Data Mines, Part II


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Also Featuring:

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Scene Title Data Mines, Part II
Synopsis A thousand disparate threads converge on a single location.
Date March 26, 2021

Finding a legitimate business van to use as a base of operations for spying on a big-time crime boss's wayward underling proved more difficult than Elliot had anticipated. Now, sitting on the floor in the back of a borrowed dry cleaner delivery truck, he has an even more demanding task: waiting for the dirtbox he bought from Ricky to grab up Mines's messages.

He's spent a while tagging and excluding legitimate phone numbers that the box has grabbed so far. There's a surprising number of them for this neighborhood, the ghost network patchy at best. Grabs are becoming fewer and farther between as the evening goes on. Time seems to have come to a standstill at this point. All he has to occupy himself is the dim glow of a burner laptop and whatever Wright is up to, which is not much at the moment. She glances in occasionally, but otherwise she's not backing him up tonight. Elliot's confident in the current setup and isn't worried about having to talk himself out of anything if he gets burnt.

Staten Island
Soto Drycleaning Delivery Van

March 25th
5:15 PM

It's been quiet for a few minutes when he finds the phone he's looking for. He tags the response as soon as it comes in.

[2021-03-25-17:17] TARGET: you still have Jack and Murphy on payroll?
[2021-03-25-17:18] UNKNOWN NY 1: yeah, when do you want em?
[2021-03-25-17:18] TARGET: Two days
[2021-03-25-17:18] UNKNOWN NY 1: I'll let em know

He enters the incoming phone number into a tracking program on his laptop and lets it run in the background. He doesn’t have to wait long before there’s a follow-up conversation of a decidedly more clandestine nature.

[2021-03-25-17:25] TARGET: GCWSQKGLBP
[2021-03-25-17:25] UNKNOWN WY 1: MVIVQ
[2021-03-25-17:27] TARGET: YNWHNBK
[2021-03-25-17:27] UNKNOWN WY 1: MVIVQ

Identical responses stand out, likely a confirmation message of some kind. He pastes it into a decrypter, though he doesn’t expect an easy conversion. The chances of the message not relying on a key or one-time pad are low. He toys around with possibilities to keep himself occupied, though his efforts turn up nothing. Assuming this is something as pen-and-paper friendly as a vigenere cypher, the messages are too short to perform a useful frequency analysis.

[2021-03-25-19:14] UNKNOWN NY 2: Hey Leddy called. What's the job?
[2021-03-25-19:15] TARGET: Redecoration. One night. Double pay.
[2021-03-25-19:15] UNKNOWN NY 2: Sounds good. Meet you at the Kill at 4 in 2 days?
[2021-03-25-19:16] TARGET: Sounds good

Leddy is the first hit on his search to connect names to numbers. Micahel “Mic” Leddy, a mid-level loan shark who usually relies on homeless and displaced people desperate enough, or unscrupulous enough, to take slum-housing placements in New Chinatown as payment for services rendered. His traffic is minimal, though there’s enough detail to assume with confidence that he works for d’Sarthe in some capacity.

The Kill is likely Arthur Kill, a straight between Staten Island and New Jersey. Hits in the databases he has legitimate or illegal access to all point him in the direction of the Crooked Point, yacht club for scumbags on Great Kills Harbor. Getting close in that area is a bad idea, he has no street cred with anybody listed as a common patron. Unless…

Any chance you frequent the Crooked Point?

Garbage Bandit
i’ve been thrown out of there a few times

One Day Later
March 26th

Phoenix Heights

8:15 am

It’s been hard for Elliot to focus on his Wolfhound responsibilities, inconsistent as they may be, while the problem of the cipher has been running in the background. Shift cyphers have yielded nothing. There’s certainly a key, its reuse suggesting simplicity that his programs can’t sink their formulas into enough to provide a meal.

His fingers drum against the edge of his desk, wandering, spelling, but not to send. This new language is in its infancy; his current pursuit of signal in the noise only serving to illustrate its necessity in this new world of co-hosts other than Wright.

A chime sounds, not a ␇. He tabs to a window on his partitioned OS, as separate as it can be from the network as it can be when Wolfhound doesn’t have a technopath on payroll.

[2021-03-26-08:19] TARGET: RRX
[2021-03-26-08:24] UNKNOWN WY 1: BVMUHDZZQBAEC

And there it is: signal in the noise. He sits up with feverish focus, closing anything that may distract him from this. Because there’s something here. The first messages had been call and response. MVIVQ was the reply to two messages of separate length. A canned response. This is a three-letter word. How much could one communicate with three characters? The length of the response is especially noteworthy. This isn’t canned. It’s an answer to a question. It’s instruction.

He snaps his fingers one, twice, three times; not in frustration, on impulse. The fingers move from the sensation to the keyboard, inputting fresh data into his codebreaker. What can somebody communicate with only three characters?

He pulls Wright’s attention, letting his eyes show her what he has, tagging, “Daydream,” to gain her assistance. For a while, he isn’t sure how long, he thinks with his own mind and what she willingly cedes to his cause. Call and response. Everything he has lies before him, he reaches for words from a web suspended in his mind, associations and callbacks. Context and clarity.

—does it mea—lliot asks.

“Jus— kitchen thing,” she res—s. “Like ‘Ack—d.’ Somebo—alls out —order and—call back, ‘Heard!’”

Perception and sudden epiphany. “Friends, Romans, Motherfuckers.”

Great Kills Harbor
Staten Island

2:17 pm

The southern end of Staten Island is like a persistent weed. For all that the Rookery was torn up root and stem so that New Chinatown could flourish, nothing south of the Greenbelt has been able to be so easily uprooted. The southern coast of Staten Island refuses to change like an indelible mark carved into stone, though in spite of that resilience the passage of time threatens to wear down that mark little by little every year.

The old Staten Island is most noticeable around the ruins of what was once the Lighthouse, a secret port in the storm for Expressive orphans during the worst of the Petrelli administration’s campaign against their kind. The Lighthouse itself is barely standing these days, and across the hook of Great Kills Harbor lies the ghosts of even greater sins. Tin Row—a shanty town of tents, ramshackle buildings, and desperate displaced people is the root of the weed that Gideon d’Sarthe cannot pull up.

Amid this rampant poverty and strife are the remnants of an old yacht club now known as the “Crooked Point” that hang like a canker sore off the south face of Staten Island in clear view of the old Lighthouse. It’s here that Elliot’s trail leads, and it’s here where the crimes of the past and the crimes of the present collide.

