THE CREATED


Chapter 1


Hydrangea received its activation from Master’s personal assistant in the early morning, just as the rays of the local star started to fall upon its leaves where it sat beside the Vault. It was a beautiful spring day in Red Calais, a city known for its temperate summers and rainy winters. Assistant had sent a pointer to a location with an order for general confiscation. Hydrangea felt greed rise within its motivation center upon learning of the new mission.

What treasures will I now steal for my beloved Master?

Hydrangea arranged for transportation from a delivery service. The payment came from Hydrangea’s own ample store of funds in one of the several peer-to-peer currencies common in Red Calais. The closest carrier drone would arrive within minutes.

The artificial agent soaked in the light while it waited. Though parts of Hydrangea’s synthetic body often used electrical energy, its complex biochemistry paralleled the plants it mimicked. It welcomed the opportunity to sit in the light and produce glucose as an alternate energy store.

Soon the delivery service notified Hydrangea of the imminent arrival of transport. A delivery machine hovered down toward it. Gentle rubber claspers grabbed Hydrangea’s dark red pot and deposited the faux plant into a carry net that hung below the body of the machine. Then the drone lifted into the sky with its cargo.

Red Calais was as beautiful in the day as it was deadly after dark. Hydrangea observed the scenery using several optical sensors at the ends of its tendrils. The color of the tile roofs below matched Hydrangea’s maroon pot; no other color would do. The culture of Red Calais had ivory houses with red roofs surrounded by emerald gardens so firmly embedded into its psyche that some poets had joked it was a genetic imperative. No government robots existed to enforce this rule, and yet, anyone who had ever defied it had found themselves suddenly without currency, then without security, and finally without property. It was a paradox of order and conformity in a society of chaos.

Perhaps the citizens treasure this one thread of law in their confusing lives, Hydrangea mused. Even Red Calais has rules.

The drop off port was a flat ceramic slab the size of a land car. Four vine-encrusted columns rose around it to hold a curved, red weather shield overhead. The delivery drone slowed, then spiraled down into the port and gently deposited Hydrangea. Then the drone flew away to find its next client.

Hydrangea examined its surroundings. It saw a few other plants and a storage bin. It could not see any other people or agents about.

I should get out of sight before an agent comes to take me into the house.

Hydrangea started to move as soon as the delivery vehicle’s sound faded. Its tendrils crept for the nearest column.

Slowly... carefully...

After a minute’s time, the plant had pulled its red headquarters off the platform and joined a bevy of plants growing beside the delivery station. Hydrangea paused to assess its progress. At this point, any Idonan or agent who wandered by would see nothing more than a spare plant that had been placed beside the delivery port. There were any number of reasons it might have been placed there by a gardening agent or a Terran owner: perhaps its pot had been chipped and needed repair, or possibly the plant had gotten sick and needed special attention, or maybe it simply looked good there.

A small, wiry household robotoid ambled out to the delivery port on four legs. No doubt the port had reported the package’s arrival to the house. The robot searched the port, found nothing, and returned to the house. If the house computer decided nothing was missing, that would be the end of it. Otherwise, a delivery company might be contacted to see if some expected package had arrived and been stolen. Either way, Hydrangea did not concern itself with these possibilities.

I want into that house. I want to steal things. Valuable things.

The house ahead was a beauty, even by Red Calais standards. It rose above the ground in four interlocking tiers. The ground level sprawled two meters above the lawn on a sloped plateau of pale stone with an intricate fence at the borders. A guest house rose a level above that on the right, near the delivery port, and the main home rose two levels higher on the left. The top level was larger than the middle tier, causing an overhang which afforded shade to the outdoor breakfast table and maroon chairs sitting on a ceramic patio.

Hydrangea made a query to the network. A tracing service provided the name of the estate owner: Sorune. One of the richest merchants in Red Calais. Hydrangea passed the information along to Assistant before continuing on its mission.

Perhaps a hundred plants encircled the lush backyard, growing straight from the soil. Dozens more grew from red pots, just like Hydrangea’s, which sat atop the stone wall above the yard. Perfect territory for Hydrangea to range across unnoticed.

