The gritty graffiti of the lower levels was far friendlier to me than the sunlit (at least in part) aura of the upper, royal levels. I stole a glance at my passenger, who was clearly both unimpressed and unbothered by the gathered grit of levels and levels of city scum. Hah, very well. My mind mimicked the child's accent slightly. I couldn't help it; it was irritating and got under one's skin.
But I brought my speeder to the side of the parkway, slowing it and keying it to a jerky halt. I had never been one to care much for a smooth landing when a harsh one worked. Hopping out, I snapped the key over to the kid's side of the speeder, watching the door pop open as he climbed out quietly.
"So, why'd they send you, kid?" Perhaps you should be calling him boy, a rebellious side of my mind whispered as I locked up the speeder, resetting the force-field which prevented any young hotshots from hopping in, hotwiring it, and taking off. There was enough cases of that in the upper levels, particularly with the nicer brands of speeders. Mine was no exception; small, zippy, and streamlined, its biggest fault was of course that it usually took a good kick in the dash to get it to keep running in its nice, zippy and quick style.
I shot a mental glower inward to silence the voice. I never have condoned the use of simply boy or girl used in demeaning address. At least kid isn't quite so insulting. I won't start a war over it, but it doesn't mean I appreciate such habits used in my presence.
Drinking and swearing is one thing. Being utterly disrespectful is another. I'm not going to be going about calling aliens racist terms.
I had a feeling, though, that this kid was probably no stranger to the address of boy.
I knew that cool tone all too well. It said 'I'm better than you'. "Right." I gave him a dry look before glancing around at familiar sights. The area was grimy, the sky hardly open to the glamour above-who knew what the kid was thinking? That every business window staring down at him was a front for gangs of pirates and smugglers?
He wouldn't think that way. He'd be thinking Mother was a fool to hire this creature. Or some such demeaning thought.
Something touched my mind… mother… but, no, it slipped again. Sometimes I severely regretted my lack of immediate sense of memory. I'd recognize something, and then it'd slip and I'd forget it, and it'd come back when it was too late… always. Or nearly too late, at any rate. Though that tends to only occur in the holovids…
Nonetheless, he followed me silently up the dirt-caked stairways to my apartment, jammed in the middle of a lot of other dirt-caked stairways. To be exact, they weren't dirt-caked. There is very little real dirt in Coruscant; you must give the planet that much credit. No, instead it was oil, fumes, and the other sorts of grime which slowly edges its way through and gets into everything.
It looks like dirt, though. That's what has to matter. It still cakes your boots, it still takes ages to scrub from your clothing when you wake up, half drunk, in a gutter…
It still is dirt.
I flicked the electronic key in the lock, glancing back at the kid, dutifully toting his knapsack. I suppose it didn't matter that he was there. If he'd be of any help, it was worth a shot to tolerate him tagging along. At least he was quiet.
I swung the door open. To my credit, it didn't creak menacingly open to reveal an apartment in shambles. Actually, it swung softly open on its hinges, gradually revealing a moderately messy apartment. Hey, I keep the living area relatively clean. People stop by sometimes, and you can't possibly think I follow every stereotype for a detective that exists in the vids. I don't wear a trenchcoat, I don't wear a fedora, and I most certainly do not have a slight beard and rumpled dark hair, dwelling in my shambled and disastrous house. Nor am I a clean freak. Nor… no, I sigh. It's not as if anyone cares whether I follow stereotype.
My house is… moderate. There's a floor. You can see my desk underneath the papers, and there's no dust on it.
The kid's gaze swept over it, clearly unimpressed. Raoin made me mildly uncomfortable, perhaps greatly uncomfortable. Something about him was wrong, but it slipped my memory, teasing every corner of my generally cynical mind, but refusing to sit down and be read. Like a newsflimsy caught in the wind, dancing about as its owner chases after it.
