Chapter 3 – A Heavier Badge

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Faron seemed so much bigger when walking it on foot. With his new found shift in altitude, Link was discovering a sense of ambivalence about his promotion. It suddenly felt like there wasn’t much to his small world. Being able to cover his route so quickly left him feeling like he could be doing something so very much more. That brought an uncomfortable series of thoughts that he didn’t have time to process at the moment. Maybe he could chat about it later with Lilly.

The morning’s patrol seemed to set the tone for how the rest of the day was to be spent. Mostly it was minor incidents that were handled in only a few moments. The worst thing he saw was a teenager trying to shoplift in an arcade. He had one of the newest wireless interceptors that had been circulating. The would-be thief simply walked into the arcade, strolled around, maybe even played a couple of rounds on a few different machines, then walked out. The whole time, his interceptor would be scanning the shop’s local network for any game files being transmitted to client machines and copy them. After that, he could just decrypt and compile them, then send them on to a buyer on the dark web. His first passenger, his first arrest, and it was little more than petty electronic theft. It wasn’t even that high profile a program.

“You should consider yourself lucky kid. The manager isn’t interested in pressing full charges. He just wants you to learn your lesson.” the detective said as he piloted his vehicle towards their destination.

The teen glowered in the back of the cruiser as it glided over the tops of the buildings, his hands restrained behind his back. There was a certain palpable indignity to it, which was entirely the point.

“Yeah, whatever. Old man charges too much for his junk.” the unhappy kid muttered.

“What? You can’t spare ten creds to just outright buy a copy? You gotta go in and actually take a piece of the man’s livelihood?” Link asked, glancing over his seat back at the youngster from time to time.

“I wasn’t taking it! I was copying it!” the kid shouted in defense.

Link switched the cruiser to autopilot then turned to peer back at the lad through the soft blue glow of the defense screen separating the front and rear seats. There was a lot this kid had to learn.

“That’s not what your little toy was saying. It was set to cut/paste, not copy. You were saving it for yourself and deleting it from his archive. That’s not just theft, that’s destruction of property.”

That seemed to stir up a good deal more than a simple, half-hearted answer from the dark-haired boy.

“What!? I swear I didn’t know it was doing that! You can’t honestly believe I was trying to destroy his copy!” the kid shouted.

For a member of the demographic renowned for their emotional indifference, this particular sample of that population seemed to turn rather quickly. Link smirked.

“It wasn’t. It was just downloading a copy. But I noticed you hadn’t bothered to disable that feature. In fact, the setting was saved in your preferences. You intended to use it at some point. Might wanna think twice about that.” the detective said, satisfied that he managed to actually get a comment that would serve in place of a full confession, just in case this little delinquent got any ideas to try again.

Link took command of the cruiser again as they approached the building where the young man lived. He slowed his car and lowered it down to street level. The landing signals deployed automatically and fanned out to the four corners of the space his vehicle aimed to occupy. When the craft settled to a stop, the beacons retreated back into the shell and the driver turned the engine off.

“I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about man. I didn’t do anything about setting up a cut/paste protocol. It musta been the guy that sold it to me.” the boy said indignantly, even leaning forward towards the energized partition, genuinely worried he might get in more trouble.

Link turned about once more to face the delinquent through the defense field, giving it a light tap to make the boy lean back in his seat. He had some experience with this kind of minor law-breaking.

“Uh huh, sure… so why don’t you just give me his name and I’ll go have a chat with him about it?” Link asked, “I’m sure he could clear this all up.”

The teen glared, mustering up all his willpower to look and sound as defiant and brave as he could.

“I’ll take the secret to my grave! I’m not a narc!” he shouted.

“It was Grog wasn’t it?” the detective asked.

Suddenly, the glare he was receiving dropped and melted into a look of astonishment. It told the detective far more than the boy had intended to spill. Suddenly, he was feeling very vulnerable and worried he might end up earning the ire of the wrong people.

As if angering the police wasn’t bad enough. Clearly it hadn’t been, otherwise the boy wouldn’t have made the attempt.

“Next time you talk to him, let him know he needs to stop installing a listener subroutine. He’s been tracking your digital sticky-fingers. He likes to keep lists of what all his customers do just in case he needs or wants to blackmail them,” the detective suppressed the urge to grin as he watched the boy’s face turn ashen at the mention of possible blackmail, “Oh… and tell him Link says hi.”

