A Serpent in the Citadel, Chapter Four: The Turian Inquisition
This is Chapter 4 of my sci-fi detective noir short story. If you’re one of those weirdos who likes to start from the beginning, choose something earlier below:
On the bright side, I hadn’t been arrested. They drove me to their local station, took my pistol for safe-keeping, and had me cool my heels in a spare office. The small room made Madeline’s look ostentatious. I wondered if decorations were against the rules. The place was doing a brisk business, with a bunch of drunk and disorderlies along with some busted brawlers. It reminded me fondly of my military career.
I browsed the extranet while I waited, looking at crime and other reports from Tayseri Ward to see if I could connect a dot to anything. Nothing jumped out and to do it seriously would have taken a dedicated info broker, which I wasn’t going to pay anyway, but it gave me something to do. After a while the door opened and two C-Sec officers stepped in. One was my friend, now cleaned up and in an armored uniform, the blue a close match to her uncovered facial tattoo. The other was human, maybe forty or so, with close-cropped gray hair clinging to the sides of his otherwise bald head. He was in civvies.
Plain-clothes spoke first. “Even uglier than you said, Sev.” He gave me a sneer like he thought he was funny. I guessed he was trying to show me that I wasn’t going to get special treatment just because we matched race. My entire life had been a long seminar on that subject. He walked to one of the desks and half-sat on it, looking at me like I was a public defender. “So are you really a private eye, like Mariana Trench?”
“Sure,” I said. He was referring to a series of movies starring a hanar floating around in a fedora and trenchcoat. “’This one believes that it is witnessing the initiation of a mutually beneficial acquaintance.’”
My turian friend didn’t join in on the antics. “Mr. Blake, do you know why you are here?” The tag on her uniform gave me her full name, Severa Martius. Her face and folded-arm posture was all business.
I gave a half-shrug. “I walked into a bar and asked about scoring drugs in front of an undercover cop.” It was the obvious answer, but my gut said there was more to it. The other guy gave a snort and shook his head, like I’d admitted to being an idiot. I didn’t have a solid counter-argument.
She clicked a talon against her folded arm. Her dark eyes were hard and fixed on mine. I started to wonder if my kinetic barrier would hold up when she snapped. “What, exactly, do you think you are doing?” To my surprise, her voice was still level and measured. The turian had a lot of self-control.
Of course, that meant I had to test it. “Waiting to see what I get charged with. I still have a few on my bucket list I’m hoping to clear.”
She snapped out a hand and dragged me forward until our faces were inches apart. “Keep this up and your bucket list will end up closed. Permanently.” She shoved me back into the chair while her partner chuckled. To my surprise, though, she regained her composure. Severa paced a little, which was all the room could stand. “You’re a civilian agent, working a case for the Alliance. Which is classified. And you end up in a bar we’re working undercover, asking about the very thing we’re trying to crack. In front of someone you picked up on as C-Sec before you did it. Knowing we were working it.” She paced a bit more. She stopped, lifting one folded arm to tap a talon on her chin. “Please, tell me, are you as galactically stupid as your actions make you out to be?”
I had to think about that one. “You know, when you put it that way….” It really had been stupid. Hell, I knew it when I did it.
That got a chuckle from her plain-clothes partner. “Hey, at least he’s honest.”
“Shut up, Weaver,” she said, the phrase smooth and worn from a lot of use. She focused on me. “What’s your case? What are you working on?”
“It’s classified. I’m sorry.” I waited under her glare.
She broke first. “Give me something, and I won’t have to arrest you for attempting to buy narcotics and assaulting an officer. Do me a favor and spare me the paperwork.” She was appealing to something that stretched across species and star systems: a dislike of forms and busywork.
I resisted, barely. It was a universal appeal. “You can’t make those charges stick. We both know that.”
Severa nodded, ceding me the point. “True,” she said, leaning over me and putting her arms on the armrests. I started wondering if she really did want to kiss me. “However, I can hold you on the charges while I accidentally lose the paperwork, forget about you, and have to apologize profusely in a week for denying your liberty through unfortunate bureaucratic oversight.” She leaned back. “I imagine your employer will be upset with such a delay to your case.”
She could do just that, but it was the worst she could do. I was glad to have the threat out and done with so I could negotiate it away and maybe come out with something. I sighed like I was cowed. “Look,” I said, “I’ll tell you what I can. There was an incident a couple years ago on an Alliance base. I’m looking for a couple witnesses. There was red sand involved. Somebody mentioned the bar as a contact point before they disappeared. The Alliance is keen to keep this quiet. There’s fear that it’s big and they can’t take a chance on it getting out. Hence an independent agent.” I shifted. “I’m just trying to do my job, you know?”
I was hoping that would appeal to them. Everything I said was true, from a certain perspective, so I didn’t think they’d read my body language as lying. I hoped that giving some information could make them amenable to returning the favor. If they didn’t bite I had nothing to lose, since this was all I had to go on.
