Colonel Toaku, Eastern Director of the Regional Judicature, landed on the roof of the Elect City Judicature Complex and stepped off his official transport module before the gangway had fully lowered. He walked briskly across the exposed and windy rooftop, through the door held open by a Judicature officer, into an elevator being held for him by another officer.
He nodded at the officer just before he entered the elevator to indicate he wanted the doors closed and the car moving as soon as he was aboard.
As he turned around to face the closed doors, he took his first breath since landing. He was agitated and annoyed. He didn’t want to be here but the city Legat had insisted, sent a personal messenger — not a message, not a drone, an actual person — to summon him like some junior assistant.
Obviously, it was an important matter. It had better be. To call him away from a murder investigation, one that, if not handled correctly, could adversely affect the future of millions, was no small matter.
Twelve members of the General Assembly, slain in cold blood. Once news of the deaths became public… he needed to have a suspect at the very least. Preferably in custody. The location of the murders and the family name involved only made the sensitivity of the matter even greater.
The elevator doors opened. He stepped into a long hallway. Officers in dress uniform stood to attention on either side. More officers were stationed further along the hallway. It was noticeable that there were no drones present.
“Colonel,” said the senior officer present. “I am Lieut—”
“Yes, yes, enough with the formalities,” said Toaku. “Where is the Legat?”
The Lieutenant looked a little thrown but quickly gathered himself. “This way, sir.”
Toaku was led through the gauntlet of stiff officers to the large double doors at the other end of the hallway. There were no other doors.
The double doors opened as they approached, and a thin woman with an angular face stood ready to greet him. “I’ll take it from here, Lieutenant.”
The lieutenant gracefully moved to the side and took his place among the honour guard, looking quite relieved.
Toaku gave him the briefest of nods. No point blaming him for this farrago. He walked into a large office, an older woman seated behind a desk with screens surrounding her. She looked up to acknowledge his arrival.
“Ah, Colonel, good. Thank you for coming.”
“Look, what’s all this about, Legat? You know the situation at the moment. Is my presence really—”
“I’m afraid so.” She stood up, a short woman in a plain blue suit. Very much a worker. She wouldn’t have called him like this over something frivolous, he knew.
“Alright. What’s so important you wouldn’t even send me a message?”
“It’s not that I wouldn’t, our communications have been disrupted — scrambled to pieces might be more accurate.”
Taoku’s brow furrowed. “A deliberate act?”
“Very much so.”
“Any idea who?”
“According to our surveillance drones, you.”
Taoku was momentarily stunned into silence. “Are… are you suggesting I—”
“No, no. Let me explain. First, let me show you something.” She waved her hand and the screens hovering around her turned to face him. “This is our current situation.”
She tapped the desktop and the screens showed the room with the three of them from numerous angles. She tapped again and the view shifted to analytical mode, revealing everything about them down to their undergarments. But that was not what was most disturbing about what he was being shown. The name next to each of them was clearly incorrect. He was not and had never been Crostov Nylan, whoever that was.
“What’s going on here? Has the whole system been corrupted?”
“Just the city network as far as we’ve been able to detect,” said the Legat. “It’s somewhat difficult to get a complete picture when our detection system is the thing that’s been compromised, as I’m sure you can imagine. But with the case you’re working...”
“Yes, I see.” Toaku nodded, his mind trying to see how this might be related to his current assignment. It could just be a coincidence, but then again, perhaps not. “And you say my name popped up?”
“More than that. Let me show you.” She tapped the desk, this time swiping and moving her palms in a circle.
The picture on the screens shifted to a platform in the City Station. There appeared to be a small riot going on with drones forming a ring around the passengers emerging from one of the cars.
“With the identification system not working,” said the Legat, “the drones are misidentifying everyone. Putting wrong names to citizens and visitors alike. This person was identified as you.”
One of the screens zoomed in on a young man. He didn’t look remarkable in any way, except that he appeared to be very relaxed as he casually strolled past the drone cordon.
“The drones allowed him to pass thinking he was you. But look how easily he accepts the mistake.”
Toaku watched and agreed. “Like he was expecting it.”
“Yes. From what we’ve managed to extract from the other passengers, he accessed the network using one of their communicators.”
“That’s not possible,” said Toaku.
“Indeed. The Ollo Network is meant to be impregnable. From the outside.”
This couldn’t be a coincidence. The city network installed by Ramon Ollo, able to see everything, everywhere, suddenly rendered useless at the same time as twelve Senate members were found dead on the Ollo residence. Which happened to also be the one place where the surveillance architecture didn’t have access.
What was going on? For all this to happen when Ramon Ollo himself was missing, presumed dead… it suggested someone was attempting a quiet revolution. Perhaps Ollo himself, if he had faked his disappearance. But that wasn’t the man’s style. If he wanted to assume control, he would just do it.
“This person who assumed my identity,” said Toaky, “where is he now?”
“We don’t know.”
“But even if the identification protocols have been switched, can’t you locate me, or the person the system thinks is me?”
“Your identity has been reported in several different locations. Each a different person. It’s the only ID that’s been doing that, which also raised suspicions.”
“Good,” said Toaku.
“Good? Why is that good?”
“He isn’t perfect. Either he couldn’t scramble all the entire network or he didn’t have time. Either way, he made a mistake. This person, do you have a name for him.” He pointed at the stocky figure hurrying after his namesake.
“Yes.” The legat brought up a close–up of the man. He looked annoyed. The name next to him was Janeane Ingwe.
“Locate her. Him.”
“They’re together. We might not be able to track him but she, he might not have the same protection.”
