It’s Saturday, so let’s get this party started. Tonight, we’re continuing Charlie’s side-story in Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, with Chapter 24: Procedural.
If you’re just joining Biotech Legacy: Long Fall, you can find all of the preceding chapters right here at the Oktopod Blog.
The previous novel, Biotech Legacy: Stars Rain Down, is currently available exclusively through Amazon.
Got some hot cocoa? Go get some… Good, now let’s get to it.
Charlie and Shazz traveled aboard a grey and orange Okuta Yuon Kwon named Gadfly, who had volunteered to help the precinct. Charlie had no clue how she’d gotten that awful name, nor did he really want to know. He didn’t even want to know what the heck a gadfly was.
The ship was only about two years old, having been born after the first wave of Oikeyan defectors arrived at Amiasha. The group was a few thousand strong and composed of a dozen or more varieties of aliens, and among them were a handful of trundling mother Yuon Kwon who seemed slow and tired from age. Exhausted or not, they started breeding almost immediately after they were allowed inside, and the streets and skyways quickly overflowed with their living traffic.
Gadfly and Charlie zipped along at a smart pace only a little faster than the other vehicles. If there was anything to his and Shazz’s theory, they’d need the element of surprise. The whole thing would go straight down the toilet the moment Maxwell Lee knew they were onto him.
They swooped down out of the skylane and toward the outreach center. The building was one of the few totally human constructions inside of the city, and looked for all the world like an old government building. The walls were high and stately, supported by thick and sturdy columns that circled the structure. The roof featured a glass dome, around which the Yuon Kwon stables were located.
Gadfly set down in a stall and plucked up her feeding hose while Charlie and Shazz folded down the creature’s human-made canvas top.
The two protectors hopped onto the tiled roof and into the still falling rain. It was body warm, having recently been excreted from Amiasha’s skydome for reasons Charlie never cared to know. As long as he thought of it as rain, it wasn’t a problem.
Drops of it popped and fizzled between Shazz’s outstretched hands. “Are you sure about Lee, Hernandez?”
Charlie shook his head. “Sure is too strong a word,” he said. “But what else can we do? Wanna head back to the office and reread some reports?”
Shazz’s hands pulled apart and made the bullfrog noise again, and Charlie chose to interpret it as agreement.
They left Gadfly in her stall and marched for an open door, then took the steps down into the building. One floor down, the stairwell opened into the building’s upper lobby, a brightly colored and fresh looking room with a number of empty chairs and a large reception desk.
The pair walked up to the desk and the young man sitting behind it smiled. “How can I help you, Protectors?” He spoke in an Eastern European accent, with a slight British affectation.
The light between Shazz’s hands increased. “We were hoping to speak with Administrator Lee. We have more questions concerning Talia Reiser’s murder. Is he in?”
The young man looked through his papers. “I’m afraid the chief administrator isn’t in currently. Let me find you an open appointment for later today…”
Charlie leaned over the desk. “That won’t be necessary,” he said. He winked at Shazz, and realized a second later the gesture probably didn’t mean anything to the alien. “Are any of the other senior staff available?”
“It’s a very unusual hour, Protector, but let me see…” The receptionist flipped through a few more pages. “Just Doctor Benson at the moment,” he said.
The young man put on an artificially sweetened smile. “She’s an, ummm… brilliant biologist. Our mission here is to improve understanding between races, and Doctor Benson is involved in the… more scientific aspect of that.”
The way the receptionist edited himself seemed like a warning.
Shazz took charge and said, “Let her know we’re on our way in.”
The receptionist frowned but picked up his phone and made the call, while Charlie and Shazz headed off down the hall. They checked a directory at the first intersection, and Charlie was glad to see that Doctor Benson’s office was in the same area as Maxwell Lee’s.
They took several turns and found themselves at the end of a hall with three office doors, two on the right side and one on the other. Benson’s was the first on the right.
Charlie knocked politely but heard nothing. After a second, there was some rustling, and then more nothing. He knocked again.
