About Bone Wires
In the wasteland of commercial culture that is future America, police are operated not by government but by private companies. In Seattle, that role is filled by Civil Protection, and Daniel Gray is a detective in Homicide Solutions. What used to be considered an important – even glamorous – department for public police is very different for the corporate species, and Gray finds himself stuck in a dead end job.
That is, until the Spine Thief arrives.
Bone Wires is a dark, brooding cyberpunk noir set in the same dystopian universe as the full-length novel, Shadow of a Dead Star, and is serialized and published right here at Curiosity Quills, every Thursday.
Story Based On:
Gray slept without dreaming that night, in his bed, with Angie curled up beside him. They had not made love – again – but he didn’t mind. It was strange, because he still burned for her, yet when she was near there was always some kind of a crisis and he found himself wanting her scent, her presence, close to him over sweating it out with her on the sheets. Angie was more than that to him. She was…peace, really. He needed that much more than sex at the moment.
He felt her stir beside him in the night, rousing him. His eyes opened in the dark, saw the alarm clock with its softly glowing holographic display. It read three-thirty. In the feeble light given off by the clock display, he could see her dim silhouette, her body outlined in a faint halo picked up from the white sheets. She was so beautiful. He sighed to himself, looking at the sweep of her back; he figured that he would do most anything for her, right now. It was irrational, it was dangerous – but it was how he felt, though he couldn’t say just why. He would have to be careful not to tell her that, for both their sakes.
He closed his eyes again, trying to go back to sleep. He breathed in her scent, the wonderful perfume of her, and found that he was able. She did so much for him, and all she had to do was be there. It made no sense. It was amazing. And that’s when he thought to himself that despite everything – good sense, logic, a sense of professional preservation – he was in love with Angie Velasquez. She just got under his skin.
Not a bad perk, really. Not a bad perk at all.
When he woke again it was a little after six, and there was no going back to sleep. Even the sight of Angie’s body tangled in the sheets did nothing for it. He got up carefully so as not to wake her, then went into the living room and closed the door behind him. That should do for the sound.
Gray fired up the wallscreen and stretched out on the couch, ready to watch a little early news, when the mailbox indicator window appeared in the corner over the opening strains of the morning entertainment roundup. ‘All Access Asia’ was Jennie Hong’s show, Jennie being a bizarrely blonde Chinese woman with blue eyes and very straight, white teeth. She looked a bit like an albino porcelain doll, which always creeped him out a little when he looked at her. She wasn’t so creepy that he couldn’t watch her talk about the Aeroperfect Fashion Ball that went on the night before and the new lines for the summer season. Boleros and bare midriffs again, he thought, like his mother wore before she died. She never had gotten to get old; he was as old as she was now, in fact. Well, let the Fifties come again, he thought. Boleros, bare midriffs and asymmetrical tights, little heeled cuff boots. Monica Perez did always like to play with period couture – he remembered the dress that Angie had worn the night they went to dinner at the Nautical Star, how that had been a…seventy-six too, now that he thought about it. Winter collection. One of those rich fuckers giving her a present for grinding on him, or worse.
Well, no more of that. He’d have to surprise her come payday with something from that collection. He bet she’d look real nice in it on a cruise as Independence Day approached. He bet she looked good in blue.
Gray heaved a sigh and told the wallscreen to show the messages, of which there were three – one of them a repetition of his benefits package as a Tier Four, including a list of apartment upgrades if he wanted to give them a shot. Unused habitation credit was turned into cash, though, so he’d have to think about it. He wanted to give Angie the best he could. The second message was to inform him that he’d be able to turn in the Vectra for a brand new Honeywell Cerico, which made him sit up. The Cerico wasn’t a Tier Four ride; it was a Tier Five upgrade. The Cerico was a luxury model with ball tires and an upgraded armor and electronics package. It was a flashy option, a status ride.
