Detective Jane Foley and Sergeant Paul Morton were on their way to the scene of the crime, their initial dispatch triggered by an unusual retraction of an AI from A-NET at 10:25pm, however things had gone from routine to weird very quickly. The attention from various agencies was growing fast, and other than the A-NET Violation no one had told Foley why. It could turn out to be something as small as a tech malfunction, yet already her boss was running scared of Special Branch. His last message on a local MPD channel was to warn her that other investigators would be on the scene and soon. With years of experience in her gut it made Foley’s hair stand on end.

“There could be weapons involved.” Morton said.

“Honestly Morton, I thought I’d seen it all on the night shift, but this level of escalation before we know the crime isn’t normal.”

Foley looked out of the hopper in disgust as they climbed above the traffic patterns and accelerated to 200 mph. A veteran of the MPD for twenty years, she stuck around because of what had happened to her son. Seventeen-year-old Samuel, killed at the start of his life, so full of potential. She’d had just pick him up from school when the 911 came in, she wasn’t even on duty but she had been right in the neighborhood and no one else would get there on time. While waiting in the police hopper for her, Samuel had been hit with a ground explosion that came straight through the armored walls of the hopper. An explosion meant to kill a police officer, a crooked one as it turned out but Foley got there first. It was something she could never forgive herself for, and she only hoped to save other people from the pain of losing their loved ones. But things at the police force had taken a turn for the worse in the past few years. Her cop’s intuition kept screaming that something was wrong that night. Everything felt rushed. As a rule, she followed her intuition, and she could have opted out of this assignment but she had not, a young boy in trouble, potential over escalation. She was powerless really.

“Almost on location boss.” Morton’s eager voice brought her back out of the trance-like state she was in, watching Manchester whiz by below her. She checked her watch 10:50pm.

”OK, so what we know,” she said, “is that this place is listed to a first-year student at Manchester University, goes by the name of Jay Maison. We also know his parents have done pretty well and are working their way up the ISEC ladder on various trajectories. Dad is on the engineering side of ISEC and Mom’s in flight school. Kid has had a nice upbringing with a stable family life and no prior history with MPD, or any other agency, for that matter. He even did well enough in that low-life Manchester Comprehensive to get a partial scholarship to Manchester U.”

She drummed her fingers on the window, looking for some clue to open this case, that was a mystery before it even started, up.

“You think he’s a hacker? Nobody removes themselves from A-NET.”

She nodded slowly but said nothing. They landed on the hopper pad of the building opposite Morton busied himself with loading on-scene boxes, onto MPD drones.

She pointed at Jay’s building. “Look, the POD on the floor one below his is empty. Lights are out and there is No Occupied sticker on the window in case of emergency rescue. Let’s get in there and set up. We can send some Nano probes up through the floor to get a look at what’s going on while we wait for more non-information from our esteemed leaders.”

“I’ll get the doors open and make sure the place is clear.”

She smiled as the young sergeant ran off to make things nice. Had she ever been that keen and eager? The thought only worsened her mood.

“Code blue,” she sent the command via her NJI’s to internal bionics and made her body armor stiffen. Her stomach complained as internal force fields erected around her vital organs. The tech had saved her life before, in the line of duty, and she was grateful for it. She was less happy about the implants that backed up her most recent memories to the storage unit in the hopper, ready to for routing off somewhere unknown in the ISEC cloud for safe keeping. It felt like an invasion of privacy, but courts had held that law enforcement must be accountable. Foley had her own suspicions about the real reason her memories were of interest. While cloning wasn’t quite there yet, there were rumors that ISEC was getting close, and the idea was that someday soon, if you were killed in the line of duty, you could be re-lifed. She was skeptical about whether that was even a good idea. Would the new person have anything to do with her, or would she just be a trained soldier, loyal only to the chain of command?

Standing at the elevator, she took off her backpack and checked to make sure that the fusion battery cell inside was operational. The last thing she wanted was her armor suit to crash the second she pulled a gun, or worse, had one fired at her. Guns were rare in the civilian population, but the criminals still always seemed to find a way to get them. Not that she expected this teenager to be of any real danger. She and Morton must be here on a reconnaissance mission. Like Morton had said, it could be white collar crime, NET crime was the biggest category even with AI.