Severa didn’t give the impression that she cared about my job, sadly. “Doing your job could get you killed. Or even worse, it could get me killed.” She did more of the talon-tapping. “Tell you what. Give me a copy of that picture you showed the bartender and I’ll run it through our vid archives, see if she pops. Also, hand over any unclassified information you have. It may give us a break in the case. I’ll keep you posted with what shakes out.”
I already regretted showing that pic. If I were smart, I’d have gone for a vague description. If I were smart, I wouldn’t be here at all, so no point crying about it. “Sorry. I can’t do that. As much as I’d like to let you do all my legwork. Tell you what I can do, though.” I popped up my omni-display and ran through the files. “These vials were found during the investigation. Anything look familiar?”
They both took a look. There were 4 images, from various angles. “Pretty standard looking vials,” Weaver said. “Transport method of choice among those who can afford better than a baggie.”
“Wait,” Severa said, pointing at one of the images. “Can you enhance this one?”
“I’ll do you one better and give them to you,” I said.
She gave me a quick nod and opened up her own omni. A few seconds later she had the images up on a bigger screen on the office vid-monitor. She zoomed in on the one that caught her eye and did some cleanup of the image. “Right there,” she said, pointing to a small mark on the metal cap on one vial. It was tiny, less than three millimeters, but it was definitely a mark and not a scratch or corrosion. It was circular with some patterned detail, but only part of it was visible in the picture. “Look familiar, Weaver?” She punched some commands into her omni-tool and another image appeared on the screen alongside. It was another laser-etched stamp, but the whole symbol was visible. It was a stylized snake forming a circle, its tail wrapped around and merging into the body behind the serpent’s head. The pattern I’d seen in the first image was supposed to be scales.
Her partner whistled. “I’ll be damned. Good eye, Sev.”
She looked at me. “I need you to tell me everything you know about this. I don’t care how classified your employer has made it.” Her voice and face made it clear I had little wiggle room.
I wiggled anyway. “Tell me why I should.”
Weaver gave his ugly little laugh. “Want me to disable the cameras, Sev?” It wouldn’t have been the first time I’d been worked over by the authorities under those circumstances.
To my surprise, the turian shook her head. She paced again for a little bit, but I knew I’d given her something important and she wanted more. My position had improved. I lit a cigarette and waited.
“Alright,” she said, talking as she moved. “That mark is one being used by a new distributor that popped up about a year ago. They muscled in on some smaller groups here in Tayseri. We had reports of intra-gang violence around then but it never reached priority.” Criminals killing criminals rarely did until it spilled over into innocents. “This group spread fast but kept a low profile. By the time C-Sec got onto their trail they were a major player in the ward. Then officers began disappearing. A couple patrols at first, caught deep in the worst areas. Patrol vehicles were found empty. Then we started the undercover investigation that led us to Tranquility. The first detective disappeared a month in. The next one lasted two before vanishing a month ago. Never found the bodies. Weaver here has been undercover for almost three months which makes him the record-holder so far. I’ve been on this case for three weeks.” She stopped moving and looked at me like I was a person. “This group has been murdering officers. Weaver and I are the next targets. We can’t get anything to break. You’re the first new thing that’s happened in a month. I’m asking for your help.”
I would’ve been happier with threats of bodily harm. She didn’t even need to show me pictures of the orphans. “I’ll tell you what I can. Those vials were found on Eden Prime. There’s a military connection, but I don’t have proof of who they belonged to.”
Severa tapped her talons on the desk. “Military connection. We know these guys are disciplined and well-organized, since none of the usual gang stuff like open violence and unrelated criminal activity has been connected to them.”
“Maybe,” Weaver said, his brow wrinkled up like thinking was a challenge. “Could just be a grunt with a bad habit.” He fixed me a look. “He’s not telling us, so we can’t know for sure.” He looked like he wanted to make me talk, but not before a good amount of pain.
The turian sized me up. “You sure there isn’t anything else you can give us?”
I shook my head. “If I had anything concrete for you, I’d give it over. The one that hired me wasn’t big on details. Need-to-know, the usual.”
She nodded. C-Sec was like the military, with most of the officers mushrooms. Fed manure and kept in the dark. “If anything comes loose, you have my contact info. Use it. And do me a favor. Stay away from the bar. The only thing you’ll get out of that place is an unmarked grave. Probably for both of us.” She shut down the vid screen and opened the door. “You’re free to go.”
I got to my feet as she left, tossing my butt into the trash can. Weaver paused at the door. “Hey, sorry if things got a little unfriendly. We’re both on edge.” I didn’t mention that he was the one that suggested hands-on interrogation, and the turian was reasonably cool. A couple death threats, sure but I’d come to accept that as part of civilized conversation. “Look,” he said, following his own advice by glancing outside the door, “if you want to go to the place during the day shift, talk to the bartender, Merrin. I saw him talk to a girl a couple days ago. Might have been yours.”
“Thanks. I’ll do that.”
“No problem.” I liked his scowl more than his friendly smile. “We humans have to stick together, right? Just don’t give me away when you show up.”
He left me to find my own way out. I was grateful. All I’d wanted was a drink, and now I just wanted to sleep. I hoped getting the latter would be a little less eventful.