In the previous two installments, Anjali was given an assignment by ANTARES to hunt down information on a guy named "K-Wave." Along the way, she ran into an old friend, and found herself unraveling the interesting history of a man who vanished 5 years after the fall.
Today, Anjali comes a little closer to finding the truth - but still has a long way to go from understanding it.
Today, Anjali comes a little closer to finding the truth - but still has a long way to go from understanding it.
It was like a twisted maze. One link lead to another, which lead to another. Money off-planet, accusations of fraud, accusations of embezzlement – the reason Sine Finances shut down was because K-Wave got too greedy. Because he got his hands in too many things, and needed someone to help him cover it all up. Because he financed one to many things.
It was hard following the money trail, especially the way that it was masked and split up. Eventually, after circling around in enough loops, Anjali thought that she was going nowhere but in circles – until she had a break through, and tracked a small segment of it down to one of the larger Reclaimation movements in Earth Orbit. By her standards, Earth was something best left alone. A great many on the Moon didn’t feel that way, however, and neither did the leaders of the Reclaimer movement.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Reclaimer movement on Luna had a very small office. She looked up at it, stretching out her colorful wings and then starting in through the front doors. She had to fold her wings behind her to fit through.
All day, she’d been rehearsing with her muse the script that she’d follow. Despite that, she felt like a massive rail spike had been driven through the center of her chest, holding everything with the same tenseness of a wound suspension bridge support cable.
Rehearsed or not, having spent the last few days studying Reclaimer blogs and microblogs, she still wasn’t entirely sure. She knew well enough – her muse had made it very blunt – that her kinesics profile would alert anyone to the fact that she was nervous and confused.
So she opted to play the role.
She played up the confused and nervous individual, walking through the doors. No sooner did she walk through the doors than she was assaulted with a mist of Reclaimer advertisements in her AR; the future of a terraformed Earth, the history of what Earth was like, pictures of happy transhumans on a rebuilt homeworld. “Earth is the Homeworld. We Ruined it. We can fix it,” one ad read.
“Our future is in our past; our past shapes our future,” the other read, with three pictures of Earth side-by-side, in a type of virtual triptych. The first was Earth before the fall. Dark and dusty, with polluted oceans. The second was Earth after the Fall – a fucked up, hellish world of extremes with no rhyme or reason. The third was a world that had been reclaimed; a beautiful brown, green, blue and white marble.
They made very little bones about what it was they wanted to do.
[Good afternoon,] the man at the front desk greeted. Or, the androgynous individual, anyway – it was rather hard to tell with a face that appeared both but neither at the same time and a voice that had a strange tone to it. [Welcome to HRE; are you here for an appointment today?]
[I… I’m lost and rather nervous,] she said, looking around. [I was told by a friend that this side of Erato wasn’t the kind of place I wanted to be, but I couldn’t find… I don’t know. I saw this building, and I came in.]
[Are you familiar at all with the Reclaimer cause?] The person asked.
[No,] she said. [I… I was wondering if maybe I could speak to representative or something.]
[Certainly. Do you have a specific one you’d like to speak to, or just any representative]
[Just any,] She said. [I want to know more about the Reclaimer cause, but I’m not familiar with it and I’m kind of nervous.]
While the HRE rep was searching, Anjali accessed the mesh and downloaded some virtual Reclaimer literature, looking at all of the major stations in the solar system.
The HRE rep looked back up. “Mr. Vo will meet with you,” he said. “He has a virtual chat room feature already set up.”
Anjali walked into a secure back room, and then had a seat on one of the couches. She lay down and brought up the mesh, and then accessed the chatroom, switching over from AR to simulated VR. Her avatar looked just like her morph in real-life, but without any sexual characteristics; on more adult boards it had those features, because her morph wasn’t wearing anything. In general, however, it looked like an old-fashioned doll without a visible major labia or nipples.
Mr. Vo appeared shortly after she signed in, wearing a business suit with a morph not unlike the sort of thing that she’d expect to see on a business man. A virtual table appeared as he entered the room, and he sat down at a chair at the head, ushering her forward.
