“The Remote-Controlled Doggirl” by Lara Ek

Roselund was halfway through the door, umbrella still out in the rain, when Paco turned and shook his head at her.

“Might not wanna lock the car up yet,” he said, and turned back to the desk, but Roselund saw the tension in his posture and figured they were just pulling out another call for him. So she backed out and flicked the umbrella open again and stood under it, one hand in her uniform pocket.

She stood out there for a good five minutes. The Civilcore building had a clock tower on either side of the courtyard, and when the clouds were low enough, like now, the lit-up face haloed around in luminescent yellow-green.

Twelve thirty.

The Civilcore building was the only lit pocket in this part of the city, except for streets. Conservation of Electricity Proposition, 2022. Buildings towered up around her, but only two or three rooms with electric lights – nine floors up, twelve floors up – showed in the cloud-fog. They had to be official – three strikes of electric-lights-on after curfew for anyone else and you got referred for Class-demotion, and fuck if anyone wanted that.

Twelve thirty-five.

Civilcore doors were mirrored glass, so when Paco finally came out it was suddenly, with a wash of yellow light into the rain. “Let’s go,” he said, and Roselund held the umbrella over him and followed by one step into the garage, to the car they’d just parked.

Paco went around to the driver’s side and slid the key; Roselund got in the right side. She couldn’t drive – no one under Fourth Class could. Paco was Fourth Class, so he just made the cut.

And the minute they got into the shadowed car everything changed.

Paco’s face lit up and Roselund asked at the same moment, “Okay, what’s up?”

“Oh man,” Paco said. “Oh man, oh man. Lookit this.”

He pulled out a USB and stuck it into the dashboard. The car’s tablet screen lit up and Roselund read it, while Paco summarized.

“Some Second-Class guy gone missing. Was workin’ late but they never saw him check out, so at curfew they went up t’his office an’ – there.”

The gist of the report, condensed to a few lines. David Ramirez of the Twelfth Civil Battery absented from his office on Balsam Street between the hours of 1900 and 2400. Officers Rosales and Etgers to hire from the Hundbarn Division and search the area immediately; any leads to be reported ASAP.

“They wanna dogkid, Rosa! This’ serious! Some guy way up there important enough we gotta scoot, gotta rent a dogkid an find him tonight.”

Roselund skimmed the rest of the report as Paco started the car and backed out of his space. She was silent until they got out of the garage, then asked, “What do they think it was?”

“What they think what was?”

She nodded toward the screen. “This guy. Anyone wanna tell us what happened?”

“Pshh, no.” Paco grinned and pulled out onto the street. “We just gotta find ‘im.”

“Hah. Of course.” Roselund tipped her seat back. The car beeped at her that her seatbelt was off so she pulled it across her shoulder impatiently and clacked it. Then she detached the tablet from the dashboard and rested it on her knees, putting her thumb to the ID pad. The pad went green – she could check all the information available to Fifth Class citizens.

“Ramirez,” she wrote in, and tapped the pen on ‘enter’.

Paco, said, “Yeah.”

She looked at him. “Anyone you know?”

“No one I ever heard of,” he said, and shut up while she searched the files she had access to. Kept driving until he got to a light and stopped. Roselund glanced up. “Anything?” Paco asked.

“Huh-uh,” Roselund shook her head. She checked the 5Citizens’ Web next, but still nothing. Then the Civilcore web she could get from here. Still nothing.

“Paco?”

“Yeah?”

“Mind f’I borrow your thumb?”

Paco gave her a thumbs-up as he drove. He waited until the next red light, and reached his hand over to the ID pad; Roselund pulled her hands off the tablet as Paco pressed his thumb down.

The pad flashed green. Fourth Class access.

“Thanks,” Roselund said, and a minute later: “Yeah, here. This is him.”

He was on CivilWeb, on the Battery Database. “David Ramirez,” she read aloud. “Born 1998 in the Province of West Alexansis, City of Alexxari. Three sons and two other children. Commander in Chief of the Twelfth Civil Battery … Jeez! No wonder they want a dogkid! He’s next in line for Provincial Governor!”

