The citizens of Arkane, specifically Okoia, considered the fifth district of Arkane to be the security district. All the local law enforcement agencies were located here, as were temporary holding cells and off planet criminal transport. Ideally, this was because that district was in the center of the island, and the authorities could get to any part of the island relatively quickly.
Well, that was the reasoning. TO noticed that the security district separated two parts of Arkane; the districts that lay further inside the security district were places that Lendulin would comment that she didn’t feel welcomed.
Normally, it would take them a while to find a parking center, but there was no need for that today. TO and DH were acting officially as synths now, so they could land where they wanted, or better still; fly where they wanted. With the vehicle set to circle above, TO and DH jumped out, spread their wings, and glided down, heading to the holding center.
“Are you sure you should be here?” DH asked TO though their communicator, “I’m sure I could manage if you needed more rest-“
“I’ll be fine.” TO said back. They hoped that was true; the pain in their head and stomach persisted, but DH had given them something from the medicine cabinet, some kind of stimulant that pushed all their pain far away and let them function somewhat normally for a while. They’d crash later, and feel as bad or worse than when they woke up, but for now, they had work to do.
Surrounding the holding center was a looming wall of dark metal, broken in one place with a ragged, gaping hole near a road. This hole seemed to be the meeting point for everyone involved in the situation; there were various ships and different levels of local law enforcement, search drones, and repair crews which were working to move debris from the wreckage. As they drew closer, they even recognized Minister Noss, who was talking to a much taller person in uniform. Dread filled TO’s mind when they saw Noss. It confirmed just how serious the situation was; it was definitely a situation that TO and DH should have been involved with from the start.
They landed just outside the group of people, who all stood at attention when the two synths landed.
“Honored synths!” Noss said as they waddled up to TO and DH. “My deepest apologies. We signaled you, requesting your aid, but given the communication issues-“
“It's nothing.” TO said quickly. They were more than happy to let Noss think that they just didn’t get the message. “Have you recaptured the escaped insurgents?”
Noss took out his handkerchief and dabbed at his face, “They have not.” He said, nodding towards the nearby vans. “We tracked them to a maintenance shaft leading to the water intake tunnels, but lost them there.” He looked at the hole in the wall around the center, “They escaped the prison through there.”
“I assume as much.” TO hissed. That much was obvious. “And none of your civilian guards could stop it.”
Noss stammered over his words, floundering to explain things before a reptilian civilian wearing a fancy uniform and a buttoned up overcoat approached. She stood at attention as he approached the synths, then gave the same quick bow that everyone gave them before standing again and looking at Noss.
“Minister Noss, If I may?”
Noss let out a deep breath and nodded, stepping away and dabbing at his face.
TO’s helmet identified her as Warden Paga; a muscular, short-haired reptilian female. A quick scan of her details told TO that she had been working here for fifteen years, with not so much as a smudge on her records.
“Last night, about 23:15, we got word of unmanned drones coming close to our perimeter. We issued the normal warnings and expected them to turn back.”
“Why not simply shoot them down?” DH asked, their question sounding so oddly sharp as their helmet translated it.
“We don’t start with lethal force.” She said, her tail thrashing behind her. “Normally, such an incident is simply accidental, someone taking city-shots of Arkane with their drone, or some youths on a recreational vehicle. A warning normally turns them around, so we sent the automated warning stating that they were entering restricted airspace. When this one showed no signs of turning after a ten second wait period, we did open fire. They had a shield up, so we activated our Wireless Defense Network to disable the shield so we could take it down.” She lowered her head, “Of course, the moment we activated the WDN, that’s when all the systems went down.”
“And why did the systems go down?” TO asked. Noss flinched, but Paga stood still, her expression just tightening slightly.
“We’re unsure, Honored synths.” She said, “We are still looking into that. We assumed at first it was a technical issue, but I figured it was probably something more coordinated.” She took out not a communicator, but a larger tablet which civilians often used for work, and passed it to TO. “This is a map of the surrounding area. I used what information we saved, and what we observed to recreate what happened.”
