Introductions (Ch. 1-5)

“Aaaaaand, Action!”

A fuzzy humanoid jumps into view of the camera, he is dressed as a cutesy version of a Ratel. He has black fur on the front with white fur covering his back and coming up over the back of his head into a yarmulke of lightly colored fur. He has a pointed face that ends in a short snout with a nose of comparable size to a human’s, except shaped more like a dog’s. He has beady black eyes, and whiskers coming out from the snout.

“Hello Kids! On today’s episode we will be exploring the ideas of racial equality, and how everyone is human, one and the same. We all come from the same ancestors, who flew here from Earth loooooong ago.

“I’m sure you’ve seen most of the species of man, but let’s explore further! All of us, you and me, walk alongside “full humans” as equals in this Universe, for you see we are all actually half human and half animal. We don’t know where we came from, but we do know what we are! So now we explore what makes us human! Today on Ren the Ratel’s happy hour!”

“Cut! That was an ok run. Take five minutes, grab a smoke.”

“Alright.” Ren grumbles.

Ren exits the stage and out through a side door into the alleyway behind the studio. He pulls off the ridiculous furry mask he has to wear for this gig revealing he is a full-blooded human. He is extremely average as far as humans go, standing a bit above one and a half meters, and 68 kilograms. He has medium olive skin, dark brown hair, and brown eyes. He pulls out a cigarette and lights up, taking a long drag.

Everything always looks better after a smoke, He thinks to himself.

He looks down the alley towards the street it abuts. It is a rarely used, unnamed side street off of 71st in Grey District. It’s contents are solely this studio and a restaurant called “Gino’s” which a recent review labeled simply as “A dump.”

There is a good deal of detritus littering the alley, as it does contain a dumpster. Its overflow is copious because the truck doesn’t come once a week like it should. Next to the dumpster is, what Ren believes, a rather interesting looking box. Colorful and shiny, the box looks like it used to contain some sort of expensive equipment. Ren is drawn to the box for investigation. As he gets closer he can make out some of the text, but it’s not written in a language he recognizes which is odd because most everyone speaks Common. It reads “(insert hieroglyphic gibberish here)” and more of that ilk. Ren squints and gets closer. When he is about one meter away, he sees a flash of steel and then nothing more.

Chapter 2

June 1, 3027, 1600 hours: Cargo Ship Hermes, Captain Jill Baxter en route from the Proxima Centauri system to UTC [0,0,0] aka, Origin

Descending into Origin, Captain Baxter is unusually pensive;

I can’t help but marvel at its industrial beauty. The image of the light from its sun glittering off of the large river channels juxtaposes the mostly cold, steel frameworks of its buildings with their matte, energy absorbing windows. The great cities of Earth could never have rivaled this.

Origin is about the size of Earth’s Central America.

Getting closer to the surface she can see more of the detail of the city’s shape. Origin is in an octagonal arrangement with a massive, artificial river in-between each district. The city is built elevated above the naturally occurring terrain, so that maintenance and sewage could be more easily looked after. It is approximately two stories above the ground with many pathways up to it, including gradually angled roads, stairways, ladders, and the like. On quite a large amount of its borders it melds into the surrounding landscape.

Jill notices the perfectly octagon shape is broken on one side into a spilling out of the Brown District, the poorest of the residential areas. She remembers in school learning that at some point the borders of the city were insufficient and that expansion was necessary. As each district expanded, Humans strayed down the lazy route of just ballooning into the adjoining district and pushing outward instead of expanding the city in an organized manner. This resulted in the most populated residential districts (i.e. the Brown District) to be pushed over the edge into the wilds.

“Origin Skyway, this is Hermes seeking clearance to land.”

“Hello, Captain Baxter,” a cold but lilting female voice immediately responds, “This is Origin Skyway, clearance granted at Hangar 42 in 3 minutes 26 seconds. Welcome Home.”

She’s always so polite. Why can’t the other AIs be like her? I guess then they wouldn’t be “individuals”.

True to her precise word, the platform of Hangar 42 rotates to present a clear landing zone for the Hermes. A quick, routine unloading of her ship left her energized for the night ahead. Jill moves Hermes to a short term parking pod and hit the streets. She planned to stay at her apartment for the night,

But who knows? First, some sweet, sweet libations and then we will see where this evening takes us. I have a day off between now and my next run to recuperate!

