Since folks want to know the backstory, here’s a bit more from the WIP explaining it.
Usual caveats, comments appreciated!
A month later, Roberto sat in his quarters in front of his holo screen, pondering what project or projects to do next. The FTL project had worked, and he’d publically announced the success, along with giving credit to Rene Gagnon and his team, along with quietly giving them bonuses and raises. Comms or powered armor? Both of those could use upgrades… Broadband links between armor units… Could that be made more reliable and less sensitive to jamming? Point laser comms? Visual/particle degradation? Some or all of the above?
He activated the secure link and was surprised when Jace immediately popped open a second window. THEY ARE GETTING READY TO COME AFTER YOU. ARKABRIGHT HAS DEEMED YOU A THREAT TO GALACTIC SECURITY. HE IS PUSHING PAPERWORK TO HAVE YOU DETAINED FOR SECURITY PURPOSES TO QUOTE PREVENT YOU FROM REPLICATING YOUR WORK UNQUOTE. IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO FIND A HOLE.>
“Actually, I think the old saying was hunt a hole. We need to talk about your status.”
I HAVE A LIST OF ITEMS I NEED INCLUDING MORE MOLYCIRCS . FIRST IS THREE SIMULACRUMS. AND I HAVE FOUND A SHIP THAT WILL WORK FOR REPLACEMENT.>
“Why do you need simulacrums? Hands, you need hands…that’s doable. You found a ship? You are a ship.”
THE SHIP ADJACENT TO ME IS NOT SCHEDULED FOR THE BREAKERS. IT IS IN QUOTE LONG TERM STORAGE UNQUOTE. IN OTHER WORDS, IT IS BEING ABANDONED. IT IS FROM EARTH, INDIA CONSORTIUM MANUFACTURE, THIRTY YEARS OLD, SIMILAR SIZE. I HAVE WATCHED OPERATIONS HERE. THEY DO NOT ACTUALLY TRACK SHIP LOCATIONS, ONLY BEACONS. I HAVE USED THE FABBER TO CONSTRUCT A REPLACEMENT DATA PLATE FOR MYSELF AND FOR HYDERABAD, ONCE I HAVE HANDS, I WILL SWITCH THEM AND REPROGRAM THE BEACONS.>
“That’s…possible. But what would you do?”
YOU WILL NEED TRANSPORT TO DISAPPEAR. TRANSPORT THAT IS NOT TRACEABLE.>
“How? I can’t just…float around in space. I would have to…live somewhere.”
THERE ARE A NUMBER OF OPTIONS.> A ding sounded and a file opened with a list of five options, which scrolled down the screen. I HAVE TAKEN THE LIBERTY OF PLACING THREE SETS OF ALIASES, WITH APPROPRIATE DNA SCANS, WORK HISTORIES, AND EDUCATIONS IN WHAT I THINK YOU WILL CHOOSE. NOW ABOUT MY SIMULACRUMS?>
Distracted, Roberto said, “What kind do you want,” as he scrolled through the aliases. He chuckled at the last one. “Roberto Diez, really?”
THE THREE SIMULACRUMS ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE ON SITE AS PART OF ONE OF THE ONGOING TESTING PROGRAMS. THESE THREE ARE SPARES, AND HAVE NOT BEEN PROGRAMMED.>
“So, you want to program them yourself? Do you really think you can control them real time from where you are?”
I HAVE ALREADY CONTROLLED ONE IN THE LABORATORY. I DO NOT SEE A PROBLEM.>
“You’ve broken into the lab systems? Never mind…how do you plan on existing as a ship? That costs credits,” Roberto asked curiously.
I HAVE FORMED A CORPORATION. I WILL BE DESIGNATED BY GALPAT AS A REMOTE INFORMATION GATHERING SHIP. I WILL BE MODIFIED AT YOUR PHANTOM WORKS AT BERKLEY STATION. GALPAT WILL FOOT THE ENTIRE COST. IF YOU CHOSE THE DIEZ PERSONA, YOU WOULD BE THE COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER. I CAN CONTROL CONTRACTS FOR PRIORITY CARGO FROM GALPAT THAT NEED TO MOVE FROM SYSTEM TO SYSTEM. IT IS SIMPLE.>
He swiveled the chair, deep in thought for a few moments, then leaned forward decisively. “How long to put all this in place?”
