Later the next morning Brittany’s vision was filled with a brief moment of static when she pressed her right temple to log out of the augmented reality game CONQUEST. Surrounded by hills and valleys of thick green foam, she glanced about as several other players lined up to exit the CyberBolt’s Chicago Arena. A message popped up in her augmented field of vision:
Thank you for using CyberBolt’s Sleep Mode Service. We hope your experience was tranquil. To help improve the quality of our services, please take a moment to fill out this customer experience survey.
With a wave of her hand, she brushed the message aside. She was grateful that she had paid for the annual arena membership several months ago with her tax return, because due to a recent government sequester she was short on rent money. On the plus side, she now had a lot of free time to herself.
Climbing over the foam hills to the nearest exit, she joined the throng of unhappy-looking players. She innately knew they weren’t displeased with the game – quite the opposite. They were dreading the return to real life.
She walked through the massive doors, smiling at the eager young faces passing in the opposite direction. A trumpet sounded overhead, heralding the new players as they entered the arena. Walking through the hallway, she admired the medieval décor. She passed the enormous gift shop and entered the women’s locker room.
She stripped off the gray CyberBolt jumpsuit and threw it in the laundry chute. She washed the three-days-worth of sweat and grime off of her body and toweled herself dry. She was proud that, during her absence from the precinct, she had successfully achieved level 8, and now had a plethora of weapons. She had also raised her HP by 100, her Mana by 10, Strength to 9, Agility to 4, Stamina to 5, Intelligence to 4, and Willpower to 4.
Brittany sighed as she opened her locker, beholding her police uniform and gear. The last thing she wanted to do right now was return to the night shift. Her three-day ‘staycation’ at the arena had been liberating, a much-needed reprieve from her stressful job.
Brittany and her partner Officer Jill Brown arrived at Allan Young’s house in response to reports of gunshots fired in the area. They weren’t prepared for the sight they were about to behold. The home was surrounded by empty black vehicles, and the front door had been rammed in.
“Police!” she yelled through the bashed-in front door while Jill patrolled the back. “Come out with your hands up!”
After several moments of silence, she pressed her right temple.
“Brown, I’m going in.”
Armed and loaded, she cautiously stepped through the opening and knew immediately that they were going to need more backup.
“Parker to Base, come in Base.”
“Base here.” the radio controller responded. “What’s your 10-20?”
“I just entered at the Young residence. We need immediate backup.” she relayed as she stared in horror at the blood spattered on the walls and the hewn bodies. “Code 10-55! I repeat, I have men down! 10-4.”
“Proceed with caution.” the controller instructed. “We’ve got several units headed your way. Over and out.”
The entire place was a shambles. There was blood everywhere, and the sight of four bodies clad in Kevlar was disturbing. The Kevlar had been shredded like mere cloth, and she nearly shrieked when she tripped over a severed head. A large pool of blood on the hardwood floor had spread and stained the edges of a white rug under the coffee table.
Brittany pressed on her right temple and made a sweeping scan of the hewn bodies.
SECURITY CLEARANCE REQUIRED. ACCESS DENIED.
Jill joined her, and together they began searching the house. Sirens could be heard in the distance, so she knew their backup would arrive soon. After a thorough search, they determined that nobody else was on the premises. They then proceeded to search the bodies for any physical identification, but came up empty.
She returned her gun to its holster, and was passing back through the living room when she saw a crumpled envelope on the floor. Pulling out an evidence bag and some tweezers, she carefully slit open the envelope and pulled out the letter.
My dearest Allan,
I want you to know that I love you immensely, but I can’t marry you. I’m sorry I can’t be the woman you want me to be. I know this will be difficult for you to understand, but I must leave now. I hope someday you will find a woman worthy of your love.
Love always, Lily
Suddenly, Officer James Price entered with his gun drawn.
She glanced up at him. “There were no survivors. The perpetrator is long gone.”
He stared in shock, holstering his weapon. “Who are these guys?”
“I think they’re government agents.” she stared at the letter, trying to ascertain if the contents of the letter might be related to a possible motive for what had happened here. “I don’t have proper clearance to identify the bodies.”
“I doubt that.” he pressed his right temple. “You’re just not as seasoned as I am. Move aside.”
She ignored his remark and whispered to Jill, “What a jerk.”
After a few tense moments, a confused look fell across James’ face.
Refusing to acknowledge his error, he stated, “We better call the FBI.”
Brittany placed her index finger on a scanner inside the forensics room of the precinct. She then pressed on her right temple, and an Augmented Reality (AR) screen and keyboard appeared in midair with the brief flash of the brand CyberBolt. After entering her credentials, she inserted a blood sample she’d obtained from Allan’s home into the tray next to the fingerprint scanner. The profile for Lillian Thatcher pulled up instantly.
