Snippet #1 Maelstrom of Treason
Are you excited for the first snippet in the next OpusX book? You should be! LOL
September 28, 2229, Neo Southern California Metroplex, Police Enforcement Zone 122 Station, Break Room
Jia settled into a chair at a break room table, a piping-hot cup of coffee in hand. The delicious smell floated up to tickle her nostrils.
A half-dozen detectives chatted in the room, some quiet and others boisterous. She ignored them, focused on something that had grabbed her attention earlier.
A data window in front of her was open to an article she had flagged on the way to work. She could have read it, but ever since she’d started taking piloting lessons, she’d felt more of a need to manually fly her flitter.
She considered Erik’s desire to always be in control when flying his flitter and could understand a bit better now. Additional spatial awareness practice wouldn’t hurt.
She stared at the headline, thinking about the tumult of case memories it recalled.
RENA WINSTON GIVES EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW FROM UNDISCLOSED LOCATION. “I’m doing what I always loved—singing. I’m happy, and I hope everyone else is.”
Jia’s eyes darted back and forth as she read the article. She’d wondered how Rena was faring. It had to be hard to be so famous, only to have your life unravel because of something that wasn’t your fault. Jia was still adjusting to the changes in her own life, but they’d all required conscious decisions.
Fortunately, Rena’s present was far from the horror of her abusive manager and stolen childhood. The genetically-engineered singer’s new location wasn’t revealed in the article, other than noting she was now living in a “smaller settlement, well away from Earth.”
Jia pondered what the phrasing implied, given that it wasn’t specific. “Well away from Earth” could mean anything from a frontier planet with a single dome to planets considered core worlds.
She doubted Rena was too far away from the core systems, but if the girl truly didn’t care about anything but singing, it wouldn’t necessarily hurt to stay away from the luxury that accompanied humanity’s earlier colonies.
Wherever she had ended up wasn’t as important as that she’d managed to start her life over. Erik’s and Jia’s work often ended in violence and pain, and it was good to be reminded that being a police officer was as much about saving good people as taking down criminals.
It wasn’t all yaoguai and nanozombies, even if those cases dominated the headlines. But it didn’t matter. That was all coming to an end, and given some of the furtive looks she was getting from other detectives in the break room, she wasn’t the only one thinking about her imminent career change.
Jia took another sip of her coffee as she glanced toward Halil, who was whispering with another detective, Jared.
She’d had more than a few negative run-ins with the other man, but as long as he stayed out of her way, she wasn’t going to give him much thought. She did her job to get scum off the street and protect innocent people, not for the accolades from her fellow officers. It wasn’t the best solution, but it was the best she could come up with at the moment.
Halil looked her way with a sheepish smile before nodding toward his conversation partner. He made his way to Jia’s table. “I’ve got a question for you.”
“I might have an answer, but I need to hear the question first.” Jia lifted her cup, eyeing him over the rim as she sipped. “I’ll keep drinking until you manage to ask. I need a little more coffee than normal to wake me up.”
“There’s a rumor going around…” He ran his tongue alongside the inside of his mouth before leaning in. He lowered his voice when he next spoke. “Some people say you and Erik are getting ready to leave. The captain hasn’t said shit yet, but that’s the word going around the EZ.”
So much for secrecy.
Jia set her cup down with a quiet laugh. “It’s funny how something that was supposed to be kept quiet is already spreading around the station. Not that I’m surprised. If a bunch of detectives can’t pick up on people hiding things, who can?”
“You mean it’s true?” Halil’s eyes widened. “For both of you? You’re leaving the 1-2-2?”
If it couldn’t be secret, she should seize control of the message.
“Yes.” Jia cleared her throat before announcing loudly to catch others attention, “The rumors are true. Erik and I are leaving, and not just the 1-2-2. We’re both leaving the NSCPD.”
The room fell silent. Everyone looked her way, stunned. Jared stared at her, curiosity written in large letters on his face.
Halil shook his head, a smile breaking out and defeating the shocked confusion on his face. “You know what? After everything you two have done, and all that media attention you’ve gotten, I’m sure you can walk into whatever corporate security job you want and make ten times as much without all the crazy gangsters and yaoguai. I’d do the same thing as you if I had the opportunity. Or maybe not.”
