Chapter 14


It was early afternoon when Rabbit left Billie’s. Despite the amount of time left in the day, there was no guarantee that he would get home in time to get any work done. At least, not on both of his jobs--one usually got done at the other’s expense and focusing on one over the other was a double-edged sword. Ultimately, the freelance detective and consulting work he did was the more rewarding of the two to focus on, but it wasn’t steady work; his job as a researcher for the university was. He couldn’t risk losing the latter by neglecting it in favor of the former.

Not that he necessarily needed the money a steady job provided.

By the time he pulled up outside of the entrance to Protectors of Antiquity headquarters, he’d made up his mind. He’d focus on the detective work tonight; he had a case that needed resolving sooner rather than later. It had been almost a month since he’d started on it and the possibilities of finding anything--anything pleasant, anyway--were getting slim.

Rabbit clomped down the stairs to the entrance, standing aside in the passage for a young man who he was sure didn’t see him. He looked lost, but in the way of a person who’s just received unexpected but pleasant news. Rabbit watched him disappear onto street level, wondering about him only briefly before hitting the buzzer next to the door.

Wei?” The voice that responded through the intercom was tinny and jovial.

“It’s Rabbit. I’m here for Alan’s stuff.”

The door clicked open and Jin smirked at him through single-lidded eyes. “Oh, are you? How are you going to get it back on that little bike?”

Rabbit shrugged, ignoring the jab. “Whether or not it gets back in good shape isn’t my problem. If he wanted it in perfect condition, he’d get it himself.”

Jin held the door open for him. “You’re not a very considerate errand boy, you know?”

Rabbit shouldered his way in and looked at Jin from the corner of his eye. “I’m not an errand boy. Dong ma?”

It was the only Chinese Rabbit knew, but it made Jin grin. “Dang ran.”

Despite the fact that Rabbit had run this particular errand for Alan any number of times and knew his way around the building, Jin accompanied him out of the entryway, past the bank of CommNet terminals and monitors that was Jin’s work station, and down a long hallway lined with doors. The door they chose was near the end, on the left--it was one of two doors leading into a vast kitchen. Only half of the room was used for that purpose; the counters and cabinets of the other half were cluttered with artifacts and papers. The combination of workshop and kitchen was not accidental or coincidence, it was convenience; the same person did all or most of the work in both.

Riyad Shihar was hunched over one counter with his chin resting on his hand, scribbling in a notebook. He tossed his head, trying to get his curls to stay out of his line of vision while he worked. Rabbit always wondered why, if Riyad always wore a long strip of cloth wrapped around his head like a turban, he never bothered to wrap it in such a way that it kept his hair out of his face.

“Riyad! Alan’s errand boy is here for the merchandise.”

Riyad didn’t look up. “Alright. I’m finishing up with my notes. Everything’s there.” He motioned toward a sack to his left, before rummaging through the papers in front of him. After selecting one, he held it out to Jin, who took it without comment and left the room.

Riyad rubbed his forehead and looked up at Rabbit with tired eyes. “That’s the invoice--just need a copy for my records. If Mr. Keys wants to dispute any of the pricing, he’s more than welcome to bring the piece in question back and discuss it with me. Otherwise, I expect payment within the agreed timeframe.” At Rabbit’s inscrutable look, he smiled. “It’s all written on the invoice. I’m just repeating it so he can’t say I never mentioned it out loud. You’d be surprised at the kind of stuff he tries to pull sometimes. Like we haven’t don’t this a thousand times now, right?”

“After how long I’ve known him, I don’t think Alan’s capable of surprising me anymore.”

“Fortunate for you, I suppose.” Riyad’s fatigue made his Arcadian accent more pronounced than usual.

“Long night?”

“Alan didn’t tell you all about it?” Jin asked as he joined them again He shoved the copy he’d made into Rabbit’s hand, and dropped the original back into the mess on the countertop, probably never to be seen again. “Du’shan died last night.”

“...Right. Alan did mention it to me.” Rabbit chewed on the corner of his mouth, wondering how he’d managed to forget something like that in the last few hours. “Bet Ath’ran was pissed.”

“He took it better than one might have expected.” Riyad looked somber as he spoke.

Jin snorted. “Only because he’s so used to having to baby sit Du’shan that he’s resigned himself to dealing with this kind of go-se.”

“Hopefully, it will teach Du’shan to act with a bit more prudence in the future.” The look Riyad gave Jin was so clear in meaning, it could easily have transcended any lingering language barrier between the two. It said, “We don’t talk about it. Don’t mess with us.”

The “us,” of course, was the three Arcadians--Ath’ran, Riyad Shihar and Du’shan. What cultural mechanism was at play, Rabbit didn’t know, but even as an outsider he knew that they didn’t discuss whatever issues Du’shan had or the issues anyone else might have with him. And there were plenty of issues to be discussed, if one paid any attention at all. Jin did pay attention, and not being Arcadian, he had no trouble whatsoever talking about it.

