Oblivion (23)

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Pupuhupurashur 5412: Shattered ERth

The site wasn’t far away, barely thirty minutes on foot. Dr. Suhni insisted on taking a small group; just her, Polyglau, Star and the Instruman. They first had to go through an exposed tunnel that led to the spiderwebbing network of tunnels beneath the two stadiums. Dr. Suhni explained that workers in the old days used these tunnels to traffic supplies and concessions to wherever they were needed. Emilio was just glad to be out of the blistering sun for a bit so his eyes could rest. The hell imps were placated for the time being.

“So what sorts of tech do you guys specialize in?” Emilio asked as they navigated the tunnel network.

“Our requisition teams are equipped to handle all sorts of tech wreckage,” Dr. Suhni explained.

“No matter how junked,” Star added.

“What kinds of things were you hoping to salvage this time around?” Emilio asked, holding his head like he was keeping his entire body upright with his hand.

“We’re not a salvage company,” Polyglau snapped, at this point counting the seconds when she could be done with this man. “We’re research and requisition. Archaeologists of the forgotten and abandoned.”

“Oh really?” Emilio asked.

“Yes. Really,” Polyglau replied.

“And what is your company going to do with the fruits of your research?” Emilio asked. If silent tension were physical matter, they would have run into a wall of it ten meters thick. “Well? Anyone? They’re going to use it for something good, I hope,” Emilio continued.

“Nah. They’ll just use it to get filthy rich,” Star said, oblivious to the situation.

“Hmm. Filthy rich, you say?” Emilio asked.

“Enough, Star,” Polyglau said through grinding teeth.

“What the company does is their prerogative,” Dr. Suhni said, pulling the conversation back. “But regardless, our findings, if we’re successful here, will undoubtedly push our understanding of motorics and other technic fields light years ahead of current standards.”

“And that will be of benefit to everyone in the system, Mr. Instruman,” Polyglau said, perhaps more snidely than she’d intended, then deciding, no, it was exactly as snide as she’d intended.

“Please, Mr. Instruman was my father. Call me Emilio.”

I hate this man, Polyglau thought.

After almost an hour of walking, and waiting for Emilio to catch up, they emerged from a crumbling staircase into what at first looked like an overgrown field, but what Emilio eventually recognized was an old industrial office park. Typical fare for urban centers. Like pilot fish to sharks or whatever those little birds were that ate parasites off of alligators’ heads, these office parks grew like moss around arterials of revenue which stadiums like these as well as race tracks and other sporting arenas very much were to the old Empire. What was the old adage? Coffee and Football to quell the masses? Something like that.

“Here it is,” Polyglau said. “A Tenshin Motorics branch office.” It was a sad looking structure, so run down that Emilio would have walked right past it if Polyglau hadn’t pointed it out. “We were lucky to find this site. After Jaan hit the others, we feared there was nothing left of Tenshin for us to study.”

Hardly any part of the outside remained. The -shin and the -torics part of the sign on the front of the building remained intact, but the rest of it had faded away or been vandalized. It reminded Emilio of a carrion carcass, its entrails exploded onto the surrounding sea of asphalt while its skeleton collapsed in on itself.

“I wonder why,” Emilio said.

“Why what?” Star asked.

“Why Jaan keeps hitting your sites in particular,” Emilio continued.

“We figured it was because anything we touched must be valuable to a tech pirate like him,” Dr. Suhni replied. “He’s been watching us for some time, I’m sure.”

“Then why not hit the cargo skitters on the way back?” Emilio asked.

“That’s what I’ve been wondering!” Polyglau said with an air of vindication. “They’re pirates. That’s their whole M.O., right? Plundering skitters. So why come down and take over the sites themselves?”

“The mystery deepens,” Emilio said, like he’d just done a crime show reveal. Polyglau sighed, her vindication high evaporating immediately. “What do we know about Tenshin?” Emilio asked, pacing in front of the building, checking out its insides from a safe distance.

“Very little, I’m afraid,” Dr. Suhni said, pushing her glasses up her face. “They were a middle sized private interest in the Late Imperial Era, just before the Shatter. They were based in the capitol, but owned branches all over the world. Their work in motorics pushed the field of mechanistics to heights undreamed of only a century before. If rumors are to be believed…”

“And they’re only rumors,” Polyglau interjected.

