Sunday, May 18, 2014

You: A Murder Mystery (Chapter Three)

Chapter Three

You give C0lumb0t his orders and slip into your car. Mordent lives in the West Green Division, which is at least a two-hour drive. Keying in the cars auto-drive, you barely watch the city float by as you start going through Silas Mordent's file.

Born thirty-eight years ago to an upper-middle class family, Mordent did fairly well in school until he turned fifteen. That was when one enterprising math teacher took notice of him and discovered that Mordent had a keen mind for numbers. He began taking advanced classes and graduated early, entering college when he was just seventeen. His tuition was paid, for the most part, by the very same bank he would later be employed by. Almost as if they had made a down payment on him.

He did well in college for the first couple years and then dropped out. His file is sketchy and vague after this point; he left the comforts of the Corporate Zone and entered the wilds of New Vegas. You find a few mentions of him getting banned from this casino or that for counting cards and then, two years later, he's miraculously back in college and studying away. It was then that he opened his account with SecuraCorp and, a few months later, met Paula Lin.

It takes some digging, but you find a buried file in his report that indicated he'd gone to Gamblers Anonymous for nearly two years after meeting Lin. You wonder why the report was buried and who commissioned it. All of the dates on the file have been obscured and your security clearance isn't high enough to decrypt it. You can only see that at some point someone got curious about Silas Mordent's past and had opened an investigation. For all you know it could have been years ago. Maybe Paula Lin's family got curious about this new suitor, or it could have been yesterday.

You look up and see trees whizzing by your car. You are in one of the Zone's protected wildlife refuges. If you were to stop the car and pick a flower by the side of the road you'd spend the rest of your life paying off the debt. Cut a tree down and you'd be exiled out of the Corporate Zone and cast into the wilds. That wouldn't be so bad for you, you have marketable skills, but for many it would be a death sentence.

The phone in your dashboard chirps and the caller ID indicates that the clean-up crew from Mordent's crime scene is calling. You answer and the face of a bored looking technician pops up on your screen.

“What do you got for me?” You ask.

“He was killed here, that's for certain,” The tech says. “He'd been in that chair for most of yesterday before you guys found him. I'll have a specific time later on. We found a few other things scattered around the room. A few decks of cards, some chips. The chips are weird, they have this crazy serpent design on them. They look like actual casino chips.”

“So he was killed there,” You repeat, running the data through your head. “Any evidence of another person being in the room?”

“At least two. We found some footprints, no fingerprints or DNA though. That pamphlet did have a few strands of hair though, we're running them now. Anyone you investigating have dreadlocks?”

“Not that I've found yet, but I'll keep my eye out. Anything in particular interesting about the footprints?”

“Some mud. We can find out from where, but our team is running thin today. Half my crew got taken from me right in the middle of the investigation.”

“What? Why?”

“Beats me,” The tech shrugs. “Some big case opened up, Home Office needed the help.”


“So what do you want me to prioritize here? I can do one thing quick or a bunch of stuff over the next few days.”

What should the Tech look into?
  1. Look into the poker chip design, see where they were manufactured
  2. Check into the mud, see if it comes from somewhere unique
  3. Scan the DNA of the dreadlock strand.
  4. Do all three, even though it will take longer.

You tell the tech what you want to have happen and hang up the phone. You go back over the notes you took at Paula Lin's interview as your car pulls into the West Green Division. You cruise past estates the size of cities, each with their own internal economy and police force. A dozen drones drift over to your car as it drives by, scanning and checking your ID to make sure you aren't trespassing. Luckily, you work for SecuraCorp and each of these houses has some connection to the company you work for. You drive on, unmolested.

It takes twenty minutes for you to reach Mordent's estate. Located in the “slum” section of West Green, here the houses are only the size of city blocks and boast only one or two guest houses and modest dozen-acre gardens. Stopping in front of the gates, you go can see the house of the man Mordent had argued with a few months before his murder. Quickly deciding what to do, you step out of your car just as your phone rings.
Caller ID indicates it's the Chief. Your boss.

