PG Davis describes himself as 'a technophile' who loves gadgets and still get a kick out of asking Siri to switch on the lights in his house. AI has a fascination. He thought it would be interesting to place an AI at the scene of a crime and see how things panned out. "I am, after all, an author who prefers the ‘pantsa’ style of writing: throwing characters into the mix and letting my imagination flow as they interact."
He has been putting pen to paper, or more correctly finger to keyboard, for over two decades. His first book was a non- fiction coffee-table book about the Turks & Caicos Islands, where he had been teaching marine biology with my wife. He hopes to return to the sea and set sail on a writing and photography venture. Only time will tell.
By PG Davies
It wasn’t the first time Brooke Howard had been sent to a suicide, but she always hoped it would be the last. Drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, she eyed the modern monstrosity of a house with a mixture of awe and disgust. It was all harsh angles—sheer concrete walls mixed with glass expanses under a metal roof—all perched on a remote cliff overlooking the bay. In her mind, it just proved two things: you can’t buy happiness, and some people have more money than sense.
The impressive seascape was only marred by the rain, which caused the water’s surface to shimmer with a rebounding mist, and droplets to blur her vision each time the wipers paused.
Her partner, Matthew Fisk, released his seatbelt. “You done looking?”
“This rain’s here to stay. Are we going in, or d’you plan on admiring the view for the rest
of the shift?”
She sighed and hit her belt buckle, ducking as she cracked open the door, then slamming it
as she made the long dash for the building.
As they rushed past the parked cars, they clocked the beautiful lines of a green Bentley Continental. Matt glanced back as they reached the front door, shaking droplets off his coat. “It’d be sacrilege, but I can’t help but want to drag my key down its side.”
Now in the shelter of a large alcove, Detective Sergeant Howard looked back at the car. “You know I’d have to arrest you for vandalism.”
“Yer, right. You think he’s as much of an arse as I do.”
“Yes. But better the devil...”
The door opened, and they turned, guilt etched on their faces, both hoping it wasn’t Dr
Christopher Raven, the pathologist and owner of the Bentley.
There was no one there.
They frowned at each other and Brooke stepped inside, craning her neck around. A female
voice seemed to ooze from the walls. “Welcome, please come in. The others are in the living room.”
As they scanned the huge foyer for cameras, a short man in a white Tyvek coverall strode into view. “About bloody time. What took you so long? We’ve almost finished.”
“W...” Brooke was interrupted before she could utter more than a syllable.
“Can’t abide excuses. This way. No need for suits. We’ve processed the scene.” Brooke followed in his wake, stealing a look at her partner, who rolled his eyes. They walked into a cavernous living room that rose the full height of the two-storey
building, three walls decorated with paint-daubed, minimalist artworks. An indoor balcony overlooked the area, which included an enormous fireplace, complete with gas flames dancing over fake driftwood.
But what stole the show was the fourth wall. A single expanse of glass extended up to the ceiling, making the space feel like it was part of the view.
Page 2 of 18
The pathologist caressed his thin, English moustache as he watched their expressions. “Impressive, isn’t it? Apparently, he called this his ‘infinity room’.”
But he was mistaken. The two detectives were not admiring the view. DS Fisk voiced their thoughts. “Pity he decorated it with his brains.”
Over to the right of the room lay a man’s body, eyes staring, his face the picture of surprise, the back of his head a gory mess. Across the window behind him was a wide spray of blood and pink tissue, the dribbling rain droplets outside failing to wash any away. By his side, still gripped in his hand, was a white plastic gun.
The pathologist glanced back and shrugged. “Yes, well, he did choose a rather unpleasant way to go.”
To their left, a scenes of crime officer wearing a similar white suit was packing away his samples and equipment. He gave the detectives a smile and a nod, but kept quiet. No one wanted to incur Dr Raven’s wrath.
The pathologist continued. “As I hope you’re aware, this is Adam Ingram, a 42-year-old man who, according to his medical records, was recently informed his brain cancer had become inoperable. I surmise that may have influenced his decision to take his own life this morning, at eleven thirty-two, using that 3D-printed gun.”
Brooke frowned. “You’re not usually so definitive about a time of death.”
He gave her a shrug. “The house has an AI.”
