2034-02-25 1730LT This is how you stealth

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Event: 2034-02-25 1730LT This is how you stealth

Scenario: The Time Before

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Characters Locations
Kevin, Rebecca, Syd, The Squid, Shauna Umbra

Spaceport Alpha

The Office

Caused By Cause Of
On This Day

“Follow me,” Syd said, still wearing Kevin’s form. His lace picked up his desire to go to the big private room, and taking partial control of his body, started walking to the passageway through the aquarium. They were all still in the privacy field, so they couldn’t see anything around them. Syd’s lace – or more accurately, the machine intelligences that connected to his brain through the lace – knew the layout, and had superb spatial awareness. The privacy field tinted red whenever a person got too close, so that wasn’t a problem either.

“Can you see through the privacy field?” Rebecca asked.

“No,” Syd said. A second later his lace warned him that Rebecca sounded concerned, and was potentially upset. After some thought that made sense: if he could see through the field then she should not trust him. He continued thinking about his escape plan for Kevin for a few seconds, but his lace induced a growing sense of unease, like the need to stretch being repressed, but physically situated around Rebecca. It finally pushed him to provide more details. “My lace and I know this place in great detail. I don’t need to see it to know where I am or where I’m going.” Now that she no longer felt like discomfort he dropped the topic.

He bounced around a bit as he walked, trying to get used to moving in Kevin’s significantly larger form. The team who had installed his lace two years before described his lace and bonded AI as a third ‘hemisphere’ to his brain. After extensive training, he found that he could not tell where the lace and AIs ended and “Syd” began. Having the nanotechnology integrated into the structure of his brain had been frightening, of course, but the benefits were well worth the risks.

He lead them to the spiral stairs of the tower, but took them down, below the waterline, and into the large private room. As they descended, the mobile privacy field dissipated at the level of the top step. It was of no use in the basement: that space was very thoroughly protected from spies. At the same time, Syd’s Kevin-feet started to glow the bright red of a recording device so he stopped the projection. Kevin’s legs were significantly longer than his own, and the sudden gap between his feet and the stairs made him lose his balance and start to tumble.

An arm like an iron girder caught him before he had a chance to get a good fall going. “Careful,” Kevin said. “We still need you intact.”

Syd’s lace wavered on whether that was a friendly comment or a veiled threat, so he said, “Nice catch,” instead, and continued into the Vault. When they were in the opulent room and the door was sealed, he said, “I work with someone known as The Squid. I arrange private meetings where the fact a meeting happened isn’t an issue. The Squid arranges meetings that never happened.” He walked over to a section of burgundy wall that looked no different than the rest. The ornate trim at waist height popped open when he ran his fingers along it, revealing an unfinished 15cm wooden dowel with a wire looped through a hole drilled through it. Syd took hold of it and said, “Stay clear, please.” He pulled the handle out against some resistance, stepping backwards into the room.

“Nanowire line?” Kevin asked, noting the visible wire disappearing into invisibility as Syd pulled.

“A long one,” Syd said. He paused for one second at one metre extension, three seconds at two metres, and two seconds at four metres. Then he jogged back to the wall and put the handle away. “The code is a distance and time pattern, and it does not repeat.” He gestured to the far wall, which was a library of excellent whiskeys, wines, and other liquors. “It will be a few minutes before our exit arrives, so feel free.”

Rebecca immediately strolled over to a bottle of scotch. She admired it as she bounced over to the sideboard to collect glassware appropriate to so fine a drink. She did not ask Syd if he wanted a drink, but with sufficient prompting from his lace he realized this was a social ritual that required his attention. He lifted his glass an awkward half second after Rebecca and Kevin lifted theirs.

“To old friends,” Rebecca said, looking at Kevin.

“New allies,” Kevin said, looking at Syd.

“Cheers?” Syd said.

Rebecca and Kevin shared a long blank look, then erupted in laughter.

Syd waited.

Eventually, Rebecca put down her drink, stepped over, and gave Syd a hug. “You’re a delicious mess,” she whispered. She pushed back with a huge smirk on her face, picked up her drink, and said, “Cheers!”