Shazz said, “Civil Protectors. May we have a word?”
“Yes, come in.”
Shazz motioned to the door, and Charlie reached out and turned the handle. It swung open, and what awaited on the other side would’ve made his mother drop dead.
Papers. Stacks and stacks of typed pages with chicken scratch scrawled in the margins. Boxes overfilled with binders full of more papers were piled in every corner. Benson, an older black woman with hair long past grey, sat with her elbows on the desk and her head in her hands.
Two books sat directly below her face, one overlapping the other.
“What?” she asked wearily.
“No one told you we were coming?”
She shook her head. “I never answer the bloody thing. It’s never anything important. Now what do you want? I’m very busy.”
“Talia Reiser,” Charlie said.
Some of the coffee-fueled light vanished from her eyes. She looked more tired and years older. “I’ve already told you people everything I know. Can’t you just leave me in peace?”
Shazz quietly said, “Not everything. We wanted to ask you… about some of the staff here.”
Charlie thought Shazz had given away too much.
She looked at the alien curiously, the way a babysitter looked at one of those weird kids who collects bugs or eats paste. “Interesting,” she said.
Charlie closed the door while Shazz stepped closer to Doctor Benson’s desk. The alien said, “Have you noticed any strange behavior among your coworkers in the past several months?”
“Not much in particular,” she replied, continuing to study him intently.
“I’d appreciate,” Shazz said, “if you’d stop staring like that. I’m not a specimen.”
Benson smiled with her eyes but not her mouth. “I’m sorry… it’s not like that. I’m just surprised by you.”
She adjusted her glasses and chortled. “Well, I was beginning to fear that your people wouldn’t lift a single finger to stop this.”
Shazz blinked slowly and dipped his body forward, bowing. “That may’ve been the case once, but times are changing us. We’re starting to understand that our refusal to kill doesn’t prevent us from standing up for ourselves.”
“It’s a slow process,” Shazz said with a thoroughly convincing sound of disappointment.
“So,” Benson said, “what else can I tell you?”
Charlie considered subtlety—he could ask questions about a dozen names he remembered from the directory just to cover his tracks—but he was getting supremely tired of bullshit. “What can you tell me about Maxwell Lee?” he asked.
Benson furrowed her brow. “The chief administrator? Well, he’s a very reserved man.”
“Reserved like secretive?” Charlie asked.
“No, more like boring. He’s a bean counter.”
Shazz asked, “Do you know how he got his position here?”
“The same as most of us, I suppose. He had the right skills, an interest in making this whole thing work, and just showed up one day. He’s been with the center since the beginning.”
Charlie gritted his teeth. A handful of years back, there’d have been things like employment records, resumes, social security paperwork. He didn’t have shit. “Any family? Friends?”
Benson shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve always assumed so, but… as I said, he’s just so boring. He’s the sort you don’t even want to get stuck next to at the lunch counter. You’ll spend the next hour hearing about missing remainders or whatever hog-wash has caught his fancy now.”
“Yeah, I get it,” Charlie said. When hiding in broad daylight, it was better to be boring than secretive. Boring made sure no one was even interested.
He looked over at his partner and stopped himself from giving the alien a pat on the shoulder. “I don’t think she’s got anything for us,” he said.
Shazz bowed toward Benson again and said, “Thank you for your time, Doctor.”
Benson smiled. “You’re very welcome. Please come back any time, and good luck with your investigation.”
Then she dove back into her study, while Charlie and Shazz stepped back into the hall.
“Well, wasn’t that informative?” Shazz asked sarcastically.
“A little,” Charlie said, “but the next part should be better.” He crossed the hall and tried Maxwell Lee’s door, but found it soundly locked.
“Before you loudly kick the door in, can I suggest a sneakier option?”
Charlie smiled and gestured for Shazz to go ahead. The alien stepped up and held his hands to either side of the handle. Lights sparkled between his finger tips, and then came a sharp click.
