Author's note: This story, in its original form, was originally posted to alt.games.whitewolf during a discussion over whether cybernetic enhancements of the kind described in cyberpunk fiction is Banal. Clearly it is my opinion that they are not. --- JDC
We called her "Cally" but whatever you called her, Sergeant Khalela was one of the better first-scene cops that Homicide had, and she hadn't lost it yet. It? Well, y'know. Whatever it is Homicide loses after they chew through four or five corpses a day in Sector 18.
She always got on the scene just at the right time, even if you hadn't buzzed her until late, she always knew, like she was expecting it. She wore the big black boots like the rest of the arcology CorpSecs, but when she walked, it never seemed to make any noise. She always looked like she'd just stepped out of the ultrasound showers in the sanfac, eyes bright, ponytailed hair straight and black down the back of her grey suit coat. Half the guys down at the station were at least a little in love with her, me included. I only ever really saw her once, though, I mean really saw her.
Me and Rollins had responded to a Code 192 called in by Ductshaft Maintenance. When we keycarded the door we could tell why they'd called it in. The smell was terrible. I checked the name on my HUDhud. "Ms. Buckner?" I called. We had our guns drawn, even though we knew she was dead, you never knew in this sector. It was a little two-room double- cube, about right for a mid-level executive, except for the body hanging from the ceiling. She'd used an electrical cord to do it. Her face was blackened with decay, and her fluids had burst her feet, black blood and ichor pooled beneath her. There were hundreds of flies all across her.
There was a cheap pile of flimsyfax next to her, with neat handwriting laid out line by line. We called for the meds to come and pull her down, then pushed open the door into the other room. It stuck on her holorig, which was jammed in behind the door, a complicated thing of gimbals and struts and flashing lights over grey metal. You just put in your datajack and thought of what you wanted, but there was a knack to it that I never really got. My c-part and I had picked out this great holo for the wall of our cube, but then the Christmas bonusses got held up, so we never bought it. Anyway, there was no one else there, so Rollins and I secured the room and left to wait.
It's required to have a Homicide cop at least sign off on each fatality, even if it's just a suicide like this one. We didn't hear her come in, so Rollins jumped when Cally slapped him on the back. "Heya, Rollins." she said. "What's the story?"
"Just a bloater." Rollins said. "That's probably the note there - we haven't touched anything."
Hiya, Kagayama." she said to me. "How ya doing?"
"You know me, Cally. One day at a time."
She nodded and stepped over to the flimsy gently, as the MEs, clad in their white disposable jumpsuits with the dark blue letters on the back, lowered the body from the ceiling straight down into a disposal bag. No need to get messy when there's mandatory cremation anyway. Cally put on some latex gloves and picked up the first sheet of flimsy. Rollins excused himself to go to the dataterm and register the paperwork. The MEs lugged the body painfully out, so it was just me and Cally when she suddenly put down the first page of the suicide note without finishing the others and turned quickly towards the door to the back room.
"Did you check in here?" she said.
"Sure," I said curiously.
"Look, uh, I gotta check on something. She was a holo-artist, right?"
"Yeah. The rig's behind the door. Why?"
"Well," Cally looked nervous, pushing a bit of hair out of her face, the pale of the latex looking strange against the dark skin at her wrists. "She mentioned something in the flimsy about it. I think I oughta check it out."
I shrugged. "You get paid the big euro, not me." I said.
She nodded. "I'll be right back." and stepped into the bedroom. A few moments later, I heard the whine of the holorig cooling unit kick on.
Time passed. Rollins returned. Housing Maintenance arrived to clean up the blood and give the cube to some other deserving corpcitizen, but we told them to shove off for a couple of hours until we were done. Rollins got a call from the station to come back right away for a synthlab roust - I said I'd catch a ride with Cally and Rollins ragged me a little about it. Rollins is gay, so he gets to rag everyone about Cally, though I think he loved her a little anyway.
It had been an hour since she stepped into the next room, and so I poked my head in and looked around behind the door, and that's when I really saw her for the first time. She seemed taller, her eyes focused intently on the empty space before her as the holorig turned and spiraled around her, the datajack plug at her wrist dangling loosely into the sensit gear. Her shoulders were straight and proud, her whole body seemed more fluid, and she glowed...that glow you see newlyweds have, maybe, or maybe the glow you had after your first time. Or after you win a race. Or when you're watching one of those really good vids and it reaches right down into you and grabs you, and shakes you for two hours, and then it's over. That was what her face looked like. Her lips were parted a little and her brown eyes were clear. I wanted to kiss her, like a Middle Eastern American Arcological Sleeping Beauty and wake her up, but then I got worried. What if Buckner had put a brainworm virus in there, to protect her work or something? She was crazy enough to hang herself, and mentioned the datarig in the suicide note...As soon as I thought of this, I stepped forward and hit the abort button. The holorig wound down slowly, retracting everything dutifully into the housing. "No..." she murmured, reaching out with her slim hands, plunging them into nothing like diving into a pool. Then it was over. I saw a tear somewhere in her eyes. She took off the trodes and unclipped the datajack plug.
"Seal this thing." she said softly, and sadly. "Don't let Netsec wipe it. This is really important." And she drew her gun and sat down at the base of the rig and waited for them to come. She made them remove the memory module and she bagged it as evidence herself. When she walked out, it was like she was floating a few inches above the floor. Like this whole world of the Century City Arcology, this whole huge anthill of people and money and ductwork and wiring was not real, and she was, and that memory module was.
And that's how we discovered the Buckner holoart. It turns out the woman hanging from the ceiling had made about a hundred and fifty of them. Each of them sell for about forty thousand euro in the upper sectors now, and even the copies are something to look at. But I made sure Cally got one of the primaries. And she made sure I got one, too.
I've never told anyone, until today, about how I saw her there that day. I've never even told her, I don't think I'd dare. But right then, at that moment, she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen, and I've never seen one so beautiful since. I think maybe she knows, though, because we have this glance that we do now, when she passes me in the station corridor, or at a scene, where it's just her eyes and my eyes, and hers look proud and clear, like they did on that day.
Mine? I don't know what mine look like. I guess I never really thought of it.