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Ure Infectus: The Chimera Adjustment: Book One (Imperium Cicernus 1)

Ure Infectus: The Chimera Adjustment: Book One (Imperium Cicernus 1)

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Ure Infectus: The Chimera Adjustment: Book One (Imperium Cicernus 1)

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Aug 29, 2017


In the far future, humanity has settled the stars of our galaxy and formed an Imperium which stands uncontested as the greatest known civilization. A network of wormholes connects the far-flung segments of humanity, allowing virtually instantaneous travel between Star Systems connected by this vast, invaluable network.

But what happens when one of those wormholes collapses and an entire Sector of relatively poor worlds is left to fend for itself without support, without guidance, and without the vast infrastructure of the Imperium available to its citizens? What might such a society look like after two centuries of independence, having been left to devise their own culture, values, and government?

Welcome to the Chimera Sector.

The citizens of this seemingly-forgotten splinter of the Imperium hold one belief above all others: Only when the leaders fear the voters as much as the voters fear the leaders will there be harmony.

To achieve this harmony, a special type of guild was created called the Timent Electorum. The operatives of this guild -- called 'Adjusters' -- work at the behest of the voting public, and exclusively punish political corruption, tyranny, and treason with the ultimate sanction: assassination.

This is the story of one such Adjuster, Jericho, who forges an unlikely alliance with an urban detective, Masozi, whose steadfast adherence to the Sector's core principles have placed her in harm's way. Acting together in a tenuous alliance, they will follow a trail of corruption across the Virgin Star System and witness the birth of a conflict which will forever change them -- along with the entire Chimera Sector.

Aug 29, 2017

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Ure Infectus - Caleb Wachter


Chapter I: Fear the Voters

I fear I’ll be working late, darling, Mayor Cantwell said in a conciliatory tone through his earpiece’s attached microphone. He had never actually intended to make it home for dinner that night, but a surprise visit had interrupted his other plans for the evening. Fortuitously, the unscheduled meeting also provided the perfect cover story for his pre-planned extracurricular activities. Give my love to the children…I love you too. Bye-bye, he tapped the earpiece to sever the communication with his wife. He then turned his attention back to the Professional Hammerball League representative sitting across from him.

I trust you find everything in order, Mr. Mayor? the representative pressed. He was a tall, muscular man around fifty years of age. Judging from his apparently unmodified physique, Mayor Cantwell deduced that he was a former professional athlete—probably a hammerball player from the same league which he now represented.

The Mayor looked over the short, plain document and he suppressed the urge to nod. The Professional Hammerball League Commissioner had struck a behind-closed-doors deal with Mayor Cantwell some years earlier, and that deal had seen New Lincoln—Mayor Cantwell’s city—play host to the Anvil, the largest sporting event on their entire world. Though hammerball had surprisingly failed to catch on with the nearby systems, it was ludicrously popular with the locals on Virgin Prime—a planet collectively referred to as ‘Virgin’ by most of its inhabitants.

When New Lincoln had served as host city to the Anvil and all of its attendant fanfare, the city had been promised massive economic benefits in exchange for major renovations and public works projects which were to be undertaken at taxpayer expense. Of course, there had been certain setbacks and the event had become a PR black eye for the Mayor’s administration.

Forgive me, Mr… Mayor Cantwell pressed for the third time since the meeting’s unscheduled outset.

Bennett, the man replied in his crude, low-born accent.

Of course…Mr. Bennett, Mayor Cantwell nodded knowingly as he surreptitiously activated a data retrieval program to search for information about the man sitting before him. And you fill an… his lips twitched sardonically, advisory role for Commissioner Heinlein?

That’s right, the man with the square, chiseled jaw replied as his grey-blue eyes bored into the Mayor’s own. I’ve served in my current capacity for thirty years, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

The data retrieval program activated a retinal display device, and Mayor Cantwell began to flick through the several gigabytes of data the program had retrieved on the man sitting before him. It seemed that he had, indeed, been a standout player for the Hampton Hoarkers prior to suffering a career-ending spinal injury.

