Fence laughed, and laughed, and laughed.
His cackling cut off periodically when he caught his breath, then began anew with even more gusto.
Whatever patience May had left flew out of the window at the fourth time the male tried and failed to contain his mirthful chortle.
I hope he chokes on his laughter, the Terran cursed viciously, eyes narrowing at the green-haired male.
“If you’re done?” May drawled, drumming her fingers on her glass’ surface. A servant-droid kept it refreshed whenever its content went lower than half. Say what one would about Fence, his hospitality was not lacking.
“My apologies,” Fence wheezed. “You merely reminded me of myself.”
Raising an eyebrow, May let out a short, disbelieving huff. “So you had tried conducting an amateur investigation by fumbling through an unstructured interrogation with an AI?” She paused, then. “Who, apparently, received a gag-order from someone who didn’t even bother hiding the fact he’s concealing things from you.”
“Not exactly like that, no. I am positive yours is quite a unique case,” Fence grinned unrepentantly.
It took all she had not to roll her eyes rudely at her host. Instead, May folded her arms, waiting for an explanation, with a subtext of ‘it better be good’ exuding from her in waves.
“I did not start at the top of the food chain, Ling-sa. Though my experience might differ, the essence of it is similar to yours,” the green-haired man revealed, wiping away mirthful tears. “Admittedly, I never had to go through my own incor for clues, nor outwitting my own AI to get what I wanted.”
He looked like he could start laughing again, but managed to limit it to a short cough. “It just amazed me that you, an untrained civilian, could persist so long when others would likely press Min’ahsa-jo for answers rather than searching for alternatives.”
Folding her arms around herself, May bit her lips. “He…had – still has – too much on his plate. Even as empty as my head back then, I could see at least that much.” With a shake of her head, May let out an explosive sigh. “If I couldn’t help him, the least I could do is stay out of his way.”
“Which brings you to my door,” Fence concluded, grinning like he was watching an entertaining scene.
May glared, but could not deny it. “Yes. The City Guards are no use, especially after that blunder.” Her expression darkened as memories of how those people had effectively screwed her life returned. “I cannot use any of LIF’s resources without alerting him and after the heart attacks I gave him lately…I rather avoid that scenario as long as I could.”
“Well then, how did you circumvent your AI next? Protocols once set up are hard to go around.”
“Hard, but not impossible,” May concurred, turning her flinty eyes at him. “Kajakh might have limited my access to EVE, but at the end of the day, the owner of Ling Household is still me.”
An emotion passed through his face, one May would have missed if she hadn’t been watching him closely. As it was, she still couldn’t understand why the other person would look pleased with her declaration.
“And?” a slow smirk crossed his face as he fiddled with his drink, “Did you find what you wanted this time?”
Grimacing, May took her time to consider her answer. Amber eyes watched her, patiently, without judgment, as the owner kept that half-smile on his face.
With a soft exhale, May confessed, “I did.” Her expression crumpled into a frown, “I never thought success can taste so bitter though. We learn new things every day, huh?”
Fence’s only reply was a small, commiserating smile.
Aside from getting to know more about the advanced technologies used in processing a crime scene, watching the surveillance gave more headaches than useful information. Nothing the investigators did or talked about had shown her any new discovery. Not even from the blackout room, even after they supposedly canvassed it inside out after EVE had revealed that tidbit to them early on.
The team did their job thoroughly though May could tell their heart wasn’t really in it. This was just another case for them, a drudgery to complete before going home. May felt that she should take some offense at that, considering this was her supposed life they were looking into. Not to mention they didn’t manage to weasel the fact May Ling had a secret communicator from EVE, dropping their credentials further in her eyes.
Towards the end, May was more than ready to strike this lead as a bust out of boredom. Watching more than a dozen screens for clues taxed her tired brain to its limits; the conversation in the surveillance had long since become white noise to her. However, she managed to hang on out of sheer stubbornness.
Just a little more, May convinced herself.
Her patience paid off when a blue woman came out of her room, a bag in her hand. Straightening up from her slouch, May followed the woman as she moved from screen to screen.
Once the blue woman entered the dining room where Kajakh and his Terran-looking interrogator were sitting beside a breakfast island, she threw the bag without preamble at her partner. May expanded the screen, muting all conversations in the other rooms.
“Found it in her desk. Not even hidden well,” the blue woman claimed, making a noise of disgust at the back of her throat. “Still needs the toxicology report from the hospital, but what happened here should be quite clear.”
“Neira,” the blue woman’s partner warned, averting his eyes from the tea leaves to glare at the incensed alien. “The investigation is not concluded just yet.”
“Is that –” Kajakh stood from his seat, taking the bag to inspect it closer. “No,” he breathed out, pain bleeding into his voice. “Oh, May-may.”
“With all due respect, sir, that’s Thranh leaves. Not even properly processed,” the woman retorted, drawing her shoulders back with conviction. “According to Min’ahsa-jo, he already took away Ling-sa’s sleeping medication, so obviously, she finds herself some replacement. Except she didn’t know that this replacement she so cleverly obtained has a deteriorating effect on depressed minds. There is a reason it needs doctors’ prescription to purchase.” The woman folded her arms around her middle, head tilting up slightly, looking like a cat who just caught its canary, “It doesn’t take much to see where it’s going from then on.”
