Monday, November 12, 2018

Query 2.08: Questionable Content

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next. This was the rhythm of Abigail's day.

Volunteering was always the highlight of her week. She was happy to do it, really. The gratitude in some of those faces for a simple ladle of stew…

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

There were a lot of new people working the shelter lately. You usually only saw new faces around holidays when guilt started knocking against the conscience. Not that Abigail was one to judge. It was lovely knowing there were others like her who cared, even in the off season. It was too bad they were all so private. She hadn’t gotten more than a few words out of any of them since they began.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

Most other shelters in Delphi had automated their serving process, the consistency and cost effectiveness of machines taking precedence over the personal touch, but the Millennium Shelter was exceptional, believing there was more to feeding the needy than just the food, that having a real person there showed a depth of caring that was psychologically important to those going through trying times. Abigail believed in that philosophy and was sure it had nothing to do with the fact that the Millennium Shelter was in Old Town and as such wasn’t funded sufficiently to retrofit the kitchen with the latest technology.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

Abigail noticed many of the shelter’s visitors were twitchy of late. Addicts weren’t uncommon, but there was a lot of skin picking going on, a lot of fluttering eyes and hungry gazes that were directed everywhere but the food. It made Abigail’s body prickle, especially her head, which itched terribly in a kind of sympathetic reaction. She wanted so much to dig her nails into her scalp and satisfy the need to scratch, but the job and her service gloves kept her hands occupied.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next.

Abigail was getting a bit hungry herself. It wouldn’t be long now. She’d be able to take a bowl and a roll herself in a few minutes. The shelter was kind enough to feed its volunteers once regular service closed for the day, and the stew looked good. Abigail was so hungry…

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop...pour…

When the man’s bowl came forward for its complementary chow, Abigail dropped the ladle and grabbed the arm. His eyes went wide in surprise as the stew pot crashed to the floor with Abigail flying over the counter and sinking her teeth into the man’s wrist.

His flesh was old and stringy, the tendon pulling away with difficulty, but the blood was hot and welcoming. His scream called Abigail to his mouth where his lips waited, supple and loose enough to nibble though as he tried and failed to push her away.

The screaming caught on and a wall of sound drown the room as everyone began to yell. The tables cleared. People scrambled for the doors, most of them not knowing why they ran, only that to not run ment finding out.

Abigail’s mind was blissfully blank, save for the need to feed, to satiate the craving she’d found an answer for. A security gate came down with a loud crack against the counter behind her. Abigail looked back, her unthinking mind tracking the new volunteers as they seemed to glide soundlessly out of sight. It didn’t hold her attention for long as the fevered movement of those around her caused her to give chase and attack.

There was some small piece of Abigail’s mind that hadn’t caught up with the rest of her. She swam in a dream, fixated on the repetition she’d left behind.

Scoop, pour, next. Scoop, pour, next. This was the rhythm of Abigail’s day.


“And what the hell am I supposed to do with these!” The Doctor’s voice thundered through the halls.

“I don’t know, but it takes a lot of paperwork to get stuff down here, so I can’t take it back without a special order.” The man talking back to the Doctor was more a guard than delivery doy. He wore the black common to the Underground and had a patient expression on his face.

“Who ordered these anyway?”

“Let’s see,” the man said, scrolling through the manifest pad, “someone named Alice.”

“Alice!” The Doctor called, stomping from the hallway into the lab. He was followed by a small automated forklift carrying a palette filled with hundreds of hard drives, his face twisted with utter exasperation. “What is this?”

“I’m running out of memory.” Alice spoke, her voice projected from the speakers built into her central body.

“And you ordered all these yourself?”

“Yes, Doctor.” The large camera body swung to focus on Ben, the Groucho Marx glasses, nose, and mustache combo the interns had strapped to the camera wobbled for a moment with the quickness of the motion.

“How’d you figure that out?”

“A P.O. is easy to file. You just fill in the blanks. I’ve seen Aster do it several times.” A small vein pulsed at Ben’s temple at the mention of Aster’s name.

“And the security arrangements?”

“The requisitions office automatically approves anything that has your signature on it.”

“You really shouldn’t use my signature.”

“Aster does.”

“Jesus Alice.” The Doctor replied, smashing his face in his hands. “Where are we even going to put all of this?”

“Racks and cables should arrive tomorrow.”

“That’s not what I meant, although thanks for that, what I meant is where are we going to put it? We don’t have a lot of floor space.”

Alice didn’t respond.

“Didn’t think of that, did you? Hmph, I’m sure we can think of something.” The Doctor said, shaking his head and leading the forklift back into the hall. “What are you even doing that requires so much storage?”

The Doctor stormed out of the room before anyone had a chance to answer, taking the forklift and its cargo with it. He glanced around for a moment before ordering the forklift to maneuver the payload of hard drives to the top of Aster’s desk.

While the Doctor and the robot argued over the safety implications of dropping its cargo on a desk, Logan stepped from the elevator and slipped through reception into the lab. Finding it best not to poke the bear, he slid passed the Doctor as quickly as he could, not saying a word and keeping his eyes to himself.

