Enmity

Date: 1,990,095 A.D. (Gregorian), PW 5,039 (Shango), NA 506 (Qareen)
Location: p45

1

From: p45 Severe Crime Investigations Office [45SCIO], see credits below.
Sent 75.88.23, .435/506
Fractal encoding is in effect, path accepted by this device.
Sub: Sedrain7/p45 Incident
Further files and data are attached.

Tynar3,

In the light of your request I have provided multiple angles of the research regarding the Sedrain7 case that occurred earlier this year. It transpires that the case is interesting for multiple reasons, not least because of the group behind it. It transpires that they have named themselves the Yakuza, a name they could not have acquired unless they have successfully hacked into restricted areas of the Human Database. The Yakuza themselves, as will no doubt become common knowledge in due course, were an organised crime group that achieved global notoriety during the Western hegemonic period of Earth’s history, from 1800 A.D. onwards. What makes the naming of the Qareen Yakuza particularly confusing is that the original Yakuza were influenced, naturally, by the scarcity inherent within Earth economics at the time; this is not an issue that should be present in any Qareen organisation.

Regardless of motive, however, I recommend that we keep a watch on this organisation. I have reason to suspect that they have recruited members, or possibly formed alliances, offworld. Just yesterday, a report emerged of a death within the Astrostate Republic of Wexeria that suggested Yakuza influence. Whilst no definitive evidence has yet come to light, if there is a connection – however faint – this would suggest a degree of power within this organisation unknown in any criminal enterprise within the Qareen Confederation since the Intersection Wars.

As stated previously, I have included a number of angles within this overall report [1], which you may find to be of varying usefulness. Given that the incident in question has reached its logical conclusion, the reports are effectively there to peruse at your leisure, although given the high likelihood of the Yakuza continuing their business, it may be advisable to read at least one of these reports immediately. Standard Report A carries some degree of width about the incident, but perhaps lacks the detail necessary to understand the root causes. Standard Reports B, C and D carry a strong degree of detail about various aspects of the incident, but all three must be read to understand the full picture.

Much as you disapprove of the Confederate Government’s Fully Applied Personnel initiative, having described it as “a navel-gazing solution for a non-existent issue in our society”, I have nonetheless decided to enact it [2] within our ranks and commission a fifth “report” from a local writer, who has condensed the previous four reports into a narrative. Whilst this does not necessarily provide the best way of conveying all the information to hand, it does nonetheless make the situation most comprehensible. It transpires that the writer, in spite of his relative youth, has travelled significantly around the Confederation during that time, allowing him to harmonise the multiplicity of dialects and languages bound up in the other reports.

And so, with this, my role in the case has for now expired. I should remind you that my contract stipulates renewal merely through a single message clearly indicative of such.

 

Credits

Standard Reports
A – Elkraya2/34,001
B – Jaran3/p1,201,455
C – Len4/p45
D – Wytre9/p45

Nonstandard

A – Cheltrak8/p45

Investigation Initiator and Supervisor

Myself, Yetza6/p57

Recipient Notes [sent back on .441/506]:

[1] Rest assured, these will be read in due course. Standard Report A has been read in full.

[2] Your quote was entirely accurate; much to my frustration, I have found the only option has been to utilise the initiative in the light of what I have read. The p45 SCIO Anti-Yakuza Operation [A.Y.O.] will begin on .445, employing 500 individuals through the scheme. We may require more. I confess this in advance to deflect awkward questions later, and I’ve done what I’ve done through gritted teeth. I’ll just hope that the Confeds don’t notice, right?

I’ll also hope that these “Yakuza” people aren’t as bad as they seem.

2

#Sedrain? Where are you?#

#<excl> I’m across town. Move in, you’re on the edge of range.#

#What are you doing?#

Sedrain looked across to the empty chair across the desk and sighed.

#I’ve said this before. Today I’m… taking care of business. The business, you know?#

He got no reply, and closed off that channel in his mind. The man he had spoken to had been gone for some time. He decided that panicking and leaving would not achieve anything. Even so, as he sat there, he still felt the subconscious urge to run well up through his conscious, bounce about through the quadrants of his brain.