“…yes, merely rumors, but if they hold any shred of truth, then Tenshin was well on its way to developing a self-aware machine.”

“Self-aware. You mean S.A. Intelligence,” Emilio asked.

“Yes, that’s right,” Dr. Suhni replied.

“And how exactly did a motorics company almost manage to pull that off?” Emilio asked.

“Motorics is more than just steam pistons and hydraulic actuators, Instruman Delmundo,” Dr. Suhni replied. “Very advanced motorics come to resemble actual neural networks in their complexity.”

“Wow. Tenshin almost did it,” Emilio said, a glimmer of recognition in his eye. “Unbelievable. They walked a long lonely road to get where they got. They were old school Imperial Research, you know. Foundational, even. Dating all the way back to the founding of the capitol itself. A charter company to the throne, if you can believe it.”

“Tenshin had an Imperial charter?” Dr. Suhni asked, flabbergasted. “That goes against everything we know about the company. How can that be?”

“They weren’t a very public facing company, doctor,” Emilio replied. “They kept their secrets well. Only a few people alive today know of their origins. Thanks to their position, they had their hands in lots of arcane applications. Some theoretical. Most practical. The Imperial family kept them like a cherished pet parakeet, sitting on their shoulders and whispering the sciences of the Ancients into their collective ears. You know, it makes sense they’d have a branch here next to the Dueling Arenas. The Imperial family loved to attend sporting events here.”

“Again, how do you know all this?” Polyglau asked.

“Let’s just say I’ve… dealt with them before,” Emilio cryptically replied.

“What does that mean?” Polyglau asked.

“I’ll explain later.”

“Why?”

“Is that all you researchers do? Ask questions?”

“Yes!”

“Now now, Polyglau,” Dr. Suhni said. “We should let the Instruman do his job. That’s why he’s here after all.”

“Yes, of course,” Polyglau said, seething. She didn’t usually let things get to her, but then she had just lost a slew of colleagues while she’d been gone, so maybe she shouldn’t be so hard on herself, she thought.

“Although I would also like to know how you know so much about Tenshin,” Dr. Suhni said.

“We can share notes in a bit. Let me just… take in the scene for a minute.” Emilio examined the site, letting it’s details sink into his pink matter to simmer. “Here’s the thing that’s bothering me, if I may be frank for a second.”

“By all means,” Dr. Suhni said.

“This tech pirate’s interest in Tenshin doesn’t make sense. It’s what set off my danger radar when Polyglau first contacted me. It makes sense that a Republic Requisition Company would know about Tenshin. That’s their whole deal. But a Tech pirate? Tech pirates are simple, opportunistic criminals. They don’t have access to the kind of resources that you do. So how do they know about Tenshin?”

“There’s a dozen reasons why,” Polyglau said. “But all of our speculating kept leading us in circles. Do you have any insights to share?”

“Well, I’m glad you asked,” Emilio said with a smug smile. “There are a few possibilities, to be sure. For one, they could have stumbled upon an old site that mentioned Tenshin and what they were working on. They could just be tailing you for an easy score of salvaged tech. Sorry. “Rescued” tech. But again, why not just hit the cargo skitters? Why confront the security detail and deny the sites? Nothing really explains that behavior. Except…”

He paused. The researchers waited.

“Yes?” Polyglau asked.

“Hmm? Oh right. Except! Now, keep in mind this is just a theory, but, what if what we’re dealing with isn’t a pirate at all, but a corporate saboteur.”

“Saboteur?” Dr. Suhni asked, stunned.

“Corporate?” Star asked, also stunned.

“What the crepe are you talking about?” Polyglau asked.

“Bear with me here. Let’s suppose a rival to your employer found out about this huge find. What better way to deny you your… valuable discoveries, than hiring muscle to keep you away from it? And who better out here in the wastes and ruins than a tech pirate? Added bonus, no obvious questions because tech pirates gonna tech pirate. If you’d ran into a mercenary company out here that would have raised a ton of suspicion, no?”

“That seems a little far-fetched,” Dr. Suhni said.

“No. Not exactly,” Polyglau said. The other two looked at her, confused. “On Amtris, the Venusian colonists would use the same tactics; hiring local warlords to forward their agendas so the indigenes wouldn’t think an invasion effort was under way. Not until it was too late.”

