I checked in with Andrews and Ms. Philips first thing in the morning, of course, my idea of ‘first thing in the morning' is 2:00 PM. Andrews understood, he knows my schedule. Ms. Philips on the other hand... I think it was a combination of things: not getting anywhere in her search; the fact that the one day I was working the case had come and gone without result; the fact that I was updating her at 2:00 instead of ‘first thing in the morning.' (Which for her, like most people is probably before 8:00.)
Next I checked with dispatch. There hadn't been any calls from Paren Dee & Nebula Pharmaceuticals, but I figured the day was still young. I wondered if their safety record imploding on itself had anything to do with Darwin's disappearance but somehow I doubt any calls from them will involve him.
Especially after all the work someone's done to make it seem like he's never been where ever it was he's been.
I stopped by Blue's and got a quick bite and a quick matrix connection. I had never thought to use it for the daily news feeds, but it was great for that as well. I also hit the pharmaceutical company's main business page and read their public history information, and their white papers on ongoing projects.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but then again- eight accidents in three weeks is anything but ordinary.
Ray knew something was up as soon as he saw me. He rolled his eyes slightly when I told him what was happening.
"Jess," he told me. "You took the job for one day... you did the legwork so that everything was ready when he was officially declared missing... that should have been the end of the matter."
I nodded, started to object when he continued.
"But a lab having a sudden rash of accidents... maybe what they need is a safety inspection."
I studied him for a few moments and snorted. "Yeah, but they wouldn't even let the medics in the pick the people up... they prepped them and brought them out to the ambulance... you think they're going to let us in for an inspection?"
Ray grinned at me and winked. "Its not a question of them letting us in my dear... but the union..."
He surprised me with that. That's what I love about Ray. If there's a way.. he'll find it and he'll do it with style. Three phone calls to the union and one return call and we have an appointment at Paren Dee & Nebula Pharmaceuticals in the morning.
I don't know what I was expecting at Paren Dee & Nebula, but I can tell you it wasn't what I found. The halls were pristine and the labs they showed us were completely normal. A representative from the union greeted us at the gate.
Needless to say, he knew Ray- and he'd heard of me.
"So you're Citiwide's new motorcycle medic," he commented as he shook my hand.
I had to grin. "Nah, I'm the old motorcycle medic... Ray here, he's the new one."
He chuckled and made a slight joke about old dogs. Once he was sure we were ready he showed his credentials and ours, the guard opened the gate for us. He did not look happy to see us. As we walked back I stiffened slightly- I swear I heard a low growl come from him, like a large cat.
He turned slightly, with almost cat-like grace and looked at me from the corner of his eyes. It was very unsettling.
Very quickly we were met by a representative of the company, definitely a PR man by trade. Made all the big friendly gestures, the friendly, if slightly sexist joke to ‘lighten things up.' With him was a representative from the local union, one who worked in the labs.
We asked them about their record, safety devices. They showed us the wash basins, emergency shower, the hoods. We tested them out. Ray and I both noting how they PR man and the inside union guy were exchanging looks. It was like they were asking how to appear co-operative and yet give us nothing.
Ray and I just went on as if we hadn't seen it, but we didn't let them slip past the lab where the accidents occurred. When we reached that door we stopped. "How about this one," Ray asked as he nodded towards the door.
"Oh... that one's closed for renovations. Getting the latest and greatest in safety," the PR man told us with all the genuineness and believability of a used car salesman.
We nodded at each other and started moving towards the door as accident number 9 went into full swing. Ray and I were pushed against the far wall by the concussion as the sprinkler system kicked on. We stumbled to our feet as the first victim staggered through the doorway.
The PR man screamed.
Saying that chaos reined would have been an understatement. In the next 5 minutes, it was all Ray and I could do to remember to breath through our re-breathers. Slipping them on was second nature, but relying on them is another.
The PR man tried to stop us as we headed towards the door. Security was already streaming in to ‘contain the area.’
That would have been fine if their containment meant protecting people, but all they were concerned about was securing the area– keeping us from seeing any propriety production methods.
Without even thinking about it, Ray took over, occupying security, the PR man and his crony by ordering them to close off the area and to help with the injured,.while ordering his buddy and me into the room to assess the situation and triage the people inside the room.
We headed in while he was directing traffic. There were five people in the lab, and they did not look good. The explosion seemed to be centered along the far wall, dangerously close to the gas tanks. Chromatography was off the scale-- that meant our first priority was to cut off the gas supply and let the hoods do their job.
