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Fractured Lives by Russ Colchamiro

Read Online Fractured Lives by Russ Colchamiro Sci-Fi Book

Overview: In the cosmic realm of Eternity, there’s only one private eye to hire when your world gets turned inside out—Angela Hardwicke.
Darla Fyne, a college freshman and galaxy design savant, is suffering from a nervous breakdown—or is she the victim of an urban legend known as the Scarlet Raj?
As Hardwicke follows the intersecting worlds of art galleries, college dorms, and a semi-secret clan that patches up tears in the Universe, her investigation will either uncover a hoax gone wrong or a plot that could shift the balance of power across the entire realm. If only she can fight through her own paranoia to tell the difference.


Read Online Fractured Lives by Russ Colchamiro Book Chapter One Free. Find Hear Best Sci-Fi Books And Novel For Reading And Download.
Fractured Lives by Russ Colchamiro

Read Online Fractured Lives by Russ Colchamiro Book Chapter One

When you’re a private eye like me, working cases in Eternity—the cosmic realm responsible for the design, creation, and maintenance of the Universe—you never know where the investigation will take you. On-realm… or off.

As a kid, ask me what I wanted to be, and it was nothing like what my life is now. Me, little Angela Hardwicke? A private eye? Yeah, right. Too afraid to speak up, too afraid to take action? I don’t recognize that little girl. I’m sure she wouldn’t recognize me either. Only... maybe that’s not even true. Nobody’s all one thing, all one way.

Moment to moment we might be living any number of personalities and sometimes all at once. There’s the shy me, the loud me, the silly me, the naughty me. The forgiving me. The merciless me. Mother, daughter, lover, friend. Enemy.

The private investigator who skulks through back alleys and seedy bars, the one who investigates android murders, shapeshifters, disfigured wormholes, alternate dimensions, and a miles-long helix of the Universe’s DNA.

We’re told that the Minders of the Universe—the beings who oversee the Cosmos—want us to accept that, as Eternitarians, we’re all just stardust in living form. That we are the Universe and the Universe is us and all the existential wank that comes with it.

Yet the multitude of forces of that very Universe and all of its imperfections condition us to deny our desperate, raging contradictions, our mystifying inconsistencies that can drive us stark raving mad if we let them.

Who among us can claim with certitude that the person we reveal to others at any one moment in time and space is the unconditional and multi-layered person we actually are?

Not me.

Which is why, when Wanda Fyne knocked on my office door and told me she needed my help to find her eighteen-year-old daughter—Darla, a college freshman—I was skeptical, but kept an open mind.

I’ve worked my share of runaway cases. Sometimes I find the kid, sometimes not. And in cases when the poor kid turns up dead, beaten… or worse… the parents almost wish they’d never had me look in the first place.

Then again, who am I, of all people, to deny any parent their right to hope and dream for a joyful outcome, as unrealistic as it might be? Look what happened to me. My son Owen was lost to me… and then he came back. Maybe better than when he left. I’m telling you… it never happens that way. Never ever. Until it does.

“Mrs. Fyne, I don’t want to downplay your concern,” I say, and immediately spot her own inconsistencies. “A missing child can be scary business. Believe me, I know.”

Late thirties, early forties, Wanda Fyne is a lovely woman, light brown skin with golden undertones, cocaine-white teeth, and raised, glowing cheekbones. She met me here in her showcase outfit—white, satin blouse and beige knee-length skirt, peep toe ankle strap sandals, beautifully manicured nails with eggshell gloss—and her handbag is designer all the way.

But her pearl earrings are fake. Excellent fakes, but fakes nonetheless. And her bob haircut, which is quite flattering, is fresh, as if she had it done specifically for this meeting.

Even though I spend countless hours mired in physical, emotional, psychological, and cosmological filth, it doesn’t mean I’m not a woman underneath it all. I appreciate wanting to look your best in front of a stranger

As a private eye I used to go all pinstripes, sharp angles, and fedora, but I’ve shifted my approach. Maybe it’s my renewed sense of motherhood, maybe it was just time, but now my standard gear is blue jeans, black sneakers, and arugula-colored utility jacket with inner mesh lining that’s stylish and flexible enough for my needs.