According to the laws of Virgin, such an injury—while easily treatable with modern medicine—precluded a player from continuing to professionally compete in athletics since such an injury’s repair would involve measures that had been deemed to be performance-enhancing.

The Mayor scrolled through the first few pages of relevant data, with extra scrutiny placed on Mr. Bennett’s affiliation with the League Commissioner. Apparently he had served in an ‘advisory capacity’—which, in political terms, generally indicated that he acted as a ‘bag man’—for two decades. His other records were more or less nonexistent, including no traffic violations, domestic disturbances, or anything else aside from a handful of off-world visits to the nearby colonies which coincided with the Commissioner’s own travel schedule. In short, he presented a completely typical profile for the very person he claimed to be—which put the Mayor on his guard.

Mr. Bennett, Mayor Cantwell leaned forward and laced his fingers together as he deactivated the retinal display with little more than a twitch of his cheek, I must admit that I was surprised—and more than a little disquieted—by this unscheduled meeting.

Bennett fixed his gaze on the Mayor, and Mayor Cantwell—a lifelong politician who had debated some of the most powerful people in the entire system—actually felt the urge to recoil from the weight of the man’s regard. Instead, he did as he always did in such circumstances and affixed a patently false, well-practiced smile on his lips as Bennett replied, Mayor Cantwell, the Commissioner has expressed…concern regarding recent allegations directed your way relating to the New Lincoln Anvil which took place two years ago. The League can’t exactly afford another Watercress incident—especially not so soon.

Cantwell’s smile tightened; he knew a veiled threat when he heard it. I can assure the Commissioner that these concerns stem from little more than off-cycle news fodder; I’m currently running a seventy three percent approval rating with over two thirds of my constituents having expressed a desire for my re-election to a fourth term. Tell Commissioner Heinlein that this will all blow over in a matter of days. Cantwell’s smile broadened as he decided to make a play of his own, "But I’m afraid these numbers are inaccurate."

Bennett cocked an eyebrow,Oh?

Cantwell nodded solemnly as he highlighted one passage of the coded letter—a passage which, using predetermined verbiage, confirmed the amount of bribe money he had accepted in order to secure the public works committee’s support. That committee had been the most instrumental component of bringing the Anvil to New Lincoln, and Mayor Cantwell had distributed the Commissioner’s bribe monies to several key members of that department…well, Mayor Cantwell hadn’t given all of the bribe monies to the committee.

Indeed; I fear we miscalculated the secondary impact on our fair city’s waste disposal systems, he explained as he tapped out a new set of numbers in an addendum to the document. I have discussed it with the committee at some length and they assure me that this figure must be increased accordingly.

He slid the data pad across the desk to Mr. Bennett, who accepted the pad as his jaw clenched tightly. His eyes flicked down to the figures Mayor Cantwell had added and Bennett’s eyebrows rose briefly before grudgingly nodding his head, Commissioner Heinlein has authorized me to accept these figures on his behalf.

Cantwell’s eyebrow cocked in a mixture of amusement and incredulity. It would seem the Commissioner trusts you a great deal…I find it strange that we have not met until just now.

Bennett seemed to ignore the prodding comment as he produced a small, familiar data link from his pocket and activated it. The former player input a series of commands to the uplink before speaking a series of coded phrases into it. It was all quite regular procedure and this set the Mayor at ease, since Mr. Bennett was using the exact same uplink his predecessors had used to initiate clandestine payments to a series of dummy accounts Mayor Cantwell had established throughout the Chimera Sector.

Cantwell re-activated his retinal display and, with little more than a few twitches of his cheek and the rhythmic clacking of his teeth, logged into his secret banking portfolio and verified that the agreed-upon sum of money had indeed been transferred to his handful of secret accounts, and that the money had originated from the same accounts the Commissioner had used in the past.

