At seven that evening Cylee was getting dressed when a notification popped up in her HUD. It was a small map link and the words “Dinnertime?” The address wasn’t far and Cylee sent back “see you there” as she got dressed for the evening. She wore an all-black outfit, not for secrecy but because she was feeling like black was pretty much her color today. She chose black leggings, high leather boots, a form-fitting black top with a short (black) jacket. the outfit looked like evening wear but was also slightly armored and padded. Also the jacket hid a holster for her flechette thrower and a couple of clips full of specialized ammo. In theory she shouldn’t need any weapons of her own, but in practice she never went into any situation unarmed. She tied her hair back into a ponytail, then decided to braid it instead. Braids were better at staying out of the way. It wasn’t exactly in keeping with the rest of the outfit, but it would work. She was halfway out the door when she remembered to grab her Spine’s charging adapter. Again, this should only be a half hour job, but you never knew when you might have to lie low somewhere and having your Spine be on low power mode wasn’t fun. She stuffed the charger in a pocket and went to meet Mitzi.
The restaurant was called “the Panopticon” and somewhat surprisingly the owner seemed to actually understand what the word meant. The front door opened into a lobby which contained a bar and an elevator. The hostess took them into the elevator which went down into a surprisingly large, round basement. In the center of the room was a slightly raised chef’s station, and around the walls of the room were roughly sixty small booths, entirely enclosed on three sides, open only to the chef’s station in the center. The idea was that each booth was visible to the staff, but not to anyone else in the restaurant.
“Fancy,” Mitzi said as they sat down and looked over the menu. “How did you find out about this place?” Cylee asked. “Oh, it’s owned by a friend of my mom’s…” Mitzi dove into the sort of explanation that usually made Cylee’s head swim, and at the same time was staggeringly dull. Cylee had forgotten how interconnected rich people were. But the explanation ended with, “so, anyway, we’re getting our dinner for free tonight!” which was good enough for Cylee, because the prices were insane. Cylee ordered something that she guessed was chicken, but real chicken from a real animal. Mitzi’s order was a small but substantial section of the French language.
“Are you excited?” Mitzi asked after the waiter left and they were more-or-less alone in their booth. Cylee smiled a little. “Sure.” She said. Mitzi looked down and played with the stem of her glass.
“Listen, did I hurt your feelings earlier…” Mitzi began, but the light on their table flickered red, indicating that the waiter was returning. They thanked him for the soup, thanked him for refilling their water glasses, thanked him for thanking them, and then he was gone again.
“No…look, I understand. You were trying to point out how wrong-headed your folks are. It’s fine” Cylee said.
“So we’re good?” Mitzi asked.
“Yeah, Mitz, we’re good.” Cylee said. It was easier than actually explaining. Mitzi brightened up and started telling Cylee about the Heavy they’d be working with. Cylee only sort of listened. She knew how Mitzi operated, and if Mitzi was calling this guy a “Heavy” it meant he was a lot of muscles and some proficiency with ranged weapons. In Cylee’s head all heavies were named “Bruno” and could just about be trusted to get in the way. But they were usually also good at protecting Mitzi as she got out.
Dinner came. Cylee’s food was indeed chicken. In Alaska, before Pacifica, eating small animals meant you were too poor to buy food. Now it meant you could afford the real stuff. It was good, though.
They had some very small cake thing for dessert and headed back out to the street. Nobody brought a bill, nobody asked for payment. Whatever rich person magic had occurred without Cylee seeing it.
Without being too direct or too casual they made their way to the office district where the SUV was going to be parked. This part of Seattle had escaped the worst of the fighting, and the office buildings were old, stark reminders of an earlier time with regular glass and steel, probably twenty-first century stuff. Cylee’s HUD lit up the garage based on the address.
“Hey Cyl, what’s it like, having a Spine?”
“What? You’ve got Augments.”
“Yeah, but just like, civilian stuff. I’ve got some visual overlays, but it’s all basic mixed-reality stuff. Nothing like that new Spine you’re wearing.”