“You look like a tourist,” is how Ricky Daselles chooses to criticize Elliot’s choice of attire as they sit in a tugboat anchored a short distance off of the coast. Ricky glances over at Elliot from his lawn chair, swirling a beer bottle around in one hand.

Elliot’s attention is focused less on Ricky and more down the lenses of binoculars inspecting the coast. The Crooked Point is a point of notable activity in the southern side of the island. The 91st Military Police Battalion knows that the bar’s port is the largest vector for drug trafficking in Staten Island, but moving on the location would risk inciting a riot with the already pressured residents of Tin Row, and the 91st commander has yet to authorize anything so extreme.

There’s numerous ways in and out of the harbor, though most elicit ship activity is forced west toward New Jersey where there is less Coast Guard activity on the water. But it means when Mines comes here in a day, there’s a number of ways both in and out.

“Folks that run the Point have a hidden dock,” Ricky explains as Elliot surveys the area, “see that middle wharf?” He says, pointing in Elliot’s field of view out across the water. “There’s that one with the red buoys? You take a canoe or a raft under that pier and go toward the coast there’s an old drainage pipe that they cut into and turned into a little smuggling port. Most of the back-end work that goes on comes in and out of that spot at night. Then the little boats meet up with bigger ones further south, or they stick to the coast and wind up any-fucking-where.”

“First of all,” Elliot says, eyes tracing toward the warf’s hidden entrance, “I’m dressed like somebody who can quickly alter his attire to not be recognized from one operation site to another at a distance.”

He lowers the binoculars, tapping a quick beat over the cold metal with his fingers. “Secondly,” he says, turning to look and gesture at Ricky, “it’s fucking freezing out here and you’re wearing basketball shorts. If you get hypothermic I’m not sticking a hot pack anywhere near your junk so you better hope you pass out in a rolled up carpet behind a dumpster or something.”

He glances at the lighthouse, not lingering long in the memories of moving people to and from in another life. “You know the folks who regularly frequent this shit-hole or is it a fairly unpredictable clientele?”

“Little of both,” Ricky says, tugging down one of the legs of his aforementioned basketball shorts that had ridden up. “There’s regulars, mostly locals that live in Tin Row or—used to be folks that lived up north but most of them got run out of town and are locals now. The others are contractors, folks who use the wharf as a meeting point for odd jobs. They’re usually the ones that cause shit.”

Ricky sighs and looks over his shoulder at the distant oceanic horizon, making sure there’s no patrol boats coming their way. “You get all kinds though. Drug smugglers, human traffickers, arms dealers. Then occasionally you get a chick who turns a bar stool into a fucking brick of C4 because she’s having a bad day. You know, predictable unpredictables.”

The little bar across the water doesn’t look that important, but from the sounds of it folks who are tend to slip in and out of it like moths around a porch light.

Elliot doesn’t mention that he knows a woman who’d be capable of turning a stool into a bomb. “How fast would we get kicked out if we went in?” he asks, setting the binoculars aside. “Are you on the blacklist at this place yet?” He pats down his jacket out of habit. Other than his knife, he’s only carrying a fake ID and cash; he shouldn’t have to worry about a shakedown.

“They can’t blacklist me, I’m too useful.” Ricky says with a crooked smile. “As for gettin’ thrown out, eh. Depends on the night of the week. Odds are if we don’t stir shit up we’ll be fine, I ain’t been there in like a year so things’ve probably cooled down on whatever hypothetical fire got burned up anybody’s proverbial ass.”

Ricky shrugs. “What’s the worst that could happen?”

One Day Later
March 27th

The Crooked Point
Great Kills Harbor
Staten Island

4:27 am

Sometimes plans change. Sometimes plans change fast. Elliot wasn’t planning on being at the Crooked Point before dawn, but here he is. It’s an awkward timing, but Ricky had called just after 2am when he heard Leddy was headed out to the Point before it closed for the night.

Inside the grimy, musty, sweat-smelling confines of the Crooked Point there’s only a handful of people at this hour. Ricky sits by the front window, drumming his fingers on a glass of local flavor, watching the door when Elliot comes in. He raises two fingers in a greeting and also a hand sign, two of them are here.

Sure enough, Michael Leddy is sitting at the bar with a broad-shouldered and red-haired young man with a scar across his neck. Must be either Jack or Murphy, one of the men Mines inquired about.

Ricky looks like he hasn’t slept yet, which is about the state the handful of other patrons are in too.

Elliot gives Ricky the merest of upnods as he passes toward the bar, staying a respectful distance from the unrespectables at the bar. “Coffee,” he says, holding up two fingers to the bartender, “Irish as fuck.”

He’d caught messages in his web just a few minutes before his arrival.

[2021-03-27-04:12] UNKNOWN NY 1: We're at the Kill.
[2021-03-27-04:12] TARGET: Be there in 5.

Thanks to the messages he intercepted yesterday, he already knows where this party is headed. He’s already been there to surveil. He almost felt sympathy for Jason Mines, a man of little education whose life led him here. Elliot doesn't feel superior to the target of this investigation, he too never completed high school. He just kept up with technology and has a knack for patterns and possibilities. Thus, the previous days in his memory have shed their mysteries.

[2021-03-25-17:25] TARGET: BLOODHOUND
[2021-03-25-17:25] UNKNOWN WY 1: HEARD
[2021-03-25-17:27] TARGET: TWODAYS
[2021-03-25-17:27] UNKNOWN WY 1: HEARD

Then later, the ask:

[2021-03-26-08:19] TARGET: MAP
[2021-03-26-08:24] UNKNOWN WY 1: WEEQUAHICPARK

He knows where this is going, but that doesn’t contain the spill the actions of these men might send into the territory of the innocent. And while Ricky doesn’t need to know that Elliot has taken precautions against potential violence, he’s welcome to two cups of coffee augmented with watered-down, sub-bottom Irish whiskey.

Ricky does not look comforted by Elliot’s casual demeanor or that he ordered a coffee. Grimacing, he watches Elliot from across the establishment and contemplates the door. Meanwhile, at the other end of the bar from Elliot, Michael Leddy carries himself with all the poise of a fucking gorilla. He’s a broad-shouldered, strong-browed man with a square jaw and a scar across his mouth that makes him look like he has a cleft palate.

Leddy scratches at his stubbled cheek and hands a rolled up wad of money right out in the open to the equally large redhead seated behind him. “Where’s Jack?” He asks, which means the redhead must be Murphy.

