The stone ledge begins to splinter under the weight of your iron grip. You and Sage can take ‘em, you think to yourself. You count the guards stationed on the roof. Twenty-two. Doable for a couple of Academy grads. You think better of it, however. Heavy weapon-fire would draw onsite ILA intervention, a complication you would like to avoid. You scan the neighboring rooftops looking for possible landing spots and escape routes, but the sound of an unfolding mass pulls your attention upwards. You see a sheet of leather netting drop from a retractable cylinder running parallel to the roof. It quickly unfolds past you and Sage, leaving a two-meter gap between net and wall. A simple barrier, but an effective hindrance to hydraulic leaps.
You consider the small switch hidden behind one of your cranial canisters. You have never flipped it before; the team’s protocols are still quite new. The security craft hovers within meters of you and Sage. You note the logo on its underside: Centurian G-B5. An industry standard. Swift, nimble, and self-piloting. You’re decided. You tighten the grip of your right hand and free your left. With your free hand, you reach behind your cranial canister and flip the switch. Activating the Council’s last resort beacon. Two guards emerge from the G-B5’s cargo bay ramp, their stun pistols charged and ready to apprehend. You regain your two-handed grip and turn to Sage, “we’re gonna let them take us. I got some friends coming…”
TWO DAYS AGO
In the back, back room of the Miami Keys Dapper Lounge, three staircases and four hidden entrances away from the main parlor, you and your fellow Council members convene for an emergency meeting. Or shouting match rather. News of Sage and the Vogu hack investigation— and most significantly the implication of half the Council’s members— has incited a grating mess of discourse. Blame, criticism, excuses. Coming from all directions across the circular table. Only Ivory keeps his cool, a pillar of peace and calm. You wish you had the same restraint. Instead, you’re bickering with Marcus.
“Marcus, I’m working on it!”
“Not hard enough!”
“You’ll have your tar back soon enough. In the meantime, I must say, you’ve never looked better.” Marcus responds with a stream of expletives. How ungrateful. You’ve provided him with an exceptional temp tar, one from your very own super-secret stash of Rabbot clones. You’re about to remind him of this, but he’s already inserted himself into another argument. A battle of principles between Agent Orange Julius and BlueBerry Bot as to who had the noblest intentions when accepting the Garrison pay-off. Unbeknownst to each other, all three had been pursuing the Garrison/Jeph Tru matter via their respective networks. Agent Orange his Gates colleagues. B-3 his ILA contacts. And Marcus his corporate web3000 links.
“At least they’re relatively on topic,” you gripe. Onyx and Sir Isaac Lime are currently engaged in a heated dispute regarding a kimono-monk art deal gone wrong. You also catch a snippet of Saxton and Sheldon’s conversation: “How do you tell them apart?” “Their voices.” “What if I lose audio?” “IDK. Marcus talks with his hands a lot. And Rabbot kinda has that whole too cool for school posture thing—”
“ENOUGH!” You have no time for the usual infighting. Your next meeting with Sage is in just a few hours. You call for order once again. You’re once again ignored. You cue a high-frequency sound wave and watch as the Council members clutch their audio inputs. A few seconds later, the ringing subsides.
“Christ, Rabbot. Point made. Everyone, shut up.” Onyx surveys the now silent room. He takes a long drag from his cigarette. “Rabbot, we’re listening.”
You activate the projector attachment on your right shoulder. All four walls fill with screenshots from Sage’s investigation. You walk the team through her evidence and ask for related intel. B-3 confirms that the ILA was/is suppressing evidence related to the Garrison hacks. He’s now positioned himself as one of a handful of ILA and Garrison go-betweens. Agent Orange has been working Jeph since she announced her intent to run for Chief Operating Authority of the Gates Tribunal. “I pulled a few strings to get her onto the Robotics Regulations Committee. She in turn offered me a cut of a Garrison bribe. Obviously, I only took it to strengthen her trust in me.”
“Yeah, that’s the only reason—”
“Marcus!” You take a beat and settle. “What you got?”
“A bunch of encrypted communications between Jeph and Nep Jarrod, the Garrison CEO. It took me months to decode. Found multiple references to a legislative bill Jeph plans to push through once elected.”
“Is there a draft of the bill?”
“Not that I can find. According to the correspondence, there’s an unregistered server at Jeph Tru’s HQ which only facilitates manual uploads and downloads. Garrison’s team set it up. It’s very likely the bill is on it. As well as the data from the Eth hack—”
Sir Lime interrupts, “I just got an ID on the third tar in the Trackzy and Nealsen picture. Apparently, it’s the former tar of the Practical Robotics CEO.”
