As abduction jobs go, this one has a few wrinkles above my usual modus operandi of snatching some lowlife who’s been selling watered down drugs and tossing him out of a moving car thirty miles outside of the city. That sort of job comes with its own risks, but generally speaking if you hit a chemical cook with a stun gun to the back of his neck, even the largest steroid chomping bro will hit the ground. Occasionally there will be issues with guard dogs and gang soldiers, but if you act quick and pick your place just about anyone can be grabbed.
Turns out that YuriCo executives have a bit more security than your usual low-level street cook.
Our unwary guest for the day will be on Ortiz Abaroa, an upper floor executive for YuriCo who Iris claims will be useful in gaining access to the data vault, since her credentials have been revoked. It doesn’t hurt her plan that he’s also on the list of people she wants dead.
We pull to the curb three buildings up the street from Abaroa’s apartment. He lives in a pre-realignment brownstone in the upper city, one of those structure that cost more to refurbish than to knock down and rebuild, and so of course the elite choose to spend a fortune on restoring the exterior and rewiring the interior, just so they can brag about how much the renovation cost. CarbZu vines climb a pair of trellises framing the lobby door, joining together at the top to form a green band which surrounds the top of the building. Above the band, the rooftop prickles with the upward reaching fins of vertical wind turbines. There are no visible cameras, but that just means that security is probably even tighter than in a midden neighborhood festooned with obvious cameras. When you can afford to live in a building so old, and so visibly carbon neutral, you don’t want to sully the curb appeal with a cluster of black domes. No, better to use an array of micro cameras supplemented by whisper drones and a small force of heavily armed security contractors hidden away in some ground floor office.
“I don’t like your plan,” Darby’s goon growls from the passenger seat. He’s a wiry street urchin with tattoos that crawl up his neck and down his wrists and a pair of angular lightning bolts tattooed beneath his left eye. Looking at him,I can’t but wonder if Darby actually send me a competent soldier who doesn’t give a damn if he can be instantly recognized, or if he’s a cocky bastard who Darby is hoping to be rid of when he mucks up my plans. “Too many moving parts. Better we sneak in while he’s gone and be waiting when he returns.”
“Right, Glenn, because a top executive isn’t going to have a home security system.”
“I have boys who could crack that. If you’d given boss more than a day’s notice I could have arranged something better for you.”
“We don’t have a lot of time,” Iris says from the back seat. “Abaroa is hosting a gathering for YuriCo executives in two days to vote on what to do with the tech. We need to have the data exfiltrated by then.”
“And I still don’t get that,” Glenn growls, jerking a finger over his shoulder towards Iris. “What does a kid know about any of this?”
“That’s for me to know and you to shut up about,” I reply.
A black sedan, apparently a duplicate of our own, passes our parked car and pulls to a stop at the curb outside Abaroa’s apartment building.
“That’s his car,” Iris says. She leans back in the leather seat and closes her eyes, seeming to concentrate as she continues. “It’s fully automated. I’m attempting to override the command protocols now.”
I can only imagine what it must be like to be in Iris’s head in this moment. People have dreamed of virtual computing interfaces for centuries, picturing everything from illusory replicas of offices complete with stacks of paper files and clattering keyboards to neon cityscapes where whole databases are displayed as buildings, their crosslinks represented by gleaming chrome tubes crisscrossing the skyline. Meanwhile, here in the actual future, the best most of us can do is rent a few hours in a virtual reality arcade and database management is still about as exciting as plucking paper cards from a wooden file cabinet.
I ease our car forward and park directly behind the newly arrived vehicle, turning the wheel to prepare for a quick exit.
“The car is autonomous. No backup driver on board,” Iris announces. “I should be able to… yes. There it goes.”
The summoned car pulls away from the curb and down the road, taking a left at the next cross street. Immediately, I pull forward and take its place.
“I’ve sent the car to his office. If we’re lucky, nobody will notice that he’s missing until it arrives in about twenty minutes.”
The heavy brass and glass door to the brownstone swings open, revealing a doorman exchanging pleasantries with Abaroa in the entryway. He laughs and claps the doorman on the arm, then gestures towards us as if to explain his hurry. He steps nimbly down the stairs, opens the rear door of the car, and is half way into the vehicle when he spots Iris sitting in the back seat.
“Oh, sh—“ is all he has time to say before Iris drops the isolation bag over his face.
The bag is black and looks like any other heavy sack that a kidnapper in a spy movie might use to cover the face of their victim. This bag is a bit more special because it contains a faraday cage woven into the fabric. Minute metallic fibers block all but the strongest signals, effectively preventing Abaroa’s implants from talking to the network. At least, any implants that he’s got in his head.
He struggles, trying to rip the bag from his head and shoulders, but Iris holds the bag firmly down. Glenn reaches back around his seat, stun gun already crackling in his hand. Iris releases Abaroa just long enough for Glenn’s prod to dig into his right bicep, sending twenty-thousand volts ripping into Abaroa’s’s body. He convulses, screams, then collapses onto the rear bench seat as Iris pulls a set of plastic ties from her pocket and begins wrapping them around Abaroa’s wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles.