Had he truly moved up so quickly? No, this had to be a reward for the scale of his discovery, finding Muller. Well, that was promotion for you, especially a media-friendly one. He’d count his blessings and turn the Vectra in to the motor pool when he got into work that morning. Gray smiled a bit to himself, trying to imagine himself behind the wheel of the machine. Then he called up the third message.
The name in the header block read MAROWITZ, JAMES. Gray frowned at it for a moment. The source tag and time/date information had been stripped out, meaning it was a ghost message; normally the name would be stripped out as well, but whoever sent it wanted to get his immediate attention. Could it really be from the unfortunate Evidence tech? Gray stared at it for a moment, got up and got himself some coffee, then came back and told the telescreen to open the message. It read like this:
I saw you on the news this past week. Good work catching that killer, I guess…but it really isn’t what this is all about, is it? I think maybe you should come and see me. I have some questions for you, and some information about Anderson that might interest you as well. It’s up to you. You know where I live, or you can get it from records. I need to at least talk to you, and it’s not like the company will listen to me now that I’ve been fired. — JM
Well. That wasn’t what he was expecting. Gray sat there sipping from his coffee, staring at the monitor. Then he looked at the ceiling, at whatever God was patently disbelieved in but on occasionally waved his imaginary ass at people. “Fucking great,” he muttered. “Like I need another crisis to think about.” He’d have to think about it. Yeah. Think about it. Meanwhile he dumped the message, closed his mailbox, and shook his his head. He couldn’t deal with it now. Not now.
He’d made breakfast for Angie and went to work early, but he left a note telling her where he was off to – no worries, darling, just off to work, that sort of thing. It made him feel ridiculously domestic, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He drove himself, not bothering to use the autodrive. After all, it would be the last drive he’d have with the old whale; it gave him a faint pang of guilt and a little sentimentality when he drove the Vectra in for the last time, and logged in the ignition fob, but that was more than made up for when the motor tech took him down to the executive garage level and showed him the Cerico.
There it was, a muscular, sexy machine. While the Vectra was a whale, this was a completely different kind of sedan, a sleek creature of the road that reminded him more of one of Askew’s streamlined sculptures. The body was made so that it appeared to leaned forward, crouched low on ball tires made of gleaming white cermet and ringed with rows of tread such that they looked sort of like croquet balls. Its body was painted a graphite silver-gray, subtle but very fashionable. All business, but the kind of business that he’d been hoping to be doing for a very long time. A thrill of victory filled him as he unlocked the car and its driver’s side door swung open like a butterfly wing; he slid inside, smelling real leather, or at least a very very close printed-tissue facsimile of it, and grinned.
The upholstery was a light slate color, and the interiors a combination of plastic and blond wood grain. The console was a new model with a paper-thin display worked into its surface and a superior audio system, and it had upgraded satellite uplink capabilities. He could connect to the Walleyes in orbit if need be. Rounding it out was a sensitive touch-shifter and – if the message from corporate was to be believed – a massive engine for pursuit if need be. It was strange; he wasn’t likely to be tooling around the Verge in this thing, but it sure as hell was built for speed. Gray slid his hands over the wheel and his grin grew wider. Hot damn, this was just too good! He reached for the sun visor and flipped it down, looking for his new garage pass, which was in its pocket next to an adhesive note that had been stuck to the visor.
Gray looked at it. The note simply said, ‘You’re welcome.’ Below it were the initials ‘B.M.’
So Moody had reach in Homicide Services, or worse, Administration. That’s why Gray got a car like this; Moody had made it happen. It made a kind of sense, too. This thing was more like the kind of car that Vice officers drove, sleek and powerful to run down smugglers and worse before they could disappear into the Old City. Was that what Moody was up to? Trying to buy him into Vice? Whatever his intention, this was just one more message, and it said one thing very loud and clear: ‘I want what I want, and I can get to you if I need to.’
Gray shook his head and sagged against the driver’s seat, rubbing at his forehead. Marowitz, and now Moody again. Couldn’t he just enjoy his fucking promotion? Did it have to be so ridiculous? Didn’t he earn a break after running down a pair of chainsaw murderers?
