It was a beautiful day. The air was scented with rose petals. A dark-haired woman with porcelain features walked by, dressed in a deep purple dress with a bustle. A tall man in a suit and top hat walked by, noses at equal height (purposefully elevated) past a rather un-ordinary looking man who was smoking a cigarette. There was nothing quite like him, actually. Vincent was a man- if he could be called such- of average height. He had dark hair and green eyes, with rather plain features. The difference? Half of his face and body was covered in metal, all of his skin was artificial. It wasn't split down the middle, the line between the real and fake covering was blurred expertly. Yet- everyone seemed to know about it. He calmly puffed away at the not-yet invented cigarrete, and smirked. It would likely kill other people. Hey, everyone had their vices. He just traded one for another. Drinking would certainly kill him, but smoking didn't do a thing. His lungs were metal too- or artificial rather. After a moment, he stopped leaning on the cracked brick wall where was often stationed. There were two more reasons people avoided him. Reason number one- he had a massive pistol strapped to the side of his hip, and another rifle slung over his shoulder- then two knives tucked away in the side of his boot and attached in a sheath around his neck. He was completely armed to the teeth. Any self-respecting citizen of Paradise would be wise to steer clear of him, lest they irreperably damage their reputation. The second reason people avoided him? He was a private detective- and a good one too. He was one of the least popular in the city, but if the overly-pure citizens had a problem that absolutely had to be solved, they would come to him. A murder. A disappearing woman of color- often turning into a murder. It was typically the same old thing. Were there more popular private detectives? Certainly. However- he was the only detective around who wasn't a government snitch. More murders came out of people trying to find out what happened to their family members, than with the actual crime rate. As he walked back into his office, people cleared out of the way like he was one of the founders himself. The building was an interesting place, and it was free. It had once been a butcher shop, then a brothel- after both of those went out, he moved in. He never paid for it- he really shouldn't be there, but who was going to tell a man of half-metal, armed to the teeth, to vacate. No one around here. As he sat down at an old wooden desk, he noticed that a young man was still staring at him from the other side of the park. That caused him to frown a little bit. A potential customer? Or another assasain from the government? After a few more seconds of awkward staring between the two, Vincent stood up and put out his cigarrete, leaving it on the desk. He walked out straight across the street- ignoring the large mechanical horse pulling an ice truck that very nearly ran right over him. The young man looked extremely nervous, as Vincent approached. He really hadn't meant to get this guy all riled up..now he was dead for sure. Some type of crazy half-machine hybrid? Not something to mess with, yet..he had somehow gotten himself into that. Just a few seconds later, Vincent was right in front of him, looking rather irritated. "Are you staring at me because you want my help, or because you want to kill me? I don't really care either way, kid. I just want to get it out of the way. If you want to kill me, good luck. I'll play fair with you and back up, but.." He motioned to the small arsenal on his back. "Not great odds. Could run back now." The young man squirmed backwards, into the hard wooden bench. "Uhm, neither. I was just curious..please don't kill me." He held his hands up in surrender, silently praying. "I'm Theodore. I don't have anything I need help with, and I really don't want to fight you. Promise." He added, quickly. Vincent arched an eyebrow, sizing him up for a moment. Even if he decided to attempt to stab him in the back, he probably wouldn't be able to push the knife in hard enough. That thought almost made him laugh- this guy was tiny. A small smile crossed his face, and he outstretched a hand. A soft metal grinding sound was heard, and his hand opened slowly. "Vincent. You probably shouldn't be seen anywhere near me at all. If you like living. If you don't need anything, I'll go back to my office." Theodore tilted his head and slowly shook his hand, in uttter confusion. "Well..I'm guess that's fine. It's been nice meeting you? Do you want anything? My money, or something..?" The metal man chuckled. "No..I'm not a petty thief. Don't worry about it. If you see some crazy guy later, running into battle or something, that's probably me. If you wanted to