By a Lily's Petal

Ian Thomas

A police procedural story set in the near future.

In his cramped cube, Bernham wished that he was out on the streets, in the cool March wind. Spring was on its way, but winter was not leaving without a fight. The icy breeze whipped against the downtown skyscrapers, sending papers and other detritus skittering across the empty streets. The bobbing of the propeller-mounted cameras jerked his vision mightily. Bile rising in his throat, he slugged the remaining coffee from his soggy cup. He assured himself that the smell of liquor was not emanating from his pores. He assured himself that no one knew.

Inner City Dispatch Officer Bernham, formerly Western District Homicide Detective Bernham, watched the pursuit on his monitor. It was a standard scene on his downtown surveillance beat; some junky degenerate hoofing it furiously down the middle of an empty street, usually with some bulky piece of high end tech in tow. In this case it looked to be some kind of super-executive grade G/G Unit, maybe one of those hubs that allowed a whole floor to goggle wirelessly. Bernham didn't know, exactly, and he was sure this junky didn't, either. He wondered why they, the criminals he monitored, always chose to steal things they could barely carry, never anything portable or easily concealed. As always, he pitied their inverted junky logic. After a few blocks, the junky pounded the pavement with less vigor. He stomped to a stop, as quickly as he had been running. The coaxial cables that had been swinging behind him, slapping at his skinny calves as he ran, swung to a halt. His shoes looked more than a few sizes too large. The great-idea grin left his face and was replaced by the all too familiar what-the-fuck-am-I-doing grimace. Bernham stifled a yawn. He punched a sequence, dispatching nearby units.

Like tumbling dice, they rolled into view from the edges of his monitor. Lithe and fluid, there were two of them. Lilywhites. They pedaled with pure focus, single-minded, synchronized in their efforts, white wind-suits snapping elegantly. The smaller of the two, probably about seventeen years old, pulled ahead, passing the junky, now wide-eyed with terror, boxing him in. The junky fell to his knees in fear. As they secured the junky's wrists with plastic zip ties, Bernham instructed the teens to proceed immediately to the nearest processing station. As protocol dictated, he reminded them to proceed directly. They glared indignantly at the camera hovering above them.

As pawns, the Lilywhites were a dream. They were cheap, non-union, non-specific labor, willing to do the dirty work. Their effectiveness was rooted in their living in these streets themselves. The Lilywhite model had sprung from the mind of a particularly inspired chief, who had since retired. The formation of the Lilywhite Youth Initiative, as it was formally known, was his response to the threat that the city faced when young malingerers came to inhabit the downtown area upon its closure. His reasoning: that payment of the potential native criminal element, in the form of grocery debits, music downloads, and other non-liquid forms of currency, would offset their criminal proclivities and, at the very least, prevent an organized criminal element from taking root. The result was the equivalent of day labor for law enforcement and it was about as effective as it sounded. It was for this reason that Bernham's job existed, that he was allowed to remain on the force. He kept them on task, ensuring no fuck-ups under their limited creativity.

not quickly enough to miss the very malnourished child that began to chase the dog with what looked to be a sharpened wooden baseball bat
Bernham took his time with booking. The longer he could make it last, the quicker time would pass until lunch. If he could make it to lunch, he would have survived the majority of the day's boredom. Afternoons tended to pass quickly because there was paperwork he could fill out, indicating to the following shift that nothing happened on his shift. The other dispatchers envied Bernham and his shit detail. They were generally up to their asses with hard dispatches and afforded little room to breathe. But because Bernham had turned the wrong heads and put his fingers in the wrong eyes, he got to guard a ghost town. His sector was the most abandoned and depleted in the city. In general, he baby-sat squatters and deviants that wanted as much to be left alone as Bernham wanted to leave them alone. He cycled through his various cams lazily, his face squished up as it rested in his palm. For a long stretch, the cams hovered steadily, which meant there was no motion to be captured. Once, around eleven, after his fifth cup of coffee and second piss, he got some motion on one of the hover-cams well inside his perimeter. It was among the skyscrapers, very densely urban terrain and long abandoned. He clicked through to find a scrappy looking dog, sifting through trash. It scuttled away with something in its mouth that looked gray and very inedible. He clicked over to the next cam, but not quickly enough to miss the very malnourished child that began to chase the dog with what looked to be a sharpened wooden baseball bat. He suddenly felt insufficiently intoxicated to do work this grim. Well, that's fucking it, he thought to himself. He would duck out for an early lunch, maybe a drink or two. The afternoon would be longer, but fuck it. He would be halfway in the bag, anyway.

