I tried several more times to get a response on the tactical channels, without success. In desperation I switched to the general communication channel.
It was high time I left. With a growing sense of unease I scooped Rio’s spectrum scanner tile off the workstation desk and put it back in its pocket holder. There hadn’t been time to try accessing the workstation or even one of the nearby wireless networks. My on-the-fly intelligence gathering operation was a bust.
As I prepared to leave, I noticed a cloth screen covering the back wall of the chief researcher’s office. When I’d first entered I hadn’t given it much thought.
I drew the curtain aside, then blinked in surprise. Maybe my operation wouldn’t be a complete loss after all.
The curtain had concealed a whiteboard, no doubt enhanced with the ability to make digital recordings. But in addition to the esoteric mathematical symbols scrawled across its surface, there were some hand-drawn sketches attached directly to the board.
It made sense to me. No matter how great the technology is, sometimes you just have to have a pen or pencil and a sheet of paper to fully express yourself.
My math was good enough to understand some of the formulas, but it was the drawings that caught my attention. As I viewed each sketch my unease grew into alarm.
With my headset recording everything, I photographed the entire board. My mission was complete. And YFT had some explaining to do, possibly in an international court. I activated my headset’s IR sensor and headed to the door.
Immediately, I saw a couple of heat signatures coming toward me from the hallway outside.
The bad guys had arrived.
With no other exits from the office I was cut off. The ceiling was solid, unlike the one in the restrooms. But when I glanced at the blank office wall that fronted onto the hallway, I had a flash of inspiration. Moving as fast as I could, I opened one of my equipment pouches and set to work…
The door crashed open and the lights came on. Framed in the doorway was the massive form of Nakamura’s bodyguard. In one hand he aimed what I’d learned was a .50 caliber recoilless pistol at my chest. My IR scanner easily picked up the beam of the laser sight focused on my breastbone.
I raised my hands as Lev stepped into the office. Nakamura emerged from behind him and stood with her hands on her hips and a vindictive smile on her face. She looked as happy as an eight-year old girl getting a real unicorn for a birthday present.
“Caught in the act of breaking and entering.” She slowly rolled the words around as if savoring each syllable. “I warned you what would happen, Lieutenant.” She turned to the Dreadnought. “Lev, place him under arrest.”
Even after my firefight with the Cyclad raiders, I doubted my ability to hold my own against a heavy cyborg in a one-on-one encounter. But after seeing what was on the whiteboard, I had no doubt that Nakamura would simply drop me into the nearby bay with weights tied around my ankles. I had to escape or die.
Lev pulled a pair of handcuffs from a belt holder and lumbered around behind me.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself, Lieutenant?” Nakamura asked, her delicate eyebrows arched.
“Yes, I do. Angel Six Six Nine.”
She blinked. “Excuse me? Is that supposed to be a code of some kind?”
“Good guess.” As Lev reached for my wrist, the code-activated breaching charges I’d fastened to the nearby wall exploded.
I used the diversion to seize Lev’s hand and apply a wrist lock. It might not have worked on a cybernetic appendage, but the cyborg’s left arm was solid meat.
Nakamura had fallen to the floor when the wall charges had blown. She looked up, mouth opened in shock, as I brought Lev’s trapped hand down and around. The Dreadnought fell heavily on his back. I thought I felt the floor shake when he hit, but didn’t waste time on damage assessment.
As I turned to run, Lev managed to roll over and kick me in the side. I was knocked off my feet and fell through the gaping hole torn into the office wall, landing on the carpeted floor of the hallway I’d crept down earlier.
For a moment I just laid there and wheezed, trying to get air back into my lungs again, then managed to climb to my knees.
Behind me, I heard Lev climbing ponderously to his feet. “Stop him!” Nakamura screeched.
Without hesitation, I took off running. I hadn’t gotten far when a nightmarish sound I’d hoped never to hear again sounded behind me.
It was the unmistakable footsteps of a Dreadnought closing on his victim, echoing throughout the enclosed space like a pair of piledrivers firing into the carpeted floor -- boom-boom-boom-boom.
As I ran down the glass-walled hallway I spotted a covered bridge connecting to an observation deck suspended over the water. If I could make it to the deck, I could jump over the railing into the inky waters below.
