*This is the first chapter from book one of Mystical Meat Machines a Sci Fi/Cyber Punk novelette series I’m currently writing. I’m hoping to begin releasing books in the series in October 2020. Enjoy!
Chapter 1: The Street Cleaner Drone Incident
It was obvious to me from the deep wounds in the victim’s throat that the small chrome basketball-sized street cleaning drone’s scraper blades had slit the woman’s throat. I had scanned my ID into the blue Holo-screen shielding the corpse from pedestrians, noted the date and time of death and uploaded it to my New Interpol log, 3/21/2080:18:24 Nagoya, Japan.
The body on the sidewalk was that of a woman, around 25 years old. She was younger than me, but almost the same build. I shifted my black field bag out of the way as I crouched near her to get an Opti-record for New Interpol being careful to avoid the blood that was draining onto the sidewalk.
She had emergency medical alerts in her Optical Insert that should have brought the med-drones as soon as she flat-lined, but for some reason they had been auto-re-routed to a low level injury call on the other side of the city. A postal drone had discovered the body and called it in. I had responded and set up the Holo-screen when I arrived on scene.
I brushed my hair out of my eyes and stood up. “Officer On Site” flashed in my Opti-read and I scanned out of the Holo-screen and returned to the street.
The blue light from the Holo-screen and yellow smiley faces leading pedestrians away from the body reflected off the silver hood of Detective Fujimura’s Hover Cruiser. He was leaning against it inhaling from a Holo-cigarette.
“What malfunctioned this time, Cantor?” Fujimura asked.
Fujimura’s craggy face 85 year old face permanently worn and sallow from decades on the job and decades of smoking real cigarettes before they were outlawed in 2048 stared at me with eyes cold and dark as a shark’s.
“Weird one, aye, Fujimura?”
“Hardly. Malfunctioning street drone. That’s why you’re here isn’t it, Cantor?”
“Did you check your Opti-feed, Fujimura? I asked pointing to my temple. Oops, forgot, dinosaurs like you don’t have them. Better check the reader on your dash then and get up to date on this possible murder,” I said tapping the hood of his cruiser.
We are bathed in amber and I felt the slight vibration in the street as the Hyper-Loop Shinkansen hissed past 500 meters above us in its massive tube bound for New Osaka, Taipei, and the new islands. Fujimura had joined the old Nagoya police force in 2020 before New-Interpol and the World Net even existed and woman officers in Japan were still worthy of headline news. Somehow his chainsmoking ass had even survived the Great Corono Virus Plague back then.
“Looks like the standard accidentally death to me. You don’t need that field bag, Cantor. I’m only here until the med-transport drones arrive.”
“Delayed them while I investigate. That’s what the bag’s for. Read your dash, The emergency drones were re-routed when she flat-lined. There’s a lot more to this one than you realize. You remember what investigating is don’t you, Fujimura?”
I heard him mutter a curse in Japanese that my internal-translate unit didn’t catch. He didn’t bother to check his dash feed and I ignored him and walked a few meters up the sidewalk. The concrete and recycled plastic sidewalk is an off white and I can see the scratches and scarring from the endless line of cleaning drones that have scrubbed and scraped its surface over the years. I found it strange that tomorrow the dried blood of that poor woman would be scraped and scrubbed clean by a twin to the drone that killed her.
Behind me I heard another Hover landing behind Fujimura’s cruiser. Fujimura doesn’t even use the wearable tech issued by New-Interpol. He was never happy about the integration of the world police forces into New-Tnterpol and only stayed on the job because of some old personal code, duty and honor or something like that.
I see Sequim’s battered old Hover settle on the street 30 centimeters from the curb. He’s a tech consultant and probably a ronin hack on the side, but Interpol keeps him on because he is one of the best there is. Fujimura is burning holes in the windscreen with his stares as he watches the manual controls slide back into the dash and moves to cite and probably arrest Sequim for piloting a Hover without a license.
“Wait,” I call out. “He’s cleared. Interpol tech agent,” I say to Fujimura. I brush past him to retrieve Sequim as he gets out of his Hover.
Sequim stands there with a smirk on his face waiting to see if I can unwittingly aid him in his soft-anarchism. He’s doesn’t like Interpol much except for me and the thousands of cyber-credits they pay him each month.
He’s had a lot of genetic mods done to look more like his hero, some old world tech guru named Jobs. He’s very retro-primitive looking in his faded blue jeans and black t-shirt, but I know he’s teched up to max. Some of it legal, a lot of it probably not.
“Old Fuji didn’t like my parking much,” Sequim says as he walks up to me.
