I was never a very religious person growing up, and neither was the rest of my family. My parents took us to services on Christmas and Easter but other than that, the concept of an all-powerful God domineering over our universe was a foreign concept to me. I don’t like to insult institutions like these that so many billions of people flock to, but… yeah, I think it’s stupid.
The most times I’ve been to a church in my life has probably been now, since meeting R8PR and having to come over here to talk to him.
This is his third hideout, but his longest-lasting one by far. I remember the month or so when I would find him in a cave out in the subway tunnels, and I can’t tell you the number of times bystanders thought I was trying to jump in front of the next train when I was really just trying to sneak onto the tracks and make my way towards my robot ally.
Of course, that time had its benefits; I much preferred the ten minute walk to the current a one-hour bus ride and walk over here.
That’s the price you have to pay for safety, though.
I’m sitting on a pew, thumbing through an old mildewed hymn book printed fifty years ago. There’s hundreds of songs in here, every single one of them praising Jesus in some way or another, and each of them concisely fitting on either one or two notated pages. That’s called the mark of a good editor, there.
R8PR goes through his daily internet stroll and chuckles to himself, his synthesizer humming in and out as he does.
Is he chuckling because I’m nearby, or does he just do that?
I have to wonder if, even as a robot doing hundreds of trillions of calculations per second in his computer chip brain, he still feels the need to mutter to himself, to laugh when nobody’s around, to groan when frustrated. All those kinds of things you start doing when you start living by yourself. He doesn’t have to deal with the struggle of being hungry but too lazy to cook, but he also misses out on the comfort of being able to take off your pants as soon as you get inside.
I guess robots never wear pants.
What a life that would be.
“Morgan, I know you’re currently thinking about something incredibly pointless right now,” R8PR says. “But I want to say, thank you so much for all the information you dug into. You’re a private investigator yet!”
Ugh. Don’t call me that. I never want to be called anything adjacent to a private investigator.
I ought to pack it up and leave Atlanta at this very moment so I can never be thought of as a private investigator by anyone else in my life ever again.
I ought to intentionally sabotage the rest of this mission and ruin everything so that I will never be seen as anyone to trust with investigating anything at all.
“I helped too,” Karina says. She’s dressed in a light gray top and a miniskirt, showing herself off like we’re about to go for a day at the park rather than sleuthing the identity of a serial killer hacker. I don’t know when she found time to get dressed up all nice when we came out here so early in the morning.
“Yeah, you did help. Your snoring kept me awake so I could keep looking at the data,” I tell her.
“Well, I gotta tell you, that e-mail you sent me Morgan was pretty inspiring,” R8PR tells us. “I ventured out last night and found a location with high-speed internet so I could test out your theory with some hard-fact evidence. It took some searching but once I found a place I nestled up and started digging in.” That sounds like a pretty interesting story I’ll never hear another peep about.
“What did you find?”
He continues. “While I admire your grit, I can’t find any proof of any of it, and so I can’t really endorse following the rabbit trail downwards until something else breaks. Them’s the, uh, breaks.”
“I don’t know, when Morgan explained it to me it seemed pretty clear,” Karina says. “The Social Media Killer does seem like an overdramatic high schooler when you really think about it.”
“I can’t go off what things seem like,” he says. “It’s not solid ground and it makes me uneasy.”
“Well, maybe you could humor us?” she asks.
R8PR laughs. Not quite what she meant by humoring us, but okay. “About that…”
“Okay, so I thought you would think this was funny if I went against my own philosophies, but if I went along with all the assumptions that it was a upper or upper-middle-class teenager most likely in Cobb County who has little social media presence… I actually got it narrowed down to about 1500 possible suspects.”
“That’s… not a small number,” I say.
“In a city of tens of millions it is,” he says. “Karina herself would have been on the list if she didn’t use Netnect constantly.”
Karina looks up from her portable PC, where she is currently uploading a photo of herself. “Hey! I’m not rich.”
