October 6, Before Noon
“Rise and shine, honey,” Kate whispered in her ear.
Sonne blinked against bright light and forced her eyes open. She remained inside Kate’s private plane. It had finally landed at Memphis International, and Sonne had slept through the touchdown. She spotted a sleek black autocar through the window, waiting.
That car would drive them to UPX headquarters in downtown Memphis, where they would meet with Adrian Montes, the current CEO of UPX. He and Kate had dated, once.
Sonne hadn’t gotten much sleep the past week. Nobody slept well with a psychopathic OneWorld board member after them, particularly one that was willing to make a father kill his own child. That was the sickest thing she’d ever heard done. She hated it.
“Any other news about Doctor Xu?” Sonne worked out the kinks in her muscles. “Is simNews still speculating about her disappearance?”
“Not a peep,” Kate said, “and today’s been all about Galaxia announcing some charity concert in LA. Seriously! simNews is desperate to cover anything that’s not murder.”
“That’s good!” Sonne followed Kate to the private plane’s door. “Isn’t it? It buys us time to track the mob connection.” She dared not mention Gerhard Bayer’s name out loud.
Lucy descended the airstair in loafers, dark slacks, and a suit jacket with breakaway arms, just in case she had to use her stunners. She was going to secure the runway because that was necessary now, apparently. Sonne hated this feeling of being hunted.
“Maybe,” Kate said. “But if I hear her pitchy single one more time, I’m redacting it.”
“Clear,” Lucy said, inside their PBAs.
Kate strolled down the airplane stairs as confident as across flat ground, wearing her high heels and a stretchy skirt, but she wore those every day. Sonne popped off her heels and walked down barefoot instead. She was dressed for corporate work: knee-length pencil skirt, dark heels, white button-down tucked beneath a crisp blue blazer.
The three of them entered their corporate-reserved autocar, a secured Benzai Corporation model. It was bulletproof, with a firewalled VI and manual controls that could override that VI if necessary. Kate wasn’t taking any chances after what had happened on Cowan and Sonne’s date. A date Sonne now remembered.
Kate had re-up’d that whole night to Sonne’s brain last night, succumbing to endless badgering about what really happened. Sonne now knew she had first up’d the night to Kate, back when it happened, before Cowan’s bargain with Mister Gray erased their memories. Cowan hadn’t, as Kate told her to protect her, been kind of a dick.
Instead, Cowan had sacrificed his chance to escape the terrifying Mister Gray just for the chance to stop Sonne from being trafficked. They’d risked their lives to save each other less than a month ago, and remembering how she’d felt about Cowan, that night, made it harder to know how to feel now. As much as she hated how he had used her, she understood why he’d done it, and she finally had an inkling of how damaged he must be.
Cowan had spent the last year blaming himself for everything that happened to his fiancé, agonizing about her fate. Having nightmares about it. No one had ever loved her enough to lobotomize themselves. That might leave a few mental scars.
It was a long drive to the UPX headquarters, and the view off the highway was no more interesting than it was everywhere else, square buildings and gray sky and green trees. Lucy and Kate spent most of the ride strategizing about how they’d respond if the car was hacked, or if someone started shooting at them, or if they got chased by a truck and had to shoot out its tires. Sonne only half listened, but she suspected Kate might actually be enjoying the hypotheticals. She always had been an adrenaline junkie.
Finally, as Kate and Lucy discussed how they might take down an enemy helicopter, their unhacked, unshot at autocar pulled up to the headquarters of United Postal Express: the big one. It was a large one-story building, square and gray, surrounded by dozens of identical buildings. There was a really tall fence chain link fence around the whole thing, with barbed wire on top. A sign promised electrocution, followed by a fine.
An armed milsynth led them through the empty lobby, furnished only with plastic chairs, to a reinforced elevator guarded by two more milsynths. That elevator descended to a sub-basement and opened onto a concrete hallway. UPX had stronger security than some banks, because no self-respecting corporation wanted its mail stolen.
This particular sub-basement was big enough to hold Sonne’s parlor and then some, with walls of thick concrete. Metal girders strewn with lights crossed its high ceiling at even intervals, and dozens of rows of sleek back servers hummed quietly. It was also as cold as a walk-in freezer, and Sonne hugged her blazer tight. Stupid dress codes.
Light flickered, and then Adrian Montes appeared in a crisp gray Italian suit. “Kate! How wonderful to see you, my dear!” Though Sonne knew this was just a hologram, it looked almost as real as the real man. This room had excellent projection capabilities.
