Part of Apex of Creation
Officer Dakota Jackson
“Emily Butler and James Exosia again? What the ever-loving fuck?” I burst out, as I stared at the video. The two students were visible on camera, walking up the alley, towards the left. On the other video feed, the four victims - or were they thugs? - climbed out of the van, walking in to the right, from the other end of the alley.
James and Emily walked off the left side of the video feed. At that moment, both cameras flickered static, and the thugs fell down injured.
“So the cameras crapped out on us again.” I said, watching the footage one more time. “Though it doesn’t explain how they beat up four gang members.”
I turned back to Detective Sanders. “What do you think?”
“That’s…” his voice trailed off. He muttered something incomprehensible under his breath.
“Too many fucking coincidences.” he said quietly. Then, he spoke louder. “Um, I gotta go take a piss. You good here?” Without waiting for an answer, Sanders left the media room.
“Alright, that was weird.” I said, to the empty room. Clearly, Sanders either had too much or not enough to drink. I ejected the flash drive, put it in a fresh evidence bag, signed the chain of custody, and made my way to the evidence locker.
On my way back I passed Chief Becker. “Hey Chief.”
“Officer Jackson. Good afternoon, how are you?”
“I’m alright. Um, listen. I think I have a person of interest for the Nigel Butler case.”
“The hotel assault one or the sexual assault one?”
“Hotel. The ‘James’ that Allison Butler mentioned in her statement, that’s their daughter Emily’s friend James Exosia. They were both hostages in the bank robbery from a few weeks ago.”
“And they just turned up on camera at the gang attack from yesterday.”
“Oh? Doing what?” Chief Becker seemed intrigued.
“Well, that’s the problem. The cameras crapped out again.” So I’m not sure what exactly they did.” Or how two scrawny college students managed to - apparently - beat up four gang enforcers.
“So they’re people of interest for the gang thing.” Chief Becker said. “How’s that connected to Nigel Butler?”
I shrugged. “We’ll have to wait for the victims to recover, and hopefully cooperate. We know Nigel Butler wasn’t acting alone, and it’s not that hard to imagine that a ring of pedos might have other underworld connections.”
“Hmmm. Good point.” The chief frowned as he thought. “I can see that. But that’s Agent Ramsey’s territory now.”
“Right. But I never actually got his card...”
“Oh, right, of course. I think I have it in my office. Meet me there in a second.”
“Ten four. Also, have you seen Sanders? He’s acting weird today.”
It was a bright, sunny, and frosty Tuesday morning. The air was clear, cold, and crisp. Yesterday’s light snow had frozen overnight into a layer of crunchy ice, covering anything that hadn’t been cleared the day before. Classes were canceled.
Naturally, Emily and I were inside, slurping down hot chocolate in the warmth of the student center, and trying not to get it all over our calculus homework.
“You alright?” I asked Emily. “You’ve been quiet all day.”
She sighed. “I keep reliving yesterday.” Emily said quietly. “Wondering…”
“...if you did the right thing?” I finished.
I glanced around. Nobody seemed to be paying attention. “Well for starters, they were obviously up to no good. And they were clearly after the two of us specifically.”
“Like, ninety-nine percent.”
“What, no omniscient divination?”
I squirmed. “Been trying to rely less on that…”
Emily seemed shocked. “Why?”
“I dunno.” I answered thoughtfully. “I guess I don’t want to depend on it and then lose it, and then be unable to function.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “That argument only works for homework and tests.”
“Alright, alright. Give me a second.” Emily grinned, and I felt around for the little spark of divinity in the back of my head, and concentrated on the four gang members.
347 Hope Memorial
“All I’m getting is their hospital and room numbers.” I said. Emily’s grin faded. I punched Hope Memorial Hospital into Google. “Hour and a half drive.” I announced. “Loads of accidents. I swear, it’s like nobody here knows how to drive in snow.”
“Well, considering that the coefficient of static friction on the road right now is really low, we could probably just slide the whole way.” Emily said.
“Yeah, and join the trainwreck.” I abruptly remembered the original conversation, and changed the topic back. “But, like I said yesterday, if you hadn’t stopped the gangsters, they’d just keep doing other people’s dirty work. And if they’re willing to go after two unarmed college students, odds are that they’re not interested in even fights.”
Emily squirmed. “I know that, but at the same time, it’s hard. I’ve just… never done anything like that before.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
“And you’re really alright with all that?”
“Someone else probably gets to live. Besides,” I shrugged. “They had it coming.”
I knelt down in front of the roaring fire, rearranging the wood and stoking the coals with my bare hands.
Behind me, Lucifer coughed. “Hotter” he wheezed.
I shrugged, and contributed some of my own power to the fire. It sprang to life, bathing Lucifer’s throne in dry, searing heat.
I turned to Lucifer. He was still crippled since his encounter with the doorframe of Heaven. He hadn’t been this ill since his original rebellion against God, and this incident only served to underscore how critical it was that we gather enough souls to stand a chance at Armageddon.
Judging by Lucifer’s recent injuries, we were still a long ways away from success. It had taken him - all of us, really - several millennia to recover from our abrupt expulsion from Heaven. Only a few of us outside Heaven at the time had survived unscathed.
And Lucifer, who had once been at the right hand of God himself, had been so harshly defeated simply by inadvertently slipping his fingers past the threshold of a door. Human souls were potent things, but we apparently weren’t gathering them fast enough, and it seemed that God still wasn’t fucking around with the whole “don’t come back” thing.
