Close to Holmes
My office looked as if a storm swept through every time I took on a case. Printed photos of Golden Age Headquarters and persons of interest lined the walls. Strings of various colors crisscrossed in meaningless patterns overtop maps of the various districts of Portent. All the different mediums sparked creativity within me, even though almost no one was using pen and paper anymore.
I stared at an old-school post-it note stuck to the top of the wall.
On it, a single word: Infernomimic.
Staring at it didn't make the clues come any faster. Not this time.
"None of this makes sense, Watt." The bot whirred and kept adjusting its position in relation to me as I paced the room. "Why would a Mimic want to frame Roger Usagi? And – better question – why a Mimic?"
The best person to ask would have been Roger, but he was currently behind bars.
"Let's hope his wife isn't trying to set him up."
Saffron's corrosive atmosphere was filled with violent electrical storms. Portent harnessed that energy and used it to power everything. It gave the settlement a hum that I could feel within my soul, despite not actually hearing it at all. Whenever it stormed outside of the protective dome, my mood would shift and things felt off.
I focused on the task at hand – my hand fidgeted, and I shoved it into my pocket as I approached the Usagi residence the next day. They were local and stationary, and as such lived in an actual dwelling that couldn't uproot itself at a moment's notice.
// Gather Information, +2 via Sleuth
8 vs 1,3,9 ⇒ 8 vs 1,3. Strong hit!
+2 momentum 
"Sir Holmes!" Jessica led me into her home. It was small yet comfortable, just enough for the two of them. Maybe a child or two, if they wanted it. I suppressed the sharp pang of whatever I was feeling before I let it take over me. I blamed the storm for its presence.
"Just Locke, please." I politely declined her offer of tea as she made a seat for me in the kitchen. She nodded in agreement to having our talk recorded and Watt floated to what it considered the best distance for "optimal clarity." Its screen showed a large, pulsing red circle. Each voice and noise displayed as a soundwave above it, Watt's A.I. labeling each as accurately as it could.
I could tell she was worried, but all she conveyed was optimism and hope. I hoped that I could give her what she needed soon.
"Has there been any progress on my husband's case?"
I made a sound that wasn't exactly a word, filled with uncertainty. "Somewhat. What kind of work does your husband actually do at Golden Age?" I couldn't just ask why would a Mimic want to frame her husband. The less Branded and Mimics were on the public's mind, the better.
To my surprise, she brought up the topic.
Roger sympathized with the Branded. According to her, he had a close cousin who was Cryobranded. The hardships his cousin faced forced him to fight for Branded rights all throughout the Salvi Pass. Roger used his skills as an animator and an artist and frequently tried to create stories and weave themes that portrayed the Branded in a positive light. He was constantly met with pushback and criticism, but that never stopped him. Golden Age, for what little they published of his work, at least let him feel as if it wasn't for nothing.
Sadly, Golden Age wasn't a sector-wide network. Its audience was limited to the two settlements on Saffron and a small handful of others nearby.
Regardless, I couldn't help but be proud of his efforts.
I eventually accepted her cup of tea near the end of our talk. "Thank you, Mrs. Usagi. This has been very helpful."
"Just Jessica, please. I can't thank you enough for all of your hard work. Sir Locke Holmes, my family owes you more than just a simple fee."
I smiled. "If it's all the same: just Locke, please. Or Holmes. 'Sir Locke Holmes' makes me sound... royal. And dusty." That made her smile, and in return made me smile.
As I walked back to Baker's Shipyard, I spoke with Watt about our findings. Hearing my thoughts out loud in conversation with someone – even if that someone didn't exactly speak back – typically helped the process. Some of my most important breakthroughs came from conversations with Watt.
It helped that we had something of a secret language. When I was getting accustomed to Watt, upgrading and enhancing him for my specialized needs, his A.I. picked up on the "oddity" within me. It began making a humming sound that closely matched what I felt from the energy of Saffron's storms coursing through Portent. Watt could hum to me in near-silence and I could mask my words with a similar hum.
"We figured out why someone would target Roger Usagi: to discredit his work. They probably want to make life for the Branded hard – asshole – but Roger is doing his best to paint the Branded in a positive light." Watt hummed, almost like a chirp, in affirmation. "Now we need to figure out why this Mimic is personally invested in this. They could have been hired. But by who? And why specifically a Mimic if so? Or what if it was a coworker..."
I could feel the storm outside more, and I began to ramble. "It was nice finding out that Roger and Jessica support the Branded, but I'm not sure how to move along with the case with this knowledge, Watt. Sure, Roger was hated by someone who'd seen his work. In turn, they wanted to frame him—"
Someone who'd seen his work.
I paused. Watt floated a few inches out of sync before realizing we were no longer moving and floated back to me.
"Watt, I think the Mimic is a local. And if they are, this isn't the first time they would have done something like this."
// Progress on Roger Usagi vow [3/10]
// ⚫⚫⚫⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪, Formidable
The Mimic more than likely didn't come from off-world just to kill someone. This was a bit more personal.
