Dead Man’s Bounty (Part Two) by T. Eric Bakutis
Read part one HERE.
Josef’s Avispon settled on a concrete helipad. An armored wall blazing with dozens of lights looked out over bare earth descending in all directions, but Arcasia had eyes only for the blocky concrete building just ahead, the only building on this entire pad.
BAS Tokyo was a massive complex that grew down, not up, like an inverted skyscraper. Sub-basement three sat twenty stories below. That was where she’d betray her father.
Josef popped the doors and got out. “The server you want isn’t networked, so you’ll access your data from the guest office on Sub Two. I’ll clear you for the terminal. However, I’m coordinating a security detail tonight, so I can’t accompany you.”
Arcasia exited the Avispon and stretched. “Thanks, Dad. I’ll be gone before you’re finished.” Her skin was still tingling, even after the long flight, which annoyed the hell out of her. Just what kind of drug had Galloway doped her with?
Josef led her to a security door in the elevator building, eyes distant. He must be updating his people wirelessly, through his PBA. Cameras and anti-personnel turrets tracked their approach, and Galloway’s plan made more sense by the moment. She hated that this was working. Was she really going to betray her father for that asshole?
No. She’d betray Josef to avenge a dozen murdered children, but more important, she’d betray him for those who survived. Children who lived, but truly wished they hadn’t. Once she found Samuel Kite and killed him, nothing like that would ever happen again.
Arcasia breathed easier once they were descending in a steel square big enough to hold four soldiers in exo-armor. Her father’s eyes remained distant, focused on his headdesk or his current job or his many agents. An understandable escape from awkward silence.
More bitter memories slipped through her muddled mental barriers as the elevator descended. The cries of the girl she pummeled to death in the pit. Rex laughing as she shouted, cursing his heroics as he bled out in her arms. The smell of blood and oil.
No more distractions. Not tonight. Arcasia focused on her hatred for Stephen Galloway, and Samuel Kite, and everyone who’d worked for Staffing Solutions. She focused on killing them. The elevator stopped. The door opened onto a hallway with someone in it.
The shocked eyes of a wiry blond woman in a blue BAS uniform stared at Arcasia as Arcasia stared back, struggling to decide if this was a memory or not. No. This woman was real. This woman was here. And given Galloway had apparently resurrected himself, the appearance of the woman who helped Arcasia execute him was just a bit unnerving.
“You are kidding me,” Jaime Bennett said.
As the two of them turned on Josef, glaring as one, Arcasia spoke first. “Really, Dad?”
Josef looked genuinely perplexed, with two raised eyebrows and everything. “Agent Bennett was available.”
“Agent Bennett is annoyed,” Bennett said, stepping back to allow them to exit the lift. “I get that you’re busy, chief, but you could have told me our VIP was your daughter.”
Josef frowned. “I understood your break-up to be amicable. Will this be an issue?”
Arcasia spared a glance for Bennett, who didn’t spare one back. Bennett was focused on the boss who had just ambushed her with an awkward situation and, apparently, needed to work on his people skills. Bennett was married now, wasn’t she? She had a five-year-old daughter, Sarah, born one year after she and Arcasia split.
Josef crossed his arms. “Shall I contact Agent Sanger?”
Bennett’s features hardened at that. If there was one thing Jaime Bennett couldn’t abide, Arcasia remembered, it was dereliction of duty. Josef had her handled.
“I’d just appreciate a heads-up next time, chief,” Bennett said. “That’s all.”
“Noted.” Josef nodded to Arcasia. “Agent Bennett will escort you to Sub Two.”
“Right,” Arcasia said, as her headache from the roof crept up behind her eyes. “Can’t have me running around a secure facility without an escort.” Her skin was still tingling as well, especially her sides and back, and she resisted the urge to rub vigorously.
Josef walked away at a pace that seemed slightly faster than necessary, but whatever. Arcasia gave Bennett a professional once-over, noting the taut muscles of her arms and the way she stood, relaxed but ready to punch someone. This wouldn’t be easy, or fun.
“We’re taking the stairs,” Bennett said, probably trying to talk herself into it. “Elevators don’t go to the sub-basements.”
“Stairs are fine.” Stairs were perfect, actually, but she wouldn’t say that.
She followed Bennett down a tunnel with metal arches and buzzing overhead lights. Her skin tingled sporadically now, each time they passed under a light, and if she ever learned what drug Galloway had used on her, she was going to make sure he OD’d on it.
Bennett had her hip holster still snapped, but Arcasia wasn’t willing to shoot her anyway, which left the electrified stunstick dangling off Bennett’s right hip. It was obvious enough that Bennett would expect her to go for it, which meant she wouldn’t.