The graphics were simple, but they gave TO the information they needed; the outline of the building, and a brief graph of nearby buildings and streets. At first, TO only saw a small red dot approaching the building.
“That’s the first drone.” Paga said. “Just after we fired at it, it stopped.” As she said that, the dot suddenly stilled in mid-air. “Then the systems went down, and-” Before she could finish, nearly a dozen other dots appeared on the map, seemingly simultaneously and from all directions.
“When the systems went down first, I suspected it was a hacker attack.” Paga said, “When the other drones appeared, I knew it.”
TO already had so many clues, so many pieces of this puzzle falling into their hands. Their mind jumped to several conclusions, but they pushed them aside; Now wasn’t the time to sit and put together what they already had. Now was the time to look for the rest of the puzzle pieces.
Of course, even before that there was a more pressing issue; the missing insurgents.
“Bring us to the last known location of the insurgents.”
Paga rode an air-bike with TO and DH following behind on wing. Soon, they came to a water runoff grate. TO and DH landed easily on the road before the grate, ignoring Paga as they examined it. The safety bars lay in pieces about the street, along with debris from a downed drone. “When we reviewed security footage- which unfortunately wasn’t until mid-morning, we saw the insurgents head down here.” She gestured to the debris, “one drone crashed into the street just a few minutes earlier, and from the footage we have, we don’t think we shot it down.”
“Has anyone examined the area down there?” TO asked as they peered into the hole in the road.
“Yes; We found nothing.”
The civilians found nothing, but a synth hadn’t been down there yet. Without further discussion, TO jumped down with DH following close behind them.
“A planned attack.” DH said, switching back to their private communication as they looked around, “It’s just our luck that it would happen when we were finally on a date.”
“I doubt it was luck.” TO muttered. No, that was one thing they knew; it couldn’t be just bad luck, it was too well timed. If Lendulin mentioned to Pearla that they were going on a date today, maybe she told the insurgents. Of course, maybe someone else saw them; maybe someone at the bar saw TO drink that mushroom drink and passed on the information. Given the timing of when everything happened, that actually made more sense to TO.
They scanned the area, looking for any clues as to where the insurgents might have gone. They ran down the tunnel leading to the exterior of the island, but soon came to a closed off set of bars and nets.
“I’ll check around with echolocation.” DH said, “I know you can, but it might hurt your head.”
“Thank you.” TO said. They focused on the bars and nets before them, using their helmet to help their tired eyes focus on the smaller details. Could the insurgents have gotten through them? No, they were far too narrow.
They ran back towards where they came from, following the water towards the other end, where it flowed to the interior and most likely to the residential district. They came across the same thing; Bars and nets.
There was a break here; Something had snapped the bars on the right at the side in places, bending the strong metal back and even tearing the net in places. It was obvious and clumsy. If the insurgents had gone to such lengths to make this operation work, wouldn’t they have been more careful in hiding their escape route?
“Look.” TO said, pointing at the damage. “Does this look too obvious to you?”
“Maybe.” DH said, sending out a series of chirps towards the bars, “Maybe they didn’t intend to escape through these tunnels, and had to work fast?”
They heard something behind them, but when they looked, they saw it was only Paga, having just climbed down the ladder to the tunnels.
“Did you send someone to investigate this?” They asked, pointing to the damaged bars. They had little faith in civilians, but they were certain that one of them must have noticed this.
“No point.” Paga said simply, “They couldn’t have followed the waterways, because that just leads to the water purification system. If they went that way, then they’re dead by now, anyway.”
That would be ideal, and it occurred to TO that maybe the bent bars were just a decoy to make them believe that’s what happened. Of course, if they thought the insurgents were dead, then there was no reason to look for them.
“DId you find anything?” TO asked through the helmet.
