Chapter 30:


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

Vadstalle woke up on a hospital bed. He sat up in the bed and looked around the room. None of his overlays were on. His head killed him. "Bher?" he asked.

She didn't respond. He tried to access his overlay manually, but couldn't seem to get them to switch on.

"Oh, you're awake," said someone from the doorway. It was a doctor. He held a digital clipboard.

Vadstalle looked over to him. "What's going on, doc?" he asked. "I can't seem to access my overlays."

The doctor nodded. "You got a nasty shock. I think it may have fried your mods. They're not responding." He looked at the clipboard. "But other than that, you seem to be okay, aside from maybe needing some time off at work."

"What do you mean?" Vadstalle said. He placed a hand on his head and brushed his hair back.

The doctor looked at the clipboard again. "It says here you had a nervous breakdown at work. Your colleague, Detective Javan, said you were acting erratically, and knocked a wire loose when trying to force entry into a locked room at the precinct."

Vadstalle's face fell as he heard this. "It's not like that, doc," he said.

The doctor shrugged. "I'm not here to pass judgment," he said. "Just to heal bodies." He looked across the clipboard at Vadstalle. "That being said, you're free to go. You should try to schedule with a specialist for your mods, and even if you don't think you need it, take a vacation."

Vadstalle nodded  silently. The doctor, satisfied, left to get the nurse to handle the discharge.

She stepped in with a tablet and had him sign it in a few places. After disconnecting a few tubes and wires, she pointed to the chair, where his clothes lay, wrapped in a sheet of plastic. "I'll leave you to that. Once you're dressed, you're free to go."

He nodded. She left, closing the door behind her. He got out of the hospital bed and started getting dressed. He dug through the bag, making sure he didn't leave anything behind. He couldn't find the PARD. He poked his head into the hallway and caught the attention of the nurse. "Say," he said. "Do you have an earpiece? I can't seem to find it."

She went back to the nurses station and consulted some documents. Vadstalle walked over to the island and leaned over the counter. After a few minutes, she looked up at him, shaking her head. "Sorry, detective," she said. "But we don't have any record of you coming in with one."

He swore, then apologized. "Listen," he said. "I need to make some calls, but I don't have a phone on me and my mods aren't working. Could I use yours?"

She shook her head. "There's a public terminal in the lobby," she said. 

He nodded, thanked her, then went to the lobby. A gearhead stood in front of the terminal, staring into space. Vadstalle nudged him aside. At the terminal, he paused and thought. He couldn't remember anybody's number, not even his own.

He used the directory to look up the precinct. He dialed. It rang a few times, then someone answered.

"Hey," he said. "This is Detective Vadstalle. My mods are busted right now, so could you do me a favor and tell me my number?"

"I'm sorry," said the voice on the other line. "But we don't give out private numbers."

Vadstalle swore. "Well, then, could you send a cart to pick me up? I'm at the hospital. There should be a record of me being there. Then I'll look up my own damned number."

"There's no need to be belligerent, sir," said the voice. "We are deploying a cart to your location. Please be advised that false calls are subject to arrest."

"Deal," said Vadstalle. "I'll be the cop waiting outside the hospital."

He disconnected the call and pushed past the gearhead. He stepped out into the afternoon sun and waited by the curb for the cart to arrive. If he could have remembered his own number, he could have accessed his home system, and from there, sent a request for Old Mellie to come swing by and pick him up, but no luck. Life was hard without mods.

He tried to look up some mod specialists, but then remembered that he couldn't. He'd have to do that when he got back to the office.

While he was waiting, he felt something in his jacket pocket. It was the notebook. It was knocking against that raccoon in his shirt pocket. He pulled out the book and looked at it. He took the pen and started writing things, whatever he could remember. Names(?), Places(?), Dates(?), Case Numbers(?). 

He filled a few pages of notes by the time the cart arrived. He looked over the last page he wrote, and it looked more like a modernist avant-garde police procedural than actual notes. Still, while he rode in the cart back to the precinct, he jotted down anything else he could remember.

At the precinct, he stepped past the front desk, not even looking at them as he passed through the detectors. He made his way to his desk and sat down in front of his computer. He didn't see his PARD anywhere, but figured it wouldn't work anyway, unable to link with his mods. At best, it would just be a voice whispering in his ear, and he wasn't so keen on listening to anything Javan had to say just yet.

His phone started ringing. He picked it up and placed it against his ear, something he hadn't done in a long time. It felt foreign and confining. It was the commissioner.

"Vadstalle," he said. "My office. Now." Then he hung up.

Vadstalle placed the phone back onto its base before making his way to the commissioner's office. Commissioner Skrue was an imposing man. He was bald and built like a brick house. He looked like he could break you over his knee if you got on his wrong side, and when he was mad, he was all wrong sides.

Vadstalle knocked on his door. "Come in," said Skrue.

He opened the door and stepped inside. Before he even sat down, but thankfully, just after the door closed, Skrue laid it into him. "What in the frostiest Hel do you think you're doing, Vadstalle?" he said.

"I was doing an investigation," he said. "I was about to crack the biggest case this town has ever seen, then screwy things started happening. I lost my access, and things started disappearing."

"Can it, Vadstalle," said Skrue. "Your partner tells me that you've been getting unauthorized access to systems and visiting crime scenes in the middle of the night." He slammed his fist on the table. "It's not becoming of a detective, Vadstalle." He stood and pointed. "Plus, I'm worried about your mental health."