Bennett pressed her palm to the stairwell door. She was cyberized, like Arcasia, and embedded palm readers came standard. The door opened and Bennett stepped through.
Arcasia winced, but only on the inside. It made far more sense for Bennett to make Arcasia go first, to keep an eye on her, but this almost certainly wasn’t a mistake. It was a courtesy because Bennett though Josef might be watching, and treating the boss’s daughter like an enemy agent might look bad on Bennett’s performance review.
Guilt poked her as they started down a sheltered stairwell, now entirely alone. She’d dealt with guilt before. She dealt with it all the time, actually, so Arcasia made her play.
“Is Ethan still working in cybernetics?” That was Bennett’s husband, or should be, assuming they hadn’t divorced. “Also, Sarah’s five now, right? She in kindergarten?”
Bennett hurried down the next set of stairs. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Arc, but that’s none of your goddamn business.”
“It was just a question,” Arcasia said, almost defensively. Despite their rough ending and years apart, a rebuttal that heartfelt stung. “I’m happy you two found each other.”
“And I’ll be happy when you’re on your wa—”
Arcasia landed on her from six stairs up, taking Bennett to her knees with weight, momentum, and a forearm knifed beneath Bennett’s chin. For the duration of their grunting struggle, they’d be in a camera dead zone. Assuming Bennett didn’t toss her.
Bennett thrashed and backed into walls, tearing at Arcasia’s forearm with her nails, but she didn’t struggle long. Even a cyberized body couldn’t struggle when it couldn’t breathe. Arcasia settled Bennett’s unconscious body on the floor beside the door to Sub Two and breathed, hard. Even her cyberized muscles hurt after fighting their own kind.
No alarms sounded, but that didn’t necessarily mean Arcasia was in the clear. Josef favored the silent variety over emergency klaxons. No point in warning an intruder you were onto them before you had a dozen guns pointed at their head.
Arcasia rifled through Bennett’s pockets until she found a linkline, a thin wire used to connect one PBA to another. BAS soldiers used them to synchronize before ops. She plugged one end into the auxiliary port below her right ear and brushed back hair from Bennett’s neck, slowing as pleasant memories of cheap wine and entangled limbs flooded her mind. Whatever Galloway had pumped into her head, it was potent stuff.
She plugged the other end of the linkline into the port beneath Bennett’s ear. Their PBAs interfaced, and Arcasia ground her teeth as static and screeching accompanied a battle of ICE spikes and firewalls. Hers won. Most of the really rough stuff wasn’t legal for corporations doing business in the civilized world, and Arcasia wasn’t remotely legal.
Bennett’s PBA was networked to BAS command, like all Josef’s trusted agents. Arcasia sent VI sniffers through Bennett’s connections into her parent network. She didn’t order anything with a high chance of failure, just a few camera loops and a passive check for intruder alerts. After she disconnected, her already impressive headache bloomed.
Disabling Bennett and, through her, Barondale Security’s systems, had gone as smoothly as if it were rehearsed. Things going smoothly always made Arcasia nervous, but she reminded herself what she was doing tonight. She was betraying everyone’s trust.
She left Bennett locked down and hurried down the stairs to Sub Three, confident her new camera loops would hide her from remote observers. Her palm reader opened the stairwell door — she had Bennett’s access codes now — and those codes opened the door to a server room at the end of a short hall. Which was occupied, dammit.
A skinny man with pale skin and scratchy peach fuzz turned as she entered, eyes wide and a bit bloodshot. “Hey, what now?” He wore a greasy gray jumpsuit and dark brown loafers scuffed from constant wear, which made him a tech who was probably on break.
Arcasia only missed one beat. “Finally!” She stalked over. “Where’s the chief?
The tech blinked. “Why do you want to know about the chief?” He stepped back, bumping the console he’d been working on. “Hey, who are you? Listen, you can’t—”
She snatched and spun him with cyberized strength he couldn’t match, choking him out just like Bennett. Once he dropped, Arcasia scanned the room. It was chill as winter and filled with a distinctive server hum. This wasn’t an active site, just archives, with none of its servers connected to the outside or wireless. More secure that way. Her skin tingled like ants were crawling over it, but she ignored the discomfort and searched the rows.
She found the Toshiba Galloway had mentioned on the third rack, on the northwest corner, just where he’d said it would be. He obviously had a spy in BAS who’d told him where this terminal was, but even if that spy could find the terminal, they obviously couldn’t break its encryption. Galloway needed her and her highly illegal PBA to do that.
So what was Codex Rondo? Why was Galloway so insistent she scrub it afterward? And could she give it to him, unexamined, without knowing who this file might hurt?