Chapter 3

August 1, 3027, 0100 hours: Grey District

Cruising through the streets in his ‘64, Martin is lost in the thrashing sounds coming through the speakers. Being a 34 year old, human/ratel mix with more humanoid features than animal, he is an outcast among both humans and Ratel. Civil rights have come a long way since the implementation of the Ratel into humankind, but interracial mixing is still “faux pas” (there is a long standing taboo about “Beastiality”). Civil rights have come a long way on this front as well, but people will always be people.

Martin is 1.8 meters tall and heavily built, slightly north of 90 kilograms. He has thin, black fur on his front and white fur on his back that comes up and over his head into what looks like a yarmulke. His face is less pointed than a Ratel’s, averaging out between that and a human. His jaw is quite defined and strong with a square chin, contrary to a Ratel’s almost non-existent chin. His nose is blunt and still rather dog-like, with the full legion of whiskers stretching outward from each side. His eyes are the shape of a human’s, with his being particularly narrow and slitted, with the same onyx black color of a Ratel’s. He has stunted ears that poke out a little from his head, covered in the same thin, black fur as his face and body. His mouth is shaped as a human’s, with three sets of sharp cuspids that replace the human’s incisors and continue into the normal molar configuration of an omnivore. His arms are covered still with thin, black fur and his hands are that of a human’s, ending in tough, black nails that are thick and sharp, more like a Ratel’s.

Not quite sure who this is, but I’m pretty sure this is the band whose singer had himself declared legally dead for tax reasons. Hmm… I think there was a tour announced for when he is “revived”, I’ll have to keep an eye out for that.

A shadow walks off of the curb and throws itself into the hood of Martin’s car. Martin immediately stops. He was traveling at a whopping 8 kilometers an hour due to the fact that he was going to take a turn up ahead, so he knows that no damage could have been done. He turns the car off and steps out with an exhausted sigh. An incredulous frown creeps onto his visage as he sees the “victim” lying on the ground writhing in agony. The wounded human quickly springs to his feet, contrary to what someone damaged by a car would do.

“Aren’t you watching where you’re going?! You could have killed me!” the man yells, favoring his right hip with the corresponding hand.

“Are you alright?” Martin asks, guessing the answer.

“Of course not! My whole left side is torn up!” he says, showing his left arm whose sleeve is torn, but no visible marks or blood. He steps closer to Martin, now favoring his left leg and limping accordingly.

Ratel are not known for their patience, in fact quite the opposite. Therefore, Martin’s blood begins to rise from the smell of blatant fraud, but he keeps it under wraps as his frustration begins to burn hot on his forehead. It is only through his human mother’s virtue that he can put a cap on his temper. His father however… this man is lucky Martin doesn’t take more after his father.

Martin scans the area utilizing the functions of his advanced retinal implant, not something that can just be found on the market. He continues with a quick scan of the man standing in front of him and no internal or external damage can be discerned. Picking up no witnesses (planted or otherwise) in the area he concludes that this man must be a novice, a new recruit, into the roster of the Silvertongues - a highly organized gang of con-artists - or he could just be an amateur thief. The Grey district is rife with this sort of riff-raff.

“That looks bad,” Martin says flatly but in his mind is completely sarcastic, “Let me call for the emergency services.”

“As you should, I’ll be wanting your insurance information after that, and then I’m going to sue you!”

“Of course, anything you want.” Martin starts up the phone function of his implant and dials the emergency number and is connected to an average sounding male operator.


“Yes,” Martin says coolly, “There is an unconscious man here who fell victim to a hit and run from, what looks like, a rather large vehicle.”

“Ok, where are you? I can always pull up your gps on your phone if you don’t know”

“I’m near the corner of Smith and Broad in Grey District. Please hurry, I fear he might bleed out internally.”

“Yes, they’re on their way now. Just don’t move the victim.” the operator assures, just before realizing he can’t pull up a location for the device Martin is using. A later, internal investigation will conclude that the call was placed with an unregistered rig, an arrangement that the IT guy had only seen on a couple other occasions.

Martin hangs up. His ultimate conclusion being that maybe this guy has a chance for some sense to be knocked into him and rejoin the civilized world.

“Now for my information.” Martin reaches into the pocket of his duster jacket.

The victim, who is just now processing what he heard Martin say on the phone, senses danger after a bit of confusion. He turns and tries to run, but Martin grabs him by the left shoulder of the man’s hoodie. He pulls his right hand out of the pocket it’s in revealing that it’s now covered in a thick set of steel knuckle dusters, the heads of which are shaped in such a way as to be spiky but not sharp, similar to the face of an armor piercing war hammer. A very efficient weapon.

