Episode 318: Colchester Endgame, Part One
Air date: 04May 2010
Present: Maer, Terri, Andy, Bobby, and Tony
Tuesday, 28 Jan 2521
White Sun (Bai Hu) system
0930 hrs, local time
We maneuver into the atmo of Colchester and mid-conversation with air traffic control, we fire the explosive bolts that blow the prison shuttle shell off our craft, simulating our destruction. We fly under the radar to the recycling facility that services the Data Center and land just outside it, a little singed but in one piece and none the worse for wear.
And faking our deaths under the watchful eye of the Alliance and landing in disguise was the easy part. Now the fun begins.
Joshua heads our little band of ‘inspectors’, which includes Zed (or Zelle, as we call her now that she’s no longer with Blue Sun), and in his best authoritative voice he orders to be shown the man in charge. The plant foreman arrives and Joshua spins him our cover story: we’re here to inspect the recycling facility, show us what you have.
Yes, sir, right this way. And on the way, Joshua grills the man about the facility and how it’s run, and the Foreman tells us how it’s done. How the cars come from the Data Center several times a day, how they cycle back and forth, the sort of material that arrives, how it’s shredded and degaussed before it hit the cars. How the metals and plastics are melted down and recycled. That’s nice but we want to see the rail line and the cars that supply the plant with the material.
Okay, fine. The Foreman shows us and we take a good look at it.
It’s a covered tube, with something akin to coal cars running on the single track from the Center. There is no loop; rather, the same set of cars go forward to the recyclers and once their contents are dumped, go backwards whence they came without turning around. Joshua orders the Foreman to remove the cover from the tracks and makes a show of inspecting the line. Beside him, Rina’s ranting on and on about all the nitpicky things wrong with the facility she’s seen just on the walk-through, God knows what’s wrong with the plant once she’s really had a chance to examine it thoroughly. She can tell right off that something’s not quite right about them… Faced with a rather stern official on one hand and a possibly dangerous OCD engineer on the other, the Foreman takes the path of least resistance, turns off the rail line when ordered by Joshua, and leaves.
We make like we’re inspecting the line and once the coast is clear, it’s simply a matter of following the rails to the Library. It’s a trek of about a kilometer over land, not too hard.
In effect, the other end of the line is a very tall dump chute going straight up into the facility. The Library itself is built into the vertical walls of an impact crater and the recycling plant is a couple of kliks away in the bowl of the crater floor. As the Foreman described and we see for ourselves once we get there the electromagnetic degaussers run for ten meters up the tube and a little further on, the shredders run for another ten meters. The chute is forty meters in all.
Tall climb. Tricky, too. If we manage not to get ourselves cooked from the inside out crawling through the giant microwave oven of the degaussers below, we still run the risk of being pureed by the whirling blades of the shredders above. However, this is the one way we can get into the facility without being seen and so we start climbing the chute’s internal maintenance ladder.
Rick approaches the degaussers and times them, determines there’s a regular cycle of on and off. If we move quickly, even the least fit of our team can make through the ten meters before getting zapped. Rick is the nimblest of all of us, so we elect to send him on first, carrying our sensitive electronic equipment. He accomplishes this easily. Rina’s next and almost as she starts, gets zapped and has to wait the cycle through before starting over. Luckily for her, too little of her mass was caught in the field to do more than give her a jolt and a shock, the effects wearing off quickly but leaving burns from the arcs. She makes it on the second try and that pretty much describes what happens to the others. Arden has the same results as Rina, and Joshua climbs up without a hitch. Nika manages to do the same, but Valerie gets hit by the field twice. Zelle gets zapped as well, but her body armor disperses the shock. Or perhaps Zelle is simply made of sterner stuff and takes the damage better than most.
We climb another twenty meters and on the way to the shredders, Nika falls. Faced with sure death from the drop or the possibility of breaking an arm or a leg grabbing for the ladder, Nika chooses the lesser evil. She’s successful in breaking her fall at the cost of jamming her right leg through the rungs and wrenching her knee. Fall arrested, she extricates herself and climbs back up, virtually one-legged to spare her injury further ruin.
As she does that, the rest of us are examining the way ahead. Looking up at the shredders realize that there’s slim to no chance of surviving the climb without turning the blades off completely. Doing so will alert the Feds that we’re here and the game would be up before it even had a chance to start. Tapping the wall of the chute, Rina hears a different pitch from before and pulling out her mini-blowtorch, she burns a peephole through the wall of the chute. Putting her eye to it once it’s cooled, she sees a cavernous room beyond, easily the size of a giant sports stadium, lined with catwalks, modules and innumerable lights that twinkle in the gloom. She’s found the data core of the facility, the place we need to go to hack into the system.
All we need is to cut a hole big enough to get through and drop or climb to one of the many catwalks lining the walls. Once on a catwalk, we can make it to the data entry platform easily. The Library is largely automated, with the slimmest of skeleton crews on duty. We’re unlikely to run into anyone in the core, even with the racket of cutting through the metal walls, and Rina wastes no time getting that torch busy.
