“What do you remember?”
“You don’t need to be facetious.”
“I’m not. I remember everything.”
“Oh, that’s right. You have total recall. Let’s start there then. Do you have Natural total recall?”
“Of course not.”
“Of course not. Who does these days?”
“Mostly. What does this matter exactly?”
“It doesn’t. I’m just trying to get a sense of the facts. I want to know if you’re a reliable witness.”
“You could review my records.”
“I suppose so. I would subjectively like to know if you’re a reliable witness.”
The detective enjoyed verbal sparring, but not with people he hardly knew or people he did not like. The attorney that sat across from him was swiftly becoming one of the latter.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“I missed it.”
“What’s the first thing you remember about the third of May?”
“Of what year? I remember them all.”
This time the attorney’s face showed no humor.
“It was funny the first time Detective.”
“I’m still not joking.”
“It was hot.”
“Really, detective, can you be the least bit helpful about this? This is serious.”
“Mr. Enet, I just got off my third transglobal flight in a week. I’m exhausted. I’ll call your office when I’m ready to make a deposition.” Vasque got up from the table and collected his suit tunic.
“Alright. Very good. I look forward to that call.”
No you don’t.
Vasque bowed slightly and left the office. The hallway of the peace station was dimmed for evening hours, and only a few officers had stayed late for night cycle rounds or documentation. Vasque had spent many nights here, and in another station just like it only two kilometers away. He had never had such a sense of unease walking the halls as he did now. The detective pulled his light gray tunic on and smoothed it down over his ballistic vest. He steeled himself for a moment at the front door of the station and then walked into the August heat. Even late in the evening, it was oppressive. Sweat beaded up on Vasque’s forehead and along the top of his shoulders almost immediately. Without hesitating, he turned left and started walking for Phren’s.
Vasque had been a peace officer for fifty-five years. Mistakes were easy to rectify most of the time. Any concerns he had about any case, he could bring up with the panel of judges. A sufficient concern would see the person on trial released. He had fired his weapon once during his career, and it was a clear case of defense of other and self.
Vasque stopped short and leaned down, putting his hands on his knees. The curse gift of total recall. For the mundane citizen, it meant never forgetting the little details - where a personal belonging was put down, or a name to go with a face. For those that dealt in darker corners of society, it meant never forgetting the little details. The detective stood and continued his walk. He wiped the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his sleeve. He had become adept at suppressing memories he did not want to see.
Letting go. It’s not the same.
Phren’s was a noodle shop owned by a man named Phren. Vasque had found it while walking his new beat almost thirty years prior. It had just opened at the time, and it became Vasque’s chosen place of respite when he needed some time to mull things over. Phren worked the night shift - he hated dealing with most people - and spoke easily around abstract ideas. He was a useful resource for discussing sensitive issues when the particulars were classified. And he was a friend.
Vasque walked another half kilometer. The last light of evening slowly faded in the western sky, and lightning began to flicker in its place. He picked up the pace. Being soaked would do nothing for his mood. The neon lights of storefront holograms assaulted his vision as he turned north into downtown. He deactivated his augmented vision. The combination of holograms and visual overlay was nauseatingly busy. People yelled, drank, cursed, danced, and celebrated as warm raindrops began to fall.
Another hundred meters north Vasque turned right into a dead end alleyway. It was brightly lit with more storefronts. At the very end on the left was Phren’s, just slightly less obnoxiously lit than the others. The inside was stripped down to the essentials; cool white tile floors and walls, a row of dark blue seats along the long counter, and several more tables of varying size stuffed into the empty spots. There were no other patrons in the place.
“Oh look, it’s you,” Phren said from behind the counter. He was a grizzled looking man, who, like his shop, had every useless thing seemingly stripped away from his person.
“I made a mistake.”
“Not even a hello this time. You’re just shitting your problems onto me now,” said Phren. “Did you kill someone?”
“Did you fuck someone you didn’t mean to fuck?”
“Then it’s probably not a mistake you can’t undo.”
Vasque smiled and Phren smiled back.
Vasque paused briefly.
“Yeah. Yeah that’d be good.”
“Unload your piece, I’ll put it in the safe.”
