The crowds shuffle by, voices muffled by the screeching train. The steel and plastic structure was almost suspended, carefully straddling buildings while hanging off of others. The city lights echoed off the bullet train as it whizzed back and forth. There were a few separate trains that took similar paths across the magnetic tracks. One of them made a loud electrical sound as it halted in the station. Main Street was thousands of feet below the water-soaked rails. Murchadh stepped off of the escalator as it tucked the metal platforms down and inside itself. His cigarette was almost finished. With one more deep inhale, he braced himself for the stench that the cigarette had previously drowned out. The small smoking rod tumbled from his lips and he crushed it with his boot. He proceeded toward the platform. His eyes flicked back and forth, searching for the girl. He spotted the young inquisitor straightening her bleached blonde hair and adjusting her badge. The inquisitor badge was stark white and did not shine or reflect light, unlike Murchadh’s sterling silver emblem.
“Qinyang, are you ready to go?” he asked, tapping her shoulder lightly.
“You know it,” she nodded with a determined expression.
“Alright, we should start by going to the criminal’s residence,” he explained.
“His home? Why would he go there after escaping custody?” Qinyang seemed confused.
“They don’t teach you a replacement for experience at the academy, rookie.”
Murchadh led the way onto the train before the metal panels shut tightly behind them. The two made their way to a compartment, passing people who immediately got out of the way when they observed the two inquisitor badges.
“So, how did the guy escape, anyway?” the young woman asked, sitting up straight in her seat.
“A gang attack. There were shots fired,” Murchadh answered plainly, looking straight at the wall.
“Oh, was anyone hurt?” Qinyang blinked, sounding less worried and more curious.
“One executioner was wounded, and an inquisitor died,” Murchadh’s voice did not waver.
He was used to losing allies. His mind wandered back a few hours before as they rode the train.
The man’s blonde hair was matted with blood. He wheezed and winced.
“Murc-” he choked, reaching out for his partner.
Murchadh held the man in his arms and gazed grimly at the cement below. Rain battered the vehicle and pelted the two inquisitors. There was yelling in the distance, but it was drowned out by the rain combined with the throbbing in Murchadh’s head.
“Lincoln, I am here,” he grimaced, turning his attention to the fearful eyes of his fellow inquisitor.
Lincoln’s dirty blonde hair was stained red, one side of his head leaking blood. The bright red liquid clung to Murchadh's gloves and the smooth textiles of his uniform but quickly washed away in the rain. Wheezing, Lincoln blinked, trying to focus on Murchadh’s face.
“I am not here, buddy,” Lincoln whispered, his gut heaving as he coughed up blood that flowed down his neck.
“Everything is going to be alright,” Murchadh lied, bowing his head.
“Save it,” Lincoln rejected the comfort, “Just… Just get that bastard…”
“I will,” Murchadh promised.
“You always,” Lincoln muttered, blinking rapidly, “You… always.”
With a heave of his chest and a rush of blood, Lincoln’s eyes went blank. He stared at nothing, no longer watching the world. Murchadh shut the inquisitor’s eyes gently with his gloved hand. He rose to his feet, leaving the corpse on the ground. The water beat down upon them, almost stinging as it passed through the smog above. Murchadh’s blue eyes twinkled as he looked straight ahead. The city lights beat down on him as he withdrew a cigarette from his pocket. The smooth drug sat between his lips as he carefully lit the tip. Taking a deep breath of smoke, Murchadh closed his eyes. He could hear inquisitors and executioners calling out to each other in the distance. Sirens blared and colored lights flashed. Red. Blue. Murchadh glanced down at the bloody corpse of his friend. Red. He turned his head to see gunfire in the distance. Red. His eyes closed again as he inhaled.
Murchadh exhaled and leaned back in his seat on the train. Qinyang was typing on her electronic device across from him. The cushioned seats of the train compartment were dry and somewhat bouncy. They might make decent rafts if the train somehow made it out of the landlocked city to the seas. Of course, that was never going to happen. The trains were secured to their rails, in an endless loop. As the public transport carried the inquisitors closer to Thatch’s apartment, Murchadh stood up and stretched.
“Are you going somewhere?” Qinyang questioned, looking up from her device.