“You should be more careful around him, Sequim. He’s one of the Sidearm Seven.”
“Really? Old Fuji’s a rebel? Never figured him for the type that would violate the rules and pack heat. Seems way to by the book to me.”
“Yep, refused to surrender his sidearm in ’36. Five of those dinosaurs are extinct now. And I think he’d interpret “by the book” pretty liberally if it meant a chance to shoot you Sequim.”
I led Sequim back to the Holo-Screen where the body was. We were close to the Hyper-Loop station so a few Uber-Hover ground units cruised slowly along the street. I used my Opti to clear Sequim and me to enter the crime scene behind the screen. The security shocks disabled temporarily as we walked through the screen.
“Hey, I’m on the inside,” Sequim said as he walked through. “Thought those shocks kept rats and rodents out?”
“I can leave them on when we leave if you want.”
“Naw, temporary paralysis and an Interpol Subdue Drone scanning all my tech doesn’t sound like a fun night too me.”
Inside of the soft hum of the Holo-Screen I looked at the petite corpse of Dolores Turner, 25 years old, Libraries Records Expert for Nagoya City. The blood from the slashes in her throat had already soaked the front of her white blouse burgundy. I stared once again fascinated by how object-like a body looked once the life in it was gone.
“Where are the med-transport and autopsy drones?” Sequim asked.
“I put them on hold until after you’ve looked at this. I want your opinion before they come in and start flaggering shit up.”
“That thing killed her?” he asked pointing the chrome basketball-sized street cleaning drone that sat inert near the body.
“No doubt about it. The incisions on her throat match the size of the drone’s scraping blades and there is blood all over them. And someone re-routed the emergency drones too.”
“Re-routed emergency drones? Those are controlled by World Net’s main AI. That’s a hell of a hack,” Sequim says.
From my field bag I release a small med-drone to collect a DNA sample from the corpse. It whirs softly as it begins taking hair, blood, and saliva samples. Sequim turns the cleaning drone over with his foot. I watch his left pupil turn orange briefly as he scans the drone’s serial number off the bottom of it. Then he stands still as his eyes flutter rapidly and a chip-inserted deep in his head somewhere accesses what I assume is info about the cleaning drone.
“According to the specs the extension cables and cleaning blades never leave the surface of the street and retract automatically when organics larger than a cockroach comes within a meter of them. It had to be hacked.”
“I thought the same thing,” I said.
“Did you check the video feed on the drone?” Sequim asks.
“Yeah. When I got here.”
“Can I see them or do I have to hack the street-cams? If I see the video I can compare the drones operating speed at the time with the factory specs. It might tell us how hot the hack was running on that thing when it killed her.”
“You aren’t authorized Sequim.”
“I’m not authorized to land Hovers on manual either, but that didn’t stop me did it?”
“You’re going to get me fired one of these days.”
I pressed my forearm against Sequim’s temple making a new link for him to Interpol’s database and then wait as he flicked again. I’ve been on over thirty tech malfunction death cases in the past seven years and two intentional injury cases involving hacked tech, but never a murder. I knew if my nose was right on this and I did enough ground work on it Interpol wouldn’t pull me off of it. And if I got deep into this one then it would keep my mind off the other crap in my personal life, mainly Jesse.
Sequim finished his flick and analysis of the info and then turned to me.
“That thing was definitely running hot, way faster than the company specs. Whatever hack was used it ran short and quick. Probably so they could burn it before any trace could lock and store the code.”
“If you pull the chip from the drone do you think you can get anything off of it?”
“Maybe burn markers from the kill code that deleted it. That would help me figure what kind of hack it was and maybe where it was written.”
For the first time I started to smell the coppery tinge of the woman’s blood. The med-drone returned to me and beeped it’s “finished” alert. I put it back in my field bag and looked at Dolores Turner one last time. The reflection from the Holo-Screen had turned her white face and eerie blue. Sequim removed a tiny mem-chip from the top of the droid and slotted it into a micro-jack in his wrist.
“No point in sticking around now. I’ll call in the med-transport drones and let them take it from here.”
I scanned us out of the Holo-Screen and we stepped back onto the street. Fujimura was already gone. A Holo-parking ticket blinked red on Sequim’s windscreen.
“Don’t worry, Sequim. I’ll take care of that.”
“Hard case Fuji’s on the job,” Sequim said as he got into his Hover.
I waved goodbye and laughed as I watched the manual controls on his Hover rise out of the dash.
About the Creator
Steve Howard's self-published collection of short stories Satori in the Slip Stream, Something Gaijin This Way Comes, and others were released in 2018. His poetry collection Diet of a Piss Poor Poet was released in 2019.