Charades, Truths – Ch. 21

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Aria shuddered all over her body. Shame and shock engulfed her. But it wasn’t purely because of what she’d done just now. Not because she held the bloody neon threads that had been inside Mr. Wang’s body. Not because she’d forcefully pulled those yellow, green, or skyblue beauties out of him. And also not because the threads had kept coming out endlessly and endlessly, until Aria thought she’d never get all of them out in time.

It was because back at the airport, when she’d first recognized the connection between the mockup and Mr. Wang, she’d thought that this technology would open new horizons. How clueless she’d been! She hadn’t considered the repercussions at all. She hadn’t considered who’d attempt to control the technology. Naively and vaguely, she’d believed that someone would benefit.

But all the blood told her, Wake up. If she still wasn’t awake after all that had happened so far, Wake up now.

And so, Aria wrapped and draped the gently-glowing threads around her neck and waist. If there hadn’t been all this blood on them, innocent children would have wanted them for their Halloween costumes. They could go for the alien look. Or the wizard look. Something fantastical like that.

She paid special attention to her torso and head. There, she wrapped the threads around two, three times. The head and the torso were the two places where the Black Suits could shoot her and she’d immediately die. That wouldn’t do. She wanted to buy time, threatening them with the destruction of these threads. With the threads so densely wrapped around the head and torso, they wouldn’t dare shoot there. And if they shot elsewhere, she’d stay alive after an initial attack so that she could rip the thread web apart. Then, no one would get to make use of them. She thought Mr. Wang would have wanted it that way, that man for whom it had been so important that no one got to abuse his invention.

Once Aria was done, she closed her eyes. Blindly, she touched for the blue tarp and wrapped it back around Mr. Wang. Only then did she open her eyes.

“I’m sorry, so sorry,” she whispered.

She sat up with her laptop on her lap. Once again, the screen awoke at her touch. She sighed in relief. The laptop still recognized her fingerprints despite the blood. In the laptop’s electronic opinion, nothing about Aria had changed.

Aria began typing.

1, grab cargo 1.

Drone 1 grabbed Mr. Wang with two legs, just as earlier.

2 and 3, fly straight up by two feet. Turn upside down.

The drones promptly did so. Their whirring rotors pointed downward, instead of upward as usual.

Outside, something stirred. The Black Suits, reacting to the sounds, Aria guessed.

2 and 3, fly up further, slowly. Push all that is in your way. Do not adjust route.

Up, up, 2 and 3 flew, rotors turning. Simultaneously, they reached the ceiling of the freight container.

Clank. Clank. A short period of resistance. Recalculating the force required to push the obstacle…

The freight container lifted. A thin gap revealed the starlight-lit dark ground outside, the tree barks, and the many hems of black suit pants.

Stop.

The drones stopped.

“Do not shoot,” Aria said.

No response came from the Black Suits.

“I know what you want and I have it. You will regret it terribly if you shoot before you see what’s where.”

She returned to typing.

2 and 3, resume flight.

The container moved up further as the drones pushed it up. The wind brought with it the smell of snow, conifers, and metal.

1, assume position between 2 and 3, but a foot lower in altitude.

Drone 1 shot up with Mr. Wang and the duffel bag.

Up, up, the three drones and the freight container flew in unison. The container, their shield. Drones 2 and 3, their muscle. Drone 1 with Mr. Wang, the protected asset.

And Aria with her laptop was the brain and heart.

The one component that she wished she had was a strap or a small bag for her laptop, something that would allow her to relax her fingers for just one moment without worrying about the laptop falling. Even though the laptop had proven its sturdiness by surviving Jack’s throw, now was not the time she wanted to test its limits by dropping it.

But there was no strap or small bag. So, Aria supported the bottom of her laptop with her left forearm. Fresh wind stabbed her gunshot wound. Her hair fluttered and blocked the view from time to time. She shivered, and typed with her right hand only. Slower, yes. But much safer.

1, 2, 3, fly up for 5 more seconds. Stay there 2 seconds. Then Descend until reaching ground.

Then stand by. Fuel conservation mode, unless attacked. Do not lift the freight container under any circumstances without prior approval from this device.

Do not establish connection with a different device.

Drone 1, if the freight container is compromised, flee to the location entered earlier. If you’re attacked there, keep going north.

Done.

Aria looked up while folding the laptop into a cube. When the container flew up higher than her eye level, it revealed a scene that made her shudder. The forest clearing was full of Black Suits. By now, there seemed to be a hundred of them, all just different enough to avoid being called identical, yet same enough to be obviously robotic.

And between the Black Suits and Aria stood the mastermind, the coroner, the mad doctor in his perpetual white lab gown and crazy silver hair: Lucious Bold.

The container stopped its ascent. Aria stumbled forward. Lucious Bold wasn’t looking at her. Fascinated, he watched as the container and the drones descended behind Aria. Within seconds, they reached the ground. Mr. Wang and Aria’s duffel bag were safe.

With a disturbingly kind and polite smile, Lucious Bold turned toward Aria.

“Impressive, Aria Rush,” he said. “I’m Lucious Bold.”

© 2022 Ithaka O.

All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.


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