Elle deposited the envelope of money before she traveled to the Uppercity. If anything, she wanted to make sure that was complete since walking around with several hundred dollars, especially in Yorktown, was a terrible idea. With it safely in the care of Coolage Financial, a subsidiary of Coolage Group, Elle breathed a little easier.
For most, getting from the Undercity to the Uppercity was difficult. Despite Undercity District 14 and Uppercity District 15 serving as massive travel hubs between the two portions of the Yorktown, a person couldn’t just travel between the two. Well, an Undercity citizen could not just pass into the Uppercity without reason or proper identifications. Those restrictions were not present for Uppercity citizens, but very few would venture down into the city’s bowels.
Nekos had an even tougher time traveling. Luckily for Elle, with her adoptive family living in District 19, her Neko Passport was stamped with the seal that let her pass through the checkpoint with only mildly harassing from the hub guards. After the usual questions, “why are you going? Why is your purpose in the Uppercity?”, Elle was able to pass with the simple answer, “I’m visiting my parents”.
Inside District 14’s hub, Elle wandered towards her assigned lift. The hub consisted of five lifts: three for citizens and two for cargo and vehicles. Elle’s ticket showed Lift 2, which seemed to be the one that Nekos got stuck on. She didn’t mind; it was significantly less crowded than the other two.
She was also thankful for the weather. The hub reminded her of a massive, open air airport. The Undercity’s portion was practical, littered with concrete and little care for architecture. The Uppercity’s hub was far nicer. They had manicured topiary and a keen architectural design that made Elle think “future” as opposed to “past”. Elle filed into the line for Lift 2, and after forty minutes of waiting, she boarded.
The lifts were giant octagons placed in oversized glass tubes. There were no seats, and beyond a few handrails, there was little to balance yourself on. Elle managed to get a spot towards the sides and gripped onto one of the handrails. She didn’t take the lift often and had yet to figure out how to balance in the center. Other Nekos filed in, roughly sixty, a far cry from the 150 that the lift could hold. Looking out at the other tubes, Elle could see humans piled inside them like sardines. She was thankful for the breathing room.
After a brief announcement on “lift safety”, the massive elevator lurched upwards. Elle could feel her stomach sink as she was rocketed towards the Uppercity. The journey would only take five minutes. She grasped onto the handrails as the lift vibrated and creaked; some of the Nekos unable to secure a spot against the wall stumbled from the sudden shakes. The lift rose and rose and rose, barreling past the smog infested sky. For a brief moment, they traveled through thick black and brown clouds until finally, the glass gave way to pure blue skies.
Elle was always amazed at how clean the air was. She breathed in deep, letting each pure particle fill her lung. Yes, the air was thinner, but most who lived in the Uppercity grew used to it. With some time, Elle would also adjust. As the lift moved beyond the platforms, the grand Uppercity laid out before them. High skyscrapers took up the skyline, sparkling in the fresh morning sun. Sections of the sky were filled with projected advertisements that only allowed morsels of sunlight to squeeze through. Still, it was so blue and bright.
Cars zipped over the open skyways to other districts; traffic could rival the frustrating terribleness of the Undercity. Huge covered walkways arched along the sides of the skyway. The streets of each district, clean and perfected, were a hustle and bustle of Yorktown’s wealthiest. Plants. There were actual plants up here. Not the fake, synthetic ones that the Undercity grew accustomed to. Real flowers. Real trees. All of them pumped fresh oxygen into the air.
At the center of all of it, where the walkways and skyways whirled around this massive monument, was the Coolage Group’s Uppercity headquarters.
The lift came to a slow, screeching halt, and the Nekos were filed off. Most were required to restate their business, but Elle simply flashed her passport and was free to go. She stepped outside District 15’s hub, wincing as the sun beat down on her eyes so used to a muted gray sky. The air was even cleaner off the lift.
From District 15, Elle would make her way to District 19, the same District where her parents lived. If there was time, she planned to swing by for a surprise visit, but first, she needed to access 19’s police precinct. Unlike the Undercity, where the police were relegated to a single building and responsible for all 14 districts, the Uppercity generated the funding to separately enforce each district. This meant a stronger, fuller police presence. Crime in the Uppercity was reported low.
