A Big Sky story.
This was the first size fantasy story I ever wrote down with the intention of publishing for other size fantasists to read and respond to. At the time, I had no expectation of writing any other stories, so I kinda threw the kitchen sink at it. You can even see my repressed shrunken women fantasies trying to break through. It’s one of my longer stories, originally posted in weekly installments.
Fun Fact: this story was partially conceived in response to an early draft screenplay of what a few years later would become Alexander Payne’s Downsizing. My character Benjamin Payne is named after the director, and I hope they share the same fate.
In 2015, scientists in Tokyo researching alternate energy technologies discovered an astounding phenomenon, later called the “Jedlina-Kuriyama effect.” This phenomenon radically transformed matter, both inorganic and organic, permitting human habitation with greatly increased density and decreased food and energy consumption. Application of the J-K effect (or “jaking”) was at first restricted to prisoners to relieve overcrowding. Later, it was made a mandatory condition of receiving government assistance. Because reversing the J-K effect was astronomically expensive, being jaked was in effect a life sentence. Eventually, the jaked population was restricted to underground warrens “for their own protection.” As climate change began to displace millions, most refugees were jaked and resettled in the warrens.
By 2035, warren society had become dramatically segregated from “Big Sky Country,” where people were still free to walk in the open air. While still connected by telecommunications and limited commerce, the warrens were cities within cities, with their own governments, cultures, and economies. Living outside the warrens became a privilege, and being jaked was just a DUI or a bad credit report away.
Detective Marco Guzman was unconcerned. Captain Lockeridge’s text was unremarkable. Missing person. Benjamin Payne, 32. Public Health physician. Entered the warrens five years ago after catching the Hawaiian Boatlift. Got married just before med school, divorced before (during?) the Boatlift. Once in the warrens, immediately signed onto PH and did his time in Immigration. Now he had a steady gig on Lakeshore Drive. Guys like Payne didn’t vanish without acting out in a very obvious way. Guzman fully expected to learn of some vengeful lover or loan shark before the end of the day.
Marco’s first stop was Payne’s office to interview his co-workers, including S. Duvalier, the woman who reported him missing. After showing his badge to Duvalier, Marco wanted to see Payne’s office. He didn’t bother with Payne’s terminal, as it had been locked out since was Payne was reported missing, and Toby Cowan, a tech consultant for the precinct, had already backed it up. None of Payne’s co-workers had noticed anything resembling the outburst Marco had expected, although they all admired his dedication to the vaccination program. About six months ago, Payne started visiting the Embarcadero, providing free TB and HIV vaccinations to the throngs of unemployed and shiftless that collected down there. Last month, these visits increased to twice or three times a week. Nothing jumped out at Marco during his inspection of Payne’s office, but he imaged it and boxed up the hard copy files before he left.
Payne’s residence had less and more to say. It didn’t appear that he had packed for a trip, and perishable goods were in evidence. Payne’s home terminal wasn’t unexpectedly sophisticated. In a bathroom drawer Marco found a dozen empty bottles of the latest generation of opioid, all prescribed by Payne to a “Jerry Fontana.”
Marco went into his office and called up the virtual versions of Payne’s work and home terminals. The first thing he checked was the file on Jerry Fontana. As he suspected, Fontana was a shell; no photo, and the address was in a block Marco knew to have been undergoing decontamination for months. Marco’s phone chirped with Cowan’s tone.
“Got it,” answered Marco, “thanks.”
“Looks like someone tried to delete a bunch of messages a day after Payne allegedly disappeared.”
“According to this dumb system with no biometrics, it was Payne.”
“Or someone with his password.”
“Lemme see ‘em.”
They went back about six months. No text or vid; just attached files. The files were all medical histories. They each recorded a single encounter with Payne when he performed a basic physical and took several blood samples. The lab reports were included (Payne apparently did the blood work himself). No genetic workup at all. Curiously, Payne also did full-body 3D imaging of each patient. Unclothed.
Twenty patients, thirteen female, seven male. No detected pathogens or biochemical imbalances. All residing in the Embarcadero.
“Who’s the recipient?” asked Marco.
“You’re gonna love this,” snorked Cowan. “Hamilton Chadwell, Sausalito.”
“Ayup. Up top. Your boy was sending confidential medical records to someone in Big Sky.”
Centurion Priyanka Mukhopadhyay was very concerned. She had just commenced a major investigation and she had a number of interviews scheduled today. Yet she was obliged to go into the office to take a video call. Why couldn’t they call her phone?
She paused before entering the headquarters on Nob Hill to view her reflection in a storefront window to confirm that he dress tunic was in order. She was more concerned about not appearing lax in front of her subordinates and in front of her superior, but of course every corner of HQ was under constant video surveillance. As she made her way up to her office, Priyanka had to politely greet a handful of colleagues, but she successfully avoided her boss, Tribune Kobick.
Priyanka settled at her desk and went through the three-part authentication process to sign into the Cohort server. Mohi, her virtual assistant, prompted her with the incoming call. She accepted, and was startled by the disheveled appearance of her caller.
“This is Centurion Mukhopadhyay.”
“Uh, good morning, ma’am. My name is Marco Guzman.”
“I understood this call was to be from a police detective.”
“That’s right, ma’am. I’m a detective with the warren police, precinct 902-12A.”
Mohi identified the prefix as the signifying the nearest local warren, in Oakland. Priyanka tried to stifle her annoyance.
“This is most irregular, Detective. I would have expected to first hear from our liaison at Warren Administration.”
“Yes, ma’am, but WA red tape is less than helpful. My investigation is time-sensitive, which I imagine you, as a fellow law enforcement officer, can well appreciate.”
“Professional courtesies aside, Detective, I must ask how you arranged this call.”
“A mutual acquaintance spoke highly of your diligence and, um, sidestepped WA protocol.”
“And who might this resourceful acquaintance be?”
“Toby, er, Tobias Cowan.”
Mohi began to display Cowan’s rap sheet, but Priyanka didn’t need the prompt. Cowan’s hack of the iBank counterparty epicycle fund was as brazen as it had been clever. Her Prefect had received the credit, but it was Priyanka who had traced each of Cowan’s 20,000 proxies.
“Does Mr. Cowan assist your, ah, department often?”
“We rely on all parts of our community, ma’am. I’m well aware of Mr. Cowan’s proclivities and I assure you he is properly incented to cooperate.”
“That’s gratifying to hear. What could justify this . . . enterprising inquiry?”
“I’m investigating a missing person, and the subject apparently sent confidential medical records to an individual outside the warrens without authorization.”
“I see. And what evidence do you have?”
“Messages and attached files that someone tried to delete after the subject went missing.”
“Did Mr. Cowan have a role in the discovery of this evidence?”
“Has Mr. Cowan provided you with routing certification confirming delivery of these messages?”
“No ma’am, because it wouldn’t stand up in front of a judge, as I believe you know.”
“That’s right, Detective.”
“But you could request a warrant for the route cert.”
“Detective, even if I granted the provenance of your evidence, a warrant request of this sort would require a valid extradition order from Warren Administration, and I’m presuming you haven’t initiated that process, correct?”
“No ma’am, I haven’t.”
Priyanka set her jaw. Guzman pressed on.
“But if you looked at the attachments, you’d see why I need—“
“Detective, if you transfer these confidential records to me, I’d have much more solid evidence of your violation of the patient’s privacy.”
“Yes, ma’am. May I at least describe the subjects of the records?”
“Only in the most general way, Detective.”
“Of course. Twenty perfectly healthy people, ages between 18 and 27, all unemployed, and each file included full body nude images.”
“Any other connection?”
“Only that they all received free vaccination from the missing subject, Dr. Benjamin Payne, and they all reside on the most destitute level in this precinct.”
Priyanka pursed her lips and sat back. She should end this now and get on with her own investigation. Pursuing this further would at best disappoint and at worst jeopardize her career. She looked the warren detective in the eye for another second, then took the fatal step.
“And who allegedly received these files?”
“Hamilton Chadwell, Taxpayer No. 04-29-11-86.”
Mohi displayed the shield icon indicating Chadwell’s dossier was outside her standard remit. She hated that icon.
“I’m sorry, Detective, but procedurally and legally I cannot help you.”
The detective looked resigned. “I understand, ma’am.”
“Call me when you have that extradition order. And Mr. Cowan, as I’m sure you’re listening: be good.”
Captain Barry Lockeridge was livid. “You bypassed WA protocol and contacted a Federal Cohort officer without authorization?”
Marco sat with a relaxed posture while Lockeridge paced and fumed.
“And you employed a known convicted felon to place the call?”
“C’mon, Barry, we’ve used Toby on a dozen cases.”
“He never went outside the warren for us before.”
“It was the next logical step. Don’t you want to know why Payne sent those files to Chadwell?”
“Maybe, if it’s not a frame-up by whoever monkeyed with Payne’s machine. Or by Cowan. Who knows how many grudges that nerd has been nursing?”
Marco made a sour face. Lockeridge was a master of tactical obtuseness.
“What did you find on the people whose files Payne allegedly mailed out?”
“No one’s seen any of them for weeks. Not many witnesses were very good with dates, but I couldn’t find anyone who’d seen somebody more than a week or so after Payne sent Chadwell their file.”
“Anybody see any of these people with Payne?”
“Sort of. Jill Lightman escorted her sister Kim to Payne’s Embarcadero ‘clinic’ a month ago. Payne sent Kim’s file to Chadwell three weeks ago. Jill talked to what she described as a nurse, who said that Payne was inside.”
“Did Lightman ID this nurse?”
“Nope. Couldn’t remember the name, and I showed her images of all of Payne’s staff; no hits.”
“So you have no direct evidence linking Payne to these other disappearances. This fake nurse coulda used Payne’s name to rope these people into a back alley, doped ‘em up and had her way with ‘em. Sounds much more plausible than your Big Sky wild goose chase.”
Marco snorted. Lockeridge had challenged his hunches before, but never so derisively.
“Okay,” said Marco, “so where’s Payne, then?”
“The fake nurse probably did for him, too.”
“Why? This thing was running for months. Why attract attention by vanishing Payne?”
“Payne probably found out, and she had to shut him up.”
“Why didn’t he contact the police?”
“Might not have had a chance to. Check out this ‘clinic’ in the Embarcadero. Betcha find Payne or least one of the missing people. Or part of ‘em.”
The “clinic” was easy enough to find, once Cowan pulled the plans. The Embarcadero was the lowest full-size level in the precinct, and the street life was correspondingly feral. Payne had leased the space for an entire year and paid up front. The landlord never visited the clinic, but in that he was no more negligent than any other property owner in the Embarcadero.
The clinic consisted of six rooms. All the gear necessary to perform the exams described in the records was present, even the 3D imaging scanner. A dumb terminal was on a desk in the office, and Marco quickly installed the rootkit that Cowan had sent him. He really wanted to get their forensic tech in here, but it might be days before an opening.
In the back of the exam room Marco noticed a door ajar. It opened on an empty closet, and the rear wall looked much newer than the other walls. The latch for the hidden door was under a tall shelf. Opening the door, Marco stepped into a dark hallway.
From the plans, Marco knew that the rear wall of the closet bordered on an abandoned sector of the warren where he could expect no power and poor ventilation. At one end of the hallway was a locked door. At the other end was a service elevator. An electrical panel on the opposite wall was humming.
Marco drew a deep breath, then pressed the elevator call button. The car took over a minute to arrive, and when the door opened Marco was greeted by a stale, dusty odor. The buttons on the panel inside the elevator indicated stops on 24 levels above the Embarcadero. If the elevator stopped on every level in the precinct, the top level was well above that where Marco resided and worked.
Marco pressed the button for the first stop above the Embarcadero. Nothing happened. He tried each button in succession with the same result until he reached the top button, which lit up. The elevator doors closed and the car slowly ascended.
The doors opened to reveal an unfamiliar level as dark and dank as the hallway Marco had just left, with even older design and fixtures. A pair of wheeled tracks in the dust led out of the elevator car and turned left. Marco followed the tracks through parts of the warren that hadn’t been inhabited in over five years.
The tracks terminated in the middle of a hall next to a large ventilation grate. As was typical of older warren construction, both the grate and duct behind it were large enough to accommodate the passage of an adult. The grate was loose on its bottom edge and easily swung upwards. Marco shined his flashlight into the duct and listened, but detected nothing.
It took Marco almost an hour on the disused level to locate a support rope of suitable length and strength. He fashioned a harness on one end and secured the other end to a pillar in a room across the hall from the grate. Marco fitted the harness over his shoulders and around his waist, then went through the grate.
The duct extended horizontally as far as Marco’s light could show, but he was still within sight of the grate when he encountered the vertical drop. He shined his light downwards but couldn’t see anything distinct. He lowered himself into the vertical shaft and slowly paid out line with one hand while shining his light downwards with the other. He estimated he had descended at least two levels when he thought he could see the bottom. The shaft didn’t seem to end in a pit or a grate but just opened up into a larger space, with a dramatic fall from the shaft to the white floor below.
Marco was still trying to decide whether he had enough line to reach the floor when he noticed his phone was chirping and an unfamiliar red light was blinking. He wasn’t receiving a call; it was an alert, one that everyone he knew was subject to but which no one had ever seen.
He was outside the warren.
Tribune Dobbs Kobick was smug. His infuriatingly correct and clever subordinate was standing at attention in front of his desk, and he wouldn’t release her until he had sprung his trap.
“Centurion,” he began, “as I am sure you saw from the report forwarded to you this morning, an unauthorized egress has been discovered in the Oakland warren. There is reason to believe persons outside the warren may have been involved either in establishing this egress or engaging in illegal traffic via it. I am directing you to coordinate with the investigating elements of the warren police and follow all possible leads.”
Priyanka allowed a short pause before responding to Kobick. “With respect, Tribune, Warren Administration has a janitorial section to handle just such incidents. If an investigation external to the warren is warranted, it would properly be the jurisdiction of the Oakland PD.”
Kobick was expecting this. “Centurion, your reputation for knowledge of and respect for protocol is well-deserved. Accordingly, you must also be aware that the Federal Cohort reserves the right to pre-empt local authorities at the discretion of the local commander. I am exercising that discretion. I understand you have already been in contact with the lead investigator in the warren, a Detective Guzman.”
“That contact was unauthorized and I reported it to Warren Administration immediately.”
“Of course you acted properly. No one is suggesting otherwise. Nevertheless, Detective Guzman raises some serious allegations involving a prominent local taxpayer, and it is vital that such a delicate matter be handled by someone with sound judgment. As you already have a . . . rapport with Detective Guzman, you are ideally situated to resolve this matter with the diligence it deserves.”
Priyanka knew she was being set up. Twice in the past year she had embarrassed Kobick by pursuing matters he had deemed beneath the Cohort that resulted in multiple convictions of Federal crimes. The irony of his sudden interest in local violations would be admirable if it weren’t also potentially fatal to her career.
“Tribune, I am grateful for the trust you have reposed in me. I shall give this matter my full attention.”
“Centurion, please report to the Oakland warren at 08h00 tomorrow. Detective Guzman will be in your custody while he conducts his investigation outside the warren. Warren Administration will send a kit over to your residence for Detective Guzman’s accommodations.”
“Tribune, am I to understand that Detective Guzman will not be restored for his stay outside the warren?”
“Centurion, that is correct. While serious, this matter does not as yet justify the costs of a restoration of Detective Guzman. His safety will be your responsibility.”
“Tribune, I understand.”
“Centurion, you are dismissed.”
Kobick was no fool. While he didn’t know anything specific about Chadwell, he knew that taxpayers of his stratum were accustomed to receiving lenience from the Federal Cohort, more lenience than of which he imagined Centurion Mukhopadhyay was capable.
It had been years since Marco last visited Immigration. Back when he had been more idealistic (or naïve, as Marco would say now), he would scan the Arrivals bulletin for immigrants with notable histories and personally welcome them to his precinct. This is how he met Cowan, a rare investment that paid off. Marco, had never, however, been to the much-less-used Emigration office.
With the cost of restoration so prohibitive, the vast majority of warren residents that passed through Emigration were guest workers on temporary assignment. Instead of being restored, such workers were fitted with an ankle bracelet GPS transponder and issued a backpack containing survival gear. Marco was no exception this regime.
After checking Marco’s chip twice, the Warren Administration kapo buzzed Marco through a pair of doors into the cavernous transfer bay.
The morning shift had gone through Emigration over an hour ago, so Marco was surprised to find a woman waiting on a bench at the near end of the bay, opposite a window from which the WA goons could survey the entire bay. The space was well lit and unsparingly white. Halfway down the bay an enormous transparent plexiglass wall formed the final border of the warren, with another secure door at its base. At the far end of the bay, emigrants were received by their custodians outside the warren.
