Bottle of wine? Check. Mind-altering psychoactives in the bottle of wine? Check. One lonely Aon passing off of as human? Of course! Absent, the man Lexicon was supposed to seduce.
Her finger slipped in languid circles around the rim of her glass, opalescent gaze disinterested by the posh establishment. Same tripe, different country. From New York to Singapore, Johannesburg to Monaco. In its velvet booths of sumptuous cerulean sat the who’s who, the celebrities and socialites of London’s elite. They chatted, networked, and for the most part ignored the woman with the doctored genetic pedigree occupying the booth of one of the most influential advertising firms in the solar system. Sometimes they took impish glances, pretending they weren’t interested in the 187 centimeter bombshell with the silky prismatic platinum locks. She’d learned to dismiss the leers of men undressing her with their eyes and women wishing they could gouge hers. Lexicon wasn’t someone to be envied. She never went anywhere by choice.
“Steven Grant has arrived,” a Horizons informant on the outside teleped to the Aon. Instructions and guidance were delivered through her frontal lobe implant, plus the use of smartphones. A silent exchange.
“Thank you,” Lexicon returned in kind.
There was clear visibility from Lexicon’s seat to the gold, geometric lattice doorway. She recognized him in an instant, as did everyone else. Steven Grant was the advertising mogul of the eponymously named company, Granted. Every person the world over had been trained to identify this slightly prettier Anglo man who had the resources to maintain the same short brown hair that was his signature cut and a rotating wardrobe of colors that only ever included polo shirts. After a long day’s labor of securing deals with up-and-coming brands, the man could use a break. Even from across the room, she could see his nose furl. The strange woman was in his booth, and no one on staff had made an effort to stop her.
“I believe you are in my booth,” came the British trill following a poignant cough. Rather than acknowledge him, she instead took her precious time savoring the contents of her glass, letting his anger stew.
“There’s no name on it.” Making it worse.
It wasn’t like she was wrong. The booth had no placards saying who it belonged to. At clubs such as Swan, certain sections were reserved for specific clientele and their guests. While not labelled, it was Mr. Grant’s booth, and no amount of bribes would let someone else occupy it. Not explaining how the Aon playing person took it for herself.
“But please, sit.” A manicured finger traced down his hand, guiding the man into the comfort of his seat. Whatever anger he had vaporized, she placating his hostilities with a tap to the wrist and an affixing stare.
“Yes, of course.” He came to from his daze.
“Thank you. You have been the first person to approach me the whole time,” confessed the woman with a rueful smile. What he hadn’t seen was that the same fire of intrigue could burn with scorn. At the moment, the embers were cool, her eyes maintaining a tranquil azure. He was the only person there that she wanted to talk to.
“Hard to believe. Then again, no one has the gall to sit in my booth and make themselves at home so easily.”
“You got me. Ignorant foreigner. Let me introduce myself. I’m Lexis Conners.” Her hand outstretched, invitation to shake.
“Steven Grant.” They met across the table. The woman was speedy to her next suggestion.
“Care to share some wine? It would be a pity if such a lovely vintage went to waste.”
Unlike what she anticipated, he glanced skeptically at the half-empty bottle of red and asked, “What year?”
Lexicon masked her annoyance, muffling discontent. Malleable minds would have agreed, asked for a glass, and chugged. Those used to heading negotiations were capable of resisting her pitch-perfect persuasion, alluring eyes, and tactile temptations. Her innate skills as an Aon could only go so far without help. She needed him to drink the wine.
“2281. La Guilde des Artistes Pinot Noir.” Perfect pronunciation. Lexicon flashed him the label.
Deep fascination with brands overrode Lexicon’s Aonic gifts. Steven mused. “Everyone tries to be an artisan. It is one of the primary bullet point words. To be truly artisanal, I cannot even advertise for those companies. They get by via word of mouth. The moment they become commercialized, popular, is the moment they lose that handcrafted touch and go under. It is hard to make a long-standing selling point for such a type of venture; then again, I can appreciate their efforts.” At a flick of a finger, a server was summoned to the table. “Bring me a glass.”
“Right away, sir.”
Silent victory. The server poured the bottle’s contents, splashing in a burgundy swirl, poison and all. Mr. Grant regarded it with casual consideration before throwing it back.
“This pinot noir is lackluster,” he commented, criticizing his companion’s taste before revisiting the bottle and its livery. “Should find out who does their marketing.” He made a personal memo with his phone. “They’re better at selling it than making it.”
“Might as well have given it a try.” Lexicon could shrug off his antagonism. “A life isn’t a life worth living if it isn’t explored to the fullest.”
“You know, that is something I can agree with. So tell me, Miss Conners. What brings you to merry ol’ England?” The man was fishing with his eyes, brown irises diving into her shirt, unaware of what lurked beneath. Time to reel him in.
“I’ve caught Steven Grant’s interest. How is Bass and Boo doing?”
“How’s it going in there? Any sign of the harddrive?”
“Well, the good news is they haven’t noticed you’re in there. The bad news is that I’m assuming that. There is almost no patrol at this facility.”
“Aww, are you bored? Looking for some action? You know, if you distract me, you might get plenty of entertainment coming your way. I wonder how many mistresses the last president had...”
“Just get out of there, quick. The guys are shuffling, and the sound might give us away before anything else does.”
“Ugh... Stop goofing around and get the job done.”
“Roger...” Wait for it. “Roger!” The teleping cut out with a spiel of laughter.
Bass grimaced, gold irises to the starry sky, and groaned. Sometimes his twin sister was too much for even him.