Nightfall. My favorite time.
My second favorite: when it was time to get my hands dirty.
The Peacekeepers still hadn't released specific details about Karot DeWolf's death. This meant that they were either extremely dumb, or they didn't want to divulge that either a Branded or Mimic was killing people and roaming about the streets uncaught.
I'm sure the two are not mutually exclusive.
With the former in mind, I headed for the closest Peacekeeper building. Each district in Portent had one, and it serviced the needs of its residents. For all the shit I talk about them, the Peacekeepers are not bad people. They just sucked at their job. It was a small blessing that Portent wasn't riddled with crime.
Watt and I stopped a few hundred feet away. I had a stupid plan. It wouldn't be my first, so I was well aware of what all could go wrong. The Peacekeeper building was well lit, as were the streets and homes surrounding it. If I wanted any chance of getting inside to find the information I was looking for, all of that was going to have to be gone.
I needed a blackout.
Seemingly randomly placed throughout the districts were transformers coursing with the power of that Saffron-harnessed lightning. They sent that power throughout each district, and with minimal costs to its residents. I've heard about power grids and utilities of other settlements and those of the past, and Portent – to me – had one of the best ones. It was one of the reasons I chose this settlement so many years ago.
Sadly, I was going to have to temporarily ruin it.
I approached the transformer slowly, doing my best to keep an eye out. I didn't want anyone to see me. I liked my freedom; I didn't want nosey neighbors to ruin it for me.
I placed my hand on the transformer and sent a shock of electricity through it.
// Secure an Advantage, +5
+3 (Iron), +2 (Lightningbranded) => +5
11 -> 10 vs 2,6. Strong hit!
-1 lightning 
+2 momentum 
For clarity, Lightningbranded is my take on a reflavored Firebrand. The Branded use elemental-flavored versions of this and other psychic assets.
The district lit up as if it was noon, the light almost too bright.
And then with a loud thwum, there was darkness.
A cacophony of crying children and murmuring citizens filled the air. The few Peacekeepers who were keeping watch over the building began to stir and mobilized onto the streets to see what had happened. Just my luck, a loud CRACK! sounded overhead in time with a visible lightning bolt from outside the dome.
I slipped on my night-vision goggles, tossed Watt into an inner jacket pocket, and slunk my way into the building.
// Face Danger, +3
+2 (Shadow), +1 Secure an Advantage Forward => +3
8 vs 1,4. Strong hit!
+1 momentum 
I wouldn't have forever – the storm was still raging, meaning the power would be back on soon – but I knew I had just enough time.
Each Peacekeeper building doubled as a hub of information, connecting Portent to other data centers all throughout Salvi Pass. This meant that all of their information was organized, a credit I could not bestow upon the Peacekeepers themselves.
"Watt," I said, releasing him from his confines. "Connect to their system and get what we need."
Watt whirped and floated to a nearby terminal. Its cables extended and it was soon connected. Watt used itself as an external power source, powering up the individual terminal while leaving the rest of the building shrouded in darkness. It went from terminal to terminal, gathering as much information as it could.
// Gather Information, +4 via Watt and Sleuth
8 vs 7,8,9 => 8 vs 7,8. Weak hit.
+1 momentum 
What is the nature of this insight? Descriptor + Focus => 21, 54: Conspicuous Mineral.
And how does this complicate my quest? Action + Theme => 59, 44: Journey Home.
Okay, so, for the insight, the "mineral" part instantly makes me think of the accelerant. So I want to do something with that. I googled some accelerants and... oh my. "Paint thinner" is also known as "mineral spirits." Well, duh, we're going with that. And it's conspicuous. It can be left out without immediately telling the world, "Hey, I help start fires!"
But "Journey Home"? My initial thought is that Locke has to literally go to his home planet. But that seems like a bit much. Instead, we could say that there are others from his home planet in Portent. They could represent "home," and Locke will need to go to them. Maybe one of them is the Mimic.
Oh... that's good actually.
I could feel the power returning to the district in my bones. I grabbed Watt as it moved to switch to another terminal and shoved it back into my jacket, then made a break for it. By the time I got back to the Scarlet Adler, the power was back on.
I made myself a pot of coffee around six in the morning.
How could I sleep when my past was haunting me?
According to the information Watt found, I was right: the murder at Golden Age was not this Mimic's first rodeo. Similar fires were found over the last few years, though this was the first one that resulted in death. The Mimic was clearly escalating, which was never a good sign.
The part that troubled me the most, however, was the lab's results on the accelerant.
At Golden Age, they had found trace amounts of paint thinner, just like we did. Similarly, at a few of the other fires: paint thinner.
I knew an Infernomimic that used paint thinner, a long time ago.
But, last I checked, he was dead.
// Progress on Roger Usagi vow
// ⚫⚫⚫⚫⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪⚪, Formidable [4/10]
Locke learned something new at the end of the last chapter: the Mimic is probably someone he knows. But, they've been dead for some time now...