Posted tagged ‘murder’

As promised, the first chapter of my novel, Schism.

May 28, 2010

Without further ado or fanfare, chapter one of Schism.

1

Paul watched from the oily street as the saccharine colored lights from ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars bounded over the dank, pulsing scene of the accident. Unlike the other officers, the hood of his blue mackintosh lay between his scapulae, exposing him to the acidic rain that pounded down from the muggy September night. Later, he expected to find his bristle-short blond hair brittle as spun glass, poking out of an irritated scalp. Stepping onto the sidewalk over a clogged gutter, he let two paramedics rush by him. He watched as they picked up a wet, limp body from the gritty cement and laid it on a stretcher. One covered the corpse with a blanket that bloomed red in several places while another fastened it with orange straps. They had a half dozen more to pack away before they could be done. Paul wondered what those people were thinking before the car had careened into them. It was too bad that the last thing that the world had impressed upon their minds was the crumbling remains of Soundview, New York.

Off to the side, a circle of wet, bedraggled people Paul assumed to be the tenants of the darkened building had formed around a police officer who had her hands up in a placating gesture that was having no effect on their clamor. Hopefully the police woman would be able to cull one valuable piece of information from all the noise. Paul wasn’t optimistic though, as under normal conditions there was a culture of reticence and distrust of police. Especially when a potential murder was involved.

An officer with crossed arms over a barrel chest stood on the stoop. Paul looked at him a moment, then past him. Either the car that had plowed into the building or the geomagnetic storm had knocked out power to it because the electricity for the rest of the North East had been up for half an hour. Both occurrences had probably contributed to the decrepit apartment’s further degradation. A lighting tripod had been set up in the narrow foyer, silhouetting the forensic techs walking back and forth, going through different motions.

Paul looked at the car as he walked parallel to it. The roof had puckered right down the middle under a chunk of bricks. Smeared across the driver’s door, streaks of coagulated blood shone blackly against the white light that flooded the area from more of the squat tripods. A spindle of rebar needled through the windshield in over a dozen places, making it droop like moth eaten cloth.

“Detective Mardel,” the hulking policeman on the stoop shouted.

“Yeah.”

“They’re waiting upstairs. Third floor.”

“They told me in the message,” Paul grunted and moved into the building.

The foyer smelled of cigarettes and stale air. Breathing in, he could taste dust collecting in the back of his mouth, making him salivate so his tongue wouldn’t stick to his palate. Blinding white light from the tripod tore at his eyes and he had to lift a hand in defense against the glare. A chrome glint brought Paul’s attention to a pile of cheap furniture that had been tipped and thrown against the wall. Chairs, an end table, and a rotten couch engaged in an inanimate orgy. Blobs of foam pushed out of torn imitation leather like the innards of a bloated, dead animal. Paul wondered if this had been left here since the flood riots. He shook his head slowly.

The forensic techs in here were dressed in blue rain slickers similar to those worn by the cops, but they wore blue surgical masks that obscured even more of their faces. They were a back-water collection of techs who didn’t qualify to serve in any of the more lucrative departments Acropolis Forensics provided services for so they sent them there. One of the blue humanoids emerged from a doorway to Paul’s right, trailing the smell of concrete dust. Before the door had clanged shut, Paul managed to catch just a sliver of linoleum floor littered with gray debris and the crushed front end of the car jutting awkwardly into the building. Paul turned away and found the stairs that led up to the reason he was called.

#

Paul stopped in front of an open doorway where a blue form knelt, peeling a metallic strip from the mottled door knob. The figure turned its nondescript face up to Paul and nodded, then went back to work. It must have sent out a ping through the Grid for his identification. Whoever was leading this team would find him.

Please don’t let Darmin be on this, he begged to the emptiness in his head while he slid past the figure and into the small apartment. Before entering the room, Paul unbuttoned the mackintosh, letting it hang open over the rumpled white shirt and coat that sagged around his thin frame.

The apartment was sparse; it could have been almost ascetic had it not been for the clutter that was piled in lopsided mounds around the room. The kitchen was a scrap yard of containers: Mexican, Chinese, burger joints. Some blue person sorted through the mess, handling each slimy container with pinched fingertips despite the gloves. In a cramped bathroom, two blue figures jostled back and forth, trying to maneuver. When one would crouch, the other would stand and vice versa, like pistons. And then, in a chair by the door to the bedroom, like a corrupted nucleus surrounded by scampering blue electrons, was the corpse.

The head hung over the back of the swivel chair, letting auburn hair fall back from a brown, pock marked forehead in which dull green eyes stared out past Paul’s shoulder. A drying trail of vomit extended from the corner of his mouth. One of the corpse’s arms was slung over the back of the chair, its wrist bent with its fingers splayed. Paul guessed that he might have been around mid to late twenties and, judging by the apartment, was at most barely bobbing above poverty line.

“Detective Mardel,” a muffled voice said from beside him. He turned and recognized the eyes at once though the rest of the face was covered in a surgical mask. They were small little beads that squinted and opened like a valve of some kind.

“Darmin. So, what have you got?”