The three glasses clinked with the strangely dull sound of low-g fluid dynamics, and they all took a sip. Rebecca sighed, eyes rolling up and head tilted back with delight. Neither man could look away from that display of unbridled pleasure.

Syd thought the scotch tasted like a dumpster fire, but given Rebecca’s reaction he noted it as a good choice to impress people who like that sort of thing. The three of them sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying – or at least experiencing – their drinks, and enjoying the dark wood panels, the beautiful artworks, and the utter silence.

An entire panel of the wall, about three metres tall and three metres wide, made an almost ostentatious grating sound as it began to retreat from the room.

“Is that a real sound or a special effect,” Rebecca asked, standing up from the chair she was lounging in.

“Both,” Syd said. “I’ll explain later.” He gestured them into the passageway that was now exposed. They found themselves in front of a standard six seat, pill-shaped commuter pod – the kind that ran continuously through the honeycomb of tunnels under the main floor of the colony. Syd pointed at Kevin. “Get in. You’re going to The Office.”

“What about you two? And how will I know I’m safe there?”

Rebecca rummaged around in her svelte purse for a moment before pulling out a business card. “Here,” she said, handing it to Kevin. “This is a Guest Pass to Shauna’s part of the compound.” The capitalization was quite audible. “Client access is something you can take up with her.” He took the card with some care, correctly assuming that it contained some kind of peril.

Syd gestured impatiently for Kevin to get on board. “This is a secure pill. A few minutes ago it told Mycroft that it was empty and in need of cleaning. When you’re on board the cleaning cycle will end, and it will report itself empty. Just before Victoria Station you’ll get bunched up in a queue. It will pop locks - no record. Go through the tunnel, and you’re delivered to the Office.”

Rebecca looked like she wanted to ask questions, but she held her tongue. Kevin did not. “Why send me to a bordello?” he said, with some heat.

Syd put me in touch with The Squid a while back,” Rebecca said, frowning. “We set up an off-grid drop off point for clients who care about that sort of thing. You won’t have long to get out. Step into the elevator immediately, and you’ll stay off grid.” She turned to Syd, dismissing Kevin entirely. “What’s our role?”

As Kevin climbed into the pill, Syd said, “We are going to walk out of Umbra together, with me as him. We’ll catch a pill to the docks and I’ll go through to the terminal. As far as Mycroft is concerned, Kevin will get on the Link, dock with the Ferry to Earth, and spend the next four days in his cabin.”

Kevin’s eyebrows went up.

Syd interpreted that on his own, having seen the disbelief many times before. “I’m good at this,” he said.

Kevin stuck out a huge hand. “Thank you.”

Syd shook it. “Get going.”

Once the pill-shaped pod was away, Syd walked back along the corridor to the private room. When the grinding stone finally ceased and the secret door was closed Rebecca said, “Showtime.” She took his arm. “Let’s get your ugly ass off the moon.”

The phrase °What is the plan?° whispered in his ears, so he started a rundown. “According to Umbra’s systems, Syd is going up to his apartments and will spend many hours playing Shadowrun Online.”

“How am I supposed to act with you?” Rebecca asked. “Improv is not my strongest suit.”

Syd had no idea, but his software made a suggestion. He said, “Syd and Rebecca are going to be under scrutiny no matter what. This move is drastic enough to trigger extra analysis from the gatekeeper programs and antiterror intelligences. I don’t think it is a good idea to appear too friendly.” Syd turned on the camouflage system, and enjoyed feeling the new body form around him. He turned, and started up the stairs.

Rebecca, in an unguarded moment, showed a wry, expression. “Yeah, that’s not going to be a problem,” she muttered, following him up.

