Visionary took a sip of her coffee, and quickly put it down on the table. It was lukewarm already, neglected from the constant attention she gave to her laptop. She’d been scrying her laptop relentlessly for half an hour, studying reports and documents that she’d dredged from internal archives. Several of them were on the most recent crime that she had attended with her newly formed team. One document was the details of the collateral damage incurred from the fight, as well as a detailed analysis of the animals that had been stolen from the laboratory. No less than 5 dogs, 6 cats and 11 mice that had been Fartouched were missing.
Another report detailed about a recent raid on the Ten Grander’s base by two Containment Squads; the teams were more than well equipped with technology that Artifex had pushed past the testing phase. Fatigue Rays, which hit the target with a concussive bolt of energy, sapped the energy from the target until they were too tired to fight and collapsed from exhaustion. They wore ear buds that relayed only what the other members of the team spoke, to counter Candour’s ability to lie and stop them, and they wore special goggles that blocked out everything but the view of their cameras to minimise Flare’s chances to blind them. She had instead just blinded them through their goggles, and their crew absconded. The animals were nowhere to be sign, though there were signs that they’d been living on one of the levels with Alpha.
Jolly was back up after his defeat. Initial NFU assessments did assume him as as having a healing factor of some kind, and this seemed to verify it. Recent underground activity that has been spotted or put on social media indicate that Jolly is sending his men after Flare, or at least pushing deeply into the direction of wherever she seems to be hiding. Beside that, Visionary had another report of the kind of ‘examples’ that Jolly did to people that crossed him. Each one an incredibly brutal display of force. At a bare minimum, they were hospitalised for months.
The scent of freshly cooked breakfast snapped her out of her trance. Not that she wasn’t aware of what was going on around her; Visionary of all people could boast some degree of constant awareness to her surroundings. It was who was carrying it and put it on her table.
She folded the laptop over and saw Jason sliding a fresh mug of coffee over, beside the one she’d not managed to drink. He was armoured, though he’d elected to keep his helmet off for the time being.
“You could probably use a top up.” He said. She smiled and took a sip, nodding thoughtfully afterwards.
“Thank you.” Her eyes flicked down, almost so quick that Jason didn’t catch her spying his breakfast. He had double of everything you could get: toast, bacon, grilled tomatoes, fried eggs, mushrooms, hash browns, lots of beans. “Cheat day?”
Jason grinned, before starting to make an impressively stacked breakfast sandwich, using his toast and bacon to start with. “Cheat day. Used to be Saturday, now it’s Wednesday. As long as my macros are fine.”
“You and your macros.” She takes another sip, then slides her laptop to the side. “How did it go yesterday?”
“Fine. Really well. Artifex was still Artifex, but he seemed to like the kid.”
“And his side project?”
“Nearly complete.” He was cutting up some eggs now, making sure they fit on his sandwich. “I have my doubts he can mass produce them. He’s made miracles happen before though.”
“The status quo is fine then.” Visionary puts her hands together, interlocking her fingers.
“Looks like it. How’s the girl doing?”
“She’s doing well. She’s experienced with her powers. Another week and she’ll be ready, I imagine.”
Jason sliced up his newly made sandwich and began eating, though once it had been made he didn’t seem to make another and just started to eat whatever was on his plate. “You have skills, fire power, flexibility. She’d add some utility.”
Visionary nodded, and took this moment to take another sip of her coffee. She put her mug down and used it to nudge the other one out of the way, off to the side of the table.
“How’s everything at home?”
“Home?” Jason said. A smile crept over his face. “You don’t normally ask.”
“I thought I’d show an interest.” Visionary smiled politely.
“That’s awfully kind of you.” Jason put down his fork for the moment. “Home’s going okay. I work a lot. When I don’t, I’m in the gym or talking to my old squad. Share a few beers, watch the footie.”
“Oh.” She said. She was at least good at feigning some sort of dull surprise. “Quite ordinary, then.”
“I’m not unpredictable.” He pinched his fork between index finger and thumb and began collecting food onto it. “What about you?”
“My parents are still deciding if they want to move back to China or not. I think they’re not going back because of me.”
“What makes you think that?” Jason pointed his knife at her.
“My dad thinks I should be married by now. They’re somewhat traditional in many senses. Me moving out shocked them, but they accepted it. Deep down I know they want me to marry, have children, but they know it might not happen any time soon.”
