Cinder and Yura were standing at the center of Cosm's ring of law offices. Not the geographical center, as they were standing on the ring itself, but the metaphorical one for certain.
Yura's father was the chief of police, after all, and this was his HQ. Cinder, ever fascinated with history, had a healthy appreciation for how terribly a bad force could tip the scales and how what a good force did shouldn't be impressive or awe-inspiring so much as keeping everything smooth enough that day-to-day life could press on.
Cinder loved the station, but Yura and she knew better than to wander any farther than the commons, and there they planted themselves in a corner so as not to be trampled by the men and women hustling through. The round badge of a safety meter under the officials' garments glowed orange and not green, a warning of their status even when they weren't in uniform. Those uniforms were dull dark green and in a more contemporary (twentieth-century military) style than civilian clothes. They also carried flashsticks, which dropped people unconscious with little to no pain-- and, of course, guns at their hips. Long range weapons had changed little over the course of history.
What impressed Cinder most, though, were the policemens' caps, the visors pulled low and casting shadows over their faces, morphing them into firm, statue-like agents of the law.
The only man who didn't wear the cap was Chief Foregard, Yura's father, but he didn't really need one. He was of medium height and build, his unremarkable face a tad homely, if one counted the slanted mouth and too-deep brow. But his eyes, they glittered, muddy brown though they were, and he grew his beard in stubbled black and grey streaks. He seemed fearsome, but jovial was what he was really.
As he approached Yura and Cinder he crossed his muscular arms under his stout if misshapen chest and grinned.
"What, pray tell, are you two after?"
"Well, Mam sent the lunches with you, Papan, unless you've managed to eat it all already?" Yura returned familiarly.
"Me?" He returned true to the well-rehearsed routine, ruffling her hair fondly as Cinder watched, indifferent and unabashed, as though they were another of the language mastery videos two hours of every school-day was devoted to. Upon realizing belatedly as ever that her eccentricities might be construed as invasive, she averted her eyes to the common's furniture—all sofas and endtables littered with tools. Police didn't waste any of their meager budget on techies when they could damn well fix it themselves.
She felt the chief toss her a glance and then he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I just thought, since it's such a lazy day, that you two might want to join me in heading back to control central. I seem to have left your lunches there, after all."
Yura chuckled as Cinder pretended indifference by stretching to turn away her small smile. "Papan, you spoil her, you really do."
"Hmm?" he asked, already turning to guide them as surely as Cinder's feet were, by magnetic force, dragged behind him.
Yura had grown up bouncing on the knees of the police staff; her father lived at work almost as surely as her mother did. As they proceeded through a barracks and locker work of sorts she hailed most officers by name where they loitered stripped down to their form fitting thermal undersuits. It was a change of the guard, apparently, and these were midshifters, the poor bastards. Something (likely legal documentation) had kept them overtime.
That didn't matter, however. What mattered was that when the door to 'control central' sensed the unique pulse of Chief Foregard's orange life light and hissed aside they stepped into a virtual wonderland. The room was arranged (no doubt on the insistence of playful officers) like a millennia-old NASA launch center. There was a huge screen at its base depicting a map of Cosm and blips occasionally rising to be dealt with by whichever police station 'called' them. White blips meant a building's security had been compromised. Yellow was for fires. Red for death and injury. Arrayed before it in ascending rows were desks and computers and boards filled with printouts of intel in investigations and reports from the forensics division.
Into this hectic press and tangle Cinder and the Foregards waded to the chief's desk at the peak of it all. Quite a dramatic arrangement, but he filled—or had filled, once, that position well.
Stepping over the greenish translucent tiles (baring all the semiconductive metals, transmitters, and wires at work below) Chief Foregard began rummaging through the drawers of his desk. The top of it was a fungal, likely parasitic growth of unfinished business in its most two-dimensional of forms.
That paperwork was the first truly organic creature Cinder had seen in a long time from a city of cultured roof gardens and bio-engie-greenhouse islands off its docks, but no real flora or fauna to speak of. Almost made her feel warm and fuzzy inside.
