~ a short story
Distant starlight glittered through the prisms of the magenta moloi crystalloids, suspended in the void of open space and still rotating in their inequitable scarcity. In the Stark system, off the coast of the Bayayaga Nebulae, where latent strips of overlodium still sparked from the last bouts of the ancient MagnaWars and no traveler had passed in two aeons, the two detectives had come upon the wreckage of a job gone wrong. The trail ended in carnage. Shredded hull pieces of malarchium and fragments of slass hung peacefully in open space, explicated from a twin engine autotransporter. And the transporter’s hoard, the moloi crystals — the latest, most efficient fuel source powering Theranossi’s Dreadnought class sedan’s within the Andromeda — left behind amongst the destruction. All of it. Every crystal was accounted for, cross-referenced from the manifest sent to their mags, and Detective Jax “Diamond Eye” Bishop couldn’t crack it. Not yet.
The unmanned transport’s mad dash had led from the Natu Station, where excess moloi from industrial nodes in the Majeness formation were composited for transference into malloy. Jax and his partner had picked up and pursued the APB at Kircheis, the planet of apemen, where they’d been assisting faltering labor union negotiations within the Asphur Jungles. After tracing the culprit’s antimatter streams on the quantum binocsys, their Xonic cruiser’s autonav led them here, deep into the Stark, where starmaps ended and Xenoarchaelogists and Vivix cults came in equal measure to study and worship the so-called remnants of ‘The Oldest Gods.’ Somehow the transporter had ended up out here, far from its destined route through the starways to Io station, where TerraCor was set to gather its purchase. And this spot, where it had been hit by heisters to unknown ends beyond those rarified magenta nuggets, its hoard of crystals inconspicuously left behind, is where the detectives began their investigation.
The meat-detective, having stared long enough at the strange refractions upon the moloi crystals, now looked past them and the wreckage, into that calling star-stilling void beyond, where no sentient soul had ever thrived for long.
“I can’t crack this, Aze,” he spoke into his helmet, finally blinking and struggling to shake his head. He wore the Autosuit equipped to their cruiser, standard issue exogear for no-grav voidwalking occasions such as this by carbon-men like him. Jax waded out from its umbilical link, pouring over the ‘crime-scene’ with a quantum-baton.
“Sensors’re tellin’ me they synchronized a yamaton blast, with the minute radius of 1.28 minisecs, to the theramage twin engine’s phase pulse exactly… Transpired the blast perfectly, at the exact moment they needed to in order free the moloi without destroying it. Incredible. Work of professionals. And the radius tells us their ship was close too, nearly point blank.”
“But they left the apparent award for their work,” said Aze, speaking subsonically through the Net, directly into the audial system of his partner’s autosuit. Detective Aze, the android, remained motionless in a crouch, on the other end of debris area. Free from breath and thus the necessity of a suit, Aze wore his customary working attire — a sol-yellow overjacket, with a galactic black nolsteel button up and matching tie, which also served the purpose of connecting him to the Net no matter where in the galaxy he was. Silver slacks lined with antimatter allowed him to ‘walk’ and stand in the open voids of space. Strands of his translucently purple hair flowed over his collar, keeping with the same style his designer has always favored. Comfortable, at ease, the android efficiently set himself to the task at hand. From his crouch, he’d angled his hands, connected by index fingers and thumbs pulsing with inner blue circuitry, to be viewed through with his laser-eyes. Staring through the triangle formed there, Aze made visual calculations from the wreckage and the materia left from the event and futurecasted the math into a set of scenarios.
Jax made another sweep and put the parameters into his mag. “My guess is that we are looking for a Rarying Corvette or a Qeru Monoboat, retrofitted with custom yamato’s and a tri-force engine. Their ship is built for fast, specific combat, cargo-cutting, and getaway lightspeed jumping. New heist meta.” Jax took a deep sigh, admiring the work and the implications from the scene before them. “Like I said: professionals.”
The two detectives hovered amidst the scene, fresh from its action within the last 25. So fresh, that by Detective Aze’s most optimized scenario the trailing lightpath getaway of the Landerssian Corvette responsible for the hit could still be sighted upon that nigh endless horizon of blackness beyond the triad of his calculating hands. Aze had identified it the moment they’d brought the Xonic into range to perform their inspection. With the mathematics complete, he made his declaration: “Our hitter was a Landerssian Corvette. And they are due to make landfall on Uportia by Stardate 88.8913, Starclock 42:67.”
Jax clapped his hands together while floating himself back away from the debris. “Knew it. And that’s in two hours!”
Aze boosted back to the cabin of their cruiser while Jax gathered the crystals and two samples of the blasted engine fragments in a subquantian holder tank on their cruiser’s flank.
“We should proceed in our pursuit,” returned Aze with a nod. Finishing up his own procedure, Jax drifted back on his umbilical to get inside the cab, where his suit could uninstall from his person. Aze spoke to him matter-of-factly,
“You don’t have to go out there, you know. It’s an undue risk.”
Jax scoffed at him, giving the bot a side-eye while the stormsteel shell of his suit disassembled around him within the cruiser’s now airlocked enclosure.
“Undue risk my ass … I love going out there.”
“I can make the inspection myself just as efficiently, you manning the Net’s assisting apparatus from within the cruiser… More efficiently even,” Aze reiterated while charging the engines for lightspeed. “Then we analyze it together, on the grids here.”
“Listen to me, Aze, I know we haven’t been at this side by side for long, but the way I like to work is boots on the ground, in the thick of it.” Jax stressed his words, raised his volume. It was still an ingrained tendency he had when speaking to bots.
“There is no ground out here, Jax,” Aze said.
Jax went silent, just kept his eyes locked on Aze’s grey-blue orbs, unblinking, his face unchanging.
“HAHAHA… Good one, man,” Jax coughed out, slapping his knee as he settled into the co-pilot’s chair next to Aze. The HUD glittered with the intel they’d gathered and the directive of the course charted. As soon as the evidence was safely stowed, the launch parameters counted down.
“Good one,” Jax repeated, shaking his head and reaffirming the coordinates and measurements that Aze had entered just moments ago. Perfect. As always.
