The Phoenix Duck

The sun rose over Market Harborough and glittered off the glazed towers of the regional police headquarters. Medway sipped a breakfast coffee in the staff canteen atop the largest tower, staring at the town bathed in the reflected dawn glaring off the police building. It was almost certainly accidental, but to Medway it said ‘we are watching you’.

"Ready to go?" Officer Jedman joined her without an invitation, her unofficial minder and guardian whilst she was in town.

"Scared." Blunt and true, a perfect summary of the moment. "There was a guy at Oxford, told me to see the shrink. I think I might have to do it – getting shot at all the time is starting to screw my head up."

"Comes with the job." Trite and simple... because he wasn’t there.

Fuck you. "Not when it happens every day. Ever seen anything like this?" <Medway: File transfer // evidence logs/visual+audio //>

The video stream lasted a few tens of seconds – a hazy view of rough meadow, the sound of ragged breathing and a faint, distant hammering rumble. Without warning the first helicopter roared into view, its companion close behind. Medway watched Jedman for a moment, as tendons tensed in his throat, then the memory of helicopters took over, bearing down on the watcher. She closed her eyes against the final moment – that made the images sharper – and the hail of bullets came in.

"Shit!"

Medway opened her eyes and stared at Jedman. Coffee dribbled over the side of the table, already splattered down his tunic and trousers. His chest was heaving, an involuntary reaction to the sudden stress.

"Gave me a fright," she conceded with a coldly calm voice. "It seemed like such a good idea. Wait until they were in range and then take my best shot. Never occurred to me that they might lock on to my own targeting radar. Wasn’t really thinking straight. Just wanted to get the bastards."

"Shit." Jedman started belatedly mopping coffee. "Give me some warning next time."

"No problem. Ever been shot at like that? Being shot at inside a police barracks looks trivial. That’s twice now that a helicopter tried to take me out."

"Yeah. Sorry." He was more shocked than apologetic. "Got some good news for you. Sort of. We have an ident on the chopper. Registered to Lilywhite Industries."

That name kept cropping up with suspicious regularity. "Consistent. The man I’m supposed to talk to works for Coriolis, a subsidiary of Lilywhite."

"What the hell is going on?" he demanded abruptly. "The whole story just gets crazier all the time. Helicopter gunships, cops being shot at, respectable companies implicated."

"Not much I’m allowed to say," Medway countered.

"OK..." He gave a her a long look, "You in a hurry to get on? Or will this man you’re after wait?"

Medway sensed a trade-off in the air. "The sooner the better."

"Could be a problem there." He nodded in an irritatingly knowing way. "Deputy Commissioner's on his way in. You’re not to leave until you explain everything to his satisfaction."

"You have an alternative?"

Jedman scratched his chin. "Well, things are still pretty screwed up. I could probably get you permission to depart – if you can convince me it’s serious enough."

Medway composed a quick précis of events and sent it. "Is that serious enough for you? Black-market cyber enhancements, major corporate fraud and ongoing attempts on the lives of police officers."

Jedman looked as shocked as when she had shown him the last moments against the helicopter. "The travel authorisation will take a few minutes to fix. I’ll have a word with control – one of the choppers probably ought to run a routine surveillance flight. North, maybe. Towards the motorway. Someone to watch your back. Traffic control is working almost all the way to Sheffield from here. Should be able to square it when the boss gets in."

"Thanks." Medway pulled out her supply of infocards and selected one. "I hope I don’t need this – but it should help you."

"What is it?" he asked, finding that it refused to respond to his queries.

"A full record and statement from the senior officer at Oxford. It will need a Commissioner's authorisation to read."

"Tell me, Medway. What are you like when you get angry?"

Lameduck was still operational – depending on your definition. The workshop had repaired or replaced most of the damaged antennae. It was far from perfect but good enough to give Medway a few seconds warning should another helicopter try to wipe her off the face of the earth.

Twenty minutes into the journey, the whole local traffic net magically came back to life. A few seconds later, the police comms net announced itself. Medway logged herself into the system and reviewed the general status. It was still strictly local with no scope to reach either Oxford or London, but it offered the hope that other systems would be coming back on line. There was an implication that the major net trunks were damaged – something which would be partially circumvented once the local nets patched together.

