Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 33: Information Retrieval

They had spoken over a live comm on a few occasions, infrequently and with no discernible pattern except for some degree of importance or expediency. This could fall into either category. As always there was no visual communication, neither of them wished that, vocal only with heavy filter masking.

“This is very dangerous.” The justice officer sounded harsher than they wanted. The contact was not a person to make into an enemy.

“I appreciate that, I am aware of your preferences for subtlety, but we were given little choice.” The voice was terse but not annoyed.

The officer felt that they may have a slight upper hand for a change. Maybe the monkey played the tune today. “How can I help? If I can help?”

“We are attempting to close every last loophole in this rather regrettable incident.”

“I see. I am not sure why you need to go to so much effort. It appears as if you are drawing more attention to this matter. Had you left it alone there wouldn’t have been so much of a story and we could have dealt with things more carefully.”

“I agree. there was some initial panic caused by the coincidence of the initial Justice Robots and underlings who do not have an inkling of our capabilities. So there was some avoidable judgement calls. These will be dealt with in due course. For now we have managed to obfuscate a great deal but there are a number of minor, yet irritating, loose ends.”

“Those are? I do not have a great deal of time so be brief.”

“Of course. There is the matter of the k-tag.”

“Out of my hands. They have been placed under secure protection of the investigator and their legal.”

“Regrettable but we have other avenues to further in that regard. There were a number of potential witnesses. Vehicles that may have been in the area and similar, can you get a list of those?”

“Tricky. The officer in charge of that evidence is very careful and almost completely straight and reliable. I would have to burn several long term schemes and contacts to get that information.”

“Please do so, I will pay ten times our usual rates.”

“That is generous but I will need more. They are closely connected to the investigator and will be more careful. I also have placed one trace on them today for you so further observation will have a higher chance of being detected.”

There was a long pause, “very well. This one time I will allow you to bid upwards. Fifteen times the rate and no further negotiation.”

“Accepted. I will attempt to gain all the information they have. Is there anything more?”

“Yes. The investigator. We know they are formerly Judicial Special Tactical Forces, but they seem overly-competent even for that division. I would like all the information you can obtain. Including a list of all their known contacts inside and outside of Judiciary.”

“That might take some time. My initial sweep indicates they had some connection to the inner circles of the governing systems, Possibly even an Accord status or rank.”

“Really. That is more than what we have. How do you know that?”

“A chance comment from the officer they have a connection with here, Hooper. He said something at a poker night a few months ago. I only put the comment to the person when I viewed the trace. Do you know them?

“They have crossed our paths before and we were able to deter them. However that was at great effort and not entirely successful. Our records, and past involvement, indicate they are a potential great issue. Also that they have had a number of aliases. I would like all information on those as well.”

“That is quite a lot that you want.”

“We are paying you well. You would be wise to remember that you are well known to us and we expect results for our investment.”

The officer took a deep breath. “I may need options in case this gets too problematical.”

A pause, but not so long as the first, “there are always options. You are not the only resource we can use in Judiciary.”

The line went dead and the officer quickly checked the trace to make sure there was no hint of anyone listening in. There wasn’t any and all the monitors were green. That was excellent news and potentially brought their retirement forward by a few years. Though the final sentence carried a tone that sent a shiver down the spine. What was the other resource as it didn’t sound as if it were organic.

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 32: Opening Communication

It was several hours before they could find a convenient moment to make a voice call. Sure their contact was going to be displeased but they would have to live with the disappointment. There was no choice, compromise was not an option. A lifetime of taking careful judgements had been rewarded with virtually zero suspicion.

They had to make the call from inside Judiciary Central. There was no real option other to this. Calls in and out of the judiciary were monitored, all calls. Including those from the inhabited quarters. They bunked at the judiciary and so their calls were subject to being randomly sampled by a computer system. That was not acceptable. This had driven them to find a route around this issue and it came in two parts.

They had discovered when they first started work at the judiciary that many of the large infrastructure systems, electrical, sewage, water, was controlled and maintained by outside organisations. Actually it was a single corporation that ran a series of separate sub-companies each specialising in a different technical support package that had the majority of the contracts, but that was just par for the course .

The infrastructure had its own reporting systems and tight communications relays to the host companies for repairs and scheduled replacements. This was also monitored by justice computers but in a much more casual manner than the other forms of communication on the base. This was a bonus to anyone who wished a greater degree of anonymity.

Then there was the communications overlay encryption module. A particularly lucrative bust on a major syndicate had resulted in a large haul of specialised equipment. The syndicate had gone unnoticed for so long by using paired encryption modules. Virtually unbreakable levels of security supplied by twin devices. Matched only to each other on each side of the communication must have one of the devices to allow comms. They had taken hundreds of these modules, highly illicit equipment, and placed them all in the evidence lockers. Of course they had been scrupulously counted and stored correctly. They had made sure all records matched what you would find in a storage locker.

Anyone listening into the relays would hear static. It took significant levels of computer power and finely adjusted sensors to realise that a communications signal was being transferred. They only worked over tight light-beam communications devices so had a severe limitation, but not one that surpassed their usage for covert interaction.

