Detective Arthas Jacques’ swipes moved images from the network to his visual explanation of Marvel’s character, Vision. “He was created by Tony Stark, who is Iron Man,” said the grown man with the tangible excitement of a toddler who’s heard the ice cream truck.
“Why are they hand drawn when you showed me video?” asked Agent Belle Nguyen of the Mars Security Agency.
“They’re from the comics, the video you saw was from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He typed in the air. Words appeared amongst the holographic mess of his eclectic explanation. A video popped up, showing the red one with a yellow and green costume next to an actor Nguyen knew was Robert Downey Junior.
“Why are you showing me all of this?” asked Agent Nguyen with a furrowed brow.
“You asked if I’m a man of Vision. The answer is yes, but I prefer Spider-Man,” he said with the Arab French accent typical of families from the Martian capital.
“How many hours left until we’re back to Mars?” Belle looked over Detective Jacques’ shoulder to the droid in the pilot seat. Her accent was a private school mix of English and French.
“Too long if you’ve not told him to stop by now,” said Purple, the pilot and bodyguard program which lived within a black metallic Adonis of a droid electronic sheep could only dream of becoming. Though it was chipped, scratched and a little bit faulty, it was worth more than everything Agent Nguyen owned put together.
“If we’re going to talk about objects until we get back, can we talk about your ship? The Morrigan is a work of art.” Arthas frowned at the change of subject for a moment, then a smile cracked through the disapproval.
“My other pride and joy, after my Spectrum unit,” he said, looking at the droid.
“I looked it up, there are only ten of these in existence, how the hell can you afford something like that?” She leaned towards him on her reclined seat.
“I spent a year’s worth of profits from my share in the family company to buy the ship and the droid. That’s the second reason my father disinherited me. We haven’t talked since.
“Sounds like your father has reason to be angry. You’re an heir of the Jacques-Shinoda Holdings, a year’s worth of any shares in it would be enough to feed Mars for years, enough to finish the terraforming, wouldn’t it?” Her preachy tone set Arthas’ hackles up.
“I should have known you would know about that. None of this is news to you, is it? Do you know the real headline my father has hidden from everyone?” The detective’s tone implied scandal of the highest order.
Belle shrugged. Her brown eyes met his baby blues without comprehension. “He operates on the aggressive end of legality, but from what I’ve read there’s never been a hint of anything illegal. Your sister has a reputation for running his holdings like clockwork. Randal Jacques is known for his conservative views in terms of gender roles. I know he sent you to military school along with your brother and your sister was raised to handle the business while the men killed for Mars. He donates to military veteran charities.”
“He’s a pompous tyrant. You forgot that. He bullied mother until she lost her mind. He made her lie about me and Lukas. He acts like we’re his sons.” Arthas spat the words out as if they were vomit on his tongue.
“What do you mean he acts has if you’re his sons? You are. You must be. The family resemblance is incredible.” Somewhere deep-down Belle knew what he was telling her, but the improbability of it felt akin to her having kissed a-
“Clones. We’re clones. My father loves himself so much that he had to make more. He made mother undergo implantation to grow his little legacies so that his face would grace Mars for a few more decades. He never told us. That’s the kind of man he is. Then again, mother never told us either.” Having thrown the front-page gossip of a Martian century in Belle’s lap, Arthas buried his nose in a book and dived into the world within the pages.
Belle took the opportunity to look up images of Randal Jacques on the visual board his son had been using to explain comic book characters. Deleting everything else, Agent Nguyen placed holograms of Sergeant Arthas Jacques alongside three-dimensional projections of his twin, Lukas, and his father, Admiral Randal Jacques.
Only the lines laid upon them by time distinguished the three men. Using scans from their teenage years, when all had been unmarked by the years and had crew cuts, they were identical to the point that the projection software asked if Belle was intentionally projecting the same hologram three times.
“Some people feel angry that no one told them they were adopted. I got the same feeling for the opposite reason.” His words after an hour of silence made Belle jump.
Deleting all the images, Agent Nguyen swept long black hair behind her ear and changed the subject. “What are your thoughts on the Deus ex Sapiens case?” she asked of the MSA intrigue she’d dragged him into.
“I think the psycho behind that stuff is planning something awful and giving away the samples was his opening move. I think the fact he decides when the implanted whatever it is is active gives him too much power over anyone who volunteers or pays for it. It’s an incredible technology but it’s in the wrong hands. That man deciding the future of it could be disastrous for humanity.
As well as all of that, I think I’m going to be taken off the case when we get back to Mars. He had someone stab you in the heart to demonstrate the healing properties Deus ex Sapiens can provide. They won’t want a police detective anywhere near this now. You might be off the case as well.”
