WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
Azalea followed Mpho quietly. They reached the space dumper subway and boarded the one returning to District Z-25b. He realized he accepted he was never going to see home again. After all those years he spent inside the metal walls of The Abyss.
“You hungry?” Mpho asked as they stepped into the street of District Z-25b. The atmosphere had a yellow shade, making the city feel like the sun was always setting. Cars and okadas zoomed past them. He hadn’t been among people for 5 years.
“Yeah,” Azalea replied.
“Okay, we don’t have time for a full course meal,” Azalea scoffed at her reply but allowed her to continue. “But, we can have a snack. How does puff puff sound?”
She was smiling again. He hated her smile. Not because it made her eyes slim into that feline gaze she watched him with. But because he knew underneath all that giddiness, she was as bad as this murder. He knew who she was. The Officer-Detective of K-RIA Police Department. Top of her class, she could handle any weaponry and knew every martial arts technique.
She was given cases where the criminals were set to be killed on site. She may smile now at him but one wrong turn and it would be his body melting on the tarred ground of District Z-25b. He would have to play nice for now. He preferred his insides solid rather than hot melting liquid.
“Delicious.” He grinned back at her.
After a hot meal of soft puff puff— a fried mixture of flour and sugar— dipped in chocolate —which Mpho paid for obvious reasons — they headed to a hotel room, she booked before going to The Abyss.
“Now, we know that there was no trace of DNA belonging to the murder at the crime scene 6 months ago. We arrested a suspect who apparently wasn’t the killer. Now the killer has killed again. And the higher-ups want me to find the person responsible for wreaking havoc on their city.” Mpho said and slumped on the bed creasing the file with her body weight.
Azalea’s eyes moved from her pistol to the file in his hand.
“And what do you exactly need me for?” He asked.
“That’s a good question Azalea. You know District Z-25b better than anyone. I’ve been reading your file since the Minister was killed. You know a lot of bad people who would mean bad for the level 1 residents. I just need you to look at the pictures we took of the suspects at the crime scene of the head scientist’s death, and their addresses. ”
“Yes, unfortunately, he’s the new case. The same thing happened to him. You see, there’s a pattern forming. And once there’s a pattern, it becomes a problem for me, for the Chief, for everyone in the police department. So help me out buddy.”
“I feel like I don’t have a choice. Either way, I’m bound to help you. So let me see these pictures and addresses then.”
Mpho sighed and handed the creased file into Azalea’s open hands. He opened it and took out the Polaroid CCTV shots. The figure in the picture backed the camera, there was no way they could make out a face. But Azalea stared at the picture and noticed a silver glint. The coat the figure wore had been blown aside probably by a breeze.
“Here, look at that. That’s a prosthetic leg.”
“How’d you know?” Mpho asks, scrutinizing the spot Azalea tapped on.
“Trust me. I know what a cyborg looks like. They’re not common but I’ve seen one or two.”
“I can’t tell you that. My former employers wouldn’t appreciate me breaking our NDA. Look, there’s a bar downtown, this address. I know the guy who owns it, Rikk. He’s good with black market stuff.”
“Look what the cat dragged in. Azalea in flesh walking into me bar with a police officer. Come to arrest me?” Rikk let out a throaty laugh.
“Rikk!!!!!” Azalea let his torso be squeezed into a tight hug. Rikk had bulging arms that he used in keeping the peace and order inside his bar. Drunkards weren’t the easiest to deal with after all.
“What brings you out of The Abyss?” Rikk asked sliding both Azalea and Mpho tankards of beer. While simultaneously eyeing Mpho.
“She did. We’re looking for someone Rikk. Someone with a prosthetic leg.”
“Shhh, me gawd boy. You know that word’s illegal. And ya with a police officer. I ain’t saying nothing with her here.”
“Rikk is it? I’m not here to arrest you, believe me. We need your help. Do you recognize this person?”
Rikk studies the Polaroid CCTV pictures Mpho spreads on the counter for him. He taps his fingers rhythmically on the pictures. Suddenly he stops and looks at the one Azalea had used to show Mpho the prosthetic leg.
“Ah shit. Alright. But you don’t hear this for me yeah? I don’t want nobody hearing I be helpin a police officer. Deal?”
“Deal.” Azalea and Mpho said together.
“A few days ago, a girl, no more than 21— I been place her— comes into me bar. She says she want a drink. But Luc here refuses to serve her, he said he saw robot arm. And ya know the law.
It’s illegal to have em around. I go to call them officers. Next thing we know, she’s beating up some guy. I saw her arm, it be a machine on God. I swear it.
She used it to cut through me wall. Ya look there, see the slash? She left, but I had Luc follow her, but he lost her around the abandoned alley side. She still be in the city, me know. But be careful, she’s dangerous.”
“So am I. Thank you, Rikk. Lovely place by the way. Hope to stop by another time. Let’s go Azalea.” Mpho said with her signature grin, stretching her lips thin. Azalea gulped the remaining of his beer, thanked Rikk, and fell in behind Mpho.
“What next?” Azalea asked.
“Rikk said she was here. She’s not smart, most likely a rookie at this killing business. What’s her motive? I’m not sure. But since she was here her trace is on the CCTVs. She’s not very smart. Or maybe it’s a trap. Either way, we have a new address. The department sent me a new one after I sent Rikk’s description. Come on.”
The warehouse sat on an abandoned street, as Rikk had said. Mpho sent a message to Chief Mansa. Every exit off District Z-25b and off-planet K-RIA was shut down and only authorized civilians could board space dumpers. Mpho unsheathed her pistol and held it as she entered combat mode. The warehouse had a musky scent. Plastic curtains divided the hall into smaller rooms. Mpho listened into the air. The sound of dripping water reached her ears followed by a creaking door.
She freed her left hand and used her fingers to direct Azalea towards the sound. As they walked through the slit of the curtain, Mpho stopped and scanned the room. There was a table full of files, tools, and some explosives. There were two chairs and a mattress in the corner.
“The killer’s hideout,” Azalea mouthed at Mpho who nodded back at him. She stepped closer to the table when the doors began shutting around them.
“What was that?” Azalea asked turning to the slamming sounds. His eyes started to water as he felt his throat heat up. It was when Mpho started coughing did he notice the reddish-brown smoke filling the room from the vent.
“It’s a trap,” Mpho struggled out as her eyes shut close.
When her eyes opened again, all her mind willed her to do was cough. Her throat itched bad and she felt thirsty. What happened? Mpho on instinct tried to reach for her pistol but her hand wouldn’t budge. She bent her head and noticed the chain around her torso binding her hands. Then a clap. Followed by a burst of laughter.
Azalea woke up following the laughter.
“Well, congratulations, you found me.” A soft voice said from above them.
“Well, you’re not too smart, are you. Leaving your trails everywhere.”
Laughter. “Did you stop to think that I left them on purpose? After 6 months, you suddenly could find me”
“My pistol wouldn’t like your tone,” Mpho said. She pushed her body against the chain. It didn’t bulge. Then she noticed the padlock. Shit.
“Well, your pistol is with me so let’s hear what it has to say about all the people you’ve killed for the residents of District X-13a, under the guise of justice.”
“At least I do it for a reason, why did you kill the minister and head scientist?” Mpho asked.
While waiting for the owner of the voice to reveal herself — Mpho decided it was she since she perceived the voice as feminine.
Mpho whispered to Azalea to search her back pocket for a universal key. He paused and angled his head at her with a raised eyebrow. But she hissed at him to be fast. Azalea stretched his hand as discretely as he could, reached into Mpho’s pocket, and felt for the key.