The slot in the wall for the door was only a little blocked by archive boxes and the rubbish bin as Police Sergeant Camran pushed it open and made his way uncomfortably inside, stepping around boxes and tripping on loose items as he fell into the chair at the head of the table and squeezed into the gap next to the wall with a small cough.
Camran cleared his throat and sat up, putting his hands on the desk over a folder. “Would anyone care to explain this to me.” He said, looking down at his desk and picking up the folder.
It was only a few pages thick, with the word PARANORMAL printed on the front.
“This is the fruits of the division year of work. As you can see it’s very thick.” He continued, letting the folder drop flat on the desk between his fingers.
He coughed, and straightened his neck as he gulped, and then tried again. Tilting his head some more and putting his cap at a rakish angle.
“Would anyone care to explain this to me?” He said again, sterner this time, before sitting up and nodding.
The blank wall opposite him and the two empty chairs hard against it gave no answer. He sighed and let his shoulders fall as he looked back down at the folder on the desk.
He opened his mouth for one last practice before his radio squawked to life on his chest, making him flinch in surprise, and taking a breath.
“Paranormal required at a 10-15 Traffic Accident, inexplicable activity reported. How copy?” Came a calm feminine voice loudly over the radio.
“Paranormal required at a 10-15 Traffic Accident, inexplicable activity reported. How copy?” Detective Ada House, Mudwater Paranormal heard the order through her radio.It was the middle of the afternoon and sun was well past its peak, dipping the town in dull orange colors.
House audibly groaned, her eyes slowly opening from her seat in the car. She loathed paranormal cases, even more so than the petty bickering between people who always threatened violence when alcohol steeled their nerves and dulled their balance. Other planets, she would openly admit having received cases on subjects and things that she absolutely could not explain without resorting to the paranormal, magical, and simply otherworldly sources.
Mudwater was not like other places. Rather than housing some paranormal occultism that brought about strange activities and events, it was simply dull, dirty, and absolutely ruined any nice and comfortable clothes she owned that she now refused to bring outside her house. It was no coincidence that she was on a first-name basis with the local dry cleaners.
“Detective House, copy. Moving to investigate.” She responded with a click of the radio, adjusting her seat to actually drive rather than just lay back. “Someone hit a damn power line, got spooked by the sparks.” She grumbled as the car hummed to life. “Guarantee it, some people are spooked by their own shadow.” Buckling herself in, she idly moved the car into drive as the sights of civilization came back into view of the lonesome cruiser.
The police cruiser was old, muddy, and while the local mechanic tried to take care of it, it was clear that this was the old faithful spare that was kept in the back of the lot. At least it was a better color than the unmarked cruiser with its ugly olive color that peeled the first layer of the eyeballs off which was the only other car available to House.
“Copy, House, responders report…” there was a pause as the dispatch officer clearly picked up a sheet of paper to quote exactly “Unknown ectoplasmic substance with suspicious qualities. Good luck, out.”
With the squeal of a slightly dodgy brake the car cruised to the side of the road at the scene. Three police cars, one unmarked other than some sirens and a police traffic control hologram blazing into the road to direct traffic around were already at the scene. The tipped over truck that had puked it’s entire slippery contents onto the road lay covered in fire suppression foam as two firetrucks worth of underutilized firefighters stood staring at the mess, a few brave individuals trying to scrape it off with shovels into a wheelbarrow.
The substance reported was thick, sticky, and resisted all efforts to be moved, a sole ambulance was sitting in front of Houses car, from which she could see a rather frazzled, bruised, but still, alive truck driver having a mild existential crisis over as the weight of the possible insurance claims hit him.
One the edge of the destruction House recognized two trench-coated silhouettes of Detectives Ramos and Detective White, both mustached men staring at the scene as she pulled up, turning towards her as one of them lifted a hand. Even though the sun was just a fading memory on the horizon both men still wore their reflective aviator sunglasses, despite the settling darkness.
House could feel her jaw slightly grind her teeth as she saw the two silhouettes shift towards her direction, pulling the car to the side of the road. “Of course, I’d be lucky if it was the people who were being dumb.” She mumbled, stepping out of the car, letting her face shift into a stern one as she stepped towards the two of them. “I’ll take a wild guess, stop me if I get it, some form of hyper-adhesive for construction or industrial purposes, or maybe some form of quick-drying concrete. I could list a few dozen industrial chemicals that are transported this way but I think it’d be boring for all of us.” She eyed the mess from a distance as she closed the gap.
“I’d assume that proper precautions against gaseous chemical hazards or other, similar risks have been addressed? What exactly is it?”
“Beats me, Detective. I thought Paranormal would be all over unknown substances. Manifest says Aqua-Thermal Treated Silicone Allumiante And Ceramic For Construction.” Said Ramos, pointing his phone at the car as a light zapped to the sideways number plate and brought up all the information to his screen.
Off to the side of the three detectives, a plump uniformed police officer came calmly walking around as he set up holographic emitters that when switched on create an alert perimeter and holographic caution tape. Officer Rime smiled. “Good Evening!” He said pleasantly. He then spoke up. “I went ahead and set up the perimeter that away if any commuters come passing by, they will know not to come in. Your crime scene is secure Detectives!” He said nodding his head and smiling. As he did his eyes lifted with the smile.
“Oh. I interviewed the driver. He said a local black elk jumped in the road and caused him to swerve, and creating the accident. I’ll file the report at some point for the investigation!” Rime added sounding excited at having to finally do his job.
“Unknown is not anomalous.” House chided as she eyed the scene, the waste of silicone and base construction gel weighing in her mind. “Thank you, Officer.” She spoke as she walked past the sizely man. “And it sounds to me like you knew what it was, regardless. Unknown materials aren’t a joke, and that’s largely beside the point.” She sharply turned away from the duo, walking to the front of the truck that had crashed, clinical eyes scanning the impact zones of the vehicle.
“Was the crash caused by collision with the animal, or by attempts to swerve away from it, or a mix of both, or…?” She asked those around her. “It’d be a poor idea to just leave an injured animal of that size wandering about, especially given its place in local superstitions. That kind of thing just makes bad rumors.”
Rime eyed up the other two detectives. “Uh, He said he didn’t hit the animal. Plus walking around and setting up the perimeter, I didn’t see any blood, so I reckon he was telling the truth. “I was going to do a scan of the material. But, well. The detective came on the scene and the perimeter was a bit more of a priority.”
“I called the ambulance and put him in it. He is there if you want any questions.”
“Hey, if you want to go up and get the footage from the truck be my guest, Detective.” Replied Ramos as he nodded towards the three inch deep puddle of construction gel that was slowly seeping around the cab of the truck.
Next to him White smirked and turned towards House. “Got springs in your heels there, House? Go-Go-Gadget Helicopter?” He asked with a shit-eating grin.
Both men turned to each other, congratulating themselves on their little barb before turning towards House again.
“Good work, Officer Rime, why don’t you help House with whatever she decides to do. We’ll be supervising.” Said Ramos, standing back from the edge of the gel apocalypse.
Vaguely satisfied with what she could tell from a distance, House briefly returned to her vehicle, pulling a pair of wading boots from the trunk as she hastily put them on. They were uncomfortable, but they were also cheap, and she could afford to discard them if ridding them of synthetic applicants proved to be too time or cost consuming.
Approaching the cab of the truck from the shortest distance through the muck, she tried to ignore the quips of the two other detectives. “I’m just making sure that we have the accurate depiction of events. It’s far from uncommon for people to recall incorrect details. Luckily, cameras find it exceptionally difficult to lie.” She said, grimacing as she pushed through the suction of artificial paste. “I feel like the truck is a bit past its warranty regardless.” She added as she reached in to grab at the camera of the cab.
The first step slipped a few inches as she stepped into the gel before catching on the rough asphalt, as slow shaky steps brought her closer to the cab, a trail of slowly healing footsteps in the pale goo marking her progress as she reached it. The cracks across the windshield were long and a spiderweb of chipped safety glass made the first dozen inches of glass opaque. What was once the left hand door, now topside, stood open, and the damaged and scraped front grill of the truck looked mostly intact to use as a ladder.
The tedium of House’s investigation of the truck was suddenly, and loudly broken. There was a sharp loud screech, then a devastating explosion nearby. The heat and noise caused the local birds and wildlife to scatter. Officer Rime had after their exchange wandered off to the edge of the wood, and taken out his standard-issue Laser pistol and fired it at a nearby tree. The tree groaned audibly, then the wood splintered, and the large tree toppled over and crashed down deeper into the woods. “Yeeeeaaaa!” Rime exclaimed, “Don’t get to used these much around these parts!”
As tree fell there was a loud shrill animal scream and a dull thud amid the sound amid the cracks and snaps of a tree settling down on the ground, and a soft whimpering from that direction.
She nearly immediately regretting this course of action, but she was already several steps in. It was pointless to turn back, but that did little to lower the risk of falling into the synthetic goo, and she couldn’t decide if the ruined clothes or the jeers of the wonder twins would be worse. Thankfully as she made it to the truck with great effort, she began to scale the grill to try to make her way to the left side, now the top, of the truck’s cab. She almost lost her grip as she heard the telltale pulse of a pistol going off, followed by the explosive collapse of a nearby tree.
“Oh for the love of-” She groaned to herself, shaking her head. “Let’s not cause more damage, please!” She called out to the trio of humans, moving to lower herself slowly into the cab itself. “There’s enough of a mess as it is without sparking a fire!”
