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Enlightened Ignorance Snippet #4

 

Are you ready for another big tease? LOL I'm telling you, I've already poked my pitchfork and shown my matches to the author. Have you? I'm getting soooo excited for the release of Enlightened Ignorance I can hardly stand it! But, these little sneak peeks are helping…I think?

 

Snippet #4

 

Jia took a seat on a blue couch next to the victim’s sister, Binh. “Miss Nguyen, we’re sorry for your loss, and we want to assure you that the department is taking your concerns seriously. At this moment, we’re exploring all possible explanations for your sister’s death.”

Binh sighed. Her cheeks were puffy and her eyes red. “Since it’s you two, I believe that. Thank you.”

Erik sat in a chair kitty-corner from the couch. The small piece of furniture could barely handle his large frame. It was like every piece of furniture in the apartment—twenty percent too small for him.

That wasn’t a shock, given Binh’s slight frame.

“Any information you provide might be helpful,” Jia continued. “We’ve read some of the statements you gave the uniformed officers, but we wanted to hear everything in your own words, just in case they missed something, or if you remembered anything else. The first forty-eight hours after an incident like this are often crucial in tracking down the truth.”

Binh nodded slowly. She looked at a holographic image projected from a frame on her wall. It was a short scene of her laughing with her sister.

“It was subtle at first,” she began. “The fear. I could tell something was worrying her. I asked her about it a few times. First, she tried to deny anything was going on and insisted she was just overworked, but later, she admitted she was scared and worried that she was being watched.”

“Why didn’t she contact the police?” Erik asked.

Binh shook her head and looked down. “I told her to do just that, but she said she didn’t have enough evidence, and she’d look like a crazy person. The last few weeks, she’d even gotten so worried that she would only talk about things in person and without our PNIUs. She said she was worried about them spying on her.”

Jia nodded slowly. That might explain why the victim didn’t have the PNIU on her, but it didn’t explain where it had gone or why the tracking beacon had failed. If Chau had been murdered, the killer might have panicked and disposed of the PNIU unnecessarily, fueling suspicion rather than dampening it.

That suggested a non-professional.

“Who was she worried about?” Jia asked. “You said she was worried about being watched. Who was watching her? Someone at Euterpe?”

Binh shrugged. “I don’t know. She would never answer that question, but she did get tenser when I asked if it had anything to do with her job. She denied it when I asked her directly. I think…I think she was trying to protect me.” She sniffled and wiped away a stray tear. “I’m sorry. It’s still a lot to process. I wish she’d worried less about protecting me and more about herself. Maybe if she had, she would still be here.”

Erik waited for a few seconds before nodding toward the holographic image. “We understand how rough this is. We’ll try to get it over with as quickly as possible.”

“Thank you, Detective.”

“What about her employers? I know you said she didn’t blame them directly, but did she ever mention any problems with Euterpe or Rena Winston before all of this?” Jia noticed that Erik’s tone was softer than normal.

Binh looked to the side for a moment in deep thought. “I keep asking myself that but coming up with the same answer—none. She loved her job. She said it was stressful, but it was everything she’d always wanted. Everything she told me about Rena suggested she was a nice girl and her image reflected the real person.”

Erik glanced at Jia. She understood what he needed. They both had their specialties. Erik was good at kicking ass, but not always at being restrained in his questioning.

“And you’re sure she didn’t have any suicidal tendencies or substance abuse problems?” Jia asked quietly. “We need to know just to rule out possibilities. The more we can eliminate in the beginning, the quicker the rest of the investigation can go.”

Binh took a deep breath. “The other cops told me about that. You know, that my sister died of a Dragon Tear overdose. It’s ridiculous. She didn’t like to drink, and now she’s doing Dragon Tear? She wouldn’t even know where to get it.” She dropped her face into her hands and shook her head. “Chau had an artistic soul. That was why she got a job at Euterpe. She knew she didn’t have the talent to make it, but she wanted to help someone else. She might have been a little too empathetic and could get depressed, but she’s never, ever been suicidal.” She lifted her face and gripped the arm of the couch tightly, her nails digging into the fabric. “Someone killed her because she found out something she shouldn’t have. Detectives, please find her killer. They need to pay.”

Jia placed a hand on the woman’s arm and offered a comforting smile. “Miss Nguyen, I can assure you that the NSCPD will do everything we can to put this incident to rest.”

Binh nodded. “Thank you, Detective Lin. Thank you.”

 

* * *

 

Neither said much as they headed toward the vehicle, both processing all the evidence they’d gathered that day. Jia was more convinced the suicide had been used to cover up a homicide. A few minutes later, Jia and Erik zoomed away from the residential tower in the MX 60.

Erik pulled up on the control yoke to bring the flitter into a new vertical lane. “We can’t come to a conclusion until we have solid evidence. Once we do, we can do what we need to.”

Jia kept looking forward. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Increasing paranoia could mean that someone was out to get her, but it also might mean she just snapped. Given what her sister said, the missing PNIU might have been Chau’s doing. We can’t ignore the possibility.”

“And she also hurt herself and used nanites to fix things?” Jia shook her head. “It’s like Camila said. Who would do that? Even if she snapped and wanted to kill herself, her actions would still have been purposeful.”

