“Checking the database,” Silver said. “We should have information on him come false dawn.”
I nodded. Then pulled out my lapel comms pen, called up the head office. “Slocum here,” I said. “We could have one of those things you like to call a big problem here. Dead guy, looks to work for or be one of the Mercurians. Security for them I’d say. Maybe Changer. Dangerous type. Silver and I are fixing the duct now, should be up by the time we get information back about the fingerprints.”
Head office was silent for a few moments. I watched Silver practically climb into the duct so she could start putting the electrics back together. “This ain’t good, Slow. But you got full jurisdiction. Under the heading maintaining the peace, maintaining the status quo. Report and if you need new resources.”
I confirmed that and then put the comms pen back on my lapel. Snorted. “All right Silver,” I said. “Looks like we got ourselves a puzzle.”
“What’s puzzling,” Silver said, her voice muffled, “it’s how one guy managed to strip that entire wall. This whole system is gonna have to be rewired.”
I sighed. “Alrighty. Let me take this guy down to cold storage in human resources, come back with the toolboxes. I was hoping it coulda been an easy fix.”
“Not an easy fix,” Silver said. “And I have a feeling the bar owner is about to come out here and ask what’s causing all the hold up.”
I sighed again, this time making it plain I was being overly dramatic. Silver sure could lay on the melodrama. You think this guy had died just to personally inconvenience her. Not that his dying was convenient for me, neither. I called over one of the sets of flashing drones and had them carry the dead guy to cold storage, following along behind them to make sure that they didn’t drop him.
Cold storage was located on the underside of Midway. Midway is basically a floating platform, three levels thick. On the top side of the platform you got twenty more stories of buildings, connected by spacewalk and skyways, so that people can get from place to place without having to go all the way down the platform level. And underneath the platform you got ten more stories of buildings scattered around the lift engines, mostly for official use, but also for some of the seedier parts of the city. Cold storage was located on level Neg-17, between the maintenance administration offices and the groundlings docking zone. At this time of night, it was completely empty. I entered the dead guy into cold storage, leaving a note for human resources to let me know if they found anything interesting when they were sorting him out. Thank goodness human resources dealt with the living and the dead. I was a maintenance worker, not some sort of medical type. Then, I headed to administration to pick up the toolboxes and hold my way back to level thirteen where Silver was now completely inside the electrics duct, throwing stripped old wire out so she could put in the new stuff.
“Hey Slow,” she said. “Found this thing, jammed in here. Didn’t even see it until I started taking apart the panel where the dead guy’s head was. It’s some sort of cube.” Her cybernetic hand flashed out dropped the item into my open hand. I was some sort of cube, about two inches square and covered in some sort of weird engraving. I’d never seen one before. I pocketed it, and promptly forgot about it when Silver started demanding that I hand her a new set of copper filaments.
“We ain’t got time for copper,” I said. “Copper was thinking old. Not to mention head office would have my hide they learned that I was laying out copper indiscriminately and without a requisition order. I can get away with a lot, but not that.”
“This whole system has been laid with copper,” Silver complained. “It’s not my fault if the old stuff is better than the new stuff.”
“You just have to make do with synthetics,” I said, handing her the spool. Silver grumbled, but too quietly for me to make out the individual words, and retreated back into the shaft.
By false dawn, Silver and I had finished preparing the electrics and were on our way to go get some grub at the staff hall. Silver checked the database, but nothing so far on the fingerprints. I figured I’d check in with human resources after we ate breakfast. But before either of us could actually get there, we were stopped by a couple of dangerous looking people. One was a stocky woman with her hair slicked back, a vid screen over one eye, her expression so still I imagined it had been years since she last moved it. The other guy was tall, whip thin, and looks like one of those mystical groundling monsters: a snake. They both wore black, tight-fitting and obviously enforcement something. They weren’t the uniforms of the murder victimm but something was really similar about them. They blocked the hallway, so Silver and I were forced to stop. Silver stood up straight, folding her arms, about to spit in frustration. I just slumped there, hands in pockets, waiting for the inevitable.