“Afternoon, boss,” You say. The Chief is an overall good guy, just enough of a hard ass to get things done, but not a narcissistic ladder climber like most other corporate cops. “What can I do for you?”

“I heard about your case. How's it going?” he asks.

“Not bad, got a few leads.”

“Send me the files,” he says. “Let's see what we've been paying you for.”

You reach into the car and tap a few icons on your dash-computer. Within seconds your notes and files have been sent to the Chief.

“Good work so far,” he says after a few minutes. “Tell you what, how would you like to pass this one off and sink your teeth into something juicier?”

“You want me to ditch this one?”

“Not ditch, I'll hand it off to Anderson and he can wrap it up,” The Chief says. “You did a lot a of legwork on this, but there isn't anything here he can't handle. This other case, it's a good one. If you take it, you'd get a bump in pay. A good one.”

“How good. And what's the case?” You ask.

“I'll tell you all about the case when you get back. And the bump is good. More like a hill really.”

What do you do?

  1. Investigate the garden where Mordent argued with his neighbor.
  2. Investigate Mordent's house
  3. Pay a visit to the neighbor.
  4. Get a new case and maybe a new everything.

So you can vote for the outcome you desire by clicking on the polls in the upper right corner over there. Voting is open until Thursday May, 22nd and the next chapter will post Monday May, 26th.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

You: A Murder Mystery (Chapter Two)

Chapter Two

After giving C0lumb0t his orders, You linger for a moment outside the building where Silas Mordent's body was found and watch as your robot partner folds in on himself, sprouts four rickety wheels, and chugs off in the direction of the bookstore. You tell a nearby medic to call if they find anything unusual and the guy just rolls his eyes at you. Thinking for a moment, you realize nothing about this case could be described as “usual.”

Climbing into your cramped company car, you flick on the auto-drive and bring up all the information you can regarding Mordent’s ex-wife. Her SecuraCorp ID photo slides onto the screen of your dash-computer and you notice that, though she's had some work done around the eyes and jaw, she's more than a few years older than Mordent. Skimming the rest of her file, you see that she was the one who entered the marriage with most of the money, her mother having pioneered and marketed a new filter mask that could protect the wearer from the wide array of carcinogens that plagued most of the world's cities.

She was no slouch herself. Her interior design company was more than just a rich woman's vanity project. Over the last ten years the company had opened contracts with a wide array of clients; the only thing they shared in common was almost limitless budget when it came to making themselves look good. Everything about Paula Lin, formally Paula Mordent-Lin, reeked of corporate polish. At that level, marriages tended to look more like business contracts. The big question was, what did Sila bring to table?

As your car glides up the front of Inner Illuminations, you wonder briefly if it could have been love.

Stepping out into the heat haze, you notice a man across the street smiling at you. Your raise an eyebrow and nod a greeting, but when he doesn't break eye contact you start to feel nervous. He's tall and blond, dressed in an expensive black suit and leaning against car that's also expensive and black. You turn, about to cross the street, when the guy gives you a salute and climbs into his car. It's gone in a second and you notice that the license plate has an obscuring fog around it. Whoever that guy was, he was high enough up on the corporate food chain to not have to worry about the Traffic Division.

Committing the guy's face to your memory, you turn toward the building that houses Inner Illuminations. Like most buildings in the heart of the city it is a tower of steel and curved glass. Not too fancy, but not cheap looking either. You've always found them to be boring.

Stepping in through the front door, your eyes are momentarily blinded by the brightness. Blinking, you find yourself standing in the whitest room you've ever seen. The ceiling is so high you're amazed you don't see clouds hanging below it and the floor feels almost rubbery against your feet. There isn't a stick of furniture to break up the glaring monotony of white and you let out a low whistle that seems to evaporate in the vastness around you.

“Good morning,” a voice says to your right. You turn and see Paula Lin step out from a doorway that has appeared in the far wall. She's wearing a bright red dress that stands out alarmingly against the wall, a blood drop on a wedding dress. “I assume you're here about Silas?”

