Division Zero Thrall | Chapter Two


Ancora Medical occupied the upper forty floors of a gleaming white-paneled tower in the southeastern corner of Sector 1242. From the moment the call came in, Kirsten had been grumbling internally at the memory of the cold that far north. Typical for a Code-3 run like this, she had brought the patrol craft high above the city and accelerated to 375 MPH.

Outside, howling winds and snow swirled around the black hovercar. By the time it reached the ground, it would be rain. Inside, the soft thrum of electronic components underpinned the silence. Kirsten left the autopilot in control for the straightaway and cradled hot coffee to her chest. Enjoying the scent of such divinity felt awkward knowing people’s lives depended on her. She sat safe in a warm car while forces beyond most mortal’s explanation threatened others. However, she was already on the way and couldn’t do anything more than wait for the ride to be over. Despite hurtling toward a dangerous situation, she clung to confidence in addition to the warm mocha.

“At least the damn entity waited for the coffee to be done this time.”

Dorian winked. “I thought you’d be happier it didn’t wait until dark and leave Evan stuck late at the school dormitory again. You okay? You seem rather pensive.”

“I’m thinking about those idiots from the park last weekend.”

“Is that why you’ve been so clingy with Evan for the past few days? Did you tell Eze you coerced a confession?” Dorian raised a whimsical eyebrow.

“He didn’t ask.” Slurp. “I would have if he brought it up. I’m still trying to sort out if I feel bad about doing it.”

“Well, a few hundred years ago, they would have called it a violation of due process. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a good thing. Used to be, a person couldn’t go to jail without Miranda.”

Kirsten finished another sip and looked over. “Miranda who? Is she a haunt?”

He spoke between gaps in his laughter. “Miranda warnings, the whole criminal rights thing police used to have to read to suspects.”

“Oh, back when the criminals had more rights than their victims?” She shook her head.

“Careful, K.” He stopped smiling. “It’s easy to say that off the cuff, but sometimes the law has the wrong person in their sights. The whole thing was meant to protect the innocent from government oppression.” Dorian faced front, his gaze settled on a cargo-trailer-sized shipping bot. The lumbering machine was bedecked with flashing lights that colored the nearby rain red and green. “Now we bask in government oppression and no one notices or cares.”

The car compensated for the slow-moving transport, gliding down and left. Kirsten held on to her coffee as the wind knocked them around. The boxy flying robot streaked past the right side, slow to the point of seeming to hang in place.

“I guess. It just… I dunno, I remember reading about it in school and fuming. They treated Mother better in jail than she treated me at home. Her judgment came at the hands of other inmates, not the government. They would have fed her and kept her safe until they let her out. I’d have been better off in jail than living with my own damn mother. How twisted is that?”

“What happens when a Div 1 cop does a half-assed summary execution on the wrong guy?”

“Now you’re talking about an entirely different thing.” She took over active flight control as the nav point drew close, guiding the patrol craft out of the clouds in a paced descent. “Summaries have a lot of checkboxes to go through. Even when it’s warranted, half the time it doesn’t happen.”

“Good thing, that.”

As they dove out of the storm, Dorian smiled at the orange gleam of the mid-afternoon sun on the city a half-mile below. “Officers who do too many of them usually wind up on the wrong end of one sooner or later. They don’t like to let that kind of information get out to the public. Bang. Oops, he was an innocent man. Now you’re guilty of murder.” He kept silent for several minutes as they sank among the towering monoliths of northern West City. “I don’t think I could have been able to do it without knowing they were guilty.”

“You mean without reading their minds?” She looked at him for two seconds. “Isn’t that about the same as telling someone to confess truth? It’s not like I added more to it or made him lie.”

“Div 1 officers don’t have the luxury to know when a suspect is lying. They perform summaries based on evidence they can see. Only, in those cases, the lawyers don’t get involved in time to make a difference.”

