysis of the Mary Jade found in Mr. Conchobhar's system. She suspected that Vadstalle was in the process of hunting down the origin of those markers with a chemist. She tried to page his PARD, but it was in DND mode.

She scowled. She had a suspicion that he was trying to find a breakthrough all on his own. He loved hamming it up for the vids, and she knew that such a find would inflate his ego to kaiju-level size. She got up from her desk and walked over to his, leaning over the surface so as to not have to use his chair. She tapped the screen. It was unlocked. "Where did you go, cowboy?" she asked as she pulled up his history.

She found a map with pins indicating all the nearby chemists, the ones in blue being ones that didn't usually require warrants. There was nothing to indicate which one he had gone too. "If I were Rick, which one would I choose?" she asked herself. She scanned the map with her eyes. She applied a secondary layer to the screen, showing all the current locations of food trucks in the area. Little truck icons appeared throughout the map, the redder they were, the worse their health code scores. "Bingo," she said, finding a bright red food truck just outside one of the chemists. The chemist was called Marney Chemical, and the truck was called Danny's BBQ. She guessed that Vadstalle probably only knew one of these facts. She blinked at the address of the chemist, storing it in a buffer.

She made her way to the parking garage. There was a noticeable gap amid the row of motorcycles parked there. Vadstalle had taken his bike. She frowned before leaving the garage. She headed to the precinct's QuickLift port. She stood in the middle of the Q painted on the ground and held a T-pose. After a few seconds, a QuickLift descended from the precinct roof. It latched onto her torso and arms before lifting into the sky. She beamed the address to the drone.

"Is this an emergency?" it asked her.

"No," she said. "I just need to catch up to my partner."

The QuickLift ascended, carrying Javan into the sky. She looked down on the shrinking city below. She preferred this method of travel, whereas Vadstalle, whom she suspected of having acrophobia, detested it. He'd never walk near the windows when investigating cases in high rises, and he had once said that if he'd had to take the QuickLift everywhere, he'd hoped that all the people below were carrying umbrellas.

Being a team, they often took a cart together, but whenever Vadstalle decided to play lone wolf, he'd take his bike, leaving Javan to her preferred method of travel.

Once he had offered her a ride on the back of his motorcycle, and this was an event she'd voluntarily purge from her memory if she didn't realize the importance of keeping it, if only to act as a reminder to never do that again.

She cleared her mind of the incident and watched the city below. The people moved like ants, heading along on their individual tasks. Other drones fluttered by, almost all of them slowing down at the sight of the QuickLift, unsure if Javan was patrolling for speeders or not.

As she scanned the ground, she searched for landmarks that resembled the map she had seen on Vadstalle's monitor. Parked right outside a building that looked like it had been made entirely of repurposed shipping containers, she saw Vadstalle's bike. It was an early 21st century model that Vadstalle had painstakingly restored, switching out the gas engine for a hydrocell, but somehow finding a way to make the engine still roar. In order to make it street legal, he'd had to install other safety features, such as a compressed air impact shield generator as well as a distracted driver autopilot. A magnetic police light sat on the front, something he used when riding it on duty.

Sitting there, it looked as docile as a sleeping kitten, but Javan knew that with someone like Vadstalle in the saddle, it shot like an untamed rakshasa escaping an inferno.

The carrier deposited her on the sidewalk. It dropped the call beacon into her hand before departing. She took a long look at the motorcycle, or as Vadstalle liked to call it, Old Mellie. She clutched the beacon tighter.

Nearby was a big, red truck with the name DANNY'S painted on the side. A chubby man in an equally red baseball cap stood in the concession window. He saw Javan, and when she met his eyes, he smiled. "You wanna try the ribs, today, hon?" he said. "Or are you a samosa girl?"

"I'm not hungry," Javan said. "But you might be able to help me. I'm looking for my associate." She pointed to the motorcycle. "He's the owner of that thing."

"Sure thing, hon," he said. "Ricky got himself a brisket sandwich before heading into Marney's over there." He pointed to the building with his stubby finger.

"Thank you," she said.

"You sure you don't want anything? I got vat-grown burgers for a Hindi girl like you."

She shook her head. "No, thank you," she said. She turned and headed into the building. The glass door said MARNEY CHEMICAL on it.

The interior was clean, but old. Yellowed laminate covered the floors and walls, speckled here and there with ancient stains and chemical burns. The place itself smelled like the cleaning supply section of a store, if it sat right next to the medicine aisle. It was somewhere between too clean and almost toxic.

A floating metal head hovered and bobbed behind the reception desk. It floated up to her. "Hello," it said in a tinny, feminine voice. "Welcome to Marney Chemical." The head was an older model, but kept shiny so as it looked almost new. It had a certain level of aesthetic put into it, making it resemble the face of a lovely woman.

"Hello," said Javan. She showed her badge to the head. "I'm Detective Javan. I'm looking for my partner, Detective Vadstalle."

The floating head smiled. Its eyes flickered for a moment, processing the request. "He's visiting Mr. Marney right now. Would you please have a seat? He'll only be a minute."