Ramos and White looked at each other before both of them turned slowly towards Rime and his antics as the mewling animal sound came from deeper in the forest. The entire scene had stopped to look at Rime, almost expectant looks on their face as pathetic animal sounds filtered through the trees.
“Well, Officer, go on. Take care of it.” White hissed, tipping his chin towards the tree Rime had destroyed.
Slowly, the rest of the emergency responders resumed the work of trying to remove the gel, or convince a depressed truck driver his life wasn’t over.
It seemed that all eyes were on Rime. He was smiling, and showing a mouth full of well cared for teeth. “What? It was a good shot!” He responded. Rime’s face soon turned into a frown. “Fiiiine, I’ll take care of the little bugger.” Rime said with a sigh.
Rime turned from the crime scene and advanced on the pained screams with his laser pistol at the ready.
The cab of the truck was a mess, with the contents of a coolbox smashed against the window-come-floor, and a dufflebag of personal items leaning against the back of one of the seats. With careful placement she was able to get her gel-covered boots to the bottom between the cans of energy drink, sarsaparilla, shattered chips of glass and other detritus. The front camera for the truck was located within the panels on what was once the center of the roof next to the windscreen, the black screen of the artificial rear view indicating a likely location.
The keys to the truck jingled next to Ada’s boot, the driver having emergency shut down the engine and pulled the key before evacuating. A silver skull hung from the keyring. A civilian dataport was located in the center console, normally used to power small personal devices but hooked into the central nervous system of the machines computer system for legacy reasons. It would only require power to use.
Outside meanwhile, Rime felt the effect of the forest even though the lights and noise of the workers were still in view. Broken, muffled, dampened. The loudest noise was his boots shuffling over foliage as the whimpering led him forwards.
It wasn’t far, but the lights of the cars on the road only barely flashed through the trees here. He moved up to a small furry shape on the ground, but as his eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see that it was already dead, neck broken in the fall. Instead, next to it was a small furry alien creature shaking at its larger parent, baying for attention, pleading for food, for attention, for anything.
Rime furrowed his brow as his eyes continued adjusting to the fading light. He tilted his head activating the light on his PDA to get a clearer look at the critter whose parent. “Oh no…” He said softly.
The parent was definitely dead, there was no way a neck could go at that angle. It must have shielded its young with its own body as it fell. The pup left shaking its mother was adorably fuzzy with long fingered paws, like an alien cross between a racoon and a possum. With big eyes.
Rime’s heart dropped. He didn't think things through and in the name of good clean fun hurt an innocent critter. “Uh okay. I did this.” He looked back at the flashing lights knowing that this would not be a funny story to tell. Rime reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a nutrition bar. He wasn't a biologist but he knew these creatures like to eat rubbish and anything they could find. He hoped, the little pup was to the point that it wasn't nursing anymore. He bent down and opened the wrapper. He broke of a piece of the bar and threw it gently towards the animal to see if it would eat. “Come on, have a bite. It wont give you your mum back but, at least you’ll have something…”
The critter turned to look up at Rime with big eyes, and cutely hopped towards him, and hopped again. It snagged the piece of bar on the ground and picked it up, sniffing it curiously before licking it. Somehow the critters large eyes reached absurd degrees as it started hopping after Rime on its hind legs, hold the piece in its front paws coming straight for him.
House was rightly disgusted by the state of the truck, and that was more than just the unsanctified mess of a wreck. There was a lingering state to the cab that seemed to exemplify the awful condition of a trucker who didn’t keep his working space clean, despite his constant presence in the vehicle itself. Having settled into an awkward, but clean position in the cabin, she quickly scanned over the interface of the truck, recognizing the section that housed the recorded footage.
Of course, her request for the data was met with no response, as the truck held no power. She pulled her sleeve up, segments in her arm opening to expose a series of wires connected into blank ports, to which she pulled a more generic looking one to connect into the device, diverting sparks of her own power into the simple computer of the truck, followed by another request for the video.
Rime slowly backed up. “Uh. Okay enjoy your dinner mate.” He then turned and quite literally fled from the critter. He came barreling out of the woods. “Uh okay I took care of it. Uh. But there's a problem!”
House felt the larger machine greedily suckle at the trickle of power she provided to its systems, fortunately it couldn’t draw enough power to run anything major, but it’s basic systems activated enough for panels to flicker and glow at minimum power. Authenticating her as a police officer with the city computer, House felt the truck sluggishly begin compiling the entire history of itself for her. Quickly she rephrased that search, and obediently the truck compressed and transferred over the wire the last five minutes before the crash and a minute after.
The files were large from a dozen different cameras and hundreds of sensors but House could skim through them to find the part moments before the crash on a few seconds notice. Transfer complete, the truck waited for her to handshake before disconnecting.
As Rime was fleeing back out of the forest, Ramos and White turned to face him and saw the small infant critter hopping after him with intent, and burst out laughing as the officer made a fool of himself. The critter stopped, and looked around at the flashing lights and all the other humans and dropped it’s morsel, cutely hopping across the asphalt to the nearest point of cover it could find. House’s empty shoes.
Low profile, high-tech hiking boots became the new bolthole for the hopping rat as it lunged inside one and wriggled in, burying itself inside with the final wag of a bushy tail.
Once House had the video downloaded, she signed out as quickly as she could, feeling a shudder run through her spine as if she had just stuck her hand into a greasy pit. She shook her head, aptly climbing back out of the truck, trying to quickly, and safely, make her way back to her car, and her boots. “And what, might I ask, are you three gawking at?” She questioned as she slowly tread her way back.
Rime scratched the back of his head. This house detective was a very serious person. He smiled and responded. “Oh, nothing.”
As she walked, she quickly played through the overall video, trying to get a grasp as to the accuracy of the drivers statement, as well as just confirm the reason for the crash.
The files were large and cumbersome to handle for her hardware, but with a bit of tinkering she was able to skim the file down to the front camera footage and skim through the frames. The large, shaggy shape of a Black Elk did indeed appear suddenly in front of the truck, the broken sequence of frames showing it raising its head towards the truck, headlights lighting it’s star-speckled eyes, before the AI and driver took evasive action. It looked as though the truck would be fine with a controllable avoidance, but then in the space of the next three frames she skimmed it suddenly turned and went sideways around the elk. Like a failed moose test.
The rest of the footage pretty much confirmed the story of the response after the crash until now. It could be worth pulling all the sensor data, but the cumbersome nature that data as well as its volume made it difficult for own processes to handle without some time.
Rime spoke up from behind House. “So what did you find on the footage?
House shook her head as she exited the synthetic goo, walking towards her normal boots by the cruiser. “His story checks out.” She confirmed, not thinking to give much more on the scene without transferring it to a computer that was better designed to decompile the data. “Looks like he just swerved too hard when he saw the elk, toppled over and made a mess.” She paused as she looked to the wonder twins, her brow furrowing as she digested the view of the three of them. “So tell me, what circus act did you put on for them?”
The two older detectives both looked at each other, before giving Rime very intense looks before White went off towards Rime’s cruiser and opened the door, dragging out the mans lunch bag and dumping the tupperware out into the seat.
“Welcome back, Detective. Officer Rime here has something very important to tell you…” White replied, tipping his head towards the young officer.
Ramos walked past White towards House’s boot on the ground and picked it up.
“He’s going to be a daddy, and I’m afraid you’re expectant.” Ramos finished, as he held the boot upside down over the back and shook it violently.
With a small squeak a furry brown shape flew out of the boot and landing softly in the back, there was a moment of confused ruffling before it settled down again as Ramos held the top closed.
“Yer alright, yer alright little buddy.” he said aloud until it settled down, before holding it over to Rime to take. House’s boot still in one hand.
“Take it down to the shelter in town when you get the chance. Don’t give it coffee or chocolate.” He said gruffly.
“Congratulations on being a Daddy, Rime.” Quibbed White from where the pair had stood.
Rime wrinkled his nose at the implication. “How am I the parent? I mean yea, I shot the tree that killed its mum. But it most certainly went to Detective House’s boots. Looks like House is a mum now.” Rime said shifting smile to t House
House simply stared at the trio before her eyes slowly went to her boots, feeling a growing urge to emulate the various ‘killer robot’ movies she had heard so much about that had gone through various phases of popularity. “Don’t pin it on me, I’m not taking care of the local scavengers. Take it to a bloody shelter, and don’t slap my name near it.” She directed, stepping over as she snatched her boot out of Rime’s hand, glancing inside it to make sure it hadn’t been soiled while the critter was inside it.
“Perhaps handing it off will better teach you to not randomly shoot trees. As you likely found out, animals like to live around them. There is most certainly a shooting range, and even if there is a lack of one, it doesn’t take much more than time and effort to create an amateur one, with a notable lack of such risks.” She quickly swapped her boots, tossing her messied boots into bags in the trunk of her cruiser.
“I’d hate to break us off so abruptly, but unless there’s some other goose you’d like me to chase, then I believe I’d find a better expenditure of time doing just about anything else.” The grumpy android quipped at the three.
“Paranormal, please update on that 10-15 and report your 10-20. 10-19 to precinct when able.” blared the entire groups radios as Dispatch came through.
Ramos reached for his radio and spoke into it, grinning at House at Rime.
