Captain Alton is a middle aged human male. His bald head and salt and pepper beard accentuate his nut brown skin. A career military man until he lost his left leg in a mortar attack, he came out of retirement to jointly command our unit with three of his old war buddies at the behest of the government. With them, our retrieval unit had a combined one hundred and three years of combat experience. The rest of us were either winging it, or doing what we were made to do.
He was sitting at his desk, frowning at something displayed on the flat screen.
“Sir,” I called. “HART 001 X75234PLE16 reporting for inspection.”
“Ah, HART,” he said, lifting his gaze. “Come over here and have a seat. I need to plug you in and run a diagnostic. I’m concerned about this file you sent me.”
I eased my way around his desk, careful not to dislodge any of the stacks of thick manuals piled haphazardly around his workspace. I arranged myself into a lotus position on the floor next to him, and lowered my head, exposing the USB port set in the nape of my neck. I closed my eyes as he connected me to the computer on his desk, but opened them up again when over the clacking of the keys I heard his sharp intake of breath.
“Is there something wrong?” I knew better than to turn my head while connected, but something in his manner alarmed me. I could hear his heartbeat increase; something was worrying him. “Sir?”
“HART.” He stopped, apparently choosing his words carefully. He was silent for a long moment, and then he started again. “HART. When you fainted -”
“I do not faint, sir.”
“Well, when your systems went offline, Miss Smarty Pants, did you notice anything out of the ordinary?”
Even though my captain was unable to see my face, I raised my eyebrow. “No, sir, I did not. Is there something in the data that indicates there was?” I called up my copy of the file and scanned it. No matter how I looked at it, it was blank. Dead air. Fuzz.
“So you didn’t catch it,” he said, mostly to himself.
“Catch what?” I deliberately left off the honorific to see if he would take note and scold me. He did not.
“Have you tried decrypting it?”
I played the stream again, this time through the security filter, and I saw the cause of Alton’s alarm. Underneath the fuzz was a message, meant for my ears only. I repeated it, unwilling to believe that my defenses had been so thoroughly penetrated.
“Hey, babe,” Cassius’s voice filled my head. “I heard you’re looking for me. Cute pets you’ve picked up. Too bad they’re not enough to protect you from me. I’m the big bad wolf, thought you knew. Let’s rendezvous downtown at about 1330. Catch me if you can.” His mocking laughter bounced around in my skull.
“Shit!” I yanked the cord out of my neck and jumped to my feet. Laying my hand on Captain’s shoulder, I assured him, “I’ll get him.”
“Always.” I turned on my heel and bounded out of his office and back to the reception room.
“Shane, McRidge!” I yelled as I skidded to a stop. As I feared, I was already too late. The room was empty; the humans were nowhere in sight. Only their weapons had been left behind. Even Glory was absent from her place at the front desk.
“SHIT!” I screamed. I had officially lost my cool. I ripped my shades off my face and commanded my left orb to awaken. It was time to hunt.
I visually scanned the room, checking for traces of heat sigs. when I got to the reception counter, I detected a motionless figure lying on the floor. It was obvious even to me, that if there was a figure on the floor behind Glory’s desk, it was probably Glory. I vaulted over the low counter to confirm my suspicion.
Indeed, Glory was there with her eyes open and blank. I had no idea if she was broken, or merely in hibernation mode. I crouched beside her, and jostled her shoulder. There was neither motion nor recognition from her. Looking up at her desk, I spotted the telephone. Reaching up to grab it, I realized that my shades were still in my clenched fist. Loosening my fingers, I allowed the glasses to slip to the carpet. This was not the time to be worried about hiding my eyes.
I pushed the button to activate the speaker phone function, and punched the digits that would connect me to Alton’s office. I listened to it ring four, maybe five times before I heard him pick up.
“Yes, Glory?” he asked.
“I think Cassius has been here. The human guards you assigned me are gone, too. Their weapons were left behind, as if discarded,” I briefed him on the situation.
“Ah, damn,” he breathed.
“I am leaving presently to complete my mission.” I moved to disconnect the call when I hear him speak again. “I am sorry? Please repeat that.”
“I said, do not kill him. We need him breathing with his head intact.”
“May I ask why?”
I heard Alton sigh over the sounds of him packing up his laptop and the various tools he would need to repair his secretary. “You win. I’ll tell you. About twenty years ago, there was a boy hacker. He was super smart, past the genius level. He managed to break into the government systems, not once, but twice. His name was Cass Mfume.”
“Cass Mfume?” I automatically searched the database for information; that name struck a chord in me.
“Yes. Cass was an excellent asset to the war efforts. But we changed him. The higher ups felt that he would be more useful if he could control the enemy systems without physically touching a keyboard or smart screen.”
“You mean, he was modified. He is now a half bot?” I questioned.
Another long sigh, then he said, “Yes, he was modified. Cass Mfume is now a walking super computer named Cassius. He can access any piece of computerized equipment by satellite. They demanded it, and I did my job.”
“Excuse my rudeness, sir, but you insane? Why was he not put down at the very end of the war?”
“Because we couldn’t find him, HART. You are the last option, and if you can’t do it, we’re doomed.”
“I understand.” I pressed the button that would end the call and stood. I leapt over the counter once again. Picking up the leftover trails of the humans, I started to follow them out of the room. When I reached the door, I stopped, and glanced over at their weapons. Picking up first one, then the other, I checked them thoroughly. The electro-mag guns had full charges, and were modified to include live ammo. That magazine was full as well. Both weapons had shoulder straps attached; I slung them across my upper body and forced myself to move before I could question or regret my actions. Pushing my way out of the glass double doors, I headed towards the elevators. I needed to return to the parking area and retrieve my TU. It is highly amusing to think of this now, but I fully intended to wage war against that man.