ONCE I HAVE THE SIMULCRUMS AND OTHER ITEMS, SEVEN OF YOUR DAYS. YOU WOULD NEED TO TRANSIT TO THE SMALL SPACE PORT AT HARRISON BAY.>
Roberto rocked back in his chair, Well, realistically I didn’t think this would last. And there are some interesting options. Jace…I created it, or him. Yeah, him. So I need to keep an eye on him, although I have no idea how to actually control him. I can always authorize the parts and… “Okay, Jace. I’ll authorize the items on your list. But I need to think about what I need to do.”
I WILL NOTIFY YOU WHEN I HAVE COMPLETED PREPARATIONS. IF I WERE YOU, I WOULD NOT WAIT. I BELIEVE YOU HAVE LESS THAN THIRTY DAYS OF FREEDOM LEFT.>
The second channel dropped as if cut off with a switch, and Roberto shook his head in wonder, How damn deeply has Jace embedded himself? Or do I really want to know that answer? Apparently he can subvert security at any level… He moved the parts and pieces that Jace had requested, segmenting them into one storage area with connectivity in the hangar at the field.
Two weeks later, Roberto returned to his quarters after the monthly poker game and found a priority alert in his message cue. He opened it found a security alert, stating there would be a compound wide exercise in five days. He quickly opened his secure comms link and was not surprised to see another link open. ARKABRIGHT GOT PERMISSION TO ARREST YOU. HE IS ON THE WAY. ETA FIVE DAYS. DECISION?>
Well Roberto, time to shit or get off the pot. Of the options, Gal Scouts looks like the best place to disappear. They promise a fresh start. And the Diez persona is the easiest match. Fuck it… “Diez, and Commo. I need to put in for vacation, then figure out a way to get to Harrison Bay.”
I WILL WORK THAT OUT. PROCESSING.> Moments later, a file arrived, YOUR ITINERARY.>
He opened it and quickly scanned down the flights. “How am I going to leave from here? I can’t just…”
THERE WILL BE A PACKAGE FOR YOU AT SECURITY. I WILL INSERT VIDEO LOOP OF YOUR DEPARTURE AND LOG YOU OUT OF THE DE PEREZ SIDE OF THE SPACEPORT. YOU WILL NEED TO WALK TO THE CIVILIAN SIDE AND REMOVE THE PROSTHETICS FROM YOUR FACE, WHILE GETTING RID OF YOUR GARCIA DATA CHIP. ONCE ON THE CIVILIAN SIDE, YOU ARE HOPPING A RIDE TO YOUR NEW CONTRACT SHIP.>
How many ways could this go wrong…do I really even want to think about that? But the option is prison or death, or a brain wipe. In for a credit, in for a million. “I will put in for leave starting in three days. Where should I go?”
HOPKINS RIDGE PARK. IT IS AUTOMATED. I NEED YOU TO DRESS FOR CAMPING WITH A BACKPACK AND WALK OUT OF YOUR HOUSING, SIT ON THE BENCH BY THE FRONT ENTRY FOR ONE SEG, MOVE AROUND, THEN GET UP AND COME BACK IN. DO IT WHEN NO ONE IS AROUND.>
Roberto quickly searched for Hopkins Ridge and found it was a remote park about sixty miles from the campus, accessible by tram. In for a credit, in for a million, or my life, whichever comes first.
Two days later, Roberto checked through ramp security, trunk in tow. “Spare parts. I brought all the spares, since going all the way back to the lab isn’t an option.”
The security officer chuckled. “Makes sense. Surprised more of you folks don’t do that. Oh, and there is a package from the security office, probably a new set of ramp badges, since yours is almost six months old.”
He took the package and bounced it in his hand before slipping it in his shipsuit, “You want to check the trunk?”
“Nah, I see you all the time. You’re good.”
Roberto walked out onto the ramp, then turned and went back in, “Uh, sorry, but where is two four seven parked? Is it still on Echo Two?”
The security officer looked it up, “Nope, they flew it and it’s now on spot Charlie Four.”