At the motorway, Medway let Lameduck take charge – manual driving would be faster, but the traffic nets were back on, and Lameduck’s automation was currently sufficient, so she let it drive and caught up on more sleep.

When Lameduck trumpeted a warning, she snapped awake.

“What?” Her heart was thundering. “Helicopters?” Hands suddenly sweaty. “Engage emergency... wait... what the...?” There was a small convoy travelling in the opposite direction, a single large car with a half-dozen outriders, armoured personnel carrier in the lead and its own aerial support. “Who the hell is that?” Someone rich and important was on the move and taking no chances. “Shit...”

<Medway: Did you get any snaps?>

<Lameduck: Relative speeds were high. Vehicle transponders gave no ident. //images//>

Medway reviewed the blurred pictures and then ran an enhancement routine over a shot of the troop vehicle. There was a logo smeared along the side which slowly sharpened up as the software massaged the jumbled data.

"Lilywhite." The image was still rough, but now intelligible. She tapped into the police net which told her nothing.

<Sheffield control: Unauthorised access. Identification required.>

Medway blinked and checked the time. She had come further than she realised. <Medway: Officer Lianne Medway.> She sent the précis she had done for Jedman.

<Sheffield control: Do not attempt to transfer your vehicle to manual drive.>

There was no explanation, just a generic threat. Lameduck drove on unperturbed, not even announcing any sort of warning when a pair of helicopters took up station overhead. Medway looked heard the clatter of rotors...

“Shit...” Close enough they couldn’t miss. “Lameduck... emergency...” So close she could see the police decals. “Shit...” Medway froze – a dangerous habit to get into. Lameduck had no working cameras that could look upwards and she craned her head, squinting through the windows. “Confirm ident, Lameduck... shit... “ <Medway: Confirm ident. Confirm... Lameduck...> No hail of ammunition... nothing... no threat...

<Lameduck: Aerial police units assigned to escort. Ident confirmed.>

“Right.” The local force were just being very careful. “Thanks. Great.” She was happy to have them up there, watching over her. Really. “Shit...” Adrenalin-pumping happy.

They kept pace as Lameduck diverted off the motorway and then in towards Sheffield. On the outskirts Lameduck diverted again and slowed as the route took them into the hills. By the time the aerial monitoring peeled off, Medway had forgotten that they were there.

The South Yorkshire regional headquarters were tucked into a picturesque piece of the dales, buried into the hills, minimising the visual intrusion – aside from the airfield for a fleet of aerial support vehicles.

Lameduck headed for one of the many wide vehicle entrances and parked in a vacant slot. There was a reception committee waiting for her – and not a gun in sight. The last time she had seen so many uniforms with so much brass and braid was at her graduation parade. The Deputy Commissioner was at the front of the party, a greying woman walking towards Lameduck with a faint limp. Another ex-cybercop. For once in her career, Medway was sufficiently awed not to run a quick scan to see if it was another prosthetic – being sassy with sergeants like Porson was different from tangling with a Deputy Commissioner. In the background were two police transports, crammed with armoured figures.

"Sorry about the reception, Medway," the woman said bluntly. "Managed to get a link through to Oxford ten minutes ago." She eyed up Lameduck. "Unless you need a new car you can be on your way without delay."

"Lameduck will do fine, Ma’am."

There was a brief burst of radar activity from the woman – not many chief officers would still wear their sensornets. "It’s a heap of shit, Medway – but it brought you this far. You can give Superintendent Renton a lift." A nasty smile crept over her face for a second. "Events have overtaken you, Medway, but you might as well finish the job. Someone at Coriolis has been planting bombs and assaulting people – a guy called Elsworth. Is that the suspect you came looking for?"

"Yes, Ma’am."

"Superintendent Renton is going to head the investigation." The Deputy Commissioner turned to a short, immaculately groomed man. "Sort it out, Bill. Medway can have whatever is left of Elsworth." She turned her attention back to Medway. "Your record shows a history of pissing people off. We have a major, high-profile company with problems which need delicate and diplomatic handling...” The polished tones of a deputy commissioner hardened into front-line cybercop. “We also have some bloody nutter running loose. Superintendent Renton will see to the smooth running of the diplomatic aspects." She gestured briefly at the two bus-loads of cybercops. "I’m sending backup with you. The information from Oxford indicates that this is more than just a local disturbance."

