SUNSWEPT CH8


The door sealed behind her and she relaxed back into it. Her hands went immediately to the Blooder built torture devices she'd once thought were earrings and removed them straight away. Bob that was better! As gorgeous as they were and as much as they had cost, she really didn't care as she deposited them on the table just beyond the entryway. After an overdue massage of her poor earlobes her hands fell next to the gentle pleats of her dress. At least that hadn't betrayed her. Meyan's mind drifted back over the night as she removed first one heel and then the other. Dinner had been fantastic and her appreciation for Delyyn had only increased after just one taste of his culinary skill. She'd offered to help but he was insistent; she was given instead a front row seat at the galley's island counter while he danced about the meal preparation. His quarters were spacious by comparison to hers. Where she'd only the two rooms with some storage here or there, he'd managed to secure a full suite with both the open concept living, dining, and galley as well as the master bedroom overlooking the central pleasure district commons. The view had been magical through floor to ceiling force fields which could even be extended laterally for an instant deck; if you didn't mind standing on what apeared to be essentially nothing at all. The science of it escaped her but as she eyed up her own furniture she wondered if the designers of that particular feature hadn't cheated and used some nano-tech as well. The water and rock features in the commons had been lit with pulsing colors and seeded with bioluminescent flora and along with Icarus's flourishing new nightlife; the whole view had been breathtaking.

They'd walked back to her apartment together following dinner. The only potentially negative part of the evening had come when they reached her door and she found herself stuck. She wanted to invite him in. Why not offer him a drink? She'd been a guest in his apartment and she at least had the sufficient space for entertaining just one person. But after seeing his quarters she found herself suddenly a bit embarrassed as to what he must have thought of hers. He saved her the decision with a gentle kiss on the cheek. Should she kiss him back? He took a step and started walking backwards to his own apartment to answer her question and she realized she'd missed her chance. "I'll see ya tomorrow, drinks in S'up after work?" Her wave must have sufficed as answer because by the time she whispered her actual response he had already turned around and was too far away to hear. Back in the present she clenched her dress and shook her head. Why the hole did she always have to freeze up in those moments!? Her question still unanswered, she finished getting ready for bed.


Work the next morning was... typical. Petrian was effervescent as usual but they were starting to make some serious headway on a particularly puzzling bit of interfacing. Solu had initiated a new project for them to start on only the day before and she'd barely had time to wrap her head around the specification before leaving early for the party. At first Meyan had been a bit miffed about having her previous project shuffled off to another team but the look in Solu's face had made it clear that the this new project was infinitely more important and so Meyan was excited to finally dig into it.

Something about the biological specifications seemed odd to her. The project involved designing the neural interfacing for a new miniaturized military grade set of implants. Trinity Cybernetics had managed to corner the market in Origin with a new line of implants but it seemed that their boss had it in mind to stay ahead of the competition by making those implant even smaller and giving them a less invasive interfacing profile. She reread the neural uptake specs and whistled softly in appreciation for the monumental task ahead of her. These'll be so soft a child could use 'em! She glanced over at Petrian and chuckled. He thought he had the tough job just miniaturizing the hardware!

The trick was going to be in the nanites. Typical implants used a form of nanite built to replicate proteins which in turn moved other molecules about the brain. It was these nanite-made protein workhorses, along with direct signal impulses, which transferred information back and forth between brain and implant. And because the brain's normal proteins hadn't yet figured out how to cross over into the physical hardware of the implant itself, her task was ultimately to teach nanites and their protein creations how to work and act exactly as the brain's natural chemistry did and to do so in a way that the host's body wouldn't give the intruders a second thought. Her unintentional pun extracted a chuckle.