Paco whistled, impressed.

Roselund looked sideways at him. “You even supposed to be able to see this stuff?”

Paco shrugged. “Guess if he’s got it up on CivilWeb then they got it all decided.”

“Which –” Roselund thought fast, “which is why they want him found quick, since they can’t have their candidate just lost like that. You think it’s politics?”

“Well, yeah.”

Roselund gave him a look. Paco knew better than to make eye contact. “I mean, yeah it’s politics, since it can’t be anything else. Know what I’m sayin’? Can’t be like anyone else, since they got no reason to. An since we never heard of him–”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Roselund said. “You know plenty of wars got started over people we never heard of.” Plenty of people died because people we never heard of decided to lie to each other. Why you think we’re in peace right now? We got tired of all the war. “Could be another country. Could be the Beneficients.”

“Naw, be stupid if they did this. They just workin’ against themselves. It’s not the Beneficients.”

“How do you know?”

Paco slowed the car. “News.” He peered out the front window. “We’re here.”

Roselund looked out. An intersection, four ways between tall, tall buildings. Doors along the bottom floors. Numbers above the doors. That was all.

“Which one?”

“There.” He pointed.

“Okay.”

He went back around the block, this time looking for parking. They wouldn’t be here long enough to make it worth finding a garage.

There,” Roselund saw a space, and a minute later Paco was parked and pulled the keys out.

Neither of them got out.

“You mind telling me?” Roselund asked.

Paco looked out at the hood of the car. “I mean, if I could. It’s just rumors anyway.”

“I mean, anything–”

Fourth Class got news. Fourth Class knew there was an outside world. Fifth Class just got the basics: Who was in power, why we should be in power, why we’re doing things well here in power. The rest of the world loves us, don’t worry too much, we’ll fix them for you. Trust us. Vote for us.

Did they think everyone under Fourth Class was a bunch of idiots? Apparently. Roselund stole her news from where she could.

Paco sighed. “I shouldn’ even be telling you this, but–” he stopped, looked down at the steering wheel.

Then reached across and took the laptop from Roselund. Opened the main page of 4Citizens’ Web, opened the news page.

“Two minutes,” he said. “We can’t be too late in there, they know we’re coming, okay?”

Roselund was already reading.

***

“Paco Rosales. Male Fourth Class Citizen. 32 years old, Hispanic, Officer in the Civilcore Service. Step forward and put your hand where I can see it.”

The voice came from behind a white-painted metal door, in a long white-painted hall inside the building above their car. Paco stepped forward and put his left hand through the slot in the door.

“Thumbprint?”

Paco twisted his hand a bit. He caught Roselund’s eye and made an ‘Oh well, if he’s going to be like this,’ face. Roselund smiled and made a ‘Yeah, it is pretty ridiculous,’ face back.

“Good. You’re authorized to come in. Your companion can wait while we conduct our business.”

Roselund lost her smile. This bullshit again.

“Excuse me,” Paco said. “She comes with us. She not just accompanying me, you know?”

“No, I don’t know,” said the voice testily.

“Yeah, you do,” Paco said. “She works with me. You let her in too. We both assigned to this job, okay?”

The voice was silent for a while.

“Go ‘head, call back to the station,” Paco said. “We can wait.”

He looked back quick at Roselund and smiled; she grinned back. Goddamn, it was good to have a decent partner.

It took another five minutes of waiting in the hall until the voice came back. “Fine. Roselund Etgers. Female Fifth Class Citizen. 35 years old, Black, Junior Officer in the Civilcore Service. Show me your mark.”

Roselund raised her left hand and put it through the hole in the door. Light shone inside, and whoever the asshole was looked at the large V tattooed on the back of her hand.
Paco looked away and put his own left hand – IV on the back – in his pocket.

“Thumbprint,” the voice said.

Roselund found an ID pad up against her hand. She pressed her thumb to it.

