Umbra, Episode 3 – Masters of the Night, Part I

Art by Syd “Vetyr” Mills

Taenand’s inhabitants idealised Florydia to the utmost, yet they knew little about its intricate political and societal structure. The Inquisitori were commonly known, but only the people living in Florydia were aware the judicial body who mostly preserved the Honestissima Citade’s safety, especially during night hours, were the dreaded Signori Noctis.

Their duties overlapped with some of the Inquisitori’s, such as the prosecution of criminals and the interrogations in Palazzo Aulicus that included the notorious night trials; however, they worked on the field as a special police force, investigating the most difficult cases, especially those involving serial murder and sexual assault, conspiracy, well-planned heists, and the capture of dangerous fugitives and terrorists.

They were six, one for each of the main districts of the city, and Bassoborgo was monitored by Vera Crissalli, the sole among them who had decided not to become a cyborg. The most reliable inhabitants of Bassoborgo admired her deeply, especially the amanti she helped and rescued several times over the years. As a result, she was always greeted with joy when she visited the Orchidea to gain information.

The narrow hallway at the entrance, with its ornamented antique black doors, its chequered floor and the floral paintings on the walls, led to the breathtaking main lobby where the purple and dark red perimetral lights flooded the place with a mysterious and sophisticated atmosphere. The hall’s ceiling and walls were frescoed, the painted erotic silhouettes were highlighted by purple holograms, the black carved furniture was filled with lit candles that gave the area an old-fashioned tone.

At the centre of the room, a small indoor pool was surrounded by other candles and potted orchids, and floating small candles brightened the blackened water. Many fainting couches were arranged all around, occupied by some amanti and the customers who approached them to negotiate their imminent encounter.

The Orchidea’s protecti were known not only for their enigmatic appearance, given by the beautifully crafted half-face masks Matrona Aspasia had commissioned Mastro Rosselli to suit each of them perfectly, but also for their confidence and lethality; it wasn’t a secret that they were trained to be masterful lovers as well as efficient killers when required, namely in case of fraud and attempted violence. If an amante failed in defending themselves, Aspasia had no qualms in taking care of the perpetrator personally.

Escorted by four Custodi, the Signori Noctis’ subordinates and patrolling guards who wore white squared full‑face masks, Vera crossed the entrance that night and witnessed the usual scene occurring in the main hall; she saw gorgeous amanti of all shapes and genders, with their masks adorned by lit red curlicues, seducing their customers with small dances, sitting on their laps to give them a taste of what to expect and guiding them up the elegant stairs leading to the private rooms.

Some of them were clad in exquisite underbust corsets adorned with red floral embroideries that left their chests and breasts uncovered, while others only wore elegant lace dressing gowns kept open to show their naked bodies. The Orchidea was a brothel, and nudity was the norm, but what made it so different from other pleasure houses in Florydia was its remarkable class and attention to detail.

Vera wasn’t bothered by that view as much as the Custodi, intimidated and thrilled at the same time; they were all young men in their early twenties, so their reaction, although unprofessional, wasn’t weird at all. Approached by as many amanti, they almost forgot the reason for their visit and Vera’s presence. She sighed, but let them enjoy their time at the Orchidea while it lasted as her interlocutor showed up to greet her.

“Malefactors have no place in my welcoming residence,” she heard, a low and seductive voice brimmed with fascinating secrecy. The voice of an elderly woman, who slowly walked towards her in her black stiletto shoes, black stockings wrapping her legs, clothed in a black velvet bodycon dress decorated with silk floral embroideries. “I wonder why an esteemed Signora Noctis is delighting us with her presence.”

Vera grabbed her feathered tricorn hat and removed it to bow her head. The Signori Noctis’ uniforms were designed to be formal and elegant, intriguing and mysterious as well as immediately recognisable. Her long and flowing swallow-tailed trench coat with a standing ruff collar was paired with a black tactical belt, supported by a leather strap that passed over a shoulder; the uniform also included a pair of form-fitting trousers, worn with over‑the‑knee boots. The attire was made of midnight blue velvet adorned by embroidered black curlicues, like the half-face mask they were compelled to wear when on duty.

Vera’s large grey eyes were perfectly visible despite her mask, as well as part of her round face on which she wore little to no make-up. A slender woman in her late thirties, she had rose‑white skin, her hair styled in a mahogany sleek bob.