No, said a voice inside himself. You don’t. Because you know that Jack is right.
Did he? Yeah, he supposed that he did. Marowitz said that he had information that would change Gray’s mind about things. Well, unless it was going to convince him that everything had been solved for the better and that all was tight and sealed, Jack would probably be very surprised. Well, then. He’d have to go in and see about the day’s paperwork, sit in his big fucking office and deal with his thoughts the whole day. Then he’d go see Jack Marowitz. Gray had better have himself one hell of a good story.
Gray spent the better part of the day holed up in his office, just as he’d thought he would. Now that he was a Tier Four employee, he got some new perks. Food ordered in from the executive cantina, things like that. He allowed himself the luxury of a seafood salad with real lump crab meat and tank shrimp while he went over paperwork, going over reports from the lower-ranked Homicide detectives. Guys older than he was, Carter’s age even, doing the slum beat in the Verge. And there he was with his real meat salad safe in Central going over their reports.
There but for the grace of serial killers, he thought. Lovely.
There was something else in his inbox that he had seen, something that he had been dreading to look at all day. Given that he’d walked straight into a slaughterhouse the week before, Administration had guessed that Gray had been most likely having nightmares and generally experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress – which of course was accurate, as his little hallucination back at the Cyclops Lounge demonstrated – and requested that he go in for psychological evaluation. It was the kind of thing that happened any time that something major went down in the line of duty; if you saw a really bad crime scene, for example, or if you shot a suspect. Or maybe you saw someone die doing their job. Shit, Gray had seen all three. They couldn’t force you to do it, but if you didn’t they sure as hell paid closer attention to what you were doing when you were on the company clock. That being the case, for an ambitious boy like Gray it would make sense to just go talk to the shrinks.
Thing was, of course, talking to a psych tech just wasn’t going to make him feel any better. If anything it was just going to make him talk about the whole damned thing, and then the company was going to hear about it because ‘doctor-patient confidentiality’ was complete bullshit. They’d ask about Angie, they’d ask if he had any doubts concerning the murder case. They’d get a lot of answers they probably wouldn’t like, and then his chances holding on to his newly-won badge would instantly become a lot narrower. Even worse, if Moody could pull strings to get Gray a fucking Cerico, he could probably get his hands on psych data. That kind of leverage was something that Gray did not want him having. Call it paranoia, perhaps, but a tinfoil hat wasn’t a bad thing to invest in just now.
So taking all of that together, Gray accessed the network and declined the request that he go in for examination. He could feel himself tightening up as he touched the confirmation button on his terminal’s holographic display, as if something within himself strained to resist such professional self-injury. He told that part of him to go fuck itself, finished up overseeing the junior detectives’ reports, and by four o’clock was ready to go and risk his career all over again by driving over to see Marowitz. He made sure to avoid Carter on the way out.
Though it might have been brought around by Vice tampering, Gray had to admit that the Cerico was a dream to drive. The acceleration, the power of its engine – he would never have imagined that a hydrogen engine would have had the kind of satisfying pull that the Cerico’s did. It felt almost like a racer, and people looked when the car drove through the Waters on its way east toward Lake Washington and the Vergeward side of the New City. Marowitz had his own money, having been the only child of fairly well-off parents that had left him a fairly solid inheritance when they died. He lived in a brownstone near the waterfront that had been there for nearly a hundred and fifty years, rebuilt and modernized time and time again, in a sleepy upscale neighborhood just west of Madrona Park. Gray heard they still had the Hawaiian gardens there, but he’d never seen them; maybe he’d take Angie there someday, to stand out among the rest of the hothouse flowers. He wondered if half the flowers smelled as good as she.