#OK, Sedrain, I’ve managed to retrieve all of the calculations and, well, what you’re asking for is definitely possible.#

That was him. Sedrain watched as he hurried through the door and slapped down a series of papers on the desk, before turning to his computer screen, tapping and passing his hands over the graphics on it. In doing so, he produced a holographic projection of a large, bluff tower that stretched up kilometres into the sky. It was, as Sedrain couldn’t deny, an ugly piece of architecture, built in a manner that humans and Qareen alike generally associated with the disposal of self-produced waste. Of course, this was tempered by certain qualifications; even in the Confederation’s most decadent regions – of which p45 was not one of them – no toilet would ever reach above the clouds as this did, nor would it ever be several hundred metres along each side.

The outside, though, was not important; what was important was the inside, which Sedrain hoped he could do later. Kalio3 was still bothering him.

#OK, I’ll be outside in about 02.00.00.#

#Don’t bother, I’ll come to you.#

#No, it’s fine, I’ll just-#

He switched away from the conservation, allowing his superconscious to log Kalio’s overlong explanation of what she was doing, planning to do, why she was doing it… and pulled away from the holographic projection.

#Would it be possible to take these plans away?# he asked.

#I don’t see why not#, the man stated, pulling out a disc and slapping it onto the table. One more tap on the screen and a river of light spilled forth from the screen to the disc, quickly disappearing with a brief flare of light. He picked up the disc and tossed it to Sedrain.

#You’ve got all the time you like, but Rhiya Architectural Processes would appreciate it if you were to return with a request for execution.#

#That would… most certainly be likely. Thank you. Bye.#

Sedrain got up and left, and began to head home. Kalio continued to buzz in his ear, and he continued to ignore her, choosing instead to merely ping his location on a constant pulse. Reaching a teleportation booth nearby, he decided to go the easy route home, and with a brief flash found himself there, outside a large, single-storey hockey-puck of a building.

He walked inside, and made his way to his study – a misnomer, given that he had rarely worked in there much over the years – and slapped his palm against the wall-screen opposite the door. The wall rippled into life, displaying several specks of light of varying colours and magnitudes. He bent down to the bottom right corner, picking out a dull red glow that was almost invisible against the black background, and it expanded into a vast calendar, on which twenty days of fifty rows appeared. Most were blank, but those at the top each contained a number, and the run continued up until the third box on the fifth row. Moving his hand to there, he brought up a keyboard graphic and typed in a number slightly smaller than the one for the day before. He stood back.

“Computer, activate audio.”

A beep sounded in the room.

“Day three hundred and twelve, time is 64.55.17. The Yakuza have not sent any follow-up communications since day three hundred, and their threats would appear to have abated. There is no doubt on my part that this is purely in order to generate a sufficient sense of complacency. I cite the audio message from day twenty-six: ‘we do not forget, and we do not subside’. With each passing day the likelihood of them enacting some kind of final retribution increases dramatically. I am, frankly, grateful that they have held out this long.

“If you are hearing this, and you are a member of the authorities, then my plan has worked. Tonight, I will tell Kalio the truth. I owe it to her…”

3

The forty-fifth planet that the Qareen had ever discovered had, for many centuries, been as typically conservative as many such early-era planets – it still inevitably and largely consisted, after all, of the descendants of those who had never dared to press onwards into the outer reaches of the galaxy. p45, however, was one of the few bucking the trend, instead seeing its cities become ever more active, dense, and buzzing with the sounds of offworlders, Shango and Bhoot immigrants, and rural dwellers who had moved inwards. The trend had been a rapid and recent one, so much so that Sedrain could vaguely stretch his powers of recall back towards an early childhood in which the global capital, le7x, was essentially a huge, multi-million populated village.

He could also remember how his current predicament was once an unthinkable one for anyone.

When he asked himself, though, how it had come to this, he had to conclude that yes, it was partly his fault. He should never have allowed himself to get blackmailed and extorted, never allowed himself to acquire any kind of association with those people, who had the most obviously unqareen name, “Yakuza”. What did it even mean? He had no idea. He had wondered if it was a Shango term, a Dharan term, or something else, but it was irrelevant now.

Kalio got home around 70.00.00, and Sedrain decided not to waste time.