The Mayor’s smile broadened as he reached for a DNA-locked compartment of his desk, and after opening the compartment he produced a pair of glasses and some of the rarest liquor known to the entire Sector. I believe the conclusion of such a productive business relationship calls for celebration, he declared as he used his implanted uplink to cycle down the auto-turrets which had been on a hair trigger activation sequence since Bennett had entered the office.

The thought had occurred to him to simply execute the man using those defensive systems, but had he done so he would have certainly been detained by public security forces. Such a detainment would have caused him to miss his appointment with a set of sisters—quadruplets, at that—who were waiting to indulge his various appetites on the other side of town.

I’m not much for the sauce, Mr. Bennett said with a disapproving look, and Mayor Cantwell shrugged as he slid one of the glasses back into its compartment. The League representative reached into his jacket’s pocket and withdrew what looked to be a cheap—possibly hand-made—cigar and gestured as though requesting permission.

Mayor Cantwell nodded as he suppressed a sigh, knowing that inhaling smoke was perhaps the least efficient method of delivering the desired chemicals into the body. To each his own, he said as he put three fingers of the expensive liquor into the tumbler before replacing the stopper on the bottle.

Mr. Bennett produced a small, petroleum-fueled lighter from another pocket and lit the cigar before taking a long, deep draw from it while the Mayor took the first sip of his drink. The drink burned his throat almost badly enough that he wanted to gasp, but he knew that like all things of great value in life, he needed to savor that measure of pain just as much as the pleasure which would soon follow.

I’m afraid I’ve got a confession to make, Mayor Cantwell, Mr. Bennett said after a polite silence had hung between them for several seconds.

Cantwell leaned back in his leather chair and swirled his drink absently, wanting nothing more than for the man to leave his office as quickly as humanly possible so he could skip over to the quadruplets’ flat and engage in his latest, sordid indulgences. And what confession might that be, Mr. Bennett?

Bennett took a second, long draw from the cigar before deliberately stamping it out against the arm of the posh, leather chair in which he sat. The smell of aerosolized leather preservative wafted into Mayor Cantwell’s nostrils, and his eyes narrowed at such a blatant sign of disrespect. Commissioner Heinlein will be hearing of this, he silently vowed.

When he had ground the last of the cigar’s embers into the leather cushion, Bennett stood to his full, imposing height. Without breaking eye contact he cracked his neck first to the left, then to the right, before saying in a calm, conversational tone, I’ve never cared for politicians.

In a blur of motion almost too fast to see, the man who had defiled the antique, leather chair with his cigar produced a cleverly-concealed pistol—

—and blew the top half of the sitting Mayor’s head off just as the lights went out.

The Mayor’s body began to twitch spasmodically in the faint light, and the gunman’s arm ached from the vicious kick his crude weapon had produced. Wlad, the gunman posing as a PHL rep said, inserting his earpiece and opening a channel to his equivalent of tech support, glad to see you got those sentry cannons under control. I need an update. He let his eyes adjust to the darkness as he checked a small, concealed, carbon-fiber clasp which was attached to a harness hidden beneath his overcoat.

You got it, ‘Mr. Bennett’, the other man said sarcastically in his ridiculous, long-practiced accent. You got six—no, eight private security dudes outside the door. I done sealed it tight, but that’ll only buy you forty seconds if these guys be packin’ what they supposed to be packin’.

Cut the shit, Benton, he snapped. The Mayor’s office had been rigged with all manner of scanning hardware, so there had been no way to get his standard gear for a job of this type into the room with him. Exiting the room was therefore going to be tricky—and hearing his operator’s archeo-slang wasn’t helping him focus.

Thirty seconds, Jericho, Benton said through the earpiece, his voice taking on a slightly more serious tone as he briefly abandoned his adopted vernacular, looks like the window’s your way out.

Thanks for the update, operator, Jericho quipped dryly as he flipped the emblem of his office onto the Mayor’s desk. The hexagonal insignia landed in the middle of the desk near the Mayor’s body, adding an intentionally dramatic flair to the macabre scene.

