The Final Snippet for One Dark Future
Tomorrow is the official launch of Opus X 08, One Dark Future, but you can get the final sneak peek at the book now! Then place your pre-order and it will download to your account while you dream about the Obsidian Detective and Lady Justice! Can't beat them apples.
April 12, 2230, Neo Southern California Metroplex, Apartment of Jia Lin
“I don’t think the world’s going to end if we don’t train tonight,” Jia explained to Erik over a PNIU call. She occupied her hands by pouring herself a new cup of tea from the pot on her kitchen table. “So it’s not a big deal if the tac center needed to shut down for a few days. We did all those crazy exoskeleton scenarios the last couple of weeks anyway. I need to give my brain and body some time to rest.”
“You sure?” Erik sighed. “I was looking forward to it. I wanted to work off some stress.”
Jia chuckled. “Relaxing is also a good way of working off stress. We’ve spent too much time running from crisis to crisis lately, and it’d be a bad thing if that started to seem normal. Come on. Back in your Army days, you wouldn’t want your guys constantly on the move or fighting, would you?”
“This campaign is just getting started, but I see your point. We could get dinner.”
“I already ate,” Jia replied. “Maybe tomorrow? We could go to that Thai place we passed earlier unless you’re off your spicy kick. Then we could work off stress some other way after that.”
“Okay, that sounds like a good plan. Is that a promise?”
Jia laughed. “Yes, it’s a promise. Unless we get swept into some bizarre incident.”
“Don’t say things like that. I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I better get some rest so I’ll have more stamina for the night.” Chuckling, Erik ended the call.
Jia rolled her eyes as she picked up her tea and took a sip. There was something rather domestic about spending time with Erik, even if most of the time, it involved tactical training or dangerous investigations into deadly conspiracies. She understood his eagerness to get on with the hunt, but she remained grateful Alina hadn’t shoved them right into a new case. Constant work would grind them down, and they needed their strength—and not just for nighttime fun. A lot of things had fallen their way on Venus and in the fight against Vand, but they couldn’t be sure the Lady would always be on their side.
Her PNIU buzzed with a call. She sighed, expecting an insatiable Erik, but when she tapped to get the caller ID sent to her smart lenses, she frowned. There was no more painful combo than the unexpected and annoying.
Jared Thompson. She hadn’t talked to him since leaving the force. While she appreciated his kind words during her departure, part of her couldn’t forgive him for moving against her when all she’d been trying to do was be a good cop. Jia took a deep breath. Maybe it was time for true forgiveness.
“Hello, Jared,” she answered, doing her best to keep her tone polite. There was no reason to start out on a hostile foot.
“Hey, Jia,” Jared answered, sounding out of breath. “I need to talk to you.”
“Isn’t that what we’re doing?”
“Not over the phone. I need to do it face to face. It’s important.”
Jia frowned. “And what’s this about?”
“Look, I can’t do this over the phone.” Jared sighed. “Can you meet me at Perseid Park? You know where that is, right?”
“Yes,” Jia replied. “I’ve only been there a couple of times, but it’s in Residential Tower 546 near the station, yes?”
“Exactly.” Jared audibly swallowed over the line. “I’ll be there in one hour near the center at Twin Maidens Fountain. Please come. I promise you this isn’t me jerking you around.”
Jared ended the call before Jia could respond. There were several possibilities, some dangerous, some not. She winced. Everyone at the 1-2-2 knew she was dating Erik. Because of their fake dating plan, those same cops had known even before they were actually dating. It wasn’t impossible that Jared had gotten some personal ideas in his head now that he appreciated Jia’s police style. She was going to have a hard time not laughing if he asked her out. She was grateful that Emma’s omnipresence didn’t extend to her PNIU when she was away from Erik. A touch of privacy could do wonders for a woman’s sanity.
Jia stood slowly. She could call Erik and ask for backup, but if this turned out to be some idiotic and desperate attempt by Jared to wrest her from him, the last thing she wanted to deal with was the months of jokes that might follow, especially after she’d turned down hanging out with Erik for the night. If it was an assassination attempt, asking to meet her in a heavily trafficked park filled with cameras and drones was a good way to get caught. Plus, she didn’t plan to meet him unarmed.
“Oh, well. Might as well get this over with. I’m sure it’s nothing important. He probably just wants advice on how to ask another detective out.”
* * *
Jia strolled through the tree-filled park, taking in the details both for security and appreciation. The gorgeous star-filled sky above might be a holographic fraud, but that didn’t make it any less beautiful. For all the complaints of the Purists, not many people cared about heavily modifying non-consumable plants for something as ultimately petty as making sure trees didn’t grow too quickly when living in the middle of a tower with only artificial light in soil filled with chemicals and nanites. They cared even less when the sweet smells of the carefully curated symmetrical rows of flowers lining the pathways or the earthy scent from the dirt and trees otherwise screamed natural.