She’d just choked out a sworn BAS agent and then a harmless tech. The time to hesitate was long past, so she popped her linkline into the Toshiba. Its encryption was corporate grade, but the elite cracker in her PBA was better. One final ICE spike speared its respectable firewalls, rewarding her with a plain blue headdesk and a gaze prompt.
Arcasia found the target file — Codex Rondo — and downed it in three seconds. It wasn’t a large file, but it was heavily encrypted, unlike this server. She wasn’t getting into this codex without the key or a quantum computer. She scrubbed the original, as instructed, because if Galloway’s spies knew this file was here, they’d also know if it was still here.
Arcasia checked her invasive feeds — still no alerts from BAS — and pulled her linkline. Meatspace returned. The tech she’d choked out was still slumped silent, out cold.
This was too easy. Galloway’s plan had been too easy, and the crush of unreasonable coincidences tonight — Stephen Galloway somehow back from the dead, Jaime Bennett somehow back in her life, and a spy inside Barondale Security who knew exactly where this file was but somehow couldn’t access it themselves — it all chewed on her last nerve.
Jobs didn’t go this smoothly when she planned them a week in advance. They certainly shouldn’t go this smoothly when she had five minutes to cobble together a shoddy plan after waking up on a roof. Something felt rotten here, and as Arcasia glanced down at herself, at her clothes, and at her still gently tingling skin, if finally hit her. Dammit!
She stripped desperately, tossing away jacket and pants and top and boots and shivering as goosebumps covered her now not tingling skin. She’d thought Galloway used a drug with side effects because he was an asshole, but Galloway wouldn’t risk lowering her effectiveness just to be petty. He wanted her thinking about side effects so she’d think that tingling was drug related.
The tech was still out, drooling, and as Arcasia stripped him to his long underwear, she muttered a genuine apology. She needed clothes to avoid alarming literally everyone. She wriggled into his grimy jumpsuit, which was too short in the legs, too loose in the waist, and too tight everywhere else. Still, at least it wasn’t going to electrocute her.
She walked to the door and opened it.
Behind her, her discarded clothes crackled audibly. Arcasia pressed herself to the side of the open door as soft footsteps approached. Whoever was coming to kill her must think they’d have an easy time, given she was supposed to be paralyzed or passed out.
Arcasia punched as soon as her attacker stepped through the door, but the woman spun with a small gasp and caught her fist. She was strong and moved absurdly fast, and as their eyes met, Arcasia felt like she’d been punched in the gut. “Jaime?”
Bennett launched herself as Arcasia did the same, grappling, kicking, and tumbling into the hallway. They rolled around in a flurry of jabbing knees and elbows. Arcasia saw stars as a palm smashed her nose, then felt a meaty thump beneath her knee. Bennett cried out as Arcasia scrambled away, scrambled to her feet, and rose into a low guard.
“I locked you down!” Arcasia shouted. At least things were going wrong, finally.
“You always were a bit full of yourself.” Bennett’s jaw clenched as she circled and forced Arcasia to do the same. “I’m sorry this has to happen. You can’t imagine how much.”
Arcasia’s threat monitor scanned for Bennett’s backup, but there were no other soldiers in this hallway. There were no alarms going off, at least according to her PBA. That was when she noticed the remote hanging off Bennett’s belt, and the last piece fell into place.
Stephen Galloway was a piece of work. He’d embedded electronodes in her clothes while she was passed out, sent her here to extract this data, then sent Bennett to electrocute her and steal it back. That incessant tingling had been a tiny stream of PBA feedback caused by the wireless receivers hidden in her clothes, and it had almost worked.
Honestly, everything Galloway had put together seemed just a tad overcomplicated for a routine data heist, but he probably didn’t trust her to deliver his codex. He probably figured she’d kill him after she got Kite’s address, which was fair.
Arcasia lowered her guard and stepped back. “What’s Galloway holding over you?” Bennett would never betray Josef voluntarily. “Let me help you. Together, we can—”
Bennett charged like a bullet, a move so reckless and out of character for her it almost caught Arcasia flat-footed. Almost. She hopped over Bennett’s kick and reflexively punched her in the jaw with one cyberized fist. She didn’t use the field generators embedded in her knuckles, because disintegrating Bennett’s head was not the plan.
Bennett’s head snapped back as bone snapped, audibly. She drifted backward. Arcasia caught her with forward momentum and dropped her down without slamming her head against the floor, but what if she was dead anyway? Oh God, what if Bennett was dead?
She used one leg to elevate Bennett’s head and fumbled for her neck, fumbled for her pulse. It thrummed against her fingers, and that’s when Arcasia breathed again. She had broken Bennett’s chin, not her neck. Bennett could live with a broken chin.
But Josef would probably lock them both up when he found out what they’d done.
END OF PART TWO