Where Legal Eagles Dare: An Opco Boone Adventure
|The Adventures of Opco Boone, Legal Ace™
As a blood-red sun dipped to the rim of the world, the procession thundered across the desert. An eighteen-wheeler Double-O battle-truck, flanked by a pair of picket-class COO gunships, hurtled towards the Settlement.
On a high arête, they watched. They took it all in. They watched the convoy; they watched the Settlement, where seven great baffle-towers ringed the citadel: gaunt sentinels guarding against the encroaching threat. A curlicue of smoke twisted from the central boilerplate processing complex. Besides, all was quiet.
But for how much longer?
The watchers exchanged glances.
The baffle-towers grumbled to life, their mournful sirens flooding the desert floor like a low cold fog. Ant-like troopers shuttled back and forth from dugouts to trenches, preparing for the onslaught.
Then there it was: a staccato burst of brilliant light. It flashed out from the ringed towers. Nine beats pulsed into the gloaming, then the towers fell into darkness again.
On the ridge, the tall one said, “That’s the signal. It’s time.”
“Are you sure, Opco?” said another.
“Yes, Algy: I’m sure: S. O. S., see?”
“But, boss,” said the third, “that was dash-dash-dash—dot-dot-dot—dash-dash-dash.”
“Right, George. It’s Morse code.”
“I know that, Opco. But it says, ‘O. S. O.’”
“Oh. Right. Odd. Must be a typo.”
“Wait! Look!” cried Algy. “There’s more!”
The towers re-energised and beamed out some more: dot-dot-dash-dot—dash—dot-dash—dash-dash-dash—dash-dot-dot.
George rifled through her code book. She furrowed her brow. “What the h —”
“What is it, G?”
“It’s — um — well this is odd. ‘F. T. A. O. D.’ I’m not sure —”
“It’s gibberish, Commander! What can it mean?” Algy quailed.
Boone knew it was not gibberish. Boone new it was something worse: evidence that Morale in the Settlement was worse even than he had feared. They were clarifying things.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” he muttered. “We’ll be here all day. You two had better get on with it.”
Eagle Squadron Commander Opco Boone LL.B watched his outriders kick over their engines and, with gravel-farted backspray, clear the ridge: one left, one right. They scrambled down the scree. A curtain of kicked-up dust drew a stealthy line around the convoy, like remoras circling a great shark.
Boone sighed, brushed spattered mud off his wing-suit and stepped towards the cliff-edge. As elliptical as the riders were, he would be straight.
Behind the wheel, Senior Operations Officer Heinrich Kurzweil fixed his gimlet eye on the horizon. The rig was handling real nice. But with seventy tons of state-of-the-art ultra-modernist mano-tech under the hood, you’d expect that. This baby practically drove itself.
Kurz was tense; on high alert — but calm. He blinked up the MIS feed in his head-up display. It swept a sixty-five degree field. The RAG indicators read green across the board: optimal — just a couple of minor blips, 300 yards out, at 40 degrees from true.
Kurz picked up the intercom. “You seein’ these bogeys, Bugsy?”
The gunship pilot clicked in on the secure channel. “On the MIS? Yeah, boss, I’m seein’ ’em,”
Bugsy was Brooklyn-tough. Kurzweil dug his earthy attitude.
“Just a couple of doc jocks out of their pens, I think, boss. All cool.”
Kurzweil screwed in the ESPER scope and brought up a video feed. Sure enough: two repo negotiators lumbering awkwardly around an execution memo. Youngsters; must have broken a fence somehow and got out. No real threat at this distance, but untidy. The internal audit goons would have a field day if they found them — but all same, no need for an over-reaction. Let us keep our focus, thought Kurzweil. Work to do.
“Want me to clear ’em out, boss?”
Kurzweil shrugged. “Nah: we’re all good, ain’t we, Bugsy?”
