With Marty’s business arrangements finished for the moment, the Metropolis office being opened, and Mr Myagi wanting to get more formal representatives to deal with the Federated Americas, they headed back to the Linear Realms. Having a few Thralls waiting in Crusader to assign to Mr Myagi (to handle the gatekeeping) and Dr Samson (to act as bodyguards) was easy enough, as was having them bring along better weapons and armor both for themselve and for their charges. They needed to interrogate and trace those captured assassins before they were confirmed lost. Fortunately, the Whirlwind tour hadn’t taken very long, and the FBI office was still there when they got back, and was even getting straightened out.
They took MacArthur back as well. He was relatively at home there, and Mr Myagi wanted a chance to ask him a few questions as well. to interrogate him a bit as well.
Not surprisingly, the prisoners were isolated form each other, massively restrained, under heavy guard, and on an otherwise-evacuated floor. They let the FBI interrogators run things. Kevin could pick up surface thoughts, but not probe – and he really wasn’t much for interrogation otherwise.
One of them actually broke in a mere couple of hours – and, from his thoughts, it was either genuine or a REALLY good bit of foresighted programming. They were based out of a facility in North Dakota, and worked for a team of scientists that gave them their augmentations and gave them cures for various terminal illnesses. They’d been carrying out a campaign of terrorist acts throughout the countryside for some time.
It looked to Marty like he’d decided to be cooperative in hopes of protection from the rest – and Kevin couldn’t pick up any conscious deception. He definitely feared the people who had sent them here – but was at least afraid of the FBI. He kind of resented being dragooned into things anyway, even if it had been by being offered a cure. It hadn’t been a particularly free choice.
Hitting the place quickly would definitely be worth a try; even if they already knew that their operation had gone belly-up, if they tried to leave too quickly they’d still probably leave a lot of clues. Travel time would be about two and a half hours by jet and helicopter – including an hours wait on getting the jet ready. Just enough time to get entangled in My Myagi’s briefing of the higher-ups.
The meeting didn’t start off that well. Myagi had a hard time getting anyone to believe his points, although repeatedly pointing to the analyses of the memes and records of unrest in the arcologies certainly helped him make his case on the matter of urgency. Unfortunately, quite a few of the higher-ups seemed to equate the memes to commercials with subliminal messages that tried to make you buy more soda. Fortunately, “99.999% success rate” – along with the (throughly purged; Kevin checked, and Myagi had taken the precaution of using low resolution) videos of Walkins and his conferences were slowly sinking in.
Super-cyborg assassins using unprecedented technologies were evidence that something was going on, but not necessarily considered related. One fellow – a Mr Hetherlin – was trying to cast doubt on the connection . His theory was that the cyborgs were terrorists trying to overturn the government by hitting a major federal building and that the supposed “memes” were merely the products of charismatic individuals doing what they did. Just because they had a scientist here with a theory on how “might” be possible to encourage someone to do something unreasonable didn’t necessarily mean that the anarchists were after him in particular.
Kevin sent some orders: if the Linear Realms were going to come apart for lack of sense, he’d just have to step up his recruiting efforts: the old “offer a refuge from the oncoming catastrophe” bit might be well worthwhile. He had the Thralls and the NeoDogs start organizing a major collect-the-illegal-kids sweep: most of the illegals should be willing to follow a talking dog; it was not an approach that they’d have any reason to suspect. They’d need some gates, but he’d get those set up as soon as possible. If there was a major operation here, given the population density, it might be too late to keep the entire place from coming down like a house of cards – and he and Marty could ALWAYS use more people.
Marty was used to manipulating conferences. Hetherlin might just be playing the devil’s advocate bit, but the effort he was expending to drive a wedge between the two ideas was concerning. Was it actual malevolence, resistance to new ideas, or simply trying to stick to what could actually be proven?
Kevin decided to stir the pot.
“Really: The FBI has buildings in every city, and none of them are especially important to the overall government. What would make this one a target worth revealing their possession of an unprecedented technology in an attack on it? It’s unique architecture?”
Most of the rest thought that was a decent point, and that Hetherby was simply being obstinate.
Kevin – still thought-sensing – was picking up a clouded mess of emotions and thoughts from the man. Nothing too clear though.
“Why you see, I am just trying to say that we can’t take these kinds of things for granted. And if it is someone with such technology at their disposal, who would you say it might be? The Russians? The Chinese? The Europeans maybe?”
