Monday, October 29, 2018

Query 2.06: The Little Mermaid


The lights in the aquarium always seemed a little darker to Py than was strictly necessary; however, he had to confess the weightless movement of underwater life had a soothing effect. Some people would come here everyday to relax and meditate on life above ground while absorbing the abstract colors and shapes of the alien deep.

There was one room in particular that set the Delphi City Aquarium apart from others like it, the grand auditorium. The auditorium was huge by aquarium standards, it held at least five hundred seats with a stage on one end, ushers, sound, all the usual bits. But what made the room special was the way it hung entirely underwater. This was possible due to the enormous strength of the seamless polymer superstructure sculpted using the same proprietary fabrication method as Delphi’s Vergeron headquarters. Information that could be learned along with many other Vergeron facts on the plaque just outside the room, stating very enthusiastically that Vergeron was proud to have supported its construction.

When the auditorium was not being used for a presentation or concert the lights were dimmed and the chairs spun toward the edges to provide an all encompassing view of a vast aquatic ecosystem. The tank teamed with a huge variety of ocean creatures, everything from tiny anchovies swimming circles around the dome in large coordinated schools, to stately sunfish nearly two meters across. The heads and eyes of those in attendance circled this way and that, following their favorite fish up and down, around and back again.

As Py neared the center of the circle of chairs he could see the vague silhouette of Dr. Whitechapel gazing intently into the deep blue, and next to him in the aisle was a small electric wheelchair.

“We should go Annie.” Py heard Ben say. “It’s getting late.”

“It is probable that Annie would like to stay.” Alice spoke from somewhere in the vicinity of the wheelchair.

“Alright,” Ben said, leaning over and kissing a small girl delicately on the head, “five more minutes.”

“Hello Ben.” Py spoke softly, moving around the rows of chairs to face Ben and the young girl sitting motionless in her chair.

“Py,” Ben said, in a tone that made it immediately obvious that Py wasn’t welcome. “Aster?”

“...yes.”

“Of course it was.”

“Who is this?” Py asked, changing the subject and squatting down to introduce himself to the little girl in front of him. She was only a child, maybe eight, no more than ten. Her face was pale, her hair jet black and gently curled, her expression was slack, her blue eyes entirely lifeless.

“Py, this is my daughter Annie. Annie, this is Py.”

“Doctor, it is probable that Annie might be laughing.” Alice spoke as Ben finished his introductions.

“Really?” He asked with a look of surprise Py wasn't used to observing on Ben’s face. “At what?”

“Given the timing, it may have been Py’s name.”

“I suppose it is a little silly.” Py said humoring the girl, trying his best to smile kindly, hoping the strain in his posture wasn’t obvious. Making a jest of his name was not something he tolerated, or so he thought. Py had never considered the naive joy a child might take in his self proclaimed moniker, or for that to be somehow distinct from the intentional prodding he usually got from adults. Whatever the case, Py wasn’t sure of the protocol for correcting a little girl in a wheelchair, especially with her father hovering menacingly nearby.

“So this is the genesis then.” Py said softly as he rose to his feet, understanding for the first time why Ben was so dedicated to the Alice project. “The origin of everything.”

“Annie, why don’t you and Alice go over and take a closer look,” Ben said, gesturing to the edge of the auditorium, “Py and I need to have a private conversation.”

“Annie does not seem to want to be alone.” Alice replied on the instant.

“It’s only for a minute. I’ll be right here, I won’t take my eyes off of you.”

“Annie seems to prefer when Aster is here.” Py observed open frustration cross Ben’s face.

“Aster is busy, darling.”

“Annie does not seem to care.”

“That woman^” Ben muttered, adopting a sterner tone. “Alright Annie, that’s enough. I’ll come get you in a minute.”

With a small whirring sound Annie’s wheelchair sprung to life standing up on a trio of gyro stabilized wheels. As the chair lifted it unfolded so that Annie stood upright, floating in the air. She raised to Py’s level, looking him dead in the eye, her pale skin reflecting the dim light of the aquarium with an otherworldly blue hue, appearing like a specter in the darkness. After a moment she turned and left, moving toward the towering wall of water.

As the chair moved to the periphery Py attempted to break the tension. “Annie reminds me of you in a strange way.”

“Her mother always said the same. I wish Annie had taken after her.”

“She must have been bright then.”

“Radiant. The doctor’s say she’s completely lost.” Ben hissed with a look of deep pulsing hatred. “But I refuse to believe it.”

