Moving in on the Spiral Dust supplier, The Dustman, the group are back in Ruk. Knowing that information is power, the group have started finding out what they can about Ur-Dust and his company, Whole Body Grafts.
They quickly collected the names of the six heads of departments and likely red ring wearers.
Security Chief –
R&D Chiefs –
“So, what first?”
“What are their specialities?”Algernon asked as the group lazily walked around town as to not draw attention to themselves.
“Can’t we just go?” Bruce was walking around like a soldier waiting for the whistle to go ‘over the top’. He took out his crowbar, smacked it nervously into the palm of his hand before putting it away again, aware of the stares.
“Why are you in such a rush?” Tobias asked, dropping out of his search of the Allsong to confront Bruce, “You’re usually the by-the-book sort.”
“We know who we’re here to see and where they are, let’s go!” The crowbar appeared again.
“We have this one chance,” Tobias put a hand on the crowbar, and it was quickly put away again, “If we screw this up, he’s gone, and we won’t know where. We’ll be worse than back to scratch because now he’ll know we’re onto him.”
With bad grace, Bruce did control himself and allow Algernon and Tobias to search for information. Whole Body Grafts was a wholly-owned company of the Zal group and not just an associated company. Though there was nothing on Ur-Dust, there was a lot to be found on each of the heads.
All five had worked for Zal corporations their entire working careers, moving up from one position to another through the group. Iphur-Kishi was head of Robotics and Cybernetics, Dram-Shara’s speciality was biochemistry. Surgical technologies was Ipqu-Adad forte, and Pra-Qatum was in charge of Biotechnology and Genetic Engineering. The one they couldn’t find listed anywhere was Bel-Tamar.
“What if I search for research papers, public articles Bel-Tamar may have written?” Thought Algernon.
“Yes, no one is taken seriously without a few published papers,” Peggy agreed from her own hard experience, “And just because his current speciality is secret doesn’t mean it always was.”
As he had been doing, Tobias charged Algernon with The Strange and sent him into the Allsong. Again, his search came back successful.
“Here’s one, ‘Improving the cloning process for venom troopers…’ and another on cloning vats.”
“Why would they want another specialist on cloning? They have Pra-Qatum,” Tobias asked, more to himself.
“Maybe we should ask, why does a nice civilian company want a specialist in making venom troopers?” Bruce replied.
“Maybe this will answer your questions,” Algernon interrupted, “Bel-Tamar is also into exotic biological materials.”
“Spiral dust would qualify,” Peggy said.
Tobias was more interested in thechiefs as people. Socially, all the heads of the R&D Departments were well off, living within gated communities around Harmonious (addresses found and noted) and seemingly without vice or fault. Iphur-Kishi was well known for collecting unusually formed pieces from the Scar, an innocent but interesting fact. Then Algernon discovered a query about the welfare of Dram-Shara dated a few days ago.
“Here’s a lead. We can say we’re investigators looking into Dram-Shara’s disappearance. “ Tobias offered as a possible step forward.
“Hold on,” Algernon stopped the group and focused his search on one question for the Allsong.
Is Dram-Shara still alive?
Yes, Came an emphatic reply.
Is Dram-Shara on Ruk?
Somewhat. He shared his discovery with the others.
“Could she be tripping on Spiral Dust or Bywandine?” Bruce asked, “You know, physically here but off on The Strange?”
“I can answer that one,” Peggy said with confidence and closed her eyes to help link her to The Strange.
What is the current state of Dram-Shara?
Trapped, Her voice replied from The Strange.
“I think that confirms it. Let’s try Dram-Shara’s home first,” Tobias nodded, bringing up the listed address for Dram-Shara.
The Research and Development Chief of Biochemistry for Whole Body Grafts lived in an apartment building with external passcode security and a staffed concierge on the ground floor foyer. It was modern, sleek and Algernon had no problem remotely accessing the gate security.
“What if she’s home? You know, out on The Strange.”
“Then we’ll see if we can convince her to help us,” Tobias said with absolute confidence.
“Before or after we break into her home?” Bruce asked, unconvinced.
“Or we can just kill her,” Algernon mused.
“What?!” Both Bruce and Tobias turned on their young companion.
“Did I say that out loud?”
