WinZip Out For A Byte To Eat
rating: +20+x

Iris Dark woke up with sticky blueberry ice cream residue all over her jaw and a pulsing pressure in her skull. The whisky was punishing her hubris.

Skitter was pacing by the now boarded-up window, talking on the phone with Lucas Monaco.

"Yeah. Yeah, last night. No, we have video footage of the guy grabbing it. Twelve fifteen or so. Probably want to just stick around from midnight and see where he comes from. Yeah. Paradoxes or whatever. Just track him as best you can from then. Ring me back right after this."

Skitter took the phone from his ear, pressed the hang up button, whereupon the phone immediately started ringing and he answered it.

"…shit. Yeah, alright. No, you did the right thing, if they've gone through a Way then we're fucked from there. Could you go back further and wipe it? Or maybe -"

"Time gods won't let you."

Skitter turned to face Iris, surprised to see her awake.

"Can't fuck with my tech cross-temporally. Part of the contract. That's why - hang on…"

Iris sat up and noticed that her arm was missing. She wiggled her fingers and heard it scratch against the floorboards from across the room. She stood up and walked to it while talking, rubbing the blue dry smear off her face with the arm still connected to her.

"Okay, so in principle it should have locked and encrypted everything the second it got too far away from my arm. And due to the contract whoever took it can't leverage hyperbolic time to crack the encryption without the time gods eating them. Same for using any future-era tech. So their best-case scenario using… I dunno, let's say top-shelf Anderson stuff, they'd get it open in a few weeks at the earliest. So we have some time."

Iris picked up her prosthetic arm and clicked it back into the socket. Skitter frowned and spoke back into his phone.

"Cheers, Monaco. What? I dunno, call Robert. 'Networking retreat' or something. Yeah, just tell him when you see him. We can probably take care of it though. Oh! That's reassuring to hear, yes. Cool, see you later."

Skitter hung up.

"So good news, we'll have this sorted in two weeks. Bad news, we are going to be… very busy."

"Why did you throw my computer out the window?"

"Why were you drunk on the internet again?"

"…let's call it nobody's fault and we can move on together."

Iris' whiskey and ice-cream residue coated stomach started grumbling.

"Ideally to get some food, isolation be damned."

"Fine. Where?"

"I would murder a thousand children for a cheeseburger right now."

The two of them seated in a local diner, Skitter talked while Iris was stuffing her face with fries, now wearing a robot-arm-concealing hoodie.

"So as I see it there's a whole lot of 'dunno' around this whole deal. Obviously, we have the camera footage, but that's pretty useless since all it gives us is 'humanoid' and an estimated height. Whoever grabbed the thing seemed to know something was coming out that window, since they'd been waiting down on the pavement for a few minutes. Based on what Monaco saw - and what you said yourself, about the time gods - that probably doesn't mean time travel so much as precognition. Which doesn't even mean this person was a seer themselves, they could have just been in contact with one. And we have them running off into a Way. After all the shit that went down with Raimund last time, I really don't expect this to be a Serpent's Hand deal, but there's also no ruling it out. And we don't have any kind of threat or ultimatum, either, at least not a digitally delivered one."

Iris licked her fingers, grabbed the shake, and started sucking strawberry-flavoured gunk through the straw. Skitter took another bite of his BLT and continued.

"In terms of possible justifications… well, if they wanted it as leverage, there's that aspect. But if they crack it they could just publish the data. Which would be whatever client info you had on that thing, as well as I'm guessing some catalogue excerpts, so some of our inventory. Limited knowledge of prior logistics - though out of date now, I had them run the contingencies. So some limited company knowledge which is already mostly useless, barring the client info. That and I guess whatever porn you had on there."

Iris frowned and flipped Skitter off but continued drinking her shake while he continued.

"So that's the data and software side, and more seriously whatever private projects you had. I guess there's also whatever hardware components you had inside it as well. But I don't expect this happened to break it down for parts."

Iris finished the shake and replied.

"For all my projects I just log in remotely from that machine, so that's not a concern. Hardware wise, all that's in there beyond standard is the auto-encrypter."

Iris' eyes widened.

"Oh! That's… ow."

Iris massaged her temple and pushed her tongue against the top of her mouth.

"Hang on, brain freeze."

Skitter finished his coffee and waited for Iris to recover. She slapped her head and continued.

"Okay, I think I can probably track it if we get close enough. The protocols that remotely wipe it are constantly trying to ping any of my prosthetics. Or at least, they will for as long as the internal battery lasts. Actually, if I reprogram one of my spares we can triangulate - no, a few of my spares, since we need it to be extradimensional."

"So… you can detect attempted handshakes using your arms."

"Ffffffuck okay that was a good one but seriously let's get to the lab."

