Chief Detective Ruebos Temm was found dead this morning at the Rittleton Charging Station. Police are calling his death a homicide. The headline ran across the screen at 6 o’clock that cold October morning. At the time I would never have guessed what it would come to mean to my life. Sure, I recognized the name. I worked with Ruebos once, seems like a long time ago now. Can’t say he ever cared much for me and quite honestly the feeling was mutual. I finished my drink and took a puff off my pipe. This morning Captain Müdi Vivialla listed former Detective Rhett Matthews as a person of interest. Mr. Matthews is a former detective with the police Department and once worked alongside Detective Ruebos. Tickets for the trial are being sold… There I was on the screen, I couldn’t believe it. How did I become a person of interest in a murder I had only just learned about? I took another puff from the pipe as I dialed the number to the station. “Penny, this is Rhett.” I said. “Let me speak with Müdi.” Just as soon as the words had left my mouth the door to my apartment crashed forward. Two officers stepped through, guns drawn. “Stay there, Rhett. D-don’t move, d-don’t d-don’t d-d-d-d… stay put.” CIM stuttered, he does that. He’s one of them humanoids, a Cybernetic Investigation Module. CIM for short. Smart as any human and far stronger, but there’s something critical missing. “Hey CIM” I said, setting down the phone. “You’ve come here about Ruebus?” “You’re a s-suspect.” Said CIM. “The Captain wants to see you… you.” “She’s free to visit anytime. Maybe I’ll clean up and heat a kettle for tea.” I walked over to get a beer from the fridge. “Hey, asshole. He means you’re coming with us.” Said CIM’s partner. Never did find out his name. “I’ll have to work her into my schedule. Let’s see… does 11 sound good? Oh, wait, that’s when I have my dentist’s appointment. How about noon? We could grab lunch.” I would go with them, but I wasn’t going to make it easy. “You’ve got to come with us, Rhett. Bet, jet, set, let, met… you need to come with us.” Said CIM, a fragile piece of machinery. “Fine.” I gave in. “Love what you’ve done with my door, by the way. How much do I owe you for that?” “Keep your mouth shut and don’t say anything stupid. I know that’s hard for you, but do try.” Said CIM’s partner, jabbing a gun between my shoulder blades. They rushed me through the doors of the Department. No one noticed us. Everyone scurrying left and right, maintaining the hustle and bustle of a city police station. The floor was wide with rows of computers blocking a straight path through the room. The Captain stood beside her office, her eyebrows flashed at me as I made my way around the mess of people. She hobbled over to me on robotically controlled legs, guiding her steps with the controller on her arm. She stared me down with her cyber eye. The soft, greenish beam of light cast against my face as it collected visual data. Fragile as she may seem, she keeps the boys in line and is the best shot in the Department. “What’d I do now, Boss?” I asked. “Bring Detective Matthews into my office.” She walked toward the back of the room. “Please.” She said flatly. “You’re a hard woman to get in touch with, Müdi. I was on the phone to call you when Starsky and Hutch knocked down my door.” I said. Captain Müdi Vivialla sat down into her seat consciously, a painful grimace rippling across her face. “Good job, boys. You may leave.” She said to the officers. “Captain, you want us to leave you with the s-sus-suspect? Provision 867 states-“CIM started. “The ‘suspect’ is Detective Rhett Matthews, I’ll be fine. Is your memory storage malfunctioning again?” She chided. “Rhett is your partner, CIM.” “Correction Sir –“Said CIM. “Ma’am.” She corrected. “Correction Ma’am, former d-detective Rhett was m-my part-part-partner, partner, ally, friend, comrade…” “That’s quite enough, CIM. Maybe Detective Matthews isn’t your partner now, but he was for 10 years.” She said. “When I need your protection I will ask for it. Until then, go oil your gears or something. The humans have a lot to talk about.” “Yes, Ma’am.” CIM said as he left. “Spam, clam, tram, dam…” “These humanoid units...” “He’s only doing what he’s programmed to.” I said. “Though, not very well.” “Yes. We have you to thank for that.” She sighed. “How have you been, Rhett?” “Well, I’m a murder suspect. Things could be worse, but not much.” “Person of interest.” She clarified. “Call it what you like. It’s all the same to the people of this city.” “You need to worry less about the people of the city,” she said, “and more about yourself.” “I have you to thank for that.” “Not me.” She said. “Someone else.” A deep frown appeared on her face. “The truth is, Rhett, I don’t think you murdered Ruebos.” “Then why am I here?” I asked. “I’m not saying you won’t be charged” she said, ignoring me, “but I don’t think you’re capable of murder. You wouldn’t even look me in the eye after you breached the health code. That was three years ago. Haven’t spoken once since then. Someone with that level of guilt and shame wouldn’t walk into my office and crack jokes if they had something to hide.” “Why announce me as a suspect?” I asked. The Captain’s face soured, her lips puckered with disgust as she told me that it wasn’t her choice to make. “My superiors…” She hated to use the term, “instructed me to.” “Three years and nothing has changed, has it?” I asked. She averted her gaze, the green light shone at the camera imposed upon the wall. “What do we do now?” I asked. “We, I’m afraid, don’t do anything.” She sighed. “You, on the other hand,” She stared down at her gloved hand, “… you need to find whatever is left of Detective Matthews. Prove what we already know. That you are no killer.” Captain Müdi ordered CIM to take me back home. I stood by the window and watched him hover away, passing a black van parked on the opposite side of the street. I began packing my bags. I’ve got a friend with great influence in the airlines industry. If I told him of my predicament he would find a way to get me away from the city. There was nowhere to hide, not here. What else could I do? Stay in the city and wait for them to come arrest me? Plead my case before the court? What was I going to say? ‘I’m not a murderer, you can trust me’. The fact is, I don’t remember anything about the night of Ruebos Temm’s murder. The last I remember was the pop of another bottle being opened, and taking a hit off the pipe. So, I was going to run. I had no choice. A bright yellow, checker-patterned taxicab took me to the airport. Upon arrival I requested to speak with my friend. I was told that he had taken an indefinite leave of absence. “A leave of absence?” I asked. “He owns the airport.” “Buy a ticket or leave, sir.” Said the clerk, a small creature. Some sort of strange mix race by the looks. A human mother and a father with connections to the Faerko tribe of Draconatta II? Probably. “No, no, no. It’s alright.” A voice said. “This is the famous Rhett Matthews, surely that means something here. Even to a greed driven business like this.” A tall, slim man swaggered over to the desk. His hair was cropped close to his oblong head. His sloped forehead lead down to bulging blue eyes. A furry goatee sprouted from his chin. “Who are you?” I asked. “I am Shemis Callard.” He said. “I’ve been looking for you Rhett, would you come speak with me?” “About what? No, no. I don’t have time.” I said. “There’s no way you can call Mr. Libbenz?” I asked the clerk. “What’s the rush, Detective?” Shemis asked. “I have to be somewhere.” I said. “I’m running late, I suspect.” I dug into my wallet to find the money I knew wasn’t there. “It’s imperative, Detective... that you hear what I have to say.” “Sorry, who are you again? What do you want?” I said. “How much is a ticket?” I asked the clerk. “If you come talk with me I will pay your way. Anywhere you want to go. Free of charge.” Said Shemis Callard. Who was this man? I wondered. What did he want with me? “You will pay for my ticket? All I have to do is talk with you? Why would you do that?” I asked. “It’s important. I’ll take care of everything.” He said. “Come with me.” The tall man strode ahead of me. I followed. He was dressed sharply in a brown blazer and trousers. His polished, black Oxford’s kicked forward fervently down the corridor. When I eventually caught up to him he turned to me, waved a hand, and placed a finger to his lip. “You’re probably wondering how you found yourself in a situation like this.” Said Shemis, a slight twinkle in his cold blue eyes. “A lawman pursued by the law.” “What do you know of it?” “Ah, yes. I represent a freelance agency known as the INJU. That is, International Justice Unit.” He said, his head held high. “We are responsible for your predicament.” “Excuse me?” “I instructed the Captain to have you arrested. But, alas, she never follows orders.” “Why? What do you have against me?” “Me? Nothing at all. This isn’t about you and me, Detective.” He corrected. Striding forward once more he waited for me to catch him before resuming. “Reliable reports suggest that you killed an innocent man. A cop, no less.” “Reliable reports? Am I to know who made these reports?” I said. He said nothing. “You’ve got the wrong guy. I’m no killer.” “I wish that were true, we all do.” He said, gazing up at the security camera on the wall. “Do you happen to remember a Mr. and Mrs. Poulin?” “How dare