Snippet #2 for One Dark Future
I guess reporters today are just as lazy as they will be in the future! LOL Don't miss the yaoguai references! LOL And be sure to get your pre-order in now for One Dark Future! You won't want to miss this one! It's going to be spectacular!
April 10, 2230, Neo Southern California Metroplex, The Northern Wind Diner
With a smile, Erik dipped his karaage into his small dish containing a flecked brown sauce. He loved the fried chicken dish well enough, but the sauce sent it to the level of purely delicious.
If there was one great advantage humanity held over every other intelligent species, it was its ability to produce wondrous and glorious variations of fried chicken. Granted, not all the Local Neighborhood races ate meat, and they probably didn’t have chickens on their planets, but that didn’t make Erik ignore humanity’s chicken-based culinary superiority.
Too bad Jia, sitting across from him, wasn’t doing her part to enjoy humanity’s core advantages. When a woman didn’t enjoy chicken, she was letting the aliens win.
Erik took a bite of the sauce-covered chicken, enjoying the spicy notes playing across his tongue. “This is great. You should have had some, instead of that.” He nodded toward the bowl of boring white rice. “Aren’t you hungry for protein?”
Jia set her chopsticks down and shrugged. “I’m still full from breakfast. But what’s with you? You had a huge breakfast, yet you are stuffing that karaage down like you’re starving to death.” She looked him up and down. “Is there a yaoguai tapeworm in you?”
“Huh? What can I say?” Erik offered her a merry grin before taking another bite of karaage. “I’m a growing boy. And this sauce is probably spiked to make it addictive.”
Erik would appreciate the small pleasures while he could.
It should have been a relaxing couple of weeks since the Ascended Brotherhood’s attempted sinking of Parvati on Venus and Erik and Jia’s showdown with Sophia Vand, but rumors had leaked of their presence on Parvati, and local reporters had been relentless. Emma was screening all calls now and claimed she could identify a reporter with ninety-eight percent accuracy based on their first two sentences.
“No,” Jia replied. “You having an appetite isn’t a big deal. That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s just everything is spicy for you lately.” She pointed at this plate. “Don’t think I didn’t see you eyeing the hot sauce when you were eating your beignets at breakfast.” She grimaced. “I didn’t say anything since you didn’t go through with that taste atrocity. That’s so nasty, I’m sure some purist association would show up to protest.”
“I don’t know.” Erik gave a light shrug. “Ever since we got back from Venus, I’ve had a thing for spicy foods. Something about the flavors stuck with me. Can’t a man satisfy some cravings?”
“Oh, is that why we’ve been hitting Blessings of Hyderabad so much?” Jia chuckled. “And this place? Because of their spicy karaage?”
“It’s damned good, plus.” He looked around before finishing his thought. “It’s spicy.”
“You could have just said so.” Jia offered him a soft smile.
“Hey, you asked where I wanted to eat, and I named a place. No reason for this to get complicated…” Erik’s voice trailed off with a frown, then he continued, “and worry too much about unimportant crap.”
An auburn-haired woman sitting at a table directly behind them was staring at him with a huge smile. Expectation filled her face, but she didn’t say anything.
Something about her short haircut and dark suit suggested corporate manager to Erik’s first instincts, but there was a hunger in her eyes that pointed elsewhere. Another fan, possibly. He was beginning to think wearing a disguise in public even when he wasn’t working a job for Alina might be a good idea.
Fame had proven more annoying than he’d anticipated.
“Can I help you?” Erik asked, trying to sound only half as gruff as normal. Jia glanced toward the woman with more curiosity than hostility.
The woman stood and strolled over to the table, her cup of green tea in hand. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, not totally, at least, but I overheard you talking about Venus.” She clasped her hands together under the cup and parted her lips in excitement. “I’ve been thinking about taking a trip there. Packages are really cheap right now because everyone’s scared about what happened on Parvati.”
“That’s not an unreasonable position to hold,” Jia replied.
“Please note that this woman is a freelance reporter,” Emma transmitted directly to their ears. “Melanie O’Shay. I’ve matched her face to pictures on multiple articles sold to a variety of news organizations. Her specialty appears to be, in her own words, quirky human-interest stories. I’ve found some low-level crime articles, but they are well below the scope you are typically involved in.”
Jia nodded at the woman, then looked at Erik, a question in her eyes. Erik swallowed another bite of karaage and gestured to an empty chair. Reporters were like wolves. Sometimes you needed to stand and fight. Running only encouraged them to chase you down. Ripping into her was premature.