The detective climbed out of the cruiser and opened the back door, pulling the teen out. The restraints were removed, the plastic band wrapped around the boy’s wrists unsnapping on one end to let the whole strap slide out of sight into the ‘cuff’. Immediately, the detained child brought his arms around in front of himself and rubbed at his wrists, relieved that such discomfort was over. He was still rather irritated by the whole situation.

“You cops think you’re so big and bad, like you know everything. Mark my words, one day you’ll be stuck without all your fancy weapons and computers and you won’t be able to do anything! You’re so dependant on all of it!” the boy blustered.

Link had heard this rhetoric before. He didn’t like hearing it come from someone so young, especially given the irony that he had just been picked up for using that exact same technology he was decrying to commit a crim. The detective frowned and leaned in a bit closer, gripping the boy’s less than fashionable shirt at the collar to grab his attention.

“Where’d you hear that stuff? Huh!? Who you been talkin’ to, kid!?” Link asked angrily, perhaps a bit too gruff, but he wasn’t interested in good community outreach at that moment.

That sudden shift in intensity frightened the boy again. Clearly this child was still too young to really understand what he had been exposed to. That worried the detective even more than he had been initially.

“I just… heard it! From this kid at school! Said there was this guy on the corner of his street handing out flyers! Actual paper flyers! Who does that anymore!? My buddy took one and read it! Showed it to me! Sounded like it made sense to me!” the teen admitted fearfully.

Until now, the detective was considering letting the boy go once in his mother’s custody and maybe check in on him in a few days. Now he was thinking he should come back tomorrow and get more information about this person handing out paper flyers. It was definitely something he should speak to the mother about.

“Well throw that garbage right where it belongs! In the trash! That sort of talk is only good for one thing, gettin’ you in trouble with the government! You’re too damn young to be talkin’ like a revolutionary!” Link fought to keep from shouting, but at least he successfully repressed the urge to shake the young man.

All it had done to the kid was make him truly terrified. He didn’t realize just how far over the line he had crossed. Everyone had heard about the dissidents making trouble for the government. This boy just hadn’t been paying close enough attention to properly connect the dots between them and the rhetoric on the paper flyer.

“Revolutionary!? No! It was just some junk about how it could all shut down at any time! That it’s bound to happen! Like a power outage! Ya know! For a few hours! Storm season’s coming, thought he was tryin’ ta sell backup generators or somethin’!” the boy cried, desperately trying to make up whatever cover story he could to avoid being classified as a potential terrorist.

Link let go of the boy’s shirt and simply grabbed him by his shoulder to push him into the apartment building on file for him.

“Right, giving out paper flyers for deals on a backup pocket reactor. You should pay closer attention in school, son. That guy wants all of this to go away. You’d do well to stay the hell away from him and people like him. They want us thrown back into the dark ages.” the detective said.

He shoved the kid in through the gentle energy barrier established in lieu of a door to let the air circulate more freely during the heat of the warmer season. It also acted as a decent bug zapper. Link grunted and turned to walk back down the stairs, his mood soured slightly. Maybe he should have taken the boy in anyway. At least he couldn’t use his little toy anymore, not while it was hanging from the detective’s belt, waiting to collect dust in the impound.

“Think you were being a tad rough on him?” asked a young lady, “He’s just a kid. Kids do stupid things all the time.”

She was standing at the bottom of the stairs, leaning against the metallic post standing at the end of the concrete banister, looking back at the young man who had just dropped off the delinquent.

“Yeah, maybe. But he doesn’t need to let himself get taken in by some anti-establishment terrorist crap,” Link sighed and calmed himself, realizing he had gotten rather angry when he shouldn’t have, “How are you Lilly?”

The young lady smiling back at him stood up from her leaned posture. She lifted a hand to brush her bright blond bangs out of her eyes. Her hair was so brilliant it might as well have been white. She gazed out at the police officer through a pair of brown eyes that seemed to act as the most intense scanners ever devised by man. One look and anyone would feel like they couldn’t hide anything from her, ever. She simply balled a fist and tapped it against the young man’s shoulder in a false punch.

