Chapter 3 “The Pearl” 31

Back at the station, Cala watches in silence as Nataniel prepares the corpse of the demigoddess for autopsy. Standing by the door, her eyes linger on the blueish skin of the female, her skin made pale by the bloodless livor of death.

“Do you ever talk to them?” the Constable finally asks, her arms crossed over her chest as if to keep the touch and scent of death in the room from reaching her hands.

“Do I ever do what?” Nate asks back in absent tones, the focus of his attention remaining on his current task.

“Talk to the people you autopsy,” Cala explains, her voice solemn and restrained.

Nate looks up at Cala, his eyes unfocused for a moment as if doesn’t even recognize her. As her words sink in, his gaze once again moves down to the cadaver. “I don’t autopsy people,” he says flatly. “I autopsy dead bodies.”

Cala rolls her eyes at this. “All right, then. Do you ever talk to the dead bodies?”

“No.” Nate shakes his head. “I don’t talk to di dead, di dead don’t talk to me.” He looks up at Cala once more, smiles and winks. “We have a deal.”

The Constable quickly looks away, hoping her cheeks don’t look quite as red as they feel. A quick glance back at Nataniel and she sees he is again focusing on the corpse. “They just look so… exposed, lying naked on the table like that,” she notes. “Like, they’re not entitled to dignity anymore.”

The doctor merely shrugs. “Están muertos, cariño. They don’t even care if I defile di bodies.” His head shoots up at her, his brows furrowing. “And I don’t defile di bodies. I just try to find out how dey died.” He pokes the cadaver’s shoulder lightly. “Muerta, de qué moriste?”

Sighing, Cala watches Nataniel working for a minute, whispering a short prayer for the demigoddess’ soul as she does so. “Bye, Nate,” she says, once the prayer is over.

Hasta, bella,” the doctor replies, raising his head for a moment to watch her leave.

Now alone again, Nate leans over the body and starts inspecting the roof of the corpse’s mouth, looking at the crossbow bolt sticking out and thinking of a way to remove it. A wandering glance catches the demigoddess’ still-open eyes and Nate straightens up, feeling somewhat uncomfortable around a cadaver for the first time in a long time. He hesitates for a moment.

“So…” he half stutters. “Que tal? How are you doing?” He thinks about it for a moment. “I mean… besides being dead.”

Only silence answers his queries. “Imbécil, Nataniel!” he admonishes himself,shaking his head at his own silliness. “La chica está muerta, no te va a responder.”

Resuming silence he works on removing the bolt. It takes half an hour to do so, mostly due to the absolute need to avoid the deadly, poison-laced tip. When the corpse finally relents and lets him have his prize, he smiles contentedly, examining the bolt under a lamp.

“Did you know that a handmade crossbow bolt can be as unique as a fingerprint?” he comments to the dead demigoddess, satisfaction at his accomplishment almost making him feel comfortable with the one-sided conversation.

“What are you doing?” Syro’s voice rings all of a sudden, startling the good doctor and almost making him drop the bolt.

It takes Nataniel a couple of deep breaths before he can explain, “Well, I’m just… having a little chat with di body. So it doesn’t feel so…” he gestures vaguely, bolt in hand. “Strange.”

“That’s just stupid!” Syro exclaims. “It’s a dead body, Nataniel. It doesn’t feel at all.”

“I know that!” Nataniel retorts. “Shouldn’t you be analysing some water, or something?”

“Yes, about that…” Syro looks down at the vial in his hand and reaches forward, offering it, the clear liquid it contains sloshing slightly inside. “Do you mind drinking this?”

“Is that di evil water?!” Nate inquires.

“Oh, come on, Nataniel!” Syron waves him off with his free hand. “Water is not evil! A bit bland at times, but not evil per se. Besides, I boiled it.”

“Vete de aqui con la agua mala!” Nate yells at him. “I’m not drinking that!”

Syro looks at his friend with sincere disappointment. “I thought you were a man of science, Nataniel. We who are educated need to sacrifice for knowledge.”

He offers the vial again.

“I give already at di church! Go sacrifice your own body!” Nate shoos him.

Syro stares at the doctor for awhile but eventually relents and leaves.

Waiting to hear the door to Syro’s workshop close, Nate then returns to the task at hand and whispers to the corpse, “Don’t pay attention to him. He’s a bit loco en la cabeza.”


