If you missed part one, this will be confusing.
Flying is really, really, cool. I imagine it would be cooler if I could really feel the breeze, but ghosts don’t really interact with matter directly. Most people don’t realize that all matter is like a tiny rounding error away from being completely empty space. I think the official figure is something like, 99.999999999 percent, or so, but the bits don’t like to share that space, so it all seems solid. A pessimist might reflect on the fact that greed is literally built in to the most basic structure of the universe.
I reached the thirtieth floor, and double-checked my count, then counted over to the third window. Then I paused to make sure I really was facing it, and I hadn’t reversed things. Telling right from left is tricky when you can accidentally stare through the back of your own head. In this case though, it wouldn’t matter, obviously, because it didn’t matter which direction I was looking from, because that would change the direction of left from the perspective of the hotel itself.
I thought, That is obvious isn’t it? Yes? Yes. I ran through that logic a couple more times, just to be sure I was sure, then started forward. When I reached the point where the guard should be, I stopped again. It doesn’t hurt to triple-check these things.
I supposed you’re wondering why I was worried; it’s not like it could kill me. You’re right, I suppose. We ghosts are made out of something that shares that empty space just fine, like dark matter. In fact, we might be dark matter, from what I’ve read. However, unlike dark matter, we do interact with normal electromagnetic energy, mostly. There’s some sort of particle entanglement going on, because we always find our way back together when our particles go wandering off.
Which is how the PolterGuard I was carefully avoiding worked; it would impart a charge onto the non-atoms of my form . . . essentially ionizing me. Then, like any other object made up of particles with like charges, I would go zipping off in all sorts of directions. Except, the whole field was positively charged, so it would suck me into it, and then vent me into the atmosphere like a reverse lightning rod.
Scientists like to argue over whether or not ghosts feel pain, given our lack of what you might call a nervous system, or brains—kinda like how people argue over whether hooks hurt fish. I can’t speak for fish, I can’t even really speak for all ghosts, but we don’t not feel pain, if you know what I mean. I don’t know if I’d interpret it as pain if I didn’t remember what pain felt like back when I was alive, but . . . well, ouch, okay?
I wasn’t a coward for not wanting to risk that, really, was I?
Bullshit, I told myself. You’re was stalling, and you know it! So I pushed forward.
After all that, I passed through with an anticlimactic lack of incident. I released a completely imaginary sigh. I faded back into the visual spectrum, just enough to check for anyone in the room. It was all clear.
I made it into the room just fine. It was lavishly appointed, with plush chairs, a down king-sized mattress, a full kitchen, a hot tub, and one of those cool showers that pours down straight from the ceiling like rain. In other words, a whole lot of things that ghosts have no use for, but cost loads of money. The paint was heavy-element, effectively blocking me from seeing anything through them.
I still have a few tricks up my sleeves, though. I shifted down spectrum, into the infrared. Body heat transfers through walls just fine. There were at least two guards outside the room. I thought there might be more, but, if there were, none of them were kind enough to lean against the wall and make nice hot IR splotches.
Two things struck me as odd about the scene. The first was that there were guards at all. That hardly seemed ordinary procedure for a woman simply trying to avoid divorce papers, did it?
The second was the coffee pot. It was glowing like a lantern from the heat of the liquid inside it. It took me a moment to realize why that had set my instincts buzzing. Because generally speaking, ghosts don’t drink a lot of coffee. So, she’d had a visitor, recently. How recently, though?
I made myself as solid as possible to increase the amount of EM I could pick up. It takes a lot of concentration to really pull off, but I was rewarded with a clear view of footprints leading from the coffeemaker, and into the suite’s other room. There was heavy-element paint obscuring those walls, too, so I floated on over to the door and, fading back to a thin haze, peaked in.
It was an office, and it was not empty.
A man was rifling through the desk, and I floated up behind him, to get a decent look at what he was up to.
“There’s nothing here,” he said.
No shit, I thought. How would she be keeping anything in her drawers?
“Where?” another voice asked, and a second man appeared, right behind me. I didn’t turn, just flipped my eyeballs around. Again, there’s not much to recommend being a ghost . . . but, especially as an investigator, the eyes on the back of the head trick is pretty awesome.
The new guy was wearing heavy-framed dark glasses, like some sort of Tarantino-inspired hit man. I felt a moment of panic, before I remembered I was invisible. He stepped right through me, and looked over the other man’s shoulder.
Then he slapped him on the back of the head. “No shit, there’s nothing in there. She’s a ghost, dumbass.” He pointed to the high end tablet computer laying on top of the desk. “She can’t move anything heavier than electrons, you think she’s writing things down on her stationary?”
“Oh.” The other smiled sheepishly. “Good point, Carlos.”
