Face first on the pavement, no sign of trauma, foul play or … anything that a keen eye or diagnostic hand could detect. Detective Inspector Penny Broken frowned and unfolded her arms with the synthetic crinkle of weather resistant jacket, gesturing at the nape of the neck, the back of his thick legs, vaguely suggesting the ‘usual’ vulnerabilities. She prefaced lightly: “He was no vagabond. Ordinary as they come; clothes covered in ash from a day at Westbarrow. Ulysses Joinfellow, unmarried, age thirty-six. A loner by the looks of his complexion and social profile. We’re running the ID. He had twenty credits on him, unmarked.”
“Think he had a date?” guffawed a uniformed Whitegraft officer from the street side.
“With unmarked credits? Twenty credits wouldn’t impress anyone not already starving,” Aaran Coates growled skeptically and lifted the still-warm hand of the corpse, palm down on the cracked pavement. “But you won’t know for certain until you run his name through the local Relays for reservations.”
“I dunno. Stalfos makes good pizza. Cheap.”
“Eh … Broken?”
DI Penny Broken shot him a menacing glance, and he disappeared into a officially painted Whitegraft Territory cruiser. Aaran was irritated by Penny’s enigmatic request to examine this corpse, but as a favor to the injured CDI Patsy Milne, she could hardly refuse. Pestering her seemed unwise, so instead she continued observing the scene and its characteristics. Amazing how quickly one forgets the basics.
“Not a wound, and I’d guess no sign of internal damage either,” she remarked, taking a cloth from her pocket to pat her forehead. The floodlights were surprisingly hot, even on this cool night.
“What makes you say that?”
Penny arched her neck, straining to see over Aaran’s head where she was pointing. It was a tattoo, an inch in diameter, but more like an impression. A serial number in code? She slapped her forehead with a white gloved hand. “You’re joking. Midway, take a snap of that and submit it to HQ. Don’t forget to leave auto on, this time. What are you … just leave that there. Grimes is busy, he’ll look after it.”
With a restrained grunt, Aaran rose from crouching, pressing a hand against the brick wall for support along the way. Turning to face Penny, she removed medical gloves and dropped them into a basket near the scene set up by the forensics team. She began wiping the powder from her palms by rubbing them together. She said, “Now you’re going to tell me why I’m here.”
“Wasn’t because anyone noticed there was Simuplex flesh involved. I don’t know, Aaran. Bloodless corpse and that vat-grown stuff? I don’t know.” Penny smirked with a flick at her dripping bangs. It wasn’t raining, but the moisture was weighing down her thin, green-brown hair. She was further irritated by the fact that Aaran did not appear to be at all affected by the damp.
“That’s what the boss said.”
Penny arched an eyebrow. “Have it your way. It’ll take some time to scrounge up something on that mark. Hungry?”
At half-past one in the morning, Aaran could ignore the growling of her stomach only until they arrived at the deli. Penny ordered a sandwich, and disinterestedly Aaran eyeballed the special. Behind the counter the young man buried a grimace. Penny observed, “Dad’s away, Plester?”
“Just offside for a few days with Uncle. Call me Jacy, okay? Hey, miss, you mind ham substituted for the roast?”
Aaran shrugged. “You spice it much?”
“Yeah. Cured for twenty hours in apple cider. What was that sound a while ago?”
Penny and Aaran exchanged a glance. The former jutted her jaw and asked, “What did you hear?”
“It was like something deflating. A balloon, maybe. Store audio probably picked up somethin’ more useful’n what I remember. Here you go.”
Aaran gave it a whiff; the meat was quite pungent and the bread still moist. She lifted a card and proffered it to the payment machine. Catching the total, Aaran dismissed the authorization notice. While Penny was waiting for her sandwich she prodded Jacy about the noise. He said, “Should I wait up for somebody to come for the recording?”
Momentarily distracted, recognition passed in front of his eyes. He laughed, “Oh. Yeah, I guess that makes sense.” He walked to the back room and shortly Aaran and Penny received an encoded glyph of the audio data. When he returned, he said, “Just a PGP code. ‘Easy as pie.’ That’ll open it for you.”
Penny wiped the corners of her lips where traces of lettuce and ranch dressing had gathered. “It’s what?”
“ ‘easyaspie’ I suspect,” Aaran supplied. “This is good.”
“Uncle likes it like that, but most don’t. Yeah, no caps or spaces, alphas only. No tricks.”
Aaran sampled the sandwich and looked up when Penny gave a start, locking eyes with her. She gestured for Aaran to join her. “A little oddity with Joinfellow’s birthdate: We can’t verify his birth with hospital records because his was destroyed in The Burn.”
“No match. Could be clerical, but there’s nothing for his Hard-ID, either.”
“That mark on his body wasn’t registration or serial code,” Aaran commented a few bites later.
“No. No official brand uses that mark. Who’s on research?”
Penny swallowed and took a gulp of water. “Baines. Hasn’t got anything yet.”
“Pull the local Relay files and have someone go through them.”
“That’s not …”
“Standard procedure? Forensics will, but they’re swamped, too. Could take hours for them to report anything useful.”
Penny wiped her mouth again, brow furrowed. “Suppose so. All right, I’ll do that.”
~ @ ~
An hour later Penny and Aaran were staring at a screen with an audio technician of the hobbiest sort. Neatly dressed, it was apparent he had no taste whatsoever. Penny solicited whinges to Aaran in the lab, having commented moments before about the availability of qualified personnel. He was droning on about — of all things — how Alliance standard compression produced hard to analyze recordings.