Jericho took a second cigar out of his pocket and carefully unwound the wrapper. Inside was the standard assortment of dried leaves and seeds which made up the low-cost alternative to chemstix and other, less destructive, methods of stimulant introduction. But buried within the cigar was a pair of small, brownish, metallic beads. He plucked these out of the mass of dried leaves with his surgeon-steady hands and made his way to the floor-to-ceiling window.

Twenty seconds, Jericho, Benton reported altogether unnecessarily. Jericho suspected the big guy just liked to hear his own voice, and since the two of them had a history—not to mention that Benton was easily the best operator he had ever worked with—Jericho had grudgingly learned to deal with the other man’s peculiar idiom.

Jericho carefully placed the two beads a precise distance apart on the glass at chest height before producing a carbon-fiber clasp from beneath his trench coat and attaching it to a nearby vertical support beam. He then took four measured steps back and turned to face the window. Jericho knew that for the beads to work their technological magic, the shot needed to be taken from a precise location. His concealed weapon only had two rounds, and he had used one of those to execute his Adjustment of the Mayor—whose body had only just stopped twitching.

He took careful aim between the two beads, knowing that if he even missed his shot by a few inches that the bullet would be deflected by the super-strong, floor-to-ceiling window of the Mayor’s lavish office. Closing one eye—to improve his focus as much as his vision—he took a slow, cleansing breath and squeezed the trigger of his relatively primitive slug-thrower.

The pistol bucked hard in his hand and the window shattered into a shower of countless pieces. The wind began to whip violently through the office carrying the heavy, greasy smells of industry into the previously sterile chamber. Jericho dropped the spent weapon to the floor and took a steadying breath.

Ten seconds, Jericho, Benton reported as the sealed door began to glow molten red near the locking mechanism as they began to burn their way through the portal. The security guards outside were apparently just ahead of schedule, and would breach the room in no more than five seconds.

Jericho hesitated for one of the few times in his life. The principles at play in his ‘safe’ egress from the office had been explained and tested—then re-tested—so many times he felt confident he could do what he was about to attempt in his sleep. But, contrary to the opinions of some, he was human—and that meant that in spite of his meticulous preparations, he still harbored a sliver of doubt.

Man’s sake, Jericho, Benton chided through a static-laden, crunching noise which Jericho took to be the chewing of junk food by his rotund operator, "the science is solid—solid, know what I’m sayin’!? Take yo’ leap, boy!"

The sound of the locking bolts retracting from the vault-like door was enough to spur Jericho into motion. Running as fast as he could, he cleared the shattered window and began to fall to the street below just as a volley of energy beams erupted into the space above his head, courtesy of Cantwell's belated security force.

The rain-filled, night air buffeted his body as he fought to keep his feet pointed to the ground, and his body reacted to the sensation of falling just as it had during his several test runs back at headquarters. No more than a quarter of the way to the ground, a series of sharp, repeating impacts could be felt as a the tiny cord he had attached to the beam at the window began to unwind through a series of meticulously, painstakingly designed loops which provided just under four gees of resistance at their peak.

This was the only part of the operation Jericho had taken issue with. Killing the Mayor had almost been too easy; infiltrating his office had been marginally more difficult, but still eminently do-able. It was the leaping-out-the-window-and-ensuing-insanity which had bothered him.

But his body hurtled toward the ground below in an ever-slowing descent, and before he knew it his feet met the pavement and, despite his instinct to do otherwise—and due to literally thousands of practice sessions—he kept his legs straight and his feet slammed flat against the ground just as the cord attached to his harness finally broke near the fastener a hundred and thirty six feet above him.

The sensation of landing on the slick, dark pavement was far from unpleasant—in fact, it was anything but remarkable save for the fact that it was utterly anticlimactic. The impact felt like nothing worse than jumping down from a height of three meters, and Jericho could not help but marvel at the simplicity of his escape mechanism as hair-fine bits of the very cord which had safely lowered him to the ground fell to the pavement all around him.

