[Newer York, 527AS] The Case of the Kid in the Park, Part 2

A stabbed teen; cloned IDs; a handful of clues; all in a place that rarely sees murder!

Read Part One.

A Timeline of Newer York

Newer York, Staten Ring Level B Section 25
9 Adar 527 After Starfall

Perez and Bentley remained on the scene while the forensic crew did its thing and collected the boy's body. It was a good thing, Perez thought, that scanning tech had come so far that a pass through an imager was all that would be needed for autopsy. The heavy Jewish influence of Newer York culture meant almost all funerals had to happen within a day. Custom had bent on the subject of burial—nobody could deny the need to recycle material more efficiently than natural decomposition would allow, and there simply wasn't the acreage even in the Inner Cylinder. But the timing had remained inflexible.

The specialists did their thing, and the kid was whisked out, covered up on a gurney. Juanita looked at her boss, who was still staring fixedly at the old-fashioned chalk outline on the floor. She was a little apprehensive of interrupting her, afraid she might get rounded on, but there was a question that needed answered. "Commissioner?"

Perez wasn't sure if she was relieved or not when the answer came back, calmly, "Yes, Sergeant?"

She decided not to hem and haw, but go straight at her point and get it over with. "Who's going to notify his clan?"

She saw the Commissioner heave a sigh, still staring at the outline. "I'll take care of it, Perez. I was just composing what to say right now." She shook herself, an Perez had an impression of a diver coming up for breath. The older woman turned to face Perez finally. "You and Bentley need anything else here?"

"No, sir."

"Dismissed, then."

So, they'd left, she and Bentley. Without having discussed it, they both seem to have agreed to walk back to the Brooklyn Ring Precinct House, and to do so in silence. They needed time to gather their own thoughts before they started working through the evidence. Perez was not entirely idle or introspective on her walk. She'd queued up the query to figure out who matched up to those other tracks into the forest—right now, those were definitely the prime suspects here. She set another query tracking the movements of both of the copies of the ID that had opened the accessway to the sub-level, and a third query about the copy itself. The ID bracelet system was continually updated with anti-forgery tech, but it was as much of an arms race as any security measure. Eventually, someone figured out an exploit, the security wonks figured out how the exploit worked, IDs got updated with new code (or on a few occasions, complete hardware swaps), a new exploit got found, lather, rinse, repeat.

They got back to the precinct house, and Perez walked up to the doors of an unused conference room and punched in a reservation to start in 15 minutes. Making sure Bentley saw it and getting his nod, still without a word, went separate ways.

Her first stop was the evidence room, which included analyzers for things too big for the auto-analysis containers. Both the already analyzed grass clippings and the bracket-turned-shiv went into scan-bins. She set it up to send her a report and left it. This had been autopilot, for her. She was still more or less in her own thoughts.

Next, she took herself to the bathroom for a few minutes of both necessary business and generally falling apart. She allowed herself five minutes for this—set an alarm and everything—partly because she didn't want to hog the toilet, but also because she knew she simply had to get up and get on with it. There would be other opportunities to fall apart at greater length, to allow her clan to help put her back together again. This, right now, was safety valve. Actual self-care would have to wait.

She emerged finally and took herself first to her desk, for her covered mug, then to the kitchen, where she grabbed a fresh sachet of mint tea and filled the mug with hot water. One disappointment for her since arriving in Newer York: having heard many tales of the vaunted, almost hallowed drink known as coffee, long extinct back on Earth, but somehow preserved here, she had discovered she could not stand the stuff.

Refreshment in hand, she went to the conference room she'd reserved, finding Bentley already there, setting up "the board" on one wall of screens. The reports they'd both queued up would fill in as they arrived, and indeed, several were already there.

The evidence room had already completed its work. The blood on the grass was a match for the blood on the shiv. They were still waiting for the coroner's report, which would include the necessary DNA sampling that would allow them to finalize a match of both with the dead boy.

The shiv had yielded several sets of prints and other biometrics—skin flakes, for example—that were being run down for any obvious matches now. Of course, that would only be immediately helpful if there were some reason for those patterns to be stored somewhere.

The trajectories of one set of tracks that had converged with the boy's matched the track of the cloned access ID. Unfortunately, the street surveillance footage outside the park that matched up showed a very clever person wearing an old-fashioned hoodie, pulled up around their head and shadowing their face. This was a new fashion lately, she'd noticed, and hadn't really wondered at it until now. Was it just fashion, or was there a movement to try to defeat surveillance out there. Either was possible. Newer Yorkers accepted a certain amount of monitoring as the inherent price of living in an entirely artificial habitat, but they still valued their privacy.

