FP146 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3
Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and forty-six.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by the Ladies Pendragon.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight we find a contributor to the Collective Detective, KillerKrok, investigating a nearly forgotten life, as he also conducts major changes in his own.
Flash Pulp 146 – Layers: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 3
For Kyle, fourteen, summer was screaming to a close. He’d spent the last month dividing his energies between conquering an obscure series of Japanese role playing video-games, and contributing to the project known as the Collective Detective, both of which he’d been introduced to by his best-friend, Monty.
Although Monty’s love of Battle Passion One through Six still outpaced his own, the Collective had become Kyle’s great obsession. He’d already provided assistance on several occasions, including having sorted reams of posts for a case involving the suspicious disappearance of a member of a forum dedicated to Danish metal bands, and even turning up a nugget which had eventually lead the group to unearthing a girl who’d been buried, and forgotten, in a train yard.
Forty-eight hours before his first day as a ninth-grader, in a desperate bid to ignore the impending demands of school-life, he found himself rifling the site’s open projects. While flipping from wiki-page to wiki-page, he was brought to a halt on the case of Morris Cox, which had seen some activity, but few results. It was an attached Facebook photo which sold him: despite Cox’s smile, his eyes appeared hollow.
The notes were minimal; six years of traffic had been traced back to the case, which meant they had information on Morris from age twelve through eighteen, but the majority of it had gone unsorted, and the annotations seemed to indicate a lot of teenage nonsense, and little more.
Sitting in his basement bedroom, at the rickety white table his parents had provided to support the humming weight of the PC he’d purchased with his own funds, Kyle felt a kinship to that teenage nonsense. Reaching into the darkness beside the glow of his monitor, he retrieved his half-empty bottle of Mountain Dew and redirected his browser to the Collective’s main website. When prompted, he logged himself in as KillerKrok, then pulled up the primary tool of every member, the search page.
He initiated a trio of queries: a general trawl for all the logs related to Cox’s known IP addresses, a second seeking any mention of Morris’ name in his school library’s traffic, and a third inquiry looking for text messages involving the missing boy’s name, as no cellphones had been associated with his file.
Rubbing at the stringy patch of hair he’d been cultivating on his chin, Kyle considered his selections, then nodded.
Being only a lowly contributor, he knew it would be some time before his requests moved to the top of the heap to be processed, so he popped in Battle Passion Five, and cranked his Led Zeppelin soundtrack to the level he knew to be just below the cusp of his parents’ patience.
* * *
Three weeks of scrutiny had left the amateur detective feeling very familiar with Morris’ life, and yet little closer to discovering the key to his disappearance.
School, and thoughts of Elle Landry, had taken heavy tolls on the amount of time Kyle had to dedicate to the project, but he found the investigation considerably preferable to algebra homework, and often spent his days, and notebook pages, sketching out speculative webs of accusation instead of focusing on essays regarding Hamlet.
He had a single tantalizing clue, an unidentified encrypted application which the lost boy had starting using regularly at fifteen. Although the Collective could provide the raw data of what was transferred, and could even give basic information on how it was concealed, it had no method to circumvent the password behind which it was hidden. Krok had easy access to the necessary tools to make the translation, but without the missing phrase, they were useless. Still, while watching reruns of the newest re-imagining of SpongeBob SquarePants, he’d spent the better part of a Saturday guessing at any possibility that might have come to Morris, including the details the unaccounted-for-youth had used on other services, character names from his favourite films, and random combinations of his own moniker and birth-date.
The cast of people involved in Morris’ communications had fluctuated from year to year, but their wiki entries had grown under Kyle’s nurturing, and now included a positive identification for a best-friend from the age of twelve till a messy falling out at seventeen, as well as the entrance of Bailey, the case’s first, and only obvious, love interest. In getting to know the major players through the digital fingerprints they’d left, the sleuth had also begun to see connections from Cox’s life within his own. Although he’d vanished at eighteen, it was at the age of fourteen – KillerKrok’s – that the seeds of dissension between the missing, and his compatriot, had been planted, and, as puppy-love mentions of Bailey, largely in anonymous forums, increased, their comradery had decreased. Oddly, however, the apparent girlfriend never seemed to be discussed.
The ninth-grader was considering the point when his phone rang.
“Hey,” said Monty.
“Hola,” Kyle replied.
“Still smacking the dead pony?”
“Yeah, I’m sure this encrypted stuff is the answer.”
“Uh huh. You’re gonna get that thing opened up and it’ll be nothing but his porn collection.”
“It’s funny you say that, because the data transfer would be about right, but, I dunno, could be a bunch of audio recordings discussing his Colombian drug deals.” On a whim, Kyle tried “Colombian” as the password. He was greeted with the familiar failure warning.
“Have you ever seen him say anything in Spanish?” asked Monty.
“Uh huh. Anyhow, what you up to tonight? Forget whatever it was, guess who just got a hold of his imported copy of Battle Passion Seven?”
Kyle cleared his throat, mousing down to his desktop’s clock before replying. Seeing the late hour, his palms suddenly began to run with moisture.
“Nah, listen, I actually need to go, uh, help my Mom with something, but I think I’m going to just spend the night cracking this thing – I’m right on the verge, I can feel it. Start without me and I’ll catch up with you tomorrow or something.”
Morris made his goodbyes with a note of dejection, but the fourteen-year-old had little time for consideration of his friend. Leaving his keyboard to blink endlessly on the empty password field, he ran to the shower.
It was while shaving off his ratty facial growth that the solution came to him, and he called himself an idiot, aloud, for not having tried it earlier. With his face still covered in unnecessary shaving cream, he ran to his machine and triumphantly typed: “Bailey”.
There was a pause, then a progress bar appeared. It began to count upwards.
With a holler, Kyle moved into a stomping dance. After a moment, however, he caught the time on the PVR’s digital display, and quickly scooped up the rogue foam on the carpet. Hovering over his computer, he submitted the case revision in a rush.
The movie started in an hour, and he didn’t want to leave Elle waiting.
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