Back to it...
Duncan Sterling’s contact proved reliable, once sufficient funds had been transferred to his account. The guy had taken enough to get himself back to Earth and be comfortable for a while, but there was still enough remaining from Lewis Carson’s life savings to make the job financially worthwhile to Shona and the others.
The following morning, the Enviro-Systems uniforms, passes, work orders, and tools all arrived. The group checked the equipment and Connor was pleased to see that Sterling had been able to provide a modest selection four of flechette pistols. The Ronin didn’t want an arsenal at his disposal, but experience had long since taught him that he never went into a potentially dangerous situation unarmed. The weapons were dismantled easily and the separate components could be hidden amongst the tools and parts that had come from Sterling’s contact.
It was decided that they would go to McKenzie later that evening in an effort to get in while there wasn’t as many staff in the building.
During the period of time before they set off, the team went over the finer points of their plan while Angel ran the inexperienced Linford through simulations in her Sphere-Box, hoping to give him a feel for what he was required to do. The plan was essentially quite simple. The team would use the passes and disguises as maintenance personnel to gain access to the McKenzie offices. The worksheets that Sterling’s contact had provided showed that an air-conditioning check-up was scheduled. Once inside, they would head to the lower levels where the environmental systems and controls were located. From there Angel would access a local terminal and take control of the internal security systems. The idea was that she would be able to slip in the “backdoor” by going through an internal terminal and avoid all the Demon programs that would be waiting outside the McKenzie data-fortress. After the Runner had control of the security systems, she would arrange for the team to access Mark Sinclair’s personal elevator, allowing them to get into the CEO’s office where Linford would jack into Sinclair’s private terminal and get the information they needed from the isolated system.
They planned to get in and out in less than an hour without a shot being fired. They also knew that such things were rarely that simple.
Never-the-less, it was with a sense of optimism and determination that the group set off in the early evening, dressed in coveralls, caps, tool belts, and three bags of equipment mixed in with dismantled weapons. Both Elina and Lewis felt a sort of calm as they Sterling’s clinic. Both felt that, come-what-may, the next few hours would see the culmination of all they had went through, be it success or failure. Success would mean getting proof of Sinclair’s illegal nanotechnology research. Failure would most likely mean capture and death. As the thought of this potential fate entered Lewis’ mind he threw a glance at Shona and Connor. He knew that with them around such an end would not come easily.
After leaving the clinic and making their way out of Marooned Town, the group boarded the central Metro and began the long journey through the spine of Asimov. There was a contemplative silence among them as they rode the carriage, each person focused on their own thoughts.
To Connor and Shona this was just another job and they concentrated on the task at hand. Lewis, Elina, and Jacob shared the sensation that the Metro was taking them to the end of a journey that had begun over seven months ago with the discovery of Elina’s daughter. Linford was trying not to show that he was about ready to shit his pants. Sure, he was excited, but he was also terrified of what was expected of him. While he had ran through Angel’s invented scenarios with relative ease, and the Runner had even commented that she thought he was a natural, he was acutely aware of the weight of the task he had been appointed and couldn’t stop dwelling on the possible consequences of what might happen to him if he was caught. The image of Mina screaming and convulsing as her brain was burned wouldn’t leave his mind and he didn’t exactly enjoy the prospect of meeting such an end, despite Angel’s assurances that she would be the one doing all the risky stuff.
Angel herself felt oddly calm. She knew that what they were planning to do was extremely dangerous, but she just focused on her role in the Sphere. Single-handedly tackling a corporation’s systems was no easy task, even though she would sidestep the majority of the protection protocols by going in via an internal link. There would most likely still be McKenzie Runners monitoring the systems and she knew there would be a fight ahead. Not to mention the possibility of the system A.I. showing up if things inside the domain got too rowdy. Angel was confident in her abilities to handle defensive programs, and even other corporate wage-slave Runners, but she knew that going toe-to-toe with an A.I. in its home system could only ever have one possible outcome.
After an hour of travelling, the Metro came to a halt at the main corporate plaza. The group disembarked and stopped for a moment as the members of the team that were new to Asimov took a moment to observe the vista that lay before them, the sight actually making Angel and Linford gawp as they made impressed noises.