“Well, according to policy 230823.913 revision nine, they count as hostiles. I say we wax ’em. It’s no trouble, boss-man. Seriously.”
Bugsy loved to throw the book. He had a wild streak — hell, most uniform bulls in legal ops did: the chief double-oh encouraged it. But this was no policy compliance matter for Operating Officer Cadet Walter N. Buggs, M.B.A. (Insead). This was job satisfaction.
“C’mon, Kurtzy: It’s in the service catalog. We got clear entitlement here.” Bugsy was pleading now.
“Ahh, hang it, Bugs. Why not? Go on, light ’em up.”
“You got it boss —” Bugsy’s ack-ack let rip. The GMRA guy went up like a Roman candle.
Bugsy whooped. “SOX attest that my little paisan! Ha-ha!”
Bugsy blammed out a second: a lame-ass two-way confi flare. It was a weak round — not usually fatal at such a distance, but enough to pacify a lightweight aggressor. But Bugsy was a true shot. He caught the futures guy square on an ops schedule. He squealed. He turned tight circles. His escalation circuits crackled, popped and smoked out. The jockster conked out and crashed, face-down in the sand, little green flames licking around his annex/schedule system.
“Yee-hah!” Bugsy’s turret retracted.
“On it, boss.”
Bugsy called them into to C double-oh on the encrypted two-way com-link. He rocked the sing-song ham radio chit-chat idiom: “Capcom, this is KPI-Delta-One-Niner filing our hourly stakeholder check-in, do you copy, over?”
Cadet Maxine Blitzer staffed the mic at the double-oh HQ. She was a regular scone-doer, so they kept her away from active engagement. The Capsule Command role suited her well. “KPI-Delta-One-Niner, this is Capcom: we read you loud and clear, Bugsy-boy. Go ahead, over.”
A static burst shook the set. Bugsy punched in. “Capcom, this is KPI-Delta-One-Niner: top of the morning to you, Blitzy. We are reporting the coast is clear. Repeat: The coast is clear.”
“Ten-four, Bugsy. You seeing any action?”
“Roger that, Blitz. We just cleared out a couple of junior jockers— stats to follow. We are fully operationalised and all systems go. We are requesting clearance to deploy Operation Playbook.”
“Stand by, KPI-Delta-One-Niner.” There was a pause while Blitzer ran a launch status check.
“KPI-Delta-One-Niner, you are confirmed go for Operation Playbook,” Blitzer’s tone turned familiar. “Rock that house, Kurzweil, you crazy sum’bitch. Capcom — out.”
Kurzweil punched in. “That’s an A.O.K., Blitzer, my man. We are gunning in for final approach. We’ll be home by five: put those beers on ice. This KPI-Delta-One-Niner — over and out.”
Kurzweil checked the clock. They were making good time. The payload was primed. Speed was steady. There would be dogfights later; let’s keep the gang loose for now.
“O.K., Bugsy. Stand down and accelerate. Let’s get this show on the road.”
Kurzweil stomped on metal.
Bugsy gunned the wagon.
The semi’s foghorn screamed.
The convoy kicked up a desert plume.
The hounds of hell descended on the fortified town all legal eagles called “the Settlement”.
The Eagle Squad leader stood high on the mountain promontory, seven klicks west and 4,000 metres up. Boone shook his head in disbelief at the rising plume on the desert floor. These guys were so brazen. He didn’t need his telegraphic scope to watch: These morons were clear as day. Their MIS signature lit up half the goddamn sky. Well, it makes targeting a cinch.
Boone barked into his wrist-com. “All right, Chip, I’m going in.”
The GC came on the line. Her voice was nasal and pinched: more uptight even than usual. “Now listen here, Boone. No funny stuff, this time. I mean it. We have to play this by the book. Do you hear?”
Boone growled. “Playing it by the book is the goddamn problem, Chipper, and you know it.”