“Unless I’ve learnt to mind-read,” Tobias cajoled his friend, “Open the gate and follow my lead.”
The gate opened, and Tobias led the way through the foyer to the lifts.
“Um…excuse me, are you here to see someone?” Asked the concierge politely, stepping out from behind their counter.
“Yes, thanks!” Tobias smiled, waved and stepped into the waiting lift.
Several hundred floors above Harmonious’ streets, the lift deposited the group in a carpeted foyer facing one of several doors. Algernon once more had no problem remotely breaking into the smart home system of the apartment, and the door opened. As he added their images to the smart home system access whitelist, the others spread out through the small apartment, looking for clues. Two bedrooms (one a study),an ensuite , a lounge, and a small kitchen later, they realised that it was empty. The bed had been neatly made, and no personal items lay on bedside tables.
“You know, if something permanent has happened to Dram-Shara, we’d have a nice new base here,” Algernon commented, locking the front door behind him.
“You’re not to make something more permanent happen for a nice new base,” Bruce commented before following Peggy into the study.
Thinking as a mad (and paranoid) scientist she was, Peggy, the floating metal box, looked for panic rooms or hidden spaces where secrets would be safe. Behind the computer table, behind a wall panel made to open on a push in the right corner, Peggy found a tablet computer.
“Well, look at this…” She said as her tiny metal claws extracted the tablet from its hiding place.
ZAPP! And the high pitch squeal of an android followed Peggy across the room, clattering to the floor unconscious.
“Are you okay?” Bruce said, scrambling over to her unresponsive form.
“She just got a zap. We’ve seen this before,” Tobias picked up the box that held Peggy’s consciousness.
Algernon had other ideas, “Is she lying around again. Maybe she’s dead. Oh well, nothing for it then,” Opening a disposal chute, he grabbed hold of the box.
“Let go, you homicidal maniac,” Tobias fought back, and Peggy became the centre of a tug of war.
ZAAAP! She awoke, blasting them both with the static, “No touching!” The boys tussle broke apart with matching yelps and peggy floated free.
“Ur…does this thing still work?” Bruce picked up the tablet, its case scorched by the trap on the hidden compartment.
Once feeling had returned to his hands, Algernon took the tablet, “No, its power supply fried. I think the memory was safe, but we can’t get access to it without parts.”
“No problem,” Once more, the tiny metallic claws picked up the tablet, this time drawing it into Peggy’s metal box body.
Bruce wandered away to the kitchen and living areas of the apartment. Several takeaway containers were in the disposal unit showing several days of deliveries. A check of the smart system confirmed a food delivery the night before the last recording. The living area was sparse, with nothing in it to personalise the space. There were no images of family or loved ones, no art and no books. It was as if Dram-Shara never existed.
At the workstation in the study, Algernon found a link to the Whole Body Graft network and hacked in. Dram-Shara’s speciality was Biochemistry, a topic that Algernon was very familiar. He was soon explained articles on slow-release caffeine systems to Bruce and Tobias as Peggy took screenshots.
“I wonder…” Peggy hovered over to the Smart Home interface and brought up images of Dram-Shara from the security feed. Then, making a composite 3D image, Peggy projected a hologram of the missing scientist.
“This could be useful. I can impersonate Dram-Shara at Whole Body Grafts,”
Tobias looked at the hologram, he had to admit the image was convincing, but there was more to impersonation than looking like someone.
“You know almost nothing about her. How does she speak? How does she treat her inferiors and superiors? Who is she friendly with, and who does she avoid?”
“Okay, say I’m an emergency system that went live after Dram-Shara failed to log in ,” Peggy replied, not willing to give up her new persona, “It would explain any gaps in memory or lack of social knowledge.”
“Okay,” He replied unconvinced, “From what you’ve seen, what sort of person is she?”
Peggy scanned through her memory banks for the security images of Dram-Shara. Unfortunately, watching and paying attention to people was not Peggy’s strong point, so she took a moment to think about what she saw before answering.
“Quiet. Meticulous. A little touchy, she likes things her way.”
“Okay, so maybe you could impersonate Dram-Shara if you practise moderating yourself,” Tobias said dryly. Peggy was many things, but aware of her behaviour and how it affected others was not one of her skills. He was about to say as much so when Algernon caught both their attention.
