“Adam, check it out,” Malik’s voice alerted him as they approached Hong Kong
Jensen leaned out the edge of the VTOL and looked ahead of them at the row of pearly skyscrapers lining the coast of the island. With each subsequent row, the roofs reached like spears ever higher towards the sky. They staggered with one another until the buildings only four layers back were nearly twice the height of the front ones. Fishing ships with their red and gold embossed dragon wing sails tottered beneath them in the bay. Unlike Hengsha, which always felt like dusk in the shadow of the upper city, Hong Kong had no ceiling and the sun reflected blindingly.
Adam commed Freya, “We just arrived. Are you picking up any activity?”
“They don’t seem to have noticed you, but the alert that was in place in Hengsha is still active – you should stay just outside their airspace,” she cautioned him, watching their GPLs relative to the Chinese fly zone boundaries.
“Okay, then tell me your brilliant plan for getting me to Versalife’s headquarters,” he asked, glancing at Malik as she turned the thrusters away from the virtual borders flashing on her dashboard display.
“Well you might not like it, but you have a rebreather aug, right?”
“If you’re suggesting what I think you are…” he started, looking down at the cold choppy waves cresting below them.
“Look, on the southeastern side of Hong Kong island, there are several storm drains which travel directly beneath Versalife. They don’t look too heavily guarded, and the distance you’d have to swim from the edge of their airspace is a little less than a mile.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re not the one swimming,” he started, “but unless there’s a better method you’re not telling me about…”
“I assume you wanted to go in low profile – you could always land on one of the ships and commandeer it, but that might attract too much attention. This way you could avoid being seen on the streets where you might be recognized and easily bypass their outer security.”
“Right, okay – Malik?”
“On it,” she answered, charting a course for the location Freya marked on her instruments. As they skirted the edge of the invisible perimeter which was doubtless monitored by a military grade radar system, Malik brought the craft down closer to the surface of the water.
“I’ll be waiting for a signal from you or Freya. We’ll rendezvous at the top of the Versalife building – I should be able to get to you with enough time to outrun their defenses.” Jensen halted his movements for a second, meeting Malik’s determined brown eyes. She knew what it meant to invade China’s airspace. Again. After what happened last time. Adam searched his mind for another option, but a water landing would not be feasible if he attracted any attention. Knowing his luck, he would be needing a fast extraction.
“Right,” he agreed.
She noticed his pause and shouted after him as he readied to jump, “Maybe this time I’ll rescue you, spy boy.”
Jensen shot a grin back at her and hurtled himself out of the VTOL. After a short twenty meter drop, slowed slightly by his Icarus Landing System, he plunged under the steel blue surface of the South China Sea. Freya uploaded the coordinates of the storm drain to Adam’s HUD and watched his progress on her leftmost monitor in the Tech Lab. To her right, her laptop was hard at work still decrypting the data she had lifted from Versalife the day before. It was at ninety-five percent.
In the doorway leaned the hunched frame of Wayne Haas, his arms crossed and head bent forward. His blond hair fell just over his eyebrows and he would have been quite tall and impressive if it were not for the way he carried himself. His demeanor was inexplicably apologetic, and his hazel brown eyes avoiding everyone around him. When he introduced himself to Pritchard as Jensen’s former SWAT partner, his eyes darted down away from her and his tone of voice was hurried. He explained that Jensen had invited him onto the Sarif security force just a few days ago, but he obviously didn’t expect his first task to be a babysitting job.
As the computers whirred away, she saw him stretch languidly and head towards her desk, leaning against the far edge.
“So, what’s your story?” he asked.
“Well, you can probably guess if you look around. Cyber security. You?”
“I was in SWAT with Jensen until the shit hit the fan in Mexicantown. You might have heard about that incident a few years back…” he started, a dark anger surfacing in his eyes.
“I saw Adam’s background check, so I know a bit about it. Did you leave after all of that?” she asked, sitting back in her chair and glancing briefly at the decryption. Ninety-seven percent.
“Jensen resigned. I… look, you see a lot in the force. But when an entire city section wants your blood just because you followed orders, it gets to you. I just…I had to get out of that,” he explained carefully, with obvious omissions. Freya didn’t want to pry since it was clearly still a fresh wound in Wayne’s mind.
