Chapter VI: Red Handed
"No moral system can rest solely on authority."

Despite my state, the kid orange ordered me to carry Masane.  We couldn’t leave her when she knew our faces so well.  So as gunfire drew ever closer in the distance, the boss, the escapee, myself and a sack of dead weight made our way out of the central east and against all my flight instincts, straight toward the sound of leaden death.  It took us about three minutes to meet Bushi and Cricket coming the other way.  A few seconds later Bullseye rolled out from another corner, fired a few shots, and then ducked out of the way to let the bulk of Skit past.  His sword was gleaming red and there was a smell of copper mixed in with the thick cordite scent of the guns.  I didn’t want to know, so I focussed on Bushi, who was smiling sadly at me again.

“Yeah, I get the hard labour.”  I explained, returning a smile, before we all looked to our fearless leader.  The scowl he wore was priceless.

“Okay, we stick with the plan, except skip the rendezvous and we all go out the wall.  Let’s move.  Bullseye, cover us.”  And he did, peeking to fire another few rounds before ducking back and following after us, reloading his clip-fed rifle at the same time.  The noise of gunfire was something I didn’t think I would get used to any time soon.


The retreat was tense and my blood sounded in my ears over the gunfire after about five minutes.  I don’t remember looking back after Bushi started to help me carry the Tiger girl a minute or so in.  I just remember that when we finally got to the place – a nondescript, solid wall somewhere in the East block – where Osmosis instructed Skit to take my duty of carrying the girl.  I knew my part, much as I’d have loved to forget everything and go home.  I pulled the device off my belt, a familiar position, having a button to press.  I wondered offhand if I would be the button presser all the time, and hoped – as I primed and threw the EMP grenade – that I would never have to press any particularly nasty buttons.  The device was not as impressive as the concept might make you think, making a high noise like an ancient camera flash before clicking.  The result was a little more telltale, though.  The wall before us shimmered for a moment, then a thin dust of grey fell off it in a single, floating sheet.  The nanites were dead.  Osmosis was next to action, placing a square plate of some kind against the concrete and touching a button on it.  He placed a few more of these, no bigger than a standard plexiglass pane for dataclips, A5.  We all stepped back for a moment, and with a loud ‘crack’ the wall caved entirely.


Our escape caused something of a panic on the street beyond.  Everyone knew this building, and a hole in the wall was a bad sign.  I was with Bushi carrying the Tiger again, and Skit was warning off traffic with his serrated, metallic ‘red light’.  Needless to say, when someone his size is carrying a blood-stained girder-sized sword, you stay back.  We crossed the street just outside and entered a side street, following Oz’ lead as he guided us to a manhole.  We were in the sewers in a heartbeat, and I felt like throwing up.  I felt a stirring of empathy for the people who had to work down here maintaining this system.  You wouldn’t find me signing up any time soon.  When the noise of the streets above died away as our leader pulled the manhole cover back into place, he immediately took point again.  He lead us, even faster than in the prison building, through the network of pipes and canals, towards the far side of town.  Soon, he explained, the Hounds that had caught Cricket and company near the entrance would learn that they had entered the sewers and pursue.  The kid orange wanted to be in a different ward by that time.


It felt like hours, and without the use of the public transport system to get us back to base, I guess it probably was.  At several points our the orange lead us into closed off hidey holes in the system that were otherwise sealed until we couldn’t hear the sounds of pursuit anymore.  That happened about six times, and every time we were cramped into tiny rooms or unlit, disused tunnels for anywhere up to twenty minutes.  Bushi took the time to relay the events leading up to our meeting to the boss, and even in spite of the subject matter I took comfort in her voice.  After that was done in the first hiding spot, the next few were tense silence and a few looks around to check the feeling on everyone’s faces.  Skit seemed happy to be taking part, Bullseye was unreadable, Cricket was, without fail, engrossed in the rewiring of her palm top terminal, which was no longer working.  It occurred to me that all our cells would now be useless.  So would the translators.  I guessed that was a good thing in a way.  We couldn’t be tracked.  I took solace in the fact that at least Osmosis was as concerned about our situation as I was.  Bushi kept giving me a warm smile, but I don’t know if her attempt to comfort me was because she understood, or because of plain pity.


Eventually, we made our way out into afternoon sunlight filtered in a band of heat and light down an alley.  After everyone was clear, Oz replaced the manhole cover and lead us out into a familiar and comforting warehouse street.  I nearly cheered, but Osmosis was somber as ever, leading us directly into the building and immediately ordering Skit to clean his sword.  He set about that while Osmosis bound and woke the Tiger girl, who he had been keeping regularly shocked.  The rest of us took to the sofas.  Everything was a little heavy – the air, the weight of the situation – so the repose was welcome.  Cricket took the time to replicate new translators and cells for us all.  Naturally every one of them was tuned to complete perfection.  Bushi and I took up one sofa, O’Gail taking a seat to the other side of me to complete the arrangement.  Cricket, when she returned, dragged the wheeled chair with her and set herself up in it just behind the three of us.  Opposite, Skit sat at one end of the other sofa, making a disturbing ‘shing’ noise over and over as he re-sharpened his monstrous weapon.  Bullseye, inconspicuous as ever, sat at the far end, and the two of them sandwiched Yuki Masane, like a security detail.  When the golden-haired monster had returned, Osmosis called us all to attention, O’Gail and the Tiger included. 


