DETECTIVE MOXLEY, Part 20: “I’ve Got a Theory”
Moxley was still holding the plastic invoice Jimmy had given him when he reached his car and climbed inside. How he was going to pay it, he didn’t know. That wasn’t his biggest problem right now. He sighed, sank back into the seat, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. He wanted nothing more than to sleep. His lungs burned. His side ached. And he had a contact sunburn on the backs of his hands that was starting to ache something badly.
That sort of thing happened when you lobbed electromagnetic bombs around inside.
Hogey had, despite his irritation, patched up Moxley with the world’s oldest first aid kit. Right now six tablets of ancient acetaminophen were doing inadequate battle with Moxley’s cracked ribs. At least the kit’s binding paste had worked, sealing the wounds in his arm and the split in his lip. The inside of his mouth tasted like socks.
His phone had been vibrating furiously for the last half hour, but he refused to acknowledge it. It couldn’t be anything good. It was only thanks to Hogey’s paranoia that the crowd gun hadn’t blown the facade off the storefront. The building was reinforced with a structural soak, something that had been popular right after the Border Wars. Hogey would be scraping synthoid skin and hair out of wall tiles for weeks, but his shop was in one piece and nobody had gotten hurt. Well. Nobody but Jensen and Detweiler, who weren’t really Jensen and Detweiler anyway.
He had placed several calls to Ben Garrison. Either the man was busy or he was in no mood for a call from Moxley. The detective had not left a message. He rarely did. Voice recordings were the sorts of things that could come back to haunt you later. He switched on the car.
“I don’t know, just weird!” muttered the Dayliner in Moxley’s voice. The engine shuddered, then steadied itself. “Raisin porous jamcrab hammerwillow.”
“You can say that again,” said Moxley to no one. “It’s been a jamcrab hammerwillow of a day.”
“Sacknowledged,” whispered the car.
His phone began to vibrate again. This time, he did thumb it. The holo-display said it was Garrison.
“Moxley,” he said.
“This is Garrison,” said the older man. “I got your messages. You were right.”
“Sir?” said Mox.
“We found Jensen and Detweiler in a garbage pod on the slideway outside the Capital,” said Garrison. “Shot through the head, both of them. An obvious execution. No signs of any peripheral crime. No sexual violation. Chits still in their wallets. Whoever hid their bodies wasn’t counting on keeping their murders secret for long, though. We did a simple network search for their faces and then grid-scanned their last known location. Interestingly, the search indicated that the two of them were scanned entering Hongkongtown.”
“The synthoids,” said Moxley.
“Nothing, sir,” said Moxley. “If you thought they were in Hongkongtown—”
“There was a gap,” said Garrison. “Not a big one, but it was there. A time lapse, too. I’m not an imbecile, Moxley. Anyone could see something wasn’t right. Whoever murdered Jensen and Detweiler took their places and continued on to intercept you.”
“Which means they must have been a perfect match,” said Moxley.
“That’s right,” said Garrison. “DNA, facial recog, voice print… they passed all of it to get through Goop security and take custody of you. I’m hoping you can tell me how that’s possible.”
“I’ve got a theory,” said Moxley. “I can ask my guy. But he’s out of his depth.”
“So are you.”
“Yes sir,” said Moxley. “With respect, you have a leak somewhere.”
“Obviously,” said Garrison. “And until I know who and why, I’m not sending anyone else. You’re on your own, Moxley.”
“I understand, sir. I’ll try to keep you informed. As long as I’m not, you know. Dead.”
“That’s all I can ask. Good luck… detective.”
Moxley stared at his phone. The connection had closed. He thumbed the device again and called Lobby.
“Yeah?” said the technician.
“Lob,” said Mox. “I’ve got a theory.”
* * *
“I’ve got a theory,” said the hooker. She was all curves, that one, sporting a fresh laser paintjob that made her look like a zebra. Her minidress stuck to her in all the right places and was missing entirely in the righter places. Moxley looked up from his table, then back to the dealer.
“Hit me,” he said.
The robot dealer dispensed another card. Moxley kept his expression level as the machine raked in his chips. Twenty-five. A bust. Moxley swallowed the last of his bourbon and signaled for another. A spigot above the table descended to refill his glass.
“My theory,” said the girl, whispering in his ear, “is that you’ve still got enough money to afford me. If we leave now.” He breath was hot on his neck.
“You’re young enough to be daughter,” said Moxley, looking her up and down. He managed to turn away long enough to check the table. The robot dealer stared at him, its patience endless in the absence of other paying customers, waiting for the trigger to deal again.
“I’m old enough to show you some new things,” she whispered.
“One more hand,” said Moxley.
“You’ll need two for me,” said the girl.
“Deal,” said Moxley to the robot.
* * *
“Yeah?” said Lobby.
“You said these synthetic things were unstable, right?” said Moxley.
“I can’t wrap my head around the timeline,” said Mox. “Two more of them just tried to whack me.”
“Yeah,” said Mox. “I was figuring, you make a robot or whatever that looks like a person, it takes time, probably, but it wouldn’t be hard. They make simulacra of celebrities all the time, right? But these things could fool identification scans. And Jensen and Detweiler—“
“—Jensen and Detweiler were only just assigned to me. There couldn’t possibly have time to build duplicates of them. Not unless these things could somehow imitate a person right away. You know, shape change into them?”
“Yeah,” said Lobby.
“So do you figure it’s possible?” said Mox. “Something about these things is unstable by design. Could one of them change to another person, just off the street? Like an electric Halloweeve mask.”
“Yeah,” said Lobby. “I mean, maybe. If we can print a steak I guess we can reconfigure a lump of protein, maybe even bend the molecules to ape the DNA. The technology would be incredibly complicated. And very expensive.”
“Don’t sell our dead one just yet,” said Moxley. “ I keep thinking about Theopolis, murdered by his own bodyguard. Say I was in the political assassination business. An army of synthetic robots that can shape-change into loved ones or colleagues of the victim… that would be pretty handy.”
“Yeah,” said Lobby again.
“Grapefruit shopping oar,” said the Dayliner.
“What?” said Lobby.
“Nothing,” said Moxley. “Lobby, can you get me an address for Councilwoman Sara Lindsey?”
“Not hard,” said Lobby. “Why?”
“Because there are a lot of these things running around,” said Moxley.
“Synthoids,” said Moxley. “Get me the address, Lob. And hurry.”
“Sending it to your phone,” said Lobby.
“Thanks, Lob,” said Moxley. “And Lob?”
“Watch your back.”
Moxley put his phone away. He slammed the accelerator forward.
The Dayliner sped on, spewing smoke from both ends.