Info, info, need info. Amanda scrolled through the various reports her monitoring programs fed to her screen. She only half paid attention to the argument going on behind her, throwing the occasional bit of information over her shoulder as she found it. That was, until Ben slammed open the door to the lair. Jackass.
“THE FUCK?” he shouted. No one responded. “What? Nothin’ to say?” he continued. “Tha’ was bullshit, right? I haven’t lost my fuckin’ mind, right?”
“There wasn’t anything we could do,” said Chris, his subdued voice much lower than Ben’s angry near shouting.
“No shit. Unarmed, five minutes east of MHU, an’ Cyrus descends from the fuckin’ heavens to kick our asses? The fuck was that? Oh, yeah.” He marched forward to the table, then reached around behind him and grabbed a small brown duffle bag strapped to his back. He tossed it to the tabletop. “Everyone’s shit is in there. I stuck around after you lot bugged out.”
Amanda got off her chair. You’re good for something after all. I didn’t want to have to track down all that stuff that was in my pockets, or cancel that credit card. One of those phones was actually hard to get. Had to negotiate with paranoid corporate suits for a week to get it.
As everyone started for the bag, Ben put a hand on the opening and leaned forward, preventing anyone from reaching inside. “First thing’s first. The fuck happened?”
“Out of the way, all of my money is in there,” said Miya, grabbing at the bag.
Quicker than Amanda’s eye could follow, Ben’s free hand whipped around and stabbed a long knife deep into the table right beside Miya’s arm.
“I will beat the shit outta you again an’ Olivia ain’t here to stop it,” he roared. Again? What?
Amanda took a surreptitious step back towards her desk. Fuck, where is my baton? To Miya’s credit, she didn’t flinch after retracting her arm, and instead locked eyes with Ben.
“Can I have my knife back when you’re done?” asked Rob, still slouching in his chair. How can you look bored right now?
“Sure,” replied Ben, not breaking eye contact with Miya.
Baton, where are you? Amanda’s hand searched the desk behind her as she kept her attention on the conversation in front of her.
Chris’s chair skidded along the concrete floor as he stood up. “Ben, back off, now.”
“Answers,” Ben barked back.
“Do we have to do this again?” asked Chris. Ben started acting up last time the police captured Olivia. Something about burning Marcus alive.
Ben’s grip on the knife tightened, his knuckles white. “I’m jus’ gonna repeat myself. Answers,” he spat at Chris. Both straightened their shoulders and glared at each other. Miya backed off. Great, now they’re starting some kind of male dominance ritual.
“This isn’t helping,” said Chris with forced calmness.
“Boltin’ didn’t either,” replied Ben. He worked the knife out of the table.
Chris didn’t answer. Instead, he turned into a giant mass of goo and slammed into Ben. He wrenched the knife from Ben’s grasp and tossed it to the side with a goo tendril. Amanda took the time to turn around and grab her stun baton, which she found lying just an inch away from where her hand had been blindly searching.
When she turned back around, Chris had Ben pinned against a wall. Rob just slouched in his chair. He actually looked up at the proceedings, so he was showing at least a bit more interest than before.
Miya stomped up to Ben. “What?” she yelled at him. Chris retracted enough for Ben to hear what she had to say. And for him to breathe. But that is of secondary importance. Amanda kept one eye on Rob, another on Ben.
Miya continued, “What, you thought we just ran off because fuck it, running is fun, may as well get our cardio in? You think we just abandoned her? You think we’re just going to take this sitting down?”
“You lot were sittin’ here when I came in,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’m kinda doubtin’ yer resolve here.”
“Ben,” called out Rob. “Hear them out. There were reasons behind this.” Thanks for speaking up earlier. You’re a dumbass, and your brother’s a jackass. Great. Amanda shot a sideways look at Rob. The little upwards curl at the corner of his mouth could’ve meant anything.
“The prospect of me gettin’ my ass kicked amusin’?” Ben asked Rob.
Ben sighed. “Fine. What happened?”
“Eight MHU officers nearly killed us,” answered Miya.
“They didn’t all go for Olivia?” asked Ben.
“No,” said Amanda. “If it weren’t for Chris we’d be in jail cells right now. Where the hell were you?”
