As disasters went, a burning building full of hostages and inept hostage takers wasn’t the worst situation that Ai could imagine.
“I could always be stuck in there with them,” she said to Zai.
“Aren’t you glad that we rejected plans 1, 2, and 3?” Zai asked.
“If you don’t start with the terrible plans, the good ones don’t have as much of a chance to shine,” Ai said.
“What kind of idiot takes hostages in a burning data center?” Curtweather asked.
“We’ll have to ask them that after the blaze is put out,” Ai said. “Unless of course…”
She trailed off as she reviewed the system reports from the building, already knowing what she would find.
“Unless the rustheads disabled the fire suppression,” Curtweather said.
The Tython building was an unnamed data center. Any data center, no matter how trivial the information it stored, was equipped with extensive fire suppression systems. It was the equivalent of saying that a bank was equipped with doors and walls rather than being a big pile of money in an open field.
The idea of a fire at a data center was considered a commonplace concern. Cooling systems could fail, the various electronics could fail, and employees could be careless. The odds of any of those happening was small but was always accounted for in any company’s budget for running a data center.
The first response to those fires lay in automated suppression systems, from simple sprinklers in non-critical areas, to autonomous robo-fire fighters equipped with flame quenching foam and, ultimately, entire building-scale atmospheric systems that were empowered to kill every human within by exchanging the air with halogen gas if that was required to protect the data stores.
The idea of an out of control fire consuming consuming terabytes of data every second was the sort of nightmare scenario that building planners considered, designed for, and then were told that the building budget didn’t need because the fire suppression systems would prevent such fairy tale nightmares from occurring.
Which was why Ai had opted to arrange for such a fire to happen.
The Tython break-in was a side project. Data gathering not-quite for its own sake but because there were voids in her knowledge of the city and the entities that were struggling for control of its destiny.
Ai Greensmith, rookie patrol officer, had no need to understand the true power players in Gamma City. She was supposed to take her orders, do as Dispatch and her captain told her, collect her paycheck (and anything extra she could scrape up on the side), and not ask inconvenient questions or persist when told to back off a case.
That was how her father had worked during his long career, and how her brother had worker during his short one. Given how their careers ended though, Ai had very different plans for where her life was going to go.
Joseph Greensmith and Joe Junior had been good cops, at least by the GCPDs standards.
She was something else entirely.
“Damn Tython probably thinks we’re going to go in there and erase the hostage takers commando-style,” Curthweather said.
“Can we even get through the bullet-proof glass?” Ai asked.
They couldn’t. Standard issue police weapons were intentionally rated below the specifications of the “Defense Steel Glass” that was installed in secure buildings as part of a deal between the parent company for the glass and the GCPD. “So secure even the police can’t break in” was considered a viable selling point in a city where the police were reasonably likely to be working for whichever company bid the most for their services.
“We’d need to call in a SWAT unit,” Curtweather said, “and then they’d get the response bonus.”
“Is the bonus really worth the headache of dealing with this ourselves?” Ai asked.
“Tython hasn’t raised their response fee,” Curtweather said. “If we show up and declare it an active combat site, we can keep our fee and force them to cough up some extra cash.”
“And the hostages?” Ai asked.
“The toastier they are, the more Tython’s going to be willing to pay out,” Curthweather said.
“I’m not sure how toastier we can afford to let them get,” Ai said as they pulled up to crime scene.
The Tython data center was a nondescript block of a building. Too tall to be a proper cube, it showed all the luxury that someone would spend on a building they never intended to visit or have associated with their company. If anything the gouts of flame that were pouring out of the lower windows at least gave the drab gray edifice some color.
“Zai, can you patch into whatever internal monitoring systems are still online and give me an overview of the situation in there?” Ai asked.
“Already have one prepared,” Zai said. “Our crew and the hostages are secured on the upper floor. Fire suppression systems are still enabled there but that’s not going to matter if the rest of the building goes up.”
“It’s not a sealed environment?” Ai asked.
“It is, but the floors below it are already showing signs of structural decay.”
“So they won’t burn up, but the buildings going to crumble?” Ai said calling up a copy of the building’s structural support schematics.
“Yep, unless we can get them out of there,” Zai said.
“Does our team have the data packet they were supposed to retrieve?” Ai asked.
“I can’t tell. All net traffic in and out of the building is being monitored by Tython and GCPD probes. If we try to contact them at all there’ll be a pathway that the sniffers can follow back to us.” Zai didn’t grumble, but she sounded as annoyed with the heist team as Ai was.
“Let’s assume they do have it then,” Ai said. “If they hadn’t retrieved the data they could have fled with the upfront half of the fee we paid them.”
“What if retreat wasn’t an option?” Zai asked.
“Being arrested with nothing incriminating wouldn’t have been as severe as either burning to death or being arrested with terrorism charges hanging over their head. The upfront fee would have covered their legal expenses and they would have been walking free in time for drinks during happy hour.”