“Work, Matrona Aspasia,” she said, her expression apparently scornful and annoyed despite her pleasing professionalism. She wasn’t one of those people everyone loved at first sight, but her stunning confidence was certainly undisputable. “I’d like a word with you in private. It’s about a case.”

Aspasia’s full lips, painted in dark red lipstick, parted in an enigmatic smile. She had olive skin, her square face, in part hidden by a black half-face mask, wrinkled by age yet attractive and stunningly sculpted. She had shoulder-length, dyed jet black hair, and a short fringe lay upon her forehead. Her dark brown eyes were cunning, secretive though filled with vitality. “What makes you so sure I would like a word with you, Dominia Crissalli?”

Vera blinked calmly. “The law,” she replied, staring at Aspasia who halted before her with her hands elegantly crossed and her head tilted to the side, “You can’t refuse an interview demanded by the Signori Noctis, or else you shall be arrested.”

Aspasia closed her eyes to release a soft chuckle. At first silent and serious, Vera finally chuckled in return; she always shut her eyes tight when she laughed, a peculiarity that was part of her since Aspasia had known her. “Let’s go to my office, my dear,” Aspasia said, pointing with a hand at the staircase located behind her and after the pool. “In the meantime, let your men enjoy themselves. Compliments of the house.”

Vera looked around to notice the now mostly unmasked Custodi were, in fact, already enjoying the company of an amante each, fondling and kissing them with growing desire. She shrugged, put her hat back on and preceded Aspasia towards the steps that would take her to the upper floor.

******

Regardless of its modest dimensions and simplicity, Aspasia’s office was classy and filled with astonishing elegance, illuminated by the dim warm perimetral lights. The black executive desk, upon which sat a powered-down terminal, was decorated by golden floral inlays and matched a peculiar swivelling chair, with its tastefully carved armrests and its dark red velvet upholstery. Two tall display cabinets were placed against the dark grey wall behind the desk, adorned by gold-painted ornamental mouldings. An antique, carved chest of drawers was arranged in the north wall between the tall windows, veiled by dark red curtains, near a small round table surrounded by four carved chairs.

Invited by Aspasia, Vera sat at the table and looked around, observing the stunning paintings and the magnificent decorative masks hung on the walls. She also noticed a framed photo upon the chest of drawers, depicting Aspasia, unmasked, who joyfully hugged a child cheek-to-cheek, a young boy with a chirpy smile on his little face.

“You don’t have to distract my Custodi every time I visit you,” Vera said while Aspasia served her a small cup of nervinia, a stimulating plum-coloured brewed drink heavily consumed in Florydia. She grabbed the small spoon lying on the saucer and slowly stirred the hot drink before taking the first sip. It was flavourful, with the perfect amount of bitterness and aromatic intensity.

“I don’t distract them,” Aspasia responded, taking a seat with an unlit cigarette between two fingers and a lighter in the other hand, “It’s a matter of etiquette. You drag these poor boys from one side to the other of Bassoborgo, all night long, every night. They deserve some rest from time to time.”

“Talk about resting,” Vera chuckled, “They’ll be exhausted when they finish. Anyway, I’m sure you heard about Vittoria Astini’s sister.”

Aspasia moved the lit cigarette away from her face, holding it gracefully and placing her elbow on the table’s surface.

“Rossana took a risk by changing her territory, and this risk killed her,” she said after she blew a thin column of smoke into the air. “As far as I know, a new patrono acquired Videodromo and her former clients.”

“Let’s pretend I don’t know what a patrono is,” Vera affirmed with a clever smile, “but yes, there’s been a takeover. The new manager still sells those gory chips, and I bought a recording of a murder that occurred in the city. I gave it to the police Net Crimes Unit to analyse it, and they discovered where the video was recorded. It’s in the district, and I suspect the Saxi have expanded their business by filming murders, tortures and whatnot to sell them in the Hyperuranion. The video I got was stolen from its purchaser and downloaded by a violator.”

Aspasia took a puff from her cigarette. “So?”

“So, I went there and found nothing, except for a bunch of upset gang members I arrested,” Vera revealed, right before finishing her nervinia. She put down the cup and crossed her hands on the table, interlocking her tapered ringed fingers. “Their leader knows I’m hunting them. The Decim are ignoring my request to involve the Inquisitori in this investigation and my peers have no intention of helping me. As usual, they don’t care about the fate of Bassoborgo, but I do.”

