Desperate Measures Snippet #3
Okay, let’s just get right into it. It’s too good to wait for!
Jia followed Erik through the window, keeping a firm grip on her stun pistol. Based on their preliminary briefing and examination of the building, the locals relied heavily on live security rather than bots. She didn’t want to fling lead if it was not necessary, but Erik did have a point.
If it came down to it, she would do what was necessary to protect Erik. In all their time together, they’d never killed anyone who didn’t have it coming. That might change in the future, but for the moment, it at least confirmed they had good instincts.
Erik jogged forward, his face hidden by the dark helmet. Jia didn’t like not being able to see him, being far too used to all his expressions and shifts in his eyes. They told her more about a situation than any words. She tried to think of a way to add a feed from his helmet that wouldn’t be distracting.
Though when she thought about it, she realized they didn’t need verbal orders or exchanges in battle. All their time together, both in actual combat and training, had trained them to do what they needed and the appropriate timing. Timing cues went a long way.
“Stop!” Malcolm shouted.
“What?” Jia asked quietly. Her helmet would keep her voice from traveling, but she didn’t want to yell and attract attention.
“Duck into the side hallway. There’s a patrol coming, but they’ll hit a corner and turn away from the way you want to go.”
Jia moved to the side and glanced at Erik. Surprising the guards would be trivial, but every confrontation risked reinforcements showing up. Malcolm and Emma were doing a good job, but they didn’t have complete control of the building, and if it were a conspiracy-related level, they might not be able to achieve that without alerting the enemy.
Erik muttered and followed Jia. It had been a couple of weeks since their last major mission. Maybe he was craving something more than training?
Jia would do what she needed to in combat, but she’d conquered her demons for now. Losing control wasn’t much of a concern. She’d always be grateful for Erik for recognizing her problem and steering her toward a solution.
She didn’t think he had the same issue. This was less bloodlust than boredom. Boys and their lethal toys.
“Okay, you can go now. Just be quiet,” Malcolm sent. “But this is weird.”
“Weird, how?” Jia asked.
“I’m only seeing a small patrol, and although I don’t have total access to their security system, there are all sorts of indications of major bot reserves.”
Erik snorted. “Good mission briefing there, Alina.”
“Nobody’s perfect,” Jia replied with a shrug. “Are the bots patrolling?”
“No,” Malcolm confirmed. “All inactive.”
“Then we’re good.”
Erik and Jia continued their quick movement down the hallway, glancing at the intersection before heading across. Malcolm was watching their back, but that didn’t mean they could eschew situational awareness. A clever attacker might spoof a camera feed to surprise their enemies.
They should know. They’d used exactly that tactic on their enemies.
The near-identical hallways were like a maze. If they weren’t being led exactly to their destination, they could have easily gotten lost.
“Hmm,” Emma sent.
“Hmm?” Erik echoed. “What the hell does that mean?”
“The local police comm is now rather lively,” Emma replied. “Unusually so. There don’t appear to be any unusual incidents going on, but they’ve received reports of a possible terrorist attack, and they’re gathering forces.”
“Interesting timing,” Jia commented.
“Yeah, too interesting,” Erik complained. “If the conspiracy caught wind that we might be hitting Cardiff, they might have decided to throw some cops at us.”
“Or the conspiracy might just be paranoid. We’re not the only people affiliated with the Intelligence Directorate that have been hitting them. It might be something they’re doing because they’re preparing to transfer the data.”
“Using cops as a shield is a good tactic,” Erik counted. “They know our backgrounds. Even if they think I’m a revenge-obsessed loose cannon, they’d have a hard time believing Jia Lin would shoot cops.”
“Would they actually use police?” Jia shook her head. “I mean, we’re not going to mercilessly gun down police officers, but having the authorities sniffing around might work out poorly for them. Even when Neo SoCal was at its worst, there were good officers willing to dig to find the truth.”
Jia grinned. “Besides me. And it’s too high a risk. The more the conspiracy is wounded, the less ability they have to clean up after themselves. They need to be subtle, not flashy, to survive.”