“Authorized,” said the voice finally, and the door creaked open.

The asshole voice turned out to belong to a white-haired Caucasian guy in white uniform. III was tattooed on the back of his hand, and another III – just to make sure everybody got it – was blazoned in red-outlined-gold on his uniform chest. He held a tablet in one hand and was just hanging the type-pad back up next to the door.

He stepped back several paces when Roselund walked in.

“Rosales,” he said, and looked firmly at Paco and nowhere else. “You are authorized to rent one of the pups, for as long as your investigation continues. You have an unlimited lease, do you understand me?”

Of course Paco understood. So this man wasn’t just like that to Fifths. He did it to everyone. Roselund felt slightly comforted.

“Hopefully you will not continue long,” he said. “You will accrue points for each hour of your lease. At the end of your lease you will return here and I will mark your total to your record, which you will then return to your C.core station to verify. Do you understand me?”

Paco smiled winningly. He didn’t say anything.

The III waited for an answer, and, not getting one, finally said, “Good. Follow me.”

He turned on his heel and wove between tables of papers to the door on the room’s other end. This was white-painted metal, too, and opened like a hatch in a submarine.

They turned right into a long, white hallway that resounded, oddly, with mood-music. There were more doors on the right wall. The whole left wall was a series of barred cells. Everything was painted white, and bright fluorescent lights reached down the long hall and into each room.

In each room was a child.

They were kids, naked, with collars on, and leads that attached to the wall outside the cell. They hardly noticed the three people enter. In the two rooms Roselund could see, the children just lay where they were; one sleeping, another blowing hair off his forehead and watching it settle again.

Roselund swallowed. She looked at Paco. He glanced at her but didn’t say anything.

The III opened a door right next to the one they’d just come through. He ducked in and shut the door after him, and Paco and Roselund were left alone with the white rooms and the kids.

Soothing music, overlaid with ocean waves, played from a speaker just above them.

“I never saw ‘em like this,” Paco said quietly. “‘Course I saw one tracking once, an’ on TV–”

Roselund nodded. On TV, if they ever showed the Civilcore at work, you sometimes saw tiny figures in neat little uniforms or dresses, standing by the side. They looked blankly at the investigations, swaying back and forth on their feet, sometimes holding an adult’s hand.

Here, most of them slept. The white rooms had toys in them, but not children’s toys. Not stuffed animals – stuffed blocks of bright colors, with sequins or rattles sewn on, their fuzz worn. Little rubber cats, their paints chewed off. Raggedy blankets – white, of course – over piles of white pillows the kids slept on.

At the nape of each child’s neck was a black box, about the size of a fist.

The III came back, followed by a small, dark-haired Persian woman with IV on the back of her hand. She’d taken the tablet and was checking information on a form.

“Do you have a designation?” the III asked Paco.

Paco shrugged.

“Very well. Miryam, I think we’ll use 323 after all. Go get her ready. Meanwhile, Rosales, I presume you know the protocol?”

Paco looked at Roselund. “No, we didn’ hear we had to have a protocol for this.”

“We haven’t done this before,” Roselund added.

The III frowned at her. “Well of course you haven’t.” He turned the frown on Paco. “If you’ve never dealt with a hundbarn I would expect the C.core station to have given you some preliminary instructions at least.”

“Nope, we got none,” Paco shook his head.

“Hm.” The III looked irritated. He turned and started down the hall. “Follow me.”

They stopped right next to Miryam, who was just transferring information from the tablet to a second tablet on the wall next to a cell. She looked up, surprised, but the III waved her on.

“Continue,” he said, and turned to Paco. “Now. The operation of a pup is simple. They are designed primarily to track and hunt. When you lease one, you receive a remote-control, by which you can make the pup perform a limited number of functions. Beyond those, you must work on your own. For example, if you intend to track a dangerous group of thieves, know that you must provide your own backup. The pups have a limited defense mechanism, but it runs manually, not automatically, and burns out quite soon. Do you understand me?”

