Cyberpunk Detective 5b

cyberpunk crime in New Kowloon. WIP

continued from 5a

Good point, I thought. They were stacking up against me fast, those points.

“Which, like I also said, is why this…” she hissed as she nudged the pouch, “is restricted by international law. God Almighty, Zek. We barely process our own thoughts correctly, let alone someone else’s. When a corporate wire head first discovered the neural buffer overflow, researchers thought they could read minds. Eighty percent of the first accessors snapped. The other twenty percent were so fucking scrambled, it took weeks for them to recover a stable identity. We’re talking about deep diving into the weird liminal space between meat and machine. You can lose your shit touching another person’s mind like this. Lose yourself.”

“Touch their soul, you mean?” I asked softly.  

“I mean invade it on their worst day. Hell, their last day.”

The silver pouch sat between us radiating ugly endings like an exposed nuclear core.

I ignored it, pushed through. “Seven victims, Loi. Seven. Each one sliced , chopped, and arranged like a meat bouquet.”

“And the ever-vigilant NKPD has no leads. Nothing?”

“Would I be asking you for that if there was?”

“So no DNA?” she scoffed. “I find that hard to believe.”

“They’ve lifted a metric shitload of ambient, traces but nothing substantial around the bodies. I told you whoever is doing this is extremely careful.”

“What about video?” She countered. “We live in a surveillance state, for God’s sake. Big Brother and Big Sister are watching. Between the state security net and social media, the whole world’s gone Panopticon.”

“The future is here, it’s still not evenly distributed, Loi. You know that. That’s why you’re still down here. Go two blocks off Shao-Bei Street, public security is spotty at best. This is a dark district. Thirty-plus thousand people per square kilometer, ninety percent day laborers, bottom rung service workers, and their families. Hell, a quarter of them aren’t even Chipped. Extending the public security net for a bunch of immigrants and refugees isn’t high on the Council’s budget. So long as the Shao-Bei shoppers are unmolested, the city only cares if there’s a goddamn riot.”

She looked away at that. I caught myself, suddenly grateful for what she didn’t point out.

She cleared her throat. The awkwardness dissolved. I took a deep breath and continued. “Look… the bodies were all found in dead zones. This is someone who knows this district, knows how and where to hide. A predator. I have to stop them or more people are going to get carved into anatomy displays. To do that, I need to step outside the lines.”

I nodded at the pouch. “Show me how this works. Please.”

Loi clenched her teeth. Stared at the pouch. Then at me. “If you die, don’t come crying to me,” she said finally.

She tipped the silvery sack and slid its contents on the counter; a small, gray box with a stubby antenna and an LED display, and a crimson flash stick. Both had ‘Fishing Gear’ written on them in Chinese.

Loi picked up the box. “WiFi extender. Very short range. Turn it on and you have an ultra-secure wireless network within a 3 meter radius.” The flash stick. “Go-to-prison-for-the-rest-of your-life splice-ware. Slot it in the extender’s USB and let it run. You need the target’s PIP, but Personal Internet Protocols are synced to the individual and heavily encrypted for a reason. This will cut through that for a limited time. PIP encryption changes at random intervals as part of the security, so whatever you’re doing, you need to do fast.”

She set the flash stick down with a snap and scowled at me. “And don’t lose your mind or have a hemorrhagic stroke while you’re at it.”

“I’ll do my best.”

“You’re light years away from your best, messing with this.”

I couldn’t disagree.

I put the box and flash stick back in the pouch, put the pouch in my jacket pocket. “What else? There’s always something else.”

Concern flitted across her face like the shadow of a sparrow in flight. She tamped down on it and turned back to the prosthetic hand. “Neural chips run off bio-electricity. The circuitry starts to fragment and degrade once a person dies. I have no idea what you’re going to find or what condition it’ll be in when you do. If you’re lucky, there will be nothing left and you can apply your idiocy to regular police work.”

“Thanks,” I said.

She sucked her teeth, yanked the cloth off the hand and went back to work. “Just bring that back to me when you’re done, understand?”

“I will.”

She waved one hand again without looking my way. The lights brightened and the door unlocked. “You better, Zek.”

I walked outside. It was nearly two a.m. The smell of street food sat heavy on the cool night air. The shift-change crowds were gone and the traffic noise was subdued. If I looked up and squinted, the warning lights winking on the underside of the Terrace could almost pass for stars.

Late as it was, pouch weighing in my jacket pocket, I felt lighter somehow. Something I hadn’t felt in weeks. Like hope.

My stomach rumbled and I made a beeline for the nearest food stall.

I was halfway there when a NKPD alert bloomed in my mind: another body. Dissected. Arranged.

Victim eight had been found.

***

To Be Continued

Cyberpunk Detective 5a

a thing in progress

5. OUTSIDE THE LINES (part 1)

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.”

“Hilarious.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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.”

“Even worse.”

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.

***

end of 5a. TBC