| The Network Revenant
The phonetone succeeded in dragging Fia up through at least three levels of sleep. She waved a hand at her portable, still on the side table, from under a nest of blankets and forced her voice above a croak. "What."
"Ms. dos Santos, my apologies for the late call."
"Fandling?" Fear pulled her out from under the covers, fear of the Bent, into a sitting position against the headboard. She reached over and waved the light on, trying to force her voice steady.
"Yes ma'am. Again, my apologies for the hour, but we've had a Rapidly Developing Situation involving our investigation, and the Colonel authorized me to call you in to advise us." Fia could hear the capital letters.
"What is a 'rapidly developing situation,' Lieutenant, and why does it prevent me from sleeping?"
"Ma'am, I'm sorry, but I have very little time to explain at present. I have two men at your front door who will transport you in to the office. They have coffee and some breakfast for you in the car," he added in a manner that Fia would swear was apologetic. "I have to go, ma'am, but I will be here to brief you when you arrive."
"But-" Too late. The phonelink was dead. She opened her eyes fully and glared at the link icon, hanging innocently in the air near the bedside table. Then, wearily, and determinedly not looking at the clock display, she got out of bed and began to dress.
* * *
At least Fandling hadn't been lying about the breakfast; there was a full egg and meat spread, with fruit and decent coffee, and they'd gone to the local Portugese cookery around the corner, although whether out of necessary convenience (it was open all night) or consideration Fia decided she didn't want to know. She entered the office suite of the bank still finishing a cup of coffee and a linguiça-and-egg sandwich. Fandling and two more men - soldiers, she supposed, although she wasn't sure if they were soldiers if they were in a unit descended from the Air Force, even if 'airman' was surely incorrect - were waiting for them in the conference room. Fandling was busy with two different infostructs, his attention flickering between them, but he managed her a strained smile of welcome while he worked. His colleagues appeared to be sorting passive data and spared her nods. Fia shrugged, juiced her portable and brought up the searchbase metaspace she'd been using wth Arkadios since it still had her work saved in it, and waited for them while finishing her breakfast.
Fandling shot her a page which opened up in the metaspace. Five minutes, sorry. She shrugged at him again, nodded, and got up to throw away her wrapping paper. She noted that none of the four henchmen in the conference room appeared to take any notice of her standing or crossing the room; this cheered her somewhat. Reseated, she began to flick through several of her mailboxes, and seeing that Fandling was still dividing his attention between two 'structs she thought to hell with it and jacked the 'Drome.
Stepping from a mirror set into the wall near the bar, Clotho caught one or two stares for the trick, but she ignored them as was her usual habit and slid onto a stool that was, wonder of wonders for the Drome the right height. It always was, for her, when she finally sat; her code guaranteed it. She granted points to those who noticed this when meeting her, docked points severely for those with waverider pretensions who failed to figure it out. Tourette slid down the bar, massive shape leaning over the wod textured slab, and rumbled greetings. She smiled at him. "Hi Tour. Where's the crew?"
"Aw, shit, Clotho, it's the same new slop this that day and more. Leave for it you Mik does."
The big bot leaned further forward conspiratorially; she leaned in to join him, watching to ensure the rest of the bar went hazily indistinct. "Let's have it, Tour. Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."
His voice changed, Mikare's tones emerging, but lower and less cocky than she was used to. Involuntarily she checked herself from sitting up straighter, and forced herself to keep her head well within Tourette's message radius. "Clotho, it's me. We need to talk, and Farnham as well. It's the run, and it's...well. I've got to go talk to Paul, but I won't commit anything before we talk. Just...be careful, okay? This one has complications. I don't know if they've reached you yet, or even if they will, but...I just don't know. I know you think I'm paranoid, and I know Farnham thinks I don't take it seriously, and I don't know who to believe, but-" there was a pause, but Tourette remained rigid. Clotho waited. "-Takehold. Okay? Takehold. I'll call you when I can, but find me." Tourette stood up, and the bar noise intruded. Clotho stared at him.
"All shit where stuff ok, Clotho?"
"Yeah. Um, yes, Tour, that is, yes, thank you."
"Problemo no." He moved away, unconcerned, unaware of the message he'd passed. Fia sat on her stool and locked her avatar into autopose while she thought furiously.
Takehold? What the hell. I remember that's one of Mik's paranoid stupid codes, but which one...damn it. He's not under threat, that's a different one, no, it means...damn it, I can't remember. I can't remember. It's bad, but I can't remember how bad, but he said he'd call back and I was to keep trying him, so it can't be terrible. Damn it.
An attention icon blossomed, and she saw she'd been in depth for more than six minutes. Hastily, she spun off the stool and dove into the mirror, flipping local gravity sideways to enter the surface in a perfect swan dive, opening her eyes into the Bank's conference room. Fandling's comstructs were gone; he and a couple of his men were looking at her with curiosity and something else in their eyes.
"Where were you, Ms. dos Santos?" Fandling asked, with some pleasantness. "I thought we were limited to the Bank network while on-site."
