The Bazaar: Chapter 21


The prison was a real shithole.

Lousy network coverage. All old-school vanilla wi-fi. Not enough bandwidth to pull out all the stops. Not that there were stops to pull out in the first place. According to the specs all vital systems were electromechanical. Nothing networked. Not doors, not power, not audio surveillance. All Faisal had were a handful of grainy CCTV cameras. The signal kept cutting out and he was hardly even banging the needles.

The important thing was the mercs were back on the grid.

A translucent 3D blueprint floated in front of him. A red light winked on and off in the professor’s cell. Faisal waggled his hand back and forth at the wrist. The 3D model rotated. The faster he waggled the faster it spun until eventually its electric blue lines all ran together, transforming the prison into a sphere of electric blue light.

The source of the bandwidth problem was simple enough: solid fucking concrete walls without a booster in sight.

Not that Faisal would be able to do anything with a halfway decent signal anyway. All he had to work with was an antique Toshiba riot control bot at the end of the corridor: all-terrain treads, cattle prod and riot gun mounted on the mechanical arms. Night vision, thermal vision, etc etc.

As he parsed the specs the blue sphere began to slow.

Faisal drilled into the bot and pulled a background diagnostic routine. Shimmering windows popped up across his vision.

The bot still had some juice left in its batteries, despite having been in deep sleep hibernation for more than a year. Its internal diagnostics read green across the board. Whatever the fuck that was supposed to tell him. Whoever designed the displays left out the important stuff: barrel integrity/obstruction, for one. For all Faisal knew the bot’s riot gun would blow up on the first round, peeling the barrel back like a split banana peel.


Even Hezbollah tweaked its shit to ease the maintenance burden. Half those guys didn’t even believe in bots – something about God and souls and man’s eternal hubris.

“You know Paolo, sometimes I think he does this on purpose. He wants a hundred million dollar show on a ten thousand dollar budget. I mean, is this really how you people run things here? Honestly I’m shocked you’ve lived this long.” Faisal didn’t bother turning to face the translator, who Don Carlos posted to observe before stepping outside to schmooze the clients with a special box of cigars he kept tucked away in his armored Land Rover for just such situations — crises where asses were badly in need of kissing.

He didn’t have to see Paolo to know the translator stood aghast, jaw unhinged and mouth wide open like a goddamn blue whale gorging itself on shrimp. “Everything’s broken here. What are you supposed to do if the prisoners actually riot? You’re going to send a bunch of guys down with shotguns and tear gas to get captured and held hostage have get their tongues cut out with kitchen knives? Did we go through a time warp to nineteen-fucking-seventy-two when we landed here?”

All at once the floating diagnostic panels disappeared.

Another dropped signal. It would be no problem getting the bot up and running. Keeping it that way with the crappy coverage would be another story.

Faisal sighed. “It’s a job for an AI, Paolo. ”

Something simple. Lightweight. Something that wouldn’t get jammed up in the pipeline. A Chinese hunter-killer would do. Faisal hated giving the Chinamen credit for anything. But when it came to getting jobs done on the cheap and easy they always seemed to come up trumps.

“Then again,” he said, “give me a half million Asian computer nerds and an unlimited budget and I’ll knock your fucking socks off, too.”

Out in front of him the electric blue sphere ground to a halt, resolving itself once more into the 3D image of the prison. The stationary light marking the nutty professor’s location winked on and off.

Faisal waved it off and called up the gateway to his AI repository.

“Tell them to finish their smokes and get inside,” he said. “Show’s about to start.”


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