Drake watched the whole thing from just a few blocks away. He chuckled maliciously behind a dirty scarf as he hunched the stocking cap low over his face. He studied the movements of the officers, and knew they carried scanners, but what were they scanning?
Surely he didn’t have any evidence to leave, since he only emerged from that bunker about once a month. Whitaker must be getting paranoid about something.
A female officer passed by on the raised concrete slab—the old name, back when people actually used the roads, Drake knew, was “sidewalk”—just in front of Drake. He dared to make eye contact with her. She shuddered at the creepy old man and passed on.
Drake snorted inwardly; newbies. They trusted the tech more than their own biological senses. He wondered who was training the new recruits these days. His old trainer, Trevor Magnum, would have never allowed such a novice out in the field. Magnum had been one of the “old-school” trainers, the sort that took pleasure in actually shorting out the tech, depriving the recruits of the tech that had become so mainstream, just to watch them squirm with discomfort at using their organic “equipment” rather than the tech.
The woman stopped, and Drake knew a pan-scan was coming. He waited till the scanner registered his hulking, disheveled figure, then—just for the fun of it—Drake moved swiftly into step behind the slowly-pacing novice. She didn’t even shoot him the quick eye flicker that used to be the body’s involuntary response to an erratic movement in one’s field of vision. She had all of her concentration on the info streaming to her receptacle from the scanner. Drake passed by a coat hook beside a dining booth and instantly, the scruffy Walker was gone, replaced by a spit-and-polished gentleman on his way to a bit-bar to unwind after a long day at work.
Drake saw the woman flinch as the tech alerted her to a discrepancy. She turned to glance over her right shoulder as Drake skated by on her left. For good measure, he tapped her shoulder and muttered a distinct, "Excuse me."
Didn't that send the tech ringing! Suddenly the young woman was all business, dispensing orders to everyone in the vicinity to present themselves for inspection, since her scanners had picked up physical evidence and aural confirmation that there was a fugitive nearby.
Unfortunately for the operative, the altercation happened at the same time the roadways unleashed floods of foot traffic from two directions. The already-bustling sidewalk was inundated with new, unscanned entities—meanwhile the one who tripped the alarm was already two blocks away, snickering maliciously to himself. He found a small "Connie shack", the sort of tiny convenience store where only the desperate and the reprobate dared tread, and shifted inside. The cashier, so high on the drug kopetrine that he could practically dispense it by breathing, swayed back and forth on his feet behind the tiny counter. Drake didn't doubt that the man kept his thumbs tucked in the bit-register to avoid keeling over. There was only one other customer, a man flipping through a print mag from the rack at the back of the store. Drake clapped him on the shoulder, and nearly caused the upset of the entire shop.
The man swore in fright and dropped the mag.
"Oh, it's you," he sighed with relief. "Thought you might get held up by the spooks I saw on my way down or something."
Drake allowed only the slight flicker around his lips to show the man how much he appreciated the humor. He drew his wallet and displayed a picture of the man, dressed in a custom tux, striding behind a posing dignitary couple with a dark-haired elfin waif in stunningly-designed high fashion clutching his arm.
"Did you enjoy yourself that night, Wasp?"
The indulgent smile and the way the lad's finger caressed the image of her face told Drake all he needed to know. Wasp nearly lost himself in reminiscing his evening with rising pop sensation Miryelle Scaroni before he felt the tug on his receptacle that told him Drake was drawing out his wallet.
"Hey!" Wasp cried, reaching toward his pocket.
Drake already had his wallet out, but he couldn't get past the biometric clasp. He glared at Wasp.
"We had a deal," he growled, shoving the wallet back at him. "You work for me, I get full access; no bio clasps!"
Wasp took the wallet back with a sneer. "You want full access, do your dirty work yourself!" He activated the key and spoke the voice command: "Jasper Harvey Kerrigan." His wallet activated at the sound of his voice saying his full name, and he relinquished the wallet to Drake as images flickered by from within the grand auditorium.
As the son of a prominent patron of several Assembly members, his status as a High-flyer granted him access to the Upper-grade info, and thus to all High-level events—access that Drake exploited since the day they met: Jasper had doped up on kopetrine and ridden a Descender all the way to the Street, where the either would have fried his receptacle and his brain if Drake hadn't found him. Jasper had been so incoherent that he gave his name as "Wasp." Drake subsequently coerced the lad who essentially owed Drake his life into working for him, even providing him with an alternate receptacle program with the Wasp identity so that all data he acquired could be offloaded by Drake without detection from the security forces or Jasper's own family, who regularly patrolled his externals after the Streetwalking incident.
Drake finished culling the files—both audio transcripts and visual images—and patted Jasper on the shoulder.
"You be good," he said the fatherly words in a rather threatening tone.
Jasper nodded and left the store.
Drake browsed the selection of snacks and mags in the store. The back corner even held racks of garish jackets and caps—the kind tourists might be convinced would help them "blend in", but in reality, made them easier to identify as non-locals, who referred to the garments as "tourist rags," or tou'rags.
Outside the Connie shack, the female WRAITH from earlier had tracked a stray Witness from the earlier security fiasco. Someone was breathing newly acquired info this far down the street. The amount never changed, but its presence among the corrupted, anonymous either lit up on the scanner, highlighting the area on the screen with fluorescent coloring. Whoever it was had definitely entered the shack; the operative resolved to wait until the bloke emerged. She kept her eyes on the two glowing masses of info in the readout screen. One didn't move; obviously, it belonged to the attendant in the shop. The other slowly circumnavigated the confined space in an erratic pattern. All the info coming into the WRAITH's receptacle confirmed that this person was in the thick of the action earlier; if he ended up being her objective, so much the better.
Five minutes ticked by, and still the moving blip wound its way around the store. It hovered in the back corner for another two minutes. The WRAITH felt the signal in her nervous system that told her she had three minutes till the Ascender arrived to take her and the rest of the squad back to HQ. But you didn't become a WRAITH by packing it in when the shift bell rang. She kept waiting; once she brought this guy's ass in, they'd forgive her apparent insubordination.
The hotspot wavered in the center of the building. Still, she waited with her eyes fixed on the screen. Finally, the hotspot made its way toward the back of the store. The WRAITH operative smiled grimly. Scuttling between obstacles, she snaked her way across the street and down an alley toward the back, keeping close tabs on the hotspot the whole time. Her whole body buzzed. The Ascender had arrived, and if she did not start heading that direction right this second, she could risk being stranded on the nightmarish Streets of Wales until she could acquire the right info to summon another one. She gritted her teeth against the sensation and steeled her resolve. Now was the moment of her ascension; very soon she would advance through the ranks straight to that sweet spot near the top that she had always coveted. Soon they would record her name and people would breathe this moment the world over—
The door swung on its hinges. For the very first time, the WRAITH operative took her eyes off the readout screen and glanced up in the hope of laying actual organic eyes on the man who had avoided official Witnesses for years.
A shape emerged from the depths of the store—a small egg shape, sniffling and whooshing as it went. The readout screen bleeped, and the WRAITH glanced down to see if the tech had managed to fail her for the first time in her knowledge. Sure enough, the hotspot of sensitive info appeared to hover in front of her position. Screaming in rage, the WRAITH operative used her fury to fuel her mad dash to the Ascender. She made it just as the final chime sounded and the motor kicked into gear. A comrade grabbed her wrist and hauled her up.
"What was that all about?" He asked.
The woman felt a shudder as she foresaw the debrief when the data of her five-minute insubordination came into view before her superiors.