you… don’t, don’t even-“ “And their young girl, little Ms. Kazzera?” Asked Shemis, his large teeth shining in a broad smile. “They have nothing to do with this, Beavis… or whatever your name is.” “Shemis.” He scowled. “Did you ever tell her the truth?” “This was a mistake. I’ll borrow the money, you can take your offer and shove it-“ “The real reason her parents died, did you tell her? Or did you pretend to know nothing about it like you’re doing now?” He asked. “You see, people don’t charge. Not on the important things. Do they, Detective?” “Stop acting like you know something I don’t.” I said. “You weren’t there. I was. Don’t even pretend to understand.” “But, I was there.” He said. “Not in person, perhaps. But… in spirit.” As much as I resisted his words I somehow found myself following him wherever he walked. It was like I was in a trance, as though I couldn’t break away. “I’m not leaving the city, am I?” “I’m afraid not, Detective. You will remain here where justice can finally catch up to you.” Said Shemis. “Sorry for my fib earlier.” “Ruebos did not die by my hands, Shemis. Your sense of justice-“ “My sense of justice?” He jumped. “I know justice like you know the day and the sun and the moon. I am justice, Detective.” He shouted into my face. “You are insane.” I said. “Me? No, Detective. Former Detective. I’m not the one with a break from reality. I’m not the one who killed Ruebos Temm.” He said. “And I’m not the one…” he slowed his speech, “that orphaned a young girl.” I snapped. My fist thrust forward into the face of the man before me. He tumbled down to the ground hard. “I told you,” I said, “I’m not a killer.” “Shouldn’t have done that.” Said Shemis. “Now then, boys?” Several men charged forward from the shadows. One of them tore the shirt off my body and tightened it around my arms. I was beaten with clubs across my chest and my nose was crushed with a thrusting elbow. They continued to beat my ribs for several minutes. I tried to get up and fight, then one of them lifted a knee into my face. All while he watched and gave instructions. “He’s fading. Roman, wake the boy up.” He said before they tazed me. “Know this, Detective…” “The bitch is crying.” Said the man named Roman. “I think he’s pissed himself.” “It’s okay to cry, Detective.” Said Shemis. “Like Kazzera cried over the mutilated bodies of her parents.” “You son of a-“I pressed myself up off the floor onto my knees. I tried to make it to my feet but crumpled back down again. “I cry for you.” Said Shemis. “Seven days until your trial. Seven days until justice will finally be served. Your sins have gone unpunished far too long, Detective.” He looked to one of the men and nodded. The giant man charged forward and thrust a boot into my face. ***** I woke up laying faced down in my apartment. I struggled to get myself off the floor. My entire body throbbed with pain. My ribs felt broken, my nose was smashed. Gobs of blood had dried to my face. I made my way to the bathroom to clean up. There would be no running from this, I knew that now. At that moment I made a decision. I wouldn’t take the fall for a crime I didn’t commit. I pulled my spare pistol out from under the bed and tucked the barrel into the front of my pants. I was going to prove my case before the court but to do that I needed to have a clear mind. That’s when I chose to get my act together, sober up. I couldn’t just drown this away like before. Every bottle of beer, every drop of alcohol was poured down the drain. The pipe was tossed out on the trash heap as I left the apartment. I started walking. Then I was jogging and almost running. I had to burn off the anger building inside of me. That, too, would clutter my mind. The pain was tremendous but the city is so beautiful. Sparkling blue skyscrapers towering high above my head, the leafless trees bending with the cool autumn wind. The streets full of small hovering rectangles taking people where they had to be. The sun peaking in and out as dark grey clouds blew by. The streets scattered with the diverse creatures of Earth. Some of them homegrown, some imported. I slowed down as I came into sight of the Rittleford Charging Station. Business was closed, which wasn’t good for Magnetra car owners in the area. Several had broken down along the road already. In amongst the mess of yellow tape surrounding the area sat the hobo from Faerko. His slimy hands pawed over the ground furiously. A few of his eyes scanned over the area while the others arced around his body to see behind. He spotted me. “Hey!” I said before he could speak. “That’s a crime scene. There’s no money there.” The little hobo could be seen traveling all around the city searching for coinage. “Money!” He said. He jumped up and spun around all in the same motion. His eyes swayed side to side, and up to down trying to get a sense of my appearance. “What they call you?” “I’m a Detective. This is a crime scene.” I said. “Scram.” “No scram. What they call you?” He insisted. “I’m Rhett.” I said. “No! What they call you!” He jumped up and stomped down on the ground. “They call you… murderer.” He nodded furiously, his eyes wobbling. “That’s what they call you.” His body shivered maniacally as the wind blew through his Einstein-esk white hair. “Well, I’m not a murderer. Though, I am looking for one.” I said. “You haven’t seen anything strange around here lately, have you?” “Me?” He laughed. “Me? Something strange? I tell you what I see…” His eyes circled forward. “I see you! Just now. That what I see. I see Rhett. Detective? Ha. Scram? Ha. Murderer? Hmm.” He pointed a sharp clawed finger at me and held his protruding stomach as he bent over in laughter. “Clearly this is a waste of time.” I said, drawing back. “Get away from the crime scene or I’ll call the Captain.” “Rhett would not?” He questioned. “Rhett would.” “Rhett wait, wait! Me did see a strange. I tell Rhett.” The weird little creature, who calls himself Uncha, walked with me over to The Savvi Ravvi tavern. The neon sign flashed ‘’The Savvi Ravvi – Food, Drinks and Entertainment – Open Monday through Friday’’ A misleading sign at best, I thought. The food was barely edible, the drinks smelled of rotten milk, the entertainment was illegal in several provinces and the opening and closing times seemed to change by the week. I had offered to buy Uncha dinner if he would tell me what he saw. It was a meal, he couldn’t be too picky. At least it was cheap. In between chews he told me that he had been only across the street from the Charging station when Ruebos was murdered. His eyes, he told me, aren’t well adapted to the dark but what he did see was so strange that it stuck in his mind. ‘Like a big, sharp rock’ he said. “Me see two man stand. They talk. One man shoot other man. Surprise! Hahaha.” “You think the killer was familiar with Detective Ruebos?” “Familiar? They talk for long time, then boom!” The food spilled out of the Faerko native’s mouth. “Down he go.” Across the poorly lit tavern I could barely make out the sunk-in eyes of big Djörn rotate toward me. The huge Ravvi towered over the bar as he poured the drinks from a golden mixing jar. When I met his eyes he averted his gaze and began speaking with one of the patrons sitting at the bar. “Refill!” yelled the little hobo, “Free refill! To the brim, to the brim.” He said to a passing waitress. “Stay here and finish your meal,” I said, “I’ll be right back.” The expression on Djörn’s face told me something was bothering him. Could have been the traditional bigotry between the Faerko and the Ravii, but maybe not. Maybe he knew something. “Chonzy, tell the girl she can leave. The men are satisfied.” Said Djörn to an employee. “We made bank tonight, ya piece o’ junk.” Chonzy, the large humanoid unit, escorted one of the dancers from the tavern. Barely clothed and drunk off her feet she was ushered from the tavern unceremoniously. Operations resumed as usual. I took a seat at the bar. The big lizard’s tail knocked into a jug of wine as he turned to leave the stand. “Djörn,” I said, “Where are you going?” Slowly, he turned to face me. “Don’t tell me,” he said, squinting his eyes, “… Rhett the Debt?” “Oh, you remembered.” I said. “I’ll pay the tab, don’t worry.” “Rhett! Big bad Detective Rhett.” His face stretched in excitement. A few of the patrons took notice of my presence. “Former Detective now” I corrected. “How long’s it been? Huh?” Djörn’s unsettling slits-for-eyes became warm with a glint of sparkle. He bore his jagged teeth as he awaited my reply. “Too long, big guy.” His expression darkened. “I saw you on the news.” “He’s that guy that murdered Detective Ruebus, big Djörn!” Said one of the patrons as he fluttered above the bar stool. “I didn’t kill him.” I said. The patron settled back onto his seat, confused. “Mistaken identity, that’s all” I lied. “Awh that’ll happen. I remember the one time CIM and that other fella… oh! It was you. You barged into the tavern ready to arrest me of all people.” Said Djörn. “That was some time ago, I don’t suppose you remember.” His tongue flicked from his mouth several times. “I remember” I grinned. Rumor had gotten out that big Djörn and his brother Djabe were involved in a hacking operation that tampered with the criminal records of a few friends. For several months we thought he was the notorious Black Hacker, though we never could prove it was him or his brother. There were no hard feelings. “How do you plan to