“Got off the roof once Cyrus came so I wouldn’t go splat. Dodged debris, an’ Olivia once, on the way down. Had no clue what was goin’ on, ‘til you guys left an’ they got Olivia in a truck with Cyrus.”
“We’d have died if we stayed. Same as you,” said Miya.
“Why do you care, Miya?” asked Ben. “You were all for leavin’ her an’ the rest of us behind last time ‘round.” I hate to agree with him, but he’s right. You were all for leaving to go on your revenge rampage in Arizona last time this happened.
“This is different,” said Miya, her face contorting with anger.
“How?” asked Ben with a toothy smile.
“That… I’d just met her, and all of you then. Now is different,” she repeated.
“Fine.” Ben glanced down at Chris. “Wanna let me down.” Nothing happened. “I’m done for now,” added Ben.
Goo Chris withdrew until Ben’s feet reached the ground, then Chris snapped back to normal. Watching that is so strange. Never see him move. One minute he’s liquid, the next he’s standing there. Amanda watched him for a moment. Ben stretched his neck to get out some kinks, then took a seat by the table. She tossed her baton back on the table. Fine then.
Everyone dug through the bag to find their personal items, and Rob retrieved his knife from where Chris had tossed it.
“So, any plottin’ I miss?” asked Ben when everyone settled down again.
“She’s in the vault,” said Chris.
After giving him the same explanation from earlier about its nigh impenetrableness, Ben said, “Get her in transit like last time?”
“Last time? What happened then? Where they gonna take her?” asked Rob. Right, you weren’t here for that.
“Same situation as this,” said Chris. “After we killed Freedom Fighter, the police rounded us up for questioning. Marcus, the MHU head, let the rest of us go, besides Olivia. We were hunting down the van they were transporting her in. She broke out herself, no help from us. Oh, and they were taking her down to Houston. That’s where the main feral research facility is for the US.”
Rob nodded. “Gotcha.”
“So, we can’t assume that she’ll get out again. They’ll have learned their lesson,” said Amanda.
“You think they knew we were trying to find her?” asked Chris. “We never showed our faces to them, Olivia did all the work.”
“Maybe not. Why would they?” said Miya.
“They expected us earlier,” replied Chris.
Amanda returned to sifting through the MHU recordings. The police had finally managed to block her off from the most of the systems, but she still had a backdoor they hadn’t closed off yet. And this is why you don’t frame me, your entire MHU IT department, for treason. Fuck you, Marcus. Oh, here’s something. She tuned out the conversation behind her for a couple minutes.
“Hey, shut up. Got something,” Amanda called over shoulder.
She pressed play, and the audio clip started. The voice she recognized as the night MHU HQ dispatcher, an ordinary male voice somewhat distorted by static, began the recording with, “Jeremiah, quartermaster will have you good to go in less than a minute.”
Some scratching noises in the audio, then a different, deeper voice replied, “Roger that. We’ve got eighteen officers, plus drivers. Who are we up against?”
“I sent the full list to you. Short version: rampaging feral. She’s primary. Two minutes out, stop for nothing. There’s the chance her friends might be there. Nomad, so bring thermite, Delta, assume they’re listening into the comms, magician, named Miya, homemade armor techie, and Skulker, no counters. They’re secondary. Don’t worry. Quartermaster’s got you covered.”
More scratches over what sounded like a muffled conversation in the background. “Alright, moving out,” said Jeremiah at the end.
“Good luck,” replied the dispatcher. The audio cut out.
“They sent that to the news channels, edited of course,” said Amanda after a silent moment.
“They know all about us,” said Rob. “Not talkin’ with other police departments if they don’t know me. But they knew I’d be there.”
“The Watch,” said Ben. “Kinda regrettin’ workin’ with them earlier.”
“We needed the manpower,” responded Chris.
“We had all the time in the world,” shot back Ben. “We had a week to do the job. We were makin’ progress. Didn’t need to work with ‘em an’ let ‘em know what we can do.”
“You didn’t have these issues at the time,” said Chris.
“Do now.” I really want to punch that shit eating grin off your face.
“Well, get over it,” said Chris. Thank you! “Now, if they were expecting us there, they’ll probably be expecting us when they’re moving her.”