Good luck trying to follow me then, Lev. Heavy cyborgs don’t float.
Beyond the entrance to the bridge an elevator door opened. Uniformed security personnel carrying automatic weapons spilled into the curved corridor. I wasn’t surprised to see that Nakamura had called for reinforcements.
One of the guards saw me through the glass and shouted. The entire group ran forward to intercept me.
Behind me I could hear the Dreadnought draw closer.
It would be a race to see who made it to the bridge first.
Moving quickly, I fished a relic from the 20th century out of a pouch, pulled the pin, and hurled it far in front of me.
The guards threw themselves to the ground, thinking it was a frag grenade.
They were half right.
The flash-bang shattered most of the glass nearby and walloped my ear drums. As I’d hoped, my headset filters saved me from being blinded and deafened. The pressure hit me like a punch to the gut, but raw adrenalin kept me moving. The grenade had given me a precious few seconds to escape my pursuers.
I dashed through the entrance to the bridge and sprinted across. But just as I reached the observation balcony a burst of automatic weapons fire tore into the floorboards to my side, throwing up splinters of steel. Something sharp pierced my calf. I shouted in pain and stumbled to a halt.
“STOP. DO NOT MOVE OR YOU WILL BE KILLED,” an amplified voice shouted behind me.
Slowly, I turned around and pressed my back against the railing. A very pissed-off response team was aiming their weapons at me. Most of them were bleeding from lacerations caused by the shattered glass, but none had been overly affected by my grenade. They were all wearing military issue headgear like me.
I was cornered, injured, and run to ground.
I heard the staccato tap of Nakamura’s heels approaching. The guards up front moved to the sides. She stepped between them, with Lev looming behind her.
The dust generated by my breaching explosives had covered her expensive blue outfit with a layer of light-colored powder. Some of it coated her face, making her look like a kabuki player interrupted in the middle of a makeup session.
Angry didn’t begin to describe her. “You!” she snarled. “Just look at all this damage!”
“What damage?” I shouted back. “A change of clothes, a quick wipe with a washcloth, and you’ll be fine.”
Behind me I could hear a bubbling, gurgling noise, like pumps had started up, coming from under the surface of the bay. Had I caused so much destruction it had affected the facility’s heavy equipment?
“Who are you spying for?” Nakamura demanded. “Is it the United States? China? Or are you from a rival corporation?”
“Would you believe I was just looking for the men’s room?”
The noise behind me changed to the sound of rushing water, like rapids. I couldn’t look away, though. It’s harder for someone to kill you when they’re facing you.
Apparently, though, that wasn’t one of Nakamura’s weaknesses. She pointed a well-manicured finger at me. “Shoot him!”
Instead of firing, the security troops froze in place. Their faces reflected shock and surprise, and one of them took a step backward. Something huge moved behind me, and I turned to see…
The Mistral Challenger rose up from the depths of the bay like a wrathful Poseidon. Water cascaded off its sides in sheets as the vessel climbed higher, until its top deck was even with the balcony I stood on. Lateral thrusters fired and the ship drifted closer to where I stood.
“Shoot him now!” Nakamura screamed. The security team snapped out of their daze and brought their weapons back up to their shoulders.
On the Mistral, steel shutters dropped from the two port side chain railgun silos. The weapons I’d wanted so badly during the recent attack on the ship pivoted until their barrels were aimed squarely at Nakamura and her guards.
To my horror, the gun motors came to life, the barrels whirring as they prepared to fire. Chain guns always took a second or two to spin up before they could fire, even in the 22nd century.
The noise made by the Mistral’s guns sounded like the growl of an animal. Like a mother bear protecting her cub, was the thought that ran through my mind. I felt a surge of genuine affection for the huge vessel. She had, in fact, saved my life.
To their credit, the security force had the common sense to drop their weapons and retreat.
Nakamura wasn’t as smart. She stood dumbfounded as her guards pulled back. “Where are you going? Get back here! Lev! Let go of me!” Her cyborg bodyguard had clamped his hands around her arms and all but physically carried his charge away. The last I saw of YFT’s security force was his broad back as it disappeared back into the covered hallway.
I couldn’t stop myself from waving goodbye.