Not wanting to pay for the expensive public transport, Elle took one of the skyways to District 19. With a conveyor belt floor, Elle didn’t even need to walk as she was shuttled to the entrance of District 19. It was mostly made up of residential buildings; large scale apartments stacked upon each other. There were a few white bricked homes, “classics” as some called them, but they were tucked well inside the jungle of high rise apartments.
Unlike the dingy, rot filled precinct of the Undercity, District 19’s police headquarters towered above Elle with pride and glory. A large fountain spurted water out front; some were taking photos in front of it. Keeping a quick pace, Elle moved past them and entered the building.
She was struck with the smell of the wooden floor. There was no old tile or concrete. Here, everything had been artistically crafted, maintained, and cleaned daily. The Undercity precinct didn’t have a waiting area or standard reception. Around her, the massive room welcomed her. A grand staircase up led to the offices; plastered on the wall above her was the symbol of the Uppercity police force: a star with scales of justice. Elle approached the desk, where a human woman sat and typed on a computer far newer than anything Elle had seen down below.
“Hello, hi, excuse me,” Elle grabbed her attention. The woman looked up for a moment, surprised to see a Neko bothering her.
“Shipping and receiving is out back. Have them drop their stuff off there.”
“I’m actually not with any shipping companies,” Elle explained, “I need access to the archives, please.”
The woman, clearly in her late forties and wearing far too much makeup, raised an eyebrow. “Appointment only, honey.”
“I know; I’ve done this before.” Elle reached into her bag and pulled a collection of papers. She handed them to the woman and continued to explain. “My name is Elle Brockman. I work for John Darcy; he’s a private investigator. That’s all the paperwork with the request.”
In fact, the documents with the request were old, by about a year. Elle found them after doing some digging through their files. However, they were quite “vague” in their statements, and the date of the request was easy to change. She hoped the receptionist wouldn’t question it further.
“Why is Mr. Darcy not here himself?”
“Stuck in a client meeting. He asked if I could go instead,” Elle lied, “Can’t say no to the boss. He looks like such a puppy dog too.”
The receptionist side-eyed her before making a copy of the request form. “Take this form down the stairs to the archive room. Show it to the attendant there.” She passed the original back to Elle and went back to her computer.
Elle thanked her and took a side staircase down to the basement. Shutting the door to the stairwell, she let out a cheer; her lie somehow worked! It continued to work as she followed the receptionist's instructions, showing the attendant the request form and being let inside a rather large, locked archive.
“You’ve got an hour,” the attendant said. Elle thanked him and immediately got to work.
Unlike the bright and modern floors above, the archive felt much more Undercity, and Elle thought of home. A line of computers were connected to multiple large, black servers, designed to funnel information that had been digitized over the years. Elle was the only one in the sprawling, almost warehouse-like space. She picked one of the computers at the end and peered into the viewfinder that hid the screen. It was all for “privacy”.
Elle gazed at a screen with the police logo on it. Upon tapping a single key, it changed to a single, blank search bar. From her purse, she pulled out the strange symbol and began to examine it. There had to be something she could dig for here. If the police in the Undercity knew about these rings, then the records would also be present in the Uppercity database. Since there was no way she could get inside the Undercity archives, not with Captain Richards looking over their shoulder, she figured “why not go somewhere else”.
To start, Elle went with the most obvious: sex trafficking. Typing that in the search bar and pressing enter caused the computer to buzz and whirl until around 1000+ hits were accessible. The machine couldn’t display more than that. It was too broad.
“Maybe narrowing it down to the Undercity…” she muttered, adding that filter to the search.
1000+... no dice…
What if she added Neko to it?
Possibly adding a date range would help! Elle narrowed the timeframe down to the last two months.
You gotta be kidding me. Seriously?
Elle pulled back, returning to the image again. The strange half circle and two triangles were nothing like she had seen before. There was no rhyme or reason to it, looking more like a series of random shapes slapped together to create “a logo”. In a way, those triangles reminded her of ears.
