But what would you read more of?
Detective Constable Ajinder Kaur always felt the same way when she walked into the Chief Constable's office; a frisson in her belly. Almost like she was a naughty schoolgirl again, about to get a good telling off from the headmaster. She knew she hadn't done anything wrong. Knew her record was as spotless as her black trouser suit, every I in her work dotted, every T on the forms crossed. The trepidation was still there, the unspoken question; 'have I missed something he's going to pick me up on?
He didn't get up from his desk when she entered. Chief Constable Arnie 'Rimmer' Felton wasn't that well mannered. He didn't invite her to take a seat either but that wasn't unusual, she stood at ease in front of his desk.
'How can I help, Chief Constable?'
He gave her a smile, lacking in warmth, and ran a hand through thinning grey hair, turning it into greasy tramlines on his sunburnt scalp. Everything about him was pristine, making the smell of him, stale fags and beer all the more surprising. If she thought he was brave enough she'd have suspected it as a metaphor, an underlying scent that hinted at corruption but she knew that was pop-psych bollocks. Felton was a paper policeman, rumours abounded that he'd been on a shout once and pissed himself, she suppressed a smile. Aj could imagine that. Imagine his face.
'Constable Kaur,' she hated him a little bit more for that, for dropping the 'detective' part when he spoke to her. 'I understand you went for the H-Met interviews on the last round?'
'Yes sir,' fuck him, 'I've always been quite open about my wish to work on the Homicide and Murder Enquiry Team'
'Really,' he gave her a dishwater smile, 'well. I had a visit from Tim Franklin.'
'The MP?' she said and her mind started to race. Had she tangled with him recently? She didn't think so.
'Yes,' he picked up an expensive fountain pen and stared at it for a moment, 'the MP. It seems, Ms Kaur,' oh she hated the way he emphasised the 'Ms', 'that one of the councillors, Sarpreet Singh, has been explaining to Mr Franklin how Asian women are under-represented in our murder squad.'
A hole seemed to open in her stomach, taking her insides with it, hollowing her out. 'Not like this,' she thought.
Felton blew on the end of the pen and shined the gleaming gold band around the centre, 'Sarpreet Singh is your cousin, I believe?'
Aj wanted to kick something. Instead she tried to turn it into a joke.
'Been checking up on me, Sir?' she gave him a smile, tried to hide the fury growing within her.
'It's good to know who knows who, politically speaking,' he took the top off his pen.
'Then you should know, sir' she smiled again and felt an almost overwhelming desire to touch up her lipstick, her words came out in a rush, memories of a childhood in Bradford sneaking into her carefully accentless voice. 'Sarpreet is my dad's elder brother's kid, but we don't have anything to do with them. My Dad and Sarpreet's Dad fell out ages...'
Felton held up a hand.
'Nonetheless, Mr Singh is correct and we are below the national average in the area of,' he examined the nib of the pen before saying slowly, 'Asian women.'
There were four words in her mouth, desperate to get out: 'don't you fucking dare.' She fought them back, blinked her eyes. Gave him a smile.
I've spent the last one thousand years or so hunting myself. Not literally, you understand, because literally would be easy. I could web into the Unity central truth core and just ask: 'address for Lonal Haraljiit, please >DNA embedded<.' Then drop in with a gun. Life is never that simple.
Neither is death.
And I know, I die a lot.
'You should be more careful.'
As Mr Jiggs, my crystal intelligence companion says, I probably should be more careful but after so many long years and cheap bodies it's easy to become a bit gauche about survival. Now pain, pain is an entirely different thing. You never get over pain. It never gets easier to bear and if you block it your efficiency is cut down by fifty, maybe sixty per cent. I could do without the pain coursing through me. The spider web of red agony that radiates from the wound in my stomach. Gut shots are always the worst. It's like they know where to hit me.
Of course they know. I'll have told them. Or a facet of me will. A once was.
'Where are they, Jiggs?' every whisperthink word I don't speak into the link is an age of ache.
'I don't know. They seem to have backed off but these linker places are hell on my sensorium and your pain is causing feed back.' Jiggs sounds amused. He always sounds amused. 'I'm glad I'm not a biologic, it seems a bit shit.'
'Thanks Jiggs. How long have I got left?'
'Oh, you've got hours of agony yet.'
Linker stations are drab, miserable, places to die.
Beghella station was like them all, grey, the populace walking like dead people, unaware of the world around them. To be fair, every one of those people probably lived an exciting life in a riot of colour to them, no need to decorate the outside when the inner life covers it all. I wondered why they moved about at all, why not just become loaders and ditch the physical? Something about walking among these silent, somnolent people made them feel as alien as any of the other species that called Unity space home.
Or maybe it was the drizzle.
Baghera station was a perfect storm for drizzle. Somewhere a designer was burning in hell for creating this place. A steel sphere with a 1500 kilometre diameter, a mass gatherer placed in the centre created a smaller sphere where gravity was just not quite near enough to human normal to be annoying. It had been beautiful once, full of fountains, but gradually it had fallen into disrepair and the mean temperature had increased. Now water evaporated off the pools and the sweating populace and drifted up to the outer edges where it condensed in the cold that radiated in from the outer skin to fall as drizzle.
It rained, people were trying to kill me and the predominant smell was of rust and failing sewage recyclers. I fucking hated this place.
I was here tracking a load of dilium a chemical harmless to humans but that had a dramatic effect on a non-unity species called the Vina; it either gave them a massive high or caused them to explode. As the Vina were nine-meter tall flowers covered in six centimetre spines this was causing trouble throughout the Unity sphere of influence. The Vina government refused to admit a problem, 'Vina have no need for drugs' was the official line but the whole dilium trail was being set up specifically to look like a Unity plan to destabilise their government. Fair enough, it is the sort of thing we do, but not this time.
Unity central couldn't ban the Vina from our space as they were a relatively powerful force on the lower right segment and given to petty belligerence, border raids and such. And here I was, Unity Central Investigator Lonal Harajit tracking the drug and hoping to stop a war.
'Oh-oh,' said Mr Jiggs, 'Lon, I'm picking up, wait. Wow, this is going to be impressive. Someone's overloading the central station reactor.'
'What? There's fifty thousand people on this station, what do I need to do to stop it?'
'Do? Fight your way into the control room that's eighty KM away and shut it down. Or you could just relax and wait for death.'
'How long do I have?'
'About eight seconds.'
Sliding down the wall to curl around my aching guts I wondered, for a moment, what I had to done deserve this. Then I remembered: genocide.
Maybe they wouldn't wake me up this time.
A sudden, fierce, warmth against my face.