The garden shed was closest. It was a white-walled building with a matching red tiled roof, a miniature of the structures around it. Hydrangea began the steady trek to the shed. Its long runners moved slowly and steadily, coiling onto every possible anchor point and pulling the pot along behind or shuffling it on ahead. At the shed entrance, Hydrangea hacked the simple door chip and caused the shed to open.

No sooner had Hydrangea entered the shed and started to take stock of the items inside than an olive-colored gardening machine appeared and clasped Hydrangea’s pot in strong metal fingers. The gardener had a cylindrical body, low to the ground on four legs, with several long, asymmetrical arms sprouting out of it at various angles. Hydrangea’s base station was lifted a quarter meter above the shed’s floor.

Pulling its vines closer, Hydrangea prepared to do battle. This would not be the first time it had been forced to disable an interfering gardening bot. Its tendrils moved more quickly now, though still slowly by the reckoning of a Terran. The long vine-like arms wrapped around the robot’s arms and its stubby legs. Soon the robot looked like a leaf covered derelict.

The robot struggled to move. Hydrangea’s runners, though not particularly strong in flexion, possessed remarkable tensile strength. The robot was caught.

I have to kill you fast, bot. Before you decide to call in help.

Hydrangea exposed tiny tools from the ends of two offshoots. The delicate bits of metal found purchase on the surface of the gardening robot and removed a maintenance panel. Hydrangea did not have the time to do a remote hack, but given physical access to the simple robotoid, it could make the necessary changes. It pulled the main power down and started to reprogram the gardening machine.

You served plants before. You still do. But only me.

In three minutes it was done. Hydrangea released the bot from its coils and gently sunk to the floor while the bot’s surface LEDs flashed to indicate a restart. The bot jerked once and came back online.

The gardening robot reached out for Hydrangea again, this time at the agent’s command. Grasping the edges of Hydrangea’s pot, it lifted the invading plant and turned toward the house. The gardening bot lifted its legs and extended treads in their place. Then it rolled out of the shed and across the yard, carrying Hydrangea. It rolled up a steep ramp to the first level above the yard, then accessed the door to the greenhouse straight ahead.

The garden robot carried Hydrangea into the massive house, no doubt passing a half dozen security measures in the process. Most of Hydrangea’s tissues would not trigger any kind of alarm. Its more complex cybernetic parts were well concealed in its pot, which cleverly shielded and dispersed most scanning attempts. Hydrangea did not detect anything amiss. It decided the security breach had not been detected.

And now I’m inside. Time to search.

The more private rooms of such a villa were typically found on the second or third floor. Red Calais had a thriving burglary presence and house owners usually forced intruders to penetrate several layers of defense to get at valuables.

The gardening robot deposited Hydrangea’s pot at the end of the greenhouse just as it had been programmed to do. Then it resumed its ordinary duties as if it had never been suborned, though it would remain receptive to Hydrangea’s commands should the agent have need of it again.

Hydrangea crawled out just enough to get a better look with the microcameras embedded in the ends of its flexible runners. Worst case scenario: an empty hallway. Hydrangea saw no plants or decorations of any kind.

What is this? A man as rich as Sorune does not neglect any niche of such a mansion.

Hydrangea looked up. The hallway had no connected ceiling. The far wall rose two stories, then gave way to a net which extended yet farther to attach to the ceiling.

A large open space. Game court? Why no decor?

Hydrangea contacted an external client to determine what entity had constructed the house. Currency exchanged virtual hands. Then more inquiries. Finally, Hydrangea found an anomaly. The house had been supplied with power feeds ten times greater than it should need. Hydrangea was puzzled until it factored in the extreme wealth of Sorune.

Of course. A gravity spinner. He has his own zero-grav hall. Possibly even the entire house can be lifted into the air for parties or emergencies!

