“Oh, this guy,” Jor suddenly said from behind him and Rul startled awake. The office, previously occupied only by a few drifting colleagues, was now suddenly much too lively. He blinked rapidly a few times and turned toward Jor. He was looking at one of Sparky’s sketches from Lucy’s memories.
“You know him?” he asked hopeful.
“Yeah, that’s Fluke, used to be a pick-pocket up on level 19. He had quite the guts on him, even stole from uppers if he got the chance,” he said.
“Why wasn’t he in the system then?” Rul asked.
“He never got caught so there’s no official record of him, but if you look him up by name I’m sure he’ll pop up in a few reports. A little troublemaker.”
There were indeed mentions of him in over twenty reports in the previous ten years. He was marked down as unregistered – no one seemed to know if he had any other name except Fluke – and ‘camera shy’. The closest shot of him was overshadowed by a hood he had pulled on quickly when he had realized he was being watched. Given no evidence against him had been found and he was mostly harmless, he had never been pursued by the AFD. He seemed to move around a lot and had been spotted on multiple levels, including Lucy’s, 35. There was one particular case that drew Rul’s attention. Fluke appeared in an investigation conducted on Level 19 that had included the Iron Mongers’ current boss, Reggio Castale. The case was over three years old, but still, there was a thin connection between them.
The easiest way to find someone in MegK was to issue a whereabouts wanted alert through the AFD’s informant network. The AFD paid neat little sums of credit to the person who would be responsible for inconspicuously delivering the exact location of a suspect. An entire army of street urchins and bazaar shopkeepers were signed up to the network so the safest way for a person to not be found would be to stay indoors or travel through the infrastructure as opposed to the streets. Luckily for Rul, Fluke thought he had no reason to hide and no sooner had he issued the alert that three separate accounts came in pinpointing his location as eating fried noodles at a street stand hanging rather precipitously from the 20th floor of a Level 34 building.
Making sure the three informants were still keeping an eye on Fluke, Rul wasted no time and set out using one of the level elevators – that few people were allowed to use except the armed forces and the menial robots – to quickly reach level 34. By the time he found the food stand, Fluke was slouching over the counter rather full and content, with a toothpick between his teeth, making light banter with the owner. He was a lanky youth, with long floppy hair and a fast-talking mouth.
“Are you Fluke?” he asked and Fluke gave him a sharp look and turned his body to the side as if ready to jump over the ledge at any second.
“Did you know Lucy?” Rul asked without introducing himself. Given his track record, he assumed the moment Fluke heard the word militia he’d jump down and make the kind of disappearing act only kids raised on the streets of MegK were capable of pulling off.
“Who’s asking?” Fluke’s right foot moved tentatively forward.
“She went missing a few days ago. We’re trying to find her.”
“So that’s why she hasn’t been in touch,” Fluke said.
“She was airlifted…,” Rul said, but no sooner had he said it that Fluke suddenly jumped over the ledge. Luckily, Rul’s reaction time was good and he lunged forward at the same time Fluke jumped down and they toppled over the edge of the building together, Rul having a firm grasp around his waist. Of course the fact Rul had upset Fluke’s jump instead of stopping it as he had planned meant that it didn’t take long for them to smash straight into an aircar, injuring themselves quite unpleasantly in the process.
“Tell me about Lucy,” Rul asked standing next to Fluke’s floating gurney on level 34’s emergency docks where the hospital’s aircars dumped their load of patients and they awaited, in bits and pieces, the attention of the army of paramedics that roamed around the busy airfield like insects crawling around a mound. Rul of course could have avoided all this by flashing his credentials, but he was also more than a little aware of the fact that that would’ve been the last he would’ve seen of Fluke. Kids like him, real Ks raised on the streets, knew how to disappear. There was a reason they were called magicians. And there was no way Rul had gotten his head bashed in for nothing. So there he was, his head bleeding and pulsating, but ready to conduct an interrogation while he still had who to conduct it on.
“She was a sky painter,” Fluke said. It was a term used for digital painters that displayed their works by projecting them onto the sky illegally as opposed to painting real things. “A silly little thing, but cute as a button. She used to say the world was dreary and she felt it was her mission to give it color. I mean…you’ve seen her paintings, haven’t you? Flashy as all hell.” Fluke said, but he smiled. They were luminous and vibrant, alive, those paintings. “She wasn’t good at sky painting either. I mean the point is to stick it to the uppers, right? To ruin their perfect little white world.” To contaminate them with the stench of the slums. “But she never went above level 30 for it. Actually, she used to love to go down to the slums and do it. All the kids and the old geezers loved her. The thugs laughed at her and called her the Rainbow Lady. She did paint a lot of rainbows,” he laughed. It occurred to Rul he kept talking about her in the past. “But they’d always give her things, pictures of paintings they just happened to have, candy, like to a kid…”
“Do you have any idea who might have taken her?” Rul asked, but Fluke shook his head.
