Old Man's Blog

Chapter 61 Alpha_Drover Redux

Nyork, Unity


Colonel Jourdaine’s O-A woke him.

He had submitted sixteen of his junior officers for . The senior leadership was a heaving jumble of competing factions, but they all demanded junior officers of single-minded, unthinking loyalty. All but Alpha_Drover-successful officers were compliant to any senior. All the failed officers would find themselves, in due time, in some jurisdiction of dubious significance. Dealing with Malila Chiu was just a happy coincidence.

He opened his O-A as he lay in bed, a warm and newly ascendant ensign snoring prettily next to him after he had put her through her paces. Jourdaine reviewed the results of the current Alpha_Drover.

Of the sixteen officers in the command, one had failed to control his men and had been left in the virtual sally port as he’d tried to escape the simulation. One officer had attempted to reincorporate; his psyche was still wandering a self-contained labyrinth, a “glass bottle” in the CORE. He would be decanted in time. Thirteen of Jourdaine’s officers had succeeded. Lieutenant François Belkhadem had gone a little overboard perhaps. He had joined his troopers in the slaughter. His loyalty was unquestioned, but his leadership skills might need closer evaluation. They had found him covered in blood and laughing as he’d repeatedly pulled the trigger on an empty magazine. No doubt, he had a use.

Two had failed, thirteen had succeeded … and one had disappeared. Malila Chiu was nowhere to be found.

He nudged the sleeping ensign and motioned for her to leave, watching her as she dressed before rising himself. Jourdaine showered rapidly to take the scent of the girl away and, after dressing in fatigues, examined Chiu’s transcript.

He slid a few controls in his O-A, and the image of Major Benjamina Wouters appeared, looking worried and fatigued. As a Suarez holdover and head of operations for Alpha_Drover, she had a lot to prove.

“Major Wouters, congratulations on another successful Alpha_Drover!”

“Sir, I am glad you are pleased, sir. I think the exercise has gone well.”

Her eyes kept looking down and to the side, her breath quickening. He felt a surge of the woman’s stressors; she was lying.

Jourdaine let a moderate reprimand course through her, and she cringed. It served his purposes well to engender a little terror in his subordinates. The woman squirmed.

“What happened to Chiu? Did she fail, succeed, or try to reincorporate? Major?” he asked, smiling faintly.

Major Wouters had gone somewhat paler, and there was a sheen on her forehead. Her fear increased the uncertainty of her responses … but a reliable emotion nonetheless.

“Sir, I do not know, sir. She has failed to lead her men. That part is clear. I retrieved her CRNAs without difficulty, but we had to wait until the rest of the operation was near completion. The troopers in Chiu’s command were found with unfired weapons … except one, her platoon sergeant.

“All he can say was that he followed direct orders. It seems she was able to reincorporate without using the CORE. She restarted her own body and did some minor vandalism in the staging area before escaping to the streets of Filadelfya District.”

“How is that possible, Major?”

“Lieutenant Chiu apparently was wounded in a weapons mishap. She ordered her sergeant to fire upon her. With the antifrat subroutines suspended, the shot did real damage. She reincorporated due to a power surge within the local node of the CORE. It is not immediately apparent whether that was volitional or not.

“She walked south from Chinatown to the old city center. There, she obtained some cocaine. That is all we have, sir!” Wouters finished with a grimace.

“What are you doing to intercept Chiu, Major? We can’t have a failed candidate wandering the streets and scaring the citizens,” Jourdaine said, quietly delighted that Chiu had made a run for it. She was out of the way, and he could clean her up at his leisure.

“I have already sent patrols to intercept her, sir. I anticipated your desire to keep the citizens unaware and have sent small groups of her fellow officers in civilian garb.”

“Very good, Major. Let me know when you have made progress,”

This was the last time he wanted to think about Lieutenant Chiu. It was her role, now, to evaporate into anonymity.

Malila watched the distant lights south of the bridge and tried to steady her hands as she took the spike of tightly wound wire and slid it into her nose, feeling it slip past the sensitive tissue.

Cocaine was an interesting drug. She had learned about it from Moses. He’d used it on some of his cattle with a nasty parasite in the nasal passages. It was a local anesthetic, shrank the lining of the passages, and stopped most bleeding. As for her own experiment, Malila was amazed at how far she could pass the spike blindly. She felt obstruction and pain and stopped. She retreated until the pain receded and then advanced again. Blood, her blood, dripped off the end of the spike, but this time she did not stop until the spike was fully inserted. She waited.

