A score and some years prior...
Ergo Shahri watches the technicians swaddle the two neonatal babies until only the peach fuzz of their wrinkly newborn heads remain visible. As if the lab standard beige blankets make the babies look remotely normal. If anything, it only sharpens the contrast of their brightly colored hair, one sapphire blue, the other rainbow.
Is it her problem? Not really. She's just a student, fresh out of high school, only here to assist, to take careful notes in her lab notebook, to run plasmids in gels and to label nuclei acids. The headache would go to the higher-up in charge of the whole project.
In truth, the entire team ought to be celebrating. They just demonstrated that designer babies really can be born out of test tubes, and that is nothing short of a miracle.
Which is exactly what bothers her.
- - -
The sun beats down on the city cemetery, but Ofelia keeps well away in the cool of the shade, kneeling in the grass and paying her respects to no grave in particular.
Part of it is sheer morbid curiosity. Part of it is self-preservation. Someone obviously cares enough about Jupiter to hold him a proper funeral, and if Kronos had any more crazy relatives in attendance, Ofelia owes it to her own safety and sanity to know about them.
And she doesn't have to worry too much. Surrounding the plot of fresh earth, musky miasma hanging in the humidity, stands the priest, the diggers, and a single fellow in somber black sporting a mane of hair that looked like it'd come out of a tie-dye bucket. Strands of Roy G Biv sparkle across the entire cemetery, and Ofelia needn't have bothered to place herself so close to the gravesite. If you ask Ofelia, he ought to have dyed it fifty shades of grey for the occasion. The priest intones the formalities, the diggers pat down the remaining soil, and then it is only the rainbow-haired man standing motionlessly at the tombstone.
There is no point malingering; Ofelia can keep tabs on this potential pest from the safety of her home. She stands up.
And the man turns, and looks directly at her.
Ofelia resists the urge to freeze, packaging her fear into the careful adjustment of her shoulder strap.
The grass crunches behind her, and a woman passes her left, and Ofelia lets herself breathe--she's not the one he's staring at. Dark haired and dark skinned, the woman steadily crossing the cemetery towards Jupiter's grave looks entirely out of place in her long sleeved sweater and boots. Only an Asian grandmother would approve of that summer outfit.
The man doesn't know her--that much is obvious from his guarded stance. Their exchange is brief, and when the woman departs, she leaves him distinctly stunned, clenching a roll of newspaper.
She'd passed him some sort of message for sure. "Goddamnit," Ofelia mutters. So much for going home. That woman just made herself an unknown factor, and Ofelia knows better than to ignore loose threads.
Ofelia looks up at the bright noon sun. She can spare an hour or two, she reckons, and treks down the cemetery hill, eyes tailing the woman.
- - -
"What'd you bring today, Garrett?" Kansen asks.
Garrett plops down and unearths a giant plastic jar. It's like twice the size of his head. "Animal crackers!" he says, prying the lid off and proffering the open jar to Kansen.
The other Runners swarm him, grubby hands snatching up handfuls of the sweet crackers. Rhona scoffs and prods a dead rat with her foot. Who does this white-washed suburbia rich kid think he is, bribing her Runners with candies? The shrimp had shown up most days the past two weeks, backpack bulging with goodies. Didn't talk much beyond "hello," "bye," "yes," "no," and giving names of things, but he had stuck around like an annoying tick, following them on their runs, spelunking in the sewers, even sleeping over their alley the nights Alvia told ghost stories.
She can't deny his usefulness. Bea had asked Garrett for his notebook and pens to doodle with, and then all the other kids started asking him for more useful stuff like flashlights, toys, duct tape, matches--and he always brought what they wanted (except for the time Rhona wanted to make him look bad and asked him for a car).
Rhona likes free stuff, for sure, and she can't put a finger on why this kid irritates her so much. Maybe it's the way her Runners brighten whenever he shows up. Maybe it's because they all started asking her "When's Garrett coming today?" Maybe it's because whenever he leaves, the seat of his pants blackened with city grime, everyone but her expects him to return, be it tomorrow or the day after or the day after that. They should know better. Free things aren't ever free.
- - -
It's been five months and Aras figures that if something, anything was to be made out of the mysterious murder-by-arrow of a low impact rebel leader in an abandoned shack outside the city, it would have happened already. But the thin manila case folder has been gathering dust in the back of the cabinet, and he's all too happy to forget the whole thing. Benign neglect.
Aras snaps to his feet, grabs his coffee, and follows his boss down between the cubicles to the office in the far corner. He closes the door behind them and waits for his boss to take a seat first.
"Make yourself comfortable," says Bellasseau.
Long talk, then. Aras hopes it doesn't concern him, or at least his nocturnal activities, and sits down. Bellasseau looks up briefly from the stack of paperwork.
"You look terrible. Get much sleep last night?"
The cold rooftop he'd crouched on for six hours last night, waiting for his target to show up at the crosshatches of his scope, returns briefly in his mind. "Enough."
His boss harrumphs. "Get more."
"Yes, sir." They sit in silence for several long minutes, as Bellasseau works through a ream of forms, the pen filling in boxes with practiced rapidity. Aras wishes there is something interesting to look at in the spartan office besides the ficus in the corner and the clock ticking on the paneled wall. But he waits quietly, and when the forms have all been signed, Bellasseau sets down his pen and pushes across a thick folder.
"Money travels faster than wildfires, Duval." Aras barely suppresses a twitch, picking up the folder and trying not to wonder if the hefty payment for last night's job had already been deposited. "Someone's been funneling several hundred million dollars in my city and I want to know where it's going."
Aras flips through the contents. Statements, photos, newspaper clippings, call and message transcriptions, and in the back, a clipped stack of missing children ads. "Sir, what are--"
"A sentimental social worker noticed a couple of kids stopped showing up at the homeless pantry, tracked down their buddies, and apparently was told they'd been collected by a truck or van and never returned. Started happening about the same time Pershallah picked up on the reverse laundering several months ago. There's a list of locations conveniently involved in both stories."
"Vacation, family issues."
"You want me to continue where he left off."
"Grab someone if you need help. I want updates next week."
Aras thinks of his diminishing stock of coffee beans at home and makes a mental note to stop by the grocery on the way home. "Yes, sir."