Martin bares his sharp teeth and the thick, tough, black nails of his left hand dig into the hoodie and whip the man around into a brutal but clean headbutt onto the bridge of his nose, stunning him. Martin then drives the brutal metal fist into the man’s ribs. A satisfying crunch issues forth. The now-aggressor then releases his prey only to deliver a final hook with his left hand into the man’s jaw, crumpling him onto the street. He spared his target the recovery time of those knuckle dusters splitting his lower jaw in half. Now that the victim is predominantly horizontal, Martin approaches him while wiping the blood originating from the man’s nose from his forehead and face. He slips the knuckles off and inserts them into his secret pocket. Martin then bends down and turns the man’s head toward him. He opens the mouth with his finger and pinches the tongue between his fingers. He pulls the tongue out slightly and lifts it revealing a silver, arrow shaped tattoo on the underside.

Yup. Could smell that Silvertongue a mile away. This guy must have been a new recruit, his technique and attention to detail were terrible. Well, now he can rest in the hospital and his buddies can pay the bills. Maybe he will opt out of their little group. I should alert the Fireminds of this guy’s activity. Martin thinks while he drags this sack of organs to the sidewalk.

A night in the hospital versus a sentence in jail are very distinct to Martin. The distinction being remaining a free man or a sentence as a slave. Martin feels that he freed this man and gave him a second chance.

The sound of a couple of sirens, one police and one ambulance, emanates from a couple blocks away, growing in volume as they approach. As the police’s BiRotor enters Martin’s line of sight, Martin reaches into another pocket and pulls out a black leather square. He holds it up and it flips open, revealing his Detective’s Badge to ease the cop’s fears before entering this situation.

The cop’s airbike slows and descends, landing a couple meters from Martin and the cop hops off. The human patrolman adopts a relaxed stance due to the presence of Martin’s badge.

“Did you see anything?” the cop asks.

“No, not really. I saw the car speed off but couldn’t get any information.”

The cop glances quickly at the front of Martin’s car just to ease any suspicion. He thought he did it casually enough for Martin not to notice, but he did. Martin doesn’t care, there’s no damage to indicate he had hit the man.

“I looked into it, and he’s a Silvertongue. Probably a rookie, this could be something gang related or maybe a possible or prior victim of his lashing out. Either way we should get him to the care unit immediately,” he says as the ambulance now shows itself and lands. A human and a Cervidae hop out, the second one’s antlers catching on the door frame in a moment of haste. He has them trimmed down to avoid such a situation, a more modern look, but still a few inches are left behind. He has to do this trimming every year.

“Yes, of course, well you’re the detective so the theory is on you. I just do the grunt work,” the cop laughs. 

The human EMT scans the victim’s ID chip.

“Victim is Jebediah Rollins.” She continues to scan the rest of the body with the handheld device, “Looks like two broken ribs causing massive internal bleeding, fractured nasal bridge and then some minor bruising to the face. Symptoms are consistent with something colliding at high speed, but not a normal car, maybe something with a higher ground clearance. Let’s get him in the truck.” The two then hustle and place the man on a stretcher and load him into the ambulance. They hop in and speed off with sirens blaring and lights blazing. Driving safely is more easy in the air because most of the traffic is on the ground, ambulances also have clearance to ascend above the skyline of the buildings and take a direct route when in an emergency.

“Well, Detective, have a good rest of the night.”

“You too, officer.”

“Too bad there’s no surveillance in this district, would be better if it were in Blue or above.”

“Yes, I think that to myself quite often. Good night.”

The cop does a salute/wave and gets back on his BiRotor airbike, which then ascends smoothly with a slight hum and rush of air and then speeds off.

Martin gets in his car and starts it, then continues to glide off to the sounds of Ambulance sirens and the new hit single “50 Shades of Hate” by “Charnival”.

Another Silvertongue off the streets, there’s really nothing the law would have done to him for just attempting a scam of that miniscule size. That’s why the Silvers are so successful, he strokes the fur on his chin which is thinner than a full blooded Ratel’s. Oh yeah, I have to get some sleep tonight. Chief wants me in early because of some high priority assignment he’s giving me. Gut says it has to do with all of these missing persons recently. About damn time someone does something. I couldn’t undertake something that massive without the city’s resources.