“I knew he did it. Even with his blurted utterance to the arresting officers, a good enough lawyer can worm out of it.”

Dorian chuckled. “Those two don’t look like they can afford a lawyer that good.”

She bled off speed, reaching the level of the fifth story at a hair over eighty miles per hour. “Weren’t lawyers once supposed to just make sure the law is applied fairly, as opposed to looking for any little technicality to let their client get away with crime?”

“You have to be reincarnated. You are way too jaded for your age.”

A line of Division 1 cars formed a perimeter in the center of a pentagonal courtyard between five corporate towers. The ground between them and the building lay scattered with bits of plant material and broken terra cotta. Small arms fire emanating from the lobby had destroyed at least six flowerpots large enough to bathe in, as evidenced by shot-out glass along the front.

Kirsten set down behind the row of blue and whites, turning her attention to the screen at the middle of the console. Ancora Medical leased office space from a management company that owned the entire five-building complex. She ran a query in the system for disgruntled employees and reports of violence in the building, which came back suspiciously blank.

“Either this is the one corporation in the world not run by greedy bastards, or someone’s been tinkering in the network.”

“Yeah,” said Dorian. “I wonder which it is.”

She grasped the door handle, but froze as bullets bounced off the ground in front of the car. A handful struck the hood and windscreen, but the armor plating reduced it to a dull clatter. Kirsten hit the comm.

“Ops, what the hell is going on in there?”

One of the Division 1 officers put his back to his car so he could face her, and waved. “Afternoon, Agent.” His voice came out of her dashboard. Text beneath his hologram indentified him as Sergeant Ormund.

“You the senior onsite?”

“Until you got here, yeah.” He chuckled. “Ancora deals with military medical technology, so the building has armed security pods. At first, we thought a hacker got into the local network. We cut all outside GlobeNet access, but it didn’t help. Then we figured it was probably an artificial intelligence gone crazy.”

“Since you called me in, I’ll assume that didn’t pan out either?”

Ormund tapped at his forearm unit, which projected small holo-panels containing images of a male humanoid face rendered in mirror silver. “Centurion Investments does not have an AI in their corporate park, however Ancora does. We managed to make contact with him, and he’s as clueless as anyone else about what’s going on.”

“Maybe he’s lying?” She kept her fingers on the door handle, staring at a twitching ball turret in the ceiling just beyond a ring of broken window. “AIs can lie, you know.”

“It let us walk right in and check. When the disconnect didn’t change anything, we brought the link back. Div 2 says the AI’s telling the truth. The hardware is moving on its own, not driven by any code they can find. We even killed power to sections of the building and the guns continued to fire.” He tapped his foot. “That’s when we called you.”

“What can you tell me about the hostages? Have there been any demands? This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I’ve never seen an angry ghost take hostages before. They usually just kill… or try.”

“No, ma’am. No demands made to the outside world at this time.” Sergeant Ormund ducked as the sporadic spray of bullets gave up on Kirsten’s car and played with the Div 1 patrol craft.

Dorian leaned forward to get a better look into the lobby. “Whatever it is evidently doesn’t understand armor plating. The weapon is designed for antipersonnel use. It’s no threat to the cars.”

“Can you knock the turret offline?”

He squinted. “Not if it is connected to the building’s power system. I can’t shut the entire city off. If a spirit has embodied them, I could try to take control, but then it would come down to how strong the other entity is.”

“Ormund, what about those civilians?”

“Uhh… We’ve got two groups. There are twenty employees on the 92nd floor, looks like mostly senior managers and up. The other group is on the 61st floor, in the daycare. Three adults and nineteen children under eight. Everyone else managed to get out during the chaos.”

“Fuck.” Kirsten’s head fell back against the seat. “Why?”

“How should I know?” said Ormund, before he realized it was a rhetorical ‘why.’ “Umm, it’s not as bad as it sounds, Agent. The designers weren’t complete idiots. There are no guns anywhere able to fire into the daycare. Problem is… the hallway leading to the daycare has six of ’em. The kids are in no danger, but no one short of a full Class 4 borg is getting in there alive.”