#Darling, I’ve got a problem. These last few weeks, when I’ve said I’ve had business to attend to?#

#Another woman?#

#No#, he said, and paused as she entered the room. #A crime gang.#

Her response was wordless and oddly neutral to him. Perhaps she was covering up her thoughts – perhaps she was in on it. Perhaps he was – no, perhaps he should push on with the explanation.

#They call themselves the Yakuza. They’re… well, they want something from me, and [unparsed; possible glitch] I don’t know how to deal with them.#

Still she was neutral.

#Look, I’ve got a plan. We’d have to move, but we could keep them away. They wouldn’t be able to deal with us, and we would have to compromise, sure, but it can work out.#

Still nothing. She sat down and didn’t say a word.

#If you want to leave, and get out of this, then I’ll go it alone. They’re after me, not you.#

#And what if#, she finally began, #in order to get to you, they go after me. Did you think of that?#

He had to admit that he hadn’t.

#Did you think of

ANYTHING?#

He felt the squeal of feedback and a splatter of pure scarlet bile, and abstractions that stabbed and shredded through his thought processes. He feel forward onto the table, clutching his head. He had braced himself, and still felt the full force.

He vision was still poor, his eyes still flickered, his head still ached.

“Like I said, I’ve got a plan,” he tried to assure her.

“Fine,” she said. She was still slightly onside, he realised – to signal him, and jam that thought into his head, would’ve been genuine torture. “But I want context. I want the truth, because I just have this crazy notion that an idler and a speechwriter aren’t going to outsmart a crime gang on their own.”

“They call themselves the Yakuza – I don’t know what it means, whether it’s Dharan or Shango or some made-up slang or-”

“What do they want?”

He tried to think it through. What they wanted was actually quite complex, but to say as much would’ve sounded like an excuse.

#…#

“They want… they want me to recover certain artifacts for them. And if I can’t do that, to make them. If I can’t do this, they’ll blackmail me. It’s a complex thing, what they’re asking for, and if I refuse, they’ll probably kill me.”

“Well I just might first,” Kalio replied. She glanced out of the window at the city lights across the flat landscape. “I’m going out. You’re coming with me.”

“Wh-”

“Like I said, I’m now your collateral. And there is no way that I am letting you drag me around.”

4

PublicLife le7x was an unusual place in the Qareen Confederation, in that it was named, not numbered and addressed. More and more of these sorts of places had appeared recently, and whilst Kalio frequented them, Sedrain had always had his suspicions.

This one was a spiky, edgy building around four storeys high, with darkened windows from which dim reddish light flickered and strobed out. Following Kalio in, Sedrain felt a sudden impact of noise and dense air, a suffocating, oppressive atmosphere that he instantly hated. The place was at least an open-plan, single-room layout on the ground floor, but it was incredibly dark, and filled with furniture; all he could do was follow Kalio, who threaded her way through this and to the bar that spanned the opposite side. An assembler slid along the railings at the back of the bar towards her.

“You’re indentified as Kalio3. Are you?” it asked through the speaker.

“Yes.”

“Is the man next to you Sedrain7?”

She sighed. “He is.”

“I have a message for him. It appears that someone knew he would get it here.”

A section of dark wood on the bar slid away to reveal a screen.

“You actually got an order?”

Kalio tapped it in whilst Sedrain examined the message. Written in small block capitals, he couldn’t help but read it with a calmly grim demeanour. It was, after all, what he had been expecting.

Sedrain,

This is the last message we will send you. As you are no doubt aware, we have pursued you for nearly a third of a year now. If you were under the impression that we were about to give up, you were right. Because we soon will, once we have brought this whole affair to a close. Make no mistake, Sedrain, you have no choice. You will comply to the conditions we set out previously or we will enact retribution on you as we see fit. Do not try to trace the source of this message, do not pass it on to any kind of authority. We will know, and reprisal will be guaranteed.

And this time, we are setting a deadline. You have six days, Sedrain. Six days to prove that you have what we’re looking for.

Do not forget.

5

#You should be able to move into the lower sections by 00.00.01 tomorrow.#

The lone construction manager signalled his client, then moved back to his station, where the holographic representation of a part-built tower swarmed with robotic units in exact unison with the real scene in the distance. Examining the tower, he nodded briefly; all was well, which in his mind was quite a shame. Not needing the money, he had to take jobs for the prestige instead, and prestige was not gained by directing the robots to build something as unbelievably ugly as that, not for him. He knew nothing about the project, other than the fact that it was apparently meant to be something kind of bunker or hiding place. Apparently his client needed a hundred-year shit as well, he thought.