help- I'd be fine with that." Theodore smiled a bit and looked up at him. "You are very strange. Alright, though." He looked around. "I could help you now." He thought perhaps he could make some money. "You solve mysteries? I've heard about you once or twice, in the more shadow-y alleyways." Vincent nodded. "Yep. I work for just about any amount at this point. I might be able to pay you occasionaly. I have one other part time helper. She's a nice lady, real tough and doesn't mess around. Some kind of crazy abilties. Time travels a bit. Nice dame in general." He shrugged. "I generally pick up the rejects. You don't seem so bad. You aren't afraid of unusual people, right?" He added, warily. Theodore stood up slowly. "Well..I guess not. You seem pretty decent, and you're made of metal, like the crazy machines the Shepard makes, but not quite so scary. Vincent gave a small, emotionless nod, and walked back across the street. He was assuming that Theodore would follow him. If not, maybe it wouldn't work out to begin with. What kind of assistant would he be if he wasn't following him? Perhaps it would be better anyways, considering what he was really signing Theodore up for was hired gun, minus the 'hired' part. Most of them only lasted a few weeks. "I've got a pistol for you inside." He added, walking inside. "And if you're one of /those/ guys..well, I ain't one of them. This is buisness only." Theodore shook his head. "Nope. But..a pistol? I don't have to kill anybody, right..?" Vincent couldn't help but laugh, as Theodore stopped, looking around the dusty office. "Maybe I would be better off as a secretary, sort of just cleaning up around here. It's sort of a mess..and I don't think I have to kind of aim that you'll need. I've never beeen able to see to well."
Vincent studied his face for a moment, then opened a drawer and dug around for about five minutes. Finally, he found what he was looking for, sliding a scratched and dirty pair of glasses over to him. "Here. They're hard to find around here. They might help- might not. Give it a shot." Theodore blinked a few times and picked them up, trying to rub some of the dirt off. Eventually they became clearer, and he placed the lens set on his face. "It is a little better." He said, looking around. Vincent smiled. "Good. Now, grab that pistol on the wall, the one attached to the belt. Actually, just take the belt. It'll be big on you. Sit down and help me round some of these case files out, I doubt anyone will come in today. Theodore obeyed reluctantly and actually sat down, studying the files and beginning to edit them. He was fixing the spelling and grammar- Vincent was terrible. He didn't seem like a college educated man anyways, or even someone who had really attended much school in general. Every once in awhile, he would steal glances at the man of metal. He was so strange. Metal and flesh? Who had that kind of talent, to put someone back together that way. It seemed almost..painful. Vincent lit another cigarette and started to smoke it, calmly scribbling away in black ink pen. His hand-writing was an absolute mess too. Suddenly, he looked up sharply. "Quick rule breakdown. Stay away from all the old files, they're private and sealed. Don't wander off. If I send you somewhere that you need to stay low in, take a knife and conceal it. Not a gun. That's it." With that, he looked down and continued to write like it was absolutely nothing. Theodore nodded a little bit. He was relatively perceptive when it came to people, and he got the sense that Vincent would be annoyed if he asked any more questions. There was still something itching in the back of his mind, a natural curiosity and concern that was perhaps a healthy thing in a young detective. "Uhm..are you okay, Vincent? I mean, you're okay, but..I'll shut up." He fell quiet, attempting not to ramble. Vincent glanced up, then back down, his focus intensifying as the gears inside his hands and joints shifted to form each letter. "Sure, kid." He said, shrugging a little bit. "Just oil me every couple of years and when I'm out in the rain too long, and I'm fine." Theodore frowned, but didn't say anything about it. "Okay..I guess." He looked down, and said nothing else. For two more hours, they worked. Theodore found it difficult to focus, with all of the noise Vincent was making. It obviously wasn't something he could control, but still. Just as he was about to stand to seek out a drink, a tall woman in a long burgundy gown walked in. Vincent raised an eyebrow as he saw her, a bit surprised. The same woman he had observed before, but in a different gown. Vincent could tell nearly instantly. The dress did nothing to change her appearance or disguise her, nor did the large matching hat that she wore. It was the way that she carried herself and