“I am,” You say, suspicious. “What exactly do you know about your ex-husband?”

“That he has been killed,” she says, producing a tablet and sliding her finger over it. A table and two chairs seem to flow up out of the floor, color pouring up into them like paint dumped into a bucket of water. Within a few seconds, an antique wicker table and chair set sits in front of you.

“Nice trick,” You say, lowering yourself into the chair. If you didn't know better you'd swear you were sitting on real wood. “So how did you find out about your husband?”

“A man from SecuraCorp called me,” She dabs at her eyes a bit. From the looks of it she's either been crying or making her eyes leak water for some time. “He told me his tracker went dead sometime in the night and that a detective would come around to question me.”

“Did this man leave a name,” you ask, making a note on your own tablet. “Or a call back address?”

“No. But he told me to have a list of my whereabouts ready for you when you got here. Here.”

She slides her tablet across the table and hits the sync icon. Looking down at your own, you see a large file being uploaded to your device.

“Did you kill your husband, Ms. Lin?” You ask. Over the years, you've found the blunt approach can work wonders.

“No,” she says, her voice sad. “And I don't know why someone would want him dead. He was a teddy bear. Not that he thought so...”

“What do mean?”

“Silas was one of those men who think they're tough. They watch movies and read books about tough guys and think it's a documentary of their own life. He would strut and flex and brag about foreclosures as if he was a soldier marching off to war every morning. If you want to find suspects, you should take a look at his business reports. He kicked a lot of people out of their houses over the years.”

“Did he ever have someone in particular threaten him?”

“No. In fact, I don't think anyone he foreclosed on even knew who was doing it to them. He was just a banker who worked for a bank. A drone bee.”

“But he didn't see himself as a drone,” you say.

“Oh, no,” Paula lets out a humorless laugh. “He was anything but. He knew what everyone should do and how wrong they were for not doing it his way.

“He was a boy with a puffed out chest.”

“Who filed for divorce?” you ask, making a note on your pad.

“I did,” she says. “I had to. He was burning through money too fast, I had to insulate what we had left. That was a year ago and he's been fighting with me over every line in the divorce agreement. I don't know why. I'm letting him keep the house and a monthly alimony that should more than cover any reasonable expenses.”

“Do you know why he lost his job?”

“He wasn't doing his job. That was odd, too. Over the last few months it was as if he'd grown some kind of social conscious. He started railing about the corporations that had taken working people's lives away from them.”

“What brought this on?”

“No idea,” Paula says, shrugging. “He just started hanging out with these dirty looking hippy types. They were all over the house when I went there last.”


“That's how they seemed to me. They were always spouting off about returning to nature and overthrowing this and that. You know, hippy stuff.”

“”Hmmm. Speaking of the house,” You say, picking your tablet up and flipping through your file on Mordent. “He had some kind of dispute with his neighbor. Something about stalking?”

“Oh, yes,” Paula said, rolling her eyes. “Grigori Markov. He and Silas used to be friends and then one day, just before I filed for divorce, they just blew up at each other. I saw them arguing near the garden one day. Silas insisted it was about the property line, but I always suspected it was something more.”

Your tablet begins to vibrate. Looking down, you see C0lumb0t's is trying to call you. You let it go to voicemail.

“Is there anything else you can think of, Ms. Lin? Anything at all?”

“No, I'm just....shocked.”

You get up and reach across the table to shake her hand. As her hand wraps around yours, you notice the nails on her right hand are chipped and torn, the polish flaking off. She sees you notice and pulls her hand back quickly.

“If you think of anything, please call me,” You say, walking toward the door. “Nice place, by the way.”

“Thank you,” she calls after you, her voice already sounding small in the expansive room. “And good luck. Please find out who did this to Silas.”

You step outside into the comparatively dim sunlight and stick an earbud into your ear. You slip into your car and call C0lumb0t back.

“Hey, boss.”

“What do you got for me?”

“These people here, they don't really like me,” the robot says, sounding exaspertated. “They don't want to tell me who bought those books.”

“Why not?”