“Out in the car,” Murphy says with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder, “the fuck is Mines?” He asks, stuffing the rolled up money into the right front pocket of his tracksuit jacket.

“Shut the fuck up, Murph.” Leddy scolds, looking around the bar as he does. In the interim, the bartender pours a hot and burnt cup of coffee for Elliot, adding a dash of precisely sub-bottom Irish whiskey to it. “Chill the fuck out.”

The bartender does his best to pretend not to hear Murphy and Leddy’s conversation and walks Elliot’s drink down to him. “That’ll be twenty,” the bartender says, and the sticker shock of 300% inflation still comes as something of a jolt, even after all these years.

Elliot counts out five crumpled five-dollar bills and drops them on the counter in a loose stack. He picks up the coffee, nods, and walks away without saying anything. He doesn’t seem interested in or to have even heard the conversation between Mines’s hired muscle.

He sets the coffee on the table without sitting down. “Drink some of that,” he quietly instructs Ricky in a tone that implies it’s part of the job he’s being paid to do. Elliot has already had enough coffee to be awake this early, but infiltration work at odd hours has never been a problem for him. He loosens his jacket, takes a moment peeling it off to reveal the thick, worn brown hoodie beneath.

Ricky looks at the coffee like it said something dirty to him, then grumbles and picks it up taking a swig. “Fuck it taste like it was filtered with a sock.” He says with a barely-restrained gag. Considering the establishment, it may have been.

The door to the Point opens, letting in a little bit of yellow street-lamp glow. The man that enters is one Elliot knows well by now, through means of surveillance. Jason Mines looks the part of a small-time crook who somehow made it into bigger waters. The leather jacket, the sunglasses, the smug air of satisfaction clinging off of him. But the truth is further from that than appearances would suggest. Mines has been Gideon’s enforcer since Gideon called Chicago home, long before the war. Worse, he’s Expressive.

Mines flicks Murph’s ear from across the bar, eliciting a bee-sting reaction from the broad-shouldered tough. “Ah! The fuck—” Murph starts to say, holding his ear, but stops once he sees Mines making a flicking motion with forefinger and thumb. “Oh, hey. We ready?” He asks, looking at Leddy.

Leddy slowly dismounts his stool and tug on his forest green beanie, pulling it down just over his brows. He looks practically cro-magnon with it down like that. Mines glances at Ricky, then Elliot, then past them to someone in the corner of the bar before motioning to the door with his thumb. “C’mon,” Mines says to Leddy and Murph, the door opening seemingly of its own accord behind him.

Elliot has already taken a seat to look tired and despondent as the Targets begin their trek back out. He’s cradling the coffee as though he’s the one that some drank it, enthusiastically avoiding knowing what it tastes like. If Ricky thinks it’s gross, it must be the platonic ideal of dead-body-in-a-dumpster soup. He’s happy he didn’t order the breakfast special.

He lets the Targets pass in his periphery, uninterested in attracting the attention of a telekinetic. There’s a lot that could go wrong there. For now all he can do is wait for them to get outside. “You look exhausted,” he tells Ricky, “You billed yourself as some kind of creature of the night. Did your neighbor keep you up all day fucking the hole in your wall?”

“You ever think to yourself: you know what would wake me up right now? One bump.” Ricky says under his breath to Elliot. “And you do that way too early, and then the rest of the night is just a fucking tar pit?” He angles a look over to Elliot with one brow raised. “That was my night. This night made some bad choices.”

As Ricky regales Elliot with his misadventures, Mines and his hired hands walk out of the Point without much more fanfare. The scant few patrons left in the bar keep their eyes down and don’t get involved. It’s clear that Mines’ reputation as an extension of Gideon d’Sarthe is enough to keep everyone on edge and compliant out of nothing more than fear. It reminds Elliot that he’s running a razor between reputation and extension. A precarious position to be in.

“Oh, you know me,” Elliot says, placing his burner on the table face up, “always coked to the fucking gills.” With the Target out of sight, he pushes the corpse coffee back across the table to the man who clearly needs it.

“You ever get in over your head without a clear bolt hole?” Elliot asks, softly enough not to carry across such a disreputable space. He has contingencies in place, but he’s not an idiot. Relying on the good name of Ricky Daselles isn’t going to keep his head above these shark-infested waters. Having spent the last day placing covert surveillance devices around Weequahic Park’s means of egress, however, might. He’ll only follow when he can be sure they don’t suspect his tail.

“Never liked the term bolt holt,” Ricky mumbles, taking Elliot’s coffee without any further prompting. “Implies the presence of a deadbolt or something, y’know? I’m living in the uh,” he pauses, swirling the coffee around, “financial bracket of rat’s nest or flophouse.” He then downs the coffee in a single gulp that bypasses the tongue as much as possible. “I aspire to, one day, elevate myself to the heights of bolt hole.”

Elliot’s phone lights up.

[2021-03-27-04:49] TARGET: ROLLING

The code in the message means nothing to Ricky, who pushes the empty coffee cup over to Elliot. “So, you in any way wanna tell me why you’re shadowing a guy who could snap our necks with a dirty look? Y’know, who happens to work for an even scarier guy who— fuck— I dunno, melts people or something?”

Elliot's eyes don't linger on the alert. He notes the time and pages over to a GPS tracking app to see which car they left the lot in.

"You really wanna know?" he asks with an incredulous look. He turns the mug on the table with a touch to orient it to fit the image of having drank it himself. "Even if it's the kind of intel that gets you downgraded from cat piss flop house to unmarked grave?"

“Not… when you put it like that,” Ricky mumbles into the brim of his coffee.

Elliot’s phone lights up again.

[2021-03-27-04:57] UNKNOWN WY 1: ETA
[2021-03-27-04:58] TARGET: 20

Ricky can't help but glance at the phone, but the cypher means nothing to him. “Is it worth the risk? I guess that— might make this all make more fucking sense.”

“I sure hope so,” Elliot says. “I’m as insulated as I can be. And This is just a favor in exchange for access to information I can’t get elsewhere. Assuming this heads where it looks like it is, the client will deal with the ramifications in short order.”

He slips a few crumpled ones under the coffee mug and sweeps his phone up to stow in his jacket pocket. “Your fee is being left under your kitchen sink as we speak, should you want to get while the getting’s good.”

Ricky flashes Elliot a nervous smile and immediately gets up from his seat. He looks around to see if anyone noticed—if anyone cares—that he got out of his seat like it was on fire. No one does. “Yeah uh, never invite me to one of your fancy parties ever again?” Ricky asks with a grimace like he just stepped in shit.

