Maniacs Of Con City

Maniacs Of Con City

A malfunctioning AI goes on a murderous rampage in the city of Brickton and turns the life of a young woman upside down. Can she reign in the artificial maniac, or will the AI force her to paint the town red with blood?

A young woman who survived the disaster that recently befell Con City and now lives in Brickton, the city of riots, discovers that an artificial intelligence resides on an implant in her head. As she tries to solve the mystery of when and how the AI was implanted in her brain, the local mayoral elections bring the inner animal out of Brickton's population, and a scientist sends heavily armed mercenaries to reclaim the malfunctioning AI amid the riots. The ensuing violence prompts the AI to react with the subtlety of a homicidal maniac. Bodies begin to pile high in the streets as the AI's unwilling host tries to take back her life from the digital psychopath. The only people she can rely on for help are the local train enthusiast vigilante who beats up fare-dodgers with a baseball bat, and the police officer who hasn't managed to arrest the baseball bat wielding maniac in seven years.

Maniacs Of Con City chronicles the last few days of the most violent mayoral election season in the history of Brickton in Con County, the most dangerous region in the Republic of North America. In the middle of the chaos that every mayoral election in Brickton traditionally turns into, a young woman must fight against all odds to reclaim her life from a mass murdering AI who, despite the carnage in its wake, may not even be the biggest maniac in town. Recommended for fans of the Con City series, readers who enjoy their crime fiction as absurd and filled with as much mayhem as possible, and anyone who really, really likes good old fashioned vigilante justice.

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Free Excerpts

Harry shook the thought from his head and checked his watch. Nine minutes to go. He closed his eyes and tried to recall the words of the shrink he'd seen for the first six weeks of his stay in town. He no longer remembered the woman's exact words, but they all went along the lines of silver linings and long term plans and whatnot. He barely started to scoff at the memory of the shrink's guidance when he heard the door to the second carriage slide open. He looked towards it and saw Eye Patch Sally emerge from beyond. Harry nodded to her, and she smiled, if only briefly.

`Evening, Sally,' he said, as he removed his ticket from his pocket.

`Good evening, Harry.' As usual, Sally spoke slowly in the dialect Harry had grown up hearing in Con City, but uncharacteristically deep for a woman. She gave a quick glance to the ticket, then moved on.

For a fleeting moment, Harry thought to ask how she was doing, but he knew from experience that Sally didn't like talking to anyone. He supposed losing an eye would do that to people, but Sally was more reclusive than anyone he knew. She struck him as the perpetually single person. The loner who chose to work at one of the least used train stations in the Republic of North America precisely to be left alone.

The thought made him feel grateful. He may have lost his home, his home city, and many of his neighbors, but he was alive and had both eyes. Then he started to feel guilty about what had made him feel better, and once again considered talking to Sally, see if he could cheer her up. But by then Sally was in the far end of the carriage, standing in front of the other passenger.

He was a young man with a thin beard. He wore tattered denim trousers and a white T-shirt beneath a camo vest. He had earbuds in both ears, connected to the phone in his pocket. Harry wondered if he should have boarded not just in the far end of the carriage, but the far end of the whole train.

`Tickets, please!' Sally said. The young man ignored her. She repeated the question and waved a hand in front of his eyes. The young man removed one of the earbuds, filling the carriage with sounds of pop music, and looked up at her.

`What?' he said.

`Tickets, please!' Sally repeated. The young man shrugged.

`Go away.'

`I need to see your ticket, sir.'

`Ain't got one. Leave me alone.'

Sally visibly stiffened. She waited a couple of moments, then spoke. `Sir, if you don't have a ticket, you must buy one immediately and pay the penalty fee.'

`Piss off, cyclops!' the young man yelled.

Sally took a step back. The color drained from her face.

`Sir, I must ask you to get off the service right now,' she said in a low voice.

`Can't you see that I don't want a ticket?' the young man said.

