Dust: Chapter 01 Part 3

I threw the bottle back into the box and gently lowered myself to the ground. The muscle relaxant would take a few minutes to kick in. I needed time for other biological functions to sort themselves out. The bouncer in my belly was trying to decide if it liked the shoes the protein shake was wearing.

Tachi, also completely naked, strolled back to his box and got out his mission bag. I opened a cype channel to call Noodles. A small AR screen appeared in the air in front of me displaying a shot of Noodles sitting at his workstation from the workstation’s perspective. Only it wasn’t actually Noodles, it was his Shinjuku street urchin avatar. He looked like a Tokyo tween on his way to school with his little green backpack and baseball cap. Or some kind of tamer of adorable fighting animals. One or the other.

[Noodles. We’re in.]

[Finally!] Noodles replied, his avatar made a show of wiping sweat off its brow. [The timer went out minutes ago. What kept you?]

[I needed my morning coffee. How’s the activity out there?]

Noodles was our team’s hacker. Physically he was safely back in our quarters on the 299th floor of the arcology. Surrounded by boxes of Pocky, bottles of Mountain Dew and a computer deck he’d built component by component. In the digital world he was staring down the business end of the best intrusion countermeasures a major multinational corporation can program.

Thanks to Satou we had a password into the system and from there Noodles had infiltrated their CCTV network, giving him eyes all over the facility. Getting that had taken a month’s work on its own.

Normally hackers and their smart-arse antics shit me to tears, but Noodles had really managed to impress me on this gig.

Noodles‘ avatar glanced at a screen. [No immediate activity outside the mail room, but if I scan around I can see some salary slaves in the areas around you.]

[Roger that. Keep us posted.] I reached out with my hand to where the floating screen would be if it existed in real space and not just in my Neupro. With a wave of my fingers I squashed it down from tablet size to a thumbnail and flicked it into the corner of my vision.

Tachi finished putting on his fatigues and started checking over our weapons. My body was a lot less sore now, thanks to the pills and my pain editor. I pulled my pack out of the box and started getting dressed.

[How are you feeling?] Tachi asked when he saw me pull the hood over my face.

[Nothing that a little activity can’t fix.] We’d rehearsed the postage coffin routine a few times. I knew what to expect.

[Glad you’ll never have to do that again?]

[I assure you Tachi, inside I’m doing hip-hip-hooray backflips.]

Tachi smirked again. [Be a lot easier if you upgraded.]

[So you’ve said.] I snapped. [You got the thermate?]

Tachi held up two chem grenades.

We stuffed as much flammable material as we could into our boxes, pulled the pins and got the hell out of there. Because they’re not meant to be thrown, thermate grenades only have a 2-second fuse so we didn’t have a lot of time to put as much distance between ourselves and the mail room as we could before the fire alarm went off.

Anywhere else but Japan, when a fire alarm sounds everyone keeps their heads down and waits for it to go away. It’s only when its been running for a few minutes that people start looking around and asking ‘is this a real emergency?’

The Japanese, being accustomed to earthquake drills, immediately stop what they’re doing and line up in their sections. It’d bring a tear to a drill sergeant’s eyes to watch these droll salary slaves perform a parade perfect falling out into the corridors and down the fire stairs.

Tachi and I stayed out of sight and made our way up the stairs. Noodles had whipped up some amazing augmented reality gimmicks for us. He’d digitally painted a line on the floor leading us directly to our objective (which we didn’t really need, having been over the map again and again, but it was still good to have). The software he’d added to the cameras could also identify every person in the complex and anyone who was anywhere near us but just outside our line of sight appeared as a green silhouette in our vision. Twice Tachi and I were about to step out into a corridor when we noticed a march of green salary slaves just about to come around the corner.

Finally we came to the security doors. This was our bridge between the common areas where the admin staff, civilian security and general public mingled freely and the secure world where all the interesting stuff was.

Unfortunately Satou was currently where he was supposed to be, assisting Prof Sakazato with her research, so using his access to get beyond this point was out of the question. I opened my heavily abbreviated tool kit (the pockets on my sleeves) and approached the lock panel.

[Secom S3210] I muttered. [Tamper switch on the right side.]

[Corridors around you are all clear.] Noodles announced. [Just in case you need it, here’s a schematic.]

Noodles’ thumbnail image became a floating 3D graphic of the security panel. I enlarged it and zoomed in on the circuit boards. Once I was familiar with the layout I got to work.

I slipped my monofilament scalpel out of its place on my sleeve and gently cut the screws holding the panel to the wall. A strip of gaffa tape kept the right side of the panel together and my mono-scalpel let me cut the rear of the panel open and get access to the system’s guts.

Tachi tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the security door. I could see another march of green salary slaves escorted by a pair of blue security ops behind the door. They were almost on top of us.

I grabbed another piece of gaffa tape and affixed the panel back onto the wall. Tachi got behind an office plant and crouched down. I had just enough time to duck under an orientation touch-screen and hope the commercials would draw attention away from me. In addition to the massive advance our employers had provided they’d also given us access to some of the best equipment available.

On mental command my fatigues, including my hood and webbing changed colour to match the environment around me. It wasn’t a perfect match and if we moved we’d be spotted immediately.

So I sucked in a breath and tried to hold still.

The security door chimed and slid open, emitting a single-file march of employees into the corridor. Even without the colour-coding it wasn’t hard to pick the security ops. Beyond those locked doors uniformed civilian security ended and Yoriki Security Concerns began. Scary corporate bodyguards with shoot-to-kill authorisation within their respective zones.

And yes, they wore sunglasses, indoors, at night. When you’ve got augmented vision you can look as cool as you like.

I slowly sucked in a breath and held it. The muscle relaxant had done its job, but I still felt the hint of protest from my muscles as I tensed them up again, I had to force myself to relax or I would move too slowly. My pistol stirred nervously on my thigh.

If anyone drew attention to me or Tachi I was ready to roll. I hadn’t attached the sound suppressor yet so if this went down it was going to be a rush job from here on in. I had my head turned down so the reflection of my tech specs wouldn’t give me away, but I never took my eyes off the salary slaves as they passed me. One young woman glanced in my direction. I locked my gaze onto her

and prepared to pounce.

But she turned away and kept going.

When they were all gone, I released the breath. Barely five seconds had passed.

[Sorry Dust.] Noodles’ avatar gulped. [I didn’t see them].

[Stay on top of it Noodles. There’s a lot to go yet.]

I got back to work on the panel. Once it was off the wall again it was just a matter of using my soldering pen to connect one point on the circuit board to another. The wire I spliced in also had a tiny powder charge on a timer. I’d taken the parts from an electric cigarette lighter and a ridiculously small jewellery watch I found in Akihabara. The one-minute timer ensured I could comfortably fix the panel back into place with silicon bonder and get through the door with Tachi before the wire burst and everything appeared to go back to normal.

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