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"Connections" - Part One

19 October 2042
Bay City, California Free State
08:33:20 PST


Val slid into the driver's seat of the ChrysFord LoadMaster, put her hands on the steering wheel, and tried to fight back the wave of guilt that suddenly washed over her.
   
It was Eddie's van and it seemed wrong for her to go ahead and use it. But it was set up for a 'jockey doing mobile work, gear and all. Better than her little runabout.
   
Just what she needed.
   
Maybe she could see it as a kind of gift from Eddie.
   
Maybe a kind of inheritance.
   
Maybe.
   
Maybe once they found out who'd been responsible for Eddie's death, maybe then it would feel right.
   
At the moment, it didn't.
   
A short rap at the driver's window jarred her back to the present and she jumped slightly in her seat.
   
Mikey stood just outside, looking up at her with his glossy black optics instead of eyes. "Dude," he said in his laid-back tone. "Set?"
   
"Five minutes," she said. "Need to call Kat."
   
"Say when," he said, turned, and strode back to a silver BMW parked to one side of the van.
   
Val pulled out her phone, dialed, and tapped her earbud.
   
Five rings, then a short beep.
   
Vmail.
   
"Kat," she said. "Val. I've got to go out of town for a run. Back in two weeks. I'll get started on that Hiller woman when I get back."
   
She hung up, took a long breath, blew it out, and put her hands back on the wheel.
   
She would start hunting then, too.

   
We'll get them, Eddie.
   
We'll get them and we'll make them pay.
   

23 October 2042
10:26:44

   
When I found Mouse, she was in the unit we'd turned into a workout area hurling throwing blades into one of the blue sparring dummies.
   
"Turning Floyd into a pincushion?" I said, gesturing toward the dummy.
   
She whirled on me, her entire body coiled spring-tense, clenched fists at her sides. "What are we still waiting around for?" she said through gritted teeth. "You said we were going to find those fuckers."
   
"We will," I said.
   
"When?" Mouse said, punctuating the word with a flung blade that slammed into Floyd's face, rocking him back on his base, nearly tipping him over.
   
"We need intel," I said. "Val's out for two weeks. Kid Tachyon said he'd help but he's busy with his own runs. We can't exactly just go randomly shooting up the city."
   
Mouse grunted, spun, and let fly with two more blades. Both punched into Floyd's throat.
   
"Fuck intel," she said and strode over to the dummy. She stood in front of it, hands on her hips, regarding her work for a moment, then reached out and yanked out a blade from Floyd's torso.
   
Then she plunged the blade back into Floyd and cracked a fist into the dummy's face. It rocked back on its base, almost tipping again, and rocked forward. Mouse caught Floyd around the head and slammed the dummy onto the floor, a growl rising from her throat that turned into a chant of "Motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker--!" She started kicking the dummy in the ribs.
   
"Mouse!" I said, bolted over, caught her in a bear hug from behind, pinning her arms, and pulled her back from the dummy.
   
She kicked out at Floyd, missed, then thrashed in my arms, trying to escape, and I tightened my hold.
   
"Mouse!" I said.
   
"Fucking bastards killed him, Kat!" she said, still struggling, her voice rising in pitch. "They fucking killed him."
   
"I know!" I said.
   
"They fucking killed him and I'm going to kill them and gut their fucking throats--"
   
She fought against my arms and I tightened my grip, my vision going hazy, like water splashing against a window, tasting salty heat at the edges of my mouth.
   
"Bastards--!"
   
Her struggling slowed and I continued to hold on.
   
"Goddamn fuckers--!" she said, her breathing heavy and raspy.
   
"I know," I said, my voice suddenly husky, a tightness growing in the middle of my chest.
   
Then her legs buckled and she sagged to her knees.
   
I eased her down, still holding on.
   
She went quiet, her shoulders heaving and shuddering.
   
I let go and she knelt back on her heels, head slumped forward. I sat on the floor next to her.
   
After a while, Mouse looked at me, her eyes red, face wet with tears.
   
"I really liked him, Kat," she said, her voice low and quivering.
   
