Twenty Four

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3 AM. It’s a good time of night. Most bars are closed and folks have made their way home. The night guard shift is getting close to being done and looking forward to it. The streets are pretty empty and someone working in the shadows is least likely to be disturbed. 3 AM is my kind of time.

Giles pulled his van up to a remote edge of the Kasei wall and parked it right beneath a street light. Then he flipped a switch on his dash and the left front tire went flat. He could flip the switch back the other way to re-inflate, but this gave his stop the appearance of legitimacy. That’s why he stopped under the light too – if you had your choice of where to stop with a breakdown, you’re going to go for the lighted area so you can see to deal with it.

Kazumi, Franz and I waited in the van, while Giles got out and looked at the tire. We knew that the external cameras on the wall weren’t watched very closely because the guards relied on the machine learning algos to catch anything out of the ordinary – but we were playing it as safe as we could here.

While Giles was out looking at the tire, he also released the Beetle Drone and let fly up to the wall. Then he got back into the van as if to wait for help. Once he was settled back into the van he maneuvered the Beetle to the nearest sensor node and connected to the network and looked back at us “Ok, Franz – you’re on.”

Franz reached up and socketed the jackmount. He shifted to the front seat, craned his head around a bit and gave every appearance of going to sleep. While Franz did his thing, I setup the secure comm mesh.

We waited for a couple minutes and then Franz’s eyes popped open. “Ok, we’re set. I’ve got a loop in the laser net to make us a hole here and I looped an earlier piece of footage for the street camera.”

I nodded, “How long?”

“I’d say we’ve got 30 minutes or so before anyone starts to catch onto it.”

“Great. Let’s go people.”

Kazumi, Franz and I burst from the van. I quickly got the inflatable beam arranged and Giles had the Spider start taking it over the wall. Kazumi kept watch both ways and Franz setup the compressor. As soon as the Spider was down on the other side of the wall, Giles hurried over to us with a utility laser.

This was the chanciest part of the perimeter penetration. We had a screen to erect around the laser work, but if anyone was looking our way it would seem awfully suspicious.

“Ratface, you got anything on cams?” I asked.

Ratface had penetrated the local traffic cams and we were using them for general area overwatch.

“I’ve got a lone car a couple blocks away from you, parallel, no danger. Looks like you’re good.”

“Got it.” Franz and I raised the screen and I nodded at Giles to start.

The utility laser was soundless, but out a bright red glow. Giles had on dark goggles to protect his eyes but both Franz and I were relying on the brightness limiters built into our cybereyes to protect us.

Giles drilled five holes, each about 30 cm deep in two minutes. Once the holes were done, we lined up the holes in the arch foot with the holes in the ground and Franz kicked on the compressor to inflate the arch.

I pinged Ratface again while the arch was inflating, “Ratface, we’re inflating the arch. Anything on cams?”

“No, all cle- wait.”

I waited, tensed. 10 interminable seconds later Ratface came back on, “I’ve got a hobo approaching, looks drunken. Came out of an abandoned building one block north of you.”

“ETA?”

“2 minutes.”

Nuts. We didn’t want anyone stumbling onto us and there was no way we’d be over the wall in two minutes.

I looked at Kazumi, “Put him to sleep. Quietly.”

She nodded and sprinted North.

As soon as we had the arch fully inflated, Giles squirted a dollop of two part epoxy into each hole and dropped in the spikes to hold it.

While the epoxy was setting up, I attached the motor assemblies to the arch and double-checked my harness. After that I reached over my shoulder to make sure I could grab the assault rifle and heavy pistol in my pack and then checked the draw of the tranq pistol on my hip. Each chameleoskin suit had an integral backpack with pockets and holders that could be arranged for whatever you needed to carry. Given the nature of the suits, you couldn’t carry an external backpack.

Kazumi came back right as Giles gave me a nod that the epoxy had set.

I clipped my harness to the motor assembly, took a calming breath, and started up the arch.

I slowed, then stopped as my head cleared the wall. I wanted a good view of the compound before I went in and I wanted to give the rest of the team a chance to see what was coming.

While preparing for the run, I’d worked with Waters and Hernan to setup a rudimentary video feed from my cybereyes onto the secure comm mesh. This feed was patched into a small vidscreen that the team below me were watching.

My blood ran cold and I heard Franz utter a quiet oath when one of the anti-aircraft emplacements twitched. I zoomed in on it and briefly wished I hadn’t.

The weapon was matte-black, with seven barrels and an ammo box that I knew could hold 3,000 rounds. There was a white dome on top that housed the radar assembly and the gun was mounted in a two-axis gimbal which let it traverse to fire on almost anything that the radar could detect.

The compound itself looked similar to when we’d been here before. I could see that the mortar damage had been repaired and the beefed up entrance security was obvious. There were no obvious guards on patrol but I was sure they were out there.

I glanced down at the team below me, “I’m activating my suit. Please verify.” I pulled the cover over my face and hit the activation button.

Kazumi’s voice came over the mesh, “Activation verified, you’re dark.”

“Copy. Going over.”