Shazz waved Charlie forward and stepped aside while his partner opened the door.
Unlike Benson’s office, Maxwell Lee’s was a testament to minimalist style and good parenting. Everything was meticulously organized and filed away, every knickknack set at the same angle on the shelves. There was hardly anything to search through, save for some personal effects in the corner and a handful of loose-leafed books.
“Fuck,” Charlie said.
Shazz’s cartoonishly large eyes scanned the room, and his tiny waving fingers went limp.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Charlie chanted, growing quieter until his lips moved without sound. He’d never wanted so badly to be Sherlock Holmes in his life. Unfortunately, he knew damned well that he could stare at a dust pattern on a desk or a broken shoe for days and never figure out who killed the governess.
Shazz brought his hands back together. “What does bean counter mean?”
“An accountant. Someone who does math for a living.”
Shazz looked over at the shelf full of books. “If that’s where he’s comfortable, maybe he’d hide things there. In his numbers.”
Charlie nodded. He strode over to the shelf and started scanning the spines. “Dated and in order. Three months per book. Where should we begin?”
“The date of Talia Reiser’s murder.”
Charlie found the book and slid it free. He took it to Lee’s desk and opened to a random page, then started leafing through until he found the spot. “Got it,” he said triumphantly. Then he realized the smear of numbers meant nothing at all to him.
“Ummm…” he droned.
“Here,” Shazz said. He pulled a metal orb out of his pocket, smaller than the desk version back at the office. His hands began to glow and he drew them apart, leaving the metal orb floating in mid-air. “Now read them out,” he said, with a voice amplified tinnily through the orb.
Charlie rattled off numbers, line by line, while Shazz did whatever the hell he did to his machine. Just when Charlie’s jaw began to cramp, Shazz told him to stop. “I have enough,” he said. “There’s something encrypted here. I can see the pattern, but it’ll take a minute to crack it.”
Shazz went silent and Charlie turned to guard the door, but he’d never been the patient sort. “Can’t you speed that computer up?”
Shazz continued to work with his lids closed and eyes jumping behind them. “I’ve told you, it’s not a damn computer.”
“Yeah, yeah… I get it.”
“Nope, don’t think you do. The orb is like a notebook or an abacus. I’m the one doing the work.”
“So… all this talking, how much do ya figure that’s helping?”
“Gotcha.” And with that, Charlie shut his fucking trap.
After a surprisingly short amount of time, Shazz said, “Got it.”
“He’s involved. I think. There are reports here concerning the incident. It doesn’t appear he orchestrated it, but he kept notes on protector response and search patterns. He said some things about you, in fact.”
Shazz was quiet for a moment, then went on. “There’s no reason for him to be recording such things, except to feel out the enemy’s defenses. Go get the current book.”
Charlie snapped to and grabbed the most recent volume from the shelf. He put it down and opened to the bookmarked page, and when Shazz gave him a sharp look, he started reading. When he reached the end of the page and looked up, his partner had a disturbingly human look of fear in his eyes. That expression apparently crossed interstellar borders.
“He won’t be back here today,” Shazz said. “I believe he intends to set off some kind of weapon.”
“So someone got the mining explosives after all,” Charlie said.
“No, I don’t think so. Something else. Something that terrifies him. And how strange… He addressed someone at the end. I love you, Sandra.“
Suicide bomber. Before Charlie could ask where Lee was headed, he heard a tone from his collar. A voice said, “All protectors, report to Birthing Complex. Riot alert. All protectors…”
Charlie tapped the black communicator and muted it. “Yeah, shit’s going down,” he said.
“We go to the riot, then?”
“No,” Charlie said. “Did he say where he was going?”
Charlie smirked. “S’alright… I’ve a pretty good idea where to take a terrifying weapon in this city.”
Two down, and one to go. Tuesday, we’ll wrap up this adventure with Chapter 25: Age of Martyrs. Don’t be late!
Copyright 2013. All rights (currently) reserved.