“They say people have a right to read what they want without other people lookin' over their shoulders. They told me to get a warrant and even if I did they'd fight it and drag the whole thing out and yadda yadda.”

“So it's like that?”

“That's it,” C0lumb0t says. “But I noticed that they keep their files on our company servers. If we want, I can make a call over to the Home Office and have one of the tech-heads just pull them. They can't do a thing about that, it’s part of our Terms and Conditions that we have access.”

“We could do that,” you say, distracted. You leave C0lumb0t waiting on the line while you run the meeting with Paula Lin over again in your head. Sudden debt, sudden hippies, and sudden arguments with neighbors. It sounded like Silas Mordent had had a busy year. And that someone from the Home Office had called Paula Lin before you'd arrived doesn't sit well with you either. Stuff like that could jeopardize the whole case. Of course, this could all be bullshit and Paula is hiding something. Maybe keeping an eye on her wouldn't be a bad idea.

“You still there, boss?”

“Yeah, this is what I want you to do.”

What Does C0lumb0t Do?

  1. Pull the records off the servers 33%
  2. Follow Paula Lin 50%
  3. Go to Mordent's Estate 0%
  4. Go To the Anarchists Office 16%
What Do You Do?
  1. Go to the Home Office 0%
  2. Go to Mordent's Estate 50%
  3. Go to the Anarchist Office 16%
4 Follow Paula Lin 33%

So you can vote for the outcome you desire by clicking on the polls in the upper right corner over there. Voting is open until Thursday May, 15th and the next chapter will post Monday May, 19th. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

You: A Murder Mystery (Chapter One)

Chapter One 

You step out of your car into the hot February sun and immediately wish you could crawl back in and sleep for a few more hours in the cramped, but air-conditioned, backseat. The heatwave has been going on for a few weeks now and you noticed that the weather people had stopped referring to this kind of phenomena as being “unseasonal” years ago. The only bright side to this was that the heatwaves usually preceded another mega-storm,which tended to make the temperature swing back the other way for a time.

Thinking about it for a bit, you realize that isn't much of a bright side

“You from the Main Office?” a voice from down the street calls out to you. You look up and give the uniformed security grunt a nod before taking a look around the neighborhood.

Even back when you were a regular cop, back when there were regular cops, this part of town had been a shithole. The retail-on-the-first-floor, condos-on-the-top boom that dominated the region at the beginning of the century had promised to revitalize and reinvigorate the area. Instead, the thing that commonly follows the word “boom” happened and the neighborhood was left with a bunch of empty storefronts and apartments no one wanted to live in, much less afford. Throw in a couple of earthquakes and more than a couple mega-storms and you were left with this: a cracked and broken landscape that only the most desperate dregs of society could call home.

You don't like being here.

Ever since you signed on as an investigator with SecuraCorp you haven't had to come down to places like this. You live in a corporate condo uptown and your clients mostly employ you to follow cheating spouses or bring back wayward children who have decided to slum it for a season or two down in Mexico. You once spent two days tracking down a runaway cat that an elderly client insisted had been kidnapped. It was menial work, sure, but the fee that the Main Office managed to charge the client paid for a nice Christmas vacation for you.

“Yeah,” You answer, stepping around a pile of concrete and showing the grunt your Securacorp ID. “Why the hell am I down here?”

The grunt, his eyes squinting as he reads the fine print on your identification, looks like every other corporate grunt you've seen; big, bald, and covered with tattoos crafted by epileptic prison artists. The kind of guy you'd never call “grunt” to his face, in other words.

“A client's tracer went dead inside,” he eventually answers. “Normally it's a battery issue, but since he's so far from his estate, the Main Office thinks it's because...

“The client went dead inside,” You interrupt. “Why was I called and not someone from the Medic Division?”

“Beats me,” he says, shrugging. “Probably a problem with his contract."

That makes sense, you think. Contracts with SecuraCorp came in tiers. Lower tier clients were given basic security and bodyguard services. Higher paying clients were given the full treatment; medical, dental, security, the works. If you had the money, there was almost nothing SecuraCorp couldn't fix or arrange for you.