“I’m good… and anti-establishment crap or not, there is a hint of merit to it all. We are awful dependent on all these creature comforts. It’s kinda scary to think what might happen if it all went away.” Lilly said.

“Good thing it’s not goin’ away. Dunno if I could stand it if your makeup applier ran out on you.” Link replied.

Lillian’s mouth hung open in shock, the corners of her mouth pulled up into an amused grin. She balled her fist again, hitting his shoulder a bit harder.

“And without your little computer telling you everything you’ve got on file for everyone you meet, you’d forget who everyone was!” the lady shouted, hoping to end this little contest of theirs.

Link laughed as he recoiled, cowering playfully from the lady’s insincere attack.

“Okay! Okay, you win Lil! What are you doin’ out here? Don’t you have to be at work?” he asked.

“Nah, I’m takin’ the day off. My dad says he’s finally got some free time in the booth for me. Can you believe it!? I’m finally gonna get to record something!” Lilly said excitedly.

She bounced lightly on the balls of her feet, the thick, black boots she wore flexing easily. She loved the old comfortable things and they were quite broken in as a result. They clashed a bit with the rest of her outfit, a simple dress and light coat, but then so did the fingerless gloves. She was certainly her own woman.

“Really? That’s great! I know you’ll be amazing in the booth! Your first professionally recorded song,” Link mused, “You gonna try to sell it or keep it free like your other stuff?”

“I think I might try to sell this one! You wanna come by after work to hear it live?” Lilly asked.

Her hand found their way into Link’s.

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world. But…” he sighed, looking away in dejection.

Lilly frowned, quietly baffled by his sudden shift in mood.

“But what? You got somethin’ better to do?” she asked, staring hard at him.

“It’s just… well… I’m gonna have all this paperwork to do since I just made detective today.” Link explained.

His look quickly turned back to a huge grin. He loved her reaction to things like this, and today’s was a good one. Her eyes widened quite large, her mouth dropped open again and she began to bounce away all over again.

“Really!? You got the promotion!? That’s great! I was wondering what you were doing in the cruiser! Can I go for a ride? Maybe you could drop me off at the studio?” Lilly asked, unable to stop from letting her enthusiasm bubble up through her.

“It would be my pleasure.” the detective said.

Link bowed lightly in quite the chivalrous manner. He took Lilly’s hand and guided her to the passenger side, opening the door for her. Once she was settled, he closed the door and moved around to the driver’s side. He climbed in, started the vehicle, and took off gently. The same sensation from before washed over him; that chest-swelling pride he first felt when he sat down behind the sticks. He could barely contain himself. Still, he wasn’t about to brag. That wouldn’t be terribly becoming of a gentleman, a word that didn’t get thrown around a lot in this day and age.

“So, you got promoted, you gonna do anything to celebrate?” Lilly grinned over at her driver, giving him a nudge with an elbow.

Everyone seemed so fixated on the notion. It wasn’t all that massive a jump. Sure there was prestige involved, but in the grand scheme of things, he wasn’t moving that far up the ladder.

“Nah, probably just gonna get some good takeout, head home, watch a concert, and go to bed. I figure it’s just like any other night. I just have a different badge now.” Link answered.

Lilly seemed shocked by his unwillingness to indulge in his good fortune.

“What!? Takeout? A night alone!? No! You’re coming to our house for dinner! Dad’s been looking for a reason to get back in the kitchen! We can watch this concert thing of yours from our place.” the lady said, almost angry at his answer.

“Oh I don’t know Lil, I don’t want to impose.” Link said.

A fist smacked into his shoulder. It didn’t hurt but it did make him wince in surprise.

“I’m not taking no for an answer! As soon as I’m done recording, we’re headed straight back home and we’re dragging you with us! You’re family! And family celebrates this sorta thing!” Lilly shouted.

There wasn’t any way he was getting out of this without a fight if he didn’t surrender immediately. And even then, it was a fight he knew couldn’t win.

“Alright, alright. Dinner at your place. I’ll be there.” he said and grimaced again as he found his shoulder slugged once more.

She could be such a violent young lady. She played the role of ‘little sister’ very well even if she wasn’t officially related to him. The cruiser drifted down out of the sky, sending out its beacons as usual, and settled into place. The young lady opened her door and climbed out, turning to lean back in, staring harshly at the young cop.