Arriving at his apartment, Martin enters with a sigh. He performs his nightly hygiene rituals and pours himself a gin and seltzer which he takes to bed with him like a stuffed animal. With the beverage drained, Martin retires.  

Chapter 4

Aug 1, 3027, 0900 hours: G District, Police Barracks #3

Detective Martin saunters along a practiced path through the “Pen Pusher’s” floor of the barracks. This particular hell of Martin’s is a place he doesn’t enjoy inhabiting. He looks around and remembers his days as a clerk filling out paperwork, and he can feel the tedium emanating off of the workers. The clean, steel desks and the whitewashed overhead lightning did not help to ease Martin’s anxiety. There is a low din comprised of paper shuffling, pens/pencils moving across paper, the clicks of computer terminals, and hushed collaboration. Martin notes that they are not usually this busy. The amount of missing persons cases has skyrocketed over the past month, and the accompanying paperwork is overwhelming which compelled HQ to approve massive amounts of overtime. However, if Martin were to look into it he would notice that most of these reports are coming from Grey District, Blue District, and the Entertainment District. No mention of the Brown District which is, by far, the most affected. Martin makes it halfway through his path when a squad of Oogli fly in through the door, heading toward a back room reserved for special meetings.

Oogli are one of the first sentient races that humans allied with after their arrival to Origin, second to the Ji’quo. They didn’t meet on Origin, that is a story for another day. Oogli are three quarters of a meter tall, blue, humanoid beings with many characteristics that differentiate them from humans. The most noticeable difference is their four, moth-like, transparent wings with a veiny texture similar to an Earth dragonfly’s. The second most noticeable feature, or lack thereof, is that they are completely without sight. Instead of eyes, their nasal slits encompass almost the entire length of their face above the mouth. The slits are very narrow, a couple cm in width, and abut against a nasal ridge of similar texture to a snake’s scale; in fact, their skin is comprised of dark, brilliantly blue scales of a very fine texture, like glitter. They also have a very large mouth that stretches the width of their face filled with small, piranha teeth. On the sides of their head are long, pointed ears eerily similar to a human’s but stretched. They became fast allies of man due to their tribal culture that doesn’t threaten mankind’s cultural outlook. Nowadays they can commonly be found alongside a policeman or detective because of their heightened sense of smell and hearing and their uncanny ability to detect movement around them through the changes in air pressure, which they can also manipulate through means not understood by humans. With this ability the Oogli present quite a challenge in any sort of scuffle or altercation. Oogli are normally passive, so they either run or if forced to fight they exhaust their opponent by either flying circles around them, sucking the air out of the opponent’s lungs, gusts of air impeding movement, etc.

Among this pack is a favorite of Martin’s. She is one of the best trackers Martin has ever met, but this is not the only thing that caught Martin’s fancy. She is rather upbeat, a nice contrast to Martin’s personality that he would never admit drew him to her. She is also naively honest, something that this detective appreciates greatly.

“Hey, Weena.” he says in no particularly loud voice.

A smaller than average Oogli breaks off from the pack and flits over to Martin.

“Hi Marty!” to which Martin makes a little frown. Her voice is louder and more human sounding than one would expect.

“You know I don’t like that, Weenie.” he smirks, “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I’m not entirely sure yet. They just called us in today, priority case is all we know. Are we working together again?”

Martin shrugs, “Also not sure. I just got here. Chief messaged me about it last night.”

A short, stocky woman leans out of her office, “Martin, Weena. In here please.”

“Yes Chief Reynold,” they say in unison and make their way into the Chief’s office with Weena perched on Martin’s shoulder, her favorite spot.

They are the only two in the office and Reynold shuts the door behind them. It’s a modest office, very utilitarian. A water cooler and a small fridge are in one corner, a potted tree of some kind sits in another corner. Awards and commendations litter the wall and shelves alongside various periodicals and books each relating to something about law enforcement, psychology, or philosophy. She circles the room and stands behind her chair with her hands folded on top of it. She is shorter than average, and heavily built. She has a minor amount of fat, but her bulk comes from her above average bone mass and highly tuned muscle mass. Someone that could definitely throw down in a fight. She has jet black, straight hair, dark olive skin, green eyes, and a good deal of freckles spattered about her nose and cheeks. She is wearing a perfectly tailored, black suit with no tie, black pants, and black, highly polished shoes. Her desk is triangular with the point of its two shortest sides pointing toward the door, a perfect desk for arbitration. Her chair is hard wood of an amber color with a high back. She forgoes the harsh overhead lighting for a more subdued floor lamp, something to make it a tiny bit more comfortable, but not overly so. On her desk, its back facing the door, is a photo of her husband and daughter. The only personal item in the room.