The woman had blond hair and wore what in the warren passed for expensive business attire. She didn’t seem to be wearing a transponder, and instead of a survival pack an unfamiliar cylindrical box rested on the bench next to her. She looked him up and down as he approached, then she broke into a wide smile.
“Hi!” she gushed. “Are you being restored too?”
By way of response, Marco sat down and lifted a pant leg to reveal his transponder. Her mouth compacted to an expression of condescending pity.
“Don’t worry, hon,” she said, “You’ll make it someday.”
Marco had never known anyone who had been restored, and he had no small talk.
“What’s in the box?” he asked.
“Well, they said we could bring one suitcase, but I didn’t want to keep anything from this place, except for this.”
She opened the box and took out a striking wide-brim red hat. Marco had never seen anything like it outside of the movies.
“Thank you,” she said, returning the hat to its protective case. “It was my mother’s.”
A series of dull booms echoed through the bay, and the woman glanced at her watch before looking up through the plexiglass wall.
“I think this is my ride,” she said.
The man from the restoration clinic arrived at the far end of the transfer bay and, as gently as he could, pulled up a chair and sat down. His efforts were likely unappreciated by the woman and Marco, who felt the tremors through the floor as if a small mountain had shambled into the room. Even seated, the clinician towered over them, but this was unsurprising, as Marco and everyone else exposed to the J-K effect only averaged about three inches in height.
Marco was still craning his neck to stare at the giant when he was startled by the woman speaking through an intercom on that amplified her voice at the far end of the transfer bay.
“Good morning, I’m so glad to see you!” she crooned. “Did they notify you of my preference not to be handled?”
The clinician’s voice required no amplification. Marco’s viscera flinched reflexively at the thunderous voice.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll be transporting you in this.” He lifted an object that to him was probably the size of a shoe box but that to Marco seemed as big as a railway car. He set it down next to him on the bay floor, which from his seated position was at the height of a table top. The object had a large grip projecting from the top, and large foam cushions at each corner. The sides appeared to be some sort of polarized glass or plastic.
“The hatch is keyed to your warren ID, ma’am,” roared the clinician’s voice, “and once you’re strapped in you can speak me via the onboard phone.” He tapped his earpiece.
The woman stood and collected her hat box, then paused to compose herself. She let out a deep sigh, then remembered Marco still sitting on the bench.
“Good luck!” she said, then turned on her heel and marched toward the plexiglass wall. When she reached the door, she waved at the WA goons, who unlocked it. Somehow she kept from staring up at the giant clinician and headed directly for the transport carry, swiped her ID and disappeared through the hatch.
The clinician made no less racket rising from his chair than he did sitting down. He gingerly lifted the transport carry out of sight, leaving Marco to await his own custodian.
Priyanka had never been to a warren, nor had she ever personally encountered anyone who had been exposed to the J-K effect. Of course, her job brought her in contact with people who, like Toby Cowan, went on to be jaked, but she hardly had reason to stay in touch.
She imagined she was typical in not thinking about the warrens very much. Underground and out of the way, they were easy to forget if you didn’t know anyone living in them, and many people readily distanced themselves from anyone who had been jaked.
Priyanka suspected most people still regarded the jaked population as almost entirely convicts, but in reality the worst that could be said about most of them was that they were unlucky. Everyone repeated the platitude that the warrens reduced humanity’s strain on the planet, but Priyanka never heard of anyone espousing this sentiment volunteering to go into the warrens themselves.
The night before, Priyanka had thoroughly reviewed the policies and procedures that Warren Administration had sent her regarding the responsibilities of being of a custodian of a jaked person, and she had certified her agreement to follow them. Nevertheless, upon her arrival at the warren she was required to re-read and re-certify the policies.
Finally, she was admitted to a small white room with a single chair facing a shelf about two feet wide and equally as deep. The shelf had a two-inch lip and met the wall at the base of a two-foot-square window, at the bottom of which there was a tiny door. Through the window she could see a niche about the same size as the shelf on her side. On one side of the niche was what appeared to be the seated figure of a three-inch-tall man staring up at her.
Afraid of making any sudden movements, Priyanka slowly sat in the chair. Uncertain what to do with her hands, she left them in her lap. Eventually she leaned forward to get a closer look.
Even if Marco hadn’t already seen Priyanka on the phone, the dress uniform of the Federal Cohort was unmistakable. It was made of finer material than anything in the warren, and it fit her very well. Her dark hair was secured by an impressive system of twists and stays that exposed most of her long neck. Marco, however, was quickly lost in her eyes, dark brown pools that to him were over a foot across and shone down on him from forty feet up.
Marco swallowed and stood, then took a couple of steps toward the door before he remembered the intercom. He stumbled back to the bench and keyed the mike.
“Uh, good morning, Centurion. Um, I’m Marco Guzman.” He paused until he realized he was afraid she would speak. “I’m coming out,” he said.
The WA flunky unlocked the door before Marco reached it, and like that he was outside the Warren. He continued to approach the woman twenty-four times his size.
Priyanka held as still as she could while Marco made his way through the final gate out of the warren, but once he was through she found herself lifting an arm from her lap and setting her open hand about six inches from Marco, palm up.
Marco considered her hand, longer than he was tall, then held his phone over his head and pointed to it exaggeratedly.
Priyanka remembered the procedures. “Oh yes,” she said. Marco hoped she didn’t see his knees buckle at her voice. His composure held better as she told him the name of her personal network and gave him the password for intercom access.
“Can you hear me, Centurion?” he asked after he had logged his phone in.
“Yes, Detective,” she said softly. Her voice came through clearer over the phone, but the awe-inducing reverb of her unmodulated tones remained. Marco walked over to Priyanka’s hand, stepped into her palm, sat down and gathered his knees to his chest, then gave her a thumbs-up.
She lifted him to about eight inches from her face and gave what she hoped was a comforting smile.
“Would you care to stand, Detective?” she asked.
“Sure.” As he stood on the unstable surface of her palm, Priyanka noted that his legs were (proportionately) very long. His suit wasn’t very fashionable, but it matched and appeared neat and clean. She brought him closer and recognized the practical near-buzzcut worn by most male cops of her experience. His chin was strong, and if he hadn’t shaved this morning, she couldn’t tell.
“Very pleased to make your acquaintance, Detective.”
“Uh, likewise, ma’am.”
Warren Administration hadn’t provided Priyanka with anything like a transport carry. She unbuttoned the right breast pocket of her tunic, then brought Marco down next to it.
“Will you be alright riding here, Detective?”
“Looks good to me.” He lowered his pack into the pocket, then swung his legs over the top and settled in. His footing was much firmer than he expected, and he was grateful for the less precarious position.
“All set,” he said. She admired both his physical nimbleness as well as his reception of her rather forward proposal. In other circumstances, the indelicacy might have given her pause, but it really was the most practical solution, and Marco’s alacrity buoyed her.
“Very well.” Marco could now feel the vibrations of her voice through his back and legs, as well. As Priyanka stood up and bore him out of the warren complex as if on the prow of a stately ocean liner, Marco held on and had to remind himself he wasn’t dreaming.
He stopped her as soon as they got outside. At first she didn’t understand.
“What? Oh,” she said. Marco was no longer gawping at the full-size people, furniture, and objects passing by. His eyes were in fact closed, his face turned directly into the sun, unobscured on a rare cloudless day in Oakland.
Priyanka had done the research to know that Marco had last seen the sun almost twenty years ago when he followed his parents into the warren after their conviction for possession of property related to drug trafficking. She wasn’t ashamed of snooping; if Kobick had set her up, she needed to know all the possible traps, Marco included.
“What’s the plan, Centurion?”
“Well, Detective, since we’re here, I propose we have a look at the other side of the vent you discovered.”
“Makes sense to me. Do you know who owns the property?”
“The same Chinese real estate firm that owns half the commercial property in Oakland. For the past two years they’ve leased the property to a company that imports specialty foodstuffs from Russia.”
“Anything on the importers?”
“No persons of interest. The firm has a distant history with the mob, but no more so than any other Russian business.”
Priyanka crossed the street and turned into an alley. As she approached a fire exit she produced a long narrow device and went to work on the lock. Marco kept quiet until they were inside.
“We’re not talking to the manager? Why the B&E?”
“My Tribune wants this investigation to stay sub rosa as long as possible. At my insistence, last night he entered a Discretionary Order with the Prefecture, which authorizes searches like this, even without notice to the owner.”
“I’m impressed.” Marco let his praise hang for a beat. “So you’re telling me none of your people nor anyone from Warren Administration or the local cops have been inside this place.”
“They oughtn’t have. Mine and Kobick’s are the only names on the order.”
Priyanka consulted a schematic on her phone as she descended to the basement level, stopping in a storage room containing packing and shipping supplies. She switched on a light.
“Do you think this is it?” she asked.
Marco looked about the towering shelves and hulking boxes, trying to spot anything that might be the duct. Priyanka slowly stepped through the room, giving Marco a broad survey.
“That’s probably it,” he said when they reached a gap between two shelving units. A rectilinear duct precisely filled the gap as it descended from the ceiling, stopping two feet above the floor.
Priyanka lowered herself onto her metatarsals, then raised her open palm next to Marco’s pocket. Marco fished the flashlight out of his pack, then vaulted into Priyanka’s hand, which she then held under the duct opening.
“How far do you think you can raise me up?” he asked, shining his light upwards. Priyanka knelt on the floor to give herself better balance, momentarily upsetting Marco’s. She reached up into the duct until her shoulder touched the aperture. Marco thought he recognized the horizontal duct and grate, and hopped out of her hand.
“Detective?” called Priyanka, who couldn’t see what was happening.
“Just making sure,” replied Marco. He crawled to the grate and poked his head through to confirm the lower hinges were still unbolted.
“I’m back,” he said, prompting her to re-open her waiting hand. She returned him to her pocket and stood.
“Yep, this is the other side,” he said. “Too bad you can’t bring a forensic team in here.”
“We have what we need for now,” she said, producing another device that somewhat resembled an electric toothbrush. It started whirring as she methodically ran it over the duct opening, the floor below, the adjacent shelving units, and finally the door.
“I don’t know if any of your missing people are in our DNA banks,” she explained, “but this should tell us who’s been in there recently.”
She shut the sampler off and placed a tiny camera on a shelf across from the duct.
“The motion sensor is set high enough that even jaked people will trigger it,” she said.
“Sweet,” he said. “Anything else?”
“No, unless you have any ideas.”
“Well, I’d like to pick up where I left off. Assuming my people weren’t met by anyone on the outside, where would they have gone from here?”
“Alright.” She lowered herself again and set him on the floor, then slowly backed away into the center of the room.
Standing beneath the duct, Marco estimated that only a trained acrobat could fall from the aperture to the floor without injury, and anyone falling from the point where the shaft met the horizontal duct couldn’t escape at least a broken limb. Starting at the wall and proceeding clockwise around the base of the shelves, Marco searched for any gear or appliances that a jaked person might use. When he reached the door, he confirmed that the clearance with the floor was too low for a jaked person to leave the room while it was closed.
“Unless they sprouted wings,” he reported, “I’m sure as I can be that no jaked person left this room without help.”
“Very good, Detective.” The floor was set on concrete that minimized vibrations, but as Marco watched Priyanka approach him, the echo of her steps and the sway of her legs transfixed him. Beautiful and colossal, she was a creature out of myth, coming for him.
At the same time, Priyanka was trying to imagine the unknown outsiders who met the warren residents as they came through the duct. How easy it must have been to gather them up, to disregard their autonomy, to casually dispose of their lives. She resolved to let Marco put himself in her hand and in her pocket under his own power as much as possible.
Marco had only been out of the warren for a couple of hours when he entered yet another completely different world. The San Francisco headquarters of the Federal Cohort was hyper-designed to constantly remind everyone of the pre-eminence of federal authority. Everyone was in formal dress, and no conversation or encounter was casual or relaxed.
Priyanka wasn’t ashamed of where she worked, but she was conscious of its effect on others, and she wanted to shield Marco from any unnecessary inquisition. Pursuant to the Discretionary Order, her custody of Marco was on a need-to-know basis, and she hoped he would keep his head down. They had their first test after they arrived in her office.
“If you’ll excuse me, Detective, I need to use the restroom.”
“Funny, I was just about to say the same thing. I have toiletries in my pack, but I still need a place to, um, put it.”
She looked about the office, mindful of the Cohort’s draconian hygiene standards. Then she remembered her potted ivy.
“Anything you can do to help my poor plant would be most welcome, Detective,” she said, giving him a lift down to her desktop. After he disappeared into the leaves, she stepped out to see to her own needs.
When Marco stepped back down onto the desk blotter, a large shadow fell across the desk.
“What have we here?” Marco’s head snapped up to see a young male Cohort officer looming over him. Before Marco could react, the officer snatched him up in his hand.
“Someone call pest control; we got mice,” he thundered. He gave Marco a predatory grin.
“How old are you, officer?” Marco yelled up from the man’s fist.
“I can see you don’t know how to shave,” Marco continued yelling. “Do they let you carry a weapon?”
The man’s grin disappeared and his grip tightened. Marco couldn’t breathe easily.
“Detective Guzman has a point, Milite Schaeffer,” said Priyanka from the doorway. “He’s your senior, in more ways than one.”
Schaeffer immediately dropped Marco on the desk and stood at attention. Priyanka took an involuntary step into her office, then saw that Marco had landed on his feet.
“I’m fine, Centurion,” he said into his phone.
“Milite Schaeffer,” she said, “aren’t you forgetting something?”
Schaeffer faced Priyanka and saluted, whipping his right hand to his temple.
“Not to me,” she said. “To Detective Guzman.”
Schaffer deflated, then turned to Marco and gave no less enthusiastic a salute. Marco regarded the gesture for a moment, then turned back to Priyanka.
“Now, Milite Schaeffer, can you tell me why you are in my office?”
“Tribune Kobick sent me, ma’am,” said Schaeffer, holding his salute. “He would like to see you and, uh, Detective Guzman in his office.”
“Thank you Milite,” said Priyanka. “You are dismissed.”
Schaeffer closed his salute and marched out without looking at either Priyanka or Marco. Once the door was closed, Priyanka hurried over to her desk.
“Do you require medical attention, Detective?” she asked.
“No, Centurion,” he replied, mimicking Schaeffer’s salute. “Thanks for asking.”
Kobick hoped his smile displayed courtesy and not the amusement he deeply felt as Priyanka entered his office and let Marco depoche onto Kobick’s desk.
“Tribune Dobbs Kobick, may I introduce Detective Marco Guzman,” said Priyanka, switching her phone to SPEAKER and setting it on the desk.
“It’s an honor to be your guest, Tribune” said Marco, affecting a slight bow.
“So, Centurion,” said Kobick, “did you confirm this unauthorized egress from the warren?”
“Indeed, Tribune,” replied Priyanka. “It was precisely where Detective Guzman estimated it would be, in a storage room in the basement of the Almstead Building across Bancroft from the warren complex.”
“There was no clear evidence that any warren residents had been in the room. I sampled the vicinity of the egress and installed a monitor, but since many warren residents remain untyped, the sample may not be conclusive.”
“Any chance any warren residents could have escaped the room unaided?”
“No,” Marco replied.
Kobick seemed startled that Marco was still part of the conversation. “Really, Detective?” he said. “Don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of desperate people.”
“Oh, the people I’m looking for were desperate, alright,” said Marco. “I’m sure they still are. But I don’t think they had any illusions about how long they’d last outside the warren. I didn’t find any provision for water or food or shelter. There wasn’t even any way to get back into the duct. Anyone who came out of the warren that way was taken. By someone.”
“How refreshingly conclusive, Detective,” said Kobick. He turned back to Priyanka. “Howabout that, Centurion? Any ideas who aided their escape?”
“Nothing solid yet, Tribune,” she replied. “DNA analysis shows 26 distinct specimens, aside from Detective Guzman and myself. The only ID so far is one Vasily Orlov, age 42. Naturalized 15 years ago, suspected of being a mob enforcer 12 years ago, investigation dropped. Last known whereabouts Pyongyang 14 months ago, but this sample is newer than that.”
“Has he been jaked?”
“Not when he left this sample, Tribune.”
“Perhaps he was up to something with his old buddies in the warren. What’s the mob like in your neighborhood, Detective?”
“We have our share, Tribune,” said Marco, “but I’ve never heard of them trafficking with people in Big Sky. Wiseguys are just like everyone else; if you’ve been jaked, they don’t want anything to do with you.”
“Nevertheless, this Orlov would seem to be our best suspect at present,” said Kobick. “Centurion, kindly discover Orlov’s local haunts, if any.”
“As you say, Tribune,” replied Priyanka.
“Excuse me, Tribune,” interjected Marco, “why aren’t we talking to Chadwell? Didn’t you certify the routing of Payne’s messages?” he asked Priyanka.
