Author Topic: Chapter 19  (Read 1399 times)

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Offline Daen

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Chapter 19
« on: June 10, 2022, 02:57:58 AM »
Chapter 19

Jia's image faded into nothingness, and the four of them just stared at where she'd been. Her message had only lasted a few minutes, but sometimes that's all it took to change someone's life. Or everyone's lives, if what she'd said was true.

Eddie was the first to react. "This is a joke, right? She's playing a prank on us. A really, really hilarious prank if enough people believe her."

"You might be right," Beb said, moving back over to the exciter and examining it. "I'm no physics expert, but what she described doesn't seem possible. It's just not how the exciter field works."

"But none of us know exactly how it works," Tin put in, sounding overwhelmed, but also exhilarated at the same time. "All the exciters were manufactured and distributed by AFI, under her direction. She knew more about them than anyone alive today. She might be right about this!"

Margo supposed it was possible. She was reminded of the Community—or at least their policy of having their homes constantly recorded and available for anyone to see. Only this was so much bigger than just a Community of trusting idiots!

Part of her even wanted to believe what Jia had said, but they needed proof. "Beb, could you design and build an exciter from scratch so that we can test this? To see if she was telling the truth or not."

Beb shook her head. "Not a chance. Even if I could find the right materials, I wouldn't know where to start. The only way to test it is to find an exciter that's already had its trigger unlocked. Jia probably had the only one in existence, if there even was one."

"That's not necessarily true," Margo reasoned aloud. "Goswin has to have one too. It would explain his rapid rise to power, and how he was able to track us down in Jersey City. If he used it after nightfall, and on minimum power, he could have avoided notice. That would let him follow us right up to our rooms."

Tin let out a breath of realization. "With the exciter's lipreading capabilities, he would have heard everything we said! He knows about the Community now!"

Margo wasn't worried about that. "No, he must have already known about them, and didn't care. He only killed Dr. Poe because Poe might have figured out the truth, just like we did now. The Community is safe for now."

"What community?" Eddie put in, looking increasingly alarmed. "What is this about people getting murdered?" He looked over at Beb. "What are you all involved in here?"

"It's all right," Beb began, but he just backed away further.

Eddie wasn't having any of it. "No. I'm done. It's been a fun ride with you, Beb, but here's where I get off. Good luck with... whatever craziness you're mixed up in. Do me a favor and don't tell me anything else."

He practically fled the room. Beb moved to follow him at first, but then came to a stop, her outstretched arm falling to her side. Margo winced at the distress on her friend's face, but knew better than to try and console her. Apparently Tin was thinking on the same lines. He gestured to the exciter. "The timer is set to go off tonight at midnight. I guess she picked then because she lived in Eastern Time."

"No, it's more than that," Margo realized as Beb returned to the group. "This message will play at the same time for everyone on earth. Midnight tonight is what: right in the middle of a workday in China and India, where the world population is densest? She wanted as many people as possible to be as alert as possible when the message starts. Not that anyone will be able to ignore it once the news gets out, but she wanted everyone to have an equal footing. She said as much. We have to stop it."

She expected Tin to object, given his devotion to Jia and her legacy, but he didn't. Beb looked over at her with concern, though. "Why? Isn't this a good thing? If everyone can figure stuff out like Jia did, or Goswin can do, won't it be good for everyone?"

Margo shook her head. "No, it'll be a disaster! Imagine going back in time and giving an AK-47 to every single medieval peasant, knight, and lord in the Dark Ages. How many of them wouldn't immediately use it to shoot someone else? This could be just as devastating!"

"That's not the same," Beb protested. "The exciter isn't a weapon!"

"She makes a fair point, Beb," Tin put in. "It wasn't designed as a weapon, but it will be used that way. Believe me, I know how to improvise something deadly from something normally peaceful. It's happening already. Even without this... special function unlocked, people have already used the exciters to steal information from others. So much so that we had to institute laws in how they are used. If they're all unlocked at the same time, it would mean global chaos. Governments would fall, certainly. Millions of people could die. Margo is right; we can't let this happen."