“How’s Boo doing?” Eddy asked between chews of gum, eyes on the fence line, ears on everything else. There was no urgency in his voice.
“Fine enough that she’s making jokes.”
The embedded government bunker disguised as a warehouse was absent of hostiles. A lone guard station was on the far end of the lot. The remainder of the protection came in the form of chain link fencing with barbed wire looped along the top. No patrols, few people, boring for a team that planned for the worst. Their six-person two-Aon unit prepared with tactical gear and getaway vehicles seemed out of place next to a corrugated building obscured by weeds.
“Nothing wrong with an uneventful mission. I could get used to this.”
“Don’t get too comfortable. The coast is only clear once we’re all back at base.”
Despite being the burglar of the mission, Boo’s complaints didn’t let up.
“If I ever find the guy who designed this place...”
Boo did her sweep, a floor at a time, pushing further into the subterranean bunker system, looking for the proverbial vault. Instead, she encountered identical floors with carbon copy rooms, sans the placement of the stapler. There was nothing to describe what department they belonged to nor their function, other than it looked like a dungeon of drudgery as seen from any film that included corporate offices. After twenty rooms with the same layout, she had a decent inclination that unless distinct, they were a waste of her time. She proceeded down to the next floor.
The somber-lit stairwell marked the level she left as -31, a skyscraper’s worth of floors buried in dirt. Nine remained.
Closest to ground level was where missiles and weapons caches were housed. Beneath those, Boo had encountered cafeterias, meeting rooms, and social lounges. Further below were rest and relaxation facilities. Offices reserved for utilitarian drudgery occupied the lower floors. An entire city enclosed, capable of weathering the apocalypse, a tribute to the Chinese government’s paranoia. A facility decrepit with age, a remnant from another time. In spite of its chipped paint and pitted concrete, there was something missing. Objects such as servers and data backups had remained elusive. Her teleping was a snarl.
“Guess where our software ended up.”
“In the worst place possible?”
“Yep. Because of course they did!”
Kudos to the planner’s manic adherence to structural hierarchy, the computer technology, all of it, was segregated to the lowest levels. With them would be the quantum servers, hyper-sensitive machines that miscalculated when so as much as a shiver ran across their wires; buried in basements where the churn of daily living would not disturb their delicate operations. The thing Horizons wanted was likely right next to them.
Boo cursed inwardly. Being a spy was easy for her, the literal tip of the scales, one of her few obstacles. When someone was as criminally augmented as she was, cameras were no longer a concern, infrared didn’t recognize her, and her footfalls were spectral; why she named herself Boo. When she passed through a building, she was but a shadow, a ghostly apparition. In actuality, she was maimed to suit a function, which was to do as Horizons bid and steal sensitive data. Today, it was the super virus, Lotus Fall.
The stairwell opened to reveal a central void, a series of spokes leading to rooms barred by heavy steel. Biometric verifiers flanked the arches, one on each side, requiring two-person signature entry. Given the unremarkable security Boo at encountered so far, she was chagrined to see some effort was put into protecting their data. More important than people. Her digitized senses worked out that the vault with the faint, vaporous wisps of cold leaking from its seams was the server room.
“I found the gate.”
“Guys are wondering; is it the one that requires the eyeball?”
Retinal scanner on one side, fingerprint vein reader on the right. Boo forced herself to gulp down the preemptive spew crawling up her esophagus.
“I hate you all. Tell them that.”
From her satchel, she withdrew a severed hand and one unblinking lens detached from its owner, trying the whole time not to shriek her retching disgust.
“Eww! Eww! Eww!”
Boo arranged herself in an inhuman configuration, holding the dead stare in front of the retinal scanner, with the disembodied hand pressed against the vein reader. The system acknowledged the successful inputs with green lights and a cheerful beep, signifying her validated clearance.
“Okay, I’m in.” She tried to make her teleping sound as disgruntled as she felt, imagining the field day the men above were having. Her brother was taking matters seriously, relaying information across their private sibling line.
“We’re securing the emergency exit on the west side for you. It will make your retreat a little faster.”
The overstated storage room hummed with electronic activity. Aforementioned quantum servers were in the back. One dare not tickle the dragon’s tail that was the quantum computers, she avoiding the stack of blinking machinery.
Most of the room was devoted to cold storage, with wire lockers and shelving housing various electronics, data devices, and a plethora of antiquated computer technologies, floppy disks included. Boo stared, wondering why they hadn’t retired the potentially 233-year-old thing. Entire swathes of junk faced her. While the items were cataloged and free for the taking, good luck sifting through it all. They got rid of nothing.
She twiddled her fingers and got to work, perusing the wares. A slab for a harddrive caught her attention. Across the chrome surface was a piece of masking tape with the words ‘Lotus Fall.’ Hardly the elevated presentation Boo was expecting for the fabled super virus. No matter, into the satchel it went. Her fingers recoiled, having grazed a finger that was not her own. Disgusting flesh keys that she never wanted to touch again. Her hand flew from the bag, a sickening slap followed.
Boo stared agape at the severed appendage flipping her off from the floor. Visible to sight, sound, and three very temperamental quantum machines that didn’t like it when people tread on their turf.
Bass’ voice rang panicked in her head. “What did you do? It’s turning into a hornets’ nest up here!”
“The slimy hand fell out of my bag!”
“You’ve got to get out of there!” Bass, mellow and deep, his thoughts were instead pitched with tension. Boo knew she was in trouble.
“On it!” As the lights went out.