Raise The Stakes, Event File 01

Available On

 

Reader Advisement

This book contains romantic and sexual scenes between people whose genders may not fit your expectations. If this offends you, consider yourself warned.

Scenes of death and characters being outed under adverse conditions are included.

Buckle up for the ride.

 

Event File 1

File Tag: Need-to-know Basis

Timestamp: 09:00-2-21-2156

“Okay Aidan, I’m going to ask you to start counting down from a hundred out loud.”
Aidan focused on the surgeon’s eyes, crinkled in a smile above her mask. The cool weight of the micro-injector pressed against the skin of his throat. 

“A hundred…”
Holy crap, this is actually happening…still can’t believe it…

“Ninety-nine…”

Almost two months late, but still…holy crap…

“Ninety-eight…”
Please. Please let this work out…

“Ninety-seven…”

Aidan could barely feel his lips moving. He seemed to be drifting away from his body, only just aware of it. 

God I hope there’s no drone passes while they’re working…

“Ninety-six…”

The world around him lost reality, growing distant. Aidan closed his eyes.

Man I hope…

this…

works…

 

  Aidan woke slowly, letting the world fade into focus around him. Sound came first. People talking far off. Med-bay machinery, giving cheery blips and quiet whirs. Rustling cloth.

It took work to peel his eyes open and blink at the ceiling. What he could see was, mostly, white. Based on the size of the corner where the ceiling met the wall, it was a small room. He let his eyes drift closed and swallowed, trying to wet his dry mouth.
“Hey.” Long, slim fingers slipped between his, squeezing gently. Aidan’s heart expanded.
“Hey Kev.” The words sounded odd in his ears, fuzzy around the edges.

“The medic said you’d be thirsty. Could you use some water?” His boyfriend asked quietly.                                                                                                 

It took Aidan a few seconds to process the question. He nodded against the pillow and opened his eyes, trying for a smile. Kevin gave one of his heartbreak-sweet little smiles in reply. In the light coming down from the overhead lamps, he looked like a statue made from copper and marble. Those outdated glasses he liked so much sat on his nose like graffiti on a painting.
Kevin lifted a covered mug with a straw sticking out of it, hitting the button that sat the bed up just a little.  

“Here. Just sip it, don’t get enthusiastic,” he murmured, pressing the straw against Aidan’s lips.  Aidan took a sip of the lukewarm water. It tasted odd, but he didn’t know if that was courtesy of different water-recycling techniques used up here at the big Regional base, or the last of the painkillers. 

Funny what your brain decided to focus on when it was free-wheeling.

Eyes half-closed, he took in the room. Small, white, sparse. A cabinet and workstation setup extruded from the far wall. A private room. That was weird. It was warm—nice change, their base was cold right now—and quiet. The beeping of the bed’s sensory panel was comforting.

He shifted. He was dressed in something soft, loose and cozy. Robe, he decided eventually.

A holo panel gently sizzled into being, displaying his condition and full body scan in pastel colors. The sites where the slick white auto-pads were at work over the operational incisions across his chest and between his legs were outlined in soft blue.

“Good morning,” the speaker above the bed intoned softly. “Your procedures of simultaneous mammoplasty with reduction, full hysterectomy and colpocleisis were performed successfully.” Aidan’s ears caught the pause as the automated voice stumbled, taking time to pull up his surgery record from Regional Medical’s information bank. But you couldn’t expect too much from the third-hand surplus tech that their Force could get its hands on. It was better than nothing.

“Your projected recovery is optimal,” the program interface continued, “your current care: post-operative rest. Nerve block treatment. Delivery method: short duration nanoid conglomerate. Tissue and nerve regeneration treatment. Delivery method: Automatic Tissue Reconstruction Pads. Pertinent issue detected: slightly elevated cortisol level. Pertinent issue detected: minor dehydration. Call aid?”
“No, thank you.” Kevin stated, loudly and clearly. The screen image displayed the Force star symbol as it softly dissolved.                                                                                                       

“Your Automatic Tissue Reconstruction Pads are currently doing their work,” the automated voice whispered. “Your body is processing general anesthesia. Drowsiness is normal at this time. Please relax and allow healing to proceed.” 

