The Ghost of Denver 8
by John C. Goodman
forum: The Ghost of Denver 8
speculative fiction for the internet generation.

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The Ghost of Denver 8


        Zone 1 cops don't get much respect in Zone 2. Their contact in the Denver 8 Zone 2 Homicide Unit lounged back in his chair as Jago and Elsinor entered the office.

        "Well, well, well, Zone 1 cops," he greeted them. "How are things up there in Zoo-Zoo Land? Don't get many of your kind down here."

        "Can we see the file?" Jago didn't want to stir up any inter-Zone rivalries.

        But the man behind the desk did. He gave Jago a lopsided grin. "I see you brought your girlfriend. Guess you think working Zone 2 is some kind of kinky date."

        "This is Detective Elsinor Bak. She's my partner on this case. I'm Detective Jago Stel. And you are…?"

        "Ringler Winch."

        "Ok Ringler Winch, we heard you had a murder. You want to tell us about it or are you just going to sit there and give us a hard time?"

        Ringler looked Elsinor up and down. "Gotta admit, she's the best lookin' cop I've ever seen, but seein' as how there's no crime in Zone 1, I guess she's got lots of time to sit around and make herself look pretty."

        Jago leaned across the desk. "Look, we have no surveillance up in Zone 1. If a crime is committed in Zone 1, we have to solve it through police work. You know what that is? We have to gather evidence, follow leads and build a case. Here in Zone 2 you have total surveillance, there are Sensors in every room, on every street, practically up everyone's ass. And it's all recorded. Ever since Denver 8 replaced prisons with System Surveillance Zones, no one can move in Zone 2 without a Sensor running a C-Dat match. When a crime is committed here, all you have to do is run the Sensor Records. And you still have, not only the highest crime rate, but the highest unsolved crime rate in the city. So can we just move along here and get to work?"

        Ringler didn't back down. "Zone 1 is where all the LACs, the so-called Law Abiding Citizens, live protected from us Cruds in Zone 2. We have the highest crime rate because we have real criminals down here—murderers, rapists, armed robbers. Cases go unsolved because not all violent people are stupid. A lot of them are smarter than you or me; smarter than all of us put together. The crimes we get in Zone 2 are real crimes with blood and vengeance and sometimes cold, calculated planning. We chase violent maniacs down here, not kids stealing candy bars from the corner store like you do in Zone 1." He leaned back with a self-satisfied look. "But since you ask for the file, here it is."

        A crime scene picture jumped into Jago's field of vision as the file was transferred to his contact lenses. Elsinor gasped as the image simultaneously appeared in her contact lenses. A man was sitting in a chair behind a desk, or what was left of a man. His chest was gone. Bits of him were splattered around as if someone had thrown a bowl of red jellied salad into the room.

        "Nice, huh?" Ringler sniggered. "Done by a Ghost. The shooter doesn't show up on the Sensor Record."

        "Who was the victim?" Jago asked.

        "Dormer Tep, a computer whiz. Had a programming company until two years ago when he killed his partner, or at least, the partner disappeared and they hung the rap on Dormer. No proof, but they charged him and sent him down to Zone 2 anyway. That must be some of that fancy Zone 1 police work you were telling me about."

        "What was the weapon used on Dormer?" Jago ignored the jibe.

        "It's right there in the file, a Pulser, a big one, three-hundred and twenty tigs."

        "It can't be," Elsinor said. "Pulsers are illegal. Not just here in Denver, they've been banned all over the world."

        "Well, maybe the authorities have banned them, but the criminals haven't. We get maybe one or two a year, but not this big. Here." He tossed the Pulser onto the desk. Jago had never handled one before. He reached over to pick it up, hesitating just before he touched it.

        "It's ok, it's evidence wrapped," Ringler said with a sneer, as if a Zone 1 cop would be too dumb to know that. Jago picked up the Pulser; it was lighter than he expected. It didn't look like a weapon, more like a brace for a sprained wrist. It wasn't an easy or cheap thing to get. That meant the shooter had money and connections.

        "C-Dat?" Elsinor asked.

        "Check the file. We've got C-Dat, DNZ, even fingerprints."

        "Did you do a sweep?"

        "Yeah, three of 'em."

        "What level?"

        "Levels B and C. It's all there in the file. We did fibers, dust, heat patterns, scents, chemicals, molecular traces, residuals, the works. This is what we got."