That was a relief. Margo had been afraid she would have to convince him, too. "We might not have to do anything. Goswin knows all about this special function, and obviously wants to keep it a secret. Enough so that he's willing to kill us. If we do nothing, he'll just hit the delay button again, pushing the message back another year. We'll have time to figure out what to do. Or who to tell, really."

Tin shook his head. "If the exciters are really that powerful, we're only buying ourselves a little time by letting Goswin delay the message. He'll use the exciters to track us down again, and he'll make sure none of survive a third round. We have to take him down; not just for revenge, but for self-preservation as well!"

Margo realized he was right. Somehow, she knew that Jia hadn't been joking or exaggerating with her claims. Goswin had the perfect tool to maintain power now, thanks to her. He wouldn't hesitate to kill to keep it a secret, so he could keep his newfound power. "All right. I have some friends in the PPD. I can tip them off about Goswin, but they won't do anything without evidence. If there is an unlocked exciter, it's probably inside AFI headquarters, where he's been working. He wouldn't risk keeping such a powerful tool anywhere else. If we can get ahold of it and present it to the cops, it should convince them to issue an arrest warrant."

Tin grimaced. "But that would mean letting people know about the exciters. If word gets out, we're back to the disaster scenario."

"Maybe not," Beb said slowly. "I have an idea. It's kind of out there, but I think we're desperate enough."

She moved over to the exciter on the bunk and opened it up. "There are a lot of different things that can trigger an exciter's self-destruct. Eddie showed me a few of them, but one thing he told me about was a signal that would do it. It's gotta be a design flaw: something Jia didn't anticipate when she was building them. If a radio signal was transmitted on a specific frequency, it would fool the exciters into thinking they were being tampered with. They would all self-destruct. It's one of the reasons Eddie was so careful to do his decryption work inside a shielded room."

That was promising. "How far could a radio signal reach? Can we blanket the globe with one?"

Beb shook her head. "Not without a satellite network to relay the signal. I could build my own transmitter and try to hack into the AFI satellites, but my workshop isn't... exactly useable right now."

"And Goswin probably won't give you time to build one on your own anyway," Margo finished for her. "The only other transmitter that would work is in the AFI headquarters building. Looks like I'll have to sneak in there after all."

"Hang on for a second," Tin put in. "The last time an exciter melted from the inside, it almost burned Beb's whole workshop down. Now you want to do it to all of them? Everywhere, at the same time? How many fires will you start this time?"

"That's a good question," Beb responded slowly, thinking it over. "My fire only started because my exciter was next to a pair of experimental fuel cells. For most of the exciters, there will be little or no damage, but there are hundreds of millions of them worldwide. There will certainly be some fires. Probably a few deaths."

They all stood in silence for a few moments.

Margo had been in life-or-death situations before as a part of her job, and Tin had certainly been in some himself. Beb was the outlier in that. For her to be even thinking about an option like this was already somewhat disturbing, but Margo knew it was their best option. "Consider the alternative. I don't know any other way to take down Goswin without telling people about the exciters, and that would inevitably lead to thousands or millions of people dying in the chaos. Even killing Goswin wouldn't necessarily end the threat, because we don't know if he told anyone else! Once all the exciters are gone—or at least the ones capable of being used in this way—we can report Goswin and let the cops bring him in. Then word will get out, but the government can control the spread of information. It'll be huge, world-altering news, but it won't cause instant chaos and revolutions."

Reluctantly, Beb nodded. Tin followed suit after another few seconds. "It's decided, then. We'll have to break into AFI headquarters tonight, before the message is set to go out. Beb, do you know where the transmitter is?"

She hesitated, apparently trying to remember. "Not exactly, but it would be connected to the roof. If we can get to the top floor, I can input the signal from there. The signal is supposed to go out automatically: Jia was expecting it to unlock all the exciters, and Goswin is expecting it to delay the announcement. I should be able to tinker with signal enough so that it'll trigger their self-destruct instead. But this is all based on an assumption, remember? We don't know for sure the exciters do what Jia said they can do."