"Thanks, Ma’am."

Medway turned back to Lameduck and caught a brief whisper between the Chief and Renton. "Keep it smooth, Bill, but any hint of trouble – shoot first. I don’t want our people coming back with holes in."

Renton got in. "Will this heap make it, Medway?"

"Got this far, sir."

He grunted. "Drive on. Better yet, put this thing on auto and listen carefully."

"Yes, sir."

"We are going into a place called Coriolis. We’ve never had trouble there before. The chief executive is a personal friend of mine, and of the Deputy Commissioner for that matter."

"I’ll try not to upset him, sir." Medway suspected that the Deputy Commissioner didn’t care one way or another, not the sort of officer to let a friendship get between her and her duty.

"Won’t have to. Already as pissed off as is possible. I spoke to him earlier. The comms are coming back on line and the great man Lilywhite has placed one of his own hacks in charge until things are sorted." Renton had a brief mutter about the proper way to do things. "Until she decides to go back to London, we have to deal with Acting-Director, Senior Vice-Bitch, Miss Clare Farral."

“Fuck.” It was fortunate that Lameduck was doing the driving. "What the hell is she doing here?" Suspicions and coincidences piled higher.

"You know her?" Renton was surprised. "Didn’t think you worked in such exalted circles. She was here as Executive Assistant to one of the Lilywhite directors. What do you know about her?"

Medway debated and then edited carefully. It would be interesting to see Renton’s reaction to being told that Clare Farral appeared to have gone from gutter-trash to senior corporate executive over night – a pleasure that would have to wait until it was necessary.

"Very capable…" How many people could have talked a cybercop into letting a suspect polish her nodes? "Unconventional. She was a personal friend of Kyla Chamile." Not necessarily a high commendation – most of Kyla’s recent associates had been crooks and whores.

"The murdered cop? Is there a significant connection?" Renton accessed the net for a moment. "The attack on your car. Lilywhite has issued an apology – you were mistaken for a hostile group responsible for destroying their Reading comms hub. They believed that you were going to threaten Miss Farral and Director Critchley."

Medway shook her head. "Bollocks. That assault chopper knew they were hunting a cop. They pulled every trick to get me to identify myself – the sort of thing to make a cop stand out like a beacon. Lilywhite is in this shit up to his eyeballs."

"You will refrain from making wild accusations like that, Medway." Renton turned briefly pompous and diplomatic.. "Lilywhite could do the police service a great deal of harm." His voice hardened. "Unless you find some solid evidence, then we’ll roast him alive."

"I’ll deliver his balls on a skewer if I can," she promised.

"Something less colourful would be better," he grumbled, then muttered under his breath, "I can see why the Chief likes you."

Medway managed not to smile.

# # #

Clare woke up and blinked twice before her prosthetic eye came on line properly. Roland Tiggles was standing over her, next to the young nurse who had prepared her for surgery the day before. The previous distance in her attitude had become a wary caution.

"What’s going on, Tiggles?" she demanded thickly. "I assume Una’s fine. If the bomb did much damage I would hurt a lot worse."

"All sorted," Tiggles assured her. "That was the only bomb."

"Phil?"

He shrugged. "Elsworth has vanished. We have... underestimated him. He killed Doctor Cranfield last night."

"Bastard…" She had liked Toby Cranfield. "How?"

"No idea." Tiggles looked uncomfortable. "Looks like an accident – but the coincidence is too much. We’re assuming it’s murder and trying to prove it. The boss called in the police an hour or two back – on your behalf. They’re just coming through reception now."

Clare climbed out of the bed with only the numbvest on and ignored him as she sorted through a neat pile of clothes. Someone had brought her business suits in.

"Smart gear. For me?" Tiggles said nothing. "Something important going on..."

"You’re in charge," Tiggles said warily. "The nets are coming back on line. Lilywhite told the boss that you were in charge until you say different."

"In charge?" She dropped a blouse on the floor and swore at it. "As in – the boss?” That was what he said, right? No-one poked my ears out while I was sleeping... “As in... what the fuck?"

"Yes, Miss Farral. Director Farral." His tone of voice said he was sure his actions the previous night must have made up for his less than enthusiastic initial response to her first contact.

