Excerpt: Too Dangerous

Shi typed in the ten-digit passcode to unlock the door quickly, glancing down the street while the door buzzed quietly. A passcode lock was rudimentary for this day and age, but Shi had had too many print scanners broken by punk kids to invest in higher security. Anything he needed really secure he either took home or left in the vault.

It wasn’t the right time of morning for a car to be hovering down the street. The prostitutes were all gone for the night, back to wherever they spent the daylight hours. The line of shops on the street—including Shi’s—didn’t open for another two hours. The car was also far too sleek for this part of town. It was black, polished to a shine, and showed none of the dents and scratches travelling in the hoverstreams typically produced.

Shi let himself into the office, shutting the door and flipping the lock back on. A car that nice was either never driven in the hoverstreams or had some sort of shielding. The former required tires, which had been conspicuously missing from the hovering car. The latter required a lot of money or for the car to be military-owned. Shi could guess which.

The lights in the foyer had turned on when he’d opened the door, displaying the secretary’s desk and the various uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room. The electronic display on the left wall was off, not displaying the obnoxious loop of news that it usually broadcast across the foyer. The plants were real fakes instead of holo-projections, and they showed it in the bright florescent light.

Shi headed past the secretary’s desk, into the hallway behind it. There were four offices in this building. Shi and two others were private detectives, and the last office was occupied by a sleazy divorce lawyer. There had been more than one client who had gone from Shi’s office to the lawyer’s office after learning their spouse was cheating on them.

Shi’s office was in the back, with a view overlooking the river. It was the best view in the building, which wasn’t saying much considering the river was gray on the best of days and black on the rest. He’d been at the office the longest—almost five years now—which was why he’d managed to finagle his way into the best office. The door was shut firmly, like it had been when he’d left. There was a telltale glow of light coming through the window in the door, however.

It was nearly impossible to turn off the lights when a person was in a room. The office had the glitchiest wiring Shi had ever encountered, but it was useful on occasion. Unbuttoning his jacket, Shi unhooked the strap holding his stun gun in place. Approaching the door cautiously, Shi paused outside the door and pressed his hand to the print scanner there. It chirped cheerfully and the lock mechanism in the door thunked loudly as it unlocked. Placing one hand on the butt of his gun, Shi opened the door.

A man sat in the chair opposite his desk. It was as comfortable as the chairs in the waiting room, but the man didn’t show any discomfort sitting there. There was a real, physical file folder resting in his lap, thin enough it could only hold a few sheets of paper. He was wearing dark blue jeans and a casual shirt, his jacket draped over the back of the chair like he’d been there a while.

He was military. It was in the way he sat, his back rigid and tense, as though he was waiting for the order to relax. His hair wasn’t quite standard military; it was cut short but had grown out a bit. If Shi didn’t know any better—and hadn’t had the hint of the car out front—the man might almost pass for a civilian. That was obviously the intention.

Relaxing slightly, Shi stepped fully into the room and shut the door behind him. He stripped off his jacket, not bothering to relatch the strap over his stun gun and hung the jacket on one of the hooks beside the door. Ignoring his visitor for the moment, Shi crossed the room, his boots muffled by the thin synthetic carpet covering the floor.

The office was bland and beige. The walls were pale and undecorated; the only thing that hung on them was the federal and state licenses Shi had, and he’d only put those up because the law required it. He had a rudimentary filing cabinet in one of the corners behind his desk, secured only by a thumbprint scanner. The secretaries had access to that one.

The desk was the most expensive thing in the room. Shi had commissioned it after receiving payment for earning his special license to work within the military. It was huge, and he knew most people thought he’d gone for the size to prove how important he was. They were idiots; if he could have gotten a TXL-49 vault installed in a smaller desk, he would have.

The vault was where he stored the most confidential cases. He’d gone after the highest level of security clearance when he’d trained to receive his military special license; it had paid the most and seemed like it would be exciting. Shi wished he could go back and shake his younger self out of that notion. If he hadn’t gone for the grade N7 license, he’d never have met Elis.

“What can I help you with?” Shi asked, removing his stun gun from its holster and setting it on top of the desk. The man’s eyes followed the gun, and Shi rolled his eyes, thumbing the catch that opened the hidden keypad on the front of the desk. Punching in the unlock code, Shi opened the top drawer on his desk and moved the gun into it. He shut the drawer, then sat down in his chair. “I’m assuming you didn’t break into my office just for fun.”

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