get away with it?” His lips lifted to a smile, his tongue sticking out from his mouth. “There’s nothing to get away with, Djörn. I didn’t do it.” “Oh,” He said with a sigh, “of course you didn’t.” “If all goes well I’ll be able to prove that to the court.” I said. “And the only way I can ensure that is by finding the person I was mistaken for.” “That’s my boy, proof and evidence… don’t suppose a bribe is out of the question?” “Djörn...” “I kid, I kid.” He laughed. “It’s really too bad about ol’ Ruebos. He wasn’t always the nicest guy but he was a good cop.” “You haven’t heard anything strange lately, have you?” I said. “Any gripes about Detective Ruebos or The Department?” “Anything strange, hmm? I could write a book, just ask Frank.” He laughed. “We’re always exchanging stories.” Something occurred to the Ravvi, “Maybe the details somehow slip my mind, though. Makes me wonder how much they’re worth to you.” He rubbed his clawed fingers together, chuckling to himself. “For a minute I thought you expected me to pay for information. But, I know you better than that. If you can’t remember you can’t remember.” “Uh, right.” He sighed. “Wish I could help.” “You won’t mind me telling the Captain about your memory issues, will you?” I asked. “Or maybe something I’ve said jogged your memory?” “I think he’s accusing you of killing Ruebos, big Djörn!” The patron fluttered above his barstool again. “You are?” The room went silent. “Of course not. Big Djörn wouldn’t hurt a fly. Well, maybe a fly… but nothing bigger.” I said. “Still, I don’t think he minds answering my question. Right, Djörn?” “Huh? Not at all. Uh,” He said, knocking over a shelf of drinks. “Damn it.” “Djörn? Your answer?” “Oh, yes. I was here. All night. Little Djabe can tell you. Here all night.” He said. “I’ll be sure to ask him about it.” “Wait, scratch that. Djabe wasn’t here.” He said. “But, you trust me.” “Haven’t any reason not to, do I?” “There was this one guy telling tall tales. Mentioned The Department, probably Ruebos too. He’d had a few more than too many, though. That was last night.” Said the large reptile. “Not sure if that helps.” “What exactly was he saying?” I asked. “Something about the cameras all around the city. He doesn’t like it one bit.” Said Djörn. “Me, I don’t mind. Keeps us safer, don’t you think? It’s not like they’re everywhere.” I ignored the question. “Did this man mention his name? And when did he leave?” “Bümbrix. Works over at the mill.” Said Djörn. “He was here until we closed, I guess. Two A.M.” I thanked Djörn for the help and went to tell Uncha that I had to go. His seat was empty. “Excuse me, Miss,” I said to the waitress, “Do you know where my friend went?” “He just left, Hon.” She said. Didn’t even thank me. Just got up and left. “How much do I owe you?” I sighed. “Your friend already took care of it, and with a gracious tip at that.” She said. What? Where did he get the money from? And why would he pay for a meal when I had already said it was on me? At the time I didn’t think on it much further but clearly the shock showed on my face. “Are you alright?” Asked the waitress. “Fine. Yes.” Maybe I was just plucking at straws but something in the pit of my stomach told me that I needed to go to the mill. Speak with Bümbrix. The Department hasn’t always been fair to me either, perhaps an alliance could be made. “I’ve got to be going now.” “It’s awfully cold out there. Do you live far?” Asked the waitress. “No, not at all. I’ll be fine.” “Nonsense, you just wait right there. I’ve got to cash out with Djörn and then I’ll take you home.” I didn’t argue. It was getting colder every day as the winter approached and the days grew increasingly short. The dark of night seldom bothers me but with the agents of the INJU and Ruebos’ murderer walking the streets I thought it best to accept the ride. Especially with the black van parked outside the tavern. I told the waitress, whose name was Tia, that I wished to go to the mill. Although a bit annoyed by the longer trip she was happy to see me there and wished me the best. She was full-blooded human like myself, about age 21. The twang in her voice told me she wasn’t from around these parts. A beautiful girl, but she was married… to a Ravvi. Call me old-fashioned but somehow that’s still a hard pill to swallow. Regardless, this was no time for a fling. I soon arrived at the ‘mill’. A term brought back out of nostalgia or, more likely, stubbornness to describe the pollution control centers placed in of every major population area. Many still think they’re giant windmills, hence the name. It’s mostly conservative folk who can’t accept that their old ideas didn’t work. The mills are mostly automated but a few people live in the quarters to maintain the machinery and work out the bugs. Computers are good, sometimes great, but they’re very bad at solving problems they weren’t programmed to. Inside the mill was much like the outside, very dark. I couldn’t see a thing. The faint outlines of objects kept me from falling over myself as I approached a downward spiraling staircase. “Bümbrix.” I shouted. “Bümbrix, are you here?” I could hear something rustling about. “Bümbrix?” I questioned. There was a loud clanging sound coming from downstairs. I grabbed onto the railing and waved my foot down to the next step carefully. “Hello?” The door slammed shut behind me. I froze. “Hello?” The rustling continued downstairs. I took another few steps down the staircase quickly as the rustling became louder and my eyes began to adapt to the dark. “You don’t know me, but my name is Rhett.” I said, pulling my gun from my pants. “I have some questions.” A shot rang out from behind me. I felt debris from the wall to the left cover my arm. Another shot rang out and hit the stair below me just beneath my foot. “Stop! Stop!” I hollered. “I just want to ask you some questions, please don’t shoot.” “What do you want with me?” Said a voice, hissing in my ear. “You’re that detective, aren’t you?” “F-former detective, I’m… no longer with the Department.” I said. “Why are you here?” The voice relaxed slightly. “I’m looking for Detective Ruebos’ killer. I’ve been accused.” I said. “Just trying to set things straight.” “When you find him… send him here. I’d love to shake his hand.” “Then, you don’t think I did it?” I asked. “Trying to shoot me down isn’t exactly a handshake.” Nothing was said for several minutes. I cautiously turned around and made my way back up the staircase. As I reached the top my eyes were nearly blinded by the overhead light as it activated. Crouching upon a high shelf against the wall of the corridor was the shooter. A large human-Ravvi interspecies man. “Bümbrix, I presume.” “Ask me your questions,” He said, “Then leave.” “Well,” I said, taking a breath, “I heard you’ve been wronged by the Department.” “You risk your life to ask about my feelings?” he whispered. “No, no, no.” I said quickly, “Well, yes. I didn’t realize I’d be risking my life, quite honestly.” “The question you want to ask me is ‘did you kill Detective Ruebos?’ No, I didn’t.” Said Bümbrix. “But, I wish I had.” His head jerked side to side and his eyes gazed at the ceiling. “You heard me, Captain. Bullet through the skull… at my hands.” He began to hum. “Who are you talking to?” I asked. “I don’t have time for you, I’m busy.” “It’s just you and me in the room, Bümbrix.” I said. “I’m not working with the Department.” “Dispose of your gun!” He roared. “Now.” “How do I know you aren’t going to shoot me?” I panicked. “You don’t.” Said Bümbrix, pointing his gun. He wasn’t really going to shoot me, was he? He’s a government administered watchman of this facility, he won’t shoot me… right? Though, he had already come pretty close. “Where were you on the night of the murder?” I asked, tossing my pistol to the side. “The Savvi Ravvi.” He leapt off the shelf, dropping 10 feet to the floor. His slick, scaly hand grabbed my discarded gun and powered it down. “Drinking away my sorrows.” he said. So, Djörn had been telling the truth then. Interesting. “Do you know when the murder occurred?” I asked. “What do you think?” He snarled. “Detective Ruebos was shot at 3’o clock in the morning. The Savvi Ravvi closes at 2’ o clock.” “Giving me an hour to drill a bullet through Ruebos’ skull.” Said Bümbrix. “That’s your theory.” “I never said-“ “Did you know Ruebos Temm? Did you know the hate in his eyes when he looked at my kind?” He said. “The world is better off.” “Maybe so,” I said. “But I’ve been set up to take the fall for his murder. I will find his true killer. If you have anything to do with the murder… I will make sure you are hanged in my place.” His face tightened into a deep frown. “So, keep shooting that gun around, Bümbrix. For now.” “You speak with such conviction.” He said. “But those are not your words. The corruption of the Department has burned the bridges between neighbors, caused them to tattle on each other out of fear.” “I am not afraid.” I said. “Not afraid?” He hissed. His eyes locked onto mine as he stood inches from my face. “Take off the shirt.” “Why?” I asked. “You do not know corruption, you do not know hatred.” He said. “I can see in your eyes that you think you know me. You don’t.” His eyes stared into my mind, he hissed again even louder. “I will show you the corruption of man.” The fiendish man-lizard thrust his hand into my throat and lifted me a foot off the ground. “Or will you show me?