The plaza looked like it could have been lifted straight from the heart of The City, as if a great hand had scooped up a section of the metropolis and stuffed it inside a tin can in space. The claustrophobic, omnipresent metallic ceiling of the lower sectors was gone. As the space for the corporate sector was massive in scale, there was room enough for the skyscrapers of any city on Earth, along with a simulated virtual sky that gave the utterly convincing illusion of twilight. Representations of familiar constellations began to shine and glitter in the darkening sky as the simulated terminator began to slowly pass overhead. There was even a gentle breeze that blew occasionally, the air devoid of the polluted smells from back on Earth. The wide walkways and roads that stretched out before the group standing at the Metro station were a total contrast to the cramped, oppressive conditions that Shona and the others had experienced in the lower sectors. Titanic structures stood like glittering metal and glass columns that seemed to hold up the sky, and beautifully sculpted parks and recreation areas provided a natural green relief to all the technology in view. It was obvious to those that had come from The City that, even out in space, it was money that got you everything. Those that were without it were pushed out of sight, literally beneath the feet of the affluent and successful, like space-faring Morlocks to the wealthy, corporate Eloi.
Connor gave a slight snort at what he saw thinking that, to him, this was all proof that humanity had a habit of repeating its worst traits no matter where it went.
Elina, Lewis, and Jacob had, of course, seen it all before.
‘Come on,’ said Lewis to the others as he pulled the peak of his Enviro-Systems emblazoned cap lower over his eyes. He felt a little exposed this close to the heart of the place he used to call home, and could feel his stomach churn slightly as he led the group down the stone steps of the Metro concourse and onto the walkway that would lead them to the McKenzie tower.
After a short walk, the group entered the grounds of the small plaza surrounding the McKenzie Corporation building and Lewis felt an odd sensation, like someone that has just returned home after being away for an extended period. Everything looked familiar, yet at the same time it all seemed new. Small areas of sculpted grass flanked the main, paved walkway that led up to the wide, logo-emblazoned, glass doors that granted access to the gigantic tower. Dotted amongst the green areas were benches and seats where employees would often sit and have their lunch. A large stone statue of a DNA double-helix stood near the entrance and cast a long shadow in the illumination given off by the McKenzie tower.
The vast majority of the windows were dark, with only a few lit up by those employees that were still working. Lewis was relieved to see this as it meant that most of the staff had gone to their respective homes and would mean a considerably less chance of random encounters within the building. He placed himself at the back of the group as he didn’t want to run the risk of being accidentally recognised by anyone they might meet inside. Some of the security staff knew him by sight and he had no idea who was currently on shift. Again, he subconsciously tugged at the peak of his cap in an effort to hide his face. Shona spotted the gesture and wondered if his nervousness would wind up giving the game away. As planned, Connor led the team down the walkway and up to the glass doors, which slid open and allowed access to the expansive foyer beyond.
While some of the group had reservations regarding their current undertaking, Connor and Shona both knew that the trick was to appear confident, even if you weren’t. So it was that the brother and sister strode into the McKenzie building with the appearance that they had been there many times before. Lewis and the others picked up on the pair’s self-assured demeanour and followed them in without hesitation.
A short distance in from the sliding glass doors was the first obstacle: the security desk. The flat-topped, semi-circular counter sat like an island in the polished floor of the foyer and the evening shift receptionist and two uniformed security guards quietly observed the disguised team as they approached. The receptionist was an immaculately groomed woman with a short, professional hairstyle and crisp suit. She maintained a neutral expression as the would-be technicians neared, the two guards watching with the mild suspicion that was a prerequisite of their profession.
Connor strode up to the desk, noting the doors and banks of elevators that lay beyond. He smiled as he came to a stop before the receptionist and guards, the rest of the group falling in place behind him.
‘Hi,’ he said in his warmest, friendliest tone as he pulled out the work order.
The receptionist smiled back. ‘Good evening and welcome to McKenzie Corporation. How may I help you?’
The guards shifted their stance and ran their appraising eyes over the rest of the group. The only thing that caught their attention was Angel’s pink hair poking out from under her cap. Lewis was standing at the back and was giving a silent thanks to whoever was listening that no one behind the desk knew him on sight.
The disguised Ronin placed the work order on the desk before the smiling woman. ‘Yeah, we’re here to check your air-con. It’s due for a tune up.’ He wasn’t sure if that was exactly the right term, but it sounded appropriate.
The receptionist maintained her professionally courteous grin and blinked her eyes a couple of times as she accessed the relevant files through her link to the corporate system. ‘Indeed,’ she said in a neutral voice. ‘There is an air-filtration and conditioning check-up due.’
Connor and the others felt a slight sense of relief. Sterling’s contact had proved reliable.
‘Your passes please,’ requested the receptionist as she slid the worksheet back to Connor. The Ronin took the document and put it away as he and the others produced the tags they had been given and ran them through the scanner on the counter-top. As the device made a confirming “beep” sound as each pass was slid over it, one of the guards started to walk around from behind the desk.
