CitySys Health Irreg Report 23/567: A Day in the Field with Jeremy

by Jens Durke

6:00 am.

You know you have a hard day ahead of you when they shoot at you on your way in. We were on the outskirts of Cerillis, right near the border of the Kaishi industrial complex, and the constant plong noises of the bullets ricocheting off the car were starting to get on my nerves. Jeremy was a bit edgy, he didn‘t believe in the protection our staff hovercar offered.

“There! I can see one! Those fuckers...” Jeremy, his face pressed against the window to get a better view for his private stream, pointed to a nearby roof below us.

I gave it a quick glance. Yeah, there was a guy with a rifle alright. “Relax, Jeremy.”

“You think it’s the CitySys logo on the bottom of the hover?”

Plong.

I gave the car a little jiggle for effect and was not disappointed. Jeremy bounced and made a girlish noise. “Jeee-suz! How high are we again? You know I don’t like heights that much.” His narrow face was all serious; it was hard not to grin.

Jeremy must have had one of the highest neuroticism scores in the whole Health Services Department. Many wouldn’t work with him, and just as many made the mistake of underestimating him because of it. Although he wouldn’t make career in the department without artificial intervention, he knew his job inside and out.

He also was a great asset in the field, once you got beyond his demeanor.

CitySys displayed the ideal landing approach on the windshield and we started our descent. We were headed toward a small overgrown parking lot in the shadow of a giant industrial plant. A couple trucks were parked between some abandoned and burned-out cars, close to a large silver trailer with a big red flickering sign on top that read: Dimitri's Diner 24h.

A skewed street lamp provided some yellow light. Dawn hadn’t reached that specific spot just yet. Judging by the huge pipes curling above the place, it might never see sunlight, actually.

No one noticed us landing. It was a strange feeling to change perspective from having the neo-brutalist industrial architecture miniaturized below us, colored in the dark of a blooming dawn breaking through the Kaishi smog, to being dwarfed between those same cerament walls, now quite intimidating. Some archeo holographic advertisement added moving colors and sharp shadows to the half-light of the parking lot. It made the diner look almost inviting.

We got out of the car.

The air stank and we could hear the murmuring of vehicles on the nearby Vandergraf Freeway. One of the lifelines of Kaishi, no need for noise filters in this area. I missed my couch for a second, daydreamed myself snuggling into my favorite blanket on it, enjoying the view of Midoru through my VicPanorama window while nursing some hot coffee, maybe streaming some old TV with the glimmering Hakatori Farming Complexes in the background. I really hated early shifts like this, but CitySys never rests.

Jeremy was already on his way to circle the diner, reduced to a slim outline with some flickering lights from his HUD in front of his eyes, his fingers subtly gesturing as he scanned his surroundings and made his first notes. One of those notes appeared in the periphery of my vision and blinked to get my attention.

Strong smell of rot. Maybe fouled Nutri? High presence of organic life forms associated with composting. Evidence of unauthorized harvesting technology. [personal note] This is going to be good!

I didn’t share his enthusiasm. One of the reasons our department existed, and our purpose here today, was to go to places where CitySys had no proper access but suspected health risks for the population. Those cases were never pretty. Quite the opposite, actually.

I whispered a voice command to start some soothing music, launched a sardonic commentary AI chat called Jesper to accompany my visual feed (always manages to cheer me up), and braced myself for the ugliness that was already announcing itself in my nostrils. My HUD flared up as I booted my analysis tools and began the autonomous live stream to Sys. Then I headed toward Jeremy, who seemed to be making happy noises, having discovered something behind the trailer/restaurant. I hadn’t connected to his feed yet, but I’d see soon enough, so I didn’t bother.

He saw me approaching and waved me to step it up a bit. “Look at that, Karyn: they infiltrated the waste system right here. It’s coming from the Nutri processing plant above us.”

He pointed to the wall.

“It’s nothing you could just put a hose in and start pumping, you have to use tech that counters the factory's maintenance system to repair the breach. This is a nasty piece of hardware right here.” He was now pointing at a strange contraption that looked like an old motor block of sorts, connecting the wall and the trailer.

“They had to go old school about it, since top tier corps like Nutrex Biological and Pharmaceutical are really smart about digital invasion, but not so much about mechanical approaches. Really clever.” He looked up and down, surveying the hack job with respect.