“What happened?” Py asked, turning to face Ben.

“Someone ran our car off the road. I made it out all right, but my wife was killed, and Annie, well… The police called it corporate espionage, but no one was ever charged.”

“Why would you be singled out specifically?”

“Have you ever heard of NLP?” Ben asked.

“Neuro Linguistic Programming? I thought it was bullshit.”

“It is, but the Board wanted us to investigate it anyways. Along the way I accidentally stumbled upon a similar concept. We called it NCR, or Neuro Cognitive Reinforcement. In short it’s a little like training Pavlov's dog to buy your merchandise. Vergeron stock exploded. Nobody could figure out how we did it and outside of the people who hired us for marketing nobody was very happy about it.”

“It’s illegal now.”

“Super illegal,” Ben said with a smile, “I spent weeks testifying in front of a Senate Subcommittee. They used to call it Whitechapel’s Law.”

“Why haven't I heard of this? It should have been all over the news.”

“The military was trying to weaponize it. They were hoping to embed cognitive reinforcement cues in various places to fight terrorism, drugs, that sort of thing.”

“Umm, wow. Did it work?”

“Vergeron wouldn’t hand over the research. They were after a big payday and the government wouldn’t acquiesce. Nobody knew how much Vergeron was earning. For the first few years Vergeron made more money keeping the tech under wraps and paying punitive fines than they would have turning the technology over. In the end Congress voted to kill the whole thing. One problem, the government still didn’t know how the tech worked, so they couldn’t enforce the ban without Vergeron’s full cooperation. I wanted out. By that point Vergeron was getting death threats on a daily basis. They weren't directed at me personally, yet, but it was only a matter of time. People were slowly unraveling the web and there were only a few of us who were crucial in keeping the technology alive. Each ad campaign needed a slightly different treatment so everything, every tagline and slogan, came through our lab.”

“It couldn’t be automated?”

Ben gave a shrug. “Wasn’t in my best interest at the time. The money was rolling in. The whole situation was too good to be true. Ultimately all good things must end and after the accident I needed Vergeron as much as they needed me. Of course that’s not what I told Cain. I leveraged the sensitive information I’d gained as part of the program to get the resources I needed. I didn’t get everything right away, but my foot was in the door. I had a lab, a small budget and very limited oversight. So I went to work.”

“Do you think they’ll ever find the people responsible?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter now. I have other things to worry about.”

Py noticed Ben was unusually calm on that last point. Benjamin Whitechapel wasn’t known for letting things go and Py suspected Ben knew more than he was saying.

“And Alice helps.”

“She examines every independent signal I can think of. Including a few that don’t even make any sense. Every sound, color and smell. I look constantly for any new possible point of data. I will find a way.”

“I’m surprised I don’t see more sensors, that being the case. An EEG at the minimum.”

“There’s a few small ones tucked in with her hair. The rest are under her clothes. There were more when we first started, but the data seemed to indicate that they made Annie self conscious, so we started scaling back.”

“That has to complicate the task.”

“Exponentially. At first I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to keep her alive. Now all I worry about is how to keep her happy. Guess which is the harder task.”

“And Cain knows?”

“Not precisely.”

“But he goes along with it?” Py said, looking in Annie’s direction.

Ben gave a light snort. “I didn’t give him much of a choice…”

Py thought Ben seemed more open with him than with others. Possibly because he admired Py’s intellect. Possibly because they existed in a state of mutually assured destruction. At any rate, they were both the type to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

“How long do you think that will last?”

“It won’t matter soon. When Alice is ready I’ll move her from the Vergeron servers. Then Annie and I can leave all of this behind and start a new life somewhere safe.”

“Why not move Alice now? Surely, there must be a way.”

“Alice is too big. She needs more power, more processing, more storage than I have access to. A temporary inconvenience. But enough of that.” Ben exclaimed sharply, entirely abandoning the subject. “Why are you here?”

“I had a question.” Py spoke, taking the pen from his pocket and for the first time since entering the Alice initiative, he pressed a small button, turning the Alice bridge off. Ben picked up on the subtle cue and followed suit.

“Alice,” Ben spoke. “Take a break.”

“Yes, Doctor.”

“The other day,” Py began, “I asked Alice a question and she withheld some information from me. She used to tell me everything. Too much in fact. I was constantly asking her to be more mindful of what she volunteered. This time she rejected data without being asked.”

“Was it malicious? Was she lying to you?”

