Yep, another two-parter. Expect the second half tomorrow, same time, same channel. Tuesday will bring with it something entirely new. Enjoy!
I follow Bryant out of his office, off the grounds of the academy, into a nearby parking lot. I’m getting kidnapped, I think. I could very well be getting kidnapped right now, and here I am, just walking right into it. What’s wrong with me?
I’m smarter than this, I think. I’m smarter than this, and I’m just going to turn around and walk away and that will be the end of it. I don’t need the promise of money or excitement or anything like that. I need to go home and not have my organs harvested and sold in the alleys of Undercity instead. I don’t need this. I don’t need this. But I put one foot in front of the other, and my hands ball into fists, and I follow Bryant.I tell myself that I’m safe, that Bryant’s a good man, that even if he wasn’t it wouldn’t be smart to try anything when the Magister knows I’m with him and Dad knows him and he’d be the most likely suspect if I disappeared. Of course, he could disappear too, and then what would it matter if no one were able to find him?
“There,” Bryant says, pointing ahead. On the other side of the lot, Alan is sitting in the driver’s seat of a little grey car, the kind of small three-seater that’s everywhere in Undercity. Partially because it’s a practical design for a crowded city, and partially because most folks can’t afford anything bigger or nicer. He notices us approaching, but he doesn’t get out of the car or anything. He leans over to open the door.
“Doctor,” he says to Bryant. He looks at me from behind his dark glasses and offers a quick nod of his head. “Persephone. Good to see you again.” His voice is completely flat, without a trace of warmth, but I can feel a slight blush coming to my cheeks anyway. I haven’t seen or spoken to Alan since the dinner, and that seems so long ago.
“Thank you,” I say. “You too, Alan.”
“No names,” Bryant suddenly announces. “If you keep doing small jobs like this with us, you’re going to have to get used to not using our real names on them. From now on, refer to me as ‘Doctor.’” He points at Alan. “Call him ‘Alpha.’” And then he scratches at his chin, looks me up and down. “We’ll call you ‘Maiden.’ Does that work for you?”
“I guess so,” I say. “Yeah, that’s fine.” I want to ask why we need all the secrecy, but I need to be calm and collected, not confused and helpless. This is something illegal, I think, but I push the thought from my head. “So where are we going? And why is Al… why is Alpha here?”
“We’re going to an office building on the other side of the city. Alpha’s here to be our assurance against things going wrong. And he’ll be driving the car.”
I don’t know what means, assurance against things going wrong, but I let it slide. “Why not just let the car drive itself?”
“It doesn’t keep a record of where you’ve gone if you drive it,” Alan says. It startles me to hear him speak. He’s been so quiet the entire time, he seems less like Bryant’s grandson and more like an assistant of some kind. “Although I guess with you working with us, that’s less of an issue. What with you being able to hack into the car and remove any record of the trip from its memory, I mean.”
I don’t say anything. I didn’t know I could do that. It makes sense, now that I think about it, but it might never have occurred to me on my own.
This is definitely illegal, I think. And they’ve done this before.
We wind through the streets of Undercity, Alan’s attention focused on the road and Bryant looking through some papers. I peek over his shoulder, and see that they’re floor plans and what look like work schedules.
“My associate wants a file from a terminal inside the building. That’s where you come in.”
“What kind of file?” Bryant looks into the rear view mirror into my eyes, a look of cold suspicion on his face. My pulse rises and I take a quick breath. “I need to know what I’m looking for.”
“He said it was just a list of names. I don’t know what the file name is, but one of the names on it is supposed to be August Panopta. Is that enough for you to find it?”
“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, no problem.”
Bryant smiles. “Simple, right? I knew you could do this.”
We ride on in silence when something occurs to me. “Do we have a remote terminal?”
“How am I going to access their Network?”
“You’re going to use one of their terminals.”
I should feel panic. Instead, I just feel confused. “What about their umbra?”
Bryant smiles. “We’ll take care of their Interfaced. And look at it this way. At least you won’t have to overcome their security if you’re directly accessing their network through a terminal in the building.”
I frown. It won’t do me any good if the Network only accepts connections from registered Interfaces, but I don’t say anything. This was a mistake, but it’s too late now.
We come to a stop in front of a squat three-story building with a dirty concrete facade. The buildings around us are all similar, and none of them speak of offices, not even by Undercity’s standards. Some of the nicer buildings in Undercity predate Year Zero, and they’re all glass and steel like the buildings in Sky City. It’s easy to imagine that those buildings were constructed to be awe-inspiring testaments to the power and wealth commanded by the men and women who worked in them.
These buildings look like they were meant to be cheaply constructed housing for the poor.
The three of us step out of the car and Alan sets it to circling the block. Bryant looks up at the building and frowns. “Office?” I ask.
He looks at me, still frowning, then back at the ugly grey building before us. “In a manner of speaking.”
I look around. There are a few people walking around the streets, coming or going to who only knows where. Eyes watch us from the windows, and people stare from doorways and from steps leading up to doorways. “Should we be wearing masks or something?” I ask.
Bryant shakes his head. “This is as much about sending a message as it is about the mission. We want people to know that hree strangers came here today. And besides, no one behind us can get a good view of our faces.”
“Cameras,” Alan says. That’s all he says, but it means so much more.
“Our little Interface-augmented will take care of them.” Bryant turns to me. “Make sure you access the security footage while you’re in their Network and remove any identifying information of us you find. We don’t want our faces getting cataloged.”
I nod, not that Bryant notices. He’s already turned back to face the building. He takes a deep breath. His hands clench into fists, unclench, and again. “Alpha. Maiden. Look like bored, uninterested children.”
He walks forward, opens the door. The building is poorly lit, and the light inside is faint and unnatural. Bryant steps into the building. Alan follows. I linger for a moment, watching the two men disappear, and then I too step forward and into the darkness.