“The Carnival has just ended,” Aspasia said, throwing some ash in the porcelain ashtray she dragged towards herself, “I got what you’re about to ask. My shadow is not an instrument of the Signori Noctis and will never be.”

“People are dying,” Vera insisted, her tone slightly raised in nervousness and her eyes wide open, “The Saxi are making many recordings of this kind, and when I say many I mean an inconceivable amount. The next victim could be anyone, including one of your protecti. Are you willing to risk they start coming for them? Aren’t they suffering enough lately because of that Empirian bastard?”

“What’s happening to us is none of your concern,” Aspasia firmly stated, “Where were you when one of your dear Inquisitori was selling my protecti to Jabretenian traffickers? You gave priority to the investigation the Decim employed you for, despite your statements about how much you care about this district. As I said, my shadow is not your puppet.”

Despite her mask, Vera’s disappointed grimace was discernible. “Are we having this fight again? Inquisitore Argenti had nothing to do with that business, those responsible tried to frame him. You’re well aware who our common enemy truly is. Decimum Claudius Herrin does everything to support his son’s whims.”

“If your theory is correct, you obeyed the Decim nonetheless and still do,” Aspasia countered, “We agreed to disagree about that specific event, so let’s not talk about it anymore.”

“You brought it up in the first place,” Vera said, a comment that made Aspasia throw her a rigid stare. “I need help, Aspasia. I never begged you to get your shadow involved in a case, but this time I’m desperate. Can you at least ask him and let me know his opinion on the matter?”

Aspasia took her last puff and squeezed the cigarette butt on the ashtray. She spoke after several seconds of silence, during which Vera eagerly awaited while observing her. “What exactly should he do?”

“He should stalk the Saxi to their new hideout,” Vera explained, “I can’t find them anywhere, but I’m sure he could. Afterwards, he’d guide me there and leave it to me. That’s all, nothing more.”

A nervous sigh came out of Aspasia, her eyes now turned and staring into nothingness. She had tensed up, clearly concerned by that request. “Give me two days,” she finally agreed, “but expect nothing. He might reject the offer.”

Vera joined hands and brought them to her lips, her eyes tightly closed. “Thank you,” she said, “You have my deepest gratitude. If he accepts, you know where to find me.”

“If he accepts, he will find you,” Aspasia affirmed, following Vera with her eyes while she got up and put on the tricorn hat lying on the table until that moment. “Your men are in rooms four, five, six and seven. Turn left on the corridor once you cross the door.”

“Thank you again,” Vera said, wearing her hat. “Bonunoctis, Aspasia.”

Aspasia nodded and raised a smile. “Bonunoctis, my dear.”

Once Vera left the room, Aspasia remained alone with her thoughts and her worries, the background music coming from downstairs and the sounds of the holographic ads on the outside buildings were the only things she could hear in the silence of her office.

“Terra, I’ve always had a thing for Vera,” she suddenly heard.

******

Aspasia gasped and started, turning towards the open window right behind her.

Holding their old photo in his hands, Fulvio giggled amused at Aspasia’s reaction and at the upset face she addressed him with once she recognised him as Umbra.

“Are you trying to scare me to death?” she asked, her hand pressed to her cleavage.

Fulvio put down the photo and greeted her with a pretentious bow. “I believed nothing was capable of scaring you, mater.”

Aspasia gestured at him with an open hand, the palm upwards, and shook her head while whispering a stulto. She then got up at the exact moment Fulvio straightened up and looked at her with a wide smile. She smiled back and hugged him, an embrace he cherished and returned enthusiastically. He hadn’t seen Aspasia in months, and every time he saw her again after being apart for long he realised how much his heart ached at her absence and how much he missed her. She was his family, the only family he had ever known.

“How long have you been on the balcony?” she asked, moving her head away from his chest.

“Enough to listen to the full conversation, I think,” he replied, smirking when Aspasia pursed her lips and stared at him while stepping back. A soft smile appeared on his lips when he spotted an old small stuffed owl on the desk. “Aren’t you happy to see me? The last time I visited was before the Carnival. I’m finally back to action, you know? It’s the same story every year and I swear it’s annoying,” he started blabbering. He sat on the desk’s edge and lifted his feet, his legs crossed, placing his wrists on his raised knees and tilting his head to the side while gazing at Aspasia.

She chuckled and sat back. “The Carnival’s enhanced surveillance bothered me as well when I was in your shoes,” she said, “We both aren’t patient people. Is everything alright?”

“Why do you ask? I’m just visiting,” he said, raising his head and smiling.

