Contains traces of: swearing, daddy issues, singular use of the word mangosteen.
Detective Arthas Jacques of Mars’ Off World Crime Division raised his hands to surrender to Earth’s police officers. His droid did likewise, having to hold what was left of one hand in the other. The stub of its other black arm rose to show it wasn’t hiding anything.
“Well, mate. Looks like you’ve been busy,” said the lead officer dressed for war as he entered a room full of spent bullet casings. “Lie down on the ground for me, hands behind your head. Cheers pal.” The man spoke with a broad Edinburgh accent Arthas had never heard before. “What’s your name?”
“Arthas Jacques,” said the detective with the Arab French accent typical of those who grew up in the Martian capital. He could smell the ingrained stink of suffering as he slowly lay down on the ground.
“Well, Arthas Jacques. I’m arresting you on suspicion of trespassing on private property, breaking and entering, reckless use of a deadly weapon, and destruction of property. You’ve been a busy lad, haven’t you?” While the officer talked, other armed responders took formation around Arthas. Some had guns, others held electrified batons with rubber handles.
“This would be a quiet day in my line of work,” Arthas lied.
“Oh aye? And what would that be then?”
“I’m a detective,” Jacques smiled at his shoes, head turned to the side as he lay on the cold concrete of the laboratory floor. “I’ve been investigating Lord Banks, though I didn’t know it was him until recently. Have you heard of Deus ex Sapiens?”
“Naw. That some kind of game?”
“He injected it into people. It’s a performance enhancing treatment. He controls it. That’s what was here. He was developing it down here.” The martian detective looked around at the room filled with mutilated medical harnesses.
“He’s also been working on his case against you,” said the detective, a small hint of mirth escaping from beneath his plastic helmet. “Says you threatened to kill him. Did you?”
“Not to his face. He told his robots to kill me though. Have you seen what’s on the floor above? What he’s been doing to people?”
“It’s grim up there for sure. Someone else’ll handle that though,” said the man lifting Arthas to his feet with his hands cuffed. “Thanks for coming quietly. I was worried this was gonnae get rough.”
“My charge sheet is long enough, no point adding resisting arrest to it is there?”
“Ye dinnie seem like the kinda guy who’s radge enough to do this.”
“What does radge mean?” Arthas asked, thinking the word sounded like the Hindi word for kingdom.
“It means daft, lost it. Ye ken?”
“No, I’m Arthas. Arthas Jacques. I just said that.”
“Urgh,” the police officer slapped a black gloved hand to the visor of his helmet in frustration. “Naw. Ken in Scots means you know,” he said, affecting a private school English accent for the last two words.
“Okay. Thanks for explaining that, Ken.”
“My name is David.”
Lucky mine isn’t Goliath, thought Jacques.
“Cooperate,” said Arthas’ black droid behind him. It touched his prosthetic hand. “We’ll get through this.” With an orange glowing eye, the law and regulations expert program in the detective’s droid spoke with a Washington DC accent.
“Step away from him, droid,” said David. “You will be kept in the evidence lockup.”
“Sorry, Orange,” said Jacques. “I’ll do everything I can.”
“Look after yourself, detective. I’ll be fine. We all will.”
“What does it mean, we?” David asked. “Are there more of you eejits about?”
“Each of the programs inside my droid has a different function, colour indicator and name to go with it,” said Arthas.
“Mind your head,” said David as he helped Arthas into an armoured van. The handcuffs behind the Martian’s back were locked to the wall. A cage door shut behind him. The pillars of the National Monument of Scotland, which had been swallowed by the glittering MacLeod-Miller Robotics building, were the last things he saw for an hour.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Mister Jacques. I’m sorry for the inconvenience. The scale of Lord Banks’ depravity is finally coming to light. It’s hard to believe what was happening in this city. You can keep those clothes. We’ll be keeping yours as evidence. I hope you understand.”
