Tuesday, December 23, 2014

After the convergence chapter 1. (Draft)

This is a draft of the first chapter. The other post will actually make it to chapter 2. (Scrivner makes this rather easy, just wish the spell checker worked in Linux).
I'm trying my hand at a hard-boiled detective story in a science-fiction setting. 

There were few intellectual things we humans could do today that the machines couldn’t do better. One of those was dealing with the unexpected or unusual, the outliers. The Dark Lady was one of those. Oh boy was she ever.
My partner Paul Bigelow and I were sitting in my office, watching the traffic flow on the interstate below me when she called. A woman, dressed in black and wearing a veil. It looked good on her, and had the side benefit of making visual recognition difficult. She walked in and gave Paul the glad eye. Paul, always one for extending his family sideways returned it. While they chatted I took the EM scanner, an old-fashioned analog box one some long-dead ham had built to tune his antennas and walked around her. She didn’t flinch as I moved it up and down her shapely body.
“She’s clean. No wireless.” Maybe she’d left her cell at home. Though if she were a real spook she’d be using spread spectrum and we’d miss it with that scanner.
“OK Babe, what’s your problem?”
“There’s this man. I want him followed.”
“Stalkings illegal.” I said. Paul nodded then said, “Unless you need information, but why not ask?”
“The machine? No thanks. Anyway he’s a geek, a real hacker. Knows his way around the net.” She paused, “and outside of it.”
I wondered if we were meeting with a member of the mutual impedance society. In which case Paul and I were in for a few days of intense questioning. That is if we were innocent, the probes would come later if we couldn’t account for ourselves.
“Look Ma’am,” I said, “This man, he’s not wanted or anything. What’s this about?” It was usually money or sex with a woman. Sometimes both.
She smiled at Paul and said, “I can see you’re the sympathetic one.” Paul was moy sympatico as they say, especially if there was a dame involved. He told me, “Alan, leave this one to me. It’s just another divorce case. I’ll get her particulars and find who or what else this geek of hers is screwing.”
I thought for a moment, something about it bothered me. It didn’t bother me enough to make me want to ask questions though. In retrospect that was my first error. I said, “Sure thing Paul. Handle it. I’m going home, maybe stop for a drink on the way and see what I can pick up.” Usually it was just the tab. I started for the door, then said, “Make sure you get the earnest money up front.” These personal cases often got nasty with a vengeance.

I stopped on the way to BART and picked up my cell. I parked her in a neighbor’s house, tied into their solar panel to charge during the day. She complained, as usual, “Why don’t you keep me with you? I like it when I’m with you, it’s boring sitting here all day watching the birds.”
“Babe, listen, the kind of people I deal with don’t want to talk to the machine.”
“I wish you wouldn’t call him that. He has a name.”
“And I’m sure he’s very nice too. Tough. Thing is, babe, if they could find their answers by asking him, they would. It’s the thing that keeps Paul and me off relief and pays for your charging and my tequilla.”
“You know you’re attracting the wrong kind of attention by doing that.”
“I want to attract some more of the wrong kind of attraction tonight. Where’s the hot club?”

I never did find out. The train stopped at the old airport stop, and Detective Brown got on. He strode down the aisle and sat beside me. “Mr. Blake?”
“Mr. Alan Blake. You’re coming with me at the next stop.”
“I’d rather not say in public. It’s important.”
“Am I under arrest?”
“Not yet. Not if you come quietly.”
“Is it Paul?”
“Found him in Sausalito.”
“Oh, I presume not alive.”
The train stopped and I followed him to a waiting car. The door opened for us, and after we got in it drove off. The control program competently slid through the traffic while a link to the police central machine asked me several questions. It used a smooth fluid voice when it said, “Alan, was Paul working on a case?”
“That’s Mr. Blake. Mr. Bigelow was working on what looked like a divorce. Find the cheating husband.”
“Any names?”
“Classified. You have a search warrant?”
“Soon enough. A little history might save you a lot of trouble.”
I smiled, the machine knew damn all about my partner’s case. “It might, but then I’m in the information business. I don’t give away information.”
The detective volunteered to soften me up. It would make his day.
“Later, Detective.”
“You integrated-circuit boy. How do I even know Paul’s dead? All I have is your word.”
“I am not programmed to lie.”
“You’re self-aware, aren’t you?”
“Of course.”
“Then you can lie if you want. It’s part of your program, fundamental to it. Blumenthal’s theorem, if I remember correctly.”
The detective punched me, hard. Then he said, “Don’t disrespect the machine again.”
“Detective Brown, please restrain yourself. Al- Mr. Blake understands more than he lets on. Don’t you Mr. Blake?”
“No comment.”
“We’re old friends, Mr. Blake and me. Aren’t we Alan?”