Py sat in his usual spot by the Alice workbench, pounding away on one of many keyboards that always seemed to litter the table, trying to tune out the distractions of the lab.

“Hey Py.” Logan called out as he entered. “What’s up?”

“Just playing my favorite game.” Py replied without lifting his eyes. “Juggle the crime statistics.”

“I’m surprised you can get much done with the DPD server down.” Logan said, swinging into a chair next to Py.

“Is that true?” Py asked, looking at Logan in surprise. “Alice can you find the server?”

“No, Py.”

“That’s unusual isn’t it?” Py asked, returning his gaze to Logan.

“It’s bad too. Total system failure. A friend of mine at the station said the master drives look like they’ve been struck by lightning. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

“Oh, Alice and I have been working off a copy of the database. The DPD server was really slow. Accessing one record at a time was alright, but it wasn’t built to handle a lot of cross referencing. I doubt the person who designed it considered the value of correlating the data on a large scale. It was actually faster to bring all the data here and cross reference it locally.”

“So this is your fault!” The Doctor called across the room brandishing a shipping order. “Where did you think all of that data was going?”

“I don’t know where Alice puts things. I asked if she could find a place for the data and she said yes.” The Alice armature was moving between Py and the Doctor, like it was monitoring a tennis match.

“And what’s this about?” The Doctor asked, throwing an image of a computer file directory onto the main screen, pointing at an encrypted file entry labeled ‘Py’s stuff _ Don’t erase’. “I can’t read it, I can’t delete it, I’m not even sure how big it is.”

Py’s face adopted a quizzical expression. “I’m sorry, that was meant to protect the details of our investigation from the interns. When I asked Alice to secure it I didn’t realize she would block your access as well.”

“You’re lucky you’re useful,” the Doctor muttered in frustration, stalking off to his office and slamming the door shut.

“You know,” Logan said, bringing the subject back around, “that DPD data is really valuable.” Logan’s voice was calm, probably getting used to the Doctor’s tantrums. “We should consider giving it back.”

“How are you going to broach that topic?” Py asked, his face showing some skepticism. “I doubt that ends well for you.”

“Yeah,” Logan sighed. “The longer I stay here… the secrets just keep piling up.”

“I’m sorry.” Py replied, beginning to see for the first time how much his illicit activities had weighed on Logan’s mind. “When I worked for the W.H.O. we didn’t have a lot of boundaries. I guess old habits die hard. The DPD doesn’t have any type of remote backup or cloud storage?”

“There’s a backup, but I heard it hasn’t been syncing correctly. Sounds like it’s been broken for years, but nobody knew because no one ever bothered to test it.”

“That’s suspicious.”

“Tell me about it. Anyway, how’s the hunt. Finding anything useful?”

“Actually, yes. The pavement pounding’s paying off. I’ve started identifying the discrepancies in the DPD records, crossing the scrubbed data with my original data, I've generated a new set of possible leads for us to follow up on.”

“Send a few of those over here and let me see them. What are we looking for?”

“Based on this I’m absolutely convinced that my original hypothesis was correct. The Alleyman wasn’t working alone. Not only did I find evidence of a larger organization, but I think I know where they are, well not specifically, but I think I know where they will be.” Py pulled up a map of Delphi on the main screen, displaying on it the mashup of usual colors and markers that had been dancing around the map now for days. “Since the death of the Alleyman crime numbers in Old Town, and a few of the neighboring areas, have been fluctuating wildly. Sometimes more crime than usual, sometimes less. It’s like the whole area has been destabilized. However, in other parts of the city the number of disappearances have either remained stable or are slightly elevated. I think there’s a high likelihood the Alleyman has associates working in these areas.”

“That’s the power of good old fashioned detective work.” Logan said with a broad smile, skimming through what Py had sent his way. “I like a couple of these files already. Looks like we’ve got some promising leads.”

“I have to admit, I doubt I could have done it without you...” Py paused for a moment, his expression growing sullen. “Logan, you know what else this means?”

Logan had been avoiding this for a while now, but it was time to rip the band-aid off.

“I think I know where you’re going.” Logan looked up at Py, setting aside for a moment the list of crime reports. “The mole.”

Py gave a quick nod. “Someone has been tampering with DPD data. There’s no other reasonable conclusion we can infer from our investigation.”

“Any idea who it might be?” Logan asked. Py could tell Logan was hoping for an out, something that would make this easier for him.


Logan sighed, giving a nod before diving into the meat of the subject.

“We know for sure electronic data has been altered. There’s a good chance someone is meddling with physical evidence as well, which wouldn’t be easy.”

“I’ll trust your judgment on that. I don’t know how well people stick to protocol, but from an electronic standpoint there’s a lot of security to bypass. I have to imagine it would be much simpler for a high ranking official.”

“Maybe. I have to tell someone.”

“How do you know who to trust? I can’t rule out anyone just yet.”

“Let me worry about that.”

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