And with all the changes in E-Town lately—standard combustion engine and electric cars slowly being converted into hover vehicles, a realm-wide Monorail coming online, new android models being introduced—it’s difficult not to focus on your appearance more than ever. It’s an element of your life you can control.

If that’s the case with Wanda, then she’s gone to great lengths to advertise the kind of woman she wants me to think she is. Her way of communicating that she wants very much for me to take her seriously, that her daughter has legitimately run away, but fears I’ll reject those claims because Wanda’s been rejected before and can’t bear to be turned away again.

“But at eighteen,” I say, “Darla’s legally an adult. So even if she’s missing, if her whereabouts are unknown to you, technically… she’s not a runaway. Have you filed a police report?”

Sitting knees together, hands folded atop her purse, Wanda Fyne’s mind is swirling. She has that look, as if she’s debating how much to share with me, and how she should do it, afraid to say the words out loud, but desperate for help.

To the side of us is a circular table with various files, receipts, maps, notepads, holomessages, and new VR goggles. Behind Wanda is the door to my second-floor office, my name stencilled in black letters on frosted glass: Angela Hardwicke, Private Investigations.

“I,” she finally says, her voice unsteady, “we… my husband and I, we’re… Darla’s been…”

Wanda’s holding her breath, her chest tight, to the point I’m afraid she might pass out.

“When was the last time you saw her?”

Through pursed lips, she exhales. Though her makeup is impeccable, no amount of blush can hide the weariness behind her eyes. “About three weeks ago.”

“Does she live at home?”

“No, I’m sorry. I should’ve said. She lives on campus.”

“Which one?”

“The Wrolen School of Celestial Design. She used to come home every week or so, but lately…”

Celestial design. Missing teen. Complicated from the start.

“I’m sorry if this comes across the wrong way, Mrs. Fyne, but if I got paid for every college kid—freshmen in particular—that didn’t call home on a regular basis, I could afford my own galaxy cruiser. Does she travel throughout the realm? College kids are big on road trips.”

Wanda reaches into her purse for a tissue. She dabs at the corner of her left eye. “No,” she says. “I don’t know. But her suitemate said she’s been on campus.”

“I’m sorry,” I say, confused. “I thought you said she was missing.”

“She is, Miss Hardwicke. In every way that matters. It’s just… you have no idea what it’s like. Darla, she was such a… and now she’s…”

When you’ve been halfway across the Cosmos and back, when you’ve seen the kinds of chaos and existential madness that can befall... someone... anyone… even an entire galaxy, ripping apart the fabric of time, space, and dimension, those experiences are imprinted on your soul. And yet deciphering the mechanics of the Universe is easy peasy lemon squeezy compared with the mystery of teenage girls. I know. I used to be one.

“I don’t know what you’re asking me, Mrs. Fyne. If Darla’s at school, there’s no one to find.”

“It’s not a missing person,” she clarifies. Dusty sunlight filters through drawn window shades, crawling along the hardwood floor. “It’s a robbery. A theft. A desecration.”

“What theft?”

Wanda Fyne comports herself, her eyes cold and hardened and brimming with a pain.

“Someone’s stolen a piece of Darla’s soul. And I need you to get it back.”





*****





I get all sorts of bizarre requests in my line of work, but this one throws me.

“You want me to do what now?”

“I know it sounds ridiculous,” Wanda says. “Since she was old enough to hold a stylus, Darla’s been drawing these gorgeous, elegant galaxies. And I’m not saying this because she’s my child, but I’ve never met anyone so vivacious. She was such a dynamo. She had so many friends, full of life. One day she was Darla. She was her. And then the next…”

“The Wrolen School is prestigious, Mrs. Fyne, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, fiercely competitive. I’ve seen many young designers who can’t handle the pressure or expectations. It’s intense.”