“Noticed, did ya?” Cylee said, scanning for any radiation coming from the security system. If she was very lucky it’d be transmitting instead of hard-wired.
“Of course I did. I know you, girl. It’s clearly a lot newer. And it’s not a production model. I looked.”
Cylee laughed. “Okay, what else can you tell me about it?” “It’s probably a Shiira job, since nothing Initech makes looks like that at all. And it’s not production, either here or in Japan. Cyl…you should tell me about that job in Portland. People don’t just give out hardware like that.”
Cylee stopped and focused on Mitzi. “You’re right Mitz. I’m a little worried as well. But the job seems to have gone down okay and I think I’m well out of it. Tell you what, after this job, let’s talk it over. I’ll tell you all about it and you can tell me if I was stupid to take that job.”
“Stupider than usual, you mean,” Mitzi said, smiling but still looking concerned.
Agent: We have the passcode algorithm to the side door. You’ll need to use your Augment to let us transmit it to the keypad, it’s expecting a security key.
The Agent didn’t respond, it never did. Cylee liked saying thanks anyway.
Whichever Bruno this was showed up. Cylee led the way to the side door.
“Okay, Mitzi, wait outside this door until I call. Usual signal. Bruno—“
“My name is—“
“Nope, for the next hour it’s Bruno,” Cylee said. Bruno looked at Mitzi, who just shrugged.
“Bruno, stay low and cover the side of the vehicle that I can’t see. If I’m working up close that thing is a huge blind spot. When I give Mitzi the signal you cover her until she’s clear of the building, then cover my exit. We good?”
Mitzi nodded. After a second Bruno nodded as well. Cylee nodded and held a finger to her lips.
Two RACs were on duty; she could “see” them via infrared and sonic. These two would be going off duty in an hour, so right now they should be at their most bored. Two more would be coming on in half an hour. Plenty of time. Cylee pressed her finger against the key reader and the lock turned green. She eased the door open and walked over to the SUV.
The garage was full of SUVs. The RACs were both sitting by the front door, where they could theoretically see the entire garage. Except one had just gone to the bathroom and the other was looking at his phone. Everyone thinks they’re more observant than they are. Cylee moved along a row of cars, vaguely aware of Bruno walking in and crouching low behind an opposite row.
Cylee’s Augments were having a hard time identifying the target. Possible matches floated over a couple of the SUVs but she needed to see the license plate to be sure.
The target was a few rows of cars away from the Rent-A-Cops near the front door. Since it was the middle of the night the garage door was rolled down, and they were leaning their chairs against it. The target SUV had been backed into its space, meaning Cylee had easy access to the back hatch if she needed it, but the door facing away from the RACs seemed like a better choice. Bruno passed her and hunkered down between two cars.
Cylee pressed her Trigger Finger against the lock pad and let her Spine and the Agent get to work. This part always bugged her; being a vessel for the Agent to do its work meant she was mostly just standing there. She loosened her fletchette thrower with her free hand.
The locks popped. Cylee eased the door open an climbed inside, looking for the mice. They weren’t’ hard to find. There was a large plastic box with its own air tank in the back seat.
“Hey, Mitz,” Cylee subvocalized, watching her words turn to text in her HUD and sending it to Mitzi.
“There’s like, 100 mice in this box.”
“What? There were only supposed to be around 20!?!”
“Somebody got carried away, I guess. I think we’re gonna have to use the shipping box they have here.”
“Ugh. Okay, I’m moving towards you now.”
Outside the RACs were getting restless, it seemed. One stood up and started walking between the cars. Cylee sent a message to both of her co-conspirators.
“RAC on the move. Get out of sight, wait until he settles again.” Cylee wedged herself down into the footwell of the backseat and prepared to wait it out.
But Bruno had other ideas. Suddenly Cylee heard a loud, pointless yell as Bruno stood up out of concealment and fired at the RAC. He missed by some distance and his shot indented the windshield of a little passenger car. The fact that it didn’t shatter was a curious testimony to the armored-ness of all the vehicles in this garage but wasn’t of immediate interest.