#Time isn’t the problem#, his client responded, #so long as it’s all complete in six days, then it’s fine.#

#All matter should be laid down by then. The more advanced systems may well need to be installed in full on the seventh day, but that’d be all.#

The tower’s construction continued upwards, and having already climbed several hundred metres since the work began that morning, it would certainly be kilometres high by sunset.

#Good. I’m coming over to check anyway – not that I don’t trust you, but these are difficult times.#

#You don’t have to.#

#But I will. I need something to do anyway.#

The manager always liked the clients that teleported across to the site with new ideas, new thoughts, and various discussions. With these people, there was a true spirit of collaboration, and even if the units had to disassemble half the structure to make it better, and even if it put the project deadline back by days, he could live with that, because the deadline was always a mere guide. With this man, though, this Sedrain, he instead felt the decaying influence of a man who needed the project just so, and it blackened and rotted away everything he felt about the project. That dull, windowless design never had a single extra suggestion or thought added to it. And he was feeling this way mere hours into the project.

He toyed with the idea of adding things himself, and thinking up ideas was not hard in itself, but thinking up bullshit excuses that would please this man. He was also tempted to speed up the whole process, but had already ruled that out. This tower was to be built ugly, but also built well. A Shango war fleet at full tilt wouldn’t be able to take it down, once he had finished.

#It’s going well#, Sedrain said.

#Indeed#, a female voice added, #I have to admit, Sedrain, this is a good plan. But it’s also a short-term one.#

#Uh-huh. But it buys time.#

#Sure, but I just want you to know, in no uncertain terms, that I’m only half-impressed.#

Only half-impressed, the manager noted. From this ungrateful pair, he thought, he would be happy to take that. Even in that short verbal skirmish, the tower had risen several metres; the robots were oblivious, simply continuing on, never bored, never tired, and never stopping without good reason.

#I didn’t expect you to take this as the answer to all our problems#, Sedrain noted.

The manager continued to look at his console, and at the holographic display, and allowed his eyes to drift to the right, where the global controls lay. One graphic in particular, roughly in the centre of those controls, was a slider that could force those robots into overdrive. He had never previously imagined pushing that slider to the very top, but this time, he was almost unbearably tempted.

6

Sedrain checked the time. He had just over a day left, ostensibly. As he moved into the teleport booth, however, he knew he’d have longer than that.

#I’m definitely the last person who needs to go in, right?#

#It’s just us anyway#, Kalio said, #and why the bloody hell are you so worried, anyway? Aren’t there anti-tracing systems in here?#

#Doesn’t matter. I’ll explain once I’m in.#

He attached a small, badge-sized device to the console of the booth, checked the location, nodded to himself and pushed the initiate button. One blink later, he was gone. Another, and the booth also was, having been teleported and assembled into assembler material for every house in that street. Some fifty-odd houses would have to be searched if anyone was to know where and how he had gone from that specific booth.

#They’ll know you moved to the giant tower on the edge of town, Sedrain, I don’t see how that was necessary.#

#Yes, but they won’t be able to follow me here. There are already blocking devices in place, but if that booth had stayed there, someone could’ve followed us in. Where are you?#

#Floor above you. Probably room above you, I’m sensing.#

He held his hand up to the ceiling and gestured downwards, as if closing a lid. A ramp fell down from the ceiling, and he walked up it briskly. Stepping off it, he watched as it folded back up, then stretched and pushed upwards to form a wall, which then moved aside. He smiled with approval; the most basic system of all, the dynamic maze, was working fine. He opened the nearest door and entered the resulting room, which was a straightforward living room, for now.

#So explain the idea of this again.#

#It’s a combined fortress and maze. Programmable matter operating according to random constraints means that, if anyone could enter here, they would spend years trying to leave. One scan from outside should convince the Yakuza that it’s not worth going in.#

#Right, but there’s more than that, isn’t there?#

#Oh, sure.#

He walked out of the room and invited Kalio to leave with him; conveniently and coincidentally, wall and door slid aside, and as she crossed the once-threshold, another wall slid in from the ceiling.

