Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Ghost Doctor

Libra 28, m0039, continued

The team report back to the embassy, where Schmidt acknowledges a job well done and accepts their report. After lunch, they head out to look around the town for extra resources that they may need for their work; they also find that there's a shipping box being held in the embassy stores for Florence, which turns out to contain the additional weapons which she requested; they are now fully equipped, they feel (and, when visiting many communities, Florence may have to carry some of her gear in electronically locked boxes with diplomatic service seals). In due course they take a walk out of Port Lowell to acclimatise themselves a little more to the Martian environment, testing their biomod adaptations to the conditions and so on; Florence practices the flamboyant martial arts moves in which she's been trained, proving that she can get clear over the head of a human opponent in a standing leap, and also confirms that her sidearms are fully functional.

Libra 28-March 2, m0039

Over the next couple of days, the team settles into their new posting, completing any necessary paperwork, learning their way around Port Lowell and the surrounding region, and trying out some of the bars and restaurants which they've had recommended to them. Port Lowell is a rather drab corporate town, perhaps, and the architecture is rarely worth a detour, but the variety of nationalities there, many of them fairly well-paid corporate or diplomatic employees, does ensure some fairly healthy nightlife. It also ensures steady employment for the consular functions of the E.U. embassy, and the team learns something about the mundane practicalities of all that; they may, after all, sometimes be assigned to deal with routine business when there's no call for their special talents.

The embassy itself is a modest-sized building, not much more than a large house - even on Mars, many of the staff do much of their work over the Web from home or from wherever they've been sent, and the team have no permanent office of their own, although they should have priority claim to hot desks when they can show need. They also discover that Quentin rules almost as much space in an ancillary building as the embassy proper provides; providing special resources required by E.U. contractors and even trans-shipping material is a large part of the embassy's function.

March 3, m0039

Then, when they arrive at work one morning, the team find that they have a brief meeting scheduled with Colette Schmidt. She comes straight to the point.

"It would appear that we have a possible murder case involving an E.U. citizen. Unfortunately, the incident happened nearly an Earth year ago now, but we've only just learned that it may not have been an accident, so the trail may be rather cold. However, the victim may naturally have rather strong feelings on the subject. I'd like you to go and talk to him in person - all else aside, he may need some moral support just now."

"Ah - he's been ghosted?"

"Yes. His name is Dr Tiberius Vartex. He's here on E.U. government sponsorship, so we have a duty to him. You'll have to travel to Haiyuan City..."

The team decide to set out straight away, reviewing the details of the case on the maglev as they go. Tiberius Vartex, it turns out, was - is - an English-born ex-military medical doctor who came to Mars as part of the E.U. special skills secondment programme. About a year or so ago, he was asked to act as medical officer for "Nova Iquitos Station", a semi-mobile Peruvian scientific unit operating on the eastern edge of the Elysium Planitia. After a couple of weeks there, he arranged to take a routine break, borrowed one of the unit's hoppers (with NAI pilot), and set off to fly to one of the Chinese-international towns west of Olympus Mons (with multiple refuelling stops along the way). He never made it; his hopper came down somewhere along the way. Luckily for him, a Chinese medical team were in the (very general) vicinity in their ambulance hopper, were able to reach the site within an hour or so, discovered his body in a somewhat-recoverable condition, and had the time and equipment to get him into nanostasis.

He was then transferred to a full hospital, initially in New Shanghai, where doctors confirmed that only an upload was feasible, and his E.U. contract certainly covered that. However, suitable facilities are still quite thin on Mars, and the most efficient approach proved to be to leave him in the hands of the Chinese medical services. Then, his medical plan, any living will arrangements that he'd made, and general custom, suggested that his ghost should be installed in a cloned bioshell - but that would take months to prepare and grow, and the best available facilities for that were in Haiyuan City. The hospital therefore didn't attach any particular priority to completing the upload; after all, while computer resources are cheap, they aren't free, and ghosts running on static systems in VR sometimes get uncomfortable. Hence, although the scan was run soon enough, and the conversion/compilation eventually followed, and was quite successful according to validation analysis, Dr Vartex's ghost was only really run, for initial test and acclimatisation purposes, a few days ago, when his bioshell was confirmed as functional and nearly ready for use.

