Andrew had never grown out of the feeling. People with punk rock t-shirts he liked usually proved their worth. Yet when he met the fat kid in the "Ruins" shirt, he tried to block out his superstition.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (as Derek liked to say) Andrew had another issue. Just before the loading of high-tech sensors and scopes, Nicholas gave him one last lecture. Andrew expected another briefing about their green-lit mission. Observe and report, no more.
Nick was big and burly with a touch of scotch on his breath, and to the point, as usual.
-My sister's going with you...-
Yes, she was...
-Remember what I said...-
Andrew still thought about Shay. Lithe and quick, and a shake in that drop-dead butt. She was a killer, true that.
-Don't you dare try to touch my sister!-
Andrew glossed over his comment with a deft mention of the mission objectives. By all appearances, Nick followed along too. Fat chance. The team leader of this gang of urban saboteurs would lead the black-lit team. Derek had joined that outfit. Their responsibilities belonged to the homicidal.
It was left to the green-lit team, Andrew, Shay and the fatty in the "Ruins" t-shirt, to sneak into the yard. To steal the Black Box.
See you tomorrow morning, Nick said to the teams. On a map the rendezvous spot sure looked like Bolinas. Hippies with trigger-happy shotguns seemed better than security soldiers with kill-drones.
They called the rendezvous spot, "Valhalla."
See you in Valhalla, Derek said, giving Andrew a big hug -- a man-sized hug. Fuckin' scumbag. Andrew looked in his big wide face dotted by a few acne scars, and kept moving. No way to stop now. Either they'd have the Black Box in an hour or all hope was lost. Lost as in dead.
Andrew put on the uniform of a Diversionary. How many times had he done this in the past year? He'd said never again. Never arrived today, so he zipped up the corporate grays and blues, the pockets for the armor conspicuously absent, until he stared at Shay and the dude in the "Ruins" shirt, both identically attired as shop mechanics for Drone Shop #2.
-Let's observe and report, green team.-
Andrew read the his same sarcasm on Shay's face. She winked one of her two almond-shaped eyes. She couldn't be more than 16 years old. He was going to jail.
Don't touch my sister!
They rolled out in a stolen flivver. Andrew in the driver's seat, Shay in back, and the dude with the "Ruins" shirt underneath his stolen uniform. The auto-drive engaged the local-intranet, its transmission generated a current. Boom. Rocking at a silent 35 kph down the streets of Oakland. A perimeter of barricades and speed-bumps surrounded every building.. Pedestrians in a warzone.
The flivver that drove them turned on its virtual siren. Flashers of hydro-geo Commonwealth business. Step aside.
The next half an hour involved an autopark in the flivver terminal. Andrew slid his faceplate down, Shay did too, and the guy with the "Ruins" shirt -- he looked like them. Ready to play the part of a fascist pig. Hate the Police, Andrew sang in his mind -- badly. That's why he'd been a drummer.
Surrounded by gun-smokers -- rent-a-cop central -- Andrew followed the schema in his mind. Nick and Derek had made him memorize the route. The fear of death-by-shootout made him remember the way. To the Black Box.
No one could see their faces. That was the norm. Most security soldiers of the Diversionaries wouldn't dare. Not with the worse of the Free Statists and their killers. Past times had told the sorry tale of the Diversionary out with his family, and the end of the night coming with your face peeled off.
Diversionaries didn't even trust each other.
After dealing with a sergeant with a donut box strapped to his face, and the obligatory comment about "being too short for a security soldier" (where'd Andrew heard that one before?), they entered the Black Box.
Rays of light filled the room. Numbers floated on a hologram of the Californian state. Above each number lay a duplicate number. Almost like a phantom. Andrew and Shay nodded, taking turns at the door.
The dude with the "Ruins" shirt went to work. He recognized the orbital coordinates of the Sky Cloud that passed over Northern California. One in particular rested in a graveyard flight path. The Astorians in Oregon needed the numbers. The campaign in the north depended on that information.
"Ruins" dude made a sound that, in the brief time Andrew had met him, meant done.
Done. They ran down a clear plastic hall suspended over parked flivvers. No one pursued them. Too easy. They encountered a service elevator. Nick's men might associate with skin-secters. But they were good skinz.
Into the elevator they went up, up, up. Shay caught Andrew napping and relieved him of his duty. Andrew acted like as if it was no big deal. Hardly. Shay had successfully pulled the emergency stop. "Ruins" dude and Andrew worked open the door. Andrew and the rest crawled into a ventilation shaft between floors. All three of them.
That's when the metal buckled.
Shay barely weighed a hundred pounds. Naturally, she fell through the hole first. She was still more muscle than Andrew, and with the strain of muscles, clung with her fingertips to the edge of the hole. Still, the situation was terror, so she yelled.
Don't touch my sister!
For the briefest of seconds, Andrew actually considered not touching her. It was long enough to allow Shay to fall that last inch.
"Ruins" shirt guy grabbed her. Man, he was strong. Andrew knew he liked Japanese hardcore for a reason.