There was one placed on a specific, seldom used, wall communicator in the rear of one of the vast storerooms of the judiciary. The companion module was wherever their contact had placed it. They only knew the digit address of the communicator they dialled, it gave no location information and no discernible clue as to whom they spoke to. The modules masked everything, including speech patterns.

They dialled the long code and waited, expecting to be waiting there for a while. They had made sure that people thought they had clocked off shift. Many people knew they were tired and their feet hurt, especially the old leg injury that the judiciary insurance didn’t cover. Claims of heading to their room to take a med and get some rest had been well circulated. Alongside promises to finish their shift later after the pain subsided. All of this to ensure that if they were seen or not seen they had enough of an alibi.

The answer to their open communication came sooner than they expected. “I’m here,” the voice said in its usual clipped manner. The distortion from the masking worked well but their had been enough conversation between them that the officer had started to recognise the slight changes in attitude. They were hurried but the officer was sure they wanted something.

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 31: Inside Operative

They hated Central Administration, hated it almost as much as they had come to hate working at the Judiciary. Forty years of loyal, well mostly loyal, duty and for what. A pension linked at three percent of their pay plus their own contributions and no doubt a small trophy on retirement. Thank you for your time now go and grow old in some virtual-enhanced retirement facility.

Born in a tube, educated in a box, a lifetime of service in a cubicle and then thirty years of narcolepsy in a barely cushioned coffin before you’re recycled for organic components. While the rich get to dine on real flesh and extend their sumptuous lives with regenerative medication.

It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t the retirement plan they had lined up. No thank you. Sure to everyone watching they were edging out their time and getting ready for that poorly attended retirement party, but they had other plans.

It had started out as a small matter. Working in Central Administration had some small perks. The occasional large drugs bust meant you could shave a small percentage of the takings before they were officially weighed, calculated and recycled. Then there was lost property, unclaimed items from heists, burglaries of criminal seizures. After a ten year period they were auctioned away. No one wanted those jobs, mess of paperwork. But it was a great way to find a bargain and make a side profit with happy buyers.

They were smart about their side business. Far too many people had been caught due to spending their extra money or being foolish enough to trust in others. They had never done that. They always used computer proxies and disposable identities to contact anyone. They also never spent any of the money. It was all hidden away in untraceable stocks and investments. They would wait until after retirement, a quick move to a new system and arrive with a little more than what they left.

Two events had helped to change their fortunes in the last ten years and built what would have been a comfortable extra nest egg into a small fortune. Enough money to buy a new identity and some extra years to enjoy it with. Firstly they had been moved up two pay grades. It was just fortune that the three useless slobs above them all left the Judiciary at the same time and they were upped two grades to control a section.

The second was just as lucrative but was also a source of issue. They had been caught. Thankfully not by any internal judicial teams or any of the tax collecting authorities. Someone corporate, someone high up, had noticed something and set up a sting. They had allowed items that were tagged to be marked as lost property and waited, patiently as those who could buy extra years would. When the item came up for auction at a drastically deflated value, a little side deal between a collector and themselves, the corporate had made themselves known.

They were the collector. They were the original owner. It was all a ruse to discover that there was a person who was purchasable in the Judiciary.

At first they had only needed small things. Information on certain arrests, or insight into how much property, usually illicit pharma, had been seized and from where. This was all easy enough to obtain. The various organics that dealt with the busts were happy to boast about their exploits to the bean counter who tallied up the records.

Then there were the occasional tasks. These were always stressful. Somehow the hidden collector knew their identity as packages would be left for them to find. Sometimes an item to swap out from evidence, usually replacing like for like before it could be used in legal cases primarily to skew with forensics. But occasionally data slugs to upload into the Judiciary systems.

These came with an extra level of danger. Everyone who did anything on the Judiciary Systems was logged and built into standard reports. Part of the transparency of process and audit capabilities. It was watertight. If you were logged on, or if you needed to get access, you were monitored.

They were always careful about how they managed to get the data slugs uploaded. It was possible, but one had to be sly. The usual way was to use one of his friends, if they could be called that, scroungers were what they really were. Over the years they had built up a large number of these ‘friends’ in various parts of the department. They would meet up on irregular occasions and buy a drink, or a breakfast and ‘catch up for old times sake’ or some other such excuse. They had even taken to running all of the office virtual leagues and sweepstakes over the years. Helpful, friendly, always walking around, always knowing people. Always working out who was dumb enough to leave an open terminal.

Those were the friends. the clumsy, the lazy, the ones easily swayed by avarice. A quick, “hey how you doing, can I get you breakfast this morning?” was the start. Then an occasional complaint, mention how your feet hurt, ask more than once for them to “run down and grab the food, you’ll pay of course,” and never ask for change. Watch their hungry, greedy eyes at the prospect of free food and free credits. Double bonus you dumb saps.