The arch cleared the wall by about 40 cm and my back was practically dragging against it while I went over. As soon as I was clear, I rotated to put my feet towards the ground and drove the motor assembly down. I reached the bottom and quickly detached my harness from the assembly – dropping back against the wall and scanning the immediate area.

The gatling gun remained pointed towards the sky and there were no flashing lights or whooping sirens. So far it looked like we were doing ok.

“Ok, we’re clear, come over.”

Both Kazumi and Franz rode over the arch on their own assemblies as quickly as they could. Once we were all down, I opened the comm, “Ok, we’re down inside. Heading towards the building. Giles, keep an eye on the outside. Ratface let Giles (and us) know if anything untoward approaches.”

We’d decided to not chance Ratface breaking into Kasei to ride overwatch from the internal network. I didn’t want to chance setting off intrusion alarms and he wouldn’t have been able to see us on any of the cameras. Plus, with Franz along, hopefully we could handle any hacking locally.

I signaled Kazumi and Franz to follow and then broke into a quick jog for the door we’d chosen for building penetration. We kept our weapons holstered because they wouldn’t have been hidden by the suits. Price had warned me about the weapons and that the suits worked better at slower paces. They could manage a jog, but an all-out sprint would cause background leakage – the chameleo-fibers wouldn’t be able to keep up with the necessary color changes and you’d appear as a blur or heat-wave effect.

I reached the door and put my back to the wall, again scanning the compound for any movement or other signs that our presence was noted. Kazumi did the same and Franz went to work getting the door open.

We hadn’t been able to get entrance codes to the doors so Franz was going to half to do this the hard way. He used an induction jack to attach to the card scanner port then hacked in and overrode the lock protocols. Thirty seconds after reaching the door, I heard it click open and I turned and darted inside.

The lights inside were dim, but anyone looking our way would see the door open so Kazumi and Franz followed quickly behind me.

Once we were all inside, I took a moment to bring the map up and orient myself.

We were on the north-east corner of the facility and our target was near the center. We would have to go through several locked doors and our route was circuitously planned to avoid any encounters with known guard posts. There was always the chance we’d encounter a roving patrol but I was really hoping that wouldn’t be the case. If this run went south and we ended up having to shoot our way out it would be very bad.

I set off, once again at a quick jog. I was leading with Franz in the middle and Kazumi keeping watch behind.

It took us 10 minutes to reach the first locked door and we didn’t see anyone. Once again Franz jacked in and overrode the lock protocols. This door took longer – probably because the security was getting tougher. It slide open and I led the way inside.

We were near the cafeteria and I could hear the low murmur of voices ahead of us.

“Forward. Slow.” I communicated to Kazumi and Franz. My subdermal mic let me speak to them without saying anything aloud.

Now we crept forward slowly, single file, hugging the edge of the corridor. This was likely to be the toughest section in the facility. I’d hoped that the cafeteria would be empty, but I guess someone needed a late night snack.

A door opened ahead of us and we froze. A man came out, looking back over his shoulder. He was wearing a white lab coat and I could hear him saying “-check on my experiment. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

Then he turned to walk towards us.

I’d seen the chameleoskin in action on the street and Kazumi and Franz had seen me in it so we were all fairly confident that the guy couldn’t see us. But being fairly confident doesn’t keep the chills from running down your spine when someone walks within 30 centimeters of you.

We all held our breath and didn’t move. The guy kept walking. Once he’d turned a corner I let out a sigh and continued on.

“I guess this stuff really does work,” Franz whispered over the comm mesh.

“Yeah.” I breathed back.

We passed the cafeteria and soon reached the next locked door. Franz came up and hacked into it while Kazumi and I kept watch.

One minute. Two minutes. Three minutes. I felt my palms start to sweat. I glanced at Franz and he looked like he was asleep. I hate to bug a guy who’s working but I need to know what was going on.

“Franz.”

“Wait.” His reply was curt.

I waited and I was ready to ping him again when he unjacked. The door did not open.

“Franz, the door.” I hissed.

“I can’t get it open. The encryption is too tough, I can’t break it.”

Crap. Once we were through this door, we still had to get into the lap where the data was stored. If this door was too much for him, what would that door be like?

I thought for a moment, reviewing the map then said, “Ok, new plan. Here’s our new route.” I zipped them a map over the comm mesh. It would take us past a manned checkpoint, but there was no way around that. And I really hoped that Franz would be able to get past the lab door when we got there.

We set off again, moving quickly and quietly. Soon we reached a corridor junction right before the manned guard post.

“Ok, I’ll go first. Once you see me past, Franz, you follow. Once Franz is clear, Kazumi, you come on.”

They both commed understanding and we crept around the corridor.

Ahead of us a security booth was built into the wall. I could see marks in the floor and ceiling where a security door would extend, cutting off the hallway in case of an emergency. There was one guy in the booth. I could see that his feet were up on the desk and he seemed to be watching a bank of cameras. There should have been two. Where was the other guy.

I waited briefly then decided to go for it. I crept forward slowly, once again hugging the wall – trying to pretend I was just a hole in the air.

 

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