25 Jul 2014

By the Numbers - Chapter 17

The New Offer
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Monday, April 20, 2071
2117 hours

    The back alley behind the Gravity Bar stood in contrast to the brightly lit front.  Rats scurried away as the white Nightsky limousine rolled through the alley.  Behind it, Treehugger's black Westwind 3000 and Charles on his red and chrome Scorpion followed.  The Nightsky stopped at the back door to the Gravity Bar.  Fraulein Johnson got out of the limo and carefully walked to the door, picking her way over the garbage.  Treehugger parked her sports car with mere centimetres between the Westwind's bumper and the Nightsky's.  As she got out of the car, Charles wheeled his motorcycle around to face the way he came in.  He killed the engine and dismounted.

    Inside, a waiter showed the group to a private room.  Fraulein Johnson set out a white noise generator.  She waited for everyone to settle in.  "Again, my thanks for coming here.  I noticed your group at the meeting over the weekend and was surprised to hear that you weren't Federated-Boeing employees.  Your professionalism is to be commended."

    Numbers made eye contact with the woman.  "You'll have to excuse my bluntness, but why are we here?"

    "I have reason to believe the meeting was infiltrated.  I want you to find out who did it and deliver the insider to me."

    Oswald set his hand on Numbers's shoulder to keep her still.  "Considering what just happened, why would we want to do that?"

    "As I said, you're professionals.  There's still a threat to your employer, even if your contract is complete."  Fraulein Johnson turned on the table's trid unit.  "I've been informed that there was supposed to be a disruption Sunday afternoon.  For whatever reason, that didn't happen.  That still leaves someone there who reports to a third party."

    "That's a tall order."

    "I need this person in my custody before I leave at the end of the week.  I can postpone departure but not indefinitely."

    Treehugger leaned back in her chair.  "That's a tall order.  What's in it for us."

    "I can ensure a suitably impressive payment."

    "I think one hundred thousand nuyen would be suitably impressive, especially with half up front and all our expenses paid for by you."

    Fraulein Johnson's eyes widened.  "One hundred thousand?"  She laughed, a light trill.  "Are you going to say each?"

    "Total.  I think that should be enough compensation for what your assistant just put us through."

    "Nein."  Johnson shook her head.  "Too much.  Fifty thousand upon completion."

    Oswald snorted.  "Lady, after today's stunt, I'm expecting Herr Wulfe there to come back and save you the nuyen by putting a bullet in our brains.  No deal."

    "Eighty thousand, half up front, and you pay for the damage to the warehouse," Treehugger said.  "It's not our problem, really."

    "If whoever is behind the infiltrations is successful, it will be everybody's problem.  Sixty thousand with ten thousand up front."

    "Seventy-five thousand," Numbers said.  "Twenty-five thousand upfront, all expenses paid, including repairs from tonight, and you get Herr Wulfe to get off my case."

    Johnson nodded.  "I agree to the payment.  I do not have the pull necessary to keep Herr Wulfe from his investigations.  Get the insider and I can guarantee keeping him away from you for a month.  That's the best I can offer there."

    Charles looked over to the hacker.  "Your call, Numbers."

    "A month."  Numbers sighed.  "Fine, a month."

    "Excellent.  Allow me to order a bottle of champagne to seal the deal."

    Oswald cleared his throat.  "Before we start, we need whatever data you have.  We've got a tight deadline as it is.  Let's see your cards."

    "As long as you show me yours."  Johnson sent data over to the trid.  Images of the meeting's participants and guards and their corporate logos appeared over the table.  "I believe I can eliminate the Mitsuhama delegation.  Research Unit 12 has a reputation of being very pro-MCT."  The Mitsuhama logo dimmed.

    "I'll confirm it," Oswald said.  "RU-12 is a magical circle sponsored by MCT.  Betray the corp, and the entire circle will know right away."

    "I'll also say that my delegation wasn't involved."

    Treehugger held out her hand.  "Wait.  How can we be sure of that."

    "Herr Wulfe," Numbers said.  "Loyalty enforcement, remember?  There's no way in hell he'd sell out Saeder-Krupp."

    "Miss Numbers has a very good point," Fraulein Johnson said.  The Saeder-Krupp logo dimmed.  "I believe we can eliminate Knight Errant as a threat as well.  My working hypothesis is that whoever or whatever is behind the scene wants Seattle to separate.  Knight Errant only recently received the police contract.  Reports from both Lone Star and KE confirm that KE only started seeing the problem after the contract was awarded.  Can we agree on this ourselves?"

    "Yeah, sure," Charles said.  "Oz?"

    "Yeah, let's go with that."

    The Knight Errant logo went dark.  "Take out Federated-Boeing, too," Treehugger said.  "Johnson, no relation, got attacked while out at a club.  We pulled his ass out of danger."

    "He could have set that up," Fraulein Johnson said.

    Treehugger shook her head.  "There was a second attempt on him, this time when his family was at home.  Unless he's a very good actor, he cared about his family too much to risk them like that.  He's not the insider."

    "Very well."  The Federated-Boeing logo dimmed.  "Any other suggestions?"

    Charles peered at the remaining images.  "Anyone do government work here at any time?" he asked.  He pointed at the Pueblo flag.  "The PCC rep mentioned he found several plants working inside the Ute bureaucracy.  How difficult is it to get into the public service?"

    Treehugger shrugged.  "Damned if I know."

    "Can't be harder than getting a corporate job," Fraulein Johnson said.

    "Yes, it is," Numbers said.  "Corporations don't have to worry about hiring patterns.  Governments do.  Just to get in, you need to write a battery of tests."

    Oswald looked at his teammate.  "How do you know this?"

    "When I graduated university, I went through this.  I submitted applications at several of the AAA companies and with the UCAS public service.  The Saeder-Krupp placement tests were easy compared to the government's."

    "So should I remove them from the suspect list?" Fraulein Krupp asked.

    "Wait, no."  Treehugger turned to face Numbers.  "Then how did they infiltrate the Ute bureaucracy?"

    "Corruption," Oswald suggested.  "Before the PCC absorbed them, the Ute Nation was falling apart.  It's a good opportunity to pad your bank account before your job ceases to exist."

    "Leaving the question of how corrupt is the Pueblo public service," Charles said.

    "Considering how brutal the intrusion countermeasures used in the PCC are, I'd say their public service recruitment isn't open to bribes," Numbers said.  "They'd be risking a lot, especially with how much tracking the watchers can do with the Pueblo systems.  I'd say the PCC reps are off the list."  The Pueblo flag dimmed.  "That leaves us with who?"

    Oswald looked over the display.  "Lone Star, Telestrian, DocWagon, Pacific Rim Communications, and Evo."

    "Looks like you have your work cut out for you," Fraulein Johnson said.  "The champagne should be here soon.  Let's leave the work aside for now.  I do owe Miss Numbers something for her nerves tonight."

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