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I eked out. “Let’s play a game, Detective.” He said. “Wire or no wire. If you’re wearing one I will beat you within an inch of your life and then end it with a bullet through the skull. If you’re not wearing a wire I will let you go. You will have 10 seconds to leave the mill. Failure to play the game will result in me… crushing your windpipe… right now. You will suffocate. So, will you play?” I nodded my head as well as I could. I like my windpipe the way it is, thank you. The lizard-man lowered me down to the ground and released his hold around my neck. “Remove your clothing.” He said. I did as I was told. He inspected me, turning me around and then back again. “Lucky,” he said, disappointed. “Leave this mill and don’t return.” I quickly plucked the clothing from the floor, “Ten” he blurted. I sprang from the door and ran down the embankment as fast as I could. “Nine” he shouted. I must have run half a mile before I stopped to get dressed. My chest burned in agony. My legs were limp. I thought my heart would beat out of my chest. ***** “Can I speak with the Captain, please?” I said, out of breath. “I have important details on the Detective Ruebos murder case.” I didn’t have any real evidence yet but being nearly killed by a Department hating half-lizard fiend seemed like something important to report. I told the Captain of my encounter with Bümbrix and the details I was able to gather from Uncha and Djörn. Uncha’s story told me that whoever the killer was, they had been speaking with Ruebos just previous to the murder. I also learned that this homicidal mill-worker Bümbrix had a paranoid view of the Department and a deep hatred for Ruebos. He certainly seemed like the type to talk with you one moment and kill you the next. “Do you know of him?” I asked. “The mill worker?” “We’ve heard from Bümbrix on more than one occasion. I can say no more than that. I’m sure Ruebos dealt with him once or twice if that’s what you’re asking.” She responded. “I already knew that.” I said. “Are you withholding something?” “Rhett, I don’t want you to take the fall for something you didn’t do.” She said. “But, there are things I can’t discuss with civilians. You know that.” “Civilians?” I said, “I’m not exactly your average street walker, now am I? I don’t know why but someone in a position of power has decided that I’m a murderer. I’ve done nothing. For the past three years since you dumped me from the Department, nothing. Just minding my own business, keeping to myself.” “Calm down-“she pleaded reassuringly. I didn’t calm down. “You have your agents bust down my door to bring me to you, for what? After all this time we finally meet up again face-to-face and not once did you apologize to me for what you did. All you could say was that you wouldn’t help and that I was going to face this on my own.” “Don’t blame me for your mistakes, Rhett.” She squeaked in. “I could die. Executed, Müdi. Maybe you can sit by and watch the events unfold but I’ll be damned if I will.” “There’s nothing I can do.” Said the Captain. “Yeah? Screw you, then.” I tore the phone from the wall and threw it across the room. “Buh-bye!” How could she say she knew I wasn’t a killer and then stand by as I’m beaten and shot at and put on trial? Crumpled up on the floor I sobbed and screamed in rage. For the first time it set in. Until then it just seemed like some sort of joke, I was just waiting for the punch line. A dream, perhaps. It wasn’t real, how could it be? I was so caught up on the absurdity of this dream that I missed one ever-so important fact, I was awake. When I had calmed myself down my spirits were broken and my mind was weak. Tick tock, tick tock, the clock drummed into my ears. Time ceases for no man. It would not relent in compassion for my breakdown. It would not pause for me to make sense of my ordeal. The clock would go on ticking even as my body hung limp from the gallows, never halting to remember my cause. My eyes turned from sorrow to weariness, even as my mind worried… my body wished to sleep. ***** “How does a dead man’s name end up on your payment receipt, Rhett?” Djörn asked. It was mid-morning, a day had passed. After I left the tavern last night Djörn scanned over the billing transactions. Near the bottom of the last page one name in particular caught his eye. Ruebos Temm. “I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve got an inkling.” I said. “While I pursue that I need you to do something for me.” “Anything. What can I do?” “I need you to hack into the Department database,” I said, “look for footage from the camera at Rittleford Charging Station the night of Ruebos’ murder.” Djörn’s sunk-in eyes darted side to side. “Why do you ask me?” “I think you know the answer to that, Djörn. You don’t have to pretend anymore.” I said. “You know how serious this is, don’t you?” “Of course it is, yes.” He said. “Though, I’m no hacker.” He smiled. “No, of course not.” I laughed. “But I’m willing to bet you know someone that is.” Djörn flicked his tongue out from his mouth a few times as he gave it some thought. “Maybe I do.” He said. “Maybe I don’t.” His eyes darted to the side of the tavern. A young woman sat at one of the tables. “What is it?” I asked. “Nothing. I’ll get on it, Rhett. Right away. See you later.” I turned to see the woman. She wore shades over her eyes and had her face turned down to the menu extended in front of her. “There’s a lot to pick from isn’t there?” I said, approaching her. She didn’t hear me. “Excuse me, Miss?” “Yes?” She responded. “Djörn’s got a wide selection there, doesn’t he?” My stomach churned in memory of the last meal I had eaten there. Bleck. “Huh?” Said the woman looking up at me. “Oh, yes. Very wide.” “I’m surprised you noticed.” “Why’s that?” She asked. “Well, you’ve been listening to my conversation with Djörn the whole time.” I said. “I bet you couldn’t even name today’s special.” “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” “Alright, then tell me. What’s today’s special? And don’t look at the menu.” I said. Her mouth hung open as she strained to think. “But you can’t, can you?” “No.” She said, taking off the shades. Bright green eyes looked up at me. “The special is listed on the front of the building, in the entryway before you enter the restaurant, and on the front of the menu itself.” I said. “You’re either bafflingly unobservant or you aren’t here to eat. Why are you here?” “Detective, I knew it was you.” Smiled the stranger. “You may not remember me.” I looked to Djörn for some kind of hint. He shrugged. “I’m sorry?” I said. “Ten years ago,” She said, turning her attention to Djörn, “Detective Rhett responded to a call. I had heard gunshots fired and called the police.” Her eyes welled up. “When he arrived… h-he found them. My parents. They had been murdered. Mercilessly shot to death in their own home.” “I remember.” I said. It’s not something you forget. ‘Did you ever tell her the truth?’ Shemis’ words rang in my ears. “When the Detective found me I was almost paralyzed in fear.” She said. “He brought me back with him to the station. Made me a place to sleep. Comforted me as I wept into my pillow. Even after my Aunt came to pick me up he came by to check up on me. Every year on the anniversary the Detective was there for me.” “It’s been a long time, Kazz.” I said. “Look at how you’ve grown.” “Until one year when the great Detective failed to show.” She said, ignoring me. “I worried that he had died, but no one would ever say. I almost believed it. When they said you had killed a man. But I know better.” “Why did you come here, Kazz?” I lightly chided. “It’s great to see you, but these are very dangerous times for me. This city is no place for a young girl.” “That’s why I’m here. To protect you.” She said. “I’m not a young girl anymore.” “You can’t stay, Kazz. They’ll pursue you as hard as they’ve pursued me.” I said. “No one else is going to be hurt on my watch. Not anymore.” “Don’t worry about the lizard.” Djörn complained, his frill puffing out a bit. “I’m not a little girl anymore, Rhett. I can make my own decisions.” She said. “This isn’t another case to fool around with. There are big people in high places who want me dead.” “Then they’ll have to go through the three of us first.” “Three?” Said Djörn. “Enough. You are not getting involved, Kazz. I’ve made my decision.” I said. “Djörn, get me that footage as soon as you can. I’m going to go have a conversation with our little hobo from Faerko. You,” I said to Kazz, “Are leaving. This is Detectives work. I’m glad you stopped by, now please leave before you get hurt.” With that said I left the tavern. Don’t get me wrong, running into Kazz was wonderful but it was the wrong place and the wrong time. She doesn’t need to complicate things by getting involved, not again. Rain drops pounded down upon my head as I marched over to the Charging Station. Something approached me from behind, the breeze from its acceleration brushing against my neck. Quickly it was beside me, keeping pace. A black van, like the others I’ve been seeing. Except this one was closer, the letters INJU were painted on the side. A tinted window collapsed down on itself to reveal a passenger, Shemis Callard. His icy eyes stared into me with a piercing intensity. The van blew past without a word spoken. He had stopped me cold in my tracks, the van had just kept on moving. Why was he following me? What were his intentions? I couldn’t worry about that right then. Regaining my composure I looked toward the scene of the crime, realizing that this was my last chance to see it as it was the night of the murder. Soon the rain would wash away the evidence and the station would reopen soon thereafter. Ducking under the yellow tape I approached the bloodstained pavement just 10 feet in front of the charging units. Ruebos had lost a lot of blood. Oddly enough the stains not only pooled in that particular area but there were faint streaks of blood leading up to it and a very faint trickle of blood leading up to the streaks. There was much to be learned from that, but even then I couldn’t prove it. The rain would soon wash much of it away. I didn’t have my camera. Ruined that when I threw my phone. God, I’m an idiot. I ducked back under the tape and as I walked around the Charging Station I saw the scurrying feet of the little hobo running towards me. “Help! Rhett help Uncha!” Sprinting quickly behind him was Bümbrix, the mill operator, gun drawn. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “What’s going on?” The homely little alien hid behind my legs. “I just caught that pathetic fur-ball digging around the graveyard.” Bümbrix hissed. “I’d not. Ravvi lies!” “So what if he was? What’s it to you?” I said. “Aren’t you supposed to be at the mill?” “He was digging in the graveyard of my ancestors.” Said Bümbrix. “That must mean something to you, human.” “What were you doing hanging around the graveyard anyway?” “Always you with your questions.” he said. “Get out of the way.” “No.” “No kill! No kill!” Said the little hobo. “Fine. The man will die first and then I’ll take my time dealing with you.” A gunshot went off but I was still standing. The gun flew from the hands of Bümbrix as he fell back from the shot. He grasped his arm tight and hissed. Behind me stood CIM, gun in hand. The little hobo peeked out from behind his legs now. “Nice shot.” I said. “Lucky you missed the chest.” “He tried to kill me!” Yelled Bümbrix. “Lucky, unlucky. One of those.” Said CIM. He pulled the little hobo out of hiding. I went on to question Uncha about why he had left in such a hurry the day earlier at the tavern. “Finished eat. I go.” He said. “Alright, how do you explain Detective Ruebos’ name being on the bill?” He laughed. “Money cards not named.” “Oh, you used a ‘money card’?” I asked. “Where did you get that from?” The smile faded from his face. “Oh. Uh, okay. Uncha tell you.” “Tell me what?” “Truth.” He said. “Uncha tell Rhett truth.” His eyes reached around him to scan the area before he took a big breath and began to tell his story. “Car drive up. Large man and …small man, I think. They throw Detective Ruebos out of trunk. Drag him toward station.” “The streaks of blood leading to the scene.” I affirmed. “Uncha walk over. I not know Ruebos dead. The little man mad at Uncha. He hit him.” Said the little hobo. “They tell me keep quiet. They give Uncha money card from Detective Ruebos. Demand me say what I tell you, demand I say. Demand.” “You stole from a dead man.” Bümbrix roared. “What does it matter to you, Bümbrix? The world is better off… that’s what you said, right?” He ignored me. “I not steal. They give to Uncha.” “They bribed you with the money card, Uncha. You lied to me.” I said. “Yes.” He cried. “I lie.” “Well, don’t do it again.” I warned. “Now scram.” He ran off, looking back several times to be sure the injured Ravvi wasn’t following. “Bümbrix, you’re starting to become a menace. Une amanaza. Por por por por la que… Why we allow you to carry a weapon is beyond me.” Said CIM. “You can’t just go pointing that thing thing thing thing … you can’t just go pointing that thing at people.” He picked up Bümbrix’s gun and powered it down. “Next time I won’t just point, CIM. I’ll fire.” He said. “Make sure your head isn’t nearby. You might be unlucky.” The lizard jumped to his feet and stomped away angrily holding his arm. “I’m sure he has more than one gun.” I said to CIM. “Yeah, but what can you do? We tried having the guns taken away, but you know how that went… went. All we can do is wait for the Governors to make a d-d-deci-decision.” He said. “‘til then… til til til still will fill bill nil quill… until then” he corrected, “You just watch your back and keep your eyes wide.” “If you hadn’t been here that lizard would have killed me.” “Maybe. I think Bümbrix’s teeth are sharper than his venom is toxic toxic toxic poisonous material that causes death or great injury toxic toxic…” He shook himself. “If you know what I mean.” I nodded. There was a prolonged silence as I nervously scanned the horizon. “Why were you here anyway?” “I got a call from a young woman who wanted to m-m-meet with me.” He said. “I was looking around for her when I saw your pre-pre-predicamen… sit-situazione z-z-zwang-z-z bees are of high importance in our biological world…” “Müdi hasn’t been maintaining your systems very well, CIM” I said. “Let me take a look.” ***** I found myself flat on my back. My entire arm burned as blood gushed out from the shoulder. My head had bounced off the pavement, leaving my vision partially obscured. Someone was standing nearby, hovering over us. To the right of me was CIM, laying faced down and completely motionless. I think he died immediately, there was nothing I could do. The world seemed to spin and everything was blurred but I couldn’t just lay there waiting for the assassin. I rolled over and dragged myself behind a nearby car. I could hear the assassin approaching. The footsteps reverberated in my ears. There were more gunshots. I realized they were shooting CIM as he lay lifeless. Not waiting for my turn I frantically began feeling around for the door handle and pulled it open. I threw myself onto the seat and my vision became clearer. No keys in the ignition. The assassin began to reload the gun. This was it, there was nothing I could do. I closed my eyes and lay motionless on the car seat. Nothing. There was nothing but I didn’t dare to move. Eventually I peered out the window. A crowd was surrounding CIM, a few of them crying and others trying to revive his complicated circuitry. The assassin was gone. “What happened?” Cried a familiar voice. It was Kazzera. “I- I don’t know.” I said. “CIM and I were talking and then…” It hit me all at once. My longtime partner and friend was gone, brutally murdered right in front of me. “You’re bleeding!” She panicked. “We need help over here. Rhett’s been shot.” She called out. Why would anyone want to kill CIM? It’s a question that troubled me all through the night as I lay in the hospital bed. There was no answer. Except that perhaps CIM wasn’t their intended target. Maybe I was meant to be the one gunned down. CIM was in my spot, he died when it was supposed to be me. What troubled me more was who it could have been. Was it the same person that killed Ruebos? It seemed likely. The logical choice would be Bümbrix, he had threatened CIM just before the attack. But CIM had taken his gun. Where had he found another one in such a short period of time? They aren’t easy to find these days. Plus, something tells me that CIM was right. Bümbrix talks a big game but is relatively harmless. Maybe it was the INJU, I thought. They’ve been following my every move from the start. The one time they weren’t around is when CIM gets gunned down. But why would they? If Shemis and his muscle were truly after justice then why would they gun down an innocent man? That is, if they were truly after justice. Maybe Shemis is just a madman who found his way into power. It seemed likely. I just didn’t have it anymore. It had been too long since I was an active Detective. Part of me started to wonder if I was the killer after all. Nothing else made sense. Every lead I followed seemed to come to a dead end. The INJU, Bümbrix, Uncha the hobo… all of them very suspicious, questionable in their tactics, but ultimately seemed innocent. With the Captain refusing to help me in the investigation I was left on my own devices. Detectives of old would find a way, but I wasn’t in their class. Kazzera sat to the right of me in a chair by the bed. She’s grown up. Not that she’s changed that much, though. Still very much the same. Part of me was thankful, the other part concerned. There was a reason I hadn’t seen her in so long. “Hey,” I said, “I’m glad you’re here.” She still slept, her eye twitching a bit. “I’ve neglected you… I’ve neglected a lot of people.” I whispered. “I’m sorry for that.” Her eyes opened slightly. “The world keeps on turning, right?” “I suppose.” I sat there for a while, looking at the ceiling. “How’s your Aunt?” She didn’t answer. Shifting her position she fell back to sleep. ***** Strange dreams haunted my mind all night. My worst nightmares projecting the future into my mind. I began to accept my fate. Apathy flooded over me. Not an apathy out of a lack of caring but rather a feeling of defeat. Where would I go from here? Would I bother? When Ruebos was murdered I didn’t really know what to feel. I didn’t know him well and what I did know I didn’t like. There was nothing to feel bad about beyond the idea of a man being killed. But when CIM was shot down, when he was murdered, and his lifeless body lay next to me while I could do nothing to protect him… Humanoids were rebuilt, not mourned. CIM would be rebuilt, but would it still be him? Would he still remember the