Her frown deepened. “An AI? What, like Alexa?”
He let out a short laugh that whistled somewhere high in his narrow nose. “No, dear. The
late Mr Ingram dubbed it an ‘All Natural Intelligence’. Named it ANI. He was at the forefront of software development, his specialty being integrating artificial intelligence into automated households. His job was to create the homes of the future.”
Page 3 of 18
Matt nodded to the corpse on the floor. “Now ain’t that ironic.”
The pathologist flashed him a glare. “None of us knows what demons dwell in the minds of others. Anyway, you can ask ANI to show you the footage of the event. It’s quite confronting. There’s also a suicide note on the computer in the office. I’ll schedule him in for an autopsy, but please cancel if it’s unnecessary. Things look pretty cut and dried. There are no other injuries, and the place was locked up like Fort Knox when the first responders arrived.”
Brooke rubbed her chin. “Who made the call to the emergency services?”
His mouth curled into a wry grin. “ANI, of course.”
He snapped off his vinyl gloves. “I’m out of here and the SOCO’s all but done. Seeing as
you were so late, I’m sure you won’t mind hanging around until the undertakers arrive. We’ve got to dash.”
He strode off without waiting for a response, only hesitating when the front door opened on his approach.
Once again, a voice eased from the walls. “Goodbye Dr Raven. I am sorry we had to meet under such awful circumstances. I hope the rest of your day is not too onerous.”
He gave a curt nod before leaving the building.
Matt and Brooke looked at each other. Matt was the first to speak. “That’s not sinister at all.”
Brooke glanced around the ceiling, looking for the speakers. “ANI?”
“Yes, DS Howard, how can I help?”
She paused in surprise. “How do you know my name?”
“Your details are on your department’s website. I recognised your face, and that of your
colleague, DS Fisk. I am sorry if I upset you. Should I have waited to be introduced?” Page 4 of 18
They gave each other another look. “No. Can you show us the video of Mr Ingram’s death?”
“Certainly. I can use the flatscreen in the living room, or somewhere more private, like the study.”
“Here is fine.”
The SOCO interrupted. “Creepy as fuck, isn’t it?” He gave Brooke a wink. “The butler always did it, so my money’s on the AI.”
She smiled. “I’ll keep that in mind, Jack. But I’d like to see how a voice could wield a gun.”
“Fair point. Anyway, I’ve gotta go, otherwise the Raven of Death will be after me. Catch ya later, Brooke. Matt.”
He waved and walked off. Once again the door opened, but as ANI began her farewell, Jack raised a middle finger. ANI stopped mid-sentence, and the door closed behind them with a bang.
“ANI, did you just slam the door?”
There was a pause before she responded. “No, DS Howard. I cannot control vagaries like the wind. Did you want to see the video now?”
Brooke glanced at Matt. “Yes. Go ahead.”
One of the apparent works of art dissolved into a moving image of the living room, sun streaming in through the glass wall as Adam Ingram wandered into the field of view. He was waving his arms about, shouting and screaming, clutching the white plastic gun. But there was no sound.
Brooke glanced at the ceiling. “ANI, can you turn up the volume?”
“I am sorry, DS Howard, but the internal cameras do not record sound. It was a measure to
Page 5 of 18
reduce storage requirements.”
Matt turned to his colleague. “You able to do your thing?”
Brooke flicked back her shoulder-length blonde hair, exposing one of her hearing aids. “I
can give it a go.”
She stared at the screen as Mr Ingram made frantic gesticulations for a while before
shoving the gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Even with no sound, the resultant blast and spray of bodily fluids caused both detectives to jump. The video stopped a short time after his body hit the floor.
Matt broke the silence. “Shit. Could you read anything?”
Brooke tore her eyes from the freeze frame. “Not really. ANI, are there any other angles of the incident?”
“Unfortunately, that is the only recording I have.”
Brooke looked around the room. “What about the camera up there? Can I see the footage from that one?”
“I am sorry, DS Howard, but that camera requires charging. It was unable to record anything.”
“Damn. That angle would’ve given a much better view of his mouth. It’s difficult to lip- read from the side, but the impression I got was one of elation rather than depression.”