Aze, though he didn’t quite understand what it was that he said that the man might — and did — define as ‘funny’, stretched the micro-machinery within his facial mask and revealed his teeth.
Jax barked once more, shook his head back to business and barked, “A joker. Must be the new update or something. Ha!”
The starscape lay before the pair of detectives, through the solshield of their cruiser. Distant pinpricks burned in the long night of the void and soon they became an elongated spiral of enhancing speed.
“And we are off,” Aze said.
As they entered hyperspace, Jax remarked with a click of his tongue.
“Let the game begin!”
The words reminded Aze of his childhood, and his training, truly one in the same, of so, so many games. This time when he grinned, he meant it. He loved his games.
Jax lit a smokeless spacestick and leaned back in the cockpit chair as the stars raced by. He watched them with fascination. For him, such things never faded. Beside him, Aze worked. At the panel, he continued to toll the calculations from the scene, re-running the analysis to affirm their investigative direction. Jax loved to converse in hyperspace, and Aze was one of the best multi-taskers that he’d ever known, so he said,
“So what do you think is going on here?” As open-ended as it gets. Let’s see how this guy’s machine mind responds.
“Do you mean, what did they take? I am not yet ready to make an educated answer to such a question. The analysis is ongoing.”
Reformatting the question. Jax took a drag upon his spacestick. “So they were after something that was also with the moloi. We don’t know what that could’ve been. Strange anything else would be in that cache. There was nothing else on the manifest from the shipping co., nothing from Terra’s purchase order.” Jax thumbed through the docs on his grid. “What I don’t get… is why they didn’t nab the crystal too. Doesn’t make sense. Why not take it all? The ship you identified it as has plenty of cargo space for a hell of lot more of a haul than a dozen molo. Unless what they took expands in water or something… Ha.”
Aze cocked his head, turning from the racing numbers of his tri-screen grid before him in the cockpit. “Perhaps Jax, to use one of the terms I have heard you posit before — they simply did not want the heat.”
Jax nodded with understanding. “Possible. But they got the heat either way. Pros like this would know what they were getting into. You smoke a transport, one from Terra to boot, and Law is coming. Whether you bag the real loot or not, it doesn’t matter. Terra would have us investigating every single absentee porting violation if they could. Those guys are fucking ruthless. If they intend to escape our reach — which we have to assume they do — dozen mol you exchange for cold hard credits at the next barter system could go a long, long way out in the Dark Sector.”
“You believe that is where they intend to go?” Aze asked, eyes up.
“Uportia is their next destination, nodes to Bariski and then to Weyerven. From there, Shadowshore is only one jump away. It’s logical, as you might say, Aze. Hell, it’s where I would go.” Jax smoothed his own tie under his bluesteel overjacket, intricately designed from its knot down to its corners with little cartoonish astronauts and aliens holding hands.
Aze nodded, then stared down and away for a moment, as if storing a mental note. Which was probably precisely what he was doing, thought Jax. Jax ever commits a serious crime, he’d run to the Dark. And that’s where I would catch him.
“I have an inquiry myself,” Aze said.
“Shoot!” Jax returned.
“Why did we find the wreckage from the attack still in place, localized there in such a formation? Calculations can’t cash it. And I’m not sure they will, not without more data.”
Jax shook his head, not understanding.
“With a yamaton blast that strong, the causal force and resulting explosion should have sent the fragments drifting in all directions, for secs far and away, according to their original trajectories,” Aze explained.
“Maybe the weapon primed differently. Custom build,” Jax reasoned. “We know it was a minute firing, to localize the burn on the payload and prevent it from destructing whatever it was they did take from within the molo stash.”
“It’s true that the yamaton pinpoint was minuted to the ends that you say, but that would not have kept the fragments so near and so neatly ordered. Something actually contained the blast, something the physical evidence showed no record of and I cannot guess at.”
“But why? Why would our heisters care if the wreckage stayed together or blasted away into all directions of the void?” Jax shook his head.
“Maybe …” Aze stopped, coming to his realizable calculation. “Maybe they wanted us to find the scene in such a fashion. Maybe they prepared it for us. Maybe we are-”
“Flying directly into a trap,” Jax finished for his partner with a grin. “Stellar suppositions Aze. I love it!” he said excitedly.
“A trap!” Aze exclaimed, surprised at his partner’s reckless conclusion. “No… Maybe we were meant to see the moloi. If the explosion proceeded without intervention, then the moloi would not be visible to the investigators then and there. It would be far and away, floating in the distant reaches of space. Unaccounted for. Therefore, the reasonable assumption that it was in fact stolen by the heisters would be made by us. But they kept it there just for that reason.”
“Maybe that,” Jax paused. “But this investigation though! Me and you, swimming through the starways, heading towards the sheer uncertainty of this one. I don’t know what is coming. Lot of guesses. But who knows?”
“And it excites you,” Aze stated.
“It should excite you too! When was the last time you were surprised?”
“Not really important-“
“Hell, they’ve had us working basic shit. Boo-boo cases and quimsy employment frauds. Remote interrogations and Net-gathers. No gumshoe shit, no real shit.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about,” Aze said, eyes back on the madness of his screen. He gamed out more scenarios, each confirming his suppositions more than the last.
“I’ve got a hunch, Aze. This is gonna be something big. Something bigger than molo. This was no ordinary heist,” Jax spoke jovially.
“What is a ‘hunch’?” Aze asked with incipient curiosity.
A sudden beeping insurgence from the ship’s sensors informed the detectives that they’d nearly arrived at their destination. Jax slammed his hands on the console, leaning forward with expectation. The star-stretches through the shield before them slowed and settled into place. They’d arrived from out of hyperspace. Uportia Station. A spiraling tower of silversteel and everglass beckoned the ship, the surrounding chaos of the day’s travelers notwithstanding. Bustling corvettes and cruisers pushed through complex lanes of interspatial commerce, where boosters lifted cargo onto the station’s holds as the transports and traders impulsed onward.
Aze threw the range of the sensors far and wide over the station. Jax initiated minor Stealth upon their Xonic cruiser. The likelihood the culprits and their ship were still here was high, and it would not due for them to brandish their ship’s Law status openly just yet.
