Gunmetal Sky - Part 18a
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Part one of two.
As Shona had guessed, Connor had proven hard to convince about the idea of going to help Lewis Carson. When she had dropped her bombshell of a plan on him he had thought flying off to outer space based on a vague conversation with someone they hadn’t seen in years was more than a little crazy. But he knew his sister and he knew that if she had gotten it into her head that she was going to do it then there was nothing he could do to change her mind.
Short of shooting her, and he wasn’t going to do that.
After some initial protesting, he had eventually acquiesced. Even if just to keep an eye on her. At least, that was what he told himself.
Angel had been initially reticent, but quickly went along with Shona’s plan when she realised that the alternative was being left in The City. Alone.
After Connor had arranged care for Luc, the group had packed up and made for the U.N. Spacy terminal the day after Elina had departed with Linford. Once aboard the shuttle, the two day trip to Asimov passed without incident. Angel used the majority of the time to work at cracking the encryption that Linford had placed on the hacking program. The protection took the form of an old Rubik’s cube and, like the old puzzle, the idea was to shift the multi-coloured squares that formed each side so each flat surface was uniformly shaded. The theory was simple enough to Angel, but the problem was that at seemingly random moments some of the squares would spontaneously change colour, meaning that areas that had moments ago been virtually complete had to be adjusted again. It had proved incredibly frustrating but, after spending nearly two solid days jacked into her S-Box, she finally managed to align the colours and solve the puzzle. If she had been particularly religious she may have acknowledged that her success may have had some divine intervention attached to it. As it was, she took her victory as an affirmation of her skill (with a slight nod to luck). Typically, her moment of victory had come at a time when both Shona and Connor were asleep in their couches so she had to savour the taste of success on her own.
Shona found that when she slept on the shuttle the horrors she witnessed in her dreams when she tried to sleep in The City were completely absent. The result was that her mind and body took the opportunity to catch up on much needed rest and she was pretty much comatose through the entirety of the voyage.
With Shona asleep and Angel engrossed in her decryption efforts, Connor was pretty much left to his own devices and he spent the trip amusing himself with the entertainment provided on the shuttle: movies, music, games, and reading books that he had brought with him. The zero-g cubes that Linford had found so entertaining on his voyage just reminded the Connor of the weightless combat training he had received during his time in the military and wasn’t his idea of fun.
Unknown to the group, their arrival was greatly anticipated. Not only by Lewis, but also by McKenzie Corporation agents who had traced the call from the destroyed Sol-Com booth.
Following the botched job and shootings that had occurred at Bowman’s, the agent that awaited them in the arrival lounge was under strict instructions to observe and plant a tracer on Shona, unless instructed otherwise.
So it was that when Shona and Connor disembarked and made their way into the arrivals lounge, they had the distinct impression that they were being watched. Angel was oblivious to any such feeling as she was staring about in wonder. If someone had told her, back when she had first gotten on the T.C. Rail that took her to The City, that a few days later she would be in outer space, she would have laughed. And yet there she was, standing in a station nearly 240,000 miles from Earth.
The waiting McKenzie agent was dressed in plain civilian clothing. He sat on a garishly coloured and uncomfortable plastic seat and watched the new arrivals as they made their way through the doors from the Acclimatisation Lounge. A picture of Shona Rourke floated in the agent’s field of vision as his artificial eyes ran an image-match, scanning the passengers for a positive identification. The photo was a couple of years old and taken from a copy of her travel card, but the Wet-ware had no problem matching it to the red-haired woman that entered the arrivals area with a large, bald man and an open-mouthed, pink-haired girl.
Subject identified. The agent sent via his internal communication system.
Observe and trace. A voice replied.
The agent picked up on the stressing of the word “observe”. Understood, he replied and watched as the group made their way amongst the other passengers.
Lewis Carson stood by an information point near the arrivals area and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible, attempting to blend in with the bustle of people that were coming and going in a steady stream of human traffic. He had, in fact, been identified immediately after his initial arrival but, as picking him up at that time wasn’t their mission, the concealed McKenzie agents left him alone. The bespectacled ex-corporate waited with anticipation as he watched the batch of new arrivals make their way into the station. After a few minutes he spotted Shona and her companions. He instantly recognised her brother and assumed that the pink-haired girl was the Runner she had mentioned.