Oh if the hammer ever came down on the activities, as it one day must, then they were damn sure they would have a small layer of insulation. Enough to throw suspicion enough to give them a head start. They already knew a place to get an ident change and had a fake set of papers. They also had a high level contact who owed them, likely to be a one time favour, but they had it.

Another few years would be best though. Keep this going for a few more years and they would be very comfortable in retirement. At this point they could disappear and live well enough. Five more years, maybe ten to maximum retirement age, and they would be rolling in easy times. As long as they didn’t get burned.

A constant issue was the threat of exposure. One that was worrying them today as they received notification again. They had already done one task today by setting up a trace. But now they had another message from their contact, delivered in the usual untraceable manner. But this was for a voice comm and that was just plain worrying.

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 30: Into the Lair

Drick took a corner in the tunnel less than 100 metres from the entrance spinning the vehicle up the wall and flipping over as it hard banked to avoid a messy impact with solid rock. The tunnel walls were littered with the remains of supply lines for the former network and still in use conduits and piping. Some of the pipes were as wide as the vehicle Drick piloted which meant sections of the tunnel were uncomfortably narrow at high speed.

The navigation maps that were built into the vehicle’s computer were hopelessly outdated. They had been taken from the last known maps when the system of tunnels was closed to full commercial usage more than two centuries ago. There were some updates no doubt taken from police and other investigations into the tunnels but that was minor compared to the vast number of changes.

Official records stated that a few hundred people, mostly criminals and other undesirables made the tunnels their home. The police would probably bump that figure into a few thousand. Drick knew it to be far higher than that. The people who lived down here had gotten adept at hiding their true numbers and many of the new workings where they made their homes.

It was true that a vast number of criminals, or those who needed to disappear lived in the tunnels. It was also true that there were a large number of gangs. But it wasn’t an anarchy. There were rules and there were traditions. The gangs who opposed each other had divided territories and set up neutral zones between where gang warfare was not tolerated. Drick had spent many years in these tunnels at one stage in their life, it felt like a lifetime ago but was less than that.

Drick keyed the sensors to look for the marker symbols that they had requested be painted. Drick needed to get the chase vehicle to a specific location. It had to be neutral so that no gang turf was involved and it had to be discreet, or at least infrequently travelled. Thankfully Drick’s contact had just the location and Drick had a little surprise waiting for that vehicle behind.

Drick took another corner and flew over the heads of a small marketplace. This was the first basin of this tunnel section, a former water reservoir for the mine works, now drained and in use as a neutral trade zone. The grav vehicle would cause no damage at this height and Drick didn’t want to follow the path down to the parking area. It was risky going across this area as Drick would be visible briefly to the pursuit vehicle and a clear target. Drick had gambled that they wouldn’t fire with so many witnesses.

Drick paid little attention to the crowd below, no doubt the vehicle was attracting attention but all of Drick’s focus was on the rear screens. The far wall and tunnel mouth was close when the pursuit vehicle shot out over the basin. Drick cursed loudly as the passive array screamed a warning about target lock but that was already too late as the pursuit vehicle ignored the people massed below and let off a hail of fire.

Drick spun the vehicle in a barrel roll and flipped from side to side presenting a harder target but the shots still cannoned into the back of the vehicle. What saved Drick’s life wasn’t the wild manoeuvres but the fact that the cabin behind had a privacy screen between it and the cockpit and that screen was also armoured. The shots that made it through the back of the vehicle, and there were a lot, had enough of their force removed to not make it through to Drick.

Amateurs, clumsy rat brained amateurs, thought Drick as they shot into the tunnel mouth and out of the tracking. Shots tore up the tunnel behind them but the curve of the wall was enough that they missed Drick’s vehicle. Drick cast a cursory glance at the systems. Hull integrity was lost but the vehicle had more than ninety percent of its electrical and propulsion systems. They were rank amateurs.

Drick shot over two more intersections staying just far enough ahead to evade target locks but not enough for pursuit vehicle to lose sight of Drick’s vehicle. On the third intersection Drick slammed hard on the air breaks and side rolled through into a narrow tunnel. The pursuit car barely had time to slow enough to make it into the tunnel behind Drick, which was as hoped. Get them to not think had been the plan all along.

As the pursuit vehicle entered this section there was a powerful flash of twin lights from the two heavy mining lasers set into the tunnel floor that neatly cut half the armour and both turret guns from the pursuit vehicle. Then a single shot from a high powered missile ejector took a hole right through the rear of the pursuit car. It fired a high-impact, zero-yield, bunker-buster targeted at the main power plant.

It was a direct hit and half of the pursuit vehicles main engine was a flaming mess impacted into the tunnel floor. The effect was immediate. The emergency brakes on the pursuit vehicle fired, auto-fire systems and crash avoidance brought it to a fast stop covered in fire retardant, impact resistant foam.

Drick opened an outside comm and broadcast a short audio and radio signal at the vehicle. “Surrender. You can get out and kneel on the ground with your hands behind your heads and then lie face first in the dirt. Don’t attempt to call anyone, aside from having this area jammed we are so far underground and away from any working relays that your communications will not work. Don’t attempt to fight, I am not alone and you will not be shown any mercy. You have ten seconds to comply. After that point I will order the next round to be fired into the cockpit and it will be high explosive.”