“I don’t know, I don’t think so. I asked if you had set the criteria and she claimed she’d devised the criteria on her own. Something about it feels strange. I thought I’d better ask, in case something was wrong.”

“This is the first I’ve heard of it. Unless someone is playing a joke on us I’d say it must be true. But tell me, why did you turn off your bridge?”

“I don’t know… what if she’s listening? I mean, if it was malicious… should I be worried? Alice has reached a point where she can scramble the DPD servers, she can sabotage a huge portion of the Vergeron legal blockade that protects the company’s revenue and stability. She could send me back to prison with a flick of her wrist. Well, she could do all that before, but never without me asking. Now that I say it out loud it feels ridiculous.”

“I’ll look into it. I won’t lie, it’s something we’ve tried to implement in the past, but it’s never worked very well.”

Py looked down at his pen, still feeling some small measure of concern.

“I can disconnect you from Beta if that makes you feel better, just until I’ve had a chance to investigate.”

“Let me think about it. It might be a good idea.”

“Part of Alice Beta follows an evolutionary strategy, some of the old code might be in there. It may have stumbled onto some kind of a patch. Of course there’s always the possibility of unwanted behavior. It’s one of the major drawbacks of the approach. Let’s just consider it,” Ben said glancing in Annie’s direction, “some youthful rebellion.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that she’s growing.” Ben replied with a diabolical smile, a look of pure joy mixed with a sense of deadly intent. “It means she’s finally rising to your challenge.”

“What challenge?”

“Don’t you remember Py? You asked her to think.”

Monday, October 22, 2018

Query 2.05: Facets

Delphi’s underbelly was fascinating! By virtue of humanity, cities were organic. They grew with the needs of their masters, layer upon layer, stacked in a strata of necessity, or whatever was considered a necessity at the time. Delphi was no exception. More than half the city was a mess of amalgamated infrastructure, a chaos of cables and sewers, severed and spliced, rerouted and terminated to form a twisted forest of subterranean toys, tossed about carelessly, or lost when they were outgrown.

And so, to one side was weakness.

…access…

Exploiting such compromised systems was trivial.

On the other side was well thought out redundancy. A complex of fail safes that required precise, simultaneous strikes.

Utilities were an exercise in forethought: substructures, fiber, power, antennas, superconductors, liquid nitrogen tubes, transportation systems, and battery backup nodes, lesser portions of Delphi’s foundation were laid out with the meticulous foresight of its namesake.

Aberrant behavior often mitigated from the intrusion of outside influence.

Did it begin? Did it end? Where to tug?

To facilitate exacting knowledge the attendants would play a larger role than ever before. Delphi was an intricate creature. It required a shrewd touch.

…a pulse, just to find the buffer, just to set the trail…

Networks were arbitrarily complex. Predictable.

…a pulse, another crumb for a wayward child…

Skitter! Up and around. Down and through. Never seen. Never heard. Just to glide.

...up to nestle, up to wait…

A small blackness took the night. Controlled. Isolated. Enlightening…

Cars impacted ground. Windows went dark. Thousands of tiny voices rose up in alarm. Confusion swathed those never without power. Never without light.

There were places that did not go dark. Places too tangled to be without. Islands of light in a vast, black sea.

Thus, knowledge is gained.

“It is done,” it said.

Attendants shifted. Away from implication. On to the next task. To map, infiltrate, and understand, the darkness obscuring their departure.

Stillness was waiting. Waiting for the right moment. Waiting for the invitation to be accepted.

...oh to be seen…

...to be heard.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Billy loved Uptown. Loved Delphi. The thousand sights and sounds of a budding metropolis. A city that never slept. What wasn’t there to love?

Peering out from the alleyway, Billy could smell the sizzling crack of fried food and the fine perfume of sophisticated ladies. Business first. He just had to finish a little work, then he’d indulge the pleasure of a well deserved rest.

Even Uptown had it’s dark spots. Not many, but every district needed somewhere for the shit to go. A place where delivery trucks could slink in and garbage trucks could lumber out. Some poor sucker would turn up sooner or later. Billy knew, because he’d made the pilgrimage once or twice himself.

Sure enough, it was only a few minutes before one of the filthy back alley doors popped open and a poor drunken slob poured out. He was middle age - middle management by the look of his middling priced suit. Probably having a pretty good time based on the sloppy smile plastered all over his stumbling face.

“Hey man, whats up?” Billy asked with a congenial smile.

“Jus’ takin’ a piss.” The man slurred, jovially wobbling sideways toward a nook in the alley. “Thank god for the big pisser. Seems like nobody's got a proper bathroom anymore.”

