23 – Trespasser

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It wasn’t trespassing, but it felt like it.

The dead didn’t have personal space, not really, but it still felt wrong to be standing there.

Curt stared at the apartment door, at the worn wood, and stuffed his right hand into his pocket to stop himself from knocking on the door. It was something…someone had once told him, maybe his dad, maybe his grandmother, that it was bad luck to knock on the door of an empty house.

As if maybe knocking would arouse an angry spirit. Like a knock could make an unoccupied house into an occupied one.

Feeling stupid with every inch of movement, he pulled his hand from his pocket and knocked three times. Rap. Rap. Rap. A pause between each, listening for awkward footsteps of – if not an angry spirit, then at least a ghost that could muster a “no talk, me angy” until it was fed spectral coffee.

No footsteps. No ghost. No Stef.

Tara’s death had been just as sudden – more so, as no one ever really expected children to die; but somehow he was having more trouble fixing Stef’s death into his mind as real. One squeal of breaks and “older brother” had become “only child”. But those were memories being looked at with a decade of hindsight and writing and rewriting of memories.

He remembered the anger, at screaming at his parents, at blaming himself. He remembered how bright and sunny the funeral had been. He remembered feeling alone.

There was no comparison between losing his sister, losing his favourite person in the world, someone he felt he’d done more to raise than their parents; and losing a friend that he’d known for less than a week.

There was no comparison, he just wished his emotions would realise that fact.

He was projecting. He was making more of the situation than there was – if she’d quit, he would have been disappointed for half an hour, then gone back to his routine. But losing her like this…was different.

He opened the apartment door, and muttered an apology under his breath, still feeling like what he was doing was wrong. He hadn’t known her, not really, and it wasn’t hard to imagine that she’d react badly to a near-stranger digging around her stuff.

Raz’s tech skills had shown no regular personal communication in her email. No patterns obvious to the algorithms indicated that her inboxes were filled with anything other than newsletters and advertising.

But some people didn’t communicate through email. It would be one thing to assume that, and miss the fact that she had a dear, sweet, great aunt Agatha who wrote three-page-long snail-mail letters every week.

If there were any friends, any family, any romantic partners to notify, then someone had to do the due diligence. And he seemed to be the only one interested in trying to set things in order.

The apartment was small – with the layout of the building, it was probably a converted rooming house or long-stay rooms for singles working away from home. Something like Clean Rooms for the Sober and Employed.

Kitchen, living room, bedroom, bathroom.

It was so incongruous with what some of her words could lead someone to think. In the hide-and-seek sim, she’d comfortably sat in a store that sold watches and jewellery the equivalent of a year’s income for a lot of people.

It spoke to a family with money, yet this apartment – the size, the general condition…didn’t match up with that.

Everything seemed normal at first pass. But you didn’t survive long as either a Solstice or a recruit by taking everything at face value – and it only took seconds before weird details started to crystallise.

There were half a dozen bricks in the bathtub. There were no photos – there were framed pictures, but they were fancy video game prints; nothing personal. The living room furniture seemed…strange. Everything was clean and fresh, but a requirement could do that in seconds. Still, nothing seemed to go together – it was the same kind of mishmash that would happen if you furnished your first apartment from a thrift store.

Whereas the chair at her desk seemed like something that a douchebag pro-gamer would use, and probably cost more than the rest of the apartment’s furniture put together.

The bedroom was small, blackout curtains kept it dark, and the single bed furthered his suspicion he wasn’t going to find a little black book of conquests she’d swiped right on.

Logically, if there were essential papers to find, they’d likely be somewhere in the bedroom. Most people kept folders like that in their wardrobe or dresser or something. All he had to do was-

Was dig through all of her personal shit. Was invade per privacy without permission.

He looked at the wardrobe, at the desk covered in a depression-level of garbage around the expensive hardware, then slowly backed out of the room, his courage fleeing.

There was probably Agency shit that one of the techs could do to find something without a real person pawing through all of her stuff.

He headed for the front door, still hating that he was taking in the increasingly-sad details of what had been her life, of…of…of what seemed to have been a very lonely life.