“If they move her. Why not just keep her in the vault if they judge her too much trouble?” said Rob. “Vaults are for trials for the more dangerous people. They hold people long term in them, and there’s one to three more cells they have open if I recall.”
“Red tape is on our side,” said Amanda. Everyone looked at her. Why am I the only one who does research on this? “At some point, they have to move a feral to ‘an environment suited to their wellbeing.’ I don’t think lawmakers ever really anticipated an intelligent feral like Olivia, and this was passed during the big environmentalist push decades ago, so they were just throwing hippies a bone anyway.”
“How do you know all this?” asked Chris.
“Remember when we were supposed to track her down two months ago? I read up on the laws and feral behaviour then. You didn’t?”
“A little.” His eyes twitched. Liar. Whatever.
“So, yeah. They might be doing some wrangling, push back how long they keep her for security purposes, but at some point she’s got to come out of the vault.”
“Well, we gotta do somethin’,” said Ben, voice getting heated again. Unnoticed by anyone else, Rob rolled his eyes, got out of his chair, and circled around the table.
“I never said we weren’t going to do anything,” said Chris.
“This ain’t gettin’-” Rob cut Ben short with a smack to the head. “Ow, wha-” Rob smacked him again.
“NO MORE WIRE HANGERS!” shouted Rob, punctuating each word with another smack. Ben shielded himself as best he could with his arms. He laughed the whole time as well.
“We cool?” asked Rob once he finished.
“Fine. Yeah,” said Ben. He leaned back in his seat and didn’t say another word. Rob returned to his seat. What the fuck just happened?
The others shared her confusion.
“Wh… but… what?” asked Miya.
“Nothin’ you gotta worry ‘bout. Continue,” said Rob.
“Is…” Chris trailed off, searching for the right words. “Is whatever just happened going to be an issue?”
“Nope,” said Rob.
“OK, what was-”
Rob cut him off. “Leave it be.”
Chris turned his head towards Ben, who simply drew an X over his mouth with his index finger. Did he just shut up? I need to try that sometime. That was some weird, triplet custom, right?
“Whatever,” said Chris, pushing on. Probably not worth dealing with right now. “We’re going to need information if we want to pull this off without just getting killed or arrested.”
Right, information, that’s me. “I’ve got ideas. But don’t expect good information this time around. Someone, or several someones, whatever, is replacing a lot of what I’ve done. There used to be…” She trailed off. These guys won’t understand. Rob might if he weren’t computer illiterate. She sighed. Why can’t everyone be an engineer? Life would be so much easier for everyone.
“Never mind. What you need to know is that I could access records and other stuff. They haven’t bothered to change the MHU frequency for the dispatchers, but out best bet is to just watch with our eye things.” She stifled a yawn. It’s almost as if being in a frantic do or die situation is tiring. Who knew?
“What time is it?” asked Miya.
Rob checked his wristwatch. Didn’t know he had one of those. “Four AM. John only knocked us out for an hour, I guess.”
“I don’t think we’ll accomplish anything productive on one hour of sleep,” said Chris. “If you’d call whatever that was sleep.”
“Not much to do right now, anyways,” said Rob.
“I’ll be staying up. Remember, I’m an electrical engineer. That’s hardware, not software. I do programming for fun. Two different things right there, so this is going to be frustrating. But Rob’s right. Not much for anyone else to do right now.”
Monitoring cameras, that could work. May as well break out the mini supercomputer I made a while back. Chris broke her train of thought. “We all need some sleep. We’ll be better equipped to get Olivia back after, and she’s not going anywhere right now.”
“I’m staying up,” said Amanda. “There are things I can do.”
She locked eyes with Chris. After a moment he sighed. “Alright, I trust your judgment. Just… know when to stop, OK?”
“Not the first all-nighter I’ve pulled, won’t be the last.” She glanced around.
Rob had already passed out on the table. Miya had resumed her pacing at some point, Amanda didn’t know when. Her lip is going to bleed if she bites it any harder. Chris and Ben watched her, until Chris got up.
“Come on. Let’s keep cool heads, OK,” he said to Ben.
