The city whipped by the side windows. As the train zipped along the track, the inquisitor did not pay attention to the scenery. To Josephs, there was not much to look at. His eyes were fixed on the reflective walls of the train compartment. The artificial light from the roof bounced off his badge, making a beam of light shine on his knee. He withdrew the electronic device from his pocket and tapped away at the screen. It flickered and let out bubbly tones. A minute later, someone’s face appeared on the screen.
“Murchadh, what is the situation, did you find that guy?”
Josephs shook his head, “No ma’am, but I retrieved a DNA sample. If we stop transport out of the city, we can find him.”
The woman on the screen nodded, “Alright, I will see what I can do. You probably will not have more than a day of lockdown, Murchadh.”
“That is plenty of time, thank you,” Murchadh Josephs smiled a bit.
“Good to hear. Are you coming in? I can get a squad ready for you if you need an execution team,” the woman blinked.
“No, I can handle this one. I might see you tomorrow,” Murchadh explained.
“Sounds like a plan. Godspeed, inquisitor,” the woman wished him well before ending the video call.
Murchadh’s gloved hand slid the device back into his pocket and zippered it closed. His mind wandered back to earlier that same night.
He remembered the flash of light from the side of the road, then a flurry of bullets. It was a storm of misfortune. In the chaos of the riot on 21st and Xander Ave, the criminal being transported managed to escape.
‘What kind of psychopath pauses to visit an android brothel before continuing his futile attempt at escape?’
Murchadh pondered that question, but his thoughts were interrupted by the train coming to a stop. The inquisitor rose from his seat and left the compartment. The smooth white floors were a bit dusty but harbored no grime. The stainless steel bars separated panels of reinforced plastic-glass. Murchadh ran a gloved hand through his wavy hair, exhaling as his boots tapped against the floor a bit faster. He stepped out of the door of the train, onto the indoor platform.
He was greeted by a tan haze from the walls, fairly clean corridors led to the same open area. It was a crowd of people in front of Murchadh, either queued up to board the transport or walking parallel to the train. People sidestepped out of the uniformed inquisitor’s way as he moved in a straight path, through the crowd. Eventually, he made it to the exit. A set of revolving stairs escalated citizens up and down alternatively. Stepping on, Murchadh rode the machine down to street level.
Walking out of the less crowded part of the building, Murchadh found himself outside in the crisp, breezy night. Tilting his chin up, he was able to see the brilliant city lights. The lights bounced back down towards the streets below, with a layer of smog drifting over the rooftops. Thousands of meters into the sky, the dank urban buildings reached toward the starless atmosphere. The puddles of rain still lingered along the streets. The air was dry now, but earlier, there had been a downpour. Murchadh tried not to take a deep breath of the unclean air.
He pulled out a small box from his inner jacket pocket. Turning it over in his hands, he noted the label, ‘Warning: Cancer-Inducing Drug Inside’. Murchadh flipped open the top and clenched the end of one of the cigarettes in his teeth. He jerked his head sharply, whipping the cigarette out of the box and clicking open his lighter. With a crackle, the flame lit the end of the cigarette. Murchadh replaced the box of cigarettes and inhaled sharply. For an impoverished citizen, cancer might be fatal, but anyone with a decent salary could easily afford the cure any time it was needed. Murchadh exhaled deeply, his chest muscles easing. The smoke felt better than the “fresh air” that the poor people had to breathe. The inquisitor sighed and puffed away, self-medicating as he stalked down the damp street. He passed a man sleeping on a rubber mat. He observed a male android straightening up a newsstand. The products glowed faintly, the display screen above showing major information. Murchadh waved to the android and stepped up to the stand.
“Good evening, inquisitor,” the mechanical man smiled.
“Evening, Bob,” Murchadh put on a forced smile.
The inquisitor handed over his electronic device to the i-R08-e model android unit. The tall android plugged it into a port behind the stand. Murchadh removed the cigarette from his mouth with a relaxed, gloved hand, and exhaled a cloud as he looked around. The streets were quiet, other than the constant humming of machinery from every building. An occasional car zoomed by, all driven by the computers inside. When he listened closely, Murchadh could hear some laughing from down the road. Leaning on each other, a couple whispered to each other and chuckled away as they stumbled down the street together, completely intoxicated. Murchadh turned his attention back to Bob.