“We have a match,” she confirmed to her partner. “According to this woman’s profile, she’s been dating our suspect for over four years.”
“You were able to get a DNA match that quickly?” Jill asked. “I’m never going to get used to this new technology.”
“You really need to join the new century,” Brittany teased her. “You’re getting feeble in your old age.”
“Excuse me?” she winked, “I’m still only twenty-nine.”
“Yeah,” she mused, “maybe for twenty years and counting.”
She chuckled. “So what do we know about this woman?”
“Redhead. Five foot nine, has a Bachelor’s in Mathematics and a Masters in Cryptology, makes six figures annually…” Brittany rambled on. “Oh, hey! This is interesting. As it turns out, Lillian Thatcher works at CyberBolt!”
“So does half the city.” her partner scoffed. “What’s your point?”
“According to her profile, Lily is a game developer and tester.” Brittany explained, “In fact, one of her greater accomplishments listed here is that she developed this Law Enforcement Terminal program that we’re using.”
“Oh? Go figure.”
Brittany continued to read through Lily’s profile, when suddenly the screen went blank. Confused, she pressed her temple several times.
“What happened?” Brittany stammered. “The data… it’s gone.”
Her partner laughed. “Well, would you look at that? Your perfect AR hardware isn’t so reliable after all!”
“Nonsense.” She placed her index finger on the scanner again. The Forensics screen reappeared, and she made sure the blood sample was still inserted correctly. This time, the search bar continued to load for several minutes. After nearly five minutes had passed, an error appeared on the virtual screen:
NO MATCH FOUND
She waved her hand until she landed on the Skip Trace page, and entered “Lillian Thatcher” into the search bar. After a few more minutes, the same error message appeared.
NO MATCH FOUND
Confused, she entered the following keywords ‘CyberBolt’ into the Advanced Search function. She followed this up with ‘CyberBolt Entertainment’, ‘Chicago’ ‘Developer’, ‘Tester’, ‘Mathematics’, and ‘Cryptology’.
NO MATCH FOUND
Curiosity getting the best of her, she decided to test the server by entering her own name. Within moments, her profile popped up.
Brittany Ann Parker, Officer.
Chicago South Precinct
Love Interest: Lieutenant Jason Shapley
This thing is downright creepy!
Her face went crimson as she closed her profile.
“Well, I was able to find my own profile just fine.” she muttered aloud.
Brittany waved her hand until she landed on the forensics screen again. She ran the blood sample scan once more.
“There she is!” she recognized the photo as the profile loaded. “Wait… something’s wrong here.”
What on Earth?
“This isn’t her profile!” she stammered. “This says her name is Jamie Davenport from Tallahassee, and she’s an adjunct professor of mathematics at the University of Florida.”
“Well, at least the mathematics part is close.” Officer Brown shook her head in disapproval. “I still say the server has a glitch.”
“I don’t think so…” Brittany wondered aloud. “I think someone deliberately changed her profile.”
“That’s preposterous. You think someone hacked into CyberBolt’s servers and changed it? I may not know much about how the program works, but I do follow the news. Their mainframe is unhackable.”
“So they claim,” Brittany argued as she printed off copies of the profile details. “I need to talk to Chief Herbert. This could be a huge development.”
“He won’t listen to you.”
She turned, and their eyes met. “What do you mean?”
Officer Brown fidgeted uncomfortably. “It’s not important. Just be aware that he will shut you down and tell you to forget the incident.”
Brittany’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “What are you not telling me?”
Her partner looked around in alarm and then leaned forward to whisper, “You’ve heard about former officer Doug Carlton, haven’t you?”
“I’ve heard of him,” she nodded. “Didn’t he get put on probation for insubordination?”
“Actually, he’s suspended from duty…” her partner said. “… permanently.”
“What?” she asked, incredulous. “What for?”
“He raised too many questions about a similar ‘glitch’ in CyberBolt’s software.” she straightened up. “But that’s all I know. So please, just drop it.”
“But don’t you think it’s odd that both victims had degrees in Cryptology? Do you think there could be a link?”
“I said drop it.” Her partner pointed at the printout. “Besides, Jamie here only has a degree in teaching Mathematics.”
“Her name’s not Jamie!” Brittany said. “It’s Lillian! Can’t you see there’s a serious problem here?”
Officer Brown raised her hands in surrender. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Later that evening Brittany snuck away and waited patiently at one of the four desks parted by bulletproof glass on the visitor side at the jail. Dressed in civilian attire, she knew her partner wouldn’t approve of her seeking information in this manner, but she had to try. A guard escorted inmate Allan Young to the seat across from her, and he picked up the phone hanging from the partition.
“I’m sorry, but who are you?” he asked, confused. “Did I get a state-assigned attorney?”
