In this patch of Matrix, someone has planted

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{–An independent news and entertainment organization broadcast from the streets of Sector Seven–}

As the title and intro fades, a video appears within the turning star, zooms towards the viewer, and plays. On it, a smiling young woman, shot from the waist up; her skin is a sallow kind of tanned, her hair dark black and flowing in an unbroken curtain down her back, her smile broad and earnest, her eyes unnervingly wide. She’s wearing a stylishly smart button-up shirt, appearing to be made of genuine silk, hued a gentle gold. She’s sat behind a beat-up faux-wooden desk before a plain, neutrally grey background, the star emblem of the site letterboxed above and to the left of her shoulder. She leans towards the camera eye and beams.

“Eeeeeya, any and all viewers, and thank you much for viewing! This is The Trees, an independent an’ un-syndicated news and entertainment platform. You may notice you ain’t bein’ inundated with auto-generated ads like a helluva lotta other spaces on the Matrix,” she states, gesturing to the left and right of the viewer, indicating the empty space, “An’ thas ’cause we don’t got ads! We survive entirely on donation, personalized sponsorship, ‘n prayer. So if you wanna see more actual investigatin’ journalism goin’ on, feel free to drop a coin in the bucket.” She leans back and wipes at her brow, as if relieved. “That bitta shilling outta the way, the actual story you here to hear. First one onna site, but it’s a helluva one. So!”

She leans back off of the desk as the letterboxed star fades- showing pictures of relevant locations as she speaks. She props booted feet onto the surface, leaned back in her chair. “Not too long ago, Earth Sector Seven experienced one of the biggest little crime waves in one night that we have on record. All total, fourteen individual homes were robbed, all by one individual.” And here she counts on her fingers, shaking the hand as she rattles off each name. “Independent homes in the Dregs, The Bayview, Perdito and Strand apartment complex, and even as high as the towers of Dollanganger. This man busted in, cleared the places out of his target materials, and moved on to the next door down- but nobody was able to catch sight. He since had his gains confiscated and been locked up.” She smirks, and sits back up, facing the viewer.

“Thas’ where usual news ends. Happy story, basic reporting, the end. We don’ do that here. We deepdive. So: lets begin with where I first knew of the perp.” The letterbox changes once again- displaying a blacked-over face, with a question mark across it. She gestures up at it with an open hand. “This man’s real name has evaded both me and CSec. Introduces himself as Tom. Tom here met me in a bar… about a week before his spree. Not exactly charming, obviously criminal type, but we shared some stories, traded phone numbers, and went our separate ways. About a week later, I get a text- he says he has something for me. I’m young and impressionable,” she says, pressing a hand to her chest, “So I head to the address he dropped me and he welcomes me in with a gun.”

Despite the somewhat dire circumstance she describes, the woman’s tone remains casual, almost jovial- and perhaps the letterbox holds the answer as to why, as it shifts from the blacked-out face to a pair of lacy pink panties. “I’m enticed to enter at gunpoint, and guided into his home. Wonderful place. Four walls and a broken window and a crusty couch. But what is heaped upon the couch is the most absolutely bafflin’ sight. It’s panties. Panties, lace, brassieres- women’s undergarments and nightclothes, along with at least a half dozen… silicone intimates. It’s an absolute dragon’s hoard of women’s underwear. He tells me to sit on the couch, and just gestures at it, ‘tadah!’” She does some little shaky hands for emphasis, snickering at the memory. “This is what he raided a dozen homes across Uptown Sec-Seven for. Panties, to get me to wear some for him. If he didn’t have a gun in his hand, I probably would’ve been flattered. Now-” She leans into the camera.

“I am about to put praise of CorpSec to video. If this upsets you, mute for about a minute or two.” She leans back, and the letterbox has switched to the golden eagle of CorpSec’s logo. “One of the first questions out of my mouth to Tom here is what his plan is to not be arrested for countless thefts. And in a spot of Csec’s best-ever timing, not even five minutes later do they roll in. Just two men; a Syndicate bounty hunter for backup, and a man who asked me to drop his name; a CSec officer by the name of Jacques. They bust in, put Tom down, cuff ’em and clean it all up, perfectly professional style. Rescue little damsel-in-distress me, really. I owe the guy a favor- which I am now repayin’, Jac.” Her expression goes stern, and she emphasizes this with a point at the viewer, before settling back to her seat.

“This is where the CSec praise ends. If you’re Csec, and easily offended- mute now.” She grins, steepling her fingers on the desk. “Now, your first and obvious question: who robs half the city in one night, only to steal exclusively women’s undergarments? The answer- you don’t. CSec seems content to have called this one case closed; I have it on good authority the pile of previously-owned intimates is currently moldering in evidence storage, with CSec having made no efforts to identify the stolen from or return the property. I expect a number of officers will surprise their wives with unexpected gifts soon enough, after a thorough washing.” The letterbox swaps images yet again, displaying the stellar logo of The Trees. “Meanwhile, I focused my efforts on tracking the thefts, and those heisted from. Finding who had been robbed was fairly easy; asking neighbors, examining damage to doors and locks, doing some hands-eye forensics. All of this confirmed that CSec hasn’t done any of the groundwork for identifying the victims- which I understand is rather their habit. Speaking with said victims were far more difficult, but I’ve managed to say a few words. These victims- who have asked to be unnamed- have confirmed that it was not only clothing that was stolen from their homes. Included in the tally are several matching collections of jewelry, made of gold, silver, gems, and real, organic pearls- valued at several thousand, all together. CorpSec didn’t gather this with the rest of the evidence. Which means it were either hidden from the official collection sheets, stored away where they couldn’t see it in the hideout, or passed off to a second party before mine and their arrival to said thief’s hideout.”

Her expression has grown more severe and her tones more dire as she speaks, addressing the audience entirely. “Additionally, at time of recording? Pieces matching the stolen jewelry have been appearing and disappearing from anonymous online markets, filtering out into the general population for resale, evidence slowly disappearing. This isn’t even on CSec’s radar! And all the victims can do is watch their property disappear down a hole in the Matrix, one by one. And these are the people we’re supposed to entrust with public safety, especially now, with the collapse of the Terran Initiative? They can’t handle basic criminality on a micro level, let alone a macro. Until we seen some harsher crackdown, if you live in Sector Seven, lock your doors at night, and install a bar. If someone gets in, chances are, whatever you’ll be missing is as good as gone.”

The woman, and the ramshackle set, both fade away, replaced by a pair of stars flanking either side of the organization’s logo. The woman speaks from nowhere. “That’s all for this first installment of The Trees, and we all sincerely thank you for watching. The star on the left is a link to our donation pool, if you’d like to pay our rent and keep us growing. On the right is our content archive, to view past topics. Have a good night, viewer.”