The one fly in the ointment: the core is pumped full of nitrogen gas instead of the regular oxy-mix atmo suitable for humans and going further into the core requires breather masks with two hours air. Rina finds out the hard way just how strong the nitro is—she gets the giggles halfway through the cut job and has to put on her mask before continuing. She spends a few minutes laughing her ass off until the mask’s atmo supply negates the effects of the nitro. She settles and focuses and gets back to work.
Cutting through doesn’t take that long, but the position of the cut necessitates a climb to the nearest catwalk. The climb depletes our air at differing rates, depending on the overall fitness of the crew. At the end of the climb, we’re ten feet higher than where we started and some of us only have an hour of air left. After a pause to bind up Nika’s leg to make it more stable and to insure against further damage, we continue at our best speed to the data entry platform.
The platform is less an open-air platform and more like a chamber with an airlock on the end of a bridge thrust into the center of the airspace of the shaft. Looking over the railing, it’s a long long fall down to what looks like a pool of mist at the bottom of the shaft, possibly liquid nitrogen. No telling what that stuff actually is and no one is eager to investigate first hand. We get to the doors of the entry platform and Arden gets busy hacking past the locks. After 50 minutes of sweat, Arden manages to get that airlock door open just as some of us are running on the last of our air. We hustle inside and close the doors, pull off our masks and suck down the oxy like landed fish.
The chamber isn’t very big. There is an elevator at the far side, likely leading down to another section and a possible route by which the facility’s security can cut us off. Electronics lockers line the walls here and a dias with three terminals curves in the center of the room, facing a huge picture window showing us what’s at the very center of the shaft: a glowing orange cube about a meter to a side, crawling with the fire of some sort, held mid-air by rigid metal rods piercing the centerpoint of each of the cube’s six sides. That’s the core, Zelle tells us. That’s what we’ll infect with the despooling worm she’s brought.
But first, we hack.
While Arden gets busy with hacking into the system to get at the intel and decryption we need, Rina hunts down and finds the oxy feed line for the chamber. She pulls it free of the wall and opens it up and starts filling our mask reservoirs with it. We’ll need it once we leave and hopefully there will be enough to see us through the worm’s installation and our hasty retreat after.
Nika meanwhile calls the elevator to the chamber and jams the doors so it cannot be called back down to deliver the enemy to us. She cadges a screwdriver from Rina’s tools for the job, thrusting it into the track the elevator doors glide on. She keeps an eye on it, because it’s none too steady. She also watches the catwalks outside, as does Rina, using the two windows for the purpose.
Rick pulls out the electronics we entrusted to him and using the enabler and after an hour and a half of hard work, Arden’s successful in hacking into the terminals. He conducts a search using tags and downloads anything that looks promising with Falkan or the assassination plot. There are some encrypted files and he downloads them too.
Joshua’s chip is the next thing we crack. Images flash across the terminal screen, contents of Joshua’s chip. Joshua watches and click! he blinks, steps away from the console and says.
Joshua: Who are all of you?
On her knees at the catwalk window, Rina turns at the sound of his voice, as do the others.
Rina: Oh God.
Arden: Not again.
Joshua looks around the room.
Joshua: This is clearly not where I remember being last.
Nika draws her gun, mindful of her duty to the crew and the promise she’d made Joshua: the minute he goes wooly, she’ll shoot him.
Joshua: Excuse me, excuse me. There’s no need for the violence here. We can handle this like calm civilized individuals. This is clearly a—
Arden: Is your name Joshua?
Arden: What’s your name?
Joshua: My name’s Caspar.
Arden: Caspar. (a beat) Caspar, we know you as Joshua.
Caspar: Well, I’m certainly not this Joshua fellow, whoever he might be.
Arden: He’s travelled with us for the last eight months.
Rina stays quiet on what Joshua had been doing with her for the past two of them.
Caspar: That’s not true at all. I—
Nika: We have no time for this. (To Arden) Finish.
Caspar: You’re going to be in huge trouble with the Companion’s Guild when all this is said and done.
Arden: Companion’s Guild?
Caspar: Excuse me? Where am I? I’ve asked this question very politely and I’ve got a gun pointed at me for my troubles.
Nika: Shh. Stand there nicely and we’ll all go in a minute.
Arden: We’re breaking into a high security data vault here.
Caspar: (lightbulb!) Oh my god, you’re not joking. (horrified) Oh no….my life is…is totally down the drain…what am I doing here…? Not to be rude or anything but you don’t look like the type who would have friends in the Companion’s Guild. I’m sorry to say.
Arden: That is rude.
Nika: Isn’t it?
Caspar: Sometimes honesty is—
Arden: It’s still rude.
Caspar: I agree.
Arden: Do you know a Companion named Christian?
