The wheat-haired man crouches in a clearing, his breath a tuneless whistle as he turns a few dials, points the antenna correctly. “Activate relay.” A crackling, the scan run through a code or two, time of day and latitude taken into consideration. The machinery picks up a signal, and he stops whistling.
“Code in, please.” An anonymous voice, crackling through the small tinny speaker.
“739-Jess’s Boy, reporting in, foxtrot kilo Juliet, code three-eight.”
More crackling. A series of clicks. Then another voice, cold even through the layers of atmosphere and the ancient speaker. Nobody scanned for this transmission range anymore. Sometimes, as the Big Man remarked, the old ways were best.
“There you are.”
“CoreTech? The Collective?”
“Both foxed for now.” There are broken bodies all around him — staked through the heart, heads torn off. “Have already dropped bioscans of their pride and joys, so at least we get something out of this. Sendoza’s Collective process had some regrettable flaws, and the second-gens are no good at fighting crowds.” The lies roll easily from his tongue.
“Very good. What about the wolf and her cub?”
Sam doesn’t hesitate. “Casualties. Sendoza went nuts, that was always a risk.”
A laugh. “Crazy serves our purposes.”
“I’ve burned both CoreTech and the Agency now.”
“That also serves our purposes.”
So he’d just become expendable. That answered that.”Is there anything that doesn’t?”
_“Heard and understood.” _If you only knew how much I did of both.
“Good. Continue checking in at scheduled intervals. We’ll have a use for you soon. Victory out.”
The connection is cut, with a small definite snap. Sam sighs. Looks at his blood-covered hands. The Alliance has eyes and ears in every township and City from here to the edge of the continent. Sooner or later someone was going to report Abby and her kid, and Nikor was going to put a couple things together and arrive at a very unpleasant conclusion.
“Not my problem just yet,” Sam mutters. It’s a relief to be out of the Cities, to let his face relax. The subroutines to keep him a blank-faced nonentity were second nature by now. Which was the truth, the blankness or the flickers of feeling?
Did it matter?
It didn’t. Now was the time to get moving. He’d catch up to her, observe from a distance. When — not if — Nikor caught wind of them, the capture orders would come out. And Sam would get another chance to play knight in shining, and maybe earn a little… what?
Yes, Nikor was going to be surprised. That didn’t happen often, and the Big Man never forgave it, for all his cant about freedom and the future of humanity.
The Agency and corporations, fighting over a dying beast trapped in a waterhole. When the Cities finally broke down, whether under their weight or as a result of the Alliance’s constant efforts at destabilization, Nikor was going to get a few more surprises. The vast mass of agents and corporate slaves weren’t going to be grateful for long, and some of them might even want the freeform nanos despite the cost. Lots of warmbodies didn’t mind being zombies.
Some of them even preferred it.
Also, Sam had destroyed the bioscans and the details of Sendoza’s Collective procedure — but not before memorizing them. Should Abby and that kid get into trouble, he could trade dribs and drabs of it to get them out.
“Who owns me now, AbbyJess?” He smiled, and straightened. Time to get the blood off his hands. “Who do you think?”
He made sure the bloated bodies would catch sunlight. The blast zone, here where Zion — once, long ago, an Alliance township, then one of Nikor’s experiments gone hideously wrong, now a steaming crater — once stood, was the perfect place to leave these little presents. As long as nobody took the stakes out, the second-gens would rot quietly.
Of course, if they didn’t, he had a plan for that too. So many to keep track of, crowding his active brain.
With that done, he destroyed the relay. No more call-ins. His next one wasn’t due for a couple months, anyway.
“Who owns me now.” He kicked the relay’s hulk one more time for good measure. “_I do, sweets. You’re a bad influence.”
Five minutes later, the clearing was empty.
Two hours after that, one of the scattered, headless bodies twitched once. Twice.
The Vines sighed. Aftershocks rippled through its roots. The sun rose higher.
And the headless body twitched again…