First ten chapters/fifty pages of current WIP now available as a PDF.
A Cyberpunk Crime Thriller, Soul Cache is a sliver of technoir set in fictional, future New Kowloon. A desperate homicide detective resorts to dangerous and illegal software to stop a serial killer. Can he catch the murderer before he loses his mind?
Sonia said later I walked back into the autopsy room and stared at the corpse of the brain-popped ganger for a full minute. Utterly still, not a word. She didn’t know who looked worse, me or the dead guy. She asked what was wrong but I left without as much as a glance.
I must have turned my Chip back on at some point because the next thing I remember was the back seat of an autocab. It was stopped at a red light and the bloody glare smeared on the lexan window stung my eyes. My joints ached, my nerves were on fire. It felt like my brain had been split by a hatchet.
The taxi started moving. My phone rang: Jen Cheung. “Am I bothering you?”
Images battered at my mind like moths at a screen. A woman’s face, a loop of club music, laughter. “Yes.”
“Bullshit. I know you’re not asleep. Locater says you just left the Morgue. What were you doing there?”
Lau screamed. My hands kept wiping at phantom blood, sticky and hot. I clenched my fists to stop. “Looking at Lau’s body one more time hoping something would happen.”
I truck horn blared. I flinched, felt my head lift off my neck. Revulsion and relief heaved through my body. “No.”
“Well, I got something for you.”
I tried to focus, bit the inside of my mouth for real pain and tasted blood. Bad idea. “What do you got?”
Jen Cheung was excited. “So I’ve been going over the crime scene photos, yeah? The Butcher. Dismembering and arranging the body parts is a display, I know. Part of a sick ritual. But the first six were patterns. Symmetrical puzzle pieces, but just patterns, right?”
The Voice shouted, furious and insistent, muffled like the other end of someone else’s phone argument. Lau was sobbing. Warmth spread at my crotch. I didn’t look to see if it was real. “You getting to a point? It’s late and I’m dying here.”
“Point is the last two were different,” Cheung said with certainty.
I shook my head to clear it, sat up. “Different how? What do you mean?”
“I mean not symmetrical. Obviously. At first I thought the killer was going abstract. Psychopath art. But something bugged me; the torso sideways just so, an arm bent there, the head under the leg here. It felt specific, you know?”
Damn. I’d missed it, juggling too many other things. I blinked and logged into the NKPD Net to access the Forensics files. The constant updates were annoying and intrusive, and I’d put off that month’s, so my connection lagged. “So what are you thinking? Specifically.”
“That the Butcher isn’t just showing off their kill. It’s something else.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated on Jen’s voice. Other noises fell silent. The pain subsided. My Chip finally chimed a secure connection, but Cheung was already explaining.
“So this afternoon I found a drone shot from victim number eight taken from the garage ceiling. Straight down over the body. That’s when I saw it.”
The taxi rolled to a soft stop in front of my apartment. “Saw what?”
“The WayGo Transport logo. The company Henry Lau worked for. Get this: the Butcher used his body to make the corporate logo.”
My skin goose-fleshed. “Holy shi… Are you sure?”
The cab door lifted. I blinked payment, climbed out and headed for the front of my building.
I heard her smile. “Bet your ass. Sending images now.”
My optic flickered as two photo files arrived: a CSI image and a GIF off the WayGo letterhead. I opened them. The pictures dropped to fifty percent opacity and merged, one over the other, Hanzi lines with severed limbs.
“Alamak,” I breathed. The shapes matched.
I stumbled though the lobby, stopped. “Wait…You said the last two bothered you. What about number seven?”
“That was tougher,” Cheung said. “But it turns out that victim was a per diem at a Sino-Biopharm lab in D-Five. And SB is part of the CP Group.” She paused. “Check this out.”
The blandly named CP Group was a founding member of the Asian-Pacific conglomerates club, with direct influence in seven countries in this hemisphere alone, and a corporate security force to rival all but the top twelve standing militaries. A quick check on the Wiki entry for ‘omnipresent global financial entity and soulless multinational’, CP Group would be Item One.
Two more images in my display. I watched CP Group’s logo blink open and melt into another CSI shot: Theresa Tse laid out on a green floor, arranged just so.
The blood drained from my face.
“I think our killer is anti-globalist somehow. A Seattle 2049 manifestant,” Jen Cheung concluded. “I mean, if these aren’t anti-corporate statements, I don’t know what is.”
