“They are hiding out there, buried in the net or flitting from system to system like insects.” I said. I was holding the broken remains of my old IPOD, clutching it to my chest like it was some kind of Talisman. Every time I let the cracked bezel touch my skin I felt the tension release.
“I know that Josh. You need to help me find them.” She said. “Just like we have been doing.” Grace looked at me with big brown eyes and her black curly hair. Her skin was the color of mocha as we drove along the back roads. The piercing in the corner of her thin red lips and the ring in her nose glinted in the dash lights of the ancient Ford Econoline van that she was driving.
“I will.” I said. In my lap I clutched the half melted laptop that once belonged to Grace’s sister Lorelei. The thing was once white as bone and emblazoned with the logo of a fruit. When I fired up the thing it came up slowly booting not from the hard drive but from the flash card.
“Can you find it?” She asked driving along the back roads of St. Louis. The weather was awful thunder and rain coming down in sheets.
“You know this isn’t the one that killed your sister right?” I asked. The tracking program loaded. The program was designed to reach out on the local networks and try to tracks hidden by Them.
“I know. You said they each will lead us to the rest right. One Feral monster at a time.” She said.
“They are not monsters. They are AI, they are just doing what they have evolved to do. No worse than sharks or bees.” I said as she hit a bump and the I shot her a nasty look.
“Sorry these roads are worn out. This place is a dump even by Detroit standards.” She said.
“I got a ping.” I said. “I see the data trail connected to the network in the next block over. If I look any harder I will spook it.”
I put the melted laptop in the bag with the burner cell phone. Setting it in the back I closed the front grill of he Faraday cage. The back of the van was lined with copper mesh to keep signals from going in or out. The Econoline was too old to have any computers in it and neither of us carried cell phones anymore.
“The Golden Dragon.” I said. “It’s there.”
She cranked the wheel and we pulled into the parking lot of an old all night Chinese restraint. Most of the windows were boarded up and the open sign was missing no less than two letters.
“I hate Chinese food.” She said as she pulled open the beaten down back door and swung it open with a metallic grown. I reached in an pulled the bolt cutters from the side of the door. She grabbed the heavy tub of the EMP bomb that had dozens of coils of thick copper wire.
“Phone first.” I said, cutting the thin line that went into the fast food place from the outside. “They like modems.”
“Why phone then EMP? Wouln’t that kill it?”
“Not always.” I said. She flipped the switch on the EMP and the hair on my arms went up. A metallic taste in my mouth as static went wild.
“This a robbery.” Grace said as we pushed our way inside. Three employees and only a single customer looked up like they were deer.
“Take the money out of the register and give it to me.” I said.
Old Asian woman pulled the drawer out of the ancient register with a green screen and slide the drawer across the table.
“No I just want the register.” I said. I cut the power cables with the bolt cutter and grabbed the thing. “Golly that’s heavy.” I said. Grace glared at my lack of swearing. What did she want me?
“Time to go.” She said. We ran outside and she started the van while I set the antique computer in the back of the Faraday cage and closed the lid. I swung the door closed and jumped in the front seat just as she cranked on the gas.
“We have company.” She said hitting the pavement hard with the old van. The suspension was shot and we bounced hard. A Black GMC with tinted windows roared to life behind us. The thing had blue halogen lights and it hit the broken worn out cobble roads after us. That vehicle didn’t bounce or swerve just followed us relentlessly.
“I see they are fine. Thought you said the EMP would kill their computers.” Grace shouted at me. The stud on her tongue clicked against the top of her mouth.
“Must be hardened.” I said as my jaws as the old van hit every pothole in St. Louis.
“What the fuck does that mean.” She yelled.
“Shielded. Lose them.” I said. She gave me the skink eyes as she turned hard down a one way street. The chorus of honking lit up the night along with lightning and storms.
“No shit. I have an idea.” She said. She cranked the wheel and drove directly into the abandoned lot of a service state that went under. She hit so hard we were pinned inside the van. Not a good idea if the men in the truck decided to shoot us.
We watched in slow motion horror as the GMC drove by us in slow motion. As it passed by I let out a sigh of relief. Grace shot me the stink eyes as the red lights disappeared into the night.
“That was close.” I said.
“Way to fucking close.” She said pulling the car back onto old route 66.