Aspasia observed him in silence while drumming her long, red-painted nails on the table’s surface.

Fulvio let out a brief laugh; Aspasia knew him too well, more than anyone else in that city, even more than Donatella. “You heard about the Dove’s Flight,” he guessed.

“Of course, I heard about it,” she said, “You talked to prince Leandro, didn’t you?”

Fulvio blew her a kiss without saying a word.

“Fulvio,” she said with a scolding tone, “You didn’t show him your face, right?”

Fulvio tilted his head backwards, surprised, a dramatic gaping expression on his face as he feigned offence. “I’m smarter than that!”

Aspasia lowered her head, but her eyes kept gazing at him while he cleared his throat. “Fulvio,” she called him out, her voice getting angrier. “Tell me you didn’t.”

You didn’t,” Fulvio replied, giggling despite the fact Aspasia had started blinking frantically. “No, seriously, I didn’t. Why should I?” he said, hoping Aspasia would believe his lie.

Aspasia brought a hand to her forehead, releasing a frustrated sigh.

He looked at her with a shrewd smile, a stare she completely ignored to point at the pack of cigarettes on the desk. He grabbed it, picked a cigarette and threw the pack back towards her, which she caught on the fly.

“Let’s talk about Vera,” she said once she lit a new cigarette and threw the lighter towards Fulvio, who caught it with the same dexterity. “You heard what she asked. What do you think?”

Fulvio blew a thin column of smoke into the air. “I think she didn’t say what we’re getting in return,” he answered, “but it’s not a weird request. I believe Vera might put an end to this trade for some time, and she certainly will, but I have the power to end it forever.”

“She said she wants you to guide her to the Saxi’s hideout. You wouldn’t fight by her side.”

“Unless I do,” he said, his voice sounding cunning and cheerful as usual. “I don’t know enough about the Saxi to identify them on sight, however. I should ask Dona.”

Aspasia sighed and brought the cigarette to her lips. “Are you aware Vera might ask for your help again? This collaboration could set a tricky precedent.”

“It won’t,” Fulvio said after a puff, “I’ll make the rules.”

Aspasia looked at him, nodding pensively. She gave him a gentle smile while observing him, a loving look filled with pride. “So be it, then,” she concluded, extinguishing her consumed cigarette. “Be careful, puero. We can’t trust anyone.”

“I know, I know,” Fulvio said, leaving the half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray placed on the desk. He got on his feet, walking towards Aspasia who stood up. “Another hug before I go?”

Aspasia pinched his cheek and gave him what he asked, her lovely, soft laugh echoing in the room while he held her close and tight. He kissed her forehead and moved away after saying goodbye, retreating towards the window. He disappeared in the darkness of the night, silent and invisible like the shadow he was.

******

In terms of appearance and perception, there was no difference between the self-repairing lab-made skin covering Fulvio’s back and arms and his real one. For this reason, although those parts of his body could not bleed, the burning sensation of the scratches on his back was perceptible to its fullest.

Since they first met, the rough intimacy Donatella enjoyed was something Fulvio sincerely loved. The scratches she gave him when he was deep inside her aroused him so much that, at times, he reached his climax sooner than he wanted. He was eager to give Donatella full control by making himself a mere vehicle for her pleasure, a noble purpose in his opinion and a role he was genuinely glad to fulfil when she was in the mood.

Towards the end of their encounters, she often loved to push him and make him lie on his back, on the soft, shiny satin sheets of his bed. She mounted him so he could slip inside her again and rode him, his erection growing harder at every thrust and at every moan she let out. At the feeling of her tight, wet warmth, Fulvio never lasted long. Donatella rarely reached the peak of her satisfaction in that moment, but Fulvio always made sure she did earlier.

They both always indulged in bed for a bit afterwards, while staring at the ceiling with empty eyes, millions of thoughts crowding their minds. It was the only occasion in which Fulvio didn’t blabber, a quietness hiding a whirlwind of feelings. However, he was often the first to break that habitual silence.

“Remind me why we aren’t together,” he said that afternoon, his heart still pounding in his chest.

Donatella kept looking in front of her, drumming her fingers on her belly. She was mimicking a tune, a song Fulvio couldn’t recognise. “Because I don’t want to,” she quietly replied, “We talked about this.”

Fulvio smiled softly. “Yes, we did,” he confirmed as he turned to look at her. Her pearl-white face was stained with smeared make-up but she was beautiful anyhow, her voluminous blond permed curls crowning her while she rested her head on the pillow. His stunning, fierce dulcina.

