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Chapter 12

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Isla wasn’t hungry. She poked through the food that Jericho had left behind, her stomach sour. Ger wandered about the room, holding his comm-link up trying to get a signal out. The lead-lined room cutting off all outside transmissions.

‘I can’t get a signal,’ Ger stormed. He slapped the heavy door and snatched back his hand in pain. ‘We aren’t going anywhere soon.’

Pushing aside the food, Isla started to pace. She thought better in motion and sitting still wasn’t getting them anywhere. What are we gonna do?

Ger slid down to the floor, tapping on his comm-link, intent on getting it to work.

‘This must have been some kind of steel mill back in the day. This whole area is solid metal. Makes it real hard to get a signal out.

Her beehive brain swarmed with Jericho’s taunts stinging her over and over. She wants to bring down the moon shuttle. That’s crazy. All  those 'bots. And my Dad. Why would she want to do this? Isla clenched her fists and let out a long, slow breath.

‘I don’t get it?’ Ger asked. ‘It doesn’t make any sense. I can get flipping off the school people — they’re spazzes, but hurting people for reals…’

Isla raced to the door and kicked it hard. The resounding echo boomed through the empty space. She ignored the dull ache of pain in her foot. Yeah, that was real productive.

‘This. blows! We have got to get out of her, Ger.’

‘I know, why do you think I’m trying to get a signal?’

‘Any luck?’

‘You’d know if I did. I’m just lucky that I still got the rig. They didn’t check me when they dumped us in the first space — and we’re too far underground or there’s too much metal here to get a signal out.’

‘Who would you call, Ger? The cop 'bots? Really?’

Ger shrugged. ‘I got no love for the cops, Isla but this is super wrong. Trash the system, fight the power — I’m down for that. Jericho’s talking about frakkin’ murder and mass destruction. Straight up killing… nice boyfriend you got.’

His crooked smile peeked out from under his floppy hair. Isla burned in embarrassment.

‘Okay, so I didn’t really know him — her, okay? I flirted with him— her online and this is what happened.’

Isla stormed away, trying not to limp on her bruised foot, giving Ger the satisfaction of shaming her some more. ‘I am so not flirting with anyone ever again.’

‘Ever?’ Ger smiled.

He pushed back his shaggy hair and stepped closer to Isla, rolling towards her in easy swagger. ‘With anyone?’ Isla stopped, looking long and hard at the punk gamer who slid up next to her, wrapped his thin arms about her waist, pulling her in close.

‘Forever?’ he breathed.

Ger leaned in to kiss Isla. Her lips opened sweetly in response.

AHHHHHH!

Isla’s head bolted up off the arm of the couch. She’d been sleeping. Had been fast asleep. And I had a friggin’ dream about Ger?  Gag me.

‘What’s going on?’ Ger had been napping too. The thick, stale air of the lock up left Isla with a flat taste in her mouth. I am so not telling him about this. She popped a water bottle. Drinking deep as she stalled for time.

‘Nothing. Bad dream,’ Isla shrugged as she cracked open another plast-'bottle of water. Empty soy food wrappers littered the floor — Ger had been busy while she’d been sleeping — but he’d left her a couple burgers.

Isla grabbed one, toying with the wrapper, avoiding Ger’s worried look.

‘Any luck getting a signal? Isla asked as she stood, wincing as her ankle twinged under her. At least that part was real.

Ger shrugged. ‘SSDD, Isla. No-go. We just gotta wait it out.’

Isla threw the pre-packaged burger at the wall in frustration. The pattie stuck with a wet splat and slid slowly down.

‘Hey, I would have eaten that!’ Ger barked as he snatched the remaining burger he had left for her. ‘No respect for food, dude.’

Isla fumed. This is so not cool. What are we going to do?

Ger wandered over to the secure door, stopping and listening as he pocketed the food. ‘Someone’s coming. I hear footsteps.’