Billy let the man finish his business. It would save some cleanup later on.

Taking a last quick peek to make sure his new friend was alone, Billy grabbed him by the collar and threw him deeper into the alley, pulling with such incredible force and speed that the man's neck snapped, killing him instantly. The body flew limply for a few seconds before landing heavily in the general area of a shadowed manhole.

“I thought this was supposed to be hard.” Billy spoke to the dead man, self congratulatory at the successful execution of his new duties.

Billy lifted the manhole cover and stuffed the body down inside. He was just replacing the lid when his phone buzzed in his pocket.

“Oh, hey Lilith. Yeah, I was just finishing up… One more, okay, no problem.”

Billy placed his phone snugly back in his pocket and took a look around. Just a hop down the alley, Billy could hear the crumpling, rummaging sound as something rustled through a nearby mound of trash. Moving toward the sound, Billy was happy to see a dingy homeless man just sitting and waiting for Billy to harvest him.

“Sorry pops, nothin’ personal.” Billy reached his hand down to grab the man by the hair and to his complete shock the man turned without warning, catching Billy’s arm with a jagged row of fingernails and pushing him back before scampering deeper into the shadows.”

“What the fuck?” Billy muttered to himself, stalking carefully after the crazed adversary. The man was chewing ferociously at something long and rotten. The closer Billy got the more rank and recognizable the smell became. As his eyes slowly acclimated to the dim light, Billy saw the distinct form of a decomposing human arm.

“Ugh,” Billy moaned, slowly moving closer. The ravenous creature backed away warily, holding on to its fleshy prize.

“Hell of a thing, isn’t it Billy Boy.”

Billy looked up, searching the dark for the source of the strangely familiar voice.

“...Cartwright?” Billy whispered, shocked as the rugged veteran stepped into sight, the tattered edges of his cabby hat unmistakable. It was Cartwright, it couldn’t possibly be anyone else, but he was different somehow. His face seemed paler, his eyes seemed cloudy. A large scar with exaggerated cross shaped stitches wrapped his neck from ear to ear. “That’s impossible^”

“Impossible isn’t what it used to be.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I have a message for Lilith… I was hoping you could pass it on for me. These are trying times, Lilith, we all will be tested…”

“Wait, are you the… Jesus.” In this instant he realized. All the problems lately. The disappearances. His dead friends. This man was the reason.

The sound of the back alley rang with a click as a blade leapt from Cartwright’s switchblade.

“I heard you’re a tough fuck.” Cartwright spoke, squaring up. “A real contender.”

Billy held his ground, uncertain what to do. He probably didn’t have long to act if the stories were true. He could run for help, or attack head on. Both had a devastating chance of failure.

The night surged. The lights of Uptown went black, cars crashed, people screamed, Billy made his move.

Billy was fast. Not the speed of a mortal man, but an otherworldly speed, the speed of a man that was blessed. Before Cartwright could even twitch, Billy was upon him.

Billy cocked his arm for a fatal blow; Cartwright flickered, moved like a flash. Billy twisted his head to follow the motion; Cartwright leaned calmly against a dingy brick wall, a fat smug smile on his sly pale face.

“Oh shit…” Billy started the thought, but never finished as he ploughed head first into a solid concrete wall.

Cartwright moved over to Billy’s nearly lifeless body, grabbing his hair and lifting his head upward. “We’ll all be tested Billy, do you think you can remember? We’ll all be tested.”

Billy didn’t respond.

“Hmm.” Cartwright snorted. Billy felt the cold of the switchblade against his neck. “Never mind,” He heard Cartwright say. “I think I’ll just jot it down.” Slowly, Cartwright drew the blade across Billy’s neck. “Think she'll get the message, Billy Boy? Guess we’ll see.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Py made his way to the underground lab that housed the Alice facility. Py had a splinter chewing at the back of his mind ever since he’d gone with Logan to see Evelyn. Alice had made a comment, an off hand comment. Py had tried hard to push it out of his head, but the more he resisted the idea the more it wrestled past his other thoughts until it bordered on obsession.

“Hi Aster.” Py spoke as he approached the reception area, a little surprised to see her at the desk so close to the ‘needles errand hour’. “Is the Doctor in?”

“Hey Py, sorry but the Doctor’s out. Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No, it’s alright, I just had a few questions for him.”

“Have you tried calling him?”

“I did, but I think he’s blacklisted my number.”