Which was when Dr Vartex himself started raising questions about what happened to him. He hasn't said much yet, and he comes across as rather dour and still perhaps slightly traumatised by what happened to him, but he's dropped broad hints in messages to the embassy that he's highly suspicious of something. Anyway, he may need some practical or psychological support when he's first installed on the bioshell. The team also skims the official report on the hopper accident, which does strike them immediately as rather thin; the investigation was conducted by Chinese police, as the nearest authority to the crash scene, but given that they were dealing with a TSA vehicle and an E.U. citizen, it was perhaps predictable that they might not have been especially thorough.

With all this in mind, the team reach Haiyuan, and make their way to the hospital, where they meet Dr Feng, the attending surgeon on the case. He's pleasant but businesslike, persistently referring to Dr Vartex as "your program"; the Chinese don't grant ghosts full civil rights, which would explain a certain casualness in their attitude to the personal side of this matter, although there's no evidence that they were at all incompetent in regard to the technical aspects. He also reminds everyone that the process usually fails to recover the contents of very recent short-term memory - the last few minutes, possibly even hours, of the patient's life - and remarks that, while the procedure appears to have been quite successful in this case, there is always some danger of loss of other conscious memories or skill functions. It's clear that this is pro forma stuff, intended to protect the hospital against legal trouble, although the points he's making are entirely valid. Anyway, Dr Vartex has been running on the hospital mainframe, but it seems that his bioshell is checked out and ready to use, so the team are soon taken through to the room where a couple of technicians are linking it up to the download system.

(Any suspicions that such technicians will have loaded some compliant NAI onto any new shell in testing hours if not days ago, and then amused themselves seeing what they could order it to do, would of course be intolerable slanders on an entire profession. Anyway, the bioshell shows as being in perfect working order, complete with some minor internal upgrades that were included in the specification received by the hospital and a variety of protective nanomods.)

The download runs, all validation checks show positive, and Dr Vartex opens his eyes. Jianwei greets him and introduces himself and the other two, and suggests that they move to the hotel which has been booked for all of them. Vartex agrees, and the necessary administrative concerns are quickly resolved with the hospital. Jianwei requests that all backup copies of the new ghost be transferred to E.U. systems, along with the raw scan data from Dr Vartex's brain; although it would of course be impolite to mention any such thing to the Chinese, this could be used at a later date to validate the compilation job, if any suspicions arose about tinkering. As Dr Vartex won't have full human-equivalent rights in Chinese territory, Jianwei also suggests that he should set up another E.U.-registered holding company, with Dr Vartex as sole owner and himself as a non-executive director and the ghost and bioshell as its assets when it is operating in territory where they are regarded as property. This is handled in seconds; meanwhile, Dr Vartex downloads the last available backup of his assistant NAI over the Web and installs it as a secondary process on his computer. It comes as close as a NAI can manage to expressing surprise over the time that has passed since it last ran, and at its new situation.

And so the four beings head to the hotel, a comfortable but plain place in the business district, and the consular team can ask what's been worrying the unsmiling Dr Vartex. He confirms that he does indeed find the circumstances of his accident suspicious, but he hasn't wanted to say much to anyone while he was running on the hospital computers; being ex-military, he is fully aware that software running on a system controlled by someone else has no useful guarantees of security at all, and anything he chose to say might therefore have been readable by unknown parties.

As to the actual problem; Vartex looked over the details of his flight (which, no, he doesn't remember), and realised that he had been taking the obvious direct route from the Nova Iquitos base to his destination - until a few minutes before the crash, when the hopper made a slight but definite diversion. It was just a few degrees, but enough to require some explanation - which isn't available. He too has reviewed the official report, and the more that anyone in the group looks at it, the more they agree that it's clearly a very standard piece of writing, blaming the crash on an unspecified mechanical or software failure which of course can't be identified because the crash destroyed much of the vehicle.