“I have no idea…It’s not like she had anything worth stealing…And she might’ve been cute, but she was far too silly to be seductive, didn’t really take care of herself much either. Who would’ve wanted that scrawny little body?” he said, but it was beyond obvious to Rul, Fluke had wanted her.
“What about her memory?” Fluke looked at him confused. “As in that gadget, the My Memory, she paid a great deal of money for it.”
“Oh, that, well, it was just her memories. What could anybody have wanted with them?” he shrugged.
“Do you know where she got the money for it?” he asked.
“She may have found it,” he said and grinned.
“Do you have any idea how she could have gotten hold of copies of stolen art?”
“No idea. Maybe she made them after old copies. From before they were stolen,” he suggested.
“Those images were taken using the MM’s high-def scanner, after real objects, not other copies.” Fluke again, said nothing. “Have you heard of the Iron Mongers?”
“Small group. Mostly deals in thieving and high-end drugs,” he said. “All too fancy for the likes of me.”
“But you deal in thieving yourself, don’t you?” Rul said threateningly, but Fluke didn’t reply. “Are you telling me that in all your time on level 35 you’ve never once come in contact with them?” No answer again and Rul was tempted to stomp on Fluke’s broken leg to make him reconsider. He sighed instead which made his head pulsate horribly and said: “Look this isn’t about you…this is about Lucy. I want to find her. Maybe there’s a chance she’s still alive.”
Fluke didn’t say anything, but a look of pain crossed his face that made Rul’s stomach tie in knots. He knew more, he definitely knew more.
“I met Reggio when I was living up on level 19. He hadn’t been thrown out yet. I helped him with some problems. I met him again when I had to come down here to…Well, anyway, he was running the Iron Mongers. He wanted to bring me into the fold, but I’ve always enjoyed being my own man so I turned him down, but we stayed on friendly terms.”
“Did Lucy ever meet him?” Rul asked.
“No, never,” he said, but then after a while added. “Reggio was always big on art. None of this ultramodern, digital stuff. Real art. Probably cause he was an upper and all. He showed me his private collection once when I went to see him. I told Lucy about it. It was my mistake…after that, all she talked about was seeing it. I knew it was a stupid idea. I just knew it, but then she flashed that grin of hers at me and I…”
“Did Reggio know you let her see them?”
“No, I sneaked her in. No one knew about it…or at least I thought they didn’t.”
“So it was the Iron Mongers who took her?”
“Maybe,” he shrugged. “Reggio said he didn’t know anything of the sort.”
“And you believed him?”
“He didn’t really have any reason to lie to me. If anything, they should’ve taken me. I was the one who let her in after all.”
Rul’s visor suddenly extended forward announcing he had a call. It was Jor.
“What happened to you?” he asked surprised when he saw the state he was in.
“I fell,” Rul said. “What is it?”
“You’re on level 34, right?” he asked.
“Could you go over to the water canal near the western gate? A team’s already on the way. They found a body, they said it might be one of ours.”
“Okay, I’ll head there now.” He looked at Fluke and said: “Thanks for your help. Don’t think about disappearing just yet.” And with that he took out a tracker implanter and fired it against his chest.
“Hey, hey, that’s illegal! You need my consent to track me!” Fluke said annoyed although considering how his existence itself was somewhat of an illegality there was irony in it. As Rul walked away he was well aware that as soon as Fluke would leave the emergency docks he’d try to find a way to remove the tracker or disable it, but in his experience it always took them at least two days to get the job done or even longer if they didn’t have connections in the cyberworld. And that was plenty of time for Rul. 48 hours was all the time they were allowed to spend on an investigation. After that, the trail died. And Lucy’s 48 hours were almost up.
It had rained the previous night on level 34. The canals were full to the brim and the restless waters raced from side to side as if wanting to escape. Rul stood on the rusty edges looking down into their enormity, not even noticing at first the broken figure in the distance, swaying left and right as if the waves were fighting over possession of it. Barely visible at times, submerged then once again breaking the surface, a frail body, blue with death. Rul guessed it was either a woman or a child. The retrieval unit’s aircraft neared him and took him on board before it ventured out to the place the body had been spotted by the canal crews. As the men were preparing nets for the retrieval, Rul leaned over the edge of the aircraft and stared into the waters.
There, among the waves with her hair flowing around her like an aureole, was Lucy. He had feared it, he had known it was a distinct possibility, but now, his first reaction was the desire to lift that body from the cold waters into his arms. To warm it in his embrace and paint it with the colors of her paintings. Bright and luminous and alive. What happened instead was that she drew him in her embrace and as he stumbled into the water, through his fading consciousness, he thought he saw her smile at him, a smile far brighter than the sun shining over the highest level of MegK. And then there was water. Icy and numbing. And nothing else.
Continue reading Epilogue
Originally published as The Invisible Girl, Chapter 3: The Magician, 1 September 2014 on