"Five!" cried the crowd, the bar roaring with life, "Four! Three!"
Arnett smiled, his arm around a beautiful blonde he had met that evening, her arms in the air as she cheered. Arnett found himself in a small pub in Gearford, awaiting the unloading of his cargo from the Scorpios II.
"TWO!" yelled the crowd.
The blonde turned around and wrapped her arms around his neck. Her brown eyes digging into him. He couldn't help but smiled. She mouthed the word "One" as the room erupted. As the horns and the drinks began to raise, Arnett found himself being kissed. He closed his eyes. This was nice.
"Happy New Year!" cried the pub dwellers. They began to cheer and toast glasses.
The girl pulled herself off of Arnett, and she twirled her hand through his hair.
"Happy new year, Mister '93'," she said, "and what a delightful evening escort you have been."
"Indeed, I am delightful, aren't I?" said Arnett, "However, it is now the new Year, and I am late for an appointment."
"Oh? What kind of appointment?" she asked.
"My ship," said Arnett, "Which is currently being unloaded of the last shipment of '92 needs to be loaded for the first of '93. Who knows what the future may hold?"
"I do," she said, winking, "I think I'm ready for a little shipment of my own. How much payment would require your time, Lieutenant?"
"Oh, too much, I'm afraid," said Arnett, "Besides, I haven't even caught your real name."
"Oh, name's ruin the experience," said the girl, "I'm just miss '93 to you."
"Oh, I stopped counting them around fifteen," smiled Arnett, "You'd be surprised how many girls don't appreciate being numbers after... well, one. Besides, I think you do me a credit suggesting 93. That's half of Araz, at that rate."
"Oh, I do declare you are a funny one," she said, putting on a royal accent and straitening her back, "But I am most serious, sir. You've escorted me so far. What if something happens on my way home? What would the bobbies think of a lone girl being unescorted?"
"Again, I wouldn't feel right charging you to have me escort you, '93'. Besides, I really should get going," said Arnett.
"Look, when I am done with you, you can go do whatever. You'll be just another guy come mornin'. However, All I want is Mister 93 and he is a Lieutenant no doubt," said the blonde, putting her hands on her hips, "Now I am in need of an escort, and there are some things I'm gonna need out of a man such as yourself. So you WILL consider taking me to my chambers."
"Oh?" said Arnett, finishing the last of his drink, "I don't think I have the time for a relationship, girl, nor do I have time to learn your name. A couple years ago, you would have had me by now."
"It's not a couple years ago," smiled the girl, "And I have no intention to see you after tonight, clear?"
Arnett's eyebrows raised, "You are mighty persuasive, aren't you?"
"Do you want it in writing, Lieutenant?" said the girl, "I won't even need the Landship. You'll do fine for my riding needs."
Arnett looked at his pocket watch, and shook his head, "Well I'll be. I think you might just have yourself a deal. This will be the best job of the year, I think."
"Now," she said, leaning closer, "About that ride home..."
Kent Nicholas was knelt over the body of a middle aged man outside of the St Bransworth Pub. Detective Barnaby Stempleton stood beside him, his pocket watch ticking in his hand.
"Almost," said Stempleton.
One of the Bobbies grumbled under his breath, watching his Kent examined the body.
"So, Why are we doing this?" said Stempleton.
"Something doesn't add up," said Kent, looking around at the other storefronts, "You said the Bobbies checked the surrounding areas? The Alleys?"
"Yes, Sir," said the grumpy Bobby, his hands inside his pockets, "We double checked too."
Kent got up and looked around, he began examining the window sill flowers and looked around the area.
"Look, Kent," said Stempleton, "All we asked was you to find the other glove. We already got his partner."
"Where did you say you got him, again?" asked Kent, looking around, ducking into one of the Alleyways.
Stempleton sighed before smiling, "Four blocks down, waiting for a Cab. Ten. Nine. He had a knife on him and a bloody rag. Drunk as a bloody Demon, mate. Witnesses said they were arguing in the pub. I don't understand the question. All I wanted was his other glove so that we could directly connect him to the scene, Nicholas. This is a pretty, nice case. Last one of the year!"