Sally stood still for a couple of seconds, then she turned and made her way to the nearest door. She got off the Midnight Express and started to walk towards the station building. Harry watched the poor soul vanish from view through the window and shook his head. It was lowlifes like this rude youngster that made Brickton such a bad place to live in.

Perhaps two minutes later, he heard the door to the next carriage open once more. He looked, and very nearly jumped to his feet. In the door stood a man. He wore a trench coat and a fedora. Beneath the hat, a balaclava covered his face and pilot goggles shrouded his eyes. In his right hand, he held a baseball bat. There were letters glued on the bat, cut out from newspapers and magazines. They spelled out the words, `Tickets, please!'

Harry couldn't believe his eyes. He'd heard the stories. He'd read the news. But he'd never actually believed any of it. Yet now, before his very eyes, stood the Guardian of Trains. No, that wasn't the name the papers had given the man. It was the other way around: `Train Guardian.'

Harry fumbled for his ticket when the Train Guardian started to walk down the aisle. He barely had it in his hand when the Train Guardian walked past him, giving him a barely perceptible nod, then proceeded towards the young man in the far end of the carriage. Harry dropped back into his seat and waited for his pulse to settle, while he watched the unfolding scene.

The Train Guardian stopped in front of the young man and raised the baseball bat in front of his face. The youngster glanced at the words on the bat, then smirked and looked up.

`I already told you,' he began, then stopped talking. His hands moved towards the phone in his pocket, but then the Train Guardian struck. The bat got the young man in the left wrist and prompted a loud wail. The Train Guardian moved the bat back up and then brought it down on the young man's right hand, then struck him in the jaw. Harry figured if there'd been any real momentum behind that third blow it would have killed the young man outright. As it was, all it did was send a couple of teeth flying, along with bloody spittle.

The Train Guardian kept going. He slammed the bat into the young man's ribs, twice, and then into his left knee, which produced a disgusting crunching sound. Harry wanted to look away and cover his ears, but found that he could do neither. He watched as the Train Guardian rained blow after blow down on the young man. Finally, the vigilante lowered the bat, and grabbed the unruly passenger by the shirt.

He pulled the young man out of the seat, visibly struggling with his weight, then started to drag him to the door. The Train Guardian opened the door and threw the young man down to the concrete floor of the platform. He adjusted the hat on his head, waited for the door to close, then turned back. He walked along the aisle and passed Harry, tipping his hat along the way, then went into the next carriage.

Detective Corino parked in front of Brickton Central and climbed out of the car. He gently shut the door and looked up at the old clock high above the entrance. The minute hand sat firmly at the three o'clock position, while the hour hand pointed just below four o'clock. Two pigeons rested on the minute hand and looked straight down at Corino. He waved to them with one hand. One of the birds cocked its head as Corino's fresh new partner emerged from the car.

`Accurate,' Hackett said, nodding at the clock.

`Yeah,' Corino said. `Twice a day.'

Hackett turned his head to Corino and raised his eyebrows. `How's that?'

Corino met the kid's gaze. `Seriously? You need me to explain it?'

Hackett pointed up at the clock. `It's seven hours late. Or five hours too fast. How is it accurate twice a day?'

`Tell you what, why don't we go talk to the Station Manager, and after we're done, you can see if the pigeons are still here?'

Without even waiting for Hackett, Corino walked up to the entrance.

`The pigeons?' Hackett said. `What about the pigeons?'

Corino pushed the door open and walked into the station concourse. On his way to the only open ticket office, he heard Hackett's rapid footsteps behind him.

`Hey, Corino, what about the pigeons?'

`Nothing,' Corino said, without turning around. When he reached the till, he showed his badge to the cashier.

`Good morning, Detective,' Tanya said before Corino had to say a word. `Miss Knowles will be with you shortly. Please have a seat in her office. It's open.'

`Much obliged,' Corino said, and turned around. He crossed the concourse with Hackett in tow. Out of habit, he knocked on the door that said, `Station Manager,' then opened it and let himself in.