“Maybe,” Murchadh mumbled and walked over to the window, peering outside.
Eventually, the train screeched to another halt, allowing them to disembark. Murchadh led the way again. The duo traipsed down and then up again, into a different building. The door to the residence was ajar. Murchadh pulled his handgun out of its holster and brandished it. Qinyang rushed to follow suit. Murchadh cautiously moved inside the home of Thatch. Qinyang’s eyes were wide as she attempted to take in all the details. Pacing through the ransacked apartment, they cleared each room.
Murchadh holstered his weapon, “No one home.”
Qinyang nodded, “Inquisitors already searched here earlier, right?”
“You won’t find anything here,” Murchadh confirmed.
Qinyang still clutched her gun in her hands. Suddenly, a buzzing from the electronic device in Murchadh’s pocket got his attention. Withdrawing the communicator, he answered, tapping the screen with a gloved finger.
Chief Coral was on screen, “Look, Josephs, I don’t know what exactly you have been doing, but I am not happy.”
Qinyang and Murchadh got quiet as he was chastised, “I have a damn android on the phone that refuses to speak to anyone except for you. Care to explain?”
“I am not sure what you mean, ma’am,” Murchadh mumbled.
“Don’t bullshit me. You investigated at some android brothel and apparently, a bunch of people are dead now.”
Murchadh and Qinyang glanced over at each other, starting to head for the door.
“Get to the crime scene and secure the android, understood? I want Thatch found. This gang warfare is getting out of hand,” the Chief grimaced.
“Understood. Qinyang and I will investigate,” Murchadh responded.
“Good,” with that, the Chief hung up.
“What were you doing at an android brothel?” Qinyang stuck out her tongue in disgust.
“I didn’t do anything. Thatch did and that is how I am going to find him,” Murchadh explained, leading the way.
Thatch’s residence was not far from the crime scene.
“I can’t believe people actually want to have sex with robots. It is revolting,” Qinyang made a mock gagging sound to illustrate her displeasure at the thought.
“They are androids, not robots,” he corrected her.
“Ugh, androids, robots, what is the difference? They aren’t real,” She shrugged dismissively.
“If people perceive them as real humans like you and me, does it matter?” Murchadh raised an eyebrow.
Qinyang did not have an answer for the question, but huffed and crossed her arms.
“It almost sounds like you prefer androids to people,” she muttered.
Murchadh ignored her and kept walking. Through the alleyway and to the tall, poorly lit building he stalked. His legs moved a bit faster as he rounded the stairs. The rookie inquisitor was following close behind, keeping her gun out. The door slid open automatically. The stench of blood and iron hung in the air. Qinyang winced, while Murchadh was not impacted by the sudden change of atmosphere. The corpses around the corner were unseen, and the Madam’s body lay behind the desk, out of sight. The only thing in view was Irene, her green eyes flickering as she jogged around the desk with a smile.
“Inquisitor!” she cried but stopped suddenly when she found herself on the other end of Qinyang’s gun.
“Stop right there, that is close enough!” the rookie gripped her firearm, aiming carefully at Irene’s head.
The android halted and blinked. Murchadh gently pushed Qinyang’s hands down, aiming the gun away from Irene.
“Easy there, trigger-happy,” he shook his head.
“What is going on here?” Murchadh turned his attention to Irene.
“I wanted to show you what happened. You declared you were investigating, so I wanted to aid you,” Irene explained, pausing occasionally.
“Aw, robot-whore thinks it can help an inquisitor,” Qinyang snickered and rolled her eyes, holstering her weapon and pinching her nose with a snort.
Murchadh and Irene were the only ones seemingly unaffected by the stench of death.
Irene blinked, looking at Qinyang and tilting her head, “I am Irene. Murchadh named me so that I could help him to investigate.”
Qinyang burst into laughter, looking up at the inquisitor, “What? You named that… thing?”
Murchadh ignored Qinyang’s dismissive attitude and stayed focused on Irene, “What did you want to show me?”
Irene ran forward, towards the inquisitors, which startled Qinyang. Irene quickly grabbed hold of Murchadh’s sleeve, hugging his arm and attempting to lead him around. He shrugged, relaxing, and allowing her to show him the area. First, Irene pointed down at the dead Madam behind the desk.