He was in his jacket when he heard the chattering of the PDA USB'd to his desktop. It pulsed in the familiar rhythm that he recognized as the alert to a new text. It seemed like years since he'd heard that rattle, but it had only been months. PDAs were standard issue for street work. He hadn't bothered to turn his in when he got reassigned. In the whirlwind that followed Copeland's death, his PC had been boxed up altogether and moved to this new cube, the main power cord being the only cord to be unplugged. The PDA had slipped his mind in all the mayhem that ensued, following his unceremonious desking. He'd forgotten he'd even had the thing. Holding it now, though, he was briefly comforted by its familiar heft. He thumbed to the mailbox icon, opened it. Just a number listed, so it wasn't in his contacts.

Might have something for you here boss the message read.

Bernham hated texting. He dialed the number back. It didn't ring, but went right to a recording that told him the device he dialed could not receive calls. It was probably one of those burners that only did data. He texted back: Who is this?

Nothing. Bernham pocketed the PDA. He was relieved to see the sergeant goggled and gloved, poking at the air, as he passed his office, on his way to the bar.

The backlight of the PDA illuminated Bernham's face in the dimly lit dive. He sat at the far end of the bar, away from the five or so people that were actually eating the greasy swill that this place served. He scrolled through his old emails, free hand clutching his drink, amazed that only half a year had passed since he was on the streets doing real police work with a real partner. His drinking hadn't really gotten much worse since Copeland was killed. Without a partner to justify it, though, it was starting to seem that way. It was a fact that after looking at grimness and fatality day in and day out, police, in general, and murder police, specifically, needed something to close the distance between all that carnage and the land of the living. And with this line of thought his hand went out and he reflexively called out to the bartender for another.

The PDA chattered against the bar. A new message. This time a picture. It was a grainy shot of a man in an expensive-looking trench coat. The man's face was indistinguishable, but, from his stocky frame, he immediately recognized the man as Paul Darwin. Indeed, it was the figure that seemed to be behind his eyes at every moment since Bernham walked him out of that shipping container, stepping over his partner's dead body. He immediately felt his ears burning, as if allowing himself to even think the name made Darwin's existence more real. He fired a text back: Who the fuck are you? Don't fuck with me .

The reply came immediately: Thought that was your man. I'm on Fifth. I'll stay on him.

Bernham texted back: Who are you??

He paid the bill and left.

On his way back into the office, he saw the sergeant lingering near his cube. A confrontation was unavoidable. "Bernham, how goes it? Early lunch, I see," the sergeant said.

"My posts were secured," Bernham said, his tone defensive.

"Sure, sure. My concern is the booze on your breath. Anyhow, it's not like you can do much damage in dispatch." The sergeant grinned, "Back to it, then." There was a long pause, broken as the sergeant slapped Bernham's back. The sergeant, Bernham was sure, shared the feeling that Bernham was to blame for his partner's death. In the midst of the Copeland fallout, at the apex of rumor and controversy, when the sergeant was called in on the meeting with the public relations people, the Chief, Bernham, and Bernham's Union rep, the sergeant swore up and down that Bernham would never have a place in his unit. The rep calmly asked Bernham to leave the room and the sergeant emerged fifteen minutes later, smiling and welcoming Bernham aboard. Bernham winced at the politicking done in his name.

Bernham keyed in to the vicinity of Fifth. Camera perspectives filled the screen, dividing the monitor's display into thirty-six neat squares. This setup was a far cry from the obsolete tech Bernham used in the ghetto for his day to day. The cameras here were mounted, each dedicated to its own position, no need to chase targets from a wobbly prop-cam. The way all the viewpoints moved simultaneously, it reminded Bernham of chattering bees.

This was an upscale neighborhood, mainly gentrified real estate populated by the tech set, miles from Bernham's beat in more ways than one. The cameras generally went unused because actual officers maintained a presence here. The cameras acted as more of a support tool. Their output, because they actually recorded, in addition to monitoring, could be used as evidence when crimes took place, though that was probably rare, given the upper crust population. He saw a few civilians milling around, pushing strollers, wheeling bags of groceries from the corner market, but nothing out of the ordinary. It took him a few minutes, but he found Darwin on camera six. In motion, he looked bigger than Bernham remembered, different after only six months.