[Good afternoon,] he said. [An told me at the front that you were interested in joining the Reclaimer clause, but weren’t too sure what we were all about, and that you’d like to speak with an actual leader of the Reclaimer movement. We’re a small business, as you can imagine, and we don’t make a great deal of money in what we do, which is why we accept donations. So, what questions do you have, Phoenix?]
Anjali sat down at the table. [Well, I’d like to know how the whole donation thing works,] she said. [I guess that, if I’m going to be supporting you, it won’t be by flying myself to Earth and back.]
Mr. Vo laughed slightly. [Reclaimers don’t support flight missions to Earth. Too dangerous; the Interdiction would make that a… challenging task alone, leave off the danger of TITAN artifacts on Earth.]
[Oh, you don’t?] She asked.
[No. We much rather do things legally, and in line with the rest of the system. We’re a loose collection of individuals – there’s a whole network devoted exclusively towards the reclaimer effort, with a bunch of start-up business and various groups who all share a similar interest of funding research towards reclaiming Earth. We’re a grass-roots movement first and foremost; we keep an eye on the past so we can learn for the future.]
Anjali pursed her lips. [So… what happens to the money when I donate it? Are you guys like a middle man sort of thing?]
Mr. Vo sat back. [We are, if you want to think of us like that. First of all, when you donate to us, any money that you give gets split up. Part of it goes to overhead for our staff here – about 5% of the total donations go to overhead. The remainder gets divided up and then split to the reclaimers in our network, with the group that needs it the most getting the most at the time.]
[Where are your largest groups at? Do you have any here on Luna? I mean, I’m just curious. I… I’ve never done this before, and I would like to have my money stay local, you know?]
[Are you asking whether or not you can determine what groups get the money?]
[Yeah,] she said
` [You can request specific reclaimer groups if you want more of your money sent in their direction. Did you have a group in mind, or did…?]
[I was wondering if maybe you had a list,] she said.
[I most certainly do,] Mr. Vo said, sending her the list. [That’s a list of all the reclaimer groups that we support throughout the solar system, and their location, and their approximate size.]
Anjali sifted through the list. [I notice… some of the larger ones are in Earth Orbit, aren’t they? There’s a few on Vo Nguyen. Is that like some kind of Reclaimer space station?]
[Vo Nguyen is indeed a very large collection of reclaimers, and reclaimer groups. We ship quite a bit of money in their general direction. You might say that Vo Nguyen is at the forefront of our efforts to reclaim the Earth.]
[There isn’t any on Mars,] Anjali said.
[Mars is… generally the domain of the Planetary Consortium. The PC does not respond towards our ideas of reclaiming the planet Earth well. It’s against the PC’s propaganda. Mars can never be a home world. It never will be a home world, either. Earth is our only home world. Of course, this is just my opinion on the matter.]
[Are all donations kept anonymous?]
[If you want,] he said. [Most of our donators do choose to be anonymous. It makes it easier for them. Especially if they’re donating from Mars, Venus, or the Outer System.]
[Do you have a public list of donors?] she asked. [I’d love to see who else is supporting your cause.]
[Numerous hypercorps support the reclaimation effort. None of them belonging to the PC, mind you, but more than a few on Luna. We have a couple of independent lunar banks, too. Here’s a list of our public donors, both past and present.]
Anjali opened up the list, running through them.
It was no surprise to her, then, when she spotted Sine Financials among them.
Chromatophores were pigment-containing, light-reflecting cells. They contained pigments in their outer layers; with the cells layered under a transparent skin so that xanthopores and erythrophores were on the top layer, with iridophores and guanophores below that, and melanophores in the deepest layers. Her wings likewise contained similar structures; while they normally resembled the structure of a blue and yellow Macaw, she could just as easily have them change colors, too, as well as her hair, although that process was far more complicated than just triggering the release of various colored cells through signaling. The primary use of these was for showing off – that is, if she was bored of being tan she could be purple or blue, or yellow and red with green stripes. Others got nanotattoos for that purpose. She wanted to be different.