It's getting late in the day by now, and the group all have rooms booked for the night in the hotel, so they settle in there to consider the matter further. Looking at the hopper flight log in detail, they realise that, at the same time it changed course, it switched from full real-time logging on external storage - the norm, which provides useful "black box" details - to a minimal level of recording, showing little more than bearing, speed, and altitude. Still, they can get a little from this; notably, they eventually discover that the hopper had begun a slow, controlled descent a few minutes before the catastrophic events of the crash, and so was lower than normal operating altitude at that time, although not yet quite low enough to raise a red flag for the routine Chinese investigation.

Next, Vajra pulls what he can find in the way of satellite imagery of the area of the crash from around the time of the accident off the Mars Web. This is relatively skimpy - better images almost certainly exist somewhere, but a lot of the satellites in orbit round the planet belong to military organisations - but it seems to confirm that confirm what aviation management records also say; that there were no other air vehicles in the vicinity. However, later, examining these images at length and especially scrupulously, the team will decide that there may well have been a ground vehicle very close to the point where the hopper's descent path would have brought it to land.

Everything does now seem to be pointing to foul play, but there are many unanswered questions remaining. Why did the hopper change course? Could its NAI have been subverted somehow? Who wanted it to land, and who may have been waiting for it? And still, what brought it down? The next step seems to be to examine the wreckage, and a quick records check shows that the Chinese investigators removed it - or at least the largest parts - to their facilities in New Shanghai. So the team decides to travel their on the next day, and make a few arrangements before retiring to sleep (or in Vajra's case, to meditate).

March 4, m0039

Another slightly boring maglev journey takes the four Europeans to their next destination, and a taxi then takes them to Police HQ, where Jianwei's immaculate grasp of procedure and the team's diplomatic credentials earn them admission to a storage unit on the edge of town. A large tray slides out of a stack, and the team are presented with a fine collection of scrap metal, consistent with the model and type of hopper and the story that it hit the ground at some speed. They are also given a large collection of images recorded at the site before anything was moved by the investigators. This isn't a perfect forensics exercise, though; the Chinese only collected up fairly large pieces. At Jianwei's instruction, Aunty loads up a forensics skill set, and under her direction, wearing suitably advanced anti-contamination gear provided by the building owners, he begins a careful examination of the wreckage. This isn't exactly conclusive, but it does look as though, at one point on the hull, where the jet exhaust emerges alongside the tail structure, the metal may have been driven inwards with explosive force - not outwards, as would be expected if the problem was an engine explosion, and not consistently with ground impact either...

"Okay, we have prima facie evidence that you were shot down."

Looking at the damage and the forensics program outputs, Florence, the team's weapons expert, decides that something large-calibre but man-portable was probably involved. That may be a small relief.

The team identify certain crucial elements of the wreckage, and make a formal request to the Chinese authorities that these should be transferred under forensic seal to E.U. embassy custody. It's been a long time, unfortunately, but it's possible that sufficiently fine examination could find further evidence of weapons fire. A SEFOP round would almost certainly leave traces of explosively-forged metal; a HEMP round or other shaped charge might only leave small traces of very volatile materials. Out of interest, they also request and receive footage from the medical unit's cameras. (Jianwei asks briefly if Vartex wants to look at this, given that it's likely to contain rather gruesome images of his own former body. Vartex points out that he's both ex-military and a doctor.) This doesn't add much to their information, but confirms that the wreckage was indeed much as the Chinese investigators' information indicates.

