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.
“So it appears that our vic was selling information.”
“What kind of information? That’s possibly the vaguest thing you’ve said to me all week, Dan. I don’t know if that should disturb me or give me hope.”
Gray snorted faintly from the inside of the Vectra. It was still parked outside the Hilton, where he leaned back in the driver’s seat talking to Carter through the car’s mobile link. He’d decided to call Carter before leaving, in case the senior detective wanted him to go back into Angie’s club and interrogate her further. He had also taken the time to have Central put a trace on Miss Velasquez’s movements in the event she decided to skip. No plane rides for you, missy, he thought as he’d sent the order down the line. He doubted a stripper had the resources to secure travel through unofficial channels, so this act effectively secured her.
Now Gray was talking to Carter about what the two of them had spoken about. “According to Miss Velasquez,” he continued, as if he hadn’t heard the other man’s quip at all, “She and Anderson had been involved in a sexual relationship.”
“You buying that?”
“I’m not buying that it was just sexual,” Gray replied.
“Good man,” said Carter. “Go on.”
“So according to her, the vic had been talking to her about some big score he was working on. Turns out that he’s been selling access to captured feeds from the Nexus to various people, or so he’d told her.”
Carter grunted. “All right,” he said. “Do you have any confirmation of this?”
“I wanted to get your go-ahead before I had Central conduct a probe,” said Gray. “He could have just been trying to impress her.”
“Maybe,” said Carter, “But with a wad that size on him I’m not going to take any bets. Have Security check for any holes in the network that might be attached to him. She have any idea who he might have been selling this information to?”
“No names. She said that it might have been the Koreans, but…”
“It’s Seattle, Dan. Everybody thinks it’s the Koreans.”
This was, of course, true. The jopoks, Korean organized crime outfits that came up from California early in the century had blossomed from splinters of thugs into full-fledged syndicates here in the city. Most of them operated in the Verge – in areas like White Center, in fact – but they were hardly the only players in the local game. The Russians were up there, after all, as well as the Japanese and the proto-First Nations outfit known as the Duwamish Sons. The Koreans, however, had become sort of the local Bogeymen; they were almost always involved in something. You just never knew what, or how much exactly. Thus, everyone tended to wonder if the Koreans might have been into whatever work of criminal mischief carried the day. “All right, fair enough,” Gray conceded with a chuckle. “So it might not be the Koreans. But he was killed in White Center. They have pretty serious holdings out that way.”
But Carter wasn’t convinced. “So do the Sons,” he replied. “You know, they killed a guy a few years back by cutting him open, one side to the other, with an industrial waterknife. Damned strangest thing I’d ever seen.”
“Yeah, but these wounds were caused by something hot,” Gray countered.
“No reason it couldn’t be a heated cutting blade,” Carter said. “Anyway, get a hold of Central and see if they can’t run down those leaks. After that, run down to headquarters and see if the M.E.’s had time to look him over at all. He’s an employee and in Administration, so he should take priority over whatever they’ve got now.”
“Right.” Gray reached for the ignition and paused. “You haven’t said what you’ve found over at Anderson’s yet.”
“That’s because we haven’t found anything.” Carter snorted softly. “This isn’t something that just happens, Gray, you know that. We gotta dig around. I got Martin geared up with a portable sonar cone. Pacifiers love doing this kind of shit if it means they’ll get to bust some heads later.”
Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen, Gray thought darkly. “All right, I’ll get a line to Central and see if they can’t find anything. I’ll let you know when I’m done with the M.E. or hear something before that.”
“Then I’ll talk to you later. That’s some good work you’ve done, Dan.” Carter hung up.
There was no way that he was going to be able to meet with the medical examiner in an hour and get any results, so Gray took a few minutes to alert Central about the potential breach before starting back into civilization. Though the Hilton was an island of commercial order, it was the New City where Central, a hot shower, and a strong cup of coffee awaited him. He took the freeway up from B-K and along part of Lake Washington before he finally made his way into the glittering forests of office blocks and mall towers that made up the city’s redeveloped paradise.
The New City is, by all means of definition, heaven for consumers and their corporate patrons. As late as thirty years ago, you could still stand on the observation deck of the Space Needle and see across Eliot Bay and over the Sound. In the place of that skyline one saw the Sony Towers, the Ambulex Building, Walton-Pinkett Center and its fellow structures forming a picket around the square of real estate now known as Needle Park. The windows of the Needle were heavily tinted these days, in order to cut down the roaring glow of the neon ribbing and the enormous holographic and painted-crystal displays that often dominated the sides of the surrounding structures. To eat at Sky City these days was to be inundated by commercial advertising; it still cost an arm and a leg, but at least they still had the ice cream thing with the sparklers.