"Which is why I'll be sneaking into Goswin's office," Margo explained. "I'll find his exciter, if it's there, and test it. I'm about ninety percent sure Jia was telling the truth, but you're right. We need to be one hundred percent."

"The trouble is, how do we even get into the building?" Tin put in. "They've got overlapping security and multiple armed guards inside. Goswin probably has our faces on file, and if we're flagged, they'll know as soon as we enter the building."

"That won't be a problem," Beb said confidently. "As soon as we make our move, I can delete our faces from their employee database. Or just replace them with actual employees who work there so we can just walk right in."

Both Margo and Tin stared at her for a few long seconds. "How do you plan to do that?" Margo managed after swallowing hard.

Beb grinned. "Remember how I downloaded their employee records the last time we were in there, so that we could see if 'Mr. Austin' here was telling the truth? Well I left something behind as well. A little parting gift, just in case he was lying. It's a worm in the employee records system. It's in passive mode right now, so there's basically no chance they'll find it. When I activate it, they'll detect it and shut it down, but that'll take a few hours. Until then, I can alter their records at will."

Margo gaped again, and then reached over and hugged her. "That's genius! You're brilliant, Beb!"

Beb laughed in response, and even Tin seemed impressed. "And you said I was the super sneaky one. Well done, Beb. Can you use this worm to get us into their security system?"

"Sorry, no. Only basic employee records. I can't lock the doors on them or anything. Still, we should have the run of most of the building." Beb looked over at her phone, and began scrolling information on it. "I still have the general layout for the building in here. The head of security's office is on the fortieth floor, near the middle elevators. It's connected to a suite. I remember seeing that from before: all the higher-ups have apartments inside the building. So Margo, if you can't find it in his office, you should be able to search his place. The trouble is, he'll probably be in it."

"Not a problem," Margo assured her. "He's hunting us right now: the last thing he'll expect is for us to pay him a visit in his own home. Or me alone, actually. Tin will keep you safe while you're up on the roof rewiring the transmitter. Tin, you're also going to have to make sure they don't delay the signal again. We'll probably only get one chance at this, because it's something they'd never expect. If we mess it up, Goswin will make sure we never get another shot."

He nodded grimly. "Even with some of his people out here looking for us, Goswin will certainly have at least a dozen AFI security inside the building with him. Those guys don't mess around. I was hoping to do this without killing anyone, but that was back when I thought I was just dealing with one person. With stakes this big, we'll all have to be armed. Have either of you ever fired anything bigger than a handgun?"

Margo shook her head, and Beb pulled out her stun-gun. "This is all I have."

"Not great, but we can work with it. There's an armory on base, and it should be fully stocked. It's near a firing range. Come on, let's get you comfortable with a little more firepower. Beb, we should have some small arms that you can start with."

Margo hesitated. "Are you sure? I mean your Major friend might be ok with us staying here for a few hours, but looting an armory? Isn't that a bit much?"

"He'll be fine with it," Tin said with certainty. "After what we've been through together, you learn to trust each other with a lot more than just your lives."


Tin watched his two newest trainees attempt to improve their skills with... mixed results. Margo was fairly good for a novice, but Beb was an absolute nightmare. Just being on the base had already brought up a ton of memories for him, but training these two was turning those recollections sour. It had been only a few years since he'd been in their shoes, trying to master a weapon under the eyes of a less-than-patient instructor.

Pollack dropped by after the first shots, just to check things out, he'd said. Tin was grateful that he didn't seem to have anything to say, given the subject matter. Just watching Beb trying to keep her Colt level was embarrassing. She let out a startled noise every time she pulled the trigger, even after Tin had shown her the basics.

"I don't know what you and those girls are up to, man," Pollack finally said, his face turning more serious, "but it's sure to be dangerous. Banks is stationed an hour away from here, and Milgram and Muniz are down in Washington. Are you sure you don't want me to call them in? You could use backup with whatever this is," he gestured down at Margo and Beb.

"I'm sure. The more people who know about this, the more danger they'll be in. Besides, going in full force won't get us our objectives. The only advantage we have right now is that the bad guy doesn't know how much we know."

