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"Curious exchange." Dragonfly tapped her finger against the table - tap tap tap - as she listened to the audio track. When it was done, she called a drone out of nowhere, twisting it into normal space and setting it down with its great eye pointed upwards to project a simple holographic whiteboard. This, in turn, she filled with simple wireframes - a storyboard, shifting and rearranging as she tried to fit the narrative together.

 

"....narrative doesn't fit together," she mused, frowning at it. "Missing information, bad information. Hypothesis: agents don't have a cohesive understanding either?" She paused, turning her head to glance at the others. "Irons' records are sound. If they could fake Keres' records, they'd be good enough to not need us. They worry that their agent got flipped, but the conversation isn't much evidence of that. Hesitation, maybe. One agent shoots Irons, shoots Keres, claims betrayal after...why?"

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Terrifica pulled out an analysis tool, pressed it to her ear, and played the audio one more time. Bonham wasn’t there. Not at the first shooting.  “Listen to this again.” She played it again, but paused to comment on each line.

 

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‘if you can shut it down, shut it down now. we can talk later about-‘

 

“Patriot, most likely. Don’t rule out others, but still.”

 

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bang

‘no, i - you - you bastard! what did you do to him?’

 

“Gonzalez. The current official read on this is Keres shot Patriot and the agent is reacting. Note the hesitation at the start. Disbelief, most likely.”

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'well well well agent, what would your superiors say if they knew what you just-'

'go to hell you son of a bitch' and then bang bang bang, high-caliber ammunition tearing through Keres' frame

 

“Keres first, and then the first appearance of Sadler. Seems easy to reason that Sadler shot Keres in anger at Patrio being down, which means he either saw Keres do the shooting and we’re all being jerks, he didn’t and merely made a reasonable assumption, or he was standing right next to Gonzalez and said nothing as Patriot was shot.”

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'dammit what did you do?'

'he flipped him! he flipped the Patriot!'

'my god...if they could do that to him, then...'

 

“And the first appearance of Director Bonham, followed by Sadler and then Gonzalez. This is…fairly obvious about how Bonham wasn’t in the room with either android was shot. That bluster was him covering for his subordinates.” Terrifica sighed out loud. “You know what I think? I think Jack Simmons is a very old man. I think he’s been fighting the good fight longer than anyone born mortal would ever expect to. I think he’s very tired and riding the edge of burnout. I also think that AEGIS needs him, as a symbol, and that has, to an extent, overruled his personal feelings. In his mind and perhaps the Director’s as well. Generations of agents have and still do look up to him. And Jack Simmons was not the kind of man who would know how to hide the fatigue of decades of grinding struggle. Not from everyone. Not all the time. There would have been little clues. That the legend was only a man. So to speak.”

 

She rubbed the bridge of her nose, just to feel something besides frustration at perfectly understandable human weakness. Listening to this, my current theory is that Agent Gonzalez saw two old enemies who know each other very well taking time to talk it out and fundamentally couldn’t believe what she was seeing. In her mind the Patriot should have been pounding Keres to scrap, not conversing with him calmly. She assumed he was compromised and shot him. Sadler covered for her when Bonham entered the room following the sounds of gunfire. Does that sound right to all of you?"

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While the recording played and Terrifica gave her assessment, Miss A pulled on a headpiece with an HUD-equipped visor and began examining the damage done to each robot. She hummed slightly at the eventual conclusion. "I don't know if we have enough information about what Simmons is like these days to be making inferences there, but I think you're pretty close on the scenario. All these shots were AEGIS standard-issue weapons," she reported. "The one that went into Irons, that's a through and through at the temple,  probably from the hip by somebody with excellent training. The angle is from the side and at the same level or just slightly below, accounting for relative heights. It's a good shot, just a little wild, but it did the job." 

