Short Story Part 2 – As Above, So Below

I love the Dominic / Jurgens / Anemone plotline in Eureka Seven far too much. As soon as I began writing an E7 inspired cyberpunk story I knew I had to run with that idea of the Establishment man sympathetic in his naivete, and so it became clear this story had to be told on two levels – Below, the world of free-running, gang crime and vague oppression, and Above, the crushing bureaucracy of terror.

What made me edit this into a pair of short stories with uncertain ends, rather than a novella or longer piece, was my inexperience of writing crime fiction; I thought it better to write something I was confident in (world-building and characterisation) than a subpar mystery.


“Was this the boy you met on the train?” Commander Lezard’s room was far too big to be an office. It was an edifice, a whole gallery and typing-pool crushed together into one chamber just about big enough for the City Defense Force Commander’s ego. “Was it?” A sketch in police monochrome sat on a desk, a semicircle of shining plastic and screens wide enough to make reaching entirely across it almost impossible. Lezard was worried about being stabbed.

“I guess it could have been, sir. He ran into me, it was a crowded train, and he got off soon after. I gave him a warning as is protocol.”

“Protocol, yes. Was your business in the lower city conducted successfully? Was your afternoon off enjoyable?”

“It was, sir.”

“Then seeing as you have plenty of time now, listen to me. City police have been looking for this boy, they suspect he was responsible for a breach of the peace in the upper tiers. I do not care about this but I do care about this.” A second paper, this one a photograph of a blurry figure getting off a scooter driven by another grey smear. “You are not expected to know why this is important. Rest assured it is. But that boy met this woman.” A pale finger jabbed at the smear. “This woman is important. I want to know everything about her, and that begins with who she met. Thus, you met this boy, and so you will find him for me.”

“Have the Patrol any leads?”

“No.”

“Is it not their jurisdiction?”

“Is this relevant to the fact I asked you to find him?” By this point, Lezard was not even looking across the desk, instead focusing on a stack of papers surrounding the photograph. “You have nothing more to say, and you are excused.”

“If I am no longer needed, then, sir.” The young soldier stood up and began the twenty-five paces it took to reach the door. As he left, he heard Lezard calling down to one of the intermediary officers to learn who he actually was, in the same dispassionate, quiet voice.

The corridor outside was walled with glass on one side and silvery-pale panels on the other, exposed and silent. Deep navy-blue couches lined the walled side, interspersed with square waste-paper baskets and plastic-looking plants misted with water by small, transparent watering-posts.

“Nao, there you are!” He did not expect a voice emerging from the stairwell. “It’s time you had something to eat, and what are you doing here anyway?”

“A meeting.” His mind had yet to settle. “Why did you walk?”

“I’ve lost my lift pass and I needed to see the administration to get a new one.” She was carrying the pale blue slip of a requisition form, filled out in neat, spiky handwriting. “What was the meeting?”

“I don’t know, Sae. Lezard was asking me something about some kid I ran into on the train into Deno. Something to do with a case the city patrol have passed on to us. I don’t want to disappoint him.”

“No, I’m sure you don’t.” A light brown curl peered from beneath the line of her beret, and she smiled, creasing freckled cheeks. “Come on, let’s get this over with and then we’ll get dinner together.”

“I’d have thought you’d have eaten.”

“No, I’ve been busy all afternoon. It’s not all of us get leave, you know, and you being away meant we were shorthanded.”

“I’m sorry, Sae.”

“Don’t be.”

The door to Administration was somewhat less emphasised than Lezard’s office, with a single frosted window running down one side of it. Sae knocked, received no answer, and entered as Nao wondered if he should follow. In the end, he remained outside, sitting on one of the hard-cushioned sofas and running through the short train ride again. From the deep pocket of his trousers he took a small notepad and began writing down the things he knew. The boy’s rough description. What train he had been on, and where he had alighted. And that strange conversation, about him being on a date or some such. It was not impossible, but something seemed wrong. Someone moderately well-dressed heading down into Deno for a date. Something to note down possibly as a lead.

It had not taken long before the realisation he had no idea how to co-ordinate a manhunt had set in. Perhaps it would be better not to trouble his superiors for manpower, and to do this himself.