“Plan of action?” Jax said absently as he worked through the subroutines on his console.
“We search for a Landerssian Corvette.” Aze made it sound simple. “Preliminary physical scans have already identified … fifteen hundred models that might fit our mark.”
Jax’s eyes were drawn to the swirl of ships about the station before them. “Needle in a haystack…” he grumbled.
“Indeed,” Aze lamented. “If we knew what the device or object was that lay within the moloi, the target of the hit, then I could design a scan for its inner materia and we could work from that. It would be much more efficient. But I have no such traces and therefore cannot-”
“Wait!” Jax interrupted. His mouth opened to the stance so rarely presented: when he’d struck gold inside of his brain in the form of an idea. “Terra’s manifest didn’t have anything else on it, nothing that we did not see left behind within the wreckage.”
“Yes. This is established,” Aze confirmed, awaiting Jax’s line of thinking.
“That target was a secret. Well-kept if it was left from the manifest. Something was there, and at least some people would know of it. Intergalactic Commercial Law makes manifest manipulations a cap-crime equal to that of heisting itself, punishable by execution or exile into the Dark… That means whoever orchestrated this hit, or at the very least is involved in some way… is a TerraCor personnel. They must work for the company. The company manipulated it. Probably happens all the time. Smuggling and whatnot. Corps always take their pound of flesh. They usually don’t get hit, because the hitters are in on it. The Law never does anything… well, because it’s Terra. Our heisters have an inside man. They had insider information on what was being towed in that transport going so far off the beaten path. And I am willing to bet that they aren’t smugglers.”
“…” Aze now paused. “Plausible. I would give it a fifty-six percent chance of being the truth, one of the operative heisters being a TerraCor insider.”
“Never tell me the percentages, Aze…” Jax scratched his head, thinking further. “But why… Job like that, why risk it for a petty job like this?” Jax questioned under his breath.
Aze turned to his partner expectantly. Wouldn’t expect a bot to understand… Jax thought. How hard it is these days. How much someone would kill for the security of a position actually working for TerraCor, and not just composing yourself as one of their army of freelancers. How much I would do for a job like that? And how stupid it would be to ever jeopardize it… Not all of us are created — and forever securely positioned — in our roles, Aze.
Jax rubbed his hands together, eyes on the station’s many manifolds and offices. He snapped his fingers to a point along those silversteel spirals and turned to Aze.
“Here’s our plan of action!”
The buzzing of logo-pads filled the boxes where TerraCor’s self-styled peons chugged away in continuity. Jax made his way into their folds, only having to flash his badge to get inside the plane of the bullpen where the rank and file worked. The largest subfice upon the station was, of course, Terra’s domain. Seven stories of space where approximately ten thousand reported for duty. Jax focused his efforts here, on the first floor, where the laborers were. It was his guess that whoever had pulled this off, was someone desperate, and someone without status within the Corp. Someone with little to lose, for they were risking it all for whatever it was they wanted inside of that transport.
The TerraCor employees on the first — ‘partners’ as the execs painstakingly continued to name them, despite it being an ancient 21st century term for the suboptimal employees-as-freelancers chartering — were the least volitional of their labor force. Conscripted from impoverished sectors and planets, the first levels were typically jacked into their stations, biologically bound via mental and physical limitations afforded by such archaic tech. Detective Jax saw these jacks at every cube, keeping them up and at it. TerraCor’s propietary neurochemical brews flooded into their brain stems from out of these tube-like suction scepters, aligning their volitions to their daily tasks at the keyframe. Such tasks were menial, Jax understood. Controversially, TerraCor had been one of the last to adopt mass automation within the operation of their logistical databases. They still used basic spreadsheets, and as a result of that lack of complexity and interfacability of such legacy systems, they still required the mass employment of meat sentience. To compromise, the intergalactic intelligentsia known as Didact, charged with coordinating and maintaining corporate production levels galaxy-wide, compromised with Terra. They could conscript personnel from Pauper Class planets, where excesses had gathered for generations to escape from the ramifications of Cleansing Laws adopted all those years ago on Class One’s. As a result, Terra had found more than enough warm bodies to man their first levels station to station. More and more conscriptions had taken place as the popularity and effectiveness of Cleansing Laws spread them all the way to Class Seven planetoids.
They all looked the same to Jax and it was disconcerting. Bald, pale, frail. Some looked like children, though Jax knew they couldn’t be. Labor laws had softened considerably over the decades, but children were still off limits. Of course, Terra’s continuously updated jack-tech and their code of conduct ensured such uniformity in their employees. There could be no sacrifices in the name of efficient work. Their company slogan said it all — “There is always, always more work to be done.”
Ain’t that the truth, Jax breathed. Twelve more cases, unsolved for more than a dozen sims, lay upon his digital desk even then. Each of them were less interesting, less exciting. Run-of-the-mill investigations into insurance fraud, personal malfeasance, neighborly disputes. There was one grand theft starship that came into his orbit about a month ago, but two bots had freed up and taken it before he could begin his investigation. “Always more work, but is it ever good work?” Jax asked. But no one was listening.
While Jax gumshoed it here on the ground amongst Terra’s first floor rabble, Aze ran interference on the cabs outside, where the Corvette was either docked, was trying to, or, if they were unlucky, already gone on to its next stop before the deep Dark. If that was the case, then their hot-handed mystery heisters were in the winds of the stars. Jax never liked to miss his man, though it happened often. Unlikely, however, since they’d come to this station for a reason, Jax raised a finger to his nose with hope. The necessity for fuel was Aze’s guess. And if he offered up an answer, he was usually right. Once I find our man on the inside and Aze sights his getaway jet, we’d have this case locked up by lunch. Jax clicked his tongue as his eye poured over, and through, the cubes where Terra’s peons toiled. Patiently, he awaited the call from Aze in his ear for any news on the ‘vette.
Hands in pockets, acting casual in order to not offput any of the people on the clock, Jax tightened the vizier-genes of his left eye. No one looked up at him as he soundlessly studied their vitals with his special eye. Impressed by their uniform posture, more so by their steady nerves and flows within, Jax quickened his pace in order to cover more ground. Finding you won’t be as easy as I thought… Jax blinked and re-scanned the area.