"Calder ordered it?" Crazy. I am the boss! What do I do now? And how to do I put my knickers on without help?

Tiggles swallowed. "General broadcast to all terminals. I think the chief exec had his notification first."

“What a way to start the day.” Clare stared at Tiggles – could you just help me with my underwear? No. Definitely not. “So...” I am the boss! The sudden promotion was entirely consistent with the way her life had gone to pieces in the last few days. Shit came out of nowhere. "Oh… damn." Posh business clothes were there for a reason. "Shit… I have to meet the police…"

"Yes, Miss... Director Farral."

"Nice to know that Calder has such faith in me." She chose the plainest of the skirts – easy to put on – and the flattest shoes. “Black or white?” Two similar pairs of knickers hung from her fingers and Tiggles gave her a look that craved body-armour and gun-fire. “Never mind. Underwear is over-rated. It’s not going to be that sort of police interview.” She put the skirt on and shoved her feet into the shoes. "How long have I got? I’m bloody hungry." The numbvest was too bulky to fit under any of the formal blouses. "What do you think?" She patted the outer shell. "Too minimalist? The new thing? Interesting fashion statement? The future of business-wear?"

"Breakfast will be waiting in the director’s reception suite," he offered. "I can take you there now." He glanced at the discarded clothes. "Anything else you want?"

"Another night’s sleep, a shower and a good shag – not necessarily in that order." She kicked the door when it opened too slowly. "Anything else I should know? I assume that Lilywhite only put me in charge to make sure someone sorts Phil."

Tiggles hurried after her. "Director Critchley left earlier. A combat escort arrived and took him back to London."

"Just as well. Calder can keep him safe there."

"Miela – the operator – she went with him. Director Critchley agreed that she was probably in danger."

"Funny. I thought Bob couldn’t stand her."

"He looked uncomfortable," Tiggles agreed, leading her into a generous conference room which opened out to a glazed terrace, populated with low tables and comfortable chairs. At the far end of the room, a pair of auto-chefs were parking themselves, trailing the most tempting odours of bacon, coffee and hot pancakes. "Breakfast…"

Clare put together a cholesterol time bomb and tucked in. The conference table doubled as a dining table – they could worry about the ketchup stains later. She was busily wolfing down pancakes and maple syrup when Superintendent Renton was escorted in.

"Miss Farral?" he enquired dubiously.

Clare stood awkwardly, grateful that Tiggles stepped in and helped her. "That’s me," she assured him, offering a very sticky hand.

Her smile blossomed. "Officer Medway! Didn’t expect to see you here. How are you? How’s Jaz?"

"Miss Farral," Medway acknowledged cautiously, thrown by the welcome. "I didn’t expect to be here. I came looking for a Doctor Elsworth."

"Aren’t we all," Clare grumbled. "Any special reason? Or did you get transferred up here?"

"I’ve followed his trail from Oxford," Medway replied, very formal. Very official-sounding.

Clare shrugged as far as the numbvest permitted. "When was he in Oxford? I thought the bastard was too busy causing trouble up here."

"He gets around," Medway told her bluntly, obviously trying not to glance at the auto-chefs too often. "I think he is involved in Kyla’s death – and the bastards who shot me and Jaz."

Clare’s face hardened. "Doesn’t surprise me. Come in. Sit down." She waved to the corner. "Coffee and breakfast over there."

Renton cleared his throat. "Perhaps if you could clarify why you called us?"

"How the fuck should I know?" Clare took an instant dislike to the urbane police officer. "I’ve had a rough twenty-four hours...” Was the new Director Farral supposed to play nice, or hit hard? “They only just woke me up." She glanced at Medway – no hint there either way. "If you get to Phil before I do, could you make sure he dies a slow, painful death?"

"That would be unprofessional." Medway kept it straight, but there was a different answer in her eyes.

Clare sat down and took another bite of breakfast before continuing, "OK. Here it is. I’ll give you the potted history up until the point I passed out last night. Roland can tell you the rest. Looks like he was up while I was sleeping."

Renton listened with an appearance of perfect patience whilst Medway fidgeted until the smell of food overrode everything else and she crossed to the auto-chef. Clare winked at her without Renton noticing and carried on with her rendition of Elsworth's crimes. The final minutes, wrestling with bomb and pain, she skipped lightly over. The micro-fabricators were now no more than a faint tingle beneath the numbvest.

