Aldrich stepped into the control room. If there was ever a perfect representation of ordered chaos, then this was it. The room was lit only by the pale white glow of several large screens that Spybird and several other techno Red Circle staff members sat in front of. Wires, cables, cords, generators, and a mass variety of miscellaneous gadgets lay scattered everywhere in a complete mess, though the technos seemed quite capable of navigating through it.
"The light! Get it out!" Spybird covered his eyes against the brighter light from outside that streamed in from Aldrich holding open the door.
Aldrich promptly closed the door behind him. "They say that technos tend to be shut ins. Looks like that's true."
"Light is worst thing when head rings from hangover," explained Spybird.
"You sure you can do your job like that?" said Aldrich, raising a brow.
"Bah!" Spybird put a stubby finger to the side of his temple. "If world is not shaking a little bit, then I cannot think properly. And everything is quite easy with this girl."
Spybird pointed at a young girl - a Blackwater student - with his canteen.
A girl sat on the floor, and Aldrich came to realize that quite a few of the web of black wires, cables, and cords actually came from her. Specifically, they grew out from her hair.
"Svetlanna here makes everything easy mode. She is top techno talent. All I do is make sure things do not explode," said Spybird.
"Things won't explode," said Svetlanna, annoyed. She crossed her arms and looked up at Aldrich. "And how may I help you?"
"You heard my talk with your class, didn't you?" said Aldrich.
"Yeah, I did."
"And your thoughts?"
Svetlanna cocked her head, her eyes narrowing in thought. And rapid thought, too. Her eyes looked like LED screens, images and text rapidly flickering through them as she processed everything her cable hair linked to.
"I do my job," said Svetlanna simply. "Not much more to it, really. Otherwise I get dusted."
"No greater motivation than death, eh?" Spybird raised his canteen up in mock cheer.
Svetlanna ignored Spybird. "Don't get me wrong, Aldrich, I'm not doing this because I'm being forced to. I've always wanted to work in a startup, and this is basically one, right? Way better than whatever plans the Den had for me. Probably would have shoved me in one of the Dark Six or a megacorp."
"The Den?" Spybird whistled. "You are top shelf talent, miss."
"That's right, so I'd appreciate some respect," said Svetlanna.
"Heh, I give you as much respect you want long as you keep my job easy." Spybird took another swig of his canteen. "
Aldrich nodded. He was familiar only at surface level with the Den because of its secretive nature. As far as he knew, the Den was a secretive organization that scouted and fostered top tier techno talent and fed them into villain organizations and companies.
Den technos were specialized in destroying cyberspace infrastructure and bypassing security, making them exceptional infiltrators, though, as Svetlanna demonstrated, they were competent in other fields as well.
Svetlanna ranked low among Blackwater's A class, barely making the cut for it. But that was in terms of pure combat rating. In terms of pure utility, she was one of the Blackwater students Aldrich wanted to absolutely keep.
Aldrich lacked strong techno talent. Fisk was good, but he was nowhere close to the best.
"Well, just know that I appreciate your presence here," said Aldrich. "If you need anything, let me know."
"Hah, you weren't this nice to the others." Svetlanna smiled. "Making me feel special, hm?"
"No reason not to," said Aldrich. "Now then, let me get a briefing on a few situations. You've all been keeping track of the media and any incoming communications, haven't you?"
"Da," said Spybird.
"How's Casimir's situation with the Dark Six?"
"Oh, real big shit, that" said Spybird. "He has massive bounty on him now. 20 million credits."
"20 million? The Dark Six sure know how to waste money."
"20 million dead. 4o million alive. But not surprising. Casimir was Connector. Meant to be neutral party connecting villains and orgs together," said Spybird.
"Breaking that trust in the underworld is an extreme taboo," explained Svetlanna. "Casimir might not have killed anyone too important from the Dark Six, but the fact that he even did that means they are all against him.
And that's also one of the reasons I'm fine being here. I appreciated Casimir's vision and would have had no issues working for him after graduating, but in the end, he gave it all up to work for you.
Must mean there's something you're doing right."
"Good news about this bounty is it means Dark Six is scared of Casimir. Casimir has valuable information," said Spybird. "Locations of secret labs, hideouts, bases, operations - all that from the Dark Six.
Dark Six was planning big revolution to take over cities and establish new age of villains, but with Casimir holding info he can leak, they stop their plans until they catch him."
"Until Haven's secured, then, we have to stay moving," said Aldrich.
