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[ back ] extreme cases an overloaded emotional dampener can be burnt out beyond use, resulting in the android going berserk and requiring immediate police intervention. Fortunately, a certified Android Manager can prevent 99.999% of rogue android cases, provided that the examination protocols and schedules are strictly followed.

Here we stress the importance of reporting any irregularities committed by either the manager or by the owner of the android in question; it's not uncommon for berserks to appear either in the so-called "black companies" (enterprises with known precedents of labor abuse) or in dysfunctional families where verbal and/or physical violence has become the norm.

(From Introduction to Android Management, chapter 3: The Emotional Dampener)

Crime Scene
Mandela district, Li sector
One week ago

The streets of the Mandela district were dark at night; most lights had been broken for months, or even years. Public infrastructure had been all but abandoned, as politicians saw no benefit of trying to help immigrants who couldn't vote anyway. Landlords found it much cheaper to bar their windows and pay local gangs for protection rather than trying to change broken street lamps several times a year. The only lights present were the neon LED stripes from nearby motels and stores, which gave the streets a dark purplish tone.

Running on the sidewalk, the blonde woman was trying to escape her pursuers. She'd been stripped out of all her clothes and the only thing she had on her was an ordinary kitchen knife. Her carelessness made her run with the tip of the knife pointing up; fatal mistake. As her pursuers were approaching she stumbled on a pothole and fell on the pavement. Instinctively, she pressed against the floor to stop the fall, but the knife was still pointing at her body. The tip pierced through her lung causing her breathing to collapse. She tried to get up but due to the excruciating pain she fell again, still holding the knife, letting it puncture her other lung. She was going to die, drowning in her own blood.


The commanding male voice — unequivocally British — echoed over the streets, making the woman's blood freeze in place, instantly stopping its flow from the woman’s body. The droplets hovered in mid air before the dark alleys of the Mandela district were replaced by a dark blue floor with an infinite white grid drawn on it. The simulation had finally stopped.

"Of all the simulations," muttered the virtual detective as he walked into the scene, his body getting materialized from a hollow three-dimensional mesh, "#999,999 is the most ridiculous. The most dramatic, perhaps, but the final position is completely in contradiction with the evidence. Discarded."

The scene evaporated in tiny droplets as they were carried by an intangible wind, leaving only an amber-colored husk of skin where the victim's body originally was.

With a flannel coat around his body, a deerstalker hat on the head, and a wooden pipe with his left hand, the Artificial Intelligence known as Sherlock Holmes (revision 2640) began circling the body. "He" - if that's how a specialized A.I. could be called - took a puff from his simulated pipe and examined the body. He raised his palm, and like magic, the translucent body began levitating in the air until it stood vertically and her feet touched the digital ground.

Holmes looked up and spoke to the infinite. "Captain? Mr. Lee? The Monte Carlo simulations have finished." (The Monte Carlo method is a computational algorithm based on random samples; a centuries-old technique to assist in the solution of difficult problems, now applied to crime scene reconstructions.)

Holmes continued. "Would you like me to perform the analysis?"

A Chinese man with Virtual Reality glasses and a lab coat appeared in the scene. "Yes, please. We've been waiting hours for the results."

"Not just hours", Holmes added. "We should also count the days the body remained in the morgue of the 24th before the analysis. I'm wondering, captain, why wait so much? And why did you consider it relevant, all of a sudden? Any last minute choice, perhaps?"

"It's a long story", replied a half-Japanese, half-caucasian man with too many wrinkles for his age. It was the captain of the 5th precinct of the Hong Kong Police Department, who had just plugged into the simulation to see Holmes' analysis of the victim's death. "The people from the 24th found the body; it was their precinct after all. They kept her in the fridges for days, and as usual they left the DNA search for last." He shook his head. "It was only when DNA matched a neoVictorian that they handed us the case without even apologizing."

"To deal with the victim's family in a much safer district, I presume."

"Yes." The captain scratched the back of his neck as he spoke. "And I'm glad they did, the 24th precinct isn't exactly known for their tidiness. After we spoke to Ms. Emerson, she made me promise I'd find the murderers."

"Please tell me you didn't promise success in your investigation, captain."

"Gods, no! I promised her I'd put our best men to work on it. But frankly I don't know if we're ever going to solve it. It's a murder in the slums, it could've been anyone!" After a sigh, he continued. "To be honest it would be much easier to just rule it a suicide, but I don't want to imagine what her family will do to our reputation if we do so. Damn wolves..."