“So where's the client?” You ask, looking over the building. It isn't as bad as the ones on either side of it, but it wouldn't take much to bring the whole thing down. Graffiti, not the commissioned kind from Uptown, covers every inch of the first two floors creating a swirling diorama of penises, illegible names, and vague threats. A broken pipe juts out a third floor window and a thick brown liquid slowly trickles out of it onto the sidewalk below. A sizable puddle of the stuff has formed near the busted front door. “And what's his name?”

“He's on the second floor. According to the alert I got, his name is Silas Mordent. He's some kind of banker or something.”

“Okay. So what am I going to see up there? I assume you went up.”

“I did,” the grunt looks at you sheepishly. “The door to the room he's in was locked so I had to bust it in. I can't tell you what's inside though. Main Office told me to keep quiet so you wouldn't go in with “preconceived notions” or something. Sorry. But I tell you, it is weird in there.”

Your head filled with preconceived notions, you step around the broken door and into the narrow hallway at the front of the building. You shout back to the grunt. “Make sure no one who isn't from the Main Office tries to enter the building. And send my partner up when he gets here.”

“What's he look like?”

“You'll know him when you see him,” You answer.

The building may have looked stable from the outside, but the inside looks like hell. Needles and broken glass pipes litter a stairwell that has had more than a few stairs torn out of it. A hole, roughly the size and shape of the Kool-Aid Man, has been smashed through the wall at the back giving you a commanding view of a vacant lot. Trying not to breathe too deeply, You pick your way delicately over the debris and stand in front of the only intact door on the second floor.

Snapping on a pair of latex gloves, you gently nudge the door open with the toe of your shoe and peer inside.

It is weird in there.

The door swings open to reveal an opulently appointed study. Bookshelves filled with actual leather-bound volumes dominate the far wall. Overstuffed and ancient-looking furniture is arranged stylishly around the room, the legs sinking into a rug that costs more than your annual salary. There's even a goddamn fireplace against the east wall with antiques arranged along its mantle. Framed prints of birds and maps decorate the walls where there are no bookcases and the pissy smell of the hallway seems to be held at bay by the rich smell of paper and fresh paint.

And in the middle of it all sits the dead body of Silas Mordent.

You slowly walk into the room, careful not to touch anything, and look at the body. It has been situated in a chair, which looks to be made with real leather and wood, that in turn has been set in front of a table with a chess set on it. Mordent is dressed in a crushed velvet smoking jacket over striped, silk pajamas. An ivory pipe sits in his left hand. He looks for all the world like someone contemplating his next move while having a relaxing smoke.

The only thing breaking the illusion is the garden trowel sticking out of his chest.

“Aw geez. My, my. Wouldja'....wouldja take a look at this now...”

You look over at the familiar voice of your partner as he looks around the door frame.

“Good morning, C0lumb0t,” You say, backing away from the body to inspect the bookshelves. “You got here quick.”

“I was in the neighborhood,” C0lumb0t says as it walks into the room. You can hear the metal and plastic hip joints of the aging robot creak under its tan raincoat. “Boy, this is sure is a fancy looking place you found here.”

You move out of C0lumb0t's way so that it can scan the body. Every investigator that works for SecuraCorp is assigned a robot partner and for some reason the Tech Division decided to program each one with the personality of a different fictional detective. You got stuck with Columbo, who tended to be a tad eccentric. But you know it could be worse. One poor bastard who worked on the East Side got stuck with a Jessica Fletcher model who spent most of her time trying to set up elaborate sting operations to get the suspect to confess. So far, each of that guy's cases has been thrown out of court.

While C0lumb0t continues to “Aw, geez” and tut-tut over the body, you take closer look at the room and start noticing some inconsistencies. For one thing, though the furniture and rug are certainly pricey, the rest of the set up starts to look like stage dressing upon closer inspection. You notice that the prints on the walls look to be torn out of old books and the frames holding them are dinged up and damaged in spots, most likely scavenged or purchased from a cheap second hand shop. The books along the shelves are all from broken sets, missing key volumes and seemingly shelved at random. The fireplace is paper mache.