When they were clear of the privacy field, Syd used his lace to contact Dex. °°I’m upstairs for the night,°° he said. He projected Syd’s normal appearance over the AR connection, showing him lounging in a giant beanbag chair in his private rooms. °°The bar is yours to run tonight.°°

°°I will not fail you, Master,°° Dex said gravely. He shook his head when Syd just nodded and signed off. That guy really doesn’t have a clue, he thought. The place was starting to fill up. He told Umbra to poll the music preferences of the patrons, and then play music that fit their profiles. When Rebecca and Kevin stepped into the main room a moment later, he grinned, and said, “How was the reunion?”

Kevin’s ugly mug did not shift from his baseline slightly menacing scowl. “It was private,” he said.

Dexter's practiced smile did not waiver. The big man had been shooting the shit at the bar for two weeks, so Dex was used to the gruffness. “Can I get you something to celebrate with?” he asked, turning to look at Rebecca.

She subvocalized a question to her AR assistant, and immediately had the shuttle schedule in front of her. It was 1730h. The shuttle would not leave until 2230h, and despite Kevin’s insistence that they were in imminent danger, there was no point heading out there instantly. “One for the road,” she said, “or for the shuttle, at least.”

Dex started to pour Kevin’s beer. While it slowly filled the giant stein, he began mixing Rebecca’s Old Fashioned.

Syd had a moment of panic. He was not a drinker at the best of times. He had already had a generous tumbler of Lagavulin 18 year old scotch, and now he was going to have to throw back a double pint of Brewlander Courage Double IPA – at 8.2%. This is trouble, he thought. His skin-suit was an amazing technology, able to pass liquids from his apparent lips back to his real mouth. It had an emergency filtration system built in, in case he suspected poison, but he’d never had to engage it in the field before. His lace picked up his intent and triggered the system as he reached for the stein.

“So Kevin,” Dexter said, “it's been a long time...” gesturing between Rebecc and Syd.

Syd was confused. They had seen each other less than twenty three minutes earlier. “Uh... It has?”

Quickly, Rebecca said, “Well yeah.” She frowned at Syd. She was used to him missing the point like that, but it was easy to forget that it was him under that amazing costume. “It’s been about twenty five years or so.”

Syd automatically calculated twenty five years as nine thousand, one hundred and twenty five days. He opened his mouth to share this, but the beer was at his lips, guided by his lace. The mismatch between his intent and the needs of the costume caused a small glitch. He hoped it looked like he’d almost choked on the drink. Inside the disguise the bitter, foaming liquid was forced through the filter, which diverted the water to his real mouth. Everything else went into a holding bladder created by the chameleon motes. After several long draws, he put the glass down and sighed with relief.

Now that’s interesting, Dexter thought. There was something not right with Kevin. At first he just thought the man was distracted and off his game, but there was something else going on. He turned to Rebecca, engaging her in small talk while surreptitiously focusing his bionic eyes and ears on Kevin.

Syd relaxed when Dexter turned his attention to Rebecca. He had preparations to make, and conversations took too much concentration. He connected to the network with his anonymous identity of “The Squid” and got to work. First, he used Kevin’s credentials to register for the next Link shuttle to the Ferry that orbited from Earth to Moon and back again over the course of a week. Then he compromised Kevin’s hotel systems, paid the bill, and had the ‘bots pack him up. The luggage was checked in for transit before it even left the hotel. As far as Mycroft was concerned, the bags went into the queue, were scanned, and loaded on the shuttle. In fact, they were routed to The Office, labelled as perishable foodstuffs.

Dexter’s lace had picked up his paranoia and fear, so it shaped magnetic and electrical fields inside his skull to cause fine-tuned disruptions to his neural function. This was the most amazing power of the lace: it let him push his abilities beyond natural human capacities. In this case it felt a lot like taking a hit of Adderall: time seemed to slow down and his focus was razor sharp. The inevitable headache was easy to ignore.

Reading his intent, Dexter’s lace began to recall Kevin’s behaviours over the last two weeks, comparing them to how he was acting now. It didn’t take long for the drinking glitch to gain his attention. He felt a combination of smug satisfaction at his own cleverness, and deep unease at where that insight was leading. That isn’t Kevin. He turned to whoever it was sitting in front of him, and said, “Hey, I wanted to make sure to connect you to our supplier for that IPA,” he said. “Umbra, can you introduce Kevin to John down at B&C?”