“Ramos here, Paranormal is in a 10-16 with a 10-32, 10-52 needed for Officer Rimes dignity.” The older detective quibbed, making White snort loudly in laughter.
“Can that 10-30, Ramos. House, come in as soon as you can. Bring Rime with you.” Came a strong masculine voice from the Dispatch side, crisp and professional.
All of them recognized it as Captain Val, hard faced, no nonsense, and judging by the emphasis, not very happy with Rime.
The last of the suns rays had already eeked out of existence as the two older detectives smirked under their aviators at the fighting couple.
House stood silent for a moment as she listened to the call, before silently moving to her cruiser. “Officer Rime, please get in. Hand off the animal to these two fine gentlemen, if you would, and allow them to hand it off to the nearest animal rescue. It’s not coming in my cruiser, and more importantly…” She glared at the duo before she sank into the cruiser’s seat. “We have orders, you do not.”
With that, House reached to the cruiser’s radio, pinging a message back. “Copy, House and Rime en route.”
Sergeant Camran, House’s immediate superior, came out and walked up to the desk before they got there. Azahara handed him an abused manilla folder without looking before swapping to another holographic screen and talking into her microphone. Camran took it gingerly and peeked inside it with a grimace before looking up at House and redundantly holding up the folder for her to see with a nod of the head.
As the pair came to the desk, Rime suddenly felt a strong hand on his shoulder and became overcome with a sense of dread as the captain stood darkly behind him. Perfectly cropped hair and greying beard over an uncompromising face and dark, narrowed eyes that stared down at Rime from all 5’7 of man.
“Officer Rime. Would you care to explain why I have a picture of an exploding tree and a giant hopping rat in my incident report?” Captain Val asked in a deep booming unamused voice.
Held in his hand on a piece of smart paper was the guncam footage from the moment Rimes had pulled the trigger at the accident scene.
“Well. We never get to shoot our weapons, and some of the lads say they stop on the road and fire off a few burst into the woods, so I figured I’d have a go. But apparently me and the Detective ended up adopting a baby out of it. But Detective House has yet to give it a suitable name. She just keeps saying “Don’t call it that….” Rime said with a cheery smile on his wide face. “I mean, I won’t do it again. I just wanted to test the accuracy on my piece.”
House had vague, distant recollections of previous times in her life where she had grown frustrated and lashed out violently, before she had really understood the ramifications of her own actions, as well as how to better control her emotions. This was emphasized in her memory by the crystal audio of a bone breaking followed by a pained cry after she threw a punch. As she glared daggers at Rime, she had to restrain her own tongue, and her actions as he continued to speak of the rodent, and its name.
She would normally feel satisfaction that the Captain was about to reem Rime, had it not been for the strange situation that clearly seemed to point towards a less than favorable outcome for herself, particularly with that blasted folder. Regardless, given the situation, she stood as the lesser of two problems for the three superiors, and she fully intended on hiding behind that. She may not have the most results, particularly for the given niche, but at least she wasn’t Rime.
She stood in a stiff-shouldered position before the desk, her arms behind her back in a proper parade-rest. “You wanted to see us, Sergeant?” She spoke clearly, blatantly ignoring the comments from Rime that made the synthetic skin around her right eye twitch.
“Are you telling me you’re unaware of the firing range in the basement or that your firearm sends an alert every time you shoot and we have to make sure you don’t need Armed Offender Team to respond?” Captain Val asked flatly, staring at Rime with an unmoving expression. “Or are you telling me my time spent writing a report why my officers are blasting trees randomly in the middle of the night surrounded by other county services is less valuable than you being able to use your firearm irresponsibly?”
The captain kept his cold gaze uncomfortably on Rime’s face as he spoke in perfect deadpan as the smart paper went back to his side.
Camran held the manilla folder against his chest and shied his slightly overweight self out of the captains immediate line of sight cast past Rime. Sidling up to House with an uncomfortable grimace before letting out a little sigh.
“Ahem, uh, yes Detective. I have a job for you, this one is as real it gets for Paranormal, I think.” Sergeant Camran replied softly, peering around House as that Captain before looking ahead again.
“Just give the Captain a moment and then we’ll talk in the office, yes…” He said softly, shrinking down a little bit.
As he spoke the captain had Rime by the scruff of the neck as was gently dragging the man into his office to continue that particular discussion. The firm closing of a door signalling to the rest of the precinct that it was safe to move once again.
Camran peered from around House and then shifted his eyes towards the entrance to his office and began walking towards it on eggshells.
“Well, now that that’s being taken care of. Let’s get to the meat of the topic.” he said, leading the two of them to his door. As he put his hand on the handle he quickly turned his head to one side then the other, making sure no one was about to come and take away the folder clutched to his chest before stepping in.
Camran side shifted awkwardly into the cramped room before landing upon the seat on his side with a sigh and looking at House with a forced smile. The chairs opposite the sergeant in the poorly lit room barely had more room, and was clearly fighting for space with the archives and not gaining the upper hand. The lighting situation wasn’t helped by much when Camran flipped the switch on the desk lamp between them, giving the room an almost conspiratorial air.
Different things made different people nervous, House was very much aware of that. As she followed the Sergeant into the musty office, she quietly took a seat adjacent to the man as she took an almost identical position of proper, disciplined manners. “I’d take it that this is something more serious, given your response. When you say this is more real, what specifically are you referring to? What is this case?” She prodded as she peered at the folder.
“Paranormal has never had a particularly sturdy name around here, I vastly prefer the title of Anomalous, but regardless I’d hope this is something worthy of a police investigation.”
Camran opened the folder for her and pushed it towards her, dirty, mistreated pages faced her, showing her the picture of a smiling, homely man folded many times with a thumbprint smeared in one corner. Underneath the picture a brief summary of the man pictured was presented. Captain Eric O’Marley, retired, now deceased.
“Captain O’Marley, a former detective of Mudwater Paranormal fifty some years ago was found yesterday in his apartment. Dead from a massive heart attack.” Sergeant Camran said as he pushed the slip of paper towards her.
“Captain Val would like us to take care of any, um, lingering artifacts from his service. You know, just things that any civilian heirs probably shouldn’t be left with. As far as we can tell there was no foul play, so this is just a clean up.”
Camran cleared his throat before continuing, sitting up in his seat.
“So yes, find and secure any of Captain O’Marley’s items unsuitable for civilian hands, service weapon, badge, any other sensitive momentos. Investigate his documents for anything that shouldn’t be public knowledge, and make sure you’re finished before the heirs arrive in two days.” Camran said, reading the second page that held a bullet point list of objectives for the investigation.
“Any questions, House?”
House slowly digested the information as she sat there, running it through in her mind as she tried to figure out all the details. She had heard of Captain O’Marley, of course, but she couldn’t recall a time where she had spoken with the man. He had retired many years before she had joined, after all, either because of his lifestyle, House’s, or a mixture of both, their paths simply never crossed.
His house was unlikely to be left open for anyone to walk in, House realized quite simply, and her mouth began to move without much further thought. “Yes, do we have the keys to his house, or some other way of entry that doesn’t require breaking anything? I’d prefer to not leave the house in some state of disarray before the heirs arrive, after all.” Aside from that, her thoughts ranged to just what they might find.
A former Paranormal officer.
Sensitive momentos? That could be many things, phrased so oddly that it felt like it could simply refer to a very large amount of things. In House's time in the department, she had regarded nothing of an anomalous note, but that meant little in regards to what could have happened years ago. “And was he privy to cases regarded to items actually categorized as anomalous, or do all such reports refer to his work as… Goose chasing?”
Camran pulled up a records search on the desk, the plain furniture reluctantly lighting up to service with only the lightest tap against the side by Camrans palm before he was able to search the precinct's records. The table pulled up a report of service history, however House immediately noticed a few holes, and the tell-tale signs of redaction.
Azahara hadn’t been understating when she’d written “Details Unavailable” on the executive summary, the system had been scrubbed of anything that suggested a more than humble but adequate career.
“Hmm, well, I guess it just wasn’t important enough to make note of. So it was probably nothing.” Camran replied, looking through it quickly for a human.
“The police station doesn’t have the keys to get in, but there’s a landlord living on site, you might also be able to ask the Municipal CP to give you access while the captain works on a warrant. Maybe you could bring a uniform’d officer with you too, to put neighbors at ease?” the Sergeant continued.
She had seen heavily redacted files before, but House had always felt uneasy looking at larger patches of redactions, simply because, with the larger patches, it was more than just places, dates, and names missing. As paragraphs vanished under black marks, it became events, days, weeks, lives and tragedies, all forgotten under the pen. “I’ll just refer to the local landlord. Worse comes to worse, I’ll just leverage the warrant for entrance.”
As for bringing a uniformed officer? She paused, forcing herself to not make a face as she thought of Rime. “Get me who you can for a second party, I’d prefer to not have to talk to Rime. I think I may burn a circuit if I have to deal with him for another car ride.”
Camran leaned over and pressed a button on his computer comm which gave two quick dull beeps in return. “Tell you what, I’ll have Calloway go with you. He’s probably bored or asleep at his desk.” The Sergeant pressed the same button again which gave its two beeps again but this time was aided with a very distant, “I’m coming damnit!” coming from one of the walls.
Camran turned to House with an awkward smile. “He’s coming.”
A minute later a man in a distinctly made duster with a shining metal star on his left breast came and stood in the doorway. He looked like a Marine and a Cowboy had been smashed together and he was the result. He spoke with a slightly western, yet slightly not drawl and had two cybernetic eyes which were currently glowing a shade of bright blue.
