Chapter 110: Finger in the mouth
Attendance at Fortescue Military Academy M1 Y:2142
Inter-Academy Round 2 Fortescue Points: 193, Rank: 6, PR: 0.4825
Tier 3 Daedo M-Rank: 140
Term: 3, Round: 3
Daedalus Operating Capital: +2,600,000 bitcreds
“Are you going to see her tomorrow?” Mace asked as the pair jogged beside the Seine.
Daedo liked the thinking and downtime a long run provided, and Mace was good company, in that she didn’t talk all that much. Barran or Vannier would insist he couldn’t run alone, especially after they learned he and Mace were accosted by a local thug, albeit a kid.
Mace had to mean Master Nader. As they had discussed he would present her with the plans for the Eye of the Sahara, and she would provide feedback on security or anything else she wanted. He did not want his Master to send the plans to her friends for review and would not agree to that.
“Either tomorrow or Tuesday,” Daedo replied.
“I’ll vote for the budget increase,” Mace stated. A spend as large as this one needed eighty percent shareholder agreement. Which meant he only needed Barran. Or two of the girls. Barran possessed close to twenty percent. Where the girls combined possessed was close to thirty.
“We’re halfway,” Daedo said, “Want to turn ‘round or do a circuit?”
“I’d rather run along the river, let's cross at the bridge and run the other side,” Mace replied.
After another kilometre, Mace asked, “What do you know about Master Nader that we don’t?”
“I can’t say,” Daedo replied. “I’m sorry, but, it’s better than lying.” Which he had been doing a lot particularly when it came to Master Nader.
“Is it along the lines of what happened to Master Ustinov?” Mace asked.
“No. But don’t probe any more,” Daedo responded.
“Can I ask questions and you answer if you can?” Mace asked softly.
Daedo sighed, “Ok. I owe you that much.”
“Has she threatened your life,” Mace asked.
Daedo thought for a moment. “If she had that would have been a trick question. Because if I said I cannot say you would assume yes. No more of those or we stop playing this game.”
“Hmm, sorry,” Mace said.
“Is there a reason you need to know other than curiosity?” Daedo asked.
Mace took in a sharp intake of breath and spoke after a moment’s pause, “Not exactly. That is something I cannot talk about.”
They ran on for a few more minutes before Daedo added, “How did we end up on different sides of the fence on this one?”
It was Mace’s turn to think hard on her answer, “I guess we’re both doing what we have to. Even if we are friends, allies and part of Daedalus, there are other things in our lives.”
Daedo frowned, “No. The reason I cannot divulge certain information is for Daedalus. It’s not separate.”
It was Mace’s turn to look confused, “That makes no sense. If it’s Daedalus business, we should be able to know.”
Daedo thought carefully before responding. “Daedalus will receive something if I am able to keep my secrets and if not - it will get nothing. That is more than I should share.” It was not exactly true, he had already received the tech, but he had to change the information in order to protect it. Daedo felt guilty for saying too much.
It was Mace’s turn to sigh, “You need to be careful of Master Nader.” And after a pause for a minute, she added, “Very careful.”
“I know,” Daedo said sadly.
The pair ran along the river for another twenty minutes in silence. Daedo’s schedule had been shot to hell, he had to make certain he spent time on physical training each week. To increase efficiency the time he spent on it was also his deep thinking or mental downtime.
As they turned a bend, close to home, Mace said, “This is where that street boy jumped us.” And she stopped, pulled out a tiny drone and threw it into the air.
Daedo stopped as well, “What are you doing?”
“Taking a look,” She replied before donning her helmet which was attached to her back. After a moment she said, “Put your helmet on and look.”
She shared the image to Daedo who watched as the drone hovered over a nearby lot. Mace highlighted a shabby structure made up of junk metal sheets and parts.
“They live there?” Daedo asked.
“I think so,” Mace replied before she began to run again.
“Surely they get enough bitcreds to afford somewhere to live,” Daedo stated.
“Not everyone is logical. There are many reasons that could explain why they don’t have a home even if they received bitcreds. And they were all young. None of these kids would have qualified for the scheme unless they completed M3 cyber school.”
“They aren’t in the worst situation, you know,” Mace stated as they arrived back at the workshop.
Daedo merely gave her a questioning look.
“Most people are not like us. They simply take their five bitcreds a month and do nothing other than play games, socialise in VR and watch streams. Your Father, Cisse and you are different to how most people approach life.”
“A lot of people run their own streams, or do things like a spacebuild shops or are pro gamers,” Daedo replied citing his limited experience.
“That’s only a tiny proportion of the population. Probably two percent,” Mace stated.
“What does your family do?” Daedo asked cheekily knowing it was a taboo question.
Mace grinned mischievously, “We kill nosy people.”
“It’s all good work honey, but it’s circumstantial,” Adele Mace stated in the secure VR session with her daughter and husband. They were reviewing Ameline Mace’s latest report also known as Cadet Mace.
