Always/Never/Now

Free City Atlantica
Caper on a seastead

The previous episode ended with our heroes standing in the smoking ruins of an data center on the windswept coast of Iceland. It’s clear that despite what seemed unmistakably like a message from the characters’ long-lost spymaster summoning them to meet him, he was never here.


A trail of clues from Rekyavik

Recovering what they could from the surviving computer servers, they found that the facility was full of secondary backups of people’s digitized memories. The anarchist thieves who raided the place uploaded data via satellite to their closed network — and Yoshi got the message from Uncle Josine just after the anarchists opened the uplink. Digging further into the system logs, it became clear that there was a partial digital capture of Josine’s memories stored at the facility, last updated shortly before his disappearance. But the server which held the memory was destroyed in the fighting.

This left the team unclear if Josine even remains alive. To figure out what happened to him a decade ago and where he might be now, they’re going to have to track down his digital memories.

What next?

Once the team got back to Reykjavik, they split up. Utseo, Tank, and Qamar needed to tie up loose ends back home before they could get into this too deep. That left Yoshi, Alex, and Emily Syndrome to figure out who has the Josine’s memory files before the trail goes cold.

Go after the terrorists? Or go after the Hoefler data network that owns the wrecked Iceland facility? A little research reveals that the Hoefler family has two main server farms. One in Mumbai. One in an offshore data haven, Free City Atlantica.

Our heroes had heard of Atlantica; the oil platform turned seastead is a lawless party town where libertines go to sample illegal memory playbacks. Maybe a refreshing change after blood and broken glass in the Arctic cold.

Emily’s kind of place.

Casing the joint

She got there first, and immediately dove into the party scene, setting up a series of pop-up guerrilla artworks. They’re a hit with the debauched revelers, giving her an excuse to case the city “looking for sites for new installations” … and to meet the head honcho, Edgar Hoefler.

The place was crawling with Armingshire mercenaries, from a subsidiary of the Nanotech megacorp. Maybe that’s a clue? The mercs who came to break up the party in Iceland were armed with Armingshire gear.

Yoshi and Alex cased Atlantica, too, looking for a way in to the data center where they hoped to find Josine’s digitized memories. Every one of the Authorized Personnel Only doors that might lead to the data center had biometric locks and Armingshire goons’ eyes on them.

Unauthorized personnel only

No problem. Emily provided a diversion. She distributed memory spikes to the city’s legions of twenty-four hour party people, who eagerly plugged them into their trodes. Picking a good spot adjoining a secured door Emily surprised the crowd with a dazzling show of lights, holograms, and hypnotic patterns playing over her digitally-tattoo’d skin … and everyone with the spike began thrashing around like epileptic zombies, providing more than enough chaos to cover Alex while he defeated the biometric scanners at one of the doors.

So Alex was in.

It didn’t take long in the rusting corridors of Atlantica’s underbelly to find the data center, but the next layer of security was daunting. He could see the twinkling servers of the data center at the other end of a short, narrow stretch of corridor. But the corridor was dotted with IR scanners, and the seam in the floor panels could not possibly open to anything good.

Alex had faced worse back in the old days.

He fired a monofilament zipline into the server room; it would hold his weight. Then he blew a pipe running atop the corridor, hoping the spray of cold water would disguise his infrared signature enough to confuse the scanners. Hooking his harness to the zipline he launched himself through the corridor, his feet never touching the floor, moving fast.

Fast, but not fast enough. Steel doors dropped into place, trapping him in the corridor. A corridor slowly filling with water from the pipe he broke.

Out in the party, Armingshire security guards made a beeline for the secured doors. Yoshi, feigning confusion like one of Emily’s dazzled zombies, stumbled into them but couldn’t slow them down much.

Alex hacked the hydraulics on the inner door to get it to open for just a moment. In a rush of water, he went from trapped in the deathtrap corridor to trapped in the data center. Little victories.

