Out of Toronto 4.0
Lana was part of a group of runners I’d done a couple of scouting and distraction jobs for. She’d asked me to help her with a job. She was paying very well, but she didn’t want anyone else on her team knowing. I wasn’t sure why, and everything I’d found in the files and on her so far led me to think it was probably something personal. Something she didn’t want her teammates knowing about.
The job should have been fairly straightforward. Get into a hospital, get a patient released, and then scrub every mention of that patient from the files. She was going to deal with the patient, my job was the release, and then the scrubbing.
Unfortunately, that meant going in person to get into the system. I could have done it from the outside, but it might have taken me a week, and Lana wanted it done immediately. No trail, no reveal, just silence. That meant showing up. Not usually part of what I did. Lana had either a damn good story or a really messed up situation that needed to be rectified.
Lana had gotten me a couple ids ahead of time and I was able to set one up so I’d appear to be a nurse. I figured I could pass, as long as no one tried to talk to me. I’d actually made Lana sit down with me and come up with a half a dozen responses to likely situations. She’d laughed when I suggested it, and then recalled the last time I’d talked with her team after a job and sat down to help. I was to be a harried nurse, transferring a patient after a triple shift, easy to snap, quick to frustrate, and focused on getting done and going home.
I was sitting at a coffee shop across the street from the hospital. I’d managed to slip unnoticed into their wireless network, outside vendors left you so open to security holes. I sipped idly on the coffee and scanned through the surveillance feeds. Once Lana arrived I should be able to see her show up. She’d sent in an emergency call and medics should be bringing her in soon. The plan was she’d cause a commotion, I’d slip in and get my stuff done and the patient was going to, in theory, be able to leave during all of this action.
I kept scanning the surveillance feeds but allowed my attention to drift through the latest at RedPillAddicts. Just as I was being drawn into an argument about the Mars station, a bright light flashed in one of the feeds and I stood up.
I mussed up my hair and shouldered my nursing bag. As I walked into the hospital, watching the staff rush around I followed the AR signals I needed, filtering out the noise of the waiting room spilling over. I needed to get to the pediatric unit on the other side of the complex. I watched as a camera flashed out and checked on Lana’s information flashing in an overlay of the building.
I huffed and moved quickly behind the console after scanning my badge. I pulled up the information and started to run through the steps I needed. Quickly sending off my friends to help work through deleting all the data. Start at the oldest records and work my way forward in time. I had nearly 4 minutes uninterrupted at the desk before another nurse came up and saw me. I quickly pulled up the list of rehearsed statements along with the bright note to myself. “Keep your damn mouth shut.”
“Oh, I don’t recognize you.” The short stocky older woman seemed surprised but not suspicious. She hadn’t asked a question, but the list did include “I don’t recognize you, who are you?”
“Sorry,” starting sentences with apologies was supplicative and would play well, “I’m just trying to get a patient checked in. Been a long day.” I followed the rest of the directives on the list easily. Run hand through hair. Look frustrated and tired.
The woman nodded and continued down the hall. I exhaled and put my head back down to try to focus again. I could feel my heart racing just from that. I was not good at this. I wanted to crawl back into the Matrix where things were real and I could handle them. Less than another minute had passed when another flash and camera blinked out. Two grey haired women moved through the corridor surprisingly quickly but didn’t even glance my way.
The files I was digging through were getting more recent and one pulled up a picture, something about the young woman looked very familiar but registered no hits for me. I deleted the file and my sprites worked to scrub all the remainder of it. The next dozen or so files didn’t contain any photos, and I tried to not spare them too much of a glance, information was interesting, but timing could get me in trouble.
Lana’s face popped into full view on one of the cameras, she was struggling with a guard, she seemed to be winning. I needed to move faster.
A man in a white coat strolled down the hall toward me. I reached out for home, I just wanted to know it was there, I could escape, the white coats still made me run to escape the world. He gave me what I assumed was supposed to be some kind of award winning smile. I pulled up the list of responses but kept working. Trying to move through the files faster.
“Well, hello. Aren’t you a sight.” He drawled slowly. People talked slowly, this guy was painfully slow. My list had nothing to say to this.
“Oh yes, it is so nice to have a pretty young woman on staff here again.” His emphasis was on young. My list still had no response, I deleted more furiously.