“Who did this?” Murchadh asked.
Irene blinked, gazing up into his eyes, “I do not know.”
“If you don’t know, how exactly can you help us?” Qinyang retorted, shaking her head and covering her mouth at the sight of the corpse.
Irene stared blankly at Qinyang, “Who are you?”
Murchadh was about to proceed to investigate, but Qinyang was infuriated.
“Who am I? I am Inquisitor Qinyang Han, white rank 1st class, or do you not read badges?” she proclaimed smugly.
Murchadh placed a hand on the rookie’s shoulder, “Easy. She is an android. She genuinely did not know who you were; she did not mean it as an insult.”
Irene nodded in agreement, “Yes, it makes sense that you are another inquisitor. If inquisitor Josephs trusts you, then please let me help you.”
Qinyang was still fuming a bit and did not seem to think that an android could be of help.
“What else did you want to show me, Irene?” Murchadh asked.
Irene beamed at him, grabbing the inquisitor’s arm yet again and leading him into the hallway of gore.
“Oh, so that is where the smell came from,” he remarked casually.
Qinyang followed, looking like she was about to throw up.
“Wait, is this everyone?” Murchadh asked.
Irene nodded in response, “Yes, Sir.”
“Why were you not killed?” He looked around, confused.
Qinyang was about to mention that the android was not alive in the first place, but covered her mouth and nose instead, swallowing bile.
“I hid in the cleaning tank, Sir. I am able to open the lid from the inside if no one locks it,” Irene remarked.
Murchadh nodded and shrugged, “This takes a lot of fire-power… You know what this means, don’t you, rookie?”
Qinyang saw her fellow inquisitor turn his attention to her and she raised an eyebrow at him.
“We aren’t the only people looking for Thatch, and I have a feeling that riot was not started by friends of his…” Murchadh hypothesized, reflecting on the situation.
As the two inquisitors turned to leave, Irene followed along right behind Murchadh, like a duckling following its mother.
“Oh right, Irene is going to need clothes to go outside…” he rubbed his head.
“Outside? Are you saying we are bringing it with us?!” Qinyang sounded shocked and appalled.
“The Chief told me to secure the android,” Murchadh explained, slowly removing his jacket.
“Here,” Murchadh wrapped his coat around Irene.
Slightly confused, she slipped her arms through the holes and allowed the inquisitor to dress her. It was the first time she had ever worn clothing. Irene felt him lightly zip up the jacket and watched Murchadh gingerly unhook his badge from the front and move it to his pants so that it remained on his person. He had a skintight, navy shirt under the coat that he had removed. There were thin lines that looked like intricately woven metal mesh, connecting the segments of the clothing. Murchadh’s jacket was more of a huge cloak on Irene’s slender body, appearing somewhat comical as it hung slightly lopsided. It dipped over her left shoulder a little, and the bottom hung halfway down Irene’s pale thighs.
Murchadh patted Irene’s head gently as she gazed at him with faintly glowing eyes, “Alright, follow me.”
She nodded and obeyed. Not that she needed to be told to follow Murchadh. Irene already intended to follow him around until the investigation was declared over. She had not considered for a moment what would happen to her after the investigation concluded. The trio left the building together. When Murchadh suddenly stopped walking to pull out his communicator, Irene bumped into him and stepped back, bowing her head. The inquisitor shrugged it off, while Qinyang was watching in semi-disgust.
Murchadh called the Chief and pointed the camera toward Irene, “I secured the android, and we have company.”
Irene was staring at the back of Murchadh’s head, not observing the communication device for even a moment.
“What do you mean, you have company?” Chief Coral narrowed her gaze at him.
“Thatch has people after him... and not our executioners,” Murchadh sighed.
The chief shook her head, “I want them all brought in. Get it done.”
“How is the rookie doing?” the Chief asked.
Qinyang glanced up at Murchadh when she heard the question.
“She is holding up fine. She is definitely ready for fieldwork like this,” Murchadh smiled.
“Glad to hear it, get back to work,” the Chief ended the conversation.
Qinyang smiled a little, recovering from viewing the massacre in the hallway, “So, where do we go now?”