They’ve got him right where he wants to be

Alex strung fiber optic cables all over the data center, capturing data to flash drives — but only as a decoy. The real work was done by a small back box he installed discreetly; Emily had prepared earlier to enable her to remotely search the system for Josine’s footprints and spool the results wirelessly to another black box in her handbag.

Once time ran out and Armingshire security guards turned up, Alex gave up without a fight, flashing his winning smile. They cuffed him and brought him up to the VIP room to meet Edgar Hoefler, debauched king of Atlantica.

Emily found her way to the VIP room first, hoping to provide backup for Alex. A bouncer stopped her at the door. Looking past him, she caught Hoefler’s eye … but he waved her off.

Interrogating Alex, Hoefler demanded to know what he was looking for and who he planned to sell it to. Alex hinted he might turn coat in exchange for his freedom. The meet was going to be in Chicago he told Hoefler. Here’s my fence’s email address. I’ll help you set up an ambush. He flashed his winning smile.

A craven data thief willing to make a deal? Easy sell.

And the email address was, of course, a drop used by Emily; if worse came to worst, Alex could hope for her to play the role and set things up to ambush Hoefler’s ambushers and free him.

A daring escape

Hoefler ordered Alex taken to the mainland immediately. Security guards took him to a helipad and he was in the air within minutes. Wedged between a pair of burly Armingshire mercenaries on the chopper, Alex decided he didn’t want to wait for a rescue in Chicago. And he had a reputation to uphold — in the old days more than a few people had caught Alex, but none of them had held him for long. So he jimmied his cuffs and but a metal bar he’d palmed into one merc’s eye. The other was too surprised and slow to stop Alex before he leapt right out of the helicopter and into the sea below.

Hearing this over their comm link, Yoshi stepped out onto a catwalk on the outside of the seastead and spotted the circling helicopter … as well as a pair of speedboats with Armingshire men hastily dispatched toward it. It didn’t look like Alex would stay “free” for long.

Fortunately, with the dock guards having hastily departed on speedboats, that left their armory and the docks temporarily unguarded before their replacements could arrive. Yoshi hot-wired a rich libertine’s cigarette boat, and armed with guns from the guards’ own gun case, shredded by his powerful cyborg arms, he went chasing after the speedboats to rescue Alex.

With a single well-placed bullet to its gas tank, Yoshi blew up one speedboat, sending the mercenaries in it flying into the drink before they even saw him coming. The other speedboat swung around, spraying machine gun fire at Yoshi’s boat, but he had the advantage of surprise, giving him time to get a bead on the boat’s pilot. Putting a bullet into that mercenary’s shoulder sent him spinning and screwing up the hard turn he had made to double back, capsizing the boat.

Yoshi found Alex, scooped him out of the water, and made contact with the submarine which they had waiting for them outside Atlantica’s sonar range. They’d meet up with Emily back on the mainland.

Meanwhile she was still at the seastead, packing her things and reviewing the captured data. As she reflects on Edgar Hoefler turning her away at the VIP room, we got a flashback.

Back in the day

It’s twelve years earlier. Emily is dancing the tango with a man who has information she needs for the job. She flirts her way into his room, where she drugs his drink.

While he’s out, she quickly finds the file she was looking for. Then rather than make a run for it, she yells for help!

His bodyguards show up and she brazens it out. “He just collapsed!” she says. As they pump him full of stimulants to bring him out of his drugged state, she feigns concern so convincingly that even after she’s tricked him, he thinks she was protecting him …

Emily was seductive as hell in the old days. Still is. She won’t get trapped on the wrong side of the velvet rope again.

More clues, more mysteries

And twelve years later, Emily was in Atlantica, reviewing the data logs of the Hoefler servers. With her hacking skills, it’s no problem identifying Josine’s data.

Or rather, identifying where Josine’s data should be. Someone on the outside copied it and deleted it from Atlantica servers altogether. There’s no trace of who did it or where it went.

Whoever did it was good.

But there was someone who did leave traces after the data was wiped. They were using Josine’s account information to connect to the Hoefler system. The system logs showed logins from all over the world: China, Nigeria, the US, Australia. Some of the logins were just an hour or two apart.

What the hell?

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