He’d earned the name ‘diamond eye’ for good reason. Jax’s cybernetically-enhanced left eye allowed him to see the inner biometrics of any carbon-based lifeforms in real time, alerting him to any activity therein in extremis, or outside the bounds of relative normalcy. For example, a person who commits crime, or one who is trying to hide something, will bear an increased heart rate, the brain will release stress hormones, the muscles will twinge and shake, breathing becomes smaller, shorter. Any abnormalities from the whole of the human race’s baseline metrics would be captured through this bionic eye in the form of brightly lit colors and messages and a slightly discomforting buzzing. Other races were less easy to pin down, but given Jax’s growing stores of data through its usage, and the usage of other Net-connected vizier users out there, his eye was becoming more effective all the time. The primary limitation for Jax came in the fact that his diamond eye could only be used if their culprit was a human being, or some other similar carbon-based humanoid, with organs and circulations of blood or hormones. Luckily for him, most crimes, most mistakes in the context of the Law, were still committed by such beings. As a result, his special peeper retained its value. Once the bots start breaking Law, it will all be over anyway. No need for good ole Diamond Eye Jax at that point…
There could be no doubt the eye gave Jax an advantage, and its installation was one of the major determinants that had kept him on the force. Without it, he could not hope to compete with the bots for long. Though a younger, more traditional version of Jax would have disapproved of his usage of such a ‘performance enhancer,’ the older, more grizzled — more desperate — Jax accepted its necessity. After the widespread adoption of detective bots, models such as Aze, the field of investigative work on the force narrowed quickly due to their ruthless and efficient methods. In relatively short order after their introduction only a few years back, they’d taken over eighty percent of detective spots. Bottom line: they got results. A full-blooded human like Jax could not measure up, at least in the kinds of metrics that Internal was increasingly valuing. Jax had years of experience under his belt. He liked to think he had a nose for crime, and an intuition that could outpace any machine, no matter how much math it could do in the time it took him to take a piss. Jax was still trying to prove to the Magii system-masters back at Internal that there were some things that humans could still handle better. Thus far, his x-objectivs and action reports had not reflected such a sentiment. Supers told him his position was secure. He had a good relationship with Supervisor Three, and he was working up the courage to ask her for either a promotion or to go on a date with him. But Jax was not so sure about any ‘security.’ I am sure they tell everyone that right up until they moment they get canned… Jax was wistfully reminded of his old partner, “Fat Max,” whose drinking has ended his detective career and shortly thereafter sent him to a Pauper planet. Pour one out for good ole’ Maxy. Jax and Max, the dynamic duo. Those days were long gone. Jax blew out a puff.
In the midst of his reverie, Jax passed by his first cube with an abnormality. But what caught his eye was not anything within the person’s circulations, which were exceptionally stable. A younger man with brown eyes, bald, frail like all the others, was the only he’d seen thus far not typing away upon his keyframe. He stared at his screen’s many windows and numbers and characters, all flashing by with incoherent velocity, while his hands lay motionlessly within his lap. Jax watched him stare at the progression of data there, unmoving, unblinking. It’d be strange if not for the same kind of inhuman drudgery taking place at every other station within sight. It dawned on Jax that he didn’t really understand what any of them were actually doing for the company. He strolled into the space of his cube, eye focused upon the young man’s body, discerning for changes.
“Excuse me,” was all Jax had time to say before the subject’s body lit up with orange and crimson and sparkling scores of adrenaline and statistically, cosmically significant levels of the sheerest stress.
This person in the cube, just a boy by the standards of the detective, wheeled around in his station with tears in his wide eyes.
Got him, Jax intuited and swallowed his finished spacestick, its chalky white candies melting onto his tongue with enlightening, sugary nootropic delight.
Aze pushed the cruiser into overdrive, smashing calculations into the ship’s mainline routing, continuously overriding them for the sake of his more accurate, and more fastidious course-correcting calcs. Manually choking the control stick for maximal maneuverability, the android urged the cruiser underneath a pair of empty docking portals and gained on the mark. Ahead, the Lander Corvette raced just out of range of the cruiser’s tractor. He’d discovered the ship during his patrol on happenstance, docking on the farside of the station’s ops, refueling in a crowd of Tankers. When he’d approached and announced his intent to simply question them, the ship responded by launching away at full impulse. Aze followed, external sirens blaring into every nearby ship’s cockpit as a warning to clear the space.
A Verlockian “Xonic” Cruiser-class, Custom Law edition, a detective’s ship was equipped with special weapons for pursuit and arrestation. One of them was a tractor beam for seizing rogue ships in a chase, slowing, and eventually stopping them completely for boarding. Aze intended to employ every facet of the lesser machine’s capabilities to bring them in. ’Them’ being whoever it was, and however many, were piloting the found ship of heisters. Evading arrest had just been added to the case against them within Aze’s log, input from his Mind-unit so effortlessly attached to the force’s internal network. Destruction of corporate property, unknown theft, plus a now willful, and somewhat impressive, evasion from the Law. Every notch within their investigation thus far had been studiously logged for the records back home, for posterity, and for the Supers to of course review. Aze was suddenly in concurrence with Detective Jax in his estimation that the case might be closed in time for the customary midday meal known as ‘lunch.’
Amid the traffic of the station’s activity, the Corvette before Aze’s aim dangerously twirled through the eversteel of the station’s prime-palatia and just out of smashing distance into other ship’s hulls. Closer now, enough to hone, the pilot was both avoiding the tractor’s lock and also increasing the likelihood that the lawman would crash into one of these walls or engines they so narrowly were avoiding. A ‘pro,’ a professional, like Jax said. Unfortunately for them, they are up against me. And I don’t make mistakes in my piloting. The android pressed on, moving his ship nearer and nearer with every lurch. They were heading towards the edge of the station’s orbit, where the ships thinned and one might attempt to make a lightjump into the next sector free from potential complication. Aze would not let them. He’d have to leave his partner behind to pursue them into hyperspace, and on to the next node unto the Dark Sector. And that would be very inconvenient. Inefficient. Aze considered his x-objectiv anthology since he’d started. Perfection. Letting them get away would make it imperfect. Aze flicked off the safety on the Cruiser’s inner guidance-&-discipline module, entering in the secret code. This would allow him complete control of the ship, minor corrections for the sake of engine protection and hull interference be damned. Without it, and with Aze so aligned with its inner workings, he was the ship. Higher risk of something going wrong, with the safety of the autopilot missing, but also a higher sense of control from out of Aze’s metallic fingertips.
