3

The corner of 22nd and Dante lives up to its name. It's a curious thing about street names in downtown and lower downtown, they're always chosen to make it seem like the places they name are better than where they actually are.

Oh, I know what you're thinking, why did they name it Dante then?

My only suggestion would be to spend a week on Dante, and then spend a week in Lower DownTown, and see which one you prefer. Chances are that you'll take Dante every time.

Still, this aside, it's no resting place for any person, much less an Operative, but it's that that brings us here now. Eve has almost recovered from the brief vomiting session earlier, and seems quite keen to prove that she has what it takes to be an agent working for our department.

The Shivers are on the corner, most of them lounging around as if nothing's happened, there's no man on the door, and there are locals all over the place. I get out of the car and walk up to the nearest shiver, he's just taken off his helmet and is sparking up.

"You." I keep my voice quiet "Your commanding officer, where?"

He looks up, his eyes slightly drooped from one or two too many illegal drugs, he doesn't notice the ID card at my arm and draws breath to spit.

I've no time for this, stepping in close and backhanding him across the face with my fist, I don't bash him that hard, but it's enough to cut through the haze. He surges to his feet to find my ID card in his face.

"IA asshole," I bark down at him "you know what that means? It means that I am your superior. Now, your commanding officer."

He's still got that look in his eyes, not a good sign, anything involving the death of an Operative will always bring down IA, always, no exceptions. He's either too stoned to be aware of what's just happened, or he has a lack of respect for the chain of command that allows him to ignore common sense, I glance up at Eve, who nods as she finishes noting down his ID number.

The Shiver reaches down for his browbeater, this just confirms what I was thinking, and I flick on the mutilator fist, gripping the barrel and twisting hard. As the barrel clears my hand and focuses on my face, I see him sneer in contempt as his finger tightens on the trigger, he still hasn't focussed on what I've done to the barrel.

There's a brief grinding noise and suddenly he does focus on the barrel as tiny metal pellets drop out of the bottom of the magazine. He looks up to see the barrels of both of our hand cannons, and some faint realisation begins to creep into his head. He raises both hands and shakily calls out "Sarge?"

The sergeant wanders over to where we are, he looks like a veteran, he's been working these streets far too long, and it shows as he takes his helmet off, holding it under his left arm and snapping off a crisp salute at us.

"My apologies Sah," he almost barks the words, standing to attention in front of us "Owens has been battling addiction recently, he's getting out of the service sometime soon."

I nod and holster my pistol "Sooner than he thinks" I say quietly. I switch my attention to the sergeant, making a swift appraisal, he's older than most street shivers, there's faint lines of grey in his stubble, and it looks as if he's been for more than one tour on sleeper duty. He's obviously dealt with IA before as he doesn't pause to be told to speak.

"We got the call twenty minutes ago Sah, apparently there'd been screams that had been coming from there for a few days, then suddenly they stopped."

I look him in the eyes and raise an eyebrow; "They waited till the screams stopped? Then they called us?"

He shrugs "DownTown, Sah."

I smile, it's been too long since I was down here, I sometimes forget the mindset of the people. "Why didn't you have a man on the door?"

He shrugs again, smiling grimly "DownTown, Sah."

I nod this time, it's definitely been too long since I was down here, he couldn't put a man on the door, because it would mean blocking access to a whole tenement. He senses that I've finally managed to put two and two together and motions for me to follow him. I follow him at one pace behind, Eve brings up the rear, and a brief retching noise behind me indicates that Owens is doing his best to purge the drugs from his system, good for him I say.

Sure enough, the Sergeant has put three men on the relevant door, one of them is waving people past as the other two are doing their best impressions of monoliths. As we approach, the Sarges hands flicker at waist height and the trio straighten up. From what I could tell, he signed something along the lines of "angry top boy" but my streetsign's a little rusty.

No matter, they're out of the way of the door in less time than it takes to blink and one of them even opens the door with a muted "sir" through his visor. Impressive, I must remember to put in a commendation for that sergeant.

The room is clean, surgically clean, the body is laid on the bed, again, the plastic sheeting over the bed allowing the blood to drip into the bucket at the foot of it. The figure on the bed is male, human, naked, massively augmented with karma implants to most of the muscles on his body, and has the tell tale signs of drug abuse across various parts of his chest. Looking down at the bucket of blood, I can see chunks floating around in it, a sure sign of kickstart abuse.

