Author : K° Pittman
They stopped at Hatch 5. “In and out, ten minutes, tops. No tourism.” Bremmer’s gloved hands fluttered over the fittings and straps of Aplon’s dull grey outdoor suit, readjusting his rebreather mask and visor.
“Righto, pops.” Aplon toungued off the mask’s speaker and bounced to a private channel. “No excursions. Why are we armed, then?”
“We’re armed, because…” Bremmer stood, and Aplon began an identical refitting of his gear.
“Birds?” Aplon had heard the word, seen the images and holos, had even petted the sim at the small Naturama deep in city’s caverns, its roof open to the electronic sun, and it still took him a moment to remember what ‘birds’ were now. Non-sim. Unreasonably aggressive. “Birds.” He tasted the blade of the word, savoring its new balance. Bremmer turned to the wall locker, extracted two BlackBoxes, two Bee Guns, and two sticky tangles of RazorMesh, handing half to Aplon. They seperately self-attached each item deliberately.
“They’re building things now.” Bremmer said this quietly, as if stll astonished, before affixing a flat, black wafer to a shallow slit in the upper torso of his suit. “Like towns, or cities. Lots of different birds together.”
“Really.” Aplon’s goggles felt unreasonably tight over his eyes for a moment. “Really?”
“Yeah. They’re destroying drones, too, but they’re still afraid of us, mostly, unless something happened between four hours ago and now.”
“Where are we going? Are we, like, bait?” Aplon’s wrists reflex clench-flexed his Bee Guns. His glanced at the drone counter and head-calculated the amount of mass he’d need in a scrape.
“No. Drone got gaffled less than a quarter-klick from here, up in the ruins. We’re gonna run to it and back, tagging anything notable, do a close scan if possible. If the data’s cool, a squad will go retrive it or autopsy it on site.”
“We can’t image it from here?”
“Too much light pollution. But most of the birds can’t hack direct daylight either, so now’s a safer window than most.”
“What’s the autopsy for then?”
“Lab wants to determine if there’s sophistcated tool usage happening. I bet not, but Lab has needs.”
Aplon and Bremmer simultaneously started jogging in place as if signalled; Bremmer waved the ante-chamber open, and they ran in, bobbling in place on the dais as it floated up-from and over the silvery, roiling floor through the hemispherical blister towards the external hatches.
“Bremmer,” Aplon broadcast over the massive grinding, rumbling of the door while waiting for the Hatch to cycle open|shut|open. “Bremmer!”
Bremmer waved and the hatch paused a hair’s breadth open. Outside light poured in like poison through the crack, and iridesecence scaled their visors.
“We’re the clade’s best runners. This is just a run. No loitering, no engagement. Stats gave me ace odds that this is a solid. Okay?”
“If things get weird, either hit mesh and bug out, or go mesh and Bee the fuckers until we can jettison. Got it?”
“Yeah.” Aplon turned to the door and nodded to Bremmer, who waved |open| to resume. “Did Stats give you odds on who gets there and back first?”
Their visors throttled back the blinding flood of light as they ran forward into the scalding illumination of one million days of constant summer. Aplon heard Bremmer grumble, over bursts of hiss and static, “I gotta a lot of creds riding on this either way.”