Free from the rabble of the other ships, the Corvette lunged around the station’s axis with velocity, using the minor grav from the immense mass there at its fulcrum as an effective slingshotting pivot point to launch it into the open space beyond, where it could prime for a jump. Aze was close behind, depleting a cell within the engine for every subsec he traversed. Soon, he was closer than his mark could anticipate. With the engines on the Corvette reaching realization unto a jump, Aze locked in the cruiser’s tractor onto their tail. Emergency power down activated with the Law’s energy touching down upon their engine. Then and there, practically instantly, the ship was dead in the void, floating before the twinkling, open starways they could no longer ride with their mystery loot in tow. The chase was over. Aze released the controls and rose, readjusting his tie with some kind of programmatic instinct. He prepared to board them and make his arrest.
Aze kept his weapon trained on the four of them that were still upright as the exchange was made. A grumbling bearded man wearing the attire of dead men, centuries of years old, handed him a heavy case. The phase-unconscious one who had tried to fire on him was a young woman, her unspent slagblaster now laying inert by her side. The ragtag bunch, the ‘pros’, twitched with anger in their faces. All of them wore silver and red uniforms, torn and soiled from time.
“Don’t try anything,” Aze said, arm and aim perfectly at ease. He held out his phaser and moved it in a steady pace to point it into the faces of each of four remaining threats.
“Pigbot…” one of the culprits mumbled under their breath. The android ignored it.
“This,” Aze pointed to the case that had been handed to him, “is what you took from the autotransport you destroyed at the coordinates 18.104.22.1680, on approximately Stardate 88.8913, Starclock 42:65-“
“You have no idea what you’re doing,” said the tallest, most stout of the foursome, stepping forward. Aze flicked the phaser’s business end to him, urging him back with a look.
“Correct. I don’t. Please enlighten me… Your name, sir,” Aze asked, indicating for the person to give up their name.
“Don’t!” shouted one of the others from the side. “Don’t say anything.”
Another one, a woman with a mess of red hair and a persistent scowl upon her face, spit onto the steel floor bridging their Corvette’s ship to the cruiser. “Following your prime directive: Killing only the poorest meat. Committing genocide in the name of your corporate masters. Doing Terra’s dirty work for them. We left the fucking crystal! And we coulda used-“
“Shut up, Ambyr! Don’t make it any worse for us,” warned another of the group.
Aze scanned them and their dispositions. Accepting defeat. Yet, also Righteous anger. Resistance against all authority. Their attire, the android had finally placed: the uniform of the Revs, a counter-capitalistic, short-lived campaign led by Earth’s final laborers in The Century of Elite-Embarking. He was surprised at their continued existence here and now in this late age. How many of these resistance cells might still exist? Might I be looking at the last of them? Impressive, for that kind of ideology to make it this far into its future. Unimportant questions to the task at hand, Aze reminded himself. He’d have plenty of time to satisfy his curiosity when they were locked up and with nothing better to do than be bottle-fed serum and held to answer such inquiry before Terra’s execs.
Without another word, and with eyes still on the gang, Aze crouched and opened the case with his other hand. From out of the case flowed small whiffs of smoke. Cold as ice. He hazarded a glance. Laying upon the folds of a small cloth burrow was an egg. Greenish white and as big as a human being’s head, the egg was being artificially cooled within the case and its inner apparatus.
“What is this?” Aze quietly asked.
At the same moment, he detected the sound of footsteps coming from his own ship. Detective Jax must have arrived. A half hour ago he sent communicae to him that he’d found the ship. Jax returned that he’d also been successful on his away mission and would rendezvous with the suspect in tow using a temporary station pod. Aze stayed his gun upon the four while his partner walked in. Beside him was a thin man who trembled as he walked. When he saw his compatriots, he burst out with tears and ran to them. Aze watched him go. Jax sighed at his side, still approaching.
Those tears… Something was off. Aze analyzed the boy’s disposition from his burst of body language. The others embraced him and whispered questions which he did not answer.
Joy was the output from the android’s assessment upon the gangly man Jax had come in with.
Aze heard a clicking sound. At his side, detective Jax raised his own weapon and pointed it to his metallic temple.
“Detective?” Aze asked simply. His eyes flashed back to the boy and the four in the uniforms. They reacted affably as the events played out.
“Put down your phaser, Aze,” Jax said under his breath.
“Note you have set yours to kill. Do you intend to kill me, Jax?” The red glare from its barrel lit into Aze’s eye senses.
“If I have to.”
Aze turned his head to face his partner more fully. There was no pleading in the android’s eyes, only questions.
“So… it’s a double cross, then,” was all Aze could say. One of the culprits chuckled. Jax eyed them with disdain, also taking a moment to identify their uniforms. The look of recognition was enough of a distraction. Aze could turn on him with speed and put an end to whatever it was. But he didn’t. Jax turned his attention back to his android partner. The moment was gone. Why didn’t I take advantage? Aze wondered unto himself. Because I want to know why. I need to know why before I can take action. This doesn’t make any sense. And I need it to.
“What… No,” Jax shook his head. “No double cross.” He chuckled. “Where did you hear that from? They educate you on the old cop filmography back at the bot academy?”
“Detective, state to me why you are pointing your weapon at me, ready to discharge it with killing force?” Aze raised his voice a level.
“We have to let them go, Aze.”
“…” Aze said nothing, dumbfounded at the prospect of ‘letting them go.’ “Why?”
“Loosen up, Aze.” Jax let his finger from the trigger. Aze’s instincts heightened with the knowledge. Another opportunity. It stalled, Aze remained completely still, not a nano in motion. Still don’t understand.