pain of the bullets? Would he be haunted by the emptiness of death? Would he remember me leaving him behind? The horrific incident would be seen more analogous to a technical error than a murder. CIM wasn’t a life form as such, but he was still alive. To me and to the people he served, he was alive. They can call it what they want, but CIM had been assassinated in my eyes. Which meant there was an assassin out there somewhere. The shadow of a man cast into the room, someone was speaking with the Doctor. Whispers wandered through the air but I couldn’t make any sense of them. A nurse made his way into the room. “Why can’t I remember?” I yelled at my nurse. “The brain is a delicate thing-“the nurse started. I didn’t hear the rest. In just a matter of a few seconds a figure raced past the door and gawked in at me. He wore brown dressings and kicked forward with his shining Oxfords. Shemis Callard… “What is he doing here?” Kazzera said, jumping up. “Who?” asked the nurse. “That was Shemis, he just passed by. Rhett needs his rest. Keep that creep away from this room.” “No one is going to bother Mr. Matthews, Ma’am. I’ll get security to-“ “There’s no need.” I said, sitting up. “We’re leaving.” “Sir, I think you need to just stay still.” He said. “Well,” I looked down at his nametag, “Victor, I really don’t give a damn what you think.” I said. “Get my coat, Kazz. We’re leaving.” I put my arm through and she wrapped the other side over my shoulder. The phone began to ring by the bed, but I was already halfway out of the room. I intended to take one last look at the crime scene. There had to be something there that I was missing. We pulled up to the Charging Station. Immediately I noticed something I hadn’t before. The blood stains had been so prominent that I hadn’t looked elsewhere. Directly behind the charging units, which were lined up against the building, there was a sizeable square of black tape on the outside wall. Peeling away the tape I found the shattered remains of a low-sitting window. “Kazz, stay here and try to stay out of trouble. I’m going to speak with the owner of the station.” She nodded and I went inside. “Hey there, Frank.” “What do you want?” said Frank. “I was just passing by and couldn’t help noticing your broken window.” “You mean you couldn’t help messing around with my window.” He said. I laughed. “Yes, true. I wonder, was that window broken on the same night as the murder?” “Wouldn’t you know?” “Pardon?” “It’s all over the news. I know what you’ve done, Detective.” He said. “I had nothing to do with the murder.” I said, agitated. “I’m looking for someone that did.” He sighed. “Yes, the window was broken the same night.” “That wasn’t so hard, was it?” “Yes, actually.” He blurted. “Ruebos… well, he meant a lot to me. He was my son.” “I’m sorry, Frank.” I said. “I didn’t know.” “Join the club. Neither did the boy.” Frank said. “So, what do you need? Beer? Whiskey?” “Uh…” I hesitated, “no, I’m taking a break.” “Then get out of my station, I’m trying to operate a business here.” “Just one more thing,” I said, “Was anything stolen?” “Stolen?” he questioned, wiping his eyes, “No, nothing was stolen. Why do you ask?” “Why should the window be broken then? For what reason? What purpose?” “I don’t know, maybe some kind of struggle.” He shrugged. No. Ruebos was already dead upon arrival, but I wasn’t going to tell Frank that. “Alright. So then why a broken window?” I scratched my head nervously. “Why would the murderer break the window? To make it look like a theft? No, nothing was stolen. To take attention away from the body? No, they wanted the body to be found…” “Maybe it was just an accident.” Said Frank. “Maybe.” I said. It didn’t seem likely. “What about camera footage? The lighting wouldn’t have been great but it’s something. Can I have a look?” “I’m afraid there’s nothing to look at, Detective.” Said Frank. “No cameras allowed here.” “What? Why not?” “Let me tell you about those new cameras.” He said. “They aren’t secure. Anyone can access ‘em. I don’t much like just anyone watching my property day and night.” “Frank, you haven’t told anyone about that have you?” “Just did, didn’t I? How should I know? It probably came out one time or another.” “Who knows, Frank?” I said. “I need to know.” There was a piercing shriek from outside, Kazz was being assaulted by a large masked figure. The figure tossed her into the backseat of a black van and peeled off. I jumped into her car and sped off in pursuit. The van was a deep charcoal that hovered only a few inches off of the ground. The windows were tinted but all I could see was Kazz banging on the rear window, pleading for help. The van was similar in almost every way to the ones surveying me those few days. They were trying to distract me. I was getting close; the INJU was trying to lead me astray. It started to make sense to me; the masked figures that bribed Uncha were just the INJU, I thought. Someone for some reason wanted me imprisoned or worse, and they were going to do it by framing me for a murder I had no part in. The van lead me through the wooded areas of the city. Just feet in front of me it landed in a small clearing. I jumped out from the car and tried to get to Kazz before the masked figure could catch me. I opened the door to the backseat. It was empty. The masked figure grabbed me from behind and stuck a blade to my jaw. “Don’t move, please.” He said. Walking around from the opposite side of the van was Kazzera, completely unharmed and wielding a gun. She approached carefully. ***** The auditorium was full of chatter, filled to the limit to watch my trial. Mostly strangers but I saw a few familiar faces too. On each side of the theater stood a number of INJU agents, blocking the exit. Shemis stood amongst those involved in the case, separate from the group. Captain Müdi sat down in the same area, CIM’s partner sat beside her. He frequently made faces at me. Ruebos’ family sat in the front row, Frank sat with strangers a distance from the family. “Ladies and Gentlemen!” The Judge shrieked into the microphone. “Are you ready?” The crowd shouted collectively ‘yes!’ “I said, are you ready?!” ‘Yes!!’ they shouted once more. The Judge was a young, attractive man. His hair swept behind his ears, a smug look upon his face as he gazed in my direction. “Are you ready, Detective?” “Not much choice, is there?” “Indeed not! Let us begin.” He said. “Tonight we will learn your side of the story. The audience will vote. Who will be hanged? We’ll be right back after this commercial break.” The Judge immediately exhaled and his expression changed entirely. “Sorry fella, just following the script.” “The great law system of the 22nd century. Put it on TV, get the people involved, and provide something entertaining. The people do love a good hanging.” “Yeah, well, that ain’t my fault.” Said the Judge, dabbing his forehead with a towel. “You better have a good case, Detective.” ***** “I present to you Ms. Kazzera Poulin, Detective.” Said Kazzera, taking a bow. “What are you doing?” I questioned. “Let go of him, lizard.” She said. “As you wish.” Said the masked man, releasing me. Kazzera walked a circle around me slowly. She scanned me with ridiculing eyes, a bitter grimace upon her face. “Detective Rhett,” She smiled slightly. “What a hero.” “Put that gun down before you hurt yourself.” ‘Put it down, little girl. It’s alright now, I’m here’ I saw eight year old Kazz standing amongst the bloodbath, the bodies of her parents sprawled out on the floor. ‘It was my sister, Detective. She killed them!’ The young girl’s arm trembled as she lowered the gun. ‘It’s alright, we’ll find her.’ “I waited for you.” Said Kazzera. Her hand was steady, her eyes unflinching. “For such a long time.” “I don’t understand.” “My Aunt died, Detective. Died. When I was just a girl.” She said. “I waited for you to come back to me. To save me like you always had. You never came!” “You’re an adult, Kazzera. You’ve said so yourself. You don’t need saving anymore.” She raised the gun to my face. “You abandoned me! What was a girl… such a lonely girl… what was she to do?” ***** “And we’re back!” the Judge hooted. “The voting has started, so if you want to make your voice heard make sure you vote before the end of the trial.” “How can anyone vote now? They haven’t even heard me speak.” “The clock is ticking, Detective.” Said the Judge. “Ah, we have a video question from a member of the audience. Chuluso Purzer, what’s your question?” An elderly lady appeared on the jumbo screen in the middle of the auditorium. “Yes, well, uh… I knew Detective Ruebos and was very disheartened to hear of his death. You see, he had helped me over a number of summers install my cooling systems. One time he even lent his truck to me so that I could sell my orange-pineapple marmalade out of the back-“ “Alright! Thank you for your question, Ma’am but you’re a bit long winded.” Said the Judge, cutting her off the screen. “How will Ms. Purzer manage this coming summer without Detective Ruebos? I believe that was the essence of the question. Your response, Detective?” “My response? To what? Am I being tried for some scheme against marmalade now?” The crowd popped with applause. The little patron from the bar fluttered above his seat ‘Answer the question, Murderer!’ He lowered back down, his wings brushing the face of the young lady sitting next to him. It was Tia, the waitress from the tavern. On her other side sat a large Ravvi; her husband, I supposed. “Very good, very good. Comedy to win over the crowd. Smart, smart.” The Judge said bitterly. “Now, please do tell us your side of the story.” “There isn’t much to tell. There is no evidence to prove-“ “Detective Rhett says he has no evidence. What will the audience vote? Guilty or Innocent? You can have your say by signing in, right now. Next, we hear who the Detective says is truly responsible. We’ll be right back.” “Excuse me, do you mind if I talk?” I shouted. “Sorry, pal. We’re on commercial.” He said. “I’m just reading the cards, that’s all. Nothing personal.” “Right. Nothing personal about getting a guy hanged for a crime he didn’t commit.'' “Look, I don’t know if you did it or not. That’s not for me to decide.” He said. “It’s up to the vote.” ***** Kazzera paced back and forth in-front of me. “It started out so small. Stealing from the market so I could eat. I wasn’t hurting anybody.” She said. “And then I got caught. Again and again. As I went on stealing, as I went on coloring outside of the lines… I began to like it. The thrill of it, the adrenaline pumping through my veins.” ‘You’re sure your sister lives in the basement?’ I asked the young girl. ‘She has to be. She ran down there after she killed them. After she killed Mom and Dad.’ The girl began to sob. ‘CIM, have another look around the basement.’ I said to my partner. Memories so vivid but so distant, like a bad recurring dream. I can only imagine how Kazzera feels. “There’s still time to come clean. You don’t have to do this.” “After a while I realized that stealing just wasn’t exciting anymore. I got involved in bigger and greater things. As you might imagine, there were a few warrants out for my arrest.” She said. “I couldn’t go to jail, I was having too much fun.” ‘I’m no hacker’ flashed to my mind. ‘Damn it’, the vision of wine spilled over the floor. ‘The window’, I thought. “Now I understand.” I said. I turned my back to Kazzera and stood face to face with the masked figure. “You can take off the mask, I know it’s you.” The figure hesitated and then pulled the mask from his face. “I’m sorry, Rhett.” Said big Djörn. ‘Frank was right’ I thought. The window, why hadn’t I noticed it before? ‘Damn it’, the memory echoed in my mind. “You finally got in over your head, big man.” I said. “Ruebos found out, didn’t he?” The lizard nodded his head sheepishly. “That damn tail of yours.” “Never did me any good having it.” He grinned. “Far from a professional killer, big guy. Then again, it wasn’t your idea from the start was it?” I said. “Kazzera approached you. She finally got herself into a mess she couldn’t find her way out of.” “The girl is young. A life in prison? That would be wrong.” He said. “But, it wasn’t just that. Ruebos caught you in the act. He could finally prove what CIM and I suspected years ago,” I said, “You’re the Black Hacker.” “You know, I actually felt sorry for Ruebos.” Kazzera said. “Just doing his job, that’s all. His goals just interfered with mine, that’s all. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it.” ‘Tell me about your sister, Kazzera.’ I said to the troubled girl. ‘Well, what do you want to know?’ She asked. ‘What does she look like?’ She struggled with the thought. ‘I don’t really know. I’ve never actually seen her. Momma says… Momma used to say that she only came up when I slept.’ I looked at the little girl in disbelief. ‘You’ve never seen your sister?’ She shook her head. ‘But, if I ever had I would have stopped her. She was always causing trouble, Detective. Daddy said she couldn’t help it.’ “Kazz…” My heart sunk. “Why? You were always such a brilliant girl, how could you do something so stupid?” “Stupid?” She inquired. There was movement in the bushes several feet behind her. A green light shone forward. “Choosing big Djörn as your accomplice? Really?” “No one else could know.” She said. “Do you think I wanted to work with this oaf? He’s a brilliant hacker, but that’s all he’s good for.” “Kazzera Poulin, the girl that once rivaled my mind for detection. Played with my cases like a child, but helped solve them nonetheless.” I said. “What happened to her? Did her brains go along with her mind?” “Shut up!” she said. “I…am…not crazy… and I was always more clever than you.” ‘I tricked you, Detective! Hahaha.’ The little girl laughed. ‘Yes you did, Kazz. You never had a sister, did you?’ Which one is this? I wondered to myself. ‘My name’s not Kazz, Detective. Remember? This is Kazzera now.’ I nodded. ‘Do you think Kazz knows who you are?’ She giggled. ‘No, she thinks I’m down in the basement.’ “Face it, Kazzera. You’ve lost it. Your parents would be so disappointed.” She paused in shock, then frowned. “I know what you’re doing, Detective.” She pointed to her head. “What’s he doing, Kazz?” asked Djörn. “Shut up, lizard. My name is Kazzera.” “I’m facing her with the truth and she can’t take it.” I said. “I think she might pop.” “No!” She slammed me in the head with the butt of her gun. “My parents would be proud of the woman I am. I’m an independent woman, I don’t need you. I don’t need anyone. I don’t-‘’ She started. “It’s a shame,” said Kazzera, “All this time I dreamt and fantasized about you hanging from the gallows but I’m starting to grow impatient.” ‘You can’t visit that girl anymore, Rhett. What you’re doing is wrong.’ Said Captain Müdi. ‘I’m not visiting Kazzera Poulin, Captain. Don’t you see? Somewhere in there is still lonely little Kazz Poulin, the orphaned girl with her imaginary sister.’ I said. ‘Someone with her mental disabilities cannot be trusted. Yet you share your case files with her. I cannot allow it.’ The Captain glared at me. ‘I know, I know. The girl is very troubled, I know. But, half of her doesn’t know that. Half of her is a brilliant mind for solving puzzles. Maybe I’m exploiting that, I don’t know. But, don’t we owe it to her to make her life worthwhile? To give her a purpose despite her illness?’ I pleaded. ‘We have no such responsibility, Rhett. Leave the girl alone or I will be forced to take action.’ ***** “So, tell us Detective. Name the man we should have sitting here instead of you. We’re listening.” “I’m afraid I can’t, Judge.” I said. “I cannot name the killers, because there were two. One woman, one Ravvi.” Djabe sat in amongst a strange crowd of people, he looked on with concern for his brother. “A woman killer? Always intriguing. And a Ravvi? Whoever heard of humans and lizards working together? What a remarkable story.” Said the Judge. “We have on the screen a Mr. Roomington-“ “Shut it!” I yelled. “If you’re going to have me on trial then you’re going to have to listen.” The Judge checked his notes and listened to the voice in his headset. “Very well, Detective. Go on.” “Thank you.” I said. “The killers of Detective Ruebos are Kazzera Poulin and big Djörn of The Ravvi.” The audience gasped. “Hold on just a second, Detective. We all know who big Djörn is, it’s hardly thinkable that he would commit such an atrocity. And who is this Kazzera?” “You wouldn’t know her, she’s from the outside.” I said. “She’s held a grudge against me for years and was looking for the right time to seek revenge. I’m not saying I didn’t deserve it, but it didn’t have to end up in the murder of an innocent man.” “And this Kazzera, is she still in the city?” The flash of purple light came back to my eyes, as though it had just happened again. “No, I’m afraid not.” ***** “We can’t let you leave, Rhett.” Said big Djörn thickly. “It’s nothing against you personally.” “Shut up, lizard.” Kazzera said. “You did this to yourself, Detective. It’s been a long time coming for you.” “I know.” I said, resigning myself to death. “I guess people will know now.” “Know?” Said Kazzera. “That I’m innocent.” I said. “You can kill me but you won’t get away with it. Maybe for a month, or a year, or five years. But you will be caught and they will know I’m not a killer.” I pulled the knife from my boot and tossed it away, there was no point in trying to use it. Kazzera powered up the gun. The piercing whistle filled my ears. I was blinded by the flash as a gunshot rang out. Then another and then a third. Kazzera fell to the ground in a heap of burnt flesh. I screamed out as it hit my heart. She was dead. The ground rumbled behind me as big Djörn fell down upon his face and lay there in agony. Captain Müdi hobbled over to the bodies and checked them for life. “The lizard is still alive.” She spoke into a radio piece. A few aircraft lowered to the ground with INJU painted on the side. The Captain escorted me over to the aircraft. Behind me the agents zipped Kazzera up in a body bag. They carried her lifeless body away. She was only 22, just a girl. A lonely girl. ***** “I don’t understand,” said the Judge, “you knew the whole time?” “Not the whole time,” I said, “but when CIM was murdered in front of me… and Kazzera was there so quickly. It didn’t make sense. In my heart I wanted to believe she had heard the shots and ran… but her breathing was calm. Her voice was steady. It wasn’t the lonely girl with an imaginary sister, I don’t think she survived childhood. But the imaginary sister herself… she lived on.” “You suspect that she murdered Detective Ruebos?” said the Judge, interested for the first time. “Kazzera had prepared for everything. She even found a way to endear herself to me even after all the hatred she’s had for me.” I said. “But, she