Vasque reached behind his back and pulled his pistol from its holster. He unloaded it and cleared it before handing it to Phren, who checked it again as a matter of course. The grizzled man started purposefully making the peace officer a small pot of Q-tea and a huge bowl of noodles.
“So what’d you fuck up that’s got you twisted?”
“I think I brought the wrong guy in.”
“That’s an easy fix,” said Phren, pouring boiling water over bright green leaves.
“Not for this crime,” said Vasque.
“So what did this guy do that’s got him twisted?” Phren set a small tray with the teapot down in front of Vasque. It was a small, white ceramic pot that made the Q leaves seem extra verdant. The grizzled man filled the pot to the very brim and put the ceramic cover in place before pouring additional boiling water over the lid. He set the pot down and rested his hands on the counter “he must be a real fucker.”
“He’s really not,” said Vasque.
“Well, now I know what’s bothering you at least.”
“He’s like you.”
“Now wait a second, you’re not talking about me are you?”
“I told you he’s not a real fucker,” said Vasque.
“If you think I’m giving you a friend’s discount tonight, you just ruined it,” growled the grizzled man.
Vasque looked away. The heat did not keep him from shivering.
“What did this guy do?” asked Phren quietly.
“So did you. So did I.”
“Not in the war. A long time before.”
“So what’s bugging you?” snapped Phren.
“He’s old,” said Vasque.
“So are we!” said Phren. His voice got near to shouting.
Vasque looked up from the counter at Phren. He narrowed his eyes to hide tears.
Phren poured his friend a cup of tea.
Q-tea hangovers were the worst. Not because you felt sick after a bender, but because you felt normal. After letting himself drift in Q, which Vasque likened to drinking entirely too much caffeine and taking a whole bottle of painkillers at once, normal was unwelcome. He had not dimmed his windows. The sun woke him early, and with it - normal.
The detective changed his morning routine. He was still tired, so he decided to delay going into the station. He dressed and walked into the paths of the Old Capital District. The sun was still low enough that entire streets were in shadow. He walked in the shade, surrounded by throngs of people on their way to work. He was at once dreading his meeting that would last the better part of the day and eager to have it complete - but to have it complete, he would have to begin.
500 meters from his home he turned left. It was months since his last visit to Night-Light, but Arnel Vasque was a man of habit and routine, and a break from that routine was as cathartic as it was impulsive. Coffee in the morning at least made sense, especially on a morning punctuated with a Q-tea hangover. The closer he got to his destination, the more eager he became to sit and have a moment to himself in the middle of the morning crowds.
Vasque blinked hard, toggling his visual overlay to ON. He kept his running in the background with a minimalistic information set available to him at any moment. Some peace officers liked a busier display, but he had always found such overlays disorienting. He found the blues, greens, and yellows of the display soothing when configured appropriately - especially when his officer status icon read OK.
It was luck that let him have a single seat outside at Night-Light. A seat facing the street. He pressed his order selection and paid using icons built into the hand sized table that was suitable only for a single drink cup. One person tables were hard to come by. At an early hour on a still pleasant summer morning even more so.
That will either be my fortune for the day, or all my good luck spent in one place.
He waited patiently for his drink - a concentrated infusion with spices in a ceramic cup three fingers tall. He liked his Lyhstes thoroughly strained and a little less sweet than most places offered by default.
“Should’ve known it was you,” Meren said, setting Vasque’s drink in front of him.
“How’s that?” asked the peace officer. “I thought you were going back to finish school.”
“Do you know how few people drink Lyhstes in the morning and at a table by themselves?”
“You didn’t answer my question,” replied Vasque.
Meren rubbed his left palm tenderly. “I like what I do.”
“I’m glad, many people don’t. But you want other things.”
“Sure. And they’ll happen. I’ve got plenty of time. I’ve already done lots of things.”
“A lot of time can go by quickly,” said Vasque, sipping his drink. “And how did you know it was me?”
“You’re the only person that drinks that nasty drink alone in the morning.”
The peace officer scowled at the man who made drinks. “I like Lyhstes.”
“That’s why we keep it on the menu. You’re the only one. The only one that still visits. Most veterans quit drinking that stuff years ago.”