“So out of those fifteen hundred…?”
“I found one that particularly interested me,” he says.
“See, I told you!”
“I’m not saying that I am even ten percent certain of any of this.” He looks pretty confident about it though. “Here is the girl in question.”
Ha, that piece of shit thug was wrong all along! I’m jumping to conclusions for the sake of gender equality, but still.
R8PR projects a web screen out of his eyes onto the wall.
She’s a typical brown-hair pale-skinned white girl, smiling but not too much, her head tilted just a few degrees to the side while she flashes a peace sign to the camera.
“That’s… the Social Media Killer?” I scoff.
“Hey now, just wait!” R8PR grumbles. “I just said I have no real evidence to suggest she is the one. I just said she was interesting.”
“And how is that?”
“Well, she’s an upper-middle-class high schooler who goes to Middlebridge High School, fifteen years old. And because one week before the Social Media Killer burst on the scene, it appears that her Netnect account had been deleted And if she is the one, then that was her fatal mistake.”
He stands up from his chair and puts one arm behind his back as he flips to a new photo of Kylia with another girl. “See, this is another Middlebridge freshman, Lisa Contreras. She has not been ‘killed’ and her account is still active and healthy. But because all her posts are public, we can see from a little browsing that, even though Kylia’s account is deleted, all the comment threads she was in, all the times Lisa tagged her, everything Lisa has made public, can still be seen.”
See, this is what R8PR is good for. There’s no way I could analyze the data en masse to figure out something like that. How would I know what accounts WEREN’T there? He’s annoying sometimes, but he’s good.
There’s a photo of this Lisa girl together with Kylia Burrow, making a pose in front of a mirror. Short, dimples, wavy brown hair in pigtails, wearing a frilly dress and holding up the peace sign. This Kylia girl’s pretty cute. In an innocent way, I mean. She just looks like one of those girls you want to protect and hold up a shield for as you fend off a three-tailed hellbeast. Certainly not a notorious hacker set on defaming half the population of Atlanta.
Her eyes are a chestnut-colored brown, almost the same as mine. The more I stare at them, the more uneasy I feel. Maybe I do see the anger within, maybe I just find it weird how close our eyes seem to be. But it makes me look away towards something else while R8PR continues.
“This isn’t just the case for Lisa; all of Kylia’s old friends, all of whom attend Middlebridge High School and none of whom have been ‘killed’, have active Netnect accounts and have traces of posts from Kylia’s former account.”
“And so you can find out if she’s connected to all the people that she’s hacked, too,” I say.
“That would be very hard work for most detectives, but it’s nothing for a curious robot. I looked over a few thousand public photographs and found one that does just that.”
The only thing hampering R8PR from conquering the world is bad wireless modem speeds. Atlanta isn’t ready for someone like him.
The wall projection is now showing a new photo– a group photograph of a lot of girls together at some party or another, about twenty of them. It looks a bit old because Kylia over in the top left corner looks a lot younger, but I don’t see anything suspicious.
“Uh, what is it?” I ask.
“Oh, sorry, I forgot you don’t have facial recognition software.” He waves his hands around and one of the girls’ faces is highlighted. “This is Courtney Trudeau, one of the earliest Social Media Killer victims. It looks like the girls travelled in the same circles.”
“You don’t think…”
“I don’t think. You’re the one who travels in intuition,” R8PR says. “What do you think?”
“I think… this girl doesn’t SEEM like it at all. How could someone like her hack prominent bankers and politicians and all that?”
“Well, her father was a member of the Cobb County School Board at one time,” he says. “He’s now an accountant at Dreamtech, that company your boss was telling you about.”
Again with the Dreamtech stuff… why does it keep coming back? Surely a shitty gimmick consumer electronic isn’t tied to the rest of this.
“But beyond that,” he continues. “There just aren’t really any connections. She doesn’t seem to have any solid, glaring motives for any of this that I can find. If Karina were the one, it’d make sense because her father is a noted roboticist, and if Morgan were the one, it’d make sense you’re friends with Karina and the loyal underling of a beautiful robot like me.”
