Strings of Retaliation – 20b – Opening

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Gabriel had made it very clear that he expected to see me today and, as much as I wanted to check on Saskia instead, it wouldn’t be a smart move. First, I needed Gabriel on my side. Second, I had to wait for Djeb’s green light before I went anywhere near Saskia’s hideout; if they didn’t manage a clean getaway, the whole operation wouldn’t be compromised. Besides, slipping whatever tail the FBI and/or MerriTech put on me right after someone kick started chaos would draw unnecessary attention.
I trusted Vexx with Saskia. Kind of.
“It’s the best way to flush out the moles,” I said after walking Gabriel through the measures I put in place to ante up my version of the Cold War.
He frowned — quite a feat since he was already sulking. “How do you figure?”
“Now, the moles think their employer hid some of their assets, while the employers think their mole may be uninformed, misinformed or purposefully omitting.”
Gabriel paced back and forth along one of Vexx’s workspace. He didn’t look at me once to request more details on my trail of thoughts, so I kept my mouth shut. His brow creased-and-released at irregular intervals as he analyzed the repercussions of my plan. Or at least, that was what I would be doing if I was him.
“You’re using the compartmentalization of information in-built in their relationship against them,” he said. The calm in his voice told me I had won my point before the right corner of his lips curved up. He sat on the high stool opposite me, resting his arm on the workspace. “This might work.”
“It will work. Applying the right amount of pressure will cause the moles to make mistakes. We just need to keep our eyes peeled.”
Gabriel’s non-committal hum clenched my stomach. The discussion with Kim must have exhausted my ‘stressful conversation handling’ resources. Gabriel was pondering again, his face closed and his thoughts unvoiced. I felt fidgety. The nanobots had never let me feel fidgety.
This better not become a habit…
Gabriel’s eyes roamed on Vexx’s shelves, neatly lined up with pieces and tools except for the one ‘miscellaneous’ unit. Frogster recharged its batteries on the closest corner. I would miss this place during my 4 month-long world tour.
Leaving in one week.
“I foresee a few problems.” Gabriel’s professional tone snapped me back to the here and now. “Your little play for the escape convinced the committee there’s a mole. They’re putting together their version on internal affairs to investigate.”
“That’s great!”
“Not if they decide to take away your reduced-surveillance privileges.”
My scampering joy screeched to a halt. He was right. The fact that Saskia was theoretically killed and recovered to keep the FBI from studying her ruled me out of the initial investigation. Unless they found concluding evidence to pin the real mole, they would run a tighter check of every single person at some point.
I nodded. “No more secret meetings for you and me.”
“So far, it’s still an approved part of the SOP for your handling. If I ever tap my temple twice at the beginning of a conversation, you’ll know my surveillance chip is on.”
“No EMP to shut it down because it will draw suspicion.”
“Exact.”
I sighed. If I had been more used to work within a group, I would have expected that. Fortunately, that one stupid oversight didn’t ruin the plan.
“MerriTech is going to watch you closely too.” Gabriel seemed to barely start on a long list of reservations.
I shook my head. “The attempt on my life reinforced security as far as I allowed, but it will keep their suspicions on each other for a little while. No worries.”
“Not yet.”
“They’ll be distracted,” I insisted with such force that Gabriel raised both hands and shrugged off the subject. “Thank you.”
He would get back to this eventually, but I appreciated the fact that, at least for now, he wouldn’t grill me. Things I left unsaid were for the good of the operation and his own career.
“In about two steps, I’ll be too deep for plausible deniability.”
Let’s hope all the ‘not yet’ moments don’t trigger on the same day.
“Noted.” I waved for him to bring up the next issue.
“Unless you re-implement the remote, you can’t control Saskia.” His blunt statement slammed right across the face. My whole body contracted, readying for violence — the primary response for the first three decades of my life.
“No sugar-coating, huh?” I said as I forced my fists open under the cover of the workspace. “I’ll convince her. Involve her. Not control her.”
Gabriel blinked a bit slower than usual. He had always been good at hiding his emotion. “Thread carefully,” he said but that wasn’t what he thought.
“You need me as much as I need you.”
If statements made comic book sounds, there would be a bold ‘smack’ on Gabriel’s left cheek. He recovered quick from the stunned, wide-eyed expression.
“I always thought tech companies should be monitored.” His voice was consciously empty and close to a whisper. He averted his eyes. “And if the very people responsible of doing that can be turned, manipulated or bought…” Gabriel chuckled. “I’m scared of what they have in store.”
“An army of Zodiac Killers backed by labs full of Oppenheimers.” I realized I should have picked more recent references when Gabriel cocked an eyebrow. It took me a moment to find good substitutes. “An army of Pale Horses backed by labs full of Konishutas.”
Colors completely drained from Gabriel’s face. “Several people like Shigeru Konishuta? Working together?” His voice was barely audible. Apparently, Vexx hadn’t told him about his theory. “They have to be stopped.”
“Annihilated,” I corrected. “I’m not letting anyone cease control of these assets.”
If push came to shove, I would go back to my cold, pragmatic, murder-inclined ways. However, if some SSW were up for it, I would rather make sure no company ever grew to be a menace of MerriTech proportions.

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About Aheïla

Somewhere in Quebec City, Aheïla works as a Game Design Director by day and writes by night. Known for her blue hair, unyielding dynamism and tasty cooking (quails, anyone?), she’s convinced “prose is the new crack”. She satisfies her addiction daily on The Writeaholic’s Blog and weekly on Games' Bustles View all posts by Aheïla

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