“Good. And I’ll be holding you to that! Tonight at seven sharp! Don’t be late… detective!” Lilly said, putting special emphasis on his new rank.

With that, the door slammed shut and the young lady practically bounded up the steps into the building that housed the recording studio. Link had other business to attend to so listening to the session would have to wait for now. He’d be able to make it back before she finished.

“Dispatch calling unit 378, come in unit 378. Over.” The radio crackled hideously.

Link would have to talk to the garage about getting that fixed. The officer tapped the ‘send’ button on the right-hand side of the helm to respond.

“This is unit 378, dispatch. I copy. Over.” the detective replied.

“Unit 378 you’re being recalled. Report to station immediately.” the voice on the other end said.

Link grumbled and tapped the send button again, annoyed that he was being pulled from duty for something. He had a fairly good idea of what it was and he wasn’t interested.

“Dispatch, unit 378. You can tell the guys that they can wait to cut the cake after I’ve finished my patrol.” Link said.

“Negative 378. You are to return to base on the double,” there was a pause while the operator shifted into a different tone of voice, “It’s serious Link. The chief wants you back here five minutes ago.”

The levity of the moment was quickly sucked out of the cabin. The young detective knew when the operator said so that they weren’t playing around. Something was up and it involved him. Something bad enough to make the operator nervous. This kind of earnestness wasn’t used for run-ins with people like ‘Tingle’ and Beedle. There was something very wrong. Without another moment’s hesitation, he spun the helm and redirected the car back towards the precinct.

“Copy dispatch. Unit 378 on route to station. ETA three minutes.” Link reported just before he flicked on his siren and lights, the addition of those commanding all aerial traffic to clear a patch for him.

The ride back took just as much time as he expected, but it felt so much longer. A knot had formed in his stomach on the way, and was growing tighter and more unpleasant with every passing moment. The garage came into view and he swung down in through the entry, killing his lights and siren. His usual careful manner when parking one of the force’s vehicles was set lightly aside as he picked the nearest spot and set the craft down. He leapt out of the vehicle, tossing the key fob to one of the mechanics as he ran past.

“Fix the radio, wouldja!? It sounds like an antique cell phone!” Link shouted before rushing off.

The doors into the precinct were shoved open and his pace slowed, not wanting to raise any suspicion but it looked as though he was too late for that. The whole station seemed to be whispering amongst themselves. As he entered, the conversations all seemed to die away. He frowned. The knot in his stomach tightened further. Chief Barnes’ office welled up in front of him again, the glass already frosted. Someone was in there with him. Link stopped in front of the door, unsure if he even dared to open it. Maybe if he left the door closed, he could just let whatever was going on melt away into nothingness. It was a pretty thought. Rarely was anything in police business described as pretty.

He opened the door and stepped in. What he saw was the chief standing to one side of his office, a rather distraught look on his face. Immediately adjacent to the door was another man, peering out the one-way glass to study the rest of the precinct. He was dressed in a suit of black, trimmed tastefully and conservatively in white and gold. The emblem on his left breast was all too familiar; three golden triangles with two wings fanning out on either side, two talons reaching down from their bases. The middle-aged man did not bother to turn and address the new arrival, giving Link an excellent view of his ponytail, pure white and running down to the middle of his back, braided meticulously. It all painted a very complete image of elitism.

“Chief… you wanna tell me what one of the central regents is doing here?” Link asked.

“So you’re educated in our uniforms. Impressive. Most simply take me for a common bureaucrat. You must have a keen eye for detail.” the regent in question said.

He either felt Link’s informal addressing was beneath him, or he was actually lacking the stick in the very tender spot that seemed to make the elites such a pain to deal with.

“Yeah, thanks and all, but I was asking my chief.” Link shot back.

Barnes lifted a hand to calm the detective.

“Link… try to keep a cool head. He’s here as a courtesy.” the chief said.

The knot in his stomach tightened even further, feeling like it was beginning to cut off the circulation to his legs.

“Courtesy for what!? What on earth could be so important that a regent of the crown has to come down to a little hick town like ours!?” Link said, unable to keep from shouting.