I’m going to try really hard to ignore everything he just said.
“How come all this is going on only on Netnect?” Karina asks. “I like Jelly but I’ve never heard of any Social Media Killer attacks on there.”
Jelly? That’s the name of a real website? That sounds absolutely ridiculous.
“No, nothing on Jelly shows any evidence of a Social Media Killer attack. My searches on Young Teen and Bird-Up haven’t turned anything up either. There was one hack on Young Teen but it may have been a copycat from what I can tell.” Honestly, I haven’t even heard of any of these sites before. Bird-Up? What the hell names are these that these companies make up?
Why is the internet so pervasively strange? The entire concept baffles me; we willingly create permanent records of ourselves for corporations, police, and our descendants to mine, but then we go around acting like it’s one massive private club that will fade away as soon as we’ve forgotten about it. Getting kids hooked at a young age with sites like friggin’ Jelly is how we’re going to convert the entire world to being slaves to their pasts in the form of dumb internet comments.
R8PR continues. “Everything I’ve seen of Kylia Burrow online is just mundane. No political posts she ever commented on, and no racy photos I could find. Very plain personality, a little friendly. If she has a double life, then this account would clearly just be a cover, especially when she deleted it herself.”
The image the movies always give of hackers is a bunch of sweaty neurotic guys in dark rooms illuminated by three monitors. Talking online with a bunch of other hackers in their own dark rooms, probably cracking open a bunch of sugary sodas together over text when one of their group commits a big hacking heist.
Doesn’t seem like she’d be the type.
At least the image I get from all these, uh, images, is that she’s a well-adjusted teenage girl with friends.
“Are you sure it’s not someone else in her family?” I ask. “I mean, the accountant father isn’t the least likely option…” Except for the fact that the Social Media Killer is almost certainly a young person activist type.
“Ah, ever the perceptive one, Morgan,” R8PR says. “None of the rest of her family have any experience in computers either, as far as my research has shown.”
“The Burrow family isn’t very big. Both of Kylia’s parents were only children, and three of her grandparents have passed away. Humans don’t seem typically close with their second cousins or beyond, so I didn’t bother looking into that.”
I think I have five cousins, but I could only tell you the names of two or three. Second cousins? No way. I don’t even know any of my great aunts or great uncles. A lot of them died in the war as far as I’ve heard. One even died in Vietnam.
R8PR pulls up a photo of Kylia and her father, a skinny curly-haired man with thick glasses and a long nose. Looks kind of young. He has a sweater-vest on in typical dad fashion, while his daughter wears a white spring dress. “So Kylia’s dad’s an accountant, Arnold Burrow. No social networking accounts, though. She apparently has an older sister Jones who’s taking her A-level classes now, specializing in physics; she also plays on the basketball team and is a member of the Middleridge debate team, so she’s a real busybody. But she seems like she takes after her father because she posts on her Jelly account maybe once every two months.”
“Oh, what’s her account name?” Karina asks. She pops open her portable PC and connects to the wireless modem.
I’m the odd one out as the luddite with no technology, apparently.
“That’s pretty embarrassing,” Karina laughs. “My first email address was firstname.lastname@example.org though so I guess I don’t have room to talk… Oh, she’s really cute. Morgan, she’s just your type.” I take a few steps closer to look at her screen and see what she’s talking about, but it’s just a picture of the cartoon main character of Chameleon Twist.
Hey now. Don’t be rude.
I… I don’t have a type, anyway. I don’t even know what that means.
“So they’re a bunch of everyday upper-middle-class Atlanteans, is what this sounds like,” I say. “That fits well into my… hunch, but it doesn’t seem right. Kylia especially.”
“Almost.” R8PR winks and wags his finger at me. “And this is where I drop one last tidbit about the family that you may find interesting…”
Karina gasps. “Kylia’s MOM is the Social Media Killer?”