“Well, that was a barrel of laughs.”  He looked far too serious to be attempting sarcasm.  “Granted it would have happened even if I had the mercenaries.  In fact it might have been worse with them.  They might have desserted.  But I’m still not happy.  I can imagine the roll-on effect to this kind of screw up, like the one yesterday.  This one could mean they will look into whatever leads they might have had, and that means Masane’s cell.  As soon as they find out it is no longer active, they will storm this place.  We need to talk to you,” he looked straight at O’Gail when he said this, “before that happens.  Tiger, you will listen as well.”  Masane huffed, looking down to one side, but it was obvious that her ears and eyes were as alert as ever.

“Shouldn’t we move location first?”  I asked.

“Yeah, kiddo.  I’m not quite comfortable sitting around where we might get raided," added the escapee.

“If you get shot at in transit, you might die.  It’s cold but I want to know what you know before that happens.  Just in case.”  Osmosis was firm in this statement, his green eyes locked onto the faded ones of the escapee, and the irish-blooded man smiled a small smile that made me cringe.  They must have had something in common because that smile bugged me the same way that Oz’ had previously.

“You’ve got a fire in you, young master Osmosis, that’s plain to see.”  He closed his eyes, shaking his head.  “Fair enough.  That fire, so long as you turn that on the bastards who are responsible, then I’ll let you know here and now.”

“If we get raided, we’ll try our best to make sure you don’t get shot,” I offered, since Osmosis seemed to have such a negative take on the matter.

“Thanks,” was the only answer I got.  Osmosis grabbed the chair Cricket was sitting in, which like some kind of pet she leapt clear of just before the boss took a seat in it.

“So, Mister O’Gail.  Tell us, from the beginning, what it is that the S.E.E.R.S. would kill you to keep a secret?”


“I was a researcher.”  He said plainly.  “Used to work in S.E.E.R.S. Magna Carta.  I was never brave enough to get the wetware and become one of their soldiers, so instead of being a Magna Carta Nanomagus, I took on the research and development angle.  I started out in Nanotech about fifteen years ago.  Ten years ago I changed department.  I knew some things about the basic workings, more than the general public, so they put me in the Replicator Alchemy section.”

“Yes, it did always bother me exactly how little information there is on the mechanics of the Replicators.  Care to elaborate?”  Osmosis was right when he interjected.  I had no idea how the things worked.  They just ‘did’.  Now that I thought about it, it was strange for the public to not know anything about it.  I knew that they were fuelled by matter.  Base, they called it, just blocks of junk.  It was recommended that you disposed of refuse via a Replicator, to help Base efficiency.  I figured it just transformed the materials tit-for-tat.


“It would take me hours,” explained O’Gail.  “Let me just say that whatever you throw into those things is never destroyed, and nor is it replaced.  It’s moved.  They’re not transformers, they’re ‘teleporters’ of a sort.”

“So where does it go?  I read a little on teleportation tech.”  Once again Osmosis’ words made me wonder if he was some rich family’s diletante son.  “It was about fifteen years ago they gave up on teleportation.  For the energy consumption of the replicators, you’d only be able to shift lead about a metre.”

“That’s where it gets complicated.  You’re thinking in three dimensions.”  O’Gail had already lost me by now, but I tried to commit the words to memory, in case they might make sense to me some day.  Osmosis followed better, because his reaction seemed like he knew where this was going.

“You’re kidding….”

“I wish I was,” the former Magna Carta researcher answered, “They’re causing destruction on an untold scale with those things.  It may not have any effect just yet, but this kind of messing around could touch something critical on another plane, and then it would affect our reality.  The effects could be disasterous on a scale that reaches far beyond just one government.”


“Mister O’Gail, I’m a smart kid, could you show me the bare bones of the system?”  Osmosis pointed toward the terminal in the corner.

“I can, but let me explain what else I have learned.  This is just the start.  It was five years ago I was transferred again.”

“To?” Osmosis was information hungry, and you could see the desire to take all this in somewhere in his eyes.

“The True Alchemy division.”  He placed his hand on the arm of the sofa, leaning forward.  I will forever remember the instant following his next words as one of the turning points in my life.  “True Alchemy isn’t anything like that.  It’s deeper than multiple dimensions.  It’s deeper than time and life and everything else that you can think of as a complicated subject.  Me and a crew of five other people were tasked with the exploitation of – and I want you to take the full meaning of this word,” he stood as he spoke it, “everything.”


Being the closest to him, my face was the first to feel the warmth of blood as a window shattered, and Mister O’Gail's body fell back into its seat.

Chapter VII >