Sae was gone quite some time, he was not sure exactly how long but it had been enough for him to quite lose himself on the sofa, watching the city through the full-length windows. It was not the most comfortable of seats, for like everything else in the High Tower it was expected to keep its occupants on edge and alert, but it sufficed. When she returned, they ended up taking the stairs again. Her new pass had to be reviewed, and then issued.

Thus when they reached the mess hall, there was little left save peace, quiet and scraps. Filling plates with a mismatch of what remained, they sat in the shadow of a clock telling them how little time remained before the night shift began. Nao had been assigned it, in exchange for his afternoon’s freedom.

The clocks in the building were all gleaming digital representations of archaic timepieces, marked off not only with the time itself for visitors, but with the shifts marked in coloured wedges that could not be ignored. It really felt, as Nao sat turning over a diminished portion of erratically-cooked chips, as if he lived his whole life waiting for the next period of deskbound tedium. Less than an hour until the shift began. It was hard to get engaged in anything, hard to find the motivation to converse. It would be unfair to say he hated his work. There was a real sense of identity here, a sense that he really mattered. For all he was nervous about this new responsibility, he was going to launch himself into it with all the duty and diligence that the people of this city would expect.

Some of the nervousness, the awkward silence, was Sae. She was, if anything, more enthusiastic than him. She lived this life, threw herself into it. He completed a day, crawled back to his single-bedroom apartment in a disappointing part of the city, and felt exhausted but proud. He knew – or thought he knew – that Sae would leave the Tower with the energy she entered it with. It was hardly surprising her face was the one on the posters dotted around the offices with encouragements to work beyond the call. Hardly surprising her cubicle was papered with the weekly-assigned certificates of diligence even after only less than a year’s service. Around her, he couldn’t hope to keep up, couldn’t compete. Like now, tired and resigned to a night-shift, he couldn’t talk to her. It was definitely her enthusiasm that was so disarming.

The minutes slipped away in unspoken sentences and Sae got up, placed her tray on the used pile and walked towards the door, and the changing rooms, and freedom.

“Good luck tonight Nao. I’ll see you in the afternoon.”

The changing of shift – the minutes between one wedge of the clock and the next – was a strange time to be low down the Tower. Figures left the changing rooms wearing finery or casual outfits to crash home in, while those who had remained at home or did not live their lives in uniform headed in to replace them. Those still on the desks had a strange limbo to endure while the previous shift checked out and they finished dealing with any enquiries they had been given. The ordinary Patrol – the lowest in the strange hierachy of the Tower – slipped into their glassy offices and water-coolers. The Special Sections, the higher-Tower agents he was a recruit of, took the middle layers and served as a figurehead, the main defence against “extraordinary” crime. There were, of course, levels and layers above and below both of these, a knot of acronyms and divisions that were usefully rolled together for public consumption.

Nao was first into the office for his department, and slumped into a chair as the clock’s colours changed. His terminal flickered to life unbidden, automatically logging the registered user for that shift in and expecting an input within five, maybe ten minutes before sending a message to the higher orders that the user was not present. Emails filled the screen, the first a bright red highlighted banner marked with the username of Lezard.

Further to conversation: Details of Patrol officers for liason

A list of names, contacts lower down the Tower. Perhaps Lezard had taken Nao’s suggestion to heart. Probably not.

He looked up, and straight into Sae’s eyes. Drafts of a new public information campaign using her picture were hung on the office walls. Her smiling face under the quote which had come to embody Babylon as a whole – I Believe In This World To Come. I Think It’s Going to be a Pretty Good World. Words that the people had needed when the project had begun. Words, Nao felt, that still held true.

Maybe it was the cult around her – for he could barely call it anything else – that made her so hard to approach. He wanted to work like her, be like her, and ultimately be with her. And that thought took his eyes back down to the monitor. Other officers were filing in. Jarden, grey and moustachio’d and walking with a weary heaviness. Tsuki, young like he was yet so unlike him, always jumping at shadows. Others, too, the usual sprawl of the night shift he usually met only briefly in those colour-shifting limbo times.

“Been a while, kid.” Jarden extended a hand for Nao to shake. “How’s the daylight? Wouldn’t mind seeing a spot of it now and again.”