“Oh, Vannée changed his tar,” you remark. “Why would Sage have this picture on file? Hardly unusual for the CEOs of the galaxy’s three biggest robotics companies to associate.”
“Vannée is quite the recluse; his legal name isn’t even public knowledge. It’s Nep Van.”
“Nep? Any relation?”
“Jarrod’s older brother, in fact.”
“No shit?” You’re genuinely surprised. “Onyx, you ever hear of these guys in your business?” Onyx’s business being the shady dealings of the underworld.
“Van, no. Jarrod, only as far as the hackings. I’m familiar with some of the hackers involved.” You see Onyx and Marcus exchange nods. You wouldn’t be surprised if Onyx got his pal the Vogu gig.
“Ahem.” All heads swivel in Ivory’s direction. “The wicked practice corruption in the shadows, while the wicked-est seek to codify it.”
Sheldon: “cool, but what does that mean?”
You understand. “We gotta get our eyes on that fucking bill.”
With the stakes made clear, your team discusses next steps. At present, the most pressing issue is Sage. She’s tenacious, capable, and in possession of crypto records that incriminate Council members in the Vogu hacks. You warn Agent Orange and B3 that she is likely to pursue them for questioning in the coming days. They worry this could blow their respective covers. The Council agrees that you should continue to work the investigation, shaping its course, diverting attention away from Council members when needed. Lime recommends giving Sage the intel regarding the unregistered server— a gesture of trust. You think it unnecessary; she trusts you enough. The majority votes otherwise.
Your audio and visual feeds are operational. Unlike every other one of your tar functions. It’s been some time since you were last immobilized by a stun tech pistol. You forgot the cosmic reach of tar paralysis, the feeling of not feeling transmitting between tar and body. There’s an eeriness to it. On top of the maddening frustration.
Frustration has been a constant these last few days. Thanks to Sage and her newly acquired disregard for order and reason. You catch a glimpse of her in your periphery. Her stunned tar sits beside you in the cramped cargo bay of the Jeph Tru security craft. Two guards sit opposite. You think back to yesterday. Upon receiving the server intel, Sage immediately climbed into her glider and set course for Jeph Tru HQ. “Recon today, infiltrate tomorrow. Going with or without you.” You hopped into the passenger seat confident you could dissuade her from any slapdash heists. Sage conceded, “Ok. Tomorrow recon. Heist TBD.” But less than hour ago, as you watched Sage launch herself from an adjacent rooftop onto the Jeph Tru HQ rooftop, leaving you with another “with or without you” dismissal, you realized, all too late, you had been duped.
You remember Sage’s words as you both clung to the skyscraper, “I know your source was Marcus.” You begin to understand. Her reckless urgency is not merely the product of unchecked impulse. Distrust plays a part, too. She doesn’t trust you. She acts in haste to limit your response window. You remember how she took off for Marcus’s the moment Trackzy enlisted your assistance in the investigation. How she pulled into that Dapper Lounge parking lot without any indication she was about to approach Saxton and Sheldon. You must admit, her distrust is warranted. You are indeed trying to sabotage her investigation.
Unfortunately for Sage, she has no choice but to trust you in the coming minutes. Once the Council arrives. If the Council arrives. You study the self-pilot controls and monitors. The craft is moving northwest, presumably towards the ILA Hyperion Street Station. Traffic is a non-factor— the G-B5 is exempt from the 9-meter vertical limit. You estimate a flight duration of less than six minutes. You’re on minute five.
“Does that guy look familiar to you?” One guard asks the other. They both look directly at you.
“Sort of, yeah. I dunno. Maybe someone at the compound knows.” Compound? So, we’re not going to an ILA stat—
A sudden vibration pulses through the security craft. You can’t feel it, but you can see and hear its effects. You watch the speed gauge decline. The craft creeps to a stop. Silence. The guards absorb the peculiarity of the situation. “Why are we stopped?” “We’re still miles out.” Their confusion spirals as their manual override attempts prove futile. From across the galaxy, you exhale. You’re certain Ivory has complete control of this spaceship.
The robot shaman is one of few to have achieved the human-tar superconscious state. An achievement born out of years and years of disciplined robo-synergy mediation. Establishing a mental-link between mind and self-piloting tech is one of Ivory’s oft-practiced, spiritual exercises. When you clocked the G-B5 model, you knew he could easily commandeer this craft.
“JT HQ, come in. Craft 015 reporting tech difficulties. HQ, do you co—” You see the guards stumble backwards as the ship re-starts. “My comms are down. Yours?”
“Mine, too.” Marcus’s doing, you conclude. The craft comes to another stop. This time however, you hear the hiss of the door locks as they depressurize. You watch as they slowly open, revealing a pitch-black sky and deafening winds. The security guards draw their pistols. A minute passes before two unmarked, black-matted tars step into the light of the cargo bay. They make quick work of detaining the guards and reversing your stun tech. Onyx’s people are true professionals. One of them looks at you and then gestures to Sage, “her, too?”
