DaVic sat in the interview cubicle, gazing idly at the bare walls and wondering how anybody could bear to work in such surroundings. Nothing to see, nothing to do, total boredom. “That’s probably why most of them sleep at work?” suggested his inner voice.
DaVic didn’t have a chance to ponder that further. There was a tiny noise outside — a scuffle perhaps? —, and then one of the thieves he had seen struggling with the girl opened the door and stepped aside. The girl walked in as if she owned the place … which she kind of, sort of, technically, did given that her family was almost Guild royalty.
She sat down in one of the chairs, and looked at DaVic as if demanding what he wanted. DaVic remained silent.
The thief who’d opened the door stood there a moment as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to do, then he shrugged, closed the cubicle door, and presumably left. “Nah, he’ll be close by. I don’t think they want to let this one out of their sights,” said his inner voice. DaVic smiled.
The girl seemed to get tired of the silence and spoke, “What’s so funny?”
“Well, you’re an apprentice thief, right?”
“Yeah, so what of it?”
“You can’t seem to steal a moment of peace in here, though, can you?”
The girl scowled for a moment, and then smiled, a teensy, weensy grudging smile, almost as if in spite of herself.
“There, that’s better. All that anger just eats at you ..”
“What are you? Some sort of monk?”
“Well, all your talk reminds me of some of the monks down in the religious district. They tried sending me there once, you know. Apparently there’s these monks there who practice some sort of ancient mystic art which allows them to sneak into buildings without anybody knowing. They called them the Ganja Monks. But I didn’t last too long there — I didn’t like the smoke.”
“The smoke?” asked DaVic wondering what that was all about.
“They smoke some sort of weed, says it gives them mystic powers. But I think all that mystic powers mumbo-jumbo is only in their heads — after they get high …”
DaVic laughed. “Yeah, sounds like it.”
He paused for a moment and then continued, “Listen, I’m not trying to give you any advice on anything. I was just curious about this alien conspiracy that you’d been talking about …”
The girl scowled at him for a moment as if thinking that he might be making fun of her. DaVic just looked at her expectantly. Her demeanour changed after a while.
“You on the level?” she asked.
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I be?”
“This isn’t the first time my parents have tried to get somebody to get me to `open up` as they say …”
“Nope, I definitely am not working for your parents.”
“Then who sent you?” she asked him, eying him speculatively.
“Nobody. I just happened to be out there when you started that commotion earlier. I asked who you were and during the conversation my friend mentioned that you had a theory about aliens …”
“Who’s your friend?”
DaVic wondered if it was wise to mention JaPok. After all, that might get the guy in trouble. He had no great affection for JaPok, but the man was useful, and it would be tiresome to have to cultivate another contact at the Guild.
On the other hand, he had a feeling that it was best to be honest with the girl. She seemed like the kind of person who would see right through any lies. Plus, she could easily find out who he talked to anyway. So there was no point in lying when he could be so effortlessly caught out in a lie.
“What’s your name?” he asked, to gain some time.
“KarJa. What’s yours?”
“So who’s your friend?” asked KarJa, giving him a look which seemed to say, “Did you think I’d forget?”
“JaPok,” replied DaVic deciding that truth was the best option.
“Yeah, he’s alright,” nodded KarJa. “Not so uptight as some of them out there.” She seemed to think a moment and then continued, “So why do you want to know about my alien story?”
“Well, it pays in my line of business to know things …”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a private investigator.”
“What do you investigate? There’s no crime in Sir Lanka since the guilds maintain law and order.”
“Ah, but an investigator doesn’t really need crimes,” replied DaVic.
“Nope. Say you want to keep tabs on somebody … say your boyfriend …”
KarJa wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. I don’t have a boyfriend. As if my parents would even let me go outside without like a hundred guards!”
“Well, say one of your friends has a boyfriend that they’re not sure about. Maybe they think the boyfriend might be lying to them. That’s not a crime, right?”
“Right. Everybody lies.”
“Yeah. So, if they want that investigated, they can’t go to the guilds because the guilds don’t handle that kind of thing. But I do.”
“So you just investigate boyfriends?”
“And husbands. And wives. And bosses. And employees.”
“That’s it? You just investigate people for lying?”
“Not just lying. Sometimes a business owner might want to do a background check on somebody they want to hire. Sometimes people want lost property found …”
“You mean stolen property? Isn’t that Guild business?”
“Well …” DaVic hesitated a moment, might as well tell her the truth, he decided. “Sometimes, things get stolen outside of the Guild …”
“But that’s … that’s breaking the law!”