After a quick glance to see if he was being watched, not that Lewis would have been able to spot the hidden McKenzie agents, he began to make his way towards Shona’s group. As soon as he stepped out of the crowd of people, Shona and Connor both spotted him. Lewis had been hoping to keep the reunion with his old associate quiet so as to not draw any attention but, unfortunately, Shona had no such intention. As soon as she saw her friend from years ago she dropped her hand luggage and dashed towards him where, before the surprised Lewis could say a word, he was engulfed in a powerful embrace and lifted a couple of inches off the floor.
‘Lewis!’ exclaimed Shona as she returned him to the ground. ‘Holy shit man, it’s been a long time!’ She held him by the arms and looked into his face, smiling broadly.
Lewis blinked a few times and looked back at the beaming woman. ‘Yeah, hi Shona. You’ve changed your hair since I last saw you. Red suits you, I like it.’
The woman released her friend and touched her hair. ‘Oh yeah. It was black the last time I saw you.’
Connor had picked up his sister’s hastily dropped bag and made his way towards the couple, with Angel following a step behind.
‘Connor. How’s it going?’ greeted Lewis with an outstretched hand.
‘Hello Lewis.’ The tall Ronin didn’t shake hands and indicated that his were full. Lewis got the impression that the bald man wouldn’t have shaken his hand even if they had been empty.
‘Same old Connor, huh?’ said Lewis with a nod of his head. The Ronin just shrugged slightly, despite the frown that his sister gave him.
Aware that people were starting to push past and generally jostle them, Lewis felt he wanted to move things on a bit quicker.
‘Okay,’ he continued without acknowledging Angel. ‘We’ll do the rest of the catch-up stuff later. I’ll take you to a place where we can talk and tell you why I’ve asked you here.’
Shona took her bag back from her brother and pulled Angel from behind the him. ‘Yeah, sure. This is Angel, by the way.’
‘Um… h-hi,’ stammered the pink-haired Runner with a brief wave.
Lewis gave a smile and nod of acknowledgement then addressed Shona. ‘Come on, let’s go. I already feel like we’re being watched.’ He turned and headed off towards the nearby Metro station.
‘I felt that since I stepped off the shuttle,’ muttered Connor to himself as the group followed Lewis into the crowd.
The seated McKenzie agent had observed the whole reuniting with a mild sense of impatience. He was eager to finish his assignment and return home. As he observed Shona giving Lewis a hug he was sure that her tall, shaven-headed companion had looked directly at him a couple of times. He judged the man to be in a similar line of work to himself, probably some street Ronin from Earth that Lewis had hired as muscle. As he watched the interactions of the small group he decided that the nervous-looking pink-haired girl was the most promising target for the tracer and when they all began to follow the ex-corporate towards the Metro stop the agent stood and made his way through the crowd, walking on a path that would intercept the girl. At precisely the correct moment he stepped from behind another passenger, making as if he was distracted by something else, and walked into Angel. The instant they made contact his left hand touched her shoulder as if steadying himself and he planted a micro-tracer onto her jacket. Angel gave a small, surprised shriek as the man walked into her, drawing the attention of her companions.
‘Sorry!’ exclaimed the agent, convincingly acting like an embarrassed idiot.
Angel was about to say it was okay when Shona interrupted. ‘Watch where you’re going asshole!’
The agent looked apologetic. ‘Sorry, sorry. I didn’t see her.’ He turned to Angel and gave a laugh of mock embarrassment. ‘My first time here. Too busy gawking! Sorry. Are you okay?’
‘I’m f-f-’ stuttered Angel, trying to say that it was alright.
Shona stepped forward. ‘She’s fine. Now get lost.’
Recognising when it was time to cut and run, the agent smiled and nodded and backed away before blending in with the crowd. Angel turned and scowled at Shona thinking her attitude a tad harsh. The red-haired woman saw the look.
‘What?’ she challenged. ‘Creep was probably trying to touch you up or steal your bag!’
‘Yeah,’ agreed Connor. ‘I think I saw that guy watching us earlier. You’re not missing anything, are you?’
Angel just scowled and sighed as she did a quick pocket check then shook her head and gestured that the group just keep going. Lewis led them on towards the Metro station.
As the McKenzie agent walked off he activated his internal communications.
Tracer is in place.
Excellent. A team is being prepped. Stand down and return. Instructed the voice in his head.