“His name’s Thomas Drole. Funny situation he got himself into, huh?” Darmin chuckled with a sound that should have belonged to a sticking ignition.

Paul suppressed a wince at the attempt at humor and continued. “Who found him?”

“Pretty much anyone who crossed this floor. From what we’ve heard so far, the car hit the building so hard it knocked some doors open and whata-ya know, behind door number three was our corpse.”

“I take it there are no witness statements.”

“Try getting anything out of these assholes. That’s why I stuck the rookie on it. Give her a sense of who she’s protecting and serving.”

“Have a cause of death?”

“Can’t say yet,” Darmin said. “No external wounds of any kind. No detectable trauma. In fact, the rat was still wired into his external memory console.” Paul checked each aspect of the scene as Darmin flung it out.

“Nice array isn’t it?” Paul asked, moving closer to examine the make.

“Bet your ass. Don’t know who he had to service to get it but, man! I wouldn’t think they’d even give someone like him an advertisement pay-off system.”

Paul blew air from between pursed lips. “It’s an Mnemos Legacy model. You’d be serving ad-space for the rest of your life to pay off this kind of hardware.” Paul became self-conscious of the advertisements others saw when their systems pinged him. Having a whole network of artificial nerves and organic computing modules running through his body wasn’t so bad but having everyone know that his cells had been cultured, converted into processing units, then implanted back into him for a price he couldn’t pay was an embarrassment that nagged him.

“Well, we’ll turn it on once we get it back to the lab so we’ll find out how deep our little coffin dweller was in,” he heard Darmin say in an ebullient voice. “It’s gotta be stolen,” he added.

Paul looked at the flat black machine lying on the rough table surface. It was a simple plastic rectangle. Along the front of it little inert LEDs caught the hazy light of the room and reflected it back in sharp points. A power button was set into the middle of the face-plate, its unlit symbol a dark blotch. The transdermal electrodes ran from a port on the far side of the machine and terminated in two adhesive knobs that still clung to the cooling skin of what used to be Thomas Drole.

“Total space case I bet you,” the exasperating voice said. “When we pump his guts, we’ll find a fiesta of colors from some street corner pharmacy. He probably stumbled on a bad combo and didn’t know enough to pull out of whatever he was doing.”

Maybe, Paul thought. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time he’d seen a Grid-skid mixing and matching his pills like a game of Russian Roulette, spin the cylinder, and hit a live round while completely absorbed in another world.

“He’s too young for this kind of shit,” Paul mumbled.

“Huh?” Darmin blurted.

“Nothing. Do you have a possible time of death?”

A crash of broken glass shot through the room from the kitchen, wiping the first part of what Darmin said away with it. “-during the geomagnetic storm.”

Paul turned and stopped at the threshold that opened into the shallow bedroom.

“We’ve found mostly data slides in there. Some hacked storage systems, illegal software. Porn. Typical stuff.”

Another faceless blue forensic technician had stacked orange, plastic squares on the rumpled, slightly yellow and stiff sheets of the bed. In another pile, several obsolete hard drives were laid out. The officer was picking up one slide at a time and passing them under a dark, flat wand that led down through a thick cord to a bulky case that stood on the floor. Paul wondered how much longer the data collector would be functioning. It had been dumped on them by its producer, SpecTools, after they had come out with a new, more dependable model that didn’t have the bad habit of destroying the original copies.

He walked back, feeling Darmin’s eyes on him as he resumed his place before the corpse. There was something eery about the way it looked back at him while connected to its exterior memory unit. The thought of what he was doing before he’d died tantalized Paul. People don’t just die. There was always something unfinished. There was always that one thing that they were going to do, about to do. What was Thomas going to do before he died? What was he looking for?

Paul placed his hands in the pockets of his coat and rocked back on his heels, letting himself get lost in thoughts as they popped up. Before he could get far, he remembered the company he was in. He straightened up and turned, noting how the air tasted particularly sour around where Darmin stood. He could picture the smirk that worked Darmin’s pale lips beneath the round mask, the myopic amusement Darmin must find in his small cues and quirks.

“How soon will you be loading your findings onto the network?” Paul said, staring at Darmin who had picked up a tattered gaming magazine and was thumbing through the pages. Darmin didn’t stir.”When will I be getting the data?” Paul said, louder.

The polished marbles of Darmin’s eyes slid over and locked onto Paul. The small gaze seemed to snap a photo with a little blink, then refocus and meander around the room. “I think we’re done here.” He clapped his gloved hands. When they didn’t produce the crisp and authoritative sound he desired, he pulled them off and tried again. This time the sound sparked and the look-alikes stopped their work. “Alright everybody,” he shouted, his cheeks pulling up the straps that held the mask to his face, “pack it up. The medics will pack the stiff.” Again, the corrosive laugh. Little nervous giggles emerged from here and there around the room but they never meshed.

