In a cycle or two, I’d gone from the new arrival dorms in the Human District, to the Hold for entering a locked district, to working in a cafe and visiting other districts on my days off, to working for security, and I was thoroughly enjoying it.
Yes, I was also working at the cafe during the day, but working with security was fun. They paid a little, and I was able to save some money, but for the most part, my compensation was in information (I sound like the eelonam…). I worked with a security officer named Kapada’Zahn, a badian, one of the officers who’d arrested me at the Finvas District in the first place. The ship’s big, but it’s not that big.
You’ve seen security, and even if you don’t know them, you’d recognize them in a heartbeat. I never had one of their blue-and-silver uniforms, or their fancy, more-powerful handhelds, but I have a much deeper understanding of them for having spent time with them. Back on earth we had police officers who enforced the laws, all kinds of emergency medics who took care of people in medical emergencies, and lawyers who helped people with legal issues. On the ship, security is all of that rolled into one very snappy uniform (which I never got to wear…).
Zahn was on tram detail one day, and since he was my ‘mentor’ (or babysitter), I was with him. We wandered up and down the tram, usually helped people who were lost, and as we walked, Zahn gave me a better orientation than I’d gotten in the Human District.
“So there are twenty sectors,” I said. “the sectors are split up into different districts, and each one of those houses one species. I got that. But what about the Hold? Isn’t that just a district?”
Zahn shook his head. “No, it’s not. No one knows why, but under the Commons and all the sectors is another area, the size of a sector, and half of it has a bunch of cells in it. The Council uses it to contain anti-socials, but no knows why it was put there.”
“What are ‘anti-socials’?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s just what they call people who go to the Hold.” Zahn said, giving me a knowing look. “Criminals, mental health cases, stuff like that. They go to short-term holding for evaluation, but if no one can find a way to get them back to normal, they go into long-term. No one leaves long-term.”
I nodded, then stopped, dead in my tracks. “Wait. Jenny asked if they wanted to put me in the Hold for ‘the rest of my life’.”
“Yeah?” Zahn asked.
“Were they going to put me in long-term holding for visiting other districts?”
Zahn shrugged. “Yeah.” He said, then turned to continue his route. “Don’t worry about it, they would have figured it out. That girl you’re sweet on would have talked them into letting you out.”
“I thought you said no one left long-term storage.”
“Things change.” Zahn said. “And I’ve seen how you and that Maria girl look at each other.”
I fell silent as my escort (babysitter) laughed, but thinking about Maria made me happy, so I let him. She’s called me a few days after the meeting with Ancors and congratulated me. I asked if she wanted to get dinner at some point, but we couldn’t find a day we were both free. Stupid busy schedules!
We approached the next car and the doors slid open, but as we looked through, all amusement and infatuation fled our minds. A small, green creature laid in the middle of the tram, surrounded by passengers who tried to move as far away as possible from the blood that poured from its chest. A dravir floated at his feet with a very ritualistic-looking dagger in his hand. The dravir looked angry.
I’d never seen a dravir angry before. I don’t think anyone had.
Zahn approached the dravir, one hand in front of him, the other on his baton (they didn’t give me one of those, either!) and spoke in a calming voice. “OK, put the knife down.” He said. “You’re being held. Sit down, don’t move. I have to examine the truple. Jack, watch the dravir.”
I nodded. Zahn knelt down beside the victim and checked for breathing and responsiveness. The victim, who, I learned, was a truple, was still alive, though unconscious. Zahn reached into his hip bag and pulled out first aid treatments I didn’t recognize, then applied it to the truple. The bleeding was stopped and the wounds were dressed before Zahn gave the patient a painkiller that ensure he’d sleep.
Zahn then tapped his handheld, in a pouch on his chest, and called security headquarters. “This is Officer Kapada’Zahn on Tram Four. I have a stabbing, one truple victim, treated, one dravir suspect, being held. I need a medical team at the next platform and back-up for transfer to the Hold.” He looked at me. “What’s the next station, Jack?”
I checked a nearby map. “The Afuana District.” I said. “Sector Nineteen.”
“Thanks.” Zahn reported the information back to headquarters. They responded with a confirmation of everything Zahn had requested. With that done, Zahn stood, approached the dravir, and secured his hands behind his back. “Well, that was the weirdest report I’ve ever given.”