“Synced?” he raised an eyebrow.
Bob nodded, tapping the screen of the device and unplugging it before handing it over the counter to Murchadh.
“See you tomorrow, Bob.”
“Another time, inquisitor,” The android bowed his head a little as Murchadh walked away.
By the time the cigarette in Murchadh’s mouth was finished, he had arrived at a glass building. Flicking the butt of the cigarette down and grinding it to dust with his boot, Murchadh waved to the security guard inside. The android guard blinked twice and flipped a switch. The entrance slid open automatically for Murchadh to step inside. He sauntered past the android guard and tapped a button for an elevator. Fighting back a yawn, Murchadh glanced over his shoulder at the guard and gave him a nod. The guard tipped his head back at Murchadh. When the door dropped open, the inquisitor stretched and stepped onto the small lift. Fiddling casually with his handgun holster, Murchadh waited for the machine to reach the intended floor. As soon as the doors opened, he was greeted by a flickering fluorescent rod on the ceiling, unlike the rest of the lighting in the spacious office area. Murchadh walked down the second aisle from the left, past cubicles. The cubicles were a soft shade of maroon and at the end of the aisle was an old-fashioned door. Murchadh tapped the handle and the door swung open. It reeled closed again after he walked through.
“Hey, there he is!” a burly man stood up from his desk and walked over to greet the visitor.
Murchadh gave the man a brief hug and they smiled at each other, “Nice to see you, Ovvy.”
“I haven’t seen you in weeks, what have you been up to, man?” Ovvy stepped around his desk to his chair, gesturing for Murchadh to sit down as well.
The friends relaxed, easing into their chairs. Murchadh paused before answering, “I was training a new inquisitor.”
“Well, how did that go, huh?” the man chuckled, scratching his scalp through his messy hair, “Oh, do you want a drink?”
“Sure, thanks,” Murchadh responded to the second question first before continuing, “Well, she’s got heart; still has her hope intact… I guess the academy didn’t break her, like the others.”
“Aw, well was she cute?” Ovvy asked with a grin appearing beneath his thick mustache. The man’s eyes twinkled eagerly.
Murchadh only raised an eyebrow in response, pulling out his scanner machine and ignoring Ovvy. Gingerly, he placed the scanner on the desk. Ovvy’s eyes grew wide, picking up the device.
“I am trying to find a guy. I figure you could hack the transportation pads.” Murchadh crossed his arms.
“Oh no… No, no, you remember what happened the last time I did that?!” Ovvy touched a palm to the side of his head.
“You’re still alive, aren’t you?” Murchadh shrugged.
“Very funny,” Ovvy glared and shook his head.
“Look, Ovvy this guy I am after is a lowlife. He’s a killer, but he doesn’t have connections. He doesn’t have friends, so there is no danger.” Murchadh tried to persuade, but Ovvy was unconvinced.
Murchadh persisted, leaning forward in his chair, “Ovvy… this is the type of guy that goes to a second rate android play place and doesn’t bother to cover his tracks.”
Ovvy laughed, “Shit man, you can’t be serious…”
Murchadh nodded, leaning back, “It’s true. The guy is going to get caught in the next 24 hours, whether or not you help.”
“I just figured you might want to help get a killer off the streets a little faster.” Murchadh continued, watching Ovvy reach into his desk drawer.
The large man picked up a bottle of liquor and two shot glasses, setting them on the desk. He poured while he spoke, “How do you figure that 24-hour timeline?” Ovvy probed.
Murchadh shrugged, “The chief cannot keep him trapped in the city forever.”
“So it is a game of cat and mouse?” Ovvy chuckled, handing Murchadh the drink.
“Yeah, except the mouse is stupid,” Murchadh downed the shot of alcohol.
Ovvy joined him, wiping his mouth on his rolled-up sleeve, “Unlike real mice, it sounds like the one you are chasing is not extinct… but he should be.”
