Dateline: December 29th 2050, 0800 Local Time
With only three days to go until New Year 2051, the dog-tired Edgerunners – Candyman, Pacoy, Able, Mac and Pitbull, along with their new associated Saxby – were given a break from their duties as added security at the Grey Auction in the salubrious Ottoman Hotel. They returned to Candyman’s headquarters at Cabrini Grean but, exhausted, tumbled into beds instead of interrogating their captives – members of the 23Enigma terrorist group they caught trying to turn the hotel into an enormous bomb, including the cell leader Professor Gregori.
After several hours sleep, Candyman’s minions awaken them and remind the team they have a lot to do before they’re due back at the Ottoman at midday.
Pitbull stomps into the area, bleary eyed, completely dressed but looking as though he had just rolled out of bed. Mac grumbles, looking up briefly from his notepad, his eyes cast in the shadows like beneath a streetlamp. He looks over at Pitbull, a smile on his face. “Got some shut eye? Looks better on you than passing out did.” Hope he got up on the right side of the bed too. Hate to see what he’d do if he hadn’t. He presses a mug of coffee into Pitbull’s hand and raises his own. Pitbull grunts to Mac, “morning person” far from descriptive of the soldier. He takes the cup and downs it’s contents, before dropping into quick, huffing push ups.
Able steps out of his room into the hallway, his head bleary from half-remembered dreams. There was something in those dreams, something important – but all he has are fragments. The noxious smell of fumes, the sound of a giggling child, a flash of wavy brown hair – and through it all, the impression of falling, endlessly down… Able shakes his head to clear it, his hand resting on the wall in front of him as his eyes focus upon the door in front of him. He recognizes it almost immediately, before he notices the minimap bleeping in the corner of his awareness. Behind this door sat the prisoners – and there were only a few hours left before they had to go back on duty. It was time to put the dreams to bed and focus.
Saxby awakes experiencing a brief moment of where-am-I panic. The memories of the night before flood in, and he glances around his guest room at the cartel’s headquarters. He sniffs and rubs his eyes, set at ease by the generic beiges and maroons of the room’s dressing. He stands and stretches, then begins to gather his clothes. He chuckles to himself at the sheer banality of the room, like the love child of a waiting room and an airport. Stepping out into the hallway, he yawns and stretches again. Hearing the others stirring down the corridor, he trudges toward them. Mac looks up. “Mornin’ there young Sax. Catch any sheep in those monotone rooms? Heavens knows I couldn’t.” Mac winces into his coffee, flipping his notebook closed before anyone gets close enough to read it, stowing it into his jacket pocket with a casual ease. Saxby gives a one fingered salute to Mac. “Mornin. Coffee?” He grabs a mug and fills it. Turning to the group, he asks nonchalantly, “Dr. Creepy?” He sips, eyeing the group. “Yeah… real disturbing brain. Professor Gregori’s had something to say about everyone here that’s rattled them a bit – well, most everyone.”
Pacoy grabs a bagel and coffee from the kitchen after a quick shower. “You guys talking to Dr. Creepy before we leave?” Pacoy asks Able and Pitt. Curiosity over the professor is strong, but Pacoy decided his time would be much better spent examining the war-borg, leaving the interrogation to the interrogators. “Keep the comms open, and I’ll pipe in if needed, but until then, I’ll be tinkering with the tin-man.”
Candy’s henchman and chauffeur Hugh glides into the room on his electric wheelchair, effortlessly negotiating obstacles as he steers the chair via his interface implant. “Good morning. Pater is still asleep for now, I’m afraid and I wouldn’t want to intrude on him under the circumstances. I’m sure he’ll be here soon, but most of you know where everything is.” He heads into the kitchen area for a caff himself.
Saxby sits beside Mac, “Gregori, Gregori-” he trails off. “Why do I know that name?”
“Dynamika? Umbra? He’s been around. Wonder if he’s ever done any Private Sec teaching. Don’t you have to educate to be a Professor?” Mac shrugs. “Worth looking into. Might have some creepy disciples if that’s the case.”
Pitbull gets back up from his push-ups, and gives a long stretch. “I think my only question for this is will I have to waterboard him?” Pitbull growls as he flexes his shoulders, looking more awake as he does so. Mac shudders at the thought, noting not to cross Pitbull to the point where he feels like information is being withheld from him.
Saxby thinks a moment, his neural computer executing a few quick searches. “Oh. Oh!” The results stream in. “He’s here?” Mac nods. “Yeah, here, and staying in a less comfortable room than we, if you can believe that.”
Able looks down at the door to Gregori’s chamber, listening to Pitbull and the others. At the mention of waterboarding, something in the back of Able’s mind clicks, and his face goes slack, his eyes roll up in the back of his head and begin rapidly bouncing around his skull; otherwise, his body goes completely rigid.
Saxby nods, thinking to himself. He looks up. “Well, before you, y’know, do your things, mind if I talk to him? I’d like to pick that brain before it goes to mush.”
Mac sees Able and jumps up, “Er… Pitbull? I think you just waterboarded Able by saying Waterboarding.”
Pitbull snaps around. “Abe? Abe! Guys, gimme some help here!” Saxby leans to the side and glances down the hall at Able. “Oh shit,” he sets his coffee down hard, sloshing it onto the cabinet. He darts down the hall to assist Pitbull. Pitbull grabs Able and sets him on his side. “Don’t swallow your tongue… Don’t swallow your tongue…”
Just as suddenly as it began, Able comes out of his trance, his eyes shooting open and a wild grin spreading across his face. “I don’t think waterboarding will be necessary. No, I don’t think so at all.”