“But where is that horrid smell coming from?” I asked, mumbling through a handkerchief while I scanned the space between the back of the trailer and the towering wall.

“Leakage, I presume.” He sounded cheerful. He went to his knees to get a closer look below and behind the pump, ignoring the trash littering the whole area. Some rattled bugs scattered as he dug in.

“Dammit, look at that...”

I sure as hell wasn't about to go crawling through this trash, so I just activated his feed and instantly regretted it. Something had leaked—so much was evident—and it looked a bit like Nutri, the algae-based lab-grown protein used as raw material for 3D food printers all over the city.But something was seriously wrong with this stuff, and not just because it was spoiled and decaying. The color was off and it seemed to have a devastating effect on the local insect population—as well as a couple dead rats—and still it was crawling with all kinds of critters, as if they couldn’t help but be attracted to it.

“What the fuck is this? It doesn’t look like proper Nutri, Jeremy. Maybe some freak accident with the artificial flavor enhancers? Look at those bugs going at it!”

“Yeah… It’s somehow saliva-inducing and nauseating at the same time. Very interesting!” I was happy to be not that close to it. “Let me run some quick checks…”

I glanced around while Jeremy ran his DAQ and waited for the results.”Okay,” he said after a few seconds. “Sys is saying that it seems like they probed the wrong pipe here. Instead of tapping into some properly produced Nutri, they went for the discard.”

That was bad news indeed. NBP factories didn’t produce a lot of waste, but what scrap they produced definitely wasn’t fit for public consumption. If someone was printing food with this stuff, we would have to put an end to it.

CitySys had already alerted the Technical Crimes Unit to take care of the problem. We moved on, Jeremy happily adding violations to the list as we went around to the front.

***

The restaurant proper wasn’t much to look at from the outside. It was a huge trailer, coated in dull silver sprinkled with rust stains. Its AR layer was way out of date, showing all kinds of data decay, flickering and buzzing. The menu was an assortment of low-budget eastern European cuisine. Fantastic, I thought, one of those shops. They always have some strange ideas how to cook properly. Old World ideas.

The place wasn’t packed but seemed to have a strong customer base, going by the trucks parked in front. The inside was a long room with lots of squeaky red seating booths. There was a counter in the center with a huge service hatch behind it, revealing some of the kitchen area. The interior art was somewhere between Hawaiian kitsch and war memorabilia from the Panukrainian conflict. It didn’t mix well.

A waitress approached us. She’d seen her best years a couple of decades ago, and had probably looked wasted back then as well. Sporting a pompously curly red HoloWig and breasts augmented for size, she was the kind of person who chewed gum with an open mouth, and her fingernails looked as if she’d need a weapons license for them.

Her name tag said “Holly.”

“What’s it gonna be, honey? Table for two?”

I took point. “We need to talk to the owner. Who would that be?”

“You wanna see Dimitri? He’s back in the kitchen, doing his thing.” She pointed to a silvery door.

We went straight for it, not looking too closely at the plates of the guests. My memory of the bugs eating themselves to death was still too fresh, the association too vile.It was a classic kitchen, almost archeo, with an oven and heating plates and several pots bubbling with random contents. In the center stood a massive bald guy with a dirty apron and lots of tattoos on his hairy arm. His other arm was some kind of military-grade prosthetic, and his eyes had been replaced as well. He was cutting vegetables. A quick scan added even more, less visible enhancements to the list, all more or less illegal, all military grade. Must be some sort of veteran, I thought. We flashed our badges.

“My name is Karyn Osheere and this is Jeremy Hawthorne,” I said. “We're with the Health Services Department and it's our duty to inform you that you are under public evaluation for violations of the Union City Health Code. Please be advised that this procedure is being streamed and recorded.”

He stopped cutting and eyed us suspiciously, cleaning his huge hands with a dirty kitchen towel. This place was a mess.

“What you want of Dimitri?” he asked.

Not necessarily a native with the language, I thought, as CitySys came through with some details on his PID. Dimitri Kostachovic, 54 years of age, born in Russia. Most of his file was redacted, but he’d been a mercenary in Saudi Arabia after a few tours in the Ukraine. Not a cook, either.

“Show us your food printer,” I said.

He pointed to a dark corner in the kitchen. “Sure. Please, take look. Everything is in order. Have permit and all.”

