4 Jul 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 14

By the Numbers

(Language warning in effect)
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Monday, April 20, 2071
1022 hours

    Treehugger shuffled out of her dark bedroom.  She ran her fingers through her disheveled hair.  Sunlight reflected off dust particles in her living room.  The rigger stopped.  "Numbers?"


    The hacker, still wearing her clothes from the previous night, stepped out of the apartment's small kitchen.  "Good morning, TH.  Soykaf's on."

    "Um, Numbers?"  Treehugger leaned against the wall.  She pointed at the window.

    "Oh, sorry."  The hacker dashed over to close the curtain.  "Is that better?"

    "Thanks."  The rigger walked through the living room to the kitchen.  "How long have you been up?"

    "About an hour."  Numbers sat down at the dining table.  She made space in the strewn spare parts to set her mug down.

    Treehugger shambled into the kitchen.  She poured herself a mug of soykaf and a bowl of Sugar Bombs cereal.  As she left the kitchenette, she asked, "Are you okay, Numbers?"

    "Yeah.  Bit of a hangover."

    "That's not what I meant."  Treehugger sat down across from her teammate.  "You're not being you."

    Numbers looked up from her display.  "Sorry, what?"

    "This is the first time you've been here.  Numbers, normally, you're letting us crash at your apartment."

    "I just wanted company."  The hacker shrugged.  "If you've got plans, I can go."

    Treehugger raised her hands to stop Numbers from getting up.  "No, no plans.  Just concerned.  You weren't acting like you last night, that's all."

    "I wanted to celebrate."

    "I've never seen you drunk before."

    "There's always a first time.  Mind if I connect to your home node?  I found a few interesting things."

    Treehugger dug into her bright purple cereal.  "Go ahead.  The trid should be working."

    Numbers networked her wrist commlink into the rigger's apartment.  The trid unit flickered to life.  "Okay, first thing I thought of was to see who Nabi rode in the elevator with during the meeting.  Didn't help; the hotel didn't keep the video stream.  Only the elves from Telestrian weren't with her at any point over the weekend and that's because they kept to themselves."

    Treehugger shifted in her chair to watch the display Numbers put on the trid.  "Telestrian's out of the Tir.  They're still antsy after the old Council of Princes fell."

    "I'm going to eliminate them from our list."  Numbers sent a list to the trid unit.  "Next, I checked the outgoing calls going through the hotel's network.  My agents got overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data."

    "Yeah, I see."  Treehugger let the list of calls on her trid scroll by without inspection.  "Nice try, though."

    "I went through and eliminated all the calls that I could determine weren't from the reps and their guards."  Huge gaps appeared in the list on the trid.  The entries consolidated.  "Still a large number.  I did confirm a few.  The DocWagon rep placed a call Saturday morning, as did a Saeder-Krupp guard, the PacRim rep, and a Pueblo agent.  Oh, and Charles to me.  All of these calls came from the meeting room itself.  I still have to trace the other end of the each of the calls."

    "You're assuming whoever our insider is was stupid enough to make the call from the hotel."

    Numbers sighed.  "I know.  I have to start somewhere, though.  Here's the interesting part.  No calls came from the meeting room right before or right after the break."

    "Really?"  Treehugger set her spoon down.  "I don't like what that implies.  Wouldn't that mean that the kidnappers had orders to kill the girl unless they got a message?"

    "Yes."

    "Don't tell Oz.  He will not take this well."

    "What about inbound calls?" Treehugger asked.  "Maybe someone called in for an update?"

    "That's going to take time.  Do you mind if I lay down on your couch to check?  It'll be faster in the Matrix itself."

    "Go ahead.  I've got some calls to make myself."

-**-

1030 hours

    The breakfast crowd at the Big Rhino thinned out as people continued on to work.  Charles squeezed past an ork couple oblivious to everyone but each other.  The huge troll reached the counter and placed his order for the breakfast special.  After a few minutes of waiting, Charles received a plate piled with scrambled egg-substitute, soy bacon, and pancakes.  He grabbed his utensils and parked himself at the end of a table.  As he started to eat, an elf with a long platinum braid sat down beside him.  "You forgot your soykaf," she chided.  She set down a steaming mug beside Charles's plate.

    "Skater!  Omae, haven't seen you in a while."

    "Still eating enough for a neighbourhood, I see."  Skater jabbed her fork in and stole away a bite of the eggs.  "If you're here to see Macro, he doesn't even wake up before noon these days."

    "Then maybe you might know.  You've been around long enough."

    Skater raised an eyebrow.  "Don't start the 'Grandma Skater' jokes."

    Charles raised his hands in surrender.  "No, nothing like that.  You know people.  You've been a runner as long as most people here can remember."

    "Much better."  She threw her platinum braid over her shoulder.  Two datajacks on her left temple glinted in the light.  "What do you need?"

    "Ever hear of a guy named Graves?  He's probably a fixer of some sort."

    "Graves?"  Skater ran the name through her mind for a moment.  "Doesn't ring a bell.  Wouldn't ring a bell even if nuyen was attached to it, either."

    Charles laughed.  "His name came up over the weekend.  Some of my team did preventative work for our Johnson."