“I’m a detective. I understand. Where is my droid?” Arthas looked around the grey walled waiting room. A poster reminded him that their staff would not suffer abuse, physical or verbal. Brown plastic with white writing on the wall named it as Waiting Room Three. Five faded orange chairs were bolted to the floor, as was the table.
“It’s waiting for you outside. The evidence it downloaded is helping us understand, as much as we ever could. We’ll need scientific consultants to work out even half of it. Deus ex Sapiens, creepy stuff.”
Nodding in agreement, Arthas eyed the grey tracksuit he wore with disdain. It had been washed a thousand times. Some stains had made their home in it. He didn’t dare look at the trousers.
Rolling his shoulders to get the blood flowing, he felt the fresh ache of his bullet wound. Police doctors assured him his droid had done better than they could. They were certain that the limp was there to stay.
What was left of his Spectrum unit droid sat in a chair in Waiting Room Two, charging. It was shoulder to shoulder with people who had come to make statements, or protest the innocence of a loved one. Arthas was impressed by the collection of scars adorning a family who discussed their legal strategy in the corner.
“Did Belle Nguyen or Cain Ableman show up at all?” Arthas asked of the Martian Security Agency operative and the mercenary boss who had gone with him to the deadly home of Lord Banks.
“Ableman handed himself in. There was no sign of Nguyen. We believe she’s already left Earth.”
“What’s going to happen to Ableman?”
“Maximum security. Solitary confinement. We’ve been looking for him for years.”
“So has Mars. Wanted indeed.”
“He’s popular for sure. You can go now, Mister Jacques. Good day.” The uniformed officer glanced at the scarred family and shook his head as he left the room.
“How are you lot doing?” Arthas asked the programs that lived in his droid.
“All good in here,” said the droid, eyes amethyst. Purple, the bodyguard and pilot program spoke in its Newcastle accent. “Eager to be out of here.”
Rain greeted them outside the door. Confusing the locals, the detective closed his eyes and let the cold water soak him.
“Boss,” said the droid with Green eyes. “You may be waterproof, but I’m not anymore.” The technology expert program had a Dublin accent.
“Right. Where do we go from here?”
“I’ve already summoned the ship. McGreggor Space Port isn’t far.”
“So much water,” said Jacques. “They don’t know how lucky they are. And the air.”
“You aw-rite mate?” asked a man with a gravelly Glaswegian accent and a notable purple beard.
“I’m good, thank you.” Arthas gave a smile to the man with grey hair and blue eyes like his.
“Have a good day, man.” The wrinkled well wisher waved a tattooed hand and walked away. His head disappeared beneath the waterproof hood of a navy blue jacket.
Arthas sated his hunger with fish and chips before letting the droid steer him back to his ship. The hot fried potato and battered slab grown haddock were delicious, even drowned in salt and sauce. He laughed to himself, washing it down with orange fizzing Irn Bru.
The Morrigan welcomed back Arthas with blissful peace and quiet. His books beckoned to him from their locker. Purple sat in the pilot’s chair. The droid strapped its dismembered hand into the copilot’s seat.
Earth shrank into nothing in the rear view monitor on the dashboard. Jacques shrank into dreams about his ex-girlfriend Konnie. During the course of his dreams his ex morphed into Agent Belle Nguyen.
“We’re home,” Purple said, shaking Arthas.
“Home?” The detective looked out of the window. Olympus Mons Central Spaceport, written in rust orange on black stared back at him from a steel wall.
An older version of the detective waited with folded arms. Randal Jacques had been capable of smiling in the distant past. Those years were long behind him by the time Arthas stepped off the Morrigan.
Pressurised air normalised with a hiss. The patriarch of the Jacques family was revealed with the casual air of menace worthy of a pantomime villain. He wore a suit that had been tailored to the proportions of a Martian Navy dress uniform. Navy blue lined with rich orange silk showed his muscular physique.
Vain bastard, thought Arthas.