“That’s still a bit premature,” began Kobick.
“Actually, Tribune, I ran the routes last night,” said Priyanka. “The routing is genuine.”
“Did you, Centurion?” said Kobick. “That took some initiative.”
“It was the next logical step, Tribune,” said Priyanka. “It was well within the authority of the Discretionary Order.”
“I’m sure you’re right about that, Centurion,” replied Kobick. “Very well, if your . . . logic takes you to Mr. Chadwell, I trust you will have good cause to contact him with your inquiries.”
“Thank you, Tribune,” said Priyanka. “I will keep you well apprised of all developments.”
“I couldn’t ask for more, Centurion. Thank you, as well, Detective. You may dismiss.”
None of their leads on Orlov had any immediate results and the first appointment they could get with Chadwell wasn’t until the next morning, so Priyanka took Marco to his first dinner at a steak restaurant.
“Many in my family won’t eat vat-grown beef,” she said, “but I figure that if it was never a complete cow, it doesn’t count.”
The sight of jaked people outside the warren was unusual enough that Marco was having his dinner under a partial screen formed by a napkin artfully draped on the table next to Priyanka’s purse. He couldn’t remember having steak before going into the warren, and he thought this was the most delicious thing he’d ever eaten.
“How does your family feel about you being a cop?” he asked.
Priyanka’s parents would never refer to her as a “cop;” she was an Inspector-Centurion of the Federal Cohort of the Justice Department. They had a deeper fetish for titles than Kobick did.
“They wanted me to be an engineer, and that’s how I started in school. Then I did an internship with the state police. I was fascinated by how a simple technical problem could become much more challenging with the introduction of human venality.”
“Yeah, people are more squirrelly than code.”
“That’s what my mother couldn’t understand. When I saw the Cohort in action, I knew where I wanted to be.”
“No disrespect, Centurion, but some of your colleagues seem as . . . venal as many of the folks who end up in my precinct.”
Priyanka agreed with Marco, but she was too well-practiced in decorum to say so.
“And you, Detective? How does one become a policeman in the warren?”
“There’s no academy, if that’s what you mean. Technically, you need to be nominated by the police commissioner and approved by a majority of the precinct council, but it’s never as clean as that. I mean, all authority derives from Warren Administration, right? So WA holds an implicit veto over everything, so the trick is just to stay off their radar. In the end, I guess it boils down to cronyism.”
“I’m sure your community is better off for your service, Detective.”
Marco wondered about that. His “community” was filled with bitterness, most of it justified. He felt his greatest satisfaction came when he was able to protect the weaker residents from the stronger (which, as often as not, included Warren Administration). Realizing that no one in the warrens ever enjoyed wine this rich, Marco started to feel a little self-conscious, and he was relieved when Priyanka suggested that they should bring the meal to a close.
Her colleagues often remarked that Priyanka’s condo seemed small for someone of her station, and she was proud of her contribution to urban density. To Marco, of course, even her tiny kitchen seemed immense. She had installed the WA habitat on her dining table, connecting power/data through a normal wall jack, and a tiny water/sewage line to the sink.
“I’m told the accommodations are thoughtful and generous,” said Priyanka, letting Marco down at his “doorstep.”
Marco’s experience Warren Administration’s generosity was rich and colorful, but he decided this was not the time to share it with his hostess. He walked to the entrance then turned to face her. “I’m sure it will do nicely.”
“Well, Detective, if you’ll be alright, I am obliged to file my daily reports.”
“Thank you, Centurion. Good night.”
Priyanka watched Marco admit himself to the habitat with his thumbprint, then retired to her bedroom, which also housed her personal terminal.
Even with her prolix attention to detail, Priyanka couldn’t make her report of their investigation very lengthy. She spent a fruitless hour trying to find more traces of Orlov, but then, without making a conscious decision, she sequestered her connection to the Cohort network behind a proxy client and found herself browsing her personal library, hoping to find something to take the edge of the day’s frustrations.
Marco was surprised at how relieved he felt to be in an environment made for his scale, even one as spare as the WA habitat. He wrote his brief report and sent it to Lockeridge, who sent a curt acknowledgement that closed with “Don’t get comfy up there.”
He tried watching some Stream, but whatever proxy the habitat was on was pokier than his home connection. Perhaps Priyanka would let him tap into her net.
Marco’s phone rang; he was curiously glad to see that it was Cowan.
“Enjoying Big Sky?” asked Cowan.
“It’s like being in an amusement park run by dinosaurs. Hungry ones.”
“How’s Mukhopadhyay’s appetite?”
“She’s been the height of professionalism.”
“Can she find out what you need to know?”
“I can’t imagine anyone more likely to do so. We’ll see tomorrow.”
“Got a little more for you. Forensics finally dusted Payne’s field clinic and while you won’t get the final report for weeks, I can tell you they got a prelim ID for what has to be your mystery nurse.”
“Let’s have it.”
“Nicole Blythe, 24, entered the warrens twelve years ago when her dad, Grover Blythe, took the rap for the Szalinski Equity scandal. Mother committed suicide rather than be jaked. Dropped out of school eight years ago, no current address, no known connection to Payne.”
“How do we know she wasn’t just another victim?”
“According to Lockeridge, we don’t. But that’s because he doesn’t seem to care that Papa Blythe’s unindicted partner was our friend Hamilton.”
“Send me what you have on Mr. Blythe.”
Marco called Priyanka to give her the extra lead on Chadwell, but she didn’t pick up. He gave it another ten minutes of jerky Stream, then tried her again. He stepped out of the habitat and walked to the edge of the kitchen table. There was a light visible underneath the bottom of Priyanka’s door.
He could have easily left her a voice or text message. Instead, Marco retrieved his survival pack and acquainted himself with the climbing gear. He secured a line to a rail on the habitat exterior, then lowered himself to the tile floor. It was a longer drop than the ventilation shaft above Payne’s field clinic, but Marco was determine to prove (to whom, he couldn’t say) that he could navigate this world on his own.
He had to lie flat and pull his pack after him to make it under Priyanka’s bedroom door, but he wasn’t prepared for what he saw when he stood up. Someone was lying on the bed, but from the floor Marco couldn’t immediately identify them. A bare leg, bent at the knee, indicated that the person was lying on their back. A thicket of irrepressible dark hair obscured the face. A display across from the foot of the bed showed a rather enthusiastic porn video, and the rhythmic tremors and rapid breathing from the bed forced Marco to conclude that its occupant was pleasuring herself.
The video portrayed an elaborate bondage scenario, set in what Marco took to be the late 18th century. The Marquise was having her way with her maids, the field hands, and—if Marco correctly interpreted the implications of all the blindfolds—her elder brother. Initially paralyzed by the novelty of the situation, Marco told himself he would only wait long enough to confirm that the bed wasn’t occupied by an intruder. When Priyanka finally gave a labored moan, he started, then scurried back under the door.
It seemed to take an eternity for Marco to re-ascend to the table, alert to any sound that might herald Priyanka’s approach. Once back at the habitat and the climbing line stowed, Marco felt plausibly at ease, until his phone rang and jolted his heart.
“You called, Detective? I’m sorry I didn’t answer; I was preoccupied.”
“No worries, Centurion. I have some additional information for your research of Mr. Chadwell.” Marco relayed the substance of Cowan’s discovery.
“I agree that this increases the grounds for investigating Chadwell, but he would have to be severely inartful in his answers tomorrow to give us anything to link him to Ms. Blythe.”
Marco did his best imitation of Kobick’s nasal tone. “I have every confidence in your inquisitorial acumen, Centurion.”
When Priyanka emerged in the morning to make her breakfast, Marco had already eaten and didn’t want to impose upon her morning routine. She called his phone, however, and invited him to join her outside the habitat for coffee.
“As you might have gathered, Detective, I am somewhat accomplished with telecommunications networking.”
“Yah, I noticed.”
“I have been particularly successful in refining the accuracy of signal location. Such as the signal emitted by your ankle bracelet.”
Marco looked up into her dark brown eyes and found no sign of censure. “I wanted to tell you about Blythe and Chadwell, but you didn’t answer and I got concerned.”
“So you let yourself into my bedroom and got a show instead.” There was no mistaking the smirk that was creeping across her face.
“I couldn’t—I didn’t see anything scandalous, except . . .”
She raised her eyebrows. “Yes?”
“Your hair. It was quite something to see it all down and flowing like that. I’m afraid I lingered a bit.”
“I see,“ she said, exhaling slowly. “You thought the evil mastermind Hamilton Chadwell had reached through the internet and incapacitated me in my bedroom?”
Marco tried not to sound defensive. “I merely presumed you shared the value I place on timely research.”
Priyanka accepted the riposte. “A valid presumption.”
“Could you find anything else?”
“Only indirectly. If the Federal prosecutor couldn’t hang the conspiracy on Chadwell, I doubt I could without access to the case file, and as it stands the Discretionary Order doesn’t cover it.”
“Couldn’t you get Kobick to expand the order?”
“Not without a proper forensics report from your captain, which doesn’t look to be forthcoming anytime soon.”
Priyanka took a long sip of coffee. “So, aren’t you going to judge me for my taste in pornography?”
It was Marco’s turn to exhale. “Hell, no. I’ve seen a couple of samples with that guy playing the groomsman. Of course, this was the first time that his cock has been bigger than me.”
This last wasn’t literally true; almost all porn performers came from the warrens and none ever earned enough to be restored before they retired.
“Well,” chuckled Priyanka, “you made quite an expedition. I trust that, after all your exertions, you were able to satisfy yourself?”
Marco almost sputtered as some of his coffee went down the wrong pipe. Priyanka was sitting back in her chair, regarding him from the sides of her eyes, but she was still subjectively 140 feet tall. He decided truth was the best policy.
“Actually, I was too exhausted to do anything but collapse into bed.”
“Oh dear,” she said, her face becoming serious. “I fear an injury to my sense of hospitality.” With that, she got up to clear the dishes, and Marco couldn’t think of anything to say as they left for the interview.
Priyanka and Marco agreed that he shouldn’t be introduced to Chadwell for the interview but instead stay out of sight and observe. Surprisingly, Chadwell’s offices weren’t in the Financial District but rather in Pacific Heights, and Marco was nestled in Priyanka’s pocket for the entire trip.
Aside from certain government facilities in Washington, Priyanka had never been in a space so menacingly elegant. She was sure that only her Cohort credentials exempted her from a physical search. None of the guards were uniformed or obviously armed, but their carriage belied both military training and augmented senses. Thirty of her minutes were wasted by a “director of environmental integrity” who had clearly been tasked with attempting to parry her inquiry and sparing Chadwell from having to see her. Ultimately, her polite but unwavering persistence gained her admission to the man’s presence.
Chadwell was dressed far more casually than similarly accomplished financiers of Priyanka’s experience. He looked as if he had just stepped off the deck of his yacht, which perhaps he had. She knew he kept a 100-foot cruiser moored just down the hill next to the Presidio.
“Good morning, Centurion Mukhopadhyay,” he said warmly. “I’m sorry Tony wasn’t able to satisfy your inquiries.”
“Thank you, Mr. Chadwell. Before we begin, please be advised that this investigation is being audio- and video recorded and these recordings have been pre-admitted to all Federal and state courts except for certain parishes in Louisiana.”
“I have been so advised.”
“Very well. Now, your employee Mr. Knowles stated for the record that all of the messages from Dr. Payne addressed to you were intercepted by your firm-wide spam filter, logged, and deleted.”
“That sounds consistent with our policy.”
“Did you yourself log or delete any of these messages?”
“Not my province, I’m afraid. But I understand that we have preserved the log longer than is required by statute.”
“That is correct, Mr. Chadwell. Your firm is to be commended for its diligence.”
“Thank you, Centurion. High praise from an officer of the Cohort.”
“Do you know Benjamin Payne?”
“Centurion, I had never heard of him until you called yesterday.”
“Do you know any of the people whose medical profiles Dr. Payne sent to you?”
“I don’t even know their names.”
“Are you aware that Dr. Payne is a resident of the Oakland warren?”
“How bizarre. No, I was not aware.”
“What would you say if I told you that all of the people whose medical profiles Dr. Payne sent you were warren residents?”
“I’d say you were out of your jurisdiction, Centurion. Doesn’t Warren Administration have staff for this sort of thing?”
“My Tribune has exercised his discretion in this matter.”
“Your Tribune? Not you? How unsettling for you. Would you like to work for Warren Administration? I can assist with that, if you like.”
Marco shifted slightly in Priyanka’s pocket. She gave a rueful smile. “I appreciate the offer, Mr. Chadwell, but I don’t think Prefect Matsuno is ready to give me up just yet.”
Chadwell’s smirk didn’t flicker at the mention of the renowned Prefect, but he failed to follow up his attack, so Priyanka pressed on. “Do you know anyone who has been subjected to the Jedlina-Kuriyama effect?” she asked.
“I hardly think so. In truth, Centurion, I often forget they’re still around. But that was the point, wasn’t it?”
“I can assure you, Mr. Chadwell, that the Federal Cohort owes a duty of protection to all citizens, including those living in the warrens, and we have not forgotten them.”
“Of course,” said Chadwell, looking at his phone. “Is there anything else I can do to personally assist with your inquiries?”
“No, I believe that concludes my questions,” said Priyanka, standing. “Thank you, Mr. Chadwell, you’ve been thoroughly cooperative.”
Once Priyanka had exited from Chadwell’s premises, she switched off her personal recording suite.
“I feel I must apologize for Mr. Chadwell’s rudeness, Detective,” she said.
“Not at all, Centurion,” replied Marco, his head emerging from her tunic pocket. “I think you should have introduced me. I’m sure he would have been much more respectful to my person.”
This got a laugh from Priyanka, sending Marco a thrilling tremor through her breast.
“I don’t think he would have even flinched if I had mentioned Nicole Blythe, so it’s better he not know we know about her.”
“Makes sense,” agreed Marco. “You think the log is genuine?”
“No way to prove otherwise. But the fact they still have it is suspicious.”
They returned to Cohort HQ, and Marco waited in Priyanka’s purse while she changed into plainclothes for their visit to the first of Orlov’s known locales. When Priyanka announced her readiness, Marco climbed half-way out and studied her outfit.
“I’m trying to look like I married one of these homesick Russians, right?” she explained. “Not a lot of money, trying to show I can contribute without being too independent, with a bit of trophy on the side. This is what you get.”
Marco was in no position to judge Big Sky fashion. Her top was a short-sleeve smock in an abstract floral pattern, which she had paired with very tight black pants that accentuated her hips. He was disappointed to see that not only was her hair still bound up, it was also partially covered by shimmering cloth. Her simple earrings had vanished, but her fingers now sported two rings with gaudy stones.
“I’m going to ride in there?” asked Marco, pointing at a large canvas shoulder bag and imagining the motion sickness.
“I’m afraid so,” replied Priyanka, setting it down and beginning to transfer items from her purse. “A jacket would look suspicious in this weather, and no one’s seen a fanny pack down there in years.”
The first target was a delicatessen at which Orlov was last observed about three years ago. As their car approached the neighborhood, Marco took a leap.
“Centurion, I really need to stretch my legs. What do you say to the idea of me doing a little advance recon before you make your pass?”
“I’d say it would be unnecessarily dangerous, Detective.”
“Look, Orlov’s almost certainly not here, but they’ll let him know someone’s looking for him.”
“I’ve already placed a roving tap-and-trace for all nodes presently within 12 blocks.”
“These guys are used to living with that kind of attention. You need someone in the back room when you say Orlov’s name. If he’s in town, I’ll see it from their reaction.”
Priyanka knew he was right, but the risk of sending a three-inch-tall person into a mob hangout was inexcusable. As she hesitated, Marco played his last card.
“I haven’t done anything all day. Pretty soon either my captain or your Tribune is going to order me back to the warren.”
Priyanka looked at the tiny man perched on top of the ridiculous bag she had checked out from Wardrobe. It was plain that he knew the hazards of his proposal. She admired both his courage and his determination to see the investigation through. Also, she admitted to herself that she wasn’t ready for her partnership with Marco to end.
“Alright, Detective, you’re right. I do want to know what they do behind closed doors. Do you have any Russian?”
“Enough to ask for directions or order a piroshky. You?”
“I took a year course with an old NSA analyst. I also like piroshky,” she deadpanned.
“Let’s pick some up at the end of the shift. I’m buying.”
Priyanka drove around the deli to locate the best spot for her to plausibly set the bag down long enough for Marco to jump out and cover a short distance to the service entrance. As he kept a nervous eye out for birds, he tried to keep to the schedule of verbally checking in every two minutes that Priyanka had insisted upon. It quickly became tiresome.