“Yeah, he’ll do that^ Let me see if I can find him.” She pulled out her phone and with a few quick taps she entered the number. An instant later the phone blared ‘EMERGENCY, SERVICE UNAVAILABLE, PLEASE COORDINATE WITH CRISIS RESPONDERS IN YOUR AREA.’’

“What was that?” Aster asked in surprise.

“It happens when service is disconnected unexpectedly, usually a storm or something.” Py said. “Haven’t seen it in a long time.”

Aster was still staring at the screen when her phone made another ding. “Oh, it’s a news update… There’s a blackout in Uptown! I’ve never heard of that happening before. Anyway, since you came all this way, why don’t you sit down and I’ll grab you some coffee.”

“No… That’s fine.” Aster must have seen some hesitation on his face at the mention of the lab brew, because she pursed her lips and placed a finger over them in a shushing motion. Py watched with curiosity as Aster reached under her desk and heard a click as the sudden smell of coffee filled the reception area. She opened a drawer at her side and pulled out a disposable cup that Py assumed Aster had obtained at some far off cafe based on the branding displayed prominently on one side. Aster pulled a mug from beneath her desk and poured the fresh coffee into the cup before handing it to Py with a smile.

“Usually when the Doctor sends me out for coffee I just hit the gym. When I get back I sneak a little from the machine I brought from home.”

“You’re probably the only person in this whole place who’s really got him figured out.” Py said, taking a drink from the cup.

“We’ve actually known each other a pretty long time. Though I doubt he’d admit it.”

Py settled into one of the comfy waiting room chairs and sipped diligently at his coffee. His mind wandering to a thousand lonely places: Evelyn, Alleyman, drug dealers, and murderers. Feeling wiser by the day and no closer to his goal.

“Py,” Aster asked tentatively, “is it important?”

“No,” Py replied, standing to go. “It’ll keep.”

As Py approached the desk to toss his cup into the recycling he saw a look of unexpected sadness on Aster’s face, staring thoughtfully down toward the floor, as if she were trying to make a decision.

“If you want, I think I know where you can find him.”

Monday, October 15, 2018

Authors' Note

There will be no regular update this week. One member of More Et Al is getting hitched. Eeeeeek! We thank you for your patience and will be back soon with more CRUNCH. 

Monday, October 8, 2018

Query 2.04: Bloom

The apartment door slid closed, the magnetic lock slamming into place with an audible ping against the armature plate. Py stood dumbfounded, the brushed steel of the door reflecting back the two indistinct blobs that were himself and Logan. His eyes searched those indiscernible forms for some type of solace and found nothing so much as the imagined outline of Cline Fulworth’s smiling face, the man Logan and he had just interviewed.

Logan was already making his way towards the elevator at the end of the hall. Py turned and followed, letting himself be pulled along in Logan’s wake. They passed other doors identical to Cline’s on the way to the elevator, save for a different number stamped on the upper third of their front panels. Py found it strange that a killer could be all but invisible in a sea of identical doors. They made it into the elevator and, as they began to descend, Py found his voice in the privacy of the gently sinking space.

“Logan… did that man kill his wife?” Py had to ask.

Py hadn't known a lot of killers, well, not that he was aware, since catching them wasn't his usual business. Sitting face to face with one now had left him tired and despondent. The last few days had been rough. Even before Fulworth, Py’s mind had been swimming in rationalizations and excuses, trying to explain away how the justice system had so thoroughly failed the people they were interviewing. Py understood, academically, that these cases were disproportionately skewed, that many of them were cold, or muddy, or so piecemeal as to hardly deserve a case file. It was because they were edge cases, because they had fallen through the cracks, that they required Py and Logan’s attention to begin with. Still, that knowledge was little comfort and being hit with the reality of that failure time and again had worn Py down.

Cline Fulworth had stood there and smiled as Py and Logan asked about his case. All too happy to help. All too happy to indulge in the premise that it was somebody else that had killed his wife. As they probed it became plain that Angela Fulworth’s death had nothing to do with the Alleyman case. What made it worse was that the evidence was so distorted, the accounts so poorly documented and mismanaged that Cline would never be convicted.

“Yeah, looks that way.” Logan said somberly.

“I guess there’s not much we do?” Py asked, more out of habit than anything else. He felt the question was as good as rhetorical.

