There has been a murder in Block 87. A few miles away at PS 52 (Peace and Security branch 52), the gunshot finder pinged faintly at 4:13 pm, a green dot blinking on its screen like radar. A hovercraft with two officers, Badges 1087 and 3495 (a trainee and his female superior), was summarily dispatched. “Code Red,” barked the PA as the garage hatch slid open.
“Could be a false alarm,” said Badge 3495, “but you never know.” Powered by an antigravity cell, the lozenge-shaped craft glided out into a cloudless blue sky.
In the glass-and-steel office block, five shiny shards of towers embedded around a plaza punctured by new maples, no one seems to have seen or heard anything. It could be that among the endless flanks of computers, the future-designers—their young, pale faces clamped between parentheses of black headphones—were too preoccupied with stretching neon-colored trapezoids and rhombuses on their screens into angular blueprints, not unlike the buildings they occupied. Over each workstation hovered a black lamp’s spidery crane.
The gunshot finder got the PS officers within 100 yards of the suspicious event in Tower C. According to protocol, Badge 3495 explained to the trainee, they would scan floor by floor with the hovercraft’s negative-heat seeker, which targeted any large organic mass that was no longer radiating warmth. In other words, a dead body.
From east to west, starting on floor 77 and working its way downward, the hovercraft tracked across the expanse of glass that reflected the river’s shimmering blue ribbon. The sun was starting to set, casting a fiery orange glow. Red streaks of taillights arced across a bridge.
Inside, the rows of blank expressions glowed before the monitors as if they were lit by flashlights. Along floor 76, the officers could make out elaborate balsa models of lattice-work that looked like warped baskets, as well as white foam-core constructions of residential buildings sliced open as if by an earthquake. Some workers were using glue syringes to tack tiny human figures onto walkways and atriums.
On floor 75, a photographer was kneeling to capture angles of a complex that rotated on a platform, while nearby a printer was churning out a long scroll of paper that curled down into a blue bin. On a bulletin board were tacked watercolor renderings: MIXED USE, RETAIL PLAN, ATLANTIS PROJECT. This last one showed a luxury island rising like a bejeweled volcano from an azure sea.
There was nothing out of place, nothing suspicious.
The hovercraft’s long-distance microphones, protruding from the front like two insect antennae, picked up the hum of fluorescents, the clatter of keyboards and occasional phone ring or announcement, requesting that someone contact Central Control right away.
At a reception desk on floor 74, a young woman in a ponytail poured tea into a red cup, while behind her in a glass-paneled office an exec rubbed his lower lip nervously on the phone.
The neg-heat seeker was silent; no alarm buzzed. They might have to request a robo-canine to sniff around for the acrid scent of decay. Usually, they tried to avoid the messily up close and personal; suspects were apprehended by a completely different department, FJ (Freedom and Justice). Badge 3495 felt their work was largely clinical, like performing a medical procedure on an urban scale. Best not to let emotions intrude. She could tell her trainee was too involved, his breathing shallow as he swept across the facade with a pair of binoculars.
When they descended to floor 73, Badge 1087 cried out and pointed. “I think I see some blood!”
“Over there, on the top floor of a condo model. Right under the skylight.” He handed her the binoculars, and she zoomed in. The foam-core model was large, one inch to one foot, completely filling a conference room. It was half in shadow. Strewn about the stairway and living quarters were five- and six-inch resin figurines, realistically colored in business and leisure wear.
“Could be a red marker,” she said, “or a stain from that male figure in a tracksuit that has fallen over.” Unseen beneath him was a miniature 3D-printed pistol.
On the other side of the world, the very human victim—about 60 with a slight belly—lay dying on the top floor of his condo, a pool of blood coagulating under his right side. Above him, sunlight refracted off the skylight. He had known there was a risk in joining the party’s inner circle of oligarchs. Any one of them could be made to disappear at any time. But he wondered if murders were now being preplanned along with the layouts of their secret retreats. Spooky action at a distance, he’d overheard that phrase from research. He felt his hands go cold. He began to shiver uncontrollably. Through the portal of blue sky overhead, his last vision was of a huge rainbow-colored macaw, its tailfeathers a brilliant crimson, streaked upward into overwhelming brightness.