Fortunately for Marco, the layout of the business seemed to be entirely on the ground floor, and so far he hadn’t encountered any doors with floor seals. He easily spotted rat droppings near the meat cases; he hoped the locals were mostly nocturnal. He had a bad moment when a dog barked awfully close by, but apparently the deli lay outside its recognized territory. Marco hoped the spiced foods masked his scent.
After about 15 minutes he thought he had found what he was looking for: an office with two bruisers playing cards and a row of monitors fed by surveillance cams. He called Priyanka to let her know he was in position.
After staring at the men’s legs and feet under the table, it occurred to Marco to see if he could collect some DNA samples. He didn’t have a hermetic sampler, of course, but his survival pack did have a pair of shears and some unused food storage cases that he assumed were sterile. He labeled two cases “A” and “B” and then worked up the nerve to approach the pairs of mammoth legs and harvest some snippets of hair.
He sampled A without incident, but just as he sealed the case containing B’s sample, the giant leg jerked suddenly and Marco dove behind a large shipping container, fearing the man had sensed his presence. He hid for about a minute before he raised his head and determined that both men were watching one of the monitors currently displaying Priyanka waiting at the service counter. Marco also got a much better look at B, whom he was stunned to recognize as one of the security goons from Chadwell’s office.
Priyanka had come up with an innocuous cover story: she was supposed to be the wife of a Russian medical supplier who relied on Orlov to bring him his favorite pressed meats from Kharkov. She did the research to identify a reliably rare variety. Her “husband’s” name and how he knew Orlov contained just enough harmless detail from Orlov’s background to be plausible but not so much as to suggest official profiling. As the first of a half-dozen cold leads they had for Orlov, she fully expected to come out of the deli with nothing more than a kilo of pastrami.
She approached the boy behind the counter and had scarcely delivered her opening line when Marco’s voice erupted through her earpiece.
“Centurion, get out. They’ve made you.”
She had noted the security cameras on her way in, but she didn’t dare look at them now. They boy was still looking at her, slightly puzzled. He’s clueless, she thought. Were they actively monitoring the audio?
“Priyanka, get out now,” buzzed Marco. “They’re armed. They haven’t spotted me. I’m heading for the rendezvous. Move!”
She gave an embarrassed look to the boy. “Please excuse me, I’ve forgotten something.”
She had already taken a step towards the front door when out of the corner of her eye she saw the kitchen door fly open. She ducked behind the end of the counter as three shots raked the shelves above her head.
She had her taser in her hand, but her cover was inadequate and she didn’t know how many she was up against. Spying one of her assailants at shoe level, she remembered Marco and decided to retreat.
Priyanka tased the pair of legs then sprang for the door. She must have incapacitated the gunman with her better reflexes because no one returned fire as she exited the deli and bolted ten meters down the street.
She sprinted around the corner then slowed to a less attention-grabbing pace to the car. Once inside she ripped off her hair cloth, covered her smock with an old blanket, and jammed on some sunglasses.
Priyanka tried to drive casually around to where she had left Marco. As soon as the car was stopped, she lay down sideways out of view and cracked open the door. She gripped her taser and waited.
“Here I come,” called Marco, and he leaped over the threshold onto the car floor. Priyanka gently latched the door closed while Marco secured himself in the shoulder bag. She slowly sat up and didn’t see any suspects in the area.
She pulled away from the curb and drove out of sight of the deli. Only then did she call Cohort Operations to report that the encounter had turned violent and that she needed backup.
The watch commander took her report and told her to stand by. A minute later she came back and directed Priyanka to report back to HQ.
“I’ll be needed here to ID suspects,” she protested.
“By order of Tribune Kobick you are to return immediately. Centurion Gaff will assume command of the scene upon his arrival.”
Kobick affected to be appalled, but Marco could tell his heart wasn’t in it. Priyanka had insisted on taking the time to change out of plainclothes and Kobick could have chastised her for the delay, but he simply glanced at his phone while she saluted and settled Marco onto the Tribune’s desk. Kobick let her remain at attention while he started his recital.
“Centurion Gaff has exactly one suspect in custody, a 17-year-old male who claims you interrupted an armed robbery in progress.”
“Detective Guzman stated that the gunmen were at repose until I arrived. The security video will verify this.”
“Unfortunately, the security drives and backups were missing by the time Centurion Gaff had secured the scene.”
“Issue a warrant for the off-site backup.”
“We can find no contract on file for data services for this business.”
“We know they’re mob-connected, so it’s private, then.”
“Centurion Gaff has been unable to trace any such hypothetical feed.”
Gaff couldn’t trace his piss to the toilet, thought Priyanka. “I’d be happy to assist Centurion Gaff,” she said.
“That’s very helpful of you, Centurion Mukhopadhyay, but I believe Centurion Gaff completed his network security certification just last month, so his exposure to the latest innovations in criminal routing is more recent than yours.”
Kobick knew how much this bullshit would needle Priyanka, but she didn’t pause to let him enjoy it.
“We have a pretty good idea of who was also watching,” she said.
“The man who ID’d Centurion Mukhopadhyay at the deli was also at Hamilton Chadwell’s office,” said Marco. “He appeared to be among Chadwell’s security detail.”
“Really,” said Kobick. “Did you observe this man at Mr. Chadwell’s office, Centurion?”
“I may have seen him at Mr. Chadwell’s office, Tribune, but I did not see his face at the delicatessen. Aside from the unfortunate boy in Centurion Gaff’s custody, I observed only the lower extremities of one of the gunmen.”
“Please do correct me if I am mistaken, Detective,” said Kobick, “but I understand that the vantage points from which you observed this individual were a) while you were hiding in Centurion Mukhopadhyay’s tunic pocket, and b) while evading being trodden upon underneath a table in the employee lounge. Do I have that right?”
“That’s right,” replied Marco, “but I had a clear view both times.”
“I appreciate that evidentiary standards might differ in the warrens, Detective,” sneered Kobick, “but the Federal Cohort has long embraced modern findings regarding the unreliability of eyewitness testimony.”
“Detective Guzman was also able to obtain some remarkable physical evidence,” said Priyanka. Wardrobe wasn’t their only stop before reporting to Kobick.
“I sampled the DNA of the two men in the lounge,” said Marco. “One of them, whom I suspect first shot at Centurion Mukhopadhyay, was Vasily Orlov.”
Kobick’s sneer disappeared, and he exhaled sharply as he regarded Marco with narrowed eyes. He took the tablet containing the analysis report from Priyanka and read it twice.
“Centurion Mukhopadhyay sells you short, Detective Guzman. That is most impressive. So Orlov was hiding at the first place we checked. And now he’s halfway to Ulan Bator.”
“On the contrary, Tribune Kobick,” replied Priyanka. “I believe he’s precisely where he has been for at least the past two months: here in the Bay Area, in the employ of Hamilton Chadwell.”
“Fortunately, Centurion Mukhopadhyay, the Federal Cohort does not proceed solely on the basis of your beliefs. The only connection between Orlov and Mr. Chadwell is the uncorroborated testimony of Detective Guzman, which I am afraid is insufficient to further investigate a citizen of Mr. Chadwell’s standing.”
“The guy knew Centurion Mukhopadhyay was a Cohort officer and he shot at her anyway,” said Marco. “And you won’t authorize your best lead for catching him?”
“An expensive operation that would have been unnecessary had Centurion Mukhopadhyay timely secured the scene and prevented Orlov’s escape.” Kobick paused, hoping Priyanka would protest, but she accepted the rebuke, so he had to press it himself.
“Of course, Centurion Mukhopadhyay’s actions are understandable, given her earlier negligence with regard to your personal safety, Detective.”
“It was my idea to scout ahead.”
“An admirable display of courage, Detective, but I’m sure an Administrative Hearing Board would find it contrary to Cohort regulations. Wouldn’t you agree, Centurion?”
Priyanka said nothing, her eyes fixed on the middle distance.
“Nevertheless, Detective Guzman, you have been extremely helpful in identifying a material witness in this matter, and I intend to commend your actions to your captain, who I am sure will be glad to have such a resourceful officer back in his command.”
Kobick stood and straightened his tunic. “Centurion Mukhopadhyay,” he said with a tone of finality. “When you have completed your report, please send it directly to me. I wish to add my personal endorsement.”
Priyanka and Marco left Cohort HQ immediately after Kobick had dismissed them. In Marco’s experience, cops with facial expressions similar to Priyanka’s headed straight for the nearest bar. That would have suited him fine, but he doubted Priyanka had a regular watering hole.
“I feel like hitting the gym,” she said once they had arrived at her condo.
“Don’t let me stop you,” he said.
“I can’t. I need to get started on my report.”
“So do I, but I’m not going to just yet.”
She was leaning against the kitchen counter, drawing knives halfway out of the block then pushing them back.
“Got anything to drink?” he asked.
She considered her usual Chardonnay, then remembered something a friend had left behind when she first moved in and that was still here. She reached deep into the pantry and brought out a square bottle half filled with golden liquid.
Marco had never had real tequila, and he stayed away from the awful imitation found in the warrens. “Outstanding,” he said, ducking into the habitat. “Lemme get a glass.”
Priyanka poured a shot into a measuring cup so that Marco could dip his glass, then poured herself a triple and sat down at the kitchen table. Marco had collected his drink and found a seat on a stack of coasters.
“How long has Kobick had it in for you?” he asked.
“Ever since he took over the command, probably,” she replied. “Then last year I made the mistake of contradicting him in a regional status report.”
“Yeah. I’ve been alright so long as I get results and didn’t give him any rope to hang me with.”
“And then I called.”
She leaned forward to regard him closely, trying to read his tiny face. He took a deep drink, hoping to appear aloof to the intense scrutiny. Then she realized he was ribbing her and let out a sharp laugh. He thought he had become used to her daunting voice, but the sudden eruption combined with the tequila on her breath almost knocked him over. His only recovery was to join her in laughing.
“It appears that Mr. Cowan should have put you in contact with a more politically-adept investigator,” she said wryly.
“Priyanka,” he replied with all the earnestness he could find, “Toby may have his faults, but he knew what he was doing. Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine a better partner in Big Sky than you.”
She straightened up and smiled at him, then drew and released a deep breath. She raised her glass. “To Toby.”
They did not attempt to clink glasses. She set her glass down, empty. “Do you need a refill?” she asked with a smile.
He peered into the measuring cup, which still contained ten subjective gallons. “I’m good.”
“That you are,” she said. She was unused to tequila, and she hoped he didn’t notice her slight stumble as she stood up.
“I should write that report now,” she said wearily.
“You know as soon as you file it, he’s going to send me back,” he said.
She looked down, away from him. Then she looked back, nodding.
“I hope you can find my missing people, Priyanka,” said Marco, and he turned and entered the habitat.
Priyanka stiffened her spine and went to her room and closed the door.
Marco wasn’t used to tequila, either, and his first and second instincts were to crash. He lay in his bunk for a couple of minutes, but his mind wouldn’t quiet.
He had zero enthusiasm for writing his own report. Lockeridge wasn’t interested in what he would say, and Kobick cared even less. But he was determined to do what he could to further the investigation before he was forced to return to the warren.
He sat down at the terminal and laid out all the details of their suppositions, including their inferences regarding Nicole Blythe. To protect Toby, Marco simply pretended that he had already received the forensic report from his precinct.
Marco’s report also reflected his conviction that Chadwell was behind it all. He knew this might create further difficulties for Priyanka, but he expected she could take care of herself.
“She’s a big girl,” he slurred to himself.
He stopped typing. He thought he heard something outside the habitat. He saved his draft and headed outside. What he saw stopped him cold.
Priyanka was back in her seat at the kitchen table. She had removed her tunic, revealing her silken chemise, the top buttons undone. Most spectacularly, her long hair was flying in every direction. She had released every braid and tie and run her fingers through the dark curtains and sprays until they moved of their own volition.
Marco felt he was gazing up at a primeval beauty. At first, her face was uncertain, and he thought he saw her bite her lower lip. Then she blinked, drew a deep breath and put on an almost mischievous smile. He found himself slowly walking towards her, her smile widening as she drew him in. He stopped when he was about eight inches from the table edge, his legs in a broad stance for balance as he leaned his neck back to keep her colossal face in view.
“You said that last night you took a good look at my hair; would you care to touch it?” she asked, her smile changing from impish to courteous.
Even though her ears were now somewhat obscured, he could see that she wasn’t wearing her earpiece, so he knew his voice was unamplified.
“More than anything,” he said in a normal tone, then signaled his assent with a thumbs-up.
She brought her open right palm next to him, and after he stepped into it she cupped him as she brought him to her left shoulder. He kept his eyes on hers until he was compelled to find a secure perch.
The fabric of her chemise was too sheer, so he stepped inside her collar, standing on the bare skin of her shoulder and putting a hand on her neck for balance. He needed it, because he paused to take in the many powerful fragrances. Her hair itself showered and curled around him like thick soft vines, overwhelming him with the scent of citrus. Her skin had a nuttier smell, and he saw bumps rising on the back of her neck. Behind it all was the salty tang that he knew was her natural scent.
He reached up and grasped her earlobe. “It’s so beautiful,” he said, no louder than he had when using his phone. Priyanka heard his voice tinny but clear. Marco felt her ear grow warm.
“I could curl up in here and sleep forever,” he said.
“Ready for bed so soon?” she whispered, knowing she didn’t have to speak any louder.
He had already felt her bra strap with his foot, so he found it easily with his hands as he let himself drop over her clavicle and slip under her shirt. When he stopped himself with his feet on the lower corner of her left bra cup, he leaned back and looked up out of her shirt at her face, which had become more serious since he saw it last.
She raised an eyebrow. He gave a self-satisfied smile and slipped inside her bra cup. She watched his shape underneath her shirt for a bit, then closed her eyes and imagined his progress through the feelings in her breast.
At first he lay face down, spread-eagled, listening to her heartbeat and letting her breathing and the bra cup press him into her flesh. Eventually he slid himself downward, first straddling then sliding over her nipple. As his legs slipped under her breast, she thought she felt him make a couple of quick thrusts with his pelvis.
Marco could not, of course, fit Priyanka’s entire nipple into his mouth, but she was unprepared for the electric sensations caused by his kissing, sucking, and nibbling on the resilient tip. She found herself leaning forward as her awareness contracted to her tit.
When Priyanka opened her eyes, Marco was gently nuzzling her nipple with his face, embracing her breast with his entire body. She exhaled, then leaned back and slowly reached into her bra. Her fingers closed around his torso, and she lifted him out of her shirt.
Priyanka held Marco so close that he could only look at part of her face at once. Her mouth was open slightly, and he was entranced when her tongue appeared and glided over first her lower then her upper lip. He sought the refuge of her wide brown eyes as she brought up her other hand, palm up and fingers pointed out. Holding him under his arms with just a thumb and index finger, she stood him on her open palm.
“Now, Detective,” she said softly, “If you would care to disrobe, there’s something I’ve been wanting to try.”
She brought her hand even closer and made no attempt to hide how much she was anticipating the show. He chuckled and shifted his gaze away from her enormous eyes as he started to unbutton his shirt. She noted the day-old stubble on his chin, explaining some of the curious stimulation she had felt on her nipple. She thought she could look at his boyish grin all day, but then his shirt came off and there were his shoulders, tiny but decisive. His abs twisted as he looked for a place to put his shirt. She crooked her thumb to give him support as he removed his shoes. She slowly inhaled as he arched his back and removed his pants and briefs, tilting her head slightly to take in the curves of his ass. His thigh muscles tightened as he lifted his legs out of his pants. After he dropped the last of his clothes onto her palm, he didn’t know what to do with his hands, and he finally decided to link them behind his head.
He had been hard as hickory since he stepped onto her shoulder and even while he was held defenseless in her palm, his cock stood strong and thick. Almost a half-inch long, it aimed up at her from a patch of dark hair that extended all the way to his sternum. She rotated her hand slightly so she could watch his balls sway in and out of the thatch.
With her free hand, Priyanka plucked Marco’s clothes and left them in a pile outside the habitat door. She picked him up under his arms again and dangled him in front of her face. Resting his arms on the tips of her thumb and index finger, Marco grinned as she brought him close enough to sniff with nostrils that could accommodate his arms. Her mischievous smirk returned, and out came her tongue.
Hot and pink and wet, it was at least as big as Marco’s entire body and unquestionably stronger. She plunged it between his dangling legs then slowly draped the wet muscle over his cock and balls upward to his chest. Even with his voice unamplified, Priyanka heard his grunt of pleasure loud and clear.
She pulled him away to regard his face, and she was gratified by his gaze of intense yearning. She lapped him twice more, then twisted him around so she could have his ass. She poked the soft tip of her tongue between his butt cheeks and as more of her tongue slid through forcing his legs apart, he could feel each of her giant taste buds rubbing his tiny asshole. She was savoring his ass, but she wanted more.