Paco was frowning. “You sayin’ they programmed. They A.I’s?”

“No,” the III shook his head. “They are human. Modified, but human.”

Roselund thought of the black boxes. “Modified how?”

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” the III told her, and added to Paco, “come. I’ll give you the remote and explain how to use it. Leave that one here.” That one was apparently Roselund. He turned and started back down the hallway.

Paco started to say something, but the III kept walking, and showed no signs of listening. Frustrated, Paco hesitated for a second. “I’ll–” he said, and Roselund nodded.

“Got it. Go.”

He went.

Miryam, meanwhile, was just unplugging her tablet from the one in the wall. Roselund moved so she could see into the cell.

White blankets, toys, and pillows. A tray with two dog-food bowls in front, one of water and one with bits of dried brown stuff.

Roselund wrinkled her nose and looked at the child.

A little girl, maybe seven or eight. Probably she’d been sleeping before. She wasn’t, now, but sat up, looking dreamily out at them, chewing on her leash. Roselund could hear her teeth grinding against the chain.

“Are they human?” she asked Miryam.

Miryam looked up at her, then down the hall quickly, then back. She nodded.

“How do they – how do they work?”

Miryam nodded, like this was the right question to ask. Her voice was very quiet, and she spoke like a book. “They experience a sort of intense synesthesia that allows them to perceive things we don’t. Just as dogs perceive scents strongly, the pups experience everything – differently. Just differently. They see things on a spectrum we don’t. They operate on a spectrum we don’t.”

Roselund nodded slowly. Miryam pressed her thumb to the ID pad under the tablet in the wall, and two of the bars grated in their sockets. Then they rose slowly up.

“We use humans for this, rather than real dogs, because humans are more intelligent,” Miryam continued. Roselund had to strain to hear her over the cell-bars’ rising. “These pups have been trained to do much more than a real dog ever could. They process information on an unconscious level, instantaneously. They can’t communicate with us through speech, but we’re working on that.”

“Why not?”

“We start training early. It’s either speech faculties, or this.” And she indicated the girl. “And right now, this is more useful.”

The bars were up, recessed into the ceiling. Miryam went into the cell. The girl had dropped the lead from her lips, but sat just looking up at Miryam, who knelt down, picked the little girl up under the arms, and put her on her feet. Then she took the girl by one hand and led her out of the cell.

“Pardon me,” she said outside. “I have to go get her dressed and ready to go. Please go wait in the front room. Dr Henries will finish briefing your partner shortly.”

Roselund nodded. “Thank you.”

“Of course.”

They left the building in the prescribed Class order, with Paco first and Roselund following, holding the doggirl by the hand. The doggirl didn’t seem to have a Class, which was eerie, and just another thing adding to her inhumanness. Dr. Henries assured Paco that the doggirl was to be treated, if Class situations came up, as though of Second Class, but Roselund couldn’t imagine so much respect being given to a little doggirl who didn’t even know how to keep herself dressed.

“Just leave these on her,” Miryam said at the end, hooking a little music player onto the doggirl’s collar and slipping headphones on her ears. The doggirl stopped tugging at her clothes and put her hands over the headphones and closed her eyes. When Roselund took her hand after that, she followed.

She held the doggirl by the hand because she didn’t want to use the lead. They had the lead, still attached to the collar, still around the doggirl’s neck. Neither Paco nor Roselund touched it, so it dragged behind them down the corridors, on the elevator floor, and along the rainy street until they got to the car.

Paco drove. Roselund kept glancing back. The doggirl sat quietly in the backseat. She had on a pretty pink dress and pretty pink sneakers, and above them, a pink nylon uniform jacket. Her shorn head was covered by a pink train-conductor’s hat.

She still had her hands over the headphones. Her eyes looked past Roselund.

Roselund turned back. “Shit, Paco.”

Paco nodded.

Quiet. Tires on the rainy street outside; tiny raindrops on the windshield and the top of the car. Wind through the back window that never shut all the way.

The doggirl’s remote control sat on the seat between them. Roselund picked it up.

