<== ==>



“If what Cinnabar says is right, then that changes things,” said Jonquil.

Cinnabar scowled, but Sepia looked interested. “What do you mean, Diakon?”

Jonquil put a hand to her chin. “A well-coordinated bombing against someone nobody would want to bomb. The attack was at night too, so casualties were minimized. Only the overnight staff was there. This was how our thinking went until now, because that was what was logical.”

“We know that,” Cinnabar said impatiently.

“But with this new information,” Jonquil pressed on, “we can deduce that the bomber was familiar with the way the company worked. Disgruntled ex-employee, maybe? Or one of the ten percent who weren’t in?”

“Very possible. Good work, Diakon.” Sepia glanced at Cinnabar. “Anything else?”

“Yes- the survivors. We have a positive ID on them both.” Cinnabar magnified two new images. “Junior Entrepreneur Polly Peck, who works in photonics, is unconscious but stable at Silica General. Entrepreneur Seagram Emm, who works in subvocals, is lucid and in our custody.” Polly was the blue-haired girl that Jonquil had saved. Seagram meanwhile had dark grey hair and gloomy features, and her makeup suggested some sort of goth sensibilities.

“What’s she know?” asked someone.

“Let’s not hassle the poor girl,” said Sepia. “Nearly got blown to smithereens a few hours ago. Let’s give them some time to recover before we start badgering. All righty… who’s next?”

From the back of the room, a long and bony hand went up. The woman who approached was frighteningly tall but thin and gangly, ugly by TORCH standards with pronounced cheekbones and a vacant, hollow look. “Hey Mint. Got something for us?” Sepia asked conversationally.

“Have I got something for ya? Yeah, a steaming bag of dog shit. Special delivery.” Mint was an odd bird, but she was one of the most best analysts they had. She led this precinct’s OPTICA_Cyber lab. The techs were often held in low esteem by the street cops and vice versa. Crime solvers were typically active, athletic, and extroverted. The techs were the opposite of all that.

Mint held up her watch and clicked a few buttons. A file appeared on the screen: thousands of pages of chatlogs, all compressed into twenty pages of relevant tidbits and summary. “I know this is a lot,” said Mint, “but I can summarize the summary. These past few weeks, the underground has been going crazy. You’ve all heard about the terrorist attacks on other TORCH worlds.”

A hard thing to ignore. Attacks had occurred on Nemesis, Vidian and Inwem, along with several other planets, all in a matter of months. While the attacks were different in MO, they had all carried high death tolls. Investigations into the usual suspects had not yielded anything definitive, and of the few arrests made none of them seemed likely to lead back to the bombers.

Assuming that the attacks were coordinated, it wasn’t too surprising that one such was eventually launched on Porropelin. Part of Jonquil just wished it hadn’t been her problem- another was glad that she finally had a reason to try to find the bombers herself.

“You think this is the most recent incident?” Cinnabar asked.

“I wouldn’t mention it otherwise, dumbass,” Mint said sharply. “Low-level subversives in neo_SMOKE didn’t know about the attack, at least… nothing to suggest that.”

Neo_SMOKE was not a branch, but rather a wide-ranging and decentralized criminal syndicate. Mafioso, activists, nonconformists, vigilantes, racketeers, smugglers, assassins, mercenaries, terrorists, gamers… all those who existed on the periphery of TORCH society. Eclectic as they were, neo_SMOKE were no joke: their ingenuity at circumventing TORCH law was extraordinary. Millions of girls who otherwise played by the rules used their excellent software for one reason or another.

Naturally, OPTICA spent plenty of time chasing around neo_SMOKE. That was even how OPTICA agents earned the nickname of “hounds”- neo_SMOKE were “cats”, and dogs chase cats.

“There aren’t many leads in the data, from where I sit,” Mint continued, pushing up her circular glasses. “Anti-establishment sentiment is running high… but they attacked a SPRING base, so that doesn’t scan to me.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked someone from the back of the room.

Mint barked a laugh. “Hmph, SPRING’s big business, and the leadership is reform-minded. Previous attacks have targeted, y’know, HEARTH consulates or BEACON military bases. That sort of thing. Attacking SPRING to protest TORCH’s old guard is like punching yourself in the ass to protest your stomach.”

“A form of anti-corporate protest?” Jonquil asked. Some neo_SMOKE agents and other subversives resented SPRING for making so much of TORCH revolve around buying and selling.

“It’s not impossible… but it’s not in the chat either. neo_SMOKE likes money as much as anyone. Most of it is the usual drug deals, arranging meet-ups, software sharing… y’know.”

“What about bomb components?” asked Cordovan. “You checked for that?”

“I’m not stupid, flank steak. I did and I was sure I’d get something- but I didn’t. None of the components for a rabbit bomb were being smuggled or traded into Ttlatic in the last few weeks.”

The lack of evidence was in of itself evidence. It meant the bomb was either assembled before it arrived to Ttlatic, was assembled here some time ago, or the bomber expertly covered their tracks.

<== ==>

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