Gray parked the Cerico up the street from Marowitz’s house, behind a Mercedes 6000C that had been coated with aurachrome such that it looked like a golden bullet. Parked next to something that gaudy, Gray’s car would look like a salaryman’s compact. He sneered at it faintly as he got out of the car, checking out his appearance in a side mirror – his suit was as silver-gray as the car, his tie electric blue and made of slightly reflective fabric. Flash, real flash. He considered it for a moment, then reached up and pulled it off before undoing the top button of his collar. No point in drawing too much attention, after all.
He walked down the street toward Marowitz’s building, hands stuffed in his pockets. He felt nervous as his feet tracked the slabs of concrete, his newfound paranoia chiming away in his head. Was it possible that he was being watched by Moody’s men? Or by Administration? He imagined the Walleyes staring down at him, watching him from on high as he walked down to the house’s front door and knocked.
No, that was ridiculous. The company wasn’t going to spend the resources to track someone just because they declined a psych evaluation, and the street was empty. Gray squared his shoulders as he waited for someone to come to the door, but none did. After a few minutes he knocked again.
Finally, the door opened. A sleepy-looking man, fat and balding in a sweater and raggedy jeans, stared out at Gray from under heavy lids with dull gray eyes. Jack Marowitz didn’t just take a bad picture, he literally looked like a bad DMV photo given unnatural life. He said nothing for a moment, looking up and down at Gray as if taking in every detail, then shook his head.
“You know,” said Marowitz, “You look like a company asshole.”
Gray’s brows furrowed. “Fair enough, Jack. You look like someone who just lost his job.”
Marowitz made a face. “Touche,” he said, and waved at Gray to come inside.
Gray followed him into a dim but very clean and sparsely-decorated foyer, which led past the stairs to an equally dim and sparsely-decorated living room. A pair of large windows looked out onto the street. A massive holographic entertainment center took up one corner of the room, crouched on the soft gray carpet like a beast, and a large semicircular couch faced it like a seat of theater seats. “Nice setup,” he said, looking at the glossy black cabinet and the bronze dome of the projector apparatus set into its surface. “What is that, Hitachi?”
“Voxelity,” Marowitz replied as he went to drop himself into one corner of the sofa. He looked like a sad cartoon hound there.
“Nice.” Voxelity was a new, up-and-coming brand. Very sharp color definition and excellent 3-D video projection. Someone as brand-conscious as Gray could be would have to be impressed, and admittedly he was. He didn’t sit down, though, instead leaning against the wall and shoving his hands into the pockets of his slacks. “Okay, so let’s talk. You send me this hacked-up, cryptic message, I’m here to hear what you have to say.”
Marowitz made another face. “You don’t sound really convinced,” he said.
“If I thought you were full of shit, I wouldn’t be here.” Gray felt himself slipping into his corporate mode, into the iceman’s jacket. “So let’s hear it.”
There was silence between the two of them for a bit. Gray watched Marowitz as the former tech looked him over , unwilling to speak up again. The ball was in Jack’s court. Whatever it was that Marowitz was looking for, he apparently found it – he relaxed a bit, crossing his legs and folding his arms across his stomach as he spoke.
“So I saw you on the news, as I said,” Marowitz said. “The company might be talking you up as some kind of a genius, I think you walked in on that whole thing thinking you’d take someone in for questioning and ended up stepping into a slaughterhouse. Am I right?”
Gray felt a stab of annoyance. “Something like that,” he said. “But I’ve been saying that.”
“You’ve been playing it down.” Marowitz shrugged. “It’s not like I can blame you, I mean, what the fuck are you gonna say? Hey folks, don’t give me a medal or anything, it’s just dumb luck I ran into?” He shook his head. “Shit, I don’t envy you. Especially when I saw your face up there giving that speech.”
“Oh?” Gray crossed his arms over his chest, feeling a bit uncomfortable as well as annoyed now. “How do you mean?”
Marowitz snorted now, and he spread his hands. “C’mon! Maybe most people are brain-dead motherfuckers, but I ain’t. I know a man who isn’t sure of what’s going on around him when I see ‘em.”