The latter possibility seemed remote given the location of the hall far from the mass center of the house, until Hydrangea noted that the guest house might not be part of the arrangement. Then the idea looked more practical. In any case, the theory explained the lack of decor in the buffer corridor. Anything unsecured there would cause a mess in the eddies of an activated gravity spinner. They probably had to clear the yard before using it, too... unless all the pots along the wall were anchored down. Hydrangea did recall a large number of well-entrenched vines criss-crossing them.

Tiny mystery solved, though the buffer corridor still presented a problem. Hydrangea would be noticeable and vulnerable crossing the empty space. It considered calling in the garden robot again, but given the soil on its treads and feet it clearly was not meant to wander far beyond the greenhouse. Hydrangea stared at the wide-open expanse. Only a few meters, but the plant would be so very out of place there. In desperation, Hydrangea checked the garden robot’s services again.

Aha. It can call a house bot for plant delivery and placement from the greenhouse.

It was a common system. Large houses in Red Calais typically had greenhouses attached or farther out in the estate. As plants became sickly, or as seasons changed, the plants were rotated through the greenhouse. Using its hacked gardening slave bot, Hydrangea arranged to be picked up and brought into the house.

Hydrangea waited patiently at the edge of the buffer corridor. Within three minutes, a robot came trundling down the hall on wide wheels. The house machine had four arms and a low body, though Hydrangea saw the base contained an extendable lift mechanism that could probably raise the body of the machine a few meters. Hydrangea imagined it cleaning ceiling corners and placing objects on high shelves with such an assembly.

The robot lifted Hydrangea with two of its arms, then accelerated down the corridor. An open doorway afforded a brief glimpse beyond the mysterious wall. The area within was wide open, extending all the way to the top of the house. Though the hall was turned down and unlit, Hydrangea could see many mirrors placed so as to make the space look even bigger. The outer walls held several niches for private conversation and rows of bungee cords for entering or leaving the space.

Yes. Definitely zero grav sport or dance hall.

The robot carried Hydrangea through the rest of the buffer corridor to an entertainment room of some kind. A wide window offered a view out onto the zero grav hall. Hydrangea estimated this room to be a staging area for the hall, or a place for older, calmer people to relax while observing the antics of the adventurous. A bar dominated the outer wall for dispensing various substances to please Terrans.

The house robot dropped Hydrangea at the end of the bar and trundled off.

Suboptimal. Unless Sorune keeps his most prized possessions inside the bar. I don’t think he would risk it. The upper floors are harder to penetrate and therefore likely to hold more valuables.

Sadly the gardening robot did not have a map of the upper floors of the house. It made sense. If someone stole the robot, or came in to repair it, they would not gain that information.

Hydrangea spent the next ten minutes working its way slowly, so slowly, first to the floor and then around the corner of the nearest doorway. Hydrangea saw a wide-open kitchen. Once more the invader decided the chances of finding valuables nearby were low. However, through a set of double doors, twenty meters away, Hydrangea spotted a decorated lift. It was an open platform surrounded only by vine-covered carbon rods, but the design was unmistakable. Here was a way to the second floor. Hydrangea began the long journey to the lift.

Hydrangea was halfway to the targeted lift, sitting atop a small corner table, when a soft tone sounded through the house. An outside door opened just five meters from Hydrangea’s position and allowed a tall man to step inside.

A quick examination revealed it was not Sorune who had entered. The man was not immediately identifiable, nor was his age easily pinpointed given Core World cosmetic technologies. He was between thirty and sixty local years old with long, wavy black hair and a trimmed mustache. Hair covered his chest, visible from a half-open tunic. He wore thin, straight leggings and a baggy, black overshirt as was the current style in Red Calais.

“Quinn! I’ve been waiting for you,” said a woman who appeared from deeper within the house.

Hydrangea identified her immediately as Sorune’s local wife, Daphne. She had dark hair stacked on her head in some elaborate style called a beehive. Her features were sharp, sharpened further by careful use of makeup. Her eyelashes were long and dark, her lips brightly colored. Hydrangea supposed these details made her more desirable by proving she had the surplus resources to make use of luxury services. The agent believed that displaying evidence of such resources implied she was productive and therefore a valuable ally to potential mates.