“Can you do it, Pierce?” Penny asked, leaning forward with borrow furrowed at meaningless waveforms.
“What’re you askin’ him? It was a loud, extended fart,” Aaran chuckled. She gulped from a bottle of water. All that laughing was thirsty work.
Pierce’s apprehensive grin fluttered away as Penny glowered at him. He suggested, “I would have more confidence if I could see the source. I-I could isolate the point of origin and filter out crosstalk from environmental variables … but it’s as you said. An instance of colossal flatulence. If it weren’t for all the signal loss, I really would be more confident.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Penny said, thumping the desk with a palm. “Just scan on your way out. Anything else you want to report before you go?”
“Well … it’s,” he paused, scratched the backs of his hands. “I need some time to pick out a secondary source. It’s just below the frequency the codec cuts out.”
“Hits bellow the frequently?” Penny blurted.
“It is below the frequency.”
Aaran patted his shoulder, understanding his meaning. “You want access to the Relay?”
Penny’s eyes grew wide.
Aaran smirked. “You just paid me in full for a long, dreary month, Pierce. Penny will clear it for you. Leave the timecodes with the desk sergeant. It’ll give you a chance to flirt with her.”
He blushed, wrapping his thumbs in his tie somehow. “Oh I couldn’t. She’s not single?”
“Take it while the getting’s good. No risk, no venture. Thanks for the help.”
Pierce stood there, eyes darting between hers before he nodded thankfully. He then collected his bowler cap and pressed his broad thumb onto the bio-reader at the entrance. It chimed affirmatively. Penny gave a huff, eyes on as he experimented with swaggers, heading to the front. Then they traced the desk edge and slowly up Aaran’s prosthetic left arm.
“You’re a pain,” she said, propping her head on one arm. “How do you know so much about Relays?”
“Husband’s a Relay operator. Well connected one at that. You didn’t even dive my file?” Aaran countered and Penny squinted, running a finger along the upper edge of the blue-tinged waveform.
“So that’s the … sound? All of it? No … if, if, that’s a complete sound, this bloopy thing, then that bit,” she indicated the cut top edge of another waveform looking like it was climbing up from the bottom. “That’s the other sound he thinks was lost?”
Aaran tilted her head with a shrug. “Guess so. Leave it to the geek.”
So much wisdom in such little fashion sense, Penny thought, standing up to leave the room. Aaran automatically followed. “Won’t be another few hours until DEWAR completes its workup, but maybe Baines has something for us.”
Baines had nothing for them. A toothache and nearly too many painkillers, red-faced from the pain, he was on the cusp of completing a twelve word report that stated just how little there was to be had. For the present. Penny glanced over the conclusion and told him to go home before assigning the task to Grimes.
Lt. Lewis Grimes extrapolated from Baines’ results the reason for his assumption. Dipping fried potato slabs into reddish sauce, he swallowed, then said, “No registered mark matches the files. DEWAR sent us a preliminary, maybe that’s what Baines was doing. Yeah, the Locker was empty, but they’re staying on it.”
The ‘Locker’ was an Artificial Intelligence that collaborated directly with the Crown to authorize — and deny — access to sensitive or otherwise classified data stores. It was also called ‘The Office of Redumdancy’ due to the frequency of authorization errors compared to previous permission management systems.
“Someone must have a lead if they bothered to send us a prelim,” Penny insisted. “What was it? What did they say?”
“They did have a lead, but … just a tick,” he said, tapping through several entries. “Here we go. Oh … Just another incident in Ansile Colony. Same mark, but on a three year old boy. Like our stiff, no injuries.”
“And it took them this long to link the two because?” Penny prodded.
“Doesn’t say,” Lewis replied flatly.
Aaran was reading over his shoulder and found occasion to remark, “Preliminaries don’t require oversight review codes. Get that filed. I see … was this a reprimand for submitting this without the signature of your superior? They let it go this time, but it’s hard to blame a guy who’s in that much pain.”
“Give him a — uh, yeah. The guy — Joy, Joinfellow, had no family, and neither did the kid. No one even knows his name. Ansile officers have it out on the street now, and there are public glyphs … might generate some leads. Sketchline is holding their APB under advisement.”
“Under advisement? What’s that mean?” Penny demanded.
“Probably don’t like the smell of it. Forward the request to the Representative and the Commissioner. Would you agree with that, DI Broken?” Aaran eyed Penny significantly.
“Do it. This is no time for them to be protective. It could shake some loose nails out of the woodwork.”
Aaran shook her head minimally and remarked, “I doubt it. Simuplex is medical use only.”
“Simuplex? That artificial flesh stuff?”
“Not so expositional there, Grimes. This isn’t the legal kind, or the Locker wouldn’t have passed it over in a prelim. Off brand synthetics are pretty convincing these days, but DEWAR needs time to run tests on the samples they have. You know. To be sure.”
“It’ll be obstruction of justice if they withhold critical information,” Penny noted.
Aaran negated again. “The Crown running a sticky trade in patents and proprietary technology? The Locker wouldn’t open house for anyone without cause. No criminal liability, no access.”
Penny folded arms over her chest and huffed. “Flakkin’ medicos and their profit margins. How long will they take?”
“Eight … probably ten hours,” Grimes grumbled, stuffing another wedge into his mouth.
“I’m going home. Ping me if there are any developments,” Aaran said, and Penny nearly threw up her hands.
To Be Continued…