The meeting had only pissed Toa off no end. If nothing else though, it prooved to him that the Blacks and Whites considered it more than just an accidental overdose. Preston was a lot of things, but he wasn’t stupid when it came to drugs. As much as he danced with danger, an overdose just didn’t smell right.
Toa stood out in the rain, out in front of the Central Station, letting the cold chill him back into some sense of normality. Preston had been right. He had changed. He found himself playing back the last moments as best he could, remembering the hard look on Preston’s face as he had lashed him with the words, hard and accusing.
‘At least you used to laugh a little before.’
That was before. But Preston was right. He had changed. Something had changed, though. And it wasn’t just him.
Everything had changed.
Toa felt the cold fingers of the rain running off his short shaved head. It was starting to tickle down into the upturned collar of his trench. He started to walk, letting the crowds take him. About him, the huge towers of the Downtown forested up about him. He felt the strange emptiness of being one among the many. No one that mattered.
Something had to be done. He had to have a plan. The Code Black could last for a while yet, and he would have to take care of himself. At least find something to occupy his time.
Toa knew what he would have done if Constance was still in the picture. The alternative was a possibly dark and quiet period of downtime.
Toa found himself down near the shining waterfront by the time he came back to his senses. He thought about the hard tone of the detective that had interviewed him. The thought that Preston and him had fucked. That’s all it had been, and Preston had called it right. Just a call in the middle of the night, calling for a body, someone to be with. Toa found himself falling back on the same patterns, thinking about Garly’s offer. She knew him too well.
Huge sails of light swept up about him, the deadly edge of light in the darkness of night. Toa looked out on the cold harbor, and listened to the night people about him. Club goers and the dead of morning cafe crowd. He thought about other peoples lives, and the one that he lived. The many that he lived, and the ones that corporations could give him.
Now would be the perfect time to start fresh. And no one would know.
* * *
Toa had opted to go the long way about it. He had lost count of the number of stairs by the time he finally reached the level he wanted. The stairwell felt and sounded hollow, only lit by the most basic and industrial of lights. He stared with a dull realisation at the number 64 next to the door on the landing.
Toa’s body ached as he shut the door behind him. The thoughts of self flagulation weren’t lost on him as he moved quietly along the equally dull lit corridors.
The place was a maze, but a quick check on things revealed a perfect route and roadmap straight to the door he was hoping for. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had been here. It was embarrising to think that he had to use routes to get himself to the door. When Toa finally arrived, he considered knocking. Part of him still entertained the idea that Preston might answer it.
Better here than anywhere else. Anywhere but his own empty home.
Toa sent a spike though his wetware, and the lock sparked and clicked audibly. A brief hiss and the door unlocked. He pushed it open, and intruder in more ways than one. Breaking into Preston’s home, and breaking into the memory of his life. He shut the door behind him, knowing that the spike would break out any possible alerts that he might trigger. The Agency wasn’t there, watching over his shoulder, but he still had the tricks that they had given him.
The place looked disturbingly like his own. A long, narrow room that almost resembled a corridor more than anything. On one side, a service that was piled high with dishes that were neither cleaned nor recycled. Toa paced through the dark, the apartment not responding to him like it would have for Preston.
He entered the front end, which had a window that doubled as a feed. Right now, it was off, and it gave a deceptively impressive view of the inner city. Toa knew without looking that one wall probably sectioned down as a bed, crowding what little space was left. Right now, a few basic chairs were set out. Clothes left drapped over them. There were a few spaces for personal effects, shallow places in the wall, but they held nothing of interest.
Toa had only visited him a few times, but was certain this was the only place he had. The place looked lived in, but it was more like his West District home. Just somewhere to crash. Somewhere to live out of. Nothing like the personal hiding place he had in the South Sector. But Preston didn’t have an Agency stipend to call on, people to route funds under false names and identities.
Toa considered pulling out the bed and sleeping. Instead he just dropped down onto one of the chairs. Who would turn up first? Detective Satre, or that police woman who had asked most of the questions. If this was a murder case, then eventually someone would want to look over the place where Preston lived.
Preston barely lived here.
Something was amiss.
Toa stared across the tiny place, cycing through heat and other scopes. Nothing. He blindly joked with himself that maybe he might have to rip up Prestons foam mattress to uncover something of his life. He realized he was in the wrong place to find whoever had killed Preston, but he was in the right place for the moment.
Standing up, he finally opted for pulling down Preston’s bed. It came down smoothly, already made and pressed. He only got out of his trench before he slouched down on it. Sleep came poorly, and only less interupted by thought when he stripped off properly and made some attempt to get under the sheets.