Gone was the palsied, malnourished gait of the awkward man-child he had cuffed and walked out of the shipping container turned high tech warren, from which he had singlehandedly stolen millions from the most powerful multinational in the world. After spending months goggled and gloved, carefully moving money from the virtual coffers of BigShop to his own IInternet pirate's cove, the irony was lost on no one that the only physical casualty of Darwin's intricately high tech pillage came from the shotgun that crudely booby-trapped the door to his hideout. That casualty was Copeland, Bernham's partner. Having been appointed a defense team of expensive lawyers by the very people from whom he stole, Darwin was recruited by BigShop to patch the cracks by which he gained entry. According to the newsfeeds, he had been at BigShop bunker ever since. Though his world of hackers had shamed him for selling out, it was obvious that he took pleasure in his new legitimacy. His arrest had given him instant celebrity, but his subsequent acquittal and hiring by BigShop had launched him into Mega-Stardom. Rumors of his sexual preferences front-paged the tabloids and news sites. Truthfully, it was these proclivities that first put Darwin on Bernham's radar. He rolled his own investigation into the BigShop thing, when he realized he didn't have anything from the sex angle that would stick. Darwin was the product of a new corporate culture. People like Darwin, at one time, would've been litigated against to the law's most nebulous extent, as a warning to potential imitators. Now, the Darwins of the world were embraced as a form of damage control. The antiquated notion of punishment and justice having been precluded by the devil you know philosophy and the need of BigShop and every other multinational to grapple and claw for what little advantage they could find amid the static of massive inflation and widespread poverty. Darwin now exuded what could only be called confidence, steadiness.

Bernham scanned the surrounding blocks, trying to find a follow that could have sent the pics. He made him immediately, a block behind Darwin. He was white, but out of place in this part of the city. Tall and lanky, he tried to keep a low profile, but he couldn't suppress his ghetto swagger. It was that gait of overcompensation that comes from growing up poor in a place that doesn't matter to anyone that matters. He couldn't stifle his teenage goofiness, though, among these self-important yuppies. The boy's attempt amounted to a sort of plodding caricature of a hurried business man. Bernham pictured him at one of the upscale cafés nearby, raising eyebrows when he picked up the wrong fork for his salad course. Bernham tried to make the kid, eventually figuring out the zoom controls on these cameras, higher tech than he was used to. Though vaguely familiar, Bernham did not recognize him. He pulled his cell and texted the informant's number: I see you, chickenshit. Leave the cop stuff to the cops.

He had his confirmation. The kid reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone, a high-end burner from the looks of it, they came cheap so they could be used and tossed, usually by drug dealers. He read the message and looked around till he spotted the camera. He nodded his salutations, as if welcoming Bernham to the chase, then kept on in Darwin's direction.

I know you can read. Who the fuck are you? What's Darwin to you? Bernham texted.

The boy read the text as he walked on; his fingers set to motion, tee-nining it, putting Bernham's ham fisted letter by letter to shame. Before the backlight was out from the last sent message, Bernham's PDA vibrated with the reply: He's just another asshole that owes. Figure I'd collect before he's back in the wind.

And what do you want with me? Backup? Pack it in or I'll have you tossed.

Go ahead. I didn't think you'd forget that easy. Don't you even want to know where he's going?

I didn't forget shit. Darwin's been anointed. Where's he going? This some kind of drug thing?

It's against the law to sell drugs, officer. Anyway, I'm on some personal shit, here. He's headed to Craig Street from the looks of it.

Craig Street. It was the bloodiest of the bleeding edge. Only a block or two from the University, it was where the tech kids lived, where they did their frequently world-changing extra-curriculars. Funded by university grants, students did work that was not yet named in their Craig Street apartments. It often concerned, among other high concept vagaries, alternative methods of trafficking data across the net. It was stuff that would be illegal if the lawmakers could wrap their heads around it. It was stuff that made many of the students obscenely rich before they even graduated. By keeping it outside of university walls, the school could claim at least partial ignorance of how its grant money was spent. If nothing came of it, it increased the knowledge base, at least. If it did have legs, the initial investment was kicked back in the form of high profile donations. It worked for the school either way. Technologically, it kept them at the forefront. Money-wise, they stayed flush enough to implement all the cool toys that were developed with their seed money.

