Raise The Stakes, Event File 04

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Event File 4
File Tag: Mission Assessment
Timestamp: 09:00-4-12-2156

                                                                   

         The long needle slid down into the petri dish as Aidan watched. 

“So what’s the holdup?” Janice asked, glancing up from her work as Damian’s careful fingers set the cell culture on its new nutrient base. “Thought we’d be raisin’ hell an’ takin’ names on the Standing System by now. It’s been a month.”

Aidan let his eyes run over the other cell cultures in the chamber they’d rigged, beside the gene-editing station they’d pulled together in the last couple months using the plans and the chemical recipes Kevin had stolen. It had been a tight squeeze to get everything to fit in the hydroelectric maintenance room without making it hard for Janice to work, but apparently the temperature and humidity in here were the best thing for seedlings. Now a lot of Janice’s spare parts were stored in cargo nets attached to the overhead pipes, and the back wall was given to the seedlings.

He let his eyes run over the wall behind them. He was looking at actual seedlings. The storage shelves had been retooled as a plant nursery, lights attached to the underside of each shelf shining on the tiny plants below. Thin plastic lines ran like dropped spaghetti between trays, where shoots of green rose out of the loose grey grit. They’d recycled old, shredded packing boxes for planting substrate until the plants were old enough to go into dirt. The really little ones on the middle shelf were still on blocks of stuff that looked like clear tofu.                                                                               

Janice looked up from her check of the lines that fed each plant a mix of nutrients and water, face expectant. “Am I gettin’ an answer?” 

Aidan blinked. “Hunh? Oh. Tweak’s hit a wall. Turns out Natbank doesn’t have copies of the backup building layouts; EagleCorp has them all. Tweak’s saying that hacking EagleCorp isn’t working over the Net.” He started to lean against a khaki-painted mechanical box, but he stopped himself when his eye caught the sign on the machine: Do Not Touch. Not Only Will This Kill You, It’ll Hurt The Whole Time You’re Dying. He stepped away from whatever that machine was and took a chair instead. “A hacker from one of the other bases is helping her on it, but if they can’t get it by Thursday I’m sending Kevin on Grid to get Plan B started. He has to make a couple contact meetings anyway, so it’s a good use of time. I set up a holo-meeting with the other base Commanders in half an hour to go over where we are right now.”

Glancing between the two, he couldn’t help but smile. “You know what’s weird? This setback, it’s kind of a big deal and it should be on my mind. But I keep thinking ‘man, we got this to work. We really got our own gene edits on seeds to work.’ If we pulled this off, maybe…I don’t know, maybe the other stuff isn’t so crazy.”

Janice and Damian shared a look that Aidan read as ‘isn’t he adorable’. 

“Don’t start singin’ Kumbaya jus’ yet,” the older woman drawled. “Even these seeds need some work. We cut out a lot of the shit genes AgCo put in an’ got ‘em sproutin’, but that second-generation sterility thing…” she sucked a breath between her teeth. “I can’t tell if we whacked it or not. If we didn’t, we only get one season out of these babies, an’ their seeds won’t grow.”

“We didn’t,” Damian stated, checking his work against the work-station’s computer. “Not on this batch, anyway. What we need are more seeds from more species.” He straightened, cracking his back, and shrugged. “But this is a start, and we can culture more plants from the leaf tissue once these start to grow. I’m still wondering what mistakes are coming later; I was trained to do this on animal cells.”

“Don’t borrow trouble,” Janice scolded, elbowing the tall doctor gently. “You’ll jinx this all to hell with that kinda talk.”

Damian cocked a brow, his ocular implant whirring quietly as it compensated. “I don’t believe in jinxes.”

His brick-wall act did nothing for Janice, who smirked and crossed her arms. “I don’ believe I asked your opinion. I was an AgCo kid way back when. I grew up around plants. I know a thing or two; you talk nice to them, they grow better. So don’t bring them down.”

Damian snorted. “Great, we’re back to superstition now.”
Janice tipped her head to the side. “And you’re takin’ up space where I work,” she replied. Her tone was an invitation to shut up and get out.

Damian eyed her, but he got out of the chair at the gene station. “I want you in for your check and blood panel, you missed last month. I will come in here to get my sample if I have to.”

Janice waved a hand. “For the last fuckin’ time, I’ll be in already! Go stick somebody else with a needle.”

“Monthly blood panels?” Aidan asked once Damian had stepped out. “That sounds pretty regular. You okay?”
Janice rolled her eyes. “Do I ask you ‘bout your health?”

Aidan shrugged. “You’re not Commander. You don’t need to.”
Janice heaved a sigh. “I got some chronic shit. Who doesn’t, livin’ out here. Damian keeps an eye on it. Nothin’ important, an’ it’s all under control. Ain’t you got a meeting?”

Aidan glanced at the clock hung between a wide-gauge wrench and some tool he couldn’t name on the wall. “Guess I do.” But he lowered his eyes to hers. “Chronic conditions can get important fast. Just stay on it, okay?”

Janice rolled her eyes. “Jesus Christ fucking a flamingo, do I gotta hit you upside the head with a wrench to get you outta here?”
Aidan held up his hands, smiling. “Okay, I’m going, I’m going.”

Heading down to his office, Aidan set out three holo-emitters in a semi-circle, put the last one in front of his desk and checked that their connection to his main computer was good. Then he pulled up his screen, and started the login process to get on the call. 