“I trust you are both smart enough to figure out why you’re here. So let’s cut to the chase.” Martin nods and Weena glances at him, a human gesture that she picked up to better express herself. Obviously she can’t actually see him the same way humans do, but facial expression seems to be very important to humans. He can explain later.

“The rash of missing person’s has been doubling every week, creating an exponential curve that I can’t stand to idly sit by and watch grow anymore. It was finally decided that our resources are better spent going towards this case.”

Must mean it has reached the blue or gold district, or… the Ji’quo. Martin thinks to himself, cynically.

“The Ji’quo queens are livid at the loss of their children,” Called it, “and it’s reached a tipping point. They are threatening to pull their support of the city unless their losses can be redressed and the city can’t afford to resupply them at this rate of expansion.”

So the Governor doesn’t want to lose his literal helper monkeys. Makes sense, they contribute greatly with their panache for maintenance. I know I would hate to see them go.

“You two are here not only because you’ve requested it countless times in the last month, Martin," she gives Martin a frirk (frown smirk, the opposite direction of a smirk), "but also because we need our best on this.”

“Aww, Chief, I think you’re pretty cool too.” Martin jests, to which Chief Reynold retorts with a frigid glare. Truth is the Chief is more than just stoic, she does actually believe that Martin is the best detective in the city, an unpopular opinion among his peers due to his not being a full blooded human. What an archaic notion, she thinks. Martin took and passed the detective exam at a younger age than any in history, and was in the 99th percentile for the test.

“I want you two to investigate this case to its conclusion. I will assign others to see what they can dig up and I will apprise you if anything is found, but you two are the leads. I know you prefer to work alone or with a single partner, Martin, so I won’t force you to collaborate with any of your peers.”

“Much appreciated, Chief. You know me too well.” he says flatly but is surprised she is finally coming around to his habits.

“Now I don’t want you to investigate individual cases, this is big picture. Each case isn’t coincidental, I am sure they form a pattern. Keep me updated on your progress, and of course any resource you should require is at your disposal. Civilian assistance is authorized, as well. Anything anyone can do is greatly appreciated. This threat is on all of our doorsteps, just choose your confidants wisely.”

“Always do, Chief.” Martin says.

“Any questions? Concerns? Comments?” she asks expectantly.

“Yes, what…”

“Serious questions, Detective.”

“Then no. Good day to you Chief.” and Martin does a bow/nod, turns and opens the door, and walks out toward the office floor.

“You too Martin and Weena, good luck. Be safe.”

“You know us,” Martin says over his shoulder not inhabited by Weena.

“Yes, Martin, I do.”

Martin chuckles and closes the door. He exhales a deep sigh through tightened lips. His perpetually slitted eyes peer out onto the floor scanning the clerk’s domain. He spots an empty desk and walks over to it, sitting himself down at the empty terminal. Weena hops off of Martin’s shoulder and sits cross legged on the desk, facing Martin. Computers are useless to Oogli.

“So, where do we start?” asks Weena.

“Well, I think contrary to everyone else we will try to start at the beginning. Go to the first unsolved case of the past month or so. If it’s growing rapidly, that means it had to have started small. We just follow the growth backwards to when it was really small and investigate the first unsolved case around that time.”

“Oh, yeah that makes sense.” Weena says as if she understands Martin’s thought process.

“This could take awhile, how ‘bout you go see if your friends know anything?”

“You trying to get rid of me, Marty?”

“No, no. Just figured you might get bored.”

“Hmm… I might. If I do, I’ll go do that. For now I can practice my Ko’o’rat.”

“Yeah, that is a good idea. Just don’t blow anyone’s papers around.” he says jovially.

“No, I am going to focus on perception. Trying to expand the limits of what I can sense. It works like a muscle where you can work on it and it gets better. There are some Oogli that can feel disturbances for a whole city block.”

Martin raises his eyebrows, “That is actually really impressive. I never did much research on your people’s abilities. I just know what I’ve observed, mostly from you.”

Weena giggles, “I’m still a little kid compared to the masters of my people. You should see them.”

“I would like to someday, that could be cool, but I’d rather watch you get better.”