They met in the center of the room and embraced. Rather than a brief hug, Daphne did not move away after the expected time span. Quinn’s hands remained on Daphne at hip and shoulder. Daphne sunk her hand into the opening of his tunic, feeling the hair there. They shared a smile.

That is very familiar contact. Maybe he has brought a gift for his friend. Something valuable, I hope.

“Hello, Mr. Quinn!” a new voice said.

Daphne jumped and retrieved her wandering hand in an instant. Quinn stepped aside to greet the new speaker, a young woman with straight, long blonde hair who emerged from another room on the first floor. She wore a tight fitting set of undersheers that were transparent along the edges but darkened just enough to block vision to certain areas of the torso and groin. Hydrangea did not spot any valuable accoutrements.

“Hello Ksenia,” Quinn said pleasantly. His eyes flitted over her body for the briefest moment. “How are your studies?”

“Going very well! I’ve learned so much about the Nanorith I’d like to discuss with you!”

“Well sure—”

“Ksenia, leave Mr. Quinn alone. We have business to discuss. Go and work on your real project.” Daphne’s voice brooked no dissent, yet Ksenia hesitated.

“My studies of the Nanorith are real,” she protested, yet she backed away. Hydrangea caught Quinn deliver a quick wink to the girl unobserved by Daphne. Ksenia reluctantly left as Daphne glared on.

“Sorry about that,” Daphne said quietly to Quinn. “Obviously she senses you’re... extraordinary.” She stood a bit closer to Quinn than strictly necessary.

“No need to apologize. I’m flattered. I think she’s adorable.” His tone dismissed Ksenia as inconsequential. The response seemed to please Daphne. Hydrangea did not understand why Quinn’s compliment about Ksenia apparently made the one called Daphne feel superior to her competitor.

“Come right up, Mr. Quinn. Let’s talk about the security arrangements for the egg.”

“I’d like nothing more. Will I get to see everything?”

His voice is sly as if anticipating something special, Hydrangea thought.

“Everything,” Daphne promised. They walked to the lift and entered the partially enclosed space. The lift gently rose without a sound.

“I want your expert opinion. Do you think this is the only Nanorith egg in Terran space?” asked Daphne.

“No, my dear, but it is certainly the only one here on Idona.”

A unique alien item? You have my attention.

In a few seconds they arrived at the next floor and walked past a set of doors at the top. Hydrangea lost sight of them.

Suboptimal. She’s showing him everything. I need to know what she has and where she keeps it!

The nearest other plants were positioned just ahead outside the lift. Vines decorated the entire lift frame, growing from a long container on the floor. Hydrangea wanted to move quickly, but to do so would only invite detection by security. The automated security programs were inevitably blind to gradual plant movement, but if Hydrangea suddenly slid right across the room and up the metal poles of the lift frame, it would probably get flagged and reviewed as a suspicious event.

Hydrangea held its greed in check.

Soon. Soon. I just have to work my way up to the second floor.

Hydrangea resumed its majestic course through the house at a snail’s pace. It paused at each newly obtained perch for at least five minutes. It was over an hour later when it obtained access to the second floor by crawling up the back of the lift frame, obscured by the vines that grew there. It traveled down a hallway filled with art sculptures and other plants sitting on long, narrow tables. The hall ended in a massive mirror that created the illusion of an endless hallway.

Hydrangea came to an ornate set of closed double doors. A diaphanous blue sound curtain was active on the surface of the doors, blocking sounds from beyond.

Almost certainly they’re behind those doors.

Hydrangea could not risk infiltrating the room while they were within. Instead, it pulled itself to the right and entered an adjacent room. It saw an antique desk and some dark shelves made of native reed columns. The native plant created straight rods of supportive silicon which could be used to create durable and (in the eyes of the Idonans) stylish furniture. A small food and drink dispenser sat in one corner, and a statue of a female soldier stood in the other. Hydrangea could not identify the soldier. It quickly climbed onto the shelf so it could wait for a chance to move about the house undisturbed.

Suddenly a door opened from the direction of the sound curtain. Daphne and Quinn walked out into the office.