Randal took his time, blocking the way, assessing everything he found disappointing in his son. A fire of silent rage burnt behind the old man’s blue eyes. Arthas took comfort in the silver tint of his father’s crew cut. Crow’s feet clawed at Randal Jacques greying skin. Despite the wear and tear of time, he had a stubborn vitality.
“You flaunt your scars,” said the father. “I’ll have someone remove the marks on your face. They’re unsightly. Why are you limping?”
“I was shot,” replied Arthas, flatly.
“I heard. I know all about your little adventure on Earth. You’ve done terrible damage to the family reputation.” The patriarch clasped his hands behind his back, a habit from military school. Over his shoulder, there was a bodyguard droid, identical to the type Arthas had fought with in his time in the navy.
“You disowned me. What do I have to do with your family now?”
The fire of rage grew. Randal’s nostrils flared. Wrinkles gathered between his brows. “You are my son. You have my name. You have my face.”
“And your DNA. Don’t forget that I know. I’m not your son. A father is defined as the man whose sperm merged with the egg of his mother or the man who raised the child. You did neither. Genetically we’re brothers.” Mirroring his father’s rage he extended his head on his neck. Arthas’ face was glowing with his passion. “You only worry about my face because you see it as your own.”
“Such ingratitude. You were born into the greatest family on Mars. You are one of my great legacies. Do you appreciate how lucky you are? To have my DNA is to share in my greatness. You squander it.” There was a familiar glow of pride in Randal’s face when he talked about himself. His chest puffed out.
Don’t hold back, dad, tell me how you really feel. Holding his tongue, Arthas waited for his father to move.
Turning as he would on parade, Randal Jacques marched towards the hangar door without a backwards glance. Detective Jacques raised his eyebrows at his droid. He followed, shoulders slumped. He’d been hoping to avoid his father until he was forced to attend one of their funerals.
Instead of taking his son back to the family home, Admiral Jacques escorted Arthas to a clinic for military veterans. Several doctors were paid to make an exception to their active personnel only rule.
Their opinion was that the bullet in his thigh was of no threat to health but the damage already done would give him a lifelong limp. Gritting his teeth at the prospect, Randal told the doctors and his son that a prosthetic was the best option.
Knowing his father only wanted him to have a prosthetic for the sake of vanity didn’t change the fact that he wanted to walk again, to run. The admiral paid another small fortune to schedule a surgical appointment for that night, buying a top of the line robotic leg for the procedure. Despite himself, Arthas was grateful for the hasty arrangements Randal made. Despite the phantom response in his lost hand, the mobility was worth it.
“You need a new droid,” said the admiral. His assessment would have been fair to any droid but Arthas’ spectrum unit. “That thing can’t protect you any more. It’s a wreck.”
“I want it repaired, if you’re offering. Replacement parts. It knows things money can’t replace. I can’t get the licenses for it again. I burnt those bridges.” Keeping his icey eyes locked on the macho retiree, the detective made his demand clear in his steely voice.
“Your sister will need to see to that,” said Randal dismissively. “At least get the hand reattached in the meantime.”
“The surgeon has asked what you want done with the leg,” said the admiral, with a coffee cup in his right hand. He had not asked if his son wanted any.
“Pickled in a jar?” Arthas smiled with morbid glee. “It could sit on your desk. You can ask if Lukas needs any more spare parts. Maybe you’d like some of it?” Lukas was Arthas’ ‘twin’ brother, still unaware that they were clones. It was to Lukas that Arthas had donated his right hand.
“A surgeon will get rid of the scar on your face while they’re amputating the leg,” said Randal, ignoring his son’s barbed retorts.
“Can you ask about Belle Nguyen?” The detective reached from the bed to hold his father’s arm. “She is, or was, an operative with the MSA. I don’t know if she survived the fighting at MacLeod-Miller Robotics.”
“Finally found a woman to distract you from Konnie, and she died?” The admiral sneered. “Very you. I’ll ask.”