Working methodically along the chain of evidence, the team decide that their next stop should be the crash site itself - it's been a while, but the site has probably gone undisturbed, out there in the wilderness. Of course, this will mean quite a bit more travel; more than 1,500 miles by maglev - a full day's travel - to the nearest substantial community (the place where the medical team were fortuitously based, in fact), where they can rent a heavy rover vehicle, and then another three or four hundred miles to the site - another full day, and they'll need to rent a fuel trailer along with the rover to get them home again. Well, at least if they then decide to locate Nova Iquitos Station, it's just further in the same direction along the equatorial railway. They are only a little concerned that they may be about to tangle with people who are prepared to kill in the course of their machinations - and Florence doesn't seem worried at all.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Port Lowell Welcomes

Libra 27, m0039 (continued)

The train takes all day to travel from New Shanghai to Port Lowell (only slightly delayed by the clutter of cargo maglevs emerging from the ugly mining town of Hanggin Qi), in which time, Jianwei composes a report on the events on the elevator to submit to the ambassador before they even arrive. She will undoubtedly see the public postings on this subject at some point, so Jianwei thinks it best to be the ones who draw them to her attention, and best to reassure her that the matter won't become a greater problem. The report is well written and deftly phrased, but lacks his often keen sensitivity to the political complexities of his new posting...

He also spends a few minutes explaining to Florence that, while her new job isn't secret as such, some discussions with unknown parties may require a degree of discretion - handing matters off to himself may sometimes be best. The three discuss possible ways of dealing with "Double Delta" in future; it might be useful to establish a position of mutual obligations with a journalist - or it might be too chancy. The subject is left open for now. Another idea that arises and is agreed is that Jianwei should be appointed a non-executive director of the EU-registered company which legally has ownership of Vajra in certain territories (and of which Vajra is sole owner, of course); Jianwei and Vajra set the legalities in motion.

Then, as the maglev train begins to cross the long, high bridge across Lake Candor towards Port Lowell, the travellers receive a courtesy call from Quentin at the embassy. He reminds them that the organic pair have a couple of apartments rented for them as their initial accommodation - in an American-owned building, perhaps unfortunately, but there isn't much EU-owned rental property in Port Lowell - and says that he has taken the liberty of arranging for a maintenance case for Vajra's humanoid cybershell to be delivered to the same address. He's also booked a taxi to get them there.

The train slips down a spur line and docks with the sealed station. (Port Lowell isn't a fully domed city, but most buildings are pressurised.) The travellers disembark, making sure that their luggage comes too (the diplomatic pouch definitely included) with the aid of a porter shell from the station. The automated taxi (a yellow-painted box on wheels) then takes them to the apartment building - another dull box, which the architect has attempted to make interesting by placing each floor slightly skew to those above and below. The building AI greets them cordially and provides another porter shell to help them carry their things up the couple of floors to their new homes, which are adjacent on the same level.

They enter and begin settling in; the flats are small but immensely technologically efficient, of course, and have configured themselves into the colour schemes that they requested in advance. Vajra finds his maintenance case, and Jianwei uploads his personal choice in art from his implant to the wall screens.

Then there are knocks on the doors of both flats; the external cameras in both cases show fairly well-dressed young men holding what appear to be pizza boxes. Jianwei and Florence open their doors at much the same moment, and realise that their visitors are both on the same mission - and so they accept the neighbourly offers of pizza, and invite everyone into Jianwei's flat. The pair are Manuel Lacardio and Mika Hernandez, who live in a shared home on the floor below. (Yes, it would be possible to reconfigure Jianwei and Florence's flats into one large unit, but the design and construction of the building makes the task non-trivial.) It seems that some parts of this building are already occupied and some are not; these two will be the newcomers' closest neighbours for now.

Manuel and Mika are, it turns out, lower-middle management employees at the Mars Development Corporation - the American company which manages a great deal of activity on Mars, including the construction of Port Lowell and indeed the letting and maintenance of this very building. Both are Mars-adapted, having come down the elevator a couple of years since with a view to making careers on the planet and with the Corporation, although Manuel has spent some of the time since employed by a company other than MDC, before being re-hired in a higher position than the one he left (a notoriously standard "MDC career surge" move). They're affable enough in a youthful sort of way, and despite their cultural background, they are at least tolerably polite to Florence and Vajra - although there's little that Vajra can contribute to this meeting, being unequipped to eat pizza or drink the beer which Jianwei purchases through the house management system. There is a slight sense that Manuel for one is reflexively polite to Florence because of her very attractive (and exotic) looks, although the exact nature of the relationship between the visitors isn't stated.

