Francis spun even before he reached the top step, sweeping the barrel of his bulky pistol across the small second-floor landing, keeping it leveled over the top of the wooden banister, and reached for the light switch.
He froze as footsteps came from behind him. Quickly whipping his pistol around, he found...Devon slowly creeping up the stairs, in a manner that was anything but stealthy. He let out a sigh, and swung his gun back in the same direction as before. "What are you doing?" he hissed, trying to peer through the darkness.
"I can sense him," Devon said quietly - or at least as quiet as he thought he was being - and dropped into a crouch on the middle of the flight of stairs.
Francis shook his head, and pointed with his non-gun hand back down to the ground floor. "Stay back. If he runs, I need you to stop him."
"I can stop him now."
"I know, but what if it's a trap?" He moved his hand back to the wall, reaching once more for the light switch. "Stay downstairs, and get Laura to watch outside."
Devon gave him a long stare, but turned and shuffled back down the steps, turning out of sight.
Francis flicked the lights on, illuminating the second floor, and stepped into the corridor that led out from the landing. There were two doors on either side of him, three of them identical, but the one closest left to him appearing to be made of a more expensive-looking wood. He grabbed the doorknob - it turned a little bit of the way, and then not at all.
He reached over to try the door opposite, and this one opened, into a sizeable bedroom with a single bed against one wall and a television screen mounted on the side opposite. He crept around the bed, gun ready, but found the space was empty, and the windows locked from the inside.
His heart stopped momentarily as he spun around to find the lights in the hallway switched off. Whoever it was, they were at the switches at the top of the stairs, and Francis leaned out of the bedroom door, pistol aimed into the dark.
Then, his foot hit something. He looked down, finding a small cylinder rolling on the floor just before his feet, blinking a little red light out of one end.
Francis couldn't hear anything as he threw himself backwards into the room, just as the world went white.
Devon immediately recognised the sound of the concussive explosive, and instinctively flung a hand towards the bottom of the stairs, flinging shards of razor sharp ice flying towards the figure flying down the steps, only barely missing him and tearing into the wall instead.
A gun came up, and Devon dove behind the sofa, just bullets exploded into its back, sending bits of leather and stuffing into the air. Devon rubbed his hands together, generating bright orange flames that ballooned as he moved his palms apart.
As soon as the shooting stopped, he stood up, and flung the fireball at the assassin with all his strength.
There was a shattering of a window just as the flaming ball detonated against the wall, setting the bookshelf and the wallpaper beside the window alight, the tendrils of fire already licking at the floor. The window itself had been broken, the assassin having thrown himself through the glass just in the nick of time, and was now getting up on the grass outside. He wore a dark grey shirt with a black combat harness over it, with small cylinders that were presumable identical to the bomb he had heard upstairs.
Oh, he thought. Was Detective Evergloss…?
Fire was spreading to the ceiling now, leaving an ugly burn scar wherever it touched.
Devon found himself flying up the stairs, ignoring the acrid smoke from the flames that were clearly out of control, and rushing into the corridor. The floor right outside the bedroom door on the left had been scorched by something that was obviously no longer there, only leaving a little crater in the floor, but he didn't notice, slamming the door open to Evergloss on the ground, cradling his ears.
There was no going back downstairs now, given the extent of the blaze. Devon glanced towards the window, and reached out, and the glass went foggy, water beginning to condense on its surface, then forming into ice crystals as the temperature plummeted. As soon as he felt it was cold enough, a well-aimed kick to the centre of the window was enough tossed the entire thing shattering outwards onto the balcony.
Devon grabbed Evergloss by the arm, and dragged him out onto the balcony, before shaking him by the shoulders. "You have to jump!"
Evergloss scowled at him, clearly not getting the message. "Where's the fucker!?" he shouted, a little too loudly for the distance between them.
Devon pointed past him at the smoke rising out of the front of the house, and then over the balcony, onto the soft-looking green grass below. "Jump!"
Evergloss made a face, but climbed onto the railing and dropped himself onto the lawn, landing hard on his feet and hands.
Devon stepped up onto the edge of the precipice as well, and launched himself off it, tumbling painfully onto the grass as the impact jostled his insides a little and knocked the breath straight out of his lungs. He rolled over, and pushed himself further from the house as flames began to devour it from the inside out.
Along with the body that was still inside.
He turned to see Evergloss on his hunches, scowling at the inferno. He was sitting under the shade of a tree about halfway down the hill. "Can you hear me yet?" Devon called.
"Barely," he spat, at a much better volume now. "Where's the guy?"
Devon shook his head. "Jumped out a window. I don't know if Laura got him, but he was out of bullets."
"He jumped out a window?"
"Yeah, because...because I threw a fireball at him."
Evergloss' mouth hung open. "You set the fire?"
"I wasn't going to let him get away!"
"Well guess what? He got away. Now we're back to square one, because you burned down the house with all the evidence inside!" He sprung to his feet, and brushed himself off. "I knew this was a bad idea."
Devon stood up. "Look, I bloody tried, okay? I saved your life as well."
"You wouldn't have needed to do that if you hadn't thrown a fucking fireball in an enclosed space filled with flammables!"
"I…" Devon bit down on his tongue, and glanced away, hoping to maybe see Laura at the side of the house. "I'm sorry. It was instinctive. Should've used ice instead."
Evergloss was still digging into his trouser pockets for his phone when a shape appeared around the side of the house, veiled by the smoke that was being blown out from the burning building by the house. Or rather, two distinctive shapes - one standing and one lying, being dragged by the first. For a moment, Devon thought the assassin had gotten a hostage in Laura, and moved his left hand behind his back to form a blade of ice.