Meanwhile, I hit the accelerator and pull out into the street, trying to drive as casually as possible.
I don’t know if it was my driving, or a silent alarm that we missed, or even just that somebody happened to be watching the security feed in that instant, but as I reach the end of the block and prepare to turn down a side street, I check my mirror and see a flock of drones flitting after us and a pair of armed private security guards leaping down the steps.
“We’ve got company,” I say and I slam my foot down on the accelerator.
The electric motors react instantly, gobbling up the additional energy and hurling the vehicle forward across the blacktop. We race down two blocks of residential apartments, my daemon screaming that I need to stop the car immediately before I run over some innocent child playing in the morning light after being confined by the storm for days. I push such thoughts to the back of my mind and focus on steering through a sharp turn onto a major thoroughfare. Autonomous vehicles scatter ahead of us like spray bursting up from the bow of a speedboat as my car skids out of the neighborhood.
“Drone still behind us,” Darby shouts.
“I’ll try to take them out,” Iris replies. She turns to look behind, searching for the drones in the sky.
We hurtle up a ramp and briefly take flight as the car leaps onto the highway. A tone sounds, bleating insistently as the car’s navigation system receives repeated demands from the highway management syntellect to surrender control to the traffic regulation system. Fortunately, Javier has loaded some modifications into the car’s firmware which allow us to keep traveling under manual control.
Our car cuts a path through the highway traffic as the autonomous vehicles respond the panicked messages from the traffic regulation restrillect, ordering them to stay out of the path of the madman who dared to travel without safety engaged. We’re committed now. The traffic fines alone would likely cost several years’ pay, but since we’re driving a car that will soon be reported as stolen that isn’t a concern. Assuming, of course, that we aren’t captured and arrested for kidnapping, but it’s generally better to keep looking at the bright side when you’re in the middle of committing a crime.
“I’m in!” Iris shouts. “Now to just…”
There’s a spatter of clanging noises form the rear of the car, like bolts being thrown onto a glass tabletop. A glance in the rearview screen tells me that the drones are shooting at us. There are no muzzle flashes. They must be using the same linear accelerated ferrous ammunition that the Feds arm their drones with.
“Shit! Sorry. Wrong control interface.”
An instant later I see one of the drones flip over sideways, churn though a violent horizontal spiral, then slam into the side of an autonomous cargo pod.
I swing the car onto a ramp which will take us off the highway loop. Another drone fails, dropping from the sky at the head of a smoke trail, then exploding as Iris does something terrible to its power management system.
“We have to lose them,” Darby snarls. He pulls a gun from his waistband and reaches for the window controls, then swears as they click ineffectually. “Let me lean out and shoot them down!”
“She’s not hacking them fast enough. We can’t let security trace us.”
“Just be patient.”
A pair of drones swing wide and accelerate, coming even with the sides of the car. They keep pace with the side windows for a moment, skimming effortlessly through the air as the camera pods on their undercarriage twitch on their vibration dampening mounts. They won’t catch any images from the heavily tinted side windows, but if they can get around to the front they’ll have a clear view of us.
An opinion obviously shared by the drone supervisor, as the pair put on another burst of speed and swing around to the front of the car.
“They’ve kicked me out,” Iris says. “Swapped encryption keys on the fly. I’ll have to start the penetration all over, but you can bet they’re upped the key length this time around.”
“Just keep down. We can’t have them knowing why we grabbed him,” I say.
I’m already a wearing custom printed mask which obscures my features with an abstract design intended to confuse image recognition algorithms. Glenn refused to wear a mask, not that I care much about this job being traced back to one of Darby’s street enforcers. The way things are going, I’ll probably have to kill Glenn before the day is out anyway.
“I can just shoot them!” Darby shouts, rattling his gun against the window glass.
“Right. And get yourself shot as soon as you lean out.”
“I’m better than these pricks. Just let me take a shot and—“
Darby is interrupted by the rattle of bullets hammering into the windshield front of his face.
He screams and unleashes a torrent of obscenity.
Abaroa lets out a muffled scream as he returns to consciousness and curls himself into a ball. If he could fit how whole body into the footwell, I imagine he would be down there already.
“These windows can take a little more. Just keep down.”
“Screw that,“ Glenn snaps, punching the window controls.
I whip my right arm out and slam my fist into Glenn’s jaw before the window is down more than in inch, then override the control from my own fingertip instrument cluster.
We hurtle down the road, my foot never leaving the accelerator as we speed westward towards the folds of the mountains. The rearview screen shows the city silhouetted against the brazen light of the rising sun, the first unobstructed sunrise since the hurricane, the pursuing drones flittering specks of black against the growing brightness.
I break hard and pull off the paved road, fishtailing in a spray of gravel and setting the front swarm into frantic action as they jockey to reacquire us. Ahead, a flock of drones guards the ridge.
“Why the hell are we at this shit hole?” Glenn growls.
Abaroa groans and begins kicking at Glenn’s seat back, stopping only when Iris calmly wraps her fingers around his throat and pulls him to sit upright.