I was alone in the elevator. The images hovered in my peripherals. My body was one giant dull ache. My brain had crashed. Cheung’s voice cut through the fog. “Hai, Zeki. You still there?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m buffering.” Jialat. I was drained. It was past time for sleep.
Jen waited a moment, then, “So the killer hates corporations and knew them, right? That what this means?”
The elevator doors slid open. I shook my head. It was frighteningly empty right then. “Knew of them, stalked them maybe. Easy to find personal info online.”
I stopped at my apartment door. “You went over the other victims’ files. They weren’t corp?”
Cheung snorted. “This is new New Kowloon, who isn’t corp to some degree or another?”
I nodded absently. “Hey, I’m home. I’m spent. First thing tomorrow I’ll go over the other vic’s profiles to see if they have any connections. To WayGo, each other… Any common thread.”
“I can do it.” Cheung said.
“You must really want to make detective.”
“I’m going to make detective, Detective. Do you think Tse and Lau were targeted because they were corp? ”
“Looks that way but I can’t be certain. I’ll dig. A per diem pharm-tech is probably clean but maybe Lau was dirty: IP theft, espionage, embezzlement, a mole for a rival, something.”
“Maybe WayGo was in some kind of trouble,” Cheung suggested. Tired as I was, I could hear her wheels turning. “Financial, a takeover… something that.”
Cheung definitely will make detective.
“Get some sleep,” she said. “I’ll let you know what I find in the morning.”
I signed off, opened my door. The hall light went on as I shuffled in and kicked off my shoes. I’d made it to my bedroom when another NKPD message appeared: the IRA software patch was complete. My aerial drone was ready and I was scheduled for synchronization tomorrow, first shift.
“Flying Shit Cakes,” I mumbled.
I went to undress and found the front of my khakis were damp. Dark.
Murder scenes are lots of things: their circumstances sometimes obvious, other times mysterious or downright bizarre. Usually bloody. Always tragic.
See enough of them they become routine in a sad kind of way. Terrible to admit but there it is. It’s the job.
They’d always struck me as intrusive too; as if the act itself wasn’t violation enough to then have a horde of technicians descend upon your body. Complete strangers in Tyvek one pieces, masks, and gloves mincing around your floodlit corpse, photographing it from every angle, sampling, poking, prodding, scraping away at the minutia of your final moments. A state of ultimate vulnerability clinically analyzed for every last awful secret.
All murder scenes are terrible in their own way. The howling made this one worse.
The victim had been found in a motorcycle repair shop, a single grungy bay tucked behind a D-Grade cloning bank for exotic pets. The scent of blood thick in the air, dozens of copies of copies of copies of puppies and parrots and miniature jungle cats were barking, whining, screeching, yowling as the soundtrack to some poor bastard’s end credits.
I knew the officer at the holo-tape. Jen Cheung. Sergeant. Good head on her shoulders. Two cyber-arms. Helluva right hook.
“What? You’re not inside?” I asked as I approached. “Your delicate female sensitivities acting up?”
She deadpanned. “That sounded like a sexist remark, Detective. I see a Sensitivity refresher course in your future.”
“Long overdue,” I agreed, and stopped beside her. “How bad is it?”
She spit, nodded. “Very.”
“Is it the same as the other seven?”
She squinted at me. “Sure looks like it, Zek. But what do I know? That’s your job isn’t it?”
I waved a hand at the surrounding buildings. “Anyone see anything?” Unlikely, but I had to ask.
Sergeant Cheung shook her head. “We got called for the noise. Wan found the body.” She jerked a thumb at a young constable seated in the back of a NKPD HiAce van. He looked lost, pale. I’d have sworn he was no more than twelve.
Shit, I sound like an old cop.
I was an old cop and he was deep in conversation with a Forensics bot so I let him be.
“Garage owner been contacted?”
Cheung nodded. “Already at the station.”
“ID on the victim?”
Cheung blinked as she connected. “Henry Lau. Systems Manager for WayGo, the self-driving transport company. Address is 1397 Hab C3. Hung Hom. District One.”
I let out a low whistle. “District One.”
She nodded, spit again. “Yup. Now it’s a real crime; a rich person’s been killed.”
Funny/not funny. And true. Lau had been an Edger. Not Upper City, but as close as we got down here. Maybe added pressure would make Captain Lee devote more resources now. Other than ramp up his indignation and yell louder each time another body was found, like they were being dumped in his district for the sole purpose of making him look bad.
Captain Lees were part of the job too.
Time to see the body. “You taking the test soon?” I asked as I passed through the tape.
