Cornelius Appleblaum MacGilicutty Junior the Second (known to everyone simply as ‘Cam’) stepped carefully through the door, making sure to place it blue footie covered shoes on the marks on the floor designating where it was safe to walk.
He paused and took in the room, locating Febs on the other side standing near a couple Detectives, one of which kept giving the android dirty looks out of the corner of his eyes.
The first thing that caught his attention was all the weapons. Every wall, shelf, and desk were covered with cutlasses, scimitars, maces, halberds, bolos, throwing knives, axes, clubs, hammers (including one he though might have been in a movie), staffs, spears, polearms, and some he wasn’t able to identify. For the first time Cam was grateful for all the hours he had spent playing online fantasy games.
He knew that Nigolo Nâ€™anwarrow, the owner of the compound, was a collector of ancient weapons, but had never had the privileged, nay, the honor to view any of them. He made a mental note to express his shock and awe to Nigolo later.
With extreme disappointment he pulled his attention away from the weapons and looked around the rest of the room. Towards the back of the rather large room, directly lined up with the door but not directly lined up to the door sat a chair. In that chair sat Daniel Windtalker. Around Daniel stood several of San Bartholomews finest officers. They were all having a rather heated, though not entirely non-violent conversation. Of course the conversation didn’t include Daniel as he was dead and the reason Cam was here in the first place. Well, Daniel himself wasn’t exactly the reason, but rather his death was. More specifically, how he was killed.
The furniture in the room made every effort to get in the way. There was no clear path from the door to the chair where the now deceased Daniel sat comfortably. Instead one had to navigate through a labyrinth of desks and chairs with a few side tables and a grandfather clock thrown in for fun.
Twice Cam ran into the same desk. Once on his right side as he worked his way around and again on the left side as he followed the switchbacking path, passing the desk again. Now, with both hips hurting he stopped and stared at the desk. His week reflection glaring back at him in the shiny mahogany finish. As for the desk itself, it just sat there, silently ignoring him, like the inanimate object it was.
As Cam finally began to make his way out of the furniture labyrinth he focused on the group congregated around the chair and Daniel. As he expected, his current nemesis, Detective Samuel Marlowe stood there watching his every move. Cam grinned to himself and shuffled his feet the last few steps on one of the Persian rugs that covered every square inch of the floor. In doing so, he again looked around the room and wondered how all the desks and tables and lamps stayed lever with the various levels of rugs. He remembered stumbling slightly as he walked in and realized that the rugs must have been at least an couple inches deep in some places.
"What’s he doing here," asked Marlowe extra loud, making sure Cam was able to hear him.
"Don’t start Sam. The Chief called him in. We need all the help we can get on this one. Big name. High Profile. Locked room. Things are going to get messy."
"He’s not even a real detective," cried Marlowe with exasperation.
Cam reached out his hand to Detective Marlowe as he approached, a smile glued to his face. Marlowe growled softly and reached out to take the proffered hand. Cam felt the twinge of electricity as it jumped the rapidly closing space between his bare palm and that of the Detectives. What he didn’t see, and didn’t really expect to see, was a reaction of any kind from his victim. Instead his grin switch to a grimace as the Detective tightened his grip on Cam’s hand.
"As I’ve mentioned several times in the past Detective, I am a board certified Detective."
Marlowe let go of Cams’ hand, "Your ‘degree’ is from a fraking correspondence course. That doesn’t qualify you to carry my shoes, much less solve crimes. And what about your toy? It keeps following me around!"
"Really Detective? Do we have to go over this every time we meet? The Chief of Police, The Chief of Detectives, and the Mayor have been satisfied with my work. In addition, Febs also completed the course, as recommended by the SanBart HR and IA departments. He has been throughly vetted and approved by everyone in the chain of command. And this, " Cam waved his hand to indicate the room they stood in, "is exactly the type of situation I would be called in for. Two very high profile individuals, both in the tech field, one dead, the other a suspect. This is the perfect place for Febs and myself."
"That damned ‘bot is no detective either," Marlowe grumbled as he turned and huffed off toward the Furniture Maze.
Cam smiled and turned to the other only other member of the group still at the chair, "Detective Henderson, how are you?"
Henderson smiled and shook Cam’s hand, "You know better than to taunt him."
"He started it. He always starts it."
Henderson laughed and slapped Cam on the shoulder as he stepped past him, following in the loudly placed footsteps of Detective Marlowe.
Cam examined the chair for a moment before turning to his assistant. Febs stood slightly taller than Cam himself and had human like qualities but would never be confused for an actual human. His shining titanium-alloy exoskeleton made absolute sure of that. He stood stark still facing Cam, the sole exception being his right hand which was currently stroking a largish, white, very furry cat. Which was purring and also stared at Cam through half closed lids.
"Febs? Why are you holding a cat?"
"Little bugger managed to sneak in and started contaminating the crime scene with fur," Detective Marlowe said. "For reasons no one here can understand your metal toy there was the only one that could get a hold of it. Seems to like it. Little furball hasn’t moved since metal monkey picked it up."
Cam threw a tiny glare over his shoulder at the Detective who missed it entirely.
"Okay Febs, give me the overview please."
"At oh eight thirty the wife of mister Nâ€™anwarrow knocked on the door of the Library. Finding it locked she then proceeded to locate the housekeeper who, at oh nine ten then unlocked the door and saw the deceased sitting in the chair. Misses Nâ€™anwarrow then proceeded…"
"Never mind that, just give me the ten thousand foot view."
Febs scanned the room, "I am sorry sir, but I do not think you would be able to hear me were I ten thousand feet in the air. Nor do I know of a way to achieve that status under the current conditions."
Cam turned to stare at his assistant. He narrowed his eyes, changing the stare into a glare. His assistant either didn’t notice or chose to ignore the change to the visual hierarchy.
"Sounds like your ‘bot is in need of a refab Cam," one of the techs across the room said.
