Chapter III



Six hours before the almost-fight with Owais and the windbag, Shah sighed and closed the feed.

            “Anything?” Marietetski said. The light glistened off his shaven scalp, which was so black it looked blue.

            “Maybe,” Shah tried to suppress an ache at leaving those searing blue skies behind for the sooty rain of New York. “The memory’s from Arizona, and it’s a boy, which fits our amnesiac. It’s fresh too, no softening of the images like you’d expect with old memories – no imprinting what we’d have liked to have happen, over what did.”

            “Arizona would fit the soil type taken from the vic’s fingernails,” Marietetski said. “He’s got Hopi tattoos on his forearm. Did you say that there was a cistern with Hopi style designs?”

            “Yep,” Shah said, running thumb and forefinger down an invisible beard on either side of his mouth. “I think we’ve got enough to farm it out to Nuevo Mexico. ‘Bout time they started running decent ID files on their new citizens, isn’t it? They wanna buy the state, they should take responsibility for their new citizens.”

            Marietetski’s laugh was more of a grunt. “Too busy building their new border,” he said. “Besides, most people want to go the other way nowadays. Maybe their Missing Persons people can turn up some long lost relatives here? Had to be a reason he ended up in New York.”

            “I think they aren’t too bothered about talking to any of the Displaced about whether any of their relatives are missing,” Shah said. “Besides, if that memory was him, and his family couldn’t support the kid while he was fit – that was why he left – what chance will there be of their taking back a vegetable?  The bastards that did this – ripping almost all his memories and posting them, for what, for a few calories?”

            “Easy, easy,” Marietetski said, patting his shoulder before walking away.

            Shah hunched over his desk, surrounded by meter-high mountains of clear plastic folders, each bulging with paper. Around him, the ten by ten meter square room was packed with desks at which uniformed and plain-clothed men and women sat and worked quietly.

            “Doodling?’ Captain van Doorn’s quiet voice cut through what noise there was.

            “The psych analysts like to call them thought representation graphics,” Shah said without looking up. The thoughts they represented were primeval – anger, sadness, fear – but his voice was level.

            “I’ve heard you say you grew up calling them doodles. You going to clear some of these?” Van Doorn slapped his hand on one of the miniature mountain ranges on the desk.

            Shah stared up at the seamed face. “Better we don’t have ‘em at all. Heaven knows, we shouldn’t save the last of our trees if it means we can’t find a file for two seconds.”

            “That’s right,” van Doorn said, ignoring Shah’s sarcasm.

            Shah continued as if van Doorn hadn’t spoken, “My old man used to talk ‘bout how a hundred years ago the futurologists claimed there’d be paperless offices. Hah. Turn of the Millennium they gengineered parasites, auditors, who made everyone afraid about everything. They scared our bosses ‘bout seventeen different types of backups all crashing at once and how if we couldn’t find a tiny piece of paper, that it’d send us all to hell; that they reckon it’s better we spend our time shuffling papers than catching perps.”

            “You finished ranting, dinosaur?” Van Doorn added, “Paper isn’t made from trees anymore. Everyone knows that.”

            He didn’t wait for an answer, so Shah had to settle for glaring at his broad back and muttering, “Yeah, pseudo-yeast. I know that’s where it comes from, helmet-head.” He tore a corner off and chewed it, then spat it out. “Don’t taste any better than it ever did, though.” He stood up, and placing one hand on the top of the nearest pile to hold it in place, pushed the bottom six inches of the pile off his desk and into the garbage can.

            Shah returned to his doodles. His stylo gouged deep holes in the scrap “paper” that he used up faster than anyone else in the office.

            “Got you a coffee.” Marietetski placed the cardboard cup with its steaming inky contents beside his pad. “NoCal OK?”

            “Thanks,” Shah said without looking up. Then he straightened, for even the thirty-seven calories of the murky sewage would go onto Marietetski’s account, and count toward his young partner’s government-approved fifteen hundred-calorie basic allowance. “NoCal’s just fine. Thanks for remembering it.” Kids of Marietetski’s age had long ago had any kind of sweet tooth ripped from them by a world of shortages.