‘In light of our slightly raised security status we’ll just have to quickly check your bags,’ informed the receptionist. ‘It will only take a moment.’
Elina, Linford, and Jacob lowered the bags they were carrying to the floor and stepped back slightly as the guard came around and opened the zips. Connor prepared himself to suddenly and efficiently dispatch the guard should the guy prove to have the ability to recognise and distinguish dismantled weapon components from regular maintenance tools and equipment. Fortunately for the security guard, he was oblivious to what he was looking at and only saw what looked like technical gear. After a cursory glance and rummage around the contents he seemed satisfied that there were no obvious explosives or weapons and nodded.
‘It all looks fine to me,’ he said as he returned to his position behind the desk.
‘Thank you for your patience. You may proceed through.’ The receptionist smiled again and the group picked up their bags. Connor looked at the doors and elevators that lay beyond and wasn’t exactly sure where he should head. Fortunately, Lewis stepped forwards and made his way towards one of the doors at the other end of the foyer. The group fell into step behind him.
The door that Lewis led them too opened onto a metal stairwell that ran both up and down the length of the McKenzie building like a giant spine in the body of the structure. Once the group had all stepped onto the landing and the door was closed, the ex-corporate turned to the others.
‘Alright. This is the central access stairwell. It leads to the majority of the building’s floors, with the exception of a few restricted levels. It won’t take us to Sinclair’s office on the top floor and we can’t access the labs but we can go down a few floors to the environmental section and Angel can use a terminal there to do her stuff. Come on.’ The group descended the metallic stairwell down to the bowels of the building.
As soon as the access door to the environmental systems level was opened the first thing that hit the team was the thrumming sound of the air-filtration and temperature moderating units. It wasn’t loud enough to necessitate shouted conversation but it did smother all background noise.
The room was large, with concrete support columns holding up a panel-lit ceiling. Generators, metal ducts and filtration machinery took up most of the interior, leaving only narrow spaces through which to negotiate the room. Lewis gestured towards Angel and indicated that she should follow him into the room. While waiting in the doorway with the others, Connor opened the bags and reassembled the dismantled flechette weapons. In moments he had put the four pistols together, keeping two for himself and handing one to both Elina and his sister. The women checked the guns without comment then slid them into the thigh pockets of their overalls.
As Connor and the others were getting equipped, Lewis took Angel to a nearby access terminal. It was a standard unit and the Runner pulled her S-Box from a utility pocket on her thigh and removed her cap. She ruffled her hair with her fingers, as if the cap had been an irritation, then sat down in a cross-legged position in front of the terminal. Lewis squatted down next to her, the image of Kenzo’s dead and smoking corpse running through his mind. Angel gave a half smile as she saw the man’s concerned look.
‘D-don’t worry,’ she said as she patted his arm in a reassuring manner. ‘I’ll be f-fine.’
The couple looked at each other for a moment and Lewis could see the iron determination behind the girl’s eyes. While she came across as nervous and unsure, he was suddenly confident of the pink-haired girl’s skills. Behind her awkward demeanour Lewis could see that the young woman was supremely confident in her own abilities, and not filled with the false bravado that Kenzo had exhibited. It was obvious to him that she knew what she was doing. He nodded in agreement of her reassurance. Before he stood up Angel spoke again:
‘As s-soon as I’m d-done I’ll dim the lights a c-couple of t-times. That means you c-can go do your bit. Okay?’
Again Lewis nodded in understanding and stood up. Angel pulled out the network cable from her S-Box and reached up to the terminal access port. The jack slid into place and she attached the main interface cable to the socket in her head and she closed her eyes as she activated her Box.
Standing in her familiar personal domain, Angel summoned the swirling mist as she dressed her avatar in the flat-black guise of a classical Japanese ninja. Her arsenal of Sphere programs appeared as a multitude of weapons on her person: shuriken, smoke bombs, caltrops, blackened rope, and a sheathed ninja-to. She felt the outfit was appropriate for what she was about to do. There was a high probability that, even though she would conveniently sidestep the McKenzie Demon programs by going in through an internal terminal, she would encounter a corporate Runner manning the security systems. Stealth, surprise, and speed would be necessary as she would have to incapacitate whoever she came across before they could alert external forces that there was an intruder.
Standing before the swirling blue globe to the Sphere, Angel knew that once she stepped in she would be on McKenzie turf. The Runner went into a low stance and concentrated on the security systems. Ready for anything, she dashed into the portal.