Jianwei takes the opportunity to find out a little more about Port Lowell from a local perspective, and when Florence asks "Where's good to party?", Manuel and Mika are both happy enough to discuss the nature and quality of many local bars and clubs - working out what national jurisdiction each acknowledges, and hence exactly what substances and recreations may be legally available there, is evidently something of a local preoccupation. Once the visitors depart, Vajra quietly checks the flat for surveillance devices, but it doesn't seem that the visit involved any such ulterior motives.

Libra 28, m0039

The next morning, the new embassy employees have a 9:30am appointment with the ambassador, which reminds Florence that she can revise her wardrobe choices ("Hurray for gravity - I can wear skirts and heels again"). Jianwei attempts to offload the diplomatic pouch onto the embassy staff systems on arrival, but is advised to take it in and deliver it in person. Frau Doctor Ambassador Colette Schmidt is waiting at her desk, and proves politely businesslike; she received Jianwei's report, and has seen "Double Delta's" news postings (which indeed flick across the wall screens behind her desk as she greets her new staff), but she accepts that the unfortunate incident on the elevator probably was handled as well as could reasonably be expected. She is also very pleased to receive the diplomatic pouch; she uses her voice ID and personal codes to open it, extracts a sealed package from amongst the digital modules (mostly one-time pads, it seems safe to assume), and immediately calls for "Catherine", who proves to be a domestic spiderbot. Schmidt hands Catherine the package with instructions to "prepare one cup straight away, then follow my usual rationing schedule". Florence nods sympathetically, commenting that not even the Triad conditioning to fit herself perfectly for Mars can make her like the local coffee. The ambassador suggests that the Triads might think more in terms of green tea, to the quality of which she cannot speak.

Anyway, she expresses the hope that the newcomers are settling in, and that they can find... But then, the ambassador adopts the remote look of someone receiving a high-density information update. Vajra notes that the data flows in her vicinity have indeed increased in the last few seconds; presumably, her personal AI recognised that the importance of her dealings with her visitors was declining, and the importance rating of some new item of data was high enough to permit an interruption at that point.

"It would seem that we have a task for you already," she says. "One of our people - an EU citizen - who has been consulting for Ajiwau Ramen has, as I believe the expression is, gone postal. He appears to be holed up in his employers' offices here in Port Lowell. His name is Herge Bertrand. See if you can prevent any casualties."

The team leave the office briskly as the embassy systems summon another taxi and basic information on the problem begins to flow to their personal systems. Florence is a little unhappy that she hasn't yet obtained all the sidearms which she had arranged to have available on the planet, but she does have a tangler pistol on hand, everyone has at least a little nanoweave armour, and Vajra is able to arrange for his personal microbot swarms to be transported to the destination from the flats. Florence doesn't feel overly impeded by her (quite short) skirt, and the Triads were quite careful to engineer her joints and tendons so that she can fight perfectly comfortably in high heels...

Ajiwau's offices turn out to be yet another blandly unremarkable Port Lowell commercial building, set back from the road behind a Japanese-style raked gravel garden - and now surrounded by security men in smart dark uniforms, the look of which is only spoiled a little by the fact that each has a picture of a ramen bowl on the left breast. Jianwei takes the lead in trying to find out what is going on, but is slightly stymied by language problems until he manages to locate the team leader, a stressed-looking security manager who mutters something about Bertrand having an argument with the company, arriving earlier than anyone else that morning, and triggering the building fire suppression system when his colleagues arrived, driving them back out. There are no casualties (so far), but anyway, the security manager is a busy man, but he has this situation in hand...