"No," replied Cam while toggling the position of his left eyebrow, "he knows exactly what I’m asking for. He’s just being a smart ass."
"I regret to state, sir, that my while my ‘ass’ is made of a tungsten-steel alloy it does not contain any kind of processing ability."
The others in the room tried to stifle a giggle. A couple of them actually succeeded.
Cam leaned in, getting within centimeters of Febs head, "If you don’t stop being a smart ass I swear I will rip out your central power core and replace it with a freaking blender."
"My apologies, I was making an attempt at humor."
"Fine. So I assume that Daniel Windtalker here was the victim, and I also assume that Nigolo Nâ€™anwarrow is the prime suspect. Correct?"
"Yes. Since this is his compound it has been assumed that he would have a way to get in and out of the room with it locked from the inside."
"So, since you and I have been called, someone has deemed it a homicide rather than suicide. Since the body is still here the medical examiner hasn’t had time to do an autopsy. So …"
"Actually Doctor Mendelson was in earlier and did a full blood workup and scanned the body, allowing him to do a virtual examination."
Cam turned to look at Febs, who also turned to look at Cam. "Virtual autopsy?"
"Oh yes sir. You would have enjoyed it I believe. After a fairly quick scan of the body the doctor was able to project a three dimensional representation of the body in the air, and after makings a few adjustments to straighten the arms and legs, he had unfettered, three hundred and sixty degree access."
Cam shook his head and smiled. He had built and programmed Febs, making small tweaks and modifications of the years to fix glitches and bugs that popped up from time to time. The one thing he had never been able to fix and subsequently fix was Febs propensity to saw number. And you could actually hear the number being spelled out as he said it. One never had the impression that Febs was saying ‘6’ but that he always, always said ‘six’.
The hows and ways of that particular quirk is something that has haunted Cam late at night. He considered it a sign that Febs was exceeding the parameters of his programming, which he was programmed to do, but at the same time it scared him a little bit. Like releasing a child into the world, you never knew if they would grow up to help old ladies cross the street; or push them.
Cam shivered and refocused his attention on what Febs was saying, making a mental note to review the recording later so that he wouldn’t miss anything important.
"…row’s mother is upstairs in her room. She is apparently shaken by the entire incident and has asked to be left alone for the remainder of the day. Detective Henderson is going to take her statement first thing tomorrow morning. Doctor Nâ€™anwarrow’s wife is in the greenhouse. That was the last update I received before you arrived."
Cam turned in a circle, taking in the great room once again. There were still several technicians scattered around the room taking various reading and samples and what-not. He again admired the antique weapons on the walls and shelves and desks.
FInally he sighed and turned back to Febs. "Take a full spectrum scan of the room. I’m going to talk to Mrs. Nâ€™anwarrow. Join me when you are done," he said as he started to work his way back into the maze of furniture, keeping a weary eye out for his old nemesis, the desk.
Cam stopped and turned again to Febs, "Sorry, what?"
"Mr. Nâ€™anwarrow’s wife didn’t change her name when they married. She kept her maiden name, Watkinson."
Cam paused, turned, turned back, paused again and finally said, "Oh". He then gave up attempting to reply and headed off into the maze.
Cam slipped carefully through the gap in the doorway and into the warm, and slightly too humid air beyond. He closed the door carefully and looked out over the greenery that blocked his vision in almost every direction. The greenhouse wasn’t huge, at least it hadn’t looked it from the outside.
The room was warm, and very, very humid. In fact, it was raining in the far corner. Which explained the bucket of umbrellas by the door. Cam turned as he heard the greenhouse door slide open to see Febs walk in. Cam pointed towards the umbrellas and Febs took a bright yellow one, opened it and lay it across his shoulder. Cam smirked.
"What do we know about Mrs N’an… Watkinson," asked Cam when Febs caught up with him.
"Records do not indicate much. She married Dr. N’anwarrow seven years ago after meeting him during a Peace Corp mission to help Azerbaijan recover from the flooding a few years before that. Other than that, not a lot to go on. A few social events, she attended a few charity events his company put together and there are four occurrences of overseas trips. One to Azerbaijan a couple of years after they married, the rest to various places in China. Shanghai, Zhengzhou, and Shenyang."
"So other than a cursory profile, we have nothing."
"This should be fun then. Mrs Watkinson, pleasure to met you. My name is Cam, this is my assistant Febs."
Nancy Watkinson extended her hand and shook Cam’s. She then turned and hesitantly extended her hand towards Febs who took it gingerly and pumped it once before letting go and stepping back.
Febs had learned long ago, thanks to some of Cams programming and several audio books that he had downloaded ( a few illegally ), to read people body language and knew when his presence made them nervous. After a few impromptu social experiments (involving several coffee shops, two libraries and one department store (which he had never informed Cam about)) he can to the conclusion that steeping back, and specifically putting something between himself and the other person seemed to put them slightly more at ease. That or he smelled.
"How many I help you?"
"I’m here assisting the police with their investigation into the unfortunate situation in the study."
"Trophy room," Nancy responded, turning back to the flowers she had been tending to.
Cam nodded, "Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
"I know this sounds clichÃ© but I already told this to the detectives earlier. Do I really need to go over it again?"
"Nope, I can definitely ask them for copies of their reports. Thank you." Cam turned to go, nearly running into Febs as he did so. "Oh, I meant to tell you, these are some very beautiful plants you have. I can’t even keep a cactus alive for more than a week. Not that it stops my mother from buying them for me."
"Thank you. These are some of my most revered specimens."
"If I might ask, what is it you do in here?"
"I cross breed plants," replied Nancy as she took off her gloves and stuffed them into her pocket. "Specifically I take different species that have beneficial traits and try to combine them so that their offspring have those traits."
"Don’t you need highly specialized equipment for that type of work," Cam asking looking around the room.