didn’t realize that the same people she reported me to would end up with conclusive proof of her own misdeeds.” “The INJU,” said Shemis, approaching the Judge, “had been conducting surveillance on Rhett all throughout the investigation.” “Kazzera had been the one to report me to them. I noted how she had also recognized Shemis pass by my door in the hospital. How did she know him? She isn’t from the area and unless Shemis is older than he looks I’m guessing he hasn’t been on the job too long. The only way she would have known Shemis is if she had been the source of the accusation.” “We admit our faults, Detective.” Said Shemis. “We tried to warn you as soon as we knew but-“ “There shouldn’t have been cause for charges.” Said the Judge. “All you had was the accusation of this girl?” “He failed to prove his innocence to me,” said Shemis, “that’s how things work nowadays, your Honor.” “Are you going to lecture me about law or is there a reason you interrupted proceedings?” “As a token of apology we offer the court the following footage.” The footage began to play on the big screen in the back of the courtroom. We saw a figure dressed in black with gun drawn. Shots are fired. The first shot fires through CIM’s back, passing through and carving a hole in my shoulder. I fall to the ground. Several other shots fire into CIM. He falls down beside me. As I crawl around the car the masked figure approaches CIM’s body and fires a few more shots. My head is seen peeking through the car window as I tried to get away. At the same time the masked figure is seen removing her over-clothing. She tosses them underneath the car. It’s Kazzera. She is seen walking around to my side of the car and the footage cuts. “If footage of this caliber exists, why is there no hard evidence in the murder of Detective Ruebos?” asked the Judge. “I can answer that,” I said, “Frank, the owner of the Charging Station, didn’t have any cameras installed.” “No cameras? Not even one?” “I suspect that word got out and that’s why the body was dumped there. Frank probably told Djörn during one of their gab sessions. He didn’t realize the impact it would have on his s-“I started, “On his business. Djörn was a trusted friend.” “And what of big Djörn?” said the Judge, “How did you know of his involvement?” “Djörn has been a suspect in a series of hacking operations. For several years he was the prime suspect as the notorious Black Hacker.” I said, “But CIM and myself were never able to prove it.” “Detective Ruemos told me that he was onto something hot.” Said Captain Müdi, stepping forward. “He had found new evidence against an elusive criminal. He was going to bring the evidence to me, but he never had the chance.” “It’s my theory that big Djörn found out that Ruebos was onto him. Kazzera, being one of the criminals he was looking to bail out, had the perfect plan of how to take care of Ruemos and place the blame on someone else. She had just the person in mind.” I said. “She overestimated Djörn’s taste for crime, however, and so when she asked him for his help in moving the body he was understandably shaken.” Big Djörn, who was also present at the trial, hung his head in sorrow. “I’m sorry. So sorry.” Until then the crowd hadn’t noticed him, the trial was still very much about me. Not anymore. “Quiet! You will speak when I have asked you to speak.” Said the Judge, puffing out his chest. He had spoken without reading from his cards. “The Rittleford Charging Station had been closed down because of the pools of blood found at the scene, but it was the smashed window which told the story. Anyone who knows big Djörn knows that he is prone to making messes with his tail.” I said. “In his nervous state he made a mistake.” “Thank you, Detective. Djörn, please approach the stand.” Said the Judge. “What do you have to say?” Djörn’s sunk in eyes searched around the room but found nothing to excuse himself. “It is true.” “You mean to say that you do not contest the allegations made against you by Detective Rhett, the INJU and the Department?” Said the Judge. “I do not contest.” Said Djörn. “Rhett the Debt is right.” He smiled slightly. “The voting has finished, I’m being asked to report. 78% voted Rhett as guilty, 22% voted him as innocent.” The Judge concluded. Some of the crowd cheered, some of them whimpered. Uncha, who sat next to Bümbrix, cried out as he wiped his nose on the lizard’s sleeve. Bümbrix hissed. “However, with the evidence that has been brought to our attention tonight I cannot allow the Detective to be charged. Oh shut up.” He said, throwing down his headset. “There is no evidence to tie Detective Rhett to the murder. What we have is video proof that one of the suspects is capable of cold blooded murder and the other suspect has admitted to conspiring with them.” “Finally, someone with some sense.” The Captain blurted out. “Therefore, I declare that Detective Rhett is innocent. Big Djörn, however, is guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, innumerable counts of black hat hacking, and attempted murder against Detective Rhett.” “I make only one request.” Said Djörn, looking down at the floor. “The lizard makes a request!” shouted the Judge. “What is it?” “Make it quick. Send me to my death. I don’t want to live without my freedom.” “Death it shall be, then.” Said the Judge. “Bailiff take him away, prepare him for the gallows.” The crowd erupted in cheer. Djabe sobbed by himself in the crowd, he made no sound. “Djörn, no.” I whimpered. “I’m sorry.” He hung from the rope, his eyes bulging from his face, his tongue limp and still as it poked through his jagged teeth, his tail wagging slightly until he breathed his last breath. ***** “I like the new look.” I said to Djabe, the successive owner of The Savvi Ravvi. “The tavern’s never been better.” “Thank ya, Detective.” He said. “Gonna have a drink?” “Yeah, thanks.” I said, tossing a bill onto the table. It’s been a year now. A year since my name was cleared, a year since Kazzera died and Big Djörn was hanged in my place. Were they in the wrong? Of course. Brutal murders were committed, laws were broken, and people were deceived. Kazzera tried to frame me for murder, she wanted me dead. That’s true. But, at one time she worshipped the ground I walked on. Sat in the chair next to me as we discussed cases. I didn’t want to, I thought she’d probably be scared by them. She wouldn’t have had it any other way. I was the hero to her sidekick. I failed her. What she became was my doing, that’s a fact. Kazz died when I stopped coming around, Kazzera took over. “What’s tomorrow have in store for ya, Rhett?” Djabe asked. “The Department has finally decided to let me return. At least I can stop inserting the ‘former’ before my title.” “You were always a good cop. Make the streets a lot safer for the rest of us.” As I look at Djabe all I can see is big Djörn’s limp body swinging back and forth from the gallows. That big oafy lizard may have been on the wrong side of the law, he may have taken part in the cover up and set up, but he was my friend. In the end he was braver than I could ever be in his position, he stood up and admitted his guilt to the world. And I betrayed him by standing there frozen in place as they wrapped that noose around his neck. “The streets are a bit too safe sometimes, I think. Too many black vans patrolling around, too many cameras hanging from the walls.” “You had better be careful, Detective. The INJU has a lot of input with the Department now, I would hate to see you lose your job for saying something silly.” “Yeah,” I said, looking to the camera above us, “I have a feeling they won’t like much that I have to say.” I waved. No one looks at me the same. A lot of them pretend, but they don’t fool me. Others, they let me know how they truly feel. Yeah, they know I’m innocent… but that doesn’t mean anything anymore. To them I killed their friend and I was to never be forgiven for that. Maybe the court said I was innocent, but the people certainly didn’t. 78% wanted to see me hanged. Walking amongst those people all you can feel is the contempt they have for you, the mistrust. “So, who’ll be by your side, Detective? A new partner?” “CIM’s been repaired. Did it myself. Cleaned up some odds and ends, updated some software. But, it’s still CIM. To him it’s just been a really long nap and now that he’s awake, things are back to the way they were. Plus, he’s got me back.” “It’ll be great to see ol’ CIM patrolling the streets again.” He said. “Just as though as you’ve fixed his speaking units, hahaha.” “Yeah.” I said. I had come to the bar for a celebratory drink to remember the day I proved my innocence. But as I looked around me all I could see was what I was missing. It wasn’t until Kazz was gone that I realized how I had missed her. She would be sitting here with me discussing some of the cases I would be starting with. The Captain treated me fairly at work but she never grew close to me as she once had, it was purely business. She would be here making us all laugh with her dry sense of humor. Big Djörn was such a bubbly spirit. He had some shady dealings but he made the tavern what it was. He would be behind the bar serving drinks as he listened wide-eyed to the stories of justice and law. Instead, it was just me. But, I would be alright. I would make due. I always had, and I always will. “One more drink please, Djabe.” I said, taking a puff from the pipe.