Brushed off somewhat, the team manage to attract the attention of one other person who isn't part of the Ajiwau contingent - a woman of indeterminate age (but definitely not young), her steel-grey hair swept back in a tight plait, wearing a jacket that is bulky enough to suggest armour, a cap, and a visor that is probably armoured, and accompanied by a small cluster of businesslike cybershells. She introduces herself as Marshall Althea Kirkowicz. The US Marshalls Service has no jurisdiction here at this moment - the incident has so far taken place entirely on a Japanese corporation's own territory - but if anything spills onto the street, she will have due cause to react; for now, she's here to monitor the situation.

The team wonder if Bertrand has chosen to explain his actions, and a quick look into local virtual space shows that he has; he's published an open statement, in fact. Vajra downloads the document and skims it in a few seconds at computer speeds, and reports that it appears remarkably coherent and reasonable - something on which Jianwei agrees with a quick look. Bertrand has dispute with Ajiwau, and specifically with their corporate security. As a contract employee, he is (or was) entitled to their services in lieu of police protection in the highly corporate town of Port Lowell, but when he was recently physically assaulted in a bar in the town, they provided what he considers to be grossly inadequate assistance. All attempts at resolution having failed, he's taking this action. Glancing slightly further at the document, Jianwei forms the impression of a rather professional exercise in memetic design; all quite slick, even. The nearest it comes to ranting, really, is in the comments on Ajiwau corporate security...

Talking of whom, Aunty - who can speak Japanese - is attempting to monitor the situation with the on-site team, who appear to be forming up to attempt an initial assault, having determined that there are no innocent third parties in the building. They make a frontal entry through the lobby in textbook style, and then there is a pause. Then there are a number of loud explosions, and the assault team withdraw from the building at some speed, although still in textbook fashion.

The EU team note that the assault force apparently suffered no losses. Florence, who has some experience with firearms, notes that the explosions were really too loud for small arms fire. (She also downloads some building plans, and begins looking at options for intrusion on her own account. She could always climb the side of the building or something.) Following some polite but fast and forceful requests in the right quarters, Vajra manages to gain access to some of the building internal cameras, and identifies Bertrand sitting in his office, looking completely calm and with the distracted air of someone composing something on his computer systems. At some point, it occurs to Jianwei that this whole exercise might even be some kind of distraction - but there is no sign of Bertrand having a partner or an alternative strategy, and no other reports of trouble in the town.

They try sending him a message, requesting a chance to talk, but that simply ends up in an in-box, and probably in a long queue. So the consular services team decides to take a simple approach, and walk in the front door. Needless to say, this attracts the attention of one of the Ajiwau security staff, but Jianwei breezes straight past him with a shrug. He continues to take the lead in moving through the lobby area, but not fast - and not only are Florence and Vajra right behind him, but Vajra has a crawler surveillance swarm deployed immediately in front of the whole group. It's this that spots the first signs of Bertrand's preparations for more uninvited visitors, and Vajra reacts with electronic speed and precision. Indeed, his warning reaches the other two in good time, and he and Florence hit cover as the flash charge goes off. Jianwei, with ordinary human reflexes and no combat experience, doesn't, and is left rather ruffled and partially deafened for the rest of the day. However, his nerve holds completely, and he refuses to let this stop him.

Hence, the team find Bertrand, still sitting in that office, calm and even prepared to apologise a little for that incident. By now, it's completely clear that he is in full control of himself; it's possible that someone should have checked his job qualifications, which are in the area of situational memetics. He's using that skill, and so far as he's concerned, things are going just fine. However, Jianwei suggests that he may need some help negotiating his way out of this situation; Ajiwau could press charges for assault or property damage or whatever... Bertrand, in reply, points out that no one has been hurt, the property damage so far has been minimal - and Ajiwau are a culturally very Japanese corporation, with a distinct concern for face. He fully intends to negotiate a way out with no charges pressed and a mutually acceptable set of compensations, and if Ajiwau corporate security are left looking humiliated, well, good. Still, he's not ungrateful for Jianwei's offer to handle some of the negotiations at this point.