Vasque rolled his eyes. “Go back to school before you get old like me. Too old to try new things.”
“Whatever old man. You’re in your 90s tops. I’m barely in my 40s.”
The pair grinned at one another.
“Let me get back to my tables,”
“That’s fine,” replied Vasque “thanks for the nasty drink.”
Meren turned and went back to his other tables.
It occurred to Vasque that in several months, he would not be in his 90s anymore - and perhaps that was what had been bothering him recently. Not that 100 years old was particularly old, but many people left their jobs at 100, to make room for younger people and to enjoy the back third of their lives doing things for personal growth and pleasure. But Vasque enjoyed his job, and there was a certain apprehension about leaving the familiarity of a career for something he thought was less.
The comm notification icon on his visual overlay blinked gently.
+Detective, are you planning on coming in anytime this morning?+
“I sure am Inspector.”
+This is not the day my friend. You need to come in and sign your suspect over to Division. They are crawling directly down my throat to get this man.+
“It’s out of your hands Inspector, and theirs,” said Vasque, sipping his drink with now purposeful slowness.
+Will you please wave your privileges this one time?+ the Inspector pleaded. She sounded tired - weary like Vasque did himself.
“No,” replied Vasque “and I find it very irritating that Division thinks they can kick around a senior officer and that officer’s superior because they have a case that is out of the ordinary. I’ll be in when I’ve finished my coffee.”
The Inspector sighed static through his commplant.
+Fine. If you’re in in the next hour I’ll put you back on nights.+
“Going away present?” asked the detective.
The Inspector cut the connection.
Vasque took a deep breath and let it go through pursed lips. That was something to look forward to. Nights would be worth it. Two or three more years. He swirled the drink in the cup with no handle, letting the gentle browns and tans mingle before he took them in. He kept himself focused on the drink, the liquid in the cup. The sun broke through the trees on the paths and cast heat on his forehead. The grit. The real. The leading edge of the drink picked up speed as it drew a tight circle on the ceramic cup’s edge. The fire of too much caffeine burned inside Vasque’s veins, and sweat poured down his neck.
Vasque looked up from the cup. He was not sweating. He had not even finished his first cup of coffee. He gulped down the contents of the cup and stood, smoothing his uniform tunic, again out of habit. The peace officer shifted his shoulders under his ballistic vest and began the kilometer walk to his station. Even though he had a perfect memory, he had trouble remembering the last time he had been so excited.
It only took 15 minutes for Vasque to make the walk to his station. He lived uptown from his work, and walking downhill towards the river was light effort. The detective’s mind drifted during the walk, between the prospect of night rounds, the day before, and what he was going to say to the Inspector. When he saw the peace station, anxiety rose in his chest. The relaxation that the Q-tea had given him melted away. Today would be a hard day.
The lobby of the peace station was welcoming and soft by design. Tiling shifted between soft blues and greens. Holographic scrolling displayed the services the station offered in bright orange lettering.
MEDIATION. PROTECTIVE ACTION. EDUCATION
Interrogation added Vasque silently, though one might argue that was included under protective action - Vasque did not.
The door between the color-shifting lobby and the restricted part of the station recognized the detective and slid open. It hissed shut behind him and sealed.
“30 minutes to spare,” said the Inspector.
“44,” replied Vasque tersely. “Next week, I want nights.”
“They’re yours,” replied the Inspector. Her pale face was amused and irritated at the same time. “Arnel, the Division Chief Inspector wants you to know that he thinks you’re purposefully hindering an investigation.”
“The DCI is wrong. I’m exercising my privileges as an investigator.”
“Make it fast Detective. Get this man out of my station.”
Vasque let his face twist into a frown “I brought him in. Now I’m going to make sure I have the right man - and I’m going to be thorough Inspector.”
“Fine, fine,” she waved her hand. “I’m here for you,” she said sarcastically. She turned away from him and walked away.
It struck Vasque then that she had waited for him in person to enter the station. One killing and it seemed like everyone forgot how to do their jobs.