She reached into her jacket to feel the comforting weight of her stun pistol and slugthrower. On the way over, she’d convinced herself there was nothing going on other than some misguided romance, but her habitual paranoia had settled in upon her arrival. Happy people filled the park, but there were plenty of dense clusters of trees where a man could use optical camouflage to escape the drones and cameras. It’d be embarrassing to be assassinated after being lured to the park by Jared Thompson.
Jia continued following the smooth, curving white paths toward the fountain. She could already hear the burble of the water. A smiling teenage couple wandered past her, the girl giggling at some whispered joke.
Jia missed that kind of innocence, although she wasn’t sure she’d ever had it.
Before Erik had opened her eyes, she’d believed in a perfect Earth and the UTC as a flawed but great entity focused on justice and human rights. She accepted there were anti-socials and insurrectionists, but she thought that at least she lived in a shining kingdom of perfection among humanity’s finest civilization. But she’d also never felt the relaxed restraint so many others did. She’d become a detective because of her drive to protect her shining kingdom. On some level, she must have always sensed the corruption lurking not far underneath the surface, or she’d internalized the lessons of literature that suggested great civilizations inevitably passed through cycles of decline before their renewal.
The path widened, and the trees and flowers on both sides gave way to an intricately sandstone-tiled central circle. Two jet-black statues of women in Grecian robes towered over the circle, their backs to each other and their arms outstretched. Small benches were spread out around the circle, most filled with couples or families, but Jared sat on one by himself, staring at Jia with a forlorn look.
His hand wasn’t in his jacket. If he was there to take a shot, he’d already lost his surprise. The lack of disguise and the meeting place reduced the chance of violence, but there was still something off about the whole thing. She made her way over to his bench.
Jared nodded to the empty side. “Join me, Jia.”
Jia nodded and sat. She wasn’t going to initiate the conversation. He’d called her here, and she didn’t know why. The less effort she put into controlling the conversation, the more she maintained her situational awareness.
Jared licked his lips and looked around the area. “Anyone follow you? I didn’t ask you to check for that, but you’re Lady Justice. You probably check every time you go to a restaurant.”
“What’s this about, Jared?” Jia asked. She wasn’t about to admit he was right. Her paranoia might have been stoked by the reporter, but it was rare she didn’t consider the possibility that someone from the conspiracy or a remnant of one of the many syndicates she’d helped destroy might come after her.
Jared leaned closer to her and lowered his voice. “I need your help.”
Jared stared at her, his mouth twitching. He took a deep breath before he could finally push out the quiet words. “In the past, here and there, I took certain…bonuses. Tips, you could call them from particular individuals that weren’t always what you might call respectable.”
Jia’s hands balled into fists and her cheeks heated. “You took bribes? You’re dirty?”
Jared averted his eyes, shame written all over his face. “You can call it whatever you want, but yes.”
“The only reason I’m not smashing my fist into your face is that we’re in public,” Jia let out, her words a growl. Her heart pounded, and she squeezed her fist tighter until her nails dug into her palm. “Or pulling out my gun and shooting you, but I assume you have some point other than proving me right, so get to it before I reconsider my newfound pacifism.”
Jared kept his gaze on the ground as he rubbed his wrists. “I figured it wasn’t a big deal.”
“You figured a cop taking bribes wasn’t a big deal?” Jia rolled her eyes. “I’m not an idiot, Jared, but apparently you are.”
“I know. I knew it could lead to something bad, but no one ever asked me to do anything.”
“You expect me to believe you were paid to do nothing?” Jia released her fist. Blood welled up in her palms from her nail cuts.
Jared managed to lift his head and look Jia in the eyes. “I didn’t feel great about it, but it was nice to have a little extra money, you know? And I always figured I had the situation under control.”
“How does that work? Most of the time when you’re taking bribes, the people paying out are the ones in control.”
Jared shrugged and sighed. “Because I figured there was a limit. If they asked me to do anything over the line, I’d just say no. If anything got out of hand, I would handle it.” He let out a pained laugh. “Like now.”
Jia’s mouth twitched. It took all her self-control not to laugh in the man’s face, almost more than it took to not hit him. She’d spent her time on the force being called a naïve corp princess, but she was the height of cynicism compared to the self-serving idiot in front of her. She motioned for him to continue.
“Then you and Erik started doing all your shit.” Jared gestured around the park. “And the internal affairs and anticorruption crap happened. I stopped taking payments around that time, and for a while, I just sat there and waited for them to come for me. It was part of the reason I was even more of an asshole to you.” He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I blamed you for starting it all. I thought I was going to end up in prison.”