“Jesus, Boone. When will you learn? This storm is coming, whether we like it or not. It’s coming. We just have to deal with it. We can get through this. But we have to be aligned.”
Boone looked up from the wrist-com. He regarded the great expanse beneath him, yawning away to the horizon. He surveyed the Settlement. For a moment, he smiled at the brilliantine recollections of his life in that wonderful place. He drank in the beauty. These were his kin. His people. His life. His home. These were his tranquil traditions. The ancient solemnity. The august institutions. The whole gamut of precedent. Imponderable. Indispensable. All of it was his. And they were surrendering. They were lying down and taking it. As these death machines advanced, he saw their collective futures dangling above the abyss, hanging by a single golden thread. He knew it: he was that golden thread.
“There is too much at stake, Chip”.
“Nonsense. We’ve charged up the ineffability shields. We’ve flooded the prolixity ditches. We’re confident they’ll hold.”
“You think so?”
“They will if we hang together, Boone.” The General Counsel’s tone softened. “We need you back here, Opco.”
Boone exhaled. Could she not see what was coming? From up here, as this convoy of wreckers drilled relentlessly across the badlands at the settlement, like some crazed Taliban, propelled by demented organisational theory, it was crystal clear: unless they did something, The Settlement was doomed. This was a mobile apocalypse, on a direct vector for the heart of the settlement, thundering across the desert. It would destroy the civilisation — everything it stood for — down to every last goddamn brick.
Did Chip just expect him to stand there while the double-ohs ran over them?
“Not while there’s breath in me,” Boone said.
Kurzweil flipped through the payload. He primed the risk taxonomy. He unclipped the spend ratio metrics. He flooded the Gantt generator. The HUD registered the Settlement’s outer perimeter defence systems, a thousand metres yonder. Convolution fields were arcing and humming, muffling the signals across the frequency spectrum.
Shit was about to get real.
Boone could see the bikes had hit the valley floor. The anemometer on his suit spun crazy: the wind was getting up. Perfect conditions.
The wrist-com crackled. “Boone? Boone! Do you read me?”
Boone looked down and cursed: he’d left the com-link channel open back to Chipper.
“Boone! Respond as a priority!” The GC sounded wilder than a snail in gingerbeer.
Boone waited a few seconds more. The convoy raced onwards. He opened his mic. “Yeah, Chip?”
“Oh! Thank Christ you’re still there, Boone — I thought we’d lost you. Now, listen —”
“Chip, you’re breaking up.”
The Chipster grokked it.
“Oh, no. No. No. Don’t do this to me Boone —”
“I do not copy that, Ma’am. You are breaking up. I repeat, I am going in.”
“This is Eagle Squadron Leader Opco Boone, switching to silent running and signing out. All comms will now go dark. I will report again at 2100 hours.”
“GODDAMN IT B—”
Boone stood on the cliff edge. As he snapped it down, the sun caught his visor for an instant and flashed a beam down into the valley. If Operating Officer Kurzweil caught the sparkle through his windscreen, ten klicks away, it didn’t register in the progress of his great train of destruction.
Boone inched to the cliff-edge. A thermal whistled up the couloir. He flipped off the safety catch on his wingsuit, caught the buffet, and dived.
Kurzweil switched the rig to auto and started to tool up.
A chatbot popped up on the screen.
“Hi! I’m Clippy!” said Clippy.
“Of course you are.” The Senior Operations Officer punched in mute. Clippy popped happily and vanished.
He took a moment to drink in the desert grandeur. The windscreen gave a rich panorama. The mountains swept up to a vertical, levelling off to a table four thousand metres above the valley floor. They rose like — like — well, like Olympus, above the Serengeti.
High up on the gipfel the setting sun picked out a halo of circling eagles. Suddenly, one wing-morphed and dropped. Kurzweil double-took: that is one absolute unit of a hunting bird — must be a condor of some kind, he thought, but it was a monster.