Rather than respond, I accelerate. The car hits the top of the ridge and goes airborne, slamming down on its ample suspension as the flock of mismatched drones swoops down to investigate.
“Just stay low. This could get hairy for a minute.”
Outside, George’s drones flit around the car, trying to identify the occupants. I pull my mask off and lean forward, hoping that they will catch sight of my face before the defensive elements of their personality come to the forefront.
“Come on. Recognize me,” I mutter. “Just get a good look and…”
George’s drones flit upward, abandoning my car to investigate the drones which have been pursuing me. I pull my mask back down, then decelerate into a cloud of dust. As soon as we’ve bled enough speed to turn without rolling the car, I twist the wheel and put the car into a skidding turn that takes us off the road, through the sodden grass, then back around to face the entryway.
Just in time to watch as one of the pursuing drones opens fire, shredding two of George’s drones in a spray of ferrous shards.
“What are you waiting for?” Glenn screeches. “We need to get out of here.”
“We need to wait,” I reply.
Another of George’s drones falls in a spray of shattered composite.
“For those, I would say,” Iris says, pointing out the rear window.
Down below, a flock of dozens of drones is rising up from the excavation pits, scrub growth, and landing support pads scattered through the valley. At the parking lot, I see a figure in a blue dress step out from the office trailer, shotgun slung across one arm as she watches the drones speed past.
“Yep. That’s it,” I say.
The drones zip past us, so many of them that the noise of their rotors penetrates the shell of the car like the buzz of swarming bees. The remaining pursuit drones spread out and begin skittering through the sky at seemingly random angles, preparing for the fight.
The areal conflict is brief, played out with such speed that I can hardly track where each of the drones is. The five pursuit drones zip about, spitting projectiles from their undercarriage as they attempt to destroy George’s defensive drones. They are either piloted by experts or, more likely, guided by highly aggressive combat targeting algorithms which were designed to provide maximum destructive force, even at the cost of the drone. Rotors are torn from bodies. Batteries are punctured, resulting in fiery bursts and billowing streamers of toxic smoke. Shards of melted plastic and mangled metal rain down from the sky to pepper the ridge.
It’s all over within minutes.
A glance at the rearview screen shows George and Miriam strolling towards the car, long guns slung over their arms, moving with a determined air as they cross the field. Meanwhile, the surviving drones wheel about and form a defensive line stretching the length of the ridge, watching for any further intruders.
“That who I think it is?” Glenn asks.
“And you’re just going to sit here?”
I fix him with a glare that could wither a dandelion. “We leave now and they’ll send their drones after us. Remember, these folks are known for scrapping. It’s what they do. We don’t make nice before we go and there’s a solid chance they might decide to claim this car and everything in it for the recompiler.”
Glenn swears and hunkers down in the seat.
“I’ll get out and feed them a line. Shouldn’t be too hard to get away. I’ve done a job or two for them in the past.”
With that I push my door open and climb out into the chill morning air. The hurricane might have been born in the churning heat of the Caribbean and nurtured by the sickly humidity of the gulf, but according to my ancillary’s morning weather report we can expect a swing towards cold in the next few days as bitter winds churn southwards to clash against the remnants of their hotblooded southern cousins.
Leaning against the back of the car, I stuff my hands into my pockets and wait for George and Miriam to approach.
“Hiya, Talbot,” George says, swinging her rifle up onto her back and lurching forward with open arms.
Suppressing my dislike of being touched, let alone hugged, by just about anyone, I step forward and embrace her. This is as much a show for Miriam as a genuine welcome, I’m sure. For her part, Miriam keeps a grip on her shotgun and studies me critically.
“You bring trouble with you,” George whispers, her lips close to my ear.
“Sorry,” I reply.
We separate and she nods her chin towards the ridge. “I assume there’s a reason for all that mess.”
“You’d assume right.”
“Damnit Talbot!” Miriam snaps. She turns to George and continues, “I keep telling you he’s no good, but you keep letting him come around and pull you into trouble.”
“We need to be going,” I say. “And depending on how this job goes I might not be around again for a while.”
George shoots her wife a scowl, then looks back to me and shrugs. “I’ll miss you coming around. Do try if you can.”
“You and the kids make it through the storm alright?”
“There’s a cold front coming through soon. Looks like the storm got slung out to sea and is looping back from the North with a fistful of ice.”
“We have weather reports,” Miriam spits. “Just because we’d rather live out here than in your stinking city doesn’t mean that we’re backwards hicks.”
“I’m just trying to take care of an old friend,” I say, turning to walk back to my car. Pausing with my hand on the pull handle, I add, “Take care of each other, if I don’t see you again. Thanks for getting those drone off my back.”
With that, I climb back into the car and drive up the ridge, then back out onto the cracked roadway.
“You know them?” Glenn asks as I accelerate away from the city and head southward.
“You could say that.”
“I’ll be damned. Never knew those two to have a civil word to say. Boss thought about grabbing their business a while back, but they’re so damn well defended.”
“Have to be, living out here.”