“Great to have you stop by!” Paul heard as he strode to the exit. He found a certain measure of comfort in being alone in the darkened hall, away from that room and its business. The power still hadn’t been turned back on and maybe never would. He splayed his fingers, feeling the tendons tense, pull at their moorings. On either side of him, doors stood open into dark rooms where things stood in charcoal outlines. It would probably cost too much to fix whatever had been burned or broken. He could picture these rooms six months down the line, the torn wallpaper hanging like charred skin from a body caught in a fire. Rats would scurry around squatters picking through whatever the former tenants had forgotten to take with them.

#

The transdermals made the connection to the output pad under the skin of Paul’s left forearm. His unique, assigned genetic key signed him into the department’s secure network. His onboard biocircuitry system sent a series of electrical pulses to the occipital lobe of his brain, activating several pathways. Form came first, atavistic, and crude. As the program worked in more detail, differentiated solid shapes into carved outlines, color became noticeable. It was like a colony of algae taped in time-lapse, a spreading pale blue and yellow that covered the three-dimensional image of the NYPD shield then fell away into a nimbus white expanse.

When the entire display had loaded, a small, low-res rendering of the NYPD shield spun at the top of his vision. A command box hung in the bottom right corner of his visual field. When Paul looked down, the images of the department network were superimposed over a small beige external network router surrounded by inlaid, metallic trim that was beginning to peel away. The silver lining reflected a blurred form that he knew to be himself. He touched around his eyes, prodding the puffy bags that had filled with the exhaustion of too many nights fighting sleep and its horrid visions that re-surged when his conscious defenses shut down. A small interactive ticker floated above the external modem, advertising the page for Klein Systems. From a column of large, blocky icons that trailed down the left side of his vision, Paul selected the Department Section list, dialing straight into the forensics system. A short list of cases he’d worked on appeared in gray. At the top, a pulsing green dot marked the case he’d just been logged into. He opened the link and a loading screen popped up.

The chair creaked when Paul sat back, huffing at the delay. In the interim time though, he thought about the apartment. He scratched his head, trying to assuage the burning in his scalp. His thoughts didn’t get far into the strangeness of the scene he’d walked into when the optic output showed a series of files. He selected the report file detailing collected electronic evidence. There had been the data slides and hard drives from the bedroom and the Mnemos and onboard internal circuitry from the body in the main room. He read through the list of items collected.

Fourteen data slides (150 Terabytes each) Location: Bedroom

Three rotational hard drives (2: 1 Terbyte; 1: 10 Terabytes) Location: Bedroom

Klein Systems Direct Track Biocomputer Array

Then nothing. Paul furrowed his brow. Darmin hadn’t cataloged the new Mnemos memory system that had been found with the corpse. He exhaled through his nostrils and leaned against the chipped edge of the composite board desk. At least there was nothing logged from the kitchen. The team’s sloppiness and Darmin’s hasty retreat played in Paul’s favor. Darmin could only notice what he could pick at, what he could exploit. He’d never be able to pick up on the way those green eyes stared back towards the kitchen. There was something Thomas was going for, a last unfinished to-do.

For now, all Paul could do was speculate what it was that he had been going for. Could be that Darmin was right, that he took a bad combo and realized what was happening. Maybe he had been rushing to his stash, trying to piece together what he’d taken so he could figure out how much shit he was in. Could be something else. He needed to get back to the scene. Only this time the leech and his legion of blue blobs wouldn’t be looking over his shoulder everywhere he went.

In the meantime, he had to get in touch with Darmin and find out why the rest of the evidence hadn’t been entered into the system. The windows in his head imploded out of existence, replaced again by the white department background and clunky items. The display faded, just a slight dimming in the contrast, like a cloud passing in front of the sun. Paul blinked and turned his eyes upwards, holding his breath. The bars of bare fluorescents that hung from the ceiling held a steady illumination. Some of them had strands of blue ribbon twisting within them, others only blinked fitfully. Then, in unison, they faded, rebounded, and winked out.

Again, the chair protested as he threw his back against the hard foam. Bright letters announced that the network connection had been lost. The building had been retrofitted with a patchwork electrical system and frighteningly, much of the system was from the turn of the century. It was a miracle that there wasn’t a power failure every other day but it looked like the evening’s geomagnetic storm had pushed the system beyond its limitations.

Several storms usually struck a week now. Paul wasn’t sure exactly how it worked, but he’d heard that somehow the upper atmosphere was weakening, letting too much radiation from the sun in. The end result were changes in the magnetic pulse of the Earth that interrupted everything from communications to vast swaths of the electric grid. There was nothing that could be done about it so instead a centralized system for sending an alert when one of these outbursts was imminent was created. Manhattan’s system would have triggered warning lights and started flashing countdowns on every machine connected to the Grid, letting everyone know that they risked the safety of anything still drawing power when the pulse hit them. The driver of the car that had plowed into the building probably never got an instruction package to warn the driver that time was running out. With no power steering or Sonar Assist, momentum just let the chips fall where they would, even if that was a busy sidewalk or the side of a building.