The Scroll would have guaranteed victory by stalling the Apocalypse until we were powerful enough to overthrow God and complete our revolution. But the cursed hybrid had ruined that plan.
“Wha… What’s the status of the Hybrid?” Lucifer weakly hacked out.
I ordered another carafe of blood from the steward, who ran off to go fetch it. “He’s dating the girl. Seems they bonded over their little escapade into your kingdom. Oh, and they beat up some thugs that Aamon was working on.”
Lucifer groaned and closed his eyes. “Why didn’t Aamon intervene?”
I shrugged and poured Lucifer the last of the blood. “He was working somewhere else at the time. It’s not a big loss; Aamon’s assets are vast.”
Lucifer slouched against his throne. “That is… unfortunate.”
“Thank you Alocer. You’ve done well. Dismissed.”
I bowed, and departed the throne room.
Aamon was outside, leaning against the corridor wall. “How’s he doing?” he asked.
“Not well. You remember our rebellion? And the expulsion from Heaven?”
Aamon grinned wickedly. “How could I forget? I was useless for ages.” He paused briefly, and then asked “Is he really that bad?”
“Not quite, but it’s the same kind of thing. You know…” I leaned in close to Aamon, and glanced around to make sure the steward wasn’t returning. “One could make the argument that the only reason Lucifer held on to power after the Expulsion, was because everyone powerful enough to challenge him was also incapacitated.”
The devious gleam in Aamon’s eyes told me that he understood exactly what I was getting at.
Special Agent Samuel Ramsey
I opened the email.
From: Dakota Jackson To: Samuel Ramsey Cc: Alan Becker Subject: Emily Butler Agent Ramsey: At 0945 yesterday morning, officers were dispatched to a report of four injured victims of a fight. Camera footage (see attached) shows James Exosia and Emily Butler nearby at the time of the incident. We’re still investigating this attack, but given what we know so far about Nigel Butler, we wanted to let you know, just in case it ends up being relevant. The four victims are all Hispanic, with gang tattoos. My guess is that someone in their gang is connected to someone in Nigel Butler’s ring. If you find a Hispanic gang connection, please let us know as that would help us out a lot. -Officer Jackson.
I was about to click on the attachment when I heard a voice behind me. “Knock knock.”
I spun my chair, and saw Doctor Roscoe. “Who’s there?”
“One feisty redhead with a penchant for deception.” she answered. “You get to interview the daughter yet?”
I shook my head. “Not yet. I wanted to get the fishing expedition going sooner rather than later. We’re on a time crunch with that - once the Butlers get arraigned, their charges are a matter of public record.”
Dr. Roscoe nodded. “Well, digital forensics says they got damn near everything off Nigel Butler’s computer, even more than what the first guys got. I’ve read through nearly all of it, and trust me, it’s not pretty.”
“You’re ready to go fishing then?”
“Yeah.” She held up a laptop. “IT set this up for this investigation.”
“Banned from the main network?”
“I think they actually took out the wireless card. And it’s encrypted and signed and all that fancy security stuff. Point being, everything that happens on this laptop meets evidentiary standards.”
“I mean, I’m not exactly looking forward to impersonating a perv, but somehow I’m good at that.”
I hesitated. “Isn’t that literally your job?”
She chuckled. “No comment. You coming along? This is your case after all.”
I stood up and grabbed my suit coat. “Right behind you.”
We headed to the digital investigations lab, pausing only to grab some coffee from the office kitchen. The lab was designed for investigating and collecting digital evidence from the internet, without risking exposure of the FBI’s own servers or compromising the admissibility of any gathered information. The room itself was a Faraday cage, blocking the office wifi from reaching in. The lab featured wired-only internet access on a secondary connection that was configured to allow zero device overlap with the main network. Personal devices were, of course, banned.
Dr. Roscoe plugged the laptop in and connected the ethernet cable, then took out a bundle of notes and looked them over.. “So.” she said. “Nigel Butler. Middle aged accounting professional with a preference for very young girls.”
“I hate myself just hearing you say that.”
Dr. Roscoe ignored me, and continued browsing her notes. “He’s upper middle class, and isn’t afraid to use his money to control others. And he’s obnoxiously proud of the fact that his wife knew and never reported him.
“What an asshole.”
The computer finished booting. Dr. Roscoe fired up a chat program, and typed in a command:
/server chat.sinirc.org:6667. I caught a quick glimpse of
connecting… before the console output exploded in a display of text art and welcome messages.
Dr. Roscoe tapped in a few commands and quickly authenticated as Nigel Butler:
/nick toxxxic /msg nickserv identify t0xxx1c
“Was that really his password?” I asked, looking over Dr. Roscoe’s shoulder.
“Yeah. According to the digital forensics guys, Nigel Butler used that for everything but his bank account. May as well have gone with hunter two at that rate.”
I sat back down. “What?”
“It’s an internet meme thing, about insecure passwords.Nothing important. Alright, we’re signed in.”
She typed in a few more commands, interacting with the chat server. “That’s not good.”
I turned at looked at the screen again. “What?”
She pointed at the screen, and I saw the last line of text. I wasn’t very familiar with IRC, but I didn’t need to be to understand it.
<sinIRC> You have been banned from #sexdungeon (+b)
This chapter was produced with the support of my Hybrid patron:
- Olli Erinko