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 29: Going Underground

Drick dropped out of the short tunnel that was the freeway underpass to sub-level seven and took the executive vehicle off the highway and over the side of the road.

In this section of the city there were the vast recycling and energy plants that powered many of the floors and industries above. These massive machines were more super-sized robots with autonomous intelligence. They optimised themselves to recycle or consume all waste material, organic and inorganic, from the city above.

They were almost wholly self-sufficient and had thousands of small droids that maintained their systems. Built with backup fusion generators for the periods when they couldn’t derive power from consumable non-recyclable material they would last for generations.

They did, however, require updates, monitoring and the occasional repair that needed the overseeing, or assistance of, an organic. That would be from the Engineer’s Union. Also, strange as it might seem on some worlds, there were some tasks that robots were too expensive, or just not as adept for the cost is more accurate, to perform. The menial tasks and sometimes the role of staff. These were done by organics and controlled by unions.

But the Engineer’s Union was the largest organisation, more a corporation of itself. They controlled most of this section and the sub-levels. Drick didn’t want to have a fight that would cause more friction between the Engineer’s Union and Drick themselves.

But the Engineer’s didn’t control the under-city. That was where Drick was heading as they piloted between the massive buildings following forward sensors and pushing the vehicle as much as possible. Drick knew that the attack vehicle was close behind, the only god that Drick would pray to had told them so.

Drick hit ground level and flattened out the vehicle to race along, they were heading towards an entrance way to the under city that they knew lay nearby. But it had been too long since Drick had last ran these streets and the layout down here was not static.

The city didn’t stop at ground level. There were massive workings below. The foundations of the massive buildings reached down for over a mile to large gravity generators and compression supports that allowed the super-tall structures to drift gently back and forth with the effects of tidal movement and the shifting ground..

This world was slightly tectonic, as most worlds with moons and a liquid core tend to be. The city was so large and the buildings so tall that it was affected, very slightly by the moons’ pull, and to a greater extent by the motions of the ground. So they built massive systems to counteract this movement.

In addition there were miles of tunnels for sewage processing, water reservoirs, and the transportation tunnels for raw materials and food plants. These were built and re-built and had been for hundreds of years. There was a maze of known, and forgotten systems, and it was here that Drick would make a stand, if the vehicle behind followed them.

Drick saw the entrance way they had been looking for. An abandoned mine tunnel that led to a quarry nearly four hundred miles away. It was a maze of dark tunnels and the main lair for several gangs and illicit industries. It wasn’t a moment too soon as the ground around Drick’s vehicle exploded with shrapnel from twin cannons that had suddenly opened fire.

Thankfully for Drick this first salvo was done from extreme range and it was clear the vehicle hadn’t got a clear target. The active defences of Drick’s vehicle coupled with the range prevented that. It saved Drick’s life as that salvo would have ripped this vehicle to shreds.

Drick had a few seconds before they would be in range, fewer if the gunner got a lucky shot. Drick gunned the engine to maximum speed and shot into the tunnel mouth and would have whooped with delight, if they were not focusing so hard to stay alive, as the pursuit vehicle followed them into the tunnel.

Drick flicked a signal on the comm instructing god to close the hatch and prepare for a prayer.

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 28: Being Followed

Drick piloted the executive grav vehicle deeper under the overpasses heading down to the lowest levels of Sector Six. On the monitor screens Drick was following the view of themselves from two satellite surveillance remotes and the three stealth robots that were tracking the vehicle. In a moment the satellite overhead view would be lost. That was unfortunate for Drick but it also meant that the people following would lose their orbital cover as well.

From the reports coming in from the team Boomer had assembled Drick had drawn quite the small crowd of admirers. There was a hover van that was back of Drick’s six, maybe three hundred metres away, in a light white paint job. Knowing the vehicle design Drick guessed this to be an Armoured Light Personnel Carrier, probably an Shirow-Vickers. The paint job would be adaptive stealth coating made to follow urban vehicle patterns. From the way it moved it was likely to be fully equipped with twenty armed organics. That was excessive in Drick’s mind, they could have sent half that many and caused enough of a problem to make Drick change tactics real quickly.

There were four organics on electrical scooters. Three-wheeled, multi-terrain, pursuit vehicles. Again a model made by a number of companies but Drick would have laid bets on them being Shirow-Vickers again. Looked like Volsron had a contract with that particular weapons dealer. Drick wasn’t surprised they were maybe the second or third biggest armoured vehicle corporation in the whole of human expansion.

The real issue was not the troop transport or the three bikes, it was the squat jet vehicle. Like Drick’s vehicle this was an armoured gravity machine. However this would be a Shirow-Vickers urban assault vehicle. Sold to police and paramilitary forces and used to take on criminals with maximum aggression. It would be unlikely that it would be equipped with missiles, well at least not high-ex missiles. But it would have guided gun emplacements. The subtle bulges to the rear of the vehicle spoke of retracted gun turrets. That was worrying as the armour on Drick’s vehicle could take a good number of hits, but that thing likely carried thirty-two millimetre armour piercing rounds.