“What’d he tell you about it?”

“Just what it does,” Paco said. He made a turn. “Buttons’re labeled.”

Roselund looked. Anger, calm, happiness, sadness. Underneath, three sliding bars, one labeled ‘positivity’, the other ‘intensity’. The third labeled ‘fear’.

“Can’t straight-up make her do things,” he said. “Just feel things. Then she does whatever. She got some commands, too: sit, stay, follow, wait, stop. Fetch. Roll over.”

Roselund put the remote back down.

They drove the rest of the way in silence.

At 1:37, they arrived at Ramirez’s office.

It was up there on the 24th floor; even from outside the building one could see there was something wrong. The whole floor was lit up, a line of bright yellow windows up between the fast-moving clouds, and then lighting the clouds up from within when they rolled past.

At least the officers here didn’t give her grief about being Fifth Class; they seemed to know there was a reason she was working with Paco. Everyone hired Fifths for the muscle, right? So they simply watched when she and Paco and the doggirl stepped out of the elevator.

The guy in charge was another Fourth, and the tag on his chest said Henderson. He had his uniform jacket unbuttoned, sleeves rolled up, and was carrying an open tablet. When he got close, he told the woman who’d brought him, “Message the station, tell ‘em C.core’s arrived.”

She nodded and was off.

Henderson glanced at their hands and turned to Paco. “I’m glad you’ve arrived. Bring the pup and let’s get started.”

Paco nodded. Roselund followed with the doggirl.

“You found anything yet?” Paco asked.

Henderson shook his head. “Just he didn’t go out the front door,” he said. “They didn’t find that out ’til curfew, so since midnight we’ve been searching every floor and the neighborhood. We’ve got people looking through the security footage now. Problem is, no one saw him since he came back from dinner at 1900. So…”

“So any time between then and curfew,” Roselund said.

Henderson looked back at her, glanced at Paco, then nodded. “Right,” he said. “And we dunno how he left, so we gotta check all the footage for all the entrances. Buddy did five hours of the emergency doors and got nothing.” He nodded down back down the hall. “Garage entrances and the front door, we’re still not done with since there’s so many people.”

Paco nodded. Roselund asked, “Are there any cameras in the outside area? On the street, or outside other buildings?”

“There could be,” Henderson said, and stopped by an open office door. “We’ll check. First thing is to find where he went, though.” He looked from her down to the doggirl.

“Alright,” Paco said, and pulled the remote control out of his pocket. Roselund crouched down. She removed the headphones from the girl’s ears and unhooked the music player from her collar. Paco looked at Henderson. “Got a picture of him?”

Henderson called one up on his tablet. “Will this be okay?”

Paco nodded. Roselund took the tablet and showed it to the doggirl. Paco slid the bar down on ‘fear’ and up on ‘positivity’ and ‘intensity.’ “Curiosity,” he explained.

Roselund nodded and said to the doggirl: “Find.”

She moved.

It was immediate: her eyes widened and she flared her nostrils, walking into the office room. C.core officers stood at the desk, looking through papers or at the window, checking a tablet; she ignored them, opening drawers, climbing on chairs and then off, crawling under the desk and then out the front, running her hand along bookshelves and sofas. She disappeared behind a plant. She traced shapes on the carpet. She went to a long picture hanging in the corner, on the paneled wall, and knocked on it.

Paco and Roselund looked at each other.

The doggirl was banging on the wall insistently now. She sat down and pushed her feet at it. She put her head to the carpet and looked around. She traced her fingers around the edges of the wall-hanging, and looked back at Roselund. She started whining.

“I …guess she found something?”

“Think it’s a fake wall or somethin’?” Paco asked.

Henderson snapped his fingers and gestured two officers over. They felt around the edges of the painting, then unhooked it from the ceiling. There were joints in the paneling. They sounded hollow.

“Well, get something to open it with, then.”