“Maybe not?” Jia eyed Halil, wondering what he was thinking. “You’re saying you love being a police officer that much?”
“I like being a cop, but that’s not what’s bothering me.”
Halil grinned. “My real problem is with the private sector.”
“I can think of a lot of potential problems, but can you be a little more specific?” Jia looked at Halil and Jared, but their expressions gave her nothing.
“They actually expect you to work for a living.” Halil barked out a hearty laugh and slapped his knee.
Jia shared a laugh with the other gathered officers as they joined Halil. Even Jared laughed. Her laughter built until a few mirthful tears escaped. How things had changed. Last year, almost every officer in the 1-2-2, including Halil, wanted her gone and blamed her for driving off others they claimed were better cops.
But the joke resonated with the changes at the 1-2-2.
When she’d started there, many of the officers were lazy and ineffective, but that all felt so far in the past, it might as well have been ancient history. They were now one of the more elite enforcement zones in Neo SoCal and not just because of Erik and Jia.
Every man and woman in that room had been involved in several high-profile arrests or raids. That’s what it meant to be a police officer, to be part of a team. Erik and Jia might have pulled the station and the department along at first, but now momentum carried them forward.
Halil took a seat across from Jia as the laugher died down. “I’m surprised. I figured a die-hard like you would wear the uniform until you died.”
“Things change.” Jia smiled. “Including me.”
“You sure it’s not that there’s just not enough kingpins to take down locally to satisfy you?”
Jia shook her head. “I just…we both thought that maybe there are different ways to accomplish what we want. I don’t think I can do that anymore at the 1-2-2, or even in the NSCPD. It’s not been an easy decision, but I think it’s what’s best.”
“I get that. I’m also not saying I’m surprised that you and Erik are leaving together. Once you two hooked up, you might as well have become one person. But I figure that just comes from risking your lives together so many times.” Uncertainty played across Halil’s face.
“That’s a lot of it, yes. I can’t say I’ve ever met a man like him before.”
“Not a lot of people have,” Halil admitted. “But you’ve got something already lined up? I can’t see you just leaving to go sit on a beach somewhere.”
Jia nodded. “Yes, but it’s not what you think. I’m not going to be a corporate employee.”
“How’s that work? You going to the CID?”
“No,” Jia replied. “It’s sort of a freelance security arrangement. They’ve made us sign so many NDAs, I don’t know if I’m technically allowed to tell you my name anymore, but the important thing is that Erik and I make the final call. We’re not taking orders from a corporate manager, and we can still concentrate on stopping criminals.”
Halil laughed. “Yeah. Sounds good, but I can still smell the money from light-years away. And it’s not like I thought you two would work for anybody doing something wrong. Or if you did, you’d end up taking them down from the inside. I won’t be surprised if I’m reading about you destroying all of Ceres Galactic here in a few months.”
“If everything goes as it should, you won’t be reading about us at all.” Jia almost chuckled at the lie before adding a bit of truth to make it slide down better. “The incident at the prison made certain things clear. We can’t be good police officers if people are causing trouble because of us, not in spite of us.” She leaned back and sighed, her eyes going distant. “It’s time we lowered our profile a little.”
“Damn.” Halil sucked in a breath through his teeth. “Even when you quit for more money, somehow it ends up sounding a lot nobler than most of us.” His eyes darted around again, and he licked his lips. “When are you leaving?”
“We’re still working out the final details with the captain,” Jia replied, unsure of why the other detective was so nervous. He’d mistreated her when she had started at the 1-2-2, but he’d also been one of the earlier ones to come around. “We want it to be a smooth transition, but you know how things go: reports, testifying.” She waved her hand in a circle. “A lot of loose ends. We don’t want to leave anyone in a lurch and let some antisocial scumbag get away because we were too busy looking for the exit.”
“You don’t have a date in mind?” Halil pressed.
Jia shook her head, wondering why he cared so much about their exact last day of work. “Uh, no.” She shrugged. “Sorry. It’s still up in the air. A month? Six weeks at most, I’m guessing. Is it that important?”
Halil nodded slowly. “No, nooo. Just curious is all. It’s the end of an era, and it’s kind of strange.”
She pursed her lips. “I suppose it is. It’s been a wild ride since Erik came. I almost don’t recognize myself or the 1-2-2.”
