An Unusual Find⌗
This is a story I’ve kept throughout the many different platforms. It was originally drafted in 2014, and has been slowly revised during every iteration.
Waking up was my least favourite part of the day. At 1400, the spring weather in this awful part of the world was very warm, which was in contrast to my mountainous home. I had pushed the covers off of me by the time I woke up, and groped my bedside table for my personal data device to offset the alarm. In another ten minutes it would go off again, but I could only stay in the warm plush bed for another two. I sat up and grabbed the personal data device, disabling the alarm, and preparing to go about my day.
“Is that how you greet your boss?” a voice boomed from hidden speakers. I hadn’t noticed the projector when it lowered from the ceiling, nor did I notice when the lights had dimmed.
“Sorry, sir,” I replied, realizing I was still in my underwear, “I would appreciate if you allowed me to get dressed in private.”
“Urgent news,” the man projected on my wall said, “we’ve received intel that the delivery agency we had setup to provide your supplies was destroyed in a ‘fire’ yesterday. No doubt an action taken by the enemy.”
“Sir,” I said, “when will my next shipment be? I’ve only got enough food to last another day.”
“Unfortunately,” he said, “it will take us roughly three days to organize a backup. And depending on who, it will be another four days.”
“Sir, I will run out of food in two days, even if I ration.”
“We are aware, you are allowed to leave to resupply today. Just make sure to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
“Over and out,” the man said, then cut the feed. I rubbed the tired out of my eyes and got dressed. They had given me a small pistol to conceal in case I was required to go out into the world. So I decided to stash the gun in my waistband.
My current abode was a repurposed warehouse. Since the hostile takeover, many of the warehouses controlled by my benefactors had been turned into covert operations of weapons manufacturing supporting the resistance. Mine was a relatively small shop, just me, that manufactured cyber weapons. Things like viruses, worms, and logic bombs. That was my purpose in the war effort.
Everything in the warehouse was designed to aid me in one of two ways: the first was to keep me alive, while the second was to help me be productive. Most of the work equipment fell into the latter category, along with the apartment like renovations that kept me cozy in my free time.
Company policy stated that I shouldn’t be alone for longer than two months at a time; however, my partner was reassigned and my boss hadn’t replaced him yet. They had mentioned something about finding the right candidate. But, given the times, its a wonder that they even found the first guy.
I should really remember to ask if they have any candidates lined up, I think to myself, then said aloud, “at least, if I had a partner, I wouldn’t be so damned lonely.”
I walked to the door and took a deep breath. The world scared me and I was about to walk out into the thick of it. A moment to compose myself was likely much better than the alternative, completely freaking out.
The security team was always monitoring the cameras in and around the warehouse, all of them except the ones that were in my personal areas, as those cameras were not networked to the CCTV system. Only the communications system was able to remotely control those cameras. As such, I didn’t have to set the counter surveillance measures that I normally would.
As soon as I opened the door, a wave of heat hit my face. The warehouse had temperature controls that could keep most of the heat at bay, but this was unbearable. The humidity made me want to puke. My clothes aren’t even heavy or thick!, I thought to myself, then begrudgingly pushed myself to go outside.
Making sure to lock the door, before I started, I walked toward the large main gate that separated the loading zone from the rest of the world. Then I pushed the gate out of my way, only to realize it was locked. I put my hand against the pin pad, then pushed in my pin. The gate slowly opened, then closed behind me as I walked out toward the street.
As I walked to the store, I thought about many things. None more than the fact that I was actively in a hostile country, and if I was caught, I would likely be raped, tortured, and killed. Hopefully not in that order.
“Welcome in,” the store clerk said. He was tall, and he was even a particularly attractive one.
“Thank you,” I said, then grabbed a basket and made a round through the store, grabbing all of the things I needed for the next few days. It wasn’t the nearly instant ready, nutritionally complete, meals that the Company shipped me, but it would have to do.
I walked up to the clerk, and unloaded my basket onto the small conveyor belt. He started ringing up the items, shooting me nervous glances every once in a while. After he was done, he looked at the register, then took a gulp.
“Uh- uh- I, um,” he stammered, then pointed at the number on the small LCD display facing me. I nodded, and handed him an appropriate amount of money. He nodded and returned me my change. I gathered up the groceries, totaling one paper bag, and began walking out the door. “She was so damn fine,” I heard the clerk say to one of his coworkers, who audibly agreed with him. I grinned.
It was weird being seen like this by socially awkward people. Normally if I am in comms, they can’t see me, except for my boss. He’s the only one who actually uses the video conferencing setup.
The walk back was nice, but felt off. Not like the walk to the store. That’s when I realized I had heard faint screaming coming from down an alley way. I sighed, then set my phone to call my boss, in case I failed or was harmed, and set my groceries down next to a dumpster.
The alley was long, and it appeared to open into a courtyard. I couldn’t see anything, but the screaming was coming from the courtyard.
I edged closer, against the wall, hoping I could see anything, but I wasn’t able to. The walls opened up only just a little too far forward for me to see the source of the screaming.
A singular tear dropped from my cheek.
I hadn’t noticed I was crying. Nor did I notice that I had instinctively reached for my gun, still faithfully tucked into my waistband. I took a breath. I pulled the gun from its hiding spot and jumped out, facing towards the screaming noise.
I was looking upon a thug, and behind him a young girl. It looked like he was undoing his pants. You could see the fear in the girl’s eyes. She looked at me with a pleading face. I moved two steps to the side and the girl came into full view. Her clothes were torn, nearly falling off.
There was no warning. No chance of forgiveness. He was garbage before, and would be garbage again. I squeezed off two rounds through the assailant’s body. Blood splattered across the courtyard.
