Freya woke gradually to the sound of someone comming her. It wasn't Adam, who was still sleeping next to her, his chest rising and falling against her back.
"Freya Pritchard, I have some preparatory measures I need you for," Jie commed.
She sighed reluctantly and slid out from under Adam's glistening black prosthetic arm, taking care to replace the thin blanket over him. Even knowing his augments were perfectly calibrated to maintain a comfortable body temperature, she couldn't resist. After slipping on a pair of shoes, she headed down the chilly dark hallway to Jie's main station, admiring his rapid coding skills as she approached. As usual, the room was lit entirely by his computer screens, which cast shadows outlined by hazy green, blue, and red.
"I didn't interrupt anything, I hope?" Jie asked, his red optical eyes fixing upon her. His sly grin suggested he actually hoped otherwise. She got the sense he would be amused if he ruined an intimate moment – a rare chance to participate in something human that he had long since abandoned.
"Sorry to disappoint, no – just my sleep," she answered, yawning and checking the clock on the nearest computer monitor. 5:40, I suppose he only woke me twenty minutes earlier than the others. That tense discomfort in her stomach returned - the time was drawing near.
Jie brought a device that resembled a camera chamber in front of him, plugging it into an adjacent computer tower. Once he brought up a program and changed a few settings, he gestured for Freya to sit near him.
"Has Janus briefed you on your tasks?" he asked, holding the device a few inches from her face in the space between them.
"Not exactly, just what I heard earlier," she answered nervously. "Is that…a retinal encryption module?" she hazarded a guess.
"Precisely," Jie was pleased. "I am preparing a security clearance for you – I need to upload your specifications," he explained, twisting a few dials to get a better view of the pigmented muscle striations in her irises. "Janus plans for you to enter through the front doors, trick security with my little hack, and then find a suitable terminal to unlock an access point on the west side of the building. Now, do not blink your eyes until I tell you to."
Freya stared forward, pursing her lips as she resisted shutting her eyes against the laser scanner. It was helpful to focus on Jie's unnatural optical augmentations, which were just barely visible between the pulses of green light. Behind them, she heard footsteps approaching.
"What's going on?" asked Adam protectively, his pace quickening behind her.
"Please, Adam Jensen, no interference. You'll break her concentration – it is tenuous as it is when you two are in the same room…" he said, his hand waving dismissively as if to shoo him away.
She blushed and her eyelids fluttered just barely, but luckily Jie was able to complete the scan to his satisfaction. They met with Shivana and Dmitri in the armory just around the corner. Along the walls were hanging tactical straps, efficient form-fitting stealth gear, and thicker vests. Shivana grabbed one of the smaller vests off and thrust it into Freya's arms.
"You'll probably need this," she said, the Trinidadian accent especially prominent this morning.
By the density of the material and the slick sheen, Freya inferred it was some kind of antiballistic vest similar to the older generation Kevlar weaves. She had heard about a next-generation nanocellulose compound in development and wondered for a moment if it were that instead. As she put it on, Adam saw her struggling with the straps and helped her cinch them down until it was snug but afforded enough mobility.
"Hopefully you won't need it," he said while preparing his own assortment of tranquilizer darts, pistols and a sniper rifle. Shivana slid a box of cyberboost bars and hypostim injectors across the shelf to him so he could stock up. As another augmented soldier, she understood their unique needs during combat.
Finally prepared, Janus called them all to the aircraft where Dmitri was waiting to take them on the relatively short eight hour flight. Janus radioed in that he had arranged for them to land on an adjacent building where he had a friend in the company. As they came in over Switzerland, Freya couldn't help but feel awed at the scope of it. She had seen several other cities besides Detroit, including Hengsha during a past job, but the metallic towers and railways suspended a thousand feet in the air against the glittering Alps were simply breathtaking. Their descent slowed until they were suspended over a medium height building, gradually lowering down to the yellow circular helipad on the roof.
Dmitri waved them out and commed, "I'll be waiting here for the pickup, unless something happens. Backup plan will be the hospital downtown. Comm me or Janus with updates. Check your HUDs, Adam and Shivana. It should be displaying all your GPL signals in case you get into a tight situation. Careful when you're inside – our signals won't be able to reach you."
They nodded and Freya followed after Adam and Shivana who were trying to remain inconspicuous. Their augments were essentially concealed, with the exception of their hands and the stigmata of cerebral implants. From the roof they took the elevator down to the ground floor. The walls were glass, so she took a moment to try to calm her nerves staring across the cityscape. It was a slow ride down seventy floors. She must have been holding her shoulders rigidly because she felt Adam's hand press down on her, forcing her to relax. His hand traced down her arm to her hand, weaving his fingers in with hers.