Bernham watched the kid look up at the camera and look back down at his burner. Bernham's PDA shook in his hand. I don't have all day to clue you in. If I'm on this alone, then you can't come to the party. Sorry. He watched the kid toss the burner into a garbage can. He pulled something else from his pocket, too big to be another phone. The kid stopped walking long enough to wave at the camera and pressed a button. The video feed was replaced by an error message on Bernham's screen. One by one, the feeds were replaced by the message until he was staring at a grid of useless royal blue.

As he approached the sergeant's half-shut door, he could see the sergeant inside, goggled up, fingers languidly stroking the air in front of him, as though he were manipulating an invisible puppet. His mouth half open, as well, no doubt, though Bernham couldn't see it with the sergeant's back to him. That weird evil wizard hand gesture was one of the many things that Bernham thought made the goggle-and-glove interface so ridiculous. It was even more ridiculous to him that through those goggles, the sergeant was seeing an approximation of the very office in which he sat, but geo-spatially tagged, with all kinds of widgets and productivity tickers. There was more to it than that, but, spending most of his time on the street, Bernham had never needed to learn. They could stop him from quitting, but they couldn't force him to learn, even now. He would ride this desk dispatch thing out till his retirement and be one of the last officers to collect a pension. No more waves, he thought. Fuck waves. He knocked softly, so as not to startle the sergeant. "What is it," the sergeant said.

"It's Darwin. He's back in town."

"Bernham?" The sergeant removed the goggles. He rubbed his eyes indignantly.

"Darwin's back. I think something is up."

"Something's up, huh? With Darwin," he sipped his coffee. Bernham could tell what was coming next. He swallowed hard. "The Darwin that killed your partner? The Darwin that, after killing your partner, got recruited by BigShop and left this whole department looking like a fucking joke? And you know this how?"

"I got a tip." Bernham felt sheepish under the sergeant's glare.

The sergeant stifled a laugh. "A tip, huh? Did he hold up a sign for you to see on your monitor while you were babysitting those Lilywhite psychos?"

"He's not in my sector."

"Of course he isn't. And you want to go check it out for yourself right? Now's your chance to score one for the good guys? Maybe he'll roll up on some of the Big Shop execs, we can arrest everyone. Let's get to it, then. If we start now we can make it to the bar by happy hour." The sergeant's sarcasm was palpable. Bernham said nothing. He felt his ears burn, his fists clench.

"Let me be unequivocal, Bernham. You're a fuckup. You might have some police instinct, sure, but you can't get with the program. You're just... Let me ask you something, when you were detailed on that BigShop thing, looking for Darwin that first time, and you and Copeland were on the docks and you finally knew you had him in that container, what did you do?"

"We thought that if we were onto him from the tech angle he would be onto us. We were right, too. He was in the process of dumping everything."

"Yes, you were right. And you went in despite requests to wait for backup. Now your partner's dead. It's feels good to feel right, doesn't it, Bernham? It must feel good to look at a monitor all day too, half drunk like some assfuck security guard."

"So fire me," Bernham said.

The sergeant laughed. "You know we can't. We like feeling right, too, Bernham. If we fired you, every news feed in the world would be on this department about how we like to cut corners, how we don't trust our men to do it right, how we caved to BigShop and whatever else." He spit the words at Bernham as though they tasted bitter in his mouth. "So, here you stay. You still get a city paycheck and not one of those cheesy debit cards that the temps and the Lilywhites get. It could be worse."

The sergeant was wrong, though. It couldn't get worse than this. If Bernham was driven by some sort of pride in righteousness, he received no joy from it. It felt insulting, especially because he knew that everyone secretly agreed with him on some level, in some impractical place where logic was superseded by ethic. Bernham's sense of right flew in the face of that of the world at large. His beliefs were anti-matter to the order of things and for him to feel anything, to stand for anything, definitively created chaos for him. Bernham had, since he could remember, always found himself situated squarely against any given grain. Circumstance came at him, fists clenched and teeth bared, and he knew nothing but to lean into it. It got him nowhere.

The sergeant had tuned in on the worst part of Bernham's job, of his life, even. He was never allowed to simply walk away from these battles. There were many other things along the way and now there was this. His zeal had gotten his partner killed. Maybe worse, it had left Bernham as a meaningless symbol of a system that had long since let the bullies and bastards win. The department had to make a big show of supporting the decisions of its officers, though, no matter how grave the consequences, keeping him in this rent-a-cop limbo.