Chapter 3 “The Pearl” 13

“Inspector, sir!”

“Yes, GPC Patel. Do you have the water sample?” Sky takes the proffered flask.

“Sir…the streets are very quiet, much more than usual. Those who are awake seem, uh, drained? Like they have no energy.” The young probationary constable looks rather exhausted himself.

“Did you get a good day’s sleep before work, Patel?” Sky asks.

“Ah, sir, I never do…I still haven’t gotten used to being on the night watch.” He smiles, embarrassed.

“No worries, Patel. You’ll adjust. Just…try not to drink the water.” Sky dismisses the probe and heads for the basement.

“Professor Syron?” he inquires from the doorway.

“Ah, Inspector, you have the water.” The forensics technician takes the flask and immediately starts pouring small amounts of it into different glass containers, the shapes and names of which mystify Sky.

“I am sorry to have you working so late, Syron,” Sky says.

Without looking up, the scientist says, “Hm? Late? Is it late? No matter. You have brought me an interesting problem. Thank you.” And with that he appears to forget the inspector’s existence. Sky hangs around watching him for a few minutes, then drifts back upstairs, to find Corporal Kaur looking for him.

“Corporal! You look exhausted.” Indeed, she looks drawn and pale.

“Sorry, sir,” she replies.

“Um, that’s not really something you need to apologize about, Kaur.”

“Sorry, sir. I, uh…” She yawns. “Oh, I’m sorry! It’s barely past midnight and I’m already yawning.”

“It’s that water, Corporal. Just try not to drink it.”

“How are we going to get by without drinking water, sir? Oh, can we boil it to get rid of this…taint?”

“Not sure yet. If you must drink, boil it first. Make tea with it…that’ll help wake you up.”

“Yes sir.”

Sky looks at the clock and thinks about Alma and Gwydion. They should’ve been back by now. “Corporal, do you know the way to the Oracle’s temple?”

She yawns again. “Sorry….sure, I know.”

“Very well…I may ask you to run over there and check the place out a little later.”

“Sure…sir. I’ll just rest at my desk until then…”

Sky watches her head nodding. “Corporal,” he says gently, “go have a lie-down. I think there are some rooms above the bar you could nap in.”

Aliyah suddenly sits straight up, blushing. “N-No sir! I’m awake! Totally awake!”

“Are you all right?”

“Absolutely fine, sir!”

Chapter 2 “Snakes” 12

Going downstairs, to the basement, Alma takes a quick look around, looking for signs of Mayumi. She doesn’t see anyone, but she hears voices engaged in idle chatting in the room immediately to her left. Although the door is open, allowing her to see an office equipped with furniture and a number of instruments that quickly reveal this room to be a physician’s office, she still knocks, capturing the attention of the two men sitting within. Ah, yes… the two mortals who always seem to keep away from the other officers…

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Alma says in a polite tone. “I wonder if you have seen a Bunny walking around these parts?”

“A rabbit walking around?” one of the mortals, a well-built, pale man with hair far too grey for the relatively young age his face indicates, dressed in loose leather overalls partially covered by a heavily stained lab coat, asks. “Has one of my rabbits escaped?”

“No, Syro!” the other mortal replies. This one also appears to be young, his tanned skin covering a friendly face, crowned by short dark hair. He adjusts his pristine white lab coat as he says, “You haven’t had any rabbits since di whole Fifi incident.”

“It was all Machado’s fault!” the man now identified as Syro cries. “Fifi would have never hurt anyone!”

“That’s not what he said when she bit off a piece of his ear, loco!” the darker mortal says, before turning to Alma. “Anyway, I recognize you, señorita. You are one of the new Guardia Dei, yes?”

Her mana headache taking this chance to grab Alma’s attention again, while a small voice in the back of her mind begins to bother her with a real concern that these mortals may not be fully rational, the goddess replies in what she hopes is still a gentle and polite voice. “Yes, I am. My name is Alma.”

The slightly saner mortal is the first to respond. “Well, this is Syron, our genio loco,” he says, pointing at the man in overalls. “And I am Nataniel, di house physician.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” the man in overalls waves at the goddess. “Call me Syro. Everyone else does.”

“And call me Nataniel,” the other mortal says. “Everyone else calls me Nate,” he adds in a slightly resentful tone.