#Don’t worry, the tower knows to avoid us#, he assured her, and began to lead her down a corridor that was slowly shortening behind them. Eventually it caught up, overtook them, and the whole construction flattened against a back wall and converted to a giant screen.

“Chairs?” it asked.

“No thanks,” Kalio replied, and the message blinked off again.

#We’ve got full entertainment, assemblers, teleporters with the heaviest screening I could get-#

#What about security? That’s what it’s all about.#

#Naturally, the whole structure’s designed to screen anything coming in, and jam and scramble it if it doesn’t fit. We’re being scanned continuously by a dedicated unit, so there should never be any confusion there. The whole place conforms to 3LSS-#

#3LSS? Third Law Spike Standard? The thing that takes a data route, blocks it, sends it-#

#-back with a trace and attacks with full force? The very same.#

#Well, we should be safe in here. But just to be sure, shouldn’t we be planning an escape?#

Sedrain reached an innocuous piece of the floor just as a ramp lifted up from it, half a wall slid in to support it and a mezzanine folded down from the floor below. He stepped up onto the ramp as another fell down to connect the mezzanine to both floors.

#What? Like take off in some spaceship and fly away from here? You think they won’t track us, Kalio? These people will do whatever it takes-#

#You must have seriously pissed them off.#

#It’s not merely that. They’re most likely in it for the chase, they’ve got nothing else to gain.#

He stopped at the mezzanine as Kalio joined him.

#So what are you saying?# she asked, #that it’s this from now on? Just a darker world of moving corridors and shifting ceilings? That we fade into pallid tones and grunt our way into silence, and this hideous thing we spend the rest of our lives in becomes our tomb?#

Sedrain merely frowned, shrugged and turned away. She grabbed his shoulder and spun him round; she knew he was always caught unawares by her strength. Reaching to her waist, she pulled a small disc from her pocket, which inadvertently prompted a section of the floor to rise up into a ziggurat; the top converted to a screen and flashed the image a small logo to indicate it was on.

#You see this? It’s the human database, Sedrain. Everything we know about the first five thousand years of human civilisation is on this disc.#

#You want me to look up ‘Yakuza’?#

#No. I want you to look up ‘Masada’.#

7

For several days, they stayed there, and Kalio’s implicit prophecy seemed to be correct. Sedrain found his paranoid outlook on life start to ebb away. Having embraced the environment he found himself in, he found himself increasingly in a sort of symbiosis with his surroundings; it was like the walls needed his nervous energy to animate them, and in taking them from him, benefited him too.

Kalio was much more sceptical, and much more impatient, expressing constant sighs and signalling static to Sedrain from distant rooms as ramps and walls moved in a way she disapproved of. Inviting friends over, whilst technically complex and requiring the systems to run lengthy and multiple scans, and requiring him to offer profuse apologies about having to treat the eventually-arrived individuals like potential criminals, often paid off in the form of subduing this irritation for a while.

Yet weeks dragged on and, as Sedrain settled in, he realised that he still had no plan. In his current status, the one thing he could hope for, he knew, was that the violent lifestyles of his enemies hung in the balance with their desire to get into the tower. Unless they outsmarted him, he would almost certainly outlive them, but he had no guarantee that the former would not happen, and to step out of the tower after several lonely years, decades, possibly centuries – that would be to step out as a drastically changed man, emerging into a sleeker, shinier world with a bent and buckled worldview.

Regularly he tried to push all quarters of his brain into overdrive, clenching his fists as though he was trying to grab every thought and jam it together. Kalio help me, he thought one day, I’ll even try that Shango thing of putting your hands together and wishing – what do they call it? Prayer?

Whoever he was supposed to send his wishes to, though, didn’t seem to respond.

8

Yeyen2 moved her hand to her hip, and felt it stop reassuringly two inches before the destination. You don’t enter the House of Yakuza without your gun. The mantra had quite literally flashed up in front of her eyes as a reminder.