It was a capitalist haven and, to be quite frank, Gray had always loved it. He had grown up here, witnessed the towers founded and soar upward to blot out the gray sky. He had been raised under the eternal twilight generated by so much commercial illumination. In a very real sense this place was a world unto itself, and Gray was one of its indigenous lifeforms. He didn’t mind that, and neither did the people who lived here. Oh, certainly there were from time to time those social malcontents who tried tried to rage against the corporate machine – but if you asked them, would those anti-corporate folks protesting down in the City Center say that their mission was any kind of success? Did they believe themselves righteous, even with the might of Pacification Services turned on them? Gray couldn’t imagine so. People would delude themselves into believing almost anything, but a wall of submachine guns spraying rubber bullets is enough to shatter anyone’s romantic notions of a corporate-free world.
For Gray, it was just fine to get with the program. He had a job that put him in an apartment tower near the center of the city, good suits and everything that came with them, he was well-groomed and had much of what he wanted at this present state in his life. Sure, the Vectra wasn’t like a Maxis – it was company-owned, but it was also a deluxe model with a full comfort package and could turn back a lot of small-arms fire. See if some stockbroker’s coupe could do that.
As Gray slowly trawled down Mercer toward Needle Park, in the near vicinity of which stood Civil Protection Center, he thought again about Anderson and the horrible harvest that had been made of him. That’s what happens when you get greedy, he thought. You get filletted like a fucking salmon.
Eventually the Sony Towers and their massive cousins loomed into sight. He drove beneath their shadows, made somehow deeper by the mazes of downtown lights; beyond them sprawled the magnificent structure that was One Wilson Plaza, the location of the Civil Protection Center and the heart of all company operations in Seattle. Like most corporate edifices in the New City it was predictably vast, consisting of a circular tower in the center of a wide, tree-dotted plaza in the middle of the concrete forest. There were no doors or windows in the Civil Protection Center, only ribbons of lights set in five recessed channels which ran up its walls to the helipad complex at its summit. Eighty-three floors of blind corporate justice, and thirty beneath street level. It was a fortress, however dressed up it might be for the public. An aggressive edifice for an aggressive force of corporate order.
At the edge of the plaza, three access stations hosted traffic. They were concrete blisters with heavy steel doors emblazoned with the half-star, half-circle that was the company logo. Gray pulled into the east station, activating the Vectra’s beacon as he approached; the doors hissed open and he was swallowed by the plaza. Gray released the wheel as Central’s computer took over, steering the car through the maze of dimly-lit access tunnels which led into the tower’s underlevels. He sat with arms crossed as he watched the traffic move around him; patrol cars moved in to follow him or passed him on the way out. Civilian cars, likely belonging to visitors to the detention center from the look of them. The occasional unmarked car, like his. Five minutes of twisting through the guts of the complex and he found himself disgorged into the sublevel seven parking garage, where the computer guided him to the nearest detective-level parking spot. Well, at least detectives got priority parking.
Gray got out, picked up the field kit from the Vectra’s trunk, and abandoned the concrete stables for the elevator trunk that ran throughout the center of the tower. He passed a few uniforms on the way whom he recognized, Harris and Lefevre from over in Redmond. Verge cops, they were Pacification but okay people anyway. The two nodded back as Gray got into the elevator and punched the button for the sixteenth floor.
Evidence was a featureless gray vault. The lobby loomed around him as Gray stepped into it, smooth panels of armorplas rising into a blank ceiling. Light spilled out over the edges of floor and ceiling from recessed strips, giving the place an even, sterile illumination. It looked almost like a hospital ward to Gray as he approached the only feature of the room. A large booth of faceted blastproof plastic was built into the wall opposite from the elevator, in which a flat-faced woman in a blue office uniform sat surrounded by a wraparound desk. She looked something like a bored fairy stuck in a crystal prison, something out of a sarcastic fairytale.
“Evening, Miss Merchant,” Gray said as he stepped up to the booth. “Nice to see you.”
“Pleasure.” Merchant had been a ‘miss’ for the last forty years and Gray couldn’t see how the Hell that was ever going to change. She sounded about as pleasant as her expression, bored and droning. “What do you have for me?”
Gray drew out his palm computer and nudged it to life, picking out the evidence file so that it glowed over his open hand. “Case number two-two-five-three-seven-three-nine. Homicide.”
“Right.” Merchant turned in her seat and her large hands swept over the keyboard built into it. The walls of the booth came to life with information, one giant monitor for her use, and Gray saw the top-level summary of the case so far conjured into being along with inventory screens and the like. “Okay, record open. What have you got for me?”