“You rang, Sarn’t?” was his only words for the moment.
The careless swing of the door hit the side of House’s chair with a loud bang of wood on metal, as the large man barged into the dark room. The small desk and furniture were hard against the walls in the space left between the walls and the archives. Sergeant Camran stood up, being careful not to hit his knees against the table between himself and House.
“Ah, yes, Marshal. We have a small job here if you might be interested. House, meet Marshall Calloway. Marshal, Detective House.” Camrain said with a smile, as he tried awkwardly to maneuver back around the desk. But the sheer lack of space meant he was forced to stand with his legs hard pressed against the desk and the wall.
“Pleasure to work with you if you’re keen.” The slightly heavy man said with a smile and stretching a hand around to the door to shake.
House considered the man before her for a moment, briefly staring at his eyes before taking in the rest of him. Strange cybernetics, she noted, even hers were more organic in appearance, but perhaps he wasn’t one for that natural aesthetic. She stood up, ignoring the odd bang of the door in the cramped room as she turned to Marshal with a polite nod, shaking his hand firmly. “Of course, the pleasure is mine.” After all, he already seemed better than three of the people she’d interacted with today.
“We’ll be entering the house of a prior Paranormal detective who recently passed away. Make sure he didn’t leave anything of critical notice. Don’t need his inheritors finding his desk full of crime scene photos, that kind of thing.” Though she knew what they were looking for, the word ‘occult’ stood out in her mind in regards to the items they were searching for. Nothing paranormal had occurred in her time here, but it seemed wrong to simply throw the idea out, particularly with those blank spaces in the man's history. “I suppose we could get a move on, the faster we get in, the faster we can be out of the landlords hair.”
"That would be beneficial. Do we have a ride right now or should I get a car?" The Marshal's eyes flashed text across them before moving to be a ring of blue mimicking an iris before they looked down at House. They adjusted like camera lenses, it was all too obvious now that he was looking her over. "Is there anything I should know about this officer, Detective?"
“We have a vehicle.” House responded as she shifted awkwardly in the small office. “Just parked outside, best if we handle this as quickly as possible. We have a few days to handle the situation, but a time limit is still a time limit. Best to be earlier rather than late.” She spoke, shifting to move out of the office, documents in hand.
“Good luck, detectives.” Camran farewelled with a nod. “I’ll be here working on the precinct's social media profile if you need me. I need to go and find an animal mascot for the teams page.” The big man shuffling out from behind the desk gingerly.
"Alright Detective, I'll follow your lead." The marshal stood up from his chair, turning to follow House out of the room. Being polite, he closed the door behind him without saying another word.
There was a small bump from inside as Camran collided with the back of the door that closed in his face.
“Ow! Don’t worry about me, I’m alright.” Came Camrans muffled voice from inside.
House moved deftly and with sudden purpose. Her movements, despite the synthetic motors than ran silently under her flesh, came with an organic motion and bend that gave a certain enthusiastic spring to her step. A woman usually idle brought to motion, House’s motivated step guided them quickly out of the station, past the passing greetings of other late duty officers, and to the car that she had arrived in.
She cursed under her breath, remembering the likely dried boots that now sat practically glued to the upholstery of the trunk. She glided to the driver's seat anyway, unlocking the doors and booting up the engine. Muscle-memory fingers glided over the A/C and radio controls, putting a quiet, but constant tempo of orchestral jazz through the quickly cooling vehicle.
A quick glance at her phone for any missed messages, and she was ready to go, glancing over to Marshal with a passive look. “You ready? I didn’t want to say it in front of Sergeant Camran, but I’ve got a feeling that his house might have a bit more than just some police memorabilia.”
Calloway looked over his left shoulder and raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by more? If you are concerned about some sort of automated defenses, I can assure you that I am more than capable." He leaned back in his seat looking forward again.
"Lets go. If we get finished at a reasonable time we can stop and get something to eat. I've found this nice diner on Header Street that might be nice."
Like all the others, it had a plain rockcrete exterior with some decorative panelling up one side. Solar panel arrays perched from around the corners of the roof, lit from below by the light from the street. The words Pinewood Acres were scrawled across the side of the building in a feigned fanciful hand above them as the lightbulb above the entrance flickered slightly.
A sliding door opened to the foyer of the block, an open air central space with doors lined along a shared balcony. Five stories of high density living, quiet now in the evening. The occasional sounds of entertainment drifting from closed doorways.
Captain O’Marley’s apartment had been on the third level, apartment 343. As they entered House’s communicator beeped with a message from precinct, the warrant of entry had been acquired.
Apartment buildings could be awkward, some had thin walls and others had all too sociable neighbors. House vaguely recalled having both at one point and dearly regretting her life choices up to that point before she took residence in a more solitary housing structure. Now the only neighbor she normally dealt with was the local mechanic. She sat in the car for a moment and she turned it off, preparing herself for possible nosy neighbors as they looked around, but otherwise prepared herself fairly quickly before stepping out and towards the building.
Entering the building, her first move was to approach the office of the apartment building, hoping to catch the landlord or one of his workers before they left for the day, already having the warrant pulled up on her phone. “Let’s try to keep it down so we don’t drag in any of the neighbors. I don’t take it Captain O’Marley was a social butterfly, but there’s still likely to be a person or two who make take interest in strangers peeking around the old man’s place.” She paused, thinking as they walked through the hallway. “Come to think of it, we might ask them about the man, see if he stood out to them at all. Any ideas before we find out a bit too much information about how the man lived behind closed doors?”
“Do you have cybernetics? Particularly something that works with,” He fished into a jacket pocket and pulled out a small device that looked much like a hearing aid, “this?” He offered it before really listening for a reply as he looked towards the apartment office. “Whether they give the key or not, I’ll see if we can get in inconspicuously and not make too much noise. If anyone asks, we’re the niece and nephew that just came to get some stuff from their uncle’s apartment.”
Calloway didn’t show it, but he was observing almost everything. From the ambient sounds to the muffled voices barely heard over it. His cybernetic brain was already trying to probe the police registry to get names, but he truly didn’t know if they had bothered to go through with the request of allowing him to tap into it remotely anyhow. He could at least still get something.
As the pair entered and Calloway began his search, the sudden sharp click of a deadbolt lock cut through the otherwise muffled noise of the night from one of the apartments, then another sharp click, then dozens as residents locked themselves in away from the pair with a staccato of bolts slamming home all around the pair. Just as suddenly as it started the drumming locks were gone, and the night resumed its muffled noise of bad television and talking into microphones.
The office was apparently a live-in affair as they approached, proudly proclaiming “Open 28 hours!” on the front. Written underneath in scrawled handwriting with white ink “Not open sundays or me day off!”
The Open 28 Hours sign was currently lit.
Observing the doors, Calloway could see no special security measures from the front at his distance, but the sound of deadbolts gave away at least some other locking systems. The doors were locked by simple ID pads that could read cards, RFID chips or even biometrics, pretty consumer grade security provided by the cheapest bidder. At least a few of the doors looked newer than the others.
Calloways query was met by about 200 years worth of incident reports in the building from the earliest days of colonization where a bout of fisticuffs had broken out among two of the original settlers. Most of the responses were from intoxication or medical intervention.
“I get the feeling they might not have been the biggest fans of him.” House mused as she strolled through the hallway. “That, or he was the kind of fellow who you’d know for years without knowing a thing about his professional life.” She idly considered the mention of cybernetics before shaking her head. “I don’t have a scrap of organic tissue in me. Cybernetics designed for organics always feel weird. Tries to treat my program like I’m made of meat.”
Pausing, she quickly counted the doors before looking for a stairwell. “I’d prefer to just ask for the key. Would certainly be a lot easier, unless the owner is one of those people who has some phobia or authority organizations. I’d prefer to leave breaking and entering for a last resort. It’s not exactly the best look, after all.” She already could see the headlines of two police arrested for the charge.
“Besides, talking with the owner would at least give us some basic knowledge of how he lived. I’d like to think he would be more than a recluse who never spoke with anyone around him.”
Calloway repocketed the device and looked to the office. "Plausible. And since you are not organic, the device was to allow for silent communications with the Marshal network. I am unsure if your cybernetics will interface with mine but the option still stands."
The truth was, Calloway was more mechanical than human ever since he was more or less turned to swiss cheese. Nevertheless, he didn't elaborate. Instead, he kept to the matter in hand.
"Anyway, you are more local than me, so I will follow your lead. Worst off, we'll play good cop bad Marshal."
“Let’s give the situation the benefit of the doubt before we turn to silent communications. People might find that odd in and of itself.” House responded before giving a brief knock on the office door.
The apartment block had four stairwells, one in each corner, along with loading docks on each floor for a hover pad to raise and lower heavy furniture, presumably kept somewhere on on the property. The quadrangle echoed with the sound of knuckle on metal, before there was a brief string of swearing from inside.
Half of the door raised up with a hiss as a tired, bleary face peered out at the two of them. A scraggly bushy black beard hid most of his features, but beneath the loose hair and beady eyes was a name tag on his white and red shirt that read “Lago”. A nasal, grumpy voice emerged from the beard as he leaned against the top of the half door and peered at them.
“A bit late for intakes, I don’t take in strays so two weeks up front and then-He spotted the two badges on their chest and his eyebrows came down as he looked at them again.
