Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator in:


The Jamison Door


Chapter 1

A young teenager, wearing the bright, iridescent colors of the local Cybergang on his jacket, slipped into the alleyway. Hidden away in the shadows, out of sight of the street, was a back door into the offices, protected by a computer lock. The kid pulled out a small card, which was covered in chips and wires. He stuck the card onto the wall, then popped open the lock's cover, and began to clip his makeshift device into the wiring.

After a few moments, he punched a few keys on the keypad, and a series of tones sounded. Lights flashed across the card's lockbreaking circuitry, a sequential pattern far too fast for the eye to see. The door slid open, and the boy ducked inside.

Minutes later, he stuck his head back out the door, and looked up and down the alley. Turning to his lockbreaker, he disconnected it, and the door slid shut. He pulled a few more wires loose, then took the board down off the wall, and put it back in his pocket.

A dark figure stepped out of the shadows. As the boy turned around, the butt of a sawed off shotgun slammed into his ribs. The kid doubled over, but somehow managed to dodge to one side. There was the high-pitched whine of servos powering up, as the young man dropped into a battle crouch.

"Speed implants, eh, kid?" The tall man's voice was deep and gravelly, and even in the half-light of the alleyway, he still seemed cloaked in shadow. A black, grungy trench coat hung loosely over his lanky frame, and his face was hidden in the darkness under a fedora hat. He lowered the shotgun to his side, waiting.

The kid laughed. "I'm gonna flatline you, old man," he leaped forward, his arm slashing out like a whip. The shadowy figure brought his shotgun back up, blocking the blow, but the kid struck again, impossibly fast. As the tall man flinched back, the cracker went into a roundhouse kick, throwing his opponent against the wall.

The man rolled back to his feet as the kid came at him again. Once again, he managed to block the first attack with his shotgun, but the second blow caught him across the head. The boy cried out in pain, though, as a loud, metallic clang rang out in the alley.

The kid stepped back, cradling his hand. "Damn! What are you made of, old man?!!!"

"You're all flash and no substance, kid. Give up while you can." The older man sounded amused. From the shadows of his face, a single red light began to glow, about where his right eye would be.

The kid gave out a battle cry, and charged. This time however, as his lightning fast blows fell upon his opponent, each of them was blocked. It was as if the shadow man knew where he was about to attack before he did. He tried feinting, but staggered backwards, as the tall man cracked him across the head with his shotgun.

The kid leaped to one side, trying to use his speed to escape, but the man was there, hooking his foot inside the kid's leg. He tumbled across the concrete, rolling back to his feet. The dark figure slowly walked toward him.

"Who are you, man?!!!"

"I'm the person you were hopin' you wouldn't meet tonight, punk. Alan Midnight. . . Matrix Security. And you're offline, cracker."

The kid leaped forward, but the shotgun again caught him across the temple. He doubled over as a fist slammed into his stomach, and then he was flung forcefully against the wall. He slumped there, unconscious.

The dark figure stood over him. He reached down, and struck a small object across the kid's jacket. It was an old-style wooden match, and it burst into flame. He brought the match up to his face, lighting a cigarette, which was hanging from his mouth.

The light played across his features, revealing the silver metal, and shining glass that made up the right half of his face. "Like I said, kid. . . all flash, and no substance."

The sign on the door read "Midnight Investigations." Alan turned the knob, and the security lock read his fingerprints, letting him enter. He flung his hat onto the rack beside the door, and then took off his trench coat, and hung it beside the fedora.

A large, ornate desk dominated the little office, lit by a black floor lamp. The rest of the furniture, like the desk, was made out of wood, late twentieth century furnishings, restored with great care. Except for the lights of the city skyline and the speeding aircars, visible through the large picture window, this office looked like it could have been right out of the detective movies of five hundred years ago.

As Alan walked towards the desk, a light flickered in the center of the room, and a woman materialized. She was pretty -- in fact, she was too pretty, her face and figure far too stylized to be that of a real woman. Even had she not been transparent, there was no way she could have been mistaken for anything but a hologram.

"Good evening, Alan. I trust you caught the prowler?"

Alan regarded her for a moment. "You look different. Have you been messing around with your code again?"

Rachel twirled around, to give him a look at her from all angles. "Do you like it? I thought the glasses were a nice touch."