Nerd humor aside, this was an incredibly difficult balancing act under normal specifications. The implant's processing power equated to the number and complexity of nanites and nano-electric charges that it could pass between the host's brain and itself and these new military grade implants relied just a little bit on the concept that most empires cared more about immediate combat capability than any minor negative impacts it might have on the minds of their soldiers. The cynic would say that a soldier's physical brain wasn't likely to last too long on the chaotic battlefields anyway, so a little collateral damage by an increased nanite and nano-electrical load wouldn't really matter too much in the long run. To put that kind of load into a civilian human or digital sapient's brain, a brain that that person hoped to keep more or less pristine for their lifetime without the added oversight by military funded doctors, suddenly raised considerable challenges. At best, the host's natural systems would simply divest itself of what it saw as unneeded proteins by absorbing them into the blood for excretion and at worst, well, there had always been a risk inherent in such technology. All of this meant that the implant had to not only manage its army of nanites and their spawn but also maintain only so many of them in the brain at a time, programming them to return to the implant housing fast enough to minimize the impact on the overall brain chemistry. Current cutting edge military grade versions just barely met a threshold minimal enough to use on a non-capsuleer mind.

She wished, just for a moment, that she had access to the sorts of bio-synthetic materials available to capsuleers. Their nanties functioned much like those of the military grade version, however very expensive synthesis processes and even more expensive materials allowed capsuleers to use nanites finely tuned to their individual biochemistry and to have their size minimized to be just barely larger than the proteins they produced. She might as well keep dreaming because even if she'd had access to such expensive tech, capsuleer clones were created to handle the increased nano-electrical load inherent to their grade of implants and these civilians' bodies simply were not.

To further complicate matters, the nanites for any implant had to be malleable and were precision engineered to match even the DNA of their individual host, if not always to the degree that a capsuleer's were. It was the only way to prevent the host's own immune system from attacking them. She checked the DNA sample that she'd been given for testing. Taken from a random donor, it wouldn't be for the purpose of growing new nanites for the host but rather as a target testing set. She pulled up the familiar double helix and let it spin along the left side of her viewscreen while she pondered. Beside that she also pulled up the protein profile needed for the task. Hundreds of different variations of proteins grouped by type and role filled the projection such that she had to widen it just to fit everything in. The grouped proteins lay out in columns with the necessary nanite type depicted by both symbol and icon at the top of each column. She'd once heard another student define the nanite array as visually similar to that of the new capsuleer fighter management interface; perhaps some bio scientist had been part of that little enhancement. She smiled to think of her little proteins as fighters and fighter-bombers but her smile turned sour as she realized that this was exactly the problem she had to solve. To the brain they were fighters, squadrons of them.

The proteins themselves were analogous enough to the same biologically created proteins in the typical brain, but the nanites that created and maintained them had a habit of pushing their way through the various microscopic channels and membranes of the body in order to reach their charges. Such overuse of those pathways is what would eventually cause them to wear and this was why the least invasive forms of implants would simply maintain the nanites within their implant housing, letting the proteins and nano-electric pulses do their work and then be discarded as waste. To meet the level and rate of data transition needed to say manage a full battlefield worth of incoming information, those same proteins had to work overtime, taking chemically stored information both to and from the implant while resisting disposal. This, in turn, meant nanites to collect the wayward proteins or defend them from overambitious immuno-proteins.

Meyan leaned back on her stool and rubbed her eyes from the mass of information. This was her world and she knew the tactics involved, but even her considerable study and creativity was being put to the test. She glanced at the spinning helix still rotating to the left and something about her initial thought triggered another; she pulled up the protein profile for the testing subject. Whoever had provided this blood sample had hormone levels off the chart, almost at the kind of levels seen only in barely pubescent adolescents. What kind of hormone treatment were they giving this poor woman? Was it even a woman? She rechecked the specifications she'd been given and sure enough, the test subject was expected to carry memory engrams equivalent to a full grown adult and would require file space within the proposed implant's drives to match. The whole thing didn't add up. Why would someone with the memories of an adult have the body of a pre-teen? Perhaps...