Her O-A implant had been her constant conduit into the CORE, and now it had turned into a shackle, binding her to the Unity. Jesse had removed her Basic implant, and they had found her, even outside the Rampart, from her O-A implant. Her O-A had to die if she were going to live. There was fear here as well. Her brain, her mind, had lived almost its whole life sensing, using, and listening to the implant within it. Edie was already gone. Would there be anyone left without the implant?

Would she be aware, if she failed, as the Unity found her and started the Sapping process? They said the CRNAs raved for days before becoming compliant.

The lights on the capacitor blinked green … full charge.

Malila thumbed the switch, slick with her warm blood; her vision evaporated, and she fell.

Hecate awoke in an empty, dusty apartment somewhere in the slums. To her surprise, the apartment had food for four days and, even more surprising, a working toilet. She read the postop instructions taped to her leg. The cutter and her assistant had been nameless, had never spoken, and had been wearing surgical masks by the time she’d been rolled in. Tiffany had not been there.

Hecate remembered their last face-to-face meeting, weeks before.

“You need to be careful, Heccy. Do you know about the implants?” Tiffany had warned.

“Of course, I use my O-A every day, just like you do.”

“No, what I mean is your Basic implant. You got it when you were an E1. It allows the Unity to track us. I think Malila’s is no longer working.”

“Then just take out the Basic implant,” Hecate said.

“They can track you with the O-A, but the range is much shorter. Most of the time that doesn’t much matter. I know someone who can remove the Basic and the O-A for you.”

“How do you know that?”

“Professional courtesy … no, that is just a joke. Sometimes, my patients have to disappear. They come to me, and I help them. But I don’t do the surgery part. I have a friend who does that. I get the anesthesia … There are certain expenses, you understand. Anyway, I help them, and the client pays for the surgery. I get paid for the anesthesia. They get a new identity and go somewhere to start over.”

“Where do they get the new implants from?”

“I never ask. It is probably good to never ask.”

“I just want to get rid of them both. Your friends can have them, for all I care.”

“Let me ask around. Where will you go?”

“I found some stories. I could never get through the Rampart to the west. It is all into Scorched—”

Tiffany interrupted with a furious wave of her hand. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. Don’t tell me any more. If I don’t know, I can’t tell. Do you need money?”

“I have some. I’ve been selling my stuff to phantom shops.”

“Take as much as you can. Useful stuff, money.”

Since that one meeting, she had not spoken to Tiffany again.

Her quarters had become an echoing hollow. She’d slept on the floor. She had made a point to have quiet dinners with Alexandra and Luscena. Hecate had tried to tell them she loved them. They had not understood, but she had tried. Malila had been too busy. And she was the only one who really mattered.

Late one night, a voice had called her and recited to her a time and an address and then made her repeat them back. The voice had told her not to write anything down. Hecate had collected her money and a few other things and shown up. The passenger compartment of the skimmer had been blacked out.

She found the little cream-and-blue book among her clothes when she was well enough to dress. She had forgotten she had brought it. In the early days of her grief after Victor’s death, she had found the book of poems. They had spoken to her, and she’d reread some of them enough to memorize them. Now she kept the book as some indefinable bright thread linking her to Victor. It was silly, she knew. Victor had never seen the book nor the poems. She kept it anyway.

That afternoon, Jourdaine skimmed down the loss-of-officer report on Chiu, past all the verbiage he already knew, and focused on the important bits:

7) Chiu appears to have committed suicide by jumping into the Delawear River, using the items she found as added weight, leaving an apparent suicide note (appendix D).

8) Chiu’s vital functions via cerebral implant ceased at 03.38.48 local, 1 July AU 77. The body has not been recovered.

Jourdaine shrugged. He signed for his copy of the report with a mental flourish. Vivalagente Suarez was no longer a worry. Suarez had been the real reason for Chiu’s rescue and rehabilitation. In a way, he was pleased.

With Chiu now dead, he no longer had to worry about what she might say next. She had been away from the Unity for six months. During that time, she had lost the function of her Basic implant and, seemingly, all her training. No doubt, Chiu represented a wild-type human in the hothouse culture of the Unity. It was just as well that Alpha_Drover had done its job.