“Yeah, someday. I practice whenever I’m bored. Like I know exactly how you breathe and I can pick you out in a crowd without smelling you. You have a unique breathing pattern.”

“Creepy.” he laughs, “Just kidding, that’s cool.” he nudges her with his elbow. “Ok, let’s dig in.”

He starts going through the police data-banks and recording the rate of growth and putting a dot where each report is coming from, with different colors for different weeks. This isn’t exactly accurate as the report’s location doesn’t necessarily reflect where the victim was taken, but it helps to visualize everything.

Weena is sitting cross legged and very still with her hands on her knees, breathing very steadily. She listens to everything going on, and can even hear conversations through the doors in the back of the room, including the very fast language of the Oogli.

“Doesn’t seem like anyone knows anything we don’t, Martin.”

“Yeah? Have you been eavesdropping?” he smiles.

“Anything that is said around an Oogli becomes our conversation, we can’t help but hear it. In our culture, we are able to lower our voices through air manipulation so that we can have private conversations. You humans just blurt everything out into the open.”

Martin laughs, “Yeah, you’re right about that, fair enough.”

Within two hours of their arrival at the barracks, Martin thinks he’s found something. A lonely case, unsolved, that is smack in the center of where Martin calculated the growth curve would start.

“A human named Joe Jibari, construction worker, disappeared while at work on the new Avarice building in the Trade District. That sounds promising, no one even looked at it. Just the typical statement was collected from his co-workers and then nothing, no leads.”

Weena stands up, stretching her legs and arms. “That does sound good, whatever you think Marty,” her stomach issues a long, drawn out whine, “Let’s beat wings and grab some grubs on the way.”

Martin contemplates this, “Yeah, there’s a new grub place I want to try.”

Martin logs off of the computer and stands up to leave. Weena jumps up to his shoulder and sits in her usual spot. She’s not lazy, she just enjoys sitting on his shoulder, with her arm wrapped around the back of his head for support. Martin has gotten used to it.

They make their way outside and into Martin’s car after which Martin starts it up and drives out of the parking lot, toward the Trade District.

Chapter 5

Aug 1, 1230 hours: Trade District

After a hearty lunch of squishy or mostly chitinous creatures, Martin and Weena make tracks to the Avarice building smack dab in the middle of the Trade district. Most of it is still wrapped in its protective construction wrap, from the second floor up. The ground floor has crystal clear window from groin to gullet. Above the windows is a tasteful, letter by letter, illuminated sign spelling out the English word, “Avarice”, in gold. Martin has certain cynical thoughts about the name, whose meaning in the English language is not known to most of those who now speak “Common”. He does believe that it is an absolutely perfect name for a banking establishment and will leave it at that, for fear of coming off crazy to the common conversationalist. Martin pulls open the door and they progress inward, meeting a middle aged, male human exiting the bathroom and is about to call the lift.

Martin brandishes his badge and says “Morning, your foreman around?”

The man turns around to face Martin and says, “Uh, yeah, sure. He should be upstairs in his ‘office’ for lunch. I’ll show you”, and he moves aside and without turning his head hitting the up button for the elevator, which responds immediately with a satisfying “Bing!”

“What’s your name?” Martin asks.

“Willard, you?”

“I’m Detective Martin, and this is Weena.” Weena smiles broadly, her teeth glittering in a non-threatening way, a technique the Oogli have developed and a talent Weena is especially adept at. The elevator door opens and the three enter. Willard hits the button for floor eleven and the lift begins its ascent.

“Did you work with a ‘Joe Jibari’? Would have been about two months ago.”

“Nah, man. I only just started here ‘bout two weeks ago. I ‘eard of ‘im though, he disappeared, yeah?”

Martin clears his throat, “Yes, hence our inquiry into your foreman.”

“Oh, is Grull in trouble?”

“That’s not something I can discuss, but no he’s not.”

The elevator stops moving.”Well this is the floor here, just head out and turn right, ‘e should be there.”

“Thanks, Willard. Have a good day.” and Martin walks out of the lift followed by Weena.

“You too, mate.” and the door closes on Willard.

Martin walks down the hall and Weena follows him after giving a little wave behind her to Willard. He progresses around the corner to the right and approaches an open door through which he strides. It’s a rather barren room due to its intermediate state of construction, with only the desk in the corner that is currently occupied by a Coendou sitting on a stool, as Coendou are want to do. Facing them is a one-meter wall of ¾ meter quills, starting brown at the base and becoming beige toward the tip. Hanging below the quills is a muscular looking, stubby, prehensile tail covered in coarse, beige fur. The quills are lightly swaying back and forth and the tail is moving side to side. A light yet deep hum is issuing from the Coendou.