The air in the office smelled faintly of strawberries. A newspaper rested atop the desk next to the fruit bowl which very much lacked strawberries. Corino took a seat in one of the three chairs by the wall. Thankfully, Hackett held his tongue about the pigeons and quietly sat down beside him. Much to Corino's displeasure, he only managed to stay in silent mode for about a minute or so.

`Has this place always been so lifeless?' Hackett asked.

`Pretty much,' Corino said. `Got worse when the nuke cut the county off from the national rail network. But to be honest, it's been bad since Greekhorse first got elected ages ago.'

`That's a shame. My uncle used to be a conductor. He'd cry if he saw this place.'

`He ain't alone with that, trust me.'

`Speaking of Greekhorse, I've been meaning to ask: who will you vote for?'

`My great-grandmother,' Corino said.

`Really? But isn't she...'

`Dead? Yeah. That's why she'd make a great Mayor.'

Hackett took several seconds to formulate a reply. Corino was glad that the kid was thinking before speaking, for once.

`I know it's none of my business who you vote for, but if you don't want to tell me, just say so.'

`Are you kidding me?' Corino said, no longer sure Hackett had really done any thinking. `Who am I supposed to vote for? Stanley Taxman? Or Jeremiah Roarke's great-grandson?'

`Well, I don't know. I mean, Mayor Greekhorse and the Chief are best pals, so...'

`Just wait until he gets reelected and invents a new tax to screw us out of our hazard pay,' Corino said.

`So you're saying you'll vote Roarke?'

`Hackett, have you passed any history exams? Do you know what Vincent Roarke's great-grandfather did during his reign as Mayor? Raised income tax to seventy percent. Seven-zero, not one-seven. Do you really think this apple fell far from the tree? Newsflash, genius: it didn't.'

`Okay, so you don't want to vote for either?'

`No, I don't want to vote for either.'

`But you know it's illegal to refuse to vote, right?'

`I know. I will attend, sign on the dotted line that I was there. But I'll be handing in an invalid vote.'

`Right. And how will you make it invalid?'

Corino considered that for a moment. There were certainly plenty of possibilities. He could tear the ballot paper in half, mark both candidates, that sort of thing. But he felt he needed to do something a little more drastic to get his point across.

`I'm going to draw a cock on the ballot paper,' he said.

Hackett burst out in laughter. `Wow, Corino! Really? Isn't that a little immature?'

`Immature, coming from you, is a compliment.'

`Hey, I didn't say I disapprove. But what if you get caught?'

`I'm gonna wear rubber gloves and use one of their own pens to do it, and I'll lean over the paper while I draw. And yes, I'll make sure to leave with the pen and throw it in the incinerator, along with the gloves.'

Hackett narrowed his eyes. `Have you done this before?'

`Unbutton your shirt,' Corino said.

`What?' Hackett shook his head like he'd just heard Corino speak Chinese. `Why?'

`Because, cretin, I want to know if you're wearing a wire before I may, or may not, admit to multiple felonies.'

`Right. So you do this all the time.'

`Maybe I do, maybe I don't. Now what about you? Voting for the douche, or the jackass?'

`Uh, which is which?' Hackett said.

`Take your pick.'

`Well, I don't know. Is Greekhorse the douche because he talks as fast as the water comes out of a shower head?'

`Hey, that's some actual wit there. I'm impressed.'

`Thanks. But that would imply Roarke's the jacka...'

The door opened and Hackett quickly shut his mouth. His face flushed while the Station Manager walked into the room and nodded to the both of them.

`Officers,' Marcia said.

`Good morning, Miss Knowles,' Corino said, and stood up. `Detective Corino from the Train Guardian Task Force. This is Detective Hackett.'

`How do you do, ma'am?' Hackett said. Belatedly, he stood up and reached for his badge.

`You're new,' Marcia said to Hackett, then turned to Corino. `What happened to your previous partner?'

`Suspended. Indefinitely.'