Vasque turned in the opposite direction from the Inspector and the administrative offices towards holding and research. There were only two officers at H / R, both of whom functioned more like librarians or researchers than peace officers. Their data terminals were windows into the vastness of human data and the world’s many networks - chief among them the World Archives. Vasque stopped and approached the the control station where they sat.
“Senior Officer Begrem.”
“Your man is in room 2. He’s been up for a while.”
“We’ve had some problems with the W.A. I’m in communication with the archivists now. We’ll have it resolved in a day or two.”
Vasque thinned his lips and narrowed his eyes.
“I won’t bias your interview with the suspect Detective Vasque. I’ve made everything both pertinent and reasonable available to you.”
Vasque smoothed his uniform tunic again “very well. What does he drink?”
“Coffee,” replied the probationary officer, Siyan.
“Please bring in a pot of coffee and three cups.”
“Yes sir,” replied the younger officer.
Vasque turned to enter room 2.
“You know, if he is the killer, he is the most civilized killer I have ever met,” said Begrem “personal opinion of course.”
“Yeah. Same opinion,” replied Vasque without turning again. He walked to the threshold of the holding cell. The cool white floor under his feet glowed blue. The door slid open and he stepped through. His visual overlay opened a new menu option.
+FRASC KATSAR PERSONAL RECORD+
“Detective Vasque. I didn’t expect to see you again.”
“Why is that?” asked Vasque. He approached the man who sat at the low table in the middle of the room. He was a plain looking man. Vasque would have had a hard time naming a feature that stood out - perhaps the very beginnings of silver in his hair over his ears, or his broad nose. His accent was odd, a mix of South Europe and South Asia, where he was from and where he spent most of his life according to the file. But even those things were not so strange.
“Because this is an investigation for murder detective, and this is a rather small peace station. Don’t they have, humm, investigators with more experience?”
“This isn’t the first murder I’ve investigated,” replied Vasque.
“Oh, of course. You just don’t hear of many these days. Perhaps there are investigators that specialize?”
“There are,” said Vasque. His anxiety settled from his chest into his stomach. “I’m getting old, and this is interesting,” he lied.
Katsar humphed “old.”
“And so are you, Mr. Katsar. You can see how your problems might be worse than the average killer.”
“So little time left,” replied the man in custody with a thin smile. “Right. Who wants to die during criminal rehabilitation?”
The door to the room slid open again. Siyan entered with a clear borosilicate pot in his hand and three cups in the other. The officer placed cups in front of the two sitting men and poured each a cup of coffee. He then stood straight, holding the pot and the unused cup.
“Thank you,” said Katsar.
“Have a seat,” said Vasque.
The probationary officer sat and poured himself the third cup of coffee.
“Well, I am not worried detective. A killing made in self defense is not a criminal action.”
“Arson and unlawful withholding of information are very serious crimes.”
“Ah. Is that how you’re going to proceed?”
“If the killing was in self defense, that is the only way to proceed,” said Vasque. He was warming up now. The anxiety was slowly untwisting in his middle.
“I see. Well, let’s clear it all up then. What would you like to know?”
“This investigation will probably take several days Mr. Katsar. The World Archive is having difficulty with your information.”
“The World Archive,” said Katsar. His voice grew low. His face showed emotion - stronger than any Vasque had seen before, even during the arrest. Before Katsar had always looked bored, but now there was genuine stress written on his features. Subtle fear even.
“The archivists are working to sort it out now. I’ve no idea what the hold up is, but they said it would be fixed shortly.”
“I see.” Katsar said again.
“Mr. Katsar, I can’t help but ask,” said Vasque shifting forward “why are you here? Are you taking the blame for someone else? Identity theft is also a crime, as is aiding a murderer.”
The man across from him smiled. Siyan looked back and forth between the pair in confusion.
“No detective Vasque. I am Frasc Katsar. I see what you are trying to do, but trying to help me for a day,” he paused “won’t help. When the World Archive data come back, there will be some things that need to be explained.”
“You’re 154 years old Mr. Katsar, but you look younger than I do.”
“Is that your first question, detective Vasque?” Katsar said. His voice took a much darker edge.
“I’m not ready to answer that question, detective. Come back when the archivists have done their work.”