Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and eighteen.
Tonight we present Dig: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1
This episode is brought to you by Mr Blog’s Tepid Ride – it’s sort of like Seinfeld, but angrier.
Find it at http://bmj2k.wordpress.com
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 delve into the case of the tragic loss of SparkleFairy, as uncovered by a legion of volunteers and obsessive geeks.
Flash Pulp 118 – Dig: a Collective Detective Chronicle, Part 1 of 1
Fourteen year old Harris Baker was losing patience with his mother.
“Look, it’ll take, like, twenty minutes or something.”
The sight of her son with something as low tech as a shovel in his hand had set the woman on edge, and she’d refused the request for a ride outright.
“I’m not interested in helping you with your silly Internet games,” she replied.
“This isn’t a game: SparkleFairy is a missing person’s case, and we’ve been months doing the work on this. Me and, like, fifty other people have spent hundreds of hours -”
“If there are so many of your friends involved, one of them can go.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Mom. I’m the closest. I need to be the one that goes.”
“I’ll level with you – you can give me this ride, or you can expect an afternoon running through the classic repertoire of the statesman of industrial music, Trent Reznor.”
“How dare you threaten me, young man?”
“I’m not, Mom, I’m letting you down gently. A threat would involve me accessing the online storage in which I backed up last summer’s vacation pictures.”
“Not the summy of tummy.”
“Yes, Mom, the summy of tummy, all over Facebook.”
He attempted another run at an explanation as they drove.
“Well, remember how the NSA under the Bush administration was tapping the entire Internet?”
“Well, it was. AT&T stored a copy of everything that crossed over their pipes – and then they accidentally opened access to their archives for 10 months. It was basically an open secret, and although I don’t think any one person has a complete copy, there are three major repositories currently in existence that, as a whole, contain everything that went up or down the tubes for six years.”
“So we dig through it. A few months ago, a guy named Macedonicus put together a software suite that links up chat accounts, email addresses, and anything else he can figure the protocols for, with known cold case files outstanding with law enforcement. He threw the front end on the web, under the banner of The Collective Detective, and, a few high-profile links later, he found he had a whole volunteer workforce.”
“Is that you?”
“I’m one of many – I’m doing a little better than the average noob though. I’m an editor; one of the council’s trusted worker bees, not just some flaky contributor.”
“Yeah, suits mostly. The project is too big now, so someone has to handle the business end – and the legal stuff.”
“Should I be concerned that you’re up to something illegal?”
“Heck no, I’m here to fight crime,” Harris replied.
He tightened his grip on the shovel.
* * *
The break had come when another of the editors – an OCD-wielding nerd named MitchSlap, who Harris considered a candidate for Asperger’s Syndrome – had found an alternate email account on one of SpakleFairy’s registrations for a forum she’d used to talk with friends while in the school library. Tracking back to the new inbox, they’d found a message from someone that hadn’t appeared anywhere else in their search.
The address had provided an IP number, and six days of obsessive digging through that destination’s traffic had lead the crew to an anonymous comment, buried under 10,431 replies to a CNN article regarding the missing girl. It said simply, “She’s under the oak tree on the west side of the Franklin train depot.”
At the time, the response had either been ignored as the raving of a troll, or simply gone unseen in the sheer volume of chatter. Whatever the case, none of the other users could have known about the cheap pot the same individual had offered to sell the missing girl in the hidden mailing.
Once The Collective had a lock on the source of his connection, however, his life was an open book that read like the work of a man who loved high powered rifles, blamed delinquents for the world’s woes, and refused to stay on his meds.
Those involved in the investigation had since wasted hours staring at his house via street view out of morbid curiosity, but they couldn’t move forward – not without proof. It had come down to Harris to find that proof, at the abandoned station, itself buried under deep layers of graffiti paint.
He’d assured his mother that he was violating no laws in trespassing, but, since leaving her on the open pavement and jumping the short fence, he was beginning to have doubts. He’d spent a long while inspecting the location via google maps, but now he was there, and it was cold.
Following his phone’s GPS to the spot the online maps indicated was likely SparkleFairy’s resting place, he located the tree, just as he’d seen it in the satellite view, and just where the original damning comment had said it would be. There was a decent sized rock nearby, so he set his phone down, with the camera set up to stream video of his work, and began digging.
He hadn’t expected how hard it would be, or how much muscle it would take. The chat that accompanied the feed began to fill – long standing members were dragging in people who’d never even heard of The Collective Detective, and word spread like brush fire through the real time social networks. The room was soon at its maximum capacity, and those bloggers who`d managed access took to writing up events as they happened.
After thirty minutes, Mrs. Baker began to lean on the horn.
With an embarrassed glance at the camera, Harris held up a finger and walked out of frame. The gathered observers broke into a chaos of mockery, uncertainty, and speculation. A moment passed, however, and the boy re-appeared, now redoubling his efforts.
He thought he’d found her at the two foot mark – but wasn’t sure.
Picking the phone up, he focused the camera on the dirty shape, and his thumbs became a blur of communication.
“What is this?” he asked. “I don’t want to call the police and discover it’s a moose bone or something.”
Hundreds of Wikipedia windows opened; specialists reached for thick tomes they hadn’t referenced since their school days; and Encyclopedia Britannica found itself with a sudden spike in user registrations.
Mrs. Baker’s shadow drifted into frame, and Harris turned to his Mom’s approach. He pointed to the bone.
She returned to her vehicle without comment.
“It’s a human humerus bone,” typed fifteen people at once.
Somehow, Harris’ brain had difficulty absorbing the information. Seconds ago SparkleFairy had been an abstract data-point to chase, but now the indictment had come down: she was human.
The loneliness of the place, and the terrible thing that had happened there, hit him hard in the stomach – but he took some comfort in knowing that, although a single person had seen her laid in the ground, a thousand pairs of eyes had witnessed her unearthing.
For the first time in his life, Harris dialed 911.
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