It felt as if time stood still. Amari's face was frozen, a horrifying expression forever locked in. My heart thumped rapidly as my brain tried to process what just happened.
. . .
Watt SCREECHED, bringing me back to my senses. Watt was good at that: keeping me focused.
I needed to react. Quickly. I squeezed my eyes shut tight, letting all the craziness overlap. I needed a story. I needed to protect myself.
My gaze snapped to the cameras in the dining hall. "Watt, hack in. Erase the last ten– no, fifteen minutes." Watt spun around completely and floated all around the dining hall before settling on a particular spot in the wall. Wires escaped from its body. It jammed them into crevices and slots on the wall that I hadn't noticed were even there.
// Secure an Advantage
+4 (Watt) => 9 vs 5,10. Weak hit.
From Watt, we get +1 momentum .
Furthermore, we'll take +2 momentum from the Weak Hit 
I felt better once Watt returned to my side mere minutes later, a confident thumbs-up emoji displayed on its screen.
I crouched down in front of Amari, forcing myself to remember him as I had initially met him: the fiery-haired gentleman I stole glances at during dinner our first night. The one with the voice of sweet honey. The man who made me feel – even if just for a moment – that I wasn't going to be alone for the rest of my life.
I sighed deeply.
Three dead bodies.
Annora was going to have a fit.
// Secure an Advantage
+2 (Shadow; spinning a believable lie) => . . .
I slammed my fist into the wall. Blackstone rubbed my back. "I... I should have checked him before chaining him up. He's Amari Wade. Of course he's not going to let himself get caught. That was a rookie mistake."
"What did he take to make him bleed that much?" Annora's hand covered her mouth, words muffled. The shock had set in for all of them; Amari's body was quite a sight. Hal and Sage didn't bother making an appearance. Booker had given the father just enough details to stay away.
"I don't know. I checked for cyanide and about three other things I know of that you can hide and take to kill yourself. Must be something else."
Booker spat on Amari. "That selfish asshole! He kills two people and decides that prison is too much for him?" I ushered him and the others back, then draped the thin sheet I'd gotten from Edris over him.
// Secure an Advantage Result
+2 => 7 vs 6,9. Weak Hit.
+2 momentum 
I felt horrible. Once again, I was dragged into some conspiracy and my one true lead died mysteriously.
Amari's case easily took 1st place in the weird contest.
They all bought my story. It was close enough to the truth. It was just my luck – I was beginning to think some of this was not, in fact, luck – that Annora was preparing for the next jump and knocked a few systems offline, including the cameras. It wouldn't exactly explain the fifteen-minute gap in the footage, but I was confident that I could add to that confusion and fly under the radar if anyone probed further.
Booker and Blackstone helped me bring Amari's body to the freezer with Roland and Brian. "Please tell me this is the last body. I can't take any more of this," said Booker.
"He should have waited until we could turn him in," Christa said with the deed completed. "He's a coward."
"Some things are just out of our hands," I said.
I didn't want to drag his name through the mud for no reason. Calling him out for being a hitman was okay or saying he was going to flee, but he hadn't taken the "easy" way out.
Something out there had done that to him.
It dawned on me that, while I had technically discovered who killed Roland, the mystery was much, much bigger than that. It had evolved into needing to know who hired Amari. And then something killed him before he could help me.
I was certain he had been right: he was set up.
I suppressed my fear of who – or what – had done it, for now. I didn't shove that box too far to the side; I was sure I'd be opening it frequently, and soon. "Christa, what are you going to do now?"
"I'm not sure." We sat at the bar and shared a drink. The mood on the Bohemian Express was tense. Despite our murderer in the same state as his victims, a sense of dread had fallen over us all.
I downed a shot, and then another, letting the substance numb my thoughts.
// Develop with Christa
Roland's murderer has been caught – and dealt with. All thanks to Locke, in one way or another. [6/10]
// Progress on Benevolent vow
And with that, we will fast forward and reach New Bohemia. [4/10]
I want New Bohemia to be a livable world, so even though it's a Desert world, the atmosphere is ideal. It just gets a little hot. lol
Planetside Feature, 71: Vast plateaus.
Planetside Feature, 74: ... same thing. lol So LOTS of them.
Descriptor+Focus, 36, 52: Engulfed Mechanism. Okay, I can work this in.
The Salvi Sigil hadn't changed one bit.
New Bohemia was barren and dusty in most places and the landscape uneven all over. Plateaus stretched high into the endless desert skies, casting shadows down on all parts not meeting their height.
The settlement was built to overlook everything else on the planet, directly on top of the highest plateau. The Salvi Sigil reigned over all below it, a constant reminder of the power the Salvi Clan had over New Bohemia – and the rest of the Salvi Pass.
A few levels lower sat Port Wreck, a vast stretch of land that allowed space for the thousands and thousands of ships to pass through. The Bohemian Express landed there at a dock that I wasn't familiar with. A new family must have taken over this one in my absence. Once I stepped off the loading dock, I inhaled deeply. It smelled of dirt and oil and metal and soot.
It smelled like home.