That cord—and the soles of his boots—had been meticulously crafted with a lattice-work of ablative, carbon nano-fibers which had absorbed the entire energy transfer of his fall. The devices had been relatively cheap to produce and, more importantly, had passed through the Mayor’s security scanners undetected. The boots, like the cord, were now worth little more than their weight in pencil shavings, but they had served their purpose beautifully.

Y’all still with me…or do we need a clean-up on aisle nine? Benton asked into the silence as Jericho took a glance up the massive, towering building from which he had just leapt and marveled at the fact that he had actually survived.

He exhaled a breath he hadn’t even realized he was holding. I read you, operator, he replied after shaking the imagery of the potentially lethal fall from his mind as he reached up to remove the earpiece, I’m going dark. You’ll get your payment within the hour; nice working with you again.

Any time, boss-man—any time, Benton replied with a boisterous chuckle. "Bro, I’m so psyched…I can’t believe that shit actually worked!"

Despite his operator’s pre-jump confidence, Jericho knew he had been far from alone in his trepidation regarding the use of such primitive, crude technology. Timent Electorum, Jericho said wryly, invoking the name of his own branch of the government—a name which also served as a warning to corrupt officials everywhere in the Chimera Sector, where Virgin Prime was located.

True dat, bro; gotta fear them voters, Benton agreed seriously before Jericho removed the earpiece and tossed it into a nearby drainage grate.

His latest voter-endorsed Adjustment executed, Jericho made his way to a nearby hover conveyance—which he had contracted specifically for the occasion—and the vehicle disappeared into the sprawling cityscape while law enforcement vehicles sped toward New Lincoln’s seat of government in response to their city leader’s Adjustment. It was an event which some would think of as little more than an assassination, but which any true son or daughter of Virgin Prime would recognize for what it was:


Chapter II: Protocol vs. Politics

Here are the building’s security logs, Investigator, a subordinate officer named Riley said, proffering a data slate.

Thank you, Riley, Investigator Masozi replied as she accepted the slate. The scene had been secured some twenty minutes earlier and the forensic analysts had only just arrived, but they had surprisingly not yet begun to examine the evidence in depth. Masozi had been first on the scene and had directed her people to gather the security logs, audio and video records of the facility, and locked down the entire building according to protocol. The assassination of a Mayor—especially of the third most populous city on the planet—was a rare occurrence, and she knew there would be hell to pay in the coming days if she failed to produce results.

Mayor Cantwell had been extremely popular with the New Lincoln electorate, but recent allegations had arisen regarding possible corruption within the administration. Normally such allegations made during an election campaign would have been dismissed as routine mudslinging on the part of the challenger.

And had it not been for the triangular insignia set before the Mayor’s lifeless body, Masozi would have been inclined to dismiss those rumblings just as she had done for every other political election her planet had endured since the wormhole collapse of two centuries earlier. But the presence of that insignia, and its prominent—some might say arrogant—display at the crime scene pointed to the Mayor’s death as being, essentially, a legally-sanctioned affair.

What about the video records? Masozi asked as she flipped through the entry and exit records for the past three days. The data pad had built-in programs for cross-referencing all of the logged names with those of known, or even suspected, malcontents or disruptive elements. But the program concluded its background search without having turned up anything promising.

Riley shook his head bitterly. The whole building’s primary, secondary and tertiary storage systems were hit with a powerful, incredibly focused e-mag pulse; there’s barely an aberrant one scattered in all the remaining zeroes. The data retrieval team says there’s not much they can get; this was a professional job.

Masozi nodded solemnly as she considered the triangular insignia and shot an irritated look at the forensic analysts standing in the hall outside the office. Are you going to get started sometime this millennia? she snapped with a pointed look at the nearest forensics team member.

The forensic examiner pointedly ignored her, which made her set her jaw. This was her investigation, and they were there under her direction; when she gave them an order they were supposed to hop to it!

But before she could vent her spleen at them, the New Lincoln Chief Investigator—an overbearing man named Afolabi—appeared at the far end of the hallway and quickly locked his eyes with hers. He was a tall, imposing figure with skin nearly as dark as Masozi’s own, but his physical prime was far behind him and he sported at least an extra twenty useless kilos around the midsection.