"Good thing you didn't", replied Holmes, walking with his hands behind his back. "Indeed, the victim died by her own hand, but make no mistake, captain. This was both a suicide and a murder."

"Suicide and murder!?" shouted the captain, before aspiring and sighing. "Not one of those weird cases again."

"Before we go on," said Holmes, "I'd appreciate if you sent me the additional data you've gathered so far. The more information I have, the more accurate my analysis will be."

"Alright," replied the captain.

Holmes spoke. "Downloading... complete. Let's begin."

The amber-colored shell of the victim's body disappeared. Then, in the same spot, Holmes summoned an entire wall of amber-hued 2D screens that zoomed out to the captain and the coroner. The 2D screens converged like a stack of poker cards handled by an expert shuffler, positioning a couple meters in front of the captain, each of them turning holographic and merging into a superposition of the victim's body, each card displaying a different body position at the time of death. The most probable positions were the most opaque.

"As you can see in the reconstructed scene", Holmes said, as the scene changed, "she was pressing the knife against her heart, right between the ribs. For a neoVictorian this is trivial, anatomy is a basic middle school course. Then, with the knife in position, the victim - who was probably kneeling - let herself fall on the floor, pressing against the tip of the knife with her own body. As a result, the knife stabbed her right into the heart, causing immediate death.

"So it was a suicide", said the coroner, nodding.

"Indeed", replied Holmes, pointing twice at the dead body with his pipe. "And here lies our first contradiction."

"The blood", replied the captain, before projecting a replay of the memories belonging to the officer who found the body. "There was no blood where the body was found."

"Right!" he shouted, pointing at him with his pipe. "The amount of blood in the victim's hands points to a splash. The blood poured down and drenched her hands, meaning that indeed, she died by letting herself fall on the knife.

An important detail we should add is that at no point the victim let the knife go. With this I presume her intention was not only to kill herself, but to keep the knife in place. Why? We should add this question to our stack. Now, regarding the scene: Where is the puddle of blood below her? There was no rain that night, nor the night before. The amount of dirt on the ground and the bacterial plaque formed around the body proved that the place had not been washed in days. Conclusion?"

"The body wasn't there", answered the captain. "Someone placed it beforehand."

"Exactly. Now look at the luminol tests, showing the distinctive marks of the blood trail around her body."

Glowing, smeared blue stains appeared on the woman's lower back. Holmes continued with his analysis.

"See how her blood spills to the side? Whoever found the body, turned her around, and according to the trail on the back of her legs, she was dragged away from the primary crime scene... without her clothes."

"So this confirms that nobody stole the clothes from the dead body."

"Correct; she was already naked at the time of death. Now comes another question. Why move the body? If it was a suicide, why not just call the police? Here we have several possibilities:

A, That the suicide occurred in an inconvenient place.

B, That the person who found the body feared being accused of murder.

C, that the person who found the body moved it to anonymously alert the police.

Or D, the most probable, that the person who found the body was either the murderer or an accomplice.

"So you're confirming that the murderer moved the body", said the captain. "But why do you say it was a murder and not just a suicide?"

"Elementary, captain Tanaka. The victim left no note whatsoever. Hundreds of years ago this would present no issue at all, but with today's technology, such omission is quite suspicious! We should remember this isn't an immigrant, but a neo Victorian with high priority internet access. She didn't even use her implants to communicate, or to leave a dying message. Why? The victim did not die by accident or in her sleep, which makes her completely aware of her situation during her death. In 99.997% of the suicide cases in my records, the victims sent a dying message. The only case in which the victim didn't was because it was a murder-suicide: he had already committed a murder, and killed himself overwhelmed by the guilt. But here, the most logical answer is that the victim in this case had no access to either pen and paper, or to the internet."

"No online access?" asked the coroner, "that's ridiculous! We have femtocells spread all over the city, even in the Mandela district."

"Correct. And even in the case her implants failed, she could as well have visited a VR cafe. Not even the slums in the old city are restricted from online access. Which leads to our second contradiction. The victim did not send any previous messages about her intention to die, neither to her family, nor her friends. In fact, all the circumstances point to the victim trying to hide from them instead.

