The big guy grunted as he ran, short piglike farts of sound seeming to emanate not from his bubbling lips but from somewhere deep within the flabby, pale mountain, now tattooed red by resistive underbrush where the torn remains of a dirty wife-beater did not hide it.
The soft green-gold light pouring from the thick growth above did not show him which way to go in the blind green maze, but the thin whine in his left headset did, its shrill discord resolving occasionally to a clear endless sixty-cycle bleep when he turned his lumbering course across the beacon's hidden cry. Every now and then he stopped and read the harmonics his sensors fed him, moving his hairless, wire-crowned and antennae-crested head slowly, silently, in the moist air.
There was some kind of combustion piston engine running much too near, its unsteadily changing ignition-note reported by EM filtration as distant doglike pants and yips in the forest to his right. Obviously, the machines had found his signature non-civilian and its movements purposeful. The engine didn't move nearer, but was almost certainly looking for him.
Overhead, there had been nothing for hours. No aircraft's radar glare, no sat or spaceplane's gentle scanning light-cones, no bat's shriek of IR hardware or purr of mech actuators had entered his trusty, expensive sensorium.
Still he ran.
He was heading for his number-one secure dropout spot, his seventh and greatest misappropriation of mission funds of this sort. He had squirreled away the tech and money to set it up for years, and had kept the terrain virgin, dropping off his private survival kit with an automated device he had built and programmed alone, in his basement.
The people he had worked for at the time were well aware of what went on in his basement, and of most if not all of his own less unique security measures. Building a major cyber in secret was impossible.
The device in question, however, had been built at his unnameable but certainly national-plus level employer's behest, to fulfil an overseas client's contract for the use of his employer's intelligence and assassination services under certain redacted circumstances.
Constructed well within the allowable range of operational parameters, the device had performed admirably, according to his superiors, not only fulfilling a needed correction of political destinies in a redacted country but apparently very politely crawling off to self-destruct somewhere deep and dark and randomly chosen afterward. At least, according to the final data evaluation of its last report to its masters, which had been conducted by some very fine minds both meaty and magnetic. All as above-board as it got in his line of work. He had even gotten a bonus.
That final report had been a lie concocted by a machine more cleverly fashioned than any had suspected. There had been hidden code in hardware memories, in seemingly-random magnetic fluctuations of the power core, in the control software for the left main eye.
The lobsterlike thing, after falsifying both the physical and electronic evidence of its own demise, had embarked upon a most piratical career, gathering needed materiels in the dead of city night and the brazen sun of the high seas. Many a store-room was despoiled and more than a few inheritances prematurely generated by the manylegged beast, invisible and swift by night and gleaming dull metallic red by day, before its job was finished and it came here to lie below the jungle mud, waiting for the maybe-never of this moment, growing and changing.
Now, wakened by an aetheric dogwhistle that eluded the ablest ears, it was awake and busy once again, though still unmoving.
The fat young man, who was really very worried, found its steady responsive whining very reassuring. Several options stopped being greyed out in the old-fashioned decision tree that hung always in the left bottom corner of his vision, changing colour and transparency as the big monocular visor responded to light conditions. He kept running, hoping not to see another bright blue flash from above.
Early that morning, in the small strange town that huddled on the reeking border of the jungle forty-three kilometers away, he had seen a pillar of blue, clear light descend from the sky. Nobody else had, but then again nobody else was wearing what he was wearing over his eyes as he approached the town, intending to check it for electronic signatures and move on. He meant to do the last three hundred and forty-seven kilometers of his escape run on foot, as he felt his employers would find that unlikely. He had been very fat since quite an early age, and had never demonstrated anything but hatred for the even remotely athletic requirements of life.
The light had played gently above the town for a few moments, and then vanished. He had not been able to read it, unfortunately. Opportunities for decrypting such things had been limited by extreme danger in the past, as they were now in different ways. Had his employers even suspected that he was able to detect the kind of transmissions he had coloured blue for convenience in his apparently spec but in fact rather personalised sensory gear, he would long ago have been mentally and physically disassembled in a faceless, numberless room on a nonexistent floor of some hospital or office tower somewhere.
Someone in this unknown town had just talked to God. That blue effulgence from above, coming from what should be and appeared to be empty orbital locations, he had seen before only on hot battlefields and occasionally in truly major civilian ops, Putin-sized hits and revolutionary riots.
He had identified previous targets for these obviously very black comms, by means of careful mousing about in ops records and good memory work on location data regarding occurrences. These included three deeply planted kill teams, one tactical artillery team, and one sapper company (obliterated minutes later in an unfortunate atomic event all parties concerned agreed to have been accidental and inexplicable).
He hadn't pushed his investigation of the matter, sticking to known hacks and moving very little data, but he had been interested. Anything he didn't know about interested him. Obviously, the blue sky comms were well above his level, and appeared to use particle techniques he had been developing experimentally himself in great secrecy. He had felt a bit jealous.
Now he was a bit gratified by the attention, if rather frightened. He was obviously being considered a big fish, now that he was out of their pond and into the world-ocean. This was the second blue flash he had seen since leaving his masters' service, without notice and with a head full of the black and devious clockmaker's arts he had grown wise in, under their distant but near-omniscient guidance.
The first had given him the only warning even his sharp ears and mind had gotten of trouble catching up, flickering down through the otherwise innocent if cluttered sky and aether above the narrow stone street he was walking as he approached the little shopfront he operated from in Besançon.
He had immediately fled in a series of vehicles, his cufflinks easily activating the nearest car as his hidden breastplate and dorsal plates suddenly shrieked mad confusion to every sensor in a three-kilometer bubble. The liquid silver of their computing gel substrate had heated him painfully inside his enormous and well-tailored navy blue suit (a patentable but personal blend of wool and Faraday fabrics) as the systems drank power from their batacitors.
Now he took warning again. Either he had been detected, or he had been tracked. His last best hope was stillborn. Now he ran towards his last worst fear, hoping to ride a hell-horse out of the fire that was springing up around him. There had been no more blue flashes from the sky, but there had been encrypted radio comms and the dense, complex emissions characteristic of electronic equipment moving around the area since then. He had simply begun moving as rapidly as possible towards his final goal, undoing the protective encryptions around his last resort as he ran.
If he was stopped, he would unlock the gates. He didn't want to do that, for the sake of the people and animals in the area, but he would do it for a last chance at making it out of the situation. He pressed on over the treacherous, root-filled ground that floored this trackless but at least relatively dry route, ignoring his wracked and shuddering musculature and pain-rived chest. If he failed, the machines would know what to do.
Peter Greene 2007.