Pollack nodded slowly. "Well, if you do need anything else, you holler right away, you hear?"

Tin felt another wave of military memories crash through him. Pollack wasn't just saying that, either. He and all the other guys really meant it. "Thanks, but you've done more than enough already. You're a saint; you know that?"

"Oh, I know. Good luck, Tin. To all of you."

After he went back to the control room, Tin called it quits with the training. They weren't likely to get any better than marginal, anyway. The next half hour was spent planning their infiltration.

Margo actually came up with a fairly good idea from the start. Because AFI was such a huge operation, there were people coming and going all the time, at almost all hours. Thanks to Beb's download of their personnel files, they had pictures of all the employees who worked in the building. It was just a matter of dressing the part, lifting blank IDs and copying them with information—which Beb said would be both quick and easy—and then just walking in.

Getting into the building would be the easy part. Remaining undetected while they did their work would be tricky.

"Once we send out the signal, we bug out," Margo finished, looking at both of them intently. "We use the stolen exciter as evidence, and get Goswin arrested. Beb and I will both have to testify eventually, probably before a grand jury after everything is revealed." She paused. "Tin, you'll face charges for beating up those Marshals, and for stealing cars, at least. Probably for when you assaulted Goswin as well."

Tin just shrugged. "I knew that going in."

Margo nodded uncomfortably. "Ok, we should get on the road soon. Beb, you said you needed to get some equipment from your workshop to make this happen. If you drop us off near the AFI building, we can stake it out while you're away. Maybe we can get an idea of where the external cameras are and how to avoid them on our way out."

"Actually, we should convoy our way to Philly," Tin suggested. "I'll borrow Pollack's car, and take Beb home. I can protect her if Goswin put people on her house. Then I'll bring her to AFI and we can all go in together."

"Good idea. I'll see you there."

Tin withheld a sigh as Margo headed out. Her plan was a good one, especially given how little time they'd had to come up with it. It wouldn't go the way she was expecting, unfortunately. One way or another, he would make sure of that.


Tin borrowed Pollack's keys while Beb was picking up exciter pieces. They were about to head out the front doors when he caught a glimpse of flashing lights out there. "Stop!" He hissed to his side, and Beb froze. Tin pulled her to the side and glanced outside the window pane set into the door.

Two cop cars were out there, lights ablaze in the dimming sunlight. Officers were already on the ground outside, with guns aimed at her. Margo held her hands high and remained still, as she should.

"What are they doing here?" Beb whispered harshly. "I thought no one knew we were here!"

"That is a stolen car out there," he reminded her. "They must have tracked us through camera footage. It seems like a pretty harsh action for a stolen car, though. Something's wrong." Surreptitiously, he turned the door's handle and edged it open to peek out.

One of the cops was approaching a now-kneeling Margo, with cuffs in his hands. "Margaret Patsulas, you are under arrest for the murder of Jia Haldar. You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions." Through the door, Tin could hear the clink of the cuffs on her, as the man recited the rest of her Miranda rights. "Do you understand your rights as I have read them to you?"

"It's Margo. And yes, I understand," she responded grimly.

An arrest for murder? What possible evidence could they have against her? At least she didn't have any of the armory's weapons with her, he realized. That would have made the situation about ten times worse.

This had to be a setup. Goswin had planted evidence, probably in her home and office, to get the police to get her for him. Tin grimaced over at Beb. "Looks like we're on our own for now. We'll work on getting her cleared as soon as we send out that signal. Come on. Pollack's car is parked out back. We should be able to get out without being spotted, as long as they're busy out there."

"We can't just leave her!"

Tin speared her with a harsh look. "There's nothing we can do for her, Beb. Without evidence against Goswin, we can't get her released. Our only chance to help her is to bring him down. Now come on! We have to get out of here before more police arrive. You'll have to drive—they still have my face on APBs all over."

He reached out to grab her wrist, but then stopped. Memories of being pulled forcibly ran through his mind; of his father's rage and brutality. He couldn't do that to anyone else. Thankfully, Beb nodded and came with him of her own accord.
« Last Edit: June 10, 2022, 03:26:28 AM by Daen »