Furthermore", Holmes said raising his pipe, "why would a citizen, and a neoVictorian I may add, have to resort to this crude and painful method of suicide? Unlike people on the ground, neoVictorians do not hesitate to ask for the help of mental institutions, even in the most frivolous cases, so why didn't she? On the contrary, suicide is heavily stigmatized. For a neo Victorian, even a suicide threat would be scandalous. For one to start considering such action, it would take extreme circumstances."

"Such as...?" asked the coroner.

"A repeated history of abuse, involvement in criminal circles, torture, a contaminated neural framework, or an immediate threat against one's beloved. There are other, captain, but they're much more far fetched. Indeed, this is not a common occurrence.

Both the coroner and the captain shook their heads.

"So either the victim chose not to communicate with her loved ones, or tried to, but failed. This opens a new possibility, captain. A quite probable one, considering the location of the body."

"Kidnapping." replied the captain. "She was kidnapped."

"Right!" shouted Holmes. "Consider a Faraday bag, available in the black market."

Another simulation played: A generic criminal, with a gray featureless face and no texture on his skin, attacking the victim from behind and covering her head. As the simulation played, Tanaka crossed his arms and nodded.

"All you have to do is cover the victim's head with one, and you eliminate their internet access immediately. Plus," Holmes added, casually pointing up with his pipe, "if the kidnapper had any intentions to torture the victim, she may have chosen suicide to escape such a fate. Another possibility is that she was coerced into killing herself for motives that we currently ignore. Let's treat both possibilities as one for the moment. Now, if you had kidnapped the victim, what would you do if you found her dead body in your hideout?"

"Get rid of it. Of course, it makes perfect sense!"

"Exactly!" shouted Holmes, pointing at the captain with his right hand, before crossing both hands behind his back. "The stench of a dead body would attract the police drones, resulting in the immediate pursuit and arrest of the suspects. So the only solution was to move the body away from the hideout. Now that the circumstances have been established, we are ready to ask the questions that our investigation requires:

One, how was the body transported from the primary to the secondary crime scene, and why didn't the city cameras capture this?

Two, where is the primary crime scene, or the kidnapper's hideout?

Three, under what circumstances did the victim arrive, or was kidnapped, to the crime scene?

Four, what happened to the victim in the days previous to the murder or kidnapping?

Five, if this was not a sexual assault, why are her clothes missing?

Six and seven, who would want to murder or kidnap the victim, and what is the motive?

And eight... Mr. Lee, have you found the reason why her brain implants malfunctioned when you tried to identify her?"

"We were waiting until the analysis was finished before opening her skull."

"You may do that now." Holmes walked in circles around the victim again. "According to the data you just sent me, there was no identifiable human DNA under her fingernails, other than her own; She had not been drugged. Her cavities are completely clean of sexual fluids, either male or female. There was no anal or vaginal dilation. She was not sexually assaulted, that's an undeniable fact."

Holmes winced. "Something is amiss, captain. And there's one additional question that we haven't asked, and perhaps the most important."

"Let me guess", said the captain. "What the hell is a neoVictorian doing on the ground to begin with? And the Mandela district," he added, "of all places!"

"Correct! That, and the unanswered questions in this case lead me to feel what you would call... a hunch. I still cannot determine what kind of information is missing from this scenario, but I'm certain, sir, that we are missing a crucial detail!"

"So, what should we do?"

"The victim must have been carried in a bag. Use the city camera recordings to find it. Search for fingerprints and footprints in the alleys near the body. Are they still sealed?"

"Hermetically," replied the captain. "I supervised that personally, but knowing how many days passed since the body was found, I doubt we can find anything."

"I'd recommend calling the Cyberpol to assist us in this case. Finally, look for any foreign objects inside the body. Mr. Lee, please scan every muscle, every organ, and every single bone. At the nanoscale level, if you must."

"Alright, I'll do that."

"Also, we require more witnesses. We need to know who else knew or saw the victim, previous to the night of the murder. Start distributing wanted posters around the city. Offer a reward for anyone who can give information about her. Do NOT mention her name. Her identity must be unknown, or we'd get invaded by fortune seekers, or even worse, the press. Contact the family and tell them not to publicize any of this. But if any of the family members wants to assist in questioning, bring them down here. Not the morgue, the precinct. Also, send a female officer to ask children and young women if they know of any hints. Also consult with sex workers. Perhaps our victim had resorted to prostitution in a desperate moment and fell in the hands of cash carriers. Given her identity, it's a very remote possibility, but we must not discard it until we gather more data."

"I'm requesting a team right away."