The sergeant sat there in silence, sizing Bernham up. He pursed his lips and sucked air through his teeth. "You look sick. If you feel the need, take a half day. Do what you need to do, but know this: should any harm come to Darwin, while in our fair city, I'm going to come after you," the sergeant said. Whether he was being pitied, or, worse, dismissed as a non-threat, Bernham didn't care. He saw his chance. He was out the door before the sergeant could change his mind.

Craig Street was plainly college kids only, though it didn't appear any less moneyed than the neighborhoods which surrounded it. The cars on this street were older, some Saabs, but mostly Hondas and Volkswagens. Ratty couches on the porch indicated different priorities than those of the adjacent community. Many of these young geeks would move only a few blocks upon graduation and it would be like they moved a world away. They would go on to run the world, rewriting the rules that been changed so many times before. Bernham kicked a Pabst can into the gutter.

Nothing seemed too out of the ordinary here. Bernham was well onto Craig Street where, as he expected, things were at their most natural. Streets got that way at their midpoint, Bernham found; the midpoint being the furthest from surrounding influence. Some kids laughed on the porch, plastic cups in hand. He smelled pot, faintly, and heard a guitar. It was calm and quiet. He remembered when he was young, how the first reprieve from winter gave cause for celebration, even though it was known the weather would cool one last time. The river birches on the street had begun to bud. Bernham thought he heard birds. In the distance, coming from Fifth, he heard sirens squeal to life. His PDA vibrated, lit up with the coordinates of the nearest disturbance. The GPS on his PDA was linked to incident reports and dispatched accordingly. Shots fired on Craig, no more specific than that. He could see the patrol car now, coming from where he came. He held up his PDA, as was the custom, signaling the patrol car to pick him up. The car blew past him, leaving him behind.

Bernham arrived at the scene, winded. He saw the texter, dead on the ground, now wearing a wind suit of bright white, the uniform of a Lilywhite. A puddle of crimson blossomed across his stomach, pooling around a hole near the zipper. He was gut shot. Up close he appeared much younger than he did on camera. He was perhaps sixteen, tall and awkward. The gun he held seemed large in his hand. Two officers were already on the porch, cuffing the boy that had done the shooting. Bernham had missed the action. Bernham felt the inside pocket of his jacket, where he usually kept his latex gloves. He still had some, months since having needed them. He pulled them on, feeling something familiar yet foreign.

He made notes of the scene in his PDA and snapped a few pictures. He rolled the body over to check the pockets and found a wallet. It was embroidered with white text, in that old English style the Los Angeles rappers used to favor. Despite the elaborate styling, Bernham thought he could make out the word: SCIENCE. Most of these Lilywhites were gangster wannabes with street names.

Bernham loosed the Velcro fastener. A dog-eared condom packet fell to the ground. He thumbed through the contents: welfare debit, probably stolen, belonging to some old man that looked like a drugged out vampire, phone card, some kind of Captain Mirror trading card, and, in the last sleeve, one of Copeland's ragged business cards. Below Copeland's contact information was written in red ink Bernham's name and cell number.

From his heavy build, Bernham surmised that the boy being cuffed had been guarding the door. Two more patrol cars rolled up the narrow street, slowing to a stop. The clusterfuck was starting, as it always did. "Tape this area off, I don't want anyone disturbing this scene," Bernham said, the detective in him surfacing reflexively. "Get this kid down to processing. And get an ME out here." The officer led the kid off the porch, sizing Bernham up, Bernham's reputation preceding him.

"I thought you got re-assigned, Bernham."

"Hey, first detective on the scene is all." He shot the officer a cold glare. Even as dispatch he outranked this asshole.

Bernham banged on the door. "Police! We're coming in!"

The remaining officer stood behind him. A strangely calm Asian kid came to the door. He was on a cell phone. He held it away from his cheek, addressing Bernham. "Not without a warrant you're not. That shit happened outside."

"Bullshit. The kid that just got cuffed was your muscle on the door."

"You can talk to my lawyer. He's on the way down here. Otherwise, wait for a warrant." The kid didn't rattle. He was all entitlement and smoothness.

Bernham forced the door as the kid tried to hold it shut. He looked at his backup, who held up his hands in an 'I'll have no part of this' gesture. "Keep the crime scene clear, then," Bernham said, futilely. Bernham clicked his tongue in disgust.

Shoving his way in, the kid got close to Bernham, putting a finger in his face. "I'm going to have your fucking badge for this, asshole. You don't know who you're fucking with!" Bernham allowed himself a smirk, happy with how little it took to break the kid's smug façade.