As the gas was vented from the room, security had recovered from Ray’s ‘attack’ and were back in control. They ushered us out along with the injured, but not before we saw the project itself.
Now, I’m not exactly sure since my bio-chem’s pretty much limited to emergency medicine and some minor ‘wilderness medicine’, but what they were working on sure looked... wrong. I’ll bet if I slot a chip on Bio-chem procedures and pharmaceuticals I won’t find anything like it– anywhere.
As we finished stabilizing the victims for transit, the PR man was talking charges of trespass– we were talking about sabotage.
That at least got him to shut up. He may have jurisdiction of how injured accident victim’s are transported out of their facility, but the Star had jurisdiction over violent crimes, and Citiwide had jurisdiction over Arson investigations. Looks like everybody is now in on this one.
He wasn’t too pleased, but I didn’t really care. They had a serious problem and all they cared about was their proprietary little process. Security hadn’t secured anything, just kept everything quiet, and because of that, seven more people were injured, two seriously.
That comes under negligence, and I know Ray’s Union friend was taking notes. Once the investigators arrived and Ray and I filed our reports, the 43rd had taken over the arson side of the investigation. The Star told us they’d get copies of our report and call us if they had any questions.
I had plenty of questions, but I couldn’t ask them there. I headed over to the hospital to check in on our patients. The guard who had waved us in was conspicuously missing. This seemed to confirm in my mind that something was definitely up, and someone a hell of a lot bigger than Paren Dee & Nebula.
I wasn’t able to talk to any of the folks from Paren Dee & Nebula, but I passed the information on to Andrews and headed home.
Six hours later, I was back at the station. I smiled when I saw that the trucks were grimy and Walter was sacked out on the couch. They’d had a tough day, which boded well for us.
It wasn’t as slow a night as I’d have liked, but it was slow. Just a long series of “normal” runs. If there is such a thing. After shift I went home for a change and played with the cats before going to bed. In the fridge I found another note from Fin.
You’d figure by now I was used to it, but no...
It was a warning about the case, and how it was putting me at risk with Aztechnologies. I think it’s a little late to be worrying about that since *he* was the one who got me on their ‘this person could be trouble’ list to begin with.
At least he confirmed that I wasn’t just being paranoid about that guard. And another bright side, I guess, is the fact that I know he’s all right. All right and breaking into the condo– again.
I don’t know how he does it and I’m not sure I want to. I mean, I’ve been using the security measures the boys built in ever since Casey showed me where they were and how they worked. I thought about getting Casey to give the place another going over– but I think I’ve already messed that up and I don’t think either of us need to rehash it.
Oddly enough its not easy to sleep after finding a warning message taped to the milk in your fridge, in the middle of your supposedly secure home– but I’m learning.
I woke up around three, gave the apartment a once over with a dust rag, grabbed my bagel from the diner and headed in.
They tell that bagel’s have gotten very popular with the ‘on the run’ crowd.
I got to the station a little early and checked in with Andrews– there were some new developments with the Darwin Philips case and he briefed me on them. It was nothing concrete, but it was looking like industrial espionage and ... recruiting. I told him my suspicions about Aztenchonology and he agreed with me, but, as he was quick to point out, suspicion doesn’t get you anything in this business.
I didn’t get to the finish the call before Ray and I were on a call. As a matter of fact it was midnight before I got to my bagel. In the bottom of the bag was a new menu for the diner... added to the breakfast list.. “Jess’s special”
Well, there wasn’t a note waiting for me this time when I got home-- Fin was there in person.
He was looking a little bit different than he did the last time I saw him– before he got mauled that is. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, but as I hugged him, I realized he’d bulked up some. I knew that the only way he could have done that so quickly was with some surgical help. I bit my lip rather than comment. Some of the enhancements out there can be pretty dangerous, but then again, not having enough strength is probably what got him hurt.
I locked the door, then flopped into the couch and gestured towards one of the seats.
“So...” I prompted.
“So...” he sighed as he eased himself into the chair. I could tell by the way he moved, he’d gone for enhancement. I’d learned a few things about the process in our med classes. Fluid movements, stronger ligaments were just a few signs that the patient was more than standard issue... and that meant some very different treatment procedures when treating damage. Cyberware’s even worse. I keep several chips on that handy, just in case...
Guess we all do what we have to remain competitive; to stay alive– that’s the real key.