Taking a step away from the table, Ricky glances around the dingy bar again, then makes a hasty exit while, as Elliot put it, the getting is good.

Some Time Later

Jason Mines watches the crumbling west end of Staten Island roll by out the rear driver’s side window of his car. Leddy and Murphy sit up front, attention focused on the road. Outside, there’s signs of Staten Island’s impending gentrification even all the way out here, where bullet-riddled buildings crumble into the Arthur Kill. Where old factories and plants sink into overgrown marshes. Where the wild things still are.

The soft tick-tock of a turn signal breaks the silence in the car as Leddy turns onto Johnson Street and takes it all the way to the end. Out the passenger’s side there’s rows of crumbling industrial buildings, out the driver’s side there’s just tall stands of dark trees casting bleak shadows in the twilight hours before dawn.

Leddy slows as the ruined shell of the All the World’s Fish packing plant comes into view. He sits forward between the two front seats, gesturing toward the building. “Pull around back, park by the loading docks.”

Leddy grunts in recognition and does as he’s asked, circling around the back of the building where old loading docks are padlocked shut and streaked with rust. Mines is out of the car as soon as it stops, hustling over to the building. He lifts one hand into the air, then clenches it into a fist and yanks the padlock off of one of the bay doors with an unseen force. Then with a raise of that same hand he causes the loading dock door to retract and open.

“Get the gear,” Mines says, nodding to the trunk before he strides inside.

The packing plant has been out of service since before the war, all the way back to the exodus from Staten Island when the nuclear fallout from the Midtown bomb came blowing in over a decade ago. Equipment lays in disuse, covered in a thick layer of dust, grime, and crumbling material from the high ceiling. Pigeons rustle in the upper rafters, and some depart through blown-out windows.

Leddy and Murphy arrive not long behind Mines, lugging a jackhammer, a compressor, and protective gear. They wait, expectantly, and Mines starts tracing his footsteps across the factory floor. Eight steps from the loading dock door he stops, and looks down to see a faint “L” scratched into the concrete. One corner of Mines’ mouth twists up in a smirk.

Get to it.


Across the street from All The World’s Fish Elliot Hitchens has set up in the dark woods behind a granite boulder. His shotgun microphone picks up the conversation happening inside, and he doesn’t need to keep the device running to hear what comes next, as the sounds of a running compressor and the scream of a jackhammer echo into the dawn.

He squints and pulls his headphones half off, tuning the volume to compensate but keeping the recorder rolling. Wright drops his perspective until he pulls her attention following the necessary adjustments.

Pay deposited under Ricky’s sink without incident, she’s now on the move. She’ll get close enough for an emergency pickup, not leaving their agreed-upon evacuation zone until the situation evolves. “Riffle?” she asks.

He shakes his head, not seeing the need. There’s no way to protect himself in close combat with a telekinetic, and Wright was never a sniper. For now it’s just observe and record. Hopefully without anything dramatic happening.

The jackhammering continues unabated for a while, close to a half an hour. When it ends there’s a prolonged period of clattering noise, of rubble being cleared, and then the sound of metal-on-metal contact. Like a pickaxe on a steel plate. Then hammering. Then, finally, several loud reports of a shotgun.


Jason Mines snaps open the stock of a double barrel shotgun, shaking slug shell casings out onto the floor to litter with others. In front of him is a metal locker with multiple bore holes punched through an armored locking mechanism on the front. Leddy and Murphy walk over to the case once he's finished blasting the lock off. One takes a knee and clears the metal parts of the lock away from the container while another sticks a crowbar in the seam and forces it open against the protesting of a magnetic locking mechanism. Mines doesn't help, instead he reloads the shotgun and watches the pair.

As the locker opens, there is a hiss of pressure from hydraulics that would have lifted the six inch thick steel plate lid. Inset within foam padding is an old laptop, a compass, and a 1984 road atlas for the state of New York. Mines' eyes narrow and his lips curl into a frustrated snarl. "Empty it," he says with a quaver in his voice. His two helpers don't quite register the command fast enough and Mines screams. "Empty it! Now!"

Leddy and Murphy work quickly, hauling the contents of the locker up out of the pit they’d dug in the concrete foundation. Leddy runs the equipment out to the car, loading it all into the back seat, while Mines circles the hole in the floor like an impatient cat.

“Hey uh, wasn’t this supposed t’be full of cash?” Murphy asks as Leddy is heading back inside.

“Hey, I got the—” Leddy is about to say before Mines shoots Murphy in the face at point-blank range. The explosion of bone and gore is shocking and Leddy screams in horrified and confused reaction. When he tries to turn and run he feels an invisible hand grab him by the wrist and yank him over, close enough for the second barrel to turn his entire head into ground beef.

Mines cracks open the shotgun and discards the shells, then grabs Leddy’s corpse by the leg and Murphy’s corpse by the arm with a telekinetic grasp and hauls their carcasses out of the packing plant to the car. He piles the two dead men into the trunk and slams it shut.


Mines car comes around from the back of the derelict plant with him driving. From Elliot’s vantage point Leddy and Murphy are nowhere in sight.

It takes no effort at all for Elliot to understand what just transpired. “What the fuck was in that safe if he just murdered two people over it?” Wright says with an appropriate level of disquiet. What is this job? What the fuck did we get into?

As soon as he’s certain he won't be noticed, Elliot crosses the street at an ambling pace. Wright starts the car, headlights staying off as she checks the GPS signal to stay at least a street clear of Mines. Elliot doesn’t tell her to be careful because extraction is her bread and butter.

He keeps alert for anybody who may be trying to determine the source of the gunshot. He doesn’t think it likely, this area is still too close to the effects of the war for people to go rushing from what safety they’ve created for themselves. He retrieves a camera from one pocket to document whatever gore remains of the building and the people.

Once Elliot gets around the back of the packing plant there’s a trail of blood from two bodies that were clearly dragged to the car Mines left in. Pooling blood collects in the dirt parking lot where they oozed out onto the ground before being fully hauled inside the vehicle.

Elliot is able to follow the trail of blood back into the packing plant which is hauntingly silent in the wake of the brutal violence. The birds have long since scattered from their roosts. The old machinery remains silent and cold, flaking with ancient rust.

The trail of blood ends where two lives did, at the edge of a jackhammered hole in the ground. The construction equipment is still all over the place, likely Leddy and Murphy’s prints too. God knows there’s enough of their brain and bone scattered around where they were shot to potentially identify them. The treasure they’d fought over is the remains of a Honeywell fire & waterproof safe chest with external armored mag-locks. The chest has been forced open and the locks blown off by close-range gunfire.