Investigator, he said as he approached, giving a curt nod to the forensics team leader. The head forensics examiner gave Masozi a brief look before turning his back and making small talk with his team members. Can we have a word?

Of course, sir, she replied warily as her boss made his way into the Mayor’s office. It was highly irregular for the Chief Investigator to appear prior to the scene having been examined by the forensics team, and judging by that team’s reaction to the Afolabi’s arrival they had almost certainly been under orders to delay their investigation until he had arrived.

The two entered the Mayor’s office, and after giving an obligatory look at the Mayor’s corpse—and the wall behind it, which was covered in a gruesome layer of skull and brain fragments—Chief Afolabi turned to Masozi, What have you determined thus far?

Masozi cocked her head slightly in confusion, since she had been unable to make any determinations due to the forensics team having failed to begin their own work to that point. Well…aside from the obvious, she said, gesturing to the Mayor’s head—which ended just above the lower jaw—before pointing to the discarded weapon on the floor just beside the desk, we have something of a rarity.

Oh? he asked neutrally, and Masozi was reminded just how good this man was at politics. He had served at the highest levels of the New Lincoln peacekeeping forces for thirty years, working under three separate administrations after serving on the street for over a decade.  He was not a man to be taken lightly or, if one found herself on in his way, to be trusted.

Yes, sir, she replied as she turned deliberately and pointed at the triangular insignia on the desk before the Mayor. This looks to be the work of Timent Electorum.

Afolabi’s eyes never left her own, and she furrowed her brow in confusion when he avoided looking at the desktop. An interesting theory, Investigator, he said evenly, however, perhaps we should wait until the forensics team has had a chance to go over the scene before jumping to wild conclusions?

Sir? she asked incredulously. "I tried to have the forensics team get started but they were being rather less than cooperative. Besides, if this was a T.E. contract then it was legally sanctioned."

Afolabi fixed her with a cold, piercing look before sighing irritably. "Whatever gave you the notion that this cold-blooded murder was carried out in accordance with the Timent Electorum?"

Chief Investigator, Masozi scoffed as she pointed to the insignia desk and raised her voice, everyone learns to recognize a T.E. insignia in primary school!

Afolabi visibly flustered as he took a deliberate, ominous step toward her and lowered his voice, I see no such insignia, Investigator Masozi. Perhaps you’re mistaken?

She opened her mouth to retort before realizing that the Chief Inspector’s presence wasn’t meant to facilitate her investigation—he meant to obstruct it! Masozi took a deep, cleansing breath before lowering her voice and saying, Chief…I have a job to do here—

I suggest you head back to the barn, Masozi, Afolabi interrupted in a slightly raised voice as his features hardened. You’ve done a great job here but I think this particular situation might require a slightly more…experienced hand.

Chief! she blurted unthinkingly. This was to be her career-defining moment, and while it was far from unprecedented for a Chief Investigator to usurp an assigned Investigator, such a transfer of responsibility required recusal on the part of the assigned Investigator—in this case that was her! "I am the lead Investigator assigned to this case, and I will not recuse myself unless I am physically unable to carry out my duties."

Chief Afolabi narrowed his eyes. Think carefully about this, Investigator, he warned. Your family connections might not carry as much weight as you believe, should you follow through on this course of action.

Masozi clamped her teeth together at the mention of her familial ties. She had worked hard to distance herself from those members of her family who had ascended to System-wide political prominence, for reasons too numerous to recount. But her colleagues never let her forget her relatively distant connection to those people. It was, perhaps, the single greatest insult which could be leveled her way to suggest that she had not earned each and every stripe she wore proudly over her breast.

I’ll help you out, Investigator, Chief Afolabi continued after a few seconds of silence, Internal Affairs has a few questions regarding your case-load these last few weeks. I’m ordering you to report to them so you can put that bit of nastiness behind you—in the interests of getting you back to work as quickly as possible, of course.