    "The missing kid, right?  Did they find her?"

    "She's alive and well and back with her mom."

    "Oh, good."  Skater stole another bit of egg.  "Looks like I owe you for keeping my job easy over the weekend.  Graves, no idea who he is.  I'm sure the handle's been used but I can't place a face to the name."

    "What about a magician named Middlemas.  James Middlemas.  He was the guy holding the girl."

    "Can't say I have.  Did he have a street name?"

    "Oz didn't say.  Guy's not dead, either.  Might need a burn clinic, though."

    "Want me to keep an ear out and let you know if I learn anything?"

    "Please."  Charles gulped down his soykaf.  "Oz thinks that there was someone on the inside.  No idea who, though?"

    Sternness crept into Skater's tone.  "You don't think it was me, do you?"

    "No.  You're about the only person outside my team I'd say for sure wasn't the inside man."

    "Don't count out the rest of the runners with me," the elf said.  "That was the first time I'd worked with them.  To tell the truth, I don't want to work with the Storms again.  Not unless I can muzzle them both.  Fucking sisters.  Makes me happy to be an only child."

    Charles chortled.  "You missed out on some good stuff, too."

    "Maybe.  But that's a huge 'what if' that I've stopped spending time on."  Skater slapped Charles on the back.  "I've got tickets to the next Timberwolves home game.  Interested?"

    "Damn right I am.  How did you manage to get those?"

    "A friend of a friend owed me money, got these instead.  Good seats, too."

    "See you then."

-**-

1111 hours

    Oswald groaned as he rolled out of bed.  Every limb protested as he moved.  He considered giving in and falling back in bed, then realized that his back and chest would kvetch instead.  The mage stood up and walked with a stiff gait to his kitchen.  He ordered his management software to start lunch then collapsed into a chair.  Sighing with relief, he put on his AR glasses.  Scrolling through his contact list, he picked one out and placed the call.

    "Hey, Tina, it's Oz," he said once the call connected.  "Got a minute?"

    "Oswald."

    "Tina, you still can't be upset with me.  It wasn't my fault."

    "I'm at work, Oswald."

    "Officer Miles, please here me out."

    "That's Sergeant Miles."

    "Congrats on the promotion.  We should meet and celebrate."

    "Oz, I risked my job for you.  I got placed on probation for a week because of you."

    "Tina -- Officer Miles, I did not mean for that to happen.  I did everything I could.  Hey, if I had known, I could have let my teammate modify your work records."

    "Do you even listen to yourself?  You're now telling me you'd perform an illegal act for my benefit.  I'm a cop, Oz."

    Oswald let himself smile.  "And a damned good one, too.  One who shouldn't be treated badly by an ex-detective from the Occult Division of a competing company.  I should be ashamed."

    Tina sighed.  "What the hell do you want, Oz?"

    "Just some info.  First, what have you heard of a Lieutenant Kiser?"

    "Jesus, Oz, what are you involved in?"

    "That's what I want to know.  You've heard of him?"

    "Shit, Oz, he's the type you stay away from.  He's an internal security troubleshooter.  He fucking shoots people who cause trouble."

    "Internal security?"  Oswald gave a low whistle.  "Good thing we were working together."

    "As in, with him?"

    "Yeah.  Why?"

    "I want to hear details."

    "Not over the comm like this."

    "You're right.  I'll let you know what club you're taking me to this weekend.  On you."

    Oswald laughed.  "On me.  The other thing I want to know is if you've heard of unusual activity in Knight Errant.  Or Lone Star.  Either one."

    "Unusual how?  You've worked the streets.  No one would believe a quarter of the reports I've filed."

    "Not on the street.  Inside.  Odd security issues, people acting out of sorts, cases being shunted aside for reasons other than return on investment."

    "Nothing like that.  Sorry, Oz, can't help you there."

    "It's okay, Tina.  I should let you go.  Talk to you later."  Oswald disconnected the call.  He got out of his chair to retrieve his breakfast from the autocooker.  The steaming soy-based meal on his plate tried to look like bacon and eggs, though only in dimmer light.  Oswald grabbed plastic utensils and sat at his dining table/desk.  As he began to eat, his commlink trilled with an incoming call.  "Oswald here."

    "Hello, Oswald, it's Nabi."

    "Nabi, hello!  How are things going?"

    "As well as could be hoped.  I just wanted to thank you again for helping me yesterday.  Both with getting Sun Jung back to me and helping me find a new home."

    "Any time."  Oswald ate a small bite of his breakfast.  "Is there something I can help you with?"

    Nabi hemmed and hawed.  "Sun Jung suggested I call you and invite you for dinner to repay you for your kindness last night."

    "You don't need to do that."

    In the background, Oswald heard Sun Jung say something indistinct over the comm connection.  "My daughter is insisting," Nabi said.

    "Sure."  On his AR glasses, Oswald saw an email from Numbers arrive.  "Just not tonight.  Biz.  You know how it goes.   How about I call you when I'm free?  Or you call me?"

    "I would like that."

    "I'll let you go.  I imagine you're still packing your stuff and have millions of things to deal with.  Look forward to our dinner, though."

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