The inside of the chest was hastily looted, leaving the black foam inset behind. It looks like there were three items, one flat and circular and about the width of an apple. Another is a fifteen inch wide, roughly rectangular impression close to three inches deep. Then just a slot in the foam beside it where something like a book or booklet might have been inserted. None of the contents remain.

Elliot takes photographs with a steady hand, encapsulating as much of the scene as he can in wide shots before paying particular attention to the gore of the unfortunate bastards who were executed here. He’s come across worse, and doesn’t register the horror of it while he’s in action.

He follows up with shots of the safe, including the serial number plate and model information. The custom lining for three objects is unexpected. He pulls a compact photographic measuring scale from his pocket and places it inside, carefully aligned to the orientation of the depressions. He takes a quick barrage of photos, slips the scale out without touching the safe, and makes his way back to the road. A stream of Wright’s perspective shows him Mines’s most recent location ping as she makes her last turn to pick him up.

One stop left.

Two Hours Later

Weequahic Park Ruins
Ruins of Dayton
New Jersey

9:07 am

Dappled morning light paints irregular patterns across the dark paint of Mines’ Lincoln Towncar as it rolls into a shady clearing at the end of a derelict hiking trail. He steps out of the car, flicking a cigarette to the side as he does, and leaves the driver’s side door open. Mines lingers by the car for a moment, scanning the treeline before turning toward the back of the car. He opens up the trunk and steps back with a grimace.

Extending one hand, Mines telekinetically pulls a canister of gas from the trunk and begins pouring gasoline over the bodies. When he's finished with the task, he sets the canister down and notices the approach of a scruffy-looking housecat from the treeline. It sits in silence, watching him for a long moment. Mines steps away from the trunk, watching the cat's eyes follow him.

Deeper into the woods, set up beside a thick tree and camouflaged by the dense undergrowth, Elliot has a clear view of Mines, the car, and the cat through a pair of binoculars. What Mines can’t see is that the cat is a distraction. There’s a flicker of rainbow-colored light at the front of the car that Mines misses, and two women who manifest out of thin air.

It’s hard to judge age, but the one with bubblegum pink hair in an oversized green and yellow sweater is probably younger than the dark-haired woman in the white suit. The girl with pink hair crouches in front of the car to stay out of sight, while the woman in white stalks up behind Mines.

"The fuck're you looking at?" Mines shouts at the cat from across the muddy way. The hair on the back of his neck rises as he feels the woman approaching behind him.

"Talking to cats, Jason?" She says with a smile in her voice.

Mines spins around, startled, until he seems to recognize her.

"That's a good fucking way to lose your head, Azadi," Mines growls, lowering a shaky hand. Azadi cracks a smile, wrinkling her nose. She brushes past Mines, looking into the trunk at the bodies the way someone might a load of laundry. She then turns her attention up to Mines while the stray cat approaches and brushes up against her leg.

"Contents?" Azadi requests, one gloved hand held out in request. Mines grumbles and turns to the car, opening the back door.

Elliot’s done enough hard jogging today to make him momentarily regret not agreeing to Wright’s incessant suggestions that he should exercise. Finally able to stand still, he makes a mental note of where the cigarette butt is flicked in order to tie Mines’s DNA to this event if necessary.

He flinches at the sudden appearance of the two women, then scans the area for any others who may have slipped in for an ambush. When the kandy kid takes up a stealth position by the car despite her vibrantly noticeable appearance, he assumes no one else is coming. They’d probably kill Mines on the spot to protect a resource as valuable as a teleporter from being telekinetically redistributed around the area if this was a hit.

Wright is remaining close to the car, obscured in the brush beside a spur road into the woods. She’s camouflage, but armed and ready to sprint in if necessary. For now Elliot drops her to focus on the interaction ahead of him.

Mines grumbles as he retrieves a stack of belongings from the back of the car: an old laptop that’s as thick as a High School textbook, a compass, and some kind of road atlas. He offers them out to Azadi, who seems surprised that what was inside the case wouldn't fit in the palm of one hand. Her questioning look says enough.

"This is all there was in the case," Mines says as he shoves the items into her hands. "I had them strip the whole fucking thing down, pulled out the padding, nothing." He’s lying, he rushed it. "Laptop won't turn on, no markings in the atlas. Compass seems pretty ordinary."

Azadi tucks the atlas and laptop under one arm, turning her attention to the compass. She opens the copper lid, rolling it around in her wrist. "Did you look at it?" She asks without looking at Mines. He shrugs, eyes diverting to the compass as if trying to divine something from it that he didn't notice before.

"Yeah," Mines says confidently. It's all there: little notches, needle, points one way all the time. "Of course I did."

Azadi smiles, snapping the lid closed before tucking the compass inside her blazer. The cat at her ankles looks at Mines for a moment before returning to nuzzling Azadi's leg. Mines gives the cat a dirty look.

"This isn't exactly easy to split into shares," Mines suggests, motioning to the junk Azadi is now holding.

"No," she agrees. "I suppose it isn't. When you get back into cell phone service, you will find money wired to the account we gave you. You'll want to pull everything out of there within 48 hours or the balance will return to zero."

Mines furrows his brows and asks. "How many zeroes does it have right now?"

"Six," is Azadi's answer, and that's damn well good enough for Mines.

A moment of silence hangs between the two, and Mines feels tense. As a cool breeze winds through the park, he considers Azadi, the cat, the time capsule of junk she's holding. "What's all this got to do with the old man's money?" He finally asks just as Azadi starts to turn away. She hides her smile before looking over her shoulder.


"I know who this shit belonged to." Mines says with a motion of one hand toward Azadi. "I don't care what your terrorist buddies want that all for, but I know it's gotta' do with the money the feds never picked up. Eighty million, give or take, just never manifested. Money doesn't just vanish." Mines suggests. Azadi raises one brow as if to challenge that assertion, but she doesn't vocalize it.

"Why're you asking, Mr. Mines?" Azadi wonders.

Mines rolls his shoulders. "It's a lot of money. You think it's buried, like fucking pirate treasure?" He indicates the compass. The absurdity of it all has Azadi laughing, which makes Mines' stomach turn. She shakes her head, smiling brightly at Mines.

"Jason, you big, dumb, wonderfully talented man." Azadi says with a wink. "This was never about the money."