The CEO of UPX was a tall, very Latin-looking man with a perfect tan, equally perfect teeth, and spiky black hair cut short around his head. “I apologize for not meeting you myself, but vacation calls.” His holographic chin was bigger than most, square and hard.
“No worries!” Kate said, a bit drunkenly. Standing this close to this amount of raw computing power had probably left her overstimulated. “I really appreciate your help.”
“It was the least I could do, after hearing about your friend’s abduction. How on Earth did you get crosswise with Russian mobsters?”
Kate tapped one toeless shoe. “Terminal, please?”
A metal panel in the floor rolled back and a terminal rose, rigged for manual entry and linklines. Adrian fixed Sonne with a thousand-watt smile. “Who is your new asistente?”
“That’s Sonne,” Kate said, as she moved to the terminal. “She’s the friend who those mobsters abducted. She’s also not my assistant, just dressed that way for appearances.”
“Hi,” Sonne said.
“My apologies,” Adrian said. “I didn’t mean to assume.”
“None necessary,” Sonne assured him. At least she looked like a personal assistant.
“But seriously,” Adrian said, turning back to Kate, “how many times have I suggested you increase your security?”
“Too many,” Lucy said. She narrowed her eyes at Kate.
Kate popped her linkline into the archive terminal, and Sonne felt very much like a third wheel. She was fairly certain Kate only asked her along so Lucy could protect them both. Kate stood as they all stood, silent and awkward, until she returned. “Damn and damn.”
Sonne’s heart sank. “Which one?”
“I traced all deliveries to Doctor Barkov,” Kate said. “Most I could identity, but some were flagged as medical waste. That must be how they shipped illegal grayDoc gear without being flagged. They’re billed to zombie corporations, so no info there.”
“I should probably have my IT people look at that,” Adrian said. “I’d rather we not deliver surgical equipment for the Russian mob. Liability issues, if nothing else.”
Sonne ground her heel on the concrete floor. She was the one to hit on the thread involving Doctor Barkov — the deceased grayDoc who helped Galielo puppet innocents with black market PBAs — but it wasn’t paying off. She knew from her own experience — buying repurposed simBeds — that it was unlikely Barkov had been able to purchase the expensive surgical equipment to implant black market PBAs without help. Given his connection to Bayer, Bayer might have sent that equipment his way, through UPX.
Step one of taking Galileo down was finding evidence of his collusion with the Russian mob and cybercriminals, and it was Kate who’d suggested contacting Adrian Montes directly. They’d told him about Sonne’s abduction by the Russian mob and claimed Barkov was connected, which gave them an excuse to snoop without mentioning Galileo.
Yet if Galileo had sent Barkov equipment to get his operation in Palmdale up and running, he’d been smart enough not to send that equipment without covering his tracks. Even so, a zombie corporation didn’t handle everything. The surgical equipment necessary to install PBAs was complicated, and someone had to drop it in a UPX box.
“Katie.” Sonne’s mind started working again. “Who put those packages in the mail?”
“There’s no sender listed.” Kate blinked back into the Sim. “It’s like I said, honey. You don’t need an actual employee name on anything shipped from a corporate account.”
“But someone had to physically deliver the package to the mailbox. Can we access those archives?”
“Sorry,” Adrian said, “but I can’t authorize you to dig into our surveillance archives. Not without a court order. Technically, I shouldn’t even be doing this.”
“I appreciate all your help,” Kate assured him, reaching for her linkline. “I’m sorry, Sonne. I hoped—”
“Wait.” Sonne stepped forward. “UPX archived the postal code from where the zombie corporations shipped each package, right?” Her business experience was pecking at her brain, specifically, the spam bots constantly bombarding her Sanctuary account.
“Yes, but I don’t see how that—”
“Humor me, Katie.” Sonne felt a rush of excitement as she turned to Adrian. “You guys log everything when a package goes out, right? Size, weight?”
“And many other statistics.” Adrian tapped his massive chin. “What are you thinking?”
“Spambots,” Sonne said. She grinned at them.
“I hate those,” Lucy said. Because no one else had anything to say.
“Okay, do this.” Sonne turned back to Kate. “Pick the last medical waste box a zombie corporation shipped to Doctor Barkov in Palmdale. Grab the postal code.”
Kate frowned. “Why?”
“You zapped my date and lied to my face,” Sonne said. “You owe me.”
Kate turned pale. “Yes, dear.” Her eyes went distant, but she was listening.
“Is that a story I get to hear?” Adrian asked.
“Later,” Sonne told him. “Katie, start with a complete list of all deliveries made to that same postal code up to three days before the package was sent off to Barkov’s office.”