She took a quick glance over the separator to be sure Petrian was busy with something else before she used her own implants and the access through her own terminal to slip into the physical specifications for the hardware. It took a little time; Petrian's organizational system apparently resembled something out of a horror holo, but she found it eventually. The devices had to implant within the physical brain the size of... A 9 year old girl!? She couldn't believe what she was seeing and she kept searching, looking for some piece of information to counter the growing dread that she'd just joined the ranks of some mad scientist evil sect. What she found paired with the data she had in her own files laid out a very clear picture. The test subject was to be able to receive a full implant suite, including an internal biometric and spacio-kinetic specification. So, we are going to give a child implants; military grade implants which could not only monitor the bodily function and physical movements of the user, but then could ostensibly transmit this data to someone else. There just had to be another explanation for it. She looked up and across the lab to see Solu working closely with another pair of technicians near the other corner of the lab. Solu looked up and towards her and Meyan quickly looked away, back to her holoscreen.

Meyan slipped back out of Petrian's files before her presence could be noted and she resumed her review of the nanite array while her mind continued to race. Should she ask Solu about it? What she knew of the woman gave her hope that her boss would be honest with her; perhaps even provide the alternate explanation Meyan so desperately needed. There had to be one. She tried to set it all aside and refocus on the proteins and the array but it was really hard. Petrian seemed fine just trusting in the concept so maybe he knew the secret she'd been denied. She couldn't ask him now; would have to be later. She swallowed the reservations she might have about spending that much time with him socially and resolved herself to asking him to join her for a drink when the day's work was done. Now if only she could just focus on that work again.


Solu looked up just in time to see Meyan look away suddenly. A quick review of the labs security frames for the past moment confirmed that she'd been looking her way and seemed worried. The worry itself confirmed that Meyan had been just as bright as Solu predicted she'd be. The meeting with Xeph had left her in an incredibly uncomfortable position. He'd laid out a horrifying situation in which insurgents may have infiltrated some of the most secure networks in Origin. The colony's mere existence depended on the complete security of the kind of data that was shared on those networks and the Sub-Coordinator had only the slimmest of leads with which to follow in order to once more safeguard their future. And that lead involved sending children in as agents.

They weren't children, not really. She had to keep reminding herself of that fact but it was so very difficult to think otherwise, especially as she once more reviewed a picture of each face via implant. Only the bodies were young, the digital minds inside were most certainly not. Two of the three were pretty simple to explain; each had previously had their minds within different sapient bodies and had been generally going about their lives before being recruited, gods know how, for the assignment. The third was a complete surprise. This mind was, in fact, a digital child in just about every respect up to and including the simple act of defining their own gender. They had seen no need to do so and so simply chose not to have one. It wasn't a novel concept, but it highlighted the simple fact that this digital mind was different. Even now one of Solu's other consciousnesses was busy researching where and how such a mind could exist. She felt much less at ease with the idea of designing implants for such a special case but her client, and friend, had made some assurances which had gone at least some of the way to settling her fears.

The origin of the third child hadn't been the only information that the Sub-Coordinator had kept from her, nor had he given her leave to bring her team in on the project they were to work on. It was nearly an impossible task too! To make such high grade tech safe for children was ludicrous... and just a little bit exciting too. The applications for such adaptation with non-capsuleers were staggering and even if they couldn't get the tech to meet the ridiculous specifications set forth, any possible product of the research was going to make tsunamis in the field of cybernetics.

Assigning Petrian and Meyan to the project had required almost no thought at all. She was easily the best mind to be picking apart proteins and her relatively short tenure wouldn't have crystallized her thinking to the point of inflexibility. Petrian was a strong candidate in his own right but the way he'd taking to the 'pure science' aspect of the task confirmed her earlier prediction that he wouldn't let a lack of information distract him from success. Solu wasn't as worried about the miniaturization aspects of the project anyway. The only remaining trouble was that while she fully intended to bring both of them in on what she knew, she was pretty convinced that Xeph hadn't told her everything. A Sub-coordinator wasn't exactly beyond reproach or suspicion, everything he'd said seemed honest, but she couldn't shake the feeling that he'd omitted things, things even she didn't have the clearance to discover for herself (despite two of her other selves presently attempting to do so). Her digging hadn't turned up anything yet and based on that look from Meyan she'd run out of time.


