"Resisted arrest, my ass!” John was one octave away from screaming. He clenched the edge of Captain Garrek’s desk until his knuckles turned white, fighting back every urge to reach out and strike the man who offered him little more than a slight smirk.
“Both officers reported her belligerent. Maybe your little Neko’s not as innocent as you’d like to think.” Garrek was a thin fellow with not enough “meat” on his bones to feed a small child. That didn’t excuse the “weight” of his power. He sat back in a luxury chair and rested folded hands on his non-existent gut. John could break the man in two if he wanted. How this stick figure turned captain was beyond him.
John ground his teeth. “I should fucking strange you.”
“That’s threatening an officer, Mr. Darcy. I’d watch yourself, or you’ll join her in holding.”
“Gentlemen, please. We’re adults.” Captain Richard stood at John’s side, placing a reassuring but firm hand on his shoulder. It was enough to yank John back from the brink. They may not have always seen eye to eye, and Richards most likely wanted John to vanish off the face of the earth sometimes. When he needed that extra edge with the police, Richard was always there. John called him first after he heard of Elle’s arrest.
Captain Garrek mocked, “I am calm. PI’s the one struggling.” He sat forward, locking a fierce gaze with John as if taunting him. “We’re fully within our rights. She was causing problems. My officers took care of it.”
“She was visiting her family…”
“She was smuggling content out of the archives.” Garrek pulled up the documents that had been printed right from their building. He tossed them at John. “Those were found in her bag. They’re not allowed to leave the premises.”
Captain Richards scoffed. “Strange… First I’m hearing of this since records are allowed to leave our archives. Especially odd, you have printers down there, and an attendant didn’t think to check her.”
“New policy…” Garrek grumbled, “Plus, her request form was from two years ago. Date changed and everything. Tell me about that PI?”
“She had a good reason…”
“Good or not, she committed a crime,” Garrek shot, “Now, if you’d like to pay her bail…”
John’s ear began to burn again; Captain Richards stepped between them before the sparks really started to fly. “Now Garrek, surely we can talk this one out.”
“No, we can’t,” Captain Garrek hissed, “We’re supposed to be impartial, Captain. Seems you like this PI a little too much. He your lap dog?”
“Quite the opposite…”
“Fine. Her bail’s set at a 1000. Pay it or leave.”
John was already reaching into his wallet, prepared to write a check that would release his assistant from this place for good. Captain Richards spoke up again. “How about this, Garrek. Police chief to police chief. Do me a solid, and let the girl go. She’s a witness to some stuff going on in the Undercity. Can’t have her playing ‘count the tiles’ in a cell for a week.”
“First you mentioned it…”
“First I needed to,” Richard said, “I can always request it from the head offices. Might take a day or two longer, but I’m sure your staff will love the extra paperwork.”
Garrek tried to mask a scowl. “I have the people to handle it. Do you, Captain?”
“I’d handle it myself…”
Garrek scoffed at the whole thing, jumping from his seat and walking to the window in his office. He gazed out over the district. “Over some Neko, Richards? Really?”
“I’m paying for a whole ton of favors right now,” Richards muttered. He gave a nasty pat on the back to John. This was years in the making. “I’ll send you the balance.”
Garrek sighed. “Fine. Take your Neko. Hopefully a few hours here scared the fear of law into her. You there, PI, you make sure she knows her place.”
John opened his mouth to scold the chief, but Richards stopped him. They had everything they came here for. There was no need to complicate things further. Breathing in to release his tension and with the exhale, John said, “Appreciate it, Captain Garrek. You have my utmost thanks.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Garrek activated his intercom from his desk; it fed out to his secretary in the other room. “Can you send a request down to holding? That Neko girl Kyles and Ambrose brought it, she can go.” He pulled his finger from the button. “Happy?”
“Always a pleasure doing business,” Richards said, giving John another hard smack in the back.
Garrek offered him nothing except to wave them to the door. John went first with Richards following close behind. As they passed the secretaries desk, the collection of office space filled with detectives and officers, and finally, the stairs to prisoner holding, Richards couldn't help but feel jealous of District 19’s superior budget. The Undercity had a fraction of it, and that was for 14 Districts. This was one.
