6 Jun 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 10

Shadow Council
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Saturday, April 18, 2071
2022 hours

    Throbbing dance music greeted Numbers and Oswald as they entered Infinity.  The nightclub's dance floor was packed with a crowd celebrating the weekend.  Numbers messaged the bouncer electronically; it was next to impossible to hear anything over the music.  The bouncer pointed at a set of stairs concealed in the shadows.  Numbers transferred a sum of nuyen, then led the way up.

    The hacker's AR display painted a neon blue light over an undistiguished door in the upstairs hallway.  Numbers knocked once, twice, then entered.  Two men, one human and one ork, and two women, both humans, sat at the room's sole table.  "Are we waiting for anyone else?" Numbers asked.

    "You two are the last."  Slamm-O's voice came from the speakers built into the table.

    Numbers took a seat.  "Let me get to the point.  We have a problem that goes off tomorrow if we can't get a fourteen year old back to her mother safely.  Slamm-O," Numbers waved at the speakers, "knows most of the details already.  We, Oswald and myself, need your help."  The hacker addressed the ork.  "Sergeant Quinn, Oz suggested you'd be of help."

    "Tell me where to go and I'll be there."

    "Hang on," one of the women said.  "How do we know this is legit?"

    "That just has to be Tempest," Slamm-O said.  "We've verified.  I can send you the evidence."

    Tempest brushed her pink-streaked hair back.  "I'm not about to leave my Johnson to run off on some wild goose chase just on someone's say so."

    "What my sister is saying," the other woman said, "is that we have our own person to protect."

    "And what better way to protect your client than by preventing a bloodbath?" Oswald said.  He smiled at the women.  "Of course, you could just walk now.  Maybe we won't need you.  Can you take that chance?"

    "Come on, Gale."  Tempest started to stand up.

    Gale grabbed her sister's arm.  "Let's hear the man out."

    The human man snorted.  "I've heard enough.  How am I supposed to trust the word of criminals for hire?"

    "Oh, harsh, dude," Slamm-O said.

    "It wouldn't be the first time you've had to do that, Lieutenant Kiser," Oswald said.

    Kiser glared at Oswald.  "I don't believe I gave my name."

    Oswald presented a perfect poker face to Kiser.  "No, you didn't.  However, we 'criminals for hire' have resources of our own.  Some of them don't even need to be given money to answer questions.  I'd say that's a step up from Knight Errant's approach."

    "I suppose you have no problem with this?" Kiser asked the ork.

    "My man here was a cop," Quinn said.

    Tempest rolled her eyes.  "Great.  Why should we work with you straights?"

    "Because at least two people's lives are at stake," Numbers said.  "Possibly more, including your sister's."

    "Are you threatening her?"  A glow grew in Tempest's hand.

    Gale slapped her sister's shoulder.  "Knock it off, dumb ass."  The glow faded.  "Ignore her.  I do have reservations, though.  What sort of threat are we looking at?"

    "Internal."  Numbers leaned forward in her chair.  "I don't want to say who."

    Kiser raised an eyebrow.  "You know who is the problem?"

    "Not that I'd put it that way, but yes.  I was approached in confidence.  I think I know where the girl is."

    "Then why not call the police in?" Kiser said.

    "Because we don't know where the leak is," Slamm-O said.  "I've been working that angle all afternoon.  Right now, everyone in the meeting room and even the backup outside is suspect."

    Oswald cut off the Knight Errant officer before he could speak.  "I did some digging myself, Lieutenant.  Sam here has a clean record, ignoring a few brutality cases.  According to my sources, you're hard-nosed, but you're harder on yourself than your men and tend err on the side of protecting civilians.  Neither of you are a good enough actor to fake being decent for your entire careers.  Kidnapping a girl?  You both would need a damned good reason."

    "And neither of you received a sudden lump-sum payment recently," Numbers added.  Seeing the anger on both men's faces, the hacker added, "You'd check the same thing if our positions were reversed."

    "Fine," Kiser said.  He hooked a thumb at the Storm Sisters.  "What about them?"

    "I'll vouch for them," Slamm-O said.  "Interesting reps they have.  Always work together, fight like, well, like siblings, stick up for each other.  Most people seem to underestimate them.  Comes from being groggies and the bickering."

    Gale scowled.  "'Aspected'.  The word you want is 'aspected'."

    "And I also checked their recent transactions.  Ladies, you really need to learn how the Matrix works.  You leave trails a half-blind rhino could follow."

    "And that's why I'm inclined to include them," Numbers said.  "Whoever sent the ransom demands knew what he or she was doing.  Faked headers, altered paths, and anonymizers.  Beyond your capacities, really."

    "Are you two done insulting us?" Tempest said.  "Okay, we aren't as hot as you are with commlinks, but we know what we're doing magically."

    Numbers smiled.  "Good.  Are you in?"

    "We are," Gale said.  "What do you want us to do?"

    Oswald leaned back.  "Right now, nothing.  We go tomorrow.  Lieutenant, Sergeant, get whatever personal weapons you can for yourselves.  Gale, Tempest, decide which of you is going.  We don't want to tip anyone off and Numbers noticed that only one of you is inside during the meeting.  Both of you gone might get noticed."

    "I'll go," Gale volunteered.  "I think you're looking for subtle for this run."

    "Subtle is perfect, at least until we get the girl out."

    "I'll get pictures of the girl out to you tomorrow," Numbers said.  "I'll have to stay behind.  I've been in the meeting since the beginning.  My disappearance will be noticed.  Treehugger, however, will take my place.  She'll provide transport and drone overwatch.  Any questions?"

    "Yeah, I got one," Quinn said.  "Just five people?  Do we even know what sort of opposition we're facing?"

    Oswald shook his head no.  "We're still working on that."

    "Then do you mind if I bring in some people of my own?  FRTs like me.  It's been dull being on stand-by in case of prison riot."

    "I'd prefer to keep this as close to the vest as possible, Sergeant," Numbers said.

    Kiser looked over at the ork.  "Training exercise, maybe?  It's not like I haven't used that excuse before.  No one looks twice at entries marked training."

    "You got it, omae," Quinn said.  "I'll just get my corporal to log the details instead of me."

    "As much as I like where this is going," Oswald said, "I think it's best  that the rest of us not know.  Plausible deniability and all."


    "When do we make the run?" Gale asked.

    "Give me your telecom codes," Numbers answered.  "Either Oswald or I will ping you when it's time."


2047 hours

    Oswald led Numbers back out to the street.  Once the ringing in their ears cleared, the mage said, "That went far better than expected."

    "That was the easy part," Numbers said.  She brushed a stray strand of fibre-optic hair out of her face.  "We still need to get the kid back."

    "One step at a time, dear Numbers."  The mage wrapped an arm around Numbers's shoulders.  "So what is our next step?"

    "I'm going with TH to get her van.  I'll catch up with you at the warehouse."

    "Sounds good to me.  Make sure our elf wannabe avoids lampposts on the way back."

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