Scene 217 – Pecuniam



“We’re out of money.”

Laura rubbed her eyes as she sat up in bed. “Robyn? Why are you up so early?”

I didn’t see the need to mention that my dad had given me one of those half-insomniac glands, which cut a couple hours off my sleeping needs. “Did you hear me?” I held up the empty backpack. “We’re out of money.”

The sharp-faced girl didn’t look so sharp right now, squinting in my direction like a mouse coming out of its hole for the first time.

“We… can’t be out of money,” she said slowly. She yawned loudly. “We had something like eight thousand dollars left. Yeah, eight thousand, one-hundred and fifty.”

Impressive as her memory was, even at this hour, that didn’t change the facts. I tossed her the bag. “Take a look for yourself.”

She caught it pretty easily—it only weighed about a pound, after all—and rifled through the various pockets and compartments, her frown deepening with every moment.

“Derek,” she said, shaking the body next to her. “Wake up.”

“Uh… I didn’t mean to grab there…”

“Shut up. Did you put the money somewhere weird?”

“Whuh? Uh…” he gestured vaguely in my direction, still under the covers. “Yeah, over on the dresser. No, on the chair next to the dresser.”

Laura gave me a worried glance; I shook my head.

“Not the backpack, Derek,” she said firmly. “The money. Did you take out the money and put it somewhere else? A drawer or something?”

“…no? Why?”

She sighed. “Because it’s not here.”

There was a slight pause.

Then Derek sat bolt upright, tossing his covers aside like they were physically attacking him.

Fully awake now, he grabbed the backpack from Laura and started rooting through it.

“It can’t be gone! I had it with me all day!”

Laura didn’t bother assigning blame. “When’s the last time you checked it?”

“About an hour after we got the souvenirs. So maybe nineteen-hundred hours or so.”

“And it was here in the room all night…” she narrowed her eyes. “Robyn, where’s Akane?”

“Taking a shower,” I replied.

“Done,” came a soft voice behind me; I turned to see Akane, in a new set of clothes and finishing drying off her hair with a towel. She knew something was wrong the second she stepped into the room. “What happened?”

“Money’s missing,” Derek reported tersely. “Did anyone enter the room while we sleeping.”

Akane gave him a level stare. “You gave me very strict instructions to relax. You wouldn’t even let me sleep in front of the door, preferring for me to spend the night in bed with grabby over here.” She jerked her thumb in my direction.

I turned up my nose at her accusation. It wasn’t my fault I was a natural cuddler.

Derek just stared right back. “Of course. I’m sure that as an accomplished and experienced warrior, you are perfectly capable of turning off your paranoia like light switch, just like I can. I’m sure you didn’t spend the entire night half-awake, listening to every creak of the building. Now—what did you hear?”

The girl sighed. “Nothing. My traps on the doors are untouched, and we would have heard them go off regardless.” She indicated the empty bags of chips from the vending machines, scattered around the floor. “And the second line of defense was undisturbed. Either no one entered the room last night, or they knew my precautions better than I did.”

“But the money’s still gone,” Derek murmured. “Could it have been taken before we got to the room?” He turned his attention back to his bodyguard. “After the souvenir shop, did you leave for any reason? Bathroom, something like that? It would make sense if someone only had to avoid my notice.”

“Hey!” I snapped indignantly. “Laura and I were there too!”

Akane ignored my outburst. “Not sure… there was that time I got stuck on the opposite side of a crosswalk, but you were still in full view that entire time, and it wasn’t that crowded, so I doubt somebody could have taken it without anyone noticing.”

“What I find odd is that they were able to open the backpack and get the money out,” Laura said slowly. The covers slipped off her body, and I noticed that she was still wearing her shirt from yesterday. She had forgotten her pajamas, and I guess she hadn’t wanted to just sleep in her underwear. “It would have made more sense if they cut the straps, grabbed it, and ran. As it is, it implies someone knew exactly what we had in there.”

Akane waved her hand. “I have a list of people who saw us take the cash out. The hostess here, the waitress at the pizza place, the homeless man in the alley…”

Laura nodded. “Point. There’s a long list of suspects, not even counting any friends or family members they could call to make the grab for them.” She sighed. “I think we have to accept the fact that the money is out of our reach.”

I sauntered over to mine and Akane’s bed and rooted around in the nightstand. “Simple enough. MC should be able to wire us some more, no trouble.” Even though no Domina banks existed here and vice versa—which was why credit cards weren’t an option—she still had connections. I found my phone, tapped the button labeled ‘MC,’ held it up to my ear…

And heard nothing but static.

