Twenty Three

###

Price came through.

I was standing in large warehouse (not within the Lima Industries compound) looking at a replica of the Kasei perimeter wall when Giles called me. “Hey, mate, we’re outside that address you gave me.”

“OK, let me open the door.” I walked over and hit the button to open the large overhead door and Giles drove in. We’d spoken over the phone a few times but this was the first time we’d met in person since my operation.

Both Giles and Kazumi were watching me, somewhat warily, when they got out of the car. I chuckled at that and said, “Don’t worry. I’m not a Lima Industries boogie man or anything. They didn’t turn me to their righteous cause. This is just a job.”

“And, how’s the leg?” Kazumi asked.

I grinned at her leapt ten feet into the air off of my left leg, then spoiled the effect by stumbling on landing.

Giles laughed, “It’s just like my first groundcar – more power than you know what to do with.”

I grimaced a bit, “Sometimes. It’s good. Healing well. Integrating with my body. Better than the alternative.”

Kazumi nodded, “Yes, I’m sure it is that.”

“Anyway, come over here you two and take a look at this.”

After a few minutes study, Giles whistled, “Bloody high wall, mate.”

“Yes, it is that,” I mimicked Kazumi. “But I’ve got a good idea on how to get over it.”

“Here, take a look at this,” I gestured at a pile of equipment on the warehouse floor.

Giles wandered over and poked through it with his toe. “A compressor, a bunch of plastic, harnesses, motors… What the ‘ell is all this?”

“‘All this’ is our way over the wall. Let me show you.” I picked up the (weighted) end of the plastic tube and tossed it over the wall – only to have it hang up on the other side and not go all the way to the ground. I walked around and frowned at it.

Giles followed and looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

I sighed, “This is why we’re testing it out. I’ve got two problems that I haven’t solved yet. One – how do we get the plastic over the wall cleanly. Two – how do we anchor it on the other side.”

Giles continued to look at me with a raised eyebrow, “And once the plastic is over the wall, how does that help get us over the wall?”

I turned to Kazumi, “Could you please get that the rest of the way down?” The plastic was hung up about four meters up. “I’m not totally confident enough in my leg to try to scale it.”

She nodded and seemed to flow up the wall, finding easy purchases for her hands and feet in its rough surface. Once she had the plastic, she bounded back down towards the floor.

I took the plastic end from her with thanks and set it down on the floor, then we went back around to the air compressor. I hooked the compressor hose into a fitting on the plastic and flicked on the compressor. A quiet hum filled the air and the plastic started to puff.

Five minute later, I turned off the compressor and poked at the plastic. Now it felt like a hard steel rod about 2.5 cm in diameter.

I could see understanding dawning on their faces but I didn’t say anything. I just put on a harness, attached a motor assembly to the arch, and clipped the assembly to my harness. Then, flipping a switch on the assembly, I rode quickly and quietly about four meters up. I could feel the arch starting to tip so I came back down.

Giles nodded, “Nice. Looks like a good, smooth entry and exit – but I see what you mean about needing a solution to those two problems.” I watched him walk around the wall, looking at either side.

“On the outside, we’ll be on pavement, right?” I nodded at him. “Ok, then I think that we can do well with a utility laser and some fast-acting epoxy. We’ll need a different shape to the arch here – some kind of a foot.”

“I think I know just the thing!” I grabbed a tablet off of a nearby table and paged through the security catalog. “How about this?”

I held the device out to Giles and he carefully studied it then grinned, “Yes, I think that will be perfect.” The shape was disk, one meter in diameter and 2.5 cm thick.

“I thought so. We can get tools to make holes in it.”

“Right,” Giles picked it up again, “We’ll use the laser to drill holes in the pavement, stick spikes through the foot and expoxy the spikes into the ground. On the other end, we’ll just need a big enough foot and this thing will be as stable as we need.”

I was excited, “Great!” Then I remembered the other problem. “But, we still need to get it over the wall.”

Kazumi spoke up. “What about a stronger arm?”

I shook my head, “No, we have to stay within half a meter of the wall.”

Giles cocked his head and asked, “Why?”

“Because Kasei has several anti-aircraft units in the yard. If they detect anything coming over the wall, they open up.”

Both Giles and Kazumi stared at me slack-jawed at this. “They have what?” Kazumi blurted while Giles just took his head in his hands and shook it.

“Yeah, apparently they went a little overboard on their defenses after the last run. We need to stay within half a meter of the wall when we go over.”

Giles lifted the tablet and muttered, “Maybe I’ll find some inspiration in here.”

“Oh, while you’re looking, check out the Beetle Drone. It’s designed for network intrusion and I figure we’ll use that to hack into the perimeter network and disable the laser sensors.”

Giles tabbed through the catalog while Kazumi and I looked at the harnesses and motor assemblies.

“So, once we’re inside, there’s still a lot of ground to cover,” Kazumi commented.

“Yep.”

“And do you have a plan for getting across it unseen?”

“Yep.”

“And are you ready to share that plan?”

“Nope. I’m waiting on some final details.”

