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Secrets, Silent, Stony Sit

Posted on Fri Apr 26th, 2024 @ 4:01pm by Captain Akiva ben-Avram & Commander Arianna Frost & Lieutenant Calderon Jarsdel

Mission: S1E6: Where Skies End
Location: Whytesand Room | Overwatch Station
Timeline: MD 5

Ari was sat in the small, secure room that they had designated the Whytesand Room, where the data they'd accumulated so far was being stored and processed. With Leah, Teejay and the Garlakes away, it was down to Ari, Akiva and Cal to maintain watch over dead drops and analyze data. Data which was held in the most secret place they could find, inside of Bynah, a failed experiment to some, a lost child to others.

Her systems were not connected to the Station Mainframe and were considered inert, officially, but Akiva had managed to restore some function to them, in so much that they could use her a storage and computing facility, to help them better analyze the data they found.

It was Ari's turn now to take the watch, as she poured over the data, on a side display which was connected to Biynah, two dead drops were being monitored, one for Laena who had gone to Earth to vet Admiral Tau and one for Nandi who had gone to attain more information on Project Lazarus.

Normally, when an agent failed to make a call in, there was a backup time frame they were given, as you couldn't always guarantee with 100% certainty that you could make your scheduled time due to a variety of influences. So far, both had missed their first call, again, not unusual, but slightly concerning. One? No worries, two?

"Once is an accident, twice is coincidence, three times is an enemy action." Ari muttered to herself. "Come on, girls...."

Akiva stared at Biynah's immobile shell. It had been her mobile frame, as much a part of her as the AI that housed it. When she uploaded her processes into the Master Computer Network on Bynaus, she had, for all intents and purposes, died. Part of her lived on in every Bynar, that was true, in the form of their capacity for quantum upgrades. But the individual she had been—his daughter—was gone. If he hadn't believed it on the day when she had given herself as a ransom for many, he did after he'd made every attempt to reinitialize her functions with a system reset. But her positronic net and quantum subprocessors wouldn't accept new processes. The firmware rejected them before the memory could even be coded. If an android could have a corpse, this was it.

And here he had cannibalized her physical assets as safe storage for their operation. It made him sick when he thought about it too long. But when was the cause was just, how could he deny the price? Biynah was complete air-gapped. No one could hack her. While her humanoid form could be destroyed, her memory core was encased inside solid duranium, the stuff of starship hulls. If anywhere was safe to keep their database, it was her. That didn't make it hurt any less.

"No word then?" Akiva forced himself to look away from Biynah. "What about their accommodations on Earth?"

Ari shook her head, "We don't have long range monitoring. Security measure so it doesn't get tracked to us. We're communicating via dead drops. We'd need to make a health check on site. They have five minutes left on the second call in." She said, not taking her eyes off of the readouts. "I've seen last second calls on a second timer a few times. It's not unheard of."

In her gut, she felt a lot less cool and optimistic. As much as she had private issues with Laena, she did not want the green woman to come to harm.

"We should have had a Plan B," Akiva said. "I hate not having a Plan B."

"Plan B is already in place." Arianna sighed, "but we have no timeline, according to Leah."

TWO MINUTES. The screen indicated.

"Fuck..." Ari cursed inwardly.

Every second that passed, though silent, was as loud as a metronome.

A chirp came from the console. Akiva was on it like a vulture. "Here we go. Let's see. It's...not a transmission." His voice audibly deflated. "It's a ping that's been bouncing around the relay network. Backtracing now..." Akiva's brow popped. "Laena's worm! She submitted the files and someone uploaded them behind the firewall and deleted them. We've got a limited opportunity to look at the OSI database."

Ari stood up and stepped away, "well let's use the time - over to you." She motioned for him to sit down and get into the database. He was the technical expert of the two of them. Ari, meanwhile would monitor the dead-drops for call in reports.

"Already on it." Akiva was flipping through directory after directory. At first he was morbidly curious. Soon, though, his face faltered with frustration. "This is beyond what I've seen before, even on Overwatch," Akiva said, his eyes widening with disbelief. "Or maybe it's how our database appears on the outside looking in. There's some kind of advanced end-to-end user encryption that uses a term of variable coefficients rather than standard challenge-authorization protocols like with authorization codes. Whatever Tau uses to access his files is virtually unhackable even from the inside. Not even an AI could brute-force it with an unlimited amount of time." Akiva shook his head. "Best we can do is catalog the variable expressions for later use. If we can get Ferrofax to help crack the coefficient values, then maybe the password algorithm could get worked out, but as it stands... this might have been for nothing."

Ari however was focused on the still dark dead drop triggers. "For us...yes." A frown marred her features, "but fruitful for whomever intercepted the girls." She slammed her palm against the console. "FUCK!" A yell escaped her.