An art and engineering school for the physical and metaphysical Universe, the Wrolen School is the realm’s leading University in support of the celestial design, creation, and maintenance industry. And in E-Town, Eternity’s core city, designers are a dime a dozen.

Half the kids think they’re gonna be famous. Some actually make it. Most don’t. The schools recruit talent at such an early age it’s no wonder they become attention junkies, prima donnas, drug addicts, sex fiends, or batshit crazy. And sometimes all those in one.

“Darla didn’t care about the competition,” Wanda says. “She didn’t crack up because of it and she’s not on drugs. Something happened. About three months ago she came home for dinner, but she just sat in her chair, as if she was lost in some faraway place. Sometimes all I get out of her, if I get anything, is pure gibberish, like she’s talking to someone who isn’t there. She won’t talk to me about it, and like you said, she’s an adult, so I can’t force her into therapy. She cut her hair, started skipping class. Her teachers say it’s a phase and the police think I’m a crackpot. But I know my daughter, Miss Hardwicke. A piece of her is missing. I’m telling you. She’s…”

As if being a college freshman isn’t enough of a twisted, galactic mindfuck, mix in the stress, pressure, and temptations of the celestial design racket and you’re setting them up for disaster. Despite Wanda’s protests otherwise, I suspect Darla is one of those kids.

“I’m no expert on college freshman, but they can be moody on a good day and intolerable on a bad, and it can come on quick. Even at eighteen, their brain chemistry is still developing. Plus, they’ve got freedom they never had before. So they go bonkers for a while. It’s not always pretty and it rarely makes sense. But even for the realm we live in, it’s normal. It usually passes. Give it time.”

“Mis Hardwicke,” Wanda says, ferocious anger behind her gaze. “You’re still not listening. Something happened!”

Wanda’s gaze is stone cold, her bottom lip trembling, her voice breathy and desperate, yet clinging to self-respect. She’s wants to let go, to let her emotions come pouring out in a river of unbridled agony. I don’t know what Wanda has seen, or what her daughter has been through, but whatever it is, it’s real. Real to her. I hate how often it comes to this, but I have to ask. “Are you saying Darla’s been sexually assaulted?”

“No, she… I don’t know. I don’t think so. Not exactly. But she saw something, heard something… did something. Or something was done to her. Some part of her was stolen. I know it sounds crazy, but I’m positive, Miss Hardwicke. I’m not saying I know everything there is to know about Darla. We all have our secrets. But you’re a parent. A little boy, correct?”

She knows I have a kid. She’s done homework on me. Which means she knows more about me than I know about her.

“Yes.”

“If something was off about your son, something fundamental about his very self, you’d know it. You’d feel it. The molecules. They talk to you.”

“Baseline,” I say.

Wanda looks at me oddly. “Baseline?”

“It’s the common features we recognize in a person, place, or situation familiar to us. What you encounter on a regular basis. If elements deviate from the baseline and we’re even halfway alert, we notice.”

“So you understand?”

I’m not saying I wouldn’t have been responsive to her before, but with Owen back in my life, my maternal instincts are heightened in a way they hadn’t been in a long time.

“Based on what you’ve told me, I don’t think you’re wrong, stupid, or crazy. I think your daughter—still a teen, almost a woman—is undergoing a type of distress specific to her and out of the ordinary, and no matter who’ve you spoken to… they might have listened, but they haven’t heard you. I don’t know what’s wrong, but if it matters… I hear you.”

Wanda sniffs, dabs at her eyes as faint, proximal thuds grow louder. “Thank you. I’m just so frustrated that—”

“I got you a double espresso with vanilla and cinnamon,” Whistler says as he barges into my office, as usual. “They didn’t have any scones so I got you a chocolate glazed donut with raspberry sprinkles…”

My full-time assistant stops, his shoulder bag slung across his chest. He turns to Wanda, perplexed.

“Mrs. F? Is that you?”





*****





“Eric,” Wanda says, relieved, and rises to meet him. “I was hoping you’d be here.”

Whistler hands me the food in a silver, biodegradable bag, then hugs her, kisses her cheek.

“Whistler,” I say. “How do you know Mrs. Fyne?”