Nika: Arden! Stop. Do not engage.
Caspar: No. But then I don’t know everyone on Osiris, so it’s possible I don’t know every Companion in the Guild.
Arden: But not everyone on Osiris is a Companion.
Caspar: I agree with that. Your logic is … fabulous.
Arden: (sighs) Let me get back to what I was doing. Talk to the woman with the gun. She knows more than I do.
Arden goes back to hacking. Rick tries convincing Caspar that he is really Joshua. Look at your hands, he says. You’ve climbed fifty feet of ladder. Upon inspection, Joshua’s hands show signs of wear and tear, certainly of the sort that would be out of place on a Companion. Joshua steadfastly believes he’s Caspar. Rick spies Zelle putting her hand in her pocket.
Rick: (whispering) I don’t know if we need that yet.
Zelle: Just being prepared.
Rick: We’re all dead when that comes out.
Zelle: Not necessarily.
Meanwhile Joshua is still arguing with Arden. He makes a move to push a button on the console and it hinks Rick and Nika right the hell up. She grips her gun and takes aim at Joshua’s head.
Rick: He needs to move away right now or I’m going to kill him.
Nika: Step back. Put your hands where I can see them. Take two steps backwards and keep your hands were I can see them.
He does exactly as he’s told.
Caspar: Yes, ma’am. Sure enough. My hands are up.
Rick readies one of his throwing knives.
Caspar: I’m pretty sure you’re going to shoot me or he’ll throw his knife at me.
Nika: (drawling) Darlin’, I promised you a long time ago I wasn’t going to shoot you unless you got to be a threat to us.
Caspar: I see.
Nika: You turn into a threat to me, I’m knockin’ you out.
Caspar: (quietly insistent) I don’t even know you. From the way you’re dressed, I’m sure I wouldn’t even have a need to know you.
We’ve all got that Browncoat-y look about us. Something Caspar wouldn’t have anything to do with, surely. Zelle slides Rick a look.
Zelle: (very quietly) We might be able to knock him out.
Rick: You mean, with the Word?
Rick: You wanna use it?
Zelle: Might make this easier.
Rick: (to everyone) Who’s for using the Word to put people to sleep?
Arden: (still hacking away) I’m afraid it will do something other than putting him to sleep.
Caspar: Oh my God, I’m with some sort of biblical sect. I’m a Buddhist. I don’t think it’s going to have an effect on me.
Rick: (to Arden) You really think it will make him go crazy)
Rick: All right, who’s for using the Word with the potential of him going crazy and having to kill him?
Arden: Well, when you put it that way…
Caspar: This is making me very nervous.
Nika: Do it.
Caspar: This is crazy. You people are crazy and you’re armed. This is a dangerous thing—.
Arden repeats the word he heard on Meridian, ‘Oh-ess-das-vah. Noy-yey’, and Joshua falls unconscious mid-sentence.
Rick: Do we know the reactivating word?
Rina: He wakes up. (turns back to filling the masks) We can wake Sleeping Beauty later.
Arden gets on with the job. Next on the to-do list: Valerie’s intel.
Rick: Valerie. We’re going to have to plug in your wet ware. We’ll have to plug you into the console.
Arden: (to himself) Great.
Rick: If you go crazy, we’ll have to kill you.
Arden: That’s not going to happen, though, right?
Rick: Try to resist with every fiber of your being whatever insanity occurs. Cuz I am aiming at your head. I am sorry but we need to get the càodàn* out of here. (* the Cantonese equivalent of the F-word)
Valerie: (dubiously) Um… Maybe I don’t want to do this… Maybe we should just go. I think we’re okay. I don’t want to be shot. Or knifed.
Valerie balks at getting plugged in.
Zelle: The most incriminating evidence is inside her head.
Rick: Okay, let’s get that shit. Come on, let’s do it.
Valerie: I’m not doing anything unless you put your guns and knives away.
Rick: Okay, look. We won’t kill you if you go crazy.
Valerie: Are you lying? Or just trying to calm me down?
Rick: No. We will just immobilize you.
Nika: Ultimately we’ll just knock you out, same as we did Joshua. We’ll just knock you out.
Valerie: I’m not sure those words work on me.
After all, she was standing right there when we used them on Joshua just now and hey, she’s still standing.
Nika: I meant, we’ll just clunk you over the head and knock you out so you’re not a threat to anyone.
Valerie: (agitated now) You know, people think that’s safe to do but it’s not. I should know, I’m a neurosurgeon. You watch too many tri-vids. It’s not safe to hit people over the head to knock them out.
Rick: We’ll tie you up with belts. We can immobilize you with belts now, so the worst that can happen is you start yelling.
Arden: Do it quick, whatever it is.
Rick: Okay, I’m going to tie you up with a belt. Is that cool?
Oh my God. Seriously? Apparently so. Rick approaches Valerie slipping off his belt.
