Ryard Vancing bent quizzically to the screen and the images there manifest. Brows creasing with concentration, lips grooving with growing annoyance, hands busily fluttering over the dactyl array. On the display: A woman and a man walked leisurely down a rain-scoured crossway, blinking to alert would-be passers as to the safety of the venture, then up a short flight of stairs to an ancient automat. The former, gaudy-bright and smiling; luxurious curls swaying in the wind. The latter, hooded and gloved; face shaded, its particularities indiscernible. Nascent, rudimentary biometeric analysis of the private civilian registrar archive yielded little, narrowing the identity of the walker from among the several billion which constituted the total population of Aecer, to the subset of several million, which constituted male individuals of a build comparable to Fawnell’s unidentified companion. A potential avenue of research, if the transcribed man was registered in the citizenry database.
“The clothing is common, cheap. Sold in all sectors through numerous retailers. So. Could be any fit man of average height in the city.” Ryard muttered, replaying the sequence over and over and over as his affin module continued spatial-somatic match-processing. Suddenly, he went rigid and paused the recording, focusing on the mysterious individual’s hands, and turned to the insouciant, orange-coated man sat behind him.
“Hm?” Lanning looked up from a steaming box of cheon sa chae, semi-transparent strands hanging awkwardly from his maw.
“Why would he wear gloves?”
Ryard jerked his thumb at the frozen image of the cloaked man on the projector.
“The one who was with Fawnell the night she died. It had stopped raining. Wasn’t that cold out.”
“It was raining earlier.”
“But it wasn’t raining when they arrived.”
“I don’t know. Maybe he’s bacillophobic. I don’t pull off my rain coat as soon as it stops raining, I wait until I’m inside. Hardly out of the ordinary.”
“Not as an isolated fact, but consider it in context. In every frame in which the man was recorded, he’s turned just far enough away from the monitor so that his face is concealed. And his dress suggests a desire for anonymity. The walk from the crossway to the restaurant is around three minutes. All that time, a clear view of Fawnell’s face. Yet this other, his face is covered throughout. He must have known about the monitor.”
Lanning slurped down his noodles and shook his head. “Are you familiar with pareidolia?”
“You think I’m compromised because I talked with her.”
Lanning nodded slowly. “You’re emotionally invested. Can’t pretend you’re not. A man that’s emotionally stimulated by the moon is more likely to see a face in it.”
“Of course I am. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong. You have to confess its suspicious. The way he’s all wrapped up for such a simple outing. The way his posture is kept so as to ensure his anonymity. His inconspicuousness is conspicuous.”
“I don’t. And it isn’t. You know, the only reason you were allowed to see that recording is because The Ice Queen fancies you?”
“You really think I’m errant minded, don’t you?”
“You want me to answer that honestly?”
“Depends. You want me to tell Straker you call her ‘The Ice Queen?'”
“You wouldn’t have let me see the recording if it were up to you, would you?”
Lanning stirred his dish contemplatively. Reticent to answer.
“No. Probably not. You’re supposed to be working public relations.”
“Teleforensics is public relations now?”
“Whoever wanted Fawnell dead is almost certainly the same agent behind the press leak. Possibly, the riots as well. Syzr’s right. There’s something large at play here.”
“‘Almost’ and ‘certainly’ are two words I don’t like to hear in the same sentence.”
“What’s my designation?”
“Interim Major of Communications.”
“Your ego is inflating?”
Ryard snatched the noodles from Lannings hand.
“Alright. Alright. Take it easy.”
Ryard shot the man a glare.
“Take it easy, Sir.”
“Get on the console.”
With a huff of disatisfaction, Lanning moved to the central array and looked to the queries Vancing had previously entered. He shook his head.
Ryard set the orange-garbed analysist’s meal down on the table, his eyes passing over the guady, crumpled wrapping.
“Long Shadow. Premium noodles. Strange name.” Ryard screwed his face up as he continued scanning the colorful package, which depicted two anthropomorphic fish mascots stirring a cauldron filled with thin, processed kelp strands.
“Because they’re longer then usual.” Lanning replied over his shoulder. “Dinner sized. I promise, they’re good. Better than Sirin’s slimy eels anyways.”
“Shadow.” Ryard’s eyes widened with a jolt of recollection. “The same shadow moves behind both curtains.”
“Something Syzr said. It reminded me of something. Someone. The man who I met when I went to see Fawnell.”
“The community organizer?”
“I’ve never spoken with him. Seen him come by a few times. Seems a pleasant fellow. Always smiling.”
“He was a friend of Fawnell’s. Showed me and Sirin around his theatre. Strange place. Masks. Red curtains everywhere.”
“What’s he got to do with anything?”
“He was the last person to see Fawnell alive.”
“His hand was bandaged.”
Ryard cupped his chin, waxing contemplative.
“If one were going out, with a bandaged hand, and were desirous of anonymity, it’d be a good idea to wear gloves, wouldn’t it, even if it wasn’t cold.”
“You’re getting ahead of the facts.”
“Now that I’m thinking about it, Rehdon’s around the same size as the man walking next to Fawnell.”
“So are you.”
“I have an alibi. Does he? See where Rehdon was during the incident.”
Lanning stopped typing and turned around.
“Look through the registry to find his affin mod, then run a search for it. I want to know where he was just before, during and after the midtier incident.”
Lanning raised his brows. “Ok…”
The clacking of keys resounded throughout the cluttered backroom. Ryard took a seat at Lanning’s desk, mind reeling. Moments later the sound of footfalls and a officious female voice drifted in from the doorway.
Ryard looked up from Lanning’s desk to spy Elyse Sirin standing in the doorway, helmet under her left arm, concern stark upon her scarred and sleep deprived face.
“I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“No. Not at all. What is it?”
“The Consortium just passed a unanimous resolution to seize the Central Aerospace Complex. In response, Kryos resigned from the board “
“The Consortium and the Federation have entered into an agreement for joint-ownership of the complex concomitant to a new economic venture. The Chancellor is holding a ceremony to inaugurate the partnership.” Sirin held up a security token. “You’ve been invited, Sir.”
“Ah,” Ryard smiled dourly, “Salis.”
Tyser looked from Vancing to the woman, his voice tinged faintly with dread.
“Who was behind the resolution?”
A shadow passed over the woman’s face.