“Sure these old bats do fine for the kids. But what about the dads who just want something nice to look at when their wives are oh I just had a baby don’t touch me, all stretched out and wrinkled.” He leaned forward and leered. “And what about me. I’ve been complaining for ages.” Still no response. He didn’t really seem to need one. Keeping my mouth shut seemed the wise thing to do. Focus on the files. Review, delete, pass for scrubbing. Stay focused.
“I’m a doctor you know.” I looked up at him, only the giant words across my vision, sprawled across his face “Keep your damn mouth shut” kept me from responding. I turned my head back toward the console and knit my brows together in concentration.
The white coat finally let out a deep sigh and threw some medical equipment, or waste, at me and barked, “Room 308 needs to be cleaned.” He stalked off muttering about damn bitches.
As I tossed aside the trash he’d flung at me the next file opened, this one with a photo, one I recognized. It was Lana.
Then Lana was in my camera again. This time she was fighting several guards, not doing nearly as well. I turned back to the photo. It wasn’t Lana, but it was strikingly similar. The girl would be about 3 years younger than Lana. Her younger sister. I deleted the file, I was nearly done.
The message from Lana came through loudly. “You have to get her out. Please.” Lana looked up at a camera as she sent the subvocal message and I watched as one of the guards fired several times as she ran toward him with her gun outstretched and firing.
“Shit.” The word was loud and echoed in the empty hall. I couldn’t help her. I wouldn’t even know where to start. But I could at least do this, I hoped. I took care of the last few files and then slid in the release documentation for the patient in 328. Lana’s sister. Now someone else entirely. Someone who didn’t exist 8 minutes ago, and who would cease to exist a half hour from now. Just long enough for her to leave. For me to get her out of here. I did not have a script for this.
I could feel the panic rising and I reached for home again. The desire to crawl back in was stronger now, instead I stood and followed the AR to the nurses lounge. I scanned and was let in and walked past the two greying women with their heads together whispering about something. They hushed their tones more as I walked in but didn’t change otherwise. I grabbed a spare set of scrubs that someone had left in a hamper. I wasn’t entirely sure if they were clean or dirty. But either way they would be an exit. I headed back into the hall to 328.
The woman in the room looked like a gaunt, tired, sick, pale, and dirty imitation of her big sister. I threw the clothes at her and immediately started working on my visual and data feeds. Cleaning up my visual space I slid the cameras from the other buildings in the complex into a corner. I let my fingers hover for a moment over Lana’s stuttering vitals before tucking them away, I couldn’t do anything for Lana, but I could help her sister. I pulled up traffic reports, and called a couple taxis sending Viper off to intercept one for us. The girl wasn’t moving, just staring at me. I glowered. “Move, now.”
“Move? Who are you? What are you doing here? Where are you taking me?” Her voice was also very similar to Lana’s but thinner, after a pause she seemed to finally really look at me. “You aren’t one of the regular nurses.” Suspicion creased her face.
“Your sister sent me to get you out of here. Now move.” I snapped. I wasn’t in the mood for this.
“My sister’s dead.” The girl’s voice was flat and she still didn’t move in the bed.
“I know, that’s why I’m still here and not on my way home already.” I stormed over to her. I wasn’t sure what they’d been drugging her with but I wasn’t going to be able to help her move much, maybe a little to get dressed and then we could get a wheelchair to get her out of here. She continued to watch me and when I scanned the equipment I frowned and reached out to start disconnecting it, shutting down the systems connecting her. The room in meat space grew quieter as the machines noises fell away.
“Wait, how do you know your sister’s dead, it happened, just now. Actually,” I reached for and then paused and left the vitals closed, I didn’t really want to know, “I don’t even know if she’s dead.” I didn’t wait for her answer.
“She’s been dead for years, what are you talking about. My sister…Lana’s here? Lana’s dead? Lana was alive?” The girl moved enough to sit up. Nearly all of the meat space connections had pulled themselves away from her.
“She is, or was, I assume so, and yes.” I grabbed to pull off the hospital gown that hung on her and tug the shirt over her head. When I moved in the girl grabbed me and clawed at my arm, pulling me closer and clawing at my face. She was completely silent while she attacked me. I screamed into the real world. Meat space only sounded like the slight shuffle of clothes, thick gasps, and one hissing IV.
She was stronger than I’d expected, and I was weaker than she’d guessed. I reached for the last IV drip in her and filled it with tranquilizers, it changed color and she sunk back into the bed.