The majestic predator seemed to drift so serenely down from the crest, but Kurzweil knew the hunter was dropping like a bullet towards some hapless creature on the valley floor.
Kurzweil allowed himself a smile. Wonder who.
“Poor bastard,” he murmured, slipping into a Kevlar responsibility diffusion sheaf. He wondered whereabouts on the plain the doomed animal was. He dialled up his data visualisers to have a look.
His instruments showed a blank. Curiosity officially piqued: anything bigger than a rabbit should show up on the dash: it was ESPER-equipped. It had infinite zoom.
Kurzweil checked his HUD: the RAG flat-lined.
He checked the LIDAR feed. Zilch.
He ESPER-zoomed. Nix.
He flipped to heat-sensor mode and cranked that up to max res. Zipster.
“Huh,” he said to himself. “That big bird going to be bad disappointed. But this big bird —” he patted the steering wheel: Clippy popped up and said, Hi! — “this big bird got plenty of prey.”
Kurzweil yanked on his battle-gloves, latex-snapped his wrists and slid back into the cockpit.
“Are we in play, Clippy?”
“Hi!” said Clippy.
Kurzweil swore under his breath and re-punched the mute. Clippy vamoosed.
Over the CB, Bugsy was rocking out to Billy Joel.
Boone tilted down and tweaked the airflow over the leading edge. He trimmed his pitch. The roll and yaw were good. He maxed the gaze heuristic and kept the angle of approach constant. He targeted a drop-zone above and just ahead of the rig.
Chip was still babbling at him in the com-link. Dammit. He cursed his own error: he left the com-link back to GCHQ open when he jumped. It was too late to do anything about that: at one-seventy knots he could hardly flip it to silent now: any arm-shift would bugger his trajectory and put him into an aerodynamic stall or some kind of flat spin. He had to let the GC run. And she wouldn’t let it go. The old campaigner was really busting his balls.
Boone zoomed. The ambient buffeting was off the charts. The suit was shaking like a bastard. The GC was yakking for Britain. Boone kept the rig bottom left in the viewfinder. “Steady ... steady ...”
The suit’s digital voice assistant kicked in his earpiece. The DVA was a gas: it had a west-country drawl. Boone spent hours customising it. He called it Denning.
“GROUNDSPEED READOUT: 195 KNOTS ACROSS THE GROUND.”
Boone bulleted onwards. The rig grew. Two thousand metres and closing. The shaking was immense.
Chip kept up the disciplinary-threat babble.
“Denning, give me a range to target.”
The DVA counted down range, altitude and ground-speed: vital intel.
Boone hit two hundred. He bulleted onwards.
Chip yapped out parking ticket duty warnings.
Denning intoned downrange coordinates.
Boone bulleted onwards. He made two-twenty across the ground.
The rig loomed real close now.
Chip ran out of sanctimonious material and went quiet. Boone caught the tail end of Denning’s read out. “ ... impact drop-zone target: T-minus four seconds.”
“Okay, double-oh douches — let’s be having you.” Boone yanked the ripcord. The brake-chute bloomed. Boone jerked back and up. He flipped a backwards 540°. He quick-release popped the canvas straps and dropped the last fifteen feet through empty space. He cracked a three-point knee-down hero landing on the cabin roof.
“What the hell was that?”
Kurzweil froze. He blinked up the head-up display. Clear.
Clippy went, Hi!
“Bugsy! We got action!”
Kurzweil heard only half of Buggs’ reply “Holy hand-grenades what is tha —”. But he saw it play out: a stunt rider on a dirtbike dropped in from a low ridge from nowhere. The rider carried a shoulder-loaded esotericising mortar. At that range the low tensile syntactical armour on Bugsy’s cruiser stood no chance. The rider let off a round. It blew Bugsy ten feet in the air.
Kurzweil had barely a second to register when Opco Boone burst in, boots-first, through the shotgun-side window on the semi.
