Atlanta, Georgia. May 13, 2071.
The vic was female, nude, and very dead.
Lieutenant Jak Decker crouched down to get a closer look. She was pretty, with long black hair and hazel eyes. The lifeless eyes stared back at him as she lay on the ground face up, a large gash across her naked torso. There were burn marks around the wound and dark blood pooled underneath the body.
"Same M.O. as the last one," he said.
Captain Ivana Petrova stood next to the body and nodded. "Some type of laser weapon."
He glanced up. "Thatís obvious. Tell me something I donít know."
She shook her head slowly, an exasperated look on her face. "Save your wisecracks for somebody who gives a crap."
He turned back to the corpse and touched the left arm. It felt cold and stiff. Anger welled up in him, and he took a couple of deep breaths. This makes three. Three killings in two weeks. Then he pressed the vicís eyes closed.
"The M.E. puts the time of death at about 2 a.m. this morning," Petrova said.
Decker looked around the park. Except for the police and medical examinerís staff, the place was deserted. The sun was rising over the cityís skyline and overhead, aircar traffic was building, indicating the start of the morning rush. Thousands of flyers were already streaming in from the suburbs.
A couple of police techs were finishing recording and analyzing the scene. They packed up their computer and vid equipment, and one of them came over and handed the captain a data chip. She plugged it into the built-in reader of her gloved hand.
Petrova read the small flexible screen on the tech-gloveís palm. "We got nothing, Jak. No prints, no DNA, no sign of sexual assault."
He nodded. "Just like before. And no weapon or eyewitnesses. Damn it, this guyís good."
She tucked her shoulder-length brown hair behind her ears. "Youíre assuming itís a he."
"Serial killers usually are."
"Yeah. But I never assume anything. Not when it comes to murder."
Decker shrugged. "Whatever. My moneyís on a man."
"Thatís not much to go on."
His face turned red. Standing up, he said, "Iíll solve the case." He was a tall, muscular man, and he towered over her.
Petrova looked up at him, a hard look on her face. "Youíd better. And soon. Iím getting pressure from upstairs."
"Worry less about politics and more about police work."
She put her hands on her hips. "Solve it, Jak. The clockís ticking." She spun around and headed to her flyer, parked outside the police barricades.
Decker squatted next to the body again. "Iíll catch him," he murmured.
He zipped the body bag closed and waved the M.E. techs over.
Then he stood up and walked over to his groundcar.
It was 8 a.m. by the time he got home, an apartment in a midtown tower. He took a sonic shower, dressed in fresh clothes, and programmed the autochef for breakfast. Noting the time on his wrist unit, he decided to skip the scotch and poured himself a beer instead.
Decker sat at the kitchen table and put on his tech-glove. He scanned the news for a few minutes, then downloaded reports from APD Central. He went over the details of the homicides, hoping for some connection. Three women from different parts of the city, all killed by a laser. No known link to each other.
There was a noise from the bedroom and he glanced up.
Ashley stood there, yawning, wrapped in a bathrobe. Her blonde hair was tousled but she looked stunning. She had the sculpted look of a model-even after five years of marriage, she still took his breath away.
"Hey, beautiful," he said with a smile.
"Jak... where were you last night?"
"There was another homicide."
She frowned. "I never see you anymore."
He tried another smile. "Sorry... this case."
Her blue eyes flashed. "Thereís always a case. Damn it, Jak, Iím tired of it."
"I promise, as soon as I solve this one, itíll be different."
She gave him a skeptical look. "You said that last time."
Sheís right, he thought. I did say that.
"Ever since you got that new captain," she said, "youíre never here."
"Sheís a bitch on wheels, always riding my ass."
She glared. "Sure youíre not the one doing the riding? Maybe youíre screwing her... Is that it?"
"I havenít touched another woman since we met. You know that!"
She crossed her arms in front of her and was quiet for a time. "Yeah. I know. Itís just... youíre more married to your job than to me."
"As soon as I close this case, weíll go on vacation-didnít you want to go to that new resort on the moon?"
She nodded, but went quiet again. Finally, she said, "I just want you around sometimes... is that too much to ask?"
Ashley raked a hand through her hair. She was about to say something else, then saw the half-empty beer tube on the table and frowned again.
"Iíve got to get ready for work," she said, her voice so low he barely heard her.
He got up and went to the autochef. "Iíll program you some breakfast," he said, but when he turned around, she had already left the room.
Later that day, Decker was sitting in his cramped office at Central, APDís headquarters. He was staring at his murder board on the wall, the photos of the dead women on it. Details of the crimes were jotted below the photos. He got up from his desk, scribbled some additional notes on the board and sat back down. His office door was closed, but the jumbled conversations from the crowded police bullpen carried through the glass walls. As usual, the open work area was bedlam, jammed with cops at their stations working their com units and screens.
There was a rap at the door and Captain Petrova strode in and sat down across from him.
She glanced at the board. "Weíre almost in the 22nd century, Jak. You should use your comp to do that."
He shrugged. "I like this way better."
He looked at his wrist unit. "Since you asked me the last time? Which was ten minutes ago?"
"I told you. Iím getting heat from upstairs."
"So you said."
Her jaw tightened. "Iím forming a task force to work on the serial murders."
"I like to work alone. I do my best work on my own."
"I know. Still, this is getting a lot of attention. The mayor himself signaled me."
"Do I have any say-so on this?"
She shook her head. "No. But donít worry, youíll still be primary. Youíll lead the task force."
"Thereís one other thing, Jak."
He raised an eyebrow. "Yeah?"
"Iíd like you to consider getting a partner."
Decker bolted out of his chair and slammed his hands on the desk. "No way. I donít want a partner. And thatís final!"
She held her palms in front of her. "Calm down, Jak. Just consider it. I know youíve had them before and itís never worked out. But it might be different now."
He sat back down and crossed his arms. "Look, I know youíre the boss. How can I forget? You remind me every day. But you know my case-closing ratio is better than anyone else in the department. I like working alone. I donít want a partner."
She nodded. "Okay. For now. In the meantime, hereís your task force. Put them to work." She handed him a data chip and stood up. "Keep me up to date-any progress, let me know. Understood?"
He gave a mock salute. "Aye, aye, Captain."
She shook her head slowly and left his office.