The Acropolis labs were just across the Castle Hill border, in the Story Avenue industrial park. Acropolis Forensics was a for-profit splinter of the FBI labs that had gotten popular when it came to outsourcing the collection and analysis of evidence. The clock in the left corner of his vision told him that it was close to nine. The traffic would be light which meant he could be there in maybe under an hour. If he didn’t find the Mnemos in the evidence locker, Paul would have to ride through another case that got filed under Unsolved. Another death would disappear into the developing mass grave of Soundview with no explanation for it. He looked up at a window near the ceiling. Glass shards of rain clung to the other side of the pane but it didn’t look like any more would be joining them.

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Creativity throughout the web.

May 28, 2010

Here’s a really interesting short film I bumped into while browsing the web that shows just how much great stuff is lurking out there. The imagery is the stuff of scifi dreams and the CGI, while not Avatar, shows a lot of work and craftsmanship. But it’s the simple plot that deals ultimately with humanity and machinery and the possibility of encoding human cognition in a synthetic form that’s really of interest. While it raises more questions than it answers, give it a view and post what you think.

Wednesday it comes to an end.

March 21, 2010

On Wednesday, I will have finally completed my novel. I don’t mean that I will have reached the end of the novel, put the last word down, but that I will have crested the hill of my fourth revision or so. I am very excited since this means that the final step will take me over the threshold of the crafting stage to the sales stage. To be honest, I am quite nervous. I’m still working on it, cutting, rewriting, and trying to make sure every single plot point matches and makes sense. As far as I can tell, my work is coming to an end, though as the creator of the story I will never be able to look at it as complete. There will always be things that I will think could be better or be improved. It will never be perfect in my eyes, but if I don’t stop myself then I’ll never get to the next stage in which I try to send it into the world. So, once I add in the final revision on Wednesday, expect a celebratory post which will probably include fond reminiscences of writing this thing and final stats such as page count and word count. Until, then readers, keep writing and enjoy the process.

Violence in fiction.

February 28, 2010

Categoricals are meant to be broken

My novel Schism takes a look at violence and its consequences. Whether it be in the form of warfare or genocide, my novel does everything possible to show violence as something grotesque and that can only lead to more violence. Think Orestes. Blood only brings more blood, creating a pattern of brutality that, like a ripple in a pond, only grows. Yet, I can’t deny that watching something like Terminator 2 isn’t fun or watching District 9 where people get turned into so much soup (trust me if you haven’t seen it, people get liquified a lot! Gooey-gooey!) doesn’t give me a rush. Now, with the idea I have for my next writing project, my anit-violence stance has gotten switched right around. If I’m going to do right by this new idea, set in a far-future earth, I’m going to have to have violence, brutality, and some plain old crazy stuff. Yet, realizing this makes both my stance against against violence and my new very violent novel sit uneasily in my mind. So I wonder, as a writer, as a creator of art, what is my responsibility?

I don’t think I can abide by Oscar Wilde’s stance that we make, “art for art’s sake.” Art, because of its ability to interact with us on the symbolic level, carries ethical weight that we can’t just drop off or deny. It goes back to the Plato’s debate of how art affects us. Actually, Plato didn’t really like art all that much but never mind him. I feel that art can have a profound affect on the way people see and interpret the world. If this is the case, then we as writers should try to be a positive force. “But isn’t some reading just for entertainment?” ABSOLUTELY YES! In fact, I think first and foremost, we’re here to entertain you however, by entertaining you with characters you like and plots you get hooked into, we’re sort creating material that can influence your thoughts. Humans are excellent copiers. We learn many things through mimicry and if there’s a character you really like who shoots first and then asks how many more people need killing later, that sets up a model that validates the violence since the character is just so darn charismatic. Case in point: Hannibal Lecter. He’s urbane, witty, brilliant, and a psychopathic killer. However, he commands our attention and to a degree earns our admiration. Do a single one of us feel such things for Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacey? No, but through the medium of art, with just the right character traits, someone who we would usually scream to be executed becomes a character we love to watch every time he’s on screen.

So, the question is, how do we balance being entertaining while still trying to do something positive? I think that this comes in the themes we choose to incorporate in our stories. If we have a book with tons of violence with a theme that says violence is always the best option, then we are getting a double dose message. Violence is both at the surface and below, reinforcing itself as it goes. However, one could have plenty of violence and still have a humanist message beneath it while using violence and action as a way to entertain and grip the reader in suspense. I think that it comes down to rejecting categorical ways of thinking. Violence can serve a purpose in literature. In a story that calls for action, it must be delivered. This doesn’t mean that the story endorses violence, only that the plot is about a violent scenario. Depending on how it’s used and portrayed, a violent story be a wonderful demonstration and defense of more useful, less destructive ways of dealing with each other.

First Sample of My Novel: Schism

February 23, 2010

Well, here it is, the first bite-sized bit of my novel. Actually, what I’m posting is two versions of the first half of the first chapter. The first excerpt is from an earlier version while the second is the most current, though not necessarily final, version (There’s always room for more revision and hopefully with your feedback it can be made even better.). This will allow you to see a bit of the evolution of a section and what gets taken out or put in. More of these will come so hopefully this will be enough to tantalize you.