“Fuck these guys and their budget,” he said, following John down the stairs to a sterile area and lifeless box of a room. It was only a few feet wide, and there were no chairs. There was nothing really except for a door and a glass window, where another officer began placing a few odds and ends into a plastic bin. John recognized them as jewelry that Elle wore.
“Sorry to drag you out here…” John said, waiting in front of the singular door.
“Sorry? You’re sorry? Take your apologies and stuff it. I’m not here for you.”
“Then why are you here?”
Richards scoffed, “For her. When you explained the situation, I knew the fucking situation she found herself in. Officer Kyles and Ambrose, those guys got an arrest list of Nekos double my waist. I knew what happened moment I looked it up.”
“So you know they're corrupt?”
“The whole damn thing is. Probably me included.” Richards pointed at the window; Elle was on the other side, gathering her things.
“That girl don’t deserve this shit. She don’t deserve the shit you put her through.”
John struggled to disagree.
With her few items gathered, purse not included, Elle waited by the door, waiting for the attendant to unlock and open it. When the automated systems slid the door to the right, John was there, arms crossed, and with a look of concern, disappointment, maybe even anger. Elle expected to see him. Captain Richards gave them a bit of space, not wanting to involve himself.
John did his best to smile. “Hey there… Uh, you’re out.”
Elle’s chest tightened, welling up with a ball of emotion that would break her at any second. She charged through John, clipping him by mistake, and in her embarrassment and weakness, she fled up the stairs. It took every ounce of her to not cry. She would not cry. She would not break down.
“I think I can take it from here,” John said to Richards. He pulled out the keys to his CX-7, “Again, thank you.”
“Next time I need something, I expected Darcy Investigations to be there,” Captain Richards growled, “Don’t fuck with us.” He followed Elle up the steps. To John, it felt almost like an affirmation of friendship. A strange, weird friendship…
John found Elle sitting on a bench outside the precinct. She kept her gaze to the ground; her eyes trembled as she fought back the growing dampness. In terms of physical appearance, she looked ok. There was a small mark on her forehead, like she had been struck by something. Other than that, she looked fine. Mentally and emotionally… John wasn’t even sure how to handle it.
He stepped beside her, startling Elle. She acted so jumpy. “It’s just me. You, uh… we should prolly get out of this place.”
“Ok…” Elle stood and followed John like a mindless zombie that had just gained some form of sentience back. The CX-7 was parked a block away, and Elle said nothing on the entire walk. She struggled to get into the car, and John had to help her. Exhaustion clung to her face; her mind was elsewhere.
Taking off the platform and heading towards the vehicle lifts in District 15, John turned down the radio and allowed the silence to overtake them. He had so many questions. So many things to say to her. Elle was dead to her surroundings, folding her hands and rubbing her thumbs together as if she wanted to spark a flame and be engulfed in it.
“Hey… When we get back to the Undercity, why don’t we swing by that taco joint again? My treat.” John attempted to cut the tension, but somewhere in the process, his knife shattered against the sheer density of it. Elle’s confirmation was little more than a grunt.
John kept talking. “You know… There’s actually another place we could try. They got good tacos too. Bit out of the way, but I'm willing to take a detour to District 6. Kinda funny when you think about it. Best food’s always in the shadiest places.”
“They all taste the same…”
Elle looked up. “Your stupid taco places. They all taste the same. Like tacos. They’re tacos. They don’t change. It's the same damn ingredients.”
If the mood was different, John would have taken those words as a front against humanity. “Well, someone clearly hasn’t tried enough tacos then. District 6, here we come.”
Elle was more shocked by it than anything else. Was he serious? It was going to be “business as usual”. Elle grew angry. “That’s it? Tacos? Aren’t you going to yell at me? Are we just gonna sit here and pretend nothing happened…?”
“I can yell if you want,” John replied, “You went behind my back on a case that’s technically closed and, I guess, broke the law in the Uppercity. Right in front of the cops too. I will call bull shit on the whole archive thing. I’ve pulled stuff outta there before without issue.”
“I deserved it then…?”
