Dust Chapter 14 Part 4

Uh-huh.” Doc Clarkson said, the thin wisp of a smile forming on his mouth. “And if something happens between now and then?”

Well if your Deadmen can’t handle it I guess cybertech’s not that hot after all.”

I resisted the urge to lick my finger and mark a tick on an invisible scoreboard. So I did it in my Neupro instead.

When Tachi was finished helping Doc Clarkson we headed over to the main school building and took over one of the old classrooms. Most of the rooms up here had become either administration offices, planning centres, barracks for the soldiers without families or storerooms.

PR apologised for not being able to join us, but he had the whole operation around us to run and had been away too many days as it was. To make up for it, PR gave us the use of his war room to conduct the debrief. A large gas-station map of Flint took up an easel brought in from the art department. It had current patrol routes highlighted and marked sections designating certain districts as the territory of other slum lords. In the glance I got before I went to work I was impressed with his people’s organisation.

Kitty took Atom and her deck out of her backpack and we all plugged in.

Alright.” I started as soon as we had all logged into the Catcave. “The John Meadows job. How does everyone feel that went?”

Kitty sighed and looked up at me. “It could have been better.”

Every job could be done better.” I immediately corrected her. “What specifically was wrong with this one?”

Kitty scrunched her delicate hand into a fist. “Well Noodles is dead.”

Exactly.” I turned to Tachi next. “Tachi why is Noodles dead?”

Because his biopod accidentally found itself in the path of my younger sister’s signature weapon.”

We’re getting warmer. Yes she killed him, but we’ve got reason to believe she didn’t want to. So how did it happen?”

Atom, still in his leather jacket and shades avatar, spoke up in a confused voice. “Well she just walked in on us?”

I pointed out my finger at it. “We’re getting very warm now. Who wants to take us home and tell me how that happened?”

Kitty indignantly shrank back an inch. She tensed her shoulders like she was getting ready for a fight.

Tachi sighed and looked down.

Moe-Moe pitched her ball on its access, managing to look confused.

No-one? All right, let me paint you a picture. There are two things every successful job needs: Thorough planning and team work. What this job had was five people sitting around with their hands on their collective cock playing ‘Leave it to Atom’.”

Atom began to speak, but Kitty shot to her feet and slammed her hands on her desk. “You’re blaming Atom?

I’m blaming all of us.” I said. “Far as I’m concerned the only people who did their jobs right were Rembrandt and Duke. No matter how you slice it if Atom hadn’t been on the team that job would have gone down very differently.”

Actually it wouldn’t have happened at all.” Moe-Moe spoke up. “This many days in we’d still be hunting down email addresses. Gaining access to their system would still be almost a week away.”

In the meantime.” Tachi spoke up. “Dust and I would be concocting the break-and-enter plan, reconnoitring the grounds and gathering other forms of intelligence. Network access would actually be the last element to be put in place. But more importantly, with the extra time we’d require to devote to the task we would have more opportunities to look over the intelligence we had gathered, contemplate the possibilities and be struck by sudden inspiration. For instance, one of the questions we likely would only have asked ourselves if given enough time would have been ‘How often do RCF visit Noodles and at what times?’”

Tachi and I might even have discovered that staking the place out while you guys were doing the legwork online. But there’s something we haven’t touched on yet.”

Kitty rolled her eyes. “Great, so now how have we failed?”

Even considering the job as it went down, there was a critical moment where someone wasn’t doing their job and no-one took over from them.”

When was that?” came Atom’s confused voice.

When you took your eyes off the security cameras.”

What?” Atom stared dumbfounded. “But you asked me to help you with the biopod?”

No.” I said. “I did not ask you. I just put it out there, anyone on the team with hacking talent could have done the job.”

Not as quickly as I could.”

Then why didn’t you use all the extra time you’d be saving to ask Moe-Moe to take over from you?” I folded my arms at him.

Atom didn’t answer, the super-fast, hyper-intelligence was struck silent.

I’m waiting for an answer Atom.”

Atom glared at me. “I don’t have one. I didn’t think of asking Moe-moe to take over. I wanted to show you what I could do.”

Kitty took her eyes off me and they immediately softened. She stared at Atom.

It made a mistake?” She whispered.

So what if I did?” Atom he turned angrily towards her. “You guys make mistakes all the time.’ To err is human.’”

Kitty shot me a look that could cut ice.

We all make mistakes Atom.” I said evenly. “Mine was letting our hacker trio run free on this gig. Tachi or myself should have been watching their preparations more closely.”

Kitty flicked me the finger.

What’s your theory then Kitty? If you could go back and change one thing so we could bring Noodles back alive what would it be?”

Well seeing as that’s impossible I guess I’d rather focus my efforts on what I can do now in the real world.”

Which would be what exactly?”

Right now we’re building off what we’ve learned Atom is capable of and seeing what else he can do.”

Yeah. See, that’s another thing I’m really not comfortable with and it relates to the first. Atom, adorable as it is…” I looked at Tachi. “…is our hostage. It’s not a kid we all get to play with and it is not a member of our team. Need I remind everyone that in three weeks we’re handing it over to Sinologic and getting paid?”

Is that really all that matters to you?” Kitty said. “We have the single most-important scientific marvel ever created by humankind. It can think, feel, it just admitted it can make mistakes for god’s sake. And all you can think of is how to sell it?”

That’s fantastic. I assure you.” I said. “But it’s not going to mean jack when Kiru-no-yubi jumps over that fancy wall with those compressed-air rams in her heels and starts murdering left and right.”

Kitty rolled her eyes at me. “She can’t fight everyone herself.”

She doesn’t have to. All she has to do is draw our attention away from her mates, who blast in with demolitions. If they start shooting the place up while everyone was looking the other way a lot of people are going to find themselves shot in the back. RCF has managed to double-dip from the ‘element of surprise’ bowl and PR’s got a two-pronged assault to fight off in his own backyard. If I was in their position, that is exactly how I would play it.”

Then I had another idea. “Hell, if she lands amongst the demountables you might not even need the second prong. Just start slaughtering the civilian population until too many Deadmen show up, then run. PR’s army would be so pissed they’ll saddle right up and hit the street after her, leaving only a token force behind. A platoon of cub scouts could walk in and take over. PR’s boys would have to assault their own complex from the outside. Even if they win they’d be limping along after that. Best case scenario is they get absorbed by another Slum Lord. Peacefully.”
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