            Marietetski shrugged. He had as many cases as Shah, but far fewer folders, and they were anorexic by comparison. He picked up a particularly thin folder and replaced one piece of paper with another. “Couldn’t have you spitting coffee all over me.” When Shah didn’t rise to his provocation, he added, “Bitch, huh?”

            “I got nine-hundred-ninety-seven ongoing cases.” Shah poked the stylo savagely through the ‘paper.’ “You know, I know most of them lead back to a single source. Arson, burglary, petty theft, prostitution, memory-ripping; their common denominator’s called Kotian. And can we prove it?”

            He glared at the windows, which for all their self-cleaning implants, seemed to accumulate grime in the way New York’s windows had always picked it up. Then he turned that glare on Marietetski. He said three words: “Five more weeks.”

            Marietetski made a what-can-I-say gesture.

            “Five more fricking weeks and I could have, should have, been sleeping late, strolling down to Manny’s for breakfast, then working out how I was going to spend all of that free time that retirees earn.” The words spilled from him now, a white-hot lava flow of accumulated resentment and frustration. “Van Doorn just comes out with ‘SuperAnn Fund Deficit’ like it’s a traffic report. No frickin’ ‘sorry, we’re raising the retirement age by another five years, and you’ve got to work till you drop’.”    

            He stopped abruptly. Took deep breaths, and visualized a beach, waves breaking on tropical golden sands. Gradually, his heart-rate slowed, and he opened his eyes. Marietetski’s patrician features were carefully blank, composed into their usual impassive mask. Only his eyes gave him away. But instead of their usual distant contempt, Shah had caught a flicker of sympathy.

            Then Marietetski grinned. “Walk down to Manny’s? You’d die of boredom in a month with no Kotian to bitch about!”

            “I’m a dino, all right,” Shah said. “I arrest perps, not make up shit about why our cleanup rate for hour-old crimes has dropped from seventeen-point-three percent, to seventeen-point-two.”

            “Huh, Triceratops, it’s up to seventeen-point-five. Climbed point-three of a base point over that bust of Jeffrey’s yesterday. The perp owned up to eight more dockets.”

            “Well, hallelujah,” Shah raised his cup in a mock-salute. “It might even get us off the bottom of the league, but hijo, I got to tell you, while you’re yoked to me, you aren’t going to get that Cop of the Month award.”

            Marietetski shrugged. “Who wants to go to the Micronesian Enclave anyways? I went there on my honeymoon. And Beijing? Big deal. No, I’m just happy being a dino-sitter.”

            The sheer outlandishness of the claim made Shah burst out laughing, and his partner grinned.

            Both men sipped at their coffee, staring into space. Then Shah strolled across to the recycler, and stared out of the window at Ellis Island and the radioactive stump that was all that was left of the Statute of Liberty, bathed in the watery sunshine that separated several bands of showers.

             A woman’s voice called from the partition separating the front of desk from the office. “Excuse me… sir? Sir, you there with the dark gray suit? Could you help me… please?”

            Shah looked over. It had been on the tip of his tongue to tell her to talk to Hampson, who was staffing the front desk. Then he saw the line of people, and let out a low whistle, before double taking on the woman herself. Shah turned to see Marietetski’s raised eyebrows, and caught his partner’s nod toward the desk. He noticed that almost all of the men had stopped working to stare, and that Marietetski was grinning. “Your treat,” the young man mouthed.

            “What’s the problem, ma’am?” Shah said. Hampson hadn’t even looked over, but was trying to calm a couple of irate Chinese down.

            “I’ve lost my ID – or it’s been lifted,” the woman said in an accent that smacked of money. She was jaw-droppingly beautiful. Probably – Shah guessed – cosmetically enhanced, and any of her clothes probably cost more than what he made in a month. She glanced round at the people around her as if she had awoken in the midst of a pack of hungry feral dogs. She looked close to tears. “I’ve been waiting for almost an hour and this, ah, gentleman,” she nodded at Hampson, “well, he’s clearly very busy, but I don’t even have enough credit for a glass of water. Please?” Her voice rose on the last word, but she subsided at Shah’s outstretched hand, palm down in a stay calm gesture.

