Entry 21 – The Morning After
I barely got some shut-eye last night. The images of the days past kept haunting my dreams to the point where I found myself staring at the ceiling for hours on end. The first rays of sunlight coming through the window on the other side of the semi-transparent glass dormitory space door were a mercy as much as a wake-up call although my body clearly disagreed on that point. I felt exhausted.
By the time I got to my pod last night, it was already late and the sounds of snoring betrayed the presence of other people in the large room. However, I didn't realize just how many there were and a dozen or so yawning and stretching men and women took me off-guard a bit. They too were all quite surprised by having found an outsider in their night lair but their polite and friendly nature immediately took over and an elderly guy who clearly slept in his lab coat that night showed me the amenities. Having taken a shower, I followed the shambling crowd of scientists to an elevator taking them below.
Quite frankly, I had absolutely no idea what to do and where to go. The access to all parts of the building was restricted to card-holders only. That included the cafeteria that apparently was the main target of the hungry crowd I had joined earlier.
The smell of fresh coffee mixed with bacon and scrambled eggs reminded me of the dinner I had skipped and made me realize I was starving. I began to consider all possible solutions, ranging from begging to (un)armed robbery, but was saved by a tap on the shoulder at the very last minute. Espinoza to the rescue, I thought, as I saw her grinning face behind me. She looked much more at ease than last night, waving her access card in front of my face.
"Good morning," I said, smiling.
"Morning. Slept well?"
Her expression grew more serious as she shook her head.
"Me neither. I'm starving though. Let's discuss saving the world after some sandwiches, shall we?"
An offer I could not refuse. Half an hour later, sated and with caffeine coursing through my veins, I was ready to take on anything. Or so I thought. Espinoza took me to a briefing room where Ferguson and Twocrows were already waiting. The room itself was no larger than Murdoch's office but it felt far more spacious given how one entire wall was a glass window with a Chicago skyline view. That didn't felt particularly secure to me but Ferguson assured me there was no way any information was making it out unless one of us allowed it to. It didn't really reassure me but I reminded myself that I had no real choice anyway but to listen and learn.
One of the steel-lined walls lit up as a cleverly concealed screen appeared in front of us all, showing a picture of a rather plain looking brown-haired man in front of a limousine, waving to a crowd. All of us knew the face and that's what gave me pause.
"That's Richard O'Neill, isn't it?"
That was bloody scary. The purpose of the briefing clearly wasn't a social visit and going up against one of the richest people on the planet, a visionary and, some say, the prodigy of our lifetime might be a bit more than we could chew.
O'Neill is a legend, from the golden palaces to the dregs of society. There are few in this world who don't know his rags-to-riches story; a self-made businessman who won big time during the tech revolution of the 2000s and 2010s. From programs to hardware, his companies make it all but the by far most successful product of his became the Sage AI-assisted search engine everyone uses these days. A near-total monopoly on internet advertising combined with every service you might think of for free, that's a potent combination.
Of course, it's as they say: 'If it's free, you aren't a customer, you're the product' and this has never been truer than in his case. O'Neill's amassed wealth allowed him to do pursue his every whim, from building spaceships to AI-controlled cities. And that's not all. Rich people lobby and bribe officials. Really rich people bribe governments. O'Neill went a step further and bought his home country of Ireland.
Now, you might be asking – how does one buy a country? In retrospect, it's quite simple, really. The first step is becoming the single dominating employer and landowner. If you can spice things up by causing a social crisis, so the better – you can combine importing cheap labor with buying up properties while overwhelming all welfare and healthcare systems at once. Buy up failing competition wholesale – anything of value that's up for grabs. Bribe the government to introduce steps to drive up inflation, that's one hell of a perfect storm ingredient. And before you know it, you have all the profits while you socialize the losses.
The government is running out of money at that point so you make all the underfunded institutions hooked up on your subsidies and donations, so much so that they become completely dependent on them. And that's how you end up, amongst other things, with an entire military as your own private security force in a land where even private handgun ownership is prohibited. And as anyone with a half of brain would tell you, if you control the military, you control the government. And then, only then, you offer a helping hand to the impoverished population so that not a single soul can survive outside of the systems controlled by you. Trickle-down economics in action.
This and more ran through my head as I listened to Ferguson's briefing. Right around the battle for the U.S. base, a Perihelion intelligence unit intercepted a major communications spike on O'Neill's channels as well as a power surge in Dublin. Murdoch, Ferguson explained, had a call with O'Neill last night. Both know each other well enough in person – a must, given their profession. By Ferguson's account, Murdoch claimed O'Neill had been evasive the whole time, a strange behavior for an otherwise boastful and brash man. Murdoch therefore asked Ferguson – and therefore us – this morning to launch an investigation and prepare a plan to get to the bottom of the situation, by force if necessary. I had a feeling there was something she wasn't telling us. Who am I kidding, of course there was – Murdoch's secrets would probably fill whole archives. Perhaps they even do. And then there was the matter of...
"So, about yesterday..."
Ferguson scoffed at the interruption and Espinoza quickly shook her head. Jim Twocrows, the only person clearly out of the loop, only gave me a long stare with his eyebrows raised in a silent question. I gave him an insincere smile and a shrug in response, at which his curious expression turned into a frown even deeper than Ferguson's, who decided to carry on.
"O'Neill's most valuable facilities are guarded by elite security force squads, the Vigilants. Gentlemen, you don't mess around with these guys. Most have been with O'Neill long enough to see everything he's been up to and are fiercely loyal. They cannot be bribed, intimidated or reasoned with. These guys are true believers so don't even bother trying."
She cleared her throat before continuing.
"Your way in is a small comms station near Dublin, guarded by a squad of Vigilants, regular security forces and possibly even the Irish military or police. You will disguise yourselves and your vehicles as members of the Sage security. We'll provide you with everything – paintjob schematics, proper uniforms, fake electronic IDs and scramblers. These won't hold up to any form of detailed scrutiny but they should allow you to move around freely for a couple of hours or even days. But..."
She made a deliberate pause, giving each of us her signature 'now pay attention' stare.
"You'll only have a small team with you and if you blow your cover, you'll be on your own. Perihelion will deny any involvement and will condemn any claims of the opposite as provocation. So don't screw it up."
"Take O'Sullivan, his Irish ancestry might come in handy," she continued. "Infiltrate the Dublin outskirts while avoiding as many patrols as you can. Once you arrive at the location, jam their comms, neutralize any opposition and escort the assigned specialist to the station. She'll get into their system and look for any information Sage might have on our mysterious enemies. The details of the plan are in the tablets in front of you. Everything clear?"
That was it then, time to pack my things. Oh wait, I barely had any, I haven't had a single "normal" day since the rollercoaster began.
"One more thing. Gail, please show Mister Thorpe the way to the quartermaster, he could use a change of clothing."
It suddenly occurred to me that to someone used to working with buffoons, actual competence appears almost as a mind-reading ability. Espinoza just nodded absent-mindedly and told me to follow her.