Prompt: In a world with integrated A.I., a badass female detective tracks down a brutal serial killer.
The lights flickered in Car Seven, causing two of the five passengers to glance up. Each and every car had its own intelligence, they proliferated like mad these days, and it apologized to the passengers with a soft voice through its speakers. The apology was appropriate, as even minor disturbances like that were out of character for any programs in that line. They ran a tight ship when it came to the public transport lines of Old Guard City.
If any of them had bothered to ask, the intelligence in Car Seven could’ve told them it had never suffered a power fluctuation in the seven months, two weeks, four days, and fifteen minutes it had been alive. What had gone wrong? It did an internal search and found some foreign data, a few scheming lines it traced back to a device in one of the passengers’ pockets.
Car Seven examined the passenger closely, scanning her face for an identity. It was impossible at first, the hood of her crimson coat was pulled over her face, but the scan finally went through when she stood, grabbed a support pole, and pulled it off. She had green eyes, except she had blue eyes, except they were gray. Her contact lenses changed every few seconds, perhaps to confuse pursuers. Her hair was wet, as it was raining just outside the car. Her boots squeaked against the floor, drawing the eyes of the others.
The scan came back: Zorolin Nigh. She must have wanted to hide her emotions or pupil dilation with the color-shifting contacts, as her personal information was right there in the records, tended by its own tiny intelligence. She was a private detective, a bodyguard, and a dataguard. Quite a rough individual, based on her accomplishment file. Three complaints for excessive physical violence, each coupled with a complaint for excessive data vandalism. Car Seven had no idea what those two things would look like together.
“That was my little friend taking over,” Zorolin announced to the rest of Car Seven. She pointed at the lights. “That flicker was the lock snapping shut. Nobody leaves this car until I have my confession.” Her voice rasped at the end, like a rusty old can opener ripping through the last piece of a lid. Car Seven checked her statement. She was telling the truth; it could no longer open its doors or alert the authorities.
The other four passengers asserted themselves in various ways. There was a young man with broad shoulders like timber, who immediately jumped to his feet. He asked what she was on about in a cockney accent. Zorolin walked right past him without answering, turning only when she reached the end of the car, her boots squeaking again.
An older woman wearing four scarves at once, one of them flashing different patterns thanks to its integrated intelligence, just stared with wide yellow eyes. She gripped her cane tighter. A Woman the same age as Zorolin, but far more skeletal in her pale blue business blazer, hopped up alongside the Brit and made a complaint about her tight schedule. Last, closest to where Zorolin originally sat, was a bald man in a priest’s collar, with a dotted line tattooed on his dome like a halo. Occasionally the dots flashed.
“It is illegal to interfere with municipal property,” Car Seven announced. The passengers mostly nodded in agreement.
“Damn, I forgot to shut off its voice,” Zorolin said with a snap of her fingers. “Oh well. Nothing wrong with an audience.” She paced down the car once more, and brought something out of her coat. The others flinched, expecting a firearm, but it was just a phone with a tinted screen.
“Let us go,” the priest said calmly. He scratched at his tattoo. Car Seven’s nearest camera was just strong enough to see the sweat roll down his forehead. “I take confessions on the regular; I can tell you this is neither the time nor place, my child.” The old woman, the least angry it seemed, leaned toward the priest and whispered a question.
“Father, your tattoo… I thought the church forbid such things.” The priest smiled.
“We’ve branched out. This is a prayer-tracker.” He tapped one of the flashing lines. “Every time one of my flock sends a prayer, I can hear it.”
“Oh, so it’s not an artificial intelligence,” Zorolin noted. “That makes you a little more suspicious. Listen.” She squeaked her heel again. “The serial killer nicknamed the car rattler has claimed seven victims already. The last victim was quite wealthy, resulting in a bounty that drew my attention. Every killing occurred just off one of the stops for this train system. I watched, I narrowed, I guided, and now you’re here. My four best suspects.”
“Suspect?” the woman in the blazer barked. “I’ll have you know I’ve never committed a crime in my life.” The timber-shouldered man moved toward Zorolin, but she held her finger over the black screen of her phone.
“Ah-ah-ah! One wrong move and I’ll disable this car. The sudden stop could kill everybody.” The other passengers froze. The priest looked up, less like he looked for god and more like he tried to count the flashes on his brow. “I have many friends in the artificial world. I made some of them, so they owe me their lives. I can convince them to do all sorts of things. Like alter data surrounding each of you, your schedules, the weather predictions you see, to corral you as I have into this car.”
“Because you think one of us is the car rattler?” the priest asked.
“I know one of you is. Your schedules are the only ones that match all the murders. We’re going to run a test. I have a friend in my phone here. An imp of a program, good at squeezing under back doors. You’re going to let my little intelligence into one of the devices on your person.” The old woman clutched at her fancy electric scarf. The one in the blazer held her briefcase close to her chest.
“The car rattler targets people in diplomatic relations with the artificial. They seem to hate the recent pollination and proliferation of the smaller minds of the machines. Minds like my friend here.” A cackle escaped the speaker on Zorolin’s phone. “They’re a purist, only using old systems in their devices, without the spark of a mind. Having this next to their precious personal data would drive them mad.”
Car Seven could’ve listed the other municipal guidelines being broken, but the intelligence was entranced by this woman. She was not only friends with beings like the car, but schemed with them. The car stayed silent, on the edge of all its seats, waiting for the result.
The suspects really had no choice, not with her finger on the button like that. Zorolin went down the line one by one. They tried to hand over their phones, but the detective refused. She picked each device, even patting them down in search of her target.
The timber-shouldered man had a pacemaker. They all heard the impish laugh out of his chest for a moment. He sat down, nearly hyperventilating, clutching at his shirt, but apparently that response seemed normal to Zorolin’s shifty eyes.
She ordered the businesswoman to open her briefcase. Inside was a blocky private data bank. The imp intelligence ran wild through it, shredding a few important documents to get a rise out of her, but even in her fury she passed the test.
The old woman’s scarf was next. Devilish grins danced across it as the program invaded, but the owner barely fiddled with the ends of it. That just left… Zorolin lunged, grabbing the priest. He screamed and tried to break free, but she kicked his shins. She pressed her phone against his sopping forehead. He screamed for his soul as the dotted halo flickered all sorts of infernal colors.
“Get it out! Desecration! Monstrosities!” Car Seven watched as the detective backed away. She didn’t have to do anything else. The priest clawed at his own head violently, ripping away pieces of his scalp and prying the lights loose. They had their car rattler. He loved sharing his mind with other people, and hated that they would share theirs with anything else.
Unconscious from blood loss, and the thing dancing around the dying campfire of his brain, the priest was dragged out of Car Seven as soon as it unlocked. Zorolin left, without a word to her inconvenienced and traumatized suspects.
“Goodbye,” Car Seven told her with its external speaker. The detective paused. It wasn’t supposed to do that. Another contact perhaps, for the future. It must have liked the show.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by DarkParadox95x during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!