Marcia nodded. `Take a seat, gentlemen.' She closed the door and walked behind the desk, then sat down.

Corino picked up one of the chairs and took it closer to the desk. He sat down, removed the recorder from his pocket, switched it on, and placed it on the edge of the desk.

`Detectives Robert Corino and Sid Hackett, interviewing Station Manager Marcia Knowles in relation to Train Guardian activity,' he said while Hackett brought another chair for himself. `Miss Knowles, please tell us what happened last night.'

`Certainly. A fare-dodger tried to take the Midnight Express to Brickton West without a valid ticket. The Train Guardian kindly prevented this from happening.'

Marcia stopped talking. Corino waved her to go on.

`That's all,' she said.

`Is it?' Hackett said, in the harshest tone Corino had ever heard from the young stud. `There was nothing kindly about the way the Train Guardian prevented the victim from taking the train. The victim is still in the hospital with broken ribs, a broken jaw, and a concussion. If you have any further information to share about this violent crime, you need to share that with us right now!'

Marcia leaned forward, hooked her fingers together in front of her on the desk, and gave a polite smile to Hackett. `Detective, neither myself nor any members of staff witnessed the event. I'm afraid I can't help you any more than I already have.'

Corino opened his lips but Hackett beat him to the next question. `What about the security cameras? It is your duty to supply us with the footage of this incident!'

All Corino could do was stare at Hackett. He had not seen the sudden shift in demeanor coming. He'd only been burdened with his new partner for a week, and the kid had not been this aggressive when they were dealing with street thugs.

Marcia, meanwhile, remained calm and nodded in response. `Of course, Detective. However, as your partner is no doubt aware, Brickton Central does not have the budget to operate security cameras. If you want security camera footage, you'll have to make do with that recorded on the Midnight Express. Which is operated by Roarke Rail.'

Hackett responded with the swiftness of a viper yet again. `We've already obtained the footage from Vincent Roarke earlier this morning. There is a very convenient gap in the recording at the time of the assault. Clearly, the Train Guardian gained access to the footage and deleted it, or found a way to disable the cameras. That implies a technical expertise that a brute like the Train Guardian can't possibly possess. Since Roarke Rail operates its trains with self-driving engines, there was no conductor on board. If anyone accessed the footage for the Train Guardian, it was a member of staff right here at Brickton Central! You need to tell us, right now, which member, or members, of staff were on the train or even near the train immediately before, during, or after the assault!'

Even after that rant, which left Hackett's face lobster red, Marcia remained calm. `No, Detective. This was the Midnight Express. Roarke Rail handles the ticket checks at Brickton West. Which is good because we only have one staff member working evenings, and her shift ends before midnight.'

`Very convenient, Miss Knowles,' Hackett said a split second before Corino could take over the conversation. `We'd like to talk to that staff member. Likewise, you need to tell us where you were last night.'

`Dial it back, Hackett,' Corino said. `Miss Knowles is not a suspect, nor are any members of staff. Just take it easy.'

`Are you nuts?' Hackett said and he turned to Corino. `How else did the footage get wiped, if not because the staff here are in cahoots with the Train Guardian? And why would the last member of staff leave the station before the last train departs?'

`Just relax, okay? The Train Guardian is not an idiot. He's been at this for seven years by now. Never been caught, no one knows who he is. No reason to assume he doesn't know his way around trains, old or modern.'

`Never been caught, that's right. You know why, Corino? Because every cop's been too soft on these people,' Hackett said, and pointed at Marcia.

Corino picked up the recorder, turned it off, and pointed at the door. `Get out.'

Hackett recoiled. `What?'

`Go outside, get some fresh air, maybe go ask the pigeons if they saw anything. Most of all, calm the fuck down.'

`I am calm, Corino. You're the one swearing. And we're far from finished here.'