“Sitrep?” she asked as she walked into the apartment directly underneath Maison’s.

Morton stood up straight and looked her in the eye. “The nano bots have been prepped and are ready to deploy. I have a mix of sound, video, and smell for observation, and a full sensor set of bots ready to start taking chemical samples. On your command, I will send these up while I prep the fingerprinting bots.”

She was about to give the order to go ahead when her com-link started to blink on the back of her retina. She held up a hand to indicate she wanted Morton to hold on.

“Boss, I am about to send in a set of bots and we are directly underneath the suspect’s POD, I would rather not take a voice call right now.” She sent via her NJI.

The response back was immediate. “Don’t disturb the crime scene. I just got a call from Special again and they want their agent to control things.”

Then why were they here at all? She struggled not to say anything impolite. “Can you tell us what we are dealing with here?”

There was a long pause.

“Look, Foley, I am going to level with you: I really don’t know. But special branch is all over this and they are the ones pulling the strings, so do not step out on a limb on this one, OK?”

“Loud and clear, boss, we’re in a holding pattern, out.”

She told Morton to stand down his bot army for the moment and took out a cigarette. Morton obliged, glancing at the ceiling. She followed his gaze upward to see the smoke alarms and tamper-resistant tabs all over them.

“Damn Student Residence.” She sent an override code into the building’s AI and isolated then switched off the alarms in the POD, then lit her smoke and took a long anarchistic pull on the tobacco. She knew it would cause her trouble in briefing. She could picture the faces of the rest of the squad. The daily meetings were boring as hell, and she thought that the only reason they hadn’t long since been replaced by video links was because the higher ups liked to feel in control, the tech was all embedded in their heads, they could be summoned to a VR Incident room at any moment.

Morton smiled nervously at the smoke and went to the window to look out. “Looks like Special Branch are here,” he said. “There’s an unmarked black hopper pulling alongside the window upstairs.” It was 11:20pm.

She liked that he was a little bit scared of her. It made her job easier. She wandered over and looked, then to her surprise saw the driver step off the front of the hopper, take two steps on what looked like thin air and was in the window. Was this some new classified tech or a fancy force field? She did instant replay and studied the scene a few times looking for some trick. It was just like the SB to show up and steal the thunder, she had to take a closer look.

“Morton, send up one video bot and pipe the feed to my HUD only, I don’t want you getting in trouble.”

Morton obliged, and what Foley witnessed was something very strange indeed. There seemed to be a flood of light streaming out of the agents eyes as he looked around the room, it looked like he was emitting decontamination gamma pulses from his eye! The closest thing she could think of was an alien abduction flick she’d seen when she was a kid. Whatever they were dealing with, it was big, and extremely odd.

She motioned to Morton to withdraw the nano bot and she went back to the window. She watched the SB officer take off through the window, empty handed she shivered, recalling, and storing the footage of the eyes for later inspection in some bootleg storage she had that could get her fired if it was ever found.

Her MPD channel on her NJI’s broke in on priority. “We just got word from Special to seal the crime scene and do a full forensic sweep.”

“Morton, swap your toys for a full sweep, the boys not there and they want the works,” she said, and skulked off to the hopper. What she needed was a stiff drink and some time to figure out what this all meant. Even with the weird shit she had just seen this SB officer do, what had this seventeen-year-old kid done to warrant such focused attention? The only potential dirt she had turned up was the girl he was seeing was in fact someone he had grown up with. She was legally his sister but it wasn’t a crime, Foley smelled foul play. On the way home, her guilt for her own loss and mistakes of the past still plaguing her she stopped at a café with no cameras and one where she knew wasn’t monitored by MPD or ISEC, she punched off duty on her NJI’s and used a prepaid card from her pocket pre-loaded with credits and flicked some off the card at the sensor on the front of one of the computers. It registered she had fifteen minutes of online time. She logged into an account that had no links to her. Her special forces training taking over and she typed an E-mail to Jay as so far, she had noticed no one was yet tracking his account and she reckoned the boy must be feeling scared witless by now. She encrypted it with the best programs she had and signed it telling him to MagDump the email to protect them both. She hoped he got it in time and deleted it before they started snooping on him. She could always say she was trying to trap him but it was a thin argument.

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