"Freya," he commed.
"Yes, Adam?" she answered, pulling her eyes away from the vista to find his face. No sooner had she turned than she felt his lips on hers, his other hand gently caressing her face. There was something different about it. As he pulled away, he looked intently at her, his brow serious and fixed as if he were in pain.
"Whatever happens," he commed, hoping it was a secure channel but figuring Janus would find a way to listen in, "you getting out alive is the most important thing. More than this mission. You understand that?"
"Adam, don't worry. I won't do anything reckless. Besides, once you guys are in I'll have Shivana with me," she assured him silently, but he pressed his forehead against hers, shutting his eyes tightly.
"I don't care. Just…if anything happens, I don't care if I'm fifty feet or fifty floors and mere seconds from uploading this damn package, I'll come running," his hands cupped her cheeks gently. She nodded, and glanced sideways at Shivana who was eying them curiously. The standard elevator chime rang out as they hit the bottom and the doors slid open, revealing the pristine atrium of the tech company. From what Freya could glean, they sold advanced AI systems - intellicars, intellicams, intelli-robot dogs... After passing a banner with the latest house cleaning bot on display next to a triumphant woman in an apron, they reached a revolving glass door to the outside.
Directly across the intersection was an even taller building, with proud gold lettering "DeBeers Precious Minerals Inc." Prominently displayed in each window on the lower floor was a sparkling artifact, whether diamond necklace and earring sets or rhodium plated hand augmentations. As if sensing their surprise, Janus' voice echoed simultaneously through their infolink, "DeBeers has built his entire fortune on material commodities - refining and distributing. His largest investments have been in diamonds and metal ore, particularly those needed for superconductors, plasma batteries, and the latest neurochip arrays."
"Smart man…" murmured Jensen as they walked to the edge of their sidewalk. They hesitated before heading onto the pedestrian crosswalk.
"Freya, you'll need to go in on your own. Don't pay anyone any attention, you're just going into work on a typical day. We have you listed as a midlevel consultant, which should get you through about two-thirds of the building," Janus informed her.
"And it's the western supply hatch I need to unlock?" she repeated back to him.
Nodding, she started across with the crowd, leaving Adam and Shivana behind her. She was tempted to look back but was mentally preparing to play her part. Adam crossed his arms and followed Shivana down the street to their right. He paused at the far corner, activating his HUD to follow Freya's progress inside the lobby. When she paused halfway into the lobby, apparently in front of a security guard, he froze – ready to spring to action if necessary. It felt like forever, but after a few moments passed, her signal moved further into the building and seemed to disappear down a stairwell. He hadn't picked up any excessive elevations on her arousal level, so he hoped it went as smoothly as promised.
"Come on, Jensen, she's pretty and nearly augment-free. Even if there were a problem she could probably sweet talk her way through," Shivana said lightly, racing across the street when traffic was at a standstill. Adam shook it off and followed, matching her pace. Almost simultaneously with reaching the west side access, the red lock switched to green with a loud clunk.
"See? I told you she'd be fine," Shivana said, her spirit improving now that she was back in her element. With their power cells at full capacity, they headed down the storage hallways and alternated their stealth augments with one another to take out all security teams and intellicams.
In an almost hushed voice, they heard Freya ping them, "I'm monitoring you both on my tablet. The two locations for the master lock terminals are completely opposite one another, but the one on floor forty-two is closest to the terminal on floor fifty. Adam should go for that one, and I'll meet Shivana on basement level four."
They nodded and separated. Shivana headed down the stairwell and Adam scanned for the nearest elevator. It was in the dead center of the building. If he used all his energy cells, with a couple cyber boost bars, he should be able to get up the elevator by riding on the roof discretely. He debated for a moment between efficiency and speed. Otherwise he'd be walking up nearly four dozen flights of stairs. Adam checked in his pack and noted he only had about three cyberboost bars and two hypostim shots. He'd have to make them last. Ultimately he decided to take the stairs and activate his cloaking system only when he detected employees approaching. Luckily, very few people took the stairs, so he was on the upper levels shortly without incident. Reaching the lock site was a little trickier – they had regular patrols and several laser fields. Jensen grinned at having made the right choice about conserving his energy and quickly dispatched the pairs of roaming guards. With his stealth augment he was able to walk right through the laser systems and quietly disable them from the security rooms. All that remained was the computer lock system.