I tried to loom over the bed as the girl sank back into it sedated but not unconscious. “Listen, Lana sent me here to delete all your records and make it look like you never existed. If you want me to leave you here I’ll do that.” I reached into my bag and pulled out my comm and held it out to let her watch and hear Lana’s last few moments.
She looked at me and nodded. I slapped a stim patch on her and tried to pull out the last two cords connected to her. My hand went through nothing and I realized in frustration they were in AR rather than meat space.
The woman started to jolt back to action with the stim patch and was pulling on the clothes herself. I tried not to notice the scars along her arms and back as I wove my real fingers through the cords connecting to her and pulled them out, I set to scrubbing them clean of all traces of her. She stood and fell to the floor nearly immediately. I looked down and frowned, she was covered with data. She had to be full of tech to glow like this, a shudder ran through me, I didn’t know what it was, but I was quite sure she hadn’t asked for it. I called back to my sprites who’d gone off to wander the hospital looking for any other information about this girl.
She struggled to stand on her own, “Would you please be the slightest bit helpful,” she thrust her hand at me and I frowned at it finally taking it and trying to help her stand. She threw her arm around my shoulder to lean on me as I wrinkled my nose and kept peeling off the layers of information. I was having a hard time seeing anything else, every time I stripped some off, there was more beneath it. She half had her pants pulled on when the door swung open.
“You! And you!” It was the gross white coat from earlier. He leered at the woman not wearing pants and me standing next to her. He closed the door behind him and sauntered in. “Well, well, well. Isn’t this interesting.”
I could feel the girl tense, her whole body and then her hand on my shoulder started to dig her fingers into the bones. I resisted the urge to whimper in meat space but didn’t bother to resist it really. “Yes, me.” Her voice was shockingly firm and she’d let the pants drop back to the floor. She lunged forward at him. He seemed startled and didn’t move immediately but when he did it was to stick his hand in his pocket.
I reached for the comm link first, in real space and with all my might. Grabbing it and crushing it as a small pulse went out like a beam reaching deep into the woman’s body. I followed it curiously, watching the scene play out around me slowly. She was lurching for his throat. The patch having fully kicked in, along with I’d guessed adrenaline and she was attacking him. Not like Lana with precision and full of fancy moves. Just with rage.
I peeled the meat space away and focused on the pulse and where it went, it snaked up along her spine and I pinched it off as it got to the base of her brain stem. I turned back to watch the white coat mash the button again. It didn’t do anything this time and the woman kept attacking him, her hand over his mouth.
“Can’t you do anything helpful.” She growled and I realized she was talking to me. Telling her that I was pretty sure I just saved her from a massive stroke seemed like something she wouldn’t believe. I dug in my bag again and pulled another patch out. I held it out to her as she punched him furiously and he struggled back, in more shock. Though he seemed to be coming around to fighting with focus. I frowned and pulled up his pant leg and slapped it on him. His struggles slowed and she frowned. She punched him one more time and then looked at me with a frown.
She stood and pulled the pants on, her hands bloody. I realized I, too, had some blood on me. The list actually had something for that. “Long day at the office.” Sad smile, sad laugh. I didn’t say it right now.
She wavered as she stood and leaned against the door for a moment staring in appraisal. “You are the worst rescuer ever.” I shrugged grabbed the comm link from the white coat’s pocket and we walked out into the hall together. My bag slung over my shoulder and I pulled the maps back up. I looked at Lana’s sister again. She still had some data covering her, and worst I was pretty sure I could see a line running off the bottom of her heel.
I pointed down the hall toward the exit and continued to focus on peeling the data off. After I crashed into the third thing in the hall, this last one a chair that had me fall over the woman turned to me and growled, “Pay attention or you’re going to get us both caught.”
As she spat the words at me I saw one of the threads in the back of her throat. I shuddered to think what they’d done to implant that. I reached through the real space and pulled at it. The thread seemed endless as I peeled it away.
“Oh yeah, it’s just been a long day and we are finally off shift, going to get some drinks.” Her voice finally pulled my attention back. A younger woman in scrubs was talking with her. She was right, we did need to move faster. The thread connected to the floor and I followed the lines. This was bad.
I slammed my heel down onto the thread and shoved her forward. “Drinks. Now.” Lana’s sister laughed and rolled her eyes. The other nurse did the same in sympathy and as I dragged us down the hall toward the exit. I shoved her into a taxi that was waiting for us and sent three others away as well with different payments to different spots.