A medical team from the Commons was waiting for us at the next stop, and a security team from the Hold arrived on the next tram. Zahn explained everything he’d done to the truple, and the medics took the patient away. With that done, Zahn and the security team escorted the dravir to the Hold in a secured car, and I followed them because I didn’t know what else to do.
It was a quiet ride, but once we reached the Hold, things happened quickly. The dravir was taken away by Hold staff while Zahn and I were taken to separate rooms. I don’t want to say we were interrogated because they just asked us questions. Let’s say we were debriefed, I guess. I answered all the interrogators questions with a smile on my face, happy to be in the presence of an angel who had left heaven above to bless us on the ship.
When we were done, Maria smiled at me. “OK, that’s all the information I needed.” She said as choirs accompanied her. “Thank you. And I’m sorry I could meet you for dinner. I’m just so busy at work. I promise, I’ll make it up to you.”
“That’s OK.” I said. “With the cafe and shadowing security, I’m busy, too.” I groaned. “And now I’m involved in an attempted murder investigation.”
“Another adventure?” She asked with a smile.
Before I could answer, the door opened and Zahn peeked in. “You done, Jack?” He asked, then saw Maria. “Sorry to cut this short, but the dravir is talking, so we need to hear his testimony.”
“Am I still involved?” I asked. “Officially?”
“You’re a security officer, you were at the scene, and you’re my partner on this case.” Zahn said. “Come on.”
I said goodbye to Maria and left paradise for a criminal investigation. In the hall, as Maria walked one direction and we walked another, Zahn elbowed me in the ribs. “That was just to impress your girlfriend. You’re still only an auxiliary officer.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t want your job.”
The Hold serves as she ship’s prison and psych ward, but they don’t do it the way I would expect. Back on earth, the places that did that kind of work focused on procedures and diagnoses and rules, and a lot of other species have the same mindset, but that’s not how the Hold does things. A lot of resources go into the Hold, and they use everything they can to treat the residents with compassion and respect. They do lock people up for crimes, but case workers (like Maria) spend time on an individual basis with their residents to get to the root of the problem.
When they can, the Hold releases the resident, either to their district or to the Commons. Sometimes, residents can’t go back to society, because they’re too violent or are mentally incapable, and they’re put in long-term holding. That area’s locked. No, you can’t visit (I’ve tried). I asked about career criminals once, the kind of people who break the law not because they have no other option but because they can. They didn’t answer, but I found out later.
We reached the suspect dravir’s holding cell and found a crowd of observers outside. The director of the Hold, the ‘malian’ who had been at my meeting with Ancors, was there, as was Maria. I waved at her, and she smiled back, and the whole area brightened, but I left her alone to work. Zahn and I joined the group and listened to the conversation inside.
The dravir was talking to his case worker, but we couldn’t see them. The case worker spoke in a welcoming voice. “But why stab the truple? If he was selling counterfeit religious artifacts, why didn’t you turn him in to Security?”
“I confess, I was angry.” The dravir said. “I allowed my negative feelings to cloud my center, and I struck with my heart before my mind could regain control.”
“Well, Horal, you can rest now. The truple is being treated and security will look into it.”
A voice in the observing crowd scoffed. “Forget about that, just put this one in long-term holding and move on.” Many in the crowd agreed.
I’m not very smart. “Why?” I asked.
The original speaker, a human, of course, turned to me. “He stabbed a guy over some fake necklaces. He needs long-term treatment. That’s irrational.”
“Yeah, and he confessed to it.”
“So?” The guy asked.
Zahn put a hand on my shoulder, but I ignored him. “Do you know anything about the dravir?” The case worker shook his head. “They’re deeply religious people. Their entire culture is focused on their faith. All of it. Selling fake artifacts would make any of them angry. First for sullying the original by counterfeiting it, and second for dirtying their faith by selling it. The dravir don’t sell to each other. They’re entire social structure is a monastic order, and the truple might as well have punch Horal’s mother.”
“How do you know all of that?” The ‘malian’ director asked.
I shrugged. “I’ve met a few dravir, been to their district.“
“They worship him as a minor god, too.” Maria said in a voice like music.
“I passed out one time.”
The director shared a look with Maria, who nodded with a beautiful smile, then with Zahn. At last, he looked at me. “Ok, Jack Winslow, we’ll release Horal once he’s recovered.”
