Det. Erin "Evie" Valle
New Acadia Slums
Det. Erin "Evie" Valle
New Acadia Slums
Hammond Miller sucked in a long drag from a short-filter cigarette, the ensuing puff of smoke wisping away into damp morning air tinting the New Acadia streets with patchy fog. Flicking the last burning embers to the ground and crushing it, the detective pulled his long coat tighter around his body and let a tired glance jump over the hood of the car.
"Lot of friendly faces out this morning," he grumbled, his short-trimmed beard more salt than pepper these days and eyes carrying dark circles earned with too many years and not enough vacations.
"Feel free to run along home any time you like," his partner spoke as she rose from the passenger seat of the car onto the raised curb. Detective Erin Valle succumbed to her own personal vice every bit as addictive as that of her partner, bringing a cup of coffee to her lips, a loose tendril of steam escaping and rushing across the landscape of her face.
"And miss all the fun? Not today. Who's this supposed to be now?"
"Bell. Arthur Bell. He's a psych doctor down here, supposed to be some sort of 'ground roots community' rebuid kind of guy from what I've heard. We take care of our own since no one else will kind of mentality," she said, downing the last of the coffee and tossing the cup into a bin near the street.
"Then I'm sure he'll be thrilled to get a visit from us," Miller grumbled, rising up to the crub as well. "Hell of a starting place for this case."
The night before last, NAPD was contacted by Hiro and Mayu Maeda to report their only daughter, Reina, as missing. Hiro Maeda was Vice President of Operations for the Novus Corporation. Not one of the largest corporations and without its own sprawling section of the city, Novus was nonetheless making lots of headlines these days.
Novus was the leader in experimental cybernetic technology, specifically taking the next major steps in artificial intelligence. Originally a
small company that focused on the production of robotic replacements for human workers in high-risk employment, turned consumer-level AI assistance, turned attempting to breakthrough barriers in AI that had yet not been contemplated, including fully-fledged and self-sustaining AI humanoid units. It was a pipe dream, but one that had been featured extensively in the trades.
Hiro Maeda was the face of that feature. Young, talented, and charismatic, he was one of the youngest VPs in corporate history that wasn't just a son picking up on a father's legacy. Instead, he was a pioneer in the field, a visionary, and outspoken about his goals.Now, he was a shaken shell of a man, a father pushed the brink of insanity by the disappearance of his daughter.
Reina Meada was sixteen years old. Smart, but not outgoing or overly social. Exceptional grades in school, but little to no extracurricular activity. A charismatic but eccentric father obsessed and consumed with his work and a socialite mother left little in the way of a deep and loving family life, but there were no signs of abuse, neglect, or anything to give the girl a reason to run away. On the other hand, Maeda's work made Novus a targeted rival for a number of other development corporations as well as those who opposed the continued advance of AI technology.
That would be great if there were any signs of foul play. Which there weren't. Except for the missing girl. Valle and Miller had been assigned the case and began chasing down what avenues they could as quickly as possible, but it had been slow going thus far. Now, Valle was chasing what Miller was absolutely sure was a wild goose chase, but admitted was better than the nonexistent leads he'd been able to generate at this point.
For the past twelve hours, a caffeine-laced Valle had poured over the one item providing any clues to her out of the open doors to the Maeda home -- Reina's laptop computer. Valle's training in computer forensics wasn't extensive to the point of making her an expert, but it was more than most NAPD cops bothered to obtain. During her time away from active duty while recovering from her major injury and the loss of her arm, she'd had to do something to make herself stand out. It was a start.
A deep recovery of files and web traffic history revealed that Reina's social life was more robust than anyone had realized, even if she'd never left her room as part of it. Message boards, chat logs, and other items showed her flirting on the outside edges of an underground social network known as Origin. They were a group dedicated to rejecting the advancing embrace of cutting-edge technology in all aspects of life in New Acadia and advocating a return to a simpler way of life.
Valle knew a thing about being a rebellious daughter. If Reina Maeda was looking to break from the expectations of her father, a flirtation with Origin would be exactly what she would need to get that fulfillment. It was a weak start, and Valle hadn't been able to get too deep behind a few passwords get all the information, but it was a start.
So now, she needed more information on where to find some of the real-life bodies behind the web-based personalities of Origin, a group she was sure did most of their real-life meetings in the Slums. For that, she needed information. And you didn't have to be from the Slums to know that if you needed ears on the ground, Dr. Arthur Bell was a good place to start.
Bell was on NAPD's radar, or at least he had been more than once. Still, he was an example of someone who maybe did more good than harm, causing them to look the other way when they could.
Today, Erin Valle couldn't look the other way.
Valle and Miller stepped inside. Valle took the obvious lead position. Miller hung back and kept his eyes keenly on the door as well as his partner's back.
"Det. Valle, NAPD. I need to see Dr. Bell."