Marque of Caine – Snippet 08

The large drone rotated, revved its rotors to close at maximum speed–

–Just as it detected another high-compression radio burst from back of the cave. Having two prior samples for comparison, identification was almost instantaneous: the encryption was military grade.

Overhead, as if in response to that radio burst, something with a low electric current activated.

Already speeding forward, the drone’s AI correlated the new data and projected the logical endpoint of the chain of events in which it was now trapped. There was no time left to establish a lock on the target. The only options now were:

Command One: fire all remaining fourteen millimeter missiles using preliminary target solution.

Command Two: engage self-destruct.

The electric impulse carrying those instructions reached the drone’s weapon control circuits the same moment that the plastic explosive concealed in an overhead crevice detonated.

*     *     *

Connor leaned farther back into the brush as the slowing aircar’s throaty rush up-dopplered into a two-toned roar. Between boughs, he watched the vehicle’s four thrusters roll through a sharp attitude change; the two at the rear pivoted ninety degrees into VTOL mode, the front pair snapped forward 135 degrees into counterthrust. The aircar shuddered to a halt. One of the three silhouettes in its open passenger compartment swept the island with multi-spectrum binoculars.

Clutching his pistol, Connor knew, even as he threw himself back behind a boulder, that he had reacted a second too late. If he had seen the binoculars, its thermal imaging and motion sensors had certainly seen him. He snapped the safety off, experienced a sharp longing for his dad, but thought about only one thing: surviving.

The thrusters quieted considerably. Then a shout: “Connor?”

It wasn’t surprising that these men knew his name there had been nothing uncertain about their approach–but he was shocked to recognize the voice. Was that Uncle Trevor? No: couldn’t be. It was probably some kind of trick . . .

“Connor, it’s me, Uncle Trevor. I’ll come to you, if you want.”

“How do I know it’s really you?”

“Want me to tell you what we had for Thanksgiving three years ago?”

Connor swore silently. Damn it, even I don’t remember that.

“Or maybe you want me to tell you the dish that I bring every year and which everyone secretly hates. Even you.”

“Hey, I never said–“

“I wasn’t born yesterday, Connor. I know when I’m being patronized.”

Connor closed his eyes. Whoever they were, they had a high-powered and very expensive government aircar, were probably armed to the teeth with the latest milspec weapons, and outnumbered him at least three to one. He, on the other hand, had a decent civilian handgun, a couple of auspiciously placed trees and rocks to hide behind, and no idea of what the hell was going on. He risked a peek around the other side of the rock.

If the guy who saw and waved at him wasn’t his uncle, then either Connor was hallucinating or someone had created a clone of Trevor just to trick him into leaving his cover. Yeah, right. Connor stood up.

Trevor waved both arms, his sudden smile actually glinting in the sun. He gestured for the driver to boost the fans, which pushed the aircar up the slope until it was hovering just below Connor’s hiding place. Trevor waved for him to hop down into the vehicle.

Connor grabbed his gear, took his uncle’s extremely firm hand–damn, he’s strong!–and took a long step down into the car. “Uncle Trevor, what the hell is going–?”

“We’ve got to find your father.” Trevor tapped the driver, pulled Connor down, pointed to the four-point straps. “Harness up. We’re moving.”

Connor barely had time to get the unfamiliar buckles done before the aircar leaped forward. “Moving where? Why–?”

“You’ve been found, both of you.” Trevor had a carbine with him: a short-barreled version of the standard military shoulder arm, the CoBro ten millimeter liquimix. He snapped it over to full automatic. “We don’t know how they did it, but given the timing, our bet is that there’s a leak in our intelligence services. That’s why there are only the three of us here; we know we can trust each other. The guy driving is my pal, Chief Petty Officer Cruz, and this gentleman is Associate Director Gray Rinehart.”

Associate Director of what? Connor wondered, but he was too worried about his father to follow that any further. “Is Dad okay? Where is he?”

Trevor ran his hand through his hair: the speed-amplified breeze caught it, made it look like a lion’s mane in a wind-tunnel. “That’s the trouble: he could be in any one of three, maybe four, places.”


“Just as we were lifting to pick you up, Caine’s transponder . . . well, it multiplied. There are three identical copies of his transponder signal on the grid right now and we don’t know which is his.”

“How is that possible?”

Trevor sighed. “We gave him two decoys before you came here. In case he had to confuse someone who was trying to track him. We had just entered St. Kitts’ airspace when the two extra transponders signals showed up–and another of yours, too. So your Dad clearly got our message that your cover is blown and you’re in danger.”

Connor thought for a moment. “Can you show me where the transponders are?”

Trevor glanced at Rinehart, who shrugged and tilted a polarized palmtop toward Connor.

Connor studied it briefly. “These signals: can you show me their prior movement?”

Rinehart raised an eyebrow, adjusted the view: flashing lines showed on to show the path of each transponder.

Connor nodded, pointed at the one that had traveled the least. “That’s Dad.”

“How do you know?”

“The one that’s way to the south is just stupid. Dad wouldn’t get into the car to drive around the island. If the enemy has drones, they could downlook and kill him the same way a hawk gets a rabbit–couldn’t they?”

Trevor and Rinehart exchanged looks that became furtive smiles. “That sounds about right. And the other one, to the east of your house?”

“I know that part of the coast. You have be a goat to move around down there. From a map, it looks like you could walk it. And you could if you’re both lucky and suicidal. But most likely, you’re just going to fall or get washed out to sea by one of the bigger waves. After you get bounced around on the jagged volcanic rocks, that is. But this signal,”– he pointed at the transponder icon that had moved part of the way to Mount Nevis–“that’s on the path where we go hiking. Or running, if Dad decides to make our day particularly miserable. And at that exact spot, there are caves. Lots of caves.”

Trevor tapped the driver on the shoulder. “Site three. Maximum thrust.”

“Sir,” muttered Cruz, “that speed is way above local limits. We’re going to become real high profile, real fast.”

“Yeah, and that’s a real shame. Red-line it, Carlos.”

A flock of seagulls scattered out of their way, startled and perhaps envious of the wedge-shaped aircar which left them behind as if they were suspended motionless in mid-air.