Rick: The safe word is not ‘no’, it’s ‘canteloupe-walrus-monkey’.
Valerie: You seem really familiar with that sort of thing…
Valerie very grudgingly agrees. Rick ties her arms and legs with a couple of belts and stands behind her with his knife at the ready, where Valerie can’t see. Just in case. Arden plugs Valerie’s lead into the terminal. Poor woman.
Rick: You’re going to be fine. It’s okay.
Based on what we’d seen Swordsman do with Valerie before on Osiris, we have to coax the data from her memories by walking her through it in a semi-hypnotic trance. Arden tries talking to Valerie first, but she’s oddly resistant. Imagine that. Rick tries next and gets nowhere.
Rick: Zelle, do you want to try?
Oh lovely. First we start off with the ex-lover who hates her, then we go to the guy who’s holding a knife on her and now we’re going to have an agent of the company who screwed her life over? Who’s next? Rina with her blowtorch?
Zelle: This is the key bit of evidence that we need. I’m persuasive, but my form of persuasion isn’t…gentle. I can usually get what I want but I’m not sure that I have the talents that would be useful for this. I hate to say it but it’s probably Joshua who would be of use to you.
Rick: Yeah, except he’s not Joshua right now, he’s Captain Looney.
Zelle: Perhaps he is, again.
Rick: Right. You wanna wake him up? We know the Word.
In case Joshua doesn’t wake up as Joshua. We could wake him up and put him down as many times as it takes until we cycle back to Joshua. Arden grabs the smelling salts from his medkit and revives him. Joshua gets a good waft of the ammonia, jerks, coughs…
Arden: You’re not Caspar. Right?
Joshua: (blinking) No. I’m not Caspar.
It takes him a minute to steady. He actually remembers being Caspar.
Rick: Who was Caspar?
Joshua: He was a Companion.
Arden: I don’t want to know right now. (points to Valerie)
Rick: We need your assistance.
Joshua: (catching up) … Okay … What do you need me for?
Usually after a borrowing assignment, Joshua’s handlers would wipe the memories from him. But now he remembers all of his experience as Caspar. The memories are not pleasant, which is why his handlers wiped it from his mind. But now the memories are back.
Joshua: I’m having a little bit of trouble focusing, so if you could point me in the right direction, please.
Arden: You remember where we’re at? We’re in the core.
Joshua: Yes, I got that. We’re…we’re hacking into things.
Arden: We need to use Valerie to get at the data with her in it and we need someone to walk her through it.
Joshua: Okay, that’s' the reason why it isn’t working in the first place.
Arden: What? I didn’t tie her up.
Joshua: No, not the tying up part. The using part.
Zelle: Well, the tying up part might be part of the problem.
Joshua: It might be part of the problem to, like… all right. (sighs) Hi, Valerie.
Joshua moves over to her.
Joshua: This is a total cluster f—, um. Look…
Valerie: I’m trying. I’m trying.
Joshua: I know you are. Just try and relax. I mean, I know it’s hard to do, but the only way we’re going to be able to get those memories out so that you can get your name cleared is to just relax and try and think about it. Let me talk you through what happened, what we remember. We’ll start from where we landed on Londinium… We’ll walk you through those steps and maybe that will trigger it and we’ll walk you through the timeline.
We have to start somewhere and Joshua’s chosen our landing on Londinium prior to seeing the Prime Minister. Based on what Joshua remembers seeing when Swordsman walked her through her programming, when she gets into that trance state she can be triggered one trance from another.
Joshua: Let’s see if we can’t get you something that’s closer to what we can remember and we’ll work you back to it.
The key memory we want is the actual conversation between General Nguyen and MP Gibbons. Zelle believes that this has been orchestrated by MP Falkan and that she may have been partial to the programming that set up Valerie. If Valerie has any memories of Falkan, we should bring those to the surface too.
Zelle: She’s been to Colchester recently. You might want to ask her about that.
Joshua: Okay. All right, Valerie. Do you remember being here before, on Colchester? Think about the moon. Maybe think about a shuttle trip to the moon. Think about Falkan.
He gives her a description of the MP. Valerie struggles with it.
Valerie: I don’t think I’ve ever been here. I mean, other than the time we were all taken here.
Joshua: Do you have any memories of her at all?
Valerie: She’s a Londinium MP?
We stop and think for a minute as to when all this stuff happened to Valerie. Things really didn’t start getting bad for her until we showed up at her hospital with Mike Carter in tow, hoping she could find a way to reverse the damage done to him. While Zelle revealed that Valerie had been involved in the development of the Paxilon line of drugs, we don’t know for certain that
Rina: It was after the stuff we did for Carter on Osiris.
Arden: After Mike.
Nika: Zelle thought it came before that, yeah?
Rina: She mentioned that she was working on the Paxilon drugs, including the stuff that was used on Miranda. We don’t know that she was actually tapped, kidnapped, wet-wared until after Carter.