The local authorities were present the moment we landed, Annora having contacted them once we reached New Bohemia's orbit. Blackstone, Booker, and Hal took care of most of the SPD work for us, though we all gave our accounts of what happened, and – against my better judgment – I introduced myself as Locke Holmes. I'm sure John would have a laugh once I filled him in, as this was point number one as to why I did not want to fly in on the Scarlet Adler: I didn't want to announce myself upon arrival.
It all seemed to go off better than I had hoped, though, as they took our word for everything.
I suggested to Annora and Christa that we take Brian and Roland to a Farewell Mesa. New Bohemia was in close proximity to a pocket of strange energy in the Forge, which led to more than the occasional Risen causing havoc. Long before I was even thought of, it was decided that there would be no graves on New Bohemia. Instead, everyone was cremated on a Farewell Mesa. Bridges and structures connected the mesas to the plateaus, and a few of the more private ones could only be accessed by ship.
"Thank you for the suggestion, but no, Detective," Annora declined. "I'll make this stay short. I have to take him back to his family."
"Wait, if you don't burn the bodies they turn into Risen here?!" Edris's eyes grew wide.
We bid our farewells to the remainder of the Bohemian Express. Christa had decided to take me up on my offer of the Farewell Mesa. With Roland no longer with us, Christa had access to an extra hotel room in the Salvi Sigil. She offered it to me while I helped her plan out the ceremony for Roland.
And Amari Wade.
"You actually plan on giving that man a proper burial?" Christa asked me the first night. The rooms were even more lavish than on the Bohemian Express, though because she was expected to take care of Roland, the rooms were connected. The adjoining door was open as I looked up times available for a farewell.
"I just believe that everyone should be laid to rest properly. What that man did was horrible, and–"
"And he took the easy way out."
I bit my tongue and nodded. "– and he took the easy way out, but he was still human. Still... someone. I'm sure if we looked at his life, we'd find a sob story that would get us to at least feel some sadness. We have no idea what he went through. Maybe he was being blackmailed or this was his only option. I know none of that brings Roland back, but I'd rather his soul get a chance to plead its case properly."
I pulled that out of my ass.
Something I heard second or third hand from some religious person growing up.
I just felt bad for him.
Christa didn't question it further, thankfully.
The next morning, with the dreaded details taken care of, Christa and I watched as Roland's body burned. I led her through a common, non-denominational set of rites that I was familiar with growing up. Again, something second or third hand.
After, I watched Amari Wade burn. Alone.
I rejoined Christa in the autocab we'd booked for the journey and we rode the twenty minutes back to the Salvi Sigil. On the way, I asked her again what she was planning to do with her life now.
"I enjoyed taking care of Roland. He really wasn't a horrible man, not anymore. I was only supposed to be here a few weeks with Roland as he handled business but, with him gone, I'm not so sure. Maybe... maybe this is where I'm supposed to be now."
I want Locke to help point her in the right direction.
Descriptor + Focus, 58, 80: Inhabited Storage.
I immediately think of Edris and the rat problem. lol So, I'm going to go in that general direction.
"What about trying to work for Annora?" She looked confused for a moment, then I could see she was actually considering it. "She did just lose a member, so she may have an opening for an engineer. Or even someone with caretaking capabilities."
"That's... That's not a bad idea, actually."
// Develop a Relationship with Christa
We've spent a lot of time together, so let's bump this up three more boxes. [9/10]
When we arrived back in the Salvi Sigil, we discussed the plan a bit further and stopped by the hotel to gather Christa's things, then headed back to where Annora was docked in Port Wreck. The clock was ticking and Brian could reanimate at any moment, so they would be leaving soon.
I flagged Annora down. Christa stepped forward to handle the rest.
Moments later, Christa hugged me tightly. "Thank you, Detective. For everything. I'm so happy that we ran into you in Portent. I don't know what would have happened to any of us if you weren't there. We were so lucky to have you."
Luck. I had begun to detest that word. It didn't feel like luck. It felt more like being thrown towards a fate I had never asked for, dragged along regardless of my objections.
But, I smiled. "Call me up if you ever need me, for anything."
// Forge a Bond with Christa
We've got 9 progress...
9 vs . . .
Christa stepped towards the Bohemian Express.
She stopped and turned back to face me.
"Detective, there is one thing you can do for me."
// Forge a Bond Result
9 vs 9, 9. Miss + match. WHY MUST I SUFFER SO!?
So, I'm going to bank this match for later, as I can't really think of a way for a twist with Christa to work, but I do have something in mind.
What puts them at odds?
Goal, 43: Make an agreement.
Agreement to do what? Action + Theme, 4, 84: Affect Strength.
Also, we're going to recommit, duh. I rolled a 1 and 8, so I only have to remove one progress box! YAY! It gets reduced to 8, and her rank is bumped up to Dangerous.
"If you run across anything in your investigations as to who hired Amari Wade, please let me know."