Looking about, Isla scanned for a weapon. Nothing. The room was empty save the ratty couch. There was nothing she could use to fight.

Ger back-pedaled away from the door as it burst open and a guard stood there, pulse rifle at the ready.

‘Outside now. Nap time’s over. It’s time to go to work.’

Once we get outta here, I’m gonna dime them all out. Even if I get done. I’m not getting popped for this jerk.

Ger glared at the guard with the gun, pursing his lips in distaste. ‘It’s cool, home-slice. We’re chillin’. No need to get all agro with us.’ He held up his hands and smiled at the guard.

‘Get moving.’

Isla stormed out in front of Ger, past the guard and out into the corridor. She looks pissed. ‘Hey GNGR, wait up.’

He pushed past the burly guard and followed Isla out into the hallway. The guard led them through a warren of dirty corridors and smelly rooms, all long ago abandoned.

Ger wasn’t sure if this was on purpose or if the place was just huge. He’d never been in a building like this before and it was a sad leftover of the booming steel business that collapsed after the off-world colonies tanked. Millions had been thrown out of work during the crash. He’d just been a little kid when it happened and his Mom lost her job. I gotta get to her. I don’t want to do this job — but I could really use the credits. Maybe they’ll be a way to snag some tech or some money somehow. I’m not going to do what she wants. It’s wrong.

‘How much longer is this gonna take, I gotta use the bathroom.’ Ger called back to the guard who was taking up the rear.

‘Pee anywhere you want, they won’t mind,’ the Guard laughed. ‘Pick a corner.’

Ger stopped, rubbing her belly for effect. ‘I gotta download, too many big belly burgers.’

Isla’s nose wrinkled in distaste as Ger farted loudly to emphasize his need.

‘Hold it in, Pantser. We’re almost there. The boss’ll tell you if you can go.’

Ger jostled from foot to foot,  bopping in place.

‘I don’t wanna be gross, man… but I really gotta go. I’m prairie-dogging here,’

The guard sighed, pointing to a cubicle over to the side of a disused office. ‘Okay, go in there. Make it fast.’

Ger looked to Isla, winking quickly as he patted his jacket pocket. My comm-link, remember?

She nodded at him. She got it.

‘Hurry up.’ The Guard barked.

Ger raced into the office, closing the door behind him. ‘I gotta nervous bladder. I can’t do it if anyone’s watching.’

Outside the guard’s hostile call echoed through the space. ‘Just get it done. NOW!’

 

Ger slid in under a nearby dusty desk and activated his comm-link. He had no bars. No service flashing on his comm-link. He climbed up onto the desk and stretched his arm up to the ceiling, straining as he reached. Looking up, he could see a half-bar indicator for his comm-link. He snatched back the unit and typed in rabid fire thumb jabs -

<Jericho Reward. Police. Hotline>

‘How’s it going in there?’

‘Good, good, almost there.’

Ger clenched his jaw and started making loud straining noises. ‘Its—gonna—happen—soon—’.

He hit the Search button on his comm-link as he held it up again, pressing send on the communicator.

C’mon, c’mon.

‘Hey Ger, you doing okay in there?’

Isla’s voice called out from the corridor. ‘You need something to read?’

‘Ha Ha!,’ Ger called back as he pulled his unit back to read the response for his online search.

On the comm-link, a JERICHO HOTLINE banner flashed.

<Ten Thousand Credit Reward for the arrest of the cyber-terrorist, Jericho.>

Bright bold Axiomm corporate colors flashed on-screen as Ger punched the link and held up his unit.

‘Almost— there,’ he grunted.

The door flew open as the Guard smashed into the room.

‘We gotta move. Cover up!’

Isla screamed. Loud.

Drawing the Guard back to her as Ger scrambled down from the desk and dropped his pants for effect.

‘What’s your problem, kid?’

Time to make those theater classes pay off. ‘I saw a rat, a big one, over there’.