Like cat ears…
Elle jumped back to the computer and removed her search. Trafficking cases were too numerous to search for. She had a different idea: unknown organizations, possibly related to Nekos, uncovered in the last six months. She added a relation to trafficking too… Neko trafficking specifically. The search bar was bursting with text, excluding and narrowing concepts and topics. Elle pressed Enter.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Bingo! 1000+ was an impossible number, but Elle could work with 50. She scrolled to the first item in the list and opened it. A long report flashed on the screen, related to a bust drug made a month and a half ago. The drug in question: Sorogeth. The attached photos showed much of the crime scene.
Elle nearly gasped. Staring back at her in one of the pictures, plastered on one of the crates, was the exact symbol that was in her photo. It was like Captain Richard said… The police knew something; this was just the first encounter.
Clicking through report after report, Elle looked for any instances of that symbol. Not every hit in the system proved fruitful, but she found multiple other reports mentioning the symbol and even providing pictures. In one instance, a group of human smugglers had been arrested trying to sneak weapons into Yorktown; one of them had the symbol hidden within the weapons case. None of them knew what it meant. In another, the symbol had been found in an illegal brothel… Nekos… that Breeder ring… This time, however, someone was able to confirm the symbol… and a name…
Sounded like some strange church thing from Eden. The more Elle read, the more it became obvious. The police were fully aware of The Revival; they knew where they were shipping these poor girls in from: Undercity District 2, the Airyard. Elle dug further, looking for anything that would clue her into any action the police may have taken. Nothing yet… or nothing that was recorded. Still, it was something. She printed off the few reports that provided the most information, assuring that the location, the Airyard, was the topmost page.
The archive attendant peeked his head in. “Hey. You got ten minutes.”
“Actually, I think I’m good,” Elle replied as she snuck the pages into her bag, “Thanks for all your help today!”
Back outside, Elle couldn’t help but skip down the road. She had done it! She had found something, and from what she could tell, the police had not taken action yet. If her and John could check the Airyard, prove that Nekos were being shipped in, they could force the police’s hand, maybe even catch a few perpetrators. Nekos wouldn’t have to worry about The Revival anymore.
With still time to kill, Elle ventured further into the skyscraper paradise of District 19; her parents would be more than happy to see her. She needed to keep everything a secret, down low for right now, but she was nearly ready to burst with excitement. She strolled through the crowds and made her way to a far less dense street that led to one of the apartment high-rises, where her parents lived. She was right outside the door when she was called out to.
Elle turned to see two District 19 police officers standing by their vehicle, an outfitted CX-10. They were larger models, and reinforced with an alloy plate and a stronger hover-jet. The officers were dressed in black with the only coloring coming from the red star plastered on their left breast. Both men appeared to be in their late twenties or early thirties; one sported a thick beard while the other, the one who called out, was clean shaven.
“Yes, you there Neko,” the clean shaven officer called, “Mind stepping this way real quick.”
Elle glanced around to see if they were somehow talking to another Neko. She was basically alone except for a few wandering humans. Away from the busy roads made this section of District 19 almost feel private; they couldn’t be referring to anyone else. Elle followed their commands and approached.
“Afternoon officer!” she greeted cheerfully, clutching her bag tight to her side, “What can I help you with?”
The cops exchanged a quick glance before the clean shaven one grinned. “Perhaps you can help us. My name is Officer Kyles. This is my partner, Officer Ambrose. You are?”
“Papers, please.” Elle handed the officer her green passport, and he immediately flipped it open to the page with Elle’s information and picture. He held the passport up and examined the picture compared to the girl next to him. The name checked out as well.
“That seems to be in order,” Officer Kyles said. He handed Elle back her passport. “Says you’re from the Undercity though. What business do you have here in the Uppercity? This is a residential district.”
Elle pointed to the high-rise. “I’m visiting my parents. They live in this building.”
“They live in the Uppercity? In District 19?”
“I’m adopted. By humans.” Elle turned to the page bearing the stamp that gave her permission to enter the Uppercity. She showed it to the officer, but he didn’t seem to care. “It’s been a bit since I visited.”
Officer Kyles offered no relief. “I see. Kind of strange if you ask me. Going from the Uppercity to the Undercity.”
“Oh… well, I wanted to move out, and the Uppercity is so expensive…” Elle replied, “I got a job at a PI’s office in the Undercity.”
“A PI? Which one? Bet we know him!” Officer Ambrose said, almost giddy in comparison to his partner.
