14

They say that if you can have just one moment of true happiness in life, then you’ve had a good life, and in that one moment of time, mina’s life became a good one.

I wake the next morning to the sound of my mobile going, it’s an unlisted number, and for a half second, I consider dismissing it to voicemail, but it could be something about eve, so I take the call.

“Rio.” I sound half asleep even now.

“Sah.”

“Argent?” I’m instantly awake.

“Sah.”

“How did you get this number?”

“I have my sources Sah, thought that this was something you would want to know personally.”

“What is it?”

“We’ve found your partner Sah, corner of fifteenth and Corvus.”

“Is she alive?”

“Best you come down here to see for yourself Sah” the rooms temperature seems to lower a little.

“On my way.”

Mina is still sleeping on the other side of the bed, so I write a little note saying “Forever, but work’s still going to be a bitch, see you later.” and sneak out of the room, saying hi to the girls on the way out.

Corvus is the nearest neighbourhood to Lower DownTown that still has things vaguely resembling humans in it, this is not to say that the things in Lower DownTown aren’t human, but if you see enough of them, you begin to understand the difference. Argent's unit has covered the building front and back, and the team members snap off crisp salutes as I approach. I’m met at the door by Argent and I offer my hand in greeting. He nods grimly, returning the handshake, but doesn’t make any move to step aside.

I raise one eyebrow by means of question and he looks down for a second before meeting my eyes.

“It’s not pretty, Sah.”

I nod, my head ducking for a little longer than would be normal for an acknowledgement “I guessed, where is she?”

“Second room in Sah, wear your gloves.”

I pause for a second at the doorway, not really wanting to go in there, but it’s the job, and this is what we do, it doesn’t matter if we know the person, it’s just a job, and we have to do it.

It’s dim in the room, nothing unusual for downtown, but the light isn’t really good enough to get a look at her. She’s stood in the centre of the room, her back to me, stripped of all her clothes. Her feet are in a large tray of wriggling maggot-like creatures. I move all the way around her, looking from all angles, her legs seem to be a little deformed, I look closer, her calves are swollen and are pulsing slowly. Looking closer still, I can see tiny things moving around in her skin all the way around her body, and I move my torch across her, watching in abject horror as her body seems to swim with the parasites.

Moving up the body, her left breast has been inscribed with the glyph of stupidity, the right one with a glyph I’m not familiar with, but she’s still breathing. I move the light all the way up to her face, her eyes are closed and I put my hand out to open them.

“Wouldn’t do that Sah.” Argents voice echoes quietly across the room.

I retract my hand “why not?”

“Carn beetles eat all the exterior flesh and organs, then finish off the insides at their leisure.”
I take out my LAD card and prepare to crack it.

“No point Sah, we checked.”

“She’s still breathing though” It’s almost a protest.

Argent walks over and stands by the body “Sorry you have to see this Sah.” he moves his gauntlet over to her eyes and opens them.

A horde of the maggots drop from beneath her eyelids and land in the tray sounding like gentle rain, I cannot look away as Argent takes away his hand and reveals what he’d been trying to save me the sight of. Her eyes have been completely eaten away, and looking into the empty sockets, I can see deep inside her skull to where her brain is, now riddled with maggots in the way that you sometimes find worms inside apples. A longer maggot slides out of the brain and into the tray and from somewhere I find the strength to turn away.

Argent moves up next to me.

“We found her like this, no sign of her clothes or equipment, the only reason that we were in the area was that an emergency shiver beacon was activated in the area, it’s the one just outside. By the time we got here, she was already in this state, I called in a favour with the captain at station 127 to get the IA code. It didn’t seem right for strangers to be taking care of her and I thought you would be the man to do it.”

I nod, clapping one hand on his shoulder.

“You did right.” I hope my voice doesn’t sound as choked as I feel “Give me a moment here.”

He nods silently and leaves the room.

The reason I wanted a moment alone was not because I felt some misguided need to mourn the woman that I’d known, but something else entirely. IA agents that few people know is that most of us carry a full bio package that monitors lifesigns, in the event of any fluctuation, a signal goes back to control, which immediately summons a med team to the area. I take my glove and press softly on her breastbone, the glove indicates that the signal has been broadcast for the last seven hours. Curious, the only thing that could have prevented that would be an IA agent with a higher SCL, I leave her body there and go back outside, going to the secure channel for IAB.

“Rio, corner of fifteenth and Corvus, Man down, CL code required for termination of med signal, operative Petula Evangeline.”

“Understood Captain, be advised, that code was deactivated fourteen hours ago, black code used.”

Black code, that means that the person doing the shutdown wasn’t identified, and must have been at least three whole numbers above Eve, and in this sector, there’s not many with that level of clearance. I digest the information and continue speaking with only a moments pause.

“Understood, clean up team to my location, all requests for clarification to be directed to me, authorisation CR Alpha 2” The Alpha 2 authorisation means that only someone of a directly higher SCL can access the information on the death.

Walking back to Argent, I have no words, this man is truly one of the old school, to risk his career just so that the right person could deal with the matter, he’s wasted in this position. I stand in front of him and extend my hand again. He nods once and with that look, I can see that he understands, no payment asked, none given. As he lets his hand drop to his side, he winks once, almost too quickly to tell the difference, but it’s there, he knows what I’ve put there.

Internal Affairs agents have a privilege to grant SCL status on those who’ve earned it by thought and deed, and it is good to hand back something to those who deserve it once in a while. The card that argent now palms is SCL 7, and carries no I.D, although it is perfectly valid and means that he’ll never have to worry about dealing with some uppity little SCL 10 wannabe with a hard on for giving shivers a hard time.

It’s four hours till the clean up team turns up, and Argent and the crew are long gone by then, I don’t disturb the body or the scene, and keep the rest of downtown away for a while. I’ve got a strange feeling that I’m being watched and I surreptitiously check my scanner, no immediate signs of camera’s in the area (at least, not ones that work), so I dismiss it as just me being paranoid.

When they arrive, I have no real inclination to continue with the rest of the day, so I call in a no-show to the department and make a few phone calls, one to one of my people in downtown, and one to Geno, who confirms the two glyphs. The next one’s going to be Ugliness.

I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to a bar to get unprofessionally drunk.