Case File 8 - The Boy That Wasn't Missing
Part 2 of 3
If you just joined in, head here for part 1
A short tram ride took us to the Station Control connection where we had to flash our badges to get access to a restricted tram that ran along the connector to the hub of the station. In only a few minutes, we exited into Station Control. Gravity always felt a little squishy to me in the hub. Centrifugal-created gravity always felt more natural than gravity plating—even the high-end versions holding everything down at our station’s hub. I was glad I didn’t have to work here.
“So, Flo...” Ned burst into laughter again and I scowled at him.
“We want to talk with someone in Emergency Services,” I said to the person manning the front desk.
“The error logs, you say.” The Director of Emergency Services frowned at us from behind her gargantuan desk.
We must have disturbed her lunch as a half-empty bento box sat on the table in front of her. I gave Ned the side eye as we approached—the last thing I needed was for him to start asking about leftovers.
“Have a seat.” She gestured to the two rather uncomfortable-looking plastic chairs facing her desk.
Ned obediently sat down in the chair to the left, while I stayed on my feet. I didn’t want to be here long as a fake floral scent hung in the air, putting me on the cusp of a sneezing fit.
I leaned forward and put a hand on her desk. “Yes, I’d like to have one of our police AIs study all your error logs relating to Docking Bay 11.”
“That docking bay is currently out of service,” she said, then she smiled. “But the circus that’s there is awesome. I loved the animatronic camels.”
“Oh, me too!” Ned grinned. “Did you get a chance to ride them?”
“The lines were just too long,” she said, and I could just sense Ned was about to add his thoughts – about camels, not our case.
“Let’s get back to police business.”
Both Ned and the Director swivelled their heads to stare at me.
I crossed my arms over my chest. “We suspect a hacker has found a way into the system around the docking bay.”
The director, whose name I’d already forgotten, rightfully frowned. “That sounds dangerous.”
“I assume the manual locks on the docking bay are all in tiptop shape, right?” Ned smiled.
“Our AIs have a handle on the situation.” She waved a hand as though to dismiss us.
I froze for a second. “Wait, the AIs have full control over the docking bay doors?” The docking bay was really one massive airlock—currently with a circus set up in the middle of it.
“Oh, if that boy misbehaves and opens the doors...” Ned’s voice trailed off. “That wouldn’t be good.”
The director made an expression like she’d just eaten a sour pickle. “Fine, I’ll give your AI access.”
“You should try one of these,” Ned said as he bit into yet another spicy cricket taco. We’d arrived back at the office only minutes ago.
This time, I just ignored him. “Susan, what did you find?” I leaned back in my chair.
“There are four thousand and twenty-one anomalies,” she said.
“Ugh!” I scratched the side of my head. “Can you filter them down to only ones that would link to Docking Bay 11?”
“Based on those parameters, there are two-hundred and thirteen.”
“Do you think those are all the work of our hacker?” Ned asked.
I frowned. “No, I suspect some are just natural glitches in the system—I mean, the station is old, and we have fixed most systems so many times, no one really has any idea how things route.”
Ned wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his sweater. “Hey Susan, can you display a schematic of the station with the sources of the anomalies on it?”
A map popped up above our desks, a three-dimensional line drawing of the area around Docking Bay 11. Red dots showed the sources of the anomalies.
I squinted at the image and continued to scratch my head. Chief Thumbold was wrong—this wasn’t the problem for a couple of detectives. Analysts or IT people maybe...
“Susan, can you change the colour of all the anomalies that could connect to the projectors in Docking Bay 11?” Ned said. I remembered that until recently he’d been working in forensic accounting as one of their analysts. Forensic accounting was located right next door to IT...
Before I could finish my thought, half of the dots changed to green.
“Well, that’s something.” Ned wiped his face with his sleeve. “Now which of those also connect with the airlock the boy was in?”
About ten of the green dots changed to purple—and they were all clustered around a hub two bulkheads away from the docking bay.
“Is that where we need to go?” I looked my partner in the eyes.
Ned shrugged. “Probably not. But I’ve got a friend who works in that area. She might know where we should look.”
It turned out that Ned’s friend ran a hotdog stand on the concourse next to Docking Bay 11. I couldn’t stand spicy cricket tacos—but a hotdog was right up my alley, and it was lunchtime. Even if we didn’t find any clues, at least there would be food.
After weaving through all the foot traffic on the concourse, Ned stopped and smiled at the girl running the stand. “Hey Julie.”
Julie was probably nineteen. Her hair was dyed an awful shade of green, the same colour as the clothes she wore. “Ned! Do you know when that circus is going to shut down? They’re cutting into my lunch business.”
Ned leaned against the cart. “Sadly, they’re going to be open for at least another month.”
“Well, shit.” Her shoulders slumped forward as she spoke. “At least you’re here. You want the usual?”
Ned nodded. “Yep, with extra onions please. Yo, Flo, what do you want?”