Before getting to the actual novel, I’ll give you a basic overview of what it’s about. Set in the future at an unspecified date, the Earth is in the midst of upheaval. Depleted resources, drought, famine, floods, and violent geomagnetic storms have disrupted life across the globe and led to a growing wave of destruction. Yet technology has surged forward. Implantable organic computers have replaced external devices, feeding directly into a person’s brain. The real and the digital become fused together. Enter Detective Paul Mardel of Soundview Police Department. He finds himself on a case that leads him to a hacker with a past she’d rather forget and a plot spanning the entire net with much more at stake.

So with out further ado, here is the earlier version and newest version of my novel.

Unedited Version 1

Paul watched the scene from beyond the protection of the shelter. Unlike the others, the hood of his blue mackintosh lay between his scapulae, exposing him to the low-pH rain pounded down from a bleak September night. Later, he expected to find his blond hair brittle, spun glass poking out of an irritated scalp. Didn’t matter. He was far more uncomfortable with it on. He couldn’t stand to have anything on his head. He walked over to the unfolding scene, his blue eyes scanning. Scanning. Another mess of bodies was laid out before him. He wondered what they were thinking before the car had careened into them. Did they have families? Friends? Who were they leaving behind? Paul shook his head and took in the way the scene was being handled. The officers were milling about, stepping over markers and debris but overall doing a whole lot of nothing else. The crew must have already done the three-dimensional imaging. Or maybe they had just skipped it altogether. Wouldn’t be the first time they had cut corners. It was Soundview after all.

An officer with crossed arms over a barrel chest stood on the stoop that led into the confines of the building. Paul looked at him a moment, then past him. Either the car or the ionosphere storm had knocked out power for good. Both probably contributed to the decrepit apartment’s further decomposition. But now, a lighting tripod had been set up in narrow foyer, silhouetting more busy shapes, dryer variations of the ones that moved around beneath the canopy.

Paul’s eyes stayed on the car as he walked parallel to it. The roof had puckered like a pair of split, anemic lips, right down the middle. Smeared across the driver’s door, streaks of coagulated blood shone blackly against the white light that flooded the area from more of the squat tripods. Through the spiderweb laced film of the driver side window, Paul spotted something strange. The car appeared totally empty, just a frame encasing nothing. He didn’t dwell on it too long. It was just a weird discrepancy that tickled the back of his mind. Or maybe it was the spare hydrogen ions picking apart his skin.

“You Detective Mardel?”, the hulking blue form on the stoop asked him.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“They wanted to know if you were here.”

“Still some problems in the traffic system,” Paul grunted and crossed into the dank hall.

The foyer smelled of cigarettes and stale air. Breathing in, he could taste dust collecting in the back of his mouth, making him salivate so his tongue didn’t stick to his palate. Blinding white light tore at his eyes and he had to lift a hand in defense against the glare. A chrome glint brought Paul’s attention to a pile of cheap furniture that had been tipped and thrown against the wall. Chairs, an end table, and a rotten couch engaged in an inanimate orgy. Blobs of foam pushed out of torn imitation leather like the innards of a bloated, dead animal. Paul wondered if this had been left here since the flood riots. He shook his head slowly. The figures in here were dressed in similar blue rain slickers, but they wore blue surgical masks that obscured even more of their faces. They were a ragtag knock off of better funded crime scene investigation units. One of the blue humanoids emerged from a doorway to Paul’s right, trailing the smell of concrete. Before the door had clanged shut, he managed to catch just a sliver of linoleum floor littered with gray debris and the crushed front end of the car jutting awkwardly into the building. But this wasn’t what he’d come for. That would be three floors up.

#

Paul stopped in front of the open doorway where a blue form knelt, peeling a metallic strip from the mottled door knob. The figure turned its nondescript face up to Paul and nodded. It must have pinged him for identification then sent it to whoever was leading this team which meant he could just wait for whoever it was to find him. Please don’t let it be Darmin, he begged to the emptiness in his head while he slid past the figure and into the small apartment. It was sparse to say the least; it could have been almost ascetic had it not been for the clutter that had piled in lopsided mounds around the room. The kitchen was a scrap yard of containers: Mexican, Chinese, burger joints. Some blue person sorted through the mess, handling each slimy container with pinched fingertips despite the gloves. In a cramped bathroom, two blue figures jostled back and forth, trying to maneuver. When one would crouch, the other would stand and vice versa, like pistons. And then, in a chair by the door to the bedroom, like a corrupted nucleus surrounded by scampering blue electrons, was the corpse.

The head hung over the back of the swivel chair, letting auburn hair fall back from the pock marked forehead in which dull green eyes stared out past Paul’s shoulder. A drying trail of vomit extended from the corner of his mouth. He guessed that he might have been around mid to late twenties and, judging by the apartment, was at most barely bobbing above poverty line.

“Detective Mardel,” a muffled voice said from beside him. He turned and recognized the eyes at once. They were small little beads that squinted and opened like a valve of some kind, slurping in the world around it like a tick. Right now it was Paul’s tick and all he wanted to do was get the tweezers and yank its blue, skinny little head out of his skin.

“Darmin. So, what have you gotten?”

“His name’s Thomas Drole. Funny situation he got himself into, huh?” Darmin chuckled with a sound that should have belonged to a sticking ignition.