‘Something’ ended up being a fire axe, and the corner of the room ended up a mess, but the doggirl was right. There was a three-foot-wide space behind the wall – not straight, but following the line of the wall. There were ducts and pipes six feet up, dust over everything, and footprints along the concrete floor.

The doggirl plunged right in.

“Wait!” Paco said, and without thinking Roselund grabbed the end of the leash. It stopped the doggirl in her tracks, and she strained at it, making choking sounds. Roselund felt like shit for holding on, but didn’t let go.

“We’re going in,” Roselund said to Henderson. He nodded and detailed the two who’d broken the wall open to follow them.

“My line is 2238,” he said, and Roselund fished her phone out and handed it to Paco to punch the number in. “Leave that on and we’ll follow you; tell us if you see anything.”

Paco and Roselund nodded, and followed the doggirl into the wall.

It was black. Paco switched on his flashlight and held it over his head so the doggirl and Roselund could see. The officers behind pulled their guns out, as did Paco. Roselund couldn’t because she didn’t have a gun – Fifths didn’t get them – and she was holding onto the doggirl anyway.

The doggirl pulled ahead. Her pink dress dragged along dusty pipes and electrical wiring; she lost her hat somewhere along the way and ignored it. She strained at the leash, wanting to run. She sneezed because of the dust but kept going.

The walls occasionally opened into left and right turns and little thin ladders going up or down. Even Roselund could see the footprints, but the doggirl must have been following something else, too – she never hesitated at intersections, and she jumped up to ladders before Roselund could see them.

Lefts, rights, long hallways, down, down. They told Henderson every time they went down, and sometimes they could hear him and the others through the walls. There were places where ducts opened and they could look in. There were places where the crawlspace opened wide enough they could walk straight forward, not shuffle side-by-side brushing pipes with their backs and stomachs.

Down, and down, and down. They came to a locked door. Called Henderson.

Henderson opened it himself, three minutes later, revealing a long hallway of yellow walls, concrete floor, dusty pipes, and wires in dozens of colors and sizes. The doggirl turned right and into an alcove, at the end of which was the freight elevator.

“We’re on the basement level,” Henderson said. “It wouldn’t make sense to bring him all the way down here and go back up.”

The doggirl went to the elevator button. She looked into the elevator shaft around the corners of the door. She traced shapes on the floor. She stood on tiptoes to reach the elevator buttons with her tongue. She pushed the down button.

She tasted the buttons on the inside of the elevator, too – apparently it was the SB3 level they were looking for. The doors opened onto delivery trucks, lined up by license-plate number. Since it was past curfew, they were all there but one.

Henderson grinned. “Perfect.”

Through the 24-hour Civilcore cameras stationed at every intersection, and because of the curfew, they found the truck. Delivery trucks were the only Citizens’ vehicles allowed to break curfew, – and with the license plate number it was almost ridiculously easy to find where the truck had gone.

It was on 73rd street, in a tall lower-Class residential building. Fifths lived here – and a few unlucky Fourths – in small-roomed apartments, drying their laundry on communal balconies and using communal toilets at the ends of the halls. Candlelight shone from a couple windows, but there wasn’t a single window lit by electricity. Roselund found it a familiar place – it was the same sort of building she lived in.

Four cars with four officers each, plus Henderson’s car, with Paco in the front passenger seat and Roselund and the doggirl in the back. They got out. The officers conferred quietly. The doggirl strained at her leash.

There were no elevators in these kinds of buildings. The doggirl sniffed her way up the stairs, preceded and followed by Civilcore officers, squirmingly impatient in a tight knot of people. She was the only one – everyone else was alert, stepping softly and quickly up. More officers stood at the bottom of the fire escape stairs, waiting for orders and holding their positions.

Finally, on the nineteenth floor, the doggirl turned from the stairs and sniffed at the door. Its window was broken and covered by a piece of plywood; they eased it open inch by inch on spring-loaded hinges that tried to push it shut again. One officer stayed to hold it open; others came out into the hall left of the stairs; Henderson was right beside Roselund and Paco as the followed the doggirl as she sniffed her way down to the second door from the end.