"I'm here. How's your progress?" asked Adam, moving the mouse to deactivate the screensaver and logging in with one of the IDs Jie had decrypted.
"We're on floor four – been waiting for you to reach the spot," Shivana answered. "Security's surprisingly heavy down here – I scanned a few of the storage depots and I think this is where they keep all the cut materials." Shivana reviewed the map of the floor – it was mazelike, with irregularly scattered storage rooms and air ducts. They didn't have much cover, save for a few oddly placed support pillars and the office furniture. The elevator was a couple rooms over to the right around the corner, and the stairwell they had come down on was behind them to the left. She eyed a case with a subtle glimmer peeking out of the next room. "One could make a small fortune just taking a handful of this stuff…"
Adam frowned at the gleam in her voice, "What, Janus doesn't pay well enough?"
"Hey, just saying. Anyhow, had to dispatch a few folks but things are quiet down here for the time being," she answered, disappointed that he wasn't excited about her discovery.
"Freya, how do we access the lock point?" he asked, getting more to the point.
"Hold on, Adam, I'm trying to patch through one of their backup security processes…it looks like plenty of others have tried to penetrate their system, so I have quite a few stepping stones to borrow," she explained, her fingers darting rapidly from key to key.
Shivana stood at the ready, her upper arm augment already deployed into combat mode and prepared to unleash a rain of bullets. There were a couple unconscious men she had stashed under the desk across from them, but otherwise they had managed to avoid any casualties. Suddenly, something in Freya's expression caught Shivana's attention. She was typing and tensing her body erratically, and Shivana's CASIE picked up some elevated vital signs and pupillary dilation. Something was wrong.
"What is it?" Shivana asked, daring to interrupt.
"Adam, we're going to need to disable the lock in the next two minutes, I tripped something," she said aloud, slamming her tablet aside on the desk and whipping out her specialized keyboard to patch into the mainframe.
"What do I need to do?" he asked, his hands hovering over the keys of his own terminal forty six floors above them.
"Hold on, I'm uploading it to you," she answered, typing with her left hand into the mainframe and on her tablet with her right. Crap, I really wish I had Jie's speed right now. She was also trying to upload programs to slow their security system down while chipping away at the access algorithm embedded in the subroutines.
"Okay, Adam, are you to the input page?"
"Yes, but the only option I have is a time-sensitive passcode," he said, noting the timer counting down every fifteen seconds before resetting itself.
"It's a tricky code, much easier of course if you have the key generator," she remarked, becoming frustrated as their own timer from the alarm was ticking away. Sixty seconds and they'd be locked out and everyone would know they were there. Finally, she was able to lock in on the internal algorithm. "Okay, Adam, it's a string of numbers and letters, randomly generated as you can see every fifteen seconds. In four seconds it will reset, so be ready."
Shivana turned to a clanging she heard down the stairwell, picking up a group of signals converging on their position. "Freya, what happens in sixty seconds?"
"The key is now 519ysgAR5832y1. Put it in now," she commed Adam, then turned to Shivana. "In thirty seconds, they'll be alerted to our presence, regardless of whether we disable the locks or not." she answered, careful not to comm Adam. She hoped he would be too busy focusing on the computer to check their GPLs.
"Why the hell didn't you mention that earlier?" Shivana asked, throwing a flash charge into the stairwell.
"I tripped it less than five minutes ago! It hasn't really activated yet, they shouldn't have been alerted already," she said in shock, suddenly aware of the guards clamoring down the stairwell to their rear.
"Well, they're on their way," Shivana said impatiently, lifting Freya away from the terminal by her elbow.
"Hold on, do you have an EMP grenade or mine?" asked Freya. She had planned on uploading an encryption program of her own to make it near-impossible for them to re-enable the data filter, but she didn't have enough time.
"Yeah, but that'll knock out our communication for a few minutes, not to mention permanently fry every computer in this room including your tablet. Certainly won't do anything about our unwelcome guests," she scoffed, lifting her chromium semi-automatic rifle and firing a few warning shots into the stairwell, possibly winging one of the first men to appear.
"It's not for them, though we're expecting the flash and they aren't so there's still that element of surprise. If we wipe the computer, they'll need at least a week or two to repair it. That'll give us plenty of time for Eliza to spread the word," she said, wanting to ensure their success.
"Fine," Shivana said, pulling out a timed electromagnetic pulse charge and sticking it under the desk supporting the massive terminal. Their work done, Shivana pulled Freya behind several metal filing cabinets and prepared to counter attack.