“Mitz, Bruno’s gone full Leroy. How far are you?”
“Like, four cars? But if there’s heat…”
“Drop your weapon!” The RAC shouted and Bruno fired again, blasting a hole in a wall behind the RAC. Apparently realizing he was a bad shot, Bruno threw the weapon at his opponent and charged.
“Where did you find this moron?” Cylee asked Mitzi as she moved out of the vehicle towards Bruno and the two RACs.
“Not now, Cyl. I’ve got the mice and I’m getting out. Can you keep them off me?”
“It’s what I do. I’ll try to extract Bruno as well.”
Cylee ran across the gap between the rows of cars, trying to get behind the RACs.
“There’s another one!” The second guard shouted. The first guard side-stepped Bruno’s running attack and threw him against a vehicle. So they had some training at least. Cylee got her flechette pistol out and checked the ammo. Anesthetics, which was good. Making people go numb in the arms was a good way to not draw too much attention post-action.
“You! Stop right there!” The second RAC yelled as he found Cylee. She decided to call him Arnie. She planted her feet and let her Third Eye take in Arnie. She leveled the pistol at him and half-pulled the trigger. Her Augment network sighted in on him and she “painted” both of his arms, then pulled the trigger the rest of the way.
Sixty small needles on a fine wire flew out, the thrower aiming them and guiding them in flight as they found their mark all the way up Arnie’s right arm, then the wire broke and sixty more hit is left arm.
Cylee turned as Bruno got back up and punched the second RAC.
“I’m clear, Cylee,” Mitzi sent and then Arnie hit Cylee hard. His arms were worthless but he was still fairly large. She hit the wall and Arnie grunted. This can’t have been fun for him either. Cylee was a lot younger and willing to ignore the crunching sound that came from her midsection when Arnie hit her. She slid down the wall, out of Arnie’s range, and came back up, her head hitting his chin hard. Arnie went backwards and Cylee slid out between two cars, out of his reach.
Bruno was down. The other RAC had hit him with something.
“Cyl, can you get out? I have the package safe.”
“Bruno is down. One RAC is dazed and won't be able to use his arms for the next two hours. Not sure about the one Bruno was fighting.”
“Cylee, just get out, I’ll handle Bruno. I’ll meet you at point A” Mitzi said and Cylee nodded. She ducked and moved out.
Once she wasn’t attacking anyone she was less of a priority. Arnie was making his way to where his companion had Bruno down on the ground. But Mitzi said she would handle it. So Cylee got out.
Point A was an empty warehouse a few blocks away that belonged to Mitzi’s Dad’s brother’s friend, or something like that. A few minutes later Mitzi showed up with the mice.
“Oh, jail probably. He deserved it, he’s kind of a lowlife.”
“But you said you had a plan.” Cylee said.
“I did. Leave him. I knew you wouldn’t agree, soldier girl, so I just did it.” Mitzi said, inspecting the mouse box. “Come on, there’s a rental lab nearby. Let’s extract some DNA.”
Cylee was silent. She’d never told Mitzi that she had been a soldier. She just followed Mitzi out of the building.
The lab was nearby and was very much of the “plausible deniability” sort. It provided entirely legal equipment at an hourly rate. What you did with centrifuges, a wide array of syringes, microscopes, DNA testing equipment, an annealing furnace, and an autoclave, was entirely up to you. The doors were heavy, lead-lined, and triple-bolted because nobody likes to be disturbed while they are doing entirely legal science. Also there was a thing that looked suspiciously like a mouse guillotine.
“That’s because it’s a mouse guillotine,” Mitzi said as she scrubbed her arms to the elbows and put on a rented lab jacket.
“Do we have to kill them?” Cylee asked.
“Well. I guess not, it’s just easier to get the DNA samples when they’re not moving around.”
“How much are those mice worth?” Cylee said.