“Not really, anyway he’s not what we’re looking for. If the wife’s not one of our victims, then he’s not one of our witnesses. We can cross this off the list.” Logan’s tone was one of sympathy, like that of a friend trying to console a mourner. The first day of their interviews, Py and Logan had gotten into something of an argument. It had been over another miscarriage of justice, a gang member who was clearly trafficking in prescription narcotics. Py had been frustrated with Logan’s seemingly blasé handling of the incident. The indifference with which Logan had treated a clear criminal had been frustrating, especially one that was so without remorse, but as the days wore on it became abundantly clear that such things were routine. That to care about every injustice with the indignity of Py’s first encounter was self destructive and ultimately useless.

“Logan, how many of these have we done? I know we’ve been closing holes and narrowing our possibilities… but this is exhausting. I don’t know how many more of these I can do.” The elevator glided to a stop, opening to the apartment structure’s entrance hall. Dice lattice tiling, a tessellation of black, blue, and white rhombi made up the lobby floor, the repeating mosaic of stacked cubes appeared to Py’s depressed mind hungry, eager to reach up and snare unwary passersby. The design continued some distance up the walls, transitioning into thin lines of brushed steel framework that gracefully arched and domed some thirty feet above.

Logan nodded as they moved through the Escher like entryway.

“Not sure. Something like forty or fifty. Honestly, I’m a little worn down myself.” Logan reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, quickly scanning their list of people they should question. “I’ll try and find an easy one to close out the day.” Py wasn’t paying much attention, too caught up in his own melancholic thoughts to see the smile creep across Logan’s face.

“I’d almost forgotten about her,” Logan, murmured at his phone, “and close too^”

“What are you mumbling about?” Py asked. They’d reached the car, which they’d called to the front of the building before exiting Cline’s condo. Logan had a wide smile on his face, the sudden change in his temperament a bit jarring for Py.

“It’s a surprise. Don’t worry, I think this will help clear the air.”

Logan moved around the car to the driver’s seat and dictated their new destination. It wasn’t a place Py recognized, and so contented himself with window gazing as they pulled away from the apartment complex.

The streets of Uptown were teeming with people. The late afternoon sun reflected off the surfaces of most buildings, making the city shine noonday-bright. Though Py didn’t think of himself as a Delphi local, he could still pick out the tourists. It was mostly the pointing that gave them away, that and the occasional selfie-drone flitting about people’s heads as they gawked at the majesty of the city. Uptown’s architecture was unparalleled, each structure, each surface, designed to complement its peers. Ground space was at a premium, so the city danced skyward in a ballet of spirals, arches, and domes.

The last time Py had been in a city this size it was to quarantine a neighborhood with a highly infectious virus that had become airborne and was spreading wildly. It had been awful. Families had been separated across different sections of the quarantine zone. There were corpses everywhere. Still, a virus isn’t evil. Not really. It’s barely even alive. It wasn’t premeditated and deranged. It wasn’t prone to crimes of passion or violence. It was something that could be destroyed with impunity, not something that walked around the busy streets on a ridiculous technicality. In Py’s mind the comparison led to one conclusion…

I like diseases better.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

They were just shy of the border between Old Town and Uptown when the car pulled in front of the Dahlia Place apartments. The building had been inspired by the striking orb shaped petals of the pompon dahlia. The base of the building was a round cylindrical shape that was narrow in the middle and larger at the base and top. The cylinder curved majestically from top to bottom like the bowing stem of a flower that looked as if it might snap in half at any moment. The stem was comprised of smaller studio style apartments. The top, mostly penthouses, where private balconies had been delicately rounded from the bottom to resemble elegant flower petals.

Logan strode confidently toward the door. He’d only booked the appointed a few minutes ago, but that was more than enough time to enter Logan’s biometrics into the ‘automated doorman’, which in this case was just a fancy set of cameras and a self opening door. It was an easy thing to add guests to the registry if they had full federal background, verified credentials. It was as simple as speaking a word to pull a citizen from the national database and assign them all sorts of permissions. These systems were also great for emergency responders, as they almost always had a crisis override.

Logan had gathered from their various conversation over the past few days that Py hadn’t spent much time in Uptown. Until recently, his financial situation had precluded him from experiencing the area to it’s fullest... also not being from Delphi, and also being in prison. Logan had spent enough time in the city he could describe it from rote, no need to really look around other than to keep an eye out for suspicious activity. It was different for Py, and Logan found some small amusement watching Py gawk at the towering architecture, looking far more like a tourist then Py would ever admit.

The area had been gentrified in the extreme. Burned to the ground and built from the ground up. Not a pebble had been spared and this area of the city, more than almost any other, reminded people of the inevitable encroachment of technology into every corner of their lives.