Nika: We don’t know anything except than they took her after that and if she was already wet-wared after that they may have used her to get to whatever she had seen of Carter.
Rina shuts up and grinds her teeth on that one.
Joshua: I wasn’t here for any of that… so…?
Nika: Start with the Paxilon stuff and move forward.
Zelle: We don’t have that much time.
Arden: Start with Mike Carter and what she did for him.
We use a few precious minutes getting Joshua up to speed and he unties her and tries to get her comfortable. He turns her away from the sight of Nika watching her with her gun in hand, trying to lower the threat quotient for Valerie. He’s also going to Read her as he walks her through her programming, hoping to catch the right starting point for the intel search.
Zelle stands to the side, watching everything with a clinical eye. At the elevator, the doors are still pinging and bumping into Nika in their effort to close. All of the former military members of our crew are getting supremely antsy.
Nika: We’ve been here too long.
Rina: Way too long. Dammit, I wish these masks would fill faster.
Rina, Rick and Nika are looking out the windows on a regular basis, searching for signs they’ve been discovered, looking for the troops they know are coming. Rick asks Zelle in a whisper how many she thinks are coming, how big the garrison stationed her is. Given that we’ve already been here for two hours, she’s guessing they had to go around the outside of the base security.
Meanwhile Joshua’s guiding Valerie through the programming. Think about when they took Mike Carter to see her, he says softly.
Joshua: Back at the hospital. On Osiris. They brought Mike in. With Chempliant. They needed your help…
It’s working. Just as before with Swordsman, the wire link to the wetware is showing what she’s remembering. Images appear on the terminal screen, a fast-forward recounting of Mike’s hospital visit over two years ago and then beyond. Through his Read on her, Joshua is also getting individual fuzzy images directly from her head: Valerie pounding on her comm system. Yelling at her husband. Being panicked and upset. A door opening up to reveal two Blue Sun agents, one of whom is Zelle. They take her. She passes out. Her next memory, she is strapped to a table. Everything is bent, distorted, as through seen a fisheye lens. Doctors hover behind surgical masks. She overhears voices. Only some words make sense, words her mind recognizes from her medical vocabulary: pathology, neurology… She sees herself in the scene, as if from a third person point of view.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, Joshua’s no longer Reading it directly from her mind. The images he’s seeing are showing up on the terminal screen via her wetware link. Joshua’s done it. Valerie is fully engaged. Rick, Zelle, Arden and Joshua are following everything. Rina’s alternating watching the terminal and looking out the window. Nika’s still at the elevator and unable to see the terminal at all.
Joshua: (softly coaxing) Look around you. What’s there? What are they saying?
On the terminal we see a flash cut to Valerie sitting in a chair and looking around her. A doctor is talking to some people in front of her. I can hear you, she says. I can hear you fine. They ignore her. Why am I here, she asks. They don’t respond to her at all. One of the people is MP Falkan. Talking to a man.
Falkan: So really, she’s like recording everything that we say?
Man: We will prime her to record at various moments when key phrases are said when she’s around certain people. But we suspect she may still have some use in her. Whatever intel we can get from Gibbons and his … separatists … might be useful.
Falkan: Hm. I don’t know. He seems like a small fish to me. I’m not sure that’s of much use.
Man: What are you suggesting?
Falkan: Well… you say we can program her to do certain things, right? If we could somehow get her to …ah… perhaps do something more… proactive rather than just recording?
Man: That was the original plan for this program.
Falkan stares speculatively at Valerie.
Falkan: It’s tricky, although … with her credentials with Gibbons, we might be able to arrange for him to bring her to … someone.
Man: Well, we could do whatever she could do.
Falkan: Could she do something that she’s not trained to do? Could you have her pull a gun and shoot somebody?
Man: She could pull a gun and shoot but if she’s not trained she won’t be a particularly good shot and I don’t think we can train her anytime soon. She’s too old, for one thing, to be one of our agents in that regard.
Man: If you’re looking for … removing … someone, there are other techniques that we can use. Blue Sun has developed some pharmaceuticals that are particularly effective for virtually instantaneous death through a sugar-like substance that can be introduced into the blood.
Man: Madam Minister, she is … gone already. And let’s be honest. You can sit here in the office your husband bought you with his good works and his good name and you can sit out your term until … somebody does something. Or you can use this opportunity to make real change.
Falkan: forgive me if I’m suspicious of your motives, Chan, but the fact that t we’re talking about this makes me a liitle bit nervous. How do I know you’re not just setting me up?
Chan: You don’t. But I have little to gain from this that I do not already have. But you may have considerably more. What we need is to arrange for a circumstance for Holbrook to die in a way that would give sympathy to your cause.
Falkan: If it’s one of Gibbons’s aides that assassinates him …
Chan: Yes. Well. As soon as I have the justification to move away from the Wu Bah, then the assassination of the Prime Minister may be just that. Then I could switch our influence behind you and that should provide a Parliamentary majority, assuming that all your followers follow along.