“But it confirms the organisation’s suspicions though, doesn’t it?” Mace replied.
“No,” her Father said, “It’s not incongruous, but it confirms nothing. We need something concrete. The organisation doesn’t like terminating innocents.”
“Ahem,” Adele said, “They may in this case. She must be prepared for that.” Which she directed at her husband before addressing her daughter, “Ameline dear, time is limited.”
“What should I do? I cannot betray Daedo we have come to an understanding. And in the end, he is one of the good guys,” Mace stated in a concerned tone.
“Darling. You have to do what needs doing. Feelings and personal entanglements cannot impede the mission. You know this,” Adele stated firmly.
“But Mother. You don’t understand,” Mace protested.
“Tell me. Help me understand,” Adele offered.
“The organ..” She began and stopped. “Daedalus…” Mace stuttered again.
“Darling this is serious. Are you saying your allegiance has changed?” Adele asked patiently.
“No Mother,” Mace said quietly. “But I wish I could.”
“That’s good Darling. You would put us all in danger if you changed allegiances.” Her Mother paused and stated seriously, “Remember what’s at stake here.”
“I know. I know,” Mace surrendered.
“Ameline,” her Father said softly, “You’re not betraying your friends. You are serving humanity. And when it comes down to it, that is also looking after them.”
Mace wanted to scream that they didn’t understand, but it would only make them think she was wavering and untrustworthy which would precipitate them taking action to protect her and only make matters worse.
“The fact that Master Nader has been able to keep you out of her systems for over six months points to her possessing alien technology, or she is one of the top cybersecurity experts on the planet. I’m not sure what has a higher probability. And when it comes to something like this the organisation does not like to take chances. The time you have left to provide intel either way is down to days.” Adele Mace stated.
“The fact they have waited this long is only due to them hoping to gain access to her systems. Assuming she is an alien placement,” Gabe added.
“She is human,” Mace said. “We know that.”
“She appears as a human biologically,” Adele said. “That does not exclude an intrusion.”
“I better go,” Mace said.
“Yes, keep up appearances my dear,” Adele said.
“Can I stay with Daedalus when the mission is over?” Mace asked.
“Ameline you’re our daughter, not an agent. You’re merely an asset. If you want to quit this work, it is better to do so now” Adele replied.
“Mother,” Mace said softly, “I will complete this mission and then I will stay with Daedalus. If that means quitting. So be it.”
“Ameline!” Adele called in concern as Mace closed the connection.
Mace slammed down her helmet and wiped tears from her eyes. She wanted to scream but she could not. What gave her parents the right to sign her up to a commitment to the organisation and if she wanted to do something else, her life was under threat.
She remembered when her Father had asked her to help. But did they seriously think a child of eight would realise what they were signing up for?
The other cadets were studying, researching or working on projects.
Picard leaned over and asked softly, “Is something wrong?”
Mace had uncharacteristically slammed down her helmet. Praying that the no one noticed her wiping away tears, she replied, “Just frustrated with the latest plasma tests. I can’t beat the off average off the shelf stuff, let alone the premium.”
Picard nodded slowly. “We have so many innovations, it doesn’t hurt to have a few that are merely premium generic products.”
Mace looked at Picard seriously, “I know. But lithium plasma is one of our key materials. A small improvement with it is better than a massive improvement with a minor element.”
Picard patted Mace on the shoulder in a comforting fashion, “Keep at it. You’ll crack it. You always do.”
Mace was a consummate liar. But she still felt guilty when her friend supported her for a non-existent problem.
“I’m going for a walk. Need to
reset the problem in my head,” Mace said as a way to extricate herself from the room. She was going to have to throw everything at Master Nader which meant using Daedo as a mule.
She went to her personal belongings and fished out one of her specialist kits. They would return to the Academy tonight, so she needed to do this now. Once on Academy grounds the chance that Master Nader’s surveillance would detect her actions heightened exponentially.
She decided on one bug. If she used three to increase her chances - Master Nader could discover one and then she would be on high alert. She would keep looking for the others and halt any incriminating conversations with Daedo until she was sure he was clean.
It had to be her best spy bot. The ingestible biohybrid. It was tiny, on the microscale. To most scans it was organic. All she had to do was get Deado to ingest it, and it would be undetectable. She would not access its data until he was a safe distance from Master Nader.
If Master Nader was able to detect this Spybot, she had to possess alien technology. Nothing the organisation had could detect it. Not until it transmitted its information - in that scenario it was like any data connection. Encrypted but detectable.
She approached Daedo as he listened to his Father list off the results of their Sahara trip on the Exos and Mechs. They still needed work on their anti-ingress systems and life support.
“Thirsty?” She asked Daedo and Ikaros. She held a tray with two drinks of water.
“Thank you Mace,” Ikaros declared, “You are so thoughtful.” He reached and took a glass.
“I’m good,” Daedo stated while distastefully blowing some sand from the neck of an Exo.