She voiced this thought to Bentley, who, being a native, might be more plugged into local trends. "Huh," he said. "That's interesting. I guess I hadn't really noticed, myself—I mean, fashions of all kinds come and go. Not everyone likes it when it 'rains' to irrigate things, so I just assumed it was another way to avoid a wet head on mist-days."

That was how the station kept so much green space green—and also provided a small illusion of weather in an environment that had none. In the Inner Cylinder, it was an active part of the irrigation system, as well. So that all made sense. "But even if that's so, it could be exploited."

"Yeah," Bentley responded, "it could, easily. And you're right that there's always been some resentment at how much public surveillance there is. That tug-of-war goes all the way back to the earliest days Outbound. So it could be both. Either way, it's common enough now that that, by itself, wouldn't have made anyone nearby suspicious." He replayed the surveillance clip, which included a track of the person coming down the street and entering the park. "There's nothing furtive or nervous in the person's walk, either. Just another person heading into the park, just like our victim. About five minutes before our victim, in fact. Then there's the other set of tracks—" he pointed. The user interface was heavily gesture oriented, and interpreted his movement correctly as a request to highlight the other track. "—yield another hoodie. He shows up about two minutes before the first hoodie, coming in from almost the opposite end of the park, and as you see, also just sort of wanders in. Not hurried, not nervous. Just out for a stroll. We can probably track those trails back to somewhere a camera gets a better face angle on one of them, now that we have a time-base to work from."

A label flashed red near the image of the second hoodie. It read: "ID DUPLICATE MATCH".

"Another cloned ID!" Juanita exclaimed, but not in surprise. It might make it harder to actually track these people down, but now they had a pattern of behavior. Hoodies, cloned IDs...someone was actively trying to defeat identification. Even if they hadn't intended murder, they were definitely not behaving like good children.

She checked herself. Children? They could be teenagers. It was hard to tell up here—even people growing up in the rings, at 0.8G, tended to be taller and thinner than Earthers in general. They could just as easily be adults, really. Too early to make any assumptions.

The picture of the ostensible ID holder came up next. Juanita snorted. The holder was shorter by a ten centimeters, squatter, and very obviously Earther-born—which her record confirmed. She shook her head. "Why the hell doesn't the system automatically flag duplicate IDs in on the network, anyway?"

"It's all part of the balance with privacy, or so we're told," Bentley replied in an abstracted tone, peering at the screen as if staring at it hard enough would produce an answer. Juanita decided not to smack him. She'd known the answer—the question had been rhetorical. If she hadn't known Bentley better, she'd think she'd been mansplained, but no, Bentley was just not really "here" right now. He was on to something, or thought he might be. Nuance was flying right past him.

He reached out to the screen, and the information for the other cloned ID holder—the person whose ID had given them maintenance access. "Notice anything?"

She looked. "Both Earthers."

"Yup. Not much else in common—one's from Arctic Union, the other, South China Republic. They overlapped in Ellis but weren't quartered anywhere near each other. No indication they know each other. But their ID badges would have been issued around the same time, and neither one ever turned theirs in the last time there was a hardware bump."

Juanita picked up on it. "Which we know was because of a flaw they determined couldn't be easily patched in software, even if that's never been publicly confirmed. I'm surprised the maintenance worker—this Dietrich Meier—wasn't required to in order to maintain his access privs."

Bentley shrugged. "There's so much monitoring and redundancy on the actual infrastructure systems that there's not actually much of a security threat there. You're right that someone got lax, but I'm not that surprised."

She thought about that. "So they made the systems harder to break rather than harder to access, is that it?"

"Pretty much, yeah. I mean, the systems have to be hard to break anyway, right? Breathing is good."

"No argument, there. Right, so we've got two similarly dressed but hard to identify people entering within minutes of each other, each with fake IDs cloned off of real people with vulnerable bracelets, and one of them is almost certainly our killer. I suppose it's too much to hope that they were wearing those IDs, like, all day, so we can try to track them by where they've been."

As it happened, that report popped up almost as she asked. She began to suspect that one of the department's arties was actually listening in and being helpful. Probably not A. Katrina—she was always right up front and obvious. But Perez had noticed A. Yosef was a bit more subtle, and like to be helpful. She thought about calling him out, but decided against it. If it was him, she actually didn't mind the help right now.