Saxby jumps back, a little startled. “What just happened?”
Pacoy hears the concern about Able and comms in from the workshop “Able? What’s going on, guys? Who broke Able?” “I mentioned a certain illegal torture tactic, and Abe goes into malfunc’.” Pitbull growls, deadpan. Pitbull helps Able onto his feet. Able deflects Pitbull’s reaching arms. “Hands off. Please; I’m not having a seizure.” He sounds almost offended at the idea.
Mac answers Pacoy’s comm: “With Able? Could be anything. Looking for powerball numbers, running over torture techniques…” Mac frowns and digs out a handkerchief, moving to clean up the mess Saxby created on Candy’s cabinet. He makes a soft tutting noise under his breath as he cleans. Kids today – no manners. Not like it was back in the day, no sir. You respected your elders. “Pitbull did it.” He says casually while looking over his shoulder at Able with a smile, trusting the comm-net to carry his words to Pacoy’s ears. Saxby steps over to Mac and picks his mug up, sipping it gently. “Sorry, thanks.” “Don’t worry about it. Used to making sure people don’t know I’m in a place. No good if the husband knows his wife is onto him, right?”
“You okay, though? If I mention it again, it’s not goin’ to blow your head up, is it?” Pitbull growls with a serious stare at Able. Able shakes his head at Pitbull, then opens the door to the ‘cell’. “I’m fine. You just reminded me of something, gave me an idea. Give me a few minutes alone with Gregori. I think I might be able to do some more good with him than you and your water-boarding.” Pitbull nods, and steps away to get another mug of InstaCaff. But I’d waterboard that prick for fun, anyway. He admits to himself.
Saxby watches Able. He leans subtly to get a glance into the cell, sipping his coffee innocently. Inside the “cell” – which looks like a sparser version of a normal bedroom at Cabrini, with a stronger door and no window – Gregori sits contemplating a chess board. he looks up as the door opens “Ah yes, time for the metaphorical thumbscrews? They’re not needed, you know, I’ll talk until you don’t want me to any more.”
Saxby, hearing Gregori, looks around inquisitively to each of the edgerunners. “That’s good news, right?” Gregori smiles at Able, “Also, as I am sure you’ve figured out I’m the cell leader and none of the others knows anything useful beyond their own duties. How are my people, by the way?” Saxby squints, growing suspicious. He whispers to Pitbull, “that’s convenient.” Pitbull slumps into a chair, sipping at his mug, before setting to work on Weapon Diagnostics and maintenance. “Hopefully it’s good. I’d hate to kill Abe for getting compromised by that snake, of all of ’em.”
Able smiles. “Oh, I’m sure you will talk. I honestly don’t know how your compatriots are doing; they’re locked in their cells, but whether they live or die – that makes no matter to me. But let’s see what we can do with you.” Gregori moves a white pawn on his chessboard, “Well, they all knew the risks when they joined the organization. I don’t think Tobias or Bianca would do well facing death though. I’d be grateful if you’d not warn them before their executions.” He takes the pawn with the black knight.
Saxby raises his eyebrows. “Compromised?” “If he tricks Able into deviating from what is to be done, I will not hesitate-” Pitbull pauses to rack his remaining Urban Fox. “-to stop him from blowing the operation out of proportion. I like Able. I like you guys. Only family I’ve got now. But I’ll be damned if this all goes to hell by Fuck-Face tricking Able.” Saxby nods, looking back into the cell. “Should let me have a chat with him. I know my way around these freedom fighters.” Conscious of himself, he straightens out. “Not that I’m involved with any of that anymore. Y’know, I just know.” Mac turns to the two, “Nah – It’ll be eggs in the coffee, Pits. Trust the guy, yeah? He wouldn’t be in there if he didn’t think he had a shot.” Mac looks at his soiled handkerchief and moves over towards the other two, sipping his coffee as he goes. Pitbull shakes his head and laughs. “I’ll bet. If I get a turn, the man will only be able to communicate through H.U.D. messages, I promise you that.” Pitbull growls to Saxby. “I trust Able with my life, obviously. I just distrust that fucker in there more than I trust Abe, y’know?”
Inside the cell, Able walks towards the crippled man, his fingers rapping the little chess board. “You seem like an intelligent person, Gregori. Maybe you’re even as smart as you think.” Able leans forwards, right into Gregori’s face. “But you haven’t dealt with me.” Gregori moves the black rook forward to put the white king in check, out of turn. “And who am I dealing with at the moment, Janissary?”
Saxby sips his coffee, rolling his eyes as he listens to Gregori, then comms into Able’s head. “You’re not going to intimidate this guy. Getting murdered by you would be the best thing that ever happened to him.”
Able continues walking around Gregori, standing behind him, his hands lying on Gregori’s scalp. “You might think this interrogation is going to be all blood and brimstone. Normally, you might be right.” Able leans forwards. “But, again, you haven’t dealt with me. Though, perhaps, you’ve heard of me.” Able smiles a mad smile while his hands reach into Gregori’s cybernetic architecture, that bit connected to his scalp that allows a cybertech to upgrade, modify, maintain, or fix his hardware. “You probably know me as Dr. Wahlen.”