There was history there; history that Link still hadn’t dealt with. It was starting to feel like he was going to need to get started on that pretty soon. Probably in the next five minutes.

The chief frowned harshly and tossed something towards the boy. It flashed gold in the sterile office light with a thin chain trailing it as it raced through the air to him. Link snatched it without hesitation before it could fall and gripped it tightly in his hand. He peered closely at his chief, studying his face very carefully. Barnes was in pain. Not physical pain, deeper than that. Something terrible had happened and the councilman was here as a courtesy. The knot–now as big as a melon–had stolen away all sensation from below the detective’s waist.

“You may want to sit down, Link,” said the regent just before he rest a hand of sympathy on the young man’s shoulder, “This may not be easy for you to hear.”

The detective lifted his closed fist, the golden chain dangling from one end, as he opened his fingers. What he held in his hand forced him into the offered chair. It wasn’t his doing. He had no control over the action. His legs simply gave out under the weight of what he saw in his palm. There was no possible way he could be holding this.

Link lifted his gaze briefly to glance up at the older man he had spoken to earlier that day. The levity of that meeting was now suddenly completely insignificant and irrelevant. All that existed was the little charm in his hand and the question it was forcing to take shape in Link’s mind.

“Chief Barnes,” the regent said, “Perhaps we should get the detective something to drink.”

The conversation continued on for quite some time. It took an oddly long time to go over so little information. There was a box to go through, and its contents seemed to make things all the more difficult. Hours passed before Link could finally leave. He was already late for dinner. After the conversation he just had, he didn’t feel much like eating, or watching his concert. But he owed it to Lilly and her father, not just because of the promise he made her earlier that day, but another promise he had made long before that.

The cruiser sailed gracefully across town, settling down out in front of Lilly’s building. His phone buzzed again, the most recent of dozens of times. She would be furious with him for showing up so late. For what felt like an hour, he sat in the cruiser, going over it again and again in his head. There wouldn’t be any easy way to do this. It was better to go get it over with and deal with the aftermath than to try and stretch it out. The door opened and he climbed out. The stairs felt like a great mountain he had to climb, his legs heavy and uncooperative. The lift door slid open as he approached and it carried him to the third floor. The hallway there seemed to stretch on for miles. Lilly’s door welled up in front of him sooner than he expected and he simply stared at it.

He lifted a hand to knock, hesitating for just a moment. He strengthened his resolve as he clenched his left fist tighter–feeling a subtle ache from the back of the palm–and rapped on the door with his right. In all too short a wait, the young lady opened it and glared out at him.

“Well it’s about time! I told you seven sharp! It’s past eight thirty!” Lilly shouted, “Do you know how hard dad’s been trying to keep things from burning!?”

“I know Lilly… I’m sorry I’m late. There was… business at the precinct.” Link said.

He was decidedly lacking the energy he had earlier. The girl chalked it up to a rough day and pressed right on past his mood. She took his arm and began dragging him in.

“Well come on! Get in here! Dinner’s not ruined yet, if you hurry you might be able to make your concert!” she cried.

Link stepped in and squeezed his eyes shut, letting the door slide closed behind him.

“Lil… stop… just stop.” he said, his voice quiet and oozing the pain he was fighting to hold back.

She turned, doing as she was told, furrowing her brow. It was clicking with her now.

“Link… what’s wrong?” she asked.

Those three simple words brought her father in from the kitchen, taking his apron off as he studied the detective’s face. The more experienced man could tell almost straight away what was on the boy’s mind, but the finer details escaped him.

“Here.” Link said as he took the young lady’s hand and placed his left in it, uncurling his fingers to let the contents slide into her palm.

When he pulled his hand away, he revealed a necklace. The pendant was a common design, the symbol of the kingdom’s prosperity; three golden triangles with a void at their center. This one was far simpler than most others like it. There were no embellishments, no flourishes or engravings. Just three simple triangles of gold forming a larger one on a chain. The girl’s blood turned to ice as she peered at it, beginning to tremble.

“Link… what… what is this? What are you telling me?” Lilly asked as the pain began to flow into her.

The detective lifted a hand to remove his hat. This was it. He had to get the words out or he would simply break down himself.

“Lil… Colin’s dead.”

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