Just a few of the words from today. Diana and Will were supposed to get away from the kids on a much-needed Valentine’s date. But, well, stuff happened.
Two hours later, Diana followed Will up the draw, Brenda’s team fanning out to the sides with weapons locked and loaded. Will concentrated on his tablet’s tracking device while Diana and Brenda handled the comealongs for both the X-57 and the Disruption Machine. Diana also monitored the local transmission networks. She’d tried to send a personal message to Chen but the EMP, while localized, had taken down the Mei-lein networks in this section of Northstar. She had to settle for text over voice and hope that Chen picked up the careful nuances.
Someone will be out to check soon. They had to get to the X-57 and the Disruption Machine before Mei-lein. Diana wanted that data. For safety’s sake, they needed to reach the X-57 before anyone else did. The war machine still carried netspiders and despite Will’s best effort to teach it otherwise, its programming often reverted to defensive mode when deployed in capture and retrieve mode. Usually their contracts explicitly stated that either Will or Diana needed to be on the retrieval team.
But this wasn’t a retrieval job, and if there was one thing that Diana knew about how Chen Ti?rén thought, she knew that he wouldn’t overlook the sudden disruption of a local network. Nor would he let the presence of a Landreth war machine stop him from claiming the prize that the Disruption Machine represented. Besides the stated multi-figure award for capture, there was the information that this device must be carrying. She wanted that information for Do It Right. Not to give away to Iron Man Chen.
“Halt,” Will said as his tablet pinged loudly. He scowled. “It’s up there.” He pointed to the top of the twenty-foot cliff they stood under.
Brenda signed to the Security team. They moved in. “We can climb this cliff.”
“No.” Will scowled. “We’ve got to go around. The X-57 got damaged in the capture. I don’t trust it not to attack anyone but me and Diana, and we don’t dare pop up abruptly. We’ve got to backtrack and come at it on the level.”
“We can do that,” Brenda said.
One of the local networks taken out by the EMP quivered back into life. Diana ignored Will and Brenda as she traced the connection.
“Got to do it fast,” she said, interrupting Will. “Chen himself is on the way out to investigate. I’d say we weren’t the only one who IDed that Disruption Machine trace.”
“Okay, it’s a good thing we’re still in shape,” Will sighed. “Let’s go. Diana, can you com with Chen yet?”
She shook her head. “Not down here.”
“Take point,” Brenda told Red Morley. “Let’s hustle. Will, Di, let’s have you in the middle.”
“You’ll need us in front as we get close.”
“Not sticking you out there until then,” Brenda said flatly. “We’ve got to go, then let’s get going.”
Will nodded. Red wheeled, Brenda at his side. Diana and Will fell in behind Brenda and they headed back down the draw at a jog trot, Security tight around them.
“We’ve got a big problem,” Will said to Diana on their private com. “The X-57’s stats are veering toward rogue. That EMP stripped out some of my most recent programming.”
“How much have we lost?” God, she hoped it hadn’t reverted completely to the old Landreth structures.
“Won’t know until I get my hands on it. I’m thinking the crash didn’t help things, either.” He switched coms. “Brenda. Let’s go up here.” He waved at the steep hillside.
Diana looked at it and groaned inside as Brenda and Red smoothly swung around to angle up the slope. Hope my bum knee can keep up. Fortunately, Brenda slowed the pace and she didn’t twist her leg too badly as they climbed.
Her com buzzed as they reached the top. Diana checked her messages. One from her mother, another from Chen. She took Chen’s message.
Advice taken. Will follow your direction. Good. He still remembered her discreet codes from Vietnam. She’d referred back to the incident with failed Landreth chips which had turned bioremediation bots into netspiders.
But that message had come from too close a location for her comfort.