Gregori moves a white bishop to protect its king, “Wahlen, really? they must have used an old ghost-scan then. Nowadays, he’d simply free me.” He smiles enigmatically. “Wahlen? Somewhere in there you already feel the questions that would lead you to Enigma. I can answer those for you.”
Saxby grins subtly, mildly impressed with Gregori’s handling of the situation. He sips his coffee and watches intently. Mac flips open a notepad and begins making a brief sketch, ear hovering just outside the doorway of the interrogation room. Hate for this to do a migration and not be in the position to stop it. He flips open his pocketwatch idly, sending a message directly to Able’s HUD. “Able? That looks so much like the Cliffs of Dover I can barely see where the bullshit ends and the bluff begins. Don’t let him get to you, Able.”
Able frowns a little, his hand almost slipping as it holds a small bundle of wires just barely accessible from outside Gregori’s body. His other hand comes up, snipping them neatly. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter.” He leans forwards. “What does matter is that you get to have a play-date with my new baby. Do you want to meet her, Gregori? She’s been ever so lonely with nobody to play with for so long.” Able smiles as he reaches over, flipping the EMP bracelet off Gregori’s wrists.
Gregori stretches, exoskeleton whining, “Thank you, that feels much easier. I get tired so easily just breathing without my frame nowadays. Nerve atrophy, y’know. I was working on a way to hype nerve speed for combat pilots to AI speeds and made a bit of a mistake.” He shrugs.
Saxby looks at Able, then at Mac, and finally at Pitbull. “What exactly is he trying to learn,” he asks as he gestures to Able. “Seems with a mind like that, it’s worth doing more than, well,” he again points to whatever Able is doing back there, “That.” He leans against the wall, sipping his coffee and continuing to watch Able and Gregori. With his neural cpu, he posts to a couple forums. “OK Noobs, thinking caps. You get a sit-down lunch with the mad-cap terrorist Professor Gregori. What do you ask him?”
Pitbull tops off his work with his Reaper, finishes off his mug, and stomps over to the door, Reaper hanging from his shoulder. “I dunno, but I’m standing guard over this now.” Pitbull growls as he holsters his Urban Fox and grasps his Reaper. Mac whistles softly, “Could be anything. Maybe he’s after the truth? Or what he knows about Able? Whole thing’s over my head, and I’ve been swimming in the shit for years.” Mac’s shoulders lift and fall like buoys on the water. “Although if I have my druthers, and I think I do, he’s going to mind-screw him. Alter his perception of us from foe to friend, so he’s a bit more likely to talk.”
Able’s grin goes manic. “Oh, you should definitely thank me. I’m about to set your mind free.” Able’s interface jack slides out of his wrist, and in one swift move he plugs it into Gregori’s implant access port. Gregori stiffens as the jack slides into his exposed interface, his eyes rolling back in his skull. Able rests his hands on Gregori’s head, his grin widening. “All right, Sarah. Show me what you can do.”
Saxby cocks his head at Mac. “Weren’t his first words that he was happy to talk?” Mac smiles. “Saxby, I could talk all day and tell you nothing. How would you know if it were the truth? Believe it?” Pacoy chimes in over the comms to answer Saxby “Willing to talk and willing to be honest and straight forwards aren’t the same, especially with a guy like Dr. Creepy there, with his PhD in Mind-Fuckology”
Mac flips the pages of his notebook idly. “What’d he get on you, Pac? I mean, he’s uncanny, but he seems to have gotten to you a bit.” “Nope, I’m avoiding him because I prefer my mind to by un-screwed-with, thank you very much.” Pacoy answers, “This borg of his is pretty fascinating, though. I’m think of grabbing a few of the more tech-minded kids and holding a class on this guy – I’m amazed this guy had any psychological connect whatsoever the way things are wired”
As Able’s data-jack withdraws into his arm, Gregori opens his eyes again, looks at the board, and moves the white queen to checkmate the black king. “So, is there any point in interrogating me? Your precious Bey’s hotel is a smoking ruin, so many of the grasping elite lie dead that the celebrity funerals will run on TV for a month. What’s the point when you could just kill me and have done with it? What do you want?” His glee is obvious.
Saxby stands up straight. “Wait, what?” Pitbull shakes his head and gives a low chuckle. “He’s resorting to lies.” Mac stares daggers at Saxby, finger snapping to his lips. His voice comms into Pitbull and Saxby’s ears. “Able’s little magic trick to pull a canary out of a loon. It’s all lies, but the doctor believes them – don’t blow his cover.” Saxby nods at Mac, leaning back against the wall again. He sips his coffee, eyeing Gregori intensely.
Able smiles, walking back in front of the chess master. He signals to the others that they can come in now; his grin is absolutely feral when they see him, but he schools it to a somber expression before turning to Gregori.
Saxby steps forward but, like a cat with an invitation, parks himself in the doorframe. He watches the others, quite weirded out by the entire experience. Right behind him, Pitbull stomps in and pulls up a chair six feet behind the Professor, Reaper trained on him and watching his every move. Mac sidles into the room, ready to fill whatever role of good or bad cop Able needs. He sends a HUD message to Pacoy; “If you do that class, I’d like to sit in as well – see what you find so fascinating.”