Alma nods slowly, in a subtle bow, all the while wishing she had never stepped into this room. “Very well, Nataniel, Syro, it is a pleasure to meet you. Now, regarding the Bunny…”

“Alma… Alma…” Nataniel mutters as if trying to remember something.  “Hey, aren’t you la señorita they say created bunnies?”

“Bunnies?” Syron’s head shoots up. “You created rabbits? How amazing! What instruments did you use? I’ve been trying to clone them for years!”

“I did not ‘clone’ anything,” Alma replies, her patience growing thin. “I am not even sure what you mean by cloning.”

“Syro, she is a goddess. She uses magic,” Nate explains to his friend.

“Hmpf… magic…” Syro grunts in clear disapproval of the word. “Tri-modal unstable phase-shifting non-electromagnetic radiation, you mean.”

Como lo quieras. I’ll just call it magic for short.”

“Anyway,” Syro goes on. “I could use your help in creating some rabbits to serve as test subjects. The powers that be have refused to give me a budget to get more. They claim rabbits are expensive,” he says, rolling his eyes.

“If you hadn’t insisted on going forward with that two-headed rabbit you made…brr!” Nate shivers in apparent terror.

“OH, C’MON!! FIFI WAS NEARLY PERFECT!!” Syro shouts at him. After a second thought, he adds in a softer tone, “Sure, she couldn’t feed herself and her teeth tended to fall out every now and again… But I was so very close…”

“Gentlemen, please,” Alma intervenes, rubbing her eyes in sheer pain. “All I need to know is if you have seen a young girl with bunny ears walking about.”

“No, señora. No chicas with bunny ears here. Maybe she is upstairs, where all di offices are?”

“Yes, maybe she is there.” Alma immediately takes the opportunity to end the conversation and leave. “Thank you, Doctor Nataniel.”

De nada. Hey, I know I’m not trained to treat gods or anything but you look very pale, señora,” Nate notices.

“Oh, worry not,” the goddess smiles to assure him. “I will be fine. Thank you for your warm reception and for the information, gentlemen. I am sure I will be seeing you around,” she says, turning to leave.

“Can I test some weapons out on you?” Syro suddenly asks, making Alma freeze in her steps and turn to face him. “They are nonlethal, I assure you. At least I think so… And as a goddess, you probably shouldn’t mind,” he shrugs in almost absolute confidence.

“I –” Alma stutters, not quite processing the request.

“Go, señora,” Nate saves her. “Get out of here before he turns you into one of his bunnies.”

Alma nods in grateful agreement and leaves the basemen. She heads upstairs, her head pounding again. As she climbs the stairs, the small voice in the back of her mind screams at her, What, oh what have you done to get yourself sent to this hell hole?!

Chapter 1: “The First Day” 6s

Everyone is waiting in a room next to the open-plan office area where the constables and corporals have their desks. The assembly room can just accommodate the full complement of police at this station, and even then it’s a tight fit.

Wait, not everyone is here. He does a quick count – all the mortals, the Guardia Popula, are here, but with annoyance he sees that only one of his two Guardia Dei sergeants is present. He recognizes her for a goddess immediately – no mortal would dominate a room like that, radiating power and aloof grace. She stands slightly to the side as if avoiding being too close to the mortal officers. Or are they the ones trying to stay away from her? She is so shockingly beautiful that Sky must force himself to ignore it, giving her only a small nod of acknowledgment, which she returns with a subtle movement of her head, before turning his gaze elsewhere. She is not wearing the standard uniform, he notes, and this compounds his annoyance, since he has, for nearly the first time, actually worn the full, proper dress uniform. The part of him that constantly examines himself for signs of backsliding, giving in to his dark side, laughs at him. He has no reason to be annoyed at her, after all. Gods have their own dress codes. It was his choice to dress as he did, hers to wear those lovely blue robes.

He makes eye contact with the mortal sergeant and approaches him. Sky takes out the envelope the Commander had given him the day before and hands it over to the Sergeant. “My orders, Sergeant Machado,” he says, hoping he pronounced the name correctly.

Though the sergeant surely knew about the change of command well before Sky did, he follows protocol, taking out the orders and reading them, his very round, very dark face serious. Satisfied that nothing is out of order, he comes to full attention and snaps a precise salute. “Inspector Tuma-Sukai, as per orders from the Commander of the Guardia, I turn over command of this station to you, sir!”