“Good point. I’ll worry about cops if and when they come.” Erik continued down the hall at a quick jog. “Just keep an ear on it, Emma. I’d prefer not to be surprised, but I only care if they’re coming our way. We’ll let the locals handle any terrorists.”
“Understood, Erik,” Emma replied.
“It sounds like a good plan,” Jia added. “If we get the data and get out of there, there won’t be any trouble with anyone, guards or cops.”
“You think that’s going to happen?” Erik asked, slowing.
The nav arrows indicated their target room was close. If they were lucky, the intel about the room being shielded was wrong, but the Lady was capricious on her best days.
“No other patrols nearby,” Malcolm reported. “They’re way far away now. No active bots, either.”
“That’s good to hear.” Erik stopped in front of a door at the end of the corridor and nodded. “This is the one.”
Jia pressed her palm against the access panel. Nothing happened, which was not a surprise. Luck had its limits, or maybe the Lady wanted to challenge them.
“Can you open it for us, Malcolm?” she asked.
The door slid open.
“I know,” Malcolm transmitted. “I’m awesome in every way that matters.”
Jia stepped into the small office. A mahogany desk, a potted green orchid in the corner, and a comfortable-looking chair were the only major features besides their target, an IO port in the side wall.
“Not what I expected,” Erik offered. “Emma, Malcolm, can you hear us?”
“I’m…trouble…” Emma replied.
“Me…” Malcolm added.
“So some of the intel was accurate,” Erik mumbled as he headed to insert the upload/download link into the IO port.
Jia pulled the small transmitter rod off her belt and expanded it into a tripod. She set it just inside the door and tapped some quick commands into her PNIU.
“Ah,” Emma sent, her voice much clearer. “Much better.”
“But we’re going to have to keep the door open.” Erik frowned. “I’m not loving that.”
“Initiating transmission sequence,” Emma reported. “Mr. Constantine can continue monitoring things, and I’ll do my best to be swift about this.”
“I can do that,” Malcolm added cheerfully. “Good news, the patrols have left the level. I’m not seeing anyone on the cameras, and I’ve already shielded you on the internal thermal scans, which means there’s no one on those either. I’ve got the initial security protocols disabled temporarily.”
“A nice and easy job,” Erik replied. “I’ll admit that can be fun in its own way.”
“I’m glad you think so,” commented Jia.
They waited, watching the hallway and not talking. Jia tilted her neck back and forth and rolled her arms to try to keep stiffness from settling in. Fights were one thing; waiting between potential fights was painful.
“This is odd,” Emma commented after a few more minutes.
“Good-odd or bad-odd?” Erik asked.
“The police are receiving multiple reports of an incident, but it’s on the other side of the city. The locals are swarming the area.”
“There might really be a terrorist.” Erik shrugged. “I’m not going to cry about having to worry about less trouble.”
“Something’s wrong,” Malcolm shouted. “I—”
The door slammed shut. The residual nav marker and additional AR indicators vanished from Jia’s smart lenses.
Jia hissed in frustration. “I think we’ve gone past bad passive transmission interference to active jamming.”
Erik pulled a breach disk from a pouch and attached it to the door. He stuck his fingers in the notches and twisted the device.
“It’s pretty safe to say that if they’re jamming us, they know we’re here,” Erik muttered. “Cairo all over again.”
Jia groaned, her eyes narrowing. “You don’t get to declare that just because it involves a surprise. Using that logic, everything is Cairo.”
He smiled. “Now you’re getting it.”
Erik tapped the breach disk and stepped away. Seconds later, the interior of the door blew out in a bright explosion, leaving a pile of rubble and smoke. Whatever they had done to partially shield the room under normal circumstances hadn’t included reinforcing the door.
He nodded at the IO port. “Time for Plan B. I doubt Emma got everything we needed.”
Jia removed a preprogrammed data rod and jammed it into the port. There were too many variables in the plan. The rod was supposed to suck up data and decrypt it later to find what they were looking for, allegedly some conspiracy operations data.