“No shit!” Ambrose fired back. He and Officer Kyles started laughing. “I went to the academy with that guy!”
“Really? I’ve heard of him once or twice.”
Officer Ambrose nodded. “Oh yeah! We’d go drinking and stuff like that. Guy just couldn’t cut it once we graduated. Being a cop’s hard, what can I say?” They laughed again. “How long you been working for Darcy?”
“Around six months,” Elle replied sheepishly.
“You’re just a little baby then,” Officer Kyles taunted, “A PI, huh? What made you want to work for one of those?”
Elle scooted back. “Um… I’m sorry. I really need to go see-”
“Why did you decide to work for a PI?” Officer Kyler’s tone was firm, gripping Elle and forcing her back.
“I’ve always admired them,” Elle said, “As a kid, I read a lot of mystery novels and watched some shows. I thought it would be interesting to see it up close.”
“Which show?” Officer Ambrose asked.
With each word, Elle grew more uneasy. “Skid Row Diaries…”
“Fuck! I loved that show,” Ambrose cheered again.
Officer Kyles shared none of the excitement or passion. “Ms. Brockman, you wouldn’t mind if we performed a search on you, would you? Just a precaution really.”
Elle stopped breathing. “A search? Why? I haven’t done anything wrong?”
“Just a precaution,” Officer Kyles assured again, “You don’t have anything on you: weapons, drugs, nothing like that?” Elle frantically shook her head, assuring him that she would never carry either. Officer Kyles simply smirked. “Then, you won’t mind if I check your bag.”
Elle clutched onto it tighter. “I haven’t done anything wrong…”
“I’m trying to be nice here, Ms. Brockman.” Officer Kyles’s words turned rather matter of fact. “Would you like me to stop being nice?”
With nowhere else to turn, Elle slid off her bag and passed it to the officer. Officer Kyles quickly tore into it, digging through her purse and each pocket. It did not take him long to find a folded stack of papers. Officer Kyles gave them a quick glance through. His smile turned even higher. “Mr. Brockman, these are police records. Watermarked with District 19. What’s a girl visiting her family need with these?”
“I made a quick stop for my boss…” Elle admitted, “It was on the way. He asked me to pick up some information from the precinct.”
“Thing is Ms. Brockman, these really aren’t supposed to leave the archives.” Officer Kyles handed the stack of papers to his partner. He went back to digging in her bag. “Oh, I see a taser in here! Protection for yourself?” Elle nodded, hoping it would end there. “You don’t consider that a weapon?”
“Just a precaution…” she mimicked.
“These hurt you know. I’ve been zapped by them.” Officer Kyles tossed her bag on the ground and a splattering of makeup, some snacks, and feminine hygiene products spilled out onto the road. “Do you make it a point to lie to officers?”
Elle felt herself shrinking. “I… wasn’t trying to lie…”
“I’m going to search you.” He smacked the edge of their car’s roof. “If you’d put your hands here, spread your legs apart.”
Elle hesitated for a moment, far longer than Officer Kyles was willing to wait. He grabbed her forearm and slammed her up against the vehicle, holding her there until Elle assumed the position he commanded. She could feel each and every breath she took as Officer Kyles grabbed onto her shoulders and began patting her down.
“I promise I don’t have anything…” she pleaded, trying to look back at the officer for sympathy. He grabbed the back of her head and slammed it into the frame of the car.
“You Nekos don’t know when to shut up,” Officer Kyles growled, continuing to frisk her. He worked down her body, arms, torso, taking extra time along her chest and groin. Elle gritted through it, clenching her teeth and trying to not cry as he worked his way past her waist and slid his hands along her backside.
“Well, Ms. Brockman, you’re in luck. Doesn’t seem like I found anything.” That didn’t stop him from grabbing her hands and sliding them into a pair of electronic cuffs behind her back. “Still, going to have to arrest you though.”
Elle was near tears. Any second, she would burst. “I haven’t done anything wrong…”
“You did, Neko. You did,” Officer Kyles said, “Lying to an officer. Resisting arrest. Carrying a weapon with an intent to cause bodily harm. Those are all things, cat. And a PI’s cat worst of all.”
Office Ambrose opened the backdoor to their CX-10 and pushed Elle inside.
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