A nanosecond flash and Angel appeared in the McKenzie security hub. The space was small and circular with a single person standing in the middle surrounded by a multitude of hovering display screens. The chamber was constructed from plain grey square tiles and was completely bereft of any decoration, giving it the appearance of a cell. The sentinel that was monitoring the glowing screens was dressed in a dark-blue all-in-one jumpsuit and looked like a thin man with short, black hair. Before the corporate Runner could even register that Angel had breached the chamber, the ninja activated a Freeze program and tossed a smoke bomb at the man’s feet. There was a sudden, blinding flash of light and an explosion of thick smoke engulfed the McKenzie Runner’s perceptions, giving Angel the few seconds of complete surprise that she needed to act.
Dashing into the billowing smoke, the ninja activated her Bind program and pulled the length of coiled, black rope from her hip. Moving with celerity and dexterity, she bound and gagged the momentarily dazed and frozen corporate Runner in a series of complicated knots, taking the man to the floor and lashing his hands and feet together, rendering him immobile.
By the time the smoke from the Freeze program had dissipated the McKenzie Runner was on the ground and unable to move. The rope anchored the sentinel’s avatar to the security room and rendered him unable to escape until Angel freed him.
The ninja stepped into the focal point amidst the hovering screens and looked down at the bound man. The McKenzie Runner couldn’t be sure, but he was positive that his black-clad assailant was grinning at him. Angel was thankful that the gag part of her Bind program acted as a speech inhibitor, as the bound avatar’s expression made it clear what he was thinking. She leaned down and whispered to him.
‘Be thankful that I need you to stay alive so that anyone watching your real body doesn’t become alerted to my presence by your brains suddenly running out of your ears. Just stay still and you’ll live to talk about it.’ Of course, she had no intention of killing the McKenzie Runner, he was just doing his job after all, but she hoped that her threat sounded real enough. The disabled avatar seemed to get the message as he sighed and closed his eyes in frustrated defeat.
Angel stood up and quickly scanned the floating monitors. There was everything she needed and all the systems were open as the McKenzie Runner hadn’t even had time to lock himself out before being incapacitated. Swift, gloved fingers tapped over several screens disabling security locks and surveillance cameras. She also isolated external communications so that, in the event of any kind of alarm being tripped, no one outside the building would be alerted.
With the path to Sinclair’s office cleared, Angel momentarily dimmed the lights to the environmental systems floor and monitored the McKenzie systems.
In the loud room that housed the air-conditioning generators the panel lights on the ceiling dipped momentarily before returning to full illumination. Connor and the others took this as their signal to proceed.
‘Good girl,’ murmured Shona to herself as the lights dipped.
In the minute that it had taken Angel to infiltrate the security system, Connor had handed out the miniature communication devices amongst the group and had tuned his own internal system to the required frequency while the others had slipped the tiny pieces of technology into their ears. The Ronin then handed one of his flechette pistols to Jacob which the older, man took with an uncomfortable expression.
‘Okay Jacob,’ said Connor. ‘Stay here and keep an eye on Angel. If any of the McKenzie rent-a-cops come to check on our progress I don’t think they’d react too well to one of us being plugged into a terminal. You know what that means.’
Jacob glanced at the pink-haired girl then at the weapon in his hand. ‘I’ll do what I have to.’ There was a firm tone to his voice and Connor knew that, even though it was apparent that the man wasn’t happy with the idea of potentially killing someone, he wouldn’t let anything happen to the Runner.
The Ronin turned to the others. ‘Alright, let’s get this done.’ He nodded to Lewis and the bespectacled man turned to lead the way back out onto the stairwell. Both he and Linford felt somewhat naked as the only ones that were unarmed but, if they were honest, they both knew that they would probably do more harm than good if a gun was given to either of them.
Shona was the last to leave the noisy chamber and she hesitated momentarily before she closed the door on Jacob and Angel, her gaze lingering on the girl wired to the terminal. Unseen by the others, a brief expression of worry flashed across her face before she turned and followed the rest back up the metal stairs.
So they're in. Will it go according to plan?
Thanks again for reading. Quite a long one today.
Thank you for any comments.
Nov 7, 2012 8:24:54 amby renecyberdoc Homepage »
these flechette pistols are very handy.we use em on spackopolis for wet operations.we dip the flechettes into fecces or other body fluids first heheheheh,
i prefer to dip em in the wonderwaste-crotchrot virus fluid,very effective.
after 30 minutes the skin stars falling off your bones and boners muahahahahah.