Taking a few books off the shelves, you notice each one has the same bookmark inside indicating that the sets were purchased from an online wholesaler. Taking out your phone, you walk near the window to see if you can get an internet signal.

“What do we know about Silas Mordent,” You ask C0lumb0t.

“We know he's had better days,” C0lumb0t's says; its programmed New York accent seems especially thick today. “And he's a banker. Or he was...”

“What do you mean?”

“He was fired six months ago. According to his file he'd been delinquent in his duties for some time.”

“That explains why he dropped a few tiers in his coverage with us,” You say, looking down at your phone. It looks like the bookseller is still in business and, wonder of wonders, has an actual physical shop just a few miles from where you are. “What's he been up to the last six months, though?”

“Divorcing his wife, for one thing,” C0lumb0t answers. “It looks like an ugly one, too. Big fight over how to divide up their estate. She's an interior designer. Works for a company called Inner Illuminations on 3rd and Broadburn.”

“Interior designer, eh?” You mumble as you send a text to the Main Office requesting a clean up crew. “That has promise.”

“He's also called Security out to his house almost a dozen times this year complaining about his neighbor.”

“What's his neighbor done?” You ask the robot.

“According to the reports,” C0lumb0t says, bending over to look under the chair Simon Mordent's body is sitting on. “Everything from trespassing to stalking to illegal digging.”

“Illegal digging? What the hell is that about?”

“Beats me. You're the smart one here, boss. But look at this now....”

The robot straightens back up to its normal hunched pose, a piece of folded paper in its claw. Walking over to you, its photo-receptor eyes looking in two different directions, it hands the paper over to you.

“Anarchists United,” You read aloud, turning the pamphlet over. The paper is grainy and thick, probably made in someone's sink out of materials that would certainly not include a tree. You've seen thousands of pamphlets like these from hundreds of organizations over the years. Most of them were from peaceful groups who demanded reforms to this or that facet of modern society. A few were of a more violent ilk. For the most part, these organizations seemed content to fight among each other than for the causes they championed. “Looks like these guys have a beef with everyone in general, but have a particular hatred for banks. Seems convenient we found this here, to be honest.”

“Did you notice their logo, there?” C0lumb0t asks

You take a look. It's a play on the Chaos symbol of an eight pointed star, only instead of arrows it consists of workman's tools like hammers and pickaxes. The southern point is a garden trowel.

“All right,” You say, noticing that the organization has listed a downtown address for the reader to visit if they want more information. Slipping the pamphlet into your pocket, you look over the room one more time. The clean up crew will be here any minute and will take a digital scan of the room and the body. If you need to later, you know you can visit the Main Office and examine a virtual simulation of everything in the room. “I want you to go downstairs and tell that grunt to keep an eye on the place until the cleanup crew gets here.”

“You got it, boss,” C0lumb0t says, moving toward the door. You've worked with the robot for a few years now, so you just wait for a moment. Sure enough, as soon as it reaches the door it turns back and fixes one of it's eyes on you. “Just one more thing, if you don't mind....”

“What is it?”

“What do you want me to do after I'm done talking to the guard?” it asks.

What should C0lumb0t do?
  1. Visit the bookstore and see if they have a record of who purchased the books. 40%
  2. Inquire at Inner Illuminations, see if Mordent's ex has anything to say. 30%
  3. Go to Mordent's house and talk to his neighbor. 30%
  4. Talk to the Anarchists. 10%

And then, what are you going to do
  1. Visit Bookstore 10%
  2. Call on the ex-wife 40%
  3. Talk to Anarchists 20%
  4. Go to Mordent's estate 30%

So you can vote for the outcome you desire by clicking on the polls in the upper right corner over there. Voting is open until Thursday May, 8th and the next chapter will post Monday May, 12th. If you are viewing this on smartphone and the polls don't appear, you can list your choices in the comments and I'll count them. Good luck.