“Oh my Lord. I never learned that in history class. I’m sorry,” Dr. Suhni said.

“It was a hundred years ago. Ancient history,” Polyglau said, attempting a smile.

“But there were good colonists too, though. Right?” Star asked.

“I think that’s hardly the point, Star,” Dr. Suhni said.

“There are good and bad people everywhere. It doesn’t change what happened so let’s not dwell on it, okay?” Polyglau said.

Emilio had tuned them out. He kept examining the ruin, looking for clues. Any clues. A secret like Tenshin was hard to come by. Why? Because secrets like Tenshin preferred to stay buried. The implications of Jaan and Tenshin in the same breath had system-wide implications, which was why an Instruman like him could poke his nose into this case in the first place. He pulled out a golden rectangle and opened a flap on the side. Polyglau thought it looked like a phonic transducer, or a ‘phone’ as Earthmen like to call it, but solid and hefty, like it’d hurt if someone threw it at you. Emilio held it up to the ruin and it pinged.

“Is he scanning it with that doohickey?” Star asked.

“I don’t know,” Dr. Suhni said.

Emilio scanned the site for a while. Occasionally he’d sneak a fart when he thought no one was looking, but kept up the scanning for much longer than anyone thought he was going to.

“This is a waste of time,” Polyglau sighed. “I should never have brought him here.”

“And done!” Emilio said as the golden gizmo chirped. “This structure was damaged in the Shatter,” Emilio began. “The stress fractures around the base of the walls here and here indicate it expanded and contracted with the Wave like everything else in San Diejuana.”

“Anyone could have told you that. Most of the city is damaged the same way,” Polyglau scoffed.

“Furthermore,” Emilio continued, “the roof was torn off vertically while the floor was pressed inward. This suggests an early looting party hit this site looking for valuables, probably gravity pirates based on the damage, but the lack of ambient energy marks suggest nothing in the interior was taken with gravity tools. Whatever the gravity pirates were looking for, they didn’t find it.”

“What does that mean?” Polyglau asked.

“Gold, copper, other essential metals used for science; there wasn’t enough of it here for them to salvage using their gravity tools. That means this building was full of more exotic materials. I’m guessing the other sites you searched were the same way?”

“Yeah…”

“Which leads me to wonder what Jaan is after. If it was valuables, there are much more lucrative vaults to be cracked all over Khalif Ornya. The mystery. It deepens again,” Emilio said, uncorking something on the side of the golden gizmo and drinking deeply. The researchers detected the unmistakable musk of very strong alcohol.

“Are you drinking?” Polyglau asked.

“Hey hey, not so loud,” Emilio said, holding his throbbing head. “You’ll attract the pirates.”

“I thought that was a scanner of some type. Is that just a flask?” Polyglau asked.

“It’s a multi-purpose tool, okay? It does lots of things. Scanning is one of them,” Emilio said, swishing the tool back and forth, readying for another swig.

“Stop drinking!”

“Okay, drinking police,” Emilio said, rolling his eyes. “Wait, you’re not drinking police are you?” Emilio asked. Polyglau had a look of utter bafflement on her face. “You have to tell me if you’re an alcohol cop. It’s a rule.”

“I’m going back to base camp. Good luck to all of you,” Polyglau said, wiping her golden scaly hands of the whole thing.

“Wait, don’t go alone,” Dr. Suhni implored her.

“Yeah, what if…” but Star never finished that sentence.

A booming sound washed over them. A rhythmic boom, boom, Boom, BOOM, BOOM. Emilio just about died from his hangover pains, falling to the ground in a spasmic heap.

“Oh no!” Dr. Suhni cried, though no one could hear her.

“Jaan! It’s Jaan!” Star screamed, though, again, no one could hear him.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuck!” Emilio cried, pressing the sides of his head together as the booming continued.

“Hello hello helllllloooooo, ladies and bitches!” someone sang over a megaphonic transducer, or megaphone as Earthmen call it. “It’s time again to get the show staaaaarrrttteeeeeeeeeeeed! Yeah! Bam bam bam! He’s here to dazzle, and fight fight fight, it’s Jaan! It’s Jaan! It’s Jaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnuh!”

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