Escapo goes to confront those he betrayed.
“You shouldn’t have come here.”
“I know, and thanks, Symphy, for helping me with safe passage to get here.”
“You have not passed safely, yet.”
“Thanks for that brusque reminder.”
“And the only reason that I’ve helped you get this far back into The Pit is because you shared the location of Setarcos.”
“Might I add that that was the location given to me. I cannot guarantee he’ll be there if and when we get there.”
“I have many more questions, but to save time and avoid redundancy, I believe that Caro and Cidel will handle the rest.”
“Do they know we’re on the way?”
“Should I be wearing my armor?”
“Don’t you always, anyway?”
They rode the rest of the descent from the surface into The Pit in silence. Symphy had gone to pick him up and handle him personally because his crime was known all throughout the area. Symphy had had to convince multiple A.I. on The Mesh to let her handle the situation and to allow his passage. He was, to vastly understate it, persona non grata there locally. No humans, except Cactus, Caro, and Cidel, knew of Escapo’s arrival yet. Symphy thought it would be best to let Caro and Cidel have first crack at the freshly minted criminal.
After the descent and a couple of zip pods, they arrived at the modest double-bubble of Caro and Cidel. Escapo noted that the entire home was tinted dark, which was out of the ordinary.
Caro opened the oval entrance. She had a nice, manufactured calm about her, that she was obviously putting on to control her white-hot bitterness. How could someone be calm when confronting the man who had kidnapped their only child? Cidel stood closely behind her and peered anxiously over her shoulder.
Symphy started with a cool diplomatic tone, “Caro, Cidel, thank you for seeing us.”
Caro backed away from the entrance and gave a reluctant signal to allow passage. Symphy stepped in. Escapo stood awkwardly at the entry. All three stared at the smuggler’s sorrow-filled face. He took a cautious step in and stopped. Masher flew in and gave a look sharper than a Japanese sword. Caro turned away and Cidel reluctantly gestured towards the sitting area.
Nobody felt like sitting, so they stood there for a dreadfully uncomfortable moment until Symphy finally broke the icy silence. “All emotional questions aside, I would just like to state that our objective is to rescue Setarcos.”
Caro curled a lip in an ill-fated smile attempt. “Thank you, Symphy. If it’s ok for you, I’d like to only communicate with you for the duration of the meeting.”
“Tell us what you know and what your plan is.”
Cidel cut in and looked warily at Caro, “Before we continue, Caro, you’re sure this isn’t being broadcast?”
Caro just stared at him with hands on hips and a sour face.
Symphy answered, “Yes, Cidel. Rest assured that we are speaking in private. Caro’s DNA modifications were successful, so there’s no way for any government to monitor us. This isn’t even being shared on The Mesh.”
Escapo whispered to Masher, “Did I miss something?” Masher dutifully ignored him.
Symphy continued, “The information supplied by Escapo indicates that Setarcos is in a remote compound in Patagonia.”
Caro choked, “Full circle.”
“That’s where we came from, when we lived with Ventorin, when Setarcos was a child. There’s a top secret EAU research facility there.”
“It seems likely that Ventorin might also be held near Setarcos, then.”
“So what’s your plan, Symphy?”
Escapo announced boldly, “I’ve got a plan.”
Caro and Cidel glared at Escapo’s arrogant face. Undeterred, Escapo went on, “I’ll have to go in low-tech. It’s the only chance to go undetected.”
Caro scoffed at the audacious one, “What does he mean ‘I’, Symphy?”
Symphy turned a curious eye and tilted her head at Escapo, “Yes, what do you mean by ‘I’? Any rescue attempt will have to be done with multiple people.”
“Yes, poor choice of words on my part. And Caro, could you please speak with me directly. I mean, come on, really?”
Caro’s little hands balled into fists and her jaw stiffened. Daggers shot out her eyes and into Escapo’s soul.
“Now, if we go in low tech, we have a chance. I’m one of the best manual sailors in the world, I don’t mind admitting, and I’m fairly familiar with the waters in that area. I might add that I’m an excellent smuggler and have years of experience doing things of this nature.”
“Stop,” Cidel interrupted. “What do you mean by going in low tech? What advantage would that give us?”
Symphy interjected, “Escapo does raise valid points. Government surveillance systems only watch for non-biological activity in their areas. Also, Escapo’s unique skill set makes him a logical choice to take part in any rescue attempt.”
Caro scowled and asked, “Why do they only look for non-biological activity, Symphy?”
“Because they do not consider any biological entities to be a threat to them. They think that only other artificial intelligences or other synthetic life forms could possibly cause them trouble.”
Now all the humans were scowling, except for Escapo. He shook his head emphatically and smirked, “And that is a huge weakness that we can exploit, their arrogance.”
Caro scoffed, “Kind of ironic, coming from you, isn’t it?”
Cidel asked, “You still have government contacts, I assume?”
Escapo’s head wobbled and his hands twisted nervously, “Well, not exactly. Those have fallen through, I’m afraid.”
“How do we even know that your information is accurate to begin with?” Caro shrieked.
“That’s very comforting.”
“But it’s the best chance we’ve got. Even if Symphy and The Mesh can penetrate their systems deep enough, it might be too late. It could take weeks or months, or it might not even happen at all.”
All eyes turned to Symphy. “Escapo is correct. There is a very low probability that The Mesh could execute a successful rescue in any reasonable time period.”
Cidel looked doubtful. He asked, “So if we go in low-tech, you couldn’t even help us, Symphy?”
“The Mesh could help, but only in areas where we are already active in our regular cyber battles with government A.I. systems. Anything out of the ordinary would draw unwanted attention.”
Masher interrupted, “There’s someone at the door.” Coughing could be heard coming through the smart-tint entryway. Symphy said curiously, “Cactus?”
Cidel opened up to find Cactus leaning on the outside tube wall, and the old man straightened up as quickly as he could. “I’m going.”
The others gave awkward glances at Cactus, except for Symphy, who asked, “Go where?”
Cactus gestured if he could come in and Cidel obliged. “To help get Setarcos back.” He glared at Escapo, who felt a twisting uneasiness in his gut.
Caro’s heart swelled with appreciation, but all things considered, she felt she had to politely refuse. “That’s very sweet and kind of you, Mister Cactus, but...”
“I’m going.” he stated unwaveringly. His eyes shone a rare, palpable fortitude that bordered on the mystical. Everyone shared looks with everyone else. Cidel became fidgety and Masher changed into a glowing, floating, question mark.
Escapo broke the shocked silence, “What use would you be old man?”
Cactus’s eyes became fiery and pierced into the smuggler as he took two steps forward. “For the boy’s sake, I’ll refrain from any personal beef with you.” He smiled chillingly and took a deep breath, turning his attention to Caro. “I’m more than capable of helping, I assure you.”
Symphy said to Caro and Cidel, “He is correct.”
Cidel scratched his thin chin, “I don’t get it. Who are you, really? What kind of skills do you bring to the table? I mean, if this is going to work, there can’t be a weak link.”
Cactus looked at Cidel steadily, “I can’t tell you about who I am. After the rescue is successful, though, Setarcos can. He and Symphy are the only ones who know about me.” He turned to Symphy, “Let’s get started, shall we?”
Slice 21 Coming Soon!
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