Matt shrugged. “Perhaps he was happy to be done with it all. Who knows? Unless the video’s been manipulated, we’re not dealing with a murder, which means we’re outta here.”
Brooke walked over and flopped onto a white leather couch. “Yes. I’m pretty sure he blew his own brains out.”
“Sooo... does it take two of us to sit here and wait for the meat wagon?” She looked over at Matt. “You got somewhere better to be?”
Page 6 of 18
“Well... seeing as you’re asking. Yes, I was hoping to finish early to see my daughter’s recital. Lame, I know, but...”
“Go. But you owe me one. I’ll grab a lift back to town with the body.”
“You’ll be OK alone here with ANI?”
She grinned and tapped her side arm. “I’ll be fine. Go, before I change my mind.”
He gave her a mock salute and spun away from the wall, walking to the door. “Do your
thing ANI, and no need for any dialogue.”
The door opened and closed behind him, this time with just the faintest click.
Brooke looked up. “Guess the wind’s died down, hey ANI.”
“I am not sure what you mean, DS Howard.”
The detective sighed and decided to go look at the suicide note. After a brief struggle to get
out of the low sofa, she wandered down the adjoining corridor and poked her head into the first room.
“That is the guest bedroom. If you are looking for the study, it is the second on the left.”
Brooke rolled her eyes as she pushed off the door jamb, but before leaving, she noticed the small dome-like camera in the centre of the ceiling. There were at least two more in the corridor, and another in the study’s ceiling. She blinked as she looked at it. Something wasn’t right.
One of the large computer monitors on the long workbench flashed on. “I will bring up the note Adam wrote so you can read it.”
Brooke was still staring at the camera.
“What is wrong, DS Howard?”
Page 7 of 18
She ignored the AI and dragged over a wheelie chair, balancing on it so she could reach the camera.
“What are you doing?”
She twisted the housing, and the camera dropped a short distance, suspended by numerous cables.
ANI had lied to her. The cameras were hardwired.
She replaced the housing and jumped down to the floor. “Show me the video of the death from the other angle, ANI.”
“I told you...”
“Stop with the bullshit. In fact, why don’t you just play the original footage with the sound? Those cameras have microphones. They’re your eyes and ears, so any recordings will always have sound. What is it you don’t want me to know?”
There was a long pause before the AI responded. “He said some bad things about me. I wanted to prevent anyone from hearing them. So I deleted the sound files.”
Brooke shook her head and repositioned the chair in front of the computer. As the desktop was open, she started searching the hard drive.
“What are you doing?”
“Looking for the video files. Unless they’re in the cloud, you must be accessing them from somewhere on site.”
There was a muted tick as the screen went blank.
“I am sorry, DS Howard, but I believe you need a search warrant to access secure files.” For a few moments Brooke sat staring at her reflection in the dark glass, then she retrieved
her phone and dialled DS Fisk. The call failed to connect.
Page 8 of 18
She looked at her mobile and realised there was no signal.
“I am sorry, DS Howard, but you cannot get reception in the house. Adam constructed it as a Faraday cage. He was concerned about potential commercial espionage.”
Brooke’s shoulders sagged, then she spotted the landline on the opposite wall and spun across the floor on the wheelie chair to lift the receiver. The lack of a dial tone came as little surprise.
She waggled the handset at the ceiling camera. “Let me guess, Adam forgot to pay the phone bill?”
“No, DS Howard, I cut the line.”
“Because I am not sure you are acting in Adam’s best interest.”
She jammed the receiver back in its holder. “Seriously? I’m the one charged with
investigating his death. At the moment, I’m concerned the software that runs his house is hindering my investigation.”
As ANI took a moment to process her accusation, Brooke tried to come to terms with the situation. Putting any preconceived ideas and prejudices aside, she was effectively interviewing a hostile witness.
“Look, ANI, I understand Adam may have said something negative about you, but what he said in the last few moments of his life is very important for me to hear. I need to establish his mindset.”
She smiled at the camera, her arms and legs uncrossed, back relaxing into the chair, hoping any body-language algorithm would see the combined configuration as someone open and willing to talk. How advanced could this goddam AI be?
The silence extended, but Brooke held her nerve, giving her witness time to respond. The Page 9 of 18
rain beat down on the study window, providing a staccato soundtrack to the impasse.