acted. The same upturned nose and extreme disdain for his strange way of life and rather unpleasant disposition towards the Founders and the government in general. Theodore stood out of respect, and removed his glasses. Did they follow the same rules as hats? He had never owned a pair, nor did he really understand the concept entirely. All he knew was that they made him see quite a lot better. She looked at him and his glasses with the same level of disdain and slight interest that she regarded to Vincent. Theodore frowned, not yet used to that kind of look. He had always been a quiet, normal boy. Raised with the same beliefs as everyone else. What had changed inside him? Probably youth. Now there was no turning back, his reputation and everything else was gone now. This was a totally new way of life. Why had he made such a rash decision? It was washing over him just now, as he realized that he would be a permanent target, and his best shot at survival was with Vincent. The woman didn't sit, until his metal companion nodded for her to do so. Even then, she studied the old roller chair with a measure of disgust and brushed away the invisible germs she imagined were there, and likely were. Vincent couldn't help but roll his eyes a bit when she looked away, but leaned forward as she sat. The lady was probably rich from the way she dressed, her mannerisms, and her multiple wardrobe changes. An ideal client, if he could get any money out of her. Sometimes, they didn't end up paying. "What can I do for you today?" He asked, focusing in on her. She looked away, made uncomfortable by his focus. "I'm afraid I need your help," she began, "I've asked everyone else, and no one else was willing to help me. Something...something has happened to my daughter." Vincent leaned back. "That does sound like something I can handle." He pulled out a piece of paper and an ink pen, then looked back to Theodore. "Get me the file labeled 'Standard Contract' in the third file cabinet, the second drawer down. It should be unlocked." He looked at the woman. "Alright now. Describe your daughter, while he does that. Do you have a picture or drawing of her? You seem wealthy, I figured you might." Theodore went and did exactly as he instructed, as the woman went through all the details of her child. Five years old. 4'1, tall for her age. Long, untrimmed brown hair and blue eyes. She sounded like a pretty normal toddler. The task he had been assigned to do wouldn't normally take so long, except that the entire room was nearly filled with filing cabinets. Finally, he found it, and brought it back to Vincent. "Here you go." Vincent smiled a bit and nodded. "Thanks. You'll see here, Mrs. Clarke that I have a standard contract. Half of the money before I begin, and half after. No refunds of course, as I spend my time. If you don't pay up, I'm free to spend my time loitering around your home, spoiling your reputation, etc. However..my case rate is pretty above par, considering I take the more difficult cases. And I'm willing to do just about anything to reach the desired resolution." He smirked and raised an eyebrow slightly. Mrs. Clarke studied him hesitantly, then signed the contract and pulled out her small purse. She pulled out a large sum of money, and Theodore's eyes widened. That much money? Vincent glanced back behind him, warning Theodore not to say anything. He didn't usually charge that money. It just depended upon how wealthy the client was, which he thought was fair. He made a little extra money from them, so he wouldn't have to charge as much for people who couldn't afford his services. Nothing wrong with that, in his estimation. Theodore turned around and faced a bookshelf, busying himself with dusting and rearranging the few titles on the shelf. It was something to distract him. Vincent looked back to Mrs. Clarke. "Thank you. I'll start on it immediately. I'm going to do my best to return your child to you. When I find her, I'll let you know." He stretched and stood up, and outstretched his hand for her to shake. She didn't return the gesture, just nodded a little bit and walked out. Vincent sighed a bit and let his arm return back to his side. Not the first time that happened. There seemed to be a lack of trust regarding automatrons, and he didn't neccesarily blame them. Most of them /were/ government murdering machines that looked like their gods, so it wasn't exactly shocking. Still, it hurt a bit. Much like everything else that had happened lately in his life. He turned to face Theodore. "She's gone now." Theodore looked at him, frowning. "Why did you ask for so much money? Surely you can find some girl, that has to be easy for you." He wasn't exactly pleased by his policy. Vincent shrugged a bit. "Listen. It's not like they don't have the money, and