He studied me for a while and then let his breath out slowly. “Jess... you know I wouldn’t have involved you if it hadn’t been important... and... I never gave you your payment for what you did.”
I stared at him in surprise. “Fin,” I told him. “What I did– I did because you asked me. I know you wanted to try and protect me, and all your alibis would have worked in dealing with the Star in s standard investigation, but Aztechnologies aren’t people to be trifled with.”
Even I know that. I mean, I may be naive, but I’m not stupid.
He sighed. “Yeah, but I figured it was worth what we were getting.”
I shook my head. “Nothing’s worth what you and the others went through. You could have been killed...”
He gave me a smile. “But we aren’t... and it was worth it,” he told me.
I was so sure he didn’t get it, but it turned out I was the one who didn’t get it. He handed me a data chip and told me to take a look.
It had been worth it. And my payment was specifically designed for me. It was a case file, dated 7/23/56. A team of seven shadow runners had raided one of their ‘off base’ storage facilities. Two of the people were very familiar. Their general builds were too familiar to miss-- Matt and Alan. I looked at him with a combination of gratitude and surprise.
He smiled, “I figured you’d want to see that.”
I nodded, too surprised to do much else. It was the best news I’d received in a very long time. I tried to ignore the fact that Andy wasn’t there, but it was still possible that he was working with them, safely tucked away somewhere– that’s the way PC says its usually done.
I was a jumble of emotions. I was tired, worried, confused, happy, and hopeful.
Fin just watched me for a few moments, then sighed. “And now you’ve got yourself on the wrong side of AZT... again.”
I shook my head. “It wasn’t my fault!”
“Jess,” he sighed. “It never is, but they just don’t care. You become a threat to their operations, they let you know.”
I nodded. “You know that better than me,” I told him.
“Yeah– at least they didn’t get you.”
I nodded, as I remembered the leopard and the whisper in my mind. “They almost did,” I told him. “They almost did.”
His eyes narrowed as he looked at me. “Aw Jess... I’m sorry... I figured we’d covered your tracks well enough.”
I shook my head. “The guard... he knew my name... knew my curious nature and warned me that it was a dangerous thing.”
He moved closer then, kneeling beside the couch. “Jess, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to endanger you. I just...”
“Wanted to get me information on the boys,” I finished for him. “And it was worth it.”
I could honestly say that. It was worth it for me. I had all but given up hope and now I knew at least two of them were alive as late as July. It gave me hope, but according to the file, they were still on the run, and building up a whole new list of enemies.
I seemed to be inheriting those enemies. I didn’t sleep that much before shift, but we had a quiet night. When the morning came, I was ready for some sleep, and another review of the files that Fin had given me.
Hope is alive again. I hadn’t really noticed how much had died inside me, until he gave me a glimpse of what I wanted... they’re out there, and I’m going to find them.
I tried not to get my hopes up. The fact that Aztechnology had a file on my brothers meant only one thing– they were in serious trouble. I’d known that much but at least now some of the trouble had a face.
Still, no matter how I tried to keep everything bottled up inside, I knew that they were at least alive, and still fighting as recently as two months ago.
As that fact settled in, more questions started filling my mind. Was their original trouble AZT, or was it something else? Did this ‘raid’ have something to do with what had tried to take them out, or was it just something they did because they didn’t have enough trouble already? And finally, were they really missing, or did they not want to be found?
I’d been looking for John Doe’s– unidentified people, and for information on them by name. I hadn’t even taken into consideration the fact that they might have been hiding under assumed names.
I stopped by records on the way home, doubting even more that missing persons would ever be able to help me. As I waited in line I couldn’t help but notice the woman at the front of the line. Saunders looked up at me. I could tell by his expression that something was up.
Where he took it from there surprised the hell out of me. He focused in on the bag (doughnuts) and yelled ‘Gun.’ Everybody flattened themselves against the ground as he vaulted the counter and hit me with a flying tackle. I have to admit, I was actually more surprised than anybody else there.
He put me into an arm lock, took the bag in one hand and pinned my arms behind me with the other. He was marching me out of the room like that before anybody could say ‘boo.’
Once we were out of records, he hauled me into one of the interrogation rooms and closed the door. Only then did he relax.
I waited for him to catch his breath and explain.
“Sorry Jess,” he said between breaths. “Didn’t know how else to get you out of there.”
This piqued my curiosity.
He shook his head as he took another deep breath and forced himself to let it out slowly. “That girl in there... head of the line...”