“Yeah, yeah.” The bot unstuns Sage; you help her to her feet. You turn around, “thank y—” Onyx’s people are gone.
“Are those guys from Vogu security? Do they still have control of the ship?” You ignore Sage. You pull up the comms center Marcus designed for Council missions on your POV display. Everyone is online. You’re ready for extraction instructions. “Rabbot,” Sage is now in your face, “The server! Let’s go back!”
“Not now! Another day!”
“Yes, now! They would never expect us to go back tonight!”
“I agree,” B-3’s voice comes through on your internal audio feed, “they may change some of their protocols after this evening. Could take us months to gather new intel.”
Saxton adds: “We came this far with, like, no lead time.” It could be the adrenaline talking, but you’re not entirely opposed. You have faith in your team. B-3 calls a vote.
“Yes.” An answer that serves you both online and offline.
“Yes!?” Sage’s voice is a mixture of shock and excitement.
“On one condition,” you have Sage’s attention, “no questions.”
As you approach Jeph Tru HQ, you note the stillness. Only four guards are posted to the roof. Two at the main entrance. The leather netting is gone, retracted out of sight. It’s as if the events of thirty minutes ago never happened. Sage was right. Security assumes lightning won’t strike twice.
Ivory guides the security craft to the ground floor loading port. You idle in front of the closed gate. A voice pipes through the speakers, “Craft 015, we were just about to send out a search team.”
You use a modulator to mimic one of the voices of the guards from 015, “we lost comms for a bit. Drop made.” Not a total lie. A drop was made— two incapacitated guards on a casino rooftop. The gate opens. As Ivory eases the craft onto its designated docking pad, Sage examines the visual feeds on the ship’s dash. “There and there. Two security bots. They don’t seem to be on high alert. Will comms be down?” She realizes her mistake, “oh sorry.”
Since the answer requires little specifics pertaining to insiders and methods, you give her this one. “Selectively. Total disruption triggers the failsafes.” You also look at the feed. A maintenance tar passes in the background and disappears from the frame.
POP. The loading port’s lights go dark. “The breakers again?” You hear one guard say to the other. “Check the east breaker, I’ll check the west.” You and Sage use the distraction to surreptitiously disembark. In the shadows, you spot the maintenance tar leaning coolly against the back wall, arms folded. He gives you a nod in the direction of a steel door. Lime’s guy, you conclude.
On the other side of the door is an elevator bank, the power is out in this area, too. In your POV display, a 3-D model of the building’s interior pops up. Marcus explains, “here’s a map. The server is on the top floor. A few doors down from Jeph’s office.” The lights flicker back on. One of the elevators opens.
“Elevator six running express to the sixtieth floor,” Lime quips into your internal audio feed. You enter the elevator. Sage follows. “That’s right, just follow the sound of our voices.” Between Lime’s maintenance connections and Marcus’s CCTV expertise you’re relatively confident in your guides. Lime continues, “there’s no staff in the offices at this hour. Just guards. We’ll direct accordingly.”
You reach the sixtieth floor. Lime asks you to hold. “Okay, clear.” The doors open. Jeph Tru’s constituents would be disheartened by the opulence of her offices, you imagine. Her campaign portrays her as a rust-collar, tar-of-the-people type candidate. These gold-veined porcelain surfaces suggest otherwise.
“Is this Jupiter Porcelain?” Sage whispers. You shush her and gesture for her to keep moving. Staying close, you both cautiously make your way through the desk bullpen. All seems quiet.
“Oh shit,” Marcus sounds alarmed, “someone is coming.” Without waiting for further instruction, you pull Sage into the closest office. “I wish you hadn't done that,” Marcus says coldly. “Hide. Now.” You clock the nameplate on the office desk: JEPH TRU, Gates Representative. You realize who the approaching “someone” is. Panicked, you signal Sage to duck into Jeph’s private charging station, a small vestibule with opaque glass doors.
Seconds later, Jeph enters the office and sits at her desk. She takes a call. “Julius, you hear about our situation this evening?” You send a text to Orange requesting his audio feed.
“I did, sounds like typical opposition tactics,” Orange responds.
“I thought so, too. Oddly enough though, our Head of Security ID’d one of the intruders. He thinks it’s Rabbot from Vogu. Should have confirmation from the compound shortly.”
“Compound? No ILA?”
“Our contact recommended that we avoid ILA involvement as much as possible. Handle it all internally. We can’t invite too many questions.” A text from B-3 appears in your POV: spoke w/ Nep J myself.