The other man grinned at him. “Sometimes I worry about you, Duff. Hold on, let me call in.”
He pulled out a phone and dialed, then turned away from Duff and myself, walking back towards the door. After a moment he said, “Hey . . . yeah. Yeah. No. . . Nothing. . . . Nada. Should we pack it up? No, no, I gave the guy on this floor enough to stay away for a bit. Yeah, okay. We looked for her, yeah. . . Yes, obviously, we took precautions. I think she’s in the wind. Come on, boss, of course I’m wearing them. Yeah, other people are definitely onto her. Here. . . Yeah. . . Right. One right behind me. . . Seriously. . . No clue.”
It occurred to me right then that one thing a group of guys tracking down a ghost would absolutely, for sure, have on them would be some sort of snoopers to scan the near-visible ranges where ghosts liked to hang out when they went invisible. Like I was right then. Of course, guys like these probably wouldn’t have fancy contact lenses or anything. No, they’d be wearing big heavy glasses, with big frames to hold all the electronics.
Carlos whirled, slamming the door shut. I noted, with a certain amount of chagrin, that it was also lined against ghosts. As was the ceiling. As was the floor. There was room to squeeze under the door, but hardly time. A great way to keep unwanted ghosts out, the sort of thing a lady expecting her husband to send one after her might request.
And a pretty damned good prison for one, too.
I heard a whine, and looked through the back of my head to find Duff holding a charged ion pistol.
“I’ve got questions,” said Carlos.
“So do I,” I said. “Starting with, how can I hear things? I mean, soundwaves are physical, transmitted by mass, right? Gyrating air bouncing little bones in your ear . . . so how come I can hear, if I’m not supposed to be physically interacting with the world except via electromagnetism anymore?”
“Shut up,” said Duff.
Carlos waved a hand at him. “Actually, that’s a really good question. It’s probably going to keep me up, tonight. Now, here’s the way this is going to work,” he said. The he jabbed a finger at me. “You’re going to hold still while I get the magnetic trap I brought for our absent lady friend out, so we can take you somewhere a bit more private for questions, or Duff will shoot you into lots of pieces, which will bounce around this shielded room, and we’ll then let the trap suck up anyway. Sound good?”
“Is there a second option?” I asked, while looking around desperately for something that looked like it could, maybe, be that second option.
I found it, and began backing up, slowly. It wasn’t a good second option, but my option cup wasn’t exactly overfloweth-ing.
“Come on, man,” I said. “This doesn’t have to be a violent scenario, here. We’re both professionals, let’s talk.”
Carlos looked like he was genuinely considering the possibility.
“Normally, I’d go for that,” he said. “But this is a pretty high-stakes situation.”
“You really that serious about serving divorce papers?”
“Is that seriously what you’re here for?”
“Yeah,” I said, suddenly feeling very out of the loop, and inching back a bit more. I put out a wispy little tendril of myself towards the window. “Isn’t that what you’re—no, no, never mind, I don’t need an answer to that one.”
“You don’t, but, see, you’re asking the question, which is a problem, buddy.” Carlos sighed and gave me an apologetic look. “Dude. Seriously, if I’d known that’s what you were here for, I would have just pretended not to notice you.”
“We can still do that.”
“Nope.” He shook his head.
“We can, though.”
“I’m serious, we could just—“
“Well,” I said. “That sucks. So what’s going on, anyway?”
“Stop playing dumb,” said Duff. “We know you know about the heist.”
Carlos put his free hand on his temple, and massaged it. I kept reaching out with that little tendril, hoping the mass of my body would obscure what I was up to. It takes a lot of concentration to keep a shape that’s not natural to you, a lot of will and effort.
“Well for fuck’s sake,” growled Carlos. “We know he knows now, don’t we, Duff?”
“Not necessarily,” I assured him. I was almost to the window. “If you gave me a chance, you’d be shocked by my capacity for not knowing things.”
“Yeah,” said Carlos. He looked over at me and coughed. “Speaking of things you don’t know: That window you’ve been inching toward has an ionic field across it.”
“As a matter of fact, Carlos,” I said, with a grimace, “that’s the one thing I’m counting on.”
Understanding flickered across Carlos’ face, and he shouted at Duff, “Shoot him, quick!”
They were too late. A tiny tendril of whatever the hell I’m made out of brushed the field. For a very long instant of infinity, I felt myself hold together against the sudden shift in polarity, then I felt the field begin to pull on me. Duff’s gun flashed, but the beam was travelling at the conductive speed of air—it might as well have been made of molasses measured against the acceleration imparted to me by the field’s energy.
Then there was a flash of light, and what I was pretty could be described as pain as I dispersed across about ten blocks of Downtown.