"In some cases, yes. But are methods and techniques other than genetic manipulation. They are less reliable and typically it’s hit or miss with trying to get the traits I want, but it’s good to get my hands dirty once in a while. And when I need to get down to the molecular or genetic level I have the equipment in another room. Doesn’t make sense to keep expensive stuff like that in here," Nancy said waving her arms around.
"Are you working on anything genetically exciting currently Mrs. Watkinson," asked Febs.
"I do have one project that I’m quite proud of, though I’m not sure if I should tell you about it." Nancy I’ve created a new sub-species of the Antirrhinum plant."
"I’m sorry, I’m not up on my plant lingo, what is a ‘anti harem’ plant?"
"Antirrhinum. Commonly known as the snapdragon."
"Oh! The ones that look like dragons when you squeeze them, yes? Aren’t there already about a bajillion variations on it? What makes your’s special?"
"Mine are edible."
"Edible? I um… don’t mean to over step ma’am, but aren’t snapdragons considered to be edible already?"
"Yes, but mine aren’t just edible flower petals, they are flavored flower petals." Nancy proclaimed as she reached over and quickly snipped off a chocolate colored flower from a pot sitting to the right of Cam, "Try this."
Cam hesitated. He was both curious and terrified as to what the botanist had created. And he was slightly afraid of insulting her so he gingerly picked off a petal and carefully, slowly raised it towards his mouth. He drew out the action as long as he could, hoping that she would change her mind and stop him from putting it in his mouth. When that failed to come about he very delicately placed the petal on his tongue and closed his mouth. Slowly.
When his teeth finally met the petal began to give off a slight flavor. It wasn’t immediately familiar, but at the same time wasn’t exactly foreign. Taking is tongue into his own hands (so to speak) Cam opened his jaws and moved the petal into place where it could be properly chewed.
Which he did.
Causing his eyes to pop open in shock. The dark, delicate little flower actually tasted, against all odds, like … blueberry! He chewed with more gusto and quickly popped the rest of the flower into his mouth, least it be taken back, dropped, or the flower itself somehow figured out what was happening and attempted to escape to save itself.
"Holy biscuits, it actually tastes like blueberry."
Nancy smiled and Febs reached out to take a flower for himself. Both Mrs. Nâ€™anwarrow and Cam watch in surprise as Febs mouth slot opened slightly wider and he pushed the flower in. A couple of whirls and grinding sounds later and he turned to face Nancy. "Fascinating."
"Febs," asked Cam.
Febs turned to face Cam, "The flavonoids in the petals are much higher than expected. And the amount of flavan-3-ols is higher than in raw cocoa."
"Can you translate that into English?"
"Allow me," said Nancy, "all flowers have flavonoids. Their main function is to color the flower to make it attractive to pollinator animals."
"Yep, got that. My question is what did Febs expect the flavonoid content to be and why is it surprising."
"I would have expected a plant, even one that is a genetic hybrid that contains flavoring in the petals, to have a the same number of flavonoids as any other plant of its type, unfortunate name by the way since flavonoids have nothing to do with the actual flavor of something. For example a dandelion will have generally the same number no matter where it is picked from. This plant has forty three point seven six five percent more than the average snapdragon. And twenty six point two two one percent more than the average for cocoa. That is significantly higher than I would have expected.
Not the mention the fact that the fiber content is thirteen point three two one percent higher than the average for a flower of its type. And the glucose count is two hundred seventeen point…"
"Okay Febs, we get the point. How did you manage this Nancy? And what other flavors do you have?"
Nancy smiled again and turned back to her plants, waving an arm around as she did, "Among the one you see here are nineteen different flavors ranging from banana to key lime to watermelon. As for how? That I’m not telling other than to say it’s an ancient Chinese secret."
She turned back to Cam to see the looks of question, confusion, and doubt waging battle across his face. Febs face was impassive as always but she felt the same question feeling emanating from him. "No, seriously. The technique is something I learned from a friend in China who had it passed down through his family for thousands of years. I just took it to a new level with the technology that my husband has developed over the years."
"That is absolutely amazing. You could potentially solve the worlds hunger crisis just by growing flowers!"
Nancy laughed, "Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Yes, it’s cool but there are a lot of steps between here and saving the world. For one, each petal doesn’t provide anywhere near the vitamins, amino acids, and other nutrients needs by the body. Second, I only have snap dragons right now. And they grow in a very narrow range of conditions. There is a lot of work before people in the Sahara or Alaska could grow them."
"Yes but it’s a start. I was wondering, could you show me around? I don’t really know that much about plants myself, but I’d love to know more. Perhaps ask you a couple questions about Daniel Windtalker if that’s okay."
Nancy stopped smiling. "I’d be happy to show you around," she turned and glared at Febs, "but not him."
"What did he do?"
"Yes. What did I do?"
"He, " said Nancy as she leaned in towards Febs, pointing a finger at his chest, "took a flower without asking. I would have given you one but you just took it. That’s rude."
Febs looked taken aback, which considering his face was basically a solid piece of metal with two eyes and a grill for a mouth, was quite an accomplishment.
Cam turned to face Febs, lowering his voice as he did so. "Febs, why don’t you head back to the house and start processing all our data please. I’m going to talk to Mrs. Watkinson a bit more then try to talk to Mr. N’anwarrow."
In response Febs simply nodded. He then, with out a glance at Mrs. Watkinson, rotated and marked out of the greenhouse.
When he turned the corner at the end of the row he surreptitiously snatched a plant from the table as he passed. This one was white with red streaks radiating out from the end of the petals towards the tips, almost like veins. Febs quickly left the building and made his way quietly across the compound before slipping into the car. Cam had watched his friend leave, following the bouncing yellow umbrella as it made it’s wan across the greenhouse.
Cam dropped the paper bag on the desk of Police Chief Donald Weatherby. "He in?"
Chief Weatherby took the bag without looking, dug around in side and pulled out a donut which he wrapped in a napkin before taking a fairly small bite.