The rotary gun on the turret harassing the police cars out front kept spinning, but ceased firing.

“Out of ammo? Small favors,” she mumbled. “Well this is a right mess. Alright, I’m going in.”

She ran from the safety of her car to Ormund’s side, behind the wall of Div 1 vehicles. Without the intermediary of a digital pass-through windshield, a spectral glow became visible around the turret. When she stood up to run, the sergeant put a hand on her shoulder.

“Agent, I’m sure you know some of my guys aren’t too keen on that psio stuff, but if you need us inside, say the word. We’ll be there. Might freak us out a bit, but you’re still a cop.”

Three women and seven men in blue armor nodded at her.

Kirsten squeezed his hand. “Thanks.”

The spirit light left the mounted weapon and it hung limp, spent. She bolted across the remainder of the courtyard, taking cover behind a column a few yards shy of the main door, and peering around. Beyond the still-intact sliding glass doors, an expanse of white tile and false plants waited. The space appeared empty of people save for a young woman seated behind a reception desk.

She wore a clingy top the same shade of black as her hair, silver buttons running from her shoulder to hip on the right side. The tall neck of the garment split open at the front in a Chinese-inspired collar, and she smiled at thin air as if nothing strange was going on. The lack of surface thoughts confirmed Kirsten’s suspicion.

Dorian wandered through the unopened door. “That’s either a doll or the world’s most unobservant person.”

Kirsten edged out from behind cover, staring at the turret. It tried to spin toward her, but she latched onto the paranormal energy within and held it to the side as she darted into the open, heading for the main doors. They slid closed behind her with a soft hiss. Fortunately, the courtyard turret couldn’t rotate around to face into the lobby. Holographic birds flitted around the false plants, at least half of which were also made of light. The air smelled crisp and cool, with a hint of cleaning solution. A handful of squat ten-inch black domes scurried out of sight across immaculate white tiles, digital cleaning-roaches fleeing the light—or in this case, the vision of a guest.

“Welcome to Centurion Investment Corporation Tower II.” The woman faced Kirsten. “Which company or individual are you here to see?”

“Ancora Medical,” said Kirsten, heading for the elevator bank past a row of plush waiting-room couches.

“Are you sure about that?” Dorian jogged ahead of her. “If a spirit is messing with electronics, do you trust the elevator?”

“Aww.” She slowed to a slouching stagger while staring at the ceiling. “Why is it always sixty plus stories?”

Dorian phased through the door to the stairwell. “Saves you having to pay for membership at a fitness club.”

“I’m sorry, miss. Ancora Medical is currently closed,” said the reception doll. “If you would like to schedule an appointment with either, sales, human resources, or legal, please leave your information at the front desk. If you are in need of patient services, please be aware that this is a corporate facility with no medical care provided.”

“The department has a fitness center I can use for free.” Kirsten hit the door with both hands, shoving it open hard enough to bounce it off the wall.

Metal slamming echoed up an undecorated vertical shaft never meant for the eyes of investors, customers, or upper management. She hesitated at the prospect of such a haul, but liked the idea of a falling elevator less. The brisk journey came to a sweaty end at the landing of the 61st floor, where a tiny display screen showed the logo of Ancora Medical, a dove hinted at by a few curved lines.

“Planning to play chicken with six turrets at once?” asked Dorian.

“Don’t give me that look,” she rasped. “I can barely breathe.”

“Now there’s one thing I don’t miss… getting winded.”

Kirsten forced a weak smile and pulled herself standing once again. She fell into the door, hanging on to the push bar to keep from falling over.

“I’m not sure what sucks more, this or jumping off a building.”

“Falling sixty stories inside an elevator, I think, would be worse than either.”

“You have such a way with words, Dorian.”

