In 2015, scientists in Tokyo researching alternate energy technologies discovered an astounding phenomenon, later called the “Jedlina-Kuriyama effect.” This phenomenon radically transformed matter, both inorganic and organic, permitting human habitation with greatly increased density and decreased food and energy consumption. Application of the J-K effect (or “jaking”) was at first restricted to prisoners to relieve overcrowding. Later, it was made a mandatory condition of receiving government assistance. Because reversing the J-K effect was astronomically expensive, being jaked was in effect a life sentence. Eventually, the jaked population was restricted to underground warrens “for their own protection.” As climate change began to displace millions, most refugees were jaked and resettled in the warrens.
By 2035, warren society had become dramatically segregated from “Big Sky Country,” where people were still free to walk in the open air. While still connected by telecommunications and limited commerce, the warrens were cities within cities, with their own governments, cultures, and economies. Living outside the warrens became a privilege, and being jaked was just a DUI or a bad credit report away.
Detective Marco Guzman was unconcerned. Captain Lockeridge’s text was unremarkable. Missing person. Benjamin Payne, 32. Public Health physician. Entered the warrens five years ago after catching the Hawaiian Boatlift. Got married just before med school, divorced before (during?) the Boatlift. Once in the warrens, immediately signed onto PH and did his time in Immigration. Now he had a steady gig on Lakeshore Drive. Guys like Payne didn’t vanish without acting out in a very obvious way. Guzman fully expected to learn of some vengeful lover or loan shark before the end of the day.
Marco’s first stop was Payne’s office to interview his co-workers, including S. Duvalier, the woman who reported him missing. After showing his badge to Duvalier, Marco wanted to see Payne’s office. He didn’t bother with Payne’s terminal, as it had been locked out since was Payne was reported missing, and Toby Cowan, a tech consultant for the precinct, had already backed it up. None of Payne’s co-workers had noticed anything resembling the outburst Marco had expected, although they all admired his dedication to the vaccination program. About six months ago, Payne started visiting the Embarcadero, providing free TB and HIV vaccinations to the throngs of unemployed and shiftless that collected down there. Last month, these visits increased to twice or three times a week. Nothing jumped out at Marco during his inspection of Payne’s office, but he imaged it and boxed up the hard copy files before he left.
Payne’s residence had less and more to say. It didn’t appear that he had packed for a trip, and perishable goods were in evidence. Payne’s home terminal wasn’t unexpectedly sophisticated. In a bathroom drawer Marco found a dozen empty bottles of the latest generation of opioid, all prescribed by Payne to a “Jerry Fontana.”
Marco went into his office and called up the virtual versions of Payne’s work and home terminals. The first thing he checked was the file on Jerry Fontana. As he suspected, Fontana was a shell; no photo, and the address was in a block Marco knew to have been undergoing decontamination for months. Marco’s phone chirped with Cowan’s tone.
“Got it,” answered Marco, “thanks.”
“Looks like someone tried to delete a bunch of messages a day after Payne allegedly disappeared.”
“According to this dumb system with no biometrics, it was Payne.”
“Or someone with his password.”
“Lemme see ‘em.”
They went back about six months. No text or vid; just attached files. The files were all medical histories. They each recorded a single encounter with Payne when he performed a basic physical and took several blood samples. The lab reports were included (Payne apparently did the blood work himself). No genetic workup at all. Curiously, Payne also did full-body 3D imaging of each patient. Unclothed.
Twenty patients, thirteen female, seven male. No detected pathogens or biochemical imbalances. All residing in the Embarcadero.
“Who’s the recipient?” asked Marco.
“You’re gonna love this,” snorked Cowan. “Hamilton Chadwell, Sausalito.”
“Ayup. Up top. Your boy was sending confidential medical records to someone in Big Sky.”