They were really taking security on this mission seriously. In addition to his usual layer of passwords, he had to pull out the little biometric reader in his console that he almost never used and spit into the tube. But eventually, the little black hemispheres on the floor buzzed to life, and the holograms of three seated people appeared around Aidan. 

Commander Hagge of the Riptides was a severe white woman a couple decades his senior, built like a crow and dressed in black. She sat—or perched maybe—bolt upright in her chair.

Commander Seattle of the Wiigit Wings was somebody Aidan would’ve put down for a farm hand or a hunter if he’d had to guess, not a Duster. An Alaskan native, the person had long black hair and a wide face the color of the expensive tea Kevin had brought home at Christmas. They were in a faded turtleneck and slacks, a beat-up duffel vest thrown over the top. They actually had it in their official record that they were intersex. It had to be pretty amazing to live in a place where they could be so open about themselves.

Commander Anderson of the Tearaways was somewhere in his sixties, small and grizzled and scary thin. He was dressed in something that was close to uniform, but his jacket was ragged at the hems and his boots went up almost to his knees. A huge sun hat sat on the arm of his chair.                                                                                                                                        

“Is everyone online?” Commander Hagge asked, her voice as crisp as her grey shirt.

“Here,” Aidan put in.                                                                                                                          

“Got you,” Commander Anderson agreed, the words running together into something like ‘godyew’

“You’re coming through,” Commander Seattle added, their accent curling their words into tight, defined pieces of sound with a little lilt.

Anderson turned in his chair, the image flickering as it followed his movement. His transmitter must be cheap. He looked Aidan up and down.

“So you’re in for ol’ Taylor now.” He studied Aidan for a moment, looking like he was chewing on his tongue. “Little young for a spot calling the shots, aren’t you?” All his words were soft around the edges, fuzzing into one long sentence in Aidan’s ears.

Aidan could feel his heart rate picking up speed. He shrugged. “I go where Sector Command sends me. They sent me here. So yeah, I’m here.”

The older man eyed him for another moment. Then he shrugged, and his face split in a watermelon grin. “Yeah, I guess you are, after we seen that folder go out on the Social. That was somethin’.”

Aidan’s gut muscles relaxed.  He gave the man a quick smile. “Yeah, I guess it was. We’re hoping we can get the same kind of thing done on this, but we’ve hit our first big snag. Our coder got into the Natbank systems, and they don’t keep copies of the backup center’s locations and floor plans. EagleCorp does. And they’re turning out to be harder to hack.”
Commander Hagge barked a laugh. “Understatement of the year right there.” She dropped her R’s when she talked, Aidan noticed. ‘Year’ came out sounding like ‘yeah’. For a moment, he wondered what he must sound like to them.

He really needed to get himself calmed down and focused. 

He cleared his throat. “So we’ve all got copies of the general mission timeline. This is our situation right now: I’m sending my logistics and requisition officer on Grid next week to trade around with contacts for plans of some of the maintenance tunnels around our EagleCorp office complex in town. We’ll use those and get a hard link into the fiber-optics, that should make things easier. Our hacker will go down in person and see what she can do about getting the locations and building plans. We’ve got a six-hour window based on their maintenance schedule, according to her that’s plenty of time. If she lands the schematics, I’ll schedule another meeting. I’ll send a message if we’re out of luck. In the meantime we’re collating travel patterns and Net chatter, trying to pinpoint enough information to find the centers that way.” He glanced between the three seasoned Commanders. “Speaking of that, heads up. I don’t know if National’s put it out yet, but we’re seeing a lot more drones being produced in our region’s factory. We’ve got one of EagleCorp’s biggest plants, so we’re keeping an eye on it. And it’s looking bad. Watch out for higher numbers of drones in your area; all that production has to be going somewhere.”

Commander Seattle gave a tight, grim little smile. “We don’t worry about drones up here. They don’t last long.”
Aidan glanced at the person, surprised. “You guys have windstorms like we do?”
“Nope.” Their grin widened, and they crossed their arms. “We have eagles. The fish eagles and the bald eagles take them down.”

Commander Anderson burst out laughing. Commander Hagge smiled grimly. “Eagles taking down Eagle. Nice trick. Send me pointers on how you trained them, will you? We got some eagles around Boston.”

The Alaskan nodded an acknowledgment.   

Hagge straightened. “I got my own load of bad news to drop. We’ve been getting word about a lot of new contract bounty-hunting crews being brought in. Eagle is farming out their dirty work. And they’re using a lot more nanoid mimics. We just got faked out by an old contact. Thing was the spitting image of him too. I hate these things; fucking creeps me out, you know? My logistics girl got wise, hit the EMP in her pocket. Guy fell apart; just a bunch of nanoids on a scaffold frame. Wasn’t fun. So watch yourselves. Check your people when they come home.”

Aidan’s heart skipped a beat. He swallowed. “We’ll do that.”

Commander Anderson nodded gravely. “Thanks for the tip.”

Commander Seattle frowned, nodding slowly.

“That’s all I’ve got for now,” Aidan stated in the silence. “So, meeting in three weeks?”

Anderson tipped his fluffy white head. “It’s a date.”

Hagge nodded sharply. “I’ll put it in the calendar. Hope you have some results for us then, Headly.” With a quick salute, she signed off. Her image fizzled away.

Seattle shot Aidan a sidelong look. Then they smiled. “Don’t mind Ingrid. She’s always like that. Luck.” With a quick salute, they signed off. So did Anderson, with a last tip of his head.

Aidan let out a long, slow breath.

Some results. Hope you have some results.

I hope we have some results, too.

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