“Not yet.” DH said. In the background, the constant clicking and chirping from DH’s echolocation was bouncing off the walls, making TO’s head hurt, and making them a little disoriented. They finally had enough and made the helmet filter that noise out. Sure, they wouldn’t be able to use echolocation themself, but DH had that under control so it didn’t matter.
“We did a thorough search earlier.” Paga said, “ We even checked the maintenance room there.” She pointed to the other side of the tunnel at a solid metal door, a sign drilled into the front that simply read ‘maintenance.’
TO and DH flapped over and checked the door. It was unlocked.
“Is this always unlocked?” TO asked.
“It is not, Honored synth.” Paga said, “It was when we came in, but we checked it anyway and left it unlocked.” She stiffened up again, her tail lashing behind her. “Normally, we’d have waited for you to do the investigation, and we tried to contact you as soon as the attack started, but I suppose with the shut-down-”
“It’s nothing.” TO said quickly, trying to ignore the guilt and shame welling up in their stomach. If they had just checked the message-
No. That wouldn’t have mattered. If they had checked the message, they still wouldn’t have been able to come and deal with all this since they had just had that drink. They would have been far too intoxicated to deal with anything. If only they hadn’t had that drink, hadn’t fought with DH, hadn’t gone out into the lobby!
If only they hadn’t been on the date. TO wondered if that was why romance between synths was so frowned upon. Of course it was; it was a distraction from serving King Decon and that distraction might have allowed so many insurgents to escape.
Ignoring their churning stomach, TO went into the room. There wasn’t much there; pipes came out of the wall, leading to complex looking machines that sat in the center of the room, which churned and creaked, working to keep the water flowing inwards. The space that was left wasn’t enough to house twenty hiding insurgents, it was hardly enough for TO to make their way around, and the metal panels the covered the walls made the noise reverberate oddly, and made TO’s head hurt. They didn’t want to go into the room; was there even a point? Clearly, there was no way out.
They had to though; They couldn’t be complacent about this. TO took a single loop around the room, checking in gaps between machinery.
Nothing. It was a dead end; the insurgents couldn't have come in here; there was no way out. But where else could they have gone?
“TO.” DH’s voice cut through their thoughts, “Come back over here, Paga has information from her people.”
TO looked around once more, looking for something they missed; some vent in the walls or on the floor. There was nothing; It was just cement and metal slats all the way around.
The noise from the machines made their head hurt, and there clearly wasn’t any way out from here. TO shook their head and headed back out into the tunnel.
Paga stood at the ladder that led out, her tablet out and displaying video from somewhere else. As TO approached, they could clearly see the feed; water was pouring from an artificial waterfall somewhere, splashing about among tropical looking plants and trees. However, the water wasn’t crisp, clear water, nor was it even the fetid, polluted water of the Outer Ring; The waterfall ran red with blood and pulverized flesh.
“This is a couple districts in.” Paga said, “The residential district; they noticed the discoloration only a few minutes ago, but it went like this just now. Who knows how long the whole thing’s been contaminated?” She glanced at the bars. “I suppose they thought they’d find a way out down there, and got caught in the machinery…”
TO turned away. They felt sick all over again, and they were certain they could smell disinfectant. The crack of bones echoed in their head, the sound of the knife slicing through skin. They suddenly felt lightheaded and put a hand on the wall nearby to steady themself. They wished their wings could wrap around them; they wanted that, the comforting, gentle pressure of their wings against their arms, but the suit wouldn’t allow it.
“... Honored Synth?” Paga’s voice seemed like it was too far away.
“Apologies… I have an issue with seeing that much blood.”
A moment of silence passed, then Paga spoke again, “Honored synth, are you alright?”
Did she not hear them? They shook their head; they didn’t have time to repeat themself.
“‘Dead’ is better than ‘escaped’.” TO said, doing their best to block out the sight of blood from their mind’s eye, “But that means we have nobody for questioning.” They pushed away from the wall and turned back to her, keeping their eyes away from her screen. “We’ll need access to all your security logs. If we’re lucky, the insurgents might have left us a clue as to their identity.”