“And we’ll get to the bottom of this truple counterfeiting.” Zahn said behind me.
“Looks like you have the perfect partner for it, Agent Zahn.” J’ass said (that’s the director’s name. I should have mentioned that earlier…)
Zahn patted my shoulder again. “Yeah, Jack’s one of the good ones.” Maria smiled as well, and looked proud.
So that’s what heaven feels like.
I love the Commons. It’s probably my favorite area in the ship. The entire place is a large city in the middle of the small towns of the districts. It’s a mixture of every species and culture on the ship, and all of that source material melts together in new and exciting ways.
Kapada’Zahn and I ate lunch in the Commons before we made our way to medical and found the wounded truple’s room. He was in a medical pool, covered by bandages and a blanket, with tubes in his arm. The nurse, a korvith, told us we could go it, but the patient, Tu’ulth, needed his rest. Zahn nodded and led the way.
“Hello, I’m security agent Kapada’Zahn.” Zahn said. “This is my partner, Jack. We had some questions for you.”
Tu’ulth scoffed, then coughed. “Yeah, sure you do. You just want to put that crazy dravir in jail for stabbing me.” He rolled his large eyes. “Security would never throw truple in the Hold for no reason at all.”
Even I could tell he was being sarcastic. “Security and the truple do have a history,” Zahn said. “but in this case, it looks like you’re the victim. You were minding your own business and a dravir stabbed you. He’s in the Hold, and I don’t think he should ever leave. Why don’t you tell us what lead up to the attack?”
Tu’ulth looked at me, then at Zahn, and sighed. “Fine. I was on the tram, selling my necklaces, and the dravir pulled a knife and stabbed me. He said I was ‘defacing the sacred image’ or something.”
“What necklaces?” Zahn asked. “We didn’t find anything on the tram.”
“Somebody must have taken them.” Tu’ulth said. He looked away. “Did you search anyone else on the tram?”
Zahn shook his head. “No, but we didn’t know about any necklaces. You sure your partner didn’t run off with them?”
I know what you’re thinking, there was no partner, but Zahn’s good at his job, trust me. Tu’ulth stared at Zahn for a second, then looked away. “What partner?”
“I’ve been in security for ten seasons, and I’ve never met a truple who works alone.” Zahn said. “Look, you know the rules, probably better than I do. Making necklaces of another species’ religious symbols isn’t illegal, but if one species offends another, security isn’t obligated to get involved.”
Tu’ulth looked kind of nervous. “Yeah, so? It’s not like the dravir are going to attack the Underplace.”
Zahn shrugged. “No, they’re not, but I doubt you only made dravir symbols. What about the insectifus? Humans?” He turned to me. “Humans have some religions, right, Jack? Have they ever gone to war over them?”
I nodded. “It’s one of our favorite hobbies. War and baseball.”
“Humans brought baseball to the ship?” Zahn asked. “You learn something new every day.” He turned back to Tu’ulth. “The dravir won’t attack you, but not every species is as reasonable. Where did you make the necklaces?”
“I’m not telling you.” Tu’ulth said. “We didn’t do anything illegal. I’m not getting thrown in the Hold for selling things people want. We sell those little cross-shaped ones to humans all the time.”
Zahn got to his feet with a shrug. “OK. If you won’t tell me, that’s fine. Once you’ve recovered, security will escort you back to the Underplace.”
That did it. Tu’ulth’s eyes shot open. I didn’t know what the Underplace was (yet), but he did, and he started to panic. “You can’t send me back there! Do you know what she’ll do to us if we come back with less money than we left?”
“Look, that’s the rule.” Zahn said. “If we catch a truple, but can’t hold them, we have to return them to the Underplace. The only way we can hold you is if you’ve done something illegal.”
I could hear Tu’ulth grind his teeth from across the room. He glared at Zahn, with a little side-glare at me (I was honored), then grimaced. “Fine. You win.”
I stared at the map on the tram and wondered how I hadn’t seen it before. “There are empty districts?” I asked.
“For the fifth time, Jack, yes.” Zahn said. The other security officers (there were twenty of them) laughed.