A few paces inside the corridor, she found a vendomat offering drinks and couldn’t resist. Half a bottle of spring water went down before the conscious parts of her brain were involved in any decision-making processes. She finished it off, and rolled to lean against the wonderful machine. She stared down at her shaking legs, and found them amusing.

“Kirsten, look out,” Dorian yelled, lunging.

She ducked and spun, yelping at the sight of a softball-sized orb bot zooming at her with a pair of sparking prongs extended from its leading side. Kirsten managed to get her hands around it before it made contact. The cold metal object strained to get closer, its hover inducer pushing it toward her chest with enough force to pin her to the wall.

For several seconds, she held it at bay while staring at the electrified spikes. Dorian stuck his hand into it, and a spark shot up inside his arm to his shoulder. The sudden shutdown left her struggle unopposed, and she flung it away. It careened off the wall and thudded to the ground with the acoustic grandeur of a dropped cannonball.

“Where the hell did that thing come from?”

Dorian pointed down the hallway. “Automated non-lethal internal security.”

She drew her E-90, but thought better of it and switched to the stunrod, holding it like a bat. Another orb zipped around the next corner and swerved at her. Stun prongs popped out of it as it careened toward her abdomen. Kirsten leapt to the side and swung. A dull clank reverberated down the hall as plastisteel stunrod met ten-pound orb bot, diverting its flight into the side of the vendomat. Blew sparks surrounded it and a small speaker emitted a robotic version of an agonized scream. Two seconds later, a cloud of thick black smoke puffed out of its hover port along with and a loud report comparable to a gunshot.

Kirsten hadn’t moved since the instant her stunrod made contact. She jumped at the loud bang and let the stunrod slip out of her grasp. It landed tip-first into the ground and set off a brief flash of blue before it fell flat. “Ow.” She gasped, clenching her hands into fists. “Oh, damn. Okay, swinging a metal stunrod at a metal orb was a bad idea. I can’t feel my fingers.”

“I would have shot it, personally.”

“You’re a better shot. It’s not easy to tag those little things.”

Dorian waved dismissively. “The stun only lasts a few seconds, just catch them.”

Her eyes narrowed to slits. “Why don’t you take them out of the air?”

“Duck,” he said, reaching to his right.

At the sight of a shimmer of energy drifting into his hand, she leapt to the side. Orb bot number three, now an inert ball of metal, cruised through the space where she’d been standing.

From around the corner, a woman’s voice screamed, “This is pointless!”

A gunshot silenced the din that erupted in the wake of the shout. Kirsten sprinted to a holographic banner bearing the placard: ‘Executive Conference Room 3.’ She peeked in a gap in the door, observing a number of well-dressed people sitting around an expensive looking onyx table. All eyes fell upon a dark skinned woman in a plum-colored dress.

The woman clutched a huge orange rubber ball to her chest, as if hiding behind it would shield her from another gunshot. A turret in the ceiling trained a single-barrel weapon at her.

A digitized machine-voice yelled, “Write!”

Her shaking hand uncapped a permanent marker, and the squeak of felt upon rubber broke the quiet.

“You may as well join them,” said a voice, a mix of static and man. “Come on in. Don’t think I won’t unload on these simpletons if you raise that weapon.”

Kirsten gave Dorian a meaningful look before she nudged the door open and slipped into the room, keeping her E-90 pointed down. Various executives stared up with the expected combination of confusion and pleading. A spirit stood waist-deep in the center of the immense conference table, his right hand embedded in a small terminal used to control audio-visual presentations. Late twenties or early thirties, he appeared dressed for an outdoor excursion, complete with backpack and the kind of ridiculous hat full of fishing lures a tourist would buy. A few inches above where his body intersected the table surface, it became transparent. The man showed no sense of recognition at the sight of her.

