Friday Flash Fiction: The Digital Corpse

So, for this week’s Friday Flash Fics prompt, you might wonder: Who could look at a photo like this and immediately think “murder”?

Photo of a round luxury bathtub overlooking a tropical ocean view

This guy, that’s who.

Like last week’s story, this one isn’t so much a complete story in itself so much as the start of something possibly longer—which I guess I’ll have to get around to finishing sometime. (Ugh, why do I do this to myself?) It’s also somewhat tangentially related to the novel-in-progress that I’m currently revising… and which I really need to finish.

Anyway, without further ado:

The Digital Corpse

For some reason, the body hadn’t de-rezzed. It—she, Andrews supposed he should say—she lay on the floor to the right of the bed, in the shadows just inside the bedroom near the entryway to the deck. A large, round bathtub dominated the space, just sheltered beneath an overhang and beyond which lay the crystal blue waters of the beach.

It took him a moment to recognize the view: Bora Bora. He’d seen it on a holo some years back, recorded before the islands succumbed to the rising Pacific.

Andrews dipped his hand in the bathwater. Still warm.

Well, what passed for warm in this place. In reality, it was just a simulation of water interacting with his simulated hand and sending signals back to his body in analog that registered as warm. He shook his fingers and silently cursed his chief.

“What was her name?” Andrews asked the proprietor, who was a small, elderly-looking woman with an immaculate black suit and upswept silver hair. He didn’t doubt she was a male programmer somewhere in South America or Australia who’d created the simulation looking for some easy money.

She shook her head. “She never gave me her name, but here’s her contact.”

The woman did nothing, but suddenly the holo address registered in Andrews’ memory. In an instant, he had a name—Rose Smith—and a physical address in New York. He sent the address to his partner and told her to alert local authorities.

“Why didn’t she de-rez?” he asked. It should have happened automatically once synaptic functions ceased.

“I think because they wanted someone to see this,” the proprietor said, and led Andrews to the bathroom, the actual bathroom, with the toilet and sink and shower, not the glorified tub with a view. It was a small but sleek space, all glass and chrome and completely at odds with the island vibe. There, scrawled across the mirror in what Andrews first assumed was blood before he saw the open lipstick tube on the counter, was:

ONE DOWN, 47,456,893 TO GO

“At least it wasn’t blood,” the proprietor said, as if reading Andrews’ mind.

“What difference does it make?” Andrews snapped. “Wouldn’t have been real blood anyway.”

“Even so…”

Andrews turned away. Apart from being annoyed by whatever little shit in some backwater was dressing up as an old lady, Doyle had just replied to his message.

“Found her. Dead. No obvious signs of trauma. Autopsy may show more, but go on the assumption that whatever did this happened in the Upload.”

Andrews sighed. Great. How do you track a murderer when the body isn’t even real and the suspects might not even look like themselves?

Andrews replied back: “Can you tell me what’s significant about the number 47,456,893? And don’t unplug her yet. I want some more time with the scene.”

He turned back to the proprietor. “Leave this sim running for at least the next hour. And send me your source code for all this.”

“My source code?” That nearly made the old-lady avatar flicker. “You know how long it took me to program this? You’ve got no—”

“Listen, buddy.” Andrews stepped forward and the old lady flinched, but all he did was pat her on the shoulder—just enough contact to snoop her portal ID and have Doyle look it up. “The Temp behind that corpse,” he gestured toward the body, “is an actual flesh and blood dead person in New York. Now they’ve still got the death penalty. Would you like to give me your source code voluntarily, or would you like me to have you extradited,” he paused as the data came in from Doyle, “from France and see how nice they are to a twenty-three-year-old hacker from Egypt who’s living in Paris on an expired visa? What do you think your chances are?”

The proprietor narrowed her eyes at him. “That’s a fine way to talk to an old lady. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”

“My mother’s dead.”

“Of embarrassment, probably.”

“The source code, now.”

The old lady sighed. “Fine.”

She blinked out of sight about a second after the source code file landed in his directory. Andrews looked around, recording images of the room and the body and, what the hell, the spectacular view. He’d never get to see the likes of it anywhere on Earth. Not anymore, at least.

Before he downloaded and unplugged, he got another message from Doyle: 47,456,893 was the population, Temp and Perm, of the Upload.