Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Left on the Beach

May 27, m0039, continued

The team run some more checks on one more point, but determine that there was nothing odd about those marriage partners, so far as they can tell.

At the same time, they are briefing Florence over Web. They tell her to come back to the embassy, and send Dougal an executive summary of events. In response, Dougal and Florence are somewhat scathing about the team's tactics so far.

Anyway, the team continues watching the building, while Vajra begins negotiation for drone hire. Bastion's people start to troop out carrying packs, small items of gear, and so on, and get into the vehicle. The team note a certain odd saminess about these individuals, and Hugo especially notices a lack of body language. They also put a call in to Dr Vartex to ask if a K-10A would be able to detect a bioshell by scent; he thinks that one might be able to, but isn't sure - so he offers to come down to be sniffed by Woju. (Vediovis, his AI, mutters about his boss never resting.) The team heads down to an American bar to wait for him.

Jianwei takes over the task of renting a drone, pushing his luck a little to put it on the embassy budget, and gets use of one just in time for it to observe the bus leaving the building.

At the same time, a message arrives from the embassy's administration systems, which have been smart enough to make an association; there has suddenly been a rush of legal complaints about Bastion
cancelling contracts - legitimately, it turns out, by the letter of their terms of business, but unexpectedly and inconveniently. Jianwei draughts a standard response to such complaints; he doesn't make it especially sympathetic, as the complainants have nothing that will stand up in court.

By now, Vajra is tracking the bus onto Port Lowell's main street, and sees it joining up with second, similar vehicle; he asks for second drone, in case the two go separate ways again, but that only comes slowly, and at high cost.

Then a call comes in from Mars Development Security, who, among many other things, handle security concerns for the MDC. It was directed to the embassy, but the AIs there route it to Jianwei, who finds himslf talking to a slightly bemused human MDS night-duty staffer. It seems that, a few minutes ago, Bastion terminated the lease they had with MDC on their building, effective immediately. Following standard procedures, MDS despatched a spiderbot under LAI control to inspect the building. It promptly discovered evidence of unauthorised high-temperature processes, and called in. Jianwei looks at the imagery it provided, and agrees that the building is showing evidence of a lot of burn marks. Vajra checks the images, and decides that the building's static computer systems especially have been targeted. It looks like someone has been enthusiastic with the thermite, presumably to destroy all traces some kind of data. The MDC will be filing claims for damages.

The team decides that a little more direct investigation is needed, and calls a fast taxi to pursue those minibuses, which are now heading south out of town towards the lake shore. They also call a security company which has its own boats and pay for one to be sent in the same direction, in case this is mass disposal of evidence by dumping in the water.

It may not be, though. Rather later than they should have, Vajra's surveillance systems spot a moderate-sized transport vessel apparently heading for rendezvous with the minibuses. Jianwei tries calling Abril, but Abril stonewalls him, hard.

The team's taxi gets to the lakeside meeting point around the same time as that boat, and Charles  and Florence disembark - and meet two Bastion employees, whose behaviour, body language, and vocal manner are very flatly obstructive. Florence tries to move around them but she finds herself being blocked. Charles dashes towards lake shore, making unspecific but enthusiastic comments about the scenery as he goes, then turns and starts walking towards the boat. One of the Bastion guards moves to intercept him, while Jianwei talks to the other, who is confronting Florence - but he (or it) doesn't react. Jianwei also sends Woju, who's already spotted  a certain blandness to the guards' scent, to film the boat.

Charles wades into the shallow water, as does the guard who is trying to delay him, then heads for the boat. He's more resistant to cold than his antagonist, who now makes an ineffectual attempts to hit Charles with a side-handled baton. Florence dashes over at the sight of this,  and a rather crude brawl ensues. As Florence tries to bear her opponent down, though, she has an unpleasant and unfamiliar experience; his head explodes in her face, without enough force to hurt her, but very destructively. The other Bastion "employee" heads back to the evacuation boat.

Charles attempts first aid on Florence's recent opponent, although it's more or less instantly clear that this is as terminal an incident as one would expect. Looking at what's left of that head, Charles spots that he's apparently dealing with a bioshell here.

Around this time, the boat that the team chartered from another security company shows up; the team asks it to stop the vessel which most of the Bastion people have now boarded, but it hits a jurisdiction problem; that vessel is Chinese-registered, this is more or less unclaimed territory, and there is no proximate cause for citizens' arrest. The crew offer to maintain hot pursuit, but that's all they can do. Jianwei calls Marshall Kirkowicz and try to get her help - but this isn't something she can assist with. No crime appears to have been committed in American territory, after all.

The Bastion staff simply sail away, and a digital ping confirms that Abril is aboard their vessel. Left on the beach with a badly damaged bioshell-corpse, the team can do little but head back to town. The one other thing they can do is rent the minibuses which Bastion have now finished with, putting a clause in the agreement that they are not to be cleaned, allowing a forensic sweep later.

May 28, m0039

By 4am, Jianwei has completed a careful report to the embassy on the incident, recorded the E.U. citizens who were down as working for Bastion in Port Lowell as possibly dead, details still unclear, and gone to bed. At 6:15am, Danteng receives a congratulatory message from the ambassador; he evidently turned up something quite odd here. At 6:30am, she wakes Jianwei to ask about the security company boat, which is still in hot pursuit of the Chinese-registered craft, which seems to be heading for Chinese territory. Jianwei kicks himself for forgetting about that, and calls off the pursuit, then files an extradition request with the Chinese authorities for Abril.

During the day, word comes in that various E.U. citizens who were recently flagged as possibly dead are in fact on their way home from (actually suspiciously similar areas of) the Asteroid Belt, and are denying that they had anything to do with this when questioned by radio. Meanwhile, Bastion has taken to issuing waffly and largely content-free statements, and Jianwei's extradition request filters into the murky depths of the Chinese bureaucracy. However, it's not certain if it will achieve much before Bastion can extract their man from this mess - assuming that they want to, of course.

In due course, the team and their acquaintances work out some idea of what may have been going on. At a best guess, Bastion have been experimenting with LAI-operated highly-networked bioshell security. This would let them use variants of their standard networked security management systems on jobs like they've been working in Port Lowell, and save on personnel overheads. The snag is, of course, that LAI operation of bioshells  is highly illegal in some places, including virtually anywhere under EU jurisdiction, and has memetic problems in many others.

So Bastion middle management set up this long-shot project, probably hoping to get proof-of-concept data and then quietly leave. They have doubtless been borrowing the names of people working in the Belt, presumably paying them a decent amount to take some time off in a Bastion-run facility out there. No doubt, if they could have proved that this LAI-bioshell system could function and not even be noticed by the public, they could have got clearance from their board to start more overt operations in some transhumanist enclaves and stations where this wouldn't cause much trouble. Unfortunately, the embassy team, representatives of a jurisdiction where LAI-controlled human bioshells are seen as an abomination, showed up and started poking around. It's hard to guess what they thought the embassy was up to, but they may have taken it as an attempt to shake them up and maybe warn them off. The trouble was, they'd broken rather a lot of EU laws, so they  couldn't afford to just ignore this. So they decided to get out fast.

Well, at least the team have thrown a spanner in the works of Bastion's illegal operations, and handed the company a major PR headache. Whether LAI-bioshell security guards will ever work as a business model remains to be seen.

(And here, the campaign went on hiatus for a while.)