“Probably not,” he says. “Close, though. The Burrow household isn’t completely normal– the mother is Julia Zein-Burrow, a child actress who’s famous for being the main character in the 1988 kid’s show Stuffed-Doll Moll. Remember her? Today she does voice acting for various animated series, but their family mainly lives off the royalties from reruns of her old work. She has an official account on Netnect but it appears to be maintained by a manager.”
“I used to watch Stuffed-Doll Moll when I was really little,” I say. “She was the little girl?”
“Well, it’s either that or she was the stuffed doll.”
“Oh right, thanks for clearing that up.”
“So you have three seemingly normal people and one minor has-been celebrity,” R8PR says. “But of course we know that there is a high likelihood that the Social Media Killer originated from this household, so clearly something is amiss. It may be that it’s all a group effort between the four of them. I would doubt it, though. No proof either way, but Kylia seems like a solo revenge-seeker to me.”
For a robot who likes facts over conjecture, he sure likes pulling guesses out of nowhere just as much as the rest of us.
“And you want us to stop this teenage girl who’s out to destroy the world… how? Knocking on her door and asking her to stop?”
“Well, the sensible option is to call the police and give them the information,” R8PR says. “Right?”
“But there’s a hell of a chance this teenage girl is in serious danger and the police aren’t always the guys to go to in a situation like this. You don’t know who’s paid off by who.”
Honestly… “I can’t say I care what happens to her,” I admit. “She’s the one messing up her own life, if she’s the one doing it. Whatever she gets, it’s not my fault. But… I don’t like the idea of calling the police without being sure myself.”
“And of course, you won’t REALLY know why you were thrown into the whole ordeal if it all wraps up nicely like the people in power desperately want.”
“I had considered that as well,” I say.
Don’t say it, I know.
“I have a plan!” Karina shouts. “We go to the Burrow house, posing as reporters trying to interview her for a magazine or something. And then we try and see what we can find out about Kylia.”
“Nuh-uh. I’ve already posed as a naive political volunteer this week, I don’t want to–”
“Good idea. Correction, great idea,” R8PR says. “We know who’s the bright one of the bunch.”
“Stop being creepy, R8PR,” I say. Karina seems to be taking it in stride, though.
“Problem is, Karina,” he tells her. “I got that idea last night and already sent the interview request. And to be safe, only Morgan is going.”
Karina and I both let out loud groans.
“Wait, why just me?”
“You’re better at not dying than most people,” he says. “If the worst comes, I’d like you to be able to escape harm instead of having to worry about saving our young heroine here.”
I understand what he means. I’d never let Karina be hurt if I could help it, and if the entire family turns out to be psycho-killers or something, it would probably end up with me sacrificing myself. That makes things a hundred percent more pointless than it would be before.
“I doubt I’ll be as good at faking being a reporter as you seem to assume,” I say. “But if this is going to help me beat up the guys who attacked me, I’m all for it.”
“Good, because the interview is tomorrow evening at six.”
“How the hell did you manage to snag an interview so quickly?”
“She’s a C-list celebrity and we’re a mildly famous women’s magazine who need a last-minute interview for our next issue. It’s a good combination.”
I hate it when R8PR does this. But I’m indebted to him for his help, even right up to now, so as long as he keeps having fairly good judgment in situations like these, I’m going to trust his decisions. At least this one last time.
I am a loyal underling after all.
A very dashing, attractive one.
And one who really wants to finish this stupid Social Media Killer mess so I can get out of this godforsaken city and have some peace and quiet for once.
“Thanks for doing this,” R8PR says. “I really appreciate your help in everything, Morgan. I’d never be able to keep Atlanta safe without you.”
He winks at me.
I blush. Does he… know?
Yeah, probably. Karina might be the only one who DOESN’T know.
I’ll keep helping out while I can. Which is why I’m going right into the belly of the beast: an upper-middle class suburban home.
I hope I’m ready to do a fake interview.