Kevin smiled and pulled his chair a little closer to the bed, brushing Aidan’s hair back from his eyes. His hand cupped Aidan’s cheek. “Looks like everything’s squared away,” the redhead remarked. “How do you feel? Or is that a stupid question?”                                

Aidan pressed his cheek into Kevin’s hand and closed his eyes, enjoying the moment of comfort. “Feel like’m floating…”
“You look like you’re high as a kite,” Kevin replied gently, his smile soft. “Does anything hurt at all? I can get the surgeon…”                                                                                                                               

Aidan shook his head against the pillow. “Nah. Can’t…feel much. Sorta numb.”
He tried to prop himself up and take another sip of water on his own. Well, that and get a look at himself. The readout said he was in good shape, but he wanted to see.                                                           

Kevin’s hands pressed gently against his shoulders.
“Ah, you might not want to try that. The internal tissue scaffolds and the ligatures need to be kept still if they’re going to integrate with your tissues, and you shouldn’t stress surgical auto-pads until they’ve laid down a few layers of tissue.”                                                                            

Aidan smiled weakly. “Guess you’d know. Help me out here?”
Kevin held the straw until he’d drunk his fill. Aidan watched as his boyfriend glanced behind him to make sure the door was closed, his body moving with a grace that was half logistics training and half crazy-good genetic tailoring. Satisfied that they were alone, the pale redhead leaned over. Kevin’s lips brushed his. 

  “The surgeon said you might need a little more sleep; your body’s cleaning out quite the chemical cocktail.” 

Aidan thought about protesting, but the words jumbled in his mind. So he smiled and mumbled an agreement, fumbling for Kevin’s hand as he slid back into sleep. 

 

The next time Aidan came around Kevin was reading, grey eyes intent. They softened when he glanced up. Aidan gave him a smile. “How long was I out?” 

“Around six hours,” the logistics officer replied with an easy smile, curled comfortably in his seat and his heavy grey sweater. “I’ve been getting my consultation hours in with their Logistics division and helping them out while we’re here, otherwise I’ll catch hell from Commander Magnum for coming along with you.”
“Good plan,” Aidan agreed.  He started to stretch, but holos fizzled into life with the words ‘please remain still, Surgeon en route,’ blinking on either side. He sighed. “Information understood. Switch off.”
The holos dissolved. Kevin smirked, his thin face sardonic. “They get to be quite a nuisance, don’t they?”
“Yeah,” Aidan agreed, trying to shift a little without setting off the holos. He turned his head as the door opened. 

Slim, dark Surgeon Lawston stepped inside, smiling down at Aidan when she reached his bedside. Her white coat gleamed in the room lights.
“How’re you doing this evening?” 

Aidan shrugged. “I feel pretty good. How long until I can get up?”
The surgeon chuckled. “Want to get moving already, hunh? It’ll be tomorrow morning before the surgical auto-pads are finished reconstructing the muscular tissues, but I’d say by lunch you should be able to move around.”
She tapped the wall above his head, and four holographic screens faded into being around them.

  “This is looking great.” Lawston remarked cheerfully as she read through the body scans and the scrolling information, “Your body’s cleared out the general anesthetics and the nerve blockers are doing their thing. In fact I’d say you’re ready to start your PT regimen tomorrow. I’d like you to stay on restricted movement and nerve blockers in the general recovery ward for the next four days, but Friday should be your last epithelial auto-pad treatment; after that it’s just keeping up on your PT and not stressing the internal ligatures that you need to think about. The nerve-block nanoids will run out of power by next Monday, but by then the new skin will be fully innervated and they won’t be necessary. How does that sound?” 

Aidan nodded, thinking. Tomorrow, he could see what he looked like without breasts. Raising his head, he gave the surgeon a smile. “Um. Thank you again. For fitting me into the Regional schedule. I’m still floored your surgical team had time for me. Thanks for…well, everything.”