Masozi clenched her fist so tightly that she felt one of her stick-on nails pop off more than a little painfully. But she ignored the sensation as she realized that he had come prepared to force her off the crime scene. This isn’t over, Chief, she growled under her breath as she pushed past him toward the door.

Forgetting something, Investigator? Afolabi asked with a pointed look down at her off-hand.

She stopped and looked down to see she was still holding the data pad with the building’s security logs. She turned and held it out, her hand nearly trembling with anger. The Chief deliberately held her with his gaze for several seconds before reaching out and accepting the pad. Escort the Investigator from the building, he said with a glance at one of the uniformed officers in the hallway.

Yes, sir, the man replied, and Masozi stormed out of the room and down the corridor, followed at a close remove by the uniformed man.

She silently fumed for the entire ride down the elevator. The Mayor’s assassination had been assigned to her and it was beyond irregular for a superior to so crudely force an Investigator off the case. Her thoughts swirled into a maelstrom that nearly saw her scream in frustration before the elevator doors opened.

Her ‘escort’ saw to it that she exited the building, and when that was done he went back to the building and left her alone. There was a pair of forensic examiners already at work on the pavement a few dozen meters down the sidewalk, picking up fragments of glass which had scattered from the base of the towering sky rise to the far side of the street.

Deciding to take a risk, Masozi crossed the line of artificial light marking the boundary of the forensic team’s authority. What have you found? she asked, acting as though she had come down to check on their progress in her previously legitimate capacity.

The nearest examiner, a woman named Angelica, looked up briefly with her scanning monocle’s blue light flickering off as she did so. We’ve got micro-fractures in the armored glass, the examiner explained. Not many people still use reinforced silicates; even in this building nearly all of the windows have been replaced with transparent alloys, but we’re seeing evidence of kinetic resonance in this material consistent with a shaped charge.

Masozi nodded slowly, So the hitman knew the room. It wasn’t exactly news to her given the rest of the evidence she had managed to observe in her little time with the scene. Did any witnesses see where the assassin landed?

Angelica nodded. Right there, she replied, pointing to a fairly nondescript patch of sidewalk near the center of the glass fragments. The area where she pointed looked completely unremarkable even to her highly-trained eye, except for the marked presence of a few, hair-like pieces of material.

Masozi cocked an eyebrow. Are you saying he just…landed?

The examiner shrugged, It looks that way, ma’am, with a little help from above. These cord fragments look like carbon nanotubes, she explained, holding up an evidence bag with a pair of the small, hair-fine fibers, but they’re barely better than industrial grade. He could have had these made at over a hundred different facilities in this System alone.

Masozi approached the patch of sidewalk and knelt down to examine it more closely. Did you find anything unusual where he touched down?

Angelica bit her lip for a moment before taking a few steps closer and gesturing, The spectro-scope picked up a high concentration of carbon tubules there. I’ve taken a sample but won’t be able to produce a more detailed analysis until I’ve run it through the lab—my guess is it’s the same material which made the cord, and that he used them as a shock absorber on the soles of his boots.

Can I see it? Masozi asked, glad to have finally found a thread to follow.

The examiner nodded, removing the monocle with a series of taps to its fastening surface before handing it to the Investigator. Masozi attached the small scope over her right eye and activated it, allowing the device to cycle through the various bands of non-visible light before stopping it at the spectrometric analysis setting and leaning close to the concrete surface to get a clearer image.

Even though the rain had washed much of the microscopic evidence away, there was a distinct pair of boot-shaped silhouettes surrounded by a fine, roughly-circular cloud of carbon particles. The only truly remarkable aspect of the carbon was that it was pure carbon; there was essentially no other element present in that particular layer of nearly-invisible debris.

Thank you, Masozi said, knowing she had risked too much already. She removed the monocle and returned it to Angelica, who accepted it and resumed her duties.

The Investigators’ offices were not far from the main government building where the assassination had taken place, so she had arrived with a uniformed patrolman en route to what was supposed to be her biggest assignment yet. She decided would be it best to walk back to the office, since it might let her compose her thoughts as she considered the disturbing events of the evening.