“The valuable ones are worth a few million dollars in the right hands.” Mitzi said. “Why?”
“What if we just released them into the street? Is there any way to tell which mice are a gold mine and which are just mice?”
Mitzi laughed. “That’s just wicked. No, I don’t think there is. Sure, Cyl. We’ll free some mice. Who knows, maybe they’ll have little mice babies that also have somebody’s corporate secrets in their DNA. But first…we need that DNA. They won’t like me while I do this, but I guess it’s probably still better than meeting Mousey Madame Guillotine.”
Cylee settled against a wall. If she had felt pointless when her Augments were unlocking the SUV she felt double pointless now. Also Bruno had taken a fall for them and she didn’t like that.
So she watched Mitzi. From what Cylee knew, Mitz had never taken a genetics class, nor had she ever worked in a lab. But she still went about her business like a professional, getting tissue samples, putting them into the DNA sequencer, and making sense of the results. When Cylee asked about how she knew how to do all of this, on a previous and similar job, Mitzi had just said “life isn’t actually that hard.” An entirely unsatisfactory answer.
“Why did you call me soldier girl?” Cylee asked instead. Mitzi paused only briefly, then continued doing mean things to mice.
“You’re ex-Pacifica. You move like a soldier, you seem to be angry at the American government, and you always plan things out twenty steps ahead. I figure you must have been an officer. Also I looked up your old Spine. PDF issue. I figure you moved down here after the Rebellion and since you never seemed to want to make an issue of it, I…didn’t.”
“But, Cyl, why would you have signed unto fight against the government?” Cylee laughed, and then remembered that, from Mitzi’s point of view, the Fed worked.
“I didn’t sign up. I was drafted. Conscripted. Basically, kidnapped. They showed up at my house and said 'you’re needed in the army.’ I had been in training for three weeks before I found out they didn’t mean the United States Army.”
“The Army doesn’t kidnap people,” Mitzi said, stabbing another mouse.
“I didn’t know that. It seemed like the sort of thing they would do. Anyway they had guns, I didn’t, so what choice did I have?” Mitzi poked another mouse and thought about it. “Yeah, I guess. But…Pacifica was a bunch of criminals. I mean, look at Seattle. It’s been years and downtown is still screwed up. If they had just stayed…American… we wouldn’t be in this mess.”
“I’m really not going to defend them, Mitz. Whatever they did to Seattle, what they did to me was worse. I fought because I was ordered to fight, or I’d be killed. If the options are definite death and possible death, give me the one where I can influence the outcome.”
“Is that why you want to set the mice free?” Mitzi asked.
“Maybe. It’s certainly part of it.” Cylee said.
It took two more hours to extract the DNA from all the mice. Mitzi worked in silence and Cylee sat against the wall facing the door. No real reason to pretend she didn’t have military training now. At least Mitzi thought she was a regular Defense force solider. Cylee dug in her pocket for her charger.
“Hmmm?” Mitzi said, not looking up.
“When that RAC hit me I smashed the charger for my Spine against a wall. It’s broken.” Cylee said.
“Don’t you have another one?”
“Not yet. Like you said, this isn’t a production model.”
“How much charge do you have?”
“98%, enough for a few days.”
“Okay. Hold tight. I know a guy. Let’s finish up here, maybe grab some breakfast, even a nap…” Mitzi let the question dangle and Cylee realized how tired her friend looked. Somehow “Mitzi” and “Tired” didn’t seem like they belonged in the same sentence.
“Yeah, let’s get somewhere safe and get our heads down for a while. Maybe even get cleaned up. Like I said, we’ve got time.”
“Okay. Almost done here. Hey, Cyl?”
“Why do they call it 'going full Leroy?' Who’s 'Leroy'?”
Cylee shrugged and laughed a little. “It’s just one of those things people say, who even knows. It’s like 'giving a Mickey', or 'may the Force be with you'. Just stuff that’s been around forever.”
“Huh,” Mitzi said, not really paying attention any more.