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:
“That’ll be six fifty, hon.”
Gray handed the bills over with a faint frown. He stood at the counter of a sidewalk diner not far from the gallery called Beautiful Unit, having just made the purchase of a very strong cup of coffee. Beautiful Unit was the size of a train car and sandwiched between two gentrified warehouses turned into boutiques not far from where the Donner Gallery stood. The pale boy behind the counter had shoulder-length hair turned into a mad, wing-like hairstyle called ‘The Eagle’ that was in for the tricentennial. Gray had read about it in Polychrome, which was about the only men’s magazine he cared to read. Lots of good dressing tips in there, very professional. The boy gave him a shy smile when he handed Gray the cup, his eyes dancing with flirtation; Polychrome was also a gay men’s magazine, an oddity in this day of sexual integration, and he knew that there were certain fashions that were usually strictly ‘by boys, for boys’. Some of it he liked, like the silver caps on his lapels which were an artifact of the ‘Sterling Look’ that still had some traction in gay circles. He wore them anyway. This sort of thing probably explained his luck with women, but it looked damned good and there was something to be given up if you didn’t want to look like a savage.
But right now, Gray had needed the coffee – he thought about Donner and those horrible eyes, and how he looked at Gray with the cold interest of an insect. He smiled briefly back at the counter boy and made his exit, walking outside of Beautiful Unit and sipping his coffee in the cold air. The last dregs of the morning were boiling off under the faint sunlight that penetrated the clouds above - ah, a good day, Gray thought, when we are reminded the sun isn’t just a memory or a nuclear fireball that gives you skin cancer.
He also thought about the message that he’d gotten from Megan Cinders on his way over to get that coffee, which now stung his tongue as he took a long sip of it. There hadn’t been a computer in Askew’s apartment that had not been purpose-built for holography – no desk sets, no palm machines, not even a Minimail slug. His displays had been custom ordered to be without network connectivity. Askew even shuttled data around between his machines using data cylinders, which just blew Gray’s fucking mind. Megan’s opinion was that he intentionally kept himself a hermit, and just didn’t keep these sorts of machines around the house.
This challenged Gray’s entire picture of reality. No wireless or network connectivity anywhere near his house. Askew obviously wasn’t a Luddite, so what the Hell was this about? Who was he attempting to keep out, if anyone? He had to be trying to keep someone out, living as he was; surely nobody sane would attempt to isolate themselves that way. As Gray thought this, however, the image of the burns and that damned barrel of industrial cleaner rose to the surface in his mind. What connection was there between the two men? Both were from very different walks of life – one an artist, one a member of the police, neither with anything discernable in common. There were no racial or professional similarities, no common company. There was Angie’s tip about this Jimmy Black-Eyes, but that wasn’t likely going to have anything to do with the murder. Gray had decided, at least to himself, that if there was anything in Anderson’s case that could be related to organized crime it would be the explosive wad of cash in his pocket, not the smack he took to the back of the head. He knew that the company wanted to bury the details behind Anderson’s death, but Gray wasn’t sure that was going to be possible – not if another corpse or two showed up.
And then there was Askew, with absolutely no apparent cause of death other than the blade that cut him open. How did he get down there? Was he sleeping? Passed out? Gray tried to imagine how it might have happened; two scenarios came to mind. One involved Askew’s killer sneaking into the apartment somehow – there were many windows, after all – and sticking him from behind. You didn’t need to do much with a hot blade to drop the body from shock, after all, and it was entirely possible that the initial wound could have been made in the back and then hidden amongst the rest of the damage. The other scenario involved someone that Askew knew somehow getting to him, most likely the same way.
Gray sipped at his coffee and frowned at the street. A pair of men in heavy coveralls walked along the opposite sidewalks, carrying workboxes and chatting gravely in what sounded like Arabic. The boxy form of an ancient Honda Trio trundled past on ball tires, ‘The American Age’ leaking from its open window. Gray wrinkled his nose at that, imagining a giant Wilson Leung in his horrible suit, and took another sip. Why spines? It was trophy-collecting behavior, certainly, but what was the importance of that particular section of bone?
He tried to imagine himself in the killer’s place, closing his eyes there, cup of coffee in his hand, the steam licking upward into the cold air of the dying morning. He could see himself holding the theoretical weapon, the wide, tapered, paddle-shaped blade posited in the medical examiner’s report. The point of it passing into the wiry topography of Askew’s back, drawing an apocalyptic furrow from the back of his neck to just above his hips. If the blade nicked the spine, there was no evidence of spalling or fragments; it would take a deft hand, a surgeon’s touch, to lay open the muscles like that. And then…the neat breaching of the sacs between the vertebrae on both ends, delicately severing the spinal column. The hissing of fluid, the smell of roasting tissues that had never seen the open air. If Askew had not died yet, he certainly would have at this point as his half-cooked organs failed and necessary autonomic instructions failed to reach the survivors. Askew would lay there, the muscles would relax, the light would vanish from his eyes, and that would be it. The killer would then leave with his or her gory trophy. It must have been a male, he thought. It would take strength to do what was done, even with the help of a heated blade. Bone would still require power to cut through. The spine would have to be pulled away from any viscera. And both men were very solid; it would take strength to arrange them into the hideous pose in which both had been found. But then again, perhaps it was a strong woman. Muscular, or perhaps on stimulants or with some form of bionic augmentation…
The possibilities of modern technology, and the people who used it to murder other people, gave him all manner of horrible avenues to consider.
