Yip learns more about who's targeting her and how.

John Barnes, Author

July 28, 2015

6 Min Read
Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 2: Warning Shot

This is the second installment of a ten-part science fiction series, running Tuesdays and Fridays on Light Reading this summer. Go here for Part 1: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

I walked swiftly down the steep, rocky garden that tumbled like a green and flowered waterfall behind the house. Daisy and Amaryllis padded after me; as far as they knew, we only went down here for treats. I carried Mrs. Greypaws, that distractible dawdler, under my arm.

At the windowless concrete-block tool shed, the solid-core steel door slid silently open, then closed behind us. I set Mrs. Greypaws down on a bag of composted sheep manure.

"House, activate emergency shelter." A pallet of potting supplies moved aside. The cats squeezed through the opening trap door, calling back to me the one word that is in every cat's vocabulary: now. Down the steep stairs, I closed the inner steel door behind me, and opened a can of mackerel, split it into three bowls, and set it down. Instant silence except for soft slurps and grunts of pleasure.

"House, report."

The house system had pushed 30,000 liters of recycled wastewater and captured rain through spouts in the ridge, extinguishing the burning shakes and clearing burning debris.

"Lightning Fast Fire Company estimated to—"

A different voice broke in. "Yip, this is Markus Adexa. I just got here. Lightning Fast Fire Company should be here any second; I'll try to keep them out of your flowerbeds. Please stay in the shelter till I tell you we're secured."

"Thanks, Markus. That was fast."

"Yeah. I was coming back from a routine alarm check real close to here."

Markus Adexa was the local physical ops specialist, i.e. muscle, we used most often. He was violence-proficient but not violence-prone, and he was nice to everyone, especially clients. Also, I'd been dumb enough to admit to my sister that I kind of liked him, so Yazzy was always looking for a way to throw us together.

While Markus poked around up above, I read NItCo's report about the drone collision. Then the firefighters from Lightning Fast arrived. As soon as Markus was satisfied with their perimeter security, and that they knew enough to stay out of flowerbeds, he came down.

"Some burning debris landed in the yellowwood and the burr oak on the south side of the house, and some smoke was rising from that bed of soaproot. The house was flooding it with the drip irrigator, but whatever was burning was probably off the ground. I had the firefighters spray all up and down those trees, and a lot of junk fell out. I used your garden hose to spritz that soaproot bed myself, since it wouldn't be good if they watered it with a fire hose."

"My garden thanks you."

"It's gorgeous; I'd hate to see a place like that messed up." Markus loved gardening like I did, but also like me, he tended to stick to business. "So what happened?"

"The opposition, whoever they are, set off an explosion two meters above the broadband antenna built into my roof, by colliding two drones: a little Roverino, the kind you see circling or roosting all around, and the Griffon that carried most of Arcata's traffic."

"Explain the Griffon. Little bitty words. I'm just a big lug that beats people up."

"Oh, right, fish for compliments."

"Roverinos are common as crows around a tech town. I've never seen a Griffon."

"Normally you wouldn't. It's a hydrogen-inflated drone, shaped like an airplane, transparent plastic on top, solar-powered plastic underneath. Maybe five meters long with a 12-meter wingspan. The Griffon circles around over town, 35,000 meters up. It's a wireless broadband relay. Normally during the day it stores up power and rises a few kilometers as the sun warms the hydrogen; at night it slowly circles downward. To ascend fast, like when they first go up, they inflate auxiliary bladders. To descend fast, like for a solar flare or a government shutdown, they pack hydrogen back into their tanks and collapse to the size of a desk chair."

Next Page: 'We Are So Hacked'

"Which is what this one did, about ten minutes before it went bang over my house -- it sucked its wings and stabilizers back into its body, reformed into a raindrop shape, and was diving at 700 km/hr by the time it arrived. If it had hit the roof, it would have penetrated, its hydrogen tanks would have burst and there'd have been enough explosion and fire to gut the house.

"But in the last thirty meters, it inflated all its bladders to the max. Air resistance had ripped it into sheets of loose plastic when that little Roverino's red-hot microjet came blasting through that cloud of hydrogen. So instead of taking the roof off and the walls down, it was just loud enough to give me the mother of all headaches and scare the hell out of me. So not only did they penetrate through what's supposed to be a high-security backdoor, they did it almost instantly, just to give me a warning shot."

"That's quite a warning. Do we know who's trying to scare you?"

"Not yet."

"How long before it blew up did it start down?"

I stared at Markus. "No more jokes about being a big dumb lug. That question was brilliant." I tapped the wall with my finger. "Report on Griffon hijacking here, US letter size." I tapped next to it. "15 cm, Yazzy live."

Yazzy's face appeared. "Yip, I'm so glad you're OK. Markus, what have—"

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"Fine," I said. "What was the exact time when you accepted the deal with NItCO?"

My sister likes to socialize but she recognizes urgency. " 'K, contract was finalized 15:54:12 universal—"

"Well, at 15:54:18, six seconds later, something took over the Griffon that supplies most cell and data uplink for Arcata and sent it into an emergency-protocol drop at my roof. The Griffon arrived a bit over ten minutes later, tearing itself to shreds with a fast bladder inflation to release the hydrogen, just in time for a hijacked Roverino's engine to set it off, scaring the hell out of both of us. Warning shot, Yazzy. Six seconds after you signed that contract. We're hacked. We are so hacked. Bet on it, whoever the opposition is, they're listening to us this second."

Part 3: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 3: Principle One. Or start at the beginning: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

John Barnes Follow me on Twitter is the author of 31 commercially published and two self-published novels, along with hundreds of magazine articles, short stories, blog posts and encyclopedia articles, so he likes to describe himself as an extensively published obscure writer.

About the Author(s)

John Barnes


John Barnes has 31 commercially published and 2 self-published novels, some of them to his credit,  along with hundreds of magazine articles, short stories, blog posts, and encyclopedia articles, totaling more than five million paid-for words, so he likes to describe himself as an extensively published obscure writer. Most of his life he has written professionally, and for much of it he has been some kind of teacher, and in between he has held a large number of odd jobs involving math, show business, politics, and marketing, which have more in common than you'd think.

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