Mere minutes after I finish the decontamination cycle, there’s a blip on my neurocomm. Dan Black. I dress hurriedly and rush to the console to sync my internal comm systems with the hardware. I want a duplicate copy of this.

“Immaculata Bright. This is an…honor.” His voice is thick, ugly. Something about the way he pauses before “honor” makes me want to jump right back into the decon chamber.

I remind myself that even the lowest organisms can be useful. Neo Angeles is just another ecosystem, after all. “I had an idea you might feel that way. I’m interested in a project you’re working on. A certain bullet—”

“You heard about that?”

“Of course, Black. I hear everything. I want to know who you’re working for. Who you’re learning from— because, let’s be honest, from what I’ve seen this is way above your skill level.” I’m visualizing him, a dirty little man in a dirty little room, surrounded by poorly designed schematics and incomplete projects, bloodshot eyes bulging from too much time skimming lines of code between ogling the latest synthporn vids.

“You ask me for information and then you insult me?” He laughs, an unpleasant guttural sound. “Why should I tell you anything?”

“Because you want to. Bragging rights, right Black? You’ll be able to tell all your little friends you helped me with a super important project,” I pause, considering for a moment if there’s such a thing as being too patronizing. No. “And because over this link I can scramble your brain so badly you’ll never be able to control your bowels again.” An open hand and a closed fist.

“Hah. Nice threat,” his tone is cocky, but I feel a sharp stab of anxiety over the neurocomm. “I’m on a protected link—”

“Try me.” I’ve already cracked his encryption.

“I can’t give you a name—”

“You’re about to start getting a headache—” It’s the power of suggestion, nothing more. The talk about scrambling his brain is a bluff. It isn’t something I can do…yet.

“No—I mean, I can’t tell you because I don’t know,” he whines. Fear is an excellent motivator. “He contacted me anonymously. The plans…the plans were his. I just adapted them for 9mm rounds.”

Even afraid for his future mental capacity, he can’t give me information he doesn’t have. Or more likely, information he doesn’t realize he has. With his side of the link unprotected, I could probably work my way into other areas of his systems, and from there into whatever hardware he’s currently accessing. It would be simple to go in and collect all the relevant data and assemble it for myself.

As satisfying as it is to make him squirm, to listen to him wracking his brain for connections, it’s an inefficient use of time. I drum my fingers on the smooth, white surface of the desk and start browsing through my archives for a particular program. “What was the original design?”

He seems relived that it’s a question he can answer. “It was an injection-based delivery system. Only would have worked close range. Really impractical.”

I keep fishing. “So your client contacted you anonymously. You still have to know something. When did he get in touch with you?”

“About two weeks ago.” I’m about to continue my inquiry when he transmits again. “Let’s not talk about business for a minute, Immaculata. It would mean a lot to me. I mean, it’s not every day I get to link to Immaculata Bright. I’ve always been a fan of yours, you know.”

I sigh, audibly, making sure he can feel my annoyance. I’ve found the program I’m looking for, a bug, that I should be able to relay into his systems through the neurocomm. Once inside, I’ve set it collect any memories Black has recorded and stored in the past two weeks and broadcast them back to the Sanctum. I’ll be able to sift through the data at my convenience.

Unfortunately it means I have to keep him on the link long enough to deliver the bug. “Okay, Black. Talk.”

He does, rambling at first. I’m paying just enough attention to do the mental equivalent of smiling and nodding at appropriate intervals. I piggyback the bug on top of a noncommittal response. There’s a long silence, and for a moment I’m concerned that he’s detected the foreign program, until I receive a broadcast from it. I okay the data dump, and watch as the progress meter fills. I just need to keep him on the link for a few more minutes.

Black starts transmitting again. There’s something different in his tone. I can’t place what it is, and that sets me on edge.

“…I have such deep admiration for what you’re doing to yourself—to your body. I think it’s amazing that you’re willing to go to such an…extreme to get want you want. I’m not the only one. You know, you’re the closest thing to God some people have these days.”

He has my full attention again. I’ve heard my share of fanatical bullshit, but I wasn’t expecting it from Black. I was expecting all the flattery and small talk was a warm up before asking if I was ever going to pose nude for Hardwired. “I’ve done a lot more to inspire faith than God has recently.”

“Oh, I know. It’s a…double edged sword, though. One man’s savior is another’s false prophet. Now, I don’t have much faith in anything besides credits, but—”

I’m eager to get him back on topic. “If you’re looking for a payout, you’re going to have to give me something more to work with. What does this have to do with those bullets?”

“I would have thought it would be obvious to someone with your intellect.”

Suddenly, it is. The data dump finishes and I hurriedly kill the program in his systems. “I’m transferring some all-mighty credits to your account, Black.”

“Back to business then. You can scour the networks all you like but you won’t find what you’re looking for. My client prefers to do things the old fashioned way. That’s all I can tell you.”

Nanomachine disrupting weapons. I tell myself it’s paranoia, but—

“Be careful, Immaculata. You’re only mortal.”

There’s a holy war on the horizon.

Time to wake my unlikely disciple.

The End

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