Gray opened his eyes, took his palm computer out of his coat pocket with his free hand, and thumbed the power button. The holographic display fired up, and he called up the medical examiner’s report on both murders. In both cases the cutting seemed to be done from the neck down, and both ‘bonings’ had been done after the victims had been put into position. He thought about Donner, how thin and ghoulish he had been. Too weak, he thought. Definitely too weak. Well who the fuck else could have done it? Not Mrs. Kim, who had been too old and fat to do much of anything other than run that place as best she could. No, something was fucked up. Something was missing. His face screwed up in irritation as he killed the display and piled himself into the Vectra.
Starting up the car, he saw a message alert on the console’s display. “Play messages,” he announced to the computer, and instantly the unsure face of Officer Park, the kid from the Askew’s building, sprang into view. He had his helmet on, but Gray could tell it was him under the visor that covered his eyes; the kid’s face was unmistakable, the kind mouth turned down at the corners with indecision, his cheek marred with the livid purple blotch of a bruise. “Hey, Detective,” he said, sounding almost painfully shy as he spoke into whatever public information terminal he was using; a run-down Verge street stretched on behind him. “Uh, I just wanted to say thanks. H.R. got in touch with me today, and asked me about what all had been going on with Officer Manson….I guess you told them about the situation. I told them what I knew. I’m getting reassigned.” His face brightened at that, then dipped again. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Officer Manson, but I don’t think he’s going to get in trouble. I think they’re just making it go away, you know how it is. They’re putting Flint and me together! I think that’s pretty great. So, ah, I just wanted to say thanks…and you can always count on me if you need something. I owe you one.”
You probably do, kid, thought Gray as he cycled to the next message – he figured that his next brush with Manson wouldn’t be anything close to kind. He’d made an enemy there, and a Pacifier was not the best kind of enemy to have. Pacifiers were street cops. They had the everyday power. They were usually the first on the scene. If Manson was willing to strike a civilian for no reason other than to shut her up, he was most likely not above trying to fuck up Gray’s day if he got half the chance. Fucking Pacifiers, Gray thought. Riot cops given routine patrol duty. That’s what you get when local civilization is surrounded by murderers and thieves on the best of days. Except for folks like Flint and Park, your average Pacification Officer had a nasty streak that made real what last century’s public only feared as a possibility in their police. It gave the company a bad name in Gray’s opinion, and he knew it didn’t help his job any when he went down into the verge. Paranoia had become reality, which only proved to Gray that most people were, in fact, out to get you after all.
The next message came from Carter. He was calling from his sedan, a massive Beguero Lapis that looked like it could seat six hookers in the back seat – better suited for Vice, in Gray’s opinion, not for Homicide. But then again, that’s the kind of cash the higher tiers made. “Looked into the situation that you told me about,” he said, looking down into the camera of the car’s console. Despite the angle that Gray had, it felt as though he was being looked down at by the senior detective even now. “Looks like there may be something to it. Jimmy Black-Eyes is actually James Black-Eyes, a member of the Duwamish Sons. You know I was telling you about them using an industrial waterknife to cut a guy up that owed them money a few years ago – I heard there might be some bizarro faction among their numbers that you might do well to look into. Tribal stuff, you know, real card-carrying stereotypes. Anyway, this guy is down with his crew down the Waterway, over near the old park. They hang out there since it’s been abandoned – though I’d watch out if I were you. I hear they don’t like ‘them palefaces’.” He winked at the last bit before killing the message, and Gray shook his head. He could never be sure if Carter was racist or if he was just getting his chain jerked. Gray checked the time (eleven fifty-two,) checked his allotted project hours remaining (forty three hours, ten minutes,) and then checked the car’s onboard map. Oh boy, back to White Center! And down by the Duwamish Waterway! If he didn’t get killed by an angry Son, he might just get a wonderful case of heavy metal poisoning just being close to the shore.
Gray heaved a sigh and pulled off the curb, and started off down the street as the meager shafts of noontime light raked the city like a halfhearted satellite strike. He’d prefer that to having to go down to the old park and deal with these jokers any day. Maybe he’d get lucky and a beam would bake the car.