Authors: Niall Teasdale
Tags: #Police Procedural, #robot, #Detective, #Science Fiction, #cybernetics, #serial killer, #sci-fi, #action, #fox meridian
A Fox Meridian Novel
By Niall Teasdale
Copyright 2015 Niall Teasdale
Amazon Kindle Edition
Part One: Memories
New York Metro, 4
Fox Meridian stepped out of her shower and looked across at the bed with its single, red-haired occupant. Marie Shaftsbury had been there for five mornings now and Fox had to admit that they had not been unpleasant ones. Waking up beside a lover was not an experience Fox had had that often and, from what Marie had said, the same was true of her. For Fox, there had been no one special enough before Pieter, and then he had died and there had been no one since. Thinking about it, since Pieter, Fox had kept away from emotional attachment, even if there had been some stress relief. Marie was, she thought, more than just stress relief.
‘I’m awake,’ Marie mumbled, proving that she was not asleep, but that was about as good as it got.
‘Stay in bed, if you want,’ Fox replied. ‘I’ve got a meeting. I’ll be on telepresence for a while.’ She pulled open a drawer and took out one of the bodysuits she favoured, in purple as usual.
‘No… I’ll get up and eat. I’ve got a coaching session at ten.’
Fox pulled on her suit. ‘Okay, coffee will be waiting.’ Then she padded out, closing her suit as she went, to find Kit waiting beside the coffee machine.
The fox-girl AI avatar was dressed in her usual white bodice and short, white skirt, and her white, high-heeled knee-high boots. She looked as though she was planning to hand over a mug of coffee, but she was, of course, unable to do so since she was nothing but a virtual image in Fox’s brain. ‘I have completed my research on the Randall case,’ Kit said brightly. ‘Perhaps we could examine it after your meeting?’
Pouring out coffee, Fox gave a nod. ‘Okay. Did you find many more cases?’
‘A few, yes.’ Fox raised an eyebrow at the statement. ‘I found six murders which appear to fit the same pattern,’ Kit clarified.
‘And NAPA didn’t notice? Never mind. Keep it for after this meeting or I’ll be puzzling over it instead of trying to understand budgets.’
‘Mister Eaves has initiated the conference viron.’
‘Yeah, that’s Garth, always early.’ Fox downed half her mug of coffee, refilled it, and then headed for the sofa in front of the window. ‘Put me in, usual configuration, and put me in a suit.’
As she sat down, the ‘usual configuration’ appeared in front of her. The conference room table was there, if in a rather ghostly form, and she could see Garth Eaves sitting at the head of it, on her right. He was in a suit: grey and high-collared since that was the fashion at the moment. Across and to the left, Alice Vaughn was arranging herself. She had elected to wear pale blue today, one of her many practical, smart blouses. Ryan Jarvis appeared directly opposite Fox after a couple of seconds, also in a high-collared suit, though his was black. Fox was not entirely sure why they all bothered: it was quite possible that all of them were not properly dressed in reality and they all knew it.
‘Morning everyone,’ Eaves began. There was a rumble of greeting in reply.
‘You know,’ Fox said, ‘you guys decided to make this meeting happen nine hundred hours Eastern. I don’t mind pushing it to ten, or later.’
‘I’m up at eight anyway,’ Eaves replied, ‘and Alice is probably naked in bed still.’
Vaughn flushed. ‘I am not. I am also never going to live that joke down, am I?’ She had joked that she liked taking meetings from home in her bra and panties. Or she had said it was a joke, but Fox was fairly sure Eaves was not far wrong.
‘Probably not,’ Eaves went on, ‘but we’ll keep the meeting at this time for now and see where it goes. Alice, progress reports?’
‘Nothing new to report. We have seven new buildings to survey in the Manhattan Conservation District. Ryan has been handling most of that. Facilities management is secondary to security there.’
‘Your fault,’ Jarvis said, pointing at Fox. ‘Rounding up Deedle like that pushed several block owners into reconsidering their current contracts. We’ve had… seventeen requests from private homes too.’
‘I just worked out what to watch for,’ Fox replied. ‘Your guys jumped on him when the alarm triggered
responded before he could do anything serious to Tailor. So you’re going to have to share the blame. Is it going to cause logistical problems?’
‘In the MCD, no. You’re close by if they need anyone to investigate something. If these people talk to friends in other metros, then we could have issues.’
‘We need to get that investigation assistance project producing,’ Eaves said. ‘We need these AIs and gadgets that you thought up, Fox.’
‘Well,’ Fox said, leaning back and sighing, ‘turns out that Jackson had people working on Pythia for the last year or so, expecting to need something like that sooner or later. He’s handed development of Pythia Light to Terri and he’s spearheading the robotics development. He was muttering a lot about rapid prototyping and… Alice, how
the work on Sam’s place coming along?’
‘Uh’ – Vaughn’s eyes flicked off to the right while she checked something – ‘I got an initial assessment report through on Wednesday evening which is projecting completion on the eleventh, but that was assuming there were no issues with the new fabricator.’
‘I think Jackson wants to make use of that to run overnight builds.’
‘Playing with his new toy?’ Eaves suggested.
Fox grinned. ‘I don’t think he can wait.’
‘Sooner the better. The other thing I wanted to bring up today is the political rumour mill. Word is that the vote on private policing outside the metro areas may be pushed through as early as the first week in August. If it happens then, and it’s passed, we’re going to be looking at a very busy year or so while the details are ironed out and people decide what they want to do about their security.’
‘It’s going to take time to set up the processes.’
‘Some, but a lot of it is already in place. NAPA will need to set up more oversight, rules will need to be drafted and approved, but a lot of that is in place thanks to the existing arrangements. And a lot of people are going to start making arrangements early. That’s especially true of the ones planning to go it solo and set up their own police force, and those groups may be open to training. Ryan, put some resource into a training team for security units. Fox, you may want to do the same for basic detective work.’