The surgeon smiled down at him, nodding an acknowledgment. “I don’t do the actual scheduling, but I’m glad we could get you fixed up. I’d like you to wear some final epithelial auto-pads to bed Friday night and throughout Saturday, just to protect the new skin. But they’ll be consumer grade; any untrained personnel can apply them. Give the muscles of your pectorals two weeks, then hit the gym and you’ll look great. The more detailed care instructions are in the notes I’ve sent to your tab.”
When she’d gone, Aidan turned to Kevin. To make his boyfriend smile, he rolled his eyes. “Four days in bed. I don’t think I’ve held still that long in years.”
Kevin leaned casually against the wall, chuckling. “You should read some of the medical history docs I have, love. Back in the 2060s Victor Cavanaugh was still developing the first auto-pads, and this procedure would have seen you in bed for six weeks at least. And they used to drown the patient’s entire nervous system in opiods to suppress pain.” He gave one of his showy shudders. “Consider yourself lucky on this count, at least. Those drugs were terrifying.”                                                   

Aidan chuckled, his fingers absently tracing the line of a slick plastic auto-pad under the warm robe he was dressed in. “Well, hey: at least Cavanaugh left behind something that didn’t totally suck.”
Kevin glanced away, the muscles of his shoulders tensing. When he spoke, each word was bright and brittle as a diamond.“Yes. Too bad he didn’t leave behind more technologies and fewer ideologies.” 

Kevin’s eyes fixed somewhere on the middle distance. “Though I will say, the justice of using that rigid bigot’s inventions to do things that would make him turn in his grave is something I find quite satisfying. Rather poetic, really.” 

Aidan shifted uncomfortably in his bed. Kevin looked distant now, hard-eyed and ramrod straight in his chair. Untouchable. He always got like that when he talked about Victor Cavanaugh, or anything else from the Corporation whose power had shaped the way he looked and spoke. His head tipped back, his vocabulary went up, and his body went rigid. It was never fun to watch. Kevin had a good reason for that anger, Aidan knew. The Cavanaugh Corporation designed the genome of Kevin and his father before him the way it would print executive tools. When Kevin’s father tried to buck the way the Corporation ran, the Board of Directors had discarded the whole family like a defective product. And then there were all the other people Cavanaugh discarded; anyone who didn’t meet their eugenic standards for humanity was ‘aberrant’ in their eyes. And they disposed of aberrations. 

Aidan knew Kevin had every reason to hate anything to do with Victor Cavanaugh and the Corporation he’d founded way back when. But it was always a little uncomfortable to watch his boyfriend go cold on him.

Aidan cleared his throat and tried for a joke. “Okay Professor.” 

Kevin glanced down, and the cold gene-tailored Corporate scion was gone, leaving his sheepish boyfriend. The lean man lifted Aidan’s hand, brushing his lips over Aidan’s knuckles. “Looking forward to seeing you out of your shirt when the auto-pads have done their duty.”

Aidan nodded a little, smiling. “You and me both.”
“Oh, and by the way,” Kevin added with a winning smile. “I landed us our ride home. An empty supply transport being sent out. All the room in the world.”
“Thank god.” Aidan said in genuine relief, “Coming up into the San Juans in a packed truck was bad enough.”
Kevin snorted, adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his thin nose. “You think you had it bad, love? Try being as tall as I am in a well-packed truck. I’m still working some of the kinks out of my—”                                                                      

Both men looked up at the knock on the door, watching the panel slide open. When Kevin caught sight of the woman standing on the lintel, he shot to his feet and saluted like a page out of a manual. Aidan’s heart skipped a beat.

 CO-WY Regional Commander Hall nodded. “At ease, McIllian. I hear Headly’s awake and thinking straight?”
“Yes ma’am,” Aidan croaked. He tried for a salute, not sure if it looked right from a half-lying-down position.                                                                                

Regional Commander Hall nodded, lips curved in a grim smile.
“McIllian, go get chow. Take an hour.”
Aidan watched Kevin glance between the door and him. 

“Er, Commander—”                                                            

Commander Hall turned her head like a bird of prey. “Dismissed, Officer. Close the door behind you.”