“I’m thankful that you’re here, though. After last night…” she looked nervously out the windows to the atrium, as if she expected to see red laser sights beaming back at her.
“What exactly happened? Jensen didn’t say much on the phone,” Wayne asked curiously, leaving Mexicantown behind.
“I was trying to get information about Versalife and some of its activities, and I attracted too much attention, so they trashed my place last night. Undoubtedly they would have killed me if I’d been there. That’s where Adam is right now, trying to infiltrate their headquarters.”
She glanced over at the monitor with Adam’s GPL and saw he was more than halfway there. Wayne came around behind the desk and looked with her, following the flickering triangle as it drew closer to its destination. Moments later, Adam commed her, “Okay, I’m in.” She uploaded the drain network map for him and heard the alert from her laptop that decryption had completed. As she scanned through the data, she saw that while most of it was research-related, somehow she had managed to extract all their security codes as well.
“Adam, guess what, that data I pulled yesterday – it’s got every access code you could need! Assuming they haven’t changed them since the breach. I’m sending them to you now.”
Adam nodded and continued down the drainage pipes, which were barely four feet high so he had to crouch. He stayed to the side out of the majority of the debris, but still had to step over large piles of rotting newspapers and even the occasional discarded augment. Up ahead was a junction where he would turn right, but he heard several voices and the sound of people rummaging around. Clangs from metal junk being tossed aside echoed down the culvert. As Adam peered around the corner, he could see several men digging in the heaps of refuse. When he spied the garish golden augments, he knew exactly who they were. Harvesters. After the Panchaea incident, there was undoubtedly a treasure trove of tech and augments that had fallen beneath the city, waiting to be scavenged. There were only four of them, so Jensen carefully aimed and shot the farthest one with a tranquilizer dart. The others didn’t seem to notice their fallen comrade, so he reloaded and took a second shot. That alerted the remaining two, but he was able to quickly race up while cloaked and dispatch them without a second thought.
Just two more junctions to go and he would be beneath Versalife. As he approached the final junction, he noticed a stronger organic aroma emanating from the stream at the center of the passageway. The liquid had grown darker and thicker as well, almost congealed. When he reached it, there was a ladder of iron rods in the concrete wall that led up to a floor grate stained with rust. The odor seemed to have gotten worse, and the air didn’t smell any fresher as he lifted the crusted rectangular panel up and out of his way.
He barely managed to squeeze himself through the opening and as he sat back on the linoleum, he scanned for life signs. No one within fifty meters. The room was very cold - his sensors indicated it was being kept at forty-five degrees Fahrenheit. As he looked around him, he had to stifle a surge of nausea. A pungent smell of formaldehyde was suffocating, emanating from figures covered in white sheets resting on the dozens of tables in the room. There were at least thirty, each surface tapered just slightly at one end to allow a steady ‘drip drip’ of liquid to fall to the floor through the table's drain. The stream from beneath each table traveled slowly along the incline of the floor to the spot from which Jensen had just emerged, as to a shower drain.
Adam pulled the drape away from the nearest one and cringed. Beneath it was a partially dissected human body, most of the skin removed. The person had several different augments – a Sarif brand arm prosthetic and artificial eyes and a Tai Yong Medical leg augment. What drew Adam’s attention most was the area of contact between the organic flesh and the augments. Not only was it not well connected, but it almost looked like the flesh had melted away from the artificial components. The reaction was somewhat comparable to the worst cases of augment rejection syndrome, but Adam had never seen anything like it. At the interface with the eye implants, the eyelids and even some of the orbital bone had eroded away. Adam took a quick snapshot with his optics enhancement and then moved to the desk and file cabinets near the door, wondering if there was any information that would shed some light.
“Freya, I’m in, any progress with the decryption?”
“It finished just a moment ago, scanning through it now,” she answered him.
“Have you found anything mentioning an accelerated rejection syndrome?” he asked, forcing the drawers open and flipping through the patient files. Each seemed to have been intentionally exposed to a substance “SLK-109.” With each dossier, there was a carefully documented account of how the subject developed flu-like symptoms and severe headache initially, but within an hour began suffering severe internal hemorrhaging, coma, and complete implant rejection. It seemed the rapidness of onset was a problem for the developers, who wanted it to have a more indolent course.