"Of course he is. I swear sometimes he sleeps down there, "Weatherby said looking up from his paperwork finally, "one of these days you are going to have to inquire about that. Can’t have my people sleeping in the morgue. City Hall would have my ass."
Cam grinned, "Can you give Febs access to the crime scene information?"
"Didn’t you take your own scans?"
"Yea, but they were there much earlier than I was, just want to make sure."
"Do not mess with them Cornelius. I mean it. Your record is the only thing keeping them from running you over with an ice cream truck. And even then only because none of them want to be responsible for cleaning it up."
Cam simply shrugged, smiled and backed out of the room.
Cam bounced on his toes as the elevator took its time going down the entire floor to the basement. The entire trip was filled with horrible grinding sounds, small pings, shaking and Cam swore he smelled smoke at least twice. It’s was only one floor. All of it was made worse by the fact that the radio, which usually played horrid, bland, and sadly punchy versions of the local hit songs was broken. So rather than the usual cacophony of dulcet tones it merely rattled, vibrated, and hissed.
As the doors dinged open he quickly stepped out, eyes glued to the speaker just in case it had other intentions. Making his way down the hall he saw no one and he expected nothing else. One of the reasons the elevator was in such disrepair was because no one used it. Daryl Esterman was the city’s medical examiner and he didn’t like people. Well, not live ones anyway. Cam was one of the few people that Daryl would allow into the basements viewing area. The others hadn’t been that interested and so rarely, if ever came down. Usually calling on Cam to deliver something or pick it up. All communication with Daryl went through an intermediary. Cam or the computer. Even Febs wasn’t allowed down.
A comparison Cam still wasn’t over thrilled about. He swore to take the stair next time.
As a result they had started a chess game. Presently they were on their fourteenth game and the total score was fairly close at only fourteen to one. Cam had been researching and preparing his next move for week. He was confident he could possibly maybe not quite lose this game. Fifteen to one was embarrassing.
He stood over the chess board for several minutes while the sounds of mumbling came from the closed room next door. He occasionally glanced up to see Daryl through the one-way glass and watched him for a second until he removed something from the body he was working on.
Cam reached out and tentatively took hold of his last remaining knight. At least he had one. Last game he had lost all his pieces except a pawn, bishop and his king. And the only reason he still had the bishop was because Daryl couldn’t be bothered to take it off the board.
"Knight to E six."
Without looking up or turning around Daryl laughed. "Really? The Pimseuler Approach? I’d think the Venci Stratagem or the Michaelson Defense would work better here."
"You do realize I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. I still don’ get why you don’t at least try to play chess on a professional level. You don’t ever look at the board but you know exactly what move to make and can keep all that in your head. And I’m willing to be you are seven moves ahead aren’t you?"
"See," Cam exclaimed throwing up his arms, "you would wipe the floor with them."
"You know why I don’t."
Cam sighed and sat down in the only chair in the room, an old recliner that he had brought in a few years back. The leather made soft clicking like sounds as his body settled into the plushness that was the chair. "Ya, I know. You hate people. Well, being around them anyway. I get why you don’t want to deal with the gumballs upstairs but you and I get along fine. No people issues there."
"You aware that I can’t see you. Only hear. So in my head I can kind of pretend you aren’t real. No offense.."
"None taken. Bishop to A two"
"… and even on the days that I know you are real I’m not in fear of being touched. So it all works. Queen to G six."
"You could text in the moves. With your ability to keep the board in your head you could play against the computer."
"But the computer wouldn’t be a computer would it? It would be a person on the other end that I would have to know about. I can’t do that. Deal with people."
"But that’s the thing D. You cut bodies up, people. I would have thought that would bother you just as much. And even if it didn’t, are you supposed to have issues with bodies and such? Not to mention you don’t have any of the ticks I’ve read about and you went to freaking medical school!"
"I’m what they call ‘high’ functioning. I’m not as bad as some of the ones you will find in your books. Besides, some of my people like math, some engineering. Myself it’s anatomy. The body to me is a very intricate machine that I need to figure out. Which is why I’m here and not at some hospital."
"Well, that and he’s people, " Cam snickered.
"Yes, that. Anyway, " Daryl put the lung he was weighting back into the body and pulled off his gloves, "you want to know what I found on Daniel Windtalker unless I’m mistaken."
Cam popped out of his chair and walked over the the mirror window.
"I hate to disappoint you but there is nothing. Not a single trace of anything that would have killed him."
"So… old age? Disease?"
"Neither. He was suffocated, that I know, but there are no fibers, no marks and no bruising. It’s like he just stopped breathing and forgot to start back up again. There is petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes but no signs of force or struggle. I… have suffocating as cause of death but I can’t give you anything more that that. I’m sorry."
"So nothing at all? No hidden needle marks, no soft tissue damage, no curious bruises? Nothing weird in the least?"
"Sorry Cam. Well, there was one thing that was a tad odd…"
"Share it man."
"It might be absolutely nothing, but the soft tissue membranes of his laryngopharynx had some slight bruising."
Cam stopped and started through the window. He started when he realized that Daryl was basically looking right at him, even though Daryl didn’t know it. Or at least Cam didn’t know if Daryl didn’t know but he assumed he didn’t know.
"Laryngopharynx? What is that?"
Daryl fidgeted. "It’s the small area in the throat found between the hyoid bone and the larynx and esophagus. It’s what regulates which direction the air and food go. Basically when you ‘swallow wrong’ it’s because the laryngopharynx misfired or didn’t toggle in time."
"You seem… uncomfortable with this."
Daryl hopped down from the table he sat on, wringing his hands as he paced. Cam hadn’t seen the young man this upset since someone had told him the recipe for the Twinkie had been changed.
"Well, thats because the bruising I saw could very well have been caused by something he had eaten an gotten stuck."
"Did you find anything in his stomach that would cause it?"
