Recap: Istvan, a corporate VP, plans a heist with Anya, a hacker, and her partner Denton, the muscle. They target Gravchurch.os, a religious organization allied with the Earth government, to find information on a secret device they are developing. After the meeting, a group of assassins attempt to kill Istvan. Part 1 here.
Istvan settled onto a black leather chair in one of his spare offices at K-V. The past week had mildly stressed him as he underwent questioning by the police and his bosses about the assassination attempt. With the latter, it took all of his charms, some haggling ability, and an embarrassing amount of undignified begging in order for them not to cancel his project. No one could find out anything about the attackers. Their DNA did not match anyone in the databases at L3, Earth, or any of the other colonies. They were probably vat-borne, bred specifically for this purpose. He suspected that they were Earthgov operatives, but could not prove it. That was why he was now in a spare office rather than his main one.
He smoothed his hair back as he stared at the blank luminescent screens in front of him. It would begin soon. Felina, his personal assistant, coughed as she tapped some commands into her terminal. The dual monitors sprang to life with a quiet hum as he turned on his computer. Immediately, they filled with news videos, traffic reports, stock tickers, and social media messages. All peripheral to the main event, of course, but one could never have too much information.
“How are we doing, Felina?” he asked.
“We have the all-clear from C-suite, sir. We’re good to go.” She was responsible for alerting him of any important developments outside the op.
“Very good.” He took a cord attached to his terminal and plugged it into the brain implant at the base of his neck. His vision went blank.
A microsecond later, he found himself in a large cathedral. In front of him, he could see people in dreary clothing seated on uncomfortable looking pews. Banners unfurled downwards at the sides of the cavernous room. Each carried trite Gravchurch.os slogans. “Give to the church. Give to God” and “Elevate Yourself with Space Spirituality!” were two of the most prominent. A young man stood at a pulpit facing the crowd. He spoke and waved his arms.
“Nice of you to join, corp,” came the voice of Anya from all directions. This was her feed, connected directly to her eyes. The connection also allowed subvocal communications, so no one else could hear them.
“I hope you didn’t run into any trouble getting in,” he said.
“Nah, you should have seen the look on the guy’s face when I gave that donation. They upgraded me right then and there.”
Istvan winced. The payment to get into the church was exorbitant, but it was the only way for Anya to get into the exclusive homily at the Gravchurch.os compound. Still, he did not relish the upcoming conversation with the company accountants.
He brought his attention back to Anya’s view. A brief glimpse of her black dress and leather boots caught his eye when she rolled her head around in boredom. Based on its content, a Level Two homily was hardly worth the price of admission.
“…and just as we give and praise to Father God, so must we give to Mother Earth, for both provide us with the bounty of life!” The young man’s reedy voice boomed throughout the cathedral. “Repent! And cease these childish thoughts of independence, for you are the beneficiary of…”
“I’m going to check on Denton,” Istvan whispered, even though they were at subvocal levels.
“Lucky you,” she yawned.
He switched feeds and immediately his view changed to the lights of Musashi’s city under a dark, blank sky. The pyramid that was the Gravchurch compound stood prominent with its contours highlighted by neon purples and greens.
“Istvan,” Denton said, deadpan.
“I forgot to thank you for before. You saved my life back there.”
Denton didn’t reply. In the corner of the feed, Istvan could see a dark green hang glider leaning on its side. A crude device, but it could escape detection by the advanced Gravchurch systems. Steam curled up from a vent nearby. From what he could see, Denton was standing on the roof of a nearby building.
A noise interrupted his thoughts. Denton looked down towards the street in front of the Gravchurch compound. A crowd had begun forming. He saw mostly young people, adorned with outlandish clothing and hairstyles. They held various signs, which neither Denton or Istvan could decipher from this distance. They probably contained anti-Earth or anti-Gravchurch slogans. The people began shouting at the church. Dotted throughout the crowd he noticed people in dark long trench coats. They did not carry signs or participate in the chants. It appeared that Anya had successfully convinced her revolutionary friends to stage the rally. Istvan hoped that she hadn’t told them too much about their plans.
Security guards rallied near the entrance to the pyramid. They faced the crowd with weapons raised. Sniper bots set themselves up on the building’s exterior. Istvan smiled. This would rile up the crowd and make their mission either.
The chanting became fierce and the guards tensed. Denton focused on one of the trench coat wearing men. The man reached into his coat and drew out a large, black cylinder. He drew his arm back, and with Olympian strength, hurled the object over the crowd towards the Gravchurch security formation. That man had to have bionic arms, Istvan thought. The cylinder landed right at the guards’ feet. They hesitated. In that moment, the cylinder exploded in a giant fireball that blew three or four of them into the air. The rest fell to the ground. The snipers opened fire.