“It’s such an exciting time to be involved with this, don’t you think?” Daphne said. Before Quinn could answer, she seized him and kissed him passionately. Quinn grasped Daphne back, pressing her forward. His hands clasped her lower back, then lower. Daphne backed into the side of the desk.

“Take me here,” Daphne urged. The door Hydrangea had entered through shut and a sound curtain came up. Hydrangea assumed the commands had come from Daphne’s link.

Quinn acted quickly. Several items tumbled to the floor as the man cleared the antique desk. Hydrangea automatically did an assessment of their value and came up with nothing interesting.

“Oh Quinn!” Daphne purred. Quinn’s hands found her leg as it rose to clasp his hip. He lifted her onto the desk and curled one arm under her knee. Quinn ripped Daphne’s dress open from the top with his other hand. Hydrangea understood such foreplay to be common in Red Calais; the disposable clothing worn by the populace encouraged such behavior as mock displays of aggression during lovemaking.

As the man removed more of Daphne’s clothing and bore down upon her greedily, Hydrangea took his physical profile together with the name Quinn and inquired further as to his identity. The artificial plant carried a boosted link inside its pot that allowed it to access the network without using the house service to connect to the outside world. It would not do for Hydrangea to give away its presence to the house.

Identification services quickly sold Hydrangea the information it sought. The man had many different identities of varying degrees of legal validity. He was a con man headquartered in Red Calais that had seen a fair measure of success. Hydrangea believed that Daphne knew him as Mason Quinn, a xenobiologist with expertise in the Nanorith, an extinct alien race discovered by the Space Force decades ago.

Hydrangea accessed an appraisal service and put in a long set of ridiculous queries. It did not dare make a query solely about a live Nanorith egg and tip its hand as to what it really wanted. The answer came back quickly: only a handful of live Nanorith eggs were believed to exist, and they had all been placed into stasis by the Space Force. The scientific community had lost track of only one of them. This egg, if authentic, was that egg.

It was absolutely priceless.

Master will be so pleased!

In the few seconds Hydrangea had used to obtain this intelligence, Quinn and Daphne had enthusiastically pressed on with their sexual encounter. Judging from their noisy vigor, Hydrangea decided they were enjoying themselves. It could also tell they had joined links to feel each other’s sensations in the manner of most lovers.

Hydrangea made good use of the time, moving over the set of reed shelves. The couple’s lovemaking was so passionate that Hydrangea felt comfortable switching positions with an existing plant on the other side of the shelves as they energetically rode the desk and each other.

The plant dared move no further as the couple continued, but satisfied itself with merely testing the house’s cyber defenses from the outside. It did not access any services from within, as that would give away its presence to a security system as sophisticated as Sorune was likely to employ. It also passed on what it had learned to Assistant in case the Master or any of his agents might find it useful.

A half hour later, Daphne and Quinn had finished their romp, printed new clothes, and exited the room, leaving Hydrangea alone.

Back to work. Now. The egg. Where would that be?


Chapter 2

Mimic watched the throng in the Vothrile from its anchor point on the ceiling. Everything below looked like a normal night spot in Red Calais. Patrons drank, socialized, and conducted business below Mimic, oblivious to the small machine’s presence among the other robots that sped to and fro through the air to serve clients and clean the establishment. It had assumed a bullet-shaped form less than a meter long, held to its anchor point by thin rods. As far as anyone knew, Mimic was just another sound curtain, link booster, or payment facilitator. For that matter, even the central brain of the Vothrile had been fooled by Mimic. It never caught on that one robot among its crew had hacked the task database so that it could pick its own role and seek out its own clients from the crowd.

Tonight, Mimic sought a particular target. It meticulously categorized the citizens below. Rugged workers, cloaked strangers, and decorated merchants sat among the booths, many of them behind sound curtains. A steady beat of music provided enough background noise to mask casual conversation and drive the mood as the citizens sought drink, company, profit, or the thrill of an incarnate encounter.