The report showed, as she'd feared, they were not that lucky, but maybe they didn't have to be. Both the ID trace and the surveillance trace for each of their persons of interest tracked back to different blocks of the Brooklyn ring. They began and ended there—the suspects left the park again looking no more suspicious than when they'd come in, except maybe their hoods were pulled even further over their heads. Their identifiable trajectories took them each to and from residential buildings, where public surveillance and tracking ended.

Except...there...right as they re-entered the buildings, they had to switch to their own IDs!

"Got them!"

Bentley looked up from his tablet, where he'd been making notes of his own thoughts, and peered at what she saw. "Maybe," he said. "Could be another set of fakes that are valid for those buildings. Then they could go inside, change again, leave without ever being...oh, wait, even if that's true, all we have to do is filter for who exited but never entered!"

"Exactly. But let's start from the assumption that they're only half-clever." She reached out to "touch" both ID tags on the screen—Liu Guo and Harris Gorman—which blossomed with the ID profiles of two young men, both just over 17 years of age, which matched the victim. Heights and weights matched. "Those look likely, don't they?"

Her partner peered at them—both the pictures and the descriptions. "Circumstantially, yeah, but I'd like a bit more than that."

Juanita sighed. He was right. And she was tired of wiggling her fingers at the screen. Looking at the ceiling—for no really good reason except it felt right, she said, "Yosef? You're listening, aren't you?"

Without the slightest trace of embarrassment, a voice said, "Yes, Sergeant. Would you like me to run the comparison?"

"Yeah. Also, did we find any other bio-traces on the shiv?"

"We did. Smeared fingerprints due to sweaty palms. Dried sweat. A few skin flakes. Might be useful, but only if we can get the warrant to arrest these boys. Neither one has DNA on file."

"Of course not," Perez responded. "That'd be too easy. Another question: any connection between these boys and our victim, other than similar ages?"

"Assuming that these IDs are not also fakes, yes. All three boys appear to be—to have been—classmates. No record of disputes between them. However..."

The pause was clearly for dramatic effect. Not for the first time, Juanita wondered where artie personality templates originated. Every single one she'd ever interacted with seemed to be deliberately eccentric. Finally, knowing she would receive no joy otherwise, she said, "...Yes?"

"...young Companion Gorman appears to have been posting on anti-Earther message boards with some frequency."

"But the victim wasn't an Earther," Bentley said, puzzled.

"Yes and no. His parents both were, and he was an infant when they left Earth. A rare occurrence, which sparked some speculation on the part of their immigration interviewer that they were running from something. If they were, they succeeded—until this tragedy, they've been an otherwise unexceptional family."

"And Gorman?"

"Family goes back all the way to the Founding. Same with Liu. Companion Liu, however, has no obvious ties to anything controversial. Middling student, few disciplinary problems."

There was silence as they all chewed on this. Then, Perez said, "Are we actually dealing with a racially motivated attack? I mean, this kind of thing still happens back on Earth, even in the AU, all the time, but...here?!"

"Vocal anti-Earther movements have ebbed and flowed since Rediscovery in 257AS. The original vote to permit immigration from Earth passed the Common Council by only one vote. A great deal of effort has been spent to avoid evils of the past, but..."

"People are people." The mantra of the City.

Yosef answered, "Right. As it is, the movement is tiny enough that most people never notice it."

"So...is this an escalation? Because if it is, that's a bit above our pay grade, I think."

Bentley answered, "Not really. I mean, yeah, maybe then they'd bring Calabrese in, but other than that, there really isn't much above our pay grade, Perez."

"And anyway," Yosef injected, "I don't believe this represents a general escalation. Assuming for the moment that this attack was motivated by anti-Earther sentiment, my analysis of available data feeds suggests that it's an isolated event."

Another silence while everyone considered things. Then, Perez said, "Do we think we have enough for warrants?"

Bentley was nodding firmly, and Yosef said, "Definitely. Do you want me to file?"

"Yes. How long to turn it around?"

"Probably an hour, tops."

"Long enough for dinner, then. Call me if something comes up sooner. Bentley, I'll see you in an hour, yeah?"

"Sounds good!"

I thought this'd be a two parter, but it's running longer than I thought. I'm also distracted by trip planning and stuff. But this episode of Law and Order iiinnnnnnn sppaaaaaaace will hopefully resume soon!