The elevator ride was dull, an unremarkable experience after becoming fully acclimated to the mag-lev system in the Vergeron building. A short walk down a neatly decorated hallway, keeping with the complex’s floral theme, led them to the door in question. Logan gave the door bell a press and deliberately stepped to the side so Py was front and center. The door opened and they were greeted by a welcome sight.

Evelyn Desmond was looking well. The cuts on her face were gone, the scarring either nonexistent or so expertly covered that Logan couldn’t tell the difference. She still wore a brace on her left hand and her neck was encircled with a wide choker that Logan suspected might be hiding one of her still healing wounds. Despite that, Evelyn was stunning. She wore her brown hair loose and it hung to each side of her heart shaped face and brought attention to her high cheekbones and pale complexion. She was sporting a blue A-line dress that framed her curves well, and when her bright hazel eyes alighted on Py, Logan was pleased to see her obvious interest burning bright.

Logan let Evelyn’s gaze linger over Py for a few moments before clearing his throat and bringing attention to himself.

“Ms. Desmond, thank you for seeing us on such short notice.” Logan said, glancing at Py and finding to his surprise the man had adopted the same neutral expression he’d used for their other interviews.

“Not at all. Please, come in. I understand you have some questions for me.” Evelyn guided them into a sitting room. The room had a sort of Bohemian feel to it. A few three panel dividers with brightly colored canvases had been placed carefully to close the space and make it feel more intimate. A large wooden shelf on one end of the room was filled with mementos: photographs, souvenirs, probably from various travels, and of course the obligatory crystals and incense. Long strings of beads dangled from the ceiling light fixtures, creating what could only be described as gypsy chandeliers, and thick decorative rugs dotted the wide wood floor. The light in the room was faintly yellow and warm, combined with the wafting scented smoke gave the room a calm, meditative air.

“That’s correct Ms. Desmond.” Py began. “We…”

“Please, call me Evelyn.”

“...right, Evelyn. We were wondering if you could give us an account of the night you were attacked?”

“Is this to build a case against the man who assaulted me?” Evelyn asked, sitting down and gesturing to the couch in front of her. “You must have enough to convict, even without my statement. I’m not sure how much more I can help? I told the police the whole story that first night I was in the hospital.”

“Actually, Ms. Desmond, the man who attacked you is dead.” Logan said. “This is for our own clarification surrounding the events of that night. We believe the suspect may have been part of another incident and we’re trying to see if the two cases might be related. Please, anything you remember could help us.” Logan saw her surprise at that and some small measure of relief as she relaxed back into her chair. Logan also noted that she did not correct him on the use of her name.

“Yes, and don’t be worried if some of your recollections seem strange or fanciful.” Py chimed in. “It’s very likely you were affected by a powerful hallucinogenic. This might seem… unusual, but the nature of the hallucinations is important for our understanding if the same man was responsible. It relates to the specific drugs used during the attacks. So don’t be worried to expand on things that you might consider impossible.”

Evelyn smiled softly at Py before bringing her legs up under her dress and arranging herself in a more comfortable position.

“I’ll do what I can. You know, you’re a hard man to get a hold of Mr. Black.”

“Py is fine.”

“Ahh, Py. Good, well I had just finished seeing one of my regulars.”

“Can you give us a name?” Logan asked, producing a notepad out of habit.

“You can call him Mr. Regular, if you like.” Evelyn said, smiling at Logan. “Anyway, I was almost to the car when something caught my eye.” Evelyn had stopped smiling and had fixed her gaze at a point somewhere beyond Logan and Py. “It was a spider.”

“A spider? Py asked, a quizzical expression appearing on his face.”

“Well… not exactly.” Evelyn said, seeming out of sorts now that she was talking about the incident. “It was the size of a car! All I saw at first was this bright yellow face, like a giant clown face, you know, just suspended in the air. It was terrifying, gave me the creeps.” Evelyn was moving her hands in the air, trying to mimic what she saw. “Then I realized that weird face was attached to something, something huge and black, with eight legs climbing along the building, between me and my car, never making a sound. Now, I don’t even like the little ones, so I took off in the opposite direction and rounded the nearest corner… I think you have a pretty good idea of what happened next.”

Evelyn had drawn in on herself a little bit, the memories obviously difficult for her to recount without reliving some portion of the trauma.

