Bright Red Dot 11

Going in the loading dock, Duran brushed off Gent’s offer of a drink and headed straight for the uplink computer.  One of Yellow’s programs bypassed the rudimentary firewalls and got him in the system.  Gent and Blackstone had no choice but to stand there while Duran flicked a finger across his palm.  To Duran’s own eyes, the secrets of the local network were laid out before him.

Piggybacking on a weather alert data stream, he sent an encoded message tagged with the words Rust Bucket.  That was the name of the place where he and Yellow had first met.  He just hoped the message wasn’t too subtle for her tracking programs to pick up on.

Duran needn’t have worried.  Within two minutes, he had a video uplink request from a blocked address.  The text was colored yellow.  Another of their little tricks.  He connected on Gent’s monitor.

“Hey, where have you—you put me on a screen?  I’m offended.”

Yellow had a cerebral implant.  Most of her data was wired directly into her brain.  She put up with Duran’s retinal display, but she’d never be caught dead using a monitor.

“Hello to you too, Yellow.  This is Blackstone and Gent.  I’m in Blue Skies, northwest of Section 15.  We might have a little bit of a problem.”

Yellow’s eyes went out of focus and she reached out to type on two keyboards at once without looking at either.

“Hailey’s Comet, you guys are in the middle of nowhere.  No offense.”  Blackstone and Gent looked at each other and shrugged.  “Let me see here.  Wait a minute.  That’s not—”

The screen suddenly went black.  Duran looked down at his personal computer but the connection was dead too.  Pulling a side panel on Gent’s uplink open, he saw the machine was working fine, but there was no signal.  The satellites were still up there, but something was stopping them from connecting.  He didn’t know that was even possible.

“Duran, look at this.”

Blackstone had managed to avoid using his name in front of any of the townspeople until now, so it must be something serious.  As he moved past Gent the bartender’s brow furrowed and his mustache twitched.  The screen was still almost completely black, but there was a blinking yellow cursor all the way in the upper left.  As he watched, it jumped to the right, leaving letters in its wake.

BLOCKING ACESSS… THEY ARE COMING… HOLD THEM OFF…

“What is it talking about?  Who is they?” Gent had stopped trying to remember why Duran’s name sounded familiar to get angry about the larger confusing situation.

“They’re after me,” Duran said.  “I need to get out of here and draw them off.”

“Blocking Net access isn’t some precise measure for a surgical strike.  They aren’t going to be worried about collateral damage,” Blackstone said.

“All the more reason to get out of here.”

“They’re coming, whether you’re here or not.  And we could really use your help.”

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