“Just this.” Gray showed her the field kit, at the sight of which Merchant extended a shelf from the wall by the booth for his use. Gray opened the kit, took out the bags containing the wallet and its itemized contents along with the horsechoker wad of cash, and dropped them into a tray that opened by the shelf. When he was done, he closed the case, and with a nod Merchant retracted both shelf and tray.
As the tray sealed, however, a loud buzzer sounded. Merchant’s face set itself into an expression of grim curiosity as she ran her hands over the console and a window of data turned red. “Getting some explosive residue off this wad of cash you brought in here, Detective,” she said, lips pursing into a kind of half-frown. “I do believe there’s a bomb in it.”
Despite the fact that the evidence was safe inside a heavily fortified and blastproofed vault during the check-in scan, Gray stood stiffly in place. “A bomb,” he repeated. “Are you sure?”
“Oh, I’m sure.” Merchant gestured toward the side of the booth facing Gray; a duplicate of her red display appeared, showing complex chains of molecules overlaid upon a coiled, bill-shaped mass inside the otherwise near-transparent image of the cash. “Sixty grams of RBC-7. Enough to take a man’s arm off, but nothing worth getting your shorts wet over.”
Merchant had taken notice of his stiffened pose, and her dull brown eyes were alight with amusement. She wasn’t fucking with him, but she was certainly enjoying his discomfort. “I see,” he said through gritted teeth before managing to finally push his irritation down. “Is there a trigger in that wad as well?”
“It looks like it…looks like some kind of heat-sensitive substance mixed in with the explosive. I don’t have any information as to how it functioned, though.” Merchant shrugged. “Well, nothing to worry your pretty little head about, Detective. I’ll get Hazard Services down here to separate the stuff from the rest. You just go do whatever it is you do.” She shrugged; a nasty little smile lined her lips. “I imagine homicide isn’t nearly as stressful as, say…evidence booking.”
Gray didn’t say anything as he turned to go; he didn’t have to. She’d read the expression on his face, and he knew she didn’t give a fraction of a damn about it. He supposed that being jammed into a little booth all day was enough to make someone a bitch – but in that moment, he wouldn’t have minded a bit if that wad had gone off and wedged a piece of the desk firmly up her ass.
Standing in the elevator, many questions swarmed about in Gray’s head. If Anderson was selling company information to others, why would he be killed? Maybe one of his clients might have decided he wasn’t giving up the goods like they wanted. Maybe someone in the company found out. He didn’t see someone getting boned like Anderson did in a back alley for screwing the company, though, especially if he already had a bomb stuck in his pants. From what Gray had heard, the company usually just found a way to put you in front of a couple Pacifiers some dark night. Had he been killed after getting the bills? It would depend on what the chemical included in the explosive mix was meant to do. Another analysis report to wait for. Normally he would go straight up to a vic’s superiors and talk to them to fill the time up, but this was Carter’s case; Administration people tended to get aggravated when you sent anything below a Tier III to talk to them, anyway. They were the folks with the business degrees, after all.
The elevator stopped on Sublevel 3, where the upper-tier locker rooms and gymnasium could be found. Gray checked himself in and found his locker, where he was greeted by the face of yet another ex-girlfriend smiling at him from the holophoto he’d put there a few weeks ago. Her name was Alison. She was a Pediatrics nurse, tall and lean. He liked them that way. Alison loved that he was a detective, but he just wasn’t moving fast enough on the career track for her. When he told her he was waiting another year before pushing for the Tier III examination she left him on the spot. It had been her reaction that had convinced him, finally, to stop preparing for the rank and to just go out and get the damned thing. C’est la vie, he told himself as he stripped, toweled up and headed for the showers. At least a long hot soak might do something to blunt the images of the day out of his mind.
“Detective Daniel Gray, Homicide Solutions. Please contact Detective Brutus Carter, Homicide Solutions, immediately. He is waiting in his office. Detective Daniel Gray, Homicide Solutions. Please contact…”
The soft voice of the paging system rang out from somewhere inside the shower booth. Gray had been standing there, leaning his back against the cool tile wall, enjoying the differential in temperatures as steaming hot water cascaded down over his front. He’d been there for what felt like hours. He let the system repeat itself a third time before calling out, “Acknowledged!” and finally shutting it up. Carter was in his office? Did Gray fall asleep in the shower and not realize it? Gray checked the chronograph on the shower’s control panel. No, it was a little after three, meaning he had only been in the shower twenty minutes. It also meant that he’d been up for nearly twenty hours and the Velocity Plus that he’d drank was long since out of his system. He’d need to crash soon if he was going to be any good for the next day.