Falkan: Then you don’t anticipate much trouble from the other hegemons?
Chan: No. And if they do, then they’ll see the tide is changing and either quickly change their tune or perhaps Mergers and Acquisitions will have to look into what we can do with them.
Falkan: Hm. All right. Now how can we pin this on some of the Independents or Gibbons or someone like that?
Chan: Well, we have reason to believe that Gibbons has been meeting with people out in Blue Sun. She records a few conversations. We change a few words here and there. It’s not that difficult to do. We can actually put in an instruction in her code so that whenever she hears certain names it changes it to whatever we want. That’s assuming that Gibbons or someone is going to try something.
Falkan: No. All we need is something that can be interpreted that way. Once the Prime Minister’s dead, I don’t think people are going to be splitting hairs over whether his words are incriminating enough. The fact that his own doctor was the assassin should be enough evidence to start the ball rolling. Then all we need to do is arrange for them to come back and meet with the Prime Minister.
Chan: I actually have people working for me that have been following some of the people who put her in our hands in the first place. They may have sympathies in that, Independents-speaking, and they’ll make photogenic accomplishes once she’s accomplished her deed. If she’s travelling in their care, her story will just write itself.
Falkan: Chairman Chan, I think we have a deal.
Of course, everyone knows Chairman Chan. He’s head of Blue Sun Corp. And of course, we’re recording every word. Rina tears her eyes away from the terminal to check the mask she’s filling and to look out the window for the opposition. Meanwhile, Joshua gently brings Valerie out of her retrieval trance. He holds her hand and squeezes it with genuine warmth.
Joshua: (smiling) You did fantastic, Valerie. Absolutely fantastic.
Valerie: (dazed) I don’t … remember any of…
Joshua: I know. (A beat) We got all the information we needed and it’s, it’s good stuff. It’s … You’re going to want to kill them yourself when we’re all done. Um. We should probably get out of here.
Rick: So we have everything we need?
Joshua: As far as I know. Arden, do we have everything we need?
Arden reads off his laundry list: genetic modifications, breeding programs, Chempliant addiction and drugs used to lessen it.
Nika: Yeah, we got a little caught up in this. I don’t think we have time for the rest of that.
Arden actually got a little information on genetic modifications and breeding programs downloaded during Joshua’s walk-through with Valerie, and he quickly does a search linking Sophie with the downloaded information. There’s not much information on Sophie or Erewhon Colony. There is a note to keep Erewhon on a watchlist as a possible center of Independence movements based on certain Cortex inquires on Miranda originating from there. It actually says an Operative was appointed to keep an eye on it. As for any evidence of genetics programs that Blue Sun actually ran, it doesn’t appear that they ran the one on Sophie. Eugenics? Not so much, but there are genetic engineering programs of both human and non-human. Mostly non-human foodstuffs.
Arden looks carefully for any evidence that someone like Joshua was genetically engineered. It doesn’t appear to be. He does encounter a lot of tags for classified information and the intel is encrypted at a higher level of encryption than he’s using. There was a hard vault code put on a number of things, including something called ‘The Academy’ and ‘Miranda’. And had been coded right around the time of the Miranda broadcast. The intel hasn’t been erased, just encased in a really high-level of protective encryption. Before Arden can dig further or say anything, everything goes dark.
The power has been shut down.
Time to go, but first, we need to disable the data core. Can we use the enabler to introduce the despooling worm? We could attach the worm to the enabler with the instructions for the enabler to broadcast the worm into the terminal the next time it’s booted up. We could hide the enabler on the underside of the terminal’s console. The alternative would be to go outside and attach it to the glowing orange-red Core itself.
Arden: I think going out to the core is a really bad idea.
But Arden, we have to go out that way anyway. Why not make a detour to the core?
Um…because it’s a trap?
Is there a way to plug the despooling worm to the enabler and let the enabler infect the system remotely. We could hide the enabler somewhere to avoid its discovery until the job is done, couldn’t we? God knows, there’d be hundreds of nooks and crannies we could stash it. The roof of the data entry platform could suffice, covered as it is with a mess of equipment and cabling. And it’s got the one ladder leading up into the larger Ministry building itself. It’s on the way out of here.
Zelle: The enabler’s not powerful enough.
Can we tape the thing to the underside of the consoles? Underneath one of the seats?
Rick: No. We have to do this thing. We physically have to bring it to the core.
Joshua: All right, let’s get out to the core.
Zelle: What we really want to do is try to broadcast this information first.
She holds up the data tab we’d recorded our intel on, including the damning evidence against Falkan.
Zelle: In case, you know, we don’t make it out of here.
Rick: How can we broadcast it?
Zelle: One of these towers should have broadcasting equipment.