“We used to live in the same building.” The surprise of seeing her subsiding, Whistler realizes we’re in the middle of a meeting. “Mrs. F? Why are you here? Is something wrong?”

Wanda steadies herself. “Actually, Eric. I came to see you.”

“Me? Really?” Whistler’s never been requested before. He tosses me a satisfied wink. “Huh. Whadaya know about that?” Then to Wanda: “Angela… I mean, Miss Hardwicke… she’s the private investigator. I’m her, you know.” He low-coughs. “Partner.”

“What my very new and raw and undertrained assistant is trying to say, Mrs. Fyne, is that Eric isn’t used to having people visit him at the office.”

“I know it’s been a while,” Wanda says to Whistler, “but I heard from some of the neighborhood kids that you’d become a private detective or… trainee or whatever you do for Miss Hardwicke. And when I asked around about you,” she says to me, “about the cases you take, some of the unusual people you deal with and places you go”—instinctively she looks toward the ceiling, toward the Cosmos—“I thought…”

“Eric is a friend,” I surmise, “and you thought he’d listen.”

Wanda nods, almost in tears again.

“Something’s happened to Darla,” I tell Whistler, who may or may not have already told Wanda about me. But he’s never mentioned her. We’ll need to talk about that.

“Darla?” Whistler blurts with instant concern. “Is she okay? Is she—?”

“Whistler,” I say, putting my hand on his arm. “Let me borrow you for a minute.”

I lead him to the back room and close the door. Ten years my junior, Eric Whistler is only twenty-three years old, but he’s already proven himself to be a tremendous researcher and as eager and loyal as they come. But he’s still inexperienced and impetuous and tends to skip important steps. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s learning.

“When a case is personal,” I say, “it’s messy. Which is why you need to slow your roll, keep it simple, and take it one step at a time. We have a desperate, nervous woman out there, a mother, barely holding it together. Your emotions can’t be her problem.”

Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Whistler nods, breathing slow but steady. Getting himself under control.

“I’m okay,” he says, nodding. “I am. It’s just… I’ve known Darla since forever. And her whole family. They kinda… looked in on me when my parents… Forget it. I’m good. Let’s go back.”

I’m about to say something about not confusing his past with theirs, but I decide to let it go.

“Okay, Mrs. Fyne,” I say as we re-enter my main office. “Tell me about that night, the first time you thought Darla was different.”

She looks to Whistler with longing in her eyes. “So you believe me? You’ll take my case?”

“Of course,” Whistler says. “We’ll do whatever we can to help.” He looks to me, eyes open so wide I can almost see a galaxy form around his pupils. “Right?”

I was going to take the case regardless, and I’ve never let Whistler decide for me, but I decide to let him think that.

“Yes. We’ll help. But I need to understand… what do you mean someone’s stolen a piece of her soul?”

Whistler’s eyes pop open. “A piece of her what?”

Wanda Fyne reaches into her purse. “It’s better if I show you. Darla drew a self-portrait.”

She produces a sheet of wrinkled paper, folded over several times into a square. She hands it to me. The paper has lost some of its integrity, at one point crumpled into a ball. As I unfold it, the drawing disturbs me. Darla’s body is subdivided in diamond splinters head to toe, like an eggshell that’s been cracked throughout but has retained its structural integrity—a person consisting, within its frame, entirely of shattered glass.

And her eyes… those diamond splinter eyes. One is emerald green, the other, red.

“You see,” Wanda Fyne says with a shaky hand, “it’s like her entire self has been split apart. Like she’s—”

“Fractured,” I say.

“Yes!” Wanda sighs gratefully. “Yes. Like a piece of her is…”

“Missing.”

Whistler turns to me. “How can a piece of her be missing?”

I run my tongue over my bottom teeth, heart thudding against my chest. Darla’s eyes, refracting those green and red crystals, are staring into some unknown void, looking right at me. Piercing me. Through me. Beyond me. Into the teenage abyss I once knew so horribly well.

“I don’t know,” I say. “But we’re gonna find out.”




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