 

She moved back over to Keres and used a probe to indicate the damage there. "Nice tight grouping here, fired from medium-close range and at a downward angle. Target-style shooting at something that wasn't moving. My guess is that Keres was down or even prone by the time he was shot. Two different weapons for these shots. Sadler wasn't covering for Gonzales, he was right in there with her by the time she started on Keres. What the hell was it that Irons wanted shut down, that she would shoot him in the head over it?" 

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"Can we even extract any information from the agents?" Voltage piped in. "Wetworks people, AEGIS agents. They don't seem the type to talk to us about it with us.  Doctors don't usually interrogate suspects. Then again...I...I feel like we need to get him up and running and see what he thinks is going to happen. None of this looks good."

 

"How does everything look so far?"

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"I don't think the human agents are going to be our best source of information on this, even if they decide to tell all the truth they know," Miss A agreed with Voltage's assessment. In the air, the little pantomime being sketched out by Dragonfly's drone program showed the agents arriving right at the end of whatever pivotal moment had just taken place. "I think we're going to have to wake up the principal actors in this thing and see what they can tell us."

 

She picked up a sleek little cellphone and punched a speed-dial number. "Hey FB, you still in the building? Yeah I know it's late, just like I know you're ganking my server space to play Valheim with your buddies in California." She grinned just a little at whatever response that got her. "I need you to jack in and keep an eye on the partitioned drives we just set up. If anything starts trying to get away, don't let it. Uh-huh, you'll know it when you see it. Yeah, okay."

 

Setting down the phone, she turned to the others. "Irons first, then Keres," she decided. "One way or another, we'll get the whole story." Rather than waste her time with the keyboard, Miss A pressed her fingertips to the console and let her brain do the work. In just a minute or two, the room's large main television screen was filled with the image of a plain beige bedroom, one bed, one desk, one chair, one lamp. Sleeping on the bed was the familiar, even iconic form of the Patriot himself. "Simulated environment," she explained. "He'll come online in a moment."

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It took a little while to form Irons' "consciousness", but in the hands of the world's greatest cyberneticists it honestly wasn't much of a challenge. He snapped awake at once, bolting upwards like a man awakening from a dream. A normal man might have been confused by his situation, but he had been an uploaded mind for quite some time. He walked to the edges of the room even as his consciousness pushed against the edges of the programming holding it, then looked up at the ceiling and raised his voice. 

 

"This isn't the AEGIS mainframe," he commented with a faint smirk, "and somehow I doubt this is how the Foundry treats its 'guests'. Who do I have the honor of speaking with?

 

Pale-faced, Eira pushed open the door to the lab, carrying the equipment Miss A had asked for earlier and looked about to say something before she caught sight of what was going on. Silently, she handed the boxed gear to Miss Americana, a rattled look on her face. 

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"You're at ArcheTech," answered Dragonfly, peering at the simulation with interest. "Aegis wanted a consultation, got more costumed scientists than they expected. I'm Dragonfly; Miss Americana's here too, obviously. Others will introduce themselves only if they want. Not going to try to speak for them directly."

 

She paused, tapping a finger against her armor. "Do you remember what happened to you?"

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"I was on an AEGIS mission, helping deal with a collection of Foundry holdouts who didn't get the memo about their boss playing king instead of warlord." The Patriot smiled bitterly. "Sad, isn't it? Old machines still acting on their programming instead of adapting to the real world." His smile faded as he added, "But it wasn't just a collection of drones; it was Keres and some ambassadors from Rurland. It turned into a firefight and I almost lost my team." He looked up at his invisible interrogator and said, "You know, if this is Archetech, you could just look into my mind and get the whole story there. But as far as I can tell, you haven't even tried." 

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Voltage leaned forward. "Our focus was on saving your life. Our other concerns were secondary. We wanted to make sure everything would transfer cleanly and that you'd function without issues before trying to get information from you.  I'm glad to see it's working"

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"You are indeed at ArcheTech, Agent Irons," Miss Americana said smoothly, stepping into view of the screen. "I'm afraid there was catastrophic damage to your robot shell, but we were able to upload your neural programming into a secured partition on the ArcheTech servers. Everything you see around you is of course a simulation, but if there's anything I could add to make you more comfortable, please let me know. We have Keres as well, in a separate and equally secure partition and will also be speaking to him. 

