Episode 8: Dox (Part 2)


October 5, Late Afternoon


CID Detective Cowan Soto knew what he would see when he disabled his mental health filters, which was why he couldn’t. He stood with Jeb in the living room of a 30 million dollar home in Carmel Valley. That home belonged to the director of the Office of Mental Health, or had … until Reed murdered his family, then shot himself in the head.

The home’s ceiling was real wood, not the holo-projected kind, made of evenly-spaced wooden slats. Silvery lamps hung from it, and midday light flooded in through gorgeous windows. Those windows looked onto a backyard filled with healthy trees, but Reed’s army of milsynths were gone, seized to be tested for rogue scripting.

A thick red recliner sat reclined, backrest down, and that was where Matthew Reed’s body was now. The body Cowan’s filters wouldn’t let him see. He couldn’t see the blood or bone or gray matter splattered across the floor behind it.

VCD Sergeant Terry Sparks stood by the chair, eyes distant as he archived the scene. Melissa Bradley was checking hardlinks outside. Marquez was on street duty, keeping gawkers away, and Captain Barondale and Zhang were on another case.

“Jeb,” Cowan said. “Where’s the kid?”

“By the kitchen island,” Jeb said quietly. “I’ve flagged the area with a proximity alert.”

A child was shot dead, and Cowan still couldn’t wrap his mind around it. Who killed a three-year-old? How could a father murder his own child?

“Here’s what you’re going to do,” Jeb said. “You’re going to search the home VI’s logs for all entries and exits in the last twelve hours. Check call logs for the last two weeks. Isolate and flag any links to people who are rare in the call log, someone Reed didn’t talk to on a regular basis. Archive anything that resembles a threat.”

“Okay.” Cowan closed his eyes and flipped over to his headdesk, where a glowing blue mailbox floated in virtual space: the home’s VI interface. He plucked out flattened log sheets, scanning them through his PBA in rapid succession.

Matthew Reed had shot his wife, Linda, five times, and then walked into the living room and shot his crying three-year-old child in the head. Even if he’d angry enough to kill his wife, as Cowan knew had sometimes happened with couples before PBAs, how could he be angry enough to murder his own child? What type of a monster could do that?

Reed was a clear circuit — he and his family had the latest PBAs, with upgraded corporate firewalls — and even if he’d wanted to, Reed couldn’t shoot his own family. His clear circuit algorithms wouldn’t allow it, which was why Cowan and Jeb were here.

Someone had committed a cybercrime.

Cowan found no unusual calls. He found no unexpected visits. He found the archive footage from this morning intact, waiting to be viewed, and did not view it. Dared not. He up’d it to the CID and hopped back into meatspace.

“I’ve run the ant swarm’s scan of the furnishings against their homeowner’s insurance,” Jeb said. “Nothing missing.”

“I’m empty too.” Cowan walked toward the island until the proximity warning displayed, the warning about the tiny body he didn’t dare see because it would haunt him forever. He stared at the open UPX package on the counter. “That package held the gun.”

“Watch it, Soto.” Terry Sparks spoke from the recliner, his voice a basso drawl that fit his build. “Body there.” He wasn’t as tall as Jeb, but he was built like a goddamn tank.

“He knows,” Jeb said.

“Who sent the package?” Cowan turned to Sparks. “Is there a return address?”

Sparks shrugged. “It’s a dead end. We had Marquez run it when we arrived.”

“Where’s the dead end?”

“The billing and shipping address UPX provided is a PO Box in a post office in Houston, owned by a corporate entity with no reported income or expenses, owned by another corporate entity that’s over two hundred years old. Nothing in the system.”

“Do they pay their taxes?” Jeb asked.

“Never had to,” Sparks said. “No income. But they filed a tax report each year.”

“Who filed it?”

“A guy who died thirty years ago. Texas CID is running it down, but I don’t think they’ll get anywhere. Houston lost most of its paper records in Hurricane Rick, back in ‘45.”

“There’s got to be hundreds of corporations like that,” Cowan said. “Zombies with corporate accounts. And the package was certified? Someone sent Reed a handgun through the mail?”

“That’s something Corporate One needs to run down,” Sparks said. “But yeah. Special delivery.”

Cowan imagined a smiling little boy. “Why’d Reed do it?”

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Sparks said. “Maybe they had an argument. Maybe Reed’s wife pissed him off and he decided to punish her by shooting his kid in front of her. All sorts of bad shit has been happening since the Sim exploded.”

“But this guy was the head of the Office of Mental Health! If anyone was going to be balanced enough not to shoot their family, wouldn’t it be the director of the OMH?”

Sparks just shrugged again, and Cowan shuddered. He couldn’t help it. PBAs were supposed to stop horrors like this, but now this horrific shit happened once a week. How had people survived when people shot each other literally every day?

“UPX has no record of any transaction involving a gun,” Jeb said. “Did the sender pay for the shipping?”