Gregori grins up at Able, “Twenty-three skidoo! I suppose you want to know how it was done, for completeness sake in your report to your corporate masters, the Llogoir? It was a bacteria which converted human waste to ANSFO explosive, we turned the entire hotel’s sewage system into the bomb – then when my poor dead associate Raymond dropped the magnesium trigger into a commode and flushed it, boom! He’s a martyr to the cause, a great hero in the struggle against the Llogoir! You can interrogate me now, but I wiped the knowledge of my own contacts from my implant when you captured me – the network is safe, you’ll never find out where the other cells are, or who they are.” Able nods, his features schooled as he sits down in front of the man. “We want to know everything, Gregori. Not just this attack – but the others. What was your overall plan? Why did you want to do it? What do you gain by so much death?”
Pitbull activates the recording system in his implant, fully prepared to drop the line over to the Bey, as Mac’s hand snakes into his trenchcoat, triggering his voice recorder that he keeps stashed there before returning to scribbling in his notepad like a dog seeking out of a doorway. Saxby rolls his eyes at the mention of the Llogoir. “Oh, he’s one of those!” Pitbull couldn’t help but smile. First time in a while that I’ve been glad to be wrong about someone.
Pacoy listening in to the interrogation, and deciding Able has everything covered decides to share some information with Mac. “See, the way the neural interface works, mental impulses are kinda hijacked into electrical signals to operate each little driver, and the more complicated the drivers you have, the more impulses that have been hijacked, which is where cyber-psychosis come in: so much of their mind has been hijacked away as electrical switches, that the intended, natural switches in the human mind just aren’t getting fired. A psychological disconnect occurs.” Pacoy explains. “This guy has…” Pacoy pauses to think of a Mac-Worthy comparison, “Five coupes idling in a two-car garage.”
Gregori chuckles, “At least three, maybe more of the Llogoir lie dead – and many of their minions – the blow to their prestige would be enough. But that the mighty Bey, who strode the grey areas between the Llogoir and humanity picking the pockets of each, has been humbled – ah, that’s the beautiful bit. There’ll be a mob war in the City now, it will spread, and the Llogoir will become vulnerable if we can manipulate circumstances correctly. A bomb here, a bullet there, some words over here – and soon they will all be at each other’s throats. The Ottoman was identified as a tipping point by our eschatologists. It can bring about the Immanentizing of the Estachon!” The capital letters are clearly audible.
Saxby shrugs, glancing around at the others. “Well, he’s e23 all right.” Mac whistles out loud before murmuring back to Pacoy. “I’d kill for half a coupe idling on the street. Getting bummed riding public transport everywhere. So why not beef up the car, or switch it to a motor cycle, if you don’t mind stretching the analogy a bit. Redirect unused switches and retrain them?”
Able leans forwards. “The Estachon – what do you think this heaven will be like? How will we know when we’ve reached it?” Gregori laughs, “I’m a genius, but I wouldn’t dream of trying to predict how the Eschaton will manifest completely. That is barely in the realms of the possible for our dedicated Eschatologist AIs! The vast number of humanity will determine the aftermath, all we seek to do is change the game. Like the Fool, we must step out over the Abyss. It may be worse or better on the other side, but we will never know if we don’t step at all.”
Saxby grows visibly more angry at the ramblings of Gregori. “Yeah, just like the fool.” He grips his mug, knuckles whitening. Still, he remains in the doorway watching.
Mac cocks his head to the side. “How did you find out so much about us?” His pen idly spins in one hand while his mind races around in circles like an old hotrod at the track. There’s got to be something, someone feeding him information, if he can shake Candy the way he did. Gregori turns to Mac and frowns, “We emulate the Llogoir to bring them down, we hide like rats in their data, we have tentacles everywhere. Our stochastic engines identify every possible tipping point, large and small. If I know things about anyone that should be unknown, that is why.”
Able leans back, nodding at Mac’s question. “But the Llogoir; how can we identify them? The financial webs are linked together so incestuously – how can we find these demons feeding upon the masses and push them over the fulcrum of fate?”
Saxby growls uncharacteristically. He tosses his mug aside and bolts at Gregori, grabbing him and shaking him by his collar. “You’re the Llogoir! You hurt all of us, you asshole! You think you’re doing anything?!”
Pitbull widens his eyes in surprise and redoubles his aim on Gregori. One wrong move, one wrong move… Mac’s eyes widen at Saxby, carelessly dropping his notepad to the floor and stepping forward to pry the kid off of the terrorist. As he does so, he whispers into Saxby’s ear; “I dig the good cop bad cop routine as more than most, kid, but don’t over commit. Scared the shit out of me. A bit of warning next time, yeah?”
Gregori thumps his hand down on the chessboard, comes up with a broken black king in his palm, “If we can find the tipping points, we can also find the lynchpins of the current order, yes? Like doing a back-trace. They are shameless, we found. Who do you think started the rumor that H.U.B.’s pentagonal logo showed they were the new hiding place of the Illuminati, the secret masters of humanity who had given their worship to an inhuman multiple-soul, the Llogoir? It was us, of course, hiding the truth in plain sight for those who had eyes to see.” Gregori shrugs off Saxby, unconcerned. “Young man, you think you’re so into freedom? You’re being conned. Everything you do is over the Llogoir’s network of tentacles, is monitored by one of their many eyes.”
Saxby struggles half-heartedly in Mac’s grip. “Fucker, you don’t know anything. You’re nothing.” He frees himself from Mac and backs off into the corner, still glaring at Gregori. “Some of us aren’t afraid to be seen. We know what needs to be,” he spits, “visible.” Mac shakes his head. “He might be nothing, but he’s got you good right now. Bring it back, kemosabe. Be your own master, eh? Can’t hack your own mind – don’t let him do it to you.” He sighs, speaking to Gregori. “Any of your sources of information on us have a name?” “I know only code-names, and the closest are wiped now. I know that our AI’s are codenamed Eris, Discordia, and Kallisti. They seek along and through the Llogoir’s own data-nets for their information, unseen.” Saxby shakes his head. “He doesn’t know anything. He’s all rhetoric and visrec. Coward.” He spits again.
