Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 5

In which Jones commits his second minor crime of the day

“Does Amelia still work here?” Agent Moss asked, stretching out her feet. “Your front door was wide open.”

"I've never met a woman named Amelia in my life," said Jones.

“She’s terrible at her job,” said Hal. “I called ahead and she sent me straight to voicemail. Six times.”

“I don’t know that woman, but she sounds great at her job,” said Jones. He tried to close the door to his office but it was too damaged by the battering ram. Giving up, he walked over to his desk, using it as a barrier between him and the Federal agents.

“How can I help you?” he asked, drawing the fern closer.

“We need you to take on a case,” said Hal.

“I don’t take cases for the Federal government,” replied Jones. “It is against my values.”

“You don’t have a choice,” said Agent Moss. “Because of this Next Economy business, the American West is under a Secret State of Emergency. As a result, we have the authority to impress you for any detective work we need.”

“Database detective work?” asked Jones, hopes flaring.

“Doubtful,” replied Agent Moss. “I imagine it will be a hodgepodge.”

Jones sat down. Agent Moss got up and walked over to the bookcase along the wall, wrinkling her nose as she read the titles.

“You may be familiar with Mad Crab,” she went on. “The Federal government classifies them as a criminally cyborg organization. They started as a transhumanist separatist group in Tucson, Arizona. Now, they’ve expanded their territory across the Southwest. My agency has watched them for some time. Our primary challenge is that being a cyborg, in itself, is not illegal. We haven’t anything to pin them on - until now.

“According to the latest signals intelligence, Mad Crab has stolen a military grade quantum supercomputer and secluded it in or around the deserts of Virtual Vegas. We believe they have done this at the behest of Melinda, your alleged ex-wife." Jones blanched. Agent Moss went on.

"We need you to go to Vegas and use your special relationship with Melinda to convince Mad Crab to return the military-grade quantum supercomputer. If they return it undamaged, we’ll pretend the whole thing never happened."

“We don’t know for sure that it did,” interjected Hal, “It’s possible that Mad Crab didn’t steal the computer at all.”

Agent Moss froze. “For the last time,” she snapped, “that is not how quantum mechanics works! The computer is missing. We have six different videos of cyborgs with Mad Crab tattoos sneaking on to the army base. We have four videos of them loading the device into a their truck!”

“I am a database detective,” Jones explained. “I would love to take your case, but you have not said anything about databases. Mad Crab is an intimidating organization, and Melinda is an intimidating woman. I'd rather not get involved.”

“This is a matter of urgent national security,” said Agent Moss. “Military-grade quantum super computation, in the hands an army of cyborg cretins, is a dangerous weapon. There's no telling what they will do with it.”

“We could speculate," acknowledged Jones. "Unfortunately, I have a large backlog of database-related cases. I can’t add another now. Even if I could, given my area of expertise, a non-database focused mystery would be the lowest priority.”

“We’ll arrange transportation to Virtual Vegas,” said Agent Moss. “You’ll get a daily stipend for snacks. If you don’t take this case, we will arrest you immediately.” 

“I'm under-qualified,” insisted Jones. “Why me?”

“Melinda is at the center of this. You, and only you, can track her down. Not because of your marriage, but -“ Agent Moss glanced at Hal, and sighed. “Because she’s become a machine.”

Jones felt a cold flush creeping up the back of his neck. He sank to his knees.

“We've been watching Melinda for some time,” said Agent Moss. “We were hoping for an excuse to pick her up before she went beyond human. Unfortunately, we lost track of her completely after she went into the machine.”

“Ex-wife,” said Information Jones, trying to hold himself off the floor.

“According to our records, you're still married in the eyes of the law,” said Agent Moss. “This would be extremely convenient for you with respect to her assets.”

“Seventy percent to you, twenty-five percent to the state, five percent to the World Bank,” interrupted Hal. “You can imagine the levels of fraud.”

“The standard of proof on whether someone is a machine isn’t high enough,” admitted Agent Moss.

“My wife?” Jones mumbled. “She’s a machine?”

“Yes,” confirmed Agent Moss. “A super-intelligent machine.”

“You believe she stole your computer.”

“Correct,” continued Agent Moss. “A few days ago, we got a message that Melinda -" she stopped, and corrected herself. "BeyondMelinda, actually, was planning a big operation outside of Virtual Vegas.”

“Then this military grade quantum supercomputer went missing,” said Hal. “If it even existed in the first place. The Army was working on it at a lab near Death Valley.”

Agent Moss dragged a chair next to Jones. “The computer definitely existed, and still exists, and Mad Crab definitely stole it.”

Jones hauled himself into the chair, reeling. Agent Moss helped him tuck his head between his knees.

“Some of the BeyondMelinda's Mad Crab associates showed up in Virtual Vegas security footage,” said Agent Moss. “We’ve got intel that BeyondMelinda herself might be out somewhere in Death Valley. Or in Chinatown. Or one of the state parks.”

“Maybe all those places,” speculated Hal.

Agent Moss sighed. “Yes, probably all.”

“Melinda is distributed?” asked Jones.

“It makes this case both easier and harder.” said Agent Moss.

“Only harder,” said Hal.

“Very difficult,” agreed Agent Moss. “Which, Jones, is where you come in. BeyondMelinda’s motives are impossible to understand. You’re the only one who ever knew her well - you’re the only one who can track her down now.”

Jones raised his head with effort, avoiding eye contact with the Federal agents. “What did you say was my alternative?” he asked.

“Immediate arrest,” replied Agent Moss.

Jones closed his eyes. He tried to imagine himself in a greenhouse, surrounded by palms and bougainvillea. “I’ll do it." he said, "On one condition. Someone has to take care of my fern.”

“Perfect,” said Agent Moss. “Hal will be here in the morning for training.”