The House had one entrance; anyone teleporting into the building would discover, if they could think in the attoseconds-long window that probably arose for such realisation, that the arrival stage was unusually difficult in the vicinity of the building; a set of “wet/slippery floor” holograms would always coalesce around the final result. As a nice touch to such enterprising individuals, however, the departure stage elsewhere was by no means any harder or, for that matter, in any way discouraged.

Going through that entrance the natural way would prompt a series of scans, which Yeyen could easily pass. After that came a long, straight corridor, lined with columns, seemingly designed to invoke Power with the minimum of actual evidence. After several hundred metres of that, she finally reached a staircase which opened up to the real House of Yakuza.

#You are here for…?# prompted a guard before she had even opened the door to meet him.

#I am here to see the Shogun. You can tell her that Yeyen2 has important information.#

The guard bowed his head in concentration, but nonetheless seemed to keep focused on her.

#OK#, he agreed, #you know where she is.#

Yeyen did, and proceeded to take the relevant turnings. The Shogun’s room was almost exactly, barring the entrance corridor, in the geometric centre of the building. She knocked on the doors outside, marked clearly by their blunt, brushed metal appearance and their completely smooth, blank design.

#Enter.#

She did so. Inside, the room was tall, it was wide, it was lavish, it had an ostentatiousness that was not traditionally Qareen in its degree. The ornateness and extravagance was there for one purpose only; it was there to show, or more accurately, to suggest, that the House of Yakuza was an overwhelming success at what it attempted to do.

#Your news, Yeyen?#

Yeyen pulled a disc out of her pocket and slapped it onto the desk-screen. The Shogun herself watched as graphics splayed out from the disc almost instantly. Yeyen leaned forward, tapped one of the branching architect lines, which caused it to split in two. Selecting one of the two, the news revealed itself; a hologram of a huge tower leapt into existence, revealing an intricate but blurred interior.

#A development in the Sedrain case. The deadline has long since passed, and yet we have not dropped him, and this is his solution. There seems to be some kind of dynamic interior structure to the tower. Our attempts to hack the systems in the tower have somehow done more damage to our own equipment than his. He seems to have truly thought this through.#

The Shogun leaned back, and looked over the holographic tower. She was not a threatening woman, Yeyen realised, not in the flesh, and no doubt she could be taken down in a hand-to-hand confrontation, of the kind that Yeyen had to admit to having thought about on previous occasions. Her reputation preceded her, though, and her capabilities beyond mere strength and physical intimidation were key to the fear she instilled. Yeyen knew that, even whilst looking directly at her, the Shogun could draw a gun and vapourise her before she knew there was a fight starting.  As a result, this realisation was one that Yeyen had to have anew with every visit.

The Shogun stood up and gestured vaguely towards the tower.

#He has made two mistakes#, she concluded, #The first is a forced one: we haven’t killed him, but we have scared him. He’s in the centre of a dark tower. Buried alive. We could leave him there for the rest of his life, and render it a life ruined, a life in desuetude.#

Yeyen frowned at this; it sounded uncharacteristic of her.

#To be honest, and with the greatest of respect, Shogun, I would hope that we would have a greater, more ambitious plan than to leave him alone. We are the organisation that prides ourselves on breaking every system and outwitting every enemy. Even our name is stolen property that can’t be taken back. Whether he knows it or not, he has put a challenge in front of us, and we owe it to ourselves – to him, even – to do our worst.#

Her signalling rose in intensity as she said this, and if she had said it aloud, she would have almost shouted. Nervously, she waited for the Shogun to respond. After a long pause, Yeyen was met with a devious smile.

#You’re good, Yeyen. One day, when I’m too old for this, you might well have this seat. But not yet. Now – now I formulate a plan, in accordance with this Sedrain man’s second mistake. In a few days I will send it to you, or else call you here to receive it. And you’ll get your challenge, and you’ll get your victory.#

#I cannot thank you enough, Shogun.#

#Not a problem.#

Yeyen gave a quick bow and turned to leave.

#Yeyen?#

She froze.

#If you’re going back the way I’m guessing you came, I just want to warn you about the wet floor just before the entrance corridor.#

Yeyen found herself unable to move from where she stood.