That answer sits ill-well with Mines. He scrubs a hand over his head, raking fingers through his hair. "Then, what?" He asks. He doesn't normally get personal with his questions. "Damaris, the Zarek look-alike, the fuck does all this shit have to do with everything?" He knows better than to ask, and yet he can't help but.

"Do you really want that answer?" Azadi asks, no longer just looking over her shoulder at Mines. Instead, she turns to face him fully. He feels as though that's something of a challenge, jaw set and shoulders squared against her in response.

"Yeah." Mines answers after a moment of silence between them.

Azadi circles back, leaving the cat on their periphery. She stops beside Mines, looks him up and down, and then lifts her free hand to gently tap his cheek. "Inheritance is so much more than wealth," Azadi says with a squint of her eyes and a wrinkle of her nose. She's patronizing him, but Mines can't help but accept it. Even still, he advances on her and while Azadi holds her ground Mines recognizes a repressed flinch in her expression.

"Please don't fuck with me," Mines says under his breath. He's close enough to Azadi that she can hear it clearly but Elliot’s shotgun mic barely picks it up. Their eyes meet and silence hangs over them both for long enough that it becomes awkward.

"Your boss isn't the inheritor of Daniel Linderman's legacy," Azdai says, taking a step back from Mines. At the same time, she reaches inside of her blazer and retrieves a matchbook, handing it out to him. Mines takes it with a pinch of telekinetic fingers, unfolds the book, bends back a match and strikes it.

"Then who is?" Mines asks as he throws the match into the open trunk, setting the car ablaze.

"Would you believe me if I told you…" Azdai says, partially lit by the surging flames. "…that Daniel Linderman had a son?"

Elliot remains steady through progressively scarier comments that put this nightmare scenario into perspective. He can feel Wright’s surprise, but she doesn’t ping him for commentary; they’re fully on-mission. But, holy shit, this was probably not the best operation to dive back into crime. He assumes the terrorists are Mazdak, though there are other Expressive terrorist organizations he’s aware of. He’s in over his head, why not catastrophize?

He further assumes the eighty million missing dollars is a reference to his former employer, Daniel Linderman. Hearing that he had a son spins him for a moment. Whoever it is, he could be sixty years old by now. But saying that there’s an inheritance, and that it isn’t eighty million missing dollars is interesting. He wonders what d’Sarthe will make of it not being him.

“I'd call you a liar, ain't no way word of that wouldn't have gotten out by now.” Mines says with a sneer. “And even if Danny was really Daddy you think his heir’s gonna pop a head up without it getting shot off? And for what? There isn't anything left of Linderman’s empire, we took it all.” He taps himself on the chest.

Azadi raises her brows and nods, then steps away from Mines while her cat begins sniffing at the air. It turns, looking in Elliot’s general direction then meows loudly at Azadi who looks at the cat, then follows its eyeline to the woods.

Then the cat sneezes, probably from the smoke, and Azadi relaxes.

“Do be careful on your walk back to civilization Mr. Mines,” Azadi says, clearly done with him. She snaps her fingers, signaling for the pink-haired woman to rise up from her hiding and hustle over on chunky black boots to Azadi’s side. Mines eyes her suspiciously, but says nothing.

“Yeah. Sure. Thanks for the cash, and don't call me again.” Mines says with a frustrated tone. He feels played.

Azadi nods, then watches as the pink-haired woman scoops up the cat into her arms, and takes one of Azadi’s hand. The pair ripple like a heat mirage, then disappear into a coruscating haze of rainbow-colored light.

Mines snorts, waving a hand through the empty space they were in, then turns back to the burning car. “Fuck,” he hisses under his breath.

Elliot is on high alert once Azadi seems to respond to the cat, and draws his knife just in case their first spatial hop is actually to corner him in the woods to remove him as a witness. He holds it close, ready to lash out, vision momentarily down from his binoculars. Wright pulls at his attention twice in quick succession, which means she’s closing distance to deal with the possibility of active rescue.

The threat never materializes.

Mines shakes his head at the burning wreck of his car and tugs his phone out of his pocket, checking for a signal he doesn’t find. He sighs and starts walking back down the dirt road, eyes on his phone.

Once Elliot is confident that Mines isn’t going to hear him snapping through the woods he slips between the trees for more documentation. Wright gives up her extraction, returning to the car to guard it until Elliot gets there. Waiting to make sure Mines is out of sight before stepping into the scene is nerve-wracking but necessary.

Elliot can’t get close to the car with the heat of the fire, and draws his balaclava up to reduce the familiar scent of burning corpses and gasoline. He starts by finding the clearest footprints he can, documenting them with his scale. He turns to the car, getting images of the bodies burning, the inside through the open door. Lastly he takes a picture of where Mines threw the cigarette for later examination. Camera stowed, he hightails it through the woods toward the car.

If Mines is getting a text message detailing a digital payment, Elliot wouldn’t miss it for the world.

And a short hike later, Elliot is there when a bank account’s serial number, login, and password are forwarded to Mines’ phone.

A payment to the tune of three million dollars.

And it would be a shame if something happened to it.

A shame.



1:28 pm

It’s hours before Rossignol opens, and the bar looks decidedly different under full house lights. No prep or cleaning crew are present right now, and the main lounge is empty. But in the back of Rossignol, there are two people occupying the kitchen.

Gideon d’Sarthe always manages to cut an impressive silhouette, even when wearing a baking apron and working with a delicate filo dough. Elliot Hitchens, fresh to this rendezvous from an unexpectedly busy day cuts a more trail-worn silhouette.

But this is how these meetings go. At Gideon’s pleasure, on his schedule, at his discretion. And he hopes this one comes with good news. For both their sakes.

Under the fine dust, Gideon's clothes are otherwise pressed as usual, sleeves rolled and focus largely on his task. One tissue-thin span of dough after another, carefully weighed and separated by sifted starch. Golf balls of rested dough to one side, rolled and wrapped lengths of finished product to the other. The process of filo is a tedious sort, requiring a definite amount of patience and a confident touch. Truthfully, the kitchen is the definition of science and art meeting- - or at least, he believes this to be true, as trite as it can sound.

"Good afternoon, mister Hitchens."

Kitchen vents hum softly alongside Gideon's gravel, and the air carries a measured humidity. Even once inside there begs the question: is the uneasiness due to the stifling nature of a warming kitchen, or the stillness of an otherwise empty one?