She stopped.

The others stopped.

And this time, as the doggirl got down on her stomach to look under the door, Roselund did the same. She hitched herself back up quickly, and gestured the others down the hall, pulling the doggirl’s leash.

“Make her stay here,” she said to Paco once they were back at the stairs. Paco slid the ‘fear’ bar up high and ‘positivity’ down low. The doggirl’s eyes widened and she ducked into the corner of the stairs and hunkered down, hugging herself. A couple of the officers looked at her, but most of them watched Roselund.

“They’re in there, waiting,” she said. “I couldn’t see for sure how many. Candlelight behind them, but I saw at least eight, maybe ten.”

Henderson nodded. “Alright, you heard that. We’ll want to take this carefully, with a Second Class in there. I want you to go–”

He didn’t get to finish. The door slammed open and people ran through it, shooting.

The officers took cover in the stairwell and in doorways. Roselund dragged Paco through the door at the end of the hall to the right of the stairs, and Henderson followed them. It was the laundry room.

“How’d you know it was open?”

“I live in one of these,” Roselund told him, then listened out. Shouting, shooting. She couldn’t tell what was going on.

“You wanna call for backup?” Paco asked Henderson, looking at his phone. He had his gun out. So did Henderson.

Henderson shook his head. “These guys won’t wait. They’ll kill him if it looks like things’re going badly. We can’t let that happen.”

Roselund frowned. “How do you know?”

Paco asked at the same time: “You know who these guys are?”

Henderson nodded. “Bene Silence.”

Paco’s eyes widened. “Oh my god.”

Roselund glanced back at them. “What?” Henderson shook his head, so she looked at Paco. “‘Oh my god,’ what, Paco? Who?”

“Bene Silence is who the Beneficients send out if they wanna pretend it’s not them. They mostly human, but they kinda like the doggirl there, with remote controls–”

“Rosales, are you stupid? Don’t tell a–”

“–they got endorphins an’ hormones an’ everything else an’ they got their fight switch on all the time, an’ their fear switch down to none.”

Roselund nodded.

Henderson looked quickly between them. He shook his head. “You don’t tell a Fifth these kinds of things, Rosales.”

“Sir, if she’s my partner, yes I do.”

Henderson shook his head.

Roselund didn’t take part in the argument. She tried the door, but the shooting got louder. “Alright,” she said to herself, and went to the vent.

Two washing-machines flanked it; it was rusted through at the edges. Roselund figured she wouldn’t be heard over the gunshots, so she turned and kicked, left foot connecting with the edge of the vent and popping it halfway out of the wall. She kicked again and the vent clattered out onto the balcony.

She looked back. Both men were looking at her.

“While they fight out there, we can go around back, get Ramirez out, and bring him down the fire escape. The balcony goes all the way around.”

“Ah,” Paco said, and followed her.

“You think they won’t have sentries on him?” Henderson asked, but followed too.

He took point on the balcony, stepping quietly ahead as Roselund and Paco followed. The doors they passed were metal, double-wide for the summer when the rooms needed ventilation, with heavy locks to keep the neighbors out. They were all closed now, with mist drifting in the air. The nineteenth floor was high enough to be in cloud, and the balcony was wet.

It made the only open double-door spilling candlelight out into the mist that much easier to spot.

They sidled up to it, silent. Nothing. Henderson looked in, and still nothing. Roselund and Paco took up places in the doorway, left and right, and could see from here – a couple candles on bookshelves, furniture lying around, a couple people lying dead. Ramirez tied too tight to a chair in the middle, facing them. He looked bruised-up, and his shirt had small charred holes that were stained red. His face was bleeding and his eyes were shut.

Henderson stepped into the room cautiously, slowly, gun out in front of him. It didn’t matter; someone rose from behind a chair in the corner left of the door and shot him in the back of the head.

Henderson fell.

The Silence with the gun turned it on Roselund and Paco. Another Silence appeared from behind the fallen desk and slid around behind Ramirez. She held a knife to his throat and waited.