        The 3-D image of a woman appeared in Jago's contacts, the specs listed beside her. The face was a blank, but the reconstruction from the sweep data showed a woman wearing a cream colored suit, the fabric a mixture of linen and silk. Natural fabrics were rare and expensive. Again, that meant money.

        She wore Italian shoes with three-inch heels. It was probably easier to get a Pulser in Denver 8 than Italian shoes. The sweep had even tagged the make: Spinetto, Milan.

        The specs listed her height, weight, body mass ratio, perfume (DuSoir, Paris), cleanser, skin cream, make-up brands, hair color, hair care products, toothpaste—practically everything about her but what she ate for breakfast.

        She was 5' 8", 121 pounds and blonde (although she had recently had her hair lightened at a salon that used Intrigue products from Durban Industries in New York).

        "Looks like she wants to be caught, leaving all this behind," said Elsinor.

        Ringler snorted. "Lady, this chirpy is long gone. She doesn't show up on any of the Sensor Records. That means she's Zone 1, because Zone 1 citizens aren't subject to surveillance—at least until they get caught doing something they shouldn't, then they're re-statused to Surveillance Zone 2. This chirpy comes up clean. She's Zone 1 and rich. She's a Ghost. Now just how easy do you think it's going to be to find her?"

        "Can we see the Sensor Record of the shooting?" Jago asked.

        A new scene filled his contacts. The Record showed Dormer Tep sitting at the desk, apparently staring into space, they way people do when they are working on files through their contact lenses. Then the door opened. A Pulser floated across the room, pointed at Dormer and fired. Dormer's chest disappeared in a shower of red. The Pulser came to rest on the desk, the door closed and it was over.

        "See? That's our Ghost. The Record's blank because Sensors don't register Zone 1 LACs," said Ringler. "Here's the enhanced version." The scene started again, only this time a computer-generated figure of the woman in the cream colored suit crossed the room with the Pulser in her hand. She raised the weapon, fired, put the Pulser on the desk and walked out.

        Jago looked over at Ringler where he sat slouched in his chair. "She took the rods," he said.

        "What?" Ringler sat up straight.

        Jago ran the scene again. "Look. There are two file rods on the desk in front of Dormer. Now she puts the Pulser down and you can't see the rods because they're blocked by the Pulser. But this is taken from a different angle," he brought up the crime scene picture Ringler had shown them first, "and there are no rods on the desk. She must have palmed them when she put the Pulser down."

        Ringler ran the two scenes over and over before giving a grudging admission that Jago might be right. "Ok, so suppose she did take them. So what?"

        "Then I think we have a motive for the murder. Dormer was killed for those file rods. Any idea what he was working on?"

        "This is Zone 2. We monitor everything," Ringler grumbled as he transferred an Activity Journal to Jago's contacts. "Looks like he spent most of his time working on the accounts of his business. He ran a house cleaning company down here in Zone 2. He gave temporary jobs to new arrivals in the Zone. There were lots of transactions, lots of Cruds coming and going, lots of small jobs and payments—it was all very complex."

        Elsinor frowned. "There are accounting programs that would handle all of those transactions automatically. If Dormer was such a computer whiz, why didn't he use a program instead of handling it manually?"

        Ringler shrugged. "That's what the Journal says he was doing."

        "Why," Jago wondered, "would someone commit murder over the accounting records of a house cleaning company?" That question drew blank looks. "Do you have the ID codes for the file rods?"

        "Yep, they're tagged in the System."

        "Good. Put a lock on them. That way, if anyone accesses the rods, we'll know about it." Jago thought for a moment. "What about the Pulser? How did she get that into the room? Even if the Sensor wouldn't track a Zone 1 Ghost, it should track the weapon."

        "Now that's interesting," Ringler replied. "Watch this. This is the street Sensor outside." A new scene came up in their contacts. A man walked down the street towards Dormer's door and then passed out of Sensor range.

        "That's it?" Elsinor asked.

        "Yep," Ringler nodded.

        "Isn't there a Record from another Sensor?" Jago asked. "There must be more than one on the street."

        Ringler shrugged. "Burned out the day before. A Restoration Order was issued, but never carried out."

        "I thought the action time on Restoration Orders was under two hours?" Elsinor sounded surprised.

