Dex was an interesting person, we had met about five years back while I was working a cyberheist case. A gigantic sum of money had just vanished from Omega’s accounts and she came up as a suspect, due to her considerable record of cybercrimes. Long story short: Dex turned out to be not only innocent but also willing to help me with the case, provided I agreed to keep her name out of my bosses’ ears, of course. She proved to be useful, and I got a bonus for rounding up all of the perps in that case, so I decided to keep her around. Whenever I got ahold of something that my software couldn’t deal with, I took it to Dex. She would usually deal with it for a modest price, and I only had to lean on her a couple of times. She had made zero attempts to stop her deviant behavior, so I had plenty of ammo to use.
Her apartment was a tangled nest of cords and cables tucked above a VR brothel near the outer walls. It took maybe an hour to walk there once I had finished my chat with Doroteya. I also decided to stop by Dex’s favorite noodle stand and pick something up for her. Surprise visits from good friends should always include a gift, after all.
I knocked, hoping that she was home. The door swung open, and Dex looked like she just rolled out of bed. Her green eyes, usually bright and alert, were dull and pointed at the floor. As soon as she looked up and saw my face, those eyes narrowed to slits and the rest her face twisted with anger. I barely avoided the first punch. Trying not to drop the noodles, I lost my balance. She took that opportunity to give me a combat boot right in the gut, knocking the wind out of me. As I dropped to my knees, and heard the takeout hit the floor, I held up my hands as a sign of peace.
She spoke first.
“You get the fuck out of here, cop!” She seemed happier than usual to see me.
“The last time I did you a favor I had to change my whole look and all of my screen names because I was, how did you put it? ‘Possibly being targeted by a psychopath’?!” She gestured to the purple streaks in her now much shorter, and darker hair.
“I don’t care what you have. I don’t care how innocent it seems. Leave me out of it.”
By this point, I had gotten enough air in my lungs to barely begin to speak again.
“Fuck your noodles!”
Finally a full breath.
“Look…it’s just some…dead bigwig. You hate those guys…even more than you hate cops. Also…I’m not…exactly a cop.” I gasped.
“The guy that is all over the news? No. That has trouble written all over it.” She still looked pissed, but there was a definite edge of fear to her voice at that point.
“All I need you to do is get me into one single folder on the dead guy’s pad. That’s it. No tracking people. No exposure. No risk.” I knew that may have been a small lie-by-omission, given what had happened to my pad.
“I don’t think so. That’s how it starts, just one little folder. Then it goes on and on until I am the main target of a serial killer!”
“No, nothing like that, I swear. Minimal work, probably easy for you. I’ll pay extra. And as an added bonus, I will also attempt to salvage some of these noodles.” I gestured to the takeout boxes that looked like they had survived their fall mostly intact.
“I don’t know… This is huge on the newsfeeds.” She seemed to have calmed down, or at least to have been interested in my promise of extra payment. I knew I needed to raise my offer.
“Look, If you help me on this case, then maybe I can get you some regular jobs as an independent contractor. The LPD is always looking for good hackers. And besides, you know you have definitely just committed a crime, right? Assault on a B-Rank citizen? I could call the office now and have Sec down here in ten minutes. So which sounds better, a little favor that could lead to some nice, easy, well-paying work? Or, having Sec come down here to rummage around your little rat’s nest, and start confiscating hard drives?”
She had the folder open in thirty minutes. I left Dex to enjoy her takeout shortly thereafter, and I made sure to give her the name of the head of the LPD’s Counter-Hacking Division. She told me she wasn’t entirely comfortable “working as a pawn for the system”, as she put it. Maybe she would come around eventually. I was headed home because it was getting late, and I needed a shower. There was always the next day, and I needed some guaranteed privacy to sort through whatever was on Mr. Banks’ pad.
It was a short walk to an elevator and then a short ride back to my floor. There was no “night” in The Tower. It was always dimly lit on the lower floors. The rainbow colors of the neon advertisements often served as the brightest lights, no matter the time of day. Once it got late, the rushing current of tightly packed bodies slowed to a gentle stream of wandering outcasts and undesirables. No one looked up from the floor as they shuffled about on their midnight business. I made it back to my apartment without having to make eye contact even once.
I fabricated a sandwich for a late-night snack and checked my inbox. The LPD had finished their reconstruction of Banks’ route the day that he died. He did come from the lower levels. I watched the illegally blurred image of Andrew Banks leave a dwelling in the slums, leaving behind a soft-featured Asian woman and a young, dark-haired boy standing in the doorway. The woman was holding a credit chip and looked shocked and confused as he walked away. Looked like Ms. Prescott’s PI was right. There was a secret family.
I found out on the pad that Banks was riddled with guilt, depression, and shame. According to banking records in the locked folder, Banks had purchased a program meant for stress-testing implants from his pad two days before his death. The remainder of the money in his accounts had been drained onto an external credit chip. That was probably what he gave the woman I’d seen. Out of money, and out of hope, Banks had used the program on his neural implants and cranked it up to the maximum settings. I had been carrying the murder weapon around in my pocket all day long. All of this was in an email labeled To Aika and David. Banks had sent his family a virtual suicide note.
I couldn’t sleep that night, no matter how many tranqs I took, and I was up until my alarm started its electronic screeching yet again. I knew that if I included everything in my report, the mother would be prosecuted. Prostitution wasn’t punishable by death, but she and her child would likely be evicted from The Tower, and some would say that’s worse. I also didn’t want to pin a murder on someone who didn’t deserve it so my report wouldn’t be able to include most of what I had learned from my interviews. On the other hand, the chief would probably fire me if I turned in a story that was full of holes and phantoms and bad theories. It could even start a mass hysteria if the public thought that there was some sort of mysterious hacker on the loose who could kill them at any place, at any time.
I thought about calling the chief, turning in a profanity-laden letter of resignation, and starting up a private investigation firm. I thought about moving deeper into the lower levels of The Tower, changing my name, and getting a job as a bartender or something. I thought about just grabbing the next shuttle off-world and running away from this damned place, maybe to Mars or Europa. But Omega had a wide reach, and if I ran away with evidence regarding a high-profile murder case I would likely end up being hunted as a fugitive. There would only be a handful of places in the solar system that I could safely hide without constantly looking over my shoulder, and all of them were less appealing than my micro-apartment.
I got up the next morning to my fabricated toast still not sure of what I was going to tell the LPD. Still not sure if I was capable of throwing myself on the pyre for a complete stranger. Still not sure if my conscience could bear the weight of ruining a family like that. I knew that the company wouldn’t be lenient. The company wouldn’t be kind. Because they say that here in The Tower, Omega is the only god that matters. But I hope that’s not true. Because Omega is a cold, unfeeling God.