Hal’s was a small pub located on the level just above what was considered to be the start of Marooned Town and acted as a sort of land mark for an invisible border to the lower sectors. Though it was a far cry from being on the same scale as Cordite, it was replete with shadowy corners and was an ideal place for people of all types to conduct illicit business in relative security. The owner had obviously tried to capture an old world theme with the wooden floorboards and furniture, exposed beams on the first floor ceiling, decorative melted candles that rested in metallic sconces, and a black wrought iron staircase that went up to a similarly furnished second floor. The lighting was deliberately dim in an attempt to create atmosphere and it was well suited to the people that often conducted transactions in the darkened booths.
Lewis led Shona and the others into Hal’s and Connor immediately liked the feel of the place, it reminded him of a bar he had frequented when he had been growing up in The City. Lewis ordered a round of drinks and took the group up the metallic staircase to a booth on the second floor. Connor and Lewis sat on one side of the table, with Lewis nearest the wall. Shona and Angel slid in on the other side, the Runner sitting opposite the ex-corporate. Once they had all settled in their seats and taken a sip of their respective drinks Shona faced her old associate.
‘Okay Lewis, you gonna tell us why you asked us to come all the way out here?’
Lewis took another sip of his drink and placed the glass down on the table, taking a moment to gather his thoughts. ‘Remember when I left The City to join McKenzie Corporation up here on Asimov?’
‘I remember the goodbye party,’ Shona said with a suggestive smirk.
‘Yeah,’ continued Lewis. ‘Well, getting a job up here didn’t turn out to be the grand adventure that I thought it would be. Even though working with breakthrough nanotech was exciting, we never actually got anywhere, like we’d hit a wall or something. Eventually the chief execs on Earth must have gotten sick of the lack of progress because they “reassigned” the head of the research team and most of her staff and brought in Mark Sinclair and his team to take over the job. Within a month of Sinclair taking over we started to produce tangible results. Of course, everyone was happy and no one really questioned how he had turned it around as we were no longer worried about our jobs.’ Lewis paused as he took another drink then continued. ‘Then, seven months ago there was an “accident” in the lab and an explosion in the lower levels.’
‘Hey, yeah!’ interrupted Angel. ‘I r-remember reading about that in the Sphere. Some k-kind of accidental fire that k-killed some r-researchers and a few other p-people.’
‘That’s what Sinclair convinced the media had happened. I was actually outside the building when the explosion occurred. After the initial chaos, I spotted a little girl walking out of the building. She was wearing a green hospital gown.’ Lewis’ tone turned grim as he recalled the memory. ‘I ran over to her to see if she was hurt. There was a blonde woman with her that seemed to know her. Before we could do anything the child whispered something then… crumbled to ash before my very eyes.’
‘What?’ asked Connor and Shona as one. Angel bit her lower lip, her eyes wide.
Lewis held his hands out as if he could show them the ash of the disintegrated girl. ‘She just turned to white dust, as if burned from the inside out, and blew away. All that was left was her little gown. She can’t have been more than three-years-old.’ He picked up his glass and took a long drink.
Shona frowned slightly. ‘That’s pretty fucked up, but what’s it got to do with us?’
The ex-corporate snapped out of his reverie as the image of the incinerated girl hovered in his mind’s eye. ‘I wanted to know what the girl was doing in our building dressed like that and if she was somehow connected with the explosion that had happened. I couldn’t believe that Sinclair would condone the use of human test subjects in his experiments, let alone children! So I took it upon myself to find out what had happened. I didn’t get very far.’
‘Your boss fired you,’ stated Connor.
‘Yep,’ confirmed Lewis. ‘Security was through the roof following the incident and I got picked up almost immediately when I started digging around. I got fired and told in an indirect way that if I ever looked into the incident I would meet with an unfortunate “accident”.’
‘Sounds like the usual corporate bullshit,’ muttered Shona.
‘Yeah, well I wasn’t going to let threats stop me. I couldn’t stop thinking about that poor little girl. I still can’t… so I decided to get to the bottom of what was going on by my self.’
‘You always were a fucking wannabe hero, Lewis,’ said Shona with a half-smile. ‘So I guess you realised you needed some help and called me in to save your ass. Just like old times, right?’
‘Yeah, something like that,’ said Lewis with a frown.
Connor studied the man next to him for a moment. ‘We aren’t the first people you’ve asked to help you, are we?’
The ex-corporate looked uncomfortable and scratched the back of his neck. ‘Er… no, not exactly.’
Shona folded her arms and sat back. ‘Who else is involved?’
‘No, no! No one else is involved in this. Just this guy called Sterling who’s the local Fixer here. Kinda like Fish but on a smaller scale.’