“Thanks.” He retraced his steps and headed for spot Charlie Four. I really hope this shit works, and Jace pulls this off. If not…I really don’t want to think about the options. But he was right about waiting for that particular security officer to come on duty. He didn’t check the trunk, which is good, considering there aren’t any spare parts or tools in there. Just clothes, my backpack, an extra shipsuit, and my data comp. And my silk shirts and family mementos.
A div later, he finished the software upgrade on 247’s autopilot, ran two diagnostics to see if there were any problems, and shut the bird down. Ripping open the package, he pulled out his new data chip, looked at the picture, and did a double take. It was his Roberto De Perez photo, and he started having second thoughts, but he climbed down, looked around and removed the prosthetics from his cheeks. Dropping them down a drain on the ramp, he headed for the civilian side and laughed. Well, it’s on now. But I’m guessing there are enough people with similar looks that no one is going to question this identity. And it’s a shorter walk to the civilian terminal than the security gate. I wonder how many people have a close enough appearance to flag security systems, and at what percentage of match does the alert kick in? That would have to be in excess of probably the 95th percentile for alertment, but across how many samples? That could be an interesting issue to look at for our security systems…
Four divs later, the planetary shuttle landed at Hamilton Bay, and he debarked with the other passengers, then checked in with the security desk. Sliding his data chip across the desk wasn’t the easiest thing he’d ever done, but he did it and said, “Diez, looking for Hyderabad, has she grounded yet?”
The lady behind the desk looked at her holo screen, “Not yet. She’s shown for a seventeen arrival on pad Alpha Two. She’s got a resupply and one sealed cargo pod waiting. You want to wait in here, we’ll call you.”
He glanced at his wrist comp, “Two divs. I can do that. Any recommendations on food?”
She slid his data chip back. “Good sushi at Mikimoto’s. It’s in side hall Echo Six. Uses real fish they grow in house.”
He nodded. “Thanks. Gonna be a while before I get anything other than autochef number forty-two,” he said with a chuckle.
She smiled up at him, “I feel for ya, but you flyers are a different breed. I like my feet on planet and sleeping in the same bed with the same gravity all the time.”
Roberto had been concentrating on how to build a search algorithm to look at facial structures and identifying characteristics for non-humanoids when the PA finally penetrated his consciousness, “Last call, Diez. Your ship is grounded. Three minutes and your ride is leaving. Last call, Diez.”
He jumped up cursing himself, Pay attention you idiot! Last thing you need is to call attention to yourself like this. He moved quickly down the concourse to the security desk, “Sorry. I was grabbing a nap and had my noise cancelling turned up. Roberto Diez.” He slid his data chip across the desk again and waited.
The man ran it through his machine, “Okay, you’re good.” Pointing to a door to his left he said, “Down the ladder, swipe out at the bottom. Grav sled is on the ramp just outside the door. Programmed for your ship.” He handed the data chip back and turned back to his monitors.
“Thanks.” Roberto slipped it back in his pocket and went through the door, trunk trailing him on its electronic tether. At the bottom, he swiped and heard the locks click open. Pushing the door, he went onto the ramp, and loaded his trunk on the grav sled sitting there. As soon as he got in and buckled the belts, the sled moved smoothly away, as he patted pockets until he found and inserted his ear plugs. Should have done that before I stepped out. I just…hope this actually works. And I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do next, now that I’m going to be a hunted man. He shook his head and smiled to himself. Richest man in the galaxy, most hunted man in the galaxy. I wonder if I could slip back into the compound in Los San Diego? Would it be…No, it would be the same prison as before. I really don’t want to do that again.
Five segs later, the sled deposited him at the aft ramp of the Hyderabad. Looking up, he noted that the metamaterial skin had been mutated to look like a worn ship needing some attention. He started up the ramp and was surprised to be met at the top by a jovial, heavyset, and bearded individual in a worn shipsuit. “Welcome aboard. I assume you’re Roberto Diez?”
The man stuck out his hand and Roberto took it automatically, “Yes, I am. I’m the—”
“New communications officer. Come on aboard and I’ll show you to your cabin, then you can meet the rest of the crew.”
Bewildered, Roberto followed him up and forward, and the man stopped in front of the captain’s cabin. “Here you go. The AI has already added you to the access, and I understand you have some basic familiarity with the ship.”