I pointed over at the couch, not bothering to look back at the kid, who I knew had followed me into the apartment and closed the door silently behind him. Contrary to standard bachelorism, I do not live in an apartment with a couch, a television, fridge and a microwave oven. I have a bed, standard appliances (including a dishwasher), and even a desk.
"You can stick your bag behind the couch," I said absently, walking over to the table to glance at the pile of mail I distantly remembered sticking there a couple days ago. That had been when I had received the message from his mother, I thought. I hadn't went through the rest, but it looked to be standard. Bills, a few fliers and various advertising holos. No dirty magazines-really, they do show up randomly in the mail sometimes. You can't avoid stuff like that in the lower levels. I've even gotten samples of various drugs and even death sticks, once or twice. No letter bombs, but I await the day.
Fingering the pile, I shoved them into a half-heap in one corner of the table. They could wait. There was a child who had been kidnapped, the mother (presumably) dead.
There was so little I knew for fact.
Opening the fridge, I pulled out foil covered leftovers, glancing at the inside contents. I had run out of plastic wrap about two weeks ago and hadn't bothered buying anymore. It wasn't as if I needed it to store anything I didn't eat.
I shoved it in the microwave, setting it quickly to reheat, and looked back at the kid, who had sat down obediently and silently. Almost droid-like in his behaviors, some perfectly programmed child. "Right. You, kid."
He glanced up at me.
"There's food in the fridge, you can heat it in the mic if you want. There's a vid player-oh, oh, oh, shavit!" I swore, slamming on the microwave's open button. The door swung wildly open, slamming into the wall behind it, as sparks from the tinfoil flew out in brilliant and sharp colors.
Note to self: stop attempting to microwave metallic objects.
If I wasn't mistaken (I may have been), there was a brief hint of a smile over the kid's face. I didn't doubt it had been there. He was laughing at me to himself. But I was too busy yanking the now sparking foil wrapper from the bowl of macaroni, yelling from the heat, and dropping it on the floor where it sparked and then fell silent.
A hush fell over the house. At least, it should have. I blew on my fingers before turning the tap on and running them underneath the cool water. In my distraction with the case, I had neglected the simple and obvious fact: metal doesn't go in microwaves. Ever. It hadn't caught on fire, but it could have.
I had also neglected that it was hot.
Lovely day this was turning out to be.
After finally deciding my fingers wouldn't fall off, I gingerly picked up the piece of foil from the floor. It was cool by this point, but I wasn't about to trust the same object with my pain receptors once more. It had harmed me once, and once, yet no more! I tossed it into the garbage receptacle, and put the now cold pasta back into the microwave, this time covering it with another plate.
I think better on a full stomach, but I wasn't so sure this was worth it.
The kid's voice startled me out of my histrionic reverie about everything being against me. "These vids… they're pirate copies."
"Bootlegged," he explained patiently.
"Huh? Oh, yeah." The microwave let out a whining beep, and I opened it, disregarding any potential radioactive fumes which it may have let out with my impatient lack of heed for waiting to open it. I did, however, consider letting it cool down before pulling it out. One burn was enough for the day.
He gave me a withering look, which I only noticed due to the extraordinarily reflective surface of my stove. I can scarcely see behind my own head, now can I? "That's illegal."
"Aren't you a law enforcer?"
I turned to glance back at him, a predator's smile on my lips. "No. I'm a freelance detective."
An ordinary child would've continued asking questions. This one seemed as if he had to fight to even consider the idea. But after a long pause, during which I decided to pull the pasta from the microwave and set it on the table, he finally spoke again. "What would be the difference?"
I pulled a fork from the sink, glanced at it, and rinsed it off before sticking it on the table. "It means that I have a sentient mind. Get something to eat, or sleep, or something. Because in a few hours, I'm going to ask you a million and a half questions, as soon as I figure out which ones need to be asked."
He didn't swear. He didn't give me a pale stare. He simply looked at me and gave a thin smile. "I know. That's why I'm here."