Kevin jerked his head in a nod. “Yes, ma’am.”

The slide and click of the door was loud in the quiet room. Commander Hall eyed it for a moment.                                                                 

“Let’s get small stuff out of the way first, Headly. Commander Magnum tells me you and your logistics officer are an item?”
“Yes Commander,” Aidan agreed, too numb to be worried yet.
The older woman turned her eyes on him, measuring. “Magnum also tells me it’s a net benefit to your unit. And that you’ve been impartial in disciplinary acts when necessary. As long as it stays that way.”

The regional commander stepped to his bedside, studying him.

“How awake are you, son?”

Aidan considered the question.  The anesthetic drugs had worn off; he could feel his body again. The nerve blocking nanoids stopped the nerve signals at their sources around his incisions, hiding the pain like a razor blade in cotton wool. His mind was mostly clear; that was the important thing.                                                                                                                                    

He cleared his throat. “Eighty-five percent, ma’am. I think.”                                                                                                               

Commander Hall nodded, pulling the bedside chair over and taking a seat. The situation was a little surreal. The CO-WY Regional Commander was sitting there, her uniform perfect from her boots to her winter-issue khaki jacket, staring at him with her rank badge gleaming on her lapel. And he was wrapped in a nice red recovery robe.

“Lawston said you’d be alert around now,” Commander Hall stated. “You’ll be moved into the general recovery ward by the end of the day. So we’re going to talk now.” 

Of all things, she pulled a soundbox from her pocket, turning on the little white-noise emitter and pitching it gently. It rolled to thump quietly against the room’s door. 

Aidan blinked. “Commander?”                                                       

The regional commander resumed her seat as if nothing had happened, her whipcord frame relaxed. “Your orders sent you up here to get your surgeries for a reason, soldier.”
Aidan repressed his reaction to that. He should have known not to trust his luck. “I understand, ma’am.”
He felt his bland good-soldier persona slide into place as his commander’s superior spoke.
“Tell me about the changes you’ve seen since The Folder was released. General impressions; you don’t need to be comprehensive. Just talk.”

Aidan blinked. “Um…the Corps are getting called on their bullshit I guess. There are marches, protests. EagleCorp’s going apeshit. They’re trying to step up security everywhere, but they’re having to work at it. Their factories are turning out a ton of new drones. 

“AgCo’s in the biggest trouble. Their people are the ones really taking to the streets, but all the Corps are being called on their shit one way or another.” He trailed off, working to focus.
A stray thought made him smile, just a bit. “Chatter says there’s a huge bounty out on the team who pulled it off. Our techie said it wasn’t big enough.”

Commander Hall nodded. “Your people did a lot with that Folder delivery. I’m going to be blunt with you, Headly.”
“Ma’am?” Aidan wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.
Commander Hall looked him dead in the eye. “I was one of the people advocating to see 1407 disbanded after we lost Taylor. And I told Magnum he was delusional when he told me your team was ready to deliver the Folder. But you proved me wrong, son. And you impressed me. We’ve made more tangible wins in the past two months than we did in the prior two years. We’ve finally shaken the bastards’ cages.  And they are rattled.”

The sinewy, seasoned general leaned forward. A heartbeat passed as she studied him, silent. Two heartbeats. Three. “Think your unit can impress me again?”                                                                                                                                                  

Aidan didn’t dare break the stare-down. “How do we do that, ma’am?”

“The Corps are reeling,” the older woman stated, “So we hit them again. Hard.”

She nodded in the direction of the door. “Let me be clear. What I want to put you on is a national, clandestine operation, designed to be conducted by four bases across the country. You and three other base commanders will execute it. There’s going to be nothing written down locally on this mission. I’m not bringing you in for a formal mission debriefing either. What we’re talking about is too dangerous to put through local channels, in case it leaks. But this mission is a big one.”                                                                                                                 

Standing, she paced a few steps to the left, then to the right. Aidan watched her, feeling his mouth going dry again.

He wet his lips. “Ma’am…you said too dangerous.”