“Greetings, Earthling,” said Boone, sparking up a couple of short-fuse triple-negs and tossing them into Kurzweil’s lap. “Now I’m not saying this isn’t without doubt,” he growled, “but don’t be disappointed if I tell you this mission can’t go on”.
Kurzweil slumped forward in uncomprehending pain. Boone donkey-kicked the driver’s-side door open and hoofed him out of it.
Boone pulled himself into the cockpit, honked the foghorn and hauled the wheel hard right. “Let’s take you home to your daddy.”
The great rig began slowly to bear around towards the Operations HQ, slewing sand out over the upturned COO gunship as it went.
Algy’s dirt-bike punched through that drape of flying sand, over the gunship’s lazy spinning wheels, and landed clean. Algernon whooped. “Let’s blow this joint, Boonester.”
Boone snarled into his wrist-com, “We’re not home yet, Algy. Any sign of George?”
Algernon gunned his Kawasaki. “She’s tangling with the other cruiser, boss. Her eso failed. Sticky bogey, I guess.”
Boone scanned the trailer behind his cabin: a wall of green LEDs. The KPIs were already primed.
The detonation timer on the dash ticked down: 5:30 and counting.
Clippy popped up and said, Hi!
Boone punched mute and wrestled with the wheel. The rig groaned and screamed under the colossal Gs as it re-vectored to the north. Come on, you brute, come on.
The rig leveled up. The Gs eased off. Five clicks yonder, Boone could see operations outpost in the crosshairs, shimmering in the hot desert air. Your chickens are coming home to roost, my operational friends. He stomped on the metal. The monstrous diesel turbines screamed. The rig thundered forward.
The timer ticked past 5:00.
NOT … WHILE … I … BREATHE.
A bloodied fist grabbed the running board. Kurzweil hung on for his life, for his cause, for his honour. At first, it was all he could do, just to keep his hold and stop being swept beneath the monstrous wheels as they pounded the dirt, inches from his ear. He clenched his buttocks as the roadway grated and pummelled him all over.
Slowly, he hauled himself back into the game. He got a second hold. He fist-jammed in the wheel-arch. He executed a switch-grip, squirrel-jumped onto the grille, dragged himself up onto the hood, heel-hooked and got a firm boot-hold on the chassis. He clambered up. He clung like a limpet. He edged around the towards cabin door.
NOT … WHILE … I … BREATHE.
The timer ticked past 4:45.
The cabin CB pinged — static squelch. Capcom was rattled. “Hey, Kurzweil, do you read? We see your vector heading north. Please account for your deviation. What’s going on? Is everything in order?”
Boone picked up the receiver. “Ah, Capcom, we, ah, we read you ten-four. All is in order. We are just seeing some interference — regular, totally routine stuff, you know, so — er — we are re-routing to approach from the north-west. All good, over.”
There was a pause before Capcom clicked back in. “Heinrich, is that you?”
“Er, yeah, Capcom, of course it is. Ja, I mean. Ja, hier ist Kurzweil.” Boone winced.
“But you seem to be heading straight at us!”
“It’s, ah, just a transitory vector, Capcom.”
“No, no, Capcom, it’s routine, totally normal. We do this sort of thing all the time. I cleared with Commander, um, Commander Scheisskopf — you know, ah, old “Dumpy” Scheiskopf — only this morning.”
“Commander who? Who is this? What’s going on?”
Boone re-winced. He clocked Capcom’s caller ID on the monitor. “Hey, er, hey Maxine? Listen: the channel is getting a bit choppy, okay? We’re struggling to maintain secure connection. But rest assured: everything in order. Repeat: everything in order. We got this. Tell, er, what’s-his-name — Scheisskopf — we’re under control. Going dark, over.”
Boone clicked off the receiver. “That was getting boring, anyway” he muttered.
Clippy popped up and said, Hi!
The timer ticked past 4:30.
