A Simple Plan
Fulton’s journey back to consciousness was a bit like swimming up through the murky depths of the ocean. At first everything was black. Gradually his surroundings got clearer and clearer till he was back upright in the armored Land Rover in the bright light of day, swaying from side to side as if suspended in a sea of gently rolling waves.
Up front Pritchard and the driver lay still. Emily was gone. The door on her side of the vehicle hung open. A helpful pinging sound reminded him the door was ajar.
Every part of his body hurt, though the worst of his pain was now concentrated in a few key areas: his back, neck and head. His stomach churned. He felt like throwing up. A long time ago someone (his mother, perhaps) told him nausea equaled concussion and he’d better stay on top of it lest he die suddenly in his sleep. His childhood self imagined this process to be something like flipping off a light switch. Somehow the concussion turned out your lights and that was the end of you. The thought had done nothing to ease his childhood self’s anxieties about death.
Behind him the Land Rover’s hatch flung open. Emily, he assumed, chucking things out the vehicle with reckless abandon.
Something else had attacked them.
His life had transformed into a bad action movie. A bad action movie because it was now robots attacking them instead of people. Fulton wasn’t one hundred percent sure a robot was responsible for this attack (he hadn’t exactly seen it) but no one seemed to be shooting at them, lobbing grenades, firing additional rocket-propelled grenades, et cetera.
His lens picked up a handful of networks straight away. Fulton let it ride and fired up the Network Penetrator. If it worked as advertised (he sincerely hoped it worked as advertised) he’d find everything wired within a certain radius. He couldn’t remember the thing’s exact range.
Tags from various devices popped up across his vision like daffodils with network IDs for petals. The closest was the Land Rover’s onboard navigation system, still querying the satellite despite the damage. Most others seemed to be personal devices and wi-fi routers. Fulton filtered those out. He was left with a final tag at the upper limits of his field of view: the send/receive unit on a USAF EXPED drone.
He expected another hunter killer AI but AI Quarantine read clean. Which meant either the drone was perfectly fine; a technical malfunction caused it to spontaneously fire missiles at a pair of otherwise innocuous four-wheel drive vehicles; or someone was controlling it some other way. Maybe the Arab freelancer had taken over personally. If so there would be an information pipeline running directly from the drone to his terminal. More likely still, his lens – thus his chipset and brain.
A fresh but intense feeling washed over Fulton.
For the first time since this whole miserable adventure got underway, he had a plan.