"Oh, um, yes. I was in my private metaspace. I...I probably shouldn't admit this, but I have a private space I keep buried in my desk console that I shield from observation so that I can work on private problems while on break without having to clear up in between times." Fia let herself blush. "I can show you around it, if you want."
"Oh, no indeed ma'am, no need, I was just curious." Fandling was still looking at her, but his interest had dropped. As she watched, his eyes flicked sideways to one of the two men behind her; she felt rather than saw his nod, and Fandling relaxed at this confirmation that her 'ware had indeed been commmunicating only with her desk system.
"Where's Colonel Arkadios?" Fia asked.
"He has duties elsewhere, but they concern this case."
"Oh. So what's a 'rapidly developing sitation?' Does it involve Mr. Alexsov?"
Fandling looked up from a sheaf of hardcopy. "Partially. Mostly, though, it involves what information you can gather for us regarding any contacts Mr. Alexsov had with another party."
"Okay. Banking contacts?"
"Virtual contacts, perhaps banking contacts, yes."
Fia looked at him. "I can really only help you with contacts that may be held somewhere in our bank records, Lieutenant."
"Of course, ma'am."
There was a pause, while they looked at each other. Fia made herself sit still and think about why she didn't like this at all, suddenly. "Sure, Lieutenant. Contacts with who, then?"
"With a Glorynet criminal, ma'am. A so-called 'Flashrunner,' who goes by the name of 'Clotho.'" Fandling was still looking at her steadily, and despite not looking at them, she could tell the henchmen were looking at her as well now.
"Do we have a name that would appear on bank records, Lieutenant?" Fia made a mental note to be proud, later, of how even her tone had been even as the skin around her waist warmed suddenly with the precipitous awakening of various bits of her 'ware that normally slumbered peacefully.
"I was really hoping you could help us with that, Ms. dos Santos." Fandling stood up, easily, and wandered nonchalantly away from the table towards the presentation screen set in the back wall. As far as Fia could tell, none of the other four had moved, but she couldn't see the two behind her directly. Her 'ware was extremely busy, now, because she'd just remembered what Mikare's stupid code meant, and had repeated it to the set of small electronic boxes that she wore wherever she went, and they had dutifully recalled without the hesitancy of the flesh that Takehold meant they may be coming and decided to do something before Fia panicked.
"Really. How might I help you find such a name in the bank records with only an Ouroverse avatar handle to go by? As you know, such identifiers are still purely informal and carry no legal weight. Unless you have a private key of this Clotho, that is."
"No." Fandling had turned to face her, and his smile had gone acid. "But I'm sure we will." A hand fell heavy on Fia's shoulder from her left and behind, before she could really even panic properly; all that was left was a sort of sadness, an aura of resignation, and she turned to smile at the henchman who was standing over her on her side of the table, framed in the white-and-brown scripplepaint and sodium nighttime lightshow of the Boston skyline from some dozens of stories up out the conference room window.
"You really did that well, you know," she said. "I didn't hear you get up at all." He looked at her, confused out of his menacing act, and then her 'ware decided enough was fucking enough and blew the fire suppression systems in the conference room. Spacescrapers were properly paranoid about high-altitude fire. There was an echoing BOOM as the suppressant gases replaced atmosphere above the drop ceiling, blowing tilefoam down around their heads, and then Fia hunched into her chair as the other five gaped upwards in sudden confusion. She reached under the table, following the brilliant icon her 'ware was painting on her vision, and found the metal D-ring handle she was looking for and pulled it towards her with all her might as a hissing roar battered her ears. The last thing she saw as her built-in conference room chair slapped restraints over her chest and fired itself back along its track through the floor-to-ceiling window was the fire foam descending from the walls and ruined ceiling, the five men already an iridescent green from the emergency air exchanger membranes that the room's systems had splattered them with before filling the room with nonflammable quicksetting stuff. An arm extended into the clear space her chair had left on its way out the window then vanished slowly into the hardening ooze, green memory plastic glistening around it, and then Fia's vision tilted upwards to show her the long glowing cylinder of the spacescraper with an improbable number of stars around its top where LTA and flitters were clustered and she began her long fall backwards towards the brilliant earth.
The chair obligingly fired off its descender pack two seconds later, the parasail steering her away from the building's treacherous gusts and eddies. Its simple-minded autopilot skillfully evaded several other buildings, a few flitters, and some eager trees and lightpoles on the way down using a scap-pack powered disposable radar and deposited her with only a single tumble on a narrow strip of greensward, quite deserted this late in the evening, across Fort Point Channel.
Struggling her way clear of the chair and its unbelievably tight straps and lines, Fia staggered to the edge of the channel, leaned over the railing, and vomited. Then, wiping her mouth, she looked up at the formidable bulk of the spacescraper she had just exited so swiftly. Her mouth firmed into an expression that several family members and no few men of her acquaintance would have recognized with great wariness, and strode purposefully off towards a T Station, her 'ware ticking busily to itself as it sniffed the aether around her with tigrishly watchful eyes.
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