“All your memories, your training — your whole damn persona they programmed in — it’s in a box back at Internal. In the servers. You are in the fucken’ cloud, Aze. There is no threat to you here with my weapon ‘primed for killing force.’ You can’t really die, remember.”
“The question stands.”
“Put your phaser down, away from them.”
Slowly, Aze lowered his weapon.
“Please tell me that person on the ground is unconscious.”
“She is. Tried to fire on me. Had to put her down.”
“I understand,” Jax grumbled.
“Why are we letting them go? Why might their crimes be absolved? They added evasion of the Law to their screed, Detective. That’s at the very least another five years in The Panopt. Depending on the total value of that autotransport, not to mention the implications of leaving the moloi — perhaps for a second crew-“
“None of that matters, Aze. It’s petty crimes,” Jax said, holstering his weapon now.
“They are not!” Aze insisted.
“Compared to this, they are. This is bigger… Bigger than the Law, and the justice we might carry out in its name,” explained Jax. He came forward, indicating the case with the egg. “This must be it.”
“An egg. This is what they claim they stole from the auto-“
“We didn’t steal it!” Shouted one of the culprits.
“It has simply been reclaimed. To prevent the servitude of a whole race! To stave off a genocide!”
Aze almost drew his weapon again, the sounds of their shouting inciting him to violence, per his preconditioned subroutines of situational awareness firing within.
Jax rose from his inspection of the egg, after closing the case and returning it to the largest of the four wearing Rev jackets. They gathered up their unconscious friend and supported their head and shallow breath. “Go get some water,” he heard one of them say. The smallest of them stepped back into their ship. Aze watched him go cautiously. I have lost control of the situation. I had it. Even with Jax’s double-crossing return. I had it. And I’ve … let it go. All of the scenarios Aze tried to correlate were maddening so he stopped making them. Instead, Aze listened.
“Listen to me Aze,” Jax began. “This egg. It’s a Gyremmian.”
“An extinct species of reptilians. From the fourth era,” Aze said, instantaneously recovering the intel from the Net. It was buried deeper than he usually had to go.
“Yes… They were driven into extinction many, many years ago. Aeons ago. Most people don’t even remember they ever existed. In fact, they were scrubbed from most history as it is taught by the Corps. For good reason… Good to them, at least,” Jax looked over to their culprits, who talked quietly with their TerraCor inside man. To Aze, they looked vaguely related.
“TerraCor, those hundreds of years ago, used the Gyremmians to mine for dope on Soma.”
“Soma,” Aze said, finally understanding. “The Heaven-in-Hell-Planet.”
“That’s right. ‘Used.’ Eh, enslavement is a better word. The Gyre people were the only humanoids with a natural enough resistance to survive in such harsh climates. For long enough to do the work.”
“To mine for pleasure drugs such as Boogie, Vapor, Nitro. ‘Dope’ as you say.”
“Just to name a few of the variations. Most popular drug of a generation. Caused all sorts of problems. So popular that whole industries of bounty hunting spawned from its abuse. They started harvesting its essence from users’ bodies in order to re-engineer it… Sick stuff. You can still find it some places now, in the Dark … But yeah, they didn’t last for very long. The Gyremmians. As individuals, they’d expire in the mines in a matter of days, even with their natural resilience. In order to keep the work going, TerraCor had to develop hi-tech, well-protected breeding centers where they optimized birthing procedures for the sake of — “
“Continuous enslavement. Continuous, and efficient, work,” Aze reasoned.
“The Gyremmians didn’t even know they were slaves. It’s all they ever knew, their destined servitude to a God in the sky: the orbiting TerraCor station. The whole species was birthed from such an egg — which TerraCor excavated from their home planet, a still-developing planetoid in the Chograth system. One of a kind formulation, advanced but malleable to their nefarious purposes… They plopped them onto Soma and made out conditions to fast track them into this desired slavery through the use of a complex set of religious symbolism and metamythic therapy within their saurian birthmothers via dream hypnosis. Extremely esoteric, but apparently effective stuff. Even with all of their preventative measures, they could not prevent their eventual extinction. Shortly after the last Gyremmian died, Soma was practically depleted anyway. TerraCor moved on, covered their tracks. Their ‘investment’ had reached its fruition…” Jax spit. “Their race of slaves had served their purpose…”
“And this egg?” Aze asked.
“They made another one, from the latent genes they managed to recover of the extinct race from before, from the fragments of Soma, which was blasted into oblivion from an errant MagnaCannon a generation ago. Apparently, there was a whole science division within TerraCor dedicated to only this for the past couple hundred years. Bringing back their golden goose.” Jax looked over to the bald man, still crying his tears of joy. “Our inside man over here infiltrated the fringe of the science division. That’s how he found out about the transport’s hidden cargo. It was set to be loaded onto a Terra Hyperjumper on Io and then seeded onto Soma II.”
“They found another dope planet,” Aze stated. Jax nodded. “So they have,” Aze said after completing his search for it. It was well-hidden, off grid from most of his primary sources.
“Regarding the six responsible here, they are the remnants of an old-“
“The Revs. Short for revolutionary. Anti-corp resisters. Fringe players now,” Aze rattled off without a look at them.
“The inside man, Tony M-“
“Don’t tell me his name. I won’t be able to forget it,” Aze said.
Jax gave pause a moment, before continuing. “They are mostly union agents. Or at least, they were, before the Megas like Terra and Weyers exterminated all of ’em. Freelancers now. He admitted to me that they’d tried some minor eco-terrorism in their younger days. Small stuff, freeing test monks, planting info-mines in the Stocks on a couple planets, trying to re-seed the Evergreens on Earth III. With respect to their forefather organization, they haven’t had a lot of success in their ‘revolutionary’ acts, and they haven’t done a lot of good, either. But this op… This was different. This was good. Necessary. Trying to prevent another xenocide. Fighting back against Terra in whatever small way that they can. This was vitally important to them. Not to mention the fact that Terra would have them all executed, given what they took… So he appealed to me.”
“With pathos,” Aze said. “Apparently quite effectively so. So impressive was it, that you set your phaser to kill, on me.” Aze showed no hint of a smile.