We look out the windows at the vast electronic cavern and see that yes, indeed, several of the ‘stalactites’ depending from the ceiling are outfitted with broadcast aerials. One of those modules should do the trick.
Joshua: Okay. Let’s find it and let’s do it.
We troop for the airlock entry, with Rick and Zelle taking point. Rick leans over to Zelle and quietly asks:
Rick: The sonic device. Is it 360 or 180?
Rina delays long enough to disable the lift at our backs. No point in leaving our rear flank exposed. However, someone must be leaning on the call button below—the second she removes the screwdriver from the tracks, the damned doors zip shut and the car plummets. So much for disabling the lift.
Rina: Okay, let’s go.
Up front, Zelle is drawing on her Blue Gloves. Never a good sign. Rick grabs her bare hand one last time in farewell.
Rick: (to Zelle) You can liquefy my brains any time.
Arden: (mumbling) Your brains are already liquefied.
Nika: (to Arden) Don’t go there.
The elevator’s coming, bringing the enemy at our backs. Everyone dons their breathers, squeeze into the airlock, and cycle through it. On the catwalk outside is a squad of power armored security guards.
Nika: Shut the door!
Zelle bulls through it and holding her sonic device high where everyone can see it, shouts imperiously:
Zelle: Who’s your commanding officer!
She shoves us back as the door slams shut. We hear the scream of the sonic weapon engaging and then there’s blessed silence as the door seals shut. Arden opens the inner door and we stumble back inside. Rina and Nika lever the elevator doors open and get busy jamming the lift. Joshua lends his back to the task. Rick jumps for the window to see what Zelle is doing. Sounds of shooting carries through the glass. The sonic weapon is still screaming. Lighting arcs from one power suit to another, the squad on the catwalk falls. Rick opens the airlock doors and gets out on the catwalk to check on Zelle and Arden is right behind him.
The scene on the catwalk is gruesome. The sonic weapon has done its job and done it well—the men have been pureed inside their suits and gore drips from the armor in a steady stream. Face plates show nothing but blood and tissue smeared on the inside. Zelle herself is down and unconscious, her right arm around a guard’s throat holding him in front of her for cover. He is not alive. Most of him is gone, shot away as the others fired their guns as they died. He’d made a fairly good shield for Zelle, but her arm is messed up. Practically shredded. Arden does what he can to keep her from bleeding out but the prognosis for her arm looks grim. He’s not sure he can save it and he certainly can’t do anything more for her now.
Rick checks her armor for bullet holes. Her armor is fine, except where it failed on her arm. Leaving her in Arden’s care, Rick does the practical thing and starts picking up the guns from the dead. They’re assault rifles, with grenade launchers. At ten men to a squad, there are more than enough rifles for all of us plus spares. We all grab one assault each, save Valerie. Joshua refuses his and Rina picks it up.
We regroup. Rick hauls Zelle over his shoulder and takes a position up front. Nika orders Rina to take up the rear. The rest of the party falls in between the two points and we push off for the core. We pick our way through the bodies and make our way by catwalk to the core. It’s not connected to the catwalk. It’s suspended in open space ten feet from the nearest surface and there doesn’t seem to be any port or plug for the despooling worm to go into.
As for the despooling worm, when taken out of the ceramic and copper cigarette case we see the device itself is like a small gas cap, with a flat round surface fitted with molecular connection pads.
We look at the pads, then at the writhing fiery featureless surface of the core. How the hell are we going to plug the device in and shut the damned thing down? Examining the despooling device some more, it doesn’t look like it’s what Zelle says it is. So what is it? An explosive? If so, why call it a despooling worm? Why make it sound like computer code instead of a bomb?
Arden’s all for bombing the heck out of the core and getting out of here. Joshua’s all for stepping back from the violent option.
Joshua: If there’s no input or no output on this thing as far as we can tell, then really, what do we do?
Nika: If it’s not a despooling worm, we have two options. We can attempt to throw it to the core then whatever she’s up to takes its natural course or we can throw a couple of grenades and blast the core. We’re getting’ outa here no matter what.
Looking back the way we came, between the towers and the modules and equipment, Rick sees that reinforcements have shown up. It won’t take long for them to find us again. He walks back to Joshua and Arden where they’re watching over Zelle and asks if they can revive her so we can ask her what the device really is.
Arden: I could give her a mild stimulant, I suppose.
Joshua: Before we do that, we seem to have gotten our options to using the despooling worm or blowing up the core—
Rick: Either that or we get the hell outa here.
Joshua: Okay, as long as we have a third option that doesn’t involve necessarily … I start to worry that if it’s not a worm, then why arewe following along the path of destroying the core. If one thing she’s said isn’t true, then why are the other things—
Nika: I asked that way back when.
Joshua: So did I.
Rick: I think that if it’s a bomb, we should get the hell out of here but we need to figure out what it is. Right?
We stare at the device again.
Arden: Can it be taken apart?
Rina: (pissed) Right here, right now? NO.