Murchadh smiled and nodded. The two friends maintained eye contact for a minute before Ovvy sighed and plugged the scanner into his computer. As the burly hacker typed away, Murchadh’s eyes wandered to the bookshelf in the room. A modest collection of old books was neatly organized, but it was dusty. Laying beside the books, on an empty spot, was a glass rectangle, with a holographic image illuminated on the smooth surface. On the right side of the image was Ovvy, and on the left was his wife.
“How are things with uh…?” Murchadh whispered.
Ovvy followed Murchadh’s eyes to the picture frame, “She still hates my guts.”
The two sat in solemn silence on opposite sides of the desk as the inquisitor sipped away at the alcoholic drink. The keys of the computer touchpad blinked rapidly as the man’s sausage-like fingers glided across them. Suddenly, Ovvy stopped and unplugged the scanner. Sliding it back across the desk to Murchadh, he stretched and poured more for himself.
“If that bastard goes anywhere, I will message you the location. I am going to be here all night anyway,” Ovvy smiled, looking down.
“Thanks.” Murchadh dropped a few bits on the desk, taking the scanner.
“Whoa, I can’t take your money for this-” Ovvy protested.
“It’s for the drink, Ovvy.” Murchadh waved and stuffed the scanner into his pocket.
Ovvy smiled a little and shook his head, watching Murchadh walk out of the room. The inquisitor stepped briskly back the way he came before. His badge glinted as he passed beneath the flickering artificial light by the elevator. Reaching into his pocket for the cigarettes again, Murchadh slipped one into his mouth and lit up the moment he was out of the building. He stopped walking as he exited, hearing an electronic tone indicating that he was receiving a call. Whipping out his device, Murchadh answered.
“What do you want, rookie?” he smiled fondly at the person on screen.
Her bleached blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail, “Chief says I can help you track down that guy you let escape.”
Murchadh’s blue eyes narrowed at the young woman he had been training for the past few weeks. He had not let the criminal escape, and there was certainly no need to bring more people onto the case.
“I have it handled; Chief already knows that,” Murchadh took a puff of his cigarette.
“A-are you smoking?!” the rookie inquisitor gasped, berating him in an exasperated tone.
“Yep,” Murchadh replied simply.
“Are you trying to commit suicide? Don’t you know that is against the law?!”
Murchadh laughed, “I am aware. Trust me; I don’t plan on offing myself any time soon.”
“Whatever you say, old man, the Chief wants me to get some practice with a real case,” she scoffed.
“Old man? I am thirty…” Murchadh blinked, looking around himself on the dark street.
“You act like an old man… Either way, the Chief just wants me to get practice with the best inquisitor,” she blinked, tilting her head forward.
“Chief Coral said that? She called me the best?” Murchadh started chuckling, inhaling more smoke as he leaned against the glass building and gazed at his phone.
“Well uh, yeah, of course she did. You totally are, by the way.”
“You are a terrible liar, Qinyang,” Murchadh smiled, holding the cigarette in his mouth.
“Maybe, so what? I already got her permission and I want to really learn the streets, not just the boring training,” Qinyang protested.
“Learn the streets, huh? Go to the train station on Main, I will meet you there.”
Qinyang tried to hide her excitement but started grinning, pleased that she got her way.
Murchadh took a deep breath of smoke, “Relax, rookie.”
“I am relaxed. Relaxed and vigilant, like you taught me,” Qinyang nodded.
“Quit being a suck-up while you are at it,” Murchadh shook his head.
Qinyang glared at her computer screen, visibly annoyed by the comment, “Fine. See you at the train station as soon as I can. Do you mean the one on city level B or the one underground?”
Murchadh shook his head at her mocking tone, and responded with a bit of mockery himself, “If I meant the one underground, I would have said the subway.”
“You totally wouldn’t. No one has used that term in decades.” Qinyang poked fun at Murchadh’s old English retort.
The inquisitor simply shook his head and walked down the street toward the Main street. He noticed a small dog dart into an alleyway and bark nervously. Puddles of water were still in the streets, and the moonlight could still not break through the layer of smog above. Murchadh was about to turn off his device when he heard Qinyang’s voice.
“So, what is this criminal’s name anyway?” she asked, naively.