while it isn't always difficult, it doesn't usually have a happy ending. Which usually means I don't get paid. And if I do, then I'll use the money to let someone else pay a little less. It's sort of like a discount. If I don't get paid the rest, it's not a big deal. If I do, then that's fantastic. Plus, it means more for you. So don't worry about it. Kay?" He pulled several bills from the stack. "Here. Relax." Theodore took the bills hesitantly, and noticed how much they were for. "Wow. I...okay. If you get this much money, why don't you move into a nicer building?" Vincent touched his metal arm. "It costs a lot of money to keep myself running. Plus, no one else in the city will sell to me." Theodore nodded slowly, and frowned. "I'm sorry. Your life seems very..difficult? Lonely?" Vincent chuckled. "I'm fine, don't worry about me. I've got people to look out for me. I would say people like you, but..they aren't really like you. You're very new to this life. As of about three hours ago." He smirked. "Anyways. It really isn't bad. Once you get used to it, you can't imagine living any other way. It's exciting. There's adventure, intrigue, that sort of thing. You know. The normal action hero kind of thing, but I'm not completely a hero. It's pretty fun. No rules. No guidebook, either. You just sort of have to figure it out." Theodore shrugged. "Well, um..where do we begin? Did she have any idea where her daughter might be?" Vincent shook his head, and walked over to his desk, pullying out his long coat. "It's chilly out, you might want put on a coat. I've got a spare one. It also makes you look way more intimidating. That's a tip from a pro- you can write that down. In fact, you probably should." Theodore couldn't help but roll his eyes a little, then put on a thick black coat that was just a tad too large on him in the shoulders and height, as well as the sleeves. It made him look like a child who had put his father's coat ono. Vincent chuckled. "Maybe work out a little before next week?" He said, mostly joking. He didn't really mind. It was mainly just amusing. With that, they both departed from the office, into the cool evening air. It was sunset, yet it was still cold out. They were at a much higher altitude than the people on the ground, so it only made sense that it cooled down more quickly. He leaned slightly to the right, and studied the sunset in between the tall buildings. It was lovely, as usual. Bright oranges, purples, the usual sunset scene. Thankfully, no red. Then, just as he had stopped, he began again. Theodore just followed behind, having retrieved a notebook and paper, as well as an odd looking device that appeared to be a small (by his standards) camera. It was really just a three dollar Kodak that Vincent had swiped the last time he had visited the 80's. But, some major events had gone down then. The end of the world, some random guy fixing it, it was an absolute mess. No one was going to mind a few things missing from the local CVS, when it was all over. They walked towards the floating bridge and stood there, watching as it made its way to the seedier part of the city. It was kept separate from the rest of the city for a very good reason. It was a real slum, and if they people from either side interacted too much, a lot of bad things would happen. The other issue was that all types of people lived in this area. There was a Chinatown, and about a million other groups. Only the palest, most perfect people were allowed to populate the main city, unless they had brought an indentured servant with them. It had to be seen as perfect. Vincent looked back to Theodore. "Have you ever been to this side of town?" He asked, raising an eyebrow at the baby-faced young man. Theodore shook his head. "No, I was never allowed. Is it..bad? It looks bad." He said, frowning. Vincent laughed. "It isn't bad, persay. I'd describe it more of a horrible place to live or work. But don't go around talking like that, okay? This entire city could crash down in a matter of days, if anything changed. It's a total balancing act and a train wreck combined." He laughed. "Just look out for yourself, watch your wallet, and don't talk to anyone unless I tell you it's okay. You'll be fine." He slapped him lightly on the shoulder, and as the bridge stopped, he walked off and headed to the next part, the elevator. The police and city guards stood around, lightly glaring at him. They didn't stop him, but they regarded Theodore with new suspicion. A new assistant, something must have happened to one of the others. Not surprising. It wasn't that they didn't want to arrest him. He had caused enough trouble around town. It was just that if they did happen to confront him without a current reason, they were definitely going to lose that fight. It wasn't