Isla pointed as she trembled her lip for effect, willing tears to spill. The Guard looked away down the corridor where Isla was pointing. Behind him, Ger shuffled forward, pulling up his pants as he pushed his way past the Guard, shaking his head at Isla. No go.

‘You might wanna let that one air out,’ Ger smiled as he duck-walked ahead of Isla. Nice touch.

She hustled to catch up with Ger, leading the Guard away from the office. ‘You nasty, Ger.’ Isla quipped as the Guard stomped behind them. ‘Keep moving, hurry it up.’

 

Four floors later, they had climbed up over the large game space they had started in.

The D ’N’ B music now replaced with the frantic tapping of keys. What’s happening?

Looking out over the railing of the stairs leading up, Isla saw all of the kids that had been jamming earlier all on their keyboards, heads down, typing like crazy. What’s going on?

All of the kids were hyper-focused on their work online. No one talked, no jokes…nothing.

Just dedicated drones attacking their keyboards with a fanaticism that was more than a little scary.

‘Nice to see everyone so busy, isn’t it?’ Jericho called out as Isla and Ger entered the space. ‘Nothing like a little chemical encouragement to get them to play along. They sure do like to eat and drink whatev’s free.’ The food. There was some kind of drug in the food.

Isla glanced at Ger. He looked a little queasy as he did the math as well. How long will it take for him to be affected too?

‘Wow,’ sighed Ger as he looked at the space before them. Large, snaking cables were everywhere feeding into a space-age chair complete with multiple monitors and a large helmet attached to an ominous looking computer stack. Jericho had changed into a grey jumpsuit and her hair was now tied back in a thick ponytail. ‘I give ‘em all a little juice to the food to help them concentrate. It’s a study aid. They all focused on their work keeping the bulletin boards hoping. They all little Jericho’s now popping up worldwide spreading the word. Tracer 'bots be all tied up tracking them down to stop ‘em. They not be looking where we be goin’. ’

I’m so glad I didn’t eat anything. But Ger…

Isla chanced a look at Ger who looked a little pale in the large room, rocking slightly on his feet. Oh no.

‘It not take too long there before you feeling the effects. Then we all get comfortable and I and I go visit your Father. Come in, come in.’

The room centered around the large computer throne that Jericho pulled herself up onto.

She fiddled with the headset as she tapped at the keyboard swung to the side. Onscreen, code trilled as Jericho’s fingers started the initiation process.

‘Ger, how you feeling?’ Isla asked as she moved closer to him.

Ger, smiling gently, turned to look at Isla, his eyes wide, pupils bouncing as he nodded at her.

‘I’m feeling good, GNGR. Real good. This is gonna be great. We’ll get inside the transport and make a difference. Thanks a lot for bringing me here. Jericho is great, isn’t she?

Isla gasped. What’s wrong with him?

Jericho’s laughter echoed through the space.

She reached out to Ger and waved him over to a nearby terminal. ‘ Go sit down dere, Ger. Make your self comfortable. You run the spider inside the Comms once Isla says hello to her Daddy in space. The packets all set up on the desktop. You go have a look, aright?’

Ger plodded over to his keyboard and sat down.

Isla spun towards Jericho, anger flushing her face.

‘You can’t do this to people. This is wrong. You’re drugging them. Taking away their ability to chose.’

Jericho shook her head, smiling at Isla. ‘No, girl. I just giving them some happy, you know. They happy to help me, I happy to help them. Everyone good. Why you not happy?’ She leaned forward and glared at Isla, eyes narrowing.

Isla swallowed in nervous fear. ‘I..uh, I,…’

‘You didn’t eat anything, did you?’ Jericho snapped to a guard standing by the entrance to the room. ‘Go gets her a bite to eat, man. She hungry.’

Ger started typing at his keyboard oblivious to the situation. Isla rushed to him, shaking him as his eyes remained glued on his work.

‘Ger, Ger… snap out of it. It’s Isla. Can you hear me?’