The woman holding the ball finished writing and passed it to her left. The spirit pointed at the sweating heavyset man holding the ball with his left hand, and the turret mirrored the gesture. Spectral lips moved, but the voice came from speakers in the ceiling.

“Your turn, Doug. Write.”

Kirsten stared at the thin ghost, making no secret that she could see him. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Team building exercise!” he shrieked, using the shrill war cry of an enraged techie. “They have to write something good about the person on their right and then pass the ball to the person on their left.” The spirit went wide-eyed manic. “It’s good for morale! We’re all one big happy team here, right?”

When no one said a word, the ceiling turret put a bullet into the wall.

“Right,” cheered the room, in a nervous drone.

“Once the ball makes it around the room, and everyone’s had a chance to say something positive, we’re going to break into groups of five and do team charades. Just to keep things upbeat, one member of the losing team is going to get shot in the backside.” The ghost cackled. “Good news though, the new benefits program you just signed on for covers superficial damage to the ass.”

“What the hell is going on?” asked an older black man in a grey suit, hissing the question past clenched teeth.

“That particular wank-stick is Joseph Xavier Freeh,” said the spirit while smiling at Kirsten. “CEO of Ancora Medical. Personally, I’m hoping his team loses at charades.”

Kirsten set the E-90 back in its holster and held her hands up in a disarming gesture. “Calm down. Clearly, you have some kind of problem with Ancora. I checked their records and couldn’t find any issues with former employees. Tell me what happened and I can help you.”

“What happened is that someone has hacked into our network. Why the hell haven’t the police done something?” Mr. Freeh glared at Kirsten.

“It’s not a hacker, sir. It’s a ghost. Does anyone here recognize a white, light-skinned possibly Hispanic man in his middle-to-late thirties with short brown hair. Little on the nerdy side, big nose, dressed like he’s going to go fishing. He’s got a whole bunch of weird little things stuck to his hat.”

Two of the executive board gasped. The ball turret swiveled at Kirsten, the ghost’s face flashed to abject rage. Kirsten summoned a wave of psionic energy, projecting it into the spirit and knocking him out of the table. Sparks flew from the AV terminal as it died, and the ball turret went limp. His fury whirled into a chaotic tangle of panic, though he managed only to scream “What the—” before Dorian came out of the wall from behind and tackled him.

As the ceiling gun whirled around in a circle, beeped, and folded back into its recess, Kirsten waved at the door. “Everyone, out.” She leaned into the wall to avoid getting trampled. “Ormund, this is Agent Wren. It’s safe to come in. Please clear the daycare.”

“Copy,” said the voice in her ear.

“Any fatalities?”

“No, ma’am.”

Dorian manhandled the other spirit with ease, wrestling him to the ground and putting one knee in his back. “Okay, buddy. What happened?”

“Wha? You can see me?” he screamed.

“I’ve only been staring right at you for the past few minutes. Are you that dense?”

“This one isn’t too old.” Dorian smirked at her. “I wouldn’t lash him; you’ll destroy him in one pass.”

“Destroy? What the hell are you talking about? I’m already dead.”

Kirsten pulled a chair away from the table and fell into it. “Look, you’re a ghost. That’s true. I get the feeling you have some kind of issue with this company. Unfortunately, I can’t allow you to hurt the living.”

“I’m surprised she hasn’t ended you already,” said Dorian, forcing the man to look up at her. “She’s real sensitive about kids, you know. There’s a whole daycare full of them downstairs put at risk because of you.”

“Dave… Dave Alvarez. I used to work for Ancora as a systems administrator.”

“Did they have you killed for some reason?” Kirsten cocked an eyebrow. “Last I checked, sys admins are pretty replaceable. What did you steal?”

“Nothing. Ouch! Dammit! Let go.” He wriggled in a futile attempt to get away from Dorian for a few seconds. “They didn’t have me killed, it was a stupid team-building exercise. They made us go camping out in the Badlands. They said it would be safe. This giant, fucking werewolf-from-hell with metal claws shredded me.” He flailed. “And a half-dozen of our security team.”