The rig roared. Clinging to the outside of its grille, Kurzweil snagged a crimp on the aerial mount. He traversed along the running board, edging with his toes, keeping his weight balanced. He ducked his head beneath the overhang, below Boone’s side-window sightline.
The timer ticked past 4:15.
Boone’s com-link crackled. “Heads up Boonester: you got company.”
Georgie’s dirt-bike burst into view off a low ridge, exploding through scrubland and she pulled wheelie.
Boone punched the dash “Yo! Georgie! Where you been all my life!”
“Not now, Boone, you got work to do — eyes right.”
Boone looked right, but too late. With a single fluid motion Kurzweil vaulted up, leant through the window, baffed Boone across the jaw, and grabbed the wheel.
Boone spat a jewelled string of blood. A copper taste filled his mouth.
Clippy said, Hi!
Kurzweil came again, but this time Boone was braced for him. A sharp elbow to the cheek knocked Kurzweil back, cracking his head against the stanchion. He grunted. Boone clamped him, but the Operations man clamped back. He grabbed Boone by the throat: chokehold. Kurzweil had a grip like a vice, but so did Boone: he squeezed back, harder, and shunted up. Mutually assured destruction. Kurzweil gagged. His eyes bulged. His spittle flew. Still, he cracked out a demonic beetroot grin and mouthed, “NOT … WHILE … I … BREATHE … BOONE” and shanked Boone with his Runbook.
The rig veered and fishtailed as they struggled.
The timer ticked past 4:00.
As his air-flow constricted, Boone became light-headed. He scanned the windshield: where the hell were the dirt-bikes? He reached for his wrist-com, but Kurzweil’s span was too great. Kurzweil rabbit-punched him again and hooked a boot on the door-latch. The door swung wide, with Kurzweil on it. He hauled out Boone out by the throat and dangled him over the road.
Boone couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t speak. His muscles slackened. His peripheral vision blackened. His eyes stopped down to tunnels.
Kurzweil doubled down on the throat-clamp.
Boone flailed limply, catching nothing but air: the big man’s reach was too great. The door swung back.
Kurzweil hauled him in and booted his face. Boone collapsed. Kurzweil grabbed the wheel, hauled it back around and lined up the Settlement.
The rig ground back towards the western vector. Kurzweil lined up the cross-hairs. They locked and flashed and beeped: TARGET ACQUIRED. On the cabin floor, Boone groaned. Kurzeil boot-baffed him.
Clippy said, Hi!|
As he passed out, Boone’s last coherent thought was, where the hell are you, Algy? The Eagle Squadron commander slipped into unconsciousness with the hopeless image of his old school chums Georgie and Algy, back at the refectory at St Crustard’s frantically trying to finish their Defence Against Indemnities homework before the bell went.
The counter ticked past 3:45.
Kurzweil clocked the counter. Not good. Precious seconds to lose now. If he was to get all the way into the Settlement, release the payload and then make it out again before it blew, things would have to be perfect from now on. He knew: he would not make it out of that forensic rat-hole on foot. He knew: this could be his Waterloo. I do this for the cause, he thought. For all operations people, everywhere.
Boone moaned and shifted woozily in the foot well. Kurzweil baffed him again.
The counter ticked past 3:42.
Boone collapsed into glamour-glow visions of Georgie and Algernon, holding hands, astride pink unicorns, in a forest of hyper-rainbows, floating joyfully amongst a flock of cute, fluffy green chatbots that were nibbling delicately and licking at their glistening faces. “It’s fine, Opco! Come on over! You will never look back! Everything is — so beautiful!” Operations Officer Kurzweil walked serenely towards him in a silken toga, with a ball of pearlescent light before him. “It is all true, Opco.” Behind him Georgie and Algernon nodded blissfully. “We have solved it. Everything. There is enough management information to satisfy every stakeholder. You don’t need to worry. There’s an app for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g...”