Then Laura stepped out from under the shroud, holding the assassin by his leg as she pulled him over the blackened grass; in her other hand was her pocket pistol. He seemed to be limp and unconscious, his eyes closed, and trailing stickly blood from a hole in the side of his shin.
Devon blinked. "...hi?"
"Heard you boys arguing," she said, dropping the assassin's leg, depositing his body at the edge of the shade from the tree.
"Is he…" Evergloss started.
"Nope," she said simply. "I shot him in the leg and then kicked him in the head. A few times."
"He might wake up," Devon said flatly, and moved his hand over the body - slowly, the water in the air began freezing into the first structures that would make up a thick shell around the man.
Evergloss sighed, and jabbed the speed dial button on his phone anyway. "Stay put. I have to call this in," he said, as he turned to walk down the hill towards the fountain.
"What was it like?"
Ara looked up from her feet to see Curnow in the seat opposite her, elbows resting on his knees. "I'm sorry?"
"You were on the presidential airship, right?" A single finger silently tapped his cheek. "You know, with the OM."
She switched her gaze to Melissa, at the computer console, staring absently at the screen. "I'd rather not talk about it."
"Come on," he drawled. "A problem shared is a problem halved, right?"
"Quit it," Melissa snapped. "They're still patrolling."
"You should just give me a gun let me take care of it," Tausiq said from his seat. "Then we can all go back to your mansion and take a long, hot shower. And then maybe have food that isn't total crap."
"Enough people have died," Melissa said quietly, tapping idly at the keyboard. "You kill any more and we'll have a massive price on our heads."
Tausiq snorted. "They're going after the Hassans, aren't they? Wasn't that the point of having me do the dirty work?"
"Yeah, but an ice cream truck is suspicious as hell already," Curnow replied. "Nobody's ever seen a Hassan ice cream truck."
Ara rolled her eyes. It was just bantering, like always. All she wanted was a warm bed in a certain fortress of a home, and she wanted that as quickly as possible. It was, after all, inconvenient having the kind of dreams she got sitting up like this. "Where are the cops?"
"Just...rolling in, looks like." Melissa tapped a few more keys, and leaned back in her chair. "Yeah, seems like it. Curnow?"
He leaned over, and rapped his knuckles on the side of the the container. A few seconds later, the entire truck shuddered, and they began to move downwards slowly, courtesy of the hidden lift.
It was ingenious - Ara hadn't expected Melissa to be as prepared as she had proven herself to be, having even created 3D scans of the rafters of a warehouse on the edge of town in order to project it flawlessly above their unsuspecting pursuers, while their vehicle remained suspended via an elevator system above the image. No matter how hard they looked, the last place they would imagine an ice cream truck to be was high above them.
The whirring of the lift's motors from outside went silent, and the truck's engines started up once more. As they continued out of the warehouse, and turned, presumably onto the road outside, Ara sighed. In just a matter of days, her life had gone from glorified sex slave to...whatever this was. Sure, the Albertos were bad, and going everywhere with the Prime Minister was anything but safe, but at least she wasn't intentionally getting into situations where she would be shot at.
"Shit!" Melissa swore.
Ara looked up to see her staring at the screen of her phone. "What?"
She bit her lip, and switched off the screen. "Remember when I said I had people working another angle?"
"I got the feeling that wasn't our concern," Tausiq piped up.
"Well, it is now. The lead I had them chasing was assassinated. Someone tried to fake their suicide, the other team caught them, and the house burned down. Along with all the evidence."
"Did they get the guy?" Curnow asked.
"Yeah, luckily. Still ID-ing him though."
"Off-planet," Ara said, staring at Melissa. "He comes from off-planet."
Tausiq made a face. "How the hell do you know that?"
"I've seen the facial recognition software work before in person. Kevin...we went to a renovated precinct and they showed off all their technology. The identification for everybody on-planet are stored locally, so they find it in seconds, or fives minutes at most, I think. If it's someone from outside they need to tap into the Stateship mainframe in orbit. That takes a little more time."
Curnow nodded. "So you're saying this guy got hired to kill the Albatross before we could talk to him?"
"He does sound like a mercenary," Tausiq said. "You think we should go talk to him?"
"Not you, or Ara," Melissa said. "Curnow and I will handle it. I'm going to redirect us to the precinct to-"
"Oi." Tausiq clicked his fingers. "If you don't need us, can't you drop us off at your place?"
"I second that," Ara said quickly. An ache was already starting to spread along the back of her skull.
"...fine." Melissa began typing. "Just promise me you won't try to order anything stupid?"
Out of the corner of Ara's eye, she saw Tausiq grin. "I promise."
Francis opened his eyes to see a junior officer staring him down, the badge on her uniform slightly crooked. She had dyed blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, and brown eyes that were a little too large for her face, making her look younger than most of the other officers.
He shifted in the office chair, transferring from a slouched position into a proper sitting up position. Rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand, he let out a massive yawn, and glanced around the busy office before responding with: "Yes?"
"Dr. Kwilis wants to see you, Detective. He said he's got something to show you."
Francis nodded. "I'll be there. Any progress on the guy we dragged in? Where is he?"
"Upstairs, Detective. Miss Mears is talking to him."
He mumbled her name under her breath. "Okay, what about Talans and Escobar?"
She shook her head. "Still detained, sir. She wants to talk to them as well, personally."
"Okay, what about Bearing?"
"In his office, sir."
"Well, tell him that I need to talk to him." He stood up, and started for the door out to the corridor; as his hand wrapped around the handle, he paused, and glanced over his shoulder. "What's your name, officer?"
"Callahan, sir. Miriam Callahan."
He nodded. "Thank you, Officer Callahan," he said, before opening the door and making his way to the morgue staircase.