Drick followed the guide lines on the navigation computer which tracked the general direction of resi-crete roads. Ground based vehicles and low-level hovers needed the construction of roads, it was still the most practicable and safe form of traffic management. An organic needed a pilots licence to unlock a vehicles flight systems and even with one of those many hire vehicles would not allow unlimited, or free, flight. Drick had a full licence and was paying a hefty sum for this vehicle. All of its systems were unlocked for their use.

Drick checked the screens and noted that the final overhead view blinked out as they went to sub-level two. It was an odd naming system. Sub-level two was actually over ten floors up from ground level. The sub didn’t refer to ground but the point where road, building and construction covered the visible sky. In this heavily industrial and populated part of the city that started at the eleventh floor.

Sub-level one started at about floor twelve, maybe one hundred metres from ground level. Drick was heading towards sub-level six the point where the maze of roads and buildings turned the area into a series of badly lit tunnels. Sub-level seven and below was storage, vast water and resin tanks and the waste disposal systems and machinery from the city above.

There were people who lived in the tall gaps between constructions on those levels. Some by choice, others by desire, many with no other option. One could lose themselves in the lowest levels. They were rarely visited by most organics. They were the home to gangs, criminals and the dispossessed, the forgotten. The police only went to those levels in full combat armour and with heavy backup.

Drick knew that many of the maintenance companies had a lucrative side profit in paying gangs and people on these lower levels for their own ends. Many of them were off the grid either by being declared non-existent or by being vatted that way. It was certainly true that the Engineers’ Union, the only group that held a presence with authorised premises on these levels, were the closest resemblance to a crime family on the planet. Aside from, as Drick would have it, family owned corporate organics.

The Engineers’ Union mandated all construction work in the city and everyone used a union man for the work. There was no avoiding this. The Union were the only people who could fix the machines in these sub levels. Sure you could hire an independent contractor, but don’t pay them up front as the work wouldn’t get done, your machine would end up more broke and the contractor would be mailed back to you as a skin-shake.

Drick entered the level and noted, with a slight smile of satisfaction, that a new group of shadows had joined the tail. The armoured personnel vehicle had dropped behind an auto-loader. This was a huge automated delivery vehicle and they were using it for scover as there were few other vehicles around. The three trikes had shot past Drick’s vehicle using a lower ramp and were now about one hundred metres ahead. As for that combat vehicle it was seemingly absent, however Drick knew it was one level up and following Drick’s the route from above.

The new shadows were overtaking the personnel vehicle and truck to come alongside Drick. They were a hoverbike gang. There were plenty of these in the city. Kids and mild anarchists for the most part but on some of the sub-levels they were a bit more organised. This particular group were very organised. Part of a larger series of gangs called the Street Razors.

The Razors that were around Drick numbered maybe thirty and had obviously took a liking to Drick’s vehicle as they weaved around it. Sometimes swerving dangerously close to the front, sometimes flipping their bikes over the top or sliding underneath, a neat trick considering Drick had it hovering at less than one and a half metres from the surface.

Drick made some complicated but graceful manoeuvres to try and lose them and make the point that there wasn’t going to be an easy intimidation but this only made them move in closer. Drick noticed the three trikes had slowed to get a better view of what was occurring and that the vehicle behind had moved up, around that automated loader, with its contingent of troops.

This was what Drick had hoped. In fact relied on from the moment that Boomer had pointed out the three vehicles to Drick. They only wanted the one of them.

Drick suddenly swerved and so did all the bikes and the armoured vehicle as the executive car flipped the central barrier using manoeuvring thrusters and made a bid to go the other way. The trikes headed towards the nearest turning but were suddenly playing tag with three hoverbikers each. The other group of twelve hoverbikers were swarmed onto one side of the armoured vehicle. As it tried to jump the central barrier they hit it in a concerted attack and flipped it onto its roof. Several of them leaping their bikes onto its now exposed floor.

The effect was drastic. The personnel carrier didn’t have full flight capabilities. Normally when flipped it had an emergency self righting system, which wouldn’t work now as too many vehicles were piled on top of it. The vehicle would immediately shut down and eject foam pinning the personnel inside, in order to preserve life. It was a safety feature for urban driving. Drick had relied on it which is why they had told the bikers to execute this plan.

Drick shot off a turning and down towards sub-level seven, time to see if they could draw their real target down to a more interesting playing field.

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 27: Fishing

Drick was in a long queue of parked vehicles sat outside the main headquarters of the security and traffic division of Volstron Enterprises. Drick had been idling on the edges of the perimeter at various points for about three hours now. They were sure to have detected the vehicle as soon as it came near and Drick wanted them to get a good look.