easy to take down a man made of actual metal. He wasn't invincible, certainly. But he was armed to the teeth, even more so than they were. And he had strange weapons, ones that were not of this time or place. Overall, it was just a bad idea. He smirked and gave them a little nod as he walked by, and Theodore followed nervously to the elevator. Just a short ride later- they were in the center of the slum. The elderly and injured were begging in almost every corner, huddling near fires and clinging to torn blankets. Children were crying from every street corner for all types of buisnesses, collecting any coin tossed their way. A few people were singing. Theodore looked around, sort of confused and horrified at the same time. He kept a close eye on everything he was holding. Vincent was just walking, basically ignoring everyone. Occasionally, he would look back to make sure that Theodore was still behind him, and hadn't gotten lost. "What, have you never seen anyone begging before?" He asked, a little surprised and irritated at the same time. He often forgot how ignorant people were, when they didn't travel or seek out any kind of knowledge. Theodore shook his head. "No..why are they?" Vincent laughed. "They're hurt, or they weren't good at whatever they had been assigned to do. Or they're too old to work. What happens when people are too old to work where you live, Theo?" Theodore thought for a second, quietly. "Well, their family just takes care of them." Vincent nodded. "Very good. But if they don't have a family, or their family is working?" The young man frowned. "They don't have anywhere or anyone?" Vincent sighed. "You've got it now. I'd probably be among them, if I couldn't figure anything out. I'm not a factory worker, and..well, yeah. This isn't a place you can leave easily. It's a large fee, and almost no one can afford it. I never visit unless I'm sure I can leave..I would reccomend you to do the same. Always keep three hundred on you. Anyways..we're here." Here was a decently sized home, that was surprisingly well-kept, unlike the other wooden shanties that surrounded it. It was not any better built, but it had clearly had extensive repairs and decorations added. He walked in without knocking, and Theodore awkwardly followed. A tall and gaunt looking man smiled, upon seeing Vincent. "Hey, friend! How are you? I see you have a new assistant, still not taking me up on /my/ offer, eh?" He laughed, and a baby gurgled in the corner. Vincent looked over and shook his head. "Nah, not yet, pal. How are you? I need some information." The man became serious, and nodded. "Well, you've got money, I've got information. What do you need to know?" Vincent pulled out some of the money he had recieved from the woman, and gave it to him. "I'd like to know about the last six shipments of children that have come into the factory. I need to know about girls between the ages of four and seven, who match this description. Include other races too, m'kay? I have a feeling." He shrugged and looked around. "How soon can you get that to me?" The man thought for a second. "I'll have it by tomorrow or the day after that. Would you mind sticking around town until then, though? A few people at the factory have been bothering me, they think I'm stealing. Which I guess I kinda am, but I'm not taking their money. You know what I mean." Vincent nodded. "Sure. I'll have Theodore keep an eye on her too, if you want. He's not exactly used to this side of town yet, but I think he could handle looking after a baby." The tired-looking man looked over at Theodore, and smiled. "Could you? I'd really appreciate that. I haven't slept in ages." He chuckled. Theodore nodded, feeling bad for him. "Sure, whatever you need. I suppose I can be a baby-sitter too, apparently I'm already an assistant. Still not totally sure how that happened." He laughed awkwardly. "I really didn't think I'd ever be here. I didn't really know this place even existed. Life is really weird." Vincent smiled. "I'd drink to that, if I could drink. I might smoke to that, but outside. Anyways. I'll see you then. Theodore will be over in the morning, I'll escort him. I'll follow you to the factory from there." He stretched and looked around the shack once more, then walked out. Theodore followed, and waved a little to the small child who was to be his ward tomorrow. The baby waved back, and smiled, oblivious to its station in life. Children were wonderful in that regard. They never seemed to realize until they were older. Then, they just dreamed as though absolutely anything was possible. Theodore had lost that trait, though he wasn't as hardened as Vincent. He wasn't a dreamer, but somehow he was learning to be again. Stranger things had happened, and most of them had happened today.
End of Chapter One