McKennon adjusted the straps of his backpack that kept getting caught on his flak vest shoulderguards. Can’t have this bouncing around when I get the signal… need to be able to drop it in a flash, too. Beads of sweat formed around the rim of his dark wool cap. Hopefully the camo on my face is still dark enough.
He waited for the signal with an eyepiece, huddled in an alley behind an old rusted-out car, watching an abandoned building two blocks up the street. “Let Jun make it,” he whispered hopefully, a prayer to no god in particular. It was hard to believe that God cared any more.
I think He’s been out of work for a while now.
The Volani sure hadn’t. McKennon tried not to think about it; they said that’s what drives people mad. Think about how things were and how they are now, you start losing faith that we could make a difference. People would just give up on the Resistance. Not turn themselves in, not turn others in, just turn themselves off. They’d take out their buds and give in to Peace.
The constant hum in his earbuds was usually easy to ignore, but it was in moments like these that the buzzing got to him. Sitting in silence, waiting. That’s when he could hear it, when he couldn’t help but hear it.
He used to go diving as a teenager growing up along the tropical coastline, and his mind often went back to that whenever he heard the buzzing. He imagined trying to go through the rest of his life with an oxygen mask on his face, living underwater. Could it be done? Sure, maybe. But it would be maddening.
High-power speakers on cell towers and subtle adjustments to radio transmitters ensured the Volani signal was always out there, like an ocean waiting to drown your ears. The earbuds were pumping a scrambling frequency of static to keep the Peace out.
The Volani must have started out small, McKennon guessed. Maybe they built an initial cadre of ground personnel and brought key figures into their fold. The strange policy changes here and there, the bumbling way most nations lurched toward a one world parliamentary government practically out of the blue… By then, the leading minds in the Resistance figured the Volani had flipped the switch, brought everyone within earshot of a cell or radio tower under their fold.
He thought of Jun again. She should be flashing the signal in – he checked his watch – two minutes.
Scar it, but I never thought I’d be relying on North Koreans. It was one of the few places in the world where the aliens hadn’t gained any ground. The freemind Koreans developed the scramblers and started the Resistance when radio waves beamed in from China and the ROC were brainwashing Kim Pak Il’s precious people. Only Korean dictators get to do that, you know.
North Korea… those crazies were alien enough before the Volani dreadnoughts showed up; the two groups had a lot in common.
Well… had, until the Volani bombarded the Peninsula into the ocean.
McKennon did one last function check on his gear. All the circuits flashed active. One minute. He looked over the device, impressed. The freemind Afghans knew their business. Then again, this was nothing new to them.
The aliens were using human infrastructure already in place to run their signals, including vulnerable computer networks. Jun was trained by Chinese hackers; she would have no trouble tapping into their servers. The trouble was that it would trigger an alarm. And that was why McKennon was there.
He took a few deep breaths, desperate to slow the racehorse pounding in his chest. This was it. His hand gripped the stock of his AK, and he crouched like a runner ready for a sprint. He pictured his daughter and son as they had been the last time he’d seen them, mindlessly carrying out their duties in the work camps. This was for them. He was ready.
The IR strobe flashed twice, invisible to all eyes but his eyepiece. She was in. He bolted out of the alley, turned up the road, and charged toward the hardened facility. One alarm went off, a clanging bell, and then a siren. They knew she was in the network.
He kept his swift stride as he raised the AK. The security guards were watching their monitors, discussing the situation. He triggered two short bursts, and the guards’ legs no longer supported their weight. They should live, McKennon thought with a grim smile. At least someone will.
The front door of the building was sealed as soon as the alarm went off. McKennon smashed the plastique charge in his pocket against the locking mechanism, and turned away as it blew.
He put the muzzle of the AK into the newly-made hole and let loose, keeping the security personnel in cover. Then he ripped open the door and burst in, laying down more fire, moving for the nearest support pillar. Plaster sprayed as the guards shot back, and McKennon slapped a new banana clip in.
Running and gunning, he made it to the stairwell unscathed. Jun should be accessing tech data by now. The real goal of the mission was to gather information on the signals so the Resistance could one day shut them down on a large scale. McKennon was the distraction and the cover for Jun’s operation. The Volani can’t find out that their network was compromised.
He made it to the second floor, taking out a guard in the stairwell. He dropped a flash-bang down the stairs to delay the guards, and ran on.
Buy her time.
That thought, and all others, left his mind as he took a punch across the face that stopped him cold. Another in the ribs – he coughed on blood—and something wrapped up his arms and legs. His AK clattered on the floor.
A Volani! The jet-black humanoid held him suspended in the air. Fool, he heard in his mind. What did you hope to accomplish here?
Its hand reached up to yank the earbuds away from his head, and he heard laughing as everything faded.
Jun slammed the laptop shut; the download was complete. As she turned to leave, there was a blue flash, and then orange flames burst from the windows of the second floor. Did he set it off? Or was it the fail-safe? There was no way to be sure.
Either way, McKennon was gone. His last comm, before her signal, was “When this is all over, Jun, find my kids. Make sure they know this was for them.”
She smiled despite the glistening moisture that clouded her vision, and she scampered down the stairs to the unguarded exit. The bomb had a trigger circuit connected between the two earbuds so that if McKennon was compromised, the mission would still succeed. The EMP wiped the network of any trace of her presence before the bomb blew, just as planned.
Those Afghans sure knew their business.