A few hours later Meyan was still going in circles. She'd tried increasing the capacity of some of the nanites in an effort to reduce how many different types needed to be active, but nanite specificity was just something needed and any reductions in that had harsh diminishing returns. She was just about to try another idea when her implant signaled the addition of a new meeting request; set for late in the afternoon with the director and Petrian in Solu's office. She must have seen me looking.

The director's official office was located off a hallway and to the far back of the lab. Save for the occasional stop in for a hardcopy file or a needed office supply she'd never seen her boss use it. As she mentally sent the acceptance to the meeting she remembered that she'd agreed to meet Delyyn about the same time as the meeting. With a long sigh of frustration she quickly recorded and sent a message to Delyyn letting him know she'd be late; whatever this new project was, it was certainly more important than a date.

*******


The group made their way down the corridor in pairs save for Kip. Ahead, Bee and H'Aki walked side-by-side in conversation. He'd like to have walked with Bee but after the embarrassment of H'Aki's aggression during the previous day, Kip wasn't too keen on joining her just yet. He took a glance backward to see Drake and Sophia struggling to keep up. The pace wasn't exactly brisk and looking forward again he wasn't sure why Bee and H'Aki were moving so slow anyway. He thought about talking with Drake and Sophia maybe but another glance back showed that pair to be too engrossed in moving to talk. He really hadn't figured out their deal yet but he was certain Bee had. They were improving at an incredible rate but they were still going to be a hindrance to any group they were a part of and he'd spent several hard years cultivating a strong habit of avoiding alliances with anyone weak. Well, he avoided alliances all together; but for good reason. Trust on the streets made for poor protection. As soon as he could get xer alone, he fully intended to get what info he could from Bee, xe seemed nice enough to him anyway.

They were progressing further and further away from the small room and adjoining lab where he'd spent his first evening on station and where Bee and H'Aki had been bunked for the past few days. Anki had mentioned more permanent lodging and gone on ahead to finish preparing the rooms. A single drone as well as a map that Bee had managed to hack from the local terminal's cashed memory were their only guide and a small part of Kip was elated to know they were being trusted to make the trip on their own. That was until he caught the telltale dots of security cameras about every five meters. Well, at least they weren't being babysat, just closely watched.

The corridor turned into another small passage at which Bee stopped as though confused. Kip was just about to ask when xe promptly spun about and retraced xer steps back past him before grinning and reaching out to pass xer hand right through what appeared to have been a solid corridor wall. Xe turned and gave Drake a conspiratorial wink before plunging through the wall itself. Kip was only just beside xer so he decided to follow second. What he thought would be an energy field of some sort turned out to be nothing of the sort as he could actually feel the solid wall thinning and opening around him to reveal a circular antechamber about eight meters in diameter and in the center a grinning Bee.

"It actually scanned my processing, the wall... well the nanites that I thought were a wall."

It took him a moment to catch on during which H'Aki made her way in. "But we don't have processing to scan, Bee. DNA?" H'Aki's tone was curious.

"Must be, yeah."

"Just think of the kind of stuff you'd need to break in!" Kip's mind was already trying to find its way around a security measure he'd never fathomed and he found himself just a bit in awe.

"Break in?" Bee was clearly thinking in different terms. "Why, you'd need a full DNA transplant! Finally somewhere truly safe." A thought seemed to occur to Bee and xe took on a sort of far off look for a moment. "I wonder if these terminals will have external access..." As Sophia finally caught up to them Bee turned to the next doorway and just before palming it to open Kip thought he noticed a mix of hope and trepidation on xer young face.

The door opened and they got their first look of the new quarters. The central commons was well appointed with large comfy couches, a few desk spaces set against the wall, and even at least two holo-emitters. The commons was also circular in shape with a door leading off to the right, left, and looking straight ahead he could see into the bunk room and a restroom beyond. Each of them walked forward into the common room with curiosity. Kip moved first to the left hand door and found it locked while Bee tried the right hand door. "H'Aki!" The partial mohawk on the young girl flopped over as she spun away from the bunk-room she was heading for to face an excited Bee. "I think you'll like this one."

