The London skyline at night looks much neater and orderly than it does during the day. Deeper south, near Croydon, where the crime is higher and the people poorer, the darkness and the fog makes it hard to navigate the streets safely and without fear. But in Soho, from the top of the tallest skyscraper, the city feels tidier. The immense power towers that inject electric life to London can be seen spiraling up from the ground. The structures give way to a cubic luminous energy core that glints in the darkness and continues to spiral toward the sky. Their shiny steel façades contrast the lower skyscrapers and remaining older buildings, reflecting light in a way that makes the towers seem to be bathed by moonlight even in moonless nights. For someone who values the harmony of iron-fisted order, this view is like a birthday present.
Akcab Corporate Tower’s security protocols are known to be among the strictest for non-industrial buildings in the entirety of Europe. Security personnel is deployed outside the front entrance, inside the entry hall, guarding every elevator on every floor, and at the landing pad on the rooftop. Every 50 floors there is a barrack-like apartment that houses heavily armed elite response teams who are ready to act every hour of every day. Security automatons and AIs help to ensure that both the physical entry points and the electronic network that supports the tower are impenetrable. State-of-the-art metal detectors and CCTV provide tower dwellers with a sense of tranquility, safe in the knowledge that no undesirable individuals or objects can enter without immediate reprisal.
On this night, however, the safety and security measures put in place are unparalleled: armored land vehicles stationed at the ground level prevent unauthorized people from driving on the streets that surround Akcab. Airships armed with the most advanced weapon technology discretely circle the building from a distance making sure the airspace is clear of any threat. Every VIP that has entered the tower and made their way to the penthouse on the 212th floor has been scanned at least three times. Those who have grumbled and protested have been reminded that their host for the evening has little patience for people who don’t respect rules. So far, they have all reconsidered, lowered their heads, and meekly fallen back in line.
With so many important guests, the usual combination of AIs and ICE has been reinforced by the presence of a contra-runner. Having all the privileges of a system administrator, his job is to make sure nobody is taking advantage of all the distractions this event might suggest and running the Grid tonight. Anyone hacking communication devices to eavesdrop on private conversations or gaining control of the cameras to snatch a few pictures of the party’s guests will be stopped and tracked by the contra-runner.
Tonight’s host has no intention of giving away any secrets and she knows perfectly well that it takes a predator to catch a predator.
Rebecca is not actually enjoying her own party. She has no sentimentality for birthdays and would rather be contemplating the city from her balcony alone. Despite this, she knows the role she must play, to entertain and to allow London’s elite to pay their respects to her. In any case, the party is a good excuse to discuss some issues too sensitive to talk about over the phone or in writing. Rebecca has been holding court on the balcony for the last hour while her Siamese cat, Ares, wanders around. First came talking to the mayor and later with the minister of defense. Her assistant ensured that the politicians didn’t exceed their allotted time and her bodyguard kindly made them understand that overstaying their welcome at the balcony was not an option. Both politicians bowed, thanked Rebecca for her time and left. The most imperceptible smirk crossed Rebecca’s face when she noted the mayor was terrified of Ares.
Now Emma has come out to the balcony, and Rebecca’s assistant turns around knowing that this conversation will require no intervention. The bodyguard also knows better than to antagonize this particular guest in any way, so he has stepped back to give the two women some space. Only the contra-runner stays put, making sure this conversation is as private as possible. Rebecca pours Emma a glass of the 2068 Château Chassily she’s drinking, real wine made from real grapes. The two women briefly exchange pleasantries and Emma does not wish her a happy birthday. Rebecca finds this refreshing and she’s even grateful to some extent. Rebecca turns to the railing and takes a drag of her cigarette. Emma thinks she can smell gunpowder but is unsure if the odor is coming from the cigarette or her host herself. She says nothing of the smell and instead waits for Rebecca to start the conversation they really want to have.
Rebecca brings the cigarette to her lips again and inhales. She looks at her metal arm as she moves it away from her face. Then, staring at the golden hologram with open arms that seem to taunt from a few hundred meters her every night, she steps out to her balcony, Rebecca says, “Regarding treatment, your last cocktail was better at controlling the tremors, but it did bring a considerable increase in headaches. Do you think we can do better with the next batch?” The question intonation and the use of the plural are a courtesy, Emma can still feel the pressure in that last sentence. After all, she is on Rebecca’s home turf. No matter how much Rebecca needs her, it is unwise to gloat. And it is undeniable that Emma has uses for Rebecca’s resources. Emma lowers her glass of wine. “Of course, mein Gastgeberin. I’ll have my team correct this. We’ll change excipients, compensate for any foreseeable side effects and we’ll have a new combination for you to try next week,” assures Emma. It is now her turn to push her own agenda, “I was wondering if we were still on schedule for the next batch of test subjects?”. Rebecca nods, her sight still fixed on the projection of yellow light that makes up the giant colossus, “We’ll be providing you with 300 new test subjects in the next fortnight. 100 elite and 200 regulars. I’d appreciate if this time the elite ones were returned, let’s say, operational. The last batch did not come back fit for activity, to put it delicately.” Emma looks down at her glass of wine and raises an eyebrow, as if remembering something long forgotten, “Ah, yes, that,” she says “That last round of testing had an unfortunate ending, I agree, but I assure you the data we obtained from it is quite valuable. I’d say we’re closer to our desired final product thanks to it. Still not there, but closer.” Rebecca takes the last drag of her cigarette before putting it out. “Emma, I don’t mind losing a few assets if the outcome is worth it. I think the resources I’ve destined for our joint venture prove that I think the outcome will be worth it. But please, don’t make me regret my good faith in you.” This time, Rebecca is looking straight into Emma’s eyes. “Thank you for coming to my party”. This conversation is over. Emma bows and exits the balcony.
Ares purrs and rubs against Rebecca’s leg. The host tells her assistant to politely get rid of the remaining guests and she pours herself what is left of the bottle of wine. She isn’t drunk, nor intends to be, but her father always insisted on having an extra glass of wine on his birthday. Rebecca sometimes has trouble with deciding which family traditions to uphold. She drinks the remaining contents of her glass while looking at the skyline. Morning is still a few hours away and she wants to go to bed with the image of an orderly London unbroken by the uncontrollable buzzing of daybreak.