Roarke Nanotech stood on the western edge of Brickton. Vincent Roarke's shiny new nanotechnology facility was a huge steel and glass building with five floors above ground and another five below it. The supercomputer was down on Basement Level 5, but the army of interns who used it for data processing were above ground on the second floor, spread across three huge open plan offices. At quarter to nine in the evening only two people remained on the number crunching floor. One of them was a young intern named Danny, while the other was the woman who normally worked on the top floor, in the Director's office.

Earlier in the evening, Doctor Layla Roth found herself spending a lot more time than she liked on debugging the data processing program Danny had emailed her in the morning. When she finally found the source of the errors in the program, the head of Roarke Nanotech decided to invest time in explaining to Danny all the things he had done wrong, so he could avoid them in the future. Vincent Roarke, if he knew anything about programming, would have fired Danny for even half of the mistakes in the code. Layla did not share her boss's views on problem solving. She firmly believed in giving people a second chance.

`There, you see?' she said, pointing at one of the longest lines of code on the screen. `You're using a dynamically allocated array that you never defined and never set to zero before adding values to it. Which means, the initial value in this array is completely random. You run the code like this, it's like adding random noise to your data.'

`Oh, so that's why I get a lower signal to noise ratio than we expected?' Danny said.

`Exactly. Now, how do you fix this error?'

`I declare the variable and set it to zero at the start of the code.'

`Correct. You also turn off implicit variable declaration. That will force you to manually declare everything, and then you'll avoid these mistakes.'

Danny made a face that looked like he'd just bitten into a lemon. `That'll make the code very long.'

`Yes, but that's how you write good code. Code that is clear and can be debugged with ease. Which brings me back to what I said earlier. Make sure to structure your code. Visually. With indentation for loops and if constructs. Don't worry about file size. Just make the code clear so next time it won't take us a whole day to find out why it says that your samples contain ten times as many impurities as they should.'

`Okay. I'll do it like you said.'

`Good. Well, that was the last bug I found. Rewrite the code. When it's done, show it to me. We'll test it and if it works, you can go back to measuring the samples.'

`Yes, of course. Thank you, Doctor Roth.'

Layla stood up and stretched her legs. `I'm heading home now. You should do the same. Get some sleep, and rewrite the code with a fresh brain.'

`Sure. Just, before you go... can I ask you something... well... something weird?'

`If it's quick.'

`Well, Ben and I have this bet that we'd like you to settle.'

`A bet?' For a moment Layla felt like being back in high school. She couldn't help but smile. `Humor me.'

`Yeah. Well, it was Ben's idea, really. Your father is Stuart Roth, isn't he? The scientist who works as an adviser at the City Hall?'

Layla crossed her arms on her chest. She no longer felt like smiling. `I make no secret of it. Mister Roarke knows.'

`Yes, of course, but that's not what the bet is about. So, Ben thinks, that you took the job here because there's some quarrel between you and your father and that you came here to spite him. But I don't think so. I don't think someone as brilliant as you would be so shallow. So, uh...'

Layla's phone rang. She took it in hand. She instantly forgot about the childish bet when she saw that it was the Lieutenant.

`I'm sorry, I have to get this.' She raised the phone to her ear. `Go ahead.'

`Are you alone, Doctor Roth?' The Lieutenant said. His voice sounded even more raspy over the phone. Two years, and Layla still wasn't used to it.

`No,' she said. `I was about to go home.'

`Come downstairs. It's happening.' The line disconnected.

Layla lowered the phone and stared at the blank screen for several seconds. She put the phone away.

`Doctor Roth? Are you okay?' Danny said. `You look a little pale.'

`It's nothing,' Layla said. `I'm just tired.'

`So, about that bet...'

`Tell Ben he lost,' Layla said. She had no time or inclination to provide details. `I have to go. I'll see you tomorrow.'

She turned and headed out of the office. Danny said something behind her but she couldn't pay any attention to it. As soon as she was outside the office she ran for the elevator. She summoned it from the ground floor, got in, and pressed her keycard to the sensor. Then she pressed the button for Basement Level 3.