"Amari Wade was a coward who couldn't allow himself to be brought to justice. And as much as I would like to believe, he is not the only one responsible. Someone employed him to murder Roland. I can't do much alone, but you... With you by my side, I'm quite sure we can bring down this criminal. Promise me, Detective. Keep me in the loop when you find something, and I'll do the same."
That caught me by surprise. Christa wanted to enact justice herself?
I thought back to Amari Wade spouting that gibberish. MISS AND A MATCH. I remembered the blood that pooled beneath him. I couldn't help but feel responsible. He had agreed to work with me and then moments later that happened.
I didn't want the same thing to happen to her.
"Of course, I'll keep you in the loop, Christa."
Another lie. It rolled off my tongue with ease. I could not involve her more than she already was. My hope was that the Bohemian Express became the Saffron Express, and never returned to this planet again.
// Develop a Relationship with Christa
Well, let's just add +2 boxes, filling it out completely now. [10/10]
// Forge a Bond with Christa (again)
10 vs . . . 3, 3! Strong hit and a match!
I get 2 ticks on my Bond Legacy track. I give Christa the other Role we rolled up for her originally (Healer), so now she has both that and Engineer.
Okay, now we have two matches to deal with.
What is the miss+match from the first Forge related to? Descriptor + Focus, 2, 76: Abundant Ship. I'm gonna be a bit loosey-goosey with this one.
And what is the strong hit + match related to? Descriptor + Focus, 32, 2: Desolate Anomaly.
Alright, let's go!
Christa handed me the keycards to the hotel room and disappeared into the Bohemian Express. A few more days in a lavish hotel before I had to make my own accommodations? It looked like my luck was actually turning around.
I raised a hand to hail an autocab.
Three vehicles pulled up beside me. All black, official government vehicles containing high-ranking SPD officers. I knew all about them from my childhood. I tapped at my inner lightning – still ready to go if all hell broke loose, but I was hoping for a calm, diplomatic outcome.
A sharply dressed fair-skinned woman with short hair exited the middle vehicle and approached me. "Locke Holmes?"
"You wouldn't be asking if you didn't already know." Her expression didn't change. "Yes, I am."
"Please," she said, gesturing towards the vehicle she exited. "We would like to have a word with you."
"I just got here. How could you want to have a word with me already?"
Two very strong-looking women stepped out of the other two vehicles. The woman in front of me made a simple pacifying gesture towards them both and then gestured again for me to enter the vehicle. "Please."
We rode in silence down unnecessary streets, through a tunnel at the edge of the city, looped back around, and then into some sort of hangar near the center of the Salvi Sigil. I was not forcibly escorted, though I'm sure that was an option if I did not comply. I was forced to leave Watt behind. I had whispered to it, my words masked by the imperceptible hum: "Stay close by and keep an eye out."
The woman led me through a series of hallways and deposited me in a featureless gray room with a table and two chairs on opposite sides of each other. I couldn't see it, but I was sure there was a camera or window watching over it all.
An hour passed before someone finally joined me. A light brown-skinned man in a less-crisp uniform entered and sat in the chair opposite me. They were trying to sell him as "friendlier," no doubt.
"I see you're visiting us from Portent? What brings you to the Salvi Sigil?" His voice was chipper.
I narrowed my eyes, doing my best to remain calm. "Visiting home. Grew up in Port Wreck. Decided to see how it was doing without me."
As if it was just a formality, the man switched gears, his tone less playful, more serious. "We reviewed the security footage from the Bohemian Express around the time Amari Wade allegedly killed himself. That chunk of footage, however, seems to be missing."
// Face Danger
+2 (shadow, to tell a convincing lie) => 4 vs...
I told them the same rehearsed lie. I told them about the murders Amari committed, his motives, and how he began to suddenly convulse and bleed, all the while laughing that we'd never find out the truth.
"I still don't know what kind of substance he took."
He nodded. "And you, Mr. Holmes, you're a"– he read over a document in his hand – "private investigator? I know the passengers and crew were lucky to have you on board, weren't they? You were able to solve a murder."
There goes that word again.
"All we know is whatever he took caused massive hemorrhaging," the man said. He stood and opened the door, gesturing for me to leave. "Thank you for your time, Mr. Holmes."
// Face Danger Result
4 vs 1,1. Strong hit + match!
I'm actually getting a little terrified of all of these matches. lol I wonder what's to come?
+1 momentum 
Just going to bank this match as +2 momentum 
"Is that it? You just wanted to know how he died?"
"We'll be in touch if we have any further questions, Mr. Holmes."
The door behind me slammed shut as I stepped foot onto the streets of the Salvi Sigil once more. Watt floated from its place in the sky.
"There you are, buddy. They just wanted to know if–"
Watt interrupted me with a recording: "//– bodies in that building outside Port Wreck? Died just like Wade. Blood all over. Heard they were babbling a bunch of nonsense as they went. So fucking weird. One of them is still alive though– //"
My eyes widened. "Wait. That's happened before?!"
// Progress on the Amari Wade Vow
This stuff has happened before! SO WEIRD. (That's the "desolate anomaly" match) I wonder what this means for the future... [0.75/10]
... I totally know. It's great. lmao
|Value At End of Chapter
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