So the team head back to the front of the building (although Vajra does quietly leave a few surveillance microbots in the office). Jianwei goes out the front door, looking ostentatiously harmless, while the other two remain in the lobby, ready to respond to developments as seems best. By now, the Ajiwau team appear to have called up a van full of shotgun-sized weapons to supplement the pistols of various kinds which they were previously carrying; they still look like a bunch of restaurant doorkeepers being pushed to operate slightly beyond their capacities, but now they have bigger guns. Still, Jianwei begins talking to their team leader, saying that he's spoken to Bertrand and that the fellow is prepared to cease his action in return for various assurances, including a guarantee that no prosecutions will be forthcoming. (He also points out that Bertrand, a memetics expert, is definitely manipulating Ajiwau's memetics in all this.) The team leader is slightly thrown by this, but consults his senior managers, and after a few minutes, agrees to the terms and conditions.

Jianwei relays this to Bertrand, who has in any case been monitoring the conversation. He seems quite satisfied with the result, but cautious. "You're a diplomat," he says to Jianwei, "does that mean you know about the law?"

"A little," Jianwei replies cautiously.

"So this agreement, which we've all recorded, would be fully binding on them?"

Jianwei thinks for a moment. "I believe so, yes."

"That's good. See you later, then."

The choice of words makes the EU team suspicious, but they don't have much time to act before Bertrand triggers another set of charges. These don't make so much noise, but they do flood much of the building with chemical smoke. Vajra attempts to use his surveillance microbots to see what else Bertrand is up to, but loses connection; Florence, who has been deeply irritated by this latest gesture, thinks about what his options might be, given what she knows about the layout of the building, and begins looking for a way to catch him.

Meanwhile, members of the Ajiwau team have taken this as a sign that they still have a fight on, and trigger their next planned assault on the building. Something grenade-sized comes through a window into the lobby; Florence reflexively dives behind a pillar, but Vajra doesn't react in time and is in fact knocked off his feet when the concussion charge detonates. The Ajiwau team storm into the building, but Florence guesses that they won't find Bertrand in the office any more, and deftly leaves by the door through which they've just come, meeting Jianwei outside.

The pair instantly agree that the best thing to do is to quietly make their way round to a point which Florence has identified at the back of the building. When they get there, Jianwei spots a furtive figure making his way down an external fire escape, and points him out to Florence, who has her tangler pistol out by now. She carefully takes aim, and when Bertrand reaches the bottom of the stairs, she hits him with a couple of rounds loaded with sticky strands. He quickly pulls himself free, but by then, she is up to him and making it very clear how angry she is.

Jianwei arrives a moment later. "You're an idiot" he tells Bertrand. So far as he's concerned, he'd negotiated a safe ending to the situation, and Bertrand put everyone back into danger. Bertrand, on the other hand, seems to think that he's scored one final point on Ajiwau's security people, and feels confident that the company's decision to back down and buy a quiet ending to the incident will hold. In any case, Jianwei and Florence haul him around to the front of the building, and essentially force him to apologise to the Ajiwau security team leader as his team straggle back out of the building. However, it does seem that the agreement should hold, and when Vajra has emerged and collected up his microbot swarms, they decide to take Bertrand back to the EU embassy for his own safety. They make a point of sitting with Vajra and Florence on either side of Bertrand and Jianwei facing him, and while they are on the way, Jianwei chews him out further for his reckless behaviour, hopefully cowing him sufficiently that he can be quietly removed from Port Lowell without him deciding to indulge in any more memetically-loaded gestures first.

Indeed, the team manage to extract an undertaking from Bertrand that he will be leaving Port Lowell, although running him off Mars altogether doesn't look feasible. They make a note to attempt to keep track of his movements, just in case he does anything unwise. "In order to provide consular services more efficiently, it would make sense to keep track of him. After all, our AIs have predicted that he is likely to have need of such services in future..." When they've finished filing a report on the incident, they also get clearance from the ambassador to send a summary of most of the details to Marshall Kirkowicz, making a point of mentioning that Bertrand will be leaving town - which they suspect will please her.

But that is something they deal with after lunch...