Gray emerged from the shower, dressed, and put on his shoulder holster. He paused a moment to eye the sheathed coilgun that he carried, a Beauchamp Hornisse that was still so new that its blued finish was still almost black. It used magnets to fire alloy pellets, like an old-fashioned air gun, but at speeds that were easily lethal. No worries about smoke or flash, and there was much less noise when you fired it. The Hornisse was very compact and powerful, which made it extremely expensive; but detectives could carry their own sidearms, so long as they met guidelines, and the gun was well in line with what the company expected its operatives to carry. The pistol’s grip vanished under his suit jacket as he put it on.
Gray checked out his appearance in the mirror, the sharp Andreas Kasper suit, the blue silk tie that had been spun in orbit. He looked successful. He looked like a Tier IV – Hell, a Tier V even. He certainly spent the same kind of money on himself that a higher-paid detective would.
As he walked back to the elevator, he wondered how Alison would see him now.
“So I heard from the medical examiner.”
Carter sat back behind his desk, hands laced over his stomach. The slab of rubberized steel dominated the majority of his office which, while small in comparison to executives of any stripe, still swallowed Gray’s own little cubicle whole. Gray sat opposite him, in one of the two little leatherette jobs reserved for visitors. “Already?” His brows arched, looking across at Carter in surprised. “I’d have thought that it would have taken longer, even with priority.”
“As it turns out, when you discover that an employee has most likely been leaking information to criminal syndicates and directly threatening the company’s city contract, they want to know who killed him and how right the Hell away.”
“I can imagine,” Gray replied. His lips flattened into a line, and he found himself filled with annoyance – not at the situation, because this was what they had expected, but rather at the intolerable amusement that Carter wore on his face as they spoke. So what about this was funny to him? The company could lose its contract. People out of work. The insanity of the Old City’s residents taking advantage of the situation. What the Hell was there for him to smirk at? “So what did the M.E. Find?”
Carter shrugged. “I won’t bore you with the language,” he replied, “But the victim was struck from behind with an unknown blunt object, using so much force that his brain smacked the front of his skull. If he wasn’t dead before he hit the ground, he was before whoever it was took his spine out got started.”
“How long had he been dead by then?”
“Unknown. Not long after, though. Maybe twenty minutes.”
Gray wrinkled his nose. “What did they use to take his spine out? Assuming that ‘they’ were the same people who whacked him in the back of the head.”
With a faint grunt of effort, Carter sat back up straight behind his desk. “Well,” he began, and here his smirking expression clouded over, “They think that whoever it was used some sort of thermal cutter. Not surgical, due to the damage inflicted on the surrounding tissue. Industrial. Probably a cut-down cattle saw of some sort.”
At this Gray’s nose wrinkled again. “A cattle saw,” he repeated. “What, you mean like they use in slaughterhouses?” Though commercial beef preparation had become a luxury industry at that point in human history, slaughterhouses did still exist.
“Exactly.” Carter spread his broad hands. “They think whoever it was has one connected to a portable power supply. They don’t take that much power, after all, if you’re only going to use it on one target. Especially when it’s being done post-mortem.”
“Still, though…” Gray shook his head. “Well, that’s a damned nasty way to go. Or at the very least have happened to your corpse.”
Carter shrugged. “I’ve seen worse. Now look, we’ve got a body with a smacked skull and no spine out there, and a big wad of cash on his person that had folded into it a sheet of RBC-7 with a heat-sensitive fuse chemical mixed in. This is much more interesting to Administration than someone taking trophies. I want you to go back and bring that girl in.”
Gray nodded. “Right, I’ll bring her in – but doesn’t this now fall within the purview of Human Relations?”
Carter waved his hand. “HR doesn’t have an investigative arm, you know that. We’ll be operating as a proxy. Now don’t misunderstand me – whoever actually killed Anderson, I want their ass. But we’re gonna have to work out this thing first.”
His words were a surprise to Gray, who up until then had never heard Carter talk like a company man before. “I’m surprised,” he said, spreading his hands. “I’d figured you’d tell me to keep on the murder angle first and foremost. We’re Homicide, after all.”
There was a pause of a few seconds between the two men. Carter leaned back in his chair again, looking down his cheeks at Gray. The big man studied his younger counterpart, his eyes unreadable. Gray shifted a bit. “Ultimately,” Carter said at last, “One will lead to the other. And as you say…things change.”
“Right,” Gray said. “I’ll…get on it. Sir.” Despite the disdain he’d sometimes felt toward his mentor, it was the first time that Carter had actually sounded disappointed in him. He was surprised at how much that bothered him.