The Fleet [Up the Spine]

Getting from Hab to the Spine is easy in theory. Just keep going up until you get to the doors labeled “Warning: Low Gravity Zone.”

Theories are treacherous things.

The gravity starts getting weaker pretty much immediately once you’re out of Hab proper. By three levels up I was already having trouble, bouncing with each step.

I hit my head four times before I even got to the first low-g signs.

The bulkhead to the outer regions of the Spine was propped open with a hook that was glued to the wall. Very unsafe, and very illegal, but you have to pick your battles. I ignored it.

A couple of vagabonds sat, drinking dime-make booze, on either side of the bulkhead, legs spread out across the narrow hallway.

“Officer Nic!” one of them, Marcela, waved at me as I approached, “What brings you up to our level?”

I smiled, “Crime, naturally.”

She threw up her hands, as did her elderly drinking companion.

“I didn’t do it,” she laughed.

“I hope not.” I smiled. Once I got close, my mobile picked up on their IDs. Alejandro was the name of her companion, “We had a murder last night.”

Marcela’s smile turned inside out.

“I def didn’t do that,” she mumbled.

“I know, but the kid didn’t have any ID. He looked like he might be from the Spine, and so I thought I could get a name up here,” I made a gesture over my shoulder, bringing my mobile up in front of me, and brought up a still of the kids face. My mobile spun around to show the still to the two of them.

Marcela shook her head, but her drinking buddy groaned.

“That’s Bruno,” Alejandro said.

“Bruno?” I asked, my mobile switching to record, “Bruno who?”

“Just Bruno. I don’t think he had a last name,” he said, shaking his head, “Droga.”

“What can you tell me about him,” I knelt down by the old man, who shook his head.

“He was with Demônios da Gravidade Zero.”

I nodded. DGZ was a gang Rondôn had a record of. They were a crew of spine-rats who ran illegal data. Small time criminals who traded in porn, philosophy, off-network messages, that sort of thing.

“Criminal record?” I asked.

The old man shrugged, “I didn’t know him that well. Probably.”

Marcela made a subtle movement, which allowed her to rise gracefully, despite the low gravity, to her feet. She tossed the half empty bottle slowly to the old man.

“Where they kill this boy?” Marcela looked closer at the still.

“Pretty far out in Hab. On the stoop of an art shop,” I said.

Marcela didn’t react, the old man groaned, “Bastardos.”

“You think you know who did it?” I turned back to the old man.

Não, não,” Alejandro waved his hand, “Fuckers down in Hab no doubt.”

The old man spit, absently waving away the reminder from Rondôn to keep the ship tidy that was no doubt filling his earpiece.

“Somebody should let his boyfriend know,” Alejandro said.

“He has a boyfriend?” I asked.

“Mhmm,” the old man nodded, taking a long drink from the bottle, “Boy named Lucas, he’s from Victoria. He’s a pilot, you know. Ele Lança água.”

“Really?” A pilot? And hauling water, “That’s not the sort of gig they hand out to organized criminals.”

“He’s not with DGZ. Just with Bruno. Lucas is Respeitável, you know?” Alejandro fumbled in his pocket for an old second-hand mobile, “I got his contact I think.”

The old man sent me the contact and I thanked him. I asked Rondôn to wire him an one-time informants fee, and thanked him again. When I turned to leave, Marcela walked with me, slipping her arm into mine.

“You need help getting back down. That high-step is gonna get you a concussion,” she laughed.

“Still haven’t got my low-g legs,” I smiled.

“That’s ‘cause you never come up here anymore, Nic. You’re out of practice.”

“I come up sometimes,” I said defensively.

“Not often enough,” she insisted, “You should come by my hole for dinner tonight. The fam would love to see you.”

I shook my head, “Can’t. This business is probably gonna be my whole day I think.”

“Think you gonna catch o assassino?” Marcela asked.

“Probably,” I shrugged, “I’ve got Rondôn cross checking surveillance from the area. That’ll probably pull something up.”

“Then you’ll probably be done before 5 o’clock, and you’ve got no excuse,” Marcela laughed, “I’ll tell the fam you’ll be by at seven then.”

“You sure about that?” I frowned, “What about Fabrizia? She still there?”

“Mhmm, and Niceta,” she shook her head, “You’ve got to get over it eventually Nic.”

“No I don’t,” I said firmly.

Marcela shrugged, “Ok, you don’t. But you should, know what I mean? It’s been a couple years.”

I didn’t answer.

We made most of the trek down to higher-g levels in silence before Marcela finally said, “I mean it though: you should come. If for no other reason than because it’s time you at least tried to bury this hatchet.”

“I’ll think about it,” I lied.

“I’m gonna tell people you’re coming,” Marcela let go of my arm.

I smiled, “Ok, ok. I’ll really think about it. I’ll call and let you know.”

She patted my shoulder, “Até logo!

She left me at the docking station for a taxi. I hopped into the back and it pinged.

“Where would you like to go, Officer?” Rondôn asked cheerily through the speakers.

“My office,” I responded, “Please.”

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