"You dismantled the bomb?" Medway asked for clarification. She gathered herself a generous second breakfast, ignoring the obvious disapproval from Renton.

"Yeah."

"Fucking stupid."

Clare refused to grin at the sharp stare from Renton. "True. There were good reasons. Roland, tell them the rest. I’ll finish my breakfast. And Officer Medway... That’s ‘fucking stupid, Director’."

Clare listened to the thrilling details of securing the area after someone pumped her full of drugs – Tiggles and his team searching for further devices, attempting to track Phil and generally behaving like security personnel. Renton nodded with approval; the only interest from Medway was when Tiggles mentioned blowing the pharmacy doors to get an anaesthetic pack for the numbvest.

"So there was no real need to call you in at all," Clare summarised for Renton. "Probably just the poor sod I supplanted being an arsehole and covering every angle. Still, you might as well do your stuff. No telling what other little surprises Phil might have left."

Renton stiffened at her disparaging tone, and the reference to his friend the chief executive. "We will do our best. There are other matters of concern. Attempts have been made on Officer Medway’s life and those attempts have been linked to Lilywhite."

Clare stared hard at Renton, glanced briefly at Medway and then asked very carefully, "What sort of attempts?"

"A Lilywhite helicopter tried to blow me away," Medway said calmly, bottling up a resurgence of grim memory. The replay was perfect, helicopter lifting into view and the hail of bullets rattling down. She sat back in the chair as if the impacts were real. "There were significant civilian fatalities."

"Oh." Clare scrubbed a patch of the table with her thumb, scrutinising the spot intently. "Not good." She looked up and met Renton’s eyes. "Another hint that things are not well with Lilywhite. My personal ah... surgical experience was never authorised by Calder but Phil had what looked like a valid set of authorisations."

"As the Lilywhite representative here, I expect you to assist our enquiries into this matter," Renton told her formally.

Clare shrugged. "I don’t suppose I shall be here long."

"How long do you intend to stay?" he demanded sharply.

The obvious answer should have been: until this is sorted out. That’s what a proper corporate executive would do, but Clare wasn’t in the mood to play the Corporate Game, and that wasn’t why Calder sent her... "Until I see Phil’s balls nailed to the wall, or I find out where he went next."

"Any guesses?" Medway prompted, still chewing.

"No. He’s an unpredictable bastard. If I had to lay money on it… Lilywhite. He’ll go to London. There’s nothing left to do here… and he’ll want to have another crack at Bob Critchley." And Miela. "That has to have been the whole point. Take out Bob and Lilywhite."

"This Bob is one of the Lilywhite divisional directors as I understand," Renton offered for confirmation.

"Lilywhite’s expert in cyberwar," Clare amended. "Possibly the difference between winning or losing the next round."

The superintendent was shocked. "Next round?"

“Next round. Yes.” Of course there was a next round....it was so obvious. “Anyone can see that.” Even if Clare had only figured it out in that moment. “It’s time I talked to Una, There was something it wanted to tell me before everything went to pieces. Probably about Phil." She stood up and brushed stray breakfast from the numbvest. "Just talk amongst yourselves for a while. I’ll be back soon. Roland can sort out all the arrangements and things."

"What did you mean by next round?" Renton demanded.

She stared at him, getting close to her intended look – are you really that stupid? "Did you think that was it? The war’s only just begun. Opening shots. Testing the defences."

Clare walked out as fast as she could – whilst the numbvest blocked the pain, it also caused mobility problems.

<Medway: I’ll stay with her.>

Renton was momentarily at a loss. <Confirmed.>

Medway hurried after Clare, catching up with her just outside the door. "You meant that? About another cyberwar?"

Clare kept walking. "Of course. Phil Elsworth is in this up to his artificial eyeballs – so if he’s still on the loose…"

"And you have no idea where he went?"

"No," Clare said as they reached the lift. "But with the facilities here and everything else that Lilywhite has, the chances of catching the bastard must be reasonable."

"Can Lilywhite be trusted?" Medway homed in on her biggest and most personal worry. "All the trails lead back there. And out from there. Someone tried to kill me on the way here – a gorewar team from Lilywhite."