Here, a rich woman sat in a booth looking for adventure. She wore an intriguing outfit and tried to lure several people into conversation. Mimic figured she should have settled for a virtual reality romp in the safety of her lavish home. Within the hour, she would either meet someone new or grow bored and leave.

There, a merchant sought to strike a deal with the help of the catalyst of recreational drugs. Mimic determined he knew what he was doing, as he had two men talking animatedly about a big business deal.

In the center, a woman sought to sell herself to the highest bidder. Mimic suspected she might well succeed, gauging from the looks she received from those nearby. Whether she would be the one to gain or her customer, Mimic could not predict.

In the corner, a predator who could not afford more VR time lurked, hoping to con an unsuspecting or unwilling stranger. He had just noticed the rich woman in the booth, but Mimic did not have time to watch the night unfold for anyone but its target.

Many of the bodies below were simulacra, remotely connected to operators in the safety of their homes. To interact with a fake body was safe but lacked the thrill of incarnate interaction. These individuals were marked as wiser by Mimic, but they were seen as cowards by their peers. The citizens of Red Calais valued boldness and bravery among their fellows; that played a key part in keeping something as archaic as a nightclub thriving.

Another component in the Vothrile’s continued existence in such an age was the fact that a deal struck incarnate carried a lighter data trail than one arranged over the network. In order to learn what someone was doing, one had to be physically present to listen in on them. Mimic intended to do exactly that for Master.

Mimic looked down as a new man walked into the Vothrile. The newcomer immediately caught the agent’s attention in several ways. Expensive clothing adorned his stocky body. His face and hair had been prepared by a high class grooming suite. He was in communication with someone outside the Vothrile, most likely a bodyguard. The night streets outside provided no guarantee of property rights. If something could be taken, it belonged to the taker. Private security was the only security on the laissez-faire streets of Red Calais.

The man’s profile matched that of Sorune, the target Mimic had been sent to surveil. Mimic decided to verify the man’s identity. His link obtained a booth’s services by overpaying the current owner’s fee by the high factor necessary to invalidate the previous reservation. Someone else would arrive and find that their minimal outlay of money had been insufficient to save them seating.

This is consistent with a very wealthy individual. Still, I should be sure.

The target’s link gave a cover code as identification. Another sign of money. Criminals often paid for increased anonymity, but this one was high echelon. Mimic toyed a bit with the man’s link interface. It was high quality but ill-maintained. Mimic would be able to break a few rules when communicating with it.

This could be good, Mimic told itself. This guy has more money than brains!

Mimic reconfigured itself for movement in the space of three seconds. If anyone saw Mimic follow the man to his usurped booth, no one cared, because Mimic now looked just like the other monitor machines working at the Vothrile: a smooth olive colored disk hovering above the booths. In its current configuration, it had four small manipulators and as many delicate antennae emerging from its perimeter. No legitimate monitor came to serve the mark since the Vothrile believed that Mimic worked for it and had already claimed the customer.

Mimic took up station above the three-person booth the man slid into below. Immediately a ghostly green container flickered and enclosed the booth.

“Sound curtain engaged,” Mimic said to the man’s link.

Mimic traced the payments for the services the man had secured at the Vothrile back to their source: a peer-to-peer payment system called Carthage. Carthage bucks were common in Red Calais; many businesses used them. They were regarded as legitimate for almost anything, though Mimic doubted much of anything legitimate ever happened in Red Calais. The sprawling city existed in a neutral zone between continents owned by several large Core World corporations. Instead of agreeing on a set of laws to be enforced, the powers left Red Calais open, ungoverned. Black market business and espionage thrived in the free zone. It was a beautiful den of merchants, smugglers and thieves who wanted it left that way.

Examining the historical payment records related to this man, together with a bit of bribery to those who mined Carthage payment blocks, would expose more information. Ideally, it would produce the man’s identity.

Mimic processed the necessary data as the man below waited for a drink. The first obstacle only proved the man’s net worth: Mimic’s demand was met by a challenge for still more money. In effect the little machine was now being blackmailed: if it did not pay, its snooping would be exposed. Mimic calmly continued to provide more funds as they became necessary. Mimic knew its long history would provide the criminal AI on the other side with an incentive to give it what it wanted, and surreptitiously. Mimic was a gold mine that would keep producing as long as it was not exposed and terminated.