The two of them stood next to the otherwise unremarkable wall, and then Iris made a sequence of gestures with her hands together, and the wall split apart and two halves swung inwards to reveal her hacker cave. Skitter smirked.

"I shouldn't be surprised that your secret lab password is a Naruto jutsu."

"You recognised it! Robert would probably just think it's sign language. Come on."

Iris walked and Skitter followed, the lights brightening and dimming with their passing. Skitter noted the electronic workspaces in unusual configurations - a circuitboard grafted into pulsing flesh, the lump jolted into animation through crocodile clips hooked into musculature - a complex apparatus with a central crucifix encased in acrylic, labelled "MASS SPECTROMETER (lol)" - a suspended beam of light in the air, like a high-powered laser might leave, but originating from nowhere and disappearing into nothing, leaving only a red streak in space about 30 centimetres long. Iris frowned when she saw Skitter staring at it.

"Yeah, I don't know how I did that either. I tried using a mirror to move it, but… anyway, doesn't matter, don't touch it."

Iris pulled open a drawer and started pulling out her spare arms. Each flopped solidly onto the table, thunking at first followed by wheezing gears and servomotors settling into place.

"How many dimensions do Ways move through again?"

"Seven, but one of them's elliptic and two are hyperbolic."

"Okay, that… wait."

Iris rubbed her chin pensively, considering how hyperdimensional curvature was going to alter the calculus.

"It should be pinging a few times a second, we can boost the sensitivity on each… okay, I think… how big is Wayspace?"

Skitter shrugged.

"Yeah, okay. I think… I could do it with four. Yeah, if it's four, and they're kind of flailing asynchronously. There's some protocol delay bullshit from the laptop I can exploit which should make things easier."

"Including the one you're wearing?"

"I don't really want to reprogram this one to flail involuntarily, so no."

"Alright, so… are you going to need my help for this, or…?"

"Oh, no, you're fine. I can get this hammered out in maybe 2, 3 hours tops. I'll make a pair of these, I think, so we can each wear a set of four anchored onto a backpack. That'll give us some redundancy. I'll grab you when it's done."

"Alright, cool. I'll just, uh… do something else in the meantime. See you in a bit."

Iris nodded, flipping open ports on each arm for reprogramming, and walking off to get an adapter. Skitter walked out, exited the cave, and heard the wall click shut behind him. He pulled out his phone and flicked through some emails. Logistics, logistics, logistics… and then he heard a voice from his left.

"Why hellooooooooo."

Skitter glanced up, emotionless, and looked over. Ruprecht Carter rested limply against a pillar, teeth bared in a near-rictus grin, swirling and swigging a half-full glass of shiraz.


"Oh, nothiiiing. Saw the posts last night. Chatted with Monaco. He was my employee first, you know. Messy situation, eh? What's the plan?"

Skitter looked back down at his phone.

"It's under control. Go bug Robert."

"You know he's gone. Lodge drudgery, no doubt."

"I will shoot you to the Lodge by cannon if you don't leave me alone. They will eat your flesh and suck your soul out your eyeballs."

Ruprecht sighed.

"You can just tell me to go away. No need to be rude about it."

"Okay. Go away."

"I mean, you can tell me, but I won't listen."

Skitter looked up.

"What do you want, Ruprecht?"

"Now, that's a deep philosophical question, young Master Marshall. What do any of us really want?"

"I want you to go away."

"Okay, fine. Monaco informs me… not with certainty on his part, mind you… that you may be, over the course of the next few weeks, about to visit… Hell."

"First I've heard of it."

"Well, it's a place filled with fire and brimstone that bad people go-"

"Okay, so you want to come with, or what?"

"Oh, fuck no! I was just wondering if you could grab Amos if you see him. Oh, or David Bowie. Either or, really."

"So, to clarify, if we end up in Hell, which we might easily not, you want me to rescue my great-great-many-times-great-grandfather and bring him back… here?"

"The term would be 'grandsire', and yes."

"I am never calling him that and I am pretty sure that since last year raising the dead is against company policy. So that's a no. And I'm also quite sure bringing him back would fuck with the inheritance blood majjicks that stop you from murdering us all in our sleep."

"That's… a reasonable concern, yes, and I can see why that would be your first thought about it. I'm sure we can come up with countermeasures. But no, honestly, I… well. It was my fault he died. I guess I don't care all that much, it's more that you'd be in the neighborhood."

"Not happening. Not interested. Not going to Hell, even."

Ruprecht grimaced.

"If you do end up in Hell, I assure you, you'll wish you could get everyone out. If nothing else, Amos will have more power there than most. Sharing his Name will be enough to ask for his help. Just keep that in mind."

"Not happening. Go to Hell yourself."

Ruprecht just smiled and walked away.

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