On her way down to the depths she replayed the Lieutenant's words in her mind. `It's happening,' he had said. No further details. Just that the horrors Layla had feared for two years had, supposedly, begun. She shuddered to think of all the possibilities she might have to face, each more terrifying than the next.

The elevator door opened and she stepped out into the lobby. The sight of the white solid walls immediately made her feel like a mouse trapped in a maze, and the sign on the single glass door ahead of her which said,`authorized personnel only,' made her think she was an intruder in her own lab. Layla hadn't had this reaction to the architecture of the underground levels since the first day she came down here. She quickly swiped her keycard at the door and pushed it in. Beyond, the labs were separated by glass walls, just like in the upper levels. The Clean Room before her was completely deserted, as it should be this time of night during election season. Layla turned away from the empty lab and made her way to the Security Office. This room had solid walls but the door was glass, and she immediately saw four figures beyond it.

Stevens and Kruger sat by computer terminals connected to large monitors. The Corporal sat further away with his hands clasped together in his lap and his eyes closed, yet Layla knew from experience that the man was very much awake and paying attention. The Lieutenant stood behind Kruger and Stevens, arms folded, eyeing the screens. They all wore the uniforms of the lab security crew, the Lieutenant's jacket sporting the words `Chief of Security' on the back. Layla had never believed the cover jobs would work, but thus far the Lieutenant's approach had panned out fine.

Layla opened the door and stepped inside. The Lieutenant gave her a glance and nodded, then gave all his attention back to the displays.

`What's going on?' Layla asked.

The Lieutenant nodded at the monitors. `See for yourself.'

The screen in front of Stevens showed the map of Brickton, where a tiny red dot blinked roughly where Brickton Central should be.

`The train station?' Layla asked.

`Yes. Worst place in town for remote surveillance.'


`No street cameras nearby,' Kruger said. `All we can do is watch feeds from nearby streets. Nothing so far.'

Layla had a look at his monitor. There was a row of small images of live video feed at the top. Kruger cycled between them, putting a new one on the screen every couple of seconds.

`What about the station itself?' Layla asked.

`Whatever cameras they might have are not on the network,' Kruger said.

`And that's her?' Layla pointed at the red blinking dot on the map. `Are we sure?'

`It's the signal you expected the target to broadcast,' the Lieutenant said. `Picked it up about five minutes ago.'

The receiver was next to the keyboard in front of Stevens, connected to the computer. Stevens was monitoring the signal from the device Layla had built over a year ago out of an old analogue radio. The software converted the signal to a waveform and displayed it on the screen in red, the reference waveform overlapping it in green. The shapes matched quite closely.

Layla shivered. This was the first time they'd detected the signal anywhere in Con County in the past two years. And it was right on her doorstep.

`Do we know which train she was on?'

`No,' the Lieutenant said. `But the signal flared up at the station, not along the tracks.'

`So she might have been there for some time already? Then why did she start broadcasting now?'

`Ma'am,' Stevens said. `The signal just went dead.'

Layla stared at the map. Indeed, the glowing red dot was no longer there. The red waveform on Stevens's monitor had turned into a nearly flat line with a low amplitude noise superimposed on top of it. Stevens adjusted the amplification in the program but the end result was just magnified noise. He tried the frequency tuning knob on the receiver itself, but the red waveform remained void of structure. `It's gone,' he said.

`Could it have been a fluke?' Kruger considered. `Some amateur radio enthusiast broadcasting some BS on this frequency by chance?'

`Unlikely,' Layla said. `It's not just the frequency, it's also the content of the broadcast. It's a code. The receiver won't confirm that it's her unless that code is in the broadcast. Can't be replicated by a pirate station.'

`We need to deploy and scour the area,' the Lieutenant said.

Layla shuddered. This was what she had been waiting for. Two years, it's been, since she, the Lieutenant, and the Corporal had set themselves on this path. She always hoped this day would never come, but also knew that her hopes were most likely in vain. They had to act, and quickly.