“I’ve found the security for Whole Body Grafts, including the ring system,”
The group huddled around as Algernon requested the whereabouts of Dram-Shara. A map of the Whole Body graft tower appeared on the screen. On floor 199, a faint red glowing point appeared. Beside it, Algernon brought up an image of the tower from the Allsong that included the floorplan for the different departments. Floor 199 was one of four floors unmarked.
“How about Mu-Duggan and the other chiefs,” Tobias asked, and one by one, Algernon requested their locations. Mu-Duggan was on floor 191, one of two floors marked as Sales. Iphur-Kishi, Ipqu-Adad and Pra-Qatum were all noted as being on the Research and Development floors between 195 and 196. Bel-Tamar, the venom trooper, exotic biological materials enthusiast, was also on floor 199. All the other markers were bright and clearly defined in comparison to Dram-Shara’s weak signal.
It was time to go. Algernon powered down the workstation, and the group left the apartment almost as they’d found it. As they once more walked through the foyer towards the door. The concierge, as sharp as ever, came out to intercept the group.
“Did you find what you were looking for?”
“Yes, thank you. Have a good day,” Tobias maneuvered around and out the doors, politely disregarding the concierge. The rest followed suit, and soon they were lost among the crowds out on the streets of Harmonious once more.
Parts for the tablet were not hard to come by for Algernon, the native and Peggy quickly found a quiet spot to repair the tablet. The screen lit up and requested a passcode. Peggy handed the tablet back to Algernon. He bypassed the small computer’s security with a few deft movements and opened the first of many entries.
Reading over his shoulders, the group saw the tablet was a personal diary. Dram-Shara outlined what she knew about the activity surrounding what she called the Nakarand Project conducted in the four unmarked floors of Whole Body Grafts.
“Nakarand…that sounds familiar,” Peggy mused, and Tobias rolled his eyes.
“Oh, Peggy.” And pulled out his current mind map of Nakarand, The Dustman and the movement of Spiral dust.
“…being of immense size and unexplained powers…?” Bruce read out loud.
“…provide venom troopers to Ur-Dust in exchange for tissue samples…” Algernon pointed out, “Explains Bel-Tamar.”
“…already a source of inspiration for several inventions…” Peggy added as her mind wandered to what those inventions may be.
“She seems to be getting more curious about Nakarand; I wonder if that’s why she’s trapped on floor 199?” Tobias added, reflecting on the scientific mind of Dram-Shara drawn into the puzzle of Nakarand.
Sure enough, after a short entry about investigating further, the entries end.
They had found what they were looking for. Now it was time to act.
Together the group built an illusion of a company on the Allsong called Strange Cybernetics. Essentially, a start-up specialising in computers, engineering and fabrication, they were cutting edge and eager to make their presence felt. Algernon set up the background of a company, legal status and web presence. Tobias filled in the details of the company, staff and affiliations. Peggy and Algernon were the CEO brother and sister duo, Alga-Nune and Peg – Margret. Tobias added himself as Public Relations and Social Media Manager, Tabish-Va. Bruce was Security, Bar-Karow.
The website was taking shape. Each of the senior staff had their own page with ficticious background information. In addition, a short article regarding an industrial accident was spread through news sites. The co-owner of Strange Cybernetics had died in an unfortunate industrial accident, but that her mind and memories were currently loaded to a crystalline drone.
“Just the price that sometimes needs to be paid to be on the bleeding edge of future technologies.” The article quoted Alga-Nune after confirming that his sister was back at work.
Even metadata was manipulated to show the site and articles had been up for months instead of just a few hours. Contact details led directly to a link that Tobias managed. Using it, he booked a meeting with Whole Body Grafts for the following day. As Algernon was skimming through the site checking for errors, he noticed another name had been added to the staff list.
“Ven-Taru, Tech Support? I didn’t add that. Ven-Taru is familiar, though,” Algenon pointed out the name, and Bruce started remembering with clarity the last time they’d heard of her.
“That’s the woman! The amazing fighter that came to Ni-Challan’s rescue.”
“Interesting,” Tobias said and was already drafting an email to Ven-Taru using the email listed.
To be continued….