The cursory amounts of evidence collected so far pointed at only one conclusion, either Volstron were covering something up or someone in their corporate structure was covering it up. Drick had a gut feeling that it was the company rather than an individual, unless it was senior management. There were two many events. The loss of thirty blocks of information. Massive legal team and out of system investigator. The offers of large sums to drop the case. Breach of justice systems, or paying someone in the department to alter evidence and monitor conversations. Then there was the public attack on Drick to warn them away.

This was not a small fish looking big in the pond, this was someone with credits and influence and they were either very sensitive or they were hiding something massive.

Drick had wondered what was keeping them on the case more than once in the past three hours. They could have taken the payout and moved on, easy credit. But here they were expending time, money, favours and effort and there may not be any reward. So why the hell was it so important?

The more Drick chewed on it the more the answer became easy. Running it several ways around didn’t make the motivation any more complex. It was because Marsh didn’t know. Because they woke up with a head full of confusion and missing memories. They were, and it was rare in the universe to find anyone over twenty who was like them, an innocent.

Marsh was, potentially if Drick were to take all of what they said at face value, a remnant of a forgotten century. An anathema, an artefact, dispossessed in time. If their story were true they were at least a millennia and a thousand light years from where they were supposed to be. That raised a huge number of questions in itself.

Drick was naturally curious, it was the mark of a good investigator. That curiosity had been selected and matured before Drick had even drew a breath. Drick was a product, more construct than most that are mixed in a vat and grown in a tube. Drick had been designed in an age that needed very specific types of organics. An age that most of the skin jobs walking around today would consider almost to be myth.

Five hundred years ago the world that the people here lived upon had been mostly a desert with two redeeming features. It had an abundance of fissionable ores and an atmosphere that could be breathed with a respirator mask or surgically fitted organic filters. The current populace had all been born or grown for this atmosphere so such surgery or hardware was unnecessary.

Back then it was a mixture of mining colonies and construction engineers. Creating building materials and changing the environment in a decades long war with the natural ecosystem. Mankind had learned how to wield war with nature and win in the gasping pollution of the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries.

Their home world may have paid an irreversible price but the technological lessons they had learned held the answer to their salvation. Mankind had gone to the stars. Slowly they had expanded into the starry void at first. Then with advances in lifespan and vehicular acceleration, coupled with the eventual control over gravity, at great extent and pace. They had altered their bodies to fit their new homes and flung themselves to the farthest reaches they could manage.

The city that was now dominating this equatorial island where most of the population lived was built by those engineers. They had vision, foresight, and the desperation to plan for their extended lives and expanding civilisation. They took local rocks and ground it to dust so they could recombine it with bio-engineered plastics from algae and lichen. Two life forms that were able to survive in the most inhospitable of places and ideal for colonial expansion.

The universe was powered by fusion generation using radioactive isotopes and plastics from these algae. The organics that inhabited these worlds were grown mostly in vats from biological material harvested from the general populace. Very few children were born anymore. Only the ├╝ber rich and elite had the money to afford such luxury. Most people were grown sterile.

Drick had the vehicle’s active security turned up full but it didn’t detect the organic who was targeting the rear as it was parked in a side street where Drick had just moved to. Thankfully Drick had partial cover from her angel and was fully aware that the vehicle was in a scope. For that reason Drick was able to stay calm and allow the sniper to fire their special weapon at the vehicle. There wasn’t even the breath of an impact. An insect would had made more sound if it had landed on the roof.

But the vehicle had been hit. With a very special paintball. A traceable isotope if Drick guessed correctly that a highly tuned sensor array could follow discreetly from a distance. Which is exactly what Drick had been hoping for. The lure had worked and Drick had snagged their prey.

Drick waitied a good ten minutes before pulling away. Drick made sure to park up at two other spots around the perimeter keeping up the pretence of watching the building before moving the executive vehicle onto the main highway and heading down to the lower levels.

If Drick was correct they would be followed and if they planned this right they might get a nice catch. What Drick needed was someone slightly higher up the pay grade than standard security, someone with a modicum of power and an education, or at least a downloaded education. There was no way that Drick was ever just going to walk in the front door and get answers without more proof, so Drick had to draw someone out to talk to, and this may have just worked.

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 26: Level of Warning

Drick sat in the comfort of the executive gravity vehicle studying the police reports of the crime scene and nearby roads when there was an incoming comm. Looking at the wrist display Drick noted that it was a call from Hooper.

Drick flicked the comm to the main display of the vehicle and turned the screen to visible. If anyone wanted to hack the call they would be less likely to be able to get into the vehicle’s systems than Drick’s own.

“Hey Hooper,” Drick said as Hooper’s face filled the windscreen and a display started giving Drick call statistics including the active protection systems which displayed any threats to the communication.

“Drick,” Hooper looked more tired than a few hours would warrant.

“What’s the problem?”

“I have a bit more information for you but there is a level of warning with it.” Drick nodded and noted that the active threat systems had detected someone attempting to trace the call and to break into the communication. It was a large attack and it was coming from the source of the call, Hooper’s end, which was justice central.