“I haven’t seen anything about that yet, but there’s a ton of information in here – it’ll take me some time to categorize and filter it. Right now I’m seeing a lot of information about a ‘promising nanite discovery’ that could one day make most current augmentations obsolete…”
“What about SLK-109, can you search for that?” he asked, inputting one of their stolen codes into the computer. It worked, so that likely meant the rest of the codes were still functional as well.
“Holy crap, Adam, that pulled up over 300 hits. I’ll start looking through that data now.”
Adam carefully exited the lab and scanned for the best route to make it upstairs to Page’s office. Like Sarif, Page had a penthouse on the top floor of the building. The elevator would be a straight shot. At the end of the hall he saw the lift’s doors were shut and the floor number twelve was illuminated. Prying open the outer doors, Jensen peered up the shaft and saw a series of maintenance ladders along the far corner. Every several floors there was a laser security grid, but Jensen could simply activate his cloaking device and pass through undetected.
“Adam, it looks like they have been working on some way to counter the possibility of supercompatibility,” Pritchard informed him.
Jensen held tight to the frail steel rungs as the elevator surged past him, shaking everything around it. “You mean because of Megan’s research?”
“Yes. With the prospect of losing control over augmented people if Neuropozyne were no longer needed, it looks like they want to eliminate the threat of augmentation altogether. Like a backup to the kill switch.”
“A pretty deadly back up,” said Adam grimly as he reached the top level. Not wanting to take the direct route, he pried open an air duct and followed along until he could see into Page’s office through one of the side vents. A quick scan told him the room was empty. Carefully, he dropped down onto the floor, landing next to an antique bookshelf and potted palm tree. Across from him was a regal oak desk, very well organized, with a glass computer overlay taking up the wall behind it. The display was framed with elegant gray drapes and the room was lit dimly by a chandelier in the upper right corner. As Jensen approached the computer, he heard Freya comm in.
“You’re right above a major computer processing floor – I think it’s all directly wired into Page’s personal terminal. If you can get into his computer, that’ll give us access to everything I couldn’t crack before.”
“Only one way to find out.” Adam pulled the padded armchair out from behind the desk and sat in front of the computer, his hands resting on the keyboard. His sensors could pick up a security detail passing back and forth outside the office, as well as a security camera outside. As he accessed the subroutine to hack into the system, he heard the notification that his comm line was activating.
Adam paused as a stream of static poured into his receiver. Every couple seconds there was a blip, and finally a thick, heavily altered voice was audible.
“Bratan, so good to see you still alive.”
“Quinn? Wait, no, you’re the hacker from the Rifleman Bank Station. Who is this?” Adam asked back rapidly. The last time he heard this voice, he was infiltrating the RBS, where he had nearly died en route to Singapore. If it weren’t for a double agent Quinn, Commander Keitner, and an anonymous Russian super-hacker, he likely wouldn’t have made it out of there alive.
“Adam, ostyn. Our goals are the same. Hacking Page’s computer will only serve to alert them to your presence. I have something better for you. Uberalles.”
“Uberalles. Page’s passcode. Unfortunately, I am unable to download the data remotely, as their firewalls prevent any data from leaving his terminal over the network. It must be retrieved manually.”
“That’s where I come in, I take it.” Jensen put the password in and started looking for some way to access the computer.
“Yes. You’ll need to connect yourself directly to the terminal.”
Adam remembered when Freya had transferred some upgrades using one of his neck ports and looked for something that would serve as a connector. Beside the monitor, there was an apparatus with an unconnected jack sitting as if solely for the purpose of connecting neural hubs to the system. He presumed that was how Page kept the information private. Jensen pressed in on one of the circular ports in his neck and rotated enough to let the cover pop open. Reluctantly, he pressed the prongs through and cringed a little as his chip recognized the external data source.
“You don’t have time to sort out what information is relevant, so you should transfer his entire hard drive and cached correspondences and we can filter it at my base of operations. I have already taken the liberty of giving your pilot new coordinates.”
“I have to stop back at Sarif Industries first, I can’t…” protested Jensen, knowing he couldn’t leave Freya unguarded for long.
