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Shemarrian Star Nation: (Interlude) Even Ghosts Trip Up[]

Noonan Khan Nightblade (1) felt a headache coming on, even though her kind had never been programmed to be able to experience headaches. The description fit, though, so she called it a headache and left it at that. 

The Ghost Rider Yurei looked with a stare that might yet literally melt steel but for the fact that she WASN’T allowed to shoot her subordinates, and so she’d put her lasers on ‘safety’. The subjects of her displeasure, despite being taller than the relatively petite (by Shemarrian standards) espionage gynoid shuffled nervously in the secret listening outpost. 

After checking again through her LAN nodes that the room was SECURED and that there was no possible chance anybody outside the outpost could be listening in (though, one of her subroutines grumbled irritably, that was a case of closing the barn doors after the horses had fled, and the damage already done), Noonan got to the point of the little face-to-face gathering. 

“Unbelieveable! All our efforts to avoid getting detected by the local network cyberhounds and somebody off the streets penetrates our operational security by CLIMBING UP THE ROOF AND LOOKING IN A WINDOW?!” Despite the fact that the locals on this planet had barely gotten exploring past the inner worlds of their solar system, they had created a rich and intriguing information culture, and both AI and cybernetics that would have made them an uppercrust world in the Central Alliance, were the two ever introduced to each other. The Ghost Riders had been tapping the planetary communications net for three years now, before deciding it was worth their while to send somebody down and establish a more intimate tap on-site. It wasn’t without its risks; some of the local cyborgs were as good as any NeShemar, and the global information net was approaching near-Singularity levels of activity. The Yurei herself, an experienced operative of many previous planetary infiltrations, had nearly fallen afoul on occasion of some of the sophisticated ICE protecting the really attractive parts of the planetary net. Infiltrating a world like this required a careful touch. Indeed, Noonan had had fleeting encounters already with some of the cyborg law enforcers patrolling the infosphere, and those had been worrying enough; there was some real talent here, and the Ghost Riders were eager to tap that talent potential for their own use, as long as they could do so without getting burned.

Why then, had the Elders saddled her with such bunglers for a team?

Well, technically, she'd been soloing until the Elders assigned her this crew, and they were her responsibility, so technically their foul-up became HERS, and that's how the Elders would see it too. 

That just torqued her off more; somebody was going to pay for putting her in this position.

The junior Warrior, two Warrior-Engineers, and two Males looked increasingly sheepish and nervous as they sensed the flow of the Yurei’s thoughts. 

“If it’s any consolation, she was looking for something else.”

“It’s not! She still got suspicious of us and what she saw made her take off running! Potentially FURTHER exposing us when you had to catch her!” The Yurei glanced over at the two Male Shemar, still clad in the trench coats and hats that were still damp from their pursuit out into the rain. The tall dark-clad trackers fidgeted nervously under the scrutiny. “Fortunately, it appears nobody DID notice two overly tall men chasing down and grabbing a fleeing local woman on a busy street! But that still leaves us with an inconvenient witness to our operations here!”

 The Ghost Rider Yurei shot a glare at the other end of the room where a coach lay at the center of a ring of instruments. The small dark-haired woman who was the subject of that glare was no warrior, but she still struggled against the tight polymer body-sac that covered her from toes to shoulders, and constituted her only covering, as anything she had been wearing at the time of her capture had been thoroughly searched for recording devices (the locals could be quite devious when it came to surveillance electronics). She took no notice of the group of tall menaces who were discussing her fate in some unknown (to her) language, instead looking frantically in wide-eyed fear at the tall woman with the antennae sticking out of her head who was bending over her, clucking and cooing as she examined her. 

Noonan continued with her criticism of the fumble-protocoled half-byte infiltration team; “And no, it doesn’t matter that she’s part of some local political action group slash radical terrorist organization, minor member and minor organization or not, looking to spy on what she thought was a bunch of rivals slash government counter-espionage group! She could have just as easily have been a government official or a media snoop with a direct live-feed link to the worldwide net! Because she saw you all unmasked with obvious military-grade ‘ware, looking like nothing domestically produced! A barely mature organic AMATEUR ferreted all of you out with nothing more sophisticated than her own senses and a little leg work! And now we have to figure out a way to make sure she doesn’t ever get word out on us!”