Cowan hopped back into the Sim because he needed to do something. He pulled up yesterday’s archives. He started with last night, the night before the murders.

He accelerated playback and overclocked his PBA. It didn’t matter that he would lose time. He needed to see where the Reed family had broken themselves apart.

Matthew put Gregory to bed, and then he and Linda watched a movie. After that, they fell asleep side-by-side. Linda worked at home and Matthew went off to work while their human-like housesynth played with Gregory and kept him out of trouble.

Linda made dinner: a salad, a meat soup, and fresh vegetables chopped into tiny circles. She fed Gregory a banana. She surprised Matthew and they embraced.

They had dinner, put Gregory to bed again, kissed and went into the bedroom. When the clothes started coming off Cowan blanked the image and skipped an hour — that was their business — and found them sleeping once again, Matthew’s back against Linda’s.

This was the last night their perfect family existed, and it wasn’t the type of night that caused Matthew Reed to end it first thing in the morning.  He blinked back to meatspace to find Jeb watching him. Sparks was gone. He’d been in those archives awhile.

Cowan checked his headdesk and winced. He’d lost thirty minutes since he overclocked, but these people had lost the rest of their lives. Someone had to see that they got justice.

“Bodies are gone,” Jeb said, “and the ant swarm has cleared the scene. We’ve got another case, and fatalities. Someone sent an autocar into a crowd on Mission Beach.”

On any other day, news of that crime would have floored Cowan, but today, it was just another statistic. Cowan remembered Linda feeding Gregory the banana, remembered Linda and Matthew making out and falling asleep. They hadn’t fought, and they hadn’t slept in separate rooms, and they hadn’t done anything but love each other, simply.

“I don’t think he did it,” Cowan said.

Jeb glanced at the empty recliner. “Why?”

“They were happy. They were still in love.”

“You watched their archives? How far back?”

“Far enough. Reed had no reason to murder his family.”

“You never know what passes between people over time, Cowan. Something could have happened years ago, and it just bubbled up in an argument this morning.”

“Reed didn’t do this.”

“What’s your proof?” The hint of warning in Jeb’s voice was a reminder that the CID was listening to everything they said. That meant Galileo might be listening, too.

Cowan walked to the kitchen island and stared at the empty UPX box. “Why did he buy a gun? It couldn’t be self-defense.”

“Why not?” Jeb asked. Because this was all being archived for Director Stanton.

“He didn’t need a gun for self-defense. He had a milsynth army and a security system and besides, no clear circuit can use a weapon on another human being. It wouldn’t do him any good.”

“But he wasn’t clear, remember? He jailbroke his PBA. This morning’s archives show him shooting his own family.”

“We have no proof he jailbroke his PBA, and archives can be faked.” That was easy enough. “How many bullets does a gun like this hold?”

“Eight,” Jeb said.

“Which is what he used, exactly. Five in his wife, two in his kid, and one in his own head. Who counts bullets during a crime of passion?”

Jeb shrugged. “If Reed altered his PBA, he could easily have firewalled empathy before or after he bought the gun. He could have felt perfectly rational.”

“Yet he didn’t buy it. Remember? No records.”

“And if you’re buying a handgun with cash,” Jeb agreed, “why risk getting flagged by UPX? Five grand in Encanto will get you an unregistered gun today.”

“The day you decide to murder your whole family.”

Jeb tapped his chin and shook his head. “It’s still not enough. Reed was on the corporate network the whole time, pinging clear the whole time. Even the best loose circuits we’ve encountered can’t connect with their behavioral protocols offline.”

Except they could — Cowan could — and Jeb’s bald lie made his implication clear. Jeb saw the possibility that Galileo could be behind this, too. They couldn’t let anyone at the CID know what they suspected, because it might get back to Galileo.

So if Galileo had done this, how? Cowan considered the problem. How would he hack a corporate executive’s PBA, if he wanted to hack a corporate executive’s PBA?

Direct force wouldn’t work. Corporate firewalls were too good, and PBAs as secure as Reed’s kept their firmware locked unless fed specific override codes by Corporate One. So Galileo had used those override codes. He had created new firmware signed by Corporate One, then tricked Reed into downing it.

That suggested Galileo had puppeted Reed into shooting his own family while Reed watched and screamed. It also meant Cowan couldn’t tell Jeb what had happened, at least not while Jeb’s PBA was still active. It meant they couldn’t do anything else until tonight, when Jeb’s PBA was off.

“I guess you’re right,” Cowan said. “There’s no way anyone could bypass a corporate PBA. That’s impossible.”

“I know this is traumatic.” Jeb touched Cowan’s shoulder and steered him to the car. “Don’t let it get under your skin.”

Cowan pictured Matthew and Linda and Gregory, went through the last night they’d all been alive. How could Galileo murder a loving family and their three-year-old child? What could he possibly gain by slaughtering the director of the OMH?

It was time to enter the darkSim and find out.

* * *

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