“Yeah. I get that.” He scratched his chin. “I feel the same way.”
Jared walked toward the table with a slight frown. Jia squared her shoulders and locked eyes with him. She didn’t care if he thought she was fleeing the department or whatever other garbage he was about to fling at her.
She knew that she was leaving to help the Intelligence Directorate hunt down dark conspiracies. Fame had never been her goal, and losing it would only help. She didn’t care if it made him happy. Even Jared had to do his job now, and that was all that mattered.
He stopped at the edge of the table, still staring at Jia with a frown. His breathing was slow and steady.
Halil looked up at him. “Don’t, Jared. Just leave it. We’re all cool here. Don’t mess it up.”
“I’ve got something to say.” Jared shook his head, not breaking eye contact with Jia. “It’s more than that. I need to say it before Lin takes off, and no one is going to stop me from saying it.”
Jia folded her arms. “Okay, say it.” She shrugged. “The break room is as good a place as any to get it out.” She gestured around the room. “We’ve got witnesses here and cameras. No one will question anything that happens here.”
“Yes, we’ve got witnesses.” Jared swallowed. “So, I’m going to go ahead.”
“Oh, so…” Jia blinked. “Wait. What did you just say?”
She’d expected insults, maybe even a sucker punch. About the only thing that would have surprised her more than his apology would be a giant yaoguai or Tin Man busting through the wall and trying to kill her.
Even that would have been a milder surprise than the straight-up apology.
“I’m sorry,” Jared repeated. He averted his eyes. “I’ve been an ass to you for most of the time you’ve been here. I realized after what happened on the prison planet that you and your partner have been risking your life ten times more than any other cop in this department, and I’ve been a whiny bastard about it rather than manning up and following your example.”
“Uh, that’s…accurate?” Jia sputtered. She gripped the table, her adrenalin now a burden.
Jared turned and made eye contact with every other man and woman in the room. “You all know me. And you all know everything I’ve said about Lin since she started. You all know I tried my damnedest to get her out of here. I don’t think there’s a single cop in the entire station I haven’t bitched to about her, and also Blackwell.”
Jia watched in silence, not sure where he was going with everything. But he’d already apologized, which didn’t suggest this was a sophisticated attempt to make her look bad. It was exactly what it appeared to be—a heartfelt apology from an asshole.
Former asshole, anyway.
Jared pointed at his chest with his thumb. “A lot of the guys I came up with are gone now. They quit, some because of her directly or because they just didn’t like the new atmosphere at the station. For a long time, I was pissed about it, but that’s dumb.” He scoffed. “We’re cops. We’re supposed to be taking down criminals. We’re supposed to be busting up syndicates and helping hunt down every freaking crazy-ass terrorist who thinks his cause of the week is worth killing people. The rest of us here were all trying to push work because it was too much trouble.” He shook his head. “We were worse than lazy. We were downright pathetic.”
The other detectives nodded slowly in agreement, the concern easing off their faces. Jia nodded too. Jared wasn’t saying anything she could disagree with, but she was prepared in case his speech ended with a new condemnation of her. It wasn’t like he’d been nice to ever before, even recently.
An exit made everything better for both of them.
Jared turned back toward her. “Detective Lin. Jia. You’ve accomplished more since becoming a detective than entire stations might in a year. You and Erik didn’t just make the 1-2-2 better, you’ve helped make Neo SoCal better.”
The other cops in the room clapped lightly.
Jia waited for the clapping to stop. “Thank you, Jared. That’s kind of you to say.”
“I just don’t know what else to say. I’m sorry for all the crap I’ve thrown your way.” Jared smirked. “It’s going to be boring here without you and Erik, though. You’re both good cops, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t troublemakers. We’ll probably end up with nothing but boring fraud victims from now on.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Maybe the best cops are always troublemakers?”
“Probably.” Jared, along with all the other cops in the rooms, laughed.
Jia might never be comfortable lying, but similar to doing what it took to keep Erik’s secret, she would grow used to it.
She would miss being a cop, but at the same time, she couldn’t ignore the way her heart rate kicked up at the idea of her new job working for Alina.
A police officer was a hunter of criminals.
It was time she went after bigger game.
WOW! I can’t wait to see where this is headed! Can you?