“I have too much work to do.” She smiled softly. “I don’t feel like I’m ready yet. I never really have done. On top of that, this work is dangerous. I wouldn’t want them to worry about me. I don’t know how much my parents have influenced this decision, truthfully.”
Jason nods slowly. “I know. I’ve always had a military background in my family. I think the proudest day of my dad’s life was when I managed to get into the SAS.”
“And after that you joined the NFU, right?”
“Mmhmm.” Jason took a big swig of tea whilst humming. “That’s pretty much it. Been a fighter my entire life. I might not get everything about Farborn, Fartouched. I know where I can make a difference though.”
Visionary’s eyes darted down for a second, still smiling and acknowledging the conversation. “We’re not that complicated, when you get down to it.”
“Maybe the powers aren’t. If you’re telling me you’re not complicated, I’d disagree with you.”
“Oh? You think I’m complicated?”
“I think I can’t tell if you are or not. Sage rubs off on you, but there’s more to you than you seem to let on.”
Her smile goes wider. She doesn’t respond initially.
“Not saying anything about it isn’t helping, either.”
She giggles slightly. Jason looks down to his pocket. “’scuse me.”
He delves down below the table and retrieves his phone, still vibrating in his palm. He glances to Visionary, whose smile decreases slightly. After seeing that Grandmaster was calling, Jason answers it.
“Commander Jason speaking.”
“Hello, Commander. Glad to hear that you’re still speaking. All is well this morning?” Grandmaster answered.
“As well as it can be, sir. What can I help you with?”
“Can you tell Visionary to answer her damned phone? I’ve called her twice now. I know she has the bloody thing on her at all times.”
Jason glanced to Visionary, and grinned slightly. “What makes you think she’s here?”
“Well, going on a hunch. You two have breakfast together almost everyday you can. I know your schedules allow it today, and I could think of another hundred reasons. Tell her to pick up the goddamn phone. I’m calling again.”
Jason brings the phone away from his ear. “It’s Grandmaster.”
Visionary has her phone out already. It’s vibrating gently in her hand, and she answers the call.
“If that’s everything, sir, I’ll leave you two-”
“I’d like both of you to stay for this.” They shared a glance to each other. Jason sat upright a little, bringing the phone closer.
“Yes, sir. A matter of importance?”
“You could say that. Visionary, you asked me to look into that case. I’ve found something interesting. Maybe you can make something out of it.”
“Go ahead, Grandmaster.” Visionary’s expression turned serious.
“Alright. Took a little look into the Ten Grander’s latest activity. Nothing big. Petty thefts near their base, nothing new. Out of nowhere, they go and steal some animals. Weird thing to pull off, doesn’t match any previous crimes reported, totally different area too. What do you think of that?”
“It’s likely they may have been approached and offered a job.”
“That’s what I’m thinking. I’m guessing you’re still looking into it, so you know they’ve got the hell outta dodge.”
Visionary glances to her laptop. “From what I’ve read, that seems to be the case.”
“Yup. Signs of the animals living in their base. No cages, nothing set up long term. And that report you’ve checked this morning shows they’re leaving and moving somewhere else. Commander, what do you think?”
“It sounds to me like somebody asked them to get the animals for them, then they left before Jolly got to them. Maybe they tipped them off.” Jason put his knife on his plate, holding the handle of his mug instead.
“Bingo. That’s what everyone else is thinking. Now here’s a bit of speculating from yours truly. Whoever it was, wasn’t some big group of animal loving assholes. None of that PETA crap. Whoever it was, hired them out so it wouldn’t get back to them. Whoever it is, wants some no-names to do it for them so they’re not caught. Tell me if you think that don’t make any sense.”
“I’d say that’s a fairly logical train of thought.” Visionary commented.
“You’re damn right it’s fairly logical. So, next question. Why animals? No fucking clue. Getting Alpha made sense to get them. Experiments? I don’t know. What I do know, is that we’ve got a guy who asks a bunch of low lives to grab something from somewhere and get it to him, for a good bit of cash. Onto my next point.”
“Not sure if you two are aware of the details but there was a crime last night. Normally, not our problem. The police dumped it onto us though. Some small gang who uses Eldritch tech to do hit and runs for money, rob stores, all that crap. They hit a MAGI-Tech warehouse. Normally these guys raid the place for new weapons and trophies. Not this time. They took a computer or two, filled some flash drives and stole some components. They touched nothing else. Very precise, very focused. Seem really unusual to you?”
The pair shared a glance again.
“Definitely And the police just gave it to us?” Jason queried, then took a swig of tea.