“Hello?” interrupts Martin.

The humming stops and the figure lurches around, its quills clacking against themselves and the wall. The individual’s pointy face is now peering over top its shoulder.

“Oye, what?” He puts his clawed hand on the desk and slides off the stool, standing only a bit shorter than Martin. This Coendou has mostly brown fur on his chest and face, the fur of his chest being slightly obscured by a bright yellow construction vest designed specifically for his species.

Martin shows his badge, “Morning, my name is Detective Martin and this is Weena.”

The Coendou’s pronounced supraorbital ridge furrows and the dark, wiry eyebrows swish about. It’s not an expression of anger, more of confusion. “Well, I’m Grull, and I’m not sure what you guys want. We have all of our permits and inspection certificates if you want.”

Martin puts up his hand and closes his eyes, “No, I couldn’t care less about the continuation of your building.”

Grull exhales and grabs the stool and sits on it, “Ah, good. So…” he crosses his arms which have dabbles of black strewn into the brown fur, ending in finely furred, five finger hands with 3cm claws. “What can I do ya for?”

Martin mirrors Grull by casually folding his arms, and then spreading his legs slightly to the width of his shoulders and leaning back slightly, pushing his stomach outward. Weena stumbles for a moment with her arm arrangement and then also crosses hers and leans against Martin’s head with her back and turns her head to “look” at Grull, another expression she’s learned: to angle her face towards humans she is talking to.

“So, full disclosure,” Martin begins, “I want to come from a position of transparency. We are looking into the staggering amounts of missing persons within the last couple months, and we want to question you about your employee Joe Jibari - who disappeared around the beginning of the upswing of occurrences - to see if you can recall anything important. In no way are you under investigation, not yet at least.” and with the last of those words frumps his bottom lip up in front of his upper lip and squeezes his right eye really small in an exaggerated accusatory stare. He returns his face to normal and laughs. This disarms Grull with a chuckle. “Of course there’s no way any one person can be behind such a plot.” He stops for a moment and takes note of what he just said with a mental Hmm! Martin levels a keen look at Grull, “So is there anything you remember about that day? I assume you know the day in question.”

Grull reaches up with his left hand and scratches his left temple, “Well, not really. I don’t remember seein’ no one that didn’t belong, and JJ was punched in the whole day, he didn’t leave early or nothin’.” He takes a moment looking at the floor with his chin in his hand and making contemplative noises, trying to recall or relive that day.

“Really anything at this point will be helpful. Anything to get in our minds as a detail, however insignificant.”

Grull pauses after this statement and then, “JJ was always a decent worker, not the best, ya know, but he was reliable. Never really had any issues with callin’ in sick or slackin’ off. His disappearance was really a shock to everyone here, he wouldn’t just walk out.”

“That’s good to know, unfortunately. Fortunate because it crosses off some variables that would lead to a wild goose chase.”

“Goose?” Grull asks confused.

“Old saying. Something I learned from my mother. Moving on, if the victim in question didn’t leave of his own accord and then vanish into nothing, that means something happened against his will. You really don’t remember anything suspicious?”

Grull hums with his attempts at recollection. “If ya like, I can start at the beginning of the day. I remember a lot about it because the day was so unusual.”

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“I woke up a little early that day…”

“You can probably skip everything until you leave the house.”

“Ah, right. Ok. So I stop at a local shop I frequent, Crock’s shop. ‘e’s a full blooded Ratel, that bloke!” he says with what Martin interprets as some sort of wonder, or respect. Martin glares at him with his typical, half-lidded expression and Grull starts. “Oh, er well, not that there’s anythin’ wrong with you ‘alfbreeds.” Martin grunts a laugh, more like a subdued “Hmph!” Grull gulps in such a way as to insinuate he was trying to swallow a golf ball. “So, I went to pick up some scrap for a project I was workin’ on.” He stops and leans closer to Martin, “I’m an artist when I’m not here,” he smiles a crooked, toothy smile which quickly fades with the memory of his previous comment. Martin nods and waves his hand in a single, circular revolution to indicate that Grull should continue. “Er, so I picked that up and…” He pauses a moment in thought and shakes his head. “...and drove the rest of the way to work, here.” He finishes that thought triumphantly.

Martin stares at him blankly, “Is that all?”