He staggered, turning toward me. “What the fuck?” he asked, confused, then fell limp toward my feet. A pool of blood began gathering around the corpse. I immediately grabbed his foot and started dragging him toward the nearest dumpster. He was, after all, trash.
The girl tapped my shoulder. I jumped, then realizing it was only her, took a breath. Giving her a proper look over, she couldn’t have been more than 17 or 18. Her green eyes complimented her messy auburn hair, even. Then I noticed. Two protrusions on the top of her head, and a similarly auburn protrusion coming from her waist. Fox ears, and a tail? I thought to myself.
Realization set in.
“Oh my god,” I cried, “A kitsune!” She gave me a weird look, then nodded her head. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. “Look, you’ve just been through a lot,” I said, then offered, “I’ve got a place you can lay low and be safe.”
She nodded, then spoke for the first time, “thank you.” She grabbed onto my arm, and used me to cover her exposed breast. I took a moment to gather my groceries back up, put my gun back into my waistband; however, I left the phone call going. We began the rest of the journey home. It was only a minute or two to the front gate of the warehouse, which I unlocked as quickly as I could, then guided her inside.
She looked around as soon as she was inside, and gravitated toward the computers. They were cryptographically secure systems, so even if she could touch them, all of the data on the systems was completely secure.
“You like computers?” I asked, she looked at me and shrugged. I nodded my head and put one of my wireless earbuds in, then started putting the groceries away. “Hey boss,” I whispered, “Did you get all that?”
“Yeah,” he replied, “got the whole thing recorded, too. The security team is busy analyzing who the hell she is. Nothing yet, but I’ll keep you posted.”
“Keep the team listening to the mics, too,” I said, then added, “and the cameras. I don’t know if we can trust her. She might be an implant from the enemy.”
“Don’t you think I know that?”
“Of course I do, but I have to get the reassurance. Any news on a new delivery provider?”
“We have something lined up, but they are very shady. Might have to strike a deal on storage with them.”
I scoffed, “Not them. Those fools are only in anything for the money. They represent a huge risk.”
“Not if we have their most important data on your servers.”
Shit. He had me there. “How the hell are you going to orchestrate that?”
“They are running out of backup storage on their own machines, and with the import ban, they can’t just go buy more without spending an arm and a leg. You have the spare space, right?”
“How much are we talking?”
“They only need five hundred terabytes, so we will give them an exabyte.”
“That’s a quarter of my storage,” I protested, “but it’ll be worth it to have the data… and food.”
“Exactly. Now go find out more about that girl. I’m going to stay on the line in case anything happens. We can have a local team there in just a few minutes.”
“Just off the coast again?”
“Ryoukai,” I said, putting the last food item in the cupboard. I pulled the earbud out and shoved it back in my pocket, then turned to the girl, who was now holding her hand against one of my servers.
“You write very bad things, don’t you?” she asked.
“I do what I have to, but it’s not typically bad,” I replied, then held out my hand, “I’m Yukiko.”
She reached out for my hand, then withdrew, “nice to meet you, Yukiko, they called me number seven.”
Number seven? Like an experiment number? I thought to myself, then asked, “well, is there something you’d like to be called?”
“Artemis,” she replied, “it was a part of the full name. I am Artemis number seven.”
“Very glad to meet you, Artemis,” I said, then asked, “are you hungry? I didn’t have time to have breakfast before leaving, so I was going to prepare some anyway.”
Her ears piqued up, and she nodded fervently, “I haven’t eaten in a few days.”
“Well then,” I said, “let’s remedy that, right after you get some new clothes.”
“Oh,” she said, looking confused, then looked down at her torn clothing. “Oh! Please forgive me!”
“It’s okay,” I replied, then pointed up the stairs, “my room is up there, through the hallway, second door on the left. Pick out some new clothes.”
“Thank you,” she said, then ran up the stairs. I put the earbud back in.
“Did she just read the data off my server?” I asked, “Is she some kind of telepath?”
“Either she knows what you do,” he said, musing, “or she can sense minute changes in the electromagnetic field over some range. Either way, she is dangerous. Don’t worry about keeping your work a secret, though. Try to earn her trust.”
“Ryoukai,” I affirmed, then asked, “did they pick up anything on Artemis?”
“Looks like a bio-engineering project just a few miles from you, government contracting, so the contract was won by…” I could hear the shuffling of papers, “Olympus Biology Labs.”
“A government contract?” I asked, putting oil on a pan and turning the stove burner on, “Can the network exploitation team get in?”
“You know it’ll take a week at least.”
“Can they do double time? My life might depend on it.” I cracked a few eggs into a bowl and gave them some seasoning.
“Yeah, okay, hold on, let me spin them up. Oh, if they are doing this, you are writing the implant.”
“Fuck, you know I can’t do that with this situation.” I accidentally spilled some egg on the floor while whisking it, then grabbed a towel to clean it up.
“They don’t trust the backup team when they are on double time. You know that.” The floor was now clean again. I dumped the bowl of eggs into the pan, then started putting bread in the toaster.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, now flipping the eggs, “but do you really think it’s safe to do?”
“It sounds like she will know either way, Yukiko.”
“Fine, I will do it,” I said, noticing the eggs were done, and transferring them to a plate, “Do you have a dossier on the target yet?”
“No,” he said, “give us a few hours.”
“A few hours?” I asked, “Don’t you normally have it done in under an hour?”
“The recon team is short handed.”
“Of course they are. Who died this time?”
“Nobody,” he said. You could hear the frustration in his voice. “Three of them are sick, and are of no help. We’ve already got members of the medical team there, so they should be better in just a few days. The rest of the team is already tasked with things, though, so we can only spare…” I heard more papers shuffle. “Fuck. It’s Roidian.”