“So, we assume they have the data packet. What does that get us?” Zai asked.
“A reason to pull their fat out of the fire,” Ai said. “What we need for that though is to identify the exit options that we have and understand what went wrong with the infiltration. The fire was supposed to clear everyone out of the building, not trap them all on the top floor.”
“Greensmith, you might have a point about frying the hostages. See if you can get through to Tython. Those flames aren’t looking to good anymore and the death benefits on that many employees can’t be less than our combat fee,” Curtweather said.
“Talking to Tython might help with figuring out what went wrong,” Zai suggested.
Ai tapped the building’s contact link and selected the priority police override channel. A calm voiced woman answered almost immediately.
“Officer Greensmith, how may I assist you today?” she asked.
“My partner and I are on scene at your data center,” Ai said. “We’ve declared this an active combat site and are placing an official recommendation that SWAT be deployed to handle the situation.”
“Tython acknowledges that report but declines SWAT service,” the woman said.
“We have visual confirmation of eleven Tython employees who are trapped with the hostage takers,” Ai said.
“Tython acknowledges that as well. We have positive identity scans on each of our employees who remain in the building.”
“They are in active peril. As it stands we will need an accelerated response from both SWAT and Fire Service to have any chance to save them,” Ai said.
“No response from SWAT or Fire Services will be approved or allowed,” the woman said.
“But they’re going to die!” Ai said. She didn’t have to fake the anger in her voice, but the notes of surprise and betrayal were completely illusionary. She’d checked the employees contracts, and knew what they were up against.
“Data integrity is Tython’s primary concern. The employees in question were all signed on as standard data center workers and have completed full safety waivers. We regret their loss but no data will be allowed to leave that facility in a physical form.”
“But if the hostage takers were after data they would have just transmitted it!” Ai said, knowing the statement was completely incorrect.
“We are monitoring all transmissions in and out of the data center. If there is a transmission of any data bearing our encryption we will be able to identify the source of this tragedy.”
“If that’s true, then why haven’t you canceled the alarm?” Ai asked.
“We require official presence on site to verify to our clients that the criminals responsible for this did not escape.”
“So, to be clear, our job is to watch over a dozen people burn to death?” Ai asked.
“And testify to that fact during the inquest that will be convened.”
“And if we can work out some option for saving your employees and apprehending the criminals?” Ai asked.
“If you compromise the integrity of the data center, we will pursue restitution for all of our present and future losses against any personnel involved and the GCPD in general.”
Which was exactly what Ai expected to hear.
Or rather exactly what she expected to hear if the Tython data center contained data that was more interesting than its security had suggested it would.
She’d sent her team in to dig in one of the medium security nodes Tython maintained. Theft was almost impossible in general and effectively impossible to do without arousing suspicion, so she’d planned around the suspicion by making it impossible for Tython to know what was stolen.
Their countermove of choosing to scorch the earth rather than suffer a breach revealed the value of the data that was being maintained. Ai had struck a richer vein than she’d been certain she would. What she needed was a move that would distract Tython long enough for her to snatch the prize from under their noses.
“Bad news, the top floor only exits to the roof and there’s a charged security fence that is still operational there,” Zai said.
“Can we get the fire suppression systems back online on any of the floors?” Ai asked.
“I’ve been trying,” Zai said. “It looks like they followed our plan to disable the controls, the safeties and the backups. I would need physical access to the control junction to correct that, and that, of course, is currently on fire.”
“What’s Tython got to say?” Curtweather asked.
“The hostages are acceptable losses,” Ai said. “To them at least. If we want to save them, it’s up to us. And we’ve got to do it without letting the hostage takers get off the premises.”
“Well that’s a damn shame,” Curtweather said. “Do we still get the alarm fee?”
“Yeah, if we stay here, watch them burn, and then testify to it,” Ai said.
“Day keeps getting better and better,” Curtweather said. “I hate testifying.”
“I bet the hostages would be willing to swap positions with you,” Ai said.
“I’m sure they would, poor saps are dead already, they just don’t know it. Best thing they could do would be to storm their captors. Better a bullet than the flames if you ask me.”
“The best thing would be if we could get them out of there,” Ai said. “Anything else is just failure by another name.”
“Be careful of that kind of thinking,” Curtweather said. “Any cop who imagines he can take on the World is gonna find the World hits back a lot harder than he can.”
“I don’t need to take on the world,” Ai said. “But sitting here while people roast to a crisp in front of me while I do nothing? That’s not what I signed up for. There’s gotta be a better way to handle this than that.”
“On that note, Sidewalker, our team’s lead, just sent out an open message asking for our help. It was unencrypted and on a public feed so Tython, the GCPD and every news feed that’s watching this has seen it.” Zai said.