“No, no. Mr. Young,” she corrected. “I’m not an attorney. My name is Officer Brittany Parker, and I was hoping you could answer a few questions for me.”
Allan shook his head. “Not without my attorney present.”
She raised her hand in a plea to stop him from hanging up the phone. “My questions have nothing to do with the case. I was just hoping you could clarify something for me.”
“Depending on what you ask, I might be able to give you an answer.”
She held up a cut-out picture of Lily that she had obtained from the forensics lab. “Do you recognize this woman?”
“Of course I do! She’s my girlfriend.” His eyes widened. “Is she in trouble?”
“What is her name?”
“Lily.” He paused, worry etched into his face. “What’s this all about?”
A broad smile fell across her lips.
I knew it.
“Lily, as in Lillian Thatcher perhaps?”
“Yes…” His eyebrows furrowed. “Why? What’s going on?”
“Has she ever been known by another name? Jamie, perhaps?”
“This is ridiculous,” Allan said. “Get to the point. What are you getting at?”
“I think she may have been leading a double life, and was about to leave you.”
“What?!” he spluttered, “What do you mean by a double life?”
She stared at him for a long minute. The confusion and concern on his face was telling.
“You really don’t know, do you?” she concluded.
“Know what?” he shook his head. “I feel like we’re talking in circles.”
“I hate to be the one to tell you this…” she reached into her pocket, retrieving the note. “But here’s a letter she left for you.”
She unfolded a copy of the letter that she had scanned in the Evidence Room and pressed it up against the glass partition. She watched his eyes as he read the letter. His face betrayed multiple emotions that fluctuated from alarm, to confusion, to denial, to pain, to shock, and then back to confusion.
“What?!” tears formed in his eyes. “Where did you get this?”
“Lily left this for you.” she admitted, “I found it on the floor of your living room.”
“What were you doing in my house?”
Oh man. Now I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth.
“I was one of the officers responding to… to an incident.”
“What kind of incident?”
She hesitated, leaning back in her chair. “I’ve said too much already.”
He sighed as a tear escaped down his cheek. “Where’s Lily? I need to talk some sense into her.”
“That’s actually the reason I came to see you,” she said. “I was hopeful that you might be able to shed some light on that mystery.”
Allan wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “What do you mean?”
She paused, gathering her thoughts. “When was the last time you saw her?”
“Two nights ago.”
She quirked an eyebrow. “Would you say you parted on good terms?”
“Considering she avoided my marriage proposal, I’d have to say no.” he rolled his eyes in annoyance. “What are you trying to accomplish, exactly? If you’re trying to extract some type of motive, don’t bother.”
“Excuse me?” her eyes lit up in anticipation.
“I know what you’re doing, but it won’t work.” he made a move to hang up the phone. “Please, just stop.”
She waived her hand frantically, stopping him.
He let out a sigh and pulled the receiver back to his ear. “WHAT?!”
“Please, Mister Young. I’m almost done,” she said quickly. “You mentioned something about a motive just now. I’m confused. A motive for what, exactly?”
“You guys clearly think I killed Jason.” agitation laced his tone. “I didn’t.”
“No, no Mister Young. I told you I wasn’t here about that.” understanding dawned. “Are you sure you haven’t seen Lily since that night?”
“No, I haven’t.” his eyes betrayed concern. “Why? What are you not telling me?”
She stared at him for a long minute before determining that he was being honest.
“There’s no easy way to say this…” she fidgeted in her chair, “When I went to search your home, it was in shambles. Books had been thrown off the shelves, there was a lot of broken glass. The place was an absolute mess.”
Utter confusion registered on Allan’s face. “But why would Lily do that?”
“I don’t think she did. I think someone else may have been in your home.”
His eyes widened. “Are you saying there was a burglary? Does Lily know?”
“There was… how should I say this?” she hesitated. “There was evidence of a violent encounter, but more importantly there was an unidentified puddle of blood in the living room.”
“WHAT?!” he shrieked.
The guard on duty tapped Allan on the shoulder, “Wrap it up. Visiting hours are over.”
Brittany continued quickly, “After running a DNA analysis, I was able to confirm the blood belonged to your girlfriend.”
Allan stared at her in shock.
“Which leads me to why I’m here.” She held up the first page of the profile she had printed off earlier. “After I confirmed Lily’s DNA match, I ran the test again and got this match instead. It seems that all traces of a Lillian Thatcher have been erased. Do you have any idea why someone would do that?”
The guard tapped Allan on the shoulder again. “Time’s up buddy. Let’s go.”
He turned to face her, regret etched into his face. “I… I have to go.”
“Please, I just need one more minute of your time…” The guard suddenly yanked Allan to his feet and the receiver hit the desk with a thud.
“I said your time is up!” the guard bellowed, eyeing her with contempt.