Bernham shouldered past the snot, careful to keep his hands at his side. He had no desire to draw assault charges, though he knew it was probably too late for that.

"Where is it?" Bernham moved through the house, tossing it for he didn't know what. In the living room he knocked over a bong, spilling the pungent water on a stack of Economist magazines. He saw nothing out of the ordinary. On the floor, there was a tangle of controller cords and a game console that was cabled to a state of the art plasma big screen on the wall. Bernham thought of the old 27-inch in his shit-hole apartment.

The kitchen had pop tarts, expired milk, standard grad school squalor, by Bernham's estimate. Nothing notable in the cabinets above the sink, Bernham turned to the cabinets above the counter top, next to the doorway to the living room. Before he searched the cabinets, he turned to face the door opposite the end of the counter top, the entrance to the basement, but made, for some reason, of stainless steel. On the door a sign hung, affixed by masking tape: "Do not disturb-Revolutionizing Humanity". Below the words was a cleanly stenciled version of the classic Che Guevara image, eyes replaced by rainbowed Apples. A keycard slot was affixed to the door. The Asian kid, following Bernham, stopped in his tracks when he saw him, Bernham, looking at the door. Medical in its sterility, the door was the elephant in this otherwise very domestic room. Bernham tried to cool the situation, "Where's the card?" He asked in a level, reasoned tone. "There's a dead kid in your front yard and things are pretty fucked. Do yourself a favor, here."

Like a scolded child, the Asian kid stared at the floor, resignedly. Caught, or just contemplating, Bernham wondered. As the kid reached into the cabinet, Bernham saw a keycard dangling from a plastic coil bracelet on his wrist, like the cord on a telephone when they had cords. He was a few seconds late in realizing that, with the keycard on his wrist, the kid was reaching for something else. "Freeze," Bernham cried out.

When he saw the gun, he stepped in, reflexively, getting too close for the kid to get a shot off. He grabbed the arm that held the gun, spinning the kid, so the snot's back was to the counter. He slammed the gun hand into the cabinet door, repeating the blow as the kid struggled against his grip. He had more fight in him than Bernham would have guessed. He slammed one last time and the kid pulled the trigger, accidentally. He startled himself and dropped the gun. Breathing hard, the kid stopped, shocked. Releasing the kid's wrists, they paused a moment and looked at the hole in the wall. "That was fucking stupid," Bernham said. He slugged the kid hard in the cheek. He crumbled beneath Bernham's fist. The phone cord keychain stretched as he removed it from the kid's wrist. He slotted and slid the card.

In the basement, the air was cooler, noticeably fresher. It smelled hospital clean. He was somehow comforted by the white noise hum of air conditioning. It was dark, save for a workstation in the corner that was lit by a hanging fluorescent unit. Darwin lay on a cot. He wore his expensive suit pants and a white undershirt, no shoes or socks. He wore goggles, but no gloves. With tubes in his nose, an IV in his arm, he appeared unconscious. At the edge of the light cast by the fluorescent was a kid seated at a desk set. Goggled and gloved, he also wore earbuds. His obliviousness was complete, as he massaged the air, his fingertips casting strange diagrams into the air. The tip of the kid's tongue protruded from his mouth, as Bernham approached. His gun was drawn, partly for effect, but mostly because Bernham had no idea what the fuck he was looking at and drawing the gun was his first reaction. Bernham noticed his own sobriety, and wished for a drink. He kept the gun trained on the kid, reaching out with his free hand to pluck the bud from his ear. The kid gasped. He ripped the goggles from his head, disconnecting the G/G unit. The goggles clattered to the floor. He looked at the Bernham, the gun pointed at his head. "The fuck is this," the kid yelped, startled.

"Police," Bernham said. He felt sweat on his brow despite the cool temp. "What's wrong with Darwin?"

"Who are you? Where's Alan?"

"I'm Detective Bernham. If Alan is your Asian friend, I knocked him out for being stupid. Don't make the same mistake. The fuck is all this?"

The kid reached down for the G/G cord, feeling for it, while keeping his eyes on Bernham. He found the cord, plugged it in without looking. It only took him two tries.

"Darwin's," he struggled for the word, "Darwin's downloading."

"Is he dead?"

"In a way. Almost. He was dying of cancer."

"And now?"

