“Everyone’s did that for a time,” O’Neil pulls a bag out of the overhead compartment.
“Did?” I test my footing. Wobbly. My legs feel like boiled noodles. I struggle to stay upright.
“Yes, Aylah. Then we all downloaded the patch. Now it only identifies after prompting. Do you need me to calibrate your rebreather too?” He hands me a pair of ear-receivers.
I fit them in and glare daggers into his back. “I don’t appreciate your tone, Investigator.”
“Sleep with it, Zulfiq. The rain’s stopped, we probably only have a half hour at best.” O’Neil inspects the clouds looming above.
“Great,” I mutter. “I love the smell of acid rain and abraded concrete.”
“I don’t think concrete abrades.”
I push him out of the tram for that. It makes no difference because he just stumbles on his feet.
“Fill me in, where are we, Investigator?”
Streets in N.C. tend to be homogenous: tall; square; concrete; simple. The buildings here are shorter – stumpy, even. Though the outsides have been plated with grey concrete, the windows still hold an air of originality, of the old world.
“The Remnants.” O’Neil studies the buildings with refined ease. “This way.”
“Remnants.” I test the word on my tongue. It tastes familiar and the scent of daisies and scrambled eggs assault me. “Sounds familiar.”
O’Neil stops suddenly and gives me piercing look. “You Reread a girl who lived here, recently.”
I don’t remember that. I try, but my mind is blank. I did a Rereading yesterday. The victim was a girl – they’re always girls, they have to be. I remember a vintage television. Blue-green eyes. The stink of Lysphil. Did she live here? I don’t know.
“I don’t remember.”
“It was yesterday. I read your report. I made the arrest an hour later.”
I struggle to remember. “Really? It doesn’t ring any bells. I don’t really remember much after.”
O’Neil looks frustrated. “What do you remember?”
There is a pain in my stomach. A warmth. My fingers seek out the spot. It is dry and smooth. “Dying,” I say and look him in the eye.
O’Neil turns away and begins walking. “It was an ex-boyfriend. Stab wound to the womb. He found her here. I don’t know if it was a run-in or he had planned it.”
“Did you honestly think you could hide from me?”
I suppress a shiver. “What do you think?”
“Passion killing. He was high on Lysphil. When I checked her records, she had registered for an abortion almost half a decade ago. It corresponds with their social media profiles; it was in the midst of their relationship. He’s being tight-lipped about it but I can draw my own conclusions.”
Green cabinets on the wall. A yellow futon. Golden watch – vase of wilting daisies. “It’s coming to me. It’s just vague, is all. These aren’t my memories, or my memory tissue or –”
“I was there during Midhurst’s lecture.” O’Neil holds up his hand.
I nod. I shift my weight from foot to the other, uncomfortable. “That you were.”
He is a few feet ahead of me, his overcoat picking up in the breeze. “Tirete was killed around here.”
“Here?” I scrunch my nose. “Not exactly subtle.”
“No, it isn’t. He was found a street down, let’s spread out, see what we can find. Send me a message if you find anything interesting.” O’Neil heads off west. I look up and the clouds are still gathered, a putrid, olive green clogging the sky. He’s gone before I can think to ask how Lio was killed. I shiver again and this time it’s not from the cold or the thought of intoxicated, wronged ex-boyfriends with homicidal tendencies. Lio – gone. Just like that, ripped away.
I take a deep breath and force myself to find something useful. Something that can maybe avenge him. He deserves that much. I think maybe everyone does.
The Remnants is the only part of N.C. deemed too rich in historical value to be refurbished to conformity. They did what they could with the outsides, and though the only images I’ve seen of the insides are photos on the data stream, I’d wager it’s a lot more unique and homier than most other flats; old world furnishings have that touch about them. The streets, though, are mirror replicas of…all other streets in N.C.
The red indicator light flashes at the edge of my eye. I pull out the glass panel. A map unfolds in my Specs, and a digital blue line centres itself in the middle of my vision, trailing down the road and eventually taking a sharp left. I consider letting it guide me to my destination; GPS and I have a love-hate relationship. I don’t send O’Neil a ‘thanks for the helpful coordinates’; his ego might explode. With my Specs projecting blue tracks to my target location, it doesn’t take long to reach there. In the gully between two buildings, there is an empty concrete space and a projected blue circle. I tap my Specs and the circle dissipates.