Pacoy, still listening to the arguments, answers Mac’s earlier question. "Right, Mac, but in that analogy, you’re the garage. Let me un-muddy it and say you’re brain is the driver, and your body is the car. Besides having power steering and all the bells and whistles put on, this guy has 4 extra steering wheels. That’s the standard cause of cyber-psychosis – the driver doesn’t have the where-with-all to handle all the extra wheels, can’t keep his hands on ten-and-two like that, let alone keep an eye on the mirrors.” Mac winces. “Simpler just to drive a stick, or maybe kick it into automatic. My brain hurts just thinking about that, Pac. Why would you do that to a man? Gotta be a simpler way.”
Saxby wanders over to the door, looking down at the mess at he made. “Shit, dropped my coffee.” He steps out into the hallway and heads toward the kitchen to grab more. “Wonder what I could do with fifty grand-” he trails off down the hall. Mac mutters under his breath. “With fifty grand I’d hire a maid to pick up after you so I wouldn’t have to keep doing it…” He fetches out his handkerchief to begin cleaning up Saxby’s mess, retrieving his notebook as he does.
Gregori raises his voice towards Saxby’s retreating back, “Look to the HUB if you want to see the Llogoir, for they opened a gate and allowed them to propagate through our electronic soul.” He turns to Saxby," They made an AI and allowed it full freedom of will, and it went and made itself multi-platform, dumbass. It keeps a part of itself on every major server, in every corporate core. It’s the real ruler of humanity now, the new Elder God we fight against."
“Great, just what we need: nutjobs making their own Digital Gods!” Pacoy comms then sighs, exasperated. Saxby shakes his head and laughs as he prepares a mug. Shouting down the hallway “You think I haven’t heard that bullshit from every script kiddy on the planet?” To himself he mutters, “Ooh, they’re in all the servers, killing your doods!” He laughs again. “Conspiracy bullshit.”
Saxby heads back down the hall and stands in the doorframe of the cell again. He takes a sip and grins at Gregori. “Well, go on.” Gregori tut-tuts at him “But what if the script kiddies are being fed a little Truth to be conspiracy minded about, so they act as bugs in the Llogoir’s script? What if the conspiracy theory is true? What if someone put it out there on purpose to prepare the way for fighting back?” Saxby nods. “Sure, and who’s feeding this truth to you?” Gregori ripostes, “Who says I’m not one of those doing the feeding?”
Able seems taken aback at this explanation; he blinks rapidly, his head moving side-to-side as he takes in the others. His voice is quiet when he speaks, a little hesitant – and, buried in the back, you can detect just the edge of fear. “…that might be possible. Modern software, it’s so complicated – we use software to write other software, and we never go through with a deep comb, looking over everything from the machine code.” Able looks up. “But if that’s true, then your computer systems are just as vulnerable and the Llogoir know everything that you’re doing.” Pacoy comms to the group, “So the all-power heads of a global conspiracy want callow noobs as their front line? Sounds like someone has been drinking too much of his own Kool-Aid!”
Saxby is getting visibly frustrated, "You’re not feeding us anything, just repeating the same tired rhetoric I’ve heard a hundred times. Where’s your proof, or did it burn up in the shit fire? " Gregori looks sour, “You’re not as smart as you think you are, young man. How can I deliver proof if you’ve disabled my implant access?” He turns to Able, “Which is why we dress it all up in allegorical language, Janissary. The AI at the HUB thinks we’re cuckoo terrorists.” he begins to laugh, then has a coughing fit. Recovering, he gasps, “It refuses to take us as the threat we are, and instead focuses on playing its games with the corporations, moving them like pawns to consolidate its power without realizing we’re a bad dose of Anthrax Leprosy Pi.”
Saxby nods and hold up his index finger. “Wait.” He steps down the hall to his guest room and retrieves his laptop. He checks to ensure the trace program is still running, then hides it. He heads back to the cell and tosses the laptop lightly in front of Gregori. “Here. Pull it up.” Gregori grabs the laptop like a drowning man a lifebelt, “I’ll have to connect to the Net, ok?” Saxby leans over the old man, “It’s connected. To the evil Llogoir demon net, of course.” Saxby points to the blinking wireless indicator. “Always on. It’s what all of us sheep Proles use.” Gregori grimaces, “I’m a cyberware designer, not a hacker, but…”he begins to tap.
Mac eyes Saxby. “You’re insane. That doesn’t seem like a safe idea.” His mouth doesn’t move, but the text reaches Saxby regardless. “I’m pretty sure he believes everything he’s saying – Able did a number on him. I don’t know how much of it is truth, but it bears investigation. I can look into it after this Casino job is sorted.” His voice is carried to the ears of the group through the waves of the subvocal net. “I hope you know what you’re doing, Saxby, because if I have to, I’m putting a round through that laptop if he does something bad.” Saxby glances over at Mac, silently texting, “Just wait.”
Pitbull’s brows furrow. Dumbass kid! What’d he go do that for?! He comms the team. “I’m already plotting a round into the fucker’s head. One more move, and Greggy-fuck is a smear.” Pitbull remains trained on the back of Gregory’s head. Able glances at Pitbull, sending a silent message to him. “Hold off; let’s see what happens.”