The Legat nodded and did as asked. “I’ve found her, him. The Battle Arena.”
“Watching a show?” said Toaku.
“No,” said the Legat. “A contestant. In the women’s competition.”
Toaku gave the Legat a questioning look. She shrugged.
“Legat, I don’t know what’s happening here, but there’s a very strong chance this is part of some larger conspiracy.”
She nodded. “I think so too. That’s why I felt it was important to bring you in on this.
“You did the right thing, Legat.” Toaku looked at the two young men on the screen, casually walking away from the chaos they had started.
Who were they? Assassins? Professional agitators? Terrorists?
“I’m going to bring in my team. We’re being stonewalled by the Ollo staff. They may be involved in this. In the meantime, can you organise surveillance on the arena. Nothing obvious, just send in a few agents undercover, some spotters on the roofs.”
“Yes, as a precaution,” said Toaku. “I want to find out what else they’re planning. Let’s keep an eye on them until I can bring in my own team. My drones are on an independent network. No Ollo infrastructure.”
If this was an Ollo inside job, they weren’t going to compromise his department the way they had the city. His drones were designed to handle just this sort of situation. Colonel Ki Toaku was no fool, he had been preparing for something like this his whole career. They might be able to bypass their own security protocols, but they would find his drones a different prospect altogether. Only a tronics genius could hope to penetrate the complex defence system he had had installed. Ramon Ollo himself would struggle to find a weakness in it.
“Excellent,” said the Legat. “Elect City is glad to have you here, Colonel. My people are at your disposal. Enaya for the people.”
Toaku nodded. “Thank you. Enaya for the people.” It was time outsiders no longer had any say in their future.
Planet Enaya — orbit.
RNSC Three Bars.
Regional Manager Carl Yulang was feeling comfortable in his chair on the bridge of the Roaming Network support carrier Three Bars. Initially, he had been reluctant to divert his mission to the Ruben Cluster to come to this small asteroid owned by Ramon Ollo.
Even if there were a new Antecessor site opening here, the Ollo family name was enough to guarantee no one else would be allowed to profit from it. But now that the absence of Ramon Ollo had been confirmed, there were only the other supercorporations to deal with, and they had their own way of splitting up a claim. Battle. Using the only kind of weapon that counted — financial muscle.
There were the smaller firms, first class companies at best, sniffing around for scraps, a few independents, but they knew they weren’t in this contest.
The Central Authority vessel had been a minor complication, but with it out of the way, the field was wide open. And there was no way any of them would be blamed for the Nirvana’s destruction. The ship had self–destructed. The cost had to be astronomical. The thought made him chuckle to himself.
“I raise the bid to one hundred million,” said Captain Baresi of the Hi–Rise Construction Vessel Midway.
“You know we’re only accepting standard currency,” said Yulang.
“Of course,” said Baresi. “Too rich for you?”
The bidding system was straightforward enough. Whoever offered the most money, won the claim. The others split the money and went on their way. Legal, profitable and equitable. As long as you knew the worth of what you were bidding on.
“No, no, perfectly acceptable. Let me consult with my people.” Yulang turned to his negotiation team, strapped into their harnesses, brains plugged directly into the ship’s mainframe. “Come on, come on, what’s his ceiling.”
Organics, supercomputers and spreadsheets full of data that they weren’t supposed to have access to were meant to give him an edge in this auction. But everyone else had the same edge. He could get lucky, though. One of his organics might have a breakthrough.
“Can you hurry it along,” said one of the other bidders still in the game. “The Central Authority are going to send reinforcements eventually.”
“Ha,” scoffed Yulang. “Eventually is right. And then they’ll just dither over subclauses in their treaties and charters. Leave them to me.”
“Good, because we have just received a signal. We have incoming.”
“What?" He turned the comms over to his crew channel. “Check the sensor array, you worthless hacks.”
“Incoming,” said one of the helmsmen. “Detected at—”
“Yes, yes, well done." He needed to address the staffing issues. “Put it on the screen.”
The wall in front of him shimmered and revealed a mundane star field. And then the blankness of space warped as six ships emerged from subspace. Six giant CA vessels, white boxes that dwarfed the ships around the asteroid.
“This is the Central Authority. We are assuming control of this region. Stand down and await further instructions.”
Yulang smiled to himself. Automated ships, no guardians. This would be even easier than he’d thought.
“Petition to make arguments,” he said.
There was a pause. “Petition accepted. We will schedule—”
“We also wish to make a petition,” said one of the other ships, followed by the rest. They would have the CA ships tied up for weeks.
“Incoming,” said one of the helmsmen.
“Yes, I know, they’re already here.”
“Another ship. Behind us. A biggie.”
“Can’t you even try to sound professional? Put it on the screen.”
The picture changed. There was nothing but stars. “Where? I can’t—” Then he saw it. Moving fast. Too fast. And huge. And heavily armed. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
A high–pitched scream cut through all channels.
“This is the Seneca Corps," said a female voice. "We are here on a humanitarian mission. Leave or die.”
One of the first class firms broke into the main channel. “We have no business with you or—”
“Leave or die. All of you. Central Authority vessels, we are triggering clause three.”
“Understood,” said the CA drone. “We will retreat to the edge of the blast zone.” The CA vessels began to reverse.
“Shit,” said Yulang. “Get us out of here. I don’t want to be here when they turn this place into a black hole. Someone must have really pissed them off. Come on, come on. Fire thrusters.”
Every ship circling the small asteroid turned around and left. Everyone wanted to make money, but no one wanted it posthumously.