Chapter 4: Frustrations

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Start from the beginning.

Fae straightened the creases in her shirt as the lift stopped on her floor. As she walked out, she brushed her hair back and tried her best to look calm and collected. AURA had watched her slam her fist into the lift’s wall and hear her frustrated yells. But AURA remained silent. It could not act on Fae’s feelings, it could only log them for later. Matt kept his head down, staring at his screen while Timur and Sol looking concerned with a hint of surprise.

“I hope this means you’re back to stay. When Matt came back it didn’t look good.”

“Yeah, I’m not leaving yet. I think her hair changed another shade of red by the time I left, but I’m still here for now.”

Matt looked up from his desk, a look of relief on his face.

“Don’t worry about it, Matt. It wasn’t your fault. They’re going to drop this on the train repair team and ambiguously allude to some sort of mechanical failure. It’s the first one we’ve had in a real long time, but it’s better than a rogue PI. But, the bad news is, we’re being taken off this one. The Transit Authority is taking over the cleanup and investigation.” The heat began to rise in Fae’s voice. “We are to do absolutely nothing and continue with our current projects, praying nothing like this happens again.”

“The cleanup team is already going through our archives of the events and wiping them from our machines, so we’re as off the project as it gets.” She paused for a moment and sighed, letting her shoulders slouch and release the tension she hadn’t know she was carrying. “Anyway, that’s all I know.”

Fae sat down in her chair, slumping down the back, and stared at her screen as it came alive. The video of the derailment was playing out in triple speed as it was being archived and deleted. She watched the video surge forward, reliving the frantic stress of the morning. The archive process reached the final frames, the strange spherical object connected to all of the cabling throughout the train. Just like before the explosion, Fae only saw a glimpse of the device, but, knowing what was to come, she focused on the object more, trying to remember specifics.

From the quick few seconds she saw it, Fae determined, based on the crumpled drone, the sphere was a few inches taller than her, roughly six feet. The orb was ringed with a minimal steel frame that kept it from rolling. The disabled drone that had smashed into the sphere hadn’t left a dent, although the steel frame had caved where the drone had hit. Right as the video feed flickered when that humming noise had started, Fae noticed the sphere rotated as if it were vibrating. It had shifted just enough to reveal a scratched out and faded pattern of four diamonds arranged in a diamond shape.

Fae jumped forward to get a screen capture, but the video disappeared as it finished. Cursing to herself, she doodled the symbol on her Slate, being sure to save the image on only the encrypted partition of the device’s storage.

Even as the group of programmers that developed the WELL’s most powerful program, Fae’s team still had their computers logged at all times...however, they had not reached their level of ability without picking up a few tricks and leaving some back doors open. With a few key commands and several lines of code, Fae had opened a secure line to AURA that couldn’t be logged or traced.

“AURA, I need you to run an image search on this symbol.”

“I’m sorry, Fairweather, I am unable to complete any further requests pertaining to this image or the events it is included in. Investigation of these events and any items involved has moved to Transit Authority.”

Fae cursed under her breath. She could brute force the request while staying unknown, but any breach of AURA’s orders would be reported to the AURA Monitoring team, drawing attention to the search. Fae unconsciously ran her fingers through her hair, working through the problem in her head.

“AURA, can you playback video of the event?”

“I’m sorry, that is not possible. The event in question has been locked down. I cannot share video, images, or audio pertaining to the event. All requests after the event made by non-investigating member must be denied.”

Fae had an idea. “AURA, playback all audio requests or input made by Fairweather Nils.”

There was a pause no more than three seconds long. “There are more than fifty thousand audio requests made by Fairweather Nils, several thousand with restricted access. Warning: complete playback will be incomplete and take several days at normal speed. Do you wish to continue with this request?”

“Narrow down all audio logs to only those made today. Begin with this conversation and move backwards.”

“Very well. Beginning playback.”

The audio began to play in Fae’s headphones, playing only her own inputs with added in timestamps. The one-sided conversation with AURA played out backwards, until the timestamp changed to twenty minutes prior, a bout of cursing replaced her level voice. Fae blushed and coughed into her hand, clearing her voice. The timestamp changed again, this time two hours previously. An exasperated Fae breathed heavy, knowing there was nothing to do as the train derailed.

The next log played and Fae listened through completely, paused the recording, then played it back again. She had found what she was looking for.

“AURA, you have not completed an action previously requested. If your search restriction does not apply to previous orders, please carry out the follow.” Fae played the audio of the last thing she said to AURA before the train derailed:

“Fuck. AURA, play that back now. Freeze frame on that object. Run a search for it - I want that thing identi-“

“Very well, Fairweather. It appears I have been derelict in my duty and my current restrictions do not prohibit me from carrying out a previously incomplete request. Please hold as I send all available identifying information to your personal Slate.”

Fae’s Slate vibrated as it received the files. “Thank you, AURA. The files have been received.” Then Fae logged out of her secure line, being sure to log back into her standard terminal profile. She looked at Matt, then Timur and Sol to see them busy typing away, lost in the music playing in their ears and the jobs on their screen. Fae had a feeling that discovering what that four diamond symbol meant was more important than fixing the sensors in Hydro she had been working on, so she stood and pantomimed eating when Timur looked up at her. He nodded and looked back at his screen.

Fae crossed the floor to the lift, rode it down to the bottom, and walked out onto the darkening greenway. It was nearing 2PM local time, but the sun had already began setting for most of the WELL, the interior WELL lights dimming to match the outdoor glow of orange and red.

Fae wove her way through one of the greenway’s many artificial forests, careful to make sure no one followed her. The ground was moist from a recent watering, but it wasn’t muddy. The forest was quiet enough that she could safely raise the volume on her right ear’s hearing implant. All she heard was the rustle of the wind and the patter of small animals. Tree branches bobbed with the wind. Fae was alone.