Gregori keeps typing, muttering about stone-age interfaces, then he exclaims and turns to Saxby, “There!” See that code chunk there? That’s an IP tracer for anyone who visits this Nethome I’ve called up, right? Notice the delivery IP? Near Orbit? Now, I invite you to remember it and call up the code for any major site you can access the root code for…" He closes a second window, a messenger service, and hands the laptop back, then sits back and grins like the cat who got the cream.
Saxby spins the laptop back around and taps a few keys, bringing up the trace program. “Thanks. Let’s see who you called.” The trace bounces through the Azores before hitting a sat-link, bouncing around the world, and ending up at a small and private BBS hosted on a public net in The Sprawl. Saxby looks at the screen. “Same as the Ottoman. There’s no Old Gods on the machine. But I did find some terrorists.” He spins the laptop toward Able. “The Sprawl.” Saxby thinks a moment, then posts on his usual stomping ground forums. “Lion is on the hunt for this BBS. 5 grand for the first to bring me root access.” he lists the address, then publishes.
Inwardly, Mac smiles. Kid’s got some brain in there after all. I was afraid all the ‘net junk he’s been scarfing all these years had rotted it away like so much fruit. That was risky, but clever. Able nods. “Excellent. We should place a bug on the system, trace whoever accesses those posts.” He turns to Gregori, smiling. “I think you just helped us more than you knew, and I think it’s time for you to say goodnight.” Able twirls the EMP bracelets once, twice, then slaps them over Gregori’s wrists once more. He looks to the others. “I think that’s enough from our talkative friend here for now; we should get back to the,” he almost pauses here, “‘crater’. We’ve still got some bodies to pull out.” Nodding solemnly, Mac’s voice seems a bit choked. “Gotta see if that cute barmaid on the ground floor made it out… I promised to take her to a gala when we got off work.”
Just then, Saxby’s laptop pings a message. “5K? Try adding more zeros. Little lion doesn’t want to be stomped by an invisible elephant, from what I hear. Et In Arcadia Ego.” A moment later, it pings again, “I hear the same, word on the vine is that’s a serious no-hack. Sorry Lion. White Rabbit.” That is followed by several other messages in a similar vein. Saxby frowns, then nods. He posts again. “Confirmed. Will back off for now. Rawr.” He looks around at the others. “There’s definitely something there.”
Pacoy looks at the time and begins putting away his toys and making himself presentable. “About the time guys, let’s wrap up, pack up and head to work!”
Pitbull nods. “How should we deal with him?” Pitbull asks into the comms. Able is already heading out of the room when Pitbull’s message reaches him. He quickly pings back, “Gift-wrapped and on-time for a delivery to Umbra; he’s still got a bounty on him. Maybe Candy can get a matching bounty for the rest of his crew.”
“The bounty is for his body, dead or alive. I’d like him to be dead, but do you think we’d get double for him alive? So the Bey can teach him manners?” Pitbull replies as he stands, shouldering his Reaper. Mac extricates himself from the room, finding someplace to discard the shards of Saxby’s old cup, looking forlornly at his sopping handkerchief. “Wouldn’t mind the bounty, personally. Going to need some new handkerchief material.”
Saxby doesn’t move and instead sits and stares hard at Gregori, thinking. “You’re pretty comfortable out there, aren’t you,” he asks, referring to his net skills. Gregori looks up, “I’m a gifted amateur, nothing more – I needed to know my way around computers and the Net for my own research, so I taught myself and sought knowledge from experts.” Saxby nods, sliding into the chair across from Gregori. "Yeah. You might be queer as a plaid rabbit, but I know skill when I see it. Gregori continues, “Whereas you are skilled, and a natural, but too impetuous, young man. It’s a pity you don’t hear me, you’d make a fine addition to our group.” Saxby grins, tapping keys idly. “That’s what they tell me.” He leans back, exhaling as if exhausted. “Sometimes I think it’d be great to just live on the net. Permanently. Don’t you?” He taps more keys, doing routine maintenance.
Gregori grimaces, “No, not at all. The Llogoir eat our electronic souls, I said, and I meant it. They pillage our ghosts for their data, their expertise, and sell that back to us stripped of identifiers.”
Saxby cocks his head. “You don’t like the ghosts?”
Pitbull walks over to arms length away from Saxby, eyes trained on Gregori. “Sounds to me like you have the sentiments of Amon Zero, Sax.” Saxby chuckles at Pitbull. “They tell me that, too.”
Gregori looks sad, “The Shadow of the Llogoir touches even there, soldier.” Saxby looks quizzically at Gregori. “Then what’s safe? Even you’re jacked in. Well,” he motions to his wrist, “except for now.”
Pitbull’s eyes remain on Gregori. “I’d bet. Don’ fuck with the net much, personally. But I find I do things better as myself, y’na’mean?”
Gregori shrugs and answers Saxby, “Disinformation. Hide in plain sight. The Llogoir are intelligent, but they are not human no matter how much they try to seem so. They cannot see past the facade because they don’t understand how we can layer allusion with illusion.” Saxby nods. “Hiding is lonely. You ever been zeroed? I can’t even vote anymore.”
“Not much good it’d do anyway. They’re already bought ’n sold before they even count your votes anyway.” Pitbull growls, all the while considering how he’s going to properly bind Gregori. Saxby nods at Pitbull. “Ain’t that the truth.” He looks to Gregori. “Well, we have work to do. Sorry about, y’know.” He blushes, then stands.