Not every reporter was a dick like Lance Onassis, just most of them. He wanted to probe first.
Melanie sat and rubbed her hands together. “Thanks for being willing to share. I’ve never left Neo SoCal, let alone Earth, but once I read about how you can get some of these vacation packages for half off, I thought to myself, ‘You have to do that.’” She stuck out her hand. “Melanie.”
“Erik.” He shook her hand, not using too tight a grip.
Jia leaned over to follow up and offered her name plus a quick shake. She settled back, a knowing look in her eyes.
“Oh, wait.” Melanie gasped. “Aren’t you those famous cops? The Obsidian Detective and Lady Justice?”
“Ex-cops.” Erik grabbed another piece of karaage. “We work in the private sector now. And we’re just Erik and Jia.”
“That’s right. I vaguely remember reading about that, but I heard that you were on Venus when all that stuff happened? Massive terrorist incident, military and police response.” Melanie took on a conspiratorial grin. “You two aren’t the kind of people who go running from that sort of thing. Come on, tell me the truth. You were there helping out the cops, weren’t you? They probably asked you to help.”
Since Erik was still munching on his food, Jia answered, mockery in her tone. “Tell the truth? Shouldn’t you start by telling the truth?”
So much for a careful probe. Erik didn’t laugh. He didn’t care about offending Melanie, but he didn’t want to spit out any of his food.
Melanie blinked. “Huh? What are you talking about?”
“Melanie O’Shay.” Jia smiled and reached down to her PNIU. After a couple quick taps, a professional headshot of the reporter winked into existence in the center of the table. “It’s a striking resemblance, wouldn’t you say? Same name and everything.”
Her mouth opened, shut, and then did that a couple more times.
With a sheepish smile, the reporter sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. “You can’t blame a woman for trying. I got lucky that you came back to this place. My background research indicated that you like to hit the same places, and I’ve been staking out different restaurants you’re known to frequent for a week now, and nothing. This was a long shot as is. Then you strolled on in here, and I’m like, ‘Jackpot!’”
Erik shrugged. “We’re changing things up.”
“It’s not like I lied to you. I gave you my real name.”
Erik smirked. “Oh, you’re going on vacation to Venus soon?”
“Okay.” Melanie groaned. “I did lie about wanting to go on vacation, but I never said I wasn’t a reporter. And it’s not like I’m trying to out you for doing something awful. Everyone knows you helped take down terrorists on Venus. I don’t get why you wouldn’t want the whole UTC to know.” Her eyes gained that glint of hope. “I could help with that.”
They couldn’t even go for lunch without someone spotting them. That was reason enough for Neo SoCal, let alone the rest of the UTC, not knowing how integral they were to the defeat of the Ascended Brotherhood’s plot on Venus. Erik clung to the one truth he’d learned since his time back on Earth. Wrap a lie up in truth, and it became easy to swallow. People almost wanted others to lie to them.
“Even if we got involved in anything,” Erik replied, “we’re fully licensed private security contractors who happened to be authorized to use a variety of heavy weapons. We might have also happened to be on Parvati for a vacation when the incident occurred. The local police had military forces mobilized to deal with it, but let’s say we were involved and shot a gun or two, and I’m not saying we did. Even if we did, we only did it because it’s not like we’re going to sit around while innocent people got gunned down. There was no special trip or us helping anyone. Hypothetically.”
Melanie bobbed her head. “Of course. Hypothetically.” She raised an eyebrow. “You’re saying that you might have hypothetically happened to be there for vacation at the time of a major terrorist incident? You don’t think that’s a mighty convenient coincidence?”
“Sometimes the Lady is with you, and sometimes she’s against you,” Erik finished with a shrug.
“The Lady?” Melanie’s face scrunched in confusion. “What Lady? Lady Justice? Isn’t that you?”
“Lady Luck,” Jia clarified with a smile. “I wish I were her. That would be more useful.”
“I see. I didn’t realize that Mr. Blackwell was so superstitious.” Melanie licked her lips, uncertainty openly playing across her face. “And you’re saying you also had nothing to do with the raid on that zoo of non-clone rare exotic animals in Oklahoma that turned out to be filled with yaoguai? I know it wouldn’t have been just you two, but maybe you led the team?”
Erik and Jia exchanged looks. He hadn’t been to Oklahoma for decades, let alone to any zoo filled with yaoguai. It wouldn’t be a surprise if such a place existed. It wouldn’t even be much of a surprise if they ended up raiding it.