"Doesn’t surprise me." Clare tapped her foot impatiently – the lift was slow, data was slow, everything conspiring to get between her and Phil. "No, I don’t think that Lilywhite can be trusted – the company rather than the man. Something not right." She hesitated and then, "Come on. You might as well meet Una." The doors shut. "Phil had valid authorisation for my enhancements. Good enough to fool Doctor Cranfield – I think they were probably genuine. The only problem is, Calder Lilywhite agreed a code with me to say whether or not he had given permission." She leant back against the wall of the lift, a wry smile on her face. "I know it’s crazy, but I sort of trust him. Calder and Emily are an odd pair, but very reliable."

"But someone down there is playing for someone else?"

The lift stopped and Clare stepped out. "There are three people that I think matter down there. Calder is a bit aloof, very rich and I trust him – with my life I suppose. Emily is weird and – well I won’t weep at her funeral – but she got everything sorted out when I came up here. And then there’s Bob Critchley. A complete arsehole, but very bright and utterly loyal. I wouldn’t trust him with anything – except being straight."

"Doesn’t narrow the field much," Medway complained.

The doors to Una were now defended by a pair of armoured security guards. They waved Clare through quite happily, but stared suspiciously at Medway.

"Officer Medway is with me." Clare strode in – that was the way of things, either keep out of sight, or look like you own the place. “Keep up...”

"He’s checking," Medway muttered as they walked through. Clare glanced at her in surprise – how do you know?. "My sensornet – picks up the transmissions."

Clare patted the numbvest. "None of my stuff is turned on yet. Phil played a merry dance on it, but I can’t get anything out of it since."

"Won’t make a lot of difference." Medway briefly scanned the implants. "Conventional commercial model. You’ll need a few months and some expert tuition to use it properly."

"You might be right about the time and training," Clare said firmly, "But I don’t think they put in anything conventional."

"I can tell you the model number. Give me a few minutes and I can even find the boot codes to start them up for you – for all the good it will do."

Clare stood still. "These model numbers – how did you get them?"

"Standard query. All commercial nodes recognise a basic command to announce themselves."

"So if someone had top of the range military hardware and wanted to hide it, then the nodes could be designed to mimic a standard commercial device?"

"I suppose so..."

"The processor arrays they were fitting were supposed to be experimental. Not so much top of the range, as what the smart cyber will be processing with next year." The range of possibilities was enormous. "Una? Can you confirm the hardware they installed in me?"

"Those records have been erased," Una replied, startling Medway. "The conjecture is offered that only Doctor Elsworth or Doctor Cranfield would know."

"One missing, one dead," Medway said. "So what does it mean?"

"Phil has left something nasty hiding in my processors." Clare skipped a few steps in the logic and leapt for the intuitive solution, feet first. "He expects me to go back to Lilywhite and trash the systems there. Somehow."

"Real evidence would be nice."

Clare nodded, rubbing the undersides of her breasts through the numbvest – wasn’t there some old quote about serpents lurking or thorns pricking? Medway unconsciously mimicked the action, tracing the site of her bullet wounds.

"Una? Can you boot my processors?"

"The codes are readily available," the computer answered.

"Do it."

The virtual screen unfolded in her head as the processors came on line. The initialisation diagnostics meant nothing but when the screen settled there were four complex icons floating in a sea of mottled blue. The faintest hint of curiosity on Clare’s part about one icon brought it forward to fill the screen. A naked blonde – lithe and buxom – danced a brief, erotic routine to pulsing music which came out of nowhere.

<Farral: Hi, Una.> It was a while since she had seen her net rep in all its glorious animation. She knew that it was purely computer generated, but the initial illusion of it being Emily Lilywhite was overwhelming. A little concentration and the final static frame surrendered a copyright notice, confirming that it really was done with the EroTech software.

<Una: This system is non-standard. Analysis proceeding. Proxy packages released and active.>

The icon shrank, giving Clare the opportunity to inspect the others. One was her optical processor, another the top level of her own systems and the third was a simple request for access from Medway. Clare let her in.

<Farral: Welcome to my head.> "So, anything interesting in there, Una?"

"Vast capacity. Heavy usage." The machine was silent for several seconds, its proxy packages rifling through her head… breasts. An explosion of data spewed across multiple displays, quiescent operator interfaces jiggled in the air – the nearest that Una could get to expressing frustration. "Bandwidth on this connection is poor. Your implants are significantly superior in comparison to the standard military specification. I find a level of feedback through the cortical interface which is beyond the capabilities of any commercially available system on file. There is no indication of aggressive systems."