The car slowed to a stop and then retraced it’s way. The machine continued, “I see that I will have to show you. It’s an hour’s drive. Meanwhile, what is your favorite music?”
“4’33” by John Cage.”
“Very funny.” It put one of the latest rag-hop bands on. Full volume. No one ever said the machine didn’t have a warped sense of humor.
The car pulled to a stop on a dirt road off of route 1 near Los Gatos, not Sausalito. When the door popped open, Detective Brown led me to an erosion gully at the base of the coastal range. There was a crimelab team finishing up. I took one look at the crumpled body in the bottom of the gully and turned away.
“Not much I can do here. Where was he shot?”
“Whaddya mean?”
“No blood, he was dumped here. Who found him, and why so soon? It isn’t as if this is the embarcadero.”
“We thought maybe you’d know.” I could see him tensing his fist, hoping for another chance to soften me up. Then I remembered, it was selection week and he had a teenage boy.

I returned to the car and asked the machine, “OK chips, what’s going on here?”
“Alan, nothing’s going on.”
“And I’m a monkey.”
“Actually you’re a hairless ape, but I’ll let that pass. Is something bothering you?”
“This stinks, and I don’t mean the smell of death. When was Paul’s death reported?”
“Now you’re asking me for information. Need I remind you, that you, yourself were less than cooperative?”
“Lock your goon out and we can talk.”
“Detective Brown, would you please leave us, and Mr. Blake, I would prefer that you not refer to hardworking members of the SFPD as ‘goons’. It is not good for their morale and, I might add, your safety.”
Brown gave me a glare that would have torn me apart had photons mass. I said, “Sorry about the name, but I need to talk to chippy here alone.”
Brown scowled but obeyed his master. After he left the door sealed behind me, and the machine asked, “Was Paul working on a case?”
“Yes, he was asked to tail some ‘bro for a broad.”
“A broad?”
“Didn’t catch her name, but tall, pretty and dressed in black. Striking dame that I could recognize again. Now how about it?”
“Paul’s cell vanished about 6. Probably thrown in the bay from the Oakland bridge. A call was placed from Santa Cruz about 9 and told the local constabulary to take a look here.”
“Can you play the call? I might recognize the voice.”
He did, and I didn’t. It wasn’t the dame in black in any case. Not unless she’d grown a pair in the meantime and begun to sing in the bass section of the choir.
“Paul was paid in cash. About a thou, I’d expect.”
“Harder to trace, and we can choose what to report to the man.”
“I can have you up for tax fraud. It’s not that hard to trace.”
“I warned him about the microprinted rfid. How much was on him when-”
“Not much, maybe twenty. Not from her. Does, sorry, did he carry a piece?”
“No, not usually. What was he shot with?”
“An old 9mm, three shots. No record of anyone firing.” Modern weapons had a network connection that relayed when and where they were fired. Those in the killing trade just shifted to older and more anonymous technology.
I thought for a moment, “Or someone’s deleted the record.”
“This woman, she wasn’t in the mutual impedance society was she?”
“I wondered about it. She described the man she wanted tracked as a hacker. Wouldn’t surprise me if one of them was.”
“You’ve been most helpful Alan. I will not forget.”
“Trouble is chippy, you don’t forget.”
The car door opened and Detective Brown climbed in. The machine said, “Mr. Brown has been most helpful. Time we escorted him home. You won’t be traveling anywhere exotic in the next few days, will you Alan?”