Paul suppressed a wince and continued. “Cause of death?”

“Can’t say yet,” Darmin said, now composed. “No external wounds of any kind. No detectable trauma. In fact, the rat was still wired into his external memory console.” Paul checked each aspect of the scene as Darmin flung it out.

“Nice array isn’t it?” Paul asked, moving closer to examine the make.

“Bet your ass. Don’t know who he had to service to get it but, man! I wouldn’t think they’d even give someone like him an advertisement pay-off system.”

Paul blew air from between pursed lips. “It’s an Mnemos Legacy model I think. You’d be serving ad-space for the rest of your life and probably of your kids’ for that matter.” He became self-conscious of the advertisements others probably saw when their systems pinged him.

“Well, we’ll turn it on once we get it back to the lab so we’ll find out how deep our little coffin dweller was in,” he heard Darmin say in an ebullient voice. “It’s gotta be stolen,” he added.

Paul looked at the flat black machine lying on the rough table surface. It was a simple plastic rectangle. Along the front of it little inert LEDs caught the hazy light of the room and reflected it back in sharp points. A power button was set into the middle of the face-plate, its unlit symbol a dark blotch. The transdermal trodes ran from a port on the far side of the machine and terminated in two adhesive knobs that still clung to the cooling skin of what used to be Thomas Drole.

“Total space case I bet you,” the exasperating voice said. “When we pump his guts, we’ll find a fiesta of colors from some street corner pharmacy. He probably stumbled on a bad combo and didn’t know enough to pull out of whatever he was doing.”

Maybe, Paul thought. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time he’d seen a Grid-skid mixing and matching his pills, spin the cylinder, and hit a live round while completely absorbed in another world.

“What a waste.”

“Huh?” Darmin blurted.

“Nothing. Do you have a possible time of death?”

A crash of broken glass shot through the room from the kitchen, wiping the first part of what Darmin said away with it. “-during the ionic storm.”

Paul turned and stopped at the threshold that opened into the shallow bedroom.

“We’ve found mostly data slides in there. Hacked storage systems, illegal software. Porn. Typical stuff.”

Another blue clone had stacked orange, plastic squares on the rumpled, slightly yellow and stiff sheets of the bed. In another pile, several obsolete hard drives were laid out. The clone was picking up one slide at a time and passing them under a dark, flat wand that led down through a thick cord to a bulky case that stood on the floor next to the clone’s khaki pants legs. He wondered how much longer the data collector would be functioning. It had been dumped on them by its producer, SpecTools, after they had come out with a new, more dependable series that didn’t have the bad habit of destroying the original copies.

He walked back, feeling Darmin’s eyes perforating him as he resumed his place before the corpse. There was something eery about the way it looked back at him while connected to his exterior processors. The thought of what he was doing before he’d died tantalized Paul. People don’t just die it seemed. There was always something unfinished. There was always that one thing that they were going to do, about to do. What was Thomas going to do before he died? What was he looking for?

A sigh emptied Paul’s lungs but he caught himself when he remembered the company he was in. He straightened up and turned, noting how the air tasting particularly sour around where Darmin stood. He could picture the smirk that worked the pale lips beneath the round mask, the myopic amusement Darmin must find in his small cues and quirks.

“How soon will you be loading your findings onto the network?” Paul said, staring past the thin blue tick that had picked up a tattered gaming magazine and was thumbing through the pages. He didn’t stir.”When will I be getting the data?” Paul said, louder.

The polished marbles of Darmin’s eyes slid over and locked onto Paul. The small gaze seemed to snap a photo with a little blink, then refocus and meander around the room. “I think we’re done here.” He clapped his gloved hands. When they didn’t produce the crisp and authoritative sound he desired, he pulled them off and tried again. This time the sound sparked and the clones stopped their work. “Alright everybody,” he shouted, his cheeks pulling up the straps that held the mask to his face, “pack it up. The coroner will pack the stiff.” Again, the corrosive laugh. Little nervous giggles emerged from here and there but they never meshed.

“Great to have you stop by!” Paul heard as he strode to the exit. He found a certain measure of comfort in being alone in the darkened hall, away from that room and its business. The power still hadn’t been turned back on. He splayed his fingers, feeling the tendons tense, pull at their moorings. On either side of him, doors stood open into dark rooms where things stood in charcoal outlines. It would probably cost too much to fix whatever had been burned or broken. He could picture these rooms six months down the line, the torn wallpaper hanging like charred skin from a body caught in a fire. Rats would scurry around squatters picking through whatever the former tenants had forgotten to take with them. The disease of desperation would take another step towards finding Paul.

All the way across the globe and the stone followed him, waiting to be rolled uphill.