The eyeglasses in question were ridiculously large, perched on the end of a tiny, pointed nose. Behind the glasses, Rachel's brown eyes were equally huge, her face tapering down to a small mouth. Her body, clad in a tight, silky blue dress, was slender and delicate, as curvaceous as Alan had programmed her to be, but with impossibly long legs.

"It's those new chips from Asiagov that I put in, isn't it?"

She nodded, and her glasses slid down on her cute little nose. She pressed them back up with the tip of her finger. "You're the one who introduced me to those old Anime holos."

"Well, you seem to have taken the style to heart. . . But they're called movies, Rache. They didn't have holos back then."

Rachel bowed. "Hai. My apologies, Alan-san." She pushed her glasses back up again, and gazed up at him sensuously. "Do you like what you see?" she asked, her voice sultry.

"Hmph. Are you sure your system's not corrupted?"

Rachel grinned widely. Folding her arms behind her head, she arched her back provocatively. "I'm not bad," she said sweetly. "I'm just rendered that way."

Alan chuckled as he turned back to the desk. Normally, he didn't much like AI's. He didn't trust them. But Rachel was different. She had a mind of her own. He knew every line of her code -- some of which was technically illegal -- and yet she could still manage to surprise him.

"So, what about this prowler?" she asked him. "Was it just a gang kid out on a lark?"

Alan sat down, stretching out in the chair. It was a wooden chair, of course. He couldn't stand the feel of plastic. "No. The kid couldn't have been working alone. He was strictly an amateur. As spiders go, he was a pretty tiny one."

Rachel shuddered. "I do wish you wouldn't use that term."

"I never programmed you to be squeamish, Rache."

She gave him another of those coy looks. "No. . . but you did program me to be 'girlish'. And girls are supposed to hate spiders. Even the kind you find in the Matrix."

Alan chuckled. "Well, I don't like the word 'cracker'. To me, a cracker's a food. And I'm a hacker."

"But a good one. . ." Rachel put in.

"In more ways than one," Alan finished. "But that's the point. Sometimes it takes a thief to catch a thief. And as a hacker, I know Amateur Hour when I see it."

"So, there's someone behind the break-ins."

"Possibly behind more than just Omnicom's. There have been reports of others in town, recently." He held up a disk. "I got what the kid was after. Maybe there's a clue."

Rachel nodded. "Let me see it."

Alan turned in his chair, sliding the disk into the cyberdeck on his desk. Rachel flickered slightly as Alan bumped the deck, but he paid that no mind. He didn't mind a few loose wires, not when Rachel had the capabilities he'd programmed her with.

There was a brief pause while Rachel read in the data. "Standard stuff," she said. "Account reports, inventories, customer databases, that kind of thing. . ."

"Give me a heads-up."

An image of the directory structure of the disk flickered into view above his desk. It was a cluster of branching lines and cubic displays, with file listings and information embedded in the nodes of the symbolic tree. He pointed at a couple of nodes, zooming his view in on the section of the structure that he wanted to view.

"Yeah. . . standard stuff." Alan thought for a moment. "So what could be so important that somebody would hire a punk kid to steal this thing, and leave everything else in the office alone?"

Rachel put a finger to her chin thoughtfully, the gesture also disarmingly cute. "Maybe there are some hidden files."

Alan gestured, and the image migrated over to one side of the desk. A second display materialized beside the first. "Give me a Disk Zap," he said. An image of the disk materialized in the empty space above the desk, and began to break apart, blocks of it moving apart from the central core of the cylinder.

With a few more gestures, Alan arranged some of the blocks off into a section by themselves. He looked through them one by one, but finally shook his head. "Nope. . . no unallocated tracks, no blocks hidden away from the main directory. There's nothing unusual here."

The displays went dead as he stood up, and ejected the disk from Rachel's deck. "It doesn't make sense. There's nothing on this disk worth stealing. So. . . why did our boy steal it?"

"Hey, Beth. Is Jack in?"

The little blonde looked up, smiling as she recognized the lanky investigator. "Sure," she said. "I'll let him know you're here."

She waved a finger over a spot on the desk. The image of a man's head materialized at that spot. "Jack, Alan's here to talk to you. Shall I send him in?"