"Yes, but you missed something," said Kent, making his way around the other side of the building, and he exclaimed out in excitement, "Ah-ha! What did the witnesses say they were fighting about?"
"I... don't know," laughed Stempleton, "Two. One. Zero. Alright, happy new year, lads! It's not 1892. Congrats."
"Why are we bloody here!" said the bobby through clenched teeth, "Thirteen officers called away from their families for a case we already have the murder two and wait around half the night for some Bowler hatted twat to show up and double check?"
"Hey," said Stempleton, "Watch it, mate. That twat's double checks always reveal some of the most wild and helpful things."
"Focus, Barnaby," yelled Kent, "The Witnesses!"
Stempleton shook his head and flipped through his notes again, "Uhh.... reports about money... oh! I guess the argument was about an old friend entering town. One of their war buddies."
"I see, so why would they be arguing about that?" stated Kent, his voice coming from the alleyway.
"I don't know," mumbled Stempleton, shuffling through his notes, "Oh, the Bartender said something about them being scared. Like it wasn't so much an argument as it was a heated discussion."
"Not very good note taking, Barnaby," yelled Kent, his voice trailing to the street, "The Bartender said they looked scared, they were arguing about calling the police."
"What?" said Stempleton, walking over to the alleyway and looking.
Kent was nowhere to be seen, and Stempleton shook his head, looking around.
Suddenly, he heard a sound from above. Looking up, Stempleton could see that Kent had clambered up the ladder on the edge of the building and was currently walking around on the roof.
"I talked to him while you went to the bathroom," said Kent, "It wasn't an argument. Why would two friends kill one another because a friend was coming back in town?"
"He had the knife."
"He had a knife, Barnaby," said Kent, who straightened up and pointed, "Ah-HA!"
Kent made his way to the front of the building and leaned down. Reaching into the gutter, he picked up an object and threw it down onto the pavement. The grumpy Bobbie and Stempleton jumped back to avoid being hit by it.
"A knife, Barnraby," said Kent, smiling, "However, that is THE murder weapon. That is how he was killed."
Stempleton smiled, and leaned down, looking over the knife on the ground. It had dried blood on it.
"So, why on Earth is he our killer again, Barnaby?" said Kent, "He stumbled out, drunk, and went down the road and waited for a cab. His friend stumbled out after him and WAM! Got hit. I think we should question a slobbered up suspect in the morning. I have a feeling the topic of their conversation is what killed this man this night!"
"Damn this Nicholas guy," mumbled the Bobbie.
"So the case is not closed," smiled Barnaby, "Brilliant! And what of the actual killer?"
"What of him?" said Kent, shrugging, "He tosses the knife up here and takes down the alley, unseen by a passerby. He could be anywhere. Something tells me they saw this coming, however. A quick conversation and I am sure you'll have your man."
Barnaby shook his head, "Indeed, Mr. Nicholas. Happy New Year!"
"Happy new year, Barnaby," smiled Kent crossing his arms, "Nothing is going to bring us down this year."
Arnett lit another cigarette. He sat inside his ship, the Landship Scorpios II, and looked out into the night. He had gone no where, done nothing. Here he was, another year, sitting in his tiny ship. He looked out into the stars. Somewhere, out there, there was a chance. A hope. What was out there? What made the lights of the stars? He leaned back in his chair and dragged from his cig.
There it was. The footstep once more. Arnett shook his head, he felt a lot better knowing it wasn't just him. He unbuckled himself promptly from the cockpit chair and swung down, pistol exposed and cocked, cigarette in his mouth.
The figure of a young woman could be seen through the darkness of the ship's interior. She wore a fancy dress with a ruffle and she had a large backpack on.
"Interesting," said Arnett, "Hands."
She raised her hands, but she held Arnett's hat in one hand, planting it upon her head.
"It's quit dark in here, Lieutenant," she giggled, "Ever hear of a lamp? Or have you been living under a rock?"
Arnett chuckled, "Cute. So how does one find me way out here?"
She cackled, sending a shiver up Arnett's spine, "Oh, come ON! It's a desert. You're thee only idiot out here in a large walking crab. I can find it easily."