“Why, you finally looking for a new partner?” she snorted.
I avoided that question. That memory. “LNK needs good detectives.”
“You can say that again, the bang up job you’re doing with this mess.” She grinned to take the edge off it. “And to answer your question: yes, next month.”
I smiled back at her. “Good luck, then. Let me know after and we’ll drink to celebrate.”
I went toward the open bay door.
“Hey,” she called after.
“Catch this guy already, will you? You’re the famous ‘Stonecutters Island Detective.’ You have a reputation to uphold.”
I gave her a look of mock indignation. “Guy? Now who’s being sexist? Never make detective like that, Sergeant. Clinging to preconceptions and stereotypes.”
“Just get whoever this is.”
I felt the weight of the faraday pouch in my jacket pocket. “Working on it.”
Turning back to the garage, I made a mental note to mention Cheung’s name to a couple friends higher up the chain of command. I had no doubt she’d crush the exam, and Lower New Kowloon really was in desperate need of good police. Compared to Captain Lee, Sergeant Cheung was Joan of Arc.
The tiny repair bay was bright with dozens of LED strips that brought every dingy corner into stark relief. The regular oil and rust smells were overpowered by the reek of blood and offal, while the Forensics team had their formaldehyde undertone of sanitizer and sterile gear. An old friend, Ed Cho, was kneeling by the body, pecking away with a bio-scanner.
“Tell me you have something,” I said. A desperate hope.
He looked up at me, shrugged once and went back to scanning.
I surveyed the body: naked, male. Mid-thirties. Looked ethnic Chinese. Mr. Lau had been chopped into pieces, his blood congealing under jointed body parts that had been carefully arranged in a bizarre pattern – a different pattern each time.
Seven patterns, now eight.
“Time of death?”
Cho had a soft, raspy voice. How I’d expect a chain smoking toddler to sound. “Twelve hours. A hair less, maybe.”
“He drugged same as others?”
“Too early to tell. Hundred eYuan says the blood shows traces of chloral hydrate though.”
I wasn’t going to take that bet. I nodded at the forensics kit on the floor by his boots. “You must have found a sliver of evidence this time. Give me something. Anything.”
“Blood samples say our victim had been drinking. Judging by the food particles on his lips and cheeks, he ate recently too. Anything more, you need to wait for the lab report. ”
“Other than him?”
Cho shook his head. “Older fingerprints, samples of biodiesel, poly lubes, cleansers. More food scraps, smears of chili paste and peanut oil from those takeout containers.” He jerked his head at an overflowing trash barrel next to an ancient 3D metal powder printer. Soy Park stalls did serious business with the mechanics here.
Ed Cho then aimed his scanner at one of the white-suited techs on the perimeter of the scene. “I can tell you the door was forced recently. Julie found fresh hits on the jamb and threshold. Best guess is someone broke in, saw the body and bolted.”
“How old? Any chance whoever that was saw the murder?”
“Very recent, a couple hours ago. So definitely post-mortem.”
I remembered Fat Quan’s comment and considered chatting him up again. Show up as ‘Detective Pemburu’ for sure. Bring Sergeant Cheung and maybe borrow the Special Duties Unit from Captain Lee for something more resembling real police work.
“Still, they might have seen something.” I blinked and linked to the NKPD Net. “The door sample have an ID match?”
Another shake of the head. “Unregistered. Homeless or a recent ‘fugee scrounging for something to pawn.”
I nodded at Cho’s DNA sniffer. “Anyone else?”
“I’ve been over the whole place. Database matches the garage owner, two mechanics, and some unknowns who are probably clients. Except for the door knocker and Mr. Lau here, it’s all forty-eight hours old or more.” He shrugged. “Lab might have more later, but…”
“So we’ve got nothing really. Again.”
Exactly what I didn’t want to hear. Exactly why I’d visited Loi. Exactly why I was carrying disgrace, summary dismissal, and a prison term in my jacket pocket.
Henry Lau’s head lay at the bottom of his severed left leg like the period to an exclamation point. His right hand was cupped behind his left ear as if listening. His hair was slick and sticky, his face blood speckled, the eyes rolled back. A half-opened mouth revealed perfect teeth shining bright blue-white in the harsh light.
A weird little part of me imagined an augur in mid-vision ecstasy uttering mysteries. The rest of me saw the twisted handiwork of a serial killer.
Not half an hour past, I’d been willing to peer inside that head for clues. Listen to those revelations. Now, looking at what had become of Mr. Lau, I touched the lump of the faraday pouch through my jacket.
