Prompt: Describe an item you were incredibly attached to as a child. What became of it?
I kicked my boot through the ash, looking at the remnants of my childhood home. Johns is interviewing the neighbors, their conversation drifting on the breeze. It’s a hot day, and the breeze is a welcome relief.
My foot hits something hard, and I dig it out, rubbing the ash on my jeans. It’s a shape my hands recognize, the muscle memory of all the hours I spent playing on the holodeck. The edges are charred and warped from the heat. I tuck it into my bag, going to join Johns.
“Is there anything else you can tell me about the man you saw?” he asks.
“No, that’s all I remember,” the woman replies.
My glasses identify her as Bethany Harmons, all of her data scrolling slowly in front of my left eye. I remember the day she moved in with her family and look away, thankful for the identity concealment my job offers. I hate reminiscing.
I play through Johns interview with her on the way back to the station, trying to remain impartial and detached. Trying and failing. I swallow the fear down, convincing myself that my parents are still alive and escaped the fire. It’ll keep me going.
The car stops in front of a safehouse, dinging that we’ve reached our destination. I look at Johns.
“What’s this?” I ask him.
“It’s a safe house. Boss man wants you off the case, Liz.”
“No way. I’m not sitting this one out. They’re my parents, Johns.”
“Exactly, Liz. You’re too involved.”
“I’m not letting it go, Johns. If you don’t let me be part of it, I’ll investigate on my own.”
“Look, I know that, but the boss says you’re out. I’ll tell you what I can.”
I look at him, trying to read the blank mask of his face. Nothing. I know it’s true, that I shouldn’t be on this. Then again, knowing doesn’t mean shit. I have to find who did this and figure out what happened to my parents.
“Fine,” I tell Johns. “Keep me in the loop and I won’t bust out of here.”
“Deal,” he says, unlocking the doors and walking me into the house.
After Johns leaves, I take the holodeck out of my bag. I spend the better part of an hour getting it cleaned up, carefully clearing the ash out of its circuitry. I connect the deck to a charger and it beeps. Well, I’ll be damned.
I spend an hour playing the learning games from my childhood, trying not to remember all the times I sat on my dad’s lap as he talked me through the logic of a puzzle. The tears are a hot torrent when they finally come. Please be alive, I pray.
Dusk falls outside as I plan my escape. I pair the holodeck to the house and begin coding. An hour later, the house convinced I’m still on the couch, I’m free to investigate. I play through the interview with Bethany again, logging the description of the man’s build in my own notes. I send a search through the database, narrowing it to offenders with known criminal backgrounds.
The burnt house looks haunting in the dark, shadows of the surrounding houses cascading into the charred ruins. CSI knows by now what started the fire, but the boss man has made sure I can’t access that data. Johns is quiet, following orders like the ex-marine he is. I take some ash samples, running them through the limited analysis.
Phosphorous. Interesting. I pull up black market listings, fingers absently playing with the locket my parents gave me when I made detective.
“Don’t worry, I’ll find you,” I mutter, pulling my hood to shadow my face as I walk toward the first dealer. “Whatever it takes.”
This story is continued on Day 24.