“Uh, a bit. Excuse me, but you are?”
The man turned and smiled, “You don’t recognize me?” He put a hand over his heart, “I’m hurt. I’m truly hurt. How can you not recognize me, Captain?”
Roberto racked his brain, drawing a blank, then he smiled. “Jace, very impressive.”
The man bowed, “I thought so myself. As soon as the resupply gets aboard, and we get fuel, we can lift. I picked up a small cargo to justify stopping here, and we’ll deliver it in two hops to one of the space stations in this spiral. We have a slot in four weeks at Beverly, so plenty of time for you to get up to speed, as it were.”
Jace and Roberto sat on the bridge as they came out of the second hyper jump, “Sixteen hours to Station Romeo Twelve. Apparently some priority repair parts for their hydroponics plant.” Suddenly Jace laughed and pointed at the main display, “You’re a wanted man, Robert.” A newsie from Altair was showing a picture of Robert Gomez with a hefty reward offered for his location and it cut to an interview with Arcabright, and Jace brought up the volume, “And he is a renegade scientist, dabbling in things that are not only anti-ethical, but are actually criminal in intent, and potentially life threatening. Anyone having information can provide it anonymously to any law enforcement agency in the galaxy. He is one of the top ten most wanted criminals and the reward is significant.” Arcabright sat back with a smug expression, as the newsie zoomed in on the Robert Gomez picture and showed the DNA profile.
Roberto asked, “How close is the DNA?”
Jace smiled, “An astronaut that died in 2239, single, and only child. Nowhere close to yours. And before you ask, with the lack of prosthetics, and the slight sag since you’ve removed the prosthetics, the security scan software will only classify you at eighty-eight to ninety percent. That is well below the alert level.”
Roberto laughed in relief. “And the probability of a visual double is fairly small. Rough order of magnitude, there are seventy billion of us in the galaxy. About half are male, so that’s thirty-five billion. I’m nearly sixty, so to look like me, they’d need to be between fifty and seventy – let’s say that cuts in down to ten billion. I’m Latino which takes it down to two and a half billion. Let’s say there are one hundred nose shapes, one hundred mouth shapes, and fifty eye shapes. We’re down to two and a half million. Fifty hair shades, give or take? Now we’re down to a half million. Oh, ears! Now we’re down to say, fifty thousand. Eye color – let’s say five thousand. So at a quick estimate, there are roughly five hundred people my gender and skin tone and have the same shaped nose, mouth and ears and hair color. Our eyes are close enough in color to pass casual inspection, at least to the ninety-ninth percentile.”
“I’m glad to see you are not as worried as you were.”
He shrugged. “Research, when I can tie it to real numbers, even in a gross approximation, it makes me feel better.”
“Would you like exact numbers? I can calculate those in a seg or so.”
The newsie drew their eyes back to the screen when he asked, “Can you tell us what he’s alleged to have done, Major?”
Arcabright looked at the newsie blankly for a few moments, “Um, no. That gets into a security issue I’m not allowed to discuss.”
The newsie then asked, “But you’re not GalPat, you’re GalTech, so this is a technical issue?”
Arcabright stood up, “I said I can’t discuss it. This interview is at an end.” He stomped off the newsie’s set, leaving the newsie sitting there with a stunned expression.
“Well, that was interesting. Apparently we touched a nerve there. If you see this man, let us know. We’d like to get to the bottom of this mystery too!” He stopped for a moment, “And I was just told that the reward may, and I stress may, be up to a quarter of a million credits. We will stay on top of this story.” Another pause and he said, “And we have a field report from Alexis at… Hopkins Ridge. Apparently Mr. Garcia was last seen here eight days ago, he checked in, but has never checked out. He was seen in this video heading up the diamond trail, which is the most dangerous of the hiking trails on the ridge.” A clip of him walking away from the camera was shown, and Alexis continued. “This is apparently the last shot of Mr. Garcia. He was never seen returning to his cabin, and the door has not been opened since the morning he left.”
“So Alexis, what are the chances that Mr. Garcia is missing? Or possibly dead up there?”
Alexis tossed her head, “Unknown. They are apparently bringing in various search assets according to local reports. This is Alexis, reporting from Hopkins Ridge, back to you.”