I’m in the Atlanta police department headquarters.
Inside of Chief Baranowsky’s office.
This is, once again, not an unfamiliar circumstance.
“I can’t BELIEVE you thought you could just go out on your own,” Chief Baranowsky says as he chews me out. “You were under police protection. We were solving this case. We were about to bring down the entire Cybermancer ring!”
“Well, Moonslash– I mean Max Gisbon was the Cybermancers’ primary accountant for their criminal enterprises. He should have records that you can use for all of this.”
“Not in his apartment he didn’t,” he says. “But you know what he did have? Hundreds of copies of some video games and a bunch of retail crap. Real useful to us, huh.”
“How many Cybermancers could there be these days?” I ask.
“None of your business!” Chief Baranowsky shouts. “You aren’t part of the police. If I had my way…”
He’s right; if Max Gibson knew he was in danger of being arrested, then surely he also knew he was going to hide any incriminating evidence. And thanks to the crazed robots attacking his own apartment, he got exactly the chance he needed to get everything ready for his surrender.
“I apologize,” I say.
“I’m letting you off the hook but do not do this again. This is the LAST time. ”
This is the fourth time he has told me this.
“Even still…” his face lightens up as his anger subsides. “I wanted to discuss your proposal a bit further. About Kobi Gibson.”
“We have not been able to locate his mother, and as we told you, his nearest kin, an aunt on his mother’s side, lives in Tallahassee and is not financially able to make the trip to Atlanta at this moment. So…”
“It’s not impossible, as irresponsible as I am?”
“Well… it’s not that I like you, Harding, but you make a very valid point, and considering the circumstances…”
“I’d be happy to accept it, if you are willing to let me.”
Chief Baranowsky sighs. “It’s certainly not my place to say this, but I know full well that our Child Protective Services is extremely lacking. One in ten of every child under our watch ends up on the streets one way or another, and even if it is only a few weeks… I don’t want to be the one lying awake at night thinking about that. As lacking in resources as we are at the moment, I have no choice but to ask for your assistance.”
That’s a hefty switch in tone from the way he was berating me just thirty seconds earlier. I’m a bit humbled. “I will be as responsible as I possibly can,” I say.
“That’s not a very reassuring statement, but okay.”
At the church. Me, Karina, R8PR.
“Nope,” R8PR says flatly.
“Not even a hint?” I ask. “A cryptic statement?”
“I have my ways, and so do you,” he says. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be of much help with your Cybermancer stuff, but I was very busy with a few errands. That’s all I care to say.”
“I tell YOU everything…”
“Is that so?”
“Well…” I am sure R8PR would be smirking at me if he had a mouth, because he caught me red-handed at my occasional omission of certain important life events.
“The good thing is that you two stopped the Cybermancer’s primary accountant, leaving the group essentially leaderless. They haven’t been too relevant recently, but I imagine this was the finishing blow.”
“One option is most of them throw in the towel, going legitimate or retiring altogether. The other option is, now we have an unknown number of lone wolf Cybermancers whose motives and goals are a mystery, and could strike at any moment without coordination.”
“I like the first option more.”
“There’s something I wanted to bring up,” says Karina. “I’ve been thinking about it ever since we went to the Data Farm.”
“Oh, how was that by the way? Is it everything it’s hyped up to be?”
He sounds like my sister. “It had a good robot at the reception desk.” RIP, DODF.
“That’s what I want to say,” Karina interjects. “Remember, Jones was talking all about the Ascendants thing she brought up?”
“Yeah,” I say.
“So, the Ascendants are probably some super evil group that are doing… something, but we have no idea of what except that the Dreamtech helmet things were going to be part of it. Well.. what if the Cybermancers are tied in somehow?”
“I doubt it. The Cybermancers have been around for a really long time,” I say. “They aren’t really relevant anymore. Moonslash would have been much more powerful if he had access to the same stuff as Mayor Epstein and his crowd.”
Karina shrugs. “But what if the Ascendants have been around a really long time too? I guess it’s just weird to me that some dude who could buy data files for $80,000 and go around hacking people’s robots like nothing could go mostly unnoticed. Maybe there’s… another coverup or something.”
“Hmm… Very interesting points,” R8PR says. “Food for thought.“
“The Data Broker was offering a file on Jones, actually,” I add. “It was a full $200,000, but I have to wonder what may have been found already.”
“Probably less than you think,” he says. “If you two haven’t found a trace of her, I can’t think there’s anyone else anywhere close.”
“Awwww, that’s so sweet,” Karina says.
“I’m just stating the facts. You two are good sleuths.”
Ugh. Again, stop sounding like my sister all the time.