“Did they force you to go out there?” asked Kirsten.

Dave scowled. “You have no idea what it’s like. If you wanna get promoted you have to do everything. All these stupid little fluff meetings, holiday parties, special morale events.” He rolled his eyes at the wall. “They think it brings us”—his voice lapsed sarcastic—“closer as a team and enables us to reach new plateaus of productivity in the next quarter.”

“So you were going to team-build them to death?” asked Dorian, trying to suppress the urge to laugh.

“I dunno…” The fight left him. “I just wanted someone to see how stupid it was. I died for no reason other than where some stupid executive’s dart landed on the list of lame shit to do. You know they made us use our vacation time for it too, right? Yeah, I could have backed out, but they notice these things. People who back out don’t get promoted. People who back out stay low level admins for years.” Dave deflated and let his face fall to the ground. “Of course, Walter is still alive.”

“You’re frustrated, I get that. Killing people won’t help. Believe it or not, it’ll just make it worse for you. Do you have any family left I can talk to for you?”

“Three daughters and a wife. They’re scraping by. My eldest, Liz, can’t get a job at her age, fifteen, due to all the damn dolls taking low-skilled work. They can’t afford to move to a colony.”

“I’ll make you a deal, Dave.” She waved at Dorian to let him up. “I’ll take all the information you can give me about the camping trip and send it over to an investigative team that looks into corporate misbehavior. Ancora may not want to endure the stink of an Inquest. For your part, you leave these people alone. I’m willing to trust you, since I’m sure you care about your family.”

“Yeah,” said Dave, standing and dusting himself off. No longer sharing space with a solid table, he resumed a lifelike appearance to her. “I only wanted them to acknowledge they were careless. I don’t think they’ll cave in though. They made us all sign waivers before we went out there.”

“The detectives will look into the deaths of the other security staff as well. If they coerced you to go out there and then forced you to sign off on liability, a judiciary panel will have a field day with it.”

“I don’t imagine Mr. Freeh would want to see it on the NewsNet,” said Dorian.

Kirsten grinned. “Good idea. That’ll probably be more effective than the threat of legal tangles.”

Amid the bustle of emergency crews tending to the wounded, Kirsten found Joseph Freeh surrounded by a trio of assistants. He bellowed at one girl who seemed younger than Kirsten as if the ‘network breach’ was her fault. She took notes on a datapad in preparation for a torturous system review he intended to drop upon their engineers.

“Mr. Freeh, a moment?” Kirsten walked up to him.

“More police nonsense? It damn well took you people long enough.” He shooed his assistants off to the side. “Caramel latte, extra shot.”

“A coffee man, I can respect that.” She put on an earnest face. “Mr. Freeh, about what just happened here. One of your company’s employees is lingering after death as a ghost. He was killed by some marauding genetic disaster while attending a corporate team-building event. Camping in the Badlands?” She blinked.

“Last year. It was McNamara’s idea if I remember correctly. The man’s a survivalist. He intended it purely for the adventurous crowd. The employee had every chance not to go. He knew the risks.”

“Dave puts it in an entirely different light. Corporate culture twisted his arm. He was afraid he’d be passed over for promotions if he didn’t attend. On top of that, the company forced him to sign a waiver of liability on a dangerous, foolish trip he had no choice but to participate in if he didn’t want to sabotage his career. Dealing with ghosts is a touchy subject, Mr. Freeh. It’s not like I can haul him off to jail or hit him with a fine. I can either destroy him or find a resolution to whatever issue is keeping him from moving on to the next world. Given the circumstances here, most especially because he didn’t kill anyone, I’m inclined to give him what he needs in order to move on.”

“And what would that be?” Mr. Freeh frowned.

“Nothing grandiose, he’s merely worried about his family.”

“Touching.” Freeh looked to his left. “Where is my coffee? Good Lord, man, it’s been almost three minutes.”