“So, you have a new employee?” Rabbit changed the subject before Jin could say anything to further annoy his co-worker.

“We do?”

Jin grinned with narrowed eyes at Riyad’s confused look. “Yep. Former Catholic priest--gonna act as a medic.”

“I guess we could use one,” Riyad mumbled, batting a few stray curls out of his eyes, clearly still thinking about Du’shan.

“You think?” Jin licked his teeth in a predatory way and boosted himself up to sit on the counter. “But that’s not the main reason we’re hiring him. It’s because he knows the Surge’s voice. Apparently, the legend is Catholic and used to go to confession on a regular basis.”

Rabbit raised an eyebrow. Interesting. He stuffed the invoice Jin had given him into the sack with the merchandise, and quietly took his leave while Riyad questioned Jin. He slipped into the hallway and made his way to the ext, glad to escape a conversation concerning the Surge; it was a topic that no longer interested him.

“I didn’t ask you to do it.”

“You didn’t have to, cousin.”

The voices made Rabbit pause in the corridor outside of a door that was cracked open. He peered into the office to see Ath’ran seated behind his desk--his cousin, Du’shan, was slumped in a seat across from him. While Ath’ran, composed and inscrutable, didn’t look any different from normal, Du’shan’s normal stoicism seemed to have left him. Though Rabbit couldn’t see his face through the curtain of his bangs, his posture conveyed an exhaustion that wasn’t physical.

“Well, what do you want me to do?”

“Not get yourself killed again.”

“...Right.” Du’shan gave his head a small shake, as though to dislodge whatever thought had crossed his mind.

“I have my family to worry about, of course, but I’ve got some savings, and between that, the life insurance and Lisa’s income, she should be able to take care of herself and the children if something happens.” Ath’ran’s eyes shifted from Du’shan to the picture frame on his desk and then back. “But this incident is indicative not only of your safety when it’s left in your own hands, but of your mental state in general.”

“Of what concern to you is my safety?” He seemed to realize the stupidity of his question and added, “Besides the obvious.”

“Cousin, that is a silly question to ask a man who has done much to give you a steady job and a roof over your head. Your safety means a great deal to me and just because you’ve given up on yourself, doesn’t mean that I or any one of the others have.”

“I wouldn’t say that there’s much left to give up on, at this point.”

Ath’ran scrutinized his cousin for a moment, his eyes unreadable. “It's not often a man gets the chance to start over, and it's not often a man wants to or can lower his pride enough to accept what is offered.”

Du’shan didn’t reply, but he was avoiding Ath’ran’s gaze. Rabbit moved on toward the exit. The exchange reminded him of Riyad’s silent message to Jin in the kitchen-workshop: we don’t talk about it--don’t mess with us. The Arcadians would take care of their own, and it wasn’t any of Rabbit’s business.

Back outside, Rabbit squinted in the light and checked his phone. One missed call--apparently he didn’t get reception in the basement. He frowned--he’d have to replace the phone, if that were the case. The proximity of the wires in the building should have been enough to give him a signal; having to be in open air to get one hadn’t been a problem for at least twenty years in Solace. So either the problem was his phone or the building he’d been in.

After securing Alan’s merchandise behind his seat on the bike, he straddled it and checked to see who the missed call was from.

Maxwell.

That was one call he didn’t feel like returning. He pulled his goggles up over his eyes and adjusted them, stalling. Then he pressed the re-call button on his phone. He could guess what it was Mr. Maxwell wanted from him, and, while the job would be simple, he didn’t know if he wanted to deal with Maxwell’s witty banter when he arrived. He also didn’t want to lose more time on his work at home.

He didn’t want to lose the money this job would give him either. He hit re-call.

“Mr. Rabbit. What can I do for you?”

Rabbit leaned forward on his handlebars. “Hey, Ashe. I got a call.”

“Ah, yes.” There was the sound of soft beeps in the background, which had to have been Ashe working away on his ever-present datapad. Rabbit wouldn’t have been surprised to find out that the man had gotten one of No Town’s cybernetics experts to permanently attach the device to his hand. “It would seem that Mr. Maxwell wants some maintenance done on his surveillance systems.”

“You mean he’s going to let me into the fabled surveillance hub? He’s going to let me go into that most secret of rooms?” He cocked his head and made his tone conspiratorial. “He does realize that I could get into all of his dirty little secrets, doesn’t he?”

“Considering your past, I’d say you’re the perfect person for the job. I mean, it’s not like you could go to the police with what you see, is it?”

“...Zing.” Rabbit pushed his goggles up to his forehead and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “It’s just standard maintenance?”

“Come down here tomorrow at two. Mr. Maxwell can give you the specifics at that time.” The line went dead.

Rabbit’s gaze was unreadable as he held the phone out in front of him. At least he could get some work done tonight. “...Tomorrow at two it is.”

Wei: Hello (when answering the phone). (Chinese)
Dang ran: Of course. (Chinese)
Dong ma?: Understand? (Chinese)
Go-se: Shit. (Chinese)