 

Even as she spoke with the agent, she accepted the box of parts and opened a tight radio link to Eira. What's the matter? What did you find? 

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"Hm." The Patriot seemed to consider Miss Americana's words. "Did my team make it through? I don't know any of them very well except Luke Bonham, but they're good men and women. They deserve better than to come under fire from a terrorist who couldn't let bygones be bygones." He frowned and added, "Most of my short-term memory is gone. What actually happened to my body?" 

 

They - got in my face. The images Eira sent Miss Americana were of a stressful but not actually violent encounter between herself and the AEGIS agents in the waiting room. I entered the room to ask if they needed coffee. Gonzales the dark-skinned woman, looked at me and said "She's one of them." It was a memory of some shame; Eira did not like to be made unless she had broadcast her own identity. She actually grabbed my arm and here was a vivid recollection of backwards striking spots against a joint but Agent Sadler told her I was just a kid and to let it go, and her commander said 'don't we have enough problems without you fighting the damn intern?' That too was a shameful memory for Eira, full of pride. But even then, they looked at me like - ah, it was stupid! Eira was, for once, more upset than she was letting on. 

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Terrifica

 

“You were shot in the head by a high caliber weapon. Similar to those commonly carried by AEGIS agents. That isn’t an insinuation. The Foundry or  Keres could have easily acquired such a weapon, as you know.” Terrifica spoke with absolute calm. “I am Terrifica. Your team was the Director and Agents Sadler and Gonzalez, yes? They are unharmed. Can you tell us what you do remember?” Out of Patriot’s sight, she gestured questioningly at Keres, meaning his memory recordings. Should they play them for him?

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Miss A turned away from the interview for a moment to focus on her young assistant. Her face suddenly became smooth, cold, and hard as a porcelain figurine. "I believe the agents have overstayed their welcome," she said to the room, each word bitten off clean. "If you'll excuse me for one moment." 

 

She left the lab through the main door, pressing just a tiny bit too hard so the door flew open in front of her. "Director, Agents," she said coldly. "You were invited here as a favor, one of many favors I personally and ArcheTech corporately has done for you over the many years of our relationship. Our relationship has always been professional, even cordial." Her voice rose, got louder, icier. "You have absolutely no right to be here beyond the invitation you were given, and that invitation does not extend to manhandling my people or intimidating children!" 

 

Two of the bulky Emerson+ security robots appeared in the doorway that opened onto the public spaces of the building. Miss A glanced at them, then dropped her voice to something barely above a hiss. "Get the hell out of my building, and don't come back until you're ready to drop the bullshit and the bigotry. We don't work for you." 

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Scarab III

Kamala was feeling a little out of depth, she was smart but here she was feeling very much like a third wheel. Still she wasn’t going to admit that though and was trying to figure a way that she could help. There should be a way to use the virtual environment to there advantage, and help solve the entire mystery of what had happened.

 

If we give him limited control of the environment could he not build a version of the events as he remembers it? That way we can compare it to what we’ve found and see if anything been altered in any way.”

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Dragonfly sat back in a chair - as best she could with her armor in the way - and pondered. "Probably," she said, though she first sent a thought out to cut the mic and keep them from being overheard. "Weakens containment somewhat; obviously can't just simulate a door to freedom, but opens avenues of attack. Risk is primarily to Americana's servers, probably her call when she gets back. Likewise, playing any data from one partition to the other."

 

It did at least bring her attention back to the screen and its virtual patient. "You took a bullet to the head; lucky you didn't lose more than you did. Whatever you do remember, short-term or not, would be useful for triage as much as mystery-solving. We have some recordings and buffer data, mostly sensory playback, but would like your take and context."

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