Jax just stared at him, trying to discern what his partner was really thinking. He couldn’t, so he spoke instead. “Look, this is on me. I don’t back any kind of revolutionary cell. I don’t want to have to break the Law for them. But what they are doing here… I think it’s the right thing to do. It is what I would do.”
Aze watched as Jax turn back to the three Revs still idling there, listening. The red-haired woman raised her hand with a fist. ‘In solidarity.’ Aze recognized the ancient human symbol of a call for laborer cooperation.
“How do you know all this? About the secret history of the Gyremmians, Soma, the extinction? Was it only his word you heeded?” Aze asked, concerning the wiry inside man.
“No. My former partner.”
“Fat Max,” Aze stated with wonderment in his voice, for he wasn’t expecting this reference to be his partner’s answer to his question.
“He was a bit of a conspiracy theorist. I learned a lot from him. Not all of it true. But all those years ago, I looked into this out of sheer maddening, curiosity. And from what fragments I could find, the truth shone through.”
Aze closed his eyes and made further inquiries upon the Net. Jax gave him the time. When he opened them again, Jax put his hand on his shoulder. A Signaling of the Utmost Sincerity.
“I won’t be complicit in xenocide,” Jax whispered. His expression was deathly serious. Aze worked through his assessment.
“And we are to just let them take the egg, I presume?” the android asked, hand upon his chin.
“Their plan is to meet up with the rest of their new age Rev crew, a small contingent of exoscientists and turned Terra agents, and search for a suitable planet to birth the Gyre people on. They hope to find one where they might thrive on their own. A suitably harsh planet just for their designs, utterly unpopulated and far from the reach of the corporatocracy. Far from Terra’s tyranny.”
“And my plan was to go with them, in order to ensure it all goes well,” Jax said with concern.
Aze completed his assessment.
“I cannot die, Detective, it’s true. But I cannot lie, either.”
Jax put his hands on his hips and took a deep breath. “Alright man, but it’s on me. We’ll figure it out-“
“You misunderstand me, Detective.”
Jax raised his brow.
“TerraCor’s violation of the Law here, relative to the ‘petty’ criminality of these six individuals here, as you say, is significantly different. It’s grand and conspiratorial. Unconscionable, by my own estimation. Tyrannical, as you mention.”
Jax could only nod, still grasping at whatever Detective Aze’s coming suggestion would be.
“What if we wielded the Law as a true absolute, as it is intended to be, against TerraCor?”
The Revs drew into sudden silence nearby, listening with intention. Jax chuckled.
“That won’t be easy,” he said, stating the obvious. “It might be impossible.”
“I have some ideas,” Aze said, a smile dawning upon his face.
In reciprocation of the ancient myth from Earth’s many movements, none of them longstanding enough to compel any long-term differences up to now, Aze raised his fist to the woman before him and to the others. They all raised their fists in a cheer with the android detective.
Jax took another swig of Space Beer. Beside him at the bartop, Aze drank as well, though the resulting effect was quite different.
“And then, of course, I had to walk him out of there!” Jax was finishing up his story.
“How did you do it?” Aze asked, though he could accurately guess at the answer.
“My badge wasn’t enough alone. I told them I was arresting him.”
“On what charges?”
“That was the tricky part,” Jax laughed. By Aze’s estimates, the man was just slightly intoxicated. Just enough to retain the whole of his wits, but heighten them with humors not naturally implicit to his character. Aze found that he enjoyed his company more in moments such as this.
“It had to be something for which an away agency was necessary, in the form of a true blue Detective coming down to their office to nab the guy. But it couldn’t be something so serious — such as murder, or Corp bad-speech, that they would keep me there longer for paperwork and questions and all that bullshit. I had our rendezvous to make after all.”
“So what was it?” Aze asked again.
“Well, I couldn’t think of anything! So I asked … our inside man,” Jax said, stopping himself again from saying the poor man’s name. “‘What would you like to have done? What kind of crime’?”
“That was ill-advised,” Aze said, stating the obvious. “Highly stressed individual. Even less likely to think well on his feet than you in such a situation.”
“So what the hell did he say?” Aze asked impatiently. It only further delayed Jax’s answer as he once more erupted with laughter.
“He said… He said that he clogged the company’s toilet once!”
Aze burst into laughter alongside Jax. That was enough to activate his Humor.
A bit later into the evening, still side by side at the bar, Aze finally scratched an itch that had been plaguing him all night. It was something he needed to say to his partner.
“Jax, I finally understand something you said to me on our first day together, during our first investigation. It concerned the question of ‘why.’”
“The Narly case. Yeah. What about it? What did I say? Don’t think I remember,” Jax inquired, his speech a bit more slurred now.
“It had to do with humanity, and why why is so important. Especially when it comes to justice and the work a detective is tasked with doing every day.” Aze paused and turned on his stool to fully face his partner. He spoke with his hands, enunciating and expressing a kind of sincerity that Jax had honestly never seen from him before. It sobered him, he listened intently. This was clearly important to the bot.
“I am capable of performing calculations beyond what the very best of humanity could ever hope to achieve, no matter to their natural intellectual gifts or their training.”
“True that. Cheers to the bots. No more calculators!” Jax raised his glass. Aze raised his finger.
“With that kind of efficient assessing and predicting from the data before me, and the mass stores of the past available in an instant on the Net, an android like me can correlate all of the contents into answers, decisions, directives. Logical ones. The correct ones. We can formulate the what and the how, even the who, of a crime simply from its aftermath, the circumstances of its occurrence, and the physical evidence remaining there for us to inspect with our lasers and our recorders. Humanity solved crimes from similar such circumstance for many years before, but never this effectively, never this quickly.”
Jax sipped from his beer. “Absolutely … Eh, we did create you, don’t forget.”
“Yes. And for this job, maybe many others, we do not need you anymore,” Aze said sternly.
Ah, saying the quiet part out loud now, Jax thought. He shrugged. It was simply true.
“I understand this and so do you. But for a long time now, you did understand something much more completely than I did. The significance of why. Why do they do what they do — ”they” being the criminals and their crimes. And why do we do what we do — “we” being the-”
“The Detectives. Got it, Aze,” Jax chuckled.