“Says she’s from Baltimore– looking for her brothers... Name she gave... yours...”
That caused a double take.
He nodded again. “Wanted to know how you wanted to handle it.”
I thought for a minute. “Well, my options are limited since you hauled me out of there,” I sighed.
I regretted that almost immediately when I saw the expression on his face.
“Can you get Andrews in on this?” I asked.
He nodded, “probably, after all its his case.”
I smiled. “Okay... lets see what information we can get on her...”
He sighed. “She’s already given me a false address for contact information so I don’t think she’s planning on coming back.”
I nodded. “Okay, let me see where Andrews thinks we should take this... and... thanks.”
He nodded. “Sorry bout the tackle... the doughnuts still good?”
I rubbed my ribs and chuckled. At least he had his priorities skewed in the normal direction.
He grinned. “There’s a back door out of here... don’t know if she has any accomplices.”
It didn’t take me long to get to Andrews and fill him in on the details. He was almost as intrigued as I was. He squirreled me away in the observation room, with a mage to shield me from any attempts to spy on me. Then Saunders escorted ‘Jessica Miller’ into the room.
“Miss Miller,” he greeted her standing and offering her his hand. She shook it shyly and then sat down.
“I understand you’re working on my brother’s case...”
She sounded so sincere. I mean, if I didn’t know she was lying through her teeth, I’d have almost believed her. Almost.
“Yes Ma’am,” Andrews answered as he poured himself a cup of coffee and offered her one as well.
She took it and sipped it demurely. I really didn’t like the way she was looking at him. Neither did the mage.
“She’s up to something,” he warned me.
“Tell me something I don’t know,” I answered sotto voce.
“No, she’s getting ready to try and run something on him magically,” he said as he prepared to counter it.
I tensed, knowing that he wouldn’t let anything happen to Andrews. Only problem was we had no way of knowing what she was capable of or what she was willing to do. I pulled out a tranq patch from my kit. Being a medic does have its advantages.
Even I could sense the spell as she started it, her eyes meeting his over her steaming cup. “Sgt. Andrews,” she stated hypnotically. “Please... tell me everything you know about this case.”
I was about to move when the mage placed a hand on my shoulder and shook his head. “He’s okay... for now...” he said, splitting his concentration between me and Andrews. Realizing I was endangering Andrews calmed me down in a hurry. So I took a deep breath and watched him.
I could see him stiffen as he began telling her about the case. He sounded as if he was in a trance as he told her everything that was in the file, which wasn’t much. I knew. I’d read it at least seven times when I got here and finally met with the man.
She nodded. “Very good...” She told him in the same tone. “When I leave here, you will destroy the tapes and forget ever seeing me.”
Andrews nodded once and then his gaze fell to his coffee.
She smiled and turned to leave, looking at herself once in the mirror then putting her hand on the door.
“Aren’t you going to finish your coffee Jess?” he asked.
I smiled as she whirled around. There was an audible click as the door was locked and the mage opened the side door and entered the room. The woman’s eyes blazed as she stared first at him and then at me.
“You...” she growled. “You were in records...”
I nodded. “Case of mistaken identity,” I told her as I tilted my head slightly. “What’s your excuse?”
The woman looked at all three of us as she tried to regain her composure and weasel her way out of what we’d seen.
Finally she flounced into a chair. “I want my lawyer.”
Even as she supposedly surrendered I could feel her preparing for another spell, and I could feel the mage preparing for whatever she offered. I sighed, palming the tranq patch and offered my hand.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” I offered her my hand. As she shook it reflexively, I placed my other hand, the one with the tranq patch in it, over the back of her hand. “I’m Jess Miller...”
Her eyes widened slightly, but even as she prepared to grab me, the patch did its job. She slumped forward in her chair and looked at me through glassy eyes.
Andrews and the mage both looked at me in surprise. I shrugged. It was a child’s dose, not enough to knock her out, but enough to keep her from trying anything.
Questioning was slow, but she forgot about her lawyer so I guess it was a win. She had been hired to find out as much about the case as she could. She had very little information on the man who’d hired her other than the name: Mr. Johnson.
Andrews merely raised his eyes and sighed. I looked at him a minute before realizing he must be related to some of my favorite patients, John and Jane Doe.
‘Mr. Johnson.’ had hired her to come in and pose as a grief stricken sister to three missing men. She had their names and very little else on them. One thing we did realize... this was a very recent addition to the puzzle, since her boss didn’t know that I had already been here for quite some time.