"It's a big desert..."
"This is a big crab," she said, striking a match.
She lit a candle which was rested on some crates, and the light filled the compartment. She looked young. Real young. Like her skin was pink and unused. Her eyes, however, seemed to dig into Arnett's eye's, and she didn't show any signs of fear at Arnett's defensive stance.
"Why do people always make jokes," said Arnett, shrugging, "It says Scorpios right on the side."
"You walk right into it," said the woman, smiling coyly, "Happy New Year, Lieutenant. 1894."
"Oh boy," said Arnett, "Are you my gift? Won't lie, I am as surprised as can possibly be."
"Don't flatter yourself, Joel," came the cold retort, her face breaking its child like smile for a cold glare which disappeared into another warm grin, "We share a mutual friend, you and I. The name's Cormac."
"Warm," said Arnett, "Mind if I call you Cory? Or do you have a first name?"
"I mind," came another cold reply, "And Cormac will be fine."
"Sounds great," said Arnett, "What brings you to dune street at this our? Sand?" Arnett pretended to gasp, his non-gun hand rising to his chest, "Or is this all for lil' ol' me?"
"You owe us, all of us, Joel," said Cormac, her hands folding in front of her skirt, "And you have run wild for a few years now. I'm here to tell you that it is time to stop."
"Stop? But I'm having so much fun," Arnett said, a glare appearing on his face, "Besides, we don't have a mutual friend. You didn't do anything for me, sister. Oh, and the name is Lieutenant to you."
"Listen, 'Lieutenant', Cromwell did not risk his standing AND his life to get you and this contraption off that damn island for you to go sticking your nose-"
Before the cigarette had time to hit the ground, Arnett had already closed the gap between himself and Cormac, pistol raised and glare set on the woman. His other hand was aiding to hold the gun steady as he stared the barrel right down into those creepy, serious eyes of hers.
"Don't you even dare," yelled Arnett, Cormac almost jumping back at the sudden burst of anger, "You have no idea... you have NO IDEA! What did he tell you? That man? Cromwell? What does he know?"
"Listen, jumpy," said Cormac, her voice going cold once more, "All I am saying is, you need to not be poking into you know who."
"That Brotherhood, Arnett. They are off limits."
"What do you know about those dirty bastards," said Arnett, "They... they ruined my life! They... killed him."
"They didn't kill him, you fool. He killed him. You two and your inability to see reason!" said Cormac, "And let's not forget that some of us risked quite a bit for you. Cromwell risked a great deal to get you and this piece of crap off the Island. Do you realize what he did to keep you out of trouble?"
"Look, I haven't really-"
"Do not speak, you," barked Cormac, "Look. We are very busy. 1894 is going to be a new year. A NEW year, you hear me? You need to stop what you are doing. It doesn't matter if it's little or not, you need to stop it."
"Fine, lady," said Arnett, "I'll stop... ish. What the hell you all frazzled about anyway? You all enjoy your little brotherhood?"
"Cromwell and his brotherhood have no connection with the Order," said Cormac, her smile returning, "However, should issues arise which were to trouble Commodore Cromwell then it would only be logical that we remove the issue."
"Oh, how cute," sneered Arnett.
"Don't get cocky," said Cormac, her smile outputting the warning, "You are talented but you're not the only male in Antiford who is talented. We have our eye on you. You better continue whatever it is you do, but stop your digging into the brotherhood."
Cormac did a curtsy, and her head eerily tipped to the side. With a curt blow, the candle was snuffed out and the room was tossed into shadow. Arnett raised his pistol once more, but his eyes had adjusted to the light, and he was as good as blind. A curt kick in the stomach and his gun was wrenched from his grip. Arnett fell to one knee and he cried out. When his eyes opened, he couldn't see anything.
His eyes began to adjust to the darkness, and he could spot one of the bulkhead doors left ajar. He ran to it, and tossed it open. His hat sat on the deck, and his pistol was beside it. Looking around, he could not spot any figure in the desert.