Fox shook her head. ‘If this goes through, it’s going to be a disaster.’
‘Officially, MarTech is still against this form of policing. Unofficially, we still think people out there are going to be dumb enough to vote for it.’
‘So if we
want a disaster,’ Jarvis said, ‘we’d better be ready to help stop one.’
Given some warning, Fox knew more or less what to expect, but the sheer mass of data Kit had on display in the virtual murder room was… ‘Oh, wow… That’s a lot of crosslinks.’
‘That,’ Kit said, ‘is only first-degree connections and anything more indirect required to show how I found the case. I never had to go further than a third level of indirection, and all of the links come from LifeWeb.’
Fox scanned around her. The room was a dark, essentially featureless void designed not to distract from the data being displayed. The data was, largely, people: each node in the network of fine filaments of light was a person who had something to do with one of the six victims. A few of the nodes were non-personal entities, usually companies. That had been the case far more often when they had been mapping out Deedle’s victims. Here it all seemed to be personal.
Six people, all of them dead. Four women, two men. Ages ranging from twenty-one to thirty-six. All of them were attractive and looked fit, but that was not exactly an uncommon trait now, and they all seemed to fit within a socio-economic bracket that could afford bodysculpt work. There were, Fox noted, very few connections between them. None of them had known any of the others, but a couple had acquaintances in common. There was no one person connecting them all, however, and Kit had had to dig to locate some of the murders.
‘How did you find them all?’ Fox asked as she turned to the first of them and pulled open the autopsy data.
‘Comments on LifeWeb memorial pages for the most part. Someone would suggest that the death sounded similar to another they had heard about. I would follow that connection and find a case, and then request the details. It seems that NAPA
suggest a possible connection between the deaths, but it was never made public and it was not noticed until the fifth victim’s body turned up. That was in June twenty fifty-eight, about three months after the fourth. Number six was in September, and then the murders stopped. The pattern suggested that the killer preferred to avoid the winter months, but when there had been nothing by August fifty-nine, and with no leads on who the killer was, the entire case was declared inactive.’
‘So our killer vanishes. Dead or locked up for something else? Are all the autopsies like Patricia Randall’s?’ The first of the victims, Patricia Randall, had been running in Central Park when she had apparently been kidnapped, taken somewhere, and tortured to death before her body was dumped in the Hell’s Kitchen area of the MCD. The autopsy read like something about a Medieval Inquisition victim, except that Patricia had been raped at least once which Fox was moderately sure the Inquisition had not been allowed to do. But there were burns from hot wax, metal objects, and naked flame, all of her fingers had been broken, puncture wounds from wide needles had decorated her body, her jaw had been dislocated and fractured, and there were bruises across much of her body. Cause of death had been drowning: Patricia Randall had drowned in her own blood.
‘The lists of injuries vary a little,’ Kit said. ‘It seems as though the ones who lasted longest had the worst injuries. Presumably because the killer was able to use more imagination in creating them. All of them were sexually assaulted, and all of them were badly beaten. The ME in the last two cases reviewed the sequence of injuries and suggested that the killer obtained or manufactured new devices over time, some of which appeared to be based on medieval torture equipment. He suggests that one such device, a “choke pear” or “pear of anguish,” was used on Miss Randall and resulted in the dislocation of her jaw.’
Fox nodded, frowning. ‘And then they just stop… Okay. Step one, I’m going to sit down and go through all of the reports. You are going to put through a request to NAPA for a list of criminals caught and locked up between September sixth twenty fifty-eight and the end of May twenty fifty-nine. Tell them you want violent crimes and anyone with a psychological profile suggesting psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies.’
‘I will send off the request right away. What is step two?’
‘Step two is… Our killer didn’t stop, he just moved somewhere else. So if we can’t find a likely target in prison, you’re going to be mining LifeWeb again looking for similar murders in other countries.’
Marie stumbled in through the apartment door, wandered across to the sofa, and then fell, face first, over the end of it to lie there, unmoving, with her booted shins hanging over the edge. The boots were kind of like old Roman sandals, a lot of straps and with barely any heel, but the Romans had not had access to neon yellow plastic. The tight micro-skirt and boob tube, both in a similar shining lemon colour, were also fairly typical of Marie, and Fox could not entirely blame her for the minimal clothing.
‘Hot out?’ Fox asked.
‘Like a fucking sauna,’ Marie replied, the words somewhat muffled by the seat cushions. ‘And two hours of pulling faces doesn’t help. I think my face muscles are frozen.’
Marie hauled herself laboriously into a sitting position. ‘Facial expression exercises. You know… “Show me fear! Show me surprise! Show me anger!”’
‘Show me what it feels like to have your nuts rammed up your nose?’
‘After a couple of hours, I almost did say that, but I’m
to be tortured like this and it is doing me good. I’m feeling more confident.’
‘Uh-huh. You’d have to be to go out in an outfit like that.’
Marie looked down at herself. ‘I’ve seen you in things–’
‘On the day I wear yellow bright enough to blind people at a light second, I will expect someone to shoot me.’
‘Okay, yeah, I do dress a little more brightly than you do. But I’ve seen you in some skimpy outfits. Especially this last week.’
Fox sniffed. The weather had put on a sudden spirt toward the searing. There had been a few warnings on the weather feeds suggesting the possibility of tornados heading into the Kansas Belt, maybe Virginia and West region too. Chicago–Detroit metro had been put on alert, and the meteorologists were muttering dark things about the Atlantic storm season this year. ‘I don’t have a problem with skimpy, where appropriate. And the heat outside is making it appropriate.’