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a serialized ethno-cyber-punk novel

Broken Signals

“Commence Operation Moebius,” said Colonel Hana Uka.

“Affirmative, Colonel,” responded Major Ardi, her second in command, as he disappeared amid the swarm of soldiers barking out unintelligible orders. 

With greying “regulation” cut and a stoic face weathered from combat, tragedy, and experience, Major Ardi projected a calm demeanor that often ranged on the unemotional. He had been an executive officer to the Colonel ever since she had begun with the KFS, and remained her loyal ally throughout the years. He was considerably older than her and could’ve been her father.

Some of his more conservative and old-guard colleagues found the sight a bit unusual for a fifty year old bulky gentleman in uniform to show the level of submissive devotion to such a young, tiny, and brittle person like Colonel Hana Uka. But as a career soldier, Major Ardi fanatically respected the chain of command, despite the young age of his superior. 

During the years, beside serving as the Unit 1010’s executive officer, Major Ardi’s roles ranged from those of a bodyguard, a handler, a concerned parent, an experienced advisor in strategy, a consigliere in the internal politics of the military, as well as that of a trusted confidante.

Back when Colonel Hana had just joined the KSF, she had the blessing from the top brass, but the middle ranks were very skeptical that a mere teenager could know anything remotely about defending a country, and even less about reforming and rebuilding from scratch the country’s entire cyber defense. 

But it was through Major Ardi’s help that she foiled many an internal intrigue and professional sabotage, and was able to bring her vision to light. His loyalty had saved the Colonel on many occasions, and had made it possible for her to implement the reforms which made Unit 1010 the envy of many cyber-defence corps around the world. 

Inside the lowest/deepest level of KIRN buker, the dead bodies had been removed by police and the military, yet the blood still remained on/around the concrete walls and floors. KFS have also improvised a mini command center from where Colonel Hana could observe the work of her subordinates. 

“Colonel! Operation Moebius initiated successfully,” said Major Ardi. “We are moving to INFO-DEF-3.”

“Thank you Major,” said Colonel Hana. “Dismissed.”

Detective Sara and Officer Blaku were still next to the Colonel, and for a time now had been just standing there marvelling at the efficiency and clockwork by which Unit 1010 operated. In a short time they managed to scan the entire area for the virtual crime scene recreation, packed and labeled all the evidence, all the while setting up equipment, restoring damaged systems, accessing backups and feeds in search of clues, as well as engaging in other, more surreptitious activities, such as this elusively named Operation Moebius.

“What’s that about?” asked Detective Sara. “What is Operation Moebius.”

“It is our best hope, my dear Detective,” said the Colonel. “And I would like you to be part of it.”

“What do you mean?” asked Sara.

“In order for Operation Moebius to achieve greatest success, it would need your unique expertise. I would like you to lead the hunt for the arbiters.”

“I suppose you too think there might be more than one?” asked Sara.

“We can’t assume anything.”

“If I may,” interjected Officer Blaku, “shouldn’t our priority at the moment be to find the journalists. They may still be alive. I sure hope they are. And the sooner we begin, the greater our chances will be.”

Detective Sara’s face turned toward Blaku and frowned as if saying “shut up and stop playing into her hand.”

“That is exactly what I’d want you to do,” said Colonel Hana. “Finding the journalists will lead you to finding the arbiters.”

“Why, thank you Colonel for showing us how to do our work,” said Sara. “And how do you propose we find these arbiters?”

“I think you already know the answer to that, my dear Detective. The same techniques you used to find and stop me those years back. You just have something extra, Detective, that other cyber-rangers lack — that instinct, that raw gut feeling that doesn’t rely on so much electronics and data and augmented reality.”

“Why thanks for all the backhanded compliments,” said Sara. “What can I say? I am honored to be of such use to your career advancements.”

But while Sara’s grudge towards the Colonel was still manifesting as subtle sarcasm, Blaku remained nonplussed at her personal bickering at such a delicate time and began to worry how it might affect their duties.

“Your outdated style, your human unpredictability, your chaotic methods — that’s what I want,” continued the Colonel.