The secondary benefit was having built-in camouflage.
[They likely have those numbers behind lock and key, Anjali,] Firefly said, as she approached the building again. She stretched her wings, looking around to make sure she was alone. When she was sure she was alone, she kicked off the boots in the alley behind the office, and positioned herself beside the door. Some sort of security system, but knew that she didn’t have to worry about nanoswarms – Lunars were too paranoid about thos.
She reached the door, and produced her multi-tool, which was connected to a small chain around her wrist; the only thing not camouflaged. The door leading into the back was protected by a biometric code, but it turned out that wasn’t too difficult to spoof; after several attempts she’d unlocked it and was standing inside of the room.
Somewhere around here were external servers. She just had to find them.
It was a matter of looking around for several minutes, and using her multitool to break through several locks. It was the fifth lock, in a part of the office that was not far from the waiting room that she’d been, where she found the servers.
[Bull’s-eye,] she said, crouching down. She flipped open her multitool and pulled open her ecto, tugging a small wire from the device and plugging it in into one of the ecto ports. After a few seconds and with the help of her muse, she’d circumvented the password and was inside of the system.
A whole world of information was open to her now. As she sifted through the databanks, she scanned and downloaded the finances files; copying over whole folders and sub-folders of the drive to her ecto, where it was sent to her cortical computer. As she did that, her muse started sifting through them, looking for relevant documents with a key-word search.
When she was done with that server, the list of successes appeared in her AR.
[We have an incomplete list of donors,] her muse said. [Including anonymous corporate donors.]
She unplugged her echo. [Largest one?]
[Known supports of the Reclaimer cause… except for Omnicor. Which isn’t donating a lot, but has been donating regularly.]
Anjali pursed her lips. She’d suss out what that meant later, when she wasn’t standing naked in the middle of a server room. She didn’t worry too much about her wings; they’d folded up tightly against her back, but it was taking a lot to make sure they stayed that way.
She stood up, the multitool and her ecto inside of it dangling from around her wrist.
She crept into the hallway, pausing. She could hear footfalls from elsewhere in the building, and they weren’t her echo.
[Not alone,] she said, looking around for another quick exit. Her chromatophores were assisted by the darkness; if light hit her directly, there would be no way that they could possibly miss her. It also didn’t assist her any at all if they were looking in any spectrum beyond visible.
As the possibility of that hit her, she realized that she’d forgotten the cameras. While it wasn’t likely they had quantum dot cameras, she would be shocked if their cameras were restrained just to the visible spectrum; she looked around and started to hack into the mesh again, while keeping her eye on the corner.
After a few seconds, she was into the network. She hadn’t triggered anything, and began trying to get about accessing the cameras. The systems were slaved in a hierarchical order, but the way it was designed was so complicated that she would have to hunt through each of the device folders before she found the right one. It seemed like it would take forever.
She was trembling, but she swallowed and told herself to keep her cool. This would be over soon.
A case appeared around the corner. It was casually walking along, scanning the floor and walls as it did so. It was likely some type of security; she looked around paused by the door, waiting for the case to pause. It stood there and then looked inside of the room, peering in. It noticed the open doors to the large server rack and walked over to investigate; while it did that, Anjali slowly slipped around the corner and back into the hallway. From there, she ran along the floor – her bare feet making less of a noise than any boot or shoe that she would wear, although there were soft shoes that could eliminate that sound profile all together – and managed to get access to the cameras. A second or so later, she was erasing herself from the cameras, deleting footage, and not caring about how destructive she was being.
She came to a stop again at the end of the hallway, and spotted another case. This one seemed to be on its guard, with a shock baton drawn.
They didn’t have very good security.
She carefully slipped around a corner to get away from it, finishing her hacking on the cameras and then breaking connection with that mesh. She reached a window and set to work on breaking the lock, climbing out through it once the lock was broken and she was able to push it open. The fall looked steep, but she was able to glide to the bottom of the hill, and landed there with a soft thud. Her heart was racing against her chest, and her legs were trembling so badly that she almost couldn’t make it over the street and into the park, where she shifted her chromatophores again to become partially visible, with patterns over her lower abdomen and chest to make it appear as if she were wearing clothing.