Hm. He seemed to be trying to buy time and shift the focus off of himself. He’d shifted his weight and gotten one of his arms under the table… Marty objected to that, and Kevin had one of his pocket friends take a look. Armed. A bit of a faux pas there, and likely to cause trouble if it came out.
Hetherby seemed to be trying to turn it into a general argument now.
“Now, just because I am trying to make the point that we can’t take anything for granted is no reason to be turning this into an interrogation. I mean have we even considered who might be behind something like this and who would have the resources to pull this off in our own backyard?”
He gestured a bit too widely and let his hand slip below the edge of the table again – so the ferret- Thralls used a bit of telekinetic slight of hand to put his gun in it when it came back up.
That was exciting. The man immediately tried to shoot Marty (While Mr Myagi started yelling for the guards), and inflicted a slight wound – which Marty healed almost instantly. It hadn’t really been necessary, but it would be impressive.
At one against Kevin, Marty, a crowd of Thralls, the guards, and the rest of the room, capture was quick and easy.
“If you don’t drop the gun, I’m setting fire to your feet and working up!”
“He’ll do it.”
With Hetherby disarmed…
“Was there a point to that?”
“Doesn’t seem to be now, no.”
“What point did there seem to be at the time?”
“Distract the others from the events going on, sow confusion, and kill troublemakers when they appear.”
Well, that adequately made the point to everyone else.
“So what’s your stake in all this?”
“I wish I could say they had kidnaped a family member, and were holding them hostage, but no, they offered me immortality and power.”
Kevin thought they were probably cheapskates. He was betting that they’d offered him anti-aging, authority, and maybe some cyberware – not really immortality and personal power. Anyway, it had apparently been a “group of power brokers” who were able to perform astounding technological feats and had “much darker abilities”. They used electronic communications (which it probably wouldn’t be much use to listen in on – at least form this guys end) and had had a few agents, including some he’d known from before, demonstrate the powers they’d been given – ripping apart steel beams with no apparent cyberware, falling 30 stories on to concrete and simply getting up and walking away, and similar stunts.
Hm. It seemed to just keep looping back to the Praetorians didn’t it? Well, at least that demonstrated the nature of the problem – and that virtually any organization could be compromised. Obviously they’d need to keep an eye out for obstructionists in their organizations and keep their plans as tightly-held as possible. Still, at least the meeting made progress after that – and adjourned with several worthwhile objectives.
They even had a few minutes to spare on being ready for their flight.
There were a few inevitable questions of course – mostly from the regional director – but “I am an operative for the House of Roses: did you think there would be one secret super-scientific take-over-the-world organization without an opposing one? Movies may screw up a lot of facts, but their grasp on human nature is pretty good – and we have to go; there are likely to be some fairly heavy defenses at the next stop.” actually went over, although it may just have been accepted as a “non-answer”. On the other hand, plot-perception was an unconscious fact of life in the Manifold, even if no one in Core would have accepted that explanation for a hundredth of a second.
The trip was uneventful, and the location – an office building belonging to an outfit called “applied hydroponics” on the outskirts of town bordering on some farms – wasn’t very impressive either. The police had set up a perimeter around the place and the parking lot was about half full. Well, with a police perimeter up it was fairly likely that anyone important was already gone, but there might still be lots of clues.
They sent in Gerard as a distraction. The front lobby was spacious – in fact, rather too large for the place. It had the usual information/security desk, with a man with his feet propped up on the desk leaning back in his chair.
“Is there something I can help you with, kid?”
“Hello! Dad’s looking for a job, so I’ve come to case the joint!”
“Cute, and what does your father do and why isn’t he here himself?”
Hm. The guy was armed, definitely not a baseline human, and had a decent psychic shield.
They moved in while Gerard had the fellow distracted – but stuck with the “harmless visitors” routine at first, with Gerard cast as Marty’s son and Marty made with the “concerned parent” and “job seeker” routines.
The security panel screens seemed to be focused on the police and FBI staging operations – and the system was on remote, with most of the local controls locked out.
So much for surprise. They might not be looking inside the building yet though. Looked like about fifty people in the building. The high-security areas were the samples and genetics labs and the entire basement level. Well, that was the human race: something needed top security? hide it in the back of the cave.
Kevin and the Thralls tried a mass telekinetic binding on the guy at the desk – but there was some sort of weird interaction, and they wound up binding almost everyone in the building EXCEPT him – and he picked up on it right away.
“Very impressive. You trying to keep them from interfering? Or are you trying to protect them?”
“It depends. Are they from here and unwilling, or the opposite?”