“Did you visit Matrona Aspasia?” she asked, quickly changing the subject.

Fulvio raised his back and moved to rest it against the low headboard of the bed, from whose shelf he grabbed a pack of cigarettes. “I did,” he confirmed, “and tonight I’ll start a solo mission. There was something I wanted to ask you before you jumped on me.”

“What is it about?” Donatella questioned once she sat up.

“The Saxi,” Fulvio replied, lighting his cigarette. “What do they look like?”

“Well, they’re one of the few gangs who don’t have specific masks and clothes. They all have orange retinal augmentations, however, and full-sleeve stonework tattoos. Why do you have to chase them alone?”

“Let’s say it’s a dangerous collaboration and I don’t want to put you and Cesco in a difficult position,” Fulvio explained, “Matrona Aspasia would agree with me.”

Donatella released a small puff of air through her nostrils. “If you say so,” she said, before gazing at him in silence for some seconds. “You should change your hairstyle.”

“Forget about it,” Fulvio said, moving the cigarette away from his face.

“And also your earrings and nose piercing.”

“Forget about that, too.”

Donatella blinked in the same moment he did. She barely held an amused smile as he took an emphatic puff and blew the smoke in her direction. “Terra, you’re so dramatic,” she snorted before looking away.

Fulvio chuckled and shook his head backwards to tidy his wavy hair, resting in a relaxed half‑lying pose.

“If we’re lucky enough, that Leandro might be the only one who still remembers you since the opening ceremony. It’s a good thing he hasn’t seen your face.”

Fulvio choked on his cigarette’s smoke and started coughing, hence Donatella turned suddenly with a rigid stare.

“Fulvio,” she said, crawling on the bed to draw her face close to his. “You’re not as foolish as I think you are, right?”

Fulvio gave a quick kiss to the tip of her nose.

“Fulvio, tell me you didn’t.”

“Why do you all want me to say you didn’t? Come on, you’re the one who left me alone with him!”

“Fulvio, I’m not your nanny and you’re an adult man,” Donatella countered in a scolding tone, her voice trembling in discontent. “You’re old enough to figure out for yourself it was a dick move.”

“Why?” Fulvio asked, shrugging and furrowing his brow, “Let’s assume he’s still into me and finds me. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Donatella ripped the cigarette from Fulvio’s fingers and pressed it against the ashtray on the shelf, a move that left him so dumbstruck he gaped at her. “He’s famous, you fucking stulto,” she called him out, her teal eyes staring furiously at his while she poked his chest with a finger, “Even if he could be trusted, what would happen if they caught you two together?”

“You’re taking it too seriously.”

Donatella rolled her eyes and moved away from him to get up. “Are you taking it seriously, though?”

Fulvio observed her absentmindedly. His thoughts went to Leandro and their last conversation, to his light blue eyes and his lively, charming smile. “Are you talking about my safety or Leandro’s?”

Donatella picked up her clothes from the floor and threw them on the bed before choosing the first piece to wear. She sighed as she grabbed her magenta panties. “Both.”

“I’m not in danger,” Fulvio replied, lifting his eyes towards the ceiling again. “and I barely know him, but he’s interesting. I like him.”

“Good,” Donatella commented after she put on the worn-out striped vest she used to wear at home. “By the way, tonight I’ll meet a new patrono. Want to come?”

“Why should I come? I don’t deal with patroni.”

Donatella returned his glance. “It’s Scandalo.”

Fulvio goggled surprised. “Nando? How did he become a patrono?”

“How the fuck would I know?” Donatella sighed, now sitting on the edge of the bed to put on her shoes. “You can ask him yourself if you come with me.”

“I’d love to, but I have another visit to make and I must get ready,” he declared, “Tell him I said hi.”

“I will,” Donatella said, “If you change your mind, go to Videodromo and ask the cashier about a chip featuring three naughty violators, called Jacked In. It’s the passphrase.”

“Wait, did you say Videodromo? The adult chips rental?”

Donatella nodded puzzled. “Yes, why?”

A grin appeared on Fulvio’s face. “Can you ask Nando some questions for me?”