“Slocum Rex?” The man asked.
“That’s two x-ses,” I said. “Two.”
The woman curled her lip and turned her attention to Silver, bristling beside me. “And you are Silver… Last name unknown?”
“Someone didn’t see fit to give me one,” she snapped. That was another one of those things that she had never offered, and I had never asked. These people was all sorts of rude to be prying like this.
I had a feeling, given these people’s general lack of respect for Silver and my privacy that they were probably security types for the cloud force. By security, I mean changers. You know the ones always trying to change the status quo in their favor. They were a huge thorn in the side of is maintenance folk.
Naturally, they didn’t tend interfere with us unless there’s something else going on. I had a feeling this was all to do with our dead guy. I scratched my nose and stifled a yawn. Silver continued to bristle at my side, but she wisely said nothing.
“Well, if you ain’t got anything for us, we’re gonna just head and get something to eat. We been up for a rather long time.” I started shuffling past them, being very sure not to jostle them or make any threatening motions. I was seconds away from passing the guy when the woman’s hand shot out and grabbed my she fixed me with a smear and looked me up and down, taking in my blue uniform tied around my waist, the toolbox that I carried, that sort of thing. Compared to her spiffy black uniform, she probably thought I looked silly.
“We’re not finished with you,” she said. “We have a few questions.”
“Not qualified to answer any questions, unless you wants to know about things like internal wiring for the lift engines, how to replace corroded chains that keep us tethered here. There was this one time I won quiz night quite well. I’m pretty good with facts.” The woman looked at me like I was crazy. I probably was; too much time fixing other people’s problems, not enough time have a good life myself. Why they wouldn’t promote me.
“I think you know precisely what it is we wish to speak about,” the woman said.
Silver up and did something incredibly stupid. She opened her mouth. “What makes you think you want to talk to you? You don’t have the authority.”
I groaned. Silver was young, just starting out in her real life. She didn’t really understand the way of these things. She thought that because we were diplomatic types, that we didn’t need to worry about no politics getting in the way. The we could just swan about, fixing the problems that we had. It weren’t like that all.
The man put a hand to his side, obviously reaching for a weapon that wasn’t there. That was one thing bout Midway: we had better weapons screening tech the most cloud folk realize. Grounders weren’t interested in bringing up weapons. They had a hard enough time down below. But cloud folk? They were always trying to pull something. Thought they owned the world. Or at least skies. As it was, these two were without weapons. Well, they could still be dangerous, but they couldn’t shoot me or Silver. The man lowered his hand and clasped it in the other one in front of him, an extremely threatening stance. “There’s no need for sass, girlie. Tell us about the man that you found. Tell us everything, or I will have to make certain arrangements.”
“Stupid changers,” I muttered. I hated when they meddled.
“A dead guy?” Silver asked, folding her arms. If I didn’t intervene quickly, she was going to run her mouth some more and get us into serious problems. Being tired, I had better things to do.
“What are you wanting to know,” I said. “On account of you tell us one thing first.”
The woman still holding my arm raised the eyebrow of the eye hidden by the screen. “Oh? And what is it that you wish to know?”
“I want to know what a Mercurian is is doing down here in Midway. That guy weren’t no changer.” I figured I might as well see if I could get a straight answer, wasn’t like I had anything to lose.
“And how would you know he wasn’t a changer?” the man asked. Silver sniffed behind me, barely holding in what was sure to be her signature derisive laughter.
“On account of no change in ever got himself stuffed into an electrics duct,” I said. The two considered, exchanged a glance, and then the man shrugged.
“He has a point,” he said. “These two won’t know much.”
“They know too much already,” the woman said. She looked at me and frowned, taking me in again. This time, the look had nothing to do with my uniform and my bearing. She was trying to get a sense of me. I just returned to look, stifling another yawn.
“I think you know that you’re in over your head, maintenance man. Isn’t that right?”
“All I know, lady, is that I got problems to fix. Status quo is been changed. I gotta fix it. I’d say the status quo is been changed up in Viterius, too. Someone trying to squeeze power from the Mercurians? Or are they coming down here to try and mine the atmosphere lower down?”