It wasn't long ere Chief Foregard was handing Yura their lunches and grinning at them unnervingly, however.
"There you two mischief makers are. Off to wander the old warehouses in the dead zone again, eh?"
He kept track of them while they were out and about, but Cinder supposed that was only natural in light of his… circumstances. Even in a writhing mass of humanity as well-oiled as Cosm anything could happen to two girls alone in the world.
Still, he didn't know about Rad, and Yura was incapable of lying.
"Probably just meandering today," Cinder said in place of the comely youth, whom had hesitated. It was mostly the truth—neither of them thought they could stomach Rad that day.
"Well," Chief Foregard put in kindly, "Just try not to be out too long, alright?"
"Mother was upset last time, was that it?" Yura asked, and when her father averted his eyes she gave his arm a pat, then took Cinders in the crook of her elbow. "Well, then we'd best not waste any time right?" She smiled.
Resignedly, her father bid her farewell, and Cinder tried not to look too contemplative as they passed through a now vacant barracks and into the light that glared at Cosm as though in hopes it might shrink away.
Yura's mother. The reason Yura was a perfect bio-engineered product of the thirty-first century, and the gorgeous cause of Chief Foregard's grief. The woman was, Cinder reflected, part and parcel a product of—nay, the avatar for, the city itself. Shifting moods, all felicitous and predictable, a shallow and ordered appearance, ruthless enforcement and peremptory strictures…
"Where are we headed?" she asked Yura, whom seemed unperturbed. As she watched the strawberry ponytail bob and weave through a crowd of haori's all bee-lining for their destinations over the translucent streets and their infrastructure, with yet more masses of humanity pulsing and chipping away beneath them on subways—as she did that she waited for Yura's inevitable suggestion that they do something involved. Play an interactive adventure in one of the arcades (government sponsored, Cinder and Rad noted with irony), a class in ineffectual self-defense… most of the activities irritated the stout young woman. Not because she didn't like social interaction, which she didn't, preferring to watch. But because it was all designed to bolster mental, emotional, or physical health. As though the fact that each and every resident of Cosm whom was A. employed, or B. educated was required to attend monthly psychological assessments. Those who seemed troubled were monitored a while afterward. Cinder always managed to get monitored—mostly because she shrugged, said she wasn't feeling anything, and when pressed found clever and sardonic ways to tell her assessors to leave off.
Thus, she was pleasantly surprised, if bewildered, when Yura said musingly: "I feel like a spot of quiet today. Let's find a bench or something. Maybe we can study a bit, if we feel like it."
Cinder didn't feel like it, but she assented for lack of alternatives.
So they wound out of the ring that represented law's strong but unique hold over Cosm and, enjoying the exertion of a walk through the winding, towering law offices, then housing units where they jutted from the walkways like crystal and glass obelisks. It took a genuine effort to find a bench in that place, where everyone was, theoretically, supposed to be somewhere very specific at all times of the day via Kolkander's idealistic work ethic. Nevertheless, there were wealthy people even in this ascetic corner of the world who believed themselves entitled to luxury, so Yura and Cinder prevailed when they reached Cosm's equivalent of a suburb. It was studded with research-approved familial activities, ones that were supposed to increase cohesiveness within the community. Strange, dome shaped gyms, parks with sleek courts for the sports of the day—including diskstick--, and interactive museums littered the spaces between housing complexes and educational buildings with their guards. Many buildings were connected by tube-like halls that functioned as greenhouses—the plants within supposedly brightening the ambiance and thus the psyches of their occupants. All calculated for effect.
All so wonderless to Cinder's eyes. She rubbed at them tiredly as Yura folded her hakama neatly under her and sat, opting to plop down haphazardly and sling her back off her shoulder herself. It was a hard metal bench, but photo-retardant so it wouldn't heat up.
