Chapter 25:


Grime in the Gears: Create, Read, Update, Delete

By the third cup of coffee, he felt that he could get started working. He had pulled an all-nighter compiling news stories and police reports and blog posts and obituaries, all tying together into a nice chain of events.

He sat down at his computer. "I think we've almost cracked the case, Bher, as well as just about every other cold case in this Odin-forsaken city." He took a sip from cup number four.

"That's great, Rick," Javan said in his ear. 

Vadstalle couldn't help but grin as he navigated through the tree of files, getting to the folder where he'd saved all the relevant documents and his annotations and hyperlinks. "I've got the web all mapped out," he said. "We just need to find the spider."

He opened the file.

An error popped up on his screen. Some obscure warning message with some obscure error code. "What the Hel does that mean?" he asked.

Javan scanned the message on the screen. "It seems to be indicating that the file has been corrupted. Here," she said. "Let's try running the self-repair." His cursor moved across the screen, and a few black terminals popped up and disappeared before he could even read them. Then a status bar crept across the screen like Baldur racing a tortoise.

When it was done, he tried the file again. The screen went blank, the cursor turned into an hourglass, and then nothing happened. Vadstalle tapped his fingers impatiently on his desk top. He took another swig of coffee.

Then the screen flashed. It was filled with snow. It moved and crackled and hissed and danced across the screen.

"What is that?" he said.

"White noise," said Javan. "That's strange." She moved the cursor and closed the window. "It looks like the file is corrupted."

Vadstalle slapped his forehead. "Do you know how long I worked on that thing?"

"Based on your biometric readings, it looks like you didn't get much sleep last night. I would imagine it took you quite some time."

"Yeah, quite some time is the understatement of the century." He took another drink of coffee. "I don't even know if I have it in me to make it all again."

"I'm sure you can," she said.

"It's like when I was in school. I wrote this amazing paper for my English class. Then, before I saved, there was a power outage. I lost the entire thing. I knew I couldn't possibly come close to the original. I wrote it all from scratch. I hit on the few memorable parts, but in the end I wasn't proud of the results."

"What grade did you get?"

"Eh? Oh, I think a B or something. But I bet that that original draft would have knocked the professor's socks off."

"And what grade would you have gotten if you didn't complete the assignment?" Javan asked.

"An F. What kind of question is that?"

"You're not the kind that allows yourself to fail, Rick," she said. "We might not score an A, but I'm sure if you try again, you'll get yourself a solid B."

Vadstalle chuckled. "You're right, Bher." He opened a new folder and started searching through the records, trying to recall the names of some of the companies. He found one of the police records in the system. He clicked it to open it.

He got another error. This one was different.

"It seems you lack permission to access this record," Javan said.

Vadstalle tried another, and got the same result.

He tried another, and another, and another, all of which came up ACCESS DENIED.

He finished his coffee. "This makes no sense," he said. He opened up his email tool and sent a message on to the precinct's IT department. "Someone's been messing with my stuff," he said.

"That is strange," said Bher. "Let me do a scan to see if I can see any unusual behavior on your account."

"How long will that take?" asked Vadstalle.

"You may want to get yourself another coffee," she said.

"Great," he said. He tossed his empty cup into the trash before making his way to the coffee maker. "I'm going for a little walk."

He left the precinct and started walking down the sidewalk. As he walked, he tried to visualize the tangled web he was starting to unravel in his mind's eye. Someone didn't want him following the web to its dark heart. Someone was trying to prevent him from finding where all the threads led.

The different acquisitions had a common pattern: some small company made waves, someone in the company died or some other terrible thing happened, and some company bought them out. Each of the acquiring companies had a different name, but he figured that it was just to keep things nice and hidden.

He knew that each incident involved four entities: the startup, the acquirer, the person who caused the tragedy, and the big spider in the sky pulling all the strings. He just wished the spider was a Lammas parade float, so it'd be easier to find.

Something vibrated in his shirt pocket. He reached into the pocket and pulled the thing out. It was the little raccoon figurine Javan kept on her desk. It buzzed in his hand for a little bit before stopping. He examined it, not realizing it had any sort of components inside it. He didn't see any exposed conduits or anything.

He tucked it back into his shirt pocket, right over his heart. It was probably just some toy from a kids meal at a fast food joint. Javan probably got it one of those days where the cops who don't swear too much get to mingle with the kids so they're not too distrustful or jaded when they grow up. 

He stopped walking. He was just outside a bookstore. He stepped inside. Most of the books they sold were digitals, their spines lining the walls just for show. You'd walk down the aisles, tap the spine, get a quick synopsis or read a few pages, then add it to your cart. Then you'd pay for what you wanted to keep.

They also had a few older paper books, but Vadstalle was drawn to the side of the store, where all the stationery was. He saw them on a spinning rack: synthetic-leather-bound journals. Lined, unlined, dotted, everything. He grabbed one of the lined ones. It had that godawful raccoon on the cover, but it was the only lined one, so he grabbed it and brought it to the terminal at the front of the store. He scanned the book and swiped his chip for the machine. It spat out a receipt for him, which he tore off and crumpled up.

He carried the book against his chest as walked back to the store. If he was going to get that B, he was going to do it old-school. Paper notebooks had a neat feature called autosave, and then only thing a power failure would do would be to make it harder to see the page you were writing on.

Back in the precinct, he took one of Javan's pens. "How's that scan coming?" he asked, popping the book open and taking out the advertising materials and tossing them in the trash.

"Nothing," Javan said. "There's no unusual activity on your account."

"Did IT get back to me yet?"

Javan paused. Vadstalle thought he heard that static again.


"No," she said.

"Let me know the minute they do."

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