******

Apart from the rooms in Palazzo Aulicus, each Signore Noctis had a dedicated office in the main police station of their district. Vera’s office was of course located in Bassoborgo, on the second floor, a small yet functional room illuminated by dim white perimetral lights in which she locked herself during the three hours preceding her patrol. Apparently, she didn’t rest much, and many agents working in the station speculated she didn’t sleep at all. It wasn’t accurate, but it wasn’t completely untrue either.

Throughout that alone time, Vera put all the pieces together, profiled her suspects, and consumed as much absinthe as needed before she faced an epiphany that would move her investigations forward. Her twin‑faucet absinthe fountain was placed on a decorated high table arranged in the north-east side of her office, behind her desk, to the left of a small chest freezer and an inlaid cabinet containing at least ten full bottles and the essential absinthiana.

The rest of the room was furnished with bookcases full of storage drives, along with the holographic screens and interfaces transmitted on the floral wallpapered walls and connected to the terminal placed on the beautiful, black wooden desk, matched by an upholstered leather chair with a flowery golden frame.

Vera got up from her desk and poured a glass of absinthe before going out to do her job. Once she placed the elegant, pointy slotted spoon on the glass, she slightly opened the fountain’s faucet to let a thin line of water drip on the sugar cube held by the spoon.

“Can I have one, too?”

Vera smiled. She closed the fountain’s faucet and slowly stirred her absinthe once the sugar cube melted completely. “So you accepted, Umbra.”

Fulvio hopped down from the window. “It’s a pleasure to meet you again, my dear Vera.”

The Signora Noctis put down the spoon and took some seconds before turning with the glass in her hand. “I presume you got a lead,” she said before taking a sip, “Tell me more.”

Fulvio walked around to observe his surroundings. A cheap plastic figurine depicting a seagull was placed on the desk, near a tiny potted plant with blooming pink flowers. He grabbed the seagull and turned Vera’s armchair in her direction. “I thought you wanted to have a little chat before getting to work,” he asserted, now sitting with his back slipping on the backrest and observing the figurine with more attention than needed. “We barely talked in the past. How’s life going?”

“Good, except murders are happening and we’re having a little chat.”

“My beautiful friend met the man who sold you the chip,” he said, tossing the figurine on the floor. “She didn’t find out much. Said man obtained it from an Empirian patrono, a certain Jet Brightstorm. However, I may have found some Saxi while coming here.”

“Where are they, then?” she asked.

“If I told you, you wouldn’t need me anymore.”

Vera chuckled with her eyes closed. A lovely expression indeed, according to Fulvio. “Tell me what you want in return,” she said after she drank again, her glass now half-empty.

Fulvio got up and walked until they got face to face, and Vera lifted her gaze to look at him straight in the eyes. “You won’t catch them all, and those who survive will rebuild their gang and start this madness all over again. You’re aiming to find someone to prosecute for these crimes, and my goal is to get justice for their victims,” he said in a whispering, seductive tone, reaching out his hand. “You get their leader, I do what I want with the henchmen. After this job is done, you’ll forget about me forever and won’t ask for my help again.”

Vera exhaled and looked at her glass. She made it rotate gently in her fingers, the opalescent absinthe swirling inside. Fulvio grinned when she handed it to him. “Getting justice is my goal as well. When do we start?”

He took a sip, the fresh, anise-flavoured taste tickling his palate with a burning herbal smack that felt like a lascivious lash once he swallowed it. He almost forgot how much he loved the taste of absinthe, and he immediately drank another drop as soon as he examined the glass amazed.

“Terra, I want a bottle of this.”

“Find it yourself, this is my supply,” Vera said, wresting the glass from his hand.

Fulvio walked towards the window and sat on the lower edge, offering his hand to invite Vera to join him.

“We start now,” he announced, “Have you ever flown before?”

******

Bassoborgo’s police station was located on one of the lowest levels of Florydia, almost on the border between that district and Callelungo, a safer and wealthier area facing part of the modern side of the city and the lower Canale Laguna,traversed every day by dozens of elegant rowing boats.

Flying over that part of their hometown, Fulvio and Vera got a stunning overhead view of Canale Laguna, simply spectacular at night when enriched by the starry sky reflecting on the dark Canale’s waters, partially tinted by a vibrant mixture of colours given by the city holograms.

Fulvio landed on the tiled roof of a dated house overlooking a narrow watery alley, where three men jumped aboard a motorboat. Their potential tattoos were hidden by the long-sleeved, garishly coloured windbreakers they wore, however, they all possessed orange retinal augmentations.

“We must follow them,” Fulvio whispered, crouched on the roof’s edge.