"Adam, the filter is down, get to central control and disable the signal," Freya commed him. "We're going to fry the computer down here so you won't hear from us for a bit. Get moving."
"Copy that," she heard him answer, before she nodded to Freya and braced herself. It started as a cloud of white electric sparks, and then soundlessly all the screens and lights within fifty feet went out. There were shouts from the stairwell, but no one seemed to be storming in yet. Shivana recoiled, waiting for her systems to start back up. Freya's only augments were subtle, so she had minimal effects and had no trouble sensing the environment.
"Freya, take this." Shivana handed her a 9mm pistol from her leg holster. "I can't wait for them just crouching here. You wait here, and I'll come back for you. There's only one way they're coming in here, anyhow."
As Shivana moved to go, one of the two guards she had stashed under the far desk had been roused by his augments malfunctioning in the EMP blast. It was dark, so they had no warning – just the light flash with the first shot he fired. Before either of them could react, Freya felt like she was being kicked in the chest and the wind knocked out of her. The force threw her onto her back and she felt an additional explosive pain in her right thigh. The bullets practically bounced off Shivana, who returned fire instinctively, killing both the men under the desk.
"Freya, you okay?" she called out, attempting to scan her but her display was still unresponsive from the EMP.
Gasping for air, Freya choked out from across the room, "Yeah, I don't think they got … through the vest. I think … I landed on my leg wrong though, I can't feel it…"
Shivana moved to reach her but something loud and heavy crashed through the opposite wall. Freya fortunately was shielded from whatever it was, so she couldn't see. Dim light fell through the collapsed wall along with flashes of red providing at least some illumination. In a blink, Shivana cloaked and Freya tried to follow her rippling movements along the wall in the poor lighting. She commed back to Freya, "They've got armor suits. I'll draw their fire. Don't move. I'll be back soon."
She lay still behind the desk and attempted to roll over, but every time her body fell against the ground it tweaked painfully. I'll bet I broke a rib or two… Her heart was nearly leaping out of her chest from all the adrenaline. Freya pressed her palms flat against the floor and attempting to push herself up, but she found she kept slipping. Confused, she paused and tried to see what was going on. Her fingers were sticky and it even felt like her clothing was wet. It took a few seconds to kick in, and when it did, a sense of dread hit her all at once. The smell, the warmth… But the vest caught the bullets…she thought frantically, her hands patting along her chest where the rounds had been caught. Then she pulled her numb leg out from under her and her fingers felt the drenched fabric of her pants and a stinging entry wound. Instinctively she pressed her hands against the inch-sized hole in her mid-thigh, but blood continued to pulse out between her fingers. Still unable to get off the ground, she tore her outer shirt off and wrapped it around the wound as tightly as she could. It seemed to help but the makeshift bandage was quickly saturating. Panic started turning into fear and she tried to elevate her leg to keep from passing out. Oh please, someone help me. Adam.
"Adam, where are you?" she commed desperately, trying to conceal the distress she was in.
"I'm just reaching the main control center now," he answered. Freya shut her eyes and absorbed his voice coming in over the comm line, focusing on that deep timbre resonating in her head. Not only was it comforting just to hear his voice, but it helped drown out the awful pounding in her ears. Somehow that alone was enough for her to regain control of her breathing. She inhaled deeply and almost felt a sense of euphoria. It's okay, everything is okay.
"Freya? Can you hear me?" he commed, jolting her back to focus.
"Sorry, you must have cut out," she answered, realizing she was starting to drift in and out of consciousness.
"What happened down there? I still can't pick up either of your signals," Adam repeated, a note of concern in his tone.
"Have you uploaded the complete message yet? About the Illuminati and the data Dr. Kavanaugh collected from the RBS?" She pressed more firmly on her leg, the force from her hands sending trickles of blood down her forearms and leg. It wasn't cold, but she felt her body shivering anyhow.
"It's processing, Eliza just needs the portion from Dr. Kavanaugh about the RBS and the chimerified nanovirus. The rest is already prepared. Where are you? Is Shivana there?" he pressed.
She wanted to scream over the infolink, I'm hurt, I don't know how bad, please just hurry. Please help me! With every fiber she struggled to form her thoughts, every part of her aching to cry out to him. I need you, Adam. She couldn't say it. They were so close. They had all sacrificed so much. Biting her lip, she replied, "Shivana went to take care of something. Don't worry about me. I'm in a safe place. Just…come find me when you're done."
I'm sorry, Adam.