“How man-“ I cut myself off and just tapped the screen. A quick search showed that there weren’t very many, but they were all scattered among other, occupied districts. I stared at the screen, but something caught my attention. “The Truple District is listed as empty. Where did they go?”
“Finally, a smart question.” Zahn said. “At one point, the Truple District was locked, but they showed up again a season later. Turns out they’d escaped and went to the Underplace.”
“Will you all laugh at me if I ask what the Underplace is?” I asked. “If so, I’ll just go find out myself.”
The officers laughed, but not at me. Zahn smiled. “You’re learning.” He stood, and his horns almost scraped the ceiling. “You know how the Hold is under the sectors?” I nodded. “The Underplace is under that. There’s no law, no security, nothing. It’s chaos.”
I thought for a second. “And the truple run the place, so if anyone doesn’t like it, they have nowhere else to go.” I said. “Thu’ulth was afraid to go back, too. Whoever ‘she’ is, she must be pretty bad.”
(I’ve met her. She’s worse.)
The tram came to a stop and the doors opened. “That’s why we’re going to put these guys in the Hold.” Zahn said as he led me and the security officers off the tram. “If they can’t go back to the Underplace, and they won’t obey the law, they have to go somewhere.”
Outside the empty district, Zahn moved his officers into place. He posted guards at the gate, got his own teams ready, but he set some officers aside. With them in place, I joined him.
Zahn looked at me and recoiled. “Oh, no, you’re staying here.”
“What?” I asked. “Why?”
“Are you serious? We’re going into an empty district to search for criminals, Jack.” Zahn rubbed his eyes. “You’re not a trained security officer, you’re not equipped, you’re not coming. Stay here.”
I frowned. “OK, how long are you going to be in there?” I asked. He gave me a look. “In case we need to send help!”
Zahn shrugged. “Give us an hour. Go wait with them” He said, and pointed to the team he’d set aside. With that, I moved back toward the tram lines and watched as Kapada’Zahn lead thirty security officers into an empty district occupied by criminals.
I gave him an hour, but within ten minutes, I was bored. I know, I know, I get bored easily, but it worked out, trust me.
The security teams stayed at their posts, with five of them at the gate and another five near the tram lines. I stayed near the tram lines, mostly because I didn’t know where else to be. Zahn told me to stay out, so I did, but he hadn’t told me what to do. So, without a role to play, I stood by the tram screen and looked at a map of the ship.
I found the Hold, under the sectors, just like it was supposed to be, but there was a section under that. When I tapped it on the screen, I was told the trams didn’t have access to that section. It looked like there was a way to get there from the Hold, but that was it, and I figured that this area was probably the Underplace.
Finding the Underplace on a map (which made sense, it is under everything) reminded me that the Truple District was empty. On the map, I searched for empty districts. There weren’t a lot, and I gave each of them a quick look on the holographic map. Keeping that parameter, I then searched for the Truple District. The screen calculated for a minute (look at me sounding all smart), then illuminated an empty district. The one I was standing outside.
We were outside the empty Truple District.
I looked from the map to the gate, then back again. “Wait, hold on. What?” I asked the air.
One of the security guards, a human I recognized, chuckled at me. “What happened?”
I pointed to the gate. “This was the Truple District.” I said. “They’re hiding in their old district.”
My brain was running too fast, but for once, my mouth could keep up. “Their district was locked, right?” I asked, and the officer nodded. “How did they escape?”
He officer shrugged. “Who knows? It was a few hundred seasons ago.”
I frowned at the map, but noticed something, then wondered why I couldn’t just have all of the information before I started, for once. The district beside this one was empty as well. I tapped the map for that one, but it didn’t display any notes. That (I later learned) meant that it had been empty for so long not even the ship kept track of who used to be there.
I pointed down the tram lines toward the neighboring empty district. “The district next door is empty.” I said. The officer snorted, but he figured it out a second later. “Could they have made a tunnel from this district to the other one and run off?”
The security officer stood straight. “If so, they could still use it to get away.”
“Let’s go!” I said, and tapped the button to call the tram. The five officers nearest the tram moved over to me, and when the tram stopped and the doors opened, we dove in. A second later the doors closed and the tram was off.
It was a short ride, but one last thing occurred to me. “Wait, why are we chasing these guys?” I asked. “They didn’t do anything illegal, did they?”
