The Forgotten Man
Elliot trudged onward, in a world lit by advertisements and cigarettes. He descended rattling stairs and slogged through splashes of mud with one eye on his WPS map. Navigation to the stiff had failed, again. It was updating and buffering and apologizing for its failure to function, while he skirted neon pools and tripped over drip buckets.
Should have trusted my gut.
His nose wrinkled when he recognized the train station he passed underneath. He had known it was closer. He had known that, and still listened to the misguidance of his WPS map.
Rain pounded on the glass awnings overhead, the drizzle of static like a dying speaker. Rain never fell on the ground in Bastion. Whether it was bridges, signs, power cables or train lines, something hung overhead, covering the ground with unchecked growth.
Elliot jabbed his thumb on the map to no avail. The program apologized for low bandwidth. “EVE, come on. First you can’t talk to me, now you can’t even navigate me?” He glanced up, to the strata of city above where air could still circulate. A trickle of data flowed down, alongside the rain. Water gushed from cracks and gutters between the skyscrapers, carrying the echoes of the city.
While he was staring in the direction of his own apartment, his phone chimed and glowed blue. It had triangulated with all the wireless routers. The light colored his face with the triumphant order, “Turn left.”
Elliot was faced with a huge sheet of corrugated steel, fused into place with construction foam. It rattled like paper with the merest gust of wind from the storm. Ripped from a life as a security shutter, someone had given it new life to cordon off the alley into a shanty. Grime and paint sealed the segments shut. Someone had come by to add some beauty. They had graffitied onto it a woman blowing off her own head with a cellphone-turned-pistol. The artist’s signature took the place of the woman’s face.
After waiting all day, I at least hope they won’t mind another fifteen minutes.
Elliot pressed the button on his phone to report the obstruction and waited until a new route was presented. “Go forward, then turn left,” it said. That brought him to a better maintained passage. Calling it a road would have been overstating it, but the path essentially led into a shopping mall through the bottom floor of a tower. The floor was dry and the shelves full. The gate, however, was locked shut before him and manned by a computer.
“Welcome to Romulus Shopping Center Seven,” the digital mascot announced. The primary arms manufacturer in Bastion currently had a cartoon girl with dog ears and a fluffy tail as their representative. The mascot smiled and saluted. She said, “This area is private property of the Romulus Corporation, and we’d be happy to let you visit. For record keeping purposes please-”
Elliot stuffed his badge up to the camera. The computer stuttered as it skipped scripts. “Welcome officer. Is there anything I can assist you with today?”
“Just passing through. I’ve got a case on the other side,” he said, and shoved through the turnstile gate. The mall didn’t sell guns, despite the landlord. People from the apartments above passed between stalls of food and drinks, clothes and neural uplinks. They heard the wet slap of his boots as he marched through, and stared at him. Some merely gawked, others ducked behind walls or slipped out doors. More than one snapped pictures of him before he could get out the other side of the mall. None of them were happy to see him, his uniform.
His WPS led him out from the corporate protection and back into the wet slum. He found a utility staircase with the door broken down so anyone could use it, and ascended to the third floor. “You have arrived,” it said whence he stood outside Apartment 314. The door yielded to him, unlocked. Rot seeped through the doorway.
“Well, I’ll be damned. A cop actually showed up,” an older woman said. She had black hair streaked with grey pulled into a bun. The coat she wore had once been tailored to her, but clearly her waist wasn’t so slim as it had been.
Must be the landlady.
“Did I get here before the compost crew?” he asked.
She shrugged and dug through a coat pocket. Out came a cigarette, which she lit and puffed on. “They’re running late too. I guess I should call them off. Didn’t think you’d actually show up… You never have before.” She frowned and waved her hand through the smoke.
Always nice to see people happy to see me…
“Well, here I am,” he said, and flashed his badge: E11107. “Detective Blackstone, Military Police. You can call me Elliot. Please keep the smoke outside.”
She squinted at him. “Why? You actually want to smell that filth? Just walking near it makes my nose close up. It’s giving me wrinkles is what it’s doing. I’d sue him for medical expenses if I could.”
Well, isn’t that a charming personality.
Elliot grimaced. “You never know, a good nose might help find something.”
“Is it just you, then? No partner? They deigned to send one of you down here, but not a pair?” she asked, eyeing him as he reached for the door again.
No way Cinder would put two people on this case.
He sighed. “It’s just me tonight,” he said, and opened the door.
Now then, what was the cause? Money? Love? Hate? Where’s the betting money tonight?
Calling it an apartment was only correct in the literal sense. The bed, down at the moment and covered in sweat-stained sheets, folded into the wall. Its central position cut the room in half. Beside Elliot and the door sat a microwave on top of a mini-fridge. Beyond was the room’s only seat; the toilet. The John Doe laid across the floor in the middle, filling the air with eye-watering decay.
At first, he thought the buzzing was some off-kilter cooling fan, but as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he saw the flies swarming in the air. The insects orbited the gas-bloated body, diving in to bite at the soft bits of flesh. They—and the maggots—had eaten the face off.