Priyanka smacked her lips as she leaned back in her chair and lifted Marco over her head. She tilted her head back, took a deep breath, then opened her mouth wide. Looking down past his aching cock, Marco could see straight down her gullet. Her eyes held only hunger. He yelped with exhilaration and fear as she dropped him into her mouth, her lips catching him as they closed about his torso. Only his head and right shoulder and arm remained outside.
Her lips’ grip on him was amazingly firm as her tongue slammed into his legs, ass, and back, pressing his body against the roof of her mouth. She moaned softly as his cock and balls slid across her palate. Then her tongue and lips relaxed, and he was able to free his left arm. He pressed his face into her soft upper lip and kissed it, but it tightened and shifted to expose her incisors, which clamped on his chest and back. Her bite was not unpainful, but he forgot it as her tongue slithered between his legs and she sucked the lower half of his body like a lemon drop.
Priyanka brought her head back upright, and Marco was momentarily on his back until she rolled him over with her tongue. He now embraced the supple and irresistible instrument of her appetite, burying his face and thrusting his cock into the wet and undulating mattress of muscle.
He came hard, his back arching against her upper teeth and his legs spasming straight on either side of her tongue. She heard and felt his plaintive moan through her lips on his back and chest. Only when he relaxed did she realize how tightly he had been clenching her tongue. He rested his head and shoulders on her lower lip as if it were a pillow, but then he felt her chuckle naughtily and her tongue gathered him entirely into her mouth, her teeth closing to shut him inside the warm blackness.
He grasped at her teeth, but he could find no purchase on the slick stones. Her tongue writhed and pinned him against her palate, and his feet dropped as he felt her epiglottis fall away to open the passage to her esophagus. Then his ears popped as she sucked most of the fluids around him down her throat.
She sponged more saliva from his body with her lips as she gently nudged him out of her mouth into her palm with the loving tip of her tongue. He lay curled up and Mohing for half a minute, then rolled onto his back and blinked up at her.
“God, that was fantastic!” he shouted.
“Still fit for duty?” she asked, prompting him to guffaw sharply. His limp dick was still tender, and he flinched as her fingers curled around him and she stood and carried him into her bedroom.
Priyanka’s room was almost certainly less tidy than then last time she admitted a lover, but then again, it wasn’t Marco’s first visit. She strode to the foot of the bed and laid his still-trembling form on the sheets, the stood straight before him.
She watched his tiny face below as she deliberately but quickly unbuttoned her chemise and pulled it off, shaking her hair free from the collar. Then she pulled her pants over her hips, and as she stooped to lift her legs out, she saw that Marco had gotten to his feet and was staring at her with unabashed awe.
Dropping her pants into a chair, Priyanka turned away from Marco and reached behind her back to unfasten her bra. Keeping her back to him, she revealed her ass as she peeled her underwear off and tossed them with the rest of her clothes. Only then did she place her hands on her hips and turn around to look down upon the three-inch-tall man on her bed.
Marco was utterly possessed by the skyscraper-sized woman standing over him. He had been in close proximity to Priyanka’s breasts from the moment he met her, but now he had his first good look at them. They hung over him with their massive slopes and succulent peaks, twin hillocks he longed to summit. As mesmerizing as her tits were, his gaze lingered on them for only a couple of seconds before it fell to her crotch.
Slightly more than half the women of Marco’s experience had shaved the hair between their legs, and for no reason he could explain he had expected Priyanka to have done likewise. He was therefore surprised to see her modest but thick and definitely untrimmed bush surrounding her pussy as it loomed over his head. She widened her stance slightly to admit a sliver of light between the curves of her inner thighs and the outline of her nether lips. Without his realizing it, Marco’s hand had drifted to his cock.
Priyanka had noticed it, of course, and she bent at the waist, pulling her pussy away and bringing her face down in front of Marco. His hand dropped away and his head snapped up. She grinned broadly and blew a sharp puff of air at him, knocking him on his ass.
She waited until he had propped himself up on one elbow, then she stood up over him again. In her view he was framed between her breasts, and she turned right then left, alternately obscuring him with each boob. Relishing his regard, Priyanka positively sashayed as she walked to the head of the bed and climbed onto the mattress, getting on her hands and knees facing Marco.
He was buffeted when she got on the bed, but harmlessly so. She came for him, her hair and face looming above him, her breasts dangling ponderously, and beyond was the arch formed by her mighty thighs and her enticing pussy.
Priyanka stretched out her legs behind her, lowered her abdomen to the bed, and rested her remaining weight on her elbows, her hands on either side of Marco. Her head was now directly over him, filling his entire sky. He reclined his head on one arm to look up into her eyes, and he draped his other arm on a crooked leg.
“I’m all yours,” he shouted.
“Oh, yes,” she purred.
She breathed deeply, wondering how long she could wait, enjoying the sight of his thighs, cock, and shoulders, before she would take the next step.
He lowered his gaze to her breasts, swaying before him just a few steps away. He suspected that, if he acted on instinct and slipped himself between the warm walls of her cleavage, she would probably pin him between her tits, or even lower her chest entirely onto the mattress. Before he could think twice about it, he scrambled to his feet and leapt onto the back of her hand.
Priyanka watched this exercise with bemusement, delighted to see Marco’s legs flex and his ass churn. His tiny footfalls raised goose bumps on her forearm, and she gasped at the tug she felt when he grabbed several strands of her hair to help him scale her upper arm. He disappeared into her hair and she felt him reach her shoulder and approach her ear.
“Priyanka, you’re beautiful and terrifying, and I need to tell you something,” he said. “If I die tonight—and I well might—know that I will die the happiest man on earth.”
“That’s sweet, Marco,” she whispered. “But I won’t let you die. Not ‘till I’m ready.”
He found the tenderest part of her earlobe and bit it as hard as he could.
“Ai!” she exclaimed, louder than she probably should have. “What else are you prepared to do?”
Keeping a secure hold on her hair, he plunged further into her sweet mane and made his way to the back of her neck. To minimize his pulling, she lay her head down on the bed. He took in her scents for another minute, then set off walking along her backbone toward her ass. He stopped again when he reached the base of her spine to survey the curves of her ass that rose as high as his head. He climbed one cheek partway then threw himself face down onto the soft mound, his arms trailing in the crack.
Priyanka could feel that Marco’s cock had reawoken. She emitted a skeptical “hmmf.”
He pulled himself over the crest of her derriere and rolled into the crevasse, his head deep between her cheeks and his feet closest to her asshole. She couldn’t see much looking over her shoulder, but her sensitive skin told her all she needed to know. Finally, she gave into the urge to clench him with her buttocks.
To Marco it was a landslide of flesh, almost knocking the wind out of him. She released him after only about three seconds, but when he didn’t immediately extricate himself she closed her cheeks about him again. Entombed in Priyanka’s ass, Marco was deluged with odors both sweet and funky. Unable to move his limbs, he clamped his mouth onto the deepest part of her crack and sucked and bit and sucked, giving her the most intense hickey he could.
She felt him latch on like a leech, and reflexively she clenched her butt even tighter. Then she relaxed and closed her eyes, concentrating on his stinging bite. Keeping his suction going, he extended his now-free limbs to spread her ass open slightly. His leg probed downward, and when he finally pulled his mouth out of her crack, he slipped his foot into her asshole.
Priyanka’s sphincter reacted before she could, closing about Marco’s foot. He then felt her whole body shift and her ass lifted into the air as she got on her hands and knees. He freed his foot by jumping out of her ass and dropping to the bed.
He watched her crotch, belly, and breasts heave over him as she sat back on her legs. Standing before her knees on the bed, he looked up past her thighs, bush, midriff, and tits to find her expectant face. He hoped she could read his sheepish smile.
“Okay,” she declared, “let’s do this.” She scooped him up in her fist and swung her legs out in front of her, propping pillows behind her head and back. She lay back, spread her legs and bent her knees. Finally, she stood Marco on her abdomen just above her navel.
After both their recent exertions, Priyanka’s stomach wasn’t the most secure footing for Marco. Standing with his arms out for balance, he looked across the plain of her torso to her smoldering face, which was again framed by her tempting breasts. He thought about climbing them, humping them, even crawling underneath them. But then he turned away from them, because he knew what she wanted.
As he waded into the thicket of her pubic hair, he was overcome by the salty scent of her lust. He trailed his hands through her curls and brought his fingers to his nose to draw in her taste.
Without realizing it, Priyanka held her breath as she felt his tiny feet stepping into her crotch. He walked to one side of her pussy, and as he put out a hand to touch her raised thigh, her leg trembled. He disappeared from her view as he slid down alongside her pussy onto the bed. She grabbed a small bolster and wedged it between her feet to keep her legs from closing. She then selected a small mirror and propped it up against the bolster to give her a clear view of Marco and his labors.
If he had stopped to reflect upon it, the sight before Marco probably would have paralyzed him with religious awe. Priyanka’s vulva, forested with musky fur, swelled above him. Her inner lips were open to him, slick and beckoning. At the top, a glistening cowl sheathed her clit. Through her bush beyond he could see her left hand cupping her breast, and above it all her trusting smile and hungry eyes.
Losing himself to desire, he shouldered his body between her lips, plunging his head into the sultry darkness and wildly exploring her interior walls with his arms and hands. Licking and kissing with abandon, he drank deeply and greedily of her. Completely unconsciously, he slipped a foot inside and started thrusting his cock along the folds.
When he withdrew his head to take a breath, Marco noticed that Priyanka’s right hand had arrived and begun to massage her clit. He stepped fully onto the lower ledge of her vagina and, with all the strength in his good arm, punched her fingers away from her exposed nub.
Priyanka had been entranced watching his progress in the mirror. In particular, she couldn’t get enough of the sight of his thighs straining and his ass pumping against her sex. She didn’t awaken to the purpose of his ascent up her mound until she felt her fingers evicted. She gasped, but she couldn’t see his face, and so she brought her right hand up to join her left in stroking her nipples.
Having her animal bud to himself, Marco reached up under the retracted hood and hauled himself up, embracing the tender horn of flesh and nerves. Opening his mouth as wide as he could, he kissed and licked and sucked her pulsing clit. As he fellated her, he drew his lower trunk and legs up and into her canal, his outstretched feet and stiffened shaft tracing his rhythms on her upper walls.
As soon as she saw his legs disappear into her, her breaths became shorter and more rapid. In the mirror she saw his head go to work on her, then she closed her eyes and gave herself over to the ministrations of the tiny man risking life and limb to bring her to the precipice of pleasure. And then he pushed her over.
Her crooning howl started deep in her chest and escaped her throat before she heard it coming. Her hands dropped to the bed and clutched the sheets. Her feet buckled the bolster as her legs tried to clamp together. Her belly and thighs rippled with bliss. When she came down, she noticed that she could no longer feel Marco.
She sat up and spied him on the bed just outside her pussy. He was on his back, wiping his face. She scooped him up and held him before her face.
“Are you alright? Did I hurt you?” she asked.
“Never better,” he shouted. “Just lost my grip. Let’s keep going.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! Let’s go!” He couldn’t keep the insistence out of his voice. She dabbed his throbbing cock with the tip of her tongue and smiled.
“Okay,” she said, laying back and letting him down between her legs. She tried to slow her breathing down, and she grasped the backs of her thighs to keep her legs apart (she hoped). Then she looked at the mirror to watch him renew his endeavor.
There was one thing Marco wanted to do while he still had all his faculties. He stepped between her lips, bent forward and reached into her tunnel with his arms and head, then with legs propelled his upper body deep into her. She was much more slippery now, and it was easy for him to pull himself all the way inside her. The last she saw of him in the mirror were his shimmying feet as her pussy engulfed him whole.
It was hot, humid, and dark. Her heartbeat and breath sounds enclosed him like a living sea. Her muscular walls contracted and relaxed to draw him deeper into her cunt. He lay on his back and thrust his legs straight up and stiff, then vigorously scuffed his feet back and forth across the slick and heaving membrane. A tremor bucked beneath him, and he felt her moan resonate through her bowels. He arched his back and flexed his limbs to their fullest extent, pushing back against the muscles that tried to constrict him. Then he curled up and, like a relay swimmer, flipped over and kicked off from her cervix, crawling toward the light.
Again, Priyanka found herself holding her breath as she watched first Marco’s hands then his head emerge from her inflamed pussy. He pulled his shoulders and chest out and once more grappled her erect bud. He didn’t suck her clit but rather used it as an anchor as he slid his resolute frame in and out of her. His cock found a pucker in her folds that yielded to it with each probe.
Priyanka’s fingers dug into her thighs as she held her legs open. Her inner lips felt his shoulders and back straining to push his body into her and then haul it back out. Then his arms stopped pulling, his legs spasmed, and she knew he was cumming inside her.
After a few seconds, he resumed penetrating her, but now he alternated folding his legs and kicking them against her upper walls or scissor-kicking to the sides. She began to arch her back and lifted her ass off the bed. He must have heard her whimpering, and he sped up his thrusts. As the wave of ecstasy began to build again in her legs, she shut her eyes and moaned with each accelerating breath. She released her thighs, threw an arm over her head and thrust her other hand into her crotch. She put a finger on each of Marco’s shoulders and shoved him deeper into her cunt than he had gone before.
Furiously rubbing her clit and plunging her fingers into her twat, Priyanka finished herself off with a wrenching flood of joy. Her toes curled into the sheets and she turned her head and keened into the pillow. She reopened her legs and gingerly fished him out, laying him between her breasts. He rolled onto his hands and knees, Mohing like a shipwrecked sailor.
“That was some fancy footwork, mister,” she said when he had finished sputtering. He sat back against the soft slope of her breast.
“It was nothing compared to what you did to me with your tongue,” he replied.
“Nevertheless, Marco, I am very glad to have made your acquaintance”
“The pleasure was mine, ma’am. Any time you feel like doing this again, you let me know.”
And then he finally passed out.
Marco awoke on a mat of dark, fragrant vines. He didn’t have to turn his head to know that Priyanka had transferred him to her pillow so that he could spend the night in her hair. He woke her with several kisses on her cheek, just below her eye.
“Stayed for breakfast, did you?” she asked.
“I’m betting you know how to scramble an egg,” he replied.
Priyanka had never cooked in the nude before, but she enjoyed the effect it had on Marco. After they had eaten, she got to watch him shower in the sink.
“Are you up for another expedition?” she asked once they were dressed.
“What did you have in mind?”
“I want you to wear an omni-surveillance rig and sneak into Chadwell’s office.”
Priyanka deferred filing her report by noting that background checks on every last person tangentially known to be associated with Orlov were not yet complete. Kobick would reject the extension, but it would take a few hours to get through the Cohort bureaucracy.
She hacked into Marco’s WA transponder so that he could toggle the signal off and on. Mohi looked up all the recent work orders to WA for jaked plumbers, located an unused AV telemetry kit and requisitioned it.
“Chadwell’s office is undoubtedly his clean room,” Priyanka explained. “During our interview by law he had to deactivate everything except passive audio and video recording, and my rig would have noticed anything else. That’s why your WA transponder didn’t give you away. He certainly swept after we left, and now he’ll pick anything up, so you’ll have to be cache and carry.”
“I can still call you, right?” Marco asked.
“Anywhere but inside his clean room, which is almost certainly shielded. You’ll be broadcasting AV in realtime, as well as caching locally. When you get near his clean room, shut down your transponder and realtime uplink.”
Priyanka wore plainclothes with a stylish hat and sunglasses for the approach to Chadwell’s office. She had Mohi run interference on all calls other than from Marco. He rode in her purse as she strolled through Pacific Heights.
“It’s gonna take me a while to get in and out,” he said. “How long should I loiter?”
“Three hours?” she mused. “I’ve been on stakeouts twenty times as long.”
“Yeah, but I bet you didn’t need carabiners to climb a flight of stairs.”
“Tribune Kobick said you were resourceful. After the past two days, I would have to agree.”
After she dropped him by the main entrance it took him an hour to hitch a ride with a courier to the mailroom and wait for a trolley headed to the top floor.
“I’m on the floor with the clean room,” Marco informed Priyanka over the phone. “No sign of Orlov. Going off the air soon.”
“Be careful, Marco.”
“Don’t worry about me; I’m gonna get this guy.”
No one was in Chadwell’s office when Marco squeezed under the door. The plumber’s sampler wasn’t designed to collect DNA, but Marco ran it along the floor near all the chairs in case Orlov had shed any skin flakes while getting his marching orders. He crept under the desk and studied the cables while wondering if Chadwell might have left anything incriminating (and accessible) on his desk. Then someone entered the office.