This kind of clarity wasn’t expected, and Gray felt more than a little exposed – but he wasn’t nearly about to show it. “So all right,” he said, “Let’s say you’re right. Why get in touch with me? I mean I feel bad about what happened to you, Jack, but it was kind of a bush league mistake.”
“So’s getting Bud Moody’s attention,” Marowitz shot back. “I mean, shit, I might have gotten myself fired, but you’ve got the Devil on your ass. At least I got my ass fucked once and cleanly. You’re gonna be dealing with that shit for a long time.”
“Funny.” Did everyone on Earth know what the hell he’d been up to? “How the hell do you know all this, anyway? You got someone watching me, or something?”
“Moody’s Vice,” says Marowitz with a shrug. “He might be some kind of monster, but he likes to brag. Just because I got booted out of the company doesn’t mean I don’t talk to people. He’s been telling his boys that he’s got Homicide’s new poster boy up by his nuts and working for ‘im.”
Gray drew a deep breath at that. His cool faltered, and he very barely kept himself from snarling. “Well,” he said instead, “That’s just talk.”
“Oh yeah?” Marowitz screwed his nose up. “Don’t tell me that, man, I know how this shit goes. Look, I’m not trying to get up your ass about it, that’s just what folks in Vice are saying. You got some kind of girlfriend you’re gonna let them use as a rat, right?”
Gray said nothing. Instead he merely stared at Marowitz, letting his icy gaze serve as an answer while he entertained fantasies of shooting Moody in the face again.
“It’s like that,” Marowitz continued, “Because otherwise you’re both fucked. You and I both know what he’ll do if he’s crossed, so of course you have no alternative. Now…what is it he’s said he’s looking for?”
The question laid on Gray’s shoulders like a wreath of lead. He stared at Marowitz for a little longer, but all his cold fury was cheerfully reflected by the fat tech. Finally, he relented. “Moody says there’s a Shard ring operating out of there,” he said. “He wants her to sniff it out and give them evidence.”
“What does your girl say?”
“She says there’s nothing of the kind going on.”
“So what does she say is going on?” Marowitz shifted a bit, sliding over to the end of the sofa and propping himself up on its arm. “I assume she’s got an opinion.”
Gray shrugged. “She says there’s just a little prostitution and light drug use. Says the owner won’t take anything else.”
Marowitz nodded. “She’s absolutely right,” he said. “There’s nothing like that going on over there. Matter of fact, I don’t think for a moment that these murders have anything to do with some crazy asshole from the European War. I think that they have something to do with whatever’s going on over at that club, and I think Moody does too. I think he wants in on it.”
Silence. Gray stared at him, unsure of what to say. Finally words came to him, and he shook his head. “I think you’ll need to explain that.”
“I won’t.” Those bland, hooded eyes stared at him without even the slightest inkling of fear. The iceman act just didn’t seem to have any traction. “I mean, not yet. What I will say, however, is that whatever he wants, it’s not Shard. It’s not whores or pillheads, either – this is something else. I want to know what it is.”
Gray looked at him. “Why the hell would you want that?”
“I’ll tell you next time.” The fat man shook his head. “Besides, I’m still digging around. You don’t have to come back here, Detective. You can sell your girl up to Vice like any of her little whore friends, and you can have your pretty badge and car and whatever else. I just don’t think you will.”
So this was it? “All right,” Gray said, “But before I go, I want to know something.”
Gray looked out the windows, at the gray street and the sleek, automotive opulence that sat parked along it. “You said you had information about Anderson that I should know about. If I’m gonna do anything with you, or for you, I gotta know what that is.”
“Oh,” said Marowitz, “That.” He got to his feet and shrugged. “Well, your report said that girl of his, that one you’re hanging out with now, told you that he was selling information off to criminals. I saw where you went and stared down that Black-Eyes character – good job, that, by the way.”
“Thanks,” Gray said with a smirk. “So?”
“Well that’s just the thing.” Marowitz nodded toward him. “I mean, sure, he was selling information, but it wasn’t anything huge. It was the other stuff he had which was way more interesting. I read the data.”