Kneeling at his right, Vera turned her head in his direction. “How? By running?”

“We wouldn’t be fast enough,” he said. Vera nodded in agreement. “We’ll fly again.”

“Is this what you do all night? Fly over the city, enjoying the view?”

“While killing some bastards in the process,” Fulvio replied, completing her sentence.

Vera addressed him with a tight-lipped smile. “I should arrest you after this confession,” she murmured while blinking slowly, “Did you forget who you’re talking to?”

“You would never,” he affirmed, a lilting and pleasant tone in his smooth, whispering voice.

The motorboat departed, darting on the alley’s waters and quickly passing under a small bridge bordered by cyan lights separating the two rows of houses. Fulvio made a sign to Vera to get up and wrapped his arms around her before jumping and spreading his Icarus wings. He glided for a bit until he reached a distant rooftop and landed briefly to observe the motorboat’s itinerary. He and Vera repeated those steps for a while until they had completely left Bassoborgo and arrived in the business district of Ferreocastro.

The Saxi got off the motorboat and entered a truck that brought them to a warehouse belonging to one of the biggest hardware retailing companies in Florydia, Franceschelli Elektronica. The facility was closed at that time of the night, but they managed to enter with the aid of several fellow gang members. Observing that scene from the top of a near modern flat roof, Fulvio noticed the security cameras and the small surveillance drones that were flying over the facility, ignoring their passage and allowing them to enter. He was sure the same thing wouldn’t happen to him, which was why his thoughts went to Cesco, absent and therefore unable to help.

“This is Maniscalchi’s territory,” Vera said, once again at his left.

“Who’s Maniscalchi?” Fulvio asked, turning towards her.

Vera rolled her eyes. “A colleague,” she huffed, “Ludovico Maniscalchi, Ferreocastro’s Signore Noctis. He’d ignore me if I called him.”

“Sounds like a charming man,” Fulvio commented, making her smirk. “Well, it’s your investigation, isn’t it? Let’s get in and solve this problem to spite him.”

“We can’t get in, we must distract them,” Vera argued, bobbing her head with a grimace, “I’ll contact my Custodi and tell them to improvise an inspection.”

Fulvio raised his hand in front of Vera’s puzzled face and opened and closed his fingers as it was talking, repeating her last sentence in a mocking tiny voice. “You’re as pleasant as that Maniscalchi,” he affirmed afterwards. She gasped appalled, goggle-eyed while he snickered. “An inspection would alert them and give them time to hide. If you’re the best Signora Noctis, crime will win. How are you at deactivating security systems?”

“What makes you think I’ll answer, now that you’ve insulted me?” Vera retorted.

“I had no idea you were so touchy,” Fulvio commented with a provocative grin.

Vera’s eyes languished and glittered with seeming conceit. “I definitely won’t ask Aspasia about you again, you can bet on it,” she said stilly before pulling out a remote violation connector from her trench coat’s pocket. She stuck it on her nape, a brief look of pain on her face as the device’s retractive needles pierced through her skin and her cranial nerves. After that, she raised her left sleeve and activated her hologlove’s interface. “It’s basic training. A simple form of violation, unless a system is protected by an Aigis,” she explained while frantically typing on the small holographic screen.

“Is this system protected?” Fulvio asked.

“I don’t know yet,” Vera replied, “give me a second.”

Fulvio looked around, humming a song. “A second has passed.”

“I didn’t mean literally,” Vera said in a distracted tone, her eyes fixed on the interface. She stopped typing and blinked, turning at Fulvio after a surprised mumble. “It’s already neutralised. The cameras are shut down and the drones are basically blind. I believe the Saxi did the work for us unknowingly.”

“Are you sure?” Fulvio asked while straightening his back, a wide smile on his lips.

Vera nodded. “So, do we get in?”

“I do,” Fulvio said, “I changed my mind, call your Custodi, but tell them to sneak in silently.” He got up and retreated, about to take a running jump.

“Are you out of your mind?” Vera exclaimed, “What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

“Watch over the area,” he quickly said, “Your Custodi will help you get down.” Before Vera could say anything, Fulvio leapt and spread his wings to take flight. She ran in his direction, but he was already gliding towards his destination when she fell on her knees and put her hands on the roof’s border, observing him getting further away. “Mater Terra,” she sighed in a high-pitched tone, “He’s a total arsehole!”

©2022 FREDDIE A. CLARK. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Freddie A. Clark with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.