Marco scurried to the hiding spot he had previously selected, and all he saw for a while was a pair of expensive shoes. He recognized Chadwell’s voice when he addressed his personal assistant. Chadwell accessed an encrypted file that required an additional biometric identification. The file was named “Silling House,” and he called up subfiles for Personnel, Signal Traffic, and Balance of Payments. Of course, Marco couldn’t see the display.
After about 15 minutes, Chadwell addressed his receptionist or chamberlain or whatever. “Send in Ms. Zhou, please.”
Marco couldn’t see her enter, but as the middle-aged woman approached Chadwell’s desk Marco saw that she was dressed tastefully but economically.
“Veronica,” said Chadwell, rounding the desk to peck her on the cheek. “Always a delight.” Her posture was deferential while buttressed by a timeworn pride.
“Thank you for seeing me,” she said.
“Not at all,” he said, returning to his seat. “Please sit down.”
She sat, placing a large valise next to her chair.
“So how is it going down there?” he asked.
“As I predicted, it’s been a total success.”
“As I predicted.”
“Of course. But we need fresh stock.”
“Ah, I’m afraid there’s been a hiccup in the supply chain.”
“That’s unfortunate. Our clients have developed a taste.”
“Perhaps a little scarcity will whet their appetites.”
“It will drive them to other sources. What kind of hiccup?”
“That’s none of your concern. How long will our current stock last?”
“I had that, uh, consultant you sent me perform an inspection and prepare a spoilage analysis.” She opened her valise and withdrew a sheaf of paper, which she handed to Chadwell.
Marco had a thought. He needed to decide now. While Zhou was waiting for Chadwell’s reaction, Marco ran behind her chair and vaulted into her open valise.
Marco’s new hiding place muffled the others’ voices, and he hoped his mike rendered them audible.
“Go ahead and adopt the, uh, report’s recommendations regarding conservation of the stock,” Chadwell said finally. “I’ll expedite renewal of our supply.”
Marco was jostled as Zhou dropped the report next to him and closed the valise. Shortly thereafter he discovered just how careful Priyanka had been when carrying him in her bags as someone, presumably Zhou, lifted the valise and swung it without concern for any tiny passengers.
The valise’s motion stopped and started. Marco couldn’t be certain that he was no longer in the clean room. Was that the elevator door? A momentary drop in gravity confirmed that it was. When his ride resumed walking, he called Priyanka.
“I’ve hitched a ride that I think will take me to my missing people,” he said into the phone. “Uploading AV now. I think I’m riding with Veronica Zhou. Her encounter with Chadwell starts at 1h28m. I got her face and her voice. I’m sure I can collect her DNA from this valise I’m in.”
“Any sign of Orlov?” asked Priyanka.
“I sampled the floor in Chadwell’s office, but I didn’t see or hear him.”
“I’ve got your signal, I’m following from a distance. I’ll look at the AV in a minute, but why did you hitch a ride with this person?”
“A hunch. Just before her appointment, Chadwell was looking at files for something called ‘Silling House.’ The way they talked about it gave me the shivers.”
“I hope you’re right. Tying Orlov to Chadwell was our best—only—hope of getting Kobick to let me bust him and go through his files.”
The contents of the valise slammed into Marco as his ride carelessly set it down. Then he heard the unmistakable sound of a car door shutting and the engine starting.
“I’m in a car now,” he reported.
“Way ahead of you,” replied Priyanka. “It looks like you are indeed riding with the person you identified as Veronica Zhou. I’m heading back to my car.”
Priyanka didn’t catch the plate on Zhou’s car, but she had Mohi add the make and model to his global search. As soon as she rounded the corner she started sprinting for her car. Mohi already had Marco’s signal displayed on her onboard nav system.
She safely pulled out into traffic and followed the signal north through the Presidio and across the Golden Gate. Her following distance varied between 200 and 500 meters. They got off 101 in Mill Valley and headed northwest.
Then she lost the signal.
Marco realized his connection to Priyanka was lost less than a minute after she did, but there was nothing he could do about it. There was no appreciable change in the noise or motion of his ride, so he didn’t imagine it was part of a deliberate attempt to shake Priyanka. He could only hope that she maintained visual contact or had found some other means by which to track his movements.
Less than a half hour after Marco lost connection, Zhou parked and resumed carrying the valise as she walked. She stopped once to talk to someone briefly, but Marco couldn’t make out Zhou’s muffled words, let alone those of her interlocutor.
Another five-minute stroll and the valise came to a vertiginous and abrupt rest. When Marco hadn’t heard anything for two minutes, he started on getting the zipper open from the inside. When he had created an opening large enough for him and his gear, he emerged into a partially lit room.
The valise was resting on an upper shelf of a business desk unit in what Marco guessed was Zhou’s office. He could detect no one else in the room. It wouldn’t be too difficult to use his gear to descend the shelves to the floor, but he would be pretty conspicuous to anyone who entered the room.
Then Marco noticed an air vent about 10 subjective feet from the edge of the shelf. The gratings were wide enough for Marco to slip through and pull his pack after him. He didn’t know precisely what he was looking for or how long it would take him to find it, and moving out of sight and with an elevated perspective seemed very attractive.
He swung his grappling hook and line and easily caught the grating. He pulled himself up and through the grating, then pulled the line and pack up.
It was difficult for Marco to navigate through the ducts; twice he thought he had come to a new room only to determine that he was looking at the previous room from a second vent. He didn’t find any connection to upper or lower floors, so he assumed he was in a single-storey building.
After surveying two more non-descript offices and a supply room, all unoccupied, Marco looked out of a vent into a sumptuously decorated lounge. Rich wood paneling with baroque finishing surrounded an antique table, a four-poster bed, and two leather-upholstered high-backed chairs. In one of these last reclined a middle-aged man that somehow seemed familiar to Marco, although he couldn’t immediately place him. The man was having a drink, apparently alone.
Marco tried to crane his head out of the vent to get a better look at the man’s face, but the grating was loose and Marco tumbled out. His fall was halted by a wall fixture about a foot beneath the vent. The fixture was concave at the tip and hollow, and now it contained Marco, concealing him from view.
Marco held still, checking himself for injuries and praying his descent hadn’t been noticed. After a minute, he decided to stand and peek at the man, who remained oblivious to Marco. The wall fixture seemed to be some sort of rococo sconce, purely ornamental but which afforded Marco a wide perspective on the room. Neither of his escape options were very inviting. Climbing a line either back up to the vent or down to the floor would expose him for a dauntingly long time.
Marco looked again at the man holding the drink. He was sharply dressed, and he kept looking at the door. Marco knew this guy was some kind of celebrity, but he still hadn’t identified him when the door opened.
A trolley was pushed into the room by a young woman dressed in a uniform reminiscent of a hotel bell captain. The interior shelves of the trolley contained bottles of liquor, gourmet snacks, and samples of illicit tobacco. On top was a mahogany box, an intricately-carved cylinder beneath a smooth dome.
The woman brought the trolley to rest in front of the man, who remained seated. She released a latch on the box and slid the dome up and into a recess inside the base, revealing the interior to the man.
“Your selection, sir,” she said.
He put down his drink and stood up to look down into the box. As the woman refilled his glass, he reached inside the wooden container. Even from his distant vantage point, Marco could hear the jaked woman screaming before the man lifted her struggling nude form out.
“That will be all,” the man said to the uniformed woman, who left closing the door behind her.
Marco was horror-struck, but then he remembered he was supposed to be gathering evidence, and he zoomed in with his imager. He plainly recognized Kim Lightman from her medical record, futilely resisting the giant’s grip. She was blonde and chesty, about half the size of a Barbie doll.
The man held Lightman before his face by her arms and gave her a big lick across her tits and face. Then he stuck his tongue between her legs and ass crack. He gave a grotesque moan and said, “You like that, doncha ya little bitch?”
The sound of her crying was cut off when he stuck her head-first into his mouth, with only her kicking legs remaining visible. Chuckling with his mouth full, the man stood and lowered his pants to his ankles. Then he exposed his dick, not quite erect. He sat down and reclined, spreading his legs, then withdrew the Mohing Lightman from his mouth.
“There it is, bitch,” said the man, dangling her upside down above his languid cock. “You better live up to your billing.”
She shrieked as he jerked her upright in front of his face. “Need more lube,” he said, then he spit an enormous loogie in her face.
He lowered his hand and let her slide down his belly, and she came to rest in the curly hair at the base of his stirring dick. He clasped his hands behind his head and grinned at the tiny woman in his crotch, dripping with his saliva.
“Get to work, bitch,” he rumbled. Lightman slowly stood and wrapped her body around the tree-trunk-sized cock, which had started bobbing with anticipation. Her boobs were squeezed flat and to the sides as she pressed them against his shaft. She pumped her body up and down his cock, and it swelled in response.
“Hump it,” he commanded. “Get your legs into it.” She pulled herself up and wrapped her legs around the bucking log, grinding her pussy into his flesh.
“Yeah, that’s it,” he mumbled, closing his eyes. “Lick the head. Put that whore’s mouth to work.”
When Lightman didn’t immediately respond, the man put a thumb on her ass and shoved her up until her face was against the tip of his cock. She grabbed the head and licked it as broadly as she could. He grunted when she rimmed his pisshole.
She thought he might come then, and he must have thought so too because he abruptly lifted her off his cock and slipped her underneath his balls. She was on her back with her head pointed out, but his hairy ballsack lay on top of her like a hot, sweaty sea lion.
“Go ahead,” he said. “Give ‘em a good squeeze.” She flailed her arms around the floppy skin, but she never found the purchase to apply any pressure. One of her feet became wedged under his perineum, and her attempts to free it seemed to quicken his arousal.
“Fuck it,” said the man, reaching down and liberating Lightman from his taint. Holding her upright across his palm, he pressed her against the underside of his cock and started jerking off. His grip around her torso was so strong that she couldn’t breathe, and she tried pushing away from his shaft with all of her limbs. He grunted approvingly.
As he started to cum, he slid her up and pressed her face into his pisshole. As each spurt of jizz soaked her head, he shouted, “Eat it!”
When the man’s grip finally relaxed, Lightman was finally able to curl out of his hand and collapse on his thigh, trying to recover her wind. He savored his orgasm for a while, then scooped the sticky, sobbing woman up to his face. He licked her tits and her ass, then considered her for a moment. He leaned over to the table and keyed the intercom.
“Yes, Senator?” answered Zhou’s voice.
“I want to eat her,” said Senator Kyle Bachmann of Arizona, keeping his eyes on the horrified woman in his fist.
“Excuse me?” said Zhou.
“Eat her. You know, bite her tits off, chew her up, down she goes.”
“I’m sorry, Senator, but the terms of the agreement you signed clearly preclude any such damage to your selection.”
“I’ll cover the cost.”
“Out of the question.”
Bachmann clearly didn’t look like someone used to being thwarted. “All right,” he said finally. “I’ll be done in five.” He terminated the call.
“Too bad, morsel,” he said to Lightman. “Until next time.” He lifted her up and dangled her above his open mouth, while she cried, “No!”
He lowered one of her kicking legs into his mouth and brought his teeth together on her thigh, leaving a bruise that would probably last weeks. Then he put her whimpering back into the box.
Bachmann wiped himself off and pulled his pants up. He finished his drink, and Marco thought Bachmann was also savoring the sounds of despair coming from the trolley.
Immediately after the Senator left, another uniformed woman entered the room. Before she started tidying up, she shut the box on Lightman’s sobbing. She finished cleaning in less than ten minutes and then wheeled the trolley out.
Marco didn’t have to wait long for the next customer.
The room was next entered by a pale-skinned woman with curly red hair and a bronze-skinned man with short dark hair. They were both dressed casually but clearly also very expensively. The man couldn’t stop ogling his companion, and Marco couldn’t blame him. She had a friskiness that wouldn’t let her settle anywhere and her curls and curves were always in motion.
“Oh, Tony,” she said, “I can’t believe you agreed to do this!”
“Anything for you, babe,” he replied
She flitted around the room, nervously taking in each luxurious detail. As she neared Marco’s sconce, Tony called, “Hey, Francesca, sit down.” She joined him waiting at the table.
The uniformed hostess returned with the trolley. Tony and Francesca weren’t having drinks, and they leaned forward as the hostess opened the box.
“Oh, how precious,” squealed Francesca, hesitating a moment before reaching in and withdrawing a dark-skinned woman with shoulder-length hair. Marco ID’d her as Roberta “Bobbi” Pierce. Francesca had curled her fingers around Bobbi, but then she made a platform of her palm.
“Stand up, honey,” said Francesca. “We want to have a look at ya.” Bobbi stood, her arms at her sides. Tony got close to gaze at the tiny woman.
“She’s a looker, ain’t she?” said Francesca.
“Hmm,” said Tony approvingly.
“C’mon, tell me. You’d fuck her if she was, you know, a real person, right?”
“Yeah, I’d tap that,” said Tony. Bobbi tried to stifle any reaction.
“Lie back, honey,” said Francesca. Bobbi lay down on her back in Francesca’s hand. She brought the tiny woman close to her face and stuck out her tongue. She nudged Bobbi’s legs apart and probed her crotch.
“Oh, I can feel her tiny twat!” she exclaimed.
“How’s it taste?” asked Tony drily.
Francesca gave a schoolmarmish look. “Try it yourself,” she said, holding Bobbi out to him.
He cracked his giant jaw, then loomed over Bobbi, who tried to avoid his skeptical gaze and failed. His breath washed over her as he slurped her from thigh to brow.
“Tastes like tuna,” he said, looking at Francesca, who rolled her eyes.
“You’re such a troll,” she said, smiling. She tried to make the tip of her tongue as fine a point as possible as it explored Bobbi’s cleft. Relieved to be away from Tony, Bobbi found herself arching her back into the giant woman’s tongue. Francesca gave a satisfied moan.
Tony sighed loudly, signaling both his arousal and his impatience. Francesca deliberately ignored him for half a minute, then curled her fingers around Bobbi and turned to him.
“Take it out,” she said to Tony. “I want to see her face.” She sat in a chair and held Bobbi upright. Tony steadied himself on the chair as he removed first his shoes, then pants, and finally his briefs. Francesca watched Bobbi as she brought them both close to his swelling cock, now twice as tall as Bobbi. Whether it was affected or genuine, the widening of Bobbi’s eyes pleased Francesca no end.
Tony regularly shaved his groin, so there was nothing between Bobbi and his warm, wrinkled skin when Francesca perched her on the base of his member, Bobbi’s legs dangling on either side of his massive dick.
Both Tony and Francesca were fascinated by this sight. Bobbi was jolted forward and had to put her hands on Tony’s pole when Francesca grabbed his ass and pulled him to her face. She kept her eyes on Bobbi as she took the first five inches of Tony into her cavernous mouth. Bobbi dug her heels and formed stirrups in the side of his cock as the giant woman’s nose, eyes, and hair crowded into Tony’s crotch.
Francesca didn’t linger half as long with Tony as she had with Bobbi, and she stood up well before he could climax. She unceremonially removed all of her clothing, revealing her perky pink nipples, poochy belly, and just a trace of fiery tuft between her legs. Tony barely noticed her as he played with his balls and doted on the tiny woman riding his cock.
Francesca grasped his cock, kissed him deeply, then stepped to the bed, having deftly retrieved Bobbi. She lay on the bed, legs spread and knees up. She held Bobbi close to her breast. Tony sat at the foot of the bed, cock in hand.
“Tony can never find my button,” Francesca said to Bobbi, “But I bet you can, can’t you honey?” She let Bobbi down just below her pooch. She smiled as Bobbi got on her hands and knees, displaying her tiny round ass to Francesca. She reached a hand into Francesca’s folds and slid the hood back.
“Ah,” murmured Francesca. Bobbi was using both hands now, kneading the giant clit as if it were bread dough. She wobbled a bit when Francesca writhed and started fiddling with her nipples.
Perhaps conscious of Tony staring at her down the valley of Francesca’s legs, Bobbi turned her back on Tony and slipped her legs down between Francesca’s outer lips. Bobbi could sense the sound and heat from the increased blood flow to the vulva that surrounded her.
“Tony, come here,” said Francesca insistently. Bobbi tried not to look up at Tony’s monster dong as he climbed over Francesca’s legs and straddled the red-haired woman, his knees on the bed.
One of Francesca’s hands cupped his balls and gently stroked his shaft while the other hand drifted down and stroked her thigh, coming ever closer to Bobbi. The tiny woman glanced up and then couldn’t tear her eyes away from Tony’s giant curving ass cheeks, which could easily engulf and crush her. She was therefore taken completely by surprise when Francesca’s finger shoved the lower half of Bobbi’s body into Francesca’s giant cunt.
“Oh, baby, fuck me now!” whined Francesca. Her abdomen and the mattress lurched as Tony scrambled backwards between her legs. Bobbi had only partially extricated herself from Francesca’s cave when she looked up to see the eye of Tony’s wyrm lunging at her.