Chapter III: The Working Man

Jericho had already switched conveyances six times over the course of nearly half an hour when his handheld link vibrated within his pocket. He had not expected any inbound communications, so he was more than slightly apprehensive as he entered his password to the data pad. The device also doubled as his sole connection to the vast information grid which pervaded every aspect of life in a city like New Lincoln—a grid which Jericho believed humanity could very well do without.

The author of the message was familiar to him; it had been sent by his most recent operator, Wladimir Benton. Jericho had not yet transferred the agreed-upon sum of money to Benton’s account, but he still had half an hour remaining in their agreed upon window before Benton would come looking for him.  So he cautiously opened the message.

The screen was filled with a series of images taken by what looked to be the government building’s security cameras, and each of the images was centered on a tall, athletic, almost black-skinned woman likely in her early thirties. She was wearing a skin-tight bodyglove with the badge of an Investigator situated over her left breast.

There was an attached video file, and he opened it to see that same woman moving between a pair of forensic examiners who were collecting bits of shattered glass from the pavement where he had landed after executing his contract. His lip quirked in amusement as she took a forensics monocle from one of the examiners and knelt beside the very spot where he had landed after taking his very own leap of faith from the Mayor’s high-rise office. She looked intently at the patch of concrete before standing and returning the monocle to the examiner, and the video froze on a close-up image of the Investigator’s strong—yet surprisingly feminine—features.

The image minimized and a flood of text began to stream across the pad’s screen, including her name, birthdate, period of employment, civil record, legal record, and anything else a person might wish to know about another. Most of it was utterly uninteresting—until it came to the section regarding familial ties, where a particular name was highlighted which caught Jericho’s attention.

He considered the implications of that connection as the woman’s record disappeared and was replaced with a line of text, which read:

The info’s free, my main man. But if you be wantin’ a Guardian Angel package it’s gonna cost you standard. You want I should pop a halo up on her, just tack the cheddar onto my other order and she’ll be under Papa Benton’s wing before dinner—AJ

It really wasn’t a question in his mind of whether or not he should do as Benton suggested. Thankfully for Jericho, he had just enough money left in the contingency fund he had established for that night’s contract that he could cover a Guardian Angel package. That package included, among other things, full-time surveillance of her person, as well as a comprehensive analysis of each person within six degrees of separation from her. It was a resource-intensive and technically difficult thing to do without access to a whole team of operatives, but Wladimir ‘AJ’ Benton had never failed to deliver in the past, so Jericho knew it would be money well-spent.

Jericho called up the financial account containing the last of the operation’s budget and arranged to have it attached to the significantly larger sum of money he had already earmarked for the operator’s assistance to that point in the Cantwell Contract. After verifying the amounts and the destination account, he executed the transaction. When that was completed, he sighed and deactivated the handheld link.

I hate these things, he grumbled as he removed the battery and found a small wad of soft, rubbery material inside the link’s slender housing. He pressed his finger against the wad of chewing gum-like material until an acrid smell wafted up into his nostrils. He replaced the battery into the device, reassembled the two halves of the link, and tossed it out the window of the vehicle before settling back into his seat for a few moments of quiet contemplation.

It seemed that the universe had just presented him with a unique opportunity…and he would likely need to move quickly in order to prevent that opportunity from being eliminated.

Chapter IV: The Glass Ceiling

Several hours after finishing with what turned out to be an utterly routine, maddeningly frustrating examination of her recent caseload, Investigator Masozi sat down at her desk and activated her access terminal. She knew that with so much elapsed time there was no point in returning to the Mayor’s office to collect evidence. Anything of interest had either already been catalogued, or—in what was a more than slightly disturbing possibility she would have never considered possible prior to that night—removed from the scene in some unthinkable attempt at a cover-up.

Masozi flipped through the programs on her terminal and came to the local news feeds. She stopped at one when she recognized the government building housing the Mayor’s offices, where a short, entirely-too-pale-skinned man

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