Kent sat in his chair, the boiler roaring and sending heat throughout his house. He sat with his eyes closed, a glass of alcohol swirling in his hands. The door knocked, steadily, and he was roused from is trance. Before he even had time to reach for his pistol his front door was swung wide open, and a cloaked figure rushed inside, arms raised.
Kent shot straight up, his eyes wide and the glass falling to the ground. Looking over the figure, he had his hands raised, and his cloak and hat casting a very menacing shadow into the room.
"Kent Nicholas," the figure said, "Don't shoot you bastard!"
Kent shook his head, a chuckle forming in his chest. He looked around. In the struggle he hit his side table, his pistol had fallen onto the ground.
"Couldn't if I tried, Barnaby," chuckled Kent, "But, by the gods, Barnaby. I'd have every right."
"I didn't want to be seen on the street," said Barnaby, shutting the door and stepping into the light, "How are you, old friend?"
"Drunk, apparently," smiled Kent, reaching for his pistol, "Why on Orr is our friendship something to be hidden, Barnaby? You dodging out on the misses again?"
"Our friendship is no secret, Kent, "said Stempleton, taking his cloak off and hanging up his tophat, "It is for that reason I do not wish to be seen outside of your home this night. May I sit?"
"Do, Barnaby," said Kent, "You want a smoke or a drink?"
"Smoke, please," said Stempleton, "No drink for me this evening. However... you might want one on call for yourself."
Kent took out his tobacco pouch and his pipe and brought it over to his friend, who had retrieved his own pipe and was ensuring the contents were removed from his last smoke. After lighting the pipe, the two sat down opposite each other and Kent lit a second lamp, which he turned up to give more light to the room.
"Now, Nicholas," said Stempleton, puffing on his pipe and starring at the smoke with surprise, "This is no Whitehaven blend. Where did you get this?"
"I was trying my hand with some outside sources," smiled Kent, "This is a Prush blend."
"Intriguing," said Stempleton, who shook his head and cleared his throat, "Anyway, down to business."
"Yes, please do," said Kent, "What brings you this far this night?"
Stempleton shook his head, watching as the smoke from their pipes began to swirl into the ceiling.
"We have known each other for a long time, Kent," Barnaby started, "And I consider us friends, and I value that friendship."
"These are things I know, Barnaby."
"You think you know a great deal, Kent Nicholas," he said, "But it is with heavy heart that I come here tonight. You have been rousing up nests which should not be roused."
"That is unfair," stated Nicholas, "I have been making observations about what I see."
"The Police Force, the Technocracy."
"Flawed," said Kent, "They are lazy and they have been cutting corners. They... don't care about the truth. About real justice. They want what looks good. They want to spread the fear through the community. Heaven forbid they catch real criminals and people, for a second, think they might be safe."
"You are upsetting people."
"Oh come on, Wentworth will get over it."
"Not those people."
"If Gearford is so mad then how come the Chief calls me himself to check cases, huh? Heaven forbid!"
"You called out the Chief and the Mayor!"
"They were being... political."
"Damnit, Nicholas. You tried to leave the country. How does that look?"
"Barnaby. I... had a business trip."
"No destination? Come on," Stempleton shook his head, "Kent... what do you think is happening?"
"Isn't that why you are here?" said Kent.
Stempleton leaned forward in his seat, his eyes looking serious, "Kent, the Policing force is going through changes. You've noticed. Button was... His death did more for Antiford then he ever did in life. Things are changing. They're making us retake oaths... they're getting stricter laws and regulations. All the bobbies are going through extra training. Extra... combat training. The military is getting more funding. Kent... it's bloody wartime all over again. Accept we're not sending troops south. They're being sent here. To the cities."
"This, too, shall pass," said Kent, "What are you saying, Stempleton?"
"I'm saying, they've begun bringing people in," said Stempleton, "Yesterday they went after informants. Accusing them of giving information both ways. They shot two who tried to escape. Kent, they went after Marcus!"
"Hey, Marcus isn't an informant," smiled Kent, "He's a private Detective... like... me."
"Kent," said Barnaby, his hands shaking, "Marcus was given a choice. They asked him to sign up to become a Bobbie. Join the Force. Put on a uniform. He refused. They locked him up awaiting trial for interfering with investigations and other, more ridiculous charges. He may even be shot for treason!"
