Thursday, August 4, 2011

Caught at the Nines

This is a short set in a new shared universe, and so incorporates some ideas from other writers.  Read more at the main page on sci-fi storytellers.

Warning: while this NOT an 18+ story, it contains moderate violence and themes, though hopefully no more than a police procedural show on TV.

You can never be sure if it’s your first time at the Nines when you set foot inside that snappy virtual door.  Something about long distance communication screws up cause and effect, meaning that snail boaters from wave three could meet up with first wave colonists without even knowing it.  Everyone mixes with everyone else, producing a cross section that spans space and time.

I track the mark to this fancy digital dive and enter, surprised at what I see.  Information from Shiny Green, my guardian angel, prints across my vision without order - I realise it’s a text based version of the chatter.

‘Thanks, Gee,’ I say, ‘but where’s the aural feed?’

‘Look up,’ she says.

Flashing between dark and light blue on the Nines’ roof is a message from my Uni-Net linkup.  A picture of a jigsaw piece broken in half, and a line of text: “RealHear™ plugin has crashed.  Reboot?”

I tell the roof no-thanks and respond to Shiny Green.  ‘Just do your best with the text and remind me to get to Coldreiuntuf for upgrades.’

I don’t really want to go back to the capital planets - every time I do, it reminds me of what I don’t have.  I won’t lie, it’s hard being a public detective.  Company men get all the backing that money can buy, even if they’re only chasing fraud or off-piste individuals.  Me?  I’m one of three guys this side of the binary systems working on the big case and we’re stuck accessing the net from Secondrok IV.

Shiny Green reads me the chatroom text in basic approximations of the dialects that each patron has chosen.  That’s enough.  Now I can focus on my immediate surroundings.

I take in the strange, almost non-euclidean shape of the Nines.  Walls curve off, and yet keep parallel with each other.  Some avatars aren’t strictly three-dimensional.  As I look around, Gee makes sure I’m aware of the community board dead ahead.

‘Company breakers and rival stooges,’ I say, fairly happy I could rattle that off.  ‘Maybe if I had a job with IndemniCo or InterSlice we’d be tracking one right now.’

‘Wrong place to be looking for a big-shot criminal,’ she replies.  ‘I can count over $4 million in bounties in your field of view alone, all of which can’t be traced to their real world location.’

‘Well we aren’t here for a big-shot criminal, are we?’ I say.  ‘Anyway, who tipped us off?’

‘I found it hard to believe until we got here,’ Gee says, ‘but I think you did.’

I groan and sweep my eyes across the clientele nearest the bar.

‘So I've been here before?’

Shiny Green hums.  ‘If you can’t remember, maybe you’ll be back in the future.’

‘Yeah, except right now?’  I can’t get over the sheer lunacy of the idea, despite what I’ve heard.

‘Just follow the code interceptor that I’ve placed in your vision.’

I track my own info to a thoroughly red-skinned man sitting in a booth by one of the walls.  I realise why the walls seem to curve: an infinite number of private booths line them, but on the outside there’s a finite distance from corner to corner.  Imaginary, fractal space at its finest.

‘Open up,’ I say.  I hold up the simulation of my licence, which simply states, “Norian Osthorpe, Homicide” and an authenticity number.

‘What have I done?’ the man says, though he unlocks the booth and I step in.  I take my time, shrug, and quietly hope I’ve given myself the right man.

‘Nothing,’ I say.  ‘I’m just investigating a murder on Malabierta.  Not an official assassination, this was done without a company contract.  Very rare these days, know that?’

‘The hell?’ the man says.  ‘This is the net, how do you -’

‘Wait a second,’ I say.  ‘I just wanted to ask some questions.  Witnesses say that you, or perhaps I should say your real-life persona, was seen running from the scene of the crime.’

‘Dude,’ the man says, pointing above his head.  A neon username flashes into view.  ‘This is me.  Nothing to do with RL.’

At that moment, a rather boisterous individual bursts through the front door, proudly announcing his name and his intent on having a good time.  That is all the distraction I need.  I prep the simulated syringe and jam it into the neck of the suspect’s avatar.

‘Worm!’ he shouts, and shimmers slightly.

‘Lock the booth,’ I tell Gee.  The man squirms about without being able to escape.

‘What gives?!’ the man says.  His eyes are flaring.

‘That, my friend, is one of the few cool tricks I’ve got in here.  You see, that code I planted in your access account will keep you on the net until I can trace your body’s location and arrest you for questioning.  R.  L.’

‘Don’t do this to me, man!’  The mark is still shimmering in and out - trying to but unable to log off.   ‘I need to eat!  I gotta sleep!’

‘Would you like to co-operate and answer my questions?’

‘Stuff that,’ he says.  ‘I did the dame in, ‘kay?  Just let me go!  I didn’t mean to, but she was pestering me for the fifty -’

‘You did not kill her over money,’ I say.  ‘You were paid by an unregistered syndicate, weren’t you?’

‘What?  No!’

‘Don’t play dumb, Roody569.  Someone arranged for her to be killed, and for it to look like it was an accident.’

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, it was an accident!’

Shiny Green patches in Constable Beet as I begin to have doubts.

‘We’re tracking his real world location now... really think this one’s the guy?’

I can’t think straight so I respond slowly.  ‘I’m having some trouble here...  He’s definitely the perp,’ I continue.  ‘But there’s no link.’

‘What?!’  Beet’s voice over the phone line was exasperated.  ‘You aren’t telling me that.  You aren’t telling me that!’

The confessed killer’s avatar was lying immobile on the table, all of his energies directed at trying to escape the vice-grip of our trace program.

‘Every single lacky we’ve seen took way longer to crack,’ I begin.  I try to contain my frustration.  ‘I’m afraid this is that one-in-a-million we’ve always feared.’

Shiny Green backs me up in her cold, mechanical way, without thinking about how I’m feeling.

‘I believe he’s right, Constable.  The killer doesn’t match the profile of a syndicate member.  We lucked out at the wrong end.’

‘Damn it, damn it, damn it!’ I say, thumping the table hard, though I don’t hear the sound it makes.  Any other month I would have been happy to apprehend a real criminal for the sheer moral victory over the uninterested corporations.  But right now, on the big case, we needed any lead into the syndicate that we could get, and a totally unrelated killing was impossibly aggravating.  Why would I lead myself here if it was just another dead end?

Sure, a battle won, I think, but still no closer to winning the war.


  1. Nice, like the tie-ins. The techno details are a particularly nice touch. Really enjoyed this.

  2. @archnemesis_goldenhair
    Thanks :)

  3. Bloody hell, that was fun. This is pulling together better that I could have imagined. I almost choked on my bagel when I read about my "boisterous" character.

    We need to keep a log of planet names and the various details we come up with. But over all I'm having a marvelous time.