Even Kip was intrigued and they all stepped over to look in on a fully equipped gym. H'Aki made right for the center of the room and looked around fully impressed. Kip was less interested in what was in the gym than what lay beyond it. He made directly for the door at the far left end as he continued to map out the area. He did, however, take note of the broad air conduction system located centrally in the ceiling of the room; it was good to know your exits, even if they were impossibly out of immediate reach.

This door opened into a brief hallway which ran between what he assumed to be the bunk-room and another locked door at the right end. Directly opposite the door back into the gym was a generously sized communal shower. He recognized the showerheads as the much updated version of what he'd had back in the Kinderhaus but the additional apertures were entirely foreign to him. The other thing that caught his attention was the number of showerheads; enough for all of the team. The Kinderhaus had only two and they were in a space barely large enough for one of the Mistresses to fit in alone. No more waiting in line! He could hear others following him from the gym and he decided not to be seen gawking like a little child. The door at the left led into the restroom and he followed that through and again to the left back into bunk-room. A doorway back into the hall confirmed his earlier assumption and he again noticed the number of bunks to be sufficient for all five of them plus an extra. That they wouldn't have to share beds was less surprising than the spacious showers but it was still yet another luxury to separate this home from what he'd once considered 'comfortable living'.

Bee caught up to him beside one of the bunks and he looked back to see if H'Aki was soon to follow; she wasn't. "H'Aki?"

"Oh, she is already planning training I think." Bee giggled just a little but made for one of the lower bunks nearest to the only terminal in the room. Realizing he'd better make his own claim he did a quick sweep of the room and found one of the bunks to be located just under and to the side of what looked to be an air circulation vent. He hurried to drop his few possessions onto the mattress even as he saw Bee doing the same. He remembered his question from earlier and was just about to ask when Sophia managed her way into the bunkroom. She placed her own things efficiently on the bunk beneath his, the closest to the door as well as the vent, and managed a weak toss of one of Drake's light bags onto the other bottom bunk. "I fink 'Aki if ready to ftart training." She was clearly frustrated by the lingering speech issues.

Kip stifled an unkind grin even as Bee just shook xer head and smiled. "I hated those 's's..." Xe turned to Kip. "Told ya she was already at it. Well, I guess we better get changed then." Still wishing for more time to explore and settle, and knowing he wasn't going to get it, Kip just sighed and started changing as well.


He stepped onto the marked area of the floor and had to quickly adjust his balance as the floor seemed to give more than it should. Kip looked down and found the density of the deck plating was such that it cushioned his step instead of fully supporting it. How were they supposed to learn how to fight on squishy ground anyway? Sure, he'd been in a scuffle or two on padded carpet or even in one of the gardens back on the planet, but this floor seemed to give even more than those. It would be like fighting on sand. Drake, H'Aki, and Sophia were also stepping into the training zone though with considerably less attention paid to the footing. If they weren't going to say anything about it then he certainly wasn't going to either.

H'Aki wasted no time in pairing Drake and Sophia up facing one another before pointing to the area in front of her and looking with a sour grin right at him. He took his assigned spot and glanced over to the other two. He wasn't exactly keen to be paired up against H'Aki for their first combat training. For one, he didn't care for the attention, and the fact that she seemed to have some sort of grudge against him already didn't make it any better. But looking at the other two he couldn't exactly fault H'Aki's match. They'd both managed a significant improvement in their ability to move about and hold themselves up, but as H'Aki began to demonstrate the technique they were to practice Drake seemed to be having a hard time even reaching Sophia. Sophia reached to counter the grapple and almost overbalanced with her face coming flat into Drake's chest instead. Watching them was almost comical. Their attitude said that they knew exactly what they were doing but by the stars they couldn't seem to even aim at each other much less effectively grapple. He wondered just exactly how they were supposed to help in a fight... Celery could have done better. His thoughts distracted him and by the time he realized that H'aki had started he was on his ass feet flying into the air. Somewhere in front of him was a blurry Bee sitting on a chair, upside-down on the ceiling trying very hard to decide whether to be scared for him or giggle xer face off. The floor had taken most of the force out of the hit and a rather frustrated H'aki was already standing over him offering her hand coupled with no small amount of disappointment. "What the hole was that?"