Lio died here. It is impossible to wrap my head around. Lio is – was – a short guy with too much to say about life, kind of like Szah except he managed to make everything out of his mouth seem funny or interesting while Szah is the plainest pinch of bitchy. I never liked Lio; he was too friendly, too happy, too there. He tried too hard, maybe. Or maybe he succeeded too many times, I grew resentful. The three of us grew up in the orphanage; there were enough people there then that contact with him was minimal until being stationed in N.C.
The street is clean. Just concrete with not even a whisper that someone might have been murdered right there. It gets you to thinking: how many other places have you been where people’s lives were taken right there, and you just don’t know about it? Because it’s clean now, and there’s no evidence anymore – so it must not have ever happened, right?
The body must have been taken, despite O’Neil’s ravings; I suspect his performance was more for theatrics than righteousness. O’Neil is like that. He has a lot of morals and ideals; if he stuck to them, we wouldn’t be friends.
I ignore the irritation that forces my jaw and fists to clench. Any useful evidence would have been dissolved in the rain, it is useless being out here, when it could so easily pour again. I study the wall to my right. It is blank and grey and concrete. I swallow the sigh of frustration. What could I find here? Is O’Neil picking up anything useful? I study the ground again. It too, is still blank and grey and concrete.
I orbit the supposed crime scene a few times. How did Lio die? Was he stabbed or shot or decapitated by a sharpened flying boomerang? I almost chastise myself for the last one. Almost.
A message flashes on my display. It’s from O’Neil:
I give conclusive scan. Still blank and grey and concrete.
No. You? Where are you looking anyway?
It takes a few seconds for his reply to come. I stare at the blank and grey and concrete in the meantime, hoping fervently it would rise up and transform into something vaguely valuable. It doesn’t. I am rather disappointed.
Surrounding area for escape routes or dropped possessions. Came up empty. Heading to you now.
I take a few steps forward. More blank and grey and concrete. I don’t know what I am expecting. It can’t hurt to get lost in a maze of concrete slabs, can it? What if the killer did too? It would be convenient, but also unlikely; the Remnants is well patrolled. What was Lio doing in the Remnants anyway? He lives…lived in Colden. And why? Was it something he knew? Locations to treasure he’d Reread off some poor sod’s fried brain? Or maybe…maybe it was like Led said and one of the extremists from Ita Ru’s campaign took it upon themselves to reform the justice system?
This frustrates me. Led saw this possibility while I was still reeling in shock. If Led were here right now, would he be able to unearth actual clues? Or would he flounder about like me? Led surpassing me in any capacity makes me taste bile at the back of my throat. I wander further into the concrete alley.
“Aylah!” I choke on spit and bad thoughts. Where did he come from? I turn and O’Neil is a few feet away, at the beginning of the alley. “Where are you going?” he asks, static taints the reception. I ignore the urge to pull the ear-receiver from its comfy abode inside of my ear canal.
“To explor – investigate. It’s your turn to stare at concrete, okay?”
His eyes narrow and he makes a dismissive hand gesture. “Sure, whatever,” he taps his temple and stares fascinatedly at the ground. Good luck to him and blank and grey and concrete. I take a right turn at the fork in the alley. I am not about to stay there, flabbergasted and confused.
I mutter a curse for O’Neil and his bringing me here. Before this one excursion, investigating was easy as Rereading someone, being eternally traumatised by their death and going along merrily with my one hundred percent success rate. Now I am going to stay up all night, attempting to decipher blank and grey and concrete, and this failure I did not even volunteer for will haunt me out of New City and probably a good way to any other island city.
I hate O’Neil, I decide. And it is almost because of this decision, that I miss it. Almost. I kick a pebble and it bounces on the wall and hits my knee. A stab of pain courses up my body and I am so angry I almost kick the pebble again. I lied, I didn’t almost do it, I did do it and you know what? It has the nerve to bounce on the wall again and hit me again. I glare at the spot where the pebble made contact and rub my leg. Then I glare at the pebble and then the bit of wall that is apparently so bouncy and only then do I see that this wall is not blank and grey and concrete. I freeze, trapped between a feeling of horror and happiness. Overjoyed that I found it, really, but rather taken aback at what it is.
I look up and all of the higher windows have nailed metal canopies outside of their homes. Because it is enclosed in this alley, it must not violate the Homogenous Act. And it makes sense. I look at it again. It is a hastily scrawled letter, in red…please let it be paint. The letter was dripping at one point, because there are dry lines stained into the concrete.
What is ‘V’? What does it mean? A calling sign? A message? I don’t know. I do know that there is a randomly written blood letter scribbled onto the side of a building. I look up again and I know that canopy. The memories O’Neil stirred up are breathed to life. That is the canopy outside of the girl’s apartment. The one I had Reread yesterday. The one that died.