She stretched her wings and collapsed backwards, looking at the building.
[We probably shouldn’t be sitting around,] Firefly said.
[Give me a second,] Anjali replied. [I’m… I’m trying to collect myself.]
She stood up when she was ready, jumping from that park to a park on a lower tier, and then walking along the sidewalk towards the street itself, where several cars drove past. The jacket and boots she’d left behind weren’t hers, so they would never trace them back to her. As she slowed her walk, she stretched and laughed, flapping her wings.
[We got it,] Firefly said.
[Yes we did,] Anjali laughed, taking to the air. She couldn’t wait to get home, shower, and then sleep for a few hours before moving into whatever happened next.
The donor list revealed a lot. Names that she didn’t recognize until she started digging appeared on the list, with Omnicor being just the tip of the iceberg. Locked under ultrasecure lock and key, deep in the files and encrypted several different times, were the big name donors: Omnicor was the only public one. Non-public ones included a very large donation from Cognite.
The recipients of the donations were also on the list, including one mysterious donation of a rather large sum of money heading in the general direction of Mars. Not helping any was that she didn’t know enough to fully interpret what was going on, and didn’t have anyone that she could call on to try and help her understand it without actively tipping them off.
She flopped backwards on seat, and then lay on her stomach, stretching her wings out and flapping them gently.
[This didn’t help as much as I thought it would,] Anjali told her muse.
[Cheer up, Anjali,] her muse said. [We know where they’re sending money too, and we know that he donated a large sum of money to the Reclaimer cause, so he was involved with the Relcaimers.]
Anjali rolled over, the sunlight filtering through into the sunroof and washing over her naked skin. She closed her eyes.
[I’m confused,] she said. [We learned where part of that money went. We didn’t learn where he went.]
[Well, a lot of the money he sent went to Binh Tranh, by his own request.]
[Binh Tranh? Is that Vietnamese?]
[It is,] Firefly said.
Anjali kept her eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of the sun on her bare skin. She unconsciously activated the chromatophores, her skin turning a bright pink, before shifting slowly into a darker red and then purplish blue.
[Is that like Vo Nguyen?] Anjali asked. [Firefly, I don’t know anything about Vo Nguyen. Bring up information on it.]
[Of course. Would you like cross-referenced information about Binh Tranh, too?]
While Firefly did that, Anjali’s mind drifted. She was daydreaming about a life she didn’t remember on Earth, comparing it to the life she had now. The last few days had been an exercise in trying to remember what it had been like before the Fall; Kaede had helped jumpstart her memories, but she still had a lot she didn’t remember. What could possibly compare to her life now, on the moon, with the wings of an angel and the body of one, too?
She had to inch herself back into place, keeping her eye shut.
[Anjali. I found something interesting,] Firefly said. [While scanning through the blogs today, I learned about an individual who did an interview with one of Kondratiev’s students.]
[How old is it?] Anjali asked.
[Updated this morning.]
Anjali sat up. [Where is it posted from?]
[I’m looking that up right now.]
Anjali stood up, as an unfamiliar looking woman peered around the entrance way. She smiled warmly; she was Japanese, but had blue eyes and blond hair with a slender build and rotating red and yellow nanotatoos that resembled Japanese Katakana.
“Kaede?” She asked, smiling broadly.
“What do you think?”
“You look gorgeous!” she said, hugging her. It felt good to hug flesh and blood, rather than steel and plastic.
“You’re warm,” Kaede said. “You’ve been sunning yourself.”
“Yeah,” Anjali said. “Where did you get the body from?”
“Nowhere. I always had it,” Kaede said. “I just put a mask over it.”
“Oh,” Anjali said. It still felt better than flesh and blood.