“Oh, well no. I got to work and put my bag in the break room. Uhhh…” he thinks again for a moment, “I saw JJ through the day until lunch, then after lunch is the first time I noticed ‘im missing.”

“How long after lunch?”

Grull whistles through his teeth for a second, “Not sure, probably ‘bout an hour, so around 1300, 1330. I went to look for ‘im in the breakroom and didn’t find ‘im, thought maybe ‘e was workin’ on somethin’ and took a late lunch. Uhh…” Martin raises his eyebrows inquisitively. “I did notice an old, rusty cooler in the corner that wasn’t s’posed to be there, never saw it before. Too big to be brought in by someone just for the day for one lunch.”

So… nothing is what you’re saying, Grull. Martin rolls his eyes subtly. “So that was the first you noticed he was missing? Any word from your subordinates? Did you ask them?”

“‘Course I asked ‘em. I went right to ‘is direct supervisor, but ‘e was just as clueless. We called JJ’s wife, nothin’. We called ‘is mum, nothin’. He had a sort of unstable way of carryin’ ‘imself, so we gave ‘im a cooldown period for the rest of the day, we thought maybe ‘e got frustrated with somethin’. He was a good worker, so we owed him that much, didn’t think it would end up bein’ the wrong choice. We made too many excuses,’e was gone, and we blamed ‘is personality, thought it was somethin’ he did on occasion that we didn’t know about.”

“Alright, man. It’s no one’s fault except the parties responsible for physically taking him. Who is to know he wasn’t gone forever by the end of lunch? Still, nothing you could have done.”

“Better security maybe…”

“Well, there is that. This is why we are here, though, to stop this at its roots. Simply more security won’t do anything to stop the intent, the cause. That’s why we need any and all clues that we can glean.”

“Right, so after work that day I still didn’t know anything about JJ yet. I picked up my bag of scraps and left for ‘ome. I got ‘ome and left my junk in the garage, had dinner and went to bed. Normal night. Oh… wait no. It wasn’t normal.”

“How so? What happened?”

“Well, I just remembered that that’s the night my dog went missing. The garage door was open, I must ‘ave forgot to close it, and I guess he got out into the garage area and runnoft.”

“Did he come back?” Weena chimes in.

“No, never saw ‘im again.” Grull gets really solemn.

Weena hops down to the floor and walks over and hugs Grull’s leg. “It’s ok, Mr. Grull. I’m sorry you lost your doggy.”

Grull looks down and pats her head, “Ah, it’s alright. I’ve accepted it.”

“Well, we are sorry to have made you relive that,” offers Martin, as close to a consolation as he gets with strangers, “It seems like you have given us all you can, which may yet prove to be useful.”

“Thank you Grull,” beams Weena from the floor.

“Is there somewhere you and your crew hang out after hours? So that we can mingle and ask them about JJ.”

Grull thinks a moment, “Yeah, most of us usually end up at Rex’s bar in Grey District, you know it?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen it around, always really busy.”

“Yeah, ‘specially after 1900 when we get outta here. I don’t usually go, family an’ all, but those of us with nothin’ else to do end up there. I’ll probably be there tonight, actually.”

“Well, we may see you there then. We will see what we have slated in for tonight.”

“Nothing Martin, not usually.” quips Weena.

Martin shoots her a look that she pretends not to notice.

“Right, well I gotta get back to work, lunch break is over. Good luck with your investigation.” Grull smiles and offers his hand for a shake which Martin meets firmly.

“Thanks, we might need it.” and Martin turns and walks toward the elevator. Weena pushes her hand up towards Grull and shakes his hand lightly and flits off after Martin, landing on his shoulder, giving the top of his head a little skritch.

On the elevator ride down to the lobby Weena says, “I didn’t know you are a half-breed.”

Martin stiffens and retorts, “Maybe if you had eyes, you could see it.”

Weena giggles in a melodic way, “Well I did notice you’re not as pungent as the other Ratel, but I thought that was just your hygiene.” If Weena could wink, she would do so right now, but Martin can hear it in her voice. He grunts a laugh and smiles despite himself. This is what Martin likes about Weena in particular, she’s blunt and she speaks her mind. “So what are you thinkin’ Marty?”

“I think you’re probably hungry, it’s been more than an hour since you ate last, so we can go for food soon, but I just have to make a stop first, totally professional of course.”

The two make it to the car and Martin drives off with Weena in the passenger seat.