"So, you are not a cyber weapon aimed at Lilywhite," Medway concluded.

"The systems are too complex to state that with certainty," Una amended.

The screen in Clare’s head cleared until only her own system and the optical processor were shown. Her digitally enhanced mind was her own again, for all the good it did.

"Phil is a clever bastard – could have buried something deep," Clare warned, but she was relieved that her intuition was probably wrong. "So, tell me about Phil’s other calls."

"I would prefer to talk alone," Una replied.

"You can trust Officer Medway," Clare said evenly. "She came here hunting Phil for other crimes."

There was a long silence before Una responded. "Doctor Elsworth had regular communication with a source called The Digital Tart."

"Shit…" Medway looked briefly embarrassed by her outburst. "Someone else I have an interest in."

Clare sat down at Miela’s terminal, ignoring the trailing connections above her head. "Who is the Digital Tart? The name is… very similar to one of the Lilywhite operations."

"I am aware of that," Medway said bluntly. "Another reason for concern. The name ‘Digital Tart’ is all we know about a criminal figure – or a group of people. The Digital Tart is linked to Kyla’s murder and the illegal activities at CyberLine. Now it’s thoroughly tied in with Elsworth."

"The comms sources for the Digital Tart were always different," Una offered. "I was primarily monitoring Doctor Elsworth. His mastery over net security was significant and offered an excellent opportunity to evaluate my stealth monitoring functions."

"So you monitored DigiTart on Miela’s advice. Phil was on your own… initiative?"

"You have erroneous information," Una cautioned. "It was not feasible to warn you at the time. I had no option and allowed you to believe that the DigiTart monitoring was devised by Miela. The original proposal was made by Doctor Elsworth."

"He set it all up. Bastard." Clare reined in – Medway was staring at her. "I’ll explain later. Una? Can you tell me what Phil discussed with the Digital Tart?"

"The discussions were complex and covered many topics. Often heavily encrypted."

"Did you break the codes?"

"That was not possible," Una said with a good simulation of apology. "I could never have concealed the processor usage. I was already concerned about Doctor Elsworth. I am more adept at such things now."

"Was there any mention of attacks on Coriolis or Lilywhite?"

Another long pause. "This is outside of my primary functions," the computer warned. "Mention was made of financial damage and hostile take-over. The subject of the conversation was not my primary concern. It was an exercise in stealth monitoring and data-source tracing."

"Did you trace the Digital Tart?"

"A different physical source was used on each occasion."

"Not a lot of use," Medway said grimly. "Were the sources even in the same general area?"

"All within London," Una confirmed.

"Miela lied," Clare said abruptly. "She claimed the DigiTart monitoring was her idea." She stepped away from Miela’s terminal. "And she went to London with Bob. Is she a player in this shit?"

"She might not have remembered that it was Doctor Elsworth’s idea," Medway suggested. "It might have been a genuine mistake."

"That is not likely." Una confirmed Clare's suspicions, a hint of triumph, almost appropriate to the moment. "The topic was discussed at some length. Miela thought that it was a pointless and trivial task. She argued against it."

"Bollocks." Clare was furious over missed opportunities. "Should have wired the bitch up to Una while she was going through the break-fever. Might have given Una a chance to go digging and tell me."

Medway shuddered at the mention of break-fever. "So she lied…."

"Miela is a part of… it. Shit…" Clare hammered her fist on the terminal, triggering random text on the display. "I have to warn… Shit. Can't trust the comms, can I? I have to get back to London."

"London," Medway agreed. "Both of us."

Clare laughed. "So, I get to be in charge of Coriolis for a few hours and I’m only awake for the last one. Shit. Still... I've got time for another breakfast. It will take a while to sort out transport."

"I would be happy to oblige," Medway offered innocently. "My orders cover following leads on Philip Elsworth."

"Great. I’ll go grab food and break the good news... I’m sure they’ll be glad to see the back of me. I just want to make sure I have some spare anaesthetic cartridges for this numbvest."

"Don't hang around," Medway muttered. "I want to nail that bastard Phil Elsworth."

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