The vehemence of Noonan’s harsh Dragonese rant must have registered in its tone across the room because the subject of discussion thrashed more violently against her mummy-wrappings. The Seeress took note of it and adjusted a wire leading to the back of the prisoner’s neck, and the captive suddenly went limp, only her eyes continuing to move. 

Noonan snorted. That was the crux of the problem; just enough cybernetics in the prisoner that her motor functions and sensory feeds could be manipulated easily with offworld technology, but still organic enough that a simple deletion code couldn’t be used to wipe away her memories of what led her to come spying on the Ghost Rider listening post and its aftermath. Not without leaving suspicious voids and traces that would alert anybody paranoid enough, as her activist cell mates were likely to be. Being discovered by the local organized crime ring or violent political action committee was as bad as having law enforcement or the military paying a visit. 

“Mind wipe?” The junior Warrior ventured. 

“You know damned well we can’t do a complete memory wipe, what with the cyberbrains half the populace around here has! The EM effectors are only temporary, unless we want to turn her into a vegetable. And, as mild as our Ecotroz sisters have become with regards to their proselytizing, I am NOT calling in those psychic viral-religious fanatics to clean up our messes every time we screw up!”

“Chemicals?”

“They leave traces and wear off. Again, too little and she squeals on us, too much and we get a suspiciously zombified warm body wandering around! Oh, THAT’s going to look perfectly normal!”

“Maybe we’re overthinking this? We could always kill her and dump the body somewhere. Plenty of dead bodies around this city.”

The team leader looked over again at where the Seeress was happily bustling about the cocooned prisoner, attending to her instruments and setting up additional equipment, to the increasing panic of the captive.

“Not an option! We don’t want to add murder to stupidity! Besides, I don’t think Aldessa would let you anywhere near her ‘patient’ if you mean to kill her.”

It was somewhat worrying to Noonan. The Seeress assigned to babysit the equipment used by the cyberwarriors in their data-diving must have been bored out of her core processors, because when the Trackers had dragged in their prisoner, she’d jumped to the task of looking after the would-be spy with disturbing enthusiasm. It had been Aldessa who’d so easily sliced through the security on the native girl’s headjack and cerebral interface and gotten her talking (babbling actually), the Seeress practically chortling over the chance to examine and work on the local neuralware in a living host. Noonan wondered if she wasn’t seeing one of Aldessa’s more eccentric Umbras (2) taking over; Aldessa right now seemed rather attached to her new ‘guinea pig’, having pulled out medical equipment the Ghost Riders had carried around for their few NeShemar recruits and rigging it to the prisoner.

“That leaves us with only one other remaining solution and looks like Aldessa’s already working on it! Now get the hell back to work! And get cracking on moving to another site just in case anybody ELSE comes snooping around! I’m not just taking the word of the prisoner that she didn’t tell anybody else in her party what she was up to! Somebody else might pick up on the same clues that led her here! I want those clues erased! UNDERSTAND!?”

With the obvious dismissal, the other Ghost Riders fled to their tasks, eager to evade the Yurei’s continued displeasure. 

Noonan shrugged her shoulders and settled her thoughts before striding over to the Seeress, who was apparently filling a set of drug injectors. 

“All right, Aldessa, if you haven’t already already, get the little sneak prepped for brain-static and biostasis. We’ll ship her off to the Horrorwoods and slip her into their colonization program! With any luck, by the time the fuzz wears off after they unwrap her, she’ll be enscrounged in some happy little commune spying on poultry or watching grain grow!” Noonan looked at the dilated pupils of the luckless young spy staring back at her from the interrogation couch, and sighed in vexation. “I really hope you appreciate what trouble we’re going to, and you better enjoy lots of fresh air and green, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of it where you’re going, courtesy of the Ghost Rider relocation program! Anybody else would have simply put a couple of bullets in your head and that would be that, and it wouldn’t be OUR problem, but you are!”

Yes, Noonan could DEFINITELY feel a headache coming on. She had the feeling that the fallout from this incident wasn’t going to be over yet or soon.

  • (1) Ghost Rider Yurei frequently use elements of the names of historical women espionage agents in their own names, although they scrupulously avoid ‘Mata Hari’.
  • (2) Umbra - The Ghost Riders often refer to the multiple program formats/personalities that many of them have as ‘Umbras’-’shadows’- especially the more outrageous and eccentric . While extremely useful in providing extra skill sets, Umbras can be often accompanied by marked shifts in personality and behavior, including some that can be classed as true insanities, obsessions, and compulsive disorders.
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