Riding the Signal
by Gary Kloster
Alec Chu traveled the high road, swinging his bot through the trees. The wet branches shook
with the storm's convulsions, but penetrating the kidnapper's camp perimeter was easy from up
here, and the rain and wind didn't touch him. Not in the Hole. When you were riding the signal,
theatre conditions were all only tactical concerns.
"On spot." White light flared through the trees and thunder rolled, but Lucy's voice came in
clear. Storms couldn't touch the signal. Before the thunder faded, the rest of the squad echoed
her. "On spot . . . Ditto . . . Ready . . ." Taylor, Bodi, and Olivia. Alec landed his bot on a thick
branch, dug his claws in and stared down at the miserable collection of huts mired in the mud
below. His optics lit four green stars in the brush, marking where his squad-mate's bots
"Alec?" Hastings, the mission conductor, back in the Hole. Alec could hear a lighter snapping
behind his words. That old bastard always waited until their bodies were strapped into their rigs
and their minds were halfway around the world before he lit up. So much for a healthy work
place. "Gimme status."
Safe in Albuquerque, in the Hole with his squad, wrapped, wired, and tubed into this
teleprescence rig. Sucking your smoke. Thinking like that could ruin a mission. Alec drank in
the data pouring into his nerves and became his bot again.
"Right. Five on spot. Squad Leader Taylor, confrontation command is yours."
"Command accepted, Conductor Hastings." Taylor's voice snapped crisp across the signal.
"You know your assignments. Time's everything. Olivia, start the clock."
"Absolutely." Olivia's normally laconic voice was tight with adrenalin. Before her word
finished, the night vanished.
Two bars of light pulsed through the jungle. They paused for nanoseconds to burn through the
thin obstacles of corrugated steel and wooden beam, steel drum and gasoline. Then the camp's
fuel supply and generator whirled themselves apart in shrapnel and flame.
Time, and Alec dropped. Steel claws flicked out, catching branches and bark in a controlled fall
that slammed him into the mud in the middle of the panicked mob of men who were stumbling
blind from their bunks. They weren't his job though, so he left them for the guns of his squad
while he knuckle-ran toward the cinderblock building that squatted before him.
Gathering momentum, he charged its door just as it swung open, spilling figures into the night.
Convenient, he thought, and spit.
The darts leapt from his mouth and bit into their targets, spilling fast-acting tranquilizer. One
fighter howled as he tumbled to the ground and Alec spit at him again, not wanting any chance
of interference. Leaping the bodies, he lunged for the closing door.