Both of them grinned.

Roselund glanced at Paco. So did the Silence with the gun – looked at Roselund’s empty hands, looked at Paco’s IV hand with the gun in it. Then, smiling wider, he brought the gun to point at Paco.

“The knife, Paco,” Roselund said, and Paco nodded.

Then she stepped with her left, swung back and around and her right heel smacked the gun out the Silence’s hand. She followed up the motion, grabbed his arm by wrist and shoulder and twisted-pushed down, and the Silence’s chin hit the chair-back and his arm cracked hard.

Gunshot, from Paco.

The Silence paused, but the female Silence began screaming, and under Roselund’s hands the Silence pulled her down and slipped away. She stumbled and the Silence swung at her, right arm hanging but left hand holding a knife. Roselund ducked back and grabbed his left, pulling him into a wall. Then she pushed and twisted his arm up behind his back.

“Drop it.”

He didn’t. Roselund squeezed his wrist tighter, pulled his arm up higher. Used her other hand to shove his face into the wall. His fingers finally loosened; she took the knife away.

The rest of the room got quiet. All Roselund could hear was the fast, shallow breaths of the Silence she held.

“Paco? You okay?”

“Hhh – yeah.” Paco’s steps. “Got no one else here, just these two.”

“Good. Ramirez?”

“Ehh…” Paco hesitated. “He’s breathing, sure. Got no fingernails anymore. They fucked ‘im up real bad.”

“Assholes,” Roselund said, and twisted the Silence’s arm harder. The panting got faster. “What about the other one? She still alive?”

“Oh her? yeah. Bullet just grazed her head. She out cold now, but still ‘live. An’ him?”

“Oh he’s fine,” Roselund turned back to her own charge. “Just lend me your handcuffs.”

He did. Roselund snapped them onto the Silence’s broken arm first, then to the wrist she was still holding. It felt like he was hurting too much to be of any danger, so she loosened her grip, and at that he turned suddenly and tried to kick out. Roselund blocked him, then pushed her forearm into his neck, hard, and held him against the wall.

“I can’t explain to you how screwed you are,” she told him as he struggled. “You probably don’ even understand what language I’m speaking. But rest assured. You’re fucked.”

She held him there until he blacked out and fell.

Paco got the credit. Paco the credit and Henderson the martyr, they decided, down among the C.core cars and the ambulances and the two black cars back there on 73rd Street. A C.core funeral two weeks from now, you are all invited to attend, even the Fives. Ramirez: Alive to step into office in another few months.

Okay, fine.

They had to drop the doggirl off before their shift was over. 3pm to 3am. They drove in silence, and Paco brought the doggirl back to the Hundbarn Division alone. Roselund sat in the car and waited, seat leaned back, head against the headrest. The intersection was in front of her, and all the lights were red. Drizzle drifted down, making little red fog-circles. You couldn’t see more than five stories up. Clouds were reddish-purple; buildings and streets and cements sidewalks were all a wasted dark-grey.

She spoke when the car door opened again and the lights flicked back on. “You know what I wanna get done someday, Paco?”

“Huh?”

“This.” She held up her V hand. Then, with her right finger, traced a line down next to it. To the left. IV.

Paco nodded.

“Fuck if that’s ever gonna happen, though.” She closed her eyes. “I mean if saving a Second from fucking Bene Silence isn’t enough…”

Paco was silent.

She finally opened her eyes. Paco was just looking out through the windshield. Watching the rain, too.

“If that’s not enough…”

“I dunno what is enough,” Paco said. He looked aside from the rain, at her, and tried to smile. “I’m sorry.”

Roselund nodded. “Yeah. Me too.”


.

About the Author

Lara Ek is a Hungarian-American English teacher at Harbin Institute of Technology. She graduated from George Mason University with a major in English (concentration: Creative Writing) and a minor in Chinese. She speaks enough languages for half her fingers, is interested in everything, and creeps intermittently through the Great Firewall to blog about her life in China at The Ekscursionist.