"You did," I said.
   
"I did. I really liked him."
   
Then she went quite again.
   
And we sat in silence for a long time.


31 October 2042
23:44:33 PST


Val gasped and sat bolt upright in her high-backed leather chair, her t-shirt now damp with sweat, fingers of moisture trickling down her temples. Her heart jackhammered in her chest.
   
What the hell was that?
   
She sucked in a long breath, blew it out, then tugged at her shirt front with her left hand in a fanning motion. At the same time, she pulled the cable out of her jack with her right hand, then reached for the retractable cable on the side of her cyberdeck, pulled it out, and plugged it into one of the front ports of her terminal tower. She keyed in a series of commands on the keyboard and several command windows blinked to existence on her center flat screen.
   
A few moments later, the file she wanted appeared onscreen.
   
Val stared at it.
   
Five names.
   
That didn't make sense.
   
All that security for this--?
   
And then she recognized one of the names.
   
Well well well.
   
She was right.
   
It
was hinky after all.
   
She grabbed her phone from the desktop and dialed.
   
Five rings, then a beep.
   
Vmail it is.
   
"Kat," she said. "Val. Back in town. Got to checking more on our friend Hiller. Found some info. Hit me up."
   
She hung up, set the phone down, and looked at the file again.
   
The file name read: "Allocation."
   
Whatever that means.
   
Five names.
   
Hiller was one.
   
So who were the other four?
   
She smiled and reached for the data jack.
   
Let's take a look.   


55 Central Park West
New York City
Northern Federation of States
02:52:35 EST


Stephen Bishop leaned forward over his desk blotter, hands on either side, and glared at it. "What?" he said through gritted teeth.
   
"Peregrine's dead," said the voice on the other end of his earbud.
   
"That's impossible. I just talked to him not twenty minutes ago."
   
"I know, Mr. Bishop. I was here when he called you."
   
"What happened?"
   
" 'Netspace fight. He didn't make it."
   
"Attack program?"
   
"Yes, sir. Pretty brutal from the looks of it."
   
Bishop fought back the urge to slam his fist onto the desktop. He clamped his eyes and took a deep breath, let it out slowly.
   
You're Stephen Bishop. You don't act like William--
   
He opened his eyes.
   
"It's Rodriguez, isn't it?" Bishop said.
   
"Yes, sir."
   
"Secure the system, Rodriguez. Find out exactly what happened. Who it was, where they came from, what they found, what they took. Everything. Get your whole team involved. Outsource if you have to."

"Yes, sir," said Rodriguez.
   
Bishop hung up and let out a long breath through gritted teeth.
   
Then he slumped back in his desk chair, swiveled it toward the windows behind him, and stared out at the city skyline beyond the park below, still bright even at this hour.
   
Who the hell could've been in there?
   
And what hell were they looking for?
   
All he remembered Peregrine saying was an unauthorized system entry. Nothing more. He figured the man would scare away whoever had gotten in. Peregrine had sold himself as the best 'Netjockey in the trade.
   
Bishop hadn't expected the best 'Netjockey to die in a fight.
   
He frowned.
   
Something he'd missed?
   
Some
one he'd missed?
   
Surely not given what he'd spent on research and surveillance.
   
A fluke then. Some random consolejockey at the wrong place at the wrong time.
   
Sure. That was it.
   
A fluke.
   
His frown deepened.
   
Losing an asset was not part of the plan.
   
Perhaps this could still be salvaged.
   
A minor hiccup was all. A fluke. Everything would be fine.
   
His phone chirped for attention and Bishop recognized the customized tone.
   
He popped his optic clock, did a quick calculation in his head.
   
Right on schedule.
   
He grinned.
   
He was right.
   
Everything was going to be fine.
   
"And?" he said into his earbud.
   
A chuckle, then: "You called it, Mr. S."
   
Bishop slowly gripped the arms of his chair, ignoring the stiffness of his left hand and the scar that ran along the back and the palm.
   
Everything was going to be just fine.


(to be continued...)


"Connections"
Part 2

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