I didn’t know if I wanted to whip it out and use it right then, or if I was warding off evil spirits.
Night sweats done, the food stalls in Soy Park were opening back up. I made up for lost time crossing the plaza before the late shift crowds returned and I walked into Loi’s shop with thirty seconds to spare and the scent of steamed shumai and fish ball curry clinging to my jacket.
Loi was at her work bench, tinkering on what looked like a very expensive, very custom cyber hand. It was Ferrari sleek and skeletal, matte black with two opposable thumbs. Each finger housed what looked like half a dozen micro tools, including titanium scalpels and at least one cutting laser; a prosthetic for a brain surgeon or a micro-robotics machinist. Not occupations I associated with anyone in this district.
A cousin from my Chinese uncle’s side, Loi was small and round in a plump Han way, with a bowl of purple-dyed hair over fair skin. I had inherited my Malaysian mother’s darker complexion and racing hound leanness, and kept my hair buzzed and black.
“Looks complicated,” I said. “What is that?”
“You’re late and you smell,” she snapped.
“I’m always late and everything smells in this neighborhood. It’s part of the charm.”
“Charm…” she snorted. “Yesterday, a client said the gear she bought smelled like stinky tofu for a week.”
“At least you don’t have to go far for lunch.”
She fiddled with one of the thumb joints. “There is that.”
“So… who’s that for?”
She finished tinkering and covered the hand with a non-static cloth. “None of your business.” A sideways glance. “At least not yet, anyway.”
“Don’t worry Zek. It’s not your department.”
“What department would — never mind.” It was a stupid moment to press her on possible illegal activity.
“Exactly.” Loi made a swift but intricate gesture at the security camera above her counter. The lights dimmed. I heard the front door lock behind me. “I think you’ve finally cracked, asking me for this.”
She reached under the table and pulled out a silver faraday pouch, set it on battered lexan top.
It lay there between us. “This is serious,” I said.
“I know it’s serious. I live here, Zek. Two of the bodies were found by my apartment. But this…” She gestured at the bag. “Is crazy.” She paused, pursed her lips. “It’s suicidal.”
I couldn’t exactly disagree, but pushed on anyway. “Fat Quan says there’s another victim. An eighth one.”
“Eight?” She swore. “You sure?”
“Quan… Fat fucker. Is he sure?”
“Seemed to be.”
“You can’t trust him. Especially after –“
I cut her off. “I don’t. But I might need him.”
She waved her hand again, different gesture this time, then looked meaningfully at me. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I have no idea. But I don’t have one solid piece of evidence. Whoever is killing these people is vicious, specific, and careful. Like ‘sanitary’, careful.”
“You’re not helping. You’re saying the killer is smart, they struck again, and now you want illegal ware that could kill you. Or at least break your mind.”
“So I’ll go to prison after I’m released from the psych ward?”
“Something like that, yes.”
I set my shoulders. “I don’t have a choice.”
“You always have a choice, Zek. It’s consequences that are the problem.”
She stared at me. I stared back.
She nodded at the bag. “I can send this back. No one will ever know.”
I tried to joke away the tension. “To the shadows where it belongs?”
She didn’t smile. “To the nightmares, more like. There’s a reason only spooks and extreme corp-security have access to this, you know. You don’t bring back the dead, Zek.”
I forced more levity into my tone. I barely understood what this was and even that was enough to get me back in church after three decades. Make me pray. “You said, technically, I’m not bringing back the dead. I’m accessing memories.”
“Technically, you’re an asshole. They’re not even memories.”
“But you told me –.”
“I explained it in a way you could understand. The Neural chip connects people to the Net. It’s a modem router, not a processor. Not storage. You can’t play back people’s memories like a video – even when they’re alive. It doesn’t work like that. The Chip is just a connector. It’s a tiny, wafer-thin iPhone.”
“Leave it to Musk to put a phone in our brains.”
“Screwed us all up then fucked off to Mars. Fucking Musk.”
“Fucking Musk,” I agreed. “No good deed… So if they’re not memories what are they?”
“They are memories – sort of. They’re – – ,” She searched for the word. “Impressions. Sensations. Fragments of thoughts and emotion. Images. All nonlinear and unfiltered. It’s like being stuck in someone else’s dream.”
I thought of the crime scene pictures. The victims. “Or their nightmares, like you said.”
“Which, like I said, is why this…” she hissed as she nudged the pouch, “is restricted by international law.”
Good point, I thought. They were stacking up against me fast, those points.