Fury replaced sadness on Kajakh’s expression, his eyes burned as he growled out, “May was – is mourning. She is not depressed.”
The woman’s superior laid a sympathetic hang on Kajakh’s shoulder. “She might be, Kajakh. You have to admit that.”
“It hasn’t been a month since her parents’ accident. You can’t expect her to bounce back so quickly, Irnan,” Kajakh snarled. “You said it yourself, it’s not processed properly; she might be poisoned from it.”
“We’ll have to wait for the toxi – ”
“Stars above, the signs are there,” Neira rolled her eyes, sighing exasperatedly as she began listing down their discoveries. “Drawing away from social interaction. The frequency of incor with Min’ahsa-jo and her best friend is greatly reduced in the past weeks. Putting her own room in blackout mode, making clandestine sleeping aid purchases, withdrawing her application from the best university a Terran could hope for, and we just found an automated message sending program running in her room’s workstation addressed to one Zach.”
The revelation visibly curtailed Kajakh’s anger.
“We’ll have to take the workstation in as evidence,” Neira reported. “She set up a periodic automatic message, rerouted to be sent through the Musturi Resort Planet connection node starting from the day after tomorrow until two weeks later. They contain altered holopic and fake travel stories. Quite creative ones too.”
Drawing a sharp breath, Kajakh slumped into his seat, looking like a puppet with his strings cut. “She was supposed to leave for Musturi tomorrow…for a vacation. I suggested it to her.”
Neira didn’t even bother hiding her smugness. “Ling-sa has quite a good plan. Had you not come that night, she –”
“She will never do that,” Kajakh iterated, teeth bared in an almost animalistic snarl. The feral gleam in his eyes only enhanced the impression of a wild beast ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. “There has to be another explanation!”
“We will get to the bottom of this, I promise,” Irnan declared, his grip on Kajakh’s shoulder tightened. “Neira, make an arbitrary conclusion before we have all the facts again and I’ll see to it you rejoin the basic training with the new recruits.”
“Believe what you want. We all know Terrans can’t deal with too much at once.” Throwing her hands up, the woman marched towards the door. “I’ll tell the team to pack up; we’ve finished canvassing the whole house.”
Neither man stopped the woman from leaving.
“Sorry, she’s…not very fond of Terrans,” Irnan said, breaking the stifled silence. “She still shouldn’t let it interfere with her judgment. I will talk to her about maintaining professionalism at work.”
“Better you than me,” Kajakh responded, trying for a small smirk and came up with a grimace instead. The orange-eyed man sighed, a hand coming up to rub his face, settling on his mouth as he inhaled deeply.
“May would never…do that, Irnan,” Kajakh stated, shoulders sagging as aggression left him. “I would know. She’s sadder, but she still fights. Father and I had to stop her from pulling out of school multiple times. She wants to rebuild LIF. She has so many things to look forward to. This – she would never – ”
The Terran – Irnan – took a seat beside the orange-eyed man. “Like I said, until the toxicology report comes, we cannot do anything. It could be an accidental overdose…or something else entirely.”
“I – we had tea together yesterday afternoon,” Kajakh recalled. “I received some new exotic leaves from one of our old business partners, so we tried it together. I don’t remember what it’s called. It might react with the Thranh tea she’s been taking.” He shook his head. “I’ll send it to you today.”
Irnan’s lips drew down into a scowl. “Kajakh…just…whatever the result is…prepare your heart.”
“She did not – ”
“She prepared an automated, rerouted incor to you,” the investigator pointed out. “Unless you can explain that, we have to take into account all the possibilities.”
Kajakh opened his mouth, presumably to protest, but closed it with a click. Both his hands now clasped on the table, intertwined in a white-knuckled grip. “Whatever the result will be, keep it quiet.”
“You know I will.”
“Now get out of the house; I have to clean it up before May comes back.”
“She’s still not awake?”
“No. I’m going back to the hospital tonight.”
Irnan nodded, patting Kajakh’s shoulder comfortingly. “Take care of yourself too, old friend.”
With that, he left a quiet Kajakh to rejoin his team’s packing. Alone in the dining room, Kajakh’s pensive expression deepened, especially when he fingered the star-band on his left wrist, easily hidden under his comm-bracer. Then deep sadness broke through, scrunching his face into a picture of devastation as he bowed over the table, head in his arms.
“Stars above,” he whispered, his head brought low, while his fingers slid into his hair, gripping it tight. “Please let this be a nightmare.”
Listening to Kajakh’s broken plea rent her heart open, bleeding with pain, because now May knew another reason behind Kajakh’s overprotectiveness.
May Ling tried to kill herself.
The thought ran in her head over and over again, numbing her brain as her blood ran cold in her veins.
She watched as Kajakh’s shoulders shook in the surveillance vid before dismissing all the screens with a wave of her trembling hand.
May bent over her knees, hands covering her face. Her body shook with the pain wracking her heart. She couldn’t tell if it was hers or an echo of May Ling.
She didn’t care.
All that mattered was the fact that May Ling’s death might not been as accidental as she had assumed, that it might be the result of someone’s design.
And that someone could be May Ling herself.
May scoffed out a sobbing laugh at that revelation.
This is so fucked up.