“We’re out of range of her primary networks,” Laura noted as she pulled out her own cell. “Didn’t she tell you before we left? We need to call one of the city’s satellites. They’re run by her programs, so we should just…” she frowned. “Huh. I’m not getting through to the satellite.”

Derek leaned over to look at her phone. “Which one did you try?”

“Prima,” she muttered. “One sec, lemme try Secundus…” Another frown. “No good.”

“Try Tertius,” Derek suggested, naming the final Domina satellite. He pulled out his own phone. “I have another idea. One sec.”

“Tertius is down too,” Laura muttered. “I wonder if it’s a problem with the cell service in this city? America’s infrastructure leaves much to be desired…”

I swallowed. “You don’t think… something could have happened to the satellites, do you?”

But the Spanish girl shook her head. “No way. Even if something could get past the defenses—which is pretty unlikely—all three are designed to send up a broadband distress signal if something goes wrong. Unless someone has found a way to vaporize three of the most heavily defended satellites known to man in less than a second, we would have heard about it.”

“Jamming,” Akane muttered.

“Not on their end. You’d need a jammer the size of a small moon. On this end, though, it’s a distinct possibility.” She thought for a second. “We should try and call someone else, see if—”

“Already did,” Derek noted, closing his phone with a snap. “That was Adam’s friend on Shaohao station.”

Laura said “Adam has a friend on Shaohao?” at the exact same moment I said “Adam has friends?”

Derek’s lips quirked upwards in a smile. “Well. Maybe ‘friend of an acquaintance’ would be a better word. He met some people because of that Chinese astronaut he saved a while ago, and gave me the number. The guy says they’re having trouble getting through too—some sort of weird ion buildup on the satellites.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Ion buildup? Really?”

But Laura nodded. “It happens. Rarely, but it happens. Most likely something broke on one of the satellites, and it started spitting out electricity, which bounced around between the three.” She sighed. “You know, Senator McDowell mentioned something like this might happened. The refuelers aren’t careful, so there’s a bunch of debris and water scattered around that can provide a hazard like this.”

Akane’s face was scrunched up in confusion. “So… what does this mean?”

“It means it will take a few hours while Shaohao or one of our other spaceborne allies gets a maintenance crew down to fix the problem and clean up the mess,” Laura explained. She turned to Derek. “Did they say how long it’s been?”

He shook his head.

“Right, but it can’t have been more than a few hours, or they would have fixed it already.”

I thought back for a moment. “Shaohao has daily data exchanges with Domina, right?”

“No, that’s the Soviet Tsiolkovsky Station,” she corrected. “It’s the communications hub for all the colonies. You should know this.”

I sighed. “Laura, I didn’t take any space classes. Just get on with it.”

“Fine.” She paused for a moment herself, thinking. “Tsiolkovsky’s exchange with Domina is at 2200 hours, two hours before the second daily space cannon packages are fired. So if they discovered it then—”

“Shaohao didn’t say Tsiolkovsky told them,” Derek cut in quickly. “I think they found out on their own.”

Laura closed her mouth, before nodding. “Okay, then that means everything was in working order last night—Tsiolkovsky would have mentioned it if it wasn’t. And, of course, it was likely still in working order at midnight, otherwise they wouldn’t have been able to calibrate the cannons, and that would have raised a red flag.”

“So, what?” I asked. “One of the Chinese randomly decided to call Domina, and they didn’t answer?”

Akane spoke up again. “Shaohao has some maintenance fleets, I think. Maybe they just noticed the problem on their own?”

“That might be a good thing,” Laura said with another nod. “It would mean that a repair crew is nearby, so it shouldn’t be too much longer—”

“Adam’s guy didn’t mention anything like that,” Derek cut in again. “Actually, he said they’d be sending the crew soon. It’s going to be at least a few more hours.”

“And we have literally no money,” I emphasized. “Except for about two bucks of spare change in the bottom of that backpack—” Derek checked, and seemed delighted to find a few quarters. “—we don’t have anything we can use to buy anything. No food, no nothing.”

Laura turned to Derek with a frown. “You think we should just stay in the room for the morning? Wait it out?”

He made a face. “Well, I really wanted to get some actual breakfast, but unless anyone is willing to raid the emergency stash, we don’t really have any other options.”

His bed mate stared at him. “We have an emergency stash?

“Domina does,” I corrected. “Just ten or twenty thousand dollars in some major banks. We have to be careful about picking it up, though. If we do it wrong, the funds might get frozen, and they’ll have to start a whole new emergency stash.”

“Why not just a cash stash?” Akane muttered.

But I waved her comment away. “This isn’t for spies and assassins who need extra equipment. This is for stupid tourists—people like us, in other words—who get in a bit of trouble and need money. You’re expected to pay it back.”