“The way I see it, the company is at least fifty percent complicit in his death, as well as the deaths of six or seven security personnel. I’m well aware Ancora strives to maintain a reputation as a squeaky-clean corporation that cares. I’m sure the NewsNet will devour a story about a fatal compulsory camping trip.”

The CEO reeled as if slapped. “You’re dangerously close to libel, Miss”—he peered at her chest—“Wren.”

“Oh, I’m not going to talk to the press. I’m not permitted to discuss specific cases with them. However, I will be filing a request with CIB, that’s Corporate Investigations Bureau by the way, to begin an Inquest regarding the deaths that occurred on that trip. Those investigations are a matter of public record and any reporter digging for dirt on corporations, especially corporations that appear to have no dirt, might—”

“Alright.” He held his hand up. “What is it you want?”

“I was thinking you provide one and a half times Mr. Alvarez’s salary to his wife until the day his youngest daughter turns eighteen or until his wife obtains employment sufficient to provide for her family without needing a stipend. Do that, and I might lose my report to CIB.” She started to walk away, but paused. “Oh, by the way, I’d recommend against any more camping trips out there… or at least make it genuinely optional.”

Freeh’s rapid mental math evidently factored her request far less costly than a potential media scandal. “Done.”

“What now?” asked Dave.

Kirsten shook hands with Freeh and walked back to her car. “Go home, be with them. When the stipend starts, you might feel a release from this world. Trust the light.”

“Thank you.” He tried to hold her hand.

She made herself solid to spirits and let him. “Behave yourself. Don’t make me regret being a softie.”

“I won’t. Thank you!” David floated off.

“Damn shame,” said a Division 1 officer near the row of cars. “Waste of such a pretty girl.”

Kirsten whirled, her building snarl fading when she realized they weren’t talking about her being psionic.

“Yeah.” His partner let out a long, slow sigh with a weak shake of his head. “Who the hell does a thing like that?”

“What happened?” she asked, moving closer.

They looked up.

“Squad mate just found a dead woman a few sectors south. We were listening to the comm. chatter go by.” He held up his forearm guard, projecting an image of an alley filled with crime scene techs and patrol officers. A nude body lay half under a police blanket. The victim appeared to be in her mid-twenties.

Kirsten cringed. “She doesn’t look like a prostitute. Too healthy. Well, except for being dead. Any weird stuff going on?”

“Nothing anyone reported. We’ll call you if something happens.”

“Great, thanks.”

Kirsten walked into the squad room, noticing Captain Eze’s office unusually dim. She knocked at the door, earning a wave-in once he saw her.

“That took longer than expected.” He smiled, nodding at the couch where Evan slept.

“Sorry, there were so many witnesses to interview. Their tech people grilled me like a slab of salmon. Thanks for watching him.”

“You are most welcome. He was no trouble at all, though he’s been trying to talk to you in his sleep.”

Kirsten smiled. “He’s one of a kind, though I’m sure he’ll have a bratty moment eventually.”

She tossed his backpack over one shoulder before scooping him up. He whined in his sleep, cuddling into her at the disturbance of being moved.

“You don’t have to wake up.” She kissed him on the forehead.

“Mom?” He mumbled, somewhere between asleep and not. “You need to break Konstantin’s heart.”

She blinked, staring at him for a moment. The statement, mean as it sounded, came with no malice in his voice or on his cherubic face. Kirsten shot Eze a look of bewilderment. Evan’s hint of consciousness faded as fast as it manifested, leaving him deep asleep once more.

“He’s probably feeling jealous.” Eze winked. “Talk it over with him when he wakes up. Heck, the kind of money that man has… I’m almost jealous.”

She chuckled and cradled Evan close enough to whisper into his ear. “I don’t care how rich he is, kiddo. You are the most important person in my life.”

A trace of a smile curled his lip.

Chapter One

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