Edited Version 2

Paul watched from the oily street as the saccharine colored lights from ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars bounded over the dank, pulsing scene of the accident. Unlike the other officers, the hood of his blue mackintosh lay between his scapulae, exposing him to the acidic rain that pounded down from the muggy September night. Later, he expected to find his bristle-short blond hair brittle as spun glass, poking out of an irritated scalp. Didn’t matter. He was far more uncomfortable with the hood on. Stepping onto the sidewalk over a clogged gutter, he let two paramedics rush by him. He watched as they picked up a wet, limp body from the gritty cement and laid it on a stretcher. One covered the corpse with a blanket that bloomed red in several places while another fastened it with blue straps. They had a half dozen more to pack away before they could be done. Paul wondered what those people were thinking before the car had careened into them. It was too bad that the last thing that the world had impressed upon their minds was the crumbling remains of Soundview, New York.

Off to the side, a circle of wet, bedraggled people Paul assumed to be the tenants of the darkened building had formed around a police officer who had her hands up in a placating gesture that was having no effect on their undulating clamor. Hopefully the police woman would be able to cull out one valuable piece of information from all the noise. Paul wasn’t optimistic though as under normal conditions there was a culture of reticence and distrust of police. Especially when a potential murder was involved.

An officer with crossed arms over a barrel chest stood on the stoop that led into the confines of the building. Paul looked at him a moment, then past him. Either the car that had plowed into it or the geomagnetic storm had knocked out power to the building because the electricity for the rest of the North East had been up for half and hour. Both occurrences had probably contributed to the decrepit apartment’s further degradation. A lighting tripod had been set up in narrow foyer, silhouetting the forensic techs walking back and forth, going through different motions.

Paul’s eyes stayed on the car as he walked parallel to it. The roof had puckered right down the middle under a chunk of bricks. Smeared across the driver’s door, streaks of coagulated blood shone blackly against the white light that flooded the area from more of the squat tripods. Through the broken driver side window, Paul spotted something strange. Instead of car seats, it was filled with a spindle of rebar that needled through the windshield in over a dozen places, making it droop like moth eaten cloth.

“Detective Mardel,” the hulking policeman on the stoop shouted.

“Yeah.”

“They’re waiting upstairs. Third floor.”

“They told me in the message,” Paul grunted and crossed into the building.

The foyer smelled of cigarettes and stale air. Breathing in, he could taste dust collecting in the back of his mouth, making him salivate so his tongue didn’t stick to his palate. Blinding white light from the tripod tore at his eyes and he had to lift a hand in defense against the glare. A chrome glint brought Paul’s attention to a pile of cheap furniture that had been tipped and thrown against the wall. Chairs, an end table, and a rotten couch engaged in an inanimate orgy. Blobs of foam pushed out of torn imitation leather like the innards of a bloated, dead animal. Paul wondered if this had been left here since the flood riots. He shook his head slowly.

The forensic techs in here were dressed in blue rain slickers similar to those worn by the cops, but they wore blue surgical masks that obscured even more of their faces. They were a back-water collection of techs who didn’t qualify to serve in any of the more lucrative departments Acropolis Forensics provided services for so they sent them there. One of the blue humanoids emerged from a doorway to Paul’s right, trailing the smell of concrete dust. Before the door had clanged shut, Paul managed to catch just a sliver of linoleum floor littered with gray debris and the crushed front end of the car jutting awkwardly into the building. Paul turned away and found the stairs that led up to the reason he was called.

#

Paul stopped in front of an open doorway where a blue form knelt, peeling a metallic strip from the mottled door knob. The figure turned its nondescript face up to Paul and nodded then went back to work. It must have sent out a ping through the Grid for his identification then sent it to whoever was leading this team which meant he could just wait for whoever it was to find him.

Please don’t let Darmin be on this, he begged to the emptiness in his head while he slid past the figure and into the small apartment. Before entering the room, Paul unbuttoned the mackintosh, letting it hang open over the rumpled white shirt and coat that sagged around his thin frame.

The apartment was sparse; it could have been almost ascetic had it not been for the clutter that was piled in lopsided mounds around the room. The kitchen was a scrap yard of containers: Mexican, Chinese, burger joints. Some blue person sorted through the mess, handling each slimy container with pinched fingertips despite the gloves. In a cramped bathroom, two blue figures jostled back and forth, trying to maneuver. When one would crouch, the other would stand and vice versa, like pistons. And then, in a chair by the door to the bedroom, like a corrupted nucleus surrounded by scampering blue electrons, was the corpse.

The head hung over the back of the swivel chair, letting auburn hair fall back from a brown, pock marked forehead in which dull green eyes stared out past Paul’s shoulder. A drying trail of vomit extended from the corner of his mouth. One of the corpse’s arms was slung over the back of the chair, its wrist bent with its fingers splayed. Paul guessed that he might have been around mid to late twenties and, judging by the apartment, was at most barely bobbing above poverty line.

“Detective Mardel,” a muffled voice said from beside him. He turned and recognized the eyes at once though the rest of the face was covered in a surgical mask. They were small little beads that squinted and opened like a valve of some kind.

“Darmin. So, what have you got?”

“His name’s Thomas Drole. Funny situation he got himself into, huh?” Darmin chuckled with a sound that should have belonged to a sticking ignition.

Paul suppressed a wince at the attempt at humor and continued. “Who found him?”

“Pretty much anyone who crossed this floor. From what we’ve heard so far, the car hit the building so hard it knocked some doors open and whata-ya know, behind door number three was our corpse.”