        Ringler gave her a challenging look. "We're a little understaffed down here in the belly of the beast. We don't have the personnel to go chasing after every dud Sensor in the Zone. If an Order isn't completed, it goes into the priority list and gets fixed when the resources are available."

        "Well, that's just great," Elsinor snapped. "No wonder your crime rate is so high."

        Ringler pursed his lips and kissed the air.

        Jago sighed. "Let's see the street Sensor Record again."

        He ran the clip and paused when the male figure came into view. Specs appeared in his contacts beside the image. C-Dat/DNZ Identity Match: Felmer Flar. The vital statistics were listed in the spec, birth date, height, weight, Zone Status: 2, and all the rest. At the bottom was a notation in orange: Deceased.

        "Let me guess," said Elsinor. "This is the missing partner."

        "Bingo bango bongo, you got it," Ringler smiled.

        Jago checked the time on the display. "This was just before the woman entered the room?"

        "Yep. This Felmer dude comes up to the door and our chirpy Ghost walks through it with the Pulser. Now what do you make of that?"

        None of them knew what to make of it.

        "So, Felmer brings the Pulser and the woman uses it. How did Felmer get the weapon there in the first place?" Elsinor asked.

        Ringler shrugged. "The Sensor Record shows him coming out of an abandoned warehouse up the street. The Sensor inside the warehouse was burned out. I scanned the Records of the whole Zone for Felmer's movements, but he doesn't show up anywhere. After he walked out of range of that one street Sensor, he just disappeared. Which I guess isn't surprising seeing as how he's been dead for two years."

        "The Sensor doesn't show that he's carrying a weapon," Jago remarked.

        "He must have had it shielded in some way." Ringler held up his hands. "I know, I know, that's impossible. There's supposed to be no way to conceal a weapon from a Sensor. But our friend Felmer seems to have found a way."

        "Or our friend the Ghost," Jago added.

        Elsinor shook her head. "None of this makes any sense. We've got a concealed Pulser, we've got a dead man walking around and we've got a Ghost who murdered somebody for the accounting records of a house cleaning company."

        Ringler rubbed his nose. "You guys are the hot detectives, where do we go from here?"

        Jago hated to admit it, but he had no idea. "Is Felmer Flar really dead? You said he was missing and Dormer was charged with the murder."

        "The spec says he's dead, that's all I know."

        "Let's see his file."

        Jago scanned the personal file on Felmer Flar in his contacts. The file started from the time Felmer was transferred to Zone 2 three years before, charged with attempted illegal file access, but there was some background from when he lived in Zone 1, schools he went to, companies he worked for. A school picture showed Felmer being presented with a computer club award. Beside him stood a pretty young woman. "This year's Dinbet Award for Innovation in Computer Programming went to Felmer Flar," read the caption. "This is the third year in a row our budding genius Felmer Flar has won this coveted award. Second prize went to his sister Shalfair Delt."

        "Got her!" Jago shouted, flashing the file to Elsinor and Ringler.

        "You figure it's the sister?" Ringler sounded doubtful.

        "Yeah. Dormer murders Felmer and the sister kills Dormer for revenge." Jago scanned the system for Shalfair Delt and came up blank. She was Zone 1 all right.

        "But Felmer Flar can't be dead," Elsinor objected. "We've got a Sensor Record of him walking down the street this morning."

        Jago shrugged. "I know, but it's the best lead we've got."

        "Well, she's Zone 1, so she's your baby. Out of my jurisdiction. See ya around." Ringler dismissed them with a wave of his hand.

        Jago and Elsinor took a zag back to the Zone 1 office. "We know what school she went to, so we'll start with her school friends, see if she has kept in contact with any of them." Elsinor Bak went to the school to see what she could find out from the student records. Jago sat and plotted their next move. A red indicator suddenly flashed in his contacts: someone had accessed one of the file rods taken from Dormer's office. The indicator gave the location and Jago zagged over using his police authorization to override the speed limits. The location was a Zone 1 café called Simmone's right at the city's western limit.