“Leaks, Headly. It’s happened before. And it can’t happen now.” The Regional Commander’s salt-and-pepper hair swung as she turned to face him again, unconsciously standing at parade rest.  “What’s the foundation of the Corporate power structure, Headly?”

Aidan blinked. Okay, maybe he wasn’t awake as he thought. His brain felt like a bare room. He snagged a dust mote of an answer. 

“Power consolidation, ma’am. They’ve got all of the resources. And the cash.”

“And?”                                                 

Tension started to build in his gut. Aidan drew a long breath, let it out, and shrugged. He didn’t have the brain power for this game.

“Ma’am, it’s a pretty long list. They’ve got a lot of things on their side.”

The older woman tipped her head. “As in, with respect spit it out ma’am?” she asked, eyeing him.

Aidan did the smart thing, which was keeping his mouth shut. He watched her, his attentive good-soldier expression in place.

For a moment, that flicker of a smile tugged Hall’s lips, pulling at the starburst scar in her cheek.                                                                                                                 

“Now I see why Magnum likes you. Alright. I’ll say it straight. The Corporations don’t need to spend too many resources keeping people down. They get people to do it for them. That’s what the Citizen Standing Score is for.  So that’s the next institution we’re taking aim at.”

In Aidan’s chest, his heart stuttered.

“Um…ma’am?”                                                             

“You heard me, Headly.” The regional commander paced easily, an apex predator on the prowl. “For the past eleven years, the National Command has run a concerted campaign to give National Banking and EagleCorp nightmares. We run exploit and intrusion hacks on elements of the Citizen Standing Score aggregation system in at least eighteen randomized states a week. All bases with a decent Technical Officer have taken a turn, but no single base has done more than a few missions in this campaign. We’ve been deleting information and adding errors to files. Eroding public trust in the verity of their Scores. Inserting viruses that inject garbage code. It’s been a slow process intended to herd National Banking towards more and more centralization of their records. Currently, they have four sets of backups around the country and one master copy in a meshnet setup. What we have is a window of opportunity. The current unrest won’t last more than a year, unless we feed it.” She placed both hands on the back of her chair, fingers tapping as she stared at Aidan.  

“We want your unit to head the organization and implementing of the final attack strategy. Three other crack bases around the country will be following your lead. We want an infiltration and destruction method agreed on for a Natbank backup center. We want it tested and verified. And then we want a coordinated four-part attack implemented.”
Aidan swallowed hard. When he spoke, his lips felt like wood. “And you want the Wildcards to head it.” 

Commander Hall nodded. “Seeing that your unit was given a suicide mission with practically no prep time this winter, and you pulled it off? I want the Wildcards to head it.”

Fear built behind Aidan’s eyes, tingling in his fingertips.

He drew a long, slow breath, counting to keep himself calm as he inhaled.

One

Holy shit.

Two

Can we do this?

Three

If we can do this, we can change everything. Literally. Everything…

Four

We did the Folder. We took down drones.

Five

Maybe we can do this.

Six

Hey. Worst that happens is we die.

Seven

“Headly?”

Aidan swallowed hard. “Do we have a mission start date, ma’am?”

Aidan hadn’t realized the woman was tense, until she relaxed. “Second week of March. You’ll be fit for duty by then?”
“Doc said so,” Aidan agreed quietly. 

The regional commander nodded. “Then I expect work to begin then.” Pulling a data stick from her pocket, she laid it on the bed beside his hand. “This has a secured VPN program, coded to accept your biometric data as your login credentials. Add passwords to it. You and the bases you’re coordinating with will use this VPN to collaborate and report your progress to me. There are also informational files to get you up to speed on the teams you’ll work with. Discuss the mission at will with your unit, but it is classified. Don’t discuss it in publicly accessible areas. I don’t want to hear gossip anywhere. And don’t discuss it with McIllian until you’re off this base. Are we clear?”

Aidan nodded. “Understood, Commander.” 

Commander Hall nodded, acknowledgment in the gesture. Then she turned, picked up her sound-box, and strode from the room.                                                                               

Aidan let his head drop back onto the pillow. He stared at the ceiling.

“Shit…here we go again…”

Want To Read More? Head To