His feet stopped as his brain registered a strange detail, and he focussed on the entryway table – on top of it was a notebook – and the two words in thick black pen “Hi, Thieves!”.

‘What?’

He picked up the little spiral-bound book, looked at the words again, then saw a small “please turn over” arrow at the bottom of the page. Dutifully, he turned it and found a page of writing, far tidier than he’d observed in the times he’d been able to get her to do some Agency paperwork.

“I’d appreciate it,” the page said. “If you don’t wreck my shit too much. The following are the only things worthwhile stealing.” A dotted list followed. “Rent money in the drawer below this book. Jewellery from the red box – the blue box is costume and fake. Diamond ring in flour tin.” Below this was a note. “Computer looks fancy but has little resale value. Laptop has no resale value.”

‘You…are so…Jesus, Newbie, you’re weird.’

His thumb touched the edge of a page marker, which had “RIP” written on it. Curious – and weirdly hopeful – he flipped to the spot halfway through the otherwise-empty book.

“If you want to steal my shit, go back to page one, idiot. If I’m dead, please continue.”

Again, there was a “please turn over” arrow, which he followed.

“Sorry for the smell. Please alert the landlord that owed rent can be found in the entrance bureau, and all security deposits are gladly forfeited to pay for expenses.”

He paused in reading, wondering what kind of utterly fucked life could have led to leaving an instruction manual on both how to rob a person and to deal with their death.

“My will and legal papers can be found in the top drawer, labelled “Envelope 1”,” the note continued. He opened the drawer, shuffled under rent envelopes marked with dates, found the slimmer-than-expected envelope, then retreated to the couch.

The will itself was short but relatively dense – mostly it seemed to revolve around bank accounts and monies within reverting to a family trust as per a prior legal arrangement. It appeared…somehow rote, impersonal, with little to no information on what to do with personal possessions.

Again, the language seemed to indicate certain heirloom pieces – pieces she’d likely been encouraging the thieves to steal – should be returned to the family.

Overall, it seemed more like instructions on how to best loot a corpse, rather than honour someone dead.

He looked to the date. With a little bit of mental math – and a quick check of her file on his phone – it seemed to have been signed just a few days after her eighteenth birthday. That fact somehow made the entire situation even more ghoulish.

Aside from the will, the envelope contained a few flyers for various cemeteries – there didn’t seem to be any concrete plans made or burial plots ordered, but a tri-folded letter indicated she was up-to-date with payments for funeral insurance.

Something caught his eye as he cast flyers aside – a small handwritten note above a picture of a fairly ordinary grave. “Somewhere pretty,” it said in her more casual “why are you making me do paperwork” handwriting. Beside the words was an attempt to draw a flower, which had then been scribbled over.

For what he knew wasn’t the last time, he started to cry for a girl he’d barely known.

At the bottom of the envelope was a business card for a law firm. The card was thick, embossed, and felt like it was charging him money just to hold. One of the partner names was “Mimosa”, but there was no way of knowing how the name was related to Newbie.

He snapped a quick photo and sent it to Raz.

{Can you get a copy of Stef’s latest will?}

{No problem.}

Newbie seemed thorough, but there was no harm in checking that the copy that the law firm had matched the one in his hand.

And with no evident address book – not without taking a further trespassing step of going through her email and digital contact lists – this was likely the best way to contact the family to let them know of her passing.

Hopefully, there was more to the situation than it seemed. Hopefully, some of them would mourn her.

And if they didn’t, he’d ensure she got to rest somewhere pretty.

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It started with a bang; not an explosion but atoms accelerated toward infinity. That was the end of my so-called ‘ordinary’ life. Fate guided me into the line of fire the same day a madman sought revenge for his bruised ego.

Once upon a time there was no such thing as Glimmer Girl, or even Kaira Cade. This is my story.

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22 - The Beginning, The Future
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Carradee

Oh, no. Ack.

Poor Curt has good reason for what he’s doing, and he means well, but alerting Stef’s family is going to cause so many problems.

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