"Distracted" He accepted the hand up, still not entirely sure whether he was spinning or the room was.

She leveled him with a rather adult version of a look meant to make him suddenly reconsider his intelligence. It worked. "Oy, give me a second." He rubbed his temple as Anki came over to assess the damage.

"H'aki, you were supposed to take it easy on him" Anki was already applying a small diagnostic patch to Kip's head.

Now she turned the glare on Anki "I was."

Drake and Sophia had stopped their own attempts at sparing and were now watching Kip and H'aki intently. Was Sophie trying to mimic the move H'aki had just used on him? Naw... couldn't be; Kip was certain even he couldn't have picked it up that fast. Drake only stared at them. Kip tried to shrug it off, he was here to teach Drake things as well so where did that snot come off glaring at him like that, besides... clearly H'aki was going to be the one to teach them hand to hand combat. She'd just demonstrated her ability to do that clearly. He would just have to be extra crafty when it came time for classes in stealth, survival, and navigating duct labyrinths. Leth had insisted that he would be teaching more advanced first aid than Kip knew and so at least he'd be learning that as well as fighting from H'aki.

She grinned at him as Anki stepped away. "You ready this time?" His smirk must have been enough of a 'yes' for her because a few seconds later and she was once more landing him on the floor. At least this time he'd been ready and it hadn't hurt quite as much.


Bee winced as Kip once more landed with a thud into the cushioned floor. Xe wasn't happy that xe'd had to sit out their first training session, however Leth had insisted xe wouldn't be ready to participate in the physical aspects of training with the rest of the team yet and so xe sat; watching. Xe had been told to observe not just the techniques but also how they each used the environment around them. Xe tended to focus on H'aki throughout the exercises as she repeatedly put Kip into submission after submission. When it had been clear that he wasn't quite ready for the body throws she'd started with, and Drake and Sophia hadn't even been able to properly grapple each other, H'aki had redefined success as being able to just arm-lock their opponent rather than throw them.

Bee was almost more interested in Anki and Leth. Supposedly they were there to supervise the training but that seemed to consist more of just stepping in to support H'aki rather than to correct, critique, or even make suggestions. It was unlike any other teaching structure xe'd ever encountered. Xe made a note to try to research it later and instead tried to understand the paradox that was Drake and Sophia. Bee was starting to wonder if they actually knew each other in their prior digital forms, and they seemed to have better spatial awareness than the others, something she would expect from other digitally minded beings, but xe couldn't account for the way they seemed to think that they should be able to do something that physically they clearly couldn't. Any digital mind, put for the first time into a humanoid body, would require a significant adjustment time; xers had taken almost a week of intense physical therapy, and that was after xer initial attempts back in the cloning facility. What perhaps confused xer more was that Leth had been very specific about keeping Bee out of the first training session while Drake and Sophia had been allowed to participate.

Xe continued to ponder the two of them even as the team's first combat training session ended and Kip took over tutelage of 'how to not be seen.' The concept of stealth was so pivotal to Priority 1 that Bee was quickly absorbed into the activity, one which xe could finally participate in. Xe filed xer observations away for later and was soon trying to assimilate every morsel of information Kip had to offer.

*******


Like a spider in his web he sifted through the terabytes of data as it flowed through his implants like a plasma stream. He plucked out one particular bit of information; a cost analysis for incoming materials from outside of Origin. Alone the figures meant little but a quick check on the files history betrayed the telltale fingerprints of those who had reviewed it before him. Not seeing any tags he recognized he let the file drift back down into the flow. This material was not destined for Indigo and therefore of no consequence to him.