“Thank you.” The words caught the father and son off guard.
“Why can’t we get along? You and I?” Randal asked.
“We’re just too different. Isn’t that ironic?”
Smiling bitterly, the admiral looked away. “I’ll make sure your sister deals with repairs for the robot.”
“Droid,” Arthas corrected him. Grunting, the father walked away. Goodbye, father.
Five minutes after Randal had left, the black droid, still carrying its own severed hand, sat down next to the detective. “Don’t worry, sir. I’m not going anywhere.” The eyes of the droid flickered amethyst. The detached hand sat in its lap as it placed the working one on Arthas’ arm.
“Do you have the data I downloaded to your prosthetic?” Green asked. The droid by the detective’s side spoke with a Dublin accent as the eyes glowed emerald.
“I sent it to you as we were being arrested on Earth. Everything I downloaded from the computers at MacLeod-Miller Robotics.” The droid flipped him a thumbs up.
“Nice.” Looking at his black metallic hand, the detective watched it spin around and around on the joint and smiled. His tongue explored his teeth. “I might need to see a dentist as well.”
“Do you think Demi can get me fixed?” asked Red, the droid’s blood spatter and forensics analyst program. Its voice was smooth Parisian infused with foreboding.
“Definitely. You’ll be good as new in no time,” said Arthas. He patted the robot’s offered hand. “Me however-” he tailed off.
“You’ll be better than new. Trust Demi. Your sister knows her stuff.”
Demi, jokingly called Demigodess at her former school, was the only child of their mother and father. Tall like Randal, she had inherited her looks from her mother. To Arthas’ addled memory of his dead mother, Demi was the spitting image. Her cyan eyes were a mix of Randal’s blue and Alethia’s green. She had mocha skin, always meticulously moisturised. Her black hair had been down past her shoulders since university. Depending on her expression, she was the sweetest woman ever seen, or the most terrifying. At rest, she was a poker player’s nightmare, unknowable.
“Where is everyone?” Demi asked. She barged into the room as if she owned it. It had always been her way, and in fairness, Jacques-Shinoda Holdings owned a lot of Mars.
“We’re it,” said Purple, looking at her from its chair. The Newcastle accent had a bite of hostility.
“Father left? Typical. Selfish fucker. Stand up, droid. I want the chair.”
“I’m not going anywhere. I promised Arthas that.”
Frowning like a supermodel selling perfume to people who think they’re rebellious, she looked from the droid to her brother. “You really know how to pick them,” she said. Her chair was nails on a chalkboard as it dragged across the floor.
“Father said you’d have it fixed.”
“Yes. I saw that. That model is rare. Don’t you want a new one? It might be cheaper.”
“NO.” Though he didn’t raise his voice, in every other way it was more powerful. Deeper and demanding.
“Fine. I’ll have someone deal with it. Droid, compile a list of the parts you need. They’ll be delivered to the Morrigan as soon as possible.” She reached into her enormous shoulder bag. The black glittering rectangle swallowed half of her arm as she rummaged for something. Her hand emerged with a cuboid wrapped in golden paper.
“Another book?” Arthas leaned forwards.
“Another gem. More of my money down the drain. I hope you like it.” Talking about spending money put a lemon sucking expression on her face. The wish for his enjoyment was delivered with a sweet smile.
Arthas took the package from Demi delicately. Nimble fingers worked at the tape that sealed the paper, taking their time. Her eyes glowed as she watched. The book was revealed. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi. Arthas could smell the age of the book in its glistening plastic cover. “I’ve never read it.” Inside was the first edition and the year. He began to scan the blurb on the back.
“I have. You’ll like it. Your droid might like it as well. Will I read it to you?” Her voice had softened. It was motherly in its affection. He nodded. “No! I don’t want the mangosteen,” read Demi, all at once charismatic and soothing.
Arthas closed his eyes, and let himself fall into Bacigalupi’s world.