“I almost forgot your knack for being direct,” said Sara with a slight sigh of resignation. She remembered all the other interactions she had with Colonel Hana — exacerbated by her bluntness, appearance of selfishness, directness, and lack of societal niceties — and the many instances she almost lost her temper, not caring about where the young Colonel stood on the spectrum. 

“You are the last missing piece from Operation Moebius,” continued Colonel Hana. “With you, it will be complete. And it will add an unprecedented element of unpredictability that would fool and win over the most sophisticated prediction algorithms that the Truthbringer might have.”

“So nice of you to think of me just as another upgrade to your machine,” said Sara.

“Oh, Detective. Operation Moebius is not a machine. It is… how should I put it…”

“As plainly as possible,” said Sara. And perhaps this was where she made a mistake, and needlessly rattled the hornet’s nest when she didn’t have to, when she didn’t care, for she was never interested in joining some crew cobbled up by a reckless twenty-something. But sometimes, in the heat of the conversation we are more focused on jabbing at our opponent, not knowing that it would boomerang to inevitably hurt us back.

“Imagine Detective,” said Hana. “What would you do for a chance to change things; if you could reverse the tragedy that had changed your life forever. You know what I am talking about. Imagine if the events that have emotionally scarred you so deeply, could have been prevented.”

“With all due respect Colonel,” Sara raised her voice, “what the fuck are you talking about?”

Major Ardi from far away noticed the body language, and hurriedly walked towards the Colonel. Earlier in his career, he had suffered a terrible battle wound and as a result he had lost his arm. But if you paid attention you could hear a faint hiss of his robotic arm, as he speedwalked and averted obstacles in his way. Since he always wore long sleeves and a glove, you could barely notice it under regular circumstances, unless you really focused and looked for its mathematical yet jittery movements.

“I know you still blame me for what happened back then,” said Colonel Hana. “But it is a completely emotional and irrational response. Just because the events…” 

Detective Sara began to be stirred emotionally. She felt a rush of heat rise through her face, and from some deep abyss of her soul anger began to bubble inside her again. This was the second time during that day, the first being when she saw all those dead bodies of the KIRN massacre. She had managed to contain that one well, yet now, this rage boiling in the darkness of her soul kept being reignited by the mere presence of Colonel Hana.

“Colonel, you are crossing the line,” Sara continued with a raised voice. “Don’t you have a shred of decency in you?”

Soon, a mechanical hiss and wheezing sound came from behind.

“My dear Colonel,” interjected Major Ardi, “I thought we agreed on a lighter touch.”

“What?” said Hana, “I didn’t do anything. I just want the Detective to join Operation Moebius.”

“Fuck your Operation Moebius, you fucking brat,” yelled Sara.

Major Ardi let a quiet and almost undetectable sigh. Officer Blaku stood petrified and flabbergasted, trying to make sense of it all.

“My dear Detective,” Major Ardi interjected again, “please forgive the Colonel’s directness. What she means to say is that she would be honored to have you join Operation Moebius.”

“I am done with this nonsense. You were there Major, you remember what happened back then. That blood is on your hands, Colonel Hana Uka.” 

Sara referred to an incident caused by Hana Uka, before she was a Colonel, even before she had formally joined KSF. After her initial arrest, as part of the court agreement, she was to serve in advisory capacity under Detective Sara Uka. And that’s when, Sara believed, some of her actions directly led to tragic consequences.

“Detective. That incident, it lies heavy with all of us,” interjected Major Ardi as if to prevent the Colonel from saying anything inflammatory by accident. Acting as her handler was perhaps the most important of his unspecified roles. 

“I do believe you Major,” said Sara, “You are a man of honor and integrity. And I respect you for that. But I do not believe our dear Colonel feels the same.”

“She does, Detective, she does,” said the Major hurriedly again as if stealing the words from the Colonel’s mouth.

Then he took the Detective by the side of her arm and in a low voice said: “You know our Colonel. You know she is not like most of us. But let me assure you, Detective, the tragic events you mention… they do weigh very heavily on her mind. So much so, that…”

Major Ardi was convinced. Colonel Hana Uka did learn from that experience. First was humility, even though she was bad at showing it. Another one was that she became a lot more cautious.

Categorized as: bonus | fiction

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