“It’s a last resort,” Derek said firmly. “Not because we can’t pay it back, but because I have a feeling we’d screw up the withdrawal process. For now, let’s just wait, and in a few hours MC will be able to wire us money using less suspicious means.”

Short version: She didn’t.

Sitting around a hotel room for six hours is not the adrenaline-fueled thrill ride it sounds like. Other than getting some snacks from the vending machine, we didn’t have any food, and Lara didn’t want anyone making any tracks on the internet, so we couldn’t even use our phones to surf stupid websites.

Soon after noon, Derek finally had enough.

“Okay, this is ridiculous,” he muttered, grabbing his shoes from the dresser, bringing them back to his bed, and starting to put them on. “Laura, can you try the satellites again? If you can’t get through, I’m going down to the bank.”

Laura pulled out her phone, but she frowned at the blond boy nonetheless. “If you go, we’re all going. This is a strange city, we shouldn’t be splitting up.”

“It will be suspicious if all four of us go to the bank together.”

“It will be fine. We might get an odd look or two, but even that is unlikely.”

Derek grunted in annoyance, clearly well aware he wasn’t going to be winning this argument any time soon.

Laura clicked her phone shut. “No response. Not unexpected. I’m beginning to suspect the damage was something more major, like micro meteors.”

Akane gave her an odd look from her spot next to me on our own bed. For some reason, she still hadn’t changed out of her nightclothes. “Those are real?”

“Above the atmosphere? Yes.” She sighed and checked her watch. “Okay, it’s a little after 1300. Let’s just find the nearest bank, get some money, then get lunch.”

“And keep a closer eye on it next time.”

“Yes Robyn, we got that.” The sharp-faced girl tied her own shoes on quickly. “Everybody else ready?”

Derek and I nodded. Akane chuckled, then blurred around the room at superspeed. In less than five seconds, she was fully changed and standing by the door.

“Well? What are you all waiting for? Let’s go!”

The rest of us rolled our eyes and followed.

We didn’t run into anyone on the way down, and the hostess at the door—a different girl from yesterday—was happy to point us to the nearest bank. Fortunately, there was a small one actually inside the hotel for servicing patrons, just a short walk deeper into the building, near the cafes and bistros.

Unfortunately, it was closed.

“It’s a Friday,” Laura muttered with a frown. “After noon on a Friday. Why are they closed?”

Derek checked his phone. “It’s November the 2nd. Is that a holiday? What’s that one thing they have after Halloween? The one with the turkey.”

“No, that’s later.” She shook her head and stalked away. “Silver and gold, this is more complicated than it has any right to be!”

“Giving up?” Akane asked, incredulous. Knowing her—and Derek, for that matter—she was probably wondering why we weren’t breaking into the place and just taking some money. Not that they’re thieves, they’re just a bit blunt and not used to giving up.

“Of course not,” Laura practically spat. Thankfully, she wasn’t angry at either of us, just in general. “We’re going to find another bank, one that isn’t randomly closed in the middle of the day.” She shook her head. “Seriously, there has to be at least one.”

“Our bank is closed?” the hostess asked as she walked by us. Apparently she was going on break, judging by the bagel in her hand. She frowned in the direction we had come from. “That… is odd. Really odd. Did you try knocking?”

“Yes.” Laura’s gaze made it clear she wasn’t in the mood to elaborate.

The hostess was intelligent enough to know not to antagonize her in this state, and gave a shaky smile. “There’s another one nearby that should be open. They’re even open on holidays and Sundays, so…”

She trailed off, wilting under Laura’s stare.

Derek coughed politely, and placed his hand on the Spanish girl’s shoulder. She blinked, and most of her fury eased off. She took a step back, putting him in the front.

He smiled winningly at the hostess, and she managed a more genuine smile in return.

I had to resist the urge to roll my eyes. Of course. Leave it to this idiot to talk to women.

“Sorry about my colleague,” he apologized. “We’re just in a bit of a bind. All we need is you to point us to that bank, and we’ll be out of your hair.”

She nodded hurriedly. “Right, sure! It’s just two blocks away, on 9th Street. Go out the door, take a right, and keep walking, and you can’t miss it.”

“But what’s it called?” Derek pressed.

“9th Street Savings and Loan.”

Behind the Scenes (scene 217)

Laura’s concerns about keeping satellites clean might seem odd, but it is a very real problem in an era of semi-casual space travel. There’s no wind in space, which means nothing to blow the dust and mist away, not to mention since the satellites are in geosynchronous orbit, very little of it falls back to Earth from gravity. This has resulted in a powerful spaceborne industry based around cleaning satellites and space stations… a service Domina City has never made use of, due to budgetary penny-pinching.