He'd spent more than one lifetime in his pursuit and he wasn't about to be stopped when he was finally so close. Looking through his real eyes he could just see the tiny spec of structure dangling out in space which was the target of so much effort. It should have already been his, he'd been so close and yet as he looked at it now, so deceivingly vulnerable looking, he now knew firsthand the sheer forces arrayed to protect the Cradle.

He had been too eager to get his hands on it and in his haste he'd shown his hand. He needed a diversion, something to misdirect those that he knew were now chasing him. It had to be something far enough removed from him though. Feint within feint was the way of business and he knew aggressive business better than anyone. While he continued to sift through manifests hoping to find a rare chance at an invoice bound for a location within the same protection which held his goal from him, he pulled up a bit of information he had filed away from earlier. Perhaps he could clear up three loose ends with one plan. The files before him detailed a request from those that thought themselves to be his superiors back in empire space, instructions to assess what remained of a covert cell that had until recently been operating to sabotage the escalation of Origin's construction capabilities at the Skyreach anchorage. The 'orders' had come to him some time ago but as he never saw the use in digging into an obviously failed operation, he'd never had need of them until now. The data dump included the location of the safehouse in which the surviving members were last known to be hiding out as well as the proper way in which to contact them. Crucifix Anchorage... That tower station wasn't even supposed to be active anymore. He smiled to himself as he imagined how the remaining operatives must be huddled in stasis on some cloaked barge with no shield or tower guns active to defend them even as they hoped and prayed for extraction; well, as much as a popsicle could hope and pray. "Suppose it's time to be the glorious savior and put em to use." He fired off an encrypted communication back to his handlers outside Origin that he'd found and assessed the missing team and would send them for debrief once it was safe to do so. "Should keep em off me for a bit." He of course had no intention of sending anyone out for debrief and any attempted travel out of the system was never really safe so he hadn't really lied now had he?

The second loose end was Ghera. She'd been instrumental in getting him the access he needed to the various corporate network channels and her socialite Galente connections had certainly made funding a non-issue but her crusade to 'save the children' had to be the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard of. Such stupidity was likely to get her caught and he wanted to be as far away and as disconnected from her as possible when it happened. But, that stupid crusade of hers might just be exactly what he needed after all. If he were to give these frozen failures from Crucifix to her and let her play savior queen she'd be so focused on living out her dream that she'd likely miss that he'd disappeared entirely from her scanners. Not for the first time he cursed that he'd had to dispatch Clifort, his half-cyborg muscle, out to null-sec for the next phase of the plan. It wouldn't hurt to have someone he could really trust as his go-between. That brought him to the third loose end; Jallif. He opened a channel directly to the communicator he'd covertly slipped into the weasel's effects before marooning him in some pathetic shuttle. It took several minutes but the unwashed rat finally located the beeping device. "H-Hello? Who is this?"

"Ahh, so you've not been discovered yet, good." He knew full well that the authorities hadn't yet located their notorious Market Bomber but it didn't hurt to make him sweat a bit.

"No thanks to you! How long till they start searching docked ships though?" The tone was petulant but there was fear behind it.

He smiled. "Relax, it's a diplomatic vessel, they have no cause to search it, and it won't be docked much longer."

"Where are you sending me now?"

"Eventually? Out of this fedo'd hole." He could almost feel the false hope in the rat's breath. "But first I'll be sending you and Ghera out to pick up a little frozen package." And there goes the floor out from under him. He enjoyed this all just a little too much.

"And after that?" The cynical venom was back.

"We'll see. Remember, I am still your only hope out of here alive, don't make me regret bringing you into this little venture." He cut the channel before Jallif could retort and imagined the many curses being hurled randomly at him across the emptiness of space. Such a weak and pathetic little creature.

The other portion of his attention located another file, checked the history, and he smiled yet again. Once more he glanced at the image of his target and knew he'd just gotten a whole lot closer to it.

*******