Sky salutes in return, attempting to mirror the man but knowing that his long habit of ironically sloppy salutes probably shows. “Sergeant, I take command from you.” He brings his hand down, and the sergeant does as well a moment later. Then Sky holds his hand out. Machado looks down at it, his face registering mild surprise, then without betraying any other emotion, takes the god’s hand and shakes it firmly.

Sky smiles briefly. “I understand you will need to promote two constables to corporal, Sergeant.” He knows Machado was himself only promoted from corporal to sergeant a few days before–the Three Rats Station had been so small that it had only rated a corporal as a commanding officer until now. “Have you already made your choices?”

Machado nods, as if being allowed to choose his own corporals were perfectly natural, when in actuality it was the prerogative of the new commanding officer. He beckons over a tall, powerfully built young woman who is grinning nervously, her long wavy brown hair in a thick plait running down her back, and a young man with green eyes and pale skin turning paler as he is presented to his new lieutenant. Machado says, “May I introduce Constable Aliyah Kaur and Constable Phillipus Stathos? They have both served under me for years, and served very well. They will make fine leaders.”

Sky looks them over. He finds himself unable to resist the urge to smile at the big, bright grin on Kaur’s brown face, and his slight smile makes her smile even more. He tries to look reassuring to the nervous young man beside her. “Of course I am required to review their records before giving final approval, Sergeant, but I think we can take that as given at this point. I assume you have their corporal’s bars already?”

“Of course, sir,” Machado replies, taking two small boxes out of the pocket of his dress jacket. Kaur giggles from pure joy for a moment, then tries to cover it with a fake cough, and snaps back to attention. Machado shoots her a glare, then offers the boxes to Sky.

Sky waves that off and says, “Please, Sergeant. You should do the honor,” and is happy to see Machado finally smile.

The sergeant removes the single bar of a constable from each of Kaur’s shoulders first. He looks at the corporal’s bars, weighing them in his hand, and says to her, like a proud father, “These were mine, you know –”

The ceremony is interrupted as a god wearing the finest Guardia dress uniform Sky has ever seen suddenly opens the door and enters. He has sergeant’s stripes on his shoulder, and but for a livid bruise forming on his cheek, he is as handsome as the other Guardia Dei sergeant is beautiful. Sky locks eyes with him and, as the newcomer opens his mouth to offer some excuse, freezes him with a look of cold anger at the interruption.

Breaking off his gaze, Sky notices that the mortal cops in the room are staring at him in shock. He curses himself and tamps down his anger, knowing what his face looks like, the fierce black tattoos beginning to bloom on his skin. He brings himself back under control and signals for Machado to continue.

The human sergeant finishes the ceremony in unsmiling silence, then salutes the new corporals, as does Sky, who shakes their hands and offers his congratulations, afterwards standing aside so that the two immortal sergeants can do the same. He notices that they both avoid his gaze, the latecomer trying to hide his nervousness, the goddess not hiding her coldness towards him. It is only then that he realizes that, in trying to ignore her beauty, he ended up ignoring her entirely, allowing himself to get caught up in the pleasure of the promotion ceremony, when he ought to have addressed her immediately after taking command of the station.

He sighs. Protocol has never been his strong point. “Sergeant Alma, Sergeant Gwydion,” he says, prompting them to face him and come to attention, the goddess so perfectly and completely that it feels like a rebuke to him, the handsome god more slowly. He returns their salutes. “At ease. Welcome to Three Rats Station.” He looks at the entire assembly: three sergeants, two of the Guardia Dei, one Guardia Popula; two corporals and nine constables, all more or less human, though he wasn’t sure about the one with skin the color of dark red wine; and two more mortals standing at the end of the room, one apparently a doctor from his clothes, the other perhaps some kind of lab tech, both showing no interest whatsoever in the little show unfolding before them.

“Though some of you are veterans of Three Rats, I know we Guardia Dei are not the only ones who are new here. Welcome to all of you. We have a lot of work to do, getting this station set up and running smoothly. I look forward to getting to know each of you over the next few days, and I hope you will come to me if you have anything you think I need to know. Though of course…” he says, at a look from Sgt. Machado, “…you should go through the chain of command in normal circumstances. I’ll leave you now to Sgt. Machado, as I need to speak with my fellow Guardia Dei. Carry on.”

He glances at each of his immortal sergeants and heads back to his office, assuming they will follow.