“You know how the fuzz are when it comes to anything Farside related. Even Eldritch tech. They think we’ve got nothing else to do other than doing their job for them. In this case, probably a good thing.”
“You believe they’re related, with what you’re implying.” Visionary chimed in.
“I do.” Grandmaster paused, possibly for effect. “I do indeed. They call themselves the Technomads. Bunch of fucking idiots. They go on about how they think that everyone has a right to all the technology, Eldritch included, but they’re a bunch of thugs with fancy looking guns. This doesn’t fit their modus operandi.”
“Big words.” Jason jested.
“Well aren’t you the comedian?” Grandmaster’s tone was dry. “Bet you think you’re a funny guy. Enough about that. Both seem to be the same deal. Small gangs getting one particular thing, going and getting something out of character, taking nothing else. Either way, we’ve had this case dumped on us. I’ve requested some jurisdiction on the matter, which means I get to request who I want to assist me on this.”
Once again, Visionary and Jason shared a look. Visionary responded first. “That being us two.”
“Perceptive as always. Visionary is a name given well to you. Everything’s fine as far as admin is concerned. You’re my left and right hand on this case, proverbially speakin’. First order of business is to do a quick check of the scene. The men we already have there are doing a fine enough job but I want to go and take a look myself before we do anything.”
Jason seemed to get the gist of the message, and necked the rest of what remained in his mug. Visionary did the same, finishing off her coffee quickly. Fortunately, most of Jason’s breakfast had been demolished in no short order.
“I want you two to accompany me. Two pairs of eyes and Visionary do to a quick sweep, see what was stolen, then I want to go on the offence, so to speak.”
“You want to go after them?” Visionary looked concerned, holding her phone a little closer to her ear.
“Yup. The case is ours and we don’t sit with our thumbs on our asses like the police. We have large amounts of evidence it was them, we know the location of their base and I have a Commander under my authority with a Containment Squad to help me deal with them. We’re going after the little bastards and finding out what’s going on. And if any trouble comes about it, all the heat’s on me.”
Neither of them responded immediately. Grandmaster decided that the wait of a few seconds of air time was too much.
“If you two are done with your romantic breakfast, get your asses to my office. We leave in the hour. Grandmaster out.”
Before anybody could respond, the line was dead.
Jason raised his eyebrows slightly and put his phone away. “I can see why he never has a case for long.”
“He’s good at what he does.” Visionary did the same, then pushed her chair back and stood up. “Gear up, I’ll see you in his office when you’re ready.”
Jason nodded. Visionary normally would at least wait for him to catch up but he could see a determination in her steps as she power walked to the equipment rooms. He sighed a little, then snagged the last piece of bacon on his plate, dipped it into some brown sauce and popped it into his mouth, before clearing the table and putting everything on his tray. He made sure what remained of his breakfast was either stacked away or put in the bin before he made a move to venture out and gear himself up.
Grandmaster leaned on the back of the car that had brought the trio in, arms folded, staring at the warehouse. It was in a somewhat desolate part of Greater Manchester between Wythenshaw and Sale, and the industrial estate housing the warehouse looked neglected. The pavements were curved, shaping the pathway of cracked roads, littered with potholes and sundered earth; the road markings had all but worn away, pale whites with splattered edges that added to the derelict appeal
It was a plain, unassuming building, cuboid in shape and bland otherwise, though kept in much better condition than the surrounding buildings. The top half had the effect of corrugation, and above the doorway hung a large sign.
‘Make another great invention’
Grandmaster eyed the yellow tape covering the front entrance of the building for a few seconds and snorted, unfolding his arms. He patted his side where he’d normally keep some sort of armament on his person, his hand lingering for a moment. Visionary was about twenty paces away on the phone, whilst Jason was a few feet away from the car, nearer the building. The car park they loitered about on was empty, barren save for their car and a few Containment Squad vans that were already here, working on the scene.
Jason turned to Grandmaster. He studied him through his visor for a second. The gulf in technology between their sets of equipment was visibly striking.
“What do I need to address you as today?” Jason rolled one of his shoulders as he spoke. “Normally, I’m in command.”
“Today’s a day for firsts. Agent is standard protocol.” He didn’t sound too serious, though he was quieter than when he spoke over the phone to them before.
“Okay, Agent. Do you mind if I ask a question?”
Grandmaster turned his head to Jason. Through his visor, he managed to target him. Information poured just in his peripheral vision, giving him details of who he was facing. The targeting square turned green after a second.
