Part One Summary: Ric sees a woman on the shuttle who looks just like the infamous serial killer, Ruby Bennett, whose look was modelled on the cartoon character Jessica Rabbit. Ric is left wondering whether the woman he saw was the real serial killer, still alive over 300 years later, or an imposter – both options are highly unlikely but possible.
In the days that followed, Ric spent every spare moment researching Ruby Bennett, which was hard as he didn’t have Additional Education Clearance. He was a semi-skilled worker with Basic Education Level 4, with some Leisure Privileges – meaning most info stamps were out of his grasp. Ric had reached out to an old professor of his, Prof. Irving Stiles, implying it was research for a friend and was awaiting a response but didn’t hold out much hope.
In the meantime, he sought out as much as he could about Wards. He had seen them in the shuttles or on the streets, and the occasional one in a bar – but they wore a brighter red and never clothes so revealing. It was all part of the chase, the modesty, the allure of the hidden beauty under all the layers of scarves and linen robes. Men would pay a fortune just to see them naked – not even to touch them. Only the wealthiest men could afford such pleasures. Some of them even had Personal Wards – loyal only to them – but they were rare as many Wards lived in huge mansions in groups for their safety.
Ric had never considered paying for a Ward. He had encountered free-women in his youth and had even once had a wife for a brief but happy four years, but then she caught the Fire Fever during an outbreak and died. They had no children so Ric was left a widower and was free to marry again. But he never met another woman that held a candle to his departed wife, so he remained alone.
Ric kept looking for the woman on the shuttle, but after nine days of no sight of her, he began to wonder if he had made the whole thing up. Had he been dreaming; tired from a laborious day in the forest? Or had he truly seen a woman dressed as Ruby Bennett, and if so – why on earth would a woman dress as a 300-year-old serial killer from the 21st century?
Just as Ric had begun to give up, he received a comm from Irving with a vague message and an address. ‘Meet me to talk about your project. 122 34. JR D245’.
After his shift, Ric jumped on the shuttle heading North instead of South, and got off in the JR subsection. The country was divided into divisions, and then each division was split into subsections. Within each subsection were numbered blocks with individual living units. Ric headed through the streets to find Block 34. It was a much grander block than the one he lived in. it had plants out the front, and six steps leading up to huge wooden doors. It was unusual to see wood used in an almost decorative function after deforestation led to near-extinction of many species of trees. It had taken nearly two hundred years to genetically modify the spores to grow trees again, making them rare and very expensive.
Ric climbed the steps and put his thumb on the touch pad to the left of the door. The screen lit up with a keypad, and he typed in 122 for the unit number. The AI selected ‘122’ on the screen, and started to flash yellow. After a few seconds, the number turned green and Ric heard the door click open. He entered the lift and it zoomed up for a moment, and then to the left for several seconds, before stopping at 122. The lift doors opened into the unit, and Ric saw Irving sat on his sofa, surrounded by piles of faded papers and comm-screens.
‘Get in here.’ Irving said, a concerned look on his face. ‘Tell me everything you know, Ric – and don’t spare a single detail.’