"Da," agreed Spybird.
"And what about Haven? Any updates on that situation?"
"All good news there," said Svetlanna. "With Singh declaring investment in Haven's rebuilding effort, the Panopticon and government can't just bulldoze the city for scrap materials and move the citizens away anymore. Especially not with public support for Thanatos skyrocketing after Spybird released some nicely edited footage that maximized his image as a savior.
They have to play ball with whoever leads the rebuilding effort.
But that's also a competition. A coalition of decently sized corporations backed by the Dark Six are going against Singh."
"What are the chances they manage to beat out Singh?" asked Aldrich.
"Moderate," said Svetlanna. "Singh can outbid them on contracts, but his company's biotech. The government can reject Singh if they feel like he can't reliably rebuild Haven, and since he's based in India, it's difficult even for him to get a domestic construction corp to work with him.
"What if I am the government?" said Aldrich.
"Then you can do whatever you want," said Svetlanna. "But sentinel statehood isn't a guarantee no matter how sure you are, and it's always nice to have backup in case it fails, right?"
Contingencies and backups. Aldrich liked Svetlanna already. "I like the way you think. So, what's your idea for a backup?"
"Roping in a U.S. based construction corp is the most obvious solution, but the Dark Six can intimidate most of them. I do have an idea, though," said Svetlanna. "Remember Seismic?"
"Hammerhead Industries is his sponsor. Powerful enough to take Seismic out of custody just like that." Svetlanna snapped her fingers. "Not quite Fortune level, but up there.
I've established a secure channel for anyone wanting to communicate with Thanatos and his supposed organization, and apparently, the Hammerhead CEO wants to meet up."
Aldrich put a hand to his chin. "Any reason why?"
"No. All I know is that he wants to ask you for a favor. And sometimes less is more. The fact that he's giving so few reasons means that most likely, he wants to discuss something quite important with you.
I'm sure you can leverage something out of it.
You want me to set the meeting up?"
"Go ahead," said Aldrich. "As for the meeting's security-,"
"Don't have to worry about that. If it's related to the Darknet, you can trust me," said Svetlanna.
Aldrich nodded. So long as Svetlanna did not have particularly powerful deep seated emotions against Aldrich, he could guarantee her loyalty via the master-undead link even with free will. And so far, Svetlanna was even positively disposed towards him.
"As for sentinel statehood itself-," began Aldrich.
"The chances are looking pretty good," said Svetlanna, knowing what Aldrich wanted to ask. Minuteman's sponsorship gives your claim legitimacy, and on top of that, Seismic's tossed one your way. Oh, and practically every hero that fought in Haven also gave you their sponsorship. Granted, those don't matter much, but it still looks great for your image.
Most of the citizens, too, support Thanatos. There is some pushback out there wondering whether Thanatos is really a good guy and typical crap about being a vigilante out of the law, but overall, things are nicely set up.
It all comes down to whether you can pull through in the hearing."
"Hah, now that's talent. Doing so many things at once - I feel useless already!" said Spybird. He took a swig from his canteen. "But more time for me to drink, so no complaints."
"Let's put more pressure on the government," said Aldrich. "Leak information that Thanatos is being held in prison-like conditions. Make it blow up, if you can."
"I can do that," said Svetlanna.
"That just about everything I wanted to check on, then," said Aldrich. "That was surprisingly quick."
"That tends to happen when people work with me," said Svetlanna. "I do have a favor, though."
"What is it?"
"Could you let Z know I want to meet her?"
"Z? The nomad chief?"
"Yeah, her." Svetlanna mulled over her thoughts in silence for a few seconds. "Tell her V's back home."
Aldrich could tell that Svetlanna did not want to elaborate further. "Got it. I was just about to step out and meet her."
With that, Aldrich made his way out of the base, all the while checking up on a few key units. First, he made sure that Seismic was doing fine. The old man was at home with no issues, playing ball with his son, probably waiting for Aldrich's next communications.
Aldrich let Seismic have his time off. He deserved it.
Then, Aldrich checked on the Evil Eye had had placed in Blackwater. It was still active.
And finally, he checked on the Grave Ward he had secretly attached to Casimir when they spoke outside. Casimir had managed to meet with Desmond, and, as predicted, their conversation had probably not worked out with how short it was.
The only thing that mattered, though, was Casimir getting into Desmond's base, and he had succeeded. Now, Aldrich's Grave Ward had free reign to spy over it.