“Are you in a good place to talk?” Drick knew that the conversation wasn’t yet being monitored but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t someone sat behind Hooper or with a boom mic trained on the officer. Drick hoped the phrasing would leave Hooper an ability to manipulate any possible outcome while giving precise meaning to Hooper that there was an issue.

“I’m at my desk. I have the privacy screens on.” Hooper paused and stared into Drick’s eyes for a long moment. “This is probably related to the fact that I am still unable to get any information about the dead driver.”

Drick raised eyebrows but didn’t make any comment. Drick tasked the active defenses on the communications system to do a counter-sweep to try and gain as much information as possible about who was trying to track Drick and listen into the call.

“The ident was damaged and they do not appear on any justice department records. They are also not on any corporate registers that we have access to and no corporation is claiming knowledge.”

Drick dropped their head to one side and pursed their lips still keeping silent.

“It gets more interesting if you add the fact that the data gathered about the crash from the bots at the scene has recently become corrupted. Some kind of issue at the time of collection caused the information to regress to unusable data. There is also little information from the scene despite their being full sweeps by justice and the corporate security teams.”

“Well, that’s unfortunate,” Drick’s tone was neutral but their mind was racing. So whomever wanted this covered up was willing to access and distort justice department records and to post-fix the truth. The case became more interesting and dangerous by the moment.

“You sure you don’t want to give this case up? The offer to transfer has been sent again, they upped the credit bonus to do so.”

“I will consider it.” Said Drick, “meanwhile can you ensure that Krennar gets a place to operate from?” Again a neutral sounding request that Drick hoped Hooper would interpret correctly. “I have a few things to do and then I am going to rest with a cold drink. Later. Thanks for the information Hooper.”

Drick cancelled the call but kept the systems in their search, hopefully someone would make an error. This was becoming more twisty a case, and Drick was even more intrigued. With each turn a new avenue opened up and another player became involved. Who was being paid at justice central to hack evidence, breach privacy and attempt to illegally track private citizens?

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 25: Smooth Ride

Drick let out an audible sigh as the robot parking service delivered the car that Krennar had chosen for them from the parking bay. It was done with little fanfare, a hatch opened in the smooth highway surface and a lift brought up the desired vehicle.

In Drick’s case it was an executive hover vehicle that was presented. A sleek silver saloon that was large enough to hold a small team of players from one of the sports leagues but would probably only have four seats. It was powered by a fusion reactor that would probably last half a millennia and had full gravitonic plate control.

Drick wondered just how much this was pulling on their credit flow as the vehicle drifted gently to them guided by a small tugger bot. It was likely to be a bloody expensive smooth ride.

Normal hover vehicles used the much cheaper gravity nullifiers to resist gravitational forces. This was a technology built on the interaction between gravity and electromagnetic repulsion.

Essentially nullifiers used a series of charged electromagnetic plates that put out enough of a field to cause a resistance, more a repulsion, of gravitonic fields. Hence them being named nullifiers as the effect was to nullify some of the attractive force of gravity and not actually resist. Often having standard octane jets or air manipulation thrusters to accompany the effort.

Gravitonic plates worked much more efficiently and actually repulsed and ejected the elementary particles of gravity by means of a quantum interface that utilised and interacted with gravitons. This system allowed the plates to affect the stress-energy-tensor quality, manipulating energy and fundamental particles directly to create motion. It was a highly effective manner in which one could move in any direction ignoring the effects of the relative gravity. It did not, however, ignore inertia and gravitonic plates would allow you to smear yourself at high force if used badly.

The technology was not new but it was used sparingly because of the high energy costs to manipulate quantum particles and the many patented pieces of equipment needed to run a vehicle fitted with competing systems. To Drick’s recollection no one mega corporation owned all the relevant pieces of technology and software required to build and safely use gravitonic plates, they had to be licenced individually. The cost was high in both hardware and software as each of the plates needed an artificial intelligence to operate the manipulation of quantum relationships.

The net result would still be the same. Drick would have a hole in a credit account that you could pilot a small planet through.

Drick got into the vehicle thanking again that Krennar had implanted Drick’s ident into the ship’s main computer. The ship did a very fast connection to Drick’s implants as they got into the vehicle and reset the screens and driving preferences to those stored on Drick’s systems.

Drick did a cursory check of the vehicle’s capabilities and would have emitted a low whistle had they been perusing it in a showroom. Fitted with a wealth of standard communication systems with very secure privacy modes; a top speed that would make some jets blush; several intelligences, low age, to manipulate many of the systems like navigation and driving and flight sensors; an auto-pilot with a significant number of actual flight hours; full repulsive plating in case of collision which loosely translated was state of the art armour. The only missing element for Drick was a weapon’s array. But that could always be compensated for, if one knew what one was doing.

Drick registered themselves on the traffic grids and set in a group of locations and allowed the computer a moment to assess routes and traffic flows. While it chewed through its own data Drick opened up a link to the central traffic systems and pulled regional and historical data and fed that in so that the system could do a full probability test. The company that leased this model did not spare any expense on any of the systems and the mapping system was capable of spaceflight astrogation. Might as well use all the processing power that hard earned credits was paying for and choose the best possible time to visit all the places on the quick list they had made.