"…I wanted to talk to you, really," Yura blurted, as though the words had been on the edge of her tongue all day. "I'm so sorry for lying, but well… it's hard to have privacy, isn't it?"
Cinder frowned. This wasn't what Yuras did. This was beyond the dimensions she'd associated with her friend's character. As though in a haste to explain the deviation, the young woman pressed on, smoothing her bangs from her comely face, brushing her full lips.
"Just, the way Rad was last night, it made me think," she said, and Cinder winced to hear the topic broached, almost groaned in anticipation of what must be coming—Yura asking if he could be helped, wanting to plunge altruistically into the impossible task of figuring him out, maybe 'fixing' him. But she was wrong. Miss Foregard's perfect diamond eyes fixed steadily on Cinder and she asked, softly: "…I know you say you're friends, but he isn't hurting you, is he?"
The frizzy-haired oddity nearly gawped at her. It had been the last thing in the world she'd been expecting, for Yura to comment on her feelings, to notice her roll in events, if indeed it did exist. When finally she did muster a response it was in hastily contrived indifference, shrugging.
"He's cruel to everyone. And he doesn't say anything other than what everyone does."
"And what's that?" Yura pressed.
Cinder broke enough to flash her a look of mild annoyance, blushing a little. "The same thing everyone does—that I'm detached, I don't feel things right. Hell, you've seen the results of my psych exams—don't pretend like it's new."
Yura shook her head. "But that's just it—look, I don't say much because I know you don't like people prying into your life, but I'm starting to think you believe them." Her voice was stern, as though scolding, and her friend scoffed.
"Well what's not to believe? I didn't even go to my father's funeral, I didn't care. I've never had any ambitions or a social life. I think detached is a fine, fair word for it."
"No," Yura said stubbornly. "You read news obsessively even if it's classified, and you read it about all the boring places where nothing happens except people get more poor or more oppressed like some of the cities here, or out on Mars. And you care about that—I've seen you throw your R.D. at the wall before over it. If you're cold here it's only because you spend all your energy worrying over the people who actually need it. Perspective isn't the same as apathy."
The words had begun as admonishment and tipped into a rant by the end, but the comely, self-assured woman didn't seem abashed. She meant it, Cinder realized. Which was no surprise. Yura meant everything she'd ever said. Yet, she'd meant that, and…
"You're… impossible," Cinder muttered bitterly, covering her face with a hand and leaning back. "You can't honestly believe all the things you say. God—as if--!" She broke off, realizing that if she went any further she'd lose her composure.
Still, Yura's poignant words had evoked that melancholy lurking, ever lurking, under the placid lense of Cinder's intellectualized world. Something queer and unwelcome rose in her chest as she peered surreptitiously at Chief Foregard's daughter where she politely averted her eyes. At her earnest expression. Her lithe form, seeming ever to hover ethereally down to where you were, to be humbling itself for you. And that halo of strawberry blonde hair she really should let down more often… God.
"You know, you can't be calm and cool all the time," Yura said gently, teasingly, and her voice was like the reverberations of a bell travelling through sheerest silk.
Cinder chuckled, unexpectedly, glad that the young woman couldn't see her eyes tearing beneath her palm, and Yura started, then eased as her stout little friend let herself fall sideways onto her shoulder.
"Fine," Cinder half-coughed, half-laughed under her breath. "I'll—just this once—be as selfish and awkward as I please. But you asked for it." She leaned heavier against Yura's shoulder, blushing but the tips of her lips curling with something other than irony, something a tad more meaningful and heaps more devastating. Her heart was pounding, and she rested there a moment, savoring it as Yura tried to piece together something to say. The perfect young woman failed, and was silent. Cinder enjoyed that quiet, the perfect shape and height of Yura's shoulder. Then, knowing she had indulged perhaps too long, she sighed heavily and sat back up. From behind her goggles, her glistening eyes were sober once more.
"Yura," she spoke at last, voice belabored with grudging. "I think that we should go see Rad tonight. There are some things you need to know."