While he spoke with “Kevin” Dexter used his lace to send a private message to Rebecca. °°I don’t want to alarm you, but I have reason to believe that something is wrong with Kevin, or that this isn’t Kevin at all. Are you safe?°°

The fuck? The bartender was supposed to be pretty and charming and maybe worth a tumble. How the hell did he see through Syd’s disguise? Thinking fast, she subvocalized her reply. °°I’m just fine, hon. It was a hell of a shock for both of us to run into each other, and he had a bit too much of the private stock downstairs.°° Kevin/Syd did have a distinct odour of beer and booze about him. “He’s on his way back to Earth now though, and I’ll be glad to see the back of him, to be honest.”

Dexter’s paranoia punched him in the face to get his attention. Why is she lying? They weren’t close friends or anything, but he was sure they had enough of a rapport for her to take him seriously. °°Now I’m really concerned,°° he said to her over their private connection. °°I have pretty good instincts for this sort of thing, and I’m telling you--°°

She cut him off, anger on her face and in her voice. °°No, you listen to me. This is a private matter between me and him, and I do not appreciate you trying to barge in.°° Her expression eased slightly, but her words were still hard. °°Back fucking right off.°° She finished her drink in one go and smacked the glass on the bar hard enough to startle a dense school of tiny neon fish. Standing, she turned to Kevin and said, “Time to go, big guy. I want you off this rock.”

They left Dexter feeling confused and curious, but not at all intimidated. Then Umbra started to fill up fast, leaving Dex little time to think about the weirdness of Rebecca and Kevin’s actions. It did occur to him that Syd had to be involved in whatever was going down. Maybe an opportunity for me? he wondered.

Syd let Rebecca lead him over to a transit entrance in the town square. Their conversation was awkward and stilted, but his lace told him that the biometrics of his disguise were right on target. The steep stairs were easy to navigate in the low gravity, but Syd mimicked the newcomers tendency to push a little too hard.

“Careful,” Rebecca said, steadying the big man. Syd's performance outside the bar had been impressive so far. “You didn't even have time to get used to the gravity.” A pill pulled up, doors sliding open as it stopped. “I wish I’d known you were here sooner...”

Kevin settled into a chair opposite her. “That would not have been good,” he said.

She sighed, allowing some frustration to show. “I still don't see why you have to go right now,” she said.

“I told you it is not something I can talk about!” Syd was fascinated by the emotions his mimic software produced. He sounded angry – an emotion he could recognize, but rarely felt or expressed.

They rode in uneasy silence for a while, as their pill routed them to the spaceport. A few minutes later they were pulling in to the drop off zone.

They stood facing each other for an awkward moment. Finally, Rebecca said, “When you get back I want to hear from you. I want to know what the hell is going on.”

Syd nodded Kevin’s head. “I promise,” he said.

Rebecca hugged him hard enough to make his disguise flare a warning in his awareness. The motes could only take so much before they started to deform. She let up before it became a problem though, and he allowed his relief to show on Kevin’s face.

She got back in the pill. A moment later she was gone.

Syd steered his Kevin-suit through the terminal, easily defeating the security scanners and their biometrics. On the way to the boarding area, he stopped in the washroom. The stalls were equipped with low-grade privacy fields, which was enough for his purposes. He used a sophisticated infiltration program to gain access to the security suite, and began uploading a data trail that showed Kevin leave the bathroom, go to the gate, and get on the shuttle. He checked on the other data trail he had started from Umbra: Jessica Kim, a ‘real’ spaceport employee as far as Mycroft was concerned, was coming off shift. Syd assumed her form – a small Korean woman his size – and walked out of the bathroom. His physical presence merged nicely with her data trail. They left the spaceport without challenge. In the transit system Syd split off from her shadow-life profile, and routed himself back to Umbra in an undocumented pill. By the time the shuttle was accelerated out of the magnetic launcher at 2230h, he was back in his apartment above Umbra, and ready to sleep.

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