Daryl stopped pacing and sat in his desk chair where he began rocking back and forth slowly, holding his hands in front of him. Can could see the fingers in the examiners hand tense and release from where he stood. He knew he had to end this quickly and get away so that Daryl could calm down. Hoping he could push just a little more Cam stepped forward, placing his hand on the glass, knowing Daryl wouldn’t be able to see it.
"Just a little more Daryl." He said under his breath. He waited for his friend to answer, knowing that asking again in this state might send him over the edge.
"No. Just tea," came the meek response after several minutes.
"Can you talk to me D? Can you tell me why this has you so bothered? Was there anything in the tea." Cam asked as he watched his friend.
"Some thing did this. Left no trace. Impossible."
"Slow, deep breaths D. I just have one more question"
Daryl stayed quiet for several minutes, bouncing and fidgeting the entire time. After few minutes he took a deep breath, "no, nothing special about. High quality Oolong. Give me a day and I can tell you where it was purchased."
Cam backed way from the window. He never knew what Daryl had to monitor the outside room and where those monitors might be as well as the screens he could use to watch. But the medical examiner always seemed to know when he left. Taking one last look back through the window he said quietly good bye and left the room, turning away from the traitorous elevator, not wishing to risk his life further and headed for the stairs.
Cam stumbled, literally out of the bedroom. He turned to look at the traitorous towel in the floor, lying in wait to kill him.
"Febs? Why is there a towel on the floor," Cam asked tilting his head, "and why is the shower running? Did you wash your internal systems again?"
"No sir. You got in so late, I was not able to tell you. What did you do after I left the greenhouse that you did not get in until after 1AM?You weren’t flirting the Mrs. N’arWarrow were you? She’s married you know?"
"Dude, back off. I wasn’t flirting with anyone. I just met up with an old college buddy and we went out for beers. He has a PhD in medicine as well as forensic pathology and I wanted to pick his brain about ways to kill without leaving an identifying mark.
"And by the way, where were you ‘dad’? I looked for you when I got in but you weren’t at your charging station."
"Yes, I was tending to your…. um, visitor."
Cam froze. He turned carefully on one foot, his finger held to his lips. "Visitor?"
"Yes. That would be the person currently in the shower."
Febs held out the pan he had been holding, gesturing towards it with the spatula he also held, albeit with his other hand, "May I interest you in some eggs?"
"Febs. Who is in the shower?""
"Who is in the shower."
Cam rub the bridge of his nose, "Yes, I gathered that. I want to know who it is."
"Perhaps now isn’t the best time to discuss things, you haven’t had your three cups of coffee after all…"
"Febs? Who. Is in. The shower."
"The shower sir?"
Febs sighed and hung his head in defeat, "Your sister."
Cam sat at the table, his coffee cup empty. Again. He was about to get up to fill it for the third time when the bathroom door opened and out stepped his sister. She was dressed in a red, non-flowery, non-business, non-going on a date dress that fell to below her knees. It looked both insanely comfortable and yet completely professional at the same time. Something that irritated Cam just a little more. No matter what his sister wore she always looked like she stepped out of a magazine.
Though he knew that wasn’t strictly true it definitely felt like it. He was always the frump, no matter what he wore. Even now, in a dress that anyone else would have considered something to wear around the house, and hair still wet from the shower, and no make-up he was 95% confident she could have a date to a prom within fifteen minutes of walking out of his apartment.
As she turned and saw him sitting at the table he became acutely aware that he was only wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt with a green t-shirt in which one could only make out the letter ‘MN’ printed in a different shade of green. And boxer shorts. And one sock.
"What are you doing here Arizona," he asked getting up from the table.
"Nice to see you too little brother," replied Cams sister as she rubbed at her hair with a towel. She must have taken her clothes into the bathroom with her as she had come out completely dressed carrying on the previously mentioned towel and a small gym bag. The fully clothed aspect was one in which Cam was eternally grateful. Cams issue with the entire situation was simply that it was his sister. And right now, clothed or not (though thankfully, clothed) he didn’t really feel like dealing with her.
"Yes, cute. What do you want?" Cam lifted the coffee pot in her direction as an offer to pour her a cup.
Arizona shook her head, sighed and pulled out the chair across from where Cam had sat. She tossed the towel at the back of Febs who caught it deftly with his left arm, never turning to look at the extra soft and fluffy projectile. "I’m here because mom is having a gala, or benefit, or … something where she is going to be presenting a humanitarian award to Daniel Windtalker for his work in trying to eliminate hunger. She wants her darling son to attend. In a suit."
"What’s the matter," Cam teased as he leaned in, glancing over towards Febs as he did so, "You too busy off saving the rain forest or freeing a beached elephant or something to attend?"
In the background Febs, who had been washing the dishes until Arizona had mentioned Daniel Windtalker, carefully folded and set the towel on the kitchen counter and began sidestepping his way out of the kitchen.
"Nope. I’m going to be there as well, mostly to keep you from causing trouble."
"You’re assuming I will be attending. And getting into trouble."
"The ‘getting into trouble’ isn’t an assumption little brother. It’s what you do. Name one event where you didn’t break something end up running across the dance floor half naked."
Cam blushed. And scowled. Which only made the blushing worse. Arizona grinned.
"You are never going to let that go are you? Regardless of the fact it was your fault!"
"It wasn’t my fault, you showed up late. You’re always late," Arizona replied sticking out her tongue, "too bad you couldn’t programming one of your toys to pretend it was you till you got there."
Cam sat up straighter (which basically meant he wasn’t attempting to curl into the fetal position in his chair) as his eyes lite up.
"Wait, what did you say?"
"I said it’s too bad.."
"No, skip that. The last part."
"Too bad you couldn’t program one of your thing to pretend it was you."