That plan required Emma’s programming preparations to be near-perfect and Alina’s collated intel to be correct. The latter had already proven questionable.
There was also the harsh reality that even if everything else went according to plan, Jia and Erik had to successfully evacuate with the rod under fire from an enemy who knew they were there.
Erik stepped into the hallway and chuckled. “Knew it. Didn’t need Malcom to tell me their bots are active.”
Familiar scuttling and scratching noises filled the corridors. He holstered his stun pistol, whipped his rifle down, and fired a burst. Jia stepped through the smoldering wreckage of the door, armed in the same manner.
She cleared the doorway and spun toward the source of the noise, a swarm of advancing spider bots. To her surprise, stun rods rather than stun rifles or slugthrowers protruded from their fronts.
Local security wanted them alive. That suggested it wasn’t a conspiracy trap. If it had been, they would have known better than to use bots.
After her initial encounters with security bots alongside Erik, Jia had spent a lot of time studying common bot designs. That made it easy for her to pick out their weak spots.
A single shot cracked from her rifle, ripping through a bot and sending the multi-legged machine to the ground, twitching and sparking. Erik kept up near-rhythmic bursts, his shots shredding his targets.
“Emma? Malcolm?” Jia asked, hoping the jamming had been limited to the single room.
There was no response. Jia squeezed off another shot as Erik reloaded. Broad-spectrum jamming was a two-edged sword. The bots could continue functioning with their previous programming, but that meant they couldn’t get any updates and had to rely on their AI for engagement. The enemy would also lose some of their cameras.
Jia and Erik continued to fire. The pile of broken bots and parts grew denser, slowing the reinforcements and making them easier targets. Spider bots were a big step down from the Ascended Brotherhood.
The area might be jammed and the pair trapped behind an advancing horde of security bots, but Jia couldn’t help but make a game of it, trying to maintain her speed and precision as she destroyed the bots. Part of her felt a little sorry for whoever was responsible for the security budget. Bots weren’t cheap, and Erik and Jia were burning off a lot of money in a short period of time.
The raging torrent of security bots dwindled to a swift river and then a mere trickle as they continued to fall to the rifles. The last bot stepping into the hallway fell under the cruel dual attentions of Erik and Jia, spinning and sparking from the barrage.
Footfalls sounded from ahead, but no one entered the hallway. That was probably the guard patrol that had left, with reinforcements.
“Whoever you are, you should surrender right now before you get hurt,” shouted a guard from around the corner. “We’ve jammed your little external hack. Unless you want to end up on the frontier breaking large rocks into smaller rocks, you better surrender right now.”
“We carved through your bots, and you’re telling us to surrender?” Erik shouted back. “I don’t think you get who you’re dealing with.”
There was scratching in the distance, followed by a loud thud.
Jia yanked a stun grenade from her belt. “They’re stalling.”
Erik grabbed his own stun grenade. “Grab the rod, and let’s fight our way back to where we came in.”
Jia rushed back into the room, pulled out the data rod, and shoved it into a pocket. They might not have gotten a complete data dump, but they’d done well with partial data in the past. She rejoined Erik in the hallway.
They nodded to each other and charged forward, leaping over the downed bots and closing on the corner where human enemies awaited. It was time to force their way through.
Erik smiled. Fun times!
Argh!!! I hope my copy downloads tonight! And just so you know, I’m in the same boat as you! I don’t have the rest of the book yet, either. Grrrrr, Frizzle shazzle stink bomb!
But, we all know that Erik and Jia will make it out of there. It’s just a matter of how many other fleshbags will make it out alive! LOL
Pre-order your copy now, and late tonight it will download to your e-reader automatically! I’d highly suggest setting your alarm for extra early just to get up and see what happens next. Just. well, don’t forget to get into work! If you are working Saturday morning. LOL
You can pre-order your copy of Desperate Measures here and then come October 2 you will be one of the first to get your ebook downloaded!
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