Mace grimaced at Daedo. She had to get the biohybrid into him, and they would leave for the academy within the hour. She cursed that it wasn’t a simple swipe onto his skin or bodysuit. The biohybrid-spybot was too large to penetrate through the skin.
Daedo stood. “Why isn’t the flushing system working?” He asked himself out loud.
“Sand is a demon son. It gets into everything,” Ikaros replied unnecessarily. “Maybe you should look at a system which enables a full flush every time you return to base. You allow the sand into to certain areas but flush it out with a sonic or liquid shower when entering an airlock.”
Daedo nodded. “That could work. We retain the crevices and seams in the outer armour, seal the second layer and widen the gaps between the plates and mesh attachment to allow the flushing.”
Ikaros displayed a small smile. “Sometimes you surrender to the inevitable and just work around it,” he said from experience.
Daedo looked around to see Mace still standing there. “Did you need me for something?” He asked politely.
She walked up to him and stuck her fingertip inside his mouth then proceeded to pretend to brush sand off his lips. “You’ve got sand all over yourself.” She stated.
Daedo was too stunned to respond.
His father turned away, slightly embarrassed and giving them a modicum of privacy.
Mace proceeded to hand Daedo the water, “Drink,” she commanded. She realised only at that moment she didn’t have to stick her finger in his mouth. Forcing him to drink the water was something she did spontaneously to cover her action.
“You need to review so soon?” Master Nader enquired. It was her way to asking if he wanted to enter the VR from for mystery box review or confidential discussions.
“No,” Daedo responded. “I would like you to review the security plans for our operation in North West Africa.”
“The mine?” She asked. “Or is it more than a mine?”
He nodded, “Yes, it is more than a mine.”
“Do we need to use the VR room to properly assess the plans?” She enquired.
Daedo shook his head. “The displays in this room are sufficient.” He also wanted to have access to Myrmidon. When they were cut off from each other, it was hampering and disconcerting. After years of symbioses, his brain and Myrmidon divided tasks naturally. Information flowed back and forth without conscious thought let alone requests.
Daedo proceeded to bring up the current stage of the base before moving on to future plans.
“The surveillance shielding is a nice touch, but you should capture all incoming and outgoing communications. Use underground fibre to exit remotely and then use a rotating set of repeaters to hide your location from cybers assessments and intrusions. I would also advise moving the repeaters at random times,” Master Nader stated.
“Have you considered an expanded aurora shield for the base, or critical infrastructure at least?” Master Nader asked.
“No,” Daedo replied sheepishly. “But the power requirements would be astronomical for a large protection area.”
“Prioritise the areas and limit protection critical to the defence and life support systems only. You should increase your max demand target to allow for this.”
Daedo nodded. He would approach this more like a tower defence game than he had. Protect every aspect and add redundancy for all critical systems.
“What is your ultimate goal for this base cadet?” Master Nader enquired.
“This is information that I do not wish reported back to any authority,” Daedo stated.
“Understood. That is within my purview,” Master Nader replied.
“And I would like the location to remain a secret,” Daedo said.
Master Nader thought for a moment before nodding slowly. They were not in the secure VR room, so she said nothing further.
Daedo drew in a deep breath, “It will be the base for the Daedalus Private Military and our defensive position when the invasion hits.”
“Oh. That was obvious. I thought you had a remarkable revelation,” Master Nader stated in her flat, robotic voice.
Suddenly Master Nader went stiff. Stiffer than usual. In a lower tone, she asked, “Cadet, have you made any technological alterations to your bodysuit or implant?”
Daedo shook his head.
“Are you recording this session?” She asked.
Daedo slowly shook his head becoming apprehensive.
“It is acceptable if you are. Your answer is unchanged?” Master Nader reiterated.
Daedo nodded before asking, “What’s wrong?”
“Turn off all your bodysuit functions,” Master Nader ordered before adding. “Everything. Power down your cybernetics.”
Daedo could not see the scans Master Nader was performing, but he was certain she was hitting him with everything she had based on her tone and line of questioning.
She turned and retrieved something from the wall. “Drink this,” she ordered.
The liquid was clear, but as soon as he tasted it, he almost gagged.
“Now hold this,” She held out two rods. “Do not worry it will not hurt and if your cybernetics is off, it should not damage it either. Is your AI backed up? I know you are attached.”
“Yes. He backups continually and we updated before switching off just now,” Daedo stated.
As soon as she let go of the rods a humming went through his body. He experienced a tingling sensation, but as she stated it did not hurt. They humming’s cadence continually changed to a higher pitch.
“It will be over soon. The nullifier is hitting a range of frequencies.” As she took the rods from his hands, she asked, “Did you meet any strangers over the weekend. Where did you eat and drink? List all occasions and who prepared or delivered the food and drink.”
Daedo listed off his movements since friday until it dawned on him. Mace had acted strangely this evening. She forced her finger into his mouth and gave him a drink that he didn’t want.
He had moments to decide. Would he inform Master Nader about Mace or would he omit the event?