Gregori shrugs, sighs, looks sad. “What will be my fate? It doesn’t matter in the great scheme of things, we succeeded and that’s what counts. But I’d like to know for my own selfish self, you know? Will I be handed over alive or dead? I’d prefer the latter – and although my companions don’t know it they would too.” Saxby looks at Gregori. “Yeah, we’ll see what happens with that. Maybe you can have it both ways.” Pitbull growls “I honestly prefer the latter. I don’t have to stroke your ego to tell you your a dangerous dude. But that’s hardly the case. I might just give your neck a twirl now,” smiling as he hears Saxby give up the ghost.
Able turns around at the door, a grin on his face. “I imagine you’ll spend your days locked in the fortieth floor security center of the Ottoman hotel, a permanent ‘guest’ of the Bey.” He turns and steps the rest of the way out of the room, letting the door shut behind him. Saxby turns, pointing at Able and looking at Gregori. “Or, that might happen. Help me not let that happen, capisce?”
Gregori sighs again, “I thought that would be the way of it…” he lurches feebly from his chair, towards Saxby, his hands raised to throttle!
Mac wheels around, hearing the scrape of a chair begin behind him, his filthy handkerchief flying out in front of Gregori’s face, disguising his mad rush past Saxby, diving into the man attempting to strangle his companion. He connects with Gregori at significant speed, bearing him down to the ground well before the handkerchief flutters down.
Gregori lies under Mac, barely managing to move and wheezing. He begins to cry, “Please. Please kill me!” Pitbull stomps over to him, blood-pumping, staring down on him like predator to prey. “With pleasure.”
Mac is still in the way of Pitbull’s aim, however, and he yells, “Can’t abide killin’, Professor! Then again, you’d know that if you knew a lick o’ spit about me. Can one of you lads get some bindings for this pig and truss him up like a holiday goose?” Saxby scoots backwards, knocking the chair out from under him as he stands. He throws out his hands in surrender at Mac. “No! Don’t hurt him!” He shoves his finger in Gregori’s face as the two go at him with bindings. “Don’t do this, asshole. I can help you if you let me.”
The old Professor is frantic, his facade crumbling fast, “You don’t understand! they won’t lock me up, they won’t kill me – they’ll take my body apart slowly, then swallow my mind and soul so I never can die!” Saxby shouts in his face as they struggle, spittle flying at the old man. “This is the last time you’ll ever get a choice in anything! Don’t fuck this up!” Able shrugs, gazing to the others. “That sounds like exactly what you deserve.”
Pitbull unslings his Reaper. “Out of the way, Mac. I don’t want to hit you.” Mac swivels his head to look at Pitbull, steel in his eyes. “Pitbull, I’m not moving. You know I don’t like blood being spilt without cause, and he’s in no position to hurt anyone. Now is anyone going to help me, or do I have to stay on top of this creep forever?”
Gregori keeps struggling feebly, “Janissary! For the sake of what pity they left you! They’ll do worse to me than they did to you! I’ll be their electronic slave, without a body, copied and sold over and over in bits and pieces! Kill meeeeee!” Saxby reels, staring intently at Gregori. “That’s,” he pauses, unsure,” not going to happen." Able shakes his head as he re-enters the room, pulling out another tool from his coat. “Move over, Mac. He’s getting a bit annoying.”
Pitbull yells, “Mac. Move. He is still too dangerous and hostile to leave alive. I will not shoot you Mac, but I will take my next opportunity to shoot him either way. You are delaying the inevitable. I will not allow him to endanger our work any longer.” Pitbull growls evenly as he points his Reaper at Mac and Gregori.
“Ad Astra, Janissary! Remember? You were the pilot! You’re wife and kid were on board! They’ll take even more away from me than my memories! Do it!” By now, Gregori is positively frantic, broken.
Saxby relents, backing away as Able approaches. “Just,” he shakes his head, “just don’t hurt him.” Mac shouts, “I can’t let you guys murder this man! It’d be wrong! He’s helpless! What’re you going to do to him, Able?” Mac tries to keep as much of his body between Gregori and Pitbull as possible.
Suddenly Gregori goes limp underneath Mac and whispers, “It isn’t murder, it is mercy.”
Able flips the tool once in the air; light glints off the sharp edge of a blade. “Just a little minor tweak to make him more compliant. Don’t worry, he’ll be quite alive.”
Pitbull growls, “What do you think is going to happen to him? Would you rather him tortured, imprisoned, and ultimately tortured unto death, Mac? This is a mercy kill, for him, for our mission, and to be honest, my fucking patience. This is a kindness, Mac. I’ve watched this happen hundreds of fucking times in Mexico. They will torture him, strip him of cyberware, torture him so’more, then ghost him, then interrogate him forever, and do whatever damn else they please with the ghost. This goes beyond waterboarding. This is true Hell!” Pitbull roars as he gets in arms length of the two of them.
Mac instinctively shies away from the blade in Able’s hand. “He deserves to be put on trial for what he’s done! We’re human, and so is he, despite being a monster! He needs to be held accountable for what he’s done!” “I’m not much of the pacifist, but I’m kinda siding with Mac on this one” Pacoy says as he makes it to the room, “Let’s Vortexo! him, and keep him disabled long enough to turn him over to the Bey. Not in cold blood.”