John shook his head. “Hell no! Did you make some stupid decisions? Depends who you ask. It takes a lot of passion and guts to put your neck out like that. You getting arrested? Straight up garbage.” John docked the CX-7 into one of the lift pods. Within a few moments, they were headed back to the Undercity. “I asked Captain Richards to look up both those offices when you made your one call to me. Officer Kyles and Officer Ambrose have huge arrest sheets. All Nekos. It’s easy to see what they’re about. You were in the wrong place, at the wrong time. They’d have nailed you for anything.”
“I hate them…” Elle spat, “Why would they…? And then when they searched me… That one. He…” Her lips quivered as her words dribbled together. “I feel dirty…” At that moment, she could no longer hold it in. Elle broke down, burying her face in her hands. A stream of tears burned her cheeks and worked their way through the cracks of her fingers.
John riffled through a few of the comparts in his vehicle, looking for anything to give her. He found a few old napkins tucked into the console. They were wrinkled and folded poorly. He had no idea how old they were. He offered them, “Here. For your… you know… tears.”
The napkins brushed Elle’s hands; she swiped them from John and dabbed her eyes. “Thank you…”
“Sorry, I don’t got anything better.”
“This is fine…”
The lift locked in with the Undercity; the large doors opened. John’s CX-7 was released from its clamps, and he took off into the Undercity, skipping the exit to District 6 and heading for District 1. Elle noticed and pointed it out.
“I’m gonna take you home,” John admitted, “It’s prolly for the best right now. Get some sleep. No… Do you have any friends here in the Undercity? Maybe someone you can stay with?”
“I don’t have any friends here…”
“Oh…” It was all John could say, “I’m surprised. You’re so bright and cheery. I figured you’d have a huge social circle.”
“When Nekos find out I’m from the Uppercity, they don’t want to talk to me… They act like I ‘don’t get it’, or can’t understand them because I had loving human parents. Humans don’t want to deal with me cause I’m a Neko… They act like I was adopted out of pity. They’re probably right…”
“I wouldn’t say that,” John said, “Well, why don’t you take a break. We’ll talk about where to go from there.” He took the next turn towards District 1.
“Are you going to fire me now?”
John shook his head. “Far from it. I mean, there needs to be a talk about what happened here, but I’m not going to fire you. No, I want to make sure you’re still comfortable working for me. Take a few days. Hang out and destress, if you can.”
Elle’s emotions bubbled up, but this time, it wasn’t a flood of sadness. Her determination, her conviction, burst from her with the force of an explosion. “No! There’s no time for that! The group, that symbol - oh, I don’t have the reports anymore - I know who they are. The Revival.”
“The police already know,” Elle explained, “That’s what I found in the archives. They’ve been tracking these guys for months. It’s more than just sex trafficking too. There’s other things.” Elle could barely keep up with her own words. “John, I think they might be Nekos doing it.”
“Ok… so we have a name. Not much we can go off there. Plus, if the police already-”
“The Airyard in District 2,” Elle spat, “That’s where they think the girls are coming from. I don’t know why they haven’t done anything, but everything points there!”
John thought for a moment. “They probably need a warrant.”
“Then, there’s no time for that! We need to go!”
“Absolutely not. This is the police’s case now. Besides, you need to get some rest. You’re in no condition to keep going.”
Elle was nearly shouting. “I don’t care about me right now! John, I was assaulted by that officer, and for the love of whatever, I’m not going to have endured that for nothing! I’m not going to sit by while other Nekos are suffering the same thing or worse. Far worse! So, if you won’t take us there, right now, I’ll find my own way! I’ll figured it out, and then I’ll contact the police so they can do their fucking jobs for once! I don’t care what you think. I’m doing this!”
John handed her another set of napkins as Elle’s eyes were bursting again. She forcefully yanked them away and tossed them to the floor of the car. Her entire face burned bright red; rage, sadness, and conviction intertwined. At that moment, John knew there would be no convincing her. There would be no discussion. The only way he could prevent her from going to that Airyard was to tie her up, something John would never consider doing.
Such conviction… John remembered a time when he felt that. When things were less about cases and money and more about actually helping people. Elle was determined. If one small action would help a single Neko, she would take it. She would risk being arrested again, the humiliation, and the leering eyes and hands of inappropriate officers if it meant one Neko would be saved.
Elle would risk dying for them.
John could stand by that. Without a word, he shifted the CX-7 from descending to ascending and reentered the skyway. Their destination: District 2’s Airyard.
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