“A team is already heading there to retrieve Pritchard. It was an admirable plan to try to keep her secure at your employer’s building, but I’m afraid that isn’t enough to stop these men. They will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried,” the voice informed him.
“How did you know?”
“We have been keeping track of their movements, as well as yours. With all her activity in Versalife’s network, Pritchard caught our attention as well. I’m afraid you both have passed beyond the point of no return. You cannot rely on your friend Sarif.”
“Freya?” Adam called out to her.
“I heard him, Adam. I’ll tell Wayne and get ready to go. I’ll see you soon,” she answered him.
Pritchard stood up and looked around desperately at her office – so many invaluable pieces of hardware that she would have to leave behind. She started with her laptop, which she packed in the most secure position at the center of her bag. Wayne stepped back as she grabbed one of her portable hard drives from across the table and began several data transfers of essential programs and projects she had been working on.
“What’s going on, Freya?” asked Wayne, alerted by her sudden rush to pack up her gear.
“Adam says someone is coming to get me, to meet him someplace,” she answered hurriedly.
“Where?” he asked, concerned, “Does he need me to come too?”
“I think you’re better off staying here,” she said, almost sadly. Not for him, but for her. There really was no turning back now. They couldn’t keep pretending that things were the same, that the world hadn’t changed. She couldn’t go back and erase all the things she had learned out of her head. She and Adam had stepped into their world, and that came with far-reaching consequences that she had to face. If she didn't, they would catch up to her nonetheless.
Wayne seemed to miss the point and looked a little sullen, but he turned back to the Tech Lab entrance to stand guard. As Freya glanced in his direction, she saw a shimmer in the air ripple through the doorway past Wayne. She could barely make out the outline of a person when the cloaking device flickered off suddenly. A tall, olive skinned woman with silver augmented limbs and thick black body armor stepped towards her. Her dark braided hair was pulled into a tight bun behind her head and her dark eyes flashed with intensity.
“You’re Pritchard?” she addressed Freya, her voice firm and resolute from years of military training.
Freya nodded and somehow she thought the woman’s face warmed up, “Janus sent me. He’s the one you heard on the comms with your man in Hong Kong. We have to go now. Are you ready?” Her voice rolled with a rich West Indies accent.
“Let…let me just grab a couple more things…” she said, nervously grabbing a few data logs off her desk as her file transfers completed. Her anxiety level rose even further and she did a final check through her cabinets, tossing a few lone cyberboost bars into the bag. You never know when you might need them. Finally she was ready to go and as Wayne nervously stepped out of the Tech Lab with the two of them, the front doors of the Sarif Lobby crashed open, the glass panes shattering and raining down on everyone on the first floor below them. Two smoke bombs went off and filled the entry with a gray fog as deafening gunfire erupted. The woman forced Freya to duck and pulled her towards back of the building where their transportation was waiting for them. Wayne was firing at the assailants, easily recognized as Belltower special ops by their ominous red and black uniforms. As they passed through the doors into the cafeteria, Freya saw Wayne fall against the glass, a spray of blood painting the window. She cried out and fought for a moment against her new escort, but she was overpowered and half-shoved, half-carried onto the landing platform. Instead of the VTOL she usually saw Faridah piloting, there was a flatter, more angular craft waiting for them. The flat design was likely intended for better radar stealth and it had two rotated ducted propellers for vertical take-offs behind each wing.
Beside the open door was another operative who received Freya as the augmented woman practically threw her into the craft.
“Don’t worry, we’ve got you,” the older man pulled her into a seat as the woman’s arm converted into a semi-automatic machine gun and opened return fire on their pursuers. As they took off, Freya had a moment to look at the man who sitting beside her. He had a circular scar from cerebral augments that started at the corners of his mouth and met up at his forehead. His chin had two silver nodes beneath his lip and the faint shadow of a dark, graying beard. After his silver brown eyes had scanned her for injuries and seemed satisfied, he said, “Shiv, let Janus know we’ve got the little bird safe and sound.”
“Copy that,” the woman replied, stepping back inside and letting her arm rearrange back into a normal limb. As she stood in the passenger hold, one arm lazily hanging from the rafters like a subway hand hold, she smiled at Freya. “I’m Shivana Cassells. That there is Anton Mosyakov. Welcome to the Juggernaut Collective.”