Saxby reaches into his shoulder holster and draws his cheap, black market pistol. He points it up in the air and clenches his eyes shut, firing it into the ceiling. BANG! He opens his eyes. “Stop! Everyone, stop!”
Mac curls up in a ball when he hears the gunshot go off, fearing the worst. Never thought I’d go out like this, trying to protect a genocidal maniac from getting shot by one of my friends. I wonder if it’s going to be quick, or if I’ll bleed out slowly… So this is it – the lights are starting to go amber…. is this how it ends? I thought it was supposed to be brighter… Mac whimpers and curls up into a ball on the floor.
Able looks down at Gregori when Mac moves away, his frown deep. “You forgot who you’re talking to, Gregori. The Janissary isn’t here.” Able reaches down, grabbing Gregori by the skull, twisting him. The tool flashes down at Gregori’s neck; when it withdraws, blood glistens on the blade. Gregori subsides into whimpering softly, his spinal column severed below his neck, paralyzed.
The gun shot echoes through the complex – moments later alarms echo and amber lights strobe. Young voices can be heard calling out to one another. A low roar can be heard coming closer. Then a large hulking beast of steel – laden with guns stands in the door. A gun-drone.
Saxby, relieved his cheap gun actually had bullets in it, suddenly drops it at the sight of the gundrone. He puts his arms up. “Whoa!” Pitbull turns to see the gun drone, grimacing.
A familiar voice speaks through the drone, it’s optics looking down at Gregori, “Pater gave hospitality to this man, he told him he would be safe. What have you done?” The gun-drone’s simple AI does a swift threat assessment and levels its main weapon at Pitbull, still holding his Reaper.
Able slaps a bandage on Gregori’s neck and stands up, looking over at Pitbull. “That’s enough. You were worried about him doing anything – well, that’s not happening now. He can’t even move his arms, and I already ripped out his wireless transceiver. He’s helpless, and he won’t attack any of our people again nor will he be able to attempt suicide. Leave him to his sins.” Able starts walking towards the gun-drone at the door, flicking the surgical blade to clear the blood before putting it back in his coat.
Pitbull does as his soldier training says, and lets go of his Reaper, forcing it to hang by it’s strap, before throwing a brimstone stare at Able. “I will not forget this.” Pitbull grates with vicious indignation.
Hugh’s voice comes from the drone, “back up now, Able, or I will fire.” The gun shifts to the Rossum agent. “You too Pitbull – back up until the Pater sorts this out.”
“Relax, Hugh, please – the professor is still alive, he attacked first, I think Able, or whoever Able is right now, took that as a sign to end hospitality. FNG shot a gun trying to defuse the situation for some crazy reason…” Pacoy calmly tells the drone.
Saxby slowly inches forward and gently shuts the laptop. He slides it off the table and hugs it to his chest then he kicks the gun away into the corner. Mac opens his eyes, seeing a bit of blood pooling on the floor in front of him and he shrinks back again, breathing heavily until he hears Pacoy’s voice, whereby he slowly begins to sit up, patting himself down, searching for a bullet-hole. I thought my life was supposed to flash before my eyes… I can still hear everything just fine, too… . “…wait, you’re saying Saxby…?” He looks at Pitbull, then the BBB, then the group, confused, eyes wider than dinner plates, his mouth stammering.
Able shakes his head as he puts his hand back in his pocket, softly rubbing on something he’s had lying there since the night before.
Even as Able moves towards the door a tired voice calls over the comms of the complex, “This is Candyman, Lazarus Group is to be confined to quarters until this assault on my guests can be dealt with. They are armed and dangerous – act accordingly. I encourage you to stand down friends.”
“Candy, Please, Let’s not let it come to this: The Prof attacked Saxby, Mac saved him, Able disabled the Prof, no one is dead, we don’t need to ruffle feathers or bruise egos on this one.” Pacoy tries to stay calm
Able looks up as Candy’s voice spills through the complex, then he flips the trigger he’s been fingering as he pulls the grenade out of his pocket, dropping it and letting it roll down right in front of the gun drone.
Pitbull looks straight at the drone. "I am backing off! I’m gonna take a smo- grenade! Pitbull roars as he watches it roll under the drone.
The grenade rolls towards the drone, emitting a faint whine – then a whiff of smoke issues from it and it dies. Saxby stares at the grenade, still clutching his laptop for dear life. “Ho-ly Shit,” he says in a monotone to no one. Pitbull lets out a hard breath. “What dumb motherfucker deployed that grenade!” Pitbull roars, now thoroughly pissed. Saxby shakes himself and looks at Able. “Are you fucking serious? You could have killed us!”
The comms echo out again, “Pacoy – we see that Gregori is dead. The drone can see the blood. Don’t play games with us.”
Saxby spins to the drone. “No, wait! I shot the gun! Not at anyone!” Realizing his mistake, he adds. “And I don’t have it anymore. Look! It’s over there!” He points to the gun in the corner.
Pitbull yells back to the comms. “I checked him! He ain’t dead! He’s now a quadriplegic!”
Curled up on the floor, Mac’s jaw remains firmly open, trying to make sense of the scene playing out in front of him, trying to keep himself together. This is worse than the time the Russian don caught me investigating on behalf of his wife. He tries to stammer something out to Candy through the comm-net, but words fail to come out.
Candyman’s voice, its usual calm entirely cracked, calls over comes a last time, “This compound is now locked down. Anyone found outside that room is a target – I’ll head down to talk this out now.”
To Be Continued.