“I take it there are no witness statements.”

“Try getting anything out of these assholes. That’s why I stuck the rookie on it. Give her a sense of who she’s protecting and serving.”

“Have a cause of death?”

“Can’t say yet,” Darmin said. “No external wounds of any kind. No detectable trauma. In fact, the rat was still wired into his external memory console.” Paul checked each aspect of the scene as Darmin flung it out.

“Nice array isn’t it?” Paul asked, moving closer to examine the make.

“Bet your ass. Don’t know who he had to service to get it but, man! I wouldn’t think they’d even give someone like him an advertisement pay-off system.”

Paul blew air from between pursed lips. “It’s an Mnemos Legacy model. You’d be serving ad-space for the rest of your life to pay off this kind of hardware.” Paul became self-conscious of the advertisements others saw when their systems pinged him. Having a whole network of artificial nerves and organic computing modules running through his body wasn’t so bad but having everyone know that his cells had been cultured, converted into processing units, then implanted back into him for a price he couldn’t pay was an embarrassment that nagged him.

“Well, we’ll turn it on once we get it back to the lab so we’ll find out how deep our little coffin dweller was in,” he heard Darmin say in an ebullient voice. “It’s gotta be stolen,” he added.

Paul looked at the flat black machine lying on the rough table surface. It was a simple plastic rectangle. Along the front of it little inert LEDs caught the hazy light of the room and reflected it back in sharp points. A power button was set into the middle of the face-plate, its unlit symbol a dark blotch. The transdermal electrodes ran from a port on the far side of the machine and terminated in two adhesive knobs that still clung to the cooling skin of what used to be Thomas Drole.

“Total space case I bet you,” the exasperating voice said. “When we pump his guts, we’ll find a fiesta of colors from some street corner pharmacy. He probably stumbled on a bad combo and didn’t know enough to pull out of whatever he was doing.”

Maybe, Paul thought. It wouldn’t exactly be the first time he’d seen a Grid-skid mixing and matching his pills like a game of Russian Roulette, spin the cylinder, and hit a live round while completely absorbed in another world.

“He’s too young for this kind of shit,” Paul mumbled.

“Huh?” Darmin blurted.

“Nothing. Do you have a possible time of death?”

A crash of broken glass shot through the room from the kitchen, wiping the first part of what Darmin said away with it. “-during the geomagnetic storm.”

Paul turned and stopped at the threshold that opened into the shallow bedroom.

“We’ve found mostly data slides in there. Some hacked storage systems, illegal software. Porn. Typical stuff.”

Another faceless blue forensic technician had stacked orange, plastic squares on the rumpled, slightly yellow and stiff sheets of the bed. In another pile, several obsolete hard drives were laid out. The officer was picking up one slide at a time and passing them under a dark, flat wand that led down through a thick cord to a bulky case that stood on the floor. Paul wondered how much longer the data collector would be functioning. It had been dumped on them by its producer, SpecTools, after they had come out with a new, more dependable model that didn’t have the bad habit of destroying the original copies.

He walked back, feeling Darmin’s eyes on him as he resumed his place before the corpse. There was something eery about the way it looked back at him while connected to his exterior memory unit. The thought of what he was doing before he’d died tantalized Paul. People don’t just die. There was always something unfinished. There was always that one thing that they were going to do, about to do. What was Thomas going to do before he died? What was he looking for?

Paul placed his hands in the pockets of his coat and rocked back on his heels, letting himself get lost in thoughts as they popped up. Before he could get far, he remember the company he was in. He straightened up and turned, noting how the air tasting particularly sour around where Darmin stood. He could picture the smirk that worked Darmin’s pale lips beneath the round mask, the myopic amusement Darmin must find in his small cues and quirks.

“How soon will you be loading your findings onto the network?” Paul said, staring at Darmin who had picked up a tattered gaming magazine and was thumbing through the pages. Darmin didn’t stir.”When will I be getting the data?” Paul said, louder.

The polished marbles of Darmin’s eyes slid over and locked onto Paul. The small gaze seemed to snap a photo with a little blink, then refocus and meander around the room. “I think we’re done here.” He clapped his gloved hands. When they didn’t produce the crisp and authoritative sound he desired, he pulled them off and tried again. This time the sound sparked and the look-alikes stopped their work. “Alright everybody,” he shouted, his cheeks pulling up the straps that held the mask to his face, “pack it up. The medics will pack the stiff.” Again, the corrosive laugh. Little nervous giggles emerged from here and there around the room but they never meshed.

“Great to have you stop by!” Paul heard as he strode to the exit. He found a certain measure of comfort in being alone in the darkened hall, away from that room and its business. The power still hadn’t been turned back on and maybe never would. He splayed his fingers, feeling the tendons tense, pull at their moorings. On either side of him, doors stood open into dark rooms where things stood in charcoal outlines. It would probably cost too much to fix whatever had been burned or broken. He could picture these rooms six months down the line, the torn wallpaper hanging like charred skin from a body caught in a fire. Rats would scurry around squatters picking through whatever the former tenants had forgotten to take with them.