Belle bristled at the thought of having to give up the investigation which had already killed her once. “They can’t reassign me,” she said with the high-pitched desperation of someone in denial.
“Someone is going to say you’re too close to the case. They’ll say you’re a liability because you have Deus ex Sapiens inside you. They’ll want to run a medical and psychological evaluation. Whatever you have inside you, they’ll be prodding and poking it, or trying to kill it.”
As Arthas had predicted, he was told he would no longer be part of the MSA investigation into Deus ex Sapiens. From the explosion of swearing with Belle’s signature blended English French accent, he guessed she would be aiding the investigation from behind a desk, or within a lab at MSA headquarters.
Arthas’ Spectrum droid was violated to remove data pertinent to the Mars Security Agency’s investigation.
The detective had a lifeline. Though he could not join the MSA agents replacing Belle Nguyen in the field, he could chase up his own leads. During their time together, the agent and detective had arrested a wanted mercenary called Cain Ableman. He had volunteered to be shot up with Deus ex Sapiens before Belle.
Cain had escaped prison, unheard of on Mars. He’d done so using inconceivable strength and had survived being shot a dozen times by prison wardens.
Presuming Ableman had left Mars, he was within the jurisdiction of Offworld Crime.
Leaving Mars wasn’t as easy as it was on Earth. Sure there were plenty of space ports but there was no hiding out in wilderness unless you had an EVA suit and enough oxygen for the journey. Everything inside the mighty domes was monitored. Cain had travelled in disguise after breaking out, but like tracking a stealth vessel, there were ways to spot an absence.
For a disguise, the jailbird had stolen a warden’s uniform. A man that tall was notable in anything, not least a uniform. He’d have changed to civilian clothes as soon as possible.
The discarded clothes had already been discovered by local police in an electrical station. Spare jackets were always lying around in a place like that. Arthas had his droid trawl through surveillance to flag anyone wearing fluorescent clothing that matched the target’s height. Dozens of possibilities were thrown up. Running gait recognition narrowed it to three suspects. Facial recognition software found Ableman entering a mine shaft.
The mines crisscrossed Mars beneath the surface. Down there, getting different clothing would be easy and the direction Cain had fled in was anyone’s guess.
While most of the old mines had been repurposed as safe pathways between the domes, others were still pulling up valuable minerals that would shape the surface for generations.
A man wearing a Carlton’s Electricals jacket was working on an airlock right in the path of the escapee.
“Have you seen this man?” Arthas asked, showing the photo.
“No, officer,” said the bearded man. His response was too quick. He hadn’t even looked but he had known someone would ask.
The purple eyes of Arthas’ droid turned yellow. “Increased heart rate. Difficulty maintaining eye contact. Prepared response,” said Yellow, the droid’s behavioural profiling program. The accent was crisp Berlin. “He’s lying.”
“I didn’t need a droid to tell me that,” said Arthas. “This man is a wanted criminal. Aiding his escape in any way is a serious matter.”
“Oh,” said the man with nervous joviality. “Now that I look again, he does look a lot like the man who swapped me this coat. I’m old.” He patted his bald head. “My mind plays tricks on me.”
“Did he have a weapon?” Jacques asked.
“Yeah, police officer’s gun,” said the doorman, turning pale. “I’ll tell you where he went if you promise he’s not coming back.” The old man looked between Arthas and Yellow.
“That was the truth,” said the droid.
“He went down the left path.”
“Lie,” said Yellow.
“Alright. He was scary, alright. The path on the right. That’s all I know. We swapped coats. He’s got a red Jacket with Tokyo Talisman Mining written on the back in black. That enough?”
Arthas looked at the droid.
“Truth,” said Yellow, eyes glowing a menacing gold.
“Thank you for your help, sir. We’ll catch him.” Arthas gave the old man a miner’s salute and jogged down the tunnel that led to the right.
After a kilometre the tunnel forked again. One path led up to a dome, the other on to more tunnels and mines.
“There’s an underground station if he stayed the course below. The dome above has no ports,” said Yellow.
“On we go then.” Jacques kept a quick pace. The underground station was on the main loop of the Martian Subway. From there a transfer to any of the major stations was only an hour away at most.
Gold eyes turned emerald as the droid ran its technology systems program. Green talked Arthas through the process of matching Ableman to surveillance from the subways, knowing he had changed into a red miner’s jacket.
“He transferred to the Seibu line at Maruetsu Station. Got off at Shin-Komazawa Station.” Green’s thick Dublin accent was friendly compared to Yellow’s blunt words.
A man fitting Ableman’s look had handed a Tokyo Talisman Mining jacket into the lost and found while at the same time claiming a jacket that he’d barely been able to describe until being shown it.