The woman twisted my arm and I yelped. “Don’t presume that you know anything.”
I shrugged. After a few more moments of silence, the woman let go of my arm and clucked her tongue in disgust. She turned to the man. “Let’s go,” she said. “These two will have delivered the body to human resources by now.”
“You can’t just —”
The man cut Silver off, which was a fairly dangerous thing for him to do. “No body, no problem. Stay out of this.”
Without another word, or any more annoying questions, the two shouldered past us back the way we had come. Silver spun on her heel, ready to follow after them. I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder, holding her back. Silver looked up at me, eyes wide.
“Leave it be,” I said. “We still got the database search. The body is the least of our worries, now.”
“Without the body, how can we do our investigations?” Silver asked, folding her arms and fixing me with her signature look of disdain.
“The body the bad part. The bad part was that it was Mercurian. Now, we got to changers from Viterius down here, causing all sorts of problems. Something’s going on, bigger than just a body dumped in the electric stacked. I’d say there’s a power shift in the air.”
Solar shuttered. “Power shifts? That’s fair dangerous to even speculate on.”
I sighed and undid the knot of hair at the back of my head. I was gonna need a sonic shower to get this sense of dislike off of me. I hate it when things went sideways. “How often do we see the higher up cloud folks down this way? And why?”
Silver shrugged. “They come down this way for big meetings with the grounders sometimes. And sometimes they come down here for celebrations. That guy was found near a bar.”
“They come down here for political situations, and smuggling dangerous things from down to up or up to down. He was found near a bar because that’s where they wanted us to find him. He wasn’t killed there. Not enough blood. Trust me, I’ve cleaned plenty of blood off of my decks in my time. No, this guy was down here for something else. And since there are no higher up grounders here, that something else is bringing trouble from up to down. My guess, he got something big on the cloud folk. Maybe that cube contains some sort of information. Maybe it’s valuable in other ways. Whatever it is, not having the body won’t make a difference to us.”
“What about those changers? Aren’t they going to get in our way?” Silver sort of uncoiled, her hackles lowering. She was more interested now in the intellectual game, the fixing of the problem. I pulled the strange cube from my pocket and handed it over to her. She examined it eagerly, and I could see her cybernetics fairly winking as they tried to figure out what it was.
“Long as they don’t know that we’ve got that, we should be just fine. Question is whether or not we can get that to analytics without too much kerfuffle.”
Silver grinned eagerly and pocketed the cube, already turning to head over to the tiny analytics office the next level down. I put my hand on her shoulder again and held her back. “Let’s go deal with this now,” she protested.
“No, we’re going to deal with this after breakfast. I don’t think when I’m hungry. Besides, we have to give those two changers a bit of time to get their play in motion, feel more secure about themselves.” Without another word, I turned back towards the dining hall for staff, loping along in my usual unconcerned fashion. The status quo was a rather slow moving force. Change was much harder to maintain. Analytics will be there when we got done eating. The cube would reveal secrets. The question of why this one Mercurian was running from the others would answer itself in due course.
Silver grumbled, but she followed me. We ate, went back to our respective quarters to clean up and look a little bit more presentable, and were called back down to our head office when human resources complained that someone had taken the body. After that, I figured we would go to analytics.
We stood in front of our chief, me looking suitably contrite, Silver looking as outraged as ever. She sniffed at the indignant way that she was being treated.
“Care to explain to me what went on with the body?” our chief asked.
Before Silver could speak, I shrugged and answered. “Took the body to human resources, as stated in our report. It ain’t our fault if they can’t keep hold of it.”
“And you have answers about the body? Bodies being found in electrical ducts, being stolen from under the noses of human resources, this is not good maintenance.”
“We’ll get it solved,” I said. “Everyone will have their answers, and we can go back to normal.“
“That had better be the case, Slocum,” the chief said. I nodded, turned and left. Silver, declaring her independence, waited ten seconds before turning and following me.