Viper’s taxi shot out of the parking lot with what I recognized as glee. I didn’t really have time for his games right now but I acquiesced that he could drive as long as he kept the trail completely clean and scrubbed so we wouldn’t be noticed.
I sat back and breathed deeply sinking further into the real world, allowing more focus on the network of data and connections that still flared through her. I started by slicing through everything that still trailed back to the hospital. I was at the last one. A thicker cord, more basic data, better protected, harder to cut.
“Why are you just sitting there? You really aren’t going to say anything. Where are you taking me? What happens now?” She was struggling next to me in the seat, she’d reached for my nurses bag and I clung to it.
“I don’t know. I was just supposed to take care of the data.” I waved my hand around the taxi to indicate her and the bloody clothes. “This is not what I’m good at.” I peeled another piece of data off her and held it up. “This is what I’m good at. And you’re covered in it. So you still need me.”
She stared at me. “Are you an escaped mental patient? You just happened to get out the same time, or you faked that footage…”
I sucked in a sharp breath. “No.” I realized she wasn’t real, she couldn’t see. Words, I had to explain in words. They came out as a growl. “You’re covered in data and connections to the hospital. They’ve got all kinds of tags on you and your …whatever. I’ve been taking them off you since I saw you. Lana hired me because I am the best at this. And she would have done it before but anyone else she’d have tried wouldn’t have been able to pull this off. And I don’t think she knew the half of it.” I slammed the white coats commlink into her hands.
“You might not know exactly what they did to you. But you knew what would happen if they activated this right.” I pulled up a program that had her picture on it along with some icons. Including the old tried and true skull and cross bones. “He did.” The icon was flashing as if it had been activated.
“But you weren’t, how did you, were you,” She frowned and stared at the comm link. “You must have a whole bunch of implants to let you access the matrix like that. Can they still do that?” She pointed at her icon and curled her finger back.
“If you shut up and let me do my job they won’t be able to.” I felt myself slump in the chair as I threw myself into the real world to attack the cord with everything I had. I felt a small whisper and turned to see IC crawling up along the cord toward her.
I sliced at the cord as quickly as I could while the IC wove through the city toward us. I gasped as I felt the chill snaking its way toward me, it was coming on very fast. I’d experience it before, this was really high quality IC. I frustratingly bashed at the cord, I didn’t have time to get a precise cut.
Thickly I reached into meat space and peeled the stim patch off Lana’s sister she grabbed for it but the taxi swerved and she slammed into the far wall. The other tranquilizers in her system took over quickly and she started to slump as she halfheartedly fought toward me, the taxi still swerving and slamming us around in the back.
She faded slightly and the icons were easier to spot as she slipped into unconsciousness. I grit my teeth as I glared at the IC and reached into the resonance. “I’m sorry. I really need some help, but I’m afraid this might not be a mission you’ll come back from.”
“My life to serve.” The sprite I hadn’t even gotten the name of charged down the cord with a scream and a sword. I bit my lip and turned back to my task, it must not be in vain. Must not. A final crackle as the cord frayed and split. I also felt the final gasp of the sprite as the IC devoured it, but the end of the cord whipped around and sliced through the form. It started to derez, bits of it falling off and vanishing. The tail of the cut cord flailed through the remains of it’s body.
My face felt hot and tears ran across it. Tears for the little sprite. Tears for Lana. She’d been saving her sister, from some horrible white coats doing experiments, trying to kill her. I pulled myself back into meat space as Viper arrived at a coffin motel. I ordered a room and mostly dragged Lana’s sister to it. I couldn’t even hoist her onto the bed.
I went back and pulled my nurses bag out of the taxi and had Viper take it off for another crazy ride. I ordered another right away. He’d be back soon enough. On the nightstand on the dirty hotel room I laid one of my spare SINs, a credit stick with enough for a month or two on it, and a datachip with everything I knew about Lana on it. I paused and pulled the white coats comm link out of the bag. I scrubbed it clean quickly, but left all the information it contained about her on it, but scrambled, and left that too.
I tried to make my way to the door but slammed into an old metal dresser with no ar tags, the corner of it sliced my leg. “Now? Seriously?” I mumbled and finished making my way out to the waiting taxi to bandage myself up.