The elevator continued its descent, prompting Reena to scratch her head in confusion. It felt like the longest elevator ride she’d ever been on, and it didn’t help that Madison failed to mention where they were going. Could there really be something this far beneath police headquarters? She glanced over to her partner’s stone cold face. “Uh, Madison, where are you taking me?” “The basement.” “Oh, wow—I didn’t know the police station even had one.” “We call it the Crypt,” Madison said. “It houses the PCPD’s central mainframe, along with the Cyber Crime Division.” The elevator finally came to a soft stop. The doors opened and Madison exited with her curious partner in tow. “Whoa!” Reena was amazed at the massive size of the Crypt. At one side of the large room were rows of rectangular computer servers, each positioned vertically and surrounding a larger core server. A steady mist of coolant vapor rolled along the floor. It was only at that moment when Reena realized how cold it was, causing her to shiver. Her attention shifted to the other side of the room, which was a perplexing network of computers, industrial scanners, databank storage towers, and assorted devices she’d never seen before. But, strangest of all, she couldn’t find a single person around. “Cherie,” Madison called out, her tone less harsh than usual, “you here?” After a moment of silence came the abrupt clatter of a chair sliding across the floor. A girl with pink hair poked her head out from beneath a desk. “Hey, Mad.” She leapt up and rammed the tip of her red boot into a data tower on the floor. “Just dealing with some defective junk—you know, your typical top-of-the-line police equipment,” she chuckled with a roll of the eye. “Yeah, I know,” Madison approached her, “all too well.” The girl turned to Reena, her blue eyes sparkling like diamonds. “You didn’t tell me you got a new partner.” “It’s only been about a week,” Madison confirmed. “Don’t get too used to her. You know how long rookie’s last.” Reena pouted, but before she could say anything the pink-haired girl took a giant step forward, her short pigtails flailing with the sudden motion, and seized Reena’s hand, giving it a firm shake. “Nice to meet you! Name’s Cherie Algrave. Hope Madison hasn’t been giving you too tough a time.” Reena offered a slight laugh. “Oh, she’s fine…mostly. I’m Reena. Reena Saffron.” Cherie leaned in close to Reena’s ear and whispered, “Don’t worry, Mad’s not so bad once you get to know her.” “Spreading rumors again?” Madison folded her arms. “Me?” Cherie shrugged, offering a lopsided grin. “Never in a million years!” Reena gave Cherie the once-over. The girl wore a tight-fitted black tank top, red pleated skirt, red knee-high boots, and a white bandana that hung loosely around her neck. Nothing about her image offered the suggestion that she was a PCPD officer. Reena tried speculating her age, but couldn’t have imagined Cherie being much older than a recent high school graduate—like herself. Had she just come out of the academy’s Fast-Track Program too? “First time you’ve seen it down here, huh?” “Yeah, it’s wild!” Reena replied. “Out of curiosity, how long have you been with Cyber Crimes?” “Ha!” the girl chuckled. “I practically am Cyber Crimes. With all the budget cuts, I’m the only one left, unless you include Sigrid, but he’s strictly analysis—and he hardly comes down here, anyway.
So, I guess you can call this place Cherie’s Crypt. Been working here for about a year now.” “Cherie’s a netraver,” Madison added. “Netraver?” Reena’s confused expression divulged her unfamiliarity with the term. Madison sighed. “An elite hacker.” “One of the best in Pallad City,” Cherie chimed in, “not to toot my own horn, or anything. I used to be a member of Noblesse Oblige—y’know the hacktivist group? After I had a falling out with them, I was recruited by the PCPD.” Reena was surprised by how Madison didn’t seem quite so standoffish with Cherie, as opposed to everyone else. I guess she’s one of the few people on the force that Madison actually likes, Reena thought. “But you two didn’t come down here to chit-chat, so…” Cherie spun around, directing the officers’ attention to the severed tentacle they had recovered from the subway. The limb rested atop a table, some of its mechanical insides had been removed and were scattered about. Madison picked up a small cylindrical component from the table, squinting to make the foreign mechanism out. “Find anything?” “I removed some core modules and scanned them, along with the joint servos,” Cherie declared. “Let’s just say, this thing is more mechanically intricate than anything I’ve ever seen. Though I’d like to consider myself a bit of a brain when it comes to tech—full disclosure—examining something like this isn’t my forte, Mad. Crime scene analysis would probably be better suited for—” “Tried that,” Madison snapped. “CSI already has their hands full with other cases, besides,” she groaned, “they claim they’re not equipped to analyze monsters.” Cherie smirked. “Well, whoever put this ‘monster’ together sure didn’t want anyone to trace it back to them.” She pulled a miniature servo off the table, holding it up to the light. “Typically, all gears—no matter how small—have serial numbers or, at least, some identifying part number on them.” “Let me guess…” “You got it. All removed, making it near impossible to track where anything had been manufactured. But, we do have one lead...” Cherie reached for a jar containing a thick, white substance and handed it to Madison. “This liquid was found inside the tentacle. I ran a scan on it and it’s actually a type of lubrication fluid—well, more accurately, a rare form of synthetic blood.” “Eww.” Reena leaned over Madison’s shoulder to observe the jar’s contents, sticking her tongue out in disgust.
“According to my source on the Net,” Cherie continued, “this particular fluid is difficult to come by these days. It was most commonly used in early-generation androids, but it’s been obsolete for years.” As Cherie was talking, Madison opened the jar, unleashing a heinous odor that wafted into the air. “Yuck,” Reena gagged, “stinks like rotten eggs and nail polish remover!” A look of revulsion worked its way on Madison’s face. “Is it supposed to smell like this?” Grinning, Cherie took the jar from the officer and tightened the lid back on. “Funny enough, that horrid stench means it’s fresh!” “Fresh?” Madison blinked. “But you said this stuff—” “Was barely being manufactured anymore?” Cherie gave the jar a playful shake. “Bingo. And if the analysis is right, the fluid in here’s not more than two months old. Ready for the best part? I did a bit of digging. The only current manufacturer of white synthetic blood is Sanguin Industries. Sanguin mostly handles current gen products, but they still make very small quantities of this older stuff. And, wouldn’t you know it, their last order was exactly—,” Cherie paused for dramatic effect, “—two months ago.” Madison’s posture straightened. “Where’d they ship it to?” “Valcott University. It was ordered by their Department of Engineering Science, invoiced to Dr. Harlan Melchor and Dr. Tobias Rackham.” “I guess that means we’ll be paying them a visit, huh?” Reena suggested. “Not with both of them you won’t.” Cherie’s fingers glided over a nearby keyboard, prompting an image of a white haired man to flicker onto a display screen. The man appeared to be in his early sixties. “That’s Dr. Melchor—died in an accident last month. The media reported it as an explosion in his lab.” “And Rackham?” “Recently promoted as head of the Engineering Science Department—a title Melchor held previously.” “Nice work, Cherie.” Madison turned for the elevator.