-Whitaker, George; Wether, Windy
-Wrexham, Welshpool, Worcester, Wales
-Week, Wednesday, while
-weapon, whiskers, whisper, worn, WRAITHS, windstorm, wind, window, waves, withstand, warble, worry, wall, whistle, wife, waif, watermelon, whiff, word, weapon, wise
The wheeling whitejays around his window were the only signs Whitaker had of the heavy winds outside. The towers of Cardiff were designed to withstand hurricanes and tidal waves—what was a little windstorm going to do?
The secure line warbled. Whitaker opened the connection and took a deep whiff. His mind filled with data in that single breath, and he immediately set about filtering through it, exporting all irrelevant information to his comp unit to review at a later time.
So much of it was extraneous data, but the concentration was definitely much less than it might have been, if he did not already have several layers of filters attached to the line before it ever reached him. What little news he could detect worried him deeply.
The WRAITHS in Wrexham had failed; whispers on the Street had indicated that Drake’s identified Faces had been reporting to a certain building near the Wall in that sector. Forthwith, he had dispatched a team to that area, instructing them to wait and watch for any activity before orchestrating a sting. A week passed, without so much as a whistle to show for it.
In Welshpool, the WRAITHS stationed there faced the opposite problem: the area was awash with Street-level activity. It seemed as though every moment a WRAITH spared to pursue a suspicion allowed multiple others to slip away when their backs were turned. They were spread too thin, worn out, and Whitaker was no closer to unmasking the identity of the wily Drake Ross, the mysterious entity who emerged shortly after Whitaker became Chief of Security for all of Wales—and the source of the most trouble for the Welsh Representative Assembly Information Tech Hit Squad ever since.
Whitaker waved the scent stream away. He hated the smell of failure. He turned his attention on something more pleasant: his wife, vacationing in Worcester. “Windy?” he called over his shoulder. The small, spherical bot blinked to life on her coaster-sized charger and wandered over to hover just above his shoulder.
“Take a message to my wife,” he instructed.
Windy gave a small hum as she prepared to record the message.
“Dearest Maeve,” Whitaker dictated, “I hope the weather is clear enough for you in Worcester. It’s positively wretched over here. I miss you a lot, and I have good news, at least. My darling, I have reason to believe that I am closer than ever before to wringing the necks of the worthless wights who plague the Streets with their open wallets and subversive swamping. All the rumor-milling and the conspiracy-grinding will come to an end very soon, and the citizens of Wales will be able to breathe easy without the stench of lies and scandal cluttering up the air. You see, my darling, I have a secret weapon the likes of which the world has never seen. I cannot say much about it, for your sake, darling, but I will tell you this: the Cat has new Whiskers, and she’ll catch the mice just the way she ought. I am counting the days until I see you again. All my love, George”
Far below, even farther down than the Streets of Cardiff, a wispy young girl charged into a tiny room with barely slits for windows. A small family had just sat down to supper.
“Where’s Drake?” she gasped breathlessly.
The older of the two young men sitting at the table gave her a wry glance. “Usual spot,” he muttered.
The waif darted out the door before anyone could utter another sound. She wended her way down the winding alleys, headed for the welcoming sight of Hub 22. Wether, the bouncer out front, saw her coming and rolled his eyes. Had it only been last Wednesday that he tried to throw her out on her arse for coming to see Drake? Here they were, a week later, and Wether just shifted his bulk a few inches to let her slip inside, and continued to watch the milling Street walkers.
She picked out the back of his head immediately, based on his unwashed, perpetually-disheveled hair. He sat at the bar, nursing a pint and muttering soundlessly at the barmaid, Marta. The young redhead sidled up and plunked onto the stool next to him.
Drake caught sight of her and choked on his words.
“Bea!” He spluttered, catching himself before mentioning her whole name.
Marta grinned, her bouncy brown curls spilling over her shoulders like a cascading waterfall. “And who might this be?” She winked at the girl. “Ya never struck me as a family man, Ross.”
“She ain’t family,” Drake snarled. “This here’s Bea, I’m just showin’ ‘er the ropes.”
Marta rolled her brilliant-blue eyes. “Whatever,” she muttered. “As we were saying—“
“Drake,” Bea interjected. “It’s important! It’s about the cat!”
Drake held up a finger to Marta and turned to the girl at his side. “What?” He grunted.
Bea pulled out her wallet and sent the letter to his receptacle wirelessly. The less said out loud, the better. “Found it while I was combing. Looks like we aren’t the only ones using the metaphor.”
Drake displayed no change in his demeanor as he drained his beer and stood up from the barstool. Bea hopped down beside him. Marta could see the worry on his face, though, and she had known him long enough to understand exactly what prompted such a reaction.
“Duty calls,” he told her with a shrug.
Marta nodded. “Another time,” she replied.
Once they were in the clear, waiting in an alley with no one nearby, Drake ordered, “All right, Bianca—tell me everything.”
She nodded. “Okay; yesterday I got wind of a new filter widget that allows the user to track certain mentions, actually changing the scent of that particular strain of aether, to make it easier to find. Since cat is a search term I’ve heard you use a lot, I put it on there. That’s how I found the letter; he’s just sent it this morning—this could be the break we’ve been looking for!”
Drake crossed his arms over his chest and squinted at the young girl suspiciously. “New widget, huh? Send it over.”
Bianca pulled out her wallet and opened the settings; culling the data file for the widget, she waved the wallet up toward Drake’s receptacle. Meanwhile, the burly hacker decided to use this moment to review the ground rules. “And what have I told you about new tech?”
“Already vetted!” Bianca retorted. “Hey, I can be careful! There’s no way this can be tracked, I made sure.”
Drake felt an extra boost in his aether-sensitive sinuses as the widget activated, complete with the settings Bianca had already applied; to change them, he would have to return to the Bunker and load it onto his comp unit. The usual stench of the Street “either” (aether soured by misinformation and outright lies that permeated the lower levels) now carried a hint of another scent, one that made Drake’s lips curl.
“Did you… Is that—“
“Watermelon?” Bianca supplied, as Drake fought the urge to barf. “Yeah, I gave it that scent; now anytime somebody mentions the search term in the right context, we’ll smell it.”
Drake pinched his lips and wrinkled his nose. “Ya couldn’t bloody pick something a little more subtle, could ya?”
Bianca frowned. “Hey, I like watermelon!”
Drake shook his head. “Awwright, so what context parameters have you set?”
Bianca nodded. “Since we didn’t want just any mention of a cat, I paired it with the other word mentioned in the letter—weapon.”
“Cat, weapon,” Drake nodded. “Seems wise.” He clapped her on the shoulder. “Let’s head back to the bunker and you can show me how to program this thing.”
Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse of something that will probably end up FAR in the future--"The Red Dragon of Wales", a cyberpunk adventure planned as part of a series called The Britannica Cycle. So far, this one is the only one that I've actually started, mostly because I had a bunch of world-building ideas from the outset, so I had to take them for a "test run." To read other excerpts I've written, you can find this title on The Shelf.
Also in the A-to-Z Challenge Series: ( * Continuations of Suggestion Box installments)