"Good afternoon, Mister d'Sarthe," Elliot returns in kind. He isn't worried about people listening in. If anybody is, they're doing so either with permission or will be Gideon's problem if found out. And he's familiar enough with kitchens through what's left of his memories of Tala's memories. Still, there is certainly a gravity to this situation.

"I was able to get documented evidence of what you requested," he says, pulling a manila envelope from under one arm, and a digital audio recorder from the pocket of his hoodie. "I have photos and an audio recording of all the relevant details. I can also summarize, if your time is limited."

Gideon lifts a hand to gesture briefly to the opposite side of the counter, as if asking Elliot to have a seat- - simply so that he has his benefactor's full attention. Although this shouldn't take long, it is better to be comfortable than not. Insofar as meeting with him can be comfortable.

"Limited, though not strained." d'Sarthe's smile, however, could be considered the latter when he gives it. The smile of Presentation as he works, tension reserved for his eyes rather than his limbs. "A summary, then… at your leisure. The rest to come."

Elliot seats himself as directed, then opens his manilla envelope but doesn’t produce any photographs from inside yet. The digital recorder is set on the countertop when Gideon can play it if he wants to.

"The Target was in fact being paid by someone else to retrieve items from a safe,” Elliot begins. “Once the safe was unearthed, the Target killed the two contractors that he’d employed to remove the safe from a warehouse floor with a jackhammer. Significant bio-waste remains at the scene along with the emptied safe.” He places down a photo of the inside of the safe, leaving out any gore while food is being prepared.

Gideon appears unbothered by the content of Elliot's briefing, eyes roaming over the photo in question as it is set before him. Hands remain occupied, manner remains poised. It could be just another day, but they both well know that it isn't.

“Target then drove their bodies to a park in New Jersey, where he doused the bodies in gasoline. Target flicked a cigarette into the brush near the car if DNA is needed to link him to the event.” A third photo laid out, this one a picture of weeds with a red circle drawn around the area he believed the evidence to have gone.

“His Contact, a woman he called Azadi, arrived with the assistance of a second woman, who teleported them there. “ Another photo is produced of Mines and his contact at a distance through high growth.

Details behind the newest of players earns a crease of eyes, a tip of the head, a firmer set to Gideon's mouth.

“The items handed over were a laptop that wouldn’t start up, a road atlas, and a compass. Azadi intimated that the compass may not have been as simple as the Target assumed it was.Target intimated that his contact was a member of a terrorist group, and that the recovered items were an “inheritance” that he had erroneously believed to be Daniel Linderman’s unaccounted for eighty million dollars. Contact told the Target that his payment for this job would be a sum of money containing six zeroes.” The rest of the photos are held in reserve for now.

While not forgotten, Gideon d'Sarthe's work finds pause; the silence is brief, broken by the faint squeak of clingfilm as the older man rolls the layers together into it. Mechanical, even as Elliot's summary goes forward.

“Contact then intimated that Daniel Linderman had a son, which Target disbelieved. The Contact, Teleporter and a cat that had been used to distract Target from seeing their arrival all teleported away together.”

“Target walked from the scene, and eventually received a text message with details concerning his payment, including account information.”

Hands covered in starch, Gideon d'Sarthe files the latest roll to the side with the others to rest. From his apron's pocket he produces a damp cotton cloth which he uses to meticulously remove the heavier portions of cream-white powder.

Expression distant, Elliot is made to sit through roughly a minute of Gideon's silence before those faraway steel eyes turn to him.

"Did you get the account information, while you were there?"

Elliot produces a blank slip of white paper and a pen, then writes down a series of numbers from memory. Account number, routing number, password, followed by '3mm'.

"This isn't the account the Target's payment was sent to," Elliot states while finishing writing, "but it is where the payment is now. Target is likely very unhappy about his payment not being where he was told it would be. I did what I could to complicate my data trail but my resources are limited for that, so I recommend another transfer or two. As soon as can be managed." Three million dollars, just like that.

"Above and beyond, I see." These words are filtered through a growl, itself seemingly filtered through a chuckle. Menacing, to the wrong person- - wry, for Elliot. "Make sure I get all of the… accounting details, then."

"I know exactly where it ought to go." The damp cloth finds its way back to pocket, tidy for all that it is now saturated with starch. Gideon braces the palms of his hands against the countertop, posture shifting as he leans against it. His voice remains forcibly casual.

From what Elliot knows from rumor alone, d'Sarthe's anger is less volcanic- - and more kin to the molten slag, ash, and choking heat which comes after.

So far, rumors do not entirely disappoint.

"The laptop. Any fair photos, or estimates of the age?"

Elliot doesn’t dispute having gone above and beyond; it’s true, but he’s not looking to be boastful about his talents. He shuffles back through his photos, pulling one of Mines handing a greenish block to Azadi. “It’s not a great picture, unfortunately,” he laments, “but it looked like an LT-450, turn of the millennium military issue. Ports open to reveal two buttons which can flash fry the hard drives and ram whether or not it’s running.”

"Open?" d'Sarthe's eyes crease further, a mostly clean hand reaching out to receive the produced photograph. He studies it at arm's length; stark blue eyes linger on the woman, rather than Mines.

Breath leaving in a sigh, Gideon sets the photo down.

"Getting more foolish as his mistakes keep growing. He has no idea what his greed is getting him into." Disappointment, frustration, the simmering coals of a carefully tended fire. The steel and marbled surfaces of the kitchen lend a lingering, chill tension now that it has simply become a background to something more.

“Apologies,” Elliot says, realizing he hasn’t made himself clear. He withdraws a phone from his pocket and pulls up a picture as he clarifies. “Once the laptop has been opened, on the lower half that houses the keyboard two plastic covers can be popped out to reveal the two self-destruct buttons. Like the rubber tabs that used to sit in phone charging ports to protect the connectors from water exposure.” He turns the phone toward Gideon, now displaying a web page laden with specifications and pictures of the device.

Presuming nothing is a refreshing change of pace; Gideon's interest is piqued by the particulars, which Hitchens is more than happy to show him. His jaw sets as he takes it in.

"If only I knew for sure what his greed was getting me into as well." Shifting to the side, one hand remains on the countertop, weight leant against the edge. Eyes narrowed, Gideon regards Elliot with a more critical stare. It's broken by a sharp smile and an exhausted laugh. "I could always blame Daniel- -"

"Daniel and his ridiculous games." Pushing away, Gideon turns to lift the apron from his neck. Back to Elliot, he can see the older man's frame gathering an agitated rigidity.

"I never knew Mister Linderman," Elliot confesses, "Most of my understanding of his propensity for dramatic secret keeping came after the fact." He sets the packet of photos onto the counter beside the recorder.