        There was only one customer in the café when Jago arrived, a woman. She sat with her hands folded in her lap, ankles elegantly crossed. She wore a short sun-dress printed with an old master painting, a Vermeer. But Jago wasn't looking at the dress, he was looking at the face of the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her blond hair was swept back into a French roll. She looked up with large turquoise eyes and Jago couldn't breathe. She smiled. "I'm glad you found me. Come." She left the café; Jago following docilely behind. They walked half a block and Jago's contacts blinked to tell him that they were leaving the city. She got into a waiting K-rad. Jago got in beside her. "It's not far," she said and headed off towards the mountains. As they moved farther away from the city, Jago's contact displays flickered and blinked off. It was an eerie feeling to be disconnected.

        Jago studied her as they drove along a switchback road. "You are Shalfair Delt?" He could smell her perfume. DuSoir, Paris, he remembered from the sweep data.

        "Yes," she replied.

        "I am detective Jago Stel. I am investigating the murder of a Zone 2 resident, Dormer Tep."

        "I know," she said. "We'll talk at the house."

        They arrived at the house, or rather, mansion. It was a wood and stone structure the size of a resort hotel built into the side of the mountain. She led Jago through an imposing doorway into a living area with a magnificent view of mountain-ringed Denver 8.

        "Please," she said, indicating a chair, her voice almost a whisper.

        "Um," Jago began clumsily, "you are a suspect in the murder of Dormer Tep."

        "I know," she smiled, "I killed him."

        Jago was stunned, but the cop in him didn't miss a beat. He stood up. "Shalfair Delt, you are under arrest for the murder of—"

        Her laugh cut him off. "You can't arrest me. For two reasons. First, in case you hadn't noticed, we are outside the city. Only Area 6 police have jurisdiction here."

        Jago immediately tried to access the Area 6 police through his contacts, forgetting that his displays were inactive.

        "Secondly," she paused and looked him in the eye, "if you arrest me, it will be the end of civilization as we know it. Social order will be destroyed and anarchy will reign." She sat back in her chair. "Do you want to know why I killed him?"

        Jago tried to keep his eyes on her face and not on the way those legs slid up into her dress. He sat back down. "Yes."

        "Dormer was on the verge of taking control of the whole city, even Zone 1. He could already control most of it. He could turn Sensors on and off. He could change identities whenever he liked." She leaned forward. "Where did the Sensor Record show that he spent most of his time?"

        "Uh, in his office, working on his accounts."

        She waved a hand around. "He lived here most of the time. He planted the Records showing him working at the office in the System. There was no house cleaning company. Dormer never hired anyone to clean a house in his life. It was all a smokescreen to hide his real work."

        "Which was…?"

        "Taking over the world. He could already control the System; he just needed one more piece of the puzzle. When he got that, I realized that I couldn't let him go any further, so I killed him." She looked down demurely. "You should thank me. I'm a hero. I saved the world."

        "What was the last piece of the puzzle?"

        "How to move weapons undetected. As soon as he had that worked out, the city was his and, eventually, the rest of the world. He could move a whole army into position and no one would know anything about it until it was too late."

        "You were in on this with him?" Jago asked. Shalfair nodded. "Then why stop him? You could have been right up there ruling the world with him."

        She gestured at her surroundings. "I have everything I want. More than I ever dreamed of. All of this comes from manipulating the existing System. If you take away that System, this will all go too. I couldn't get Dormer to understand that." She paused and stared out the window. "So he had to be stopped."

        "You say he could control the System? How?" Jago, like everyone else, believed the System was immutable and never made a mistake.

        "It was quite simple, actually. The hard part was getting into the System in the first place, getting past all the security. That took years. After he got in, it was relatively easy. Would you like some coffee? Or something cold to drink?"

        "No, please, just go on."

        She looked thoughtful, deciding how best to explain it. "Inside the System are millions of Rover programs. They are independent of direct System control, operating on sub-routines. They patrol the system looking for errors, data breaks, corruptions, weak links, that sort of thing. When they find an anomaly, they fix it. Dormer created a program that could tell the Rovers where there was an error and how to fix it, which meant that he could add or remove any information he wanted to anywhere in the system."

        Jago began to see the implications.

        "The Sensor Records showed Felmer Flar arriving at the office, correct?"

        Jago nodded.

        "I went to the empty warehouse, out of sight of the Sensors, and Dormer changed my data. He told a Rover that my file was corrupt and that instead of reading me as Zone 1, it should read me as Zone 2 with Felmer's C-Dat and DNZ profile. That's what the System was told and that's what it saw. I carried the Pulser to the office, but the Sensors saw Felmer."