“But, you do have a plan?”

“Kazumi, I always have a plan.” my tone was light but there was worry in the back of my mind. If Price couldn’t get the chameleoskin suits I really wasn’t sure how we’d get across the compound without being seen.

“A ha!” Giles’ exclamation pulled us away.

“What did you find?” I asked.

“The Spider Drone. It’s got an internal spool of Dyneema thread and can climb almost any surface. Once it’s anchored, it can pull up to 250 kilos using the integral winch. It weighs about half a kilo and can fit inside a 30cm box.”

“Hmm…that looks promising, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get Price to give us one – he’s already providing the Beetle Drone.”

“Oh, no worries there, mate. If Price can get his hands on one, I’ll buy the bloody thing. I can think of several runs where this thing would have been handy.”

“Sounds good to me. So, you’re thinking that the spider just climbs up, over, and down the wall, dragging the arch behind?”

“Yep, then we inflate it and Bob’s yer Uncle.”

Feeling confident in our plan, we discussed a few more details then I sent Price a note about the additional inflatable beam material we’d need.

###

Now that we had the our intrusion path planned, it was time to find a combat decker. I’d been in touch with Ratface and he was strictly a remote action guy – no interest in going onsite. He’d be providing overwatch for the run but I still needed to find someone to go in.

It was time to look over the sheets that Price had provided. Two looked like wannabes. Two looked decent. I had a brief voice call with both of them and Sven rubbed me the wrong way. He just seemed like a loner – wouldn’t fit in well with the team. The call with Franz went well and I decided to setup a meet with him, Kazumi and me at the Five and Dime.

I’d decided that Giles should stay outside and monitor us as best he could. That would limit our exposure inside and give us an outside resource on hand if we needed heroic measures.

Kazumi and I were already at a table when Franz showed up a few minutes early. That was a point in his favor in my book.

He was a short, swarthy man and I watched him cross the room with quiet, self-assured grace. He didn’t move nearly as smoothly as Kazumi, but there was an economy of motion that spoke of years of practice as a gymnast or dancer. I stood when he reached the table and we shook. His hand felt oddly rough and when he spoke his voice matched it. “So, you’re looking for someone who can go onsite and hack a system.”

I nodded, “Yes, the target is on a private network in a fortified compound. Plus we need to circumvent a perimeter sensor network.”

Shauna came up and we ordered drinks.

Franz shrugged and said, “I can do all that.”

“I know you can do that. This is more of a get to know each other meeting. Check for team fit, find out a little more about you. But, I would like to describe the opposition a little more – make sure you’re comfortable with it.”

Shauna returned with our beers. Franz took a sip of his stout and gestured at me to continue.

“The goal here is to get in and out without them even knowing we were there. There’s a lot of defensive equipment in place and it would be very bad to engage it. Also, we have a very narrow insertion window. How big is your deck and how do you carry it?”

At this Franz cracked a big grin. “You must have had an old sheet.” He held out his left arm and pulled back his sleeve. The arm was obviously cyber and had a jackpoint embedded in it.

I looked at the arm, then looked at him. “You mean, it’s in your arm?”

“Yep, a lot easier than slinging a pack around and much easier to upgrade than having it in my head.”

I sat back and considered this. At first glance it seemed crazy but after some thought it made sense. The deck itself wouldn’t take up much room and it certainly would be easier to manage upgrades and tweaks if it’s just in your arm than in your head (a location that I shuddered over).

“Yeah, that makes sense.”

We made small talk while we finished our beers. The usual getting to know someone deal. Franz seemed like he’d be a good fit. He seemed decent, had a sense of humor that meshed with ours and didn’t set off any red flags.

“So, Franz, I’m curious about your voice.”

“It’s a lil rough, ain’t it?” He grinned. “I used to be a thrash metal singer. Real bad idea to do that with natural lungs. After a few years of it, I damaged my vocal cords pretty good. The way they are now, the can’t be healed. All I could do is replace them with an electronic voice box. I know they can make it sound the same, but it wouldn’t be the same. I like having these old, scarred cords. Helps me remember that just because I can do a thing – maybe I shouldn’t always do it.”

I chuckled at that and agreed. “Well, this seems to be going well. How about you meet us at this location tomorrow.” I passed him a card. “Say about 2pm. We’ll go over the run in more detail and you can meet the rest of the team.”

“Sounds fab. See you then.”

He rose and departed. I settled back into my chair and turned to Kazumi.

“Well, what did you think.”

“I think he used to smoke too.”

“Not about his vocal cords, about him. Overall?”

She shrugged, “I think he’s competent and will fit well with the team.”

“You catch the texture on his hand?”

“Yeah, it’s on his face too – probably all over. That’s why his skin looked tight, not super-responsive.” I raised my eye brows at her to continue. “Duraskin. Probably he was burned or was in a bad accident. Duraskin is tougher than real skin – resists abrasions, tougher to cut – but it’s organic so it can actually repair itself. It’s just slower than real skin.”

“Huh, wonder why I’ve never heard of it.”

