The pair disappeared off the face of the Earth.
At first Faisal couldn’t quite believe it. He flipped from the map overlay on his lens back to the monitors and from the monitors to the three-dimensional, street-level rendering of the casino district. He swooped along the deserted streets like a wraith.
Not so much as a whispered hint of a signal.
Hardly anything could cause a disappearance so quickly and completely. The first and most obvious explanation on this very short list was death. If the professor got killed his chip would go dark. That would be the end of that. But Faisal was certain they had not been killed in the hotel. He watched on CCTV as one thug took a burst through the wall, then as the merc killed the lady thug, first maiming her and then finishing the job, cleanly and professionally (so cleanly and professionally Faisal found himself wishing it were her people who’d hired them and not the scruffy, smelly, hamfisted assortment of narco-terrorist-neo-Marxist-revolutionary-VIPs gathered round his workstation).
That meant the pair had slipped into a dead zone. Probably crossed into some ancient 2G network that couldn’t handle any kind of volume. Certainly not the output from a modern chipset.
The fact there could be a dead zone at all shocked him. A little signal disruption from a buried mineral deposit he could understand. But an actual data dead zone? In this day and age?
It was fucking medieval.
Behind him the VIPs got loud. Speaking turned to shouting, shouting to shoving until bodyguards stepped in to break things up. The physical scuffle stopped. The shouting continued. Faisal didn’t bother cuing up Espanol Made Easy. He could give a shit about the narcos’ bullshit macho posturing. It was Don Carlos’ job to charm clients.
There was no group on earth you couldn’t break up into a hundred or more parts, all wanting different things. The reason security analysts did a shitty job anticipating threats was they were trained to look for meaning. As if you could apply specific motives to entire groups.
Hence violence was most effective when it was brutal and senseless.
Faisal learned that as a kid being beaten senseless by a half-dozen bearded, galabiya-clad Salafist types for some imagined affront to Islam. At no point had anyone stopped to wonder whether they might be on the same, nominal “side,” how his father took a bullet from an Israeli sniper in Lebanon or that Faisal’s hobby happened to be disrupting the Israeli missile defense network.
Palestinian Brotherhood was joke.
Ditto for Arab Brotherhood.
He sincerely hoped the Mossad had popped every last one of the motherfuckers, or the IAF had dumped a whole shitload of white phosphorous on them. That was a sufficiently horrible death: chemicals melting through your flesh all the way to the bone.
Behind him Don Carlos Carlos waded into the melee. Paolo the Intrepid Translator yipped at his side, helping with the local dialect. As soon as Don Carlos opened his mouth the narcos quit shouting. He spoke at length in measured, reasonable Spanish.
The usual speech, no doubt. Faisal could recite it from memory.
Why are you so upset? Do you see me upset? Shouldn’t I be the one upset? You could kill me and bury me in the jungle/desert/snow (as applicable) and no one would ever find me. I should be the one upset. I am the one at risk. Is it the money? What money? Your ten percent deposit? What loss is that when you are out here printing money?
According to Don Carlos everyone was printing money: Hamas, Syrian ultra-fundies, the Iranians. To hear Don Carlos tell it you’d think they worked in international finance. On this job of course the money-printing was more pronounced than usual. All narcos cared about was money. It made them a hell of a lot easier to deal with than the ultra-fundies, who insisted on keeping everything halal as possible (no porn sites for smokescreens, for example, and no pork rinds for snacks at your terminal).
No, greed was easy.
What Don Carlos really ought to tell them was that if they were worried about their deposit Faisal could make it back pumping and dumping penny stocks. Simple enough with bots. Set a squad of AIs to work on the right social networks and voila: riskless profit.
In the early days it was all simple funding ops: pump and dump schemes and other market manipulations. Eventually Faisal graduated to ripping off online casinos with brute force attacks. He and Don Carlos could have made a good living that way. The problem was it was too easy, too dependable. Boring. And that was no way to live. Get stuck in a racket like that and the world would pass you by. You’d fall off the watch lists. INTERPOL would replace you with someone who’d blown up a coffee shop somewhere. Faisal found it depressing as shit, it being so easy to end up irrelevant.
Hence this latest venture.
By now the narco VIPs had quieted down, like children listening to a bedtime story.
Nothing now but to wait for the merc and the nutty professor to pop back on the grid. He flipped on his lens and drilled down into the guts of his tracker code. There he carved out a space for an augmented physiological alarm routine. When they popped back on the grid Faisal would get a feeling like someone was standing behind him, breathing down his neck.