Francesca grunted like a tennis player when Tony plunged inside her and started pumping. Either Bobbi’s massage skills or Francesca’s acting skills must have been considerable, because Francesca’s pleasure dubiously coincided with Tony’s hair trigger.
He remained within her for over a minute after he stopped thrusting, pinning her to the bed with his persistent stiffy. She arched her back up to kiss him, and he held her until her eyes went wide.
“Omigod! Where is she?” she gasped, pushing him out and off her. Tony sat on the edge of the bed wiping himself off as Francesca hunched over and pulled her pussy lips open.
“Help me find her, you boson!” she snarled. “Remember the deposit we put down?” They both peered into the pink well, seeing nothing. Then a tiny hand emerged from between Francesca’s buttocks, followed by Bobbi’s head, covered with jizz and juice that had flooded out with Tony’s withdrawal.
Francesca lifted her ass off the bed and retrieved the tiny woman. Bobbi was moving slowly and Mohing for breath, but she didn’t appear to have any broken bones. Francesca gingerly wiped her down while Tony, apparently satisfied, got dressed.
Francesca wouldn’t let Tony touch Bobbi again, returning her to the box before getting dressed. Once the scare was over, Francesca gave Tony a long kiss.
After they left, Marco watched the hostess change the linens in preparation for the next customer.
A woman with short brown hair and wearing a formal business blouse, jacket, and skirt entered the room. In one hand she held a lit cigarette and in the other a half-filled glass mug of beer. She might have been 5’3” in flats but she was wearing pumps with three-inch stiletto heels. Her cheeks were rouged, and her bright red lipstick had stained the mug.
The woman took a seat and finished her smoke before the hostess returned with the trolley. She didn’t stand or look at the box after the hostess opened it. After the hostess had left, the customer finished her beer, then stood and crossed her arms, and finally looked down into the box.
She snorted in disdain then grabbed the box by the base and flipped it off the trolley. The box came to rest on its side, and a jaked man rolled out onto the hardwood floor. Hands on her hips, she slowly walked towards the tiny prostrate man. Her thundering steps resonated through the floor, and the face-down man didn’t move. She stopped, the points of her colossal shoes six inches from his head.
“Get up,” she barked.
He remained motionless.
“Get up,” she repeated. “I know you’re faking. If you don’t stand up I’ll stomp you into paste and get my money back.”
The man stirred, pushed himself up, then stood and looked up at the towering woman. Marco was able to ID him as Nathan Derrick.
She immediately knocked Derrick on his ass with her toe, then hovered the ball of her foot over his chest, pivoting on her heel.
“Disobey me again, bug, and you will regret it,” she said. “Count on it.” Her pump descended and he put up his hands, absurdly trying to fend her off. His face turned red as the pressure on his chest increased, but she relented before cracking any ribs.
She walked to the table, the sharp clicks of her heels echoing ominously. She reached into her purse and pulled on a pair of latex gloves, pausing dramatically for each snap.
Derrick looked around, noting a possible sanctuary under the bed. He started to step back in that direction, but her peripheral vision caught it.
“Don’t even think it,” she warned. He froze.
She turned and looked at the three-inch-tall man in the middle of the floor. She walked deliberately, swinging her titanic legs out and in front of each other. With each step, her grin grew more predatory. He had to tilt his neck further and further back, and he struggled to control his bowels.
She stopped with one foot on either side of him and looked directly down upon the mouse-sized man, sneering. She took a deep breath, then squatted suddenly and swept him up in her gloved fist. Pinching his ankle between her thumb and forefinger, she dangled him upside down in front of her face.
“How pathetic,” she said, chuckling. “What good is a bug like you to anyone?”
She flicked her wrist, whipping him back and forth as if she were ringing a dinner bell. He started to throw up, which she found hilarious. When he seemed to have emptied his stomach, she sat down at the table.
She removed a roll of tape from her purse and taped him to the table surface, spread-eagled. She sat back and laughed.
“Look at you!” she giggled. She retrieved a makeup mirror from her purse and held it directly over the hapless Derrick.
“Did you ever think you would end up like this?” she asked. “I can’t imagine how you could have expected a less ridiculous fate.”
Next out of her purse came her tweezers. She hovered them over Derrick, snapping the blades together.
“Do you still think of yourself as a man after all this?” she asked. “Let’s find out.”
She slid the blades of the tweezers around his tiny cock and balls, then twisted and pulled so she could get a better view of them.
“This has got to be a joke,” she said, lowering her contemptuous face. “I can’t even see your balls.” She twisted in the opposite direction, forcing a cry of agony from Derrick.
“I hope you realize how fragile your junk is,” she said. “The smallest pressure from my fingers, a reflex motion, and that tiny peen is a smear. Not even you could find your balls after that.” She tugged, and Derrick arched his back as best he could.
“They’re coming off…” she sang.
“Please, no!” he screamed.
Her grin widened, and then she released her grip. He slumped back.
She set the tweezers down, the blades near his head where he could see them. She sat back and regarded the scene for a moment. Then she reached down and ripped the strips of tape from the table and his limbs, first his legs and then his arms. As he curled into a ball and rubbed his abused extremities, she lit another cigarette. After taking a deep drag, she flicked hot ash at Derrick, singeing his exposed ass.
“Oops,” she said as he scrambled away. She brought the cigarette down and pointed the red-hot end at his chest, bringing it closer. As he backed away from it he could only focus on the incinerating ash, so he cried in surprise when she backed him off the table and he fell—not to his death on the floor—but into the sour-smelling beer mug.
She set the mug on the table and laughed. He stood up inside the glass vessel, the last drops of beer puddling around his toes and dripping from his hair.
“Like your new home?” she asked. A flick from her finger caused a sharp ring inside the glass, piercing Derrick’s ears. Then she took a deep drag, sat forward with her face over the mug, and exhaled smoke into the tiny man’s cage.
Derrick started coughing, dropping to his knees and heaving violently. She covered the top of the mug with her hand and brought her face close to the side, laughing. Eventually he collapsed entirely, and she removed her hand, allowing the smoke to slowly drift out.
She sat back and waited to see how long he would lie in the pool of her beer and his vomit before getting up. He pushed himself up in less than a minute.
“You know,” she said, “I’m not certain because it’s so small, but I could have sworn I saw you had a boner. I’ll bet it was from when you were on the floor looking up my skirt. Do you want to see my pussy?”
Derrick made no response that she could see.
“Of course you want to see it, you little pervert. Just admit it.”
He stood up, then bent over for another coughing fit.
“C’mon, bug, fess up and ask me to show you my twat,” she commanded. “Beg me.”
Derrick got down on his knees and clasped his hands in supplication. He said something inaudible, then coughed again.
“I didn’t catch that, you little shit,” she said. She lifted the mug closer to her ear. “Say it again.”
“May I please see your pussy, ma’am?” sputtered Derrick.
“My, aren’t you formal?” she said.
She bent down and set the mug on the floor. Then she stood and unfastened a series of buttons running down the side of her skirt. She whipped it off to reveal that she wore no underwear over her shaven crotch.
“Well?” she asked, hands on her hips. Derrick stood up, but he looked as if he couldn’t decide whether it would be safer to look or to avert his eyes.
“Oh, it’s probably too far,” she said. She put one high-heeled pump on each side of the mug, then squatted over him, bringing her groin down over the opening. “How’s that?”
He looked up to see her folded pussy lips filling the roof of his glass prison. He backed against the wall of the mug, but there was no escape when her urethra opened and urine started to gush down. The stream of her piss knocked him down and the acrid vapor filled his eyes, ears, nose, and throat. He put his hands up, but he could do nothing to halt the yellow torrent. It kept flooding down and rose above his head. The glass wall provided no place to rest his feet or hands, so he began treading “water.” Finally the flow ended, and she stood up.
“Ah, I feel much better, don’t you?” she said, putting her skirt back on. “What’s the matter? Didn’t you enjoy the view?”
The giantess stood over him, giggling at the tiny man trying not to drown in her piss.
“That’s exactly where you belong,” she said, taking a final drag on her cigarette. “Here,” she said, flicking the butt into the glass.
When he surrendered to this last indignity and clung to the butt floating in the warm urine, she smiled triumphantly, shot her latex gloves into the trash can, grabbed her purse and left the room.
The hostess returned shortly and seemed unsurprised to find Derrick in the mug of piss. She picked up the glass, retrieved the ice bucket from the trolley, then emptied the contents of the mug over the ice cubes. Derrick cried in hypothermic shock, but the hostess just made a face as she plucked him out and returned him to the box. Then she applied sanitizing gel to her hands.
The hostess had only to wipe down the table before the room was ready for the next customer.
A youthful-looking blond man wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and sneakers entered the room. Marco wondered if the man might have had a nervous disorder, because he kept holding his hand in front of him and making rapid gestures and tics. The man was also constantly mumbling under his breath.
He was still engaged in this curious behavior, strolling about the room, when the hostess returned with the trolley. She suspended her presentation to accost the man.
“As I explained earlier, Mr. Johannson, recording devices are strictly prohibited,” she said, holding out her hand. Johannson froze for a moment, then slumped his shoulders and removed a two-inch-long object from behind his ear and handed it to the hostess. She pocketed the augment, opened the box, and removed herself.
Johannson nervously approached the trolley, peered into the box, then flexed his fingers in anticipation.
“This is so cool,” he said, reaching in with both hands. He slowly withdrew a jaked woman in each hand, both with long dark hair. Marco ID’d the woman in Johannson’s left hand as Rebecca Lee, but it wasn’t until Johannson finished scrutinizing them and had set them on the table that Marco was able to get a clear view of Hong Tran, vainly trying to obscure her privates from Johannson’s gaze.
He poked his enormous finger into Tran’s chest, flipping each of her breasts up, perhaps assessing their buoyancy. Then he slid the tip of his pinky back and forth through her crotch, as if he might somehow impossibly penetrate her. He repeated this regimen with Lee.
Tran, free to walk about the tabletop, noticed that Johannson’s right hand had disappeared beneath the edge. He was stroking his dick through the front of his pants. She quickly turned and stepped away, but he noticed her investigation and whipped his right hand back above the table.
“Make out,” he told the two tiny women. “With each other.” When they didn’t move, he grabbed them and brought them together facing each other.
“Go on,” he said. “Kiss her.”
Lee sighed and made the first move, slipping her arms over each of Tran’s hips. She tilted her head and leaned in for a kiss, but Tran made no helpful contribution. Lee caressed Tran’s ass, then nudged her thigh between Tran’s legs. Tran finally lifted her arms and draped them over Lee’s shoulders.
Johannson brought his head down close to watch the women, and Tran responded by loosening her jaw suggestively. Lee knelt down, kissing each of Tran’s breasts then moving down her belly and nuzzling Tran’s dark bush. Johannson’s right hand had slipped under the table again, unfastening his pants and pulling his dick out.
Tran stroked Lee’s hair, shut her eyes, and mimed bliss. When Johannson started jerking off more vigorously, she looked up into his animal-stupid face. Then Lee moaned in fake ecstasy, and a snicker escaped Tran’s pursed lips. Lee hissed at her to stop, and then Tran lost it, doubling over in laughter. Lee pushed her away and hunched down as if she were anticipating an artillery barrage.
Johannson blinked several times, then dropped his dick. He held up his right hand and looked at it. He shook his head.
“Whoa; almost fucked this up,” he said. Lee avoided Tran as if she were contagious. Johannson stood up, then turned his back on the tiny women as he removed all his clothes. When he turned back around his semi-erect member hovered near the table edge, but Lee and Tran had little time to appreciate it before Johannson grabbed them and lay down on the bed.
He propped the pillows behind his head but he lay otherwise supine. He spread his legs and placed both women on the mattress in front of his scrotum. His prick bobbed with his pulse like a metronome. He deliberately placed his hands on the bed palms down, away from his groin.
“Uh,” he said, “fuck me. Yeah. Fuck me.”
Tran looked at Lee, who, arms crossed, still wasn’t making eye contact. Tran snorted, then climbed over his ballsack to stand on his thigh.
“How are we supposed to do that?” she shouted at Johannson.
“Um, grab my, uh, just grab it,“ he said. “I guess you could rub yourselves on it, you know, like, hard.”
Tran turned to Lee and extended a hand. “Get up here and let’s take care of this.”
Lee sighed again and accepted Tran’s hand up to mount Johannson’s thigh. They edged toward his pole, which straightened up at their approach. His fingers flexed in the sheets.
Tran positioned Johannson’s oak-sized cock between herself and his intense gaze. Lee tried to wiggle her ass saucily as she linked arms with Tran, her back to the giant’s face.
“One, two, three,” counted Tran, and on the last count both women lowered and raised themselves, embracing and stroking the colossal cock with their arms, legs, faces, tits, and crotches. They could feel his skin engorge and stretch against their lips and their cheeks.
They hitched themselves higher, their hair tickling the ridge of his little head. The only sound Johannson made was increasingly loud nasal breathing. Sweat started to imperil the women’s mutual grip.
Tran felt his urethra spasm against her belly, and she looked up to see his right hand reaching for his dick. She let go of Lee’s hands and fell backwards, landing on her back on his ballsack and then rolling onto the bed.
Lee was left riding the front of Johannson’s dick and didn’t see his hand before it pinned her to the shaft. She was rapidly jerked up and down until he came, the sticky white spunk oozing into her hair, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.
Even though he was finished cumming, Johannson lay motionless, his hand still gripping his dick and Lee. Tran climbed back up to his belly and saw Lee’s predicament. She vainly tried pulling one of his fingers loose, then punched the back of his hand.
“Hey!” she shouted at Johannson. “Let go! You’re done!”
His eyes fluttered open, he looked at Tran, then released Lee and his softening member. He sat up, spilling the women off his belly to his side.
He picked a woman up in each hand and brought them before his face.
“That was awesome,” he said. Neither woman made a response. Lee, covered in jizz, looked down. He brought Lee closer.
“Wicked,” he said, and commenced to lick her head like an ice cream cone. Lee shrieked in disgust, her cries silenced whenever his massive tongue covered her mouth.
When he was done, he returned the women to the box, got dressed, and left. He hostess came to change the linens shortly thereafter.
After she left with the trolley, Marco waited almost a half hour. He wondered if there would be any more customers today, and whether he should try to escape via the vent or the floor. He had his hook and line in his hands when he heard laughter coming down the hall.
A curvy olive-skinned woman with curly brown hair spilling down to her shoulders entered the room, followed immediately by a tall woman with short-cropped blond hair. The brunette wore a slinky emerald dress that clung to her hips and barely contained her grapefruit-sized breasts. The blonde wore a smart cobalt-blue pantsuit with a ruff that Marco supposed was fashionable. Each woman held a cocktail in one hand the other’s waist in the other.
The blonde looked about the room, taking in the finery. “Very nice,” she said. “Sofia, you shouldn’t have.”
The brunette beamed up at her companion. “My dear Kiki, I promised you a night to remember, and I always keep my promises.”
They settled into the chairs with their drinks. The hostess returned with the trolley and opened the box. Kiki started to get up, but Sofia motioned her to keep her seat while the hostess refilled their glasses. When at last the hostess had left, Kiki walked over to the trolley and looked into the box.
“Ah,” she said, slowly exhaling. Sofia put her drink down and joined Kiki.
“Let’s have a closer look,” said Sofia. Kiki reached into the box and withdrew a muscular dark-skinned jaked man who Marco ID’d as Donte LaFontaine. She stood him on her open palm, and he held his hands in front of his crotch.
“Oh, we can’t have that,” said Sofia, nudging his hands away. She lifted his cock with her fingertip.
“Almost as big as Reggie’s, eh, Keeks?” she said. Kiki chuckled. Sofia puckered her plump lips and slowly exhaled into Donte, stirring his dick to life.
“Ooh,” said Kiki, “he likes you.” She plucked him by the forearm and let him dangle in front of Sofia’s divinely enormous face, his cock and balls swinging in the warm breeze.
Donte looked down into the canyon of Sofia’s cleavage. Subjectively, each of her tits was the size of a train car and likely had as much inertia. Kiki noted his gaze.
“Of course you like Sofie’s boobs,” she said. “Everyone does.” Sofia smiled as she watched Kiki lower Donte between the slopes of warm flesh. He extended his arms across the tops of her massive mammaries, sinking up to his chest and facing out from the balcony of her bosom.
Sofia smiled down at her pectoral passenger. “Safe and snug,” she cooed. She reached up to pull Kiki’s face into hers. They held each other’s gaze for a beat, then Kiki closed her eyes and pressed her mouth into Sofia’s.
Kiki enfolded the shorter woman into her arms. Sofia bent back, hooking a calf around Kiki’s legs. Kiki’s lower jaw worked greedily, but there was no end to Sofia.
