The second book in The Steele Chronicles trilogy, nominated for a Prix Aurora Award
Four dead Borg and counting. Serial killer, gang violence or civil war? While the Special Detection Unit hunts for answers, a terrified family searchs for their Disappeared daughter, and war between society's elites takes an even nastier turn. Borg and genetic technology is evolving exponentially and Frank Steele finds himself up against unfathomable enemies. Franks needs to find the key that ties it all together. He's sworn to protect every citizen. It's his duty as a cop. But now it's gotten personal and Frank has to face the ultimate test - investigating the death of his own son.
"Steel Whispers is an edge-of-your seat amalagam of police procedural and razor-sharp science fiction. The streets of Calgary never seemed so mean! Fans of Dashiell Hammett and William Gibson both will love this; a great novel from one of Canada's fastest-rising SF stars."– Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Wake
"A taut, near-future police procedural with a plot as sinewy as that cyborg snake in Blade Runner. Hayden Trenholm works the mean streets and millionaires' mansions of mid-21st century Calgary and comes up with a winner."– Matthew Hughes, Author of the Tales of Henghis Hapthorn
"The pacing of this novel started off strong, and kept me reading at a frenetic pace. In particular, the opening hook has a great deal of emotional impact, and as the mystery draws itself out, layers of character development are revealed."– Nick Matthews
I deal in death every day. That's my job. I've learned not to let it touch me. You can't function as a cop if you do. Even twenty years behind a desk, where you're twice removed from death itself, can't change that.
The call came, as these calls always do, at 3 a.m. 3:14 a.m. to be exact. Wednesday, March 16th, 2044.
I answered the phone on the second ring.
"Superintendent Steele?" The voice on the other end of the line sounded young. These days they all sounded young.
"You got him," I said.
"I hope I didn't wake you," said the cop.
"Naw, I had to get up to answer the phone anyway." An old joke but it still got a laugh. Truth was I'd been up for over an hour. I checked the caller I.D. "What can I do for you, Constable Phalen?"
"You left orders to be called if we had another Borg murder. Same M.O. as the last four."
"Where are you?" Phalen gave me an address in the industrial Southeast. "I'm on my way."
Superintendents aren't supposed to get involved in crime scene investigations. We're supposed to sit in our offices and read reports and send younger, brighter minds to do the dirty work. But as other senior officers around the Calgary Police Force will tell you, Frank Steele is a special case. A headcase according to most.
I sat back in my chair and drank the last of my hot milk, thankful I'd resisted the call of my old friend, Jack Daniels, from where he rested in the cupboard above the kitchen sink. I'd been rereading Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer and I slipped a bookmark into place and put it back on the shelf. I don't read a lot of science fiction—mysteries are more my forte—but this one was a great courtroom drama. Maybe I was hoping his exploration of alien motivations would help me figure out what was happening with the Borg. These days I needed all the inspiration I could get.
I'd asked Phalen to call for a cruiser and by the time I'd gotten on a tie and a suit jacket and rounded up my badge and gun, they were buzzing for me from downstairs.
At this time of night, traffic on the Deerfoot freeway was almost manageable and we made it from my northwest apartment to the crime scene in under twenty minutes. I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.
The Borg, as they were known in the popular press, had been a growing subculture in most of the Western world for the last ten years, ever since the cost of mechanical and cybernetic upgrades had fallen from astronomical to merely exorbitant. What they call themselves, I couldn't tell you; you need a high-end vocoder to make the sound. Some of the Borg didn't look much different than regular humans with all of the modifications and augmentation hidden under their skin. Most liked to flaunt their changes: artificial eyes and ears, new limbs ending in claws or tentacles or both, metal skull caps of gleaming chrome.
People overestimate the number of Borg—in part because people tend to do that with minorities, but also because Borg culture had spawned a whole crowd of wannabes—kids with nonfunctional copies of Borg modifications pasted on their skin or fitted over their real arms or legs.
But the four dead bodies that had turned up in Calgary dumpsters over the last few weeks had been the real thing, though what they were after all their modifications had been carved out of their flesh was difficult to say. We'd been able to identify three of the victims through DNA records in the national identity bank but the fourth was still listed as a Jane Doe and seemed likely to remain so unless we caught the perps. Based on the microscopic residue found in the wounds, she'd had her face largely rebuilt out of metal and ceramic and both arms replaced, probably turned into multi-use tools, so what was left after her killers were done was pretty difficult to I.D.
The dumpster where the fifth victim was housed was under a spotlight and I had the cruiser pull right up to the scene. The ambulance was waiting to make its delivery to the crime lab but the body was still in situ. Detective Lily Chin was talking to our new forensics guru, Dr. Vanessa Pham. I walked past them before they noticed me and climbed up on the stepstool that had been placed beside the metal bin.
This Borg had barely started the modification process so his body was mostly intact. His right hand had been severed and the vocoder had been cut out of his throat. An artificial ear had been torn away along with the top of his skull but the face was intact, staring up at me with wide-open eyes. All expression had leached out in the hours since death but I had no real problem recognizing him.
I deal in death every day. But it's different when it's your own son.
I was still standing there, feeling stupid like I was half-asleep, trying to wake up from a bad dream, when Lily Chin came up to me and put her hand on my arm.
"Sorry, Frank, I didn't see you until it was too late. The identification came in after Phalen called you. I would have warned you but…"
"But my cell was turned off," I said, surprised at how calm my voice was. My cell was sitting on the bedside table, I thought, as if that somehow mattered. As if anything mattered right now other than the fact I was standing in front of a dumpster looking into the face of my dead son and wondering how the hell he could afford modifications and when did he get them anyway.
Josh and I had never been close and the distance between us had grown into a gulf since his mother and I divorced seven years ago. He'd been seventeen then, just starting his fine arts degree at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and now he was lying in a dumpster like a stranger.
I reached out to touch his face.
"Frank," Chin's voice came from far away. "Superintendent Steele!"
The hard edge in her voice brought me back to the here and now.
"Forensics hasn't cleared the scene yet, sir. You can't touch the body."
"It's not a body, it's my goddamn son!" But I jerked my hand back. "I'm sorry, Lily, I'm sorry. Getting old, I guess."
I took a couple of steps away from the dumpster and fumbled for a cigarette, forgetting for a moment that I'd quit on the day my divorce from Dorothy, Josh's mother, had become final.
"Maybe you should head home, Frank, I can wrap up here," Chin said, her voice surprisingly gentle. I didn't think she had that in her but I guess you never stop learning about people. I looked over at the dumpster. Yeah, right.
"No," I said. "I'll head downtown and get an early start on the day. I should call…the victim's mother."
It's the first thing they teach you in detective school. Don't let it get personal. Keep your distance from death or it will swallow you whole. I wondered what chapter of the manual told you how to tell your ex-wife her baby boy was dead.