“This isn’t right.”
“Not this shit again,” growled Kendall, “not now. We’ve been over this: they’re not people.”
Zaine and Seren kept working. They’d heard it before and didn’t want to hear it again, though Leon suspected they agreed with him on some level. He was all about pinching mint from the Fedcorp, but murder was a step too far. “They’re conscious. Unique uploads of real people—”
“They’re sim-u-la-tions,” Kendall interrupted, drawing out every syllable for effect. “You don’t think there’s a backup somewhere?”
“We don’t know.”
“We don’t care!”
Zaine dropped his Plank coupler and the metallic clink echoed off the bare walls of the narrow maintenance tunnel. He cursed under his breath, wiped sweat from his brow, and continued working.
“More likely to get us killed with that kind of nonsense. Last freelance gun I hire,” Kendall said, more to herself than to Leon. Seren stood up and began backing away from the containment cube. She trailed an optical cable as she walked.
Zaine nodded. “Ready.”
The Fedcorp coinfarm existed as a neurodigital complex. No one understood how it worked. Literally no one; it was designed by a previous version of itself, regressing back a million generations. Black box shit. But it was known to rely on gen2chem—chemistry not known to exist in nature. Analogs of protons and neutrons made from more massive quarks, muons in place of electrons, that sort of thing. Naturally unstable, which made it secure. It also made it susceptible to destabilization. A directed energy burst could open up the complex like dynamite blowing a hole in a bank vault. Except the walls of this vault were once, and probably still, alive.
“What’s it gonna be, freelancer? You’re either in or you’re dead.” Kendall reached for her rear waistband.
Leon should have known from the start. This was going to end in murder one way or another. She was fast, but he was a step ahead. He dove to the ground. Kendall missed her shot, and Leon bashed off the side of the containment cube while yanking the cabling away from Seren, along with the detonator.
“We’re going to renegotiate our terms.”