Cam stood, his chair sliding backwards, scraping across the floor with a goose bump inducing sound. "You know sis, you’re right. You are absolutely, one hundred percent correct. I’ve been remiss in my brotherly and sonly, is that a word sonly> Doesn’t matter, I have failed in my duties. You can tell mom that I will certainly be there for her big night. And wearing a new, clean, suit."
"You don’t have a suit Cam," retorted his sister.
"Febs, order me a suit." Cam walked around the table and took his sister by the shoulders and turned her around. " Zon, I will be there. I swear. Now if you will excuse me I have a few things I need to do before I get ready," Cam said in an effort that he could seeing failing as he said it. He pushed her, firmly, but demandingly towards the door of the guest room where he expected. Hoped. Arizona had put her things when she had snuck in before he got home.
"It’s next week Cam."
"Yes, I know. They are a few really, really, big things."
Arizona turned to face him. She was taller, not by much but enough to make Cam always feel like he needed to get a step stool especially when she was using the glare she had obviously learned from their mom. She didn’t say anything, just stood there, eyes narrowed watching the excitement bubbling just below the surface of his emotional display case.
"Fine. Go do whatever you are going to do," she said smiling and waving her hand, "I’ll finish getting dressed and see myself out."
Cam nodded and dashed past her, "Febs! Where did you go? I need you!"
Cam turned the know to Febs room and slowly pushed the door open, "Febs? You in here?"
He stepped into the room and took in the orderly, neat, almost pristine table on the far wall. The tables on the left and right had the same, never-really-used quality. Cam walked through the room, not stepping around things that weren’t strewn in the exceptionally clean floor. He glanced at the shelves that didn’t contain books lined up in perfect alphabetical order. Instead the shelves each contained a single item. One had a stuffed doll that Cam recognized from the first police case they had worked on. Another contained an immobile snow globe. Cam didn’t remember where that one had come from.
A third bore a single plastic dinosaur, a reminder of Febs singular obsession with a television show from many years ago. It never ceased to freak him out a little bit when he entered this part of Febs room.
He quickly made his way to the door next to the far desk.
As he walked into the room Febs had turned into an office he saw one screen was ticking through on-line articles, searching for what Cam didn’t yet know. Another seemed to be running progression charts, and a third contained what looked like the results of a search related to a plant of some kind.
The sight that most commanded his attention was also the most unsettling. Even more so that the semi-almost barren shelves in the front room. There, bent over a very small flower pot that contained a very small flower, both of which were sitting under a very small, and very bright lamp, stood Febs. In one hand he held a very small glass filled almost full with water. In the other he held a very small dropper that was half full. The very odd thing was that Febs was very, very carefully dropping a single drop of water at a time into the very small pot with the very small flower.
Off all the things Cam had programmed into Febs over the years, all the upgrades, tweaks, mods, enhancements, impediments, boosts, refinements, expansions, and general improvements; he had never once installed anything that came even remotely close to gardening. Why an android like Febs would suddenly take up the practice was something Cam wasn’t able to immediately answers. Nor, now that he thought about it a moment, did he really want to know.
"Febs, what are you doing?"
Febs finished adding the last drop of water to the small flower pot and rotated to face Cam, "Running an experiment. Something about Mrs. N’anwarrows flowers has been nagging at my processor circuits."
"Something about it bothered you?"
"Any thoughts on what it might be that has you concerned. And can I say, out loud, how odd it is to be asking you that question?"
"Understood. And it is slightly, but not quite, disconcerting to myself to know that I am the focus of that question. And the fact of that fact further concerns me. If I consider it all for too long I suspect I will end up in an infinite loop."
"Best we avoid that," commented Cam as he made his way over the the desk chair that Febs insisted on having installed but never actually used. Seeing as how he never needed to sit. Cam dropped into the chair with a ‘poosh’ of escaping air followed by a two soft sighs. One from the chair as the leather and foam padding allowed air to escape as Cams weight compressed them, the second from Cam himself. It really was a comfortable chair.
Cam began to frantically type, quickly bringing up his favorite search engine and entering both "Daniel Windtalker" and "Nigolo N’anwarrow" as search terms. "So I’ve also been bothered about something," he said turning in the chair to face Febs, "something that I didn’t put together until Anne Marie said something earlier. Both Windtalker and N’anwarrow are CEO’s for companies that produce programmable matter. Competitors in fact."
"It’s something new. Basically it’s made of nano particles, like… sand. The inner working of it are secret so I don’t know it exactly works, but can be shaped into just about anything. A vase, plate, even a toy. But nothing electronic or living."
"How is that different from any other material? You can make any of those out of plastic, metal or wood. What make this special?"
"The fact that you can alter the shape or form. Today, a vase, get tired of the vase and reprogram it to be a picture. Get more and make it into a chair or a table. You can change it into anything you like so long as it contains the same mass and volume."
"Ah, yes. I see the benefits. A supply of something like this can be very helpful in emergency situations. One could create materials as need."
"Exactly. Only it’s a massive pain in the ass to reprogram. You have to have have a scan of what you want it to become, it takes days to reprogram and usually hours, sometimes days to reshape. And there are apparently only a few people in the world that can do it."
"How is this relevant to the situation at hand?"
"Becuase, Windtalker and N’anwarrow’s companies are vying for a huge government contact, the winner of which stands to make billions over the next few years. And Windtalkers company is about to announce a massive break-through. They have figure out a way to make the stuff programmable by just about anyone and have the reshaping only take a few minutes, an hour at most."
"Which would mean N’anwarrow’s company would lose the contract and the subsequent billions in profit. That definitely qualifies as a motive.
What did Arizona say that reminded you of this?"
"Actually, this isn’t what she reminded me of," Cam said typing on the computer again, this time bringing up the images of the crime scene photos taken by the police. "These are the imaged taken by the investigators before we got there. Compare them with your scan and tell me what you see."
Febs went slightly rigid. Cam leaned back in the chair, waiting for his assistant to come to the same conclusion he had.
"THere is a small difference once I process the images to remove individuals."