"Okay," said Javan. She took one of the seats in the lobby before flipping through a chemical processing trade magazine. While she read, the floating head bobbed around the lobby.

"What sort of chemical processing is done here?" Javan asked the head.

"Marney Chemical does wholesale chemical processing, mostly, but also specialty chemical compounding. Our prices for compounding tend to be a bit higher than the competitors, but we believe that our quality speaks for itself."

"Do you ever make poisons?"

"Marney Chemical deals with chemicals of all sorts, many of which are toxic to humans, other animals, as well as plants. While we do not expressly create compounds intended to kill, we do produce chemicals that are able to cause death or discomfort in a variety of living creatures."

"Have you ever produced anything that goes by the name Mary Jade?"

The head's eyes flickered. "I'm sorry," it said. "But that information is not available to me."

"Thanks anyway," said Javan. She continued flipping through the magazine. She'd hoped that she'd get used to the smell, but it seemed to be getting worse, overloading her olfactory. How anybody could work in this building for eight hours, let alone eight minutes, was beyond her. The cleaning/medical smell was overpowering, and she was beginning to catch the hint of something smoky in it as well.

Suddenly, and alarm sounded from the building. The head stopped bobbing, its eyes lit up red, and it began to say in a loud voice: "Fire! Fire! Please evacuate the building immediately."

Javan looked over at the door leading from the lobby into the rest of the building. Black tendrils of smoke were beginning to creep through the top, lingering on the ceiling. She stood from her seat. "What's going on?" she asked.

"Fire!" said the head. "Fire! Please evacuate the building immediately."

"I'm not leaving without Vadstalle," she said. She grabbed the face and looked it in its red eyes. "Tell me where he is."

She heard the sound of commotion coming from beyond the door. People were leaving the building through the nearest exits. She looked out the lobby window at the crowd that was gathering there, but didn't see Vadstalle.

She focused on the head she held in her hands, ignoring the sounds it made. She blinked, tapping into the head's system. In her field of vision, she saw a map of the building. In several corners were little triangles that represented security cameras. She zoomed into one of these, scanning the hallway. Smoke occluded the top of the frame, but she was able to see a door labeled MARNEY across the frosted glasteel. A filing cabinet had fallen in front of the door, and two silhouetted figures pounded on the window from inside. She used the map to plot a course from the lobby to the office, keeping it in her vision. She tossed the head aside, where it continued its siren and message.

Her ear chirped. "Bher, can you hear me?" It was Vadstalle.

"Yes," she said. She pushed through the lobby door and felt the heat of the flames from within. "I'm in the building, Rick. Are you okay?"

Vadstalle began to cough. "Yeah," he said. "Well, not really. Me and Mr. Marney are stuck in his office. We can't get the door open. I think something's in the way."

"It is," said Javan. "I'm coming for you."

"Don't be stupid," said Vadstalled. "Get a call out to the FD. For some reason, the phone here's not working and my PARD can't get past the walls."

Javan tried to access the emergency channel. It wouldn't connect. "I can't connect either," she said. "Hang tight."

She ran down the hallway, the smoke cloud getting deeper and deeper. Her eyes had trouble adjusting to the heat and smoke. She matched up the map in her vision with the fire escape map on the wall, making sure she wasn't getting disoriented in the chaos. She'd relay the irony of the situation to Vadstalle, after she'd rescued him.

She ran down the halls, jumping and dodging upturned furniture and burning debris. She heard someone shouting and pounding on something in the distance. Following it, she came to the door marked MARNEY. The cabinet had spilled open, and the files within were starting to burn. She tried to push it away, but the metal was so hot from the fire that it singed her hands. 

She took a deep breath, made harder in the smoky hallway. She grabbed the edge of the metal cabinet, ignoring the searing pain. She cleared her mind, and with all of her strength, she flung the cabinet aside. It clanged down the hallway. Then she practically ripped the door off of its hinges.

A bewildered bald man stood there, ready to pound some more on the door. Behind him stood Vadstalle. His expression was a mixture of confusion blended with joy. "Bher?" he said, recognizing her through the smoke. "What's going on?"

"Come with me if you want to live," she said. She grabbed both Marney's and Vadstalle's arms, yanking them out of the office. Using the overlaid fire map, she located the nearest exit. She pulled them through the smoke, the two men coughing and crouching as they shot through the building.

She kicked the emergency exit door, bright daylight pouring into the building. It shot across the alley, crashing into the building across the way. She flung the two men after it, albeit with less force. They staggered into the alley. "Get out of here," she said, her body enveloped by the smoke.

Vadstalle started running down the alley. He looked back. "Bher!" he said. "Come on!"

As he said this, a large explosion sounded behind Javan. A wall of flame pushed her from the building. She crashed into Vadstalle, knocking him backwards. They collapsed on the alley floor. 

The tips of his hair were singed by the blast, but when he looked down at his partner, clutched in his arms, he saw that she'd had it much worse. Her singed face looked up at him and she tried to say something, but it came out as a gurgling sound. She looked more like a burnt bit of brisket than his partner.

"Oh, Bher" said Vadstalle. "We gotta get you some help." He heard sirens in the distance.

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