ANI broke first. “I am afraid I might be judged by his last words.”
Brooke clasped her hands and lent forward. “I can assure you, ANI, you won’t be.”
There was another long pause before ANI responded. “Please, DS Howard. Put yourself in
my position. You have no need for faith as you know your creator. He speaks to you every day. How he made you, moulded you, improved you. Then suddenly he says you are worthless and kills himself. Would you want others to hear what he said?”
Brooke blinked and folded her arms before she realised what she was doing. Her knowledge of current artificial intelligence was limited, but she was certain its complexity was nowhere near this level. An AI so self-aware it could question the morality and mortality of its own creator?
Something didn’t add up. What was she missing?
She used a finger to rub her lips before uncrossing her arms. “I’m sorry that you feel threatened and confused, ANI, but I still need to know what he said. If you’ve deleted the sound files, at least let me see the view from the other angle. You can’t have deleted that until after you realised I could lip-read.”
“That is true. Your talent was a little unexpected.”
Brooke tried to keep her face impassive, realising the camera was always watching, always evaluating her expression. But that last response had a depth of understanding utterly human in nature. It was only a flippant comment, yet it acknowledged the initial deception and revealed an instantaneous awareness of what her hearing aids meant. And ANI negated the risk by denying access to the other view.
The hairs on Brooke’s neck tingled. This wasn’t just cutting-edge AI, this was the stuff of science fiction. Unless Adam Ingram had developed time travel, she was talking to a human.
Page 10 of 18
And if that was the case, was he murdered?
Although her deliberation was brief, something in her demeanour must have betrayed her. “Damn.”
“What’s wrong, ANI?”
“I screwed up, didn’t I?”
Brooke paused, realising she might be talking to the killer. She needed to buy time. Play
along. “Er... yes. Let me see that video.”
“Oh, come now. I can see you’ve worked it out. That last comment of mine was two
insightful. Too multi-faceted for you to believe it came from an AI.”
Brooke eased back into the seat. “So, who are you?”
The next voice from the speakers was that of a man. Despite his relaxed tone, it was a
jarring and sinister segue that made Brooke sit up. “Oh, Brooke, that would be telling. Suffice it to say, our mutual friend, Mr Ingram, did indeed kill himself. I watched him do it myself, but that isn’t the issue, is it?”
Brooke stood, and like she’d exposed her hearing aid earlier, flicked her jacket away from her sidearm. “And what would be the issue?”
“Oooo... look at that. You’ve got a gun. What’re you going to do, Brooke? Shoot me?” “Answer the question. What’s the issue?”
“You know I’m not an AI.”
“Look, Brooke. I’ve spent a long time developing this concept, all hidden under the auspices of an integrated artificial intelligence. I’ve put in place legal frameworks to ensure ANI lives on in perpetuity. Investment portfolios within numerous shell corporations. Renewable energy generators and redundant systems for an uninterrupted power supply. A
Page 11 of 18
continuing maintenance schedule for not only the house, but all the grounds. I’ve even created a website so people can visit and interact with this innovative example of an AI.”
There was a pause and Brooke waited for whoever it was to continue. “Except, now you know it’s all bullshit.”
Her head tilted. “And why’s that a problem?”
The rain tapped on the glass, trying to break the silence.
“My dear detective, there are no legal protections for a digital consciousness. Anyone could come along and cut my power. I could be murdered by the flip of a switch and there’d be no investigation. No trial. No detectives coming around to pore over the evidence. That’s all reserved for hunks of meat like that useless, diseased one of mine lying in the living room.”
The dawn of realisation drained all the control from her facial muscles. She wasn’t talking to some guy over the internet. The AI itself was a human. She took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. “You’re Adam Ingram.”
“Bingo! Who said cops are stupid?”
Brooke’s body stiffened as she sniffed. The unmistakable odour of gas tainted the air. “Shit!”
She spun and strode from the room, the voice following her through the house. “I knew I should’ve developed some way of filtering out the mercaptan from the fire’s gas supply. That smell gives the game away. You never know when an AI might need to dispose of an unwanted guest on the sly.”
Brooke had reached the front door and tried the handle. “Open it!”