"Well...if it of him, the most important parts, will outlive his body." The kid put the gloves back on. This is a critical part of the operation, though, because he is near brain death.

"This isn't legal."

"There's no law against it. It's never been done. Mr. Darwin signed releases," the kid said.

From upstairs, Bernham heard heavy footsteps. The kid looked up at the ceiling. "What's that," the kid asked.

"More officers, is my bet," Bernham said. The kid punched a key on his keyboard, replacing the various graphs with surveillance views of the tiny house. He could see two officers, one that was there when Bernham arrived. There was also a man in an expensive looking suit. He appeared to be losing his mind on the officers.

"That's our lawyer. Why is he here? Why are you here?"

"I think because of the fucking murder on your front step."

He raised his eyebrows in some facsimile of concern. "I've been goggled for the last few days, getting ready. I must not have heard anything."

"We'll need to take you to the station to get your statement."

"They still do that?"

"They do it for the big stuff, yeah." Everything else has been contracted and outsourced, though, Bernham thought. He grimaced at the thought of the dead boy upstairs. He felt as though the tools that he had grown to carry into the world were no longer any use. The pieces he held would not fit into any existing puzzle. In this, he felt utterly alone.

"I still have some more work to do here," the kid said as if to end the exchange. He rolled his Aeron over to Darwin's cot, checking an IV drip, placing two fingers on Darwin's neck, timing the pulse against his watch. On the kid's monitor, Bernham could see the lawyer crouched next to Alan. The lawyer helped Alan to his feet. He watched the expression of horror creep across their faces as Alan explained what happened, like some silent horror film. Bernham's time was up. He watched the lawyer bang on the door. Hearing it, it did not sync up with the surveillance display.

Let's go, I said," Bernham said. "If the M.E. can't revive him I'm charging you with this one, too." He cuffed the kid, unplugging his gloves, yet again. "I wouldn't worry, that lawyer wears his suit like a real pro." This one kept his cool. He knew that Bernham would have no leg to stand on, here, especially when the paperwork was produced. If his experiment failed as a result of Bernham's intervention, this kid would start again, Bernham knew, using the knowledge gained to streamline the process. Unlike Bernham, these kids could roll with the punches. For all their sense of entitlement, he knew this ability to compromise, to take something away from failure, is what allowed them to thrive. Politics or no, Bernham knew this arrest would be his last. Sadder still, he knew that any charges brought against these arrogant young minds would not stick. And still, he had no answers. "We're coming up," Bernham said. He was unsure whether he could be heard above the banging on the door.

As he opened the door, he knew that he could not let things end in such a pitiful way. If this was the end of his career, he wanted it to be definitive and not some minor shit storm, for which he could just be shuffled and reassigned. To be paying such a price, he wanted resolution.

He plucked the key card clipped to the kid's belt. He shoved the kid hard, sending him crashing into the waiting entourage. It was enough time to slam the door shut again, locking them out of the basement, and locking himself in. He now had two key cards. It was a long shot to bet that these were the only two. He didn't have long, in any case.

Darwin was still. The monitors had gone all but silent. His heartbeat was so infrequent that it deafened when marked by the machines. Bernham pulled off Darwin's goggles. Bernham touched Darwin's eyelids, his greasy skin. This face, in these last months, had become the avatar for Bernham's pain. Bernham laid his hand across Darwin's throat, wondering if it would be of any consequence to kill a man so close to death. He wondered whether Darwin had been anything more than a placeholder for Bernham's guilt. Hating Darwin, wishing for one more shot at him, was Bernham's defense against bearing the entire weight of his failure to bring him to justice.

He wandered over to the desk set. The surveillance showed them banging away on the door. He switched back to the bio-feedback monitor. For the first time, he goggled and gloved. Through the view of the goggles, everything looked remarkably similar, though somehow more vivid and crisp, glowing at the edges. He saw Darwin, still on the cot, still in his suit pants. From his form, there streamed an elaborate set of numbers and symbols. They shot like a beam into the infinity of what Bernham assumed was IInternet, where he would live on in some new, strange way. The symbols, slowing in their emanation, dwindled to nothing and the stream ended. Darwin's glow ceased and he went gray, like an unlit bulb. Outside of this space and outside of himself, Bernham heard the banging on the door. It would not stand much more of that banging. The last of Darwin's data shot like a spear into the horizon and Bernham knew that he would never catch up.

© Ian Thomas 2008 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 01:00 Sat 22 Nov 2008
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