What little sleep he did get was punctured by restless dreams.
* * *
Toa woke to the sensation of stroking against his temple. He blinked awake, startled momentarily by a strange roof. He remembered, then glanced to his right, expecting to see Preston there. Instead, empty darkness greeted him. The stroking continued, until he finally had the sense to open the link.
Garly’s hyper real avatar sprung up before him, perched imperfectly on the hard carpet floor. It lept in cartoon exaggeration.
“You’re naked! Wowowow!”
“Not totally,” Toa said, struggling up onto his forearms. “Why are you callin’?”
“Goodness!” she exclaimed, with a certain degree of scandal. “What are you doing sleeping in Preston’s bed! He’s not in it. Wouldn’t it look strange if someone found you sleeping in his bed?”
“I don’t really much care, Garly. It doesn’t bother me too much. I just needed some place to crash for a while.”
“Preston’s place isn’t a good place to crash. Not with him being dead.”
Toa rubbed at his eyes, and swung his legs about, putting his feet down on the carpet. He saw Garly’s garish avatar oogle, her eyes bulging just a hint. She looked like some anime angel, with her strapped on wings, oversized head and lopsided halo. Her whole body glowed in a way that passed hyper real and looked anything but.
“Can I tape?”
“Sure. But you didn’t saw why you called. I’m sort of havin’ a rough time of things at the moment.”
“You soooo need to come and visit! We can still do lightweights on oogle-oogle you know. I’ll still pay for it! The opportunity is still open, so pleeease?”
Toa frowned, still sore, still at a loss for where to go next. Who knows how long he would just stay where he was. He could probably camp out until the Blacks and Whites eventually came to investigate, and then how would that look? Garly obviously understood that she wasn’t going to get satisfaction on her offer.
“So,” she remarked, sounding ready to pitch into something long and animated. “Scandal. We all know Preston doesn’t do drugs, not like those drugs, but then those drugs weren’t what killed him! I did some sneaky’s and found out that it was down and heavies.”
Toa rubbed at his rough stubble, feeling the scratch against his palm. Garly was punctuated by an eager blue button that politely informed him that she was recording him. Toa felt a pinch of paranoia, even though he knew she was just taking data for some nefarious and sexual purpose.
Maybe he didn’t swing that way, but Garly swung all the way around him and back. But he’d only ever met an avatar.
“So what are you saying?”
“That he bought something and didn’t know what it was maybe,” Garly reported. Toa considered that. “And popped it, along with his usuals and dropped like a brick. We all know that Preston did party pills, but those are harmless. This one was a little nasty. Not red pill, blue pill. It’s corporate stuff.”
“Who would sell Preston that?” Toa frowned, thinking to stand up, but he stayed put, mostly for Garly’s benefit. “Do you know any of his drug dealers? Did he even have many?”
“He’s only got one supplier that he really trusts. He’s part of the party scene down on the K. Down on the Little Red Bonnet.”
“That’s a transgendered club, right?” Toa said. He was so used to popping the information straight from the Agency. It felt weird having to reply on standard memory and knowledge.
“Yups. There’s a guy there called Sully who does his usual fix. Sells him the blues and the red pills.”
“How far down does this rabbit hole go?” murmured Toa. He pawed at his chest a moment, before standing up. Garly’s head tracked him like a security camera as he got his pants up.
“Do you know if Sully’s down there? Do any of your friends know anythin’ about him?”
“He’s harmless. He just sells party pills,” Garly said. She popped backward suddenly, almost autocorrecting as Toa got dressed. “Nothing more. Systems programmer. Not a good one. Has his fingers in lots of pies, but none of the pies are hot. Just meat pies. Nothing sweet.”
“And you’re sure that this guy is Preston’s only supplier?”
Garly nodded, and Toa tucked his t-shirt in roughly. At least it was something to do, other than sit and thing about what he didn’t have. At least it was a start to look into, while he sorted out what he wanted in life. He stepped into his boots, and frowned as an exclamation mark popped up above Garly’s head. It was accompanied by an equally startled exclamation of a sound.
“Holy Metal Gear Solid!” Garly said. Toa instinctively glanced towards the door. “There’s some guys coming. Two of them. Think they are heading towards this place, because they look like party poopers.”
“Make yourself scarce, Garly. I’ll contact you if I have a moment.”
Just like that, Garly popped and vanished, like some strange techo-Cheshire Cat. Toa thought quickly, and then moved straight to the bathroom, or at least what passed for it. Like many of the apartments he had been in, the bathroom was little more than a shower box with a toilet angled out of one wall. Toa closed the door over, just as he heard force being applied to the front door.