            “It’s OK, Ma’am” Shah said. “I’ll get you a glass of water. You just have a seat, and take a few deep breaths, and I’ll be back in a few seconds.” On the way to the cooler, Shah passed Hampson and hissed in the duty officer’s ear, “What the hell’s going on? She’s been waiting an hour.”

            “No she hasn’t,” Hampson said without taking his eyes off the Chinese tourist, nor allowing his fixed smile to waver as he answered the Mandarin tirade in a loud, slow voice. “I understand your frustration, sir, but until we can get an interpreter – and we can’t get one for another hour – we’re just going to have to try one another.”

            Shah reached the water cooler. “Fine looking woman,” Detective Stickel said. The vertical line between her eyebrows deepened. “Course you’d help just as much if it were a guy, wouldn’t you?”

            Shah filled two cups. “Course I would. Good Samaritan and all.”

            “A what?” Stickel’s head retreated an inch, as it often did when she was surprised.

            “Read your Bible,” Shah said.

            This time Stickel’s head recoiled a full three inches, and her eyebrows shot up. “You? Telling me to read that old book-thing? Ha, that’s a good one!”

            Does she know I’m a Mussulman-boy? Shah wondered. Is that what she means by the “you?”  He kept his face deadpan though, letting none of his thoughts show. “Oh, I’ll quote any old bit of religion.” Shah raised one cup. “L’chaim!” He tossed it down and refilled it, slowly, all to irritate the waiting Stickel who was a royal pain in the ass. “See, Hebrew too! I’m covering all the bases, just in case God turns out be real, and he’s affiliated.”

            “Yeah,” Stickel said to his retreating back, then removing any doubt. “Salaam.”

            As Shah passed again, cups of water in hand, Hampson turned from the Chinese tirade for a moment. “Can ya take care of her? Please?”

            Shah almost said, “Loss of ID – while it’s serious – only needs the counter-sig of one of the duty officers.” But it had already been a long day, and he had five more years of long days. “Ah, fuck it,” he muttered, and kicked open the partition door. “Ma’am?” he said. “Follow me to one of the interview rooms. We’ll sort this out now.”

            “Thank you,” she said, her voice wavering momentarily.

            Shah waited, then walked alongside her, listening to the clack of her heels on the floor tiles, breathing in her faint perfume and studying her out of the corner of his eye. Tumbling blonde hair, tip-tilted nose almost too perfect, and he’d already noticed the wide but rosebud mouth and cornflower-blue eyes. That she was half a head taller than him in her heels was all that marred her perfection – and oddly enough, that made her human.

            “That a mark on your temple?” He said when he sensed that she was about to make a smartass comment about him looking her over.

            “This?” She pointed at the faint pink scarring on her skin, but didn’t touch it, which impressed him more. “Where they caught me when they lifted my eyepiece.” She grimaced. “I am such an idiot. You hear stories about the street gangs mugging people for their pieces, but you never think it’ll happen to you. They left my purse, which only makes it more galling.”

            Shah held the door to the interview suite open for her. “Thank you.” She shot him a dazzling smile, and he stood in the doorway collecting his thoughts and enjoying watching the play of her ass beneath her expensive skirt.

            He strode in and waved to the visitor’s chair.” Take a seat Miz…” and wondered idly whether everyone knew and shared Marietetski’s pity over his bad news; anything to stop staring.

            “Debonis.” She sat and crossed an elegant leg. He guessed that just her pointed-toed stilettos cost a few thousand bucks, or duty-free rupees, as seemed more likely. “Aurora Debonis. The little bastards skinned me while I was out shopping.”

            She held up a tiny paper tote bag, no doubt containing her equally tiny but expensive purchases. “My friends all work the dayshift, so there was no one I could call. I thought that I might as well report it straight away. And see if I could beg the cab fare to a friend’s place. Please don’t suggest the subway.”

            Shah bridled, but then laughed silently at himself. Of course she wouldn’t want to ride the subway; you might be OK, but her clothes would scream target louder than a damn siren.  

            “I’ll just call up some details,” Shah said. “Social security number?”