“Yes, I susppose it is. But if the person who lost the stuff went to the Guild, the Guild will hunt down the perpetrator and make an example of them. But the stolen item might not be returned to the owner immediately. Sometimes the stolen item would be returned, but the Guild will claim a finder’s fee. So some people find it easier to just come to me …”
KarJa seemed to find this fascinating. “So aren’t you breaking the law yourself?”
“Depends. If I find the unlicensed thief, I turn him over to the Guild if he deserves it.”
“What do you `deserves it`? Don’t all unlicensed thieves deserve to be punished?”
“Well … I’d say it depends on the circumstances. If somebody is hungry, has no money to buy food, and so steals a loaf of bread, is that stealing?”
KarJa seemed to consider this as if it was a mind-blowing revelation. Given that she was a member of the Guild, born and bred, it probably was.
“Do you thinkg they deserve to be made an example of by the Guild for stealing some food?” DaVic asked, driving home his point.
KarJa slowly shook her head. “Yeah, that doesn’t seem fair.”
“So that’s why I do what I do … well, that and the fact that I get paid for it,” said DaVic, smiling slightly.
KarJa cocked her head to the side. “You get paid for this?”
“Well, yeah. Wouldn’t you want to?”
KarJa seemed to think about it for a bit. “Yes, I think I would,” she said. Then she smiled, “Teach me what you do!”
“Yeah, I think I want to learn to be a private investigator and do what you do.”
“Umm … you know that the Guild isn’t going to like that, right? Once you’re in the Guild, you’re in for life …”
“Ah, don’t worry about them, I’ll sort it out …” replied KarJa breezily.
“Really? You know what the Guild did to the last guy who tried to horn in on their territory?”
“Something unpleasant, I suppose,” said KarJa dismissively. “But I’m sure you know who my father is — I can make this work.”
“Oh, I know who your father is, and that’s why I’m terrified,” replied DaVic.
“Look, we don’t have to tell anybody. Just let me come with you and see how you work. If I like the work, then I can talk to my parents and sort it out …” said KarJa trying to be persuasive.
DaVic didn’t like where things were headed at all. His work skirted Guild laws at best and he wasn’t keen on having somebody from Guild royalty following him around and learning all about what he did. Plus, what if the kid learnt about the Obnitorians? It wasn’t as if he could just ditch her when he wanted to. She’d probably stick to him like a leech till she got bored …
Bored … That was it! What if he took her on some really boring jobs till she got tired of it? It wasn’t as if these rich kids really had any fortitude, right? She’d probably get bored pretty soon, or find something else shiny that grabbed her attention, and he’d be off the hook.
Best to play along for now, he figured. But he still had to find out about that alien conspiracy. That’s what landed him in this mess after all!
“OK, fine, you can tag along for a day as long as the Guild says OK. And getting their permission is your job. Leave me out of it,” he said.
KarJa smiled an angelic smile with a hint of the devil behind it. “Oh, don’t worry. They will be so happy to see me gone for much longer than a day …”
“But a day’s our deal, OK? No longer. Also, there’s one other thing …”
“About this alien conspiracy you’d mentioned. You nee to tell me about it.”
“Why do you want to know?”
“Just wondering if it ties into a case I’m working on …”
KarJa nodded. “OK, makes sense … You know that the Guild keeps tabs on everybody in the city, right?”
“Yeah, that’s part of the inspections and stuff, right? They know what valuables each household has so that the stealing can be streamlined …”
“Oh, it’s much more than that. They keep track of communicator usage to track where people go. They record the water consumption of each household so that they can gauge how many people live there. They also track power consumption of each building so that they can detect unusual patterns …”
DaVic had not known that the surveillance by the Guild ran that deep. He made a mental note to be careful about POD usage when doing any “sensitive” work. After all, you never know when you might be on the Guild’s radar.
“I had no idea that they monitored everybody so much,” he said. “But what has this got to do with aliens?”
“I’ve been working in the Guild offices helping them with the records and I noticed some unusual patterns …”
“What sort of patterns?” asked DaVic curiosity now taking over.
“Well, there are a few buildings in the city where the overall power consumption for the month is within the accepted ranges. So they never got flagged by the Guild. But when I took a look at their daily power usage, that’s when it got weird — they seem to use hardly any power most of the time, but then over a few days they seem to use a huge amount of power …”
“Why would that be strange? Maybe they are like clubs which open just for the weekend or something?”
“Nope, I checked the records. These are not businesses. They are residential properties. And the usage isn’t a regular pattern like only weekends either.”
“The owners just use the property on and off?”
“Doesn’t explain the huge power usage though — this is more than what a normal residential property would draw.” replied KarJa.
“But it doesn’t mean aliens either,” DaVic countered.
“Yes, that alone doesn’t mean aliens … But the clincher is …”
DaVic leaned forward, curious despite himself.
At that moment, the door of the cubicle crashed open with the force of a sonic boom.
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