The image nodded. "Yeah, send him in. Mr. Carson was just about to leave, right sir?"

There was a grunt of confirmation from outside the range of the holo. "Right. Come on in, Alan."

Alan briskly walked to the door, and pulled it open, slightly startling the frowning fellow on the other side. He was obviously one of Omnicom's suits, and he scowled at Alan as he stepped around him. "See that you take care of that shipment, Napier. We're counting on you to see that it gets here safely."

"Will do," Jack told him. He then turned to Alan. "The boys upstairs, trying to tell me how to run my business again," he said. "I don't mind, though. As long as I get the job done, they don't bother me."

He walked around behind his desk, while Alan placed Rachel's deck in a chair. The Security Chief's office was big, not showy, but as befit his standing as the head of Security for Omnicom in the Setex region. The chairs were comfortable, blue plastic and padded, and his desk was cluttered and well-used. Alan was in a hurry, though. He remained standing.

"So, what brings you here, Alan? Hope you haven't found any security holes, I still haven't gotten over the chewing out from the last time."

"Not exactly, Jack. Have you checked your alarm logs today? I think you might that find one went off about ten last night, at the research lab on Tenth."

Jack frowned, then turned to his deck. Pulling up a display, he zoomed in on a section of reports, and scrolled through them. Behind the holographic papers, a bank of alarms hung over the deck like a string of Christmas lights. One of them blinked a plaintive red.

"Damn. You're right, Alan. A silent alarm, motion detectors, in the alley outside. Security cams show. . . a fight." He looked up. "You, huh?"

Alan nodded. "The punk was after this." He pulled the disk out of a pocket in his trench coat. Jack looked it over, and then slipped the disk into the deck. As Alan had the day before, he looked over its directory, checking the contents of the disk.

"I've looked it over from top to bottom, and there's nothing odd on that disk, nothing some punk kid would find worth stealing. But for the past three months, there have been odd break-ins, just like this one. Nothing taken, or nothing obvious, just breaking and entering. Last night I followed the gangs until they led me to your lab."

Jack handed the disk back to Alan. "Maybe it's an initiation thing."

"I don't think so. It's too clean, the kids are too well equipped. It smells of the Underground. The question is, why break in to steal. . . well, nothing?"

"Have you checked with the lab yet?"

"I thought I'd get with you, first. For now, I think I want to keep the disk quiet, just between you an' me. No one ever discovered what the burglars were after before, but you know, no one's going to miss a disk. . ." He held the disk up, waggling it. ". . . not if it's just standard stuff, like this one."

Jack stood up and grabbed his coat. "All right. Let's go check with the lab, and see if anyone's noticed that their disk is missing."

"Alan Midnight, Matrix Investigator." Alan flashed his license at the holographic secretary. "Mind if I take a look around?"

The AI looked up at Jack, her eyes questioning, but he nodded. She smiled at the lanky detective. "No, I don't mind. Can I help you find something?"

"Hm. . ." Alan paused a moment, as if thinking. "Has anyone reported anything missing?"

The secretary looked down at her desk, as if checking through records. In a moment, she looked back up. "Just Arthur down in billing. He lost a disk, he said. Wanted a new one."

"This morning?"


Alan nodded. "Let's check it out." He turned and headed through the door to the inner corridors, Jack right behind him.

After taking a couple of turns, Alan let Jack take over the lead, until he found the office they were looking for. "Did someone report a disk being missing?" Jack said, as the two men entered the room.

A nebbishy fellow with glasses stood up in one of the cubicles. "I did. . . did you find it?"

"Not exactly." Jack told him. "There was a break-in here last night, and we're looking into it. I'm Jack Napier with Security." He indicated Alan, as the taller man came up behind him. "This is Alan Midnight, a private investigator. He's helping out on the case."

The accountant looked Alan over with a look of distaste. Alan tilted his head a little, letting the light fall over the metallic half of his face. The little man's frown deepened.

"I ain't done nuthin' wrong," he protested.

"We know that," Jack told him. "We're just looking into the possible cause of the break-in. If it turns out that your disk was what was stolen, it could be a case of corporate espionage. What was on the disk?"

"Nothing of any importance. Accounts, inventories, that sort of thing, for shipment to the vault for safekeeping. The weekly backups, nothing more."

Alan stepped forward. "Do you mind if I take a look at your records?"