"Now... assuming that this was murder by coercion or a failed kidnapping, we need a motive. Let me verify the victim's information. May I?"

"Go ahead," said the captain.

"Catherine Emerson...", recited Holmes, as the woman appeared in a much more decent portrait, "the youngest daughter of David and Lillian Emerson. Married to William and Clarence Wolvencroft twenty five years ago." The woman's face in the portrait changed to one bearing dog features.

"Agreed to have a biomodification at the request of her husbands." Next to her appeared two werewolves.

"It could be possible that the victim had been blackmailed. The Wolvencrofts had many enemies and rivals, not limited to other v-sports teams. But if someone wanted to get even at the Wolvencrofts, why do it a whole year later? Had they disgraced them previously, so that an old enemy swore vengeance upon them? You may want a team of research androids to investigate the Wolvencrofts and their enemies."

"Gods, this case is getting more complicated by the minute," said the captain.

"There's also the possibility that the Wolvencrofts were engaged in domestic violence, or that an enmity had been developed between members of the family. At this point, all the Wolvencrofts are suspects. Now. The police records indicate that William committed suicide recently. Hmm..."

Holmes inhaled his pipe and exhaled another puff of smoke. "It's two apparent suicides in less than a year."

The captain swore in Japanese.

Holmes continued. "Investigate all the circumstances regarding the suicide of William Wolvencroft. I'm afraid, gentlemen, that we could be opening a can of worms here."

"Let's hope not."

"Mr. Lee? You seem a bit distracted, or is it worry that I notice?"

"Uh, yes, it's just that we passed the threshold. If we don't want the body to decompose..."

"Yes, presservation of the body is crucial. By the way, may I suggest plastinating it? The process takes more than 25 hours, but it renders the body ready for analysis. As an advantage, a nearly perfect preservation of the body is fitting for a neo Victorian. From then we can scan the body for foreign objects without risking any information loss."

"Do it," replied the captain. "I'll ask the Emersons for permission."

"In any case..." Holmes walked in circle around the victim again, pointing at the sky with his pipe. "What happened to the berserk? The android that they mistreated to the point of breaking its behavioral module?"

"Let me check", said the captain. "It was captured by a Rogue Hunter for refurbishing and training."

"Was there an investigation regarding the incident?"

"Yes," replied Lee, "but the records say there was no murder attempt, so the android was let go."

"I see... the hunter's name?"

"Just an alias, 'Connor', and an address. Last updated... twelve months ago."

"In the western citadels."

"A birdcage?" asked the captain.

"Verifying records... yes, that address is in the upper levels. Captain, I need that hunter to be questioned regarding the whereabouts of that particular android, and all the details of its activities dating from at least three months ago. The whole year, if possible."


"And as usual, you should be careful. There is a remote possibility that the hunter might be cooperating with one or more rogue androids."

Professor Holmes," inquired the captain, stroking his chin, "do you suspect that the android had anything to do with the murder?"

"An android gone rogue must NEVER be underestimated, captain. According to the android incidents database, that particular android was subject to extreme torture. Tell me. Do you know what happens when you abuse a pet?"

"It bites you, of course!"

"Correct. But do you know what's the difference between an abused pet and an abused android?"

The captain opened his eyes wide as Holmes finished his explanation.

"Unlike a pet which only thinks of escaping, when an abused android turns berserk it starts plotting its revenge."

Undisclosed location

A skycab was landing on the hotel's roof. Waiting for it was Abbie, Devil's avatar, wearing a fine male cashmere suit and a pair of expensive sunglasses that hid her cat eyes. Her hair was painted brown, no sign of the blood red color that Beth used on it. Her chest was pressed tightly with a binder; if not for her rather feminine face she'd look just like a man. By her side was Vixen, who was wearing a standard french maid outfit and a semicircular pink glasswear. She was carrying a rather heavy suitcase.

The cab landed and the door opened.

"Good afternoon, sir, where should I take you?"

"I'll tell you on the way," said Abbie with a gender neutral voice. "Keep it confidential, even from authorities. Report the flight as cancelled."

"I'm afraid that requires a four-star or greater manager license ID."

"Sending it right now."

"Temporary Identification number?"

"Five zero nine four."

"Authentication passed; five-star license recognized. Rank: Rogue Hunter, veteran. Welcome aboard, Mr. Connor."

Vixen followed Abbie into the cab and closed the door. After the cab took flight she looked down, trying to suppress a mischievous smile.

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