“That’s over 1,000 entries, honey.”
“Now filter that by received packages that match the weight and size of the package to Doctor Barkov.”
“That’s… 114.” Kate actually sounded surprised. “But where do we go from here?”
“Narrow those to packages flagged as medical waste.
“22.” Kate smiled wide. “Whoever shipped those packages didn’t package up the pieces of surgical gear. They re-sent that gear, after receiving it from someone else!”
“How did you know that?” Lucy asked.
“That’s what spambots started doing,” Sonne said, “after I set my business mail filters to delete anything sent in mass. They’d hack a bunch of inactive simMail accounts, send their spam to those accounts, then have those accounts spam me individually. That way, they could trick my spam filters into thinking the mail was from an actual person.”
“So the people who resent these packages were part of the Russian mob?” Adrian asked. He was getting into this now, too.
“Maybe,” Sonne said. “Or maybe someone they paid anonymously over the DarkSim, or someone they threatened.” Which Galileo would do.
“That’s great and all,” Kate agreed, “but even with all those parameters, we’ve still got twenty-two senders. Should we archive those names for the CID?”
“No, we can do better,” Sonne said. “Run it again, but on every package Barkov received. All the postal codes. I bet the postal code you started with was one of the bigger ones.”
Kate was silent for almost a minute, but then she bounced up and down. “Jackpot!”
“Hooray?” Lucy added.
“I’ve got a single match, shipped from a postal code in Utah. One package delivered to a John Dixon, who sent out a package of the same weight and size the next morning.”
“Where’d John Dixon get his package from?” Sonne asked.
Kate whistled. “Switzerland.”
Sonne wanted to jump up and down, too. “Can we trace it back from there?”
“Adrian?” Kate turned on his hologram and on put on her pouty lips. “Would you mind terribly if we also took a peek at international shipments?”
Adrian stroked his chin. “That’s a big ask, mi flor. Local records are stored here, but we’d have to ping the archive in Helsinki to get those. It’ll attract attention.”
Kate smiled at him. “Say, aren’t you still looking to acquire Weltweit Breifkasten?” She placed hands on hips. “They’re the last independent postal service in Switzerland, yes?”
“We are, indeed.” Adrian raised an eyebrow. “Are you offering a trade?”
“I know one of their shareholders quite well,” Kate said. “Almost as well as I know you, my dear.” She batted her eyes at him. “If you can sneak us a peak at the Switzerland shipment records, I could tell my dear friend what a great partner you’d make.”
Adrian looked between the two of them, though Sonne wasn’t sure why. It wasn’t like she could add anything to this deal. Did he still feel bad about her getting abducted?
“Kate,” Adrian said, “you have a deal.”
“Yes!” Kate pumped her fist.
“I’m granting you temporary international access now,” Adrian said. “Please keep your peek into our Helsinki records brief. Someone will almost certainly notice.”
“I think we should do it anyway,” Kate said. “Sonne?”
Sonne took a breath. This was a risk, a big risk, especially if Galileo was the person who noticed. Yet they needed a target to hit, and they couldn’t go after Galileo until they had hard evidence to link him to Barkov, so Sonne would back Kate’s call. “Do it.”
Kate blinked away into the Sim. Sonne glanced at Lucy for her opinion on this latest development, but Lucy’s face was flat and unreadable. Lucy had cyberized most of her body over the years, but not her face. It sure seemed that way sometimes, though.
“Got it!” Kate shouted. “This shipment originated from an actual business! M-Gesundheit, in Schaffhausen!” She had no trouble with the pronunciation.
“Interesting,” Adrian said.
“That’s a dummy name, right?” Sonne asked.
Adrian raised one eyebrow. “A woman named Sonne can’t speak German?”
She shrugged, defensive. “It was just a song I liked, okay?”
“In German,” Montes said, “gesundheit translates to health, and the M in the title is for maschine … or machine, as we say it. Thus, Machine Health, which is—”
“The type of company who makes surgical equipment to implant PBAs.” Sonne crossed her arms and nodded. “Got it.”
“We did it, honey!” Kate popped her linkline. “We now know the Russian mob” (she really meant Galileo) “is working out of M-Gesundheit. We have a real lead!”
“Sure, okay.” Adrian crossed his arms and looked at Kate. “Can I hear about the date zapping thing now?”
Sonne wanted to hug Kate, and Lucy, and possibly even Adrian, if he weren’t a hologram. They had done it. They knew where Galileo was hiding out, finally, or at least where to find where he was hiding out. She felt a warm swell of pride in her chest.
For the first time, maybe the only time, Galileo had screwed up.
* * *
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