“Shin-Komazawa is beneath the Komazawa Tradeport. All he’d have to do is offer himself as cheap labour there to get onboard a ship.”
“The surveillance cameras at the port have been ‘broken’ for months.” Green made air quotes at the word broken. “It means the ships have deniability when bad things and bad people get on and off. The repairs keep being pushed back on an official priority list. I’m guessing there are bribes involved there.”
“Probably,” said Jacques, picking up the pace. “Purple,” the detective spoke to the pilot program. “If there’s a free berth in Komazawa I want the Morrigan docked there ASAP.”
The droid’s eyes flashed to amethyst from emerald. “Consider it done,” said Purple in its Newcastle accent.
Containers ranging in size from cat to blue whale were moving in the arms of men wearing fluorescent jackets and cranes. Haulage droids were everywhere, rolling on tracks that clacked against the cold concrete beneath. Fuel, fart, and body odour filled Arthas’ nose. The ships docked in the trade port were mostly vertical take-off rockets enclosed in clamps that prevented them from toppling like dominoes.
“Find me the most legitimate of the Argentinosaurus class freighters. I want a log of the drive signature from every ship that left here within an hour of Ableman arriving. He wouldn’t want to hang around.”
“The Trading Ship Eliot George has declared one hundred percent of its expected cargo for the last five years. We need to be aboard to extract drive signature registers,” said Green.
The droid’s eyes flashed from emerald to sapphire. “Lots of dodgy pricks here, Arthas. Keep your eyes peeled,” said the scene documentation program with a Glasgow twang. The droid’s eyes flashed back to amethyst again.
“I am, lead the way. I want to be right on Cain’s tail.”
Manoeuvring between auctions, Arthas caught a whiff of tuna from Earth as buyers from all over Mars clamoured to bid for it. Men covered head to toe in waterproof orange jostled the detective as he pushed through them.
The Eliot George was declared in scratched yellow on grey to be the property of the Leif Gjokaj Trading Group. The gangplank was up four flights of stairs. Arthas’ black boots pounded the crisscross metal all the way to the top at a run.
“Detective Arthas Jacques, Offworld Crime. I need to see your sensor data for drive signatures.”
“I need to see some credentials,” said a woman with a pine green Trading Ship Eliot George overall, the name of the ship printed in white. She folded thick arms across her chest. “We run a clean ship; we don’t want trouble.” The woman’s green eyes took in the Spectrum droid with a wary glance. Arthas recognised her lenses as contacts with flecks of gold in them, a fashion spreading from Earth out across the system.
The Spectrum unit flashed up Arthas’ identity file.
“Eugene,” called the brunette. A crooked scar across her brow wriggled as she frowned at Arthas.
“Captain?” said a pine green humanoid droid as it emerged from the ship.
“Verify this man’s claim that he’s an officer.” She tucked shoulder length hair behind an ear decorated with a gold stud earring mounted with an emerald. The droids shared data.
“He’s legit,” said Eugene.
“He’d be the only one here who is,” said the captain. “If this wasn’t the cheapest dock on Mars-” She sighed. “Come aboard. Do what you have to do then get lost before someone here works out what you are.”
Eugene led Arthas and his droid to the communications control system. The Spectrum unit plugged in, eyes emerald and flashing.
“Got it,” said Green, “he left aboard the Zero Dawn. It’s heading for Earth.” The Dublin accent had Eugene’s full attention.
“You have multiple character programs running simultaneously,” said Eugene. “Why?”
“Shits and giggles, brother droid. For the banter,” said Blue in its broadest Glaswegian, slapping a hand on Eugene’s shoulder.
“How are you sure he’s on the Zero Dawn?” asked the detective as they left the ship. The captain had some local louts eying her suspiciously. “Nothing this time,” he yelled at the captain, “but we’ll be keeping an eye on you. You slip up, you’ll fall hard. What are you fuckers looking at? Want me to search your ship as well?” The thugs slouched away, grumbling.
“Someone with Cain’s build held a gun to the crew of the Zero Dawn and boarded two minutes before departure. It was captured on the rear-view camera of the Slow Loris Called Morris,” Green said, pointing a black steel finger at a rusty Argentinosaurus class freighter at the other end of the hangar. Red lights flashed as another ship was lowered into the cavernous dock from the airlock.
The Morrigan was easily the most beautiful ship in Komazawa. The sleek black lines contrasted the neglected grey cuboids that passed for vessels everywhere else. A crowd of cutthroats were admiring and sizing it up as Jacques pushed his way through and aboard.
“Did you miss me?” asked a familiar voice. They were sitting in the pilot’s seat.
Purple reached for the gun at its hip as the door to the Morrigan shut behind them.