‘Uh-huh. But?’ Shona knew there was more to it if Lewis had made contact with a Fixer.
‘Yeah, but I did arrange for a local Runner to make an attempt at the McKenzie data-fortress.’
There was a brief moment of silence.
‘And?’ asked Shona.
‘The kid got fried.’ Lewis still felt like shit about it and it showed on his face.
Shona looked at Angel then turned back to Lewis. ‘So you want my Runner to hack a corporate data-fortress and find proof of what they are doing in their experiments? You better have the funds Lewis. What you’re asking isn’t cheap.’
Lewis sighed at Shona’s mercenary attitude as he reached inside his jacket and pulled out a cash-card and placed it on the table. ‘This is all the money I have. There’s close to a couple of hundred thousand there. You can have it, I don’t care any more. All I want is for Sinclair to pay for what he’s done.’
‘What you think he’s done,’ corrected Connor.
‘I know what I saw!’ Anger crept into Lewis’ voice.
‘Look,’ the Ronin continued. ‘Even if it’s all true and this Sinclair guy is conducting illegal experiments, what do you think you’re going to accomplish by exposing him?’ Connor thought Lewis needed a dose of reality. ‘Even if this info you’re after should prove that the guy is Satan himself, what do you think is going to happen? I’ll tell you. He’ll be taken off the station and publicly reprimanded while, in reality, the corporate bosses will just give him a smack on the wrist for getting caught. The guy will be transferred to the next place that needs his certain kind of expertise and no one will ever hear of him again. McKenzie will make some kind of grand, fake apology and donate enough money to whatever charity is in fashion at the time. In a few months the whole thing will be forgotten about. Trust me, I know. People are too self-obsessed and too fixated on self-indulgence and instant gratification to give a shit about each other. I see it all the time.’ The Ronin took a sip from his glass as the others seated at the table considered what he had just said.
Shona agreed with him. It was hard not too having lived in The City for most of her life. Angel was a little taken aback by the attitude from the man that had risked himself to save her back in that rainy alley and wondered if it was what really he felt.
Lewis wasn’t impressed. ‘So what? Just forget the whole thing? Just forget that I had an innocent three-year-old girl turn to ash in my arms? I can’t do that. I don’t care what you think, I have to try and do something.’
‘Just don’t expect anyone to thank you, that’s all,’ Connor said.
‘I’m not doing this for anyone’s thanks, Connor!’ Lewis was starting to get angry, annoyed at the cynical attitude the Ronin was giving him.
‘W-what about th-the other w-woman? The b-blonde.’ Angel finally spoke up thinking it best to try and interrupt things before they got too heated.
Lewis let out a long breath and shrugged as he turned his attention away from Connor. ‘She held on to the smock that the girl had been wearing and disappeared into the crowd during the confusion. I never saw her again.’ He watched as Shona took the cash-card from the table and checked the amount, her eyes widening slightly at the figure she saw. ‘That enough to make coming up here worth your while?’
The red-haired woman nodded in affirmation.
‘Good,’ said Lewis. ‘So how soon do you think you can get to work?’
Shona looked at Angel. The Runner picked up on the unspoken question and shrugged her shoulders slightly. ‘No time like the present,’ said the Fixer.
Angel pulled off her hoodie and stuffed it into the corner of her seat then pulled her S-Box from its pouch. She pushed her untouched drink aside and placed the S-Box on the tabletop. The chip with Linford’s program was still installed after she had broken the encryption. Normally she would have been hesitant to run a hack against a corporate A.I. on her own but, from what she had seen of the program, she was confident she would be able to get in and out again without getting burned.
The Runner pulled the retractable jack cable from her S-Box and attached it to the socket beneath her hair. ‘M-McKenzie C-Corporation, right?’ she asked Lewis. The young man nodded his confirmation. Angel looked at Shona and smiled. ‘S-see you in a bit,’ she said as she closed her eyes and activated her Box.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Thank you for reading and for your comments. It was interesting to see your thoughts on Angel.
Part two will come tomorrow.
For those that have remarked on getting this published, I have self published this on a certain website, but it didn't do very well. Looking back through this, I can see why. Though I do appreciate you saying that you are enjoying it, this is nowhere near what I am currently working on, in terms of quality and story. Hopefully my new project "Torn Skies" will meet with a greater degree of success upon its completion.
- October 30, 2012
- Science Fiction
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