“If this is about the Klusky Brothers, I had no idea. I know nothing, I see nothing. You see cameras? No cameras.” He said flatly.
House stored the briefly mentioned names in the back of her mind before shaking her head, keeping her body in a more relaxed position rather than trying to openly display some sense of authority. “Not about that, no investigations.” She responded, her voice calm as well. “I’m sure you’re familiar that one of your long-term residents, Captain O’Marley recently passed away. Whether you knew it or not, he served for the Paranormal section of the local police for years before retiring.”
She paused, letting the information sink in, though the suddenly stern look she gave warned against the idea of suddenly interrupting. “We’d rather not bother you with in depth searches into your establishment, especially at this hour. We’d simply like to take the key to his room, and make sure that he didn’t leave anything behind that may be discriminatory, be it to the PD, or you. His heirs will be coming in the next few weeks to divvy up what he left behind, and it would be a bit of a show if they were to find something that would cause them to call us on a more impromptu call, with many more flashing lights.”
The manager’s beady eyes looked House up and down, eyes flicking to her badge and back as she spoke. Sniffing and rubbing his nose after she finished before peering back behind him and the light of a screen came up.
“343, huh? I thought that was natural causes…” The man muttered loudly, tapping into his machine. “Warrant, huh, alright…”
The man grabbed a keycard from behind the door and scanned it into his machine before holding it out to the pair from its lanyard with a grubby hand. With a loud sniff.
“343, third floor, up in the corner.” He said, pointing to the apartments past House’s left shoulder.
Calloway took the key and lanyard and silently nodded. “Alright, Detective, let’s go see what we’ll find.” Without quite waiting for her, the Marshal went off walking towards the exit to the office, stopping while holding the activation button to keep the door open.
He looked at the key in his right hand as if wondering what it had been through then out towards the apartments. He wasn’t from here, that was already proven, but what was another detective doing living in what equaled slums? His curiosity was written all over his face before he looked quietly back towards House and gave a half smile.
Similar questions rang through House’s mind, though she didn’t speak them. She wasn’t one to judge how people lived their lives, as she doubted that many others would find the way she lived in her own home to be comfortable. Following Calloway to the third floor, she waited until they were out of earshot of the manager to say anything else. “Usually I try not to judge people based on where they choose to live. However I have to think he either lived here prior to working with the PD, or had some secondary reasons for remaining in this area. I can’t think that he’d be popular, or that they would largely know his job, given their response to us showing up.”
Idly checking the doors as they passed, she stopped in front of Apartment 343, standing aside to allow Calloway access. “I don’t think knocking would be necessary. If someone is in there, they aren’t supposed to be.”
The Marshal waved the key around the lock before sticking it in a receptacle. The door locks leisurely unlocked as the key was removed. He tapped the door with his foot and it began to rise upward. He stood in the doorway, his optical cybernetics scanning the entrance from one wall to the other, night vision and thermals included.
Calloway stuck a hand in his duster and looked to House, his eyes no longer a natural color and more of lenses that adjusted to the light as he looked. He seemed to want to say something but didn’t, in favor of walking into the apartment looking for literally anything out of the usual for a low priced tenement.
He eventually found his words as he looked into a bathroom a few steps from the front door, “Do you have a profile on this detective? Something I may not have?” Other than that question he seemed to be recording absolutely everything under his breath.
The door was a regular faux-wood affair, heavy but nothing special, the lock clicked easily open as the key was waved in front of it, opening into a spartan example of early colonial settlement. Aside from the lingering scent of cigarette smoke and the box of stale donuts sitting on the dining table there was little evidence of habitation in the apartment.
To the left of the door was the kitchenette with dishes stood upright in the drying rack, the shelves were mostly bare but for some eating utilizes around the replicator. The only other touch of habitation was a crudely drawn human figure entitled “Grampa” signed by “Cassie” decorated with two gold stars hanging from the refrigerator.
Past the kitchen and dining table was a combined lounge room and office space, a desk and filing cabinets in one corner, and the entertainment suite facing a well-worn sofa. There was no computer at the desk, no way for the super computer to track his activities beyond eating and entering and exiting. A doorway to the right was shut, and on the wall next to the door was a key rack with a dozen or so immaculately labelled keys. Two doors of what appeared to be bedrooms faced each other at the end of the apartment, and a small beach chair was visible through the glass door to the veranda.
As Calloway entered the bathroom, which was the door to the right, he found it in a disturbed state, fragments of broken ceramics crinkled under his boots against the tiles. A towel rack was broken and pushed against the wall, the shower door was cracked, and larger ceramic pieces had been swept into a corner. The faint lingering traces of scent tickled his nostrils as he stood in this too small room, a sickly sweet smell that tickled the back of his tongue.
House noticed as Calloway went in the sound of a door creaking open in the next apartment, as a beady eye spied her through the crack. Sizing her up as the person inside spied out.
House paused in following as the other door opened, though she paid it only passing mind, meeting the occupants eyes just long enough to make it known that the other tennant had been seen. She didn’t expect much of it, thinking it no more than a curious neighbor trying to figure out why a dead neighbor's apartment suddenly had two people taking a stroll into it as if they owned the place.
“Nothing of note, he retired before I arrived on the planet.” She stepped in, closing the door behind them so that their peeping tom would have less audio to eavesdrop in on. “Though I find it curious that so much of his profile is expunged and blackmarked. I’d like to think that I’ve been around for a while, and nothing more than standard privacy has run by me so far. If I had to guess, he either ran into something legitimate for Paranormal, or had transferred from a more hard-hitting section of the Department and had a few real cases beneath his belt.”
Something rubbed House the wrong way about the apartment, and House frowned as she looked around. Was this how he lived? It seemed downright miserable. Even the less joyous people she had seen still held some form of design about their place of residence that made it their own. It felt like the whole place was lived in, only barely, and to the lowest possible requirement for it to be considered ‘inhabited.’
Was he a grandfather? The case file listed him as a father, but didn’t go further down the family than that. Did his wife live here with him before she died? It was difficult to tell, it seemed dreary enough for one person to live in, much less a husband and wife that apparently raised a daughter well enough to have a grandchild in contact with them. Then again, she couldn’t tell how long he had lived like this, nor how old his grandchild was.
“Doesn’t seem like the home of a caring grandparent. I don’t think he lived too well by himself.” She commented idly, slowly walking through the open areas of the apartment. “With an apartment like this, I find myself hoping more and more that he spent copious time away from these walls.” She spoke, turning her attention towards what she could only assume would be the bedroom.
As Calloway started to walk through the kitchen towards the rack of keys he nodded in agreement. “Everyone falls on hard times, not everyone gets out of them.” He stopped about a foot away and looked towards the second bedroom door left unopened.
The keys would wait as the man opened the door into the dark room, curious as to if this was a simple guest room or maybe something else. Something that might give insight to this man’s life. He spoke up slightly louder than earlier to compensate for the distance between him and the detective, “Regardless if he was between Scylla and Charybdis, we’ll find something. Would you mind checking the keys we passed?”
While his eyes were still glassed over for his optical scanners, there was a hint of uncertainty in his voice. Something similar to both new officers and veterans alike, the sound of someone who very much was concerned with the affairs of their targets. Simply put, he didn’t want to find out if something had happened to this dead detective’s family.
It reminded him of his daughter and the dire straits that they had been in following his divorce. A topic that was always on his mind despite his better judgement. After forcing it back down he began to look through the room to see what he might see.
The bedroom Calloway entered had the almost sterile scent of the rest of the apartment that hadn’t been the bathroom. In the middle of the room against the wall was a double bed with gray sheets, slightly crumpled on one side but carefully tucked back in, two empty grey pillows facing the door against the bedstead. The bedside dressers had small switches for the lights upon them, the same lights that began to glow on as the room detected his entry. The light of streetlamps outside filtering in through the polarized mesh in the window, the old fashioned curtains to augment it parted fully.
From a corner of the window peeked one of the strangest things they had seen yet in the apartment, the small ragged circle of a dreamcatcher hanging awkwardly, pushed up by the curtain. It was made from old wood and thread, decorated with the occasional frayed feather and dull beads hanging below it.
Houses’ survey of the open spaces showed a closed computer sitting on top of the desk, along with storage drives in cubby holes and even paper media. Searching the apartment’s internal network revealing no connection to any of these devices. House knew that some detectives kept sensitive case files, but this level of machine isolation beyond what most detectives were willing to bother with.
The key rack held a half dozen sets of keys, all with different colors and labels on them.
House put a mental note on the computer and its odd isolation, before moving over to the keys, deciding to handle the likely smaller detail before tackling what could be a digital stockpile of information. Rather quickly, she looked through the half dozen colored labels, figuring they would most likely be for the house, a vehicle, and perhaps a few other personal containers. She knew that police and military had a tendency to have their stuff locked up a good bit more, but she had a hard time believing that he kept the keys for his locker at the department.
“He’s got a computer in there, completely isolated from any networks.” She noted as she briefly scanned the keys, as well as their state of use, trying to figure out if she could visually distinguish which ones he used the most.
The silver hexagonal shapes of the keys gleamed up at her, bar one. One was an older steel device for a physical lock, it’s key tag was red and filled with a slip of paper with one word on it. “Cabin.”