I studied the rows of wieners rolling under the heat lamps. “I’ll just have a plain hotdog and hold the onions.”
“So, Julie, have you noticed anything odd on the feeds in this area since the circus came to town?” Ned spoke between bites of hotdog and cascading onion bits.
She shrugged before glancing both ways down the concourse. “Nothing much, just a few pranks.”
“What kind of pranks?” I asked.
“Mostly playing with the lights, but weirdly only at this end of the concourse. There’s been some music too...” She bit her lip. “Come to think of it, there’s a kid photo bombing my selfies, but I’ve never even seen the kid in real life.”
“Is the photo bombing only here?” I asked, before taking a bite. The hotdog was good, much better than I’d expected—I’d have to come back.
“Yeah, just when I’m at my stand.” She rubbed her chin. “It’s weird, I mean he’s a cute kid and all, but...” her words trailed off.
After bidding Julie farewell, Ned and I sat down on a bench right next to the entrance to Docking Bay 11.
“Susan, can you show me where the feeds for the concourse intersect with the feeds in the docking bay?” I asked.
A small map popped up in front of us. There were two potential locations.
“I wonder if someone from the circus put the kid in the system as some sort of advertising gimmick.” Ned shoved the last of his hotdog into his mouth, then licked his fingers.
“I don’t see how they are gaining from this.” I pointed at the map. “I’ll go here, and you check this place out.”
“Sure thing.” Ned stood and wandered away towards the electrical hub down the concourse.
Grateful to be alone for a few minutes, I headed into the docking bay. This time, I used my police ID to open the access door to the control room for the docking bay—it wasn’t currently in use and wouldn’t be until they put the bay back into service.
I went up a set of stairs and into the room. The floor-to-ceiling windows along one side gave me a fantastic view of the circus. The billowing red and gold fabric of the big tent popped against the grey of the docking bay. Below, a steady flow of families headed towards the entrance. Kids bounced with excitement while their parents grinned.
Giggling came from behind me. I spun around, but no one was there.
“Who’s there?” I asked but got no response. “Susan, is there anyone in my area?”
“Negative, this entire area has been closed off.”
“Are there any life forms inside?” I noticed a side door was open, and I could hear something moving beyond.
“I cannot say. Those sensors are currently offline for maintenance.”
A frown spread across my face.
Giggling continued from somewhere beyond the open door. It was probably just kids who thought the circus fun could extend into this work area. There must be an open access door somewhere.
As soon as I stepped through the side door, the lights blinked out.
“Just my luck,” I muttered to myself. I pulled out my flashlight and shone the beam around.
A large table surrounded by mismatched printed chairs filled the space. On a counter against the far wall was one of those low-end coffee makers. This was a breakroom.
“Anyone in here?” I called.
In that moment, I knew I should call Ned—but I didn’t. He’d only chide me for being afraid of the dark. I had my flashlight and my nerves. After pulling myself up tall, I went through the far door and out into a narrow hallway.
“Anyone around?” I called, shining my light both ways. Then I turned off my flashlight. A yellow glow came from around the corner to the right. Was something on fire? My heart started racing. Were the kids in danger?
Around the corner was a set of stairs, and I raced down. I didn’t smell smoke, but I could still see the glowing light. Adrenalin surged through me, and I rushed on without paying attention to where I was going.
I skidded to a stop at a dead end. As I spun around, a pair of doors slid shut behind me. The lights came on—I was in one of the emergency airlocks. Nausea radiated from my gut as I realized that I’d sprung a trap.
“Susan, Ned!” I called, but my comms was dead.
I turned back to the door I’d come in through and tried to open it. The door was locked. My heart was hammering now. I banged on the door, knowing my action was futile.
Giggling came over the speakers and I froze. The virtual boy had opened an airlock before. I swallowed as I turned around.
“Hello?” I was alone in the airlock.
“I just want to talk to you.” I walked over to the door leading out to space and glanced out the window. Swallowing again, I stared up at the camera. “I’ve been trying to find you, but I don’t mean you any harm.”
“If you catch me, you’ll just delete me,” said a boy’s voice. He sounded sullen.
“I promise I won’t delete you. I’ll find you a nice new server to play on and set you free.”
“I don’t believe you.”
A klaxon rang and red lights started flashing in the airlock. The boy/rogue AI had set the airlock to override.
“No, you don’t want to do this,” I said as I frantically worked at the controls to the outside door. I was locked out.
Maniacal laughter filled the airlock—so loud it made my ears hurt. I bit my lip and focused on the controls. A countdown appeared.
“You don’t want to do this!”
“It’ll be fun,” the boy/AI said, stopping his laughter.
“If you do this, others will come and delete you.” I clenched my fists at my sides, cursing myself for getting trapped.
“I’m good at hiding,” he said.
“Please don’t do this. I meant it when I said I’d find you a better place.”
What had they said in my space survival training? Did I have ten seconds, or was it seven once I hit the void of space without a suit?
to be continued…