Ben grinned at Amanda. “You got this,” he said. He followed after Chris. Amanda spun back around in her chair.
Fuck yes I do.
Two days and a dozen tiny cameras manufactured later, Chris drove Amanda and Rob down Colfax Avenue, three blocks south of the MHU HQ.
Rob, in the back seat, kept looking out the window. He broke the silence with, “Sean told me a game to play called Colfax.” What?
“Never heard of it, and I’ve lived here my whole life,” said Amanda.
“Everyone grab some McDonald’s job applications, same amount each, and pass them out to all the hookers. First one done and back at the McDonald’s wins.”
Chris’s shoulders shook with silent laughter. “That’s terrible,” said Amanda, indignant. She twisted around to fix Rob with a glare. Mind you, most of Colfax is shitty, but still, that’s… kind of funny. Rob just grinned.
“Where the hell did that guy learn that?” asked Chris.
“No clue,” replied Rob.
Just as Amanda opened her mouth to scold the two of them, Chris finished parking his car on the side of the road and said, “Here we are. Ben not meeting us here?”
“Gettin’ a new car. Kind of excited ‘bout it, actually,” responded Rob, popping his seatbelt and getting out of the car. Amanda and Chris followed suit.
“Meet back here in an hour or so?” asked Chris for confirmation.
“Yessah,” replied Rob. Amanda nodded. She kept herself from looking up at the distant specks of the surveillance drones overhead. For every one you see, there are two you don’t.
They split up, Rob and Chris going one way, Amanda the opposite. Chris and Rob would split up later while giving the appearance that they were shopping. The plan called for them to place small cameras that would overlook the streets to and from the MHU headquarters. Getting to close would just be asking for trouble, but the police couldn’t monitor the whole city. Anyone walking around MHU HQ at night during lockdown is just asking to get shot.
She meandered her way up through the various shops along the streets. She even bought another cell phone to carry around to look more like an authentic shopper. Was looking for another one of these old CTC phones. I’ll tear it apart and salvage some of those unique parts later.
Later, she came across a potentially stolen laptop in a less than reputable store. Ooooh. I always need more chew toys, and that looks shitty enough. In the bag that went. Can’t wait to see what that EMP gun I’m working on does to this poor bastard. Or I can see if that experimental battery melts the rest of the hardware. So many choices.
Eventually, Amanda came to the street leading into MHU, about two blocks due east. She entered a clothing store and browsed the various frilly things that would almost assuredly get caught on the wrong wire and ignite should she ever wear it while working.
After a deliberate circuit around the store, she returned to the front and pretended to look around. She stuck a camera to the back side of a shelving unit thing as she placed a blouse she’d been checking out back on its shelf. She checked her phone in the meantime. Multitasking!
She cycled through the video feeds on her phone as she left the store. The first video, from the camera she’d just placed, actually recorded Amanda as she walked down the sidewalk. Looks good enough. It’ll catch anything major on the street. She cycled through the three other camera feeds. Everything is looking good so far.
This continued on for another hour. Chris had a camera with a terrible view of a lamppost and nothing else, but otherwise they had every street to or from MHU covered. Even got one watching the air, too. Doubt they’ll move a rampaging feral by air, but you never know. We’ll get her back.
They met back up at the car, Rob the last one to show up, carrying a very large box. “No problems?” asked Chris.
“No. Actually ordered this cool 3D printer type thing. Kind of small, but the tolerance on these things are insane.”
“How much did that cost?” asked Amanda. Just act normal. Nothing suspicious. And that does sound very cool.
“All my paychecks and then some. Worth it. Can’t wait to pull the thing apart and see how it works,” he said with an enthusiastic grin.
Amanda opened the rear door, placed her bag on the far seat, then left the door open for him. “Thanks,” he said as he pushed the box in in front of him.
“You do know a good half of that thing’s capabilities are because of electronics and programs and whatnot.” You know, I actually haven’t looked into 3D printers before. I kind of want to see what’s inside now. “Just tells it to cut from point A to point B using arc angle X right? There’s more to it than just the cutting mechanisms,” she said as she swung into the front passenger seat.
“I know. I plan on puttin’ the thing back together. For the coolness factor if nothin’ else.”
