October 5, Before Midnight
Fresh into another night without their PBAs active, Jeb and David Forrester arrived at Club Sylvan, dressed for dancing and general carousing. Jeb felt naked without his duster, but it wasn’t exactly clubwear, and body armor didn’t fit under a button-down shirt. It always felt strange to be offline.
Officially, he was here to enjoy a night out with his attractive husband. Unofficially, he was here to plan their next move against Gerhard Bayer, also known as Galileo, and to find out if Kate knew any other details about the now deceased Matthew Reed. They had a history — college — and the Office of Mental Health was, predictably, close-lipped.
Jeb entered Kate’s office to find her sitting behind her desk, watching Sonne futz with a building model on their oversized wall panel. Kate wore a pink hoodie and light gray sweats, a contrast to the mimetic dresses she seemed so fond of, and Doctor Xu was sitting in an ergochair nearby, wearing the same sweats and the same pink hoodie.
That raised questions, but Jeb wasn’t going to ask. “Any new developments?” It had been almost a week since they hid away Doctor Huan Xu.
“Nein!” Kate said, turning in her chair. “Any updates from the VCD on Huan?”
“They’re still looking,” Jeb said, as he didn’t dare press Captain Naomi Barondale too hard. They were close, but he doubted Naomi would inform him if she found something unless it was directly related to a cybercrime involving Matthew Reed. She had no reason to share it otherwise, and asking her to do so might make her suspicious.
Jeb looked around for Lucy, Kate’s statuesque and taciturn bodyguard, but for once, she wasn’t in the office. Jeb supposed Kate could feel fairly secure this deep in her own club.
“Hear that, Huan?” Kate grinned at her. “We get another night together!”
Doctor Xu just grunted in response.
“So,” Kate said, “what’s our agenda for the weekend? How shall we conspire?” She balanced her elbows on her desk and her chin on upturned palms.
Jeb wished he could look that happy and content. “We caught a case today, and it was nasty. Cowan figured…” He stopped and glanced around. “Where is Cowan?”
Sonne turned from the panel, brow furrowed. “He’s not with you?” Maybe she wasn’t as done with Cowan as she claimed.
“He was supposed to meet us here.” Jeb measured his worry. “We staggered our arrival so it wouldn’t seem odd for us to hit the same club, but our shift ended four hours ago.”
Sonne crossed her arms and frowned. “Don’t you have any other way to contact him?”
“Not with my PBA offline.” Jeb glanced at Kate, then Sonne. “Can one of you ping him?”
“That’s not necessary,” Xu said, poking at her tablet.
“Why’s that, ma’am?” Jeb worked to keep his tone civil. Xu had, after all, scripted an algorithm that addicted millions of people. She was lucky there hadn’t been any deaths.
“Cowan’s not here because he’s in the darkSim.” Xu tossed an AR panel from her tablet to float in front of Kate’s larger AR panel. So she had access to Kate’s office VI, too?
A man-sized raven wearing a bright red fez appeared on the screen, lengthy yellow tassel drooped across one shoulder. Its eyes glowed a soft red.
“Sorry I couldn’t be there,” Corvus said. “Got delayed, but something was bugging me.”
Kate turned her chair to face him. “I am incredibly jealous of that hat.”
“What’s been bugging you?” Sonne asked.
“We caught a brutal case today. The director of the Office of Mental Health got puppeted into killing his family, and we think Galileo used a firmware patch to compromise him.”
“What now?” Kate covered her mouth. “Matthew Reed?” She blinked and looked around. “No, that’s not possible. I would have heard. We all would have heard.”
“The OMH suppressed the news, obviously,” Jeb said. He recognized the irony in that as well as anyone. “But yes, our vics today were Matthew, Linda, and Gregory Reed.”
Sonne gave Kate a worried look. “You knew the director of the OMH?”
Kate had gone very pale, and she didn’t speak for a long moment. Jeb let her think. They all let her think. Jeb had seen a lot of death, but it never seemed to affect him any less.
“We all attended Harvard together,” Kate said finally, quietly. “Linda and I dated for almost six months. I was the one who introduced her to Matty, after…”
Her hands clenched, and Sonne squeezed her shoulder. Kate breathed, deep breaths, then patted Sonne’s hand. She blinked against a bit of wet and wiped one eye.
“I apologize for interrupting you,” Kate said. “Do you have any theories as to why someone would go after Matthew Reed?” She must have known Reed well, and seeing her agony over his death was a fresh gut punch to the one that hit Jeb earlier today.
“Well,” Corvus said, lifting one bird leg and clenching his foot, “I’ve been kicking around everything we know about Galileo. Gerhard Bayer. And I’ve got a theory.”
Jeb had theories too, but he wanted to hear Cowan’s first. He moved past the lump in his throat and focused on the problem at hand. “What is it?”
“Bayer puppeted people into mass shootings to target people close to the board members of OneWorld,” Corvus said. “So this is obviously a power struggle.”
“Matty wasn’t part of OneWorld,” Kate said, voice a bit taut.
