Chapter 7

Rihk guided his hand forward and caught the club, then pushed back with all the frame's strength and watched the suspect topple backwards. "Settle down!" It was strange to have physical hands again—even if they were borrowed from a security frame he piloted from the CloudArk—and he wasn't sure he wanted to use them again.

With the assailants down, the investigation VCs entered alongside the frame team, ready to inventory the stolen supplies. Commander Jingye walked in, still wearing her skin, and Rihk snapped to attention.

"Didn't realize you'd be coming down in person, ma'am."

"I'm here to see what can be salvaged, Constable." He expected her to wander over to the lashed shelves stuffed with nanite slurry, nutrient goo, batteries, and assemblers—enough for the dozen holdouts to live off the grid for years—but, instead, Tse stopped in front of his prone suspect. "Been a day, huh?"

"We won't go under!" His eyes burned with contempt as he sat firm in front of a fortune in supplies looted from the public stores.

Jingye offered a hand to help him stand. He slapped it away—a simple conversation between hope and hatred. But behind it, the man radiated terror.

The Commander sighed, turning back to Rihk's frame. "He's just scared, ma'am," he offered.

"We're all scared, Constable. But these holdout cults… they'd rather die living like they knew instead of surviving in a new normal." Her patient expression folded into a scowl. "And they don't care if they get the rest of us killed, too."

"My sister works in Mental Health Services. Says they're stretched thin, especially without the poukas. What do we do with them?"

"Counciler Adinew's authorized deep cryo as an option for anyone who doesn't want to upload."

"Sleep through all this instead of help out?" Rihk scoffed as he lifted the suspect. The felon's bravado melted as he listened to the exchange. "You seriously think anyone will take it?"

"Probably." She moved to leave. "And we're out of time to find better solutions."