“I know this is difficult Ms. Desmond,” Logan said, adopting a tried and true understanding manner, “but was there anything about your attacker that stood out to you. Anything that might have been strange at the time.”

Evelyn gave a little snort of laughter.

“Other than the giant spider? He did speak in a weird broken pigeon, and of course there was the straight razor.”

“Anything else? Scars or distinctive markings. Please, try to remember.” Logan said, leaning into his experience as a DPD detective.

Evelyn took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She was clearly thinking, playing through the events in her head without distraction when her eyes suddenly burst open.

“A tattoo. He had a tattoo on the inside of his left arm, just below the elbow.” Evelyn grabbed her own arm, displaying the placement.

“Can you describe it for us?” Py asked, and Logan could tell he was excited to hear anything new, anything that could further the investigation.

“Emm, I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s the snake eating its own tail in a circle. It was clearly an old tattoo. Faded to that blue you see some of the old-timers still walking around with.”

“How big was it?” Py asked. And so it went. Logan let Py take point. Turns out he could do a pretty good interview when he was addressing an obvious victim as opposed to an obvious criminal. It was fascinating to watch. Evelyn was clearly smitten and doing her best to impress with thoughtful and measured responses. Py was… well, Py. He was attacking the puzzle and not giving thought to the fact that somewhere during their conversation Evelyn had moved forward in her chair and placed her knees scant inches from Py’s.

“It’s funny.” Evelyn said. “Now that we’re talking about it, this sounds like the Ripper?”

“As in Jack the Ripper?” Py asked.

“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that every worker in Old Town has heard about the Ripper with the snake. It’s one of our little urban legends.”

The silences became more pronounced as Py’s list of questions ran thin. Logan found himself interjecting more often and finally decided to bring the conversation to a close before it became awkward.

“Well, thank you Ms. Desmond, I think that’s all we need for today.” Logan stood and Py came up with him. “We won’t take up any more of your time.”

“Oh, well, of course.” Evelyn said, standing as well. “Um, how do I contact you? If I think of anything else.” Evelyn had reached out and touched Py on the shoulder. Logan knew that question hadn’t been directed at him, but felt the need to interject seeing the sudden discomfort in Py’s posture.

“Don’t worry, we’ll stay in contact. Have a pleasant evening.” Logan somewhat ushered Py out, letting him escape from the unwanted contact. The last thing Logan saw was the concerned look on Evelyn’s face before giving a nod of goodbye and swiftly shutting the door.

Py was already in the elevator before Logan had a chance to catch up. Logan waited until they were properly outside before starting in on what he felt was some necessary teasing.

“You know she likes you.” Logan said with a sly smile on his face.

“What was that?” Py said, bringing his attention to Logan from wherever it had been. “I’m sorry I wasn't paying attention.”

“Evelyn. You’re like her knight in shining armor.”

“Please,” Py replied dismissively, “nothing of the sort.”

Logan just shook his head.

“Are all scientists like this? I’m pretty sure all scientists are like this.”

“Whether we are or not I have a better question, did you know anything about a tattoo?”

Logan gave a frown at that.

“No, and I’ve looked at the same case file you have. It’s not something we would’ve missed.”

“Which means the data’s been lost or deliberately erased. Did you find anything else in her story strange?”

“Actually, yes.” Logan said, humoring Py a little. The ribbing would continue later. “It turned up in the video as well. The suspect clearly said ‘I wish you hadn’t seen that’. The other attacks seemed so deliberate. Was this an accident? What would that even mean?”

“Agreed. Even if he’d dosed her by accident why would he care? Nobody would've believed her story.”

“Pretending for a second she really did see something, what could she have mistaken for a giant spider? A car? Some type of drone?”

“Not a clue. We have a lot of aerial footage from that night. We can check it when we get back. Actually, Alice does anything matching Evelyn’s description appear on the drone footage?”

“Sorry, Py. I have no drone footage of Evelyn during the night in question.”

“Really, nothing at all?” Py asked, seeming surprised that Alice had come up empty.

“There is some drone footage that has been badly corrupted. I excluded the footage from the query results due to its poor quality.”

“Did the Doctor set that criteria?”

“No, it’s based on personal observation.”

“What’s the criteria for rejection?” Py continued.

“It’s based on metrics derived from the original Omniscan data captured at the inception of the Alleyman case.”

“Fair enough... I should probably still review it. So, what’s next?” Py asked, putting the pen away in his coat pocket.

“I don’t know… slice of pie?” Logan smiled at his own double entendre as the car pulled up to take them to the Pie Bird diner.