Orange says to Jeph, “for what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s Rabbot. I think I saw him in the background of Saxton and Sheldon’s live just now.”
You hear the ambient noise of a busy bar, then the slurring of a drunk Sheldon, “yo, my new mutt is so fly!” Jeph must have pulled up the stream.
“Oh, you’re right. There’s Rabbot. Right behind them. He looks like a bit of a drip to be honest.” Goddammit, Marcus. Hundreds and thousands of viewers thinking you’re a bad time. Agent Orange and Jeph exchange a few pleasantries and end the call. She leaves the room, but the team holds the go-ahead for several minutes. Lime: “You’re clear. JT has left the building.”
Lime directs you to the server room five doors down. It’s locked. Sage takes this obstacle on herself, manipulating the entry pad with her fast fingerwork. “She’s pretty good actually,” Marcus admires. BEEP. You and Sage enter the server room, carefully closing the door behind you. “Row 11, machine 7,” Marcus IDs the off-network server. From a compartment in her left thigh, Sage removes five small devices. She attaches one to the target and the rest to adjacent servers.
She senses your confusion. “Gotta make it look like the opposition, right?”
“Good thinking,” you hear B-3 say.
“Incoming,” Marcus reports. “One guard. Seconds out.” You worry about further compromising your identity. Marcus has looped the CCTV footage, protecting you from official feeds, but tar-feeds with clearly lit, unobstructed visuals remain a liability.
“We gotta go. Now.” You hasten Sage with an urgent whisper.
“The target is still loading.”
BEEP. The door opens. You and Sage quickly take cover behind a row of servers, but the sound of your movements give you away. The guard draws his weapon. “Intruders in the server room,” he repeats into his comms several times. Unanswered, he resorts to an old-school strategy: yelling. “INTRUDERS!”
“That will do it, couple more on the way,” Lime remarks casually as if playing a video game on a chill Sunday afternoon. You activate your energy sword— four blue-heat blades of varying shapes and sizes protract from your right forearm compartment. You take the guard from his periphery, severing one of his neck wires. Repairable damage that prevents the tar’s last two minutes of memory from permanently saving.
“Got it. Let’s go.” Sage yanks the device from the target. You both make a run for it, your speed tech in gear. Following Lime’s directions, you burst into the stairwell and head towards the roof. Marcus: “The disturbance is limited to the top five floors; you’ve now got six-plus guards in pursuit. And four tars already on the—” You and Sage emerge onto the roof to find four guards with their weapons drawn. “Roof,” Marcus adds needlessly.
“These guys are kinda cocky,” you say to yourself. Waving their weapons around haphazardly, holding fire for the thrill of it. If only they knew. You give Sage the nod. She protracts her energy sword, her prongs a slightly different shape to your own. You both understand the importance of a swift and quiet take down. You go right. She goes left. You launch yourself off a cooling shaft and land behind two of the guards. You sever one’s neck wire. The second attempts to fire his pistol, but your energy sword cuts through it. You manually pull his neck wire.
“Ready?” Sage asks, standing over two felled marks.
The high-pitched whir of a security craft draws near. You see it crest above the roofline. 015 written on its side. Ivory. He lands the ship and opens the bay. As you and Sage board, several more guards surge through the roof door. Sage puts her hands up, feigning an in-progress arrest. You take the same stance. The guards lower their pistols. Ivory closes the doors behind you and starts the ascent. You watch the guards from the craft’s south-facing cam feed. How long will it take? For them to register this is a stolen ship?
Ivory delivers you and Sage to a nearby sky garage. A getaway vehicle awaits you in the parking stacks, an egg-shaped, six-door family glider. Onyx and his little jokes. You take the pilot seat this time. Sage sits passenger side. You expect an onslaught of questions. Instead, she asks only one. “Where are we going?”
“A safe-house. Just for the night. To make sure we’re in the clear.” You ride in silence. You would like to know what she’s thinking. What she makes of all this. If she trusts you now. You would ask, but that might invite questions you yourself cannot answer. Not without the team’s assistance and approval. The Council has called for an in-tar debrief tomorrow morning. How to handle Sage is surely on the agenda. You will undoubtedly have some influence on the issue— you and Sage have a history. You consider your approach.
Advise the Council to trust Sage. You believe that she will respect the secrecy of the group’s existence and could prove a useful asset down the line. Much like Lime and Onyx’s most trusted contacts.
Advise the Council to conceal its existence from Sage. Together, the Council must devise a way to cover its tracks—from the day of the heist to the Vogu hack investigation. This will involve redacting and fabricating evidence.
Advise the Council to investigate Sage before you make any decisions. You’re curious about her years at the ILA and the dramatic shift in her perspective.
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