Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 9: Hacking an Escape

John Barnes
Faster-Than-Light Reading
John Barnes, Author

This is Episode 9 of a Light Reading original science fiction story. Need to catch up? Start here:

Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

Or find all of the episodes here:

Faster-Than-Light Reading

The robot, like a mutilated daddy long legs with a buzzsaw and a claw, advanced at a slow, comfortable amble, lifting its back leg, swinging it around front and repeating the process, its metal feet click-ticking across the floor. Behind me Markus grunted in pain, trying to force off the tightening smart bonds.

The robot loomed above me. A screen on its spherical body became blue, then white, then displayed:

Hold still.

The claw gripped the strap holding my calves to the cot and lifted it. The whirling blade parted it.

Stay still. say nothing.

The robot cut the other straps holding me.

roll on your stomach. lie flat on your face.

Gently but efficiently, the robot cut me free.

stretch quietly. You will need to move soon.

I stretched; everything felt wrong and painful.

By the time the robot had cut Markus free, I was sitting up. Markus rolled onto all fours on his cot and began stretching arms, legs and spine, like a cat doing speed-yoga.

The robot stepped to the one door, which had no visible handle or button, and turned to show us its screen.

nod to acknowledge. do not speak.

It waited. I realized, and nodded; Markus did too.

This unit will self-destruct to open this door. It waited till we nodded.

Run through the opening and down the corridor. Nod.

the fourth door on your right will open. Nod.

Run through that door and up the stopped escalator in front of you. you will find you are in a closed metro station. Jump the barriers and run to street level.

Take this device — a piece of black plastic the size and shape of a credit card dropped from it. insert it in the nearest ATM.

Markus bent to pick it up, nodding emphatically.

Atm will eject it. Find another ATM. Repeat until one of them keeps the card. After that you are on your own. Remember the blue cross. Good luck, You Illiterate Peasant.

My breath caught; that was Yazzy's childhood big-sister nickname for me, the one that had always triggered a fight, sentencing to our separate rooms and sneaking over to see each other.

Stand back. Cover your face and eyes. Be ready.

Find out more about the New IP on Light Reading's The New IP Channel.

I backed against the wall. The circular saw slashed the door from floor to lintel, then across about a meter up. The robot backed its sphere-body against the intersection of slashes. I tucked my face into my folded arms.

The robot exploded. Loose junk, some burning, sprayed over Markus and me and spattered nastily against the wall. When I looked up, the door lay in pieces down the corridor.

Jumping the broken pieces of door, we ran down the hall. At that fourth door on the right, as we turned, other doors behind us opened, slammed closed, opened again. Something was fighting for control of internal systems.

Next Page: On the Run

The escalator was where it was supposed to be, pitch dark with a too-bright glare of sunlight at the top. I sprinted up it, Markus just behind, into the Metro station.

The signs were in Italian; early afternoon sun poured through glass doors marked uscita chiuso.

The door's emergency release set off the alarm, but the door didn't budge. Markus slammed it with his shoulder, bounced back, set himself and gave it a whole body thrust kick straight into the dead bolt. The two doors flew apart and one fell from its hinges. "Great form," I said.

"Practice pays." We stepped carefully over the door.

Directly in front of us was a Bancomat. Markus ran to it, slapped the card in, let it come back out an instant later; by then I had spotted a little tourist store that had an ATM just inside the arched doorway.

As he took the card back, Markus said, "That car recharging station, they take ATM cards, that means it has a reader—" and we were off across six lanes of Italian traffic. I was grateful that half the cars were self-drivers trying to avoid us, which somewhat balanced the furious human half, which seemed to have more mixed feelings.

I don't know how, but we made it across alive. As Markus ran the card, I saw four cops heading our way with that grim, purposive walk that means they'll expect an explanation.

"The Blue Cross," I said.

"What? What did that even mean? Something about insurance? It just ate the card and it says to stay here—"

"It would. The message means 'attract attention and make people remember you.' Follow me."

I walked right back out into traffic, Markus at my heels. He always said later he was just afraid I'd be killed, he'd survive and he'd have to explain. The cops pursued, stopping and snarling traffic. I jumped onto a car hood. In Czech, I shouted that I wanted a bowl of ravioli and I wanted it right now. I jumped down and walked into the thick of the jammed cars, gesticulating wildly. In my very rusty Mandarin I added that if everyone just kept eating breakfast, no one would get pregnant. Marcus caught up with me and I turned back to the gathering crowd on the sidewalk to announce in English that if they made us late for our wedding, we would never eat their lilac bushes again.

As we reached the opposite sidewalk, a caricature artist, the type that every tourist town has a thousand of, was staring at us open-mouthed.

"Do you do nudes?" I asked.

"Uh, uh, uh—" he said.

"Good!" I yanked down his pants.

A heavy cop hand fell on my shoulder. As I raised my hands, I saw a man recording the scene on his tablet. Waving frantically, I shouted, "Hi, Mom! Hi, Sis! Hi, Santa!"

Beside me, holding hands with her husband, beaming like she was proud of me, my sister said, "Santa?"

Next: Silence Like Diamonds – Finale: When in Rome

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.

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