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Short Fiction: "A Plugged Leak"

AeternisJan 13, 2022, 2:39:09 AM
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Duana stared hard at the bouncer at the nightclub entrance as the man made a show of scrutinizing her holo-badge and credentials. Most likely, the oaf normally saw crude forgeries of such things. Though small and shabby, the club’s reputation ensured a steady flow of brazen youths hoping to experience what lay inside. 

The man's vain search for subtle signs of falsification deepened the furrows in his broad forehead. Duana adopted a posture of prim bureaucratic impatience, knowing even the tiniest motion would be analyzed both by the guard and whoever was watching behind the cold eye of the security camera behind him. She had already cataloged the extensive list of illicit body-modifications concealed under the bouncer’s ill-fitting uniform. All that hardware would make him quite capable of physically preventing her entry. Under the concealment of folded arms, one of Duana’s hands began to slide an electromagnetic stun-wand out of its hiding-place in her sleeve. 

“This ain’t real, sis.” The man flipped Duana’s badge back to her.  

She pretended to be surprised and deliberately failed to catch it, then stooped to pick it up. “I assure you, it is very real. This is a matter of the utmost-” 

The man half-turned away to focus on a slouched, shifty-eyed man approaching the club entrance from the other side of the door. It was just enough of an opening for Duana to leap up and jam the shiny studs on the stun-wand into the side of his neck. With a surprised gurgle, the bouncer crumpled to the ground, all of his concealed cybernetics scrambled. For his sake, she hoped none of those newly defective components interfered with his vitals; an EM wand could put a grown man on the floor for a few minutes, but against the cybernetically corrupted, it was a lethal weapon. 

As the slouching would-be patron fled down the shadowy street, Duana held her holo-badge up to the camera’s lens for several seconds, then held up the five splayed fingers of one hand. Slowly, she lowered one finger at a time. The door lock clicked open just as she reached two. Clearly, the club’s owner was not as dull as his guard. It was no secret that those who obstructed Bureau of Counter-Intelligence investigations rarely stayed in any business for long, especially when their business acted as a covert hub for the degenerate goings-on of the local counterhuman scene. 

In addition to a wall of thudding, discordant music, a slim young woman whose face was painted with blotches of bruise-like purple makeup slipped out. Glancing nervously at the prone bouncer twitching on the pavement, she beckoned for Duana to follow her. In contrast to the downed man, Duana’s analysis lenses didn’t detect any cybernetics in the girl’s body. True, her facial features bore the unmistakable signs of having been "improved” by a bargain-basement fleshsculpt, but Duana didn’t have the time or the jurisdiction to worry about petty counterhuman activity as long as it wasn’t standing in her way.

Duana followed her guide around the margins of a chaotic tangle of human and mostly-human revelry toward the club’s back office. Dim lighting shot with bright strobes, diaphanous curtains hanging from the rafters, and a haze of damp smoke made it hard to see any particular details, but Duana didn’t mind this. She had no particular interest in viewing the hedonistic, degenerate revelry the club had earned its reputation for, and the poor sight-lines also made it less likely that her quarry, should he be on the lookout, would notice her entrance. Of the few patrons close enough to look up and see her clearly, most quickly lost interest. One made a doomed, intoxicated come-hither gesture, but received only an exaggerated eye-roll in response. 

Ushered into the sound-dampened office at the back, Duana found a broad-shouldered, silver-haired man sitting behind a huge desk. She calmly set her holo-badge upon it and waited for his eyes to return to her after examining the token. 

“Got nothing to say to you or any other spook.” The club manager shook his head. “Come back with a magistrate’s warrant.” 

“Please.” Duana waved her still-active stun-wand around, and noted the way it made the man wince even before her analysis lenses identified several cybernetic modules within his body. “Our style is more to come back with an extraction team, but you like this place too much to let that happen. I’m just looking for someone.” 

“Who?” 

Duana tossed a miniature holo-projector onto the desk next to her badge, and it lit up to display the head and shoulders of a young man whose broad, square jaw clashed with his round, flat nose and heavy brows. “He probably gave the name Adam Symons. Real name doesn’t matter.” 

Even before he spoke, the man’s  reaction told Duana that he’d seen the man in the image. “What for?” 

“Bureau business. We just need to talk to him.” 

Whether the man believed this lie or not didn’t matter. He didn’t need to know that “Symons” was really the Ladeonist ideologue K.B. Cole, or that Cole was hours from delivering the full technological specifications of the battleship Maribel and dozens of other new warships to a local Incarnation sleeper agent. Cole’s plan to steal the schematics had almost worked; had an unrelated and less-capable revolutionary not tried to hack into the same facility’s systems only a few hours later, the record of his taking the data might not have been discovered for days.

After a long pause, the club manager nodded. “He’s in one of our private rooms, with, ah... entertainment.” 

“Which room?” Duana didn’t envy the prostitute unlucky enough to be in the process of satisfying Cole’s counterhuman tastes when her associates interrupted the festivities. Prostitution, like fleshsculpt, was illegal in the Core Worlds, but once again she had neither the time or jurisdiction to be concerned with it.

“Upper floor, third from the stairs.” 

As soon as the mics of the picocamera modules woven into Duana’s coat picked up these words, a dozen armed agents started moving from concealment in the neighboring building. Smiling and nodding her thanks, she reached out to collect her badge and projector, then sat down in the chair across the desk. 

After a few seconds, the manager seemed to conclude Duana was not going to leave. “Er, you said you wanted to talk to him?” 

Duana smiled. “Oh, sure. But you said he’s busy. You have the cameras... Tell me when he’s... quite finished.” 

After a minute of glancing between the screen in his desk and his guest, the man cleared his throat and seemed likely to object. He never got the chance. The distant thudding of the music was interrupted by the resounding, tooth-rattling boom of very rapid remodeling. Duana knew the string of shaped charges used to cut open the wall of the traitor’s room from the adjacent alley would have left a two-meter-wide hole and knocked anyone inside insensible. Seconds after the blast, her compatriots had stormed in through the gap to black-bag everyone inside. Before anyone inside the club could reach the room, K.B. Cole would be in the hands of the Bureau.

“Sounds like he’s finished.” Duana tucked away her stun-wand and set a cred-stick worth a few thousand of the bureau’s credits on the edge of the desk. “Thank you for your cooperation, and sorry about the mess.” As she stood, she extended a hand to the grey-haired man.

The man didn’t take the offered handshake, which suited Duana just fine. With a wink, she turned and left. Though none of the confused, milling patrons beyond seemed to associate her departure with the commotion upstairs, she could feel the owner’s glare on her back all the way to the exit.

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(Banner art by Rutger van de Steeg.)

At the time of this post going on Minds, this piece is the second-newest of my short fiction series, and it was the first of the series written in 2022.

While my Angels' Reach fiction is generally intended to present an optimistic view of the 30th century interstellar future, the fact that this world is populated with humans means that crime, vice, ideology, and war do tarnish the edges of human experience. That these things exist in turn necessitates the existence of those who are overzealous in their fighting to preserve the peaceful order of the Reach, and chief in this category are the various intelligence agencies of human space, notably Division Thirty in the Rahl Hegemony and the Bureau of Counter-Intelligence in the Confederated Worlds, which is the organization featured here.

BCI is definitely fighting "for the good guys" in this case, but they are quite happy to employ both questionable tactics and questionably-moral people, leading to their being reasonably unpopular with the civilian populations they claim to protect.