            She rattled off a string of digits which Shah repeated, the tiny sensors in the eyepiece picking up the movements in his jaw, although, as often happened, the numbers that appeared in front of his vision included an incorrect “five” instead of the correct nine. He repeated the number, mentally cursing, and this time the number came up true. While his eyepiece responded, he took a retinal scan. Within seconds, her face stared back at him from his lens. No criminal record, he noted. “You’re a–” he almost said hooker, but suspecting that it would be inappropriate, changed it to, “companion?”

            “I am.” The crispness of her answer endorsed his guess. “All licenses and taxes paid up. Does my profession change anything? Perhaps you’d have left me waiting where I was?”

            Shah tried to keep his face straight, and gave up, allowing a small smile to creep across it. “Not a darn thing, Ma’am. As long as you’re legal, I’ve got no issues at all.” Many of his colleagues were still old-fashioned enough that they would have left her in the line, but the thought of ducking his outstandings to help a hooker made him feel as if he’d really flipped the Mayor the bird. He checked his eyepiece and checked the whistle that he almost made. “You live in Llewellyn? Business must be good – think I should change careers?”

            She took in his rumpled suit, the faded coffee stain on his tie that wouldn’t come out, and his mournful face and grinned back. “You’d clean up in no time, officer. I think the house next door’s for sale.”

            Shah grunted. “How many millions?”

            Aurora made a moue. “You know the old saying – if you have to ask…?”

            “You can’t afford it. Yep.”

            “Do you foresee a problem with issuing a replacement card?”

            “No more than you would expect from the FBI,” he said with a smile that she didn’t return this time. “I’ll call the attorney you have listed as your contact.” He rattled the number off to the meeting-phone that sat on the desk. Moments later an androgynous voice echoed round the room: “Harcourt and Robinson; how may we help you?”

            “I’d like to speak to Stephen Harcourt, please,” Shah said. “I’m Officer Pervez Shah of the NYPD, calling about Ms Aurora Debonis.”

            Faster than any human could have managed, a fractionally more masculine voice said, “Officer Shah? This is Stephen Harcourt. What’s this about Ms Debonis?”

            “I have a lady with me who’s been mugged and lost her ID,” Shah said. “If I turn the cam on her, and she says a few words, can you provisionally confirm her ID pending DNA verification? It’ll only cut a day or two off her waiting time for a replacement ID, but every little bit helps.” Shah swiveled the cam.

            “Of course,” Harcourt said. “Hello, Aurora.”

            “Hello Stephen, yes, it’s me. That’ll teach me to be casual in NYC, won’t it?”

            “I’ll need you to answer some security questions. You have a memory copied to me for identification. What is it?”

            “A tennis tournament I played in when I was fifteen. I won when my opponent back-handed into the net.”

            “Great. Please provide the police officer with a DNA swab.”

            Shah took a tiny scraping from the inside of her cheek and inserted it into the analyzer. After a few second’s delay Harcourt said, “I provisionally confirm the voiceprint as Ms Aurora Debonis,” and repeated her social security number. “Thank you, officer.”

            The line went dead, saving Shah the job of wondering about the etiquette of how to say goodbye to an AI on the Micronesian fleet. He called the DHS number, recited the coded instructions, and hung up. “They’re not good with routine requests – too many emergencies – and making you sweat a couple of days gives them time to nose through your trash. But you should have it in a few days.”

            “Oh.” She sat blinking through the implications. “That means no travel, no–”

            “Shopping. Yeah,” he said sympathetically, standing up. “I can loan you cash to buy food, maybe at a corner Mashriq. I’ll call you a cab, and put it on my card.”

            “Thank you,” she said. “I”ve been worried sick,” she explained with a little laugh, her eyes glinting.” I walked all the way here.” She showed him blistered heels, and echoed his thoughts. “And in these shoes!”

            He walked her down to the pickup point. Although it was six floors down; he had the native New Yorker’s aversion to riding in elevators since continual brown-outs had started with power rationing and multi-sourcing of energy, and waited with her for one of

the rare and hideously expensive little yellow pods. She turned, as she climbed in. “You’ve been a great help. Thanks.”

            “My pleasure.”

            “See you soon, I hope.” She flashed him a smile. He was sure it was purely professional, but was still surprised at its warmth.

            “Who knows?” He smiled back.

Chapter IV

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