Nika and Rina together: Just wake her up.
Having been given the order in stereo, Arden wakes Zelle up. She’s really rocky but she does wake up. She tries moving and Joshua tells her to be still, don’t look at the arm. Rick kneels on the catwalk next to her, covering the sight of her arm and getting her attention.
Rick: It doesn’t look like it’s a despooling worm. What is it really and how does it work?
Zelle: (slowly) … the … it’s a bit more complicated …
Nika: Well, you have about three and a half seconds before we chuck you over the edge of this catwalk, so talk fast.
Zelle: Threats like that won’t work on me.
Rick: I’m not going to throw you over the catwalk but we need to do something because there are a lot of soldiers here.
Zelle: … Everybody except Rick leave.
Rina: (fed up) Okay.
They draw back. Joshua looks askance at the command.
Nika: Yes, really. No, we’re gone. That’s it, we’re done. Go this way.
Joshua: I can’t believe we’re just going to —
Nika grabs him by the arm and retreats about fifty feet away, muttering to him as she joins Rina and Arden.
Nika: If we get out of this alive, I will, I will put a bullet it her head. I swear to God.
Joshua: But the fact that we just—
Arden: We can spend another 30 seconds arguing about it.
Nika: That’s right.
Joshua: No, I don’t—
Arden: And do it again, the way we’re doing it now.
Nika: May as well stand here and argue amongst ourselves and let him get the information she’s deemed too important to impart to him than any one of us. So… just stop.
Joshua: It’s … fine. Whatever.
We stand off to the side and watch Rick and Zelle. They’re speaking but we can’t hear what they’re saying.
Arden: I don’t care what we do, as long as we do it quickly.
Nika: She has trusted only him since she came on board.
Joshua: Yeah, I get that.
Nika: Now whether that’s because she thinks she’s manipulating him I don’t know and frankly right now I don’t care.
Joshua: I get that. I’m just … just looking at it from a random person’s point of view the fact that we have no idea what the despooling worm did and we sent the one person who’s sleeping with her to get the information from her. It makes—
Arden: He’s also the one person who’s saying he’ll kill her if he has to. Joshua: (true enough) Yeah, well ...
Nika: I will trust him to take her out if it becomes necessary before I would trust you to Read her. And that’s sayin’ something.
Joshua: I’m not trying to Read her.
Nika: (glaring at Joshua) That man’s had my back for more than 2 years now.
Joshua: That’s fine.
Nika: He has never ever steered this crew wrong.
Joshua: That’s fine. I’m not arguing with you, Nika. I’m not arguing.
Nika: No, but you’re pissed.
Joshua: Of course, I’m pissed. But I’m done arguing. (A beat) If you want to continue the argument, feel free. But I’m done arguing.
Rina: (eyeroll) If we’re going to argue this, let’s do it somewhere else.
Joshua: Don’t start.
Rick rises from the catwalk and joins us.
Rick: We can’t use this device here. It is a bomb. We need to broadcast this stuff and then she said that we’re going to use the bomb for blowing up something else.
Nika: Why do we need to broadcast before we get the hell out?
Nika: Ten words or less.
Rick: (sighs) Because.
Nika: No. ‘Because’ isn’t cuttin’ it.
Rick: All right, the reason we need to broadcast it is One) we might not get out of here.
Nika: (nods) I can’t argue with that one.
Arden: So we need to make sure it gets out.
Rick: If we don’t get it out, then we’re completely done.
Joshua: And two?
Rick: Two) using the explosive device will possibly prevent any sort of computer work for a while here.
If we have plans to broadcast the intel, we’ll have to do it now.
Nika: (sighs) All right. Let’s go. Comm tower.
Rina: Okay. Let’s go.
Arden: Maybe we can call it the Groundhog Day wave.
Rina: It’s four days early for that.
Arden: We have to call it the Groundhog Day wave, though.
Nika: We won’t call it anything. The public will wind up calling it something, I’m sure.
Rina: And we’ll all just go yaaaay from Heaven. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.
We’re hustling for the nearest comm broadcast tower in the cavernous place. Rick is back to carrying Zelle, who drifts in and out of consciousness.
Arden: (looking over the side) What would happen to the grenades if we drop them into the liquid nitrogen?
Nika: It would freeze the explosive.
Rina: Ya think?
Rick: I wouldn’t bet my life on it.
Arden: I’d bet a life on it, just not mine.
Joshua: Comm tower, folks. Comm tower.
There’s liquid nitrogen below us, unbreathable nitrogen all around us, the enemy advancing behind us and an uncertain outcome ahead of us. We’re trapped in the belly of the master repository of all the data the Alliance has gathered via its Intelligence Agencies. There is no time to reassess the actions that led us here, no more time to change our course. There is no going back, there is only going forward.
Going forward on the word of an acknowledged double-agent filtered through the man who’s sleeping with her.
God help us.
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