“Yes, because it makes so much sense to blame a police officer for not being dirty rather than not take bribes to begin with.” Jia folded her arms.
“I know. I know. When I didn’t get tagged by Internal Affairs, I thought about how things were going. With Captain Ragnar, you and Erik out there, it made me reevaluate why I’d become a cop.” Jared smiled, a semblance of pride in the expression. “I figured with all the syndicate purges, I was in the clear. I never was sure who was paying me, but the guy who was my main contact left town last year. I figured it was over.”
Jia nodded slowly. “Okay, this is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with me? Is this a sad attempt to get me to pat you on the head and tell you you’re a good cop despite taking bribes? That’s not going to happen, Jared. I’m having trouble resisting stunning your ass and calling the 1-2-2 right now to turn you over to IA.”
Jared placed his face in his hands. “I’d deserve it. I’d deserve that and more, but my sister Mara doesn’t.”
“Your sister?” Jia frowned. “What does she have to do with anything? I thought she was a low-level office drone.”
“She is,” Jared replied with a heavy sigh. “Here’s the simple version: a couple of days ago, I was contacted by someone, a guy named Ralic. I’d never met the guy or heard of him, but he started name-dropping my old contact, and he made it clear that a new syndicate moving into town had an investment in me, and that they’d expect it to pay off. He wanted me to purge the surveillance data on a case. Best I can tell, it was a minor breaking and entering thing. It was a 1-2-2 case, but it’s low priority and not even my case.”
“The case that led to Ceres Galactic and the councilman started low and unimportant, too.” Jia scoffed. “Seriously? Bribes that require no favors? Sure. What syndicate?”
“Hell if I know, and I didn’t want to look into it in case it started something I couldn’t handle from IA before I could get it under control.” Jared lifted his head. “With the way the cops and CID have been ripping the balls off all the local syndicates, I thought there couldn’t be anyone left, let alone the guys paying me. But it doesn’t matter.” He clenched his jaw. “I told them to screw off. They threatened to turn me into IA. I told them to go ahead, I’d do everything in my power to help the NSCPD and CID track their asses down and fry them. I also said I’d make sure the entire law enforcement community was looking into their case.”
Jia smiled despite herself. “You’ve got balls after all. But that sounds like starting something.”
“Yeah, it started something all right.”
“You mentioned your sister.”
Jared nodded. “They sent me a bunch of pictures of her going into her apartment. Her at her job. Her at a restaurant. Ralic sent me a message saying how it’s always sad when people get hurt, but it’s a big city.”
“Okay.” Jia nodded, sympathy leaking into her hardened heart. “I get where you’re coming from, but if they’re threatening your sister, why haven’t you grabbed her and gone straight to the 1-2-2 to ask for protective custody, especially after everything you just said? If you do what you threatened to do and shine a light on the investigation, you can get them all taken down while your sister’s being protected.”
“I can’t risk it. When I told them all that stuff before, I was bluffing.” Jared swallowed and surveyed the area slowly, his eyes haunted. “I can’t be the only leftover piece of trash in the department. I might just be the only one in a position to get to the data they want since it’s a 1-2-2 case. If I go to the department and blow the whistle, I can’t be sure the cop assigned to guard my sister won’t put a bullet in her brain.” He turned toward Jia. “But you and Erik, you’re not part of the department, and if there is one thing you’ve proven, it’s that you’re not on any syndicate’s payroll. You could help me by relocating my sister until everything gets taken care of.”
“Let’s pretend I’m willing to help you with this and risk my life rather than just call the department or the CID.” Jia sighed. “I need to understand something first.”
“Sure,” Jared replied. “What?”
“Why did you call me and not Erik?”
Jared let out a quiet, pained chuckle. “I know he’s not dirty, but I also know he’s not like you.”
Jia frowned. “Meaning what?”
“I always got the feeling he joined the department so he could continue kicking ass rather than because he cared about justice. I figured he wouldn’t want to risk himself for something dangerous if it wasn’t some big, high-profile thing.” Jared shrugged. “And I couldn’t take the risk he’d say no. If he said no first, there would be a bigger chance of you saying no.”
Jia pinched the bridge of her nose, a headache already coming on. “Okay. I’m not saying no, but I’m also not agreeing. If I’m going to help you with this, I’m going to need Erik, and that means talking to him about it.”
“Fair enough. Just…hurry. I don’t know how much longer I can stall Ralic.”
Hmmm, I always wondered about Jared. Now I know. I just hope his stupidity doesn't get his sister hurt, or worse! No need to worry about Jia and Erik, they got this. Right? I mean, they do! LOL
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