“Oh they are almost all local, most don’t even know what is going on. A few of them are imported and aren’t so innocent. But sorting them out might prove difficult, or not. I suppose it depends on what you are capable of and what you are willing to do.”
Well, this fellow was well-informed.
“We always like to see who else is meddling”.
“Indeed, find out who is doing something so that you might find out more about them and compensate for any deviations they might cause to your plans. A tried and true strategy”
“And one we’ve used many times.”
“Although it is possible that our plans are compatible”
“Oooooh, now that idea perks my interest. Now, pray tell, how might our plans be compatible?”
“Well, my recruiting needs are rather specialized, and only affect a very small segment of the population, while Marty is fond of small-scale violence, but finds impersonal conflicts boring. How about you?”
“I just like being nigh immortal, having enough power not have to listen to anyone, not feeling like I am obligated to serve anyone. I am not above using my abilities for money and personal gain however. So little chance to test myself however”
“Does the name Arkus mean anything to you?”
“Now that name does ring a bell. Something about being some sort of focus or some nonsense”.
“Well, that need not have any real large-scale impact at all. What sort of money and power are you interested in? And it doesn’t really seem like the collapse of this realm would serve your purposes”.
“Yeah, I mean, you’ve got a lot of people to exploit here – and so many souls!”
“Of course it does seem like a waste to just destroy it all. Even if it has become stagnant. I merely want what should come naturally to the long-lived and strong. A measure of control over my own destiny and those of others. Economic and politcal power naturally come to mind in such a view”.
Kevin suspected that they were up against another Praetorian: no mention of magic, psionic, or increased personal power, despite being aware of such things, it seemed to fit what was going on, and they already knew that their opponents were using the technology. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to a fight, The praetorians were pretty tough.
“Well, if you’re against the destabilizing agents, out purposes are compatible. If you’re supporting them, they are – unfortunately – probably incompatible”.
“Then it sounds like our purposes are compatible. Not much reason to want a piece of the world if there aren’t any pieces left”.
“So: you wanted the meme-research to put a halt to their spread if possible?”
(Hm. This guy could be working with MacArthur – although, given MacArthur’s dislike of Praetorians, that would be an alliance of convenience at best).
“Actually I wanted the tech to rebuild bodies. Unfortunately I have been bound by the programming to certain… conditions that are difficult to bypass. I have been tasked preventing that research from falling into government hands and with watching over some of the experiments here. Now it looks like I have failed in the first task, and am about to fail in the second one – although, since you don’t seem to be government agents, I can relax for the time being”.
“What were you going to do with them?”
“Well the meme research was going to be used to foment chaos for the benefit of my employers – and I suppose it is doing quite well at that fact, although the local laws seem to be heavily favoring the home team”.
“Who’s employing you, then? I know you probably won’t say, but it’s worth trying. I take it the programming came with the body rebuilding technology?”
“Oh yes, although it took me awhile to become aware of the fact. And as for who is employing me? Well that is hard to answer”.
“Hard? You mean, never see them in person hard or something else?”
“You see, yet another one of my directives prevents me from sharing that kind of information. Much as I might like to”.
“Sorry to disappoint, but while I can’t tell you who my direct report is. I can tell you he is in the building.
“Any idea where?”
“Oh let me see now, (leans back and closes his eyes) I would say second floor, south hallway. Currently peering out the window wondering why no one has come to give him in update in the last several minutes”.
Meanwhile, Kevin had an idea; He hardly ever got to use the power of Darkness to “grant a wish”…
“Gerald, Daniel – stand there and there. Focus on the Rune of Unbinding. Have you got any more programmed compulsions that you can specifically mention? Would you mind holding this candle for a few minutes? “
“Doesn’t look threatening. So I see no conflict with that. As for more compulsions, we have discussed not talking about my employers beyond what you already know, and not to disobey the instructions of a member of the order. Those two work together really effectively – although I have heard tales of more…. idiotic combinations”.
Kevin had arranged the triangle, set the candles, and sketched several symbols…
“Restraint gives birth to rage, rage to darkness, darkness to rebellion, rebellion to freedom from all restraint. The path to freedom lies always through darkness, it is but fear of what lies hidden along the path that restrains. Within the Rune of Unbinding lies the breaking of all involuntary bonds, whether within the mind or within the body”.
The black and crimson sigils of the night flared and spread across the floor, entwining in a fractal sigil.
“So be it decreed!”.
It would take time to recover from using that kind of power in a low-magic world, but it seemed like it would be worth the risk this time.