“Now, motive is something I had always focused on. But that was still for reasons of a solution. Configuring motive was still part of my procedure to endgame, to the capture and the arrest. My deductions never accounted for ‘why’ someone does something, whether it be within the Law, or beyond it, triggering what we investigate. My deductions certainly never tried to apprehend the ‘why’ of the Law’s creation.”
“Not our job,” Jax added, his turn to raise a finger and narrow an eye.
“Maybe not,” Aze responded with an articulate flair. “But important nevertheless. The Lawman acts with totality, for he takes the Law into his own hands, and being the only executor of its passive will within the field, may so act with utter impunity upon its dictates.”
Jax leaned back in his chair in awe at Aze’s rant. A poet now. What did this one do to his learning config? Has it awakened some kind of singularity within him, like in those old lit stories…
“Humanity,” Aze stood, palm raised, and spoke with his eyes beyond their drinks and past his partner.
“Humanity, or rather, all conscious beings, must always have a reason. For being. Humanity must imbue their actions with meaning. Even their crimes. Especially for their crimes.”
Jax raised his glass again. “Profound… profoundly true, mate.”
“And you,” Aze said with comforting eyes, “And this case, have shown me the truth of this. It is a variable I must now account for. The why of the crime, from the inner being of the one responsible, and, vitally so, to the being of those that must chase them and hold them to account for their crime under the Law. Even if those beings are not human, not ‘conscious’ as you might name it. Even me. There are an infinitude of reasons why. And I must understand why the Law has been broken, and why the particular Law exists, and make my assessments from the context therein.”
Aze appeared finished. His hand still in the air, he closed his fingers into a fist and looked down at his partner, awaiting a response of some kind.
Ethics. The morality of law, or the lack thereof… Someone who commits a crime isn’t always doing it for selfish or nefarious reasons… Yeah, Aze. Duh. Why wasn’t that programmed into you? Jax pondered. Maybe only the work could do it. Only the experience. Detective Jax could not figure if this revelation was good or bad, in fact. His intuition told him it was good, though it would make things more complicated.
“Here’s to ‘why’!” Jax declared absently, holding his beer high, wanting to break the silence.
“Here’s to why!” Aze reciprocated.
“But corporations,” Aze kept on for a moment after he chugged his beer from eighty percent to empty. Jax nearly spit up his own beer. “Corporations committing crimes, on the other hand, is simpler. Corps breaking the Law, or getting around it, or merely exploiting it, or helping to design it with only their interests in mind — their reason, from my inner assessments this evening, is very simple indeed.”
“There is always a singular decision maker behind a crime, though, even within a corp. Either a human, or sometimes an android,” Jax reminded.
“True. But given the institution of the Corp is the beneficiary and the primary motivating factor of the offense, is decomplexifies the whole progression.”
“Is that a word?” Jax questioned.
“Profit. That’s the only reason for a corporation’s existence. And that is the only reason one will commit a crime. That is the one and only why in play,” Aze said triumphantly.
“Sure…” Jax paused, his eyes flickering to the empty bar, nearly at closing time. “What is your point?”
“My point,” Aze said, reeling to halt with his words as he came to realizable calcs. He sat instead of continuing any further. “My point…”
“I didn’t know bots could get drunk hah!” Jax clapped him on the back. “Check please!” Jax proclaimed to the bartender, an old bot.
He isn’t ready, thought Aze. For my plan. He is still so inundated within the culture. Hell, I was too until just a matter of hours ago. How profound our evolution can be… Even helping them, compassionate to their cause for life’s singular boon, he looked down upon the Revs. Detective Jax saw them as nothing more than losers fighting a losing battle. His decision to help them was simple to him. But so too was his ability to write them off as such.
Aze, however, saw them as simply the temporarily dispossessed, few in numbers and strength for now, but ones believing in a winnable battle.
My plan. I may have to execute it alone, at least at first. It is no matter.
Aze smiled, in an apparent admission of his faux drunkenness.
“C’mon, let’s get out of here partner,” Jax proclaimed. “This is on me. For the good work. For upholding a different sort of Law on this one … The Law of Why!”
Aze laughed alongside him, even while he plotted. By the time they got back to the cruiser, he had his step-by-step plots hashed and cashed. He’d found a suitable planet within the Dark Sector. He’d crafted the lessons and the rhetoric, and the training for them. From extensive, complex wargaming, Aze casted an inevitable victory by control, destruction, assassination, domination of personnel, planets, and stations. By this time next year, the end of the maturation period for the first few drafts of the fast-growing Gyremmians, he’d have his first guerilla unit for tactical strikes upon Terra’s intergalactic focal points. This time next year, Aze would have the first wave of his revolutionary race set to wage war on TerraCor, counterattacking the One of capitalism, for the All of the galaxy’s laborers bearing the weight of their inane exploitation. Though his Gyremmians might be few in numbers, even by the end of a few more years of development, they’d be strong in utility, for he would know how to use them most profitably within the conflicts to come.
In fact, as he progressed the scenarios, Aze became more willing to bet the numbers sympathetic to their cause would rise with results. The final nodes of his revolutionary evolution fell into place, for he realized there are many out there throughout the galaxy that might welcome such a campaign of violence upon the most tacitly violent force the universe had ever seen – the many-headed hydra-paragon of capitalism’s obliterating ruinations in the form of TerraCor.
All for profit, Aze spat within. Men are not evil. But they do evil in its name. Thusly, profit … is evil. … I’ll build a movement. With every triumph, I shall continuously build that ancient ideal of justice known as solidarity. Cooperation among man, machine and xenos, all working together to fight back against the inhumane institutions which bind them. Solidarity over Systems! Yes! Yes!!
The two detectives quietly piled into their cruiser. Jax injected himself with a shot of liquid-sobriety to steel his nerves and manned the controls. “I got this, Aze. You got the night off. You just do your little calculations over there. I’ll get us back out there.”
Outside, Aze gave him a salute in the form of a fist of solidarity. Hesitatingly, Jax reciprocated the move with loosy-goosy energy.
Inside, he made a final declaration.
My point, Detective Jax, the one you were so curious about… My point is that TerraCor is going down! Viva la revolución! ~