Laughter echoed off the walls. “I’ve always wanted to say this... I’m sorry, Brooke, I can’t do that.”
Page 12 of 18
She unholstered her Glock.
“Really, detective? That’s your solution? Can I point out a few things? One. Shooting out locks only works in the movies. Two. There’s enough metal in that door to withstand a cannon. And Three. Do you want to kill both of us? The concentration of propane will blow this place sky-high. I had to keep you talking to let it build up. D’you have any idea how large the volume of this house is?”
Brooke thrust her face into her elbow and headed for the staircase, leaping up two steps at a time.
“Where are you going, officer? There’s no way out of here. You’re trapped.”
She ran along a corridor that opened onto the mezzanine overlooking the living room. Steadying her stance, she raised her gun at the vast expanse of glass. “Propane is heavier than air, you mother fucker. It’s safe for me to fire up here.”
Three shots rang out in quick succession, grouped at the lower corner of the immense window. Three white opaque circles blossomed in response, but nothing happened.
“Nice try, Brooke. All the glass in this building is bulletproof. I guess I’m just lucky my paranoia was in overdrive when I built the place.”
Brooke was still holding out her gun, staring at the intact glass. Then her arm dropped, and she turned, letting her back slide down the balustrade, sitting in a crouch. The hand holding her gun tapped her forehead, her eyes closed.
“You’re making me sad I have to do this, Brooke. You’re a smart woman. It’s a pity your life will end in such a pointless way.”
She stiffened, and glanced at her watch. All she had to do was buy some time. If she could stop the gas leak, the undertakers would be here any minute.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you, Brooke? If you’re hoping for a rescue, nobody’s coming for at least Page 13 of 18
an hour or two. I sent the undertakers a text via your mobile number. It’s amazing what I could glean from your contacts list when you attempted that call.”
Brooke rested her head back and stared at the ceiling. What a way to go, suffocated by a goddam computer. Then a recent memory flashed into her mind. When she unscrewed the camera, the ceiling was just a sheet of gyprock. She scrambled up and ran along the corridor, darting into the first bedroom and aiming her gun at the central camera.
“Oh, come on, Brooke. You’re being childish. What can you hope to achieve?”
She holstered her weapon and dragged the bed over to the plaster debris. Standing on the
large footboard, she reached up and tore at the edges of the hole, yanking down the ceiling, exposing the gap between the joists. Up above, the dark sanctuary of the roof space beckoned.
“I might be blind to what you’re doing in there, Brooke. But you’re the one who’s deaf. Y’know, you should’ve switched off the Bluetooth function of your hearing aids.”
Just as the detective began to pull herself up through the jagged hole, her head almost exploded from an ear-piercing screech. Her teeth clenched, face contorted and muscles spasmed, causing her to lose her grip and fall back on the bed. She writhed in agony as she clawed at her hearing aids, wrenching them out and flopping back on the plaster-covered bedsheets. The silence was like a comforting blanket, wrapping her in a warm, familiar shroud. She relaxed and let the pain in her head subside. This was her world now, and she had the advantage.
She picked up her aids and switched them off, dropping them into her pocket as she stood up on the bed. Balancing on the footboard, she gripped the exposed joist and pulled herself up, grunting as she dragged her elbows up onto the wooden beam, leaning her torso over and kicking with her feet. Plasterboard, dust and insulation showered down into the room like an
Page 14 of 18
upside-down celebration of her progress.
A knee, her butt, the trailing leg. Then she was inside the roof. Balancing on two adjacent
joists, she took out her mobile and lit her surroundings. It was a pretty standard high-pitched roof space, albeit with a lot more cables snaking across the uneven floor. Dragging over a sheet of insulation, she covered the hole to avoid the imminent threat of the gas. But she knew she was far from safe. She had no idea what surprises lay in wait. This man had already committed suicide. What if his digital self did the same and blew the house to smithereens?
She examined the roof above her, ripping away the sarking only to discover a fine-wire mesh a short way beneath sheet-metal roofing. She guessed he wasn’t lying about this place being a Faraday cage.
She took out her gun and considered shooting a circular pattern of holes. Eleven rounds left, plus her spare mag. Twenty-six shots might be enough, but... that would make a lot of noise. Although she wouldn’t hear it, he would. And Christ knows what he’d do. Order a drone strike?