“It isn’t bad.” Technically Nao was on call like the other night-shift officers. Realistically, Jarden and his companion Burning, a former Patrolman who had relished the chance of better equipment and pay, would take all the callouts and he and Tsuki would mind the paperwork. He thought about asking Jarden for advice about his mission. He thought about why he was calling it a mission now, not simply a task. What made this important? “I have a job to be doing, let me know if you need anything.”

“A job to do? Tell me about it.” Tsuki had been adopted soon after assignment by Lily, tall, dry-witted and just as experience-worn as Jarden. Nao ignored her and began searching for some piece of information that would bring him closer to the boy on the train. A physical description was not vastly useful; records showed huge, uncountable numbers of people meeting the vague description that had informed the police sketch. Even narrowing it to only the Deno addresses was of little use; a few hopeful matches had emerged but there was always something slightly wrong. Some reason why it could not be the person whose face hovered before him.

A notepad sat blank before him, useless for lack of ideas. He had all the paraphenalia of a policeman and none of the expertise or information, yet far too much pride to ask for help. The idea of asking Jarden had crossed his mind briefly and then rushed out of the door in embarrassment, because it would a sign he couldn’t hack it.

“That’s not how you do a manhunt, kid.” Too late. “Who are you meant to be looking for, anyway? All of Deno block? Block’s full of kids aged 16-20, brown hair, fashionable clothes. What the hell even is fashionable clothes anyway? Kid was wearing a two-hundred shirt? Backwards baseball cap and surf shorts?”

“I mean- he had on, you know, that usual sort of thing you see-”

“Look. If you can’t describe a suspect usefully, how can you get the Patrol to find them? Let me help. I know Lezard’s probably thrown a lot of work at you and you want to make it seem like you’re OK with that, but we’re a team.”

“Right.”

“So, you want to find someone, in this whole huge city. Let’s assume it’s not your memory you need to plumb but some unfortunate the Patrol have picked up and dumped in your lap. I’ll be the cop here and you just answer the questions.”

“Uh-”

“This kid we want, what was he wearing?”

“Well- a t-shirt. Was… made of that silky stuff like sports tops. No logos, just red and white.” The pressure made Nao think a lot straighter. “Long shorts. Running shoes, I remember that, he trod on my foot.”

“Now we’re talking. What’s this in your notes here about a bag?”

“He had a bag. Said it was precious to him.”

“And this wasn’t suspicious to you?”

“Why should it be?”

“How did you ever get into the Tower forces without knowing something like that? What sort of bag was it?”

“A satchel. Silver-grey.”

“Like this?” Jarden pulled up a picture, and then a dozen or more clones of it, each attached to the shoulder of a boy or girl dressed remarkably similar to the one Lezard was looking for. “To be honest I’m surprised Lezard is so interested in this. Have you annoyed him recently?”

“No sir.”

“Well, he’s got you looking for possibly the least interesting petty criminal possible. That getup you’ve described is pretty standard courier clothing for the runners the low-tier gangs employ. That kid is nothing but a mailman for the perpetual irritation they call gang crime, and I’m guessing, based on your description, a trainee at that. It’s a wild goose chase.”

Nao sighed, and began typing a report for Lezard. The matter seemed to have been resolved.

The reply came less than five minutes later.

The order was to identify the suspect. Continue with the investigation.”

Jarden looked at the message as a nauseous feeling filled Nao. “That’s odd.”

“I don’t like this, Jarden.”

“What, actual work?” Lily had returned from a quick break. “It sucks, I know.”

“Look at this, Lily. Lezard had Nao looking for some kid it turns out is a rookie courier for one of the smalltime gangs. Apparently this runner is public enemy number one.”

Lily stood silent for a while, then stared at Nao. “Is there something you’re not telling us about this? Is this seriously all Lezard gave you to go on?”

“I guess I should explain. I was on leave today, and… I met this kid on the train to Deno. He was in a real hurry, had a package he had to deliver. I get back to the Tower and Lezard is all over me, demanding I find him. Apparently he knows someone Lezard really wants to find- I’m not sure if I should tell you that.”

“If he’s a rookie, he should be pretty easy to shake up. Just lean on the Deno Patrolmen, start a bit of trouble, see who runs.” Lily made to smile, then found she could not. “I feel sorry for the kid though. Don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone leave the Tower quite the same as they came in.”

Nao ignored that, because ignoring comments like that was the best way to continue to find the energy to come to work every day.

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