“Masking is old technology,” Kaede said. “Of course, finding someone to do it on Luna was a bit of a pain. I had to go off-planet to get it done.”
“I love it,” Anjali said. “You’re warm and soft.”
She smiled, pulling Kaede back into the sunroom. She sat on the bench that she’d been laying on, and Kaede sat down on a chair not far away.
“This is where you sun yourself?”
“Me or Chloe,” Anjali said.
“You have such a pretty morph,” Kaede said. “So, I brought something because I knew you were looking for K-Wave. I found it just this morning, and I thought maybe you would be interested. Rather than just send it, I figured I would deliver it in person.”
Anjali meshed up with Kaede, as Kaede shared a different link with her. It was the same story that Firefly had picked out, but it was from a different blog.
[The location is in Shackle,] Firefly said.
[Shackle,] Anjali said, looking over at Kaede. “Where did you find that?”
“I know the blogger personally,” Kaede said. “I brought it because I thought maybe you would want to speak with him yourself.”
Initially, Anjali wanted to send a fork over the mesh to meet with him. Travel between the cities on Luna was not a common thing, and one was greeted with layers and layers of security before they could even see the front gate and the security to get into the city. Kaede insisted, however, that they go in person; so Anjali relented.
Shackle was not nearly as beautiful as Erato was – at least, not until she saw the city of temples first hand. Hinduism and Indian culture seemed to have far more of an impact on Shackle than it did on Erato, and while she felt right at home in Erato, she fit right in in Shackle.
She walked beside Kaede. She wore a sari, leaving room in the back for her wings as she walked beside the Japanese-looking Kaede, who wore large brown pants, a tight top, and arm sleeves.
[So who is this guy? K-Wave was Russian, wasn’t he?]
[I think so,] Kaede said. [The name sounds Slavic, at least. This guy interviewed one of his students. His student still apparently lives here in Shackle.]
Anjali pursed her lips, looking around the city. Shackle was built inside of a series of interconnecting caverns, rather than one crater like Erato and New Nectar, and these tunnels were fairly large and easy to get lost in if one wasn’t paying attention to their AR. She stayed with Kaede as they worked their way through the heavily Indian population; it didn’t seem to matter where she turned, she heard Hindi or saw it on the large signs that hung beside the buildings in the narrow tunnels.
They entered another tunnel, and Anjali found herself looking at a large canal, some 500 meters wide, with crisp, clear water. She stopped and looked at it, and at the fish inside of it, and then looked further down the tunnel at the large, artificially stone-temples that lined the streets. Prayer banners ran between them, as did other colorful fabrics, on lines draping over the river. The buildings between the temples where nowhere near as ornate or beautiful, but the entire neighborhood was strikingly clean. The sidewalks were sterile white, the rails were lined with glass inserts separating them from the steps leading down the canal, and bridges spanned the two ends. The largest of the bridges had its own shops and things on it, resembling a small neighborhood unto itself. The temples were coated in platinum, electrum and gold, and were a blaze of color.
The conical, beehive shikhars towered above the streets, while other buildings consisted of progressively smaller pavilions, supported by columns or extravagant stone walls. They weren’t the tallest of the buildings, but it was still a surprise to see glass and metal foam shikhars – it was an innovative take on the Nagara and Dravidia architectural styles, standing in contrast with the more futuristic conical and circular office buildings and shop buildings downtown.
Amidst this blaze of color, thunder of activity, and the smell of curry and other food, there were hundreds of people lining the streets, buying various things.
[Welcome to New Varanasi, the city of temples.]
Anjali looked around. Erato was nothing like this. Erato was more modernist; it had a stronger Chinese and European influence. Here in Shackle, she didn’t just fit in; she could get lost. She looked over at Kaede, who tucked her hands into her pockets.
[Does he live here?] Anjali asked.
[He does,] Kaede said. [And I don’t think that it’ll take too long to find him, either.]
[He’s easy to find?]
[Should be,] Kaede said, as they started down the steps towards the main sidewalk. [Course, we all know how things like that pan out.]
Anjali nodded. Of course she did.