“It’s pretty new. Popular in Europe, but hasn’t really caught on over here yet. From what I hear it itches like crazy when you get your initial graft and any time it’s re-growing. But, if you need a whole-body re-tread, it’s definitely something to think about. If you’re hurt that bad, a little itch is likely the least of your worries.”

I nodded in agreement and we rose and headed out.

###

I was standing in front of the wall with Franz when Kazumi and Giles came in.

“That is a really big wall.” Franz repeated.

I said, “Yeah, but we’ve got a plan for getting over it. Giles, did you get the drone?”

“Oh, yeah.” The smile almost split his face. “This thing is awesome.” He glanced at his shoulder and I jumped when I realized that the drone was crouched there. Then the spider scuttled down his arm, dropped towards the floor and raced towards us.

Franz uttered a low oath and drew his pistol to blow the creature away.

“Easy, man.” I gently caught the arm with the gun. “It’s a drone and we need it.”

Franz shuddered and stopped bringing the gun up. “Sorry. I really don’t like spiders.”

I agreed, “Yeah, it gives me the heebie-jeebies too, but we really do need it.”

Giles had stopped the drone when Franz drew his gun and, now that it wasn’t moving, it was easier to tell it was artificial. Then, he walked it towards the wall and we watched it climb gracefully up and over.

“See!” Giles sounded ecstatic, “It sticks like you wouldn’t believe.”

“I’m glad you’re happy. Let’s do a dry run – everything except epoxying the spikes in.”

I’d described the approach for getting over the wall to Franz when he got there and he was curious to see it in action. To be honest, so was I.

Franz, Kazumi and I all got into harnesses while Giles got the far end of the arch hooked up to the spider.

“Ok, this first time through, we’ll just get it done – let’s not aim for any speed records but keep an eye on how we can make it smoother or faster. We’ll work on speed after we’ve got the general process down.”

Giles sent the spider scuttling up the wall, dragging the arch behind. Up and over and down. As soon as the spider was down on the other side, I kicked on the compressor to inflate it. Once the arch was fully inflated and hard, I hooked on the my motor assembly and went over. Since it wasn’t fully anchored, we took it one at a time.

Everything worked perfectly.

We ran through it a few more times tweaking things here and there but the whole thing felt solid and Franz commented on it. “This is good. I’ve never seen this approach before but man, it’s slick.”

I nodded, “Thanks. It should let us get in and out quietly. Now, let’s talk about the perimeter network. Giles, go get the Beetle Drone, would ya?”

While Giles was getting it, I turned back to Franz. “We’re borrowing a network intrusion drone for this. Tiny thing – looks like a beetle. It gets next to a network and uses an induction connection to hack into it. Then it sets up a LOS network with the decker, you, to give you access. We’ll need you to disable the laser sensors on one stretch of wall before we can deploy the arch.”

Franz was nodding, “Sounds smooth – but how do I interface with the LOS network?”

Giles came up carrying a small box. He opened it and handed Franz a stubby jackmount. “With this. It’s made to plug into a standard data jack and has the optical port necessary for communicating with the beetle.”

Franz turned the small electronic component over in his hands and then socketed it.

I said, “Ok, we’ve got a similar network setup over here for testing on. That will give you experience working with the beetle drone network interface. Once you’re in, it should just be standard hacking.”

“Ok, sounds good. Let’s try it out.”

I had Giles and Franz go through the process a few times, navigating the beetle and interfacing with the network. Everything seemed to be going smooth there too. While they worked through it, I went into another room and changed clothes.

Once Giles and Franz were happy with the process, I pulled everyone back together. “Now, we can get over the wall – that was the first big hurdle. The next is moving around in the compound without anyone seeing us.”

Kazumi crossed her arms and gave me a level look – she hadn’t been happy about my evasion the other day.

“As some of you know, Lima Industries has been working on some advanced chameleoskin suits.” Kazumi’s eyes immediately grew wide. “They’ve agreed to let us borrow a few for this run. Let me show you.” I reached up and pulled a hood up then drew a cloth across my face. Once the fabric was all settled, I pressed a small button on the collar of the suit – and disappeared.

“See,” I said my voice coming from a different area than where I’d been standing. “The suits are almost totally invisible.”

Neither Giles nor Franz had seen the chameleoskin in action before and they were both blown away.

Kazumi said, “That’s cool and all, but how do we see each other?”

I picked up a pair of goggles from the table and tossed them to her. She fitted them over her eyes and I hit the button again.

“Ah, your grey forms.”

“Yep. The goggles come from Lima Industries too – they’re designed to identify the chameleoskin suits so that teams can work together. Follow me. I’ll you you both your suits.”

We went into the back room of the warehouse and I handed suits to both Kazumi and Franz. They each changed and Franz put on a pair of goggles.

Suitably attired, we returned to the arch to practice going over the wall.

Giles didn’t have a pair of goggles and he said, “That just looks creepy. I see the motor assembly going up and over and I see the rope that goes from the assembly to your harness – but you’re totally invisible.”

“Yep, that’s the idea. Let’s run through this a few more times and then I think we’ll be about ready for the run.”

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