I don’t know how co-operative she was going to be once the tranquilizer wore off, but Andrews promised me he’d get as much as he could. It wasn’t much– more like a new turn in the maze that probably led to a dead end, but it was something.
I took my update and headed home, figuring on getting a good morning’s sleep but some road construction outside the condo made that impossible. I ended up sacking out at the clinic. I had meant to help, but I was just too tired.
Mario woke me up around 7:00 since I was still asleep and the office was closed. He took me home and made me eat spaghetti. After dinner he wanted a full report on everything that had happened since I’d last seen him. It was quite a bit, and we polished off the wine from dinner as I told him what was going on. And I finally told him everything, including the raid on AZT. It felt good to get it all of my chest.
Mario listened to all of it, nodded at the appropriate times... It felt good to have someone know everything that was going on. Someone I could talk to– especially since I figure I won’t be able to talk to Casey anymore...
I woke up on the couch in Mario’s apartment. A blanket carefully draped over me, and Mario dozing in the chair next to me.
I yawned and almost rolled over again when I noticed the time. I started to get up and Mario sighed as he shifted position. “Jess, you’ve got to learn to take things easy,” he urged. “How long do you figure you can keep up like this?”
I noticed the look in his eyes and figured he’d just been through this same conversation with Trina. I looked at him and shrugged.
“I don’t know,” I answered slowly. “But I can’t just do nothing.”
He nodded kindly, but then his eyes darkened slightly. “I understand that– but if you kill yourself trying to find them– what good will it do?”
His question haunted me all the way to the ME’s office. Dr. Chen was waiting for me. I could tell by the way he was showing me around that something was up and told him as much.
He had a JD that matched Andy’s general description. After the news on the others, it almost made everything seem that much worse. I feel sorry for the man it was– but so grateful it wasn’t Andy. I felt guilty, and relieved. With the worst part of the check over, I moved on. I tried not to think about Mario’s warning, but it was there all day as I went from hospital to hospital.
I finished most of it and only had a few more clinics to check when I finally called it quits. Mario was right, it wasn’t helping. I decided to go over to the arcade and talk to PC.
He set me up with a beefed up pocket secretary that would allow me to do limited things in the matrix-- mostly checking public records and references. When I offered to pay he waved it off. Seems ‘MotoMedic’ is a top seller for them. He said it was the least he could do.
I was on the way out when a testosterone laden road rocket jockey declared himself master of the game. I grinned at PC and he echoed it.
I beat him hands down. He was shocked until he saw the caduceus on my jacket. I winked at him. It is weird seeing your life as a video game... at least the best parts. There’s no maintenance, no dusting... only the chase.
Sometimes, that’s what its all about.
Under the orders of Dr. Mario I have been forced to take the day off and do nothing except take long walks in the park with him and Trina. It reminded me of the first time he took the two of us out. It was when we’d met Doc Rivers.
One look at Trina and I could see she’d thought about the same thing. Maybe going out wasn’t the best of ideas.
Trina spent most of the afternoon reviewing cases as Mario and I skipped stones along the water. When Mario tried to pull her away from her work, she shook her head. Then Mario did something I never thought I’d see him do.
He took her pocket secretary and threw it into the water. She all but screamed at him and he just stared at her. “Trina,” he said. “This trip is for you, a change of scenery, a chance to recharge your batteries...”
“How can I when you’ve just destroyed everything!?” she demanded.
He handed her a rock and an ear of corn on the cob. “There is nothing to be done about it now,” he told her. “Now... toss stones.”
Trina continued to glare at him until he showed her that he had palmed the secretary and told her that she would get it back when, and only when she had taken at least an hour and done nothing with it.
I think they would have stayed that way if someone hadn’t screamed. She was crying about her baby being in the water. She kept crying, “My baby, my baby.”
I was already halfway there as Trina started over. I was in the water when she reached the woman and began asking her questions. I think we found out at the same time that her ‘baby’ was a Terrier and it was perfectly happy in the water.
I swam back ashore and flopped onto the grass, still trying to catch my breath.
The woman came over and started yelling at me about leaving her baby and ‘What kind of rescuer are you?”
Just my luck– I’m still getting Cat in tree calls on my day off. After that Mario gave Trina back her unit. I mean, with our profession, we never really are off duty. Still, we did stay and skip stones and enjoy the picnic he’d prepared for us. We may not have been completely ‘off duty’, but we did have fun.