Dismissing the room, sans the dreamcatcher, he walked into the room with the computer. "In this day and age, something about this seems wrong." He debated on trying to break the computer here and now. The issue was if this deceased man's paranoia would have deleted everything before his death or loaded it with some kind of virus should he physically interface with it. He scanned it over and over before finally turning toward the door House had left from.
"Can we confiscate this? It might have all his notes and the like," he bent down to inspect the hookups and general state of the machine, "Cut off from everything, what's the best place to put your case notes and confidential items than on an isolated computer?"
House wasn’t aware of him owning a cabin, but it was something to note. Quickly pocketing the set of keys, she turned towards Calloway, eyeing the computer as she approached. “The computer is more likely to hold his day to day life. Hopefully it’s more populated than his apartment.” Though the idea of an insanely crammed and unorganized computer did cause her to hesitate on such a thought. “Let’s go ahead and take it, we’ll do a once-over for anything important we should take with us, but I don’t think the neighbors are too enthused to have us peeking around.”
Holding the keys up, notably the one marked for the cabin, she flashed it to Calloway. “Look for anything about a cabin, could just be some summer property, but given his lifestyle here, I have a hard time believing that it’s as simple as that.” She considered the idea of it just being a rotted log building at this point, but it was still something worth investigating. “If we can find out where it is, we might have a second location to find.”
The un-networked computer was too big to fit in a pocket, but small enough to carry under one's arm. The warrant did allow the seizure of any items that might be of interest, and this computer definitely qualified as such. The desk was a humble pigeon-holed affair made of balsa wood with multiple drawers on one side and a solid, but basic chair with a pillow on the seat and steel arms.
The Marshal began disconnecting the computer from its hookups, carefully checking wires before removing them as if memorizing them and where they went. He finally pulled the power cord and wrapped it around the core before picking the whole thing up and holding it under his left arm.
"Alright, it's packed up. You think it's like a wooden cabin or some sort of ship's cabin?" He walked out of the room and began walking back towards the kitchen, looking at House as he passed.
"When we get back to the car, I'll jack into this thing and see what I can find." He gave a warm grin and went back to simply wandering back around the apartment looking at everything.
House dedicated a few extra minutes to investigating the apartment, mainly looking for anything that stood out, like under the desk or in its drawers, as well as any other nooks and crannies that may be hiding anything. She didn’t expect to find anything like a secret storage device or anything of that kind, mainly she just didn’t want to hear in a week that they had somehow missed a gun or something else that should have been claimed. Satisfied as she gave the apartment a once over.
“Let’s try to wrap up before the neighbors get too riled up by us digging around. They didn’t seem the friendly type.” House added as she glanced over at the less-than-stellar restroom. She decided to not offer her own connection to the computer, as she wasn’t too keen into plugging into random computers on a whim. The truck had been one thing, but there was no telling what kind of personal stuff people put on laptops.
Her quick search revealed little of interest in the kitchen, restroom, and bedroom that hadn’t already been noticed. An archive box in the closet revealed more children's drawings, but nothing immediately of interest. The drawers of the desk revealed a bunch of loose odds and ends, a few more notebooks with a tight, cursive script with case details on them.
It was when House looked under the desk itself that she noticed something odd. The wood underneath the desk had been carved with a strange prismatic symbol, and the grooves impregnated with a strange gold metallic substance the gleam faintly to her robotic eyes. As a cop, House knew this particular location was often used by people in dangerous professions to store hold-out weapons in case of ambush, but this was no weapon that she could tell.
“Alright, I’m done when you are,” The Marshal adjusted the computer under his arm as he looked back towards her. He had pulled a pack of cheap imported smokes from his coat but before pulling the one roll that popped out of the small metal box to be grabbed by the lips, he raised an eyebrow. “Did you find something?”
Grabbing the roll with his lips, he pulled the box back, which lit it as the end passed the last inch of the box. He stowed the pack back in a duster pocket and took a small pull, blowing little smoke out towards the doorway. His eyes adjusted, the fake pupil lenses adjusting to zoom his vision towards House’s shoulder.
Besides the computer, the notebooks were the other thing she grabbed, shoving them into a box, deciding that their case details could be considered some small breach of information. Even if it wasn’t private information, it was better than such information be sent out appropriately, instead of being found and dispersed as the offhand notes of a dead man.
When she found the symbol carved in the underside of the desk, she frowned, taking a handful of snapshots of it to inspect later. She could immediately recognize it, but given humans, it could be a few hundred thousand things, something that called for actual searching instead of idle inspection. “Just a few notebooks, and something else to research later. Doesn’t seem like he had too much here.” She called back to the Marshal.
With that, she quickly closed all the drawers and closets of the apartment, trying to leave it as basically presentable, and give the impression that it hadn’t just been rummaged around for the first time since its occupants death. Motioning for the Marshal to follow, she’d quickly exit the room, moving then at a casual pace to return the key back to the landlord.
As they opened the door out of the apartment they came face to face with the prying eyes of a hunched over old lady who was peering at their door from her open one. Her beady raven like eyes glinted as she saw the badges on their chests before she peered up at them, her frail voice wheezing out of a whiskey soaked throat.
“Oh, dear. Was Mister O’Marley in some kind of trouble, Officer? I do hope it’s nothing serious.” She asked in a perfected granny voice.
As she spoke the woman shuffled out onto the walkway to gently partially block their way out.
House would have preferred that literally anybody else had told the lady, but she guessed that she was either not present or simply did not notice when the body was originally removed from the premises. Though, that brought to question who raised the issue until the body was found. It was exceedingly common for socially isolated individuals to remain unfound until their body had rotted to the point where neighbors could smell it, and determine that something was wrong.
Was it their place to share? Possibly not, but this woman seemed innocent enough. “Unfortunately, ma’am, Detective O’Marley passed away a few days ago.” She spoke bluntly, but tried to keep her voice warm on the matter. He didn’t seem the type to keep guests, but it was possible that she was one of his only friends in the area. “We were just inspecting his home to ensure that it was ready for his inheritors to take over.”
Ada’s assessment of the woman revealed she was probably a fellow retiree like O’Marley, however her beady eyes and long look she gave Calloway with the computer under his arm told her she was interested more for personal reasons than benevolent ones.
“Oh? Oh dear, just what did Mister O’Marley do to warrant a visit from officers?” She leaned in closely and whispered conspiratorially. “Was it anything salacious?”
House tried her best to hide that uncomfortable feeling as it felt that the woman didn’t entirely grasp what she had said. Keeping a blank face, suppressing the natural movements of her face, she began to speak once more, keeping the warm touch to her voice as she tried to explain once more. “He’s done nothing wrong, I assure you. It’s simply that he… Died, a few days ago, and we came by to collect anything confidential relating to his job at the police department.” She responded honestly, hoping it would be enough to sate the woman's curiosity, or at least broach the seeming lack of understanding.
The old lady looked slightly disappointed at that, her face turning from a forced smile to a frown for a second before catching onto what House had said.
“So he used to work in the police department, you say?” She asked intensely, leaning forwards to get more gossip.
The marshal suddenly loomed behind the detective, his voice combing up the hints of his drawl into more of a warm and polite either to hide his normal voice or to gain a reaction. He sounded ridiculous. His badge twinkled in the moonlight, and his eyes changed to a warm brown.
“Yes he was, Ma’am, and a wonderful one at that. We’ll have a few words to say come later when his obituary is back from the printers. We’d love to stay and chat, but I have to get back home in time to cook my daughter dinner. We’ll have a statement and a reading of his obituary when the family submits it.” He gave a warm smile and nodded to the old woman, “Have a good evenin’ miss.”
He didn’t wait for a response, just turned and began walking back towards the car as if he’d won the day or was playing some stereotypical western lawman, “Come on miss House.”
House, thankful for the clever exit of her partner, gave a curt nod to the elderly woman before turning and following her partner. She was good at her job, she would like to think, though she had many jobs over the years. However her skills with people were never particularly strong. Especially when the people got… Older.
It was a strange thought, knowing that it was likely that she had been around just as long, if not longer, than the old woman. Yet, her mind seemed blanked at a point, memories not coming back to her, instead seeming like a mist that she had invariably wandered out from, everything from before blurred and uncertain. It concerned her, that humans seem to age and die while she remains, unphased.
Or perhaps it had already begun to take its toll. How many people had she forgotten? How many kindly neighbors did she leave behind?
She shook her head of such thoughts, instead moving forward. “I do want to check his other properties.” She spoke softly to him. “Just to be certain.”
The old woman pouted as they left, watching the pair of detectives go before quietly slinking back to her own apartment to call the rest of the girls and discuss what had just transpired at great length.
As the pair passed, a hand stretched out of the managers door for the keypass, which House dutifully returned.
The car was still waiting where they had parked it, it chirped in cheerful greeting as it unlocked for them to enter. As they got in and shut the doors, the car chirped awake, the dashboard lit up as a message appeared for their cruiser. A window appeared on the HUD with bright blocky neon letters.
“PARANORMAL. NON-URGENT. Good work on finding that laptop, return to station and left VINA crack it overnight. Get some sleep. Camran.”
The car sat waiting for the controls to be taken, the glow of street lamps outside the only disturbance in the black night.
“Alright, we’ll go look at this lake house tomorrow.” The Marshal stretched in his seat, the quiet clicking of mechanical joints on top of stiff, cracking muscles breaking the silence. One of his eyes flashed a map while the other went straight ahead ready for the road. “Are we going back to the station Detective?”