I look over the room with a practised (some would say jaded) eye, to find that eve has already moved over to the sink area and is now picking out the glass that was in the sink with her medical kit. As much as I'm intrigued by whatever it might be, I've got my part of the investigation to take care of, it's all in the bigger picture as my mentor once told me, a fact that I've never forgotten.

Death, it would seem, was from blood loss, however, unlike the other kill, there's been nothing carved into this one, no obvious method of cutting or other blunt force trauma to the victim, so it had to be something else. Operatives who can afford this sort of augmentation work can usually afford some sort of LAD account to prevent just this sort of thing occurring, I pick up his wrist and press on the inside of the palm, where the normal account reader is held. Sure enough, the inside of the skin lights up briefly, reading 0, which would explain why no one came to get him.

As I put his wrist down, I glance across the rest of his lower body, there's a discolouration of the sheet in-between his legs, I put aside professional detachment for a second to move aside one of the thighs. I see that part of the sheet has been damaged by some acidic discharge, it's come from one of the two holes, and I'm not of the inclination to check which one. It's normal for the bowels to empty when a person dies, but there's no pile of faeces here, and it doesn't look as if there were any cleaned away. This leaves two options.

Option one, he was brought here after he died.

Option two, there was nothing in there in the first place.

Either way, whoever did this had patience, lots of it, and the capability to stop something like this without leaving a mark on the corpse. I look up at the face, not something I normally do. You'd be surprised how often you don't check something like that in the forensics game, you get to the point where you don't want to see the face, you don't want another person forever staring into that darkness, you don't want to be the last thing they saw. Okay, it's irrational, they can't see, they're dead, but still, you look into a dead persons eyes, and you're looking into eternity, they say that the eyes are windows to the soul, but consider this, that's true, and how much would you like to look at something that's soulless. So, after a while, you get used to just looking at what killed them, not what they saw before they died.

I digress on that point for a second, it's not often I do that, so permit me my little indulgence. The face, I realise with a shock, is someone I know, or knew as the case may be. Not personally to be sure, but I knew this man, Mikhail Nastachiev, operative name Juggernaut. Can't remember the name of his squad off hand, but I do remember some of the events he was involved in when he was alive, this man once charged an entire civilian riot single handedly, bare-chested and carrying only an iron bar, killed twenty of them and routed the rest. As I recall, he must have gone through over thirty units of kickstart, and at least a few dozen other combat drugs, but he prevailed, and in the interview afterwards, he said that the cost was irrelevant, what mattered were the results.

At the time, I wouldn't have argued with him, slayer knows, nothing would have, but now, to see this, something planned this, something had to have taken time to plan this, and for the life of me, I don't know of any reason why.

"Rio?" Eve's voice breaks my reverie momentarily.

"Yes."

"You need to see this."

I stand up silently and walk over, she's got an array of tools laid out over the work surface, which is in turn covered by the standard anti static cover sheet we use for evidence. For a half second, I think that she's got her own medikit mixed up with the evidence, but I see that she's got her own kit put away. Looking at the tools, it's obvious that whoever did this has access to SLA drugs and technology, there's an ebb retractor in the line up as well as various other tools that I've seen used on many different assignments.

There's several drug ampoules in the line that's on the work top, looking at the names of the drugs, it makes sense as to how he died. The combination here that would cause most of the internal organs to cease function and all the blood to pool up in the abdomen, and added to that is a small quantity of paralysing agent, and a minor amount of a flush derivative. Nasty, and certainly not something that your average killer would have access to.

I place the call to the office and continue around the room, all of the equipment that had had has been neatly folded and put in the corner of the room, his SCL card on top of it. I pick up the card and take a look, it would be interesting to see what level he got to before someone got to him.

The Card's been doctored, a very good fake, professional quality, and certainly something that your average DownTown copy-meister couldn't handle. The name now reads "Poverty", and the photograph is one of him laid on the bed.

Something about that word seems to fit, so I call Eve over.

"Poverty? Doesn't mean anything to me Rio, I've got more than I'll need at the moment."

"Yeah, but why would they change the name, obviously they want to put a message across, but what?"

"Well, LAD would have come for him if there was any credit at all in the account, maybe we should trace what happened to all the funds that should have been in there."

It's a good call, so I get the office to take a look into it, but there's something else to be dealt with, and my phone rings at that instant.

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