"Wait," said Vadstalle. "What was that?"

"You had a nervous breakdown," said Skrew. He sat back down, done yelling. "I can't have you freaking out on the streets, blowing some kid's head off because you thought his gum or vape pen or whatever else the kids are sticking in their mouths these days was a gun or something. This murder investigation is getting to your head. Javan showed me the diagrams you drew. It's like you've found a way to link every single cold case with this one. You're seeing patterns in the clouds, Vadstalle. You need some time off."

"Sir?" said Vadstalle.

"No. Nothing. As of right now, you're on paid leave. Go to the beach, or if you can't afford it, a beach sim. I don't want to see you again until you're calm, tanned, and ready to do real work. You understand?"

"Yes, sir," said Vadstalle.

"Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get my teeth ready to chew out another cop who's been less than ethical. Be glad you're not him."

Vadstalle nodded and left the office. He made his way to the garage and rode his bike back to his home. He collapsed onto his chair, not bothering to turn the lights on. He sat in the dim afternoon shadows and tried to figure out what to do next.

He opened up the notebook and made a list.

1. Contact mod shop and get mods fixed
2. Talk to Bher and find out WTH is happening
3. Schedule a vacation
4. Rethink life while sipping Mai Tais on the beach.

He plopped down in front of his computer and started on his list. He was able to schedule a diagnostic appointment for the following day, and he decided he'd go from there.

His stomach growled. He didn't feel like making anything, so he ordered some food. A half-hour later, he was sitting alone at his small kitchen table and eating a meatball sub. He washed it down with whatever he had in his fridge.

He felt a little better, but still wished there was more to do. He spent a while working on his notebook, filling in whatever blanks he could remember. He tried to visualize the web chart in his head, doing his best to map the constellations. Or was Skrue right and he was just seeing patterns in the clouds?

He decided he'd rather be wrong than give up on this. It ate at him, chewing at his roots like nidhogg. 

Then, his phone rang. "Hello?" he said, still getting used to the feeling of the thing pressed against his ear.

"Detective Vadstalle," said a plain voice.

"Yes?" he said.

"I have information you might find interesting."

"Who is this?"

"A friend," said the voice. "If you would like more information about your spider, please meet me at the canal at midnight. You've done a good job of following the acquisitions, so now I will take you the rest of the way."

"Is this JC?" he said. "I thought you were that beat cop. Are you using a voice obfuscator, Joe?"

"It's best you not know who I am," said the voice. "The canal at midnight." Then the call got disconnected.

Hours later, Vadstalle was riding his bike down the neon streets of the city. The canal was the place where most things happened in a less than official manner. Still, he had to get to the bottom of this. He'd brought his notebook along, ready to take notes as necessary. 

He parked his bike along along the edge of the canal, in a series of spots specifically for bikes. The others were all modern ones that looked more like robot xenomorphs than actual bikes. He smirked, wondering what sort of dweebs might ride these little piggies, thinking they were ready for Ragnarok, when in actuality, they probably weren't even ready for Frodafrid. 

He walked along the canal, looking down at the bottom, seeing it lined with all manner of refuse. It made him resent the residents of the city, not even decent enough to keep the canal clean. It looked pitiful, like something a nature conservancy board would film to make us feel bad about ourselves.

"Detective Vadstalle?" a voice said behind him. He turned. It was a figure wearing a brown trench coat and matching fedora. 

"A bit melodramatic, don't you think?" he said, indicating the speaker's clothes. "Are you here to help me squash a spider?"

The figure nodded. "But I need to check you for a weapon. Hold out your arms and spread your legs."

Vadstalle shrugged. He took an A-pose. "I'm not packing anything I wasn't born with," he said.

The figure stepped toward him, but instead of patting him down, it pulled a beacon from its pocket. Vadstalle saw that the figure had hands like shiny, white bones. It wasn't a person at all. It was a robot.

"Bher?" he said.

She looked up. Though her entire body was still the metal and plastic body he had seen in the hospital basement, she now had her face back, mostly. Everything was right, except her eyes. They were white, and cloudy, almost as if full of static.

"This ends here," she said. She pushed the button on the beacon. Something grabbed a hold of Vadstalle's arms and shot him into the air. It was one of those QuickLift carriers. He didn't want to look down, but did anyway. The ground lurched below him. He almost screamed. 

He saw Javan raise a hand. She held a gun. She aimed it at him and fired. He felt the slug hit him in the chest. It knocked the wind out of him. "Oh great, I'm going to die now," he thought. Then the QuickLift let him go. He saw the canal floor rise up to meet him. "I'm really going to die now," he thought. His legs took most of the impact, and he felt the bones shatter. He thudded next to something soft. Another body? He tried to look over, but found he couldn't exactly move. The only thing he could see was some blue fluid leaking from a hole in his chest where the bullet had hit him.

The pain consumed him like a giant, white light, and soon he was unconscious. In his dream theater, he heard a loud clang, then something round and metal landed on his chest.

Meanwhile, Javan collapsed. The white noise stopped. It wasn't even there on the periphery anymore. It was gone. She looked at the gun in her hands. She looked down at the canal. She had no idea what was going on, but she had the nagging feeling that she had killed somebody. She dropped the gun and ran off into the night.

MyAnimeList iconMyAnimeList icon