Ger continued typing as the code from Jericho’s mainframe flew across his screen. ‘Initiating handshake, Jericho. Standing by.’

Ginger paled as Ger ignored her attempts to talk to him. It’s like he doesn’t even hear me.

Reaching into his pocket, Isla found his hidden comm-link and slipped it into her own pocket.

‘He’s busy working, Isla. Why don’t you come over here and have a seat. Have a bite to eat. We call up your Dad and then I and I shall slip inside.’

A rough hand grasped Isla pulling her towards Jericho. The remaining guard pushed her towards a terminal just below Jericho.Sitting in front of the keyboard was a new selection of wrapped burgers and fast food.

‘Have a seat. I got to get busy with the neural-link now. You have a bite and we catch up in a minute.’

Isla slumped into her chair as the guard stood over her. Pointing at the food, he snarled an order. ‘Eat. Now. Don’t make me force you.’ She unwrapped a burger slowly as she watched Jericho place the large helmet over her head.

Cables sprouted out of the top patching into the computer next to her as both hands tapped out instructions on two separate keypads. How is she doing this? She can’t see what she’s typing, can she?

Isla felt the pulse rifle barrel pushing in on her neck.

‘Boss says starts eating. Get busy.’

She gulped as she raised the drugged food to her mouth, her heart trip-hammering in her chest. What am I going to do?

Why can’t I stop myself typing?

Ger shivered as he concentrated on the screen in front of him, his fingers a blur across the keyboard. I gotta help Isla. We gotta get outta here.

<Initiating Handshake. Welcome Jericho>

Onscreen, Jericho’s face popped up smiling.

‘Alright DD, you standby and run the code chaff in once baby girl makes contact. You the portal for me to click-heist in. You pave the way and I slip inside.’

Ger’s tongue felt numb inside his mouth. She drugged me. The food had something in it. I shouldn’t have eaten it. Did Isla eat it? Is she okay?

‘Ok, J. I hear you,’ Ger mumbled as he strained his eyes left to Isla sitting at a console beneath Jericho. That’s a neural transmitter. Frak!

Ger couldn’t help but be impressed by the hardware helmet sported by Jericho. He had read about new conciousness interfaces where a user could upload themselves onto the web — but that was just science fiction. Wasn’t it? Judging from the sophisticated tech everywhere and the hardware carried by the guards, Jericho was in deep with someone or something. This is bad. This is really bad. 

‘Standing by, ‘ Ger muttered as he slid his fingers into his jeans pocket and retrieved his VPN drive. I can do this. Quickly scanning the computer he was tapped into, he slipped the micro-drive into an open port and stared at the screen in devotion. I can beat this stuff. I can still do me.

‘Leave me alone. I don’t want anything to eat. I’m outta here.’

Across from Ger, Isla bolted to her feet and raced towards the exit. The guard shadowing her swung his pulse rifle towards her, flipping on the power and aimed directly at her. NO!

‘Don’t shoot at her, fool. Get her. We need her. ‘ Jericho barked from her techno throne. Even blinded by the metal helmet, she seemed to have eyes on everything. That tech is mega cool in an evil genius kinda way.

Ger tried to push himself up from his seat but couldn’t find the power to move. Stuck. Can’t move. He tore his eyes away from the monitor slowly, focusing in on Isla.

Isla’s scream at the door forced him to push slightly back in his chair in an attempt to help her. Please be okay…Please be okay….

At the door, both guards wrestled with Isla as she tried to push past them out.

Kicking and thrashing, they dragged her back into her seat.

‘Make her some dinner and let’s get busy. I ain’t got time for this.’ Jericho snarled.

Ger breathed a sigh of relief as he twisted back to his keyboard, noting that his micro-drive had connected with his terminal.

Opening the file, he quick-tapped on his keyboard opening up a coded protocol.

Boom!

<Uplink Complete — Microdrive Enabled>

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