House simply nodded her head, not having to give it much thought. “Of course.” She responded. They had to drop off the laptop regardless, and with the plan set for the next day, she was ready to wrap everything up and relax for the rest of the day. Maybe she’d do such exciting things as hand-scrape the solidified muck off her spare boots, or just throw them out with the trash, depending on how salvageable they were.
She sat back and relaxed in the car seat, feeling largely unsatisfied. She simply felt that something else had to be paired to this, something more than just an old man who died and left nothing behind but vague connections to his family. Maybe it was that connection that bothered her, how there were people he clearly cared about in his life that just weren’t there. What kept them apart? Did he want to leave this backwater town? What kept him behind if so?
Something about the whole ordeal just felt… Unfair, like there had to be more to it to justify how things ended up. She simply couldn’t accept it, and she couldn’t grasp entirely why. If nothing held him back, why did he not leave? Why not find something that he was willing to stay with, instead of that empty apartment?
She closed her eyes, the whirring of the car her main focus. “I don’t trust it, personally. There’s something more.” She admitted quite simply. “We’ll find out tomorrow, I suppose.”
The trip to the police station passed quietly in the night, dull orange streetlamps flitting past as they travelled across town back to the precinct before arriving in the parking lot, the night shift desk sergeant nodded in greeting, accepting the laptop from them and placing it into an extra large Evidence bag to be plugged into the supercomputer and its contents pulled open and sliced out for examination by VINA whenever it had a moment.
The two detectives were now free until morning.
They each had living quarters, House had her small townhouse cottage wall to wall with her neighbours, while Calloway had a more compact apartment since he had only just arrived in town on liaison. For the nightlife there was a diner around the corner favored by some officers in the precinct while bars and clubs kept a variety of atmospheres from subdued to party going well into the night. The holograms at the exit flashed to warn them of an approaching rainstorm that would last until morning, perhaps it was a good thing they hadn’t left immediately for the forest cabin after all.
Calloway pulled a foreign cigar from a small leather pouch from inside his duster, a light green flame lit at it’s tip as the plasma lighter turned its dimly-glowing leaves alight. For whatever reason, he hadn’t left yet.
The Marshal was posted up on the side of a different kind of a vehicle, a clean and very out of place concealed police interceptor, noticeably altered with not-so-noticable armored plates, windows, and a fusion engine that was just a bit too big for the body all tied together with a glossy black scheme with subdued insignias of the Alliance Marshals only visible when the light hit the edge just right. All in all, it was a hulk of a car, probably able to keep up with the 600 Kilometer per house maglev trains that darted across the planet's surface.
His cybernetic eyes were glowing a light blue, flashing images across his field of vision of the detective’s personnel file that the department had on hand while taking a long drag and blowing out a blue-tinted cloud out into the winds. He finally decided to send her a message through the department’s communications link as he dropped into his car.
“Meet me at the lake house in the morning, take two badges and close off the last road in. We’ll turn the place over.”
House had left the job as easily as she would remove a coat, turning things in properly and neatly, giving a neat goodbye and vanishing into her personal vehicle, headlights driving her away from the police department and back into the murky civility that consumed the town. She was not someone who partied, or particularly had any strange or interesting place to be late at night. With complete honesty, sleep was something a bit more optional, though it helped her reformat memories and compress her diagnostics and minute repairs into feasible timeframes.
There was also a strange peace in that nighttime void that sleep brought about. It was hard to explain the dreams she had, but perhaps they were coded in. After all, so much effort had been made to have her look human, that she could easily see additional functions being added to make her sleep. If only she could remember why, such memory banks had been overwritten too many times to recall. Or wiped. She couldn’t quite recall that either.
Turning into her driveway, she idled in her car for a few precious minutes as she closed her eyes, just listening and feeling the hum of the thoughtless engine. It was like a white noise that tempted her into a lull, and she slowly stirred to turn off the car, climbing into the growing cold of the night as she braved the short trip into her home. Perhaps her neighbor was home, but without want to bother the kindly woman, House simply moved to her couch, deft and well tuned hands flicking the remote of the tv into action, cheesy comedy shows immediately beginning to filter into the living room with episodes she had seen before but simply enjoyed the noise of.
The next morning came slowly as most did in Mudwater, heavy cloud sat over the sky making dark last longer and feel more cramped than usual. Chilly wind curved elegant around corners and got under coats and behind ears. Dawn would be late and slow, the puddles from the night before still lingering on the ground.
Lucerian stirred awake to the gentle chime of an alarm, amidst the tangled mess of sheets and limbs on his bed. The roof of his apartment staring back at him as pre-dawn glow from streetlamps eeked through the gaps in the blinds.
“The time is now: 05:30 AM.” Came a cheerful voice from his bedside alarm.
An annoyed growl left Lucerian’s lips. His scarred face glared daggers at the alarm as he rolled over and wrapped an arm around the man next to him in bed, shuffling to get comfy against Nathaniels warm back.
“Why the hell are you waking me up so damn early?” Nathaniel smiled over his shoulder and chuckled.
“Shouldn’t you be getting ready for work, love? You know you need your coffee and to take your time waking up or you are miserable.”
Luc blinked, taking half a second to process what had been said with a groan.
“What? I work today? Bloody abyss.” He grumbled and hopped up. “I don’t know why I bother. They all lack brain cells larger than the chickens their ancestors raised.”
Nathaniel smiled fondly. “Your elvish superiority is showing dear.”
Luc sighs and hurried to get dressed. He got on his uniform, and put his pants on backward, to begin with, before correcting himself. Finally in his suit and with his long black hair brushed down his back and behind his pointed ears he goes to the kitchen and fills his massive cup up with pitch-black coffee. He kissed Nathaniel a final time before he left the house they shared in a nice part of town.
He arrived at the Mudwater Police Station a whopping fifteen minutes late, he walked in gracefully slow and sipped his coffee. His regal grace and grouchy expression dared anyone who saw him to try and say something.
He made it through the front doors and up to the desk sergeants booth where Sergeant Camran, Luc’s immediate superior was busy fussing with a small possum-like animal with big wide eyes being plyed with little treats into posing cutely in a tiny police uniform. Camran making little noises as he took the little police cap and tried to put it on the animal, who promptly knocked it off and stared up at him chewing on his little treat.
Captain Val appeared out of his office like a lightning bolt for the exit, his civilian jacket on over his police shirt, badge and service firearm off.
“You’re late, Issani! Tell Fletcher to wake you up earlier.” He said loudly without even looking as he ended his watch and went home himself. “You missed your brief, ask Camran to fill you in.”
Luc frowned and eyed the Captain critically.
“Leave Nathaniel out of this. He doesn’t get enough time with me as it is. Abyss knows you would rather him deal with me…”
Luc scowled fiercely and approached Camran with confidence. He looked to the little animal with gentle, almost sympathetic eyes.
Camran looked up in startled surprise, looking left and right before tucking the little animal under the desk and trying to look professional.
“Uh, um, yes. Welcome back, Issani. Did you enjoy your day off? Apparently something is afoot, we’re just waiting for your colleagues to come in and then you get to check out a cabin in the woods!” He said excitedly.
“Very well. I will get ready. What do I need to prepare? Anything specific? What do we expect to find there? I will likely need the regular gear but any additional gear or preparations can be made while I wait. No sense wasting time, thats pointless.”
He grumbled in a grouchy tone and sipped from his large coffee.
Camran grabbed a folder and opened it quickly, checking it and nodding. Pusing it over the counter towards Luc.
“Here you go, retired Paranormal officer, died suddenly of a massive Heart Attack. House went to his place last night and checked for any momentos or a service weapon that shouldn’t be left in civilian hands. There was a reference to a cabin in the woods, and a key. We just need to check what files were on the computer, and then you’ll head out to the cabin to check that too. Should be an easy day.” He said, tapping the photo of a friendly smiling old man attached to the file.
House was almost never late, given that her requirements for sleep were excessively minor, if present at all. She had shown up rather early, if anything. The first thing she had done of course was throw the pair of boots she had worn in the spill the day before in the garbage, though at that point they appeared more to be wearable cinder blocks than any proper form of boot.
She took her time in the Police Department, slowly making her mug of coffee while she waited for the others to arrive. Coffee, surprisingly, stirred enough taste and response in her nerves to make it worth making. The intense heat stirred her in a bizarre way, and her body was able to recognize caffeine in a way that gave her that slight awareness high that the others obviously used it for. Casually walking back into the office space, mug in hand, the android woman glanced to Luc, offering a short downward nod. “Good morning, Lucerian.” She offered, though she knew she hadn’t had much prior experience with the elf. House still wore her dark coat, both hands wrapped about her mug as she took a sip. “I take it you’ll be assisting us on the case?”
Luc took hold of the offered folder and read over the details fast but carefully. He always read fast but managed to get the information every time.
“Understood. I am sure it will be quite dull. I am ready whenever.” He drawled in a low voice and looked at House.
He scowled at the use of his full name. Eyeing House he considered her critically.
“Luc. I despise my full name. It makes me think of my family. Assholes they are.” He said, before he shook his head and sighed.
“There may not be a gunfight, but I am sure finding this interesting.” The Marshal’s voice was a mix of tired and awake, though his face did not show it. Having just now walked in with his own morning cup of coffee, his other hand was occupied in holding a half eaten crepe. Evidently, he got his breakfast on the way over.