"And that difference is?"
"On the mantel there is a small object in my scan that does not exist on the police photos. I suspected a glitch and re-ran the scan data but it is confirmed. There was no an object on the mantel in the original images, but there is an object in my scan. You noticed this on your own?"
"Subconsciously yea. I didn’t know I knew however, you know? I saw the room when we were there and when I glanced at the crime scene images last night something felt off. Oni’s comment about programming something to look like me reminded me about programmable matter which triggered something…"
"There is a further complication."
"I have tapped into the security feed at the N’anwarrow compound and am currently looking at the Trophy Room. The object is no longer there."
"OKay, first that’s highly illegal and you know it. Second, we can’t use it in court, and third… what do you mean ‘no longer there’? That room has been under lock and key since [day]. No way someone could get in there and remove it."
"According to the access logs no one has entered the room since Detective Michaels sealed it [day afternoon]."
"Seriously, stop hacking the system Febs," said Cam as he spun the chair he sat in.
"I am not hacking. Because of my current status as investigator I have the authorization to access the security system. To address your second point, it would only be inadmissible in court if we were to use the information obtained to make an arrest. I am merely trying to ascertain the current location of an object."
Cam’s eyes lite up as he turned around in his chair, "Can you scan the room via the feed?"
"Negative. That would require a Mark three Chuvesti monitoring system with a level six protocol upgrade. THis is a Mark four Chuvesti but only has a level five protocol upgrade."
"Fine, fine. What else can you see?"
"I am able to zoom to a degree. The object is certainly gone, but there appears to be a pile of sand on the mantel in the approximate location of the object."
"We need to get back to the N’anwarrow house."
"Agreed," replied Febs, "however I too have information I need to share."
"It might be relevant to the case. Regardless, it does involve Mrs. Watkinson."
Cam grunted and flopped back into the chair, "Fine."
"She is a fraud."
Cam jerked upright again. He flinched as his neck pinched a bit and he made a mental note to stop doing that. At the very least never do it twice in a single day.
"Don’t leave me in suspense, spill it."
"Her edible flavored, edible flowers are not genuine. They are made with sugar water and flavoring. Specifically, crushed blueberries."
"Wait, you’re saying the flower she gave me wasn’t actually nutritious but that she use a trick that they teach in grade school? But you analyzed one and said it was legit." Cam spun around in the chair again.
"Negative. I merely said that the flavonoids were higher than I would have expected and that the sucrose levels were exceptionally high. The existence of sugar water would explain the anomaly."
Cam popped out of the chair and walked over to where Febs had the plants growing under the lights in two gigantic steps, "Is that what you’ve been doing? Attempting to replicate the flowers in her garden? Didn’t you take a plant? Perhaps that explains why your are getting the readings you are."
"Please, sample the plant on your left."
Cam did, taking a petal from the brownish, open snapdragon flower and laying it to rest on his tongue. At first he got nothing, them the unmistakable taste of blueberries came seeping out of the petal and began flooding his mouth s he chewed.
"It tastes exactly like the one I had that she herself gave me. You’re going to have to do better than that to convince me Febs."
Febs stepped forward as well, coming to a stop beside Cams left shoulder. He reached out, indicating the plant that Cam had just taken a bite from. "That was purchased from the garden center yesterday and set into a bath of sugar, water and mashed blueberries. It was originally white, the poor absorption of the internal cellular structure is what creates the muddy coloring."
Cam was shocked. His mouth hung open a few centimeters as he took in the news. The woman who was trying to save the world by creating plants that could feed and nourish the world had lied.
Cam shook his head, "Okay, wait… so she lied. Not nice behavior I admit, but what does that have to do with the case?"
"Her main monetary contributor was Daniel Windtalker."
"Talk to me Febs, is it what I think it is?"
"And as you suggested, the has once again be changed. Or, to be more precise, it has lost its shape. The pile of sand is in fact nano particles"
"Can you access it?"
"Trying to hack in now."
Cam smiled as everything finally fell into place. He grabbed his phone and quickly dialed the home number for the SanBarts police chief. After three rings the chief answered, "This better be good Cam. I was just about to beat my wife at checkers."
"Febs and I currently at the crime scene of Daniel Windtalkers death. I know why, how and why he died. Can you meet us?"
"No, it can wait until morning. Assuming you want to give the killer an additional 12 hours to figure out how to dispose of the murder weapon."
"Fine, "came the less than pleased voice over the phone. Who else should be there?"
Cam smiled, "Everyone."
Febs stood in the middle of the room. Occasionally he would turn every so slightly before returning to his not turning, stationary, and disturbingly quiet self. Only to shift again a few moments later, once again scaring just about every person in the room.
And everyone watched with semi-rapt attention. In random succession each person would go through a cycle of starting; Febs, Cam, the chief and back to Febs. Over, and over.
The earlier death maze of furniture had been cleared, with everything pushed to the edges of the room to allow the CSI teams to do their work. THe only furniture left when Cam and Febs had entered had been a small extremely flowery couch, a desk and the chair that the victim had been sitting in.
Dr. N’anwarrow and his wife Nancy had taken seats on the couch when they had arrived. The Chief, arriving second, had recovered a small chair from the edge of the room and placed it opposite to where Cam now sat.
Cam was currently sitting on the arm of the chair Daniel had been found in while Febs stood next to the small table that sat between everyone. The chair was still in the same place it had originally been, in the back third of the room. THe new furniture had been arranged to the right, making an odd circle with Febs standing in the middle. Everyone watching.
Until suddenly Febs stopped stopping and turned to face Cam.
"Your theory is confirmed."
"See if you can triggers it’s shift and just get it off the frame. Doesn’t matter what it becomes."
"Understood. It may take some time."
"That’s fine, replied Cam as he turned back to face the group. "Now, who wants to confess?"
"I’m sorry, what the hell are you talking about," asked Nigolo.