Istvan switched to Anya. Inside, the explosion shook the cathedral. The preacher paused, as if unsure what to do. An alarm started blaring, the lights turned off, and the room flashed with shades of red. The people inside began to run out towards the exit. Anya sat and stared at the preacher, who seemed frozen in fear. An eternity seemed to pass.
“Before you say anything, I know what I’m doing,” she said.
As people continued to scream and run, she stood up. Keeping her eyes on the young preacher, she strode towards the cowering figure. Another explosion rattled the room and a banner fell to the floor. When she reached the young man, she extended a hand towards his arm and pulled him towards her. Istvan watched his wide brown eyes tear up in the red light.
“I d-don’t know…what…” the man stammered.
“Shh, it’s going to be okay.” Then she pulled him closer and gave him a deep kiss. In his confusion, he grew limp. As she explored his mouth with her tongue, her hands reached towards his belt. She grabbed his ID card and Istvan could swear he felt the electrodes in her fingers interrogating its information. She now had Level Three access. After the deed was done, she pushed the preacher away and pointed him towards a nearby exit.
“Go!” she shouted.
In a daze, the young man walked away with an unsteady gait towards it. Wiping her mouth, Anya slipped into the ready room behind the now-empty cathedral. She tore off her dress, revealing a black tank top and pants. The lights flashed red again. Istvan could hear bursts of gunfire outside. The room was mostly bare. A couch sat in the corner with a potted plant across from it. In Anya’s vision he saw a door with a complicated-looking number pad next to it. Rather than go to the door, she went to the potted plant and began digging through the dirt. Soon enough, she revealed a small metal plate under the dirt. She waved her hand over it, transmitting the priest’s access information. It gave a satisfying beep and he floor in the middle of the room began to curve downwards. It soon became a set of stairs, descending into an abyss glowing with red light.
“Very interesting,” Istvan remarked.
“You learn these things,” Anya replied. “Your turn.”
He transmitted the building blueprints and security patrol patterns to her. A window with the sent information appeared at a bottom corner of her feed. She descended down the stairs. On his side, Istvan sent orders to the drones waiting near the compound.
These drones, automated flying discs actually, swarmed the sewer system under the pyramid. They tripped the underground alarms and mines. The stairs rumbled under Anya’s feet as the mines exploded.
“We’ve encountered hostiles,” Felina said. The sound of gunfire followed her voice
Istvan nodded. The drones were entirely disposable, like the crowd outside. Their purpose was to divide the Gravchurch security’s attention. It would take a while before they could destroy all the drones and disperse the crowd, time enough for Anya to get the information and to get out.
The security indicators on Anya’s map moved away towards the disturbance. He watched her descend into the pyramid’s innards. This area was far less attractive than the cathedral. Thick pipes lined the walls. The floor was made of metal grates that made an uncomfortable echo as she stepped on them. She moved quickly, crossing the identical corridors with the speed of a skimmer. She sometimes found ladders which she used to descend. The red lights pulsed in the eerie silence. Istvan was thankful for the blueprints. Without it, he, and surely she, would be lost in this metal labyrinth. They had not encountered any of the patrols as Anya headed towards the area where the device was most likely located. She paused before a ladder.
“Steady,” he said.
“You should see what Denton’s doing,” she replied with a note of irritation in her voice. Her suggestion was more of a way to tell Istvan to stop bothering her.
He complied and switched back to Denton. The streets were in pandemonium. Dead bodies littered the pavement. Far off sirens approached. He could see a running battle between some of the protestors and Gravchurch security as they exchanged gunfire. The roar of bullets from submachine guns and rifles echoed back and forth.
“Denton?” he asked.
“Not yet,” came the reply.
The Musashi police finally came. A soothing, yet loud female voice commanded the combatants to stand down and surrender. Scores of patrol vehicles with flashing lights filled the Musashi sky. Some of the protestors threw down their weapons and held their hands up. A few of the Gravchurch security guards began to back down. The vehicles fired tear gas at the remaining fighters. Uniformed officers jumped out of a few of the vehicles and floated down to the ground on antigrav harnesses. They arrested those who had surrendered. The riot was ending.
“I think I found it,” Anya called. He switched to her feed. His vision filled with steam and faint lights. He saw that she had put on a breathing mask. It began to fog up from the surrounding mist.
“Where are you?”