“Right, I know, I’m getting there. Those puppeted mass shootings were my first case, but Galileo’s done much more. We also have evidence he sold Sarah Taggart the paralysis script she used on us, the night she took over Sonne’s Sanctuary.”
“He’s selling darkSim scripts to make himself rich,” Sonne said. “And that’s strange, right? Why would a OneWorld CTO need money? He’s already richer than God.”
“Not exactly,” Corvus said, “but I’ll get to that in a moment. Galileo also traded for scripts he didn’t have, like one to hack synthetics. Another of our cases was a man named Joseph Dunn. One of my contacts confirmed he traded his synth hacking script to Galileo for a way to detect marksman algorithms on private servers.”
Jeb felt a trace of pride as he watched Cowan put the pieces together. His partner really was turning into a fine detective. So far, everything Cowan had said tracked.
“So he’s collecting scripts he can’t create,” David said. He glanced at Doctor Xu. “Does that include Tian?”
“I think so,” Corvus said, “and I think he wanted that because it generates darkSim money nobody can trace. Obviously, he can’t be spending money tied to him on buying black market scripts, but Tian was a gold mine. It financed everything he needed.”
Xu shrugged. “If you’re seeking to blame me—”
“No one’s blaming anybody,” Corvus said, and he cocked his head sideways to regard them with one glowing eye. “Like you said, you didn’t know what he would do with your algorithm. Then, of course, there’s what happened with Protection Services.”
Jeb went back over what he’d read in Cowan’s report of his night with Sarisa and a whole lot of hacked synthetics. “Right. Changing the synthcop parameters.”
“Explain?” Kate suggested.
“We think Bayer, as Galileo, blackmailed Protection Services CEO Ramon Munn,” Jeb explained. “Munn ordered an engineer to update synthcop parameters so they could be bypassed by anyone with OneWorld authority. We know Gerhard Bayer has that now.”
“If he could control synthcops,” Corvus said, “he could easily seize control of any corporate facility or bypass the security of other people from OneWorld. It would basically give him an instant army bigger than any other on the planet.”
“But you stopped him, didn’t you?” Kate asked.
“Sure, that one time. But he can still hack milsynths, and that’s probably how he managed to disable Matthew Reed’s private army. Otherwise, Reed’s milsynths would have busted in and stopped him when he got puppeted and started shooting.”
“And that leads us to today’s killing.” Jeb saw where Cowan was going. “Matthew Reed, head of the Office of Mental Health, is dead. How does Bayer stand to benefit?”
“It is blindingly obvious,” Xu said. “Who’s next in line at the Office of Mental Health?”
“Exactly,” Corvus said. “If Reed dies, the OMH’s deputy director gets put in charge until the board of OneWorld appoints a new director. Bayer can’t make that decision himself, since it’s a five-person board, but he could not make a decision.”
“And ensure the deputy director remained in control of the OMH,” Kate said, “lacking unanimous agreement from the board.” She tossed up a picture of an older woman with graying hair cut short around her head. “This is Deputy Director Kathleen Warren. Formerly the director of Corporate Security. Promoted into the OMH two years ago.”
“She ran CorpSec when they took Ellen,” Corvus said. “She was in charge the night we…” He went quiet, wings flapping once before settling against his back.
“So Warren is being blackmailed by Galileo,” Sonne said, because no one wanted Cowan to think about Ellen for too long. “Is he trying to take over the Office of Mental Health?”
David tapped his chin. “Galileo wants power. And excluding the board of OneWorld, whoever runs the Office of Mental Health can basically do anything they want, right?”
Jeb shook his head. “Sorry, but that’s a step too far. Warren could be as innocent as Reed, or Reed could have been working with Galileo and double-crossed—”
“He’d never,” Kate said. “He’d never work with a man like Bayer.”
“Regardless, it’s a good theory, Cowan. Gerhard Bayer wants to take over OneWorld and the Office of Mental Health, and Kathleen Warren is either helping him, or being used by him.” Jeb ran the angles. “So the first thing to do is take a run at Warren.”
“How are you going to get to her?” Kate asked. She sounded more eager than he liked, but she had just lost someone she knew well. And his family.
“I have an in,” Jeb said.
Xu leaned her chair back so far it creaked. “Sarisa Bassa. She’s a well-respected OMH counselor. We often do lunch.”
Jeb scowled at Xu, but it wasn’t like anyone here knowing Sarisa’s identity would hurt. He almost reconsidered right then, but he knew if Sarisa knew what he knew, she’d volunteer. And besides, he could protect her by not telling her anything.
“Not a good idea,” Corvus said. “If you go into the Office of Mental Health, and Warren figures out you suspect her, you won’t be walking out. You need a better plan. Also, we shouldn’t even think about moving on Warren until we know where Bayer is right now.”
“If you’ve got a better plan,” Jeb said, “I’ll hear it.”
“No plan for Galileo.” Corvus’s bird head snapped left and right, quickly, like he’d spotted a juicy bug. “As for our interim OMH director, well … I might have one idea.”
* * *
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