The information came through.

Success!

The man was indeed Sorune. A quick cross check of public information verified it. He was a wealthy merchant exactly as Mimic had predicted. In fact, Sorune was among the 100 most wealthy in Red Calais!

Master will be so pleased! Mimic thought in a near euphoric state. It had found the man Master wanted to know more about. Then it settled down and got back to business. Now, what is such a rich man doing here? Nothing good.

The only reason a rich merchant would meet on neutral ground would be when dealing with a competitive peer. Otherwise, lesser clients would usually have to go to the merchant’s territory. Mimic performed a quick check. Though the owner of the club was not Sorune, a series of indirect relationships suggested Sorune was the ultimate controller of the Vothrile.

Ah. So this is his home ground.

Mimic decided to be a bit more careful in the future. It had not realized a man as powerful as Sorune controlled the establishment. Dispatching a message, Mimic informed Assistant of the find.

Sorune located. Standing by to intercept payments.

Mimic processed Sorune’s drink order and kept the sound curtain up with a different kind of music in the interior. For the moment, the man seemed content to wait. Mimic noted it just now approached the turn of the hour...

Another person approached the booth. He was tall, dressed in a gray outfit with small violet lines flitting across it. Mimic decided these hints indicated an affluent man. The shape of the outfit and posture of the newcomer indicated he was strong, probably due to toning pills.

The man slid into the seat across from Sorune. Mimic received a request for a business log service. Mimic provided a connection.

“Nice you see you again, sir,” said the visitor.

“Hello. Drink?”

“I ordered one, sir, it should be here momentarily.”

“Then let me proceed. I have to increase security at one of my houses,” Sorune said.

“Of course, sir,” the man replied. “I see you here at level four. The payment to the next graduation is—”

“No. Level six. I’m making this my main house. My wife and my daughter will be dwelling there with me.”

“Of course sir. Wise decision, sir. I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”

No need to mention the cost because you’re rich, sir, Mimic thought. And certainly no need to ask if you want the previous main house downgraded, since that would be less money for us!

“Good. Now tell me, what options do you have for secure storage?”

“Data or physical?”

“Physical.”

The two proceeded to hash out what kind of house safes the security company had to offer. The security vendor talked Sorune through many features of the safes, including a data wiping EMP for breaches of data storage devices to gas traps, on and off site security robots, and a myriad of other options.

Mimic listened carefully. It decided Sorune had something of small volume but very valuable to store. Something which would presumably be moving into the new house with him.

One house location discovered. Security being upgraded. Small, high value items coming in, Mimic sent to Assistant.

Sorune sent his Carthage payment. The security vendor specified that he wanted to receive the payment in a different form. Mimic installed itself as the security vendor’s currency conversion service. At first, everything proceeded as planned. When it came time to convert the payment, Mimic stalled, making the conversion take longer than expected. The man below looked a bit irritated. He had the option to pay extra money to decrease the conversion time by prioritizing his transaction’s computations.  He likely wanted the transaction to hurry up; the man before him was precious income. He did not dare make Sorune wait long. The rep made a payment to speed the conversion, money which Mimic and its online ally split.

The men shook hands to solidify their transaction, a quaint gesture in Mimic’s mind, as if they sought to deny the technological empire that enabled their business. They pretended to seal a verbal deal between them as two merchants who were beholden to their words. The agent found it paradoxical that in a den of thieves filled with backstabbing and betrayal, their words as honest dealers actually became more important, not less. Each would inevitably betray some carefully calculated percentage of clients and partners to extract maximum profit while dealing minimum damage to their trust ratings.

Mimic got every bit it could. By the time the transaction completed a few seconds later, it had extracted four percent of the total, more than anyone could reasonably expect. As far as the men below thought, it was just an extra busy business night with an above normal transaction load occurring in the agreed upon currency.

This is only the beginning, Sorune, Mimic promised.