Cybernetic eyes looked over the man he did not know, cross referencing the police database just the same as he did House the day before. “Unlike last night, Detective House, I would prefer to not be disturbed. Since I guess this is all three of us, shall we make our game plans?”
Camran looked between the trio before coughing a little and standing up, bringing the folder with him.
“Well, since we’re all here, lets get into the office for the briefing. No point doing it out here where anyone might be listening.” He said conspiratorially before he scooped the tiny mammal under his arm and cradled it.
He walked back to the Paranormal office and its cramped space amidst the archives, unlocking the door and squeezing around the desk again before he gently placed the critter onto the desk. It looked about the room for a few seconds before skittering up the shelves of the archives and staring down at the group with its large bulbous eyes as Camran took a seat.
There were only two chairs in the room, and taking both of them meant the occupants were already sharing shoulder space hard against the archives, so one would be obliged to stand.
“Now, VINA managed to rip everything out of that laptop and examine it last night, she found nothing of immediate interest but the files haven’t been reviewed by staff yet. Although that rarely turns up anything new, anyway.” Camran said.
He took one of the pages out of the folder and held it up, it contained the address and approximate coordinates of the cabin in the woods that had been referenced in the other media they had uncovered. A few hours out of town, along some less than ideal roads but good enough to get through even after the rain. It also had a grainy black and white picture of the cabin taken from directly above, although the date on that was a few years old.
The cabin part appeared to be exactly what it said it was, an L shaped weatherboard cabin set slightly off the ground. A pipe led out of the cabin to a septic tank near the back of the property, there was even what was clearly a small shed and an outhouse out the back. Surrounding the property were dense trees of a forest.
“VINA confirmed the location and ownership of this cabin, it’s out of the way, but it should still exist. I wonder just what you’ll find, could be some really creepy stuff.” Camran finished, handing them the file.
“Any questions?” He asked, looking at them excitedly.
“It’s too early for creepy.” was all that Calloway said, followed by a very leisurely sip of his coffee. His cybernetics silently copied information from VINA for a mental backup of the layout of the cabin as well as terrain information. His eyes reflected small green checkmarks for a split second before going back to their idle blue.
The Marshal’s gaze finally fell back on House, then the newcomer, and then back to House as if waiting on either of their questions or an agreement to leave. He did not like the idea of a cabin in the woods trope, but that kind of stuff only happened in movies and terrible horror novels.
The ride to the cabin began with a stretch on the motorway out of town, the long flat road powering them away from civilization into the darker parts of the world, where sharp step hills increasingly affected the course of the road they followed. The motorway itself shrinking as it was further removed from the town, slinking around the harsh barren hills and cutting between the thick boroughs of trees.
The car turned off at a non-descript exit, just a sliver of road added to give vehicles a chance to slow down before turning. At this point civilization was clearly left behind the occupants of the car as it trundled on a barely sealed road between trees that barely let any of the already overcast light through to the ground below, the spaces between trunks filled with darkness and dread.
Very occasionally there would be a gate or a driveway just off the road with a small estate or other building behind it, but the car drove further on. Finally after three hours of cruising the navigation system pinged they were nearing their destination.
The first thing they saw when they looked up was the wooden fence of the property next door, a red and white weatherboard design with a small farm and barn in the back. But very prominently hung the bloodied body of a Black Elk over a log at the front of the property. Wet blood still pooling on the ground below it and the sign of a large caliber bullet wound on its side.
The car passed this property and pulled up to the cabin next to it, there was no fence, and the green painted logs blended pleasantly with the rest of the forest around it. A wide open yard at the front left plenty of room for the car to pull up. The large sceptic tank, left unburied, was visible as they pulled in, as was the tiny toolshed to the right side nearer the neighboring property. The outhouse too was visible further back into the property.
The windows of the cabin were shuttered, but the yard and trees around it were well maintained, almost homely were it not for the wild nature of the forest around them. The tyretracks on the driveway indicated regular use and even the rare plants that Captain O’Marley had decided to cultivate looked in good health.
The car beeped that they had arrived as it came to a stop.
House had been largely quiet as she continued to go over the available information in her head. It was a lot of simple and mundane information, but she preferred going over it herself as opposed to looking at what VINA produced on the matter. She found VINA to be too bland, too… Objective. She didn’t feel that the AI was able to properly portray the real person. It was the kind of clinical groupings of words and perspectives that fit into a crime documentary, not an actual person. It presented it like a plot of events, not things that happened to a real person.
She frowned, it felt like there were gaps in knowledge. Something in this man's life was missing, something that she hoped would be more apparent once they investigated the man’s second property. “Can’t say I’m a fan of VINA.” House finally commented as she climbed out of the car. “-In regards to cases like this, of course. Doesn’t feel like there’s any real sympathy in how she phrases things. All too objective. People aren’t like this. Captain O’Marley certainly wasn’t.”
Calloway pulled a small cigar out of a duster pocket and lit it, another of the otherworldly ones with the green flame, slurring his speech as he spoke around the hand-rolled import. “People, to an extent, are machines Detective House, but I do have to agree.” He stepped out of the car and upwind of everyone as a formality, cybernetic eyes searching the grounds from one side to the other.
“Can’t say I like what he’s done with the place, but it does feel nice and away from everything. How do you want to play this out, y’all?”
The grounds remained unchanged from when they pulled up, a gentle breeze stirred the trees gently but the property resembled a well-maintained townhouse except for the unburied sceptic tank in its pit in the back.
It's not that VINA lacked the care of the people here, or valued the Homeworlds more, House was fully aware of the logistics behind the decision. It was merely more reasonable to dedicate the primary attention of the machine mind to where the largest gatherings of its flock were. For anywhere else, a child process worked better than turning its massive attention to the far reaches of nowhere. For some odd, unusual reason, House felt more at ease knowing the full force of that watchful spirit did not linger here as strongly. Something about it made her deeply uneasy.
Her eyes scanned the structure as she inspected the property. She didn't head directly inside, instead beginning to circle it slowly. "Heard of a few people that get a house built in the middle of nowhere. Decide to stock up on supplies, live out their days where people can't bother them. Solitude in their minds better than the modern age." She shrugged, before shaking her head. "Can't say I blame them, easy to feel overwhelmed these days. Mudwater's quiet enough for most folks, but some people need more than 'quiet enough.'" She spoke as she looked for anything unusual, only briefly glancing at the septic tank that lay exposed to the skies. Unusual, but not unheard of. The Captain hardly seemed in shape enough to finish the job before his passing.
As House circled the property she could see the pipes from the underside of the house going into the sceptic tank, the dirt piled around the sceptic tank was covered in grass indicating it had been here for a long time. Two thing caught her eye, the sceptic tank was far too large for a one occupant cabin, and the uncovered hatch of the tank was padlocked. The key was probably one from the captains keyring.
He began a turn back, briefly looking over towards House before looking towards the shed's door. "Alright, hoss, let's see what you keep in your shed."
If there was something dark like a hidden murder victim stored inside, the body would have been inside for months, if not years. Even then, she found the thought laughable.
House herself decided to let Calloway have his fun searching the shed. She wasn't too keen on digging through cobwebs and mold to see whatever tools the man kept, so she instead moved to the house's front door. She looked for any sign of security, like cameras or other deterrents, before pulling out the keyring and trying the door to get inside.
But as Calloway looked towards the back of the shed he found barrels stacked two layers high against the back wall of the shed. Upon the dull painted steel was stenciled the letters in black paint “HCL”.
Houses’ key from O’Marleys apartment fit easily into the lock, there were no security measures she could detect, and when she opened the door it was clear that the cabin hadn’t been used in a few months. The cabin interior was quiet, with more than a few cobwebs. Second-hand furniture laid around a rustic décor. The cabin was divided into three main rooms. The main living area that House had entered through, and two smaller rooms at the back of the cabin, the one of the left was a kitchen and pantry, with cupboards, sink, and oven. While the other had a metal frame bed with neat, warm sheets tidily made, and a large metal footlocker underneath it. The cabin did have a bathroom on the far end of the living room, but the caked dust in it made it clear it had not been used in many years.
The lighting of the house would tell if it still had electricity, which wasn't always a guarantee once you strode away from the main town. Some shacks connected to the grid distantly would eventually just go dark, for one reason or another. She knew a handful of people who showed up on the planet only to build a cabin in the middle of nowhere, slowly becoming a recluse from everything and everyone. To those types, it seemed, even electricity seemed too unwanted of a guest.
But the Captain was not one of those people. He was a family man, with a wife and children. Even if their relations may not have been the best, which was information she wasn't privy to, he clearly held some connection to them. It's what made her all the more curious about the case. Even on the same planet, families had difficulty finding the time or want to visit their elderly relatives. Not to imply any fault in that, but House was simply trying to find some reason behind... Anything, that would suggest something more was behind this man in his waning years besides just waiting for death in a quiet apartment, so disconnected that he had been dead for days before his neighbors were even aware.
Realizing that she was standing in the silence of the building, she moved to the kitchen, driven by a need to know something. That septic tank, it bothered her, paired with the unused bathroom. Was a faulty tank the cause of the abandonment, unable to replace something so necessary so he simply opted for retirement in the town? She turned the handle on the sink, testing to see if the plumbing was still even active.
Moving onward, she began slowly moving from room to room, looking for anything of note or importance that spoke of what he did here in the waning months of inhabitance. Any sign of what he had left behind, or simply did not have the time or energy to take with him.