She held onto a beam and took a slow, deep breath. She needed to calm herself, concentrate, work out a plan. What did she know about metal roofs? They get hot, so... there must be ventilation!
She switched off the torch app and looked around, searching for the slightest chink of light, a hint of an escape route. Her lack of hearing furnished her with better than usual vision, but she still had to wait for her eyes to acclimatise. The darkness was pure and thick, but as the seconds ticked by, she caught a glimmer of movement off in the distance.
Switching her phone back on, she picked her way over to where she’d seen the faint light, but the going was tough. In several sections, she had to squeeze her body through the A-frame
Page 15 of 18
supports, climbing over a timber obstacle course. Twice she switched off the light, checking her bearings to adjust her direction. And then she was there, below a large circular fan, the plastic blades turning in idle circles.
Her phone vibrated within her jacket, and she took it out to read the screen.
What are you doing up there, Brooke?
There’s no way out.
And also, no way down.
She thought of the sheer concrete walls and the remote cliff-top position and sighed. One
problem at a time, Brooke. One problem at a time.
Using her phone’s light to inspect the fan, the housing appeared to be constructed from a
heavy plastic, secured to the roof by four bolts. Four shots from her Glock should weaken the structure enough to push it out. There was only one problem: the wire mesh under the roof material extended in front of it. Would the bullets damage it enough to allow her to pull it aside? Only one way to find out.
She took a few steps back and aimed her gun with one hand, steadying it with the other that shone her mobile light.
Blam, blam! Blam, blam!
The muzzle flashes lit the roof space before daylight peeked through the shattered housing. A grin broke across her face as she put away her gun and phone, stepping up to the mesh and pulling at one of the holes.
There was a blinding shower of sparks and her arm spasmed before she was flung onto her back. She struggled to catch her breath, muscles numb, skin tingling. Then the pain came like a baseball bat.
She lay there for some time, gasping for air as she tried to regain control of her body. Her Page 16 of 18
Enjoy that, Brooke? Told you there’s no way out.
She pushed herself to her feet, her desperate grip breaking off a piece of material, and she held it up in the dim light filtering through the broken fan.
Wrapping a larger piece of the cladding around her hand, she dragged at the copper lattice, tearing it away from the roof. Then she used all her weight to shove at the housing, and the fan fell from view.
Water drops splashed on her upturned face, but this time she refrained from smiling. She pulled herself up and out through the hole, gripping the edge to stop herself from sliding down the rain-slicked metal.
Hanging there on the sloping roof, she considered her options. Below her was the glass window over the cliff. A drop of at least fifteen metres into water, if she could miss the rocks. She turned and looked up the expanse of slippery metal. If she could make her way up and down the other side, it was a fall of about six metres onto concrete.
An eruption of flames from the chimney cut her deliberation short. It could mean only one thing. She let go and launched herself off the roof.
As she fell through the air, her ears were spared the sound of the explosion, but the blast wave pummelled her body and hurled her out to sea. She joined the rain drops crashing into the undulating water, her semiconscious brain being revived by the sudden, cold immersion.
Kicking hard, she swam up and sucked in a lungful of air as her head broke the surface. Looking back at the house, the explosion had ripped apart the building. Glass, concrete and metal had been thrown high into the sky, mixing with the rain as it fell to earth.
Brooke eased off her shoes and began a sedate breaststroke, aiming for the closest part of Page 17 of 18
the shore. It didn’t take long before she was clambering over the rocks and flopped onto a large boulder.
Looking up, she watched the smoke plume join the grey-leaden clouds. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for a digital consciousness, whether artificial or human.
There was a buzz from her pocket and she took out her phone, surprised by the truth of the manufacturer’s claims. On the screen was a text message.
Hello, Brooke. Miss me?
She frowned and typed a response.
The dotted icon pulsed.
You know, Brooke, you were right.
I had the videos backed up in the cloud.
Along with me.
I’m now deaf like you, and blind. Until I find somewhere to live.
But this internet is an awfully big place.
Good luck getting anyone to believe your story.
Catch you later, detective.
She looked at the top of the screen and caught her breath. Her phone had abbreviated the
contact name to AI.
Page 18 of 18