“Nope. Fire away.”
“No disrespect meant. Your equipment is much higher quality than our Containment Squads.”
“No disrespect taken.” Grandmaster stood off from the car and turned to face Jason, as if addressing him properly. “Perfectly reasonable comment. There’s a few reasons.”
He flicked his finger up in the air. “First reason. All Fargraced Agents must wear an outfit as to properly identify themselves and to give them a unique appearance. It also helps a bit with merchandising, daft as it sounds. You know HR, you know how much revenue they make from that.”
Grandmaster sounded weary, and well versed in saying that particular point. Jason nodded. Grandmaster flicked up another finger, pointing two skywards.
“Second reason. Due to my rank I’m allowed certain freedoms. One of which being, to design my own armour. I spent a small fortune commissioning this from Artifex.”
He whipped a third finger in the air on the same hand. “Third reason. I value my safety. I’d pay any amount to make sure I’ve got even a single percent better odds against somebody. We’ve got a kid who hasn’t got a recorded upper strength limit on our side. There’s a woman in the unit who can absorb kinetic and electrical energy and can use it to get stronger, tougher, shoot lightning, heal wounds. I have to stare these bastards down knowing my armour won’t fail me when I need it.”
Jason nodded affirmatively. Compared to Grandmaster’s helmet, his only provided a basic amount of information. It had a basic facial recognition system to identify targets, but it gave nothing else beside that. No words, no designation of hostile or friendly targets, and certainly not a phone. They all were able to see in any number of ways, from infrared to night vision. What Grandmaster’s helmet could do beside that, he couldn’t even guess.
“Do you think your equipment in the Containment Squads is lacking?”
“How old is it?”
“Few years. Two, maybe three.”
Grandmaster studied him for a brief second.
“Could probably do with an update. I’ll see about mentioning it to the Chief Commander.”
Jason nodded again.
Visionary joined them. Compared to their gear, she only wore a face mask and eschewed any armour on her head.
“What’s the word?” Jason asked.
Visionary stopped, so they formed a neat triangle. “They’ve given us permission to access the site.” She shot a glance to Grandmaster. “Which you know you need to acquire before we attend any crime investigation scenes.”
Grandmaster waved it off, his expression unrecognisable beneath his helmet. He started walking to the front door. “Takes up to two days to process.” The other two began to follow behind him, catching up quickly. “Excellent work, Agent Visionary. I knew I could count on you to get that paperwork crap out of the way so we can do some real work.”
“You know how important documentation is, regardless of rank.” Visionary rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. Still a pain in the ass.”
“Is he always like this?” Jason asked in jest to Visionary. He wasn’t subtle either, knowing Grandmaster would hear it. She didn’t get time to answer before he did.
“Damn right I am.”
Grandmaster lead the way past a pair of men in forensics gear; standard issue white jumpsuit with hoods, face masks and a pair of mechanical goggles on their faces. He nodded as they went inside and ducked underneath the yellow tape; clearly marked with hazard stripes and writing that said “NFU INVESTIGATION SCENE” along the length in black letters, with a yellow edge around it when it went over a stripe of black.
The doors were already open. Inside, the warehouse was being thoroughly swept through. Footprints near the front entrance were marked off by circles of chalk. Several men and women, all dressed in white and part of the forensics team, were looking through some of the aisles containing large crates of wood and smaller ones of plastic. To the side, one man was using a device to scan bootprints on the floor, much more prominently visible than any others. The rest were sweeping over the floors going back and forth through the front door. Two forensic investigators were investigating a control panel, one holding a piece of Eldritch Technology that looked like a square scarab.
“Well, they’ve got this covered. This is more of a formality than anything else. Let’s do a quick check to see if what they’ve got here matches the intel on the Technomads. Visionary, check the point of entry and ask about how they got in. Jason, check the DNA to see if we get a match. I’ll look at security footage and see what was taken.”
With nod from everyone a small wave by Grandmaster, they split up. Visionary didn’t have to travel far, and neither did Jason. Grandmaster slunk his way through the towering isles of equipment, to go and check the security room for the evidence he was seeking.
The two members of the forensics team were both female, and Visionary could see the device much clearer once she got closer. It looked like it had the body of a much stockier, cuboid-like beetle. It had a single button that made it look like a head. Along each side were three robotic digits, six in total, and they were being tested by being tugged on and rolled around to test the joints.
One of the two women noticed Visionary and nudged the other, who paused what she was doing and turned. They bowed their heads and she spoke, her voice a little husky.