"So..." Akiva took pause. "Is that what we're assuming now? They were intercepted?"

Ari sighed, rubbing her face with her palm. "We have to assume so, and we can't risk open communication." She looked over at Akiva then, "the only allies we have on Earth are Jaya and Storr, my untapped assets are nowhere near close."

"I have ... family," Akiva said, the word having to be forced out. "A sister who serves as an attaché in the Pan-Semite Union on Earth. I don't know if she would have the clout to do anything but draw attention though."

No, there was no way they were getting another member of the family involved. It was going to be bad enough if they confirmed Taskmaster was Omni ben-Avram and having to have the talk with Akiva...getting another family member involved? No.

" will raise too many eyebrows. If not his, then her own." She looked over at Akiva, wondering why he wasn't more phased by this. Was he just holding it together really well until he was out of the room? Or was this reaction an echo of the changes he was going through? "If she's anything like you, she'd be curious and we don't want her in harm's way. We are already in harm's way, let's not subject others to it."

It was also way too soon to have to explain the real reason she was so against it.

"All good points," Akiva said. It had been a foolish suggestion. He just felt desperate. "What do we do now?" For all intents and purposes, Ari was the Taskmaster of Whytesand. Akiva was looking to her for the next step.

Ari tapped her commbadge, "Frost to Calderon. Wintersun." It was a codeword for a meeting in the Whytesand Room.

"Recieved and understood." Cal's words were crisp and compliant. Unembellished.

Ari closed off communication and sighed. "Much as I am loathe to do it, we have two assets on Earth whom we trust implicitly." Jaya and Storr. "And they have the best alibi to go and check without sudden suspicion as to why seeming strangers are looking to make contact with the girls."

"Oh my..." Akiva did not love that idea but he did not object. Rather he rubbed his chin in dire thought.

"Look, I'm open to suggestions, I'd just rather not put more people at risk unless we have to. We may just need to talk them into coming back a result." Ari sighed. "I shouldn't have let them go. I should have found another way..." Guilt bubbled underneath the surface.

Even as he stepped inside the secure room and sealed the door behind him, Cal felt the barrage of emotions leaving the two already here. Like waves against a rocky shore they smashed into his brain. His expression didn't change more than a slight crease in his forehead and a sideways tilt of of his head as he regarded them both. "Bad news," he said. Not a question. He looked from the android body to Akiva and back again and sighed softly. Emotional pain was captivating in its poignant unpleasantness, but this was not something that would be easily thwarted today. Cal looked from Akiva to Ari, his own expression neutral now. "You're sure?" He asked.

Ari was grateful for the calm that Cal exuded, though she feared the outbreak of emotion that would soon happen. Oh well, there was nothing for it now, shit has hit the fan and they would have to deal with it.

"Chances in their favor are two percent at this point. They missed their second call-in. We both know chances of that happening with two different handlers at two different locations at the same time are slim to none for it to be an accident." Ari sighed, looking between the two men.

"Laena's burrowed into Tau's files...but they came up with nothing of any substance for us." Frost continued, bringing up the display for Cal to view. "Then she missed her second call in. I can see her just bailing on us...after everything that's recently happened." Her eyes caught Akiva's at this point before she looked back down to Cal. "But I can't see Nandi doing that. She's too devoted to you, to just bail. So unless they've both hit the two percent and have gone to ground and will make contact later, we have to assume they have been made and captured...or worse."

Another pause, to give them both time to process. "Do you have any Earthside assets you trust to call in to take a look at their locations for us?" She asked of Cal. "My assets are too far, and the only other ones we have are Jaya and Storr."

Cal sighed, and felt the weight of Frost's truth sink into his soul. "You're right," he added a moment or two later. "It's unlikely enough to be unbelievable. They're either both in trouble, or - as you said one's AWOL and Nandi's compromised." Or worse, but he didn't dwell on the unknown. Nandi wasn't lost until they proved the truth either way. He was quiet then, working his way mentally through a long list of potential options and scratching through names one by one.

"I have one, maybe two, I could try, but it's unlikely," Cal answered. "Worth a try rather than tapping Jaya and Storr though." He said.

Ari nodded, "put your calls through, see who you can get, just make sure your story to them doesn't involve Whytesand." She reached out and put her hand on Cal's shoulder, then did the same with Akiva. "This is on me, lads. I'm sorry. We'll find them, we have to."

"No," Akiva said resolutely. "Everyone knew what they were doing. So do we. So, let's... do it." Never one for motivational speeches, Akiva shrugged off his nervous energy and nodded at his cohorts. They would see this through or die trying.


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