"Treason?" asked Kent, now leaning forward in his chair as well, "How do they plan to support such a claim. It's terrible, it's... ridiculous."
"It's safety," said Stempleton, his eyebrows raising, "A Technocrat and his entire ship is brought down by some radicals and get away... well... they use that to strike fear into the every man. The every man stifles the outcries. They give up freedom for safety. They give up control, so they can live."
"Barnaby," said Kent, a light laugh trying to force its way out, "What are you here for? What are you saying?"
"I'm saying," said Stempleton, "Why won't you join the A.P.F.? Become a Bobbie. Wear an actual badge."
Kent's smile faded, and his brows furrowed, "Barnaby..."
"I know," said Stempleton, "But... WHY, man?"
"Barnaby, we have discussed this," said Kent, "I can not become a Bobbie. I do not believe in it. I don't wish to wear a uniform. Be a 'Tin Man'. Take orders and make decisions based on how they look rather then results. I could NEVER lock up the wrong man."
"But you never lock up the wrong man," said Stempleton, "Or so we know. You're feelings, your thoughts, they're not stifled under the helmet."
"They are, Barnaby," said Kent, "Besides, even when I make detective and the uniform is not as important I will still be stifled. You know we solved certain cases because I could do what you could not. I am greater on my own. Barnaby... you know this."
"I do, Kent," said Stempleton, his head shaking, "That is why I am giving you... this choice. So you will have the chance to make it twice."
"Barnaby... why?" said Kent, "You know my answer is no."
"Because, Kent," said Barnaby, his voice raising, "I go into the office, tomorrow, and I swear my new oath. After that, I will no longer be Detective Barnaby Stempleton of the Argenstrath Policing Force!"
Barnaby stood, looking down at Kent.
"Kent Nicholas," said Barnaby, "Tomorrow I will be a cog in the Technocratic machine. Bobbies everywhere will be turning in their Billy clubs for pistols and rifles and I will be trading in my suit for a new... uniform. I will be detective, still, but not like in old days."
"My dear, I'm so sorry," said Kent, "I didn't know it was that bad."
"It may not be," said Stempleton, "In years time it could get better. But now... tomorrow... it is. It is that bad."
"Do you really want me to make that dive with you? To shackle myself like that?"
Stempleton shook his head, "No, Kent. I do not. I am here to warn you, Kent. Not to cuff you. This time tomorrow... your friend will be dead. A meat machine will take his place. There will be nothing between you and the Technocracy. Kent... the way this is going... they will come for you."
Kent leaned back in his chair. He sighed.
"I need a drink, Barnaby."
"They will come for you," said Barnaby, "They will ask to see you. They will take you away. They will give you the choice. Kent, they're going to lock you up. Many in the Force are dying to do it."
"I know, Barnaby," said Kent, "Hence the flee to Port."
"You need to do better," said Barnaby, and he sighed, "You need to do it soon. Your time is running out, Kent."
"I know, Stempleton," said Kent, his eyes shut.
They were silent for some time. Neither saying a word.
"Run, Kent," said Stempleton, "You must run. Hide until this blows over. Go to Whitehaven. Go to Astam. Hide out in Conwell. Run, Kent, run tonight. You must. Everything you do depends on it."
"My family," said Kent.
"Not who they are after."
"This time tomorrow, I will be no one to you," said Stempleton.
"Depends on you're swiftness."
Kent shook his head, his eyes closed, "My Gods..."
"I wish you the best, old friend," said Stempleton, "I'll miss our late night dinners, mate."
"Thanks, Barnaby," said Kent. His eyes closed, "I'll take this into consideration."
Stempleton made his way over to the door, his cloak and hat returning to their spots.
"I'm serious, mate," said Stempleton, "I... Good bye, Kent. Good luck."
"Until next time, old friend," said Kent, "And Barnaby?"
"How would I look with a mustache?"
Stempleton shook his head, and opened the door very slightly. After scanning the street, Stempleton cast a glance back at his friend, and then ducked into the street.