Yip and Markus learn the enemy can fight dirty.

John Barnes, Author

August 11, 2015

6 Min Read
Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 6: Patient but Rough

This is Episode 6 of a Light Reading original science fiction story. Need to catch up? Start here:

Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 1: Family Business

Or find all the episodes here: Faster-Than-Light Reading

"Our most secure link is at Mama and Táta's house," I explained. Markus and I were belting into an apparent minivan with much more armor, speed, and maneuverability (and possibly firepower) than most soccer moms needed. "I'm sure that Yazzy isn't working for the opposition, but she needs to know, privately, ASAP, that they set me up to find that. We won't be disturbing my folks -- since they retired they tend to go to bed very late. Unfortunately, since you're guarding me, you'll have to come along."


"Unfortunately, Markus, you are a very attractive single man, and I'm going to have to introduce you to my mother."

I liked the way he smiled but didn't laugh: plausible deniability that didn't squish any hopes. The reinforced doors opened in front of us; it felt like Markus's weaponized minivan was departing the Batcave.

My parents' house is a scatter of cabins down a hillside, "all independent, resilient structures working together to form a home. On a tilted slab of Jurassic limestone, solid as anything you can find around here, and if it moves, it'll all move together --" Táta was already rolling on his standard spiel as he led Markus down the main path for the moonlight tour.

"He seems like a very nice young man, Ingy." Mama was pulling iced beers, wiping them, and setting them on a tray. "We'll have these at the patio table and then I'll drag your father out of your way so you can use the secure link without interruption." Mama was the only person who called me "Ingy"; to everyone else I'd been Yip since I could write my own initials on my finger-paintings. "Is he just a very pleasant colleague, or am I completely misreading all the signs?"

"Mama, I'd rather not --"

Want to know more about the cloud? Visit Light Reading's dedicated cloud services content channel.

"Of course you'd rather not." Mama had that expression. If you have a mother, there's one expression of hers that you and she both know is that expression. This was that expression in its purest form. She shrugged. "And maybe you are right. You have cats to feed, us to fuss over, your sister to work for, and no reason to shake up your existence. Except, Ingy, you act like you like Markus, so I think I'll go right on being encouraging. Is Markus just possibly overdoing it by pretending interest in your father's architectural engineering lecture?"

"It's worse than that. Markus has a professional interest in building resilience. If Táta finds out, Markus may never escape."

Mama and I carried the iced beers and chilled mugs out to the patio table. We all sat chatting till Táta said, "Well, Yip and her friend probably just came over here to use the secure link to Yazzy, rather than to entertain the old poops."

Next Page: The Balloon Goes Up

Markus and I only got a word or two into the ritual protests before Mama said, "We're going to bed. You have work you cannot discuss in front of us. Markus, a pleasure to meet you and we hope to see more of you. Yip, please nag Yazzy about spending a little more time on our Thursday morning calls; lately it's been fine-fine-fine-bye-Mama."

We descended the winding stone steps between the flower beds. Was I imagining that Markus was walking slightly closer? This live-people stuff was confusing. The trail swung around the second guest bedroom and through an open gallery. "This is the office."

"Aren't they both retired?"

"From doing work, yes, from taking tax deductions, never. Besides, every so often someone throws Táta a consulting gig about a foundation or a roof, or Mama does an assessment on a disturbed kid."

I reached under a desk and showed the recessed scanner my hand. The windows blacked; dim lights came on; a screen formed on one wall. "Pepperoni wildebeest," I said.

"Activating, stand by," the house replied. There was a soft thud overhead.

"What was that?" Markus asked.

"The balloon going up. A literal balloon, half meter across, inflated with methane so it doesn't rise too fast, made of flexible grown-circuits. It's an anonymizing relay for broadband wireless. The narrowbeam on the roof tracks it. Message goes out to it in a one-time encryption, it calls to a drone at some distance and relays through another one-time key. When we finish talking or it gets out of range, a hot-oxygen capsule goes off inside it, and the flame consumes the balloon. One of Dusan's cooler designs. Anyway, the balloon needs about three minutes to get to altitude."

We chatted about Humboldt State basketball till the link chime sounded. Yazzy appeared on the screen in a bathrobe. "Hey, Yip, what's up? Hi, Markus, you guys must be up late."

"Just had a major question for you, Yazzy. You're talking through the safe channel at your end too?"

"Yes, of course."

"Okay. Uh, after I went through the data that NameItCorp supplied, I ran across a brokerage called AtlantiCrossers --"

The screen went black. I checked; the link had cut somewhere between the o and the s in crossers, the first recognizable moment when it couldn't be any other word.

"What now?" Markus asked.

I was gesturing at the screen. "Launching another balloon; if I can get an encrypted link up there, Yazzy's got some other pathways to call me. If she can -- her system tried to call us back automatically as soon as the connection dropped, and that didn't get through. And now we're showing no link to an anonymizing balloon. So she might not be able to call back."

There was a soft thud from the ceiling again. I explained, "Obviously we're penetrated, any information --"

A low rumbling boom shook the cabin. The link icon on the screen Xed out. We both ran outside. To judge by the few blazing pieces falling into the garden, the opposition had popped our balloon again.

"Another warning shot," Markus said. "They want us to know that they play rough. It's some consolation that they're patient."

Next: Silence Like Diamonds – Episode 7: Nobody Home

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.

Subscribe and receive the latest news from the industry.
Join 62,000+ members. Yes it's completely free.

You May Also Like