“It’s a chamber, way larger than the cathedral. There’s some sort of mass in the center, but I can’t tell what it is. Lots of construction equipment hanging from the ceiling.” He heard her inhale the oxygen from the mask. “And the graviton readings are off the charts.”
“Remember when we talked about the job? You said your boys detected electric fields that killed the local plant life. I got the idea to check for exotic particles with my implant. And this is what I found.”
“Yeah, these guys are involved in some seriously weird shit. I wonder…”
“Plenty of time for that later. They just cleared the crowd outside. You don’t have much time.”
“I see.” She looked around. Istvan could not see anything. “Just need to find a direct access terminal. Jackpot!” He watched in amazement as she stumbled towards a dark standing object. As she got closer, he saw that it was a standing platform with a screen and keyboard embedded on it.
It was still active. She took a cord attached to her brain implant and jacked into the terminal. Immediately, both of their visions changed into the abstract landscape of netspace. In front of them floated a large grey cube, representing the security layers around the Gravchurch device. Around them, light blinked like stars, other network nodes for the installations at L3.
“Finally, something that’s fun,” Anya stated. She raised her hands forward, or rather, simulations of her hands were raised forward. They appeared as long silvery objects, constructs in this virtual space. Streams of alphanumeric characters emerged from these hands and floated towards the cube. They surrounded it and flashed green. To the side of her vision, a window showing a command prompt appeared. Lines of indecipherable code scrolled down in rapid fashion as Anya conducted her business. She sighed.
“What’s wrong?” Istvan asked.
“I’m getting though lockdown security. I thought the Gravchurchers would have something more exotic, but it’s all standard intrusion countermeasures. Super dull.”
“Just to let you know, we’re on a timer here.”
“Aren’t we always?” She hacked through the network layers as they waited for a long, silent, and uncomfortable minute.
“Talk to me,” she finally said.
“How long will this take?”
“Just a few more minutes, but if you’re going to stare over my shoulder, let’s at least not make it awkward.”
“Umm, okay.” Istvan thought a moment. “I’m curious about Denton. Where’d you find the guy?”
“He actually found me. He sort of adopted me after my parents were killed in the Dreiden Massacre.”
“I’m sorry,” he replied. The Dreiden ‘Police Action’ was an incident a decade ago involving Earthgov’s putdown of an insurrection at Dreiden Station, a sister to Musashi at L3. The rebels had taken over the administrative center and had threatened to kill the Earthgov officials there. Earth mobilized an unmanned destroyer, the Sword Shadow, and ordered it to do a kinetic strike on the administrative center from space. The destroyer overdid it and destroyed the center while tearing a large hole in the space station. The rebels, the hostages, and a significant chunk of the station’s populace died in the ensuing disaster. The rest of the station had to be evacuated. It was still uninhabited to this day. It also brought up unpleasant memories for Istvan, which he promptly suppressed.
“Appreciated,” she said. The floating code continued to attack the grey cube. Its outer layer burst into a shower of polygons. A smaller cube was underneath. “Aren’t you going to ask if that’s why I decided to work with you? Because I hated Earth?” Anya asked.
“I assumed you would prefer to keep your secrets, your line of work being what it is.”
“That’s so noble I almost thought you weren’t a corporate drone,” she chuckled. “Let’s talk anyways, you’re way better at conversation than Denton.” She took a breath, which echoed in her mask. “I hated them at first. Every night I dreamt of those earth cities with their blue skies and their clear rivers and their green forests and their snowy mountains on fire, set by my hand. I imagined their people screaming in pain and sobbing over their dead children. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve realized a few things. They’re not cruel monsters. They killed my parents for a reason. They did it for survival. We all do what we have to do. I do it for myself. You do it for your shareholders. They do it for their people.
What do you corps call it? Incentives? Yeah, that’s right. So Earth’s commitment to its people incentivizes them to keep the colonies under control. They need the resources flowing because there’s too many mouths to feed on Earth. They can’t compromise, because that would make them look weak and cause chaos. We’d do the same thing in their position. So why hate them for following their incentives?”
Istvan was so surprised that he could not answer at first. “So why did you join me then?”
“I kind of wonder myself. I mean, Denton pushed me to it, but that’s only part of the reason. I think—Wait! I got it!” The final layer dissolved from the cube. It finally revealed a glowing blue sphere, the object of their mission. All of a sudden, both their visions shifted back to the chamber, now clear of the fog. An alarm shrieked throughout the room. On the map, Istvan saw the angry red signatures converge on Anya’s position. “Shit! I must have tripped a hidden security layer,” she exclaimed. “I’m sealing the chamber!”
“Wait! Anya!” He lost her connection.