“Maybe she tried and then changed her mind,” Erik suggested. “She worked in a stressful industry, and not everyone gets the help they need. She sounds like she has a family who cared for her, but that might not have been enough. The entertainment industry isn’t like being a cop or a soldier. Sure, there are plenty of nice people, but there are plenty of assholes who only look out for themselves.”

“You’re saying that not everyone has a good partner looking out for them,” Jia murmured.

Erik nodded slowly. “Something like that. I’m not saying there’s no evidence suggesting foul play, but there’s also evidence that this might have just been a suicide. We need some sort of plausible motive to focus this crap. If this was a murder, whoever did it had to know it’d be investigated and tried to cover it up, but it’s a big risk. That means whatever the motive is had to be something important enough to risk police attention on Euterpe. Given the reputation of the police right now, that’s an even bigger deal.”

Jia frowned. “Euterpe’s a company so important it’s in the Hexagon, but we’ve already worked plenty of cases where big companies were willing to murder people to keep secrets.” Jia thought for a moment, then finished, “I don’t see why this one is any different.”

“Yeah, but those involved buying off politicians and smuggling,” Erik allowed. “Something’s not adding up.”

“Like?”

“I don’t think Euterpe’s trying to smuggle AIs or arms using a famous singer as cover.” He looked to his left, where a small cargo flitter was slowing traffic. It soon dropped out of the lane and descended toward an older building, maybe twenty-five stories tall.

Emma interrupted their conversation. “Would you like me to dig around? I don’t doubt Technician Constantine’s skill, but he’s human and bound by all your regulations. I can get into places he can’t.”

Jia jumped at the sound. The AI had been uncharacteristically quiet so far. That typically meant she was involved in a deep examination of the OmniNet for her own inscrutable growth.

“No,” Erik replied, his face unperturbed. “Like you said, Malcolm’s working that angle, and we don’t want any questions arising about how we got certain information. We need to do this by the book, especially since we can’t prove a murder yet. If we screw this up and some corporate bigwig is involved, the bastard could be halfway to the HTP before we know what’s going on.”

Jia tapped her knee for a moment before suggesting, “She can start a public background check on Euterpe and Rena,” She looked at Erik. “Malcolm’s concentrating on the victim’s files. Emma can collate a lot more information.”

Emma scoffed. “Oh, I’ve already done that, at least the initial and easily accessible public records. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that rates any particular suspicion. There are no cash flow problems or major issues hinted at for the company, and even the net rumors about the sweet songbird are remarkably mild. She’s mostly criticized for a lack of edge, as many people put it, in her persona and music. There have been no credible scandals, criminal, moral, or otherwise. She’s not been romantically associated with anyone. She’s so boring she might as well be a virtual construct instead of an organic entity.”

Erik chuckled. “So you’re saying as an AI, you think human singers are better than AI singers?”

“Virtual stars aren’t like me.” Emma scoffed. “They’re just holographic dolls in the end. “

“Understood.” Erik turned into a new lane, ending up behind a large cargo flitter. “There’s got to be something if this is a murder. There should be a motive. If we can figure out a believable angle, that could lead us to more clues.”

“An affair gone bad with an executive?” Jia mused aloud.

“Murdering someone over an affair is a big, messy step.” Erik’s grip loosened on the yoke. “But maybe we shouldn’t take everything at face value. I might not know a lot about popular music, but I know all these stars have managed personas.”

“Didn’t the sister suggest Miss Winston is a pleasant-enough young woman?” Emma asked. “I will note my initial research supports that conclusion.”

Jia considered the question. “She could be a great actress. We keep talking about motive, but that goes back to who has the most to lose. A core-world musical prodigy who is making it big on Earth might have dark secrets in her past.”

“How dark could they be?” Erik asked. “She’s just a kid.”

“She could be antisocial or have twisted habits. If Chau stumbled onto them, her career would be over.” Jia nodded, her brow wrinkled in worry. “It’s like you said; their personas are managed. Unlike virtual stars, you can’t blame strange behavior on bad programming or a technical glitch. We’ve both stared into the darkness enough to know it can fester in surprising places. Even if we want Emma to avoid going into somewhere Malcolm might look, she can still do a deep dive, including trying to access records on Remus.”

“That’s what…ten or eleven days one way for comms?” Erik’s brow furrowed at the estimation.

“Roughly, depending on relative orbits,” Emma clarified.

“Even if Emma knew exactly what systems to hit and could send the code she needs, it’d take too damned long. I have a feeling the case will go cold if we wait that long.”

“I’ll do my best to see what I can dig up on Earth,” Emma offered. “And I agree with your general agreement. I’m an impressive piece of technology, but even I can’t do much about accessing systems eight-point-nine light-years away. I’ll also assure you that I won’t cause any trouble for you on my deeper background check. Alas, laws are sometimes inconvenient.”

“Thanks. Yeah, let’s keep the law-breaking to a minimum.” Erik paused, chewing his lip. “There’s still something that bothers me about all this.”

Jia side-eyed him. “Other than a potential murder?”

He pointed at her. “That’s just it. You don’t murder people to keep them quiet if you can bribe them, and the entertainment industry is all about money.” Erik glanced at a passing tower. “Our next move is to hit the manager and see what he has to say.”

Jia held her breath. The evidence pointed different ways, but the preponderance pointed to murder. They just needed to uncover something more than circumstantial evidence.

Chau Nguyen deserved justice.

__________________________________________

This case sounds more interesting the more I read about it. I wonder how it's going to tie into the overall story. Hmmm…

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