Chapter 5: Under the Maples


With millions of people living in a single, gigantic WELL, it was almost impossible to find a place to have to yourself. It was even more difficult to find anywhere that wasn’t being surveilled by every type of sensor or camera. The Sigma greenway in Apex had some of the few.

Fae had never seen an aboveground forest. She had seen them in videos and pictures from the past, but she had never sat beneath a maple’s branches and felt the heat of a summer sun streaking through the leaves. The grow lamps did a good job of simulating it, but a simulation can only go so far.

She had found this spot in the trees only a couple years ago, when she was working through a complex problem that was halting progress on the AURA Project. It had taken an hour or two of wandering to find her particular spot, but—noticing a particularly peaceful spot—she had casually logged into the jumbled mess of the sensor network. Without AURA it had proved difficult, but she was surprised to discover that she was in a black spot. Ever since then, it was her way to get away. Today, it was her place to do something she shouldn’t.

Back when she was programming AURA, Fae had needed a way to test security protocols from the outside. She had got an unregistered Slate and battered an adolescent AURA with everything she could, trying to wreak havoc from within. AURA passed. The Slate ended up wrapped in plastic and buried in the soft soil of Fae’s thinking tree; she had kept it just in case. In case of what, she had’t known at the time.

Fae dug in the soft earth between two knobby roots until she felt the crinkle of plastic. She pulled the container out, brushing aside any loose dirt, and opened the package. Fae withdrew a signal scrambler, a handmade solar charger, and a simple dock for the Slate. She hadn’t used the setup in a while, so in the ten minutes it took to finish putting together the scrambler, the solar charger had gained enough of a charge.

Fae took a deep breath then smiled when the screen finally came on. The tech was nothing compared to what she had on her wrist, but it wasn’t terribly bad—plus, anonymity had its price. Fae transferred the secured files from one Slate to the other and began filtering through the data heap AURA gave her.

As Fae sifted through the data, her face, like the shadows, drew longer and darker. She found more and more junk data, most likely unrelated to the device or the disaster: patents for the steel alloys used for the brackets, printer documents and automation instructions for electronic components. The level’s ceiling shifted from mid afternoon light towards dusk, the last streaks of daylight disappearing beneath a fake horizon.

Fae stood up and began pacing circles around the tree. The cables, the bracket, even the electronics were off-the-shelf. The cables could be found at any surplus store and the bracket could be built from simple parts. Design-wise, the spherical device looked intricate and expensive. It could’ve been a cube, though. Simple, cheap construction and can easily fit into any box they needed. Unless it couldn’t be a cube. Unless it needed to be a sphere.

Fae stopped and rapped her knuckles on the tree. She was onto something. Digging deeper, she paced around the tree again, faster this time. It needed to be a sphere for some specific reason. The components within were arranged spherically, perhaps. There were no seams that could be seen, meaning single piece construction most likely from a mold. She had seen something like that done in Industrial when she was fixing a temperature sensor—it wasn’t anything nearly as precise as a sphere though.

A molded sphere. Molds were expensive - especially one with a need for precision as high as a sphere - so any company that had one wouldn’t have made it for a single use. There would be multiple copies. There would be a record. Fae went back to the docked Slate and checked the charge. The sun was waning, but there was still an hour’s worth of time left on it. Running a simple query through AURA, she  narrowed down the manufacturers of sphere molds to two companies in Industrial: Bostok Molds and Robin-Lark, a metals company.

Bostok Molds was on contract making custom pipe molds for Hydro.  They hadn’t made sphere molds in nearly three years, but the ones they had manufactured were only for use with glass and plastic.

Robin-Lark had gained prominence ten years ago when two nobodies, Robin and Lark, patented a new method for creating molds for plastics and metals that extended the life of their molds far beyond their competitions’. A matter of weeks later, they were purchased by Sigma. Six months later the company was dissolved and Robin and Lark fell out of the limelight. With employees scattered throughout Sigma and the founders remaining silent, the few people who knew why the company was disbanded remained close-lipped.

Fae narrowed down her search, leaving out Bostok, and dug deeper into the specific molds Robin-Lark offered, finding one similar in shape to the one on the train. She dug deeper and saved blueprints, automation code, and a long inventory of the projects the mold was used for ranging from small low temperature crucibles to floating water sensors for Hydro. She made sure to transfer the information to her personal Slate as the lights shifted to night mode. Her battery nearing empty, she replaced the unregistered Slate, disassembled its pieces and reburied the package.

She walked back towards the path as she thumbed through the data she had retrieved. A smile crossed her face as she pulled up the mold blueprints and found the designer’s name, then with a secure AURA search found her address:

Ms. Vera Lark. The Deco, Suite 423. Lip.

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