The last thing Boone remembered was trying to move his arms and his legs, but he could not. His tongue lolled. He dribbled into the carpet in the footwell. Then everything went black.
The counter ticked past 3:41.
An insistent horn sounded behind. Kurzweil checked his wing mirror: relief! The remaining gunship, smoking and shuddering, was accelerating back up beside him. Suddenly, Kurzweil saw a path out of this. He could escape after all! He waved at the gunship, urging it forward.
As it drew level, Kurzweil set about converting the rig into a guided missile. He locked the steering on the acquired target, set the trailer to autopilot — Clippy said, Hi!— threw the engine into a high gear and jammed a brick on the pedal.
The motor screamed.
Kurzweil re-baffed. He cursed the unconscious hulk for even putting him in this position. This is just business, you self-righteous jerk. Then, suddenly, on that desert track, barrelling straight into the jaws of certain destruction, Kurzweil knew what he had to do.
Yes. This is right. This I should do. This I MUST DO.
“Let us make your last ride the one they remember you by, Eagle Squadron Leader Opco Boone,” the Operations Officer spat.
Kurzweil reached over and grabbed the unconscious Eagle Squad Leader by his lapels.
The counter ticked past 3:45.
The rig was hurtling inexorably towards the Settlement. The damaged gunship was belching black smoke and running on three tyres, but it was back in the game, exchanging potshots with Georgie.
Captain Algernon Farquhar, B.S.C, D.S.O, Acting Deputy Captain of Eagle Squad saw a narrow dirt ramp coming down the line and knew it: his time was now.
“Cover me, Georgie!” he barked, and ripped hard on his throttle.
The Kawasaki surged forward along side the trailer, mounted the ramp and caught big air. As the bike sailed over the trailer, he kicked out of his stirrups, let the handlebars go, and back-flipped — he hit the trailer roof with the regulation Eagle-Squad three-point landing.
The Kawasaki kept flying. It prescribed a flat parabola over the trailer. It fell into the path of the oncoming gunship. As the pilot and gunner bailed the gunship exploded on impact.
The counter ticked past 3:30.
Boone was a heavy bastard. Kurzweil hauled him up and into the driver’s seat, but he was flaccid and hard to shift. Eventually Kurzweil flopped him into position and groped around for his seatbelt. He opened one of Boone’s eyes. He was out cold. Good.
The counter ticked past 3:15.
Algy shinned down the access ladder from the trailer roof. To his surprise, the trailer’s main back doors were unsecured. He popped the latch, swung them out and dropped onto the deck.
“Holy hell,” he said, and whistled.
The trailer’s entire length was packed with server farms of key performance indicators arrays, RAG indicator clusters, TOM monitors and banks of miscellaneous dials, meters, waiver needles, winking LEDs and other monochrome CRT displays that Algy couldn’t begin to comprehend.
Algy got up close to one of the KPI arrays. It was fitted with a crypto-locked switch marked “ARM”. He looked down the row. The banks were all triple-authenticated. Every single switch was armed.
Over the transom, a large digital display carried the detonator count-down.
Algy clicked into his wrist-com, and hissed: “Georgie, this is bad. There must be 40,000 KPIs here — maybe more. They’re all armed. Every goddamn one of them. The counter’s down to three minutes. I couldn’t switch that many off in that time even if they weren’t encrypted. But —”
“What is it, Algy?”
“They’re all blockchain hashed.”
Georgie said, “Copy that, Algy. We have to turn the rig around. There is nothing else for it. And it’s ...”
“Georgie, do you copy?
What is it, Georgie?
There was another pause. Georgie rallied. “It’s — oh, Goddamn you, you ancient brute, Opco Boone!” Georgie’s voice was cracking now. “It’s — it’s what the Commander would have wanted, Algy. Do this for Boone. Remember, you have the element of surprise. There’s no time. You can do this, Algy. Oh! LOOK OUT!”