“I was told the machine fried itself.” Somewhere in Gray’s stomach, a lead weight was conjuring itself into being.
“Sure, they’d tell you that.” Marowitz gave him a wide, ragged smile. It made him look manic. “But the truth is, there were a lot of names there. Names and pictures.”
The weight dropped into him. Gray thought he knew what was coming next, and he didn’t want to be right. “Tell me.”
“You might not want to hear this.”
“Tell me anyway.”
And so Jack did, carefully and in measured tones so as not to set Gray off. It was a good thing, too, because with every word he felt his anger swell until he felt like he would explode in a pillar of fire. Angie hadn’t just been dancing for executive scum. She’d been fucking them, right there in the VIP room, and Anderson – who had been a pretty decent hacker – had been staging private recording sessions. Gray hadn’t wanted to think about Angie being involved in anything like that. And yet, that night when he had caught her grinding on that asshole she said was from Acene Electric, he had wondered – just a little bit – if more would have gone on were he not there. So she hadn’t been shitting him, and he should have known better. Now he just felt sick.
Marowitz looked at him with pity as Gray sagged against the wall, his iceman mask having shattered into an ashen mask of anguish and rage, the first expression of emotion that the tech had shown since Gray had shown up at his door. “Look, man,” he said, his voice weirdly gentle now, “I’m not telling you this to fuck things up for you – I mean she’s gotta make a living, and shit’s hard. I wouldn’t hold it against her. And here.” He held out a data wafer to Gray.
“…what’s that,” Gray asked, staring at the thing with blank eyes.
“The data in question,” said Marowitz. “Well, a copy of the names. And the only existing pictures. You make it go away.”
Gray stared at it a little longer; the horrible emotions that he felt had congealed into a kind of numbness, a mental static that allowed him to cope for the moment. He knew the feeling well; it had been the same as he had experienced just a week before, only the carnage he experienced now was entirely within him. “All right,” he said simply, and he took it from Marowitz’s hand. “Fine.” Then, “Why?”
“Call it quashing your doubts before we even get started,” Marowitz said with a shrug. “Because this isn’t about you, and I’m not trying to use you like any goddamned pawn. If I could do this on my own, I would. But I can’t. And I think that you and I would rather get this shit done right than let some Vice asshole fuck it up.”
Gray stared at him, then at the data wafer. The gleaming epoxy rectangle was tiny in his hand, glittering with embedded golden filaments. “I like my job,” he said. “I like my promotion.” It wasn’t Marowitz that he was telling this to, though, it was himself.
“Nobody’s asking you to give it up.” Marowitz laid a hand on his shoulder, seeking Gray’s eyes with his own. “Look. This asshole’s got you by the nuts already, and I want to tear him down. Now it’s up to you, and I’ll understand if you don’t come back here again, but I don’t know that this is something that you wanna turn your back on. Better you figure out and show the world now than leave it up to someone else to find out and fuck you with later.”
Gray could say nothing. He turned and left Marowitz standing in his living room, shuffling numbly out the front door and back up the street where the Cerico sat waiting. His mouth was dry, his fingers cold – it was if he was dying from the inside out. Fuck. Fuck. By the time he piled himself into the car, he was barely able to focus. And so he didn’t try. Instead he sat there, sprawled in the driver’s seat, staring out at the empty street for what felt like hours as his thoughts warred with one another. Finally out of the mental carnage came the victor, a sharp thought, a thought that glowed and smoked as if it were a blade pulled out of a torturer’s coals.
She better have answers.
Simple words, but caged up inside of them was a fury that he had never felt. Betrayal. Rage. Despair. These things sank into him, drove his hands as he started up the car and turned it back onto the road. He had to go find her. He had to talk to her. He had to find out what the fuck was going on.
Driving westward toward his apartment, where she had said the night before that she would be, Daniel Gray found himself entirely uncertain of how he’d handle being in the presence of this woman whom he so newly loved.
It scared the hell out of him.