“Oh, I remember reading about that,” Jia offered with a chuckle. At least someone knew what the reporter was talking about. “I think calling them yaoguai was a bit much. They were just slightly tweaked clones. Sure, the guy running things was strange, and that’s an understatement, but he’s in prison now for trafficking in illegally modified animals and safety violations.”
“And what about the incident in Lagos?” Melanie pressed. “You telling me you had nothing to do with that?”
“What incident in Lagos?” Erik asked, keeping his smile natural and forcing himself to not look at Jia. For a low-end reporter who allegedly focused on fluff, she was sniffing close to the truth.
“There was an attack on the Sky Garden,” Melanie offered in a breathless voice.
Erik nodded. “Oh, yeah, sure. I read about it. But what does that have to do with us?”
Melanie narrowed her eyes. “You’re saying you weren’t involved in that?”
“Why? Is someone saying we were?” Erik laughed. “I’d love to be the guy who saved the Sky Garden, but we spend most of our time doing pretty boring and standard corporate security gigs these days, and we’ve not been hired by anyone in Nigeria. You do a job in Nigeria that you didn’t tell me about, Jia?”
“Not that I can recall,” she answered with a smile. She grabbed her chopsticks and collected some rice, her gaze never leaving Melanie. “And I think I’d remember something like that.”
“And what about the syndicate wars on Mars? There are rumors that someone weakened the Dome Society before the other syndicates took them out.” Melanie asked. “Or the recent takedown of the Infinity Syndicate in Thessalonica? Information out there suggests a small highly-skilled team was involved in infiltrating their headquarters before the CID push. And you’re going to tell me you two had absolutely nothing to do with the disruption of the Grayhead plot in Sydney?”
For all the heavy incidents he and Jia were involved in, it seemed like there were plenty of others across the planet and Solar System keeping other people busy. Erik let out a low chuckle that built to a huge laugh. Other patrons looked his way and murmured among themselves. Melanie’s brow furrowed in frustration.
“What’s so funny?” she asked with a huff.
“There are billions of people in the Solar System,” Erik replied. “And somehow you think that every single spectacular incident involving terrorists or criminals involves two people?”
Melanie averted her eyes. “I’m not saying that every incident does, but you can’t deny you were on Venus. That’s a matter of public record.”
Jia finished swallowing some rice. “We didn’t deny we were on Venus. We admitted we were on Venus, and we might have been incidentally involved in the incident, but you can’t spin that into us being involved in every major showdown with criminals or terrorists that have occurred in the last few months.” She shook her chopsticks at the reporter. “The universe doesn’t revolve around us. There are millions of good police officers, CID agents, and soldiers out there doing their jobs to protect people. Why don’t you go ask the people involved in these incidents instead of making up ridiculous conspiracy theories where somehow we’re the only two people in the UTC stopping anything bad from happening? It’s insulting to everyone else’s efforts.”
Melanie gasped and put a hand over her mouth. Her pale cheeks grew scarlet. “I-I just…thought…”
“You thought that you could get away from having to do human interest stories with some big story concerning crime and terrorism?” Erik suggested.
Melanie sighed and let her head fall forward. “Did you know I did an interview with Rena Winston only two months before you two got involved with her? It was all about her songwriting process, and then boom, it turns out she’s a changeling. And I didn’t have a clue. I was as shocked as anyone.” She ran her hands through her hair. “And I was thinking, ‘If I’d just dug a little deeper, I could have had a major scoop.’ What about… Never mind.”
“Sorry.” Erik shrugged. “We’re boring now. There’s no big story here to be uncovered. We both decided we’d put in our time and dues because of all the high-profile cases. It was getting difficult to live a normal life, so we decided to clock out and do something a little more high-paying and less dangerous. It’s not that we never have to shoot at people, but our days of epic showdowns are over.”
Melanie gave a feeble nod. “You really didn’t have anything to do with all those incidents?”
“We’ve read about them.”
Melanie stood with another long sigh. “I’m sorry to have bothered you.” She headed toward the door, her head hung low.
Jia leaned close to whisper to Erik. “I’ll give her credit. That wasn’t total garbage.”
“It was mostly garbage. Just assuming we’re involved in anything big isn’t an example of great investigative journalism.”
“We were involved in a disproportionate number of the incidents she mentioned.”
Erik snickered. “Yeah, living the life. Always fun.” He grabbed another piece of karaage. “Let’s finish up and get out of here before another reporter ambushes us.”
Mmmm, I think I want to try that karaage, but leave the tapeworm out, please. Especially if it's going to be genetically enhanced like a yaoguai! Eww!!!!
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