"Mr. N’anwarrow, the item that killed Daniel Windtalker is here, in this room. Well, kind of."
Cam ran his hand over his face, "The simplest explanation this. Daniel was killed by programmable matter."
"Sadly Dr. N’anwarrow, it’s not. Only highly improbable. However I’m, well, I should say Febs, is hopefully about to increase the odds in my favor."
"Cam, " said the police chief speaking up for the first time, "You have us all here, can you get to the point please?"
Cam smiled and nodded. He clasp his hands behind his back and began to place the room, "First a little background. Everyone already knows what I’m about to say but it’s important to make sure it’s out in the open so that everything is in context. Daniel Windtalker is the founder and current CEO of Windtalker Electrics. A direct competitor to your own company Nigolo Dynamics, correct Mr. N’anwarrow?"
"Are you accusing me of something?"
"No sir, as I said, just laying out the facts. Both companies were pioneers in the field of programmable matter. That is to say the have to ability to literally create objects on demand out of existing objects. It’s a bit more complicated and complex than that however…"
"Substantially more complex I’d say."
Cam nodded again, this time in the direction of Dr. N’anwarrow. "As I was saying, in addition to his company Dr. Windtalker was well know for being a friend to the lest fortunate and downtrodden. He has started multiple clinics and programs trying to help those that he can do more that merely survive. If my information is correct there are several programmers at his company now that started out in one of his training programs. In fact he was going to receive a humanitarian award for all his work next week. Says a lot about the man."
Cam scanned the room, watching the reactions of each person in the room before continuing. "I’ve learned that the Windtalker company was about to release an update to their programmable matter product correct Dr. N’anwarrow, one that would practically guaranteed they would win the forthcoming government contract with several million dollars?"
"I’m getting a little tired of your almost insinuations. Chief Remarkable, do I really have to listen to this?"
"For now," replied the chief.
Febs turned and nodded to Cam who walked over to the fireplace and extended to the picture hanging there. He waited and after a beat what picked up what looked like a small rod about a foot in length and very narrow. Cam smiled and turned back to the group. He brandished the object in front of him, "Dr. N’anwarrow? If you please?"
N’anwarrow stood up and walked over the Cam, snatching the piece from him. The Doctor examine the object closely, then from farther away. He held the object on one side, then flipped the piece over to examine the other. A pattern that repeated four more times before he finally looked up at Cam. "This isn’t mine."
"Never said it was, " replied Cam, "but can you confirm that it is in fact programmable matter?"
"Not without a full scan, but for the moment I’m willing to stake that it is. In fact, it looks like one of Windtalkers products."
"I believe it is. And I further believe it is in fact the newest version of their product. The one with the new programming interface that is easier to use."
Dr. N’anwarrows eyes grew big as he realized exactly what it was he was holding. "Why is it here? Are you saying someone used this to kill Daniel?"
"You never answered my question earlier sir, with that new interface chances are Daniels company would win the contract correct?"
Dr. N’anwarrows face scrunched up in anger, then relaxed into resignation, "Yes. But I didn’t kill him."
"And Mrs. Watkinson, " said Cam turning to the woman still sitting on the couch, "is it true that Daniel Windtalker was the main backer in your venture to develop flowers capable of making a difference with global hunger?"
Nancy simply nodded.
"Tell me Nancy, is it also true that your entire research thus far, the very research that Daniel has been funding, with money from his company, the research which was the basis for the award he was going to be presented with… is entirely false? That you have in fact been merely treating existing plants with flavored sugar water."
Nancy burst into tears, throwing up her hands to cover her face.
"How dare you," charged Dr. N’anwarrow. "How dare you accuse her of fraud!"
"He’s right," Nancy choked out between sobs. "My experiments failed and Daniel suspected. He confronted me a few days ago with his own evidence that I had been falsifying results."
"So…," stammered Dr. N’anwarrow, "you killed him? Why didn’t you come to me?"
Nancy looked up at her husband in fear. "No, she didn’t kill him. In fact no one did."
Chief Manning looked up at Cam as the others all turned to face him as well.
"Here we go," muttered Detective Marlowe from behind the couch.
"Explain Cam," said the Chief.
"Simple. He committed suicide using his latest version of p-matter."
"Why in the hell would be do that? He was about to come into a crap load of money according to Dr. N’anwarrow."
"Because ‘Detective’, it didn’t work."
"What do you mean it didn’t work," asked Dr. N’anwarrow.
Febs turned to face Dr. N’anwarrow, "There is a programming defect in the programmable matter. It will not hold its shape after 12 hours. It resets to it’s default state."
"Fixing it would set the company back several months, if not years. Which would mean no contract, or at least no guarentee of a contract. And Windtalker had already heavily invested in Mrs. Watkinsons project. The loss of that contract would mean his company would be pretty much bankrupt. Add the potential humiliation of the humanitarian award presentation next week which has been promoted already and you have a rather nasty mix of emotions."
"So why here? Why now," asked the chief.
"That is something I thin Dr. N’anwarrow is best equipped to answer. Doctor?"
"I invited him here to talk about our latest product. We are getting ready to announce our own next generation product. One that will reduce the cost to produce, opening up the market to the general public."
"Something that would further devalue the worth of his company."
"I assume you have proof of all this?"
"Yes Detective Marlowe. In fact Febs will transmit a copy of everything over to your network now."
"Thank you Cam. And Febs. Mister and misses N’anwarrow.."
"…whatever. Please, both of you stay in town for a few days. You aren’t being charged with anything but I’d still like to take your statements."
Both Dr. N’anwarrow and Mrs. Watkinson nodded.
"Come on Febs I wanna…" Cam turned to see Febs was once again holding the furry white cat. "No."
"I checked, it doesn’t belong to anyone."
"You are not keeping it."
"But it likes me."
Cam threw up his arms, "Fine. But I’m not changing the litter box."
Febs smiled. Or at least tried to.