11 January 2013

"CSI: Computer Science Investigation"

By Curtis C. Chen

The file hit Julie's desk with a clatter. It was an encrypted white ceramic slate, not one of the normal local-jurisdiction jackets printed on translucent floppy plastic. Julie knew it was FBI without even seeing the logo.

Julie did not want to deal with a federal case.

"Come on, Lieutenant," she said to Mitchell, the beanpole who supervised the day shift. "I haven't even finished my morning coffee. And look at my backlog." Julie pointed to the pile of plastic on her desk, each display board flashing a rotating animation of case number, suspect photo, and report abstract.

Mitchell nodded. "What are you working on now?"

Shit. Julie locked her phone to hide the display and shrugged. "Just some more legwork on that NFC fraud thing. Lots of victims to interview, you know the drill."

"That's retail." Mitchell tapped the FBI slate. "This is federal. Go."

Julie picked up the slate, then paused with her thumb over the touchpad. "Wait. I'm going somewhere?"

"It's a house call."

Julie stifled a groan.


"Okay, now watch this next part."

Julie unpaused the video. Behind her, Marco scratched his beard.

"I thought this was an urgent dispatch," he said. "Why are you still here?"

"Shut up and watch."

On the screen, the traffic-bot recording abruptly changed from the side of the white minivan to flat blue sky. A blurry face moved into frame for a split second, and then the image vibrated briefly before cutting out completely.

An error dialog popped up with a soft bing: PREMATURE END OF FILE.

"So he killed a traffic-bot," Marco said. "Big deal. We used to go through a dozen of those every Saturday night back in Santa Cruz."

"That's not the problem," Julie said. "Did you see how fast the guy did it?"

Marco narrowed his eyes. "Okay, yeah, that was pretty quick. You're saying he's taken apart cop bots before?"

"What if he was speeding on purpose?" Julie asked. "What if he's part of a robot chop shop, stripping them for parts? I could be walking right into an ambush."

"You just don't want to go outside," Marco said.

"Can you blame me?"

"Those bots are made with the cheapest hardware in the world." Marco waved a hand dismissively. "It would take, like, a hundred of them for anyone to have enough components to build anything useful. There's no storage; there's not even a battery pack. They get wireless power beamed down from aerial drones. Trust me, nobody is hiding out along I-5 harvesting our bots."

Julie folded her arms. "Maybe they're just waiting to hit human police when we follow up. What about that?"

Marco took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Is this your roundabout way of asking me to come with you on the call?"

"No," Julie lied. "I just want you to make a note of the time, so you can tell the homicide detectives exactly when you last saw me."

"Oh, Jesus Christ." Marco stood up and grabbed his jacket. "You're driving. My tunes. Let's go."


Image: coding is not a crime! by mike_tseng, July, 2007