#It’s OK, it’s just water.#

9

#Kalio, did you hear something odd just then?#

#I don’t know. I think so. Like a- [insufficient signal for telepathic link; error code 301 – out of range]. Like a muffled thundery sorta noise?#

#I think it’s time we got to a teleporter.#

#I concur.#

10

“Base, I’m asking for, I’d say, about the seventh time here. Can we get some lights, damnit?”

#Do you have to wave that torch around, Zeje?#

Zeje6 ignored his colleague and waved the torch around even more. He did, after all, have plenty to examine here; the hanging chunks of debris that blemished an otherwise perfectly smooth wall, and the uneven surface of the ground. Whatever had happened here, it was huge; definitely the biggest case he’d ever dealt with. Qareen sight could have examined this if even just one light inside the building had survived; apparently, none had, and with complete darkness there was nothing Zeje’s eyes could work with. And so he was stuck with a torch, just waving it around, waving it around…

“This is Base. You wanted lights, you say?”

“Yeah. Any kind of proper floodlights. We’ve got a cuboid space – surely you know this?”

“Centralised resources, sir, we don’t necessarily know the mission inside-out. How big’s the space?”

“It’s about, I reckon, twenty kilometres high, and about half a kilometre square. We need it lit up. All of it.”

#Well, Seddek, at least they’ve responded.#

He yanked the torch downwards and began to carefully tread into each pool of light, moving slowly over the rubble. Seddek, he knew, was about a hundred metres away, holding the torch upwards, but of course, the power behind that beam would not push enough light to the ceiling.

He stopped, and roughly at that moment, a luminous hologram flashed up in the darkness, rotating quickly, informing both of them that of a “lighting rig impending – keep away from walls.” Well, he thought, already done. Which didn’t mean that there wasn’t a wait.

#When is this lighting rig going to-#

The sudden burst of light forced both men to shut their eyes and contemplate the exploding points of light behind their eyelids. Blinking them away and switching off the torches, they looked around and up. Zeje found himself gasping for two reasons; the first being that, even if he had quoted the size of the space he was in mere moments beforehand, the size of it still stunned him.

#Holy shit.#

#Holy shit indeed, Seddek.#

#You’re seeing this right?#

#Sure am. This makes all the difference.#

Zeje was only a partial expert in structural engineering – a couple of previous cases had prompted him to research such matters – but that second reason for astonishment was how the light had suddenly made it all incredibly obvious.

#What happened here is what I think happened, right? There’s no other sensible story?#

#If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, yes.#

#And you’re thinking…?#

Zeje looked around again, at stubs and bits clinging to the walls at regular intervals up the wall, just to be sure.

#OK. Clearly, some high-energy explosive device was set off in the upper floors. Possibly even the very top one. Now, the outer structure of the building could live through things that would level the rest of the city, but the interior was no doubt designed with teleporter jamming systems and other high-tech to stop any internal attack. Long story short, when the bomb went off, several floors collapsed, and landed on the first intact floor, that wasn’t built to take it. Cue a chain reaction. Anyone who was on the middle levels of the building almost certainly got several thousand tonnes of material right on them. Nasty way to die. At least it was probably quick.#

He looked down to the ground beneath him, which seemed to confirm his theory; it was completely uneven, consisting of nothing but stacked slabs of flooring. What perhaps compounded the tragedy in Zeje’s mind was how the mass of grey dust didn’t reveal a single suggestion of paint, or carpet, or dye; there was no suggestion that the occupants lived in anything close to luxury. They had a whole tower to themselves; they could’ve made it a palace, but they made it a prison-

#I’ve tried scanning for the bodies#, Seddek said, #but I can’t find them.#

…although they could’ve escaped in time, he realised. Several thousand floors collapsing? That had to take at least a decent fraction of a day, even if it occurred at high speed.

#Not surprised. You’re probably looking for some kind of humanoid shape – I’d suggest looking for some kind of meat paste instead.#

#Zeje?#

#Yes?#

#Do you think the perps were trying to take down the whole building?#

Zeje didn’t need long to think about it.

#No. Whoever did this knew they couldn’t smash the outer walls. So they went after the people inside, knowing that the structure would serve as a giant-#

#Oh, now I’ve found them.#

#Both of them?#

#Yep.#

Seddek’s tone didn’t give Zeje much confidence.

#Do I want to look at this?#

#You don’t want to look at this.#

#Fair enough. I won’t.#

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