"If I were to guess," he continues, "even his most flamboyantly innocuous secrets are a serious danger in the hands of, most likely, Mazdak." Something dawns on him, then he produces a digital camera capture card in a small clear case and inserts it into the photo envelope.

"Secret keeping is one way to look at it. I think that is how many remember him." Gideon d'Sarthe murmurs, glaring into a space empty of a target. "You do need flair for this," A sudden amusement crosses his features when he centers Elliot in his sights and watches as the younger man makes his latest addition to the envelope. "But even the best secret keeper can find himself dreadfully alone, in the end."

An obscure lesson, if one at all.

"And what of that card?"

“All of the photos I took but didn’t print,” Elliot says, whose secrets are deeper than the earth. He seems slightly more at ease now that he’s not talking exclusively in mission brief lexicon. “Should you want anyone to review them for anything I may have missed. That’s the only copy, I destroyed the camera. Once I cracked the Target’s cipher and started getting his alerts I had to move pretty fast. Undone by restaurant kitchen jargon, no less.” He looks around the space as he reminisces. What would Tala’s restaurant look like now?

"Undone by kitchen jargon? Do tell." There is no hiding the real moment of amusement from Gideon, as he retrieves a second cloth for his hands; he then turns back to retrieve the primary envelope from the table, weighing it between thick fingers.

"You've been more engaging than I expected. I don't suppose you might be interested in something of… a longer term engagement?"

“The responses to his messages appeared to be canned,” Elliot explains. “So I started thinking of what a five-letter reply could be. A friend of mine always used to respond to instructions with heard, which was her order callback when working in a kitchen. The source of my culinary aspirations.”

“As for a longer-term engagement,” Elliot says, not apologetic, but carrying a weight that acknowledges the seriousness of the topic. “My upcoming assignment still has no planned end-date. It’s possibly one-way. If it’s not, I’d be open to a deeper discussion of what that engagement would entail. For now, I hope my work has been satisfactory enough to progress our current business on good terms.”

It's hard to say that tickled is an emotion that finds Gideon, but it is a similar feeling when Elliot describes his unique sort of callback. Excellent.

"I see," A regular disappointment; of course, unbeknownst to the older man the engagement in question is far, far more important. Yet, it has all left a favorable impression despite the rest. "It has. Very much so. I hope that your next job appreciates your work ethic, as they should."

"Thank you, sir," Elliot says, performing a quick inventory of his pockets to make sure he hasn't forgotten anything else.

He stands, business here mostly concluded. "My assignment will probably start a month or two from now," he says, making sure to close this meeting with the reason he approached Gideon to begin with: Pete Varlane. "If it's possible to make contact and schedule an interview in that timeframe it would be greatly appreciated."

"Mmm." This sound is confirmation to Elliott's need for the final form of reciprocation. "It may be a few days until someone will call you with finer details. Be aware that it will be supervised in some capacity." But of course.

"After someone contacts you, I can estimate up to a week later for your time. If you aren't," somehow Gideon doubts that Elliott isn't, "I suggest that you have everything in order. While I can assure your time is limited, supervision will be better able to judge in person."

Needless to say, be on your best behaviors.

“Will I be allowed to interview him with some privacy,” Elliot asks, expression neutral, “or will supervision be monitoring what we talk about?”

"I think that depends on what you need," Gideon admits this with a measured tone. "We can work with privacy. And if he doesn't wish to engage you, that will be that."

"Understood," Elliot says. "I'll be on my best behavior. Thank you for taking the time to see me." He had been invited because he had completed his job, but Gideon is a busy man. He wonders what will become of Jason Mines, and has a theory, but in the end he honestly doesn't care.

"Do well and you get my courtesy card." Amusement lists on d'Sarthe's features briefly, replaced soon enough by seriousness. "We'll be in touch. Take care, mister Hitchens."

“Thank you, sir,” Elliot says with a nod in parting. “You as well.” Nothing left now but to leave, and wait. And prepare to have to deal with Pete Varlane’s storied shitty behavior.

He’ll need an insurance policy heading into this.


Across Town


A cell phone explodes against the brick wall of a newly remodeled industrial apartment. Jason Mines’ voices still rings off the walls as the pieces of his phone clatter to the floor. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he hisses, pacing back and forth across the unfurnished space, raking his hands through his hair.

The money was gone. All of it. Mines dragged his hands down his face, looking at the shrapnel of his phone. Suddenly every shadow was a threat, every corner of his spacious apartment a hiding place. He had no idea if Azadi has burned him, or if someone else had intercepted his funds. But the end result was the same:

Jason Mines was screwed.


Across the River

In the dim light of a sterile office, the blocky shape of a dusty, twenty year old laptop stands out of place against the sleek white and glass lines of modern technology. Azadi Jahandar stands with her arms crossed over her chest by a window, the neon-lit cityscape of Yamagato Park blooming at her back.

“Do you know how hard it has been to find this?”

Cora Wenyi delicately runs both hands over the laptop case, sliding two locks aside with her thumbs to open it. Azadi shakes her head, watching the case open. “Would you tell me if I asked?”

Wenyi smiles, then brushes her thumb over a smudge on the dusty screen. “Every single person who knew about the contents of this laptop either died, or had their memory irrevocably erased. We thought we’d found the key when we tracked down Doctor Ford, but he was a dead end.”

Azadi watches Wenyi press her palm to the laptop’s keyboard as the lights in her office begin to flicker. Azadi’s brows furrow in concern and she leans away from the window, watching the laptop intently.

Light flows from Wenyi’s hand into the laptop, causing its screen to flicker on and her pupils to gutter with a faint electrical light. An old Windows NT bios pops up, followed by a boot screen. Azadi looks from the laptop to Wenyi, then back again. She doesn’t dare interrupt. Curiosity has long talons sunk bone deep in her.

“Now, after all this time,” Wenyi explains, “the answers are at hand.” As the laptop finishes booting up, there is a prompt for a password. Wenyi’s brows twitch, and she removes her hand from the laptop, watching the blinking cursor. She opens the road atlas beside the laptop, checking page by page for circled letters and numbers, inputting them in the password field.

“Dare I ask the question?” Azazi tilts her head to the side, watching the login screen fade to reveal the desktop and a corporate branded logo:


“A simple question of identity.” Wenyi says as she blinks a languid look to Azadi, then opens a folder on the desktop labeled Project: Tartarus.

Who is Daniel Linderman’s son?

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