It was June of 1248, five years after my association with the Port Authority Investigative Arm in the City of Nexus’ Upside District had begun. The presence of Inspector-Lieutenant Amber Brighton in my apartment failed, then, to alarm me; rather, I considered it a sign of our deepening friendship. It had not, at that time, deepened to the point that she would stop by without business.
So did half a dozen case files in hard copy come to be spread across my coffee table. Ever since her promotion two years after I had met her, Amber had been responsible for more paperwork than she could finish on her own. She often called me in to consult on the more complicated cases, so I felt a responsibility to lend a hand with the correspondingly more complicated reports.
A newsreader in the threevee recited a litany of stories: local politicians embroiled in scandal, renewed tensions between the Confederate government and Caledonian separatists, the usual warlike rhetoric from representatives of the United Suns, and lurid selections from the police blotter. None of it was particularly exciting.
The gentle draft through my balcony door bore in the noises of the street far below, which were suddenly punctuated by an echoing crack. In my time working with the Investigative Arm, I had come to know that noise.
Amber was even quicker on the draw. She had her pistol in hand moments after the gunshot, and was reaching for her comm to tap the button that would indicate to her station that she was not the victim.
Motion drew my eye to the balcony. A parachutist, slumped over in his harness, descended into sight, then smacked into the building across the street. His lines hopelessly tangled, he plummeted groundward.
“Sam!” called Amber. She was already on the way out my door. “Get moving!”
I ran after her, taking my Investigative Arm consultant’s badge from its basket by the door as I passed. I caught up to Amber at the elevators. “We’ll never catch him,” I said. “We have ten floors to search.”
She waved her badge over the control panel. “That,” she said, deftly navigating the override menus, “is why we shut down the lifts and nab him in the lobby.”
“Ah,” I said. An elevator arrived, its doors opening without the usual cheerful chime.
“That’s why I’m the professional,” she said, deadpan.
The elevator accelerated down at police speeds, covering the sixty-five stories between my apartment and the lobby in half the normal time. The moment the doors opened, Amber sprang out, badge held high over her head. Her voice rang out like a bell. “Investigative Arm business! Nobody enters or leaves the building.”
The crowd parted for her, and she took up position by the doors, looking more authoritative than anyone her size had a right to. The sirens wailing louder in the background did, I admit, help. While she was securing the doors, I had a quick word with the security desk. They proved to be on the spot; I didn’t have to remind them to lock loading bays or cargo elevators, or to set window alarms.
I joined Amber by the entrance just as a uniformed officer of the Police Arm dashed out. His partner got their car rolling toward the alleyway between my building and the one to its right.
“Two minutes?” I said. “I confess, I’m impressed.”
“Luck, mostly,” she said, tucking an errant hair behind her ear. “There was a prowl car three blocks off. We’ve three more—hang on, it’s Stein. Keep an eye on the crowd.”