        Jago frowned. The System's identity protocol was the basis of the city's Zone infrastructure. If it couldn't be trusted, if it couldn't tell who was where doing what, Shalfair's prediction of social anarchy was an understatement; it would be a total meltdown.

        She smiled at the look on his face. "So you see, I had to stop him."

        "Is Felmer Flar really dead? He's your brother, right?" Jago was groping for questions. The whole thing was too big to grasp.

        She frowned. "I think that's a discussion for another day."

        "Or," Jago had a sudden realization, "was Dormer Tep just a profile that Felmer Flar was using? Were Felmer and Dormer really the same person? Did you kill your own brother?"

        Shalfair looked away, gazing out the window into the distance.

        Jago's mind was in turmoil. "Why did you use Felmer's identity to deliver the weapon? Why didn't you just take it yourself?"

        She turned back to him. "We had to be sure that the weapon shielding would work with a Zone 2 profile. I took it to the abandoned building without any problem, but I'm Zone 1. Felmer's profile was Zone 2."

        "How did the weapon concealment work?"

        "The same way. We told the Rovers to tell the Sensors that there was no weapon. It was very difficult to get the Rovers and the Sensors to accept instructions concerning weapons. There are a lot more safeguards and a lot more alarms to go off when you are dealing with weapons than with identities."

        "And you arranged for the street Sensor to fail?"

        "Yes. We burned out the one in the warehouse and one of the street Sensors. We didn't want to knock out both street Sensors in case it changed the priority status of the Restoration Order and they were replaced before we were ready. We were concerned that if a Sensor picked up the identity transfer from Felmer to me it would automatically initiate an Anomalous Data Repair Order that we wouldn't be able to override in time."

        "The file rods you took from Dormer's desk, they contained all the programs to change the system?"

        "That's right. I took them for safe keeping. Who knows what would happen if they fell into the wrong hands?"

        Jago took a deep breath. "You understand that if you return to Denver 8 I will have to arrest you for murder, and that as soon as I can make contact I will tell the Area 6 police to pick you up?"

        She lowered her eyes. "You disappoint me. I thought perhaps you would see the wisdom of being on my side. But don't worry, I won't return to Denver 8, and by the time the Area 6 police get here, I will be gone. I can walk away from all of this in a moment, because I can replace it in a moment as well." She looked up. "You see, I am perfectly free. I can be anyone I choose, I can go anywhere I want, I can access any amount of money I want—all because I can manipulate the system. And," a fleeting smile, "I am not about to change anything. I can only take advantage of the System because there is a System to take advantage of. So it is in my best interests to make sure that everything remains as it is." She stood up and gestured towards the door. "Take the K-rad back to the city. And I would advise you not to tell the System Administrators about what I can do. I assure you that it would result in more harm than good."

        Jago left the house and drove back to Denver 8. As he neared the city his contacts came back to life, but he didn't alert the Area 6 police. He knew they would only find an empty house. Leaving the K-rad at the city limit, he jumped a zag back to the office. Elsinor Bak was waiting for him.

        "I found something," she said.

        Jago wasn't sure if he should tell her about his little adventure or not.

        "Shalfair Delt never finished high school. There was a fire in the computer lab during her senior year. She died of smoke inhalation. There's a plaque commemorating her in the school hallway."

        Jago sat down heavily at his desk. If that was true, who had he just been talking to? He thought of those turquoise eyes and languorous legs.

        "You ok?" Elsinor asked.

        "Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Jago assured her, none too convincingly.

        "By the way, while I was at the school an indicator came on that someone had accessed one of Dormer's file rods. Did you check it out?"

        "Yeah, I chased it down." Jago hesitated. "There was nobody there. I was too late."

        "So what have you been doing?"

        "I took a K-rad up into the mountains. I was feeling a little trapped. I just needed to feel free for a while."

        "I know what you mean," said Elsinor. "I could use a break myself."

        Jago sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Yeah, anything's better than chasing Ghosts."





copyright 2007 John C. Goodman.

John C. Goodman is a Canadian writer who has lived in British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland where he currently resides within sight of the ocean. He does not own a tie. John has published a book of poetry, Sounds from the Centre of Water (Lyric Publishing) and a novel, Talking to Wendigo (Turnstone Press). His stories and poems have appeared in magazines in Canada and the US.

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