The giant rear doors, swung round behind Algy and slammed shut, plunging him into a greenish dark.
“Well, there goes the sodding element of surprise, then, I guess,” he muttered.
Algy reached for his trusty service revolver, holstered on his hip with a couple of clips of term and a snub-nosed mezzanine. It wasn’t there.
“Oh, no,” said Algy quietly.
The counter ticked past 3:00
The truck rolled on. Kurzweil manhandled Boone’s insensate body. He almost had the meddling Legal Eagle where he needed him now: he wrapped Boone’s great meaty paws around the wheel. They held. Now, for the last touch: Boone’s Eagle Squadron cap, set at that trade-mark, irritating rakish angle.
Kurzweil smiled grimly: he would spare no detail. This had to be perfect. He tilted the cap. Just so.
His moment of self-satisfaction was interrupted by a sudden, ear-splitting bang. What the hell was that? It sounded like the rear doors slamming.
Surely not! Kurzweil took one last look at Boone, who was still in la-la land, baffed him upside the chops for good measure, and opened the hatch to climb into the back.
The counter ticked past 2:55
Georgie squeaked into her bike-com, “Algy! Algy! Do you read me! Algy! Come in, over!”
Algy hissed, “Quiet, G! He’s in here!” Algy flipped off the ’com.
Georgie heard the line go dead and shrieked. “Algy NO!”
Kurzweil entered the trailer, Gantt drawn. He moved quietly and efficiently. “Who goes there?”
Algy couldn’t see squat.
Kurzweil buttonhooked and checked his six. Clear.
Algy fumbled and groped his way to a bank of cathode-ray monitors. He squeezed himself tightly beside them and made himself very small. He scarcely dared to breathe.
The operations enforcer approached the rear of the trailer.
Algy made like a hole in the air.
Georgie gunned her K-bike.
Kurzweil unlatched the rear door and peered out. Light flooded into the trailer. Kurzweil was dazzled for a moment, then saw Georgie rolling twenty yards back. He levelled his Gantt. Georgie looped a fat slalom on the bike to throw off his aim. Kurzweil matched her cadence. Georgie carved wider. Kurzweil cocked his piece. Georgie fishtailed. Kurzweil fired — missed.
Algy stepped out of the shadow to Kurzweil’s right, cold-cocked him with a five-point cost projection.
“Business case this, Ops boy.”
Kurzweil collapsed to his knees. Algy hoofed him off the back of the truck. Georgie threw out another fancy fishtail and gave the operations man the swerve. Kurzweil rag-doll cartwheeled into a bush.
“Got him, Boonie – but are we too late?”
The counter ticked past 2:55
“You know what we need to do,” he said.
Algy walked up the trailer, past the digital counter. There was a “reset” button. He hit it. The countdown read 10 minutes.
“Huh,” said Algy. He climbed over the front, where Boone was coming around.
The Eagle Squadron commander groaned and rubbed his jaw. He regarded Algy and said, “Do you know, old fruit, I just had the weirdest dream about you?”
“Later, my friend. Let’s take this rig back home where it belongs.”
The big rig drew a wide circle around to the north, set a course for the operations town, and accelerated.
Boone’s wristcom blared a nasal scratchy midrange. “Boone! Boone! Do you read, over?”
“What’s that?” said Algy.
Boone sighed. “Oh. That’s Chipper. Hey, Clippy?”
Clippy popped up and said Hi!
“Can you handle the comlink channel for a bit? Crank caller I think.”
“Boone! Boone! Don’t you d—”
“Hi!” said Clippy.
At its nearest pass, Boone and Algy dropped off the running board, collected Georgie, and the three old pals linked arms and walked the mile back to the Settlement. Clippy the chatbot multitasked, steering the primed rig back to operations HQ.
Two klicks distant, Operations Officer Kurzweil picked his aching body out of a clump of thistles and swore himself to eternal revenge.