“What’d you get?” asked Rob.
“Oh, just some old laptop and cell phone. Always need more chew toys.”
“Chew toys?” He raised an eyebrow with a bemused grin.
“Gotta break stuff to know its limits. And studying damage of stuff is good for future prevention of things I actually do care about.” Got a big box at home of old stuff I need to recycle at some point.
“Oh, OK. Didn’t know what you meant by chew toy. Couldn’t just get crappy old ones online?”
“I could but… I saw it. Figured may as well.”
Rob rubbed the back of his head. “That may have been why I’ve been luggin’ around that big ol’ box around for the last half hour.”
Before Chris started the engine, he looked at both of them and said, “You two are the most techie techies to ever techie.”
“How are the cameras looking?” Chris asked Amanda back at the lair. Amanda had six different monitors in a semicircle on top of her desk. Man, this thing looks like an executive’s desk. All big and official looking. So much room to put stuff.
“Good. No MHU trucks, no vans, nothing that they’d use to transport her so far. Miya should be listening to the dispatcher right now.” They both looked over to Miya, who wore a large set of noise cancelling headphones over her ears. She noticed their attention and removed one earpiece.
“Yeah?” she said.
“Anything?” asked Chris.
“Nothing unusual. No code, just plain, ‘go here, do this’ kind of stuff. Dispatcher’s actually a friendly guy.”
“He is,” replied Amanda.
“Ben should be back soon, give you a break,” said Chris.
Miya nodded in confirmation. “Cool.”
Amanda helped Rob unpack the printer as Chris watched the videos. We’ll deal with the printer later. She had systems also monitoring the videos and normal police band, but human eyes and ears still worked better for picking out anomalies.
Ben came in a little later. “Finally own a car again,” he said immediately.
“Whadja get?” asked Rob.
“Old squad car, actually. Drives well enough.”
“You’re just gonna run the poor thing into the ground, aren’t you?” said Rob with a long suffering tone.
“Yessah!” said Ben with a grin. Why don’t you ever take care of your stuff? Grah. Not worth the argument.
“Amanda!” shouted Chris.
“What?” she yelled back, running over.
“Helicopter on the roof.”
“Helicopter in the roof,” he repeated. “Big military one.” Fuck, fuck, fuck.
“Military? She’s a military grade threat?” asked Ben.
“Apparently,” barked Amanda. I’ve got access to three different cell phones. No messages at all. The cameras are only catching the helicopter. Why are they moving her now? Amanda checked her computer, seeing if it had flagged anything as important. Nothing.
“In the cars, move,” commanded Chris. Fuck, not going to have my full armor.
They grabbed as much as they could in thirty seconds, then piled into three different cars. Amanda lowered her helmet on in Ben’s passenger seat.
“How the hell did we not catch this?” she asked as Ben pulled out of the parking lot in his new car. His rifle slid against the rear seats as he took the turn way too fast. That better not go off and shoot me in the back of the head somehow. Ben offered no response, instead concentrating on the road.
Rob’s truck fell in behind them with the others, following. Amanda played the police band in her helmet, projecting it so Ben could hear as well. I’m not going insane, right? This is something they’d at least mention, right?
Other than the dispatcher warning the MHU officers patrolling about an accident on southbound I-25, the audio didn’t say anything.
“Wait, play back the last twenty seconds.” Why? I didn’t catch anything
She did so anyways. I’m obviously missing something. “Damn, won’t get home in time to catch the kickoff,” said an officer. That was the only audio.
“You see?” asked Ben
“Kickoff. Football. It’s June right now. There’s no football on TV that anyone would care about.”
“It’s a recording,” said Amanda.
“Yep,” replied Ben. “An’ tha’ helicopter’s flyin’ faster than we can drive. Where’s it headin’?”
The airport. Fuck. We have zero air capacity with Olivia gone.
They parked at the outskirts of the airport. The helicopter they recognized from the cameras had been powered down completely by the time they’d arrived. No planes were in the vicinity. Already gone.
Amanda rested her head against the dashboard. I’m sorry, Olivia. I’m so, so sorry. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Ben, or the others in Rob’s truck, parked beside them.
Ben sighed. “Looks like we’re heading to Houston.”