“Where did you get those vegetables from? Printed as well?”

“Printer is used for meat only,” said Dimitri. “Good meat,” he added.

Jeremy took a little tour through the kitchen. I saw his fingers flickering constantly as he made notes and comments about what he saw. Now, in front of the owner, he was serious: all business. In the corner of my display I saw something about mouse droppings. When it rains…

I kept going and checked the printer. It was an old machine, but surprisingly clean and in working order. Time to drop some truth on the man.

“We saw your illegal pump at the back of the restaurant,” I said. “Are you aware that the Nutri you are stealing is factory waste?”

Dimitri waved a dismissive hand. “No no, not waste. Not grade A Nutri, but is still good Nutri! Customers' favorite.”

That’s when something snapped in Jeremy that had been festering since we'd entered the kitchen. He came to my side and went ape on the guy. “How can you be so stupid?” he shouted. “Are you even thinking about what you're doing to your customers—or the environment?” I love it when he goes on rants like this. Several people stopped eating and took a closer look at their plates; others peered into the kitchen. Dimitri looked more irritated than impressed while Jeremy was all in his face.

“The mutagens in this stuff could make you impotent, man! It’s toxic waste, don’t you get that? They’ve done experiments with this shit, and you don’t want to see what happened to those lab mice!” Someone gagged somewhere in the restaurant, there were noises of someone getting rid of his Szegedin Goulash. I looked out and scanned the customers, giving Sys a chance to evaluate the threat level. Sys advised that I start de-escalation.

Right. “Relax, Jeremy,” I said. “Let’s shut this joint down and get out of here.” It was finally starting to dawn on Dimitri that he might be in trouble, or at least that’s how I interpreted his facial expression. Jeremy didn’t seem to hear me or care; he had just started listing the violations he'd gathered so far, each accompanied by a poking finger, stabbing Dimitri’s huge chest like punctuation marks.

It was fascinating seeing him go off like this. Jeremy's so anxious and fearful about the dangers of city life in every other situation, but when the health code gets violated, he's a beast. An underweight beast—about as threatening as a box of kittens—but as passionate as you can get.

I suppose it's that relentless drive that keeps him alive when he’s dealing with pathological combat veterans who sport outdated lethal cyberware, like Dimitri. Or at least it keeps him ahead while his opponent can’t quite keep up processing what’s happening. Irritation can be your ally like that.

I left him to it and started evacuating the diner, explaining to folks that they should stop eating and start leaving, and answering concerned questions about wasted money and threatened male potency. Everyone had received notices from CitySys about their options within seconds after I'd scanned them. They all knew now what symptoms to look for and which doctors to consult. Nothing calms a crowd of angry customers like official mail from city operatives, telling them they might have some serious problems right now. Works like a charm.

I overrode the diner’s AR layer and added the official sigil indicating that this restaurant had been closed by order of the HSD. The TCU team was already en route to dismantle and secure the breach to the Nutri-waste system.

Dimitri was crying at that point; not the reaction I’d expected. He was all “Won’t use bad Nutri again!” and “Don’t close diner, friend, it is all good!”—but there was no helping it. In my peripheral vision I could see the scrolling updates from Jeremy's feed, spamming the poor guy into submission with official notifications and restrictions and forms. This was already over.

We escorted Dimitri outside and watched as he closed his diner—still sobbing—and waved hello to the TCU guys as they headed toward the rear of the restaurant.

***

Back in the hovercar, Jeremy looked anxiously out the window as we gained altitude. "I really hope they don't shoot at us again on our way out."

I could have chosen another route, but I just couldn’t resist. After all, I needed some good entertainment after a job like that.

# # #



Author Info

Jens Durke is a hobby blogger and RPG design enthusiast, living, gaming and writing in Germany. He's been playing roleplaying games for over 25 years now, and writing about them for almost 8 years. When he's not busy gaming or writing or working to keep a roof over his head, he's preparing for his degree as a Print Media BA and exploring the beautiful city of Leipzig and its surroundings with his partner. His contributions to the UbiquiCity series are his first forays into writing (science) fiction. Jens can be found musing about roleplaying game design and other creative concepts at http://the-disoriented-ranger.blogspot.com/

Comments

My favourite were the references back to a familiar "old world" and your tangible metaphors - Especially the threatening box of kittens ;) Fun to read, great debut!

Thank you!

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