When at last they broke off, Kiki looked down to see that Donte had vanished. “Where’d he go?” she asked.
“He’s still in there, I think,” said Sofia, fishing between her tits without result.
“Well, let’s get that dress off and find him,” said Kiki, walking behind her for the zipper. She lifted the dress up and off, revealing Sofia’s dramatic hourglass figure, but Donte was nowhere to be seen.
Sofia’s bra was a miracle of structural engineering, employing the same nanofibers used in the space elevator. Kiki kneeled and held her hands open underneath as Sofia unclasped her bra from the front. Donte fell sweaty and Mohing into Kiki’s palm.
“Don’t worry, buddy,” said Kiki. “We all had the same reaction the first time with Sofie’s funbags.” Sofia tisked, affecting offense.
Either despite his near suffocation or perhaps because of it, Donte’s member stood out stiff a full half-inch. Sofia noted Kiki’s stare.
“Try not to gag this time,” Sofia said playfully.
“Piss off,” replied Kiki, smiling ruefully. She sat down in a chair and leaned her head back then dropped Donte on her face, taking his miniscule rod between her sofa-sized lips. He pushed his torso up off her nose, but she placed a finger on his lower back, pinning his pelvis at her mouth.
Kiki wore no lipstick, but Sofia had left some of hers behind and now it stained Donte’s chest and thighs. Kiki’s tongue had lost none of it industry, and soon Donte’s tiny ass bucked against her finger as he shot 0.25 ccs of cum down her throat.
She lifted him off her face, sat up, curled her fingers around his torso, and swallowed. She smacked her lips and arched an eyebrow at him, smiling.
“There,” she said. “Now, you’re going to take care of my Sofie, right?”
Donte nodded. She stood and walked over to the bed where Sofia had stripped off all her clothes and laid down on her back. Her impossibly large jugs drooped on either side of her chest. Her brown tummy rolled in plush folds down to the curly patch that neatly carpeted her mons. As Kiki and Donte approached, Sofia spread her legs and grappled her tits.
Kiki sat at the foot of the bed and leaned forward between Sofia’s legs, holding Donte by his chest between her thumb and forefinger.
“Stiffen up,” she told him. “Arms at your sides.” He complied, pointing his toes as well. With one hand she pulled Sofia’s pussy lips open and with the other she slowly inserted the tiny man feet first into her lover’s cunt. When only his head and shoulders were visible, she let go of both the jaked man and Sofia’s lips, which closed about his neck.
“Breathing all right?” she asked him. He appeared to nod. She stared at him for almost a minute.
“You alright, Keeks?” asked Sofia.
“It’s just…to be neck deep in your twat, it would almost be worth being jaked.”
Kiki pouted at Sofia. Looking back at Donte, she leaned down and whispered, “You’re one lucky bastard.”
She stood up and quickly removed her clothes, revealing her pale freckled skin, plum-sized breasts, and round ass. She walked to the side of the bed and climbed on near Sofia’s shoulders.
“Can you feel him?” she asked.
“Oh, yes,” replied Sofia. “It’s just like I imagined. I can even feel his thing, I think.”
“I’m so jealous.”
“Come here, baby,” she said, pulling Kiki’s shaved pussy down onto her face, nuzzling Kiki’s clit with her nose. Kiki put her arms on the wall above Sofia’s head, then shut her eyes. She started moaning and slowly bucking her pelvis back and forth. Sofia alternated between squeezing Kiki’s ass and fondling her own boobs.
Sofia’s legs closed and opened, her round brown ass cheeks clenching on the sheets. Kiki’s moaning turned into a shriek, and she slapped the wall as Sofia drove her tongue ever upward.
Kiki sat back and pulled her pussy away from Sofia’s mouth. She looked down and saw Sofia’s breaths coming quicker. She felt Sofia’s hands drop away from her ass and drive into the mattress. After the familiar tension had drained from Sofia’s face and her breathing returned to normal, Kiki dismounted the bed and walked over to Sofia’s crotch.
Donte’s head was still visible, but Kiki couldn’t tell if he was breathing. She gently slid him out, licked Sofia’s juices off his face, and heard him inhale.
“He made it,” she said to Sofia, who had sat up. Sofia collected him from Kiki, cupping him in her hand.
“What a trooper!” she cheered. She kissed his whole head, then hugged her tits together and lay the tiny spelunker on top of them. She resumed bathing him in her hot breath, now accented with the taste of Kiki.
“You’re not done, are you?” she asked Kiki finally. Kiki shook her head.
Sofia held Donte before her face. “I’ll tell you a little secret: Keeks here likes it in the ass.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Sohf,” snorted Kiki.
“It’s true. Of course, only I get to do it these days. You’ll be the first man in her poop chute in almost four years.”
“You’re not serious,” Kiki said to Sofia.
“I most certainly am,” replied Sofia, lying down. “Assume the position.”
Kiki sighed, then got on the bed on her hands and knees, her ass spread above Sofia’s head. She took several slow, yoga-like breaths.
Sofia dunked Donte in her mouth, coating him toe-to-chest in her saliva. Then she reached up, spread one of Kiki’s ass cheeks and fit Donte’s feet to Kiki’s anus.
“Once more into the breach, my little soldier,” she said, working his legs and then his hips into Kiki’s asshole.
“Just relax, Keeks,” she said. “He’s skinner than my strap-on.”
Donte tried to keep is arms free, but Sofia firmly tucked them into the brown sphincter, his anal captivity ending just below his rib cage. As Sofia released it, Kiki’s ass cheek closed about Donte’s head, plunging him into pungent shadow.
Kiki lowered herself onto Sofia in a classic 69. Sofia looked straight up into Kiki’s crack, noting the silhouette of Donte’s head and shoulders. “I’ve got my eye on him, Keeks.”
Kiki went to work on Sofia’s snatch, as if eager to demonstrate the benefits of her experience with Sofia’s womanhood. Sofia’s tongue pushed and probed, sending tremors through Kiki’s viscera that rocked Donte’s rectal cocoon.
Kiki’s mastery of Sofia’s clitoral predilections soon transported Sofia beyond earthly concerns. Sofia’s mouth sucked Kiki’s pussy as if she were trying to give her an enormous hickey. Her back arched off the bed and her nose rammed into Kiki’s ass. Kiki grunted and then inhaled with a long, loud hiss.
Sofia fell back, drained. Then she noticed that Kiki had frozen, her limbs tense. “What’s wrong, baby?” asked Sofia.
“He stopped moving.”
“Well, of course he can’t move. He’s up your ass.”
“No, he’s not moving at all. Before he was squirming, but not anymore.”
Sofia sat up and pulled Kiki’s ass open. Donte’s head and shoulders were still outside her asshole, but his eyes seemed to be closed.
“Stay relaxed, Kiki; I’ll get him out.” She delicately tugged on his shoulders, then slid him out into her palm. He was limp and lifeless.
“Is he alright?” asked Kiki, alarmed. When Sofia didn’t reply, she spun around and looked into Sofia’s hand. Kiki started to cry.
“Hush, baby,” said Sofia. “It was my idea and I’ll take care of everything.”
“It’s so much money!” sobbed Kiki.
Sofia put Donte’s body on the bed and took Kiki’s head in her hands.
“Look at me, Keeks,” she said. “I said I’ll take care of it. The money’s nothing compared to you.”
Kiki embraced Sofia, who pressed Kiki’s face to her chest. “Mama’s gonna make it all right. I always do, don’t I?”
After they had composed themselves and gotten dressed, Sofia keyed the intercom.
“Yes?” answered Zhou.
“There’s been an accident,” said Sofia.
A pause. “I’ll be right there. Don’t move anything.”
Zhou arrived less than a minute later. “How did it happen?” she asked after poking Donte’s corpse.
“I put him in my ass,” said Sofia. “I guess I squeezed too hard,” admitting liability but no remorse.
“You are familiar with the terms of service you signed?”
“I’d like to see you try and enforce it in court,” hissed Kiki. Sofia held up her hand.
“Please disregard that,” said Sofia. “Of course we will comply with the terms of the agreement.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Zhou. “Please follow me to make the arrangements.”
After Zhou, Sofia, and Kiki had left, the hostess returned to change the linen and tidy up. Marco noticed that instead of returning Donte to the box she dropped him in the plastic bag where she had emptied the trash can.
Marco didn’t move for over an hour. Throughout his surveillance, he kept a portion of his vision on the light that would indicate a restored connection—however fleeting—to Priyanka. Of course it never lit.
When he finally dared leave his hiding spot, he opted to try to return to the vent. His hook caught on the fourth toss, and while in actuality his ascent probably took no more than fifteen seconds, it seemed an eternity to Marco.
He had only the roughest approximation of the direction of the building’s “front,” but Marco wanted out as soon as possible. Even if he had located the room containing the captives, the only true aid he could effect would first require contact with Priyanka.
After much exploration, he found what appeared to be the front lobby. It looked like a boutique art gallery, but Marco guessed that savvy clients probably gave a passphrase and were admitted to a “private show room” where they waited, enjoyed refreshments, and made their selections. No hostess was present.
An array of display shelves lined the wall beneath the vent, and it was fairly easy for Marco to drop from one to the next with minimal exposure. He had reached a shelf four feet above the floor when the door to the street opened.
The gallery was entered by a blonde woman wearing a very stylish red dress and complementary hat. She paused at the entrance, then slowly started browsing the shelves.
Marco had frozen behind a porcelain urn, but once he peeked his head out, he knew he had seen this woman before. It wasn’t the vague celebrity of Senator Bachmann; it was more immediate. Then it hit him: the hat!
The woman who was being restored the day he left the warren was now standing five feet away, twenty-four times the height she was just two days ago.
Marco ran to the corner of the shelf and began waving his arms and yelling. “Hey! Ma’am! Hey! Down here!”
At first he thought she was going to look at the other side of the gallery, but then her gaze lit on him. She bent forward and her eyes widened. Marco gestured frantically for her to come closer. She gently picked him up and brought him to her face.
“It’s you!” she thundered in his ears. “From the warren!”
“Yes, ma’am,” he shouted. “We have to get out of here now! I’m a policeman from the warren investigating some missing persons, and they’re trafficking in jaked sex slaves here! I need to contact my partner in the Federal Cohort. I can’t get her signal here…”
Marco’s voice trailed off as the woman’s expression evolved from shock to scrutiny to satisfied smirk. He paused, then signed his own death warrant.
“Your name wouldn’t happen to be Nicole Blythe, would it?” he shouted.
She raised her eyebrows and smiled. “Very good, Detective,” she said, carrying him into the private show room.
Blythe made her way to her office, smaller but more luxuriously furnished than Zhou’s. She set Marco on the desk blotter, then covered him with an inverted coffee mug.
When at last she lifted the mug away, she had hung her hat on a nearby rack and brought out a large white mixing bowl. She unceremonially transferred Marco to the hollow of the bowl, which looked as if it had recently contained a large caesar salad.
Blythe loomed over the three-inch-tall man. “Tell me, Detective, who else knows you’re here?”
“I don’t even know where I am,” he shouted. He couldn’t see anything beyond the rim of the bowl other than the giantess’s sneering face.
“Hamilton told me about the Federal bitch,” she said. “He didn’t say anything about using vermin as spies.”
Marco didn’t say anything, but she saw his reaction to Chadwell’s name.
“Ah, so you hid out in his office, and she didn’t tell her boss at the Cohort. Big no-no. That’s it for her, then.”
Marco couldn’t stop himself. “She’ll beat any court of inquiry,” he shouted.
“Not if Hamilton buys the judges, which he already has.”
Marco couldn’t meet her smug gaze.
“How did you get here, I wonder?” she mused. “Hitched a ride with Veronica, I suppose.”
Marco knew he was a dead man, but he was wearing a wire and Blythe was monologuing like a Bond villain. Perhaps someday someone might recover his rig and learn the truth.
“Why can’t I get a signal?” he shouted.
“Still trying to call your Federal floozy? Never gonna work. Hamilton has friends at the NSA, and this whole neighborhood is in the middle of one of their dead zones. This,” she snagged his ankle transponder with a pair of wire cutters, “is useless now.” She snipped it off, flipping him on his back.
He jumped back to his feet. “How did you get the people out of the warren?”
“They deserved what they got, they were so stupid. We told them they were getting vaccinated, the injection knocked them out, and we rolled them out the vent, where Hamilton’s muscleman bagged them.”
“What happened to Payne?” he shouted.
“Little Benny?” she said in a childlike voice. “Benny got greedy, demanded to be restored. He forgot his place. We promised to restore him, and the idiot believed us. He went through the vent on his own.”
“Did Chadwell have him killed?”
“Hamilton held onto Benny until I could get out,” she said, twirling a fork.
“And I crunched his skull beneath my molars and shat out the splinters of his bones!” she cackled, pointing the fork at Marco.
“That sounds painful,” he shouted, dodging the tines.
“Oh, I think I’m big enough to handle it,” she said, reaching for him.
A sharp bang erupted behind Blythe, who snapped around. Then a three-second crackle, and Blythe spasmed and fell out of her chair.
A Federal Cohort officer in full ballistic gear and respiratory mask lumbered into Marco’s view. The officer bent down to examine Marco, then stood up, holstered her taser, and removed her gloves, helmet, and mask.
Even at this close range, Marco’s phone still couldn’t reach Priyanka’s earpiece through the NSA jamming. He raised his arms, and she duly plucked him from the salad bowl and brought him close enough to hear.
“I might be mistaken, Centurion,” he shouted, “but I don’t believe you afforded that suspect adequate opportunity to surrender before you employed force.”
“I beg your pardon, Detective,” said Priyanka. “It appeared to me that she was about to eat the last piroshky, which as you know I cannot resist.”
Six months LATER
Cowan sat at a table in the bar’s promenade section, nursing his beer. The waitress had been abrupt with him because he wouldn’t order any food, and her mood didn’t improve after she caught him checking out her ass.
“Sorry I’m late,” said Marco, sitting down, still wearing his jacket and tie from giving remote testimony. The waitress ignored Cowan and took Marco’s drink order.
“How’d the sentencing go?” asked Cowan.
“Twelve for twelve. All to be jaked. That magistrate must have adamantine connections to stand up to Chadwell’s people.”
“Well, you presented some pretty damning evidence. Or so I hear.”
“There was nothing we could do about the protective order. If it went public, we’d have lost control of the jury.” Marco’s “scotch” arrived.
“Anyway, congratulations,” said Toby, raising his glass.
“Thanks. Listen, Toby, I don’t think I ever properly expressed my appreciation for your assistance to Pri—Centurion Mukhopadhyay in tracing my transponder signal. Hacking the NSA is some serious kung-fu.”
Cowan accepted the compliment with all the humility of an Ottoman sultan. “I can never refuse a damsel in distress,” he said.
“Lockeridge also agreed to convince WA to take you on as a forensic consultant. You’ll get the best pipes in the warren.”
“Cool,” said Cowan. Then he got a horrified look. “I don’t have to wear a suit, do I?”
“Nah. All remote. You don’t even have to shower.”
Cowan visibly relaxed. “Did you get a chance to talk to Mukhopadhyay this time?” he asked.
“In fact, I did.”
“She gonna get a promotion?”
“She doesn’t want to jinx it but Matsuno’s told her that Kobick is going to LA and she’s gonna take his spot.”
“Tribune, eh? Sweet.”
“She gave me a message for you.”
Cowan sat up like a trained puppy. “For me?”
“She wants you to know that she’s aware of all your attempts to hack her domestic system, including her surveillance video.”
Cowan adopted a dismissive look.
“She also wants you to know that if you try it again she’ll have WA cut your pipes and you’ll need a crystal radio to answer your front door.”
“Of course, she was also berating herself for having left one of her older servers with only factory security. With all the sentencing paperwork, she probably won’t get around to securing it until tomorrow.”
Cowan stared dumbly at Marco as the detective finished his drink, threw down enough to cover the cost of both drinks and Cowan’s ogling, and stood. He grasped Marco’s extended hand and shook it.
“Be good,” said Marco.
Cowan made only the most ginger of approaches to Priyanka’s system, but he had a solid guess as to which server Marco had referred. Sure enough, none of Priyanka’s custom recognizers challenged him. Only two files were resident, and Cowan quickly imaged the entire partition and withdrew.
Unpacking the partition on an isolated drive, he saw that the first file was the audio and video from Donte LaFontaine’s fatal encounter with Sofia and Kiki, albeit with Donte’s face blurred out.
The second file was a list of the warrens to which each of the convicts were to be assigned. Cowan didn’t imagine their reception would be very warm once the details of their crimes became known.
Somehow, he found himself returning to the first file. After watching it all the way through six times, he couldn’t take his eyes off Sofia, although in his mind he was seeing someone else.
Originally published: 01 May 2013