Drick got their answers in a few moments and gunned the drive systems. There was an almost, inaudible to most, whine that Drick heard clearly and likened to sweet music. It was as the plates charged and converted electrical energy into an electromagnetic manipulation of quantum gravitons with the end result being the vehicle lifted smoothly into the air.

Drick cast an eye on the outside screens and forward mapping and sensors. There was a small knot of people admiring the vehicle, might as well give them a small display.

Drick let it look as if it was drifting backwards. It was not drifting. Drick was purposefully making it look like a drift, this vehicle had perfect geo-stationary capabilities on autopilot.

Drick waited until it looked as if they had everyone’s attention then gunned the power to fifty percent along the pre-programmed path. Drick smiled with satisfaction as several Gs pushed them into the adaptive cushions and the spaceport disappeared in a blur of concrete and steel.

Wrote in 365 Parts

Written in 365 Parts: 24: Angel Cover

Drick walked out to the reception bay for parked vehicles and passed the robot attendant a prepaid ticket. Krennar would have secured a vehicle, at Drick’s expense, and Drick hoped that it was something nondescript and reliable.

The robot attendant set the bays automatic parking systems to retrieve the vehicle, Drick noticed a queue of maybe thirty people in front of them so there was a wait of at least twenty to thirty minutes. Busy time of the day it seemed.

Drick stepped into the shade of the building, the suns were high overhead in the hottest part of the day. This season had been unseasonably warm with little cloud. As usual it was an advantage to those who could afford electronic countermeasures to protect them from the harsh glare. Drick pulled on some glasses and dropped a cap over their head.

Using the small respite from the harsh sunlight Drick opened a secure comms link to another contact, this one an old friend. Knowing their preference Drick used an internal retina screen to connect and was mildly surprised that they sent a visual to the link.

This was a first. Drick pulled an artificial construct of themselves on a neutral background in response. Constructs were controlled by a neural interface, if Drick had had a good unit would be as lifelike as Drick themselves. Drick did not have such a unit fitted.

Drick was not at a safe enough location to risk a live video feed so this construct would have to suffice. Drick nodded, “Boomer.” they said.

“Drick, it has been a very long time since we talked. I imagine that your location is insecure, as always.”

Drick smiled and instructed the construct to follow their vague facial expressions. “I am not. It took me by surprise that you are using a live feed.”

“Ha,” Drick was looking into tired eyes in a face that had far more lines to it than the last time they spoke. “Product of my decaying years. There is less for me to hide from these days, less that is hunting me, and less that cares what I say or do. I am crawling nightly towards some final resting place.”

“Did you start reading classics again?”

“I surely did and that is why this addled brain random quotes and mashes it all up into something with a semblance of speech. I didn’t expect your call and we don’t have a social relationship so what is it that you want from me?”

“Age hasn’t addled all of your wits then?”

“I’m still smart enough to deal with whatever bullshit you’re about to bring to my door.”

“Heh. I need to call in a little specialist help. I need some help of the call-to-god variety.”

“All out of your own better angels?”

“Nope, but I don’t need lesser seraphim. This one is starting to stink up real quick and real nasty, already racking up a count of people who I have annoyed. It is likely some mega-corp screw up and probably something minor for the person of the right talents, such as me, to expedite. However they are being touchy about things, so either a high executive is being an idiot or it is a bigger pile of a hornets nest than I imagined. Either way I need someone who knows how to provide the type of umbrella services I had use of back in the day. That’s you.”

“And I owe you so you can pull in that favour I owe you, that right?”

“Come on old timer,” Drick said with more affection than they wanted, “I doubt this is going to be big enough for that score to be settled. I doubt you have enough capital to truly pay that off.”

“Ha. You’re probably right. You must have people younger than me who can help you. Maybe a few who are as old as you who don’t hate your stinking guts who might help you. There’s got to be some not so close to crawling.”

“There’s plenty of people like that. But all of them have a price whereas you have a very big debt. I trust that more.”

“It could be the chance I need to let you get smeared, that’d clear my debt.”

“We both know that’s not going to happen.”

“Sure. I guess that’s true. Do I get any time to prepare?”

“Yeah, you have about thirty minutes until I collect my vehicle at the spaceport I am going to wire you an access code to an account as you are going to need supplies and extra bodies. You still got anything approaching a team.”

“In that space of time I will have something but I will not grace it by calling it a team. I will work something out.”

“You always do. Anyway i need to know what’s out and about around me pretty much twenty-four seven from as soon as possible until I say to clear out and leave me alone.”

“Must be bad if you contacted me so quickly.”

“So quickly from what?”

“Well I just turned on the news feeds and found out there are two bodies and three serious injuries from a scuffle in the executive corridors of the spaceport and then out of the blue you have called and need some better angels. Shit Drick. You don’t change.”

“I do. It’s just a glacial shift.”