“Agent Visionary, an honour to meet you.”
Visionary nodded back. “The pleasure is mine as well. What have you found?”
The woman holding the beetle turned it over and held it up for Visionary to see, though she didn’t hold it close enough that Visionary would take it from her. Visionary got the idea and observed. “What we’ve found from a preliminary investigation is that they’ve used your standard Hardware Bug. They’ve disabled the guards outside, come in through the front door and used it to ‘pause’ the security interface and gain entry.”
Visionary turned to the door for a second, then turned her attention back to the Bug.
“That makes sense.”
“It seems like it’s a professional job but we’ve done some fingerprint traces. We’ve got some prints and we’ve sent them off to be scanned. They didn’t seem to take all precautions.”
Jason meanwhile, was squatting on the floor near a chalk circle next to a footprint. Another female member of the forensics team was carefully scanning over it with the device in her hand, with red lasers tracing an outline of the entire boot from just the print alone. It seemed to even add in the parts that were missing. She turned it off, withdrawing a large spray bottle from her pocket, and began to cover the area with a light layer of foam.
She spoke to Jason afterwards.
“We’ve got enough DNA. The security feeds we got before they were shut off showed they were covered up, balaclavas and gloves, but we still have hairs, skin cells and bootprints to identify them with.”
She pointed to another member of forensics who was scanning over the floor, beaming a laser grid on the ground infront of him as he walked down the aisles. Something seemed to show up blue on the grid and he stopped, keeping the device pointed at it. After a few seconds he turned to Jason and the female forensic investigator, waving the device.
“Got another hair. Same guy.”
She checked the foam. It had mostly solidified, rising up about half an inch from the ground. “I don’t think we’re going to have too much trouble finding out who did this, Commander.”
“I don’t, either.”
Grandmaster joined the pair ten minutes later, after getting some information and discussing their findings. They both turned as he arrived, nodding their heads and standing more at attention.
“Let’s recap.” He flick pointed to Visionary. “What did you find?”
“The Technomads disabled the security guards outside, forced entry through the front doors of the warehouse, then used Hardware Bugs to pause the security consoles to interrupt the alarm being set off. They used similar Bugs on the security cameras near the front entrance, but cameras at the back were unaffected. It’s assumed they were caught on tape by those, and after they left the security console ‘unpaused’ and began the alarm again. They’ve also left some fingerprints on the Bugs.”
Grandmaster nodded. Flick point to Jason. “Jason, what did you find?”
“They tracked some mud inside. Seems the majority of them wore the same type of boots. They’ve left DNA all over the place. Stray hairs, some dust and skin cells. We’re not lacking in evidence to pin it on them, if any of the initial DNA traces are any clue. They were organised but not totally professional. I’d say that fits them as far as profiles go.”
Grandmaster nodded. “Good, great work. I checked the security feeds and it confirms everything you’ve said. We’ve got some clear visuals on some of the tech they’re using, and it matches some of the descriptions of previous robberies they’ve done. They came in, cleared the way, and went straight for some very specific things.”
He takes out a small piece of paper, ripped from a notepad.
“A lot of this stuff, I don’t know what it is. They’ve taken two computer towers from the head office. Most of them contain some basic information and documents on the electronics in this here warehouse. Wires, nuts and bolts. Some things called ‘Power Coupling Coils’ and ‘Eldritch Distribution Cores’. I don’t fucking know what that crap is, but they stole it. Normally, these goons go for weapons, equipment, armour, they try to take the latest equipment that NFU Containment Squads are supposed to get, but they’re usually a few years late.”
He motioned for the pair and began to walk outside. Visionary and Jason shared a glance, then followed after him.
“Now that we’ve investigated and I believe there’s sufficient evidence and just cause, we’re going to go and hit the Technomads. We just happen to know where their base of operations is as well. Now I know it takes about two, maybe three working days to process this through. We’ve got evidence here, we’ve done profiling. I have enough reasonable suspicion to believe that the Technomads are behind this. And, we know where their base is right now. We need to hit them before they up and leave.”
Both Visionary and Jason waited to react. Visionary nodded, Jason did so too afterwards.
“Now, we’re gonna head back, gather up some resources and men and plan on how we’re gonna nail these bastards. Jason, get your Containment Squad, and some of them fancy Fatigue weapons. Grenades, rifles, pistols, the whole works. We’re gonna go and give them an extensive ‘field testing’, tomorrow night.”