Arthur stepped between him and the deck. "Oh, I'm sure there's nothing in my files that anybody would want to steal."

"You'd be surprised," Jack cut in. "Corporate agents can learn a lot from account books."

"Still, all those reports are in the system by now. You can request them from Archives."

"What are you working on right now?"

The little man frowned at Alan. He was getting twitchy, obviously trying to hide something. As Alan tried to step around him, he moved to protect the deck again. Alan loomed over him, scowling back at him.

"Maybe whoever stole your files will want to come back for more," Jack suggested.

"That's crazy." Arthur put out an arm, subconsciously blocking Alan as he reached out toward the cyberdeck. "Look, I probably just misplaced the disk, that's all. I was about to run out another copy, and send it off to Archives. I'll bet this break-in has nothing to do with me."

"Or maybe it has everything to do with you," Alan growled. "I think this might have been an inside job. So, what have you got to hide, Art?"

The little man's eyes narrowed. "I don't have to take that! I'm loyal to this company!" He grabbed Alan's arm, shoving him away from the desk. "I'm not some free-lance freak paid for by the highest bidder. . ."

Before Arthur could move, Alan had shoved his elbow underneath the smaller man's chin, and slammed him against the wall. The cubicle didn't even shake, and Alan's arm stopped short, with just the slightest pressure against the man's windpipe. But Arthur squirmed, like an insect pinned to cardboard, his eyes wide with fright.

"C. . .come on, man! I could get fired!"

"And I could break your neck," Alan growled.

He glanced at Jack, shaking with terror, but Jack just folded his arms. "Tell the man what he needs to know," he said.

Arthur hesitated only a moment more, and then he shut his eyes, tightly. "I. . . I've got some holos. . . on my deck. . ."

Alan waited, as he fell silent. After a moment, he shoved upward, slightly with his arm. "They're. . . they're from the Kitty Kat Club!" Arthur blurted out.

With a chuckle, Alan let him go. "So that's which way the wind blows, eh? Don't worry, I'm not here to blow the whistle on you. I just want to know what might have been stolen."

Arthur put a hand up to his neck, visibly collapsing. "Go ahead." He waved a hand in the direction of his deck. "Login prompt," he said to the deck. "Let Mr. Midnight on."

"Affirmative," an electronic voice responded. Alan sat down at the desk. Gesturing at the plexiglass inset on top of the deck, he activated the holo display, and began looking through the filebase.

After a couple of minutes, he closed down the file tree and stood up. "Okay, I think that covers it. Thanks for your cooperation. Art."

Alan turned and walked to the door, but Jack stepped up to take his place. He leaned in close as the geeky accountant looked up at him, nervously. "I'm going to say that I stepped out of the room during this conversation. So I didn't hear a lot of what you and Alan were talking about. But I'm going to order an audit of all cyberdecks in this office for later this afternoon."

Arthur swallowed. "Just make sure we don't find anything we shouldn't. . ." Jack turned and followed Alan out of the room.

As they stepped out into the sunlight outside the building, Jack finally broke out laughing. "It's always the little mousy types, isn't it?"

Alan couldn't hold back a smile. "Well, what you can't get in Realspace. . ."

"You should have had Rachel rez up in there, Alan. She'd have had him drooling!"

Jack's words were cut short, as a large, burly fellow stepped out of the shadows of the alley, and slammed a fighting stick into his stomach. Jack doubled over, falling to the ground, as the big man made his move on Alan. Grabbing the tall detective by the arm, he flung him into the alley, and Alan crashed into a pile of garbage cans.

Wiping the blood from his lip, Alan stood up. On the other side of the alley, two more thugs moved to flank the big guy. With a quick, fluid move, Alan unhooked Rachel's deck from his belt and laid it in a safe spot beside him. He then moved the trench coat away from his shotgun, and dropped his arm to his side, ready to draw it.

"You punks just made a mistake," he growled, but the three men laughed, confidently.

"We ain't punk kids, Midnight," the leader said, readying his club. Jack still lay on the ground behind them, either too winded to stand, or down for the count. "We ain't jack-heads. The Boss says to take you out. An' that's just what we're gonna to do."

This was turning into an interesting case.

[Index] Copyright 2000, Richard Ryley [Next]