A security officer nodded. “Yeah, they did. It’s illegal to go into an empty district.” He said. “But we’ll probably find other stuff once we hold them.”
It wasn’t much, but it was enough. The tram travelled down the line and stopped outside another empty district. The doors opened and I stepped out, alone on the platform outside of a district no one had entered for a very long time.
I stood there for a second before the gate opened and a dozen truple ran out. They charged toward the tram line, but stopped when they saw me. “Hey,” one of them said, pointing at me. “He saw us! Get him!”
Ever been chased by a band of angry truple? It’s actually terrifying. I turned and ran. I wasn’t far from the tram, and I dove in, then hammered on the screen to close the door.
It didn’t close in time. The truple charged through and surrounded me on all sides. I turned and looked at them, a big smile on my face. “Hi.” I said, and gave them a little wave. Then I pointed to the security officers behind them.
The truple saw the security officers and tried to fight back, but though they outnumbered the security team, the truple were easily handle. A few ran out the tram, but as they did, Zahn’s team charged through the gate. The other officers charged into the fray, but Zahn stopped outside the tram and watched.
“Wow, Jack.” He said. “Good job. I’m glad we kept you outside.”
Security found a lot in the truple’s hiding place. For every counterfeit religious charm they found, there were ten things that had clearly been stolen. An argument could be made that they just liked collecting strange objects, but why would they need an obiey incubator? With an egg in it?
They weren’t even let off the tram. Instead, security bound them and held them as the tram we were in was ‘officially commandeered’ and we went to the Hold. Hold security met us at the platform, and they took the truple, all thirteen of them, into custody. Some case workers found their patients, and I gave Maria a wave as she got to work. She smiled at me and I heard birds sing.
With the truple in custody, Security went back to headquarters to give their reports. I didn’t know what else to do so I went with them, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened when we got there. Ancors had left instructions that I was to be brought to his office, and Zahn escorted me himself.
The director’s office was large, well equipped, and sparsely decorated. There was a big desk, seats for every manner of species, but very little decoration beyond awards and certificates of Ancor’s qualifications. The niq sat at his desk, and Zahn and I took seats across from him.
“Jack,” Ancors said. “That was some good investigative work out there. You two work well together.”
Kapada’Zahn smiled. “I think so, sir.”
“Good, because it’s not going to happen again for a little while.”
Zahn’s smile disappeared, and my fear grew. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Why not?”
Ancors tilted his head, indicating that he wanted me to be patient. “You helped this case because of what you’ve learned since you were found.” (That’s what they call it when you’re brought to the ship.) “That’s come at a price, not least of which is that the Chief Councillor is nervous about you. He’s convinced that you’re a danger to the ship, but I disagree. You kept a dravir from being put in long-term holding and you caught a band of truple criminals.”
I shrugged. “Um, thanks?”
Ancors ignored my discomfort. “I don’t think what you’re doing is very safe, but I can’t argue that it’s been helpful. I do think that having you tail officer Kapada’Zahn is a waste of resources.”
“What do you mean, sir?” Zahn asked.
“You’re an excellent officer, Kapada’Zahn.” Ancors said. “I want you out there, doing your job, it’s Jack that’s the problem. With his first-hand knowledge of different species and districts, working with you is a disservice to the other officers in security.” He turned to me. “I have a job offer for you, Jack.”
“Do I have a choice this time?” I asked.
Ancors nodded. “Yes, you do. You keep exploring the ship. Visit every district that will let you in. I’ll even give you access to the empty districts. In exchange, if security needs help, you’ll help.” He paused. “I can pay you a small retainer.”
I thought about it for a second. It hadn’t occurred to me that all this stuff I was learning might be helpful, and in one day it’d saved a young dravir’s life and helped security catch a truple criminal ring. I had no interest in working in law enforcement, let alone the other hundred or so jobs security fills on the ship, but being able to help felt good. Plus, if I could make some extra money from it, that might not be so bad.
I held up my hands as though that would slow down the conversation. “It’ll be voluntary, right?” I asked. “I won’t be forced to do anything, will I?”
“Absolutely.” Ancors said. “All voluntary, whenever you’re available.”
“Ok,” I said with a shrug. “I’m in.” I offered my hand.
Niqs don’t have hands, So Ancors just touched his forehead to the back of my fingers. “I’m glad to hear it.”